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The Judenrat of the Baranovichi Ghetto
1942 – 1943

Dr. Shlomo Kless, Kibbutz Nir David

General Background:

The town of Baranovichi [in Polish: Baranowicze], in the Novogrudok district of Byelorussia (now Belarus), was founded in 1883. As a relatively new town, Baranovichi was built according to modern planning, with wide streets crossing at right angles. The town developed rapidly, with a population of 30,000 at the outbreak of the Second World War.

Situated at the hub of railroad lines – the north-south from Vilna to Lvov, and west-east from Warsaw to Moscow – Baranovichi held considerable strategic importance. Thus it was a site of wide-ranging economic activity and a center of commerce and light industry. The abundance of surrounding forests contributed to the development of various branches of the lumber industry (sawmills, etc.). The presence of Polish Army bases along the Russian border stimulated commercial opportunities in supplying goods and services for the army. The Poles were a minority among the local population of Russians and Byelorussians, a large percentage of the population being Jews. Although the town's mayor was a Pole, the vice-mayor was Jewish.

From an economic standpoint the Jews were relatively prosperous, with an array of institutions typical of an established Jewish community. There were synagogues, yeshivot, charity and welfare funds, an orphanage, homes for the elderly, hostels and soup kitchens for the needy, and more.

Baranovichi was the seat of learning and culture for the inhabitants of the surrounding shtetls. In the commercial realm, it offered such modern institutions as cooperatives, mutual aid funds, craftsmen's and tradesmen's organizations, and banks.

In the political-public sphere, there were political parties and youth movements as in many Jewish communities throughout Poland, an independent system of education encompassing heders and yeshivot as well as a Hebrew-language gymnasia [high school] of the “Tarbut” organization. In all, the town offered a wealth of cultural, public and political activities across a wide spectrum, as evidenced by the six Yiddish-language weekly newspapers published there.

In the period between the two World Wars (1920 – 1939), Baranovichi was under Polish rule. In September 1939, the Red Army invaded the territory, commencing the Soviet occupation. With the German attack on the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941 (“Operation Barbarossa”), the German army poured into the area. Within five days, Baranovichi was conquered. At the start of the city's occupation by the Germans there were some 12,000 Jews living there, of whom about three thousand were refugees from Western Poland.

The Period of the First Judenrat:

“The Open Ghetto”

Immediately upon the Germans' entry into Baranovichi, German soldiers – together with local Poles and Byelorussians – began breaking into Jews' homes, intent on robbery, looting, and abusing their occupants.

The next day, the hunt for alleged Jewish “communists” commenced. These Jews' alleged connection to Communism was merely a pretext. Most of them had no such connection but nevertheless were caught and executed. At the same time, other Jews were seized for various kinds of forced labor, and their families knew nothing of their whereabouts, whether they had been taken for work or perhaps even murdered. There was no lack of informers among their Polish and Byelorussian neighbors, looking to settle scores with economic competitors or simply with an eye for Jewish property. Merchandise and furnishings were stolen. Many Jews were forced to leave their homes immediately.

The Jewish Committee

This situation of insecurity regarding their lives and property compelled some of the Jewish community's leading figures to consult with each other. The initiative for the first meeting, held in the synagogue on Wilenska Street, came from Reb Mendel Goldberg. Those invited included former public figures from all sectors of Baranovichi's Jewish life: representatives of the municipality, community leaders, office-holders from industry and cultural institutions, and political party delegates. This renewal of civic activity among the activists fell naturally along the lines of their affiliations within the previous structure. During the 21-month Soviet regime, there had been no sign of any Jewish community activity, and now all of a sudden it “came back to life.”…

The group suggested setting up a committee and appointing a chairman who would attempt to establish contact with the German occupation authorities in order to address problems of security, provisions of food and work, and to avoid abductions for forced labor. Jehoshua (Owsiej) Izykson was unanimously chosen to be the committee's chairman, with an office for the committee set up in a private apartment.

Izykson immediately began initiating meetings with his acquaintances among the Byelorussians, hoping through them to gain access to the German occupation authorities. Meanwhile, the Jews continued to live in their own homes. This situation was called “the open ghetto.” The more luxurious apartments in the town's center were expropriated from their Jewish owners, who were evicted with only a few hours' notice. All their property was stolen. There were other Jews, those who quickly appraised the situation, who of their own free will abandoned their homes and moved to the southwestern sector of the town where Baranovichi's poorer Jews resided.

Work – by order of the military government, published in the first days of the occupation, the entire population was to continue in its regular work. All those employed in essential enterprises, as defined by the Germans (e.g. hospitals, flour mills, pharmacies, etc.) received work permits. These provided an authorization for their holders, preventing abduction for forced labor.

Already in the first week of the occupation, notices signed by the military government were published ordering the wearing of a yellow Star of David badge. Jews were forbidden to walk on sidewalks, obliged to walk down the middle of the street. Jewish men were to doff their hats when encountering a German soldier.

Securities and loan certificates, whether Polish or Soviet, were to be handed over to the German authorities.

A curfew was imposed between seven o'clock in the evening until six o'clock the next morning. Infringement carried a death penalty.

The “Civil Committee” (an institution parallel to the municipality, appointed by the Germans and composed exclusively of Byelorussians), would transfer all the Germans' economic demands to the Jewish Committee.

The “Jewish Committee” was organized according to the model of the prior community framework. The committee's structure and composition, with certain modifications, remained in place until the first Aktion [in Yiddish: di shkhiteh, “the slaughter” – a raid and roundup for extermination], on March 4, 1942 – the Jewish holiday of Shushan Purim. It soon became a representative body, both for the town's Jews and for the German and Byelorussian authorities as well. (The committee remained in this form for three months, until September 1941, when it was authorized by the Germans and its name changed to “ Judenrat ” [German: Jews' Council].)

In September 1941, some two and a half months into the German occupation, SS men appeared in Baranovichi, headed by Obersturmfuehrer [Lieutenant] Adolf Lerner, the area's commissar [commissioner]. A young lawyer named Krampe, an ardent Nazi, was put in charge of the Department of Jewish Affairs. From Kovno (now Kaunas) came Gestapo representatives headed by the Nazi Amelung and his young Lithuanian assistant, Josef Gurnievich, known as “the cruel Lithuanian.” That same month, a contingent of German field gendarmes [police] arrived, and a Byelorussian police force was set up to work beside them, including an investigative branch headed by one Dushenko.

Establishing the Judenrat and the Entry into the Ghetto:

In September 1941, as stated above, the Jewish Committee officially became known as the Judenrat – and at the same time, reliable information indicated that the Germans intended to set up a ghetto in Baranovichi. The chairman of the committee, Izykson, made strenuous efforts to obtain an increase in the size of the proposed ghetto area. By means of extensive bribery and with the aid of Krampe, these efforts succeeded. The ghetto was designated in the southwestern part of the town, a crowded area to begin with.

A barbed wire fence 2.5 meters high was erected around the ghetto. The allocated area had only 60 buildings to house some 12,000 people. The crowding was terrible, and the buildings became known as “ kolkhozim ” [Russian: communal living]. A 4 x 4-meter room was meant to house 20 to 25 people. Wooden bunk beds were built with three tiers.

The ghetto was located within the town and had two gates: the main gate on Wilenska Street, and another at the cemetery.

The Judenrat and the ghetto police had their headquarters at the main gate, across the street from the Gestapo building.

Guard towers equipped with machine guns maintained strict surveillance of the ghetto's fenced perimeter. During the transition period of moving into the ghetto, the Judenrat found itself occupied with calming the Jewish populace while assigning living space to families. On December 12, 1941, the Germans sealed the ghetto.

The Structure of the Judenrat:

The Chairman – Jehoshua Izykson was an activist in the town's civic life and a member of the Town Council. He sat on the directorate of the Merchants' Bank, with contacts among Baranovichi's Polish and Byelorussian leadership. Izykson commanded a handsome appearance and persuasive communication skills. He held the confidence of the Jewish community's entire spectrum, without exception.

Izykson believed that he would succeed in saving the lives of Baranovichi's Jews by means of his connections, intercession and bribery. He personally conducted negotiations with the Germans.

On December 17, 1941, seventy-two Jews were arrested. The Germans hinted to the Jewish Council that the detainees would be spared in exchange for a payment. This was the first “contribution” of this sort in Baranovichi, and amounted to twenty kilograms of gold, silver and jewelry, plus an additional one million rubles. The matter was widely publicized – and to everyone's surprise, the sum was quickly amassed. It was accomplished without setting any quotas; the Jews contributed their valuables voluntarily. The payment was handed over to the Germans, although no mention was made of the arrested Jews – all of whom had been shot the same day they were apprehended. Of the money collected from the community, a considerable sum remained in the hands of the Judenrat, who used it for operating expenses.

In another instance, the Byelorussian Civil Council charged the Judenrat with the task of supplying sixty young Jewish women to brothels for German soldiers. Izykson succeeded in neutralizing this demand with the aid of a Byelorussian friend. A contingent from Vilna brought sixty non-Jewish “professional ladies” to Baranovichi, enabling the Judenrat to fulfill its obligation. Izykson declared, “kosher daughters of Israel, I will not give.”

Only a few of Izykson's deeds, and those of the Judenrat during his term of office, are mentioned here. He always maintained, “Silver and gold I will give, but not a human life.” This was known throughout Baranovichi, among the Byelorussians and the Germans as well.

Izykson would hold meetings of the Judenrat on a regular basis, consulting with its members as well as inviting influential, established members of the Jewish community to attend the meetings.

The Secretary was Mrs. Yevgenia (Genia) Mann. Upon the establishment of the Judenrat, she was invited to work as secretary to Izykson, the chairman. Her unlimited devotion to her work gained her the immediate appreciation of the Judenrat workers and ghetto Jewry alike. Her skills as an interior decorator led her to become a sought-after consultant for the homes of the German officer-elite, and her wide-ranging connections were influential in getting some decrees canceled and others postponed. The personal warmth she radiated was a source of comfort and faith to the ghetto's Jews in their distressed circumstances. She became known as “the mother of the ghetto.”

Mrs. Mann, when decorating the apartment of a German Air Force general, was offered refuge in the home of his parents in Germany. She rejected his offer, replying that she would be sharing the fate of her people. As noted below, her words were prophetic.

The Vice-Chairman of the Judenrat was Shmuel (Mulia) Jankielewicz. He agreed to serve on the Judenrat, and as he was known to be an upright man, was readily accepted. Serving as vice-chairman, his areas of activity were not specified.

Liaison between the Judenrat and the Gestapo, and with the Byelorussian police's investigative branch, was carried out by Shmuel (Mulik) Izrael. This young man, a fluent German-speaker, established connections among those around him as well as with the representatives of the German regime.

The Main Offices of the Judenrat were composed of several branches:

The Secretariat: Josef Kuryniec, previously the editor of a Baranovichi weekly magazine, served as general secretary. He was a law student with a good command of German, a popular lecturer, serious and dedicated. He was not a member of the Judenrat, but attended its meetings. His principle role was to handle the paperwork in dealing with the German and Byelorussian authorities.

The Treasury: This department was managed by Mordechai Schiff, previously the treasurer of Baranovichi's Jewish community. His was one of the most important and sensitive domains of the ghetto, and it operated with the complete confidence of all concerned. Schiff himself, a man of integrity with pleasant manners, succeeded in functioning industriously under the difficult circumstances he faced. Schiff was not a Judenrat member, but rather, a senior clerk who participated in the council's meetings.

Bookkeeping services were supervised by Baruch Galay, formerly a civic activist, who was known as an honest and dependable man.

Labor: Heading the Department of Labor was Josef Leiman, a religiously-observant Jew, well-known and accepted in the community at large. His wisdom guided his work and he commanded the respect of all. His assistant and right-hand man was Yitzhak Fidler, a student, the son of a prominent Baranovichi physician and possessed of considerable organizational talent and skills. The Department immediately set up a file listing the town's entire Jewish population. When rumors began to circulate that a ghetto would be established, this department began allocating buildings and apartments, and this greatly eased the transition from the “open ghetto” to the closed one.

As mentioned above, those ghetto residents employed in work deemed essential were provided with “ shainim ” [German/Yiddish: transit passes]. All those who had no permanent jobs were ordered by the Judenrat to assemble at a designated time next to the Judenrat building. This was an independent initiative to organize the population in order to provide able-bodied workers in case of need.

Organized groups of laborers would depart the Judenrat building grounds en masse each morning, for temporary work ordered by the Germans. During the period of the “open ghetto” each group was headed by a Jew appointed to the task. Once the ghetto was closed, these groups were headed by a German or a Byelorussian.

Paying the Jews for their work was strictly forbidden. Anyone employing Jews was to pay the wages to the Department of Labor that was located beside the office of the German commissar. An incident occurred in which a Jew working as a tailor for a local resident requested payment for his work. The Gestapo was informed of the matter, and that evening, all the ghetto's Jews were assembled and the tailor was hanged in public for his “crime.”

The most desirable jobs were those providing services to German homes. Most of these positions were located throughout the town. The Jews were usually treated reasonably. The main benefit was being able to eat one's fill and perhaps even to obtain some additional food to take back into the ghetto.

There were several workplaces where hundreds of workers were concentrated. The Air Force base was one of these, with 350 workers. Another 250 worked at the “Depot,” the railway workshops.

Each day, over 5,000 Jews went to work outside the ghetto. Every one of them, young and old, did so willingly as a means of staying alive. The Department of Labor came into existence immediately at the start of the German occupation and continued to function during the entire period of the ghetto's existence.

Workshops, or “the Good Ghetto”: Located throughout the ghetto were several specially fenced-off buildings where workshops were set up. This was initiated by the Judenrat, with German approval. Some 60 or 70 master craftsmen worked there on private jobs ordered by the Germans. These workshops included tailoring, furniture carpentry and upholstering, glassworks and so on; also electrical and watch repairs were done there. The organization was truly marvelous. Most of the raw materials were brought there by the Germans, and the labor was provided free of charge. This was considered a particularly secure workplace, and many Jews pressured the Judenrat to arrange for them to work there. Indeed, in the first Aktion, not a single Jew from the workshops was executed.

Economics: This department was headed by Fishel Sawczycki, formerly a factory owner. His wife was active in an armed resistance group of the underground, but this did not change his pessimistic outlook regarding the ghetto's future.

Housing: Idelczyk, an energetic young man, was in charge of housing in the ghetto. In fact, as previously noted, the major preparations for distribution of housing was done by Leiman of the Department of Labor even before the Jews entered the ghetto. This was one of the most problematic branches of administration, burdened by unceasing demands on the part of ghetto residents seeking improved conditions or wishing to move.

Supplies and Provisioning: The central problem for the Jews incarcerated in the ghetto was food provisions. The Germans provided no food whatsoever but allowed the Judenrat to deal with supplying it. All acquisition of large quantities of food was handled by this department. Purchases were paid for in money and barter. There were severe obstacles to surmount: initially in buying food and then in transporting it into the ghetto. Obtaining food and distributing it fairly became an ordeal for members of the Judenrat. The daily ration of bread per person amounted to 120 grams.

Warehousing: Responsibility for this branch was given to Beloskurnik, a man of initiative and energy. He had previously specialized in supplying boots to Polish Army officers and continued to do so for the German occupiers as well. In this way he came into contact with German officers.

In the Judenrat, he was among those who volunteered to aid the public in times of need. The food provisioning system required setting up warehouses, not only for foodstuffs such as flour, groats, potatoes and such, but extended its activities to include clothing and shoes. The craftsmen working in the warehouses helped the ghetto residents by repairing shoes, mending clothes, and more.

Property: Those responsible for this department tried to acquire Jewish property that remained outside the ghetto boundaries, in order to fund the purchase of food. They also tried to tap other sources of funds by selling fixed assets. There were Byelorussians who were tempted and agreed to pay considerable sums so that the houses, lots or businesses would be legally registered in their names. All this was handled by Beloskurnik.

Food: The ghetto did have a store which distributed foodstuffs, managed by Moshe Litwak, a well-respected figure who inspired confidence in his judgment. Matters concerning food were one of the most sensitive issues of daily life in the ghetto.

Welfare: This department was headed by Chaim Zukerman; his assistant was Abba Zakin. These men were former civic activists with well-earned reputations for integrity and caring for the town's poor from back in the days of Polish rule. Their viewpoint was expressed in the saying, “In the Baranovichi ghetto, no Jew goes hungry for bread.” In accordance with this outlook they accomplished great works, aided by a loyal team of helpers, among them Genia Mann. During the period of the open ghetto, this department supervised the activities of pairs of fundraisers who went about the town, collecting funds from wealthy Jews to be distributed among the needy. Usually they knew who had resources and how much, or who had succeeded in bringing quantities of food into the ghetto from outside. Additional department activities were carried out by similar means. Pairs of volunteers would go out after their work hours: one collecting foodstuffs, the other making the rounds and distributing them.

There was a feeling in the ghetto that someone was looking after the needs of the poor, not hesitating to take, even by force, from people of means. And indeed, by all accounts and testimonies, no one starved in the Baranovichi ghetto.

Health: The head of the Health Department was Dr. Nachumowski, among the senior physicians in Baranovichi. He was respected by the town's medical community, Jewish and non-Jewish alike. The Health Department had three branches: Medicine, Sanitation, and Pharmacy.

Medicine: Dr. Nachumowski had a staff of ten physicians to assist him, A hospital and outpatient clinic were set up in the building which had been the town's home for the elderly. Medical care was provided free of charge. A small building across the way served as a separate hospital for infectious diseases. The great fear was that epidemics would break out, especially typhus. This is why the Sanitation Department was so crucial.

The head of this branch was Dr. Sawczyc. While he was very active in the area under his authority, he was known in the ghetto as one of those who would do anything not to arouse the ire of the Germans in hopes of avoiding their wrath. This, however, contributed to the impression of his appeasing them.

There was no solution for the oppressive overcrowding in the ghetto. Nevertheless, real accomplishments were achieved in matters of hygiene. Sanitation crews made home visits to instruct the inhabitants, taking a hand in removing garbage and whitewashing dirty places. Equipment was set up for delousing clothing, and use of the public bathhouse was made mandatory. The fear of the outbreak of an epidemic that would claim many victims overshadowed the Jews in the ghetto. The Germans threatened to execute anyone who contracted an infectious disease. Due to the activities of the Sanitation Department and the participation of the population, no epidemic ever broke out. The Baranovichi ghetto became a “model ghetto” [in German: “muster Geto”] in the eyes of the German occupiers.

Pharmacy: This special department was headed by Michael Mukasiej, a pharmacist and public figure. The chronic shortage of medications in the ghetto was difficult to overcome. Nevertheless, thanks to connections with fellow pharmacists on the “Aryan” side of Baranovichi, medications were brought in by special permit. Crates full of medications were also transferred to hiding places in Jewish pharmacies.

According to a survey by physicians who survived, it appears that from among the medical staff of the ghetto (including physicians and pharmacists), 57 perished in the Holocaust. Two died of natural causes. Of the seven who remained alive, five immigrated to Israel.

Police: This department was organized by Chaim Weltman, who volunteered for the task and held it until the First Aktion. He was one of the town's most important civic activists, the head of the tradesmen's union, a member of the community council and the town council, and was known as “the voice of the poor.”

Weltman gathered forty young men to serve in the Department, most of them members of the “Maccabi” sports organization, which was a sports club and likewise a center for social activity. These young men took part in guarding the ghetto gate alongside the Byelorussian police posted there. They were of great assistance to the Sanitation Department enforcing the hygiene requirements in and around the “kolkhozim.” It was said, “Violence is unknown in the Baranovichi ghetto” – something that even today is difficult to comprehend.

The ghetto police force had several bicycles on which they freely circulated, patrolling the town. They would send notices to ghetto residents returning from work, regarding searches being conducted at the gate or about bringing food into the ghetto. They warned the ghetto population about unannounced searches by representatives of the regional commissar, for which the police would receive a quarter hour's advance notice.

Their humane behavior resulted in no barrier dividing between them and the rest of the ghetto's residents. True, they were called “police,” but according to all reports of their deeds, they provided real assistance and helped alleviate the suffering of their ghetto brethren. For this, they were held in esteem.

The police assisted people from outside – such as farmers with goods to barter – to enter the ghetto. By all accounts, without exception, their behavior and their help to the ghetto's inhabitants were well appreciated.

The “Invitees”: During the course of time, there were some people who had the status of invited participants at the Judenrat's meetings. These were noted figures among the town's population, invited for various discussions.

Dr. Ajzik Busel would attend almost every session of the Judenrat without being a member, and was considered a representative of the town's intelligentsia. He was known for his firm opposition to any sort of armed resistance. During the Aktion an SS man approached him and asked his profession. When told that Dr. Busel was an ophthalmologist, the SS man stabbed him in both eyes and only afterwards shot him.

The dayan[Hebrew: judge in a religious court] Reb Nishe (Nisan) Scheinberg was popular with all Baranovichi Jews, the observant and the secular alike. His brother was the town's young rabbi, who inherited the position from their father. With them in the 'kolkhozim' lived Berezowski, who served as an arbitrator in the Jews' internal disputes.

The Judenrat's chairman Izykson would come to these men frequently for consultation. He would confer secretly with Reb Nishe about any difficult problem before coming to a decision. These consultants would also attend Judenrat meetings.

Culture and Education: This was not a separate department within the Judenrat, but was assigned to the veteran teacher and educator Misilewski to organize study groups for children. He would go from one 'kolkhoz' to the next throughout the day, giving lessons and counseling. Yeshiva students and senior rabbis of the community, and particularly the ultra-Orthodox among them, would hold study sessions for Torah and Gemara in several of the 'kolkhozim'.


From the above brief description of the First Judenrat, its structure, activities and the people involved, an image forms of an effort to establish a sound and responsible organization. Two main guidelines are apparent: towards the outside, the attempt to stem the tide of frequent demands for goods and money, but without surrendering people. Izykson's slogan became the rule: “Not a human life.”

As regards internal relations: maintaining life focused on ensuring basic existence for all, according to the slogan of Zukerman and Zakin (of the Welfare Department): “Not a single Jew in the ghetto goes hungry.” With the aim to provide the needy with the minimum required for survival, there was no hesitation in taxing the wealthy. The organizational functions of the community were carried out in an almost “family-style” manner. Judenrat sessions were attended not only by its members, but also by senior officials and invitees as well.

The First Judenrat in the First Aktion: March 4, 1942

Before the First Aktion, Izykson and his secretary, Mrs. Genia Mann, were invited to the office of the regional commissar. He demanded they provide him with a list of 3,000 elderly and sick Jews, the “useless”ones, with assurances that no harm would come to the rest of the community. Izykson refused adamantly, saying, “You may demand everything but human lives; that is in the hands of God.” With these words he stated his position and lost his own life. The threats that this would cost him dearly, were to no avail. The result was that, on the day of the Aktion, he and Mrs. Mann were taken to the execution site, where they were made to witness the slaughter of the sick and elderly – and then were the last ones to be shot.

On March 4, 1942 – the Jewish holiday of Shushan Purim – the commissar approached Chief of Police Chaim Weltman to send 15 policemen to the “Green Bridge” (which was to become the execution site of Baranovichi Jewry) to “keep order.” Weltman turned to all the policemen, saying, “Boys, everyone's getting on the truck; we're going “ al kiddush Ha-Shem' [Hebrew: to sanctify the Holy Name].” He himself was first to board the truck. All forty of his men got on after him. When they finished their task of burial at the site of the mass killings, they themselves were shot in the back, every last one of them, by the Byelorussians.

The Period of the Second Judenrat

The day after the First Aktion, those remaining alive were obliged to go out to their daily work as usual. By order of the Gestapo, a population count was conducted, and 7700 Jews were listed. The ghetto territory was further reduced, with housing calculated according to 70 square centimeters per person.

Conditions became more severe. The non-Jewish townspeople's attitudes toward the Jews deteriorated, and working conditions worsened. The illusions regarding survival evaporated. The inspections at the gate of the ghetto became harder and more meticulous. Nevertheless, the will to live and survive became stronger, and the ghetto began to reorganize once again. The Second Judenrat, however, employed only 10 officials in addition to 25 policemen.

The members of the First Judenrat who had perished in the First Aktion were: Izykson, Mrs. Mann, Weltman and Zukerman.

Jankielewicz, the assistant to Chairman Izykson, was appointed by the Germans to succeed him as Judenrat chairman. Taking the place of Welfare Department head Zukerman was Zakin, with Warszawski as his assistant. All 25 of the policemen were new appointees. The engineer Goldberg was added to the Judenrat. The new Judenrat officially numbered eight members. The changes in its composition were evident, but the really significant change occurred in regard to its approach to its role, and to its status in the eyes of the community..

The Chief of Police, Rotkiewicz, was involved in the activities of the underground. His assistant, Warszawski, who served as Acting Chief of Police, was on the command staff of the fighting organization that had been set up in the ghetto after the First Aktion. Seventeen of the twenty-five policemen were in the underground, which greatly aided in its functioning and in arming the fighting organization. Zakin and Leiman were aware of the fighting organization's underground activities, but were themselves not members in it.

In the half-year period between the First Aktion of March 4, 1942 and the second one on September 22, 1942 – the day after the Jewish High Holy Day of Yom Kippur, there was a striking difference in ghetto life. This was expressed in several aspects. There was an upsurge in constructing bunkers, as these were the means by which many ghetto residents survived the First Aktion. The aftermath of the Aktion also marked the beginning of the underground armed resistance. It became extensively active especially among young adults and teenagers. Smuggling of all sorts of weapons into the ghetto increased. This was carried out with relative ease because in many workplaces where Jews were employed, there were stores of huge quantities of weapons left by the Soviets. Relations between this organization and the Judenrat, and within the Judenrat itself (following an incident in which a member of the organization was caught smuggling weapons into the ghetto), became strained. During the second half of 1942, there was also an increase in the number of those leaving the ghetto for the forests to join the partisans there. There were rumors of the mass murder of Jews in small towns in the vicinity. From a few towns came refugees with tales of these killings added to the unquiet atmosphere. Despite prohibitions, the Judenrat provided housing and food for these escapees. Young people entered the ghetto from the forests, urging their friend to join them there. Preparations for an uprising increased, but the Second Aktion, which came without forewarning, made it impossible to carry out the plans. For ten days, the ghetto was cut off and sealed, and during that time the Germans took 6,000 Jews to the killing site near the village of Grabowiec.

A bitter argument arose between the supporters of either an uprising within the ghetto or going out to fight in the forests and those who were sure this path would bring disastrous consequences upon the remainder of ghetto inhabitants. This reached the extent of threats that opponents would be turned over to the Germans. Anyway, the matter remained “within the family” as an internal conflict among the Jews.

The conditions that were created were very severe. All illusions were shattered. During the second Aktion there were many instances of desperate resistance by individuals. Jews attacked and even killed the murderers. After the second Aktion, the survivors numbered only 3,000 of the town's Jews.

The Period of the Third Judenrat

Among the members of the Second Judenrat who survived the Second Aktion were: Dr. Sawczyc, Sawczycki, Beloskurnik and Goldberg. Meetings in the Judenrat building also included all those who held key positions in the ghetto organizational structure. They unanimously appointed the engineer Goldberg to be chairman. He himself was a refugee from Western Poland, an astute individual inclined to take initiative. Well-spoken in German, he enjoyed the confidence of the Jews and even the respect of the Germans.

The choice of a Chief of Police was a far more complicated matter. As before, none of the ghetto police were left alive after the Aktion. Many had perished, and others had succeeded in escaping and reaching the forests. Considerable pressure was applied on a number of candidates to head the ghetto police force, but all remained firm in their refusal. With the matter at an impasse, Dr. Lubranycki spoke up, announcing that at this difficult time, it was unthinkable to leave a ghetto of 3,000 Jews without a police force, and he volunteered for the task. His move was gladly accepted, not only as it resolved the difficult situation, but also because of his personal qualities. He was a refugee from Lodz whose brother had married a local woman and who meanwhile had already managed to escape to the forest.

The area of the ghetto was substantially reduced again. This time, living space was calculated to allow a mere 60 sq. cm. per person. The shortage of food became more severe, because most of the families were broken up, resulting in a population of widows, orphans, the elderly, and the remaining family members of those who had escaped to the forests.

Now, ghetto administration was no longer a matter of departments and structure. A limited number of people did the work, mainly taking care of providing food for those who were still alive. The new chairman, the engineer Goldberg, urged the sending of work squads to the nearby Koldychevo labor camp as a possible means of survival. Likewise, with his encouragement, many people went to join the partisans. “I see and hear nothing – everyone who can, should do everything possible in order to escape.” Goldberg also provided direct aid to the partisans, especially in sending them medicines to the forests. However, Dr. Sawczyc remained opposed to Goldberg's position and discouraged the escape from the ghetto to the forests. Especially painful were the cases where families were broken up, with an able-bodied man leaving behind him a wife and children or elderly parents.

Baranovichi Jewry continued to struggle for its existence for nearly three months. Then, on December 17, 1942, hundreds of Gestapo men burst into the ghetto along with Byelorussian, Ukrainian and Latvian police, and with threats and savage blows, assembled the Jews on a large, open plot of ground. There they carried out a Selektion. Some 1400 Jews were chosen and assigned to workplaces. The rest were loaded onto trucks and taken to the Grabowiec pits, where they were put to death.

Among the 350 Jews sent to the Koldychevo labor camp were Goldberg, Dr. Sawczyc, Fidler, Leiman and Beloskurnik. Izrael was taken to the Gestapo yard where he was tortured, then killed. Dr. Lubranycki was killed likewise. During a month's time, the ghetto population was exterminated down to the last Jew. Many hid in bunkers, but the Germans and their minions conducted methodical sweeps of the area, while likewise intent on finding anticipated booty to plunder. In the process, an organized group of 200 Jews got out to the forests, and about another 500 after them. Baranovichi was declared ” Judenrein” [German: cleansed of Jews].

Of Baranovichi's entire Jewish population, only about 400 people remained alive at the end of World War Two.

Table of Judenrat positions and officials:

Position / Department First Judenrat Second Judenrat Third Judenrat
Secretary MANN Mrs. Yevgenia “Genia”
General Secretary KURYNIEC Josef
Deputy Chairman JANKIELEWICZ Shmuel “Mulia”
Labor LEIMAN Josef
Labor (Assistant) FIDLER Yitzhak
Economy SAWCZYCKI Fishel
Treasurer SCHIFF Mordechai
Accountant GALAY Baruch
Food LITWAK Moshe
Housing & Storerooms IDELCZYK
Liaison IZRAEL Shmuel “Mulik”


The First Judenrat had eight members, of whom four were murdered in the First Aktion. In addition to the Judenrat members were ten senior officials with positions of influence in ghetto life.

The Second Judenrat, like the previous one, was composed of eight members: the four who survived from the original staff joined by another four to replace those who were murdered. Senior officials, the Chief of Police and his assistant, and indeed the entire police force, were new to their positions.

Jankielewicz, the new chairman, had been Izykson's deputy and had worked closely with him. However, as chairman he did not command the authority of his predecessor.

Underground activity: According to all available accounts from the time, there was no sign of any underground organization in Baranovichi during the period of the First Judenrat, despite the reports of mass killings that came in from towns in the surrounding area. There was a commonly held illusion that the ghetto of such a large population center would remain untouched.

Between the first Aktion and the second, an underground of armed resistance began to be organized. Matters of smuggling arms into the ghetto, and the options of an uprising versus leaving to join the partisans in the forests, were the subjects of arguments and discussions in the Judenrat and among ghetto residents. Differences of opinion divided families; clashing positions arose in public institutions and in the Judenrat itself. The fact that the Assistant Chief of Police and 17 of the 25 policemen belonged to the armed resistance, attests to the scope of the organization and also indicates how “established” this underground was.

Thus the entire period of the Second Judenrat was marked by widespread internal conflict regarding the ways and means of resistance: the underground within the ghetto and the partisans in the forest outside it.

The Second Aktion gave the impetus for hundreds of Jews to escape the ghetto for the forest. Not only young unmarried individuals, but also some dozens of heads of households made the painful decision and went without their families.

The Third Judenrat encouraged and even assisted those who wanted to get out to the forests. In the words of the chairman, Goldberg: “Whoever can be saved, should do that and escape.”


The history of the Baranovichi ghetto has yet to be sufficiently researched. In it are all the elements characteristic of the large ghettos in Poland: an open and closed ghetto, a Judenrat over three distinct periods with their similarities and differences, the assistance of a few non-Jews amid the cruelty of the majority of them.

The local population; Jews from Czechoslovakia, Germany and the Netherlands who were brought to the Baranovichi area to be killed there; a ghetto-within-the-ghetto of Miedzyrzecz (Mezrich) Jewry transported from Poland; the organization of armed resistance and an uprising that never took place; escape to the forests for partisan combat. The majority of Baranovichi survivors express a great and unified support for a ghetto unique among its kind: “We had people in the ghetto, all of them holy and pure…such is their memory in our hearts for all eternity.”

Bibliography for suggested reading:

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