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[Page 583]

The Entrance of the German Army into Brest

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

The bombing from the air of Brest began on the 1st September 1939. In the first few days, the bombing was limited to the fortress, the airstrip and other military targets. Masses of refugees streamed into Brest from the east, completely overwhelming us. The members of the city council were responsible for finding food and shelter for them.

A heavy bombing of the city occurred on the 8th September 1939. Within the space of 2 hours, a multitude of bombs fell on the city from 100s of German bombers. Half of the city was in flames –hundreds were killed and thousands injured. The residents of Brest and the refugees began to flee eastwards. The heaviest bombing took place on Wednesday just before Rosh Hashana; the bombs fell specifically on the Jewish quarters. This was a present for the Jewish Holydays. About 200 people perished in this bombardment and 1000s were left homeless. On the 15th September the Germans marched into Brest – it was a Friday night, the German High command immediately issued an order that all the prominent city dignitaries – bankers, merchants, rabbis, priests, and professionals such as doctors - should all report to the marketplace at 4 p.m. on Saturday.

Thousands of Poles, Jews and Belorussians gathered at the designated time. The Germans appeared and separated the Poles, Jews, and Belorussians. The Belorussians were immediately freed, the Poles and Jews thrown into the prison. Not many Jews had assembled; among them was Chaim Boruch Kwiartovski the head of the Jewish community. On the other hand several hundred Poles were imprisoned. In the prison the Jews were treated brutally and tortured to get the names of the Jewish leaders and activists who had not reported to the marketplace (I was amongst them). All held out and no one was betrayed.

Two days later several hundred Germans who formerly had been imprisoned in the Polish prison camp at Kartusz Bereza arrived in Brest. The military commandant ordered that the Jewish community provide food, clothing, accommodation and money for these freed German prisoners. A German came to my home and told me to come to a meeting at the city hall. Not finding me at home, a whole platoon of Germans came to my home that evening to search my house, cellar, and attic for me. Upon leaving they posted 2 guards outside my house - a German soldier and a Belorussian who knew me. These guards stood there the entire time that the Germans were in Brest. During this period, the Germans managed to steal much merchandise from the Jewish stores. In this task they were assisted by a lot of the local Poles, who looted the Jewish stores under German protection. A self-defence group was organized immediately to guard against the Polish looters. When they were on duty, they managed to retrieve the stolen goods, breaking some Polish bones in the process. This was effective in stopping the Polish bandits as German accomplices.

On the 22nd September 1939, the Red Army marched into Brest. At 4 p.m. there was an official ceremony with both the German and Russian armies. In front of the German Headquarters both the Russian and German flags flew – the red Russian flag with it's hammer and sickle and the red German flag with the swastika. The commanders of both armies stood on an especially constructed podium and reviewed their troops. Until this day, I can still hear the sound of the jubilant Russians celebrating their 'victory' over the Germans.

After this parade the Germans left Brest.

This description by H. Kronchik is from the Book of Horrors (1945), page 139.

The Germans handed over Brisk-Litovsk to the
Soviets on September 22 1939. In the photo,
Generaloberst Heinz Guderian is in the center.
[Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz]

[Page 585]

The First Fateful Day

by Bertha Karlesh – Borenstein

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

After midnight on the 22nd July 1941, the air bombardment of Brest began. I lived with my parents on Dabrowska St. On that very day I had read in Pravda (the Soviet newspaper) that the relationship between the Germans and the Russians had never been so good…. the massing of German troops on the Russian border was described as military exercises. But in the morning we saw the German military and tanks already on the streets of Brest. The first few days were quiet with only some sporadic robberies and beatings occurring. No one thought of fleeing the city – the possibilities were minimal - the roads were continually bombarded from the air. After the ghetto was liquidated I fled to a village and stayed there with the peasants for almost two years. They did not know I was Jewish. In August 1943, when the Bialystok ghetto was liquidated, I fled another 8 kilometers to another village. Even then the peasants had no idea about the gas ovens. The Germans cleverly managed to hide the secrets of their terrible and murderous deeds.

On the 28th and 29th June 1941, the Germans surrounded all the Jewish streets – they loaded 5,000 Jews aged from 16 to 60 onto trucks and declared that they were being taken for work….

In August 1941, 20 new members of the Judenrat (Jewish council) were appointed, among them were: Hirsh Rosenberg, Dr Nachman Landau, Dr Liberovitch, Dr Yaffe, A. Warhaftig, Dr Kagan, Pochachevski, Chaim Hatz, Dr Zeligson, etc.

It was decreed that 2 million marks was to be handed over to the Germans, and the community leaders were arrested as guarantors. It was also decreed that a yellow patch with a Star of David be worn on the front and back. Jews were forbidden to go to the marketplace and the Polish shops.

At night I smuggled myself into my Polish friends home and gave them my mother's fur coat, my husband's suits, bedding and many other items. I begged them to let me stay the night, but they requested that I leave their house. It seldom happened that a Pole would help a Jew with food or temporary shelter.

Together with Lisa Rubin, Lisa Epstein, Pira Reichenbach, Stella Adunski, Helena Szteinberg, Dudke Bloch, Tchernikovski, Bella Kuperberg and others, I was summoned to the community council. There they gave us the job of collecting underwear, kitchen utensils, and many other items for the Germans - this was in order to avoid the pillaging of Jewish homes. Bronka Katzler and I had to move furniture and clothing to the police station where an elderly S.S. major smiled at us and asked if the clothing was not lice infested, and ordered us to bring more. In the first days of the German occupation many Jews and Russians were arrested – also arrested was the mathematics teacher L. Perlis – he was beaten brutally and disappeared without a trace. Rumors abounded that one of his own high school students had denounced him to the Germans.

In November –December 1941 the transfer of all the Brest Jews into the ghetto began – a section of the city had been fenced off with three barbed wires a metre high. At the ghetto gates stood a Jewish policeman on the inside and a Ukrainian policeman on the outside. One could only leave the ghetto with a work permit or the authorization of the Judenrat. Going out to work everyone made great efforts to find pieces of wood to heat the stoves. Both the Ukrainian and Jewish police guards would not permit and food or wood to be brought into the ghetto – to get caught bringing these items in meant risking one's life. In the ghetto one had to pay inflated prices for food, a soup kitchen was set up where soup was served twice daily. This together with the additional supplement of several hundred marks monthly made life just sustainable for many Jewish families.

An order was issued forbidding Jews from walking on the sidewalks; only doctors were exempted from this in special circumstance. Only very few families were permitted to live outside the ghetto. Dr Zilberstein, Dr Kagan, Dr Zeligson, Skorbnik, Dr Grynstein, all treated people outside the ghetto but they themselves lived inside the ghetto. Dora Braverman owned a beauty salon outside the ghetto, but she had to live inside. The two daughters of Ganz the hairdresser, went to their hairdressing parlour on the Aryan side to work. Also several tailors went outside the ghetto to work. Dr Rosenberg and Dr Nachman Landau were officially permitted to live outside the ghetto; however, Dr Libovitch and Dr Yaffe refused to live apart from their fellow Jews and shared the fate of their Brest brethren.

Included in the ghetto area were the buildings that had previously been the Great Synagogue, and the Jewish Community building where the Germans decreed that a communal kitchen be set up. Part of the Jewish hospital on Listovska St, which had housed the clinic of Dr Lopata, became an emergency clinic, they transferred some medical equipment there and the doctors worked in this small space with the greatest dedication. Amongst others we should praise the efforts of the young Dr V. Mostovlanski.

Hundreds of men were brought to Brest from Biala and Mezrich, these people worked in forced labor outside the ghetto. Huts were erected for them in the ghetto on Jagiellonska St. From Malorita and other villages men and women who were working for the Germans building roads were brought into the ghetto.

The ghetto of Kobryn was liquidated in August 1942, included were many Brest families: Mullier, Sarva (Except for Mischa Sarva who was in Russia with S. Matzkevitch), Blankstein and others. There were also thousands of Brest Jews in the Kowal ghetto: Pinczuk, Pomeraniec, Baraks, his son in law Chaim Shmuel Grossberg, Kwiartovski, and Munye Baraks who was shot from behind in front of his house by a German.

On the 14th October 1942 rumours began circulating that the Ukrainian police were fully mobilized. The polite Germans reassured us - on that same evening Nirenblatt and I were with the likeable German major who assured us that nothing bad would befall us Jews.

We went to bed as usual - at 4 a.m. we were awoken by loud noises and footsteps. We immediately saw that we were surrounded - we managed to pull two heavy planks from the floorboards and went down into the cellar that was only half a metre high. There were prepared buckets of water and some food there – we squashed in with our parents and several other tenants. The same instant that we replaced the two covering planks we heard knocking and banging on the windows. We stayed silent, even the four-year-old Serling grandchild did not make a sound, he silently snuggled his pale face into his grandmother. Through the gaps and holes in our hiding place we could see what was happening outside in the courtyard. There stood Lithuanian and Ukrainian policemen in black uniforms with large badges on their sleeves and caps. They had machine guns and hand grenades. The entire day there was great fear and terror – when it grew dark, the uproar abated but the shooting from close by and further away could be heard throughout the night. The blood stood still in my veins.

We lay in this hiding place for 8 days until we ran out of water – we decided to escape at night. Our back yard had a wooden fence that was the border to the Aryan side - on Dabrowska St (opposite Ganz's hairdressing salon). We could not get out the same way that we had entered the cellar – we had to go through a small opening into a lower cellar. In the early morning I lowered myself into this cellar - the long period of lying in the damp had caused my legs to swell, I swayed and fell. I dragged myself to our house, I could not recognize it – the furniture and everything in it had vanished without a trace – the windows were all smashed, and the doors ripped off.

The scene was terrifying. I hid in a closet as others began to come out of hiding. At our neighbours the Lamanovskis who lived above us, 15 people were lying hiding in a camouflaged attic. Manya Lamanovski had been during that time on the Aryan side a few times to see her friends and acquaintances. She did not receive any help from her Aryan friends, not even a piece of bread for her daughter. There was nowhere to flee and no purpose in fleeing, she said. For us here there is no way we can save ourselves. These were the terrible words we heard after 8 days hiding in our cellar.

In the ghetto there was not a living soul to be seen. All around was a deathly silence. On the deserted streets the Lithuanian and Ukrainian police wandered around in their black German uniforms.

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