The First Month of the Nazi Occupation
The Germans are Coming
On Friday, the 4th
of July, 1941, 13 days after the German army had begun its attack on the USSR,
the Germans arrived at the gates of Pinsk, which then numbered, according to
German sources, 80,000 inhabitants, 35-40,000 of whom were
At eleven o'clock in the morning the first German airplanes appeared in the
sky. The people outside ran in panic to their homes. The peasants who had come
to town for market day hurriedly returned to their villages.
The Russian N.K.V.D. (The Commissariat of the Interior), who were the last of
the former authorities to remain, hastily packed their belongings and sped in
their cars in the direction of the bridge over the Pina River.
Suddenly there was the sound of a huge explosion: the retreating Russians blew
up the bridge. Several buildings on the edge of the town went up in flames, set
on fire by the Russians. Then all became quiet, the silence being shattered
from time to time by bursts of cannonfire. Shells flew over the town in the
direction of the Russians, who were retreating across the river.
It was raining slightly. The first Germans entered the town on bicycles,
and behind them came cars draped in flags. 
The Christian inhabitants welcomed the Germans with bread, salt and flowers,
while the Jews watched in fear behind their closed shutters.
The First Victims
The battalions passing through Listovsky Street, inhabited entirely by Jews,
took sixteen young men out of a few houses, among them the brothers Avraham and
Zeev Neidich (both of whom had visited Palestine and returned), claiming they
were taking them away to work. Afterwards they added: Germans were shot
at in this street. 
We found evidence of this in the following statement: On this street Jews
had run after two paratroopers, but had not succeeded in catching them. This
was part of a hunt for paratroopers who had dispersed around the town and its
vicinity and were preparing the arrival of the Germans into the area. They were
disguised in police uniforms, army uniforms or in civilian clothes, and had
questioned the inhabitants on matters that seemed of importance to them. The
two paratroopers in question led the Nazi bloodhounds to this street.
The sixteen Jews were taken to the building of the District Court in Karlin,
the seat of the German army headquarters. The next day, when the sixteen had
not returned from their work, it was learned that from the
headquarters they had been taken to the nearby Lishche Woods where they were
shot and buried. Only one of them, his hand wounded, had managed to hide under
the pile of the dead bodies and escape.
The parents of the victims searched for their sons for several days until they
discovered their fate. They applied to the Germans for permission to give their
sons a Jewish burial. The Nazis asked them to sign a document stating that the
retreating Russians had shot the young men, and the parents signed. The Germans
photographed the parents standing besides the dead bodies of the victims and
used these pictures for propaganda against the USSR.
A second version states: when the Nazis refused to permit the removal of
the bodies to the Jewish cemetery, the parents of the murdered young men took
advantage of the replacement of the battalion that had taken the town and
applied once more to the new commander. Like his predecessor, he too asked them
to sign a document. After they had bribed him with some clothing, they were
granted permission for the burial. When the dead bodies were put on this simple
cart it appeared that the victims had been tortured and their bodies mutilated
after death. The burial of the first victims of the Nazis in the town was a
terrible and tragic sight.
The anti-Semitic decrees were introduced beginning with the very first days of
the occupation. The day after the occupation of the town by the Germans, a
decree was promulgated requiring the bakeries to supply bread for the German
army, and every piece of bread missing from the allocated quota would result in
the execution of ten Jews.
Jews were not allowed to leave town, to be on the streets after six p.m., nor
to shop in the marketplace. All the Jews, from small children to old men, had
to wear a white ribbon with a yellow Star of David on the left arm; those who
did not obey this order were to be shot on the spot.
The Jews were ordered to hand in their radios. Any Jew found in possession of a
radio after a given date would be executed. The place of collection was the
Polski Bank on Oginska Street. An order was issued to supply a certain amount
of soap, and then there were additional orders to supply boots, clothing and
Ever-increasing numbers of people were abducted as laborers. They were kicked
and beaten. Any man who happened to be on the street might be taken away. In
the beginning, the men who had been abducted into the labor force would
sometimes come home in the evenings, beaten and wounded. Men avoided appearing
on the streets. The long queues at the bakery consisted mainly of women and
children, waiting patiently for a piece of bread. The Germans, passing through
the street, would take a few out of the line, beat them mercilessly, and mock
them for their own pleasure and to the joy of the Polish and Russian
bystanders, who had been watching and enjoying the shameful scene.
From the first day of the occupation of the town German soldiers would enter
homes, looting and taking with them anything that appealed to them. After a
short while the
took over this task, and started a methodical search of the Jewish homes in
order to loot them. A mark was made on each house where they had completed
their job. The most sought-after objects were furs, cloth, and
jewelry. They confiscated all metal goods, such as kettles, hatchets, hammers,
nails, copper pans, candlesticks, iron beds, tin and silver, kitchenware etc.
The Gentile Population Collaborated with the Nazis
The Gentile population of the town collaborated with the occupation forces.
Immediately they observed the altered status of their Jewish neighbors, whose
lives and possessions became common property and they, too, did their share of
the looting. The German reaction to this was to forbid all contact between Jews
and non-Jews. They strictly forbade the Jews to sell, exchange or lend their
property to their Gentile neighbors.
The Polish police, who were trained by the occupation forces during the first
days of the occupation, enthusiastically assisted the Germans in their
plundering, humiliation and denunciation of Jews. The appointed Police
Commissioner was Sologub, a former clerk of the Court, and his deputy was the
son of the lawyer Shmigelsky. On the order of the army commander and under his
supervision, the Polish police officers started to arrest people who had held
posts under the Russian regime. Among those arrested was a teacher from the
Tarbuth High School, Mr Balaban, who was shot on the other side of the river.
Some of those arrested managed to escape by paying a huge ransom.
Old accounts between local Jews and various Gentiles were now settled.
I knew a woman called Bashke, reports one of the witnesses:
the mother of four children. At the beginning of the war the woman hid in
an orchard for protection from the air attacks. A Russian mounted soldier
passing by was shot at by two young Poles, but he escaped unhurt. He dismounted
from his horse to find out who had fired the shots. The woman pointed to the
two young men, and they were arrested. When the Germans came, they found the
woman and with the help of the Polish police handed her over to the
Gestapo, who tortured her to death.
And another case: a young Jew, who under the Russian authorities had been a
foreman in a plywood factory, had caught a Gentile woman stealing some plywood
boards, and she was condemned to three months in prison. Now the young man was
arrested. At the police station he was stabbed with knives, and dying, was
dragged to the outskirts of town, where he was shot. Another young Jew was
denounced by his boss under the Russians, because he had been a member of the
Komsomol. At the police station he was beaten until he fainted, his skin was
slashed and salt spread on his wounds. The boy had been healthy and strong, and
he was tortured for a long time, until he found release in death.
The streets were empty, all the shops and offices were closed. Those who had
worked in free professions remained without work. The schools were closed. The
Tarbuth High School now housed a German staff. The Jews were afraid to go to
the synagogue. Only workers in factories and a few workshops received special
permits and continued their work.
The Structure of the Judenrat and its Institutions
During the second half of July the commander of the town issued an order to
Judenrat, which would act as a link between the commander and the Jewish population,
and would see to it that his orders were carried out.
David Alper, the principal of the Tarbuth High School, was chosen as the first
chairman of the
Judenrat, and the following were chosen as members: Hamerman, Semizhovsky, Munvez, Kopl
Busel, Lerman, Meshel, Shkolnik, Shvartsblat, Bergman, Pruchansky, and others.
Two days after he was appointed Chairman, David Alper resigned. He was, of
course, aware of the fact that his resignation might endanger his life, but he
soon realized that the purpose of this office was not so much to negotiate with
the Germans, as to carry out their orders.
And as a matter of fact, after the first massacre (from now on we shall call it
the first action) took place about ten days after his resignation. Alper was
taken from his home and was executed, together with twenty other members of the
among the first victims of Pinsk.
Seven to eight members of the
remained, and they carried on until the end.
As the members of the
had taken an active part in rounding up the thousands who were murdered during
the first action, and as among them were some whose sons somehow remained
alive, they found themselves surrounded by hostility. This hostility was
expressed by the saying, popular at the time, among the thousands of widows and
orphans: You and your own children did not appear at the concentration
square but you sent our husbands and fathers to their death. The
carried out its task in this atmosphere during the entire period of its
The tasks of the members of the
were divided in the following manner:
Bokshtansky was the chairman in name, but the actual chairman was Motl Minsky
who, as a former inhabitant of Danzig, spoke German very well. His main task
was maintaining daily contact with the District Commissioner (Gebietskommissar). Almost every day towards evening a meeting of the
took place, at which Minsky would present a report. Apparently no minutes were
taken and every meeting was a consultation on how to meet the endless demands
of the Germans. In the beginning the
tried to soften the German orders as much as possible, but the members were
nonetheless forced to assist the Germans in carrying out the decrees.
Benjamin Bokshtansky: Chairman, responsible for economic affairs.
Motl Minsky: Vice-Chairman, contact with the Germans.
Goldman: Notary, legal affairs.
Cooper: Labor Department.
M. Eizenberg: supply.
Meir Greenstein: supply.
The Head Accountant of the
was Ephraim Elstein, a former accountant at the plywood factory in Horodiszcze,
and he was assisted by Motl Shukman. The treasurer was Itsl Giller. During the
first months of its existence, the
set up a polyclinic in the Levin House next to the Main Synagogue. Here Dr.
Elhanan Einbinder (who was a graduate of the Tarbuth School) worked. A Jewish
hospital was also set up by the
, and a burial society which had its hands full. Among the many people who
carried out this task of paying last honors to the dead with dedication,
special mention is made of the metal merchant Yudl Oksman, and the textile
merchant Avraham Leizer Mular.
Division of Labor
Hundreds of Jews worked in the different departments of the
. The largest number of clerks worked in the Labor Department. Four to five
thousand Jewish workers were dispersed in different places of work. This
department prepared the list of those who worked in the factories and
workshops. Most of the workers had regular employment and the others were
placed and exchanged as temporary workers. Every day the
had to supply a quota of workers to meet the demands of the Germans. Men from
sixteen to sixty-five years of age and women from sixteen to fifty-five were
obliged to do forced labor three times a week, according to a list that was
drawn up in advance. At eight o'clock in the morning the workers had to appear
in front of the building of the
Judenrat, which in the beginning was housed on Zavalna Street opposite the Municipal
Hospital. From here it was later removed to the stone house of Leib Tenenbaum
on Albrekhtovska (Kupecheska) Street. There were no regular working hours. The
German supervisor kept the workers as he saw fit.
Tired, hungry and very often beaten, these workers returned home towards
evening. Jewish work groups organized by the
were also employed by local Gentile contractors in orchards, for repair work
on roads and bridges and other
The Activities of the Judenrat
Where did the
obtain the financial means to carry out its work? The main source of income
was a bread tax. Bread was sold officially for coupons, at a price of two
rubles a kilo (later this was increased to three rubles), 75 % of which was tax.
On the black market the price of a loaf of bread rose to 200 rubles. Part of
the money came from the sale of surplus gold of the inhabitants, which had been
collected on the orders of the Germans, and which, without the knowledge of the
Gestapo, had remained in the hands of the
The money was used for three main purposes:
The former principal of the High School, Mrs. Checkick-Golinker, headed the
Social Services Department. Every day hundreds of people knocked on her door to
beg for help and support. Each one handed in a written application. She
determined the amount of aid to be given according to the financial means at
her disposal. These however covered but a small part of the demands. Some
people recall that, although she had a difficult and complicated job, she
always had a friendly word and good advice for those who came to her, and acted
like a mother to them.
To comply with the many and capricious demands of the Germans.
To pay the salaries of those who worked for the
For social services.
The Supply Department was managed by Zilverblat, Eizenberg and Greenstein.
Zilverblat knew the Germans who were in charge of supply matters personally,
thanks to the fact that they had evicted him from his house on
Wishniovietska Street and set up their offices there. Apart from bread, the
Germans distributed no other items to the Jews. In order to obtain staple
products, the Jews had to rely on the peasants of the surrounding area, with
whom they exchanged clothing and fabric for food, with the aid of the Jews who
worked all over the town. It was strictly forbidden to enter the market, nor
were the Jews allowed to go on the Main Street, Kosciusko Street, or to the
riverside. Briefly, the Jews enjoyed the privilege of shopping in the
marketplace two days a week. Later they were allowed only one day a week, and
finally the permit was completely withdrawn.
One of the witnesses tells the following story: One day I tried my luck
and sneaked out to the marketplace between the carts of the peasants. I had
taken some soap to exchange for food. Before I could even approach someone to
make an offer, I was caught by a Polish policeman. He beat me and cursed me and
I went home empty-handed, with strong feelings of hatred and revenge for the
insult and humiliation I had suffered.
Two Days of Mass Murder
The first month of the German occupation of the town came to an end. This
was a month of insults, humiliation and sorrow. The population suffered in
silence, facing the future with foreboding. Shut up in their houses, avoiding
the streets of the town for fear of meeting the Germans or their collaborators
in the Polish police force, the Jews still had some hope that this life of
hunger and misery, the life of chained slaves, would come to an end.
The Arrest of the Hostages
A month after the occupation, what had been feared became a horrible reality.
On Monday night, the 4th of August 1941, it began. On this night the Germans,
accompanied by the Polish Police, came to Jewish homes in different parts of
the town and arrested 300 men, most of them young. Beaten with rifle-butts,
they were taken by the Poles under their leader Shmigelsky to the cork factory
on Albrekhtovska Street, seat of the gendarmerie. Bleeding from their wounds,
they were thrown into the cellar. A few of them managed to escape and alerted
the townspeople to what had happened.
Tuesday, August 5th, 1941, the First Action
Early in the morning, that Tuesday, the parents and wives of the arrested men
ran to the
and begged for help, for the rumor had spread that the Germans were asking for
a ransom for the prisoners. Members of the
consulted Mayor Shlivinsky (the former Principal of the High School). He
claimed to be completely ignorant of the matter, not having been informed by
the German authorities. Finally he agreed to accompany them to the town's
commander. Near noontime the delegation of the
entered the office of the commander, accompanied by the mayor. He threw the
Jews out of his room with the order: Out! You damned dogs! He then
ordered the mayor, who had remained in the room, to tell the Jews that all men
from eighteen to sixty years of age were to report to work at the railway
station. If the order were not obeyed, the 300 Jews who had been arrested the
night before would be shot. He was using them as hostages.
Immediately the members of the
and their messengers scattered all over the town crying: Jews! All males
between the ages of sixteen and sixty must report to the railway station for
work. Whoever refuses will be killed with his family. The Polish police
too were in the streets, urging the Jews to come out. A rumor spread that they
were being sent to Horodiszcze to repair the railway tracks.
The members of the
, who went from house to house urging the Jews to obey the orders, also
recommended that they take with them food for three days.
In spite of the panic and growing fear, thousands began to move towards the
railway station. 8000 men were lined up in two long columns of five people
abreast. An order was given to put all papers, money, watches and other
possessions on the ground and to turn pockets inside out. Then 150 bridge
workers were taken aside, but before being released and sent home, they had to
clear the railway square, i.e., to collect all the items that lay
scattered on the ground.
It was a hot and bright summer's day. Clouds of dust were raised by
thousands of people who were compelled to march quickly, practically to run,
and by the horses and motorcycles that surrounded us closely on all sides. Our
closely-packed column, which must have stretched over kilometers, was
approaching the village of Posenicz. Within minutes we climbed down into the
roadside ditch and stopped marching. Suddenly shots could be heard.
We saw the open pits and the Germans with their hands on the triggers of
their machine guns and we began to run in panic, trying to escape. Most people
turned to the right in the direction of Luniniets. Corn and potato fields
attracted the fugitives to that side, but those who ran in that direction
turned back at once. Before them were fourteen huge pits awaiting their prey.
There was no choice but to run in the opposite direction. There the ground was
covered only with low-growing weeds, but in the background a little dark wood
beckoned. A hail of shots came from all directions. The shrieks of the wounded
mingled with the shouts of the murderers, and the whole scene was shrouded in a
cloud of dust. Most Jews remained standing near the pits. They were told to
kneel and to crawl to the pit's edge.
Escape from Certain Death
Aryeh Dolinko writes:
I was half a kilometer from the head of the line and ran off in the
direction of Hai. While running I was wounded in the stomach and so I arrived
at the forest.
There I met another three young men, who had succeeded in escaping. They were
not wounded. As I had lost a lot of blood en route, I was obliged to seek a way
to return to the city, and not wait like them till evening.
I soiled my blood-stained clothing with mud and, barefoot, set out on my way
(my shoes had been lost during my escape). Miraculously I was not stopped by
any of the Christians who saw me, and I also managed to avoid the German guards
near the railway tracks. I crawled under a freight train which was standing at
the station, and made my way to Kolyova Street. Nearby some members of the
group of skilled Jewish workers were still standing, I mingled with them and
walked along with them. They gazed at me, but did not ask a thing. The walk was
difficult for me. A great thirst plagued me. I approached the home of a Jew and
asked for some water. From there I crossed some gardens and made my way to the
Maccabi sports field, and from there to the home of Dr. Hughes on Traugota
Street. I walked with the doctor to the Jewish Hospital, and he warned me not
to say a word about where I'd come from. That night I told Drs. Limishuv and
Miles all that had happened to me.
The next day my presence became known to the
Judenrat. They visited me in the hospital. I told them what had happened to us.
On the second night two additional patients reached the hospital: Mordecai
Gottlieb and Yaakov Pepish. They disclosed that by nine p.m. the Germans had
shot all of their victims. They had each lain wounded in the leg on the pile of
bodies, and at night had crawled out of the death pit and escaped.
In the National Headquarters of the Israel Police Tsila Dolinko testified:
Towards evening I received word that my husband was in the Jewish Hospital. I
hurried over there. My husband told me that everyone had been murdered. The
following day the Judenrat received the clothes of the victims. A few tens of
other escapees made their way back to the ghetto, but they disclosed the fact
to only a very few, so that knowledge of the existence of escapees would not
reach German ears.
During the night, the Germans, accompanied by the Polish police, again invaded
Jewish homes for additional searches. They told the men they found to fetch
hoes and to come with them. They also took boys of twelve to thirteen years of
age. We need many hands, they said. About 300 Jews were taken to
the site of the slaughter and there were forced to collect the bodies of those
who had been shot while trying to escape and who were now lying scattered over
the field. When the job was done, they too were shot, except for two who had to
cover the pits. Next day, Wednesday, the streets were full of women and
children who were running about expecting their husbands and fathers. In the
noise and commotion only few men could be seen, the few remaining members of
and the doctors.
Thursday, August 7th: The Second Action
Early that morning searches were carried out by the Nazi squads who went from
one house to the next, accompanied by their accomplices, the Polish police. The
few remaining men were still in their beds.
This time, children from the age of eight and old people, too, were taken,
including those who had escaped only two days earlier. The old and the sick,
who were unable to walk, were carried on carts, but some of them were killed in
their beds. This time, the troops looked for hideaways and whenever they found
a young man they beat him cruelly and shouted at him: Why didn't you
report for work the day before yesterday? and took him with them. Some
mothers offered gold to ransom their children and there were Germans who
accepted it, but most took the gold and the child too.
Only very few Germans were moved by the mothers' cries and went away telling
the women to hide the children. From many homes parents and children were taken
together. In the pouring rain children and adults were led through the streets,
hands on head, escorted by Germans in mackintoshes colored with camouflage.
Those were Germans specially brought to town for the purpose.
2,5003,000 men, including old people and children, lost their lives in
this second Thursday action. Altogether 11,000 men were murdered during these
three days of slaughter in the month of August 1941. They had been the cream of
the town's Jewish population, physically as well as spiritually: nearly all the
young men given to work or study, principals and teachers of high and
elementary schools and, generally, all the educated classes excepting doctors.
This terrible bloodletting left the remnant of the Jewish population broken and
The Murderers' Testimony on the August Slaughter
Twenty-one years after the above horrors, Dr. Arzt, the First German Prosecutor
of the Board of Legal Services (Zentrale der Justizverwaltung) in Ludwigsburg near Stuttgart, in his final summation (Abschlußbericht), reviews the investigations and evidence against those murderers of the Jews
of Pinsk who have been apprehended. Affirming all the aforementioned accounts,
Some 80,000 residents were living in Pinsk at the time of its occupation
by the Germans, among them 35,000-40,000 Jews, who resided all over town. At
the beginning of August 1941 the first
to destroy the Jewish population took place. On August 4th
, 1941 the
published a notice that all Jewish men between the ages sixteen and sixty were
to report to the train station on the following day, the fifth of August, by
two o'clock in the afternoon. From there they would be sent away to work for
three days. They should bring food for these three days. In case of
non-appearance, all members of the family were liable to be sentenced to death.
In this announcement warning was given that all houses would be searched at
(Among the depositions in our possession there is no confirmation of some of
the details mentioned above:
At the train station thousands of Jews gathered, who were massacred en
masse. The shootings were carried out by the 2nd Mounted Police Battalion of
the S. S. Fogelein S. S. Mounted Brigade of
(Major in the S. S.) Franz Magil, who now resides in Braunschweig, West Germany.
- only one among the five witnesses in this matter [Chaya Sherman] recalls the notification of the
Judenratof the fourth of August, 1941;
- the witnesses who recall the age of those required to go out to work, give the ages eighteen to sixty, and not sixteen to
sixty. N. B.)
The Headquarters of the Regiment, which camped at the beginning of August at
Baranowicz, gave the order to the platoons of the 2nd Battalion to comb the
marches and kill any Jews found in the villages of that area. The executions
were to be carried out with the cooperation of the S.D. (Security Branch of the
Nazi Party). This order was based upon the General Order of
A.S. H. Himmler.
At the beginning of August
Magil presented himself at the S. D. headquarters and Security Police in Pinsk,
before the S. S.
(rank of lieutenant in the S. S.) Werthof, and identified himself as Commander
of the S. S. Battalion of the Mounted Police. He presented a written
command, ordering the death of all the Jewish men in this region and the exile
of all the Jewish women and children to the marshes [to die]. In the above
order the garrison soldiers were required to assist S. S.
The accused Werthof writes the First Prosecutor Arzt told Magil
in his testimony, that in his opinion, it would be impossible to carry out the
order to exile the women and children. He also demanded the release of Jewish
skilled workers, but Magil regarded these objections with great disfavor.
According to Werthof's testimony, the Jewish men gathered at the train station,
as per Magil's order, and were led by his inferiors to a place six kilometers'
distance from the town, where pits had been prepared. There all were put to
death by shooting by the 2nd Mounted Battalion of the S. S. No other police
battalions were present.
The defendant Magil reported in his testimony that the 4th
Mounted Battalion was also placed at his disposal. Likewise, he added, I
was ordered to prepare a landing site west of Pinsk for a Fizeler-Storch
plane (a light reconnaissance plane).
The following day continued Magil in his testimony
I arrived in Pinsk. The 1st
Platoon had already begun the executions, as mentioned in his report to me by
the officer of the platoon, whom I met there. I told him that the 'activity'
must be completed within two days. I also sought and found the commander of the
Platoon amidst the march of the Jewish men from Pinsk out of the city, and
made contact with the local S. D. commander, whose name I don't recall. The
officer informed me that the action would be completed the following day. That
evening I met with the officers of the 1st
and 4th, and gave the order to complete the killings the following day, and together
we made the requisite plans.
The next day I personally reviewed the events at the site. The killings
were being carried out by the 4th
Platoon, under the command of Platoon Commander Wagner. I was present at the
site only as an overseer to make sure that all was carried out quickly and
However, in the opinion of the prosecutor, the extermination of the Jews of
Pinsk had nothing to do with the operation against the partisans, which had
also been ordered. The
in Pinsk on the 5th
of August 1941 were carried out only in conformance with the goals of National
Socialism of the total extermination of the Jews, as interpreted by the veteran
S. S. Officer Magil. Failure to obey these orders would have
officer's rank or even his life.
The Oppressors in Action
About 20,000 Jewish inhabitants remained in the town, after the terrible days
of early August. The majority were women and young children; there were few
men. These were men who practiced trades that were permitted by the Germans, or
who had succeeded in hiding and surviving.
About a week after the actions, the Military Commander of the town summoned the
members of the
Judenrat. Very innocently he told them that he was aware of the fact that not all the
Jews had gone to work when ordered to, and that many were still hiding in the
town and its surroundings. They should not hesitate to return home, for the
Germans in charge of recruiting for forced labor had left the town. From now on
everything would be quiet and soon even those who had been taken away to work
would return. The
Judenrat, therefore, was to persuade those in hiding to come out, and he, the
Commander, would even be willing to help them carry out the order by putting a
few cars with soldiers at their disposal.
The Jews did not trust the German promise and did not come out of their hiding
places. They came back to town under cover of darkness, one at a time, and for
a long time afterwards they did not appear on the streets.
At the same time the army authorities requisitioned Jewish property, while the
Gentile population cooperated faithfully with them in their looting. A special
German company arrived in town for this purpose. Accompanied by local Gentile
women, the Germans came to Jewish homes, looked through the cupboards, and
picked out clothing and anything else they fancied. The Germans loaded
furniture and valuables into their cars and the women put the rest of the
things into their sacks and baskets. Usually the Jews went into hiding when the
looting groups came to their homes. Women, who tried to save their property
instead of turning it in to the robbers, were forced to load the property on to
the cars with their own hands. This went on for two days.
After the looting squads had left the town, the German Commander summoned the
members of the
and announced that all the men who had remained in the town would have to
obtain documents certifying that they held useful jobs. Any Jew found without
such a document would be arrested. Again the Jews were terrified. Wasn't
this a new trick invented by the Nazis, to catch the remaining men in
town? they all asked.
And what were they to do now?
The first who carried out these orders and obtained work permits were the
doctors, the members of the
, and those employed by the
Judenrat. From them it was learned that it was not necessary to collect the document
personally and that it could be collected by a representative. The Gentiles who
worked at the offices of the Army Headquarters took advantage of this situation
and did a very profitable business. They received large sums of money,
valuables and fabric for the documents they supplied.
Soon everyone was in possession of a document. Nevertheless, the men avoided
the streets, fearing for their lives. After a short interval Mayor Shlivinsky
issued an order that every inhabitant had to have an identity card, and this
time the application had to be presented personally. There was no choice: they
overcame the fear in their hearts and went.
A few days passed and the men too came out of their hideouts. Everyday their
number increased. Many of them were employed in various jobs by the Germans.
Envy spread among the Jews in town, especially among the women, when they saw
the men come out of hiding. Extreme anger and hatred were directed primarily
against the members of the
and its clerks, who had urged the men in the days of the August actions to
appear and report for work, well aware of the threat in the German
order of the death penalty for the families who refused.
Establishment of the Civil Authorities
A few weeks after the massacre, the civil authorities arrived, first of all the
District Commissioner (Gebietskommissar),
Paul Gerhard Klein
and his deputy Alfred
[b]. Immediately after their arrival, the Chairman of the
and his deputy were called to their office, and were ordered to see to it that
all the orders received from the District Commissioner were carried out. New
orders were not long in coming.
New Anti-Semitic Laws
The first law introduced the yellow patch. Instead of the white ribbon with the
yellow Star of David on the left arm, the Jews now had to wear two round yellow
patches on front and back. We must be able to distinguish the Jewish
inhabitants from afar the Commissioner explained his order. Then
the Jews were ordered to keep to the middle of the road and not to walk on the
sidewalk anyone caught walking on the sidewalk would be shot
in accordance with the law! Two months later this law was
One of the witnesses explained the reason for the change: One day a
German general passed through the town. When he saw pedestrians walking in the
middle of the road and vehicles traveling on the sidewalk, he ordered the
situation to be reversed. Until the Jews became aware of the new
situation, many were beaten by Polish police clubs and by German rifle-butts,
for disobeying the order.
The Jews were ordered to make way for any Gentile they encountered on the
street. All contact between Christians and Jews was strictly forbidden.
The Gold Tax
One day an order was given that within three days twenty kilograms of gold had
to be collected and delivered to the Germans. If the order were not carried
out, the Jews would be expelled from Pinsk empty-handed, the District
Commissioner added. Following deliberations of the
Judenrat, some Jews ran into the streets shouting: Jews, let us save ourselves.
Let us give our property for our lives, otherwise we shall be expelled from the
town. The persecuted Jews knew from experience that the German was not
joking, and that he would carry out his threat. Therefore they quickly produced
the ransom: watches, rings, necklaces, bracelets, broken gold teeth etc. So as
to stress the importance of the undertaking, the
set up a special committee to collect the gold; this committee was headed by
Rabbi Moshe, the Tsaddik [Righteous] of Stollin. The gold and silver were
delivered to the members of the
Judenrat, weighed and marked by expert goldsmiths, and proper receipts were issued to
The priest of the Pravoslavic (Russian Orthodox) church in the town, who was
well known as a friend to the Jews, donated his gold cross weighing half a
kilogram to the gold-tax committee. The order was carried out. To celebrate its
successful execution the
gave a party for the German authorities, with singing, dancing and drinks. The
Chairman of the
was put to shame by the German Commander when he was asked at the end of the
party to bring him a Jewish maiden of between eighteen and twenty-four years of
Confiscation of Property
After the gold order had been carried out to the satisfaction of the Germans,
they relentlessly continued their demands on Jewish property.
These were made not all at once, but in stages: wool of the best quality for a
hundred suits, ready-made suits, sheets, blankets, soles and leather for shoes,
boots, cows, horses and other animals. All manner of threats accompanied the
demands, so that the suppliers would be as docile and meek as possible. Winter
was approaching, and with the advance of the German Army into Russia, the
soldiers suffered from the lack of warm clothing. There was therefore a very
strict order for furs and all fur-lined garments, and even gloves, to be handed
in. The Nazis did not mind taking even old and shabby winter clothes. The order
for furs, too, was accompanied by the stipulation: He who disobeys the
order will be shot. And once again the Germans carried out their threat.
On information supplied by his Christian neighbor, furs were found in a pit in
the yard of Moshe Glotser (one of the sons of Honya the Bath Man). As
punishment he and his wife were hanged in the market place. The same fate
befell a woman and her two daughters when fur was found in their home. They
were forced to put the rope around one another's necks. For three days their
dead bodies hung in the central square, the Third of May Square. The workmen
were obliged to pass through this square on their way to work, and the
spectacle reminded them of their plight. The metal merchant, old Note Melnik,
was hanged for exchanging a sickle for flour. The daughter of the baker
Lasovsky was hanged for exchanging woolens for food; Ushpiz for
slaughtering a calf. Three women and one man were hanged because they were
found to be in possession of gold. There were new victims for the scaffold and
gallows in the square every day, women as well as men, found guilty of all
sorts of imaginary offenses. The horror was nerve-racking. No one could be sure
that his home would not be broken into that night, or that he would not be
taken away and hanged without trial.
A second gold order was given. This time the demand was for Russian gold coins
of five or ten rubles (Imperials).
This time as before thirty to fifty hostages were taken, and on
pain of their execution the order was to be carried out by a given date. The
Jews met the demand, saying to themselves: Spare me my life, and take my
Concern about Food
Hunger forced the Jews not to heed the laws, in spite of the killings and
hangings. But even those who had something of value left could not obtain
sufficient food, because of the severe ban on dealings between Christians and
Jews. However the peasants of the region did their utmost to bypass the ban,
and came to the Jewish homes to make a profitable deal. This was dangerous of
course. A peasant caught in the house of a Jew by the Polish police would be
taken to the security police or was beaten up on the spot. Then the
asked the Commissioner to allow the Jews to buy food in the market. How
can we work for you without giving food to the workers? the
representatives of the
asked. This time the District Commissioner granted them their request and the
Jews were allowed to shop in the market two days a week. For this
favor he received a handsome sum. But the favor did not last long.
Eventually the permit was again reduced to one day a week, and finally it was
cancelled altogether. In spite of the ban and the danger to their lives, there
were Jews who went to the market to obtain food. The warnings of the
were of no avail. The police, time and again, warned the
that the guilty would be punished and shot.
It was then that the
decided to set up a Jewish police force to patrol the market, the riverside
and other prohibited areas, and to prevent all contact between the Jews and the
peasants of the vicinity. It was also necessary to maintain order at the
offices of the
and the surrounding areas, for every day thousands of people would gather there
to arrange their affairs, and the valuables that were collected there before
delivery to the Germans had to be guarded at night. The police force consisted
of a commander and twelve voluntary policemen, who received a monthly salary
from the budget of the
. The first police commander was Asher Feldlait, a graduate of the Tarbuth
School, a very honest man.
To the credit of the Jewish police of Pinsk we read in one
of the statements we must point out that there were no cases of
cruelty, beatings or inhuman behavior by the policemen towards the Jewish
population, as we have heard and read about in other towns. This is, at least,
in accordance with my own experience and with what I have heard from
Another witness, however, tells us of how she was confronted by a few Jewish
policemen when they saw her skiing down a road, dressed in a ski-suit. They
tried to arrest her by force and take away her suit and the skis, which they
wanted for themselves. Only her strong resistance prevented this.
The Harsh Winter
The winter of 1941-1942, which was particularly cold and severe, constituted a
threat to the Jews of Pinsk. It was extremely difficult to obtain firewood for
the stoves. It was then that the trees in the Karlin Cemetery were cut down,
although this was done very reluctantly. Every day, hungry, frozen and without
any warm clothing, thousands of Jewish workers went to work in the factories
and workshops, to carry out all sorts of jobs for the Germans and the Gentile
contractors, and in the public services. The forced labor, three times a week
for men, women and even older children, continued, arranged in a rotation
system by the
Judenrat. At the same time, according to Milya Ratnovsky, two great personalities died:
Rabbi Valkin and Rabbi Barukh Epstein. Dr. Jacobson had cared for Rabbi Valkin
devotedly and arranged for a team of nurses who kept continuous vigil at this
bedside, night and day. His illness lasted for about a week, until he died at
home in bed. Rabbi Epstein also died at home after two days of illness. This
was a great privilege in those days.
Rumors of a Ghetto
When spring approached there were rumors about the establishment of a ghetto in
Pinsk too, like the ghettos that had been set up for Jews in other towns. This
rumor was confirmed by the District Commissioner at the beginning of April. He
summoned Bokshtansky and Minsky, and told them that he had received the order
to set up a ghetto in Pinsk. The thousands of Jews were deeply shocked when
they learned of the new order. The
decided to take steps to delay the implementation of this order. In return for
a handsome sum of money, the order was deferred for a short while. The Jewish
population calmed down somewhat. No one wanted to leave his home, to be cut off
from his own little corner and lose his last personal shelter.
Towards Passover the last Jewish refugees from other towns in the area were
brought to Pinsk. They arrived destitute, having been cruelly expelled from
their homes. When the order was issued to establish a ghetto, the Jews of the
town were so weakened and tormented that their resistance was at the breaking
point. Only yesterday, one of the witnesses tells us, we saw
Jewish workmen erecting pillars and putting up a barbed-wire fence in the
vicinity of Zavalna and Listovska Streets, and further on towards Albrekhtovska
Street at one end and Luninyetska Street at the other. It was not hard to guess
that they were preparing the ghetto area. The truth was that many of us did not
care so much about the ghetto. We had become accustomed to the thought that we
were doomed anyway. Others saw in the ghetto a glimmer of hope, and explained
that after the August massacre the murderers had apparently decided to leave
relics of their destruction, and in order to rule the Jewish population more
efficiently, it was going to be imprisoned in a ghetto.
Born in 1906 in Ormburg-Pomeran. He died in 1945. He held the title of High
School Teacher (Studienrat). back
Born in 1913. Now he is a commercial salesman in Stuttgart-Birkach. He was
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