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Start of the Second World War

In the spring of 1939, Bransk is in fear of war. Hitler is now strong and his demands are slowly acquiesced to by the European countries, the very same countries that could have smashed Hitler like a worm at his first daring foray into mobilizing the Rhineland (on March 7, 1936)[1], and did nothing because of their narrow small political interests. Eventually they could not tolerate that France should become a strong power in Europe and this led to and helped to strengthen the Nazi monster.

Now England is terrified of the Frankenstein that it itself had helped to rise to this level of power. Giving in to fear, it hands Hitler everything that he demands.

Poland, so quickly taking on the Nazi teachings to destroy the Jews; thought to find favour * with Hitler, and now finds itself in deadly fear. It knows that Poland will become the first battlefield in the approaching war. Poland is partially mobilized. War preparations ramp up. The greater portion of Bransk youth is now in the Polish army.

Bransk, in the past quarter–century, had lived through various government regimes. With each change, the Jewish population paid the greatest price. The Czarist government changes to German occupation, the Poles chase back the Germans and they themselves are thrown out by the Soviets. Eventually – the Polish

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government that had begun with much hope for Jews to finally become freed from all of their life's troubles and equal to all as recognized citizens, took an anti–Semitic turn.

Bransk was already accustomed to living in Poland under all the new restrictions, against workers, against businessmen.

This was on a Friday, September 1st, about 4 a.m., when the majority of the Jewish population was wrapped in deep sleep and many artisans had shortly before returned from the fair in Bielsk having just ended their work of unpacking the left–over merchandise and figuring out their receipts from the fair.

Several women were awake, those who had already prepared for Shabbos.

The quiet of the early morning is suddenly shattered. The sound of heavy thunder is heard from afar, a long rolling thunder. However, the noise continues to get stronger and nearer. No, it is not thunder, it is airplanes. They fly closer to Bransk. Now they are above the town and with a terrible roar they disappear in the direction of Bielsk. People run into the street, raise their eyes to the sky. Whose are these airplanes? Are they Polish on maneuvers? A second airplane squadron flies past the town and disappears in the same direction to Bielsk. Hearts said that it is war. Mouths however, did not utter the word. Children in the fire positions – who knows? Bransk did not know that the airplanes had already destroyed all Polish trains and all military installations, deeper into Poland to the east.

This is how the several early dawn hours stretched into morning. No one had a definite opinion and yet, everyone knew, felt in their blood and their bones that the war had begun.

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At 9 a.m. the radio announced that Germany had attacked Poland with no declaration of war having been issued.

The Jewish population reacts to this news with heavy hearts. Although calm they are full of fear but outwardly calm.

And so, several days passed. The mobilization increases. New groups are called and inducted into the army. At this same time, there are many earlier inductees who are returning. There are not enough clothes for the enlarged army, no weapons for teaching. And yet, new groups are called up. The farewell scenes are awful. Mothers accompany their children. Wives go with their husbands. Children cling to their fathers. Everyone is crying, everyone is bemoaning the fate of the mobilized who are leaving Bransk.

During these same several days Bransk receives reports of the first victims: Motke Olyentsky, Yankl Vaitek's son, Khaye Kaplansky's younger son, Elye Friedman's son and others.

These same reports notify that the Nazis are marching forward, destroying every attempt at self–defense.

The number of Bransk Jews at the front is already in the tens.

The airplanes fly over the town every day, fly over Bransk on the way to Bielsk or to the east.

The special militia chases the residents into their houses. The firefighters' siren warns the population to seek shelter quickly when the fiery airplanes come. They get used to the firefighters' warning.

On September 6th, a squadron of enemy flyers makes an appearance. The streets are quickly emptied. The people hide. Suddenly, there are heard heavy explosions. Bransk, especially the Jewish houses, are enveloped in flames. The town is showered with incendiary bombs. The flames spread everywhere. There

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is no longer talk of any possibility of escaping the town. All corners are burning. New fires begin every minute. From Sane up to Itche Gimpel's, from the Third Synagogue up to Yobzakn, both sides of the street, from the horse–market to Shtiopken – everything was surrounded by the fiery tongues.

People are running around in the street, in choking smoke between the flames, searching for children. No one can tell where there is a house or a street. The smoke is thick, choking everyone, and yet they search.

There are already dead in the streets: Shaye Mulyer's daughter, 22, Khaye Atiper's daughter, 18, Shloyme Platrat, 26, Hershl Shuster's son. All are lying burned beneath the rubble of Sholem Kratz's burning brick house.

Beneath the burning and collapsed walls of Shloyme Hitsl's house, there lay a stranger, a wandering indigent man with two children aged about 10, also Aron Pribut's son, 17.

Near Sane there lay a Kolnyer woman of about 55, shot. Wounded: Dintche Zeyfman, Itche Orlyarnik, Kotente's wife, Fidl the shoemaker, Zlatke Marvinker's daughter aged 10. All of them die as a result of their wounds.

Shloyme Raibak, Fishl Lyev, heavily wounded and many more.

Victims of a second air–raid are: Simkhah Oyshpeter's daughter aged 22. Yankl Mann's daughter is severely wounded.

Not a single Christian house was damaged by the German air–raids. It was only the Jewish streets that were burned and destroyed.

People run from the hellish fire, from choking smoke, set out into the open fields and forests, naked, hungry.

On September 11th, German tanks tear into town, finding Bransk already destroyed, in ruins and the population demoralized.

An issue is ordered stating that the entire male population is to gather at the market. About 500 Jews are held in the Polish theatre (?). The following day they are all taken to Germany. I (Alter Trus) was among the captured. We suffer hunger, cold, beatings. Our clothes are taken away and given to Christians. Then the Christians themselves take our remaining clothing. Our mood is terrible. Five

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days later there is another tragedy. Incidents of death: Enoch Sivak, Bashe Sime's grandchild, and many others are seriously ill.

We are later freed thanks to the intervention of the Soviet power. On their return, falling victim to hunger, cold and beatings: Khaim Laznik, Zshelye the shoemaker, Zagel's son–in–law Liakhiver, the old watchmaker's grandchild. The Germans chased them all out of their camp near Vlodove, and then opened fire on these Jews. Moshe Vayner's eldest son falls from a shot through his back near Vladave.

The Germans were not in Bransk long, only 14 days. The agreement between the Germans and the Soviets was meanwhile implemented. Bransk was to belong to the Soviet power.

On September 25th, the Nazis withdrew from Bransk. Their final act was to burn the Old Synagogue which had not long before been rebuilt.

That same day the Soviets make their appearance in Bransk.

Branskers hope for a little rest and wish each other happiness.

Footnote (Rubin Roy Cobb)

  1. Date of Birth of Rubin Roy Cobb. Return

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Bransk Under the Soviet Regime
(According to Maishe Yentchman's Account)

The Red Army entered Bransk on September 25th, 1939.

There was deadly silence in town – only women, children and the elderly, hungry, homeless. The air was thick with the choking smell of the burned houses. The dead bodies of people and cows lay about, poisoning one's breath, not yet having been removed from the streets.


Maishe Yentchman and wife
Most important aide to Alter Trus


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A number of young people who had either fled or hidden returned.

Attempts began to have the Soviets intervene with the Nazis to free the Bransk Jews whom they had earlier chased away. It worked. The Germans freed all the prisoners from the Bialystok prison. Bialystok had officially become a part of the Soviet regime. Several returned, many died in the camps.

Soviet order is set up in Bransk. The first order from the new Soviet regime is a very painful one.

Like all periods of change this one too, was difficult to adjust to – new rules, new privileged classes which now arose in Bransk. People who looked at each little store as if it was a middle–class store that must be destroyed.

The big–wigs are now Velvl Pulshansky, Benye, Faivl Shuster's, Ryvtshe Pytlak, good communists from before. and Shepsl Praisel's and Khaim Mann. They immediately begin the work of nationalizing the Bransk middle–class stores. Shops are nationalized and their merchandise is taken away. However, they look for money, jewelry and other expensive belongings and line their own pockets with them as a reward for the holy nationalization work. There must, after all, remain a remembrance of this. Better merchandise is also given to good friends in order to sell these themselves at a later date.

Such a job was done to Elye Gotlieb's iron business, to Leyzer Rubin's[1] stepson's manufacturing business, carried out by Velvl Pulshansky and his wife Rikhtche.

Shepsl Praisels and Khaim Mann did this job on Motele Kanapyate. The Kanapyates later proved that he should not have been nationalized and they would have to return his possessions, but there was no longer anything to return. The merchandise had already

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disappeared. Whoever had good relationships with Shepsl Praysels or Velvl Pulshansky became the big–shot in Bransk.

The new community activists, it appears, could not divide anything equally because they fought like dogs among themselves.

Their behavior towards the Jewish workers was no better. They are forced to work in cooperatives. There is a punishment of 50,000 rubles (no small matter) for non–compliance or they are threatened with Siberia.

At a time when they were going to send some of the Poles to Russia, there come together about ten youths with rifles, throw the Christian belongings onto a wagon, and terrorize the neighbors. Hatred towards all Jews increased. They now start on all the former community activists, prominent people, Zionists, former councilmen of the Bransk community, and they are all arrested, sent with the procession of prisoners under escort to Russia. The process lasted for many more than a year. To their good fortune, this enabled them to remain alive. Alter Trus was also among those arrested and sent out. It appears that his fate was to be responsible for the publication of this book.

Slowly, they became adjusted to the new order. They appealed to those who assigned work to give them employment.

Rabbi Ben Tsiyon Kagan, the Bransk rabbi's son–in–law came to ask for work as a bookkeeper. Gavrilke the shoemaker's daughter, laughing, responded: “Let the rabbi openly declare himself a freethinker and we will permit him to work.” Rabbi Kagan categorically refuses. He turns to the higher level of the party. They order that such behavior to the population must immediately be stopped. Rabbi Kagan receives work as a bookkeeper and does not have to work on Shabbos.

For such Communist leaders that Bransk had during the first days of the Soviet regime there was good medicine in Russia – Siberia. It has now been 25 years that their bones have been resting there. Upon their graves have now grown large trees.[2]

Slowly these people were sidelined. Life became more settled under the Soviet rulers. Bransk Jews

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find work in the empter(?). Shopkeepers receive permission. Ribah Layah Tcheslyak, Itskhak Kashnik's daughter, Rokhl–Dvora Dinah's, Mordekhay Fraiman – in the manufacturing trade, Yankl Bransky and Mates Kanapyate. Velvl Pulshansky's uncle becomes the pelt purchaser. There is a great shortage of homes. The population increases. Jews from towns on the other side of the Bug River, where the Germans were still in occupation, fled and came to Bransk. Bransk, not being far from the border, about 30 kilometres, is flooded with Russian military. Through Jewish Red [Army] commandants and soldiers, contact is established with Russian Jewry. Trade developed, even though the larger part is not legal, because the Soviet law forbids private trade and exerts strong punishment measures. A large portion of Jews are now at state jobs, something that was impossible under Polish rule. Former private shopkeepers became employed in state stores. Most of the workers, i.e. tailors, shoemakers and carpenters formed cooperatives and worked together. A certain portion worked at manual labour. Many of the former wealthier element were represented in the militia. Bookkeepers were needed, so many learned bookkeeping, taking special courses. Khane Kashtan's daughter, Yankev Mann's son who had a limp.

There were two synagogues open, the Poale Tsedek and the New Synagogue, led by Rabbi Tsukerman and Rabbi Sekarevitch.

The system of traditional Jewish school/classes that had existed up–to–now is no more. Children learn in the Jewish school or in the Russian. The Jewish community institutions ceased to exist, such as the Interest–Free Loan Charitable Society, Visiting the Sick. There developed a desire for education. Adults begin to take evening courses.

A town chorus is founded as well as a drama circle. Movies are shown twice a week. There is now a town park and a dance area that was built on the foundation of the Tailors' Synagogue. Many dance evenings took place there affording the youth great enjoyment.

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A certain number of Bransk yeshiva boys left Bransk and came to Vilna, and later made their way through visas from Lithuania to reach Harbin[3] where they remained.

Naturally, not everyone could become accustomed to the new order, to the new laws, of not being traders. People such as these were arrested. At this same time, former community activists such as Alter Trus, Yosef–Betsalel Kestin, the Kantchik family, Lyev. All became poor. The complaint against such people was counter–revolutionary. The fault for the arrests falls directly on several Branskers who sought to get rid of the former activists of the former regime. This was lucky for the arrestees because most of them, regardless of the difficulties they had experienced in the Russian army or other armies, remained alive.

It was worse for the former merchants, big merchants who were forced to leave their businesses and become manual labourers.

All of the youth are drawn into the Soviet order, most especially from 1917, 1918 and 1919, experiencing the war in the ranks of the Red Army. Regretfully, not one of them was saved, almost all fell in battle against the Germans bandits, or perished in Nazi prisoner camps.

There were only a few who fought in the ranks until the victory was reached.

The 21 months under Soviet rule Bransk generally lived satisfactorily. The fear of common militant Russians, endekes (?) and other crazy Poles, who gave the Jews no respite during the last several years, now disappeared and they felt free and equal in every respect to all the other citizens.

However, calm did not last long. On September 22nd, 1941, Germany attacked the Soviet Union.

A new chapter begins for Bransk, the final chapter of Jewish existence, the beginning of the destruction of Bransk.

Footnotes (Rubin Roy Cobb)

  1. Related to Rubin Roy Cobb through his paternal grandmother being Gelie (Genia) Rokhel Rubin– Kobylanski. Return
  2. This must refer to the Jewish communists of Bransk who were killed during the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 – 25 years earlier from 1942. Return
  3. Wikipedia – Between 1899 when first Russian Jews settled in Harbin, and 1985, when the last Jew in Harbin passed away, altogether more than 20,000 Jews spent their lives at one time or another in Harbin, on the Trans–Siberian railway line in China, just over 480 kilometres away from Vladivostok, Russia. Return

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Hitler's Attack on Soviet–Russia

Whether or not Bransk expected an attack by Hitler cannot be determined. The Soviet economy continued in Bransk as usual. Wagonloads of grain fly by every day on their way to Germany, grain that Russian sent to Germany. At the same time it became noticeable that Bransk was becoming more and more crowded. Various Soviet military are now in Bransk. The town is almost like a military camp. Bransk is only approximately 28 kilometres from the border at the Bug River.

Poles predicted today or tomorrow Russia would be attacked.

The youth, on this particular Shabbos evening, were enjoying the dancing that had been arranged there where there had once been the Tailors' Synagogue. That evening there was noticed a large number of nice young people, dressed in Soviet uniforms, and who later turned out to be German spies. No one even dreamed that the fire which would destroy everything was already in Bransk.

Heavy shooting of faraway German artillery was heard about three o'clock in the morning. The population became very frightened, did not believe that the war had begun and Bransk was being attacked. Even for the Red Army commandants this was a puzzle. With daylight, everything was confirmed. Parts of exploded bombs of German origin and many wounded in the street –. Gitl Gurske, Sarah and daughter Shmuelke Bekker's. Many houses were already shattered by the cannons. No one

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could imagine that on this same day the Germans would already be near Bransk.

Many Jews fled the town but few reached their goal and the rest were either killed by the Nazi bombs or fell victim from the German cannons.

The battle in Bransk lasted a couple of days. During this time others again fled to Russia: Motl Noske Katsev's daughter and her two–year old child, Yankev Mann's son, Shaye Tsalke's stepson and wife and four children. Gitl Gursker's 16–year old daughter, and Berl Pukhalsky die along the way.

During the couple of days of the battle in Bransk many Red Army soldiers distinguished themselves with the greatest of heroic deeds. They defended the town like lions. Some of them exploded along with the tanks so as not to fall into the hands of the Nazis. The situation changed every couple of hours. The Nazis entered and immediately they were pushed out.

The section of town from Kopken to the bridge was totally destroyed during these couple of days. During this time Khone Kashtan and his wife were run over by a panzer (tank). Whether this was a Russian or German tank cannot be confirmed.


Khone Kashtan and wife


On June 25th, the Nazis finally broke into town. Their first murderous act was to shoot Khone

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Rutsky, Hershl Stolyer's boy, Yankev Mann, Mates Lees and his 20–year old son and the Zarember teacher's son–in–law, Elyt –Gershon Perlman.


Khone Rutsky
Khone Kashtan's son


The Jews of Bransk now became aware of what awaited them. Many of those who had fled to the forests returned to town because the positions of the enemy neared to the forests, and many of the Germans returned to Bransk.

Every day captured Soviets are marched through Bransk. Recognizable among them are Bransk young men, Niske –Avrum, Abe the Toker's, the red–haired Mordish'es son and others. The Germans immediately began to rob and beat. At the same time they established a Polish militia led by the bandit Pyetushak. Everything is dragged from homes, from underwear, clothing, pieces of merchandise. No one dares to oppose them.

The well–known pogrom'tchik Dr. Dambrovski who had participated in all the Polish pogroms during the Polish regime, is appointed by the German to be the mayor. Dr. Dambrovski immediately terrorizes the Jewish population He struts around with his rubber truncheon. Everyone had already experienced

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Dambrovski's truncheon. He seeks revenge upon Jews.

He especially orders that 30 Jews, mostly elderly, to dismantle the Lenin monument and take it away to the river. He makes use at that time of his truncheon to murder all those who participate in this work. He forces Jews to do the worst work. Jews are made fun of, spat upon and made jest of. He demands large contributions in dollars. He gives them 30 minutes under the threat of death to raise the money. In general, he is vengeful to the Jews who only three days before had been citizens on a par with everybody, with Jewish children studying in schools along with everybody, with Jews holding government jobs. He forces Jews to clean the streets with their bare hands.

Khaim Mann, a former Communist community activist, is arrested. Dambrovski demands that he be shot. Remarkably, a Judenrat member acts on his behalf and Yankev Gotlieb, who does not forget the days when Mann participated in his nationalization, does not want to mix in. Eventually, he succeeded in rescuing Khaim Mann who is released.

Dambrovski considered himself the permanent ruler of the Jews. He probably believed in his future as a Polish boss. The Germans had other ideas.

Little–by–little, they sidelined Dambrovski and eventually he fled. That is why the Gestapo appeared in Bransk as well as gendarmes. They begin to establish order in town.

This was the beginning of the new order the Gestapo instituted. This will later be a ghetto, a Judenrat, Jewish police, yellow patches and Jews doing the worst and filthiest work.

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The Yellow Patch

One of the Nazi demands in Bransk was that all Jews must wear yellow patches. They called it the ‘mark of shame.’ The patch was to be worn on the chest and the back.

The gendarmes, the Polish police and the Jewish police together with the Judenrat[1], paid strict attention in ensuring that the yellow patch is worn by everyone. The older Jews quickly became accustomed to the law and wore the yellow patch.

The youth opposed this. They did not obey the law. In order to wiggle out of hard punishment, they figured out a patent. They tied two yellow cards made like one of the four tassels on the ritual undergarment worn by males. If they saw a policeman from afar or a Judenrat'nik, they quickly tugged the string on their necks and the yellow patch was then in place.

Many Jews paid dearly because of this trick, receiving blows and beatings. The youth felt it was better to be beaten than to wear the yellow patch. Terrible scenes played out in the ghetto with gendarmes, Polish police and Jewish police all beating them for not wearing the yellow patch.

In the bulletin issued by the Bialystok Jewish Committee about life in the Bransk ghetto one finds the following story about the frightening scene.

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Itche Broyde, Lazer Broyde's son, a clever boy, did not wear the yellow patch. Itche is approached by the Jewish policeman, Itskhak Vasser and his rubber truncheon who speaks only German and no longer any Yiddish. Itskhak Vasser says to little Itche'le: “You little trouble maker.” Where is your shield of shame? Itche replies: “If I don't wear the yellow patch you cannot stand it?” The tall Vasser says no more. He hits Itche with the truncheon ten times. Itche falls into a pool of blood. People in the ghetto come running. Yosl Broyde, who later becomes a partisan hero, comes running. He asks why the tall Vasser hit because of a patch? “Jews, all of you, throw away your patches.” The youths obeys, throwing away the yellow patches and tearing them off the others who are present. Yosl Broyde grabs the truncheon from Vasser's hand and gives him a good beating.

The rest of the Jewish policemen come to Vasser's aid: Pinye Kaplovitch, Manes Shliep, Tatkale and Faynsor, beating with their truncheons anyone they can. Leyzer Vrone, Ayzik Benduger's son, Rubin, Yosl Tchap's son, join together as brothers. And now the truncheons are in the hands of the youth. The policemen receive broken bones and flee. They are whistled at and called: “Jewish Gestapo.”

Vasser and the other policemen complain to the gendarmerie. The result was that Yosl Broyde and Leyzer Vrone each receive 80 lashes, barely remaining alive.

I (Alter Trus) could not believe this. Three and a half years later, I could still see the scars and the heavy marks of the lashes Yoslen had received. I did not see Leyzer Vrone. He is somewhere in Austria. I imagine that he too, was beaten like this for the great sin of insulting the Bransk Jewish police. Shame on the Jews who beat other Jews, respect for the Jewish heroes.

Occasionally, the policemen did not beat, but made arrests for breaking the law. They would sentence them in the ghetto court that had been established in Bransk.

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Finklshteyn, the Judenrat'nik saw Maishe Yentchman without his yellow patch. Maishe did not hide. He thought that since Finklshteyn was a Judenrat'nik and not a policeman, he would pretend not to notice. The following day, Maishe Yentchman was brought by the Jewish police to the Judenrat. Finklshteyn fined him ten marks because this had been his first offense.

The same happened to Khaim Velvl Pribut and Khaye Okon and others.

Maishe Yentchman told me most of the facts that had to do with ghetto–life, Jewish police, Judenrat and forced labour. While relating the above mentioned facts he was very depressed, not because of the monetary fine but for the shameless manner in which this Jewish policeman had behaved.

The youth did not give in. They all endured like heroes and exhibited pride in being Jewish. They did not try to court the gendarmes' favor and did not hold their personal interests above everyone.

As heroes they later came together with the partisans, fell as heroes, did not surrender.

Hershl Rubin[2] and other youths never ever wore the yellow patches in the ghetto.

Heroic Jewish children, may their names be for a blessing by all!

Footnotes (Rubin Roy Cobb)

  1. Wikipedia The Nazis systematically sought to weaken the resistance potential and opportunities of the Jews of Eastern Europe. The early Judenräte (plural of Judenrat) were foremost to report numbers of their Jewish populations, clear residences and turn them over, present workers for forced labour, confiscate valuables, and collect tribute and turn these over. Failure to comply would incur the risk of collective punishments or other measures. Later tasks of the Judenräte included turning over community members for deportation.
    Through these occupation measures, and the simultaneous prevention of government services, the Jewish communities suffered serious shortages. For this reason, early Judenräte attempted to establish replacement service institutions of their own. They tried to organize food distribution, aid stations, old age homes, orphanages and schools. At the same time, given their restricted circumstances and remaining options, they attempted to work against the occupier's forced measures and to win time. One way was to delay transfer and implementation of orders and to try playing conflicting demands of competing German interests against each other. They presented their efforts as indispensable for the Germans in managing the Jewish community, in order to improve the resources of the Jews and to move the Germans to repeal collective punishments.
    This had, however, very limited positive results. The generally–difficult situations presented often led to perceived unfair actions, such as personality preferences, servility and protectionism of a few over the rest of the community. Thus, the members of the community quickly became highly critical of, or even outright opposed their Judenrat. Return
  2. Family of Rubin Roy Cobb through his paternal grandmother Gelie (Genia) Anni Rokhel Rubin–Kobylanski. Return

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Forced Labour in Bransk

Two weeks after Bransk was occupied by the Germans, the Polish policemen issued an order in the name of the German command demanding all Jews from the age of twelve and older to report to the magistrate the following day at 11 o'clock in the morning. Punishment for not reporting will be death.

The Jews interpreted this order as being the end now. Is this the end? Everyone asked.

At the precise time, all the Jews appeared at the magistrate, old and young. They expected this would now end in their deaths. Rabbi Itskhak Zev Tsukerman was the head of the entire population, along with Rabbi [moyre–hoyro'e][1] Avrum Yankev Sekerevitch.

Everyone's heart was pounding. Why do they need us? What is our further fate?

The Germans finally made an appearance, accompanied by their Polish lackeys. They read out loud an order stating that all the Jews must work. The result of trying to get out of working will be death.

The Jews were now able to breathe a little easier as long as they would be permitted to live.

From that day on, Bransk Jews were chased to work. They worked on the highway. In Pyetkeve digging the turf, cleaning the fish in the pond standing in cold water up to their necks. In the village of Semini the Jews worked at building a palace for the Germans who were in charge of the Rutker forests. Jews

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were sent to the forest to chop wood. They would collect the weapons from the battlefields and transport it to the train. The lower streets, where it was always swampy, were made dry by Jewish hands. Canals were dug. Plantings were made. Jews, with their bare hands, cleaned the steps of Polish houses and villages. They were sent to Lapy where the work was filthy.

They endured everything. All the Jews of Tchizsheve were shot. All the Jews of Gajnovka[2] were shot. This results is the Jews of Bransk working more quickly. With good work, with speedier work, maybe they would live. They established a factory of suitcases in the ghetto. The work there was hard and bitter. Bransk shoemakers supplied leather for the suitcase factory. They did everything, gave the Germans everything they demanded as long as they would be allowed to work and remain in Bransk.

If only the division of labour were distributed in an equitable fashion it would have been more tolerable and the denigration would not hurt as much. Regretfully, we cannot say it was so. Bransk Jews remember that Rabbi Zev himself worked at filthy work and did not permit anyone else to work for him, which is what many voluntarily offered to do.

The need for workers came to the Judenrat. The Judenrat chose a committee to decide who should go to work and where to go. This work committee consisted of Itskhak Finklshteyn, Yosl Levin and Bentsiyon Levin.

Now, under Nazi rule, there was another sort of spirit, not a friendly one. The Jewish officers suddenly conceived the idea that they were honored individuals and they are the policemen of the Jews. They did not feel enslaved as were all the other Jews, but somehow above them and who can act as they will, and did not take anyone else into account.

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Those who were the poorest and most down–trodden people were dispatched for the worst work, and those with a quiet nature who took everything upon themselves, suffered silently without protesting.

Protection was very popular – protection from friends, party people, acquaintances of the Judenrat'nikes. Monetary bribery played an important role. So who had to do all this work for one's self, for the officials, for the good, devoted party members of the officials? It was usually those of the lonely souls who had no friends, no sides. They did not have protection.

Pinye Katlavitch would tell them: “Bolshevikes, today you are not special, go to work.”

The worst insult was for those people who worked in town. The German and Polish police with truncheons stood watch over the workers. The most privileged would stroll through town. Those who were working saw them and understood why the ‘special’ people are not working. Can you imagine the pain, the spiritual pain of these people? They return home after a day's work and then they find a new order from the Judenrat to once again go to work on the next day. Some people become anxious so they don't go to work. The Judenrat sends the Jewish police to make arrests. They put people in the Judenrat jail. The Judenrat orders beatings. The Jewish policemen administer beatings to those who rebelled.

Velvl Yerusalymsky, Pesakh the scribe's grandson used to earn money to work in the place of others so as to have a couple of marks to help his sick father and five children. The Judenrat says: “Velvl must work for himself.” He begs: “My father, mother and children are dying of hunger.” It does no good. Velvl becomes stubborn. He is place in the ghetto jail of the Judenrat. They do not allow him to be fed. He becomes wild, bangs on the door of the jail: “Let me out.” He berates the “holy” policemen Pontchken, Manes Shlyepn and Motkalen. His punishment is – 60 lashes, and he was actually beaten by these same Jewish policemen. He holds them off. The policemen, strong, well–fed

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youths are stronger than he. The town Jews gathered when they heard the shouting. The police disperse the crowd, keeping order and Velvl receives his lashes.

Meles' grandchild was in Bransk. His name was actually Mele. The boy would also rent himself out to work in the place of others. He was hiding at Shloymeh Ephraim the maker of kvass[3] who was from Symyatitch. The Judenrat decided that Mele should go to work for them, for the protection without money. He is taken to work without payment. Shloymeh Ephraim begs to have the boy earn some money for a pair of shoes. He goes about barefoot. He is a quiet boy, a decent boy. He asks for pity from Finklshteyn. They put him in jail and he received only 50 lashes. The Jewish policemen were those administering the beating. They were always drunk, with no human feelings.

It was even worse when the forced labor workers were sent to other places. Where they simply died of hunger. The Judenrat was supposed to supply food for these workers. However it did not do this. The money was spent for enjoyment in the ghetto taverns. They had money for this purpose but no money for the poor who worked in Pyetkeve at the fish pond in the cold water up to their necks. Nobody worried about them because who were they, not one of their own. Such a boy did indeed perish, the Vishinker ritual slaughterer's fine boy, who could not endure the cold and hunger. His parents could not send him any food. They had 9 children. He had no income from slaughtering work in the ghetto.

There is another order that they need workers in Lapy, at the railway line. It was known that going to Lapy meant starving in Lapy. The work there consisted of two people having to carry a rail. Two people must fill a wagon in 20 minutes, and digging a canal without food with truncheons hovering over their heads. This is what Lapy meant. Whom did they send to Lapy? They sent the very same sort of people that my (Alter Trus) son, Nakhman, experienced there, where they promised to make an exchange in four weeks and to send food every week for those who were working in Lapy.

[Page 262]

Regretfully, they forgot about them. When the time came to send the workers all the Jewish policemen ran to the houses, chasing: “Faster, faster!”

Tatkale was at that time no longer a policeman but rather a Gestapo co–worker. He would usually not be sent because in addition, his uncle Epes Finklshteyn is involved with sending the Jewish workers to Lapy. He shouts: “Faster, Faster.” His eyes burn with fury. There is no longer anything to lose. Hundreds of hands with truncheons attack the bandit Tatkele, taking revenge on their bitter situation. They beat this crook. The families of the Polish workers shout encouragement: “Hit the bastard again.” He screams for the police but the fury of the people was so great that they were not afraid anymore of the police. The ‘heroic’ policemen are overcome with fear and scatter like mice. Is it possible that a little bit of conscience awakened in them? It is not believable. Maishe Yentchman exhibited happiness when he told me this story.

It is a known fact, that the most popular work for which Jews wanted to go was at cleaning the steps because there were no German gendarmes with truncheons standing by and no strolling Bransk elite there either.

This is how the forced labour work continued in the Bransk ghetto.

Footnotes (Rubin Roy Cobb)

  1. Rabbi, one competent to decide matters of Rabbinical law Return
  2. Russian pronunciation – in Polish it is Hajnovka. Rubin Roy Cobb's father's elder brother Shimeon Kobylanski and his wife Tzvia Shtern (from neighboring Bielsk–Podlaski) lived there. They had no children. Unlike Bransk Jews who were gassed in Treblinka in November, 1942, they were probably sent to Auschwitz at the end of January, 1943 or the beginning of February, 1943. However this was not known at the time that this Yizkor Book was written in 1947. Return
  3. Drink made by fermenting rye and barley or sour fruits. Return

[Page 263]

The Judenrat in Bransk

When the Nazis entered Bransk in the summer of 1941, they demanded that a Judenrat be formed in town.

This meant that the Jews in town should choose representatives whose duties would be to carry out German orders about various monetary contributions and to make certain that the contributions that were required from every resident had been made, and in addition to send the necessary number of Jews for forced labour and in general, be the instrument through which they, the Nazis, should be able, without difficulty, to keep the population in a state of fear.

It is understandable that Bransk Jews did not have any desire to become a Nazi tool. No one wanted to join in the Judenrat, to become a partner in overseeing the Jews in Bransk.

Finally, there volunteered Itskhak Finklshteyn, Avikhe's grandchild and others. The president of the Judenrat was Alter Yamshin. This was a person who could do no harm to anyone. Little–by–little, three Judenrat'nikes came to the fore. They were dubbed the ‘troika.’ They were Itskhak Finklshteyn, Yankev Gotlieb and Maishe Tikochski. The Judenrat consisted of twelve people.

Their work began with carrying out Nazi orders, collecting contributions of money, sending Jews to forced labour, establishing living quarters for the Jews in the ghetto, supplying food in accordance with the bread card, as well as creating a Jewish police force to help

[Page 264]

see that the work is done and ensuring that the yellow patch is worn by everyone.

You can imagine that the Judenrat as a rule had the opportunity to take for itself and its relatives or other good comrades, many privileges. They used this opportunity quite well. They became the privileged people of the town. If someone did not have a Judenrat'nik in one's family or a party friend, he was defenseless. The Judenrat made use of its full power against such poor and defeated workers and especially against those who had a Soviet record. The privileged were usually freer, able to move about more. This resulted in terrible bitterness among the Jewish population, most especially in those who were most needy.

However, we must establish that the Bransk Judenrat was in comparison to other Judenrat'nikes of other towns, a righteous group. It was Bransk's luck to have as head Nazi gendarme a person with a certain amount of decency. He would warn the Bransk Jewish community not to go out on the street when gendarmes from Tchekhenofche were to pass by so as to be certain of their lives.

Zavl Rubinshteyn confirmed that the Bransk ghetto Jews, because of bribery, usually had various business opportunities, bringing food and merchandise to and from other ghettos. The Bialystok ghetto was grateful to the Bransk ghetto Jews for the food and merchandise that the Bransker brought them.

For these favors, the Judenrat'nikes received recognition. They earned money as well.

Avrum'tsye Top, Hershl Platrat's son–in–law would say: “You hear, Jews, if we survive the war, we will have a Judenrat because there is money to be made.”

The sort of things that happened in the Tchekhenoftser Judenrat did not occur in Bransk. The Bransk Judenrat never turned anyone in when it had to do with endangering one's life.

[Page 265]

The Tchekhenoftser Judenrat would come to Bransk to capture those Jews who had fled from their ghetto. With the help of the Polish police, they would send them back to Tchekhenoftse, and turn them over to the gendarmes There they awaited death through various inquisition methods. Their horrific screams did not soften the hearts of the Judenrat'nikes who shared a brandy with the gendarmes. They continued with their work.

Two Bransk sons–in–law, the candy maker's and the Poplover's sons were in Bransk in hiding, and were captured by the Tchekhenoftser Judenrat bandits and sent to such a death.

It is well–known that approximately 600 Jews encountered their terrible death because of the deeds of the Judenrat'nikes in Tchekhenoftse.

Now we will present you with the description of the Bransk Judenrat.

Maishe Tikotchski – chief leader and decision–maker in the Judenrat, his work was to raise money. Because with money they could accomplish something. He was smart, never argued with anyone. His adjutants did the work for him.

It must be mentioned that in many cases when the life of the Bransk Jews was in jeopardy, Maishe Tikotchski endangered his own life to save these people.

Yankl Rubin[1], and Maishe Kamen had run away from the Lublin concentration camp, coming to Bransk. The Lublin gendarmerie sent a request to the Bielsker gendarmerie that these two Jews must, under any circumstances be brought back to Lublin. This meant certain death for the two Bransk Jews. Everyone in town knew they were in Bransk. Maishe Tikotchski was supposed to do this. It would have meant certain death for tens of Bransk Jews if the request would not be complied with. He did not become frightened and went to Shumanski and said, that they will not turn over any Jews regardless of any danger to themselves.

[Page 266]

Because of the human feelings that Shumanski possessed and the clever and tactful behavior of Maishe Tikotchski who in no uncertain terms declared before the entire gendarmerie that the two Jews were not in Bransk which was corroborated by other Bransk Jews, they were rescued from a certain death. They survived the war. This cost a lot of money because Shumanski allowed himself to be well paid for such favors.

The brothers Alyentski, along with Bertche Yentchman, were arrested for breaking the law about taking food to another ghetto town. Their lives were in jeopardy because this was not the first time. The punishment was death. Maishe Tikotchski did not hesitate in the face of danger. He negotiated their freedom through Shumanski and refused to take money from those whom he had freed.

Itskhak Finklshteyn, a foolish Jew from whom no one ever received a favour. He sought ways of making money, and that is why he called Bentsl Rubin “Sir Rubin,” because Sir Rubin was a source of income. Bentsl Rubin was never sent for work. For Bentsl, Itskhak Finkelshteyn was a good Judenrat'nik. This is told by Yankel Rubin the red rooster's[2] son.[3]

Yankev Gotlieb, In Bransk he was called “Gotlieb the helpful person.” He was not an especially good man. Possibly he was bitter because the Communists had nationalized his father's business. He was a town councilman from the Poalei Tsiyon party. How did someone like this become a Judenrat'nik?

Bentsiyon Zarember, supplies commissar in the ghetto. He argued with everyone, fought with everyone. He was perfectly suited for the work.

Levin the Rutker, Khaim Yosl Shapira's son–in–law. He was the labour division commissar. Itskhak Finklshteyn was the one who led and controlled him. They compiled work lists, composed mostly of the poor and lonely youths. They paid strict attention

[Page 267]

to ensuring that none of the friends of the Judenrat'nikes should God forbid, be taken for work.

Yekhiel Don, Yashe Krinsky, Yankev Dovid Kass were those who compiled the lists for the taxes.

Avrum Nadobrotsky, Khaim Yosl Shapira, Ayzik Zeyfman, Motl Rihmer, Faivel Shapira, Khanina Khofetz, Meir Voltishnsky were Judenrat'nikes.

There were always those who hung around the Judenrat looking for favours for themselves, for acquaintances and party people.

Yeshaye Tsuker, Shloyme Kantchik's son–in–law. This man, Tsuker, had a special talent to always become the big shot. When the Soviet power took over Bransk, and the Bransk Communists were the chief rulers he then became one of the Communist activists, the official in charge to see that Jews turn over all their merchandise to the Soviets and receiving for it a few paltry groshens. Zavl Rubinshteyn[4], one of the rescued Jews is now in New York, and tells of his experiences at that time with Yeshaye Tsuker as head of the Soviet regime. When the Russian chief official saw Tsuker's over–the–top devotion to the Soviets, he dismissed him despite the fact that Yeshaye Tsuker insisted that he, Zavl needs to be punished for the great infraction he had committed when buying several skins that he had used in his work as a leather worker.

And now, in the Judenrat, Yeshaye Tsuker is once again active in various positions and is also the one who urged Yankev Gotlieb on. He saw that those who should be sent to work would only be those of other parties. His last position as police commandant led to the terrible deed of turning in Jews hiding in secret cellars of the ghetto.

These were the Bransk Judenrat'nikes. They were interested in making capital and did not notice the towns around Bransk were already cleansed of Jews (this according to Maishe Yentchman's statement.)

[Page 268]

It is sad that the Bransk ghetto Jews were proud of their Nazi mayor and spoke badly of the Bransk Judenrat. To say the Judenrat always behaved in an honorable and loyal fashion is also not possible. In many cases they used their power in sending people to work and also in collecting taxes.

Footnotes (Rubin Roy Cobb)

  1. Related to Rubin Roy Cobb through his paternal grandmother Gelie (Gelia) Rokhel Rubin–Kobylanski. I met him in Melbourne, Australia in the 1990s to where he had moved to from Bialystok in 1967. His son is an accountant in Melbourne and during July, 2014 told me that he had just returned from the funeral of the last remaining Bransk survivor in Melbourne. Yankl's His first name in English was John. His cousin Yankl from Baltimore was called Jack. Return
  2. See page 265. Return
  3. It was customary to add a feature of the person to his name, thus a small person was called “klein” [small], a dark person ‘Schwartz’ [black] etc. ‘Red rooster’ refers to a large nose with a large red swelling in the front of it. Return
  4. Cynthia Rubinstein of Baltimore is his daughter. When he passed away his wife married Yankel (Jack) Rubin who was related to Rubin Roy Cobb through 's paternal grandmother Gelie (Gelia) Rokhel Rubin–Kobylanski. accompanied Yankel (Jack) Rubin to Bransk in October 11, 1991 for the production of the PBS documentary. ”Shtetl”. At that time did a walking tour with him videoing, recording and noting where most, if not all, of the 2,700 Jews of Bransk lived immediately prior to the liquidation of the Ghetto on November 2, 1942. Return

[Page 269]

The Bransk Jewish Police

The police in Bransk was comprised first–of–all, of the official's representative Lieutenant Shumanski and his seven gendarmes. If one of the gendarmes as much as looked at a Jew, one's blood ran cold.

The Polish police, who helped the gendarmes, consisted of all underworld people, former pogrom'tchikes. Their commandant was Pyeshakh. He was never without his truncheon in hand. He specialized in beating Jewish women with his truncheon. My [Alter Trus] sister, Tcheshe and Tsviye Yenkl Voytek's wife and many others know the meaning of being the recipient of beatings from Pyeshakh's truncheon. The aide–commandant was a Pole, Falikovsky, an underworld type and a Jew–beater. The children of Sjevoytsken, pogrom'tchikes for many years, another Markofske of Shaier Street. This Markofske has on his conscience, at the very least, 50 victims. There was also a Mikhal Panashuk, an uneducated Christian.

In addition to these gendarmes and Polish police, there were Jewish police, also recruited mostly from tainted elements. The commandant of the Jewish police was Itskhak Vasser (the tall Vasser), a very unsympathetic individual, also always carrying his truncheon. He spoke only German. The tall Vaser paid strict attention to seeing that Jews in the ghetto wore the yellow patch.

His assistant commandant, Yeshaye Tsuker a Judenrat'nik. He later became the police commandant. He managed to wiggle

[Page 270]

his way into the good graces of the Gestapo by bringing them to the hidden underground spaces resulting in 70 Jews being shot.

Pinye Kotolovitch. Always kept an eye on those Jews who would sometimes smuggle something into the ghetto, food or other articles, Pinye was always looking for money, his livelihood. He was an ugly type, friendly with the Polish policemen, drinking l'khaim with them.

Tatkale Avikhe's grandchild, the most devoted policeman to the Germans, their official informer. He was the one who supplied workers. It was very difficult to woo him away from the police. His uncle Finklshteyn, the Judenrat'nik, always protected him. Yet he was sidelined for his deeds. During the liquidation Tatkale voluntarily presented himself to the German gendarmes. He helped to shove the Jews into the wagons. He probably wanted to remain on good terms with the Germans. They fooled him, pushing him into the wagon right along with all the Bransk Jews - it is true that he was the last one pushed in.

Belke, Alter Katsev's son, second name Faynsod, always with his truncheon, beating Mele's grandchild for not going to work. He was the policeman of the ghetto jail, and also expected to survive.

Manes Skavronek nickname of Shlyep. A very tall wagon–driver, a very crude young man. He fled during the liquidation. He did not depend on the good–heartedness of the gendarmes, did not want to go to Treblinka. He later arrived in Potok. I [Alter Trus] filed a complaint in the court against his murderer because this same person also murdered Yenkl Shvirider and Manes's father.

Velvl Halperen, Inditchke's grandchild, Ayzik Shuster Samikhodnik, Simkha Pam, Kopke's grandchild, Velvl Rozenblum, Leyb Shapiro, Meir Vishnevitz, Kopke's grandchild, Radzinke a Semyatisher, were also Jewish policemen.

Bransk Jews did not derive much pleasure from their Jewish police. They thought that if they listened to them, and went to work, they would perhaps

[Page 271]

remain alive. Regretfully, only a few of those who had fled lived. Several of the police such as Simkhah Pam, Velvel Halperen and Leybke Shapiro were later devoted partisans in the forest. They fought like heroes along with everyone else.

In general however, the Jewish police were on a very low level. After every action that was carried out, e.g. chasing Jews to work or taking from the Jews pelts or bedding, the Jewish policemen came together to create a business. Nobody was held accountable. Each was for himself and did not want to know of anyone else. They considered their work to be la legitimate source of income. If anyone made any reference to their behavior their answer was, “Bolshevik, the time of your power is past. We are now the power and you must listen to us.”

Yes, the Jewish policemen had the power and they used the power quite well. They were very well–suited to this tragic time.

At the end, the tall Vasser was sidelined. He felt mightier than the Judenrat, and he was replaced. Yeshaye Tsuker takes over the position of police commandant. The duties of the Jewish policemen consisted mainly of taking people for work. If they did not go willingly they were taken by force. The police also had to ensure that the taxes were brought in. If they did not pay, their belongings were taken away.

You understand the more the Judenrat increased the taxes, the more the Jewish police had to make revisions of the last bedding and clothing they could get.

[Page 272]

Bransk Ghetto

As soon as the Germans entered Bransk, they ordered a ghetto to be established.

The mayor at that time was an older German by the name of Shturman. According to Maishe Yentchman's description, Shturman was a good person. Bransk Jews, Maishe writes, were pleased with Shturman than of their own Judenrat'nikes. It is true that Shturman was well paid for the favours, but yet he was friendly and not a beast. He always postponed any orders for the ghetto. When Shturman had to go away, a German by the name of Barvinsky took his place. Barvinsky caused the greatest trouble during the couple of days the time he ruled in place of Shturman. He squeezed everything possible from the Jews. There were also gendarmes. The Jewish population had to supply them with the best clothing and food. When any one of them went home on furlough he could never have enough things to take with him. They had to be given everything for their families at home. They were supplied with the very last that was left.

This cost the town much money. To raise the money, the Judenrat increased everyone's taxes. Finally, Shturman forced the establishment of a ghetto. He probably could no longer receive any more bribery money from the Jews, but he was forced to do this by the higher officials.

[Page 273]

He permitted the town to select which area of the town to designate as the ghetto. Arguments developed because both sides of the town wanted its side to become the ghetto. The ghetto was established on the left side of town coming from the bridges[1], from Sane to Yenkitchke's house[2], and the back street from the hospital to Dzjezjinshtchikh'es house. From Shayer Alleyway to Plonever.

There were not too many houses on that street any more. Most of the houses had burned.[3] There was not enough room to stuff the entire Jewish population into the few remaining houses. Shturman permitted the street from Yekhiel–Leyb to Leyzer Katsev[4] to become a part of the ghetto. This was called the small ghetto. The Christians who found themselves in the ghetto had to move out, and all the Jewish families were shoved into the ghetto.

Terrible scenes took place when the time came to move into the ghetto. Hershl Platrat lay down in his house with his feet pointing at the door and did not want to leave. He said: ‘I know that no one will live to leave the ghetto.’ The houses that were removed from the Jews were quickly occupied by Christians.

They had waited for this and finally Dambravski had already divided the houses among the Christians who deserved them. Poles, with arrogance settled themselves in the Jewish houses, took from Jewish shops stocked with Jewish belongings.

The ghetto became terribly crowded – four and five families to one room, all having to cook in the same kitchen. So there were always arguments. They couldn't even stand themselves. The Germans derived pleasure from this situation. They used to say that Jews could even live in a little sealed bottle.

The bread cards were reduced to 125 grams per day. Cows or chickens were not permitted in the ghetto. The Christians already made sure these would remain in their hands.

[Page 274]

Hunger increased. People sought ways to get a little food, so they took chances with their lives, sneaking out of the ghetto and bringing leather goods from Bialystok to sell. Workers sneaked out to work for Christians to earn a little bread. If someone was caught, he paid with his life. And the gendarmes, policemen and the Judenrat'nikes received their monetary bribes. The population suffered from hunger, so they took chances with their lives and went out. Some left on foot, got a few provisions and brought them to the ghetto. Jewish butchers would sometimes smuggle in a cow, slaughter it in secret and sell the meat for Shabbos. In secret they baked matzo for Passover made from cornmeal.

The Germans opened a factory to manufacture suitcases, so the shoemakers had to provide leather they had for making shoes to produce the suitcases.[5]

The ghetto was not yet locked. Jews were permitted to visit the small ghetto and those from the small ghetto visited the large one. All of this was thanks to Shturman who, compared to other mayors, was a good man. Bransk Jews called the ‘zeyde.’[6]

Sometimes a German newspaper “Der Folkisher Beovakhter”[7], would make an appearance in the ghetto. On a non–workday, the Jews of the ghetto would assemble to read “Der Folkisher Beovakhter,” most especially reading between the lines. When the newspaper wrote that the Germans had crossed 50 miles into the Russian front, it was actually understood that it was two miles.[8] There was a jail in the ghetto for those who had to be arrested for not going to work or not paying taxes. There was also a courthouse in which to settle.

It is understandable that when they saw a German or Polish policeman or a Judenrat'nik they would hurry into their houses. Various disagreements occurred between Jews. Advocate (Barrister) Volkovitch was

[Page 275]

the judge. Attending would be Rabbi Sekarevitch, and sometimes Rabbi Kagan, Mordekhay Golde and others. The Jewish police would have to carry out the judge's decision.

At the beginning the Judenrat's quarters were at Rubin's[9] hotel and later moved into the New Synagogue.[10]

The Jews were forbidden to walk on the sidewalk. They had to walk in the middle of the street with the cows and horses. The cramped conditions in the ghetto worsened because many Jews from liquidated towns had escaped and arrived in Bransk. Rooms for these refugees to sleep were prepared. Food was also supplied by ‘esn teg.’[11] Each person would feed a different person from another ghetto every day.

Hershl Platrat was caught outside the ghetto by a German while carrying a quart of milk. The German asks Hershl what he is carrying: “Milk,” Hershl answers with pride. Hershl is beaten badly. As he left, Hershl says to the German: ‘I am already sixty years old and you will not live to see so many years.’

Jewish tailors, shoemakers and workers of other trades take risks and go to the villages to work. You understand that if a German caught someone, he got the death penalty. But one had to live and pay the taxes to the Judenrat, so they had to take risks. Taxes were constantly raised and the Jewish police became more active.

In general, ghetto life consisted of working, working and paying taxes, suffering and keeping quiet as long as they remained alive.

The situation in the ghetto constantly worsened until the ghetto closed.

Footnotes (Rubin Roy Cobb)

  1. Refer to Map # III Return
  2. Refer to Main Map drawn up by Rubin Roy Cobb on November, 2011 Return
  3. Refer to Main Map drawn up by Rubin Roy Cobb on November, 2011. The areas marked by a double line are those that were destroyed by the bombing raid in September 1939 which was most of the Jewish quarters. Return
  4. Refer to Main Map drawn up by Rubin Roy Cobb on November, 2011. The main ghetto is north of the main street Sienkiewicza and the small ghetto is north of the Nurzec River. Both ghettos are marked with Xs. Return
  5. This sentence was omitted by the translator {MGC} Return
  6. Grandfather Return
  7. The People's Observer [MCG] Return
  8. This corrects the Yiddish sentence as it appears in the book. Return
  9. Related to . The original owner of the hotel was the father of 's paternal grandmother Gelie (Genia) Rokhel Rubin– Kobylanski. Return
  10. See Map #15 page 3/3 drawn up by on November, 2011. It is believed (but cannot be confirmed) that my maternal grandfather Akiva Skornik Ha'koheyn prayed at this synagogue as per Yankl (Jack) Rubin of Baltimore. Return
  11. Outside Yeshiva students were fed regularly at the homes of local families. This phrase (eating day) is a reference to that custom. Return

[Page 276]

The Ghetto is Sealed

At the beginning of the summer of 1942 Shturman delivered the news that the Gestapo had ordered that the ghetto is to be sealed, surrounded with a fence erected with the use of Jewish money. It was to be four meters in height, and constructed of boards.

A short time later, Shturman is replaced by an official by the name of Schmidt. Schmidt was not pleased with the fence because there were spaces through which to crawl out of the ghetto. He immediately ordered that between every second board another board was to be inserted in order to make it impossible to crawl out of the small spaces.

The Jewish population of the ghetto now understands that this is somewhat tragic. They are aware that the towns on the opposite side of the Bug River are already cleansed of Jews. The fate of the Bransk Jews is now no longer in doubt.

In secret hidden openings are made in the fence. Certain boards could be removed and replaced, with only a few selected people knowing about these secret openings.

The fenced–in ghetto has now taken on the appearance of a large camp. There are only two gates open through which to enter the ghetto. They are at Itche Gimpel's and opposite Khaim Pentman.[1] The gates are usually heavily guarded.

It is remarkable that in the sealed ghetto Jews felt a little freer. In the open ghetto, Jews were not permitted to venture out of their houses, receiving beatings for such a transgression. In the sealed ghetto, they felt as if they were in their own homes, or at the very least, the Jews felt free to go outside and to go between houses.

[Page 277]

From time–to–time they came together in the street and discussed their situation among themselves and talked about the war. The news about the war would come to them through the German newspaper “Der Folkisher Beovakhter” that someone would bring in.

Khatskel the ritual slaughterer, good–natured and good–hearted, was recognized as a good interpreter of the latest news. He comforted everyone. He already saw between the lines of the newspaper that the Germans would soon suffer their downfall. Everyone was happy with Khatskl and his heartfelt comforting words. These were so necessary for the unfortunates in the ghetto.

Sholem Kratz's grandchild was in the ghetto, Motl's son with the nickname “ikh drey zikh.”[2] He always told the same news in a sad tone. The news as he saw it was always black, dark. The ghetto Jews hated him because of his interpretation and did not want to listen to him.

Often times ghetto Jews gathered at Kukafke the watchmaker in the small ghetto to hear the news from those who read the newspaper that had been smuggled in. There were different sides who interpreted the news in various ways.

Christians would come into the sealed ghetto looking for work at the Jewish artisans. Others came to buy Jewish things, usually paying with a little food.

The religious feeling greatly strengthened in the ghetto. Jews always came together in the ghetto houses for prayer, and even those who were known to be free –thinkers came to make up the quorum of ten men required for communal prayer.

The khasidim arranged their shtibel in Yenkl Yentchman's house. That is where the khasidim came to pray.

In the greatest secrecy some Jews began to dig deep holes beneath the cellars of the ghetto houses. This was one of the biggest secrets. They were wary of their neighbors, the Judenrat'nikes and the Jewish police.

[Page 278]

The cramped conditions in the ghetto were horrible with 5–6 families in a room, so they built huts in the ghetto. These were such little huts where a couple of families were lucky to have had a kind of roof over their heads.

There were plenty of jokesters in the ghetto. From time–to–time they laughed heartily, cracked jokes about their own troubles. Most especially the Jews laughed at the story about Hershl Benduger. Hershl was crazy. Hershl never wore any yellow patches. He came face–to–face one time with a German gendarme who knew that Hershl was a little crazy, so he asked him: Why don't you wear the mark of shame?” Hershl does not give this much thought and answered the gendarme: “It is already not fashionable to wear the yellow patch.” The gendarme burst into laughter and lets Hershl be. For weeks they laughed in the ghetto about Hershl's clever answer. He was a crazy person and gave such a clever retort.

A terrible impression was made on all in the ghetto, young and old, orthodox and free–thinkers, when it became known in the ghetto that the Old Synagogue that had been burned by the Germans 1939 as they retreated and turned Bransk over to the Soviets, was now being dismantled, brick–by–brick, and that these bricks were to be used to build a soap production factory. Their hearts told them that something terrible was happening. A factory to make soap! Could they even imagine that the soap would be made from the fat of Jewish bodies? And the bricks of the Old Synagogue that had served the Bransk population for 130 years as a holy place would be used.

The younger people in the ghetto established a movement to obtain weapons and move them to the forest. This was done in the greatest secrecy because they were afraid to mention it. No one trusted anybody.

Hershl Rubin[3], Yenkl Shimon's grandchild, clever, skinny but very energetic, becomes friendly with a German soldier, with Communist leanings and a liberal individual. This German brings weapons to Hershl, usually in secret. Regretfully, Hershele told someone about this. Itskhak Finklshteyn, the Judenrat'nik, comes to Hershl and demands

[Page 279]

to be given the weapons. Hershl, very frightened by Itskhak's truncheon, has no alternative and gives the revolver to the Judenrat'nik. Finklshteyn weapons. Now he knew of whom to be careful. His lips were sealed.

The youth do not have time to plan because they are chased to work. Few listened to the agitation to move to the forest.

Those who occupied themselves with smuggling also have no time. They need to work, they need to earn. The older folk certainly do not want to hear about such plans. They have hope. They hope God will have pity on them, send salvation through a miracle. Regretfully, no miracles occurred nor was there salvation. Cold death looked out between the boards of the fenced–in Jewish ghetto.

The Judenrat'nikes and the Jewish police are in power and rule the ghetto with a strong hand. They ignored the fact that the entire population of many of the neighboring Jewish towns had been taken to Maydajnek[4] or Treblinka.[5] They do not see that the liquidation of Bransk Jews is approaching.[6]

The entire Jewish population is in a dream–like state. They think this is all something of a terrible nightmare and not a reality. Somewhere deep in their hearts, there glows a spark of hope. One wants to lie down in the weak straw that was already burning from both sides.

Only Hershele Rubin did not dream. He gathers weapons little–by–little, telling no one and keeping his distance.

Something else happens that throws more terrible fright into everyone. All the Jews who were in the small ghetto near the river are brought into the ghetto. They are brought only with the clothes on their backs, nothing more.

The crowded conditions in the ghetto are now unbearable. Death is approaching.

[Page 280]

Their spirits are heavier. An unfamiliar hand squeezes and creeps in closer to their necks.

What does this mean? The ghetto is suddenly lit at night with electric beacons. They throw a strong light around the ghetto and a frightening darkness into the Jews in the ghetto. What does this mean? What does this mean? They ask one another.

The policemen and Judenrat'nikes shout: “Don't create panic, don't create panic.” And they begin to establish hiding places for themselves and their families.

Footnotes (Rubin Roy Cobb)

  1. Refer to Map # 4 page 3/3 and/or # 6 page2/2 and/or # 14 page 1/1 Return
  2. I wander around. Return
  3. Related to Rubin Roy Cobb through his paternal grandmother Gelie (Genia) Rokhel Rubin–Kobylanski. Return
  4. Death Camp in Lublin south–east of Bransk. Return
  5. Death Camp west of Bransk where most of the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto were gassed as well as from the Bialystok region including Bransk. Return
  6. Jack Rubin told that a boy of about 15 who had walked from Lithuania (approximately 80 miles north of Bransk) had told them of the mass killings of Jews but everyone thought that he was crazy and did not believe him. Return


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