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[Page 288]

All officials fled in confusion, and the Jewish population remained helpless and desperate.

        The confused retreat of the Soviet army made the Jews of Drohitchin feel that there was no one to flee with, and nowhere to go. They said that the Germans get to Minsk before Drohitchin, and no one believed that Soviet Russia was so weak. People felt that in the event of war, the Soviets would immediately hit back at Germany, which was already exhausted for a lengthy war against many countries. The fact that the Soviets retreated and didn't resist pushed the Jews into despair.

        If Soviet Russia was so weak, people thought, then it was quite possible that a strike from German could bring down the Soviet regime and restore the Czarist system with its tradition of pogroms and “Fight the Jews! Save Russia!” The German authorities would certainly support this type of new revolution.

        The distrust of Soviet power to resist, the fear of the restoration of Czarism, and the fear of being a refugee in faraway unfamiliar Russia prevented most Jews in Drohitchin from fleeing with the Soviets.


Germans occupy Drohitchin, and the first victims die

On Wednesday morning, June 25, a German tank and an advance intelligence team went through Drohitchin firing machine guns in all directions. In the evening, the Germans took over the town with only a couple of exchanges of fire with retreating Soviet forces.

        Jews, who during the gun battles were lying on the floor next to shaking windows, prayed that the battle should last as long as possible, and hoped that perhaps the Germans might be chased out of town. The Jews started worrying when the shooting stopped and they heard German voices saying “Hans come here!” and heard the sounds of marching soldiers. The Angel of Death had arrived!

        The first Jewish victims fell by nightfall, even before the Germans were in full control. R. Yaakov Vermus (brother-in-law of Rabbi Eliyahu Velvel Altvarg) and his eldest son died on Wednesday night in a tragic error. A group of retreating Soviet soldiers

[top photo:] R. Moshe the ritual slaughterer and Devorah Prager and their children, Beiltsha, Chaya and Berl. On the right is Nechama and Binyamin Moshe (left) Schub, children of R. Yossel David and Mariasha Schub, sister of Devorah. All perished. May G-d avenge their blood! See pp. 149-150.

[bottom photo:] From right: Chanya Berg, Isser Zlotnick, Eliyahu Michaels, Elazar Lev, Avraham Drucker, Leizer Warshavsky and others. 1932.

[Page 289]

shot them in their home as they greeted the Germans advance team, calling out “Communists are kaput!” It was a Polish neighbor of Vermus named Malish who greeted the tank crew and welcomed them with milk.

        The Jews of Drohitchin mourned the tragic deaths of the Vermuses, but they were happy to learn that the Soviet soldiers were reporting that they had been able to hold off the Germans at Biala Podolsk (a few dozen kilometers from Brisk), and that they would soon liquidate the remaining Germans units that were around town.

        The breaking out of gunfire disappointed everyone. Many were feeling that they had made a tragic error in remaining in Drohitchin. This unfortunate impression soon proved correct.

        The next morning, June 26, the Germans proceeded to take hostages in the middle of the market in Drohitchin, as was done in all other occupied towns. These several dozen hostages would be shot in the event something happened to the arriving German soldiers. In the meantime, groups of Germans checked Jewish homes (Drohitchin was populated exclusively by Jews, and the Christians lived in the outer areas of Starosiela and Zaritshka). The Germans went around in twos or threes to visit Jewish homes asking whether the residents had weapons. They would open money boxes, closets, table drawers and would seize money, watches, leather coats, clothes, wallets, soap, and anything else.

        The hostages were freed that same day, and the house checks and systematic theft continued. Some of those doing the checks would ask if a person were Jewish. If a person responded in the affirmative, they would begin packing large bags and ordering the owners to take the captured property with them to their camps. On the way, they would console the Jews by telling them to relax, because in six weeks they would capture Moscow and establish a Jewish state in Siberia.

[photo:] R. Yaakov and Meita Rosenstein and their daughters. From right: Rivka, Chaytsha, and Tila. All perished, may G-d avenge their blood!

        At the end of June, a few days after the occupation of Drohitchin, a local government authority was set up, with the former Polish notary Chaplinski as mayor. Most of the officials in the government were Russian, and they plotted against the Polish mayor and the local police, which was made up of Poles.

        The competing sides: the Pole Chaplinski and the Russian Kreiditch, who had many Jewish acquaintances before the war. They would assure the Jews that all inconveniences would be done the right way, and Jews should have no fear about their Jewishness. The Poles would make statements about how the Russian population hated the Jews, and the Russians would make the same statement about the Poles.

        In the meantime, at a mass meeting in the market square, Mayor Chaplinski declared that Jews were outside of the law, and that they had to have yellow stars of David on their homes and clothes so they would be recognized. The Jews living in the nearby villages were ordered to move to Drohitchin.

        Jews from Motele and Khomsk were killed with axes and scythes on the orders of the local priest.

        In the village of Vietla the Christians didn't wait for the order, and killed the Jewish families who had been living there for years. Only a few Jews succeeded in

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