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[Page 234]

Ilya Ehrenburg on the Holocaust in Belarus:
Unknown Testimony

By Leonid Smilovitsky
(Diaspora Research Institute of Tel Aviv University)

This translation was originally published in: East European Jewish Affairs (London), Vol. 29, No 1-2,
Summer-Winter 1999, pp. 61-74, and is reproduced here with the kind permission of the publisher, Taylor and Francis.

I have been to Minsk, Rakov, Molodechno, Smorgoni, and Vilna in the course of our attack. I mainly got to stay in the military units, so I was very little in the cities themselves, and the situation did not always correspond to the purposes of my search. I was in Vilna on the second day of fighting for the city, so I didn't get to see the peaceful, calm Vilna. I left the city when small groups of Germans were still opposing at its Western end. Therefore, my report will not be complete. The first city I traveled through was Borisov. You know about the tragedy of Borisov, it was written about and a number of 10,000 persons was reported. This was generally confirmed. The place of extermination (of Jews, L. S.) Razuvayevka.[2] When I got to Minsk, it was 4 hours after the first Russian tanks entered the city. Houses were still exploding on the streets. On the street where I stood two houses fell The city was burning. As soon as I encountered the first residents I was told that some Jews are still alive in Minsk in the SD building. I went there and found them in the forge shop of the SD. They were several people in very poor physical condition, who told me how they survived. Gestapo use to leave the more experienced craftsmen among the Jews for their own service. Factually, the Jews were imprisoned and were placed either in the Gestapo itself or in the Gestapo camp. There were 200 such specialists in Minsk; most of them, it seems, the Germans killed before departing. These 10 people also knew what awaits them, and upon noticing the first signs of confusion among the Germans in Minsk 5 days before the arrival of Allies, they hid in the underground vault they had discovered under the SD inner court. They stayed there for 5 days, and when they came out, they weren't sure whom they'd see outside. There were members of Soviet tank crews, who at first mistook the Jews for Germans in civilian clothes - with such a hurry the Jews rushed to them after they came from the underground. The soldiers almost killed them.

The story of these people is very tragic. Among them there is one Austrian Jew. I asked him, what he knows about what countries this camp dealt with. According to the information that I already had, French, Belgian and Dutch Jews were killed on the territory of the Soviet Union. I managed to establish that Jews from Czechoslovakia, Austria, Prague were killed in Minsk, and Jews from Holland - in Vilna. The Australian stayed alive because the day he was sent in, a mechanic was needed. Later he joined the Jews from Minsk - several tailors, locksmiths, and watchmakers from Slutsk and Baranovichi. The Germans forced auto mechanics to repair “dushegubka” (gasevagen) that made daily trips to Bolshoi Trostinetz. This auto mechanic studied the “dushegubka” in detail. Its latest model, which I wrote about, was called GK-vagen. The hamper turned over immediately on pressing a button and the bodies of suffocated victims were thrown out.

After a few days I went to witness how the surrounded Germans were finished off, and I saw that foreign journalists spoke with these Jews and was extremely happy about it, since live witnesses were found. They themselves were remains of people after all they endured, extremely exhausted and devastated. Foreign journalists, mainly American and English, did not completely believe in what was happening here. After my return I read an article by Breisford, where he wrote that, to all appearances, reports from Poland and Russia about atrocities of Germans are greatly exaggerated, but one has to admit that there is some truth to them. At the same time it was noted that the Nazis behaved properly in relation to Englishmen and that the extermination originated not from their brutality, but as a result of their theory that Jews and Slavs are an inferior race. They killed them to fulfill their duty. Another article in the “New York Times” said that tales of German atrocities are no more than the fantasies of people telling them. These ten people were not even able to lie to their own wives, such simple Soviet people they were. What they told was extraordinary, and I omit a lot of it.

During the attack on the Germans, I found myself in Bolshoi Trostinets. There were lying people from collective farms, killed by the Germans. The last Jews were killed, but they did not have time to burn them, so hundreds of corpses were lying there in stacks, like wood, and were recognizable. Among them there were women and children. There were huge piles of human remains, dug out for burning. Lately the Germans were burning previously buried people. This became their after-work when the notion of retreat became possible. All this left a horrible, extraordinary impression. Great number of skulls, numbered in thousands, was piled in the field. On the opposite side there were corpses, neatly stacked but not burned. I wrote in “Krasnaya Zvezda” that here I saw an element of fairness that I blessed in my heart. The Germans tried to escape the offense precisely here. It was pure chance, they rushed to Mogilev Road near Trostinetz. I saw our soldiers that passed by and I heard what they were saying - not one German was left alive. Following the picture of horrible crimes, 3 hours later, I traveled along the Mogilev Road on a hot day and saw the retribution. The road was piled with German corpses, it was impossible to breathe. This is what I can tell about Minsk and Bolshoi Trostinets.

After that I went in the direction of Lida and stopped in two cities - Rakov and Ivenets. Rakov was completely burned down. The senior priest of a catholic chapel Ganusevich, whom I talked with for a long time, told me about the murder of the Jews. He told it in detail. It's true. His tooth was hurting and he was sitting at the dentist's, a Jew, when the talks were in progress. The dentist thought that they were going to kill him, and the Germans bargained to postpone his departure until he finishes filling the tooth. The Germans, who flirted with the residents, asked how much time it would take. If it's half an hour, that is permissible, but if it's two hours, then it is not - they are in a hurry. The Jews were gathered in the Synagogue and burned. Ganusevich saw how the Jewish women attempted to throw their children out of the fire and how the Germans killed the children. There was an executioner in Ivenets who was called “The German”, he performed the killings himself. He enjoyed it. He was a sadist. He killed in different ways. Mainly, he formed up the people and tried how many he could shoot at one time. I visited the tank division outside Ivenets. In the evening the general heading the division was visited by a partisan group representative, a young girl. It was dark, and we sat under a tree in the courtyard. I couldn't see her face. We were having supper. She informed us that the partisans have already prepared a bridge for the tanks and that they can move to the west without delay. The partisans have cleared the Naliboskaya Pushcha near Ivenets from Germans and the road was open forth tanks. From her accent I determined her nationality. They had her stay for supper. The girl turned out to be a student of the Minsk University[3] and she said that there was quite a lot of them (Jews - L. S.), without stating the number. She said that many Jews-vostochniki are fighting in groups in Western Belarus.[4] The talk was all business, the girl was in a hurry and I couldn't question her in detail about the fate of other Jews. This was a first encouraging meeting. Later, when saying goodbye in the hut, I could see her more clearly, and I saw a young pretty Jewish girl with a revolver, fighting. This was a great consolation and a great support.

I then continued in the direction of Vilna. All the cities between Minsk and Vilna were destroyed. There weren't many residents, but still I managed to find them. They all spoke about the same. About the fate of the Jews, about their death, noting that some of them left for the woods. I want to point out one circumstance, a difference that existed between the Jews of Western and Eastern regions of Belarus. There are more partisans there, and this is due mainly to the fact that Jews in Western Belarus were not killed immediately. In Western Belarus and in Lithuania the extermination of Jews was stretched out to 2-3 years. People were able to organize resistance, escapes, to leave. They had time to look around. Our (in Eastern Belarus - L. S.) Jews were killed unexpectedly, without giving them a chance to collect themselves, and there the situation was different. But this number is insignificant, since it was extremely difficult to escape. In order to become a partisan, one had to gain possession of a weapon. The first German you take a weapon from is the most difficult one. Without the first German you don't have a weapon and you get captured by the Germans. A soldier gets his gun, but a partisan has to obtain his gun himself. This was extremely difficult, and with few exceptions only physically strong young people were able to accomplish this.

In Smorgon, the exceptional national policy of Germans was evident. In the Czar's times Smorgon was quite a big city. It had a tanning industry, produced footwear and bagels for Petersburg. Then there were 40,000 people living in the city. During the Polish period,[5] Smorgon had a population of only 8,000 people, among whom half were Jews, as was the case in practically all the cities of Western Belarus. The other part of the population was divided in half into Catholics and members of the Orthodox Church. It was difficult to discern between Belarus and Polish population. A person himself announced whether he is orthodox or catholic. If he is catholic, he thinks that he is a Pole, and if he is orthodox, then he is either a Belarus or a Ukrainian. The Jews in Smorgon were killed relatively quickly. 4,000 people remained. Smorgon was announced a Polish city, with Polish as an official language. Belarus population was attacked. Then Smorgon was announced a Belarus city and attacks on the Poles started, Polish was a forbidden language, and the Poles were being exterminated. Some time had passed, and Smorgon was adjoined with Lithuania, even though there wasn't even one Lithuanian there. Few fascists that arrived from Kaunas started carrying out Lithuanisation and exterminating Belarus and Polish population equally. This is a very demonstrational policy, to set one section of a population against the other. While in Vilna Lithuanian fascists were killing Poles, in Kaunas Estonian fascists were killing Lithuanians. There was a very complicated diagram of various characteristics of national punitive groups and murders that were being committed.

This document was discovered in 1998 in the fund of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee (JAC) kept in Moscow in the State Archive of the Russian Federation (SARF). JAC was established during the most tragic period in the history of the Soviet Jewry the years of the Second World War and Holocaust of the European Jewry. Activities of the Committee had exceeded the boundaries presupposed by the authorities on its establishment Not only did it inform the world community about the German genocide policy in regards to the Jews, and collected means for opposition needs, it also became a single central Jewish organ in the Soviet Union indissoluble connected to the fate of Soviet Jewry. After the Committee's liquidation in November 1948, all its documentation was withdrawn and for decades have been kept in the archive of the Ministry of State Security (MGB, lager KGB L. S.), and was then transferred to SARF for closed keeping. Historians had an opportunity to get acquainted with these materials only after 1990.[6] The author of the document, Ilya Ehrenburg (1891-1967) was one of the most popular writers and publicists in the country, and was recognized by the superior authority organs. He was a board member of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee and was well informed about the Hitler's policy in regards to Jews. During 1936-1939 Ehrenburg worked as a war correspondent in Spain, and wrote an anti-fascist novel “The fall of Paris” (1940). During the period of Soviet German war he worked for “Krasnaya Zvezda”,[7] was published in “Pravda”, “Izvestiya”, front and army papers, and frequently made trips to the front. Ehrenburg's appearances on the subject of current affairs were full of spirit and were widely known. In his speeches, the writer exposed Nazism, stood for achievements of European civilization and culture, and common human values. During the war years a number of collections of articles and reports by Ilya Ehrenburg were published on this subject.[8]

It was Ilya Ehrenburg who originated the idea of publishing a collection of documentary testimonies on Holocaust of Jews in the USSR - “The Black Book”.[9] In 1942-1944, when visiting regions liberated from the Nazi occupation in the capacity of a war journalist, Ehrenburg started collecting materials on extermination of Jews, part of which he used for newspaper publications. A person who was very economical with his time, he carefully listened for hours to the stories of those who survived the genocide. He was particularly drawn towards those Jews who fought the enemy with weapons in their hands - partisans and members of ghetto underground. It is not surprising that he was the one to whom Jewish fighters opened their souls. In 1944, when victory over Germany was becoming more and more real, and the Red Army was moving further west almost every day, Ehrenburg's recognition in the community came to its peak. On May 1st 1944 he was awarded the highest decoration in the Soviet Union - the Order of Lenin. Jews saw in Ehrenburg an outstanding representative of their people and turned to him despite the fact that the writer's ability to help them was extremely limited.[10]

On July 3rd 1944, Ilya Ehrenburg was among the first to witness the consequences of mass killings in Trostinets. His report at the meeting of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee on July 26 1944 in Moscow left an indelible impression on those present. By that time, first mentions of this camp have appeared in foreign press. The Jewish newspaper “Aufbau” in New York, in the end of July 1944 cited a story of Burstein about the Trostinets camp, where he found himself after the liquidation of ghetto in Baranovichi.[11] In the Soviet Union, this and other information of this kind was inaccessible for obvious reasons.

Trostinets death camp was organized by Natzis in September of 1941, 10 km from Minsk, for mass extermination of the civilian population and Soviet war prisoners. Its territory was surrounded by a barbed wire fence. Wooden lookout towers were built at the corners of the perimeter, where soldiers with searchlights stood guard 24 hours a day. A guardroom was located near the gate. The sentenced were brought from camps, prisons and ghetto of Minsk and other cities of Belarus. They were kept in several long barracks, where bunks were constructed from thick unshaved wooden planks in three tiers. There were no bedding or mattresses. Mass shootings were carried out in the Blagovshchina woods (from September 1941 to October 1943, 150,000 people were killed). Then the Nazis stopped the executions and moved them to the Shashkovka woods near Maly Trostinetz village (from October 1943 to June 1944 more than 50,000 people were killed there). According to the official data, 206,500 people were killed here overall. Trostinetz death camp is fourth in the amount of victims in occupied by German troops Europe, following Osventsim (4,000,000 people), Maidanek (1,380,000 people), and Treblinka (around 800,000 people).[12] In 1995, historical memorial foundation “Trostinetz” in Minsk made a statement saying that after examination by its staff of archive information, it is correct to say that the number of killed in Trostinetz amounted to 546,000 people.[13]

In Trostinets, non-Jews were killed as well as Jews. So far it is impossible to determine the exact number of victims according to their nationality, but we can definitely say that tens of thousands of Jews from Belarus, Germany, and other European countries were killed here. Transports with Jews from Austria, Holland, Germany, Hungary, Poland, France, and Czechoslovakia were organized in Berlin, Hannover, Dortmund, Munster, Dusseldorf, Cologne, Frankfort on the Main, Kassel, Stuttgart, Nuremberg, Munich, Vienna, Breslau, Prague, and Brno and sent here. In coordination with chief of the German security police and SD, there was one guard for 12 people.[14] In the period from September 1941 to October 1942 alone, more than 35,000 Jews from the Third Reich were delivered in Minsk. In the address of the people of Minsk to Stalin in August 1944 they referred to 40,000 foreign Jews that were killed in the Minsk ghetto and its suburbs. According to the latest data, in Belarus Nazis destroyed at least 55,000 Jews from seven European countries.[15]

On the territory of the Minsk ghetto an isolated zonderghetto was created for “Hamburg Jews”, so called in the name of the first transport with Jews that arrived from European countries and Germany. It turned out that part of foreign Jews had a completely wrong conception in regards to their future. The Nazis assured them that they represent a vanguard of German colonization in the East.[16] At the meeting of chief Department Heads of the General Commissariat of Belarus on January 29, 1942, characteristics were given of local and foreign Jews. In regards to Jews from the Soviet Union it was said that they are of lazy nature and work unwillingly. Jews brought from Europe “work diligently and hope that upon victorious completion of the war they will be returned to the old empire”. At the meeting recommendations were made to sustain these illusions in order to achieve increased work productivity.[17]

Part of the Jews from Europe sent to Belarus was destroyed immediately upon arrival to the place of destination. Others were temporarily spared this fate in order to use their labor. J. Moser remembered that in May of 1942 he was brought to Minsk from Vienna with a group of Jews from Austria. They traveled to Volkovisk in passenger train cars, and were then transferred to cattle wagons. At the station in Minsk they were met by SS and police. Big gray trucks were prepared for transferring the sick and those who lost their mind in the course of a journey, as well as elderly and weak, and people were thrown there without any consideration. 80 people from those who arrived were sent to Maly Trostinetz and placed in a camp with rotten barns and stables. When new people were brought, those who lost their ability to work were taken to other “shtetles” or to the “hospital”. This was the name of a place along the Mogilev Road, 4 km away from Maly Trostinetz, where they were killed.[18] On June 21, 1943, Reichsfuhrer of the SS Himmler issued an order to liquidate all the remaining ghetto on the territory of Ostland. Those capable of work were supposed to be transferred to concentration camps under the SS supervision and not that of civilian police, which previously controlled the ghetto. On September 1st, 1943, the chief of the Minsk ghetto, Ribbe, came to zonderghetto and selected 250 healthy men, who were then taken away in trucks and shot. On September 14th, 1943, came the turn of the women, the elderly, the children, and the sick.[19]

One of the first witness testimonies about Trostinetz was made on July 7th, 1944 by four people who told about the liquidation there of 300 hostages from Minsk in September 1943.[20] On July 19th, 1944, state security lieutenant Krasnov questioned Petr Golovach, a resident of Bolshoi Trostinetz, who witnessed how the Germans leveled the bodies of the killed people in pitfalls with caterpillar tractors, and then piled more bodies.[21] In the Ilya Edenburg's report special vehicles are mentioned (“gasenvagen”) that were used for suffocating people with gas. In July of 1944, ex-policeman of the 11th battalion Shlik testified at the questioning that in October - November of 1943, special vehicles for liquidating prisoners were used in the Minsk ghetto. The local police called them “dushegubki”. 30 to 50 people were stuffed in each vehicle and poisoned by exhaust fumes on the way. In December 1943, prisoners from the Minsk prison were brought to Trostinets for burying corpses of previously killed ghetto victims.[22] This was backed up by Franz Gess, Unterscharfuhrer SS, a member of a zonder group that operated in Vileika and Minsk. According to him, in the end of July 1942, 18,000 Jews were exterminated in Minsk. Four “dushegubki” operated 24 hours a day, making 5 trips. In addition, 20 to 30 tarpaulin covered vehicles were employed for transporting prisoners.[23]

Ehrenburg tells that the Nazis in Trostinetz burned corpses of the killed people in order to destroy the evidence of their crimes. Decision on liquidation of mass genocide evidence was made by the superior Reich command in June 1942. This campaign had a code name “operation 1005”. On the territory of the Soviet Union first operations began in the end of September 1943 in Babiy Yar near Kiev. In Belarus, 7 weeks were allotted for conducting this operation. Analogous actions were taken by the Nazis in Trostinetz starting October 27 1943. Careful precautions were taken after a group of Jews burning corpses near Kiev escaped. One of them spoke on the radio in Moscow and told about it. In Maly Trostinetz the camp commander received reinforcement of 60 people from German military police and 30 Belarus policemen. All the mass graves in Blagovshchina woods were dug open. Among 34 graves there were some very big ones sized 50 m X 5 m X 5 m, in which 4,900 corpses were buried on the average. One can imagine the speed of these works, when 24 fires of 200 bodies each had to be organized. The corpses were covered with resin and laid with wood. On the average, each fire was burning for two days. After the fire burned out the ashes were cleared. Peasants from a number of regions were employed for bringing wood. 5,000 cubic meters of wood was brought from Lyubavshchina and Danilovshchina woods, 2,000 cubic meters - from Apchak woods and others.[24]Once, by mistake, a Jew from Austria was sent with the carriers, who then disappeared. At first, 100 Belarus Jews were brought to Blagovshchina for digging up graves and burning corpses. But they refused to cooperate (in the document: “rebelled” - L. S.) and were sent in “dushegubki”. Prisoners from the Minsk prison were sent in to replace them. Those were people whose guilt was not yet established or it was insignificant. In the Nazis' opinion, this gave them hope that their lives are in no danger and would cause them to remain come. These people were promised freedom upon finishing the work. However, handcuffs were put on them and during the night they were locked in a bunker not far from the opened graves and chained to each other. When the assignment was completed, Trostinets commander thanked each group of prisoners in person. They were then given soap, towels, and were told that they are going to a bathhouse. In reality, they were transported in “dushegubki”.[25]

In October 1943, an incinerator was built in Shashkovka woods, where the bodies of shot and gas poisoned people were burned. An access road to the incinerator was built connecting it with the Minsk-Mogilev main road. The incinerator was located in an excavation, and there was a special path for auto vehicles. Further there were rails to which metal sheets with holes were attached. Often people were thrown into the fire while still alive. Separate groups of people were blown up with hand grenades. Information on construction of the incinerator in Trostinets was given in the report by Emergency State Committee on establishing and investigating atrocities of German fascist aggressors and their accomplices (ESC USSR) in the city of Minsk and its suburbs. At the entrance to the incinerator a barrel and a scoop with traces of resin were found, and there were remains of many small burnt human bones. Personal belongings of those killed were thrown right there. On the German retreat in June-July of 1944, another 6,500 people were burned in the barn and in wood stacks in Trostinets.[26]

For almost 50 years after the end of World War II the authorities kept quiet about the fact that Jews were killed in Trostinetz. A standard memorial near the Moscow-Minsk road referred only to a mass killing of Soviet citizens there. Coming to this place was among the required events held on each anniversary of victory over Germany. Thousands of schoolchildren, students and working people were brought here, but no one ever thought here of Jews. In the village Bolshoi Trostinets a memorial was erected for victims of the fascist terror, while in Maly Trostinets a memorial sign was set up referring only to anonymous Soviet citizens who fell by the hands of Nazis and their accomplices in 1941-1944. Attributes of the killings - handbarrows for carrying corpses, resin barrel, burnt bones and ashes, and photographic materials of the ESC/USSR are still on exhibit at the Belarus State Museum of the Great Patriotic War History without any mention of Jews.

After visiting Minsk, Ehrenburg went to Borisov, Rakov, Ivenets, Smorgon', and everywhere he inquired into the fate of Jews. The end was known and impossible to change, but the writer was interested in details. Where was the ghetto organized, how did its prisoners behave? Who helped them and why, who betrayed and tortured them? How did the relations between Jewish and non-Jewish neighbors change with arrival of the Germans. Who personally implemented the genocide policy etc.? These questions were far from trivial. In our days, years after, it became possible to clear up some details. In Borisov (71 km from Minsk) Jews lived since XVI century. In XVII century, Kahal Borisovsky was one of the most significant ones in the Great Lithuanian Principality. The Jews traded bread and wood with Riga by Dvina and with Southern Russia by Dnepr. The Jews of Borisov were famous for their festive baked goods and sweets. In 1897 the Jews amounted to 7,722 persons. During the period of Belarus occupation by Polish troops in 1920, Borisov was among the places where most severe pogroms occurred. In 1926, the Jews amounted to 8,355 persons, and in 1939 - to 10,011 persons or 20.4% of the total population. Borisov was occupied by the German troops on July 2nd, 1941. First punitive actions were taken in Borisov at the end of August and in October of 1941 along the streets Krasnoarmeyskaya and Slobodka, where Nazis shot around 7,000 Jews[27]. According to the information of Alexandr Rozenblum, liquidation of the Borisov ghetto started October 20th 1941, and not November 9th as other sources insist. On October 20-21, 7,245 Jews were shot in Borisov, but after subsequent operations amount of victims reached around 9,000 people. Obersturmfuhrer SS Kraffe, zonderfuhrer Aiche, and burgomaster of Borisov Stanislav Stankevich actively participated in the massacre, as did local residents - city chief of police Petr Kovalevsky, security service chief David Egof, policemen Klim Budnik, Mikhail Morozevich, Petr Logvin, Mikhail Grinkevich, Constantin Pipin and others. Mass graves were overfilled. The blood leaked through the ground and flowed down to the Berezina River. Then the Nazis ordered to spread a layer of lime and cover it with an additional layer of soil. A cultural educational society “Menorah Light” that studies Holocaust history and experience, actively operates today in Borisov. In 1990, on the corner of streets previously named Svoboda and Zagorodnaya (presently Lopatina and of Ruben Ibarruri) a memorial sign was set up by efforts of the society. It is a boulder with the following inscription: “Here, from August 27th to October 20th of 1941 were located gates to the ghetto, the last residence of 9,000 genocide victims”.[28]

In Rakov (38 km from Minsk), Jews lived in the epoch of Rzech Pospolitaya, from the first quarter of XVII century. They were tax-farmers of customs, public housing, salt and other collections, rented various areas of economic significance, and were skillful craftsmen. Ceramic products and tiles from Rakov were known far beyond Belarus boundaries. In 1897 Jews here amounted to 2,168 persons, or 59,5% of the total city population. Before the beginning of the Soviet-German war, 928 Jews lived in Rakov. According to testimonies of Mikhail and Girsh Rayak, police was organized in Rakov the first day after arrival of the Germans. Robberies of Jewish possessions began immediately. On September 26th, 1941, Gebitscomissar Hendel ordered to bring Torah to the Rakov Square and to burn it, while Jewish girls were ordered to dance and sing “Ha-Tikvah”. On February 4th 1942 Jews were driven into the Kholodnaya Synagogue, their valuables were taken away, they were undressed, tortured and beaten. Gasoline was then poured over the building and grenades were thrown.[29] Dora Iveivekhman remembered that a month after there could still be felt a smell of burnt flesh in the air. Overall from August 1941 to February 1942, 1,050 people were killed in Rakov.[30]

In Ivenets (56 km from Minsk) Jews lived since 1598. As in other Belarus cities, they were craftsmen, middlemen, and tax-farmers. In 1897, Jews amounted to 2,670 persons, or 50.2% of the total population. Ivenets was occupied by German troops already in June 25th, 1941, and became a place of tortures, robberies, and violence. Regardless of age or sex, the Jews were sent to perform difficult and humiliating tasks: breaking up stones by hand, digging, cleaning up garbage and feces with bare hands. Of 2,150 people killed in Ivenets and the surrounding area during the 3 years of occupation, 2,000 were Jews, 50 Poles and Belarus, and 100 Soviet prisoners of war. Among the Jews most victims were women and children: 1000 women, 600 children, and 400 men. The shot people were buried in mass graves near Ivenets, in “sosennik” (a new forest - L. S.) named Pishugi, half a kilometer away from the village of Karduna.[31]

In the epoch of Rzech Pospolitaya, Smorgon (107 km from Minsk) was a town in the Vilna Province of Oshmyansky Poet. Jews have lived there since XVI century and in 1897 amounted to 6,743 persons or 75.7%. After the Soviet - Polish war in 1920, Smorgon became a part of Poland and was such until 1939. Before the German attack on the Soviet Union, Jewish population here amounted to 4,000 people.[32] With arrival of the Germans (06.25.1941) Jews began to be scoffed and were forced to work without pay. Boer-lieutenant Woltman became a chief of local police, while Perpovsky was the Head of regional authority. In October 1941 they supervised the establishment of ghetto in Smorgon, which was organized along the Chistaya street, in the buildings of a former synagogue, Jewish school, and adjacent houses. The ghetto was surrounded by a plank fence and a row of barbed wire with electrical current running through it. Jews from Smorgon and adjacent villages were gathered there (3,280 people). The prisoners were forced to clean up garbage, fix roads, prepare wood, they were starved and beaten. No medical assistance was provided; those who got typhus or dysentery were shot. However, the Nazis did not carry out mass extermination operations in Smorgon. In December 1941 the prisoners were taken to Oshmyany, and then in the direction of Vilna.[33] According to the testimony of Fishel Kustin, a number of Smorgon residents including himself, Haum and Zakhary Arozky, Yacov Melikovsky, Kopel Rappoport, and Yosif Karpel were taken to Lithuania. First it was a concentration camp in Zhizhmory, then the Kaunas ghetto and the Kaunas camp, followed by the camp in Kozlov-Ruda (Lithuania), from where the witness managed to escape in July 1944.[34] The fate of other Jews from Smorgon is unknown, but it seems that most of them died in different areas of Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia and Germany. Only a few returned to their home city after the war.

Ilya Ehrenburg's testimony in July 1944 became another sad piece of evidence to the German genocide policy on the occupied territory of the Soviet Union. Once numerous and prosperous Jewish communities of Minsk, Borisov, Rakov, Ivenets, Smorgon and more than 300 other towns and cities of Belarus ceased to exist forever. In regards to Ilya Ehrenburg, after the war the authorities still needed his services and prestige. In the end of 1945 the writer was sent to Germany to observe the Nuremberg trials of major German war criminals. There, in most of his reports, Ehrenburg referred to the subject of extermination of Jews. He considered anti-Semitism to be the international language of fascism. Publications of these reports in the Soviet Union, where in the post-war years anti-Semitism was growing stronger, in the eyes of Jews made him their defender from national discrimination. In 1945-1948, Ehrenburg's relations with EAC deteriorated, because in the writer's opinion, what Soviet Jews needed least was anti-fascist propaganda, and the main function of the Committee should be “fighting anti-Semitism in our own country”.[35] His experience was reflected in the novel “The storm” (1947), which was awarded Stalin Prize. From 1950, Ehrenburg was elected vice-president of the World Peace Council, numerous times became a deputy of the Superior Council of the USSR, was awarded many orders and medals, his works were translated into many languages around the world.[36] His personality was very contradictory, it continues to attract attention of researchers and is not subject to definite evaluation.[37]

Notes and Commentaries

  1. From the report by Ilya Ehrenburg at the meeting of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee in Moscow on July 26, 1944: State Archive of the Russian Federation (SARF), fond (collection) 8114, opis (inventory)1, delo (file) 1053, pp. 63-75. Return

  2. Razuvayevka (from the word “razut'”, to take someone's shoes off, to rob, Borisov suburb, unfavorable place – L. S.), located on the left bank of Berezina River. Before the revolution this area was called “Soldatskaya sloboda”, before the war it was the city's boundary, and now Krasnoarmeyskaya street runs through here leading to the Jewish cemetery. Return

  3. Proper name: Belarus State University in Minsk named after Lenin. Return

  4. Vostochniki (easterners) - residents of the Eastern part of Belarus (BSSR), which in 1921-1939, on conditions of the Riga peace agreement with Poland, was a part of the Soviet Union. Return

  5. Reference to 1920-1939, when the Western part of Belarus was a part of the Polish State. Return

  6. Shimon Redlich. War, Holocaust and Stalinism. A Documentary History of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee in the USSR. Harwood Academic Publishers, 1995. Return

  7. Krasnaya Zvezda - a newspaper of the USSR Defense Ministry, is published from 1924 in Moscow 6 times a week, has a mass circulation, intended for middle and superior rank officers; in the years of the war with Germany had 70 war correspondents, wrote about the situation at the front, generalized war experience of the Soviet Army, informed about the enemy armament and tactics. Return

  8. In the years of the war with Germany, the following collections of works on current affairs by Ilya Ehrenburg were published: “Kill!”, “They shall answer”, “Vasilisk” (1941), “Bitterness”, “Forward” (1942), “In the Fascist Zoo”, “The way to Germany” (1944). In 1942-1944 three volumes of his articles and essays were published under a common name “The War”, as well as lyric collections “Poems about the War”, “Freedom”; poems (1943). Return

  9. Regarding the fate of the Black Book see: M. Altshuler, S. Yzikas, “Were there two Black Books about the Holocaust in the Holocaust in the Soviet Union?” Jews and Jewish Topics in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, No 1(17), 1992, pp. 37-56. Return

  10. “Soviet Jews write to Ilya Ehrenburg, 1943-1966”. Under the editorial direction of M. Altshuler, I. Arad, Sh. Krakovsky, Prisma Press (Jerusalem, 1993). Return

  11. Aufbau (New York), July 21, 1944. Return

  12. National Archive of the Republic of Belarus (NARB), fond 845, opis 1, delo 62, lists 1-48; B.M. Mlynsky, “Pages from life in times of the Holocaust” (St. Petersburg - Hadera, 1998), pp. 40-41. Return

  13. A. Van'kevich, “The number of Jewish victims was much greater”, Narodnaya Gazeta (Minsk), September 14, 1995. Return

  14. “Nuremberg trials”. A collection of materials in 3 volumes (Moscow, 1966), vol. 3, pp. 249-250. Return

  15. E. Ioffe, “How many Jews were killed on Belarus land in 1941-1944?” Belarussky Gistarichny Chasopis (Minsk), No 4, 1997, pp. 50-51. Return

  16. From report by the chief of security police and SD on deportation of Jews from the Reich to Riga and Minsk. Berlin, January 15, 1942. Yitzhak Arad, “German and Soviet Jews in the Ghettos of Minsk and Riga: Together in Anguish and Wedge Between Them”. The Holocaust and Jewish History. The International Conference, January 4-7, 1999 (Yad Vashem, Jerusalem). Return

  17. The tragedy of Belarus Jews in the years of German occupation, 1941-1944. Collection of Documents and materials. 2nd Edition. Under the editorial direction of R. Chernoglazova (Minsk, 1997), p. 144. Return

  18. J. Moser. Die Judenverfolgung in Osterreich, 1938-1945 (Wienie, 1996), pp. 35-36. Return

  19. Zu Deportations stellen von Hamburg nach Minsk. Wegweiser (Hamburg, 1995), pp. 40-43, 49-52. Return

  20. Atrocities of the German - fascist aggressors. Documents. Issue No 14, (Moscow, 1945), pp. 17-18. Return

  21. Crimes of the German fascist aggressors in Belarus, 1941-1944 (Minsk, 1963), p. 187. Return

  22. Yad Vashem Archives (YVA), TR-0/1072. Return

  23. Court proceedings on the matter of atrocities committed by the German-fascist aggressors in BSSR (Minsk, 1947), pp. 179-187. Return

  24. Crimes of the German-fascist aggressors in Belarus, 1941-1944 (Minsk, 1963), p. 187. Return

  25. Ya'cov Tzur, “The Maly Trostinetz Death Camp”, Yalkut Moreshet, No 59 April 1995. Mordechai Anilevich Study and Research Center (Tel Aviv), pp. 49-51. Return

  26. Nuremberg trials of major German war criminals (Moscow, 1959), vol. 4, pp. 89-91. Return

  27. NARB, f. 861, op. 1, d. 8, pp. 66-69. Return

  28. A. Rozenblum. Vechny ukor (Eternal blame) (Borisov, 1990). Return

  29. SARF, f. 8114, op. 1, d. 964, pp. 245-251, 261-262; (Yad Vashem Archives, M-35/25). Return

  30. SARF, f. 7021, op. 89, d. 14, p.20, 48-54. Return

  31. YVA, M-33/1159. Return

  32. Smorgon. District Vilna, Memorial Book (Tel Aviv, 1965), Hebrew. Return

  33. NARB, f. 845, op. 1, d. 63, p. 30. Return

  34. YVA, 033/5278. Return

  35. A. Weisberg, “The Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee and M.A. Suslov”, Zvenya, Historic Almanac (Moscow, 1991). Issue No 1, p. 550. Return

  36. In the United States the memories of Ilya Ehrenburg were published in four volumes: “People and Life, 1891-1921”, Knopf (New York, 1962); Memoirs: 1921-1941, Word (Cleveland, 1964); The War. 1941-1945, Word (Cleveland, 1964); and Post-War Years: 1945-1954, Word (Cleveland, 1967). Beginning in 1990, a new Collected Works in eight volumes began to appear. As of this writing, the first four volumes have been published under the editorial direction of Irina Ehrenburg and Boris Frezinsky. Return

  37. Joshua Rubenstein. Tangled Loyalties. The Life and Times of Ilya Ehrenburg. Basic Books. A Division of Harper Collins Publishers (New York, 1996). Return

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