Kopys | Vitebsk

Execution of Jews in Kopys

1 Execution site(s)

Kind of place before :
Memorials :
Period of occupation:
Number of victims :

Witness interview

Anna P., born in 1933: “It was so horrible, you know. I was ill, at that time. I had a wound on my side and my mom took me to the nurse at Kopys, so that she could make me a bandage. We were walking with my mom; we were afraid to approach the Germans, we feared them. They wouldn’t check if you’re a Russian or a Jew, they could kill anyone. They took the Russians and sent them to concentration camps or shot them. We were afraid of them.
So we were passing by with my mom, going to Kopys, where my mom was taking me for a bandage. And the Jews are digging their own pit. We didn’t know what it was for, why they were digging this huge, this gigantic pit. The young ones, the old ones; they were all digging. And while we were there… they were digging long before, but we had never got near, we were scared, we were hiding. We hid in the forest, hid from the Germans… everyone was doing his best to hide and save his skin, you understand.
So we were going with my mom when a German caught us up. “Where are you going?” Mom says: “I’m bringing my daughter to…” Mom didn’t speak German. “Kleine, kleine…” Mom showed him my wound; it was large… “Yeah… You can pass.” The Jews were still digging and the Germans were standing with submachine guns pointed at them. And while we were going for the bandage, while we were going to the meeting point, they started shooting at them.” (Witness n°1051B, interviewed in Novyye Stayki, on November 5, 2019)

Soviet archives

“In January 1942, I saw the Germans take the Jews out of the buildings, at the site of the Kopys flax factory, and bring them to a large pit dug nearby. The Jews were forced to undress to their underwear near the pit. They were then driven to the pit where they were shot. They were driven to the pit in groups of fifteen. I was about 100 meters from the pit where the shooting took place, and saw more than 200 people killed. I left, but the shooting continued for several hours. The shooting started in the morning and went on until afternoon; in total some 300 people were shot – among them women and children [....].” [Deposition given by a local resident, Gavriil K., born in 1880, to the Soviet Extraordinary State Commission (ChGK), on April 2, 1945; GARF 7021-84-10, pp. 479-480]

Historical note

Kopys is located about 22km (14mi) south of Orsha and 110km (68mi) south of Vitebsk. The first record about the Jewish community goes back to the mid-17th century. The majority of Jews lived off the manufacturing of pf ceramic tiles and pottery. A flax factory was opened here under the Soviet rule where some Jews worked in administrative positions. Other Jews were involved in small scale trade. In April 1905, the Jews of Kopys suffered a pogrom, during which the houses and commerce were plundered. In 1924, a Yiddish school was established. On the eve of the war Jews comprised only 10% of the total population; only 405 Jews lived in the village.

Holocaust by bullets in figures

Kopys was occupied by Germans in the mid July of 1941. Shortly after the occupation, the Jews were marked with yellow distinguishing badges.

According to different sources, as well as the local witnesses interviewed by Yahad, the Jews continued to live in their homes until October (or December) 1941, when they were rounded-up and confined into a ghetto, created at the site of a flax factory, two kilometers from the town. In all, 200-300 Jews were detained in the ghetto. The ghetto was fenced in and guarded by the local police.

On January 14, 1941, the Kopys ghetto was liquidated.  The remaining Jews were taken to the ravine, located behind the factory, where they were shot in small groups of 4-5 people, according to a local eyewitness n°1052B/YIU. Before being shot, they had to dig a pit, undress and then, once lined up on the edge of the pit, they were shot in the nape of the head. Some Jews who manage to hide during the raid where caught and shot the same day or several days after.  However, several Jews survived the Holocaust by hiding in the nearby villages or countryside. In all, according to the Soviet sources, 230 Jews were murdered in Kopys on that day, although the monument on the site records the death of about 250 victims.

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