Pinsk | Brest

/ The plan of the town of Pinsk. Photo taken from the personal witness’ archives. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad-In Unum In this building a German hospital was installed during the occupation. The hospital was located on the ghetto’s territory. Today there is a town hospital in the building. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad-In Unum The building of former Jewish school. It was totally remade from the exterior. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad-In Unum The plan of ghetto located in Pinsk. From personal witness’ archive. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad-In Unum The former streets of the ghetto ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad-In Unum The former streets of the ghetto ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad-In Unum Yahad’s team with a witness during an interview. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad-In Unum At this place an old Jewish cemetery used to be located and where hundreds of Jews were murdered. There were at least two mass graves. The today’s school was built in 1960. Behind the school there is a monument to the Jewish victims. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad At this place the grand synagogue used to be located. The original building doesn’t exist anymore. It is located in the town center.  ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad-In Unum Nikolay K., born in 1935, shared with us a copy of a diary written by a Jewish boy, Leib Zilberman: “On Tuesday, at 2pm it was announced that all the Jews from 18 to 60 years old should gather at the railway station.” ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad-In Unum Valentina D., born in 1930. With her family she lived just in front the cemetery and could witness the executions from her house. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad-In Unum Yahad’s team with a witness whose father saved two Jewish children. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad-In Unum Vasiliy M., born in 1914, was requisitioned to cover the pit: “The Germans fired with sub-machine guns. There were many people who fell inside alive or just wounded. The ground was moving for a long time after that.” © Nicolas Tkatchouk/Yahad-In Unum Vera V., born in 1936: “My father found two kids not far away from the execution site near the Kozlyakovichi. He first hid them in the hay behind our house. He planned to make them cross the river in order to join the partisans. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad-In U Nadezhda R., born in 1932: “From my roof I could see several columns coming from the town in the direction of the execution site where 17 Jewish men had been shot previously.”  ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad-In Unum Yestafiy O., born in 1934: “Once at the cemetery all the Jews were forced to undress. They were shot in groups of thirty, but I could be mistaken because I saw the shooting from a distance.  ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad-In Unum The execution site near the village of Kozlyakovichi. Back then it was a field located between the cemetery and the forest. Execution site n°1 ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad-In Unum The execution site located inside the ghetto near the Jewish cemetery. Hundreds of Jews were shot in three mass graves. The corpses weren’t exhumed. Execution site n° 2 ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad-In Unum Execution site n°3, located near the village of Posenichi where about 8,000 Jewish women and children from the Pinsk ghetto were shot. There is memorial but it is located near the pits.  ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad-In Unum The execution site on the former ghetto’s territory. Execution site n°4. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad-In Unum

Execution of Jews from Pinsk

3 Execution site(s)

Kind of place before :
Field (1); near Jewish cemetery(2); near the village of Kozlyatychi (3); Ghetto (4)
Memorials :
Yes
Period of occupation:
1941-1944
Number of victims :
About 25, 000

Witness interview

Lubov P., born in 1926 : « YIU : And afterwards, were the corpses reburried or did they remain at the site ?
W : No, after the Jews from ghetto were brought and taken to the pits located in another place, but I don’t know where exactly. People said that they were Soviet prisoners of war who were forced to open the pits and take out the corpses that were burned afterwards. They were all burned.
YIU: And these ones were also exhumed and burned?
W: Yes, people said that they were burned because they had gold. The Belarussians didn’t have anything, but Jews did. They had a lot of gold, rings, and necklaces. They were burned and then their ashes were sifted. The gold was taken and the rest was put back inside the pit and was filled in so good that none can find the exact place anymore.
YIU: Did they open the mass graves with shovels or something else?
W: We didn’t see that because they didn’t allow anyone to come closer. They even blocked the way which led from the lake to the town, and they made a detour to prevent people from seeing how the corpses were burned and what they were doing. But from my window…yes, for example, if step on the bank or a stool, we could see them exhuming the corpses with the help of an excavator.
YIU: Did you see the excavator? –Yes, I did.
YIU: So, they dug with excavator and not with shovels?
W : Yes, with the help of the excavator they pulled the corpses on the pile and burned them. It was burning day and night until everything was burned down, and then, they made the same thing at the airfield, but I didn’t see that. I didn’t see how the corpses were burned in the airfield, but I did see how they did it here!”(Witness n°214, interviewed in Osnezjintsy, on August 14, 2009)

Soviet archives

« In the spring 1942, a part of the town was surrounded with a fence and barbed wire; that is what called the ghetto. It was forbidden under the death penalty to leave its territory. They could leave it under the condition of having a pass and being escorted by the guard. Only the specialists were used as manpower; those who hadn’t any specialization didn’t work and weren’t allowed to leave the ghetto. When the specialists came back from work they were systematically searched to prevent them from bringing food inside the ghetto. If they were found hiding the food they were severely beaten. The policeman n°13, a certain D., was particularly cruel.
The food ration was very small: 100gr of bread per day for Jews and 200gr for non-Jews. The non-Jews had also right to get cereals and meat (100gr per day) but they have never received that. […]Due to famine and misery, many people got ill and died. Seeing their children getting weak and starving mothers tried to sneak out of the ghetto to search for food. To get out of the ghetto might have been an easy thing, to come back was much more difficult. If they were noticed near the fence they were shot on the spot. When I was coming back with the doctors Levin, Prichor and Yakobson, they told me about their life: “When we leave the ghetto, it is also difficult, but at least we are feeling alive, although when we come back it feels like we were been buried alive. It is impossible to describe all the suffering we are going through. They made us suffer day and night. The gendarmes enter our houses, take the last piece of bread we have and throw it on the floor crushing it with their shoes”. [Deposition of Pavel R., a local resident, given to the Soviet State Commission (ChGK) after the liberation; RG.22-002M : 7021-90-24]

German archives

“I assisted only to one aktion of the extermination of the Jews. It must have happened in the summer of 1942 while we were based in Pinsk. After several weeks passed in Pinsk, a member of the police unit asked to select some of my soldiers. Other members of the police unit received the order to seal off the Jewish ghetto, and an execution site as well. I was asked to provide some men because the police unit didn’t have enough for this job. The section would be managed by another police unit’s commandant. I won’t be able to say which police unit it was and where they arrived from. […]
During the inspection of my men engaged on the site once I was an eyewitness to the execution. That is why I can describe how the execution was conducted:
A couple of pits were dug in the fields located 5-6km away of Pinsk. The pits were about 20m long, 6m large and 3-4m deep. The column of Jews stopped at 200m from the pits. On their way until the execution site they were guarded by intervention police and SS units that prevented all the attempts of escaping. At about 200m from the pits the newcomers accumulated because they had to strip naked. They threw their clothes and shoes on a pile which was rather high when I arrived horseback on the site. I could understand that other executions had been already conducted at this place. Besides, I could hear the machine gun rattle while approaching the site. Once the Jews stripped naked, -there were elder people and youth, including men, women and children, they were forced to come closer to the edge of the pit. According to my understanding, the Jews approached in groups of six of eight. Then, they lined up at the edge of the pit, completely naked, facing the pit and with their backs to the SS soldiers who stood behind them. The last, -they were three or four, stood behind the Jews with submachine guns and fired several bursts into the back of the neck. Those who were touched by the bullets fell down inside the pit over the corpses laying beneath them. I was watching the scene from about 80m. I was particularly outraged seeing mothers holding their children in their arms among the victims.” [Deposition given by Wilhelm H., a captain of the Security Police (Schutzpolizei) n°10; ARZ 393-1959]

Historical note

Pinsk is located about 170 km east of Brest. The first records of Jewish community go back to 1506. Until WWII, they represented of the majority of town’s population (70%). It grew up from 75 Jews in 1506 up to 21,965 in 1897. In 1855 near Pinsk the Jewish agricultural settlement was established. There were 27 synagogues in Pinsk. In 1870 a Jewish hospital was opened in the town, in four years a Jewish school for girls and in 1878 there were two private Jewish schools for boys. From 1914 the Jews possessed 49 plants and factories of 54, two pharmacies, over 120 shops such as 42 of 43 grocery shops. The majority of Jews lived of trade. However, there were   at least 1,484 craftsmen.  On April 5, 1919 there was a pogrom in Pinsk conducted by the soldiers of Polish army. As a result about35 Jews were killed and 40 were wounded. In 1920-30s Jewish parties and political organizations were established in Pinsk. Significant Hasidic dynasties came from Pinsk, and in its time the town was also a Haskalah centre. The Ha-No‘ar ha-Tsiyoni, a youth movement affiliated with the General Zionist, operated in the town. There were several dozen synagogues and heders. Previous under Polish rule, in 1939, Pinsk was taken over by Soviet Union. During this period the religious movements were banned and many establishments, including synagogues, were closed. Large businesses and factories were nationalized and “rich” Jews were expelled from the town.  According to the estimation about 28,000 Jews remained in the town before the occupation.

Holocaust by bullets in figures

On July 4, 1941 Pinsk was occupied by Germans units. One month after the occupation all the Jewish men, except the artisans and specialists, gathered in Pinsk and taken to be shot in different places near the villages of Kozlyakovichi, Posenichi, and Ivaniki. According to different historians the number of victims murdered during these first aktions varies from 4,500 to 10,000 Jews. The remaining Jews, approximatively 20,000, were first marked with armbands bearing Star of David and then with yellow distinguishing badges on their clothes, but they continued to live in their homes until spring 1942.  The closed ghetto was established on May 1st, 1942. It was located in the poorest area of the city close to the Jewish cemetery. It was fenced in with 3m barbed wire and guarded by the local police. There were about 240 houses in the ghetto and it numbered about 18,396 Jews, including Jews from the surroundings, according to the census made in summer 1942. The Jews were forbidden to leave the ghetto’s territory unless they had a special authorization. The specialists and artisans were subjected to perform forced labor. According to the witness n°965 interviewed by Yahad, the local population could ask for manpower from the ghetto for their needs. Her family asked for a woman and children under the pretext to make them work, but in reality they used it to take them out of the ghetto and feed them.

The ghetto was liquidated in the course of several aktions which took place from late October to mid November 1942. The Pinsk ghetto was the last ghetto to be destroyed in the area. The executions were conducted by SD unit who were helped by three police battalions and cavalry who participated in gathering and guarding the Jews. According to the report given by platoon commander of the Police Battalion n°306 and Soviet archives, as a result of these aktions about 15,000 Jews were shot in the ditch close to the village of Dobraya Volya , located 5km away, and about 12,000 Jews were shot inside the ghetto or at the Jewish cemetery.  Before being murdered, except for those who were killed on the spot, because th were too week or sick to move, all the Jews were gathered at the Jewish cemetery where they had to surrender their valuables. Once on the execution site near Dobroya Voly, the Jews were forced to undress and in small groups get inside the pit and lay down facing the ground or the bodies of the previous group. According to the German report there were Jews who had a pen and a paper and who counted the dead bodies during the shooting. After these shootings, about 143 Jewish specialists remained alive and on November 12, 1942, they were resettled into two buildings, so called small ghettos, in the same area as the previous one was. They were shot dead on December 23, 1942. Several months before the retreat Germans exhumed the bodies. This operation, known under the name “Operation 1005” was as well conducted in Brest and Slonim, in particularly on the big mass execution sites, with over 10,000 victims, in order to hide the traces of their crimes.

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