2 Execution site(s)
Stepan T., born in 1926: “After a few months, the Germans created a ghetto between Pervomaiskaya Street and International Street. Before entering the ghetto, the Jews had to wear a white armband with a five-pointed star. Then, after a few days, the Germans ordered them to sew a yellow circle in front and behind their clothes.
First there was the first ghetto with “skilled workers", but the Germans quickly liquidated it because many Jews did not have any particular skills. So the “skilled workers" were taken to the train station and then deported to Bronnaya Gora. Then the German authorities built a larger ghetto. All the windows in this ghetto that faced out had bars installed and the streets were walled off. Policemen with sticks guarded the entrance of the site in groups of two.
One day I saw trucks with people from the ghetto in them. I even recognized two people I knew. I also know that my neighbor, who had married a Jewish woman, was shot with her near the bridge.
After the liquidation of the ghetto, the Germans organized the sale of the Jews’ belongings, including clothes. A friend of my mother’s was requisitioned to sort through the belongings. People could go into the ghetto and buy them.
Later, the Germans burned the bodies of the murdered Jews. The inhabitants said that people dug up the bodies then put them on boards and sprayed them with gasoline. They went to get prisoners with trucks to perform this task. I could see black smoke for several days.” (Witness n°982B, interviewed in Kobryn, on September 14, 2018)
“On July 25, 1942, the Gestapo and the police surrounded the part of Kobryn located between Sovetskaya Street, Svoboda Square, Belorouskaya Street and March 8 Street. All of the 1800 inhabitants and their families were forced out of their homes and taken to the railway station where they were loaded into wagons and transported to Bronnaya Gora to be shot. All the belongings left in the houses were looted by the Gestapo. A large number of houses were destroyed.” [Extraordinary State Commission; GARF 7021-83-18; December 18, 1944; pp. 14-15]
Kobryn is a city located about 52 km (32 miles) east of Brest, in southwestern Belarus. The first traces of a local Jewish community date back to the 16th century, when the first synagogue and a Jewish cemetery were built. The Jews earned their living mainly from local and long-distance trade with Lublin. In the early 18th century, the Polish-Swedish wars had a negative economic and material impact on Kobryn. The economic life of Jewish artisans and merchants deteriorated considerably. Nevertheless, the population continued to grow. In fact, in 1766, the town was home to 946 Jews. The integration of the city into the Russian Empire accelerated this demographic development. In 1847, 4,184 Jews lived in the city, with a total population of about 6,500. In 1882, however, Jews were forbidden from renting farms and rural buildings. In addition, in 1897, a government monopoly on the distillation of alcohol was introduced. These measures affected local Jewish economic activities, and many Jews left Kobryn for the United States. By 1897, the Jewish community numbered 6,687, or 69% of the total population. In the early 19th century, Kobryn’s Jews joined many organizations, such as the Bund, to take part in the struggle for their political, social and cultural rights. In 1921, they numbered 5,431, about two-thirds of the local Jewish population. In this interwar period, they had a religious school, a Tarbut school, a school of the Central Organization of Yiddish Schools, and a yeshiva. Its members worked mainly in construction, trade and artisanship. Finally, in 1931, 5,617 Jews resided in Kobryn. On September 20, 1939, as part of the German-Soviet invasion of Poland, the USSR annexed the Kobryn region.
On June 22, 1941, the German armies and their allies began their invasion of the USSR, marking the beginning of Operation Barbarossa. On June 24, Kobryn was occupied. As soon as the occupation began in the summer of 1941, between 150 and 200 Jewish members of the local intelligentsia were shot by an SD squad near Patriki, on the southwestern outskirts of the city. Jews were also forced to pay large amounts of gold and silver to the new authorities and began to be subjected to forced labor. A 24-member Jewish Council (Judenrat) was also formed. In August 1941, hundreds of Jewish women and children were transferred to Kobryn from the liquidated Jewish communities in the north of the region. Thus, in September 1941, in order to assemble this population, the German authorities created a ghetto. It was divided into two parts: A and B. The first was located in the southern part of the city and housed Jewish artisans and their families. The second was located in the western part of the city and housed Jews who could not work. In total, there were more than 7,000 Jews from Kobryn and its surroundings in the two ghettos. Overcrowding was critical inside. Jews were not allowed to leave the ghetto or to move from one part to another. Surveillance of the site was entrusted to the newly created Jewish police. At this time, the command of the city was transferred to a civilian administration, thus integrating Kobryn into the Generalkommissariat Wolhynien und Podolien of the Reichskommissariat Ukraine. At the same time, several hundred mentally ill Jews were shot by German security forces. In early April 1942, the Germans built a wall around the ghetto. Despite some food shortages, requests from the Judenrat and the smuggling of foodstuffs enabled Jewish families to support themselves. At the same time, a number of able-bodied young Jews from the ghetto were rounded up and sent to labor camps around Kobryn. During the day, there were practically only women and children left in the ghetto. Then, in July 1942, Ghetto B was liquidated on the orders of the local SD. 200 Jews were shot near Mazury on the eastern outskirts of the city, and another 1,800 were sent by train to the Bronnaya Gora execution site located 65 km (40 miles) northeast of Kobryn. More Jews were shot in the ghetto over the next few days as the authorities searched for those in hiding. The larger Ghetto B was dissolved after this operation, but the smaller Ghetto A continued to exist. The young people inside, still subjected to forced labor in various workshops, began to organize underground resistance. Nevertheless, no specific operation was carried out, and on October 15, 1942, the Germans and their collaborators liquidated Ghetto A. 4,250 Jews were shot during this operation by an SD squad and members of the police. Some Jews managed to escape into the forest, but most of them were caught by the Germans and their Ukrainian collaborators over the following days. At the end of the liquidation, only 72 Jewish artisans remained in the city. In the autumn of 1943, they were shot too. When the ghettos were completely emptied, the Jews’ belongings were sold to the local population. Finally, in April 1944, as part of Operation 1005, mass graves in and around the city were opened and the bodies burned. The 80 prisoners requisitioned for this task were shot once the operation was over.
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