Ilya (Ilja, Ilia, Ilyah, Ilye) | Minsk

1920s’ members of the Zionist Hachalutz Hazair © Taken from eilatgordinlevitan.com Members of the Ilia fire department © Taken from eilatgordinlevitan.com The unfinished Tarbut Jewish School  in Ilia © Taken from eilatgordinlevitan.com Gertrude Kudrow (Farberman),  grandmother of Lisa Kudrow, was born in Ilia © Taken from eilatgordinlevitan.com An ancient Jewish cemetery located on a small mound in the field outside the village.  © Jethro Massey/Yahad-In Unum Aleksander K., born in 1926: “Once we were cutting wood in the forest, when we saw the Jews being brought to the pit by the police. The Germans with machine-guns waited for the victims on the site. ” © Jethro Massey/Yahad-In Unum Inside a local house © Jethro Massey/Yahad-In Unum Galina K., born in 1926: “The Germans demanded contributions from the Jews. The latter paid until they had no more gold.” © Jethro Massey/Yahad-In Unum Yahad’s team during an interview.  © Jethro Massey/Yahad-In Unum The mass execution site where 748 Jews were murdered.  Today it is located in a field outside the village. There are three gravestones surrounded by a fence. © Jethro Massey/Yahad-In Unum

Execution of the local Jews in Ilia

1 Execution site(s)

Kind of place before :
Barn in a field
Memorials :
Yes
Period of occupation:
1941-1944
Number of victims :
748

Witness interview

Nina G., born in 1926: “Russians, Poles and Jews lived in Ilia before the war, and each community had its own church. My mother worked for Jews, Poles, the priest and others, who were able to pay her for work. She prepared food, washed the clothes, milked cows. I went with her to clean the synagogue every week, after prayer. It was a wooden building. I saw only men there.
There was a rabbi, an elderly man in black clothes. He wore some kind of band on his head and something on his arm. [Note: Witness refers to tefillins]. Most of the Jews were merchants and owned shops, while the Russians were the work force. Jews travelled to Vilnius to bring herring and other goods. Solomyanski owned a mill. Shop-owner Shneyer had two daughters who went to school with me. One of them was named Lida. I also remember an old Jewish woman Raska.” (Witness n°917, interviewed in Ilya on July 29, 2017)

Soviet archives

“On March 16, 1942, the Gestapo detachment arrived to Ilia in the evening. The next morning the local police, the Gestapo and the German gendarmerie began to gather the entire Jewish population of the city into the main square, surrounded by local police. Around 4pm all the Jews were rounded up there. There were more than 700 people, men, women, children of all ages and elderly people. Then, from the square the Jews were transported to an unfinished house located near an unfinished vegetable warehouse. This warehouse was actually a huge barn with a pit dug inside. The house was guarded, but you could hear screams even in the neighboring villages. From the house the Jews were brought in groups of twos or threes to this vegetable warehouse where they had to undress completely. Then, they were placed naked in front of the pit and shot with rifles and machine guns. Once the pit was filled in, in the evening, the occupants sprinkled the bodies with gasoline and threw two grenades. The wounded Jews were screaming. Then the Germans searched the Jewish homes and found more than 60 hidden Jews who were shot directly in their houses. Their bodies were transported to the mass grave and thrown into the flames. ” [The deposition of witness Yosif Z., given to the State extraordinary commission (ChGK) on March 19, 1945; RG 22.002M: 7021-83-6]

German archives

“520 people were shot in Ilia on March 17, 942” [Summary of a report, B162-1296]

Historical note

Ilya is located 66 km north-west of Minsk. The first written records about the local Jewish community date back to the end of the 15th century. Back then the Jews were engaged in timber, flax and grain exportation. In the 16-18th centuries Ilya was under the control of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and in 1793 it became a part of the Russian Empire. According to the census in 1897 829 Jews lived in Ilya comprising more than half of the total population. On October 2, 1915 the Cossacks conducted a pogrom in the village. As a result almost all Jewish houses and shops were burned down, and several Jews were killed. In 1920-1939 the village was under Polish rule. At that time a Jewish glass factory, a sawmill, a Hebrew school and a library all operated in the village. In 1921 the Jewish population numbered 586 people comprising about 40% of the total population. In 1939 Ilya became a part of USSR as a part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. According to the local villagers, interviewed by Yahad team, there was a wooden synagogue. The whole center of the town was inhabited by Jews, and there was a shop in each Jewish house. The village was occupied by the German troops in the end of June, 1941.

Holocaust by bullets in figures

Shortly after the Germans arrival several young men, including two Jews, were shot under on the pretext of their being communists.  Shortly after this all the Jews were marked with yellow distinguishing badges on the shoulders. In late September - early October 1941 the street where the Jews used to live was transformed into the ghetto. Jewish men were required to perform heavy labor. On March 14, 1942 partisans attacked the Khotenchitsy estate. As a result on March 17, 1942 a detachment of German Security police arrived to the village from Vileika. Assisted by the local policemen and German gendarmerie they gathered all the Jews at the market place. After the selection, about 750 Jews, mostly women, children and elder people were taken in a huge barn located on the Sovietskaya Street outside the village.There the victims were ordered to undress to underwear and lined up at the edge of the pit, dug inside the barn and used to store ice. After the shooting the barn was set on fire. As a result some Jews were burned inside alive. There were also some isolated shootings in the houses and on the streets especially of those who resisted going to the market place. After this execution about 100 Jews, including spared ‘specialists’ and their families and those who managed to hide, were relocated in a smaller ghetto. Those who weren’t displaced to the Vileyka ghetto were murdered in a similar execution at the same place on June 7, 1942.

 For more information about the shootings in Vileyka please refer to the corresponding profile

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