Korosten (Iskorosten, Iskorość) | Zhytomyr

/ Mykola S., born in 1935: “The Jews were crying and screaming, the dogs were barking, one group of Jews was being shot while another group was digging the pit. The rest were covering the graves.” ©Victoria Bahr/Yahad-In Unum The witness shows a place where about 500 Jews were killed in the course of three Aktions conducted by SK4a. ©Victoria Bahr/Yahad-In Unum Yahad team during the interview at the execution site. ©Victoria Bahr/Yahad-In Unum Ivan S., born in 1930: “The path was surrounded by 5 Germans, so we took a different road. We heard screams and gunshots. We hid in bushes and saw the shooting from a distance. The Jews had been killed in front of a long ditch.” ©Victoria Bahr/Yahad-In Un The execution site of about 1,500-2,000 Jews in Korosten. There is a memorial today. ©Victoria Bahr/Yahad-In Unum

Execution of Jews in Korosten

1 Execution site(s)

Kind of place before :
Pinery
Memorials :
Yes
Period of occupation:
1941-1943
Number of victims :
Between 1,500 and 2,000

Witness interview

Mykola S., born in 1935, remembers: “When the Germans had already brought all Jews to the execution site, a Jewish girl had been hiding in someone’s homes. She was very young. She was my age, or even younger. She decided to go find her parents, so she also came to the shooting site. A German saw the girl and explained to her that she could not join her parents because she too would be killed. I don’t know why he did that; maybe he felt sorry for the girl, maybe he knew her. He hid the girl under his coat and took her by car to the scene of the shooting so that she could see what awaited her if she went there. We were standing not far from the pit, and the German stopped behind us to show the girl what was going on. He was alone in his car; I think he was a high-ranking officer. He parked his car a little further behind us, and let her look out the car window. She was crying and the German could not calm her down. He told her to stop crying because if it was discovered that he was hiding her, he could be shot too. When the shooting started, they drove away. He saved that girl. The other Germans were cruel, they brought the Jews to the shooting like beasts, but that one was a good man.” (Testimony n°1636, interviewed in Korosten on April 24th, 2013)

German archives

“As best as I can remember, a few days after the occupation of the city, the Jewish population was chased out of their homes. If I’m not mistaken, this aktion took place outside the city. I remember that 3 or 4 men from the SD transported the Jewish people in trucks. Later, I saw the ditches amongst the trees. I don’t know if it was a forest or a tree nursery. I knew from the noises that the Jews were executed there afterwards. I do not know who shot them.
Later, 300 people who had been locked up in the NKVD prison were shot by the police into a pit. I also heard about a shooting of 1,000 communists and partisans in March 1942 near the railway.” [Deposition of Johannes B., the Wehrmacht soldier, taken on July 27th, 1971 in Berlin; B162-7320]

Historical note

Korosten is located on the banks of the Uzh River, 85 km north of Zhytomyr. The city was founded in the beginning of the 8th century. The first records of a Jewish community here go back to the end of the 18th century. In 1897, 1,266 Jews lived in Korosten making up almost the half of the total population. With the construction of the Korosten-Kiev-Saint-Petersburg railroad in 1902, Korosten became an important trade center. During that time, most of the Jews lived off of trade and handcraft. In the 1920s, the artisans were united in cooperatives. In 1914, there were 6 synagogues in the city. The Jewish community was victim to several pogroms, conducted from  1918 to1919, during which time Jewish houses and stores were plundered. In 1920s, many branches of various Zionist organizations and different reading clubs operated in this town. There was even a Yiddish elementary school. According to the census in 1939, 10,991 Jews lived in the city making up 36 % of total population. Korosten was occupied by the troops of Wehrmacht on August 6, 1941. By that time, more than a half of the Jews managed to evacuate and the men of eligible age were enlisted in the army.

Holocaust by bullets in figures

Soon after the occupation, all Jews were registered and marked with armbands. The Jewish population was forbidden to trade with the Ukrainians and was forced to perform exhausting manual labor.

According to the archives, several Aktions took place in Korosten quickly after the occupation. However, the dates of executions and number of victims vary according to different sources. It’s known that three Aktions were carried out by Sonderkommando 4a during the first three weeks at the former location of the fat-boiling factory. During these three Aktions, conducted from August to September 1941, somewhere between 450 and 500 Jews were murdered.

During the next Aktion, carried out during the first half of September, 1941, between 500 and 1,000 Jews were first confined in the local school, and then driven by truck to the execution site, located in the pinery 2km away from the town near the Korosten train station. According to eyewitness who were forced to watch the execution along with other villagers (interviewed by Yahad), before the execution the Jews had to turn in all their valuables and write their names on the list. The Jews were forced to dig the ditches. While some Jews were digging pits, the others had to take off their clothes and turn in their valuables. The territory was cordoned off by Germans with dogs. The Jews were shot by machine guns while in groups at the edge of the pit. Once the pit was full, the remaining Jews had to cover it before being killed themselves.  Thanks to the archives, we also know about the executions of 300 prisoners locked in the cellar of the old NKVD building that occurred near the rocky hill close to the railway. Unfortunately, there is no information regarding when this shooting was conducted. In March 1942, about 1,000 communists and partisans, including those of Jewish nationality, were killed in stone quarry near the railway bridge. In all, about 5,000 people were shot in the district of Korosten.

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