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The Holocaust and the Destruction of the Jews of Pinsk

On the 4th of July 1941, the Nazi-German army conquered Pinsk. It was the first large city in occupied territories whose Jewish population was to be completely annihilated. On the 9th of July, part of the Einsatz gruppe of the SS (for special tasks) arrived in Pinsk and immediately began persecuting the Jews including the murdering of several of them. On 30 July 1941, Reichsf hrer SS Heinrich Himmler order in this manner: “All of the Jewish men in Pinsk should be executed, and the women and children should be driven into the swamps”. On the 2nd of August 1941, Bruno Magil –Cavalier Commander of the 2nd SS Cavlary Brigade – sent his first and fourth companies with the order to begin murdering the Jews of Pinsk. On the 4th of August, the commander of the first company, Charwat, went to Pinsk to coordinate activities with Pinsk’s Commandent – Werthof. Werthof demurred saying that it was not possible to execute Himmler’s orders precisely. The women and the children could not be pushed into the swamps because they were not deep enough during this season of the year for drowning people. In order to follow Himmler’s precise instructions, delivery trucks would be needed to transport the Jews and their murderers to the murder site. This notion is implicit in Charwats’s August 4th message to the Cavlary Brigade headquarters requesting the delivery trucks, and these were not available. In the meantime, Charwat and Werthof agreed to begin the murder of all Jewish males between the ages of 16-60. On the next day, the 5th of August, 8,000 Jewish males were killed by the first cavalry company of the SS, near the village of Posenich – 4 Km. from Pinsk. The Nazis used the pretext that they were being taken to work as laborers for three days. The murdering continued through the 6th of August, but ona more limited scale. The fourth cavalry arrived in Pinsk later that day to help expedite the actions. On the 7th of August, the two companies along with the local militia drove Jews out of their homes to the gathering area near the village of Koslakowich. The murder of Jewish males from the age of 6 upwards continued and another 3,000 were murdered. During these two tragic days at least 11,000 Jewish males lost their lives. During the evening of the 8th of August, orders were received by the cavalry company to leave Pinsk and continue on to other destinations while combing the area as per the original plan. This later order enabled part of the Pinsk community – made up mainly of women and children – to live for a little over a year. During the Pinsk operation, at least 11,000 Jews were murdered, and approximately 20,000 were left behind after the departure of the SS cavalry units. Regarding the events and chronicles of those who departed from Pinsk during the interim period of the 9 months from the murder of 11,000 males until the establishment of the Ghetto on 1 May 1942.
please see Chapter 3: “The Oppressors in Action” – the English translation of the essay by Nachum Boneh in the book Pinsk, volume I, section 2, pp. 107-110. The original is in Hebrew.
For the article about the Holocaust - Click here.

Lists of the Jews of Pinsk in the Ghetto

There were 240 houses in the ghetto which were distributed along 23 streets, and they were divided among the remaining 18-20 thousand Jews left after the massacre. This came down to about one half of a square meter of space for each person. There was minimum of 10 persons crowded into each room. Family members made efforts to live together in the same room in order to reduce the terrible suffering. In the archives at Brest (Brisk) 550 pages of authentic testimony of the events and a detailed breakdown of the ghetto’s population were miraculously discovered during research carried out by the Yad Vshem Holocaust memorial institute. This rare discovery included a list of 18,287 names of the Jews who lived in the Pinsk Ghetto (There were only a small number of ghettos during the occupation where similar lists were found). These lists were written in German and were prepared just 2 months prior to the disintegration of the Ghetto and they included: the family name, the first name, year of birth, ghetto address, profession and place of employment. After a close examination of these records, a horrific picture emerged. As a result of the 11,000 males who were murdered, out of every 100 ghetto members – 86 were women and children up to the age of 15, and there were only 14 males over the age of 15. It should be noted that the members of the Judenrat were listed under the section “place of employment”: representative (Ratman) in the Judenrat.
For the lists of the Jews of Ghetto Pinsk - Click here

The “Working Ghetto” and an Improvement in Nutrition

In an additional study of the lists, the following statistics were found. There were 5,112 persons employed, 46% of these were aged 15 and over. From these, 1944 were males, 3,168 were females and they worked at 44 different locations. The places of employment according to their size, and number of employees were as follows: supply and services to the urban population – 1,284 (including 364 maids employed in Christian households); Judenrat with all of its divisions and services – 1,175; services for the Germans – 999; factories and sawmills – 859; workshops – 795. Almost one out of every 4 workers was employed in a place which could have served as a source for improving the family’s nutrition. 420 were employed in the agricultural sector and 364 employed in households, while 330 were involved in the distribution of rationed bread and vegetables. In addition, some were employed in the hospital, and the cheap consumer kitchen. As a result of this division, the ghetto, similar to a deserted island of Jewish population in an area that was already entirely “Judenrein” (cleansed of Jews), was able to survive under terrible conditions for 6 months. During the month of August, 1941, almost all of the Jews from the population centers surrounding Pinsk were murdered.
For information about the lists - click here.

The Destruction of Jews from the Pinsk Ghetto and Their Memorials

On 27 October, 1942, an order was issued by the Reichsf hrer SS Heinrich Himmler, and it included the following: “I hereby issue the order for the destruction of the Pinsk Ghetto even though it has some economic advantages”. The wheels of the Nazi war machine began to turn with their satanic precision, and after two days, Thursday, the 29th of October, just before dawn, the ghetto was surrounded by companies from the special destruction forces. For three days afterwards, the Jews of Pinsk along with members of the Judenrat were escorted just 5 kilometers from the town to the village of Dobrovolie where mass graves had already been prepared. They were murdered and buried there. (As an example of Fate’s macabre humor, we learn that the translation of the village name is “Good Will”…). At this fateful mass gravesite, a memorial was erected in 1993 by the Association of the Jews of Pinsk, and was attended by some 200 members from Israel and the Diaspora. Additionally, this event was attended by a representative form the Israel Embassy in Moscow, representatives from the army and the city’s institutes as well as hundreds from the local population along with school children. Another 3 memorial tablets commemorating the Jewish victims were instalted near the villages of Posenich, (8,000 men), Kozlakovich (3,000 men), and next to the Jewish cemetery in Karlin (there is no memorial there) where the last 123 remaining Jews from the “little ghetto”(mainly the shewmakers and tailors that filed privat orders for the germans) were exterminated on Christmas eve December 23, 1942. The Tablets’ text is written in three languages: Bellorussian, Hebrew and Yiddish.

Opposition Attempts

There was a group of young people who collected flammable and explosive material and hid this material in various corners of the ghetto with the intention of igniting it when the murdering began thereby creating an opportunity for breaching the ghettos containment wall and fleeing to the nearby forests. Unfortunately, this measure was thwarted. The Judenrat institutes knew about these preparations, and they halted this activity using the false German pretext that “Pinsk is a working ghetto assisting in our war efforts and it will continue to exist”. These young resistors were plagued by the small numbers of males included in their ranks along with a fear of retaliation by the Germans against the women and children, and this situation also contributed to the decline in resistance efforts. In the end, the Ghetto was destroyed without resistance, but hundreds of the Pinsk survivors contributed to the downfall of the Nazi regime by fighting as partisans or in underground movements. Additionally, some of them fought in armies opposing the Germans (There were even some who fought in the “French Foreign Legion”).
There is a chapter dedicated to these resistance fighters in the Pinsk book, volume II, pp. 361-386. A partial translation in English, in book “Pinsk”, volume 1, section 2, pp.137 – 146.

A Trial Against the Murderers

A trial was held in Germany against 7 of the murderers of the Jews of Pinsk, and it lasted for 14 months. Several of the Pinsk Ghetto survivors testified at this trial. The conclusion of the trial resulted in light punishments.
Further details can be found in the Pinsk book, volume I, section 2, pp. 494-495.


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