Orsha | Vitebsk

Yakov Krupkin was born in Orsha, Belarus (USSR) in 1924 to Vulf and Leya nee Vovshina. Before the war he lived in Orsha. Yakov was murdered during the Holocaust. ©Yad Vashem / The remaining tombstones at the former Jewish cemetery. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum The remaining tombstones at the former Jewish cemetery. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum Grigori Ts., born in 1929, a Jewish survivor who was evacuated to Bukhara, Uzbekistan along with his parents and siblings before the Germans’ arrival. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum Maria M., born in 1929 : “While confined in the ghetto, Guinesha used to sneak out to come to our house to ask for food." ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum Piotr M., born in 1928: “We all were equal. There was no difference between Jews and Belarusians. I had Jewish neighbors - Bela Cherniak, Grisha and Raya Slobotkin. We all played together.” ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum From a family album of Grigori Ts., a Jewish survivor. His grandparents were murdered in Gorki, while other members of the family evacuated. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum The mass grave located near the Jewish cemetery, where the Jewish inmates from the ghetto were murdered on November 26-27, 1942. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum “To the victims of Nazism. Jewish children from theg Ghetto of Orsha were brutally murdered here on 26-27 November 1941.” ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum

Execution of Jews in Orsha

2 Execution site(s)

Kind of place before :
Near Jewish cemetery
Memorials :
Yes
Period of occupation:
1941-1944
Number of victims :
About 5,000

Witness interview

Maria M., born in 1929: “Jews who had money and could pay were evacuated, while the poorest stayed in the town. Upon the Germans’ arrival they were all assembled on Engels Street in a newly created ghetto. The ghetto was fenced in with barbed wire and guarded by German soldiers. Our neighbor, Guinesha, was also taken to the ghetto. From time to time, she secretly left the ghetto territory and came to us to ask for food. My mother asked her several times to stay with us, but she refused. I must add that all the Jews were marked with yellow patches, so it was rather easy to recognize who was Jewish. They didn’t stay in the ghetto for long. A little while later they were all shot.” (Witness n°1054B, interviewed in Orsha, on November 6, 2020)

Soviet archives

“During the war I lived in the city of Orsha, on Krasnaya Street n°7. On November 25, 1941, starting from 7pm, the entire Jewish area was cordoned off. The Germans requested help from the police and the Gendarmerie to carry out the task. They surrounded the area until morning without letting anyone come in. On November 26, 1941, at about 8am, a senior officer arrived and ordered all of the Jewish people to get leave under the pretext of an eventual transfer. They [the Jews] were assembled at the publishing house and former grocery store N°10. In groups of 100-150 people they were searched and taken to the Jewish cemetery, where the pits in which they were shot had been dug in advance. At about 3pm, the shooting finished. They [the Jews] were all shot in one day. There were about 3,000 people. The remaining Jews were rounded up little by little and shot at the same cemetery.” [Deposition given by a local resident, Petr M., to the Soviet Extraordinary State Commission (ChGK) in September 1944; GARF 7021-84-10]

Historical note

Orsha is a city located in the Vitebsk Oblast, in northeastern Belarus. It is located on the banks of the Dnieper River, about 80km (50mi) south of Vitebsk. In the second part of the 16th century, when the Republic of Two Nations had integrated Orsha into its territory, the city’s Jewish community was among the largest in the country. In 1765, 368 Jewish people lived in the town. A decade later, in 1776, the city was incorporated into the Russian Empire. The community grew exponentially over the course of the 19th century. It increased from 1,662 individuals in 1847 to 7,383 in 1897, comprising 56% of the total population of the city. The majority of Jewish inhabitants were merchants or artisans. During this period, the city housed four Jewish schools and a Talmud Torah. In October 1905, the community was the target of violence for the first time, when 30 Jews were killed in a pogrom.

In 1910, 9,842 Jews were living in Orsha. In 1922, the city was included in the Socialist Republic of Belarus. Under the Soviet rule, the growth of the Jewish community was very slow. During the interwar period, 95% of Jewish artisans were assembled into cooperatives and two Jewish elementary schools were closed. Some Jews worked in factories or government institutions. On the eve of the Second World War, some 7,992 Jews lived in Orsha, making up only 21% of the total population.

Holocaust by bullets in figures

Orsha was occupied by the Germans, more precisely by the 2nd German Armored Group, on July 16, 1941. Before the German arrival, many of the Orsha Jews had managed to escape deeper into the Soviet Union by train, by cart or on foot. From August 1941, Orsha was under the control of Feldkommandantur 683 and Ortskommandantur I/842. Its commander, Baron von Ascheberg, and his deputy, Paul Karl Eick, played a central role in the genocide of the Jews in the region. Immediately under the occupation, anti-Jewish measures began to be implemented. Jews were marked with armbands bearing the yellow Star of David, and, in some cases, star-shaped badges were placed on their backs. They were forbidden from buying food at the markets alongside other Belarusians. Moreover, they were subjected to paying taxes and perform hard labor such as cleaning the streets.

In early September 1941, a ghetto was created on Engels Street, also known as Gorodnyanskaya Street. It was enclosed by the Orshitsa River on one side, and by barbed wire on the other. The ghetto was guarded by local auxiliaries. Due to overcrowding, malnutrition, and diseases such as typhus, many Jews died inside the ghetto. The Jewish inmates were also subjected to robberies and rapes by the Germans and local auxiliaries. 

The extermination of the Orsha Jews started in August 1941, when the Einsatzkommando 9, part of the Einsatzgruppe B unit, executed 43 people. In September 1941, another group of Jews was shot by Einsatzkommando 8, on its way to Mogilev. The ghetto was liquidated on November 26-27, when some 1,873 Jews were taken in groups of 100 to 150 to the Jewish cemetery and shot dead in the pits dug in advance by Soviet POWs. Before being shot on the edge of the pit by automatic weapons, the Jews were forced to undress. Several dozen artisans and their families remained in the ghetto until April 1942, when they were taken and shot at the cemetery. The isolated shootings continued throughout the occupation. In September 1943, the Nazi authorities attempted to erase the traces of these massacres by burning all the bodies. The Soviet archives estimated the number of the victims as high as 6,000 people, although some vicitms were not of Jewish origin. The local civilian population was systematically exterminated over the course of several isolated killings, along with Soviet POWs.

Two camps for non-Jewish civilians, who were supposed to be sent to Germany for forced labor, were also created in the town. One was located in the eastern part of the town and the other on Novy But street.  

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