Pinsk | Brest

/ / The plan of the town of Pinsk. Photo taken from the personal archives of a witness. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum A German hospital was installed during the occupation in this building. The hospital was located on the ghetto’s territory. Today there is a town hospital in the building. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum The building of former Jewish school. It has been totally rebuilt from the exterior. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum The plan of ghetto located in Pinsk. From the personal archive of a witness. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum The former ghetto streets. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum The former ghetto streets. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum The Yahad team with a witness during an interview. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum The location of the former Jewish cemetery where hundreds of Jews were murdered. There are at least two mass graves here. The school was built in 1960. Behind the school there is a monument to the Jewish victims. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum The former location of the grand synagogue. The original building no longer exists. It is located in the town center. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum Nikolay K., born in 1935, shared a copy of a diary written by a Jewish boy, Leib Zilberman: “On Tuesday, at 2pm, it was announced that all the Jews from 18 to 60 years old should assemble at the railway station.” ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum Valentina D., born in 1930. She lived just in front the cemetery and witnessed the executions from her house. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum The Yahad team with a witness whose father saved two Jewish children. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum Vasiliy M., born in 1914, was requisitioned to cover the pit: “The Germans fired with sub-machine guns. Many people fell inside alive or just wounded. The ground was moving for a long time after that.” ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum Vera V., born in 1936: “My father found two kids not far from the execution site. He hid them in the hay behind our house at first. He planned to make them cross the river in order to join the partisans. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum Nadezhda R., born in 1932: “From my roof I could see several columns coming from the town in the direction of the execution site where 17 Jewish men had already been shot.”  ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum Yestafiy O., born in 1934: “Once at the cemetery all the Jews were forced to undress. They were shot in groups of thirty, but I could be mistaken because I saw the shooting from a distance." ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum The execution site near the village of Kozlyakovichi. Back then it was a field located between the cemetery and the forest. Execution site n°1. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum The execution site located inside the ghetto near the Jewish cemetery. Hundreds of Jews were shot in three mass graves. The corpses weren’t exhumed. Execution site n° 2. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum Execution site n°3, located near the village of Posenichi where about 8,000 Jewish women and children from the Pinsk ghetto were shot. There is memorial located near the pits. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum The execution site on the former ghetto’s territory. Execution site n°4. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum

Execution of Jews from Pinsk

3 Execution site(s)

Kind of place before:
Field (1); near Jewish cemetery(2); near the village of Kozliakovichi (3); Ghetto (4)
Memorials:
Yes
Period of occupation:
1941-1944
Number of victims:
About 25, 000

Witness interview

Lubov P., born in 1926: "YIU : Were the corpses reburied or did they remain at the site after the shooting?
W: After the Jews from ghetto were led to the pits - I don’t know where they were exactly - people said that Soviet POWs were forced to open the pits and take out the corpses that had been buried. They were all burned.
YIU: And these ones were also exhumed and burned?
W: Yes, people said that they were burned because they had gold. The Belarusians didn’t have anything, but the Jews did. They had a lot of gold, rings, and necklaces. They were burned and then their ashes were sifted. The gold was taken and the rest was put back in the pit, which was filled in so well that no-one can find the exact location anymore.
YIU: Did they open the mass graves with shovels or something else?
W: We didn’t see that because they didn’t let anyone approach the site. They even blocked the way which led from the lake to the town, and they set up a diversion to stop people from seeing the corpses being burned and what they were doing. But from my window…yes, if I stood on a stool, I could see them exhuming the corpses using an excavator.
YIU: Did you see the excavator? –Yes, I did.
YIU: So, they dug the bodies up with an excavator and not with shovels?
W: Yes, with the help of the excavator, they put the corpses on the pile and burned them. It was burning day and night until everything was burned away, and then they did the same thing at the airfield, but I didn’t see that. I didn’t see the corpses being burned at the airfield, but I did see how they did it here!”(Witness n°214, interviewed in Osnezjintsy, on August 14, 2009)

Soviet archives

"In the spring of 1942, a part of the town was surrounded with a fence and barbed wire. That is what they called the ghetto. It was forbidden under pain of death to leave its territory. They could leave it under the condition of possessing a pass and being escorted by guards. Only skilled workers were used as manpower. People who had no particular skill didn’t work and weren’t allowed to leave the ghetto. When the skilled workers came back from work they were systematically searched to prevent them from bringing food inside the ghetto. If they were found hiding the food, they were severely beaten. The policeman n°13, a certain D., was particularly cruel.
The food ration was very small: 100g of bread per day for Jews and 200g for non-Jews. The non-Jews also had the right to get cereal and meat (100g per day) but they never actually received any. […] Due to famine and misery, many people got ill and died. Seeing their children getting weak and starving, mothers tried to sneak out of the ghetto to search for food. Getting out of the ghetto might have been easy, but to come back was much more difficult. If they were noticed near the fence they were shot on the spot. When I was with the doctors Levin, Prichor and Yakobson, they told me about their life inside. “When we leave the ghetto, it is also difficult, but at least we feel alive, but when we go back it feels like we’ve been buried alive. It is impossible to describe all the suffering we are going through. They made us suffer day and night. The gendarmes enter our houses, take the last piece of bread we have and throw it on the floor crushing it under their shoes”. [Deposition of Pavel R., a local resident, given to the Soviet State Commission (ChGK) after the liberation; RG.22-002M : 7021-90-24]

German archives

“I only took part in one aktion of the extermination of the Jews. It must have happened in the summer of 1942 while we were based in Pinsk. After several weeks, a member of the police unit asked me to select some of my soldiers. Other members of the police unit received the order to seal off the Jewish ghetto and an execution site. I was asked to provide some men because the police unit didn’t have enough for the job. The section would be managed by another police unit’s commandant. I can’t say which police unit it was or where they came from. […]

After the inspection of my men, I went to the site and was an eyewitness to the execution. This is how the execution was conducted:

A couple of pits were dug in the fields located 5-6 km away of Pinsk. The pits were about 20m long, 6m wide and 3-4m deep. The column of Jews stopped 200m from the pits. On their way to the execution site they were guarded by intervention police and SS units that prevented all escape attempts. About 200m from the pits the detained had to strip naked. They threw their clothes and shoes on a pile which was rather high when I arrived at the site horseback. I understood that other executions had been already been conducted at the site. I could hear the machine gun rattle when approaching the site. Once the Jews had stripped naked - old and young, including men, women and children - they were forced to approach the edge of the pit. I believe the Jews approached in groups of six or eight. They were then lined up on the edge of the pit, completely naked, facing the pit and with their backs to the SS soldiers who stood behind them. The 3-4 soldiers stood behind the Jews with submachine guns and fired several bursts into the back of the neck. Those who were touched by the bullets fell down inside the pit over the corpses laying beneath them. I watched the scene from about 80m away. I was particularly horrified to see mothers holding their children in their arms among the victims.” [Deposition given by Wilhelm H., a captain of the Security Police (Schutzpolizei) n°10; ARZ 393-1959]

Historical note

Pinsk is located about 170 km east of Brest. The first records of Jewish community go back to 1506. Until the war, they represented of the majority of town’s population (70%). The Jewish population grew from 75 Jews in 1506 up to 21,965 in 1897. In 1855 near Pinsk, the Jewish agricultural settlement was established. There were 27 synagogues in Pinsk. In 1870, a Jewish hospital was opened in the town, in four years a Jewish school for girls and in 1878 there were two private Jewish schools for boys. From 1914, the Jews possessed 49 plants and factories of 54, two pharmacies, over 120 shops such as 42 of 43 grocery shops. The majority of Jews lived off trade. However, there were at least 1,484 craftsmen. On April 5, 1919, there was a pogrom in Pinsk conducted by the soldiers of Polish army. As a result about 35 Jews were killed and 40 were wounded. During the 1920-30s, Jewish parties and political organizations were established in Pinsk. Significant Hasidic dynasties came from Pinsk, and in its time the town was also a Haskalah centre. The Ha-No‘ar ha-Tsiyoni, a youth movement affiliated with the General Zionist, operated in the town. There were several dozen synagogues and heders. Previously under Polish rule, Pinsk was taken over by Soviet Union in 1939,. During this period the religious movements were banned and many establishments, including synagogues, were closed. Large businesses and factories were nationalized and “rich” Jews were expelled from the town. It is estimated that about 28,000 Jews remained in the town before the Nazi occupation.

Holocaust by bullets in figures

On July 4, 1941 Pinsk was occupied by Germans units. One month after the occupation all the Jewish men, except for artisans and skilled workers, were assembled in Pinsk and taken to be shot in different places near the villages of Kozliakovichi, Posenichi, and Ivaniki. According to different historians, the number of victims murdered during these first Aktions varies from 4,500 to 10,000 Jews. The remaining Jews, approximatively 20,000, were first marked with armbands bearing Star of David and then with yellow distinguishing badges on their clothes, but they continued to live in their homes until spring 1942. The closed ghetto was established on May 1, 1942. It was located in the poorest area of the city close to the Jewish cemetery. It was fenced in with 3m of barbed wire and guarded by the local police. There were about 240 houses in the ghetto and it numbered about 18,396 Jews, including Jews from the surrounding area, according to the census made in summer 1942. The Jews were forbidden from leaving the ghetto’s territory unless they had special authorization. Skilled workers and artisans were subjected to hard labor. According to witness n°965 interviewed by Yahad, the local population could ask for manpower from the ghetto if they so needed. Her family asked for a woman and children under the pretext of making them work, but in reality they used it to get them out of the ghetto and feed them.

The ghetto was liquidated over the course of several Aktions which took place from late October to mid November 1942. The Pinsk ghetto was the last ghetto to be destroyed in the area. The executions were conducted by a SD unit who were helped by three police battalions and a cavalry regiment who were tasked with rounding up and guarding the Jews. According to the report given by platoon commander of the Police Battalion n°306 and Soviet archives, as a result of these Aktions, circa. 15,000 Jews were shot in a ditch close to the village of Dobraya Volya, located 5 km away, and circa. 12,000 Jews were shot inside the ghetto or at the Jewish cemetery. Before being murdered, not including those who were killed on the spot because they were too week or sick to move, all the Jews were assembled at the Jewish cemetery where they had to surrender their valuables. Once at the execution site near Dobraya Volya, the Jews were forced to undress and climb down into the pit in small groups and lay down facing the ground on top of the bodies of the previous group. According to the German report, there were Jews who with a pen and a paper counting the dead bodies during the shooting. After these shootings, about 143 Jewish skilled workers remained alive and on November 12, 1942, they were resettled into two buildings, so called small ghettos, in the same area as the previous ghetto. They were shot dead on December 23, 1942. Several months before the retreat, the Germans exhumed the bodies. This operation, known as “Operation 1005” was also carried out in Brest and Slonim, notably at the big mass execution sites, with over 10,000 victims, in order to hide the traces of their crimes.

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