Vitebsk | Vitebsk

Vitebsk before the war. ©Taken from Jewishgen Kehilalinks website

Execution of Jews in Vitebsk

2 Execution site(s)

Kind of place before:
Period of occupation:
Number of victims:
Witnesses interviewed:

Witness interview

Raisa S.: "I saw them bringing an enormous number of Jews here by car. They made them stand in several rows, with their backs towards the pit, the women holding their children, the elderly. Then, they opened fire. There was a burst of gunfire, and the Jews fell into the ravine. They didn’t all die at once, the children were crying. The Germans did not bury them right away. They brought other groups to be shot first, and later a bulldozer to cover the bodies with dirt." (Witness N°509, interviewed in June 2011)

Soviet archives

"Two years later, in October 1943, the fascist beasts unearthed the bodies of the people who had been shot, poured flammable liquid on them and burned them." [Act of the Soviet Extraodinary State Commission, RG-22.002M/7021-84/3]

German archives

"In Vitebsk itself, the victims were forced to undress completely and lie down in the pits before being shot with a bullet to the neck. The victims that came next had to lie on top of the previous ones and were shot." [Prosecutor’s report on Vitebsk region, B162-2400]

Historical note

Vitebsk was an important city as it was the capital of the Vitebsk Oblast before the war. In 1939, according to the last pre-war census, 37,095 Jews lived in the city, comprising 22.2% of the total population. On top of that, the number of Jewish refugees coming from the west before the German arrival led to a significant growth of the Jewish population in the city. The city was under German occupation from 1941 to 1944.

Holocaust by bullets in figures

The Germans took control of the city in July 1941. They shot several groups of Jews between July and September, primarily young men. At the end of July, the Jews were ordered to move to the right bank of the Dvina River. As the bridges over the river were destroyed, the Jews had to cross the river by boat. The Germans turned the voyage into a death crossing. Some 200 to 300 Jews perished during the crossing, from drowning or from being shot.

The Nazis established a ghetto in the northern part of the right bank along the Ilinskii embankment. It consisted of several neighborhoods of Jewish residence. Some of the Jews were also put in a former vegetable store, others in the yeast plant, or in the tobacco factory. A second much smaller ghetto was established at the metalworkers’ club (Dom Metallistov) and in the surrounding area. In September, all the Jews had to move into the second ghetto. According to estimates, the total number of deaths within the ghetto was between 5000 and 10000 due to epidemics or starvation.

The Vitebsk ghetto was liquidated on October 8 and 10, 1941, under the pretext of the danger of an epidemic. In fact, this declaration was a pretext to move and massacre the Jews. The extermination was carried out by Einsatzkommando 9 with the assistance of the Belarusian police. The Jews of the Vitebsk ghetto were taken to the Tulovskii ravine, east of the city. Though the number of Jews killed there is still debated, the figure of 3000 victims is generally accepted.

Thanks to Yahad’s research and recorded eyewitnesses accounts, notably that of Inesa G., a Jewish survivor, a grave that is most likely the resting place of 4 Jewish victims was also identified within the former ghetto, in the garden of a block building.

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