Baranovichi (Baranowicze) | Brest

Jewish women at forced labor in Baranovichi. © All rights reserved / Nadezhda Y., born in 1927: "They took children away from their mothers and threw them into the pit alive.”   ©Nicolas Tkatchouk/Yahad - In Unum Tereza M., born in 1930, remembered how the Jewish men and women were taken in groups away from the ghetto to work in workshops. ©Nicolas Tkatchouk/Yahad - In Unum Yahad’s team during an interview in Baranovichi. ©Nicolas Tkatchouk/Yahad-In Unum Taisia A., born in 1930 : "When the first shooting was conducted one spring morning, there was no selection in the ghetto. They were just taken randomly”.  ©Nicolas Tkatchouk/Yahad - In Unum Nikolay K., born in 1932, told Yahad that the ghetto was surrounded with barbed wire and guarded.   ©Nicolas Tkatchouk/Yahad - In Unum Maria, born in 1932, lived in front of the ghetto. She saw several Jews being humiliated on several occasions. One morning, the guards made Jews to go out of the ghetto and lie down facing the ground. ©Nicolas Tkatchouk/Yahad - In Unum Olga L., born in 1911: "They were shot in groups, on the edge of the pit. The trucks arrived one after another. The children were taken away from their parents and thrown into the pit”. ©Nicolas Tkatchouk/Yahad - In Unum

Execution of Jews in Baranovichi

1 Execution site(s)

Kind of place before :
Forest called ‘Gay’
Memorials :
Yes
Period of occupation:
1941-1944
Number of victims :
About 12,000

Witness interview

Nadezhda Y., born in 1927: "YIU: Were they open or canvas-covered trucks?
W : They were canvas covered trucks. Once they opened them the Jews jumped out of the back.
YIU: Was there only one truck, or many?
W: There were many. The trucks weren’t big, but the pit was big. There were two pits, right next to each other.
YIU: How many trucks were there?
W: I don’t remember that anymore. I was just a child back then. Once one truck left another one arrived, and so on.
YIU: Were the people taking pictures in the trucks?
W: They were behind the guards and they photographed using their flash. But I can only say it now, having analyzed what I saw, because back then I didn’t understand what was happening. There the clicking of cameras, and we could see light, so I guess they were lighting up the scene before them in order to report back how many Jews were killed.
YIU: Did they take pictures of the trucks or the Jews?
W: They started to take pictures when the trucks arrived. They took pictures of people who were jumping from the truck. That is how I understand it today, but back then we didn’t understand anything. We didn’t understand why they were taking pictures.
YIU: Did you see the cameras that they used to photograph victims, or just flashes?
W : We only saw flashes. Today I understand that they were taking pictures, back then I thought they were lighting the way so that they didn’t stumble over.” (Testimony N°269, interviewed in Novaya Mych, on March 30, 2010)

Soviet archives

" Serafima Yudkevich, a shooting survivor from Lesnaya, explains : « on May 13, 1942, we were taken near the town of Lesnaya by truck. There were 42 of us in total. When the truck stopped near the pit, we realised that we would be shot. There were 19 children with us, aged between 3 months and 7 years. A German called Robert, who was in charge of the execution, ordered mothers to put their babies at the edge of the pit and to stand nearby. When the men and women without children were shot, the Germans, under the order of Robert, slowly pushed the babies inside the pit with their bayonets, and then shot their mothers. […]
From the end of 1943, the successful attacks of the Red Army pushed the Germans to erase the traces of their crimes in the region of Baranovichi. Different techniques were used for this purpose: crematorium furnace to burn the bodies, opening the mass graves and [illegible]”. [Act drawn on January 1, 1945, by State Extraordinary Commission (ChGK); RG-22.002M. Fond 7021, Opis 81, Delo 102]

German archives

« One day, about 3,000 Czech Jews arrived on the platform behind Novyye Baranovichi. All the Jews were very well dressed and seemed in a good mood. The large number of wagons was escorted by Czech railway employees and a few Gestapo soldiers. At the rear of the train there were several wagons with the passengers’ luggage. Once the train stopped, they were told that breakfast would take place soon. They accepted that as a matter of course. The trucks arrived and everyone, even the members of the Czech railway, climbed onto the trucks. The vehicles then left. The large doors, which would close hermetically, were located under the vehicles. This was all organized by the Gestapo from Baranovichi, that was in charge of removing all newcomers, Jewish Czech intelligentsia, including doctors, dentists, engineers, architects, professors, lawyers and rabbis with their families. They were taken to the forest “Gay”, located behind Novyye Baranovichi, north east of the lake of Zhlobin. The pits were dug in advance. Upon their arrival, the Jews had to undress, gather their belongings, before being shot at the edge of the pit. The trucks also brought victims that were already dead to the site. There was no need to shoot them. Blood was streaming from some victims’ noses and mouths. The murderers did not retrieve the victims’ clothing. The Czech Christian railway employees were shot as well. The Germans did not want to leave any witness of the crime alive. The Belarusian police were used for the first time for this kind of job. The previous aktions were carried out by the Lithuanian auxiliary police. Not far away from the pit there were tables strewn with the bottles of vodka and other alcohol. “At the beginning it was horrible for us, but with time we got used to it and it didn’t bother us anymore," - declared one of the participants, a Belarusian policeman from the Gestapo of the Koldychevo camp. In the evening, the commandant of the Koldychevo camp gathered all the Jews of the camp and asked for volunteers to go to work in Baranovichi. He chose eight Jews, gave them shovels and forced them onto the vehicles which took them from Baranovichi to the "Gay" forest. Once on site, they had to fill in the pit where the Czech Jews had been shot, and at the end they were shot as well.” [Written by F.Grelka, Commemorative Book of Baranovichi; Bundesarchiv Ludwigsburg B162-3408]

Historical note

Baranovichi is located 150km south west of Minsk. The first records on the Jewish community in the town dates back to the end of 19th century. In 1921 about 60% of the population was Jewish (6,605 Jews). The Jewish community was very prosperous and lived off small scaled trade, light industry and lumber business. There was a Jewish hospital. In the period between the two World Wars, from 1920 to 1939, Baranovichi was under Polish rule. In that period it became a center for hasidic rabbis.  There were at least ten synagogues, Yiddish and Hebrew schools as well as two Yeshivot. However, once it was taken over by Soviet Union as a result of Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in September 1939, all religious movements were outlawed. On the eve of the war, about 12,000 Jews lived in Baranovichi. 

Holocaust by bullets in figures

The town of Baranovichi was occupied by German forced on June 27, 1941. Straight after the Germans’ arrival, 73 Jews accused of being communists were murdered. According to local witnesses, a fenced-off ghetto was created a couple of weeks after the occupation, contrary to the historical sources that claim that the ghetto was not established until mid-December. We believe that not all the Jews lived inside the ghetto at the beginning, only some, and that the ghetto was not fenced in with barbed wire and guarded by local police until December. By then, it contained around 10,000 Jews. All the detainees fit to work were forced to perform different kinds of forced labor for different offices, such as working at Luftwaffe airfields, contusions sites for Todt, the railway, the construction of the Koldychevo concentration camp, working in workshops and cleaning.

The first mass execution was conducted on March 5, 1942. After the selection and division of those able and unable to work, about 2,000 Jews from the ghetto were taken to the nearby crossroads by truck and shot dead. The aktion was conducted by German police and a Lithuanian auxiliary unit. 

According to the archives, at the end of June, some 3,000 Czech Jews were brought to Baranovichi and killed in the "Gay" forest. In August 1942 a group of 654 Jews were sent to Molodechno to carry out forced labor. They were most probably shot there, along with local Jews. An underground movement was created in late spring and numbered about 200. After several failed attempts to start an uprising, the group was disbanded, with many of its former members joining the partisans. From September 22 to October 2, several Aktions were conducted. During the largest one, according to different sources, about 6,000 Jews were murdered on September 22, 1942. About 6000 Jews were also shot or suffocated in gas vans during this period.

The liquidation of the ghetto, during which some 3,000 Jews were killed, took place on December 17, 1942. The remaining Jews, mostly skilled workers, were kept until the fall of 1943. At the end of 1943, the Germans decided to erase all traces of the crime they had committed, by carrying out the so-called Aktion 1005 in the Baranovichi district. Only 250 Jews managed to survive until July 1944, when the territory was liberated by the Red Army.

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