It was typed in a forest, in a partisan camp, and then it was locked away by the KGB.
Anna Machiz, one of the Minsk Ghetto resistance leaders, escaped the ghetto, and there as a partisan hiding in the forest, using a typewriter, she documented all the unthinkable horrors that she had witnessed during her time as a prisoner in the ghetto. With meticulous attention to detail including names, dates and places, she safely held onto her precious manuscript. After the war, Anna tried to publish her story, but to no avail. The manuscript was locked away in the KGB archives and with the passage of time, Anna’s name faded. Knowledge of the role she played in helping to establish the Minsk Ghetto underground, and her witness testimony was at risk of being lost. Until now.
For the past three years we have been working to translate a book that brings this vital history into the light. The book was compiled by Leonid Tsyrisnky – the nephew of Anna. He was one year old when the German’s invaded the Soviet Union. As we reach the final stages of this translation project – we would like to share here a few excerpts from the book – a sneak peak….
This book is beyond important. In every way I feel honoured and privileged that we have been able to bring this book into the light and I hope that Anna Machiz’s name will be elevated in the ranks among the better known names of partisans and Minsk Ghetto resistance fighters. Anna’s name fell into anonymity and undeservedly so. Leonid Tsyrinksy has brought Anna’s memoir back from the depths. It was locked away in the KGB archives at risk of being forgotten. Anna’s writings – captured on a typewriter in the Naliboki Forest during her time with the partisans give us a raw and detailed insight into the sheer brutality of the Minsk Ghetto. The things she witnessed and what she endured were all meticulously detailed. With thanks to Anna Machiz, we learn how against all the odds, and faced with daily murders on an unfathomable scale, Jews gathered strength to form a ghetto resistance movement. We learn how Jews within the ghetto and non-Jewish communists outside of the ghetto worked together in an attempt to foil their common enemy. Through unbelievable resilience and mental strength in the face of utter horror, devastation and death, and against all odds – Jewish prisoners of the ghetto resisted. Some miraculously escaped, joined partisan detachments in the dense Belarusian forests and continued to fight and play a major role in disrupting the German war machine.
Only 200 copies of this book were ever printed in Russian. Bringing it to the English speaking world will help more people garner a deeper understanding of the Holocaust in the Soviet Union. To understand the Holocaust – you have to know what happened in the East.
Anna Machiz’s account constitutes some of the first words to be written about the Minsk Ghetto, penned in 1943 and repeated in later interviews. They were to be repeated by great public commentators, historians, and even eyewitnesses of the events in their own narratives about the tragedy, although these others did not always cite their source. After the War Anna Machiz’s texts came to rest in the files of the KGB in the Central Party Archive of the Communist Party of Belarus. They have been cited by historians from Germany, Israel, America and Belarus, but only now will one of the original texts be published.
To readers versed in the activity of the antifascist underground in the Minsk Ghetto the names of its leaders and active members will be familiar……however, few people would know that between 1941 and 1943, Anna Machiz was also a part of this underground movement, which according to recent data numbered around 330 people. In addition to her activities in Minsk, after she fled from the ghetto, between 1943 and 1944, she played an active role in the partisan movement within Belarus.
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A History of the Minsk Ghetto, part of the Black Book, shocks its readers to their very core. It is based on material produced by Anna Machiz, Grechanik, L. Gleizer and P. M. Shapiro. It was prepared for print by Vasily Grossman. Anna Machiz’s nephew, Leonid Tsyrinsky set about analysing and comparing ‘’A History of the Minsk Ghetto’’ to Anna’s memoirs, which had been written on a typewriter and kept in the Central Archive of the KGB of the Republic of Belarus and the National Archive of the Republic of Belarus. The conclusion was drawn by Leonid that it was Anna’s memoirs, written in December 1943 in the Naliboki Forest, that formed the substantive basis of ‘’The History of the Minsk Ghetto’’.
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Testimonies of Tragedy and Resistance in the Minsk Ghetto 1941-1943 will be published and available to the English speaking world in a matter of months.
School children in the UK at Yavneh College in Borehamwood, were able to learn about Anna Machiz when The Together Plan’s interactive travelling exhibition visited their school in January this year. Their response was to write letters that we sent to Leonid Tsyrinsky. You can read more here.