The experience of Jews in the area that is now Belarus has its rightful place in Sir Martin Gilbert’s histories of the Holocaust. The Together Plan is working with communities, historians and individuals in Belarus to tell the story of the Belarus Jews which will become the Belarus Jewish Heritage Route. The story of the Jews of Belarus is rich and tragic. One of the darkest times in this history was the years between 1941 and 1944.
Each month The Together Plan features a short excerpt from the writings of the late Sir Martin Gilbert which focus on one of the cities, towns, villages, and forests where Jews tried desperately to escape the Nazi German murder machine.
Lady Esther Gilbert, the wife of the late Sir Martin, selects and submits these excerpts for The Together Plan’s newsletter.
Introduction by Esther Gilbert, excerpts and maps by Sir Martin
Martin’s first love was maps and in fact he wanted to become a geographer, but in high school he was told that geography wasn’t a proper study so instead he became a historian. And history provided him with the stories he wanted to map, stories he illustrated with his maps. The maps give us a chance to see geographic connections and how events that unfolded affected an area and its inhabitants. They give us a picture that is both historical and geographical.
The tragedies that were to destroy the Jewish community of Brest-Litovsk (known to the Jews as Brisk) are mapped in Martin’s Routledge Atlas of the Holocaust, and described in his accompanying text, quoted here.
In the early years of the 20th Century, before the First World War and after, pogroms against Jews took place throughout Eastern Europe, primarily in the ‘Pale of Settlement’ of Czarist Russia where Jews had been given permission to live. The area that is now Belarus was at the heart of The Pale.
Before the Second World War, the Jewish community of Brest comprised 52% of the town’s population with 21,440 Jews, a community that dated from the 14th Century. Within three weeks of the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, ‘specially trained mobile killing squads began the systematic murder of Jews, in every town and village of western Russia.’ In Brest they murdered 5,000 Jews between 22 June and 16 July.
By the last two weeks of October 1942, Jews in this area were either deported to the death camps of Belzec or Sobibor, or shot in their towns. Martin writes of the map below: “The map … shows some of the deportations to the eastern death camps during the same two-week period. Before the deportation from Drohobycz, nearly 200 old and sick Jews were shot in the streets of the town. Among the executions on the spot was the killing of 25,000 Jews in Brest-Litovsk. Almost all the other Jews of Brest, some 5,000, had been murdered in June 1941. Most of the few hundred Jews still alive managed to join partisan units.” The map shows resistance led by Hana Ginzberg on October 15.
By summer and autumn of 1943, partisan units were active in the area now Belarus. Martin writes of the map below: ‘Many of the Jews who managed to escape the ghettos and camps joined Soviet partisan groups, or formed small units of their own. The map … shows 35 towns and villages from which Jews had managed to escape to the forests. From Kovno almost all who tried to escape were killed.”
For more information on Sir Martin’s maps or permission to use them, please email [email protected].
For more on Sir Martin: https://www.martingilbert.com/
For Gilbert Ghetto Guides click here