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, Editor
July 2023: Resistance in Minsk
After the June 1941 invasion by German troops, and the Einsatzgruppen specially-trained killing
squads, ghettos were established, to be administered by Jewish Council ‘Elders’; though in reality they had little power to defy the German demands. Still, limited resistance was possible and many Jewish Councils supported those who wanted to try to resist, including in Minsk.
Along with local Jews who were imprisoned and forced into slave labour, and the refugees from the
west who had fled the German advance and became caught in the former Soviet-occupied areas, the
Germans also deported Jews from Germany to Lithuania and Belarus, including to Minsk, to a grim
new reality. Sir Martin, in his book, The Holocaust, The Jewish Tragedy, writes of the situation in Minsk in the autumn of 1941:
November 1941, under a brutal German occupation:
In Minsk, the Chairman of the Jewish Council, Eliyahu Myshkin, was active in helping hundreds of young Jews to escape to the forest. He was killed during an ‘action’ in Minsk on November 7, when twelve thousand Jews were slaughtered in pits outside the city.
The heads of several of the Jewish Council departments in Minsk – Rudicer of the economic section, Dulski of the housing section, Goldin of the workshop section, and Serebianski, the police commander – had all cooperated with resistance groups providing clothing, shoes, hiding places and false documents. Serebianski went so far as to hire members of the resistance into the ghetto police. Also active in helping the resistance in Minsk were two of the secretaries in the labour department, Mira Strogin and Sara Levin.
The massacre in Minsk on November 7 was followed within three days by the arrival in the city of the first German Jews, one thousand who had been deported from Hamburg. ‘They felt themselves pioneers who were brought to settle the East,’ one eyewitness later recalled. The deportees from Hamburg were followed within days by more than six thousand deportees from Frankfurt, Bremen, and the Rhineland. On November 1 a train arrived from Berlin. The twenty-two-year-old Haim Berendt was among the deportees from Berlin. On reaching Minsk, he later recalled, ‘the carriages were opened and they started beating us up, driving us out of the carriages in a hurry and, within a moment, there was complete chaos. He who succeeded in getting out of the door was beaten up. Women, children and men.’
The Berlin deportees were taken beyond the ghetto of Minsk Jews to a special ghetto for the Jews of Germany, known as ‘Ghetto Hamburg’. There they became part of the Jewish labour force in Minsk