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The Białystok Ghetto (Polish: getto w Białymstoku) was a World War II Jewish ghetto set up by Nazi Germany between July 26 and early August 1941 in the newly formed capital of Bezirk Bialystok district of German-occupied Poland. About 50,000 Jews from the vicinity of Białystok and the surrounding region were herded into a small area of the city. The ghetto was split in two by the Biala River running through it (see map). Most inmates were put to work in the forced-labor enterprises, primarily in large textile factories established within its boundaries. The ghetto was liquidated in November 1943 as soon as the courageous Białystok Ghetto Uprising was extinguished. All its inhabitants were either killed locally or transported in cattle trucks to the Majdanek and Treblinka extermination camp.
The city of Białystok was overrun by the Wehrmacht on September 15, 1939, and a week later ceded to the invading Red Army in accordance with Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. On September 27, 1939, it was annexed by the Soviet Union following mock elections. According to the terms of the German-Soviet Pact signed earlier in Moscow, Białystok remained in Soviet hands until June 1941, assigned to the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic. Thousands of Jews flocked to the city from German-occupied Poland. Mass deportations to Siberia by the NKVD followed.
The German army entered the Soviet occupation zone on June 22, 1941 under the codename Operation Barbarossa and took over the city within days. On June 28, 1941 the Great Synagogue was set on fire with 800 to 1,000 Jews locked in it, and burned down. The so-called "Red Friday" took the lives of up to 5,000 Jewish victims – a harbinger of things to come. Himmler visited Białystok on June 30, 1941 during the formation of the new Bezirk district and pronounced that there is a high risk of Soviet guerrilla activity in the area, with Jews being of course immediately suspected of helping them out. The mission to destroy the alleged NKVD collaborators was assigned to Einsatzgruppe B under the command of SS-Gruppenführer Arthur Nebe aided by Kommando SS Zichenau-Schroettersburg under Hermann Schaper and Kommando Bialystok led by Wolfgang Birkner summoned from the General Government on orders from the Reich Main Security Office. In the early days of the German occupation, these mobile killing units rounded up and killed thousands of Jews in and around Białystok, before and after the creation of the actual Ghetto with up to 60,000 Jewish prisoners in it. Textile and armament factories were established with the help of Judenrat, along with soup kitchen, first aid site and other amenities. Food rations were strictly enforced.
On February 5–12, 1943, the first group of approximately 10,000 Białystok Jews were sent to their deaths in cattle trucks at the Treblinka extermination camp. Up to 2,000 victims were shot on the spot for insubordination among those too weak or sick to run for the wagons. Approximately 7,600 inmates were put in a new central transit camp within the city for their further selection. Those fit to work were sent to the Majdanek camp. In Majdanek, after another screening for ability to work, they were transported to the Poniatowa concentration camp, Blizyn, as well as Auschwitz labor and extermination camp. Those deemed too weak to work were murdered at Majdanek. More than 1,000 Jewish children were sent first to the Theresienstadt ghetto in Bohemia, and then to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where they were killed. Only a few months later, as part of Aktion Reinhard, on August 16, 1943 the ghetto was raided by regiments of the German SS with Ukrainian, Estonian, Latvian and Belorussian auxiliaries (Hivis, a.k.a. Trawniki-men) aiming at the ghetto's final destruction.
Faced with the final deportations, when all hope for survival was abandoned, the ghetto underground staged an uprising against the Germans. In the night of August 16, 1943, several hundred Polish Jews began an armed insurrection against the troops carrying out the liquidation of the Ghetto.
"The blockade of the ghetto lasted one full month and on the 15th of September 1943, after the last of the flames of resistance had been extinguished, the SS units retreated," and the final stage of mass deportations commenced, wrote Szymon Datner, a Holocaust survivor. Only about one hundred Jews managed to escape and join various partisan groups in the Białystok area including Soviet. The Red Army liberated Białystok in August 1944.
Notes and references
- Megargee, Geoffrey P., ed. (2009). The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum encyclopedia of camps and ghettos, 1933–1945. Volume II: Ghettos in German-occupied Estern Europe. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. pp. 886–871. ISBN 978-0-253-35599-7.
- Szymon Datner, The Fight and the Destruction of Ghetto Białystok. December 1945. Kiryat Białystok, Yehud.
- The statistical data compiled on the basis of "Glossary of 2,077 Jewish towns in Poland" by Virtual Shtetl Museum of the History of the Polish Jews (English), as well as "Getta Żydowskie," by Gedeon, (Polish) and "Ghetto List" by Michael Peters at www.deathcamps.org/occupation/ghettolist.htm (English). Accessed July 12, 2011.
- "Białystok – History". Virtual Shtetl Museum of the History of Polish Jews. pp. 6–7. Retrieved July 26, 2011.
- Alexander B. Rossino, historian at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. (2003). "Polish "Neighbors" and German Invaders: Contextualizing Anti-Jewish Violence in the Białystok District during the Opening Weeks of Operation Barbarossa". Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry, Volume 16. Retrieved September 3, 2013. "Cited by Bogdan Musiał in: "Konterrevolutionäre Elemente sind zu erschiessen": Die Brutalisierung des deutsch-sowjetischen Krieges im Sommer 1941, (Berlin: Propyläen, 2000), pp. 32, 62."
- Holocaust Encyclopedia. "Bialystok" (permission granted to be reused, in whole or in part, on Wikipedia; OTRS ticket no. 2007071910012533). © United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Archived from the original on 5 August 2007. Retrieved 26 July 2007. "Text from USHMM has been released under the GFDL. The Museum can offer no guarantee that the information is correct in each circumstance."