Grodno Ghetto (Polish: getto w Grodnie) was a Jewish ghetto established in November 1941 in the city of Grodno in German-occupied Poland and operated by Nazi Germans. Grodno was part of the Białystok Voivodeship in the Second Polish Republic until the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939. It was annexed by the Soviets to the Belarusian SSR. In 1941 Grodno was annexed by the Nazis to the Bezirk Bialystok district of East Prussia in the course of the German invasion of the Soviet Union (1941).
The Ghetto consisted of two interconnected units about 2 km apart. The Ghetto One was established in the Old Town district, around the synagogue (Shulhoif), with some 15,000 Jews crammed into an area less than half a square km. The Ghetto Two was created in the Słobódka suburb, with around 10,000 Jews incarcerated in it. Ghetto Two was larger than the main ghetto but far more ruined.
The reason for the split was determined by the concentration of Jews within the city and less need to transfer them from place to place. Their situation however, had considerably worsened with the ghettos' locations highly inadequate in terms of sanitation, water and electricity. The separation of the ghettos would later enable the Germans to exterminate their population with greater ease. The larger ghetto was liquidated a year-and-a-half after its establishment, and the smaller one a few months earlier.
Twelve days into the German occupation of the city a number of restrictions and prohibitions were enforced by the new administration. All Jews were ordered to register and the word Jude (German for Jew) was stamped into their identity cards. They were forbidden to walk on the sidewalks; and allowed to walk only on roads in a single file. On June 30, 1941, it became mandatory for all Jews to wear an identifying badge.
Ghetto One was established in the city's central part, close to the castle and around the synagogue compound. Jews had already concentrated in that area before the founding of the ghetto, but the space was greatly reduced nonetheless. All 15,000 Jews living nearby were forced into an area less than half a square km, between Wilenska Street on one side, and Zamkowa Street (renamed Burg Strasse) on the other. The ghetto was surrounded by a 2 meter fence. The entrance to the ghetto was on Zamkowa Street between the sidewalk and the road. Some of the houses on that street were demolished. The total area of the ghetto would shrink in time; as the transports of the Jews went on to the transit camp of Kielbasin and then on to the death camp in Treblinka. Just before its closure, Ghetto One included only a few buildings on Zamkowa Street.
Ghetto Two was created behind the railway tracks in the Slobodka suburb, next to the old army barracks near the market square. The neighborhood was underdeveloped, with fewer houses and a lot of empty spaces. Some 10,000 Jews were herded into this ghetto, larger in size than Ghetto One but far more dilapidated. They were given only six hours to move in without the use of vehicles, resulting in near panic with thousands of Jews flooding the gates. The ghetto was surrounded by a fence, which ran along Skidel Street. The entrance to the ghetto was from Artyleryjska Street (renamed Kremer Strasse).
In both ghettos ration cards were introduced in the bakeries. The Jews received about 200 grams of bread a day for a token payment. The Jewish Judenrat ran a butcher shop with horse meat available from time to time. Potatoes were distributed out from the cellar of the Great Synagogue. There were public kitchens in both ghettos serving up to 3,000 meals a day without meat or fat but with a piece of bread (50-100 grams). A separate pot was used for those who wanted kosher food.
Public executions were introduced. On November 2, 1942, both Ghettos were sealed off by the Nazis. The liquidation of the Ghettos took place several months apart with the liquidation of the Ghetto Two beginning on the same day. Some 4,000 Jewish tradesmen were transferred to Ghetto One. The remaining inhabitants were sent to Auschwitz concentration camp. First transport arrived there on November 18. Some Jews were ordered to sign postcards in German that read "Being treated well, we are working and everything is fine" before being sent to the Gas chambers.
Deportations from Ghetto One to Kielbasin transit camp began at the end of November 1942; from where, the Jews were transported in cattle trucks to Auschwitz and Treblinka. The few remaining Jews in Ghetto One were sent to Białystok Ghetto in March 1943, with all its inhabitants either killed locally or deported in Holocaust trains in November 1943 to Majdanek and Treblinka for extermination, as soon as the courageous Białystok Ghetto Uprising was extinguished.
Notes and references
- Yad Vashem The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority, Lost Jewish Worlds - Grodno
- Yad Vashem Photo Archives 1366/193, November in Holocaust History: ghetto in Grodno, Poland
- 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.
- Yad Vashem The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority, History and Geography of Grodno
- Chabad Center - The Jewish Community of Grodno, 2007
- (Polish) Muzeum Historii Żydów Polskich, Sprawiedliwi wśród Narodów Świata.
- Weiner, Rebecca. Virtual Jewish History Tour
- Dr. Mordecai Paldiel, PDF (83.7 KB) Yad Vashem, The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority.