Liquidation of the Białystok Ghetto, August 15–20, 1943. Jewish men with their hands up, surrounded by German military unit
|Location||Białystok, German-occupied Poland|
|Date||July 26, 1941 – September 15, 1943|
|Incident type||Imprisonment, mass shooting, forced labor, starvation, deportations to death camps|
|Perpetrators||Nazi SS, Orpo police battalions, Trawnikis|
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 Bezirk Bialystok district of the Third Reich within Nazi occupied Poland. About 50,000 Jews from the vicinity of Białystok and the surrounding region were herded into a small area of the city, which was turned into the Bezirk's capital. The ghetto was split in two by the Biała River running through it (see map). Most inmates were put to work in the forced-labor enterprises for the German war effort, primarily in large textile, shoe and chemical companies operating inside and outside its boundaries. The ghetto was liquidated in November 1943 after the Białystok Ghetto uprising was crushed. All its inhabitants were either killed locally, or transported in Holocaust trains to the Majdanek and Treblinka extermination camps.
Nazi-Soviet invasion of Poland
Before World War II, the population of Białystok (with over 91,000 inhabitants according to 1931 census) was 43 percent Jewish. There were two Jewish cinemas in the city, several Jewish dailies, sports clubs, prominent political parties and a Jewish library with over 10,000 books. Cultural life was booming. Białystok was overrun by the Wehrmacht on September 15, 1939, during the Nazi-Soviet invasion of Poland, and one week later handed over to the Red Army attacking from the East, in accordance with the Nazi–Soviet agreement. On November 1–2, 1939, the prewar Białystok Voivodeship along with over half of the Second Polish Republic were annexed by the Soviet Union following mock elections conducted in the atmosphere of coercion and terror. According to the terms of the German-Soviet Pact signed earlier in Moscow, the city remained in Soviet hands until June 1941, assigned by Stalin to the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic. Thousands of Jews flocked in from the German zone of occupied Poland.
The general feeling among the Polish Jews who found themselves in occupied Białystok, was a sense of relief at having escaped the Nazi occupation. While most Catholic Poles consolidated themselves around the anti-Soviet sentiments, a fair portion of the Jewish population of Białystok along with ethnically Belarusian and Ukrainian activists had welcomed the invading Soviet troops with bread and salt, triumphant arches and flowers. Many Jews who believed in communism, collaborated with the Soviet secret police whilst engaging in provocations; they prepared lists of Polish "class enemies" and took part in their arrests. Mass deportations to Siberia by the NKVD soon followed.
The German army attacked Soviet troops in occupied Poland on June 22, 1941 under the code-name Operation Barbarossa and took over Białystok on June 27, 1941. On the same day, the Reserve Police Battalion 309 arrived, tasked with inflicting terror upon the Jewish community. The first mass murder of Polish Jews was carried out during the so-called "Red Friday" of June 28, 1941, claiming the lives of up to 2,200 victims. The Great Synagogue was splashed with gas and set on fire with approximately 700, up to 1,000 Jewish men locked in it; and burned down with a grenade thrown inside. The killings took place inside the homes of the Jewish neighborhood Chanajki (pl) and in the park, lasting until dark. The next day, some 20–30 wagon-loads of dead bodies were taken to new mass graves dug up on German orders along Sosnowa Street outside the city center. Major Ernst Weis of Battalion 309 got drunk and later claimed to have known nothing about what had happened. The official report submitted by his officers to General Pflugbeil of the Wehrmacht was promptly falsified. The Aktion was followed by the murder of about 300 Jewish intellectuals who were trucked to the Pietrasze fields on July 3rd. Battalion 309 left for Białowieża, and was replaced by Orpo Battalions 316 and 322, which were ordered to round up more Jews. On July 12–13, 1941, a frenzy of mass shootings by the two new battalions dubbed "Black Saturday" took place on the outskirts of Białystok. It is estimated that over 3,000 Jews herded into the municipal stadium – visited by Bach-Zelewski himself – were taken away and killed in antitank trenches. The total of over 5,500 Białystok Jews were shot in the first weeks of German occupation in the summer of 1941.
Irrespective of mass-murder operations carried out directly in the city, the new district became an early theatre of Einsatzgruppen operations as well. Each death squad followed an army group as they advanced east. Himmler visited Białystok on June 30, 1941 during the formation of the new Bezirk and pronounced that there is a high risk of Soviet guerilla 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 the district.
The Ghetto was officially created on July 26, 1941, by the order of German military authorities. The transfer of Jews to a designated area was handled by the Judenrat (formed on June 30th). All Poles who lived there were ordered to move out. Up to three Jewish families were placed in single rooms divided by curtains. There were two gates leading out of the ghetto initially, one on Jurowiecka and one on Kupiecka street. The ghetto encompassed the streets of Lipowa, Przejazd, Poleska and Sienkiewicza. It was closed from the outside on August 1, 1941, with 43,000 people trapped inside. The Judenrat, composed of 24 Jews, held its first meeting on August 2nd, and set up 13 departments split into divisions. Ephraim Barash (or Efraim Barasz in Polish), a mechanical engineer age 49, was elected as an acting president. The Council was chaired by Rabi Gedalyah (Gedalia) Rosenman. The soup kitchens were set up, along with infirmaries, schools, Jewish Ghetto Police stations, bathhouses, and other amenities. The Judenrat promoted hard work as key to survival. Its main obligation was to provide quotas of laborers for the Germans. Within a brief period of time the Ghetto grew to over 50,000 Jewish captives. It was surrounded by a wooden wall topped by barb wire, with three entrances manned by the Jewish Police overseen by the Germans. Textile and armament factories were established with the help of the Judenrat. Food rations were strictly enforced.
In September 1941 the Nazi authorities proclaimed that the number of Jews in Białystok was too large, and ordered their partial deportation to nearby Prużany (now Pruzhany, Belarus). The Judenrat prepared the list of targets. Deportations began on September 18 and went on for a month. The weakest and the poorest Jews numbering over 4,500 were sent away, others bribed their way out of it, with exorbitant amounts of money paid to the Judenrat employees. By January 18, 1942 the number of the Council officials (of all levels) had grown to 1,600 and up to 4,000 in June, mainly because of special bonuses and vouchers received for meat, legumes, jam, soap, flour and large amounts of coal for the winter. At the same time, food rations for the overall population were reduced severely, first to 500 grams of bread per day, and then to 300 grams, resulting in rampant hunger. In the words of survivor Riva Shinder, the ghetto became synonymous with "humiliating oppression, shootings [and] hangings." The smuggling of food from the outside was punished by death. In December 1941 a Jewish resistance organization was formed. It was lead by Tadeusz Jakubowski and Niura Czerniakowska. Riva served as its secretary. They listened to radio broadcasts, wrote communiques, and operated a duplicating machine. They also carried out acts of sabotage in the factories.
Uprising and liquidation of the Ghetto
On February 5–12, 1943, the first group of approximately 10,000 Białystok Jews were rounded up by the mobile battalions for the mass 'evacuation' of the ghetto. They were sent aboard Holocaust trains to their deaths at the Treblinka extermination camp. Another 2,000 victims, too weak or sick to run for the wagons were shot on the spot. Meanwhile, approximately 7,600 inmates were relocated into a new central transit camp within the city for 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 emaciated to work were murdered in Majdanek gas chambers. 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 (Hiwis), known as 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 Nazis. 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.
Holocaust survivor and postwar historian Szymon Datner wrote: "The blockade of the ghetto lasted one full month and on September 15, 1943, after the last of the flames of resistance had been extinguished, the SS units retreated." The final stage of mass deportations commenced. Only about one hundred Jews managed to escape and join various partisan groups in the Białystok area including Soviet. The Red Army overrun Białystok in August 1944.
There were numerous escape and rescue attempts made during the Ghetto liquidation. In February 1943 Leon Grynberg with his daughter Halinka as well as Felicja and Jakub Wajsfeld were saved by Michał and Jadwiga Skalski who lived on the Arian side of Białystok with their 10 years old daughter. Felicja delivered a baby-girl into Jadwiga's hands. Skalskis took in Fruma and Jankiel Rosen, and Aleksander Brener with his daughter Ida as well, seven people altogether. Most survived. Dr. Michael Turek and his brother Menachem escaped deportation and reached the home of Jan and Władysława Smolko who already harbored the Goldzin family of four. Polish Righteous Elzbieta Szyszkiewicz-Burda alias Liza (a professional nurse), used to pull Jews off the street – and out of mortal danger – right into her home, which served as a safe-house and contact place for the Jewish partisan movement. The AK member Marcin Czyżykowski brought in food and medicine into the Ghetto and on the way back took Jewish children to his and his wife Maria's home (up to twelve of them would wait there at a time, for placement with Polish families). Polish Righteous Jan Kaliszczuk kept two Jewish partisans at his home, Judel Pitluk and Aron Lach, and after ghetto liquidation, supplied them with food and medicine and drove them to the forest. Both survived. Many of them kept corresponding after the war. Not all rescue efforts were successful. Henryk Buszko (age 30) farming near Białystok, rescued Jews who escaped from the Holocaust train heading for the Treblinka extermination camp on September 21, 1943. Buszko was caught by the German gendarmerie arriving at Liza Stara from Pietkowo, and murdered for hiding Jews.
Notes and references
- Geoffrey P. Megargee, ed. (2009). The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum encyclopedia of camps and ghettos, 1933–1945. Volume II: Ghettos in German-occupied Eastern 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.
- 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 (in English), as well as "Getta Żydowskie," by Gedeon (in Polish) and "Ghetto List" by Michael Peters at ARC (in English). Accessed August 3, 2017.
- Central Statistical Office (Poland) (Główny Urząd Statystyczny). "Population by Religion and Sex". (Ludność według płci i wyznania). Wikimedia Commons: Polish census of 1931 - Białystok Voivodeship, p. 57 of 413 in PDF (or 27 in quoted document). Województwo białostockie.
Table 11. [M.] Białystok city. Population: 91,101 (1931). Catholic: 41,493. Judaism: 39,165.
- M. Sypniewska, K. Bielawski, A. Dylewski. "Białystok – Jewish Community". Virtual Shtetl Museum of the History of Polish Jews. pp. 6–7. Retrieved August 3, 2017.
Encyclopedia Judaica and Christopher Browning confirm the death of 2,200 Jews on June 27 ('Red Friday') as well as about 300 Jewish intellectuals on July 3rd, and over 3,000 Jews on July 12, 1941 ('Black Saturday'), for the total of over 5,500 Jewish victims of Orpo terror in the first weeks of Operation Barbarossa.
- Piotr Eberhardt; Jan Owsinski (2003). Ethnic Groups and Population Changes in Twentieth-century Central-Eastern Europe: History, Data, Analysis. M.E. Sharpe. pp. 121, 199–201. ISBN 0765618338.
Territory invaded by the Germans encompassed 188,700 sq km. The Soviets invaded a total of 201,000 sq km of Poland; of which 103,000 sq km were annexed to the Belorussian SSR; 89,700 sq km to the Ukrainian SSR; and 8,300 sq km of the Lithuanian SSR.
- Bernd Wegner, ed. (1997). From peace to war: Germany, Soviet Russia, and the world, 1939–1941. The period of Soviet-German partnership. Berghahn Books. pp. 74–. ISBN 1-57181-882-0.
- Keith Sword, ed. (1991). The Soviet Takeover of the Polish Eastern Provinces, 1939–41. The mass deportations of the Polish population to the USSR. Springer. p. 224. ISBN 1349213799.
- Joshua D. Zimmerman (2003). Contested Memories: Poles and Jews During the Holocaust and Its Aftermath. Rutgers University Press. p. 57. ISBN 0813531586. Collection of essays.
- Elazar Barkan, Elizabeth A. Cole, Kai Struve (2007). Shared History, Divided Memory: Jews and Others in Soviet-occupied Poland, 1939–1941. Leipziger Universitätsverlag. p. 211. ISBN 3865832407.
- Tadeusz Piotrowski (1997). Poland's Holocaust: Ethnic Strife, Collaboration with Occupying Forces and Genocide in the Second Republic, 1918-1947. McFarland & Company. pp. 49–65, 145. ISBN 0786429135.
- Zimmerman (2003), page 62.
- Piotrowski (1997), pp. 52–53. Report by Jan Karski.
- Piotrowski (1997), pp. 51, 55. Testimony of Herschel Wajnrauch.
- Jan Gross (July 14, 1983). "Russian rule in Poland, 1939-1941" (PDF). Final report to National Council for Soviet and East European Research. Yale University. No. 620-6. pp. 5, 39, 42, 63 (or 10, 44, 47, 68 of 112 in PDF).
- Christopher R. Browning (1998) . Arrival in Poland (PDF). Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland. Penguin Books. pp. 11–12 or 28–29 in current document. See also: PDF cache archived by WebCite. – via direct download 7.91 MB.
Chpt. 3. Note 8, p. 12 (29 in PDF) source: YVA, TR-10/823 (Landgericht Wuppertal, judgement 12 Ks 1/67): 40—
- Fred Skolnik, Michael Berenbaum (eds.). Białystok (PDF). Encyclopaedia Judaica. 2nd Edition, Volume 3. Macmillan. pp. 570–572 of 797 in current document.
- Sara Bender (2008). The Jews of Bialystok During World War II and the Holocaust. UPNE. pp. 87–112. ISBN 1584657294.
- Alexander B. Rossino (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, Vol. 16.
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.
- The Holocaust Encyclopedia (2009). "Jews expelled from the Ghetto: September 18, 1941". Bialystok. 1939 - 1944 Timeline. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
- Bender (2008), pp. 109–114.
- Bender (2008), pp. 116–117.
- David Patterson (2003). The Complete Black Book of Russian Jewry. Transaction Publishers. p. 207. ISBN 1412820073. Note #34 to chapter Belorussia, p. 199.
- Patterson (2003), pp. 198–199. Testimony of Riva Shinder.
- Anna Poray (2015). "Saving Jews". Polish Righteous. SavingJews.org. Alphabetical listing. Retrieved March 19, 2015.
- Polscy Sprawiedliwi (2015). "Maria & Marcin Czyżykowski". Sprawiedliwy wśród Narodów Świata - tytuł przyznany. Przywracanie Pamięci. Alphabetical listing. Retrieved March 19, 2015.
- Anna Poray (2015). "Saving Jews". Polish Righteous. SavingJews.org. Alphabetical listing. Retrieved 19 March 2015.
- Anna Poray (2015). "Those who risked their lives". Polish Righteous. SavingJews.org. Alphabetical listing: 58. BUSZKO, Henryk. Retrieved August 4, 2017.
- Holocaust Encyclopedia. "Bialystok". United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Permission granted to be reused, in whole or in part, on Wikipedia; OTRS ticket no. 2007071910012533. Archived from the original on 5 August 2007. Retrieved July 26, 2007.
Text from USHMM has been released under the GFDL. The Museum can offer no guarantee that the information is correct in each circumstance.