Preserved house with commemorative plaque
at the former ul. Długa street of Brześć ghetto
Brześć location north of Sobibor in World War II
|Also known as||Brześć Litewski Ghetto|
|Location||Brześć, German-occupied Poland|
|Date||December 16, 1941 to October 15, 1942|
|Incident type||Imprisonment, starvation, mass shootings|
|Victims||18,000 Polish Jews|
The Brześć Ghetto or the Ghetto in Brest on the Bug, also: Brześć nad Bugiem Ghetto, and Brest-Litovsk Ghetto (Polish: getto w Brześciu nad Bugiem, Yiddish: בריסק or בריסק-ד׳ליטע) was a World War II Jewish ghetto created by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland in December 1941, six months after the German troops had overrun the Soviet-occupied zone of the Second Polish Republic under the codename Operation Barbarossa. Less than a year after the creation of the Ghetto, around October 15–18, 1942, most of approximately 20,000 Jewish inhabitants of Brześć were murdered; over 5,000 were executed locally at the Brest Fortress on the orders of Karl Eberhard Schöngarth; the rest in the secluded forest of the Bronna Góra extermination site (the Bronna Mount, Belarusian: Бронная гара), sent there aboard Holocaust trains under the guise of 'resettlement'.
Before World War II, Brześć nad Bugiem (known as Brześć Litewski before the partitions, now Brest, Belarus) was the capital of Polesie Voivodeship in the Second Polish Republic (1918–39) with the most visible Jewish presence. In the twenty years of Poland's sovereignty, of the total of 36 brand new schools established in the city, there were ten public, and five private Jewish schools inaugurated, with Yiddish and Hebrew as the language of instruction. The first ever Jewish school in Brześć history opened in 1920, almost immediately after Poland's return to independence. In 1936 Jews constituted 41.3% of the Brześć population, or 21,518 citizens. Some 80.3% of private enterprises were owned by Jews. Before World War I, Brześć (then known as Brest-Litovsk) was controlled by the Russian Empire for a hundred years following the partitions of Poland, and all commercial activity was largely neglected.
Brest-Litovsk (Brześć Litewski) was renamed as Brześć nad Bugiem (Brest on the Bug) in reborn Poland on March 20, 1923. Just before the outbreak of World War II, there was an anti-Jewish riot at the bazaar in Brześć on May 15, 1939. Some Jewish sources categorize it as Polish although ethnic Belarusians constituted 17.8% of the population, and preached militant nationalism among its youth similar to local Ukrainians and Russians, under systematic indoctrination by Soviet emissaries.
In September 1939 during the German and Soviet invasion of Poland, the town of Brześć (Brest) was overrun by the German troops and handed over to the Russians during the German–Soviet military parade in Brest-Litovsk on September 22, 1939. The whole province was soon annexed by the Soviet Union following mock elections by the NKVD secret police, conducted among the locals in the atmosphere of fear and terror. The mass deportations of Poles and Jews to Siberia followed.
The German armed forces launched Operation Barbarossa against the Soviet Union – its own wartime ally – on June 22, 1941; and six months later, on December 16, 1941 established a Nazi ghetto in the city for some 18,000 Polish Jews, who still resided there after months of deportations and ad hoc mass executions. On July 10–12, 1941 the German Einsatzgruppe under SS-Obergruppenführer Karl Eberhard Schöngarth massacred 5,000 Jews including 13-year-old boys and 70-year-old men in a single nighttime "anti-partisan" raid. The Orpo battalions passing through Brześć and Białystok carried out significantly larger shooting actions. "The first massacre of Brest Jews – wrote Christopher Browning – was perpetrated not by the notorious Einsatzgruppen but rather by Police Battalion 307 with Wehrmacht support, in mid-July, on the orders of Himmler's chief of Order Police, Kurt Daluege."
In January 1941, first underground resistance organizations were formed by Jews in the ghetto. In the autumn of 1942 the Germans demanded a large payment (money, jewelry) from the Jews under the threat of liquidating the ghetto. Despite payment worth 26 million rubles, the ghetto was liquidated soon afterwards. The Jews were rounded up for "relocation", and murdered over execution pits north-east of the city at the Bronna Mount (Bronna Góra) forest, the more distant place of secluded massacres of some 50,000 Jews delivered by Holocaust trains from a number of ghettos including the large Pińsk Ghetto as well.
Father Mieczysław Akrejć, a Catholic priest from Brześć, contributed 4,000 gold rubles to help the Judenrat pay the huge ransom to the Germans, nevertheless the ghetto was liquidated a few days later. Father Jan Urbanowicz, Dean of the Holy Cross Parish in Brześć, was executed by the Germans in June 1943 for issuing false baptismal certificates as Christians for the Polish Jews. Polish priests were murdered in several neighbouring towns. The Reverend Władysław Grobelny from Kobryń near Brześć was executed on October 15, 1942 together with the Jews he was helping. The priests were apprehended when the false certificates of murdered Jews were examined by the SS with the aid of the Ukrainian Auxiliary Police.
The Jewish family of Tiders expelled from Zaborowo in 1940 were murdered in Brześć with children except for their oldest son, 24-year-old Mendel Tider, who paved the road to Tamowo on German orders at the time of the killings. He escaped to Bochnia where he met Józef Langdorf from his neighbourhood. Together, they escaped back to Zaborowo and found refuge at the farm of the Mika family of six. Both survived, treated like relatives and fed for free until liberation. In 2000 the three members of the Mika family were bestowed the titles of the Righteous thanks to Mrs Langdorf from Israel. Stefan Mika was 73, and living in Kraków; the other two, father and mother, were already dead for several decades. Dr. Zelikson from Brześć escaped to Warsaw where he hid with 8 other Jews at the Maria and Jan Langiewicz's school, on the Aryan side of the city. One of the rescued by Professor Langiewicz testified in 1966: "We, whom he aided and whose spirits he kept up, have built him a living monument in our hearts."
Following World War II, at the insistence of Joseph Stalin during the Tehran Conference, confirmed (as not negotiable) at the Yalta Conference of 1945, Poland's borders were redrawn and Brześć – then again, Brest (Cyrillic: Брест) – was incorporated into the Belorussian SSR of the Soviet Union. The remaining Polish population was expelled and resettled back to new Poland before the end of 1946. The Jewish community was never restored. The USSR officially ceased to exist on 31 December 1991.
Notes and references
- Memorial Museums. "Memorial to the Murdered Jews of the Brest Ghetto". Introduction, and History. European Sites of Remembrance. Retrieved June 3, 2014.
- "Brześć – History". Virtual Shtetl, Museum of the History of Polish Jews. pp. 11–12. Retrieved July 15, 2011.
Another manhunt took place on 12 July 1941. Germans stormed homes at night and took out and killed over 5,000 people, including children and the elderly. The July massacre was organised and carried out in full by the Krakow SD team commanded by SS Oberführer Schongart.[11.4] It is worth noting that according to a testimony by Heinrich, who served in the 107th police battalion, the mass shooting of Brześć Jews took place on 10 July 1941.
- 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 (in English), as well as "Getta Żydowskie," by Gedeon, (in Polish) and "Ghetto List" by Michael Peters at www.deathcamps.org/occupation/ghettolist.htm (in English). Accessed June 3, 2014..
- "Pinkas Hakehillot Polin: Brest, Belarus". Retrieved March 13, 2014.
- Norman Davies, God's Playground (Polish edition), Second volume, p.512-513
- Alice Teichova; Herbert Matis; Jaroslav Pátek (2000). Economic Change and the National Question in Twentieth-century Europe. Cambridge University Press. pp. 342–344. ISBN 978-0-521-63037-5.
- "Stosunki polsko-białoruskie pod okupacją sowiecką". Archived from the original on 2010-05-29. Retrieved 2010-05-29., (Polish-Belarusian relations under the Soviet occupation). Bialorus.pl (in Polish)
- Kancelaria Sejmu RP (2013), Dz.U. 1923 nr 39 poz. 269 ISAP Archive. Link to PDF document.
- Klara Rogalska (Feb 18, 2005). "Oni byli pierwsi (They were the first)" (in Polish). Głos znad Niemna. 7 (664). Archived from the original (Internet Archive) on March 7, 2005. Retrieved 2013-05-30.
- Terry Dean Martin (2001). "Ethnic Cleansing and Enemy Nations" (Google Books). The Affirmative Action Empire: Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union. Cornell University Press. pp. 311–315. ISBN 0801486777. Retrieved 2013-05-30.
- Bernd Wegner (1997). From peace to war: Germany, Soviet Russia, and the world, 1939–1941. Berghahn Books. p. 74. ISBN 1-57181-882-0.
- 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, Volume 16, 2003. Archived from the original on 2014-02-22 – via Internet Archive.
Details on the shootings in Brest-Litovsk can be found in Christopher Browning, Nazi Policy, Jewish Workers, German Killers, pp. 119ff.
- Browning, Christopher R. (2000). Nazi Policy, Jewish Workers, German Killers. Cambridge University Press. p. 120. ISBN 052177490X – via Google Books.
...in grossen Massen, die in die mehrere Tausend gehen, sind der Aufwieglung verdächtigte Juden erschossen worden. — General Wiegand (SS-Oberführer Arpad Wiegand)
- Pińsk - Virtual Shtetl. Elektroniczna Encyklopedia Żydowska. Retrieved May 27, 2014.
- Mark Paul (2013). Wartime Rescue of Jews by the Polish Catholic Clergy. The Testimony of Survivors (PDF). An Overview of the German Occupation, 1939–1945. Toronto: Polish Educational Foundation in North America. 4, 42, 317-318, 324 / 359 in PDF.
- Magdalena Zawadzka (November 2010). "The Mika Family". Recognized as the Righteous Among the Nations in 2000. Polscy Sprawiedliwi - Przywracanie Pamięci, POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. Retrieved 27 February 2016.
- Anna Poray (2016). "Saving Jews". Polish Righteous. Those Who Risked Their Lives. SavingJews.org.
- Sylwester Fertacz (2005), "Krojenie mapy Polski: Bolesna granica" (Carving of Poland's map). Magazyn Społeczno-Kulturalny Śląsk. Retrieved from the Internet Archive on 5 June 2016.
- Simon Berthon, Joanna Potts (2007). Warlords: An Extraordinary Re-Creation of World War II. Da Capo Press. p. 285. ISBN 0306816504.
- "Jews from the Brest Ghetto assembled for slave labor". Archived from the original on 2011-09-01. Retrieved 2013-05-30. . German photograph retrieved May 30, 2013.
- The Brest Ghetto Passport Archive
- 64th Anniversary of Brest Ghetto
- Yehuda Bauer, Rethinking the Holocaust. Yale University Press, pp. 153–155.