Jews flooding the gates of Ghetto One during relocation action, November 1941
the Holocaust in Poland
|Location||Grodno, German-occupied Poland|
|Persecution||Imprisonment, forced labor, starvation|
|Death camp||Treblinka, Auschwitz|
|Victims||25,000 Polish Jews|
Grodno Ghetto (Polish: getto w Grodnie) was a World War II ghetto established in November 1941 for the purpose of persecution and exploitation of Polish Jews in the city of Grodno in German-occupied Poland. Until the invasion of Poland in 1939 Grodno (now in Belarus) was part of the Białystok Voivodeship of the Second Polish Republic. Following the secret pact signed with Germany, the Soviets annexed the region to the Belarusian SSR temporarily in 1939. Grodno was annexed by the Nazis in 1941 to the Bezirk Bialystok district of East Prussia in the course of the German attack on the Soviet positions in eastern Poland during Operation Barbarossa of 1941.
The Ghetto, run by Nazi German Schutzstaffel (SS), 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 in 1943, 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.
Mass executions were conducted on November 2, 1942. On the same day, both ghettos were sealed off from the outside by the SS. The first liquidation action took place beginning 15 November 1942 from Ghetto Two. Some 4,000 Jewish tradesmen were transferred to Ghetto One and all remaining prisoners were marched to a Sammellager in nearby Kielbasin for departure aboard Holocaust trains to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The first deportation train arrived at Birkenau three days later on November 18. Before death, some Jews were ordered to sign postcards in German that read "Being treated well, we are working and everything is fine".
The next deportation action from Ghetto One to transit camp in Kielbasin (now Kolbasino near Grodno) began at the end of November 1942. In Kielbasin, the Jews were loaded onto cattle trucks and transported to Auschwitz and Treblinka. In March 1943 more Jews from Ghetto One were sent to Białystok Ghetto. In November 1943 the remaining inmates were either massacred locally or sent for extermination by train to Majdanek and Treblinka, as soon as the courageous Białystok Ghetto Uprising was extinguished.
During the ghetto liquidation, there were numerous escape and rescue attempts. In March 1943 Meir Trachtenberg with his wife and son crossed the ghetto boundary and walked for 20 kilometres (12 mi) to Dulkowszczyzna, where they were rescued by Polish Righteous Anna and Stanisław Krzywicki. All survived. Polish Righteous Krystyna Cywińska who lived in Grodno with two children, was killed in 1943 for saving Jews. She was arrested after one of the Jewish girls at her home, Bella Ilin, went with Danuta Cywińska back to the ghetto to rescue Bella's mother and brother. Bella (now Shulman) and Danuta were unsuccessful, but lived. Danuta rescued five other Jews soon thereafter. Polish medical doctor Antoni Docha was asked by his prewar colleague Dr. Chaim Blumstein to help him and his family escape. Docha bribed a Polish driver of a big German truck and went to the ghetto along with him. They put a dozen Jews under the rags including Blumstein and Broide families and successfully crossed several German checkpoints. The driver finally broke down and asked Docha along with everybody else to get out of the lorry. They reached Docha's house in Indura on foot. Antoni Docha and his wife Janina took in more Jews as the time went on. All survived. Many kept corresponding after the war.
Notes and references
- Encyklopedia PWN (2015). "Okupacja sowiecka ziem polskich 1939–41" [Soviet occupation of Poland in 1939-41]. Przywracanie Pamięci (in Polish). Polscy Sprawiedliwi. Retrieved 18 March 2015.
- Noah Archer & Chris Webb (2007). "The Grodno Ghetto". H.E.A.R.T.; as well as Yad Vashem, "Lost Jewish Worlds - Grodno", and "History and Geography of Grodno", at The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority.
- 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.
- Sprawiedliwi (2015). "Sprawiedliwy wśród Narodów Świata" [Righteous among the Nation]. Tytuł przyznany: Anna Krzywicka and Stanisław Krzywicki. Sprawiedliwi.org. Retrieved 18 March 2015.
- Sprawiedliwi (2015). "Sprawiedliwy wśród Narodów Świata" [Righteous among the Nation]. Tytuł przyznany: Krystyna Cywińska and Danuta Jurkowska nee Cywińska. Sprawiedliwi.org. Retrieved 18 March 2015.
- Sprawiedliwi (2015). "Sprawiedliwy wśród Narodów Świata" [Righteous among the Nation]. Tytuł przyznany: Janina Docha nee Bartoszewicz and Antoni Docha. Sprawiedliwi.org. Retrieved 18 March 2015.
- 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.