[ An End to Intolerance (Volume 5 -- June 1997) ]

Belarus Students Research
Grodno Ghetto

This is the first article about the Grodno Ghetto which was compiled by students Kate Suvorina, Kate Grib, Svetlana Tolkach and their teacher, Valentina Suvorina from School-gimnazia N30. Their other research from the Grodno archives and Grodno's museum can be found on the <iearn.hgp> conference.

During the night of June 22, German troops occupied the territory of Grodno. The first thing they did was to take the law into their hands. The Jewish population was forbidden to come to the market place, to walk on the pavements. They were only allowed to walk alone on the right side of the road. Every time they met a German soldier, they had to take off their hats. Soon, Jews had to put a white strip on their sleeve, but later this rule was changed so that they had to wear the yellow star fixed to the clothes from the front and to the back.

Very soon after the town was occupied, the German government advised the director, Dr. Braver, of the Jewish school, to organize the "Judeprata" which consisted of 10 people. Rabbi Berman was included among the other people, Gadzhanski, Zadai, Lofshitz, Efron, Kasovski, Suhavlyanski, Tarlovski, and Bik. In July, the Germans forced them to present a list of the Jewish population, and the first 80 Jewish representatives were killed. Among them were famous teachers, musicians, lawyers, and the rabbi.

By the end of September, all the Jews of the town were moved from the centre of the town, and on October 1, two ghettos were opened in Grodno. Both ghettos were surrounded by barbed wire. They had only one entrance gate which was guarded by Germans. If someone wanted to escape from the ghetto and was caught, the punishment was hanging or shooting. Ghetto life was terrible. Everyday, the Jews had to give the Germans their valuables, their gold and silver. If they didn't, they were killed.

On October 2, the entire Jewish population had to come to the ghetto and they were not allowed to bring anything with them except personal things. The territory of the ghettos was very small, on October 2, from 12:00-6:00 P.M., 25,000 people came.

The chief of the ghetto was a well known sadist and murderer, Gestapo Officer Kurt Viser, and he had a deputy, Otto Ostreblev. They are known for their acts of murder, not only of the Jewish population, but also of the Polish, Russian, Lithuanian and Belorussian.

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In November, the Germans began to send the Jews to the concentration camps at Treblinka and Auschwitz. But due to the lack of trains, they had to open some transitions camps. One of them was in Kolbasino. By mid-December, almost 10,000 Jews were taken there from the small towns of the Grodno region (Lunna, Skidel, Oseri, Paretche, Sopotskin, Galinka, and Kamenki. More than 14,000 were brought from their homes in Dambrava, Sakulka, Sidra, Kuznitsa. Karitsin, Krinak, Ratnitsa (now Poland), Yananva (now Lithuania), and Novi Dvor were also taken. Five thousand were brought from Grodno's ghetto. In all, 30,000 people suffered there from the brutality and the atrocities of the Germans. People were placed into earth-houses getting 150 grammes of bread per day only. Children were separated from parents and the men from the women. They were not allowed to communicate.

Karl Rintsner was in charge of the camp. Every day, when he appeared, he beat everyone he met just for no reason. When he was not in a good mood, he killed people. He liked to boast of the number of his victims. He took 30-40 people every day to the near forest and shot them there. He said that those people were a danger for epidemics. One day, he announced that because of the cold and frost, people had to be moved to other places.

And in the middle of December, the Germans began to send the people from Kolbasino camp to Treblinka and Auschwitz. During the night, people had to walk to the station singing the Jewish song, "Idl mith fild". Those who took a step out of the column were shot. At the station, people were placed on trains, as many as could fit, and they were sent to Treblinka (every day) and to Auschwitz (every two days). There, they were put into the crematoriums. In one week, the Kolbasino camp was almost empty. Only 3,000 of those left were taken back to Grodno. They were frozen and hungry and were so weak that they were dying of starvation and diseases.

The population of Grodno was told that they were not allowed to help Jewish people, to bring food to the Jewish people, or to hide Jewish people. If someone tried to do it, he was killed. That's how the Yatskevich family was shot because they were hiding a Jewish child. Michail Uminski was shot because he was trying to hide his wife who was Jewish.

In September 1942, the ghetto population was informed that they would be taken to the Working camps of Germany, and at night, the citizens of Grodno were awakened because of the shooting in the streets. The restrained people made an attempt to escape. For some of them it was a successful attempt, but 132 were shot. The next day, Kurt Vise ordered that three people, Prenskaya, Druker, and Shpindler, be hanged because they didn't inform about the escape.

When Kurt Vise knocked the chair from under the feet of Prenskaya, she spat into his face.

September 9 was the beginning of the liquidation of Grodno ghetto. It had three stages. During the night of September 14, almost 1600 people were taken to the station and sent to Auschwitz. The only one who didn't die was Freilihman who said later that they were taken by train for three days and nights without food and water and then taken to the gas chambers and the dead bodies were burned in crematoriums. During the night of September 21, 2400 more people more were taken to the station. They shared the destiny of their brothers and sisters.

Seventeen thousand Jews were still in the ghetto. Again 2,000 people were taken by the end of September 1942, then another 3,000. First, they walked to Kolbasino, and at the head of the column was a Jew whom the Germans had decorated with a pot on his head with bells on it. Another Jew had to drum, and a famous Jewish violinist, Skibelski had to play Jewish folk melodies. That was the road to death.

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