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Short history of Brest Ghetto

As soon as German army occupied Brest on the 15th of September in 1939 they have subjected many local Jews to the forced labour. But according to the Agreement between USSR and Germany on the division of Poland Brest has been allotted to the USSR (22nd of September).

On the 22nd of June 1941, the first day of the war between the USSR and Germany, Germans occupied Brest again. The occupation lasted for 3 years and 1 month until 28th of July 1944.

Almost no one from the citizens, including jews, managed to escape the city...

June - November 1941

On the 12th of June 1941 Einsatzgruppen “В” together with Wehrmacht units did a roundup on male jews, took them out of the city and in three different locations shot 4000 people, including elderly and boys. Along with Jews in June 1941 Nazi German killed around 400 soviet and party officials.

Soon after occupation of Brest Jewish people were obliged to wear a special identity mark — a red and white hexagonal star. In the beginning of autumn the form of the sign was changed to a round yellow patch.

At summer and autumn 1941 according to the order of the occupation authorities Germans confiscated gold and other precious metals from Jews and from Synagogues. The shootings continued but with less intensity.

As was reported by the Soviet Extraordinary Commission in 1944 after confiscation “all Synagogues and prayer houses had been used as stables and garages”. The big Synagogue located on the current Sovetskaya street had been adapted to the storage house of the confiscated things.

Registration of Jews

Occupation authorities launched sensus and passportisation of local population, which started on the 10th of November 1941. According to the results Jews composed 18 000 out of 51 000 residents of Brest. All jewish people starting with 14 years old were obliged to take photos and to pass a special registration procedure. New passports were issued for Jews. This was written down in Polish in a special record book. Until 5th of June 1942 12 260 passports of this kind had been issued in Brest. Simultaneously a separate file had been issued for each Jewish citizen in Polish called “Protokół”, where all children under 14 years old were registered. All the files are now kept in the State archive of Brest oblast.

Ghetto creation

On the 16th of December 1941 Jewish population of Brest was moved to Ghetto. Soon the Jews from the nearest villages and small towns were also brought to Ghetto. For example, 113 people had been brought from Slovatichi village and 52 - from Rossozh village. Ghetto was curated by major Rodé, the chief of the police and gendarmery. It hosted around 18000 people.

To maintain order and obedience in the Ghetto Jewish people were grouped into a judenrat of 60 people. Hirsch Rosenberg became a chairman of the judenrat and Nakhmana Landau became his deputy. Nazi also obliged Jews to create a Jewish Police Squad of 15 people to help the judenrat.

Ghetto territory

Ghetto was located in between current Sovetskaya, Mayakovskogo, Kirova and Internatsionalnaya streets. Moskovskaya street (Route Warsaw-Minsk) divided the Ghetto territory into two unequal parts: the bigger one was on the North and the smaller was on the South.

Ghetto was surrounded with barbed wire and surveilled by the police. Jewish people could not enter and leave without special pass. Any unauthorized leave meant direct execution, in the best case - imprisonment. Mobility from one part of the Ghetto to another was allowed to its inhabitants until 18:00. There were three gates facing Moskovskaya, Sovetskaya and Gogol streets. They were guarded by the gendarmery.

Prayer houses, a Synagogue, a hospital (with almost no medicaments), a shop (with almost no food and consumer goods), a nursing home for the elderly people and a community charity kitchen.

In 1942 Ghetto Jews received 150 grams of bread per day. To save Jewish people from hunger and diseases, Brest judenrat kept an orphanage with 80 people, a kindergarten with 135 children, a hospital with 75 beds, a nursing home for the elderly (80 people) and a night shelter (150-200 people). The community kitchen served free lunches to 3800 prisoners.
Under initiative of the occupation authorities in the end of June 1942 workmen’s cooperative associations had been established comprising 7994 Jewish workers.

A number of clandestine organisations were also functioning on the territory of Brest Ghetto:
the end of December 1941 - “Liberation/Osvobozhdenie”, beginning 1942 - “Nekama” (“Revenge”) under the leadership of Frumka Potnitskaya.

In the middle of 1942 the clandestine movement in Ghetto was headed by Arje Sheinman. Undergrounders made weapons in the Ghetto workshops and created secret armament depots.

There was a partisan unit in Brest vicinities named after Shchorse and led by P. Proniaguin. Jews were willingly accepted, including many Ghetto runaways. Under initiative of the Unit Command a family camp was created within its premises.

In autumn 1942 the second wave of mass killings of Jewish population took place. In many occupied cities and towns the units of German police, SS (Schutzstaffel) and Wehrmacht assisted by Nazi collaborators killed Jews, who still remained alive. On the 15th of October the mopping-up operation started in Brest Ghetto. The Jews were thrown out of Ghetto and herded in columns to the Tovarnaya station, where freight wagons had been already waiting for them. Elderly and ill people were shot in one of the city yards. During several weeks Nazi dogged the rest of the Jews, who hid in Ghetto, to kill them. In the result from the 15th until 18th of October 1942 around 17 thousand of Brest Jews have been brought to the area of Bronnaya Gora village (around 100 km on the North-East from Brest) and shot down. Until now no information is available on which German units were responsible for executing this massacre.

Post-War time

After liberation of Brest on the 28th of July 1944 only 19 inhabitants of Ghetto managed to survive, 6 people had been saved by Polina Makarenko-Golovchenko. She was из них были спасены Полиной Макаренко-Головченко. She was awarded a title of Righteous Gentile.
In 1946 at the place where five thousand of Brest Jews had been shot a monument was raised with the inscription in Yiddish. In 1947 the monument was demolished.

In 1959 the ruins of the Big Synagogue used once for the worship services had been taken away from the Jewish community and rebuilt into the cinema.

In 1960 in Western Germany the processes against former German policemen, who took part in mass executions of Brest Jews in July 1941 and in 1942, were held. No one had been convicted.

In 1970 according to estimated data around 2000 Jews (less than 2%) inhabited Brest.
The tragedy of Brest Jews was never spoken about during the Soviet period. Buildings and roads were built on the places of mass graves. In 1974 the single monument devoted to the victims of Brest Ghetto at Kuibisheva street was demolished.

After the dissolution of the USSR the topic of Holocaust appeared on the agenda. A series of books were written, a monument and memorial stones placed at Bronnaya Gora. The monument to the victims of Brest Ghetto was reconstructed in 1992 at the expense of Jews from the USA, Argentina and Israel.