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The Jews of Pinsk, 1939-1943, Through the Prism of New Documentation

Tikva Fatal-Knaani

  1. The Gebietskommissar at the time was evidently Paul Gerhard Klein.
  2. Yad Vashem Archives (YVA), M-41/863. The year is not marked, but it is almost certainly 1941, because the Jews of Pinsk were not ghettoized until May 1942.
  3. Brest is known by several names in several languages, corresponding to various historical eras: Brest-Litovsk, Brześć, and, among the Jews, Brisk.
  4. The documentation described in this article is part of the vast and extensive documentation stored in various archives across the former Soviet Union. However extensive the archival documentation on Pinsk, one may also assume that additional material exists in other archives, in Pinsk itself or in other state archives. The original documentation was sorted into Record Groups. Each Record Group Fond is composed of lists (Opis), which are divided into files (Del). Almost all the material on the German occupation is kept in Record Group 2135; documentation on the Soviet regime was placed in Record Group 200. Since the databases cannot be searched and accessed directly, material is ordered on the basis of the description of the Record Group, which is not always accurate. Therefore, requests for material are not filled immediately and might not accurately indicate the exact source. The following survey of the Jewish community of Pinsk, from its origin until its demise, is based partly on secondary sources but, mainly, on this new documentation that now exists in the Yad Vashem Archives as Record Group M–41 (Documentation from Archives in Belarus), especially in respect to the years 1939–1943. Much of the history of the Jews under Nazi occupation in Pinsk was related accurately, in 1966, by Nahum Boneh, “The Holocaust,” in Nahman Tamir (Mirski) and Zeev Rabinowitsch, eds., Pinsk, Book of Testimony and Commemoration for the Pinsk-Karlin Community (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Organization of PinskKarlin Jews in Israel, 1966) B, pp. 325–360. Boneh based his work almost solely on testimonies. The new documentation now at Yad Vashem allows us to corroborate much of what he wrote. Recently, too, a study about the Jews of Pinsk was written in Brest: E. Rozenblat and I. Yelenskaya, The Jews of Pinsk 1939–1944 (Russian), (Brest: University of Brest, 1997). The study is significant because it is the first time that researchers in Belarus have written about antisemitism among the people of that country—an antisemitism that began to grow during the months of Soviet rule and erupted during the Nazi occupation. (The most common explanation for this is that the Jews collaborated with the Communists.) The study is based on Belorussian anti-Jewish propaganda that appeared in the Belorussian press during those years. However, it also contains statistics on Jewish labor, mortality, occupations, and private enterprises. The authors also appended lists of partisans and survivors.
  5. Encyclopedia Judaica (Jerusalem: Keter, 1974), vol. 13, p. 538. Most authors on Pinsk estimate its Jewish population shortly before the war at 30,000. See, for example, Aharon Yisraeli, The Pinsk Community (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Ministry of Education and Culture, in conjunction with the Ghetto Fighters’ House, 1970), p. 4; Benzion Dinur, “On the Historical Image of Pinsk,” Tamir and Rabinowitsch, eds., Pinsk, Book of Testimony and Commemoration, B, pp. 14–15. These statistics are discussed and reexamined below in light of the new documentation.
  6. Moshe Melamed, A Path Taken by Foot (Hebrew) (Shefayim: Privately Published, 1991), p. 24.
  7. Y. Margolin, “In the Days of the Soviet Occupation 1939–1941,” Tamir and Rabinowitsch, eds., Pinsk, Book of Testimony and Commemoration, B, p. 311; see also Azriel Shohat, “In the Second World War up to the Nazi Occupation,” ibid., A, pp. 287–292.
  8. See below in regard to the nationalization of dwellings and lists of new officials in Pinsk.
  9. Shohat, “In the Second World War,” p. 288.
  10. As it was called from that time until the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
  11. Orders of the people’s commissariat of economics concerning the nature of nationalization of civilians’ property, February 26, 1941, YVA, M-41/2273.
  12. Orders concerning nationalization of dwellings, lists of homeowners whose dwellings were nationalized, requests to cancel nationalization, and correspondence in respect to nationalization, 1939–1941, YVA, M-41/2252–2661.
  13. See, for example, repeals of nationalization decisions, January–May 1941, YVA, M- 41/2270, 2276, 2277, and 2278.
  14. Margolin, “In the Days of the Soviet Occupation,” p. 312; for a description of the lives of refugee doctors, see Fanny Solomian-Luc, A Girl Facing the Gallows (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv: Moreshet, 1971), pp. 40–41.
  15. Shohat, “In the Second World War,” p. 288.
  16. Testimony of Nisan Reznik, YVA, 03–3931, p. 2; for more on this activity, see Yehuda Helman, “At the Onset of the Soviet Occupation,” Tamir and Rabinowitsch, eds., Pinsk, Book of Testimony and Commemoration, B, pp. 186–187.
  17. Shohat, “In the Second World War,” p. 291; Pesach Pakacz, “Soviet Rule in Pinsk,” Tamar and Rabinowitsch, eds., Pinsk, Book of Testimony and Commemoration, A, p. 320.
  18. Lists of Jewish workers in Pinsk, April–May 1942, YVA, M-41/993, p. 104; Solomian-Luc, A Girl Facing the Gallows, p. 42; Yosef Litvak, Jewish Refugees from Poland in the Soviet Union 1939–1946 (Hebrew) (Jerusalem: Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Institute for Contemporary Jewry, 1988), p. 89.
  19. Migration (arrival and departure) cards in Pinsk and the vicinity, 1939–1941, YVA, M- 41/2292-2661.
  20. Questionnaires of Party Conference members, YVA, M-41/2530; lists of secretaries of Party organizations, 1940, YVA, M-41/2536; cards of Communist Party candidates, 1940, YVA, M- 41/2527; questionnaires of delegates to the district conference of the Communist Party, April 1940, YVA, M-41/2587.
  21. Curriculum vitae of candidates for membership in the Ispolkom in Pinsk, December 15, 1940, YVA, M-41/2533.
  22. Notices about appointments of local workers in the Communist Party, October 1940, YVA, M-41/2531.
  23. Lists and opinions of members of election committees in Pinsk, 1939–1940, YVA, M- 41/2532.
  24. See, for example, lists of secretaries of Party organizations, 1940, YVA, M-41/2536.
  25. Pinsk was annexed to the Reichskommissariat of Ukraine as soon as it was occupied, and the Gebietskommissar reached the city in early September 1941. It was the German practice in occupied Soviet territories to install a military administration and replace it with a civilian one, usually at the time the ghetto was established.
  26. Nahum Boneh, “The Holocaust and the Uprising in Pinsk,” Yalkut Moreshet (Hebrew), 7 (July 1967), p. 81.
  27. Nahum Boneh, “The Holocaust and the Uprising,” Tamir and Rabinowitsch, eds., “ Pinsk, Book of Testimony and Commemoration, B, p. 326; Solomian-Luc, A Girl Facing the Gallows, p. 57.
  28. Correspondence between the Judenrat and the Municipal Administration, July 1941-January 1942, YVA, M-41/945, pp. 4, 7.
  29. Lists of Jews who worked in Pinsk, April–May 1942, YVA, M-41/993, pp. 97–98.
  30. Solomian-Luc, A Girl Facing the Gallows, p. 58.
  31. Ibid., pp. 58–59.
  32. Verdict against Franz Magill, et al., 1964, YVA, TR–10/516, pp. 65–66 (original in Schwurgericht Braunschweig 2Ks I/63).
  33. For a detailed account of the way the murder was perpetrated, see ibid., pp. 70–87.
  34. Ibid., p. 98. See explanation in Justiz und NS-Verbrechen, Sammlung Deutscher strafurteile wegen Nationalsozialistischer Tötungsverbrechen 1945–1966 (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 1979) (25 vols.), vol. 20, pp. 62–63.
  35. Migration catalogues (arrivals and departures) in Pinsk and the vicinity, 1939–1941, YVA, M-41/2292-2661.
  36. Boneh, “The Holocaust and the Uprising,” p. 89; Statistical Report of the Municipal Department of Statistics, January 1941-May 1942, YVA, M-41/898.
  37. Justiz und NS-Verbrechen, pp. 55–57.
  38. Yehoshua Büchler, “Kommandostab Reichsführer-SS: Himmler’s Personal Murder Brigades in 1941,’’ Holocaust and Genocide Studies, 1:1 (1986), pp. 11-25.
  39. Boneh, “The Holocaust and the Uprising,” pp. 91–92; see, for example, a document from the Judenrat amidst correspondence between the Judenrat and the Gebietskommissar concerning allocations of food, January- October 1942, YVA, M-41/881, p. 4.
  40. List of Jewish workers, prepared by the Judenrat, October–December 1941, YVA, M- 41/936.
  41. Nahum Boneh used the new documentation to trace the workplaces and the number of workers in each; see Nahum Boneh, “Jews of Pinsk in the Ghetto—A Situation Portrait,” Yalkut Moreshet (Hebrew), 64 (November 1997) , pp. 57–65.
  42. Correspondence between the Judenrat and district authorities in regard to food allocations, January–October 1942, YVA, M-41/881, p. 13.
  43. The file contains Judenrat orders concerning payment of contributions, October–December 1941, YVA, M-41/942.
  44. Requests and applications for residency permits, 1941, YVA, M-41/929, pp. 10, 15, 22.
  45. Orders from municipal command headquarters to chairman of Judenrat to send Jewish workers, July-November 1941, YVA, M-41/900; lists arranged by addresses, September 1941, YVA, M-41/910; list of workers prepared by Judenrat, February-October 1942, YVA, M- 41/947. For more on the same, see M-41/901, 910.
  46. List of workers whom the Judenrat dispatched to perform miscellaneous jobs, September 1941–January 1942, YVA, M-41/904; correspondence concerning eviction of Jews from their homes, January-March 1942, YVA, M-41/900, 901, 914.
  47. See, for example, correspondence between the Judenrat and the Gebietskommissar concerning food allocations, January–October 1942, YVA, M-41/881, pp. 3, 6; and requests from Jewish pupils to the Gebietskommissar for labor permits, August–December 1941, YVA, M-41/863.
  48. YVA, M-41/881, p. 4.
  49. Provisional permits to open workshops, given to Jews by the municipal administration, July– December 1941, YVA, M-41/959.
  50. An example of such a payment, itemized by gross, withholding, and net, is kept among labor permits for Jews from the municipal administration, January–December 1942, YVA, M- 41/935, p. 9.
  51. Order concerning dietary supplies for Jews in the Pinsk area, from the Gebietskommissariat Food and Agriculture Department, December 22, 1941, YVA, M-41/880. For additional orders concerning food supplies to the ghetto and correspondence about food allocation, see October–December 1941, YVA, M-41/879; and January–July 1942, YVA, M-41/881.
  52. For example, the Judenrat requested fifty tons of fodder and was allowed only twenty and asked for ten tons of salt and was given five; see requests for food allocations, January–June 1942, YVA, M-41/881.
  53. October 14, 1941, YVA, M-41/879.
  54. Among other things, there are records of applications from bakery owners to the municipal administration concerning the quantities of bread that they had baked: YVA, M-41/957, 961, 964–969, 972–982, 984. File M-41/966 contains two lists: one comprised of nineteen bakeries; and the other including the quantity of flour that each bakery consumed for baking. The lists begin in July 1941; presumably, the number of bakeries was reduced as time passed.
  55. Lists of Jews for issue of ration cards, 1941–1942, YVA, M-41/907–910.
  56. February-March 1942, YVA, M-41/881, pp. 9, 11.
  57. Applications for residency permits, submitted by Jews to the municipal administration, July– December 1941, YVA, M-41/886–888; October 1941, YVA, M-41/929; applications for and receipt of residency permits in Pinsk, August–September 1941, YVA, M-41/930; communications and requests from Jews, October 1941, see, for example, letter dated April 22, 1942, YVA, M-41/867.
  58. YVA, M-41/886. The permits appear in three languages.
  59. YVA, M-41/886, 914.
  60. List of Jewish-owned buildings in Pinsk, January–October 1942, YVA, M-41/915–916. In regard to the surveying, see M-41/913.
  61. List of inhabitants evicted from the ghetto area and dispossessed of their homes, 1942, YVA, M-41/988, 989.
  62. Boneh, “The Holocaust and the Uprising,” pp. 334–335; reports of investigations, indictments, and verdicts in trials of members of Police Battalion 306, 1963, YVA, TR–10/790, p. 129 (original in Lg Frankfurt/Main U Js 901/62).
  63. Diagnoses, the Jewish clinic, February–April 1942, YVA, M-41/948; notices from the Gebietskommissariat Health Department about the contraction of contagious diseases among Jews, January-December 1942, YVA, M-41/868.
  64. List of Jews in Pinsk who died in 1941–1943, YVA, M-41/921. The examination was conducted by Rita Margolin of the Yad Vashem staff.
  65. Medical opinions concerning Jewish deaths, January–December, 1942, YVA, M-41/868– 870.
  66. Lists of Jews who worked in the Pinsk health system in January–August 1942, YVA, M- 41/903. For additional lists of doctors, from August 1942 on, see YVA, M-41/992. Since the list was drawn up before ghettoization, the home addresses are in areas outside the ghetto.
  67. Lists of Jewish workers in Pinsk, April–May 1942, YVA, M-41/993, p. 75.
  68. For example, see YVA, M-41/993; labor permits issued by the Gebietskommissar to Jewish physicians, April–July 1942, YVA, M-41/873.
  69. Boneh, “The Holocaust and the Uprising,” p. 336. The absence of education and culture was not unique to the Pinsk ghetto. These areas of life were also ignored in Grodno and Lublin. In other ghettos, in contrast—such as those in Vilna and Bialystok—both the Judenrat and culturally active people ensured the existence of such endeavors.
  70. Solomian-Luc, A Girl Facing the Gallows, p. 64.
  71. Orders to pay contributions, October–December 1941, YVA, M-41/926; correspondence between Jews and the municipal Order Department concerning payment of contributions and collection of taxes, October–November 1941, YVA, M-41/942.
  72. Bills from the Judenrat to the administration for the sale of household items, October– November 1941, YVA, M-41/943.
  73. List of Jews liable to taxes and documents on the number of Jews in Pinsk, February–July, 1942, YVA, M-41/953.
  74. YVA, M-41/942, pp. 42–43. Most of the orders stipulated this sum, but there are also orders in the sums of 100, 150, 200, 250, 300, 400, and 500 rubles, evidently commensurate with the individual Jew’s affluence.
  75. Orders from the Order Department to impose fines on Jews, January–March 1942, YVA, M- 41/932.
  76. Ibid., p. 18.
  77. Ibid., p. 12.
  78. Orders to pay fines, October–December 1941, YVA, M-41/926, p. 26.
  79. Ibid., pp. 35–37.
  80. January–February 1942, YVA, M-41/933, pp. 4–6. For further information about the fines, see directives of the municipal Order Department concerning the imposition of fines against Jews, February–March 1942, YVA, M-41/949, 950.
  81. Lists of Jewish women, January 1942, YVA, M-41/922, 923, 890 (undated).
  82. List of Jewish men prepared by the Judenrat, August 1941, YVA, M-41/940. It is not clear whether the missing documentation has not been delivered to Yad Vashem or does not exist at all.
  83. Personal documents of Jews, September 1941, YVA, M-41/893–895. For additional personal documentation, see personal permits from the Judenrat and the municipal administration, January-October, 1942, YVA, M-41/934, 939.
  84. Solomian-Luc, A Girl Facing the Gallows, p. 75.
  85. Investigation reports, indictments, and verdicts in trials of members of Police Battalion 306, 1963, YVA, TR–10/790, p. 126.
  86. No details about him are known.
  87. YVA, TR-10/790, pp. 128–129. The units were Police Battalion 306, Company 2 of Battalion 310, the 2nd Police Cavalry Platoon, and Company 3 of Battalion 320.
  88. Ibid., pp. 131–132.
  89. Boneh, “The Holocaust and the Uprising,” p. 112.
  90. List of clothing of Jews in Pinsk handed over to “Aryan” residents, March–December 1943, YVA, M-41/885.
  91. Request from resident of Pinsk to the Gebietskommissariat to buy a Jew’s house, January– December 1943, YVA, M-41/878.
  92. Request to the Gebietskommissar concerning rent, July 25, 1942, YVA, M-41/876.