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Celebration Session on the First Anniversary of the Establishment of the Judenrat in Bialystok

June 29, 1942

...It is difficult to describe in detail the history of the establishment of the Judenrat. We placed before ourselves one aim: to co-opt for the work persons of influence, who were honest and capable courageous people. There are such people among us, I will not praise them here. But one I will praise a little to his face, Engineer Barash, who is also the director of our industry, with his great ability and exceptional energy everybody knows and respects him. The German Authorities have been persuaded that we work without profit to ourselves and the attitude towards us has, in time, become tolerable... Our industry has developed, as you know, and its importance to the ghetto is so great that we saw the need for Eng. Barash to be in charge of this industry, and this has raised our reputation in the eyes of the Authorities.

Today a year of labor has ended that has been hard but full of blessing, and a new year begins, and we pray that in this new year we may be remembered for life! May the Lord, Blessed be He, continue not to abandon us; that we may be able to continue with our tasks to the benefit and good fortune of the whole population.

Eng. Barash: We could not let this day pass without gathering together and talking at least with those who are closest to us. There is nobody who could describe what has happened to us, what we survived during these past 365 days no artist, no writer, no painter. We can scarcely believe it ourselves, and I think nobody will believe it in the future, all that has happened to us in this period. It is lucky that we cannot foresee the future, for if we could we would not have lived and reached the present stage. If I were just to recite the record of our troubles, just a list without describing them, it would take a long time, a very long time. I will just recall the worst and most unexpected of them....

In short we did not have single quiet day, one in which there was no scent of danger. Many of the dangers that threatened us were countermanded, as you know, as a result of our actions.

We did many useful things:

1) Our factories, which often had to "make bricks without straw," which caused admiration among those who hate us. 2) The exhibition that was arranged outside the ghetto demonstrated our achievements and our ability to succeed. 3) At the same time we established a system of schools and trade schools. 4) Our social welfare... hospitals, etc., in many cases are more extensive than similar institutions that we had before the war. 5) Our vegetable-growing and other work show that the Jews are a very productive element.

There are differences of opinion concerning the actions of our Judenrat. But one must take the position of the Judenrat into account. After all, we are hostages, held responsible for everything that happens in the ghetto. And you have seen what that means in other cities. The members of the presidium went gray there before their time. The devotion, heart and soul, of the presidium cannot be described in words. If we survive, whole books will have to be written about it. Later there was a total change in our position, which distinguishes us from the people in all the other occupied areas and ghettos. There is nothing new to it, when the weak pay compliments to the strong, that is familiar flatter. But that we, the weak, hear compliments from those who are stronger, from those who have the power. This change came about as the result of our productive work.

I am full of admiration for the close harmony that reigns between the members of the Judenrat. Differences of opinion simply do not happen. All our decisions and actions are unanimous.

In truth, there is no place for optimism in the ghetto, but when I consider the road along which we have come and our burdens, then I am sure that we will take the Bialystok ghetto through to a happy end.

(Loud applause)....

Mr. Sobotnik: ...The Judenrat did not start out as what it is today: It developed in time as it worked, thanks to the efforts of its first members who created everything that we now have. As I said, we were not chosen by anybody. The respected Eng. Barash convinced us to accept the great and difficult duties because he understood the needs of the hour. Now it has become a government, so to say, with all the offices, departments, ministers. The official chairman, Dr. Rosenman, walks around by himself to find workers for the Germans. He has gone through a great deal. His most important contribution was to have appointed the respected Eng. Barash, because the Rabbi did not have the strength to do everything that was needed. I do not wish to praise the individual, what matters to me is the job, the achievement. The respected Eng. Barash is the prime minister in our "government," as well as the minister of the interior, minister of industry, because in the ghetto everything must be concentrated in one hand. Industry, for instance, is connect with the Wehrmacht, so it becomes a matter of foreign policy. Sometimes we are surprised how he gets it all done, how it all works out. It seems like Divine intervention, particularly in the past few weeks. Everything gets done in the best possible way. The other responsibilities, it seems to me, are carried out by the other members, but it is the spirit, the direction, which is the most important thing....

What is our direction? In matters concerning the community we try always to reach agreement, compromise, so that everybody may be satisfied. From now on we shall have to stand by the letter of the law! Let him who is fearful and fainthearted return to his house! We shall have to cling to this principle if we wish to stay alive. And the ghetto must remain a productive element as well.

Of all our prayers for "Life," for a good life, for a livelihood, for a life without shame or disgrace, etc., we must today make do with just "Life"; and that thanks to Rosenman and Barash: we only help, but they, and especially Eng. Barash, labor for us!...

Blumental, pp. 214-220.