- Before the Holocaust
- During the Holocaust
- Their Legacies Remain…
In October 1941 some of the town was turned into a ghetto, and the Jews of Mir were concentrated within. There was terrible overcrowding; 5-20 people were packed into every room. At the time, there were some 2,400 Jews in Mir.
On 5 November 1941, the Jews of Mir were ordered to hand over 250,000 rubles. On 9 November, an aktion took place, on the pretext that the ransom had not been paid in full. This aktion became known by the survivors of Mir as "The First Massacre." On that day, 1300-1500 Jews were murdered – some two-thirds of the town's Jewish population. The murders were carried out by members of the Einsatzcommando 8 and Einsatzgruppen B forces of the S.S., solders from the Wermacht unit that had returned defeated from the front, and local policemen. Among the victims were most of the members of the Judenrat, as well as the chief rabbi of the town, Rabbi Avrohom Zvi Kamai.
Einsatzkommando 8 was part of Einsatgruppe B of the SIPO and the SD. Established in 1941, it operated in Belarus. One of its main assignments was to kill Jews. It was commanded by: Otto Bradfisch (until January 1942); Heinz Richter (January - September 1942); and others. It was disbanded in 1944.
"On Shabbat 8 November, the S.S. men returned and demanded more money. Once again it was given to them. The next day, armed German soldiers and Belarus police surrounded the town. On 9 November 1941 the police went from house to house and took everyone out to the market square, demanding they hand over their valuables in exchange for their lives. The Judenrat urged the Jews to fulfill the request of the police… they took the valuables from everyone, stood them in lines and beat them.… They separated off 80 laborers – shoemakers, tailors and carpenters – and the rest were brought up the hill, in the direction of the palace. There they forced them to undress, and then they shot them. The bodies rolled down the hill to the valley, while the Germans took pictures. The killing finished at noon. Five bakers came out of hiding, but the police found them and killed them. Their bodies remained in the streets for days."
Testimony of Avraham Wajnger, Yad Vashem Archives, M49E-ZIH/2209
The victims were buried in two mass graves outside the town and in another grave in the Jewish cemetery.
Following the aktion of 9 November, members of Zionist youth movements organized an underground in the ghetto, led by Shlomo Charchas, Dov (Beretzke) Reznik and Aharon Koch. The three had returned to Mir from the center of pioneering movements in Vilna after the invasion of the USSR by Nazi Germany. A second Judenrat was formed, with most of its members public figures respected by the ghetto residents: Eliyahu Baruch Schulman – head of the Judenrat, Mordechai Berman, Leibel Manker (a member of the previous Judenrat), Hirsch Rakowicz, Godel Tribitzki, Mulia Rabinowicz, Leizer Breslin, Chaim Dorover, Sali Cherni, Busel Mintz (from Baranovichi), Shepsel Gavza, Fania Tzinkin and Naftali Reyzin. The Judenrat objected to the activities of the underground, on the grounds that it endangered the residents of the ghetto, but it did not act against it, instead implementing a policy of bribes and gifts to ingratiate themselves to the Germans and Belarusians.
Following the aktion, 850 Jews were concentrated in a smaller ghetto along two streets around the Shulhof (the synagogue courtyard). These included "essential" Jews in the eyes of the Germans, those that had managed to hide with Belorussian farmers during the murders, and others from the town's surroundings. They were set to work fixing the roads and in factories the Germans had established for forced labor, and at the end of December, the Jewish workers were brought to the destroyed and neglected palace of the Mirski Prince, that had been turned into a ghetto. The place resembled an ancient fortress: a few crumbling buildings surrounded by a stone wall and one gate.
At the beginning of August 1942, Oswald Rufeisen told fellow members of the Mir ghetto underground of the planned liquidation of the ghetto. The date set was 13 August. On the night of 9 August, some 200 Jews fled the ghetto to the forest, including members of the underground.
According to documentation, research literature and survivor testimony, the number of fugitives from the Mir Ghetto stands at between 100-300 people. During a conference that took place in 1991, ex-residents of Mir put together a list of 212 Jews that fled from the Mir Ghetto on the night of 10 August 1942.
On 13 August, the final aktion took place in the Mir ghetto. The Jews were brought outside the town, a distance of about 3 km, to pits that had been prepared earlier. According to German reports, 560 Jews were murdered that day. By 16 August, another 65 Jews that had been hiding in Mir and its surroundings had been caught and killed. Only a few survived.