LESSONS: THE HOLOCAUST. LESSON TWO

The occupation of Belarus which began on June 22, 1941, had two stages. The first, initial stage was aimed at elimination of potential leaders. It was short and was accompanied by shooting former Soviet activists, communists, leaders of Jewish communities and groups of men who potentially could resist.

“Bloodshed began in Novogrudok from the very first days. Jews were seized and gathered in German institutions, at the German headquarters. They were beaten, tortured, bullied, and later some of them were even killed. It seems that it was a national German sport and a kind of release that was allowed to the bloodthirsty Nazis". (from the testimony by Daniel Ostashinsky, the chairman of the Judenrat in the Novogrudok ghetto).

‘The beast inside a man broke out from its cage, naked and wild, and it demonstrated its…. cruelty. Everything is disproved! Everything is a complete lie! What a bitter irony and mockery are heard in all the promises’. (from the diary by Benjamin Berkowitz, a prisoner of the Novogrudok ghetto).

As a result of the demonstrative execution in the town square on July 26, 1941, fifty two Jews lost their lives ‘on the order of a "good" commandant’. The shooting took place in the day time in front of the residents who, as well as those who were shot, did not understand what was going on.

In August 1941 General Commissariat “Beloruthenia” (Belarus) was created. It was a zone of civil administration headed by Wilhelm Kube from September 1, 1941 until September 22, 1943.

The systematic extermination of the people of Belarus began. Jews were the first to be exterminated. In many places creation of ghettos was preceded by mass executions. On December 8, 1941, after the massacre in Novogrudok, only 1,500 Jews survived out of a 6,000 pre-war community. A ghetto in Pereseka (now Siechko str.) was set up.

LESSON TWO

Extracts from the diary by Benjamin Berkowitz.

‘One has an impression that all the previous horrors and tortures were just a prologue to this great and horrifying drama. A period since the slaughter has been nothing out of the ordinary – if one ignores the incessant pressure on the heart. Small-scale massacres have become routine and there is no time to dwell upon them.

Even the dates of deaths have been forgotten, only relatives of the victims who stayed alive remember them.

<...> News about the murder of Jews in Lida, Zhetl, Iwye Volozhin and the burning of the Jews in the town of Rakov – even this news fails to freeze blood in the veins of the ghetto Jews. It no longer causes their hair to stand on end, as such news would have done prior to the slaughter in Novogrudok.

I try to explain this reaction to myself, and think that the reason is one's egotism: prior to the slaughter a person would be seized with fear sensing that the cup of fate will be passed to him as well. But once it has passed and through some miracle - or through Divine mercy or through a bribe to a policeman - he was saved from death, he knows that at least for now no second round is on the agenda. So now he nurtures his hopes of living, and rejects any frightening thoughts’.

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