The experience of Jews in the area that is now Belarus has its rightful place in Sir Martin Gilbert’s histories of the Holocaust. The Together Plan is working with communities, historians and individuals in Belarus to tell the story of the Belarus Jews which will become the Belarus Jewish Heritage Route. The story of the Jews of Belarus is rich and tragic. One of the darkest times in this history was the years between 1941 and 1944.
Each month The Together Plan features a short excerpt from the writings of the late Sir Martin Gilbert which focus on one of the cities, towns, villages, and forests where Jews tried desperately to escape the Nazi German murder machine.
Lady Esther Gilbert, the wife of the late Sir Martin, selects and submits these excerpts for The Together Plan’s newsletter.
Introduction by Esther Gilbert
In 1983 Martin made a trip to the Soviet Union to try to see how he could help the Soviet Jewish movement to allow those who wanted to emigrate to do so. While there he spent time in Minsk, and published what he found in his 1984 book The Jews of Hope. This is an excerpt on some of the resistance in Minsk:
On 28 July 1942 the Germans mounted a second ‘action’ against the Jews of the Minsk Ghetto. On the eve of the ‘action’ they ordered the new head of the Jewish Council, Moshe Yaffe, to address the Jews assembled in Jubilee Square, and to calm them down on the eve of their execution. Yaffe refused to obey this order. Instead he shouted to the Jews to run for their lives. The Jews ran but more than 25,000 were murdered.
Destroyed and starving, the Jews of Minsk continued to try to escape to the forests. On 16 June 1943 a Jewish doctor, Niuta Jurezkaya was among those who managed to escape. She was caught, however, and tortured in the hope that she would reveal something of the resistance movement. ‘Who was with you?’ she was asked, ‘All of my people were with me,’ she replied.
Niuta Jurezkaya was shot. Jewish resistance continued in Minsk, as throughout western Russia.
It was in Minsk that a Jew, David Kaymakh, organised the assassination of the German ruler of White Russia, Kube, on 22 September 1943. The bomb that killed Kube had been placed in his bedroom by a White Russian maid, E. G. Mazanik. Ironically, on my internal flight from Leningrad to Minsk, the man sitting next to me was reading a newspaper in which Mazanik recalled her deed. But she made no mention of Kaymakh.
By the end of 1943 Jewish partisans from Minsk had set up six fighting partisan detachments, active in derailing German troop and munitions trains, and ambushing German military units. There was also a seventh all-Jewish detachment, known as the Family Detachment, which gave armed protection to more than 6oo Jewish women and children hiding in the forests.
Of the 85,000 Jews confined in the Minsk Ghetto in the autumn of 1941, as many as 10,000 managed to escape. Half of these survived the war, most of them as partisans.