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Grodno During The Shoah

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Grodno During The Shoah

The German Occupation
From the Beginning of the Occupation Until the Establishment of the
Ghettos (June 23, 1941-October 31, 1941)

The Fall of the City. On the night of June 22/23, 1941, the German
army reached the outskirts of Grodno and the Soviet forces retreated
in panic, taking with them only their own people and local residents
who had worked in the administrative apparatus.

The German advance was accompanied by heavy aerial bombardment of the
city and the surrounding towns. Before dawn the Germans launched a
massive barrage against the army depots at the edge of the city. The
bombing from the air continued relentlessly throughout the day, the
planes making repeated sorties. Incendiary bombs sparked a huge fire
on both banks of the Nieman. Much of the suburb across the Nieman went
up in flames, including the ancient synagogue. The Jewish hospital
sustained heavy damage.

The terrified Jews, watching the Russians flee, made for the cellars
and shelters (and some were wounded or killed by the bombs that fell
near the cellars). Many Jews, particularly young people, fled wildly,
without any specific destination, on foot, by bicycle, or in wagons.
The roads were littered with bodies and abandoned weapons. Some
managed to board vehicles or to join groups that formed during the
course of the evacuation; but few succeeded in reaching Russia. The
Germans were usually ahead of them and forced them to return to

Two months later soldiers from the Spanish Legion who participated in
the combat against the Soviet Union passed through Grodno on their way
to the frontier. They were appalled at the spectacle of ruin and
devastation in every part of Grodno. According to one description,
one-third of the city lay in ruins, and in the Across the River
residential suburb not a house remained intact. In total contrast to
the Germans, the Spaniards showed compassion for the Jews during their
short stay in Grodno.

The German Administrative Machinery in the Bialystok District and the
Grodno Subdistrict. On July 17, 1941, by a special order, the
Bialystok district was annexed to eastern Prussia as a separate
administrative unit, called Generalbezirk Bialystok. At first Grodno
was not included in this district but remained part of the
Generalkommissariat Byelorussia.Then, on September 18, 1941, it was
attached to the Bialystok district, even though the annexation did not
become official until March 1942.

About two months after the city's capture, members of the Byelorussian
National Committee informed on the Polish mayor, Zawicki, alleging
that he was collaborating with the Communists and the Jews. He was
thereupon replaced with a German mayor, Georg Stein, who also served
as Municipal Commissar (Stadtkommissar). Stein frequently ignored his
direct superior, von Ploetz, and consulted directly with the governor
(Oberpresident) of the Bialystok district.

In addition to the civilian system, a security apparatus was
responsible for dealing with terror against the population. The German
police in the Bialystok district was composed of the Order Police
(Ordnungspolizei), the City Police (Schutzpolizei or Schupo), the
gendarmerie and the security units - the Security Police
(Sicherheitspolizei or Sipo) and the Security Service
(Sicherheitsdienst or SD). Units of the police and the Security
Service arrived in Grodno in July 1941. A district headquarters of the
SD, the Gestapo, and the Criminal Police (Kriminalpolizei or Kripo)
was established around April 1942, headed by Dr. Wilhelm Altenloh.

When Grodno was attached to the Bialystok district, a Gestapo deputy
office (Nebenstelle) was set up there, initially headed by
Kriminalsekretaer Gross, and, from December 1941, by Heinz Errelis.

The office was raised to independent level (Aussenstelle) after the
Security Service established a headquarters (KDS) in Bialystok.
Errelis had thirteen men under his command, including his deputy,
Schott; Gross, who was in charge of Jewish affairs; Kurt Wiese, who
would afterward become the commandant of Ghetto One; Otto Streblow,
commandant of Ghetto Two; Karl Rinzler, commandant of the Kielbasin
concentration camp; Niestroj; three interpreters, two drivers, and two

Creation of the Judenrat. At the end of June 1941, two German officers
ordered lawyer Izaak Gozhanski to establish a Jewish representative
body. However, Gozhanski was evasive, claiming his German was not good
enough. Instead he recommended David Brawer, who, since 1939, was the
headmaster of the local Tarbut school. Brawer, too, saw the
appointment as a horrendous disaster, but was given no choice. He was
summoned to the military commander and ordered to form a Judenrat of
ten people within twenty-four hours and to lead it as head of the
Jewish population in the city of Grodno (Obman der Juedische
Bevoelkerung der Stadt Grodno). Brawer asked all the Jewish
organizations and parties (as they had existed until September 1939)
to appoint representatives. On June 28, 1941, they already met.

It was a turbulent session. Some of those present argued against
establishing a Jewish representation for fear that this would only
facilitate the persecutions; others argued that the serious situation
of the Jews in the city called for the immediate creation of a
representative body that would work both to moderate the German
decrees and to relieve the physical distress of the population. Many
had been left destitute by the great fire that had heralded the
occupation, and the number of sick and needy had increased greatly. It
was imperative to provide them with clothing, footwear, food and
medical services.

The advocates of representation won out, and at the meeting it was
decided to establish a Judenrat. Even though officially its function
was limited to carrying out the occupier's orders, in practice the
Judenrat executed a wide range of functions, including those that in
the past had been the responsibility of extra-communal elements. Thus,
by the time the Jews were incarcerated in the ghettos, the Judenrat
was already dealing with a broad array of community affairs. First to
be activated were the departments for medical aid and relief and the
labor department, which tried to introduce order into the forced-labor
mobilizations and put an end to the spate of kidnappings (see below).

By September 7, 1941, the Judenrat had more than doubled in size, to
twenty-four members, as is evident from the list that Brawer had to
submit to the German Civil Administration when the Jews were placed

under its authority. The list included individuals from various strata
of the Jewish population who had been active in the community before
September 1939, and it specified their roles and functions. One of the
names on the list was that of the lawyer Izaak Gozhanski.

Decrees, Kidnappings, Murders. With the occupation the Jews were
immediately placed outside the law. Their lives and security were of
no consequence or concern. Jewish youngsters disappeared without a
trace from the streets; a similar fate befell hospitalized adults and
children, the elderly in old-age homes, and members of the Jewish
intelligentsia. An Einsatzgruppen (the German execution units) report
of July 13, 1941, includes a survey of operations executed by the
Einsatz-kommando in which ninety-six Jews were put to death in Grodno
and Lida. The true number was probably far higher; according to one
source,9 the Germans combed the town with lists in hand and arrested
hundreds of members of the educated and intellectual stratum. At least
100 were shot.

In the absence of law, the lives of the Jews were regulated by orders
and edicts, some of which were published post factum. About twelve
days after the Germans entered the city, all the Jews were required to
register and the word Jude was stamped on their identity cards. Soon a
whole series of restrictions and prohibitions were enforced. For
example, Jews were forbidden to walk on the sidewalks; they had to
walk in the middle of the road in single file (duck-walk).
Consequently, many were hit by passing vehicles, and Jews arriving at
hospitals after being injured in road accidents became a common sight.
Jews were also forbidden to use public transportation or to enter
places of leisure, sports arenas, theaters, museums and libraries; nor
were they permitted to own a vehicle, radio, or even a cow or horse.
On the street Jews had to lift their hat to passing Germans. All
contact between Jews and non-Jews was banned.

On June 30, 1941, an order issued in Grodno made it mandatory for Jews
to wear an identifying badge. At first this was a white armband with a
blue Star of David; a month later the armband was replaced by two
large yellow patches worn on the left side of the chest and on the
left of the back. Children were exempt from this decree. Anyone caught
without the patches was severely punished, not only risking arrest but
having to endure a savage beating that left the victim ailing for
weeks or even months.

As we have already indicated, the authorities did not always publish a
judicial order before implementing it. A flagrant example of this
method was forced labor, which was introduced immediately after the
occupation. It was not until two months later, on August 16, 1941,
that the relevant official order was published. The Jews had to report
every morning near the synagogue, from where they were taken by
government bodies, such as the army or the municipality, to work at
various types of labor. The general work companies cleared stones from
the streets, repaired roads, and cleaned the barracks of the occupying
forces. Public works such as clearing snow, paving roads, and cleaning
streets were considered to be for the general good and were not
recompensed. The order was accompanied by the threat of punishment
against those who did not work, but even those who did were beaten,
abused and humiliated.

Only those with vital professions, who received work permits, were
assured permanent employment and were spared the brutal experience of
the mass concentration in the morning and the grueling unskilled

When the Grodno subdistrict was annexed to the Bialystok district (see
below), the laws and regulations in effect in the latter were also
applied to the former. On October 15, 1941, the first official order
was promulgated for the entire district regarding forced labor; it
specified the ages of those who were obligated to work - males aged
fourteen to sixty and women aged fourteen to fifty-five. A more
detailed order from

April 1, 1942, was directed to all the district's Jews, stipulating
execution as the punishment for evasion.

On September 29, 1941, Abraham Lifszyc, director of the Judenrat's
commerce and industry department, submitted to the city administration
a list of craftsmen and skilled workers for whom he sought work
permits. The list mentions an extraordinary range of professions:
technicians, locksmiths, brushers, milliners, wood carvers, chimney
sweeps, tile layers, road pavers, wagoners, soap makers, pot menders,
blacksmiths, sheet-metal workers, barrel builders, furriers,
watchmakers, bakers, stove stokers, and many more - all told, 600
professions and crafts.

In theory, the work permits were intended solely for skilled
craftsmen, but the Judenrat's labor department tried to assist the
members of the liberal professions as well and was sometimes able to
obtain craftsmen's certificates for them. Jewish permit-holders were
supposed to earn 60 percent of the wages of local workers. Of this, 50
percent was deducted for the Municipal Commissar, 12 percent went to
social insurance, and the remaining 38 percent was transferred to the
Judenrat, which had to supply food. The workers themselves received no

Confiscations, Contributions, Dispossession. From the first day of the
occupation, a campaign of confiscation and robbery was launched.
Before the Jews were incarcerated in the ghetto, German officers and
soldiers would visit their homes and take whatever caught their fancy.
The authorities also constantly ordered the Judenrat to supply them
with furniture, clothing, eating utensils, footwear and so forth. On
one occasion the Germans demanded thirty chairs and thirty white
tablecloths within two days; another time it was cutlery, furniture,
boots, and curtains.

There were also contributions (ransom payments) in money and
valuables. Already at the end of June 1941, the Jews were obligated to
raise one million rubles, with the Judenrat's financial department
responsible for the implementation. Within two months the Jews were
told to contribute some $200,000. The Grodno municipality also took
its share of Jewish property, exploiting the existing decrees and
adding some of its own. If differences arose between the municipality
and the Judenrat, the Germans automatically sided with the former. A
case in point concerned the restrictions that the municipality imposed
on workshops that had existed for dozens of years and on those that
received permits on July 23. The municipality barred the operation of
various types of workshops - locksmiths, sewing, sheet-metal - and
also carpentries, bakeries, and shoemakers' shops. On July 24, Brawer
complained to the military commander. Two days later he was informed
that the Germans supported the municipality's stand. Moreover, the
commander ordered the municipal administration to place Aryans in the
Jews' shops so as to ensure continuity in the city's economic life.

Two months later, when the Jews on two main streets - Dominikanska and
Orzeszkowej - were forced to leave their homes and move elsewhere,
they were forbidden to take their belongings.

The First Year in the Ghettos (November 1941-November 1942): The Stable

Establishment of the Ghettos. In November 1941, shortly after Grodno
was annexed to the Bialystok district, the city's Jews were
transferred to two ghettos about 2 km. apart from each other. This
separation would later facilitate the Germans' ability to exterminate
the occupants. The smaller ghetto was liquidated a year after its
establishment, while the larger one survived it by a few months. Two
main criteria determined the ghettos' location: less need to transfer
the Jews from place to place within the city; and an attempt to worsen
their situation to the maximum by concentrating them in areas where
the physical surroundings - sanitation, water and electricity, roads,
etc. - were not adequate for the occupants' needs.

A week before the Jews entered the ghettos, Commissar von Ploetz
issued an order to the commissars of the various units:

"Jews cannot own real estate. When the Jews enter the ghetto, they
will lose their property. Aryans who lived in the ghetto or have
property there should receive in exchange the houses that will be
emptied of Jews. Jews' real estate belongs to the Reich." (Yad Vashem
Archives, JM/11200, Fond 1, OPIS 1, Del 15, 23.10.1941 no. 11)

The first ghetto (Ghetto One) was established in the city's ancient
central section, in the area of the fortress, around the synagogue
compound (Shulhoif). Jews had constituted the majority of the
population in this area even before the founding of the ghetto, but
now some 15,000 Jews were crammed into an area less than half a square
km. It covered the synagogue courtyard as far as Wilenska Street on
one side and as far as the northern section of Zamkowa (renamed Burg)
Street on the other side. Surrounding the ghetto was a 2-meter-high
fence, part of which passed through the backyards of houses along
Dominikanska (renamed Hindenburg) Street, one of the city's main
thoroughfares. The entry to the ghetto was from Zamkowa Street, where
it met Ciasna Street, which led into the ghetto. The fence on Zamkowa
Street was erected between the sidewalk and the road, and Jews were
forbidden to use the front entrance to the houses on that street. Some
of the houses on the other side of the street were demolished. The
area and boundaries of the ghetto were not fixed; as the transports
proceeded it kept diminishing in size, until finally it included only
a few buildings on Zamkowa Street.

The second ghetto (Ghetto Two) was created in the Slobodka suburb,
behind the railway tracks, to the right of the road leading to Skidel
Street, opposite the market square and the barracks area. This part of
the city was broader and more open, with fewer houses. Some 10,000
Jews were incarcerated in this ghetto, which was larger in size than
the main ghetto but more dilapidated. It, too, was sealed off with a
fence, which ran along Skidel Street parallel to the road. The
entrance to the ghetto was from Artyleryjska (afterward renamed
Kremer) Street.

Generally Jews were sent to one ghetto or the other based on their
work; the first ghetto was intended for productive workers, the second
for the unproductive. Consequently, even the Jews of Grodno were led
into believing that Ghetto One was meant primarily for skilled workers
and that its occupants enjoyed automatic protection, whereas the
authorities had no use for those in Ghetto Two and their lives were
therefore in danger. Before they entered the ghetto the professionals
were ordered to obtain a work permit. Panic spread throughout the
city, and long lines formed outside the Judenrat offices for the
permit. Many were granted such certificates and entered the first
ghetto even though they were not artisans, while some vitally needed
professionals were forced into Ghetto Two.

The evacuation of the Jews from their homes and their transfer to the
ghetto was executed swiftly and without consideration for the harsh
weather. The Jews were given only six hours (from noon until 6 P.M.)
to move their belongings - without the use of vehicles - and the
result was that thousands of Jews streamed toward the gates of the
ghetto. The night brought with it the first snow, and many of the
evacuees fashioned homemade sleds to facilitate their move. Although
the authorities barred anyone who entered the ghetto from leaving
again, many managed to go back and forth to their homes several times
in order to remove additional items. Frequently the Jews encountered
Polish hooligans who attacked and looted them, despite the
authorities' explicit prohibition of the presence of non-Jews in the
streets while the Jews were being transferred to the ghettos.

Those whose houses were inside the ghetto had to share them with the
newcomers, whereas the Jews who were evicted from their homes were
ordered to find alternative lodgings. Some acted promptly, seized an
apartment, and moved some of their belongings. Others turned for help
to the Judenrat's housing department, which was established at the
same time as the ghettos. Housing became an acute problem and
preoccupied the entire presidium of the Judenrat. Because of the
overcrowding and the shortage of flats, hundreds of families remained
without a roof over their heads, and the streets were filled with
piles of furniture and bedding. The synagogue and the batei midrash
were also converted into quasi-lodgings. Those with good connections
received better apartments, but the Judenrat realized that a general
solution had to be found, as winter was approaching. A housing
committee, headed by lawyer Fuerstenberg, was set up, and within two
or three weeks an arrangement had been found for everyone. To relieve
the congestion, the housing department turned to the construction
department, which renovated old buildings and in some cases actually
built new apartments. For example, the Slobodka barracks, which became
the site of the Judenrat office in Ghetto Two, were completely

Safety and order inside the ghetto were the responsibility of the
Jewish Police, while outside the ghetto the German Schupo was in
charge - until November 2, 1942, when the ghettos were closed. German
policemen, under the command of Franz Osterode, manned the entrance to
the ghetto, checking exit passes and examining those returning from
work. In particular they searched the starving Jews for food they
might be trying to smuggle into the ghetto. Serving under Osterode
were some 40-50 German policemen and a similar number of local
auxiliary police.

The Gestapo headquarters in Grodno was located on Hoovera Street (the
house of Dr. Finkel). After the ghettos were sealed off permanently,
on November 2, 1942, and no one was permitted to enter or leave, the
Gestapo moved its command post into a former Jewish shop near the
entrance to Ghetto One, to facilitate more efficient supervision of
the Jews' movements.

Organizing Life in the Ghettos. Upon the establishment of the two
ghettos, the Grodno Judenrat also split into two. In the first ghetto
its offices were in the three buildings of the former Yavneh School on
Zamkowa Street, and in the second ghetto, as mentioned, in the
renovated barracks. In both ghettos parallel institutions and
departments were set up to deal with key spheres, such as finances,
health and clinics, work, kitchens, and so forth. The heads of the two
Judenrats were both lawyers, Izaak Gozhanski in Ghetto One and Avraham
Zadai in Ghetto Two, and both were subordinate to David Brawer.

For a time the ghetto became a kind of autonomous Jewish city, with
only technical connections to the general municipal area, such as for
the supply of power and water. The Jews' incarceration and their
severance from government and municipal services forced the Judenrat
to assume many new tasks, such as providing food and housing,
maintaining workshops, and ensuring the operation of such services as
health, police, courts, and so forth. The relative quiet that
characterized the first year of the ghettos enabled the Judenrat to
ease the Jews' plight by creating a very large bureaucratic apparatus,
which in itself became a source of livelihood for many ghetto
occupants. Some 850 individuals were employed by the Judenrats of the
two ghettos. The Grodno Judenrat consisted of thirteen departments,
which dealt with nearly every facet of life. The departments' power
and authority were dependent on the conditions in the ghetto and on
the nature and scale of the Germans' demands. Thus, the supply, work,
and confiscations departments wielded more power than the others.

The Judenrat's staff was exempt from forced labor and, for a time,
from transports as well. The Judenrat also endeavored to protect the
core of the community's intelligentsia as long as it was able.

Financial and Economic Operations. The Judenrat took upon itself an
enormous range of tasks, and its expenses were correspondingly
immense. Large sums had to be paid to the municipality in exchange for
the apartments in the ghettos and the supply of water and electricity.
The Judenrat also underwrote the renovation of residential dwellings
and of offices for the Germans; it developed workshops, maintained
health and sanitation services, assisted the needy, and paid wages to
its staff. In addition, it frequently had to bribe Germans with cash
or with goods such as furs, clothing, new furniture, and the like.

The finance department - headed by Yehoshua Suchovlanski, a former
Grodno deputy mayor who was a gifted economist and a pillar of the
ghetto economy - coped successfully with these prodigious difficulties
and was able to cover the Judenrat's vast expenditures. Established in
June 1941, the finance department was ordered, as its first task, to
collect from the Jewish community a ransom payment of one million
rubles for the Germans.

Initially only the affluent were taxed, but gradually a broader
taxation system came into being which remained in effect until the
ghettos' liquidation. The Judenrat's revenues derived from property
tax (paid by the wealthy), income tax, rent, income from the ghetto
workshops, payments for electricity and water, and payments for
release from forced labor, all according to means.

The concentration of the Jews in the ghettos was a devastating blow to
their economic activity. To begin with, they were cut off completely
from the longstanding and vital economic ties which they had formed
with the city's non-Jews.

Judenrat head Brawer considered the supply of food to the ghetto to be
one of the Judenrat's major functions. Thanks to his influence and his
intercession with the German army and the civilian authorities, he was
able to procure for the ghetto a larger food allocation. Ya'akov
Efron, the director of the supply department, also spared no effort,
and the combination of his organizational skill and the intensive
endeavors of the Judenrat overall, meant that the food situation in
the Grodno ghetto was less severe than in other ghettos. True, as was
usually the case, the affluent enjoyed better conditions and the poor
made do with the scraps; but the fact remains that in Grodno, in
contrast to other ghettos in Poland, no one died of starvation.

In both ghettos, food was distributed to holders of ration cards at
special stations. The supply department provided the bakeries with
flour, wood or coals for fuel, and salt. The ghetto occupants received
about 200 grams of bread a day in return for a token payment. The
Judenrat also ran a butcher shop, in which meat (usually horse meat)
was available from time to time for card-holders. Potatoes were stored
in the cellar of the Great Synagogue and were distributed there.

In both ghettos the public kitchens played a major role. The kitchen
in Ghetto One was located in the Great Synagogue (to the left of the
main entrance), and in Ghetto Two in the basement of the match
factory. The commodities were furnished by the supply department.

Meals were usually served with without (i.e., without meat or fat),
but a hot, nourishing broth was prepared and served with a piece of
bread (50-100 grams). Occasionally, when the kitchens received a bit
of meat or some bones, a separate pot was used for those who wanted
kosher food.

On some days the kitchen in Ghetto One served up to 3,000 meals, in
return for a token payment - the only hot meal for hundreds of
families. The poor and the indigent received meals free of charge,
upon presentation of a document from the social-welfare department.
The kitchens were particularly important in the winter months, when
the shortage of trees left whole families without fuel and
subsequently they could not heat water for drinking. In return for a
minuscule payment, or even for free, a hot drink could be had in the
kitchens (barley coffee) from 5 A.M. to 8 A.M. and from 7 P.M. until 9
P.M. Nearly all the workers came in for a morning coffee.

In both ghettos, plots of land and gardens were worked at the
initiative of the supply department. In Ghetto One the land in
question was located in the old Jewish cemetery; in Ghetto Two it was
the large square opposite the Jewish orphanage, on the way to Skidel
(formerly the He-Halutz garden). Some plots were located next to
Yosilevich's match factory, where potatoes, beets, cabbages, and
onions were grown. The work was done by Jewish gardeners. For a time
the Germans let the Jews go on working their former gardens, which
were now outside the ghetto, particularly in the residential suburb.
An agricultural course lasting more than six months was held, and the
participants were exempt from work.

Work Inside and Outside the Ghetto. The occupants of the Grodno
ghetto, like their brethren in many other ghettos across Poland,
adopted the slogan, salvation through work. In other words, nearly
everyone believed that as long as the Germans considered the ghetto
occupants to be productive elements who were useful to their economy,
they would let them live. The Germans, for their part, helped
cultivate the idea that work inside and outside the ghetto for their
war industry would protect the Jews from extermination. The Judenrat
also advocated this approach. Brawer even went to Bialystok in order
to study methods of establishing and managing small factories, and a
variety of workshops and plants were set up in the ghetto to supply
goods to the city proper, to the army, and to the Gestapo.

Jews from both ghettos also worked outside. The labor department,
which had been set up in the first days of the Judenrat in order to
supply the required number of Jews for forced labor and other duties,
was in charge of arranging the work in the ghettos. The gathering
place for the Jewish workers was by the gate. In the pre-ghetto period
all the Jews had to report for work daily, although they were taken
outside for forced labor only a few times a week. Those who worked
outside the ghetto received a food card and were entitled to bread and
meat according to the rations given to the working class.

The labor department had a large bureaucratic apparatus that kept an
exact record of all Jews, the fit and the unfit for work, according to
their professions and their labor brigades. Some brigades had a better
reputation than others and workers vied with one another to join them.
Such were the brigades that worked for the Gestapo; to get a job with
them meant safety for the workers and their families. Because so many
wanted to join these brigades, their leaders could earn good money in
return for accepting workers. But some other brigade leaders were also
considered strong and well-connected, and took money from workers.
Bribe-taking incensed the Judenrat, which monitored the heads of the
departments and frequently replaced them. Orders for workers came from
the German Ministry of Labor, which also issued the work permits for
individuals and for groups. Some Jews worked separately as skilled
professionals and received personal permits, whereas for groups that
did a particular job a collective permit was issued stating the number
of workers. In the latter case, those in charge could maneuver and
mobilize different people each time. Work permits carried a time limit
but could be extended. They had to state the exact place where the
work was being done and the time it commenced. Jews worked ten hours a
day, and anyone who was late or left the site without permission was
punished. Some were even executed on the charge that they displayed
contempt for work or because they had been playing cards during
working hours.

Artisans were paid 0.45 marks an hour, trained workers received 0.38
marks an hour, and simple laborers got 0.35 marks. Women were paid 75
percent of the men's salary. As already mentioned, half the salary was
deducted for the Grodno Commissar's office, and the remainder also did
not reach the workers directly but was paid to the Judenrat.

The records of the payments that were transferred to the municipality
for Jewish workers show that in addition to working for the army and
the city, they were utilized in various factories - for the
manufacture of leather, tiles, juices, bricks and plywood, and beer -
and in a sawmill, a carpentry workshop, on roads, in the offices of
the district administration, and elsewhere.

Most of the Jews preferred to work outside the ghetto, as this
entitled them to higher salaries, better food rations, and even
enabled them to smuggle food into the ghetto. Moreover, the work
permit gave its holders a sense of protection from the various orders
and edicts. Yet there were also wealthy Jews who had the means to find
others to replace them, paying both them and the Judenrat. To fill the
work quotas, Jewish policemen, in return for a few marks, would
sometimes round up beggars and send them to work in place of the
well-to-do. Eventually the system became institutionalized and the
labor department itself made such arrangements.

The Ghetto Shops and Workshops. Inside the ghetto there were a number
of private shops that sold smuggled goods or products manufactured in
the ghetto in privately owned workshops. The latter produced shoes,
sheet-metal, garments and other necessities of life. Some of their
products were destined for clients outside the ghetto. The Judenrat's
commerce and crafts department collected a tax on signs. The stands
were only semi-legal, and the shopkeepers would close their businesses
whenever Gestapo and SS personnel, or even ordinary Germans, appeared
in the ghetto - usually to inquire about the origin of the items on

Some well-to-do artisans established small plants in the ghetto; two
of them produced cooking oil (one belonged to Meir Trachtenberg), and
the others made artificial honey, starch, candies, and flour. Their
owners became wealthy (in terms of the place and the time) and had to
pay taxes to the Judenrat's finance, commerce and crafts departments.
As a rule, these plants were kept hidden from the Germans.

Von Ploetz, the Grodno subdistrict commissar, took a leaf from the
Bialystok ghetto and opened additional workshops in Grodno. The idea
was to produce items for the German war economy and to supply the
personal needs of army and Gestapo personnel stationed in Grodno.

The new workshops were therefore considered to be of prime importance.
Among their products were shoes and boots in large quantities, brown
shirts and skiing equipment for the army, and felt shoes for the
German police. The German-run workshops received large orders from the
army, as for instance: 4,000 army shirts, 20,000 pairs of slippers,
30,000 pairs of felt shoes, 15,000 pairs of leather shoes, work
clothes, processing 40,000 meters of cloth, padded jackets and
trousers, as well as large numbers of brushes and paintbrushes. The
Germans supplied the raw materials.

In their workshops the Germans employed the most highly skilled
workers; the permits issued to them were considered tantamount to life
insurance. Many, then, were prepared to pay a great deal to be
assigned to these workshops. Others drew on their connections in the
Judenrat, a situation that made for much envy.

The City Commissar kept close watch on the Jews' work. If the
productivity rates fell, he used severe pressure and even threatened
to send all involved to a work-education camp, where these
unproductive elements would be re-educated under strict supervision.
And indeed, such a camp had been established by the Grodno
municipality. The detention in the camp usually lasted from two weeks
to six months; it contained separate sections for Aryans, for Jews and
for women. The camp was first activated after Easter 1942, but there
is nothing to suggest that Jews from Grodno and its surroundings were
re-educated there.

Liquidation of the Ghettos and the Deportations to the Camps (November
2, 1942-March 12, 1942)

In late 1942, exactly a year after Grodno's Jews had been herded into
the ghettos, the Germans began making preparations for transporting
them to the death camps. In the winter of 1942/1943, when the
transports ceased elsewhere in Poland (in the Generalgouvernement and
in the Warthegau), it was the turn of the Jews in the Bialystok
District. There were about 130,000 Jews in 116 localities, including
35,000 in nineteen locales in the Grodno subdistrict.

The officials responsible for the transports in the Grodno Subdistrict
were Heinz Errelis, the chief of the Gestapo in the city, and his
deputy, Erich Schott. To ensure that timing was coordinated throughout
the subdistrict, large forces were placed at their disposal from the
Gestapo, Sipo (Security Police), Kripo (Criminal Police), Schupo,
gendarmerie, and units of the local auxiliary police.

Transit camps, or as the Germans called them Sammellagger, which were
actually stations on the way to deportation to the death camps, were
set up at various sites in the Bialystok district. Probably the
Germans adopted this method because nearly all their means of
transportation were tied up at Stalingrad, where the battle raged. The
sites of the transit camps were chosen for their proximity to Jewish
places of residence - the barracks of the Tenth Battalion in
Bialystok, the Kielbasin camp next to Grodno, Bogusze, adjacent to
Grajewo, a temporary camp outside the city of Wolkowysk, and Zambrow
camp close by Lomz. From the transit camps the Jews were transported
to Auschwitz and Treblinka. Jews from the Bielsk-Podloski subdistrict,
in the southern part of the district, were sent directly to nearby
Treblinka without passing through a transit camp.

The horrific conditions in the transit camps - overcrowding, inhuman
living quarters, nonexistent sanitation, serious food shortages,
bitter cold, and unspeakable filth - were most conducive to illness
and epidemics. The mortality rate was high. Inmates were also
subjected to all manners of harassments, beatings, abuse, and even
outright murder by the staff and guards.

Sealing off the Grodno Ghettos and the Onset of the Murders. On
November 2, 1942, Ghettos One and Two in Grodno were completely sealed

In the morning the workers from Ghetto Two were held up at the gate,
and suddenly the commandants of the two ghettos, Kurt Wiese (Ghetto
One) and Otto Streblow (Ghetto Two), appeared and began shooting at
the workers indiscriminately. Twelve Jews were killed, forty were
wounded, and the others fled wildly in panic. It was the first time
that Grodno's Jews had experienced sudden mass murder, perpetrated
without warning. In the evening, the news spread through the city that
the Jews from the neighboring towns had been transported to the
Kielbasin camp.

No one went out to work on the first day of the ghetto's closure, but
from the next day until November 16, a small work force - those
employed by the Wehrmacht and the Gestapo - was allowed to leave.
However, for the first time they were kept under heavy guard.

The sealing of the two ghettos was accompanied by show-hangings and
acts of group murder. The first hanging took place in the first half
of November 1942. The victims were Lena Prenska (the daughter of a
well-known tailor), and a refugee from Warsaw named Drucker - both had
been caught on the Aryan side of the city - and Moshe Spindler, the
superintendent of the apartment building in which Lena resided, for
not reporting her absence. The three were taken to a central site in
the ghetto and hanged in front of the Judenrat and other Jews who were
ordered to watch the spectacle. When Aharon Rubinczik, the head of the
Jewish Police, balked at tying the noose around the victims' necks,
Wiese did it himself. The bodies were left on the gallows until the
next day as a warning to potential offenders.

This first hanging was widely publicized, but public executions
continued until the ghetto's liquidation. Grodno survivors remember
well a group execution in February 1943, just before the city was
declared Judenrein.

Punitive executions were meted out not only for trying to escape. The
fate of anyone caught smuggling food into the ghetto was also sealed.
Shooting of Jews who were found carrying bread or other food became
routine. The Lipsky brothers were shot when they were caught trying to
smuggle in food in a cart. One died and the other was sent to a
concentration camp. Kimhe was shot to death for bringing in a chicken,
Zalman Goldschmid over a liter of milk - a few examples out of many.

Evacuation of Ghetto Two. About two weeks after the Jews in the
neighboring towns were taken to Kielbasin, the Germans began
liquidating Ghetto Two. First, however, they transferred those with
useful professions from Ghetto Two to Ghetto One. Errelis informed the
Judenrat in Ghetto One that Ghetto Two would soon be evacuated but
that Ghetto One would remain intact for the time being. All essential
Jews were moved from Ghetto Two to Ghetto One. On the first day of the
transfer, November 9, 1942, many Ghetto Two inmates crowded around the
gate in the hope of joining the fortunate individuals who were being
moved. The Germans fired into the crowd, killing seven and wounding
many others; the latter were prevented from receiving medical aid.
This demonstration of force had its effect: fewer people congregated
at the gate the next day. Still, on these two days many did manage to
steal across or use various ruses in order to enter the supposedly
safer Ghetto One. All told, some 4,000 professionals and their
families were transferred to Ghetto One.

The first deportation from Ghetto Two took place on November 15, 1942.
It was preceded by the publication of a notice listing the streets
that were to be evacuated and threatening execution for those who
spread false and misleading rumors. The Jews were told that they were
being sent to work, and, according to the testimony of Grodno
survivors who reached Bialystok in 1943, the Judenrat and the other
Jews in the ghetto believed this tale. Therefore, very few tried to
hide. On the night of the transport, the entrance to the ghetto and
the road to the train station were illuminated. Passenger and freight
cars were in the station, and both Wiese and Streblow were present.

The deportees reached Auschwitz on November 18, and before they were
murdered they were given prepared postcards on which a sentence in
German was printed: Being treated well, we are working and everything
is fine. They were ordered to sign the postcards and address them to
their relatives in Grodno.

The first deportation was followed by a brief lull in Ghetto Two. But
a few days later, on November 21, everyone still in the ghetto was
deported to Auschwitz. Included in this transport were Jewish
policemen and members of the Ghetto Two Judenrat, including its

There are various differences regarding the number of deportees. Some
sources mention 1,500-2,000 people in the first transport and
2,000-3,500 in the second. According to the records of Danuta Czech,(
Danuta Czech, Kalendarium der Ereignisse im Konzentrationslager
Auschwitz-Birkenau, Rowohlt, 1989, pp. 336-337, 348, 354.)the first
transport contained 1,000 Jews, of whom 165 men and 65 women were
selected for work. Everyone else went straight to their death. The
second transport, which reached Auschwitz on November 25, contained
2,000 Jews; of these, 305 men and 128 women were selected for work;
again, all the others were murdered immediately. Probably at least
4,000 inhabitants of the ghetto - those remaining in Ghetto Two after
the transfer of a similar number of Jews to Ghetto One - perished in
Auschwitz. With the liquidation of the ghetto, a few dozen more Jews
were discovered; they were transferred to the Kielbasin camp (see

After the liquidation of Ghetto Two in Grodno and of the smaller
ghettos in the vicinity, German officials warned about the projected
economic consequences of eliminating the Jewish work force,
particularly in the crafts, which had nearly all been in Jewish hands.
However, once the decision to annihilate all the Jews had been made,
economic considerations became unimportant; the head of the
subdistrict tried to reassure the military elements who needed the
ghetto workshops that the Judenaktion would have only a minor impact
on the economy. Concurrently, the Germans readied themselves to train
substitute manpower in the crafts.

Evacuation of Ghetto One. The deportations from Ghetto One began at
the end of November 1942, following the opening of the Kielbasin
transit camp; they followed a different pattern from previous Aktionen
in the region's ghettos and in Ghetto Two at Grodno. All told, about
4,000 Jews from Ghetto One were sent to Kielbasin in two transports.
Later on they were deported from Kielbasin to Auschwitz and Treblinka.
In January and February 1943, most of those who remained in Ghetto One
were deported directly to Auschwitz and Treblinka, and the few
remaining Jews in Ghetto One were transferred to the Bialystok ghetto
in March 1943.

The first Aktion in Ghetto One (the third in Grodno) took place in
late November 1942. In the dead of night, men, women, and children
were removed from their apartments and concentrated in the Great
Synagogue. Toward morning Wiese and Streblow arrived, ordered the Jews
out of the synagogue, and began to march them to Kielbasin, all the
while beating them. At the front of the column marched a respected
Jew, Skibelski. The Germans forced him to wear a clown's hat, dance
and play the fiddle. He led the march, while everyone else was made to
sing, in Yiddish, Yiddl Mit'n Fiddl.( Zandman, op. cit., pp. 70-71)

In the transport that arrived in Kielbasin at the beginning of
December 1942, were also the head of the Jewish Police, Aharon
Rubinczik, and the lawyer and Judenrat member Izaak Gozhanski.

The deportation lists were prepared by the Judenrat, and the Jewish
Police had to round up the deportees. By mistake, some of those from
the workshops were also added to the list, but they were released at
the intervention of the Jewish liaison representatives and were sent
back to Grodno.

The Kielbasin Camp

Kielbasin, formerly the farm of a Polish squire, lay 5 kilometers from
Grodno, on the road to Kuznica. In the 1930s the farm had been used to
train members of He-Halutz ha-Mizrachi prior to their settling in
Palestine, but the Soviet authorities expropriated the farm and made
it a station for agricultural machinery. The Germans converted it into
a prison camp. The camp was 1 square kilometer, and it was surrounded
by a double barbed-wire fence, with a guard tower at every corner. By
the autumn of 1942, there were no more prisoners in the camp. It then
became a concentration camp for Jews from Grodno and from the
surrounding towns - Druskieniki, Skidel, Porzecze, Jeziory,
Sopockinie, Lunna, Ostryna, Brzostowica Wielka, Dombrowa, Janow, Nowy
Dwor, Suchowola, Sokolka, Amdur, Kuznica, Korycin, Krynki, Sidra, and
Odelsk. Based on the number of Jews who were in the ghettos until the
deportation, we may estimate the number of deportees to Kielbasin as
at least 35,000. The number of inmates in the camp fluctuated because
of the transports to the death camps and because the transfer of Jews
from Grodno to Kielbasin was carried out in groups and over a period
of months.

When a new batch of inmates arrived at the camp, the German police
would stage a scene of chaos and in the disorder would beat and rob
the women. The men were also beaten with particular savagery, and the
horses were flogged until they galloped away with the carts carrying
the Jews' bundles, most of which they had not managed to unload.

Survivors of the camp remember its commandant, a Rumanian-born German
named Karl Rinzler who could speak Yiddish mixed with German, for his
extraordinary brutality. Almost always inebriated, he would take
inmates from their huts and shoot them publicly for his amusement.
When Rinzler made an appearance in the camp, the Jews tried to stay in
their barracks so as not to be seen outside. In the morning, upon
entering the camp, he called over every Jew he encountered (women
especially) and beat them with a heavy rubber club that had a small
metal ball attached to its end until it was drenched in blood. He
stalked the camp like a wild animal. His brutality took different
forms. Thus he could kill someone in the kitchen for not working, or
savagely beat a Jew who did not remove his hat properly out of

Twice a day, in the morning and early afternoon, the Jews had to line
up to be counted. If the count went awry or a search had to be made
for missing people, they might stand outside for hours. Following
this, Rinzler made the inmates run for an hour on the parade ground
while they sang in Yiddish. On one such occasion a youngster aged
about eighteen arrived late; Rinzler stood him in the center of the
grounds and in front of everyone shot him in the head.

The Germans set up a Judenrat in Kielbasin made up of representatives
of the communities' Judenrats. Its chairman, Leib Fraenkel from
Druskieniki, was the liaison with the camp commandant. His deputy was
Marik from Nowy Dwor, and other members were Meir Kaplan from Krynki,
the lawyer Friedberg from Sokolka, the teacher Guttman from Indura,
and Berl Grawinski from Dombrowa. Their tasks included preparing a
card-file of all the Jews in the camp, distributing food to the
inmates, and organizing the transports. Every day the members of the
Judenrat had to appear before Rinzler, who usually flogged them. There
was also a Jewish Police in the camp, which was entrusted with keeping
order and guarding the foodstuffs. The Jewish policemen had no police

The Kielbasin inmates lived in a sort of baracks, Ziemlankas, as the
camp's inhabitants called them, 50 to 100 meters long, 6 to 8 meters
wide, and about 2 meters high (the floor was half a meter deep under
the ground). They were the products of the prisoners' labor during the
camp's previous incarnation. There were six blocs of these barracks,
which were separated from one another by barbed-wire fences. A bloc
consisted of fourteen barracks, each of which held at least 250 or 300
inmates (about 500, according to Errelis). These barracks were
populated by towns: each town was allotted one or more barracks on the
basis of its Jewish population.

The floor in these Ziemlankas was plain earth padded at the bottom
with branches and covered with straw. On entering one had to step down
five or six steps. Inside there were double shelves/bunks which served
for sleeping. Those in the bottom row could sit but not stand up.
Those on top had the roof immediately above them and had to crawl in
order to lie down. The boards were dirty, and water leaked in from the
roof. Men, women, and children lived together in each Ziemlanka, and
also shared the toilet - an open pit, for men and women together. The
overcrowding, the bitter cold, the rain that leaked in, and the filth
and lice turned these accommodations into a living hell. The camp had
running water, but Jews were forbidden to go near the taps. It was not
uncommon for inmates to be flogged to death for stealing water. For
the rest go to;