Kartuz-Breze was a small town on the eastern border of the State of Poland. Till 1920, it had been part of Greater Russia, but between 1920 and 1939 it was ruled by Poland. At the end of World War II it reverted to Russian rule, and today it is part of Belorussia. Thousands of similar towns — some bigger and some smaller — were in that area, as well as in Eastern and Central Europe. It was the concentration camp which the Polish government established there between the two World Wars for her political opponents — mostly Communists — which brought fame to Kartuz-Breze.
Before the Second World War, about 4,500 Jews lived in and around Kartuz-Breze. These were Jews of all kinds: a small number were wealthy, but most were ordinary folk, who struggled day by day and hour by hour — each at the work or vocation which was his fate — to eke out a living.
Kartuz-Breze had all the earmarks of a Jewish town in Eastern Europe: synagogues, a Hassidic “shtible”, a bath house and mikveh, an organization dealing with charity and good deeds, and also, of course, beggars, Torah students, pious and charitable people, and many righteous women... to these were added all the accoutrements of modernity and ‘Haskala” such as political parties (both Zionist and non-Zionist), youth movements, communal activities, as well as a Yiddish school and even a Hebrew school, ‘Tarbut”.
And nothing is left of all this. It was all laid waste. Everything was destroyed.
In the forest of Bruno-Gora, where the members of the Zionist youth groups used to celebrate Lag B’Omer with bows and arrows, the Germans amassed more than 100,000 Jews from the area — and among these were almost all the Jews of Kartuz-Breze — and there they shot and killed them, men, women and children. Earth, do not conceal their blood!
In Kartuz-Breze there is no sign of the vigorous Jewish life which flourished there. Even in the forest of Bruno-Gora where these Jews perished there is no sign.
Less than a handful of Jews from Kartuz-Breze remained alive. Of these, some came to Israel, and others migrated elsewhere before the Shoah, and there were those few who passed the war years in Europe, mostly in concentration camps (among these were partisans and soldiers of the Red Army). All the rest are no longer.
So it was decided: we would memorialize our town, and commemorate the lives of our parents, our brothers and sisters, and our friends who were killed; that we would publish their names, as well as something of what we remember from the life there, of what we saw there: the people, our own life experiences, and some of the history of the Jewish community in Kartuz-Breze in general.
We approached this hallowed work with trepidation; two
editorial committees, one larger and one smaller, spare no efforts on this
labor of love: