|FROM THE 1983 PINKUS PRUZHANY MEMORIAL
BOOK, pages 140-144
THE DESTRUCTION OF BEREZE
The Germans entered the town on Monday, June 23, 1941. Part of the Jewish population fled. The Christian population received the Germans as liberators. After a few days, many Jews returned to the town, after wandering in the fields, forests and villages and fleeing out of fear from the peasants who threatened them. A part of the town Ulany street opposite the post office, the saw-mills and houses close by, was destroyed during the bombing.
On June 26, the Germans set fire to Hevra Kadisha's synagogue. The fire destroyed one side of the market place and the nearby streets. When the inhabitants tried to save their property, the Germans threatened they would open fire on them. The Germans assembled the Jews in Uany street. The road was empty and the Jews were forbidden to live on it.
When the Germans entered they set up a Judenrat composed of: Nissan Zackheim, Naftali Levinson, Fishel Beiser, Hanoch Liskovsky, Meir Roshinsky, Yaacov Moscovitch, Binyamin Shapira, Yaacov-Asher Fridenstein, Gotel Pisetzki, Yaacov Shlosburg, Leibe Danzig and Leibel Molodowski, who served as translator.
A Jewish police was set up to help the Judenrat. Its commander was Shmuel Geberman. The policemen included Rogolsky, Yaacov Zakheim, Yosef Shushan, Kalman Epstein, Yaacov Glezer, Eliezer Schtucker and others whose names I do not remember.
The task of the Judenrat was to execute the orders of the German authorities, i.e. the supply of Jewish workers aged 16 to over 50. They had to fulfil German demands by payment of contributions, gold and valuables confiscation and supply of "gifts". The Jewish police had to translate the orders into practice.
During the first few days of their arrival, the Germans ordered every Jew to hand over the gold he possessed. Afterwards, they confiscated radios and other valuables. Non-fulfillment of orders presaged the death sentence. The Jews fulfilled the sentences, which got more difficult daily. In the initial months, there was still some contact with the outside world. Peasants of the area came to town and sold food in return for materials and domestic objects. As yet, there was no starvation. The Judenrat distributed 250 grams of bread to everybody.
All the Jewish inhabitants aged 16 to 50 or more (apart from mothers of babies) turned up standing in rows outside the home of Matya Berman, where the German command was situated. The Jews wore yellow-patches, one on the chest and one on the right side of the back. The Germans would select work groups and drive them off to work camps. One of the local Christians acted as supervisors of the groups. They derived enjoyment from the afflictions of the Jews.
The jobs included repairing roads, cleaning in camps: at Bludnic railway station, trucks were loaded and unloaded. They also did construction work. The Germans ordered the reconstruction of the housewall of Hananya Eisenstein, Lochovitsky and others. The shoe cooperative, set up during Soviet rule, continued working under the Germans.
Occasionally, the workers would return from work beaten up and injured. 'ne Germans claimed the Jews were responsible for the war and should be beaten. The Jews hoped the Germans would soon be defeated by the Russians. In the first months of the German conquest, a group of SS commanders arrived at Chomsk and killed nearly all the Jews there. From there, they went on to Sporewa, Olszewe and Nauke and other villages, killing all the Jews. A few Jews survived and reached Bereze. The Jews of Seltz Bludnic and from Malch were also expelled to Bereze. The Germans also rounded up Jews living in small villages to make the work of destruction easier.
After it became clear that the Jews could not meet the contributions imposed on them, the Germans gave them licences to travel to nearby towns to raise the required sums. The Jews of Bereze survived between one slaughter and another in this way.
Life became more difficult daily, without hope of expectancy. If the Christians had wanted to help the Jews, many Jews could have survived. However, as long as they did not suffer from the Germans they watched the Jews suffering with indifference and enjoyed their torture. Some of the Jews had opportunities to escape from the ghetto to the forests, those who worked outside the ghetto. But every Jew knew that if he escaped, the Germans would take revenge on his family and other Jews. Each individual was linked in life and death with the destiny of Jewry.
One day, the Germans divided up the Ghetto into Ghetto A and Ghetto B. They held a census of Bereze Jews beforehand and assembled them in two ghettos. Ghetto A was situated in Ulany street from the home of Shlomke Weinstein to the home of Moshe Potack and it included several peasants' huts in Pruzana street, which bordered on Ulany street. The Jews who worked for the Germans, the "productive" Jews, lived in Ghetto A. All the rich people who succeeded in bribing the Germans lived here. There were families that were split up between the the ghettos. The borderline was the street where Rabbi Trop lived, by the river.
In Ghetto B lived Jews who did not manage to get "productive" work for the Germans. The two ghettos were surrounded with barbed wire. Workers had permission to leave and enter under the supervision of a Christian resident. In the month in which the ghettos were established, on July 15, 1942, the two ghettos were surrounded by German and other police. The Germans told the Judenrat that the Jews in Ghetto B were being sent to Bialystock for "productive" work. Jews destined for Ghetto B who were still living in Ghetto A were transferred.
In Ghetto B, the Germans went from home to home, assembling all the Jews in the street and marching them off to the railway station at Bludnic. The old and sick who were unable to form up outside, including Rabbi Trop, were shot on the spot. On the way to Bludnic, a few Jews tried to escape, but were shot by the Germans. The people were placed in train wagons and taken to the station at Bronna Gora, in the direction of Baranowicz; there they were all killed by the many ditches dug for their burial. At Bronna Gora, there was a mass grave of Jews from many small towns. Yitzhak Orlovsky, the son-in-law of Hanna-Gitel Lieberman and Elimelech Tuchman, were miraculously saved and reported back on the murderous cruelty of the Germans.
After the destruction of the Jews in Ghetto B, the Germans promised they would not harm the other Jews who were of advantage to the German army. Many young people did not believe the Germans and began escaping. Many fled to the forests and others to Pruzana. There, they lived in the ghetto in better conditions, because Pruzana belonged to Prussia and was included in the "Third Reich". Since the Germans did not have detailed lists of the Jews who were killed, Jews escaped to the forests. But the Christian population in the villages and on the roads threatened them and endangered their lives. Russian gangs wandered in the forests under the guise of "partisans" and every Jew who fell into their hands was killed. Thus it happened that Jews came back from the forests to the ghetto.
The Germans began suspecting many Jews of maintaining links with the partisans. One day, 21 Jews working in the saw mill were arrested on suspicion of holding contacts with the partisans. They were arrested at the home of Yosef Chomski and on the morrow they were all shot in the church garden. The Jews in Ghetto A were once more frightened to death.
On October 15, 1942, the ghetto was surrounded by SS men and the police. The Jews realised their last hour had come. They collected all their valuables, sewing machines and clothes still in their possession and brought them to the home of the tailor Avraham Greenberg and set the house on fire. The blaze spread to more homes in Ghetto A. The members of the Judenrat gathered at the home of Eliyahu-Moshe Epstein and committed suicide by hanging. There was also an underground canal leading from Ulany Street to Pruzana Street and some Jews fled into it. All were choked to death, but nobody knew how this occurred.
On October 16, the Germans entered the ghetto, rounded up all the Jews still there, took them in vehicles to a hill five miles away and killed them all in preprepared ditches. Henach Liskavsky, Shmuel Goberman, Mayrim Savinsky and Shmuel Nodel survived the slaughters. They worked as tailors and shoemakers for the Germans, but after a week they too were killed.
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Eliyahu Matya Bockstein provides further details about the bitter end of Bereze Jewry.
The first Jewish victim of the German conquest was Shaul Rashinsky. A farmer accused him of profiteering. The Germans placed him, his wife and child up against the church wall and shot them. 24 Jews worked in the saw mill. All were shot on suspicion of links with the partisans. These events threw the Jewish population into a panic. The members of the Judenrat calmed people down.
There was one case of resistance. Lejzer Berman, who worked at the power plant set the saw mill on fire after the slaughter of Ghetto B Jews and escaped. The Germans pursued him and he wrested a rifle from a German's hand and killed him, but Berman was also killed.
At Bronna Gora, at the place where
the Jews of Ghetto B were killed, about 90,000 Jews from the area of Brisk
and Bialystock were liquidated. Shlomo Weinstein and Godel Pisctzki,
Bund members who refused to participate in the Judenrat, were also killed
there. They marched at the head of the Jews were led to death.
On the night prior to the liquidation of Ghetto A, the Judenrat members and their families and Dr. Lichtiker and Dr. Shapira and their families committed suicide. 1,800 people were killed in Ghetto A. Before the war, the spot where they were killed was used by Bereze children for Lag Baomer walks.
A few Jews prepared an underground
channel that led to the Aryan side and tried to escape. Later, the
peasants found the bodies of 180 Jews, some of whom had been choked and
some burnt to death. A few were saved and are in Israel. Most
of the survivors fell in the forests at the hands of "partisan" groups
or the Germans.
When I returned to Poland in 1946 I visited Bronna Gora, where the Germans murdered about 100,000 Jews. At the end of 1943, the Germans dug ditches, took out the bodies and burnt them. The Russians surrounded the spot with barbed wire and pointed out there was a mass grave at the site. The place where 1,800 Jews of Ghetto A were killed was covered with weeds. There was no fence, no inscription, nor anyone coming to weep. The Jewish cemetery was destroyed. The gravestones were uprooted and served as steps for streets of the Goyim. There was no sign of any Jewish life in Bereze.