Brześć ghetto

The Brest-on-the-Bug Ghetto or Brest-Litovsk also Brześć nad Bugiem Ghetto (Polish: getto w Brześciu nad Bugiem) was a World War II Jewish ghetto created on December 16, 1941, in occupied Poland six months after Nazi Germany entered the Soviet occupation zone under the codename Operation Barbarossa. The Ghetto was liquidated in less than a year, on October 15–18, 1942, when most Jewish inhabitants of Brześć were killed; over 5,000 were executed locally around the Brest Fortress on Schöngarth orders;[1] the rest, after being sent in cattle trucks to a large killing site in the forested area near Góra Bronna (Belarusian: Bronnaya Gora).[2]


Before World War II, Brześć nad Bugiem (now Brest, Belarus) was the capital of Polesie Voivodeship in the Second Polish Republic (1918–1939) with the most visible Jewish presence. In the mere twenty years of Poland's sovereignty, from the total of 36 brand new schools established in the city, there were ten new public, and five private Jewish schools inaugurated, with Yidish and Hebrew as the language of instruction. The first ever Jewish school in Brześć history opened in 1920 almost immediately after Poland's return to independence. In 1936 the Jews constituted 41,3% of the Brześć population, or 21,518 citizens. Some 80,3% of private enterprises were run by the Jews. Before First World War, Brześć (then known as Brest-Litovsk) was controlled by the Imprerial Russia for a hundred years following the partitions of Poland,[3] and all commercial activity was largely neglected.[4][5] Brest-Litovsk (Brześć Litewski in Polish) was renamed as Brześć nad Bugiem ("Brest on the Bug") on March 20, 1923.[6] Just before the outbreak of World War II, there was an anti-Jewish riot at the Bazaar in Brześć on May 15, 1939. Some Jewish sources categorize it as Polish although ethnic Belorussians constituted 17.8% of the population,[4] and preached militant nationalism among its youth similar to local Ukrainians and Russians,[7] under systematic indoctrination by Soviet emissaries.[8]

Ghetto history

In September 1939 during the German and Soviet invasion of Poland the town of Brześć (Brest) was overrun by the German troops and handed over to the Russians during German–Soviet military parade in Brest-Litovsk on September 22, 1939. The whole province was soon annexed by the Soviet Union following mock elections among the locals. The mass deportations of Poles and Jews to Siberia followed.[9]

The Nazi German armed forces invaded the USSR on June 22, 1941, and six months later, on December 16, 1941, set up a Jewish ghetto in the city for some 18,000 Polish Jews who still resided there after a wave of ad hoc executions. The mass killings of Jews in Brześć lasted already for months before the ghetto was set up. On July 10, 1941, the German Einsatzgruppe under SS-Obergruppenführer Karl Eberhard Schöngarth massacred 5,000 Jews including 13-year-old boys and the 70-year-old elderly men in a single nighttime raid.[1] In January 1941, first underground resistance organizations were formed among Jews in the ghetto. In autumn 1942 the Germans demanded a large contribution (money, jewelry) from the Jews under the threat of liquidating the ghetto. Despite significant contribution worth 26 million rubles, the ghetto was liquidated soon afterwards. Most of the Jews were murdered over execution pits nearby.

Notes and references

  • Jews from the Brest Ghetto assembled for slave labor. German photograph retrieved from the Internet Archive, May 30, 2013.
  • The Brest Ghetto Passport Archive
  • 64th Anniversary of Brest Ghetto
  • Yehuda Bauer, . Yale University Press, pp. 153–155.
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