KARTUZ-BEREZA 1993 YZKOR

 

Chapter VI G

 

The Destruction of Kartuz Bereze

By Moishe Tuchman

 

The Germans entered the town on Monday, June 23, 1941.  Part of the Jewish population fled.  On the other hand, the Christian population received the Germans as liberators.  After a few days, many of the Jews returned to the town, after wandering in the fields, forests and villages; in fear of the peasants who threatened them.  It is convenient to remember that a part of the town, on Ulany Street opposite the post office, the sawmills and nearby houses, 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 on Ulany Street [and on May 3rd Street].  The road was empty and the Jews were forbidden to live on both sides of it.

When the Germans entered they set up a Judenrat composed of: NISSAN ZACKHEIM, NAFTALI LEVENSON, FISHEL BEISER, HANOCH LISKOVSKY, MEIR ROSHINSKY, AND OTHERS (YAACOV MOSCOVITCH, BINYAMIN SHAPIRA, YAACOV-ASHER FRIDENSTEIN, GOTEL PISETZKI, YAACOV SHLOSBURG, LEIBE DANZIG and LEIBEL MOLODOWSKI, who served as translator). A Jewish police force 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. mainly to supply Jewish workers aged 16 to over 50.  They had to fulfill German demands by providing contributions, gold, confiscated valuables and to supply gifts.  The Jewish police had to translate the orders into practice.

The Germans ordered every Jew to hand over the gold he possessed during the first few days after their arrival,.  Afterwards, they confiscated radios and other valuables.  Non-fulfillment of orders presaged the death sentence.  The Jews fulfilled the demands which got more difficult daily.  In the initial months after the German conquest, 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 daily 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 two 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 or at Bluden railway station where trucks were loaded and unloaded.  They also did construction work.  The Germans ordered the reconstruction of parts of the houses of HANANYA EISENSTEIN, LICHOVITSKY 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.  The Germans claimed the Jews were responsible for the war and should be beaten.  The Jews hoped that the Russians would soon defeat the Germans.  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 Bereza.  The Jews of Seltz, Bluden and part of those from Malch were also expelled to Bereza.  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 licenses to travel to nearby towns to raise the required sums.  The Jews of Bereza survived between one slaughter and another in this way.

Life became more difficult daily, without hope or 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 who worked outside the ghetto had opportunities to escape from the ghetto to the forests.  Very few did it because 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; mutual responsibility was very high.

One day, the Germans divided the Ghetto into Ghetto A and Ghetto B. They held a census of Bereza 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 Yehuda 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 ghettos.  The borderline was the street where Rabbi Trop lived, by the river. Those Jews who did not manage to get productive work for the Germans lived in Ghetto B.  The two ghettos were surrounded with barbed wire.  Workers had permission to leave and enter under the supervision of a Christian resident. 

On the date in which the ghettos were established, July 15, 1942, German and other police surrounded the two ghettos.  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 house to house, assembling all the Jews in the street and marching them off to the railway station at Bluden.  The old and sick who were unable to form up outside, including Rabbi TROP, were shot on the spot.  On the way to Bluden, a few Jews tried to escape, but were shot by the Germans.  In Bluden the people were placed on a train and taken to the station at Brona Gora, in the direction of Baranowicz; there they were all killed at the edge of the many ditches dug for their burial.  At Brona 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, they returned to Bereza 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 whom the German army found to be advantageous.  Many young people did not believe the Germans and began escaping.  Some 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, without suspecting their relatives could suffer because of it.  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.  Because of this, Jews came back to the ghetto from the forests.

The Germans began suspecting many Jews of maintaining links with the partisans.  One day, 21 Jews working in the sawmill were arrested on suspicion of maintaining contacts with the partisans.  They were arrested at the home of YOSEF CHOMSKI and the next day they were all shot in the church garden. The Jews in Ghetto A were once more frightened to death.

On October 15, 1942, SS men and the police surrounded the ghetto. The Jews realized 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. Members of the Judenrat gathered at the home of ELIYAHU SIMCHA 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 kilometers away and killed all of them in prepared 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.