"For being Jews..." The history of the Lida ghetto and the terrible massacre of Jewish women and children by fascists

"For being Jews..." The history of the Lida ghetto and the terrible massacre of Jewish women and children by fascists

The ghetto in Lidchina was one of the largest in the USSR.

During the Great Patriotic War, more than eight thousand Jews – women, children, and men - were killed in Lida as part of Hitler's policy of "the final solution of the Jewish question". From September 1941 to March 1943, one of the largest ghettos in the USSR operated here. Every meter of the Lida land is watered with Jewish blood...

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New order

Wehrmacht units captured Lida on June 27, 1941, and already on June 28, SS and SD groups detained Jews and took them to the main square of Lida. There, the Nazis selected lawyers, engineers, teachers and other intellectuals, took them to destroyed warehouses and shot them without explanation. So a new occupation order was established in Lida – a brutal regime incomprehensible to peaceful people.

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Having bombed the Jewish quarter and the ancient Jewish shrine – the synagogue, the Germans forced the townspeople to dismantle the ruins to the last stone so that there would be no trace of the cult building. And on July 3, 1941 punitive operations began. Under the pretext of being taken to work, 151 representatives of the Jewish intelligentsia were killed: rabbis, engineers, lawyers, whose bodies were buried in the pits of former powder cellars near the village of Novoprudtsy. The next day, the Jewish council – the Judenrat was created, headed by the teacher of the Jewish school Lichtman. The Council compiled lists of Jews for work in the camp, distributed labor and housing, food, made an inventory of property, guarded internal order, and solved everyday issues.

One of the Lida Jews who survived the war, EliahuDemesek, whose memoirs are preserved in the collection "Chronicles of Lida" in Hebrew, wrote: "Day after day, those who could work went to clear debris from destroyed houses, sawing wood, etc. A lot of effort went into clearing the ruins of the great synagogue, which had stood for many years. Those who went to work received soup from rotten potatoes once a day. From time to time, the German authorities allowed the use of animal heads and bones in the soup. The Jewish population received 125 grams of bread per person per day. Those who found meat, eggs or butter were killed."

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In July 1941 the SS shot 47 Jewish men in the town of Belitsa on Lidchina, about thirty in the village of Selets. In his book "Syalets. Prineman reality" local historian Nikolai Dikevich said: "People were led near the station, where a waist-deep hole was dug. There, the Germans ordered the arrested to run around in a circle to exhaustion and be sure to jump over it... then the Jews were led along the fence, accompanied by machine gunners, two machine guns and several dogs. Innocent people were shot in the forest, which is called our lawn…

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Yellow label

In early September 1941, advertisements were posted all over the city in three languages: German, Russian and Polish. Within 24 hours, the Jewish population had to leave their homes and move to the ghetto, the area of which occupied several city blocks. The houses were fenced with barbed wire, the owners of non-Jewish nationality were relocated to the city center. Jews from neighboring towns were also brought to the ghetto: Belitsy, Ivya, Berezovka, Voronovo.

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– Jews were forbidden to travel to other cities, to walk on sidewalks (they could only move along the road, along the ditches), to show themselves on the streets even during the day without special permission, to contact other people. For non–compliance with this decree – execution, says Andrey Fishbein, chairman of the regional memorial and cultural public association of Jews of Lida from 2012 to 2016, chief engineer of JSC Lidastroymaterialy. – Jews were obliged to sew yellow marks measuring 10x10 centimeters on their clothes, which were later replaced with yellow stars of David – for identification and in case of escape. The penalty for the slightest violation is death. The real persecution of Jews began. There was no limit to the mockery of human dignity. Complete isolation and discrimination.

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According to archival data, by the beginning of the Great Patriotic War, the number of Jews in Lida and the surrounding area was 38 percent of the local population and reached eight and a half thousand. They were artisans, doctors, lawyers, salesmen, production workers, kept all the famous factories and peacefully got along with Poles, Belarusians, Russians. Until the war broke out. The genocide of Jews was part of Hitler's policy, carried out purposefully and extremely brutally.

The massacre

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–  At first, the fascists got rid of young intelligent and religious leaders – Jewish men aged 15 to 50 years, because they were afraid of resistance, and then they killed everyone, said Asya Danilovna Saulkina, chairman of the regional memorial and cultural society in 1977 – 2007, who studied the history of the ghetto and did a lot to preserve historical memory on Lidchina. – In the first months of the occupation, executions took place in the city prison and only at night to avoid witnesses. Later, when the scale of repression increased, the murders were moved to the landfill near Lida. Since I moved to Lida in 1946 and learned about the terrible crime of the fascists, my heart has not known peace. This tragedy is incomprehensible to our consciousness…

Another mass murder of Jews occurred in March 1942, when 50 people were killed in the courtyard of the prison, and 200 in their homes in the ghetto.

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From the memoirs of Eliahu Demesek, the collection "Chronicles of Lida":

"A terrible picture appeared before the eyes of the Jews who returned home that day: their houses were graves: all the children whose parents had left at home because of the severe cold, children of all ages, sick and dying - all those who did not go to the identification parade were found lying in their own blood, which is still I didn't have time to freeze."

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After that, the punishers arrested and harshly dealt with the members of the Judenrat, and their bodies were given to the ghetto. They were so disfigured by torture that Lichtman's teachers, for example, were identified only by their clothes.

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On May 8, 1942, a mass execution of Jews, hitherto unprecedented in scale, took place in Lida, which the occupiers called an "action". Witnesses said that on May 7, in the evening, policemen and punishers surrounded the ghetto, and on the morning of May 8, the prisoners were taken to the square. The Gebitskommissar and his assistant carried out a "selection": they separated women, the elderly, the sick and children doomed to death from specialists and artisans who were temporarily left alive (they were needed as labor. – Approx. author). The sick and the elderly, who could not move themselves, were killed immediately – in the houses and on the streets of the ghetto.

– They were being led to the murder scene, and people already understood where and why they were being taken, says Andrey Fishbine. – The elders tried not to frighten the children. On the way, people were beaten, laggards were shot, as evidenced by the act of August 17, 1944 and the testimony of witnesses BeloborodovFishel and Levin Abram. Several people in the area of modern Rybinovsky Street managed to slip out of the crowd, thanks to which we know terrible details. The fascists themselves did not want to get their hands dirty in blood, so they used police collaborators. That day they brought a whole group, left it in front of the pit along with a barrel of alcohol and a supply of cigarettes.

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The policemen "had fun" until the evening. People were shot with machine guns and machine guns in three large pits, after forcing the victims to undress. Children were thrown there first and threw grenades into the pits. Live queues were placed on the corpses and shot until the pit was filled. The corpses were sprinkled with lime and a thin layer of earth. The wounded were moaning, women were screaming, children were crying, and a drunken policeman was pressing the trigger. They fired until evening, then the trenches were covered with earth.

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The place of mass shootings was a field and a forest three kilometers from the city behind the Rybinovsky and Gastello microdistrict, popularly called Borovka. When people appeared at the scene of the shooting, they saw a terrible picture: human hands and feet sticking out of the ground. The policemen, having done their dirty work, went on to kill Jews in Vasilishki and Voronovo. On that May day, about six thousand civilians were shot in Lida. The graves of the dead occupied an area of 6 hectares...

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The repression of the Jewish population did not end there. Two months later, the punishers shot another 120 people – the medical staff of the psychiatric hospital. In June-July 1942, 155 Jewish intellectuals were killed in the pits of powder cellars, and 3,000 of the remaining ghetto prisoners were taken to the Majdanek death camp in Poland in the autumn of 1942.

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In March 1943, on the square in front of the post office, the Germans gathered a small number of the remaining local Jews and about two thousand brought from other places, including Vilnius. "It was in the first days of March. The snow was melting, forming a watery porridge, – Y. Kardash wrote in his book of memoirs "Lidaprawdziwa". – The Jews felt that the end had already come: they destroyed money, threw jewelry taken from them by the Gestapo into the snow and swamp. The criminals shot them in the so-called Forests (in the north-west direction from Lida, in the forest near d. Ostrovlya), now it is a microdistrict of Krasnoarmeyskaya Street. The witnesses called some surnames and names: Berkovich, Meyer and his son Lipka, Oran, Meishke, Lazar, Nachman, Ruvko, Leiba and many others."

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The place of the mass execution of Jews was pointed out years later by a native Lidian, the late Zenon Benko – as a five-year-old boy he saw people being led to execution. His family was evicted from the house by the occupation authorities, and the house was given to the ghetto. In 2001, excavations were carried out on the forgotten grave – the alleged place of execution – on the initiative of Asia Danilovna Saulkina. The sapper battalion found the remains of about two hundred men, women and children. They were lying sideways, feet up, interspersed. Combs, combs, rings, razors, Soviet coins, shoe soles, galoshes, keys, fragments of coats, hairdressing machines, wallets… The search work has not been completed: according to Jewish traditions, it is impossible to extract bodies from the ground, because it is unknown exactly how many victims are resting there. The objects found during the excavations were transferred to the Lida Museum of History and Art.

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On September 17, 1943 the last Lida Jews remaining in the Lida ghetto, as well as those brought from Voronovo and Ivye, were sent to a concentration camp in Poland. On the same day, Gebitskommissar Hanweng reported to the leadership that Lida was free of Jews, and the Lida ghetto no longer existed.

In the Jerusalem forest

The Jews of Lidchina and Novogrudok, who miraculously escaped from Nazi executions, fled to Nalibokskaya Pushcha – the Jerusalem Forest, where the Belsky brothers' partisan detachment operated. It was a family camp near the village of Bakshty. In the spring and summer of 1943, a group of prisoners who managed to escape from the Lida ghetto joined there. One of the brothers, Tuvya Belsky, said:

"Friends, this is one of the happiest days of my life. That's why I live for such moments – look how many people managed to get out of the ghetto! I can't guarantee you anything. We are trying to survive, but we can all die. And we will try to save as many lives as possible. We accept everyone and refuse no one, neither the elderly, nor children, nor women. There are many dangers waiting for us, but if we are destined to die, at least we will die as people."

A survivor of the Holocaust, a resident of Voronovo, Yakov Dviliansky, was one of those who fled from the Lida ghetto to the Belsky partisan detachment. Workshops were organized in the forest camp, a bakery, a laundry, a hospital, a school and even a synagogue were built. People kept cattle, cleared the land and grew barley and wheat. Only children, the disabled, the elderly and women in the detachment were about a thousand. The unit would later be called the most prominent Jewish resistance organization to Nazi Germany at that time. In the autumn of 1944, after the liberation of Lidchina, many of the surviving Jewish partisans joined the Red Army and died at the front.

Yakov Abramovich Dviliansky reached Konigsberg, received a medal for the capture of the city and returned to Belarus, to Lida, where he mourned his family, who were shot on May 8, 1942. Years later, his son Mikhail attended a meeting of the descendants of the partisans of the legendary detachment at its parking place in Nalibokskaya Pushcha. He went to the places where his dad fought in 1943. Impressed by the trip, he wrote the book "Music of the Jewish Resistance".

-Unfortunately, the Holocaust took away a huge part of Jewish culture," the musician laments. – All that remains in Jewish music are the fragments that we carefully and diligently collect…

Here every meter is watered with Jewish blood…

Red Army troops liberated Lida in July 1944. By that time there were practically no Jews left in Lida. The Commission for the Assistance of the ChGC of the USSR for Lida and the Lida district in 1944 could not name the exact number of those killed and tortured. The report said that every victim who fell into the "clutches of the Fascist invaders, went through a long thorny path before reaching the grave."

After the liberation of Lida, from July 31 to August 17, 1944, a commission to investigate the atrocities of the Nazi invaders worked here. The act of the commission is kept in the Lida Historical and Art Museum - a huge paper canvas, where the atrocities committed by the fascists on the territory of the district are painted by dates. There are also eyewitness accounts. According to the commission, in Lida during the Great Patriotic War, more than 12 thousand people became victims of fascist atrocities – about half of the population of Lida.

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Of the entire Jewish population of Lidchina, only 300 people escaped and survived, seven returned to Lida. The terrible facts of the Lida Holocaust are attested in the collection in Hebrew "The Chronicle of Lida". Of the total number of dead, the names of more than 3.5 thousand Jews were able to be identified in the roll-call list.

In hearts and stone

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A memorial complex of obelisks in memory of the victims of the Holocaust has been created in the forest on the outskirts of Lida. On the site of the mass execution of 6,700 Jews on May 8, 1942, two mournful female figures made of metal were erected – the personification of inconsolable grief. There are also marble slabs and two blocks with inscriptions in Russian and Hebrew: "1942. In this mass grave, 6,700 residents of Lida, tortured by the Nazi invaders, are buried." The author of the sculpture group is Alexander Tukhto. The memorial was erected on the initiative of the Jewish Memorial Society under the leadership of Tamara Borodach, a former teacher of secondary school No. 15, with funds donated by the Jewish community and immigrants from Lida living in different countries of the world.

60 years later, a monument by sculptor Richard Pears was erected at the site of the execution of Jews in March 1943. On a two–meter granite slab there is a six-pointed star of David and an inscription in Hebrew and Russian: "Eternal memory to the Jews of Lida and Vilnius, brutally destroyed by the German Nazis and their accomplices for belonging to the Jewish people in 1942-1943 (5702-5703)." A separate slab lies over the mass grave, known as the "nursery".

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Every year on May 8, the Lida Jewish community gathers in this mournful place, Jews from different parts of the world come. They light memorial candles, put stones, pray, cry. Many have families and relatives here. People are grateful to the Lidians for taking care of the graves, landscaping the area around, honoring the memory and continuing Jewish traditions. Schoolchildren of Lida secondary schools No. 13 and No. 15 also patronize the burials.

– The theme of the Holocaust is revealed by one of the sections of our museum, created on the basis of the stationary exhibition "The War broke out Terribly," says Olga Pilipchuk, director of the Lida Historical and Art Museum. – The main storyline was the painting by Vladimir Murakhver "JanuszKorczak", which is part of the installation: threads are drawn from it to personal items found during the excavation of a Jewish grave in March 1943.

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Recently, the museum, together with the prosecutor's office of the Lida district, opened a temporary exhibition about the genocide of the Belarusian people "Alive in memory".

Today, the regional memorial and cultural public association of Jews of Lida has 85 people. Representatives of the long-suffering people are doing everything possible to preserve their historical memory, identity and live in harmony with all the nations and nationalities of the district center.



– The main task of our association is to preserve the historical memory, cultural heritage and traditions of the Jewish people as part of the history of Belarus, – its chairman Tatyana Melevich notes. – It is equally important for us to educate the younger generation in Jewish traditions and to help socially vulnerable people, the disabled, the elderly.

The association implements the project "Sunday Family Initiatives", organizes holidays, meetings, trips, community programs. The Jews of Lida consider it a matter of honor to maintain order at the memorial, to participate in the Republican Festival of National Cultures in Grodno.


– This is a huge asset of our country – peaceful, fraternal coexistence of all nations and nationalities, Tatiana Melevich expresses the opinion of all members of the community. – In the name of the bright memory of all those who died innocently during the Great Patriotic War, we are obliged to preserve the world and never allow the revival of Nazism.

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