Bialystok ghetto

Bialystok with its approximately 300,000 inhabitants is located in northeastern Poland, about fifty kilometres from the border with Belarus. Bialystok was occupied by the Germans for the first time on September 15, 1939, but according to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of August, 1939, this part of Poland where Bialystok is located was to be handed over to the Soviet Union on September 22. When Germany attacked the Soviet Union barely two years later, Bialystok was occupied by German troops for the second time. The area, where Bialystok is located, was named Bezirk (district) Bialystok. The district was bordered by the Reichskommissariat Ostland to the northeast, Reichskommissariat Ukraine to the southeast, General government to the southwest and Greater Germany to the northwest. At that time, there were about 300,000 Jews living in the district, of whom about 60,000 lived in Bialystok. Immediately anti-Semitic laws were introduced against the district’s Jews and German Einsatzgruppen (Killing squads) carried out murderous actions against the district’s Jewish population. In June 1941, about 2,000 Jews were burned inside the large synagogue. A month later, about 4,500 Jews were murdered in the Pietrasze forest in eastern Bialystok. In August 1941, a ghetto was established in Bialystok for the city’s remaining jews and jews from nearby villages.

The ghetto consisted of two parts separated by Biala River and surrounded by fences. Only with special passes one was allowed to leave or enter the ghetto. At most, there were about 50,000 Jews living in the ghetto. Most residents were forced to work in one of the industries established by the Germans in the ghetto. In early 1943, the Nazis began deporting ghetto Jews to Treblinka extermination camp, about 150 kilometres southwest of Bialystok. Jews who were too sick or too weak to be deported were murdered at the Jewish cemetery or in a place called Prage’s garden. Initially, superfluous Jews were deported first as they were consindered unproducutve. In august 1943, the Nazis, in cooperation with Ukrainian voluntary units, began to liquidate the ghetto by rounding up remaining jews. About 10,000 were sent to Treblinka, others were sent to Majdanek outside Lublin where some were murdered while others were used as slave labor. The resistance movement in the ghetto knew what liquidating meant and therefore rebelled in an attempt to escape to the forests outside Bialystok and join partisan groups. Most were murdered and only a hundred managed to escape and join the partisans. Some remained in hiding until August 1944 when the Soviet Red army recaptured Bialystok. After the uprising, the Nazis tore up the ghetto. Of the approximately 60,000 Jews who lived in Bialystok in June 1941, between 300 – 400 survived the war. The Nazis largely managed to annihilate the Jewish population within Bialystok district.

Current status: Partly preserved/demolished with monument (2009).

Location: 53°08'17.43" N 23°08'58.84" E

Get there: Walk from central Bialystok.

My comment:

The monuments and houses are scattered around the city and the best way to visit them is with a modern map and a ghetto map to make comparisons. Houses from the time of the ghetto remains mixed with post-war houses.

Follow up in books: Arad, Yitzhak: Holocaust in the Soviet union (2009).