Białystok Ghetto

The Germans established the Bialystok ghetto in 1941 as a concentration camp population Jewish resident of the city Polish namesake , within the framework of the Second World War . It was disbanded in 1943 after the murder or deportation of prisoners by the forces German occupation.

Historical antecedents

View of the center of Białystok towards 1900.

Bialystok is a city located about 180 km northeast of the Polish capital, Warsaw , near the present border with Belarus . The city has, like the rest of the region, a turbulent past: in 1795 it became part of Prussia , in 1807 in Russia , in 1921 – after World War I – in Poland; at the beginning of the Second World War following non – aggression pact Nazi-Soviet , the city passed to control the Soviet Union in 1939 and in 1941 was occupied by the German army and incorporated into East Prussia .

Bialystok was considered the city of Eastern Europe with the greater percentage of Jewish population (estimated in more than 60%). A census conducted in 1931 showed that out of a population of about 91,000 people, about 40,000 (43%) were of Jewish descent. When broke the German invasion of Poland the 1 of September 1939 , the Jewish population had grown to about 50,000 people.

On September 15, 1939, the German army conquered the city, but as a result of the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939 and under the secret protocol of the non-aggression pact, the city became part of the Soviet occupation zone, Being annexed to the Soviet Socialist Republic of Belarus .

German occupation

After the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, Bialystok was occupied by the German army. Meanwhile, the Jewish population had increased due to the influx of more than 60,000 people. On the day of the German occupation, June 27, 1941, became known to the Jewish community as the “Red Friday” , as a German police battalion led by Colonel Ernst Weis gathered a group of people in the Great Synagogue located in the Jewish quarter, then set fire to it. At least 700 people were burned alive. In total, he occurred in the first two weeks of the German occupation, the death of 4,000 Jews, by attacks or mass killings under direct orders from the leader of the SS Heinrich Himmler .

Establishment of the ghetto

Jews working on road works.

Shortly after the occupation, Rabbi Gedaliah Rosenmann and the president of the Jewish community, Efraim Barasz were invited to form a Judenrat (Jewish Council) of twelve people. On 1 August 1941, the ghetto was built in two small areas on both sides of the river Biala and wood fences and barbed wire. All properties were expropriated to the Jews and all persons between 15 and 65 years old were recruited for forced labor.

As in other ghettos, the space for the large number of people was insufficient, having to share a single room between two or three families, generally. In the same way the obtaining of food was irregular and insufficient. In order to supply the population, food smuggling was used and a ghetto space was also created to grow fruits and vegetables. In September 1941, 4,500 sick people were deported, who were unable to work, to Pruzhany, a town 100km south of Bialystok.

The Bialystok ghetto developed an industrial area. Within its boundaries were about ten factories owned by the German businessman Oskar Steffen. Most of the residents were forced to work there or in other workshops in the ghetto. Only a small number worked in other workplaces outside the ghetto. In turn, the Jewish Council was an important employer, with about 2,000 people working in schools, hospitals, pharmacies, courts and other institutions. He had created a service of Jewish police in the ghetto, consisting of 200 men.


After several individual actions, in 1942 the first unified resistance movement, called “Block # 1” or “Front A” , was created by groups of Communists , Socialists , Bundists and Zionists , and later they would also form “Block # 2 “ .

This movement founded a secret archive, which was established sneaking out of the ghetto and began to collect much information and information about life in the ghetto and crimes of the Germans. Although the efforts to cooperate with the Polish underground army , were unsuccessful, a small group of Jewish resistance fighters escaped the ghetto in December 1942 and join the Partisans Poles.

Closing the ghetto

Between 5 and 12 of February of 1943 of the 40,000 inhabitants of the ghetto were killed about 2,000 people and 10,000 were deported to the extermination camp at Treblinka , in the course of Operation Reinhard . In the summer of 1943 , Himmler ordered the immediate liquidation of the ghetto, despite local protests and claims that the camp was useful from an economic perspective. On the night of 15 to 16 August 1943 the ghetto surrounded by units of the Waffen-SS , the German police and Ukrainian auxiliaries , informing residents that they would be deported to Lublin .

Then began the uprising of the clandestine movement of the armed insurgency that lasted until August 19. Since resistance fighters were not able to escape the ghetto, they withdrew to underground shelters and hideouts, where most of them were gradually found and executed.

The deportations began on August 18 and lasted three days. 7,600 Jews were transported to Treblinka, thousands more (the exact number is unknown) to Majdanek . A selection of prisoners fit for work was sent to Poniatowa , Bliżyn or Auschwitz . More than 1,200 children aged 6 to 15 were deported on 23 August to Theresienstadt , where most of them died. The survivors were taken a few weeks later to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where they were gassed with the 53 adults who accompanied them voluntarily and under supervision.

In Bialystok a “small ghetto” was maintained with the remaining 2,000 Jews, which was dissolved after three weeks and also sent to its inhabitants to the concentration camp of Majdanek, where they were killed.


At the end of World War II, of its nearly 50,000 inhabitants, only 300 to 400 Jews from the Białystok ghetto had survived, whether as guerrillas or in the labor camps.

In 1998, four students who decided on a history contest to reconstruct the history of the ghetto and the Jews of Bialystok identified that the city currently has about 300,000 inhabitants, of which only two of them are Jews.


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