The Jewish community in Baranowicze was established relatively late. To the 19th century, the town was a small settlement, and there is no information regarding Jews living there. However, in the second half of the 19th century, rapid economic development, linked with the construction of the Moscow-Brześć and Lipawa-Romny railway line, resulted in the arrival of many Jewish traders, tradesmen and craftsmen, who gradually settled in the town centre. In 1897, Jews comprised almost half of Baranowicze's population (2,171 of the 4,692 residents)..

For a long time, Baranowicze was formally considered as a village and, later, as a small town. According to the ,so-called, 1882 May Law, Jews were not permitted to settle permanently in the town. As a result, they could only settle on the outskirts of towns. This restriction was abolished on 9th December 1903. This allowed Jews to live in the town and to develop their community.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Szymon Szapiro was Rabbi of Baranowicze and Rozwadowo. In 1913, there were ten synagogues in the town. The growing Jewish community attracted Hassidim - supporters of the Słonim, Stolin and Kajdanowski's dynasties.

The Baranowicze community supported various philanthropic organisations. In the 1890's, Jewish soldiers, who served in the town's garrison in the town could obtain kosher food.

The Jew community's social and political life was quite intensive. With the development of industry, in the town, the Bund gained supporters. Its local branch, established in 1904, organised the workers' fight improve their workplace conditions.

Prior to World War I, Jews played an important role in Baranowicze's economic life, running various industrial plants. Windmills were owned Wajnberg, Szymszewicz and Lewin. Wholesale traders included Szulajner, Myszkin, Liwszyn, Segalowicz, Sztejberg and others. Jews also ran large shops (Rabinowicz) and factories (Goldberg, Bruk and others).

The Jewish community during the wartime hostilities in 1915. Some men were conscripted into the Russian army, while others moved from Baranowicze eastward. The change ofgovernmenty and social tensions in the area caused fear amongst the Jews. During the Polish-Soviet War of 1920, there were no pogroms. However, retreating Polish troops ignited them in nearby towns such as Horodziej and Stołopce.

With the coming of peace and the establishment of a border, Jewish spiritual, economic and social life in Baranowicze began to revive. Local Jews were able to participate in the runniing the town and its economy. During the inter-War period. they hel a seat on the municipal council. In 1919, Pinchas Kapłan become the town's Deputy Mayor.

By 1921, there were already 6,605 Jews in Baranowicze, comprised 57.5% of town's residents. During the inter-War period, the town had such Jewish aid societies as Linas Hatzedek, Bikur Cholim, HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) and others. International organisations such as the Joint Distribution Commitee granted loans to the Jews.

In the 1920's, there were around ten Jewish banks and credit companies in the town. The economic crisis of 1930's strongly affected the Polish banking system and, as a result, led to the deterioration of country's monetary system and caused an outflow of capital abroad. Only the Jewish bank, Aquada, and one loan company were able to survive this economic crisis.

Some of Baranowicze's Jews were small craftsmen and traders. There were also a group of craftsmen and workers employed in different companies. There were Jews amongst the intelligentsia - lawyers, doctors and engineers. The Jews of Baranowicze were also politically active. As society modernised, Orthodox influence on communal life decreased. Some Jews supported the Zionist movement which, in the town, was represented by He'Chalutzc, Poalei, Tzeej Syion. Young people,who planned to leave forl Palestine, learned agriculture on the "Shachriya" farm. Following World War I, these organizations intensified their activity. In the 1920's, in Baranowicze, there was Hashomer Hatzair (from 1924), He'Chalutz Ha'Mizrachi (from 1927), and Betar, which had a training camp near the town.

The local Bund was strong position and, in the 1930's, protested against antisemitic events and against a pogrom. Some Jews belonged to Polish political parties, for example, to the Polish Socialist Party (PPS), and also to illegal cells of the Comsomol and to the Communist Party of Western Belarus.

Baranowicze had a Jewish hospital. The Jewish Health Society was active promoting hygiene. In the 1930's, its branch in Baranowicze was lead by dr Lejba Nachumowski.

The local Jewish community had its own Yiddish press in Yiddish which reflected diverse views. From 1928 to 1939, six weeklies were published including the "Baranowiczer Kurier".

There was also an active religious life. Of the town's entire population, 43.3% were Jews. In the 1920's, there were eleven synagogues in Baranowicze. Thanks to the yeshivah, which enjoyed popularity, the town was one of the recognized places for a traditional Jewish education.

During the economic crisis, at the end of the 1920's and early1930's, the level of unemployment in Baranowicze was high. Many families were left without any income due to the closure of industrial plants and the redundancy of employees. In 1933, Jews comprised almost the half of those registered as unemployed in the town. As a result, some emigrated to Palestine and to other places in the world, however there is no precise information regarding this.

Prior to World War II, around 12,000 Jews lived in Baranowicze.

Following the German invasion of Poland, Jewish refugees headed eastward, to territory soon to be occupied by the Soviet Union. Fearing the Germans, people settled in the borderland. An overpopulation led to a shortage of food and a lack of employment. Baranowicze saw the arrival of Jews from others parts of the country. After 1939, 15,000 Jews arrived in the town. Among them was I. Fater, a musicologist. In 1941, Soviet authorities arrested and he was exiled to central Asia.

When the Soviet authority took over the administration, Jewish communal life was gradually eliminated. All political party and organisational activities were banned. Religious organizations and Zionists' youth groups activists left for Vilnius, which Soviets had handed over to Lithuania and, therefore, they were able to emigrate to Palestine. On the territories occupied by the Soviet authority, traditional Jewish schools (Cheders, Talmudim Torah) were closed down, and the hbrew language school in Baranowicze also shared their fate. Special agitators from the pre-War Belarussian SSR arrived in order to organise anti-religion campaigns. During one of such campaign, in the spring 1940, a comrade Bielenkij gave a speech regarding the harm caused by religion.  

During that period, a strong Sovietisation of the Jewish people began spreading, especially, through education, among young people. There was a Soviet Jewish school in Baranowicze, with Yiddish as the language of instruction. In the summer of 1940, many Jewish refugees from Poland, who had arrived in the town after 1939, were deported to Russia.

On 27th June,1941, Baranowicze was occupied by German troops. The Germans introduced many administrative changes by which Baranowicze belonged to the General Commissariat Belarus in the Reich Commissariat East. In the beginning, Wehrmacht troops were stationed here but, after a few weeks, they were replaced by SS troops and the Gestapo. It was during the first days of this occupation that the Belarus Police was created. The Chief of Staff of the Sicherheitspolizei (Security Police) and SD was a German, Untersturmfuhrer SS, Waldemar Amelung, who came from the USRR's Baltic area. He was one of the leaders of the Baranowicze ghetto liquidation. According to a report from the fugitive from Łódź, the Germans immediately began pillaging Jewish property. They also imposed a tribute ( one hundred thousand roubles in gold) on Jews. In addition, they searched homes and grabbed anything of value. Two hundred of the intelligentsia, doctors and lawyers, were arrested. Eighty of them were then executed. According to another witness, two weeks after the occupation of Baranowicze, the Nazis evicted men from hohomes and assembled them in the square near the church. The invaders were merciless. They tormented the Jews and removed their personal belongings. They were later forced to dig their own graves. They were accused of killing ten Germans and killed them. The Germans were took photographs as they beat the Jews.

At the begining of July, 1941, in the synagogue on ul. Wileńska, representatives of the Jewish intelligentsia formed the Judenrat with Izykson, the lawyer, as its leader.

The Jews were not permitted to walk on pavements. The ghetto's gate was guarded, from outside, by the Belarus police and, from inside, by the Jewish police. Jews were required to wear identification tags which was decreed by Commissioner Rudolf Werner. According to Einsatzgruppen, at the end of 1941, Jews from Baranowicze had tried to escape from the imminent danger. Those who had the chance of employment tried to get a certificate which indicated that they were needed for work. But Germans did not care and even arrested those who showed such certificates. A kind of  "information service" was created, which informed people about the coming of the Sicherheitspolizei (Security Police). Some people hid in the forrest which surrounded the town.

According to the German soldier, Harold Jung (I Infantry Division), in the autumn 1941, more than 3,000 Jews were shot. People were taken, by porry, outside the town. Some, the younger ones, jumped out along the way. Most were injured and were left on the road. During the occupation, religious life as maintained within the ghetto. Rabbi M. Goldberg, with the minimum number of people required for prayer, gathered a minyan at his house. Yeshiva students gathered together in order to study Talmud. The teacher, Miszlewski, conducted lessons illegally.

Especially difficult was the situation of children who felt victim to the genocide. They were killed together with their parents. One of the inmates of the ghetto, Lidowski, was a witness to such events. During one such action, the Germans separated children from the adults and killed them outside the town, at a previously prepared place.

The first liquidation of the ghetto took place during the Jewish holiday, Purim, on the 4th and 5th March,1942. The Germans killed those who were not needed for forced labour - firstly, old people, invalids, the sick, women and then children. At the beginning of March, working ghetto prisoners were issued with new certificates, which allowed them to survive. The Nazi's Todt Organisation,which used slave workforce as part of the Arbeitseinsatz plan, had a register of such workers.

On the morning on the 4th March,1942, people from the ghetto were gathered at one of the town's squares. The workers of the employment office (Giesicke, among others), German municipality (the Deputy Commissioner of the reserve, Maks Kranke), together with help from the Security Police and military police (Wilhelm Schroder - the chief) made the selection by separating those unable to work - 3,400 people in total[1.1]. They were beaten severely. People were taken to a place near The Green Bridge, where graves had earlier been prepared. At that time, Izykson, the Chairman of Judenrat, his secretary, Mann, and the members of the Jewish police were also shot. They were killed later than others because the Nazis wanted to use them for the graves and to create a register of workers for that job. Izykson refused to do so and was killed together with other members of Judenrat. According to the recollections, in many ways, this brave man helped people in the ghetto.  

A new Judenrat was created in the ghetto. The fact that work records were very valuable led to their misuse [The archive of Jewish Historical Institue in Warsaw, signature 301/3162, According to Naum Białostocki, catalogue 2-3.]. In the spring of 1942, other Jews were resettled in the Baranowicze ghetto. They came from different towns and villages such as Nowa Mysza, Stołowicz, Nowojeleni, Mołczadź and Klecko. Together with 120 Jews from Horodyszcz, Michał Gercowski also arrived in Baranowicze. He was able to survive the extermination and, after the War, gave an account of what had happened. This report is held at the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw[1.2].

One of the liquidation operation was directed at the Czech Jews, who had been transported to ghetto by the rail. They were the representatives of the intelligentsia (doctors and engineers). On the 31st July, 1942, they were killed in the Gaj wilderness, on the north-east of the Baranowicze's suburbs. While transporting the Czech Jews to the place of execution, people were gassed in the cars. A committee, which investigated this crime, established that the number of those killed reached around 3,000[1.3].

 According to a report dated 31st July 1942, by the German W. Kube, 10,000 Jews still remained, 9,000 of whom were to be killed in the following month.

The next mass liquidation campaign of the Baranowicze ghetto was carried out between 22nd September and 2nd November 1942. Again, the tragedy took place during a Jewish religious holiday - that time it was Yom Kippur. The Germans connected the operation with the escape of some prisoners and intensive resistance activity. So the operation was kept secret. Some even intentionally wore Todtu uniforms. The Jews were gathered together on one place on the pretext of giving them work. They were shot three kilometres outside the town, on a field between the villages of Uznogi, Grabowiec and Gliniszcze. About 5,000 people were killed at that time. Among them were 62 doctors, 20 engineers and 60 teachers. Around 700 Jews were sent to forced labour. On the day of the executions, about 200 inmates of the ghetto were able to escape. One of them was the Chairman of Judenrat, Jankielewicz. The Germans then created yet another Judenrat with M. Goldberg as its Chairman. The Jewish police was again formed, led by Lubraniecki.

Following the liquidation of the Baranowicze ghetto on 17th December, 1942, the town was declared Judenfrei (free from Jews). Under the leadership of SD Commander, Waldemar Amelung, the Germans then commited mass murder at the same place as before, the field between the three villages of Uznogi, Gniliszcze and Grabowiec. According to the Soviet Commission's archival materials, between 3,000 and 7,000 people were killed[1.4]

About 700 people were then taken to the labour camp in nearby Mołodeczno and, from 300 to 800 to the Todtu camp not far from Baranowicze. In the autumn of 1943, about 40 or 150 people (the data depends on different sources) were able to escape from the camp.

The rest were shot on 5th-6th November 1943 in the Nazi concentration camp nearby the Kołdycze village in the district of Baranowicze. At first, this German concentration camp held prisoners of war, but later civilians also including Jews, Poles, Belarussians and Gypsies. At the end of 1943, the occupiers tried to cover all traces of their crimes by digging up and burning the corpses[1.5]

Around 12,000 Jews passed through the Baranowicze ghetto, but only 750 managed to escape at different times. Only 250 people surrvived in the ghetto and were able to see liberation in July 1944. Thanks to the help of local Belorussians and Poles, a number of Jews were able to survive. Escapees from the Baranowicze ghetto hid in forests and tried to find partisan units, which lengthen the odds on their survival. The case of Allina Colli, a biologist, is a case in point. She survived by a miracle in a Polish resistance camp[1.6]

A resistance movement was also organised In the Baranowicze ghetto. In the spring of 1942, three underground groups were created under the leadership of E. Lidowski, M. Kopelewicz and Zarikusewicz. There were members of Jewish police in the E. Lidowski's group. Soon, the groups joined together to form the Fighting Organization under the leadership of the surgeon, A. Abramski, who took part in the creation of secretive team combat. The organization was divided into trios. The older of the trio knew only one person from the staff. Members of the organization included Dawid Kołpenicki, Michał Burak, Izaak Medresz, Izrael Ordański, Pinia Jesinowski and others. The trios acquired weapons and hid them away. One such hiding place was a hospital surgery. Young people who joined querrillas were supplied with weapons by the squad. On 21st September 1942, just prior to the closure of the ghetto, the conspirators organised an attack on the police-station.

The revival of Jewish community after the War was very slow. There were only a few Jews who had survived the occupation - no more than 150, who had been hidden in forests and then returned to the town. With the revival of the local economy, families began returning to Baranowicze. But it was a difficult period for Jewish religious and cultural life. The Jewish intelligentsia was persecuted in the fight against cosmopolitanism. Anti-Semitic sentiments began to spread across the country. Many Jews who survived, including partisans, only had one option - to leave.

In Baranowicze, as in many other places in after-War Belorussian SSR, Jews seized the opportunity to move back to Poland - most of them had been citizens of the Second Republic of Poland. The country also intensified a battle against religion, which was treated by communist propaganda as being outdated. One anti-religious campaign confiscated all places of worship. In Baranowicze, the local authorities took away the Great Synagogue from Jews and, according to some sources, it was destroyed and replaced by a public toilet. In the 1970's, a Small Synagogue operated in the.

According to the unconfirmed 1970 data, the amount of Jews in Baranowicze might have reached around 3,000. But, because of emigration, the number of people in Baranowicze's Jewish community continued decreasing. The situation was very tense, especially during the existence and the demise of the Soviet Union. According to the 1989 census, only 575 Jews lived in Baranowicze, comprising 0.3% of the total town population.

Today, around 400 Jews live in Baranowicze. The town has two registered Jewish communities - orthodox and progressive. There is a synagogue situated at Swobodna 39 street. There is also a yeshiva school, which teaches Jewish traditions.

In July 2004, the Jewish community in Baranowicze issued a newspaper "Shahar" (hebr. "Dawn"), with 400 copies. Its first issue was devoted to the commemoration of the liberation of the town from the German occupation. In total, four of them were issued. Members of the community take a great interest in Jewish history and culture. There are also lectures on the history of the Holocaust, given to audiences comprising both the older and younger generations of the Baranowicze Jewish community.

 

Bibliography:

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  • Pamiać: Historyka-wyznaniadakumientalnyja chroniki haradou i rajonau Biełarusi. Baranawiczy. Baranawicki rajon, edit. M. I. Biernat, Minsk 2000
  • Szczarbakou S., U składzie Polszczy, Pamiać: Historyka-dakumientalnyja chroniki haradou i rajanau Biełarusi. Baranawiczy. Baranawicki rajon, edit. M. I. Biernat, Minsk 2000.
  • Skibińska A., Żydzi polscy ocaleni na Wschodzie (1939-1946), Narody i polityka. Studia ofiarowane profesorowi Jerzemu Tomaszewskiemu, edit. A. Grabski, A. Markowski, Warsaw 2010.
  • Skir A., Jewriejskaja duchownaja kultura w Biełarusi. Istoriko-literaturnyj oczerk, Minsk 1995.
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Footnotes
  • [1.1] The National Archive of the Republic of Melarus, zesp. 845, op. 1, signature: 6, Akt Baranowiczskoj gorodskoj komissii ob massowom unicztożenii, 1945, k. 22
  • [1.2] The archive of Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, signature: 301/2229
  • [1.3] The National Archive of the Belarus Republic, zesp. 845, op. 1, signature: 6, Akt Baranowiczskoj gorodskoj komissii ob massowom unicztożenii, 1945, catalogue 21-22
  • [1.4] The National Archive of Belarus Republic, zesp. 845, op. 1, signature: 22, Akt Baranowiczskoj gorodskoj komissii ob massowom unicztożenii, 1945, catalogue 22
  • [1.5] The National Archive of Belarus Republic, zesp. 845, op. 1, signature: 22, Akt Baranowiczskoj gorodskoj komissii ob massowom unicztożenii, 1945, catalogue: 26
  • [1.6] The Archive of Jewish Historical institute in Warsaw, signature: 301/14009, The report of Colle Allina, catalogue: 1