Project «Voices of Jewish settlements. Vitebsk region.»
פיתוח קשרי התרבות בין העמים של ישראל ובלרוס
HOLOCAUST IN BESHENKOVICHI
On the right bank of the Western Dvina River there is a memorial to Holocaust victims. It has an inscription: “Here lie 1067 local residents, killed by Nazis on February 15th 1942.” I was terrified to find out that so many people were buried in one grave. How did they die? I became interested in the history of this memorial and decided to do some research. That was how I met several witnesses of those tragic events and learned how those innocent people were murdered in February 1942.
Story of Anna Ivanovna Schuka, born in 1922, Beshenkovichi
I was born in 1922. I remember what happened in the war years, but it is very difficult to recall those events and talk about them.
My family used to live in Beshenkovichi in what is now Malinovaya Street. It was not a big settlement. Belarusians and Jews lived peacefully together.
When the Nazis occupied Beshenkovichi, they established their rules. The Jewish residents were made to wear yellow stripes on their clothes. In the autumn of 1941 they were all forced to move to a ghetto, 5-6 families in each house. The ghetto was mostly located in what is now Svobody Street. They survived by exchanging personal belongings for food. Many locals, including our family, felt compassionate and brought food to the ghetto dwellers.
Right before the execution the Nazis became more loyal towards the Jews, which gave them hope that they would not be hurt. It was a deceit.
That tragic event took place in February 1942 – all the Beshenkovichi Jews were killed. I remember that day – a sunny and frosty day. Our hearts were filled with terror and fear. All the Jews were forced to come out of their houses and convoyed to the execution site. Bodies were lying on the side of the road. The execution took place in the village of Strelka.
Three days after that everyone was silent – people were crying. We felt enormous pain.
My father saved a Jewish woman. Her name was Haya (maiden family name – Leitman). We hid her in our house and everyone was scared, because we all could die if the Germans found out. She stayed with us for two months. We felt sorry for her –she constantly cried over her mother, who had been killed. Later I took her to the village of Dolgoye, from where my uncle took her to the partisans and where she spent almost the whole war. Right before the end of the war we found out that she came to our relatives’ house and spent a night there. She told them she would visit us in Beshenkovichi. However she did not reach us. We did not find out what had happened to her, even though we asked everyone. We all felt really sorry for her.
From the people that were murdered those days I remember David Axelrod, Nina Meyerson, Isaak and Riva Leitman (brother and sister), Hava Yudovin, Isaak Dubrovin, Kalia (I do not remember her family name. She had three children) and Kalman, Riva Par, Grigory Shunman, Mendel Yakin, Grigory Mihailovich Dernovsky, Roza Schedrinskaya, Sonia Gombraikh Lazareva, Leiba and Sonia Gutman (brother and sister), Mendel Girkin and his family. I knew many other people, but, unfortunately, I cannot recall the names.
Story of Leonid Lvovich Gombraikht, born in 1931, Leningrad.
My family used to live in Beshenkovichi before the war. In 1941-1942 I, just like other Jews, had to experience the horrors of the Holocaust. In fact, most probably I am the only Jew that managed to survive during those tragic days. It happened only due to the fact that I did not look Jewish and there were kind people who volunteered to shelter and save me. Fascists arrived in Beshenkovichi in July 1941.
Soon all the Jewish houses were marked with yellow Stars of David. The Jews also had to attach one to their clothes. Then they were all forced into a ghetto, located in Svobody Street. There were several families living in each house. The ghetto was fenced. I cannot say for certain how many people were in the ghetto but quite a lot. Many people had come from the city to visit their relatives in the summer, and all of them were killed together with the local residents.
It was practically impossible to escape from the ghetto. There was no place to run to. The local residents that were outside the ghetto were cruelly punished for helping Jews.
The Germans robbed the Jewish houses.
In February 1942 all the Jews were killed. It was a cold winter. All the Jews were convoyed along Svobody Street towards the site of the execution. The whole street was covered with corpses. Everyone who tried to escape was shot at with explosive bullets. There was shouting and moaning.
My whole family, including me, was in that crowd. It was pure luck that I survived. When all the people were ordered to get undressed by the Dvina River, I turned out to be at a distance from everyone. So I slowly started moving away and no one stopped me. The shouting people were then forced to walk across the frozen river. I started running along side streets in the opposite direction, towards a place where my father’s friends lived – the Kuikos.
It seemed to me that I heard people screaming all the way from Svecha. I could not stop trembling and crying. Yelena Vasilievna, Foma Ivanovich Kuiko’s wife, was holding me in her arms the whole night. These people, together with their daughter Yelena Fomichna (now Kezha) saved me, risking their lives. When Nazi policemen arrived in the village, Foma Ivanovich took me to the partisans. I spent the rest of the war in Dubov’s detachment.
From the victims I remember the names of my relatives: grandmother Vihna Haikina, sisters Dora and Tsilia (they were small), cousin Luba (maiden name Haikina).
Story of Beresten Valentina Vladimirovna, born in 1935.
My father-in-law, Lazar Moiseyevich Mitsengendler, born in 1890, was Jewish. He died in 1963. His family used to live in Beshenkovichi. According to his stories, 60% of the population in Beshenkovichi was Jewish. Everyone leaved in peace and respect.
Right before the war, a month before it began, he was sent to Russia for work and that was how he came to Voronezh and then Kazakhstan. This is how he evaded the occupation.
When he came back home after the war he learned about the tragedy in Beshenkovichi.
Lazar Moiseyevich decided to make a list of those who perished and collect money to set up a memorial. Thus he started collecting money from relatives of those who had been killed. The funds came from Leningrad, Moscow, Kiev, Brest, Minsk, Odessa and Tashkent. The memorial was erected somewhere at the beginning of the 60s. Both the memorial and a fence for it were brought from Leningrad. After the war Lazar interviewed the local residents about the fate of the local Jews and his relatives in particular.
He was told about how the fascists carried out the execution. The first several months after the invasion the Nazis did not kill the Jews. But then later they ordered the Jewish population to come to a meeting in the village of Strelka on the other bank of the Dvina River. Nazi policemen and Germans made young Jews dig out a ditch. All the Jews that were there were shot. Some people that fell into the ditch were still alive. The ground was moving for three more days after the execution. The grave was guarded by the Nazis for about a week after the execution. The memorial, which was set up there, states that 1067 people were killed on that day.
My father-in-law made a list of the victims, but the folder with the documents has been lost. I can only remember some names of the relatives that were murdered there: Mikhail Berger’s family (five children and parents), the Levins, the Kopins, the Etingofs, Lazar’s family (wife Luba, son Boris, daughter Inna, mother Lisa), the Berlins (8 people), the Zemtsers.
Story told by Roman Konstantinovich Shnitko, born in 1927.
I am a local resident. My family lived in the village of Strelka during the Great Patriotic War. Before the war, both Beshenkovichi and Strelka had a high percentage of Jewish population.
When the Germans invaded Beshenkovihci (July 4th 1941) they made all the local Jews wear yellow tabs on their clothes. Approximately in November 1941 all the Jews were driven into a ghetto. In Strelka the ghetto consisted of one house, which stood on the bank of the Dvina. It belonged to Shaya Yudovin.
On February 12th 1941 the commandant announced that Jews would be executed.
One day before the execution 30 people were taken to the site to dig out a ditch. The Jews saw that. Even though there was a partisan detachment in that region, no one escaped – everyone was waiting for their destiny.
On February 12th, in the morning, more than 800 people were taken across the Dvina, convoyed by only about 16 people. Those who were trying to escape were immediately shot. I saw a grey-haired old man that managed to break out and was not shot.
Before the first shooting the victims were made to undress themselves. A man, I think his last name was Rizkin, gave a speech. He said that the Jews had to accept death as “a punishment for betraying Christ.”
Then groups of 10 people were made to lie in the ditch and were shot. Then new victims came in…
Then there were several more shootings in the same place.
From the victims I remember Shaya Yudovin (and his wife), Itska Yudovin, Noima Yudovin, Shlem Yudovin and his wife, Sholam Yudovin and his family, Pelka Yudovin and his wife, Dovod Yudovin and his wife Riva Basa and mother-in-law.
Jewish settlements in Vitebsk region
Vitebsk • Albrehtovo • Babinovichi • Baran • Bayevo • Begoml • Beshenkovichi • Bocheikovo • Bogushevsk • Borkovichi • Braslav • Bychiha • Chashniki • Disna • Dobromysli • Dokshitsy • Druya • Dubrovno • Glubokoye • Gorodok • Kamen • Kohanovo • Kolyshki • Kopys • Krasnopolie • Kublichi • Lepel • Liady • Liozno • Lukoml • Luzhki • Lyntupy • Miory • Obol • Oboltsy • Orsha • Osintorf • Ostrovno • Parafianovo • Plissa • Polotsk • Prozorki • Senno • Sharkovshina • Shumilino • Sirotino • Slaveni• Smolyany • Surazh • Tolochin • Ulla • Verhnedvinsk • Vidzy • Volyntsy • Yanovichi • Yezerishe • Zhary • Ziabki •