The Minsk Ghetto : Authority and Rule

While the rest of Europe was struggling with the war against Germany, many of the inhabitants of the Ghettos were struggling with German rule. The Minsk Ghetto was among those villages that were constantly terrorized by the German police. The chief of the German police, Gattenbach, was always looking for Jews to terrorize in the Ghetto. He frequently visited the village to torture and beat women and children who did not successfully hide in time. But as time progressed, things only seemed to have turned for the worse. Richter, a Prussian police official who used to "relieve" Gattenbach in the Ghetto, proved to be a more experienced murder in his time. (Smolar 45) His cruelty exceeded to the borders of human need depravation, as he constantly looted the Ghetto off from many needs the Jews possessed.

Eventually, Richter was replaced by Benetzke, who was later replaced by S.S. Scharfuhrer. Each of the new Chiefs surpassed the previous in cruelty. The superior of these police chiefs was Commandant Redder. All decrees against the Minsk settlement were issued by him. He would constantly demand funds and goods from the head of the Jewish settlement. The Judenrat members were responsible with delivering these goods.

In addition to the constant terrors faced by the German police, the Ghetto also faced another band of brigands. The murder squad of the Shiroka concentration camp, headed by Deputy Commandant Gorodietski, constantly raided the village to look for workers, and for Jews to burn at Trostynietz. The Shiroka camp was supervised by the security service, the Sicherheitsdienst. All acts of terrorism upon the Minsk population was headed by the S.S. and police General Zenner. But after February of 1942, Zenner was replaced by Obersturmbannffuhrer Edouard Strauch, who was head of the Security service in Byelorussia, who was sent from Berlin.

With so many different officials in various ranks, it was always difficult to keep track of orders that were supposedly carried out by the demand of Generals over Commandant Redder. This, of course, would open room for many possible acts of atrocities.

The Jews, however weak they were by the attacks of the Germans, still managed to have a certain degree of authority. In Minsk, the Jews responsible for answering to German authority were the Judenrat. Their chief head was Ilya Mushkin, who was held responsible for fulfilling the wishes of the German police.

The civil administration of occupied Byelorussia, which carried out Hitler's policies toward the Jew, was headed by General Kommissar Kube. The Judenrat felt tensions between him and Obersturmbannfuhrer. Kommissar represented the civil authority, while Obersturmbannfuhrer was the police authority. These tensions were a direct result of contradicting attitudes toward the Ghetto. Jews who were brought from Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia after the November pogroms had different perspectives than the rest of the Jews. These were occupying the houses that were previously taken by Soviet Jews, who were murdered to make space for the new wave of Jews. This new wave of Jews became known as the Hamburg Jews, since the first to arrive came from Hamburg.

As soon as these new Jews reached their new home, they built a fence to separate themselves from the Ostjuden. The new Jews were unlike those who were already residing in Minsk. They resembled the German authorities, and were thus viewed with a threatening perspective. The Ghetto was divided.

The food supplied to the Jews was not nearly enough to keep the population from starvation. In order to obtain food products, they had to trade anything of value that they possessed. The creation of this market attracted the Black police from the Russian zone, and the Jewish police. But the conditions in the Ghetto kept the Jews from discontinuing their trade. In one instance, Obersturmfuhrer Birkhardt shot a group of traders in the Hamburg Ghetto, but yet, within a matter or minutes, the trading continued among the Jews with little regard to what had happened.

Within the Hamburg ghetto, the Jews organized themselves into different communities. These were based on the cities from which they had been deported. From the German Jews, a new and separate "Judenrat" was formed, which was headed by The Juden-Altester, Dr. Edgar Frank. They had no relationship to the Minsk Juddenrat, but once they invited them over some latkes, made out of potato skins. Ironically, the German Jews had a more friendly attitude toward the German civil administration than they did with the Minsk Ghetto.

At around the end of 1941, General Kommissar Kube visited the Hamburg Ghetto, and spoke to Dr. Frank. There, he learned that among the Hamburg ghetto were Jews who served in the German military during the Great War. Kube was impressed, and promised that he would report this to Hitler Himself. This new relationship between Kube and the Hamburg Ghetto caused many conflicts to occur. S.S. Chief Strauch complained to Reichskommissar Lohse in Riga, as well as to Rosenberg's minister of the Occupied Territories. Strauch then reported that Kube was opposed to any actions against the Jews. Apparently, Kube was seen as one in the way of the Ordnungsdienst of the German Jews, who specialized in their liquidation. In the heart of it, Kube opposed Strauch because he prevented him from implementing plans to create organizations that would consist of Byelorussian collaborators. At one time, Strauch had to put up with an order from Berlin to refrain from any actions that would affect the Jewish skilled workers in the military workshops, or those who worked for the S.S.

As a result of the Berlin order, a secret circular was sent out by the Hitler government in Berlin, on December 3, 1941. It was received by the Reichskommissar of Ostland, the senior leaders of the S.S. and police in Riga, the General Kommissars in Reval, Riga, Kovno and Minsk, and to the Commander of the Wehrmacht in Ostland. It declared that Jewish skilled workers employed in arms factories and in renovation shops, who cannot be replaced immediately, should not be listed for liquidation. From this circular came an order to split the Ghetto into two sections. One would consist of skilled workers who carried passes, and the other for the rest of the Jews. Most of the Hamburg Ghetto was employed in military installations, although most of them were unskilled workers. The remaining of them were saved by General Kommissar, who had set up a factory for the production of wagons. These were to be made for transport of German military equipment. As a result of these orders, roundups by the Einsatzkommandos and Gorodietski's camp bandits ceased. However, more and more Jews were being murdered during the night, and no order could save them from this.

Works Cited

Smolar, Hersh. The Minsk Ghetto. Holocaust Library: 1989, New York.

Works Consulted

Brym, Robert J. The Jews of Moscow, Kiev and Minsk. New York:
New York University Press: 1994

Macdonald, Kevin. A People That Shall Dwell Alone. Westport: Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data: 1994.

Schroeter, Leonard. The Last Exodus. New York: Universe Books: 1974.