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