Luninets (Luniniec) | Brest

Luninets - Students of the gymnasium, 1937.  © Taken from /Archiwum rodzinne – projekt Polskie Korzenie w Izraelu / Muzeum Historii Żydów Polskich POLIN Luninets - Students of Tarbut school, 1937.  ©Taken from /Archiwum rodzinne – projekt Polskie Korzenie w Izraelu / Muzeum Historii Żydów Polskich POLIN Pilsudkogo Street during the interwar period. ©Taken from /Archiwum rodzinne – projekt Polskie Korzenie w Izraelu / Muzeum Historii Żydów Polskich POLIN / / Aleksandr Z., born in 1927: “There were only men. They had to roll the barrels. There was a lake called Mochula where they [the Jews] were forced to swim in the mud. After that, the SS men came and shot them dead.".©Nicolas Tkatchouk/Yahad - In Unum Arkadiy G., born in 1929 sketching a diagram of the crime scene: “At that moment I was about 400m away from the site and was able to witness everything. The Jews were taken in the direction of the railway station.” ©Nicolas Tkatchouk/Yahad - In Unum Vladimir N., born in 1928: “When the ghetto was created, all the Jews, except the artisans, were forced to move there. The artisans continued to live in their houses until the autumn of 1942, when they were shot.” ©Nicolas Tkatchouk/Yahad - In Unum Olga S., born in 1929: “Our neighbor was Faibel. His wife’s name was Chira, one of his daughters was called Basia, another Lea and the son Shmuel. When they were taken to the shooting, I was taken with them as well." ©Nicolas Tkatchouk/Yahad - In Unum Aleksandr P., born in 1927, at the former location of the ghetto. According to local witnesses, the ghetto was created a couple of weeks after the Germans’ arrival. ©Nicolas Tkatchouk/Yahad - In Unum The location of the mass grave where over 3,000 Jews, mainly women, children and elderly were massacred during the liquidation of the ghetto. ©Nicolas Tkatchouk/Yahad - In Unum The Yahad team with Aleksandr P., born in 1927, on their way to the execution site. ©Nicolas Tkatchouk/Yahad - In Unum The memorial for over 4,000 Jews murdered here during WWII. The monument is located near the Mogul and Borovschina tracts, where mass executions took place on August 10, 1941 and September 4, 1942. ©Nicolas Tkatchouk/Yahad - In Unum

Execution of Jews in Luninets

3 Execution site(s)

Kind of place before:
Mogul tract (1); Borovshchina tract (2)
Period of occupation:
Number of victims:
Over 4,000

Witness interview

Arkadiy G., born in 1929: "The Jewish women and children were marched towards the execution site escorted by Germans and policemen on both sides. By that time the Jewish men had already been shot, but I didn’t see that execution, so I won’t be able to give you more details. I only saw the women and children being shot. I was about 400m away from the site and witnessed everything. The Jews were taken in the direction of the railway station. I guess this was done on purpose to make them believe they would be deported or taken somewhere. But instead of being taken to the railway station, they were taken to a pit with a sort of embankment nearby. Once there, the Jews had to undress and then they had to walk around the pit in groups and slide down the slope to get inside the pit. They were then shot by a German who was standing on the edge of the pit. After the shooting, the Jews’ clothes were distributed among the local population.” (Witnesses N°190, interviewed in Luninets, on August 9, 2009)

Soviet archives

"At the beginning of August 1941, upon the orders of the German SD authorities, the town council of Luninets announced that the Jewish men were to assemble, on the pretext of having their papers and professions checked. Along with their papers, they had to bring along shovels, axes, and saws, because they would be sent to work after the papers had been checked. After the gathering, these men were convoyed by the German gendarmerie to the edge of the town, in the locality Mochula [Mogul tract], that had been cordoned off by the Germans beforehand. There, some of the [victims]… were forced to dig pits. In groups of ten or so, the Jews were ordered to lie face down in the pits. The Germans shot them in the back of the neck, at point-blank range. Those who were still alive were forced to throw the dead ones into the pits and lie down in their place. Those who resisted were shot on the spot." [Act drawn by Soviet State Extraordinary Commission (ChGK) on April 10, 1945; GARF 7021-90-31]

German archives

“The shooting took place on September 4, 1942. The police units surrounded the town, set up guards at the pit, and helped transport the victims to the shooting site. The shooting was carried out by a SD unit from Pińsk [Pinsk]. Policemen also shot and threw the people into the pit. The process of rounding the people up and bringing them to the pit was not difficult, as they did not resist. The commanding officer of the Security Police selected some artisans, around 100, who were separated from the rest of the group. They were shot in mid-October 1942. Any victims who were unable to walk were driven to the site in a truck. The pit was located in the Borowszczyzna Forest, next to the Łuniniec-Pińsk [Luninets-Pinsk] railway, not far from the old bank of the Łuniniec-Baranowicze [Luninets-Baranovichi] railway line, at a distance of 1.5km from the ghetto. It was 50m long, 4m wide, and 3m deep. The defendant has confirmed that the victims were shot in the back of the neck, as it had been done in Łachwa [Lakhva]. The eyewitnesses have described the events that took place at the pit with greater precision. In his testimony, the eyewitness says that the victims had to undress. From the place where they stood waiting for their turn, they could see what was going on near the pit. The sounds of gunfire were heard, as were the moans of the victims, and especially those of the women and children. One could not help hearing them. The victims, in groups of ten, walked along the two rows of guards, holding each other’s hands. Little children were not allowed in their mothers’ arms and were forced to walk on their own. The people screamed terribly, gripped by the fear of death. The women and children were ordered to lie down in the pit and prepare their heads [for the shooting]. The eyewitness […] describes the event as a horrible one, and says it is impossible to put it in words. Terrible scenes of separation could be seen. The massacre lasted until 4 PM. By that time, at least 2,800 people had been shot.” [From the indictment against Johann Kuhr and others at the Frankfurt court; Landgericht Frankfurt am Main 4 KS 1/71; BA-L ZStL, 204AR-Z393/59]

Historical note

Luninets is a town and administrative center for the Luninets district, located 55km (34mi) northeast of Pinsk. From 1540 to 1793, it was part of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In 1793, the town was taken over by the Russian Empire and remained under its administration until 1920, when it was retaken by Poland following the Polish-Soviet war. The Jewish community started to grow with the development of the railway stations which were connected to the biggest cities such as Warsaw, Vilnius and Pinsk. Most of the Jews were small merchants, shopkeepers or artisans, predominantly specializing in the clothing, lumber, and transport industries. The community had four synagogues, a cemetery and a mikhva [ritual bath] built in 1910. There was a Talmud Torah, a Yeshiva and a Hebrew Tarbut school. Like many shtetls in this area, the Luninets’s Jewish community included both religious and secular Jews, and both Bundist and Zionist movements. In September 1939, the town was occupied by the Soviet Union following the Molotov Ribbentrop Pact.  Shortly after all the Jewish schools were closed, and religious and political movements were forbidden. In 1939, about 2,000 Jews lived in Luninets, making up to 20% of the total population. 

Holocaust by bullets in figures

Luninets was occupied by German forces on July 10, 1941. By that time some Jews had managed to evacuate to the East, while the majority had to return due to the quick advance of German troops. Shortly after the Germans’ arrival, several Jewish doctors were rounded up and shot at an unknown site. All the Jews were registered and marked with yellow Stars of David and a Judenrat and local police were created.

In August 1941 almost all of the men were shot and killed, and the women and children were moved into a ghetto. The August Aktion was the first mass execution and was conducted on August 10, 1941, by a special German unit from the 2nd Regiment of the 1st SS Cavalry Brigade. That day, all men over 14 years old were gathered under the pretext of being sent for work. After a selection, during which some skilled workers were allowed to leave, the remaining men were taken outside Luninets, 400m north of the railroads, to a site called Mochula, or Mogul Tract, where they were shot to death. Before being shot, the men were forced to dig seven pits. Then, they got into the pit in groups and were forced to lie down facing the ground. The number of the victims shot on this day is estimated at 1,312. Many of the men who survived this Aktion, along with some women, were sent to the labor camp in Gantsevichi.

According to historical sources, the ghetto was created in March 1942, although local witnesses interviewed by Yahad claimed that it was created a couple of weeks after the Germans’ arrival. It is possible that a small ghetto was created shortly after the occupation, and a bigger one, where not only the remaining Jews from Luninets, but also those transferred in from the surrounding area were interred, was created in March 1942.  Some of the non-Jewish residents were relocated from that area. The ghetto was fenced in with barbed wire and guarded by local police. Only artisans who had special permission were authorized to leave the ghetto to go to work.

The ghetto was liquidated on September 4, 1942. This Aktion was conducted by Reserve Police Bataillon 306, Reserve Police Bataillon 69 and a SD unit from Pinsk, assisted by the German gendarmerie and local police. That day, all the ghetto inmates, mainly women and children, were taken to the Borovshchina tract, located north of the Mochula, or Mogul Tract. Prior to the shooting, the victims were forced to strip naked and pile their clothes on the ground, with the women’s clothes being separated from the men’s and then distributed to the local population, according to the testimonies recorded by Yahad. Some 100 artisans who had been spared during this Aktion were shot shortly after, in mid-October 1942.

According to the testimonies, following the ghetto liquidation, Hungarian Jews were taken to Luninets. It is possible that they were Jews from a work battalion that Germans displaced due to the needs of the front, in order to cut wood, or build roads. After a while, the Hungarian Jews were moved on.  

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