Tatarsk | Smolensk

Rabbi Chaim-Yaakov Raiskin and family. Village of Tatarsk. Circa 1900.© Taken from Wikipedia / The abandoned building of the synagogue in Tatarsk, 2009. © Nicolas Tkatchouk/Yahad - In Unum The abandoned building of the synagogue in Tatarsk, 2009. © Nicolas Tkatchouk/Yahad - In Unum Valentina K., born in 1928: « The Germans selected about 40 Jewish specialists, such as pharmacists and shoemakers, and forced them into the truck. They were taken away and they had never came back.”  © Nicolas Tkatchouk/Yahad - In Unum The Yahad - In Unum team with Valentina K. at the execution site in 2009 © Nicolas Tkatchouk/Yahad - In Unum The Yahad - In Unum team during an interview in 2019 © Thomas Cecchelani /Yahad - In Unum Maria K., born in 1933: “They were standing by the ditch, then they were shot and fell into it. All of them, those who were alive, and those who were just wounded. “© Thomas Cecchelani  /Yahad - In Unum The execution site of Jews from the ghetto murdered in the autumn of 1941.  © Nicolas Tkatchouk/Yahad - In Unum The execution site of Jews from the ghetto murdered in the autumn of 1941.  © Nicolas Tkatchouk/Yahad - In Unum The valley where the anti-tank ditches used to be located. Circa. 40-50 Jewish skilled workers were shot at this site.  © Nicolas Tkatchouk/Yahad - In Unum

Execution of Jews in Tatarsk

3 Execution site(s)

Kind of place before:
Anti-tank ditches
Period of occupation:
Number of victims:
About 300

Witness interview

Valentina K., born in 1928: “One of the German shooters was kneeling down. The German driver who brought the [Jewish] men, lined them up on the edge of the ditches. All of them were lined up, apart from three men with shovels. There were four bursts of machine gun fire. In all, there were four ditches, and the victims were lined up in groups of ten on the edge of each one. There was a small space between each ditch. When the war broke out lots of ditches were dug. They were everywhere. Once the Jews were lined up they were shot with submachine guns in four short bursts. They fell down into the ditches as if they were asleep. It is a horrible story. I will remember it all my life. What a horror! It is truly horrible. We were about to harvest flax on the hill when we heard the gunshots. We stood there watching with open mouths. Some of us wanted to run away, but other women told them not to, because the Germans would think that they were Jewish and attempting to escape. They could have fired at us with the machine guns as well. We could see everything because the grass had been cut.” (Witness n°27, interviewed in Tatarsk, on September 30, 2009)

German archives

“[…] I also had to participate in the Aktion against the Jews conducted outside of Smolensk. This Aktion against the Jews was carried out in Tatarsk. A ghetto had been created in Tatarsk. The Tatarsk Jews received an order to remain on the ghetto territory. But the Jews didn’t respect this order, and moved back into their former homes. That is why an Aktion was planned. Lieutenant Dölle arrived with members of his unit and our men from the Security Police. I know that men from the SD unit also participated in this Aktion. I clearly remember that the SD chiefs also arrived for this Aktion. The Jewish men from Tatarsk were shot during this Aktion.

The Tatarsk Jews were first gathered at the market place. The men were then taken in LKW trucks towards the anti-tank ditches located near Tatarsk. The Jewish men were shot in this ravine. As far as I remember, about 50 Jews were shot during this Aktion. Even today I remember that a small Jewish boy was shot during this Aktion. This Jewish boy must have been about 5 years old. […]. I also know that during this Aktion carried out in Tatarsk, all the Jews had to hand over whatever they had in the pockets, and put it by the ditch. However, they were authorised to keep their clothes. During the shooting, the Jews were shot in groups of about eight or ten people. Once again, they were shot with submachine guns and rifles. When one group of Jews arrived at the ditch, they had to jump inside it, lay down facing the ground close to one another, and after that they were shot with rifles.” [Declaration of Hugo T., member of Police battalion 9, regarding the occupation in Smolensk, given on October 18th 1963; BArch B162-4109, Part 1 p. 38]

Historical note

Tatarsk is located 69km (43 miles) southwest of Smolensk. The first records of the Jewish community go back to the end of the 18th century.  In the middle of the 19th century, an agricultural colony was created in the village. In the 1920s, it was transformed into a Jewish kolkhoz called Trudovik [the Labourer]. The majority of Jews were involved in agriculture. Many of them were skilled workers, such as shoemakers, pharmacists, and tailors, amongst others. Some Jews owned shops and lived off small scale trade. The community had its synagogue and a cemetery, which was destroyed. There were two Yiddish schools, but in 1938 they were transformed into Russian schools. On the eve of the war, around 600 Jews lived in the village, comprising 70% of the total population. 

Holocaust by bullets in figures

Tatarsk was occupied by the Germans on July 18th 1941. By this time, about 30% of Jews had managed to evacuate, leaving behind around 400 Jews. Shortly after occupation, anti-Jewish measures were implemented. All the Jews were registered and marked with distinctive badges. A Jewish council and a local police were created. In late September or early October 1941, a ghetto was established in Tatarsk, and about 600 Jews, including local and those brought from the nearby villages, lived there in very overcrowded conditions. According to the local witness YIU/906R, between five and seven families were sharing one house.

The Tatarsk Jews were murdered over the course of several Aktions conducted throughout autumn and winter of 1941. The first Aktion was conducted in mid-September on 40-50 Jewish skilled workers who were rounded-up and taken to the anti-tank ditch to be shot. German reports mention other shootings that were carried out in October 1941, as a result of the violation of the ghetto regime as many Jews returned to their previous places of living. Before being killed, the Jews were gathered at the market place from where the men were taken to the same anti-tank ditches and shot, while women were released, all after a selection. The women were rounded-up and shot shortly later.  The shootings were conducted by Einzatzgruppen B with the aid of German Security Police and local policemen. Several isolated shootings were conducted after this mass execution but it was impossible to establish the exact numbers of victims and the dates when they were carried out.

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