Valozhyn (Volozhin, Valozhyn, Wolozyn) | Minsk

/ Local ambiance. ©Victoria Bahr/Yahad - In Unum The Jewish cemetery in Volozhyn. ©Victoria Bahr/Yahad - In Unum A former Jewish house from the period. ©Victoria Bahr/Yahad - In Unum The location of the house where the Jews were shot and burned. Today, there is a new house built on the site. ©Victoria Bahr/Yahad - In Unum Vera P., born in 1937: “I remember the Jews being forced to dig the pit by themselves. It was on the football field. They were later lined on at the edge of the pit and shot.” ©Victoria Bahr/Yahad - In Unum Arkadiy Y., born in 1930: "The ghetto was established some time after the Germans’ arrival. It was located on Zelyony Plats street. All the Jews from nearby villages were brought here." ©Victoria Bahr/Yahad - In Unum Arkadiy Y., born in 1930, points out the location of the house where the Jews were shot and burned, some of them were still alive. ©Victoria Bahr/Yahad - In Unum The Yahad team during an interview. ©Victoria Bahr/Yahad - In Unum The memorial to 3,000 Jews murdered during the various Aktions in Volozhyn, located at the Jewish cemetery. ©Victoria Bahr/Yahad - In Unum

Execution of Jews in Volozhyn

3 Execution site(s)

Kind of place before:
Houses / Sport field / Jewish cemetery
Period of occupation:
Number of victims:

Witness interview

Vera P., born in 1937: “Once the Germans had arrived, the Jews had to shut down their small businesses. Their lives became complicated. They were forced to move into the ghetto, which was surrounded with a fence. Some Russian families whose houses ended up in the ghetto were forced to move into the Jewish houses, with the Jews subsequently moved into the Russian ones. The fence was built by the Jews, so were pits in which they were shot.
YIU: How long did they Jews stay in the ghetto?
W: Not too long. I remember bringing them some food. They were taken to be shot after about two weeks.” (Eyewitness n°723, interviewed in Volozhyn, on April 23, 2014)

Soviet archives

“The extermination of the population was conducted in different ways, from mass executions and burnings to burying the victims alive. An eyewitness to these crimes, Buriak Mikhail Adreyevich, declared the following: "In August 1941, the armed Germans rounded up some Jews and ordered them to dig a pit. Once the pit had been prepared, all the Jews were forced down into it and shot. 45 Jews were shot dead that day, others were buried even if they were only wounded and still alive. In September 1942, a German punitive detachment confined about 1,500 Jews into a ghetto. The ghetto was subsequently cordoned off and about 1,000 Jews were selected and taken to be shot. The shooting was conducted not far away from the village of Vishnev. They fired with rifles, guns and machine guns. If someone attempted to escape, the German guards shot them dead on the spot. Small children were thrown into the pit alive, it was a kind of entertainment for the Germans. They killed everyone who tried to escape." [Act n°2, drawn up by State Extraordinary commission (ChGK) on June 13, 1945 in the town of Volozhin, RG-22.002M/ 7021-89-4[]

German archives

"With the support of officers from the local gendarmerie post and the local police, the ghetto was surrounded by the command in the early morning of September 5, 1942. The Jews were forced to leave their homes. One could hear the cries of women, the screams of children and the scolding of the members of the command. Gunfire could be heard from different houses. Any Jew who was too sick, too young or too old to go outside was shot dead on the spot. Some Jews were also shot in the streets for resisting, not understanding orders or not immediately following them or attempting to escape. Soon the streets, yards and gardens were covered with corpses.
Over the course of the morning, about 800 Jews were assmebled at the blacksmiths of the Kreis-Industrie-Kombinat. This building stood on the corner of the Oktyabrskaya and Shcherbina streets and bordered with the Wolozynka river. On the way there, and finally in the workshop itself, the Jews were beaten indiscriminately with rifle butts and whips and kicked with boots. The building was soon overcrowded. It was a huge chaos. The narrowness was unbearable and the children’s cries were indescribable.” [Report, B162/1304, p.141-146]

Historical note

Valozhin is a town located about 75 km (47 miles) northwest of Minsk. The first records of a local Jewish community date back to the 16th century.  In 1766, there were 383 Jews in the town, and by 1921 that number had increased to 1,434. The Jewish community was big, and it had its own Jewish cemetery and a synagogue. There was a Yeshiva school called "Tree of Life", founded in 1803 by the Rabbi Hayim Volozhyner. Most of the Jews lived off trade and handicraft. Up to 1939, the town was under Polish rule and in September 1939 was taken over by the Soviets as a result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.  From 1939 to 1941, many Jewish refugees arrived from occupied Poland. On the eve of the war, 3,000-3,500 Jews lived in the town. The village was occupied by German forces on June 25, 1941.

Holocaust by bullets in figures

Two weeks after the Germans’ arrival, all the Jews were registered and marked. According to Yahad field research, a closed ghetto was established in August 1941 and was located on Zelyony Plats street.

The Jews were subjected to different types of forced labor. During the German occupation of Volozhyn, there were several anti-Jewish Aktions during which about 2,000 Jews were murdered. The first Aktion was conducted in August 1941, during which 45 Jews were murdered. At the end of October 1941, another Aktion was conducted at the sports stadium. According to historical sources, circa. 200 Jews, mostly men, were killed that day.

Vera P. (witness n°723) happened to be an eyewitness of the shooting. According to her, the Jews were forced to dig the pit themselves and were then shot on the edge of it in small groups.

Another eyewitness, Arkadiy Y. (n°722), provided some significant details regarding the Aktion conducted on May 10, 1942 by SS members. That day, circa. 1,000 Jews, including women, men and children, were assembled in houses that used to belong to Polish soldiers and shot. According to Arkadiy, before entering the houses, the Jews had to undress down to their underwear. They were brought to the houses in groups of fifteen and formed a line outside, waiting until a German with a submachine gun, who remained at the window, gave the order for them the to enter. From historical sources, we know that circa. 1000 Jews were murdered in that way.

After the shooting, the houses containing the corpses, with some Jews still alive inside, were set on fire. The last Aktion took place in August 1942, when the ghetto was liquidated. SD members, accompanied by German gendarmes and local police, surrounded the ghetto and shot a number of Jews in the streets. The others were taken and shot in the barn, which was subsequently burned down.

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