From the papers of the late Elimelech Benari, contributed in 2005 by his son, Shmuel. Table of Contents.
Edited for clarity, slightly reorganized, headings added, by the Page Coordinator.
Part 2: The Soviet Invasion
3. The Germans Arrive
25 June 1941
The destruction of the Jews of the town of Kletsk in Belorussia was carried out by the Germans, with the assistance of their servants the Belorussians and the Lithuanians, in two stages. The first stage, in which more than 4,000 Jews were brought to their death - the majority of the community -occurred on the ninth of Cheshvan, October 30th, 1941, four months after the Germans invaded the town. The remaining 1,500 to 2,000 Jews were imprisoned behind barbed wire in the ghetto, which survived nine more months. Its end, and that of the 500-year-old community, came on the eighth day of Av, the 22nd of July, 1942, in the stage in which became evident an armed and organized resistance, as far as conditions allowed, and individual acts of bravery.
Less than two years passed until the German invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941 shocked the foundations of the world. On June 25, they entered Kletsk. Many of the townspeople wanted to flee east, to the interior of the Soviet Union, but Germans chased them and the Soviet soldiery curbed them on the border. Those who fled, for the most part, were compelled to return to their home.
The Cruelty Begins
Upon entering the town, the Germans began drafting for labor and harsh persecutions. Not far from the town were the military barracks, and they brought the Jews there to clean the stables. They harnessed the Jews to wagons as though they were horses and accompanied them with harsh blows with rubber sticks. Young men who did not present themselves for labor or who hid and were caught were taken out and murdered. The local commanders, S.S. officers Koch and his lieutenant Neuman, treated them with sadistic cruelty. They would melt from the pleasure of Jews' suffering. They used to visit the labor sites and beat men until the victim's soul left his body. [Source: Pinkas Kletsk, published by the United Kletsker Relief, 1959.]
The Germans appointed a "'Jewish Council", through which they executed their rule over the Jews. An order went out forcing every Jew to wear a band of white cloth with a yellow Star of David. After some time, a new order went out that 'heralded' a change: a yellow patch on the back and on the chest. Other decrees were: it was forbidden for Jews to walk on the sidewalks, and they had to remove their hats whenever they met Germans. Arrests and murders of individuals were an everyday matter. Following all this were the "levies": the squeezing of money, gold and other valuables, along with clothing, material, soap etc.
The eve of Rosh Hashanah the Germans decided to break up the square of shops in the central market plaza. Some seventy five Jews were employed in this work. Every day this group left from the Bikur Cholim building, where the "Jewish Council" was located. Koch and Neuman used to make frequent visits to the place and beat the workers mercilessly. The dismantling of the shops became a bloodbath. The Jewish council attempted through negotiations and offering gold and jewels to mollify the two Germans and to stop their frenzy. They took the present, but after a time they renewed their cruelties.
A special murder was carried out on a woman who forgot to sew on the yellow patch. She was brought to the police station and from there taken by Neuman to the sandpits outside of town, where most of the townspeople were later murdered. Gentiles nearby related that she resisted and struggled with her executioner, Neuman, until he overcame her and shot her.
The Germans established a local police force and drafted Belorussians and Poles into it. They received a free hand to move against the Jews. The Jews' situation worsened. All the food they had was eaten and there were no possibilities to obtain more. In the course of the first three months, they received nothing from the authorities and every one was compelled to find ways to obtain what they needed.
Part 4: Black Friday
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