The Holocaust in Rossasna
The Nazis conquered Belarus in early 1941, and just as they did elsewhere, established ghettos which were subsequently “liquidated“.
The Germans captured Rossasna in July of 1941. They moved all the Jews into only six houses at the end of Dubrovenskaya Street. Policemen constantly watched the Jews, and people were warned not to visit them. The Jews were starving, and they were also not allowed to heat their homes once the weather changed. Men and young women were taken for work. Reports differ as to the fate of the Jews. One account holds that near the end of 1941, during a snowstorm, all the Jews were taken to the market square, counted, and then marched to the ghetto in Lyady. No one saw them after that. Another account states that the Jews weren’t taken to Lyady until 2 Apr 1942, where they were murdered along with the local Jews. However, it is known that there is a mass grave just outside of Rossasna, where almost 200 local Jews were killed. And after the war, about twenty dead bodies, mostly elderly people, were found along the road to Lyady. Locals collected their bodies and buried them in the Jewish cemetery.
As part of my research, I requested that local people be interviewed about the war. Three elderly women shared their reminiscences about that era. Nadezhda B. recalled that the primary school she attended had many Jewish students and teachers. She said her father, a noted cooper (barrel maker), felt very positively about the Jews, and that people got along well. Anna R. noted that it was very painful to talk about this time, as it had affected her personally. Her father was shot by the Nazis before her eyes because he refused to join the police. Anna also related that people were shot for being communists as well, including the Jewish head of the nearby collective farm. The communists were rounded up during the first days of the Nazi occupation and shot near the Jewish cemetery. She also remembered a “mixed” family in which the husband was Christian and the wife Jewish. The Nazis sent his wife to the Lyady ghetto; he was able to exchange the lives of his children for payments of gold. Her Jewish friend named Sonia, who shared the same desk with her at school, was sent with her family to the Lyady ghetto and did not return. The home of Mariya S. was burned down at the start of the war, and her father built a dugout in which the family lived until the end of the war. Mariya also mentioned that after the war, the new owners of a previously Jewish owned home found kitchenware that had been buried in the cellar.
Of the two streets primarily inhabited by Jews (Dubrovenskaya and Orshanskaya Streets), nearly all the houses on Orshanskaya Street were burned down when Rossasna was liberated by the Russians.
Very few Jews returned to Rossasna after the war; and those who did return did not stay long. Anna and Nadezhda both remembered a man named Nahum or Nokhimke who had managed to escape from the ghetto and join the partisans. He lost his entire family during the war. After he returned, he stayed for only three or four years before moving to Orsha. Today, there are no Jews remaining in Rossasna. Any children who had grown up in mixed families and survived the war adopted Christianity.
Other than the testimonies of the people interviewed, there is very little written about life in the ghetto in Rossasna during the war that I have been able to find. However, the Yizkor (memorial) book for Belarus features a description of the ghetto in Orsha, the nearest large town to Rossasna, which I have paraphrased below. Conditions were certainly very similar in Rossasna.
“There was a curfew and food rationing. The 2,000 Jews of the town were forced into the ghetto, which comprised only twenty houses. Jews lived in attics, sheds, and former business sites. Planks were pulled up to use as beds. A collective fine of 250,000 rubles was imposed, which people paid in cash and in valuable objects. The Germans promised that the Jews would soon be sent to Mandatory Palestine, and in this manner, order was kept. In November 1941 the ghetto was liquidated, with most of the Jews being deported to concentration camps and killed on arrival. The remaining Jews were ordered to dig trenches in a ravine just outside of town, then forced to undress and were shot. In 1943, to hide the evidence of their actions, the Germans unearthed the corpses, which were then burned in twenty-four large tubs that had been previously used as pickling vats.”
Since the Germans did not record the names of these people, there is only survivor testimony, or lists compiled after the war by investigative commissions, to use as a reference. Due to the dearth of survivors, and the haphazard way in which the lists were compiled, most of the names of the dead will never be known.
Compiled by Judy Petersen
Created by JP February 2016
Last updated by JP January 2018
copyright © February 2016 Judy Petersen
Email: Judy Petersen
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