75th anniversary of the extermination of Grajewo ghetto

On November 2, 1942, the Germans began annihiliation of the ghetto in Grajewo. It was part of the organized extermination of the Jewish population in the Białystok District.

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Synagogue in Grajewo (1871–1939)  /  Photo from the collection of the Museum of the Jews of Bialystok and the region.

75 years ago, on Monday, November 2, 1942, the Germans liquidated the ghetto in Grajewo. On the same day the liquidation took place in most of the Białystok District, excluding Białystok, Jasionówka, Prużany and partly Grodno, Krynki and Sokółka. The Jews were deported to transit camps or taken directly to the death camps in Treblinka and Auschwitz — Birkenau.

In 1939 the Jews constituted about 40% of the population of Grajewo (3850 people). They mainly dealt with trade and small craft, among them were doctors and teachers.

In August 1941, the city commissioner Greiss allocated five days for the Jews to move to the ghetto, which was established in streets of Dolna, Łazienna and a part of Zielona street. Germans allowed the local peasants to sell food and timber to the population closed in the ghetto twice a week. The Jews had a food shop and a bakery.

In the Jewish closed quarter of Grajewo there were 4.5 thousand people. Apart from the Grajewo Jews, there were ressetled also people from nearby towns: in June 1942 most of the young women from Augustów, about 600 people from the ghetto in Rajgród on October 25, 1942.

The only known story about life in Grajewo ghetto and deportation to the camp was left by Runia Lunski. In 1940, when the eastern territories of Poland were under Soviet occupation, she was transferred with her husband Lowa from Bialystok to Grajewo, where he was employed as a physician. Runia worked as a cashier in the municipality for a few months. „After the Germans entered,” she says, „our lives have changed completely. We were in constant fear that we would be deported to the camp. We knew that it is happening. We were very worried about our future. We met our neighbors and discussed what would happen to us. We were afraid, still afraid”.

The ressetlements on November 2, 1942, were carried out according to a specific plan in various locations of the Bialystok District. The SS and police surrounded the ghetto area (4.30 — 5.30 am). People were dragged from their homes and gathered in the square. Those who tried to hide or resist were killed on the spot. During the liquidation of the Grajewo ghetto, 6 families were murdered.

The Jews were ressetled to the transit camp in Bogusze, near the railway station in Prostken (presently Prostki). Nachman Rapp, who described the ghetto and his extermination after the war, writes that the road between Grajewo and Bogusze was strewn with the bundles of personal belongings. „One night the Germans came to our apartment and took us to the camp that was on the edge of the town”, says Runia Lunski. „They gathered all the people from the area. There was not much food. We hardly ate anythin)”.

In the camp there were 5 — 9 thousand Jews from Grajewo and surrounding areas, centered during the November expulsions. Between 15 and 16 December 3 to 5 thousand people were driven by the Germans to the railway station in Prostken, from where they were taken to the extermination camp in Treblinka. On January 3, 1943, the remaining 2 thousand Jews were sent to Auschwitz — Birkenau. Runia Lunski was with her husband on the train. „We were in a passenger car, in which there were doctors and people of other professions. We did not know where we are going to”. The train stopped in Czestochowa. In the ghetto there was a family of Runia Lunski. The husband pulled her out of the carriage. „None of the Germans fired. There were maybe two soldiers for 250 people, so they did not notice us. Somebody from the car threw us a coat”.

The train, which left Prostken on January 3, after 4 days reached the ramp at Birkenau. 296 men and 215 women were sent to forced labor. The remaining 1489 people were gassed immediately upon arrival.

Grajewo’s Jewish community was destroyed and never reborn. Several dozen people survived. Most of them were people, who had escaped or were deported to the Soviet Union during the Soviet occupation. After the war, they were resettled to Lower Silesia in Poland. Among them was Nachman Rapp, who came with Shmuel Kaminski in 1947 to Grajewo to gather information on the Holocaust of the Jewish community of the city. We can read this report today in the Grayewo Memorial Book, published in 1950 in New York.

Lunia Runski and her husband survived the war. She lost the whole family: two sisters and parents. Finally, after the war she settled in the United States.

 

Bibliography:

Dean, Martin, ed., Encyclopedia of camps and ghettos 1933–1945, Indiana University Press, 2012, vol. 2, pp. 887–889.

Gorin, George, ed, Grajewo Memorial Book, New York: JewishGen Inc., 2014, pp. 174–215, XIX–XLIX.

USH Foundation, Visual History Archive, # 3129.

 




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