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Use our multimedia maps, and explore the family pictures, archival material, and personal stories of 21 Jewish Holocaust survivors to get a unique insight into Europe’s rich Jewish heritage, and to discover sites of Jewish life in towns in Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania.
Today, Jubilee Square – in Belarusian: Yubileynaya Square – is a place of entertainment where one can find, for example, the Belarus cinema. During the German occupation, however, it was the central point of the Minsk ghetto. Today there is a monument with an inscription dedicated to all the victims of the Minsk ghetto in Belarusian, English and Hebrew, which commemorates the thousands of deported Jews that were murdered here.
The Jubilee Square is where the Judenrat and the labor exchange were located.
The Judenrat was the Jewish council established by order of the German occupiers to implement their policies and maintain order in the ghetto. In addition to the Judenrat, a Jewish auxiliary police with 200 members was established in the ghetto to impose directives and to maintain order. The Judenrat had to organize the forced labor of ghetto inhabitants, and the police patrolled the ghetto gates to make sure no one was able to leave the ghetto without permission. The Judenrat’s role was controversial. Though they had to carry out German orders and therefore aided the persecution and extermination of the Jews of the Minsk ghetto, some members also used their positions to aid the resistance movement. Working with either organizations could also help to save their own lives or that of their families, or to benefit from slightly better living conditions. The actions of both the Judenrat and the ghetto police should be judged in the context of occupation and atrocious living conditions in the ghetto.
Every day, Jewish work brigades were escorted by the Jewish police from Jubilee square into the city for forced labor, only returning late at night. Elena Drapkina was part of such a forced labor brigade:
“A day later I went to the labor exchange. They gave me a job in the main warehouse of the railway. The warehouse was very large and they brought soap powder, brooms, and other goods from Germany. We were 19 girls, we had to load and unload freight cars. Germans brought us there and back by a lorry as the warehouse was far from the ghetto. So I remained working there from the end of autumn, all winter long. Many Jews worked, but not all of them. There were many women with little children, and a lot of old men.”
Jews were gathered on Jubilee Square before being sent to the places of extermination. This happened before the well-known pogroms of March 2-3 and July 28-31, 1942, when, according to some estimates, up to 30 thousand people were killed.
During these raids, called Aktionen, the Nazis barged into houses and captured adolescents, the elderly, and women, and executed them. They were carried out almost every week. A sector of the ghetto would be surrounded, and it became impossible to leave it. All the people who were found there were killed. The sector would later on be excluded from the ghetto, gradually reducing its territory and diminishing the Jewish population further and further.
Elena Drapkina describes the horror of such raids:
“Germans and some local citizens inspected the houses. Their aim was to find men. […] In the morning of August 28, I was still in bed. My place for sleeping was on the table, because the room was overcrowded. My uncle came in and informed us about the policemen. We understood everything, because my grandfather and my aunt disappeared during a similar manhunt on November 7. Immediately I jumped up, put something on and rushed under the staircase. There, our men constructed some sort of a shelter trench: the narrow space was covered with a plate from one side and curtained with clothes. I managed to jump inside. The space was already full of people. There we stood all day long. Among us there was a woman with a little child, and we all were afraid that the child would cry. Germans entered the houses, combed rooms and took everybody out. We heard everything around us: people going upstairs and downstairs and my Mum saying ‘Wait a moment; I’ll put on my coat.’
All my relatives were taken away from Minsk and executed by shooting. Now I cannot understand the way I managed to endure the torture that lasted the whole day. Thanks to Daddy’s elder brother who warned us about the manhunt, I had enough time to hide and escape.”