Slonim Massacre – Eye Witness Account

Monument and mass gravesite Rumbula Forest Riga Latvia

A nightmare that was real – 10,000 Jews living in Slonim were massacred – shot one by one into a massive pit – in the summer of 1942.  Esther’s entire family and most of Sam’s siblings found their tortured end at the edge of a pit.  A Nazi soldier in a black uniform with a skull on the arm pulled the trigger – over and over again.

An eye-witness account of the massacre in Slonim gives details of what occurred the night before and the day of the massacre.  The account is in the newly published translation of In Broad Daylight: the Secret Procedures Behind Holocaust by Bullets, by Father Patrick Desbois.  While most eye witness reports in the book are from local peasants, this testimony was given in 1947 by Alfred Metzner, a Volksdeutsche, a colonized Germans who lived outside of Germany itself – in this case in Slonim.  He assisted the Nazi with their preparations and even with the shooting, which was unusual – usually the Nazis kept that special job for themselves.

“At this extermination,” Metzner testifies, “about 10,000 Jews were liquidated. The night before the Aktion,[1] the protection and the sealing off of the ghetto had already been ordered.  Protection against the partisans had been ordered by the commander of the town.  At four in the morning, the ghetto was surrounded by the local police.  All the Jews who tried to escape were immediately shot. The Jews had learned ahead of time about the execution and that is why they had tried to dig holes in the ground at various places in order to escape the encirclement.  The ones who did escape were turned in by the local population and shot on the spot.  The extermination of the Jews took place as follows: when the Jews refused to leave their houses, they were either forced out and then shot or shot inside their houses.  During these Aktions, particularly sadistic people threw lit flares at the living Jews; they caused serious injuries.  Men with machine guns were stationed outside the ghetto to counter any attempt to escape the Jews were not led to the graves but shot right on the spot. The night before, women had been raped by the police and then shot. The police bragged about the number of women they and abused in this manner and tried to outdo one another.  Later, when no one was coming out of the ghetto anymore, the troops were formed up to go inside.”  In Broad Daylight, 67-68.

The detail provided in this account sickens me.  Really – they threw lit flares at the Jews for fun.  They knew these Jews would be dead by the end of the next day and yet – they threw lit flares at them. Even Metzner thought that they were “particularly sadistic people.”  The night before they were taken, the Jews had no way to escape – the entire ghetto was sealed with barbed wire; local Police were stationed all around and ordered to shoot anyone who attempted to get out.

I imagine Esther’s family, Bracha, Shlomo Zalman, Yisroel Yosef, Leizer Yitzchak, Shaina and Shimon, huddled together in their small apartment, awake all night, with dread in their souls, knowing that the rising of the sun would not bring the blessing of a new day, but the curse of the end of all of their days.  Then I think of Sam’s siblings, Hersh Meyer, Yankl, and Raizl, all waiting in worry during this longest of nights and then in broad daylight and in view of all the villagers, they were marched to the pit where they were forced to remove their clothing and were shot.

Then there was Moishe, Esther’s boyfriend (later her husband) who hid and escaped the Nazi death net.  Did he hide in one of the holes in the ground that Metzner describes?  No way to know – but he hid and he survived this bullet.

Esther also survived – as has been described in these posts – in the Slonim hospital, where she was recovering from Typhus.  I hope that whatever details Moishe and others told her after the massacre didn’t include all that we read here.  Just hearing that your family was shot into a pit is enough bad news for a lifetime.

In his latest book, Father Desbois, masterfully weaves his personal family experience, as well as his encounters with 4,000 witnesses.  Through the testimonies, Father Desbois paints a vivid picture of the Holocaust by Bullets in the eastern territories.

Stay tuned for additional posts on what I learned from this book.

Shabbat Shalom – may you all have a peaceful and restful Sabbath.

[photo – Monument and Mass Gravesite – Rumbula Forest – Riga, Latvia]

[1] German for “the Action” – the euphemism used to describe what the round up and murder of the Jews.