The Bielskis were a farm family and the only Jews in the village of Stankievichy. In September 1939 the area was seized by the Soviet Union. After the Nazis invaded in 1941, Tuvia Bielski and his brother Zusya (Zuz) vowed never to be caught by the Germans. Shortly after, the Jews were forced to live in a ghetto. In December, the four surviving Bielski brothers fled to the nearby forest after their parents and other relatives were killed in the ghetto. After hearing rumors about partisans, Tuvia began organizing Jews and together with neighbors from the ghetto, formed a partisan combat group known as the Bielski Brigadeand became the commander. Tuvia tried to save as many Jews as possible. The Bielsk is carried out food raids, killed German collaborators, worked on anti-Nazi missions, and helped Jews escape the ghetto. By July 1944, when the Red Army liberated the area, the Bielski camp had more than 1,200 inhabitants. According to Yad Vashem, it was one of the largest rescues of Jews by fellow Jews during World War II. To learn more about the Bielski brigade - see the movie “Defiance” or read “The Bielski Brothers” by Peter Duffy.
Victory Day is a holiday that commemorates the surrender of Nazi Germany in 1945. It was first inaugurated in the 15 republics of the Soviet Union following the signing of the German Instrument of Surrender late in the evening on 8 of May, 1945 (after midnight, thus on May 9, Moscow Time).
Mogilev-Podolski was a city in the Vinnitsa district of Ukraine. Until 1795, it was under czarist rule. Mogilev-Podolski was an important station on the commercial route between Moldova and Ukraine.
Jews are first mentioned in the town in 1713. In 1765, there were 957 Jews in Mogilev and the vicinity. The number grew to 5,411 in 1847, and by 1897 there were 12,344 (55.3% of the total population) Jews in the town itself.
In 1808 H.Z. Stein and his father, David, transferred their Hebrew press from Slopkovicz to Mogilev and operated there until 1819, producing 24 books. Jews traded in farm products and lumber, exporting them through the Dniester river to the Odessa port.
In October 1905 and in December 1919 the community suffered from pogroms. With the establishment of the Soviet regime, the Jewish communal organization and its institutions were liquidated. In 1926 the Jewish population had fallen to 9,622 (41.8% of the total) and to 8,703 (40% of the total population) by 1939. There were two Yiddish primary schools, Jewish sections in the local law courts, and two Jewish kolkhozes operated near the city. The Germans occupied Mogilev-Podolski on July 19, 1941. They murdered about 1,000 Jews until the city was included in Romanian Transnistria.
The Romanians created a ghetto, a Judenrat, and a Jewish police. In December the ghetto had 3,700 locals and 15,000 people who were expelled from Bessarabia and Bucovina. By June 1942 some 1,200 had died of typhoid. To control the epidemic, the Romanians expelled thousands to other towns, but most perished. In 1946 there were 3,000 Jews in the town. According to the 1959 census, there were about 4,700 Jews in Mogilev (22.5% of the population). The last synagogue was closed down by the authorities in the mid-1960s.
Group portrait of Jewish forced laborers at the Turnatoria, the machine shop established by Siegfried Jagendorf in the Mogilev-Podolskiy foundry.
United States and the Holocaust
American Response to the Holocaust:
“Americans had access to reliable information about the Nazi regime’s persecution of Jews as it happened, but most could not imagine that a mass murder campaign was possible. Though most Americans sympathized with the plight of European Jews, assisting refugees and rescuing the victims of Nazism never became a national priority.”
“Facing economic, social, and political oppression, thousands of German Jews wanted to flee the Third Reich but found few countries willing to accept them.”
“America’s traditional policy of open immigration had ended when Congress enacted restrictive immigration quotas in 1921 and 1924… After the stock market crash of 1929, rising unemployment caused restrictionist sentiment to grow, and President Herbert Hoover ordered vigorous enforcement of visa regulations. The new policy significantly reduced immigration; in 1932 the United States issued only 35,576 immigration visas. State Department officials continued their restrictive measures after Franklin D. Roosevelt’s inauguration in March 1933. Although some Americans sincerely believed that the country lacked the resources to accommodate newcomers, the nativism of many others reflected the growing problem of anti-Semitism.”
“Americans have told themselves this story that news coverage of Nazism was buried in the back pages. That lets us off the hook.”
American perception of the Holocaust today:
“According to the first-ever, state-by-state survey of American Millennials and Gen Z (ages 18 to 39), 63% do not know that 6 million Jews were exterminated by Nazis, and 36% thought the number was ‘two million or fewer.’ Nearly a quarter of those surveyed (23%) said they believed the Holocaust was a myth, had been exaggerated or weren’t sure.”
“Not too long from now, we will no longer be able to depend on first-hand accounts of the atrocities Holocaust survivors suffered at the hands of the Nazis while many collaborated and others stood witness. Now is the moment to reflect upon the horrors they lived through and have shared with us so that the often-repeated admonition to ‘never forget’ does not become an empty promise when the connection to their living history is gone.”