Testimony on the Escape from the Mir Ghetto by Eliezer Breslin
A Project of the Miles Lerman Center
Summary extract from the testimony of Eliezer Breslin given to detectives from New Scotland Yard in Israel on May 22, 1995, during the investigation into Semion Serafinowicz, the former chief of the Belorussian police in Mir.
The first ghetto was established three weeks after the German invasion and consisted only of a few streets, Zavalne Street and Visoka Street. It was not exactly a ghetto; it wasn't enclosed by a barbed wire fence. In this area the houses were mainly non-Jewish, the owners of these houses moved into Jewish houses. The area was poor. My parents went to this ghetto.
I was working outside Mir, when I visited my parents I had to sleep on the floor. After the first massacre I no longer went out to work and moved into the first ghetto with my mother, where I remained until moving to the second ghetto.
The second ghetto was set up in Mir about a month after Passover [which fell on April 2, 1942], in the [early] summer time after the first massacre [on November 9, 1941], in which approximately 1,400 Jews from Mir were killed, including the Jewish Polish refugees, but I don't know how many. It was located in the castle of Count MIRSKI which was situated outside Mir. I moved to the second ghetto from the first ghetto in about the middle of 1942. Some 700 survivors from the first massacres moved from the first ghetto in Mir into the castle.
The second Judenrat was established on the orders of Meister HEIN approximately two weeks after the first massacre in Mir. He ordered that whoever remained alive from the first Judenrat should be placed in the second Judenrat. I was a member of the second Judenrat. I was in the second ghetto with my brother Mikhail and my mother.
The German officer HEIN also demanded the Jews who had remained alive after the first massacre should elect, from among themselves, the members of the second Judenrat. The second Judenrat members included BERMAN, Leiber MENAKER and the Chairman Rabbi Elli-Baruch SCHULMAN.
I was also elected to the Judenrat.
The Judenrat was responsible for carrying out all orders received from the Germans, for example, each time Russians soldiers [partisans or prisoners of war] were killed, the burial of those fallen Russians was carried out by the Judenrat by order of the Germans. The Judenrat was also responsible for handing out rations of bread to all the Jewish members of the ghetto according to portions of 120 gms of bread for each soul. It was also responsible for sending Jewish workers to carry out labour in places where the Germans needed them and also for reporting any persons missing from the ghetto to the Germans.
I want to say something about my escape from the second ghetto. The Judenrat was also smuggling messages they received from Oswald RUFEISEN to the Jews in the surrounding villages to forewarn them the Germans were about to exterminate the Jews in the villages, the Judenrat was forewarning the Jews, telling them to leave their homes before they were found.
Oswald told us a secret: he said pits were being prepared for the massacre.
The head of the Judenrat, Rabbi Eli-Baruch SCHULMAN and I went to Meister HEIN. We took with us valuables like watches. We wanted to give them to him in order to find out what was happening. He said he couldn't take them, the head of the Judenrat asked Meister HEIN what the situation was in relation to what we thought was about to happen. He said it was irreversible. The head of the Judenrat begged HEIN to make sure whatever was going to happen be done in a humane way to avoid panic. HEIN did not reply, he turned and left.
The head of the Judenrat told me to keep it a secret.
We knew on what day the massacre was scheduled, we set up a resistance group, we had 11 rifles, about 6 pistols and several rounds of ammunition, including hand grenades and bullets.
Oswald RUFEISEN supplied all of these weapons and ammunition.
What he would do was, come to the ghetto with a rifle over his shoulder and leave without it. He came with a person who drove a horse and cart, they brought the ammunition and rifles. Nobody controlled Oswald RUFEISEN.
After we saw Meister HEIN, the second massacre took place around 3 or 4 days later. I asked the head of the Judenrat to escape with us but he said no because he had a wife and two children.
When we returned to the ghetto from the meeting with Meister HEIN we were nearly beaten by the other Jews because they thought we would provoke a massacre. From that day on I did not go to the Judenrat again.
The head of the Judenrat called a meeting, he said that God would be with us and declared a day of fasting. At this point I shouted from outside the meeting, "You are not telling the truth, tell them the truth". The Head then told the assembled people the situation is irreversible.
He then chose a few boys and took them to another room where they were going to make a plan of escape. I left.
That very same night I, along with many others, escaped. At that time the Jewish police were guarding the gates, the underground gathered all the people who were to escape, wires were cut and people, including myself, escaped through the ruins of the castle. 188 people escaped, I know how many managed to escape because we counted the number from each family.
I was told the next day people fasted, some people cut their wrists and others managed to escape.
Series: Resistance in the Smaller Ghettos of Eastern Europe
Critical Thinking Questions
- Learn about the lives of the Jews in the community of Mir before 1939.
- Examine the realities and choices faced by Jewish council members in the ghettos.
- What obstacles and limitations did Jews face when considering resistance? What pressures and motivations may have influenced their decisions and actions?
- How can societies, communities, and individuals reinforce and strengthen the willingness to stand up for others?