In June the German Army advanced towards the border with Russia, and on Sunday 22 June 1941, they invaded. Immediately the next day the Red Army began to retreat, unable at that stage to face the might of the German army. A great number of Jews retreated with the Russian army, but the majority of Novogrudek’s Jewish population were left behind.
Novogrudek was badly bombed and burned during the German advance and Russian retreat.
On the 4 July 1941, the Nazi army entered Novogrudek. Almost immediately anti-Jewish laws were introduced. Yellow Stars had to be worn on the front and back of all clothing. Jews were no longer allowed to walk on the pavement. Jews lost their right of citizenship. All valuables like gold, silver, copper, fur coats had to be given to the Authorities. Every Jew from the age of twelve to sixty had to report for work.
On 26 July 1941 the SS arrived. They demanded that the Judenrat (Jewish council) provide Jews for a work detail. When those selected were assembled in the centre of the market place, 52 were taken out of the crowd and shot on the spot, while in the background a German Army band was playing Strauss music.
Jews Regulation document: Circular Letter.
Jack Kagan remembers the enforcement of anti-Jewish laws.
Conditions for everyone in the town deteriorated but especially for the Jews who were in fear of their lives.
Jack Kagan remembers the 8th December 1941 massacre.
After the 8th December 1941 massacre the Nazis established a ghetto in a suburb of Novogrudek and the towns'Jews were forced to move into it. Those living there desperately hoped they would be kept alive as long as they were still needed by the Nazis for labour in the production of goods needed for the war effort.
Jack Kagan and his family were moved into the ghetto..
Jews from neighbouring towns were moved into Novogrudek and on 7th August 1942 a second massacre took place when 5,500 were taken from the ghetto and shot in Litovka, an area approximately 1.5 km from Novogrudek near a lake.
Among the dead were many from Jack Kagans family.
After this, many people started to escape to the forest, hoping to find friendly farmers or safety in the forest. Estimates suggest that fifty per cent of those escaping did not succeed. Many were killed by farmers or Russian or Polish partisans.
Here is part of a document written on the 10 November 1942 from the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party of Belorussia to the Representative of the General Staff of the Red Army Revolutionary on its attitude towards Jewish escapees in Partisan detachments:
"There are many Jews in partisan detachments, not few of them are excellent fighters trying to avenge the brutal murdering of Jews to the fascists. [sic]. According to the commanders of some of the brigades regarding this question, who are not right, ?? Separate Jewish detachments must not be set up. The population here doesn't like Jews, they don't call them otherwise than zhidy. If a Jew calls at a house and asks for food, the peasant says that he has been robbed by Jews. When a Russian comes together with a Jew, everything goes smoothly…Many Jewish families hide in the forest, there are a few armed people among them. These Jews burst into villages and grab the first thing that comes to hand. There are detachments where Jews are not accepted."
Not everyone was hostile to Jews trying to escape. Many were helped on their way by farmers, including Bobrokski and Kozlovski who risked their lives to shelter and protect the escapees. The safest escape route was to find Jewish partisans, who by late 1942 were active in resisting the Germans."
Jack Remembers the hope of escaping the ghetto.
After the second massacre in August 1942 the ghetto was divided and a work camp was created. There were approximately 500 left in the ghetto, and approximately five hundred skilled workers put in the work camp who produced fur coats, fur gloves, felt boots, saddles and overcoats for the German army With the overall size of the ghetto halved, the food ration was cut to a starvation diet of bread mixed with straw and soup.
Jack Kagan and his father went to work as saddle makers in the work camp and his mother and sister stitched gloves for the German army.
Jack remembers the work.