TESTIMONY: “In Kokhanovo, Leonid (born 1930) lived in a house located close to the transit camp for war prisoners. It was an open air camp, on the bank of a river, surrounded by barbed wire and watchtowers. Leonid engaged in secret bartering through the fences: potatoes in exchange for military belts. He also recalled war prisoners burying their comrades who had succumbed to diseases inside the camp”.
BASIC INFO: From October 15-29, 2011, a Yahad In Unum team went for the eleventh time to Belarus. This was the fourth visit to the Vitebsk region, this time focusing on the district around Orsha. Few archive documents were available to the team on the crimes committed by the Nazis in this area, which makes field research all the more important. Indeed, as the investigations were being carried out on the field, the team explored several sites which had so far not been documented at all, in small towns that used to be more than 50% Jewish.
Over the course of the investigation, the Yahad In Unum team carried out research in 15 places, interviewed 61 witnesses and found 16 shooting sites, a quarter of which have no memorial.
PLACES: Administrative region of Vitebsk. Investigated towns/villages: Slavnoie, Slaveni, Toloshin, Oboltsy, Smoliany, Baran, Bolbassovo, Liozno, Kolychki, Babinovichi, Orekhovsk, Liady, and Kokhanovo.
– Ghettos or no ghettos – little forced labor –
Several witnesses identified by the Yahad team report that when the occupiers arrived, the new local authorities established lists of the inhabitants with their origins.For example in Slaveni, Slavnoie, Toloshin, Smoliany, Senno, shortly after the occupiers had arrived, the Jews who had been identified were gathered and crammed into the houses on one street. In Liady, they were gathered in the school. In Baran, they were accommodated in two multi-storey buildings. These ghettos were closed or not, but remained rather porous as was often the case in Belarus : the Jews could rather easily leave whether this was illegal or assisted the local police who let them go about. Bartering was widespread.
– Shootings very early on –
During this investigation, the team found a substantial number of witnesses to the shootings or of the columns of Jews going to their death. The shootings generally took place rather quickly during the winter of 1942. Quite often, the witnesses mentioned the presence of police in the extermination process, even though, usually, a German death commando had specifically come to carry out the mass murders. Because the shootings were carried out in winter and the earth was frozen, several witnesses remembered blasts, as explosives were used either to dig up pits or to fill them. Sometimes young Jewish men were killed immediately when the occupiers arrived, as was the case in Babinovichi and Kokhanovo.