Jewish Baranowicze in the Holocaust
The history of the Jewish community of Baranowicze is unusual in a number of ways. The town was large – almost a city – with a Jewish population of 12,000 in 1941 (ca. 40% of the population). It was a young community, founded only in the late nineteenth century, and Jews lived there from the very beginning. The town was well known in the Torah world largely because Rav Elhanan Wasserman, who headed an important yeshiva there. As in other Jewish communities, most of the men worked in trades or as merchants. The town also had a variety of communal institutions both traditional and modern, as well as Jewish political parties and their respective youth movements. The Soviet occupation (1939-41) seriously hampered communal life, and just as the community was grappling with the new challenges posed by the Soviets, the German occupation swept through the town, leaving massive persecution and murder. The town also became a refugee center. The singularity of Baranowicze during the Holocaust is reflected in the persons of the three successive Judenrat heads, all of whom were viewed positively by the community and seen as people who did their best for the community. The Jewish police was also viewed positively. The Jewish underground in the ghetto succeeded in acquiring arms; the underground fled to the forests and did not engage in a ghetto uprising. Despite the bitter fate that awaited the Jews of Baranowicze, the community maintained its vitality until the end.