The village of Mir became famous and renowned for many years in the whole world and the Jewish world. In the world, this was due to the Fortress which was built in the 15/16 centuries by local Noblemen. The late 18th to early 19th century saw the rise of a Yeshiva (center for holy Jewish studies) which over time gained a worldwide reputation, attracting students from around the world. Before World War II, the Yeshiva had over 500 students enrolled for studies, mostly from abroad, primarily from the US.
My name is Israel Shifron (Piernikov) and I was born in Mir, probably a few generations from this town. All of my childhood I had spent in the village. The shock that I experienced together with everyone started with the breakout of World War II in 1939. I was almost 13 years old, old enough to understand the situation that was happening in general and specifically for the Jews.
Following a short period of time, our lives turned around to a completely different direction from what we had known before. The biggest change had to do with the approach and attitude towards religion and life in the cultural, social and political context.
We felt the danger creeping around us, i.e. the fighting in Western Europe, though it all cleared up on night on 22/6/1941 when the village was bombed surprisingly. Silence and chaos started troubling our lives and it became clear that a tragedy was heading our way with lots of danger.
In order to understand what had happened from that day until the arrival of the Soviet Red Army in June 1944, I will try to provide a background of the village.
In the village lived more Jews than Belorussians, Poles, Tatarians. Most Jews lived in the center, this resulted due to many reasons – working habits, studies and social activities. When the Germans conquered the village there was a hard fought battle which as a result the village center was totally burned and destroyed, leaving most of the Jews without a roof over their heads.
Within a few days the persecutions initiated. The new conquerers gathered a few dozen Jews from a high social status (the names of them were issued by German Collaborators). These people were executed in a forest not far from the Village. Today there is a tombstone which in our visit in 1992, we renovated it.
With the new reality, every day there were new instructions and limitations. The first tragedy took place in the morning of 9/11/1941 when the Germans and the local police surrounded the village and started rounding most of the Jews to the market area. Simultaneously they prepared two large ditches, one near the fortress and one near the animal slaughter house.
The same day they murdered and buried about 1200 Jews (adults, elders, children, babies, and the ill) and formally left 80 men for labor purposes. The next day, when the orders from the Germans were to cease the murdering, the survivors came out from their hiding places to find that among the living were only 600 Jews.
The ghetto was placed in a small area in the middle of the village where most of the houses were destroyed. I will not detail how our lives were in the ghetto conditions. Occasionally there were random murders mainly initiated spontaneously by a random German officer or local policemen. Years later we were informed that these killings ceased due to the German police commander, General Heinz, who was influenced by his personal policeman/interpreter , Mr. Oswald Rufheisen. His role in saving the remains of Mir Jewry can be read in various Holocaust literature and is detailed extensively in the book “In the Lion’s Den” by Nehama Teck published by Oxford University, 1990.
In May 1942 we received an order to evacuate the village ghetto and transport to the Mir fortress. The fortress was very deserted and rundown during that period such that all 600 people needed to find some shelter with minimal sleeping conditions in the fortress. We kept leaving the fortress for various duties and work as dictated by the cruel local government.
Although the lack of communication, we were aware of the events happening around us and in the front. The Germans were heading toward the gates of Moscow and on the other hand a massive and cruel execution of the Jews was held in all the villages around. In the midst of all the despair and tension, people were getting organized to flee to the nearby forests as a last resort to save their lives.
The major escape took place on 9/8/1942 from the Mir fortress. About 300 people escaped in the first stage later on a few dozens abandoned?!?!?
The rest of the Jews remaining in the fortress were executed on 13/8/1942 as initially planned. This was known to Mr Rufheisen by being loyal to the Police chief. Due to his contact with the local guys, he transferred the important information and enabled us to escape. For further details of this heroic story, I refer everyone to read the book of Nehama Teck.
Upon the arrival of the Red Army on June 1944, a different life started, the escapees joined the various Partizan fighters and help fight in the nearby forests.
The war was still at its peak. Upon our exit of the forests, only a few Jews returned to Mir mostly disabled and youth. Another draft to the Red Army was held and I was among the drafted.
From all the people who escaped from the fortress, many were killed in battles in the forests and from the harsh conditions, and later on there were more military casualties wound up until the end of the war. I personally was injured in January 1945 and was discharged in the next July as a Red Army disabled Veteran.
From June 1944 I did not visit Mir until 1992 with the fall of the Communist regime. Since then I visited there 4 times and made contact with friends from the Academia. We did wonderful activities together and hope to enhance the memorials at the museum in the fortress.
Do you have photos of interal part of the castle.
do you know that here was a getto during may 1942 until 1381942.I was there
Сучасны стан замка-хутчэй руйнаваньне, чым рэканструкцыя.