As developers were excavating the grounds for the construction of residential buildings and a shopping center in Brest-Litovsk, Belarus, the workers discovered the bones of hundreds of Kedoshim who were executed by the Nazis in the World War II ghetto that was once located on that site. The Daily Mail reported the remains have been found in a pit 65 feet long and some 5 feet deep.
“We will not allow the building of anything on bones of people,” said Governor Alexander Rogachuk. Construction was called to a halt as the remains were collected for reburial at a different site. In a meeting with representatives of the Jewish community, Rogachuk suggested that the remains be reburied Severnoe cemetery.
The skeletons found had bullet wounds to their skulls, indicating that they were slain in the manner which the Holocaust victims were reported to be executed during that period of World War II.
At present, nearly 600 bodies have been recovered by Belarus soldiers assigned to the macabre task; each day, approximately 40 more bodies are removed from this mass grave. Anna Kondra, a city official of Brest, stated that they expected the number of victims in the two mass graves that were discovered to exceed 1,000 people. Work on the first mass grave is almost finished, and experts plan to start on the second one in the near future.
Brest-Litovsk, or Brisk as it was known for centuries to the Jews of Europe, is located on the Polish border; it often changed hands over the course of history. Although it was part of the Kingdom of Poland from 1020 until 1319, it was then captured by the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In 1569, it became part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and remained so until 1795, when the Partitions of Poland incorporated it into the Russian Empire. At the end of World War I, the city returned to Poland, and was part of the Second Polish Republic.
For centuries, Brisk was a center of Torah learning. The Shach mentions the Chachmei Brisk, and its list of Rabbanim included many Gedolei Yisrael, including the Bach, among others. In the 1870s, Harav Yehoshua Leib Diskin, zt”l was the Rav, and when he moved to Yerushalayim in 1878, he was succeeded by Harav Yoshe Ber Soloveichik, zt”l, the Beis Halevi. The Rabbanus of Brisk remained with the Soloveichik family until World War II, as Harav Chaim, zt”l, and Harav Yitzchok Zev (Velvel), zt”l, succeeded the Beis Halevi.
When the Nazis invaded Poland, Rav Velvel was away from his home, and he proceeded on to Vilna, hoping to help the rest of his family escape. Unfortunately, he was unable to save his wife and younger children, and their fate was never completely verified. The Jewish inhabitants of Brisk, along with others rounded up in the region, were confined to the ghetto in Brest, where up to 28,000 Jews lived during 1941 and 1942. The ghetto was established in December 1941, and some 17,000 victims were reportedly shot in October, 1942, in the vicinity of the Bronnaya Gora railway station.
By the end of November, the entire ghetto was liquidated. Thousands more were never heard from again, and they, too, were presumed to have been slaughtered by the Nazis. Hy”d. Only 19 Jews are recorded as having survived the Brisk ghetto.
In 1950, a mass grave was discovered in Brest where some 600 victims were found; they were eventually reburied at Trishinskoe cemetery. In 1970, 300 victims were reinterred at Proska cemetery.
A petition of nearly 500 people has requested that a memorial park be established instead of the residential development and shopping center that is underway. City authorities said they are taking the matter under advisement.
Hashem yinkam domam.