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The Jewish Ghetto
Borshchiv, Ukraine
(then Borszczów, Poland)


The Second World War

translated into English by Lancy Spalter.

Class photo of Borszczow Gymnasium, 1938.

Class photograph of the Borszczów Gymnasium, 1938.
Courtesy of


With the outbreak of WWII on September 1, 1939, young Jewish men were enlisted to the Polish Army. However, because of the rapid disintegration of the Polish Administration, most of them did not reach active service. Jewish refugees from Western Poland arrived in Borszczow and received the assistance of the local community. Units of the Red Army occupied Borszczow on September 17, 1939. Jewish public life of a nationalist character ended but the religious life continued without disturbance. Many Jews filled important positions in the town's administration.

In 1940 most craftsmen organized cooperatives, but continued to work unofficially for the private market. A school whose teaching language was Yiddish, opened in town and had some 200 students. A number of Jewish estate-owners were exiled to the Soviet Union.

When the German invasion started on June 22, 1941, groups of Jews tried to cross the border to the Soviet Union, but the Soviet guards posted at the border prevented it. Only the front's collapse and the evacuation of town by the Soviet administration at the end of June, enabled small groups of Jews to move east.

On July 6, 1941, after the Soviet evacuation, the local Ukrainians took over the town's administration, causing tension between them and the Jewish population. A moderate local Ukrainian leader, who was in good terms with the Jewish leadership, interceded and aggressions were prevented. Units of the Hungarian Army allied with the Germans arrived in town on July 7, 1941. On July 8, the Hungarian soldiers, together with the Ukrainian police, confiscated all the radio sets from Jewish homes.

By the same time a Jewish committee was organized in Borszczow, headed by Wolf Hess, to take care of the vital needs of the community. Hundreds of Jewish refugees exiled from Carpatho- Ruthenia were brought to Borszczow in July 1941. The local Jewish committee organized the provision of food and clothing and, during the few days that they stayed in Borszczow, they were also given a roof over their heads. During the Hungarian military administration in Borszczow, there were no cases of physical aggression against Jews, but from time to time the Hungarian soldiers plundered Jewish homes.

In September 1941, the town's administration was handed over to the Germans. A number of restrictions were imposed on Jews: to wear a white band with a blue Maggen David; all Jewish men aged 14 to 60 were subjected to forced labor; there was night curfew for Jews; Jews were not allowed on the main street; they were not allowed to leave town without a permit; purchase of provisions at the market was limited to one hour per day, from noon to 1:00 PM.

The existing Jewish committee became the Judenrat, and Wolf Hess was appointed to head it. The other council members were Hersch Taiber (deputy), Meir Gottesman, Shalom Rosenblatt, Shachner (treasurer), Friedrich Lubliner, Shpigel, S. Neiringer, Meshulam Blumenthal, Meir Latkovtzer, Mordechai Rosenstock and Rabbi Shlomo Hertz.

Within the frame of the Judenrat there was a labor department to supply men for forced labor, a welfare department that organized a public kitchen and aid to the needy, a special department to provide valuable effects to the Germans on demand, a public health department to deal with hygiene and prevention of disease, a food department in charge of official rationing. These rations could not sustain the community – they were insufficient and their supply was irregular.

Side by side with the Judenrat, there was a Jewish police. Hess did his best to make the Judenrat work on sound foundations, to have it clean from corruption, and he initiated various activities to ease the hardships of the communtiy. Towards the Germans he presented a proud and respectable stand, while he strived to deter them from carrying forth different edicts. This attitude towards the Germans, combined with Jewish informers who were not satisfied with his policy, resulted in Hess' arrest; he was sent to Belzec for extermination on July 27, 1942. On his death, the Judenrat's standing in the eyes of the community succumbed. A refugee from Vienna, Oscar Hessing, was appointed to head the Judenrat. His line was total obeyance to the Germans. He placed his brother Shimon as head of the Jewish police and they both ignored the needs of the community.

A branch of the J.S.S. acted in Borszczow headed by Isaac Beidof. Its members extended aid to the hungry and the sick. In the autumn of 1941 the Germans demanded a contribution of gold and silver from the community as well as large quantities of coffee, tea and valuable wares.

By the winter of 1941-1942 groups of youths were abducted to labor camps in the environs of Ternopol: Stupki, Kamionka, Borki-Wielkie. They were engaged in quarries and other forced labor, and the inmates were gradually exterminated.

The ghetto of Borszczow was created on April 1st, 1942. It enclosed a number of overpopulated streets with rundown houses. In time, it had to absorb also Jews from Mielnica, Skala Podolskaya, Ozeryany, Korolevka and Krzywcze Gorne as well as Jews from Zloczow and Czortkow. The ghetto was not closed but it was forbidden to leave it without a permit. Hunger and typhus killed many. Yet, in spite of the difficult situation, the Jewish children continued to gather in small groups and to learn with the help of local teachers and educators. Songs were written and a 16-year-old youngster, Meshulam Meisel, left a collection of drawings depicting the grim reality of those days.

In April of 1942 some of the Jews of Borszczow were murdered but the first big aktsia took place on September 26, 1942. About 100 people – mainly sick and old – were killed on the spot. 800 Jews were sent by train to Belzec for extermination. A group of youths were sent to Janowska in Lvov, where they died later on. By the same time there were aktsias in nearby towns. The survivors of those communities (Mielnica, Skala and Korolevka) were taken over to the Borszczow ghetto. Together with the local Jews they suffered hunger and epidemics during the winter of 1942-1943, and were prey to murders. During those months, the Jews started to prepare hiding places inside the ghetto and in the surrounding forests. From time to time, families or small groups would disappear and hide away in those “bunkers”. Some of the hiding places were discovered and their occupants killed.

On March 13, 1943, close to 400 people were sent away to Belzec. On the eve of Pessach, April 19, 1943, a roundup of the German and Ukrainian police gathered 800 Jews, took them to the cemetery and killed them the following day.

On June 5, 1943, some 700 Jews were murdered at the Jewish cemetery. The massive wave of aktsias resulted in more attempts to flee from the ghetto. But the odds of finding refuge among the local population were limited.

The aktsia that broke out on 9 June 1943 lasted 5 days. By the time it ended, 1,800 additional Jews were killed at the Borszczow cemetery. The town was officially declared “Judenrein”. A group of 60 people, the last remainder of this community, was concentrated in three houses next to the Vizhnitz Hassidim synagogue and were engaged in sorting out the Jewish assets. The Germans used various ploys to discover the Jews in hiding. They proclaimed that those leaving their hideouts would be concentrated in a work camp and would come out unharmed. With this artifice, some 360 people were caught and executed on August 14, 1943. After that, every Jew discovered was shot on the spot. The Jew hunting continued until the last days of the Nazi occupation. Some of the Jews hiding in the “bunkers” physically resisted their captors.

As early as the spring of 1942, a group of youngsters of the Borszczow ghetto became organized and started to plan resistance actions. The group grew especially after the first aktsia in September 1942 and reached tens of members. Their leaders were Wolf Ashendorf, Joel Weintraub, Kalman Schwartz and a Jewish soldier of the Red Army named Lyoba who had escaped the Germans. The underground managed to acquire a small number of arms; a few days before the end of the ghetto, they smuggled a small group of members to the forests. This group of fighters became known as the “Borszczower Band”. For a few months since the summer of 1943, they made several attacks on Ukrainian policemen and on “Bandera” Ukrainian nationalist groups. On November 17, 1943 they boldly released all 50 inmates of the Borszczow jail, among them 20 Jews. Further acquisition of arms became difficult and they were faced with the hostility of the local population. On December 6, 1943, a large force of Germans attacked them. After a battle that lasted a few hours, in the course of which a few Germans fell, the Jewish fighters suffered many casualties and had to disperse. Some put an end to their lives to avoid being caught by the Germans and some joined the partisans passing by.

Borszczow was liberated on July 21, 1944, and only a few survivors gathered in town. Not long afterwards they emigrated to Poland and from there to Eretz Israel and other countries.


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