The Nazis occupied Brest twice. The first time was from September 15 to September 22, 1939. After the capture of the city, the Nazis drove part of the Jewish population to Germany to work. Then Brest was transferred under Soviet control.
According to some reports, up to 10 thousand refugees of Jewish nationality moved here from Nazi-occupied Poland. With the beginning of the German invasion of the USSR, Brest fell first. Therefore, the Jewish population failed to evacuate.
The Nazi occupation lasted more than three years. The ghetto in the city lasted less than a year from December 16, 1941 to October 18, 1942. It was located within the streets of Sovetskaya, Moskovskaya, Mayakovskoho, Kobrinskaya (Kirova) and Hospitalnaya (Internatsyonalnaya). It was possible to leave the ghetto through the gates in the area of Sovetskaya, Gogolya and Moskovskaya Streets. The entrance was guarded by the gendarmerie and was allowed until 6 p.m.
Creating the ghetto, the Nazis counted on a natural population decline due to several factors:
- Overpopulations, since according to various sources, from 20 to 27 thousand people lived on the perimeter of 5-6 km. In addition to the urban population, Jews brought from the surrounding villages got into the ghetto.
- Lack of food and medicine. The population of the ghetto received food rations less than the population of the city, which led to constant malnutrition and physical exhaustion. There was not enough medicine in the only hospital, which reduced the chances of recovery for those who became ill.
- Lack of quality drinking water, which led to an increase in disease.
- Hard physical work in forced labor, in which, according to historians, up to 45% of the ghetto population participated.
Despite difficult conditions, the Jewish population found ways to survive. For example, children under 10 years old could walk the streets without decals. Getting out of the ghetto, they asked for alms and bought food with the money received. Adults earned money by working on private requests outside the ghetto. Representatives of creative professions gave private lessons. Doctors survived through private practice.
Judenrat was able to set up a kindergarten for 135 children, an orphanage with 80 pupils, a nursing home for 80 people, an overnight house for up to 200 people, a hospital for 75 beds and a public kitchen that fed up to 3.8 thousand people.
In the ghetto, the Liberation resistance group was operating under the leadership of Arye Sheiman, collecting weapons, as well as the Nekama youth group, which distributed leaflets. Frumka Plotnitskaya led it. However, it was not possible to organize an armed rebuff, since the Nazis uncovered the underground.
On October 15, 1942, the invaders began clearing the ghetto. Jews were shot on the streets of Brest. The remains of some of the executed were discovered in February 2019 during construction work in a district of the city. By March 2019, it became known that more than 1.2 thousand people were buried in a mass grave two meters deep and 40 meters long.
Most residents of the ghetto were sent by train 100 km from Brest to the area of the village called Bronna Gora. There, the invaders killed about 17 thousand people.