Tag Archives: Golda Meir

Igor Kanonik. Minsk ghetto through the eyes of my father (part 2)

(continued; beginning here)

At the end of 1972, the city authorities began to hatchet a project – how to fill up the “Pit” and dismantle the monument. Everyone already understood that this place was becoming symbolic and anti-Soviet. In their turn, the Jews began to collect signatures under a petition to the city executive committee not to touch the monument. Someone suggested writing the same petition in English, so two parallel notebooks appeared. I saw them at our house on Grushevka when my father went to collect signatures from the Jews. Many were afraid to sign, and my father tried to persuade them.

May 9, 1973 was a big rally at the “Pit”, there were already thousands of people.

At the end of the summer of 1973, the KGB knew about this petition. Most likely because my father and another former ghetto prisoner made an appointment with the chairman of the city executive committee, and they said for what issue they came for and left all their data. From that moment, the authorities launched surveillance of my father. In mid-September, a meeting was scheduled at the city executive committee. One day in early September, when I returned from work, I found out that our house was searched, it immediately became clear what they were looking for. On that day, the KGB officers came to fathers work, took him and drove him home. He was a 6th grade turner by profession, he worked at the motor depot then, he never was a party member. What they could do to him, even checked his locker at work. Everyone, of course, thought that they were looking for some kind of “samizdat” (independent editions)… Fortunately, my father handed over both notebooks to fellow Jews for collecting signatures.

David Kanonik at work in a motor depot, 1973

The appointed day was approaching. On September 15 it was time to go to the city executive committee. My prudent father asked a familiar Russian woman to carry the notebook into the building of the city executive committee. She said at the entrance that she was going to get a job, and she was let in. And father went without anything, only with his passport. Unfortunately, his second colleague did not came, they made an appointment together. Two deputies received my father, they already knew what he was going to talk about, another man in a gray suit was sitting in the corner of the office, but he did not introduce himself.

The conversation lasted more than an hour, father handed them the notebook with a petition full of signatures of Minsk residents, mostly prisoners of the ghetto and their relatives. He told them how he had been in the ghetto from his first day on July 20, 1941 until the beginning of September 1943, when he managed to escape to the partizan detachment. And the fact that almost his whole large family died, including all relatives, its 32 people. At the end of the conversation, they asked him why people do not want creation of a beautiful park on this place, with filling the “Pit”.

Father realized that everything he told them was not interesting. Then he became angry and before leaving he said that if they would break this monument, then they can kill him right there. And that many years will pass, there will be neither them, nor these offices, and the monument will still stand in the “Pit”…

…On the next day, the director of the motor depot told father to work calmly, the question of his dismissal is not even worth the time.

But another question remained, how to hand over the second notebook with a petition in English. So that it reaches at least to the American correspondent in Moscow. Everyone understood that international publicity was needed, that only it could stop this madness in Minsk.

Jewish identity in the USSR began to rise after the victorious Six Day War in June 1967, in which Israel fought a coalition of Arab countries (Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Jordan). The euphoria after this war was long-lasting. New waves of Jewish activities took place also after the “aircraft affair” – attempts to hijack a plane from Leningrad on June 15, 1970 and the arrest of eleven people, almost all of whom were Jews. After the killing of eleven Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in September 1972. And after the Mossad operation, carried out on the personal order of the Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, with the aim of capturing and eliminating all the terrorists involved in the killing of the athletes.

With publicity, everything was resolved. In early October 1973, the last few families were to leave Minsk, for which all the documents had already been ready. They went to Moscow, and there, at the Dutch embassy, they were supposed to receive the remaining documents and train tickets to Vienna.

On June 10, 1967, the USSR broke off diplomatic relations with Israel. After the victory of Israel in the Six Day War, the Israeli embassy was closed, and the interests of Israel were represented only by the consul, who received at the Embassy of the Netherlands.

The idea was to persuade one of the families to take the notebook with signatures to Moscow and hand it over to the consul. And so it happened. After this family left Moscow, moscow friends called their relatives in Minsk and said that they had escorted them to the train station, and that they had transferred everything as planned.

Literally in these days, on Saturday, October 6, 1973, at two in the afternoon, on the eve of the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, the armies of Egypt and Syria attacked the positions of Israeli troops along the ceasefire line of the previous Six Day War of 1967. This is how began the fourth Arab-Israeli war – the Yom Kippur War.

It was interesting to observe such a picture, as in the Minsk GUM department of radio products on Lenin Street there was a long line of Jews only. Everyone wanted to buy the “Ocean” radio of the Minsk Radio Plant – of course, in order to listen to “enemy voices” and to know the whole truth about the war in Israel. Jews were already aware of what bluffs all Soviet newspapers wrote during the Six Day War. Therefore, no one was going to trust the Soviet newspapers.

I remember it like it was now, on the evening of October 24, 1973, all Jews listened to “enemy voices” – such as the DW, Radio Liberty, and Voice of America. It was the last day of the Yom Kippur War in Israel. Then the “voices” spoke only about this, and also read chapters from the “Gulag Archipelago” by Solzhenitsyn. And suddenly in the middle of the news they say that the Belarusian authorities want to demolish the monument to the Jews who died in the Minsk ghetto. The first monument to the Jewish victims of fascism in the entire Soviet Union, erected by surviving Jews in 1947. They talked about this for several days in a row, and also wrote about it in the newspapers in Israel and in West Germany. It was a real big win.

Now you can only imagine what elevated tones Peter Mironovich Masherov was talking with then chairman of the city executive committee Mikhail Vasilievich Kovalev. And the insult was great – how did it happen that in the midst of the ardent state antisemitism that was generated by the state, ordinary Minsk Jews were able to spin all the Belarusian authorities? As you know, 1973 was the heyday of the era of stagnation in the USSR.

Igor and Lena Kanonik on their wedding day March 1, 1985 near the monument at the “Pit”

A little more about my father.  Soon, he went to work at a factory of medicaments, he worked there for a long time. Then he began to work at a radio factory. It was a branch of a radio factory for the production of wooden cases for TVs and radios, which had previously exploded. The explosion occurred due to spontaneous combustion of dust during the second shift on March 10, 1972, in a new workshop that worked for only three months.  At fifteen degrees below zero, firefighters flooded everything with water.  According to official figures, 106 people died.

My father worked at a radio factory until his retirement in 1989.

My dad, Kanonik David Efimovich, and my mother, Kanonik (Meisels) Maya Izrailevna, lived in the same house on Grushevka, without any luxury.  Although then, in December 1973, three months after the scandalous visit to the city executive committee, my father was called to the same executive committee. That time it was the housing department. They said that they knew that he was a prisoner of the Minsk ghetto, and offered him a new three-room apartment. But my father refused, saying that he did not need anything from them. It should be noted that my father never asked anyone to improve his living conditions, it was their initiative.

In the mid-1980s, working at a radio factory, father talked to the chairman of the factory society of war veterans. Father said that he was in the partizans, but the chairman of the society grinned and replied that the Jews were in the ghetto. Then father said that he had been in the Minsk ghetto for more than two years and fled to the partizans. But to the question, where are your documents of the war participant and the partizan of Belarus, my father had nothing to answer. He had to look for witnesses, former partizans, and go to Orsha to the commander of the partizan detachment. The commander did not remember him, probably because he was already very old, but he asked my father to tell him everything that he remembers from the life of the detachment. Father began to tell what he was doing, that he was guarding the hospital on the swamp island, and his mother Elizabetha Davidovna Kanonik (Goberman) was a cook and worked in the hospital. Then the commander remembered. He sent father to the republican party archives, where all the papers were kept. And only after that my father received an extract from the diary of the partizan detachment, in which the meticulous clerk wrote down everything. The certificate clearly stated that on September 5, 1943, Kanonik David Efimovich was arrived to the partizan detachment named after Kirov, the brigade named after Kirov, Minsk region, and in the column “from where he arrived” there were indicated “Minsk ghetto”.

… For the first time, at the beginning of August 1943, father and his mother fled from peat mining along the Mogilev highway, where they were taken daily from the ghetto. The security was weak – one, sometimes two police officers, who were already tired to count Jews (how many were leaving the ghetto and how many were returning). But there was a German post ahead of the road, and my father had no papers. In addition, almost all men and teenagers were forced to take off their pants (this way the Nazis looked for Jews). He had to go back to peat mining. His mother passed all the posts, as she had an “Ausweis” with a note that she lives in the village of Shpakovschina. She already knew how and where to find the partizans. Ausweis was prepared in advance by her husband, my grandfather, Kanonik Efim Yakovlevich, who was connected with the underground in the ghetto and died shortly before that, in early July 1943, in one of the raids at the meat factory. He never managed to take advantage of his “Ausweis”.

Before the war, my grandfather worked at a meat factory, where more than half of the workers were Jews. When all the Jews were driven into the ghetto, the Germans realized that a meat factory would not be able to work without Jews. They selected all the former workers according to the documents of the meat plant and began to take them to work from the ghetto in an organized manner.

In general, in the Minsk ghetto there was an opportunity through the Judenrat (the Jewish administrative body) to ask for any work team. There were a lot of working teams, every day early in the morning, under the supervision of policemen, they were driven out or taken out for various jobs. This made it possible to prolong one’s life and somehow to eat, as the working teams had reasonable amounts of food, and there was a short lunch break. Nobody fed those who remained in the ghetto; they needed to take care of themselves.

Also, almost every day the ghetto prisoners had to hide, so as not to get into the gas chamber during the next round-up. But in the spring of 1943, everything changed. The Germans began to drastically reduce the size of the already melting ghetto, and began to organize pogroms for working teams. For example, you could leave for work in the morning and not return to the ghetto in the evening. Sometimes after work they were immediately taken away for execution.

So for two years, grandfather and father as part of a working team used to leave the ghetto to work at the meat factory. They were officially registered on this working team. Father was there on the last day in early July 1943.

…The Jews at the meat plant noticed that in the middle of the day more police arrived than usual. So many policemen were not required to accompany the Jews back to the ghetto. Grandfather Efim told my father to slip out of the territory in the area of the rear warehouses quickly and quietly, take off the stripes and calmly go to the train station. Father did just that, stayed in the train station until darkness, and close to the night he crawled under the barbed wire into the ghetto area through the region of the Tatar gardens. Arriving home, and in 1943 they already lived at Sukhaya Street, as the territory of the ghetto was gradually reduced and Jews were resettled, he saw his mother sitting and crying. She already knew everything, she was informed that the cars with the workers from the meat plant drove through the ghetto, she thought that they both died. Usually, all working teams walked to and from work at the meat plant, accompanied by police officers. But this last time, after work, all the Jewish workers from the meat factory were transported through the ghetto directly to Tuchinka and immediately shot in the clay quarries of an old brick factory.

The Germans often drove through the territory of the ghetto, entering through the gates on Nemiga Street, along the Respublikanskaya and Opansky streets and leaving through the gates at the railway.

Also in Tuchinka the younger brother of grandfather Efim, Nissim Kanonik, born in 1910, who was on the same working team, was shot. He, like Grandfather Efim, before the war worked at a meat factory. Nissim was drafted into the army and, on July 23, on the day of conscription, he was sent to the front, which was advancing towards Minsk. After the first battles, the remnants of its broken detachment, retreating by forests, came to Minsk, the city was already occupied. Just near Minsk, Nisim met his elder brother Honya Kanonik, born in 1906, who was also drafted into the army on July 23. Honya with the remnants of his military unit went east to the front line. Honya categorically dissuaded Nissim from entering the occupied Minsk. But Nissim was not afraid, he knew the city well, which helped him to get to his house on Chervensky road at night, where his wife Lida and two young sons, Yakov, born in 1936 and Victor, born in 1939, remained.

Honya Yakovlevich Kanonik – one of the first cash messengers in post-war Minsk

It was just the beginning of July, and the commandant’s order to create a Jewish ghetto from July 20 was already hung around the city. All Jews were obliged to move to this area in the center of Minsk. Nissim Kanonik decided to go to the ghetto alone, and his Russian wife Lida with two sons remained in their house on Borisovskaya Street, near Chervensky road. Having slightly corrected her documents, this strong and smart woman survived three years of occupation and saved her children.

Nissim Kanonik with his wife Lida and eldest son Yakov. Photograph of 1937

On the picture from the year 1931 is the father of my father Khaim (Efim) Kanonik, born in 1903. Both were shot in Tuchinka in July 1943 during a round-up at a meat factory. This is how the whole working team was destroyed. Father was there too, but miraculously escaped.

There were many mixed families in the Minsk ghetto, and non-Jewish wives followed their husbands in to the ghetto, taking on all the hardships. They also wore stripes on their clothes and shared the sad fate of all their Jewish relatives.

Translation from the original by Igor Shustin

(to be concluded)

Published 04/15/2020 16:36