Center of the old Synagogue in Lutsk, Picture from 1930s
In September 1939 Łuck became part of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine. The city, being that it fell in the Soviet sphere of influence according to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, became an attractive location for fleeing Jews from Western Poland.The Jewish cultural life and its institutions had to be shut down according to the Soviets, but this was a small price to pay for a place to go to escape the Nazis. In 1941 – when the Germans came – 19,500 Jews were living in Łuck.
June 25, 1941
The city is occupied by the Germans and very few of its Jewish residents are able to flee in time. The following day there was a pogrom against the Jews that was orchestrated by the Germans and carried out by the Ukrainians. This was allegedly in retaliation for Soviet attrocities (Jews were often conflated with Stalinism/Communism.) The Germans had found about 2,800 prisoners who were murdered by the Soviets in the previous weeks, before the Soviet army fled.
On June 30, 1941 there was a roundup of about 300 Jewish men in the city. Later it was discovered that they had been shot. On July 2, 1941 another 1,160 were rounded up and shot to death in the Lubart fortress. In late July there was a 10-member Judenrat assembled. As of August, 1941, all Jews had to wear a white armband with a star of David. Later, in September, this was replaced by two yellow patches that were to be worn on the front and back of the person.
Jews were treated brutally right from the start of the occupation. They were not allowed to walk on sidewalks; were unable to shop at the market during most hours; had a curfew; and many were abused. There are many reports of Jewish men having their beards ripped or cut out. There were many beatings and all Jews were removed from public offices. There was even a special Jewish police force that was established to carry out and enforce the new statutes that limited Jewish movement and livelihood.
Above: Child walks in Lutsk Ghetto;
Below: Jewish Street in Lutsk before the war, in the shadow of the church.
The Ghetto Massacre
On December 11, 1941, the Germans ordered that all 19,000 Jews had to move into a ghetto in the poor Jewish neighborhood of Gnidawa. Many people were held hostage by the Germans in order to ensure that the Jewish population hands over all of its valuables. The mortality rate sky rocketed as the population moved to the Ghetto: poor living conditions; lack of food; and disease all contributed to this. The Judenrat did try to help ease the suffering of its ghetto’s population by opening an orphanage and soup kitchen. On August 20-23, 1942 between 15,000 and 17,000 Jews from the ghetto were shot to death at Gurka Polonka outside the city. In the coming days many more would be caught hiding in the remnants of the once-populous ghetto, and they were shot as well. Only very few people were spared and resettled in a smaller ghetto on Gnidawa street. Probably in the first half of September, the inmates of the ghetto, along with a group of Jews who had snuck into the Krasne labor camp after the liquidation of the main ghetto, were shot to death at Gurka Polonka. Before the ghetto was liquidated, dozens of Jews went into hiding with the help of local non-Jewish residents. The final chapter came on December 19, 1942, when the remaining Jews were meant to be killed. They organized a small resistance and barricaded themselves in a building, with only pickaxes to use to fight. The Germans set the building on fire and shot the people who ran out of it – the 12 who survived the ordeal were later handed over to Germans and killed at Gurka Polonka. In total about 26,500 Jews were killed by the Nazis in Lutsk. When the Red army arrived in 1944, only 150 Jews who had managed to live in hiding were still there.