Vladimir Trahtenberg and Frida Reizman were little children when Nazi forces took the Belarusian capital of Minsk in July 1941. Then, tens of thousands of Jews were driven into the Jewish ghetto. Vladimir was only three years old, and Frida was six. Yet, despite their young age, they remember it vividly.
‘You can recognise a ghetto survivor by one thing - they eat everything you put on the table for them. They will eat every bread crumb,’ says Vladimir. He survived through all 27 months the Minsk Ghetto existed and learned everything he needed to make it out alive. For example, children in the ghetto learned how to hold their breath for long periods or what to do if they come across a gas van, known as ‘dushegubka’ (soul killer).
Like Vladimir, Frida acquired survival skills. She hid every time she heard a car or someone speak German. Frida recalls witnessing brutal killings in the streets and how her mother tore a clump of her hair when her 16-year-old son was shot. ‘There was no way getting used to it.’
After WW2 ended, ‘no one talked about the ghetto,’ says Frida. ‘I think it was a crime that we didn’t bring it up. We didn’t talk about it, and things turned out as they did these days.’ Vladimir echoes Frida’s sentiments, saying he knew ‘there would be people who would revive Nazism’.
In conversation with Paula Slier, survivors share their harrowing tales about the Minsk Ghetto and reflect on the rise of Nazism in the modern world.