A Memorial Wall has been unveiled at the site of the former ghetto in Novogrudok to cherish the memory of camp prisoners, among whom were the members of the Kushner family.
Most of the construction activities were financed by Charles Kushner, the American real estate developer and father of (Donald Trump’s son-law) Jared Kushner.
75 years after the liberation of Novogrudok, the descendants of those who miraculously escaped death came to the town to honor the memory of the dead and tell their stories.
More than 150 people, including Foreign Minister of Belarus Vladimir Makei and British Ambassador to Belarus Fionna Gibb, took part in the solemn ceremony.
For a long time, the story of the most daring escape from the Nazi ghetto was kept secret. The participants in the resistance tried to keep it private – the memories were too painful.
Everything changed when Jack Kagan, one of the escape participants, came to Novogrudok in 1991.
He was surprised to learn that there was not a single exposition dedicated to the tragic history in his hometown. Kagan wrote to the then director of the Novogrudok Museum Tamara Vershitskaya.
This is when it all went down. Turned out that memories didn’t fade away and stories need to be collected from families around the world to keep them safe at the humble Museum of Jewish Resistance.
Daring escape and resistance
In what became one of Belarus’ best-known Holocaust stories, on 26 September 1943 hundreds of concentration camp prisoners used the underground tunnel they were secretly digging by hands and spoons for several months to break away.
The diggers led 350 men and women to freedom and into the woods. There, the survivors joined the Bielski partisans, a group of Jews named after the three Bielski brothers who led them.
Their bravery was the subject of the 2008 film “Defiance” directed by Edward Zwick. The Bielski partisans spent more than two years living and fighting Nazi soldiers in the forest.
By the end of the war, they numbered as many as 1,236 members, most of which were non-combatants, including children and the elderly.
The Bielski partisans are seen by many Jews as heroes for having led as many refugees as they did away from the perils of war and the Holocaust.
The Kushner family
In Novogrudok, the Kushners are remembered and revered — neither for their Trump connections nor for their sprawling real estate empire.
Among the survivors was the great-grandfather of Jared Kushner – Zaidel. His wife Hina, the eldest daughter Esther and son Hoya were shot by the Germans. Rae and Leia managed to survive too.
“We are alive, and this is a miracle. We survived in camps, in the ghetto, in the woods … There were almost 200 people in our family, and only I, my father, one sister and two cousins, survived,” recalls Rae Kushner in her memoirs.
The Kushners lived in the woods for a year, keeping watch for German troops and helping maintain the Bielski partisans’ camp until liberation in May 1945.
Later, Rae married her husband Joseph Berkowitz and they emigrated to the U.S. in 1949 and settled in Brooklyn, where they raised four children, including Jared’s father, Charles.
One of Bielski brothers, Aron, also arrived in Novogrudok. During the war, he was 12 years old.
“Our main task was to save people. One of my brothers said that it is better to save 10 Jewish women than to kill a German. Yes, in times like these, we had to kill.
It was very scary. Nevertheless, the story of the Bielski unit and the escape from the Novogrudok ghetto is a hymn to life, no matter how tragic it was,” he said.
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