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Barash, Efrayim

(1892–1943), community leader and head of the Białystok ghetto during the Holocaust. Born in Volkovysk, Efrayim Barash was an engineer who had studied in Germany. He was a member of the town council and Jewish community board, president of the Jewish Commerce Bank, and chair of the local Zionist federation. He moved to Białystok in 1934 to become the Jewish community’s executive director.

Barash became the de facto head of the Białystok Judenrat when, following the German conquest of the city on 27 June 1941, Chief Rabbi Gedalyah Rosenman, who had been appointed Judenrat chair, asked him to assume administrative responsibility for the ghetto, which he did until it was liquidated in August 1943. As Judenrat head, Barash sought to gain the confidence of the German authorities, believing that good relations would benefit the ghetto in the long run. Stressing the concept of “salvation through work,” he strengthened the Jewish police force. The slogan that symbolized his strategy was, “Turn the ghetto into an element so beneficial to the authorities that it would be a shame to destroy it.” Accordingly, he initiated the establishment of industrial plants to supply the German armed forces.

Over time, Barash became convinced that his strategy was bringing Jews improved treatment. Indeed, before deportations to the killing centers began in November 1942, daily life in the ghetto had stabilized. Many inhabitants had jobs; food supplies were reasonable; health services were adequate; and the factories and workshops gained momentum. Barash thus hoped he could play for time and lead the ghetto safely to the end of the war.

A man of integrity who enjoyed great personal prestige, Barash purged the ghetto police of a group of corrupt officers who had acted as informers. He also maintained close personal relations with leaders of the armed resistance movement in the ghetto, established during the latter half of 1942. He felt that a rebellion in the ghetto would not be necessary, since he believed a wise regime would not annihilate its own slaves. Based on this belief, Barash aspired to control the underground, and he monitored its plans and actions. In early February 1943, when it became clear that mass deportations from the ghetto could not be prevented, Barash managed to reduce the Germans’ demand for deportees by handing over 6,300 persons, believing that a few should be sacrificed to save the majority. During that month, about 8,000 Jews were sent to Treblinka and Auschwitz and 2,000 perished in the ghetto, instead of the original quota of 17,600. Most in the ghetto regarded this outcome as a vindication of Barash’s strategy.

Between March and May 1943, the circumstances of Jews in the ghetto actually improved. However, on 15 August 1943, rather unexpectedly, Barash was summoned to Gestapo headquarters where he was informed that all Jews living in Białystok would be transported to labor camps in the Lublin area. He himself was among the last 800 Jews who remained in the ghetto until 8 September 1943, when they were transported to the Lublin region. He was most likely murdered on 3 November 1943.

Suggested Reading

Sara Bender, Mul mavet orev (Tel Aviv, 1997); Nachman Blumenthal, ed., Darko shel yudenrat (Jerusalem, 1962), intro. in English, text in Hebrew and Yiddish; Chaika Grossman, The Underground Army: Fighters of the Bialystok Ghetto, trans. Shmuel Beeri (New York, 1987); Israel (Srolke) Kot, Ḥurban Byalistok (Buenos Aires, 1947); Raphael (Refoyl) Rayzner, Der umkum fun byalistoker yidntum, 1939–1945 (Melbourne, 1948).



Translated from Hebrew by Rami Hann