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Emmanuel was born in Pinsk, Poland in 1927. His father, David, was a prominent educator, principal in the prestigious Tarbut Gymnasia (a Jewish high school), and active in the Zionist movement. His mother Shoshana (Barlas) was born in Warsaw and married his father in 1922. She taught with her husband at the high school.
Under the Soviet-German Pact, Pinsk was occupied by the Russians in 1939. The Jews living in Pinsk had little information about what the Germans were doing to the Jews living under their occupation, and they felt relatively secure.
The Germans occupied Pinsk in July 1941 and immediately set up a Jewish Council to facilitate their planned murder of the entire Jewish population of the city. Emmanuel's father was chosen to head the Council, but he resigned within two days, when he realized what would be required of him. Ten days later, the Germans executed him.
The Germans set up a sealed-off ghetto on April 30, 1942. They forced the entire Jewish population, including Emmanuel, his sister Avia and his mother, inside the ghetto. It was overcrowded and lacked adequate food and sanitation. Between October 20 and November 1, 1942, nearly all of the 20,000 Jews remaining in the ghetto were rounded up by the Germans and murdered.
Emmanuel was fifteen years old.