Lithuania was among the few places where the local Jews were killed on the spot and generally not sent elsewhere to be killed. The local population voluntarily carried out the mass murder. So it was in Butrimantz and so it was in most of the other places in Lithuania.
The testimonies of the survivors of Butrimantz re- count the fate of the Lithuanian Jewry. If I Forget Thee is of great importance to the Jewish nation. The English edition contributes enormously.
Four decades later, as Vladimir Rais and Yaakov Shechter of Vilna were about to emigrate to Israel, they felt compelled to take a final look at their native Lithuania, a country soaked in Jewish blood. They set out to collect and record the memories of those who had survived and witnessed the destruction of a typical Eastern European shtetl. They selected Butrimantz.
Riva Lozansky's Yiddish manuscript became the substance of a book of testimonies published in 1985 in Israel. Entitled If I Forget Thee... the book was issued in Russian by SHAMIR Publishing House of Jerusalem.
Nine years later Lisa Beth Kaplan of Carmel Valley, California, visited Lithuania, met Riva Lozansky, and brought back a copy of If I Forget Thee... When the book came to our attention, three of us with roots in Butrimantz decided to have the Russian book translated into English. Subsequently, we requested and obtained permission from SHAMIR to publish an English edition.
Our original intention was to issue an English-language replica of the Russian text. As the project evolved, however, the book took on a life of its own. Additional material was provided by Riva Lozansky: a family-by-family list of those who perished in Butrimantz. We researched the escape of the major executioner in Butrimantz and traced his new life in Canada until his death in 1974, this with the kind assistance of Eli Rosenbaum, director of the Office of Special Investigations of the US Department of Justice. We further expanded the book by adding a glossary and a list of towns.
Finally, we agreed that since this is a book in memory of typical Jews who had lived in a typical shtetl , it should ring of those voices and those times. Those voices spoke of "Kovno," not "Kaunas," "Vilna," not "Vilnius." Accordingly we changed the Lithuanian names of all the towns mentioned in this book to their Yiddish equivalents. Most important, we know that the Jews who had lived in this shtetl called their home "Butrimantz" and not "Butrimonys." It is only in instances where no Yiddish names could be identified that we retained the Lithuanian form.
Most of the old photographs in the photo section of this book were salvaged by Riva Lozansky after the war. She bought or traded them from the local Lithuanians who had become the occupants of the former Jewish homes. Some of the photographs still hung on the walls. Others were found in attics.
Nekome is a Yiddish word which means "revenge." It is a word which appeared often in the songs of the partisans of Vilna. It is a word which was often on the lips of the dying.
Their deaths were never avenged. The murderers were rarely brought to justice. But we hope that this book fulfills the traditional Hebrew blessing for the dead:
|Stephen W. Grafman|
|Palo Alto, California|
We are grateful to Lisa Beth Kaplan of Carmel Valley, California, for bringing the predecessor of this book - its Russian parent - to the United States. We owe special thanks to Professor Herman Branover, editor-in-chief of SHAMIR Publishing House, Jerusalem, for giving us permission - and his blessings - to translate the Russian book into English and to publish our own edition. Eva Tverskoy of Palo Alto, California, did a wonderful job of translating the book into English. We appreciate the many hours given freely by Caroline Slavin of Washington, DC, whose fluency in both Russian and English enabled us to resolve the endless questions that arose during the editing process. Our thanks to Professor Max Ticktin who teaches Jewish studies at George Washington University, Washington, DC, for his review of the manuscript and his sage comments.
It is said that the person who finishes a task is the one who performs the mitzvah. This credit belongs to Lily Poritz Miller of Toronto, Canada, who steered this book to completion.
...How many unwritten books died with them?
How many uncomposed symphonies suffocated in their throats?
How many scientific discoveries did not mature in their intellects?
Every one of them was killed twice:
once as a child led by the Nazis to their death,
and again as the adult he or she might have been.
The Nazis stole them not only from their
families and their people,
but from the whole of humankind.
I, as President of the State of Israel,
can grieve for them and commemorate them,
but I cannot forgive in their name....
|From the address by Israeli President Ezer Weizman|
|to the Bundestag and Bundesrat of the|
|Federal Republic of Germany|
|January 16, 1996|
Our goal, solving the Jewish problem in Lithuania, has been reached, reported SS Colonel Karl Jager in his December 1, 1941, cable to Berlin.
In a few months in 1941 - from summer to winter - 80 percent of Lithuania's Jewish community was extin- guished. They had numbered 235,000 when Germany invaded the country. At the end of the war, only 18,000 were left.
The goal, "solving the Jewish problem," had been accomplished for the Nazis by their willing assistants - the Lithuanians, the neighbors of the Jews who had coexisted in the shtetlach for centuries. They became Hitler's executioners, playing out the final solution to the Jewish problem in a scenario often described but never comprehended.
In Butrimantz the "activists" herded Jewish men, women and children to their slaughter. Even in death families were separated as they were sorted according to their executioners' whims. Fathers and sons to the mass graves in nearby Alyta; children and grandparents to the mass graves in Butrimantz. "To the left, to the right"... as though it would make a difference in their final destination.
Of the 2,000 Jews in Butrimantz and its surrounding Jewish settlements, only ten survived. Today five of them are still alive.
The shtetl Butrimantz was not unique. Its origin, lifestyle and people were much the same as in hundreds of shtetlach across Eastern Europe. The destruction of
Butrimantz was not unique either. It was a fate shared by every other shtetl: the plots were identical, the cries of the massacres in the forests, the Jewish blood that soaked the earth.
Sometimes called a village, sometimes a town, Butrimantz is in southern Lithuania, nestled in picturesque green hills. It is 35 miles southeast of Kovno, 48 miles southwest of Vilna, and 12 miles northeast of Alyta, the district capital. About 200 Jewish families were living in Butrimantz in the summer of 1941, a majority population that soon became the hunted.
There were three synagogues in the shtetl. Every Friday, just as the sun would start to set, the same call would echo through the town: "In shul arain!" ("To the synagogue!"), which signaled the coming of the Sabbath. The stores would close. The men would hurry to the synagogue and the women would set the table. There was always challah on the Sabbath table. It was not often that a Jew had the luxury of white bread!
The spiritual nucleus of Butrimantz was the syna-gogue committee, whose leadership in the pre-war years was assigned to Itsik Pertzikowitz. In reality, however, Rivka Gordon was the head. This committee would resolve conflicts in the community, functioning as arbitrator, peacemaker, judge. It also established a shelter for homeless Jews. They named it Hachnasat Orchim ("Welcome" in Hebrew). The synagogue committee, which was also responsible for funerals in the shtetl, governed the Chevra Kadisha ("Holy Society"), the Jewish burial society.
The last rabbi in Butrimantz was Avraham-Moshe Vitkind, who was forced to wear a shoemaker's hat as he was marched to his death in Alyta. The shoemaker in this surrealistic play was wearing the rabbi's hat.
Dr. Gabay was the local physician. He was one of the ten survivors of the shtetl. Before he escaped he left poison for his 90-year-old mother and his blind brother:
"Drink this if they find you. It won't hurt when you die this way." When the executioners came to round them up, there was silence in response to their hollers.... It's a story that is still repeated by aging Lithuanians who are willing to remember the savage autumn of 1941.
The Jewish People's Bank, which had 230 members before the war, was the center of economic life in Butrimantz. The bank was established in the mid-1920s by Joseph Poritz, who came to the shtetl to serve as the first manager. He remained as head of the bank until the end of the decade, when he and Sarah Shapiro of Butrimantz were married and emigrated to South Africa.
The first public vehicle, a bus, appeared in Butrimantz in the late 1930s. The owner, Hona Boyarsky, started a bus route to Kovno. But his fare was too high for most of the locals, and the new venture had little success.
The Shevahs, a family of musicians, played at all the weddings, whether they were Jewish, Lithuanian or Polish. Rudnik and Keidansky were the shochets in the shtetl, Keidansky doubling as a cantor. Yoshe-Leizer Berezovsky was the clockmaster of Butrimantz. He also performed on his violin. Podlinsky, the gifted pottery maker, earned his living as a butcher, of which there were about twenty in Butrimantz.
Binyamin Mikleshansky and Dov Slobodsky were librarians in the public library. They were among the intellectuals of Butrimantz. Moshe Badash was the town's cinematographer. Twice a week he would set up his film projector and show movies while Berezovsky played the violin.
Berl Vinetsky was the principal of the local school. He and the teachers Hillel Millstein, Litvin and Arpahsander taught Jewish history, the history of Lithuania, math and geography to about 200 children. Educational leaders in the community were Binyamin Boyarsky, Dov-Berl Lozansky, Naividl, Binder and Tartakovsky.
"The youth," said Dvora Reznik, one of the ten
survivors of Butrimantz, "were divided into two groups, the idealists and the crazy. The idealists left for Palestine. The crazy ones remained to search for happiness in Lithuania ... but that was never meant to be ..."
Zalman Ratsin, who fought for the Red Army in World War II, recollected the following about the political life of Butrimantz:
"We had three Zionist groups, a Communist party and the Komsomol. I worked in the Komsomol. There were only about nine of us. I remember the secretary of our unit, Leiba Alfowitz - he later died in the war; Noah Boyarsky - Hona's second son; and front-line soldiers Chaim Lerman and Dovid Shoufer. We also had Lithuanian members - Alishauskas, Raugsha and Bronislauskas.
"We said: 'Our native land is Lithuania. We won't go to Palestine. We'll stay here and we'll build socialism in Butrimantz.' And we did build it.... We raised the red flag every 1st of May and 7th of November, collected money for our cause, and distributed propaganda leaflets. The Lithuanian authorities gave long jail sentences for that! Our older friends, Communists Peker, Sharlis and Alter Boyarsky, Hona's eldest son, were always involved in conspiracies; our younger friends worked mainly for the Zionist organizations, Gordon and Beitar."
Riva Lozansky speaks:
"Only after forty years did I fully realize how our lives were ridden with poverty and obstacles. But we knew no other way of life, and we were contented and involved. Each evening we would go to our various clubs and would dance and have fun, sometimes till dawn.
"Our lives moved slowly, like a calm sea, unruffled by the gathering storm. Then came the summer of 1941, transforming our shtetl Butrimantz into a flaming cemetery."
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