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The Jews Excelled In Valor (cont.)

 

We received a medal, and I also received the Medal of Honor, the “Red Star”. This was also because of several similar actions I had carried out.

I was at the front for about three years, and I was used to fighting. I always went first and made sure that the soldiers didn't step on mines. There is no doubt that I was afraid, but I can't state a specific moment when I was especially afraid. The Germans had good conditions. They had war equipment. They had food, whereas we, on the third front, didn't have enough equipment, there was no ammunition, and we were really hungry.

In the 16th Lithuanian Division I heard Yiddish wherever I went. I often saw Jewish soldiers praying, and there were even some who put on phylacteries.

There was a Jewish father with us [a wagon driver] and his five sons!

From my shtetl Dusiat among those who survived were Baruch Krut, Zelig Yoffe and Etl-Etka Yossman. Baruch's brother Ansel, and their cousin Yitzchak Krut, Zelig's brother Zalmen-Zamke and Etl's brother Rabbi Abba-Yudke died in action.

Among the twenty-eight men and women from my shtetl who served in the Division, only ten survived.

 

 
Etl-Etka Yossman in Uniform[3]

 

On July 12, 1944, the Division received the order to march to Lithuania. It was the day for which all the soldiers of the 16th Lithuanian Division had been waiting. The Division continued its fighting on Lithuanian soil.

 

The closer the Jewish soldiers came to Lithuania, the more concrete the news about the destruction of their homes and the murder of their families became. Consequently, their feeling of revenge also became more real.

In the battles alongside the call to attack (in Russian): “Comrades, for our homeland, for Stalin - forward!” was the shout (in Yiddish): “Brider, far unsere tates un mames!” [Brothers, for our fathers and mothers!][4]

 

We reached the border of Latvia, as far as Riga, and there the war ended for us.

The Germans continued to fight on the Liepaja-Tukums line, even though Germany had already surrendered to the Allies.

Sergeant Colev-Koka Grobman[5]: Some of us were chosen to comb the forests of Kurland and to catch German soldiers there. We forced them to clean up the mines from the area. The purpose of this act was to protect our soldiers , and later on the Latvian farmers from injuries. Our mission was completed in May 14, 1945.

Klaipeda was liberated on January 28, 1945.

The 16th Lithuanian Division later received the title of “Klaipeda Division”.

 

“The Division finished its course of battles on the Liepaja-Tukums line in Kurland, Latvia… There the Germans were forced to lay down their arms at the feet of thousands of Jewish soldiers from the Lithuanian Division (May 8 and 9, 1945).

The joy of victory was deeply clouded by the pain of loss and bereavement…”

“Mass graves and individual graves of Jewish fighters are scattered throughout the Division's entire route of battle, among them the huge mass grave that was dug in the frozen ground of the Russian village Alekseyevka, in the Oryol District.” [6]

When the fascists surrendered, the Lithuanian Division received horses and carriages, and that is how we entered Lithuania and reached Vilna [Vilnius] on July 13, 1945. It took a long time until this military framework was disbanded.

I must mention that the Jews excelled in valor. Here is Volf Vilenski, a Jew from Kovno, who received the medal “Hero of the Soviet Union”! And there were others, who aren't remembered for this.

 

Twelve soldiers and officers from the 16th Lithuanian Division were awarded the Medal of Honor “Hero of the Soviet Union”, for their extraordinary valor. Four of them, i.e. a third, were Jews:

Major Volf Vilensky, Sergeant Kalman Shur, Corporal Hirsh Uzhpol and Sergeant-Major Berl Tzindel who was awarded the medal posthumously; he fought heroically against the Germans and fell in battle on Lithuanian soil, beside Shilute [Heydekrug]. [7]

 

… It can be stated with certainty, that whether the Jews made up this or that majority in the Division, they were the largest and most compact concentration of Jewish fighters in World War II, except for the Jewish Brigade (from Eretz Yisrael) in the British army. Consequently, the Lithuanian Division is also frequently mentioned in world historiography that discusses Jewish fighting in the Holocaust period.[8]

I am a Jew and this House is Mine!

I received leave and set out for my shtetl Dusiat. I traveled by sleigh. There was a Russian soldier with me and I was also still in uniform. The “White” Lithuanian partisans continued to ambush and hurt the Red Army, but nothing could deter me. I wanted to go home.

We reached the shtetl in daylight. I found it bigger than when I had left. I didn't find a single Jew there. I went directly to our house, a small one-story house. I found a Lithuanian doctor there, whom I hadn't known before. The doctor thought that I was a Russian officer, and welcomed me with a drink. “Good that you came today. I have drinks left from yesterday, from my daughter's wedding,” he said, and served me a glass full of vodka. I put the glass to my mouth and he mentioned that the Russians know how to drink. I said to him: “I am a Jew, and this house is mine. My parents lived here, and I was born here.” He remained standing open-mouthed. I looked around and couldn't find anything that had once belonged to us.

I found many Gentiles whom I recognized in the shtetl, among them Valulis, who also had a fabric shop. That is why he knew my mother. I asked him what had happened to my family, and I learned what the end of the people from the shtetl had been.

 

 
Beside the Memorial to the Mass Grave in the Deguciai Forest
Here I parted from my loved ones…

 

I stayed in the shtetl for a few weeks and returned to the army. I was discharged six months later and moved to Kovno. I worked for eighteen years as a dentist in an M.G.B.[9] clinic. I communicated by letter – although not directly – with my sisters Rivka and Batya in Israel. It was my dream to make aliya to Israel. All my relatives were in Israel. Everyone in Lithuania had been killed, and I had no one close to me left there. I applied to make aliya to Israel several times. I knew that as long as I worked for the M.G.B. I would not receive a permit. Consequently, I did everything I could to leave that job, and moved to work in a hospital as a dentist.

 

 
Shmuel Levitt among the Hospital Staff (kneeling, on the left)

 

I fought to make aliya to Israel. When a person wants to achieve something, he has to fight for it! And I fought. I submitted every document that could possibly help me. I took advantage of every opportunity that came my way and that could open the way for me. I only received a permit in 1966, and I made aliya.

 

Footnotes

  1. Ibid p. 248. Return
  2. Prof. Dov Levin. Ibid p. 22. Return
  3. Sara Weiss (Slep): Grobman is the father-in-law of Yaacov-Yankale Charit. In 1991 he lived in Vilnius and was my guide there. We visited Chanan Levin, the famous photographer of the 16th Lithuanian Division. Grobman identified many photos of Levin's collection, and then he told us the story about his last days of the war. Return
  4. Avraham Kretchmer. Ibid pp. 355-356. Return
  5. Foreword. Ibid p.13. Return
  6. Prof. Dov Levin. Ibid p. 23. Return
  7. Ministerstvo gosudarstvennoi bezopastnosti - Ministry of State Security (Russ.) Return

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