As I explained earlier, people who had evacuated earlier began returning from towns and cities within the Soviet Union. Not all Plungyaners returned to settle in their place of birth. People settled in Vilnius, Kovno, Shavl (Siauliai), and Klaipeda.
Among the first families to return after the war were Mule and Mote Pelts, who were both discharged from the army directly after the war. Later, other families arrived. Those who came earlier and were a bit more established assisted those having just arrived. The newly arrived were joyfully received. No one was quite sure who had managed to survive. Jews checked to see if their Lithuanian neighbors had any of the possessions they had been forced to leave behind in their haste, but seldom was anything found.
Everything was confiscated by the government in power at the time. The houses where Jews once lived were now occupied by Christians given to them by that former government. They had no problem moving out and finding other places to live. It is possible to describe this process because there were only 27 Jewish families and a few individuals living in Plungyan at the time. Later these numbers dwindled. (To date only two Jews live in Plungyan). I consider it my duty to write about those who survived and returned, that it may be known who remained out of some 2500 Jews who lived in Plungyan before the war.
As I mentioned earlier, the Pelts brothers, Mule and Mote, returned to Plungyan. They were among the first. They began to farm the very land that they had owned before the war. They were able to obtain cows, a horse and some other things necessary for farming. Mule, the older brother, kept a cow in town that he milked himself. Later he also worked in a cooperative buying potatoes in bulk (potatoes for the government restaurants) Mote was later made into a chairman of a "Kolchoz" in the period where people were being forced into these collectives. The Kolchoz was called "Vladas Rekashius" (after a Lithuanian Communist leader), and was located where Mote had his five hectares of land.
These were turbulent times. And many chairmen of Kolchozy were killing opponents of the Soviet regime who attempted to escape into the forests to avoid going into the Soviet Army. On the other hand, at "Motl's Kolchoz" as people called it, which was located near Plungyan, you could breathe a little easier. Mote really didn't want to be chairman but seeing as he was a member of the Communist party, he was forced into it. Also, the peasants wanted him as their leader. He was a good boss. His wife Malke and their three children lived on Bod Gas where they had their own house. She worked as a saleswoman in a general store. Mote later died after an unsuccessful operation.
Mule emigrated to Israel where his two children lived. Although expecting to live out his later years in Israel, he also died. Ete Slavin, his daughter, died a young woman. Here in Plungyan she possessed a great deal of authority and was a well-known community leader. On the day of her funeral all school children from the Plungyan area accompanied the procession beyond the town. She was buried in Vilnius. Due to the trauma of Eta's death her mother became paralyzed and died shortly thereafter. Eta's husband, Kalman, worked as the head of the Production department of the Promkombinat [Industrial Combine].
Ruvke Tsimbler returned from the war an invalid. He worked as a cashier for those who sold merchandise at the marketplace. The government paid him well and the work was not too demanding. Hence he made a good living and had a good life. He was at Kolchoz "Shvitur" not far from Plungyan. It was there that, being a Communist party member, he also received some support to lead the organization of the Communist Party. He had a cow and his own house. For a long period his wife didn't work but raised their three sons. She was a great housewife and her cooking was delicious. Later she worked in a communal institution repairing stained clothing.
Berke Glickman worked at the marketplace together with Ruvke. He did the same work and also had a similarly good life. He made a good living at that time and his wife didn't work. Later he began working at Handsphere. He had two children. Bere died in 1991 at age 68.
Avrom Glickman, Bere Glickman's brother, left during the evacuation and returned directly after liberation. He worked for an institute combating those hiding in the woods to avoid the draft. More than a few of his colleagues took part in the exterminations of Plungyaner Jews. He became dissatisfied with the Soviet regime. He later went on to study management and worked for the company that supplied cooking gas to the Plungyan area until his retirement. His wife worked as a saleswoman in a store. Their only daughter emigrated to Israel where she was joined by her parents shortly thereafter. Today they live in Israel.
Itse-Mende Sher was one of the very few Jews whose work was physically demanding and involved hazardous conditions due to dust and dirt. He wasnt exactly a young man, not to mention that he walked with a limp. Nevertheless, he was a strong person. His work consisted of pressing flax refuse into bundles of up to 92 kilos in weight. After pressing and packing the bundles he had to lift and stack them one on top of the other. His wife didn't work but took care of their two children. The son later worked as a shoemaker. At present they live with their mother in Israel. Itse-Mende died suddenly here in Plungyan.
Gute Abramson also worked with flax in the same place as Itse-Mende Sher. Her work consisted of beating out the harder waste residue from the flax. As I mentioned earlier, she worked in unsanitary working conditions. To do this work the mouth and nose had to be covered with a cloth to prevent dust from entering the lungs. The building where they worked was made of wooden planks. A huge door stood open allowing for truck deliveries as well as for hauling off the finished bundles of flax refuse. Freezing wind and snow blew through the walls and open door making it impossible to work for part of the winter. Gute's husband, Henech, was a hairdresser and died later in Plungyan. Gute now lives in Kovno with one of her daughters. Her other daughter lives in Israel.
Bentse Olshvang was one of the first to return to Plungyan. As I mentioned earlier, his hand was amputated, the result of a battle injury obtained while fighting the Germans. He was one of the first group of handicapped from the war. His wife, Sheyne, didn't work and he received a pension as a handicapped veteran. Later however, he worked as a watchman in a sawmill that had belonged to the Plungyaner Promkombinat, But because he didn't exactly get along with the director, he lost his job. His son Itsik later emigrated to Israel with his wife and their two children. The move followed the death of Itsik's mother who had been ill and bedridden for several years before she succumbed. He carried her in his arms "in gradn farstand." His father had died while still a young man many years before. Itsik put up a beautiful gravestone for his mother before he emigrated to Israel.
Beyle Libe Rostovski returned to Plungyan with her seven children. Her husband, Manes, was killed on the front. She received a very small pension, not nearly enough to survive. Like many at the time she was forced to buy on what we call "speculation." She would buy merchandise cheaper and sell it to make a small profit in order to fill the gaps with a few rubles. It became easier for her when the children were old enough to work and help out financially. Later they started their own families and some of them turned out to be well adjusted and responsible people. Her children live in Israel, Vilnius, and Germany. Beile Libe died here in Plungyan.
Yanke Moishe returned from the evacuation and found his daughter Sorke, who had been hidden through the entire war by a Lithuanian man from Riteve named Gintalis. They even gave her a Lithuanian name. She spoke Lithuanian perfectly without a Yiddish accent. Her father worked as a shoemaker in a state-run hotel where they used to make new shoes, and rebuild old ones. Both of them emigrated to Israel.
Shie Micchelzon and his wife, Tishe, had no children of their own. They raised their niece Dobke, whose parents had a lot of children before the war making their lives very difficult. So Dobke grew up with Shie and Tishe calling them mother and father. Dobke married a Jew who had served as an officer during the war. His last name was Gurvitch. Dobke, as it turned out died early. Her husband and children moved to Vilnius and later to Israel. Shie and Tishe lived for a short period in Vilnius where he worked as a shoemaker. Both died in Vilnius.
Shie's brother-in-law, Alter Chaves, shared the same courtyard with Shie. He made military clothes and uniforms for officers and had a reputation as an excellent tailor. Alter's wife didn't work. Needless to say he had a lot of customers and did pretty well for himself. Unfortunately he was kind of a sickly person but he was well cared for by his wife. She made sure that he didn't exert himself too much while working. She prepared tasty dishes for him. They raised two children. They later decided to build a cooperative residence in Vilnius for themselves and later moved there. They both died in Vilnius. One of the daughters who lived with them got married, and the son remained a bachelor.
Michke Minster was famous as an adept tailor who also made women's clothing. He always had plenty of work and made a good living. His wife didn't work. Michke was also a well-known musician. He had a good singing voice and played the violin. He was always in high spirits and always had a lively expression on his face. He used to play for dances and concerts. He also raised all three sons as musicians. Rive his wife made sure that her husband was well attended to. At her house you could find delicious homemade bandelech, teiglach and other tasty baked goods. On more than one occasion I was treated to tea accompanied by delicious baked goods not to mention the wonderful food. When Michke was eating, she almost always stood by his side and made sure that he finished eating everything she had served him. He had to eat even if he didn't want to.
One of their sons who emigrated to Israel was to be followed later by his family and his mother-in-law where they would all live together. Then disaster struck. The son was killed in Israel, causing his family to alter their plans. Instead, they moved to America where they had friends already living in New York.
Meyerke Rostovski was also a tailor but didn't remain for very long in Plungyan. During the war he was in the Lithuanian Sixteenth Division. He was not careful in his criticisms of the Soviet government. It turned out that someone reported the criticisms to the Polit representative in the army. He was sentenced to 10 years in the camp (maybe this was fortunate for him) as speaking against the government was considered to be a mortal sin. After his sentence ended he returned to Plungyan; his mother and remaining brothers were living in Vilnius at the time. From there his family all emigrated to Israel. He didn't stay very long in Plungyan, as I mentioned before. From there he emigrated to America and lived in Los Angeles with other family working as a house painter until he died there, still a fairly young man.
Itsik Tsivie was taken to Siberia with his family for being a former leader of Betar organization in Plungyan. They returned to Plungyan and Itsik took a job as a salesman in a kiosk. He also was illegally dealing in meat. It goes without saying that he was clearly dissatisfied with the Communist regime, and never wasted an opportunity to express these views. His wife didn't work. She stayed at home and raised three children. When it became possible to emigrate to Israel, Itsik and his family did just that. They threw a fine going-away party one evening during which Itsik even called up the Chief of the Plungyaner M.G.B. (Security Commission) just to get on his nerves.
Beye Korobelnik, a former leader of Shomer Hatsair. worked as an employee of the Communist Party Committee after the War. After that he worked as an editor of the newspaper published at that time for the Plungyan region, the Sotsialistinis Kelias (The Path to Socialism). He was a highly regarded person at the paper. He was well respected for his high level of education. His wife, Liube, worked as a saleswoman in a store. His two sons emigrated to Israel. Ultimately, he worked as a director of a commercial cooperative. After a short time in this position he left the Communist party (many were renouncing the party) and left for Israel together with his wife where they lived with their children who proceeded them.
Toybe Bunka (my mother) returned from Siberia with three daughters, Dina, Hene and Chane. She was given an apartment to live in because she didn't own a house before the war. Dina got a job as a sales girl in a general store. Hene worked as a bookkeeper in homes and for a management organization. After she got married, she moved to Vilnius. Dina married the type of man we used to call a "mountain Jew." He was from the Caucaus region. Chane was later married in Vilnius and had two daughters who subsequently emigrated to Israel. Subsequently, everyone including my mother, her sisters and their families all emigrated to Israel. (My mother, her sister and sister's husband died there).
I arrived in Plungyan after I was discharged in March of 1947. I began working as a military instructor in the civilian organization called "Dasap" [Dosop, Dosof etc.] Later, I worked in the area of management of state run housing. These were housing units that the government rented to people. People called it "Nomu Valdiba" [or Nomu Maldiba] Housing Management Organization. Since my real profession was that of a carpenter, I resigned my position and went to work in a furniture factory where I made chairs and other furniture. Mainly, in the course of my work activities I was still working as a metal worker doing cold welding, and even worked on a locomotive, producing electrical energy to run the factory machines because electricity was difficult to obtain from the stations in Plungyan. There certainly was not enough power for factory production. When the manufacturing profile of the factory changed, we began to produce wood veneers, sculptures and other things. I began working with the particular guild that manufactures these items (I've been working with wooden sculpture for years now. I put on my own exhibitions.) Now my work consists exclusively of Jewish themes.
Yankl Piker had a great sense of humor, was quick to tease and told various jokes, anecdotes, or simply hilarious stories. He worked as the director of a store. Jews and Lithuanians alike called Piker's Store. His wife did not work. They all emigrated to Israel where he wrote a book about his life and the time during the war.
Chaim Fish and his wife were already elderly when they returned from the evacuation with their remaining children. They received a pension for their son who was killed on the front. One of their sons lived in Russia. Another son, one of the first handicapped war veterans, lived in Vilnius and worked as a shoemaker. They had two daughters who lived with them in Plungyan; the one named Shavartsbord worked in a leather factory and the other daughter went to live in Klaipeda (Memel).
Zelik Ril (my uncle) worked in a butcher shop, which at the time was a very profitable job. Obviously, he lived well and his wife didnt have to work. They saved up a tidy sum of money, enough to build a cooperative apartment in Vilnius where they lived together with a daughter who had already been working in Vilnius for some time. One of their sons was killed in the army. Zelik Ril died in Vilnius. Not long thereafter his daughter's husband died, while still a young man. The mother, daughter and remaining children then emigrated to Israel.
Elie Glickman, whose wife died a young woman leaving behind five children, was a widower for years. He and his mother-in-law returned from Siberia both advanced in age. Elie, notwithstanding his inability to read and write, was a remarkable human being. He knew five languages including the rare gypsy language. The prayers recited three times daily, he knew by heart. I still remember, how before the war he used to lie on a hard sleeping bench surrounded by children and singing songs from the Tsars time. He had been a soldier in the Tsars army and was a prisoner of war under the Germans during World War 1. The children sang along with him, although they didnt understand the words. His mother-in-law and Elie died here in Plungyan. His daughter Dobe married a Jew from Russia.
Fete [or Pete] Segalovitch was a hand painter. They had two children. Later they moved to Vilnius and from there emigrated to Israel. Dobe died there during the time of the war between Iraq and Kuwait.
Mote Glickman married here in Plungyan. He worked as the Chief of a Communal Service department. He divorced his wife and went to live in Vilnius where he married a Jewish widow from Minsk. He died in Vilnius. His ex-wife and children are presently living in Israel.
Chaskl Sher arrived from Vilnius with his wife and the twins, a boy and a girl. As a former pre-war member of the then prohibited Communist Youth Organization, he was afforded special privileges, despite the fact that he had only completed two grades at the Jewish Folkschule and was practically illiterate. But it didn't get in the way of him becoming a director of a large industrial complex. He was a member of the Communist Party Committee in Plungyan serving as a commissary officer. As with all Directors at the time, he used his high position for his own personal benefit. Among others, the mills of the Plungyan region belonged to this particular industrial complex [promkombinat]. The millers lived very well from their work. Every miller had to pay a weekly or monthly visit to the director for a "discussion". To arrive empty handed was unacceptable (Everyone knew about this practice but it was a taboo subject not to be broached. Those who arrived empty handed were let go by the director, which was the case with Bentse Olshvang.) Everyone understood this. This was the curious thing about the Soviet Union, that a person who had a second grade education could become a director of a factory and be prominent in the Communist party. With time he was moved to the town of Shiliute and held a similar position, albeit somewhat smaller. As was the case with many, he renounced the Communist party and from Klaipeda (Memel), emigrated to Israel with his wife and children. After a short period they went to Germany to live with his wife's brother where Chaskl died. His wife and children still reside in Germany.
Leibe Orlianski worked as a leader of communal economy for the Plungyan region. He carried out his duties well. It was due to his initiative that the first house was built after the war in Plungyan. He sent workers to Vilnius to build houses, where there had been a previous shortage of builders. As a result of his efforts to rebuild houses destroyed during the war, he received many thank-you notes. He lived with his wife. They had no children. Later he served as director of an industrial complex, expanding into new production areas. After he was freed from his post, he went to Vilnius to live. Attempting to emigrate illegally to Israel, he was sentenced to 15 years in a prison camp. After serving part of the sentence he was released and emigrated to Israel where his brother Berl was already living.
Yudl Piker and his wife, Sara, worked at the same industrial complex. She served as a head bookkeeper. He worked as a master craftsman in a guild where wool was combed and cotton was produced. They raised two boys. Later they moved to Vilinius and from there emigrated to Israel.
Yose Hodes worked in a commune in the area of commerce, selling kerosene. Afterwards, he worked in a furniture store. His wife was hidden by a Lithuanian family for the duration of the war. She made women's hats. They had two daughters. Their youngest daughter married in Israel, where her parents were already living by this time. She then went to live in America where her husband was already residing. After a short while Yose and his wife also joined them in America. The older daughter, who had been living in Vilnius, also moved with her family to America.
Itsik Pozin worked in a center handling various merchandise in a commercial cooperative. His wife worked in the same furniture store with Yosl Odes. Eventually, their son became a head engineer for a large state-run institution.
It is necessary to mention an incident that happened to him before the war. Itsik Posin came from quite a wealthy family. He married a blacksmith's daughter. He was what you called a leftist because he believed the Communist propaganda that extolled our high standards of living and lack of discrimination. In the meantime, Communists had established a Jewish "autonomous republic" called Birobidjan. Itsik and his wife went there illegally. He later claimed that he personally felt the goodness of the Soviet Union. In reality, Jews arriving from the Baltic lands were suspect. This was a result of Stalin's anti-Semitic policies.
Perhaps the beginning of the war succeeded in shielding Itsik from repression. After the war they returned to Plungyan where Itsik's wife, Hode, died. Some time, after he was living in Vilnius with his children, he also died. His son emigrated to Israel. Here in Lithuania Itsik Pozin was one of the first to establish the Jewish community [after the war].
Tevie Grolman was a handicapped war veteran who received a pension. He didn't work. His wife worked as a saleswoman before the war. (They had their own store on the Bod Gas). They had a son and a daughter. After they were falsely accused of a blood libel, they left Plungyan and settled in Shavl.
Moishe Zalkinovitch and his wife were no youngsters when they returned to Plungyan with two sons and a daughter. Moishe worked as a salesman in an army store. Both sons followed in their father's footsteps. The daughter (who later married Bene Korokelnik,) also worked as a saleswoman in a general store. Rochl Mets illegally returned (from exile in Siberia) where she agreed to marry Leibe Zalkinovitch. But shortly after her return to Plungyan, she was arrested and confined to the prison in Klaipeda because she still didn't have the right to return to Lithuania. No excuses were accepted. She was sent back to Siberia. Leibe made the journey with her to Siberia and married her there. They remained there for some time until they were legally allowed back into Lithuania. They lived in Vilnius and from there emigrated to Israel. Their son Velfke also married in Plungyan and raised two daughters. His wife helped him in the store he ran for so long that he called it his own store. They presently live with their younger daughter here. The older daughter lives in Vilnius.
Shuel Hirzon was already sick and elderly. He had grown-up children who were already working. Leibe, his son, worked in a commercial cooperative where, together with Mule Pelts, the two would buy provisions for the restaurants in Plungyan like potatoes, cabbage onions and the like. When it became possible for former Polish citizens to travel to Poland (from there one was permitted to travel elsewhere) he found a woman, a former Polish citizen who agreed to marry him for a certain amount of money. They were divorced in Poland and each went his/her own way. He emigrated to Canada where he did quite well for himself and became quite a wealthy man. Her sister with her family also came to live with him. He died in Canada. But according to his last will, he requested to be buried in Israel. His wishes were carried out.
Mote Reznik was a leather cutter for shoes. His wife didn't work but brought up their son. His wife was sick and partially paralyzed, She even attempted suicide not to be a burden to anyone, but they saved her. After a time, however, she died. Mote and his son went to Israel where an accident happened to Mote and he was killed.
Toybe Zelde Hirzon lived out the evacuation years with her troubled son Arke in Siberia. It goes without saying that Arke was not accepted into the army. He wasnt seen as a normal person. He was forced to return to Plungyan and was killed. This is how it happened: One day Arke went into the rural villages near Plungyan to sell his wares. This one time he went to the house of a peasant with whom he was acquainted. He was just sitting there when intruders entered the house. They were those hiding out in the forests fighting against the Communist regime. (At the time these people were called "criminals". Today they call them "partisans".) In those days these "criminals/partisans" were killing hundreds of people, entire families, even the small children of Lithuanian peasants, officials and party members for having served the regime. Many chairmen of a Kolchozy were killed. They also went after Communist party people, officials or anyone who supported the Soviet Regime. Sometimes the victims happened to be the first to enter the Kolhoz on their way to work in the morning. Entire Lithuanian families were massacred, old people, men, women and children just as the Jews had been killed during the war.
When these "criminals/partisans" saw a stranger in town, they feared being recognized and turned into the authorities. So they decided to kill Arke, especially since he was a Jew. He was then tied to a tree and tortured the entire night by his drunken captors. Arke was around two meters high and was a strong guy. His voice was very strong. People who lived close by heard his cries of anguish resonating throughout the area. It was horrible to listen to it. Sometime in the early morning hours they shot him. We found him bound to a tree, and it was a horrendous sight. He was covered with blood and gaping wounds and burn marks on his face and body. Shortly thereafter, his mother died in Plungyan.
Shgie Odes (nickname "Koshaie") was a single man. He was handicapped from birth. It was miraculous how he managed to save himself by fleeing deep into the Soviet Union, whereas healthy people didnt even make it. Understandably, he wasnt able to work and instead sold goods on speculation. He sold yeast which was not always available at the stores. The militia people didn't bother him. There were bigger speculators than him. Besides he was handicapped and where would they put him anyway? He wasnt exactly unfond of having his little drink of whiskey. This is what he earned his money for. Food didn't cost him anything. He would eat at a different house every day like a Yeshiva bocher. The day he was to eat at someone's house they were prepared with a graph to measure exactly how much whiskey he was getting with his meal (that is to say, whoever had whiskey.) At Ruvke Tsimbler's house he received a glass of samogon (homemade whiskey), which they used to make a lot of in the countryside for parties and similar occasions. He became ill and died shortly after the war.
Tsipe Bank was a single woman. Her brother Yeke lived in Vilnius and emigrated to America. Tsipe was a Jewish patriot. After the evacuation she returned to Plungyan , but eventually she moved and now lives in Israel. She still keeps in touch with everything happening in her birthplace, Plungyan. She was very concerned about the memorials for the victims, the mass graves amongst other concerns. Somewhat elderly and with health problems, she has not had the opportunity to visit Plungyan in recent years.
Ruvke Dimant was the only one left after the war from a very large family. He was with us in Siberia and returned together with my family. He was a strong young man and worked as a loader in a commercial cooperative. He married a girl from Shaul. It was an arranged marriage and they had two children, but it just so happened that he became ill. No one ever imagined that he would die but it turned out to be far more serious than anyone had thought. He was only sick for a short time and then died. After his death his wife and children moved to Shaul to live with her parents.
Yudeske Fish lived with her mother and daughter. She married Motl Rostovski (Beile Libe's child) who also returned from the evacuation. He worked as a metal welder in what was called a car and tractor station [repair shop]. Yudes sold yeast, pepper, cinnamon, samogon whiskey and other things. She got around the chairman of the anti-speculation department by paying him a small amount of money, (that's if the government employee would accept money). This is how she lived until she moved to Vilnius with her daughter and her family. She died in Vilnius late in life.
Shore-Yuzls Levinson remained single after the war. Her only son was killed on the front. The Lithuanians used to call her Shorke. She was already an old woman. She made and sold poppy seed cake, mernpletslach, [carrot crackers or carrot flat rolls], apples and other delicious things. Both Jewish and Lithuanian kids would run to Shore with their pennies to buy poppy seed cake or other delicious things she used to make. Every day she would sit in front of her house and sell her treats. (The street is presently called Synagogue Street. The Bes Medrash, the Great Synagogue and the Shamosim prayer house are still standing. I have already mentioned that I was the one who proposed that the street name be changed to Synagogue Street.) She was assisted during the first emigration to go to Israel to be with her daughter who had emigrated before the war. But Shore died in Israel within the first few months of arriving.
Basheve Okum, similar to Shove Yuzels, sold sour pickles, apples, pepper and other things, which her son Leizer forbade her to do. He felt this type of business was unnecessary. Leizer was Basheve's only son. He was born fifteen years after the wedding. Leizer was very dear to her. Her husband had already died. He arrived from the Caucasus where he had been during the evacuation. He was a handsome young man. He worked with me in housing management, managing a few streets. He worked and studied in the evening school which existed for those who didn't have a chance to study because of the war or for those who worked during the day. He finished seven grades, entered a university in Vilnius and became an engineer. He married the niece of Ziman, then well-known editor of the Vilnius newspaper Tiesa (Truth). He brought his mother to live with him in Vilnius where she later died. After a time they went to live in Israel as did many Jews.
There were also a few Jewish families living here who were not from Plungyan. Velvl Belkind, his wife, mother-in-law, children and a few other people were hidden until the war's end by Lithuanians Francs Charier (died), Yule Gadeikite and her brother Franas, Vitkevitchiene [Mitkevitchiene] among others. Kareiva told me that the Jews he hid were prepared to take their own lives before they would fall into the butchers hands with him and his family. He attempted to allay their fears and strove to improve their living conditions. He convinced them, and right after the war they presented him with a written declaration attesting to his humanitarianism. The document contained all six of their signatures. A copy of the declaration can be found in the Plungyan Jewish Museum, which will be housed in the Bes Medresh. Velvl also finished evening school just as Akum had. He later worked as a leader of the regional department of commerce. His children finished their studies in Vilnius. His son Misha recently became a well-known scholar in the United States. Afterwards, Velvl and his daughter followed suit, and emigrated to America. Velvl's wife died fairly young. His mother-in-law died prior to her daughter here in Plungyan.
Ruve Maler worked as a manager of the aforementioned car and tractor station. His wife was a teacher. They had two daughters and emigrated to America. One of their daughters is a noted writer in Lithuania. Her literary creations are translated in other languages. She is also known in Israel.
Motik Yashdin came from White Russia. He married Teme Rostovski (Beile Libe's daughter). They raised two children. Motik worked as a mechanic in a cooperative and was considered to be one of the best. He was a very decent, quiet person. They all emigrated to Israel where he died still a young man.
Everyone was desperate to leave Lithuania. Many were successful through legal means by going through Poland. Some were caught and put on trial for attempting to get out illegally. This happened to a woman from Plungyan who tried to get out with her husband and daughter. They discussed the plan with an airplane pilot who agreed to fly them illegally to America. They agreed upon the hour of departure, but then suddenly, he tricked them and turned them over to the militia. They confiscated everything they were carrying, and they were put under arrest. In those days this was considered a serious crime and carried a long prison sentence. Waiting for trial, the husband committed suicide. The entire blame was heaped on him, which saved the woman and her daughter. It was proven that the woman was unaware that they would be traveling illegally. They served a lesser sentence and then emigrated legally to Israel, because by this time it was already permitted to leave the country. The mass exodus to Israel and to other countries had already begun. Almost all the Jews in Plungyan, including Plungyaner Jews living in other towns and cities, were packing up to emigrate. Most Plungyaners moved to Israel. Only a few families choose to go into exile again. Presently, very few Jews from Plungyan live in Lithuania. After the war many came to realize that only Israel guaranteed the Jew a life free of assimilation and anti-Semitism, both of which predominate in the countries of the Diaspora. The Jewish State builds and strengthens traditional Jewish life, which in turn protects the independence of the state of Israel. No one is going to do it for us. Unfortunately, those who moved elsewhere didn't understand this. Or perhaps they didn't desire to understand. In 1950 in Plungyan there were 150 Jews and in 1970, only 45. Today (1999) I am the only one, and it is not possible for me to leave Plungyan for various reasons. This is the end of the road. There is already no one to pass down the history of the Jews of Plungyan. I am the last of the Jews who lived here for centuries with our Lithauanian neighbors, from the founding of the Jewish community, to the last Jew of a community that ceased to exist 2234 Jews from Plungyan and the surrounding area were wiped out forever.
They now rest in ten locations beneath the mounds in the forests, where the mass graves are located. Eighty-four scattered gravestones were also returned to the old cemetery. I then set them up in an area of the old cemetery that had not yet been built upon. (A Lithuanian high school was built on top of a portion of the old cemetery.) I also placed gravestones and sculptures at the 10 mass grave sites, which will stand for hundreds of years, bearing witness to the once large Jewish community that Hitler's fascists and local collaborators were responsible for killing off.
These Jews (living in a foreign country) include Elie Broyde from England; others are Ted Sher from America; Anetta Goldwasser (the former Mayor's daughter) from America and her brother, Harry, from Zimbabwe (they had both emigrated to South Africa as children); Allen Polivnik from Australia; and the famous "artist" from the Royal English Theater, writer and actor Anthony Sher. Anthony Sher made a visit to Plungyan in 1992 and described the town in his book, Middlepost. His grandfather emigrated from Plungyan to Johannesburg, South Africa in 1896. When Anthony Sher was in Plungyan he took a lot of pictures as does everyone who comes to visit the mass-murder sites, including the Koshanner Memorial and the old Jewish cemetery. He also filmed and took pictures of homes formerly owned by Jews. After his return to London, the English newspaper, The Independent, described his experiences in Plungyan with pictures of the town. In England there is another writer Ronald Harvard who hasn't yet been to Plungyan but his grandfather was born there in 1888. In 1900 he emigrated to Africa and now lives in England. There are always those who come to see their ancestral home and look for the roots of their genealogical tree.
When Jews returned to Plungyan after the war they saw the evidence of the holocaust from the mass graves in the woods at Koshan and in other places. The six grave sites at Koshan were often found dug up in certain areas, human skulls strewn around the graves. Apparently, people were looking for gold teeth. Frequently, we had to re-inter bones. This happened more than once. We would also straighten out the contours of the mounds to prevent people from stepping on them. The village of Koshan is about three kilometers from Plungyan. People went to the town administration of which there were the chairmen, Itsik Tsivie, Zelik Ril and others. They requested an ordinance be passed to prevent people from digging up body parts, desecrating the graves of those who lie in the graves below. In those days it was difficult to request anything from them, let alone that each grave should be encircled with cement and the entire area be fenced in. We also requested that sidewalks be put down to permit easier access to the graves. After some time, we persuaded them and they granted our requests. To prepare the memorial stone, people collected money, and in 1952 the stone was set with the inscriptions in Yiddish, Russian and Lithuanian: "Here were murdered 1800 Jews from Plungyan and the surrounding area."
Even on the front I was constantly plagued with the thought that if I would survive, I would never forget those who perished (for even then we knew about the mass shootings of Jews the Jewish genocide). I would see to it that memorials and sculptures were placed at these places. When I returned after my discharge from the army in 1947, I immediately began to worry about it. But it was only after some time that I was able to attain my goal.
In 1976 I was approached by Jonas Valoiskas, former chairman of the town Shateikai, and another Lithuanian with a surprising proposal. Surprising, because the Soviets would have never tolerated this proposal. Jonas explained that he could not rest. He explained that not far from Shateikai, in the forest, lie 100 murdered Jews from the town of Salant, and there is almost no sign of the spot where they were killed. (I wrote earlier about the location of this grave site). He wanted to at least lay a stone at the site. He also wanted me to create a sculpture that would portray the torture of the Jews who were murdered there. Finally, he said that no one needs to know anything for the time being. Later we would secretly install the sculpture and people would think it's been there for some time and they wouldn't touch it. And that's what we did. We discussed how the sculpture would look. The image was to be that of a person with bound hands, exhausted but with an expression of rage. I made the statue in the Sheltie region, in the village of Fuchsia where a friend, who donated the cedar wood for the sculpture, lives. The sculpture was 4.2 meters in height. Lithuania is famous for its national art of wood carving. Consequently, he and other Lithuanians requested that another sculpture also be placed next to the gravestones portraying the Lithuanians' feelings of sadness for the Jews. Creating the sculpture in Shateikai gave me what I needed to energetically begin the Koshan memorial. My wife advised me in the meantime to do one sculpture secretly, and maybe, later, they would permit me to create others. In my summer garden outside of town I did a huge sculpture, 4 meters high, consisting of an entire family including four small children. The parents are holding the fifth, a newborn, in their arms. On the bottom part of the sculpture I carved the inscription: "Born To Live". This symbolizes how it is impossible to exterminate a people. The roots remain. And from those roots grow new branches covered with leaves. (The people in the sculptures are pressed between the branches and leaves from which they emerge.) The oak wood from which the statue is made is also a symbol of strength.
When I finished the work, I went off to the then chairman of the self-government for the Plungyan region, Nanas Vindashius, with whom I was acquainted. He was an art lover and already possessed several of my works. They probably had a real effect on him, not to mention the fact that he couldn't be selected as chairman again. So when I told him that I wanted to erect a sculpture, I didn't believe he would be amenable to the idea. Prior to this, every time I requested to put up a few sculptures in the same place, his building representative always answered that a memorial stone was already there and they didnt need another one. To my astonishment, he was interested in my proposal. He telephoned his driver and told me to put away my scooter. First he wanted to see my sculpture. We drove to my summer garden. He was very impressed with my work, especially with the subject matter. He gave me permission to put it up in Koshan next to the memorial stone.
Later I became bolder and again approached him with the desire of putting up more sculptures to make a memorial. He wasnt against the idea. With the assistance of my Lithuanian colleagues, under my direction, we finished the work that took three years to complete. They helped me without financial reward. Two of those three years I worked alone.
On the yahrzeit of the genocide, representatives and deputies from all political
movements and parties from the regional self-government gathered for a commemoration at
the mass gravesite. Also present was Gregori Kanovitch, the writer and chairman of the
Jewish community in Lithuania; Emanuel Zinger; Professor Shloyme Otomuk [?] Yadovski a
Y. Levinson, the leader responsible for memorials, restoration and upkeep of old cemeteries and mass murder sites throughout Lithuania. In attendance were those from Kovne, including the writer Mark Singer. People arrived from Klaipeda, Shavl and from the surrounding towns where Jews still resided. They even created the name the "Koshaner Memorial." It is there in Koshan that the majority of the Jews lie about 1800. In keeping with my request, access paths leading to each grave were constructed along with stairs over the mound. An asphalt parking lot was also created. They also fenced in all six graves.
The self-government of the region has also assisted in the setting up of memorials as well as with the upkeep of the remaining mass graves from the entire Plungyan region where it is known that some 2234 Jews perished. Here are the location of the towns with the number of those who were killed: Platl (Platelei)-30, Alsad (Alsedzai)-30, Shateik (Shateikai)-100; Villages: Vetuven (Vestuvenai)-82, Milashaitsh (Milashaitshai)-60, Loimalenko-90, Twer (Tverai)-16 Furvaitshai-4. Placed over these graves were simple stones without any indication that Jews were killed there. We put up new Memorial Stones with inscriptions in Yiddish and Lithuanian. The version we used was the following: "In this place July 1941, the Nazi assassins and their local collaborators gruesomely murdered 1800 Jews from Plunge, children, women and men."
Lithuanians often come to place flowers at the gravesites in accordance with their traditions. At the entrance to the Koshaner Memorial people tie black ribbons that are used as a sign of mourning. I felt a sense of satisfaction that in a period of a few years we were successful, albeit through great effort, to accomplish everything necessary to serve as a reminder that Jews once lived here with their interesting life and traditions. That there would be no more Jews here, I could not have imagined in my wildest dreams, as much as I couldnt have dreamed that it would fall on me to be the last Jew of Plungyan. It is my fate to write the last chapter of the Jews of Plungyan. Almost all the former Jews of Plungyan, who the murderers so gruesomely put to death, will lie here forever in their eternal rest.
When the Lithuanian poet, Mikolas Kartshoiskas, was at the place where the Plungyaner Jews were killed and to where the stones from the old cemetery were taken, he read from his poem written especially for this place. The poem is about the 1800 Jews and is entitled "The Memorial in Koshan". He writes the following: "Gravestones were banished by force, from the places they occupied for hundreds of years in the old Jewish cemetery."
I wasnt able to rest until I could set up the gravestones in a place where they hadn't yet built (next to the high school). I went to inquire several times when I could carry out my work, but always received nothing but refusals. I put in a lot of effort until the city manager, Ketvirtus, and the regional manager Vidashius, both agreed to my proposal. The director of the newly built high school, however, was against the plan. His rationale was that the high school students would not have a playground to run around in. I embarrassed him by saying it wasnt a good thing to walk on dead people's bones.
This was how I succeeded in preserving the Plungyaner Jewish cemetery for hundreds of years to come. According to many of the gravestones, the cemetery has been in existence for some 500 years. Besides the 89 gravestones which were relocated, we placed a separate stone with inscriptions in Yiddish and Lithuanian indicating the location of the old cemetery. An area was also built for people to say Kaddish and Yizkor on the Yahrzeit of the Jewish Genocide. Remnants of the last Jews of Klaipeda are in attendance. But in the surrounding area there are already no Jews left, save for a handful in the Telz region who also attend the memorial on July 21st.
The following is a translation of the brochure on Jacob Joseph Bunka:
The title page:
Jacob (Joseph) Bunka
The Sculpture: "The Tragedy of the Jewish People"
Stands by the Koshan Memorial, 1986
Joseph Bunka is celebrating his 75th birthday, a venerable age. His life of creativity began when he was barely five, when his father noted his sons artistic bent so at age 16 he took him to the famous master in Plungyan (Plungé), Yozas Shublinskasn, to become his apprentice, to teach him a craft the art of carpentry.
Then in 1941 there began the terrible catastrophe of the Jewish people. Jacob Bunka suffered heavy losses in his personal life and from the year 1945 and the years to follow, he dedicated his life to a mission, both human and aesthetic, with the aim of immortalizing the brother and sisters of his folk in Plungyan and environs who fell victim to the annihilation of the community. Thus in 1976, he fashioned a sculpture in wood, 4 meters in height, showing a human being with bound hands in torn clothing, now standing by the mass grave in Shateikai. In 1986 Bunka, with the help of his Lithuanian colleagues, created in the village of Koshan a lasting memorial for the genocidal victims and mass grave. His moving sculptures of towering height, depicting human anguish, stand like sentinels above the tragic scene of mounds and trees. People from all over the world come to visit the Koshan Memorial, from America, Canada, England, Germany, Austria, Israel, Even as far as Korea, South Africa. Bunkas sculptures are also to be found in these countries. The masters work is exhibited at the Holocaust Museum in Washington.
In 1996 Bunka was invited by Israel where his works were exhibited in Tel Aviv and ? cities. They received beautiful tributes in the press as a new page in Jewish history because traditionally Jewish religion did not allow the making of human images. There were many responses in Yiddish, English, Lithuanian, Hebrew, one of them reads as follows:
We thank you for the uncommon and exceptional, obviously not so simple, but great work you are doing, for your concern and caring for the old Jewish cemeteries and the mass graves in Plungyan and surrounding area, for your monumental sculptures, your gigantic labor, for your creative energy which embodies the memories of loss, pain and our contemporary hope that never shall such a gruesome tragedy happen again. Our thanks for your steadfast commitment to your creativeness, that you cannot imagine yourself living in Lithuania without it. And only the strongest tree can grow alone, even when it stands, in its solitariness, at the edge of a field, still does it give strength with royal dignity to its surroundings. Regina Riaukaite (Sociology)
Bunka is the only Jewish folk master in Lithuania. In 1995 a special documentary film was produced on this unique master, which was entitled Moses Our Teacher in Phlotl.
The master knows no rest, ax and tools in his hands, not only does he want his work immortal, but he knows an old saying: He who recognizes his own essence, that person is full of hope. Danute Serapiniene
Page 3: A Shoemaker in Synagogue 1995
Page 4: Moses Our Teacher 1992
Page 4: Agamemnon 1997
Page 5: The Fiddler 1994
Page 5: The Smith 1996
Page 6: Blowing the Shofar 1991
Information about Jacob Josef Bunka compiled from various publications and Press articles
Yankel Piker, a former Plungyaner, now living in Israel, wrote in his memoirs as follows:
"Yosel Bunka, a front fighter, highly decorated for his bravery in battle against the Nazi fascists, was appointed by the local administration, the municipality of Plungyan, as housing inspector.
With regard to this young man, Yosel Bunk, it is worthy of note that Plungyaners, wherever they may be, should know what precious Jewish youth Plungyan had, what great soldiers they were in the war against the Nazis.
Yosels father, Leibe Bunka, with his brother Avrom Lazer Bunka, also fought on the front but sadly fell in battle as brave soldiers. Yosel, himself was at the front while still very young, yet notwithstanding his youth, he excelled himself as a courageous fighter.
A decade later, when he became a master in the folk art of wood sculpture, his fame spread throughout Lithuania and beyond, deep into Russia. From Moscow came a correspondent from the only Yiddish journal in the Soviet, Soviet Homeland, who wrote a lengthy article on Yosel Bunka. We quote the following excerpts:
"Zhematye is located in the northwest of Lithuania and is rich with folk artists who create wonderful works out of wood and clay in all kinds of colors and forms. Those who visit this region to view the exhibitions of their work in the larger cities gape in wonder at their creation. The Zhematye masters were not even trained formally in any art academies, hence the term folk artists.
Not long ago I met in Plungyan such a folk sculptor, Yosel Bunka, a man now in his forties. His lively eyes are forever smiling. According to his attire and the exhibits in his home, it is not difficult to see that he is steeped in the spirit of art and wood sculpture.
"Yosel, at an early age, became a friend of the forests, developing a love for their gift of trees. As a child, the little knife in his hand, he was already carving the wood. His friends at school were all armed with whistles which he sculpted for them. His mothers wooden shoes did not seem to her to be of the ordinary kind for they were not as hard and did not rub harshly against the foot. Why? Because they were the creation of her son Yosel.
The most frightening way in which the war affected Yosel was the fact that he was forced to take flight from his beloved home eastward into Russia. He returned later as a liberator of Lithuania. In his first battle against the Nazis in which Yosel took part the battle in the vicinity of the Russian village, Alexyovke (where he was thrown into a fierce and bloody struggle) established the basis, the way of return, for his eventual reunion with his birthplace, Plungyan. In one of these battles behind Oriol, Yosel was wounded. When Yosel joined the Cossack brigade after he left the Zlotauser Hospital, he was warmly welcomed as if he was a full-fledged Donsker Cossack among the horsemen with their long mustaches and he felt at home as if in Zhematye horses, forests, fresh hay but here he was by this time a sergeant and Yosel had become a leader!
In one of the battles, Yosel and several comrades captured a tsung (literally a "tongue," meaning a high officer who might have vital information to divulge to his captors), a fascist officer whom they brought to the command post. When Yosel was asked how such a catch took place, he answered, "Whats there to tell?" The tsungwas really a prize, for the tsung gave important information. The tsung proved to be a vital source, indeed, for shortly after, on Yosels chest sparkled the medal, Slava. When the Soviet army reached the river Visel, Yosel and several comrades were the first to swim across to the enemys bank to capture a German post. For this exploit he was again decorated with the highest order, second rank. The recommendation for Yosel to receive the Order of the First Rank was already prepared by the commander of is brigade, but due to the quick tempo of events, the citation was overlooked and did not reach Yosel. Had it happened it would have been equivalent to Hero of the Soviet Union, which is the highest honor in Soviet Russia. His soldiers tunic was duly decorated with many medals, testifying to his bravery in battle.
Feverish times followed the war. Building was brisk and people needed homes, and Yosel as building inspector, applied his artistic energies, his creative hand. He recalled when he was a little boy he spent nights and days at the old shoemakers home, Modechai Lazer, who used to love telling stories while holding in his lips, small wooden slivers. Yosel lived then in the magical world of the creative imagination and throughout his life he has a deep respect for the workers who loved art.
Once in the forest he stumbled upon a tree (pinyak) of strange form and shape two figures like two dancers interlocked in a dance. Yosel took out the little knife from his pocket and began to cut away the branches. He barely reached the door of his home when the sculpture was already complete.
Who is the author? Man or nature? Presumably it is the human being who possesses the ability to improve on nature. With time, Yosels home became full with his small sculptures. The gifted hands of a master enhanced not a few of his friends homes.
Yosel returned to the art that captivated him in his early youth and childhood. He began to sculpt artworks of the forest. He became one of the most original craftsmen of souvenir output in Plungyan. His sculptures can be found in many museums in Lithuania. They also have been exhibited with great success in Moscow, Leningrad, Montreal, Milan, Prague, Warsaw and other cities.
Each day from morning to night Yosel sits and searches, in a piece of dead wood, the forms which will pour life into it.
Things became worse for the Jews on July 22, 1941 when World War II began. Entire communities of Jews, unable to flee, were massacred in Plungyan and other towns in Lithuania. You can't really explain how there happened to be so many murderers among the Lithuanians and that these were the same people with whom we lived in peace for hundreds of years. But one cannot escape the facts. Various explanations concerning the collective guilt of the Jewish people with respect to the Lithuanian population are not valid and are without foundation, as are similar claims of Lithuanian collective guilt with respect to the Jewish population. Blame cannot simply be thrown around at random. Individual murderers and traitors can be personally held accountable for the extermination of innocent men, women and children.
Also responsible are the Übermenschen who orchestrated the whole plan. They felt it was their right to condemn to death and murder an entire people in the most gruesome way possible without proving their guilt. They the innocents were condemned solely because they were Jews.
The following is a partial list of those who took part in atrocities against the Jews of Plungyan and surrounding areas:
[NOT FOR PUBLICATION]
One must also recall the many Lithuanians who risked their lives and the lives of their entire families to save Jews from certain death. Such Lithuanians were also to be found in the Plungyan area as well.
The following are some of the Lithuanians, worthy to be given the name, Righteous Gentiles. They protected and saved the lives of Jews in Plungyan and surroundings during World War II. May their names be for a blessing.
Gintalis, Ignaz (awarded a medal from shtetl Riteve)
Gadaykte, Vile (village Bersjare) (also awarded a medal for saving Jews)
Gedeikis, Franas (village Bersjare)
Vitkevitch, Emilia (a teacher from outside of Lithuania, tortured by Nazis)
Vitkevitch, Kazis, son of Emilia (he hid daughters of Rabbi Bloch of Telz in a pithouse)
Kareiva, Fronas (shtetl Plotl)
Spiristsavitzy, Victoria (village Jsoiblaytshai)
Smilgr, Vitshene Yuzefa (Kapadishay)
Feldsjus (shtetl Alsad)
Stass (a priest, shtetl Alsad)
Badoikiss, Martinas (shtetl Alsad)
Butkus (village Tirloykai)
Nalakoyskiene, Stase (foeign shtetl)
Those who devoted themselves in the protection and saving of Jews, every way they could, are known all over with much love and respect.
Of the 72 Jews who fought on the various fronts of World War II, the folowing are those who fell in battle:
Mottl Sher Sixteenth Lithuanian Division, B 224
Irveh Sher Sixteenth Lithuanian Division, B 224
Bere Odes Sixteenth Lithuanian Division, B 167
Manes Odes Sixteenth Lithuanian Division, B 156
Hirsche Eliashev Sixteenth Lithuanian Division, B 156
Bunis Shafir Sixteenth Lithuanian Division, B ?
Yankis Kaplan Sixteenth Lithuanian Division, B ?
Shloime Kroyt Sixteenth Lithuanian Division, B 224
Meir Karpu Sixteenth Lithuanian Division, B ?
Khome Rest Sixteenth Lithuanian Division, B 167
Zunde Hurzon Sixteenth Lithuanian Division, B 296
Nochem Levinson Sixteenth Lithuanian Division, B 224
Leibe Bunka Sixteenth Lithuanian Division, 156
Avrom Bunka Field Post 54, 64194, Kalinengrad
Shoel Karabelnik Latvian Division
Itzik Gornstein Sixteenth Lithuanian Division, B 156
Berke Levine Sixteenth Lithuanian Division, B 156
Benze Segal Sixteenth Lithuanian Division, B 294
Moshe Segal Sixteenth Lithuanian Division, B 167
Itik Segal Sixteenth Lithuanian Division, B 167
Hirsche Senderovitch Sixteenth Lithuanian Division, B 294
Pesach Zunes Sixteenth Lithuanian Division, B Motorate
Motte Khananovitch Sixteenth Lithuanian Division, B 156
Yankel Zik Sixteenth Lithuanian Division, B 224
Pesach Garb ?
Yisroel Zik ?
Yosel Hotz ?
Hirsch Garbe ?
Lazer Bad ?
Moshe Karg Sixteenth Lithuanian Division, B ?
Shloime Dimont Sixteenth Lithuanian Division, B 167
Moishe Bunis Sixteenth Lithuanian Division, B 249
Shoel Vistoff Sixteenth Lithuanian Division, Zeniti Battery
Manes Rasavsky Sixteenth Lithuanian Division, Zeniti Battery
Bere Fish Sixteenth Lithuanian Division, B 224
Velve Flex ?
Hirsch Minde ?
Binyomin Sher Sixteenth Lithuanian Division, B 294
Hirsch Herzon Sixteenth Lithuanian Division, B 267
Betse Zaak Sixteenth Lithuanian Division
Itzik Rabinovitch Sixteenth Lithuanian Division, B ?
Leibe Arenovitch Sixteenth Lithuanian Division, B ?
On July 14, 1941, the following families were exiled to Siberia from Plungyan and surrounding areas:
Hirsch Metz Representative of the Citizens Council
Khoze Gamzu A horse dealer expert
Bere Rolnik A business man
Simone Alschwang A business man
Itzick Tsivye Leader, Brit Hahayil, Betar
Aron Trob of Riteve
Of the 89 gravestones I assembled it is possible to decipher only the following names. Some of the gravestones are dated in the years 1760, 1796, 1865, 1881, 188?,1887, 1899, 1933.
Gutte & Jacob Ber
Rachel & Simcha Rustovsky
|Moishe Meir Groll
Nechoma Mineh Leibovitch
Yehudah Eliezer Dorfman
Ephraim Moshe Alshwang
Zusman Levit (of Riteve)
Nochven Metz (Metz Nochven?)
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