My mother was able to escape. She climbed over the fence when the guards weren't looking.
The people who couldn't walk were thrown onto wagons. The rest were organized into columns and walked out of Butrimantz.
When everyone had left, my mother crept out of the field where she had been hiding and headed toward home.
Tsila, Tevie and I had spent that whole day in the Sheinkers' yard and waited for our mothers to return.
Chaya Sheinker came home in the evening.
"They have already selected the people bound for Alyta. We should go to the ghetto."
She didn't say anything about my mother and I was afraid to ask. I could feel that something was wrong.
Tsila and Tevie went to hide with their relatives in another village. I headed for the ghetto to look for my mother.
Feiga Yanovitsky, a friend whom I met on the way, said, "Your mother was taken."
Which meant Alyta...certain death....
When I heard this, I vowed to find my mother and not to leave her, whatever happened. Feiga tried to stop me, but I was far too determined.
Near the synagogue, where the police stored the stolen goods, a pastor was loading furniture onto a long wagon.
"Do clergy steal as well?" I asked a Jewish woman standing next to me.
"Are you crazy!" she answered. "You think these people steal? He's just saving it for us. He'll return it. He does believe in God, you know!"
The pastor didn't use the stolen goods very long. Right after the war he was put in jail, and his home was given to an old couple. The furniture suited them well.
I tried to leave the ghetto, but the guards wouldn't let
me. I ran to Miliunsky's house, but no one was home. On a dresser in his house I saw a heap of packages, belongings and letters that were dated August 20. That was the day the youth of Butrimantz had been taken to Alyta.
Miliunsky had offered to deliver anything which the relatives wanted to send. People parted with their most valued possessions. Among the items was Batya's watch.
I wanted to run away from there but met the owner on my way out. I fell to my knees, begging him to tell me where my mother was. Miliunsky was so drunk that he had no idea what I was talking about.
I went over to Leah Pertzikowitz. Her husband Itzhak had been taken along with my mother. Her children - Koppel, Israel, Feivel, Sara, Malka, Sonya and Gita - had already been killed, except for one son, Zalman, who was brought to Germany by accident. He was freed by Americans and later moved to Israel.
"Yesterday in Yezna all the Jews were destroyed," Leah said. "Our fate is the same. You can't help your mother and you'll only get killed. Don't go to Miliunsky anymore."
From Leah's house I went over to the Shevahs, the musicians. Twenty families were gathered in there. Each one of them had only one or two members left: the result of several mass actions that had already occurred against the Jews. There wasn't any room for me, however, as the place was packed. The floor was crowded with pots, candleholders and pillows.
Mrs. Shevah, the only one left alive in the family except for the elders, came out to see who it was.
"We can't say no," she said. "Where will she go? I'll share the bed with her myself."
I climbed onto the bed and lay down. All I could see was an image of my mother, desperate, lonely and awaiting death.
Suddenly, a knock came at the door.
"Is there a young lady hiding in there?"
Miliunsky had sobered up and realized that he had seen me.
One of the older Shevahs got an idea and told me to lie down under his bed sheets, piled a lot of stuff on top and lay down on it all.
Miliunsky opened the door and marched into the room, which smelled of twenty perspiring bodies. He glanced around quickly and left the house.
I couldn't sleep and sat down on the window sill. Everything was quiet.
In the morning there was a light tap on the window. I opened the door to find Itsik Pertzikowitz.
"Don't cry, daughter. Your mother and I ran away. Go on, run now. You'll find her in one of the neighborhood yards."
The sun had risen and there weren't any policemen in sight. I made my way home through the fields. I found my mother in our backyard, her hair down, an insane look in her eyes. I started to cry and tried to shake her out of it. She didn't say anything. I took her hand in mine, like a child's, and walked her over to the ghetto.
We found safety in the house of Rashl, the servant of the rabbi. I decided we couldn't remain there for long and we ran to hide in the woods. The chances of being able to live through this, however, weren't much greater out there....
After the war I found out that eighty Jews had run away, but only ten had survived....
We had a shortage of food, but we traded our possessions for it. I gathered up anything of value we had left after the thefts and hid it in Rashl's attic.
My mother and I went around the town trying to find worthy Poles to whom to entrust our belongings. Some people came to our house to offer their services.
"Leave the things with me. I'll give them back to you after the war."
They knew what awaited us....
If you gave everything to one person, you'd be turned over to the authorities: everyone was aware of that. We decided to distribute things among various people. Maybe someone would be honorable enough to actually save some of our belongings.
The pastor from Poon came to Butrimantz with his lover, Zosei. They went to the Mazovskys' house and then to ours.
"Your Aunt Mazovsky trusted me and gave me all her possessions. You should do the same. I'll save it for you."
"We don't need anything. They'll kill us anyway. We would be grateful if you'd save my mother and me."
The pastor didn't answer. He packed his cart and left.
From August 29 until September 9 we did not spend a single night in the ghetto. We stayed with the Gitsavichius family. They treated us very well, fed us and calmed us down.
"Nothing will happen to you."
Later these people became willing executioners.
I did not know at the time that my sister Basya was dead. She died in Kushidar on August 28.
Rodlinski, Basya's former housekeeper, told me about that when we met after the war. She described how Basya had walked through the whole town to her death with her three-month-old son, Itzhak Yehuda, in her arms. Tugging at her skirt were her six-year-old daughter, Rivka, and four-year-old son, Aharon. Basya's husband, BenZion Dantsig, was shot on his way back home. His father, Avraham, was burned in the synagogue, along with other wealthy Jews and organizers of the local communities.
At the Gitsavichius' home I located a newspaper. In an article entitled "Lithuania - for Lithuanians" I read: "The Jewish problem must be dealt with." Next to it there was an article with a similar theme: "We must get rid of the Communists, Russians, Poles and Gypsies."
I did not want to think about the fear these messages were emitting. I was sure the Russians would come to save us.
We believed what we wanted to believe.
We saw the Leshinskasovs, whom we had known for a long time, place our tablecloth over their table. We saw them hang our curtains on their windows. They were even wearing our clothes. They had taken all these things to save for us. Can it be that even our good friends cannot wait until we die? I wondered.
"Aren't you afraid of the Germans?" I asked Juozas. "You've worked for the Russian militia in Vilna since the 1940s."
"I washed my guilt away with my own blood. In the first days of the invasion I killed two Communists with whom I lived in the same room."
He pulled out a record player, wound it up and we heard the sounds of "Clouds Over the City."
"If a militia worker becomes a policeman by his own will, he is forgiven. I'm going to enlist with the police."
My mother and I became frightened and left that house. We were starved and drenched in the rain. We went to the ghetto to see if anyone was still alive and perhaps to find another set of clothes.
On our way to Butrimantz we met Dr. Gabay. He was looking for a place to hide his wife, two children, his ninety-year-old mother, a blind brother, and his relatives, Yaakov Fink and his son.
Where are you going? Run! Kaspariunas told me that he's going to kill anyone still alive tomorrow. He let me go because I've been treating him for rheumatism. He said, 'Run, if you can. I'm not going to look for you,' he promised.
We went to the ghetto. Next to Rashka Pruss's house, on Smorgonsky's patio, sat my aunt Mazovsky with one of the twins in her arms, exhausted from crying. The second child was in Shoshana's arms. I asked them to give me one of the twins. The activists didn't yet harm women with children. They saved them for last because they realized it was difficult for them to escape with children.
"No," Mazovsky said, "I'll go to my grave with both of them."
"The child will be of no help to you," said Shoshana. "Everyone in Yezna is dead already. My husband had such nice nephews there. They're dead too. No one in Yezna was spared. Every single one of them was buried in the fields."
My mother stayed with her sister Mazovsky, and I went to Rashka Pruss's place to change. I removed my wet clothes, hung them up to dry and put on clean ones.
All at once through the window I saw activists chasing Shoshana and the other women.
The door to the house opened and several guards charged inside.
Until this day I cannot understand how I managed to be behind the door, hidden from them. The room was quite small.
Leaving the door open, the activists went straight to the next room.
"Get yourself ready!" they ordered Rashka and her very old mother.
"Leave me alone," begged Rashka. "Who will deliver food to my husband and children whom you took away?"
"Stop! They had enough to eat. In fact, so did you!"
The house became empty. The door was still open. There was a secret exit in the kitchen leading to the attic. I ran up as fast as I could. The whole attic was full of bags, both Rashka's and her neighbors'. I wanted to hide under them initially, but then realized that that was the first place the bandits would check. After all, these bags were what they came for.
I ran downstairs. The house had another exit. I fled outside into the yard. My mother, thank God, was standing right there. I grabbed her arm and we ran to Klidzenys Street.
That September turned out to be very cold. As we ran past someone's house, I raced inside and snatched the first warm thing I saw - a tablecloth. I threw it over my shoulders.
Both of the ghetto streets, Klidzenys and Tatarys, were surrounded. There was nowhere to go. We were swept along with the crowd. At the front were Kaspariunas and Germanavichius. Erushavichius and some others were on horses. We headed toward Klidzenys.
We walked about a mile and a quarter.
"They must want us to dig up potatoes in Pivashunai," said Pitelewitz. "I heard they already dug a place to store the vegetables somewhere nearby."
"Riva, get revenge for us!" our neighbor in line whispered to me. "You'll escape this, I know."
"Let's do it together."
"No. My Dvorele is with me. I can't leave her. I won't get far with the baby either."
People in the crowd were crying and groaning. For amusement, the guards beat them up along the way.
With my mother's hand in mine, I attempted to reach the edge of the group in order to run away.
Suddenly there appeared another squad of white-badged soldiers with rifles, moving in the opposite direction.
"Which way to Visokidvor?" I asked one of the men in Polish.
The drunk Lithuanian swung his hand in the direction.
I made my way into the ditch at the side of the road, and my mother followed. We later climbed into the nearby bushes and sat there, waiting for everyone to pass.
At midnight it became very cold. We huddled together for warmth. Then came the sound of gunshots and the barking of dogs....
Juozas Karpavichius filled me in on what happened that night. Just before the war he had drawn a poster: Smeton running to America. The Lithuanians remembered that and forced him to shovel dirt on top of dead bodies.
First the men were killed. They were placed at the edge of the hole, facing it, and shot in the back of their heads.
Germanavichius' wife stripped the women naked. Despite their pleas, she forced them to remove even their underwear. She didn't want anything to be wasted. The women were ordered to lie on top of the dead bodies in the big crater. That was how the executioners discovered there wasn't enough room for them all.
Joneika, a policeman, jumped into the hole to see if he could compress the bodies further. The women grabbed him by his throat and hair. The crater was about thirty-three feet deep. The Lithuanians had to throw a rope down for him.
The second hole was quite close to the first one. There the children and elders were buried. Among them were Chana Reznik and Itsik Sheinker's wife. These two women were on the verge of delivering babies. Itsik's wife gave birth beside the mass grave.
The shots were fired. Screaming from agony and terror, the people were pushed inside.
Astrauskas had a board with nails protruding from it. He would stick children onto it and shake them off into the crater.
Germanavichius' wife was busy handing out drinks and refreshments to the executioners. Barrels of beer stood under the trees beside the spectators of this bloody show. One of the observers fell unconscious.
They didn't shed many bullets on the children. Usually they buried them alive. In some places the ground was still moving two days later....
At the last moment someone saw one of the buried children climb out of the grave. The little boy was badly wounded. He struggled to get away from that place. The murderers waited until their target moved away, and then they opened fire.
After the massacre, the executioners divided up the stolen goods and went on their way.
The Jewish people who remained alive were Miliunsky and his wife; Kaspariunas' horsekeeper, Tsvi Mostowitz; Yoshe-Leizer Meirowitz and his wife; and the whole harem: two girls from Poon, fifteen-year-old Mina Goldberg, two sisters (I don't remember their names) and Asna Baver. They were all very beautiful women who had been hand-picked by Kaspariunas for his "harem," as it was called. Asna's father, Aron Baver, was not killed either.
Mina Goldberg was taken hostage by the policeman Lapinauskas. He lived with her until the beginning of September. Then someone in Alyta gave him away.
Lapinauskas told Mina to go for a walk, but he advised her not to put on her coat. Mina understood what he meant and begged him to spare her. Lapinauskas paraded the girl through the village to a reserved place in the cemetery. He pushed her into the hole and shot her.
Pavka Sobolevsky cut the girl's head off and bashed out her gold teeth.
The sisters were able to run away at the end of September.
The rest were finished off in the Butrimantz Jewish cemetery on October 1.
Aron Baver could have run away. Asna had warned him but he refused to go.
"I didn't die with the rest of them," he cried. "Then I would at least be lying among the respected people. But now - with Miliunsky..."
Asna had cautioned us as well. On September 8 she went to the ghetto.
"Run away! Tomorrow they're going to kill the remaining Jews."
Kaspariunas hid Asna until November. That month her fate turned to share the worst with the rest of them. Hiding in the woods, we didn't know any of this....
In the morning we set off toward the Polish villages. There weren't any Poles among the smaugiks. However, the order to forbid Jews from entering one's home was heard all around Butrimantz. We were not even allowed to come close to the houses.
Nonetheless, a friend of our family, Rainis, welcomed us inside. We stayed at his place for a few days, but he became afraid he would get caught helping us.
Thereafter, we went to the home of Voveris. His wife was an old friend of my mother. When she used to visit her husband while he was serving a sentence at the Kaunaska prison, she would always stop at our house.
Voveris himself had invited us to his place during the first days of the war. We thought he wanted to relieve his guilt.
This wealthy Pole had been in prison for a brutal crime. His wife gave birth to twins when he already had a daughter and two sons. Voveris boiled the newborns in a pot and fed them to the pigs. A boy on the street had witnessed this. Voveris killed him as well and buried him in the nearby forest. He planted a tree over the grave, but it wouldn't grow. This helped the local people find the body.
"You once said we'd be welcome in your house," we reminded Voveris. "We're freezing and wet from the rain. We have no clothes, and we're starving to death."
"Well, all right. You can go into the shack in back and hide in the hay."
Voveris' wife took the wet tablecloth off my head.
"You're going to get killed anyway.... I'll be able to go to bed tonight feeling good."
Later Voveris came into the shack.
"Where's your horse and teapot?"
"The horse is at Yankowski's," I said and bit my tongue for telling him the truth, but it was too late.
Every night during the whole week Voveris and his son returned with wagons loaded with possessions confiscated
from the Jews. Usually they were accompanied by policemen who spent entire nights drinking with Voveris. We were terrified we'd be discovered.
On the sixth day, Voveris' wife came to us.
"My husband and son are getting drunk. I heard them planning something very bad. They think you have gold with you. You'd be better off if you left."
In the daytime one couldn't get very far. We knocked on Montfil's door in the same village. To go to Lithuanians for help was dangerous.
But Montfil fed us, gave us money and started to cry.
"You're going to die out there."
He didn't keep us for long. He had three children and his wife was against it. We spent the evening at his place, then went into the woods. We slept on the ground, warming one another with our body heat.
In the morning a young man wearing a military uniform found us. That's the end, we thought. He's going to shoot us right here.
Instead, the man said, "I know you and I'll help."
He was Ignatsi Shestakowski. His village, Parankava, was fifteen miles from Butrimantz. In 1939 he had been ill in a hospital in Kovno. When he was discharged, he didn't have any money for the trip back; neither did he have the strength to walk home. At the bus stop he met my father, who brought him home and let him spend the night. In the morning he put the Pole onto Boyarsky's bus, paid the owner five lit, and sent him on his way.
Ignatsi told us all this while we were still in the forest. He walked us over to his brother's house, but Mihal was at the market. His wife made us comfortable in their home.
"I can't promise you anything," she told us. "I don't know if I can convince my husband."
We hoped for the best. After all, we endangered their lives with our presence. Spending the day in the warmth of a house was wonderful.
In the evening Mihal returned. His wife knelt down and put her arms around his knees.
"Mihal! Please allow me to let two Jews I found stay with us. They're freezing and hungry."
"All right, but only for a short time."
Happy, she came to us.
"He said yes! The war will be over in a few days. The Russians are getting closer. We heard it on the radio. The American Jews will pay a lot of money to those who helped to hide Jews."
We soon understood that this woman protected us because she was a good person and not for a reward.
Mihal's wife gave us hot water to wash ourselves, served tea and invited us to share whatever food she had.
I kept crying, remembering my sisters, but soon I realized: It's me I should cry over, not them. They've already experienced everything that could happen to them. Only God knows what's in store for us.
We hid in the haystacks. Every day Mihal's wife would bring us bad news from the market.
"Everyone in Butrimantz is dead."
"All the Jews in Anushishok and Visokidvor were destroyed."
Groups of "protectors" formed. Their job was to catch any Jews who hadn't been killed yet. At night these protectors eavesdropped on conversations inside the houses.
Interesting, I thought. Why do these murderers call themselves "protectors"? From whom are they protecting the people?
One day the owners of the house went to dig up potatoes and left me inside. To express my gratitude, I washed the windows, made the beds and cleaned up the rooms.
"What have you done!" the owners exclaimed when they returned. "Don't you realize they'll know there are Jews in our house? We never wash our windows. We never make the beds either. It's not our style of living. Don't do this again."
Very soon a neighbor came by and alarmed the Shestakowskis.
"They're searching every single house in the neigh- boring village. They're going to come here next."
The Shestakowskis discussed this among themselves and decided to make a safe place for us.
"We'll dig a hole, as though for storing potatoes," Mihal said. "If neighbors ask, we'll tell them just that, but if that happens, you won't be able to hide there anymore for they would understand that it's really a bunker."
Mihal started working on the hole. He made a lid for it and covered it with mud. Air entered the hole through pipes that extended out quite a distance. No outsiders questioned Shestakowski about it.
It was very hard to breathe in the hole. We perspired terribly. We even undressed but it didn't help much. The owners gave me a book they had, but for some reason it was in German. I read it all from cover to cover, using the tiny rays of light that filtered in through the pipes. Reading distracted me from the misery for a while.
The town slept quietly that night. We were let out of the hole to breathe and wash. We sat beside the fireplace to dry, watching the window to see if anyone was coming. If someone would have entered the house unnoticed, we wouldn't have been able to reach the hole in time.
Our saviors barely ate anything; we ate even less. In the morning we would have a boiled cabbage with a piece of bread; at night, a few potatoes.
We tried to think of a way to show our gratitude to these people. I wrote a note to Yankowski, the wealthy Pole who had our horse and some of our other belongings.
"Please give the horse to Mihal Shestakowski."
Mihal returned empty-handed.
"Voveris went to Yankowski's place with a note he claimed you gave him, Riva," Mihal said. "He probably wrote it himself. He wanted Yankowski to pay him for the horse.
Yankowski didn't believe him, but Voveris threatened. He got the money in the end."
A week later Yankowski arrived in person. He brought a large supply of potatoes and flour and begged Shestakowski to keep us hidden in his place for as long as possible.
"My daughter got to like your dress," Yankowski said. "That's what the potatoes are for. The flour is for the coat...."
We were so happy!
"All the Jews in Kushidar were shot," Yankowski told us. "Basya was among them. Jews are getting slaughtered throughout the whole continent. The Germans said they won't leave a single one alive."
After that, Yankowski returned about once every month. He always brought a lot of food and gave it to the owners. Our rations remained unchanged, however. We could barely wait until night to get out of the hole and go to the washroom.
During the half year that we spent in the bunker, my mother and I grew emaciated, like walking sticks.
For reassurance, the Shestakowskis decided to prove to the neighbors that there was no one hiding in their house. They left for three days to visit their friends in another village and asked a few neighbors to look after their children.
We were given a jug of water and a loaf of bread. The entrance to the hole was covered with more mud. For three days my mother and I remained quiet, not saying a word. Our stomachs ached. There was so little air that we almost suffocated. Three days in a grave was a terrible experience.
The Shestakowskis returned on time. The neighbors didn't suspect anything. Our lives went on.
At night we slept near the fireplace. One night, in a dream, my mother was visited by her father, my grandfather Itzhak.
"Get up, daughter. Go welcome your guest. Your daughter Tsila is coming."
Mother sprang up from the floor and ran to the window.
"Tsila! Tevie! Come this way! We are right here, alive!"
Had she gone crazy? I wondered. However, there were shadows of two people outside the window.
The owners woke up to see what was going on. They opened the door and there stood Tsila and Tevie.
"That's my daughter and her husband!" my mother cried loudly.
"All right," Mihal said, "bring them inside."
From that day on there were four of us in the bunker. Two sat on small chairs and two lay on the floor; then we switched. Every day we begged God to save us.
In Alyta the Germans captured thirty Russian soldiers and forced them to dig a hole, after which they were stripped and frozen to death. The Golombewski brothers, who helped many Jews hide, were caught and shot.
This last incident scared us all. The risk of getting caught was very great. Many Jews who were sheltered by other people were forced out. We prepared to leave, but Shestakowski stopped us.
"Where will you go? You'll get caught no matter what. You won't be able to stand the torture, and you'll give us away. We'll all die."
Jews who were captured were now interrogated before they were killed to find out in whose house they had hidden.
"If I were alone I wouldn't be so afraid," explained Shestakowski. "I have to watch out for my children. I don't know what to do. Letting you go is just as frightening as keeping you here."
That evening the Shestakowskis discussed our fate. We could hear everything they said, even the whispers. They decided that they had no choice but to drop the stove on the hole and bury us right there.
From then on we lived with even more fear each day....
I don't blame the Shestakowskis for anything. I understand how hard the situation had become for them. Sometimes we meet up with them even now. I've never reminded them about that evening. I have been grateful to the Shestakowskis my whole life. They saved us and kept us inside that first winter of the war - the coldest and most frightening one.
They didn't hurry with their plan. The Shestakowskis were just not capable of killing a human being.
Once, the owners left to celebrate Easter at their brother's house. Tevie opened the lid of the hole and we all escaped into the forest. The four of us, with barely any threads on, roamed through the snow-covered fields....
Tevie led the way to the Maldanis home. Alfonsas Maldanis had purchased land from the elder Sheinker and had served in the army with Tevie. He allowed us to hide in his part of the forest.
"People chop down trees all the time in the government-owned woods. You'd get caught there for sure."
During the day, when it wasn't as cold, we slept huddled together on the ground. At night we tried to keep ourselves in motion by walking.
Sometimes one of Maldanis' brothers would bring us some food, leaving it at a prearranged spot for us to pick up later. It was usually soup or boiled potatoes. Of course, we weren't receiving all this free.
Risking our lives even further, we sometimes wandered over to Raetsky's place. The first time we went there he gave us a loaf of bread and told us to come back for our things in a few weeks. He probably believed we wouldn't live that long, but explained that our things were in another village.
The second time, Raetsky's wife sent the dogs out on Tsila and Tevie. That was when we asked Maldanis to write a
note to Raetsky, asking that he return our belongings. After a while we actually recovered some of them.
Once, Maldanis invited relatives from Rudiskes to his house. They ate and drank, then started talking about Jews.
"There are some hiding in our forest too," Maldanis told them. "But can we be held responsible for the forest?
They decided to reveal us to their guests. They brought out bread and liquor, and offered us friendly advice.
We were hungry all the time. We must have made a horrible impression on them. I, for instance, spent most of the war in a single dress.
Once, awakening from sleep, we saw bicycle tracks in the snow. As it later became clear, the German Gubert had seen us but didn't give us away. He didn't even tell Maldanis.
Then we were shocked by another horror. Tsila gave birth to a dead baby and became very ill. For about a year she couldn't walk, and Tevie carried her on his back.
We met Yankel Bernstein from Butrimantz. Lebovich from Parankava had helped him hide. But, like us, Yankel retreated into the forest after the Golombewski brothers were shot.
We talked with Yankel about our family members who were no longer with us. He told us about Dr. Gabay. His ninety-year-old mother and blind brother were still in the ghetto. They weren't able to run away. Gabay had left them poison before he went into hiding.
"Drink this if they find you," he told them. "It won't hurt when you die this way."
That's what they ended up doing. The Shaulists found the corpses.
Gabay and his wife, their four-year-old daughter, Renana, nine-month-old son, Binyamin, and Yaakov Fink and his three-year-old son, Shalom Zeev, went to Yankowski. The children were taken to Vilna by a young woman named Janina Zienowicz, a relative of Yankowski. Janina and her sister Helena cared for the children until the end of the war.
Gabay and his wife and Fink hid at Yankowski's friends' house until the end of 1943. The neighbors discovered this and reported them. The Germans came with dogs and searched the place but didn't find anyone. That day Gabay's wife went insane. She was moved to the Vilna ghetto along with her husband and Yaakov Fink. Later she died there.
The children were saved by the Zienowicz sisters. After the war Dr. Gabay and his children moved to Warsaw. Shortly thereafter, the Gabay family emigrated to Palestine.
After the war Yaakov Fink went to claim his son, Shalom Zeev, but the bewildered, weeping child was afraid of leaving the only family he knew the Zienowiczes.
Eventually, Yaakov Fink abandoned his efforts to retrieve his son and emigrated to the United States, where he had several sisters. Within months after his arrival in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1948, Fink was diagnosed with cancer. He continued to write to his son, urging him to join him in America. But the boy, whose name had been changed to Wilhelm Zienowicz, could not be persuaded to leave his adopted family. Yaakov Fink died in 1953. Wilhelm relocated to Warsaw, where he later married and had three children.
Fink's wife, Zlata Riva Menkin, a doctor, had died in a typhus epidemic in 1941, shortly before the Germans invaded Lithuania. The fate of their daughter, Tanya, five years old at the time, is not known. It is speculated that she may have been sent to her mother's family in northeast Lithuania after her mother's death; others claim she died with the children of Butrimantz and lies in their mass grave. A third story is that she too had been a hidden child and disappeared into a new identity.
The spring passed. In June Maldanis' wife came running to us.
"Alfonsas is gone. Go hide! The forest is already surrounded."
This was the second day of the search for lost Jews. Just as we hid behind some bushes, we heard the voices of smaugiks. We were ready to run but remembered Yankel Bernstein. We awoke him and ran toward the entrance to the forest. Fortunately, Tevie had an excellent sense of direction so he knew exactly where to go. Suddenly he yelled, "Riva, look to the right!"
I turned and made eye contact with one of the smaugiks who was lying with the others surrounding the forest.
"Run!" yelled Tevie.
I grabbed Bernstein by his sleeve.
He resisted. "Let go!"
A shot was fired. Bernstein fell to the ground.
I turned around and saw Tevie and my mother running back into the forest. I went after them. Tevie soon realized that we were trapped, surrounded. We turned around and ran toward the fields until Tevie led us to the Chertovo swamp.
"Step only on the tough mounds," he cautioned. "If you miss, you'll get sucked in."
We jumped from mound to mound. The swamp was beautiful at this time of year, with flowers everywhere.
Leaving our footprints behind, we ran deep into the swamp before we stopped to catch our breath.
We heard the sound of horses' hoofbeats. Tevie went to find out what the animals were doing there and returned very pale.
"The Germans have horses and this swamp is surrounded."
Somewhere at the edge of the swamp the soldiers found an escaped Russian POW and Yankel Kovalsky. They shot them on the spot.
We had no way out and spent the rest of the day hiding in that swamp.
At night Tsila and Tevie went to the Maldanis home to check on the situation. On the way they met Gemaitis, a
farmer from Eigerdonis. He had seen us running into the swamp, but when the authorities had asked him, he replied, "No, I didn't see anyone."
The Maldanis family were practical people. That night they partied with the local policemen. Tevie knocked at the door. The owner stuck her head out and said, "The smaugiks are here."
Later we were told how the policemen had tortured the wounded Bernstein. They wanted to know who had fed him. They chopped off his fingers one by one, but he didn't give anyone away.
We returned to the forest. Anely Dulsken stumbled upon us in the tall bushes. She had often helped us with our garden, so we knew each other very well. Mother was eating bread, and the rest of us were lying on the ground, resting.
Anely became frightened when she saw us.
I grabbed her knees and cried, "Help us, please. We are very hungry!"
She told us that she would take us to her mother.
In about half an hour she returned with a loaf of bread. That evening she took us to Sakavichius' house in the Eichunai village. They too had some of our possessions. In exchange for these, we asked for bread.
Sakavichius' wife was sleeping in my night shirt. At the sight of me, she jumped up.
"Give me your jacket!"
The jacket had been given to me by one of the farmer families.
"What are you doing?" her husband interrupted. "She'll practically be naked."
"She doesn't need clothes. If she won't get caught today, she'll get caught tomorrow."
I tried to defend myself.
"At least you have a roof over your head. I spend all my time outside."
"Be quiet! There are police nearby. If I call them, you won't need anything anymore."
I left her house wearing only my dress. The saying is true: If a camel asks for antlers, he'll get his ears cut off as well.
Anely was very gracious and took us to her mother's house. And that was where we spent the winter.
I don't think there was a place in these villages where we didn't try to hide. We looked for spots with as few people around as possible. In the summer we often hid in the rye fields. Of all the shacks in which we hid, I remember Ivanowski's most clearly.
Once, after the war, a Pole gave us a lift to Butrimantz. When we passed Ivanowski's shack, he said, "That's my shack. In the winter Russian soldiers stayed in it. When my wife and I came to the shack in the spring, I saw the body depressions in the hay and figured it out."
I had never seen Ivanowski around the village before.
"We stayed in that shack," I told him.
We knew that no one would be coming there until the spring, so we hid in the hay. We were hungry and thirsty all the time, with only one bottle of water per day for everyone. We ate snow and went outside at night for our body needs.
Tevie and I would go to the neighboring homes to ask for bread. We skirted around the main roads, avoiding the "protectors." People spoke to us without their lights on; otherwise, it was dangerous.
We arrived at the house of one of our friends.
The man shook his head.
"Do you want to kill me? The whole village knows that Jews come to my place."
Tevie was surprised.
"No one saw us."
"You wear those heavy army boots. Everyone around here wears normal shoes. They can tell by the imprints in the snow."
61We would have been very happy to wear regular shoes, but we did not have any. Wrapping our feet with pieces of cloth and pushing them into boots was all we could do to save them from freezing.
Thereafter, however, we started to wrap the cloth on the outside of the shoes too in order to avoid leaving tracks.
Ivanowski and his son would come to the shack a few times a day. While they got their hay for the farm animals, we would remain as quiet as we could. Once my mother coughed. The boy jumped up and yelled, "Did you hear that? There must be someone in here."
The father laughed.
"Are you trying to fool me? That was just the wind."
At the end of the third week, gunshots were fired nearby during the entire night. In the morning Ivanowski came into the shack alone.
Tevie greeted him with these words: "I'm going on my way. My wife and her sister are staying with some nice people. I know that you are a good person too. You won't do me any harm. I slept here last night and heard the shootings. Do you know what they were?"
"Five people went into the public sauna," Ivanowski told Tevie. "One of them was a Butrimantz Jew by the name of Strage. They were seen. Activists drove up to the building. Among them was your old friend Rachkiss. The sauna was set on fire and everyone was beaten up. I won't tell anyone about you. Just get out of here as fast as you can."
That night we all left.
In the summer of 1943 we decided that we should split up into pairs. It was easier to hide that way. My mother and I hid in the rye fields. Tevie brought us food at night.
Once, two farmers who were reaping the harvest appeared in the field. One of them, Jugris Janushauskas, a
drunk and rebel, saw us and grew pale. My mother and I, bruised and emaciated, must have looked like characters out of a nightmare.
"Don't go anywhere," he said. "I'll bring you some food."
Soon Jugris returned with his own dinner - bread and milk.
"I would bring more, but my partner would know what's going on."
I asked if he could bring more food for us the next day. I thought: If he brings something, that means he pities us and probably would not give us away.
The next morning some women arrived with food. They were Jugris' daughter, his partner's wife and two other women whom we knew.
As we started to eat, the partner's wife whispered to me, "You'd better go away. I'm afraid Jugris will report you."
I looked at Jugris' daughter and spoke too loudly:
"I don't believe your father could give us away!"
The girl turned to the partner's wife and yelled, "My father is at home, you hear! Your husband is the one who left for Butrimantz this morning! You don't think he went to the police, do you?"
When they left, they were still arguing.
We had to leave this place as well. It was dangerous to go anywhere in the daytime, but we had no choice.
After walking about fifty yards we stopped under a leafy tree that concealed us. Suddenly we heard gunshots coming from the site we had just left.
Two people appeared right near us: Stelmahavichius, a policeman from Butrimantz, and Liutsius Konstantinowicz, a teacher. The teacher's suitcase swung a few feet from my leg. Thank God they didn't see us! Stelmahavichius would have shot without blinking. He was solely responsible for many of the deaths around there. For amusement, he fired his gun into the field.
Wandering from place to place eventually led us to Shwabowski's house. A candle was burning on his window sill, and we heard people talking in Polish. We took the chance and knocked.
I asked the owner if we could go into the shack to warm ourselves for just a few days. I offered anything we had and promised to bring more later.
We were allowed to sleep in the haystacks. Once a day the owner's wife brought us some food. Almost every day we had rotten vegetables and a few handfuls of snow from behind the building where everyone went to relieve themselves. My mother made a pair of stockings for the lady, and my sister sewed some other garment.
At that time the Russian army got so close that a battle erupted.
One morning, when most people hid inside their homes, we went out into the street for the first time.
"Look at the sky!" We were so happy. "Look at the red stars on those airplanes. We have reached the end of it!..."
A Russian soldier stopped us in the forest. Judging by our shocking appearance, he understood immediately that he was witnessing the last of the Jews. He took us over to the lieutenant, who happened to be a Jew. He became very excited.
"Thank God at least someone has survived!"
We were given food, but we felt too self-conscious to eat in front of everyone. The lieutenant told the others to leave us alone and gave us some money before he left.
"I want the first money you receive to come from a Jew," he said.
We decided to go back to Shwabowski's and wait for Tevie. He and Tsila had gone to Yankowski to find out what was happening.
The good news awaited them.
"The Russians are in Butrimantz!"
The people with whom Tevie shared the good news
did not seem very happy. Some of those at whose houses we had left our belongings didn't even want to talk to us. Only Trotsky gave Tevie a new hat and a loaf of bread.
In Butrimantz all the Jewish homes were occupied by the activists. When they realized they wouldn't be staying there long, they removed decorations and pictures from the walls in order to sell them. We discovered that later.
While we were waiting for Tevie at the Shwabowski house, they had a guest, Kvedaravichius' youngest son. "How shameful!" he yelled. "You kept Jews in your house. It's because of you they survived. I killed someone from their family. Just before she died, she screamed, 'You'll never build an independent Lithuania atop our blood!' I'll show them right now if we'll build it or not!"
We charged outside and ran until we reached the Yankowskis' gate. The owners didn't even recognize us. They thought we were a couple of homeless people.
I started to cry.
"Don't you remember us? We're the Lozanskys."
The Yankowskis cried too when they discovered who we were. They invited us in, but we refused: we were just too dirty.
The woman brought us clean clothes, and we went to the swamp to wash ourselves. Mother fetched water in a fish pail and poured it over me.
I threw off my dress, and Mother picked it up. It is now in Israel in the exhibit "Poison For Your People."
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