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[Pages 285-405]

PART THREE: THE ANNIHILATION OF THE SHTETL

“Much of what Lithuanian Jewry had to give has been transmitted to the Jewish world, but alas, a wealth of what was most precious in it was wiped out when Jewish Lithuania was destroyed.

Lithuania, land of my birth, my heart still grieves for thee …”

  (Kariv, Avraham. Lithuania, Land of My Birth, pp. 91-92, translated from the Hebrew by I.M. Lask and Gertrude Hirschler, New York, 1967.)


[Pages 287-313]

Chapter 1

Within the Straits
(September 1, 1939 - June 22, 1941)

[Page 287]

World War II Breaks Out

Translated by Judy Grossman

World War II broke out on September 1, 1939. Germany invaded Poland, after signing a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union (August 23, 1939), in which defeated Poland was divided between them.

The Soviet Union gave back the city of Vilnius, its historical capital, to Lithuania.

For approximately nine months fascist Lithuania enjoyed independence, in the shadow of Soviet bases set up on its soil.

When Vilnius was returned to Lithuania the Jews of Lithuania were able to reunite with their brethren there, and absorbed the war refugees with open arms.

On the one hand, the Lithuanian people developed sympathy for Nazi Germany – despite its appropriation of Memel [Klaipeda] on the Baltic Sea (Lithuania's only port), and on the other hand, a hatred for the Soviet Union, despite the return of its capital Vilna [Vilnius]. And the hatred of the Soviet Union was always accompanied by enmity towards the Jews.

From the Davar newspaper:

(1) “Hitler's 16 Conditions for Settling the Conflict with Poland”
“The Russia-Germany Pact was Unanimously Approved”
“There were no debates at all in both houses”

(Friday, September 1, 1939)

(2) “The Holocaust of the War”
(Monday, September 4, 1939)

 

Among the papers belonging to the German Foreign Ministry that fell into the hands of the American government after the war was Document NG-4041. This is a secret letter dated June 29, 1939, which was sent by Heydrich to von Ribbentrop, the German Foreign Minister, from which it can be seen that the clandestine organization of the followers of Professor Valdemaras (the Activists) requested money and weapons as early as 1937 in order to overthrow Smetona's government and also to carry out a pogrom against the Jews.

The Nazi government granted this request, with small amounts of money… but it refused the request for weapons… The Nazi government at the time (1937) refused to help the organization carry out pogroms against the Jews for the following reason:

The Lithuanian government had been successfully removing the Jews from the Lithuanian economy for quite a while, and this led to an increasing emigration by the Jews. The carrying out of pogroms was likely to interfere with this planned development, which the Germans wanted.

It can also be learned from Document NG-4041 that the Nazi government in Germany responded differently to a similar request by the Lithuanians in the middle of May 1939:

In light of the internal political situation in Lithuania, it is to be assumed that a wave of pogroms against the Jews will create major political difficulties for the country, which would also have ramifications on Lithuania's foreign policy. The removal of Jewish capital abroad as a result of the pogroms, would definitely lead to the impoverishment of the country and in order to improve its situation Lithuania would more than ever before be dependent on the German market.[1]

The wave of war refugees led to an increase in the size of the Jewish population of Lithuania to a quarter of a million souls – from 7% to 10% of the general population – and aroused the ire of the Lithuanians. “The Jewish refugees were not a burden on the government, because the Jewish welfare organizations in Lithuania, especially the Joint, provided all their needs, and this was almost the entire source of foreign currency in the country, as the war led to a plugging up of all Lithuania's foreign currency income.”[2] However, it was convenient for the Lithuanians to ignore this fact.

 

Footnotes

  1. [2] Garfunkel, Leib. The Struggle of Lithuanian Jewry for Rights of Independence, p. 33, in Yahadut Lita, Vol. 2, Tel Aviv 1972. Return
  2. [3] Barak, Zvi. Polish Refugees in Lithuania between 1939-1941, in Yahadut Lita, Vol. 2, p. 366. Return


[Page 288]

I Hope We'll Still See Each Other (A Letter)

By Sheine-Mushe Melamed

Translated by Judy Grossman

While the Jews of Lithuania were ostensibly living in safety, the heavy draconian shadow of the events that transpired at a frightening speed already lay over them: the Soviet occupation and after it - the Nazi invasion and the Holocaust.

Sheine-Musha Melamed's letter to her older siblings in Eretz Yisrael

November 16, 1939

Shalom to my sister and brother. How are you? What's new with you and in Eretz-Yisrael in general?

Do you have work? Do you not lack anything? We are all healthy. There is nothing new in Dusiat. Everything is the way it was.

Why don't you write me? Ella, Chaim doesn't know me, but you probably know that you have another sister!

We received a letter from Zehava. She writes very well. She sent me fabric for a coat.

We are waiting for a letter from Rivka. Do you receive letters from Rivka? How is Yehudit? When I hold Yehuditl's picture I cover it in kisses. My heart yearns for you so much and to see Yehuditl in the flesh and to kiss her, not her picture. I hope we will still see each other at some time.

We have good letters from Sara. She will probably come for Hanukah.

Write me whether Rivka received the gift for Yehudit. I was the one who went to buy it in the shop.

Write Rivka that she can still write a few words.

When the lake freezes over I will have a picture taken of myself skating and will send it to you. You will also see my new coat in it.

I am ending my short letter because I am sleepy. Next time I will write you more. That is when you reply to this letter.

Regards to Dov and Zipora Caspi. Regards to Rivka, Shmuel and Yehudit!

Shalom, shalom, from me your sister who misses you. Sheine

 

[Page 289]

The Written Words Were “As Sweet As Honey”…

By Zelig Yoffe

Translated by Judy Grossman

The Soviet Period (June 15, 1940 – June 22, 1941)

On June 15, 1940 columns of the Red Army entered Lithuania, and within a few months Lithuania was annexed to the Soviet Union as a “soviet republic”.

Sovietization was forced on all aspects of life, with everything it entailed: political terror, nationalization, arrests and exile.

The Sovietization process did not pass over the Jewish shtetl of Dusiat either, as the letters from that period and the stories of the survivors testify, among them the shocking story of Dovid-Leib Aires. But even if the Jews suffered material and emotional distress, they still considered the Soviet occupation a rescue from the Nazi atrocities.

The Lithuanians were forced to grind their teeth and keep silent in the presence of the Soviets, the destroyers of their national independence, and hoped for “redemption” from the Third Reich. The Jews were identified, now more than ever, with the Soviet regime.

The deep abyss in the political orientation between the Lithuanians and the Jews expanded from day to day, and with it grew the Lithuanians' unrestrained hatred for the Jews, which immediately found expression after the German occupation of Lithuania.

In the summer of 1940 the Lithuanians were disappointed when Lithuania was annexed to Russia, and they did not at all look forward to the coming of the Russians.

We, the members of Hashomer Hatzair, related to Russia as our friend, and went out to welcome them joyfully. We joined the Komsomol[1], were active in the organization of youth groups, and I remember that we succeeded in organizing eleven groups in our region… This was an activity that came from enthusiasm, from faith in “Mother Russia”… This fact apparently inflamed the ultra-nationalist Lithuanians' hatred of us even more.

I thought that I had found my happiness in the Komsomol. The written words were very beautiful, as sweet as honey! But I quickly realized the truth, which was very bitter…

I remember an assembly of the Komsomol at which a member of the Central Committee informed us that it was forbidden to elect a Jew as the chairman of the Komsomol in the shtetl. The heads of our delegation were Gershke Slep and his brother Elke Slep, and they expressed their objection: how was such a regulation possible if we were all “brothers”… Their objection did not result in anything, and even though there were only two or three Lithuanians there, the Lithuanian Jurickas was elected as chairman, and I was elected to be the deputy and to be in charge of the Dusetos group.

Elke Slep used to report about the situation in the shtetl to the press in Yiddish:

“… Every young person in the shtetl is a member or candidate for membership in the Komijug. The Komijug organized a course in Russian, led by Schwartz, the teacher of the Jewish folk school. 40 young people are learning this language.

A drama group was set up – both Jewish and Lithuanian.

Jews now also enter the People's House (formerly the headquarters of the Sauliø Sàjunga).”

Elke Slep, Folksblatt, October 15, 1940 (translated from Yiddish)

When teaching in Hebrew was stopped, it was very strange to hear the teacher Hillel Schwartz teaching in Yiddish. In the past he would fine everyone who spoke Yiddish, and I remember his angry voice: “Yiddishist, go to Birobijan!”

One day I was ordered to vacate the Hebrew library. The teacher Hillel gave me several bookcases, three or more, and I signed for them. I was required to produce a list of the books (author's name and title) in three languages: Hebrew, Yiddish and Lithuanian. Rivkale Schwartz, the daughter of David and Lessel, helped me, but I don't remember whether we finished producing the list. The books remained locked in the bookcases that we had moved to another place, but I don't remember how, or from and to where.

In Dusiat bringt men in ordnung die Yiddisher bicher.” [The Yiddish books are organized in Dusiat].
Elke Slep, Der Emes, May 28, 1941

I also remember the assembly in Zarasai. The participants were brought there through organized transportation, and that is how I came there too. The speakers praised Mother Russia and condemned the fascists. During the break I went to visit my relatives and because I was late getting back they didn't let me enter, and so I went home. Later on they called me “traitor” and I didn't understand why. Apparently at that assembly the participants were requested to submit subpoenas to various people, among them many Lithuanians whose names appeared on a list that had been prepared in advance. Many Jews participated in that assembly and carried out the assignment they had been given.

The two newspapers, “Folksblatt”[2] and “Die Yiddishe Stimme”[3] both continued to come out until the end of November 1940, when a new “Jewish” daily began to appear in Kovno, “Der Emes” [The Truth], the journal of the Central Committee of the Communist Party in Lithuania.

A major upheaval also took place in the school network.

Throughout the summer of 1940 new curricula were prepared for the various educational institutions. All the Jewish schools were transferred to the Education Commissariat. The former educational organizations were closed. Yiddish became the sole language of instruction in all the Jewish schools. It was forbidden to teach Hebrew. They even stopped teaching the Bible, Jewish history and other Jewish studies. Short summer courses were held for the Jewish teachers in order to provide them with knowledge about the requirements of the Soviet school system. In just a few weeks they had to train the hundreds of teachers for their new position, to serve as communist educators of the younger generation in Soviet Lithuania…

Sunday was designated the day of rest in all the Jewish schools, instead of Saturday.

The new regime also interfered with the Jewish libraries, and at the order of the Education Commissariat they were merged with the general municipal libraries. First of all, of course, they destroyed all the books that, from a communist point of view, were liable to adversely affect the Soviet reader[4]

Footnotes

  1. Union of Communist Youth: Komsomol in Russian; Komijug in Yiddish (Kommunistishe Jugend) Return
  2. “Popular Press” - daily Yiddish newspaper published in Kovno Return
  3. “The Jewish Voice” – daily Yiddish newspaper published in Kovno, founded in 1919, first editor was Leib Garfunkel. Return
  4. Joseph Gar, Under the Yoke of Soviet Occupation in Yahadut Lita Vol. 2, p. 375 Return


[Page 290-291]

With Noah Poritz in the Underground

By Haviva Rozenberg (Mintz)

Noah Poritz was a member of the central administration of the Zionist pioneer movement “Netzach” (Pioneer Scouts Youth Movement). He was one of the founders of the ken (“cell”) in Shavli (Sauliai) and his activities there were with the help and support of the Jewish high-school principal and its teachers.

After Lithuania became a Soviet Socialistic Republic, Noah had to leave Shavli for security reasons and move to Vilna (Vilnius). There he was involved with the central activities of the underground movement “Herut” (“Freedom”), one of whose most important activities was the production of a pamphlet of which Noah and Tedik Pik made copies in Hebrew.

Noah perished in the Holocaust.[1]

To and about dear Noah Poritz!

Though I know, Noah, that you are no longer with us, it is still hard to write "about you". You still live and exist, and it is impossible to imagine you any other way.

I saw you first in l935, in a little room in school. There you and Reuven Shteinman founded the club of the Zionist pioneer youth movement - Netzach - in Shavli.

One morning Shulamke (Shulamit Gordon-Katzova) came and told us about you two, and invited me to come to an evening of song and discussion about Eretz Yisrael and kibbutz.

Yes, that was the beginning. You - short, kind of round, dressed as a scout, down to even the shoelaces and the whistle. Your head bent a little to the side, and blushing while you spoke; and even without that you stood out with your rosy cheeks like a young girl… You were a strange combination of seriousness and joy. With your good nature you not only influenced us, the youth, but also our parents, our teachers, and the adults in general. Your deeds of persuasion were accompanied with a special kind of arm motion, with your sleeves almost always rolled up...

Noah, you, not from Shavli, had great influence on the Jews of Shavli, in spite of the fact that you were stirring up the youth and causing more than one conflict between the young people and their parents. Now I understand and respect your organizational strength and the movement authority that filled your existence. In spite of the small difference in age between you and us, you succeeded in creating a large and important club, and maybe that is where we drew the strength for the terrible times that descended upon us later on.

In retrospect, I understand that you gave everything you had to the movement. How seldom we saw you with your girlfriend Chaya-Sarah. You were always busy doing something connected with the movement. When did you sleep? Where? And when did you eat?

Noah Poritz and his girlfriend Chaya-Sarah

Two great and important activities stand out vividly before my eyes: the social trial you organized with the help of the emissary Gita Lev (from Kibbutz Afikim); and the “trial” that took place in our high-school between the members of Beitar and us about pioneering Zionism. This “trial” ended with the entire Beitar leadership, headed by Tedik Pik[2], quitting in protest and joining us.

It is impossible, Noah, to go on without recalling the evenings of discussion held in the senior Shomer bracket with you. The serious dialogue, the songs and the prevailing spirit - all these differentiated us from the others. And all this came to an end in a sudden and devastating way!

In the summer of 1940, when the Red Army entered Lithuania, everything connected with Zionism came to an end. Life was suddenly displaced …

One morning I received a short note from you. As requested, we met in the hotel on the road leading to the mill. For a long time we sat without uttering a word. We did not even reminisce, and I did not ask about your disappearance. Suddenly you grabbed my hand and asked me if I could keep a secret. And then you told me briefly that the central leadership had made a decision to re-organize the movement underground. You mentioned some names of our older members, upon whom you had placed the mission. Each of us had to act independently, and on his or her own responsibility.

I promised. And I remember in that position, bursting into tears. Before my eyes, I saw the summer camps, the trips, sailing on the lakes surrounded by forests; the regional trips with games and fantastic songs. Was all this over? But we did not know yet how much, that an even worse ambush awaited us. And reach us it did!

Noah, I believe this was the last time we met.

Remember our motto: “Hazak V'ematz!”[3]

Rachel Rabinowitz: I remember a certain moment in Kovno (Kaunas ), in 1940, on President Street, on the way to the hospital. I saw Noah leaning against a shop window, lost in thought. I went up and asked how he was. He told me he was about to begin Art School. He truly had a talent for drawing, and at home we had a drawing of our flourmill in Dusiat, the fruit of his paintbrush.

Aliza Porat: Noah's drawing, The Chassidic Minyan in Dusiat, was on a matchbox, and we enlarged it to a wall picture.

Footnotes

  1. [5] Neshamit-Shner, Sara. Hayu Chalutzim B'Lita, Beit Lohamei Haghetaot and Hakibbutz Hameuhad, 1983. [There were Pioneers in Lithuania. Story of the Movement 1916-1941.] Return
  2. David (Tedik) Pik, one of the founders of “Noham”, a pioneering youth movement established in Germany after WWII. He was a member of Kibbutz Netzer Sereni, and died in 1975. Return
  3. Be strong and of good courage! Return

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