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[Pages 372-379]

In the Kovno Ghetto
and Stutthof Extermination Camp (cont.)
Living from Hand to Mouth

We began “a new life” – living from hand to mouth. One day I sneaked into the market to purchase a few potatoes. Suddenly, I was staring into a rifle barrel. I found myself facing two ruffians with cropped hair and frightening faces. I began to run, and they followed. In one of the houses a woman noticed my pursuers and asked them to have pity on me: “Such a nice girl, don't shoot her.” I remember going down stairs and walking with such fear. I wasn't afraid of death itself, rather of the process…

They marched beside me and told me that they had been prisoners in Siberia, that the Russians had tortured them there, and that the Jews were to blame for everything! I asked them to liquidate me there and then, if they wanted to liquidate a Jew. I told them that I was a nurse, and I also mentioned the name of the doctor with whom I worked in the hospital. I couldn't believe my eyes: one of them went to telephone to verify if what I said was true. Apparently the wife of the leader of the two was a nurse, and not only did she confirm what I said, she also added that she had never seen me among the communists.

After the Russian occupation, it was customary to assemble in clubs, listen to political lectures and sing Russian songs. I remember that one German-speaking anti-Semite, who waited with bated breath for the arrival of the Germans, asked me more than once: “Rahiluk, why do you never come to the club?” I would reply that I preferred to work, earn money and buy myself nice things…

The fact that I hadn't been seen “among the Communists” apparently satisfied the two men, and they escorted me to my uncle's house. There I found my sisters wandering around in a daze and my brother lying on the couch, and when they saw me come in accompanied by those two, they were all overcome with fear. My sisters burst into tears, and covered their faces with their hands. However, my aunt didn't lose her composure, and immediately set the table and placed a bottle of wine on it. One of the men left immediately, and the second remained to drink, and even offered to escort me to buy bread. He continued to show up and offer his help for a while longer, and my aunt began to fear the excess propinquity. One day she decided that we would leave the house and move to the ghetto.

In the Kovno (Kaunas) Ghetto

In Section 5 of the document published by Heinrich Lohse (the Reichskommissar of the Ostland[2]) in Riga on August 18, 1941, it stated that the areas of the province were to be purified of Jews… In this section, it stated that concurrently with the annihilations, the Jews in the large cities were to be placed in ghettos, and it listed the rules for “Jewish self-rule” in the ghettos, headed by the Judenrat[3], and a Jewish police force to maintain order in the ghetto…[4]
Location of the Kovno Ghetto Gate during 1941 – 1944
Standing to the right of the monument isYudel Ronder
[Courtesy of Sara Weiss (Slep), 1992]

 

We entered the ghetto at the end of July 1941. When the order was given to move to the ghetto, the “wheelers and dealers” quickly became experts at exchanging apartments. There was a quarter with small wooden houses, just like pretty villas, and another quarter with apartments – large blocks of workers' apartments. Of course, the “rich” people immediately occupied the villas. My aunt assumed from the start that the rich would be the first to be harassed, and so she preferred that we reside in a humble dwelling, not in the center of the ghetto, but at the edge, beside the villas. We loaded a wardrobe and various items into a large wooden crate, and sat on top of it. We were crossing the bridge, and suddenly, among the masses of people I caught sight of Batya Shub and Tzirale Kagan (both from my shtetl Dusiat). The masses of people were pushing, shoving and shouting, children were crying, and I got up and began shouting out loud: “Batya, Tzirale!” I noticed them looking around, to see where the voice was coming from. I moved to the edge of the wagon, signaled with my hands, and shouted: “Make a way for yourselves and come!” They reached us and joined us, and all three of us slept on the same sofa, in the same room with my brother and sisters, and with my aunt Mania and her child Alik.

The airport was the whale that swallowed the Jewish work force in the Kovno ghetto at the time of the Nazi regime. The Germans wanted to transform the provincial airport into a large modern airport… For the hungry and half-naked ghetto inmates, the airport was a synonym for hard labor…[5]

It was the terrifying shadow that hung over the waning lives of the Jews in the vale of tears that was the Kovno ghetto.

I was in the ghetto until July 7, 1944. At first, I worked at digging at the airport. I remember that initially we did not talk about the terrible situation in which we found ourselves. We behaved like people who had become fossilized. We were in an impossible situation. My brother Lolke went out to the labor brigades, and we never saw him again. More and more people disappeared all the time. It's sad to say, but that is the reason we did not lack clothing… Praise must be given to the social workers in the ghetto, most of them members of the youth movements, who always knew who was lacking something, and doled out items to all the needy.

One day Rivl Karabelnik (nee Barron) and her children Yitzchak and Sheinale, residents of our shtetl Dusiat, arrived in the ghetto. They had succeeded in escaping from Dusiat, and from them we learned about the distress in the ghetto there and about the abuse of our loved ones. We could not have imagined that at that time there was no longer anyone left alive in Dusiat. Rivl and her children lived with us for a while, until they moved to the synagogue. We never saw them again. They apparently perished in the “Great Aktion” (raid) on October 28, 1941.

“… The most lethal period for the ghetto's residents in terms of the numbers of victims began immediately after it was sealed off and was dubbed 'the murder period.' It lasted for two and a half months (August 15 – October 29, 1941). In addition to burning down the hospital with its patients still inside the cold-blooded murder of hundreds of Jews for 'disciplinary infractions' (such as walking on the sidewalk and not on the side of the road, buying groceries in the market, and so on), during this time extremely well-planned mass murders were carried out in the framework of a series of Aktionen, or raids. The last of these raids, the 'Great Aktion', began on October 28 (8 Heshvan 5702) at 6 o'clock in the morning, when all the Jews had assembled in Democrats Square inside the ghetto for an 'inspection.' …”

(Levin, Dov. How the Jewish Police in the Kovno Ghetto Saw Itself, in Yad Vashem Studies, Volume 29.)

Baruch Krut with his son Misha and Menucha Kagan in the 60s beside the monument outside of Kaunas

Lithuanian and Russian inscriptions on the monument read:
“At this fort the Fascists tortured, murdered and killed masses of people.
Sacred be the memory of the Fascist victims.”

At the 7th Fort, the Nazis and their Lithuanian collaborators murdered more than 3000 people in June 1941, most of them were Jews of Kovno.

At the 9th Fort, during the years of the Holocaust, the Nazis and their collaborators murdered more than 70,000 Jews from Lithuania and other European countries.

Footnotes

  1. The Eastern States (areas formerly under Soviet control). Return
  2. The Jewish Council, which was responsible for carrying out the German decrees and the administration of the ghetto. Return
  3. [37] Arad, Yitzhak. Policy and Modus Operandi of the “Final Solution” in Lithuania, in Yahadut Lita, Volume 4, p. 41. Return
  4. [38] Kaplan, Yisrael. Work at the Airfield, in Yahadut Lita, Volume 4, pp. 84-90. Return

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