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[Page 369]

To Hell and Back

 

[Page 371]

{Photo page 371: Uncaptioned. People standing at a Jonava memorial monument, dated 1955.}

[Page 372]

Untitled Poem

by Batya Perlstein

Translated by Jerrold Landau

She was 87 when she wrote this.

My husband and my children
We were so devoted and dedicated;
They so tragically killed you,
Woe is my life.

My dear ones, they prodded you
To the slaughter, like a flock of sheep;
Nothing matters to me,
And I get no sleep at night.

Your crying and shouting
Should have split the heavens;
The murderers had no compassion –
Not on the young, and not on the old.

Regarding your final end
I know nothing about
Where you rest in your eternal sleep
And where your holy bones lie.

They snatched old and young,
And prodded them through the streets;
And with your blood and tears
They washed them.

They beat you
With sticks and whips;
That end should quickly come to
The Lithuanians and the Germans.

My lovely, little Yosef Hirsch,
They probably buried you alive;
Nobody is left behind,
Alas, for your grandmother.

My famous beauty Eta–Rivkale
Your well–known wisdom
We wait to see a speedy
Revenge on your murderers.

Not clear, not meaningful,
I have already written a complete poem,
Only singing and weeping –
Only the pain in the heart
Remains behind for me.


[Page 373]

At the Large Mass Grave

by Efraim Zilberman

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The entire town was in flames already on the second day of the war. Jonava was fiercely bombarded by the German air force. Battles between the Soviets and the Germans also took place in the town. The first victims of the war in town were 70 Jews who were hiding in a cellar that was bombarded.

Several hundred Jews went to Russia along with the Soviet Army as it retreated from Jonava. Jonava was already occupied by the Germans on June 26, the fourth day of the war. Hundreds of Jonava Jews who were hiding in the fields and forests around the town because of the bombardment began to return. Most of them no longer found their houses, for they had been burnt down or destroyed by the bombardment. In the entire town, only the houses around the new market, a few houses on Kovner and Breizer Streets, and the entire Keidianer Street remained. Over 2,500 Jews lived in Jonava when the Germans occupied Lithuania. Two or three families had to live in a single room. The Great Synagogue, the Beis Midrash and the old Talmud Torah were also packed with Jews. Many Jews lived in the stables and villages around Jonava. Approximately 150 Jews lived in the nearby Jewish village “Old Gustonys” 8 kilometers from town.

The Lithuanian partisans from Jonava immediately took up their arms to terrorize the Jewish population. They would break into the Jewish houses with the pretext of searching for weapons, and they would steal all the best items. Hundreds of Jews, young and old, were taken daily by the Lithuanian partisans to various jobs, such as cleaning the grass from the streets of the town, and other difficult jobs. The partisans would beat them harshly while working. Every day, several men would not return from work. The partisans would take them behind the town and shoot them. That is what the Lithuanian bandits did to the honorable elderly teacher and social activist Shaul Keidianski and his two sons.

In the third week of the occupation, an edict came that the Jews must wear yellow patches. A few days later, the Lithuanian partisan headquarters of the town sent a summons to the Jonava rabbi, Rabbi Nachum Baruch Ginsberg, demanding that the Jews of Jonava raise a hefty sum of money and give it to them within three days. If the sum is raised, no Jews would be shot, and a ghetto would be established in town. That same day, the rabbi called a meeting with the Jonava communal activists and decided that the Jews of Jonava would be unable to raise the amount. The wealthy Jews had traveled with the Bolsheviks to Russia during the week prior to the war. The rabbi went to the partisan headquarters to beg that they reduce the contribution. In response, the Jonaver Rabbi and several other householders were arrested as hostages. If the amount would not be raised, they would be shot. The Jonaver rabbi negotiated with the chief of the partisans to be permitted to travel to the Kovno Rabbi for one day, who would

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help raise the sum of money. The Jonaver Rabbi was taken to Kovno, accompanied by two partisans. The Jewish activists in Kovno, headed by Rabbi Shapira, brought the Jonaver rabbi a large sum of money that very day. The rabbi returned to town under the accompaniment of the partisans and gave over the money to the partisan headquarters. The Jews of the town also collected a large sum of money, gold, and valuables, and gave them over the partisan headquarters on time. The rabbi was freed along with the other hostages, and the Jewish population believed that they had been saved.

Three days later, on August 1, 1941, armed Lithuanian partisans took 500 young Jewish men, apparently for only a few days of work. They took them all via the Wilkomir Highway to the Giralka Grove one kilometer behind the town, opposite the Jewish Kemach mill, and shot them all. Now, almost only women, children, and old men remained in town. It was already clear to everyone that the contribution that they paid did not help at all. This was only a method for the Lithuanians to extort money from their Jewish neighbors. The fate of the surviving Jews already looked hopeless, until –––

A few families hid in the forests and with Christians around Jonava. News of this reached the partisan headquarters. Placards with a warning to the Christian population not to hide Jews appeared in town. The reward for turning in a hidden Jew would be the weight of the Jew in pork or sugar.

On August 13, 1941, all the remaining Jews in town together with the rabbi were taken to that same Giralka grove, where large pits were already prepared. They were all horribly shot there. Giralka grove near Jonava became the mass grave of the Jonava Jews.

As has already been stated earlier, approximately 150 Jews employed in agricultural work remained in “Old Gustonys” near Jonava. Thanks to this, those few Jews were able to temporarily prolong their lives until they would harvest the grain from the fields. When the liquidation of the Jews of the town took place, several partisans came to the Jewish village with a prepared list, and took away four men and one women, including the well–known activist Moshe Ivenski, and shot them in Giralka along with all the rest of the Jonavers on that day.

At the beginning of September 1941, all the Jews from “Old Gustonys” were brought to the large Kazarma yard in Jonava. The Jews gathered, and were to be taken to the Kovno Ghetto. With this, the Jews were hoping for a miracle. The Lithuanian partisan headquarters also posted placards announcing that the Jews in hiding could report to the large Kazarma yard, and nothing would happen to them. They would be taken with the remaining Jews to the Kovno Ghetto. Several families who had been hiding in the surrounding forests and with Christians who refused to continue to hide the Jews also gathered in Kazarma.

The Jews were held in Kazarma for three weeks under strict supervision by the partisans. The Jews already lost hope that they would be taken to Kovno. On October 3rd, the Jews were informed that everyone would be taken to Kovno very early the next morning. That same day, they took the best

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objects and money from everybody. The Jews did not believe at all that they would be taken to the Kovno Ghetto. They believed that they would be taken to the Giralka Grove the next day, for their “final journey” …. The last, close to 180, Jonaver Jews spent a sleepless night. At dawn on October 4th, when the armed partisans led the 180 Jews to the highway in the direction of Kovno, the Jews felt lighter, and had a bit of hope.

With the ordinance to bring the Jews of Jonava to the Kovno ghetto specifically that day, October 4, the Gestapo had calculated that the “aktion of the small ghetto” would be taking place in Kovno that day, and the Jonaver Jews would be murdered in the Ninth Fort together with the Jews brought in from the “Small Ghetto.”

Thanks to the fact that the journey by foot from Jonava to Kovno took more than half a day, the Jews of Jonava arrived in Kovno after the aktion of the Small Ghetto. The 180 Jews from Jonava were not taken to the Ninth Fort, but were left in the Kovno Ghetto. A large portion of the group of Jonava Jews were murdered on October 28th, 1941 during the “Large Aktion” in the Kovno Ghetto. After the Children's Aktion in the Kovno Ghetto (March 28, 1944), the Germans in the Ninth Fort collected a group of 50 men from the arrested Jewish ghetto policemen, and transported them to the Giralka Grove in Jonava, where they were ordered to bury the dead bodies of the murdered Jonava Jews. When the policemen finished their work, they were also murdered.

At the end of the summer of 1944, when Jonava was liberated by the Russians, I visited my former hometown. The entire town looked to me like a large cemetery. I regarded every Lithuanian whom I encountered as a murderer. I also went to the large mass grave in the Giralka Grove – mounds of earth overgrown with grass. Such mass graves are what remains of the renowned Lithuanian Jewry – and such a grave remains also from the old Jewish community of Jonava.

Copied over from “From the Last Destruction,” Munich, December 1948, edited by Y. Kaplan.

{Photo page 375: uncaptioned. A barren tree.}


[Page 376]

The Beginning of the Destruction

by Reizl David (Rashkes) of the United States

Translated by Jerrold Landau

{Photo page 376: Uncaptioned. Reizl David (Rashkes)

As an eyewitness, I will attempt to describe here the beginning of the destruction of Jonava on June 23-24, 1941.

Jonava was one of the army camps of Lithuania. The camp named Poligon was located five kilometers south of the town. When the Russians conquered Lithuania in 1940, they fortified this camp further with tanks and cannons. The Poligon Camp overlooked two large bridges over the Vylia. In Poligon, the Russians demonstrated their greatest opposition to the Germans. I say “Russians” for the Lithuanians immediately turned into collaborators with the Germans.

The opposition lasted for one day and one night.

On Sunday, June 22, toward morning, the roaring of airplanes at a high altitude was heard in Kovno. The airplanes innocently looked like tiny birds, flying calmly at the beginning of a lovely summer morning.

However, suddenly, those innocent birds began to drop bombs on Kovno (at that time, I was living in Kovno). People ran outside to see what was going on, but it became known immediately that these were German airplanes. The war had also reached Lithuania.

We Escaped from Kovno

My brother who lived in Kovno, Ben-Zion Rashkes of blessed memory, immediately arrived with packed suitcases. People ran back and forth without knowing where to flee, what to do, how to save themselves – the confusion was great. We also ran, but we knew to where we were escaping: home to Jonava, in order to be together with Father, Mother and our sister; to be together with our closest, most beloved relatives, whatever may happen.

Hundreds of Jews escaped. Gentiles, of course, did not escape. We fled via the mountain road. The roads were overloaded. Nobody knew how far they would succeed in reaching during their escape. Everyone ran with great fear in their eyes and with large packages on their shoulders and in their hands. However, they were unable to drag all those bundles for a long period; and the roads were filled with abandoned suitcases, with their contents scattered. Gentile farmers stood in the fields at the side of the road and waited for these treasures, as if they fell from the sky, and grabbed them immediately. However, nobody cared about this, because we only thought that if we were to survive, we would also have belongings.

My brother saw a wagon driven by the Manoshovitzes and loaded up all our bags onto it. He also sat on the wagon, and we never saw him again.

The Russian Army was also in a state of confusion. Soldiers went by foot or traveled on tanks or vehicles without knowing where they were going. We saw them driving in opposite directions, with frightened eyes. They did not know how to answer the questions we asked them. The generals fled first and left the soldiers to their own devices.

We traveled for a full day. In the evening, we reached to a point next to the wooden bridge over the Vylia near Jonava. The bridge was already broken and bombed out, for the Germans had bombed there too. My dear father and sister Rachel were already standing there waiting for us on the banks of the river. Gentile farmers would transport people across the river in boats (of course in exchange for payment). Gentile women joined them in the boats in order to collect the belongings that the Jews had abandoned due to being unable to carry them further. On the other side of the Vylia, that is in Jonava, my dear, beloved mother was standing there waiting for us. This image is etched in my heart forever. She was happy through the tears of her eyes. Simultaneously, a great fear was expressed through her beautiful cherry-like eyes: What would be the end of her endangered chicks?

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Jews ran to and fro: “Tell me, Jews, to where are you escaping? Perhaps we will escape along with you!” The response was: “We also do not know. We were in the train station but the train did not arrive. Thousands of refugees were sitting there waiting for the train, including Jews from Poland who came to Lithuania in order to save themselves from the German, may his name and memory be blotted out. Then we ran to Wilkomir Road. The Germans bombed the roads. Many people were killed.”

In the Snares

We remained in Jonava. After one night, the cannons began to shoot over our heads. From one side, the Germans were behind Keidiani Street, and from the other side, the Russians from Poligon. We remained in the middle, as if in a trap.

Then, the Lithuanians began to act in a wanton fashion. They gathered in the bell tower of the church and shot with machine guns at the Jews who were running to seek refuge from the cannons. The young fascist Lithuanians also shot from the progymnasium at their Jewish fellow townsfolk, with whom they had lived in harmony until this time. The good neighbors turned into great, deadly enemies within a moment.

We fled from our house the Street of the Road to the parents of my sister's husband, The Goldmans (who owned a furniture factory). They lived on the Street of the Synagogue. Why did we specifically go to them? Perhaps because their house was close to the synagogue courtyard – who knows? We hid in a pit that was quickly dug by the men in the yard of their house. My father and mother did not want to leave their house under any circumstance, for the house was filled with all types of food provisions that they had stockpiled throughout the year, since the time of the Russian regime (for the Russians would send the foodstuffs to Russia). The household economy had been firmly established for many years already, and leaving the house would leave everything ownerless – something that the gentiles were awaiting.

In the morning, as we were lying in the pit, we heard a knock on the opening to the pit. We opened the wooden door, and saw Father standing pale. It was difficult to recognize him. With a trembling voice he asked that we give him a jar of honey. When we peered out from the pit, we saw a German in green fatigues. We had taken from the house jars of honey and jam, and other foodstuffs that we would be able to live on – as Mother said when she gave them to us. She promised to bring the rest the next morning, when she and Father would come to us. They said that during the day, they would not be suspected of leaving the house. These unfortunate people were na?ve: they had faith in human beings – they might come to pillage at night, but during the day, they thought, the gentiles would be embarrassed…

We gave Father a jar of honey and asked him if the house is still whole, and why do Mother and he not join us. Father answered quickly, with a trembling voice, “Mother is making coffee for the Germans,” and he quickly disappeared with the German.

Jonava in Flames

In the meantime, the bombardments increased. A shell damaged the synagogue. It seemed to us that it fell next to our pit. We peered out with our heads and saw that a large portion of the synagogue was missing. We could not continue to remain in the pit, for Jonava was already in flames by the afternoon. We already felt the heat of the fire in our pit, and the smoke penetrated inside. When we exited the pit it seemed that the Street of the Road, upon which our house stood, Kovno Street, Breizer Street, and Vilna Street were all burning. We ran to the Vylia River. At that time, the Lithuanians were shooting at us from their hiding places with machine guns. We miraculously reached the shrubs behind the bathhouse. Some gentiles also fled there with us, for the cannons did not discriminate, and they too were in danger. The gentiles were very friendly to us during those moments, but as soon as the bombardment stopped, they no longer knew us. It was already impossible to run back; therefore we dug as deeply as possible into the ground so that the bullets and shells that were literally flying over our heads would not hurt us. During the bombardment, Monas Klibensky the carpenter got up suddenly and said that he thinks that he did not lock his back door, and he started to go. His son-in-law Avraka Unterschatz dragged him back to the ground with his foot. His daughter Feiga

{Unnumbered page after 377. Photo: Jonava in flames. (The houses of Granovich and Zopovich in the foreground.)}

[Page 378]

began to weep and pleaded, “Father, where are you going? Everything is burning.” However Monas apparently foresaw the Holocaust and his nerves weakened. He again got up and said that he thinks that he forgot to close the windows. He felt it necessary to go to find out. Avraka once again dragged him to the ground, covered him with his body, and did not let him get up.

I saw the wife of Avraham the shochet lying there with my friend Feigcha, Berele the youngest of the children, and Hirshka. I did not see the daughters Rachel and Rivka, nor Avraham the shochet.

I lay down and wept, for nobody saw Father and Mother anywhere. Anyone we asked was not able to say anything, and I suspected that they all knew something but did not want to tell us. Father and Mother had remained with the Germans. Only G-d knows what they endured on that dark night. What did the Germans do to them? How can I live without Mother and without Father, heaven forbid? How is it possible?

The sight of Jonava that night was terrifying: a frightening sky, very red, and all of Jonava engulfed in flames like hell.

The shells flew over our head with greater strength. We were already able to tell if a shell was falling closer to or farther from where we were. Every time that a cannon was shot and its scream was heard above us, a gentile would be able to determine where the bullet was. (The bullets fell far away, whereas the shells rained upon us.) He would say, “A shell has fallen at a distance of ten feet, now a shell has fallen at a distance of five feet.” He was right, apparently, for we did no hear him speak anymore. The cannons quieted somewhat, and at sunrise they were almost completely silent. Then, when we began to arise and get up, we saw dead bodies lying near us. We did not realize that we had been lying beside dead bodies all night.

We looked up to see whether Jonava was still burning, and we saw thick smoke bursting forth to the sky. We ran back to the house of the parents of the husband of my sister Rachel. The house was still whole, almost the only one in the entire alley. The Jewish hospital opposite the Goldman's house was burnt. The ill people were lying burnt in the iron beds.

Running About

We did not yet know what had happened to our parents. It was dangerous for women to leave the house. I sat and prayed to G-d, and the door at the side of the house opened. They entered quickly, short of breath, sweaty and panting – first Father and then Mother. The joy was great. We hugged, kissed, and all wept from joy. Once again, we were all united with an eternal connection. Mother was wearing only a dress, and Father a cloak and pants. They could not salvage any more of their property. Father told us what had happened to them. When they were left alone in the large house, they were unable to sleep at night. Father went out to the yard and dug a deep pit as a refuge from the shells. Father said that the shells were flying very low between the houses. Not a living soul was seen on our street (the Street of the Road). The appearance was terrifying, like a city of ghosts. Only shadows were seen here and there sneaking into the abandoned houses and pillaging, even in the midst of the bombardment. Therefore, Father and Mother were very afraid to remain in the house, lest the pillaging gentiles kill them. They then decided to escape to us, to the Goldmans. However, before they had time to pack various valuables, they heard knocking on the door. It was still dark. Father approached the door with trembling steps and asked who was knocking. They answered in German, “Open the door, Jew!” With great fear, father opened the door. A group of 30 German soldiers broke into the house. Apparently, these were the first soldiers -- scouts. The commander ordered Father to go through all the rooms with them, then to the cellar and the storehouses in the courtyard, and even the pit that Father had dug in the yard – all this in order to check that no Russians were hiding there. Then the commander ordered to bring water. Father brought them pails of water from the well that was in the cellar. They all washed up. As per their order, Mother brought them towels and underwear so that they can change. Then they ordered Mother to make them coffee and give them something to eat. The Germans drank from the cups from the fine dishware set that belonged to my sister. Then they put the dishes into their backpacks along with many other valuables, such as the silver candlesticks, the silver cups, silver boxes, and other such items. Then one of the Germans asked Father

[Page 379]

if he had any honey, for he loved honey. Since Father was naîve and innocent, he told the German that his daughter had taken the honey with her. That is why they came to us to get the honey. All of this took place under the rain of shells, as Jonava was already burning and almost the entire Street of the Road was in flames. The Germans did not permit my parents to escape from the fire and bullets until our house was bombed and began to burn. In the meantime, they saw other Jews, who before had apparently been hiding in the cellars. They also ran. Among them were Gitel Klotz and Zusman Klotz, our maternal cousins. Suddenly shots were fired from some place behind the fleeing Germans. The Germans captured Father, Zusman Klotz and other men whose names I do not know, and stood them against a burning wall in order to shoot them, out of suspicion that they had been shooting at the Germans. They would have been killed within another second, but suddenly two Lithuanians with guns in their hands burst forth from behind the burning wall. They were searching for a refuge from the fire. The Germans caught them and shot them, and freed the Jewish men. The Jewish men continued to escape toward us, but they could not run through the Street of the Synagogue because everything around was burning. Burning houses became shaky, and the streets were filled with ruins and fire. All of Jonava was one large ruin. They ran to a place where it was still somewhat possible to save oneself from the hell, and they came to the brick kiln. They lay down all night. In the morning, when the shelling ended, they ran to us.

Dangers Lurk

Father stood on his feet and said, “We do not have time now to speak a great deal. Let us go out to see what the situation is.” He told my sister Rachel and I to not dare to go outside. We accompanied him to the rabbi of the town, Rabbi Ginzburg, who was apparently leaving some hiding place. We surrounded him with questions, “Rabbi, what will be?” His fine face was pale, and his appearance had changed greatly. He spoke in choppy words, with tears choking his throat: “We have to be careful with security. G-d will help. Jews, we must be strong.” He himself was wailing like a baby. Everyone was weeping. We returned home in order to hide from the dangers that began to stalk us.

After a few hours, Father returned with a darkened face. He told us, “An entire group of Jews was burned in Liber Farber's basement.” Father was the first one to open the iron door of the cellar – burnt skeletons were resting on the door. The first skeleton was the largest, and they realized that it was of Meir Wunder. The door of the cellar locked itself on them, and they were unable to exit and save themselves from the fire.

“Our house,” Father said, “and the streets in general are unrecognizable, for the destruction was great and went to the foundations. Here and there, smoke was coming out of the ruins.” Father recognized the lot in which our house had stood from the pit that he had dug. Father noted, “A smart cat hides in a pit, but I locked our cat in the house. Perhaps it too was hiding in the pit…”

In the meantime, the Jews began to search for food, for a morsel of bread. Hunger pervaded the city. One Jewish bakery that by chance remained intact at the end of Kovno Street was taken over by gentiles who chased out the former owners and baked bread for he gentiles. Jews stood and stuck out their hands for a morsel of bread, and the gentiles chased them away, saying, “Go ask the Communists. They will give you bread.” My sister risked her life and left the hiding place. A gentile acquaintance gave her a piece of bread and told her, “Hide and do not go outside. They are plotting to rape the young women of Jonava.” The Jews of Jonava began to feel that danger was waiting for them not only from the Germans, but also from their Lithuanian neighbors.

There used to be a pharmacy in our house in which a gentile woman had worked as a cashier. We were good friends. Father came running to me with fear in his eyes and told me that this woman was looking for me, and of course, she was not planning to do anything good to me. She had become an important leader and immediately began to threaten the Jews of Jonava. With his clear sense, Father suspected that a great danger was awaiting me, his youngest daughter: The gentiles were wandering around looking for Jewish girls to rape. When I later was in the Kovno Ghetto, a group of Jonava woman arrived.

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One of them was Chanka Rabinovich who told me that the shkotzim forcefully put young Jewish girls into a barn and tortured hem to death.

Return to Kovno

Father immediately decided that I was to return to Kovno. “There, the gentiles do not know you,” he said with a trembling voice. He was about to part from his beloved daughter for who knows how long, perhaps forever. Mother was overtaken by convulsions, and Father began to plead with Mother to calm down. “This is the only way,” he claimed. As has been said, we, that is my husband and I (I got married only a few months before to Wolf David from Kretingen near Memel), parted also from my sister Rachel, from my brother-in-law Yitzchak Goldman, and from the entire Goldman family, none of whom survived. The Goldmans had five sons and a daughter Batya. The sons were Yitzchak the eldest, Mordechai, Zerach, and two twins whose names I do not recall.

Father said that we must escape back to Kovno via the old path, for he realized that a large army would be passing through the main road, and that we would be safer on the old road that begins on the descent of Kovno Road, for it is an inferior road. That is indeed the way it was, as my wise father had known. Many refugees returned to Kovno. The refugees were from all over Lithuania and also from Poland, who had come to Lithuania a year earlier when the Germans entered Poland. They wanted to reach some safe place, perhaps to Russia, but they had remained in Jonava. We, a full camp, went back to Jonava. All of the family and many other Jonavers accompanied us to the brick kiln. Father pleaded to everyone to refrain from making this public farewell procession, for this might end badly, heaven forbid. Nevertheless, everyone wanted to give us a farewell blessing. Taibl, Rachka Jalinowitz' mother, hugged me, kissed me, and wished me good fortune. I asked her, “Where is Rachka?” and she answered: “Hiding.”

This was the last time that I saw my family and that I set foot on the ground of Jonava, my dear birthplace with its dear, heartwarming Jews, may their memory be a blessing, may G-d avenge their blood.


[Page 382]

The Last Day

by Yerachmiel Garber of Neve Sharet

Translated by Jerrold Landau

{Photo page 382: Uncaptioned. Yerachmiel Garber}

In the morning of Monday, June 23, I went as usual to my workplace in the Oren match factory. The war had begun, but the work had to take place no matter what. In any case – where was Jonava and where was the front? We were given spades and told to dig protective ditches. Some of the diggers were immersed in thoughts, some tried to joke that there was no need for ditches. The jokers trusted that the Soviets would not let Hitler reach Jonava.

Suddenly, the noise of autos reached our ears. We put down the spades and ran to the road to snatch a glance. We saw the Red Army trucks covered in green branches, such as Sukkot covered with Sechach[1]. The faces of the soldiers were black with dust. We only saw white teeth and glittering eyes. We suddenly heard the sound of thunder, but the skies were clear without any clouds at all. It seems that this was the echo of an artillery battle. Everyone's face became serious. People were immersed in thought.

I did not return to the spade. I hastened to town to see what was going on. It was the same town, but unrecognizable. We felt hasty movement. Everyone's face was serious and perplexed, as if they were seeking a refuge from a crazy situation. Hundreds of people were running on the ascent of the road. Others turned toward the wooden fence. Refugees from Kovno turned in that direction. I turned toward the bridge with large steps. It seemed as if Jews were gathering here for Tashlich[2], however we heard no prayers, but rather conversations between Jonavers and Kovnoites who were astounded at the situation. I could not understand, what was with them? Did they take leave of their senses – to run by foot from Kovno?

Among those who were coming, I met a lad who was an acquaintance, Shliten. I had studied together with him in ORT[3]. We turned aside, and I asked,

“Oh, what is taking place here?”

“Don't ask questions,” he responded, “lift up your feet and get out of here as fast as you can. The Germans are already in Kovno.”

I was still rolling my eyes, but the seriousness of the situation penetrated my consciousness. I returned home. I met friends along the way, and we decided to leave Jonava for a brief time and to go to Wilkomir, with the belief that the Germans would quickly receive a deathly blow from the Soviet Army…

I ran to my friend Hershe-Yankel Stein. I heard shrieks and screams next to the house, as if during a funeral. Taibl Katzav was taking leave of her son, who was about to leave on his bicycle. This was strange in my eyes: is this how one weeps for a living person? He told me that he and his friends were setting out on their bicycle, and that they would wait for me. I ran home quickly. I met Uncle David, who had moved in with us with his family until the storm would pass. I told my parents about my plan, and they accepted it with understanding. They gave me several rubles, and I went out of the house without even taking leave. We did not grasp the seriousness of the situation, that we would never see each other again.

As we passed by the post office, we ran into young Lithuanians who were looking at us with a bitter smile and gnashing their teeth. We were on the ascent to the mountain. The entire way was strewn with people and wagons. The wagon drivers loaded their belongings and families, and fled for their lives. We passed under the railway crossing. Suddenly, airplanes appeared low above our heads. They shot at us and dropped bombs. We were lying in the ditches at the side of the road. We were not injured. We continued to move. Bad thoughts went through the head. It seemed that we were separating ourselves from Jonava. The journey was not easy, even though we were young and healthy. The repeated running back and forth to search for a hiding place in the ditches drained our strength. The enemy did not stop sending his airplanes at us, shooting at the refugees. Along the way, we lost some people and met up with others until we reached Wilkomir.

It was night. It was dark. The Germans shot shiny bullets that looked like stars from the airplanes. In Wilkomir, I met Mosheke Goldschmid of Jonava immersed in worries: There was a puncture in his tire. I helped him with the repair, and we prepared for the journey. It was only possible to move at night. The question was, in what direction. Some advised to go to Vilna, the capital of Lithuania. It would not be easily captured by the Germans. There, they would break their teeth. Others felt that we should go toward Zarasai (Ezrani) at the Latvian border. I supported this, and the group agreed.

We travelled all night. At dawn, the airplanes appeared again, and everything repeated from the day before. At times, we ran to the ditches. The breaks between the air attacks continued to shorten. We turned away from the road, went up to the side road, and lay in the grass to rest. An army truck stopped next to us. We wanted to have a conversation with them, but they did not know Russian. One person succeeded in asking what was happening in Jonava. The response was: In Jonava – the Germans.

This oppressed us, and we did not ask further.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. A Sukka (plural Sukkot) is the tabernacle of the holiday of Sukkot, and Sechach is the foliage covering of the Sukka. Return
  2. A ceremony that takes place near a river or body of water on Rosh Hashanah. Return
  3. Organization of Rehabilitation through Training, that ran (and continues to run) various trade schools within some Jewish communities. Return


[Page 384]

Fortunate to Remain Alive

by Leah Drucker (Monosevich) [Tel Aviv]

Translated by Jerrold Landau

{Translator's note: This Yiddish article is equivalent with the corresponding Hebrew article on page 185. The Yiddish version has a few extra incidental details which were not included in the Hebrew. The English translation is from the Hebrew version only.}

Fortunate to Remain Alive


[Page 387]

We Were Saved from the Talons of the Murderers

by Tuvia Garber [Tel Aviv] [1]

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Before the outbreak of the war, I worked in the carpentry shop of Koppel Reznik and his sons, which was nationalized as Government Carpentry Shop Number One. The director of the factory was the former worker Ankodinov.

On Sunday, the day of the outbreak of the war, all of the workers were gathered together. They gravity of the situation was described, and the workers assigned a rotation for guarding. I guarded the carpentry shop on Sunday night and Monday. At night, we heard the roar of airplanes that were flying to bombard the Polygon.

On Monday morning, when Jonava was full of refugees who fled from Kovno and other towns, the mood in the town was oppressive, and nobody thought about going to work. The refugees said that there had been many murders and attacks against Jews by the Lithuanian population in Kovno.

Our family, consisting of my father Melech Garber, my mother Yudes, my brothers Chaim and Hershel, my sisters Henia, Batya and Gittel and I, decided to escape to Russia. We spoke to our friend Shabtai Droskin, who owned a horse and wagon. We set out along with them in the direction of Wilkomir [Ukmerge]. We naively believed that we would be able to return easily from there. We did not believe that the Soviet Army would retreat so quickly. We left Jonava on Monday at 6:00 in the evening. We loaded a few belongings on the wagon, and we all walked behind it on fit. When we reached the Kemach factory, I and my cousin Zamka Droskin decided to run to the railroad station where we might catch a train going in the direction of the border. Along the way we met many people from Jonava and Kovno returning from there who told us that there is no hope at all with a train.

On Tuesday morning, June 24, we arrived in Wilkomir, tired and crushed. Along the way, we endured bombardment and shooting from airplanes. The highway had been full of retreating Russian military battalions. A terrifying panic pervaded the city. Many Jews had already fled. We traveled to the edge of the city and wanted to rest. The city was heavily bombarded that night, so we continued on but we continued in the direction of Utënai. Along the way, army battalions shot at us from the forests. Utënai was also heavily bombarded and destroyed. Most of the Jews who had decided to escape were already no longer in the city. We traveled quickly through the city

[Page 388]

and stopped to rest in the grove outside the city. After a brief rest, we traveled on and reached Airënai. The Shaulist partisans shot at us from the church in the center of the city, but they did not hit us, thank G–d. Two Russian tanks shot at the church tower and destroyed it. As we passed through villages, there were farmers who brought us food and water. Along the way, we ran into Shaulists who threatened us with arms and ordered us to return. We were frightened when they told us that the Germans had blocked our way. Many of the Jewish refugees believed them and returned along the way that they came. We were not influenced by their words. We continued to travel quickly. We caught a lost horse along the way, harnessed it to our wagon, and continued onward.

We reached Dvinsk (Daugavpils) early in the morning. When the people of Dvinsk saw the masses of refugees, they also took up the wandering staff and set out along the way. We had just left the city when we saw German airplanes bombing the bridges and blocking the routes. We stopped in a village near the town of Dagda. A farmer gave us food and refused to take money. We rested there for a few days. Father approached the nearby town of Dagda to assess the situation. When my father and I arrived there, we noticed the policemen escaping from the town. We quickly returned and decided to escape to the border. Within a few days we arrived at the town of Zhivich next to the border. Thousands of refugees waited there for permission to cross. When we reached there, we received permits, and entered the Soviet Union.

We split up on the other side of the border. Our family of eight traveled by train deep into Russia. Uncle Shabtai Droskin and his family traveled on their horse wagon. We reached a kolkhoz called “The Second Five Year Plan” in the Mordovian Autonomous Republic.

I was drafted into the Lithuanian division of the army on February 7, 1942. My parents and the rest of my family remained in the kolkhoz. I fought in the army from 1942 until the end of 1943. I was badly wounded on August 10 of that year. I was evacuated to the Otkorsk area in the area of Sartov. There, they amputated my left hand. I returned to my family in the kolkhoz in November. We returned to Vilna after the war.

Uncle Shabtai Droskin and his family arrived by wagon to the Tatar Autonomous Republic, and at the end of the war they returned to Lithuania. To our good fortune, nobody in the family was killed.

I presented my papers to travel to Israel in 1969. I received my permit. I arrived in Israel with my wife and two children in 1970.

Recorded by Y. B.


Translator's Footnote

  1. The two chapters on pages 387 and 395 have equivalent chapters in the Hebrew section. Since the Yiddish provided more detail, I have retranslated them. My suspicion is that all these duplicated articles were originally written in Yiddish, and then rendered into Hebrew in a somewhat more concise fashion. Return


[Page 389]

My Way of Suffering

by Leah Helerman (Kronik) [Melbourne, Australia]

Translated by Jerrold Landau

My Way of Suffering


[Page 3929]

We Fled from the Home

by Chana–Leah Gutler (Kravchok) [Tel Aviv]

Translated by Jerrold Landau

We Fled from the Home


[Page 395]

Thus Was I Saved

by Lipa Berzin [Tel Aviv] [1]

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Photo page 188: Uncaptioned. Lipa Berzin}

Our family lived on Breizer Street, the street of the proletariat. My father Itzik, Liba Leah's, was a water–man, who floated barges on the waters of the Šventoji, Viliya and Neiman Rivers. In the winters, when the rivers froze, he was a porter. Needless to say, our material situation was difficult, and our youth was not easy. Our family consisted of my mother Pesl of blessed memory, three brothers – me, Nachum–Izak and Melech, and our sister Miriam. Our small, wooden house was divided into two dwellings. Our family lived in one of them, which was 25 square meters. The family of my Uncle Nachum–Leizer lived in the second one. Father was a pious Jew, but not a fanatic. When he was not busy with barges, he would go to the synagogue during the week. He would always come home for Sabbaths and went to the synagogue. He had his customary seat there, and he would always take us children with him.

Mother was pious, and observed kashruth meticulously, making sure to never mix dairy and meat. On Friday night, the table was covered with a white tablecloth and brass candlesticks. Mother would put a kerchief over her head and bless the Sabbath candles.

The food was entirely different during the week, but the Sabbath meal consisted of fish, meat, soup, and tzimes. We boys studied in Yavneh and our sister studied in the Yiddish school. When I concluded my studies in school, I went to study carpentry. With this, I would be able to help my parents materially. My brother Nachum–Izak studied upholstery.

At that time, I was active in the Young Chalutz. Having studied carpentry, I moved to Kovno and worked in Stragweitze's furniture factory until 1940. I was drafted to the Lithuanian Army. There were some Jonavers together with me in the Third Unit of the Artillery Brigade in ŠanÉiai: Zerach Goldman, Leibka Lukman from across the river, Shlomo Berzin the son of Uncle Yonah, and Leizka Stoliar (Krupnik).

When the Soviets arrived in Lithuania, we were transferred to the barracks of the infantry unit in Vilna, near Stadion. Our unit was in Polygon when the war broke out. The captains fled as the front approached. A Lithuanian sergeant took is in and told us: “Whoever wishes to return home – can arise and go; whoever wishes to come with me to Russia – follow me!” We were approximately 40 men. He led us by foot through NemenÉinë to the border. On Tuesday, June 24, we met up with three trucks with the flag of our unit from our headquarters. They took us aboard the trucks and we continued to the border. We arrived in the city of Plotzk in White Russia, and later in Wielkie Luki. There we joined Russian units and entered into battle against the Germans. We fought with hand grenades, guns and Molotov cocktails. The Germans

[Page 396]

approached us with tanks. They surrounded us. We were behind and they were ahead. We unfortunately suffered great losses. We succeeded in escaping the siege in small groups. We swam across the Dvina (Daugava) River. We joined other Russian units, and in the midst of the battles we retreated to Kalinin.

We were sent to the front at Gorky Blachna when the Lithuanian Division was set up. I joined unit 224 of the Artillery Brigade. With me there was my cousin Mottel Berzin, Yudel Baten, Notka Friedman, Shimon Strum and Motka Segal. The two latter ones were killed on the front. I was wounded in the battles near Nikolsk on the Orlov–Kursk Line. I was brought to the hospital in the city of Ulan Uda, where I remained for four months. From there I returned to my unit and continued to participate in the war until its end. We were then in Libau. There, we closed in on a concentration of Germans from units that had been defeated.

Chaim Wichov was also in our unit. He filled an important role with the Soviets in Jonava. In our unit, he served as the editor of the Lithuanian newspaper “BVayevi Listak.”

The command of the unit requested volunteers for a special mission. Chaim Wichov, who was not a combat soldier, was among the first to volunteer. He set out on his mission on a cold winter night in 1943, when the snow was one meter deep on the roads and in the fields. He did not return from this mission.

I was freed from the army on June 12, 1946, and I hastened to Jonava. I did not find anyone of my family. I found out that my father and brother were killed as they were floating a raft. My other brother was killed by the Lithuanian partisans. My sister Miriam and my mother were in the Kovno Ghetto. The British liberated them from the Buchenwald concentration camp. From there, they went directly to the Land of Israel, and settled in Kiryat Motzkin. My sister married Yosef Pinkus.

When they were informed about me, they began to send me requests to come and join them. I presented their papers for 12 years and did not receive an exit permit. I only succeeded in 1967, and I arrived in Israel with my wife and two daughters. We settled in Neve Sharet, and I continue my original trade as a carpenter in the local factory. My wife works and the children are studying. We have finally come to peace.

Recorded and written by Y. B.


Translator's Footnote

  1. The two chapters on pages 387 and 395 have equivalent chapters in the Hebrew section. Since the Yiddish provided more detail, I have retranslated them. My suspicion is that all these duplicated articles were originally written in Yiddish, and then rendered into Hebrew in a somewhat more concise fashion. Return


[Page 397]

I Was With Them At Night

by R. Spigler (Mankovski), Melbourne

Translated by Jerrold Landau

{Photo page 397: Uncaptioned. R. Spigler}

I had already been in the ghetto for six weeks. I lost my first husband on the second day of the war. On June 24, I was left with a sick mother, and old grandmother, and two dear, sweet daughters; eight–year–old Pesele, and five–year–old Esele.

I cannot describe with a pen nor in words the want and the hunger. However, Jews always had faith in the most terrible moments. Suddenly there was a cause for joy in the ghetto: they gave out potatoes for the families without husbands. It was Friday, September 26. My smart, good mother comforted me:

“Do not worry. We will cook potatoes, and the war will end.”

My dear children imagined the finest fantasies about how good it will be when their mother brings the potatoes…

I went out to Linkauer Street and stood in line. The line was colossal. Thousands of unfortunate people pushed and cursed with various curse words. We had to stay there an entire day. However, I did have to stay. I collapsed from hunger, but I must bring a few potatoes for my dear ones.

Suddenly, a painful terror appeared on everyone's face. We, the unfortunate ones, saw the bloodthirsty vampires, the indescribable Lithuanian murderers, running with guns in their hands, chasing everyone away from the line, roaring like wild tigers, and issuing beatings.

I immediately ran to my children, to my little home. However, how great was my pain when they beat me and did not let me go: “Cursed ones, you will all be shot like dogs!” They prodded me into a yard. I looked through a crack and saw how they were taking people away without measure.

They stated pretext that the Jews had shot a commandant. Hours passed. They asked the unfortunate people who had a husband or a son – and they let them alone in the meantime. It was enough for those left behind to be still alive. They collected a large number of victims, and sent them to the Ninth Fort to be killed. They gave up their pure souls there.

Finally, I was in Stuthauf for a few months, and then on the death march. Everything was unbelievable and beyond comprehension. I will never forget anything that I endured. I was with them at night, and in the day, I must live for the future. Everything will have to be described in iron so people will know. Immediately after the war in 1945, I wrote two notebooks. There was someone from Israel with us in the camp, and he took them from me. I have a copy. Once, I read it to my children. More I cannot do.

You would not believe the experiences I went through. I myself cannot believe them…


[Page 398]

Songs from the Ghetto

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Many songs were composed in the ghetto. Here is a song about patronage. I know the melody.

Given over by Ella Dolsachki–Abramovich

(1)

At the Inspector Columns entered the ghetto at night
Of tired, languishing Jews.
Mottel, and Yudel are running quickly
To show the inspector their pants, their shoes.
Give me a furlough, give me one quick
Look at my pants, and see my shoes.

Chorus

It is not your fortune to be free,
To the group of quilters you must go.
No furlough. Do not talk about one.
The full quota must be met tomorrow.

(2)

At the same inspector stands a woman
She requests a furlough, the heart gives out.
Therefore, however, the inspector does not let her free.
She also attempts to shed a tear.
Give me a furlough, I am so tired.
Have pity, you are a Jew.

Chorus

It is not your fortune…

[Page 399]

(3)

At the Doctor

Dvorale runs to the doctor
Her nose is well bound with a kerchief.
Dear Herr Doctor, give me a furlough for a day
The white cap will take a beating
I have sat to rest on the grass
He came and he beat my nose. Chorus It is not your fortune…
White cap – a German
Who beats strongly.

Comes a Madame to the same Herr Doctor
She is not certain of the reason for the Flug–Platz [1]
Her eyes glisten, her lips like blood
She turns to Herr Doctor, and asks in Russian:
“Kvaas Ya Yavilas Sievodnia Opiat,
Deitia Manie Orloig Na Dnei Dvadtzet Piet.” [2]

Chorus

Yes, you have luck, you are free.
You have received a furlough for this
With such eyes, lips and teeth.
You certainly cannot go to the Flug–Platz.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. An aircraft workshop. Return
  2. Evidently a request for a furlough. Return


[Page 400]

With the People of Jonava on the Front and in the Hospital

by Dovid Friedman of Vilna

Translated by Jerrold Landau

With the People of Jonava on the Front and in the Hospital


[Page 402]

My Activities in the Kovno Ghetto

by Tzvi Levin of Frunze, Russia

Translated by Jerrold Landau

During the years of the German occupation, 1941-1944
(A brief account.)

{Photo page 402: Hirsch Levin, one of the important organizers of the Jewish resistance movement of the Kovno Ghetto.}[1].}

In December, 1941, with my initiative, I organized a clandestine meeting in the ghetto with the representative of the Communist underground (Galperin). At this meeting, the foundations for the united underground of the Kovno Ghetto were laid. Its members were Zionists and Communists.

Between 1942 and 1944, I was a member of the leadership of the underground organization. I carried out the following actions:

  1. Through my initiative, at the beginning of 1942, a radio receiver that operated only through earphones was set up in the cellar of the ghetto pharmacy. News from the fronts was received through this radio throughout the duration of the ghetto period. The transmissions were recorded, transcribed, and distributed among the members of the underground and the ghetto population.
    My father Chaim of blessed memory played an active role in the distribution of the news. He was burned in a bunker at the time of the liquidation of the ghetto.
  2. I played an active role in the drafting of the Zionist youth, with the aim of transferring them to partisan camps in the forests.
  3. I conducted a campaign to raise funds and obtain valuables inside the ghetto and outside of it, with the goal of purchasing weapons.
  4. I played an active role in obtaining weapons from outside the ghetto, and I often personally smuggled weapons into the ghetto.
  5. Through my initiative, Segalson, the director of the large workshops in the ghetto, organized a group of trustworthy individuals to transfer army coats, boots, underwear and other items of army clothing to the Jewish partisans. These items were stolen from the workshops where they were being prepared for the Wehrmacht.
  6. I was the communications man between the leadership of the underground organization and the directors of the ghetto, who secretly helped the partisan movement in the ghetto a great deal.
  7. I remained in constant contact with the “Matzok” (Merkaz Tzioni Vilijampolė, Kaunas - Zionist Center of Vilijampolė, Kaunas), and helped transfer young people of that organization to the partisan camps.
  8. I provided revolvers to some members of the group of Jewish partisans who escaped from Fort Nine on December 25, 1943, and hid in the ghetto. Similarly, I hid in the ground a metal chest filled with gold teeth that had been extracted from murdered Jews, and that the partisans had taken with them during their escape. After the liberation of Kovno, the chest with the gold teeth was given over to Kotargna the dentist, who was then at the helm of the committee for assisting the surviving Jews.
[Page 403]
  1. Through the means of the directors, I placed trustworthy Jews of our people in important tasks in the guarding of the ghetto. These people would carry out the directives of the united underground movement and Matzok, and thwarted the commands of the Germans.
    One of these people was Yudel Zopovich from Jonava, who along with the Zionists Moshe Levin and Ika Grinberg of the ghetto guards helped the Jewish partisans leave the ghetto and smuggle weapons outside. Yudel Zopovich was tortured and shot to death at Fort Nine along with a group of Jewish guards, by Keitel, the infamous murderer of Jews. Witnesses related that Yudel Zopovich took a brave stand until his bitter end, and encouraged those who shared his fate.
  2. At the end of March, 1944, after provocateurs informed the Gestapo about the roles that I played in the ghetto, Gestapo men, headed by Keitel, appeared at the ghetto council and demanded that they reveal my place and turn me over to their hands.
With the assistance of the underground organization, I escaped from the ghetto and hid in secret places and underground hideouts.

As I was told by those who had been among the directors of the ghetto, Keitel searched for me until the last day, and nicknamed me “Levin the leader of the gangs.”

January 24, 1971


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Hirsch is the Yiddish form of the Hebrew name Tzvi. Return


[Page 404]

Illegal Mail in the Kovno Ghetto

by Efraim Zilberman

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Illegal Mail in the Kovno Ghetto


[Page 408]

Two Good Friends

by Yitzchak [Ben–David (Burstein)]

Translated by Jerrold Landau

In memory of Greenblatt and Shalputer, with whom I worked in the Kemach factory from 1925 until 1940, and who both lived there.

I met Greenblatt in 1957 in Vilna, when I visited there from the city of Frunze [1]. He worked as a mechanic in a large milk facility. This is what he told me about the last days in Jonava.

Already on Sunday, June 22, 1942, Yona Shalputer decided to leave Jonava to rejoin his parents who lived in the small town of Wysaky–Dwor [Aukštdvaris]. He talked with a Russian farmer from the village of Sponėnai, asking him to take him there with a carriage. As we later found out, the farmer attacked him along the way, took him to a large forest “Di Budes,” murdered him in cold blood, and stole his bit of money and belongings.

Greenblatt decided to hide with a farmer he knew well, Peterosevich, apparently his friend from the other side of the Viliya near the village of Skaruliai. When he got there, he told him his wish. Peterosevich said nothing about hiding him. He only hinted that he should not be afraid of death in the village to which he is going. He hinted that the shooting lasts only for a minute. Hearing the “intelligent” speech of his friend the farmer, he decided to leave at once.

He set out along the banks of the Viliya in the direction of Vilna. The march lasted for three days. He hid in the thick willows on the banks of the river. He travelled at night. The hunger afflicted him. During the day, he would go out when he saw people and ask them for food.

Twice, he encountered people who apparently wanted to help him and went to bring him products. When they delayed, he was suspicious of them, and he quickly fled. One elderly woman along the way helped him and brought him a basket full of various products. This allowed him to sustain himself along the way.

On the third day in the evening, he came to a water mill on the Viliya about 20 kilometers from Vilna. After dark, when he noticed that the owner was in the mill alone, he emerged from hiding, summoned his courage, and approached the miller. He was a 60–year–old Pole who made a good impression by his outward appearance. He told him the truth, that he was a Jew from Jonava, and was a miller by trade. He asked him to hide him from the Germans, and he would work for him for free, with only the expectation of food. The miller decided that he would only work during the night shift, for many farmers from the area come during the day, and many eyes could cause harm. He looked like an Arian. At that time, he was blond, with blue eyes. However, they decided not to risk him working during the day.

[Page 409]

He hid with that Pole for over three years. He worked in the mill at night, and slept during the day. Together with the Pole, they dug a pit as a bunker deep in the ground under the canal that transported the water to the large wheel. There, in the dark, damp pit, he slept and sat until the night came, and he could breathe fresh air during the night shift. He said that large cats lived with him. They slept near him and kept him warm.

The Pole had three sons, all of whom were in the forests as partisans fighting for Poland. The father did not tell them the truth, for he did not trust them. A few times, the German S.S. men came at night to search for partisans, and he had to hide.

When the Russians arrived, the miller set out into the city. His conditions were not unbearable, but he ended his period of living with that Pole. Greenblatt died in 1966 in Vilna of natural causes, and at a good age.

Yona Shaputer and Greenblatt were both the embodiment of decency and cooperation. They were dedicated members of the Young Zion movement. They had national sensibilities, and were given over to the Land of Israel and the Jewish people.

May their memories be a blessing!

{Photo page 409: The Young Zion movement in Jonava, at the conclusion of its fifth year of existence, Passover 5686 – 1926.}

[Page 410]

{Photocopy page 410: A share of the Jewish Colonial Trust from 1901 in the name of Batia Tartak (Perlstein). See page 90.}


Translator's Footnote

  1. Frunze was the name of Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan, between 1926 and 1991. Return

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