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[Page 373]

Chapter 6

The Destruction of Jewish Yurburg

 

Translated by Irene Emodi, Tel Aviv

The Sun Shines, the System (?) Blossoms and the Slaughter Slaughters.

Chaim Nachum Bialik

 

The Book of Tears

The words come straight from the heart
They were written in great pain
Each word
Is drenched in blood
The blood of man
The blood of a people.
A book of tears
To be remembered for generations to come.
A tear - for the bereaved parents
A tear - for the sister and brothers that were orphaned

A tear - for the old grandfather and grandmother
A tear for a sacred community.
A tear - for the murder of a little baby
Who fell victim to the evil of the devil's sons
A small heart that was torn
And whispers its last breath.
 
Death outside
A vessel full of tears.
Voices cried to heaven - "Help us!"
Lips murmured prayers - "Save us!"
But no one heard, no one listened
No one removes the decree;
No one raises an eyebrow,
No one stretches out a hand. . .
The heavens are closed
They do not hear the cries of those who remain
The world is blacker than black
Not a ray of light is to be seen.
There is much killing
Not a family is spared
The whole town is a Holocaust
The community of Yurburg is destroyed.

*

The sun went down
A cat howled -
Nothing is left
Only bereavement.
And at night -
In the darkness of night, only a memorial candle will shed its light
On the martyrs of the town.

By Zevulun Poran


[Page 374]

The Holocaust in World War II

The Struggle and Destruction of the Yurburg Community

By Z. Poran

Translated by Irene Emodi, Tel Aviv

The word Holocaust, which means destruction, liquidation, annihilation refers to the destruction of the Jews of Europe in World War II (1939-1945). The Jewish people numbered 16 million when the War broke out and over 6 million of them were killed by the Nazis and their collaborators. Jewish communities in Europe were destroyed in twenty one countries that were conquered by the Nazis.

Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, he was a brutal, blood-thirsty man who hated Jews. In 1939 Hitler started war with the aim of conquering the countries of Europe. The war went on for about six years, and it drowned the world in a sea of blood. Almost all the countries of Europe were conquered by the Nazi army. Millions of people were killed. Many towns were ruined. Millions were uprooted from their homes. However, the greatest tragedy of all befell the Jews. The Nazis decided to destroy the Jewish people. Every Jew was destined to be killed.

On 20 January 1942 Hitler convened the heads of the Nazi regime in the Berlin quarter Wannessee am Grossen in order to discuss the subject of the final solution of the Jewish question. At this "historical" conference the head of the security police and S.D., Ober Gruppenfuhrer Heidrich, submitted a detailed plan to liquidate 11 million Jews in Europe. For 90 minutes the participants discussed in cold blood the preferred method of murder, the organization, transport problems etc. The plan was approved in all its details in order to be executed in stages. Indeed, the major part of the plan was carried out.

The following is a list of the countries in which the destruction of the Jews was carried out in Europe (in %):

Poland (85.7);
Soviet Union (42);
Romania (50);
Hungary (50.4);
France (33.3);
Czechoslovakia (84.6);
Germany (81);
Austria (66.6);
Luxembourg (83.4);
Lithuania (90);
Latvia (89.5);
Holland (73.3);
Belgium (50);
Yugoslavia (75);
Greece (80);
Italy (26.3);
Bulgaria (14);
Denmark (7.1);
Norway (50),
Estonia (90).

Now, let's describe the route of suffering the Jews of Europe passed during the course of the War:

The Jews of Germany were the first to be destroyed, then came the Jews of Poland, the largest Jewish settlement in Europe, which numbered 3.5 million Jews prior to World War II. To facilitate the destruction the Nazis gathered together all the Jews in the large cities into ghettoes of Warsaw, Lodz, Bialistock, Riga, Vilna and Kovna and Shavli ( a relatively small ghetto) etc.

At the ghettoes the Jews were employed in forced labor, such as: industrial enterprises, paving of roads, building of bridges etc. The conditions of living and nourishment were poor.

In addition to torture at the ghetto, the Nazis set up the death camps at Auschwitz, Maidanek, Birkenwald, Treblinka, Halmano, Belsen etc. At these camps gas chambers were installed and furnaces that accelerated the destruction process of millions.

Immediately after the Nazi occupation of the Baltic states -- Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Soviet Russia as well, the Nazis and their local collaborators carried out brutal killings. Entire communities were destroyed.

In Lithuania the majority of the Jews were already killed in the first days of the Nazi invasion (1941). The Jews of the little villages in Lithuania were the first to be killed. The Jews of Yurburg shared the fate of those in the other villages of Lithuania. Only in the large cities ghettoes were set up, where the Jews were kept, like in Vilna (60.000), Kovna (20-30,000) and Shavli, a relatively small ghetto, about 3000 people. The destruction at the ghettoes was in stages. Those who were not fit were executed -- from Vilna they were sent to Ponar and from Kovna to Port 9 and 7 near Kovna and there they died. Those who remained were employed in forced labor until they were liquidated. Near the end of the War the Nazis took those Jews who were still able to work to Germany, where they were employed in forced labor. Many of them were saved when the Germans were defeated in the War, among them were some survivors from Yurburg who were at the Kovna ghetto.

In Yurburg all the Jews were destroyed, as mentioned above, in the first months of the Nazi invasion. In these months (June- September) Yurburg was a kind of ghetto, where noone could enter or leave. Here too everything happened in stages. Groups of Jews were taken to the woods, one after the other, on the way to Samalnikan, at the cemetery and other places where the elderly, women and children were brutally murdered. In Yurburg it was impossible to set up a resistance movement. The foreign surroundings alienated the Jews. And the Lithuanian "friends" -- if there were any -- were afraid to help.

However, in spite of everything, a few -- oh so few -- managed to organize into a group of Partisans and they went to the woods around Yurburg. They were joined by people from the Kovna ghetto and together they numbered 70. (See the article "People from Yurburg in the Forest" in the Book of Remembrance). Some of those from Yurburg in the forest were extremely brave and courageous; one of them even turned out to be a leader and daring warrior. This group carried out a number of daring actions, fighting as Partisans against German military units. The group of "people from Yurburg" in the forest became known as a brave group which intimidated the Lithuanian villages in the area. The villages had to supply to the Yurburg Partisans everything they required and even shelter women and children in their homes. Unfortunately, at the end of the War the "Yurburg" group was defeated. However, with their daring fighting, they survived for a long time and saved Jewish honor. Some youngsters from Yurburg at the Kovna ghetto joined the Kovna Partisans in the woods (see the article"Daring escape of the Partisans in the forest" ).

A few of the youngsters, who were outside Yurburg when the War broke out, enlisted in the Lithuanian division, in the framework of the Red Army in Russia. The majority of the Lithuanian division were in fact Jewish youngsters. The youngsters from Yurburg played their part in the War as best they could and had the good fortune to return with the division to Lithuania and liberate it. In Jewish Yurburg the Jews did not live to see the day of liberation. They were no longer there. Only dust and ashes remained of the Jews of Yurburg . .


The Holocaust Remembrance Law Yad Vashem

"A memorial authority is hereby established -- YAD VASHEM -- to commemorate the six million Jews who were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators; the families of the House of Jacob who were killed and destroyed by the oppressor, the communities, synagogues, movements and organizations, military, cultural, educational, religious and charity institutions that were destroyed by evil action, to protest and cry out to heaven on behalf of the People of Israel and its culture, the courage of sacred Jews who gave their life for their people; the courage of Jewish soldiers in the armies and underground fighters in settlements and forests, who found their death in the battles against the Nazi oppressor; the courageous deeds of the survivors of the ghettoes and their fighters; who rose up and started the revolt to save their people's honor; the glorious and persistent fight when countless Jewish homes were about to be lost with their humane outlook and Jewish culture; the daring efforts of the Christians, that never ceased, and the devotion and heroism of brothers who strived to save those who survived and liberated them, and the righteous gentiles, who gave their lives to save Jews."


[Pages 377 - 387]

Yurburg Destroyed

The Story of Hannah Magidovitz as recorded by Zebulun Poran

Translated by Irene Emodi, Tel Aviv

We are sitting in the home of Hannah Magidovitz, in the center of Rehovot. The apartment is spacious, furnished with taste and spotlessly clean. Around the table are also her husband, Shlomo Goldman, Manager of the town's Post Office branch and her two charming daughters - one a teacher at the Ashkelon state school, the other - a nurse at the "Kaplan" hospital. The family extends a warm welcome to the guests. There is a festive atmosphere in the house. It is not everyday that two such welcome guests appear. . . one has come from Tel Aviv and the other from Jerusalem - both are true Yurburgers - Shimon Shimonov and Zebulun Poran.

There are refreshments on the table and a pleasant conversation is taking place in a friendly and warm atmosphere of old friends. However, the clock does not stop ticking, and we hint at the purpose of our visit, the hosts are fully aware of it. It is getting late and everyone understands time has come to bring back the memories of those terrible days, in which the tragic history of Jewish Yurburg ends.

The husband and daughters leave the room, and we, the three Yurburgers, remain alone with our sorrow about the bitter fate of our Yurburg.

A moment of silence passes, and another one of heavy thoughts . . . Hannah's face is getting pale and red in turn. There are tears in her eyes and she finds it hard to swallow.

.... To speak about Yurburg, the tragedy ... it is impossible. Impossible! Those who were not there will not believe what I am saying . . .

Hannah is struggling with herself, overcomes her reluctance and starts to tell her story. Words in Hebrew and Yiddish, a medley of tongues, sounding like lamentation, sad.

The wailing of Hannah, the Jewish mother, daughter of the town of Yurburg, who calls to heaven: "Why, Oh God, why?" She speaks out against the cruel and indifferent world which brought destruction on Yurburg. For a moment we remember Hannah as a young girl, full of joy, and it is hard to imagine that this is the same Hannah, speaking in anger, avenging the women and children, young and old. An entire Jewish community was wiped out and is no longer - and only she, Hannah, the only witness, remains in order to tell the terrible story.

*

. . . It started one summer morning. The dawn disperses the misty watches of the night, a slight breeze, drops of dew, the pleasant odors of field and garden are in the air. The birds twitter, singing happily towards the start of a new day. Yes, a new day, 22 June 1941. Yurburg is slumbering at this hour, sleeping as usual. Everything is restful and pleasant -until suddenly a terrible sound rips the silence -

"Jews, war, w-a-r. . . "

The sound ripped through the house, startled the whole family and made them get up from their beds. When we went outside we already saw many others; windows were opened nearby and far away, Jews looked out in surprise and awe - "What is going on?" Here and there those standing outside noticed airplanes raging through the sky, approaching Yurburg with a terrible noise, dropping bombs and destroying the surroundings of the town. Luckily most bombs fell into the Neiman and did not damage houses or people.

We spent hours waiting anxiously, tensely whispering "Hoi, what will happen?" Thus, without knowing what would happen to them, the helpless Jews stood around in small groups, whispering, their faces full of gloom.

Eight o'clock in the morning. The first rows of motor vehicles appeared in the streets and behind them the German "Wehrmacht" and behind the "Wehrmacht" rows of marching soldiers, facing West, on the road to Kovna. The Jews shivered and watched in terror how the German army took over the town, without any resistance from the Lithuanian army units which formed part of the Russian army.

After the "commandos" passed, the "Wehrmacht" infantry spread out onto all the roads, took over the government institutions and started to look for Russian and communist soldiers. Tumult broke out in town. Lithuanians and Jews, who were connected with the government institutions started to hide, and those who could flee-fled. Only a few managed to escape on the first steamship which left in the morning along the Neiman to Kovna. There was a situation of uncertainty in town. Jewish families started to gather together in order to ease the fear. Children cried and wailed and it is hard to describe what went on among the Jewish population on the morning of that cursed day. Many burst out and vented their feelings of frustration. When one of the neighbors shouted: "Jews - let's protect ourselves - let's hide in the public bath" they all got up and without a thought ran to the public bath, a large, strong building.

It seemed to many that its strong and thick walls would protect those inside. Fear is the Devil's Advocate. They thought that together they might be able to protect themselves. The public bath was full to the brim, a multitude of people pressed into this dubious shelter. And as the popular saying goes - a drowning man grasps at a straw, when he wants to save himself. Food was brought to the public bath for the little children and later also for the grownups, to strengthen their bodies and souls, enabling them to face the enemy when the time would come. These were difficult hours for those who had deliberately imprisoned themselves in this gray and depressing building on this first day, there are no words to describe their gloomy spirit

At 4 p.m. the German soldiers discovered the hiding place. Four soldiers broke open the door and one of them entered and shouted the order: " Come out immediately!" - in order to convince the people not to huddle there, he added: "it is more dangerous here, if the air force sees a large building standing out in the area - it may decide to bomb it!" However, no one agreed to leave the building, a discussion started with the soldiers, women and men implored and begged to be allowed to stay, but the soldiers had no mercy. At this stage the "Wehrmacht" soldiers did not yet show their true face. They started to calm the desperate Jews and assured them nothing bad would happen to them. The soldiers also told the agitated crowd that the Russians had attacked their country and that they had no choice but to defend Germany, their fatherland. One German soldier even boasted: " Never mind, in two weeks we will be in Moscow." He said this in an arrogant, self-assured manner as if this was wonderful news to the Jews as well.. . . However, there was one soldier who stood aside and secretly whispered to the Jew standing next to him - "Yes, in two weeks we will be in Moscow, and in two years the Russians will be in Berlin. . ." This was apparently an unusual German soldier . . . in fact, they all received orders and carried them out ruthlessly.

We must admit that the German soldiers, who were very aggressive, were courteous in their first meeting with the Jews, and even tried from time to time to calm the frustrated crowd. Having no choice, the Jews started to leave the public bath. Sad and perplexed they returned, stumbling, to the homes they had abandoned. The unfortunate Jews had no inkling yet of the German policy of misleading.

The Jews of Yurburg passed the first night in great fear. No one removed his clothes or took off his shoes. No eye was closed. They had no appetite, were depressed and confused by so much fear of what lay ahead.

The next day, Monday, no one left his home. Jewish Yurburg was paralyzed. Business came to a complete standstill. There was no hunger yet. Jews sold part of their belongings to Lithuanians and bought food. All the neighbors and relatives gathered together in one house, it was very crowded, but the situation was still bearable. Jews said "Soll nur nischt sein erger" (things should not be worse). Nevertheless, we felt that the Lithuanians, the former Shaulists (now they called themselves partisans or activists), started to make themselves available to the Germans, enthusiastically assisting them, taking over the street. The attitude of these Shaulists towards the Jews was hostile and brutal. Their influence on the other Lithuanians grew by the day. Already on the second day the Lithuanians carried out severe beatings. The new rulers ordered all the Jewish boys, without exception, to assemble on Raisen street (Rasaino Gatva) on Mordechai (Mottel) Labayosh' plot, a place later known as "Arbeits-Lager" (i.e. labor camp). From here Jews were sent for service in town such as : cleaning the streets, working in vegetable gardens and any assistance required by the Lithuanians. A Jew was appointed manager of the "Arbeits-Lager" and he was asked to carry out the authorities' orders.

Everyday another bad thing happened to us. The Lithuanians started to show their rudeness and tyranny. On the third day of the War an order was published that the Jews had to wear a yellow patch on their clothes. Where to find yellow cloth? Here we got the idea to use the cloth of the Lithuanian flag, one of whose colors is of course yellow. We therefore tore up the Lithuanian flag, without any pangs of conscience, and sewed the patches for our clothes. Thus "adorned" with the yellow patches we were ordered to march along the pavement of the street. These and others were the orders we received every morning. The more the Lithuanians' atrocities increased, the more depressed we became, yet we tried to stand firm, as far as we could.

One day the Jews were ordered to destroy the synagogue, break up its walls and everything inside, and distribute it all to the Lithuanians. It is impossible to describe how this order affected the town's Jews. The synagogue was the pride of the Yurburg Jews. It was not only a house of prayer, but a valuable cultural attribute of art. It was said that its construction was completed in the seventeenth century by the best Jewish artists of the time. The sacred ark was made of wood, carved by hand, with beautiful engravings of animals, plants, leafs, turtles, lions and birds. Then there was the beautiful chair of Eliyahu, used for brit-mila. The old building was gray, but full of splendor and inspiration. The synagogue was "a little temple" not only for the Jews of Yurburg, but also for all the Jews of Lithuania, who came from far to see the Temple.

The building was famous beyond the borders of Lithuania as well. Then here comes the oppressor and orders: "get up and destroy the synagogue", the "Holy of Holies" of Yurburg's Jews! But the order was given and the Jews had to implement it and those who did not observe it were beaten and forced to carry it out. The knees failed and the hands were shaking, but who could oppose these beasts? With tears in their eyes and broken hearts the Jews had to carry out this shameful job. Many Lithuanians came to watch the terrible deed, but only a few dared to take the loot.

Not far from the synagogue stood the "shechita stiebel", a small building, used for poultry slaughtering. This building too had to be destroyed. There were many feathers there, which were dispersed over the area; these feathers stuck to the Jews and they were so dirty it was hard to recognize them. Thereforethe Shaulists -Lithuanians who were overseeing the crime, ordered them to go down to the Neiman river and wash in its water. During the destruction and also at the river the Shaulists tortured them, kicked them and pushed them into the water. . . an offensive and degrading sight.

The German soldiers stood next to the Lithuanians all the time and took pictures of the "action" carried out faithfully by their Lithuanian helpers. The Germans, for whom and at whose behest the Lithuanians gladly carried out these actions, cynically asked the Jews "why do the Lithuanians hate the Jews so much?"

Another thing which degraded and angered the Jews took place the next day. One of the religious ministrants in town was Cantor Alperowitz. An old man, tall and distinguished looking. On religious holidays he would appear with his chorus at the synagogue or the great seminar and pray and sing the melodies he himself composed. He was a learned man, very popular and venerated by the worshippers. The sons of the devil turned to him as well. They took him to the center of town, many Lithuanians thronging about; they attached a brick to his white beard and ordered him to march through the streets of the town. The Jews were called upon to watch the painful sight; some Jews pleaded for mercy and volunteered to take the old cantor's place on the shameful march, but they were refused. Thus the cantor had to go on his shameful walk, accompanied by the enemies' shouts of joy and the wailing of the Jews of Yurburg who were forced to watch this terrible ceremony, the likes of which had not been created by the devil yet.. .

Time passed, and there was no end to the malicious acts. One day the Jews were assembled and ordered to carry Stalin's statue in a parade through the streets of the town, to sing and dance, while the Lithuanians, the German soldiers at their side, marched along and tormented them, beat them and kicked them from one side to the other. Finally the parade reached Zarda, a broad square near the Neiman river. A high heap was made of Jewish books and writings and Stalin's statue was set in the middle. When the paper burned the Lithuanian's joy knew no end and they tortured the Jews. Children, women and men were ordered to sing and dance.

The Jews were forced to sing until the flame went out; they sang psalms and the well-known folk song "Arom der feir mir singen lieder. . . (around the fire we sing songs), a Jewish revolt song, in front of their oppressors.

*

The acts of the Germans and the Lithuanians undermined our morale and we slowly became ever more indifferent to our fate. Nevertheless, when disaster struck our home and hit our family- says Hannah Magidovitz - we completely broke down. One day the Lithuanians, at the orders of their German masters, came to the Jewish homes looking for workers, they said. They took my father and younger brother somewhere. In this action 350 Jews were taken away. They were all ordered to bring along a shovel for digging. Thus our dear ones left on a silent road from which they never returned. A long, dreadful night fell over our home and over many homes in town, from where the men were taken forcefully, never to return . . . only the next day did we learn of the terrible disaster. A Lithuanian, a farmer, was witness to the horror. After they were led into the forest they were at first ordered to dig pits, according to the witness, as deep as possible, and then to kill each other with the shovels in their hands.

Thus the earth swallowed them forever, without a sign or a mark on the large common grave. One day short letters were received from the "enlisted men" sent, as it were, to work. In their letters they wrote us that they were working on the floating of tree barges (traftim) and that there was no cause for concern.. . After the horrors we had gone through, we had no illusions that our beloved ones were still alive.

A few days later another calamity took place. One evening another count took place, this time under the pretense of concern for the sick and elderly. They promised to take the sick and weak to hospital where they would receive proper treatment. Another deception which no one believed. We knew they were led to their death; women cried and pleaded for mercy, but there was no mercy.

Thus the sick and elderly were led on the road to Raseinai at a distance of 18 kilometers. from Yurburg. The Lithuanians did not bother the sick and elderly with digging pits. The graves were already waiting to receive the dead. From this "action" no one returned either and no one was left alive. Again, according to the testimony of Lithuanian villagers, they were all brutally killed. Most of them were buried alive. The next day, when we were called to the "Arbeits -Lager" ("labor camp"), we found remnants of clothes and jewelry, removed from the dead.

Hundreds of Jewish men were led to the cemetery where they were brutally killed. 520 people, among them the leaders of the community, including Rabbi Rubinstein, revolted, shouted, shook their fists and fought to the bitter end. There were no illusions left. We knew our days were counted. Only women and children remained in the Jewish homes. However, the cruel fate did not spare them either. German planning and deception were constantly active. One day the women were called to headquarters, while the children had to remain at home. When we heard this, says Hannah, we hid mother on the attic, and we presented ourselves in her place. The women were told to stand together in the yard of "Talmud Torah", the large elementary school of the town. Hundreds of women were brutally taken to the headquarters, babies crying in their arms. We remained at CTalmud Torah" from morning to night, says Hannah, without any food or drink. The Lithuanians behaved like cruel animals.

Towards evening Shaulists-Lithuanians arrived with automatic weapons and ordered us to line up, two in a row; they kicked and beat us to make us hurry. The wailing of the mothers and the cries of the babies went up to heaven, but the hearts of the murderers remained cold as stone. The Germans, masters of the land, stood at a distance with their cameras, as usual, watching their Lithuanian servants-helpers' actions with much interest and satisfaction.

There was much confusion, as the crowd of Shaulists-Lithuanians surrounded the poor women, hitting them brutally with the buds of their rifles. They particularly hit those who walked too slowly, children and they threw them onto the ground, to induce them to carry on. Late at night we reached the end of the road. We were in the thick Schwentshani forest, frightened to death by the shadows of the trees. In the darkness we saw a deep pit, dug that day. Tumult broke out, and a terrible panic took hold of the women. The murderers fired into the air and shouted in frightening voices "Throw the children into the pits", they ordered the women to take off their clothes and leave them behind. It is hard to bring back to memory those awful moments at the place of murder. Mothers jumped with their children into the pits, some of them were shot, others still breathed. At those crucial moments in a person's life -as strange as this may seem - the life instinct is extremely strong. My entire being started to throb with the instinct to live and a voice from deep down in my soul cried out :"Live, live!" says Hannah Magidovitz.

Among the Lithuanians I met near here was a young man, a shopkeeper from the Kalyani village, and he whispered to me - "Escape Hannah, escape!" The plan to escape had already come into my mind along the way. I told myself - I must return to save mother and my little sisters, who still remained hidden at home. Therefore I quickly took the decision to escape at all costs! - and thus at a certain moment, when confusion took over and the women started to cry and flee to the forest, and the Shaulists -Lithuanians ran after them and fired at them, bewildered and without thinking what I was doing, as if a spirit of madness had taken hold of me, I jumped behind a bush, a jump and another one and here I am behind a tree, and another tree and a third one, my legs carrying me in a mad race, further and further away into the darkness of the thick forest towards an unknown place. Shots? -they no longer frighten me: the quest for life throbs in me, hope, revenge! Thus I finally fell down on the cold earth, exhausted. The Lithuanians did not manage to harm me. They were drunk from alcohol as well as from victory. The lust to murder and the smell of blood prodded them to carry out these bestial acts.

When I recovered and my energy returned, I started to walk towards Yurburg, but I lost my way, and almost ran into a German (patrol) guard who called to me from afar "Wer ist hier?" (who is there?). I went back from where I had come and at dawn I arrived at my home in Yurburg. At first I said nothing to my mother and sisters Zelda and Judith, who were still alive. Yet I was bothered by the idea - "I must tell" Those who remained had to know what the Lithuanians, the helpers of the Nazi Germans, had done to us-and then I told them the bitter truth and I said -"we must escape immediately, find a place with the Lithuanians, otherwise we will be destroyed. Don't be deceived!"

We tried to look for a hiding place with Lithuanian gentiles, but we soon found out that all the gentiles had betrayed us. They regretted the murder and were afraid for their own lives. Perhaps they were afraid of denunciation. That is how we were stuck between hammer and anvil, all we could do was to pray for mercy.

Only three days passed and the sword hit us again. In the morning all those who were left, without exception, had to gather in the notorious yard of Mordecai (Mottel) Labayosh, where the "Arbeits-Lager" (labor camp) was.

All day long Lithuanian soldiers, accompanied by the Germans, passed through all the Jewish homes to check whether anyone was left there. Indeed, no one was left. The few who were still alive knew their fate - death! However, a day of brutality and torture still lay ahead of us - intimidations, blows and humiliations. Towards evening we were ordered to leave the "labor camp" and go on a journey - the last journey of the last survivors of Yurburg.

When the last one left, Yurburg remained empty of its Jews, who had lived there for hundreds of years, built and cultivated it, borne children and raised generations faithful to their nation and the land of Lithuania, reliable partners for obtaining its independence. Now - the end had come! There is no Jewish Yurburg any longer! But no, there are still some survivors, and they are marching on their tragic march of death, straight towards the Shwentshani forest, to the deep pits, opening their mouths to swallow up the murder victims. This time the survivors knew very well where the road was leading. No, they did not accept the judgment: they revolted, shouted, pleaded with the murderers - "what did we do wrong" - why kill human beings born in the image of God , but in response there were only impudent answers and severe beatings. Mothers told their older children to run away, not to surrender, to beat the murderers, save their lives. But what power do weak women and small children have in the face of the sophisticated Nazi machine ? In a terrible battle of unequal forces they arrived at the end of the journey. Everything was prepared in advance, the murderers well trained, and the victims offered for slaughtering are pathetic and have no energy, they are pure and just in their soft existence and desperate struggle. No, this time they do not give up easily. Women attack the murderers, bite, hit, shout. But the murderers close in on their victims. Shots are fired, the automatic rifles do not stop, shooting from every corner at anyone trying to escape, and they are many. The murderers run after them . . . there is panic and chaos and a struggle for life and death accompanied by shouts that tear apart the walls of the earth. . . .

I, the young girl, already experienced in this fateful test, am standing among the girls of my family, my mother crying bitterly, my little sisters holding on to me with all their might. I feel the throb of life in them and at the same time a shot is fired, mother is shocked - she throws me her scarf (patshele) - and shouts "Run away my daughter - Hannale, flee! remember - Revenge mein Tochter (my daughter), revenge!" - -

And I, I don't know how I dared throw myself into the turmoil this time, into the thick bushes. I jump behind the Germans and Lithuanians and flee, flee, while the murderers are running after me, steadily firing at me, but the bullets don't hit me. The murderers hit trees and bushes, and I manage to escape from their murderous hands. I have no energy left in me, but I continue to crawl and go away as far as possible from the valley of death. I did not look back, I knew that behind me was death, destruction . . . and I have to go on living. My mother had placed an important task on my shoulders. To avenge my family and the Jews of Yurburg . . . This time - I knew - I was not going to Yurburg, there was no longer any Yurburg for me. When the last group of Yurburg Jews died - my Yurburg died too.

At that time I did not know whether I was the only one who had been saved or if other women too had managed to stay alive. I went into the direction of the town of Arzovilki, where I had Jewish acquaintances. I hoped to find a few survivors there. I walked through fields and forests, slept awhile under the open sky, was hungry, and towards morning I arrived, exhausted, on the second day of my wandering, at the entrance of Arzovilki. I was very thirsty. I went up to a farmer and asked for water, but he chased me away. I drank water from a puddle I found, and continued to knock on farmers' doors. Finally, one farm woman agreed to let me stay in the cowshed, near the pigsty, although she knew I was Jewish. She told me that only yesterday an "action" had taken place of the Arzovilki Jews, and that they had all been brutally murdered, and buried in a mass grave, close to the town.

I met but a few "good" Lithuanians, but even the most humane among them were not inclined to take in a Jew. Finally I found shelter for a while in the home of an intelligent man, broadminded. He told me that two Jewish boys, who had been saved from the "actions," were hiding in the town and that they came from Yurburg.

With the assistance of my landlord a meeting took place with them and to my joy I knew them well, they were: Zvi (Hirshka Abramovitz) and Klein (I forgot his first name). They looked sad and thin. They smoked a lot and told me they had managed to escape, after their families were murdered. Now they intended to return to Yurburg, not in order to live there, but to set it on fire. They talked of their plan with burning eyes. I said good-by to them and did not see them again. Later I was told that Yurburg was set on fire and burnt. I don't know if the two really managed to take revenge on the murderers of the Yurburg Jews, but it is true that a large part of the town center burned and went up in flames. Revenge? - maybe, but even if they did take revenge, it is small compared to the terrible, horrendous crime perpetrated against the Jews of Yurburg by beasts. This awful shame, the mean and planned murder to destroy the Jewish communities will not be wiped from our memories, it will cry out forever, and as long as we are alive we will not forget or forgive!

*

After a long wandering, dangers lurking everywhere, I reached the Kovna Ghetto, in order to tell the Jews there the bitter truth about the destruction of the Jews of Yurburg. In those days the Jews in the Kovna Ghetto did not yet know what lay ahead of them. Jews still had false hopes, inside the ghetto, and I felt sorry to disappoint them and disperse their illusions.

*

When the survivors of Yurburg left the graves of their families and relatives behind, they embarked on a difficult journey to Eretz Israel, it was their yearning and the yearning of the martyrs of Lithuania who did not have the good fortune to arrive hither.

Among the immigrants, the survivors of Yurburg, was also Hannah Magidovitz.

The few survivors of the holocaust, will continue to spin the thread of continuation forever, here in the independent State of Israel, they, their sons and the sons of their sons after them, as revenge on the murderous gentiles, and for the establishment of a secure shelter for the people of Israel in centuries to come.

Signed Zebulun Poran


[Pages 388 - 394]

Additional Details About the Annhilation of the Jews of Yurburg

The Testimony of Hannah Magidovitz

Translated into Hebrew from Yiddish by Paz

Translated by Irene Emodi, Tel Aviv

At the end of World War II, when Hannah Magidovitz was in Germany, she was asked to testify in person about the destruction of the Jewish community of Yurburg. Her testimony was written down by L. Koniochovsky, at the municipal hospital of Munich, the MUNCHEN KRANKENHAUS, in Germany, on 30 April 1947, and signed by Hannah Magidovitz and Dr. Paiskovitsh, the Chief Physician (Chef Artz) of the hospital.

(The testimony is kept at the "Yad Vashem" archives in Jerusalem)

On June 22, 1941, German soldiers were already marching through the streets of Yurburg at 6 o'clock in the morning,. Only very few people managed to escape and save their lifes. Hannah, her father Shalom and her three sisters hid in the farmer Greenberg's cellar, behind the Jewish cemetery. The German soldiers burst into the cellar and checked whether there were any Russian soldiers there. They sent the Jews back to their home in Yurburg. The German army units continued for a number of days to march on to the town of Kovno and pursued the retreating Russian army from there.

Jews belonging to the communist party, among them Hannah's brother Hashel, went to Russia.

The moment the Russian army entered, the Lithuanians gathered their courage and organized into active gangs - active Shaulists - put a green ribbon on their arms and became the town's rulers. The commander (Kommandant) of the town belonged to the German army and the student Mikas was the Chief of Police - his assistant was a policeman from the period of presidency of Samtona -Kilikovitshus. Shukatis was the leader of the Lithuanian gangs. A German, a citizen of the town, was appointed mayor. During the time of the communists he was the manager of the public kitchen and he supported the communists. His surname was Gefner. Hannah still remembers a few active Lithuanian gang members, among them: two brothers, from the Gymnasia, Waksaliai, the kiosk owner Tzalkis and the nationalist Mimi Samtona - Blatvinskis and others.

One of the murderers' first evil "actions" was to gather many Jews next to the synagogue - take a purification board, put the barber (Peruk-macher) Yitzhak Kopilovitz and Bibles on the board - and take them to the Neiman river. Here the Jews were ordered to "drown" the barber Kopilovitz and also drown each other. The barber saved himself by swimming. The Germans ordered Hannah's younger brother, the 13-year old Wolpeke, to drown the manly Jew Tatka Levinson. Levinson too saved himself, and Wolvele returned home, started to cry and told his family the terrible story.

One day the Jews were ordered to destroy the old synagogue and house of learning. They removed the Torah scrolls from the house of worship, the hooligans unrolled them and danced on them. The Jews were also ordered to bring their prayer shawls, prayer books and mezuzot from their homes, putting them all into one big pile. The Jews of Yurburg were very upset by this demeaning and cruel act and even the non-believers among them cried bitterly. The Lithuanian mob shouted "Bravo" and was full of joy and merriment. The next day the Jews were ordered to destroy the old synagogue and the coachmen were ordered to gather the boards and panels and bring them to the yards of the Lithuanians. Only the bare walls remained of the house of worship which was built of stone. The Jews were forced to transfer all the holy books to Zarda (an empty lot near the Neiman river) and put them in one big pile. The women were ordered to clean the destroyed places of prayer on the Sabbath. The hooligans put Mrs. Barzanar on a wheelbarrow (a Tatschka) and a 12-year old boy was ordered to take her to the Neiman river. On the way Mrs. Barzanar saw a German officer. She jumped from the wheelbarrow, ran to the officer and begged him to shoot her. The officer replied he could not do so, as the Lithuanians now were the rulers. The hooligans continued to torture her and hit her. Everybody was ordered to enter the Neiman and "bathe" with their clothes on, Hannah Magidovitz was among them. The men were ordered to "bathe" fully clothed every day after work.

Each day, at 6 o'clock in the morning, men and women were ordered to present themselves at Labayosh's yard, in order to go to work. The women were under the command of the Jew Friedman, the former owner of the "Versailles" hotel. He was close to the Lithuanians, for he had belonged to the "Shaulists" In the end, he too was led to his death in the last "action", just like the others. He was tortured and it is said he was even hung from a tree.. .

On July 10, the men were ordered to bring digging tools (shovels, spades etc.) and go to work. The order was particularly tough this time.The Lithuanian overseers carried rifles and there were a few Germans among them as well. It was a secret "action".

In the evening, when the women returned from work, they did not find their husbands. Hannah, too returned from work, and did not find her father -Shalom - or her brother Wolvele. The next day it was rumored the men had been shot at the cemetery.

The woman Deborah Lem went to the cemetery to find signs of graves, but found nothing, the large grave was well hidden . . . most women could not imagine that their husbands had been shot, although the Lithuanians living next to the cemetery knew, and told the story about the sadistic acts that had taken place there.

It was said, for example, that the men were ordered to dig the graves and kill each other with the spades they held. Fathers were ordered to kill their sons and sons their fathers ... a truly terrible sight . . . 550 Jews were shot. Among the dead were the physicians Dr. Karlinsky, Dr. Gershovitz (from Ponivez), Dr. Reichman, the pharmacist Bargovsky, the dentist Dr. Simonov and the dentist Dr. Koplov, the lawyer Segal, the cantor Alperovitz, the ritual slaughterer Aharon (Arteshik) Shlomovitsch, Rabbi Rubinstein, businessman Labayosh, Shalom Magidovitz, Hannah's father, and her brother Welvele; textile merchant Hirsch Porvah and his brother in law Mendel Forman and his 16-year old son Moshe, Reuven Naividel - a businessman and owner of an iron shop; Haim Rodensky and his father in-law Levinberg, the owner of the steamships and Karabelnik, his partner in the boats and barges business, etc. One Lithuanian brought Mrs. Vilonsky her picture which he found in the pocket of K. Levin's clothes. Torture and problems were a daily occurrence, but the tragedy of the cemetery was never forgotten.

Immediately after the "men's action", Hannah Magidovitz's mother, Feige-Mirel, arrived in Yurburg from Kovno, as well as Hannah's sister Judith, with her husband Hirschel Zalik and their two children - the 2-year old Gershon -Yudele and the 1 1/2-year old Tzadikel. Those were the days of the humiliation of men and women. On Sunday morning women and childrenwere ordered to organize in rows in the streets and walk to the Zarda, the area near the Neiman river. They had to sing and dance on the way. However, this was merely a "rehearsal". The "performance" only started at 12 o'clock, when the worshippers at the Catholic house of worship went out into the street and saw the humiliating parade of the Jews. Four men, Alter Stern, Natal Mendelovitz, VelVel Portnoi and another person (?) "had the honor" of carrying a few boards tied together (a Trage-nasilka) with pictures on them of the Soviet leaders - Stalin, Lenin, Molotov and others. In the middle, among the pictures, was Stalin's statue. The entire parade arrived at the Zarda, close to the Neiman river, and here the women were ordered to form a circle around the pictures, the men behind them.

They all had to sing Soviet and Jewish songs, and dance around the fire in which the pictures of the Soviet leaders were burnt. In the course of the "procession" the men were ordered to throw stones at Stalin's statue and in the end - to kneel and kiss the Lithuanian earth. . . Hannah and her sisters Zelda and Zisa also "took part" in the humiliating performance.

One Tuesday, before Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), all the childless women were ordered to present themselves at Labayosh' yard. The Lithuanian policeman Mikas Lavitzkis addressed the women and advised them not to sell their belongings, as the husbands would soon return and receive wages for their work. They believed him. The next day they were again ordered to present themselves at 6 o'clock in the evening, this time they numbered 200. Again they were advised not to sell anything and to hope "Az man wet noch darfen leben", i.e. "all the belongings will be needed in the future". And again there was an "invitation" to meet on Thursday.

This time there were already 300 women, among them sick women too, who had been taken from their beds by the murderers. Armed Lithuanian guards took up position at Labayosh's yard. A curfew was imposed on those remaining at home, including the men. The men were told that work would start at 8 o'clock Friday morning. When the men came to work at Labayosh' yard, the women were no longer there, and only a few remnants of clothes were left behind. Others also found hidden jewelry and money. One young girl, Yashka Koshilovitz, found her mother's handkerchief in the toilet. Everyone understood the 300 women had been murdered. Lithuanians said the women had been taken to the Kalnianai village during the night, 5 km from Yurburg, in the direction of Somlaninko, and there they had all been shot. Policeman-murderer Botvinskis told the women who came to work that the women had been given clothes and they had been taken to farm work in villages . . . the murderers continued to spread the rumor that all the women were well and that they were working on farms. It was also said that 70-year old Mrs. Polovin wrote a letter that she was working and all was well with her, but no one saw the letter.

Immediately after the "action" of the women, the policemen passed among all the houses of the town and collected the sick and weak. One Jew, Hirschel Kovelkovsky had to bring his 65-year old neighbor, Moshe Kaplan, to the labor camp and the man died on the way. When the women arrived at the labor camp the next day, they no longer found the sick and weak. Lithuanians said they had been sent to Raisen on carriages and had been killed on the way. There were no accurate details in those days.

On September 6, 1941 the hooligan-policemen again burst into the Jewish homes and took away all the children and women who no longer had husbands and led them to "Talmud Torah". Here they were told that a sort of Jewish ghetto would be set up, where mothers and children would be taken care of. Only very few women obeyed and went to the gathering point. Many women fled and hid. On September 8, 1941, the hooligan-policemen searched the homes and gathered all the women who had no husbands to support them. On this day many women who did have providers were also added. Mrs. Polak, for example, who had three daughters working at the labor camp. One of the daughters, Miriam, quickly ran to the leader of the hooligans, Sukatis, and asked him to release her mother. Sukatis demanded 25,000 Rubels as a redemption fee. Miriam and her sisters claimed they only had 15,000 Rubels. Sukatis refused to release their mother who was imprisoned at "Talmud Torah". Miriam then turned to the German Kommandant of the town, and he replied that her efforts were useless. They are all going to work. Having no choice, the three girls went back to labor camp, crying.

On Monday afternoon Hannah was at home with her sister Judith and her two children. Suddenly policeman Kilikovitshus burst into their home with his friend Motzkos and urgently demanded to see their mother. Hannah replied that mother was not at home and that she was ready to come instead. They agreed and asked her to put on a coat. Hannah refused to put on the coat and said "you'll be able to shoot me without a coat too".. . . the hooligans hit Judith on the nose, and she started to cry. At that time her husband Hirschel-Zelig was still working at the labor camp and therefore he was not taken to "Talmud Torah". This time Hannah was spared too.

The next day, September 8, Friedman called Hannah to the labor camp. Friedman promised her no harm would come to her. On the same day the chief of the region (Raisen) arrived with the awful Shokiaitis, and they ordered all the women without husbands to go to work. . . they all burst out in tears. Hannah too bade farewell to her sister Zelda, whose husband was still working at the labor camp. It is believed the order was a reaction to the Polak sisters' denunciation of Shokiaitis and his demands for money. The women were led to "Talmud Torah" and from here they were all taken in the direction of Somlaninko. Farmers with tools joined the hooligans accompanying the women, volunteering to help the policemen. Hannah knew a few farmers from Yurburg and the little town of Skirstamon, from where the Jewish women were also taken.

One of the hooligans from Skirstamon, who knew Hannah, advised her to escape, as the women were led to hard labor . . . Hannah decided not to separate from the women at this stage. After a tiring march of 7 km. on the road, the women were directed towards the town of Tavrig. After another 1/2 km. they arrived at the forest, where they saw large pits that had been dug. It is hard to describe what took place at the forest. The murderers ordered the women to climb on the heaps of earth forthwith. The women panicked. They embraced their children, cried, lamented and swore. The murderers, on their part, started to beat the women with their tools and ordered them to throw the children into the pits. Under the pressure, some women threw their children into the pits and jumped in after them. One woman, Mrs. Perl Badar-Stern, from Yurburg, refused to throw her child into the pit. She went crazy and started to smash the child's head against the tree next to her. All the women screamed and fought the murderers. Then the murderers used their weapons and the battle between the poor women and the inhuman, armed hooligans went on till the bitter end. . . .

During the tumult, a Lithuanian from among the group of murderers, who knew Hannah, went up to her and said: "Run away, you'll catch up with death later". Hannah, who had already considered escaping on the way, immediately decided to run away from the pits of death. It was dark outside already, and it rained now and then. Hannah jumped and disappeared among the trees. They shot at her, but missed their target. . . . Hannah ran away from the place of tragedy and for a long time she heard shots and women's shouts and children's cries. When she grew tired, Hannah sat down on a sawn-off tree trunk to rest. When it grew quiet, and hundreds of women and children had been swallowed up by death - Hannah heard the voicesof the hooligans, quarreling about the loot: watches, rings, jewelry etc. Finally they got drunk and went away. Hannah is convinced that on the part of the Germans, only the Kommandant of the town and one of his assistants, a Wachtmeister, took part in this terrible "action". She does not know who gave the order to fire.

Hannah remained in the forest till early morning, and when she started to walk, she lost her way. When she saw a farm, she went in to ask for a drink of water, but the farmer chased her away. Here the hooligans found and caught her. They decided to kill her, but luckily her Lithuanian acquaintance was among them. He took it upon himself to carry out the murder. The others went away and her Lithuanian acquaintance demanded compensation for saving her life.

He led her to Yurburg as a "prisoner" and took her to her home. In the afternoon the Lithuanian came to fetch his compensation, and Hannah gave him her late father's gold watch.

Hannah returned home, her feet wounded. She needed rest and recovery, but she was unable to find peace. She could not put the terrible sights she had witnessed out of her mind. She told the truth of what had happened to the group of women in the forest to everyone. Not everybody believed her, thinking such barbaric behavior, killing women and children in cold blood, could not be possible. . .

On Thursday September 11,1941 the Lithuanian policemen and their hooligan- helpers again demanded that all the Jews, women and men, present themselves at the labor camp at Labayosh' yard.

On Friday, September 12, 1941, the Lithuanian policemen and their hooligan-helpers searched all the homes and took away all those who were still alive, including the children. The Jews had become indifferent and took the "mobilization" into their stride. The hooligans came to Hannah's home too, and found her mother, Feige-Michal and her sisters. The policeman Walachkos was among the hooligans, he knew Hannah from the previous "action" near the pits in the forest. He wanted to separate Hannah from the others. She refused to go with the policeman, but her family told her to go and, should she remain alive, take revenge on the hooligans. "You must go", her mother told her, even if it means destruction . . . thus her mother and sisters said good-bye to Hannah, with tears in their eyes, following in the path of many others . . . The policeman took Hannah to Labayosh' house and locked her up in a tiny room, on the upper floor of the house. The room contained the clothes of the women who had been taken to the death pits.

Through a small peephole Hannah saw how cruelly the hooligans treated the Jews - men, women and children - the remnants of the Jewish community in Yurburg. The hooligans demanded the Jews hand over money and valuables, such as gold, silver, jewelry etc. The hooligans tortured the poor miserable people, the last Jews in Yurburg. The mob stood outside, close to the place of detention, waiting for the loot .

On Friday September 12, 1941 at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, things came to an end. All the miserable Jews were led on their last journey to the forest, closely guarded by the hooligans. The sobbing children were put on a carriage. Preceded by the carriage, men and women marched in the direction of Somlaninko . . . Hannah saw the dreadful scene from the peephole in the little room where she was imprisoned. She was heartbroken, and on the spot she decided - "To escape! To safe her life!" That same night she forced open the door leading to the roof and climbed down to her freedom. The hooligans were drunk, rejoicing in their victory, and did not pay attention to her.

Hannah roamed through the villages for a number of weeks. Alone, dressed up in farmers' clothes, she decided to go to the Kovno Ghetto. And indeed, on the night of October 27,1941 she reached her goal. In the ghetto she met her sister Chaya Abrahamson, her husband was no longer with her.

The next day - October 28, 1941 - the major "action" took place at the Kovno Ghetto. Hannah was saved and shared the fate of the other Jews of the ghetto. She worked in labor camps and at the time of the evacuation she was sent to Germany, spending time at the Shtutthof and other labor camps. When she was at a camp near Dantzig, Hannah contracted typhus. Many women fell sick here and died. Hannah was lucky, and on March 10, 1945 the Red Army arrived at the camp and took the sick women to the hospital. Hannah recovered and remained in Germany until she went to Israel together with all the other refugees.

*

Hannah goes to Israel. She leaves the Diaspora. Yurburg is no longer. Hannah left behind many graves in Yurburg of her family, and bitter memories of the last days of the unforgettable Yurburg community.

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