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Chapter 6 (cont.)

[Page 415]

The Oppressors - Lewitzkas and Kaminskas

By S. Simonov

Translated by Irene Emodi, Tel Aviv

Justice has a long arm - and even if many years have passed since our community was destroyed - we did not give up nor will we ever give up the wish to see the murderers punished, wherever they may be.

At the end of 1974 I was asked to come to the American Consulate in East Jerusalem to identify, according to pictures, the criminals Lawitzkas and Kaminskas.

In coordination with the Nazi crimes investigation division of the Israeli police, I appeared at the Consulate, however the pictures of old gentiles that were presented to me made it difficult for me to identify the criminals.

At the end of 1974 I received a request from the Israeli police to submit the names and addresses of former residents of Yurburg who would be able to identify the criminals, and so I did. A number of people were called for interviews and the matter was forgotten again.

In October this year I once again turned to the Nazi crimes investigation division of the Israeli police and asked for a report about the matter.

I was told the file had not been closed. As far as they knew, Kaminskas had been traced, brought to trial and a verdict had been issued to deport him from the United States. However, the execution of the verdict was postponed from year to year due to his poor health.

As far as Lawitzkas is concerned, the investigation department has no information yet.

[If anyone has any futher information about these criminals, please communicate with Joel Alpert so that we can add the information to this web page. Jan. 8, 2000]


[Pages 416-418]

The People From Shaodina Were the First to be Executed

By Avraham Laibosh

Translated by Irene Emodi, Tel Aviv

To the martyrs of Shaodina - a faithful tear

True, one might say: thousands of towns and villages in the diaspora were destroyed by the Nazi oppressors, so what difference does another tiny town with 16-18 Jewish families make! The answer is: it does, oh yes it does! Both because of its particularly bitter fate and because of some of its Jews, this little town deserves special mention.

Shaodina was one of the first little towns to be slaughtered, even before the ghettoes, before the gas chambers, before Maidanek and Auschwitz.

The Jews of the little town of Shaodina had a "special privilege" : they were the first to be executed. Perhaps this fate was shared by other little towns in Lithuania that were close to Germany (such as Sudarg and others), but the writer of this article received accurate information only about Shaodina. A week after the Nazi invasion, which took place at the end of June 1941, the Nazis rounded up all the adult Jewish men at the little town in order to, as it were, send them to Shaki. On the way there they were all murdered. Two weeks later all the women of Israel in the town and their little children drank [from] "the cup of poison."*

* According to the version of the Igdalski Mashaki brothers (I met them in Munchen, Germany) and also according to the version of Rachel Bandelin, the men were killed near the town of Shaki on the eleventh of Tamuz 5701(June 6, 1941). The women were killed by the Germans and their faithful Lithuanian helpers, who outdid them in cruelty, on 21 Elul 5701 (September 13, 1941).

Thus they lie there, till today, in two mass graves, close to each other. Who can describe the terror in the eyes of the poor women when they realized the bitter fate of the men! Thus they were murdered and thus they were thrown into mass graves, the Jews of Shaodina, without a tear of pity, without a funeral, without an eulogy, without the prayer for the dead. They died like impure animals and were buried like donkeys.

Among the women who were killed we should mention the devoted mother who at the time had become a legend because of what she did: her only son contracted dyptheria. He would soon suffocate if he did not receive an injection by a physician, but there was no doctor in Shaodina, only on the other side of the Neiman river in Yurburg. It was in the cold days of winter. The Neiman river had just frozen, but was still covered by a thin layer of ice, and no one dared to walk on this thin ice. What did this mother do? She put her sick son on a small winter carriage, and with the rope in her hands she drew the sled over the thin ice, until it reached the safe shore . . .

And among the murdered men was the great father who planted the love of Israel in the heart of his son. This father gave everything to his son, saved every penny, to send him to Zion, to be educated there. This was before World War I when merely a handful of lucky people went to Eretz Yisrael. There was no greater joy to this father than the letters he received from his son in Eretz Yisrael, he would read them six days of the week, and on the seventh day he would read them together with the week's Bible portion.

*

A steamship, that had left Kovna to go to Yurburg, was sailing along the Neiman river. A young, enthusiastic passenger stood on deck, his bright eyes looking in the distance. Here, here, the two towers of the new church of Yurburg appeared on the right side of the river. Here come the parks and houses of Yurburg. Opposite these houses, to the left of the river, there is a broad range of forest. There are large stone houses there with many trees. Those are the buildings of the Kidol estate, Shaodina's neighbor on this side. Closer to the onlooker on the boat large wooden houses become visible - the Kimmel estate, Shaodina's neighbor on the other side. Between these two estates, parallel to the river - broad green pastures in between - the little houses with the thatched roofs of Shaodina continue.

About twenty Jewish families lived in Shaodina at this time (before World War I). The Jews here were no intellectuals, but they were not ignorant either. Neither rich nor poor. Made a living here and there on trade and here and there on farming. There was a synagogue (Kloiz), but the town was too small to be able to keep all the "holy vessels." It was thus satisfied to have its own ritual slaughterer, while it shared the rabbi with Sudarg. And - God forbid - a Jew who died was brought to Sudarg for burial, 8 kms. away from Shaodina..

Only the Neiman river, which is not very wide at this spot, separates Shaodina from Yurburg, but the mental distance with the "Polishe" - as the people in Yurburg would call the Jews of Shaodina - was very great indeed. These were two different worlds. The Jews of Yurburg considered their town (only 5000 inhabitants in all) a metropolis, while the Jews of Shaodina were provincial villagers to them. In addition there were geographical and ethnogaphical differences. Here a Subalak, formerly Poland, peasant, there a peasant from Kovna, Russia. Here they say Mauer Sauer, there : Moier Soier. Here they are plain, stubborn Jews who don't mind eating mutton, especially when it is smoked, there they are spoiled towns people, where there is a law and they would never dare serve warm sandwiches for breakfast. When Lithuania gained independence and the Hebrew Gymnasium was established in Yurburg, used also by the children of Shaodina, many differences were set aside.

Only one of the hundred Jews of Shaodina survived. The houses were not burned or destroyed, but "our homes became the homes of strangers" - Lithuanian gentiles occupied them. I don't know what happened to the "Kloiz" (synagogue), but whether it was occupied and used for another purpose or not, " save me from the insult of the one that remains silent, without anyone coming to celebrate."

Hitler may be credited for not distinguishing between one Jew and another. He directed his poisonous rage at all of them. Only very few Jews from Yurburg and Sudarg survived.


[Pages 419-428]

Last Days in Yurburg and its Surroundings

(The Story of Aba Vals)

By Paz

Translated by Irene Emodi, Tel Aviv

The story of my life in the Nazi hell covers a long period. However, it is well-known that it is the nature of man to forget many things and this applies even more so to someone like myself who has reached a very old age. There are, however, chapters of life that leave such a deep impression on the heart that it is impossible to erase them. I shall never forget what happened to me in the evil years of the Nazi occupation in Lithuania.. Those who were not there and did not feel the physical and mental anguish will not believe our story, for it is beyond comprehension.

When I remember those terrible days, dreadful scenes come to mind, torture and killing. I witnessed the death of our relatives and brothers, the Jews of Yurburg, I witnessed the loss of my family . . .

In the last years before the Holocaust I lived in Yurburg. Jews had lived in Yurburg for many generations - they are there no longer. Jewish Yurburg was destroyed and erased from under the sky of Lithuania.

I was born in the little town of Shaodina. The Neiman river, as is known, separated Shaodina from Yurburg. Although Shaodina belonged to the Shaki region, as the entire area beyond the river, we from Shaodina, considered ourselves as belonging to Yurburg. We were all attached in heart and soul to Yurburg, where we studied and spent the years of our youth.

After World War I Shaodina became quite large, but the number of Jewish inhabitants diminished. Many left, especially the young, who did not see a future there for themselves. Of the hundreds of families that had lived there in the past only about twenty were left when World War II broke out.

The majority of the Shaodina residents were farmers and some dealt in the trades. The tradesmen bought fodder from the farmers, cattle, linen, poultry, eggs etc., and they would sell their goods to the Jewish tradesmen in Yurburg, who dealt in the export of goods to Germany and western Europe.

I remember a number of families in town, among them my brother Meir Vals and his family, and my uncles - Nathan and Leiser Vals, my father's brothers, and also Hirshel and Itzik Goldin. I also remember Ortchik and his wife Ilana, Leibe Meigel, Yankel Bendelin, who was a wholesale tradesman and Meir Pesachson. I remember Meir Feldman, whose daughter Hannah joined the "Hahalutz" movement, went on training and on aliyah to Eretz Yisrael and to the kibbutz. There was the Laibosh family there - Moshe Laibosh, whose son Meir is presently in Israel and works as a pharmacist at "Kupat Holim" (Health Fund); The Moshe Laibosh family was also well-known - their son Zalman, a gifted young man, studied at the Yurburg Gymnasium and Kovna University; he joined the "Habimah" studio while he was still a student and emigrated to Israel. Zalman Laibosh became very well known in Israel as an outstanding actor and famous director in Israel and America.

There were many Zionists in the little town of Shaodina and there was a great love for Eretz Yisrael there. The youngsters studied at Hebrew schools and belonged to pioneer youth movements. The town did not have a rabbi. The Shaodina residents used the rabbi of Sudarg, a little town 8-9 kms. (6 miles) away on the German border. The two towns shared a cemetery. We had a religious slaughterer, called "Rabbi Alter mit die sieben Techter," i.e. Alter with the seven daughters . . . . We also had a prayer house in our little town, but there was hardly a real school. Most children studied at the schools and gymnasium of Yurburg. Indeed, what separated us from Yurburg - only the Neiman river on the ferry. Except for the days when the snow melted, the trade, cultural and social link was never cut off between Shaodina and Yurburg. Many Shaodina residents even settled in Yurburg itself, in fact that is what I did; when the Nazis came I had been a Yurburg resident for quite a while.

My forefathers were Shaodina residents. They were peasants. They had fields, cattle, horses. The land did not disappoint them. I inherited the love of land and animals from my parents. We were very close to nature, rooted in simple farm life, just like all the gentile peasants around us. However, in the last generation people left the town, as mentioned above. The young men wanted to acquire an education, they went to study and did not return to the little town; I also left, after I got married, and I settled in Yurburg, although I still continued the farming business. Three children were born to me in Yurburg - Haim Shlomo, Nathan and Zelda. I was happy with my life, I earned enough and was able to take good care of my family. There was no room for any particular concern. In those days I could not imagine that heavy clouds were already hovering over our sky. Soon our entire way of life changed completely. Disaster hit us like a thunderstorm.

On the evening of June 22, 1941 Hitler's hooligans entered Lithuania. Already in the early hours of the morning airplanes appeared in the sky of Yurburg, immediately followed by the army, there was shock and tumult. People tried to escape to all possible directions. I had a horse and carriage and thought they would save us. As I lived at the outskirts of town I said to myself" I'll run, I'll run" . . . The moment the idea occurred to me I urged my wife, Henya, to put all the things that could be taken along on the carriage. We did everything in a great hurry, put our little children on the carriage, and still in the early hours of the morning I left with my wife and children. We went to the east, to Rassain. The road was difficult and full of vehicles; it was a tiring and exhausting trip, while the terrible enemy was behind us and a narrow path of hope in front of us. However, after a short while, when we reached Shimkaitsh, our hope dissipated.

The Nazi soldiers had arrived there before us; they confronted us, rifles drawn, searched us and our belongings, took a photograph of all of us and sent us back to Yurburg. When we returned tired and depressed to Yurburg we found our house had been taken over by the Germans. After we begged and pleaded, they vacated a space in one of the houses for us and thus we passed the first days, under the patronage of "our German neighbors". We lived in fear and were terrified, yet we had no idea of what would happen to us in the coming days.

A couple of days after the Germans invaded Yurburg, the German hooligans passed along the homes of the Jews, together with their Lithuanian helpers, and took some of the Jews away, according to a list. Later on it transpired that this was aimed at the Jews who were educated and influential among the Jewish population of the town. I also joined this respectable group, which consisted of 520 people. There were 20 in the group who were not Jewish, communist leaders, who had ruled Lithuania for over a year. This group of people were led to the Jewish cemetery by the German soldiers and their Lithuanian guides. Here we were told to form into groups and dig deep holes. The work was hard and we were very depressed. It is impossible to describe what went on there. I immediately understood what to expect in this place. I don't know how, but I suddenly got the idea and decided to rebel - "to be saved, to hang on to life." I saw a piece of double land in front of me with a deep decline behind it and a steep slope. I quickly threw myself onto the ground and rolled myself into the deep abyss, which went down to the Neiman river. After a few seconds I saw myself hurt and beaten, but all alone, and far from the place of evil. I gathered my last strength and got up. "Where should I go?" In front of me was the slowly flowing Neiman river, cows in the meadows and fields in the distance. I decided to hide in the corn fields. The moment I started on my way I found a horse-shoe. I took the horse-shoe into my hand and put it next to my heart, perhaps, I said to myself, this is a sign that I shall be able to survive. Our forefathers were superstitious and believed the horse-shoe is a sign of luck and success . . . who knows? - at that moment the horse-shoe lifted my spirits and gave me hope that I would be able to reach my home and see my wife and children. Thus I continued on my way. I climbed mountains and went down valleys until I reached the area where I lived. On the way shepherds and peasants told me what had happened to the group of Jews at the cemetery. Their story came as no surprise to me. I knew their fate would be bitter. I was told that Dr. Karlinksy delivered a speech at the cemetery, before he died, he spoke out against the murderous Nazis, instigating those condemned to death. As far as I know I am the only survivor of this group.

When I approached the garden of my home I saw my wife from afar; I was sure that I had reached my goal. However, this was not the case. All of a sudden two Lithuanian Shaulists blocked my way, grabbed me and ordered me to follow them to the police station. I begged them to let me spend the night at home and promised I would present myself at the police station the next morning. However, I failed. "Anyhow" - one of them said - "you are about to die, so what difference does it make to sleep one more night at home." However, one Shaulist almost granted me my request; I saw that my pleading had aroused his pity, but the other one was as hard as stone. He had murder in his eyes. In short, I was taken to the police. My wife and children remained at home and were certainly waiting for me. We all passed a sleepless night.

Thus, after all the hurdles I had overcome that day I walked/crawled with the last force left in me, while the Shaulists urged me along, swearing and hitting me all the way. The police commander sent me to prison. At the prison I found 46 Jews. I was number forty seven. They say that it is possible to find solace in sharing one's troubles with others. It was no solace to me to find so many Jews at the prison, yet I cheered up somewhat - perhaps I would be lucky this time too. After a while the order was received to take us to the Laibosh courtyard on Rassain street. We were unaware of the reason for this and did not know what to expect. In the evening a German officer came, accompanied by a Lithuanian policeman, and told us to line up in the courtyard. We were divided into two groups: old men on one side and healthy young men on the other side. The old men were allowed to go to sleep at home. They were told unequivocally that if they failed to return next morning all the young men, who remained at the Laibosh courtyard, would be shot. Thus I too remained at the Laibosh home to spend the night there with the young men. We found a place for ourselves somehow in the home and courtyard, where we were guarded. Shmerl Bernstein, who was the manager of the bank in our little town, was put in charge of our group which included about forty people. We passed a terrible night. Everyone tried to guess what would happen to us. We each crouched in our little corner and took stock of our life; the night passed without much sleep until the sun rose at daybreak. The old men returned from their homes, one after another. They looked sad, as if they knew the end was near. After a while the Germans and Lithuanian Shaulists came, counted the old men, making sure none of them was missing. Immediately the order was issued to take the group of old men out of the courtyard and beyond.

We still saw them dragging their feet, we could still hear their sighs and saw them taking a last look at those left behind and at the streets of Yurburg where they had grown up, lived, raised children, grown old - and now the bitter end had come . . .they went on their way, and, as we heard from Lithuanian acquaintances, they were taken to the Shimkaitz forest where they were shot. To this very day their graves are nowhere to be found.

The group of young men that remained in the courtyard was divided into two units. I too was placed with one of these units. We were taken to the Neiman river, where we were ordered to load stones on to steamships, while the policemen and the oppressors stood over us and urged us coarsely and cruelly along. The loading went on for three days. It was hard labor. We received prison fare - but we accepted our verdict. We said to ourselves: " as long as it doesn't get worse". All those days when I was loading the stones I was thinking how to escape and run far away beyond the hills of darkness, in order to disappear from the eyes of the murderers. However, I knew this was an idle dream. One day, already at the end of the stone loading, I went up to the German officer who was guarding us and told him that I was a peasant, a farmer, and that if I did not reap the harvest everyone would go hungry, and that that was more important than the slave labor I was carrying out here. The officer asked a gentile Lithuanian to corroborate my words that I really had a farm. To my joy, the Lithuanian testified in my favor. That is how I received a certificate from the police, at the orders of the German officer, that released me for a month. My joy, of course, knew no bounds. I went home with the passport to salvation in my pocket, free for a month . . . .

The next day, early in the morning, I went to the Neiman river in order to cross the river on the ferry to Shaodina. Near the Neiman river I found a Jew who had been ordered to set up a booth for a guard. He had been given wooden boards, but he did not have a saw or tools. I helped him a little, as far as I could, and I went to my parents' home in Shaodina. And here, imagine how pleasantly surprised I was, I found my mother at home, my sister and all the other members of my family, healthy and well. I can't tell you how happy we were; here I am, sitting at home, my childhood home, among my family, while outside the evil wind of Hitlerism is blowing and the sword is poised. Many Jews of Shaodina had been taken out of their homes and taken in the direction of Shaki. Noone knows what happened to them. There was a great deal of fear. Everyone was counting their last days and hours.

However, let's cross that bridge when we come to it. In the meantime I was enjoying my long "holiday". During the day I did not work at all. "Who cared about the fields?" - a sword was hanging over our heads. I went into the fields, looked for a place to hide from the Germans and Shaulists and in the evening I crossed the Neiman river on the ferry and went to my home and family in Yurburg. Each time I heard terrible news there, which depressed me. After a month I received an extension of another month; "was I an important and useful man?. . ." I deceived them as far as I could, that was my only weapon . . . .

In those days I received the terrible news that the women and children of Yurburg had already been taken out of their homes and led to the forest . . . from the Lithuanians I heard about their bitter end and about the tragic fate of my wife and children. I find it hard to believe the terrible testimony about the crimes committed by the Lithuanians, the Nazis' helpers, how could they . . . how could they murder women and children in cold blood, weeping babies ... and throw them all into a hole . . .I can hear their voices deafening my ears . . . how? . . . how?

I remained alone, the only one of my small family to survive. There was nothing left for me in Yurburg. Yurburg without Jews did not exist for me. My world had fallen apart. However, the urge to live is apparently stronger than man. I recovered from the blows of destiny and the suffering of Job. Now I only felt the instinct of wrath.

One day I was summoned to the police. I understood the end had come. I had to think of a way to save myself this time too. Until now I had managed to outwit them, but what would happen now. Perhaps someone had denounced me? Could that be true? Until now I had been lucky, had my luck run out now?

And then, at the very time when I was deliberating, an idea struck me. I shall not go to the police of Yurburg, what do I have to do with Yurburg, what is it to me? Those who hate me are there, those who murdered my family - I shall run away, I shall not surrender, I want to live. Perhaps I would do well to run to my mother and my relatives who are still in Shaodina. When the Germans find out that I don't have any fields or gardens and that I lied to them all along, they will kill me, for they are murderers. I can still hear the cries of the old men, women and children they murdered and whose skulls they crushed - and now they want to do the same to me. No, I said to myself, they won't be so lucky.

I shall not be a slave to you or fall victim to wild, blood-thirsty animals. I must escape, immediately, but where to? Where shall I go - certainly not to Yurburg, that is clear. Nor will I go to Shaodina. I remembered that nor far away, in this area, I knew a gentile, who was a frequent guest at our house. I knew him and trusted him. I somehow got to him. Yes, he knew me. He did not ignore me, although I saw he was full of fear. At the home of this farmer I hid for seven days. I ate of his bread and drank of his water. I might have remained with my Lithuanian acquaintance longer, but something happened. Close by, almost next door, the Jew called Moshke Yokas was caught. He too had hidden with a Lithuanian farmer. The Germans and Lithuanians arrested him and shot him on the spot, and after that they also shot the gentile who had helped him. This news spread to the entire village and to other villages as well. From now on no one dared harbor a Jew under his roof, it was too risky, and the local population was not too fond of Jews anyhow. Many now found an opportunity, under the German occupation, to take revenge on the Jews whom they had hated for a long time.

When it became known that the Lithuanian farmer had been killed for hiding the Jew, my benefactor said to me "I am very sorry, you must leave, for if they find out they will kill me . . . " Outside it was winter. It had snowed and it was ice cold. "Where shall I go?" - tears welled up in my eyes - "where can I go?" The farmer saw how I felt and understood my tragic position, that I was homeless and was being thrown out of the house like a dog. He took pity, got up and said : "go to my father in law -he is a Lithuanian farmer of German origin, no one will suspect him - go to him, tell him I sent you, and you'll be able to stay with him for a couple of days." That is what I did. However, it did not take long before I saw that he disapproved of me and I was afraid he might hurt me. One day he said to me: " why fall victim to those who want to kill you, why don't you just go through the gate of the yard and take your own life there . . . that is your only choice." I told him : "if I really have to die I shall not die here, and be devoured by the wild animals of the forest, I prefer to go to the Jewish cemetery, dig a hole for myself and be buried on the land of my fathers." As it was night, I asked for permission to sleep on the attic for one more night before I would leave. The gentile showed signs of nervousness and I felt he was planning to kill me. I climbed to the attic, but I could not close my eyes, I was afraid of my hosts' evil schemes. I was already experienced in those days. I knew to distinguish between one person and another.

After I had tossed about for an hour, unable to fall asleep, I made a small hole in the straw that covered the roof, and went outside, leaving the farmer's house far behind. All night long I trampled on the snow, while my legs froze and my head was spinning. I reached Papushok, a scarcely populated village, on the way to Shaki, about ten kms. (6 miles) away from Shaodina. I knew the angel of death was waiting for me. . . . Until today I don't know how I managed to get through those difficult days and arrive here. Till I die I won't know. However, I knew one thing - that I was determined to overcome the difficulties and stay alive and witness the downfall of our people's enemy and my family's murderers. This hope kept up my spirit and helped me overcome the hardship and sufferings.

It was morning. At the home of a farmer I saw that the door of the stable was open. I went in, the farmer saw me and was startled. I knew him and he knew me too. His wife also came to take a look at me. He told me the Jews here were in great danger. And he also told me that Laibosh from Shaodina had been caught and had been killed here in this area. I started to cry. I had no energy left and I did not have the strength to go any further. If I had to die in this stable then let this be my grave . . .

When the farmer saw how miserable I was, he took pity. He ordered his wife to bring me some bread and butter to cheer me up. Once I had eaten I no longer had the strength to get up, but the farmer said : "go into the home, never mind what happens. I am not afraid of those who live in my home, they won't tell anyone, for another Jew is hiding in my home." This was a simple, poor peasant, who barely made a living from the plot of land and the animals he had. In winter he would be a shoemaker, would stitch one patch to another, for anyone who asked. That was the source on which he barely made a living , particularly in those difficult days, when everyone was hungry. The German conquerors starved and humiliated the population, for they took the Lithuanian harvest to the front. "My" farmer was unable to understand how so many Lithuanians cooperated with the Germans and helped them.

In short: the farmer with whom I found my home, was my true benefactor. He arranged a place for me on the attic where I spent - who would believe it? - three and a half years. The farmer shared his food with me. Often the members of his family would go hungry and I was one of them. He had one condition. "If you hear my dogs barking, be aware they may search my house. If so, run away, my friend, don't bring disaster on me."

Luckily, there were Germans who needed shoe repairs and used the farmer who was a shoemaker. However, they had no idea that on the attic, in bundles of straw, a Jew was hiding, poor fellow. . . .

My life at the farmer's home was boring, each day resembled the next. The days and nights were very long, endless. It is impossible to convey the thoughts that tortured me and weakened my strength to face the hardship and suffering.

One day I found a cyrstal radio that was equipped with earphones. I barely managed to hear the news from a distance. Each day the Germans would enthrall the Lithuanian population with stories about the German army's heroic victories on all fronts. And here, on that same day, I heard that the German divisions had been beaten in battle and fallen into Russian custody. This was encouraging news, from that moment I felt that Hitler's days were counted and that the murderer would end on the gallows. From that moment I felt some relief in my sorrow.

One day - it is hard to believe - we were free. The enemy had been beaten and dealt a mortal blow. Now I was free to go, could breathe fresh air, enjoy the warmth of the sun - yes, yes, I - the survivor - who had lived through the terrible Holocaust- could leave my place of hiding and . . .go, go, go...

-"Where to go, where shall I go?"

And then, without a minute's hesitation, I took the decision:

"I shall not return to Yurburg or to Shaodina! Those places - without the Jews- mean nothing to me." . . .

*

I got up and went to look for other survivors . . .I wanted to find my fellow Jews, and I found them - very few in Kovna and many more in Vilna. I decided to settle in Vilna which was now the capital of Lithuania, under the Soviet regime. I also found work which came as a great blessing. From the physical point of view my life was not particularly difficult. It was difficult, though, to forget what our enemies and prosecutors had done to us. The shadow of the terrible Holocaust haunted me and my soul found no rest. That went on for a long time. Then I understood my place was not here among the whispering ashes of my dear ones. I was the only one left of my family and the Jewish community - what was I doing here? . ..

In those days my dreams were taking me to our country, the country of the Jews, Eretz Yisrael, which had come alive again, after two thousand years of exile. I asked the Lithuanian-Soviet authorities to allow me to leave Lithuania, in order to emigrate to Israel but they refused. I asked them again a number of times. I did not give up. Only in 1967 I received permission to leave Lithuania. I went on aliyah and Israel has been my home since.

I am very happy to live among my people with the family I was lucky enough to establish after the years of the terrible Holocaust.

All we need is health, the health to go on living in our beautiful country, the land of our dreams, in revenge on the beastly murderers of our people.


[Pages 429-437]

A Group of "Yurburgers" in the Forest

Eye-witness account by Yehuda Tarshish, a Survivor of the Partisans

Edited by Z. Poran

Translated by Irene Emodi, Tel Aviv

At the end of World War II, one of the most cruel wars ever to take place, what was to be expected indeed happened to Nazi Germany. Hitler's army was defeated. Fascism proved to be a total failure. The people of Europe felt relieved, after their desperate battle against German vandalism aiming to destroy them. A period of recuperation and renewal started - the time had come to rebuild and create a world free of fear of persecution and force. Such was the world and thus were all the people of Europe who had known much suffering. However matters were different for the people of Israel, dispersed and exiled all over Europe. They had come out of the horrible battle bruised and wounded. A few were left here and there, one in a village, two in a family. They were unable to rebuild their ruined communities on the soil that was drenched with the blood of their dear ones. As soon as the war was over, therefore, the Holocaust survivors started to move towards Eretz Yisrael, the shelter of those who longed for national salvation and human dignity.

One of those survivors on Lithuanian soil arrived at a safe haven at the end of the war, after he had gone through many difficult experiences at the Kovna ghetto and Yurburg forests. His name was Yehuda (Yudel) Tarshish, who presently lives in Tel Aviv, and he is a survivor of the group that lived in the forests and was called "The Yurburgers". Some of them were a nucleus of Jews from Yurburg (11 men and women under the leadership of Antanas {Moshe}), others were Jews who had come to the forest from various places, among them the Salvodka ghetto, to join small units that fought against the enemy.

Prof. Dov Levin [Hebrew University], the famous Holocaust researcher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, talked to Yehuda Tarshish, and we found important testimony in his words regarding the fate of the survivors from Yurburg and its surroundings, who went to the forests to fight for their physical safety and take revenge on the enemy who had destroyed their families and community. Furthermore: the Jewish nucleus from Yurburg maintained a connection with the Kovna ghetto, by special envoy, and took tens of imprisoned Jews who were in distress out of the ghetto.

We thought it important to present Yehuda Tarshish's words as an eye- witness account of the courageous survivors from Yurburg and others in the forests surrounding the town. In the end most of them were defeated and fell in the battle in the Yurburg area and their place of burial is unknown. It is a terrible story with a bitter, tragic end.

*

. . . .At the Kovna ghetto (Salvodka) - says Yehuda Tarshish - I was known as a brave guy, who would come and go through the fence that surrounded the ghetto, without a yellow patch and without a Star of David, i.e. without "Lates". A Haz (rabbit) - they were called. Armed with a gun I would cross the ghetto fence in order to smuggle in food and arms from the outside.

In March 1944, after the children's "Aktia" (Action) acquaintances from the ghetto approached me and asked me to help them get to "Inkaras", a rubber factory 5-6 kms. away from the Salvodka ghetto. They wanted me to lead them there in order to reach the Yurburg forests from there. I agreed at once.

In those days I also transferred little children from the ghetto to the Lithuanian orphanage called "Lafshialis". An old woman worked at this orphanage and she would receive the children from me. She was particularly interested in little girls. Once a baby who I was about to transfer to the orphanage was given an injection to make him fall asleep before I would take him out of the ghetto so that he would not cry when I crossed the fence. I put the baby in a bag at an agreed-upon spot near the back door of the orphanage, and when I came next day and brought another bag of sleeping children, the old women told me the child had died. Apparently he had received an overdose.

Those who approached me regarding their transfer to "Inkaras" were in contact with someone called Feinstein. He was a "Brigadir" at the ghetto, i.e. in charge of those leaving on forced labor outside the ghetto. This Feinstein had two brothers in the forests near Yurburg. The Feinstein brothers were quite familiar with the area for they had been born there. Before the war they owned a sawing workshop [sawmill] (Zagwerk). They spent three years in the forest, armed with Russian sub-machine guns and other weapons; they inspired fear in the Lithuanians who inhabited the villages and received them at their homes.

When they heard that the Russian army was approaching Lithuania and that the war would soon be over, they asked Jews be removed from the Kovna ghetto and be concentrated in the forests until the war was over. In one of the villages a woman lived who was a convert and wanted to reconvert. This woman risked her life to bring a big ship to the Vilya river front near "Inkaras". But - how does one leave the ghetto?- I of course had almost free passage to get out of the ghetto, for I knew the militia (Lithuanian police) whose guard-post was near the Christian cemetery. Here a few policemen stood guard and in return for money they would turn a blind eye, so that one evening I could take about thirty people out of the ghetto. I often bought arms from these policemen, mainly rifles. I would dismantle the rifle butts and smuggle them into the ghetto for self defense and for those who were about to join the "Partisanka" in the forests.

I knew the way to "Inkaras" very well, so that I was able to lead those who went to the forest without a problem. We left in the early evening hours and arrived at the boat at midnight. Here the converted woman was waiting for us and she agreed to let me be one of the sailors, although I was not on the list of those going to the forest.

My mother and two sisters remained at the ghetto, they did not know the secret of my going to the forest. My father was killed in 1941, the moment the Germans entered Lithuania.

All those who went to the forest had money to buy food, and light arms mainly. As far as I remember the Beck brothers were with us (Hirshke and Shlomke), Moshke Levin, Fein, the butcher, and other men who possessed arms. The group comprised 15 men and 12 women, 2 young women among them.

The members of the group crowded on the bottom of the ship. It was a foggy night. We flowed along the stream of the Vilya which joins the Neiman river near "Hashlas", the old fortress of Kovna. We were headed for the Yurburg area. We went down stream at a speed of 10 kilometers per hour. I rowed. It was a quiet night, but all of a sudden - an unpleasant surprise: we ran into a steamship. . . We heard Lithuanian songs and German voices as well. Apparently they were policemen and soldiers. They were heading towards Kovna and we were heading towards Yurburg. We immediately covered all the passengers with canvas, and we tried to get as far away as possible from the boat. The converted woman beckoned to me to go on rowing quickly - and if questions would be asked - only she would answer, for she spoke Lithuanian fluently, like a true gentile. I wore a light peasant coat, so that it was impossible to recognize me as a Jew. It was a fishing boat which had space for forty people. We advanced slowly to our destiny. It was clear to all of us that many surprises lay in stock for us. We had therefore taken along arms to defend ourselves. All those who went to the forest knew they would live the life of "Partisanka" in the forest, under the command of the Feinstein brothers, who were experienced in the life of the forest. We were prepared for this.

The plan was to accommodate the women and children at peasants' homes, while the men and young women would be organized into guard groups. It was explained to us that the Feinstein brothers planned to concentrate 200 to 250 men of army age, armed, in the forest to form a fighting force. They also planned to "absorb" people who had been trained at Haim Yelin (communists) organizations and the Zionist movements. Till now there had been no contact between the Feinstein brothers and these organizations, except for the connection the converted woman maintained with the ghetto once in a couple of months.

After hours of energetic and exhausting rowing all night - we arrived at the Shtaki shore in the morning, not far from Yurburg. A few terrifying surprises awaited us on the way, but the important thing is that we arrived at our destination, although here another unpleasant surprise was waiting for us.

This is what happened. We went down to the beach and hid among bushes growing on the sand dunes, not far from the Neiman river. It had been agreed that a Lithuanian would wait for us on the beach; however, apparently we were mistaken. The converted woman went to look for the Lithuanian, and it took two hours before she finally returned with him. The Lithuanian's name was Kazis. The Feinstein brothers had promised him payment for his efforts and had assured him that once the war was over he would receive a lot of money, as all those who were coming were wealthy people from Kovna who had homes and a lot of property. . .

Kazis led us to the nearby forest and he himself went to look for food. The promise was kept. A couple of hours later he came, bringing along bread, butter and all sorts of porridge on his wagon. We rested and waited for nightfall, getting organized under field conditions. The Feinstein brothers came and issued orders - which we obeyed. The women and children were accommodated at peasants' homes and the men were divided into two groups that would operate in the forest. I was put in charge of one group. In addition to the Feinstein brothers we knew another Jewish commander in the forest, nicknamed Antanas. Antanas' family was killed by the Lithuanians and Germans.

He himself had escaped and roamed the forests, armed from head to toe. I was given the nickname Waladas, for everyone here had a nickname. I was given a F.N. gun, made in Belgium with a Lithuanian emblem. The gun came with thirty 9 mm. bullets.

A couple of days later we were introduced to an officer, a Russian pilot, via Antanas. At a special roll-call we were told that the pilot's plane had been downed over Yurburg, and Antanas had found him in the forest. He was a senior lieutenant who had been decorated. We were sure we would hear details from him about what was going on at the front and we very disappointed when we heard nothing new. About 30-40 armed men took place in this meeting, but the Lithuanians in the area who observed us were convinced we were a military force of hundreds of men. They were afraid of us and even the Lithuanian policemen in the villages avoided entering the forest area.

That evening people were appointed to special functions, such as food supply, guarding the camp and sabotage. In those days we went onto the roads and attacked German vehicles.

Others went on procurement missions, i.e. to obtain food in the Lithuanian villages, particularly from those about whom we knew they cooperated with the enemy. Once we even had to shoot a Lithuanian, who cooperated with the Germans, for refusing to hand over a few cows.

Most actions were planned by Antanas (Moshe), he was a serious, poised man, a well-known war hero and all the Lithuanians were afraid of him. He was familiar with the Yurburg area and spoke Lithuanian like a gentile, although his dark face revealed his origins.

In the Lithuanian War of Independence (1918) he was a "Savanaris" - a volunteer in the Lithuanian army. The Feinsteins also followed his orders without question, and so did the officer, the Russian pilot.

In the summer of 1944 another 15 men arrived from the Kovna ghetto. The ghetto was about to be totally liquidated. When they learned about our group in the forest around Yurburg a few managed to escape from the ghetto and came to us on foot - a 70-80 kms. (a;bout 50 miles) walk - in spite of the hurdles and risks on the way. In those days it was planned to take hundreds of people out of the ghetto, in spite of our limited ability to accommodate them under forest conditions. Unfortunately, the ghetto was liquidated within a week. The soldiers on the Russian-Lithuanian front advanced and arrived at Rassain. The Lithuanian division that took part in the conquest of Zamatias, was already at the front. Most of the soldiers in this division were Jewish and the Russians and Lithuanians formed a minority here. Among them was Wolf Vilensky, the well-known general who earned the title "Hero of the Soviet Union.".

The horror stories of the Kovna ghetto survivors enticed us to take a course of action aimed at preventing the enemy from carrying out his plans and beat him. We were 75 men in total. Half of them had some kind of weapon - rifles, sub-machines, pistols and grenades. We were an independent unit. We came into contact with a Partisan battalion (Atriad) only once. They had come from the Rodniki forest and were advancing towards Yurburg, there were Jews among them. They wanted to strike at the enemy's back. They were armed with heavy Soviet machine guns.

We wanted to join them but they refused, thus we were forced to continue to operate against the German troops on our own, in the area where we were, to hinder their movement and avenge the Jewish people. It is superfluous to point out that the fire of wrath burned in all of us and we were always ready to volunteer for the most dangerous actions.

The security situation in the forest grew worse by the day. Therefore all the people from Yurburg were divided into two groups - one counted 30 people and the other 40. The Feinstein brothers and I were appointed to head one group, while Antanas and the officer-the Russian pilot - led the other group.

Bunkers were dug in the forest for both groups, although this was done without an adequate engineering plan. Each bunker had one entrance and exit and this proved to be a serious pitfall. We equipped the bunkers with water, which we filtered through bed sheets.

One night we encountered two soldiers. We were sure they were Germans, but they spoke Russian and told us they were Latvians who had deserted from the German army. They said that in Latvia they had been forced to enlist and they were now ready to join the Partisans against the German army. We wondered whether to believe them - it was well-known that there were many murderers among the Latvians who cooperated with the Germans. We had a difference of opinion, but in the end we took pity on them. Jews are known for their compassion and therefore the warm Jewish heart is incapable of killing, in spite of the doubts we felt. Some, among them the officer- the Russian pilot- thought that we might learn details about the front from them and about the German movements in the areas near us. In short: after we put them to some sort of test - we accepted them amongst us. One of them was called Volodia and the other Mishka. Antanas ordered they be transferred to my bunker, and that is what I did. After they were interrogated we found out that they had indeed been Latvian "Partisans" in the past and had taken part in the liquidation of Jews in the Riga ghetto, at the order of the Germans. They also spoke about the coming German strategy on the front, about the communication trenches, lighting devices, barbed-wire fences, mine fields etc. Some of us offered the idea of breaking through the German front and joining the Soviet army, others rejected this idea. When we saw that the Germans reinforced their troops and brought a lot of ammunition and stoves for the winter to the forest - we decided to try to break through the front together with the Latvians and cross over to the Soviet fighters.

Both the Russian officer-pilot and the Feinsteins volunteered to be among those who would break through the front. Thus we left, ten of us, to a post opposite the enemy's positions. We saw the change of guard in the German communication trenches. We left the Latvians and the Russian officer behind, for good reason. . . we heard the exchange of fire between the Germans and the Russians. Someone from the communication trench switched on a torch.

All of a sudden the two Latvians jumped up and started to run, shouting, towards the communication trenches, presuming we would all follow. The Germans started to shoot and to shout "Halt!" (Stop). "Halt!" - but we did not run. One of the Latvians (Mishka) was wounded in the foot and we turned back and ran away.

The Germans ran after us, shooting all the while, but they were unable to catch up with us in the dark of night. When we sat down to rest , exhausted, we saw the two Latvians come close, one of them limping and leaning on his friend's shoulder. We tied up the injured man's leg and informed Lantanas about what had happened.

We passed a quiet night. In the morning, at about ten o'clock, a group of military policemen of the German field police suddenly appeared. The armed policemen took up position close to us and aimed their rifles at us. The moment I saw them I shouted at the top of my voice to Feinstein - "Yurgis Pazurak!" - i.e. "Look Yurgis, look!" We immediately understood that we were lost. We opened fire, but they outnumbered us and surrounded us on all sides. We saw them face to face from a 15 meters (50 feet) distance. A doctor or medic stood out among them. They did not enter into battle with us, but allowed us to escape, although they ran after us with their trained dogs. We shot at them and they returned fire. Thus, running and exchanging fire, we ran about 5 kms. from the bunker. We managed to pass from one part of the forest to another. When the shooting died down and there was no sign left of the Germans, we sat down to rest among the bushes - when suddenly we heard the noise of shots and explosions. We knew that our force inside the bunker had grenades, and they probably used them against the Germans. In truth, we were just guessing. Our heart was beating strongly but our force was too weak to help. Only later did we learn about the bitter fate of the bunker from a young woman called Frieda. Without this Frieda those who were in the bunker would have taken their secret with them to the grave. Genia Angel was saved from the second bunker and she too is a witness who survived.

The following is Frieda's story. First of all, it immediately became clear that the two Latvians were part of the German field force. As they managed to fool us and became well acquainted with our bunkers and everything concerning them, they passed this information on to the Germans. The Germans approached the opening, assisted by the Latvians, and one of them issued the order - "Ihr geht mahl raus. Wenn nicht, schmeisse Ich meine Grenaten herein!" (If you don't come out I'll throw the grenades inside) Those inside the bunker did not surrender. They opened fire from within. The exchange of fire went on for a while.

Those inside the bunker had the disadvantage. The Germans came slowly closer to the opening of the bunker and threw the grenades inside. Some were killed instantly, others were mortally wounded - their legs were torn off, hands and other parts of their body. It is impossible to describe the horrendous scene inside the bunker. . . .finally all those who were still alive surrendered.

Outside the Germans lined them up in rows and searched them for money and other valuables. Some Germans even went down into the bunker in order to find loot there.

Frieda too was standing in the row, she asked the German medic to allow her to step aside "for personal needs" due to her illness. The medic consented. When Frieda went a short distance away from the row and started to carry out "her personal needs" the medic turned his face away for a moment, probably out of embarrassment. When Frieda noticed this, she drew forth her courage and quickly started to run away. The medic drew his gun and shot at her. The bullet hit the top of her finger, covering her hand in blood, but Frieda overcame the pain and continued to run as fast as she could, in a kind of amok, until she found a place of hiding in the woods. That is how Frieda was saved - the only one of those who were in the bunker. The others were led, heavily guarded, to Yurburg, where according to testimony by the Lithuanians, they were all cruelly murdered. They took the bitter truth with them to their graves.

At night our group of guards decided to return to the bunker to see what had happened to those who were inside. We walked silently along, in the darkness of night, and approached the bunker - the horror scene became immediately clear - even the devil had not yet thought of this - heads, legs, hands and body parts that were impossible to identify, covered in blood and mire. We were only able to identify the leg of our doctor Mordehai (Mottel) Aharonson by the color of his pants . . . it was terrible . . . awful and terrible. . . .

Shocked we climbed out of the bunker into the open air, depressed and in despair. "What shall we do now?" - How can we go on ?" - One of us got up and said that if everyone was dead there was no sense to our lives any longer: "Let's commit suicide!" - Some were inclined to accept this idea. But I, the youngest of the commanders, said: "If they killed everybody - we have nothing to lose, we will get up and avenge their blood. . ." After a long moment of silence and many deliberations, my proposal was accepted.

However, if at that moment someone would have drawn a gun and shot, everyone would have committed suicide and nothing would have been left of any of us . . . .the fate of the second bunker would have been the same as the fate of our bunker. Those who remained alive there were led to Yurburg where, as mentioned above, they were shot.

When we had drunk the cup of poison down to its last drop, we decided to accept the Feinstein's advise and go to Yurburg. Here the Feinstein brothers knew a Lithuanian, an old acquaintance, who lived near Yurburg. We hoped we would find shelter there and would perhaps even manage to pay back the murderers in kind. We gathered food and arms - someone still had a few gold rubles left and we went ahead. We walked the whole night and towards morning we arrived, tired and exhausted at the home of the gentile who lived at the entrance to Yurburg. The Feinsteins knew him well. At first the gentile was alarmed, but when he saw his old friends, the Feinsteins, he started to kiss them . . . it was a rather forced sceme, but that was unavoidable under the circumstances. In short: he received a few golden rubles and became very friendly . . .

We found temporary refuge in the gentile's barn under the bundles of fodder. Once Germans came to the gentile's home and looked into the barn, but this time we were lucky and they did not find us. As time passed, we witnessed exchanges of fire between German soldiers and the Soviets in Yurburg and its surroundings.

One day our patience came to an end. We decided to break out of our quarantine and go to the Russian front. That is what we did. After many risks and hurdles we encountered a Soviet reconnaissance platoon. The Russians asked us: "Who are you?" - and we answered "Partizans." They immediately disarmed us, took off our watches and boots . . .we had nothing left. When we complained they said "Wai Yavarai Pomogli Neimzan"- i.e. "You, Jews, helped the Germans." They intended to blame the Jews for having worked at the forced labor camps of the Germans, thereby strengthening the enemy.

Our attempts to explain that the Jews who had been imprisoned in the ghettoes had been forced to work under threat, failed . . . the Russian soldiers were stubborn and did not listen.

The unexpected disappointment came soon enough. Only when we met a Jewish officer did we get back our boots, thanks to his swift intervention. The watches were no longer to be found and the weapons were no longer needed.

In the end we received certificates (a piece of paper) that we were Partisans and entitled to go to liberated Kovna. The Feinstein brothers decided to remain to receive back their property - while we three - Fein, Konichovsky and I - went to Kovna.

In Kovna we found total chaos. We had trouble finding a Jew who took us into his miserable home. We saw the destruction and ruined life of the few Jews who had survived and been absorbed by the town, most of them had already packed their suitcase in order to leave the valley of death as soon as possible. They all wanted to leave and not remain in the valley of tears. They were looking towards Eretz Yisrael, of course, but how to escape from here? Though I longed to leave Lithuania, I had a strong urge to settle accounts with the murderers of my family and relatives. On my way "there" I joined those who fought against our people's enemy inside Germany, and as a former investigating judge of Nazis I took a great deal of revenge - our revenge on the Germans.

From the murderous land of Germany I arrived after many events in my own country, to build and be built by it.

Monument to Remember the Murdered Heroes: " In this place on August 12, 1941 were murdered 28 children, 19 of their mothers and one man by the German fascists and the Lithuanians ....." ------- Standing alongside the monument is Aba Valt and his wife Miriam, who built the monument (???) ------

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