My mother was relatively young when she died in 1939. My father, Menachem Mendel, was murdered together with all of the other Jews of Kelem. May their memories be a blessing
With the outbreak of the war, I, along with sixteen other Yeshiva students, succeeded in escaping to the Soviet Union. Among us was Rabbi Karanovitz. In 1943, I was drafted into the Red Army. In December, 1945, I deserted the army at the end of the war and joined up with a group which was planning to immigrate illegally to Israel. This whole group was arrested by the KGB on the way to the Polish border. We expected the death penalty. Suddenly, I thought of a great alibi. I gave them a false name, place of birth, date of birth, and other false information. Yitzak Levinski became Avraham Tchernichovski, born 1922 in Lodz. I also invented stories about my fictitious stay in the Lodz Ghetto and in the concentration; camps of Dachau and Shtuthof. Under that false name, I was freed and stayed to live in Lithuania until 1971. I came to Israel in that year. Here in Israel, I did not change my new name and remained Avraham Tchernichovski. All the same, in my heart, I still am Yitzak Levinski, the son of Shaneh and Menachem Mendel Levinski zl, my dear parents, who gave me life and raised me to joy and to the keeping of the commandments.
I started a family and have children and grandchildren. I live in Haifa in Israel.
Not many days had past when the Lithuanian nationalists decided to eliminate all the Jews of Shaukenai. They took all of the belongings of the Jews from them and put them in a large barn which belonged to a wealthy Jew. My family and myself were in the barn, together with all of the others. The children, up to the age of thirteen were, separated from their parents and were placed in a house. I, also, succeeded in entering that house with the other children. I believed that there I could help my sister with her infant, but that was not to be.
Suddenly, there appeared a Lithuanian with a white band on his arm. He was one of their activists. He called me to leave the house with him and follow after him. I did not understand the meaning of all this, but I did as he said. We passed through a forest and reached the house of a peasant woman. He ordered me to stay at the house and then left. I must say that while on the road, he never treated me badly or did me any harm. I don't know why that man wanted to save me, in particular. Possibly it can be attributed to his sense of pity for a poor girl like myself. I have no answer to that question until this very day.
The woman with whom I was left immediately discovered that I possessed two gold watches and took them away from me. The fact that I had these watches, and that I was resident with the peasant woman, became quickly known to the neighbors in the area.
When the woman of the house was out, another lady appeared at the door. Her name was Sandaoskeyneh. She advised me to leave that house and go with her. It turned out that she was a decent, honest woman, who was very religious, and only desired by safety. During the course of the war, she did a great deal for me. She arranged to transfer me from place to place for my safety. These places belonged to her relatives or with her trusted friends. She, also, arraigned to bring me to the priest in Shaukenai, who was a good-hearted gentleman. He then arranged for hiding places for me that were safe. I was baptized into Christianity by him. He didn't force me to do that, but explained to me that being a Christian would make it easier for me to find places to hide with people who would then treat me as one of their own. And so it was.
During my stay at the priest's house, it became known to me, through him, about the traitorous dealings of my former classmate and good friend in Kelem. She sent a letter to him, telling him that she knew that I was under his protection. She said that it was against the law, and if he didn't hand me over to the police, she would! This caused me great pain and shock, since this girl was my best friend in our class at school
In the meantime, it also became known to me that a short time after the man with the white armband saved me and distanced me from danger, the Lithuanian murderers executed all the Jews of Shaukenai, including my dear family. They murdered the poor children with whom I stayed before being taken to safety. Now, I was left alone in the world. My sister, Mina, met her death in the resort town of Palanga, where she stayed as a youth leader, along with a group of children from the Pioneers (Young Communist Youth).
I decided to do all that I could to survive, and to do all that my good and decent protectors advised me. In my wanderings from place to place, while staying with peasant farmers, I worked at all kinds of jobs, including shepherding sheep.
After a time, I reached the Shavele ghetto. Here I joined the group that worked on the railroad tracks. At night I didn't sleep in the ghetto, but stayed with the daughter of the good woman, Sandaoskeyneh, who lived in Shavele. Later my stay in the ghetto became to be dangerous. Again, with the help of good people like the priest, the lady Sandaoskeyneh and others, I was saved from the dangers that threatened me. A place of refuge was found for me in a village near the town of Keretinga. There I stayed until the liberation. I immediately parted from my good protectors at that time and went on my. i:e, to freedom. I was still very young, but I had nothing upon which to put my trust, except upon myself. I had no choice but to build my life and; to rehabilitate myself somehow. In order to do that, I had to utilize all of my energy and willpower. I had only studied three years in gymnasia, but that made it easier for me to get various jobs in offices, factories, and other places.
I moved to Vilna, where I married and where my daughter was born. I worked in Vilna until 1965, at the Central Post Office. In l966, the Aliyah of Soviet Jews to Israel began. I was extremely anxious to leave for Israel, especially after hearing that my uncle and other family members were there. My husband refused to leave Lithuania. I am eternally grateful to him for permitting me to take my daughter and go to Israel.
In 9166, I arrived in Israel. My absorption here was not easy. I worked for my living at all kinds of work. I remarried. My daughter matured, married and gave birth to our granddaughter. They live in Ramat Eliahu. A few years ago, to my sorrow, my husband died. I was left alone again, but I am consoled by my daughter, my son-in-law, and my granddaughter; my only and dear family.
I was born to my mother, Golda, and my father, Eleazer, both business people, honest and Godfearing; keepers of the Commandments. My three brothers, together with my parents and relatives, were destroyed in the Holocaust.
I studied at the Yavneh school, which instilled in me a general and Torah education. After the Yavneh school, I studied at the Small Yeshiva in Kelem.
Life in Kelem was calm. Our livelihood was plentiful. In the summers, we would go to the resort town of Tituvenai, where my grandmother, my father's mother lived.
In 1936, my father traveled to Israel to explore the possibility of Aliyah for our family. He bought some property lots here and returned to Kelem. In the meantime, the Second World War began. My uncle, Meir Mordachi Stern, who was my father's business partner, suggested to my father that they move to Israel. While my father was undecided, my uncle left Lithuania with his family and came to Israel in the beginning of 1940.
From Israel, our relatives sent certificates for us to make Aliyah. I turned to the Soviet authorities for permission but was flatly refused. I was sent to Kovno to learn a trade. Our property was nationalized, and my father was forced to leave the bourgeois life and to start working physically for a living for our family. I studied accounting. After a few months, in July, 1941, the war broke out. The Nazis conquered Lithuania. Alone in Kovno, I tried to enlist in the retreating Soviet Army, but the Germans advanced too rapidly. On the back to Kovno, I heard from a Lithuanian that the Germans slaughtered the Jews of Slobodka, where I resided. I was told that it was not worthwhile for me to return to there. In spite of this, I did reach Kovno, and when things calmed down, I went to Slobodka. There, it was told t me that hundreds of the Jews of Slobodka were murdered by the Lithuanian Nationalists. The Rabbi of Slobodka was decapitated.
I lived in what was called the little ghetto, where I lodged with the Fish family. This family was executed in the infamous Ninth Fort (Napoleon's fort next to Kovno, together with many of the Jews of the little ghetto). They didn't take me to that fort, because I was young and could be used in the work force. I was transferred to the other side of the ghetto. Here again my luck held out, and I survived. I worked in many kinds of work at the airfield of Kovno. The work went on both by day and by night, in the rain and the cold. We were given 250 grams of bread and some little tasteless soup. The work overseers treated us with cruelty and humiliation. We walked five kilometers, both to and from work. Russian prisoners of war worked with us. These men were brought to work by wagon, because they were swollen from hunger and the cold and could not walk by themselves to work. Whoever would fall from the walks would be shot on the spot. An incident that exemplifies the cruelty of the guards toward us is the following, which occurred in the winter of 1942. It was forbidden for us to come into contact with the civilian population around us. I was caught while trying to exchange a towel for a sandwich with a Lithuanian farmer. They brought me to the commander. Present were thirty other Jews who were caught for similar offenses. They forced us to lift chairs above our heads and hold them there with our arms taut for the entire day. In the evening they arranged a show trial for us. They asked us who among us was a sportsman, who knew of the Coach team from Vilna or Maccabbi, or who knew how to box. Suddenly, a young man from among us stepped forward and said that he was a boxer. They chose an opponent for him and ordered them to box each other. One German interfered and said that one doesn't box that way. He then proceeded to punch everyone in the face until blood flowed. After that, the policemen beat us with clubs until our bodies were black from blood clots. A number of naive Jews decided to complain to the airport's management, but of course, nothing came of that and no policemen were punished.
And so these days and nights of fear, hunger, and abuse continued in the Kovno ghetto. In May, 1943, I was taken to the Kayoshador work camp. The work there consisted of digging peat and felling trees for fuel. The commandant suspected that the Jews were sneaking out at night and bringing back food. He decided to bring in Ukrainian guards known for their cruelty. They related towards us with the utmost cruelty, but the situation on the front turned to the worse for the Germans. In the winter of 1944, we made contact with the partisans, who were in the forest around Vilna. They announced to us they were ready to have us join them. I worked with a group of ten men in the forest. We succeeded in getting our German guard drunk. We took his gun from him and brought him with us deep into the forest. In this way, we succeeded, thirty of us, to escape. We did not kill the guard, but left him so free, so as not to endanger the rest of our group. We marched by night and with great effort made it to the partisan battalions. These battalions carried out sabotage on the railroad tracks, at police stations, and against collaborators with the Germans. We wanted to know what was the fate of the other Jews in our work camp. Three of us were sent out for that purpose but were caught and executed by the police.
Our sabotage raids damaged the Germans, and they decided to fight against us with all of their strength. They brought tanks to the forest, but we were well prepared, and they could not defeat us. They were forced to retreat. A while later, Vilna was captured by the Russians. We, the partisans, did all we could to assist the Red Army.
When I enlisted in the Red Army, I was assigned to the 16th Lithuanian Brigade, in which Lithuanian Jewish survivors served. I was wounded in the battles at Königsberg and returned to continue combat after recovering from my wounds.
At the end of the war, I returned to the town of my birth, Kelem. There I found two - three Jewish families and a huge common grave in the Valley of the Slaughter of Kelem's Jews. I stayed with the Kaganovitz family. I worked some and then moved to Vilna. I married Chayah (may her memory be a blessing), and both of us worked for a living. I decided to study and to finish high school. When Stalin died, I requested permission to leave for Israel, but I was refused. I worked at various jobs in Vilna. We lived in crowded conditions in a shared apartment. I kept the Jewish dietary laws as much as I was able. It was almost impossible not to have to work on Shabbat. Only one synagogue remained open for use of the seventy which existed before the war. So few Jews remained alive in Vilna that there were scarcely enough for a few prayer minyans. I continued my studies until I graduated the Evening-Technical School in 1966.
I never gave up on my plans to make aliyah to Israel. In 1964, I again asked to be granted permission to leave for Israel. At that same time, my cousin, David Stern-Cochav, came to Moscow from Israel for an international conference. Our meeting in Moscow was very exciting. In a year's time, I was interviewed by the KGB and was told that I had no basis for my request to leave for Israel. They said since my whole family was killed, I had no family to be reunited with in Israel. In the end, our evidence about relatives in Israel was accepted as the reason for granting us the right to leave. Scores of Jews came to part with us. After twenty-six years of continuous effort, we finally reached Jerusalem. To my heart's regret, my wife Chayah died here from a fatal illness, which she contracted in Lithuania. I married for a second time in Israel. I am happy here and glad that all my suffering is behind me.
At my present work her, I came across, at Yad VaShem, evidence which was collected from Kelmer Jews who had survived the Holocaust. Their hair-raising testimonies were collected from interviews and written down in 1946. All of my old wounds opened up again upon reading these testimonials. These documents clearly show the active part played by the Lithuanian nationalists in the slaughter of Kelem's Jews. It was not the Germans, but the Lithuanians who, with bloodthirsty cruelties brought annihilation upon the Jewish people of my town. I can only say, May the Lord revenge the blood of the victims of Kelem.
Our lives, wrapped in mourning, continued at the Chaluzin farm without any hope until the 22nd of August, 1941; the bitter day of the second mass slaughter of the Jews of Kelem. On that day upon hearing about the transferring of all the Jews from the farm to, as it were, a work camp, my mother decided that we would escape to a woods. The woods belonged to a neighbor, a Lithuanian farmer by the name of Damonskis. In that woods, we met other Jews who had escaped from the Chaluzin farm. Among them were Liba Karabelnik, with her mother-in-law and her children; Tzipa Karabelnik, and her daughter, Malka; Batya Broide; Mina Leibovitz and her brother-in-law, Israel Nachumovitz. We stayed there at the farm for a few days.
Two days later, the Damonskis family brought armed Lithuanian nationalists and collaborators. They gathered us together, sat us on a wagon and started driving toward Kelem. One of the activists ordered me to leave the wagon and run away, because, according to him, I didn't look Jewish. I got down from the wagon without any real desire to escape and without any idea about where to go. Batya Broide handed me a warm scarf that I could wrap myself in. The wagon continued forward, and I was left on the road, helpless. After a few minutes, I decided to follow the wagon in order to be with my mother and my nieces. The wagon drove so fast that I lagged behind until it disappeared from my view. I kept walking in the same direction, until I reached Kelem after some hours. At the entrance to Kelem, I met a Lithuanian woman who recognized me. She spoke to me sympathetically and told me not to go into town. According the her, they would shoot me as they had shot the other women, including my mother, who was taken just an hour ago to the basement of the gymnasia.
I didn't listen to her pleas. I tried to find refuge with a Lithuanian friend of the family, but he was afraid to take me in. When I realized that no one would protect me from my fate, I decided to go to the basement of the gymnasia where, it turned out, there were imprisoned my mother, my nieces, Batya Broide, and Tzipa, and Malka Karabelnik. And, so I walked into the hands of the murderers. They, the murderers were surprised by my sudden appearance and did not understand my refusal to stay alive. That whole night, we spent in the basement. The town priest came in the morning and brought us bread and milk and sprinkled us with holy water; which meant, in the eyes of the priest, that we were baptized into Christianity. He believed that we wouldn't be killed, since we were not Christians. In order to get to the toilets, we had to cross the school yard. Along with a guard, I crossed the school yard when it was filled with students on their break. y fellow classmates were shocked when they saw me and tried to convince the guards to let me go free. My former classmate, Salamonaita, succeeded and brought me to her father's farm. She also assured me that she had arranged to have my mother freed. I stayed at my friend's parents' farm. At the same time, she told me that the women who were in the basement were set free.
From that time onward, there started, for me, a period of living (if one can call that living) in fear, backbreaking labor, solitude, and total separation from the world. I stayed but a short time at the Salamonas farm. After the immediate danger passed, a more secure hiding place was found for me. I was brought to a friend of the Salamonas', a squire, old and blind. I was supposed to be his servant. The squire (called a Poritz) hated the Jews, since his whole family was exiled to Siberia during the Russian occupation in 1940. He blamed the Jews for this, because he said that all Jews were Communists. He took pity on me, saying that I was too young to have taken part in all of those things.
I lived for one half of a year with this man, who protected me from all danger. If it wasn't for the threats of his farm manager, who knew about my origin, I would have stayed for a much longer time. When the situation became dangerous for me, the old squire arranged, with a local priest, to take me to a certain peasant family. I stayed for a very long while with this new family. The farm work there was very difficult, since I was young and not used to heavy labor. The hard work wore down my strength. The loneliness was terrible. The last glimmer of hope for a different life faded away.
In 1943, the old Poritz died, and I was determined to be present at his funeral. The man was honored and well-known, therefore, people came from near and far to accompany him on his last mile. Among the large crowd there, I could feel that something had changed. The people began to be flattering towards me. They spoke to me about the heavy losses that the Germans suffered at Stalingrad and other battles. One of the Lithuanian women who, according to her own words, was a leftist, invited me to live with her. I agreed to do just that. At that time, I met, for the first time, Yaakov Zak and Chana Pletz, ho occupied themselves by helping Jews to hide and taking revenge upon the murderers. They told me that my mother, my niece, Luba and my sister Rachel were in the Shavele ghetto. I was determined to take them out of there. I was able to do that with the help of the gentile woman with whom I was living. I brought my mother and Luba to an orphanage which was run by Catholic nuns in Viaguva. They stayed there until the liberation.
My sister, Rachel, preferred to stay in the ghetto. From there, she was taken, with all the other Jews of Shavele ghetto, to a concentration camp in Germany.
At the termination of the battles between the warring sides, there came the long awaited liberation. I picked up the pieces, my mother and little Luba, and we went to reside in Shavele. In the meantime, my sister, Rachel, who survived the concentration, returned to us, and we tried, somehow, to exist.
I then met my future husband, Aaron Amit, a native of Shavele, who also had survived the concentration camps in Germany. We both decided to go up to Israel. We made contact with the organizers of the illegal immigration, and we started out on the rough road to Aliyah. Disguised as Polish citizens, we got to Germany. There, we joined a kibbutz, which was established there for the purpose of training future members in Israel. In 1946, I managed to get a certificate to go on Aliyah, because I was in advanced pregnancy. I arrived in Israel, and I settled in Kibbutz Afikim. There, my eldest son, Yair, was born. I was in the kibbutz without my husband. He came to Israel when our son was ten months old. My husband went through all the ordeals on ship Exodus on the way from Europe to Israel.
Today, we have three children. I am now celebrating 46 years residence in Kibbutz Afikim. Our boys are now married and are also fathers.
My mother died in Lithuania. My niece, Luba, came to live in Israel. I had appealed to the Soviet authorities and presented myself as the mother of the girl, Luba. I requested that she be permitted to come to Israel in the name of family reunion. My request was granted. Luba started a family and lives in Haifa. My sister, Rachel, also arrived in Israel before the Six Day War, with her family. Today, she lives with her married daughter in Kiryat Motzkin.
My dream was realized. We remained alive. We succeeded in overcoming all of the barriers and in escaping the bitter fate of the Jewish community of Kelem.
May the memory of the sons and daughters of the Jewish community of Kelem be an eternal blessing.
Our lives changed immeasurably when the Nazis came to Lithuania. Jewish families flowed to our farm seeking refuge from Kelem, which had almost completely burned. Without any planning or advance notice, our farm suddenly housed about one hundred of Kelem's Jews. But not for long. A month after arriving, most of them, single people, the young couples, and others were taken and murdered in the first mass slaughter.
They were annihilated at the gravel pits a few hours after being taken from our farm. My eldest brother, Aaron, was among them. His wife was well advanced in her first pregnancy. A great sadness and mourning fell on all of us who were left alive. On the 29th of the month, the second mass murder of Kelem's Jews took place. On that day, my father was in Kelem. He became aware of what was to take place. He did not come home that day, but rather came to the house of one of our neighbors by the name of Baltrukas. He sent someone to tell us where he was and told us that we should flee. We wandered around our house aimlessly, I was determined to save myself. Baltrukas, himself, sent by our father, appeared at our house in a mission of mercy. Because of my small size, he had no trouble hiding me under his large coat, close to his body. He actually carried me on his shoulders to the rear of the barn. No one noticed what he did. There, among the bushes, I hid. My whole body trembled. I waited until the killers left the farm.
At sundown, my brothers, who were searching for me, found me. They told me that my parents, my sister, Sima, and they themselves, the three brothers, succeeded in escaping. Now, they were planning to flee as far as we could from the area of our farm. We were joined by family members. They were Liba Karabelnik, with her two small children, and her mother-in-law Etta Bluma, who was our father Yaakov's sister.
That night, we walked for many long hours. Our goal was to reach a Lithuanian farmer, who lived in a place near the town of Leoliaye. He was a good friend of our parents.
We did not stay there long. After a few days, the farmer's wife told us that her husband had changed his mind about giving us refuge and was even about to turn us in to the police in town. All of us scattered, each on his own, to various places on and near the farm and in the woods. I lay down near a tree trunk, and trembled when I heard the voices of the men who were searching for us. Suddenly, someone stumbled over my foot, and I thought that my end had arrived. To my good luck, it was already dark enough that the searchers couldn't see me. I heard gunshots and screams. I did not move from my place. I was as if paralyzed. After a while, which seemed like eternity, complete silence returned. I decided to move and to distance myself from that place. That area was completely unfamiliar to me, and I wandered without any direction in mind. When I became tired, I walked into a field of sheaves of grain, which were lined up neatly to dry after the cutting. I made my way into one of the sheaves. and waited. In the morning, I sensed that the farmer was working near me, sticking his pitchfork into the sheaves. I jumped out on my feet and started to run. The farmer, who apparently came out to the field to straighten out the sheaves, was taken aback. He crossed himself and mumbled that it was surely a ghost!
I wasn't aware of the amount of time that I wandered, but close to the evening, my brothers found me. They also stayed in the same area and had started to search for me. They told me that Lib Karabelnik and her two children and her mother-in-law were shot to death in that woods. I was told that our parents, my sister, Sima, and they, my three brothers were whole and well.
We decided to return to the locality of our farm, because there we had more friends among the farmers. We could not, all of us, remain in the same place. We were forced to split up. I was placed in one farmer's house, who agreed to take me in on the condition that I become dumb (speechless), because I spoke Lithuanian with a Yiddish accent. That accent could possibly give me away. I lived many months without uttering a word. I worked in all kinds of work in the fields and in the house. The neighbors knew nothing about my origins, except that I was dumb and was a poor soul. The loneliness and complete isolation from everybody drove me into deep depression. The speechlessness actually became second nature to me. I was determined not to give myself up. On the occasional visit paid to me by my brothers (who wandered from place to place), I got information about my parents and other members of our family. They noticed my new speechlessness, which had become second nature to me and said that I would have to relearn how to speak.
One day, we were told that a rumor was about that there would soon be searches carried out jointly by collaborators and the Germans, who were in the town. They were looking for Jews who were in hiding. The lady of the house became frightened and told me to leave the house. She gave me a basket in my hand. I dressed in peasants clothes and went on my way. I continued to act as a dumb speechless girl whenever and wherever I met people. After many dangers and hardships, I got to one farmer's house, who was not Catholic, as most Lithuanians were, but Protestant. He agreed to hide me in his attic in a large wooden box with a lid on it. Of course, I agreed to his offer. At night I would crawl out to go to the toilet. My food was brought up to me by the family members. I passed many days and many weeks there, again in isolation, and filled with fear and worry about my family. Sometimes, I would listen to the religious singing of the Protestant family members, and my heart would fill up with deep sadness and sorrow, which caused me to weep. Their songs reminded me of the holidays in our house, together with my family.
Sometimes, while endangering their lives, my brothers would visit me together with Yaakov Zak, who crisscrossed the land together with my brothers at that time. It was decided to permit me to visit my parents for one time since I hadn't seen them in such a long time. That was the last time that I saw them alive.
In the month of March, 1943, my parents, who were hidden in a safe place, well camouflaged, were discovered and turned over by informers. On that very night, my beloved brother, Hershel, decided to sleep at the house of the farmer who was hiding my parents (the farmers name was Valtzukas). It was just coincidence that Yaakov Zak decided, at the last minute, to leave that farmer's house. My parents were taken to the Resain prison, where, after a while, they were shot. Hershel, who wasn't especially hidden, was deep in sleep from exhaustion. He lay near the stove. When he was discovered, he defended himself as best he could with his pistol. That wasn't enough against the many men who discovered him. He was shot in the yard. This news got to us and broke our spirit. It is impossible to describe our pain when all of our hope of reuniting our family vanished.
The situation at the war front turned in favor of the Red Army. The Germans started to retreat. Joy and hope filled our hearts. When it was clear that the liberation was close at hand, we, those of us still alive, gathered together. There were Yitzak, Shmuel, and myself. We had a conference and agreed to travel in the direction of Shavele. We were hungry, thirsty, exhausted, dressed in rags, and barefoot, but we kept walking. When we got to Shavele, we didn't stop to rest. This was because we had to make a retreat, since the Germans had temporarily ceased their own retreat and were shelling the city. But, that was only the last death pangs of their war effort.
When the situation calmed down, we returned to Shavele. Jewish refugees began to enter Shavele; among them our relative Tzipa Karabelnik, with her daughter, Malka. After that, we managed to make a connection with an Israeli, who was in the Brigada (a Jewish force in the British Army recruited from Palestine and other countries). His work was to pinpoint survivors in order to get them (illegally) to Israel. Our family split up into groups. I, along with Tzipa, her daughter, and other Jews ( while endangering our lives) sneaked across the Soviet border. After many hardships on the way, we arrived at the city of Ostia, the ancient port of Rome in Italy. Jewish refugees came to Ostia from all the regions that were liberated from the Nazis. A training program was organized to help prepare them for their arrival in Israel. I worked at sewing for all of the other Jews who came with almost nothing. The British, of course, wouldn't permit us to enter Palestine. Some time later, men of the Brigada brought us to the shores of the Land of Israel
While I was in Ostia, I became acquainted with my future husband, Pinchas Gitlin, one of the survivors of the concentration camps in Germany. In Israel, we met again and then married. I was the first of my family to come to Israel. My sister, Sima, and my brothers, Yitzak and Shmuel, came later by other escape routes. We were exhausted and broken from what we had experienced. Things were made easier for us by the fact that we met here in Israel by our nieces, Pesya Rifka and Chaya, who had come to Israel in the 1930's.
And so I was saved from the Nazi beast, who pursued me and my family all during the occupation. Many times, I was saved at the last minute by a miracle from the hands of the Lithuanian murders, the collaborators. I started a family here in Israel. I was privileged to see the establishment of the State of Israel. Two sons were born to us, Yaakov and Moshe. When they matured, they served in the Israel Defense Forces and defended their independent homeland. We have eight grandchildren. We are grateful to God on High for everything.
During my teen years, along with the other girls in my school class, I joined the youth group of Agudat Yisrael. As a young national religious girl, I was sent for training by the movement to Shavele. I was not granted a certificate to Israel. Like many religious and nonreligious girls, I learned toe sewing trade. Eventually, I married my husband, Mier Meltz from the town of Shaukenai. His family owned a farm, but he mainly earned his living as a traveling salesman. He lived with his brother in Kovno. There, we married four months before the outbreak of the Second World War.
Therefore, I had little time to live the happy life of a new bride. We married in April, 1941, and the war broke out in July, 1941. We lived for some short time in our apartment in Kovno. Every day we heard stories about how the Lithuanian nationalists were shooting Jews. It was told how they would break into apartments, and, without any excuse, kill all its Jewish occupants. One day, we heard terrible screams echoing from our neighbor's house. As it turned out, a Jewish family with seven children were cruelly murdered there.
Fear and foreboding took hold of all of us. There was also the time when a young Lithuanian was killed and placed on the sidewalk near our house. We were likely to be accused of his murder, without any good reason. My husband, Mier, took out a Lithuanian flag from someplace and hung it in front of the house. We tried to dissuade him from doing this, but he claimed that this flag would save our lives. And, it was so. Every time that the murderers would pass by our house, they would see the flag. They would then decide that this was a Lithuanian house and that there was no reason to enter it. By virtue of my husband's initiative, we were saved from sure death.
Soon enough, I found myself marching, with the other Jews of Kovno, on the road to Slobodka (a suburb of Kovno) ghetto. I will never forget that bitter day. It was extremely hot. The dust of the roadside covered the Jews as they marched with their heavy belongings on their shoulders. Their houses and their furniture remained behind them. A number of families were put together in small apartments. The overcrowding was unbearable. After a very short time, the German authorities organized the setting up of a committee, which was called by them Judenrat. It was supposed to be a so-called local Jewish governing committee:. On that committee were placed the most honored and important Jews of the community of Kovno. The self governing was a fiction. The members of the Judenrat fulfilled the commands of their lords, the Germans. They were charged with organizing work, housing, and food. But, they were also charged with the duty of distributing numbers of Jews for the actzias (actions), which had one meaning - death.
A short time after entering the ghetto, I discovered that I was pregnant. That was a very difficult pregnancy. I felt very ill, weak and helpless. At the beginning of our time in the ghetto, I sewed a bit, but later stopped sewing. I had no strength and there no customers. Mier, my husband, who had initiative, managed to get hold of extra food. While at work, he persuaded the Germans, by means of bribes, to let him go to a village to search for food. Part of the food he gave to those Germans, and part he brought to me and his mother at home. My house was open to everyone in need; anyone who entered received something to eat. There were many people, especially from my family (near and far relatives) whose lives were devoted to Torah study. They were not able to manage their daily material needs. These Jews suffered hunger and starvation. We tried to feed them to the best of our abilities.
In April, 1942, my daughter, Yehudit, was born. It was impossible to supply the needs of an infant in the ghetto. Actzias were very frequent in the ghetto, and the population declined. Many times, we were forced to move to the apartments of those who were taken away and murdered. The area of the ghetto became smaller. At that time, a gentile woman, from a village near the town of Erzvilik, came to us. She was sent by the sister of Rachel Druker, who was my friend. The gentile woman agreed to my suggestion that I give her Rachel's sister and my 1+1/2 year old daughter for safekeeping in her village. My mother-in-law also went with them. We parted with a heavy heart and grave fears for our daughter and my mother-in-law, but we had no choice. There were constant rumors of a coming :actzia for children. And, so it was a very short time after we gave over Yehudit for safekeeping that they carried out a children's actzia, in which most of the children of the ghetto were murdered. Meanwhile, the Lithuanians of the village suggested that we also try to escape the ghetto and save our lives for the sake of our daughter. Through various ruse, dressed as peasants, and after dangerous adventures, we also fled to the village. There, we discovered that in the area there were other single Jews and families of Jews. These had managed to save themselves from the execution of the Jews of Erzvilik. Among them, we met Aaron Kletz and his wife from Kelem.
A ten year old boy hid out with us. His family was with him also. The boy, Ahron, was full of energy and curiosity. He, at various times, endangered his and our lives, because it was difficult for him to live the life of continual hiding. Years later, when we got to Israel, we learned that Aaron was nor Aaron Barak, judge on the Israel Supreme Court.
The life in hiding wasn't easy. Everyone and anyone who saw us could endanger our lives. What hurt me the most was our separation from our little daughter. My visits with her could only be very infrequent. On these very infrequent visits, my heart would break from seeing her hungry, unkempt, and covered with sores and rashes. I especially cried when I saw her immerse her hand in a bucket in which there was food prepared for the pigs. The bucket was filled with mud which she put into her mouth. It is hard to imagine the things that we had to endure in those dark days.
When we were liberated, we immediately went to Kovno. There, we somehow got into the routine of normal life. I gave birth to another two daughters. We were glad that all of the horror was behind us. In 1966, we were permitted to leave for Israel. We came to Israel with our two younger daughters, Chana and Esther. We had to interrupt their studies, but we were afraid that things would become worse in the Soviet Lithuania, and that the authorities would change their minds and forbid our exit. We left our eldest daughter, Yehudit, who was then finishing medical school and wanted to graduate. She, after graduation, together with her husband and two daughters, made Aliyah to Israel in the framework of family reunification.
Now in the evening of our lives, we are happy in our portion here. We have joy in our children and grandchildren. All that we hope for now is peace for Israel.
On the first day of the war, we fled to a village where we stayed a few days with the sister of our servant woman, Stasyah. She worked at our house for many years, even before I was born. Her faithfulness to our family was proved in the finest manner during the Nazi occupation.
Our house did not burn down during the great fire that destroyed Kelem. So, after a few days, we returned to it, but not for long. The men were forced to go into the camp at Zunda Luntz's granary, which the Lithuanian nationalists prepared for them. There, they were imprisoned and forced to work at hard labor. They cleared the ruins of the burnt out town and did other types of forced labor. They were tortured, tormented and abused until their dying day. The families were housed on the Jewish farms. Our family, and tens of other Jewish families, lived on the farm that belonged to Shimon Osher near the village of Mazunai. The flour mill was taken over and run by a former employee of my father, of German extraction, who didn't know all of the secrets of running the mill. My father was brought from the camp prison to help him, as flour was so important for everyone.
On the farm of Shimon Osher, we lived like the other Jews on the other Jewish farms. A month after the outbreak of the war, on July 29, 1941, the first mass slaughter of Kelem's Jews took place. All the young people were taken, men and women, on the excuse that they were to be given work. A few hours later, all of them were shot to death at the gravel pits at the Grozheviski estate. About a month later, at the end of August, the Lithuanian collaborators came to take the rest of us Jews to our execution.
I marched together with my mother, my sister, and my two aunts. We followed after a convoy of wagons loaded with Jewish families and their remaining possessions. One of the Lithuanian escorts persuaded us to leave the convoy and find a hideout for ourselves. We turned aside and started walking to the farm of a Lithuanian acquaintance by the name of Solamonas. He had taken charge of part of my uncle Rosenfeld's possessions as a favor to him. We hoped that he would aid us and hide us, but Salamonas was not very receptive to these ideas and showed signs of hesitation. He suggested that we spend the days in the forest, and he permitted us to sleep at night in the village public bath, which he owned. This was at some distance from his house. Days and weeks passed like that. We were exhausted from malnutrition and fear of raids. Our former servant lady, Stasyah, heard about our situation and somehow came to take me to her house in Kelem. Later she came and took my brother and found a refuge for him in one of the distant villages.
Our guardian angel, Stasyah, never abandoned us, even after the liberation. My brother and I were still young, and she organized a sort of family life for us in our own house, which had remained whole and standing. She managed all the affairs of the house, our finances, the house upkeep, etc., while we studied. We grew and matured. After I graduated Gymnasia, I went to Kovno where I studied to be a librarian. I worked in the city library and started to earn my own living. My brother stayed in Kelem and married.
Two years before the sudden death of my brother, Yoseph, in 1989, he visited the place where our parents were murdered. It was on Salamonas' farm. He dug at the supposed place of execution and found the bones of our beloved ones. On that spot, he erected a monument to their memory. He would regularly, with his wife, pay visits to the mass grave of our Jewish Kelmers. He managed give and take with the town's authorities in connection with the beautification and care of that holy place. In 1991, my brother, Yoseph visited Israel. His daughter, Inga, had already been here some time. She integrated easily into Israel society. To my great sorrow, a short while after his visit her, in Israel, my brother suffered a heart attack and passed away.
I also married. We suffered greatly under the Soviet regime, but finally we got to Israel with our daughter Aviva. I now have two grandchildren, and that is the most beautiful thing that has happened to me in my life. My daughter and my grandchildren are also in Israel. I also work in Israel as a librarian. I am joyous that I am here in Israel and that all of the pain and suffering are behind me.
My father, like all the Jewish farmers, became the spokesman before the authorities. He was allowed to leave the borders of the farm and was permitted to drive to Kelem to receive orders concerning the Jews, who were living with us. He also could buy commodities, such as flour, salt, herring, etc. My mother, Sara Razel, tried her best to prepare soup for all the people who now lived on our farm. That was not an easy task. The people who came to us from the town, about 100 in number, were men, women, and children. There were aged Jews and youths. Every family lived in a small space, either in the grain granary, in every room of the farmhouse, or in any place imaginable.
We, the four boys and two girls of the family (the other brothers and three sisters were at that time already in South Africa and in the Land of Israel) continued to work in the fields. We did harvesting, plowing, grazing the animals, vegetable farming, and all other farm work.
Some days after the outbreak of the war, after the great fire in Kelem had been put out, there appeared at our farm, armed Lithuanians. They ordered all of the Jews who could work to come with them to Kelem. There, they imprisoned all of the Jews in the grain granary of Zunda Luntz. My oldest brother, Aaron, and myself were among the prisoners. I was seventeen at that time. The granary was extremely crowded, since there were also imprisoned all the Jewish men from the other Jewish farms in the area. The concentration of all the Jewish men in one place was well organized and planned by the Lithuanian collaborators. I knew that my father and my brothers, Yitzak and Hirsh, as owners of the farm, were allowed to remain in Lutzinava. After one distressful night in an overcrowded grain granary, I decided to escape. I was lucky that no one noticed one less Jewish prisoner in such a large group. I got back to Lutzinava, and there I stayed the whole two months, until the final slaughter of all of Kelem's Jews.
My brother, Aaron, was a strong and solid man. Upon his shoulders were laid most of the heavy farm work and the decisions and responsibilities concerning the running of the farm. He was already married, and his wife was already in the last months of her pregnancy. When I escaped from the granary, Aaron for some reason, didn't avail himself of his right to return to our farm as one of the owners. To his bad luck, he met up with one of the activists, who, after looting our house, took for himself, among other things, Aaron's good suit. When Aaron saw him wearing it, his anger flared up. Being easily angered and also being a person with a sense of justice, he decided to take back his suit. He demanded that the activist return his stolen suit to him. The Lithuanian beat Aaron for his chutzpah, and Aaron returned the blows. After Aaron was subdued by force, he was taken to the regional town of Resain and put in prison. When hearing about this, our father, with the help of a Lithuanian friend, set out for Resain to try to save Aaron's life. But their efforts came to naught. He never returned to us alive. He left our family and his pregnant wife, widowed.
In the meanwhile, the beginnings of the murder of the imprisoned Jews of the Luntz granary had begun. The youngster, Benyamin Oral, was shot because he said that he couldn't work as the result of his broken ankle. Next twelve prominent Jews were shot, because they complained that they couldn't work because of health problems. My father was called to the town to arrange their burial. He would return in the evening, broken hearted and steeped in dark depression. More than anyone else, he realized what lay in wait for all of us.
And, it was on the 29th of July, 1941, that all of the young people, men and women, were taken from us and, on that same day, murdered at the gravel pits of Kelem. An atmosphere of sorrow and mourning fell upon the few remaining Jews at our farm. That black atmosphere also existed now at the other Jewish farms. There, too, the vast majority of the Jews, men and women, elderly and children, were taken away and slaughtered. We, the Chaluzin family, continued to work the farm, forced to farm by the Lithuanians, but our hearts were heavy. We felt that our fate was sealed, and that the end of the Jews of Kelem was on the horizon.
On the 22nd of August, the Lithuanian murderers again came to our farm. This time, their goal was the complete liquidation of the few remaining Jews. On that same day, they came to the other Jewish farms, with the same purpose. They were armed and placed armed guards along every road or path leading to the Jewish farms. They commanded everyone to pack and get ready to be transferred to a work camp. My father was, on that day, in Kelem. After hearing from the men at the Luntz granary what was happening, he knew that the zero hour had arrived. He did not return home. Instead, he went to a neighbor's (Baltrukas) farm. From there, he let us know that we had to hurry and escape for our lives. My sister, Sima, gave me our father's message while I was ploughing in the fields. I immediately unharnessed the horses from the plow and ran, not knowing where to turn. I had, within me, a great desire just to get out of that place. I understood that there was no going back to our previous life. On that same day, I met my parents, my brother and my sisters. There were others who managed to flee, such as; the wife of our cousin Reuven Karabelnik, Liba, together with the two young children and her mother-in-law, Etta Bluma, who was our father's sister. Other cousins, Tzipa Karabelnik and her daughter, Malka, Mina Leibovitz and her brother-in-law, managed also to flee. The two daughters of Reuven Karabelnik; Eda and Bat Sheva were found by us that evening, hiding at the neighbor, Djamanskis' house. We realized, at that very moment, that it would help us to split up and for each one of us to seek help among trusted Lithuanian neighbors. We began to wander, especially at night.
We went from neighbor to neighbor. We slept in attics of granarys, in barns, and in any place possible. Most of all, there was the fear of police raids. My brothers, Yitzak, Hirsh, and myself came into contact with the neighboring Lithuanians and convinced them to give us refuge for a limited time.
It was difficult to find a hiding place for an extended period of time. The Lithuanian activists carried out searches and raids. They pursued after the Jews who had escaped. We managed to find a hideout with a gentile, who lived near the town of Leoliaye. We stayed there, together with our parents and Liba Karabelnik and her family.
After a short while, we had our first experience with informers. Our hosts informed on us, and we had to flee. Liba didn't succeed in getting away in time. She, her two children, and her mother-in-law were murdered in the woods near the house of the Lithuanian informer. We heard about the incident right away, but we kept the news from the older Karabelnik girls, who were in another location at that time. We did not want to cause them pain for the time being. We found good hiding places for our parents, and also for our nieces, Liba and Sima, with the neighboring farmers. We, the brothers, had a hard time hiding and staying in one place, because of our Jewish appearance, and because of the fact that most of the people in the area knew us. Everyone of them could have informed on us. We could no longer tell who was our friend and who was our enemy. Without our good and noble neighbors, we could not have stayed alive. People such as Kelimas, Ferantzkus, Tamkaeneh, Baltrukas, Meshkaoskas, Valtzukas, Litzyokas, and many others would welcome us without any conditions and would guard our lives with great dedication. On nights when it rained or snowed, when we would be wet from head to toe, we would knock quietly on a window, and they would open the door for us. They would take us in the warm house, serve us food and drink, organize hot water for bathing, and put us to sleep in their clean beds. When we stayed in the houses of these fine people for days and nights, they would guard us against any harm Their eyes were quick to glance in all and any direction, lest an enemy approach the house. Their ears were attentive to any noise that came from outside the house's walls. They especially listened to their dogs barking and even to the distant barking of their neighbors dogs. These noble people asked for nothing in return and expected no favor in return from us. This was help for help's sake alone. This was aid given to people who were in danger of their lives and for no other reason. It is worthy to take note of this, because the Lithuanian people had never related to the Jews with favor, to use an understatement. Our good neighbors never once said a disparaging word about the Jews. They took us in with love and extended a helping hand, while endangering their own lives.
We wandered from place to place. Later, we were joined by David Osher, who had escaped from the Kovno ghetto. I was always together with my brother, Yitzak. My brother, Hirsh, took with him Yakov Zak, who somehow had escaped the Valley of Death: and had found us. As time went by, with the help of our Lithuanian friends, we armed ourselves. At that time, there existed quantities of arms lying in the fields, which were left behind by the retreating Russian armies. These arms were gathered in by the local Lithuanians and we also shared in these arms. We felt that we had to defend ourselves, in case we were threatened with capture. We would give to the murderers, what was coming to them.
While we were still in our farmhouse, we, the Chaluzin family and other Jewish families, decided to hand over part of our possessions to Lithuanian neighboring farmers, come what may in the future, which at that time was unknown. We passed over, to their safekeeping, bed clothing, our best clothes, expensive tools, silverware, jewelry, etc. Then came the dreaded day, and we began our flight from the hands of the murderers. Time passed, winter, summer, autumn, spring. Our clothes had become rags on our backs. Our shoes had disintegrated from the mud and snow. We turned to our neighbors, with whom we had left our possessions, and asked them to give us clothing, shoes, and some food. Most of them came to our aid and gave us what they were able to give.
The fact of our being armed was known in the area and also became known to the murderers, the activists. The authorities increased their searches after us. The entire region where we were located, became a hunting ground after the dangerous Chaluzins. In our roving from place to place, we heard from the gentiles about Jews who were hiding in various places. We made efforts, by means of our informants, to reach these Jews in their hideouts.
Actually, our visits to our misfortunate brothers, who were in hiding, filled our lonely lives with added meaning. In that way, we met with David Osher and Nissan and Yafa Isserlis. They hid out after their escape from the Kovno ghetto. The Karabelnik girls, who were given refuge by a very religious gentile woman, were well cared for and, at the same time, were being persuaded to become believing Catholics. We met our aunt, Mina Leibovitz, and her brother-in-law, Yisrael. To our great sorrow, she did not survive for long. She was murdered with great cruelty by the people who hid her. We met, at one peasant's house, a girl by the name of Chana (we called her Antzka) from the town of Telz. Once, when she was in need of immediate medical attention, we located for her, a doctor who had escaped from the Kovno ghetto, along with his wife, a dentist, his brother-in-law and sister-in-law. The teacher, Mr. Gutman, also was hiding in these places. We also met with a girl from Kelem called Moyanke. She was also informed upon and killed by the gentiles. We knew of the hideouts of our aunt, Tzipa and her daughter, Malka, of Batya Broide, and of the Miasnik family.
Most of these people survived the war. Some of them died under tragic circumstances. We made great strivings to pay visits to the Jews in hiding, and we succeeded where the conditions permitted. it. We visited at times, for example, Nissan Isserlis and his wife; they kept the dietary laws of Kashrut, even when in hiding. We tried to bring food to them, which we knew was kosher. Many times, we took food on our own, from the farmers. The supply of kosher food to our parents was one of the most important tasks for us. We acted upon these responsibilities with our best efforts.
I would like to tell about the bitter end of our parents' and our dear brother Hirsh's lives. We found an excellent hiding place for our parents, with the poor farmer, Vatlzyukas. This man, with great cleverness, set up a double wall, which served to hide our parents presence in their house. It was impossible to discover the hidden space, unless someone told about how to enter it. Our parents hid there days and nights. They would leave it for only a short while at night in order to breathe some fresh air or relieve themselves. We supplied them with food, because the farmer was poor and could barely support his own family. His good heartedness and dedication were without limit. We admired him and appreciated him for these qualities. We took food and clothing which was given to us, freely or by threat of force, from farmers and gave it to Valtzukas. We also made sure that our parents would know no lack of supplies. We visited our parents very frequently, under the cover of darkness. We even, at one time, brought our two nieces to visit them. Actually, the Valtzukas house was our family meeting place. The place seemed so very secure.
To our sorrow, in those days, nothing was really one hundred percent secure. One day, an activist visited the house for the purpose of encouraging the farmer to pay his grain tax. Apparently, he noticed the presence of our brother Hirsh and Yaakov Zak, who were there at that time. Yaakov Zak fled that very same day, because of the doubts and fears that they had been discovered. He entreated Hirsh to also leave together with our parents. The Lithuanian murderers soon got wind of the rumor that the wanted Chaluzin family had been found in hiding. Hirsh had no possibility of moving our parents to another safe place. There was no other safe place to be found, so after much thought, he decided to stay put and take their chances. Soon an armed band of activists came to the village. They surrounded the house and started shooting. Hirsh, who at that moment was sleeping on the couch near the oven, woke up to the sound of the shooting. He grabbed his gun and started firing back. Neighbors, who witnessed the events, remarked that Hirsh managed to wound one of the attackers. Hirsh, who was outmanned, was overcome by them, wounded, and then shot to death. The activists proceeded to force the farmer's children, by cunning and threats, to disclose the hideout of our old parents. The farmer and his wife happened not to be at home on that fateful day. The murderers left Hirsh's body lying in the yard and took our parents to the jail in the area's central town, Resain. Some time later, they were murdered there, together with Frieda Mendelovitz, Leah Kletz, and Chayah Gilvitz, who were also kept in that prison. These women were captured at the time of the raid at the village of Zakeliska, where they were hiding. And so, on that bitter day, the 17th of March, 1943, we lost our parents. They succeeded in surviving for two years. In our hearts, we had hopes of saving them, but to no avail. On that terrible day, we lost our dear brother, Hirsh, the manly clever initiator, the brave and responsible hero. When we heard the dreaded news, our world was destroyed. We were left like a boat on the sea, without sails. We thought then, that there was no reason for us to on living, no purpose, no hope.
Time did not stand still. Life continued to flow forward. The will to live pushed us onward. We battled for our lives. And so, broken and run down, having known solitude and suffering, we reached Liberation Day, the 28th of August, 1944. The guns and the battles between the retreating Germans and the advancing Russians had not yet been silenced when we gathered together the remnants of our family and our friend, David Osher, and went to Shavele. We passed through many other hardships until we reached Shavele. When we arrived there, we managed to make contact with people who had come from Israel. They were organizing Aliyah (illegally) of the surviving Jews to Palestine- Israel. Our family was a true example of the Jewish survivors.
We had succeeded in realizing our longed for goal, Aliyah to Israel. By means of roads that weren't roads, stealing over borders, disguised as Polish peasants with forged papers, we finally reached our destination. Together with my brother, Yitzak, we participated in the War For Israel's Independence, and in other wars in defense of the Jewish State. We established families and sent down deep roots here. To our everlasting sorrow our parents and our brothers, Aaron and Hirsh, weren't granted the gift of life in our homeland, Israel.
May their memory and the memory of all of the Jews of Kelem, who were annihilated in the Holocaust, be blessed.
The evidence that was collected from Jewish survivors in 1946, was translated and written down. The memoirs of the Jews of Kelem, who came to Israel and which are described her, serve to seal the story of the life and death of the Jewish community of Kelem.
What has been written in these few pages are a modest attempt to memorialize the memory of the victims of the Holocaust from Kelem.
I beg forgiveness from everyone whose name is not mentioned in this book. This was not done on purpose. The period of fifty years from the time of these tragic events has caused many of the names of our dear ones from Kelem to be forgotten. It saddens us that, because of the many intervening years, we have not been able to remember every person, man, woman or child, youth or oldster from among the Jews of our town.
Even though we haven't been able to recall all of our Jewish brothers and sisters separately, our shtetl in all of its glory, will forever remain in our hearts.
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