56° 05'/ 23° 59'
Linkuva lies close to the Musa River. Neighbouring towns and villages are Pakroujis (15 km), Joniskelis (14 km), Pauitinys (15 km), Vaskai (18 km), Zeimilis (21 km), and Pasvalys (30 km). The Jewish settlement of Pamosa was about 5 km away.
The town is known to date back to the 16th century, and until World War I there was no road or railway line. In 1915 the Germans laid a narrow railway line close to the town and the area started to develop. In 1924 the town became famous because of a blood-libel case. There were 300 families, who mainly made a living from the flax industry, crafts, and cultivation of small holdings. Market days were on Mondays and Fridays and there was an annual fair lasting for eight days from 15 - 23 July. There was a large flour mill operated and owned by Jews, and a Jewish National Bank of Lithuania with 167 depositors. In 1883 a serious fire raged through the town, and the wooden synogogue was burned to the ground. One Beit HaMidrash and a Kloiz remained in use.
In spite of the economic failure, the spiritual life of the people was excellent. Love of the Torah and Zionist enthusiasm affected the younger generation. The youth were organised into two movementsYoung Pioneers and Gordoniathat were extremely active in educational activities. Among the Rabbis were: Rav Yoel Itzhak Katzenellenbogen, author of the books Seeds of Itzhak, Questions and Answers, and others; author Rav Tzvi Hirsch HaCohen Rabinowitz and his father Rav Meir HaCohen Rabinowitz; Rav Tanchum Shraga Reibel; Rav Tzvi HaLevi Levitas; Rav Nathan Rachmiel Litvin, may his blood be avenged; and the last rabbi was Rav Yekutiel Zalman Levitas, may his blood be avenged. Among its native born were: Rav Yehezkiel, son of Rav Yoel Itzhak Katzenellenbogen (rabbi of Seirijai and Sirvintos); Rav Dov Reibel; Rav Israel Hillel, son of Rav Chaim Kaplinsky, massacred at Hebron in 1929; Rav Chaim Zev Wolf-Kreiger; and author Tzvi Hirsch Rabinowitz.
By 1923 there were only 625 Jews residing in the town. On the second day of the German invasion and the withdrawal of the Soviet Forces, the Jews of Linkuva also attempted to flee eastwards. On this day the Lithuanian activists were already on the move with the intent of murdering Jews. They laid ambushes for the fleeing Jews. The first to be murdered by the ambushes were Leizer Schlossberg and his 19- year -old son Abraham. These were the last Jews to be buried in the official Jewish Israel Cemetery of Linkuva.
On Tuesday as the Red Army retreated through the town, Jews fleeing eastwards from Siauliai and its surroundings also arrived in Linkuva. Jews from Pasvitinys also fled through the town and many remained, and many Jews also took refuge in the Jewish village of Pamosa. Thus by the time the Germans entered the town there were already in excess of 1,000 Jews in Linkuva.
On 29 June on official orders from the Germans, the Lithuanian Activists rounded up the Jews and gathered them at the reorganised police station. The Lithuanians themselves took the initative to be responsible for the handling of the Jews. The Police Commander was Sintaurus, previously a Lithuanian Border Guard Officer. Also among the first activists were the priest Biliatzkaus and many other respected Lithuanians. The Jews who had were gathered at the police station were locked up in the stable of Itzhak Kapuler and in the storerooms of Aba Kahn, Saul Giresh, and Leib Bar. There they were cruelly tortured. The beards of the respected Jews of the town were cut off and for many days in the hot days of early July, the Jews were left without food or water.
On 30 June (daylight of 5 Tamuz) ten young Jews aged between 18 and 20 were selected and taken out by the Lithuanians, who later boasted how they had taken the Jews to a sandpit not far from the Catholic cemetery and shot and killed them there. Only one, Aharon Kahn, age 18, managed to survive and excape. For six months he wandered and hid in many places, but in the end he was caught and murdered by his classmates of the Lithuanian High School of Linkuva.
The next day after the ten young men were taken by the Lithuanian activists, the adult and aged Jews were taken to the Atkotzyunai forest close to the Musa River, about three km from Linkuva, and were systematically murdered.
On Wednesday 2 July, according to an official list, the LIthuanians gathered 125 persons including men, women, and children, Linkuva residents, and others who had sought refuge in the town, loaded them on four transport trucks, and took them to the jail at Siauliai. The women and children were immediately released and the remaining 57 men were imprisoned in one narrow small room.
A second group who were taken from Linkuva on the same day were taken by horsedrawn wagons but did not arrive at Siauliai, as they were brutally murdered at the hands of a wild Lithuanian mob. Among the murdered on the road was the Rav Dov Bar Dodman of Pasvitinys together with all of his sons.
The women and children who were released at the jail did not succeed in finding refuge in Siauliai and returned to Linkuva. Many of them were murdered en route, particularly as they passed through the town of Pakruojis, by the activist group against Jews, together with Jews of Pakruojis. The survivors were herded into and imprisoned in the cow sheds of the estate of David Davidson. These were the remainder of the Jews of Linkuva, together with all the other populations.
On 23 July (28 Tamuz) came the premature death of the Jews of Linkuva. It was the last day of the holy Lithuanian holiday of Haskaipliyrina, the customary glorification of the Catholic province of Linkuva. On this day they brought out all of the remaining Jews, numbering about 700, to the Atkotzyunai forest and there they opened fire on them until 1 p.m. These murders were the special work of the following Lithuanians: the three sons of the chemist Jasukaitis (Sintauris, Januskais, and Simonatas); the brothers Jonais and Popilais Stumbris; and the brothers Tarashka, Jasaivitzios and others.
At the time of the German retreat in 1944 all these murderers, fearing retribution at the hands of the Jews in the Lithuanian division of the Red Army, left together with the Germans. Afterwards they found refuge in the British and American zones of conquered Germany.
The fate of the 57 men left imprisoned, crushed like sardines in the narrow small cell at Siauliai prison in the hot summer without food or water, was as follows: 30 of the strongest were chosen and taken out day after day to the Kuziai forest 15 km from Siauliai, where they were forced to dig long deep channels to be used as a common grave for the Jews of Siauliai and surrounding areas. The other 27 prisoners were removed and murdered together with the Jews of Siauliai and surrounding areas on 10 July 1941. The 30 strongest Jews of Linkuva originally employed in the digging of the trenches were removed to the already prepared Siauliai ghetto together with 150 other Jews. These 30 were handled more brutally than the others and as each one was recognised by the Lithuanian activists of Linkuva, they were taken out for immediate execution. The remainder met the fate of the other local Jews. They were sent to concentration camps in Germany. At the beginning of May 1945, when liberated by the American Armed forces, there were only four survivors from Linkuva.
The lists of mass graves in the book The Popular Massacres of Lithuania, Part II, include the following:
Place - Mount Jorgaitzai, 3 km northeast of Linkuva. Date 3 July, 1941. Number who perished - 32 men and women.
Place - Dovariukai Forest, 4 km northeast of Linkuva. Date 7 August, 1941. Number who perished - 200 men.
Place - Vaslkishka Forest (Atkotzyunai), 5 km southeast of Linkuva, close to the village
of Vaslkiskiai. Date 5 August, 1941. Number who perished - 300 women and children.
The dates in the book The Popular Massacres of Lithuania do not correspond precisely to those provided by the witnesses.
Witnesses: Leib Kahn and Yocheved Bar Cohen of Jerusalem.
Kretzmer, Aharon. Collections of Lithuania, part I, p. 1860.
Yerushalmi, Eliezer. The Shauli Notebook. Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1958.
The Popular Massacres of Lithuania, Part II. Vilnius, 1973.
Lithuanian Jewry, Volume III: Part A - Personalities. Part B - Places. Tel Aviv: Association of Former Lithuanians in Israel, established by Abraham Dov Abrams and Former Lithuanians in Philadelphia and Israel, 1967. p. 322.
Lithuanian Jewry, Volume IV: The Holocaust 1941-1945. Tel Aviv: Association of Former Lithuanians in Israel, 1984. p. 306.
56° 04'/ 24° 24'
Pasvalys was named after the Pasvolka River that winds its way from the heights where the town was built. Nearby towns and villages were Pumpenai (14 km), Vaskai (14 km), Salociai (20 km), Joniskelis (16 km), Birzai (29 km), Linkuva, Pakruojis, Vabalninkas, and Zeimilis. Prior to World War I there was a settlement of Jews in the village of Krincinas (9 km). A narrow gauge railway line connected Pasvalys to Siauliai and Birzai.
Pasvalys had 400 Jewish families before World War I. Among the Jewish population was a small number of Karaites. The town also had ancient ruins that were the remnants of an old Karaite settlement.
During World War I, on 28 April 1915, the Jews were given eight hours to prepare before being expelled from the town. For ten days they were enclosed in barred railway carriages and then sent into Russia. In 1920 half the town was burnt down. By 1921 the Jewish population had risen to 525, and by1939 to 700 (180 families).
The majority of the Jews made a living in commerce and a small number as craftsmen and farmers. Market days were on Mondays and Fridays. The Jewish National Bank had 150 depositors. Many of the Jews emigrated to South Africa and the USA. There was one Beit HaMidrash and one Cultural School of 150 pupils.
Its rabbis included: Rav Chaim Itzhak, son of Rav Chaim Zak; Rav Abraham Shlomo and his son Rav Avri, afterwards head of the Beit Din at Vilnius; Rav Abraham-Leib Mintz; Rav Eliahu Benjamin, son of Rav Dov Diamond, famous for changing the lives and incomes of the town's inhabitants and institutions and who was among those who resisted the Etrogi Corfu movement; Rav Mordechai Rabinowitz (1885 - 1898); Rav Moshe Rabinowitz, who took over from his father Rav Mordechai from 1899 until 1925; Rav Israel Sheinkin, who wrote the poem The Glory of Israel and was afterwards the Rav of Atlantic City; and the last rabbi, Rav Itzhak Agulnik, may his blood be avenged.
Well known personalities and rabbis born in the town included: Rav Chaim Itzhak Bialystotzki, known as The Preacher of Posvol, Rav Abraham Simon, son of Rav Chaim Itzhak and the shochet of Posvol, who wrote the book The First Generations about the great teachers of the Mishnaic Period, the Yerushalmi and the Bavli, who were known for their Talmudic teachings (volume I,1935, Keidan). The mathematician Prof. Benjamin Bronstein, the young Saul Bronstein, and the journalist and writer Ari Glassman came from Pasvalys.
At the beginning of World War II there were 700 Jews living in Pasvalys.
The Germans entered the town on 26 June 1941 and the next day arrested Sheina Kretzmer, Nehemiah Millin, Chanan Forman and David Shapira. On 4 July they began to round up others, some of whom were imprisoned in the local jail and others in the granary of Joel Farber. During the night two Germans and two Lithuanian policemen arrived and demanded the young girls. Only after they were bribed with sums of money did they leave.
After several days the Jews imprisoned in the two places in Pasvalys were transferred to Siauliai (Shavli). Some of the women were later freed and returned to Pasvalys, where later they perished with the remaining Jews there. Of those that remained in Siauliai, very few survived.
In mid-July the Jews remaining in Pasvalys were placed in a ghetto bordered by part of Biraz Street and Polivan Street. One day Maldotis, the Mayor of Pasvalys, appeared and declared that everyone handing in their money and gold possessions would be sent to a labor camp on the banks of the Musa River. Those who did so were immediately returned to the Ghetto.
The Pasvalys Ghetto did not last very long. All supplies were received and controlled by the Pasvalys Municipality. In the Ghetto the town Rabbi, Rav Itzhak Agulnik, attempted to open a store to distribute the supplies to the Jews. Because they were cut off from the rest of the country, the inhabitants of the Ghetto were unable to obtain information documenting the general wild rampages of the Lithuanians. A little of the fate of the Jews of Pasvalys was described in a letter of 23 August sent by Rav Agulnik to the head of the Siauliai ghetto, three days before all the Jews of Pasvalys were murdered: We beg you to try your best to rescue us. There are no Germans among us and therefore the wild Lithuanians are uncontrolled. They have stolen everything from us. We are in great danger, any minute the worst could happen. Have pity on us, please try and persuade the German authorities to save us.
A few weeks before the end of the Pasvalys Ghetto, Jews from the surrounding villages of Joneskelis, Pumpenai, Jashukai, Salociai and Vabalninkas arrived in the Pasvalys Ghetto and all of them perished with the Pasvalys Jews.
On 26 August 1941 an order was issued that all Jews from the ghetto were to assemble at the town's Court of Justice, with all their belongings, so they could be sent to labor camps. At the synagogue the men were separated from the women and children, and they were taken past the Lithuanian Elementary School on Vilnius Street. On the same day they were all force marched to the Zadeikiai Woods about four km from the town, where they were all cruelly murdered.
The first signs of the mass grave were found by the few survivors of Pasvalys in September 1944. They wrote on a wooden board in Hebrew: Here are buried the Jews of Pasvalys. Later the citizens of Pasvalys erected two tombstones stating in Russian and Lithuanian: Here are buried 5,000 Soviet citizens from the towns and villages of Pasvalys, Vabalninkas, Joniskelis, Krincinas and Dainjenai.
On 25 August 1963, two memorial stones were placed there and a Lithuanian woman testified on the fate of the Jews of Pasvalys: When the Jews were led along the paths from the town to the woods, the sounds of shooting and screams of terror could already be heard. These Jews being so led immediately realized what was happening and started to throw anything heavy of their belongings at their captors and then attacked them with their hands, legs and teeth."
At this point the murderers started to go wild; they tore babies from their mothers and split their heads against the trees on the road. The leading Jews were beaten and slain with belts, rifle butts, and knives. The rest were then shoved with brute force to the ready and waiting pits, and shot. Many were thrown into the pits alive, having been shot in the legs and arms to immobilize them. Later in the darkness, the wounded crawled out of the graves and tried to escape, but the murderers organized and chased after them and virtually all perished.
Only one woman succeeded in escaping, a Mrs. Moroz. She hid herself and with the help of Lithuanian acquaintances she succeeded in getting to the Siauliai Ghetto and from there to the Kaunas Ghetto. Also on 26 August 1941, forty persons succeeded in jumping the Ghetto fence and escaped, but all except three were recaptured and murdered.
There was an internal debate in the Pasvalys municipal council on whether to keep the Jews in the Ghetto or to execute them. The matter was put to the vote, and by a large majority, it was decided to execute the Jews.
Mrs. Sheina Gertner, a survivor who was an eyewitness until the last hours of the massacre, gathered and hid the dust from the grave in the Zadeikiai Forest, and in 1973 this dust was preserved in the basement of Yad Vashem.
The lists of mass graves in the book The Popular Massacres of Lithuania include the following:
Place - Zadeikiai Forest. Date - 26 August, 1941. Number who perished - 1,349 men, women and children.
Esther Glass-Shavetz of Kibbutz Givat Brenner
Boris Forman of Tel-Aviv.
The Fate of the Jews of Posvol and Surrounding Villages by B. Reinus, Lite, Volume 1, Association of Lithuanian Jews, New York, 1951.
The Literary Collections of Lithuania, pp. 859 ff.
Yerushalmi, Eliezer. The Shauli Notebook. Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1958. p. 212.
Letter from the Committee of Survivors of Posvol, 7 April 1975.
The Popular Massacres of Lithuania, Part II. Vilnius, 1973.
Lithuanian Jewry, Volume III: Part A - Personalities. Part B - Places. Tel Aviv: Association of Former Lithuanians in Israel, established by Abraham Dov Abrams and Former Lithuanians in Philadelphia and Israel, 1967. p. 337.
Lithuanian Jewry, Volume IV: The Holocaust 1941-1945. Tel Aviv: Association of Former Lithuanians in Israel, 1984. p. 332.
56° 09'/ 23° 49'
Pasvitinys was a small town in the north 12 km from the Latvian border. Other towns and villages of the region were Linkuva (15 km), Kriukai (16 km), Joniskis (18 km), Zeimelis (20 km), Siauliai (42 km), Pelenikiai (2 km), Medginai (6 km), Secliai (7 km), and Kradiniai (5 km).
Jewish settlement there began long before World War I. The nearest railway station was at Joniskis. In 1897 the Jewish population was 435 souls, 59% of the total, and in 1902 the entire village was burnt down; after some time it was rebuilt. Just before World War I there were 120 Jewish families living there, and before the Holocaust there remained only 25 families.
In the period before World War I the Jews made their living as petty merchants in the weekly market, held on Wednesdays, and in the biennial fairs as peddlars and craftsmen. The public baths and flour mill were also owned by Jews.
During the period of Lithuanian Independence, the small number of remaining Jews were petty merchants, and many survived on assistance received from relations who had already emigrated to South Africa before World War I. Also in the period of Lithuanian Independence many others emigrated to South Africa. The settlement emptied of younger people, and there remained only a number of older persons; persons from the surrounding villages settled in the suburb of Zelinkian, where previously only Jews had resided. There was a Beit HaMidrash in the town.
Among its Rabbis were: Rabbi Elhanan, son of Rabbi Yehuda Cohen; Rabbi Mordechai Hillman; and the last Rabbi, Rav David Nachman Dodman, may his blood be avenged.
When the Germans entered the town, the National Lithuanian activists had already organized themselves under the leadership of the School Principal Apirovis. At the end of the war he became principal of a school in Vilnius, and when he died his obituary stated that he was an important businessman and a great human being. The rampage of the Lithuanians started immediately as the activists broke into the homes of the Jews and cruelly taunted them.
When a German officer from Joniskis arrived in the town, he started drinking and got drunk together with two young Lithuanian men named Karalilis and Alautkai and a Latvian named Jan Tiltin. In a drunken boisterous mood they entered the house of a Jew named Brouer and began aggresively pestering his young grandaughter. The elderly grandfather tried to protect his grandaughter and they shot him dead in cold blood. They also watched how other young Lithuanians also grabbed the son of Matisyahu Segal and granddaughter of Hirsch Itzil Mar, tied their hands terribly tight, and beat them with their rifle butts.
Almost all of the Jews of the town had relatives and friends in the larger towns of the region, and they desperately tried to leave Pasvitinys to join them. One of these families was Koslovitzky. They hired a Lithuanian driver and wagon and attempted to stealthily leave the town and reach Siauliai. A man named Apirusvis heard about it and he, together with other Lithuanians, chased after them, catching up with them close to Siauliai. They forced the family to get off the cart with the words: The days that you could cheat and take advantage of the Lithuanians are over and made them return to Pasvitinys on foot.
After a short period all the Jews of the town were ordered to leave their homes and were locked in an ancient horse stable next to the flour mill on the road to Zeimelis and which was called The Magazine. From there they were taken out each day to forced labor on the surrounding farms. Others were brutally murdered together with some Jews of Linkuva on the road to Siauliai, including the last Rav of Pasvitinys, Rav David Nachman Dodman, together with all his sons. After some time had passed, the remaining Jews of Pasvitinys were removed on horsedrawn wagons to Zagare where they perished together with the Jews of Zagare.
It is estimated that the last Jews of Pasvitinys perished on the day after Yom Kippur, 2 October 1941.
Story and lists of Meir Halevi (Leibowitz).
Lithuanian Jewry, Volume III: Part A - Personalities. Part B - Places. Tel Aviv: Association of Former Lithuanians in Israel, established by Abraham Dov Abrams and Former Lithuanians in Philadelphia and Israel, 1967. p. 339.
Lithuanian Jewry, Volume IV: The Holocaust 1941-1945. Tel Aviv: Association of Former Lithuanians in Israel, 1984. p. 334.
55° 58'/ 23° 52'
The nearest settlements to Pokruojis were Posvalys (Posvol) (20 km), Linkuva (15 km) and Lygumia (Ligum) (12 km). The village was on land belonging to Baron Ropp, who was friendly to the Jews and provided them with social services. He died in 1894 and all the Jews of Pokruojis attended the funeral to show their respect and appreciation.
The Jewish community of Pokruojis was one of the earliest in Lithuania. At the time of the Lithuanian Council, Pokroujis served as a gathering point for the Birzai district of the Zhamet region.
Before World War I, about 300 Jewish families (1,400 souls) lived there. In 1921, 100 families (406 souls) and in 1939, prior to World War II, 120 families (454 souls). The Jews were involved in small-scale trade and crafts. They lived in great poverty. The youth emigrated mainly to South Africa, Mexico and Uruguay, and some to Palestine. Some of the first Jewish immigrants from Lithuania to South Africa came from Pokroujis. There were more former Pokroujis residents living in America and Africa than in their home town. Between the wars the Jewish Peoples' Bank, with 107 members, supported the impoverished Jewish residents.
By the eve of the Holocaust, most Jews had left the town and only the elderly remained.
Well-known rabbis were: Rav Meshuflam-Zalman, son of Rav Chaim Zak (Sack), who later lived in Vilnius; Rav Chaim, son of Rav Tuvia Katz, later a judge and lecturer in Vilnius who settled in Palestine in 5570/1810 and died in Safed in 5573/1813; Rav Yosef Yaffe; Rav Mordechai; Rav Nahum Shapira; Rav Shmuel-Meir, son of Rav Yosef Yakov Shur, who died 5658/1899; and Rav Chaim Zalman Kron, may his blood be avenged.
Well-known native born were: Israel Finn, famous Zionist figure, poet and writer; and the poet Yehoshua Latzman.
The town of Pokroujis was 35 kms from the regional capital, Siauliai. In 1939, there were 120 Jewish families or 454 souls.
The Germans entered the town on 28 June 1941. Lithuanian activists immediately began to plunder and destroy Jewish homes. They ruthlessly abused the Jews with violent blows and stole their belongings.
On 10 July they forcibly brought out the male Jews and put them to death in the forest behind the town. They forced the women and children into a ghetto, detained them there under guard for a number of weeks, then brought them to a place outside the town where pits had already been dug and murdered them all.
A number of Jews of Pokroujis survived as they had been transferred to the Siauliai Ghetto four days before the murder of the male Jews. The local doctor of Pokroujis, M. Screiber, was not put to death with all the Jews; they allowed him to stay and work in his profession. In April 1942 he met his death together with some 20 Jews who had been caught in their places of refuge in surrounding villages.
The lists of mass graves in the book, The Popular Massacres in Lithuania, Part II, include the following:
Place - Morkakalnis Wood 3 km south-east of Pokroujis. Date summer of 1941. Number who perished - 300.
Witness: Shmuel Sher - questionnaire of the Central Council of Lithuanian Jews in Italy.
Eliezer, Yerushalmi. The Shauli Notebook. Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1958.
The Popular Massacres in Lithuania, Part II. Vilnius, 1973.
Lithuanian Jewry, Volume III: Part A - Personalities. Part B - Places. Tel Aviv: Association of Former Lithuanians in Israel, established by Abraham Dov Abrams and Former Lithuanians in Philadelphia and Israel, 1967. p. 338.
Lithuanian Jewry, Volume IV: The Holocaust 1941-1945. Tel Aviv: Association of Former Lithuanians in Israel, 1984. p. 333.
55° 56'/ 24° 21'
Pumpenai was a village in the north of Lithuania on the road from Panevezys to Pasvalys. At the time of the German invasion in the summer of 1941, there were about 60 Jewish families living there.
Yakov Rosin (Rosen), a witness, reported:
Within a few days of their entry on 27-28 June the Germans organized the local nationalists and police, headed by the local Mayor. Jewish residents, rounded up for forced hard labor, were not only cruelly treated but robbed of their possessions. On 15 July the Jews were forced to leave their homes and were concentrated in a small Ghetto, bordered by the homes of Shalom Itzhak Sandler, Moshe Moyer, Mendel Kovsky, Avraham Luria, Moshe Kramer and the Rabbi. Surrounded by barbed wire, they were left in this overcrowded Ghetto without provisions, forced into hard labor, beaten, robbed, and living in fear until 26 August.
Then together with Jews of Panevezys and other surrounding villages, they were transported to the Pajouste Forest about 5 km from Panevezys, and there next to already prepared pits, were fired uponmen, women and children. Their bodies were covered with earth, including many still alive. Amongst the murdered were the Raizins, mother, her brothers, father and their families.
Note by Joe Woolf: I assume that is where they lie in the common graves of over 6000 victims in the Pajouste Forest. I personally have been there.
Other families, those of Chana Kramer, Segal and Esther Milner, were transported to Posvol and murdered there with the Jews of Posvol and Zidikai, at the Zidikai Woods, about 5 km from Posvol. The end of the chemist Leib Lepolsky came only after a number of weeks. He, his sons and their families, were murdered with exceptional viciousness and cruelty in Pumpenai itself. The murderers, among them the Lithuanians Lalis, Disa, Patraitis, and Viyulnik, excelled in their sadism.
Witness: Yakov Rosin (Rosen)
Lithuanian Jewry, Volume III: Part A - Personalities. Part B - Places. Tel Aviv: Association of Former Lithuanians in Israel, established by Abraham Dov Abrams and Former Lithuanians in Philadelphia and Israel, 1967. p. 334.
Lithuanian Jewry, Volume IV: The Holocaust 1941-1945. Tel Aviv: Association of Former Lithuanians in Israel, 1984. p. 329.
55° 44'/ 21° 56'
See also Memorial book: the Ritavas Community
On 22 June 1941 when the Germans invaded Lithuania, the Jews of Rietavas evacuated the town and sought refuge in the surrounding villages. The next day, 23 June 1941, the Russians set fire to the town as the Jews retreated. Most of the houses in the town, the majority of which were Jewish, burned down. Under the leadership of the Roman Catholic Priest of Rietavas, the Lithuanian activists formed a committee and in the name of the committee, the mayor issued an order making it compulsory for the Jews to return to the town and forbidding anyone to provide refuge to the Jews. Those who complied with the order could take over Jewish property and possessions.
The municipality also listed all the Jews of the town and all adult Jewish males were sent out each day on forced labor. Returning from their labor on 26 June, the men were led to a small forest of thick growth surrounded by armed German SS troops. The SS troops forced the Jewish men to run around in a circle, making them perform all sorts of physical exercises. Failure to carry out any particular movement brought severe and brutal beatings by the SS.
On 27 June all the Jews of Rietavasmen, women, children, elderly, invalids and sickwere put into a camp on the estate of the convert Oginsky. For three days they were held there, deprived of food and water. On the fourth day the SS threw into the camp dry rusks and salty smoked fish which had been found in the stores of the Red Army. The hungry prisoners fell on this food, using as utensils empty food tins found on the refuse dump. The results were not unexpected: many of them suffered from diarrhea and writhed with severe stomach cramps. They were given no rest whatsoever; the SS visited the camp at all hours making frequent calls with a whistle, bringing everyone to their feet, forcing another bout of physical exercises and other means of torment.
A special target of the murderers was Rav Shmuel Fundler. The SS cut off half his beard, stood him up in the middle of the camp and forced him to burn his tallith, tefillin, and his Gemara that he taught from. They also harnessed him to the garbage wagon and forced him to pull it through the side streets of the town, and when he succeeded in standing up to this terrible torture, the Lithuanian activists murdered him. Six young Jews suspected of being communists were brutally murdered. Felix Radikskowski (age 20), Hissel Graber (aged 29), and Nachman Smalle were executed by fire; the other three, including Moshe Katz, were forced to dig pits and on completion were stabbed to death. Their bodies, along with all those who were shot, were thrown into the pit.
A few days later, the Jews in the camp were roused in order to move them all to Telsiai, the regional capital, where all the Jews of the area were being assembled. Forty farm wagons arrived and waited at the gate of the camp. Meanwhile, the Jews were ordered to hand over their valuables, jewelry, silver and gold. Mrs. A. Friedman-Feivish, a survivor, tells of a Lithuanian approaching her and threatening to take her wedding ring together with her finger. After everything had been taken from them, the entire Jewish community left the camp and the town where their families had lived for centuries. The wagons carried the sick, old, the invalids and the smaller children, the rest marching behind them escorted by a massive guard of Lithuanian activists, many curious Lithuanians, and German soldiers photographing the sad spectacle.
Thirty-six hours later, they reached Camp Reinai, where they joined the Jews of Telsiai. The same evening, they were all transferred to Viesvenai, where all the Jews of the region were being assembled from Zarenvai, Tverai, Nevarenai, etc.a total of about 1,500 people. From there, all the men and stronger women were sent to forced labour at Telsiai.
On 14 July 1941 (19 Tamuz), two truckloads of Germans arrived. One powerful German, naked to his waist with a whistle in his mouth and a whip in his hand, ordered the Jews to form lines and made them do tormenting physical exercises. For two continuous hours the Jews ran in a circle, had to drop down with a whistle blow, rise up with the next whistle blow, and heaven help those who could not keep up they were severely beaten by this German who controlled the victims with a smile on his lips. Those who could not lie down or rise up on command were beaten to death. Three victims died of this sport: Yakov Bar-Gershowitz from Rietavas, Dr. Saul Traub from Tverai, and Isaacson from Telsiai. The next day, 15 July 1941, a truckload of Germans and Lithuanians arrived. They took 50 strong men, barefoot with shovels in their hands, who never returned; all were murdered at a place nearby.
On Wednesday 16 July (21Tamuz) two more truckloads of Germans arrived, and the diabolical games began again. The males were tormented and beaten repeatedly with more cruelty than before. After these tormenting exercises, everyone was completely exhausted, beaten, bruised and cut, and without any will to remain alive. Then everyone was led to a wood, the place of execution. A number who attempted to escape on the way were shot down as they ran.
While the beaten males were being murdered, one German circulated amongst the women announcing: You will never see your husbands again and now you have to work very hard. I promise in the name of the Holy One that nothing more will happen to you. One woman from Rietavas jumped up with her infant son, age two, in her arms, looked at the pool of blood in which her husband was dying, and screamed at the Germans: I was a communist and will remain so because the Jews fought for freedom and justice. You are all murderers and executioners and do not one moment think that their blood will not be avenged. The Germans and Lithuanians then rushed at her and she, seeing the fate ahead, choked her infant with her own hands and in this rebellious way went to her death.
After that, all the remaining women and children were moved to Giroliar, where they met their fate with the other Jews from the Telsiai region. This camp for the people of the region was an enclosure entirely for women. Medical, health and other conditions were beyond description and although the women formed a camp committee to protest, the conditions remained subhuman, the tormenting Lithuanians abused the women continuously. When the women were selected for forced labor, the cruel activists attempted to molest them.
The day before the final action, the camp commander declared to the women that something unpleasant would befall them, but if they could raise 10,000 rubles it could be avoided. The camp committee went around all the bungalows of the camp collecting everything of value which they gave to the camp commander. This was their last hope, but proved to be of no avail as the wild drunken guards broke into the bungalows and with shouts and blows assembled all the women. Then came the order to separate all women aged 15 to 30. Six hundred women were taken to the newly formed ghetto in Telsiai. The remaining women were murdered at Reinai on 30 August 1941.
At the end of December 1941 between Christmas and New Year, the Telsiai Ghetto was closed, and the younger women were taken to Reinai for execution. In spite of this, many managed to escape and reached the Siaulai Ghetto. About 30 dispersed in the area and survived until they were rescued by the Red Army in 1944.
According to Lithuanian Jewry, 868 victims of Rietavas are buried in mass graves outside Telsiai at Giroliar and Viesvenai. Leaders of the Lithuanian murderers in Rietavas were Staosis Rameskis, Kazis Rameskis, Acris Yokovartis, and Misake Shertonkastis.
Yente Gerskowitz-Alter (Yad Vashem Archives 1322/136)
Mrs. A. Friedman-Feivish (Yad Vashem Archives 40/57).
Lithuanian Jewry, Volume III: Part A - Personalities. Part B - Places. Tel Aviv: Association of Former Lithuanians in Israel, established by Abraham Dov Abrams and Former Lithuanians in Philadelphia and Israel, 1967. p. 359.
Lithuanian Jewry, Volume IV: The Holocaust 1941-1945. Tel Aviv: Association of Former Lithuanians in Israel, 1984. p. 359.
Note by Joe Woolf:
I had originally translated this for David Susman over 10 years ago in preparation for his visit to Lithuania in about 1994. Hence the following reference to his name and other mourned guys that he knew.
Special notes for David Susman
55° 48'/ 22° 53'
Saukenai is situated in the north of Lithuania, in the Siauliai (Shavel) region. The Jewish community prior to the German invasion in the summer of 1941 numbered about 100 families. The Germans had captured the town on Thursday, 26 June 1941. The Jews had already taken refuge in the surrounding villages where refugees from Kelme had arrived previously. After its capture they returned to the town, including about 30 families from Kelme.
The Lithuanians had been organized from Monday of that week, encouraged by the proclamations of Radio Kovno (Kaunas). They had pestered the retreating Russians and would not allow the Jews to flee eastwards with them, ambushed them on the roads, shooting and robbing. By Friday of that week the Lithuanians had taken control of the town with Dr. Girduvanius as Mayor, immediately directing their activities against the Jews with abuse and maltreatment in the old Jewish neighborhoods.
In the first days the Lithuanians burst into the Beit HaMidrash during morning prayers, forcefully removing the Jews still wearing tallisim and tefilin for forced labor with abusive shouts, now we are the Sirs here. They were made to clear the abandoned Russian vehicles from the roads while all the time being mercilessly and cruelly beaten by the Lithuanians, who did not spare even the elderly Jews.
Leaders of the community approached Dr. Girduvanius to object, but they were told that the Germans had ordered them to mobilize all the Jews as a labor force. They listened and asked why it was necessary to force the elderly to this severe hard labor and why with such brutality.
The Lithuanians agreed in principle to their complaints and advised the Jews to elect a council, whose duties would be to mobilize Jews for the labor that would be allocated to them. The Jews elected a council; at its head was Eliahu Nosselovich and they began to select their people for the required labor. In practice this did not work as the Lithuanian activists continued to abuse all the Jews and hit them with murderous blows, and complaints were disregarded.
In the meanwhile, ten Jews, most of them young, were arrested and taken to the prison in Siauliai (Shavel). Of them only Moshe Isaacs returned alive.
The authorities banned the Jews from leaving their homes after sunset, from any contact with non-Jews, and from leaving the perimeter of the town. One day the Shukian Jews were required to distance themselves from the Jews of Kelme and to send them away. The Shukian Jews claimed that they would help the refugees from Kelme to the best of their ability; their homes have been burnt down and their fate would be the same. The Lithuanians pretended to agree to let them stay, but only after a few days their demands were repeated and not dropped from the agenda.
On 25 July the Lithuanians demanded a contribution from the Jewish Council of 50,000 rubles; if not paid, all the Jews to the last person would be expelled. The Council advised the community of this during Shabbat services before the reading of the Torah. Some Jews who had had good relations with some of the better Lithuanians suggested that they approach them to explain the difficulties.
Arye Schneider, who had been in the past a forester for the regional forests, approached the current forester, Gayudoshas, whom he knew well and who had declined to join the Lithuanian activists. He said to Schneider, I do not know and cannot tell regarding the affairs of the Jews. Their lot has already been cast. In many forests there are no more Jewish men. Where are they? asked Schneider. Gayudoshas answered, Use your imagination and the same will happen here. Regarding Schneider himself, he said, I have some friendly advice. You have a saw mill, a house and a fishpond. Transfer them into my name, it will be sufficient to write it on a piece of paper in the form of a will, authorized by the Priest, and I will try to support your family.
With much difficulty Schneider declined his good advice and quickly returned to the Beit HaMidrash and reported this conversation. On the same morning some Jews approached the Priest for clarification. The answer of the shepherd of the spirit was, Well, your notice of your annihilation has come. In anticipation I advise you to think of what questions you have to ask Jesus. You must pay the ransom.
In spite of everything the Jews decided to make supreme efforts to pay the ransom. In order not to desecrate the Sabbath, they waited until the completion of Shabbat to collect the money. The businessmen went from house to house, where some gave cash, others gave watches, jewelry and other items of value. By Sunday morning they handed over the required amount to the headquarters of the Lithuanian activists with the hope that things would change for the better.
On 28 July at about 5 a.m. they felt something suspicious was going on in the village. Looking through the blinds of their homes, they saw armed Lithuanians standing outside each house. With shouts the Lithuanians ordered everyone out of their houses: This is not your place, get outside with all your jewelry, valuables, and all of your belongings, and go to the special designated place.
The Jews were then gathered at the Great Synagogue that was famous for its design and antiquity. In the hallway of the synagogue sat the leaders of the activists, forcing the Jews to hand over their jewelry, money and other valuables, saying that they, the activists, would provide food and other necessities for the Jews. This was done with cruel blows and all was handed over. At 10 a. m. the Jews were ordered to assemble in lines in the yard of the synagogue and told that they were being taken to a special place.
All the Jews were taken under heavy guard to an estate called Shukiskis, three km from Shukian, owned by two brothers Rosenthal. One of them, together with his son and daughter, had been banished to Siberia by the previous Russian authorities. The other, a bachelor, Arye Leon, had remained on the estate but before the Jews were brought there, had fled and taken refuge among Lithuanians and survived. Already at the estate were 10 other Jewish families from surrounding villages. All the Jews were now locked up in the estate buildings, stables and the granary. Once again the Lithuanians abused them cruelly. They were made to remove their shoes, which were taken by their abusers. Later they were made to take off all their clothing. Germans were not to be seen either in the town or on the estate.
On 30 July, Wednesday, all the Jews were ordered to enter the granary. In this crowded situaion the Lithuanian guards took out all the 89 children. After that, calling names from a list, they took out 20 mothers, 15 adult women, four adult men, in all 128 people, leaving about 200 in the granary. The list of those called out had apparently been prepared by the Lithuanian leaders with the intention of keeping certain persons alive for specific reasons. They had taken out, for example, Arye Schneider and three members of his family because the forester Gayudoshas still had hopes of obtaining his will on a piece of paper; and also Chaim Shlomo Kremer with his six sons and daughters, because Dr. Girduvanius recommended Kremer as an excellent announcer and also guarantor for him.
Among the four adult men was a tanner by trade, and one of the Lithuanian leaders had recommended him because he still had to complete various work for important Lithuanians. The fourth adult male was Shmuel Kalmonovich, age 17, also because one of the Lithuanian leaders had recommended him. All of the people taken out of the granary were put into the main house of the estate and the doors and blinds were closed and armed guards placed outside.
The people in the crowded house looked with apprehension through every possible opening or crack in the direction of the granary. The gate of the granary was opened and the Jews inside, dressed only in their underwear, were forced out by the yelling Lithuanians and taken in rows off the grounds of the estate. Where were they being taken? None of those in the house would give up the openings they were watching through The time was between 3 and 4 in the afternoon. At about 6 p.m., in the early evening, those in the main crowded house were allowed by the Lithuanians into the yard for an hour.
Immediately the Jews began to ask, Where have the others been taken? To work, answered the Lithuanians. The Jews felt that there was no such thing and burst into fits of crying that continued the whole night. One of them went out of his mind with worry. It was a terrible night.
Arye Schneider relates:
The next day, in the early hours of the morning, I went into the yard. Only one guard was outside the house. He was also shocked. In the distance, I could see the Lithuanian Ignas Kaminskas from the village of Girusukis, not far from Saukenai (Shukian), a man without any land and burdened with many children, mostly employed as a cart driver or laborer, and very poor. Therefore I thought I had seen him yesterday among those driving and handling the Jews, since he was much in need and very likely to take the opportunity to plunder. On the other hand I thought immediately that over the past month he had shown himself to be honest; he had put himself in danger by bringing us food and helped us to the best of his ability. Kaminskas approached me and began to cry. I asked, Why the tears? He answered, It is nothing. But I persisted and asked, Ignas, where were they taken yesterday?
Yes, he answered, because it is my home here, it is my desire to tell you so that among you Jews it will be absolutely clear. We walked them from here for about 4 km to the Dolkiskis forest in the Eighth Quarter where I know every corner and I know the forester, where I worked in the past under his supervision. To be more accurate, the place of the murder was 5 km from the town, about 500 metres to the left of the road between Saukenai (Shukian) and Shavel, between the villages of Suvila and Poshvinishi, about 1.5 km from my place, in the direction of Shavel. That morning the Lithuanians had dug a long pit, they brought the Jews in groups of ten, and shot them alongside the pit. Those who fell dead into the pit were lucky. The others who did not die or were wounded by the firing were thrown into the pit alive. And in the town those who had been told they were being taken out for work are no longer alive. From a distance I lay on my stomach and saw all this. I am a witness. The Lithuanians did this by themselves, and it was their own decision to carry out this terrible thing.
Kaminskas continued and told me that the activists who carried out this deed were known to him. They were Josias Arbathauskas (today a townsman known as a composed, mild and moderate person and difficult to think that he could put his hands to such a criminal act), the brother Jozias from the village of Kartoklai, and Brazias, a municipal worker. Karminskas told me that he heard that in Shavel there were still Jews, and he was advised to move there.
Schneider asked Kaminskas to visit again and he returned into the house and related Kaminskas' story to a number of adults. They would not believe it and claimed that it was impossible for such a thing to happen.
At 10 a.m. the same morning the head of the local council, Dr. Girduvanius, and other Lithuanians arrived on the estate. He told them that as it had fallen on his shoulders to worry about the Jews; he advised that the remainder be moved to the Jewish-owned farms in the area. There they could work and live. Arye Schneider was advised to go and work at the flour mill at Suvila (5 km from Shukian which used to belong to a Jew from Kelme named Chesler.
The Jews asked Girduvanius where their people had been taken the previous day. The reply was that they had been sent to work. Some of the Jews suggested that the small children and their mothers be brought back and a;sp sent to Suvila. The reply was that it was impossible, as they had been taken to a place which he cannot disclose.
The Lithuanians divided the Jews among five different locations. The Jews initiated a bold system of communication between them. The largest group was taken to Suvila, where there was a large farm next to the flour mill. The group consisted of 50 small children, and 15 mothers and adult women who looked after the children.
Schneider decided to leave the flour mill for the farm at Suvila to see the situation. He relates, In the middle of August I arrived at Suvila in the darkness and reported to Shmuel Leibovich and those around him our situation and what might happen to us. They did not know of the events and refused to believe or absorb the evil thing that had happened. I returned to the flour mill without a solution to our problems.
From the time the Jews had been divided into the five groups, information continued to arrive, because the vicinity of Shukian was not to be their permanent place and they were concentrated in a large place. At the same time some Lithuanians known to them appeared and suggested to them, in the name of the priest and the respected citizens of Shukian, that they convert to the Catholic Church, which would enable them to remain alive. Farmers would be able to hide them with a clear conscience as they would be counted among the Christians and not as Jews. The Jews thanked them for their good intentions but did not show signs of agreement. The advice of the priest started to become more practical and more logical among the younger persons, especially the girls.
Then came 29 August when they began to concentrate the Jews from all five places next to the house of Farmer Pilatzkis, about one kilometer from the town. At about 7 p.m. the people were seated on carts and they started heading northwards. After a night of wandering, with the crying and wailing of the babies, they arrived in the morning at Zagare. As they entered the town, they were discovered by the local Lithuanians, who asked the activists from Shukian who had transported them, why they had brought them to Zagare as they had no place to bury them. At Zagare the Jews of Shukian met many Jews from towns and villages in the vicinity, mostly women and children. There were very few adult males. Only from the village of Bazilionai were all the residents present, including the adult males. The gentiles of Bazilionai refused to listen to the libel of the Germans and avoided initiating any action against their Jewish neighbors.
Per orders of the Germans, the Jews had been expelled from their homes and crowded by force into the Beit HaMidrash and a few surrounding homes, until they were brought to Zagare. Some of the Jews of Shukian realized or immediately felt that in Zagare there was virtually no chance of remaining alive. They approached the activists who had brought them to Zagare and asked that they be returned them to Shukian. On the same Shabbat evening they agreed to do so with difficulty. Secretly 16 Jews of Shukian left Zagare to return to Shukian. When they reached the forests around Shukian, the Jews dispersed to different hiding places. All of them approached farmers who were most known and loyal to them. Some of farmers helped the Jews, supplied them with food and sometimes provided hiding places for them; and the majority provided the Jews with alternative hiding places from time to time.
Arye Schneider relates that after a number of days, the farmers who had provided assistance approached the Jews with demands to convert. It seems that the priest had instigated them to do so, and all the Jews except Arye, the oldest of them, converted to the Catholic faith. The priest invited me over in the attempt to preach the book of Catholic ethics. I claimed that I was not religious at all and I completely spoiled the priest's efforts with the words, 'Think it over.' Even after changing their religion, the others did not find an excellent patron and continued to search in the forests for more secure refuge.
During the month of September 1941 the successful Jews of Shukian sent food parcels with the Lithuanians to their families in Zagare and received letters of acknowledgement. In the meanwhile they received information that the ghetto of Zagare had already been eliminated and no Jews from Shukian in this ghetto were still alive. The Jews still in Shukian had not known this, but now it was apparent that the Lithuanians had not delivered the food parcels.
One day in November the lawyer Kuluksa Mauzuant, one of the activists involved in the destruction of the Jewish communities in the area, suddenly appeared with his followers. They burst through the forests into the villages of the district and with the help of local ruffians, grabbed some Jews and murdered them. Other Jews fled to other places, but eventually were rounded up and murdered. One of those who succeeded in escaping to the Shavel ghetto was Arye Schneider.
Of his escape, Schneider relates:
One evening in November, I was sitting in the house of farmer Andreuska in Yudum village. We heard the dog barking; I immediately left the house in the direction of the forest. From a distance I saw Farmer Pilatzkis approaching; I had previously been at his home. He told me that Kuluksa had come to the village to search for Jews, and he, knowing some of the hiding places of the Jews, had come to warn us. Again I immediately left my hiding place and stood in the forest, about 500 metres from the house, and I really did not know what to do.
After about an hour (it was between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.) I again heard dogs barking, and from a distance I saw the movement of Pansildokim among others coming to look for me. I really got my legs moving and ran into the forest and afterwards approached the house of Katkus, the forest guard, who was known to me, and I spent the night there. The next day Katkus went into the village to see what was happening. He returned and told us that a number of the 16 escapees had been caught and jailed and they were now looking for me. So I headed in the direction of Shavel and after a week of wandering, I arrived and entered the Shavel ghetto.
Others from Shukian who joined Schneider in the Shavel ghetto were Sonia Kaminsky and Ahuva Klor. At the end of the war only Schneider and Klor had survived.
The lists of mass graves in the book The Popular Massacres of Lithuania, Part I, include the following:
Place in the forest about 6 km on the road from Shukian to Shavel. Date - second half of 1941. Number who perished - about 400.
Arye Schneider, Nahariya
Freda (Nisselovich) Citron, Ramat Gan
The Popular Massacres of Lithuania, Part I, Chapters 6 and 20. Vilnius, 1973.
Lithuanian Jewry, Volume III: Part A - Personalities. Part B - Places. Tel Aviv: Association of Former Lithuanians in Israel, established by Abraham Dov Abrams and Former Lithuanians in Philadelphia and Israel, 1967. p. 365.
Lithuanian Jewry, Volume IV: The Holocaust 1941-1945. Tel Aviv: Association of Former Lithuanians in Israel, 1984. p. 365.
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