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[Page 383]

Decline and Destructon

My Evidence

by Bryna Rotholz-Kur

Translated by Rae Meltzer

Names and family of my parents: Jacob Hirsh and Sara Kur
Education: Finished the 6th class "YVNAH'' (Hebrew Folk School)
Graduate of the Lithuanian Government Gymnasia in Rakishok
Residence: Rakishok (until World War II)
Where did I save myself: the Soviet Union
Current residence: Paarl, Cape Province, South Africa

Until June 15, 1940, Lithuania was an independent republic. Then the Soviet military power came into Lithuania and also into Rakishok. I remember a Sunday. I was then barely 16 years old. Students were on vacation and so no classes met. Together with my girlfriends we went out to watch the long line of Soviet tanks. The Count Jan Pshedzetski of Rakishok, was waiting for the Soviet garrison.

No excesses occurred during entry of the Soviet power into Rakishok. There was complete order. However, our social and communal life changed. All business were immediately nationalized. The merchandise from the stores was concentrated in cooperatives. From early morning until late at night, customers stood in line in order to buy things from the cooperatives. Rumors spread that the Soviets had an enormous shortage of produce and of manufactured goods. Because of these rumors there was an intense rush and violent emergency to get to the cooperatives.

The rich strata and the ordinary Jewish citizens as well as the Christian population was opposed to and unhappy with the invasion of the Russian army. The strongest resistance to the new Soviet power was based on the Soviet policy of nationalization of private businesses and came especially from mercantile enterprises that were fairly large. There was strong opposition to the Soviet policy against free trade. There was a severe scarcity of everything.

The majority of the youth in the shtetl were excited and even inspired by the coming of the Soviet power to our shtetl. But at Succoth time, we were ordered to exchange our Lithuanian money for Soviet money. This aroused a strong dissatisfaction towards the Soviets. The Soviets were strict and stern, and everyone was fearful to express even verbal objections and criticisms of Soviet orders. Even the Lithuanians were frightened and did not show or express displeasure and objections. In spite of these strict orders from the Soviets, the Jewish population felt more secure under the protection of the Soviets. No one feared the excesses of the former Lithuanian government.

In the last years of the Lithuanian Republic, the anti-Semitism in Lithuania became very pronounced. A boycott was organized against Jewish merchants and other businesses. There was agitation against Jews and pamphlets were distributed telling Christians not to patronize Jewish merchants or buy Jewish goods. Leaflets were distributed reviling the Jews and insulting them by calling them "ethnics." The Jewish people in Lithuania saw threatening signs that black, perilous days were coming for Lithuanian Jews. For this reason, they were pleased with the Soviet power in one respect--that the Soviets opposed anti-Semitism.

The Jewish population in Rakishok grew. A stream of Polish Jews and Poles also immigrated to Rakishok. The Jews of Rakishok helped the Jewish refugees and immigrants with much concern and devotion. They helped them with housing, clothing, and footwear.

Life in Rakishok became more normal. People became acclimated to the existing Soviet government. There was unrest and worry about the possibility of war between the Soviets and Germany. In secret, everyone spoke about this possibility with great anxiety. In the last months before the German-Soviet War, one actually saw large multitudes of military personnel marching in the direction of the German border. This was an actual, factual signal that the peace between the Soviets and the Germans was on a very shaky foundation. However, no one expected or believed that war would break out so fast and so violently.

On the 22nd of June, 1941, Kovno was bombed by the Germans. This disastrous news spread like wildfire and lightening. No one believed that war had broken out between the Germans and the Soviets. On the same day, at seven o'clock in the morning, my older brother, Henech, who was a mechanic in the Russian ''compartay" [Communist Party?] told us that indeed it was true, that war had broken out between the Germans and the Soviets. At twelve o’clock the Russian Foreign Minister, Commissar M. Molotov, announced that the Germans had attacked Lithuania and other Soviet borders. He said in his statement that every citizen must help the Soviet Union defeat Fascism.

On Monday, June 23, 1941, a German airplane was sighted over Rakishok, but there was no bombing. The same day, at five o'clock in the afternoon, another plane was sighted, but Rakishok was not bombed. The day before we had already seen wounded Soviet soldiers being brought from the Soviet-German border. On the roads there were Lithuanian partisans who shot the Russian soldiers. They hung banners on the posts and the national Lithuanian flags. Their banners were inscribed with anti-Soviet and anti-Semitic slogans. Many Jews who were on the regular roads and on the unpaved roads of Rakishok were killed by the Lithuanian partisans.

The Soviet government in Lithuania was not able to control the panic and at the same time liquidate the Lithuanian partisan organization. I know only these facts: four Lithuanian partisans were caught by the Soviets and condemned to be hung on the telegraph­ poles. Other Lithuanian partisans came and freed them before they were dead. I also know that Mishkeh Rotman shot a Lithuanian partisan, Patrim. These nominal measures could not liquidate the Lithuanian-fascist-partisan organization. It was like a drop in the ocean. The Lithuanian partisans multiplied quickly with every passing hour.

On Wednesday, June 25, 1941, at four o'clock in the afternoon, dreadful panic erupted in the shtetl. We saw how the Soviet "Compartay" was leaving Rakishok. My brother was also getting ready to leave with members of the "Partay". Everybody came running to us to find out the details of the catastrophic situation. The Jewish population was deadly frightened of the Germans. All the persecutions and the death penalties that befell the Jews of Poland were reaching Rakishok. The whole shtetl was ready to flee.

People began to run with horses and wagons, with bicycles and on foot. Almost half of the Jews of Rakishok fled. Ninety-nine (99%) of the youth fled. Everyone ran in the direction of Abel, Subot, Dvinsk, and the Lithuanian-Soviet border. On the border stood the Lithuanian soldiers, who would not let the fleeing Jews cross the border. They said to the Jews: "Go fight in your land." They said the same to the Rakishok "Compartay." There was every reason to think that the Lithuanian soldiers were deliberately trying to provoke the fleeing Rakishok Jews.

The fleeing Jews and the Soviet officials as well as the "Compartay" were forced to turn back to Rakishok. On the road they were encircled by Lithuanian soldiers who shot at them and threw grenades. A battle developed, which lasted two-and-a-half hours and there were dead and wounded. The Soviet government condemned to death three Lithuanian partisans who were between 20-25 years old. They were immediately shot.

The Lithuanian driver of the "Compartay" ran away during the battle to the Lithuanian partisans. My younger brother, Michal, took over the automobile and became the driver of the "Compartay." The battle-field overflowed with Jewish dead and wounded and their property was strewn around everywhere.

We found three wounded Jews from Abel--two Jews were lying in one grave and another Jew in a second grave. We thought that one of them might be Hon. Abraham Meyerovitsh from Abel and two other Jews from Abel. They were shot by Lithuanian partisans. In Vorestsineh, six kilometers from Rakishok, there was a large grouping of partisans who shot at us. We got to Rakishok at eleven o'clock and the situation was very dangerous. Between Abel and Subot there were German sentries who were shooting the returning Rakishok Jews who had fled earlier.

The panic rose from minute to minute and from twelve o'clock to one o'clock in the afternoon, all the Soviet officials--the police, the NKVD, and the "Compartay"--were just taking a last breath before pulling out of Rakishok. The only way of escape was by way of Anikshot-Kurland. All those who fled toward Abel were killed by the Germans and the Lithuanian partisans. My parents perished fleeing to Abel. The Komeyer Jews, Brikman and Shtein, were the only ones lucky enough to save themselves while fleeing to Abel.

I fled through Anikshot, where the border was open. We went through Jacobshtot to Rezshitseh, about 500 kilometers. Then we pushed toward Velikeh-Luki-Apatsk. For 90 kilometers we struggled on through a swamp. From there we rode troop trains. For 22 days we rode on the troop train toward Kazan. We were distributed among the villages and “kolkhoz,” where I found my three brothers. Along with myself, my sister and her child escaped also. Because of the continuous German conquests, we rode deeper and deeper into the Soviet interior until we reached Uzbekistan, where we found a community near the Iranian border. It was there that we remained throughout the war.

In November 1945 I returned to Vilna. It was Succoth time. Rakishok had been liberated in 1944. Shloime Kagan was the first Jew to get back to Rakishok. He participated in the struggle of the Lithuanian division that was formed in the U.S.S.R. (Soviet Union) in the town of Gorki, January 20, 1943. The majority in this division were Jews, amongst whom there were many Rakishok young men. They included: Laibke Ribak, Poli Ruch, Boruch Kruk, Berke Kur, Shayarke Levin, Shmulke Rif, Shloime Kagan, Abraham Kagan, Hershl Abramovitsh (who reached the rank of Major), Laibl Yakubovits (who reached the rank of Lieutenant), Rueben Levy (Lieutenant), Marek Etengaf, whose father, Dr. Etengaf, accompanied the echelon of those forced to go to Siberia which included the following families: Ruch, Fanya Levin, all the brothers Meller, and Yonkel Klingman with his family. In the Lithuanian army the following served: Laib Shoib, Tsimeh, the Rabbi's son, Itzhak Shrubinski, the brothers Oiyershans, and others. It is known to me that Motl Klug, Hirshl Harmets, Kopl the orphan, one of the brothers Oiyershan, and Motl Shub perished in the war. Yudel Vyner died in the Soviet army in Japan. One of the most severe invalids among the survivors was Laibl Ruch. Those young Jewish men of Rakishok who were in the Lithuanian division were loyal and fought bravely and heroically in the area of "Klaipedo" (Memel) and were the first to fight their way back to Lithuania. The Rakishok youth told me the above details and much more information about the death and destruction of our Rakishok Jews.

The Germans came into Rakishok through Komayer Street. The speedy arrival of the Germans came at eleven o'clock in the morning. Jacob Jacobson was peeping through his window and he was immediately shot and killed by a German soldier. He was the first Jewish corpse. The second corpse was Kasriel Shomer, who was shot as he was walking back from Jacobson's funeral. Then the Jewish community turned around and went back to the cemetery to hold a second funeral. Immediately after their march into Rakishok, the Germans assembled the men and encircled them at "Lordship's red stable wall.” The women and children were forced to flee to Antenasheh. Children up to the age of eight were kept with the women.

The Germans forced the Jews to do back-breaking work such as finishing the paving of the highway, which through Jewish forced labor was extended to the marketplace over the “red minyon.” [Amanda's  note: The "Red Minyon" means "The Red Shul". There were several Shuls In Rakishok identified by color- our family went to the Green Shul. I remember my aunt telling me about this.]

In addition to hard-labor the Jews were beaten, tortured and stabbed with spears.

The Germans forced the Jews to do inhumane, exhausting, heavy labor, and in addition they bullied, baited, and drove them under a hail of punches and kicks to the river "Prud" and back.

The local Rakishok gentile population did not show any sympathy to the Jews.

The sadistic perpetrators of the pogrom among the Christian population of Rakishok were the following: the tailor Bronislov who had said, “Yiddish blood must be spread on my hands.” Andrushka, who all her life worked with Jews, even spoke Yiddish very well, and worked for the bagel-baker Rachmiel Ruch. In those Hitler days she was the worst assassin. Pytrenas, who was the commander of the police and watched over Jews in the “red (outside) wall.” Before the entry of the Soviet army in 1944, Pytrenas was shot and killed. A second police assassin was Antsenas, who worked until the war in "Stsukas Auto­Garage” and was in hiding in 1946, in the woods in the vicinity of Rakishok.

Later, the Jews were cruelly tortured for several weeks before the men were shot and murdered on August 10, 1941. The women were shot and murdered on August 20, 1941. Before the Jews were led out to be shot, they were told that they were being sent to work in Smolensk and vicinity. The driver, Janos, from the Lord's estate, helped the Germans lead the Jews to their place of execution. All Jews were brought to a place behind "Boyar," and before all were shot, Hon. Zelig Orelowitz turned to the Jews and directed them not to resist, but instead to "sacrifice one's life in martyrdom for the name of the Lord" (Muser Nefesh Tsein El Kiddush Hashem).

Fifty-eight hundred (5,800) Jews, in 5-7 "brother" graves (mass graves) are buried there in the above-mentioned PLACE. Those buried there include Jews from Rakishok and nearby shtetlach: Abel, Kamai, Ponidel, Suvianishok, and Raduteh.

Before the execution, the following committed suicide by taking poison: the apothecary, Mishl Sher, together with his family; the doctor/dentist Henuch Gandelman and his wife; Dr. Miriam Farberyteh-Gandelman, and their two children. Dr. Farberyteh-Gandelman, an aunt of Yrachmiel Arons (Arsh), administered injections of morphine to her husband, the dentist/doctor Henuch Gandelman, her two children, and also Chyeh-Eyten Shwartzberg, a sister of Etl Arons (Arsh). At the home of "advocat"-Trivski, while the Germans were entering Rakishok, there was a banquet. Then because of a conflict in which their son was involved in a lawsuit with a Lithuanian Communist, the Germans shot Trivski and his son. Also, Nechama Jacobson was charged by the Germans as a Communist. She was unmercifully tortured in the Rakishok jail until she was shot.

On the basis of the information gathered through Shloime Kagan and through my brother who was also in Rakishok after the Liberation, there was a short period of five weeks that the Jews of Rakishok lived under the power of the Germans. During that time a "Judenrat" was formed of Reznikovits and Jacob Kark.

After the execution of the Jews, the Germans confiscated all Jewish property and put it in Besel Zamets' "moyer" [perhaps it means "stable"] and in the red minyon and sold it for negligible prices. There were those who ran away or escaped before and during the execution. They included: Henkeh Yafeh, a dedicated member of Maccabi, whose husband was Yser Kapelovits. She hid in a village with the Christian family, Dohdes. This family informed the Germans about her and they shot her while she was walking. Berl Shlossberg, at age 55, saved himself on the Aryan side [?]. He did not wish to talk about the details of the "Churban" (Holocaust).

Those who were in Rakishok after the Liberation told us that the shtetl remained whole. The bombs did not damage or destroy any buildings. Only the railroad station and a few houses near the church were damaged. All the houses remained standing in their places. Only the synagogue/school, the “green minyon,” the “red minyon,” YVNAH Hebrew Folk School, and several houses on Vilner Street were pilfered and distributed by the peasants and the Germans. Also, the Old Synagogue was pilfered and distributed. The Jewish youth of Rakishok wanted to accuse the peasant at whose place was found the wood from the Old Synagogue, but it is not known whether they did so. Generally over the shtetl hovered a sense of horror, dread, and terror--a “churban.” Peasants live in the former Jewish houses. The area of Comay Street and Urdzikeh Street looks like a village, and the view is of gardens and fields and plains that stretch far into the distance. [Translator’s note: “village” is used here in contrast to “shtetl.” A “village” is a small rural hamlet and is called a “dorf” in Yiddish, whereas “shtetl” is a town, more like a small city. Before the “churban,” Rakishok was definitely a small town (shtetl) and was reduced to the level of a (“dorf”) rural village after the Holocaust.]

Thanks to the intervention of the Jewish youth of Rakishok, seventeen pogrom-assassins were shot while the Soviets were in power.


[Page 391]

What I Experienced

by Gisa Levin

Translated by Mathilda Mendelow

Until 1940 I lived in Rokishok. When the Soviets came to Lithuania I moved to Kovno, although the rich Jews were complaining to be under the might of Russia, it was better under them than under the Germans. I worked in Kovno in a large military business. During the day I worked and at night I studied.

The Russian Government had opened university courses for adults in Kovno. The Russian teachers told us that the Germans were their greatest foes and that they were preparing for war with Hitler's land.

By June 22, 1941 at 4 am Kovno was bombarded and the radio announcer announced that the German - Russian war had started. The Jews started their exodus to the boundaries of Russia, but the Lithuanian partisans stopped them and killed the departing Jewish and Soviet Russian workers. They tore away the railway tracks and mined the roads. They were afraid of the Lithuanian partisans and they turned back. Besides this there were the bombers of the Germans. All the roads were monitored. The Lithuanians did the same in other cities and towns. They accused the Jews of shooting Lithuanians. They searched for arms and arrested Jews and killed them and stole all their belongings. They accused Jews that they were shooting Lithuanians. On Wednesday June 25, 1941 the Germans entered Kovno with a big parade, grand marching, with the nazi flag.

With great fear and in greatest trepidation, the returning Jews came into the city from their retreats. They feared that the Germans would see them walking and they would shoot them then and there. In a fearful positions, Jews walked with their wives and children, carrying small children. They all looked like shadows and not live people…

Within 5 weeks of the arrival of the Germans there was a Ghetto. Both Lithuanians and Germans treated Jews sadistically - not only once was the revolver over my heart - Christians saved my life once - A Lithuanian captain, obviously a Democratic Person helped me to hide until I ran away from the Lithuanians and nazis.

Once the Lithuanian partisans took me to a house where we had to clean and work. They laughed at me and forced me to sing Russian songs and they maligned the Jews, and they were the worst outcasts of all times. [They claimed that ]the Jews were all communists, e.g. when the Communists came the Jews met them with bouquets of flowers.

We had to wear the shameful yellow patch. I was a blond and did not look typically Jewish and therefore I often went from the Ghetto to the city without the shameful patch. An unusual tale of happenings an tortures started in the Ghetto. In the Ghetto everyone was forced to work both old and young - in airports or in the fields. Also, the German SS were present in the Ghetto. During the day one had to work and at night were fearful because they used to take people away from their homes. I have been alone without family and afraid of death. More than once I have been close to death and was one of the 12,000 that were to go to the 9th fort. [Translator's note: I believe this was a dilapidated fort where inhabitants were placed before they were all shot. There is now a Russian monument on the site to commemorate the events at this location]. I was able to avoid death by escaping from the small Ghetto, where I was, as it was being liquidated, to the larger Ghetto.

Fresh in my memory are the gruesome happenings of Ghetto living and also the following terrible episodes. – The Germans once surrounded the Jewish hospital with coal throwers and burned the sick, the Doctors, nurses and all personnel. Another terrible order was that all those living in the Ghetto had to gather together on October 28, 1941 in the morning at a place for registration. No one was to go to work that day. No one was allowed to stay home. Even old and sick adults and children had to gather there. The order stated that all those who stayed in their homes would be shot.

All Jews understood what it meant - On October 28, 1941 at 6 am, after another sleepless night, people were forced to go the big open plaza in the Ghetto. It was a misty cold morning and a darkness surrounded the enclosure of the Ghetto. Fathers, mothers and children in diapers, children in mothers' arms, old and sick, young and strong walked to the place with heads down. Each one bemoaned his fate and the cries and screams of the confused Jews enclosed the place as though they were sentenced to death - about 30,000 Jews….

In an unusual order the German rogues came, the German police, the Gestapo leaders and the Lithuanian bandits searched the Jews' homes to check if somebody was not left behind and at the same time to take Jewish belongings. The whole Ghetto was surrounded by a strong patrol from that night onwards. Quietly and with resignation the 30,000 Jews stood and waited to see what these sadists would do with them. Here in the blink of an eye the whole company felt as if an electric shock passed though them. The Gestapo appeared amongst the rows of Jews and they started sorting people to right and to left, to left and right. While families were disrupted, the cruel ones tore the children from their parents and parents from their children, sisters from brothers and brothers from sisters. A whole day the Jews were on this place. The Gestapo and the Lithuanians behaved like the greatest evil. A human pen has not the strength to describe this whole gruesome human tragic picture. Till 6:00pm 12,000 Jews were sorted to die.

The following morning they were sent to the 9th Fort in the Kovno area, children in their prams or children in their parents' arms, old people and ill ones were shot the same day.

Life in the Kovno Ghetto was gruesome and hard. In great suffering were the ones living, who were left in the Kovno ghetto until 1944.

1944 - The Russians neared and the Jews of the Kovno Ghetto were transported to the concentration camps and death camps - the men in Dachau and the women in Stuthof. Many stayed in the bunkers. I was one who was sent to Stuthof. I was there for five weeks. From Stuthof the German death needs took us, 5,000 women by boat to Elvinger near Danzig. There we were digging trenches 4.5 meters wide and 3 meters deep. German guards were standing and kept watch over us. We worked naked bedraggled and unshod and hungry. As the front neared Danzig we were transported further.

There was no place anymore where to take us. The Russian army strafed the Nazi foe. Still they chased us from place to place and the weaker ones they shot. One whole Jewish group was completely shot, In Proast, Danzig there were concentrated thousands of Jewish women who were in a terrible condition, hungry, bedraggled and unshod- their clothes and bodies were riddled with millions and millions of lice.

The group I was in marched deeper into Germany - without direction and without a road. It was winter in 1945 we walked in deep snow and wished we were dead. Eighteen days we walked. The Hungarian Jewish girls could not keep up with us so they were lashed and tortured and many of them were shot. One evening we left to sleep over in a forest far from a city and people. There we found a barn with straw and mushrooms. We were hungry and we started looking for kernels in the straw. We eat what we found and became ill. We stayed there several days. A typhoid epidemic broke out amongst us. In the same barn in a hole we placed the typhoid sick. 500 women were with us and also a few French and Russian prisoners of war with us along with a few Poles. Every day 20 to 30 died. For a few days they did not feed us. Then they gave us blue water with a few wheat kernels and potatoes. The roof of the barn was full of holes. It was heart breaking to see how we huddled together even to dead people who were amongst us.

Suddenly one night there was a tumult. We thought they were going to burn us, but 500 new women arrived from Stuthof. They were sick and had been walking a few weeks. Amongst these women I met my cousin Rivka Kramer from Rokishok.

That night I left the barn. The hunger was great and I decided to go and look for a piece of bread, and if they shot me on the road, it would be a relief. My ideal was then to at least eat a piece of bread before death. Thus I ran to a village. I then heard a battle around me. The noise was of the artillery and a strong light flickered around my eyes, but still I ran towards the village.

I ran into a village called Hina, there was frost on either side and I saw rows of Soviet tanks coming. I cried with joy. The Russian soldier who saw how I looked ran out of the tanks saying (in Russian, oldie don't cry) and soon gave me food. They brought me to a house and I grabbed food and looked for clothing for myself. I was dressed in torn rags. I found German men's' civilian clothing. Soon other women ran into the same house and started looking for food and clothing. It was as if wild creatures were released from a cage. I then once again met Rivka Kramer, she already had typhoid.

The Russian soldiers told us not to linger in the town because soon there would be a great battle with the foe. Soon we went further away from the front. We were in Leonberg for several days and after that we were told to go further away from the front.

Many fell on the roads from weakness. I stayed with my cousin Rivka Kramer, she was very ill. With us was a Frenchman who had transport and now and then they transported Rivka. Mostly I dragged her with me. The whole company used to go forward and she and I were left alone along the roads. Still we managed somehow to get to Warsaw.

In the city there was not a single Jew - only on entering Prague we found a few Jews and also the Jewish Committee. We slept on the floor of the Jewish Committee. Most Jews were from Russia and a few living [remnants] of the German camps. The Jewish committee gave us portions of bread every day.

In Warsaw we found out many concentration camp women were in Bialystok, so Rivka Kramer and I also drove to Bialystok. The Jewish Committee was located on Minsker Street. It was a two- story building and there were also many Poles - men and women. The Jewish Committee helped us with food. My cousin Rivka Kramer was ill. The doctors did not think she would live. Many women went back to Kovno. I did not want to go to Lithuania because I did not want to see the ruined home.

Rivka was married. She kept asking me to find out about her husband who had been in Dachau. I and another girl from Anushish asked about her husband who had been in Dachau. It was another girl from Anushish, Bekkie who looked after Rivka. Many miles we dragged her to baths. The Jewish Committee was not interested in her condition. A Russian Jewish doctor found that one had to amputate her leg because it had blood poison. We begged the Red Cross that she should be taken to hospital. The doctors there found that she had Pemphigus [Gum cancer?] in her mouth and her teeth fell out. She did not look human, only like a monkey.

On May 5, 1945 she died in hospital. The Jewish Committee promised us that they would bury her. At the time I worked in a textile factory. Seeing that several days had passed and she was still lying there, I once more came to the Jewish Committee and they gave transport and I and the girl from Anushish and more women whom I paid from my last Zlotys, took her to the Bialystok cemetery.

The road to the Bialystok cemetery was full of danger because of the unrest of the Polish opportunists, anti-Semitic groups who made pogroms against the Jews. The grave had already been dug by hired hands of the Jewish Committee and we the four women placed her in her grave and covered it and as a headstone we brought two large square black polished stones.

When I was in Kovno Ghetto I and some other Rokishoker Jews in Kovno, sent Christians to find out what had happened to the Rokishoker Jews. >From Kovno to Rokishok is about 300 kilometers. With our last financial resources we tried to find out what had happened to our closest. One messenger came and told us that he found the two Gurvics brothers lying dead in a forest. A Christian told us she noted on the road two Jewish boys named Jacovwitz and when they saw her they started running deep into the forest. She also told that Rokishoker Jews were killed in Viziofnke within six weeks after the Germans arrived in Rokishok. Before that all Rokishokers were held in a camp Antinoske.

We also had news of Joffee, an apostate Jew, who was later brought to us in Kovno Ghetto and later died in a concentration camp. He gave us the following tales:

a) In the home of Shlomo Friedman in Abel there was hospital where Jewish doctors practiced - Gundelman and his wife Farbereite.

b) One Saturday they assured all Rokishoker Jews that they were being brought across to Soverinshok and there they would work for themselves on land until the end of the war. The Jews knew it was a lie. Gundelman and his wife and children poisoned themselves. Chaia Ita Swartzberg also poisoned herself. On the Monday morning they saw how Jews were chased out of Rokishok and many Jews were shot on the road.

c) Joffee once was sitting at home together with his family, when a Christian came to him and asked him that he should come to her house to exchange something for a lamb. He did not want to go but in the end he was persuaded and left with her. The Christian took him to a stable and he saw a two wheel cart. She lifted the seat of the cart and he saw his cousin Mishke inside. Joffee started crying. Mishke, the Christian and Joffee came to the house and Mishke told the following story:-

He and six others decided to run away from the place of execution, this Christian hid them all. Two Poles in Abel and Panimunik knew about it and helped her with food for the Jews. Also the apostate wife of an actionary knew about this story and she also helped the Christian with food for the hidden Jews.

The apostate Christian told them that two hidden Jews in her house had died and she buried them in her yard and when freer times will come she will then deliver the dead to a cemetery in Israel.

He, Joffee had since that time helped the gentile woman with products, but he asked Mishke that he should not come to his home, because the Germans had their eyes on him. He showed himself very little in the open.

How Joffee related the tale about the hidden Jews thus:- All were caught, a few of them ran away, and those left were taken to the Rokishok jail where they were shot.

In Bialystok I wanted to get in touch with my brothers in South Africa. I remembered the address of my brother Jacob Levin from Cape Town and from a woman friend , Mrs. Kark of Germiston. I sent off two postcards, in which I wrote with my heart's blood about this, that I find myself in Bialystok and I had lost everything.

After a short while there was an order that either one takes the Polish citizenship or returns to ones home. I knew I had no one at home and I had no one to go to and I did not want to become a Polish citizen. I did not know the polish language and above all I wanted to tear myself away from this gruesome sadness, from a place that saw so much spilled Jewish blood.

I went to the forger who gave me false papers of a Greek Jewish woman and with other such "Greek" Jews we wondered through borders and lands - Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Rumania till Austria. In Austria, in the Lintz communication center I wrote letters to Russia. To my great luck I received a letter from my younger brother Shaierke Levin. He wrote me of his own happenings and from his having been in Rokishok. He did not stay there long because to look at the desolation he wrote, one could go mad. He settled in Vilna and married a Jewish girl from Memel.

He told me in detail of what had happened to him during the war. He ran away from Rokishok on the eve of the arrival of the Germans. He and my second brother Samuel Levin dragged themselves to Riga and from there deeper into Russia. They joined the army, and later in the Lithuanian Division, Shaierke worked for a captain who also kept Samuel near him. Once when Shaierke was away on a commando raid, the captain sent Samuel to the front to Auriel Where he died. Shaierke also wrote to me from Vilna that my postcards arrived at my brothers in South Africa and that they were looking for me. I then contacted my brothers in South Africa who brought me to them in South Africa.

My pen and patience are not in a position to relate all the Nazi atrocities and the great pain which I suffer through this gruesome ordeal of my unforgettable dear parents, sisters and brothers who died through the Hitler murderers. My Mother, Sara-Fruma, my father Mendel Levin, my older sister Faiga and her husband Jacob and their two little children, Pearl and Lazar, my brothers Louis and Samuel and my youngest sister Hanna.

Through various happenings and through a long time of anguish and death dangers I breathed my life.

Translated by Mathilda Mendelow, born Ginsberg. Her dear parents brought their young family safely from Rokishok, home of her great grandparents, via Russia, to a safe haven in South Africa during the First World War. Her parents taught her, amongst other things to speak Yiddish for which she is very grateful.


[Page 401]

In Those Days

by Herzl Ben-Yehuda

Translated by Rabbi Ezra Boyarsky

In June 1941 the Germans suddenly attacked Lithuania. The Russians then withdrew from their border positions, accompanied by Lithuanian partisan heavy shelling. In addition, the Lithuanian Fascist populace fired on the retreating Red Army and the escaping Jews from rooftops, churches, etc.

We immediately realized the danger we were in , but it became more real upon hearing Hitler spew his poison-saturated diatribes: "Lithuanians, we are about to wind up the expulsion of the Russians from your homeland!" "We are liberating you and it is your duty to murder all the Jews, because Lithuania must become Judenrein!"

Upon hearing these bestial words, thousands upon thousands of Kovno Jews left their homes and set out in the direction of the Soviet Union. My wife, our infant son, and I joined the refugees. On my back I carried two heavy packs, and I held my son Shmuelik in my arms. My wife Chanele trudged along dragging a heavy suitcase.

We walked on in a state of hopelessness and despair. Although the situation was extremely critical, without any hope of survival, still our pace somehow gained momentum in order to reach the border of the Soviet Union. In the course of a few days we covered approximately 40 kilometers. Unfortunately, we were overtaken by the Germans who forced us to return to Kovno. The civilian Germans whom we met on the way advised us to commit suicide rather than return, for as they said, any Jew who enters Kovno is shot on the spot. These words made it clear that we were standing on the brink of death. Our hearts were pained beyond description, not over our fate, but for our two-year-old son. In a circuitous way, through side streets and alleys, we reentered Kovno. The Germans issued a "cease fire" order not to shoot anymore, and we all returned to our homes.

A few weeks later we were ordered to wear a yellow Mogen Dovid (Jewish star) badge sewn on our clothes, and the entire Jewish community was moved to Slabodka (a suburb of Kovno) where the Kovno ghetto was located. In the Kovno ghetto there were also some Rakishker Jews who stayed close together and were devoted to one another even under the extremely adverse conditions of the ghetto. It was not at all unusual that after a cruel and savage decree was issued against the ghetto population, the Rakishok Jews immediately began to seek out their landsleit to raise their morale and help in a material way to the extent that this was possible.

Besides myself, my wife Chanele (a granddaughter of Bere Leah's from Rakishok) and our son, the following Rakishker Jews were with us in the Kovno ghetto: Rivka Kramer and husband; Mosher Wasserman and wife; Rivka (Reznikowitz), Idke Baradovsky, her husband, and small child; Idke's brother; Esterke Baradovsky and her younger sister; Faniske Berkowitz (Samet) with her two small daughters; the two Simelewitz sisters; Nise Levin; Rivka Epstein, Zalke Nafanowitz (son of the shamesh--synagogue sexton). There are a number of other Jews from Rakishok who were with us in the ghetto whose names I regrettably do not remember.

The Rakishker Jews in the Kovno ghetto demonstrated an unusual sense of mutual responsibility and devotion. Collectively, they formed a model of unity in a time of extreme adversity. My home was the main meeting place for our townspeople, and was frequented by them on a daily basis.

Somehow, the Rakishker families adjusted themselves to the ghetto economic conditions, Fanishke Berkowitz, with her two small children, was not that fortunate. Her husband had been shot even before the creation of the ghetto. The Rakishker families extended a helping hand to her and to a number of other families in similar circumstances.

In 1943 the number of Rakishker Jews in the Kovno ghetto decreased. Several of them escaped and joined the partisans in the forests. Rivka Epstein, who was a professional nurse, also joined a partisan group and showed great heroism. Ziamke Baradovsky was also a partisan. He met a hero's death in the Kazlaveruder forests. His contribution to the partisan resistance movement was prominently recorded in the periodical, "From the Last Destruction," which was published by the Central Historical Commission of the liberated Jews in Germany, and edited by the well-known educator and historian Israel Kaplan. In this periodical we are told that Baradovsky was among the first partisans who tried to make contact with the Russian parachutists in the forests. He met a hero's death in a fierce struggle with the Germans.

My tragically killed son Shmulinke was snatched from us during one of the German-organized raids on children. Rivka and Moshe Wasserman were also robbed of their son, Chayiml. Most of the time the children were left alone in the house unsupervised while we parents were away working. Chana-Elinke would always instruct our little boy either to play inside or close to the house. Every day we would wait impatiently for the work to end and hurry home to see him. But one day when we came home from work our little boy was not there, and we never saw him again. The German murderers staked out an opportune moment to round up the innocent Jewish children in the ghetto and transport them to the death camps.

Neighbors told us that during the confusion that ensued, our child was taken by a young couple who hid him in the attic, but the German beasts searched the house and found him. Upon seeing the approaching Germans through the window, our little son took the sandwiches we had left him for lunch, put on his little coat, and then the sub-human Germans led him away to the slaughter. His heart-rending crying for his mother an father did not arouse a ripple of mercy in the hearts of the savage Germans. Our child was only three-and-a-half years old and already he knew all the ghetto songs. He was a delightful, intelligent child, and until the last days of my life I shall not forget him.

Early in 1944 the Germans were forced to retreat, but they did not forget to take along the surviving Jewish slaves. At first there were many Jews who succeeded in hiding in underground bunkers, but in the end they were detected, and few actually escaped the German claws. Among those who were caught in the underground hideaway were the above-mentioned Estherke Baradovsky and husband.

The Jewish men and women whom the Germans took with them in the transport trains to Germany were separated from each other. I was also then separated from my beloved and unforgettable Chanele. Of the large Rakishok group, only a few survived.

This is only a very brief account of the indescribable tortures which the Jews, men, women, and children suffered at the hands of the eternally cursed Nazis.

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