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Our Shtetl (cont.)

Disaster

        Immediately upon the outbreak of the German-Soviet War on June 22, 1941, a heavy black cloud cast its shadow over Lintup. In the very first days, the Lintup Jews paid with the lives of two beloved family members. The two brothers Moshe and Yudel Mauber were murdered by the villains—randomly, without a reason, without a why or a wherefore.
        Several months later Lintup paid very heavily when the bestial criminals slaughtered the entire family of our renowned Rabbi Yudkevski. The terrible event happened as follows. The rabbi lived, as everyone knew, in the same building as Mayor Bielovski, who was on friendly terms with the Jews. When the Germans gave the order that all Jews must hand over their radios, the rabbi and other respected householders often went to listen to the radio in Bielovski's home. This was strictly forbidden. A Jew must under no circumstances enter a Christian home, above all, not to listen to the radio. One time the rabbi happened to be sitting in the mayor's apartment when one of the Enemies of Israel walked in. The man immediately left to inform the police.
        A big raid took place right away. The rabbi with his family—the rebbitsin [rabbi's wife] Khanah and their nine-year-old son Mendele—were taken to Postav. The mayor wasn't allowed to go free either; his house was searched and he was arrested. A few days later the news came that the rabbi and his wife were in great danger. Immediately there was great panic in the shtetl. A large amount of money and valuables was collected and the decision was made to send it to Postav to bribe the police and to free the rabbi.
        A young man and a girl, Abram Rein and Frume-Basya Rudnitski, set off for Postav to carry out the dangerous mission.


sve1437.jpg Abram Rein and Basya Rudnitski [29 KB]
Abram Rein and Basya Rudnitski
After the war they got married


They dressed as landowners, rented a small cart of the type used by landowners, and left for Postav. It was a cold, wintry early morning and along the road they came across an overturned sleigh. They gave some money to a policeman to help get it righted. Scattered over the snow around the sleigh were bloody b'godim [specifically Jewish clothing]. Suddenly they recognized the rabbi's silk bekeshe [fur-lined coat], talis katan, and wide-brimmed kapelush [hat]. A drunken man told them that the rabbi and his family had been murdered. They quickly turned around and drove home, bringing us the terrible news. It is hard even to conceive of the mourning that gripped all the Jews of Lintup on that day. In this event we had a preview of the destiny awaiting the Jewish people.
        A few days later Mayor Bielovski was released from jail. He came back deeply griefstricken and let us know that we, khas'vesholem [heaven forbid], should have no illusions. In his opinion the Hitlerists would destroy all the Jews and all of us should expect the worst.        

*

        Barely a week after the death of Rabbi Yudkevski, the police liquidated the Lintup ghetto. We were told that all the Lintup Jews would be transported to Svintsyan. We immediately considered all the options and succeeded in creating a work camp where the “useful” Jews could be held and put to work. Since the shtetl offered for this purpose the saw mill, the smolarnia [place where pitch is burned], several courtyards, and the woodcutting operation in the nearby woods, out of all the town's Jews the “productive element” that remained alive was around 100. The rest were transported to Svintsyan.
        Life in the camp was extremely hard. People were beaten and chased and sometimes struck with truly murderous blows. One time some Jews were harnessed to a wagon and ordered to pull it to the railway line. When one of them paused a moment, the Germans whipped him with sharply pointed rods. Nevertheless, some Jews endured and persevered and it was perhaps only thanks to this camp that they survived. In a short time, though, all our illusions ended and the work camp was liquidated.

*

        The reason for the liquidation of the Lintup work camp was as follows: on the night of the 18th-19th of December, 1942, a group of Russian partisans unexpectedly attacked the Lintup woods. They set fire to several important military objectives and for several hours engaged in a tenacious battle with German troops. We were sitting in the camp and with delight saw all of Lintup on fire, and flames coming from our enemy. Revenge sprang up in our hearts. We knew well that we would soon pay dearly, but nevertheless we were gratified and didn't think about what the morning would bring.
        At dawn our camp was surrounded by the Lithuanian police, who began to shoot at the workers without a goal or a warning. The first to fall were Yosef Rudnitski and his brother's son. The police chased us straight into the open field, where peasants with sleighs were already waiting for us. They packed us in like cattle and drove us toward the forest. We hadn't gone even 200 meters before we saw long narrow graves. We instantly realized what that meant for us.
        Not far from the graves were masked gunmen. We couldn't get out of the sleighs and there was an onslaught, a hail of bullets. When I saw the first victims fall, I started shouting to everyone to run. I made a break from the sleigh and with all the strength I possessed I leaped and set off running into the woods. Bullets were flying over my head. I ran and fell, ran and again fell. Finally I found myself deep in the woods. I was so exhausted that I simply could not move from the spot. I burrowed into the snow and decided to rest for a while. I began to catch my breath and think about what to do next.
        When it became very still and I didn't hear any more of the terrible sounds of shooting by the villains and the cries of their dying victims, I got up and walked deeper into the woods. I walked without a goal and without a path until I arrived in a little village. There I discovered that in addition to me, a few other Jews from the Lintup work camp had survived. I found there in the woods Abram Rein, Moshe Gilinski, and Hirshe Kharmats.
        Together we went back to the site of the horrible murders and there, by the fresh mass grave, we swore to take revenge for the spilled blood. Then we decided to go to the Svintsyan ghetto. But I separated from my two friends and told them that first I wanted to go and find out whether any of my family might still be alive. What I had in mind was that possibly some of them had been taken in by Christians in the area. I asked here, asked there, but no one had any news about the members of my family. So I decided to head for the Svintsyan ghetto too.
        I was feeling deeply discouraged and bitter and didn't even notice that I was walking along the main highway just as in the former good times. By the time I realized my mistake, it was already too late. Directly ahead of me three large trucks filled with German soldiers suddenly appeared. I started to run into the woods, but they saw me and sprayed the woods with a hail of bullets.
        Luckily they didn't want to go further into the woods. I covered myself with the branches of a pine tree and stayed there for several hours, not moving from the spot. Meanwhile a thick snow fell and completely covered me from my head to my feet. Probably the snow saved me since it covered my tracks.
        When it became quiet, I stood up, shook off the snow, and set off walking again. After some time passed I oriented myself and went in the right direction to find my way to Svintsyan. I followed the route through the night and arrived at the Svintsyan ghetto.

*

        To my great happiness, in the ghetto I found my daughter Basya and son Leybele, who had been wounded in the leg. At first my only thought was to go into the woods and join the partisans there, but my children wouldn't let me. My son was wounded and unwell and my daughter was so completely exhausted she couldn't take another step. So by necessity I too stayed in the Svintsyan ghetto. But I could feel the unrest among the young people, who wanted to escape into the woods and take revenge on the brutal enemy. Mikhelson felt the same strong unrest that I did.
        In the end 27 young people left the ghetto and went into the woods. The group would have been a lot larger if we hadn't been deluded by the Vilna commandant Gans. He made a special effort to come to our ghetto in order to assure us that the Svintsyan Jews were not in danger. He said we would be taken to Vilna and Kovno and placed in various work camps. People let themselves be convinced. There were even some optimists who saw a good sign in the fact that the liquidation of the ghetto would be carried out by Jewish police instead of by Germans or Lithuanians.
        I hadn't the slightest confidence in Gans and tried extremely hard to convince my children to leave the ghetto and hide in the woods with me. They simply would not come to the same conclusion. In the end it came down to all of us being transported to New Svintsyan. Special railroad cattle cars were waiting for us there. My intuition instantly told me that these cars would take us not to life but to obliteration and extinction.
        At the very last minute we succeeded in getting away from the railway station. The following people escaped with me: Moshe Gilinski, Abram Rein, Hirshe Kharmats, Ber Fisher from Heydutsishok, and one other person, Khaim Leyb from Svintsyan. For the next three weeks we wandered around the woods, fields and villages. Wherever we would spend the day, we would not stay the night in case they came looking for us. So there was a practical purpose in our wandering.
        We decided to lead our lives as partisans and survive by our wits. Near Strunvits we broke into a large dairy that provided dairy products to the German army. We smashed all the machines with a hatchet and ruined all the prepared dairy products.
        Through a Christian I tried to establish contact with my children, who at that time should have been in the Vilna ghetto. She brought back the horrible news that they had never gone to the Vilna ghetto, that the entire transport had been murdered on the edge of Paneriei [the Ponary Forest south of Vilna].
        From that time on my sole thought was to find all possible ways and means to take revenge. With my entire soul in a furor I threw myself into battle and together with my friends, went back to the Lintup area to find all the peasants who had helped the Germans. We set fire to their houses, stole their sustenance, and most importantly, their weapons. In a short time we were well-armed and the entire area was afraid of us. Because of their fear we prolonged our activity there. Then we began to search for a way to join the regular partisan detachment.
        At this time Hirsh Kharmats became seriously ill. He had an abcess that required an operation. I myself had to conduct the operation. We hid in a barn and there I cut out the abcess with a razor blade. When he recovered, we were contacted by the partisan organization. Eventually we were accepted into the Suvorov detachment of Markov's brigade.

In Battle

        In Markov's brigade, a proposal emerged to organize a special Jewish division called “Revenge.” A young man from Vilna, Katzenelenbogen, and I were appointed as the leaders of the division. In all, the division numbered 30 young Jewish men. This was not a large number, but all the same we carried out a series of very important assignments. We blew up bridges, burned villages, killed Germans, and earned in partisan circles a name for ourselves as bold heroes.
        Our detachment was then located four kilometers from Miadl. We in fact commanded the entire area. We were free as birds and woe to any German who entered that zone. With us in the forest lived entire families—husbands, wives and children. They all benefited from our protection and we considered ourselves one large partisan family.
        We carried out all our assignments in the middle of the night. One time our task was to go to the Lintup forest and investigate the large German garrison that had been established there. We were eight Jews divided into two teams. Not far from the forest we found two small bathhouses and we hid there. The owner of the bathhouses noticed us and, no doubt realizing that we were Jews, must have immediately informed the Lithuanian police. In a few hours both bathhouses were surrounded by a large number of policemen, who fired at us in a hail of bullets. In one of the bathhouses were Yehoshua Gertner, Leyb Gurvitsh, Simke Levin from Svintsyan, and Hirsh Kharmats from Lintup. They ran out of the bathhouse and were killed. However, Yehoshua Gertner first managed to throw a grenade and killed a lot of the heinous Lithuanians.
        We saw this from the other bathhouse and also threw grenades into the group of Lithuanians. This created a great confusion there. We of course made use of the opportunity and ran for the forest. We managed to take with us Moshe Gilinski, who was hit by a bullet.
        We succeeded in escaping and returned to our base. I gave headquarters an account of the brigade and proposed that we should dissolve the special Jewish division. I made it clear to them that anti-Semitism was very strong in all the villages, and that some Christians should be sent in each group in addition to Jews. Headquarters agreed and the Jewish division was dissolved.
        A few days later a group of 12 partisans was sent out to find the provocateur who had informed against us to the Lithuanian police. The group found him and carried out to perfection the psak din [sentence of the court] against him. After that we were entrusted with various other important assignments in Markov's brigade. It is important to tell about one of them especially. Once we were walking at night through a thick forest when we happened to come upon the Vilna-Polotsk Highway. Suddenly we noticed something glimmering opposite us and it seemed to us that it might be a wolf. We stopped and stood there, quietly consulting each other about what to do. On the other side of the highway evidently our talking could be heard because shooting broke out directed at us. We realized a large force was located there and we chose not to enter into battle with them. We had to retreat. Such cases happen, but in my life as a partisan it happened only this one time. On the way back all of us swore on our lives to expel the Germans from the entire forest.

*

        Meanwhile the regular Soviet Army came closer to our district. This was in the first months of the year 1944. We received an order to blow up all the bridges and railroad lines in order to make a normal retreat more difficult for the enemy. We were supposed to make sure that the Germans would have no way to take back their plunder with them to Germany. We carried this order out with accuracy, happiness and enthusiasm. We felt that with each kilometer that the Red Army came closer, they were bringing to us Jews, more than to everyone else, blessed freedom.
        Finally the long-awaited moment arrived. The regular Soviet Army took command of our area and expelled the German forces. We were free.
        In the first days we couldn't accustom ourselves to the new situation. We didn't know what to do or where to go. We knew that our homes were destroyed and that we would not find anyone alive there. We also could not imagine being face to face with the neighbors who had spilled Jewish blood and taken part in theft and the “actions.”
        Finally we decided to go to Lintup. Our hearts wanted to fantasize that perhaps we would find someone there of our families or friends or acquaintances.

*

        I returned to Lintup together with Moshe Gilinksi and Abram Rein. There we found Frume-Basya Rudnitski with her two nieces. They were all that remained of our Lintup Jewish kehile.


sve1438.jpg Wedding in Lintup after the war [52 KB]
Wedding in Lintup after the war

The groom is a grandson of Anton Chernyavski, a gentile who saved Basya Rudnitski and her two nieces,
Renya and Lena Milikovski, by hiding them in the basement of his house.   Lena Milikovski is in the second
row on the far right, to Chernyavski's left. Anton Chernyavski is the white-bearded man with his hands on
 the shoulders of the little boy. Renya Milikovski, in a black and white dress, is in the second row, the second
from the far left. To her left is her aunt, Sonia Rudnitski Tsinman, with her hands on the shoulders of her
daughter Eva, now living in Israel. In the back row on the far left is Sonia's husband, A. Tsinman. Beside him,
to his left, is Abram Rein, holding his little daughter Galina in his arms.

Notes by Irene Mauber Skibinski



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