|In Eternal Memory
Of the martyrs of the community of
(near Kovno, Lithuania), may G-d avenge their blood.
Who were murdered and destroyed by the Germans
And Lithuanians, may their names be blotted out
In the year 5701, 1941
They day of their memorial
Their holy memory shall never depart from us.
May their souls be bound in the bonds of eternal life.
The natives and survivors of the community of Jonava in Israel and the Diaspora
There was a Jewish town – Jonava – and it is no more.
Several generations carried the roots of Jewish life in Jonava, a variegated life: a life of toil, a life of physicality and the spirit, a vibrant life.
We, the few survivors who were saved from the infernos of hell, and who merited to join the builders of the homeland, bear in our hearts the memory of all those who fell, and the image of every person.
It is very hard to overcome the thought that our Jonava no longer exists. How can we forget it?
It appears again and again before our eyes: a town that nature blessed with all good, thanks to which its residents lived under better and nicer conditions that those of the Jews of other towns. Many earned their livelihoods from the toil of their hands. It was known throughout Lithuania that the Jews of Jonava were physically strong, and they were nicknamed Burliakes. This was not wild strength, but rather strength that flowed from Jewish pride.
The Jews of Jonava fell with blood and fire, but their memories live in our hearts. This was the request of the martyrs:
Remember us always!
It is certain that there is not one of us who thinks in his heart, My soul is at peace since I was saved from the valley of murder
We have come with awe and respect to establish a monument for them:
In Jerusalem, on Mount Zion – a memorial plaque;
In the Geulim School of Bat Yam – a memorial room;
And in the memorial book –
For eternal memory!
by Reizl David (Rashkes) of the United States
As an eyewitness, I will attempt to describe here the beginning of the destruction of Jonava on June 23-24, 1941.
Jonava was one of the army camps of Lithuania. The camp named Poligon was located five kilometers south of the town. When the Russians conquered Lithuania in 1940, they fortified this camp further with tanks and cannons. The Poligon Camp overlooked two large bridges over the Vylia. In Poligon, the Russians demonstrated their greatest opposition to the Germans. I say Russians for the Lithuanians immediately turned into collaborators with the Germans.
The opposition lasted for one day and one night.
On Sunday, June 22, toward morning, the roaring of airplanes at a high altitude was heard in Kovno. The airplanes innocently looked like tiny birds, flying calmly at the beginning of a lovely summer morning.
However, suddenly, those innocent birds began to drop bombs on Kovno (at that time, I was living in Kovno). People ran outside to see what was going on, but it became known immediately that these were German airplanes. The war had also reached Lithuania.
We Escaped from Kovno
My brother who lived in Kovno, Ben-Zion Rashkes of blessed memory, immediately arrived with packed suitcases. People ran back and forth without knowing where to flee, what to do, how to save themselves – the confusion was great. We also ran, but we knew to where we were escaping: home to Jonava, in order to be together with Father, Mother and our sister; to be together with our closest, most beloved relatives, whatever may happen.
Hundreds of Jews escaped. Gentiles, of course, did not escape. We fled via the mountain road. The roads were overloaded. Nobody knew how far they would succeed in reaching during their escape. Everyone ran with great fear in their eyes and with large packages on their shoulders and in their hands. However, they were unable to drag all those bundles for a long period; and the roads were filled with abandoned suitcases, with their contents scattered. Gentile farmers stood in the fields at the side of the road and waited for these treasures, as if they fell from the sky, and grabbed them immediately. However, nobody cared about this, because we only thought that if we were to survive, we would also have belongings.
My brother saw a wagon driven by the Manoshovitzes and loaded up all our bags onto it. He also sat on the wagon, and we never saw him again.
The Russian Army was also in a state of confusion. Soldiers went by foot or traveled on tanks or vehicles without knowing where they were going. We saw them driving in opposite directions, with frightened eyes. They did not know how to answer the questions we asked them. The generals fled first and left the soldiers to their own devices.
We traveled for a full day. In the evening, we reached to a point next to the wooden bridge over the Vylia near Jonava. The bridge was already broken and bombed out, for the Germans had bombed there too. My dear father and sister Rachel were already standing there waiting for us on the banks of the river. Gentile farmers would transport people across the river in boats (of course in exchange for payment). Gentile women joined them in the boats in order to collect the belongings that the Jews had abandoned due to being unable to carry them further. On the other side of the Vylia, that is in Jonava, my dear, beloved mother was standing there waiting for us. This image is etched in my heart forever. She was happy through the tears of her eyes. Simultaneously, a great fear was expressed through her beautiful cherry-like eyes: What would be the end of her endangered chicks?
Jews ran to and fro: Tell me, Jews, to where are you escaping? Perhaps we will escape along with you! The response was: We also do not know. We were in the train station but the train did not arrive. Thousands of refugees were sitting there waiting for the train, including Jews from Poland who came to Lithuania in order to save themselves from the German, may his name and memory be blotted out. Then we ran to Wilkomir Road. The Germans bombed the roads. Many people were killed.
In the Snares
We remained in Jonava. After one night, the cannons began to shoot over our heads. From one side, the Germans were behind Keidiani Street, and from the other side, the Russians from Poligon. We remained in the middle, as if in a trap.
Then, the Lithuanians began to act in a wanton fashion. They gathered in the bell tower of the church and shot with machine guns at the Jews who were running to seek refuge from the cannons. The young fascist Lithuanians also shot from the progymnasium at their Jewish fellow townsfolk, with whom they had lived in harmony until this time. The good neighbors turned into great, deadly enemies within a moment.
We fled from our house the Street of the Road to the parents of my sister's husband, The Goldmans (who owned a furniture factory). They lived on the Street of the Synagogue. Why did we specifically go to them? Perhaps because their house was close to the synagogue courtyard – who knows? We hid in a pit that was quickly dug by the men in the yard of their house. My father and mother did not want to leave their house under any circumstance, for the house was filled with all types of food provisions that they had stockpiled throughout the year, since the time of the Russian regime (for the Russians would send the foodstuffs to Russia). The household economy had been firmly established for many years already, and leaving the house would leave everything ownerless – something that the gentiles were awaiting.
In the morning, as we were lying in the pit, we heard a knock on the opening to the pit. We opened the wooden door, and saw Father standing pale. It was difficult to recognize him. With a trembling voice he asked that we give him a jar of honey. When we peered out from the pit, we saw a German in green fatigues. We had taken from the house jars of honey and jam, and other foodstuffs that we would be able to live on – as Mother said when she gave them to us. She promised to bring the rest the next morning, when she and Father would come to us. They said that during the day, they would not be suspected of leaving the house. These unfortunate people were na?ve: they had faith in human beings – they might come to pillage at night, but during the day, they thought, the gentiles would be embarrassed
We gave Father a jar of honey and asked him if the house is still whole, and why do Mother and he not join us. Father answered quickly, with a trembling voice, Mother is making coffee for the Germans, and he quickly disappeared with the German.
Jonava in Flames
In the meantime, the bombardments increased. A shell damaged the synagogue. It seemed to us that it fell next to our pit. We peered out with our heads and saw that a large portion of the synagogue was missing. We could not continue to remain in the pit, for Jonava was already in flames by the afternoon. We already felt the heat of the fire in our pit, and the smoke penetrated inside. When we exited the pit it seemed that the Street of the Road, upon which our house stood, Kovno Street, Breizer Street, and Vilna Street were all burning. We ran to the Vylia River. At that time, the Lithuanians were shooting at us from their hiding places with machine guns. We miraculously reached the shrubs behind the bathhouse. Some gentiles also fled there with us, for the cannons did not discriminate, and they too were in danger. The gentiles were very friendly to us during those moments, but as soon as the bombardment stopped, they no longer knew us. It was already impossible to run back; therefore we dug as deeply as possible into the ground so that the bullets and shells that were literally flying over our heads would not hurt us. During the bombardment, Monas Klibensky the carpenter got up suddenly and said that he thinks that he did not lock his back door, and he started to go. His son-in-law Avraka Unterschatz dragged him back to the ground with his foot. His daughter Feiga
|Jonava in flames
(The houses of Granovich and Zopovich in the foreground)
began to weep and pleaded, Father, where are you going? Everything is burning. However Monas apparently foresaw the Holocaust and his nerves weakened. He again got up and said that he thinks that he forgot to close the windows. He felt it necessary to go to find out. Avraka once again dragged him to the ground, covered him with his body, and did not let him get up.
I saw the wife of Avraham the shochet lying there with my friend Feigcha, Berele the youngest of the children, and Hirshka. I did not see the daughters Rachel and Rivka, nor Avraham the shochet.
I lay down and wept, for nobody saw Father and Mother anywhere. Anyone we asked was not able to say anything, and I suspected that they all knew something but did not want to tell us. Father and Mother had remained with the Germans. Only G-d knows what they endured on that dark night. What did the Germans do to them? How can I live without Mother and without Father, heaven forbid? How is it possible?
The sight of Jonava that night was terrifying: a frightening sky, very red, and all of Jonava engulfed in flames like hell.
The shells flew over our head with greater strength. We were already able to tell if a shell was falling closer to or farther from where we were. Every time that a cannon was shot and its scream was heard above us, a gentile would be able to determine where the bullet was. (The bullets fell far away, whereas the shells rained upon us.) He would say, A shell has fallen at a distance of ten feet, now a shell has fallen at a distance of five feet. He was right, apparently, for we did no hear him speak anymore. The cannons quieted somewhat, and at sunrise they were almost completely silent. Then, when we began to arise and get up, we saw dead bodies lying near us. We did not realize that we had been lying beside dead bodies all night.
We looked up to see whether Jonava was still burning, and we saw thick smoke bursting forth to the sky. We ran back to the house of the parents of the husband of my sister Rachel. The house was still whole, almost the only one in the entire alley. The Jewish hospital opposite the Goldman's house was burnt. The ill people were lying burnt in the iron beds.
We did not yet know what had happened to our parents. It was dangerous for women to leave the house. I sat and prayed to G-d, and the door at the side of the house opened. They entered quickly, short of breath, sweaty and panting – first Father and then Mother. The joy was great. We hugged, kissed, and all wept from joy. Once again, we were all united with an eternal connection. Mother was wearing only a dress, and Father a cloak and pants. They could not salvage any more of their property. Father told us what had happened to them. When they were left alone in the large house, they were unable to sleep at night. Father went out to the yard and dug a deep pit as a refuge from the shells. Father said that the shells were flying very low between the houses. Not a living soul was seen on our street (the Street of the Road). The appearance was terrifying, like a city of ghosts. Only shadows were seen here and there sneaking into the abandoned houses and pillaging, even in the midst of the bombardment. Therefore, Father and Mother were very afraid to remain in the house, lest the pillaging gentiles kill them. They then decided to escape to us, to the Goldmans. However, before they had time to pack various valuables, they heard knocking on the door. It was still dark. Father approached the door with trembling steps and asked who was knocking. They answered in German, Open the door, Jew! With great fear, father opened the door. A group of 30 German soldiers broke into the house. Apparently, these were the first soldiers -- scouts. The commander ordered Father to go through all the rooms with them, then to the cellar and the storehouses in the courtyard, and even the pit that Father had dug in the yard – all this in order to check that no Russians were hiding there. Then the commander ordered to bring water. Father brought them pails of water from the well that was in the cellar. They all washed up. As per their order, Mother brought them towels and underwear so that they can change. Then they ordered Mother to make them coffee and give them something to eat. The Germans drank from the cups from the fine dishware set that belonged to my sister. Then they put the dishes into their backpacks along with many other valuables, such as the silver candlesticks, the silver cups, silver boxes, and other such items. Then one of the Germans asked Father
if he had any honey, for he loved honey. Since Father was na?ve and innocent, he told the German that his daughter had taken the honey with her. That is why they came to us to get the honey. All of this took place under the rain of shells, as Jonava was already burning and almost the entire Street of the Road was in flames. The Germans did not permit my parents to escape from the fire and bullets until our house was bombed and began to burn. In the meantime, they saw other Jews, who before had apparently been hiding in the cellars. They also ran. Among them were Gitel Klotz and Zusman Klotz, our maternal cousins. Suddenly shots were fired from some place behind the fleeing Germans. The Germans captured Father, Zusman Klotz and other men whose names I do not know, and stood them against a burning wall in order to shoot them, out of suspicion that they had been shooting at the Germans. They would have been killed within another second, but suddenly two Lithuanians with guns in their hands burst forth from behind the burning wall. They were searching for a refuge from the fire. The Germans caught them and shot them, and freed the Jewish men. The Jewish men continued to escape toward us, but they could not run through the Street of the Synagogue because everything around was burning. Burning houses became shaky, and the streets were filled with ruins and fire. All of Jonava was one large ruin. They ran to a place where it was still somewhat possible to save oneself from the hell, and they came to the brick kiln. They lay down all night. In the morning, when the shelling ended, they ran to us.
Father stood on his feet and said, We do not have time now to speak a great deal. Let us go out to see what the situation is. He told my sister Rachel and I to not dare to go outside. We accompanied him to the rabbi of the town, Rabbi Ginzburg, who was apparently leaving some hiding place. We surrounded him with questions, Rabbi, what will be? His fine face was pale, and his appearance had changed greatly. He spoke in choppy words, with tears choking his throat: We have to be careful with security. G-d will help. Jews, we must be strong. He himself was wailing like a baby. Everyone was weeping. We returned home in order to hide from the dangers that began to stalk us.
After a few hours, Father returned with a darkened face. He told us, An entire group of Jews was burned in Liber Farber's basement. Father was the first one to open the iron door of the cellar – burnt skeletons were resting on the door. The first skeleton was the largest, and they realized that it was of Meir Wunder. The door of the cellar locked itself on them, and they were unable to exit and save themselves from the fire.
Our house, Father said, and the streets in general are unrecognizable, for the destruction was great and went to the foundations. Here and there, smoke was coming out of the ruins. Father recognized the lot in which our house had stood from the pit that he had dug. Father noted, A smart cat hides in a pit, but I locked our cat in the house. Perhaps it too was hiding in the pit
In the meantime, the Jews began to search for food, for a morsel of bread. Hunger pervaded the city. One Jewish bakery that by chance remained intact at the end of Kovno Street was taken over by gentiles who chased out the former owners and baked bread for he gentiles. Jews stood and stuck out their hands for a morsel of bread, and the gentiles chased them away, saying, Go ask the Communists. They will give you bread. My sister risked her life and left the hiding place. A gentile acquaintance gave her a piece of bread and told her, Hide and do not go outside. They are plotting to rape the young women of Jonava. The Jews of Jonava began to feel that danger was waiting for them not only from the Germans, but also from their Lithuanian neighbors.
There used to be a pharmacy in our house in which a gentile woman had worked as a cashier. We were good friends. Father came running to me with fear in his eyes and told me that this woman was looking for me, and of course, she was not planning to do anything good to me. She had become an important leader and immediately began to threaten the Jews of Jonava. With his clear sense, Father suspected that a great danger was awaiting me, his youngest daughter: The gentiles were wandering around looking for Jewish girls to rape. When I later was in the Kovno Ghetto, a group of Jonava woman arrived.
One of them was Chanka Rabinovich who told me that the shkotzim forcefully put young Jewish girls into a barn and tortured hem to death.
Return to Kovno
Father immediately decided that I was to return to Kovno. There, the gentiles do not know you, he said with a trembling voice. He was about to part from his beloved daughter for who knows how long, perhaps forever. Mother was overtaken by convulsions, and Father began to plead with Mother to calm down. This is the only way, he claimed. As has been said, we, that is my husband and I (I got married only a few months before to Wolf David from Kretingen near Memel), parted also from my sister Rachel, from my brother-in-law Yitzchak Goldman, and from the entire Goldman family, none of whom survived. The Goldmans had five sons and a daughter Batya. The sons were Yitzchak the eldest, Mordechai, Zerach, and two twins whose names I do not recall.
Father said that we must escape back to Kovno via the old path, for he realized that a large army would be passing through the main road, and that we would be safer on the old road that begins on the descent of Kovno Road, for it is an inferior road. That is indeed the way it was, as my wise father had known. Many refugees returned to Kovno. The refugees were from all over Lithuania and also from Poland, who had come to Lithuania a year earlier when the Germans entered Poland. They wanted to reach some safe place, perhaps to Russia, but they had remained in Jonava. We, a full camp, went back to Jonava. All of the family and many other Jonavers accompanied us to the brick kiln. Father pleaded to everyone to refrain from making this public farewell procession, for this might end badly, heaven forbid. Nevertheless, everyone wanted to give us a farewell blessing. Taibl, Rachka Jalinowitz' mother, hugged me, kissed me, and wished me good fortune. I asked her, Where is Rachka? and she answered: Hiding.
This was the last time that I saw my family and that I set foot on the ground of Jonava, my dear birthplace with its dear, heartwarming Jews, may their memory be a blessing, may G-d avenge their blood.
by Yerachmiel Garber of Neve Sharet
In the morning of Monday, June 23, I went as usual to my workplace in the Oren match factory. The war had begun, but the work had to take place no matter what. In any case – where was Jonava and where was the front? We were given spades and told to dig protective ditches. Some of the diggers were immersed in thoughts, some tried to joke that there was no need for ditches. The jokers trusted that the Soviets would not let Hitler reach Jonava.
Suddenly, the noise of autos reached our ears. We put down the spades and ran to the road to snatch a glance. We saw the Red Army trucks covered in green branches, such as Sukkot covered with Sechach. The faces of the soldiers were black with dust. We only saw white teeth and glittering eyes. We suddenly heard the sound of thunder, but the skies were clear without any clouds at all. It seems that this was the echo of an artillery battle. Everyone's face became serious. People were immersed in thought.
I did not return to the spade. I hastened to town to see what was going on. It was the same town, but unrecognizable. We felt hasty movement. Everyone's face was serious and perplexed, as if they were seeking a refuge from a crazy situation. Hundreds of people were running on the ascent of the road. Others turned toward the wooden fence. Refugees from Kovno turned in that direction. I turned toward the bridge with large steps. It seemed as if Jews were gathering here for Tashlich, however we heard no prayers, but rather conversations between Jonavers and Kovnoites who were astounded at the situation. I could not understand, what was with them? Did they take leave of their senses – to run by foot from Kovno?
Among those who were coming, I met a lad who was an acquaintance, Shliten. I had studied together with him in ORT. We turned aside, and I asked,
Oh, what is taking place here?
Don't ask questions, he responded, lift up your feet and get out of here as fast as you can. The Germans are already in Kovno.
I was still rolling my eyes, but the seriousness of the situation penetrated my consciousness. I returned home. I met friends along the way, and we decided to leave Jonava for a brief time and to go to Wilkomir, with the belief that the Germans would quickly receive a deathly blow from the Soviet Army
I ran to my friend Hershe-Yankel Stein. I heard shrieks and screams next to the house, as if during a funeral. Taibl Katzav was taking leave of her son, who was about to leave on his bicycle. This was strange in my eyes: is this how one weeps for a living person? He told me that he and his friends were setting out on their bicycle, and that they would wait for me. I ran home quickly. I met Uncle David, who had moved in with us with his family until the storm would pass. I told my parents about my plan, and they accepted it with understanding. They gave me several rubles, and I went out of the house without even taking leave. We did not grasp the seriousness of the situation, that we would never see each other again.
As we passed by the post office, we ran into young Lithuanians who were looking at us with a bitter smile and gnashing their teeth. We were on the ascent to the mountain. The entire way was strewn with people and wagons. The wagon drivers loaded their belongings and families, and fled for their lives. We passed under the railway crossing. Suddenly, airplanes appeared low above our heads. They shot at us and dropped bombs. We were lying in the ditches at the side of the road. We were not injured. We continued to move. Bad thoughts went through the head. It seemed that we were separating ourselves from Jonava. The journey was not easy, even though we were young and healthy. The repeated running back and forth to search for a hiding place in the ditches drained our strength. The enemy did not stop sending his airplanes at us, shooting at the refugees. Along the way, we lost some people and met up with others until we reached Wilkomir.
It was night. It was dark. The Germans shot shiny bullets that looked like stars from the airplanes. In Wilkomir, I met Mosheke Goldschmid of Jonava immersed in worries: There was a puncture in his tire. I helped him with the repair, and we prepared for the journey. It was only possible to move at night. The question was, in what direction. Some advised to go to Vilna, the capital of Lithuania. It would not be easily captured by the Germans. There, they would break their teeth. Others felt that we should go toward Zarasai (Ezrani) at the Latvian border. I supported this, and the group agreed.
We travelled all night. At dawn, the airplanes appeared again, and everything repeated from the day before. At times, we ran to the ditches. The breaks between the air attacks continued to shorten. We turned away from the road, went up to the side road, and lay in the grass to rest. An army truck stopped next to us. We wanted to have a conversation with them, but they did not know Russian. One person succeeded in asking what was happening in Jonava. The response was: In Jonava – the Germans.
This oppressed us, and we did not ask further.
by Nachum Blumberg of Tel Aviv
On Sunday, June 22, when the German attack on the Soviet Union began, the road from Kovno to Jonava was full of army caravans and civilians already from the morning. Among them were thousands of people who were hurrying eastward to Wilkomir. The town bustled like a beehive. The opinion of most of the middle class was that there was nothing to escape from. We should note in agony that the thought was prevalent among them that things would not be worse under the Germans than under the Bolsheviks; that they should not escape to unknown directions, where it was uncertain that they would even reach anywhere. Many ran to the nearby villages in order to hide with farmers that they knew until the wrath would subside.
Among those who escaped were the Soviet Aktiva, the Comsomol Youth, all those who served in civic and district offices, the directors of the nationalized factories, the carpentry shops and commercial enterprises, and police officials. Similarly, the wagon drivers and cargo transporters escaped.
The entire day, the town was shuddering from a cruel murder: the shoemaker Victor Botzinski, who lived on the street next to Vichna Dobianski, burst into the town and murdered the vice mayor, the teacher Rosenberg, who had been appointed to that office by the Soviets.
My wife and I decided to flee in the direction of Russia, in accordance with what we had heard from the Mir Yeshiva students, refugees from Poland who settled in the town. From three Yeshiva students who used to eat at our table, we heard about the atrocities that the Germans perpetrated against the Jewish population. I had a good horse. I prepared a carriage and was prepared for the journey. I hid all of my gold and documents in the pillow of the harness ( Chamet). I hitched the horse, loaded some moveable property, and left the yard. At that moment, my brother-in-law Mendel Dobianski approached me and asked, Where are you going? I answered that I was setting out in the direction of Russia. He begged that I do not leave the family. My wife advised me to return, to hitch the horse to the wagon, and take us to the rest of the family. That is what I did. We loaded the wagon and the entire Dobianski family – the brothers with their wives and children, the brother-in-law and sister-in-law, and set out along the way.
We reached Mount Lekai, about 12 kilometers from town. There we found out from a Lithuanian acquaintance, Lukshovich, that the Germans were already in Wilkomir. He recommended that we come to him. We hid there for three or four days. When we found out that the Germans were already in Jonava, we decided to return. We sent Shmuel Dobianski as a scout to find out whether our house had been burnt. He returned and told us that our house was still standing.
We ran into German soldiers along the way. When the saw my fine horse, they ordered me to unhitch it. In return, they gave me a significantly inferior horse. I took down the main thing, the harness, and then hitched up and we left. When we reached home, we found out the following:
On Monday and Tuesday, June 23 and 24, the Germans engaged in battle in the town against the soldiers of the Russian unit in Poligon. Jonava went up in flames on Tuesday and Wednesday. Liber Farber had a large cellar, where approximately 80 Jews were hiding due to the bombardment. An electricity post that had gone up in flames fell upon the door of the cellar and sealed off the exit. None of them survived. The dead included Yankel Pozitzer, Meir Wunder, Liber Farber, Shmerl Stern and their families. The Germans had already pillaged the town by Thursday. The S.S. troops issued an order that everyone was to gather in the market square. The Shaulists and Lithuanian elements from the riffraff assisted the Germans in gathering up the Jews. The agronomist Grigaliunas from Mount Lekai, Simuk Dolgatz, two sons of the builder Wansovich, Pinkovski, Mangines Vytautas, and others were prominent among them.
The entire remaining Jewish population gathered in the marketplace. A command was issue to kneel down. Among those gathered were Rabbi Nachum Baruch Ginzburg, Kagan the pharmacy owner, Leibe Opnitzky and his sons, the Shapira family with their mighty children. Machine guns were placed around, and everyone was sure that they would shoot with them. The weeping and screaming of the children, women and men was indescribable. At that moment, as a miracle from heaven, an attack of cannon shells hit the movie theater building. The Germans and Lithuanians fled from fear, and after them – the entire Jewish population. The Jews housed themselves in houses that had survived the fire: On Vilna and Kovno Streets from the market place until Keidiani Street, the Lane of the Rabbi, Breizer Street from the synagogue until the synagogue of the miners, on Keidiani Street, and in houses on the new horse market.
On Thursday night, a shell hit the house of L. Opnitzky. They were saved, but the house went up in flames. On Friday morning, I went out to the street to search for Jews. A frightening scene unfolded before my eyes. Motel Fleischman was running with his remaining strength, with Shemeinka the daughter of Machulis and a German behind him. He had told the German that the war was just beginning and that the Russians would return again. He escaped to the house of the teacher Shaul Keidansky on Keidiani Street. They were following him. She was shouting that they were all Communists. The German ordered them to get up and commanded Meinka to bring spades. Motel Fleischman, Shaul Keidansky and his two children were brought to the cemetery, with the gentiles looking on
There, they were ordered to dig a pit. Then, the German stood three of them next to the pit and shot them. They fell forward. Shaul Keidansky was ordered to cover them. Then, they shot him as well.
Reima the Contact Man
I returned home broken and crushed, and decided that I could not remain there.
I had opportunity to get in contact with Reima the Lithuanian, who worked with Sliagris, the aide of President Smetana. He lived behind Mount Lekai and was considered to be my good friend. He came. I asked him to go to the cemetery to find out what was the fate of those who were shot. He verified that the gentiles had removed them from the pit and stripped them. I went with Nota Valchokovsky, accompanied by Reima, who was wearing a Shaulist uniform, as if he was transporting us to work. We arrived there and buried the desecrated dead bodies. The decision that we must escape was further strengthened in me. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law, the Dobianski family, opposed this.
Our situation worsened on Sunday, one day after the outbreak of the war. Valdiva, Valshchiaus’ secretary, came to us and ordered us to vacate the house without removing any object. I asked him where we should go, and he directed me to the railway station. Since he knew me from before, my pleas apparently had an effect on him, and he permitted us to go to one of our former warehouses.
The situation became even more serious on Monday. The Lithuanians decided to pillage, rob and chase out the Jews from their places. There was also a lack of food provisions. Anything that remained from the fire was pillaged. About 40 people were with us in the warehouse, including L. Opnitzky with his children and grandchildren, Alter Jochovsky, Nota Valchokovsky, Yeshayahu Shugas, Rabbi Ginzburg, the pharmacy owner Kagan and others. Since we grew potatoes in our garden, we would take them out, cook them, and eat them.
Reima, our contact person, would bring us news of the situation in the city. He told us that approximately 50 people were brought in and locked in the Hershel Opnitzky’s cellar. The new market was not far from us. They were brought to the Girialka Grove, under the guard of the Shaulists, and given spades. They dug ditches there. Rumors spread that they were preparing the ditches for fuel tanks. According to Reima, they dug ditches 20 meters long, 3 meters wide, and 2.5 meters deep. They were dug in the same of ê, and Reima convinced us that they were not designated for fuel, but rather for Jews.
After a few days, Vansovich’s two sons and Kretzmer came with guns. They ordered me to hitch up the horse, and brought me to the homes of the Jews in order to gather up anything that had been pillaged from them. They employed me at that task for three days. The property was piled up in the town hall in the new market. They did not take my belongings. Apparently, they left them for secretary Wilks of the district council who moved into our house. Kazlauskas, the town secretary, who lived near us and was apparently our good friend, calmed me, saying that there was nothing to worry about. He himself had given over a detailed list of the Jews to the murderer Grigaliunas, with notes indicating who was a Communist or a supporter. His hands were also not clean. He lives peacefully in his home in Jonava.
Once, Reima came to me and advised me to speak to the murderer Grigaliunas about giving me work in building his new house at his farm. I went to him and offered to work for free. He agreed and gave me a directive that I, my father-in-law and brother-in-law should go to work every morning in Lekai and return in the evening. We also took my brother Chaim to work.
Reima explained to me that in the work, Gineika, Pinkovski and others brought groups of Jews, men and women, to remove the bricks from the burnt houses. The murderers chose young, pretty girls, took them to ruins, and raped them. They also murdered a few of them. This left an oppressive impression upon us. Thus did we continue to work for four days.
Hiding Place in the Cave
I could not fall asleep due to the emotions. I got up in the morning, hitched the horse, and advised my family to escape, for my heart does not foretell good things. They all got dressed and travelled to work in Lekai. Reima came to me and said that at 7:00, the Shaulists came to our yard and took all the men that were in the storehouse. That morning, about two weeks after the fire, about 1,200 men and young women were gathered together and concentrated in the Lipniak barracks. My older brother Moshe was among them. I found out that on that same day, Moshe went to my wife Chaya in the storehouse and asked for better clothes, since the Lithuanians were saying that they would be sending us to work in Lublin.
I came to Jonava at night with suspicions, and I brought Reima with me. My goal was to meet with Moshe, for perhaps I might be able to extricate him from the barracks. My wife Chaya told me that she had told Moshe that we were with Reima in Lekai, and she advised him to join us. He did not agree. He was certain that they would send them to work, and even suspected that my wife was being stingy with the clothing. Do as you wish, she answered him, and he disappeared
It was impossible to meet Moshe next to the bunkers, for the place was under strict guard. The Shaulist guards shot in the air in order to frighten the prisoners.
I returned Lekai later in the night. We all decided to flee. Reima advised us to dig a cave in the mountain and next to the river. We dug there all night. We camouflaged the door well with shrubs. The advice to dig the cave was with the knowledge of the wife of Sliagris (the deputy of President Smetana) who proved herself to be a good person and a friend of the Jews.
Early in the morning, when work finished, she appeared with Reima and brought two full baskets of food provisions. She said that we did well to flee, for our lives were in danger. Similarly, she said that she had come from Kovno,
where she had told her husband about the number of Jews under her protection and asked him what to do. He told her to assist them to the best of her ability, since he had been saved by the Jews from a Russian transport to Siberia.
The Bitter End of the Prisoners in the Bunkers
This is what happened with my brother Yerachmiel, who lived on the other side of the Vylia. When the Jews were already placed into bunkers for the most part, Mangin Vytautas, the wagon driver Simanis, and Gineika came to his home. He was not home, and Gineika raped his wife. Yerachmiel entered at that moment, and when he saw what was happening, he grabbed a footstool, banged it directly on Gineika’s head, and quickly escaped out the window. He hid among the bushes, and when he saw that the murderers were at his heels, he hanged himself on a tree.
The Jews were imprisoned in the bunkers for four days. In the meantime, others were added, and the pits in Girialka were prepared. A notice was posted through the bunkers that everyone should take with them good clothes and money, for they were being sent to work in Lublin. The intention was that they should tell those remaining in the houses to bring everything.
Reima told me that they brought groups of 200 people from the bunkers to Girialka. Motel Chasia’s Levitz was in the first group. He was sick, and he was carried by Shmerl and Binka Shapira. They made them run, as they were well guarded by the Shaulists. Abba Solsky, Leibl Stern and Leizer Goldshmid were also in that group. The women were not taken yet, but some of them burst through to go together with their husbands: Chana Sesitzki, the wife of the lawyer Leibel Stern; and the teacher Opteikina, the wife of Leizer Goldshmid. The Shaulists attempted to chase them away with whips, but this did not help. They stuck to their husbands and went along with them.
When they came within 100 meters of the pits, they were ordered to strip, under the pretext that they would be given Russian clothes. They were given a command to walk in the direction of the narrow railway track. When they approached the pits, they were fired upon from all sides. The panic was indescribable. They fell into the pits while still alive and wounded. Berka Fein, Berman and my brother Moshe succeeded in escaping, and ran to the road. They were caught and shot. Gentiles from Skaroli, the children of Vansovich, Kretzmer, Mangin, and Jaska Mazolis were prominent among the murderers. They were headed by Simuk Dolgatz and Mangin. Spirits were distributed to the shooters to strengthen their morale, and they were promised that all of the belongings of the Jews would be theirs. Farmers from Bzlisik, Godzion and Lokgal were called to cover the pits. The earth moved from the bodies that were buried while still alive.
Four groups were brought in this manner, and each time, the same scene of terror repeated itself. It is known that Hirshke Friedman and Shmerl Shapira displayed strong resistance. They were stabbed by knives. Before they were brought there, all of them were commanded to write to their families to send money with the bearers of the letter. Hostages were kept in the barracks on account of the women and children who were still in the town: Rabbi Nachum Baruch Ginzburg, the pharmacist Kagan, and Nota Valchokovsky.
The Fate of the Women and Children
After the women sent belongings and money with the letter bearers, they were calmed with the knowledge that the men were working in the peat mines at Pagloz (Pagele?iai). My sister-in-law, Moshe’s wife, was so certain that I did not succeed in convincing her through messengers that she should come over to us in the cave at Mount Lekai.
In the interim, the women were taken to work. They received a half kilogram of bread each day. I knew what awaited them, for Reima told me that the same fate awaits them as well. He had heard this from the Shaulist command. Therefore, I wrote to all the women in the family – including my wife, my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law and their children – that they should sneak to us at night.
We men, aside from my brother Moshe and brother-in-law Yerachmiel, had already been in hiding for several days. I sent Reima in the evening with a wagon to fetch them. They told him that they were not in danger, that they were working and receiving bread, and that my imagination was envisaging darkness. The only one to come to me was my wife Chaya with the six year old daughter of Mendel Dobianski. She came only because Pinkovski the fireman had taken interest in her and attempted to rape her. The next day, Feinia, Chaim Blumberg’s wife, came to us and pleaded for Chaya to return, for the committee responsible for all those on the list of women and children were liable to the death penalty. I did not permit her to go, come what may. I advised Feinia to return and bring the families and the children.
The next morning, I sent Reima to find out what had happened. He told me that all the women and children had already been brought into the bunkers. A band of Shaulists ordered some hostages to travel to the Kovno Ghetto under guard in order to bring ransom money. They brought the money and were led to think that this would redeem them from tribulation.
Reima, in his Shaulist uniform, approached the bunkers. Then Hinda Dobianski (Perlstein) gave him a note written by the women from the Dobianski and Blumberg families requesting us to come to join them, and together bear the fate that was awaiting them. They were unable to escape, for the guard was intense. When this news arrived, Mendel, Yerachmiel and Shmuel Dobianski, and Chaim Blumberg got up and said: we must go.
|I took up the axe and stated that if anyone dared to move, I will crush his skull|
When I saw that I could not convince them to remain, I grabbed the axe and stated that if anyone dared to move, I would crush his skull. We had to remain and take revenge when the time came. The mood was beyond description. The men could not forgive themselves for failing to convince the women to join them. Yerachmiel wanted to commit suicide. I only prevented this with difficulty. Reima informed us that he was on the list of Shaulists who were enlisted to be at the bunkers the next day. Indeed, the next day, they brought the women and children in groups along the same tribulation filled journey to the grove.
Reima was present. He told us that the atrocities that took place cannot be described in words. They separated the women and children. A terrible wailing broke out. Mothers and children cleaved to each other. When they were separated, the children attempted to return to their mothers, and they were shot before their eyes while running. Children were tossed into the pits alive. We heard the screams of the women from Lekai, five kilometers away, for the wind was blowing in our direction. The Pole Kasparowicz, who lived close to the grove and saw with his own eyes what had taken place, took leave of his senses the next day.
The turn of the women came. They were ordered to strip and stand next to the pits. They were shot in their backs and fell into the pits. Finally, the hostages were also brought –Rabbi Ginzburg, Kagan the pharmacist, and Nota Valchokovsky.
The clothing that was collected was distributed at the gathering place with the murderers having first rights. They also received large portions of spirits to take home. During the gathering, when they were drunk, fights broke out among themselves regarding the pillaged belongings. They also broke into chauvinistic songs for their victory over the women and children.
The Murderers Pillage and Rampage
During the first day, men, women and children fled to old Gostynits, behind the town of Seisikai. They were later returned to Jonava. Many of those who had escaped to Kovno had not reached safe places. German soldiers from the Wehrmacht, whose behavior incidentally was not bad, ordered them to return. Lithuanian partisans stood next to the wooden bridge that leads to the road to Kovno, and directed them all to the town. There, they were pillaged and shot in groups in the horse market.
A group of rabbis and G-d fearing Jews were gathered in Nachum Levin’s carpentry shop. Mangin guarded them. He promised Nachum that they would survive if they would turn over their money and property. They did as commanded, but they were shot.
After the murders, Jonava was declared Judenrein. Grigaliunas confirmed this in an official letter to the German occupiers. Mina, the daughter of the butcher Shlomo (the Muscovite), hid with a Russian in the village of Rimkes. When she learned that her husband had been shot, she went crazy. She and her children wandered around the ruins of the town for several days. One day, they were shot.
Grigaliunas arranged a large party for all the Shaulists and murderers. When he was tipsy with wine, he said among other things that he himself had destroyed a Russian brigade that had passed through his place of residence on Mount Lekai, he had killed the Jews of the town, and that he had a similar fate in store for the Germans. Simuk Dolgatz heard this, and, being a Gestapo man, informed the S.S. command. Grigaliunas was arrested that night. Weapons were found during a search of his farm. Reima told us that he was to be sentenced to death in a field court.
I Took an Axe and Left
The next night, Sliagris’ wife ran to us and informed us that our lives were in danger, and that we must escape. She explained that since a death sentence was awaiting Grigaliunas, his wife had requested that Reima save him. He had to give testimony that the weapons belonged to a group of Jews hiding on Mount Lekai. She had heard this by chance when Reima returned drunk to his wife, who was working with her in the kitchen, and told her about this in secrecy. The next day, he was responsible for taking them out of the cave to a specific spruce tree, where the Germans would discover them.
Reima came in the morning and said that the entire area was surrounded by Germans searching for Jews. He told us to come with him to a specific place, from where he would later transfer us to a secure location. He brought us there and disappeared. I said that we should take some belongings with us, as well as axes, and run quickly to the Matzkovitz Forests that border the farm. We wandered in the bogs of the forest for eight hours, and arrived at the hill in the evening. We camouflaged ourselves with branches and lay down to rest. We spent a night and day there. We heard movement on the second day. Branches were breaking. Suddenly, we heard a voice in Lithuanian, Oh, Jesus, where are they?
When I heard the voice from up close, I recognized Reima’s voice. I took an axe, came out of my hiding place, and shouted, Reima!
Panes Blumbergas, he said. He was happy to see me, and asked why we fled? He had two baskets with food in our hands. I called out to all of them and informed them that if any suspicion would be aroused, we would have to do away with him. I warned him to refrain from approaching, and asked for an explanation why had had moved us from the cave to the tree. He kneeled down on his knees, crossed himself, and told us everything just as Sliagris’ wife had told us. He told us that Grigaliunas’ wife had hired him and ordered him to behave thus. He did not intend to harm us. The Germans had combed the entire Mount Lekai, including the cave, and had found nothing. They had even freed Grigaliunas, for it was proven that there were indeed Jews there. After he was freed, Grigaliunas’ wife came to him and said that the hand of god was involved in this, for her husband had been freed on account of the Jews, so she must find us and thank us. She was the one who had sent us the best food products that she had in her possession.
From the Pigpen to the Forests
What do you advise now? I asked.
You must return to the cave, he replied.
I do not agree to go there. I prefer being with you in the pigpen. My opinion was that if he was indeed our good friend, he must take responsibility. Since his pen was too small for us (me, Chaim Blumberg, my brother, Chaim Dobianski and his sons Shmuel, Yerachmiel, Mendel, my wife Chaya (Dobianski), and Mendel’s daughter Etela) he promised to speak with Sliagris’ wife to see if we can go to her large pigpen, where we would be more secure. She agreed the next day, and we returned from the forest, a distance of 25 kilometers, and spent the evening in the pen. We arranged ourselves there and felt that we were in a secure place under the protection of Sliagris, who was a commander in Kovno. W remained there for about two weeks. Sliagris’ wife and Reima provided us with provisions.
In the evening, Mrs. Sliagris came to us and told us that it is being said that America warned Germany that if there were any more acts of murder against the Jews, they would gather all the Germans in America into ghettos and treat them as they are treating the Jews. This somewhat calmed our tense nerves. Early the next morning, my brother Chaim left the pen to go to the field to breathe some fresh air. A shepherd noticed him. While he was still in
|When the shepherd saw Chaim with his full beard, he began to run and scream|
in the cave, Reima had warned the shepherd to not take the flock far from the fields, for Jews who had gone crazy were wandering about. (His intention was that they should not circulate in the vicinity of our cave.) When the shepherd saw Chaim with his grown, unkempt beard, he began to run and shout, Jesus! Chaim wanted to catch him and calm him. He became even more flustered, and fled to the house of farmers. When Chaim returned, he told us this. We had realized that our situation had deteriorated. I told this to Mrs. Sliagris, who called Reima and told him to transfer us to another hiding place.
We again moved to the Matzkovitz Forests and waited for additional instructions.
We Returned to the Bunkers in Jonava
That same day, partisans came to Sliagris’ wife and informed her that they have information about Jews in the area, and that she knows about them. They took Reima with them to assist in the searches in Mount Lekai. They went and shot gunshots for fear of surprises. Of course, they did not find anyone. When they returned, they told Reima and Mrs. Sliagris that the Jews will no longer be murdered, but will rather be sent to the Kovno Ghetto, and that approximately 190 Jews – women and children, Jonavers and others – are still concentrated in the bunkers. When we were informed of this, and that Captain Kolkovski had been appointed as the mayor, and that he did not permit the killings, but rather authorized the transfer to the Kovno Ghetto, our spirits improved somewhat.
We decided that Shmuel Dobianski will go to Jonava at night in the company of Reima and meet Kolkovski in his house. Kolkovski had been his customer, and they were friendly. When they arrived there, Reima hid, for he was afraid of being exposed as a helper of the Jews. Shmuel was wearing a Shaulist uniform. He knocked on the door and entered, but realized that there were guests there, so he remained standing near the door. When Kolkovski’s wife approached, she recognized him, and apparently became confused and began to babble. In the meantime the captain arrived, recognized him, greeted him with Labas and brought him into a private room. Shmuel explained to him that he and a group of his family members had been taken to work in the area of Seisikai. There, they found out about the mass killings, and he had come to listen to his advice. His response was that he did well by coming. In the next day or two, a large group of Jews who had been gathered from the area were to be sent to the Kovno Ghetto. There is nothing to worry about. He would ensure that nothing bad would happen to us.
The next evening, we all decided to return to Jonava. Reima accompanied us to the road in a wagon, and we set out on a tortuous path through the fields. We reached the bunkers. The guards did not permit us to enter. They first had to ask Simuk Dolgatz, the local S.S. representative. Reima went to inform Kolkovski of our arrival. The latter telephoned Dolgatz and requested that he allow us in. At first Dolgatz refused and wanted to interrogate us. However Kolkovski calmed him, assuring him that we were not Communists. After this, the gates opened, and we entered the yard of the bunkers.
To the Kovno Ghetto
There, we met Nachumke Zisla and my brother Moshe’s wife Zelda, who was in Lukinel until that time. The wives of Binka Shapira and Manka Mines, who had hidden in the Pereboznik brick kiln, were also there. Our joy was indescribable. Most of those present were from different places. The next day, October 4, 1941, wagons were gathered. We were all placed upon them, and we set out in the company of a policeman who knew us, Labas. We travelled slowly, and stopped on occasion to drink water and purchase something to eat. I must emphasize the good conduct of the policeman Labas. We arrived at the gate of the ghetto in Kovno late at night. This was to our good fortune. That day, there was an aktion in the small ghetto. Had we arrived earlier, we would have been brought to Fort Nine to be killed.
Since dwellings in the ghetto had become available, they took us, the members of the Blumberg and Dobianski families, to a house on Linkava 15, next to the police station. The following Jonavers were policemen there: the three Zopovich brothers, Meir, Moshe, and Yudel, who was the chief of the station. Alter Klotz was also among the policemen. It was indeed a miracle that we were still alive. The following people perished in Jonava: the wife of Chaim Dobianski, that is my mother-in-law; as well as the wife and children of Mendel, Yerachmiel, and Shmuel Dobianski, and of my brother Chaim. From among the women, my wife Chaya (Dobianski), as well as Dobianski’s daughter Etela were still alive; and from among the men – all the aforementioned.
These were our victims to this point along our journey of tribulations until the Kovno Ghetto.
by Dov Blumberg (Capetown)
Translated by Daniella Thompson
My heart goes out to the victims of Yanova, my little town
Man and woman, five hundred families,
Were wiped out in the spring of their life.
Some suffocated in the house cellars
And the rest expelled to the forests at the edge of town.
The murderers opened their mouths wide, and with mocking contempt
Shot bullets into the bodies of my brothers and sisters,
Who were buried in trenches that they themselves had dug.
The earth's supplication, the stifled cries of children's camps
Pierce the empty air
They were removed from their homes, where they were rooted
Generations upon generations, where their fathers' forefathers
Lived, yearned, and hoped for a day to come.
And here came the day, and with the clap of a cruel hand
They were wiped out with no trace, uprooted forever.
Their homes were pillaged, their goods looted
And the mezuzah at the portal was replaced with a cross.
Still the same chairs, the same tables and cloths.
Damned is this earth that houses assassins,
Why did they naïvely believe in David's prayers, to praise
The God who had chosen his people above all others…
When the axe was hoisted over them, they still cried out for help,
Believing that their God would not abandon them in misery and need.
Capitulated, I stand before myself and spit in my face
For the stupid crime of superstition.
Where did all those prayers go,
The torments and supplications, the fasting and charity to the last coin?!
Why were all those killers saved,
While most of Israel went to its relentless doom?
My heart goes out to you, too, my saintly mother, wrapped in a white kerchief
My heart bursts with tears on the rav of my town, Yanova,
From the distance, my eyes perceive that holy mountain, the cemetery,
I will give no more prayers and supplications, since they are all for naught,
Every Jew should swear and take an oath of vengeance, hate.
Not to enjoy anything by this abominable humanity.
Not to deal with them, spurn and excommunicate!
To my shame, this horror has still not been wiped from my memory
I would stand shamefaced in front of shop windows,
Widows filled with the wares of Ashkenaz, made by assassins.
My brothers are bowing again to the idol of profit, buying and selling,
Adorning their homes with ornaments made by the hands
That spilled the blood of families and friends.
How have you sunk so low, without shame,
For yourselves, your children, and the members of your community?!
Have you been blinded and are senseless fo your actions,
You are enriching the same robbers who killed and looted,
Raped your daughters and consigned them to brothels
They were subjected to all manners of indignity, were tried and defiled.
Blood drips from their merchandise, real blood,
Blood that screams from shame and cries for vengeance.
My heart goes out to the motherland struggling like a woman in labor,
From generation to generation, father to son and son to son, will tell,
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