by Tovia Garber, Neve Sharet
Before the outbreak of the war, I worked in the carpentry shop of Koppel Reznik and his sons, which was nationalized under the directorship of one of the gentile workers as Government Carpentry Shop Number One.
On the day of the outbreak of the war, all of the workers were gathered together and assigned a rotation for guarding. I guarded the carpentry shop that night. We heard the roar of airplanes that were flying to bombard the Polygon.
On the second day, nobody thought about work. Our family, consisting of my father Melech, my mother Judith, my brothers Chaim and Hershel, my sisters Henia, Batya and Gittel and I, decided to escape to Russia. We spoke to our relative Shabtai Droskin, who owned a horse and wagon, in order to escape along with them in the direction of Wilkomir [Ukmerge]. We naively believed that we would be able to return easily from there. We left Jonava on the second day in the evening. When we reached the Kemach factory, I and my cousin Zamka Droskin decided to run to the railroad station where we might catch a train going in the direction of the border. Along the way we met many people returning from there who told us that there is no hope at all with a train.
On the third morning, we arrived in Wilkomir tired and crushed. A terrifying panic pervaded the city. There were dead and wounded people. Many had fled. We wished to rest at the exit of the city, but we continued in the direction of Lëteniai. Along the way, The Shaulists shot at us from the forests. Utënai was also destroyed. After a brief rest in the grove outside the city, we traveled on and reached Airënai. The Shaulists shot at us from the church in the center of the city, but they did not hit us. Two Russian tanks shot at the church tower and destroyed it. As we passed through villages, there were farmers who brought us food and water. Along the way, we ran into Shaulists who threatened us with arms and ordered us to return. We were frightened when they told us that the Germans had blocked our way. Many of the refugees believed them and returned along the way that they came. We were not influenced by their words. We continued to travel quickly. We caught a lost horse along the way, harnessed it to our wagon, and continue to move onward.
We reached Dvinsk (Daugavpils) by the morning. When the people of Dvinsk saw the masses of refugees, they also took up the wandering staff and set out along the way. We had just left the city when we saw German airplanes bombing the bridges. We stopped in a village. A farmer gave us food and refused to take money. We rested there for a few days. Father approached the nearby town of Dagda to assess the situation. We saw the guards looking at us. We quickly returned and decided to escape to the border. Within a few days we arrived at the town of Zhivich next to the border. Thousands of refugees waited there for permission to cross. When we reached there, we received permits, and entered the Soviet Union.
We split up. Our family of eight traveled by train deep into Russia. Uncle Shabtai Droskin and his family traveled on their wagon. We reached a kolkhoz called The Second Five Year Plan in the Mordovian Autonomous Republic.
I was drafted into the Lithuanian division of the army on February 7, 1942. I was sent to the Otkorsk Pass in the area of Sartov. There, they cut off my left hand. I returned to my family in the kolkhoz in November. We returned to Vilna after the war. Uncle Shabtai Droskin and his family arrived in the Tatar Autonomous Republic, and at the end of the war they returned to Lithuania. To our good fortune, nobody in the family was killed.
Finally I arrived in Israel with my wife and two children. Recorded by Y. B.
by Leah Drucker (Monosevich), Neve Sharet
I moved to Kovno to live with my mother-in-law and father-in-law a few months after I married David Tzon.
On Sunday, June 22, when the war broke out, my father Yisrael arrived in Slobodka in the evening and informed us that the family would be escaping by truck to Russia. He took my husband and me to Jonava. An oppressive atmosphere prevailed there. People were running around planning schemes. We did not shut our eyes at night. That same night, they drafted my brother-in-law Moshe with a truck from our headquarters in order to evacuate the Russian wives of senior army captains who lived in Jonava.
On Monday morning, thousands of refugees from Kovno and nearby towns had already arrived in town. They came by vehicle or on foot. Wagon drivers or truck drivers escaped with their vehicles. We also did that. The following people came in our truck. Yisrael Namiot and his wife Yentl, Aunt Esther (her sons Elik and Shmaryahu escaped by bicycle previously) my mother Shula, my father Yisrael, my sisters Sarah and Feiga, my husband and I. Along the way we picked up Reuven Gurvich and Rivka Rubinovich and her children.
We arrived in Dvinsk through the air bombardments and running through trenches. The city was bustling with people, cars and wagons. The commotion was great, for the Germans did not let up their bombardment. We left there and arrived in the town of Kreslawka near the border. We were too late, for the border had been closed in the meantime. The following members of our family were killed in the bombardment: Shalom Lukman, his wife Chaya, their son Hershel and their young daughter, my aunt Sara Beila the seamstress and her husband Yankel Levitt.
We remained in Kreslawka for several days; however we did not succeed in crossing the border. We decided to return to Jonava. The Germans were already in Dvinsk. The Latvians warned us that in Dvinsk we would be liable for imprisonment. Nevertheless, we entered the city, and indeed we were imprisoned. The men were separated from the women. We were liberated after a few days in terrible prison conditions. We did not meet the men. We were informed that they were all shot.
We decided to walk to Jonava on foot. We hired wagons along the way in exchange for clothing and food. They sent us off after several kilometers. At times, we met Jews in towns, and found refuge for the night. Along the way we met Lyuba Lukman from the other side of the Viliya, with her daughter Feiga and two children. Feiga and her children were killed along the way, and Lyuba returned to Jonava, where she met her death with everyone else.
We arrived in Jonava at the end of July. The center of the town was consumed by fire. We met hundreds of men and women waiting for food distribution next to the cooperative on the road. Among them I saw Meirka Lukman, Itzik Suntochky, Kahansky, the Seniors, Moshel Beker and others. They told me that they had been expelled from their houses, which had been captured after the fire. They wandered around the gardens.
Our house remained intact. The German headquarters located itself in our house and that of Yisrael Namiot. They did not permit us to approach, so we passed over to the other side, to Lukman's house. This house was empty. The family of Itzik Sintuchky was also with us, for their house had gone up in flames. They gave us food, clothing and money. The next day I met Moshe Beker who told me that he was living in the carpentry shop along with the families of Moshe and Zusman Klotz, the owners of the carpentry shop.
My friends whom I met told me that a group of young women Yocheved Shegansky, Batya Senior, Rivka and Yudit Ferber, Suntochky and Klachman were serving the German headquarters and clearing weeds from the pavement. My brother-in-law in Kovno told me that my house in the middle of the ghetto in Slobodka was empty, and that I was invited to come. My mother-in-law and relatives with whom we had made the entire journey to the border and back advised me to go, and told me that they would follow after me. However, they all perished.
I traveled to Kovno and entered the ghetto. I came without any energy. I was in my seventh month of pregnancy. I rejoined my husband's family and lived together with them. A son was born to me. I worked in the brigade in the airport as well as in sewing. One day when I returned from work I did not find my son. He was taken and he perished in the children's aktion. I suffered until the ghetto was liquidated. I was taken to Stutthof, and then to other camps.
I was liberated by the Russians in 1945. I immediately returned to Vilna. I married Shlomo Drucker and we had two children.
I had received a nationalist education at home. I studied in the Tarbut School, was active in the Zionist youth organizations, and was attracted to the Land of Israel. We put in many requests but were not answered. Finally, in 1967, my husband, I, and our daughter Dorit arrived in Israel and settled in Neve Sharet.
The following people perished from my family: Father, Mother, my two sisters, my brother Moshe who arrived in Russia, was drafted to the front and died a heroic death. Our relatives Leizer Monosevich, his wife Merl and their children, Chaya the wife of Yoschek Monosevich with their three daughters and a son also perished.
by Leah Helerman (Kronik), Melbourne
Early in the morning of Sunday, June 22 we were awakened by the sound of airplanes flying through the blue skies of our town. We ran outside to the street and felt the fear that heralded the beginning of the war. Rumors spread that the Germans were approaching. People did not know what to do. The Russian guard brigade began to flee, and many of the Jews of Jonava joined them in order to find salvation in Russia. Those who owned horses loaded up some belongings and also fled. Where to run? Nobody knew the answer. Some ran with sacks to the train station or to the road to Wilkomir. Many ran to Lithuanian friends in nearby villages. It was necessary to flee for the front was on the other side of the Viliya in the area of Polygon, and many shells fell on the town. Fires broke out, and the entire town was burning. Many hid in cellars, and some people suffocated from the smoke and the heat.
My parents Leib and Rashel, my husband and child also decided to flee to a village, to a Lithuanian acquaintance who had been our customer for many years. It was a hot day. I had a sack over my shoulders and pushed our child in a stroller. My husband and parents were laden with sacks. We all set out in the direction of the village.
The way was filled with army people, and Jews the old, women and children. All had one purpose: to quickly flee from the Germans to the extent that was possible. We arrived in the village. Our Lithuanian acquaintance received us with friendship and put us up for a few days. Special emissaries came to the village to warn people not to hide Jews, and to threaten with death anyone with whom a Jew would be found.
The farmers were frightened and tearfully told us that we must leave the village. We again fled with sacks on our shoulders, with the child in the stroller, and we continued to wander in the direction of Wilkomir. The cannons thundered and the airplanes roared above our heads as we ran to greet the unknown, left to the mercies of a bitter fate. Along the way a Jewish acquaintance informed us that we were near a Jewish village Old Gustonys. We went there. My parents no longer had strength. They advised us to return to Jonava. My husband was still a young man, and I was afraid that he would be taken from me, so we decided to enter that settlement. We parted from my parents. They returned to Jonava and we returned to Old Gustonys.
The Jews of that place did not want to take us in, for the houses were filled with refugees. Embittered by this reception, we broke into one of the houses. There we met the Jonavers Shlupsky and his wife, Berman and his wife (from the Untershatz family), Menachem Mines and his wife and children. We remained there for about two weeks.
One week after we arrived, the Lithuanians came. They gathered all of the men and took them out as if to work but in reality it was to be shot. The parting from our husbands was heartrending.
One week later, Lithuanian soldiers came on wagons and removed us from the village. We were certain that we were being taken to the forest to be shot to death, as had been done to the Jews of Jonava who remained there. To our surprise we saw that they took us to the road to Kovno. There, we entered the ghetto. This was on the Sabbath of September 27, 1941. One day earlier, approximately 10,000 Jews had been removed from the Kovno Ghetto to be murdered at the Ninth Fort. I remained in the Kovno ghetto with my child for about two years. I did not encounter anyone of my family there. All of them were murdered in Jonava. I passed two selections, in which the fate of life or death was hanging by a hair. Life was filled with fear and hunger.
In the ghetto I worked in the brigade that was taken daily to the airport in Aleksota. I went out almost naked, barefoot and starving. I held my stand for the urge to live was strong.
When they liquidated the Kovno Ghetto, they transferred my son and me to the anèiai Camp. There my situation improved. I worked in the warehouse of army fatigues, and I am not ashamed to state that I stole clothing from there in order to maintain my stand. However, this did not last for long.
One morning, as I was at work, the German murderers came and gathered all of the old people and children, including my only son Bentzele I never saw him again. The rest were brought on transport trucks to Stutthof. There, the veritable hell began for us. Everything that we had endured to this time was like the Garden of Eden compared to this (excluding the fact that my husband and son were murdered). We were there for two weeks. They selected 500 strong women, including myself, and hauled us to Germany to dig trenches. We received food in order to sustain ourselves somehow. We slept in rags on straw mattresses. We did not have anywhere to wash. We were broken and crushed in body and spirit.
This continued until 1945. The war had already moved to German soil. As the Germans retreated, they continued to drag us along to the interior of Germany. This was in January, in the midst of the winter. We women marched in light clothing and in tattered, open shoes. Many froze along the way, and some were shot along the way. I was among the few who survived. This was due to some luck. The German commander, who had seen me working diligently at my tasks in the camp, had mercy on me and issued an order to give me closed, wooden shoes. These shoes saved me along the long journey, for we traversed dozens of kilometers in deep snow.
We were liberated on March 17, 1945. We were in an extermination camp on the preceding night. In the morning, when a few women left the bunkers, we noticed that the guards had disappeared. From afar we saw the Russian army marching in our direction. If they had tarried a few days longer, I would not have merited this. They quarantined us, for we were sick and infected with lice. They cut our hair and took us to the hospital. I remained there for a month. After that, we were transferred to a rehabilitation center. There, we regained our strength and energy.
This describes in brief the story of my life from 1941-1945. Today I live in Melbourne, Australia. I remarried, and I have a daughter whom I have already brought to the chupa (marriage canopy). Our family perished in Jonava. In addition to my father and my mother, there was my sister Ruchama Gertner, her husband Chona and their two children Lula and Efraim, Chaim Abramsom and his wife Shifra, Efraim Abramson, his wife Riva and their children Moshe and Pnina, Yosef Abramson and his wife, Leah the daughter of Chaim Abramson and her two children Moshe and Efraim.
by Lipa Berzin, Neve Sharet
Our family lived on Breizer Street, the street of the proletariat. My father Itzik, Liba Leah's, floated barges on the waters of the ventoji, Viliya and Neiman Rivers. In the winters, when the rivers froze, he was a porter. Our material situation was low, and our youth was not easy. In our family there was my mother Pesl, three brothers me, Nachum-Izak and Melech, and our sister Miriam. Our small house was divided into two dwellings. Our family lived in one of them, which was 25 square meters. The family of my Uncle Nachum-Leizer lived in the second one. Father came home for Sabbaths and went to the synagogue.
We boys studied in Yavneh and our sister studied in the Yiddish school. When I concluded my studies in school, I went to study carpentry. My brother Nachum-Izak studied upholstering. At that time, I was active in the Young Chalutz. I moved to Kovno and worked in a furniture store until 1940. I was drafted to the Lithuanian Army. There were some Jonavers together with me in the Third Unit of the Artillery Brigade in anèiai: Zerach Goldman, Leibka Lukman from across the river, Shlomo Berzin the son of Uncle Yonah, and Leizka Stoliar (Krupnik).
When the Soviets arrived in Lithuania we were transferred to the barracks of the infantry unit in Vilna. When the war broke out our unit was in Polygon. The captains fled as the front approached. A Lithuanian sergeant took is in and told us: Whoever wishes to return home can arise and go; whoever wishes to come with me to Russia follow me! We were approximately 40 men. He led us by foot through Nemenèinë to the border. On the third day, June 24, we met up with three trucks with the flag of our unit from our headquarters. They took us in and we continued to the border. We arrived in the city of Plotzk in White Russia, and later in Wielkie £uki. There we joined Russian units and entered into battle against the Germans. We fought with grenades, guns and Molotov cocktails. The Germans surrounded us and inflicted losses. We succeeded in escaping the siege in small groups. We swam across the Dvina (Daugava) River. We joined other Russian units, and in the midst of the battles we retreated to Kalinin.
We were sent to Gorky Blachna when the Lithuanian Division was set up. I joined unit 224 of the Artillery Brigade. With me there was my cousin Mottel Berzin, Yudel Baten, Notka Friedman, Shimon Strum and Motka Segal. The two latter ones were killed on the front. I was wounded in the battles near Nikolsk on the Orlov-Kursk Line. I was brought to the hospital in the city of Ulan Uda, where I remained for four months. From there I returned to my unit and continued to participate in the war until its end. We were then in Libau. There, we closed in on a concentration of Germans from units that had been defeated.
Chaim Wichov was also in our unit. He filled an important role with the Soviets in Jonava. In our unit, he served as the editor of the Lithuanian newspaper.
The command of the unit requested volunteers for a special mission. Chaim Wichov, who was not a combat soldier, was among the first to volunteer. He set out on his mission on a cold winter night in 1943, when the snow was one meter deep on the roads and in the fields. He did not return from this mission.
I was freed from the army on June 12, 1946, and I hastened to Jonava. I did not find anyone of my family. I found out that my father and brother were killed as they were floating a raft. My other brother perished along with the Lithuanian partisans. My sister Miriam and my mother were in the Kovno Ghetto. The British liberated them from the Buchenwald concentration camp. From there, they went directly to the Land of Israel, and settled in Kiryat Motzkin. My sister married Yosef Pinkus.
When they were informed about me, they began to send me requests to come and join them. I presented their papers for 12 years and did not receive an exit permit. I only succeeded in 1967, and I arrived in Israel with my wife and two daughters. We settled in Neve Sharet, and I continue my career as a carpenter in the local factory. My wife works and the children are studying. We have finally come to peace.
by Chava Leah Kravchok, Neve Sharet
On Sunday morning, my father Shevach Gutler traveled to Kovno as usual, to his work as a driver in a truck base. I went to my work as a bookkeeper in the headquarters of the wagon drivers. I began to sense the outbreak of war. A few drivers obtained two trucks in order to flee with their families. Father did not obtain a truck. He returned to Jonava, and we decided to escape on a wagon. He got in touch with Trotsky who promised to take us that is my father, my mother Ethel, my brother Notel and my young sister Lyuba. The Trotsky family numbered four souls. He loaded all of our most vital belongings on the wagon, and we went by foot.
We left our home on the road, next to Petrosovich's home, on Monday June 23. Along the way to Wilkomir, about 15 kilometers from Jonava, we met David Monosevich and Adeskes with their families, who were traveling on a fire engine. They stopped and took us aboard along with our family, except for Mother, who remained with Trotsky to guard the belongings. We said that we would wait for her in Wilkomir.
I got a nervous breakdown from the air bombardment. I wept the entire time. There were many fires in Wilkomir at night due to the bombs and fires ignited by the Shaulists. Adeskes decided not to stop. We were already in Uteny [Uetna] on Tuesday. Thus we were separated from Mother. One of our relatives whom we met along the way told us that there was no point in advancing, for the Russians are not allowing anyone to cross the border. Since we traveled all night, we stopped for a short rest. There was a bombardment in the morning in which Adeskes' father-in-law was killed. This compelled David Monosevich to continue on immediately. My father and brother had gone to a neighboring home and had not yet returned. What could we do? They assured me that they would follow us to Dvinsk.
In Dvinsk, we rested in the Beis Midrash. After resting, we went to the border. There were thousands of people there, but they were not permitted to cross. We returned to the city and waited for our family for two days. The Jews of Dvinsk provided us with food. The front approached. We again approached the border near Zilupe. There we met the following people from Jonava: the brothers Chaim and Leibl Baten, Yerchamiel Garber, Hillel Epstein, Shlomo Ber Meirovich, the teacher Sarah Sherman, and the Dragachki and Droskin families.
We heard a strong explosion as we sat in a house in Zilope. There was a crash of two railway cars, one of which was carrying explosive material. We did not know what happened, and we thought that the Germans had shelled the railway station. We fled through the fields for a distance of five kilometers. There we were met by Latvians who took us into a school. We suspected that they wanted to murder us. David Monosevich and Yitzchak Droskin ran to the city to inform the police. They calmed them, for they were citizens who were interested in preserving the order, and they did not want people wandering around outside who might attract the attention of the German aviators.
We removed some of our belongings from the fire engine in order to make more room. Adeskes, his wife and two children, Monosevich, his wife and child, the four members of the Droskin family, my sister and I mounted the vehicle and traveled to the border. The place was full of bogs. We placed branches down in order that the vehicle could pass, but we got stuck in the mud. We descended from the vehicle and continued along our way in mud up to our knees. We arrived at the border. There was no guard there, and we crossed. We reached the town of Krasna in White Russia. The farmers gave us potatoes and milk. We rested and set out for the railroad station. The tracks were destroyed from the bombardment, and no trains were moving. Thus did we walk onward for two weeks through the roads and dirt paths in order to avoid bombardments. We traversed approximately 500 kilometers. Once we covered some ground with a truck that took us in.
At one of our stops we were thought to be spies. Our Lithuanian passports aroused suspicion. We spent a night in prison and were freed the next day. The police placed us on a train that was traveling to Gorky. We journeyed for approximately two weeks. We were stationary for longer than we traveled, for preference was given along the way to trains with soldiers and arms. Along the way, we lost David Manosovich and his wife, and the Dragachki and Adeskes families. Remaining were my sister and I, the Droskin family, Shlomo Ber Meirovich, Hillel Epstein, Moshe Monosevich, and the young Biarsky from the other side of the Viliya. Thus we arrived in the Chuvashian Autonomous Republic. We lost a few more along the way. The Droskin family, my sister and I arrived in Gorky. We were placed in a steamboat, and we traveled down the Volga to the city of Engels in the German Autonomous Republic. I worked there as an orderly in the hospital. The men worked in the army factory. The Germans received us with friendship. We did not lack food.
Winter drew near. We were half naked. One of us had the idea that we should perhaps travel to Tashkent, which was warmer. I was attracted to go there, for according to Biarsky, David Monosevich was also there. We abandoned our bread and went to search for crumbs. The tribulations began when we arrived there. Tashkent was overflowing with hundreds of thousands of refugees. People were lying around in crowds in all of the gardens and schools. Indeed we did not suffer from cold, but people were dying at every step from hunger. We were also starving.
We decided to travel to Samarkand. From there, we were sent to a sovkhoz. The situation there was no better, and we returned to Tashkent. There we met Yossel Monosevich, and David Monosevich and his wife. The men were drafted into the Lithuanian division of the army.
We women decided to return to the city of Engels, but we were not permitted to do so. We were transferred to the Osinovka Kolkhoz near Saratov. We worked in the fields. We did not suffer from hunger. We remained there until the end of the war. My sister and I returned to Vilna in December 1944.
As I have stated already, we lost our father and brother forever in Uteny. I was informed that Father, Mother and my brother had been seen in Wilkomir, but they all perished.
We had received a nationalist education in our home. I studied in the Tarbut School with the teachers Keidansky, Apatkina, Rosenberg, and others. When I returned from Russia, I had decided conclusively to travel to Israel. This was not so easy. I got married in the interim. Our dream was only realized in February 1969. My husband and I live and work in Neve Sharet, and are content.
by Meir Tsoref [(Goldshmidt)]
This was a clear morning. I was with the brigade not far from Memel. There was to be a demonstration before the Lithuanians. Apparently, they already knew what was about to happen. Everything was grey. Suddenly we heard explosions, and after that our train was shelled.
When I arrived in Jonava, all the people of the town were already on their feet. Owners of wagons and cars set out on their way, hurrying to escape. My young wife was already waiting for me. In Kovno, the Lithuanians had already begun to perpetrate violence against the Jews even before the Germans arrived. Jonava was filled with Jewish refugees from Kovno. Mirka Lan, who was a high official in the city council, remained at her post and attempted to calm the situation by stating This is a panic for nothing. Even though she saw that the Red Army was retreating she did not wish to believe this, and hoped for a miracle as would an observant Jew for this situation does not make sense. They sang, If there is to be a war tomorrow, we are already today prepared to maintain a stand
She tarried until the last minute, and along with her, those who had faith in Soviet Lithuania continued their guard even though the true defenders were already on the roads in the direction of the interior of Russia. Precious time was wasted. This was also the case with the writer of these lines.
We set out on our journey in a group after we were freed from our jobs by Mirka Lan. We set out along with all of the other despairing pedestrians, chased up to the neck by the retreating Red Army and the Lithuanian Shaulists (riflemen), and under the fire of the German airplanes. The road was blocked by the Red Army. Shelling began. We saw our town go up in fire, burning day and night. Along with it, the years of childhood went up in flames, and our hearts were aching: our town is burning up completely, and we are holding hands without offering assistance
We tarried as well on account of our friend who was in our group, the Yiddish actor Leibovich, who was wounded in his leg and was not able to proceed. Even though he begged us to leave him to die, we would not have considered fleeing for our lives, leaving him in agony. The Communist ethics did not teach us thus We wound our way through towns and villages, pillaged shops and destroyed wells, as if an invisible evil hand was assisting the Angel of Death
The first victims of the terrible slaughter appeared before our eyes: bodies of children hung from trees, strangled by their red Pioneer ties, wearing their white shirts as if they were dressed up for a school party. Their black hair showed that they belonged to those who wore the red Pioneer ties with love and joy, and for this they paid with their young lives
The Unexpected Transpired
We sent our wives and children before us, and we men began to prepare the young victims for burial. However, we were not able to do so, for we were stopped by two Lithuanian murderers. We were certain that our end had come. However, apparently they were not so sure of themselves, or their guns did not have bullets which had been distributed to us on the first day of the war. Therefore, they brought us to a stable and locked us in from the outside. At night, we broke through and escaped. Our wives who had waited endlessly for us returned to us, and we were united once again. The shelling ceased. A frightening silence pervaded, and the heart foretold evil. Indeed, at the blink of an eye, like devils from hell, we were surrounded by the Germans on motorcycles, with rolled up sleeves, as butchers at their bloody work. The muzzles of their guns were pointed toward us, and once again we found ourselves about to be separated from the iniquitous, murderous world. As if to anger us, the air was filled with the pleasant aroma of the forests, and our lungs enjoyed this air, as if they wished to fill themselves up as much as possible for the final time, in order to enjoy an additional moment of life
The unexpected took place. The commanding officer, after investigating our identity papers in which was written Zydas with large characters, permitted us to lower our hands. He caressed the heads of the children and gave them jam, cheese and sausages, and instructed us to travel on the road upon which the orderly German army was moving. He stressed that this was the Wehrmacht rather than the S.S.
I was not particularly expert in the difference. It is possible that those who preached on behalf of the Communist or nationalist idea, and directed one to die the death of the brave, were correct. However at that moment I was satisfied that we had hidden our Comsomol membership cards under a tree at the advice of our practical cousin Leibka the bastard and we willingly accepted the gift of the enemy the lives of myself and my wife, who was eventually to become the mother of our son. Even though we did not know what would take place in the future, our lungs were again able to breathe the aromatic air. The young conscience seeks an answer and comfort for what took place: apparently not all of the Germans are devourers of Jews. There were four million Communists in Germany. We regained our faith in international solidarity. We started walking in the direction of Jonava.
We tarried in the Jewish village of Old Gustonys. There we found out the terrible truth of Jonava: the rape of the daughter of Kopeliansky, who went crazy; the mass murder that was perpetrated by the murderers Lyubka Zachar, Jan Pinkowski the Polish chimneysweeper and the Sabbath goy, and others. Even though the villagers fed us, gave us drink, and gave us refuge for the night, they requested that we leave the village, for the gentile mayor of the village threatened them that they would suffer for giving refuge to Communists. We understood this. It was easier to suffer for political sins than to suffer because one was born a Jew. The Father Hides Communists and the Children Murder
We left through the forest before dawn. With a loaf of bread and cheese as provisions, we marched along a path in the thick of the forest, breathing the clear air, as if there were no murdering and pillaging Germans in Jonava. We were prepared to continue living in the forest that was full of secrets, far from the city and from death. However the droning of the black transport airplanes with the white swastikas, like black ravens, came to remind us that even here in the bosom of nature, the murderous fist was liable to catch up with us
Without our noticing, suddenly the veteran Shaulist, Justyn the forester, who waved the yellow-green-red flag of Lithuania at all celebrations in Jonava, appeared before us. He calmed us and told us that we need not fear him, for he liked the Germans as much as the Russians. He told us, Simtas velniai isejo ir dusimtai atejo (one hundred first born of Satan left, and two hundred arrived). We were guests in his home for approximately a week. He gave us food and drink. We slept in the granary in order to avoid any mishap. He told us that, to his dismay, his children went to Jonava to take revenge on the Communists. He kept us with him until the danger passed, that is to say until the murderers would be sated with Jewish blood. This was a paradox the father was hiding two young Communists while the murderous sons were raping and pillaging
From him we heard the first accurate analysis of the situation since the beginning of the war: The Germans would lose the war, and their fate would be like that of Napoleon's army. However, like Napoleon, Hitler would also reach the gates of Moscow, and the war would last for four or five years, which we did not believe. We were again Freed by our Enemies
From behind the brick kilns next to the road we heard the recognizable, blood-curdling shriek. Two Lithuanians, an adult and a youngster of about 14 years old, apparently a father and son, with wild flax-like hair and murderous catlike eyes, pointed their guns at us. From their stony, bloodthirsty gaze I realized that the end had come It was strange for subconsciously I looked around for Germans who might save us The Lithuanian barked at me to strip out of my suit. Apparently, this attracted the murderer. I figured this out and answered him that he would have to strip my suit off himself. He did not shoot. He did not want to ruin such a suit with bullet holes and my blood He did not dare come close. Suddenly, as in a fairy tale, a wagon appeared on the street with German soldiers. I decided to scream, and a few soldiers hastened with their weapons. The farmer and his son were at a loss and began to stutter in Lithuanian, Zydy. We explained in clear German that he was about to rob us on our way home. They removed the guns from the Lithuanians, beat them soundly, and freed us. We were once again freed by our sworn enemies.
To our good fortune the German army was moving in an orderly fashion along the road, and we arrived in Kovno in peace. An elderly Christian stopped us near the first houses. We entered his house and he informed us that they were arresting all of the arriving Jews and taking them to the Seventh Fort. He took our packages from us, gave me a satchel and my wife a farmer's kerchief, took us across the river in his boat, and advised us to go only to the center of town.
In House Imprisonment
Our room was in the center of Meironiou Street. We would walk in Petrovka and Freedom Street as an Aryan couple in love, until we returned to our dwelling with pounding hearts. Before our eyes, Lithuanians passed by transporting groups of Jews with their hands on their heads, including children whose hands could not yet reach their heads and our hearts were torn to pieces. We wished to shout out: Take me also with them, for I am also a Jew!... However, the desire to live was stronger. We huddled close to each other, as if this was a charm to prevent the tragic Jewish fate
No evil came to our dwelling. The owner of the house was Chefetz, a woman's tailor. The hand of the hooligans had not reached there, since the house was in the region of the Lithuanian Bank, and the Germans had placed a unit there to protect the bank. The cook [of the unit] who alone knew of our existence would at times secretly bring us bread and leftover food. We were willing prisoners, for we could not appear in a store, and we did not have food cards. In the marketplace, we would have encountered attacks, imprisonment, pillage, and murderous beatings.
We found out about the terrible pogrom that the Lithuanians perpetrated against the Jews of Slobodka, without passing over any house. Children were murdered with the butts of the guns of the murderers. Later we found a Jewish house with the word Revenge! written with blood on the wall. We also found out about the ineffective resistance mounted by the people who were lacking any weapons.
We remained thus for a few weeks as house prisoners, waiting to see what would transpire. We had no contact with the outside world except for the German cook who sustained us, until we were ordered by the gatekeeper, in the name of the German government, to move to Slobodka, which had been established as the living place of the Jews. Deliberately they did not use the term ghetto. They organized attacks in the center of the city in order to convince the Jews to make haste and move there. Thousands of Jews were snatched from their homes men, women, and children and not one of them returned On the other hand, there was quiet in Slobodka, and Jews were even permitted to purchase something in the stores. Jews were convinced and began to load their belongings on baby strollers and other primitive means of transportation, as it was during the Exodus from Egypt however in a different direction from one exile to another that was called a ghetto. This was a return to the middle ages in the middle of the 20th century. They did not imagine that what lay before them was worse than anything We Outsmarted them with regard to Members of the Family
The murderers crowded more than 30,000 people into an area where previously several thousand Jews had lived, themselves not with ample space. Nevertheless, everyone found friends, acquaintances, and a roof over their heads. I found my dear mother and the children in the Beis Midrash. My father and my young brother Hershele had been dragged by the Lithuanian murderers to the Seventh Fort. My brother Avraham was also with them, but my father told him to take the opportunity to escape. He succeeded, and returned to Mother in the Beis Midrash.
The joy of reuniting with members of the family did not last long. We lost them again, this time forever, in the first aktion that the Germans perpetrated one bright day when the men had been taken outside of the ghetto to backbreaking work. This was the first organized pogrom according to the German style. My brother Avraham and sister Asnat were with us that morning. When the German guards arrived they began to run to Mother, but the murderers prevented them. Thus we thwarted them. The family was united, and two more beds were set up in the small dwelling. We bore our mourning in the heart together. Together we traversed the thorny path until the end, with hunger, want and cold. We lacked the means to help each other. However when my brother succeeded in obtaining a loaf of bread, he hid it deep in his pants in order to split it with me. After he passed the inspection, it seemed that it ate up his insides slowly, without being sensed.
Despair overtook most of the dwellers of the ghetto. People began to avoid going out to work in the city. The Germans set up a Jewish police force whose task was to summon the people to work. Hunger pervaded in full force in the ghetto. No food was brought in. The ghetto dwellers did not even receive the minimum rations of prisoners. The ghetto was well guarded by the bloodthirsty Lithuanians. The few who went out to work in the city had to pass a strict inspection when they returned, and everything was taken from them a piece of bread and a potato. Often, they would pay with their lives for attempting to bring in food products that they had obtained in exchange for clothing.
Wandering About in the Ghetto
Jordon, the short and luckless merchant from Aydkunen, became the lord over the fate of 35,000 people, according to the official count. The elder Dr. Elkes, appointed by the Germans as head of the Jews, had to appear before him and listen to his orders. Children suspected, like birds bearing secrets, that they would be among the first to perish. They ceased weeping, and refrained from appearing in the alleys of the ghetto. They lay quietly in secret corners, waiting with hungry eyes to see if their parents might bring them something to assuage the hunger and even that for a brief period.
The echoes of gunshots were heard from some distance away day and night. Jews in the ghetto comforted themselves: the front is not far away, shortly they will be defeated like Napoleon and Haman and the Jews would celebrate a new Purim. That which the newspapers were writing that the battles were taking place in Smolensk, near Leningrad and Moscow is a lie! One is not to believe the Germans. Such comforting thoughts filled the hearts of the suffering Jews of the ghetto. At that time, the marksmen at the Seventh and Ninth Forts were sowing death and reaping the lives of the Jews, who only yesterday had been among the ghetto dwellers. The rumor that was spread by the Germans before the first aktion that the Fuehrer had banned the shooting of Jews and that those who remained alive would have to work for the Germans, was very exciting and enhanced the words of comfort. The Jews took hold of this and transferred it from mouth to ear. With their own eyes they saw that food was being brought into the ghetto: bread, flour, sugar, grits, jam and even meat. Another proof: they began to register people and distribute work permits by profession and especially food cards. It was said that they would even give money the writer of these lines met secretly in the city with a Russian from Jonava, Kolka Semionov, a former member of Comsomol. From him I found out that excavators were working at the Ninth Fort, digging mass graves, and that they were bringing chlorine there
The hatred of the Lithuanians toward us grew from day to day. Even children would look at you with an odd face and follow after any Jewish child. My wife was to become a mother, and this was considered a great crime according to German law, punishable by death. My dear, refined wife and I sat hungry, overtaken by despair, thinking about what to do. To remain in the ghetto meant death the next day. To escape from the ghetto meant death today. Of course we decided to wait until the next day. Even one additional day of life is worth something.
It is Yudka
One of the powers of the ghetto leadership entered our room to register the residents. To our surprise, this was our fellow townsman Yudka Zopovich. After a brief conversation, the two former political rivals reached an agreement about the need for resistance. From his mouth I learned that Mirka Lan was also in the ghetto. He further told me that Jews from Jonava were also being brought into the ghetto, and a bit of hope rose in our hearts. We had already mourned all of the Jews of Jonava And if some still remained alive, perhaps there was someone from our family. And if death was decreed upon the Jews of the ghetto, why would the Germans be bringing in other Jews? Was there no more place in Girialka? A shadow of a doubt entered perhaps the optimists were correct? And why was there a registration? They had already murdered many Jews without registration
In order to prevent any disaster from occurring, Yudka Zopovich registered us under different names Leon and Sonia Genes. We were no longer Communists, but rather construction workers, the profession of my father. The Germans had need of such. We went to build a new airport. In our following encounters, he informed me of his naïve deliberations, apparently logical, about how to evade punishment. According to the Germans we were all equal Zionists and Communists. The death penalty would only come if we had the brazenness to give birth
There are Still Lithuanians
Death did not wait long for him. Indeed, a few Jews were brought from Jonava, who had been able to hide in villages. The police even arranged farmers' wagons to transport them to Kovno. These people were very satisfied to dispense with their Jewish guests, even though they maintained them for a fee. We were fortunate Jews, for we found relatives: my wife's mother, aunt, brothers and sisters. We also found out that her younger sister Yentele, tall, light haired, with a Polish manner of speaking, was hiding in Kovno as an Aryan. She worked in Kovno as a maid for the Lithuanian noblewoman Viktoria Krulitzkina. To us, this appeared like a fantastical unbelievable child's story in a nightmare. There are still Lithuanians who are willing to risk their lives to save a Jewish child?... We even succeeded to see her briefly from the other side of the wall. She was indeed going about as an Aryan, arm in arm with her merciful woman on one bright Sunday. They were walking on the sidewalk, which was forbidden to Jews. She was well fed, dressed appropriately, proud, without the yellow badge. She had an artificial, broad smile And on the other side of the fence they were starving, wearing rags, sentenced to death her mother, father, brothers and sister. Heaven forbid she should shed a tear To cast a glance would likely sentence her and her savior to death. Someone in the family should survive to light a memorial candle.
What was going on in the heart of the young girl on the other side of the fence and in the heart of her mother on this side of the fence is known only to G-d and to themselves. It seemed that perhaps the girl would separate herself from the noblewoman run to the barbed wire fence, grab on to her tormented mother who suffers from hunger and want, kiss her with eyes wet with tears, and shout out, My dear mother, I wish to die along with you, I no longer have the strength to listen to the jokes made by the drunken murderers at the expense of the slaughtered Jews and to pretend that I am happy along with them! I have no more strength to die 24 hours a day of the fear that they might find out that I am a Jewess!
There are no Bounds to the Degradation
However, the will to live and her responsibility to the good woman Krulitzkina, who was liable to pay for this with her life, prevented her from taking any steps out of despair. She continued to stroll as if nothing happened. An ordinary stroll near the place of the gathering of the members of the inferior race, as if to differentiate in the zoological garden. The mother fainted after witnessing this strange sight. She was revived with difficulty. The hunger was so strong that she forgot anything, and had a thought about one thing only: food! The children looked with hungry eyes, like birds in a nest with wide open beaks, and requested with a whisper: Mother, food! A neighbor said that near the fence there are farmer women walking around with bread. Mother took off her summer coat, ignored the danger of being shot without warning as had already happened, for more than one person remained hung to the fence for desiring to obtain a loaf of bread and ran to the fence, where a gentile woman with a loaf of bread was walking on the other side. The exchange took place. Mother hurried home without a coat. She was hiding something that informed the starving eyes that there would be a relief from the burning hunger pangs. Something to eat! The children were already swallowing their saliva Mother is already at home, and perhaps there would be a loaf of fresh bread on the table. All of them sensed the sweet aroma, but the color appears suspicious. However in times like this who paid attention to the color. Everyone followed the knife that cut the soft bread And nobody could believe their eyes. There are no bounds to the depravity of humankind! The baked bread consisted of cattle dung with straw, with a thin outer layer of dough
The children did not want to pass up on the hope of silencing their hunger, so they lapped up the thin layer like an ice cream cone until they reach the stinking dung
The Large Scale Aktion
Then came the day which we had feared the day of the large scale aktion.
Before dawn, they began to summon all living souls to the Demokrato (Democracy) square. What a frightful paradox! The square was surrounded by a chain of Lithuanian murderers with machine guns. In the center stood Germans who were directing who to the right and who to the left, like sheep. Nobody knew which would be better. Someone turned to go to the left with his mother. The Germans beat him and chased him back to the right. And vice versa. Yudka Zopovich ran among the rows advising people to separate themselves into small family groupings. We listened to his advice and turned to the right. Those to the left were surrounded by a fortified guard. They were dragged to a small ghetto, and from there, the next morning at dawn, to the Ninth Fort. The husband of my Aunt Esther, Uncle Shmuel Silber of Jonava, who was separated from his family and directed to the left, escaped at night and returned to the ghetto. He perished later in the city as he was searching for a hiding place for his children.
The terrifying echoes of the machine guns once again echoed in the air from the direction of the Ninth Fort. This was no longer a secret. Everyone began to look at death directly in the face, to breathe in its fresh poison into the lungs.
Eleven year old Itzik Bloch came back, covered with blood and without his underwear, bringing definitive proof. He had escaped from the pit. He told how they brought the people to the pit in groups and shot from all directions, after they forced them to strip out of their clothing His mother shouted after him: Run! He ran, and felt a burning sensation in his shoulders. Overtaken by the fear of death, he continued to run until he lost his strength and fell into the bushes. Later, under cover of darkness, he dragged himself to the ghetto, and snuck inside over the fence, in a wounded state. Two other youths, Reuven Gorgel and Aharon Gafenovich, who hid as Christians in the nearby village and were eyewitnesses, later told in the ghetto about the atrocities that they had witnessed.
All of this put an end to any delusions about the fate of the ghetto dwellers.
In the meantime, another person was added to our family. My brother, who was traveling with a brigade in the region, met some Jewish men, one of them being my wife's father. He was brought into the ghetto with the assistance of Yudka Zopovich. We remained the only fortunate family who found the father of the children, after he had already been mourned. He was found only to be later lost again either in Auschwitz or in Dachau. Life in the Shadow of Death
We slowly got used to living with the fear of death, but one must eat. One of the young girls, Yudit Berko, today my wife and then a 15 year old girl, was small and thin. Starving, she wandered near the fence like a bird in a cage. He young mind was not able to grasp what was taking place here; why on the other side of the fence there is everything life, bread, song, and on this side of the fence only hunger, torture and death Like a bird in a cage, she attempted to stick her head through the wires of the fence. This is how it went. After her head her thin body. The aroma of fresh bread from a nearby house attracted her like a magnet. She ignored the danger (we already endangered ourselves in order to eat at least once a week ) She opened the door and to her great surprise she received enough food for satiation, as much pork and bread as she could eat.
After she ate to satiation, she requested some food for her brothers, mother, and the newborn. Laden with bread, potatoes, onions, legumes, flour, and even milk for the mother who gave birth, she succeeded in returning to the ghetto. There was joy in the house. An angel from heaven From then, she took with her whatever she could socks, cloaks, shoes, and returned with bread and flour. Thus did she sustain the family.
When she saw that the girl had succeeded, bold Aunt Gittel did likewise. She removed her patch and went to the marketplace as a farmer woman. She purchased whatever provisions she could find and smuggled them through the gate into the ghetto. We waited with pounding hearts. We gave her a sign when the guard moved aside from the corner of the gate where the barbed wire was cut and connected in a temporary fashion. Others did likewise and provisions, money and cigarettes began to flow into the ghetto. There were even rolls. When a German appeared everything disappeared as if it never was.
|Miriam Lan with members of the Anti-Fascist Organization in the Kovno Ghetto, from the History of the Underground by Tzvi Braun and Dov Levin|
We were already active in a circle of Communists: Eliusha Shmuelov, Ronit Rosenthal, Mirka Lan, Eidka Pilovnik, and Leizer Silber. The young writer Chaim Yellin had his own circle. Christians were in contact with the circles, and a united resistance front was formed. We found common language with Yudka Zopovich and his group consisting of Ika Greenberg and Moshe Levin. The latter was the head of the Jewish police in the ghetto. We nicknamed him Levin the Yellow. He and Yudka Zopovich utilized their role in the police and greatly assisted the groups of activists to unite them all Zionists, Communists, Bundist, and ordinary Jews into an underground organization with the aim of battling the enemy.
The ghetto was overtaken by despair. Its dwellers cursed their lack of means and weapons. Hungry and worn out from hard work, fear, and worry about their relatives they looked with respect upon those who, in their opinion, belonged to the partisan movement. They even wove tales about deeds of bravery. They assisted any emissary who broke from the ranks and intermixed with the Aryans on the sidewalk. They would hide such a person from the eyes of the German guards, and receive him with honor when he returned, as if he had the power to bring the redemption Such emissaries came willingly. One would fail and ten others would come to present themselves for a mission fraught with danger.
Such people included the following young women: the curly haired Shulamit Lerner, Rivka Uriash, Sania Goldshmidt, Maniek Holtzberg, Sara Katz, Eidka Pilovnik, Ronit Rosenthal and many others, who gave their lives in the efforts to obtain weapons and in conducting other missions
Yankel Levi grew a moustache, and had the facial appearance of a typical Lithuanian. Rivka Uriash walked proudly in the free streets with her blond hair, and German captains attempted to engage her in conversation. At a critical moment, when she was in danger of being identified by a Lithuanian who knew her previously, she took hold of the arm of a German captain, and the Lithuanian did not dare approach.
Chaim Yellin became the driving force of the movement. Dima Galperin took the helm with deliberation and caution. Others performed their respective roles. A weekly hand-written bulletin was published, which passed on from hand to hand news from the front, collected in underground fashion. Discussions were conducted in secret places. Interesting lectures and evaluations were even heard from Dr. Walsnak. The organization set as its goal to support the masses so that they should not lose the power of resistance, and that every quarter should dig for itself a well-camouflaged bunker. They assisted as much as possible anyone who dug a bunker. They transgressed the German commands. They set up a school for children. The teacher Rosenthal served as principal, even though the death penalty was in store for her because of this. Children sat on crates with rags. When a German inspection took place, the crates were overturned, as if the children were mending worn out clothes.
The Ghetto Police Assist
All of this was done with the knowledge of the chief of police and his assistant Yudka Zopovich. In contrast with other ghettos, the Jewish police in the Kovno ghetto placed itself, to the extent possible, at the disposal and service of the organization in the battle against the German murderers.
Hershel Levin of Jonava, a member of the Judenrat, also assisted the organization. At first we did not trust him, for he was freed from a Soviet prison by the Germans. However, later on he showed himself to be a dedicated activist in the ghetto underground, and added his blessings to the youth who went out to the forests: Go and take revenge for our blood an eye for an eye!
Levin the Yellow and Yudka Zopovich would come to the gate when a group such as this was about to leave. There was a case where at a tense moment, S.S. investigators appeared. There were those who refused to disband. This would have left the driver, who had come with a forged passport, abandoned. Levin the Yellow hinted to Yudka Zopovich, who stated that everything was in order in the ghetto and that a brigade was waiting to drive into the forest to prepare firewood for the Wehrmacht When they received permission, Moshe Levin, assisted by Yankel Werbovsky, began to urge on those going out, and with his own hands helped pack the sacks onto the truck. In the sacks there were guns, grenades and bullets.
The Germans apparently sensed that Jews were wandering about in the city. They set a reward for anyone who turned in a Jew a kilogram of butter, a kilogram of sugar, and 500 marks. A hunt for Jews began. Even children began to follow after Jews. There were many victims from this hunt.
Eliusha Shmuelov was caught, tortured and shot at the Ninth Fort. However, we continued to seek contact with the activists in the city who opposed the Germans. The conditions for obtaining weapons and hiding them were easier in the city than in the ghetto. In the ghetto, the Germans found new means on a daily basis to torture the Jews, so that they would have no time to occupy themselves with anything other than searching for a morsel of bread. We had underground bunkers which were dug at night, and even a library and some weapons. We trained in those bunkers.
One morning that quarter was cut off and given over to the gentiles. We lost everything that we had toiled for. With that, the plans for defending the ghetto went down the drain, for what was left of the ghetto was indefensible. Every road was isolated, easy to seal off and ignite with fire. Nevertheless, we once again began to dig bunkers and underground conduits to use in the event of the liquidation of the ghetto. The ground was sandy, and everything was covered in sand.
Then an emissary from Moscow came to us as if from heaven. Her name was Alvina, a Jewish girl, and her real name was Gisa Glazer. She brought with her greetings from the free world that was at war. Her words encouraged us. From her mouth we learned that Leib Slomin, the son of the furniture manufacturer from Jonava Chaim Slomin, was located in the region of Jonava, and was organizing the farmers to battle against the occupation. We also found out that Zimans, the teacher of the Shalom Aleichem Gymnasium, is called Jurgis and stands at the head of the partisans in southern Lithuania in the region of Vilna, that the Jonaver Mendka Grun was shot to death when he parachuted out of an airplane in the region of Vilna, and that Avraham Yitzhak Mashkop the husband of the Jonaver Saraka Shapira, formerly the secretary of the Communist Party of Lithuania, perished near Ponovich (Panevëþys).
The Departure from the Ghetto
We received orders to organize an exodus from the ghetto to the forests of Augustava. This seemed strange to me: without weapons, starving and wandering about an enemy area, where armed Shaulists swarm about everywhere to walk for 300 kilometers! However Alvina was positive that there was a base with weapons and with experienced Soviet officials. Thus was she promised in Moscow. She believed them blindly. Later she committed suicide in Vilna by a bullet when the Germans exposed her with the help of a provocateur.
The situation in the ghetto was unbearable. The aktions continued. There was almost no possibility for any resistance. The Germans no longer trusted the Jewish police. They conducted the aktions themselves and also captured members of the organization. The leadership of the organization was therefore forced with a heavy heart to accept the plan. One hundred youths left the ghetto in the direction of Agustava. Of them, only two reached their destination: Nechemia Andlin and Shmuel Martkowsky, a refugee from Poland who studied in Jonava in the Yeshiva of Mendel Deutsch and later in Slobodka. After they roamed about the area for three days, they returned to the ghetto empty- handed There was no base, no Soviets, no weapons. All the rest of those who went out were caught in groups by the Germans and imprisoned in the Ninth Fort for undertaking a special mission. They even succeeded in escaping from there, as we will see later.
After the failure with Augustava, Mirka Lan went to Slomin in the region of Jonava, and Chaim Yellin went to Zimans in the region of Vilna in order to obtain their agreement to accept partisans from Kovno in their ranks. Mirka Lan did not return. Chaim Yellin returned with the directive that every Jewish partisan must bring weapons with him and not only for himself. This restricted the possibilities of sending out more groups to the forest. The Germans organized armed gangs of Lithuanians who guarded the routes that led to the forests. The organization found the means. With the assistance of a Lithuanian driver who worked for the German police, Jewish fighters, headed by Chaim Yellin, donned S.S. uniforms. In this way, groups of fighters were smuggled into the forests of Raudenikiai. Among them was the Jonaver agronomist, my friend Chona Kagan, who testified about himself: When you go out with a gun, your stature straightens. Even though he was able to tell about open anti-Semitism there as well, he was proud that he was able to take revenge on the murderers. These brave souls would flee for their lives without their pants when they heard the word partisans
Jews in the ghetto collected these stories which were passed from mouth to ear with additions. They were proud of the deeds of their sons and daughters who smote Germans and Lithuanians. They even forgot that they were starving. The activists of the organization continued to arm groups of partisans with weapons. Chaim Yellin, the courageous leader of the organization, accompanied the fighters into the forest until he fell into the hands of the enemy.
Mass Escape from the Ninth Fort
After their defeat near Stalingrad, the Germans began to conceal the traces of their crimes. They opened up the mass graves, removed the bodies and burned them. The ashes were scattered on the fields by a special machine and mixed with the earth. All of this was done secretly. Jews of the ghetto, members of the organization who were captured on the way to Augustova, were occupied in this task, as were Jewish prisoners of war from the Soviet Army. It was clear to them what awaited them at the end of this job. The Germans were so certain of their victims that they did not even attempt to conceal this from them. When someone got sick, he was shot on the spot and burnt.
A group of youths from the organization did not lose their spirit, and planned an escape. We must bow our heads before this sublime courage and fortitude of these people who were sentenced to death. Through their own efforts, without any assistance, they organized, planed, prepared and successfully conducted a mass escape from the Ninth Fort, which was fenced in, well guarded, protected by natural obstacles, and in which 80,000 people had been murdered mostly Jews from Kovno and its surrounding areas, as well as Jews from other lands. Some of the escapees infiltrated into the ghetto, and we hid them until they were sent to the forest in a truck as a brigade of workers going out to work in the provincial towns.
The Gestapo men flew into a rage. They surrounded the ghetto. The commander Kietel threatened to liquidate the ghetto if the escapees were not turned over to him. Even though the heads of the police knew everything, they denied everything vehemently. The Gestapo men were now doubly perplexed. Their secret will be exposed in public, and if they acknowledge that the escapees infiltrated the ghetto it means that the ghetto was not guarded properly. Kietel did not follow through with his threat, but he later took revenge on the police. He shot Levin the Yellow in front of everyone. Other policemen, including the Zopovich brothers, were dragged to the Ninth Fort. There they were tortured harshly in order to force them to give over the locations of the bunkers where they hid the partisans, children and elderly. A member of the organization, Itzik Weiner, whom the Germans returned to the ghetto along with other policemen, told that once, after an inquisition, Yudka Zopovich was sent to a casemate with his ears cut off. While he was dripping blood he made everyone swear that nobody would dare give over anything about the ghetto fighters and the children even if he must pay with his life and he ended his life with the singing of Hatikva. His brother Meir died along with him. There were those weak-hearted policemen who gave over the locations of the bunkers in which the children were hidden. These poor children were dragged to the Ninth Fort and murdered.
The Blackest Day of the Ghetto
That day is etched in the memory as the blackest day in the annals of the ghetto. The wild Ukrainian murderers, drunken with blood and liquor, were going from house to house armed with axes, hoes and other instruments of destruction, dragging the children who were looking with pleading eyes at the adults to save them, while the trained dogs attacked and gashed the desperate mothers who did not want to give over their children. There were buses with sealed windows from which burst forth the joyous tunes of Strauss and Wagner in order to muffle the screams of the young, guiltless victims who were leaving the ghetto on their final journey from which they would not return
Our block was next to the fence. We were cut off from the center in an unexpected way, and we were unable to transfer the children to the bunkers that we had prepared for them. Since the murderers began their activities on the other side, we utilized the time to prepare improvised bunkers for the children and elderly. We dug a pit beneath the oven. The sandy ground was liable to cave in. We placed supports inside and removed the sand, so that no trace would remain. We did all of this in daylight. The German sentry who stood on the other side of the fence saw all of this, nodded his head, and did not turn us in. Perhaps he thought about his own children during those moments
The fateful moment came to us as well. A mother who did not succeed in hiding her three year old child covered him in a rag and hung him on the wall as if this was a package. The German captain, for entertainment or as a test, whipped the package with a whip, and no scream was heard. When the fortunate mother took down the package after the murderers left, she saw a blue stripe immersed with blood along the length of the tender body of the child.
Two Germans and a Ukrainian with a hoe and a large dog entered our room. The dog could not tolerate the pungent smell of the material that we had spread on the floor, and he left. The German who was holding him on a leash followed after him. The Ukrainian attempted to open up the floor with the hoe that was in his hands. He apparently sensed the danger when he saw our metallic faces. I had a loaded pistol in my pocket, and I was determined not to give our child over cheaply. The Ukrainian also left. The second German continued to search for something, and he left. When the murderers were some distance away, we heard the stifled cry of our two year old child.
The Ghetto was effectively liquidated. Concentration camp guards were all over. It was clear to us that it was no longer possible to hide the children. A miracle does not occur twice. The organization set as its goal the saving the children that were still alive. They would be given to Germans. They were put to sleep and taken out to the fence, covered up as packages, when it was possible to do so. My wife succeeded in taking our child. She left him next to a monastery. A nun took the basket with the sleeping child and disappeared into the monastery.
The Gestapo set as its goal the breaking of all Jewish resistance. With the assistance of provocateurs, they succeeded in exposing the brave ghetto fighter, the young writer Chaim Yellin. The organization suffered defeats. The best of its sons and daughters perished. Among them was my refined and noble life partner, who was connected with the ghetto underground Sania Goldschmidt-Berko, as well as the weapon procurer Sara Katz.
Nobility in the Concentration Camp
We saw that the Germans were beginning to retreat. The front was approaching. We heard the echoes of gunfire. The ghetto was guarded zealously. It was impossible to establish contact with the outside. Most of our weapons were hidden in the city, and we had no possibility of defending ourselves. We attempted to hide in bunkers. The Germans bombarded the ghetto and ignited all of the ruins. We were hauled on closed wagons to cultured Germany, filled with concentration camps surrounded by barbed wire fences to further suffering, backbreaking work, hunger, cold, epidemics and lice.
There too the battle for life continued. In the frightful conditions of the camp, where one person was prepared to snatch a piece of bread from his fellow, where the Germans brought their victims to the point of animalistic foraging, our Jonava friend Gershka Reibstein, the son of Baruch the butcher displayed exemplary nobility. On account of his trade, butchering, he was employed in the German army kitchen. There, he had opportunity to steal preserved food. He endangered his life, both in the place of stealing as well as in the camp inspections. Five women were indeed hanged for onions that were taken from the field and discovered during the camp inspections what would have been in store for a loaf of bread made out of coarse flower and preserved food bearing the seal of the army? What he stole was not for himself, and not even for sale, but in order to sustain his friends. There was always a lineup of hungry people next to his hut as perhaps Gershka might bring something and his heart was anguished when he did not succeed in bringing something to distribute.
My shoes ripped, which in the camp meant certain death. The simplest cold could result in pneumonia and the crematorium Gershka Reibstein stole cigarettes even though he did not smoke. He exchanged them with a German for a pair of wooden shoes and brought them to me: Here they are, try them on to see that they do not pinch. We shared food. Thanks to Gershka, all of the members of the collective survived and did not lose their human form. We did not always assuage our hunger. How happy he was that I found my son, even though he did not find his family and children. He found out that his younger brother Izak fell at the front, and that his brother's wife and son remained in Russia. He gathered them, and traveled to the United States with them.
On the Ruins of Jonava
Here I am standing next to the Peleg, listening to the whisper of its cold waters. The echoes of the laughter of Jewish children on Sabbath afternoon walks are no longer heard. The Peleg streams along, as if its waters are whispering Kel Malei Rachamim. The old watermill is falling over slumbering as if under the curse of a sorcerer. Its large wooden wheel is rotting. The pipes are covered with spider webs. Mice run about undisturbed, staring with amazement at the strange visitor, as if to ask: How did you get here? You should be in the World of Truth, like our miller Veps, like all the Jews
|In the destroyed cemetery: Lipa Berzin, Chaim Aron, Chana Berzin|
Here in the cemetery, denuded of its awe and respect without the stone fence that separated between the living and the dead, without trees, without guarantors The stones were destroyed and uprooted. Naked as a shorn sheep, as Jewish women in the camp Only the grave of Rabbi Silman of blessed memory with its canopy still stands. And in a place of honor an almost fresh grave. A simple board upon which is written with a chemical pencil: Here is buried the modest women Feiga Pogir.
She lived quietly, and died quietly A quiet funeral the final funeral She was escorted to the grave by Uncle Eliahu and Aunt Freidl, whom fate had brought from Gorky to visit mother. They did not succeed in returning and their fate was like the fate of all the Jews of Jonava.
Bitter Worlds over Grandmother's Grave
Do you recall, dear Grandmother, how much you enjoyed going with my mother to a performance in the fire hall? There, they would usher you with great honor to the front bench. Dressed with the black shawls of Rosh Hashanah, you would cross the hall as if going to a Torah honor. You would be slightly embarrassed as they would stare at you and say: Here are the mother and grandmother of the principal actor
Do you remember that you could not sleep after the play? You waited for me until late in the night in order to verify that indeed it was your grandmother who moved you to tears. You participated in his suffering and joy. You further told how your son Yisrael played King Solomon. Sarl Pogirsky herself came to your house and brought a present to the wise king for his wise decision.
Do you recall how you protected me from the anger of Father's belt when I did not go to services, when I went on the Sabbath to a basketball game, and for other sins that were punishable by lashes You did not permit him to hurt the child, even though he sinned in some manner
Do you remember how happy your heart was when a package arrived from America, and some of the clothes were appropriate for one of the children of my mother Sara? And the debates with Grandfather about important matters? Even though you did not know a great deal, you took it upon yourself to put Grandfather, the philosopher from Ragoiai in his place, and to debate with him with contrary arguments. Grandfather mocked your children and their Communist friends who worry about the entire world and do not wish to work for or worry about themselves, so how could they worry about others?... He further claimed that he saw Smetona and not a president: Why does he put them in jail and feed them for free? He should gather them up, take them to the Russian border, and send them to taste the taste of Communism. Then they will come knocking at the doors and kiss the boots, asking to be permitted to enter again
You would claim on the contrary, how is it that Smetona is so good, and how could it be that the son of Chaim Kopiner is worse than him. Grandfather would answer: Smetona gives bread and meat, and the son of Chaim Kopiner as well as Yankele Magid will give convulsions and not bread. You countered him that it was not Smetona who gives bread, but rather the farmer. He did not remain challenged, and answered with a wise smile: Animal such as you! Indeed the farmer gives bread, but for Smetona he is prepared to plough the land with his nose and give bread, and Yankele Magid the Zhid would say go plough yourself It was as if he was a prophet
Do you remember how he used to curse the needle that it did not hasten to take in the thread, or when the thimble disappeared? On the other hand you saw him beaming with contentment when we went with him to Ragoiai, where every farmer recognized him and asked for his advice. As a true farmer, grandfather took a handful of earth, scattered it with his hands, and thereby determined whether or not the time for planting had arrived. As a true farmer he did not like lazy people which were rabbis, Yeshiva students, and Communists.
And you, Grandmother, lectured mother that she was spoiling us by giving us the fresh cakes of Aunt Chaya every morning, even though she gave them to Mother at or below cost price. Indeed, you were correct, we swallowed the rolls and the cakes, but the bread which you baked we ate all week and broke our teeth. Nevertheless, it was good: the black bread that you baked for us each of us had a loaf in accordance with our size its taste for us was sweeter and better than a cake
And the kvass that you made from dry breadcrumbs or rotten apples nothing went to waste. You were generous. To you, everyone was a child of G-d. You cared about everyone. Even Friedka the Crazy found a place with you next to the oven to warm up, and a plate of soup with other food was always waiting for her. When the members of the household were not happy about this, you said: What can be done? When everyone chases her away I have to take her in, as mercy on a human being. In the home, you were from the House of Hillel. You related to everyone with trust and love.
On Sabbath eves, everything was prepared to greet the Sabbath Queen. The copper candlesticks were on the table next to the braided challas on the white tablecloth. They had been polished with ashes and lime, and were sparkling. The smell of gefilte fish, tzimmes and other Sabbath delicacies filled our whitewashed, low-ceilinged house. On the floor was sawdust that had been brought from Madis sawmill, spread out like a soft carpet. Everything was prepared by the diligent hands of your daughter Sarale, my mother, with Jewish expertise, like a true woman of valor, having inherited this from you Covered with your Sabbath shawl, you would approach the chest of drawers, take out from the knot of your apron the coins that you had saved, and tarry by the charity box with awe, as if you were deliberating about to whom to give first the Yeshiva of Ponovitch, the Yeshiva of Telz, or perhaps to Meir Baal Haness until you decided and put a 10 cent coin into each box with awe. The blue and white box of the Keren Kayemet with the Star of David and the map of the Land of Israel was closer to your heart than all of them, for this reminded you of our Matriarch Rachel who never ceased to weep for her children who were exiled and scattered across all the lands of the earth. We children were touched to our hearts that she did not cease weeping, and at times we forewent an ice cream and put a coin into the box. At the time of the blessing over the candles, you supplicated in the name of the patriarchs to Mother Rachel, as if you were speaking to Perl the shoemaker, Rosia the miller, or Sara-Leah the hat maker in simple Yiddish. Was it possible that Mother Rachel did not understand Yiddish
You begged her to intercede for your grandchild, my brother Shlomoke, the pure lamb, who separated from the flock and went to her to the Holy Land, to its desolation, to dig up rocks and thorns that she should protect him from snakes, scorpions, fever and the wild Arabs And for your eldest daughter, my sister Malka, the pride of the family, who did not even have a wedding dowry, and for Eska, the pure dove as she was called in the family, and for Avrahamele, Hirshka, Itzele, Beilinka, Gitale, and Meirka of Uncle Elia, who was not so expert in his studies, but was expert at skating and basketball.
And for your sons Yoel and Yisrael who wandered to far-off America, and for your son Itzik the laggard as he was nicknamed by the tailors, who was tall and of erect posture even though he was a blacksmith. This Itzik went to Birobidzhan, and from him there was not even a dipped pen. However, evil talk spread that all of the Jonavers in Birobidzhan were put in jail. However, this did not make sense to you. Your Itzik is himself righteous. You remembered how hard he worked to bring to your house a new pot, a potato peeler, and new dishes for the weekdays and the Sabbath. You were loath to use them, for they were as beautiful as your Passover dishes, which were stored all year in boxes in the closet, and only decorated the royal table on Passover. He brought you a new clock which adorned the chest of drawers. There was Uncle Shmuele the joker, always in a good mood, who would laugh and bring laughter to everyone, even grandfather. The poor guy fell into a trap, married an evil woman and was forced to get divorced. This was the only bad incident in your extended family.
You also asked Mother Rachel to intercede for your daughter Friedka. You talked about her as if about an extraordinary beauty. She remained in Russia after the revolution, and was not short on tribulations.
And for your young daughters Esther and Rivka, who took it upon themselves to overturn the world and bring justice; whereas in the interim they spent some time in jails And nevertheless in your heart you agreed with them. Why not? G-d created his world with everyone equal therefore why are there rich and poor? Indeed you helped them to hide illegal books and a flag even though you did not understand the benefits; however if your wise daughters were doing this, apparently this is the way it should be
And later, in the year that was like a great festival for the Jews, the year before the outbreak of the war, in which every day passed with music and joy you begged them quietly, and also my mother that the joy should not cease
It is difficult, so difficult to believe that all of this suddenly was lost, as if it was cut by a knife
You believed like my parents and those of others with children with red ties and red membership cards of the Comsomol or the party, as if from above they knew how to redeem us from the murderous neighbor who already ruled over half of Europe and the outcry of the Jews reached all the way to Jonava
Even householders, storekeepers and merchants recited their verse after the nationalization: Better Stalin with the key than Hitler with the head.
During the early days of the war, you looked at me as if begging for protection from the long barreled guns that I received from Mirka Lan.
No, dear Grandmother, I was not even able to protect myself. The gun had no bullets And you, my grandmother, merited to die in your bed, in our home and you have the last grave in the cemetery. You were the last one who merited attaining a Jewish burial something that the six million Jews of Europe did not have. Rest in peace and calm, just as you were calm in your life.
by Noach Stern
What is needed to oppress the Jewish soul?
Hunger and Want? Life in fetters?
(Within the barbed wire of the ghettos, with the last of the bodily strength
Singing sublimely, the weakened body sings.)
What is needed to subdue the Hebrew pride
What is needed to quiet and silence Jews?
What is needed to cut Jews off from their homeland?
What is needed, to break apart and destroy Jews?
What is needed, what is needed to silence a Jew?
No, no, no, the Jew will not shrivel up and be cutoff!
The ground will bend, and the sand will strain
Remember this is not the end!
(5706 / 1946)
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