by Ala AbromovichDalitsisky
The Second World War came as a most harsh, heavy blow to the Jews of Lithuania, including the Jews of my hometown of Jonava.
In the Hospital
I was in Kovno, in the Jewish Bikur Cholim Hospital, when the war overtook me. I was then a young woman, married to Tzvi Yafa of blessed memory, the son of the Yanova bookbinder, and in my fifth month of pregnancy. I entered the hospital on May 25, 1941 due to the kidney disease that afflicted me as a result of my pregnancy. I was cared for in the woman's clinic of Dr. Levitan, who was known throughout Lithuania, and my situation improved. My husband, family members, parents, brothers and sisters visited me often, and we were happy that my situation had improved and I would be able to return home in a week or two.
Before the outbreak of war, my mother came and decided to stay with her brother Chaim Levin for a few days and wait for me to take me home.
Early in the morning of June 22, 1941, we heard a fierce bombardment that shook the walls of the hospital. We did not know what this was about. Later, we found out that the Germans had bombed the Kovno airport and they were advancing to us without any opposition from the Russian Army that had conquered us in 1940. The Germans were already in Kovno by the afternoon. My mother came to me with great fear in her eyes and told me, My daughter, the war has started. Woe to us and all the Jews. Who knows if we will ever see our family.
In the evening, I already heard that the Germans were speaking German with the nurses and doctors and commanding them to send the patients home quickly, for they themselves would need the hospital. A great commotion arose, and fear and depression overtook the Jewish patients. The hospitalized residents of Kovno did not even wait for their clothes to be brought to them from the wardrobe. They escaped home in their pajamas and clothes that their family had brought some went on foot, some by vehicle, and some by stretcher. Their only wish was to be together with their family at this terrible time. Despite the fact that the hospital was owned by a Jewish institution, Russians and Lithuanians were also hospitalized there. Most of the staff of doctors and nurses were Jewish, and the helpers were mainly gentile women. They began to tell slander to the Germans and point by finger to any patient, doctor or nurse who was Jewish. The Jewish doctors and nurses disappeared from the hospital one after the other. Many were shot to death in the hospital yard. Many seriously ill people who could not leave on their own accord were also shot. The situation grew more serious from day to day. Only four of us patients, who could not leave on our own accord, were left: two older men and an older woman, all from various towns of Lithuania, and I a young, weak, pale woman with my baby inside me, whom I could no longer hide. They transferred us to a small room so that we could be together rather than to be with the gentiles. They barely brought us any food. The two older men died one after the other. Only the two unfortunate women remained. The Germans issued new orders each morning, which they posted in the lobby: a) it was forbidden for Jews to use any type of vehicle; b) it was forbidden for Jews to walk on the sidewalk. Instead, they must walk at the edges of the road; c) a yellow Star of David patch must be sewn on the chest of the outer garment, as well as firmly affixed onto the back. There were many other such decrees.
My mother would come daily from the back side of the building, where the morgue was located, and I would talk to her from the second floor. My heart died inside of me anew whenever I saw her distraught and weeping for her four children, grandchildren, and husband who remained in Yanova. I was the only one of her loved ones who remained,
and I was in such a difficult situation. At that time, Mother lived next to the hospital with a family of Yanova natives who settled in Kovno after they had fled and left everything behind in Yanova. The proximity to the hospital made it possible for Mother to come to see me frequently. She would come to me when she saw that everything around her was quiet. The woman who was with me in the room was from the town of Šėta, not far from Jonava. She wept day and night over her children that were lost to her. One evening she began to laugh and speak things that did not make sense. She told me My children are waiting for me outside. I am going to them. She suddenly got up, left the room, and disappeared. She never returned. I remained alone enveloped in fear, and was afraid to sleep at night.
At that time, a Lithuanian woman, about 35 years old, who had worked together with Jewish physicians before the outbreak of the war and forged many friendly relations with them, was appointed as director of the hospital. One day, she entered my room, sat on my bed, and asked me from where I was, and whether I have family. I told her with weeping and tears that I want to go home to my family and my city of Yanova, and that I cannot continue to live alone there in the room. I asked her to permit me to leave the hospital. To my great surprise she took my hand, caressed it and told me, You do not know anything, but I know that you no longer have anywhere to go. The Jews escaped from Yanova. Most of them were shot and killed. I have an uncle who lives not far from Yanova, and he told me about all the atrocities that overtook the Jews of Yanova. You are not fit to go. They will shoot you as soon as you leave her. I want you to give birth to your baby here under my protection, and then you will go to the ghetto that is being built for you in the nearby city of Viliampolė (Slobodka).
I saw tears in her eyes. I put my head on her lap and wept. I realized from her words that my family is no longer in the city, and that my town that I had loved so much was destroyed. I have no house, no husband, no family. The only ones left were my Mother, the baby inside me, and I. How can I overcome everything? I cursed the day of my birth. I cursed my life. I was overtaken by a longing to run to Yanova to see everything with my own eyes, for I was unable to believe what I had heard from the physician. At that time, the physician transferred me to a small room next to the bathroom (previously, it held the dirty laundry). The room had a window and a bed for me. The physician ordered me not to leave the room, so that they would not see me. A nurse who could be trusted would bring me food. I sat myself on the bed, looking out the window at the lovely landscape and the shining sun for days on end but these were not for me! I would only go out to attend to my bodily needs when nobody would see me. The physician would visit me and bring me medicine. The nurse would leave me food for two or three days, for she worked in shifts. There were no other Jews in the hospital, and nobody saw or knew about me. The mice in the room did not allow me to sleep at night. I would sit at night afraid to fall asleep. Mother would come secretly in the morning to see me. This was the sum total of my life.
In the Ghetto
The physician director came to me on August 13 and told me that she could no longer hold me in the hospital. She added, The Germans prepared a ghetto for you Jews, and all the Jews must be in the ghetto by August 15. Anyone who is found outside the ghetto will be shot to death. She gave me a letter of confirmation that I was on my way from the hospital to ghetto, so that nobody would hurt me. Perhaps you will have good luck to arrive in the ghetto on foot, she told me and blessed me. I kissed her hand and said, I will never forget you, for you were an angel for me. My entire life was in your hands.
I left the hospital, where I had been for almost three months. Mother was waiting for me outside. I was wearing a long, flowered robe that the physician had brought me, as well as men's size 42 shoes. I had no longer had any clothes in the hospital for a long time. We went along the route to the ghetto. We saw masses of Jews dragging bedding and household utensils. All were hurrying to the ghetto to get a dwelling. I walked with difficulty, for my legs were heavy from lying down so much. To our good fortune, nothing bad happened to us along the way. We entered the ghetto through an electrified barbed wire gate that was guarded by two Germans and Lithuanians who were armed. We made our way with heavy hearts. Where should we go? We were hungry, tired, dirty, penniless, without clothing, without food, and without a head of a family to worry about us. Who needs us
at all? Finally, we went to my cousin, Chana, the eldest daughter of Shlomo the shochet of Jonava. She was married to Yaakov Shlomins of Plungė, who used to be a driver for the Kemach factory in Yanova. They had two children, a four year old boy and a five week old girl. She lived almost next to the gate on 4 Linkuvos Street in a small room that was formerly a kitchen. Her two brothers Leibel and David lived with her, and now my mother and I had come. There was not even any place to sit. She had an unparalleled good heart. She greeted us and said, We will live together. What will be with us will also be with you. We slept on the floor in our clothes, without a blanket or pillow. Her husband Yaakov and her brothers would go out to work, and would bring a hundred grams of bread and thin soup, and at times other items that they purchased from their Lithuanian coworkers. From this, they would give my mother and me a small piece of bread and a cup of soup. I grew weaker from day to day. I could not stand on my feet. I lay down all day and waited to fall asleep and never wake up again. My mother would go out to the fields to find cabbage leaves or rotten carrots that were left behind by the Lithuanians after they left the suburb of Slobodka to go live in the fine houses of the Jews of Kovno, who had left their houses to go to the ghetto. It was inhuman for eight people to live in such a small room. The filth, lice, and lack of food began to affect us. We were in the yard for the entire day, and one could choke in the room at night due to lack of air.
My mother went to the ghetto committee, where Jews sat and directed the life in the ghetto: dwellings, work, medical help, and deaths. There were all sorts of offices in this large home with many rooms. Of course, everything was conducted under the supervision of the Germans. Mother met a native of our town, who was a ghetto policeman, Meir Zopovich. He went with her to the dwelling office and helped her to obtain a dwelling on the same street, 25 Linkuvos. Meir went with us to that address and informed the owner that we would live there, and that he will not do anything bad to us. Meir did a great favor for us, for many serious incidents took place where the owner of the dwelling looked unfavorably on strangers who took a room from them. Despite the fact that our landlord was by nature a bad person, he was afraid of the presence of the policeman, and agreed. Meir Zopovich helped the landlord transfer our furniture to the other room, and we remained. We obtained a narrow bed and we were happy that we had our own place. After about a week, another sixperson family came to us, and set up their beds without asking anything. There were now eight of us living in a small room. We became friends. They were quiet people a couple, their three children, and an unmarried girl. We cooked outside, for the kitchen belonged to the landlord, and he did not allow us to enter. Mother brought the same leaves as usual. We cooked them in water. We were hungry all day. There was no place or no facilities to wash. The lice proliferated, and we found no solution to that. Hundreds of people died daily due to the unhygienic lifestyle and diseases that afflicted the ghetto, with no help available.
The Germans and Lithuanians would go through the streets daily to search for men for hard labor. Most of the Jews who went out to work, so to speak, did not return. They would take them directly to the fortress of the Ninth Fort and shoot them. The Germans knew that all types of communicable diseases, especially typhus, were liable to spread in the ghetto. In general, they were interested in liquidating excess people, for the crowding was great. The situation was terrible. We were allowed to be on the streets only until 7:00 p.m., and anyone transgressing this law would be shot on the spot. The windows were closed and covered with heavy cloth, so that no small ray of light would be seen. We thought that the light would give a sign to the enemy. New decrees were issued daily. People were taken out to be killed daily. Every morning, we heard the wild voices of the Germans who were breaking through the doors and snatching weak Jews for work. It was frightful and difficult to live. We were jealous of those the dead, who were hauled by the dozens to the cemetery in the ghetto by covered wagon hitched to thin, hungry horses.
There was a large building on Kriščiukaičio 101 with many rooms, in which people worked and studied for professions prior to the outbreak of the war. It was called The Verkstatn. The Germans permitted this building to be turned into a hospital
for the ghetto. They set up beds there, prepared a bit of medicine, and employed physicians. Most of them, who had worked in the Kovno hospital, were excellent doctors. They were headed by the wellknown doctor, the surgeon Dr. Zachrin.
Dr. Zachrin was one of the last to enter the ghetto, for the Germans used him for all sorts of complicated operations for which he was the only qualified person in Kovno. Dr. Zachrin helped greatly with operations, with receiving medicine from the Germans, and many other things. He directed the hospital, and was considered to be an important person in the ghetto.
The time for the birth approached, and I was afraid that it would take place at night, for it was forbidden to leave after 7:00 p.m., and the hospital was several kilometers away from us. My fear was not in vain, for my labor pains began at 10:30 p.m. I bit my lips until they bled. Mother stood next to me and wept. My neighbors had mercy upon me. We were not able to go out to summon a doctor, and how could we wait until morning? I wanted one thing: to die, and not to live, for I no longer thought about life, and death would certainly be my only redeemer. I told mother at 3:00 a.m., We need to go to the hospital, or I will die of pain. I was afraid to scream, lest the Germans hear me. The neighbors said to me, Ala, don't go, for the Germans will kill you on the way. However some strong force pulled me, a force that did not care, a force that impelled me to run specifically to death more quickly than to die of labor pains without medical assistance. I took Mother's hand and opened the door. The street was dark and quiet, like a cemetery. Suddenly, I sensed the strong ray of light from a flashlight lighting us out. I got scared and closed the door. However, I heard the voice of the German enemy, Stop, come out immediately, or I will shoot. The neighbors in the room began to push me, Go out immediately, we do not want to die because of you. I opened the door again, and we went out. We went in the direction of the gate, as German and Lithuanian guards with loaded guns approached us. The light of their flashlights fell upon us. When we stopped, the German asked me where I was going. I answered him, To the hospital to give birth to a child. Now? he said, Do you not know that it is forbidden for you to go on the street after 7:00 p.m. I responded, Yes, I know, but I will die at home, and if I go out at night, I will also die: the second death will be quicker. He looked at me and asked, Where is your husband? I responded, The Lithuanians killed him along with my entire family, and this woman is my mother. Fine, he said, go to your hospital to give birth. I will not do any harm to you. But along the way, you will certainly meet S.S. men or Lithuanians, and they will shoot you.
I thanked him greatly and we continued on the way. I was certain that a shot would be heard immediately and I would fall, but they turned around and walked toward the gate. We continued in the direction of the hospital. The way was long, with no road. The darkness was terrible, without any sign of human life. It was literally a city of ghosts. It seemed to us that we had already been walking for entire hours, but we still did not see the hospital gate. We stood every few minutes, for the pains did not permit me to walk. I thought that I would lose consciousness at any moment. Without Mother, I would certainly have fallen into the sand from the weakness that overtook me at all times. We stood next to a house, and I heard a child crying and the mother comforting it. I knocked slowly on the blind and said, Good woman, tell me where the hospital is? The woman began to curse me hysterically, Go, you should die, who is coming in the middle of the night? You are crazy. I will not open for you. I begged again and again that she only tell me the direction, and she said, Go about 100 more meters, and you will see a white wall with a white gate.
We continued with our last strength until we reached the white wall. We found the gate with difficulty and began to knock with all our might. The Jewish gatekeeper ran to the gate and spoke in German, Immediately, immediately sirs, I will open. When he opened and saw us two women, he did not believe the sight of his eyes. Doctors and nurses gathered around us. They were all astonished that we had not met along the way any German or Lithuanian who swarm through the ghetto during the nights and shoot people for any small ray of light that can be seen in their windows. In my case, I went in peace from the road that has the gate through a long way. This was literally a wonder. It appeared that some supreme power had helped me. I told those gathered around, Take me immediately to the birthing room. I recognized several doctors from Kovno who could not stop talking about the miracle that happened to me that night.
After a short time, I gave birth to a daughter. This was on September 15. The baby was healthy, of full weight, and in good shape despite all the hell and hunger that I had endured during the past few months. I was happy that finally I was the mother of such a beautiful daughter, but from where would we get food for her once I left the hospital? I got an idea in my head. In the hospital, I received food and also a bit of milk. When I left after five days and came home, the bigger tribulations began, for I did not have anything to eat, or anything with which to nurse my daughter.
October came. It was cold and rainy outside. The rags that I called diapers, brought to me by my good neighbors to diaper my daughter, did not dry outside. I washed them without soap and lay upon them to sleep at night, so that my body would dry them. I called her Miriam, after my grandfather Manus, who had died a natural death. We ate the leaves, the leaves that Mother cooked with dirty well water. I swelled, and noticed that my little daughter was weakening, for we gave her as well the leafwater with a bit of sugar. She would cry at night, and we had to carry her in our arms all night, so that the crying would not be heard outside and cause problems for our neighbors.
One morning, we saw through the window that many S.S. men with Lithuanians came to the ghetto and stood in the middle of our street, talking amongst themselves and scattering themselves out. There were many alleyways and roads on the other side of Linkuvos Street, and the crowding was very great. During the time that the men were at work, the S.S. surrounded all these alleys and sent out all the residents to Linkuvos Street. I stood next to the window with my daughter in my arms, and saw all this. Among them were several Yanova families who lived there. They also went out and stood in the street under the guard of the Lithuanians. I was surprised and asked, Mother, where are they taking them? At that moment, an armed Lithuanian noticed me. He ran to our house, banged on the shutter with his gun, and shouted, Accursed you should be, frog, why are you looking, do you also want to go? I will take you. I left the window in fear, and waited, trembling, for him to enter our house. He did not come, however, for the command was to take out all the residents on the other side of the street to death. They all went quietly without weeping, without screams grandmothers, and mothers with their children. They were surrounded with S.S men and Lithuanians holding automatic rifles. Their steps receded, and the street became quiet again. We did not know where they had taken them. When the men returned from work in the evening, they did not find their wives and children. They sat down and tore out their hair. That night, we heard endless shots coming from the direction of the Ninth Fort killing station. They had brought all the victims there, and everything was clear and known…
The Death of Shlopochnik the Medic (Feldscher)
The residents of Yanova knew the Shlopochnik the medic (feldscher) very well. He had lived with his family on Vilna Street. He was our beloved doctor, for he healed us of all our illnesses. If a sick person had no money, he would also help.
During the latter years before the outbreak of the war, he moved to Kovno with his family. Mother and I met him in the ghetto. He was already bent and elderly, and he wept over his son who had been taken from the house by the Lithuanians, and had not yet returned.
He greeted us and began to cross the street. This was not far from the ghetto gate. Suddenly I noticed that a German said something to a Lithuanian and pointed out Shlopochnik. The Lithuanian lowered his gun and aimed it carefully. Suddenly, we heard a single shot, and Shlopochnik, who had not even noticed anything, fell dead, wallowing in his blood. The German began to shout and call, Come, come, four Jews, and take your comrade!
This is how the upright feldscher Shlopochnik died. He had healed sick people throughout his life. I was a witness to his death at the hands of the lowly murderers.
The Great Aktion
At the end of October 1941, the ghetto was in ferment. Notices were posted on all the tall buildings that everyone must come out to the ghetto square, called Demokratu Square at 5:00 a.m. All of the sick and elderly must be brought out along with the beds if they cannot walk on foot.
Children and babies must also be brought, and the doors were to remain open, so that the Germans could check that nobody remained in the house. Anyone who transgressed this edict would be sentenced to death. This was signed by Oberscharführer Fritz Jordan.
We did not know the meaning of this, but we felt in the depths of our hearts that a terrible decree was about to be perpetrated in our ghetto.
We got up at 5:00 a.m. It was cold, and frost covered the road. I covered my daughter with all types of rags, so that she would be warm. We went out to Demokratu Square with the rest of our neighbors.
The Jews went out en masse. Family members were holding each other by the hands, so as not to lose each other. About 20,000 Jews gathered in the square, which was not large. The crowding was great. People lost track of family members. Throughout the entire day they shouted at people, called them all types of names, and searched their family members. We were frozen, and we shivered from cold. We did not know or see what was taking place in front of us. Only in the afternoon did we realize that we were approaching the specific place from where German voices, headed by the ghetto commander Jordan, were emanating. They were shouting: Right Left! That means: life or death. The healthy young people were sent to the side of life, whereas those who came with their young children or with elderly parents were sent to the side of death. I saw half frozen people lying upon stretchers or pushed by the masses swarming from place to place. I saw a child of about 12 years old, whose face was covered with boils, whose face was red from the high fever, shivering in the cold. His poor parents covered him in clothes and wept. They took him out of his bed, and his verdict was sealed. I saw several Yanova families, such as: Nathan Rabinovich and his wife; Chaya Kapol and their pretty daughter Dina; Mosheke Glaz the violinist who used to give us enjoyment in Yanova with his violin. He was very tall, and I saw him standing with his wife Shifra Kagan the pianist; The Braun family from Breizer Street Ethel with her two daughters Elka and Rachele, and their young children; Alter Kalutz with his wife and baby; the Zopovich brothers, who were policemen and kept the order of the masses. To my sorrow, not one of them remained alive.
We approached the selektion area. To our good fortune, my cousin David, the son of Shlomo the shochet, suddenly came before us. We went together. At least we should go with a man, so perhaps we would remain alive. When we came closer, we saw that Hershel (Tzvi) Levin was standing not far from the Gestapo. He was also my cousin. He worked in the ghetto council (Eltern Rat). Mother shouted to him, Hershel, Hershel! He noticed us. A Gestapo man sent us, without looking at us, to the bad side, to the side of death. At that moment, Tzvi ran to us and said, Aunt, run quickly to the opposite side! The Gestapo man who was already busy with others did not notice this, and we ran quickly to the other side. That is how we were saved. Many people who were standing on the good side saw that relatives, acquaintances and family members stood next to them and they did not hesitate to bring them to the other side. In general, people did not know where to go: where is death and where is life was hidden from them. The Lithuanians who guarded us beat us mercilessly.
Suddenly, everything ended. We returned home to the ghetto at 6:00 p.m. frozen and hungry, without energy to live further. Our neighbors who had returned before us were tearing their hair and weeping: three people from the family did not return. My daughter Mirele was frozen and blue, with wet, frozen rags on her. I realized that her end was approaching. She did not even take a bit of warm water that I requested from our neighbors for her. She stopped breathing after a short time. Her life ended. A great pain, that I had never felt throughout my life, overtook my heart. I began to kiss her small, precious body. The girl, who through the six weeks of her life did not even taste a drop of warm milk or have a dry diaper, whose fate was to be born at that accursed time, was a sacrifice for me for had it not been for her, I would have not been sick, and would therefore not have remained alive. Mother, who comforted me with her pleas, stood up on her feet with difficulty. She suddenly appeared about ten years older. Her granddaughter had been taken from her. We covered the baby with a clean, white sheet that we had brought from our neighbors, and placed her at the foot of our bed. We sat all night and waited for morning. The next morning, Mother went to the Chevra Kadisha (burial society) and requested that they come to take her. They said that they would be busy for several days, for Demokratu Square was full of people who had died during the selektion day.
I ask humanity, where is justice? Is there anything in the world more terrible for a mother to lie in one bed with her dead baby for four consecutive days? This is indeed what happened to me. I was this unfortunate mother. On the third day, there was already a bad smell in the house, but the Chevra Kadisha told us to bring her only the next evening. On the fourth day after her death, Mother and I took her to the ghetto cemetery. We waited until they buried her. They did not even put up a board or any marker. This is how they buried hundreds and thousands of Jews without any marker. Their only sin was that they were born Jews.
We returned home shaken and depressed, without a will to live on, full of bitterness at the wide world that was silent and took no interest in us. The next day, close to 30,000 Jews were hauled to the Ninth Fort and shot to death. This was the largest aktion that was perpetrated in the Kovno Ghetto!!!
I began to work at the airfield. We went out at 5:00 a.m. to walk to work, a distance of five or six kilometers. We worked at all types of tasks we dug, hauled rocks and concrete, and built a bigger airfield. The work was very difficult for women. We received 100 grams of bread and weak soup daily. When we returned home at 9:00 p.m., we also received a hundred grams of bread and soup in the ghetto. I was very weak. Mother gave me hot soup and guarded me like the apple of her eye. After some time, I began to work in the lumber brigade. We worked very hard, but we were able to bring home a bundle of wood. One day, I left a bundle of wood for us, and the next day I would sell it and purchase a bit of margarine and potatoes. This strengthened me somewhat, and I was happy that Mother also had something to eat. We moved to a tworoom dwelling. The entire family that lived there previously did not return from Demokratu Square other than one child, a young lad, who met us and cried and pleaded with us to come to live with him. We had a separate small room there to live.
Mother went out to near the gate every evening and waited for my arrival. I would hear her voice from afar, Alinka, my child. I would enter, put down the bundle of wood, and we would walk home together. How good it was that mother was with me. She would put me to bed and feed me, as I would read to her in Hebrew and translate into Yiddish a book of Sholom Aleichem that I found in the new dwelling. Several times, I was on the threshold of parting from my mother. At one time I had to be sent to Riga, and another time to a different place from where I might not have ever returned, but some Supreme force protected me so that I should be together a bit longer with my beloved good mother.
My only friend from Yanova, who was in the ghetto with her husband, was Shoshana Rashkes and her husband Wolf. They lived in a small room, which was a kitchen, not far from us. I often visited them. We would all sit and talk with great longing about out city of Yanova, the dynamic youth, our Hashomer Hatzair movement, our family members about whom we knew nothing perhaps they somehow are alive? Or perhaps they are not alive at all any more. She would feed me and give me packets for Mother. She endured a great deal. She was always my friend with a good, merciful heart, as was fitting for the intelligent daughter of Yehuda and Fruma Rashkes.
There were other Yanovers in the ghetto who lived not far from us: the three Dubiansky brothers and their father, their sister Chaya of blessed memory and her husband Nachum Blumberg, Miriam and Rachele the daughters of my uncle Yitzchak Levin. Miriam was the eldest, and she was there with her husband and young son Tzvikale. Tzvikale remained alive. His parents gave him over to a gentile woman, who saved him from a certain death. He lives in Kovno today. I had other relatives in the ghetto: my mother's brother Chaim Levin who lived in the ghetto with his son Tzvi Levin and daughter Rachele with her two children. These relatives helped us a bit with food. None of them survived except for Tzvi.
The Klooga Camp in Estonia
On October 26, 1943, after two and a quarter years of living in the ghetto, Gestapo men and Lithuanians came suddenly and began to go from house to house along with members of the Jewish police. The purpose was to gather people and send them to some unknown work place. They came to us as well, and permitted us to take a small bag
of clothes or food. A wagon hitched to a horse waited for us outside. We put the suitcase on the wagon and walked behind the wagon. Several tens of other people followed after the wagon. I then saw the sisters Tzvia and Sara Wiker. They stood next to their house and asked us from afar where we were going.
Trucks waited for us outside the city. We ascended and traveled along the route leading to the Kovno airfield. My heart predicted bad things. I was afraid of Mother's fate, and my fear was not in vain. When we arrived at the airfield, a terrifying scene unfolded before me. I saw that people had got off of the trucks that arrived before us, and the Gestapo was making an immediate selektion: men separate, young women separate, and children and babies along with older women. Mother did not understand what was happening. I understood that this was the end, that my mother would be taken from me. I began to cry hysterically. Mother comforted me, My daughter, we will live together in the ghetto, this is not so bad, the main thing is that we will be together. I did not have the chance to explain what I was thinking. The Gestapo came immediately and told us to get off quickly. One of them hit Mother, who was holding on to me, with his hand, and began to drag her. I ran after him and shouted, She is my mother, let us remain together! Instead of a response, he gave me a sharp blow on my head with the stick in his hand and pushed me back. When I came to, I saw Mother as the German was helping her board the truck. The truck was full of young children and babies. I saw another Yanova resident, Yehudit Landman, the daughter of ShimshonElia the butcher, together with her. She was also an older woman, who had lost her children in the Kovno Ghetto. Both of them stood on the truck, as the Gestapo men every minute stuffed in another child who had been snatched from its mother's hands. The truck was filled, and it traveled off quickly. This was the last glance I had of my mother. I knew that this was the end of her life, as well as the end of the lives of the young children who were placed in her hands…
They pushed me behind along with other young women whose cries reached the heavens. They pulled out their hair and cried that they had taken their darling children from them, as I was crying because they took my devoted mother from me. The Germans beat us again and again to quiet us down, and pushed us onto a long transport train. We were crowded into the cars. When the car was closed, they locked the door with a bar. These were transport cars, which had been used previously to transport cows. The filth was great. There was straw on the floor. There were several loaves of bread and margarine in a corner, and a bucket to attend to our bodily needs. Every one of the women screamed and cried, calling out the name of their beloved children. We began to bang at the door, and we lost our energy. We fell onto the straw, each of us with our own agony. It was already dark at night, and we began to travel slowly. We traveled and stopped again and again. Every time we stopped, we waited for them to tell us to go out to the killing place. Every car had several steps upon which Ukrainians stood and guarded us. They spoke among themselves out loud, and we heard that they were taking us to be killed.
We travelled this way for seven days without the doors being opened. The air was full of the odor of feces and urine, for the bucket overflowed. We were filthy and hungry. We stopped in the forest on the seventh day, and they opened the doors under heavy guard. They permitted us to get some water to drink and to wash. This was a large bog, with frogs jumping around. We were so thirsty that we drank the brackish water. We breathed a bit of air, and they again brought us into the cars. We traveled for another three days, and we stopped in Estonia. They opened the doors, and many Gestapo men and women met us. They immediately began to whip us so that we would arrange in fives. Our legs were stiff, and our eyes could not tolerate the daylight. We arranged ourselves in fives with difficulty. Trucks then came to take some of the people to a variety of camps.
Of the 3,000 that we were when we left the Kovno Ghetto, only a few hundred remained. The brought us to a camp called Klooga in Estonia, known for its cruelty and hunger. There were already several thousand Jews from the Vilna Ghetto there, who had been brought there a half a year previously. The work was hard. I worked with concrete. Two women would drag rocks and concrete weighing 80 kilograms. We worked in the rain. We returned home soaked to the bone. The food was meager, for the person in charge of food sold our provisions and gave us small portions. Many people died. People looked like skeletons. They would burn the dead before our eyes. I got seriously weak, and I felt that I would not be able to manage for long. The punishment for any minor infraction was murderous blows. Once, I receive beatings with a thick stick on the back from the S.S. I thought that all my bones were dismembering. However, apparently, at times a person is able to endure a great deal. After nine
months in Klooga, suddenly, many Gestapo people arrived, arranged us again into fives, and conducted a selektion. The weaker ones, myself included, were placed separately, and the rest were sent back to the blocks. We sat in the sand all day awaiting our fate. Toward evening, we were driven by truck to the port in Estonia, where they placed us on a ship. We set out on the Baltic Sea to Stutthof.
Stutthof Concentration Camp
Stutthof was a transit camp as well as a death camp. Day and night, the tall chimneys spewed black smoke blended with the stinking odor of burning flesh. This was the flesh of Jews who were burned in the ovens day and night. Almost every day, they would remove us from the block and conduct a selektion. Every day, they took thousands of people to the gas chambers and then to the crematoria. Every day, thousands more arrived from all parts of Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, and Germany.
I met there a woman from Yanova, Ita Piklachik of blessed memory. I will remember this intelligent woman as long as I live. She died in the camp, as did her daughter. Her husband and son survived, and live in Israel. We were together for my entire time in Stutthof, and I was very happy that I had someone close to me who influenced me with her special spirit. We lay down all day in the sand. We received thin soup and a morsel of bread once day. At night we received a cup of black coffee. That was all. Lice devoured me.
Once I found out that women were demanded for work. I quickly ran to the gate. They took me for work along with many other women. We traveled to do agricultural work in Tiegenhoff, which was not far from Stutthof. Farmers lived there who had many cows as well as land. We helped them with all types of tasks. We received good, satisfying food. Aside from this, I ate fruits and vegetables such as carrots, beets, and apples. I felt my energy returning. We worked there for three months. The work ended, and we traveled back to Stutthof. I no longer found the people whom I had left behind. They were already different, appearing to us as living skeletons. The women would sit all day cleaning their clothing from lice, while we were clean at that time. Apparently, the S.S. were angry about this. They put us into other bunks, where the lice fell upon us with great fury. We became more and more broken with each passing day, and lost our human image.
Thus did time pass. Selektions took place every two days, and many diseases afflicted us, until the end of 1944 came. I heard that they required people for work in Dresden. I hurried to the gate, and they indeed took me there. Dresden is a large German city, the capital city of Saxony. We worked there in an armaments factory. I knew how to sew blankets. They gave me ten women and a work room with many dyed quilts that had been brought from Poland. These had been the property of Jews who perished. I had to cut them apart and sew blankets for the residents of the camp. For this, I received an extra portion of soup and bread.
In the middle of the night of February 13, 1945, we heard intermittent sirens and heavy bombing. These were the American and British bombers bombing the city of Dresden. We immediately went down to the shelter along with the S.S. people who were guarding us. We sat in the shelter for three days without food or water. The city turned into a cemetery, where 200,000 Germans were buried under the rubble. The upper story of the building in which we worked was damaged by a fiery attack. The sick people who remained there, more than 20 individuals, were burned alive. The buildings on both sides of the road were burning with leaping flames. The road, which was also on fire, burned the soles of our wooden clogs. We ran with our last strength. We left the city and sat by the banks of the river. The next day, we went out to work to clean the railway tracks. Our sentinels could not recognize the streets even though they were residents of Dresden. Everything was destroyed, without a path, without a road. We slept outside. It was very cold at night, and we almost froze completely.
With Failing Legs
A few weeks later, they loaded us on train wagons once again and we traveled to the border with Czechoslovakia. There, we continued on foot. Our clothes were completely torn, as were our shoes, which were tied
with ropes. We walked 20 kilometers or more per day through the Sudeten Mountains. We would go to some village at night, and receive a few cooked potatoes or soup from the residents of the village. We slept outside, and at times in the barn of one of the residents.
Many girls from Vilna and Kovno escaped along the way. As we passed through a forest and they noticed that the sentinels were not watching them, they would quickly slink into the forest and hide behind a large tree. There were a large number of girls. However, there was no place to hide for an extended period. They were forced to come out to beg for food in the villages. Then, the Gestapo men captured them and shot them. I knew that I had no place to escape. I only hoped that I would perhaps remain alive without escaping. Some sixth sense always guided me. Apparently, this was my good luck.
Many people who could not continue on would collapse along the way. A German sentinel would sit on a tree stump not far from the person, and wait until we would be a distance away. We would hear a shot, and the sentinel would return to us with his body. The collapsed person was already liquidated. Hundreds of gentiles who had worked in Dresden and endured the bombardments along with us were together with us. There were Poles, Ukrainians and even Germans who had been investigated by the Nazi guards and sent to the camps in Dresden. We Jews walked together, helped each other, and supported those who were especially weak.
The numbers dwindled day by day. Many escaped at any opportunity during the night or day. We continued to march through the months of March, and April. The nights were cold and wet. We slept on the wet ground, crowded one against the other. I felt that the cold was even penetrating my brain, and my consciousness was dwindling. I would get up and walk, lie down again, and walk again. Not every person could endure such conditions. Many women who could not get up in the morning were taken out to be killed by the S.S. As usual, we continued marching 20 or more kilometers each day from village to village. We heard bombing in the village that we had passed through just the day before. We later found out that every village that we passed through had fallen into Russian hands. However, our sentinels knew nothing and did not want to know. They had no other order than to continue to haul us, so that we would not fall into Russian hands.
This was at the beginning of May. We passed through a small city and saw the picture of Hitler covered in black in the windows. There was no end to our joy, but we also knew that they would liquidate us at the last minute, just as the S.S. did in other places. Berlin had already fallen to the Russians, and Germany was already defeated. This was May 3, 1945. However, we still continued to walk with the S.S.
On May 8, we reached a village and slept in a large barn. The next morning, May 9, they got us up again to continue on. When we went out to the street, we saw a strange sight: The German army was traveling en masse with all types of vehicles, hurrying along and filling the entire road. Our sentinels told us to go into the meadow at the side of the road and continue. Suddenly, a German soldier in a passing truck threw us a jar of honey and shouted, Now the sun will begin to shine for you too. The war is over!
We stood astonished and did not dare to approach the jar despite our hunger. They also threw bread and cookies at us. However the S.S. men who guarded us stood there with pointed guns and told us that they would shoot anyone who lifted something off the ground. The German women took special revenge upon us. Each of them had fallen in love with one of the S.S. soldiers, and they would express their love publically. They would beat us with wild cruelty in order to demonstrate that they were loyal to the party and to Hitler.
Suddenly a car stopped before us, and a high ranking S.S. man came out and called to our sentinels. They hurried to him. He told them things that I understood clearly. He said, Where are you going with these people, do you not know that the war has ended? You are S.S. men, get on some truck quickly and drive back to Germany quickly!
Our sentinels remained with opened mouths and discussed amongst themselves. One gentile woman approached them and said, What shall we do, where shall we go? They answered her, Run quickly to the village to ask for bread! They quickly got on a stopped truck and traveled away. We were about ten Jewish women who remained alone from all the hundreds that we had at the beginning
of our journey. We asked each other, Has everything ended? Are we free? We did not believe it. But when we saw that our sentinels had fled for their lives, we went away from the road and went deeper into the forest. We did not want anyone to see us, lest someone else would want to shoot a bullet at us.
We sat down, and began to hug each other and weep bitterly. Has the war indeed ended, and we are free? Now what? Where should we go? We went through the forest. The entire world was now beautiful in our eyes: the green forest, the grass, here is a small stream. We looked at its waters and saw our reflection skeletons! Creased faces. No hair, since they shaved us because of the lice. And the rags that we were wearing. We screamed a hysterical scream, and were suddenly filled with might and courage. We entered the nearby village to ask for bread. The residents of the village gave us food and told us that Germans had lived in the next village, and they would certainly have escaped. We should go there to take their clothes and food. We went, and it was as they had said. We found abandoned houses, with old shoes, strange dresses, boxes of cans. We found wine in the cellar. We ate to satiation, and at night we went back to sleep in the same barn that we had left in the morning. We sat down and began to talk amongst ourselves. Suddenly the straw began to lift, and two Hungarian Jews who had been with us on the journey appeared before us. Their joy was boundless. We gave them some of the food that we had brought.
That night, we heard the sounds of halftracks. In the morning we found out that those were soldiers of the Red Army who had entered Czechoslovakia. The American Army met the Russian Army there. We lived in that village for several weeks. The residents of the village, mainly Czechs, brought us food and clothing, and treated us well.
Return to Yanova
I slowly regained my energy. Then, I started longing for my town and my family. I hoped that someone might have survived. One month after the end of the war, I traveled to the railroad station along with six other women from Vilna and Kovno. We traveled for a month, for the train would travel for a day and stand for a week. I endured these tribulations as well.
We arrived in the city of Grodno in White Russia [Belarus]. I endured several weeks of interrogation from the Russians to find out whether I had been a kapo in the camp, whether I had beaten Jews or served the Germans. A big joke! When they found no stain on me, they gave me a certificate stating that I was permitted to go to Kovno and settle there.
When I arrived in Kovno, I found Nachum and Chaya Goldberg, and their baby Zisla there. They were happy to see me. They fed me, and I remained with them for some time. I found out from them that nobody from my family had survived. My family had perished in Dvinsk [Daugavpils], Latvia: my father, two brothers one of them married with three young daughters, and my two sisters. My husband had died on the way to Kovno, as he was coming to see me when I was in the hospital. His parents had also perished.
I travelled to Yanova, for I could not overcome the inclination to see my city once more and then to leave it forever. From the Yanova railway station, I walked on foot for several kilometers. I passed places through which I had strolled in earlier years. I came to the city and barely recognized it. I arrived in the city and barely recognized it. Entire streets were destroyed. Our street, Kovno Road, was half destroyed. The other half, where we lived, remained. The house in which I had grown up was still there. I walked around the house and did not see anyone. The door was closed. We children had an invention to pull it a bit, place our hand inside, reach the lock through the crack, and open the door. I could not restrain myself. I went up three steps, stuck out my hand, pulled the door, reached the lock, opened the door, and entered with trembling hands and clanging knees. There was nobody home. There was furniture but not ours. A picture of the crucifix was hanging on the wall. I entered the dark bedroom, the kitchen, the dining room. I sat down and wept. The same house, the same walls, the same rooms, but where were my dear ones? They were lying dead in some unknown place. I do not recall how long I sat there immersed in my thoughts. Suddenly, the door opened and a woman entered. She looked at me with a murderous face. I recognized her. She was a Lithuanian woman who used to stand in the market selling candy, crucifixes, pins, and other small items. Her husband was missing a hand. Her sons assisted the Germans in taking control over the Jews. They fled to Germany when the earth began to burn beneath their feet at the end of the war.
Who are you who entered my house? I heard her murderous voice.
Do you not recognize me? I answered. You used to buy lemonade from my father. I lived in this house, and it is mine!
Her face turned red.
You will not take the house from me. I purchased it during the war and paid money for it.
I did not want to argue with her, for I had no energy for that, seeing her eyes full of hate and murder. I got up, crossed through the kitchen, and exited into the yard through the back door. I entered the stable where our good horse and cow whose milk I had drunk had lived. Everything was empty. She had sold everything, and had taken our house without purchasing it from anybody.
As I was walking through the street, gentiles looked at me and were literally afraid to approach me and talk to me. I found out that a woman named Ula, who had once been our assistant, lived in a Jewish house. She received me politely. She was very poor, and lived with her husband and two young daughters. I stayed with her for a week. I prepared the papers to get my house back. When I obtained it, I sold it to a gentile. I looked at my house for the last time. In this city, I had spent my lovely, pleasant childhood years along with my brothers, sisters, intelligent father who had given me Zionist and Hebrew education, and my finest mother who had been snatched away by a most cruel hand. Thus did I leave Yanova and curse it in my heart that it should burn from edge to edge. I traveled to Vilna.
I Could Not Remain in One Place
In the meantime, some of the Jews of Yanova who had escaped to Russia at the beginning of the war, as well as those who had returned from the Red Army and the concentration camps, returned to Vilna.
A family of Yanovers named Dragatzki lived on Truki Street: Shmuel Dragatzki of blessed memory with his two children and pregnant wife Leah, his brother Shlomo with his wife and two children, and their elderly mother. This house served as a guesthouse for anyone who came. All of them received food from Leah Dragatzki and a place to sleep. Sometimes, about twenty people slept there in all the rooms and on all the floors. Despite her pregnancy, nobody left in the morning without Leah giving them an omelet and a full breakfast. The Lukman family was another such family. Before the war, they lived on the other side of the Vylia. Their three children survived in Yanova: Moshe, Sarale and BenZion, as well as their father. There too, everyone was provided with a place to sleep and food until they managed to organize themselves.
The summer passed. I could not stay in one place. I traveled from Vilna to Kovno to the Blumberg house that was always filled with people who had returned from Russia and the camps. Everyone received food and a place to sleep. I searched for people who had perhaps met someone from my family. I found no rest. I met people who were together in the ghetto and concentration camps each with their own gloomy history. I returned to Vilna and found some relatives of mine who had returned from Russia. This was Shaul Yudelevich, the son of David Eliya. He was a driver. He lived with his family and the family of his brother who had died in Russia. I lived together with them and was happy that I was among relatives who were concerned about me. After some time I met my present husband. We got married, and I began a new life. We had two sons, may they be well. When they got older, I would tell them about what happened to me, about my family, and about my Zionist education that had not faded throughout the entire twelve years that I lived in Russia.
We left Russia in 1957, at the first opportunity that was presented to us. We moved to Poland. From there, we made aliya to Israel in 1959.
I wish to point out that everything that I have written is only a small part of what I endured throughout four consecutive years. Each day had its own tribulations, and each camp had its own atrocities. I had the power and desire to live.
I hope that others who did not endure what I had, especially the young people, will read this and learn what their parents endured during the Second World War of 19411945. We will not forget the innocent blood of the Jews that was spilled. They were murdered only because they were Jews!
We will not forget and not forgive!
by Shmuel Tepper (Ramat Hasharon)
I was born in Yanova to my parents Abba and Chana. We lived in our private house on Kovno Street, on the other side of the city market in the direction of Keidaniai Street. My father was a builder by profession. His nickname was Abba the Moler. Our economic situation was poor. We children were not spoiled, and we tasted the taste of poverty from our earliest youth.
Father was Orthodox and attempted to give us a Torah education. I studied in the Yavneh School, as well as in the Yeshiva of Mendel Teitz in Yanova. When I got older, they sent me to complete my studies in Gemara in the Yeshiva of Vilkomir [Ukmerge]. Considering our economic situation, I decided to leave the Yeshiva of Vilkomir, and to return to Yanova to begin to study the carpentry trade with Daniel Yankelovich. At that time, I was active in the Beitar organization, and I volunteered for activities on behalf of the Keren Kayemet LeYisrael [Jewish National Fund] and Keren HaYesod.
In 1933, I left my parents' home and moved to Kovno. There, I met my wife Sara, a native of Zasliai. I got married and continued working in carpentry as an employee in Shragovich's furniture factory. On the day of the outbreak of the war, June 22, my wife and I decided to escape to Russia. I, along with my wife and daughter Chana, left Kovno and walked in the direction of Yanova. We reached Yanova in the evening, and decided not to tarry, but rather to continue along our way to Vilkomir. The Germans were already there by the third day. The captains of the German Army gathered about 2,000 Jewish men from among the refugees, including me, and sent us to various jobs. Later, they freed us, ordering us to go back to our homes.
We returned to our home in Kovno. I lived in my home until July 15. On that day, we were given an order to move to the Slobodka Ghetto. While living in the ghetto, I worked at all types of backbreaking jobs at the Aleksotis Airport. Later, they transferred me to work at an army bakery in Šančiai.
In 1942, the Germans transported me along with three other Jews in an army truck to Polygon near Yanova in order to inspect the local bakery and remove the machinery. We arrived in Yanova. Of course, we saw no Jews. Yanova was Judenrein in Nazi terms. Along with the Germans, we entered a command of partisans and Shaulists that was set up in the home of Namiot on the Vylia. Suddenly, a Lithuanian from Yanova named Vansevicius, from the wellknown murderers Vansevic and sons, who are to blame for the murder of hundreds of Jews, entered. When he noticed us, he shouted, Look, here are Zydi. He pointed his gun toward us vainly and said, We finished with the Jews in Yanova, so how are you here? The German captain
who accompanied us approached him, smacked him on the cheek, and removed his weapons. He was not calmed. He ran to the second room, brought a gun, and pointed it at us. The German captain arrested him, and the rest of the German soldiers who were on the truck hurried in. They surrounded us and hauled us onto the truck. In the meantime, other partisans and Lithuanian ruffians gathered and demanded that they give over the Jews. The German soldiers protected us. The driver drove quickly and we left Yanova.
I am relating this incident so that the future generations should know how cruel the Lithuanian partisans in Yanova were to us. It is funny to state that Hitler's soldiers defended us from them. We traveled to Polygon, removed all the machinery, and transferred it to a military bakery in Šančiai. I worked in this bakery with three other Jews until the final day, the day of the liquidation of the ghetto. One was Wulkan from Vienna, the second was the locksmith Yisrael Sandler from Kovno, and the third was Michael Papilski.
In the latter period, my wife worked in the Šančiai labor camp. On March 27, 1944, when my wife was at work, the Germans came and took my two daughters: Chana Gita who was born in Kovno in 1939, and Fruma Liba who was born in the Kovno Ghetto in February 1942. They were taken to their deaths along with the rest of the children.
On the day of the liquidation of the ghetto, the Germans took me to Stutthof with the rest of the survivors. I was taken out from there and was imprisoned in Camp number One of KauferingLandsberg, a subcamp of Dachau. The women remained in Stutthof. I met my wife in Łodz. We went from Łodz to Munich. I finally arrived in Israel in 1948. Here, I live in the Lithuanian neighborhood of Ramat Hasharon. After the trials of absorption, I opened an independent carpentry shop.
We had a son and a daughter in Israel. My economic situation improved, and today I live a happy life.
The following family members died in Yanova: my sister Rivka and her husband Daniel Yankelovich; their son Chaim and their daughter who was married to the carpenter Landsman; and my stepbrother Avraham Epstein, also a carpenter.
by Nachum Blumberg of Tel Aviv
Transcribed and adapted by Yitzchak Burstein
Translated by Daniella Thompson
In the Kovno Ghetto
At dawn on the morning following our arrival, we were sent to work in the Aleksotas Airport. The head of all the brigades was Luria, who was later revealed to be a despicable man and a sadist. At the airport I met my sister Henia, who lived in Šančiai after her marriage. She looked ghastly: thin, pale faced, dressed in a long caftan held together with rope. On the first day of the wareven before the Germans had arrivedher husband was called out by a Lithuanian officer, their neighbor, who drew his pistol and shot him to death. She was left with two little children aged nine and three. She lived in the ghetto in a small room on Krikshtshiukaichio Street and was almost entirely destitute. In her early days there, she obeyed the occupying regime's orders and turned in her money and gold, leaving herself only 100 rubles. Since then she had been dependent on ration cards. I helped her with money and groceries.
The first task at the airport was to level the ground. The prisoners did this work with shovels and rakes, guarded by S.S. youth. They were dreadful typesdid not allow anyone to straighten his back even for a minute. Whoever dared to raise his head and breathe a little air received blows to the head from the butts of their rifles. At the end of the day, they loaded the corpses of the prisoners who died at work onto platforms and shipped them back to the ghetto, so that the number of those returning would correspond to the number of those who came out.
After a week's work, it became clear to me that it would be impossible to survive in the face of this cruelty and running down the Aleksotas Hill for the pleasure of the S.S. men.
One morning, upon our arrival at work, they announced, Brickmasons, forward! The men of the Dubiansky familyfather and three sonsstepped forward. When they returned, they related that they had worked at their trade, building airplane hangars. Their supervisors were German artisans, and they were treated well.
The next day, when the announcement was repeated, I also stepped forward. I worked in the same brigade with my fatherinlaw and brotherinlaw. I received a bricklayer's trowel, level, and hammer. Each worker was assigned a length of six meters to complete. I watched to see how it was done. The German noticed it, approached me, and shouted, Damned Jew, you're a baker, not a builder! He hit my head with a plank, and I fell, covered with blood. I was ordered to get up. I claimed that my father had been a mason. Then say so! he replied and showed me how to work. Afterwards, he became my guardian angel and obtained groceries for me. Every now and then he would ask if I knew who had a gold ring. I ordered a ring from a goldsmith in the ghetto and brought it to him. He paid me in groceries and ordered rings for his friends as well. These were my first steps toward adaptation to the prevailing conditions so I could survive and obtain food for myself and for my sister and her children.
In the summer of 1942, after I became proficient at bricklaying, I approached Tzvi Levin, the Yanovan in the Ältestenrat, and requested that the Dubianskys and I be transferred to small brigades working in the city, where conditions were better it as was possible to establish ties with the populace. Tzvi informed me that Luria did not want to let us go, and that there was only one way to dodge him: volunteer for work in Gaižiūnai, felling trees along the sides of the railroad. The work would be hard, but it would last no more than a month. Furthermore, it would be in the environs of Yanova, a known area. There it would be possible to obtain groceries and bring them into the ghetto with no inspection. We accepted the suggestion and informed Luria. He was surprised, since only prisoners worked there, but gave his consent. We took with us clothes to barter for groceries.
I knew how to fell trees. The saws were very sharp. We worked at a slow tempo until 10 at night. The brigade's cook was the Yanovan Necham'ka Zisla, daughter of Chaim. Thanks to her, we didn't lack for food. I suggested to her that she have a word with the whitehatted German, who was known as a murderer, and recommend me for work in the bread bakery. The profits would be his. He consented. During roll call he called, Baker, forward! I stepped out of the line and was ordered to prepare wood for baking. Then he sent me to the village to obtain flour and baking supplies. I went to a Russian acquaintance, who was surprised to see me. I gave him clothes, and he provided me with the flour and all the other items. He heated the bathhouse, and I washed and shaved. The next morning he took me in his cart to the brigade's vicinity. I had flour, eggs, butter, ham, and honey, and several bottles of samogon for the German, and also a bowl for mixing dough.
The Russian went to Nechama. She reported that I was liable to be shot. I stayed in the forest. Nechama was told to say to the German that a wheel had broken on the way owing to the heavy weight of the supplies, and that we brought liquor, eggs, butter, and honey for him. Having heard this, the German ordered me to begin baking immediately. It seems to me that I have never managed to bake bread as tasty as that one. Nechama brought the moonshine and the comestibles to the German, and he, the White Hat, got so drunk that he didn't accompany the brigade to the forest the next day. Everybody was pleased. From the bread, the German had an income of 80 marks per day. He asked me to stay for the second month.
At the end of the month we returned to the ghetto. We brought groceries that we received in exchange for clothes. The truck entered with no inspection, as Hirschl Levin had promised. The only one who stayed behind was my brother Chaim, who had light work, and Nechama took care of his food. I distributed groceries to the women who had given me clothes to barter.
Having been registered by Luria for another month in the forest at the request of the White Hat, I came down with lumbago and was given a week's leave by a doctor. In the meantime, Hirschl Levin arranged for me to work in Engineer Slonimsky's brigadeabout 100 men who worked in the Šančiai barracks. There I continued to work in bricklaying with my relatives. I suggested to Slonimsky that he employ me in baking bread for the brigadea kilo to each man, with the profits going to the overseer, the Wehrmacht man Brumkin [sp?]. The latter consented provided he received ten gold rubles a day.
The money that the workers paid for the bread was used to buy gold in the ghetto, and the daily quota was met. Brumkin [sp?] sent me to Šančiai under guard. There I got in touch with a Lithuanian woman, Atkočiūnaite. In exchange for clothes, she gave me flour, a doughmixing bowl, and all that was required for baking. We agreed that I would bring her clothes for sale daily, and in exchange she would supply us with groceries. We smuggled the clothes from the ghetto on our bodiesa dangerous undertakingand did the same while smuggling groceries into the ghetto. Each morning, my brigade comrades wrapped me in kerchiefs, sheets, tablecloths, and even blankets, and tied it all with ropes. This is how I, and others, smuggled items out of the ghetto.
Once, the woman asked that I provide her with a Karakul fur coatfor money, obviously, since it was impossible to smuggle the equivalent value in groceries into the ghetto. I found such a coat and sewed the money I received for it into my hat's lining. When we arrived at the ghetto's gate, we were told that thorough inspection was taking place. What to do?
I approached the policeman Yankele Verbovsky and sought his counsel. He advised me to come with him [to the gate] with the hat on my head, since we were usually required to remove our hats at the gate. I stepped toward him, and he slapped me on the cheek, grabbed my hat, shouted, Runter mit der Mütze, and tossed it beyond the gate. This was how I managed to smuggle the proceeds from the sale of the fur coat.
All those who gave me clothes for barter were satisfied with the exchange. I purchased gold rings for emergencies. These I left with the woman or sewed into my pants.
One evening, as I arrived at the gate, I fell into the hands of the Lithuanian policeman Ratner. I had no groceries on me. During his search, he felt me and found the gold. I was subject to a death sentence. I whispered to him that the gold was for him; I would enter the police hut, get it out, and hand it to him. He agreed to it. I entered, plucked three buttons from my coat, wrapped two of them in paper and handed them to him stealthily. Fortunately for me, there were hundreds of people in line, pushing their way in. His hands were engaged in cracking a whip over the gatecrashers' heads. He had no time to inspect what I had given him. That's how I took my revenge on him. When I came home, my wife Chaya did not recognize me, so pale and terrified I was. After this incident, I put the rings in a builder's level. I worked in the brigade until the end of 1943.
Shochat from the Ältestenrata Jew from Memelcame to me once and said that it had been decided to build a shelter for the Ältestenrat. He wanted the Dubianskys and me to do it. It would be counted as brigade work, and they would authorize it on our documents. It was in a threestory house at 11 Biaro [sp?] Street. Chaim Dubiansky carried out an inspection and suggested digging a tunnel that would begin under the tank in the laundry room and lead to the garage. The shelter would be built under the garage's concrete floor. We were promised comestibles. I stipulated that space be guaranteed for my sister Henia and her two children. We worked at night. The earth was transferred to a garbage pit. The work lasted about a month. There were four rooms. The walls and the floor were lined with cork. The tunnel was 11 meters long. It was necessary to crawl while traversing it. Entry required the removal of the laundry tank.
One rainy day, close to the end of work, we sat down to eat when the door opened and Goecke appeared with two S.S. men. What are five strong men doing here? I got up and reported that we were working. He saw the hole and the earth and believed us. This was fortunate, since the slightest suspicion would have carried a death sentence. As was revealed later, the digging of the shelter was prompted by radio bulletins from foreign sources, announcing that the mass murderer Goecke was due to arrive and liquidate the Kovno Ghetto. And indeed he came. In order to camouflage his intention, he appeared at first as beneficent and ordered groceries to be supplied to the ghetto to reassure the inhabitants.
At the conclusion of the work, we were ordered to a forced labor camp in Kėdainiai under the command of Luria. This was done to blot the evidence of our work on the shelter. Knowing what awaited me there, I approached Luria and asked him to exempt me from it, as I was determined to escape the ghetto in order to survive as the sole witness of Yanova's Jewry. He refused, saying that he was responsible for me.
In the Labor Camp
A week before the transfer to Kėdainiai, I told my sister Henia about it and offered to build a dummy wall, so the children could be hidden behind it. I built the wall in a few days. Then we were sentabout 300 personsby train to Kėdainiai, near a village. We were put to work building an airport. With me were my brother Chaim, the Dubianskys with the father Chaim and the girl Etel'e, Mendel's daughter. Conditions were tolerable. We knew local peasants and bartered with them. We were guarded by Wehrmacht soldiers from Rommel's African army, who had come here for a respite from the fighting. They didn't treat us badly. We worked there for about a month. Then an order arrived from Goecke to form brigades of 100 men each and intensify security. This made us very apprehensive. We began to organize and looked for contacts with partisans to whom we could flee in time of peril. The camp's trustee was the German Jew Lehman, who had with him several Jewish policemen.
Lehman found out some details about the underground resistance. According to his instructions, we were employed in menial labor. One day, at the morning roll call, he asked, Who is a baker here? I raised my hand. He told me that he had a job for me and allowed me to take a helper. I chose Mendel Dubiansky. We were led under guard to the pilots' kitchen at the airport, where we were to repair a smoking stove by noon, or we'd be shot. Scared, we labored hard, looking for the source of the smoke. Meanwhile, the clock's hands inched forward.
Finally we discovered that the chimney on the floor below was broken, and this is what drew the smoke downward to the first floor. We repaired the chimney and were saved. The cook rejoiced. At that moment, the purser appeared. When he saw the stove burning properly and heard the cook praising us, he ordered us to follow him. He brought us to the food storeroom and filled two pails with sausage, honey, bread, and cheese. The guard accompanied us back to the camp. I knew a Lithuanian, Atkočiūnas, who was a horse trainer. The guard was well disposed toward him, and when Atkočiūnas invited me, we went to him. I proposed a barter trade to him. Every day, the guard accompanied me to him. I brought clothes and returned with groceries.
My wife Chaya was employed in the workshop where the Wehrmarcht's linens were mended. The Lithuanian woman offered to remove my wife from the camp. She said she had contact with partisans in the Melnik forests. Their commander promised her that he would receive us. I must go there to negotiate. The guard allowed me to take a helper with me. I took my brotherinlaw, Shmuel Dubiansky. I asked the woman to lead me to the partisans, while the guard was to wait at her place. We covered our Stars of David with sacks that we threw over our shoulders. When we reached the forest, the woman went off to the partisans and returned with their commander, a Pole by the name of Astreika. It turned out that we knew each other; he came from the Yanova area. He agreed to receive us. In exchange for receiving more people, he asked for payment in gold.
We returned to the camp. As we got nearer, we heard bitter wailing. We were told that cars had appeared in the morning, and Ukrainian S.S. men seized children and old people and led them to an unknown destination.
One child by the name of Zuckerman escaped through a window, lay down in a room, and covered himself in a sack. During roll call it was revealed that two children were missing: Etel'e Dubiansky and Zuckerman. The girl was found right awayshe was hiding under some bedding in a tent. When dragged out, she wept and cried, Grandfather, are you letting them take me? From her words they understood that the grandfather was also in hiding. They found Chaim Dubiansky immediately and shot him on the spot. Only the boy Zuckerman was missing. The Ukrainians found him, dragged him by the legs, and killed him with their rifle butts. His father, seeing all this and hearing the cries of his second child, Aba'le, save us!, lost his mind. Three women who returned from work and didn't find their children also went mad.
The Aktion was well organized and camouflaged from the start. Every day, the children received candy as proof of the good intentions toward them. After his daughter Etel'e was killed, Mendel Dubiansky had a serious seizure and died a few days later in the hospital. Thanks to the woman Vislitsky, who worked as a cook for Camp Commandant Menzel, we received from the latter permission to bury Mendel in the Kėdainiai Jewish cemetery. We wrote his name on a board and took our leave of him.
The camp commandant and the Wehrmacht guards kept us from work for three days and avoided meetings with Jews. They had always assured us that it was impossible that Jews were being exterminatedthey were all alive in camps somewhere. Now they faced the evidence.
We were under the shock of the tragic Aktion. We realized that our lives were also nearing a tragic end. The resistance group organized an act of sabotage at work. One day Margalit, from the Kovno Ghetto Ältestenrat, arrived and met with Lehman. Ten days following his visit, I returned to camp from work once with the impression that camp security was strict. I was too naïve. As I entered, a horrific scene was revealed to me: S.S. men were dragging a wounded Jew who was trying to extricate himself and shouted, The sun is shining.
I didn't enter the huts but hid in a latrine hole. I waited until it was quiet again and tried to climb out but couldn't. My call was answered by Yerachmiel and Shmuel Dubiansky and some others, who pulled me out of the hole. In the hut they told me that Lehman had prepared a list of 15 people who belonged to the resistance group and disrupted order in the camp. The S.S. men who arrived found only six of them and therefore seized anyone they came across. The Jew I had encountered, Chayat, was one of those they captured. He was beaten on the head with a rifle butt, was in nervous shock, and screamed.
Those on the list who managed to hide decided to take revenge on Lehman. He lived with his wife in a special office. In the morning, before roll call, they lay in wait, wishing to grab him as he left his room. He noticed it, opened the door, and presented a letter from Margalit, stating that it was he, Margalit, who determined their fate, which was awaiting them any day. The ambush was removed; they left for work but did not return to camp.
Lehman waited a few days, and when one of them reappeared, he arrested him and notified the commandant that nine people were missing. The commandant contacted the Ghetto Ältestenrat, and they reported this to Goecke. The murderer Goecke came with a retinue to liquidate the camp. They took Lehman and drove to see the airport commander. The latter told them that the workers were industrious, and he needed them. This helped. But Goecke intended to instill terror in the camp, so he chose the six most beautiful girls and conducted them to a nearby copse, setting nearby ten laborers with shovels. He ordered the women to strip down to their briefs and lie down in a circle with their heads touching. Then he drew his pistol and shot a bullet in each of their heads. Among them were a mother and her daughter. The laborers were ordered to bury them.
Lehman announced at the camp that everyone should thank God for having remained alive, including Lehman himself. The entire camp had been earmarked for extermination and was saved thanks to the airport commander.
Thus life in the camp continued. The people who traveled to the Kovno Ghetto to fetch the weekly rations brought me a letter from my sister Henia. She told me that Margalit discovered that she had hidden her children and therefore wanted to send her to Raudondvaris. She believed that she would be killed there for not surrendering her children. I asked the woman Vislitsky to suggest to Camp Commandant Menzel that he send me to fetch the rations from the ghetto. I received permission and took along a supply of foods.
On arrival, I went straight to my sister. Her neighbors told me that she was at work. I waited for her. We hugged and wept. When we entered the room, it was quiet as a grave. I didn't dare to ask where the children were. She gave a sign, and from behind the dummy wall emerged two pale ghosts, a fouryearold boy called Ze'ev'ale and the tenyearold Shlomo'le. Their joy at seeing their uncle bearing food was great but wordless. I cried in my heart. They asked me to stay with them. Henia asked if I could help overturn her banishment to Raudondvaris. I decided to go to Margalit's house and to ask my sisterinlaw, Feine [sp.?] Goldshmid from Kovno, to influence him. I waited until she appeared at her house door. When she asked what I was doing there, I told her what I wanted. She advised me to vanish immediately, because if he saw me there I would be lost. He suspected everyone. She promised to plead for my sister. I returned and reassured my sister. She told me that our brother Chaim, who was in the ghetto, did not come to see her, and she was worried about his fate. Tearfully, we separated for the last time.
I went back to the camp in Kėdainiai and never saw the Kovno Ghetto again. In time, I revealed to several people in the campamong them one Berkover (now in Israel)that there was a way to contact the partisans. They receive all comers, but one must bring money and clothes so they can buy arms.
We organized a large group, but nothing came of it, for this reason: The Melnik forest partisans and their commander Astreika got drunk one holiday and were all captured. This was fortunate for us, as we could have been captured with them. I was determined not to remain in the camp, since the situation was becoming more perilous from day to day.
Remaining of our family were Shmuel and Yerachmiel Dubiansky, my wife Chaya, and I. They also agreed to flee. In recent days, I increased my contacts with the Lithuanian woman Atkočiūnaite in the estate near Kėdainiai. All this happened in the presence of my German guard Hans. The woman didn't know my real name. I promised her that if she saved my wife, she would come into a large fortune that my relatives in America would send her after the war. She took this seriously. She would come to the airport workshop, stand next to my wife, and entreat her to come along with her.
How We Extricated Ourselves From the Camp
I was ordered to go under guard to check the stoves in the guards' huts along the road. While I was cleaning a stove in one of the huts, I came upon a letter written in Russian and Yiddish.
The letter said that whoever was employed in repairing the stove should not hurry to finish the work but should leave his name. The next day I found a second letter expressing satisfaction in my being thus employed and telling me again to take my time. I told my family about it. This went on for several days. I also found some edibles there.
The guard Hans told me that he had received a letter from his mother. She was pleased to read in his letter that he had been guarding a Jew for eight months, and instructed him to treat him well, because anyone who harms a Jew will come to a bitter end. Hans also said that while he was in the guard hut, a telephone call was received from the Kovno Ghetto, announcing that soon the camp would be liquidated and everyone would be sent to Danzig. Don't be afraid, I will travel with you.
The next day, as I came to work on the stoves, I found a letter informing me that the following day a cart would pass by with an old man crying Eggs! My task was to have the guard buy the eggs and put them in his hat while his rifle was on his shoulder. At that moment, he should be grabbed and flung into the cart.
On my return to the camp, I related all this and said that tomorrow we'd be working until noon and that we'd be shipped to Danzig. I took the gold cache out of the builder's level and distributed it among the family members. I instructed them to set upon their guard while they were being led to work, suffocate him, and flee to an unfinished house in the vicinityI would come to get them there. I told my wife to show herself to the Lithuanian woman.
That day security was fortified, because the old Ringer and Yantke the tailor informed [the camp authorities] that many were planning to flee.
I went to work accompanied by the guard. As planned, an old peasant came by in a cart and proclaimed, Eggs! The German bought the eggs for a low price and didn't know where to put them. In the hat, I suggested. He did so.
At that moment I grabbed him from behind, hurled him into the cart, and the peasant sat on his head. After some time the peasant asked me how he had treated me. When I said, Very well, he freed the guard's head a little. What have you done to me? asked [the guard]. All will be well, I answered. The rifle was taken from him. When we reached the edge of the forest, the partisan whistled, and several partisans appeared. They led the guard and me deep inside the forest and into a camouflaged trench. We sat there several hours. I reassured the guard that there was no danger to his life. They took me to another trench for questioning. The Russian interrogator gave me his hand, said I had acted like a hero, and thanked me for the language I had brought.
Among the partisans there were also a few Jews. Most were Russians. I was sent to ask the German if he would be willing to collaborate and brought him food. He was willing. I told the partisan commander about the imminent liquidation of the work camp, about my family members, about Atkočiūnaite, who was supposed to save them, and their current whereabouts. I asked for a cart.
We left at night, and at dawn we reached the vicinity of Melniki. I walked toward Vincgalys. An old peasant came toward me, leading a horse to pasture. I asked him where Atkočiūnas lived. He asked me, Which one? Because there are twoone rich and the other poor. He pointed out the house of the poor one, and indeed its roof was thatched, as I had been informed in advance. Heart pounding, I approached it. I met an old woman. When I asked her about Atkočiūnas, she crossed herself and denied any knowledge. It occurred to me that perhaps a disaster had struck. She pointed to a house not far from there. Weakkneed I went there, only to be directed to the previous house. Again she feigned ignorance.
And who lives opposite? One who cultivates our land. I went in to him and asked about Atkočiūnas. He asked who I was. A Jew, I replied. If so, then run away quickly. They are looking for you! I took out ten gold rubles, gave them to him, and asked him to show me where to flee, and to come with me and point out a good hiding spot. He pointed out the nearby forest. The place was boggy and overgrown with weeds. I waded in the swamp up to my knees, fearing that my wife had been captured and shot. After walking quite a distance, I heard a voice as if from heaven: Ponas Blumbergas (Mr. Blumberg). I thought I was imagining it, but the voice called again. From a distance I saw a woman in a long coat waving her arms toward me. I approached and recognized Atkočiūnaite. She showed me the direction to the place where my wife was hiding with her own husband and children. It's hard to express my joy at that moment. We hugged and kissed. She related that informers brought the Germans to her house and pointed her out because she had hidden my wife.
Fortune smiled on my wife. When the Lithuanian woman extricated her from the workshop almost against her will, she refused to go to the former's house but hid in a rye field. When [the authorities] couldn't find her, they arrested the three children of the Lithuanian woman and told their mother that if my wife Chaya did not present herself, they would execute the eldest daughter. Her husband related the old informer's message that Chaya would come to no harm. Atkočiūnaite pleaded with her to leave her hiding place: I wanted to save you, but your Jews are impeding me. Chaya responded that their daughter Vincenta would not be killedit was only a threatand that she herself would not return. Having lost her trust in the Lithuanian woman, she went farther into the rye field. When the husband and wife returned home, their neighbors told them that their daughter had escaped from the Germans through the window after plying them with liquor. The Germans left, since they were to accompany the transport of Jews to Danzig.
Atkočiūnas searched for and found Chaya, told her what had happened, and communicated his decision to go to his mother in Melniki, fearing that the Germans might return. Chaya agreed on condition that she remain in the forest some distance from his mother's house. That's where I found her.
Now I asked Atkočiūnaite to guide us to Vilna. She agreed and went to get her husband and children, clothes and food. I warned her that if she informed on us, her fate would be like ours for hiding Jews.
In the evening she returned with groceries. We ate and started toward Vilna. At four in the morning we reached a lumber mill in the forest. This was the home of the Vaičiūnas family, with whom they were acquainted. They knocked on the window, entered, and told them that they were fleeing the Germans, who wanted to transport them to Germany, and that with them was a Polish family, husband and wife, who had escaped from a camp. They need a suitable place and would pay well. It was resolved that Chaya would reside with the Atkočiūnas family as a blond Aryan, and I would go into hiding. Vaičiūnas brought me to a hay barn. There was a dummy wall of hay and straw that he had prepared as a hiding place for himself. I hid there. They brought me breakfast. I spent about ten days there.
Once I saw through the cracks a group of Germans arriving in trucks and tanks. Chaya understood from what they were saying to each other that the front would soon be here. They advised the populace to take shelter in the forest. Chaya told me this. I came out of hiding and suggested to the host that we lead his cattle and sheep into the forest, where we would build them a pen and dig trenches for ourselves. He recognized that I was a Jew and turned to Atkočiūnas: But your Pole is a little Jew!
We Are Free
Many peasants assembled in the forest. Cannon battles began. The next morning, silence reigned. I came out of the trench to breathe some fresh air. Suddenly I saw a soldier with an automatic rifle. He shouted to me in Russian, Hands up! Who are you?
Seeing and hearing this, I became paralyzed with joy. Were we really saved? Was it not a dream? Ten soldiers and an officer surrounded me and ordered me to say who I was. Among other things, I told them that the Germans had entrenched themselves
on the other side of the forest. We asked them to let us join them, but they refused, saying that the area was full of mines. At night the shooting continued, and in the morning the Russians were already there in their multitudes.
The Soviet commander told me that in his unit there was one of us. He was a Jew from Ukraine. He was amazed that I managed to survive. In Russia one hardly ever came across such a casethe inhabitants turned them in to the Germans.
The rumor spread through the forest that there was a Jew here who was rescued from the Nazis. The peasants began to bring food in the hope that I would save them from the Russian army. The Lithuanian newspapers spread rumors that the Soviets' treatment of the Lithuanians was atrocious.
I handed over all the gifts and edibles to Vaičiūnas as a mark of gratitude. I spent two more weeks with him until the front had moved away. With the Atkočiūnas family, we returned to Kėdainiai by a roundabout way. A Jew from Riga was the head of the city administration. I went to him and told him about the Atkočiūnas family that rescued us, asking him to find them good jobs. And, indeed, he did so. We spent several more days with them, gave them part of our money, and traveled by military truck to Kovno. We found accommodation in a private house. A few days later, I traveled to Yanova to look for the murderers and see to it that they would be properly punished.
My first encounter in Yanova was with the builder Vansevičius, whose sons murdered [people], and he, too, did not stand idly by. His first question was where I had come from. I replied that I came from the real world. He consoled himself by arguing that it wasn't the end yet. The Germans were at Marijampolė, and their aircraft were still seen in the sky.
I went to Sreika, who later became chairman of the city council. He was a leftist and a good man. I told him about my meeting with Vansevičius and demanded punishment to the murderers. He promised to help. I slept at his house and the next day went to Army Intelligence. I informed them about the killers. For three days they received my testimony. Everything was written down. They took me to visit the prison so I could identify the murderers. There were about 60 prisoners there, among them many Lithuanian murderers from Skaroli, Bazilioniai Shaulists. I found there the sausage grocer Meldes, who shot and killed Judelevich, Judith Dragatzky's husband and his rival; the carter Simanis, who lived near Medis; the carpenter Gineika, who raped Boz's daughter and then shot her to death. For a long time I trailed Manginas. After several months, I found him in the rubber factory Inkaras, beyond Slabodka. I denounced him to the police and met him facetoface in prison. Full of rage, I fell upon him and thrashed him. He confessed to everything. In the end, this murderer got… only ten years in prison; otherseven less. They are all walking about as free men in Yanova and Lithuania.
Yes, my dear Yanovans, you learned how we managed to dodge fate for three years and come out of hell alive.
My story was long, but I couldn't shorten it. Every step was full and connected to death. We prevailed through nerve, courage, and, trickery.
On both my mother's side and mine, we were a large family. Eight of us came out of Yanova, but only my wife and I survived.
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