Translation of Gorzhd
chapter from Yahadut Lita
(Lithuanian Jewry), Vol. 4
Published by The Association of The Lithuanian Jews in Israel
Published in Tel Aviv, 1967 (Vol. 3) and 1984 (Vol. 4)
Our sincere appreciation to Joseph Melamed, Advocat, for permission
This is a translation from: Yahadut Lita: (Lithuanian Jewry),
Town: Gorzhd, pp. 258-259 (Vol. 4)
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[Pages 258-259, Vol. 4]
Translated by Chava Eisenstein
Donated by John Jaffer
A town in the Kretinga district, west of Lithuania, by the German border. Prior to World-War II, 700-800 Jews resided in Gargždai including, a few hundred refugees from the Memel district who fled to Gargždai once Memel was occupied by the Germans in 1939.
At the onset of the first day of war, on June 22, 3:05 AM, the German army stormed into the town aiming to take control of the bridge over the Minija river from where they can advance quickly towards the route to Telsze. It proved to not be a simple task. The Russian garrison, compiled of selected troops of the Border Watch didn't succumb, they battled the Germans heroically step by step. It was a house-to-house combat when many townspeople - Jews amongst them suffered injuries or worse by the fighting. Mendel Mann and Joseph Oshrowitz were from the first casualties. They were found dead behind the automatic machine-gun.
The town's inhabitants, Jews as well as non-Jews rushed to seek shelter. Some ran to the Minija river bank while others gathered in the brewery cellars which were in the center of town. They considered the cellars as a relatively safe hiding-place.
That day, between 10-11, the battle died down and the German army came into the city. The entire city was on fire. As the Germans were advancing towards the market square, they discovered the hideouts in the beer brewery cellars. They were all taken out to be concentrated in the city park. All Jews or non-Jews who were found during the day hiding in houses or in other places of the city, were brought there, to join them.
All day long they were kept at the park and left there to pass the night too.
In the meantime, the annihilation apparatus was being set up. Gargždai was only a few kilometers away from the German border, thus, being within the 25 kilometers-radius the Nazis intended for immediate extermination of all Jews and Communists. The head of the Gestapo in Tilsit, Hans-Joachim Boehme, delivered the fitting guidelines for that purpose from Stahlecker, to the Gestapo in Memel.
On the morning of June 23, Gestapo men from Memel arrived at Gargždai to commence the execution. They immediately turned to the crowd at the city park. Now began a selection between Jews and non-Jews who were let go free, except for a couple of Communist activists. All the Jews remained in detention.
With the devoted service of the loyal Lithuanian helpers, the Germans raided the homes in the town taking with them any Jew they found. Eager to demonstrate their faithfulness to the Germans, the Lithuanians began immediately oppressing the Jews, abusing them by beatings and threats. The Germans were more than happy to apply one of the instructions that Stahlecker gave them; to give the Lithuanians a free hand to do their job. Every Jew who fulfilled some kind of a position in the former Soviet government was beaten with unbelievable brutality. That's how Doctor Oxman was literally chopped into pieces, for his only sin of serving as a district physician for the Soviet government. The 200 seized men were taken towards the German border, to the rear of the garrison, on to the route leading from Gargždai to Laugaliai.
The Germans didn't let go of their grasp on the prisoners even for a moment. All day long they were being chased under shouting and battering. They were especially vicious to Rabbi Meir Lewin - Rabbi of Gargždai, by pushing, beating and abusing him. Some of the Jews were laboring at the ditches where they worked to make even deeper the anti-tank ditches. One of the ditches that stretched the whole length of the horse stables was to be made larger than the others. The German commander imagined that one of the young men was shirking. He ordered him out of the line and made him stand near a side ditch and then shot him dead; his body dropped into the ditch. That is how the day of June 23 was spent on the prisoners.
The next morning, on the 24th of June, 20 Gestapo and police men arrived from Memel and began the execution. The prisoners were taken under terror to the ditch they themselves were forced to expand the previous day, while a German was waving a grenade over their heads. The order was given, they were commanded to empty their pockets and place all their valuables into a pail.
In groups of ten they were marched to the very edge of the ditch. Facing them stood twenty Germans with rifles, every two murderers directing at one victim. Each was ordered to stand facing his exterminator. The commander of the team called out-loud their conviction: You are being shot to death in compliance to the command of the Fuehrer for your crimes against the German Army. A torrent of gunshots pierced the air and ten living humans fell to their death. The commanders passed by the victims to check if anyone was still breathing, anybody that didn't succumb entirely to death received a shot of mercy to his skull. Each new group that arrived had to clean the area and roll the bodies into the ditch.
Amongst the Jews, especially of Memel, there were many who were previously acquainted with their slaughterers, after all, they were their former neighbors. Disgusted and disdainful the Jews peered upon the Germans. None of them begged for mercy. With a silent prayer on their lips holding back a shout and a cry they went to their death. Tortured, humiliated, they couldn't believe their eyes that such action can be carried out. Sarcastically, one Jew from Memel mocked his former neighbor: Gustav, you better shoot well! Max Meirowitz, who spoke German fluently casted the Germans and titled them Tyrants, Filthy Swine. He announced that they murder clean innocent inmates solely for them being Jews. Their pure blood will not relent and will no doubt, take revenge!
That day, June 24, 1941, (the 29th of Sivan, 5,701) 201 people were murdered. One woman, the wife of a Russian commissar was added to the initial 200 men. At the Ulm-Trial it didn't become any clearer whether the woman came along with the group of men, or she was brought directly to the ditch. The 200 men were Jews from Gargždai, to whom a small number of Lithuanians and Communist activists were added.
We know that amongst the victims were the cattle merchants Funk and Sher, the three Korfman brothers, the industrialists Bernstein and Towar, the soap manufacturer Feinstein as well as Silber, Zundel, Cullman and Pristow.
Once the onslaught was over the murderers celebrated with beer and vodka, they took a joint picture and went home as though they were returning from an outing
Much worse was the fate of the women and children. After being separated from the men they were led out of the park and controlled by armed Lithuanians in the direction to the west of the city, past the Minija river, and brought to stay there in empty barns. Not all made it to the barns. Many children were slain during the journey; the butchers had their heads bashed in trees and rocks. Those who did arrive were heavily guarded. Groups of women were led each day to work. They weren't given food, and the starving children wallowed and chewed grass to quiet their hunger pangs. The inmates were kept in constant dreadful fear, day and night. Eyewitnesses reported later that one day the women were taken to where their husbands laid buried and were commanded to dance around their husband's graves. They were told that these are graves of horses.
On the 14th of September, 1941 (Elul 22, 5,701) the young women were separated and brought to Anelishke (a town near Gargždai), from there they were taken into the woods of Vėţaièiai which stretch between Gargždai and Kuliai, they were all murdered there. Two days later, on September 16th (Elul 24, 5,701) all the rest of the women and children were taken to Anelishke and led from there to the Vėţaièiai thicket. The massacre was carried out by the Lithuanian Activists in a brutal manner. Their beastly thirst knew no bounds, they battered the poor victims using iron shovels and bars and finished them off by shooting. Also at the Ulm Trial, the Lithuanian barbarism was pointed out.
In the midst of the massacre, Rachel Yammi, still alive, jumped into the pit. She laid there amongst the dead bodies until night fell when she managed to crawl out of the ditch. She was familiar with the Vėţaièiai village since she formerly resided there with her parents. Here she was picked up by the Lithuanian teacher Grizius, he sheltered her and looked after during the entire war. Later, she got married to her savior.
The list of the Mass Graves, published in The Mass Massacre in Lithuania part 2, has marked the graves in Gargždai as following:
Lithuania anthology, volume A.
L. Shauss, Letters to Y. Leshem, Yad Vashem archive.
Raschel Osher Testimony, Bnei-Brak (Herzog dist.).
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