Murder in Pushelat – The Ehud Barak Connection

by Howard Margol

In 1897, the population of Pushelat, Lithuania was 1,200 with 920 being Jewish. During the 1920's and 1930's, thirty Jewish families from Pushelat, were living in Jacksonville, Florida. Most of them had arrived around the turn of the century or soon thereafter.

[Click here to extend the picture]In 1911, a major fire occurred in Pushelat and the wooden synagogue burned down. Jews from Pushelat, in Jacksonville as well as those living elsewhere in America, sent money to Pushelat so a new synagogue could be built. It was decided that the Rabbi in Pushelat, Ruvin Brog, would hold the money until permission to build the new synagogue was obtained. Rabbi Brog, a pharmacy graduate of Vilnius University, owned the pharmacy in Pushelat. Unfortunately, two Lithuanian men found out about the money. On September 16, 1912 in the middle of the night, they robbed Rabbi Brog of the money and killed him and his wife, Frayda. A four-year-old son, Meir, had severe head bruises but survived. A 2-½ year old son, Isrol, was unhurt. An unborn child died with its mother, Frayda. No harm was done to Frayda's father, Fayvush Shemer, - an old paralyzed man who could not speak, and perhaps was considered to be not dangerous by the criminals.

[Click here to extend the picture As the two men ran out of the yard between the houses of Shemer and Brog, Chaya Zelda Kremer saw them. Frightened, she ran in the opposite direction and met Eliash Margolis who was going for water. Even today, the villagers in Pushelat get their water from wells as they have no indoor plumbing. Chaya Zelda told Eliash about the two men and showed him the direction they were going. He hurried in that direction, passed the two men, and recognized one of them as Mikhail Petrushkevich. At the same time, Chaya ran to Rabbi Brog's aunt, Mikhle Shemer, and told her what she had seen. The two women went to Rabbi Brog's house, climbed through a broken window, and found the bodies.

After learning what happened, and conducting an investigation, the police arrested Mikhail Petrushkevich and Leon Bogdanovich. Their trial was held in the city of Kaunas on September 10, 1913. The jury consisted of twelve Christians who were selected by drawing lots. Three judges presided over the trial. Russian was the official language and the court proceedings had to be recorded in Russian. Yoffe, from Kaunas and member of the court staff, served as translator as the Jews testified in Yiddish.

The Jews from Pushelat who testified at the trial were, Chaya Zelda Kremer, Mikhle Shemer, Mikhel Grin, Gelman Treisman, Gilel Lazarov, Girsh Rosenberg, Leyb Frank, Ayzik Frank, Eliash Margolis, Mikhlia Tauba Viten, Minda Kats, Ruvin Ligum, Girsh Levin, Itsik Zhuk, Mendel Geller, Abram Grin.

A resident of Panevezys, Itslia Brog, (daughter of Vigder and mother of Rabbi Brog) also testified.

At the end of the one-day trial, the members of the jury found both men guilty of murder in the 1st degree. It was the duty of the three judges to decide what the punishment would be. They sentenced them to 15 years of penal servitude - the mildest possible punishment for this offense. The following year, World War I began and most prisoners were released from prison. In all probability, Petrushkevich and Bogdanovich only served a year or so of their sentence.

[Click here to extend the picture]
[Click here to extend the picture] Some years later, the two sons of Rabbi Brog, Meir and Isrol, went to live in Palestine. Today, they are both living in Israel and have families. One of Isrol's sons is Ehud Barak, who later became the Prime Minister of Israel.

(Author's note: One of the key witnesses, Eliash Margolis, was Howard Margol's great uncle – the brother of Howard's paternal grandfather).

[Click here to extend the picture]  

Translation from the original police report, autopsy report, and court records of the trial was done by Vitalija Girchyte, Chief Archivist, Kaunas Archive, Kaunas, Lithuania.

Kaunas Archive - Fond I-79, inventory 3, file 4186, pages 2-6:

Bill of indictment in the case of Mikhail Petrushkevich, son of Mikhail, and Leon Bogdanovich, son of Liudvik.

On September 16, 1912, about 5 o'clock in the morning, Girsh Rosenberg, resident of estate Matkunai of Panevezys uyezd, 4 "versta" from Pusalotas, was going to Pusalotas to the owner of local pharmacy Ruvin Brog, as he needed medicine for his eye which bruised in a scuffle the night before. When he reached Brog's house, he knocked several times on the door of the shop, but nobody answered, so he went to the back of the house, where a shed ("kuchka") was attached to it, to knock on the window of the Brog's flat. At that time two men jumped out of the window of Brog's flat into the shed and ran out through the back door; one of them, a tall man, said to the other in Lithuanian "let's hurry". It was dark in the shed, and Rosenberg did not see the faces, but he recognized resident of Pusalotas Mikhail Petrushkevich by his female – like voice. Presuming, that these were criminals who wanted to rob the Brogs, Rosenberg hurried to the house of his Uncle Mikhel Grin, who lived in the same town, and told him about the thieves.

On the same morning the resident of Pusalotas Chaya Zelda Kremer wanted to enter into the yard of Shemers and Brogs, but at that time two men ran out of the gates of the yard, turned left and headed towards the leather factory. Kremer was so frightened by the unexpected appearance of these two people, which she did not look at their faces, and she turned back at once. She met Eliash Margolis, who was going for the water, and told him that she had seen some people who came out of the gates, and showed the direction they went. Margolis hurried in the same direction, passed them, recognized that one of them was Mikhail Petrushkevich, and went back to the well. At that time Chaya Kremer ran to Brog's aunt – Mikhle Shemer, whom she also told about these two people. Two women thought that somebody might have spent the night in Brog's shed, but when they went to Brog's flat, they noticed a broken window and two candlesticks lying on the ground, so they started knocking on the door. Nobody answered so Kremer and after her – Shemer, entered the house and saw the chest of drawers open, linen strewn on the floor. Ruvin Brog was lying on the floor and wheezed, his head was covered with a pillow. The dead body of Frayda Brog was lying on the bed.

Itsik Zhuk told that when he was returning home late at night, he saw Leon Bogadanovich and Mikhail Petrushkevich slowly walking near Brog's house.

Having learned of what had happened, local police "uriadnik" Anton Buyvol came to Brog's house and found in the house a pintle (bolt? bar?" shkvoren" in Russian) which must have been used to hit the Brogs. In the shed he found a foot-cloth smeared with wheel –grease, in the vegetable garden – a pair of old high boots.

On the same day, "pristav" (higher police official) of the 3 rd "stan" (police precinct) of Panevezys uyezd Viktorovsky, arrived at Pusalotas. He established that the criminals got into Brog's flat through the window, having covered the glass with wheel-grease and then pushing it; having killed Frayda Brog and wounded Ruvin Brog, who died soon without recovering consciousness. They also caused light injuries to Meyer, 4 year-old son of Brogs, but did not do anything to the father of Frayda Brog – an old paralyzed man who could not speak, and perhaps was considered to be not dangerous by the criminals.

Having questioned local residents on September 17, the pristav found out that on that night Mikhail Petrushkevich came to Pusalotas with two women – Anna Narbut and Alexandra Beliavsky; they all visited local town dweller Leon Bogdanovich who not long ago had driven Brog to Panevezys to receive the money.

The same pristav also conducted a search of the house of Bogdanovich, and found hidden in the hay, wrapped in a kerchief, a wet towel, which looked as if it had been used to wipe hands covered with blood. Chemical analysis made by the Medical Department of Kaunas Gubernia Administration, proved that this towel was smeared with blood.

The autopsy of the bodies of Ruvin and Frayda Brog showed the following. On the body of Ruvin Brog two wounds were found – on the left side of his forehead and on the left temple where the bones were broken; the bones of the base of the skull were also broken; left cheek and left collar-bone were bruised.

On the body Frayda Brog two wounds on the forehead and one on the left temple were found, the skull was cracked and broken; there was one wound beneath the left eye; autopsy showed that she was six months pregnant. The doctor came to the conclusion that injuries were made with some hard blunt object; besides two bruises of Ruvin Brog and a light wound beneath the eye of Frayda Brog, all the injuries are qualified as heavy and causing danger to life. The cause of death of both Brogs was concussion of brain.

Itslia Brog, mother of Ruvin Brog, living in Panevezys was questioned and she testified, that having checked the property found in her son's house, she found that 75 rubles that she gave her son to keep for her, are missing, as well as bills for 500 rubles.

According to the testimony of Mikhel Grin, the resident of Pusalotas, Ruvin Brog was in charge of the construction of a school in Pusalotas, he was receiving money for this purpose and all local people knew about it. Two weeks before the murder, Grin went to Panevezys, and on the road was passed by Brog, who was driven to Panevezys by Leon Bogdanovich. In Panevezys, Brog found Grin in the inn and asked Grin to drive him home, as he was afraid to go back with Bogdanovich whom he considered to be a bad man.

As Ruvin Ligum (age 50 – son of Shevel Eliash), and Girsh Levin(age 43 – son of Ovsey, also called Dragun), testified, the pintle, with which the Brogs were killed, looked very much like the pintle which was stolen from Levin's cart , which stood in the yard of Ligum's house.

Gilel Lazarov testified that on September 16, 1912, about 12'clock at night, he was going through Pusalotas on his way to Panevezys and saw Mikhail Peterushkevich coming out of the yard of Ruvin Ligum with some woman, and he was carrying some metal thing in his hands. He also testified that high boots found in Brog's vegetable garden, looked like the high boots of Leon Bogdanovich. He used to see Bogdanovich often, as the latter sold goods in the market near the house of Lazarov. These high boots appeared to be small to Mikhail Petrushkevich, but fitted perfectly to Leon Bogdanovich. According to expert people, they looked as if Bogdanovich had worn them.

The defendants Mikhail Petrushkevich and Leon Bogdanovich pleaded not guilty and explained:

Petrushkevich: On September 14, 1912, in the evening he took Anna Narbut, sister of Leon Bogdanovich, and Alexandra Beliavsky from Seduva to Pusalotas. They spent the night in Panevezys and came to Pusalotas on September 16, at 4 o'clock in the morning. He took the women to Bogdanovich, then went home and went to sleep. He did not enter the town and learned about the murder of the Brog family only in the morning. He claimed he did not know whom the pintle, high boots, foot-cloth and the towel belonged to.

Bogdanovich: On September 16, 1912, Petrushkevich brought to his house Anna Narbut, the lover Petrushkevich, and Alexandra Beliavsky, and went home at once. After about an hour Bogdanovich heard some cries in the town, went outside and learned about the murder of the Brogs. About two weeks ago he had taken Brog to Panevezys and Brog refused to go back with his cart, as he was taking some load. Bogdanovich stated that he did not know whom the pintle, high boots and foot-cloth belonged to. As to the towel found in his barn, he said that it was not his and must have been put into his barn by some Jews on purpose, to arouse the suspicion that he was guilty of the murder of the Brogs.
On interrogation Alexandra Beliavsky and Anna Narbut confirmed that they arrived at Pusalotas at 4 o'clock at night . Petrushkevich went home, and they had tea in the house of Bogdanovich and then went to sleep; none of them went to town or to the house of Petrushkevich.

The neighbor of Brogs, Itsik Zhuk (age 32 – son of Mikhel and married to the cousin of Brog's wife), testified that about 2-3 o'clock on that night he saw off his father who was taking apples to Panevezys. On returning home, he saw Leon Bogdanovich and Mikhail Petrushkevich walking slowly near the house of Brog and his own house. He even wanted to ask them what they were doing in the middle of the night, but they quickly went away, so he went home to sleep.

According to the copy of the verdict of the judge of the 2 nd district of Siauliai town of March 20, 1912, Mikhail Petrushkevich was sentenced for 5 months of prison for larceny and served the penalty till August 20, 1912.

On the basis of the above testimony, town dweller of Pusalotas, Mikhail Petrushkevich, son of Mikhail, 30 years old, and town dweller of Panevezys, Leon Bogdanovich, son of Liudvik, 29 years old, are charged with the crime specified in paragraphs 13 and 4 of article 1453 of the Code of Penalties. Having agreed beforehand to rob Ruvin Brog and his family and kill them, with some blunt object caused injuries to Ruvin and Frayda Brog, which resulted in brain concussion and death of both Brogs, and stole 75 rubles and bills 500 rubles worth.

Mikhail Petrushkevich and Leon Bogdanovich, according to paragraph 201 of the Statute of Criminal Court, should be brought to trial in Kaunas Regional Court with the participation of the jury on April 30, 1913 in Panevezys. Confirmed by Vilnius Court Chamber on May 24, 1913. Pages 12-15. Three judges presided at the trial - F.I.Krivitsky, F.P.Dauguvet, and the chairman, F. M. Rapoport (Jewish?)

Testimonies of witnesses interrogated by pristav on September 16-17:

  1. Chaya Zelda Kremer (age 40), daughter of Itsik, resident of Pusalotas: On September 16, at about 5 o'clock in the morning, I got up early to see if the letter I wrote to my husband who lived abroad was taken. I went into the yard and saw two unknown men leaving Brog's house. I got frightened, and did not say anything to them, but one of them said to me "mummy", and they walked down Platsevaya Street. They both were dressed in black overcoats, with their collars up, so I could not see their faces well – I saw them only from the back. I went home, but got suspicious that they had done something evil, so I went to the yard and saw lying on the floor in the shed a Jewish garment used while praying and a candlestick. The window of the Brog's flat was open, but when I wanted to enter, the door appeared to be closed. Then I got into the flat through the window, and saw a terrible sight: Frada Brog was lying dead on the bed – the woman who was with me started moving her, but she did not say anything; we lifted the kerchief and saw blood. I was so frightened I did not notice Ruvin Brog. I ran into the yard and started shouting. I did not see the elder son, but the younger was lying near his mother. The criminals must have closed the shutters of Zhuk's house, as they were not closed in the evening. I did not hear any noises or cries for help that night. I did not recognize the criminals, and did not see anybody else but these two men. Signed by Ayzik Frank for illiterate Chaya Zelda Kremer.

  2. Mikhlia Shemer (age 70), daughter of Mishel and aunt of Rabbi Brog, resident of Pusalotas: On September 16, about 5 o'clock in the morning, Chaya Zelda Kremer asked me to go to Brogs - she was suspicious, as the window of their flat was open. But the door was locked, so Chaya Zelda climbed through the window and opened the door for me. We entered the room, it was silent, then I started moving Frada Brog, but she did not answer, we lifted the kerchief which was covered with blood, but she did not breathe, she was dead. Ruvin Brog was lying on the floor, covered with pillows, so I took them off. Ruvin Brog was in convulsions, covered with blood, and he could not speak. The elder son of Brogs was heavily beaten and was lying on his father's bed. The younger son was lying near his mother. I did not see the criminals and did not hear any noise or cries for help. For illiterate Mikhlia Shemer, signed Shmuel Beloon.

  3. Mikhel Grin (age 52), son of Iosel, resident of Pusalotas: On September 5, I was going to Panevezys, and on the road was passed by Ruvin Brog, who was driven by the suspicious man, Leon Bogdanovich. In the evening of the same day I met Brog in town, and he asked me to take him back to Pusalotas. I answered that my cart is heavily loaded, so he stayed in Panevezys for the night. I asked him why didn't he go back with Bogdanovich, and he answered that he was afraid of him, as he had received from Panevezys rabbi 200 rubles for the construction of the school, and it was a mistake to go from Pusalotas with Bogdanovich. The latter knew about the money. Leon Bogdanovich is really a suspicious man, a good friend of Mikhail Petrushkevich, a thief. Petyrushkevich has threatened to kill Pusalotas Jews. I suspect Petrushkevich, Bogdanovich, Anna Narbut and the other women who had come from Panevezys in the murder of the Brogs.

  4. Gelman Treisman (age 45), son of Shimen Itsik, resident of Pusalotas: On September 16 I got up at 3 o'clock in the morning and went to the town to feed the horse, as I wanted to go to the country, and I saw Mikhail Petrushkevich with some woman walking in the town. I do not know anything else.

  5. Gilel Lazarov (age 60 or 66), son of Movsha, resident of Pusalotas: Early in the morning on September 16, at 3-4 o'clock, I was going to Panevezys, and I saw Mikhail Petrushkevich coming out of the yard of Ruvin Ligum with some metal thing in his hands. There was some woman with Petrushkevich and they went to the town. I went to Panevezys and do not know anything else.

  6. Girsh Rosenberg, son of Leyb, resident of Pusalotas: On September 15 by folly I damaged my eye; it was very painful, so early in the morning of September 16 I went to Pusalotas pharmacy for medicine. It was about 4 – 4.30 in the morning. I was knocking at the door of the pharmacy, when I noticed two men who ran into the vegetable garden. I recognized one as Mikhail Petrushkevich. I did not recognize the other one. They both were dressed in black overcoats; Petrushkevich said in Lithuanian "let's hurry". I ran quickly to my Uncle Mikhel Grin and woke him up, and then we went to Brog's house, where already were people.

  7. Leyb Frank (age 63), son of Abram, resident of Pusalotas: On September 16, when the Brogs were murdered, both Jews and Christians were interested in what had happened, though people were afraid to look at the dead. But when Mikhail Petrushkevich was passing by, he just lowered his head, but did not ask anybody about what had happened, and did not look at the Brog's house, while many people were crying, shouting and there was a great commotion. Besides, Petrushkevich is a well-known thief and crook.

  8. Itslia Brog, daughter of Vigder, resident of Panevezys: On September 5 my son Ruvin came to me from Pusalotas, and I gave him my 75 rubles and a golden watch of my other son worth 80 rubles. When I learned about the murder, I came to Pusalotas, but found neither money nor the watch. As I live in Panevezys, I do not know anything else. Signed R.Ligum.

  9. Eliash Margolis, son of Leyb, resident of Pusalotas: On September 16, at 4.30 – 5 o'clock in the morning I went for the water for tea and met a Jewish woman who told me that two unknown people had walked out of the flat of Brog. I caught up with them and recognized Mikhail Petrushkevich; the other, a woman, was in a long overcoat with its collar up. I did not suspect anything, but after half an hour I learned that the Brogs were killed.

  10. Mikhlia Tauba Viten (age 18), daughter of Mortkhel, resident of Pusalotas: On September 15 in the evening some woman I did not recognize came into the shop and bought wheel grease for 15 kopecks.

  11. Francishka Shchavinskaya, daughter of Yuri, resident of Pusalotas: On September 16, about 6 o'clock in the morning, Anna Narbut came to the inn and bought two bottles of vodka, saying that she had guests.

  12. Minda Kats (age 19), daughter of Khaykel and cousin of Frayda Brog, resident of Pusalotas. Testified that Mikhail Petrushkevich went to the house Brogs about 2-3 weeks before the murder, as if to visit the paralyzed father of Frayda Brog, Fayvush.

  13. Mendel Geller (age 47), son of Izrael – on his way from Panevezys to Pusalotas on September 16, met two suspicious young men, one of them dressed in black.

  14. Ayzik Frank (age 19), son of Leyb – he and Abram Grin went to the house of Bogdanovich with the police.

On September 16, 1912 in Pumpenai, pristav of the 3 rd stan of Panevezys uyezd and pharmacist's assistant Pavel Vederis, examined Meir Brog, son of Ruvim, 4 years old. He found that the boy had two wounds – on the left side of the back of his head and on the left side of his forehead; the skull must be broken, there is bleeding from the left ear.

Sadly, Isrolik Brog passed away on Friday, February 8, 2002 at 2:30 a.m. at the age of 91.
His funeral took place at Kibbutz Mishmar Hasharon in Israel.

Howard Margol, President of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies, was born and grew up in Jacksonville, Florida. His father, Morris Margol (nee Margolis) was born in Pushelat.

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