The arrival of the Holocaust
by Yosef Meltzman
Translated by Mira Eckhaus
Edited by Erica S. Goldman-Brodie
In the summer of 1939, I finished seventh grade at the Tarbut Gymnasium in Vilna named for Dr. Epstein.
I meant to return to my parents' house, to the town, to spend my last vacation there. My plan was clear and explicit: not to take the matriculation exams because I was not fluent in the Polish language, the Polish I spoke was too meager for me to obtain a government certificate while the Hebrew University of Jerusalem would probably accept me based on an internal certificate from the school office. The joy of freedom and the hidden sadness that it would be my last vacation in town accompanied me as I walked to the bus stop on Uzhushkova Street in Vilna. The passengers gathered slowly: merchants who woke up early that day and came to Vilna to do their shopping, patients whom the doctor at Olkeniki could not cure, some gentiles from the nearby villages and students who just like me returned to town. As the bus started moving after everyone finished placing all their packages, the passengers began to talk to each other. The main issue we discussed was the danger of moving the market from the center of town to the suburbs. I knew from my grandfather, may he rest in peace, that this issue had been discussed for over a year in the Gemina (the local authority).
Anti-Semitism in the town increased day by day. The living spirit in this movement was a Polish officer, from Olkeniki's garrison. He organized the Polish society in the town, the army and police officers, the officials of the Leshnitzabu (Forest Ministry) and others. His action began to give its signals. Layzer Varmen, may God avenge him lived for many years, in front of the church. His store was known to all. The house was rented to him on behalf of the Christian Church. He paid rent every year, but he suddenly received an order that he must vacate both his apartment and his shop. In this house, which was at the entrance to the market, a Polish grocery store was about to be open in all its splendor, whose main function would be to compete with the Jewish shops and take from them their only livelihood their daily revenue of the market day and the fairs. The Lithuanian farmers were in no hurry to abandon the shops of their Jewish acquaintances, but nevertheless the Jews of the town felt the competition intensely in their daily revenue.
The second action which was directed against the Jewish merchant in the town was the meticulous guarding of the police, so that the Jews would not trade on Sundays, when the market is filled with farmers' carts, who had come to church. Throughout the years, the farmers would find an opportunity to enter a Jewish shop, to buy something. The fear of the protocols, revocation of the license and other punishments added to the atmosphere of fear and anxiety.
The bus reached Polokani, which is located halfway between Vilna and the town. Some of the passengers went out to the hostel for a drink and a sip of air, and then returned to their seats and conversation. This time they talked about the taxes and the collector (scostrator), who confiscated furniture from one Jew, and a cow from another. We reached the dirt road, which led to the forest and the town. We would soon get home, and meet up with the friends I had not seen in a long time and I would be in the homey and cozy town atmosphere.
The summer was unusually hot. During the day, you did not see people in the market. Anyone who could free up some time and head out to the Marchenka River, did so willingly. This summer, only few campers came to town. The danger of war hovered in the air, and people were in no hurry to leave the city. The center of social life in the town was the library, which housed the Hachalutz Hatzair branch, the only youth movement operating in the town at that time. Our class, my peers, who were born in 1921-1924, included over 30 members. We were most enthusiastic for social and cultural action, by the power of the organization and the cohesiveness, which had often been praised by the center. The great contribution of Yoske Senzhnik, may God avenge him, who was the living and active spirit of the movement, should be noted. He was the head of the committee from the day of its inception until that bitter day, when the Russians came and we had to pack our archives and buried them in one of the corners of the library yard. As a high school student, I was mainly assigned various cultural tasks, such as conducting conversations, arranging evenings of questions and answers, parties, and the like.
To this day I remember the desire of my friends for knowledge, who brought to the evenings of questions and answers, harsh foreign words, complicated izmim, which I did not know their meaning, and I was helped by a special dictionary that was in the library.
Keren Kayemet's activities in the town were carried out by Hachalutz Hatzair, as well as the distribution of Zionist and pioneering newspapers and more.
We conducted an important operation among the younger youth, those who were aged 12-14 in 1939. Their number exceeded 50. They were all alert and lively boys, with passion for life and knowledge. The branch was always buzzing with the sound of their singing and dancing. At the same time the drama circle was operating in town. The living spirit in this circle was Michael Pollack, may God avenge him, and the old group of the town's people with passion for the stage: Karpowitz, Willin, Vorman, Fayvel Shmarkowitz, Idel Wolofiansky, the son-in-law of the late S. Yashur,
and Leibchik Copens, may he live long. A new generation of teenagers had risen, who slowly found their way to the stage and important roles. One should see and observe their passion when they repeated their roles, and those who did not participate helped to collect props, bring furniture, install seats and so on.
All proceeds from the plays had always been donated to the library for the purchase of new books in Hebrew and Yiddish.
Even in this area there was no shortage of conflicts and disputes in town. There was a talented and energetic Jew in the town, for whom the town was a too small place for his operation. He expanded his shop in the stone house, competed with other merchants, who hated him for that, put the first bus into town and wanted to have influence in the town's institutions as well. He chose Gmiluth Chesed as his first goal and achieved a majority in it. He was elected as its chairman, with his main supporters being his relatives and those he supported financially. His next goal was to expand his influence on the community committee, the library, the bank, etc. Of course, factions and disagreements arose around his personality and action. These problems preoccupied mainly the adults, while the youth was occupied with the drama circle that he founded in order to increase his influence in the community. He himself showed great acting capacity. Library trustees interfered with him and competed with him. The envy between the circles increased the number of plays, which added interest to the quiet life of town.
In mid-August 1939, the newspapers brought alarming and ominous news. The few radios that were in town became centers of gatherings in the evenings. And in September 1, 1939, the thing we feared the most arrived! War! The town was changed at once. Everyone spoke all the time about the war. They all walked around full of worry and anxiety. The walls of the houses were covered with huge notices of general recruitment. Groups of Nazi planes flew in the direction of Vilna. We saw them clearly. Echoes of distant explosions reached us. Crying and mourning burst forth from many homes. Their beloved ones should enlist. Here Yoske Pickelny said goodbye to his parents - the victim that the town sacrificed in this short war. Here went Heshka Pinon, who instructed us a lot in Hachalutz Hatzair. He lost a finger in this war, and was later captured. Many more enlisted, over twenty boys and fathers to children. Poles and Lithuanians also went to the army, and the cries of their parents and relatives were also added to the depressed atmosphere in town.
The radio of Vorman, who moved to a house next to ours, picked up instructions for the Polish Air Force. Strange language, the code language, but enough to terrify us. The garrison of Olkeniki also received an order to join the fights. They came together for a solemn prayer in the church. I can still remember the expressions of these soldiers. Serious and sad faces. A young corporal rode a beautiful horse, galloping and spinning the line, speeding up those behind and passing instructions. He was perhaps the only living spirit in the whole company that we have met many times in festive orders and in the beautiful march to the church on holidays.
Nervousness was everywhere. Instructions and orders appeared one after the other. Animal feed had to be provided as well as meat. The military suppliers took everything they needed. The first news from the front arrived. The city of Westerplata, which was in the Danzig corridor, surrendered after desperate resistance. On Sunday, the first day of the war, a solemn prayer was held in the church. Many hung flags and there was a lot of crying. The Jews were also crowded near the church gate. They were very worried about the situation. That first night nobody in town could sleep. The doctor organized a first aid course, and we, the young people, came to it every day to study. Police ordered digging trenches in a zigzag manner, and the order was carried out diligently. People went to pray in the synagogue more often. On the third day of the war, they began to worry about their property. The news announced that the Germans were advancing rapidly. My late father began digging an underground warehouse to hide goods and property. Others did the same. Tension was rising day by day. The Poles were retreating west towards the Lithuanian border. Olkeniki, which had always been calm and without any traffic, was crowded with a Polish retreating army. Their path led to Orani - to the Lithuanian border.
Indeed, it was the irony of fate. Only a short time before, the Poles roared in Vilna and Olkeniki to their commander Reidz Shmigli: The leader walks with us, towards Kovno! And now they turned there. The radio announced that the Russian army had crossed the eastern border of Poland, to liberate the western provinces of Russia.
There was complete chaos. Polish army officers boycotted everything possible. They caught and arrested Hantke the Christian, the town's veteran photographer, who was accused of espionage. There were all kinds of stories about Folksdeutsche spies. Indeed, he is also among the spies! The Poles beat him in the middle of the market square. In many houses they boiled water and served tea to the soldiers. There were also Jews among them. The Poles lacked fodder for horses, and they threatened to set fire in town if they were not provided with food. The town's people were trying as much as possible to supply what was required. The Russian army was approaching.
The Olkeniki police headquarters was ready for evacuation. It invited representatives of the Jewish community. The commandant did not hide anything. He said: Tonight or tomorrow the Soviets will arrive. We're leaving right away. If you do not receive a weapon and do not take care of the guarding, riots will break out. Guarding was organized voluntarily. I was among the guards, my family was afraid of the long rifle I received, a rifle without a belt. I received
3 bullets in the pocket. I never loaded a rifle, and did not know how to use the bullets, but it felt nice to stroke it. (Afterwards I bragged about this guarding night to my friends at the gymnasium). My partner in guarding was the late Moshe Goldman. We circled the town many times. We decided among ourselves that if we felt that Russians were coming, we would hide our weapons so that they would not accuse us of rebellion…
The night passed quietly. Our shifts changed every two hours until dawn. The next day was full of anticipation. These were the last days of the month of Elul. Rosh Hashanah is approaching. Who knows what the new year would bring, the year 5700. The anxiety of the Days of Awe, the days of changes in the world filled the town. Who were the Russians? What would they bring? How would they treat us? What would happen to the synagogue? The library? The school, etc. ? Crucial and fundamental questions arose, but people were afraid to ask and talk about them. Among the town's Jews a new face suddenly appeared, only a few, but smiling and happy. They were those among the townspeople who really waited for their arrival…
That day, at 5 in the evening, suddenly, without being noticed, 2 light armored vehicles arrived from the side of the train station. They passed quickly through Podklestor (behind the church), and stopped in the middle of the market with a creak. The turrets opened and two young officers jumped out of them chanting Zdravstvita Tvarishchi - Hello friends. The children came first and after them adults began to surround them. The son-in-law of Feiga-Liba di Bakarka's, who barely made a living all her life and more than once enjoyed secret charity giving, started shouting loudly in the street: Long live Comrade Stalin! - and kissing them … we stood and looked at him in fear mixed with amazement. The Russian soldiers promised that the army will arrive in a day or two. They ordered us to continue with the guarding and walked away.
The life in town were conducted with annoyed anticipation. It was Rosh Hashana 5700. The synagogue was full. The youth were not attentive, the eyes were occasionally turned towards the bridge. They would come from there, but when? They finished reading the Torah and prepared for the Musaf. A rumor soon spread that a large army convoy, including cannons and tanks, was already on the edge of town and would soon reach the market. The synagogue was emptied. Youth and curious landlords went to the market. They reached the market square and stopped. Young soldiers dressed in simple gray uniform. It was not possible to distinguish between an officer and a soldier. Everyone was kind and polite. Many of the Jews among them were Yiddish-speakers. We started a conversation with them, we spoke broken Russian and Yiddish. They came with the news of liberation. They liberated us, that's true. The Germans had already reached Bialystok, and the terror of the Nazi killer had meanwhile passed. We rejoiced of the liberators and honored them with light refreshments. Some of us did even simple business with them. One of us had a watch that did not excel in precision. It cost 16 zlotys and he sold it for 20 rubles. And so came days full of experiences and full with events. The Russians came to us in mid-September while the transfer of the area to Lithuania took place in late October. It was a month of excitement at the new regime. Every evening films were shown in the market square, films of the Revolution. We liked the Russian marching songs and we sang them willingly. The soldiers, the thousands of them who passed through the town towards the Lithuanian border, bought the stock of goods in the shops. I remember that a quartermaster officer bought all the kerosene lamps from us, lanterns and candlesticks, which we had given up selling long time ago. They bought everything, without bargaining and without checking the quality of the goods. The shopkeepers soon realized this and began to hide the goods. Suddenly they were no so happy having shoppers, they tried to close the store or forgot toopen it. These days there was no shortage of public meetings, speeches full of enthusiasm and promises, celebrations and artistic performances among the soldiers. By mid-October, there was no longer any denial that the Vilna region, and especially the Troika region, would be passed to independent Lithuanian authority, based on an agreement between the Soviet government and the Lithuanian Revolutionary government in 1919. I planned to return to Vilna and continue my studies at the gymnasium. I returned willingly. I knew that the horror of Poland was over, it would be easier for me to learn Lithuanian because I was used to hearing the language and I even spoke it a little. A few days before the Lithuanian army entered, I moved to Vilna to continue my studies.
As mentioned, there were many in town the Red Army aroused great excitement and many hopes in them. Those who till now did not stand out and worked in the factory in Solche or elsewhere, youth who had not seen a future with the existing regime and had high hopes for the new regime. The transfer of the area again to a non-socialist state greatly depressed them, but not to the point of leaving the place. They spoke with envy of Radon or Lida who remained in Belarus, but in contrast to them, the members of our youth movement, Hachalutz Hatzair, and the town's elders, businessmen, shop owners and synagogue trustees, who referred to the transfer to Lithuania as a miracle from heaven. The Lithuanian army, full of pride, advanced to Vilna in several lines. One arm of this line has moved along the way: Olita- Varna (Oran) - Olnkeniki - Vilna.
It was part of the Wolves Regiment, a glorious unit of the Lithuanian army, whose commander was later a well-known general in the Red Army during World War II.
While they parked at Olkeniki, some of them, or those from nearby villages, apparently got drunk and threw stones at Jewish windows. This act of throwing stones affected a large group of people from our town, who left the town the next day, on the way to the Russian area. Among them were the Sagalov brothers, Michael Pollack, Hirsch Mark, the Copens family, the Belon brothers and others.
In the meantime, those who were recruited into the Polish army began to return from the fights. They returned tired, shattered and ashamed. But there were also those who did not return. The Picklani family was very worried about their eldest son, Yosef. The father was restless. He traveled, asked and investigated, sent letters, and got evasive answers. The town shared in the family's pain and strived to comfort it.
A huge enterprise, the redemption of prisoners and the provision of aid to them, became the center of public action in town. A new concept from one book or another appeared: Stalag (short for Soldaten lager). Jewish soldiers were taken prisoner by the Germans and they cried for help, hungry for bread, and striving for kindness and comfort. According to a special agreement between Nazi Germany and the Lithuanian government, each family was allowed to send a package to a prisoner. A public committee was organized in town, headed by my grandfather, peace be upon him, Reb Chaim Cohen, Reb Yossi Levin (yasel dam rebes), the rabbi's son-in-law. The executive team, the one in charge of collecting the food, mainly toast and sausage, were Hachalutz Hatzair activists, Yoske Senzhnik, I, Eliyahu Karban and others. This sacred work was more important than any other work. We went from house to house and collected food. We were mainly interested in food that would not spoil. The large stove in the Mizrotsky house was always at our disposal. Reb Eliyahu Borman's house, next to the post office, was the place of packing. There they wrote addresses, according to a list they brought from Vilna. There was no home that was not a part of this action. Everyone was involved in this action. Thank you cards from the prisoners arrived and we were proud of that. The town had only one prisoner, Hershka Pinon, a prisoner of Stalag. He would be released soon under a special agreement. This action eliminated in a flash all the conflicts we had thus far with Yasel Dam Rebes and others, who saw us as traitors and as bringing trouble to the Jews. They did not contribute to the JNF and interfered with Zionist action in the town, but the love of Israel finally brought us closer, and I do not remember days of satisfaction, better than those days, the days of sending the packages to our prisoners.
The period of Lithuanian rule in Olkeniki lasted from the end of October 1939 to the end of June 1940, that is less than a year. In the same year, Lithuania served as a refuge for tens of thousands of Jewish refugees, who hoped to find shelter there, and from there emigrate abroad. Aid and rescue committees were established and although the town did not serve as a place for passing the border illegally (like Eishyshok), they still supported the refugees with money and food as much as they could. The economic situation in the town was improved. The Lithuanians treated the Jews sympathetically and directed their anger towards the Poles, especially the officials, part of whom were fired from their positions. Life was bustling as usual and the institutions were operating as before. Hachlutz Hatzair, the library, the bank and the Gmiluth Chesed, the synagogue, the community committee, and the school continued their activities. Life returned to normal.
Unencouraging letters began to arrive across the Russian border. They had no reason to be happy. Many of them were spread far and wide, to Magnitogorsk and other Ural cities.
For me, the opportunity to continue my studies at the university was available again. In the Eretz Israel office, on Pohulanka Street in Vilna, all the papers were arranged for me. A few more classmates were about to leave with me. The new Lithuanian rulers tried to make themselves important. They kept order and kept everything clean. In Vilna there were many jokes about the new language but we learned it in the gymnasium. Classes were formed in the city to acquire the language. Those from Olkeniki who studied in Vilna were knowledgeable in Lithuanian. They translated and chatted in broken, rural Lithuanian. This is how the school year of 5700, 1940 passed.
Lithuanian examiners came to the matriculation exams at the Hebrew Gymnasium Tarbut in Vilna. The history teacher, the late Dr. Heller, knew that I was from Olkeniki, and he wanted to please both the Lithuanian examiner and me. He asked me: what do I know about the war that was held near Olkeniki in 1700. This matter was well known to me because we talked about it in class. I told about the battle between the Safia House and the House of Radziwill and I received a very good grade in history. I was also the expert in Lithuanian and served as a consultant/translator to my friends.
The final tests were already behind us - the final party was scheduled for the end of June. We were photographed, and I was again, like the previous year, preparing to return home and then leave for Eretz Israel, for the Hebrew University. I ordered a carriage and traveled with my aunt, the late Friedel Maltzman, to Uzhushkova, to get on a bus and travel home. A crowd gathered near the Holz Mark (Tree Market), at Zolna Street, in front of Tarbut Hebrew School named after Dr. Epstein. Someone raised a red flag, someone shouted Long live! People sing the International. What is happening? After all, May 1st has already passed! We had lots of apprehensions as we headed to the bus. Something was happening, but what? The bus moved. Again, the same regular passengers as usual. Everyone was talking about the latest demonstration. Our bus left Vilna on the way to the main road, where everything became clear to us. Lines of Russian army, which did not deviate from its camps in Lithuania all year, set out to liberate the Pro-Baltic peoples. It was time to end the independent Lithuanian rule. There were stories about Samtona, the president, who fled to Germany, about the imprisoned army commander, about a people's government organized to welcome the Russians.
We came to town on the same day the new regime had begun. How different was the summer of 1940 from the summer of 1939. Again, a Russian army entered the town, but this time without drums and without dances. A new period in the history of the town has begun - July 1940 - July 1941, the year of Soviet rule in Olkeniki.
This new regime promoted a number of figures to head the institutions in town. The most important of them was Girblowski, a gentile who all his life worked as a passer in uprooting trees in the woods. He was of medium height, he had broad shoulders and pleasant manners, he was a member of the Communist Party underground. He handled the office of local council chairman, police chief and party's secretary. He had the power of speech, which was not used for many years and now he was given the opportunity to give weekly fiery speeches over the balcony of the Berkowski House. His partner for work in the woods was the late Chaim Goldman. Thanks to him and with his recommendation, Chaim was elected to the council, and was authoritative in many matters. Another activist figure at the time was a gentile from new Liponi named Yashek, who was also a member of the party and was loved by the farmers in the area due to his affable manner and very sharp language. In the field of youth organization, Motke Mark gained fame. We should dedicate a few lines to him.
Motke Mark, the eldest son of Rabbi Aharon Mark, a respected Jew and a talmid chacham (wise Judaica student), was born in 1919, shortly after the First World War. This age was not properly represented in the age strata in town. For the last ten years before the war, Motke's friends, and he too was among them, acted as an intermediate layer between the older ones, who formed Hachalutz branch in town and played important social roles in it - and those who were born in 1922-23, our age, who were in Hachalutz Hatzair and the trainees of the older ones. They, Motke and his friends, were not accepted by the Chalutz and it was not respectful enough for them to join us, therefore, he was at the time the organizer, the almighty commander of Beitar branch in the town. It was a kind of natural response to their feelings. In Beitar, there were no more than 10-15 people his age then, with Moshe Mairowitz, the eldest of them, who served as their guide and patron. I well remember the conflicts with them, the mutual disturbances surrounding the ownership of the club in the library, the shifts and the various rights in the public life of the youth. Motke acquired knowledge in various ways. He was in Vilna, studied a little, and his appearance was always respectful. In recent years, due to a bad economic situation at home, he came to Solche and became a laborer in the factory. There he was influenced by someone and people in town began to talk about his left leanings. They said he was organizing workers, that he was a member of the Communist Party but these were only rumors. He was also interrogated by the local police. When the Russians arrived, his qualities and personality were immediately discovered, and he was appointed as the head of the Komsomol in the town.
I remember that day, in the early summer of 1940, when a communist youth center came from Vilna and held a general youth meeting in the fire hall. As mentioned, we had all been members of Hachalutz Hatzair for years, some of us had been in training, and we knew that from now on we would have to hide our Zionist activities. We packed our entire archive, lists of friends, stamps, chips and movement literature in a wooden box, and in the evening, in the first days of the new regime, we buried everything near the library.
All of us arrived at the assembly. Of all the young people of town, there was only Motke who sat at the head, and of all the young gentiles in town, there was only one. The hall was full of our own youth. We had been told that it was obligatory to register, and whoever refused would be considered as an enemy of the new regime. At the door stood a small table and each of us signed his name. From that day on, we were called Komsomol. We were given a very important role: to help the town authorities register the property of the shop owners. The law stipulated that any store whose value of goods exceeds 15 thousand rubles, will be nationalized and transferred to the state. We split into squads and recorded everything. We did our job with overt dissatisfaction. I still remember the expression on the face of Nans, a poor shopkeeper in the market square, who barely made a living out of his shop in Kretschma, which was about to collapse. He was also among the ones we checked. It was a mockery!
Also in our family, my grandfather's iron shop, Reb Chaim Cohen, was registered. My father, rest in peace, had managed to hide some goods prior their arrival; but it turned out that in the meantime the store was not in danger of nationalization. The goods value in total reached twelve thousand rubles but the stores of Berkowski, Lazer Vorman and Reb Gad Sandman exceeded the above amount and were nationalized. Reb Gad was removed from the store and part of his apartment. They left him and his family the attic and some of his rooms. Vorman accepted the nationalization quietly, after all he had always dreamed of social justice. He made efforts to be considered as an ally and a fan of the new regime. He wanted to be elected to the local council and failed, but remained active in social life. He even stayed as a salesman in his store. Only the house of the late Shlomo Braz, which he bought before the war to expand his business, remained in his possession.
The center for all commercial affairs in the town passed to the grocery store. The same grocery store which was previously established by the anti-Semites to steal the livelihood of the town's Jews, now stole the livelihoods of the store owners who had not yet been nationalized. It's only reasonable that those who were once with Motke Mark in Betar became the executors of the new authorities and the most loyal collaborators. Times had changed and so had the concepts of genealogy and respect. Distinguished homeowners saw themselves as despicable
compared to young people who attained high positions. The synagogue was emptied of young people and deep sorrow was cast over my grandfather Reb Chaim Cohen, rest in peace, and those similar to him. For my grandfather, the new order was a very severe blow, depriving him of the joy of life. A person who all his life dealt with public affairs with faith, who was represented in almost all institutions, in the public committee, in Gemina, honorary treasurer of the fire brigade, bank manager, Shas society, elder Cohen and more - suddenly remained out of any public action, except Shas society. He did not seem at all as sorry for the loss of property as he was for closing the bank. The one he nurtured for 40 years. He did not talk about it but we saw that his health was weakening and his energy was declining. There were no real proletarians in the town except for a few who worked in the factory in Solche, whereas the desire to be called a laborer was the desire of many. It was Chaim Goldman who initiated an organization of cart owners, who would transport the cardboard from Solche to the train station and the wooden beams from the forests to the factory. Such an organization (artel) would give citizens like my late father and the like, the opportunity to leave the store and engage in productive and respectable work (or owning a cart!)
In our house there were many doubts about my future. All the dreams about Jerusalem vanished. Some new way had to be found. The University of Vilna accepted anyone of the proletariat who wanted to study. My father decided to buy a horse and cart, to enroll in the Cardboard Carriers' Organization, in order for me to have the social qualifications I needed to be admitted to university. And so he did. This work was beyond his powers, but he carried on all that year, until the outbreak of the war. And I, thanks to the proletarian father, was accepted to the university, received a scholarship of 2000 rubles a month - an amount that was far beyond my needs, and most important, I was awarded a room in the magnificent student house in Vilna.
The Cardboard Carriers' Organizationwas truly one of the most organized in town. Its office was in Chaim Goldman's house, and every evening you could see the Wezex (tree carriers) gathering. There were alsoartels of artisans and others.
The new regime nevertheless brought about a number of positive changes in the town. I still remember myself as a single gymnasium student for a few years (Leibale Katz and Leibale Borman learned with me). At the end of that summer, dozens of teenagers left for Vilna to study there. My sister, Sarah-Hanhaleh, who was 12 years old, and her friends (about 15 in number) came to Vilna and were admitted to various gymnasiums, to the Technion, to vocational schools. My friends, Yoske Senzhnik, Eliyahu Karban and Binush Moschnik, studied and worked in Vilna, as did many others. The desire to study, to learn, and especially the possibilities that opened up before them, made them forget about all the other things that year.
Of all the important events of that year, it is worth mentioning the showcase trial against the late Gedal Sandman, on Passover 5701. Someone tipped off the authorities that he was hiding some of his goods, mostly fabrics, in a double wall in his store. In general, it should be noted that whistleblowing, something that was almost unheard of in the town before, had become popular. And especially if the whistleblowing was directed against the former bourgeoises. And so, one fine day, the town policemen, among them also some Jewish policemen, broke into Sandman's shop and private home, and went straight to the right wall, broke it and found a secret warehouse of goods. Reb Gedal was astonished. His explanations, that this warehouse was prepared against the former Nazi danger and ever since he had forgotten it, did not avail. He was arrested and a date for the trial was scheduled. The plaintiffs would usually be transferred to the Truki district, or to Vilna, but this time they wanted a showcase trial and for this purpose they determined to hold the trial on Chol HaMoed of Passover, in the great house of Pokamonski, so everyone would see and beware of acting similarly. I still remember the hall full of Jews and gentiles, the pale face of the late Reb Gedal, his wife and daughter who encouraged him, and the cry of his daughter when he was sentenced to 10 years.
None of those who gathered there could have imagined then that it was he, the accused old man, who tumbled thousands of km and went through great suffering and troubles of prisons and exile, would be privileged to immigrate to the land of Israel and die an honest death on our liberated land.
Many would then choose to join him and end their lives like him, if they knew what awaited them in a few months. But then we often sang the hymn: Yasli Zovatra Vaina (If war breaks out tomorrow) and we did not think it was really that close, really Zovatra!
The library and its board of trustees continued to operate throughout the year. In the first week of the Soviet regime, a very important meeting of the library management was held with the participation of Layzer Varman, Benjamin Farber, Fayvel Shmarkovich, Sheinke Butrimovich, Yoske Senzhnik, me and a few others. There was only one thing on the agenda: sorting the books and storing all the non-kosher books. I was young but I still remember the arguments that were more than 10 years earlier: What shall we buy? Hebrew or Yiddish? How shall we divide the budget? And now the fate of 80% of the books was determined. The cabinets were opened, new wooden cabinets whose construction was funded by many plays, celebrations and various balls. The books seemed to show their worth, as if they said who are you to judge us. The many volumes of the period books, which were set in two long lines in the cabinet, the writings of Herzl and Borochov (many times he served as a reference book for me to prepare my conversations in the Hachalutz Hatzair, especially his platform) and more. And here were some books, their fate in doubt: in fire and sword - good or bad? And here's my life of Trotsky. Luckily there was no debate here. And the original and translated children's books. Which books would remain and which would be buried? More would be buried than would remain, but the library would remain. People would keep reading and who knows what will be in the future? After all, from that day on September 1, 1939, the Poles were replaced by the Russians, the Russians by the Lithuanians and now the Russians again. We decided to buy new Yiddish books from Amas Publishing. I served as a kind of representative of the library in Vilna. I was trusted because I couldn't be wrong with the selection anyway. Everything that was available was allowed and everything that was not allowed did not exist. We bought many books, mostly translated, and until I transferred the books, I read some of them. We were not used to such Yiddish and such wording. Books in such Yiddish orthography would not find a place in the previous library's cabinets, but now it was permissible; and maybe we will learn the rules of the new writing of Nach mitt ziben Graisen.
My story is coming to an end. I certainly did not tell everything, because I could not see and encompass everything, and some of what I saw and went through was forgotten, and the few who survived will surely complete the other details. On Passover 1941 I was in town for the last time. We performed a proper Seder and thought that we will be able to perform another one next year. I did not get to see my family since that time. As every year, my family expected my arrival in the summer, this time no longer as a high school student but as a student at the University of Vilna. The months of April and May passed, the school year in high school ended. My sister and her friends finished their studies in the fifthgrade and returned to the town, while I still stayed for another week, to hand a final exam in History of the Near East. I was saying goodbye to my friends and was returning to my studies when the alarm horns suddenly sounded.
We knew about anti-aircraft defense maneuvers that were scheduled to take place that day, but soon after we heard planes rumbling and bombs falling. It was the first day of the war and the beginning of the great destruction that befell our town and the whole world. That same day I met Yoske Senzhnik and Eliyahu Karban, who offered me the opportunity to return to Olkeniki by foot. I refused. I could not believe that the danger was so imminent. They walked and never came back from there. I returned to the boarding school. The Lithuanian students were ready to devour us alive. We decided to flee east to Russia. I joined the large stream of fugitives moving away in the opposite direction from home, family, town, and wander towards the unknown. From that day, July 23, 1941, when I left Vilna until the day in early June 1945, when I entered liberated Vilna with the Lithuanian Division Corps, I kept hoping that I would get to see my dear mother, kiss my sister and father and enter my house.
I returned after 4 years of war to my ruined and desolated town and I walked among its ruins. I did not try to hide my tears. Olkeniki no longer existed. There was nothing to do here, in town, but to escape! Escape from here! Oh, if only I could add and destroy the little that was left! Here were the farmers. It was a market day, and they came as usual. The church still stood and dominated the surrounding wilderness. The gentiles were quiet, peaceful and satisfied as if nothing had happened. The killers looked at me as someone who came from another world. Some whispered and said: Hirschkovini Sona's - the son of Herschel's wife, and were afraid to approach. One of them, a Pole I knew, dared, approached me, told me about the Polish victims who were killed by the Lithuanians, and offered to drink schnapps. I left him alone. Then I met with the few remnants that began to gather. Everyone was of the same opinion: we need to escape from here, leave everything behind and reach the district of our hopes from time immemorial - to the Land of Israel.
by S. P-R
Translated by Mira Eckhaus
Edited by Karen Leon
When the Russians entered Olkeniki in September 1939, they nationalized the cardboard factory that belonged to Shaskin-Bonimovich. The factory's engineer and manager, Yehoshua Levin, although considered a bourgzhoy and exploiter, remained in his role at the request of the workers. He was later sent to Leningrad to instruct the young engineers about the cardboard industry. He worked for two consecutive years in the factory to fulfill his production duty. Herschel Senzhnik and Binyamin Farber also worked in this factory.
Four days before the outbreak of war in July 1941, the engineer, Yehoshua Levin, was sent to Kaunas for factory business matters.
The Nazis came into town in a hurry. On Sunday the Russian bases in Vilnius were bombed, and a day later the German tanks entered the town and the factory. The Jewish refugees from Poland lived on the grounds of the factory. One of the Germans who came to the place encouraged the people to flee, saying that the Germans intended to exterminate the Jews. A week after the Nazi invasion of the town, engineer Yehoshua Levin returned from his journey to Kaunas. The next day there was a meeting of five
may God avenge him Engineer
may God avenge him
may God avenge him
representatives of the young people: Binyamin Farber, Eliezer Worman, Avraham Teitz, Ben Zion Willin and Yehoshua Levin. They discussed the youth organization, the escape to the forests and the retreat to Eishyshok and Radon, which were in another district. The local rabbi objected to the engineer and the youth leaving the town in time of need. In the meantime, Germans issued decrees. The girls in Shmerkowitz's house sewed the yellow Star of David which the townspeople were ordered to wear on their chests. The engineer was expelled from his apartment and he moved with his wife to live in the abandoned factory, HaRishon of Segalov. Apparently, the engineer, Ivanovsky, who worked in the factory during the Bolshevik period, informed the Lithuanian commandant that engineer Levin and five other young men of the town were communists. At one of the meetings, a Lithuanian policeman came in and took the certificates of the five youth representatives. They returned to their homes while in mourning and from there, they were taken to the local jail where they were imprisoned for 48 hours. Their family members gave money and gold to the commandant to save them, but there was no savior.
They were seated in a cart and escorted by a Lithuanian guard to Truki, and from there to Vilna. The policemen beat family members who tried to approach them. The wives of the prisoners ran after them on the way to Vilna, ignoring the beatings of the policemen. The wives of the prisoners came to Vilna, to the home of Mrs. Kotler, the mother of Nyuta Levin, on Winglova Street. This happened during the hunt of the people in Vilna (chapunes). The wives tried to free their husbands from Lukishki prison, but did not succeed. One Polish man said he saw them on the way to Lukishki. A Lithuanian woman promised that she would help to release them for a payment. The wives handed over gold, silver and pearls. The Lithuanian woman brought written letters from the prisoners in Lukishki. According to Nyuta, if her memory does not
mislead her, the women stayed in her house in Winglova for three weeks. In the end, the Lithuanian woman absconded with all the property she received.
In the meantime, the Kotler family was transferred to the ghetto and the women returned to Olkeniki. Macher, a mediator, appeared in the ghetto. . He reported that 5 men from Olkeniki were in a cell next to Dr. Libo, and could be released for a large sum of money. Dr. Libo, who arrived in Israel in October 1958, confirmed that the day before his imprisonment, 5 men from Olkeniki were brought to the cell near his, and he spoke with them through the wall. By the time they managed to obtain some of the property which they had transferred to the farmers, and sell it in order to accumulate the money that was needed to give to the mediator, it was already too late. The men had been executed, probably in Ponary. The day after their execution, the required sum of money was brought to Lukishki, but the captors were gone, may God avenge them. The last news about the men was delivered by Hashel Ben Ya'akov Eliezer Levin, may God avenge him, who was a prisoner in Lukishki, as he told us later in the Vilna Ghetto. Binyamin Farber, who was imprisoned in the dungeon, gave him six pieces of sugar which he passed through the bars of the dungeon's window, in order to revive him. Kalman, his brother, said that a German who was in charge of platoons of Jewish workers, was sent from the ghetto with the authority to take every Jew from Lukishki to work. He came to the prison and called the names of Binyamin Farber, Yehoshua Levin, B.Z. Willin and others, and received no answer. A farmer from a village near Olkeniki, named Rizgal, who was promoted to the rank of policeman and murderer in the ghetto, said these prisoners were sent to a detention camp. Someone said that they were in the camp and were shot shortly before their release.
Apparently, the people of the town of Olkeniki, the first prisoners, were isolated from the other prisoners.
(According to Nyuta Levin, Mexico)
by S. P-R
Translated by Mira Eckhaus
Edited by Karen Leon
Lazer Worman came from the slum, Balot, in his hometown of Lodz. During the storm of the First World War he was a soldier and held as a prisoner of war by Germany. After the war, he moved to Vilna where he married an Olkeniki woman from a humble family, but full of vigor and determination. Life was not good to Lazer, as he and his wife did not have children. However, he was a leader in his family and those around him, and so for two decades his home became a cultural center of the youth who tended to be leftist working classes. He participated in every cultural and social operation in town, and promoted books and newspapers. Lazer was often away traveling for business among different cities, but always found the time for his interest in cultural affairs.
Lazer appreciated and supported smart students, and he opened his house to the poor and rich alike. When his wife passed away, he went through a severe crisis. He remained true to his family, and married his wife's niece. He had children and descendants for his family.
He was the founder of the Wilbig branch and renewed the library operation in town. More recently, he supported Zionism and dreamed of immigrating to Israel.
He was among the first to be exterminated along with the spiritual leaders of the town. He was taken to prison in Vilna and Lukishki and from there to Ponari.
by Haim Z-Ki
Translated by Mira Eckhaus
Edited by Karen Leon
I knew Binyamin Farber since childhood. Together we studied in the cheder with Rabbi Israel Yaakov, the melamed (teacher). We often left the stuffy atmosphere of the cheder and the Rabbi's strong discipline together, and went out into the woods and fields. The courtyard of Binyamin's parents' house, which was next to the cheder, served as the first place for our meetings. During these childhood years in the cheder, Binyamin already showed special talents. Although the studies did not appeal to him so much, he was not one of the backward students. The Tarbut school was established In 1917 in town, and Binyamin and I studied in this school together as well. During this period a change occurred in Binyamin as his talents and mental abilities emerged. He was mostly enthusiastic about our Hebrew language lessons. He was diligent and consistent with his studies and was alert to everything that was going on around him. At fourteen years old, he organized a Hebrew-speaking class, and he was the living spirit in it. He spoke, lectured, read and recruited many supporters to the circle. At that time, he joined the founders of Hachalutz Hatzair and soon his activities were recognized in this organization. In every assembly, conference and other activities, he was among the leaders of the activists and speakers.
Even though he graduated from school with excellent grades, he was not able to continue his studies. The tuition costs were high and his parents could not bear this burden, as his older brother, may he live long, had already studied at the seminary. Only a few families could afford such a large expense. The Yeshiva did not appeal to him. With no other choice, he continued for some time in self-study. He read and studied everything he could. He soon took on the role of a teacher in the village of Salo near Olkeniki. During the time he served as a teacher, he did not cease his activities in his organizations, and continued to be the living spirit of the youth. He joined the library committee and helped to increase and expand it with the purchase of books and recruiting readers. In 1935, he founded a Hebrew school in Deruskiniki and managed it until the war broke out in 1939.
Binyamin was loved and cherished by all. He was gifted with a good sense of humor and an appealing manner of speech. As he sat and described the different types of homeowners of the village of Salo, we all laughed loudly. He fascinated listeners with his stories for many hours at a time. He knew everyone around him. He understood everyone's dilemmas and the nature of their souls. He was kind-hearted, but when necessary, he knew how to insist on his opinion. Thanks to his vigilance, there was no foothold in town for a youth movement other than Zionist. His secret wish, which he expressed in the poetry he wrote, was to join the camp of pioneers and builders in the Land of Israel. And so, he lived and took actions all these years until the murderers arrived. He was one of the first in town to be arrested and sent to Lukishki prison and from there to Ponari …
May his soul be bundled in the bundle of life.
by Binyamin Farber, May the Lord avenge his blood
Translated by Mira Eckhaus
Edited by Karen Leon
Young! Throw away the violin,
which played sad songs and melodies;
Let's sing a song of Zion to the east,
let's shout with courage, without respite.
We, the members of the younger generation,
To you, young man, the heart was excited and thrilled,
Morning has come, and the light shone.
Inside the flower braid
Binyamin Farber, may God avenge him, wrote this song when he was 15 years old in 1922. The words are preserved herein according to the memory of the surviving townspeople. The ending has been forgotten.
by K. P-R
Translated by Mira Eckhaus
Edited by Karen Leon
The Polish war against Hitler's troops lasted for 17 days, from September 1, 1939 to September 17th. The war ended with the partition of Poland between the Soviets and the Germans. The city of Vilna and the district were annexed to Lithuania, and Vilna was declared the capital of Lithuania. The cities Lemberg (Lviv), Bialystok, Grodno and Lida, were annexed to Belarus, while Warsaw and Lodz were considered part of the German Reich.
Although the war between Poland and Germany was very short, it's destructive mark was left on the town of Olkeniki. Some of Olkeniki's residents, breadwinners, were drafted into the army and sent to the front. They were all captured by the Nazis. After a few months, several were able to return to their families. Some of the reserve's forces were on a stand-by situation, ready to be sent to the front.
On September 27, the Lithuanian government was officially formed, headed by Smetona and Marquis. The annexation of the Vilna region to Lithuania caused great unrest among the Jews and Lithuanians. The Lithuanians, who saw this as the fulfillment of their national dream since time immemorial, were joyful about the annexation. The first celebration in Vilna began with the smashing of Jewish skulls, the tearing of pillows, the scattering of feathers in the city streets and the destruction of shop windows. The first infamous pogrom took place on Zavalny Street, on the corner of Novigorod. The impudence of the rural devils was felt in Olkeniki as well as its surroundings.
After the Lithuanians took control of the situation, and the municipality felt confident in its rule, efforts began to improve the living conditions of both the urban and rural populations. There was sufficient food for the Vilna region and the district. After a few months, industry began to develop and trade flourished. Many of these businesses were established by capital investments from Lithuanian Jews. The locals, Jews and non-Jews alike, did not feel deprived by the government as they had during Polish rule. Some of the youth who were involved in studies moved to Kaunas. The Faculty of Jewish Studies was opened in Vilna, under the direction of Noah Prilotsky.
A huge influx of refugees began to flow from the territories occupied by the Germans and the Soviets. Refugees from Lodz, Warsaw and Bialystok were looking for ways to get out of the war zones. In Lithuania they found a temporarily quiet corner and had an opportunity to live in a freer world. Even when the border closed, hundreds of people continued to flow into Lithuanian territories.
Members of the yeshiva were among the first to move because in fact, all the large yeshivas in Poland remained within Soviet rule. All the yeshiva students along with the principals and the teaching rabbis (melamdim) left their places and came to Vilna, where the late Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski, took care of their arrangements. They were followed by the pioneers and the kibbutzim, regardless of movement or party. The last to arrive were refugees from places seized by the Germans, and wealthy people who feared for their lives in the Soviet regime. Hundreds of refugees on the way to Vilna passed through the Soviet-Lithuanian border, near Olnkeniki in the village of Nivenanza, about 14 km east of the town. Only a small percentage of Olnkeniki refugees remained in Vilna. Rabbi Zeldin, Kalman Farber and his family, Glimpolski and the Zubiski brothers were captured at the border. In contrast, some of the townspeople moved to Belarus (Lida) hoping to find work opportunities there more easily.
A large part of the local population in the Vilna district were related to Lithuanian citizens. Many still remembered the good old days when there was thriving trade during World War I. And when the big markets in Hanishok, Fern, and Doig were opened, trade developed in those areas. Individuals moved to Lithuania for the satiety that was felt there. The trade that was more or less established, made the inhabitants of the town feel complacent, although poverty remained. Travel to other markets increased in search of livelihoods. The passage of refugees through the town did not leave an impression on the residents. I remember the well-known saying of Mr. Itzhak Walk from Hayas, that the quietest place in this part of the country (Europe) is Lithuania, therefore there is no need to precipitate matters…
Lithuanian residents were divided into three types: citizens, foreign nationals who lived there for some time, and refugees. The last two types were limited in a lot of areas, including trade. They encountered difficulties in obtaining licenses for business and even for living in cities. The connection between the town and Vilna was maintained by a truck, which transported goods in both directions several times a week. The borders with Belarus were closed, yet Jews and Gentiles came to Lithuania secretly, and bought whatever they could. Also, there were quite a number of Soviet soldiers in Lithuania, who moved back and forth from Russia, and bought everything they could, from shoes to hats, to bring home with them.
Relations with foreign countries were normal. The economic and cultural life was the same as in Lithuania. In place of community committees, the Gabayim committees were appointed (Gabayim Rat), and they controlled the public life in the town. The school remained intact, and Binyamin Farber, may God avenge him, founded a daycare center. (Kinder Chaim).
The fear of the future grew, particularly due to the bad news from Belarus. During one night, tens of thousands of German refugees were deported from Bialystok and the surrounding area to Central Russia (Mohilov area). Food supplies were reduced, and lines for bread and other food items multiplied. The black market flourished, and entire stocks of goods from trading houses disappeared and were sold underground.
There were also large queues of Polish refugees in Lithuania, in the corridors of the British Consulate in Kaunas, asking for certificates of Polish citizenship. Even though the Polish stamp was erased with a crisscross, they still stood in line to receive the certificates. The refugees went from consulate to consulate, asking them to sign the passport in order to give them the right of pass-through different countries. And when the Polish consul, or the last official at the consulate, left Lithuania and closed the office, many thousands were left , who had not prepared this certificate in time. A trade in counterfeit certificates flourished, which helped several thousand leave for Japan, Shanghai and even Israel. A large proportion of the refugees concentrated in the vicinity of Lithuania were transferred to Siberia. One of the great troubles at that time was that the Lithuanian government did not allow its citizens to emigrate from the country, only refugees and foreign nationals could leave. With the help of the Inturist, which was set up by the government, dollars were transferred abroad to pay for travel expenses.
With the Soviet takeover of Lithuania and the entry of Russian tanks in Vilna, on Shavuot 5700, June 1940, the situation changed completely. In the first days, economic and public life continued as usual. But the merchants, feeling every slight change in the atmosphere, as well as the thousands of refugees, who were on the verge of leaving the country, felt that something was happening. Dozens of Soviet political commissars came to town, stood on the sides of the streets, gathered crowds of young and old people, and spoke about the wonderful life behind the Iron Curtain. They influenced quite a few young and old alike.
The Jewish population in particular suffered a severe crisis, as did the Polish residents, and even the Lithuanians who were not used to such things. Slowly the Russians began to nationalize the factories and set up administrative committees in the factories.
Some of the Jews changed the large trading houses into cooperatives. The workers, together with the factory owners, became equal partners. Government ministries were added, and Jews were accepted as clerks. The small shops were closed, but the trade outside (peddling) increased, so that in the streets of Vilna, you could buy whatever you desired. A large portion of the population moved from trade to labor. Public works, roads and railroads were initiated, but workers were paid meager salaries.. The public institutions were dismantled after a short period as well as the Gabayim Rat. The last members elected for the Gabayim Rat were Reuven Farber, Eliezer Levin, Yechiel Kaganovich and Haim Kravitz.
At the same time, in Tammuz 5700, the late Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski passed away. Tens of thousands of followers from all parts of Lithuania attended his funeral. The death of the genius of the generation during this difficult time was a severe loss to Judaism, especially to the Jews of Lithuania. The Soviets slowly took over the life of the public and the individual. The Jewish elders' place in Vilna was dismantled. The elders were transferred to Volokompia, along with the Gentile elders. They were told that they had to work and serve themselves and others. The yeshivot committee was closed and other organizations were shut down as well. The Zionist Histadrut organizations in Olkeniki were eliminated. The congregation was dismantled and the charitable institutions were abolished. A People's Guard (Militz) was organized, headed by Fable Shmarkovich together with Chaim Gersh and the Goldman brothers. The cultural life in the town was centered around the cinema shows that the Soviet soldiers played on the special buses of the army, in the middle of the street. The Beit Midrash stood desolated. Only the old men, who were stubborn, kept visiting it. The newly arrived Komsomol instructed the youth. Many residents bought horses and became carters. They drove to the town and delivered trees that paved the new road that passed near the town from the village of Pirzufia to Orani. Binyamin Farber was appointed as the director of the library. The board of the cardboard factory, where dozens of boys and girls from the town worked, consisted of Ben Zion Willin, engineer Levin and Itzhak Tovman. Those on their way to daily work in the factory in Sulza would pass the old teacher, Zvi Senzhnik.
The imprisonment of Gad Sandman
The imprisonment of the late Reb Gad Sandman created a poisoned atmosphere in the town (for details of this event, see above in Maltzman's article with the arrival of the Holocaust). This case led to a new development in the whole environment. The population became more cautious and suspicious when it came to trade with the peasants.
Meanwhile the border with Belarus was opened, and once again former citizens began to flow here, to buy everything they could. Many were looking for ways and possibilities to go abroad, and the government started issuing exit permits. Whomever obtained a passing permit from the consul of Japan, or Turkey, received an exit permit from the government, which in return received payment from the Inturist. No one from Olkeniki was lucky enough to leave abroad on time. The only one who was interested in immigration and considered it seriously was Chaim Berkowski.
One Saturday morning, the NKWD exiled tens of thousands of quiet and peaceful residents from Lithuania. They were put on buses, without the opportunity to take any possessions , to the train station in Novo Vilyeyka. From there they were brought to Siberia and charged with endangering public peace. Many among them were those whose only sin was the desire to receive permission to go abroad. Thus ended the long waiting period for immigration. Among those imprisoned was yeshiva member Israel Glimpolski. His mother, Leah, and sister, Rivka, ran around in vain, seeking recommendations and intercessions from the municipality. They could not even find out about where he was imprisoned. In fact, he and his friends from the Bonim Itzel from Slonim yeshiva, Yosef Yodel Sandler from Delhinov, members of the Radon yeshiva, and Cantor Litvak, were taken to the caravan in Novo Vilyeyka. When they felt that they were not opening the caravan and that the train did not move, they broke the window and fled to Vilna. In Vilna, however, they encountered the Germans, and in the roundup of the Jews before sending them to the camps (Aktz'ya) on Novi Gorod Street, Israel and his friends were led to Lukishki-Ponari- for extermination. At the time, it was absolutely clear that a rare opportunity for immigration had been missed.
On that famous Sunday, the 27th of Sivan, June 22, 1941, when Molotov announced on the radio that Hitler's troops had crossed the Lithuanian border and that Lithuanian spies had opened the Lithuanian borders to the German invaders, they knew and felt that this was the end of all hope. The panic and need for haste felt by the Soviets also gripped the locals. The whole town was agitated. The young people who were active in Komsomol and had close relations with the Soviets knew they had to leave town and move east with the Soviets. But since the youth lacked counsel and guidance, there was no one to spur them on to real action or show the way to proceed. They hid Zionism in the depths for better times than these. They mostly considered that if they separated from their families and dared to be involved in opposition, they may never see their families again. Their warm feelings for family and their parents, dependent on the grace of the younger generation, prevented them from making a decision to leave even at the last minute. They knew they were sacrificing their lives for their parents and did not dare to oppose it, because the warm emotion overcame the cold mind.
Even the young men who were learning far away from home did not come to the logical conclusion to run away, but came to terms with their situation. After the first bombings and after the Germans occupied Vilna, 95% of the youth returned to Olkeniki and again did not find the courage to move on and flee east to the Soviet Union. Fate determined that only those who were caught in a panic and fled east survived. The only person who was forced to return from the Russian border around Radushkovich was Mr. Yaakov Teitz, who was last seen in Krasna, and disappeared since then.
The next day, Monday, June 23, 1941, at 3 p.m., the Germans entered Olkeniki.
They did not linger in their actions and issued decrees shortly after their entrance. Wolf, who was appointed as the Gabits-Commissar Vilna Land (Commissar of the Vilna District), issued the first decree to hand over horses, vehicles, bicycles, sewing machines and radios. Whomever could hide their things, or hand them over to the Gentiles or break the objects, did so. However, with regard to the horses and carts, there was no choice, and their owners were the first victims of the Nazis.
The first victims
The mob and the people of the underworld, from among the neighboring Gentiles, started to act. The first victim was Haim Gersh. One of the Gentile devils, Balzas, who had a grudge against Haim, claimed he was a Soviet spy, took him out of town, and on the hill near Dakashnia, at the end of the paved road (Grabeli), tortured him to death. This first saint was buried in the old Jewish cemetery at Olkeniki. Another victim, Idel Wolofiansky, the son-in-law of Shlomo Yeshur (from Vasilishuk), was also tortured to death in Ostrokonitz Alley, near the Christian cemetery. He too was buried in a Jewish cemetery.
On Wednesday, June 25, 1941, groups of deafening bombers flew above Olkeniki on their way to the eastern front. At 11 a.m. a bomb was thrown into a gasoline tank which the Soviets had left in the town market in front of the Berkowski House. Gedaliah Koppelman's house was the first to ignite from this explosion. From there, the wind passed the fire to the homes of Shlomo Braz, Berkowski, Eliyahu Farber and Yehuda Hakim. For a few moments the whole town was on fire. There was a great commotion in town. The townspeople who lived at the ends of the streets
by the river, managed to remove all of their belongings, including furniture, but even that did not help, because the spreading fire also reached the distant places and burned everything it found. There were no casualties, however, because everyone took care of themselves. The commotion intensified as the fire gripped the walls of the old synagogue and the Beit Midrash. We are lost, again and again this terrible howl was heard all over the town, if the synagogue goes up in flames, our end is probably close. Rabbi Azriel Gans the elder, may God avenge him, and the son-in-law of the Rabbi, Reb Chaim Berger, may God avenge him, who abandoned their homes that caught fire, entered the Beit Midrash which was in flames and saved the Torah scrolls. In the Minyan that took place later in Mark house (Fruma Beila), they read from these Torah scrolls. Most of the Jewish houses were burned. The houses that survived were from the houses of Dvorzen in Ostrokonitz, the entire western side of the market to behind the church, the four houses of Baklarisky-Kraben, and the seven houses behind the bridge in the blacksmiths' neighborhood.
The residents whose homes were burned sought refuge in the remaining houses, but the place was too narrow to accommodate them all. A large part went to Dakashnia, to acquaintances and relatives, and also to Liepine. All at once the town's population dwindled by over eighty percent. The overcrowding in the houses added bitterness to the difficulties that the Jews had already suffered after the first decrees were placed on them when the Nazis entered the town.
Organization of life in the town
The life of the town was reorganized. Reb Chaim Cohen, Zvi Polachek, Eliyahu Borman and David Rybak were elected as community speakers.. Due to their connection with the Lithuanian commandant, they were able to know in advance about planned actions that were going to be carried out in the town. In fact, the commandant was only the mediator between the Nazis and the Jews. His role was to fulfill the orders of the Gabits-Commissar.
In Dakashnia, the nearby Jewish village, matters were handled by Reb Moshe Hamburg, Shlomo Pochkarnik and Zechariah Der Muller. As in other places, the Jews made an effort to find work , so that they would not be suspected of being parasites. They believed that being employed was saving their lives. They renewed the public works that the Soviets had begun to carry out, but discontinued due to the war, such as paving the road from Pirzufia to Orani. Every day at six in the morning, groups left for this work and suffered from many abuses by the satanic Gentile supervisors and cruel policemen while they worked. The inhabitants of Dakashnia continued to mine peat (taref) in the swamps (Roishtes) near their village.
The food problem worsened, and the shortages began to show results in the community. Every garment and every object were traded for grain and potatoes. Families were sick, people were exhausted. Eldery people had no one to take care of bringing food supplies to their homes. Poverty increased, and those left without a livelihood starved for bread, although the committee of the community apparently provided some food.
It was forbidden to leave one's house in the evenings. In fact, people were afraid to go out because the houses that survived the fire were not close to each other, and the gentiles attacked at night and stole and looted all that they could. Reb Yechiel Kaganovich and Moshe Petlock were attacked several times, and it was not even possible to inform the police.
The friends among the Gentiles made good promises in the name of the Germans. The secretary of Gmina or the district secretary of Metroki, who notified the community on behalf of the Germans that they were about to establish a ghetto for the Jews in three months. Based on this promise, the population was divided into two camps - those who were for the ghetto and those who were against it. In the meantime, the above-mentioned secretary benefited from the situation as he received 21 carts of clothing and valuables for safekeeping from the Jews until the founding of the ghetto.
The destruction of the intelligentsia
The activists among the cultural figures in the town during the Soviet era, who were in fact clerks and salaried workers, disappeared from sight and changed their residences from time to time. They did not go out to work so that their acquaintances among the Gentiles and the police would not see them. However, they did not have the courage to leave their families or the town and go elsewhere. In fact, they feared for the fate of their families. If they fled or hid from those who were searching for them, who knows what would happen to their families. Suddenly one day they were all imprisoned as communist agents and collaborators with the Soviets, including Eliezer Warman, Binyamin Farber, Ben Zion Willin, engineer Levin from the cardboard factory, and Avraham Teitz. The police detained them for a few days in the town and then transferred them for interrogation to Orani, Truki, and finally to the Lukishki prison in Vilna. I received letters about actions taken to save my brother Binyamin and the others. I put a lot of effort into the unit I worked for. Bleacher and Grandpa Gorin from the Boita-Lager together with the German foreman often called their names as required for work, but they did not show up. From this I understood that they were held in a special room. Beila Warman also came to Vienna to try to save her husband, but her efforts were in vain.
On the eve of Rosh Hashanah 5702, I received the first and last news about my brother Binyamin and the others. They were held in a dungeon in Lukishki, and there was no access to them. The notifier
was Heshil (son of Yaakov Eliezer) who was imprisoned in Lukishki, and he spoke to them through the iron bars in the dungeon. Apparently, they made their last way to Ponari. Respect in their memory!
With no way out
The imprisonment of the people and the abuses of the Gentile devils of the workers, broke the spirits of the inhabitants of the town. Some spoke about escaping to the forest, or about leaving the borders of Vilna district, which was included in Lithuania. It was still quiet In the towns of Belarus, near Lida at that time. When acquaintances came and told us that all the Jews in the towns of Lithuania had been exterminated, we did not believe them. And if someone said that we have no choice but to run away, they would say that he was insane. The connection between Olkeniki and Vilna was maintained mainly by the girls of the town and by one of the patients of Dakashnia who looked like a Gentile and had a perfect Polish accent. She came every week and brought letters to the address of Yaakov Lifshitz in Vilna. With the founding of the Vilna ghetto, the connection was broken, and only rarely would any news be obtained. Those who woke up early for Slichot on the same Sunday, the eve of Rosh Hashanah 5702, when they mentioned in the prayer, Na Habet (Look), Et ele amizbachot zchor (remember these altars) and ve'elu a'akedot (these bindings), knew they were praying for themselves. The tight chain of armed guards and policemen who surrounded the houses of the Jews on all sides and did not let them get out of this circle, testified to the events that were about to take place within a few hours. And when they saw the faces of the familiar Gentile neighbors with sacks and carts, who had come to take the property of the Jewish residents of Olkeniki, they had no doubt that they were facing a bitter end. Who knew that the pardons and prayers they said at that time were to be the last said at Olkeniki, their homeland.
The deportation to extermination
At 12 o'clock on Saturday evening, on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the order was received from Wolf, the Gabits-Commissar of the Vilna district, that the men should gather on the fire brigade's field near the blacksmith, Isser Goldberg. Then they knew for sure that they would not return to their homes. I do not imagine that there was ever such a strong cry of rupture as there was then, when fathers and sons parted from mothers and daughters and brothers from sisters. The elders and those who were exhausted were put in carts and led on the old road, through the Sulza-Tzvuter forest to Eishyshok. Our mothers and sisters insisted that their sons should flee and hide in the forest at the first opportunity. And when the internal census was conducted in the field of the fire brigade, only a few were missing, those few who fled and hid. A few hours earlier, the commandant had secretly informed Reb David Rybak that there was a plan to surround the town at night in a chain of policemen, and transfer the people to the ghetto in Eishyshok, and he advised it was better to leave early. Reb David did not even have time to inform his father-in-law and brothers-in-law that they must leave the town and when he announced this in the house where he lived, to the Polachek-Kravitz families, Yosef Levin and his son-in-law Moshe Uziransky, he urged them to hurry, but they took their time to consider it seriously. David Rybak remembered, that Reb Yosef Levin, Dam's Rebes said: My destiny will be the same as the destiny of the rest of the people of Israel. Who knows with these words he was not the last arbiter about the lives of many of the townspeople.
And yet, when they parted from the families on the way to Eishyshok and entered the forest, they made their final self-examination on their unknown way. And after the fathers Reb Avraham and Reb Yosef met with their sons and began to understand the situation - they came to the conclusion that their son Moshe, who was young, should flee to the forest. For he had seen the behavior of the Nazis while in Nazi captivity during the Polish war, as a Polish soldier. And though Moshe was always among those who claimed that it was necessary to flee to the forest, when the moment of truth arrived, and his wife Hasya remained at home for the time being and he should be taken to the Eishyshok ghetto, he did not have the courage to carry out the escape. And when the elders heard the whisper of some of the sons who approached the parents, who were sitting in the carts, to say goodbye to them , since they intended to flee the forest, they had no choice but to oblige Moshe to respect his father's will and flee and hide in the forest as well. The townspeople wandered in the forest for two days, and when Moshe heard after two days that everyone was indeed led to slaughter, he could not continue living in the forest. He appeared on the second day of the slaughter at the horse market in Eishyshok to make his last journey with his family.
There were also residents of the town who did not need to be ordered to flee because they found their way to the forest on their own: Lib Tepper, Gedalia Kotler, Itzhak Yosef Krok and his son, Eliezer Straff, Isaiah Zalotsky, Lib Zeissler and Shimka Benu, Libla Katz and her brother, the Saltz brothers and their families, the Fain brothers and more.
And indeed, everyone had his own understanding of the situation. Reb Yechiel Kaganovich, deceived himself, given that the village and the forest were so close to him. He told others, as his Gentile friends told him, as the townspeople were led to the ghetto, that they were to establish a Jewish state in Lublin. .
When they rested in the forest, in the village of Brodzietz, when Shlomo Braz lingered and could not get up at that moment when he was asked to continue walking to Eishyshok, he was shot in the head. Thus, he sanctified in his blood the last way of the townspeople and his people.
At 7 pm, on the night of Rosh Hashanah 5702, the men, Olkeniki citizens, were led to Eishyshok, to the granaries in Yurzika, at the entrance to the town, and when the granaries filled up, the rest of the people were transferred to the Beit Midrash, which was already full of Eishyshok prisoners.
The journey of women and children
Olkeniki - Rosh Hashanah 5702. On Monday, the 1st day of Rosh Hashanah, the women and children in Olkeniki were ordered to arrive at the same fire brigade field. The Lithuanian police and guards kept moving along every step of the way. The elders and those who were exhausted were seated in carts while the young women and children walked. The women were meticulously guarded on the way to Eishyshok, so that they would not run away. The girls maintained their dignity and modesty. The strong slap that Sheina'le Farber slapped in the face of one of the Lithuanian policemen who wanted to harm her, left a mark on the other girls for a long time, and they remembered the lesson of this act when they wanted to protect themselves. In the evening, they also arrived at the granaries in Yurzika, which is at the entrance to Eishyshok, where they reunited with families. The people from Dakashnia and Liepine were also bought there.
In the granaries in Yurzika - on the night of Rosh Hashanah 5702
After the Jews set down their property in some corner, Rabbi Ozerlansky stood up, wrapped himself in a tallit and a Kittel, and even before he opened his mouth to begin the blessings, the walls of the granaries in Yurzika shook from the sound of the cry of excitement that gripped the people, the residents of Olkeniki and the surrounding area. All the restrained pain, all the disgusting humiliation, the antics of the Gentiles and the neighbors while traveling, all the sorrow for what they had lost within a few hours, which generations had accumulated and gathered for the sake of future generations, all this spilled over from painful hearts in a wave of grief and despair. Beneath the recognition lay a cloud that felt the approaching Holocaust, although in fact they did not want to express it out loud. This is how everyone felt, even those who pretended, as if they were being led to the ghetto, or to a Jewish state, as Yechiel told them. All this spilled over into the sacred words in the Rosh Hashanah Arvit prayer. It was not an ordinary prayer, it was a prayer and a cry from the depths to the Creator of the world, weeping over concealment, accepting the burden of his kingship and confidence in his righteousness, and when they said, you will destroy all evil and eliminate the evil government from the land, everyone knew exactly to whom these words were aimed. .
At night, on the night of the holiday, the Lithuanian soldiers, and Gentile neighbors, came armed, and made their way through the people. When the soldiers and Gentile neighbors noticed good shoes or boots, clothing or anything they liked, they took it all for themselves. Requests and pleadings did not stop the theft.
When soldiers demanded that Rabbi Leib Ozerlansky and his son Moshe remove their boots, they resisted strongly and did not give them up. And when there was a tumult and a quarrel, and the men continued with their refusal, the soldiers called up some more armed bullies, and beat Rabbi Leib and Moshe to the point of fainting, and then, in this state of fainting, they took their boots.
During the 60 hours the Jews were in the granaries, and during the three days they stayed at the Beit Midrash, people were not allowed to go out to defecate. Even the sick and exhausted could not go out. This was intended to break them mentally and to humiliate them, in order to make the work of extermination easier for the soldiers.
But even though the guarding was excellent in the granaries, Isaiah Koppelman (Tayba'l di almanas) managed to escape to the forest.
On the days of the extermination in Eishyshok
On the morning of the fast of Gedalia, on Wednesday, all the men and women were taken out of the granaries and the synagogues, where they had been imprisoned for 3 days, and were brought to the horse market on Radoner Street in Eishyshok. All the people of Eishyshok, Olkeniki, Dakashnia, Liepine and the surrounding area were brought there. This is where the families met. The Lithuanian guards around the market did not allow people to approach the fence to prevent their escape. A Nazi on a motorcycle roamed around the fence all day and supervised the work of the Lithuanian soldiers. These soldiers were our neighbors and friends from the nearby villages, who were now trusted to carry out the orders of their murderous masters.
Sheets were spread out in the middle of the field. Everyone was forced to kneel (as they were not allowed to stand on their feet), and to pour their cash, gold, watches, rings and other valuables onto the sheets. Barefoot (because their shoes had previously been taken off in Yurizka), our ancestors with their injured legs, handed over the rest of their property to the Lithuanian and German soldiers, while being beaten with rifles. And since these devil Gentiles knew many of the miserable, they abused them even more, especially the rich among them. It is known that Reb Shmuel Mizrotsky, the glazier, received blows to the head because he refused to hand over his hidden money.
When Berkowski saw there was no refuge, he tore his money in small pieces and scattered them to the wind in the marketplace. Neither I nor they will have it! Many others did the same. Later that evening, groups discussed means of resistance and escape to the forest, but strong family connections prevented the young people from leaving their families and fleeing. In addition, it was feared that if fugitives were t caught, the lives of the others would be in danger.
Here again our sisters and daughters withstood hard and bitter trials and kept the purity of their souls and bodies, and will be registered anonymously among the holy and pure daughters of Israel who gave their souls for the sanctification of the name of Israel in public.
The Last Road
Thursday at dawn, 4 Tishrei 5702 (September 24, 1941) the whole congregation woke up, and together with the rabbis from Olkeniki and Eishyshok and their rabbinical sons-in-law, prayed together. For the last time they were united with God and prepared, in their great prayer and confessions, to sanctify His name in public. Meanwhile the soldiers spread a rumor, that they were looking for sturdy guys to dig pits, erect pillars and fences for , the ghetto for the people of Olkeniki- Eishyshok. As most were not able to get up from their places, the soldiers looked around for strong and sturdy men. The first two hundred, who volunteered were taken by force. Among them were Moshe Ozerlansky and Moshe Straff. The soldiers clearly intended to assassinate the heroes first so that no one would dare revolt against them. In fact, it was possible at that time to revolt and kill some of the guards and escape. That is why Eishyshok was selected as the place of killing as it was difficult to escape from that area which did not have surrounding forests and logical places in which to hide. After the pit was dug, the diggers were made to get into the pit, they were ordered to take off their clothes, and they were shot in the back. Moshe Ozerlansky remained wounded in the pit. He asked one of the soldiers, an acquaintance, to do him one last favor, and shoot a bullet in his head to hasten his death. Instead, this soldier shot him in his hands and feet and all parts of his body, to prolong his torment. Now you are in my hands and I will teach you a lesson, the soldier replied.
Those left in the market heard the shots in the distance. But they could not imagine that their sons and fathers were being killed at the other end of town. When the soldiers reappeared and asked for another 200 men to dig pits for the pillars for the ghetto that was presumably being established, no one got up. The killers began using batons and butts to force the men out. Gathering the second group took time and therefore the guarding of those on the market was increased. By the time the second group was assembled, the pits were ready for them, having been dug by the first group.
When this group was taken to the pits, and shot, the Jews remaining in the market already knew that they were indeed being led to death. There was a commotion and shouting from everyone in the market who got up on their feet (they had to sit on their knees all the time) and started walking towards the gate, as they wanted to reach their loved ones who were shot and killed. The soldiers threatened to shoot the people , but on the other hand, told them about a letter from Melikowski (from Brodzitz) who had left earlier, asking for his wife to come and join him in the ghetto. Apparently this kind of reassuring letter was orchestrated or forced by the authorities, to provide false hope. With the people caught between death and hope, the guards and the policemen, who had managed to finish their work in the valley of the killing, took over the situation and arrived at the market as reinforcements.
When the third group of men were led away, a few brave ones attacked the Lithuanian soldiers, stunned them, and fled over their bodies through courtyards and alleys out of the city. Among the fugitives were Dov Lifshitz and Hanishka from Dakashnia.
By night, all the heroes were taken to the killing place except those who were e not able to walk independently. The old men, women and children stayed overnight in the market. There are no eyewitnesses to what happened that night. We do know, however, that the Lithuanian Gentiles, the soldiers of the Nazis, who took part in the murder of our saints - the saints of Olkeniki, Eishyshok, Dakshnia (Sala) and Liepine - told stories about our mothers, sisters and daughters, that they were angels in their last moments and not human beings. The exaltation of the spirits that surrounded them, when they spat in the faces of the Lithuanian soldiers and the manner in which they kept their purity of body and soul, raised them to the degree of superior saints. Hanishka, who was hidden in the house, still had time to see the last procession on Friday, and Avraham Teiken saw from the granary where he was hidden, how the mothers drove the babies in the trollies in the horrific procession to the killing place.
In the same great tomb, on Friday evening, Shabbat Teshuvah 5702, all the women of Olkeniki, Eishyshok, Dakshnia and Liepine, together with the old and the exhausted, were shot. The words of the lamenting prophet were fulfilled in them: and the blood of fathers and sons touched the blood of brothers and sisters, brides and grooms, and they were all killed together for the sanctification of your special name.
The soil and chlorine spilled on the corpses of each group did not help. Three days and three nights the tomb erupted. The overflowing blood burst out. Many were buried alive and their blood could not interfere with the blood of the dead and like the blood of the prophet Zechariah, asked for peace, and the land did not want to receive it.
For these I weep, for this we pray and say: Remember these altars, and see these bindings, you demand sacrifices, your dead sons are shouting to you from the ground. And the land shall not be redeemed for the blood that is shed therein, but only for the blood of the murderers. Remember what Amalek did to you!
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