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Jewish Victims Before Locking the Ghetto

- The Action on the “infamous Thursday.” - Death of over one thousand Jewish men. - Shooting of Jews while they were buying food products.

[Page 50]

At the beginning of August 1941, several Jews were still living in the city. They were the ones who had not yet managed to relocate to the Ghetto, or those who didn't yet have an apartment in the Ghetto to which to relocate. In addition, many Jews, who were already sitting in the Ghetto had left a portion of their things in the city. Because of a shortage of means of transportation, these items could only be transferred piecemeal from the city to the Ghetto. Therefore, there was much traffic between the Ghetto and the city. On the streets of the city, many Jews were moving around.

This was on Thursday morning, the 7th of August 1941, when the full tempo of the transfer into the Ghetto took place, and many Jews were travelling from the city to the Ghetto, and back again.

Unexpectedly for the Jews, who were busy with the relocation into the Ghetto, the Lithuanian partisans started arresting Jewish men who were found in the homes and on the streets of the city. None of those who were caught had any idea why they were arrested, or where they were being taken.

At first, the Jews thought that they were catching them to take them to work, something which in those days would often happen. But the Lithuanian partisans ceaselessly hunted Jewish men, regardless of their age or physical health status, and they violently packed them into special cattle trucks which they had in their authority for this purpose. It turned out that the Jewish men were transported to the Kovno Central Jail station (the so-called, yellow jail).

[Page 51]

Within a few hours, the Lithuanian murderers managed to capture around 1200 Jewish men and brought them all to the jail.

As soon as they found out about the hunt for Jewish men, most men in the city and in the Ghetto started to hide themselves. Then, close family members of the captured men started searching for ways to free them from jail.

After tremendous efforts on the part of the relatives of the arrested men, they released about 150 old and weak men, but the rest remained in jail.

In the beginning, the Jews didn't manage to ascertain anything about the fate of these more than 1000 Jewish arrested men. Later, it became clear that a few days after their arrest, all were taken out of the jail and shot. Where they killed them remained unknown to the Jews.

In the history of the Kovno Ghetto, this round up was called: “the infamous Thursday Action.”

Already from the first days of the Hitler occupation, the Jews started feeling the shortage of food from one day to the next, in addition to all the other evils and calamities. There was no reserve of food among any of the Jews, and the little bit of food they did have from before was almost finished.

In truth, in the first month of the occupation, Jews received food ration cards, just like non-Jews, but because of the anti-Jewish abuses and arrests, many Jews were afraid to even go out in the street to pick up the food products with the ration cards. The terrorization by the Lithuanian partisans made it impossible for many Jews to step close to the food shops. For all these reasons, the question of nourishment was especially acute for the Jews.

[Page 52]

Forced by hunger, Jews took the risk and sneaked out on the streets behind the city to buy something from the peasants, who brought their products to the city. Since the Ghetto was not yet locked up at this time, it was mainly the Jews who were already settled in the Ghetto who had to do this, because they didn't have anything to eat.

The occupation regime decided to end this Jewish “violation” in genuine Nazi manner.

Early one morning, in the beginning of August 1941, when the relocations in the Ghetto were not yet completed, and it was possible to go in and out freely from the Ghetto Gate, the Gestapo suddenly ambushed those Jews who went out on the streets behind Slabodka to buy some food from peasants who were driving by.

A few dozen Jews who were on the streets managed to hide, but 26 Jews fell into the hands of the Gestapo during this ambush.

Those who were caught by the Gestapo were taken away to the 9th Fort. There, they were forced to dig a pit for themselves, dance around their own grave, sing Soviet songs and then, they were all shot.

After shooting the captured Jews, the Gestapo murderers brought a few dozen Jews, who worked at the Ghetto Gate, to the site of the execution, and forced them to fill the pit with the murdered Jews.

Before returning these Jews to the Ghetto, the Gestapo told them that they should tell the ghetto Jews what kind of an end awaits any Jew who risks going out on the roads to buy food from the peasants travelling by.

And on the same day of the execution of the 26 Jews, the event was published in a special Gestapo announcement.

So, after this tragic murder, there is certainly no need to explain that the Jews stopped going out on the roads to buy food. The question of nourishment, therefore, very quickly took on a catastrophic character for the Jews.[a]


Original footnote:

  1. More details about the issue – in the later chapters. Return



Action of the Intellectuals Right After the Lock up of the Ghetto

- Locking up of the Ghetto. - Order from the authorities to deliver 500 Jews for “academic” work in town. - Registering several hundred Jews for work. - Capturing Jews in the Ghetto. - Tragic fate of the 534 captured young Jews.

[Page 53]

On August 15, 1941, the Ghetto was finally locked up. It is difficult to report details of how many Jews relocated from the city to the Ghetto. It is suggested that about 28 to 29 thousand Jewish people relocated into the Ghetto. Immediately after the Ghetto was closed, the guards took over authority of the Ghetto from the special German police division, and they had at their disposal many Lithuanian partisans.

After a succession of transformations from the earlier Jewish Committee, the Jewish Elder's Council[a] was established, headed by Dr. Elchanan Elkes. Their job was to fulfill the orders of the regime for the Ghetto and to carry out internal issues of ghetto life.

These became recognized by the regime as the representation of the Ghetto settlement, and then from the Elder's Council. In addition to these Jewish representatives, a wide array of ghetto institutions was established, as follows: Jewish Ghetto Police, Jewish Work Office, Jewish Housing Office, Jewish Welfare Office, etc. According to the intention of the Elder's Council, all these ghetto institutions had to help establish some order in the internal life of the Ghetto.

[Page 54]

Based on an order by the regime, only one day after the lock-up of the Ghetto[b], on Shabbat, the 16th of August, Jews had to vacate a few streets where they had just gotten organized with such great difficulties like, for example, Raudondvariu, Degetoku, etc. The aggravation in the Ghetto became greater now that they had to transfer over to another ghetto area.

The Jewish population hadn't even managed to recover from the horrible smack of that infamous tragic Thursday, the 7th of August, when more than 1000 Jewish victims were caught. The murderous Hitlerites claimed hundreds of new Jewish victims to calm their insatiable thirst for Jewish blood. This time, the Gestapo call for Jewish blood was masked in an obedient manner:

Thursday, the 14th of August 1941, the then Councilman for Jewish Affairs in the city, the Lithuanian Commissar, Kaminskas, gave the Jewish Elders Council an order to assemble 500 Jews by Monday, the 18th of August. They were ostensibly needed to put order in a few archives in the city. Kaminskas stressed that for this specific job they needed mainly intellectuals.

Unsuspecting, that this was part of a vile and a provocative trick by the brown-shirted executioners and their Lithuanian accomplices to kill a huge portion of the Kovno Jewish intellectuals, the Jewish Work Office of the Elders Council sent out announcements. These went mainly to the Jews from the liberal arts, like for example lawyers, doctors, engineers, teachers, librarians, students, etc. They were told that they should report to the Ghetto Gate at a specific time, in order to go to work in the city.

[Page 55]

Also, the contemptible Kaminskas “assured” the Elders Council that nothing bad would happen to the Jews and that during the work time they would receive food three times per day, etc. After the announcement from the Jewish Work Office, not more than two hundred men responded by the specified time, among whom were, as mentioned, many of the Kovno intellectuals.

On Monday, the 18th of August, a large guard of Lithuanian partisans arrived, under the leadership of the Gestapo murderer Rauca, who later became tragically infamous as the biggest hangman of the Ghetto. He arrived at the Ghetto Gate to transport the Jewish men to “work.” These Jews, who came voluntarily to the assembly point by the Ghetto Gate, were immediately surrounded by a large and strong partisan guard.

Because they were still short a few hundred men to fill this order, the Gestapo hangman, Rauca, ordered the partisans to go into the Ghetto and capture the missing number of Jews that were needed.

The Lithuanian partisans, with great murderousness, spread out across the streets of the Ghetto and, in a brutal way, chased and captured a larger group of Jews.

Together with those who came of their own accord, 534 Jews were assembled at the place near the Ghetto Gate under stronger guard, and they were transported from the Ghetto into the city, from where they never returned.

At first the Ghetto Jews didn't yet know that this was a masked Action, and the family members of those who were transported would run daily to the Ghetto Gate to wait for their own people who were supposed to come back from work.

The Jewish pleas to learn something about the fate of the captured victims were to no avail. Despite clear “assurances” from the various Nazi-big shots who oversaw the Ghetto that the 534 transported Jews were alive and working, it was quickly discovered, that on the same day that they were transported out of the Ghetto, they were shot at the 4th Fort, which is located near the Kovno suburb of Panemun.

[Page 56]

Once again, the Ghetto found itself in a difficult situation because of the murderous Gestapo, who, as noted, had strongly helped the Lithuanian Hitlerites.

Sometime after this Action, the former Ghetto Commander, S.A. Major Jordan, one of the most horrid hangmen of the Kovno Ghetto, told the Elders Council that the 534 Jews were shot as punishment for sabotaging their work because they wet and spoiled a wagon of sugar, which belonged to the Wehrmacht. Of course, this was not true.

Anyway, for the Gestapo, this was a “reason” to kill over 500 Jews, which included a huge number of the Kovno Jewish intellectuals.


Original footnotes:

  1. Officially named: Altestenrat of the Jewish Ghetto, Local Community, Viliampole. The name “Eltestenrat” was adopted by the Kovno Ghetto Jews. This word was maintained and not Yiddishized. Return
  2. About the activities and the roles of the Jewish ghetto institutions, see Monograph: “Jewish Institutions in the Kovno Ghetto.” Return



The Robbery of Jewish Belongings

- Systematic house-searching in the Ghetto with the purpose of robbing Jewish property. - Terror and victims during the house searches. - “Voluntary” delivery of money and all other valuables.

[Page 57]

After the entire Kovno Jewish population was finally locked up behind a tall fence of barbed wire and strongly guarded by a special ghetto guard, day in and day out, searches took place in the Jewish homes to take money and other valuable items away from the Jews. This took place over the course of two weeks, starting from the 19th of August and ending on the 4th of September 1941.

German police divisions would go from house to house under the supervision of the Chief of Police, Torenbaum. They conducted thorough searches and would take money, gold and silver items, better clothes, underwear, shoes, electrical machinery, medical and other instruments, nicer furniture and any other objects and items that they liked from the Jewish homes.

In the beginning, the ghetto Jews were determined to hide their better and valuable items from the German robbers. To this end, each one considered hiding his money and better objects somewhere so the Germans could not find them. Money, gold, silver, and other valuable items would be buried in the earth or hidden in such places which were not conspicuous to an outsider's eye. So that they would not seem unwelcoming and empty-handed to their “guests,” the Jews would deliberately prepare a small amount of money and whatever else of their better things, so the Germans should not become suspicious that they were hiding something from them.

[Page 58]

Then, after the Jewish homes had already been searched one time, the Germans started to go through every Jewish house once again. Their goal was to disorient the ghetto Jew, so they would not manage to prepare themselves for another house search in time and hide their better objects. To do this, the German police would engage in various tricks: after a day or two they would conduct the searches systematically going from street to street, and suddenly they would attack from one ghetto quarter to the next, etc.

The attackers had trucks with them, and a special work-command would immediately transport the robbed items to the city. The previous Jewish prayer houses in the old city were used as storage depots for the robbed Jewish items and furniture.

Wanting to scare the ghetto population so they would not dare hide any valuables and would give everything up during the searches, a few days after the start of conducting house searches, the Nazis brought to bear a bloody terror. Day in and day out during the time of the searches, and without the slightest reason, the police would shoot Jews, mainly men. Dozens of Jews were shot in this manner. The shock and terror of the house searches was so great, that every time, when it was known that the attackers were already here in the Ghetto, the ghetto Jews would become genuinely confused. Jews at that time weren't as afraid of the Germans taking away valuable items, as they were afraid of, God forbid, becoming a human victim.

Equally horrible for the men was to be found in their home during the house searches, because the Germans would beat the men mercilessly and as was said, they might also be shot. The men would take pains to immediately disappear from those quarters, while the house searches were taking place.

Therefore, during the searches, only women and children were found in the houses. Searching the women, allegedly for plugging up gold, diamonds, etc. the women would be undressed completely naked, and they would be searched by the German police.

This terror by the Nazi robbers created such a panic and deathly fear among the ghetto Jews, that many Jews wanted to get rid of their property, just to ensure their lives.

[Page 59]

Thorough searches took place for more than two weeks, during which time a large portion of the Jews' belongings was robbed. Most of the ghetto Jews had huge difficulties hiding portions of their possessions from the Nazis during the searches.

After all the house searches, the Nazis decided to thoroughly squeeze the remainder of the possessions out of the Jews, which they succeeded in hiding during the life-threatening searches. To this aim, the then-Ghetto Commandant, Jordan ordered the Jewish Elders Council to order the Jews to deliver everything they had hidden themselves “voluntarily” during the time of the house searches. To persuade the Jews that this time they should really give up everything they owned, the Ghetto Commandant gave notice that by violating this rule, not only would the guilty ones be shot, but their neighbors would be shot, as well.

Based on the decree by the Ghetto Commandant in the beginning of September, the Elder's Council notified the Ghetto population that by Thursday, the 4th of September 1941, all Jews must “voluntarily” give up items of greater or lesser value. This included: money (leaving out not more than 100 rubles for an entire family, which at that time was equal to 10 Reich-Mark), foreign currency, securities, gold items, including wedding rings, silver-workmanship, rugs, furs, textile material, electric and medical machines, collections, etc. This decree was accompanied by the pressure that not only the person by whom the items would be found would be shot, but those living nearby would also be shot.

Since the ghetto Jews already knew very well that the Nazi murderers would carry out these threats, there was no other choice but to comply with the decree. In addition, because of the warning that they would shoot neighboring people, the more honorable and responsible Jews weighed carrying out these demands by the regime exactly. They did not want innocent people to suffer due to the non-delivery of more items.

[Page 60]

During the first of the house searches, it was observed that the Jews had the attitude of hiding everything they could from the robbers. But this time, there developed an hysteria to give everything up to the Nazis, so that there would be no excuse for new victims. Therefore, Jews started to unearth, or pull out of other hiding places all the valuables which they had hidden and prepared to deliver them to the regime. Every responsible Jew did this himself and convinced their friends that they should also do it.

Only the antisocial and amoral elements in the Ghetto were determined not to carry out this decree and thus, eventually put the people around them in danger. Most of the Ghetto Jews decided that their own lives and the lives of their neighbors had higher value than the valuable items, and, in this way, they showed higher social and moral consciousness.

From morning until evening, almost the entire Jewish population brought the items of generations of collected Jewish toil to the collection points with their own hands. Gold and silver cups, candlesticks, utensils, etc., were “voluntarily” given up, together with other valuable items, to the jurisdiction of the killers of the Jewish people. These items passed from generation to generation over dozens of years, and were silent witnesses to a particular Jewish lifestyle in Eastern Europe.

During the next few days, exactly thirty thousand Kovno Ghetto Jews remained robbed and impoverished. Assessors estimated that the Jewish deliveries were worth tens of millions of Reichsmark.

Despite bathing themselves in the robbed Jewish belongings, to make sure that the Jews had given everything up this time, the Nazis then made an entire series of test cases in the Ghetto, to ascertain if any of the Jews had, God forbid, not given up what they had to. It turns out that after they were finally convinced that the Jews really were left naked and barefoot, no more house searches took place in the Ghetto. Such were the lengths to which the Nazi robbers' appetites went.



Test Action

- Distribution of 5,000 “certificates”. - Mass-Action in the Small Ghetto, whose process was stopped for unknown reasons after the first “selection.”

[Page 61]

The Ghetto fell under the authority of the City Commissar. On the 15th of September 1941 the City Commissar gave 5000 certificates to the Elder's Council, through the Lithuanian official Kaminskas. They had to be distributed among Jewish craftsman and their family members. These printed certificates were drawn up by the then-Ghetto Commandant, Jordan. Thus, the certificates were called “Jordan-certificates.”

In the Ghetto, it wasn't known at the start why these certificates were even distributed. There was a fundamental belief that those Jews who received the “Jordan certificates” would eventually be treated better than any Jew who didn't possess them. Various Jews in the Ghetto therefore were disposed to acquiring a “life-certificate,” as the ghetto Jews later called the “Jordan-certificates.”

When the Jews found out about the distribution of certificates, thousands and thousands camped out at the building of the Elders Council and its institutions on Varniu Street 49, wanting to acquire a “Jordan certificate.” Understandably, the Elders Council couldn't fill everyone's request. Aside from that, there was a rumor among the ghetto Jews, that those who oversaw the distribution of the certificates were involved in various irregular activities. Therefore, there was a fierce struggle around the issue of the certificates. Jews acquired a few “Jordan-certificates” directly from the German workshops where they worked, aside from through the Elders Council.

[Page 62]

At this moment, it is important to note that these certificates did indeed play a big role during some future Actions. At the time of the Big Action, which took place on the 28th of October 1941, the Nazis didn't pay attention to any certificates, not even to the “Jordan-certificates.” But, until then, the Jordan certificate really was, in a sense, a life-certificate, because it saved people during the selections which took place related to the extermination Actions.

On the night of Monday, the 15th of September, the Ghetto Commander, Jordan, came and confiscated the cash box from the Elders Council. Jordan did not reveal the reason for his act, so there was reason to be quite anxious about the upcoming plans of the regime regarding the Ghetto.

The later ghetto events demonstrated that this specific Jewish suspicion wasn't without cause.

At around 7-8 pm on Wednesday, the 17th of September 1941, a strengthened guard was set up around the Small Ghetto, where approximately 3000 Jews lived. Traffic between the Small Ghetto and the rest of the Ghetto was immediately closed off.

At the same time, German police troops came into the Small Ghetto, together with Lithuanian partisans, and they started chasing the Jews out of their homes. The Jews who were chased out were taken to a place which was in the Small Ghetto. When all the Jews were brought together on this site, they started a selection. Those who had a “Jordan-certificate” were sent to the “good side,” all the others, to the “bad side.”

During the time the Jews in the Small Ghetto were being chased to the site of the selection, the rest of the Ghetto went into an extraordinary panic. Jews thought that afterwards, when they finished with the Small Ghetto, they would get to the other ghetto quarters. So, they ran from one ghetto corner to another, understandably, not knowing where would be better.

[Page 63]

From far away, the Jews in the other sectors of the Ghetto started following everything that was taking place in the Small Ghetto. From minute to minute the tension grew. No one in the “luckier” side of the Ghetto knew yet what was really going on there. Some thought that the selected ones would be taken to be shot; others expressed suspicion that they must be taking them out of the Kovno Ghetto to Lublin, where there were communal dormitories for Jews, etc.

After the selection ended, those who were selected for the “bad side” were loaded onto trucks and transported in the direction of the 9th Fort. It became clear that an Action had taken place.

Suddenly, for unknown reasons, the Action was stopped. Those in charge of the selection started leaving the site, and the guards started chasing the Jews back home. From the 9th Fort they started bringing back those Jews who had been taken away.

It remained uncertain for the ghetto Jews if this time it was a real Action and was stopped for some reason, or this was a type of “war of nerves” against the ghetto Jews. Or perhaps it was just a type of “general test” for future mass Actions.

At that time there was also a rumor that the actual goal of this “test-Action” was to make a movie which would show that the extermination Actions against Jews were conducted by local residents, i.e., Lithuanians, and not by the Germans. To that end the Nazis mainly placed Lithuanian partisans on the selection work and then filmed the course of the sorting. This version remained only a supposition.

As it turned out, according to later unsubstantiated notices, this was all about a plan by the regime to leave behind only the 5000 holders of “Jordan-certificates” in the Ghetto and all the other ghetto Jews would be killed. In the last moment the occupation forces cancelled this plan. There were no successful findings and no authentic notifications about this.

These events remained under the name: “the Test Action” in the history of the Kovno Ghetto.



The first “organized” mass Action in the Ghetto

- Provocation concerning the “attempted murder” of the Commander of the Ghetto Guard by a Jew. - The closing of an entire ghetto neighborhood and the first mass Action in the Ghetto.

[Page 64]

The first, “organized” mass Action in the Ghetto took place nine days after the “Test Action” on the 26th of September 1941.

Until then, the extermination of the Jewish population took place more randomly, without a “system.” In this Action, the Ghetto entered a stage of organized mass Actions. This mass slaughter took place over one month's time, that is, from the 26th of September until the 28th of October 1941, resulting in the loss of approximately 13,000 Ghetto victims. The case of this Action took on a separate place in the martyr story of the Kovno Ghetto.

The “reason” for this Action, in which over 1000 Jews were killed, was the following:

A day or two before this mass Action, the Ghetto Guards informed the Elders Council that Jews shot at the then-Chief of the Ghetto Guard, Kozlovski, from a barn which was located on Krisciukaicio Street, near the Ghetto Gate.

The Elders Council was required to give up the guilty one to the Ghetto Guard for the “attempted assassination.” If not, there would be unspeakable sanctions for the Ghetto population.

The entire story about the “attempted assassination” against the Chief of the Ghetto Guard was not more than a typical Gestapo provocation, which was intended to create a “reason” to carry out an Action in the Ghetto. All explanations and responses from the Jews from the beginning were condemned to be unsuccessful.

[Page 65]

There was no need to wait long to learn the true intention of the Nazis for the Ghetto.

On Friday, the 26th of September, around 3 o'clock in the afternoon, a few German police divisions and Lithuanian partisans marched into the Ghetto, and they encircled the entire quarter where the “attempted assassination” supposedly took place (capturing the streets: Vilianer, Mesininku, parts of Linkever, Ayrenoler, Krisciukaicio, etc.)

Thereafter, the entire Jewish population from that encircled sector was wildly and murderously kicked out of their houses and were collected in a neighboring place, and the selection began. Whoever could show that he worked somewhere in the city, was selected to one side. All the others were sent to the other side, among them many old and weak people, women without men at hand and with small children.

At that time, not all the Jews realized that the selection “to the right” or “to the left” meant a selection of life and of death. Many ghetto Jews still couldn't imagine that the Nazis were capable of such cold-blooded mass murders.

On that afternoon, over 1000 men, women and children were selected for death and were immediately transported in the direction of the 9th Fort. Those selected “for life” were allowed to return to their homes one or two days later, after the houses were thoroughly searched to discover “the hidden Jewish arms.”

[Page 66]

At that time, no exact information about what happened to those transported Jews was available. Various rumors circulated. So, for example, a few days after the selection one version that was disseminated said that the transported Jews are located, supposedly, in Romayn, a village settlement near Kovno, where they are employed in field work. They even talked about a letter that was received from transported Jews to their friends in the Ghetto, from which it was believed that the Romayn story was true.

Even though many ghetto Jews talked about the letter, no one actually saw the letter with their own eyes. Then, as time passed, they realized that these rumors came from the Gestapo, which consciously spread them, with the aim of disorienting and fooling public opinion of the ghetto Jews.

From day to day, everything became clearer, and all the rumors about Romayn, etc. had no basis, and that the transported Jews were killed at the 9th Fort. Thus, the mood in the Ghetto became more uneasy. It was obvious that everything that happened in the Ghetto until then was nothing more than a prelude. Unfortunately, the main point was that this unimaginably painful prospect would soon come true.



Action and Liquidation of the Small ghetto

- Provocation concerning the “attempted murder” of the Commander of the Ghetto Guard by a Jew. - The closing of an entire ghetto neighborhood and the first mass Action in the Ghetto.

[Page 67]

As was mentioned at the start in the chapter “Establishment of the Slabodka Ghetto,” the Ghetto area already included the portion of Paneriu Street which had the uneven numbers, and in addition some neighboring little streets. This same ghetto area was called “The Small Ghetto,” and it was connected to the other part of the Ghetto through a special wooden hanging bridge.

Not having the least idea of the tragic fate that very soon would await the Small Ghetto, there were over 3000 Jews settled there. In the Small Ghetto there were also a few Jewish ghetto institutions set up, for example: hospitals for surgery and infectious diseases, a children's home, where the children from the previous orphans' home in Kovno were collected, a senior residence, etc.

At the end of September, the Christians who lived near the Small Ghetto started saying that soon the Jews will have to leave this area. Most Jews thought that the Christians were saying this probably because the previous Lithuanian owners of the houses in the Small Ghetto applied to the regime with a request. They asked that the Jews be removed from this area because their gardens and their businesses were located there.

As usual, the Jews listened to such rumors seriously, but at that time there was no ghetto Jew who could imagine that the Small Ghetto was on the eve of a catastrophe.

[Page 68]

On Shabbes eve, Friday night, the 3 of October and on Shabbes, the 4th of October 1941, the almost incessant shooting by the Lithuanian partisans who were guarding the fence around the Small Ghetto, became very suspicious to the ghetto Jews. True, the guardhouses of the Ghetto Guards would have shooting sprees at night, often for hours on end, which would make the ghetto Jews very nervous. But this time, the nighttime shooting spree was so heavy, that among the ghetto Jews, this was cause for great anxiety, especially for the Jews of the Small Ghetto.

It was on Shabbes, at 7 a.m., when the Jewish night shift and the work brigade returned from the Airfield, and those who worked in the city went out to work. Suddenly the Small Ghetto was encircled with a stronger guard, armed with machine guns. On the bridge leading to the Small Ghetto, a special guard was stationed with machine guns, and the traffic between the Small Ghetto and the other sections of the Ghetto was blocked. Even the usual residents of the Small Ghetto, who were just returning from their night work at the Airfield, were forbidden to pass through the bridge to get to their homes.

Before this time, groups of German police, together with Lithuanian partisans, entered every house, kicked the Jewish population out onto the street, and lined them up in rows.

Not telling the Jews a single word about where and why they were forced out, they did not allow them to take anything with them. They were even told to take off their better clothes, coats, and leave them in the house.

When all the Jews of the Small Ghetto were kicked out of their homes, they started forcing them to a place, near the Small Ghetto, where they conducted a selection. The evening of the selection, the City Commissar, Brigadier General Kramer, notified the German police that during the selection they should only accept valid work certificates recognized as “Jordan certificates.” After this decree, the selection began.

[Page 69]

Those lucky ones who possessed a “Jordan-certificate” were, together with their families, sent to the good side; all the others were collected for annihilation.

Before the selection was conducted, the Nazis set fire to the Jewish hospital for chronic infectious illness and over 60 sick people together with the medical personnel were burned alive in the flames.

At this opportunity it is worth mentioning, that at the start the Nazis captured a dozen Jews who were commanded to dig a pit near the hospital. As it turns out, they planned to shoot the sick and then bury them before burning the hospital. During the digging of the pit, a German police officer came to the Jews and told them to stop the work. Then the Hitlerites locked the doors and windows of the hospital and set it on fire together with the sick, who, as mentioned, were burned alive.

Long tongues of flames, encased in thick plumes of smoke, started shooting to the sky and announced to the ghetto Jews that in this moment more than 50 very sick Jews, together with their doctors and nurses, who did the hardest ghetto service of working to get them healthy, struggled in a formidable death.

This unprecedented barbaric act by the murderous Hitlerites made an extraordinary impression on the ghetto Jews, especially the Jews of the Small Ghetto, who were at that moment undergoing the selection.

The patients from the Jewish hospital for surgery and other illnesses, as well as the Jews from the old age home were packed into the trucks and all were transported to the 9th Fort. The work of loading the sick and elderly onto the trucks was done by those other Jews who dug the pits near the hospital.

As a reward for their “capable work” the Nazis later had them transferred to the other section of the Ghetto. Only two older Jews, who were left back from the group to help set fire to the hospital, were killed by the murderers together with the sick.

In total, about 1500 Jews were selected, among them 200 orphans from the children's home in the Ghetto together with their educators and caretakers. After the selections ended, they started taking the selected to their death in the direction of the 9th Fort.

[Page 70]

Since the ghetto Jews were very aware of what kind of fate awaited them at the 9th Fort, the selected started to pull themselves out of the lines. The Germans and Lithuanians who were guarding them, started to beat them murderously with rifles and with preloaded guns. It played out in horrific and shocking scenes.

When those selected and destined for death were chased away a bit further from the selection place, the hangman, Kramer, who conducted the Action, addressed the Jews who were selected to “live,” with the following words:

“Since the Jews in the Small Ghetto engaged in illegal activities through the Ghetto Fence, etc., from this day forth, the Small Ghetto will be liquidated. If the others standing in this square will be reasonable, they will be relocated to the remaining part of the Ghetto. If not, your route will be there!” And he demonstrated with his hand the direction to the 9th Fort.

A deathly silence was heard in the square where the Nazi boss held his speech. Those Jews who were still alive were standing stone-like, seized by a deathly fear, and with their sad looks, they accompanied their brothers and sisters who were being taken to their death.

After the explanation by the City Commissar, Kramer, the Lithuanian partisans started chasing the “lucky” Jews in the direction of the little bridge, which went from the Small Ghetto to the other part of the Ghetto. It was understood that there was no talk of going back into their houses to take something. The few surviving Jews, at that moment, had one and only desire: to leave the Small Ghetto as quickly as possible, where it smelled of death and extermination.

By climbing on the narrow and silent steps of the little bridge, the partisans once again started beating the Jews murderously, for going across the little bridge too slowly. Aside from the deadly beatings, they also threatened to send the Jews to the 9th Fort. While going across the little bridge, there arose a terrible congestion and panic. People crawled one on top of the other, trying to get themselves out of the Small Ghetto as fast as possible.

[Page 71]

Right after getting across the little bridge, the approximately 500 surviving Jews were able to catch their breath and recuperate from the horrific nightmare that they just lived through. As they were standing and walking, these people started to disperse among friends, to find a tiny corner to lay their heads on. Those who didn't have anyone to go to, remained standing helplessly on the street, and waited until someone would take pity on them and invite them in.

A few days after the Action and liquidation of the Small Ghetto, the Jewish homes were completely robbed by the Gestapo, and in them remained only broken furniture and other worthless items. The Gestapo allowed the Jews from the liquidated Small Ghetto only one hour to go across to their previous residences to find something to take back to the other part of the Ghetto. Also, this “privilege” was only for those who could show a “Jordan-certificate.”

One evening, Gestapo people came into the Ghetto. For one hour, they allowed hundreds of Jews into the Small Ghetto who had belongings there. Like a mighty stream, these Jews were waiting for hours to get over the hanging bridge. In a big rush, the Jews started carrying onto themselves bedding, old clothes, etc., and other things, which had no value for the Nazis.

For the people of the Small Ghetto, who were left naked and barefoot after the Action, any rag or any decent item had great value, and they therefore wanted to grab as many of their “treasures” during that one hour allotted to them. The hurry and the rush were as if they were going to get the greatest treasures.

In this way, immediately at the beginning of the existence of the Ghetto, in true Gestapo fashion, the entire Small Ghetto was liquidated.



The Big Action

- Disturbing rumors before the Big Action. - The order to the population to assemble in Democracy Square, without giving the reason for the assembly. - Increasing panic in the Ghetto. - The gathering of over 26 thousand Jews in Democracy Square. -The course of the selection, from morning to evening. - The selected Jews were taken to the 9th Fort. - Agitation in the Ghetto. - The horrible fate of over 10 thousand Jews.

[Page 72]

Twenty-four days later, on Tuesday the 28th of October 1941, after the Action and liquidation of the Small Ghetto, an Action took place which acquired the appalling title: “the Big Action,” because of the number of victims. Over 10,000 Jews were swallowed up!

Already at a certain time before this Action, rumors were circulating in the Ghetto that according to the comments of Christians in the city, large pits were being prepared by Soviet prisoners of war at the 9th Fort. There was serious reason to be suspicious that these pits were being prepared for the ghetto Jews. It caused huge confusion day after day, as these unsettling rumors became even more persistent, and the panic among the ghetto Jews strongly increased.

At midday, Sunday, the 26th of October, the then-Supervisor of Jewish Affairs to the Gestapo, Rauca, appeared in the Ghetto. He was already known in the Ghetto from the Action of the intellectuals. He had a longer talk with some of the members of the Elder's Council, and finally gave the following “innocent” notice:

[Page 73]

Rauca declared, “The regime has decided to divide workers from non-workers in the Ghetto. To this aim, the non-working Jews will be divided separately, and they will be resettled in an area of the former Small Ghetto. The working Jews, the majority of whom are working at the Airport, and others who are working in essential war positions, must receive more and better food for them to do more work. Therefore, on Tuesday, the 28th of October, no one from the Ghetto will go out to work in the city, and an unannounced division of the entire ghetto population will take place. The Elders Council must announce to the Ghetto population about the Tuesday gathering at the collection place.” Thus, Rauca, the cold-blooded Gestapo hangman, ended his talk.

Based on the tragic words of the Gestapo notification, there was reason for anxiety about the real purpose of the notification to call together the entire ghetto population at Democracy Square.

Therefore, from the Elders Council there arose the question of whether they should or shouldn't publicize the notice about the decree from the regime to appear at the assembly place. After passionate reassurances, on Sunday late in the evening, a few members of the Elders Council, headed by Dr. Elkes, went to Rabbi Shapira, to hear his opinion about this question. Rabbi Shapira, who at this time was ill, asked for a bit of time to think about a response. First thing on Monday morning, Rabbi Shapira responded to the Elders Council, that they should indeed publicize the notice to the ghetto population.

The strain in the Ghetto was growing greater and reached a high point when on the morning of Monday the 27th of October, the Elders Council published a notification, which said that according to the decree from the regime organization, on Tuesday the 28th of October, at 6 am, the entire ghetto population, young and old, men and women and children, healthy and even sick must assemble at Democracy Square – the large space in the domain of the Ghetto. It stated in the notice that whoever was found at home would be shot by the German Police who will inspect the houses. Therefore, the houses must remain open. Not one word was mentioned by the Elders Council in their notice about the actual motive for this assembly.

[Page 74]

Right after becoming aware of this notice from the Elders Council, the Ghetto gave the impression of a sinking ship in a time of a great storm at sea…

The warning that they would shoot those who would be found in the homes, shut out the possibility of not coming to the assembly point. It must also be noted that at that time the thought of hiding themselves to avoid the order from to assemble at the selection site, never entered the minds of the ghetto Jews.

The other half of Monday, and the evening between Monday to Tuesday was a time of huge anxiety and restlessness. People ran from one to another to interpret the unreported aim of tomorrow 's assembly at Democracy Square. One wanted to find a solution to the painful puzzle from the others: what will really happen tomorrow?

As always, there was no shortage of restless rumors this time. There was no doubt that the Gestapo themselves spread the rumor that nothing bad would happen. They said it was only a matter of an innocent walk-through of the entire ghetto population, so that the regime representatives would have an opportunity to see with their own eyes the human resources of the Ghetto. They said that the regime organization would make a public announcement to the ghetto population, and this would be all, etc. But the 28th of October 1941 would become the blackest day in the history of the Kovno Ghetto community; a day that the greatest ghetto pessimists could never dare to foresee. It would be a day that would eliminate 40% of the population of the Ghetto.

Having experience with earlier selections, it was worthwhile to have the best work documents, from which it could be seen that one works, and one is a “useful Jew.” Thus, some ghetto Jews on the next day tried to acquire as many work-certificates as possible, to justify the pretense of being a living slave.

[Page 75]

The thousand Jewish Aerodrome workers then paid greater attention to the work-bands[a] that were distributed among the German front construction people from the airfield.

Those Aerodrome workers who had not picked up their work cards from the Jewish Work Office, quickly ran there to get them, hoping that this could have great importance for them. During the next day, the commotion in the Work Office was so great, that the uneasy mobs beat each other up to acquire the work card and demolished a part of the Work Office.

The Elders Council, on their part, prepared the Ghetto population to group themselves at the square according to their various work details in this manner: Aerodrome, workshop work brigades, ghetto institutions, etc. And some workstations had a separate copy on which the workstation would be visible.

The other half day of the 27th of October ended, and the night passed between the 27th and 28th of October. Almost all the Jews spent that night in great anxiety due to the restless anticipation for the upcoming day.

The shooting stars were twinkling in the darkness of this late Autumn early morning, which had not yet become light. For the first time at the start of a winter, the earth was covered with a thin blanket layer of snow. It was frozen over and quite cold.

When the clock struck 6 a.m., suddenly Jews came out to Democracy Square from all the ghetto houses. Parents were carrying their little children in their arms or pushed them in carriages. The elderly and the weak people were held under their arms by their family members. The very sick people were taken on stretchers to the square. No one wanted to remain in the house and be exposed to the danger of being shot during the inspection of the houses. And, as was demanded by decree of the regime, the doors of all the Jewish homes remained open, free for inspection by the German police.

[Page 76]

As morning came, the entire ghetto population assembled in Democracy Square. In total there were over 26 thousand souls, every one of them desiring to be as close as possible to friends or acquaintances.

One and two hours passed, and nothing happened. Earlier, approximately 500 Jews arrived on the square and went out to work in the morning at the Aerodrome. On the day before, that is, Monday the 27th of October, they were kept working at the Aerodrome and were held at work also for the night shift, because no workers were allowed out of the Ghetto for the night shift.

These Jews returned from the Aerodrome to the Ghetto. Not finding anyone in their homes, they ran around across the square to search for their family members among the masses of people. They were dead tired and exhausted from working in the Aerodrome for two shifts in a row, and they were covered in mud and lime from their work. (As the day progressed, it later turned out that their appearance stood out, and had a fatal impact on most of them during the selection.)

At 9 a.m., battalions of German police and large groups of strongly armed Lithuanian partisans started approaching the square, under the command of the Chief of Police, Tornboim. It became obvious that their unknown fate would soon begin.

As Rauca, the Gestapo murderer arrived together with the Jew killer, Ghetto Commandant, Jordan, the huge square became deathly quiet, like during an extraordinarily tense moment. All the Jews on the square intuitively felt that something extraordinary will happen soon, something fatal…

Before anything else, a decree was delivered for everyone to stand 10 persons in a row and group themselves in columns of 100 people, keeping all families together. At the front, the family members of the Elders Council were standing and behind them the Ghetto Police, together with their family members, the column of various Ghetto institutions, and then the Jewish workers, city brigades, the workers, etc.

[Page 77]

Before this, police and partisans were sent to conduct searches in the ghetto houses, to check if all the ghetto Jews appeared at the square. Those very sick ones who were left back in the houses and who could in no way be brought to the assembly place, were collected by the police and partisans, put on trucks, and were transported directly to the 9th Fort. At this opportunity, it is worth adding that a few Lithuanian partisans, who could not overcome the evil instinct to steal, started robbing whatever there was from the Jewish homes. They were immediately sent in a convoy to the city by the Germans.

Finally, the murderers took to their bloody work.

After Rauca let the columns of the Elders Council and the Jewish Ghetto Police pass through, he started to select the columns of Jewish ghetto institutions, separating the elderly and weak people to the right side and the younger and stronger people to the left.

After ending the selection of the columns of the Jewish ghetto administration, the selection took on a more intense tempo. Standing with his face to the people assembled in the square, all the Jews had to file past him by rows, and he, Rauca, with a little stick in his hand, directed the people to go to the right or to the left.

Right from the beginning it became obvious that during the selection, Rauca was selecting mainly according to the physical appearance of the people, according to their clothing, cleanliness, family status, etc. The younger, stronger, and cleaner people, as well as, smaller families, which had few unskilled people were sent to the better side. The older and weaker people, families without skilled male workers, and others who looked unclean and were poorly dressed, were sent to the other side.

Absolutely uninterested in whether a particular Jew worked or didn't work, Rauca, didn't pay any attention at all to the work certificates, which some Jews had prepared to show him. There were many cases when long time craftsmen would file by Rauca and tell him that they are skilled workers who have already been working a long time in their trades. He would respond to them with a cynical smile: “very good! Just such artisans will be very needed here,” gesturing with his hand in direction of the Small Ghetto.

[Page 78]

However, when he would get a notice from one of his servants at the square, that on the right, that is, the bad side, there were too few victims, then he would send to the right a larger number of Jews, without any criteria, just to even out his “count.”

As lunchtime arrived, Rauca didn't stop his “holy” work. He continued with the same dedication as before, eating his bread and butter with great appetite, sending Jews to their death with his evil little stick.

At the beginning, Jordan did not select the people. He interested himself mainly with the general pace of the selection. Later, he became jealous of his “colleague” Rauca, and he actively started participating in the selection work personally.

Horrible and hideous scenes would play out during the selection, in cases when the Nazi murderer would tear an old father or mother apart from their children, or for no reason, according to their appearance, tear apart one or more family members and send them to the bad side.

A lamentable cry from family members separated forever, was carried across the huge square. Each one was dominated by a boundless despair and loss. Jews had the feeling that everyone was lost anyway. For one portion of the people, however, life was prolonged for a specific time.

Before going through the selection, most of the younger people were terribly nervous, wanting as quickly as possible to know the verdict of their fate. However, it must be said, that the older Jews displayed greater calm and security. In all the rows, you could see and hear how older Jews unceasingly recited chapters of prayers with a tragic melody, as the corpses lay in the earth…

The horrific day stretched out like an eternity. Everything that happened on that square, looked wild, and incomprehensible, as in an evil nightmare. Unfortunately, it was not a wicked dream, but an existential tragic reality.

[Page 79]

Since the ones selected for the bad side would be transported to areas of the former Small Ghetto, at the square the Jews realized, or tried to convince themselves, that two ghettos would be established: a “better” Ghetto, for the young and healthy people and a “worse” ghetto, where the older and weaker people would be, who would be chosen for the bad side.

And the sorting continued at full tempo. Unceasingly, groups of Jews would be sent to the bad side, and from there, to the Small Ghetto. Those family members who were ripped apart and would try to run over from the bad side to the better side, would be murderously beaten by the strong guards. According to the horrific attitude toward them by the guards, it was clear to see that what awaited the people would be very bad.

At this opportunity it should be mentioned that the Jewish Ghetto Police, who had to carry out various orders and job functions, had an early opportunity to move around in the square. During that horrible day, through various schemes, they helped many Jews to at least avoid the selection, or to sneak the chosen across to the good side, or, on a much smaller scale, right after the selection, grab them from the bad to the good side. That day, dozens and dozens of Jews survived a tragic death thanks to them.

The selection continued until the evening twilight. Many weak and sick people, who could not stand the lineup for an entire day on the field, died on the spot. Thus, after the selection, dozens of dead and a huge number of the sick and dying, remained lying on the assembly site. Those who were still alive were collected in trucks and were sent to the Fort to be exterminated in the morning hours.

Finally, at the end of the selection by the Gestapo murders, it became known that for the bad side, over 10,000 victims were selected. When the last group of Jews selected for the bad side was transported to the Small Ghetto, those Jews who were chosen for the good side and remained guarded for the entire day, were then allowed to return to their homes.

[Page 80]

In the evening darkness, the “lucky” Jews left their selection place and went home. But there was a colossal difference between the morning trip to the square and the return from the square in the evening: there was almost no family which returned with the same number of people they left with in the morning. In addition, hundreds and hundreds of entire families were sent away to the bad side.

Those returning home looked as if they were coming from a huge funeral, a funeral of over 10,000 people. Those who returned to their homes were dead tired, frozen, and hungry and could not revive themselves, because everyone was tortured by the question of the future fate of the chosen Jews in the Small Ghetto. Again, the night was a sleepless one.

The Jews transported to the Small Ghetto were ordered to take over the semi- destroyed residences where Jews had lived until the Action and liquidation of the Small Ghetto.

Not having any idea what kind of tragic end awaited them over the next day, the victims spread out around the Small Ghetto, to find a place where they could lay their tired heads. As it turned out, the majority believed that this would be their resting place for a longer time, so many of them wanted to take over a better apartment, etc.

During the night, the Chairman of the Elders Council, Dr. Elhanan Elkes, labored with the regime leaders to get permission to take 100 Jews out of the Small Ghetto. When he arrived at the Small Ghetto and started searching for the relevant people, the other Jews caused a terrible commotion around Dr. Elkes, and a Lithuanian partisan wounded Dr. Elkes in the head with his gun. In an unknown condition, Dr.Elkes was brought back to the Ghetto and nothing came out of this situation.


Map of the Slabodka Ghetto
(Compiled and drawn by the Engineer Yakov Peretzman)


Behind the barbed wire fence


The hanging bridge between the Small Ghetto and the rest of the Ghetto

[Page 81]

First, during the morning hours of Wednesday, the 29th of October 1941, in the Small Ghetto a commotion began: the partisans woke everyone up and they were commanded to get themselves ready for the march. At the start, not one of the victims knew where they were going to march.

When the Jews in the Small Ghetto were lined up on the street in rows and started to march, they saw that they are being taken from the Small Ghetto in the direction of the 9th Fort.

The murderous attitude toward the Jews by the stronger and larger guard, which was made up mainly of Lithuanian partisans, removed the possibility to even think about what was happening to the unlucky Jews.

The Ghetto became alarmed by the awful news that the Jews from the Small Ghetto were being taken to the 9th Fort. Everyone got up on their feet and hurried to the streets, from where they could see how they were taking the Jews to their slaughter. Unfortunately, all hopes and illusions about the fate of the selected Jews immediately became completely upended. The horrific howls and cries on both sides of the barbed wire reached the heavens. They were the horrific cries of a people who were being exterminated without any rhyme or reason.

The death column of over 10,000 Kovno Jews spread out for kilometers. This was their last march to one of the most horrible Nazi mass annihilation sites in Lithuania- the 9th Fort. Just weeks before Soviet prisoners of war were forced to prepare huge mass graves for the Jews.

Murderous Gestapo people, together with Lithuanian mass murderers, intoxicated with the poison of alcohol and driven by their animal instincts, were already there with automatic and dum-dum guns, ready to welcome the thousands of Jewish men, women, and children with a flood of fresh lead…

[Page 82]

After many days and nights, the late Autumn wind carried the echo of the incessant banging of machine guns to the Ghetto from the 9th Fort. This echo of the shooting announced to the still-living ghetto Jews that at this moment hundreds of shot and half-alive naked Jewish bodies are piling up in layers in the mass graves. They squeezed their little children to their hearts, in this way, trying to protect them from the hail from the machine guns, sending hundreds of Jewish mothers falling into the pits together with their little chicks. With the last Shema Israel [Hear, Oh Israel prayer] of these holy victims and through their death howls, their bloody curse will remain forever– a curse which will hang on the heads of the horrible Nazi mass-murderers and their Lithuanian helpers…


Original footnote:

  1. The work armbands would be worn on the left sleeve of the outer garment. Return



The situation in the Ghetto during
the first few months after the Big Action

(November 1941-January 1942)

- Depressed atmosphere among the ghetto Jews. - “Reassuring” announcements from the Ghetto Command and the Gestapo. - Assembly of foreign Jews at the 9th Fort for their murder. - Hunger, cold and hard labor. - Good news from the Soviet front. - “The Fur-Action” - Guarding of the Ghetto by a N.S.K.K. unit.

[Page 83]

After the Big Action, there remained in total 16,000 souls in the Ghetto, and the atmosphere was extraordinarily dejected.

At that time, the Jews were very desperate, not just because of the huge victim count after the Big Action, but predominantly because of a general conviction, that, sooner or later, the same fate would also await the current Jewish survivors, just like their brothers and sisters who were killed. No one in the Ghetto could therefore see any sense in further suffering, as the chances of survival to liberation, at least for a small portion of the Jews, looked completely unrealistic.

The Big Action completely confused the generally accepted belief that, as long as they needed Jews as a free labor force for various slave works, then the Nazis would allow them to remain alive for a longer time. But after the Big Action, when hundreds of the best Jewish artisans, thousands of young, healthy, and talented male and female workers, were taken to the 9th Fort to be killed, how could anyone believe that they would allow the Jews to remain alive? Would they have wiped them out for work?!

[Page 84]

It turned out that this opinion was correct. While the Jews lived in the Nazi hell, they had to work, and, like the more optimistic ghetto Jews figured out, it meant that while the Jews worked, they would allow them to live…

That's why the Jews in the Ghetto started to relate to going to work with skepticism. That's when the ghetto Jews started to formulate the psychology of “there is nothing else to say; in any case our fate is sealed,” etc.

When this desperate atmosphere reached the Nazi ghetto-administrators, the then-Ghetto Commandant, Jordan, came to the Elders Council and gave an “assurance” in the name of the regime administration, that “the Big Action was the “last” Action for the Kovno Ghetto,” and that, “all Jews should be calm about their future fate,” etc. etc.

And beyond that, Jordan requested that the Jews should punctually and conscienciously fulfill their work duties.

As “comfort” from the Nazis for the 10,000 Jewish victims and in parallel as a “stimulus” to motivate the Jews to want to work, Jordan gave the Elders Council a check for 10,000 Marks and ordered them to pay the Jewish Aerodrome workers half a Mark per day. And, by the way, he “authorized” that the remaining belongings of those Jews who were taken away during the Big Action, be distributed among the poor unfortunate Aerodrome workers.

A few days later, after Jordan's announcement, the chief-murderer of the Big Action, Rauca, came to the Elders Council and he also gave a “calming” speech about the future fate of the Ghetto, in the same spirit as Jordan.

Understandably, none of the ghetto Jews was convinced by these announcements from the Nazi murderers, Jordan and Rauca, and the Jews remained in the same desperate mood as before.

As additional proof of why they should not believe all these “promises” from the ghetto bosses, was the tragic fact that for over a month, that is, from the middle of November to the middle of December 1941, they were bringing larger groups of foreign Jews (Germans, Austrians, Czechs, etc.) to be exterminated.

[Page 85]

Thousands of foreign Jews were then killed at the 9th Fort. The foreign Jews were brought by train to Kovno, from where they would transport them on foot alongside the Ghetto to the 9th Fort. Most of the time it was done at night, so as not to draw the attention of the surrounding population.

From the various letters found[a] in the robbed belongings of the murdered Jews from foreign countries, they could discern the places from where they were brought. They were assured by the local regime that they were being relocated to “Estonia” for work, and they were allowed to bring with them a larger amount of their better items, a large amount of food, etc.

It turns out that the foreign Jews couldn't imagine the real motive for their “relocation” and believed that they were going to work somewhere in the occupied Soviet regions.

Some Jewish youths were captured in the year 1943 to work at the 9th Fort. Their job was to excavate the bodies of the murdered Jews from the pits and burn them to erase the evidence of Hitler's horrors.[b] Many foreign Jews were found in the mass graves, dressed in their clothes.

This happened because a portion of the foreign Jews refused to undress naked for the execution, as per the “regulations” at the 9th Fort.

Because of all this, the ghetto Jews felt extraordinarily pessimistic about the development of the events in the Ghetto. The questions of how to live and somehow to survive from day to day became the greatest calamity in the Ghetto.

[Page 86]

More than half a year passed since the beginning of the Nazi occupation, and at that time the Jews had already experienced so many problems and so much pain, that they couldn't even mention other complaints. And they remained without any material means of existence.

As was mentioned in a preceding chapter, most of the Jews did not possess any food reserves when they entered the Ghetto, and the little food that anyone brought had already been finished long ago. Through their work in the city, Jews would smuggle food products into the Ghetto, which they would buy illegally from the Christians with whom they worked. At that time there were very few who could do it because most Jews worked at the Aerodrome and the Jews there would almost never come into contact with Christians, with whom they could exchange their last shirt or clothes for some sustenance.[c]

Exchanging their possessions for food products with the Christians who walked near the Ghetto Fence, later became connected with a death sentence, because the guards at the Ghetto Fence would shoot at any Jew without warning if they tried to get close to the fence.

The official allocation for the Jews by the regime was inconsequential (less than a third of the food distribution for a non-Jew!) Bread was a treasured find, which could rarely even partially satisfy any ghetto Jew, even if he could get it. Frozen, rotten potatoes and even potato peels were also a huge thing for the ghetto Jews.

Therefore, in hundreds of ghetto houses hunger, in the literal meaning of the word, became a real and constant companion, and day after day, it seized even more and more Jewish families.

Later, in the winter of 1941-42, the famous huge frost set in, and a terrible cold added to the hunger. The Jews didn't have any warm clothing to wear, and they would have to work in the cold open fields of the Aerodrome from early morning until the evening.

[Page 87]

Aside from this, thousands of Jews would also have to march approximately 10-12 kilometers to go from the Ghetto to work and back, every day. So that winter, hands and feet were frozen, and Jews became handicapped.

There was not even a piece of wood to warm up the oven after coming home. Therefore, Jews started tearing down wooden fences around the unoccupied houses of the Ghetto, tearing them into splinters. Whoever had the opportunity, would carry a piece of wood on himself for 5-6 kilometers from their workplace, until they got back into the Ghetto. However, it was common for Jews to arrive at the Ghetto Gate and a guard would confiscate the heavy piece of wood.

A large portion of the German bosses maintained a cruel attitude toward the aerodrome workers. They would beat them brutally for the smallest “sin” and, for many Jews, destroyed their little strength and ruined their health.

This is the way the Jews were plagued in Hitler's hell, and very often they envied their murdered brothers and sisters, who were spared so much inhumane suffering and persecution.

The suffering and gloomy ghetto Jew had only one comfort that gave great hope and raised his spirits: the strategic situation on the German-Soviet front during the winter of 1941-42.

During the period until the Big Action, and for a certain time thereafter, it looked to almost everyone in the Ghetto, like the Nazis and their collaborators, heaven forbid, would give up their predatory war goals and then there would no longer be any place for the least illusion about the fate of the Jews who were still alive. The Soviet attacks and their victories over the Nazi armies gave a little spark of hope and spirit for better times.

As the winter progressed, the difficulties of the German military situation became more apparent. This brought great satisfaction for the ghetto Jews for all the persecution and attacks they suffered from the Germans.

[Page 88]

While the Jews themselves suffered terribly from the extraordinarily cold winter, it was everyone's desire that the winter should be harsher, and it should last longer…

At the end of December 1941, in the early morning, the Ghetto experienced a huge shock “for a change.” A totally unexpected order was publicized from the Elders Council. According to an order from the regime, the Jews must give up their available furs within the hour, including even simple furs which Jews wear to work.

Just like at the beginning, it was predicted by this decree that if the Jews had to give up their furs, they could not go to work in the city that day, and everyone would have to assemble on the tragically infamous Democracy Square, where on the 28th of October 1941 the selection of the Big Action took place. So, the Jews translated the situation of giving up the furs as a special assembly by the Gestapo, to, once again, go through a selection connected to an Action.

As a result, the Ghetto became very anxious and almost all the Jews decided that under no circumstance would they go to the Democracy Square. Jews considered it better to be shot in the Ghetto, in your own home, rather than go to the Square and from there to the 9th Fort.

When the Gestapo figured out the atmosphere of the ghetto Jews, they backed off the original plan for the Jews to assemble at Democracy Square. They agreed that the Jews should give up their furs at specially designated collection points instead.

The ghetto Jews were already happy, that instead of an Action against the Jews, it ended up only as an Action of Jewish furs. So, they brought their better furs, as well as their own simple torn work furs to the collection point. It would have been very dangerous to attempt to hide them from the big house searches this time in the Ghetto, in the Autumn of 1941.

[Page 89]

As it turns out, the hard winter of 1941-42 went deep into the bones of the Hitlerites, so that they didn't even feel ashamed to confiscate the Jews' worn out and torn work furs and send them to their frozen army divisions on the Soviet front. Nevertheless, the Ghetto had a day of deathly fear and a difficult experience because of the fear of an Action, which luckily did not take place.

During this “Fur-Action,” the figure of a young Jewish man, Beno LIptzer, boldly swam to the surface of ghetto life. He was the Brigadier of the Jewish work brigade in the Kovno Gestapo.

Because of his association with a row of leading Gestapo people, Liptzer quickly started to play a first-class role in ghetto life. Liptzer and the Kovno Ghetto – this is a theme, which begs separate attention in the story of the Kovno Ghetto settlement and deserves broader scrutiny at another opportunity.

In the middle of January 1942, a division of the Kovno G.S. K.K.[d] took over the guarding of the Ghetto.

Until that time, the guarding of the Ghetto lay in the hands of a division of the German Police, which had at its disposal a larger group of Lithuanian partisans. Both the command of the Ghetto Guard, as well as the guard posts near the Ghetto Fence had their quarters in the neighborhoods of the Ghetto. They would only enter the Ghetto itself when they would have to take care of service issues.

When the G.S.K.K. people took over the guarding of the Ghetto, the command of the Ghetto Guard organized itself inside the Ghetto. This alone meant a change for the worse, because until then, they would hardly see anyone from the Ghetto Guard too often, and now they were plentiful in all corners of the Ghetto.

[Page 90]

Aside from that, from the start, they immediately introduced terrible terror near the Ghetto Fence. From the first days of their takeover of the Ghetto Guard station, they shot a few Jews who attempted to approach the fence to exchange something for food-products with a Christian bypasser.

Also, they immediately assessed the need to install stronger control near the Ghetto Fence over the Jews who were coming back from their work in the city. This took away the little food which the Jews had illegally procured through their work. This meant a terrible verdict of hunger for the Ghetto.

Already on the first day, they set an example that they were serious about their new powerful control near the Ghetto Fence. They shot a Jew, by the name of Gempel, who wanted to escape out of their control.

They also didn't forget to “order” the issue of how the ghetto Jews must greet the German Ghetto Guard (even from far away, when seeing a German, a man would have to take off his hat, women walking by, with a nod with their head.)

Seeing the outcome for the Jews regarding the G.S.K.K., the Lithuanian partisans became jealous that their German “colleagues” were not being greeted “properly.” Thus, a murderous Lithuanian partisan passing by from one of the streets of the Ghetto, shot the Jewish doctor Gerber, without any warning. All these things together threw the Ghetto into a horrible fear of eventual abuses from the new Ghetto Guard.

One day later, however, people from the strong G.S.K.K., became more permissive and after a while they became lax on their original terrorization of the Ghetto population. This was the result of receiving fat Jewish “gifts.” Nevertheless, their takeover of the guarding of the Ghetto, as we have seen, cost the ghetto Jews a long list of victims and a huge amount of alarm.


Original footnotes:

  1. The letters were found by Kovno Ghetto Jews who were workers for the Kovno Gestapo and there they organized the belongings of the murdered Jews. Return
  2. See “Legendary Escape of the Work Brigade, which worked at the 9th Fort, burning the excavated corpses.” Return
  3. More details about this issue in later chapters. Return
  4. “National-Socialist Kraftfar-Corpus” – a Nazi military formation which had to do with motorized transport routes. Return


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