Children, Old and Sick People Action
|- Calm mood in the Ghetto on the eve of the Action. - Innocent organization of the Jewish Police to gather and learn how to protect themselves from attacks from the air. - Unexpected deportation of Jews to the camp in the 9th Fort. - The Action in the Ghetto and in the labor camps. - The situation in the Ghetto after the Action
As was said, the last half of March 1944 went by in an atmosphere of relative quiet in the Ghetto. Something noteworthy at that time was the disquieting rumors about whether to get people out of the Ghetto. Absolutely no one imagined or suspected that this was the quiet before the big storm, which would soon take over the Ghetto settlement and the outlying camps, and would take approximately 2000 victims.
In one row of ghetto houses, the religious Jews were baking matza, little by little, so that their Pesach shouldn't be disturbed. This was done in the strictest secrecy, so that, God forbid, the S.S. people from the Camp Commandant shouldn't notice.
The favorable news about the military situation on the fronts, the beautiful and sunny spring days which suddenly arrived, together with the Pesach atmosphere, threw brighter streaks of light on the mood of the downtrodden ghetto Jews.
In truth, the painfully haunting dream about liberation and redemption during this pre-Pesach time did not seem to be realistic, like in the past or even earlier. While waiting for deliverance for the ghetto Jews, an uneasy feeling developed with the approach of the front lines. Logically, the liquidation of the Ghetto would have to come. But many ghetto Jews wanted to believe that no matter what would happen, perhaps they would be among the chosen ones who would in some indirect way survive the barely conceivable luck of redemption and liberation.
On the night of Sunday, the 26th of March 1944, the Camp Commander, Goecke, informed the chief of the Jewish Ghetto Police that tomorrow, Monday at 8 a.m., the full complement of the Jewish Police should assemble in the courtyard of the Camp Commander. There, they will receive instructions about protecting the Ghetto from air strikes. Never had there been any talk by the regime about air protection in the Ghetto. At that time, no one was suspicious of anything bad in this innocent information from Goecke, believing that Ghetto Jews are not privy to such genteel matters like protection against air attacks.
On their return, the ghetto optimists saw this specific announcement as a demonstration that these are different times. That means that the ghetto Jews were no longer helpless in the time of an air attack, until now.
The Jewish Ghetto Police, which included in their ranks about 130 men, prepared themselves to line up in front of the Camp Commander, in full regalia, dressed up in military drill, like for a celebratory parade.
A sunny pre-spring-like day arrived on an early Monday morning, the 27th of March 1944.
As always, the Jewish workers who worked in the city and in the various ghetto workshops, went out to work. Only those who worked the night shift in the Large Ghetto Workshops, and the old people, sick ones, and children remained in the Jewish homes.
Just after they let the Jews out to work, around 7:30 in the morning, a strengthening of guards was seen around the Ghetto Fence, a phenomenon which didn't bode well for the Ghetto. However, at that moment we didn't contemplate anything bad, and, anyway, very few Jews noticed that the guards around the Ghetto Fence were strengthened, so there arose no commotion. Before that time, the Jewish Ghetto Police collected themselves in the courtyard of the Camp Commander.
Around 8 a.m., when the Jewish Police were already standing in military drill at the Camp Commander's courtyard, ready to hear the announcement about the air attack, Goecke stood before them and called the Jewish policemen who played in the Ghetto orchestra out of the columns and ordered them to enter into the Commandant building. All the other Jewish policemen received an order to sit on the ground, and to their great surprise were encircled by a strong guard. At this time Gestapo cars entered the Ghetto and a taxi started driving all over the ghetto streets, ceaselessly repeating the following phrase through a megaphone:
Attention, Attention. Everyone must remain in the house. Anyone found outside their house will be shot.
While the Gestapo shouted the good news through a megaphone to the Ghetto residents, the Jewish policemen were forced to climb on all fours, to be caged in the trucks in which they were taken in the direction of the 9th Fort. A Jewish policeman, Levner, whose feet became cramped from fear and could not fulfill the order to get into the truck, was immediately shot on the spot.
Approaching the Fort, two Jewish officials from the Ghetto Police, Advocat, Zilberkweit and Levin, jumped out of the truck and started running. But they were immediately shot by the Gestapo accomplices.
At the Fort, they first took away everything that the Jewish policemen had, they tortured them murderously, and afterwards confined them in the casements of the Fort.
Later, the refined mass executioner, Kittel, approached them, and through all kinds of pressure and blackmail, tried to press information out of them about the existing bunkers in the Ghetto and about the activities of the youth who went out into the forest to the partisans.
The first ones taken for interrogation, was the Chief of the Jewish Police, Moshe Levin, and his assistants Itzhak Grinberg and Yudel Zupovich. Afterwards, they were murderously tortured to get any information, (in which, by the way, the Gestapo investigators were not successful). They were shot and their bodies were burned on the pyres, as they previously burned the dead who were excavated.[a]
At the same time as the Jewish police were taken away to the 9th Fort, the Gestapo groups, together with the Ukrainians, tore through the Ghetto, and spread themselves out to all corners of the Ghetto.
It now became certain that this was an Action. But at the start, it was still not known what ‘type’ of Action it was.
Those who had specially built malinas or other kinds of hiding places, hid immediately. In any case, each person found wherever they could to hide and not be in view of the oncoming murderers.
After the first attack on the ghetto houses, they started dragging out children, the elderly and the sick. It then became clear that this time it was about that which caused such painful anxiety for such a long time; but right now it was totally unexpected.
Just like the case of the Shavl Ghetto, the Kovno Nazis, it seems, had a decree to take away the children who were younger than 12, men and women who were older than 55 and, in addition, all the sick and invalids, regardless of their age.
Earlier on, many children had already arranged to get work cards wherever possible, indicating that they were 12 years old or older, but it helped little, because the Gestapo didn't pay much attention to these work cards. For them the only measurement was the physical look of the child.
A similar situation also happened with the elder people. For them, the age indicated on the work card was not as important as the general impression from their physical appearance.
Those bed-ridden sick people and invalids were taken away without any accounting of their age.
In the houses where they did not have any hiding places, or where they didn't manage to climb into them yet, they quickly hid the small children in many ways. For example, they hid children in the bedding, in the clothes, in furniture, in trenches in the yard, in the toilets, in the attics, in the cellars, etc. The mothers were motivated to think up all sorts of inventions for hiding the children, just to delay the danger of having their children torn away forever.
There were instances when the children were suffocated in the hiding places. To keep the smaller children from crying and screaming in the hiding places, and thus, being found by the murderers, they would put them to sleep with the help of narcotics. There were more than a few unfortunate accidents from overdoses.
When the Gestapo, together with their assistants, the Ukrainians, stormed through the Ghetto, they got to work with great haste. They dragged children, the elderly and the sick from the houses, from all corners of the Ghetto, loaded them onto trucks with dark windows and transported them out of the Ghetto. The screams and the wailing reached to the skies.
Trying to muffle the lamentations and crying of the children and the mothers who were forced with their own hands to give up their own little infants to the trucks, the Gestapo, played loud recorded music in the circulating buses. The heartbreaking scenes could not be drowned out by any jazz music. All over the Nazi area of the Ghetto were heard the cries of tortured Jews, who in the middle of the day, were set upon by the Nazi murderers.
Specially trained dogs tore wildly at the unfortunate Jewish mothers who didn't want to give up their children, biting them with their very long teeth, until the mothers fell from weakness, and let go of the children from their arms. Then the Gestapo murderers would throw the children into the trucks.
The stubborn mothers, who did not let go of their children, were shot on the spot, or they were thrown into the trucks together with their children.
Considering that a portion of the Jews were hiding in their bunkers, or wherever they could hide themselves, the child-murderers were prepared with sticks and iron bars. Every wall, every door, every attic, every cellar that they considered suspicious and where they might find hidden Jews, was broken into and thoroughly ransacked.
They would get to work in such a thorough manner that in the cases where they uncovered a malina, they would use grenades. It would not take too long until they would either uncover the malina and collect the victims, or they would convince them that there is no way to hide.
Every house was ransacked a few times. Often, they would use chalk, with previously arranged markings, to indicate to the new Hitler commanders what the previous Gestapo had found from their search.
In the houses where Ukrainians themselves would carry out the orders - without the Germans -they would first take a suggested bribe from the Jews and either take away the victims, or they would go away and immediately send in their friends to do it.
Around the Big Ghetto Workshops, from early in the morning, a guard was stationed who did not allow anyone in or out during the entire day.
Below: The crematoria
|Tombstone of Dr. Elkes at the mass grave in the former Camp 1 site near Landsberg.
Michael Burstein renown Polish-Jewish script writer. Was in Kovno Ghetto and died in Dachau.
An earthen hut in one of the Dachau labor camps.
Mass graves of dead camp prisoners near Schwabhausen (near Munich) on the eve before liberation.
The misfortune was foreseen in the Ghetto Workshops, where many older people worked and a quite a few children were located. With urgency, they started hiding many children, and a portion of older people in the numerous buildings in the furthest situated corners of the workshops. The chase for victims took on a dramatic race, because there were children and older people who were hidden under huge piles of German military clothes, shoes, bolsters, etc., things that Jews were working on. In specific hiding places dozens and dozens of children and older persons were lying hidden, and while holding their breath, waited for a long time, and wondered how it would all end.
During the first Action Day in the Ghetto Workshops, through these various strategies and with great danger, they succeeded in avoiding a greater toll of victims.
Even worse, children were cut off from those who were hidden in the workshops, where Jews worked exclusively for the Gestapo. The Gestapo collected the hidden children and with murderous fury, they demonstrated their genuine Nazi gratitude to these Jewish craftsmen, the parents of these children, who slaved day in and day out, at their jobs.
The wild hunt by the murderous Nazis continued for an entire day. About 1000 children, elderly and sick persons were caught during the first day of the Action.
At that moment it was unknown where they took the victims. Later, it was understood that the victims of the first Action Day were taken away to Auschwitz, where they were gassed and burned in those gas chambers and crematoria, like millions of other Jewish victims.
From the Ghetto, they would transport the victims in trucks to the train where a special troop transport was prepared for them. At that time, it was said that the Action of children, elderly and the sick took place at the same time in the Vilna Jewish labor camp, and the transport with the Vilna victims met up with the Kovno troop transport at the Kovno railroad station.
Before nightfall, around 6 pm, the Action was halted. The murderers left the Ghetto area. The Jewish work brigades started returning from the city, and the special guards were disbanded from the Ghetto Workshops.
The people who returned from work in the city or were freed from their work in the Ghetto Workshops, ran wildly to their homes to see who was missing. There was almost no house where someone wasn't missing and taken away in the Action. Appalling and fearful scenes played out in the houses; people were crying hysterically over the victims, pulling their hair out of their heads, and fainting on the floor.
There were no words to comfort each other. The pain was horrible, and everyone was utterly broken up.
While crying over the victims of the previous day at the same time, each one was also thinking: what will happen tomorrow? Will the Action really be ordered for tomorrow also?
Nothing more can be said about what the Ghetto went through that night.
The night passed, and the following day was a sunny morning, Tuesday the 28th of March 1944. No one in the Ghetto knew whether the Action was over or not. Thus, all who had a place, hid their children and elderly.
On this Tuesday, the Jewish workers who worked in the city, were let out to work as usual. In the morning, several children aged 10-12, as well as elderly people succeeded in smuggling themselves through the Ghetto Gate into the city, alongside the workers brigade. In this way they avoided the tragic fate of the second day of the Action.
At eight in the morning, the murderers came into the Ghetto again and the Action was renewed.
Right from the start, it was seen that the main goal of the second day of the Action was to uncover the ghetto malinas. Right from the morning hours the sound of the grenades were heard. Two-faced human animals together with bloodhounds energetically and thoroughly ransacked every place in which there was suspected to be a malina.
On the first Action Day when they would uncover a bunker, mainly to take away the children, elderly and sick, the young and healthy ones would be murderously beaten up and left in the Ghetto. But the second Action Day was different. From every uncovered malina they took everyone away-- whoever they found, and transported them out of the Ghetto.
On the second Action Day some of the Jewish Police who were transported to the 9th Fort during the first Action Day, were seen seated together with the Gestapo in some Gestapo taxis, showing the Gestapo where malinas were to be found.
As it was later discovered, the murderous Gestapo Kittel, applied such aggressive measures on the arrested Jewish Police, that some of them who had a lower moral level, couldn't hold out and agreed to tell the Gestapo all he knew about the malinas, and in addition, certain details about the partisan movement in the Ghetto. These specific informants among the Jewish Police now participated in uncovering the malinas.
As previously mentioned, a very covert role was played by Beno Liftzer who had a connection with the Gestapo circles, and specifically with Kittel. To everyone's surprise, he was transported with the arrested Jewish Police to the Fort during the Action. According to later information, his arrest, as it turns out, related to helping Kittel break the morale of the arrested Jewish Police.
Because of this informant, several malinas were discovered. There were cases where their own family members were inside the malinas which they betrayed. It was difficult to know whether these same informants knew what was taking place back in the Ghetto while they were sitting at the Fort. In any case, after their liberation from the Fort, they were considered by the Ghetto Jews like Gestapo agents, and they would watch out for them.
At this opportunity, it is worthwhile adding that a few of these Jewish Police informants, who succeeded in hiding themselves during the Ghetto liquidation, were liberated by the Russians. They were later tried and judged by the Soviet Judicial Courts, to 10-15 years hard labor. Others, who were taken away in the deportation to the Dachau camp together with all the Jews, died in the first few weeks, because the Jews themselves terrorized them with beatings and persecution.
Not looking at the specific cluster of informants, the Jewish Police didn't betray the Ghetto during their arrest. As it will be submitted in later broader descriptions, there were then 40 Jewish policemen. Among them, the chief himself, together with his two helpers and almost all the higher police functionaries were killed at the 9th Fort in a horrible way. They sacrificed their young lives for their people.
The terror on the second day of the Action was more horrific than the first day. The Hitlerites and the Ukrainians went wild. In an unmerciful mood toward those Jews discovered in the malinas, they were shooting left and right.
During the second Action Day approximately 300 victims were caught, mostly from the malinas. As was later clarified, the victims from the second Action Day were taken to the 9th Fort and there they were all shot and immediately burned on the pyres, where they continued burning the dead who were excavated.
Once again, the Ghetto went through a horrific day that cost the Jewish residents a few hundred victims.
Night fell. Completely unexpectedly, the weather started to change. It started to storm. It snowed heavily and it became the start of a real winter. The snowstorm started in the morning of Wednesday, the 29thof March. It was unknown whether the Action would continue for a third day. As it turned out, the wonderfully bad weather disturbed the Gestapo from continuing the Action.
Wanting to find out directly from Goecke, the Elder Council was told that the Action absolutely must continue for a third day, because according to the recent compiling of registration from the ghetto residents, there had to be many more children and older people than were found during the two Action Days. So, Goecke took on the responsibility to bring order to the issue himself - the Action was stopped.
While the Action was taking place in the Ghetto, the Gestapo also conducted a similar Action in the Jewish labor camps, which were located around Kovno and in the provinces.
In the work camps where the Jews lived cramped in barracks under a continuously strong guard, it was easier for the murderers to achieve their predatory goal. Here there wasn't even the smallest possibility to hide the children or the elders, which was the case in the main ghetto.
In all these labor camps approximately 500 victims were captured and were taken in an unknown direction to their annihilation.
In total in this Action of children, elders and sick, the toll of Kovno Jews was approximately 1800 victims.
This was the most dreadful Action in the Kovno Ghetto. In the previous mass murders, the Ghetto lost 20,000 souls, when mainly entire families would die together, but this Action was even more hostile, because children were torn away from their parents.
During this Action, the smallest hopes and illusions became utterly upended even among the more optimistic ghetto Jews. All assumptions about the end of the big mass murders of the Jews were now burst, like a soap-bubble. It was certain that no Jew would be able to get out alive from the devil's hand, unless there would be some indirect miracle.
Together with the grief of the victims of this horrific Action of the 27thand 28thof March, on the 29thof March the most painful and urgent question now developed: what to do with the hidden children? They were sure that the Ghetto would be attacked suddenly, and the surviving children would have the same fate as the victims of the Action.
The answer to the posed question was clear: they had to get the children out of the Ghetto as soon as possible and give them over to some Christian families, who were not so reliable, but it couldn't be worse than in the Ghetto.
On the morning just after the Action, they very energetically mobilized to get the children out of the Ghetto, as fast as possible.
Officially, it was said that there were no longer any children younger than 12 years old or people older than 55 years old left in the Ghetto. Thus, it was decided to hide the smaller children in the house until whatever happens, and the children, from 7 or 8 years old were sent to the Ghetto Vocational School. The older people quickly started to get themselves a place to work in the Big Ghetto Workshops, in the Ghetto Gardens, in the lighter workplaces in the neighborhoods of the Ghetto, etc.
So that everything would be in order, they would make the children's work cards older than 12 years, and for the elderly ones, not older than 55 years.
To make the older people look a bit younger, they started dying their grey hair a dark color, and men started cutting off their beards, etc.
They started dressing the younger children in clothing of older children, in shoes with higher heels, etc. to make the little children look older.
It was extraordinarily painful to see the involuntary rejuvenation of the old people and the aging of the children.
About the children, it is necessary to note something: 3-4 months after the Action, that means, in the middle of July 1944, because of the approaching front line, the Ghetto, together with the surrounding work camps, were deported toward Germany. They were sent to the sorrowfully-infamous transit extermination camp Stutthof, near Danzig. There, a selection of the transported women from Kovno took place.
Those women, whose children were taken from them during the Action, came to Stutthof alone, without children, and from there they were dispersed and sent to forced labor in the camps of Prussia. Several of them succeeded in surviving until the liberation.
All those women, whose children were saved during the Action and had their children with them in Stutthof, were sent to Auschwitz for extermination and none of them remained alive.[b]
This is the strangely tragic fate of the Jews under the extermination system of the Nazi murderers…
Difficult Situation in the Ghetto between April - June 1944
|- Liquidation of the Jewish Ghetto Police. - Founding the Service Order. - Arrest of the Elders Council. - Final liquidation of the ghetto autonomy. - New and more severe directives in the Ghetto regime: a. Increased guarding over the Jews, b. Systematic counting of the Jewish population c. Dressing the Jews in striped concentration camp uniforms d. Hasty measures to recruit the rest of the Jews in the Ghetto. - The arrest of the Partisan leader Chaim Yellin. - Gestapo attack on a Jewish Partisan group.
A few days after the Action on the children, sick and elderly, the fate of the arrested Jewish policemen, and the existence of the Jewish Ghetto Police in general, were all clarified.
As was mentioned earlier, a total of 130 members of the Jewish Police were arrested. Thereafter, the Police Chief, together with his two assistants, were shot at the Fort. It seems that Kittel, with knowledge from his confidant in the Ghetto, B. Liptzer, carried out the following decision: about 40 responsible functionaries from the Jewish Police will remain in the Fort until further notice. All others (90 some-odd men) would be freed from the Fort and be brought back to the Ghetto.
Approximately 40 higher officers of the Jewish Police, mentioned above, were later shot at the Fort. Kittel had doubts about shooting them because he had earlier wanted to extract money from the Jews for, let's say, freeing them. He did manage to extract a huge sum of money from the interested family members, but he never freed any of them. After shooting the policemen, their clothing, shoes, and boots were brought from the Fort and distributed to the German Kapos in the Ghetto.
Aside from this blood bath of the Jewish Ghetto Police, the Gestapo decided to liquidate the Jewish Ghetto Police, and in its place established a Jewish Service Order.
The Service Order consisted of 50 people. It only included those from the prior Jewish Ghetto Police, against whom the Gestapo didn't have any contempt. Understandably, with the ascension of the Service Order they worked with those who informed about the malinas during the Children's Action, and other morally dubious people from the past Jewish Ghetto Police.
There was a very essential difference between the entire liquidated Jewish police and the new Gestapo Service Order. While the Jewish Ghetto Police was an institution that was founded under the authority of the Elders Council, the Service Order was nominated and stood at the disposition of the Camp Commander, and, also under the Gestapo.
Regardless of all the shady sides of the Jewish ghetto informants in general, and of the Jewish Ghetto Police in particular, the Jewish ghetto institutions, for the most part, advanced the general Jewish interests.
The Service Order, however, from the beginning until the end was an institution which had consistently collaborated with the Nazis against the interests of the ghetto population.
The ghetto Jews started relating to the members of Service Order with great suspicion and distrust. In Jewish families where children who were hidden from the Nazis during the Action were still found, they made sure to hide them, not only from the S.S. men, but also from the Jews who served in the Service Order. Jews were also afraid that someone from the Service Order, God forbid, should know about the malinas, or any other hidden items they possessed.
Later, when harsh directives were introduced to prevent Jews from leaving the Ghetto, the Service Order inflicted much damage on the Jews. When they learned about it, they were, directly and indirectly, responsible for many Jewish victims.
One of the higher leaders of the Service Order was a specific Jewish young man named T. Arenshtam. While he was a high police official at the Ghetto Gate, he fulfilled his duties exceptionally well, with a brutal relationship toward the ghetto population. As the head boss of the Service Order he would go wild. Thus, after the liberation of Kovno he was sentenced to 15 years hard labor in jail by the Soviet court authorities.
In parallel to the liquidation of the Jewish Ghetto Police, the turn also came to liquidate the Elders Council, and the entire Jewish ghetto autonomy.
On the afternoon of 4th of April 1944, Kittel came to the Ghetto and arrested the Elders Council, including the Chairman, Dr. Elkes, a few additional people from the Housing Office, from the Social Office, and the printers of the Elders Council. All those arrested were immediately transported to the 9th Fort.
After all the tragic experiences related to the Action on the children, elderly and sick, after the happenings with the Ghetto Police, this arrest of the Elders Council, including leaders of the ghetto institutions, created an extraordinary panic among the ghetto Jews. The Jews saw a sign through these arrests, that the regime was hastily advancing the liquidation of the Ghetto. Specifically, the arrest of Dr. Elkes was a huge surprise for the ghetto Jews, because everyone knew that the Camp Commander, Goecke, counted on him for the most part. So, the Jews thought that if he, Goecke, allowed Dr. Elkes' arrest, this probably had a very bad meaning for the Ghetto. In the Ghetto, all hell broke loose, and the Jews were horribly restless.
As it later turned out, this arrest stood in conjunction with the desire of the Gestapo to investigate details related to the building of malinas in the Ghetto, etc. Kittel decided to bring the arrested men to the Fort as a greater death shock, so that they would reveal everything they knew about the issue. Kittel knew very well what the symbol of the 9th Fort meant to the ghetto Jews.
On the next day after the investigation, all the arrested were brought back to the Ghetto, except Advocate L. Garfunkel, the Vice Chairman of the Elders Council, and Advocate, Y. Goldberg, a member of the Elders Council.
After energetic Jewish intervention through Goecke, Advocate Goldberg was also freed after a few days.
The Jewish Ghetto Police and the Finance Office, among others, were overseen by the Elders Council under the competence of Advocate Garfunkel. Advocate Garfunkel was held at the Fort for a week's time, where he was tortured terribly. He was barely alive and with great effort was brought back to the Ghetto. The Gestapo ordered him not to leave the house until his wounds would heal a bit, so that the ghetto Jews shouldn't see how badly he was battered at the Fort.
After this arrest, Goecke informed Dr. Elkes that the Elders Council was liquidated. Dr. Elkes was appointed as the omniscient of the ghetto settlement. But, no counselor or colleague of Dr. Elkes was appointed, and his power was very restricted.
Together with the liquidation of the Elders Council, a final resolution also took place about the other remaining Jewish ghetto institutions which were barely alive, like the Jewish Labor Office, the Workshop Office, etc.
We must say, however, that since the Ghetto was converted into a concentration camp, the ghetto autonomy in fact, ceased to exist, because the Camp Command itself took over the order of all the ghetto issues, which until then were organized by the Jewish ghetto institutions.
Jewish issue workers were active in a few sections of the command, in order for the officials of the Camp Command to orient themselves easily into the management of ghetto matters.
Although initially the Jewish ghetto institutions still existed, but their capacity shrank from day to day until they were ultimately liquidated. The last functions of the liquidated Jewish ghetto institutions were then transferred to the Camp Command.[a]
These last events in the life of the Ghetto had such an impact, that a few Jews started actively feeling that the earth in the Ghetto is burning under their feet.
Whoever had even the smallest possibility of contacting a Christian acquaintance in the city or in the village, to be hidden by him, didn't consider anything else, and was prepared to do it as fast as possible. Anyone who even had the slightest possibility of shelter outside the Ghetto, started leaving the Ghetto.
In order to stop the Jews from escaping from the Ghetto, a hailstorm of decrees and directives came down on them. Let's mention only a few of the most important ones:
First, the guard around the Ghetto Fence was strengthened so that a Jew who wanted to leave the Ghetto would not be able to sneak out so easily.
Truth be told, Jews were able to get around this decree. With the help of the Jewish functionaries at the Ghetto Gate, they managed to find those guards who would be willing to take bribes. The Ghetto found out which of the guards took bribes, so if someone had to leave the Ghetto, he would seek out the good guards. to allow passage through the gate.
Also, the number of guards who accompanied the Jewish work brigades into the city to their work was strongly increased. For example, in 1942, there was a time in the Ghetto when the Jewish work brigades would go to work in the city without German guards at all, only accompanied by Jewish Ghetto Policemen. Later, some work brigades had only a few guards. Now, they introduced a very harsh order: for every 5-6 Jews who went into the city to work, there would have to be one guard. A workplace which could not get the proper military employees for the needed number of guards, could not use a Jewish worker from the Ghetto.
Both at work, as well as around the workplace, the guarding was very strong. To smuggle oneself out of the workplace became much more difficult.
But not everything could be totally supervised to avoid Jewish escapes. Those Jews who had somewhere to go would find various ways to disappear and get to their Christian acquaintances.
To draw in the Jewish brigade leaders in the battle against Jews escaping from work, they put personal responsibility on the brigade leaders for those cases when a Jew in their brigade would disappear. At the Ghetto Gate there would be strong control by the guards on the number of Jews, in case anyone, God forbid, was missing. In the morning, upon exiting the Ghetto Gate to work and at their return at night from work, they were counted.
When all these measures couldn't stop Jews from leaving the Ghetto, Goecke got help from his Jewish consultant who thought of new stronger orders.
Controlling the number of Jews in a labor camp was very simple: two times a day, in the morning and at night, they would conduct a roll call.
In the battle against escape from the Ghetto, Goecke, from time to time, would call the entire ghetto population together in a place, to conduct a roll call.
Officially, after the Children's Action only skilled workers remained in the Ghetto. Each ghetto Jew had to have a work post in the Ghetto or in the city. As confirmation while they worked, they earned a work card, which would be given out by the German Labor Office in the Ghetto. As you can imagine, little children or elderly people hidden from the Action could not get a work card, so they were illegal in the Ghetto.
The Gestapo was talented in taking care of these issues, as was seen by Kittel's actions. Once, when he was in the Ghetto, he held up an old woman who didn't have a work card and he immediately transported her away to the Fort and shot her.
Such a roll call of the entire ghetto population had to take place at an open place, and there would not be any way to manage the hidden children or elderly people. Nor was it possible to take them with them to the roll call because they did not have any work cards, nor would they be able to leave them in the house, in case they would check the homes and they would be found.
Finally, Goecke was successfully persuaded to agree that the Jewish Service Order carry out the count alone, while searching in the homes of the ghetto population.
Later, the following order was established: all residences in the Ghetto were numbered according to the row and a few houses were counted for a separate block. In each block the Service Order appointed a block manager.[b] Twice a day, in the morning before going out to work, and in the evening before going to sleep, each block manager would visit all residents from the block, to personally determine if any one of the residents was missing.
The Service Order had formulas prepared especially for the task, by which the block-managers, after the count, twice a day, would have to stand up in the center of the Service Order which had already, from their side, sent the report over to the Camp Commandant.
By introducing such strong and systematic control over the ghetto residents, they would be able to determine who was missing from the Ghetto on the same day.
Since all this was not by force, nor did it hold up the functioning of the Ghetto, the Service Order thought up new draconian measures:
If the Service Order was suspicious of a few Jews who had an escape from the Ghetto in mind, they would be arrested and held in the Ghetto Jail, until the arrested would put up great amounts of ransom money and a personal guarantee from a random ghetto resident, that the arrested would not leave the Ghetto. Then he was let out of jail and held under police supervision. Also, it was not a radical remedy to block those who had prepared to leave the Ghetto.
Later, it was ordered that in the case of someone leaving the Ghetto, from whichever block, the nearest family members, or even anyone nearby in the same block, would be turned over to the Camp Command. This was to encourage Jews to spy on one another.
As mentioned, by setting up these stricter rules for the Ghetto, the tone-setters of the Service Orderand other Jewish ghetto authorities played a great role. They did everything to charm Goecke, the almighty boss of the Ghetto.
To make it more and more impossible for Jews from the Ghetto, or from the labor camps, to run away to Christians, the Camp Commander, Goecke, decided to take the clothes away from the Jews and dress them in striped clothing, as was the fashion in all German concentration camps.
By ordering the Jews to wear concentration camp clothes, the Camp Commander wanted to achieve a few goals at the same time: first, a Jew dressed in striped concentration camp clothes, as well as yellow patches on the breast and on the back, would stand out in the non-Jewish population. If they wanted to run away, it would be a major disturbance for the Jew, because they would immediately be recognizable wherever they would be seen. Second, by taking away their clothes and dressing the Jews in concentration camp clothes, they would not have anything to exchange when they would eventually have the possibility to run away. By the way, it was also a new opportunity again to rob the Jews of the remnants of their baggage. Third, taking clothes away from the Jews removed the most important material item with which to entice the Christians to hide a Jew with them, since they wanted to receive something tangible from the Jews, like their clothes.
We must say that this decree to wear concentration camp clothes and at the same time take away the former clothes, was taken very badly by the Jews; it was really very painful.
At first, only the Jews from the labor camps had to put on concentration camp clothing. Entirely unexpectedly, S.S. men arrived one day at the Alexot Labor Camp, and took away almost all of the Jews' clothes and dressed them in the concentration camp clothes. A few days later this also took place in the Shantz Labor Camp.
As was mentioned earlier, the Shantz camp leader, Bentzko, had a fairly good relationship with the Jews. He actually told them beforehand, which day they would come into the camp to dress them in the concentration camp clothes. In this way the Jews had an earlier opportunity to hide their clothes either in the camp itself or take them out to hide somewhere in the workplace. Thus, in the Shantz camp they managed to take away fewer Jewish clothes.
While all the Jews in the labor camp were already dressed up in the concentration camp clothes, they were supposed to have their own clothes transported into the Ghetto. But they didn't manage to do it due to the Soviet offensive of June 1944. Thus, they quickly had to schedule the liquidation of the entire Ghetto.
Despite all these restrictions and decrees that were declared by the Camp Commander to strengthen the ghetto routine, they absolutely could not avoid the possibility of Jews running away from the Ghetto. Aside from that, Goecke knew very well that due to the general events on the fronts, the liquidation of the Ghetto would eventually come much earlier than was originally planned.
It was already previously stated that the occupation regime at that time considered it worthwhile to hold the Jews in labor camps, where it was possible to set up an even stronger regime than in the Ghetto.
Therefore, they quickly started to liquidate the rest of the Jews from the work brigades in the city and divide them up among the existing camps in Alexot or in Shantz, depending on which workplace was closer. Again, some hundred ghetto families were quartered in the camps. Now came the turn to quarter about 700 Jews in labor camp Petroshun, where they only had to finish building the barracks. In addition, they had to quarter the Jewish work brigades which worked in Slabodka factories. The camp command decided to carry out these quarterings in the shortest possible time.
Once all the Jews who worked in the city were quartered, the turn would finally come to also quarter Jews who worked in the Ghetto itself. That meant, those from all the ghetto workshops and in the ghetto administration.
The Soviet offensive destroyed all the plans of the Camp Command, thus, Goecke was not fated to execute any concrete plan on how to quarter the Ghetto itself.
On the day of the liquidation of the Ghetto, in the beginning of July 1944, there were approximately 7-8 thousand Jews still in the Ghetto.
As mentioned, Chaim Yellin was the head leader of the ghetto movement to escape into the forest to the partisans. He was a young man from Kovno, who before the war stood close to the leftist circles, and also belonged to the Jewish progressive group of typesetters in Lithuania.
Chaim Yellin, a mid-height, thin young man of about 30 years old, demonstrated an outstanding heroism and boldness in this specific work.
To illustrate his habits and courage one can judge from the following facts: at the time many young Jewish people searching alone along the way to find the partisans, fell into the hands of the Gestapo which killed them. Since in the Ghetto they were missing the needed connections to get to the partisans, he set out enroute searching for partisans, so that the ghetto youth would have someone to help them.
After getting through a round trip of 400 kilometers, he finally got into the Rudnicki forests around Vilna, and there he made contact with the leader of those partisans.[c]
Through this, one of the most important questions was solved once and for all: having a real address for the partisans to receive the youth from the Ghetto. It is certainly unnecessary to say that such a saunter was deathly dangerous at that time.
Or, for example, such a fact: dressed in a uniform from, let's say, a train official, properly made up, he would often go around the Kovno streets with arms in his pockets, in order to organize the transport of people to the partisans.
In later days, he was actually outside the Ghetto more than inside. The major activities of the partisan movement in the Ghetto lay in his hands and he had great results.
After the Action on children, elderly and ill, as well as on other strong mass killings by the Gestapo on the Ghetto, Kittel decided to capture Chaim Yellin at any price.
One day at the start of April 1944, Chaim Yellin was going on an important mission on a side street in Kovno, when a suspicious looking Lithuanian passerby appeared. He was an agent of the Lithuanian Security Police who wanted to arrest him. Chaim Yellin in broad daylight took the revolver out of his pocket and shot him on the spot. He managed to disappear over a fence.
Because of the shooting, a noise arose, and a collection of passersby, and military men chased him and tried to catch him alive. Chaim Yellin however succeeded in evading his pursuers. Through courtyards and detours he got into the courtyard of an acquaintance where he wanted to hide.
As he ran into the courtyard, a German officer wanted to arrest him because his external appearance showed that he was being pursued by someone. A Lithuanian policeman who was passing by came to help the officer. Chaim Yellin opened fire on them and in the chaos that arose, he disappeared and climbed into a cellar in the courtyard. It took a long while until he was discovered by the police in his hiding place. Not wishing to fall into the hands of the Gestapo alive, and not having any more bullets to commit suicide, he tried to cut his veins with his shaving blade. They brought him, wounded, to the Gestapo.
Kittel, for whom the arrest of Chaim Yellin was an unexpected surprise, did everything so that Chaim Yellin should get well as soon as possible in order to interrogate him and get important details out of him about the partisan movement.
Various versions circulated around the Ghetto about the end of Yellin's arrest. According to the general widespread version, as it was called, Chaim Yellin decided to take Kittel, as they say, to hell. He calculated that by going close to the partisan nest, maybe Kittel would fall into the partisan hands. So, he told him that he would take him to show where the partisans are located.
Kittel understandably hoped to reach his own goal: to get to the hiding place of the partisans.
So, for a specific time, there took place, so to speak, a cat and mouse game between Kittel and Yellin. Kittel, however, it seems, didn't have a great desire to stick his nose too close into the partisan nest, and he did away with him.
Understandably, it is hard to know whether this version is true or not. In any case there is no doubt that Chaim Yellin was shot by the Gestapo.
Chaim Yellin's outstanding courage and detachment was truly a wonder. Specifically, those who knew him well from those days were surprised, because he was a quiet and modest person, who didn't look skilled for such heroic actions at all.
In the story of the Kovno Ghetto settlement, Chaim Yellin will be remembered as a symbol of the outstanding heroism and courage of a young Jewish man who was resolute in an unequal battle against the blood thirsty Nazi murderers, who were armed from head to toe.
After all these happenings in the Ghetto, when Goecke decided to take all the ghetto Jews firmly into his hands, and specifically after Chaim Yellin's arrest, it became clear that the most important leaders of the partisan movement could not remain in the Ghetto because the Gestapo took measures to find and arrest them. These people therefore had to leave for the partisan nests as soon as possible.
As always in such cases, at this time in the vicinity of the Ghetto a car was supposed to pick them up and take them to a predetermined point from where they would be able to get to the forest.
On Shabbat, the 14th of April 1944, around 8 or 9 o'clock at night, a group of about 12 Jewish young men and women got into the car which was supposed to take them from Slabodka to their nearest point.
While travelling across the Slabodka bridge and driving on Janover Street, suddenly the driver started to drive slower. The Jews asked what happened, to which he responded something about a problem with the motor. The youngsters immediately started to suspect that something in this story is not right and with guns in their hands they were ready for any surprises. Suddenly the driver stopped the car and said that he must get out to look at the motor.
In that same minute when the car stopped, suddenly a hailstorm of bullets came from all sides into the car. It was later understood that the driver was a traitor, and he informed the Gestapo about the entire story of travelling to the partisans.
Gestapo and S.S. men, under the leadership of Kittel and Goecke, were hiding behind a house and waited for the car. They opened fire on the Jews with automatic weapons and machine guns.
Without getting lost in the moment, the Jews first shot the driver and started responding with heavy shooting in all directions. Eight Jews were killed immediately on the spot. In the darkness the four remaining Jews, with guns in their hands, managed to tear themselves out of the encirclement and disappear.
These four heroic youngsters later got to the partisans in the woods. Two of them were killed in a battle against the Germans, but the other two succeeded in surviving until liberation.
The earlier attack on Chaim Yellin, and then the attack on the Jewish partisan group, combined with the newly strengthened regime introduced in the Ghetto, paralyzed the small but energetic resistance movement in the Ghetto.
Deportation and Liquidation of the Ghetto
|- Kovno becomes a front zone. - Tense situation in the Ghetto on the eve of the deportation. - The course of the first days of the deportation. - The Gestapo's murderous measures during the last days of the deportation. - Horrible destruction of the Ghetto. - Terrible end for 1,500 Jews who were hidden
On the 6th of June 1944, the long awaited second front in Eastern Europe was finally opened. The quick and safe landing of huge numbers of people and war materials of the exemplary military undertaking of the western allies would, without a doubt, sooner or later be crowned with great success, according to primary witness accounts.
The news of the invasion in northern Germany had an impact like a spark in a strongly cloudy dark night. Even for the biggest Ghetto pessimist it became clear that, thanks to this magnificent military campaign, the final defeat of Nazi Germany and its collaborating servants would be greatly sped up.
After the opening of the second front in the west, it was only a matter of time for the front to open on the east. The combined military forces would soon start war operations on the largest scale, to put an end to the most dreadful bloodbath in the world, as soon as possible. On the 22 of June 1944, the large Soviet offensive began 16 days after the beginning of the invasion of Normandy, on the central Russian front sector near Vitebsk.
During the first days of the offensive, the noisy tempo of the Soviet assault brought surprising success for the Soviet Union. At many sites, they broke through the German front legions, and the Red Army cut very deep into the German positions.
During the first days of July, Kovno fell into the front zone. This was completely unexpected for the Germans in Kovno and for the Lithuanian people. After the liberation of Minsk and the approach to Vilna in the beginning of July, they started evacuating the most important German military and civil institutions from Kovno. At the same time, the civilian people closer to the German border domain started evacuating.
After the hurried and unexpected evacuation of the Germans, almost all the Lithuanian people were caught in real shock and panic. The Lithuanians were afraid of the Soviets because they knew full well what kind of great sins they committed during the first Soviet occupation: the armed campaign against the retreating Red Army in June of 1941, the active participation in the massacre of the Jewish people, the open cooperation with the occupation, etc.
The forward movement of the Red Army on the segment front between Minsk and Vilna slowed down for about 1 or 2 days, so the evacuation from the city stopped. Bit by bit the various evacuated institutions started to return. But quite rapidly, the momentum of the Soviet offensive was reinforced, and it became clear that the Germans will not be able to hold their positions. Then the evacuation from the city started up again and this time continued definitively.
In these days, the agitation and the shock were unimaginable for the Germans and the Lithuanians in the city. The mood of the Ghetto Jews was in visible contrast. On the one hand, there was stirred-up happiness due to the reality of the multi-year dream to survive the disaster of the Nazis. But, on the other hand, there were deep upsetting feelings awaiting the decisive fateful days for the Ghetto.
These same feelings and mood were characterized by the old time Ghetto saying: salvation is on the nose and the slaughter knife is on the neck.
What will the Nazi murderers do now with the Jews? Among the Ghetto folk this was now the actual burning problem, which didn't allow even one minute's peace- not during the day, nor at night.
Simple logic necessitated that first, the Nazis absolutely would not leave the Jews in Kovno when everyone from the city was quickly evacuating. Secondly, it was certain that now, as the Red Army was getting closer to the gates of Kovno by the hour, the Nazis would not hesitate to burn down the Ghetto site, which, together with the labor camps around Kovno, amounted to 10,000 people.
Thus, there is only one possibility: deportation. But, how and to where?
This is how the early days of the month of July passed, with such tension and uncertainty about the future fate of the Ghetto.
The stirred-up incidents at the eastern front and the feverish evacuation from Kovno caused the following: the strong severity of the ghetto regime suddenly collapsed like a house of cards. The block managers stopped conducting their roll call, the Service Order became very lax in their harsh attitude toward to the Ghetto folk, etc. Every Ghetto Jew really felt that the dilemma was hanging in the air: either or? That is, either during the coming days salvation will arrive, or the end will come to the seventy years.
On Wednesday, the 5th of July, nests of machine guns and a strengthened guard presence of Lithuanian S.S. men was set up around the Ghetto Gate. It was plain to see that guards were being prepared for various eventualities on the part of the Ghetto folk, who may attempt to tear through the fence to run away from the Ghetto.
At first, during these days of turmoil, Jews were still allowed to go out to work in the city. But, day after day, the number of runaway Jews increased, and the runaways left in masses. So the Camp Commander, Goecke, prohibited the Jews from going to work in the city work sites.
It was still officially unclear about what the Camp Commander was planning to do with the Ghetto Jews. In a conversation with the head Jew, Dr. Elkes, Goecke expressed his hope that the German army would surely manage to hold off the Russian onslaught and everything would end peacefully.
Meanwhile, the panic in the Ghetto was growing by the hour. Similarly, Thursday the 6th of July, after noon, Goecke sent for Dr. Elkes and officially shared that the regime decided that the Ghetto would be transported to Germany. At this opportunity he told him the following:
The Ghetto would be evacuated to the outskirts of Danzig. All the Ghetto workshops would be transported there, and a work camp would be established for the Jews from the Kovno Ghetto. The evacuation will start on Shabbat in the morning, the 8th of July, and will be completed over a few days. But due to transport difficulties, it was not possible to procure the necessary wagons, so the evacuation probably would go by water, with boats on the Nieman to the sea, and then by sea to Danzig. None of the Ghetto Jews should even think of escaping the evacuation, because there would be searches in the homes and any others caught in hiding, would be shot on the spot.
Thus, the Camp Commander's cards were opened. When the notice by the Camp Commander became known, the atmosphere in the Ghetto became highly charged. Groups of Jews started gathering around the houses to talk about the upcoming deportation.
The general dominant opinion was that the Jews would not allow themselves to be deported. Everyone was sure that after occupying Vilna, the occupation of Kovno would only be a question of a few days. In this respect the most important issue was to gain time. Even in the most serious case, that is, if, God forbid, one was not fated to survive to liberation, it is better to die on the spot in the Ghetto, rather than be dragged somewhere else to be exterminated.
The Ghetto Jews connected Goecke's communication that the deportation would occur with boats, to the various reports from the foreign radio, which recently described how the Nazis started to burn Jews by sending them out on a ship in the open sea and there sinking the ship together with the Jews.
Therefore, it was understandable why Goecke's announcement about shipping the Jews by water, even strengthened the fear that they were transporting the Jews not for work in Danzig, but rather somewhere on the open sea to exterminate them. This even validated the aspiration that in no way should they allow themselves to be deported.
The Ghetto Jews, therefore started preparing themselves to hide in the malinas, with an incredible tempo, at the moment when the deportations would begin. Other Ghetto Jews, who didn't have their own malinas, urgently started searching for opportunities to partner-up with people they knew to get into someone else's malina.
A few, who could afford a watch, a gold ring, a bigger sum of money, etc., started looking for a way to bribe a soldier at the Ghetto Gate, who would allow them the opportunity to get out of the Ghetto. At that opportunity, there were more than a few criminal stories about some delinquent soldiers who would take the Jews' valuables or money, and then not let him through the Ghetto Gate, or after letting them through the gate, they would shoot them down.
From Thursday night to Friday a larger group of Jews, who already got through the Ghetto Gate, were shot right near the Ghetto. Due to a denunciation by the soldier who allowed them through, or without a denunciation, these Jews were killed by the S.S. sniper, Pilgram, who was lurking near the gate with a machine gun. Among those who were shot was also L. Yellin (the father of the Partisan leader, Chaim Yellin). In Kovno, he was well known by the nickname, lover of knowledge and as a person from the large Jewish library and book camp.
Friday, the 7th of July, was the last free day in the Ghetto. Almost no one was allowed out to work in the city. And no one went to work inside the Ghetto either. All the Jews were only occupied with only one sole thought- how can we avoid the deportation?
The authorized Jewish Ghetto rulers attempted to serve the Ghetto until the last minute. They were occupied with preparing lists of the first groups of Jews for deportation. But as was seen, this time their work was totally for naught.
To convince the ghetto Jews that they should willingly allow themselves to be deported, an order was announced that with the first deportations, they would allow the older and weaker persons to travel together, something that was not altogether assured in the deportation of later groups, and maybe later they would have to walk. Many Jewish families, who had older or sick people, and who didn't have a place to hide, allowed themselves to be influenced by these rumors. But, as was said, most Jews, were determined not to go.
By nightfall, the number of Jews in the streets became smaller and smaller. The Camp Commander knew very well that the Jews had decided not to allow themselves to be deported. He knew that they were getting themselves ready for the moment when the Gestapo would come into the Ghetto and would start catching Jews for the deportation. Each person, therefore, was immediately ready to climb into their furrow and wait there for further occurrences.
By evening, a sudden air-raid signaled the arrival of the Soviet airplanes. Awaiting the Soviet Air Force, this time, more than ever, set the Ghetto Jews in motion, most of whom were lying in their hiding places. But that night, no bombing took place. Squeezed into their malinas, the Jews were ready not to give in to the bloody enemies and somehow carry on until liberation, which was, according to everyone's assessment, only a matter of days.
The night passed and the coming day was a hot summery Shabbat day on the 8th of July 1944 the first day of the deportation. In the streets of the Ghetto, movement was almost utterly dead. Here and there you could see a policeman from the Service Order. With great anxiety, the Jews awaited what would come.
When parties of Germans came into the Ghetto, they began to collect people. An entire Ghetto quarter (the small wooden block of houses on Mildas Street and the neighboring streets) was surrounded, and the Germans started their work: chasing them out of the houses and taking them to a place near the camp command post. During the first day of deportation the Germans satisfied themselves with a superficial search for the hidden Jews. They hadn't yet applied any sharp measures.
The newly caught Jews were transported to the Nieman port, where they were loaded onto boats and transported on the river in the direction of Tilzit, to the sea.
Starting from the Friday, they started collecting the Jews from the Small Workshops in the neighborhoods of Kovno, like Palemon, Kazlove-Rude, Roitn-Hof, etc. to attach them to the deportation of the Jews from the Ghetto. The Jews from the workshops in Kaydan and Ponevesh were taken to Shavl. And from there they were transported to Germany.
At this opportunity, it is worthwhile relating an interesting case that happened with the workshop in Kozlove-Rude, 40 km. from Kovno.
In the Kozlove-Rude Camp there were some four-five hundred Jews. By marching them on foot from Kozlove-Rude toward Kovno, they met up with a larger group of German soldiers, among whom were also a few Ukrainians. Since they saw that the Soviets were quite close, the Ukrainians, who, at the last moment, wanted to procure a little piece of the next world, took it upon themselves to volunteer their services to a group of Jews. The offered to run away together with them to the Soviet partisans, who were located in the surrounding forests.
The leaders of the guard told all the soldiers that if anyone would notice any danger from a partisan ambush they should immediately shoot in the air and thereby signal all the soldiers and the Jews to lie down on the ground.
In the evening, the transport arrived in the forest. Wanting to make the rest of the soldiers lie down on the ground and thereby give the group of Jews, together with Ukrainians, an opportunity to run away into the forest, the Ukrainians suddenly shot up in the air. The German soldiers immediately laid down on the ground, and approximately one hundred Jews, together with the Ukrainian soldiers, ran into the forest and disappeared. As they recovered, the Germans started shooting at the runaways, but they didn't succeed in catching anyone. German soldiers were afraid to chase the runaways into the forest at night.
The only Jews who ran away were those who were in the back rows and knew the plan with the Ukrainians. The remaining Jews were thus, very upset, as they saw that a portion of their friends ran away and they remained. The largest portion of the runaways, however, were killed by the Germans and Lithuanians, who in another neighborhood persecuted the Soviet partisans.
The Jews who were brought from the labor camps into the Ghetto were allowed by the Camp Commander to freely disperse, because they didn't evade the deportation. Many of them, who had friends and knew of their malinas also crawled inside. That is how the deportation days went by.
Sunday, the 9th of July, was very quiet in the Ghetto because Goecke couldn't procure boats for the deportation. To procure rail cars was even more difficult because the trains were specifically reserved for military transports.
A radical change in the search for the hidden Jews took place from Monday, the 10th of July, in the morning. From the early morning hours, it was plain to see that the Gestapo, which came into the Ghetto to find the hidden Jews, received strong instructions.
They deployed to all the corners of the Ghetto where they very energetically and thoroughly started searching for the malinas and other hiding places where Jews were hiding. In each place where they uncovered a hiding place, they started setting the grenades in motion. The Gestapo also brought with them German shepherds, which helped them in their work to uncover the Jews.
By such drastic means the Gestapo succeeded in finding many Jews. Throwing a grenade into the area of a malina, the children in the hiding places started screaming and crying from fright, and thereby everyone was found out, even before being discovered by the Gestapo.
With great barbarity, the Gestapo would pull the hidden Jews out of their hiding places. The deathly shocked children would faint in a lamentable cry and, in great fear, clung on to their parents. With their heads down, like a prisoner of war after a lost battle, the Jews were chased to the assembly square under a tight convoy of Gestapo. There was no question about taking any clothing or food products with them.
The bangs of the grenades, the barking of the German shepherds, the swearing of the Gestapo, the screams of the children, etc., all mixed together in an orgy of tears and blood.
In this manner a greater number of hidden Jews was discovered on this Monday. They were transported to the port, from where they were to be shipped with boats, like the Saturday's transport. However, no boat succeeded in coming and they had to risk bringing the people back to the Ghetto, where they were held in a gated place near the Camp Commandant.
On the same day, they collected the Jews from the Aleksotas labor camp, and they were brought to the train, which took them directly to Germany.
Tuesday, the 11th of July, the search for the hidden Jews continued with the same ferocity as on Monday. During this Tuesday, there were hundreds of Jews who were pulled out of their holes and were taken to the assembly place near the Commandant.
Since Goecke could not procure any more boats and he didn't have any wagons available for the deportation, the Jews who were captured on the Monday and Tuesday, were held under the open sky until Wednesday morning, the 12th of July. Then all were shipped by train towards Germany.
Wednesday, the 12th of July, was designated as the last day of the deportation. On this day they were supposed to deport the remaining Jews from the Ghetto, including locking up the Jewish officers near the Camp Commandant, and the workers from the various ghetto workshops, etc.
in many places in the Ghetto, more houses and other buildings went up in flames with tongues of fire from the grenades. Such a fate awaited all the Ghetto houses including all the Jews, everything inside, and everything hidden underneath
There were also cases when hidden Jews who discovered that the last transport had left, had to decide whether to die under the ruins of the bombed houses, or be shot in the act of being discovered. They themselves got out of their hiding place and willingly joined the deported Jews, who were seated on the pavement of Varniu Street.
Meanwhile, the search for the hidden Jews by the Gestapo and S.S. continued with boisterous tempo. Minute by minute, Jews were being discovered, exhausted, half naked, dejected, with infants in their hands. They were brought to the Jews who were seated on the ground, waiting for the order to march out of the Ghetto. Sick and weak people, who could not be deported because of their health situation, were ordered to be taken to the Ghetto Hospital. Later, they were burned to death when they bombed and burned all the houses in the Ghetto, as well as the hospital.
Wednesday morning, a large transport of Jews had already left by train, and that afternoon Goecke acquired more transport wagons for 3000 Jews.
Around 12 o'clock there was an order to line up in columns of 100 people and under a strong convoy of Gestapo carrying automatic rifles, the transport of over 2000 Jews started marching through side streets of the city to the train station in Alexot.
During the march out of the Ghetto, the sky almost symbolically, became covered with black clouds. It started thundering strongly and a downpour began.
On the way, many Jews were able to tear themselves away from the columns and run away. The automatic weapons from the accompanying Gestapo started banging all over. Quite a lot of Jews were shot on the spot; only a few succeeded in disappearing from the transport.
At the platform 40 transport wagons were waiting, the majority of which had small square windows and a special guard in each separate wagon. They were carefully guarded.
The Jews from the Shantz Labor Camp were brought to this train transport. As mentioned earlier, the camp leader, Bentzko Hart, ran away before the deportation, with his Jewish lover. In the meantime, before Goecke sent another camp leader, a few Jews ran away from the camp. A mass runaway didn't take place because the Jewish camp leaders foiled any mass size escapes, so that those Jews who couldn't run away and had to continue with the deportation, shouldn't suffer.
More than 3000 Jews were crammed together like herring in a barrel, in the transport wagons, when the train started to move out. It did not stop at any one of the stations enroute and the train transport hurried in the direction of Germany.
Enroute, a few dozen Jews succeeded in jumping out of the speeding train. Some of them died after jumping, because they fell into the hands of Germans or bad Lithuanians who killed them. Others were killed through the risky jump out of the high windows of the transport wagons. Only a few individuals succeeded in getting through all the mortal danger and waited 3-4 more weeks for the Red Army to finally free them.
In one transport, which left in the morning, the accompanying soldiers noticed that Jews were jumping from the train. They stopped the train, and in each wagon, they designated hostages who were responsible that no one should run away from the transport. In fact, in other wagons they shot Jews, just to scare others from thinking of running away.
Knowing, how many Jews were supposed to be in the Ghetto and how many Jews had already been deported throughout that time, Goecke saw that many Jews were still lying hidden in the malinas, that is, in hideouts.
Just after the departure of the daytime transport, the Gestapo started to search for the remaining hidden Jews with great care. Through the application of all kinds of terror-strategies, the Gestapo succeeded in uncovering more Jews. The newly captured Jews were held near the workshops.
Thursday, the 13th of July, many houses were already in flames. Wanting to uncover even more hidden Jews, the Gestapo started applying various provocative measures. Thus, as a trick, the Gestapo took away the children from the discovered Jews and promised to give them back to the adults only when the adults would tell them where there are other hiding places, and where there are more hidden Jews. With the help of these vile provocations, the Gestapo wanted to demoralize the Jews and prod them into squealing, so as, to make reaching their goal easier: the continuous uncovering of the hidden Jews.
Only a few Jews allowed themselves to be persuaded by the Gestapo to squeal about hideouts in exchange for saving their children.[a]
The killing and the violence by the Gestapo rose hour by hour. The deportation transport on Thursday didn't take any Jews who had been pulled out of the holes and dens, looking totally black, exhausted, and broken up. These people were left in the Ghetto, where they later shot them and threw them into the flames of the burning houses. In the end, the Gestapo was successful in collecting over 1000 Jews who were deported to Germany on Thursday.
This was the last large deportation transport from the Ghetto.
After the departure of the last transport of Jews, the Gestapo saw that they could no longer find the remaining hidden Jews, because their hideouts were very well hidden, and they could not locate their traces. So, the Gestapo stepped up and carried out the last point of their plan to liquidate this ghetto: blowing up and setting fire to some ghetto houses and burning any Jews who were as of yet not uncovered.
Friday, the 14th of July in the morning, together with the Kovno section of the Waffen S.S., a few dozen Jews from the work brigades who were working the whole time for the S.S., were deported. Thereafter, a special bombing commando came into the Ghetto, and with great vigor started their destruction work. Liquid burning material was spilled on every wooden house and then blown up and burned up. The few houses made of walled blocks were blown up with the help of dynamite.
In the various malinas there were still about 1500 Jews hiding. When the bombing or the fire reached the malina where Jews were lying hidden, they tried to save themselves from the burning hideouts (if they could still manage).
All around, the burning houses were patrolled by German soldiers who immediately shot any Jews who would want to save themselves from the fire, and then throw them back in the flames. There were many cases where the Germans also threw Jews who were still alive into the fire.
Long tongues of fire wrapped in thick smoke clouds shot out to the sky from the torn up and torched Ghetto houses. The Ghetto continued to burn for several days, and under the burning houses hundreds of Jewish men, women and children were struggling with a cruel death. None of these martyrs succeeded in saving themselves from the frightful extermination in this hellish fire.
Saturday, the 15th of July at night, the Gestapo, together with their Lithuanian helpers at last left the area of the Ghetto after finalizing their murdering. Only a week before there existed a settlement of between 7 to 8 thousand Jewish souls, as they left their destructive and gruesome tracks behind.
Kovno was liberated by the Red Army on the 1st of August 1944.[b] A few days later, little by little, the few miraculously surviving Jews started to return to the city. Everyone's first job was to run and see what the destruction of the Ghetto looked like.
The images that they saw on the site of the former Ghetto were horrific; in the Ghetto not one single house was left intact. All the wooden houses were completely burned. The large, massive walls of the walled block of houses were lying in ruins, like after an earthquake. Throughout entire areas of the Ghetto the monstrous skeletons of dead and burned Jews were seen. In full view of the blown up malinas heaps of Jewish dead were lying. According to the cramped-together, still incompletely burned bodies, one could recognize the worrisome struggle that these victims went through in the dying moments during their violent death.
Witnesses described the limitless murder by the Nazi mass murderers and called the world to take a bloody revenge on the most horrific barbarians of all times the brown Teutons of the 20th century.
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