Fate of the Deported Jews
|-What happened to the deported Jews when they arrived in Germany? -The painful road of the men in the Dachau hell -The fate of the women taken to the East-Prussian labor camps|
Two transports of Jews which left Kovno by train on Wednesday, the 12th of July, arrived in the morning and afternoon at the Tigenhof train station, not far from the Stutthof Concentration Camp, on Thursday, the 13th of July 1944.
Just as they arrived in Tigenhof, the afternoon transport from both sections were divided: men separately, and women with children, again separately. A certain portion of older boys succeeded in remaining together with the men. All the younger children remained together with the women.
In Tigenhof, Dr. Elkes approached one of the S.S. men and asked why families were being torn apart. He then added that at the evacuation, the Kovno Ghetto Camp Commander, Goecke, promised that this would not happen. So, he received the answer to his question - a few fiery slaps from the S.S. man.
There was a tremendous commotion among the women because of the separation from the men, as they believed that this was about an extermination Action. A few Jewish doctors tried to commit suicide by injecting themselves with poison. Dr. Levin, a young Jewish female doctor died in Tigenhof from this injection.
On the same day the column with the men was transported from Tigenhof. The men travelled without knowing where they were being taken. Most of the men were sure that they were being taken for extermination. In a few of the wagons the men gave public confessions and cried bitterly; each one said goodbye to the other.
The train, however, went further on its way until finally on Sunday it arrived at the station of Kaufering, 5 kilometers from the Bavarian town of Landsberg (60 kilometers from Munich). This is the same Landsberg where, in 1924, Hitler, may his name be erased, sat in jail for his coup against the Weimar Republic, and composed his work the gospel of the people and genocide Mein Kampf.
Around Landsberg there were labor camps which belonged to the Dachau Concentration Camp, and that is where they brought the men.
As soon as the men's transport left Tigenhof, they immediately took the women and the children who were with them and transported them to Stutthof, from where they sent them out either for work, or to the death factories.
A strong guard of S.S. men came to pick up the transport of women from the train station in Stutthof. At first the women thought that they are all being taken to be exterminated. Therefore, screams and a terrible panic broke out among them. They calmed down afterwards when they saw that they are being taken to the barracks of the concentration camp.
The transported Jews from the Alexot work camp were found in Stutthof. A few days later the deported Kovno Jews who were taken from the Ghetto arrived on the 8th of July, as well as the transport which left Kovno by train on Thursday, the 13th of July. Also, the men from that transport were sent away from Stutthof to the labor camps near Landsberg and the women with the children remained in Stutthof.
A week later a selection took place in Stutthof among the women. Those women who had children with them were sent, together with the children, to Auschwitz to be exterminated. All the other women, regardless of their age, remained in Stutthof.
A few days after this selection came a second selection of the remaining women. The older and weaker ones were left in Stutthof where the largest portion of them were later killed in that crematoria.
The younger and skilled women were sent to the labor camps around Torun, Strasburg, Elbing, and other points in Prussia where, at that time, urgent fortification work was needed. A small number of Kovno women, together with other Jewish women, were sent to the Dachau labor camps, where the men were working, and a specific portion of skilled female workers remained working in Stutthof itself.
Thereafter, just as soon as they brought the men into the labor camps around Landsberg, the first thing done was to take away all their personal items. Those Jews who went through Stutthof and were already there in the time of their redemption were completely robbed.
They even took away the shoes and clothes they were wearing, and they dressed them in striped concentration camp clothes and in large wooden clogs.
Not wanting their money and valuables to fall into the hands of the S.S. men, a portion of the Jews threw their money and valuables into the filth of the toilets. When this information reached the camp administration, they chose a group of Jews during a roll call who, in everyone's absence, had to climb naked into the filth of the toilets and remove all the money and valuables which were thrown in there- by hand.
Quite a few young ones from Tigenhof came together with their fathers to the labor camps around Landsberg. On Shabbat, the 22nd of July, a registration took place of all the youth. The 131 registered youth were sent off the next morning to Dachau and from there to Auschwitz. From the inhumane living conditions some youth died and almost 80 children were killed on the second day of Rosh Hashana, 1944, when thousands of Jews were sent to the gas chambers and crematoria of Auschwitz. Only a few strong youths managed to survive to liberation.
On the way to Auschwitz, two youths succeeded in escaping by jumping from the moving train. One of them, Daniel Burshtein,[a] hid out with peasants and remained alive.
One week later, when the men were brought to the labor camp, they were divided into work columns on Monday the 24th of July. Thus began the actual concentration camp life with all its famous accompanying phenomena.
The Jews worked in various construction companies. Among others they worked at the tragically famous Molel Construction Company, where thousands and thousands of Jews were tortured, day and night by the hard labor. At that time, they were building the Me 262 Messerschmidt and underground airplane factory, which was to improve the campaign of the smashed German Air Force, as much as possible.
Just like in the Ghetto, here they also had various skilled people, but they did not receive more favorable work conditions than the non-qualified workers. Therefore, the largest percent of those who collapsed from work were the simple laborers who had to carry the heavy yoke of this unbearable back-breaking work on their shoulders.
For the unqualified workers there was also a big difference between those who worked day jobs and those who worked at night. Despite their difficult, straining work at night, the night workers couldn't even rest during the day because during the day most of them were chased out to various jobs in and around the camp.
Therefore, the first victims of the concentration camp hell were those coming mainly from the night workers. Over a few weeks, these people would literally fall off their feet and completely break down. The blame for the quick death of hundreds of night workers was also because of the Jewish Kapos, who didn't do anything except distribute a little horrible soup among all their workers who were doing this hard labor work.
The antagonism between Jews who came from other countries also played a certain role. For example, if the Kapo was a Lithuanian Jew, he would, usually protect Lithuanian Jews over Jews from Poland, Hungary, etc. If the Kapo was a Polish or a Hungarian Jew, it was the opposite.
There were some very morally corrupt elements among the Jewish Kapos. They didn't concern themselves about organizing the work so that the weaker people would be sent on available work that was a bit lighter. On the contrary, they would sooner send healthy and strong people on a lighter work assignment, so as to receive some material compensation. In this merciless camp reality, they could not expect any material compensation from a physically exhausted person who was completely helpless.
The Kovno Jews who, until Dachau, went through three years of ghetto life were already used to life as Jewish slaves under Nazi sovereignty. Thus, they considered themselves better than the Hungarian, or Czech Jews, etc., who, until Dachau, had not yet gotten through the school of Hitler's ghettos and concentration camps. But here, the Kovno Jews also started collapsing very quickly from the unbearable concentration camp conditions.
We are reminded of the slave labor under the open sky in rain, in wind and in cold for 13-14 hours per day[b]. The majority worked 7 days a week, with a rest of not more than 6-7 hours a day. Each day they got through a long haul to go to work and return in the wooden clogs, which from the earliest days caused great wounds on the feet. The hunger-rations consisted of 300 grams of bread per day with watery soup without meat or fat, and which had not more than a few hundred calories daily, while doing physically straining work. The procedures were of long duration, with roll call twice a day: in the morning before going to work and in the evening after returning from work. The dirty earthen huts in which the people were kept were always crowded. And the worst plague of camp life the lice, feasted on the people day and night, making horrible wounds on the body, from which thousands of people left this world.[c] The camp regime was extraordinarily strict, where, without any reason a Jew could be beaten murderously and terrorized. And, above all, the psychological depression of Jews in a Hitlerite camp due to the various moral humiliations doled out both by the German rulers, as well as by the loyal Jewish creative servants. Thus, it became clear why the life and soul of the Jews in the camps was destroyed so quickly.
Right after the first months in the concentration camp, Jews started collapsing. The sick wards were in the same earthen huts as the regular dwelling pits. They were soon overflowing with Jews, weakened, depleted, and completely exhausted physically and spiritually. And there were not even any basic medicines or medical arrangements.
At this opportunity it is worthwhile mentioning that the camp Jews had great claims against people from the central sick ward, like Dr. Zacharin, a former Jewish doctor from Kovno. True, he had neither an easy, nor a thankful job as the person responsible for the sick ward. However, it is a fact that he was responsible for the selections of candidates for Auschwitz or for the protected camps. In addition, his relationship with the sick was so harsh and inhumane that he was justifiably hated in the camp world.
After liberation, in the beginning of May 1945, he disappeared from the view of former campmates as fast as possible, to avoid any recrimination against him. It ended fatally.
Those people who, according to their character-traits, were skilled at adapting to various difficult situations, kept a longer plane of life. The calmer people who were not able to push their elbows out in front, quickly became Musselmen, that means physically and spiritually exhausted people. They were the first candidates for all kinds of selections.
At first, selections would take place every month, whereby those very sick and weakened campmates would be sent to the death-factories to be exterminated. Such larger selections took place in the labor camps in August, September, and October 1944.
Later, the approaching catastrophe for Hitler's Germany shook up the internal certainty of many Himmlers, and other horrific mass-murderers of the Third Reich, so they stopped the extermination of Jews by gassing and burning. For the weakened and sick people who were unable to work, they set up protection-camps where the people would truly not have to work, but received even less than the usual camp rations, so actually, they would die of hunger.
To get an idea about how the people from the protection camps were considered already more dead than alive, can be judged by the fact that they would take away their camp clothing and they would lie naked in the barracks, four or five people under one blanket. Such protection-camps were around Landsberg and were numbered IV and for a while also camp number VII. In camp IV, where there was space for about 2,000 people, there would be more than double that number.
Thousands of people who had to go into the protection-camps knew very well that this was their last road in life and from there they would never return. Day in and day out, they would die by the hundreds, and they would then be thrown into mass graves, often still with signs of life.
According to the decree from the camp administration, they would take the dead from these places to bury them, and every day Jewish dentists would come to pull gold teeth out of the dead.
As we know, various Jewish people in power, still from the ghetto times, displayed little tolerance for the simple folk-people. In the concentration camp however, this specific situation was much worse. The simple Jew would spend these years very much wanting to be more religious than the Pope, so they would be even more charming to their S.S. bosses, and to the various Jewish title-holders in the camp, for example, the Kapos, foremen, block elders, kitchen personnel, and other slaves created by the S.S.
Some Jewish criminal types were murderously sadistic. For example, the Kapos Burshtein, Grinfeld, Volpert, Shpegel, Iserlis, and others, gave Jews murderous beatings for various sins at work, like while walking in columns, while standing at the roll call place, or for asking for another portion of soup, etc. Their murderousness would be especially great when they would hit someone in the presence of a camp administrator. At that moment, they would do it with special enthusiasm.
After liberation, these criminals wanted to disappear from the deserved revenge of the campmates. A few of them fell into the hands of Jews who delivered them to the American military powers, which incarcerated them with S.S. men and tried them in court.
Aside from the Kovno Jews who were mainly concentrated in camp numbers I and III in the other camps around Landsberg, Lithuanian Jews and Jews from the Shavl Ghetto were placed together with Jews from other countries. Hungarian Jews, for example, were already in those camps before the Kovno and the Shavl Jews got there. Later, due to the Soviet offensive beginning in 1945, when the Germans evacuated Auschwitz, Polish, Czech, Hungarian, and other Jews, who worked in various work commandos in Auschwitz, were transported to the camps around Landsberg.
Despite the excruciatingly difficult living conditions and the strict camp regime, socially active persons from the home group would, from time to time, organize themselves in the barracks in groups to chat about the happenings on the fronts, about the international situation, about general or Jewish problems etc. The goal of these home group discussions was to raise the morale of the camp inmates and to strengthen their hope in the continuous downfall of the Nazis. Jews searched for various ways to learn about the situation on the fronts and find out what was going on in the world.
It is necessary to note the persons who conducted these chats: Engineer, T. Blumental about the Strategic situation at the fronts; Michael Burshtein, Polish-Jewish typesetter, about the camp inmates; Advocate, L. Garfunkel about problems in Jewish society; Dr. S. Grinhoiz about political happenings; Dr. L. Goldshtein about popular medical chats; M. Bramson about Kovno Ghetto issues; Aronovski about questions on the Land of Israel, etc.
The camp inmates would enjoy listening to these chats, mainly to the commentaries about the situation on the fronts, and many of them became active in the discussions.
Jews also knew when the Jewish holidays would fall. Hanukah, Purim, and the like, so the mood in the hall was higher than other days. The historical parallels from the much tried Jewish folk tradition would have an encouraging effect. Religious Jews would take pains to pray in a minyan in secret, etc.
Meanwhile, the war was moving forward with huge steps to its long-awaited end. On the eve of Spring, 1945, the huge joint offensive by the Soviets in the east and from the Anglo-Saxons in the west finally began. The hope to survive to liberation by the bunch of surviving camp Jews became greater from day to day. Everyone felt that soon, soon Hitler's Germany would completely fall apart.
As the march of the British-American military divisions came through with full steam during the second half of April 1945, it became clear to the rest of the Jews in the labor camps that they are coming closer to the distinctly fated days for the remaining Jews in the labor camps.
The socially conscious elements started to prepare themselves to organize their followers, both from the left wing, as well as from the Zionist-oriented camp Jews, to step out with active events for when things in the camps will reach the critical moment.
Spearheads from the American army units moved in the direction of Dachau at a colossal speed just before the final blow to the Hitler machine. On the 24th of April 1945, there suddenly came an order to evacuate the camps belonging to the Dachau camp. Other camps had already gotten the order to evacuate earlier.
The official version from the Nazis was that the goal of the evacuation was to bring the camp inmates to the Swiss border where, due to the mediation by the International Red Cross, they would be exchanged for German prisoners of war, who were under the authority of the Allied powers.
Of course, the camp world had no reason to believe the official declaration, but there was no other choice but to allow themselves to go on this unfamiliar evacuation march. Resisting the evacuation was not possible.
According to the decree, only the healthier persons would go on the march. The sick and weak ones from the sick ward and from the protection camps were concentrated in camp I, which was liberated because the people were already out on the march. Many weakened people tried to join on foot because they believed that all the sick and weak ones would probably be killed.
As was mentioned, at first there actually was an order to collect all the sick in one barrack and set it on fire together with the people. Because of the head-spinning speed of the offensive, no one from that S.S. wanted to take upon themselves such a job. Therefore, the sick ones were evacuated toward Dachau. A portion of the sick managed to make it through, but the majority remained at the site and were freed in the beginning of May.
Physically and spiritually exhausted from camp life, many Jews couldn't maintain the tempo of the march and they had to stop on the way. The murderous S.S. guards accompanying the camp inmates, killed many people at this opportunity, by shooting those who stopped along the way.
Seeing the murderous attitude of the guards toward the marching camp inmates, each one, with the last of his strength, strained so as not to stop on the march and continued with everyone. The stronger people helped their weaker acquaintances, who did not have the strength to walk alone.
It was later clarified that the Nazis had planned for the healthy people to evacuate to the Tyrol mountains, where Hitler's Third Reich hoped, after losing their positions in Germany, to set up the battle against the Allies. In this case, the camp inmates would be turned into a work force for the fortification work.
However, the road to Tyrol was already cut off by the Allied army divisions. The S.S. conducting the march tried taking the evacuees here and there, searching for a way out of the situation.
Many Jews also suffered from the heavy bombardments by the Allied Air Force on the downtrodden German forces. For example, at the train station in Shafhaussen[d] more than 100 inmates were killed and quite a few were wounded from that air attack on a German military train which stood near an inmate column. Many people were also shot by the S.S. guards who opened fire on them when they ran into nearby woods to hide from the bombings. The Germans would purposefully cover their military transports with evacuated inmates. Thus, the Allied pilots, while fulfilling their military jobs, indirectly caused the death of hundreds of Jews.
From hour to hour, the ring of fire around the remainder of the completely beaten German military became narrower, until the frontrunners of the American army finally reached the marching camp inmates and freed them.
Not all the camps were together on this evacuation march, rather they were taken in many groups, separated from each other. Therefore, their liberation did not take place in the same place, nor on the same day.
So, for example, the people near Landsberg were freed on the 28th of April; near Dachau, on the 29th of April; near Alach[e] on the 30th of April; in Buchberg[f] on the 1st of May; in Bad-Telz[g] on the 2nd of May, etc.
Due to the horrific experiences in the camps, the inmates' senses became strongly atrophied, so their happiness and surprise about surviving to liberation was extraordinarily large. People fell on each other kissing, crying from happiness, and said Shehechiyanu [prayer for celebrating special occasions]. Everything seemed as if in a dream, as if it was not really happening. They still didn't believe that this was true. It looked as if each one would want a repeat, to convince himself that he actually belonged to the chosen ones who had finally survived the realization of the years-long dream liberation from the horrific Hitler hell.
In this elevated moment, which was full of incomprehensible happiness, everyone's thoughts moved to their nearest and dearest, who had not been allowed to survive to this moment of redemption. Feelings of happiness were mixed with grief, so at that moment, it was difficult to say which feeling was stronger.
The attitude of the American troops toward the freed people was a real humanistic one. Even the liberators were strongly moved by the dramatic moment of liberation of the camp inmates. They expressed their shared happiness of having saved the people from death by distributing gifts of food right and left, like cigarettes, chocolate, etc.
Overwhelmingly, in their concern for the freed camp inmates they did everything so that the surviving people should revive themselves as quickly as possible. They especially devoted themselves heavily to the sick and weak, for whom they organized hospitals with all needed medical facilities.
The starving people grabbed the food, thus, many of them were harmed and became sick from it; many even died as a result. Not recovering from all this evil and afflictions from the camps, many people died right after liberation. However, with time, the majority of those liberated did manage to recuperate from all the difficult experiences that they had to endure during the horrific Hitler years, especially in the hell of the concentration camp.
In the Stutthof Concentration Camp after the selection of mothers with children and of the elderly and weak women, over 3,000 younger and healthier women remained and were sent out to work in the various work camps in Prussia.
Approximately 1,000 women from Stutthof were taken to the small village of Truntz, near Elbing, where they spent a few weeks. From there they were later moved toward Loibitch, near Torun.
In Loibitch, the Jewish women were quartered in a building of a large mill, which was located a few kilometers from the city. After settling into the women's camp, the associated camp regime took them daily to do fortification work which mainly included digging protection pits.
In comparison with the extremely strict regime, which the men had in the Dachau work camps, the women had it easier. Not just the actual work but also their conditions with the guards was not as horrible and unbearable as in the work camp for the men.
In order to quiet their hunger, the women would sneak out of the workplace, and would run to the surrounding peasants to beg for a few potatoes, a piece of bread, etc. True, the guards would beat them murderously after catching a woman committing such a crime, but the urge to ease the hunger with anything was so strong that the sadistic punishments could not stop the women from running to beg for a piece of bread. Therefore, with the women in the Loibitz camp such physical exhaustion from hunger and slave labor was not as noticeable as in the Dachau work camps.
But the situation for the women was still quite dark and bitter. Like the men's camps, the women's camp had terrible congestion and filth, and a shortage of clothes and shoes predominated. There was an insulting relationship between the hooligan S.S. guards and the chosen Jewish women who were appointed by the Germans to be the overseers of work in the camp, in the kitchen, etc.
In addition, the women were also full of lice, which caused the spread of epidemic illnesses. In the camps there was no possibility of receiving even basic medical help, so it became clear why many women left this world very quickly, as many had worn out their last bit of health.
The weakened women would be sent to Stutthof, on recovery, as they called it. In fact, they would kill them there and burn them in the crematoria.
At this point it is worth mentioning that once, while they were sending a larger party of weakened women to Stutthof to rest, a few dozen healthier women also requested to be allowed to accompany them to Stutthof for a few days' rest. Their request, of course, was satisfied by the camp administrators. Both the weak, as well as the less-weakened women were killed in Stutthof.
On the 14th of January 1945, during the Winter offensive when the Soviet forces started to get closer to Torun, this women's camp quickly started to evacuate from Loibitsh. They took the women from Loibitsh toward Torun and from Torun, in the direction of Bromberg.
Like on the men's evacuation march, many women couldn't not keep up the tempo of the march on the road, and the S.S. men shot a large number on the spot. Barefoot, naked, and starving, the women dragged themselves through the great frost of the month of January. During the march, many women froze feet, hands, limbs, etc.
Seeing that the Russians were very close, the S.S. guards quickly disappeared, leaving the women behind somewhere in a forsaken forest which was located off the road between Torun and Bromberg, some 20 kilometers from Torun.
Before this time, other Soviet army divisions occupied Bromberg. Learning that a Jewish women's camp was marching between Torun and Bromberg, the Soviet intelligence divisions went out searching to free the Jewish women.
Because the women were dragged to a forest off the road, the Russians could hardly find them. These women were liberated on the 23rd of January 1945.
Aside from the Kovno women, who were dragged to Loibitch, a large party of Kovno women from Stutthof were sent to Derbek, a small village near Elbing.
At that time, more large women's camps existed in Derbek, where they worked digging protection pits - fortification work. In these camps, aside from the Kovno and Shavl women, there were also Jewish women from Hungary.
After finishing work in Derbek, for approximately 5-6 weeks, about 700-800 Kovno women were then sent over to Malkin, a small settlement not far from Strasburg in Western-Prussia.
In Malkin, the women were also employed in various front construction works, and they suffered there just like in all the other Nazi concentration camps.
A month later after their arrival in Malkin, a selection of the weaker women was conducted. A few hundred women were then sent from Malkin to Stutthof, where they had the same ending as all the other women transported to Stutthof extermination camp.
At the second selection, which took place a few weeks after the first one, 100 women were caught who were also sent to Stutthof.
Not more than 500 women were taken out on the evacuation march, which started in Malkin on the 18th of January 1945. From there, the women marched for over two weeks to Praust where they found many other women, among them also Kovno women, from other evacuated camps.
From Praust they marched further until Chinov [Chynowie], near Lauenberg, where they remained from the 20th of February until the 10th of March 1945, when they were liberated by the Red Army.
In Chinov, there were over 1000 women cramped into a barn in an open field. Because of the extraordinary crowding, filth, hunger and cold, a terrible typhus epidemic broke out, from which hundreds of women died in three weeks. The sick actually laid around under the feet of the healthy ones, who, in a short time, also become sick. There was not even a divider between the healthy, the sick and the dead. All were knotted together, and one could not imagine what kind of horrible scenes were to be seen. They later took the dead and threw them into pits, which were located near the barn. The pits were sprinkled only when they became full of dead bodies.
At this opportunity it is worth mentioning that the former Jewish camp elder of Malkin, Dora Arbeter, who was a true underworld type and strongly bullied the women, was taken to court by the Soviet powers after liberation and received 15 years hard labor.
A few hundred Kovno women from Derbek transferred to Gutau. In this camp there were, excluding the Kovno women, 500 or 600 Jewish women from Hungary and a few hundred women from the Shavl Ghetto. In total, there were close to a thousand Jewish women in this women's camp.
These women also worked at digging protection pits, and they lived through all seven stages of hell in a Hitlerite concentration camp. A larger number of weak women were also there and were sent to Stutthof for extermination.
Due to the Soviet Winter offensive, the camp started to evacuate. There were approximately 800 women, of which 500 could keep up with the evacuation march and the rest were so weakened that they could not be taken on the march.
According to a decree from the higher ups, or according to their own initiative, the camp administration injected these weakened women with a poison serum with the goal of killing them.
Perhaps it was due to their great haste for evacuation, or injecting intravenously instead of injecting intramuscularly, or, because of some unclarified reason, the injections did not work. As it turned out, luckily there were no deaths from these injections. Excluding a small number of women, who died from blood poisoning or another complication, almost all the other women remained alive. A few days later, they were liberated by the Red Army which occupied this area.
Also, after a two-day march, the healthy women were liberated by the Russians on the 22nd of January, not far from Neimark.
A few hundred women were brought from Stutthof to Riberg, near Elbing, where they were held for a month. From Riberg they were transferred to Shtoboi, not far from Riberg. There they were held for a month and a half, and they were dragged to Nidervarben. In Nidervarben a selection took place by which a few dozen women were sent to Stutthof to be exterminated.
In a few weeks, the women from Nidervarben were transferred to Hohegek, near Neimark. This was already in December 1944. In Hohenek a new selection took place. The selected women, who were supposed to be sent to Stuttoff, were sent to Malkin, because at that time a typhus epidemic was spreading in Stutthof, and the Stutthof concentration camp was closed.
In January 1945, the healthy women from the Hohenek camp were supposed to evacuate to Danzig. Due to the Soviet offensive, the direct road to Danzig was blocked. Therefore, the women were brough to Praust from where they were sent to Chinov together with other women. They stayed there a few weeks and they got through all the horrors in that tragically infamous barn. They were liberated by the Russians on the 10th of March.
A few dozen Kovno women were put together with the Shavl women and other Jewish women and sent to Sofienvald near Berent. They remained there from the end of August until the beginning of February 1945, when they started to evacuate the camp. After a six- day march, the camp arrived at Gottenhof, which was a collection camp for evacuated concentration camp inmates. They arrived at this camp on the 12th of February, and they stayed until the 9th of March when they left for Chinov. On the same day of their arrival in Chinov, that is, the 10th of March, they were liberated by the Soviets.
A small number of Kovno women, together with a few hundred women from the Shavl Ghetto and from Hungary, were sent over to the Dachau camps for men. This same women's camp built a type of island in the sea of that men's camp, and, by comparison, didn't have it so bad. At the same time, while the men had extraordinarily horrible conditions, the camp administration for the women was not as strict, and they had it much better than in the other women's camps.
Among the Hungarian women who were brought in, there were some pregnant women who gave birth there. The camp administration did not kill the newborn children[h] and the mothers, together with the children, were liberated at the end of April 1945, by the American army divisions.
While most of the healthier women were sent out from Stutthof to various labor camps, a few hundred women from the Kovno Ghetto remained working in Stutthof itself. A portion of these women worked in those sick wards and the rest worked in various workshops.
In October,1944, a larger party of women were sent out to work in the surrounding agricultural fields. They worked there for a few months and were then brought back to the Stutthof camp. Although, the Jewish women slaved very hard in agricultural work, they had it much better than in Stutthof, with regard to food.
As mentioned, in addition to the working women in Stutthof, there were many old and weak women who were exterminated in stages in those crematoria. Almost every day, selections of the older and sick women would take place and those selected for death were killed. These extermination actions continued until December 1944.
At the end of 1944 in Stutthof, a typhus epidemic broke out which continued until the evacuation of the camp in April 1945. Of these few thousand women who were there, many died of typhus. During the typhus plague life in the Stutthof concentration camp was true hell. The conditions, both for the sick, as well as for the healthy, were horrible and therefore the total number of deaths was very high.
On the 26th of April 1945, the evacuation of Stutthof began. A portion of camp prisoners were taken by train and the rest with a freight steamer. On the 28th of April the S.S. guards threw many sick women, who were laying on the deck of the steamer, into the sea. Every day, the S.S. murderers would search for the sick and they would throw them into the sea. Hundreds of women were killed in this cruel way. In addition, there were many deaths of sick women who were evacuated by train.
On May 2nd, the steamer with the evacuees was bombed by an English airplane. A portion of the steamer was damaged by the bombing and therefore, many people were killed. However, while the engine of the steamer had problems, it was still functioning and could travel on.
A passing ship picked up a few hundred persons from the steamer. The rest had to remain on the damaged steamer, which arrived, with great difficulty, in Ekernferde, near Kiel. The people arrived in the port of Kiel on the 4th of May.
Kiel was already occupied by the British. The happiness of the new survivors was tremendous. The people were immediately transferred to a camp where there were Czechs and other trailing persons. After recuperating from all the horrific experiences, most of the women headed out in various directions seeking family members.
|-New problems and worries for the liberated men and women. -The life of the surviving Lithuanian Jews during the first years of the remaining-remnants.|
After recuperating from the first impressions and experiences related to the liberation, a whole series of new problems and worries stood before these liberated people. The situation, however, was entirely different between the women who were liberated by the Russians, and the situation for the men, liberated by the Americans.
When the women from the labor camps in Prussia were freed by the Red Army in the beginning of 1945, the sick and weak immediately were transported to hospitals for medical attention. The healthier women, however, were quickly mobilized for various work details for the army, because the war with Germany had not yet ended.
The work of the mobilized women varied: they worked in military hospitals, in military economic organizations, etc. A larger number of liberated women were also employed in herding animals, which the Soviets were taking to Russia from the occupied German areas.
However, truth be told, most of the liberated women were not very glad to do such physically exhausting work, like chasing animals on foot for many months. They were not happy for the following reasons:
First, most women were mainly interested in finding their husbands or other members of their families, who were taken away on the deportations.
Second, many women left their children with Christians in Lithuania, and they wanted to get there as soon as possible to recover the children.
Third, after all the horrible experiences in the Ghetto and in the concentration camps, the women wanted to recuperate and not start all over again being shackled to work, especially under a military regime.
A small number of more energetic women avoided the work mobilization and tried to strike through all military barriers to get themselves out to Lithuania. Already in March 1945, a few Jewish women who were liberated from the German concentration camps started arriving in Vilna, Kovno and Shavl.
The appearance of the liberated women was an extraordinary surprise, especially among the former ghetto Jews, because everyone believed that no trace remained of those Jews deported to Germany. So, for example, one day a notice circulated in Kovno that a Kovno liberated woman had arrived in Vilna. Not waiting for her arrival in Kovno, many Jews immediately left for Vilna to look at her and hear authentic accounts from her about the fate of the deported Jews.
Furthermore, in the Spring of 1945, even more individuals and groups of liberated women started returning to Lithuania. No one in Lithuania knew anything about the fate of the deported men until the end of the war.
At this opportunity we must add that the liberated Jewish women received a very cold reception from the official Lithuanian institutions. If not for the little help organized by Jews themselves, many of them would not have had anywhere to lay their head or anything to eat. Most of them lay on the floors of the former Kovno Choir Synagogue and in other community places for weeks until they got work and started having a normal life.
So very fortunate were those liberated mothers who found their little children in Jewish children's homes, which were established in Kovno right after liberation through the initiative of a group of former ghetto Jews.[a] They started collecting the little Jewish children who, during the ghetto times, were given away to Christians, and whose parents were not found. In the establishment and existence of the Children's Home, particular recognition should be given to the Russian Jew Colonel Professor Rebelski, a psychiatrist by profession, who was chief of the large military sanitorium office, located in Kovno in those days. Thanks to his active interest in the fate of the little children during those difficult years, he was successful in creating very basic tangible opportunities for the Children's Home. By the way, he was quite an interesting personality and a good person with a very warm heart.
A Jewish elementary school with a kindergarten was also established in Kovno[b] at the same time as the children's home.
Many mothers found their little children still in the homes of the Christians. Aside from the older children, the Christians did not want to give the children back. A larger number of Christians didn't return any Jewish children whose parents were killed, and none of the surviving Jews knew where or by whom the children were to be found. Because of this, there are Jewish children who remained with the Christians to this day.
At the end of June 1945 about 500-600 liberated Jewish women returned to Kovno.
The case of the liberated men was different. In general, the greatest portion of men were in far worse physical condition than the women. To recuperate a bit, they needed immediate medical help and recovery. In addition, like the women, many men became sick with various typhus illnesses right after liberation, which they contracted on the evacuation marches, or a short time beforehand. Being so very weak and exhausted from all the concentration camp horrors, many of them could not get through their illnesses and died. Only the younger and healthier were able to recuperate.
Almost all the women who were liberated by the Russians had one clear goal after the liberation to get to Lithuania as soon as possible. But, among the largest portion of men, there were large differences of opinion right from the beginning.
A smaller number of the left-leaning ones, started to agitate for the men to go back to Lithuania.
The Zionist-leaning elements, on the contrary, decided never to go back to Lithuania. After all the horrific experiences that Jews went through in the Hitler years, every Jew should, irrespective of his past political circumstances, strive to settle in Eretz-Israel.
The non-political Jews, who, by the way, were the majority, were neutral and waited to receive more exact information about what was happening there before traveling to Lithuania. Men who received word that their liberated wives had returned to Lithuania, left for Poland, to find a way to connect with their wives once there.
As we know, in the beginning of Summer 1945, a voluntary repatriation of established national minorities started between Soviet Russia and Poland. Those Kovno Jews who did not want to remain where there were mass graves of their murdered family members, strove to join their relatives in Eretz Israel, America and other lands. They took advantage of this stream of repatriation and endured on to Poland. From there, they came to Germany, Austria, Italy, etc., from where they sought a way to get in touch with their foreign friends.
Those who arrived from Lithuania did not deliver warm regards about Jewish life there. The very fact that they left Lithuania and brought unfavorable news about the situation of that Jewish population, strengthened the position of those not-returning. Furthermore, many Jews who were prepared to go back to Lithuania, refused at the last moment.
Liberated Jews who managed to return to Lithuania, and who discovered that their family members were in Poland or Germany, sought ways to get there.
Meanwhile, the Jewish mass escape from east to west became even greater from month to month. This escape stream tore the Lithuanian Jews apart even more both those who were in the Ghetto, as well as those who evacuated to Russia.
A portion of those Lithuanian Jews, especially the younger ones, succeeded in various ways to immigrate to Eretz-Israel. Some individuals left to go to relatives in the United States and other lands across the sea.
For a variety of reasons, the overwhelming majority of Lithuanian Jews remained sitting in the Jewish DP camps in the American Zone in Germany or in Italy, where they shared the fate of the entire remaining remnant. In Landsberg, Munich, Feldafing, Sankt- Ottillian, and other settlements in Germany, as well as in Rome, Milan, Bari, and other points in Italy. Many Kovno Jews took up positions of responsibility in local Jewish social life.
After a while the liberated Lithuanian Jews in Germany and Italy organized themselves and connected with the Lithuanian Jewish organizations and countrymen organizations in Eretz Israel, U.S.A., South Africa, Canada, etc.
A Union of Lithuanian Jews was established in Landsberg, at the end of 1946, in the American Zone in Germany. On the 28th of October 1946, at the 5th year commemoration of the Big Action in the Kovno Ghetto, they arranged a large mourning commemoration. Almost all the Lithuanian Jews from the remaining remnant in the American Zone took part.
The first Conference of Lithuanian Survivors of the Diaspora in Germany took place in Munich, on the 14th and 15th of April 1947.
At this important conference it was decided to put forth a resolution about the guilt of the Lithuanian people in the murder of Lithuanian Jewry.
This resolution affirmed, as follows: The conference confirms that:
We, the few remaining from the prior 160 thousand total of Lithuanian Jewry, are living witnesses to the horrible cruelties which were committed by the Lithuanians to their Jewish neighbors. Each one of us can tell numerous facts illustrating the horrible murders by the Lithuanian people toward the unprotected and helpless Jewish population during the occupation years. Despite our huge pain, we must declare that the smaller Jewish settlements in the Lithuanian provinces were exterminated exclusively by Lithuanians, and in the larger Jewish settlements, with their most active participation. As is generally known, the bestial murders of Jews in Kovno, like for example, in the various garages during the horrific Slabodka pogrom, and at the time of the huge massacre at the 7th Fort, where more than 9,000 Kovno Jews were killed during the early occupation weeks, were conducted by Lithuanians.
Furthermore, it is also known about the active participation of the Lithuanians in the extermination of the Jewish ghettos and camps outside the borders of Lithuania, such as Majdanek, Warsaw, and the like. The Union of Lithuanian Jews in the Diaspora in Germany considers it our Jewish and human duty to bring these facts to the awareness of the Jewish and non-Jewish public.
Cruel Blood Reckoning
|- Over 90% of the Kovno Jews, who lived in Hitler's hell perished for being Jews|
Wanting to underscore the bloody total of the deported Kovno Jews, we must come to the following tragic conclusion:
The difficulty in calculating an exact statistical number is self-explanatory. Thus, we must accept that of the approximately 8,000 Jews deported from the Ghetto and from the surrounding labor camps 3,000 were men and 5,000 were women and children.
The men taken to the Dachau labor camps near Landsberg, suffered for more than nine months, that means, from the middle of July 1944 to the beginning of May 1945. Of these men, over 2,000 men died from hard labor, hunger, cold, lice, epidemic illnesses, murderous camp regime, shootings during evacuation marches, etc. Approximately seven to eight hundred men survived to liberation. As mentioned, a great number of men and women died of epidemic illnesses just after liberation.
Of the approximate 5,000 women and children who were brought to Stutthof, one thousand mothers with their little children were sent to Auschwitz for extermination, after the selection which was conducted immediately after their arrival.
During the later selections in Stutthof, there were seven to eight hundred elderly or weak women who were not sent to work in the camps but were killed in stages in those crematoria.
Over 3,000 younger and healthier women were sent out to labor in the Prussian camps in inhumane living conditions, but hundreds of women became weakened, and were sent from the camps to Stutthof for extermination. During the evacuation marches in the beginning of 1945 there were, once again, hundreds of women who died on the way by being shot, from sicknesses, and other afflictions.
Calculating the women who died of various sicknesses right after the liberation, we can say with great certainty, that half of the over 3,000 women who were sent from Stutthof for work, another 500 women got through all the troubles and finally scrambled out from under the nails of the Hitler's angels of death.
So, we can see that from the 8,000 deported Kovno Jews exactly three quarters died in various ways, and just a little more than one-quarter, that is, approximately 2.5 thousand men and women, succeeded in surviving the Nazi extermination.
In comparing a total of close to 40,000 Kovno Jews, who had the misfortune of falling under the Hitler occupation, with a total of 3,000 surviving Jewish souls[a], we arrive at this conclusion which screams to the high heavens:
More than 90% of Kovno Jews who languished in Hitler's hell, had their lives sacrificed for being Jews.
In this huge blood reckoning, our six million martyrs were killed in horrific ways by the Nazi mass murderers and their various collaborators. Such strange deaths were not even mentioned in Tocheichah [Chapter 26, Leviticus] in the Bible. The tens of thousands of Kovno martyrs who were killed by burning, by killing, by choking, and other strange deaths, occupy a prominent place.
Together with the memory of all our innocent martyrs whose lives were sacrificed on the altar for the thousands of years old sanctification of the name of God, the memory of the martyrs of the community of Kovno will remain holy in the annals of Jewish history for generations.
Generations will go and generations will come, but the biggest stain of guilt in world history, the murderous Hitlerism, will forever illustrate the cannibalistic cruelty of the German superman and their devotees, among other people, and their downward spiral in the middle of the 20th century. Until the end of time, our fiercest curses will remain hanging on the heads of the wicked nations of the world, whose sons and daughters conducted such bestial mass murders on us Jews.
It is our deepest human conviction that there must come - and there will yet come - an historical judgment day over the malicious government of the Christian sodomite world which collaborated with the blood-thirsty Hitlerites. A judgment day will fulfill the last desire of our martyrs, who, at the same moment as their last Hear O Israel [prayer] on their lips, begged God to take revenge for the innocent spilling of blood of the people of Israel.
On the seventh day of mourning, we bow our heads in great awe to the scattered holy ashes of our murdered and burned men and women, from elderly to babies, we whisper the ancient Jewish prayer: That their souls should be wrapped in bundles of life.
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