Translated by Janie Respitz
Shocking descriptions of destruction from eye witnesses provide a picture of the horrific tragedy that befell Sventzian from the first days of the war. Simple Jews, among those who survived told about the frightening nightmare, pain, fear and lunacy that have no name, and the naked truth, the facts, document the truth about this most terrifying catastrophe that happened to us over the past two thousand years. In every line, the heart cries and cries, and we cry as well. Woe! How many crimes were committed by the murderers in the organized hell of Poligon and Ponar!
Oh, what Leah Svirsky saw in the fields of Baranov, where a mass grave exists with 8,000 martyrs; And woe to people like Zalman Motzkin, Mordecai Zaidel, Dov Lishansky and thousands of others who remained there eternally, underwent on their way to Ponar. Reading the chronicles of pain and cruel deaths one has an insane desire to break all artistic sculptures, and tear up every made up piece of literature of Dante and Dostoevsky. Away with the literary fig leaf, come and drop to hell, in the most horrific, naked reign of gruesome crimes! In all languages, the first things heard should be the words of the tortured, who survived the horrors of those days and tell the naked truth. Who knows when a Jewish genius will appear and be able to write of this greatest tragedy of all time, in an artistic manner. Therefore, future generations should read the memoirs of the starve, tortured Jews of Sventzian, and remember, what should be remembered for generations, that which should be never forgotten by Jews and all people.
Ber Kharmots and Yankev Levin
On Friday, the first of September 1939, the Germans bombed the Largest cities, the strategic points and the railway centers of Poland. This announced that the war between Poland and Germany had started. The German Army marched through Poland with large steps, and in the course of two weeks the Germans occupied the majority of Poland going as far as the Bug [River]. On the 17th of September, the Red Army also crossed the Polish border and occupied those parts of Poland that the Germans had not taken. It was obvious that they had agreed upon this in advance, and this counted as a kind of third division of Poland. Sventzian, along with other places, was occupied by the Red Army and became part of the White-Russian Soviet Republic. Vilne and many other towns in the area of Vilne remained Lithuanian.
Then a new era began for Sventzian, a new life. The Reign of the Sventzian Authorities. This era, however, lasted a very short time, less than two years. The love Between Soviet Russia and Hitler's Germany found its expression in the Ribentrop- Molotov Treaty ended earlier than expected.
On Sunday, the 22nd of June 1941, the Germans suddenly attacked the Soviet Union. The Soviet Army, which found itself in the liberated areas, quickly withdrew to the old Soviet border.
Some Jews also managed to escape, these were people who had become strongly involved with the Soviet authorities. The majority of the Jews, however, remained where they were, because they didn't have the time or the opportunity to escape.
Early Tuesday morning, the 24th of June, not a trace of the Soviets remained. A Jewish self-defense group, which consisted for the most part of former firemen, was immediately put into place.
Their main task was to protect the Jewish population from pogroms. In the city, new [self-declared] leaders soon arose. They were mostly former Lithuanian soldiers, who had escaped from the Soviet Army. They immediately started in on the Jewish population. They called their organization
Ifatingo [?], and the government of the city was actually in their hands during the first weeks before the war.
The German Army entered Sventzian on the first of July 1941. The Field Commandant now ran the city, but civil authority was actually given into Lithuanian hands.
On the streets appeared, Lithuanians, who were called grabbers. They often grabbed Jews for forced labor. It was later learned that all of these kidnapped Jews, about 40 people, had been taken to the fields of Tserklishok where they were all shot.
Among other Jews who were shot were: Motl Motkin, Noyekh Kotler, Khatskl Kurlyantsik, Yanken Svirski, Leyzer Kavarski, Henokh Zaydman, Meyer Lustigman and his two sons, Alter Grazul, Bikovitsh.
Posters were posted on the street offering the Christian population a reward for information about the location of Dr. Kavarski. He had left Sventsayn and hidden in the village of Tverets near Vidz. A young Pole informed the Germans of Dr. Kavarski's whereabouts. He was brought back to Svantsyan barefoot and led through the streets for everyone to ridicule.
Not far from the place where he was being persecuted there was a
a pond. Dr. Kavarski threw himself into the water trying to drown himself. The murderers, however, did not permit him to die that easily, and they pulled him out of the water.
A few days later another 100 Jews were gathered together and Dr. Kavarsky was sent along with them into a forest near New Sventzian, where everyone was killed.
In addition to the doctor, that group consisted of: attrorney Leyb Gurevitsh, Nakhum Gorden, Zelik Murashkin, Yankev Kats, Yankev Pashumensky, Hirsh Veyskunski, Yankev Leyfer, Bere Leyb Grinfeld, Meyer Shapira, Betsalel Teyts, ber Gordon, Yitskhak Zetl, Shmuel Note Bashis, Melamed and many others.
The Field Commandant quickly left Sventzian and his position was taken by the civil authority: the Gestapo.
Mets, the former post office inspector, was appointed local Commandant. He was the one who said that the Germans were preparing a place in New-Sventzian where all the Jews of the area were to be gathered.
On the afternoon of Rosh Hashona, Moyshe Gordon ran into the old synagogue and began to shout: Jews, there's a big fire. We must all escape. Anyone who can, should go to White Russia. I am also leaving.
There was a big commotion among the Jewish population. People began to escape to Svir, Glubok Lintup and other towns, which belonged to White Russia and where there had not yet been any pogroms against Jews.
On Friday, the 26th of September 1941, Sventzian was surrounded by Lithuanian and German patrols. No one from Sventzian was let out. Early Saturday, the 27th of September (it happened to be the Sabbath of Repentence), everyone was driven out of his house and brought to a large fieldthe so-called Shablinsk's Meadow.
The Lithuanians and the Germans took everything out of the Jewish homes and brought it to the synagogue. Later, everything was sold to the Christian population for next to nothing.
Peasants came from all the surrounding areas and stole everything they could of what was still left.
They even ripped out the doors and the windows. They took the roofs apart. For a long time the peasants loaded whatever possessions they could onto wagons and drove off.
A short time later, all the Jewish houses had been turned into ruins and no trace was left of any Jewish occupancy.
On that Saturday, all the Jews were kept in Shabliske's Meadow until evening. Then they were arrayed in rows and marched down the road in the direction of New-Svenstyan.
The Polish military camp Poligon was located two kilometers from New Sventzian. That is where the Jews from Sventzian and the surrounding towns were brought.
Since Peysakh Goldberg, the painter, had remained in Sventzian as a useful Jew, he received permission to take his family out of Poligon. From them we learned what was going on there. They said that up to 8,000 Jews, who had been brought from all over the greater Sventzian area, were imprisoned in the barracks there.
We found out that they were starving and suffering great privation. It was immediately decided to collect food products and take them to Poligon.
After much effort permission was granted by the authorities and several wagon- loads of bread, potatoes and other very basic necessities were driven to Poligon.
Five such trips were made from Sventsyen to Poligon. The authorities very soon forbade any further connection with Poligon and rumors spread that soon all the Jews would be killed.
Then various kinds of efforts were made to get Jews out of Poligon. It was argued that they were useful, or the guards of the camp were simply bribed. In this way several families were gotten out of Poligon and brought to Sventzian.
In the Sventzian Ghetto they blended in with the remaining artisans; however, the Germans discovered this and decided to institute a means of control. Everyone was ordered to go out to the ghetto yard, which was surrounded by police.
Once again the roster of useful Jews was read, and whoever did not appear on that list was detained and, along with his family, sent back to Poligon.
On Wednesday, the 7th of October 1941, the second day of Sukos, horrific news reached Svantsyan: the Jews of Poligon were being annihilated. On Thursday, the 8th of October, the first of the intermediary days of Sukos, the murderers finished their extermination and all of the Jews who had been shot were thrown into a mass grave, which was then covered with earth and looked like a large hill.
Only a few individuals managed to survive, and when they arrived in Sventzian they had no words with which to describe what those human beasts did there.
The Christians who witnessed this cruel massacre said that children and old people had been thrown into the [mass] grave alive. The beasts covered the grave while the people were still alive. Even hours later the ground could be seen heaving. Blood spurted from the hill and screams and moans could be heard.
With such ferocity these German animals and their Lithuanian collaborators murdered 8,000 Jews.
The rest of the Jews of Sventzian, the artisans and their families, approximately 500 people in total, were locked into the ghetto. A Jewish Council was created and their first chairman was Meyer Shukhman. The Jewish Council oversaw all matters in the ghetto.
At first the ghetto contained only about 500 Jews. Later Jews were brought from Vidz and surrounding areas, so that in the end the ghetto housed close to 2,000 souls. The majority of the ghetto population consisted of artisans who had worked for the Germans. They were not paid for their work, and they survived on what they had previously saved or from selling things that they had hidden with Christians.
When conditions in White Russia worsened, many Jews, who had previously left, returned to Sventzian. Moyshe Gordin was one of these, and he immediately took the position as head of the Jewish Council. Others on the Jewish Council were: Dr. Binyomin Taraseyski and
Motl Gilinski. The Jewish Council instituted the Jewish Police force, whose first Commander was Khaim-Hirsh Levin.
Various departments were created, such as provisions [?], housing, employment and the like. Shulheyfer chaired the provisions division; Yankev Levin, the housing division and Shura Katsnbogn the emplyment division.
In the meantime it was learned that a ghetto also existed in Vilna, and it was decided to connect with those who led it. Two representatives of the Sventzian Jewish Council were sent there: Taraseyski and Yankev Levin. They met with the Commandant of the Vilna Jewish Police, Yankev Gens, and they told him about the situation in the Sventzian Ghetto, about the crowding and the disease that was spreading there because of it. They asked him to intervene with the higher authorities so that help could be sent to Sventzian. The most important thing was medicine, so that the situation could be eased.
Gens asked them to return the next day, when he would have an answer for them. When they met again, Gens told them that the German authorities had appointed him to oversee the Sventzian Ghetto as well.
That very same day, he selected 10 Jewish policemen and, along with the two representatives of the Sventzian Jewish Council, drove to Sventzian in a special car.
He immediately called for a gathering of all the Jews and assured them that ghetto of Sventzian did not pose a danger to them.
Gens went back to Vilna early the next day leaving his representative, Frida, the Chief of Police behind.
In the meantime, Jews from all the surrounding towns such as Lintup, Vidz among others were descending on Sventzian. The crowded conditions in the ghetto became even more dire, the sanitary conditions even more horrendous, and a terrible typhus epidemic broke out. This fact had, however, to be hidden from the Germans, because otherwise they would have burned down the whole ghetto.
Gens's representative left Sventzian. The
Jewish Council began to use its own methods to quell the epidemic. A hospital was created and two quarantine sections.
The doctors Taraseysky and Kapelovitsh were at the forefront of the struggle to contain the epidemic. The nurses, Khaya Flekser, Rokhl Forus, Tsipe Malekhovitsh (Podbrodz) and Katye Yavitsh, helped in this regard. Katye also died of Typhus.
In spite of all the strenuous efforts of the doctors and the nurses, the epidemic worsened. Hundreds of people died. We saw that we could not vanquish the epidemic with our own means, and we once again turned to Gens for help. He immediately sent two doctors from Vilna and various medicines.
A bath with disinfectant was immediately built. Everyone did whatever they could, and after much, arduous work, we were finally successful in eradicating the epidemic.
The Sventzian Ghetto breathed a bit easier after the epidemic had been stemmed, but it did not last much longer.
Once Gens came to the ghetto. He called a meeting in the synagogue and there announced that since the Sventzian Ghetto was a threat vis a vis the partisans, because it was located too close to their nests, so the Sventzian Jews were to be sent to the ghettos of Vilna and Kovne.
Two lists were created: one list for those who were going to be sent to Vilna and another list for those who would be going to Kovne.
The mood of the ghetto population was: very anxious. At first no one knew which was better, Vilne or Kovne. At the last minute, however, they realized that the Vilne list contained all the relatives of the ghetto officials. Then they understood that that one was certainly the better one.
Those who were on the Kovne list began to search for a way to be erased from the Kovne list and added to the Vilne list. All of their
efforts, however, were in vain, because it was already too late and things could not be changed.
Then Desler, Gens's representative, came to Sventzian with a group of Jewish policemen.
Many wagons were mobilized and all the Jews were taken to New-Sventzian. There a train with heavy cars had already been prepared. All the Jews of Sventzian were placed into these cars, the doors were immediately shut and no one was let out of there.
When the train arrived in Vilne, those cars that contained the Jews on the Vilne list, were detached. In total there were 260 people, and they were taken to the Vilne Ghetto.
The rest of the cars continued on. Officially speaking they were being taken to Kovne, but in truth they were taken to Ponar, and there they were all killed.
Several individuals managed to save themselves and came to the Vilne Ghetto, where, after a short time, almost all of them died.
During the liquidation of the Vilne Ghetto, the majority of the Jews of Sventzian were sent to Estonia and there everyone was killed.
Only a handful of Jews managed to survive. Among them were: Ber Khormats,[sic] Yankev Levin, Klara Yavitsh, Pesye Yarkhey Meyrem Kharmats, Shloyme Kharmats, Yehuda Sharski, Zenye Zaretski, Sheyne Kavarski, Khaye Rudnitski, [and] Dr. Binyomin Taraseyski.
After the Red Army liberated Sventzian, approximately 40 Sventzian Jews returned from the woods. Practically all of those who had been in the woods had fought as partisans against the arch-enemy of the Jewish people.
Somewhat later, individual Jews returned, who had at the beginning of the war had escaped to the Soviet Union.
There were very few of these refugees.
In brief, this is the history of the destruction of the Jewish population of Sventzian.
This is how human beasts, rabid sadists, destroyed a city in which Jewish culture and society had pulsed for hundreds of years.
Translated by Khane-Faygl (Anita)Turtletaub
As one of the very few who survived the Sventzian Ghetto, I feel that I have the responsibility to unfold and tell you everything what I saw and experienced during those days of great destruction in our town. Where, however, shall I get the strength to convey the anguish of observing all of my nearest and dearest being murdered, and myself looking death in the eyes every day? No matter how much or what I would write it would be so insignificant and pale in comparison with that which I experienced. But does this give me the right to refrain from writing? How is it possible to forget the eyes of my sister and brother, of all of them, who perished in the ghetto, in Poligon and Ponar, that constantly affect me and demand: Write! Tell at least a small part of what you have lived through, that was also our experience during those cruel times! Tears choke me, the tears of children and grandfathers, of mothers with the G-d of Abraham, on their lips, whose innocently spilled blood will never stop roiling in us.
Even before the Germans entered Sventzian, we had already heard of the horrific things that they were doing. It was unbelievable. It was said that [the bodies of] Jews who had been shot were lying on the roads. There was talk of the cruel, murderous acts of the Lithuanian partisans. We felt like prisoners in a cage and did not know where to run.
We finally saw the Germans driving through in their various automobiles and asking: Where is the road to Moscow? Some of them stopped near Jewish houses and ordered water to be brought to them. They washed themselves a bit and then chatted quite politely even giving the children that encircled them apples and sweets.
Such scenes caused us to have hopeful opinions. Perhaps the Devil was not as awful as he was painted? After a short time, however, they began to take Jews to do hard labor.
In our family, we were particularly concerned about our brother, Abrashe, whom the Polish authorities used to arrest on the first of May as a doubtful element. He was active in abetting the Soviets. There was the danger that the Germans would arrest him and we had to hide him.
Along with quite a few other girls, I was assigned to clean the prison. A young German with a large dog ran around shouting and siccing the dog on us. We didn't eat the whole day. Tired, exhausted, we
barely dragged ourselves home in the evening. The next day the same thing was repeated. More women were added who told us that a Jew had been shot. When we were ready to go home, an older German gave a talk exhorting us to be careful and not tell anyone what we saw or heard at work.
Every day we came to the same place and cleaned the cells and the offices of the prison building. The relationship of the Germans [to us] was kind. [sic] It sometimes happened that one of them would pass us a sandwich, or a piece of bread wrapped in paper. Once a German told us: We military people have nothing against the Jews. Things will be worse when the civilian authority will arrive.
One evening we heard that men were being registered. It was said that they were looking for Communists. That caused a commotion. Abrashe was afraid to sleep at home and went up to the attic. However, the next morning we saw the Lithuanian police approaching as he was coming down from the attic. Abrasha succeeded in escaping through the window. The police came in and ordered one Abrasha Yavitsh to go with them. When I said that he wasn't there, because he had been taken for work the previous day, they placed a revolver on the table and threatened that if I would not deliver Abrasha to them, they would shoot me.
I pleaded for a policeman to accompany me then I would go and look for him. I later learned that all the Jews that were taken away that day never returned. Those were the first hundred Jewish victims in Sventzian.
Abrasha came home that evening and said that the Germans for whom he worked had given them certificates, but no one knew whether they meant life or death.
One morning as I was going to work, Abrasha was quickly returning and shouted out: It's bad. Young and old, laden with bundles, are being led away. We must hide.
The distant sounds of weeping and wailing reached us. Confused, I ran out and asked a Lithuanian policeman for permission to get my father, who
didn't work far away. He gave me permission and I ran over to my brother and pleaded with him to let me remain with him. Through the window I saw the drunken policemen mocking elderly Jews. The door opened and several policemen entered. Boldly, I said to them: The German Commandant told us to stay, because he needed us. They excused themselves and left. The shouting got farther away. We remained alonethe last ones on the street.
Through the window we saw that all the Jews had been gathered in the field. The police ran around, made a lot of noise, cursed and threatened [people] with short whips and weapons. All of those Jews were taken to Poligon.
Night fell and fear grew in our hearts. It seemed to us that the door would open at any moment and the police would barge in. My sister, Katye, suggested that we leave the house and hide somewhere. We began to think at whose house we could hide, and it became apparent that we didn't have anyone [to turn to].
The gentiles began to run around the closed houses taking down the white pieces of paper warning that one could not enter those houses. The Christians were shouting and cursing, running around as if poisoned [sic] all the while pulling Jewish possessions from the houses. A few opened the door of our house and stood there surprised: What are you doing still here? This went on the whole night.
When day came we saw a Jew here and there through the window. Rokhl Rudnitski came over with a child. She said that the Jews who had been caught on the roads had been put into prison. There were two children among them. One of them was the child, Shloymik Las.
I ran out to look for the child's mother. On the street I heard from Shukhman that there was a rumor that artisans would be left alone. Hidden Jews began to crawl out of their holes and began to think about how to get bread to those who had been taken to Poligon.
Some bread was actually collected and Shukhman took it over. He brought several Jews back with him, and we added these to the list of artisans.
A small ghetto was created. It was fenced in and a Jewish Council was set up. Shukhman was the oldest. Later, Moyshe Gurvitsh became the oldest in the ghetto and his assistant was Dr. Taraseyski.
Lithuanian policemen guarded the ghetto. Jews were not allowed to have anything to do with Christians. Nevertheless, some managed to exchange household items for food products.
I worked with Mrs. Shapiro and Fridkin in the employment office. Every day the situation became worse, because among the survivors were also elderly people, sick people and children. The ghetto was often visited by the building [?] Commissioner, who brought fear and cruelty with him. Jews who had escaped from other ghettos came to ours and we had to hide them.
The young people began to think about arming themselves and found ways to steal and buy weapons. Once an accident occurred in trying out a pistol: a bullet hit one of the young men. This news reached one of the German officers resulting in two boys and a girl being shot.
After a certain time the order came to include the Jews of the Vidzer Ghetto: disregarding our difficult conditions, we lovingly welcomed those Jews. The crowded conditions became even moreso, and typhus began to spread. My sister Katya, a nurse, worked unceasingly, and in the end she herself took ill. I too was taken to the hospital along with my brother Abrashe. When we returned home, we no longer found our brother Hershl. He had died of spotted [?] typhus.
The liquidation of the ghetto arrived.
We knew that the Jews would be taken to two cities: Vilne and Kovne. The Jewish Council went to Vilne. After our illness I was completely apathetic, and I was not interested in where we would go. My brother wanted to go to Vilne, where
our sister Genye lived with her husband and child. One of the Jewish policemen, who had come from Vilne to liquidate the Sventzian Ghetto, helped us to register for Vilne.
There were a few Sventzian Jews, who in one way or another managed to go to Kovne. But there too the Germans and Lithuanians showed what they were capable of. There too, horrible massacres of Jews were conducted. Every edict was accompanied by new and horrendous murders. Right away, during the first few days of the war a frightful pogrom took place in Slobodke, a town outside of Kovne whose yeshiva had become world renown. In that pogrom, which was conducted completely by Lithuanians, about one thousand Jews were massacred. That was, however, only an introduction to the destruction of Kovne and its surrounding area. Immediately after the Kovne pogrom, an estimated eight thousand Jews were executed in Kovne's Seventh Fort in all sorts of unusual ways. Then all kinds of actions against Jews were committed in the ghetto: an action in Slobodka's small ghetto, an action against intellectuals, a Stalingrad action, an action against children and the elderly. In Kovne, as had occurred in Sventzian, people were relocated to Riga and Latvia. As we later learned, the most horrendous day for the Jews in Kovne was the 28th of October 1941, when the Jews were gathered together on the so-called Democrat Place. I only learned about all of this some time later. When they were being relocated, there were still some Sventzian Jews who were comforting themselves [by saying], Perhaps, after all. . . perhaps the Germans will find some use for their lives.
We later found out, that Kovne was no more than an excuse. All of those Jews had been taken to Ponar. The Jews in Vilne still lived for a while. Later everyone was taken to camps. Only very few survived. I was one of them, the only one of my whole family [to survive. The rest all] died in that brown flood.
Translated by Khane-Faygl (Anita)Turtletaub
Even during the first weeks after the Germans entered Sventzian, rumors were circulating that a ghetto was going to be created.
Although no one could imagine what such a thing as a ghetto was and how it would actually look, people nevertheless talked about [the fact] that all the Jews of Sventzian were to gather in the synagogue courtyard and part of New Sventzian Street.
That was why everyone who had relatives and acquaintances in that part of town, decided to move there with whatever paltry items they possessed. They figured that if they were suddenly ordered to move into the ghetto, they would certainly not be allowed to take all their possessions with them, certainly not their most important household items.
My family was among those who suffered even before the troubles began for all the Jews.
One time several Germans came to us along with several Lithuanian policemen. They told us that in the next 2 hours we had to vacate our apartment. We would only be allowed to take with us what we were able to gather together in those two hours. They were requisitioning our apartment for one of their high-ranking officers.
With the help of friends and acquaintances we began to move everything out of the house. Mother, in the meantime, ran to the German Commandant to plead for mercy, for them to annul this decree. She was indeed successful in getting permission for us to remain there for several more days.
A few days later, however, we had to leave, and we were only permitted to select another apartment in the area of the synagogue courtyard and New Sventzian Street.
This immediately confirmed for everyone the veracity
of the rumors that it was in that area that the ghetto would be established.
Slowly we got used to the new decree and began to settle into our new apartment.
In the meantime, news arrived from many other towns that the Germans had carried out a massacre of Jews. The word aktsye in the cruelest sense of the word was not yet familiar at that time.
People were saying that the Germans were simply grabbing Jews and murdering them for no reason at all. They were even saying that they were burying children alive.
At first no one in Sventzian wanted to believe all these rumors. Everyone said that these were simply invented old-wives tales.
Once I was visiting Dr. Kovarski's wife. A woman came in and told of one such slaughter.
Mrs. Kovarski then became angry: Things aren't bad enough for us that they have to invent such stories about a massacre and burying [children] alive.
A short while later, these rumors became stronger. [It was said] that the Germans had decided not to create small ghettos and that they were concentrating Jews only in large centers.
More and more the words moving out and resettlement were being heard. At that time no one knew what those cruel words meantthat they meant simply, destroying and killing.
One day in September 1941, we got the news that all the Jews of Sventzian were to be
moved out of the city. When that would happen and where we would be taken no one knew.
Some people knew enough to say that a ghetto would indeed be created in Sventzian but only for a small number of people, for the useful element, and they would for the most part be craftsmen and other useful artisans. They would receive special certificates, and they would be permitted to remain in one place. The majority of the Jewish population in Sventzian would be taken elsewhere.
All of these rumors caused great confusion throughout Sventzian. Until this time, everyone had remained in his own city and was, more or less, provided with food and things [that he needed]. Everyone knew that if he were to leave, he would lose everything.
The word resettlement, therefore, immediately implied something horrible and cruel. Every effort was made to have such an eventual decree annulled.
First people went to see the German Commandant and presented him with a large bribe, so that he would make an effort to see that the Jews of Sventzian were permitted to stay where they were. It turned out, however, that he himself was also helpless and could do nothing to change the order from higher up.
The only thing that was achieved was that he would at least tell the secret of when this would occur. People thought that if they knew about this in advance, it would be easier to handle.
The Commandant fulfilled his promise and did say that the resettlement would begin very early on the 27th of September.
Although the information was authentic and from the original source, there were still many Jews who still did not want to believe it right up to the last minute.
There were, however, Jews who did believe it. They decided to try to save themselves and escape to White Russia, where, at that time, it was still relatively quite peaceful.
The Germans, however, had forseen this and had placed Lithuanian partisans as guards along all the highways. These were Lithuanians who had fought against the Russians during Soviet rule. They greeted Hitler's Army very enthusiastically, and the Jews suffered greatly at their hands. The most murderous and sadistic attacks against the Jews were
perpetrated by them. Many Jews, who succeeded in escaping from Sventsayn, did actually fall into their murderous hands.
The tragic day, the 27th of September, arrived.
Even the night before, not one Jew was able to close his eyes. Everyone was getting ready to travel. They packed only the most necessary items, especially food, even though no one really knew where they were being taken and for how long. There were also doubts as to what was necessary and what was not; therefore, during the course of the night, the bundles were packed and repacked.
Very early in the morning, we saw through the windows long caravans of peasant wagons along the whole length of the street. On that day, hundreds of peasants from all the neighboring villages had been mobilized.
They gathered with their wagons on the field of the large area on New Sventzian Street. There one or two Lithuanians were assigned to each wagon. They were given lists with specific addresses and sent out over the whole city to gather together all the Jews.
The Lithuanians obediently carried out the order. They went into the Jewish homes and with animal brutality herded everyone out into the street. Then they thoroughly checked to see that no one was hiding in the apartment. When they were convinced that no one remained, they began to pull things [out] and steal what ever they could. They all left with full pockets.
I remember that one of those Lithuanians saw the wedding ring on my mother's finger. He wanted to pull it off, but my mother had been wearing it for so many years that she could not take it off. Then he began to look for a knife or an ax in order to cut off the finger. With great effort, my mother succeeded in getting the ring off and gave it to him.
The Lithuanians only allowed us to take along that which we could carry in our hands. Children old people, the crippled and the infirm were permitted to sit on the wagons. The young people all went on foot.
Driving all the Jews out of their apartments took practically a whole day. In the meantime, those who had been brought to the meadow in the morning sat pressed close together. They were not even given a drop of water
to drink. Across from the meadow stood a mass of Christians and looked on happily, with joy and with a kind of satisfaction.
It was already very dark when the last Jews arrived. The Lithuanians had not missed a single Jewish house. They had managed to crawl into every space. They [even] went into the Christian areas and looked for Jews there.
On that day the ghetto was created in the synagogue courtyard. Only those Jews who had received special certificates, stating that they were useful and necessary, were accepted.
In the end, this amounted to approximately 300 souls; this included their family members.
At Night in the Woods
It was late when the great camp [of people] got up from the meadow. On the wagons there sat, as previously mentioned, only the infirm, the elderly and the children. Everyone else had to drag themselves along on foot.
We were taken in the direction of New Sventzian, but no one knew exactly where we were going. People had various conjectures about that.
Some said that in New-Sventzian, they were building a large ghetto for all the Jews in the whole area. Others argued that we were being taken to a camp far away from where we were.
We walked and the Lithuanians guarded us like dogs on all sides. If someone was tired, they [forcibly] urged him on. Everyone was depleted, exhausted, but the Lithuanians didn't let anyone rest even for a second. They mercilessly drove us onward.
It is now important to note that there were practically no Germans to be seen in the surrounding area. They relied on the Lithuanians and had not made a mistake.
A really mean Lithuanian walked near me the whole time. He noticed that I was holding a muff in my hand, so he said to me: Myeste mergeyte, that is, Throw it away, little girl. In addition, he added sarcastically that I would in any case not need it.
I shuddered. At that minute what awaited us became clear.
We arrived in New Sventzian in the darkness and we thought that any minute now we would
be able to rest. We were, however, not permitted to stop even for a while but we immediately driven onward. The wagons turned down a side road and went off in the direction of the Baranover Woods.
In Terrible Straits
It was very dark when the wagons rode into the woods. We began to hear terrible screams, and in the distance there appeared large fires around which various figures loitered.
My little sister tremblingly clung to our mother and called out in great despair: I know. In these fires they throw little children. Things will be good for you, mother. You will be shot right away. I, however, will be thrown alive into the flames.
When we got closer to that place, we saw that the figures sitting around the fires were drunken Lithuanians. They immediately stood up as soon as they saw us and ran over to the wagons like wild animals and tossed out the people and their bundles. Then they herded us all together and led us in the direction of a large building, whose outline we had seen quite well from a distance.
We were all sure that this was where we would spend our last hour, that we were going to our certain death. No one felt it was necessary to take along the bundles that they had brought with them.
A short time later, a Lithuanian policeman appeared near us. In his hand he held a small parcel, and in a false, refined voice said to us, Oh, I see a little girl here. She is surely hungry. She had to walk such a long way. Here is bread and butter. Let her eat it in good health and with a good appetite.
My little sister was indeed very hungry, didn't think long about it and immediately began to eat. To me this whole business was quite suspicious. I somehow didn't want to believe in that Lithuanian's good-heartedness. I took that piece of bread away from her and began to examine it in the light
of the fires. It was then that we saw that the bread was full of many small needles.
In the meantime, the multitude of people were pushed and prodded until all of them had barely, with great difficulty, crept into the building. When we were inside, it was extremely crowded but they, nevertheless, did not stop pushing still more people inside. The overcrowding soon reached the point that a person could not even stand on his own two feet.
The families held hands, so that they would at least be together during their last moments. From time to time, in various corners, matches were lit, and for a while a pale light shone on the mass of people.
In the illumination of the lighted matches we saw that we were inside a long, wooden barrack. No doors or windows could be seen, just large openings. Then we all noticed the horrible jumble of thousands of bodies. People fell in their own bodily soil, and because there was not one bit of free space, one person fell on top of another.
Water, water, give [me] a drop of water, was the supplication heard from every corner.
Several young men tore through the mob and got closer to the door, intending to go out and look for water. Lithuanian policemen stood there, however, and prevented anyone from leaving the barrack.
Nevertheless, someone succeeded in stealing out of the barrack and bringing a bottle of water from outside. That bit of water was taken from him as if it were a treasure.
In Three Barracks
That night was a great nightmare. It was only then that we understood what the Germans and the Lithuanians could do. We understood that we would not be abandoned in such conditions, and we all did indeed wait for our deaths to come at any minute. The question was only how they would kill us. Some were of the opinion that gasoline would be poured on the barrack and then ignited: They'll burn us alive.
Someone else tried to go out of the barrack. The guard, however, warned him sharply: Whoever dares to leave the barrack will be shot on the spot.
We remained standing in this way all night. Not having any other way, people were not embarrassed but had to take care of their human needs right on the spot. These scenes were horrific.
No matter what the next day brought, everyone waited for the night to pass. And when morning finally came, everyone was surprised that they were still alive.
A small ray of hope stole into our hearts: Perhaps, perhaps they would let us live after all? Why did they actually need to kill us? What would they derive from that?
There were even optimists who argued that we would be detained for only several days, and in the meantime, they would have time to loot our houses.
Others said that a camp would be erected there, and the Jews would be sent to do forced labor in the surrounding villages.
Well, everyone had his own hypothesis and his own ideas. No matter how bad things were, everyone still wanted to live.
In the morning we were permitted to go out of the barrack and to move several meters around it. We had, after all, noticed that not far away from us, there were several other such barracks and in them too several thousand Jews were squeezed in.
It soon turned out that these were Jews from the surrounding towns: New-Sventzian, Podboradz, Ignaline, Maligon, Heydutsishok, Lintup and others. They had been brought there the same evening we had.
There were many moving scenes of relatives from the various towns meeting each other.
That morning, the Lithuanians sorted all the Jews that had been driven together into groups. All the men were concentrated into 3 barracks. The women and the children were placed in separate barracks. The separation of families caused a terrible dread, and horrible screams could be heard from various sides.
This is how the first two days in Poligon passed. On the third day, the generosity of the Lithuanians suddenly enlarged, and they per-
mitted us to go wash and bring water from the stream, which flowed not far away from the barracks.
The food situation was very bad. Everyone had brought some provisions with them, but during the course of these few days, everything had been consumed, and now we were going to die of hunger.
Despair was rampant and no one knew how to help himself. Suddenly a wagon appeared with two Sventyaners in it. They had remained there as useful people. They brought us some potatoes, bread and other foods.
It is difficult to describe the joy that enveloped us at that moment. Our hearts became a bit lighter when we saw that the free Jews still had access to us,
A special committee was immediately elected to distribute the food in a fair way. My mother was one of the ones selected to be on that committee.
A few days later, several other wagons came from Sventzian and brought us more food. For some reason, the Germans wanted to give the impression that the camp was about to be stabilized. It was obvious that they did not want anyone to know the truth.
They had even organized a special nursing division, and for that purpose they took all the medical people out of the barracks. They isolated all the doctors, nurses, midwives and so on in a separate room. Our family was among them. They were supposed to be privileged people, who would enjoy better conditions.
There were over twenty of us there, and the conditions were once again crowded, because we were placed in a very small room. All of the medical people had the best of intentions; everyone wanted to help the people in the best way possible. Unfortunately, they did not have any means at all to do so.
We lacked medicines and the most necessary medical tools. Therefore, any help we were able to provide was small.
Once the Lithuanians announced that they needed volunteers to work. This made everyone happy, because we saw in this an indication that we would, after all be allowed to remain alive.
A group of volunteers left, but it turned out that it was only a temporary position [working] for a Lithuanian peasant.
They helped him dig out his potatoes.
Everyone walked around with one thought: Why did they bring us here? Do they want to kill us here or not?
If so, why haven't they shot us yet? What exactly was holding them back?
On the other hand, if they want us to remain alive, the question remained: How can we stay alive under such conditions?
What then would our end be? And when would the end come?
These questions troubled us all, and all of us spoke and thought about them.
Now it was the first days of October. There was quite a lot of frost at night. In the morning one could notice that the earth and the trees were frozen solid. It was cold.
The sun would only shine for a short time during the day, and at that time we would leave the filthy, dark barracks and go outside to warm ourselves up a bit and get some fresh air.
The mothers and their infants used to lie down under the trees of the beautiful woods. The bigger children ran around, playing and fooling around. The young people walked around, and everyone wanted, for a moment, to forget about death and annihilation.
The Lithuanian guards begrudged us even that. From time to time they let us know how dire our situation was.
If someone went too far away from the barracks in the direction of the fence that surrounded the camp on all sides, they shot him immediately.
Mrs. Sakhar, who had gone to bring water from the river, died in that way. She had gotten lost and was approaching the barbed-wire [fence]. The Lithuanian guard did not even give her a warning and she was killed on the spot.
The surrounding area was also mined. Several children had stepped on a mine and were blown up.
Not far from the barracks we noticed some papers strewn about, pictures and various
documents. These we ourselves had thrown away during the first night we arrived,
The question of food became ever more pressing. The food that the free Jews had brought us was too little to sustain so many people. A bitter and difficult period of starvation ensued. Small groups were organized here and there that gathered whatever food they still had; they built a fire outdoors and at least cooked something to still the children's hunger.
Kol-Nidre on the Edge of the Grave
Kol Nidre actually came a few days later. On that day in Poligon it was actually the day of judgment. Both believers and non-believers gathered in one of the men's barracks, which had been turned into a large synagogue.
Before night fell, a mighty and heart-rending kol-nidre prayer could be heard coming from there. It's echo resounded far, far into the woods, and it was accompanied by the terrifying wailing of young and old, of women and children. Everyone wanted to express his feelings in prayer as he stood on the edge of the grave and prepared for death any minute.
That was a unique and peculiar Yom Kipur in Jewish history. No one prayed for a livelihood or other worldly things. Everyone had only one wishto remain alive.
Life was so bitter and hard, yet nevertheless everyone wanted to live. We were all naïve and did not know that our fates had already been sealed. That Yom Kipur, was the last day for 8,000 Jews. They had received a terrible fateful sentence [from on high], and they did not know how to save themselves.
One morning a Jew from Sventzian came to Poilgon and showed the Commandant a dispensation permitting him to take out his whole family.
He was one of the artisans, who remained in the Sventsayn Ghetto, because the German authorities had wanted to avail themselves of their talents. His family was indeed immediately freed, and when they left
the camp, everyone who was left behind looked at them with envy and wished that they could also soon be in that situation.
Before they were released, they were thoroughly searched. They had previously been found to have various valuable items such as money, gold and jewelry, which were all confiscated. This, however, did not bother anyone. Everyone would also have agreed to give everything up so long as he could leave the camp.
Several days later other Jews came bearing the same dispensations, and their families too were freed. A lot of people were now at the Commandant's office waiting to be searched and liberated.
Many of them took unrelated children with them, because they had included them as part of their family in the dispensation.
The very fact that there was a possibility of being freed from that horrific prison gave people new hope and fantasies. People began to believe that slowly everyone would in this way be freed.
There were even those who said that this had been their [the Germans'] intention all along. According to this version, we had been specifically incarcerated so that everyone's valuables could thus be confiscated.
Several families, who were also supposed to be freed in this way, actually refused, because they did not want to part with their possessions. They looked ironically at those who had decided to give everything away as long as they could get out.
On the sixth day we saw that there was a possibility of leaving. My mother, however, knew that we had no one in Sventzian who could vouch for us, so she decided to work from inside the camp.
After negotiating for two days with the Lithuanian Commandant and at the cost of two golden wristwatches and several thousand rubles, we were soon also standing among those fortunate ones who were going to be released from the camp.
We stood near the Commandant's office and waited patiently for our turn. The procedure took a long time. Everyone was thoroughly searched, even completely undressed. There were approximately 10 more families before us. There were also 4 children with us, whom my mother had included as her own.
After waiting for many hours, we were certain that at any moment we would be allowed to leave the filthy barracks and return to Sventzian.
Suddenly the sound of a car was heard, and an elegant open automobile rode up to the fence of the camp. Inside sat several S. S. officers.
The Lithuanian Commandant and his closest coworkers immediately jumped up to meet the arriving guests. The saluted submissively and received them with great honor.
Our hearts trembled: What would happen now? Would they perhaps not agree that we should be released? What kind of surprise would they bring us?
After a short consultation, it was announced in all the barracks that all the Jews were immediately to gather in the large place [open area], because the regional Commissar wanted to give them an important speech.
In the course of just a few minutes, 8,000 broken, despairing and frightened Jews stood at the designated place.
Jews! I am letting you know that the German authorities have decided to demand a contribution of you in the amount of a quarter of a million rubles in addition to your gold, valuables and furs. This contribution must be collected in two hours.
If you will obey and gather the demanded sum, we will make an effort to improve your conditions significantly. You will be given better living conditions and we will offer you various work opportunities, so that you will be productive and useful to the German regime.
If, however, you will not fulfill our request in the course of two hours, you can expect the worst punishment.
Now, Jews, go and gather together the contribution. Remember, Jews, that you only have two hours!
It was a short and concise speech.
The mass of people just stood as if fused to the spot for a while. Everyone was stunned by the words that they had just heard.
After less than a second [sic], however, the mass of people began to move, to separate and once again filled all the barracks.
Finally, everyone consoled himself, we finally
heard clearly stated, precise words. Now we know what they want from us. Our fate lies in our hands.
This means that there is a possibility of ransoming our lives. We have only to collect the demanded sum and we will remain alive.
The money is a sacrifice [instead of our lives].
Collectors were immediately appointed. Some sat outside and some in the barracks and had buckets and baskets near them. All the people approached and poured great treasures into them.
Paper banknotes were tossed in, gold coins, watches, earrings, wedding rings, bracelets, gold chains and, in general, everything that anyone had brought with them from home.
Other collectors circulated among the masses and appealed to their conscience, to their common sense, because there were still those Jews, who did not believe in the German's promises and they were loathe to give up their possessions.
There were those who had only donned their wedding bands a few months ago and found it difficult to part with them.
That was why the collectors called to everyone with great earnestness: Jews, brothers, give, don't stint. Life is precious. Ransom yourselves. If we live, we will have other jewelry.
Jews, don't think too long and give up your possessions.
Nevertheless, not everyone obeyed the command. As an example of this one could see that some banknotes had been torn into little pieces. In some places, one could also see golden jewelry lying around on the floor of the barracks. Various valuables were thrown out among the trees and near the river. This was done, just so the Germans wouldn't benefit from them.
This was the clearest sign that not everyone believed that they would save them, and they decided that they would rather tear, destroy and throw everything out, than have the enemy, may his name be erased, benefit from it.
There were also those, who did not destroy their money and their valuables nor did they donate them.
I remember a girl from Sventzian coming over to me, calling me aside and showing me a very small packet deftly sewn into an undergarment.
You see, she said to me, let them search me. I won't give them a thing. They won't find anything on me.
Either way, time did not stand still. The two hours passed. Everyone was already curious to know if the demanded sum had been collected or not.
Will they let us live or will they kill us?
A large circle of people had gathered around the collectors and watched as they sat and counted.
The result was unexpected.
It turned out that a lot more money than the Germans had demanded had been collected.
At the very last minute, when the two hours had passed, the collectors carried over the important guest, the large contribution.
He took the colossal Jewish fortune and with a smile of contentment told the representatives: I am very happy that you fulfilled our demand. You did very well. Now we will fulfill our promise.
Everyone breathed a sigh of relief. The thousand-headed mass of people thought that it had been saved.
It was already quite dark when the Lithuanian Commandant again called out, Everyone who had been standing in line waiting to be searched, should immediately return to be examined.
We once again took up our previous places. This time, however, the inspection did not take long. It was very superficial. It was obvious that they were certain that no one had anything left and had surely given everything toward the contribution.
Finally, we were let out of the camp.
On the other side of the fence, several peasant wagons were already waiting. We quickly boarded them and after riding for several hours accompanied by a Lithuanian policeman, we arrived at the Sventzian Ghetto's synagogue courtyard late at night.
We went into the first good house and spent the [rest of the] night on the ground in a corner.
Hours of Disappointment
Quite early the next morning, before we even had time to see where we were or [to think about] where we were going to go or what we wanted to do, we suddenly heard an announcement: the German commandant ordered that at precisely one o'clock in the afternoon all family heads were to gather at a place near the synagogue, where he would give a very important speech.
No mother, you will not go there, I shouted out. Let's scatter immediately, while the gates of the ghetto are still open.
Where do you want to go? my mother asked me.
Where we go isn't important, I answered her.
Then one by one we shuffled out of the ghetto and sneaked through back alleys until we reached Shimansky's pharmacy.
The Christian pharmacist received us in a very friendly manner, but was understandably, afraid. He was putting his life in danger by hiding Jews there.
As luck would have it, a farmer from Svir came in precisely at that moment. He had come to purchase a remedy for his daughter, who had that day been released from the Sventsyaner hospital. He was just going to drive her back to Svir.
We interrogated him about how the Jews in Svir were faring. It turned out that the situation for Jews in Svir was a lot better [than here] and it was still quiet there for the time being.
According to what he said, the Jews in Svir were not yet being persecuted. When we told him who we were, he said that he knew my grandfather, my mother and my father very well. They were living quiet and nothing had happened.
Will you take us with you to Svir? we asked him.
It is not possible for me to take all of you at the same time, he replied.
That is how it happened that the family remained in Sventyan and I alone accompanied the farmer back to Svir.
Through Vilna Street we went to the hospital courtyard where his wagon was. His daughter was already lying inside. I donned a long
peasant's coat, boots, and wrapped myself in a large kerchief, so that only my nose was visible. I looked like a real peasant girl and was not afraid that I would be recognized.
Suddenly I heard shouting and strange singing coming from distant automobiles that to me sounded more like the howling of hungry wolves than the voices of people.
The shouting got closer and I saw two trucks packed with Lithuanians. They were
all completely drunk and were holding rifles and bayonets in their hands.
They rode through the streets of Sventzian braying and howling, singing and laughing.
The bandits knew where they were going. They turned left onto New Sventzian Street.
These were our murderers. They were going to the Baranover Woods in the direction of Poligon. We paid no attention to them and that is why late at night I arrived alive at the home of my family in Sver.
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