The Second World War and the Kovno Ghetto
Goldie: When the second war broke out, I was already in Kovno. I was then living with my brother Yisroel. I was in school; I was studying.
Question: So as the children got older, they would go to Kovno? They would live with Yisroel and go to school?
Goldie: So that's why it happened that the whole family in Abel was killed right away by the Lithuanians as the Second World War started, because they didn't have a chance. I escaped because I was in Kovno. In Kovno, they arranged the Jews in a ghetto. In the shtet!, there was no escape. There wasn't a single baby left. And it was done by the Lithuanians, the killing. That's the second part of the story. In the larger cities, like Kovno and Ponevezh and Siauliai, they had the Jews in a ghetto; besides the killing, they put Jews in the ghettoes and used the Jews to work in the factories-forced labor.
Question: What about before the war? The non-Jews in Abel bought farm equipment from your father. So before the war, was the relationship between the non-Jews and the Jews good?
Goldie: Now, there's a good point in that question. The Russians came in and took over Lithuania before the war. There were a lot of Jews who were very poor, and these Jews took advantage right away. They became Communists, and they took over the government into their hands. They sent out a lot of Lithuanians into Siberia, and a lot of the rich Jews were also sent to Siberia. The hatred of the Jews, the antiSemitism, was big enough, but that encouraged the hatred of the Jews, because most of the leaders of the Communist Party were the young
people from the shtetl, the poor ones who had nothing to do. Here they had an opportunity to become leaders.
The advantage was one hundred percent stronger, the hatred of the Jews.... You get my point? There was jealousy. When the Germans came in, the Jews did not have a chance. There were innocent people that lived in the shtetl, like my whole family-everybody was killed. They didn't leave even a baby.
So here we are...the night they were bombing Kovno. Everybody tried to run away and escape. So we ran, and we wanted-David, myself, and the child, Mariasha-maybe to go to Abel. We didn't know what happened there already. So during the escape, all the men were arrested, and they were sent to the Seventh Fort. The fort was about four miles behind the Slovodka ghetto; already the ghetto was established in Kovno, and Slovodka was the ghetto. Slovodka was also a famous name, a famous yeshiva. So in the Seventh and the Ninth Forts, they did the killings of the Jews. They were ancient fortresses. There was no chance to escape.
The women were also arrested, and I was in the Seventh Fort with the child. And in the fort, they killed the men right away. I remember the night: the women, the young people, everybody, the screaming.... I don't know how and why, and since I was with a child, that they let me go out from the Seventh Fort. Somehow I got to the gate. There were murders already; in Slovodka, they took out the Jews and killed them in the streets. Somehow they opened up and let me in. I came to David's parents. David's parents were still in their home.
The Jews didn't have a telephone, but Yisroel's telephone was still working. Somehow we got in touch with my brother Yisroel, and he sent a horse and a buggy to bring me to his home. David was already arrested; I didn't know the men were already killed. I remember that the foreman was driving. He put me and my child in his wagon, covered me, and somehow I was brought to Yisroel's home. The child was already sick; I don't know what she had. When I came to Yisroel's home, we had some medicine, but she did not survive. She died from the illness.
Question: How old was the child?
Goldie: Just months, five or six. Manya, Mariasha-Manyushka, we used to call her. So Yisroel got somebody, and he took the child, and he brought her to Kever Yisroel, the Jewish cemetery. She was buried in the Jewish cemetery.
Question: Yisroel wasn't in the ghetto?
Goldie: Yisroel was still in his house on 49 Ukmerges Plentas. It was a beautiful home. This home was built in Abel, and somehow the whole construction was brought over to Kovno. So he had this beautiful fiveroom home that was built that he should have a place on the top. He also had another building, a brick building, that belonged to him. So now, when the Jews were supposed to leave Kovno, we were sent to the ghetto. And in the ghetto, I was again with Yisroel and the family. I was sent to work every day. You had to go out every morning and wait for somebody to come who needed work.
And I'm always thinking to myself Why did they let me out with a child? Raping the women, the young, beautiful girls screaming.... Why did they let me out from there, so I had a chance to come to David's family in Slovodka, and then to come to Yisroel?
Yisroel's home was in the center of Kovno-Ukmerges Plentas, a very important street. So then they started that every day you had to appear, and they sent you to work. I was sent to the airport. We were digging or unloading sand, digging in the ground. The Germans were standing and watching us. You know, when you dig, you have your right hand, and you have to throw the sand like this, to the right. And I was digging, and a German was standing near me, and I was throwing to the left. So he took the shovel from me, and he said, That's the way you do it! So I gave him a compliment: Sie machen das viel besser. You are doing it more professionally. So everybody thought that I was crazy. He didn't knock my head off; he showed me how to dig. So that's the beginning of the war period.
Question: As far as you knew at this point, were your parents dead?
Goldie: Okay. So one day I was working. We had a non-Jewish maid in the house. The maid had a Jewish grandfather, Elkeh. Elkeh was a rabbi's son. Elkeh converted and was called Elkeh der meshumed, the convert. [Meshumed has a strong negative connotation.] Elkeh married a Lithuanian goya and started a family. He was very intelligent, very bright, and all his life, he regretted it. When Elkeh came to Lithuania, he said, What did I do? So he was drinking with the Lithuanian farmers, and he was one of them. His granddaughter was a maid in our house. One day, when the maid came into Kovno to the airport, she saw me. So she ran, and she embraced me, and she told me exactly what happened to the Jews in Abel. So when I came back home, I told the story.
Question: She told you how your father was killed. He wasn't in the mass grave in Abel, was he?
Goldie: Because my father was considered a very important person. And there was another person who was also considered rich and very important in the Jewish community, Yitzhak Zack; the two of them were driven to run. They were supposed to run, and the Lithuanians were behind them, or the shaulistai, I don't know exactly. They had to run about seven miles. I knew the name of the place, Varashina, between Abel and Rakishok, where they were shot in the back and killed. So that was the end of my father. He did not die with the whole family in the three miles behind Abel, where the other Jews from Abel were killed.
Question: Let's talk some more about what happened to you during the war. You were talking about shoveling dirt at the airport.
Goldie: So actually, they sent us wherever they needed work every day. The ghetto was already fenced in with barbed wire. At the end of the day, we came back to the ghetto. We used to come back to the entrance, and the Germans would see that we didn't bring any contributions. A contribution would be a piece of bread or something. So that's
where I was for a year or two years, almost every day. Yisroel was in the Vachstaten factory. They made uniforms for the Germans inside the ghetto. Yisroel's children were too young, both of them. So whenever you had a chance, somehow you smuggled in a piece ofbread or something for food. Food was rationed-they gave you a piece of bread or soup or whatever, and that was the food.
And then we exchanged homes. Yisroel had those two beautiful homes. He exchanged his home on Ukmerges Plentas and his other home with a Lithuanian who had a home in Slovodka. We moved in to his place. There was the main gate, where the workers used to come and go every day for work, and another gate. Because we were near the gate, we could see what happened. At the gate, the German guards were standing. New groups of Jews from somewhere would be brought in to be settled in the ghetto; they would be kept overnight in the ghetto. In the morning, they would be taken to the Seventh or Ninth Fort and killed. Every other day, they used to take out, an action, they used to call it. Groups disappeared, suddenly. Or if they wanted a group of men, they used to come and arrest them, and then the men never came back.
One day there was the graser aktion, the large action. All the Jews from the ghetto were supposed to meet. That was the 28th of October. And then they divided people. The German named Yekel was on a platform, and he pointed to each person to go to this side or to that side. You had to march four in a group, very straight. If you were too slow or not straight or not perfect, you were shot. So when Yekel pointed to the left, they were taken out, and the group the next day was taken to the Seventh or the Ninth Fort. That was the killing.
Our group-we were sent to the right somehow. So Yisroel and myself and a group of us went to the right. Leah Eliash [Goldie's friend in Providence] marched with her child, Asya. Yekel called out to be careful; there was a woman with a child (Vorsichtig das kind). They were sent to the right and survived. That's how we survived in the ghetto, and the other ones were killed. [There was a smaller ghetto within Slovodka in which everyone was killed.] As we came back home, we went down to the cellar, and we saw how from the smaller ghetto, they killed all the Jews. Manya [Manya Webb was Goldie's friend in Boston] was in the
smaller ghetto, and somehow she escaped from the smaller group to the larger ghetto, and that was the way she survived to come back. So we have something in common.
Then the killing was going on. In the morning, we found - I mentioned that the home where we lived was near the gate-we found a little girl that was dead. This little girl somehow escaped from the group, and she came probably to a farm or whatever, and they gave her a little bag of food. She was trying to come back to the ghetto, but as soon as she came to the gate, the guards, the Germans, killed her in front of the gate.
So that's nearly the end of the ghetto. Later on, they started again sending people to work. They were starting to liquidate the ghetto. They picked young people in the beginning. I was in a group of people sent to another ghetto, to Ponevezh. We didn't know where we were going, what we were doing. I remember that Yisroel, my brother, ran up to the bus and kissed my hand to say good-bye.
So here I was, already separated from Yisroel and the family. I was sent with the group to Ponevezh. We were working there in the airport. Yisroel later worked as forced labor in a uniform factory. Yisroel had two children, Beryl and Chana. Beryl wanted to escape the ghetto and join the partisans. Beryl had a girlfriend, and the two families knew each other. When the ghetto was being liquidated, Yisroel's family and the family of the girlfriend were in the bunker. The father of the girlfriend was a doctor and used to leave the bunker. So Yisroel with the family was in the bunker that they perished there. On the day the bunker was burned, the father was out. When I came back-after the war, I went to the ghetto; it was tremendous destruction. There just remained the iron beds and the chimneys. They burned the ghetto completely, with all the people hidden in the bunkers. There wasn't a single person left. I met the father after the war who told me what happened
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