The Personal Story of Mordehai Ben Tuvia and Rachel Berkover
We all share a cruel fate. We live here under crowded conditions, a degenerated life. However, the fear of becoming fewer and fewer is even more terrible. The actions . . . ah yes, the actions!. . . From time to time Jews are being abducted, old men, women and little children are being taken to Fort 9, near Solvodka, from where there is no return. . . those who are able to work are sent to forced labor. Those who can still contribute to the German war machine - stay alive. To stay alive - that is the aim of every Jew in the ghetto, but chances are slim.
Each day there are fewer people left in the ghetto. What to do? Young people get organized into underground groups and go into the woods. I too liked the idea and
became obsessed with it, until one day I implemented it.
This is what happened.
On 11 June 1944 a Gestapo order was issued whereby all the men in the Kovna ghetto had to gather the next morning on the plot between the big blocks, to move to a labor camp. It was clear to us what "leaving the ghetto" meant. Where we were going - this was not explained to us. An order is an order and must be obeyed.
I did not sleep a wink all night, neither did many of my friends. There was a tense quiet at the ghetto . . . In every corner people huddled together and asked each other how to escape the evil. I had decided to run away. But how? Where to? The ghetto was closed off by a tight ring of Gestapo and the German army. I lay there, thinking of a solution but, unfortunately, did not find one.
I got up at dawn, took my rucksack which contained all my belongings and went out to join all those who were going to the plot. People were coming from all corners of the ghetto, those who were still alive after all the selections and deportations. Those who had a family gathered together. I had no one I could join; I was all alone. My brother Yosef had run away when the war broke out with my mother to beyond the borders of Lithuania, hoping to be saved. My brother Eliezer with his wife and my sister Haya with her husband remained in Yurburg, my sister Deborah was at the Kaindi camp during the children's action with her little son. She refused to hand over her son to be killed and decided to die with him. Indeed they were both killed together with the other babies. The other 18 babies were killed too and thrown into transport vans, like slaughtered poultry.
My sister Zipora was at the Vilna ghetto with her husband; my two sisters Hannah and Scheindele, who were at the Kaindi camp, were sent to the Ponivaz camp. The whole family dispersed in the days of the Holocaust as chaff before the wind. I have no idea what happened to my dear ones, I guess I shall never know. . . Thus I was left alone, the only one of my family who remained. I was tormented and did not know what to do. Even today I face the same problem. Then I remembered the bible passage - Book of Psalms - "Look to your right and see here, I know no one, there is no escape, no one cares about me. I called out to you, Almighty God, I said you were my shelter, my part in the land of life.
Hear my lamentation, for I am very miserable, save me from those who persecute me, for they are stronger than I."
Here I stood among many others, a man who had been found guilty and was waiting for his bitter destiny. We waited for an order to be issued. It soon came - "Go!" We left with the heavy feeling that perhaps we would never see our town and our family again. We walked in the direction of the suburb of Kovna -Alkasotas - on the other side of the Neiman river. We saw a look of malicious joy on the faces of the gentiles who lined both sides of the road. Their look was humiliating and repulsive. And then I remembered the lofty words of the prayer - " Almighty God, I am a member of the bond you created . . . . Look down from heaven and see how humiliated we are and mocked by the gentiles, they are leading us like sheep to be slaughtered, to be killed, to be beaten and disgraced." They stood on the sidewalk and we had to walk on the borders of the road. I was deeply grieved. Thus we passed over the bridge and approached the railroad tracks. From far away we saw a series of wagons, and tens of armed S.S. soldiers were waiting for us. Before we even came near the wagons we already heard wild shouting - "Get on to the wagons!" They were cattle wagons. There was an uproar. All the people from the ghetto quickly climbed onto the wagons and tried to find a space. I also climbed onto the wagon with my rucksack and sat down. Some of my acquaintances joined me. The wagon was overcrowded. Everyone was waiting for the journey into the unknown. There was a mood of depression in the wagon. We were closed in like animals. A 60-year old German soldier was positioned next to the door and he had to guard us and make sure we did not escape, God forbid.
After lengthy preparations the train left. The soldier-guard stood up and said to us: "'You'd better know that I shall not hesitate to shoot anyone who tries to escape, so watch out!" It was 11:30 o'clock. The wagon rattled and the soldier-guard fell asleep. Not so the people who were led to slaughter like cattle.
Everyone stood lost in thought, tired and depressed. One of my friends wanted to tell me something but he suddenly fell silent. He was unable to utter a sound. I was very sad, but after an hour or so I pulled myself together. It was already 12:00 o'clock. One of my friends peeped through a crack in the window, recognized the place and whispered in my ear: "we are in the Kazlu-Rodah area". This struck me like a bolt of lighting. I knew that the place was in the area where the Jewish Partisans operated who had escaped from the ghetto. I immediately got the idea to escape, to flee to the forest . . . .
In the meantime I saw that the soldier-guard was drowsy and had perhaps even fallen asleep. I told myself this was the best time to escape. But how to go about it?
All of a sudden I thought of the psalm - "I shall raise my eyes unto the mountains,
my help will come from there. Help from God, who created heaven and earth. God will guard you against all evil and will guard your soul. Gold will look after you wherever you come and go, now and forever." I got up my courage and told my friend that I had decided to jump through the window and escape. Those who wanted to were welcome to join me. They hesitated. One of them started to grumble, if you run away they will kill us .. . at that moment the soldier-guard fell asleep and he fell into deep slumber. Yes, I said to myself, this is the right time. I asked one of the woman passengers called Feige Vislitzky from Kovna to hide me from the sleeping guard's eyes. She kissed me and wished me good luck. I immediately climbed on the boxes standing next to the small window, opened the window carefully, moved my head and part of my body out and when my friends pushed me from behind I found myself outside the wagon. I fell onto the small ramp at the front of the wagon and was about to jump into the passageway when I saw a train approaching on the other track, in the opposite direction. I doubled up for a moment, allowed the train to pass and then jumped down into the bushes lining the road. I got scratched by the bushes and was slightly wounded. It is not too bad, I told myself, I shall overcome - better be injured and free than prey to the Nazi beast.
When I recovered from the daring act, I crawled away from the railway track and lay down to rest in a hidden corner. When I raised my head I saw that three people were coming towards me. They spoke Lithuanian and this encouraged me. They had apparently seen me jump off the train and offered help. I did not want to go with them, for I did not know who they were. However, they suggested I turn to the railway guard who lived in a little house behind the tall tree - they told me he was a good man and he would help me if he could.
They also told me to be very careful for the area was full of German soldiers. I thanked them for their advise, got up and went straight to the house of the railway guard.
I slowly and hesitantly approached the guard's house. I saw a little girl in the yard, about seven years old, who started to call her mother who was in the garden. When the guard's wife approached I said hello to her in Lithuanian. The woman answered me very politely and invited me into her home.
Inside I told her that I was the son of a mixed marriage between a Jewish woman and a gentile and that I had been put into the Kovna ghetto. I went on to say that I had been put into a train wagon, together with many Jews, and that I had jumped off the train, for I was about to be exterminated. That was how all the Jews were treated. I have come to you to ask for help. I have heard that there are Jewish Partisans near here and I want to join them. You will have to ask my husband, she said. In the meantime, until my husband comes, wash yourself and eat something. I did as I was told. I washed myself and she gave me a plate of soup. In the meantime her husband, the railway guard arrived. He heard my story from his wife. He nodded his head and told me my life was in danger if I was seen at their home. Nevertheless, he suggested I go to the estate, 4 kms. away and there I would be told how to achieve my goal. I thanked the guard and his wife and was about to leave. The good people were very kind to me and gave me some food to take along.
Encouraged, I went on my way and turned towards the estate. I stopped at the forest for afternoon prayer and was about to go on when I suddenly remembered the psalm: Please, God, guard me against evil, save me from the evil man, from those who want to divert my steps. I said to God: "You are my God, please, oh Lord, hear my call for mercy." I continued on my way, hoping God would lead me on the right road to my goal. After about an hour I arrived at a large estate. When I entered the yard a dog started to bark. I was immediately welcomed by the estate owner and his two sons. They asked me to come in and sit at their table. I told them my story - who I was and what I wanted to know. The estate owner told me that German soldiers came to his estate each day to buy food and that if they saw me there it would be harmful to him and my life would be in danger. After he had told me this, he suggested I sleep on straw in the barn and at dawn I would have to leave the estate. This I did. I slept soundly on the straw which to me was better than a king's canopy . . . When I went to the estate owner's home to bid him farewell, I found a wonderful breakfast on the table - two eggs with bread and butter, tasty cheese and a can of milk. I did not want to bother him, but he insisted. I ate and satisfied my appetite.
When I left his house the estate owner accompanied me and pointed out the way to me along the forest paths to an estate owner who, he said, would be able to offer more help than he. Thus I took leave of my benefactor, but he did not forget to give me a parcel of food and put 100 Tchironshes, Russian money, into my pocket. I left this estate with a wonderful feeling and with the hope that God would continue to lead me on a successful road.
I went to the second estate owner with a feeling of certainty. When I entered his house, I immediately saw a carpentry workshop, where he, his wife and sons were working. I said hello and they answered me in a friendly manner. They also asked me if I had eaten breakfast and if I was no longer hungry. I told them I had eaten at the home of estate owner Shtankowitz and that he had filled my rucksack with a lot of food. After this initial encounter, I repeated my story and added, of course, that I wanted to know where the Jewish Partisans were. The house owner - carpenter listened attentively to what I said, took paper and pencil and started to draft the lines of a plan. When he was finished he explained the details of the plan to me. This road, he said, leads to the narrow railway tracks that go on for about 25 kms. in the forest area. When you reach the end of the forest you will see an overturned locomotive there. Turn to your right onto an empty lot, here you must be very careful for there are many German soldiers there. From there turn to the nearby woods, on the right, and continue on the straight road which leads to the village marked on the plan. He attached a note to the plan for his cousin in that village. I thanked him from the bottom of my heart. I would have kissed him. Thus I went on my way. I knew the road was difficult and full of mines, but there was no way of return. All the bridges behind me had been burnt as far as I was concerned.
With the plan and the note I walked along with confidence, although from time to time I had my doubts. I sat down to rest along the road. I took out my phylacteries which I had received before the selection from my neighbor Rabbi Mans, who was later executed, together with his family by the Nazis. I look after the phylacteries as if they were the apple of my eyes. This time too I put on the phylacteries and prayed. It was a prayer of thanks to God who till now had helped me along. After the prayer I ate and went on. It was 12:00 o'clock, and all of a sudden I looked up. I saw the locomotive at the side of the road, marked on the sketch of the plan. From here I walked with a lot of hope in my heart. In the distance I saw a man in the forest. I was a little frightened, but when he saw me he ran away. I laughed. Did I look so frightening . . . .
In short, I walked on. It was 19:00 o'clock. Finally I saw a house. I approached the house, knocked on the door and went in. I saw a young man sitting in front of a sewing machine, sewing in the light of an oil lamp. I said hello and he answered me. He was not afraid of the stranger who had come to his house. He immediately asked
where I had come from and where I was going. I told him what I had told the others.
He saw that I was tired. Soon, he said, my wife will return and she will bring food for dinner. I saw that he was not a rich man. I immediately told him that I had enough food for him and his wife too. I only needed a place to sleep and some guidance as to how to reach the Jewish Partisans in the forest. My host told me that he had seen two young men in the morning, apparently the forest people, who had asked about the road to Kovna. I was happy to hear there were signs of the Partisans in the area. In the meantime the woman had returned with a basket full of food. I was asked to dinner. When I told her I had enough food she urged me to at least have a cup of fresh milk. After my meeting with my hosts, I went up to the barn and fell asleep forthwith. I slept soundly, as in my mother's bed when I was born.
Early in the morning my host woke me up. Breakfast was ready on the table. I ate and shook his hand. Before I left I asked him about the village which the carpenter had sketched on the note intended for his cousin - he told me the village was nearby. He indicated the direction, and as far as the man was concerned to whom the note was sent - he told me - he was a cowardly man, not to be relied upon. Although he knew much, he would not tell me anything worthwhile. We separated and I shook his hand once more.
After about an hour's walk, I saw a house in the distance that looked like the one I was looking for. Indeed, someone I met on the way, referred me to the man to whom I was supposed to give the note. When I came near the house, I saw that the door was open and a few people were sitting inside around a radio. I said hello to them and asked about the man to whom I was supposed to give regards from his cousin. The man got up and beckoned me to step outside. He was apparently afraid that someone would hear about his connection with me. I came straight to the point and asked him where the Jewish Partisans were. I saw that he turned pale and started to stammer. I did not understand whether he was afraid or if he did not want to reveal his secret to me. In any case, from what he said I understood that I had to follow the path in the forest for about 8 kms., and from there get to a village called Shtura. Partisans came to this village about every two days.
I left, believing he had told me the truth. However, a gentile I met on the way told me I should go in the opposite direction. I understood the tailor had been right.
What to do? - I turned around and walked a long and tiring way until I reached my destination. I saw a large estate in the village, where I was told to go. I entered a house where I saw a woman speaking to a man in Russian. I stood there for a moment, waiting for the woman to be available. When the man left, I turned to the woman and told her my story and why I had come. She immediately answered that she knew nothing about the people I was looking for. True, various people passed through the village, but she did not know them. She added it would not be a good idea to stay here. If the authorities found me - it would be very bad for me and her.
Disappointed, I left her house and asked myself -"where will I find help . . . .for I had met so much contempt . . . "but I gathered my strength, " for those who believe in God will "find mercy". All sorts of thoughts crossed my mind. While I was deliberating, I saw a wagon with wooden boards enter the yard and a young man was sitting on it. I did not know whether he was Jewish or not. But the young man saw me and jumped off the wagon, came up to me and looked at me as if we had agreed to meet here. He asked me whether I spoke Lithuanian and I replied I did, he grabbed me with both his hands and held on to me as if he was drowning in the sea, God forbid. We were both very moved and just looked at each other. Once we calmed down he told me he and another group of Jews had worked at the labor camp under the command of Nazi Germans. One day the German camp commander told the Jews they were leaving the place. We knew this meant our life was in danger. We got organized immediately and we planned to leave, as we were told, but we bribed the Ukrainian guards - we paid them a lot of money - to allow us to disperse in the forest while we were walking. That is indeed what happened. In the evening we presented ourselves to the camp commander, and after an accurate count, we were led through the forest in the direction of the railway tracks. Those guarding us were . . .the Ukrainians. When we were walking to an unknown destination at midnight we heard a sharp whistle and shots, this was the sign that had been agreed upon with the guards to disperse in the woods. That is what we did. We dispersed in the forest. The Ukrainian guards disappeared and we were left to ourselves. There were about 30 people in the group, families among them. Now we were living together. We set up a temporary camp and wanted to join the permanent camp of the Partisans. Nearly all of us are from Vilna. We do not know Lithuanian. You will be able to help us with the Lithuanian population in the area. The armed young men who were with the young man who owned the wagon, also spoke Lithuanian. I recognized one of them as someone from the Kovna ghetto. Then I knew that "God had heard my lamentations and prayers."
The young man from the Kovna ghetto knew me. He had fled from Port 9. I asked him about my brother in law Yehuda Meister, who came from Yurburg and I received the positive answer that he was in the Partisan camp. My joy knew no bounds. I said to myself - " God be blessed each day and God shall bestow salvation on us -Sela".
With the help of God I have come to this point. The young men suggested I join their unit. I full-heartedly agreed, for this is what I had wanted all along. I helped the young man to buy food for the group and to make contact with the Lithuanians, for I spoke the language fluently. We loaded all the purchases on the wagon. I sat next to the young man who owned the wagon, and the two armed young men who accompanied him set crowded in the back.
When towards evening we arrived at the place where those who had fled with the assistance of the Lithuanians were, there was a lot of joy. They were happy, and so was I. We had found each other. However, I had no one there with whom I could share my experiences of the recent days. However, I adjusted to my situation. We ate the food we had brought with us on the wagon. We were in high spirits. At 23:00 o'clock at night we left. We went to join the Partisans' camp. We were ordered not to utter a word on the way. We walked through the forest all night long. We were tired and exhausted. Towards morning we saw smoke in the distance. The leaders told us we had arrived at our destination. We arrived at the Partisans camp in the morning. The leaders were allowed to enter by the Partisans who carefully guarded the camp. We entered one after another. We presented ourselves to the camp commander. When I entered the commander's tent my heart pounded, I was so excited. The commander asked me all sorts of questions about myself and my family. In the end he told me that a relative of mine, Yehuda Meister from Yurburg, was at the camp, that he was now on guard duty and that I would be able to speak to him the moment he came off duty. I was so moved that I started to cry. I cried for joy that I had reached my destination and also in sorrow that none of my brothers and sisters had had my good fortune to be saved.
Once I had made myself at home at the Partisans camp, I sat down on the mattress and waited for my brother-in-law. Soon my brother-in-law came to me. We fell into each other's arms and started to cry like babies. The first question my brother-in-law Yehuda (Yudel) Meister asked me was what had happened to his wife and little two-year old son.
I wanted to postpone the subject, but he would not let go of me and I was forced to tell him the bitter truth . . . how they had been cruelly murdered . . . I am not sure my brother-in-law heard all I told him about them, for he was sitting there, crying and tearing out his hair. When my brother-in-law said good-bye to them, his son was a year-old baby. He had not yet had time to get to know him and enjoy his company. After a year he had been abducted by the German murderers in the children's action at the Kovna ghetto, and taken to Fort 9, a place of no return . . . thus we sat and talked for a long time, until we were called to lunch. After the meal we continued to talk. I preferred not to speak about the disasters that had befallen the family, for I knew I would make him sad. I learned from my brother-in-law that Moshe Magidowitz from Yurburg was also at the camp. I was very excited and went to see him - we were overjoyed - three people from Yurburg at the Partisans camp, three Partisans . . . three out of many from Yurburg, who did not have this good fortune. We were the few who had been lucky. . .
Towards evening I was given a rifle with bullets. Within an hour I passed accelerated training in the use of arms. Here I am holding a gun and I am able to defend myself against the enemy. I also received an explanation about the arrangements at the camp and rules imposed on the Partisans. Thus I passed the first day at the Partisans camp.
Towards evening we received the order to carry out a raid on one of the villages in order to equip the camp with food. The farmers knew it was no use to argue with us.
We received what we needed and also a wagon to carry the food. We returned tired and exhausted from this action. After a while we went to the villages to look for gentile infiltrators, who cooperated with the Germans and provided them with information about the Jewish Partisans' whereabouts. When we found them - we liquidated them. Everything was done at the commander's decision and at his orders.
One evening we were told that at midnight a plane would deliver equipment to us. The plane would drop the equipment at our airport with a parachute. Our airport was situated near the camp. It was 2 kms. long and had muddy land. We had to light six bonfires as a signal to the plane. Indeed, at the prescribed time we heard the noise of the approaching plane. There was a great deal of tension. We were afraid the German soldiers would spot the plane and then we would be lost. We were trained before the action. We stood in silence and saw the plane flying overhead when suddenly . . . a huge parcel was thrown out of the plane.
We all hurried to extract the heavy parcel from the mud. We carried it on our shoulders to the wagon that was waiting for us. We loaded the parcel on the wagon together with the parachute. We aimed our rifles and accompanied the wagon until it safely reached the camp. We unloaded the parcel and folded the parachute. There were Russian arms and ammunition in the parcel, cigarettes and even chocolate. The action was successful and we all enjoyed it. In the morning we heard the buzzing sound of a German plane which had apparently spotted us at night, but it did not dare come near us. The Germans were afraid of us and we of them. We were always tense. We would listen to the radio broadcasts about the situation at the front. The news was better recently. We, from Yurburg, would from time to time meet and exchange memories of our dear town Yurburg and our loved ones who had been killed in the first months of the war. We were lonely and we all waited for the day when we would be able to avenge the blood that had been spilled.
The days passed by and almost every day there were actions of some kind or other.
One day we went to look for food, as usual. I was in charge of the action. My brother-in-law, Yehuda Meister, was with me as well as two Russian soldiers who had escaped from a prisoner camp, and others. On our way we arrived at the house of a rich estate owner. We knocked on the door and entered. Two women and a man stood in front of us. I politely bid them good evening and they replied in kind. Before we had even explained our request to the estate owner, he said he knew why we had come. Come, he said, I will give you what you want. While we were still talking, one of the women asked a question in Yiddish. I was taken by surprise. It turned out that she was a Jewish girl from Kovna who had been here for two years, and that here she had found protection against all bad things . . . we were very moved by her story. In the end I got up, told my friends the story and said - here we will not take anything. A gentile who risks his life in order to rescue a Jewish soul - is a friend of ours. The estate owner was surprised by my decision, but thanked me and all the people in the group. From here we went to the next estate owner and took all the food we needed from him. We loaded everything onto the wagon and returned to the flour mill, the meeting point of the other groups in the village.
Here something unexpected happened. All of a sudden automatic fire was opened at us from all sides. We had no choice but to leave the place in a hurry. When we counted, it appeared that two were missing. The commander was furious. In many cases [like this] we went back to a village after a while to repay them in kind. . . this happened this time too.
Immediately after dinner we received the order to go on an important and dangerous mission. Where we did not know. When we were gathered together we were given tin boxes with a lace. We took the boxes with us as well as our personal arms. At the roll- call we were told what the purpose of our nightly mission was. We were led to the flour mill in the village from where the mortal fire had been opened at us. Here we were told to disperse and place the boxes near the wall of the mill after all the laces had been tied together. We were immediately ordered to run the distance of at least a kilometer from the mill and here we waited for the results of our action. All of a sudden we heard a tremendous explosion and saw a sea of fire rise up to the sky. This was the retaliation against the German fascists. We returned to camp where a pleasant surprise was waiting for us. The two young men who had been missing from yesterday's action had returned healthy and well.
Sometimes life at the camp was very meaningful and sometimes it was boring. We were merely interested in one thing - what was going on there in the terrible war? What about the Kovna ghetto - who had survived and who had not? The news we received was very sad. We talked about Yurburg, the cradle of our youth, with love and longing, as if it still existed, as in the past . . . Thus many days passed by. One day the person in charge of reconnaissance, the only gentile at the camp - dressed in the uniform of a Gestapo officer, asked me to join him on a tour. I joined him and we went to a village not far from our camp. It was on July 30, 1944. We entered a house there known to the gentile. We found girls at the house who were sewing clothes and listening to radio broadcasts. And see here, what did we hear - an important and pleasant bit of information - the Russian army battalions had liberated Vilna, Lithuania's capital. Our joy knew no bounds. It was as if we were drunk . . . we hurried back to the Partisans camp through the cornfields, to tell them the good news. When we approached the camp - the gentile said - let's shoot a round of fire in honor of the liberation of our capital. We both enthusiastically fired a few shots. Suddenly we heard shooting at us from the other side of the corn field. The gentile ordered me to run and inform the camp that a group of fascist soldiers from the Lithuanian army was in the area and was shooting. I did as he told me. While I was running I saw a Lithuanian soldier not far away who was operating in the framework of the German army. I shot at him and when he fell to the ground I went up to him and did not check whether he was alive or dead. I took his rifle and ran to our camp, to tell them that Lithuanian soldiers serving in the German army were near us. The commander of our camp immediately ordered the shock troops to go. We went with 25 men, while I was their guide.
We had barely left the forest when we already heard the sound of the attackers' shooting. We were in the line of fire. Our commander issued the order - "Advance!" "Hit them!" The battle was fierce. We pursued the fascist Lithuanian soldiers and killed some of them. Two of our men - the Russian Partisans - were killed. We were very grieved. We did not find consolation in the fact that many enemy soldiers had fallen. Each Partisan was dear to us. When the battle was over we went back with the Lithuanian gentile to one of the estates to drink some water. Suddenly the dog that was tied up there started to bark. The gentile was annoyed at his barking; he was furious at the dog, went up to him and hit him with his rifle butt. Unfortunately a bullet came loose which struck the Lithuanian gentile who fell and was dead. We all stood around him in silence, very sad. We had lost a good reconnaissance soldier and a kind- hearted man. We collected the three casualties and took them to the camp on a wagon. We dug holes and buried three good and dear Partisans, who did not have the good fortune to be with us when we celebrated the victory over the Nazi Germans.
On our return to camp we were immediately informed that the retreating German army would pass near us. In the headquarters' instructions it was stated that we had to hit them till they were destroyed. That is what we did. We waited for them somewhere and when they approached, we opened fire at them from all the weapons we had. Our blow was so heavy that they did not even know where it was coming from. They panicked. We pursued them and hit them. Then they started an unorganized escape and left a lot of booty behind - expensive equipment, food and mainly . . . many casualties in the field. However, we pursued them and hit them till morning came. We were happy to see the Nazi enemy beaten, but it was too little for the murderers of our people. Our joy was mixed with sorrow that they had managed to destroy the communities of Israel in Lithuania.
When the battle was over, we collected our Partisan fighters and returned to camp. Fortunately we had no injured or damage. A lot of booty had fallen into our hands. On the way we captured three wounded German soldiers and the camp commander brought them to justice, a just verdict. . . . when we returned to the camp I met my brother-in-law, Yehuda (Yudel) Meister, and the third man from Yurburg, Moshe Magidowitz. We shook hands and were happy that we would very soon return to Kovna. Although we knew there was no one left for us to meet there. Nevertheless we would be happy to live among free Jews, in spite of the gentiles. Deep in my heart I still believed - perhaps? Perhaps I would find a sister or someone from my family, and I would not be the only survivor of my large family . . . .
A day passed, it was night now and in the morning we were ordered to get organized towards leaving the camp. A month ago I had not yet believed that I would live to see this day. We had passed four difficult years. The danger of extermination had hung over our head each and every day. Now the great day had come - August 3, 1944 - the day of the great victory.
We leave the Partisans camp, bid farewell to close friends we had known and go with a heavy heart to Kovna, which we had not dreamt of seeing again. We traveled by car and on foot until we reached Kovna. Now we were in Kovna. There were but a few survivors in Kovna, the [most] important Jewish town. Kovna, the Jewish community, the town that had been full of Jews and Jewish life, and that now merely contained Holocaust survivors, few, oh so few survivors. Partisans who found relatives joined them. I and many like me, who had no family, were sent to the police departments in town. My brother-in-law Yehuda (Yudel) Meister, who was a tailor by profession, was sent to work at the prison, to work there as a tailor. I was sent to the police department at Daoukshtas Street number 1. As I had no choice, I agreed to this appointment. I received a large room to live in for myself and my brother-in-law and together we started our gray life all over again. Although I was living in a large city, I felt like a stray lamb in the forest. Yet I started to breathe fresh air in Kovna, like free people, equal to the gentiles who had always ruled over us.We lived under the communist-Lithuanian regime. And then I felt like praising and blessing and saying: God be blessed for helping us to survive and arrive to this time. We shall sing your praise and God will not be silent and I shall thank him forever.
But a few in Kovna were able to tell me about the fate of Yurburg, my town of birth. The story was sad, very sad. There were no Jews at all left in Yurburg. All of them had been exterminated and were no longer. There was nothing left for us to do in this Yurburg, the Yurburg without Jews - it no longer existed for us. However, the Jewish community of Yurburg will go on living in our memory forever.
After a while the story of the exile and its sufferings ended and the story of a new life was born in the State of Israel, our independent State of Israel.
This letter was originally written in Lithuanian by Mika Liobin when she was at the Yurburg prison, to a Lithuanian friend called Genia.
Mika Liobin managed to escape from the murderers (8.9.41) and found shelter at the homes of Lithuanians for a year and a half, until she was caught - apparently she was denounced- and put into the Yurburg prison, where her friend Genia visited her. After the visit at the prison Mika Liobin managed to send a letter in Lithuanian to Genia and no trace was found of Mika ever since. . .
At the end of the war Genia found Haike, the only survivor of the Liobin family and gave her Mika's letter, translated here by S. Simonov and Z.Poran, which tells the story of her bitter personal fate and that of her family which was lost in the war.
March 14, 1943
Thank you so much for your visit to the prison. I longed to see you. All the time I was thinking what we would talk about, but when I saw you I was so confused that I couldn't utter a word . . .
Did you ever imagine, Genia, that I would return as a dangerous criminal to the place where I was born and grew up, where I spent the wonderful years of my youth and lived a happy life?! Oh, dear Genia, how hard it is to wait for death and count the last hours in torment and tears. If the thick stone walls of the prison could talk they would tell you about me and my bitter tears and how I tear out my hair and torment myself. Many times I have tried to commit suicide; I am fed up with this life, but I don't have the courage to put an end to it. Therefore, darling, I have to wait for death patiently until my persecutors come and take me away, still so young, to the holes of death in the green Oshanti forest, from where there is no return.
Genia, dear, I am not afraid of death, for you know the saying: " all troubles come to an end in the silence of the grave." And indeed, I had so many troubles, life was not at all kind or interesting to me. I have only seen suffering and sorrow in my life. Try to imagine, Genia, what I felt when I saw with my own eyes how they shot and killed my sister Estherle and many many others.
All night long I heard the sighs coming out of the fresh graves, the groans of children before death, for almost all of them were thrown into the holes while they were still alive. . . oh, what a terrible and awful night that was! Yes, that night I also heard the trees around the holes weeping . . . it was the night of the eighth of August 1941.
After the tragedy, when I managed to survive, from 11 August the outlaw part of my life started with all the troubles inherent in such a miserable life. True, the people where I found shelter helped me, were fond of me, but from the mental point of view I found no rest. Imagine, Genia, it is spring outside, flowers are blooming, and I have to remain locked up inside, hide and close my eyes. All day long I had the feeling I was being pursued and shot at. I am no longer thinking about the past, for it is impossible to turn back the clock, and I can't dream about the uncertain future; I don't want to fool myself, for I know very well what to expect. I would like to be the last victim of the tragedy that has befallen our people. You should know, Genia, that those who think they can obtain victory by trampling on corpses and washing their hands in the blood of innocent people are wrong. The evil people who are capable of carrying out such vile acts should be hung from posts of shame, denounced in front of everyone.
Genia, I can't stand the way people around me look at me. They all think that I am afraid to die and that is why they tell me they will take me to Kovna . . . I know it is hard for you too to tell me the truth and I don't need any pity. I am helpless. I shall die with a clear conscience, for I have never wronged anyone, never hurt or caused pain to anyone on this earth. Yes, I shall die with a clear conscience. . .
I am confident, Genia, that you will not forget me soon. On days when the sun shines again, the fields are green, the forest whispers its mysterious secrets, the birds twitter and sing the hymn of freedom - you will remember me, Genia, very often, think of me and of the days we spent together. I hope your life will be full of sun and light, that you will know no suffering, torment and humiliation, pain and tears . . . .
Thank you so much, Genia, for the clothes. I no longer need them in prison. From the faces of the horrible, almost beastly people around me I know my days are counted. Thank your mother for the food. All the prisoners here are fond of me and help me as much as possible. They give me cigarettes to lighten my pain. Therefore I smoke a lot.
I had no idea how hard the hours of waiting would be . . . finally my life will come to an end. . . it may be tomorrow or the day after, and then my "eternal salvation" will come and everything will fall silent for ever and ever . . . .
Genia, if you find my sister Haike who may still be alive when the terrible war is over, tell her about my family's terrible tragedy, and about me. My father and brother are buried in a mass grave, my mother and Estherle in the forest 6 - 7 kms. from Yurburg. Perhaps there is some sign of a grave there?!. . .
I am going to die without fear. . .
Please give my regards to your family, be healthy and happy.
The following is the last part of the original letter
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