[Col. 575 bottom]
The Sabbath of Repentence, 1941. At the crack of dawn, all the towns of the Sventsyan area were surrounded by Lithuanians, volunteer bandits. They forced all the Jews out of
[Col. 575 bottom cont'd]
their homes, arranged them in rows and then drove them like cattle, on foot, in the direction of New Sventsyan.
That day happened to be very hot. Long rows of thousands of Jews filled all the streets and roads. The local Lithuanians stood on both sides of the road and laughed at the Jewish martyrs being driven to their deaths.
Three kilometers from New Sventsyan they found the former camps of the Polish Army, which were at that time called Poligon. Eight thousand Jews from the Sventsyan area were brought there. There on a hill stood wooden barracks. All around
[Col. 576 bottom]
stretched the large Baranover Woods. At the foot of the hills, through the meadows the Zhemyane River flowed quietly.
All of the Jews who had been brought there were driven into those barracks. The crowding of those barracks was horrendous. There wasn't even enough room to stand. It was very hot. Everyone was desperate for a bit of water. Food wasn't even mentioned.
All these Jews were in despair: all of them felt that this was their end, their death.
Yom Kippur. Rabbi Kamoykhi from New Sventsyan said kol nidre. Eight thousand Jews, men and women prayed together with him. Soon the whole area echoed with a mighty cry that carried far, far across the woods, fields and villages and I thought that it had to reach heaven.
These thousands of people also prayed the next day.
Mi bamayim umi baeysh, mi bakhanika umibaskila Never before in history has that prayer had such immediate application as on that day.
Each person thought to himself: Who knows what strange death they have thought up for us.
Utshuva, utfila utsedaka, maviron et rau hagezeyra. During that horrific week, this was of no avail, and the bestial decree was not annulled.
The hangmen were not at all moved by the wailing of the Jews. Their bestial eyes thirsted for Jewish blood, and a few days later they succeeded [sic].
On the eve of Sukos two high-ranking police officers came to Poligon. They immediately issued an order demanding that all Jews gather in the large area around the barracks.
One German gave a speech. He promised to free all the Jews if they would give him a large contribution.
The Jews didn't understand that they were being duped and immediately selected a committee, which began to gather the money. Jews took off their watches and the rings. In the course of a few hours they had gathered together two large buckets of jewelry and other precious items.
[Col. 577 cont'd]
The German officers and the Lithuanian policemen had gathered together a lot of gold and packed their suitcases full of the valuables and immediately left. The Jews were locked up in the barracks. Only then did they understand how bitterly they had been deceived.
A few days later the Lithuanian police mobilized hundreds of peasants from all of the surrounding villages
and told them to bring spades to Poligon in order to dig ditches. By Monday, the second day of Sukos, the graves were done.
Then the Jews were driven out of the barracks and led, in small groups, to the ditches.
When everyone stood by the ditches the machine guns began to shoot, and they continued for two days in a row. Even those who had only been wounded were thrown in to the ditches; the children were tossed into the graves alive. Many children were stabbed with knives.
These human beasts hardly cared whether or not all the Jews were actually dead when they gave the order to cover the ditches with earth.
For hours afterwards the screams of those who had been buried alive eched throughout the whole area. The victims wanted to get out of their grave. For several days afterwards the ground could still be seen heaving.
The fresh hill was still only by the weekend, and the 8,000 martyrs remained quiet for eternity.
This story of Jewish deaths must not remain untold. It must be told to our children in all schools. Especially emphasized must be the fact that in addition to the Germans, the Lithuanians also took part in this act of destruction.
Without the help of the Lithuanians, it would have been a lot harder for the Germans to carry out this cruel decree on the Jewish population.
The martyrs of Poligon demand that the Jewish people take revenge.
Cool days arrived. Autumn began to waft into the ghetto.
A group surrounded the ghetto with barbed wire, which they had been told to remove from the synagogue. Now they worked near the only gate through which people could go in and out under the watchful eyes of a Lithuanian policeman.
Hirshl returned from the other side of the ghetto.
What's going on in the ghetto? he asked the worker.
It's not good. We are separating ourselves from the world.
And why are people gathering there near the synagogue?
Shukhman ordered all the elders of the families to go out. A new decree. They're talking about a contribution of money. It's a triviality.
You're joking, Hirshl called and went into the house. His head was spinning. He sat down on the bed.
What is it? Don't you feel well? his wife, Rivl, called out. See how pale you are? Did something happen?
It's nothing, he mumbled barely moving his lips. How can this be told? He thought. When he went back into the ghetto, he saw two trucks packed with Shaulists (?) They were happily and drunkenly singing. Behind them was a third truck laden with
[Col. 579 cont'd]
barrels, from which came white powder smelling of bleach. At that moment, it knocked him off his feet. They were driving in the direction of New Sventsyan where the camp Poligon was located. Horrific thoughts came to mind.
Rivl brought him a drink of water.
Drink and get into bed. You'll feel better.
No, I won't lie down. I'll go see what the commandant has to say.
They'll manage without you. Look, you're as pale as chalk.'
Hirshl, however, did not hear. He couldn't sit in the house at such a time and went out.
At exactly one o'clock, just as he had told Meyer, the Lithuanian commandant actually came to the ghetto accompanied by his policemen. With a smile on his face he responded to everyone's greetings. Then he requested that everyone arrange themselves in rows of three.
I have an announcement for you from the German authorities, he called out as he played with a rolled-up piece of paper in his hand. But before I tell you the announcement, I will call out your names and each one of you should form a row in the same order, [he said] as he pointed to his left.
One after the other those called went out and stood at the indicated place. There were also, however, names of Jews who were not there.
Meyer, the head of the Jews, who stood separately to one side, told the commandant that they were all at work outside the ghetto.
Leyzer Gordon, the commandant called out.
Leyzer was not there and Meyer wanted to say something, but suddenly Pinke ran out and placed himself among those who had been called out.
Now everyone felt that something awful was imminent.
The commandant continued to read the list.
Hirshl waited for him to call out the name of someone not present and then he would also go over, but the reading ended.
Who are you? the commandant asked the remaining 15 men, who had not been on the list.
At first all of them were stunned and did not know how to respond. Finally one of them said: From here, from Sventsyan.
You will have to go to the commandant, and he turned to the two policemen and gave them the appropriate order. He took Shukhman with him.
Stomp was impatiently pacing in the prison office. He saw the approaching Jews through the window.
Well, what do you say to my plan? he turned to the commandant coming in. That is all.
His face was beaming with happiness. He hadn't counted on so much.
Come, Stomp tugged at the commandant's sleeve. He also told Meyer, who was standing in the yard, to come along.
Quickly running through the courtyard, he ran into the jail, where the Jews were.
He immediately ordered all the Jews to form pairs near the half-moldy wall of the dark jail corridor, where a little light barely shone through three small, grated windows.
The commandant and the policemen stood to one side. They understood that he, Stomp, not they, were in charge here.
[Col. 581 cont'd]
I have ordered the ghetto to collect a quarter of a million rubles, Stomp [said] turning to the Jews. And I have also taken you, as collateral. You must understand that your fate is dependant only on your fellow Jews. You and your families are in the ghetto illegally, right? This sum is quite a small price, thanks to which you will be able to remain in the ghetto in peace. During the time you are here, I will permit your head-Jew to convey your regards to your families. I am now giving you a half hour to speak freely to him.
All of them threw themselves at Meyer as if he were their savior.
Back. Back Stomp called out. Stand individually in the same order as before.
Brothers, I know that a great responsibility has been laid upon the ghetto, Meyer called out bitterly. We will do everything we can to free you.
Everyone envied Meyer. He was free. Nevertheless, they appreciated the fact that there was someone who could convey their regards [to their families].
Everyone individually sent messages calming their families.
Stomp crossed his arms over his chest and looked on with interest. He noticed that three men stood there with their heads bowed and did not send a message.
Don't you have anything to convey to your families? he asked walking over to one of the three.
Hirshl stood, looked the German right in the eyes. He did not move a muscle or a nerve.
Don't you have any family here? Stomp again asked with false tenderness.
The announcement was, after all, for all the eldest of families to step forward.
I came out of curiosity. I just wanted to know what would be said.
So that's it, Stomp was transformed in the blink of an eye. You lied to a German S. S. man, damned Jew? Where is your family?
I don't have any family, Hirsh responded with the same cold-bloodedness as before.
Stomp lifted his hand and with a quick movement let it fall on Hirshl's cheek.
[Col. 582 cont'd]
Hirshl tottered from his place, but he did not fall. He continued to stand and looked the German right in the face.
Stomp was beside himself. His eyes began to roll wildly around in directions, and in the end they stopped on Hirshl's hand, on his finger where he wore his wedding ring.
You dog-like Jew! You want to fool me! He grabbed Hirshl's hand and shook that finger before his eyes.
Hirshl could stand no more. With his other hand, the free one, he pushed the group leader so strongly
[Col. 583 top]
that Stomp fell across the whole width of the corridor. His hat fell off his head onto the floor. His back hit the wall hard and he barely managed to hold onto it with both hands so as not to fall down.
He stood there for a second not knowing what hit him, but he soon recovered, leaned on the wall, quickly took out his revolver and shot.
Hirshl tottered. He grabbed his belly with both hands and bent over he took several steps toward Stomp.
Stomp immediately straightened up, took a few steps to the side and shot twice again.
[Col. 584 top]
Hirshl turned around, opened wide his blue eyes wanting to see just a bit more light of the world through the small barred windows. But he immediately fell on his back near Stomp.
Stomp pushed him several times with his feet and walked away.
The head of the Jews, come with me, Stomp barely managed to howl.
Shukhman followed him with shaking feet.
You will also have the same end if they find out in the ghetto what happened here. Gather together the money. Understand?
And now, damned Jews, march out of here.
[Cols. 583-584 bottom]
[Col. 583 bottom]
The Germans left our neighborhood in 1918, capitulating on all fronts, and Sventsyan was occupied by the Red Army. This, however, wasn't the end. The power began to go from hand to hand: Bolsheviks, Poles, Lithuanians and Bolsheviks again.
In Sventsyan, the Bolsheviks organized a Revcom (Revolutionary Committee) with the sailor Reznikov at its head. The majority of the Jews were confirmed members. Among others were: the Brumberg brothers, the female teacher Fisher Mendl Kuritski and Fayvl Gertman.
As everywhere, chaos and nervous fear ruled Sventsyan. The slightest thing was enough for someone to threaten someone else with a revolver. The members of Revcom used to receive their wages in kerenkes, the money that was printed for the [short] duration of Kerenski rule. The population didn't trust the worthless money and only wanted the former Russian rubles of Nikolai II with the picture of Yekaterina on it and large numbers. One could still buy something from the peasants for the katerinas. Clearly speculation at that time grew, and along with it
[Col. 584 bottom]
the poverty of the already impoverished population of Sventsyan.
One Friday morning a peasant brought over a wagon of fish. The Jews, male and female, charged the wagon in order to buy fish for the Sabbath. All of a sudden, people began to run [from the direction of] Vilna St. The marketplace was filled with screaming!
Jews. Escape! Hide! Bolshevist patrols arrived from Vilna St. These were the patrols from the infamous Latvian shooters, Lenin's former personal security guards. Along with them came a group of policemen from the Cheka, led by the well-known Bolshevik Yankovsky.
The wild murderous faces of the Latvians did not bode well. The Jews scattered and hid wherever they could. I remember that Boris Brumberg came running to us and hid in the attic, because my father Mendel Kurtsky worked in Revcom.
It turned out that they had a list of bourgeois who were to be arrested. Since in the eyes of the [general] population the Jewish shopkeeper, merchant and speculator were considered to be rich, they did indeed
[Col. 585 top]
then gather all the Jews together: Velvl Brumberg, with his two sons and daughter Dora, Mendl Taytlboym, Elye Shpiz, Khono Vilkamirsky. Of the ChristiansOysmont and Volinsky. Those caught were brought to the small-train station and locked into a train car.
When the train began to move, a feeling of justice awoke in the Lithuanian officer and he threw Brumberg's daughter out of the car. That is how she remained alive. The train was stopped in the village of Morgumishok, about three kilometers from Sventsyan. They took the vulnerable arrestees out of the train car, drove them into a small woods, where the drunken Latvians murdered them.
Sunday morning, a peasant came and told about the murders of the
[Col. 586 top]
Sventsyan residents. It is worthwhile to note that Brumberg's oldest son was an active revolutionary, who belonged to the Bund and collaborated with the Soviet authorities in Sventsyan.
The unnecessary, bestial murders made a deep impression on the whole population of the areas surrounding Sventsyan.
When our region was occupied a second time by the Poles, Yankovsky, the leader of this bloody deed was caught, and he was shot in New Sventsyan.
This is how the bestial mass murder of Svantsyan Jews was committed in Morgumishok in the year 1919.
[Col. 585 bottom]
[Col. 586 bottom]
Students lefts; students came. There was always learning going on at Reb Moyshe Binyomin's kheyder. That is how the year's flew by until Hitler's beasts occupied Sventsyan.
In the ghetto this elderly Jew felt totally lost. He was appreciated and people were always coming to him for advice about something, and he always had good advice to give them, a good compliment, a bit of comfort, a word of consolation.
He even married Jewish children in the ghetto and used to say: May Jewish children save themselves. May they be happy.
It was difficult for him when his wife died in the ghetto. At that time no one was permitted to accompany the bodies
1. From the Yom Kippur service where it discusses the various forms of death that are decided for people on that day Un'saneh tokef: Who by water and who by fire [. . .] who by strangulation and who by stoning. [Trans.] Return
2. Repentance and prayer and charity will avert the evil decree. [Trans.] Return
3. Cheka was the first of a succession of Soviet state security organizations. It was created by a decree issued on December 20, 1917, by Vladimir Lenin. [Wikipedia] Return
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