Translated from Yiddish to Hebrew by Bat-Sheva Levitan-Karabelnik
Edited by Henrikas Papievis
Yaakov Zak was born in Kelmė on 3-9-1920. He completed seven years at the Jewish Hebrew school, and was an electrical technician. His father's name was Yaakov Azriel, and his mother's name was Sarah. Until the start of World War II, on June 22, 1941, and after that, until the destruction of the Jews of Kelmė, he lived in his native town.
The War breaks out
On that day, the 22nd of June, 1941, when the war broke out, there appeared in Kelmė refugees from Tauragė, whose appearance created panic in Kelmė. Many Jews, on that day, locked their doors and windows and fled from the town. On Monday, the 23rd of June, 1941, the panic increased, because the members of the Communist Party left Kelmė hurriedly; and in the space of those two days, almost all of the Jews left. They fled to friendly farmers and to Jewish farms in the vicinity around the town. About ten kilometers from Kelmė, on the main road to Šiauliai, hundreds of Jews from Kelmė and Tauragė hurried by foot and by wagon in order to get to the Soviet border and deep into Russia. The road was blocked by traffic and didn't allow a fast retreat of the Red Army. The civilians were ordered to clear the road, and because of that they couldn't escape to the border.
When the Jews got to the Padubysys (today is named for Bazilionai) farm, Lithuanian nationalists stood on both sides of the road, with home made national flags, decorated with the swastika. Some of them fell upon the Jewish refugees with axes, clubs, pitchforks, and other implements that stopped the Jews in their tracks. They greeted the Jews with the cries of miserable Jews, the day has come when we will slaughter you all.
On Monday, the 23rd of June, the Lithuanians murdered a Jewish family of refugees from Tauragė, a man, his wife, and their two children. At the same time, the Red Army was still in the area.
On Tuesday, the 24th of June, the Germans marched into Kelmė, which was burnt and completely destroyed. The Jews were attacked by the Germans, and they decided to return to their burnt out homes. A good number of Jews stayed with friendly farmers and on Jewish farms.
With the coming of the Germans, there appeared in Kelmė, hundreds of armed Lithuanians, from cities and towns, who established their authority without interference.
The civilian Authority
In Kelmė, there was established a Civilian Authority from among the armed Lithuanians. The mayor's office was grabbed by a Lithuanian farmer by the name of Juozas Čėsna, from the village of Preikurai five kilometers from Kelmė. He served as mayor in the days of Antanas Smetona (President of Lithuania before the Soviet invasion). During the years of the Soviet rule, he was deposed from his post as mayor. The assistant to the mayor was a Lithuanian of German descent, Šidlauskas. The head the police was Barkauskas, a Lithuanian from the village of Kočiniškis, three kilometers from Kelmė. He served as a policeman in the days of Smetona. The head of the activists, the collaborationists who worked with the Germans, was Kazys Riškus, a tailor from Kelmė.
They posted orders according to which the Jews had to go to the Jewish farms, and they were forbidden to go to Lithuanian farmers for help. They threatened to shoot farmers and their families on whose farms Jews were found.
Almost all the Jews settled on the Jewish farms in the area.
On Tuesday, July 1st, 1941, the Lithuanians issued a severe command, stating that all Jewish men between the ages of fourteen and sixty had to gather at the camp that was set up at the Zunda Luntz granary. This was located at the edge of town. The Jews followed the order. The women and children stayed on the farms. Police and collaborators would come to the farms and forced the Jews to comply with the order and go to the camp in Kelmė. Before they locked them into the camp, they brought them to the town square and a German made a vile speech, in front of them and of the Lithuanians, saying that they must be put into the camp, because they were principally to blame for World War II.
The place had been enclosed with barbed wire before the war. Around the granary, were posted guards, from the forces of the collaborators, who were armed. In the center of the yard, there was posted a military kitchen. Usually, the imprisoned Jews were given black coffee and a piece of bread for breakfast, and in the evening, coffee again. At noon, they were given potato soup without flavoring.
Under heavy guard, the Jews were taken to work every morning, working at the back breaking job of cleaning up the ruins of the great fire. They would do all the dirty and hard work in the town. All the men would sleep on the floor of the building, and, because of the lack of space, the boys would sleep in the attic.
The Lithuanians would awaken them at six in the morning, and, after the coffee and bread, would immediately take them to work. Many times, they would force the Jews to pray aloud and sing Psalms, and at the same time, they would amuse themselves by humiliating them.
At noon, they would bring the Jews to the camp for one hour. After that, they would return them to work until six p:m.
During work, the Jews were guarded by armed Lithuanians, who would force them to work faster, teasing, cursing, and torturing them in many ways. Many times, they would force the Jewish captives to march after work, to the Kražantė River, to wash. They, also, at times, forced the Jews to enter the water with their clothes on, and then to march back singing; forced to act happy, to sing Soviet songs and Jewish songs.
The women, children, the older men, and the aged, as well as the sick and weak stayed back at the Jewish farms. There, they helped with the farm work. There were no guards there. There were instances when Lithuanians from the area would visit the farms to steal from the women and children. When the men entered the camp in Kelmė, they had to wear the yellow star on their chests. The Jews on the farms also had to do this. On very rare occasions, the women were allowed to visit the men in the Kelmė camp.
The first Victims
On Thursday, the day after the Germans entered the town, they arrested a yeshiva student, Moshe Benish, and battered him to death. The young boy, Benjamin Oral, the tanner's son, fell from the attic at the Granary camp in Kelmė and sprained his leg. The Lithuanian city doctor, Jonas emaitis, examined him and freed him from work, ordering him to rest. That happened on July 10th, 1941. The person in charge in the camp was the pharmacist, Morgenstern. Every day, one of the Jewish prisoners had to stay in the camp to clean up and fix up. On that day, Yaakov Zak returned to the camp to pick up work implements that were forgotten. In the yard, he saw three Lithuanians, Adomas Jurgelis, a Kelmė shoemaker, Juozas Merkelis, and Jurgis Matulevičius, a student at the Lithuanian Gymnasia. The three wanted to know why Benjamin Oral hadn't gone out to work. On that day, the person left behind to clean up was Shevelovitz. The three Lithuanians ordered Yaakov Zak and Shimon Shevelovitz to dig a pit close to the granary. They then ordered the sick Benjamin to crawl on his stomach to the pit and fired on him. Benjamin was buried while still alive. The Jews in the camp got permission to take the body to the Jewish cemetery. They had to take the body out in the span of ten minutes. Yaakov Zak was present at the opening of the grave. They found Benjamin lying face down, because he was buried while still alive. At the time of the burial, he was only wounded.
The young woman, Frida Keltz, belonged to the Communist Party during the Soviet occupation of Lithuania. At the start of the war, she fled to a town close to Laukuva. Lithuanians, who recognized her, arrested her and brought her to Kelmė. They brought her to the Lithuanian Gymnasia. The collaborators headquarters was located there. Yaakov Zak, with his friend, Emmanuel Rosenfeld, worked there on that day, cleaning the classrooms. They saw Frida. Two Lithuanians, Mykolas Jokubaitis and Vytautas Butkus, both 12th grade students at the Gymnasia, and fellow students of Frida at the school, led her to the gravel pits and killed her. Before killing her, they gave her a cigarette to smoke. They later bragged about that terrible deed.
Almost every day, German soldiers would come to the camp to amuse themselves. They would force the Jews to sing Russian songs and Jewish hymns, to beat each other, and to perform all kinds of acrobatic tricks. Once, they shaved half of the beard off of the charity collector, Kaplan, and forced him to collect all of the Jewish holy books, tallises, tefillin, etc., and to burn them.
The eleven Jewish Victims
At the beginning of July, there came to the camp in Kelmė, a number of collaborators, who suggested to all those who were sick to register to see a doctor. That was a Sunday on which the Jews didn't have to work. Eleven Jews replied that they were ill. The armed Lithuanians marched these eleven Jews to the Jewish cemetery. They forced them to dig a hole and shot them to death.
After a few days, Yaakov Zak chanced to see the grave with his own eyes. Later, Yaakov Zak was told by the Lithuanian, Stasys Bartkus, who lived near the Jewish cemetery, that he saw, with his own eyes, how they shot all eleven Jews.
Among the eleven were, Benjamin Popkin (55), Moshe Shaffer (55), Shlomo and Yitzak Shamesh (46), Josef Yodelevitz (33), Zalman Oral (over 50), Hershel Levin, Shmuel Shamesh, Israel Leib Podles, and the manager of the Jewish National Bank, Mer.
The first Slaughter
On Sunday, July 27, 1941, Lithuanian collaborators put together a list of Jews who wished to go to work on Lithuanian farms in the area of Kelmė. Most of the men volunteered, because they thought that they would get better conditions there and be able to meet with their families on the Jewish farms.
Seven men from the camp in Kelmė, among them Yaakov Zak, worked as experts fixing telephone lines on the road between Kelmė and Skaudvilė. They slept in the villages. They worked under a Lithuanian. On July 28th, 1941, they went to work as usual. After they worked for an hour, a messenger from the post office in Kelmė arrived on a motorcycle and brought with him an order that said to bring the seven Jews back to the camp in Kelmė. At the camp, they were told about the list of the day before, of July 27th. On that day, the 28th, all the Jews worked as usual. On Tuesday, July 28th, 1941, the fifth day of the Hebrew month of Av, at three thirty in the morning, two armed Lithuanians came to the camp and ordered twenty young and healthy boys to get up to go to work. They said that the twenty men had to deepen a small lake in the town of Dirvoniukai on the farm of Jonas Kareiva. They added that the work would take from four to eight in the morning, and that they wouldn't have to work at their regular work after that. All the men at the granary camp signed up for the work, because in Kelmė they had to work a long, full day. They also wanted to get out into the country.
The two armed Lithuanians chose only twentyfive of the young and healthy men and marched them to the gravel pits. They forced them to dig a deep pit. When they finished digging, they shot them all to death. In the camp, they heard shots, but no one understood their terrible meaning. Among the twentyfive were: Koppel Udbin; Yishayahu Baksht, the son of the Rabbi from Šiauliai; Tuvia Rosenfeld; Emmanuel and Shmuel Margolis; Kalman Sher, and his brother Velvel; and, others. The two Lithuanians, who committed the crime were Juozas Merkelis, a farmer from a town 1.5 kilometers from Kelmė, and his friend, Steponas Mikalauskas, from the village of Pupšiai, 3 kilometers from Kelmė.
At nine in the morning, on that same Tuesday, eight armed Lithuanians came to the camp and took sixty men to go to work on government farms. These sixty men were taken to the gravel pits and slaughtered.
At about one in the afternoon, on that same Tuesday, they took out a fourth group of forty men and shot them to death at the same place. So it continued all that day, until before nightfall.
At the granary there remained thirty-six men, who did not know of the fate of the others who had been taken earlier, as it were, to work. It was not unusual to hear gunshots from all directions in Kelmė, so those Jews who remained attached no importance to the gunshots which they heard that day.
One young man used to go out from the camp every night at midnight, to work in the town dairy. He would come back every day at noon. When he came back that day, he relayed what he had heard, that all the groups of men, taken out of the camp that day, were taken to the gravel pits and shot. A Lithuanian acquaintance had told him secretly. Only now did the men at the camp realize that they had been fooled by the Lithuanians, and that the others did not go to work somewhere, but went to their own executions.
Among the Lithuanians, who led the Jews that day to the gravel pits and shot them, Yaakov Zak remembers: Adomas Jurgelis, a shoemaker from Kelmė; Vytautas Baracevičius, a student at the Kelmė Gymnasia; Liudas Alekna, register at the city hall; Kazys Riškus, the head of the collaborators in Kelmė; Jonas Barčauskas, from the village of Gineikiai; Julius Tyla, a clerk at the Kelmė cooperative; and, Povilas Meškauskas, a clerk at the Kelmė cooperative. Many more, whose names Yaakov Zak cannot remember, participated.
At six in the evening, on that very Tuesday, there appeared at the granary, the Lithuanian nationalists Petras Špukas, a student at the Gymnasia in Kelmė, and Mykolas Jokubaitis, a student from the twelfth grade from the same Gymnasia. They demanded eight men to volunteer for special work. The thirty-six men, already knew very well the fate of the men who were taken that day, and each tried to find a hiding place for himself. Each one wanted to remain the last one. The two students told the men that everyone, who had been taken that day from the camp, had been shot to death. A good friend of Yaakov, the high school student, Petras Špukas, told him that his father had been shot by Jonas Pikturna, who was a professional electrician. That same Petras Špukas, also told Yaakov Zak that all the Jews, women and children from nearby village of Vaiguva, and most of the Jew who had been on the Jewish farms, were shot to death at the gravel pits. He, also, related that the Rabbi from Kelmė, Rabbi Kalman Baeneshivitz, who at the beginning of the war had fled to Vaiguva, was brought along with the Jews of Vaiguva. He was forced to kneel the whole day on his knees, next to the pit. He mumbled prayers the whole time and was forced to watch as the Jews were shot before his eyes. After all were shot, he, too, was shot.
The high school students took eight Jews from the granary camp to the yard of the Lithuanian Gymnasia in the town. Among the eight was Yaakov Zak. In the yard, four wagons were already standing, piled high with the clothing of the murdered Jews. The eight Jews were forced to unload the clothes of the murdered parents, brothers, sisters, loved ones, friends, wives, and children, and bring them down to the cellar of the school. Yaakov identified his murdered father's clothes, and also, clothing of the murdered relatives. During the time when the clothing was being brought to the cellar, all the murderers themselves arrived at the school yard. The whole day they had been shooting Jews, so that their shirtsleeves, hands, clothes, and boots were soaked in blood. In the yard, there was a well. They washed their faces, hands, and boots. Next to the well ran bloody red water.
After all the clothes were put in the cellar, the eight Jews were brought back to the camp. In the yard, Yaakov saw all the Lithuanians that he knew from the town. All were drunk. They stated that a few hours ago, they finished killing the Jews from Vaiguva, from the Jewish farms, and all the Jews that were taken from the granary camp. But, they promised that they wouldn't kill the thirty-six left alive now.
Vytautas Baracevičius told how the Jewish doctor, Kagansky, who was from the village near Vilkaviškis, pleaded that he should be left alive, because he had treated these very same Lithuanian's families, free of charge, and promised that he would do so in the future. When he saw that his pleas fell on deaf ears, he tried to escape from the pit, but he was shot dead by Vytautas Baracevičius, himself.
On that same evening, around nine o'clock, the eight were again brought back to the Gymnasia. They had to bring beer from a nearby storage room to the hall of the Gymnasia, on the second floor. On the long, decorated tables was laid all kinds of food items, as if it were a wealthy wedding celebration. At the table, the murderers sat with their families, who had already dressed themselves in the murdered Jews' clothing. All the intelligentsia of the town came, including the mayor, Juozas Čėsna. The hall was filled with the roar of voices and smoke; it was suffocating. They all sang Lithuanian songs, drank, and stuffed themselves to the sound of the songs and the radio.
The Jews had to serve beer to the murderers, who had just before killed their families. One of the drunken Lithuanians, upon seeing the Jews, started to yell, Look! There are still Jews, and he pulled out his pistol. His friends calmed him, and forced the Jews to drink beer. Tears streamed from the Jewish eyes. The band of drunkards burst out in laughter at the sight. After that, the eight Jews were brought back the camp. The guards at the camp were changed very often. Some of them, being drunk, told how, at the gravel pit, the Jews were forced to undress down to their underwear. They imitated the Jewish women at the pit, how they kneeled, and, in broken Lithuanian, pleaded for their lives. Each one of them made an effort to imitate the unfortunate women. The other murderers held their bellies in laughter. The guards changed often. Drunk and satiated, new guards would come and relate new details from the execution. Petras Špukas, Mykolas Jokubaitis, and Vytautas Baracevičius said that there were two Germans present at the time of the slaughter. They did not shoot the Jews, but photographed the whole time. They, also, told about how little children were thrown in the air and fired at with pistols. While still living, they fell to the pits, their legs flying in the air. The skulls of the little children were smashed on the rocks, and they were thrown to the pits.
On the following day, Wednesday, July 30th, the personal items of the murdered Jews were removed from the granary camp by the Lithuanian activists.
Life among the Jews who were left alive after the first Massacre
Yaakov Zak and his friend, Emmanuel Rosenfeld, were brought to the village of Vanaginė by the farmer, Klimas. Not far from that place, were two Jewish farms upon which there were Jewish women and children, who had somehow stayed alive. They helped the farmers work the farms. The thirty-four Jews in the Kelmė camp were brought each day to work cleaning up the town's ruins, fixing roads, etc.
Almost every evening, the Lithuanian collaborators of the occupying Germans would come to the Jewish farms, and take anything that they wanted to take. The war front had already advanced further to the East. In Kelmė, there were no longer any Germans; there wasn't even a German officer. The fate of the remaining Jews was completely in the hands of the local Lithuanians.
On Wednesday, August 20th, Yaakov Zak and his boss drove to the town of Lyduvėnai, to buy lime.
In Lyduvėnai, and in the Jewish village of Padubysis, there were prison camps for Jews. The facts about the mass slaughter of the Jews of Kelmė were told to them by Yaakov Zak. A great panic gripped these Jewish camps. Many fled from the village. This became known to the German commander. Yaakov was arrested and interrogated. The commandant ordered that Yaakov be sent back to the camp in Kelmė. Before he was sent back to the camp, he was kept in the jail until that Thursday. On that day, he was taken back to the camp.
The second Mass Murder
On the next day, Friday, August 22, 1941, at four in the afternoon, Jews started to be brought straight to the gravel pits. The men in the camp could see that the Jews' possessions were being transported on the farm wagons. After the wagons, the women, children, and elderly men marched. After a short time, shots were heard from the direction of the gravel pits and. later, single shots.
To the Jewish men in the Kelmė camp were added the fourteen Jewish men who worked at the peat farm of the village of Narušiai, on the farm of Antanas Jankauskas. The men in the camp had no doubts that their last moments were getting nearer every hour. There was great panic. Everyone started to destroy their own personal possessions; for instance, their watches. The guards of the camp were increased. The gate of the camp was open, but the Lithuanian guards threatened to kill anyone approaching the gate. They, also, threatened to shoot anyone who cried aloud. In spite of that, some men succeeded in escaping; Yaakov Chaluzin; Israel Nachumovitz; Chanan Levin; and Hersh Shevelovitz, who worked in Kelmė as a butcher.
At about six in the evening, on that Friday, the men were brought from the camp to the Kelmė estate. More than twenty men, among them Yaakov, were locked up separately in the granary. To that same granary, were brought Jews from the Jewish farms in the area. The groups were brought here earlier, and from here they were brought to a field next to the gravel pits. From the distance, it was possible to see that, at the field next to the pits, there were many women and children. The terrible slaughter continued until the evening. The last glimmer of the evening was broken by the cries of help from the women and children, who were at the gravel pits. A slight rain fell. The sky was covered with black clouds. The granary, in which Yaakov and the others were imprisoned, was located at a distance of a half Kilometer from the Valley of Murder.
About eight o'clock at night, the killers started to bring the last group of Jews from the granary. The group of the ten friends of Yaakov were also taken to be killed. They went in complete desperation, faint hearted, their eyes filled with tears. In the granary, just ten men were left. At the gate, were two guards, armed with automatic weapons and hand grenades. The two were Petras Špukas and Juozas Merkelis; both good friends of Yaakov. They promised the last ten men wouldn't be shot.
Between Yaakov and the other men, it was agreed that he would go over to the guards to converse with them, and when he would give the other ten men a signal, they would attack the guards and drag them to the granary and strangle them. But, when Yaakov conversed with the two guards and smoked a cigarette with them, the rest of the Jews didn't reply to the signal when given. Afterwards, they said that they had no will to continue to live now that their families had been murdered.
Outside, it was now dark. The rain hadn't stopped. Four Lithuanians came to the granary and took the last ten remaining Jews; among them was Yaakov. Yaakov and his friends were frail physically, desperate, apathetic to everything, without any interest in living. The ten moved slowly forward and dragged their feet in the mud. At that very moment, Yaakov thought in his heart, of his family, who were surely lying dead in the pit. He turned to his friends and suggested that they all start to run for freedom. A superhuman urge to action took a hold of him. All of a sudden, he was alive with the strong desire to continue living, to survive and to be a living witness to the world of the crimes against his people.
The Lithuanian murderers forbade the Jews from speaking Yiddish. I am going to my death, and in the last moments of my life I have the right to speak Yiddish, protested Yaakov bitterly. The Lithuanians didn't bother him anymore about this. Yaakov suggested that they all run for their lives in all directions, and each one would have a chance to escape alive. What G-d has decided, that will be, answered the other nine men and did not accept Yaakov's idea.
The ten men were brought to the field next to the pit. There stood a few score Jews, who waited their turn to be killed. Some of them were forced to strip to their underwear, others still waited while dressed. The Jews, who were undressed were led to the gravel pit and were shot from behind with automatic weapons. The cries and screams of those being led to the pit were horrible; only one who saw them and heard them can have an idea of the inhuman suffering of the victims. Many fell to the pit wounded. From the pit were heard the groans and wails of the wounded and dying. The night had already descended, and the light rain continued. On both sides of the pit stood floodlights, which lit up the victims, who were brought to the edge of the pit and those who were dead and dying at the bottom of the pit. Around and in the pit, the sight was like a great illuminated slaughterhouse.
One of men guarding Yaakov and his friends guards was Steponas Mikalauskas, from the village of Pupšiai. He stood close to Yaakov and lit a match in order to light a cigarette. By the light of the match, Yaakov stared into the face of the murderer for a brief second. At that very moment, he decided to act and try to escape, in order to survive and to be a witness before the whole world against the Lithuanian murderers. Speedily, he pulled off the guard's automatic rifle, which was slung over the guard's shoulder and hit him over the head with it. The guard fell. With his last remaining strength, Yaakov ran toward the nearby forest. The inhuman events that he had just witnessed sapped his strength. He jumped over a ditch at the side of the road and fell in a field of potatoes. The guards became confused and fired rounds of bullets toward the forest. Yaakov laid on the ground for a while, among the potato plants. He heard his heart beating as the Lithuanians ran past him in the dark toward the trees; they did not see him. He was actually lying a few tens of meters from the gravel pits. The angry Lithuanians returned quickly to the pit, probably worrying that the Jews would escape from the area of the killing. Yaakov heard all too well the pleas, cries, screams of the Jews being led to the Valley of Death, and then to the bursts of the automatic weapons. The moans and wails were horrific.
Very carefully, Yaakov crawled on his stomach to the edge of the forest. From there, he heard the cries of his nine friends, with whom he had been taken from the camp to be killed. Then, again, there were shots, and the cries of the nine men at the pit were silenced forever. Yaakov could tell, from where he was in the forest, that the Lithuanians were preparing to leave. They gathered the clothing of the dead Jews, took the floodlights and left in the direction of Kelmė.
Yaakov laid for some hours at the edge of the forest. Everything had become silent, and the area was wrapped in darkness amid a light rain. The darkness became thicker, and in Yaakov's ears there resounded the cries and the terrible screams that came out of the mouths of his family and friends. They were lying dumb and prostrate forever, in the pit filled with their corpses. This was the pit, that both Jews and Lithuanians used to dig gravel for various building purposes. The buildings that were built were left remaining for the Lithuanians and for the Jews - the blood soaked pit.
Later, other horrendous facts were learned about the massacre at the gravel pit. While wandering about the villages, Yaakov heard these heartbreaking stories. The farmer Gajauskas, from the village of Pakarčemis, five kilometers from Kelmė was forced to haul the Jews from the Jewish farm at Katiliaušiškė to the gravel pit with his horse and wagon. (It was nearby). Many were the farmers who took the Jews to their deaths on their wagons. On Gajauskas wagon sat his Jewish neighbor, the farmer Mr. Berman, with his pregnant wife, Devorah. She was from the Kaplan family of Vaiguva. On the same wagon was Devorah's brother, Yudel Kaplan, with his wife, Eda, of the Markovitz family. Berman was liked by all of the Lithuanian farmers in the area. Gajauskas whispered to him, and suggested that he escape and save himself. But Abraham Berman refused, explaining that he loved his wife and could not leave her at a time like this, when she was to give birth any day. On the road, the Jews were told that they were to be in a camp there. When they were brought to the Kelmė Estate, they understood that they were brought to the slaughter. At that very hour of horror, birth pangs were starting for Devorah. She asked the murderous Lithuanians to bring a doctor for her. Stuff up your mouth, daughter of a bitch, enjoy your pains, soon you won't need any doctor, shouted the Lithuanians. Some of the Jews were already standing in the field, not far from the pit. Devorah lay on the earth, twisting in pain. Tears poured out from her eyes, and with her deep groans she watched the Jews preparing for death. She heard the shots and the cries of wounded and dying Jews in the pit. She turned to the murderers, who stood nearby, and pleaded to them to kill her before her child was born. The murderers shouted back, First give birth to a Jew to be killed. After the birth, Devorah was killed and thrown to the pit. The baby was thrown into the pit beside its dead mother. All this was told, bragging about the smallest details, by the Lithuanian activist Juozas Merkelis, to Gajauskas, the farmer's neighbor. It was he who told it all to Yaakov Zak later.
The Lithuanian, Leonas Krajauskas, from the village of Kubiliškė (adjacent to the village of Laukoduma), which was three kilometers from Kelmė, shot his neighbor, Baruch Luntz, with his own hand. Baruch fell into the pit wounded and tried to crawl out from the it, but the Lithuanian, Leonas Krajauskas, finished his work on Baruch with the help of his pistol. Yaakov heard this account from farmers, who, face to face with Leonas Krajauskas, heard him brag about what he did.
Together with the Jews of Kelmė, all the Jews of the neighboring villages, were shot to death; Lioliai, Vaiguva and the families from the Jewish farms. They were killed, not far from the Kelmė estate. One common grave is the gravel pit. A second grave is another, near the pit, which was dug by the farmers from the area.
The Survivors after the Mass Massacre
A small number of Jews escaped, from the Jewish farm camps, before the second mass massacre and hid out with farmers in villages and farms. Few escapees survived for an extended period. Some of them were given up by the peasants, or were caught by the Lithuanian police or the collaborating Lithuanians.
The young girl, Lea Keltz, her mother, and other women, were taken from Laukuva (translators note - apparently she escaped from Kelmė to Laukuva) to the Telšiai ghetto. At the time of the liquidation of the women of the Telšiai ghetto, she escaped again to Laukuva, to a friendly farmer, who brought her to another farmer. He did not want to hide her. On Christmas, 1941, she was taken to the farmer, Mykolas Jasinskas. He was a good man and took Leah in to his farm. He immediately told Yaakov and his friends, who roamed the area, about her. It was dangerous for Leah to stay with Mykolas Jasinskas for any stretch of time, because the police carried out searches in the neighborhood, in order to catch Yaakov and his friends. Leah found refuge with a farmer by the name of Butkus. She stayed with him for about seven months. There, the wounds on her feet from the cold were healed; her strength returned to her. At a distance of a half a kilometer from the Butkus house, Leah's cousin, Rifka Mendelovitz, who had converted to Christianity, was hidden. The conversion had helped her survive. Rifka had in her possession valuable objects, which belonged to Leah's parents. Leah was brought to her cousin, in order to take to herself some of those objects. Rifka suggested to Leah, that she, too, should convert, and when she refused, Rifka refused to give anything to Leah. Leah went to another peasant, at whose house Rifka's sister, Frieda Mendelovitz, was hidden. This was in the village of Zakeliškiai, near the Jewish village of Padubysis. In this village of Zakeliškiai, there lived very religious Christian women. (Translators note - something like nuns) They took in the two women, taught them the principles of Christianity, and prepared them to accept Christianity.
The Jewish girls had no choice. Every Sunday, they went to church. Once, upon going to church, they spoke to a Lithuanian boy, who followed them home. The following day, he told the police in Raseiniai. The police came to the village and arrested Leah, Frieda, and another woman from Kelmė, Yacha Glivitz. Later, the peasants said that the women were brought to the Ninth Fort in Kaunas and were shot to death. (translators note - there is no other evidence relating to their death)
One of those religious Lithuanian women later told Yaakov that the three Jewish women were jailed in Šiluva, in the area of Raseiniai. This woman, together with a priest from the town, came to the jail and baptized the three women. That was to no avail, for the priest could not save their lives.
Rifka Mendelovits was freed and settled in Blekarnė, on her parents farm.
Those pious Lithuanian women had, on many occasions, suggested to Yaakov that he should convert to Christianity. They said that the Jews were being killed now, because they had killed Jesus. Yaakov passionately refused their suggestion and explained to them, that because of traitors like Jesus, the Jews suffered guiltlessly. From then on, they ceased trying to persuade Yaakov to convert.
A Jewish girl from Kelmė, Moynka Milner, escaped from a Jewish farm camp before the Jews were brought to Kelmė. In March, 1942, Yaakov met her at night, while she was wandering the roads. It was very cold. Yaakov was with his friend, Herska Chaluzin; they were both armed. In the dark, they recognized a figure ahead of them. They ordered her to halt and raise her hands. When they came closer, they saw that she was the Milner girl. The two men brought her to a peasant, by the name of Mykolas Nutautas, from the village of Sirvidukai, eight kilometers from Kelmė. The peasant was a good man, but very poor. Moynka was to stay there for a few days, until another place was found for her. Moynka didn't wait there, but instead continued on her way. She entered the farm of Kazimieras Rakauskas, in the village of Ganyprova, in the Kražiai area. A neighbor, by the name of Zakaras, noticed Moynka Milner, and told the police in Kražiai about her. Moynka was very sick with a cold and exhausted. She fell into a deep sleep. The next day, the police surrounded the house and arrested her. She was led to the prison in Raseiniai. After she was held there for some time, she was shot to death. Exact details about her execution are not known to Yaakov.
Mina Liebovitz escaped from the Zunda Luntz farm, just before the second mass slaughter. She hid out at the farm of the Lithuanian, Damanskis, in the village of Beržiniškė, eight or nine kilometers from Kelmė. She gave her valuables to this farmer. She hid out at his place for seven days, but then he turned her over to the police in Kelmė. She was arrested in the peasant's house, and the police took her out to a field and, by various sadistic means, beat her to death. She was buried in that field, but that farmer, Damanskis, dug up her body and buried her on his neighbor's farm.
This same farmer hid the Jewish farmer, Israel Nachumovitz. When the police raided the house, Nachumovitz fled. The police fired at him, but he escaped. Later, he got to the Šiauliai ghetto and perished there. Exact details about the death of Israel Nachumovitz are not known to Yaakov.
A number of women escaped from the Licinava farm camp. Among them were the aged Batya Broide; Devorah Measnik, with her daughter Frieda; Liba Karabelnik, and some others. They, also, fled to Damanskis, who again promised to keep guard on their possessions. On the same day that Mina Liebovitz was killed, the collaborators surrounded the woods in which these women were hiding and caught them. They kept them in prison for some time, until, in exchange for a great deal of money and valuables given to the Lithuanian activists, they were set free and liberated.
Emanuel Rosenfeld, his brother Moshe, his two aunts, Anna Zilberg and Tiba Shapira, also stayed at the Jonas Saliamonas farm. He was wealthy, and his farm was in the village of Graužai three kilometers from Kelmė. These Jews hid there for about three weeks. He promised to watch their possessions. Jonas Saliamonas wanted their possessions and notified the police in Kelmė about the Jews. They were found by the police in the attic of the grain storage granary and murdered at a place near the farm where they are buried.
This account was told to Yaakov by Vladas Urbelis, a farmer from the village of Pakarčemis.
A young man, by the name of Katz, a survivor of the massacre of the town of Kražiai, hid out for one night at the house of the farmer Pranas Kasparas, who lived one and a half kilometers from Vaiguva. The boy wanted somehow to get some food. Pranas Kasparas was a collaborator and shot Katz to death on his farm. This account was told to Yaakov by Petrauskas from the next village.
The Jewish farm owner from right next to Kelmė, Zunda Lunz, was at the Laukoduma farm of Moshe Gelman. When the Jews were taken from that farm to the second massacre, Zunda, along with Moshe Gelman, his two sons, and daughter, Sara, all escaped. Sara went to the Šiauliai ghetto and was killed there. The others hid out for some time after the second massacre at the home of the blacksmith, Meškauskas, at the village of Gaštynai, six kilometers from Kelmė. The Lithuanian activist learned about the Jews and found tiem at the Meškauskas farm. It is said that the captive Jews were brought to Kelmė and were shot to death at the common grave at the gravel pits. Yaakov was told this by the blacksmith, Meškauskas, himself, and by farmers, who lived in that area. Yaakov maintains that the blacksmith didn't turn in the Jews. It is suspected that neighbors, who knew about the Jewish hideouts, told the police in Kelmė about them.
Yaakov Roams with the Chaluzin Brothers
After he escaped from the gravel pit massacre, Yaakov laid low in the nearby forest until Sunday evening, August 24th. He had no food or water. Yaakov was known to the Lithuanians in the area, so he took great precautions.
He came to the farmer, Pranas Balsys from the village of Aukštmiškis. He stayed there about two weeks. The farmer told him that the Kelmė police were searching for him in the area. Yaakov got hold of a rifle with bullets and a pistol. He went to another farmer by the name of Vladas Urbelis, in the village of Pakarčemis. He was a good friend of Yaakov and was well received there. Vladas Urbelis would frequently go to Kelmė, and found out there that Yaakov was being searched for very intensely. Yaakov then went to another farmer, whose name was Antanas Kazlauskas, a friend of Yaakov's father, who lived in the village of Ustronė (also called as Navastronė). Here, he was also received well. Here, he found valuables that his parents had left for safekeeping before their deaths. Some of these valuables, he took with him, and the rest he gave to Antanas Kazlauskas, as a gift for helping him. From another farmer, Yaakov found out that Shmuel Chaluzin, along with his brothers and father, were hiding close by. Yaakov Chaluzin was, for three years, the owner of the Licinava farm. It was on his farm, that a prison camp for Kelmė's Jews was created. When the Jews were taken from their farm to be slaughtered, Yaakov managed to escape with his wife, three sons, and two daughters. About two months after the murder of Kelmė's Jews, Shmuel Chaluzin and Yaakov Zak met each other. Their joy was tremendous. That same night, the two men went to visit Shmuel's cousins, Eta and Batya Karabelnik. A few weeks later, the two sisters converted to Christianity. They were freed at the liberation, but stayed in the convent even after the liberation.
The Chaluzin's parents hid out with the lady farmer, Kasparienė, in the village of Beržiniškė. It was not possible for all of them to stay together, so Yaakov left. The Chaluzin brothers and sisters split up into small groups. Sima Chaluzin was a good seamstress. Antanas Kazlauskas, the farmer, took her on as a seamstress. She worked in secret. The parents of the Chaluzin family found a place to hide out with the farmer, Povilas Valčiukas, in the village of Obškalnis. They stayed there for more than a year. Povilas Valčiukas was a very poor man, and he had seven members of his own family. Yaakov and the Chaluzin brothers had no steady place of refuge. They split up into two groups, and they met often with each other. Yaakov roamed with one of the three Chaluzin brothers, usually with Hirsh Chaluzin. One day here, one night there, the four young men roamed among the enemy's villages. They experienced the hard winter of 1941-42. Each one was armed. Often, they had to steal food supplies, in order to bring it to Povilas Valčiukas, who kept the Chaluzin parents.
The police found out about many of the actions of Yaakov and the Chaluzin brothers. A large, ongoing manhunt was set up to find them. They were forced to leave the area for a while. The four young Jews managed to struggle for their lives, while all around them, there was the danger that they would be trapped by the Lithuanian activists or turned in by farmers.
The tragic Death of Hirsh Chaluzin and his Parents
One kilometer from the Povilas Valčiukas farm, where the Chaluzin parents were hidden, there is a large farm by the name of Pakėvukai. The owner, Juozas Jonas Macijauskas, of Polish descent, hid the girl, Hanna Pletz from Telšiai, on his farm. She later became the wife of Yaakov Zak. Hanna knew Lithuanian and Russian well and worked as the farmer's children's day nurse.
A Russian prisoner of war told Yaakov Zak and Hirsh Chaluzin about Hanna. The two met with her, and she joined the group of survivors. This was Shabbat, March 13th, 1943. On that day, the two men visited the Chaluzin parents. On Monday, March 15th, all the Chaluzin brothers met, talked between themselves, and again separated. Yitzak and Shmuel went to be with their sisters. Yaakov and Hirsh went to be with the elder Chaluzins.
On the morning of Tuesday, March 16th, Povilas Valčiukas and his wife went to Kelmė to pay their rekvaezitzia. (Translators note - tax on hay). In the evening, they returned. Yaakov went out to feed the cows, and then noticed armed civilians going into the house. Hirsh immediately came to Yaakov and told him that the two civilians glanced at him suspiciously. At the same time, the two civilians asked the farmer's wife about Hirshel. She told them that he was a relative. They asked why her husband hadn't, as yet, brought in the tax on the hay crop. They took her outside and asked her to show them the cows. But they didn't go to the barn, but took her to Kelmė. Valčiukas was arrested. Neighbors, who returned from Kelmė, told about his arrest. Yaakov immediately told the Chaluzin family to disperse, since the place was no longer safe for them. Hirshel and his parents refused, and said that Yaakov was creating a false panic, and that, anyway, they had no place to go. They tried to convince themselves that, most likely, the Valčiukas had been arrested because they were late in paying their hay tax, and that they would be freed. Yaakov tried to convince them otherwise and pleaded with them to leave, but to no avail. He claimed that the fact that the farmer and his wife hadn't returned was a bad sign.
Yaakov and Hirsh loaded hay on the wagon and prepared everything in order that the farmer's wife could drive to Kelmė in the morning to pay the rekvaezitzia tax. About one o'clock in the morning, Hirshel fell asleep. Yaakov didn't succeed in falling asleep. He was too worried about the arrest of their farmer friends and the danger to the Chaluzin parents. At about five in the morning, Yaakov again suggested to his friend and his parents that they temporarily leave the farm, until the situation was cleared up. They refused, complaining that they had no place to run to for shelter. Very sadly, Yaakov left them and fixed a meeting place with Hirshel. The farmer's wife drove to Kelmė with the hay. Hirsh was very tired and lay down on the couch near the heated stove, and fell into a deep sleep.
On Wednesday, March 17th, at 8:30 in the morning, a car drove into the village, with Lithuanian police and Germans from Raseiniai. They surrounded the entire area. Two men came into the Povilas Valčiukas house and asked the children where their parents were. They spotted Hirsh sleeping near the stove. He awoke and saw two drawn pistols opposite him. The police took him outside, with his hands raised in the air. They took him around the side of the house. Hirsh understood that they were about to shoot him, so he speedily drew his pistol. A hail of bullets from automatic weapons pierced his body. He opened fire and wounded one of the Lithuanians. The policemen ran from him. Hirsh returned the fire for a long time. Additional bullets hit him, but he continued to return the fire.
The villainous Lithuanians were full of rage from the unexpected battle with Hirshel. They entered the house and, with loaded weapons and blows, they forced the children to tell what they knew about the Chaluzin parents' hideaway. The parents were arrested and taken to jail in Raseiniai. There they were murdered.
From close nearby, Yaakov witnessed the battle at the farmhouse. He heard shots and knew, right away, what a tragedy had taken place. That same night, he met with the two brothers and two sisters of Hirshel. Grief and mourning were their portion on that night. Yaakov had lost a good friend, Hirsh, who was his support in his difficult fight to survive.
The farmer, Povilas Valčiukas, and his wife escaped from the police and hid for nineteen months in the forests, until the coming of the Russian army. All of their property was confiscated. This couple was one of the very few, about whose kind hearts, no description could be enough.
This event was spoken about, with great fear, in the area. Farmers, who hid Jews, were now afraid to continue hiding them. The hunt that the police and collaborators had activated against Jews in hiding became more intense. Yitzak Chaluzin, his sisters who were at the Petrauskas farm, Yaakov Zak, and Shmuel Chaluzin, all vacated the area and turned up in the Užventis area at the village of Jungyre.
Yaakov and his friend, Shmuel, were well armed. They roamed the whole countryside, determined to do battle with the laws and plans that were being invented against the Jews in hiding. Their rifles by their sides, the two men marched into an unknown future. The enemy was at every corner, at houses of gentiles, in the villages and behind every bush and tree. Every parcel of earth would arouse suspicion in them. They were doing battle with the cold and snow of the winter, the rains and winds of summer.
Hirshka and his parents were no longer alive. Yaakov surely missed him very much. Hirshka's brother, Shmuel, now became Yaakov's brother in arms, his partner in his struggle to survive. The Lithuanians in the area knew about the two Jews and were in fear of them. All the Lithuanian farmers were afraid to give them refuge, so they turned to the priest, Polikarpas Macijauskas (brother of mentioned above farmer Juozas Jonas Macijauskas), where they met Batya Broide from Kelmė.
If Yaakov had stayed with Shmuel and the others, it would have made it difficult to find a place for them to find refuge. It would, also, have increased their chances of being discovered. Yaakov spent three months in the area of the town of Vaiguva; one day here, one day there. He met with the Chaluzin brothers many times.
At the same time, the Lithuanian farmers got permission to employ Russian prisoners of war on their farms. A good number of them later escaped from the villages into the forests. Many of them, also, fled the prison camp and wandered in the villages and woods. Yaakov met them and became friendly with them. During the winter of 1943-44, Jews from the Kovno ghetto appeared in the region. Yaakov met up with Dr. Dolnitzki, his wife, mother, his wife's sister, and the sister's husband, Kapelyosnik. This group was hidden by the farmer Šalkauskas. In a second group of refugees from the Kovno ghetto were Michael Gutman, his wife, brother-in-law, and a teacher from the town of Šakiai. They were hidden by the Lithuanian, Pranas Šadys.
Yitzak Chaluzin and Yaakov Zak worried about finding hiding places with gentiles for refugees from the Kovno ghetto. That was late in the fall of 1943. At that time the Jews of the Kovno ghetto were beginning to be sent to concentration camps. The Lithuanians were starting to doubt the future of the Axis cause and could foresees the fall of German fascism. Gutman's wife hid out with a Lithuanian, who in the autumn of 1941, was the main murderer of the Jews of Lioliai. When the Red Army came to Lithuania, Yaakov had the opportunity to execute the murderer. Michael Gutman, who at that time was in Šiauliai, hid the murderer in his room and defended him, because the man had, at one time, saved his brother-in-law. Gutman's wife, as a sign of her appreciation, succeeded after great effort, in finding protected employment for him in the Verpstas factory and helped him stay out of the army.
With the Partisans of the Red Army
In the spring of 1944, it became known to Yaakov that in the locality of Kelmė there were escaped Russian prisoners, who grouped together to carry out partisan actions. The commander of the unit was a first lieutenant from the Red Army who escaped from a prison camp. His name was Victor. A new era opened up to the Jews, who roamed around and struggled for their lives, a time of hope for survival, to be liberated, and to seek revenge upon the murderers of the Jews.
At the farm of the Polish farmer, Landsbergis, in the village of Butkiškė, five Jewish women were hidden; the wife of Gutman and her sister, the two Chaluzin sisters, and Yaakov's sister. Shmuel Chaluzin frequently stayed in the locality of the farm and watched out for the safety of the women. The farm owner was a good man and did much for these women and for the partisans. The partisans would prepare their dynamite, for actions against the Germans, at his farm.
Yaakov's familiarity with the local farmers, and his knowledge of the area, greatly helped the Red Army partisans, who now started to befriend him. On occasion, Yaakov would participate in actions against collaborators. With fury, Yaakov fired bullets from his own gun at the heads of the murderers who slaughtered his people, the Jews of Kelmė. Yaakov was thought of as trustworthy in the eyes of the Red Army partisans, and was a steady partner in their interrogation unit. From his Lithuanian friends, he would receive information about everything that the partisans wanted to know. His actually living in the forest with the partisans, gave Yaakov an opportunity to calm his high-strung nerves, which were understandably tense as a result of what he had experienced.
At the end of 1944, the Red Army began to advance rapidly across Lithuania. The Lithuanians began to flatter and smile at Yaakov and the other Jews, who were still in hiding. They wanted to inherit the next world.
Just then, in those hopeful days, Yaakov remembered Hana Pletz, the girl from Telšiai, whom he had met. Once, at noontime, he came on his horse to visit her in Užkalniai, in the region of Kražiai. She stayed with a Polish gentile called Stradumskis. On the way there, he heard that the Red Army had captured Kražiai. Peasants from the villages ran away from the battlefront, and there began a rout of those persons who had murdered Jews. They fled like poisoned rats.
At the farm of the Pole, Ulinskas, from the village of Gorainiai, Yaakov met a familiar hidden Jew, by the name of Fruman, who, together with his wife, children, and mother-in-law, escaped from the Šiauliai ghetto. Together with Fruman, Yaakov decided to take the farmers wagon with his own horse and drive to Kražiai. When they got near the town, they saw well-armed German troops in the town. They immediately turned around and stayed at the village of Pakėvukai, at the house of the gentile, Girkantas, who lived at the edge of town. They heard bursts of gunfire the whole evening long. Artillery thundered in the forest. The next day, the village was in the zone of the Red Army. Great joy overtook Yaakov. He looked upon each soldier from the Red Army with love and wanted to kiss all of them, because they had brought the greatly wished for Liberation.
The Germans Counterattack
The two Jews hid their guns. With joy and pride, they told the Red Army soldiers that they were among the very few Jews that survived the German and Lithuanian fascism. Their joy, though, was diluted by sadness and heavy mourning for their families and friends, who were annihilated. The soldiers related to them in a friendly manner. When the soldiers went to dig trenches, one young soldier remained with Yaakov and Shmuel. He spoke to them in Yiddish. He warned them not to present themselves as Jews. It would be healthier for you to present yourselves as Lithuanians, the Jewish soldier claimed. Like a storm on a clear day, or a sudden solar eclipse, these words of the Russian Jewish soldier came as a surprise. Yaakov and Shmuel stared at each other in amazement and sorrow. The meaning of those words entered their consciousness. A heavy cloud had, as it were, covered the sky which was, only a short time ago, clear and blue from celebration and liberation. Now, they realized, that their liberators hated Jews, also.
Only a short time had passed, when Yaakov was arrested as a German spy. Two captains questioned him, but they related to him in a friendly way, and even felt sympathy for him and his trials and tribulations, and struggle for survival. Yaakov, somehow, got hold of some vodka, and the three of them enjoyed themselves in camaraderie. These good times lasted until late into the night. Suddenly, a German tank column broke through the lines. The Red Army retreated in a hurry from the area which was painted red from the color of the burning villages. That next morning, Yaakov found himself again in German territory.
The furious battles lasted a whole day. Yaakov was on the battlefront. He thought that his hopes for freedom were fading away, and that he would be killed in the battles that raged around him. Luck was with him, and in the morning, the Red Army appeared again, this time to stay.
It became known to Yaakov that all the Red partisans were gathering in Šiauliai, so he went to join them. On the way to Šiauliai, he was arrested by Red Army soldiers, and was suspected of being a German spy. After a continuous interrogation, he was brought to a NKBD unit. There, he endured a three day imprisonment, along with other Russians and Lithuanians. From there, they were brought to Šiauliai. There, a Russian partisan identified him, and he was set free. In the area of Šiauliai, the Germans abandoned a furious counterattack. Yaakov and others, policemen and partisans, retreated to the town of Radviliškis, and afterwards, to Panevežys. There, he again met with his friends, the Chaluzin brothers and other Jews, who hid out in the area of Kelmė.
After the liberation of Kelmė, Yaakov and the Chaluzin brothers came back to their town. It was burnt and completely ruined. The young survivors organized the Red militia. The hour had come to reap the revenge on the murderers of the Jews of Kelmė.
The secretary of the Communist Party of Kelmė, Povilas Armanavičius, was a dedicated communist, but that did not stop him from being a fanatic anti-Semite. He made an effort to throw the three Jews out of the militia. He did not want them to take revenge on his own people. He sent the three Jews to Vilnius, with draft notices. In their places, he put young, healthy, vigorous Lithuanians. But, the three didn't go to Vilnius. They settled in Šiauliai. Shmuel Chaluzin became a prison guard in the Šiauliai prison. His brother, Yitzak, found work in the Verpstas factory. Yaakov was made the militia commander in Vaiguva, where he organized and commanded the militia.
In that job, Yaakov breathed easily. He took revenge vigorously on Lithuanians, who took part in the destruction of the Jews of Kelmė. There wasn't just one despicable Lithuanian who paid with his contemptible life for the spilling of innocent Jewish blood. Stasys Gedrimas, the well known killer of Jews, was found by Yaakov in a farmer's house while the man was playing with a child. Yakov beat him and brought him to his militia. The murderer participated in the annihilation of the Jews of Užventis and Šiauliai. Stasys Gedrimas would not admit this. While bringing him to Šiauliai on the Vaiguva road, he was eliminated from this world. When this became known to the security forces in Šiauliai, Yaakov was jailed for a few days. After this event, Yaakov began to work in the Interior Security Forces of the Militia, where Yitzak Chaluzin also worked. Both of them helped in the clearing of the region of Šaukėnai from the Lithuanians, who had murdered Jews and who the army had not caught.
After that, both of them were appointed to the security forces in Kelmė and Šiauliai. Shmuel Chaluzin also worked with them. These three men, to whom the area was so familiar, greatly increased the ability of the security forces in catching the Lithuanian killers of the Jews of that area. The three took revenge, with all of their might, for the massacre of the Jewish people. They caused themselves to be feared among all the guilty Lithuanians. The Lithuanians, therefore, looked for ways to somehow rid themselves of Yaakov and the two Chaluzin brothers. Trustworthy people in the locality gave this information to Yaakov, and after they had taken revenge on some of the murderers, they moved out of the region.
The following Jews were left alive in Kelmė: Yaakov Zak; the brothers Yitzak and Shmuel Chaluzin; the Chaluzin sisters, Sima and Liba; Batya Broide; Haya Rose; Frumke Miasnik; Malka Karabelnik and her mother, Tzipa (they were refugees from Tauragė); Rifka and her brother Mendelovitz; Eta and Batya Karabelnik (these two sisters converted to Christianity and stayed in a convent in the town of Krakus); and Chanan Levin. Besides these people, there survived a number of Jews, who had fled at the beginning of the war to the Soviet Union.
All the information about the slaughter of the Jews of Kelmė, Vaiguva, and Lioliai, plus about the death of the Jews from the Jewish farm prison camps near Kelmė, I, Yaakov Zak, gave over verbally and exactly to the engineer, Leib Konewchovski, when I was in Lodz, in the summer of 1946.
All the facts, dates, names of people and geographical places mentioned in the updated testimony of Minchberg by Kasel camp, I attest to by my signature on each separate page.
This up to date testimony was taken in dictation by the engineer, Konewchovski, Kasel Lager, Minchberg, November 9, 1948.
The seal of the Jewish committee of Michberg, Kasel, November 10, 1948.
Translated from Yiddish to Hebrew by Bat-Sheva Levitan-Karabelnik
Edited by Henrikas Papievis
This evidence was given by Chaya Rose, who was born in Kelmė on the tenth of June 1885. She lived her whole life in Kelmė. she had a grammar school education and worked as a seamstress. Her parents' names were: father - Moshe Hillel; mother - Chava Vegodski.
The Lithuanian Peoples' Attitude toward their Jewish Neighbors
The Lithuanians' attitude towards their Jewish neighbors was always bad. Very often Jews were beaten on market day. The blood libel from the Middle Ages declaring that Jews, on Passover, used the blood of a Christian child to make matzos, had great success among the Lithuanians. Lithuanian students would beat elderly Jews coming home from the synagogue or Bet Medrash. A poisoned propaganda campaign was pushed by the Verslas movement with great success. They ordered the Lithuanians to buy what they needed from Lithuanians only.
After the Nazis had conquered the area of Memel (Klaipėda) they translators note - the members of Verslas) spread anti-Semitism in the locality of Kelmė.
After the Red Army came in 1940, the attitude of the Lithuanians towards the Jews was, as it were, correct, but in their hearts their hate for the Jews actually increased. The large Jewish factories were nationalized, the Jewish farms were declared property of the government. In spite of the difficult conditions, the Yeshiva and the Talmud Torah continued to exist.
The Second World War
On Sunday, the 26th of June, 1941, in the morning, it became known to the Jews of Kelmė that war had broken out between the Soviet Union and Hitler's Germany. Early in the morning of that day, the first Jewish refugees from Tauragė came to Kelmė and caused panic in the midst of the Jews of Kelmė. On that Sunday, and even more on Monday, the Jews of Kelmė left their houses. In wagons, bicycles, and on foot, this wave of Jews filled the roadways. A smaller number stayed behind for a few days. Some families got all the way to Russia and remained alive. Most Jews fled from Kelmė and settled on the Jewish farms in the region; some found refuge with Lithuanian farmers.
The German army marched rapidly forward. The town found itself on the battlefront. The center of Kelmė was completely burnt and transformed into an island of ruins. At the edge of town, seven Jewish houses remained standing. They were
(1) the house of Chaya Rose,
(2) the house of Israel Podlas,
(3) the house of Beniash,
(4) the granary or granary of Zunda Luntz,
(5) the houses of the Odvin,
(6) the Rozin families, and
(7) of Pesia Goldstien.
Right after the start of the war, there appeared in the towns and on the roads, armed Lithuanian partisans . They fired on the retreating Russian soldiers and interfered with the Jews who were trying to escape.
On the roads and in the towns they gleefully greeted the German army with German and Lithuanian flags. The Lithuanian farmers started to chase the Jewish refugees back into town which the Germans captured on the 25th of June, 1941.
These Jews, who were forced to return to their destroyed houses were full of despair and dread. There was no shelter for them, because the town was in ruins; burning ashes. They crowded into the house of Israel Podlas to sleep. The partisans from the town arrested the returning Jews. The men who were fourteen years old and older were taken to the granary (granary) of Zunda Luntz. But before that, all of their valuables were stolen from them. Around the granary, a heavy guard was placed, made up of armed Lithuanians. The younger children and the women were allowed to settle on the Jewish farms in the area.
The civilian Authority in Kelmė
The Civilian Authority was formed at the end of the first week of the war. They declared:
that the new mayor of Kelmė was to be the Lithuanian Juozas Čėsna;
that the new head of the local authority was to be the Lithuanian from Kelmė, Lopata, and
that the head of the partisans was to be Captain Kurkauskas.
A tragic part was played in connection with the Jews of Kelmė by Kazys Riškus. After the establishment of the local Civilian Authority, the Lithuanians immediately put their hands on the Jews who settled on the farms in the local area. They made lists. In the camp that they created in the Zunda Luntz granary, the Jews were made to wear the yellow star.
The first Victims
During the battle around Kelmė the synagogue and Bet Midrash started to burn. The girl Masha Milner saved a Torah scroll together with her uncle Berel Milner. They ran from the burning building, but both were hit with bullets and killed. Masha fell with the Torah scroll in her arms.
At the village of Kebutzeye, five kilometers from Kelmė, Motel Por, his wife Gita, and her son, Heska, with his bride Miriam Miller, were murdered by Lithuanians even before the Germans came into the vicinity. (Miriam Miller was the daughter of Shayah Ploshkeres. The victims were residents of Tauragė. Moshe Beniash didn't flee from Kelmė. Just after the Germans invaded, he was murdered in the Jewish Cemetery.
The Camp next to Kelmė
The Jewish men who were forced to stay in granary of Zunda Luntz were always under heavy police guards. The yard was used as a kitchen in which the men were permitted to prepare light meals. The men would be taken each morning to various jobs, such as clearing the town's ruins, burying dead horses in the earth, repairing telephone lines, and the various jobs that the town authority wanted done. At work, there were armed guards who would beat the Jews and torture them in various ways. After work, they abused the Jews by making them perform acrobatics and types of sports for hours at a time.
At the end of the second week after the start of the war, the young boy, Benjamin Oril, fell from the second floor of the granary. The next morning he couldn't go to work, because his ankle was sprained. He stayed back from work. The guards noticed him. They forced some other Jewish men to dig a pit; they forced Benjamin to crawl to the pit, where they shot him. They ordered the other men to bury him, while he was still alive. After a few days, permission was given to dig him up and rebury him in the Jewish cemetery. When they opened the grave, they found him face down, a clear sign that he was alive when buried and struggling to dig himself out.
The women and the children and a small number of men settled on Jewish farms in the vicinity of Kelmė.
Name of farm owner Village Distance from the farm of Abraham Kelmė Myerovitz Vaidžiai 10 km Berman Katiliauškiškė 7 km Koshlovski Paduolė 7-4 km Moshe Leib Mendelovitz Blekarnė 2 km Moshe Galman Laukoduma 4 km Shimon Osher Kuršukai 3 km Yaakov Chaluzin Licinava 7-8 km
The owner of the farms were permitted, with their families, to stay on their farms and manage them, working in various jobs. A young fellow, named Criden, who was at the Koshlovski farm, left to visit another farm. The Lithuanian partisans caught and shot him. On the same farm, there was a woman from Kelmė, Mina Leibovitz, with her two infants. She went to another farm, was caught by the partisans and killed.
The Jews on the farms stayed in the granarys, barns, and storage buildings. They all tried to work harder. The Jews on the farms worked to prepare food for the winter. There were no guards. They were free to move about the farm, but were forbidden to leave the farm.
The first Massacre of the Jews of Kelmė
The Jewish men in Kelmė and the women and children on the Jewish farms had no idea of the terrible plans that were in store for them. The Jews still hoped that, with time, the Lithuanian murderers would calm down and it would become easier to live and work until the end of the war.
Chayah Rose and her two grown daughters, Hinda and Hinya, stayed on the Laukoduma farm. The father, Mendel Rose, and his son, Chanan, were at the Kelmė camp, in the granary of Zunda Luntz. Chayah received permission, several times, to visit her husband and son in Kelmė. Their eldest son, Hirsh, fled in the first days of the war, to Šiauliai and was later in the Šiauliai ghetto. Chayah continually hoped that she would one day be reunited with her husband and children. But, because of events, fate held out a different future for them. Five days into the month of Av, 1941, the first mass slaughter took place.
On the Laukoduma farm, where Chayah and her daughters were forced to stay, there appeared on Monday, partisans, and they ordered everyone to prepare to go to the Kelmė estate. (Translated from the Yiddish Hoif to the Hebrew Achuzah - in English, yard or estate. They promised that all the Jews staying on the farms, would be gathered in Kelmė and a camp would be built for them there.
Every woman and child was examined separately by the partisans. Outer clothes and valuables were taken from them, placed on wagons and taken to a monastery in Kelmė.
At about four in the afternoon, on that same Monday, the partisans brought the Jews by foot from the Laukoduma farm to the estate in Kelmė. In front, marched the women and the children, the few men following behind. They were all led to the Kelmė estate of the Poritz Gruževskis, and put into a large granary. On that day, all the Jews from the farms were brought to the same estate in Kelmė. The farm owners were given permission to stay with their families on their farms, in the meanwhile, in order to supervise and work on their farms.
The Jews who were brought to the estate had no idea of what awaited them and complained bitterly that they had become playthings in the hands of the Lithuanian criminals.
On that Monday, the fourth day of the month of Av, the partisans began to put the Jews, who were in the granary, into two groups. One group was turned to the right, the other to the left. Chayah Rose was separated from her daughters. One of them shouted to her mother to remind her to bring food to her father and brother, who were in the camp. Chayah, with tears in her eyes, bid farewell to her two daughters.
Part of the women and children were returned to the Jewish farms by the partisans on the wagons that brought them to Kelmė. Chayah and a group of women and children were returned to the farm at Laukoduma. Approximately 1200 men, women, and children remained to sleep at the Kelmė estate. On Tuesday, when the Jews at Laukoduma worked in the fields, they heard screams from the direction of the Kelmė estate. Chayah Rose said that they were the screams of the Jews who remained at the Kelmė estate.
On that same day, before evening, a Kelmer Jew, the farmer Hirsh Shavlovitz, came running to the Laukoduma farm with the terrible news. He said that, on that very day, the Lithuanian partisans had shot and killed all the Jews who had been brought to the granary at the Kelmė estate, and almost all the men in the men's camp at the granary of Zunda Luntz. There remained alive, 36 men in the camp. Hirshel Shavlovitz was able to move more freely, because he helped the Germans in the purchasing of cattle in the villages.
On that tragic day, the fifth of Av, Chayah lost, forever, her two daughters, who stayed at the granary at Kelmė, her husband, Mendel, and their son, Chanan. Jews were brought in groups to the gravel pits, not far from the estate. Before they were shot, the Jews were forced by the partisans to strip their outer clothes, and then they were shot.
Among the Lithuanian partisans, who led the Jews of the Laukoduma farm to the estate in Kelmė prior to their executions were:
Leonas Kaffemanas, student in the Lithuanian Gymnasia of Kelmė,
Marcinkus, from Kelmė,
Feliksas Jokubaitis, from Kelmė,
Juozas Jokubauskas, Gymnasia student from Kelmė,
Penikas, from Kelmė,
J. Kugelis, from Kelmė, and
Adomas Jurgelis, from Kelmė.
After the Jews were brought to the Kelmė estate, a heavy guard was put on them by the partisans. The guards were:
Pranas Pipinas, a plumber from Kelmė,
Berešna, a carpenter from Kelmė, and
Petras Špukas, from Kelmė.
There were tens of others whose services Chayah cannot remember. At the small village of Lioliai, not far from Kelmė, lived five Jewish families, who were farmers. After the arrival of the Germans, the men of these families were brought to the camp at the granary of Zunda Luntz. The women and children were brought to the village of Blekarnė and to the farm of the Jewish farmer, Yecheskal Rol. They were killed at the time of the first and second massacres, together with the Jews of Kelmė.
The second Massacre of the Jews of Kelmė
After that bloody day, the fifth of Av, the remaining Jews were overcome with feelings of desperation and apathy, and a lack of hope took hold of them. The Jews, who were left living on the Jewish farms, tore their clothing, sat in mourning, and cried for their dear and near ones, who had, in the cruelest way, been torn from them forever. Day after day of mourning followed without meaning to them. The remaining Jews continued to work in the fields, as if they were robots, without any will left in them. They watched the children and helped in the fields, After a short while, rumors spread that a camp was being prepared, where all the remaining Jews would be concentrated.
On the 28th of Av, on Friday afternoon, partisans arrived at the Laukoduma farm; they loaded all of the Jews on wagons. All the women, children, and the remaining men were driven to the Kelmė estate.
At the same time, all the remaining Jews, from all of the Jewish farms, were brought in wagons to the Kelmė estate. Included, were the 36 Jewish men from the Zunda Luntz granary. Until nightfall, all the Jews, who had been brought to the Kelmė estate, had been shot to death and thrown into the gravel pits, not far from the estates. This time, the owners of the Jewish farms and their families were executed along with all of the other Jews. The Jewish farms and their animals were left to the Lithuanians.
More exact details about the terrible deeds, that were carried out by the Lithuanians at the time of the killing, are not known to Chayah. Farmers from the area of Kelmė would relate that the murderers would throw the Jewish children into the pits while they were still alive. A great many of the Jews were buried while they were only wounded, but not dead. Villagers, also, told that one young girl was only slightly wounded when she was thrown into the common grave and buried alive in the great common grave. Time after time, she pushed her head out of the earth, until she died. Those who, with their own hands shot thousands of Jews, bragged and boasted about it to their friends and neighbors.
Kelmė, which was world famous for its yeshivas, yeshiva students, and great Torah scholars, this place, where by day and by night the spirit of Judaism was forged, was now left, after the massacres, Judenrein (without Jews - translator's note). Gone forever was the mystical sound of the yeshiva bocherim (students), their rabbis and teachers singing prayers. The town was burnt to the ground, and the Jewish shtetl of Kelmė was destroyed for all time.
Lithuanian peasants related, also, how, when the yeshiva students were brought to the place of slaughter, they didn't cry. They moved quietly, like stone statues, their eyes gazed heavenward, and they prayed their prayers silently.
Other Jewish Victims
The two Berman brothers went from the village of Gord, which was 12 kilometers from Kelmė to visit the Jewish farmer, Yosef Glaz, on a farm that was called Raeb, 10 kilometers from Kelmė. When they approached the farm, it became known to them that all the Jews had been taken away from there. They began to flee, together with the two sons of Yosef Yitzhak Velver Glaz. The partisans chased after them and shot all four dead. It is not known where they are buried. This happened on Monday, the fourth of Av.
During the time of the second massacre, when all the Jews where being taken from the Laukoduma farm, the farm's owner, Moshe Galman, together with his two sons and his daughter, Sarah, fled from the farm. A few weeks after the second massacre, Moshe Galman and his sons were caught wandering in a field by the partisans. They shot and killed the Galman family. No other details about that incident are known and neither is their burial place known to anyone.
The Galman daughter continued to roam alone in the countryside. A Lithuanian farmer brought her to the Šiauliai ghetto. It was agreed that she and a boy from that ghetto would go out every day to work on farms. Sara didn't even have a chance to see or enter the ghetto gates. The Jews in the ghetto knew of her coming and immediately sent her to work in the fields. At the same time, seventy young men and women were sent to work on farms in the villages. At the end of the work day, all seventy were shot and killed. The event took place late in the fall of 1941. Among the seventy was Sara Galman.
The owner of the farm next to Kelmė, Zunda Luntz, with his wife and children, were not kept in Kelmė, but on the Galman farm. At the time that the Jews were taken from this farm to be slaughtered, he escaped. He hid out for six weeks. The partisans captured him and murdered him. No other details are known about the death of Zunda Luntz.
The owner of the Licinava, Yaakov Chaluzin, his wife, three sons, and two daughters were at their farm until the second massacre. There was a camp for Jews on their farm. On Friday, the 28th day of Av, 1941, when the Jews on his farm were taken to the estate in Kelmė, he, his wife, and five children fled and found shelter among various friendly Lithuanian farmers. The two sisters hid out separately with a farmer. Two of the boys roamed around from village to village, not having a steady place to hide. The third son, Hirshka, met up with another survivor from Kelmė, Yaakov Zak. The two never stayed in one place, but moved from one hiding place to another. They also had efficient arms with them. In 1943, in the middle of March, the partisans and the Germans surrounded the farm of Povilas Valčiukas, in the village of Opškalnis, where Yaakov Chaluzin hid with his wife. Their son, Hirshka had come there on a visit. He was exhausted and fell asleep next to the heating stove. The partisans found him sleeping there. They took him out in back of the granary. Hirshel pulled out his pistol and shot at the partisans; he wounded one of them. Hirshel fired a number of times, but the partisans riddled his body with their automatic weapons. Although wounded, he fired until his last bullet. He fired his last bullet into his own head, and lay dead in the yard. There, also, he is buried. The enraged partisans discovered the hiding place of the Chaluzin parents. They brought them to the prison in Raseiniai, where they were later killed.
This event filled the local farmers with fear, especially those who were still hiding Jews.
Even before the second massacre of the Jews, there were rumors on the farm that all the Jews from the farms would be brought to the Kelmė estate. In the second part of the day on Friday, the aged Chayah Rose became restless. She packed her small suitcase with the most necessary of her belongings and prepared to leave the farm and go wherever her legs would take her. Her friends noticed all of this and asked where she was going. She didn't want to cause panic and said that she would quickly return.
Without anyone noticing her, she left the farm and entered into a farm shed, which was nearby, along the road. She planned to stay there until the evening and then continue on. She hadn't even had a chance to rest, when a truck filled with armed partisans arrived at the farm. In a short time, they had loaded the Jewish women, children, and some of the men on wagons and set off in the direction of Kelmė.
At the same time, Chayah saw that the partisans were taking all the Jews from the Jewish farms on the road toward Kelmė. With great fear and impatience, Chayah waited in the shed until evening, when she heard shots from the direction of the gravel pits. It was clear to Chayah that all the Jews, who were brought from the Jewish farms, were being killed in Kelmė.
On that evening, Chayah felt like a sailboat without a sail, alone in a strange and cruel sea. It was difficult for her to decide what to do further, and where to go. The experiences that she went through to save her own life were frightening and horrific. Before her lay a hard and bitter battle. She knew that the whole vicinity, all the familiar gentiles, had ceased to be friendly and that she had to be careful and suspicious in order to survive.
Even though very few Jews survived the second massacre, the partisans knew about them and, in order not to leave any witnesses alive who could testify to their inhuman acts, they started to search out and kill the surviving, hidden Jews. More than a few Jews were caught and shot by the partisans.
For Chayah, at her age, it was not very easy to move from one place to another and to avoid the partisan's raids. Her non-Jewish appearance helped her, many times, to elude being caught. She went from one farmer to the other, from one acquaintance to another, in the hope that she could find rest for her weary feet. Not one of her good friends and acquaintances wanted to hide her, because of the fear of being caught themselves, and shot.
Chayah decided to get to Šiauliai. There, she hoped to meet her only son, who was still in the ghetto, because the gentiles in the villages told her about him.
After she had experienced dangers and narrow escapes from death in the villages and on the roads, and after she had gone hungry and thirsty on many a night without sleep, she approached Šiauliai. Five days before Rosh HaShana, she entered, with the help of a Jew, into the ghetto. It is difficult to describe the moment when she met her son, Hirshel, who was left now, her only living child. At this meeting, Hirshel was weak. It took him many hours to control and stop his hysterical crying at meeting his mother. Life in the ghetto began to be very hard. She went through great dangers during the actions and transfers from the ghetto. First of all, she was thought of as a stranger and the police didn't recognize her status. Secondly, her advanced age was a big disadvantage. Chayah kept watch upon herself for the sake of her only son, and lived only for him.
At the time of the splitting up of the Jews of the ghetto of Šiauliai, she was sent to the Daogel camp. There, she suffered until the liquidation of the ghetto. All the Jews from all the camps were brought here and concentrated in the ghetto. From there, they were sent to Germany. Chayah again decided not to wait and to flee from the camp. Her son escaped, with a group of youths, to the Soviet partisans in the forests. He sent his aged mother the name and address of a good friend, a farmer in a village. At the beginning of 1944, Chayah escaped by herself from the camp. She dressed as a Lithuanian farm woman and walked sixty kilometers by foot. She hid at the farm of the good Lithuanian, Juozas Bartkevičius, for close to one month. At that time, they were freed by the Red Army.
After a short time, she found out that her son, Hirshel, was alive. The two met and the joy of the mother and son was immense. Their happiness did not last very long. Hirshel was now in the Red Army. He fought for eight months. He fought bravely with all the strength of his youth and did his utmost to take revenge on the murderous Germans. Not far from Berlin, a short time before the end of the bloodstained war, he was wounded in battle and died.
The aged Chayah was now by herself and alone in Europe.
All of what is described in this evidence, which was taken from Chayah Rose, about the massacre of Jews of Kelmė was personally experienced by her and is told by her in exact detail.
All the dates, facts, names of people, and geographic location, which are mentioned in this evidence, I, myself, related and confirmed it all by my hand's signature on every separate page.
The evidence was collected and copied down by the engineer, Leib Konyochobiski on July 22, 1948, at Felding, near Munich.
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