Levin explains that at the first massacre, twelve thousand Jews were shot to death. Among them was the doctor, A. Kagenski. Dr. Kagenski was in the camp on the farm of Shimon Osher. The Lithuanian murderers purposefully left a rifle in the granary of the farm camp, and spread rumors that Doctor Kagenski was hiding arms. The rifle was, of course, found during the search. All those who were in the camp were arrested fifteen men and women. All were sentenced to be shot to death.
Former patients of the doctor and a priest tried to save him, but nothing could change the terrible decision. They were imprisoned in the basement of the Kelem Gymnasia from Shabbat until Tuesday. On Tuesday, they were shot to death with all the Jews of Kelem, near the Kelem estate.
On the last Shabbat, eight hundred Jews from the camp were brought from the camp to be washed in the Krazante River. The aim of the murderers was not the cleanliness of the Jews. When all the Jews were naked, the Lithuanians beat them at length, until no one was able to sit down. Three days later, the first massacre took place.
Chanan Levin, also relates that the Yeshiva bachurim marched to their deaths while chanting Bible portions, singing the Psalms and prayers.
I, Leib Konyochobisis, was in Kelem in 1945, during the summer. There I met Mrs. Batya Broido. She lost her husband, her two boys, and her daughter. All of them were killed in Kelem. Sheitel Paglinski and her two small boys were also murdered.
Batya Broido survived and lives alone in Kelem. She is the only Jew alive in Kelem. Not one other Jew lives there. Every day, she goes to the gravel pit and talks with all the Jews of the shtetl and with her lost family.
Pigs and cattle graze by the pit. She complained to the NKGB and requested that the site be fenced off, but no one there understands her.
Signed by Leib Konyochobiski
and copied word by word from the original. New York, March 20, 1984
Because the war front passed right through Kelem like a storm, our house was destroyed by fire. We were left without a roof over our heads. For the two nights, we slept in the bushes, near the Krazhante river. The next day, an order was given by the white-arm-bands, the Lithaunian Nationalists, collaborators with the Germans, that we were to move to the house of Nachum Odvin (the son). Together with a small group of Jews who, like us, were left without a place to live, we settled in that Odvin house, alongside of his sawmill. On that same day, the Lithuanian activists ordered the group of men, who were with us, to bury Moshe Beniash. He was one of the first victims, who were shot and killed by the German soldiers. After the burial of Moshe Beniash, my father returned back to the Odvin house from the Jewish cemetery, broken in spirit and desperate. After a few days passed, we were taken, by order of the Lithuanian Nationalists, to Mazuniai, which was the location of the farm of Shimon Osher. The place was about four kilometers from Kelem. Here, was one of the five camps set up to hold Jewish women, children, and aged persons.
One night, my father, together with another worker from the bank by the name of Rozin, left Kelem. When his return was delayed, we began to worry. We decided, the three of us, my mother, by brother, and myself, to leave Kelem and look for our father. We found him in a place called Naodvaris, in the home of the Shipira family. We slept there that evening, with other Jewish families from Kelem. In the morning, we were awakened by rounds of shots. Bewildered, we rushed to the windows and sat that, outside, a group of white arm band nationalists were in the yard and shooting in the air. They ordered the men, who were sleeping in the barn, to come out with their hands raised in the air. They stood the Jews by the side of the road, in the direction of Kelem. I stood by the window and saw a tall blonde man, wearing the white arm band on his shirtsleeve. He was a resident of Kelem, by the name of Shepukas. I saw how he led my father, with his hands raised. He stuck his rifle into my father's back. My father was wearing his best dark green suit, the one and only suit left to him after the fire. I stood by the window and looked out at my dear, beloved father, who was being led by force from us. Then a quaking overtook me, and I broke out into terrible screams. That was the moment that I saw my father for the last time in my life.
After they took away the men, we were worried and desperate about their fate. After some hours of uncertainty, Shipira's wife sent her son, Yoseph (Yeshka), to Kelem. He was a blonde blue-eyed boy. When he returned, he said that he saw the Jewish men gathered in the market square, with the sun beating down on them, surrounded by a heavy guard of white arm band nationalists. Later, he said, they were imprisoned in the granary of Zunda Luntz. This granary was at the end of Konigishik Street.
We came back to the Shimon Osher farm. The uncertainty ate at our hearts. We not started to live the life of people, who live outside the rule of the power of the law.
The farm was not guarded continuously. Even so, it had been told to us in no uncertain terms, and by threats to shoot to kill those who tried to leave, not to step off of the borders of the farm. From time to time, Lithuanian activists would arrive at the camp, on bicycles, gather us all together and rob us of our possessions. They took all of our clothing except the clothes that we had on our bodies. Therefore, when we even had a hint of these soldiers arrival, we would put on clothes upon clothes, with great haste. We even put on winter jackets if we had any. They took all of our money and our jewelry, but each time they came they would search for more things to take away with them. These activists would ridicule us and humiliate us. We especially feared one Yorgis Matulevitzious, from Tituvenai and Mikolas Yokubytis.
At the Osher farm, like at the other farms, there was a farm house and other buildings that served the needs of the farm. At the house there was, of course, not enough room for all of us, so that together with mother, we slept in the loft above the cows in the barn. Down below were the cows, and we would climb up a ladder to the loft where we slept. We would cook meals in large pots for everyone. These meals consisted mainly of vegetable and milk soups. Mother would also buy milk for us from Lithuanian neighbors in the area. We didn't starve, but there wasn't enough food for a proper diet.
The sanitary conditions were on a very low level. Our mother, who always was a very clean and orderly woman, worried about, and managed, our personal hygiene affairs. On the farm, there was a reservoir where mother would daily wash us and also wash our clothes.
One of the times that the Lithuanian activists came to the farm, they made the wife of Dr. Kagansky (she was a midwife) responsible for our camp's hygiene. They threatened to shoot her if there would be an outbreak of contagious diseases among us. They ordered that all the children should have their heads shaved. A young Lithuanian set up a chair outside and with hand shears, cut all the children's hair. Everyone had to pay for this forced head shaving.
At that time, a great tragedy happened to my father. He was imprisoned with the other Jewish men at Zunda's granary. Once, before evening when he returned to the granary together with the men's group which worked at hard labor in Kelem, they were ordered by one of the white arm band gang to unload a wagon full of hay. Father dared to answer that they had just finished a hard day's work and hadn't eaten as yet. He said that they would unload the wagon after eating. This soldier, instead of answering, kicked father in the face and badly injured his eyes. Father's eyeglasses were broken, and it could be that some glass entered his eyes, because he suffered great pain. The murderers were forced to take him to the Lithuanian doctor Zemytis.
From the time that we found out about father's wounded eye, a physical pain has entered my heart and my brother's heart for the duration of our lives. Even today, the identity of the man who kicked our father, is unknown to us. We only know that he was from Shavele. He served at one time in the Independent Lithuanian army as an officer. He took over the house of Pesia Goldstien and grabbed all the property for himself. Later, he loaded up all of Pesia Goldstien's furniture and other belongings and took them to Shavele.
After a short while, father, along with Mier Gilvitz, was imprisoned in the gate tower at the estate of Grozheviski. In this place, in feudal times, tenant farmers were imprisoned and tortured. We were very worried and confused about father's fate. Mother sat outside in the farmyard and started to pray. A group of women joined her. I, too, sat myself down, not far from them and with a feeling of great pain, watched the praying women for hours. After a few days, Mother was permitted to visit father. She had previously visited him once or twice at Zunda's granary. She always went by herself. This time, she took our little brother with her. At the time of her visit, father and Mier Gilvitz were guarded by Robertas Gedvila, from Kelem. He had a rifle with him. He took father out of the prison for a while and let mother and my brother speak with him for a short time. The broken lens of father's glasses was replaced by a rag. Later, father and Mier Gilvitz were taken to a prison in Resain.
On July 28th a large group of Lithuanian collaborators arrived at the Osher farm camp. Again they started to search and steal from the little that we had with us. Afterward, they lined us up and marched us into Kelem. They said we were going there to work. We traversed the town from south to north. We were very tired, covered in dust, and wearing the Yellow Star of David. Many of us wore winter coats. They brought us to the Kelem estate; to the great granary where there already was a small group of women and children waiting. The whole day long, Jewish women and children were brought to the place continuously, from the area of Kelem. Present there, from our good friends, were Pesia Goldstien and the Kagansky, Shaffer and Osher families. Later that night, the soldier Mikolas Yokubytis ordered Mira Goldblatt, his classmate from the gymnasia to come outside with him. There he offered to free her. She refused to go without her mother and brother. The night was full of tension, and the air was stifling. The people sighed and groaned silently from fear of impending doom which they felt in their hearts. Only Bumke di Mishugene (Buma the crazy one) made noise and ran around, waving her colored ribbons with which she used to decorate herself. The guards opened the granary's gates several times and quieted her down with angry words.
On the morning of July 29th, Lithuanian soldiers entered the granary, stood every one in rows and commanded the young woman, Hennya Shaffer, to prepare a list of all present. I remember that Hennya was dressed in a dress upon another dress and upon them wore a checkered cloak which was very small on her. She was a pretty young woman, tall and light hairdo. After the list was completed, they started to place us in groups and send us out of the granary. Mother entreated Kagansky's wife not to hurry to leave. She didn't obey mother's entreaties and left with the first group, together with her two daughters, Ruth and Tamar. Our mother continued to hesitate. She left only with the last group, and we stood in the first rank in that column.
A few day before all of this, mother had very carefully tried to prepare us for the possibility that we would be murdered. She said that we had not done wrong to anyone; that we could be killed because we were Jews only, and that it was our duty to die with honor. Slowly they began to lead us through the green grass to a dirt road. The whole group of us were surrounded by armed Lithuanians. I was almost without fear. I held tight to mother's hand and repeated Shema Yisrael. Suddenly there broke out of the group one of the daughters of the Valk family, an eleven year old girl, and she started to run to another column. One of the murderers, a student at the gymnasia, Yokuvonas, who lived in Kelem, aimed his rifle at her and commanded, Stop, you toad (a typical Lithuanian swear word - the translator), or I'll fire at you. The girl explained that she had a bottle of milk for her infant sister, and she wanted to give it to her.
The space around us was completely empty. There was no one near us. There were no other people or wagons. In the distance, we could hear the echoes of shots. Suddenly from the direction of Kelem on the road upon which we were led, there came a German vehicle, a Ford. The Germans in the vehicle ordered our group to halt. After a few minutes, a couple of women and children came back from the direction of the gravel pits. They were guarded by an armed guard. He ordered us, my mother, my brother, myself, and Mrs. Golibrotzki and her six year old son to return to the granary. In the granary, we found a small group of women and children. Then quickly, a murderer came running to the granary, Vetaotas Aleknavitzios, a student at the gymnasia. He began to brutally separate the mothers from the children. Especially the five year old girl, niece of the bank worker, Rozin. She cried and wouldn't be separated from; her mother. She held on to her mother's blouse until the murderer, Aleknavitzios, separated her from her mother by force. We, my brother and myself, also didn't want to leave our mother, but she ordered us to stay. Silently, sobbing, we separated with her. Aleknavitzios then shot our mother to death with his rifle.
At the granary there remained; the young five year old niece of Rozin, the six year old son of Golibrotzki, the six month daughter of Valk, the two sisters who lived at the marketplace and who were very dark skinned, my brother and myself, and some other children whose names I didn't know.
The open gate was guarded by a peasant, a member of the Lithuanian white armband. When we discovered that he had no intentions to do us any harm, we surrounded him on all sides; we touched him with our hands endlessly, and we asked him the whereabouts of our mothers. At first, he answered that they had been taken to work. Later, he became silent and tears flowed from his eyes. It was very clear that this was a decent man who was enlisted by mistake into the gangs of murderers. The Valk daughter lay on a pile of rags in the granary near the gates and cried. From time to time, I took her and folded her in my arms. After about two hours, one of the murderers returned to the granary with Tiebaleh Bakst. She came to me and said that she now remained orphaned, like a stone. After that, she fell silent and sat down fainthearted with her head resting on a stone near the gate of the granary. The reason that they sent her back from the gravel pits will never be known. At the granary there remained children aged fourteen and under, except for Tiebaleh, who had that year finished high school.
Suddenly, we saw a big wagon with eight soldiers on the road. In the wagon there was a small pile of clothes and at the end of the wagon there was a child's wagon tied to the big wagon. It belonged to the Imber family. The child's wagon was empty. When they approached the granary, the soldiers jumped from the wagon and came near the building. Their faces were flushed, they were armed and a little drunk. Among them I recognized active collaborators; Mikolas Yokubytis and Stephonas Mikalaoskas. I glanced at the empty child's wagon, and it immediately became clear to me that this was the end. I understood that they had killed the infant, its mother and everyone. A great feeling of deep desperation came over me and a sense of helplessness and absolute lack of hope. I took my head in my hands and let out broken screams, while I ran the length of the granary. When I banged into the far wall of the granary, I realized suddenly that I had left my little brother alone at the other side of the building; and, who knew what the murderers could do to him? So, with all of my strength, I ran back to him and the little bag of clothes that we carried, and we returned again to the other side of the granary. Here, there was a pile of straw in which I planned to hide ourselves. Just then, the murderer Yakubytis noticed us and with an angelic smile dismissed my fears, saying that now there was nothing to be afraid of; no harm will become me and nothing will be taken from me.
They took us out of the granary and led us into the great house which was on the estate. I took with me a large pillow that Pesia Goldstien had given me that evening. They locked us in a small room in the lest side of the house. On the floor there was some straw. I found a place on the floor together with my brother on the left side of the room. The other children sat on the straw along the walls. Later we were permitted to go outside for a short time. An armed guard wearing the white armband was at the door. While we were outside, a Lithuanian girl named Stefa approached me. She lived in the area of the estate. she related to me than an activist who lived next to her house, related while she overheard, how German soldiers who were in a black Ford vehicle photographed the slaying of the Jews by the hands of the Lithuanian activists. These same Germans, according to this girl's neighbor, advised the activists to spare a small group of children up to the age of fourteen. This would convince the other Jews who were still alive and also the Lithuanians who lived in Kelem that the Jews had been led away to work and that the children were left behind. The Germans warned the murderers that riots could break out in town among the Lithuanians and among the Jews who were still among the living, if the truth of the slaughter of the Jews was to be known. The girl also told me that the fate of us children was also sealed. We would not be shot, she said, but probably poisoned. After hearing all of this I returned quickly with my brother to the other children and warned them not to drink any liquids. After a while two young Jewish men who were prisoners at Zunda's granary, brought us a tank of whitish liquid. It was probably water mixed with a bit of milk, I again warned the other children to drink. Not one of them touched the liquid.
The young men who brought us the liquid were dressed in faded undershirts upon which was sewed the Yellow Star. Their faces were gloomy and very distressed. They stared at us with looks of endless compassion. They ran to us to tell us something, but weren't permitted to speak to us. At that time, Lithuanian women, most of whom were domestics in Jewish homes, began to arrive at the estate. One of the visitors was Micalena Legantyena, the first servant who worked in our house. These women confirmed the story told to us by the girl, Stefa. We had been spared the death of the other Jews because of the advice of the Germans who photographed the slaughter of the Jews. They also told us that by the gravel pit, before the murder, a young Jewish woman who worked in the bank, was charged with writing the names of all of the victims. According to these women, se was left until the end and then killed. I understood that she was Pesia Goldstien.
Later that day, these women went to the town's mayor and asked that the children be given to them. They claimed that they would baptize the children and convert them into Lithuanian Catholics. The mayor refused to grant them their wish, but promised that, at the first opportunity, he would take away the guards.
The night came, and I couldn't sleep. Suddenly, I saw that the Lithuanian doctor, Baltrushytis and a young priest came into the room. That priest was called among the people, the dark priest. The two went over to Tiebaleh Bakst and whispered with her. I heard how the priest taught her the Catholic prayers. After that, they took Tiebaleh and went out with her. From that moment on I never saw her again. There were rumors that she hid in a convent somewhere. Others told that she bleached her hair and became a servant for an S.S. officer in Kovno. There were also rumors that she joined the antifascist underground and gave information to them. In the end she was caught and hung.
The mayor of Kelem stood by his promise, and the next day the guards were taken away. People spread rumors that not far from Kelem, a group of Red Army soldiers had been discovered. Men of the white armband gang went out to pursue them. Again we heard shots. The Lithuanian women hurriedly came back, and everyone of them took one child with her. We were fourteen children. The four month old Valk infant was taken by a couple who had no children. They lived on Konigishik. A local German woman took Rozin's five year old girl. All the children were taken except for the son of Golibrotski. They refused to take this child because his father joined the Communist Party during the Soviet rule over Lithuania. No one wanted to take the two dark-skinned sisters because of their color. These three children were temporarily housed in the town orphanage. My brother and I were taken by a Lithuanian woman by the name of Michalena Legantyena. We were told at once that we would live to convert to Christianity. That was one of the conditions, according to them, for us to stay alive. There was a question in our minds about being unfaithful to the God of the Jews, but the desire to live was so powerful that we agreed. We were comforted by the fact that both in Judaism and Christianity there was the same God, the Father. We began to learn the prayers very intensively. Michalena Legantyena lived in a rented room in the house of the Orbelis family. The Orbelis family took me for themselves and my brother stayed with Michalena Legantyena. After a few days, we were baptized into Christianity by the Old priest of Kelem. He gave me a birth certificate that served as a life certificate for us. I was given the name Yonina Neole Orbeleteh. My brother was given the name Yonas Algeerdas. For a whole week we began to live a life of almost complete freedom, but then a Senyounas, appeared. He was, as it were, a town inspector and ordered us returned to the camp.
The next day two Jewish men came for us. Since the camp at the farm of Shimon Osher was emptied of its occupants, these two Jewish men took us to the camp at the farm of Moshe Galmen, three to four kilometers from Kelem. At that place we felt very lonely, since we didn't know anyone there. They quartered us in one of the rooms of the farmhouse, where we slept in a half broken bed. They warned us that if the men of the white arm band appeared and started to make lists of the people present, we should escape with our skins.
So, at the appearance of the Lithuanian collaborators, quietly and carefully, without saying a word to anyone, with our little bundle in hand, we left the place. By back roads, by way of green farm fields, we made our way to Kelem. We reached the house of the people who took us in before we were taken to the Gelman farm. We were there a week, before, suddenly, the same inspector came and ordered us to return to the farm camp in the morning. We spent a very anxious night. There was no doubt that on the next day they intended to execute the remaining Jews who were still alive after the first mass slaughter. In the morning, the four of us, my brother and I and the two Lithuanian women, left Kelem and walked in the direction of Leoliaye, eight kilometers from Kelem. In that place there lived the last servant who worked for us before the war. Her name was Yohana. We hoped that she could take care of us and take us under her protection. We couldn't find that woman and her mother wouldn't accept us, because her house was so tiny that there really was no place to hide us.
We left that village and started on our way back to Kelem. The woman who was with us, Orbelyehneh, stopped on the way and asked several times, if any of the farmers needed a shepherd. The farmers, who were returning to their villages from Kelem with their wagons, asked if we were Jews. Orbelyehneh confirmed that we were Jews. When they heard that we were Jews, they refused to take us and went on their way home. It was the same, kilometer after kilometer. We met with farmer after farmer on their wagons, and none had any use for a Jewish shepherd. When we were already close to Kelem, a woman in a hansom coach, named Sankayneh, after being convinced by her daughter who was with her, agreed to give us refuge. They brought us to a large and rich farm. After about one week, Mr. Orbelis, the man whose house we originally were taken in Kelem came to take me back again. I refused to go without my brother, but he convinced me that Legantyena would come in the morning to take my brother Yitzak with him. That was a false promise, because the woman, influenced by her German husband, refused to take my brother Yitzhak.
My brother was desperate and set out for Kelem by foot. Near the bridge, close to the Jewish cemetery, he was set upon by the Lithuanian children. They yelled at him, and he ran back to the Sankayneh farm. After a while, he actually did succeed in getting to Kelem and staying for short terms at the houses of various families. Finally he was taken in permanently at the house of the Dainaoskas family. These were simple and very poor people. They had six children of their own, and, after a while, Yitzak went hungry for lack of food. The family protected him from all evil, but the shortage of food forced Dainaoskas to return Yitzak to Sankayneh. Here he worked as a shepherd, which was a difficult job for a very young boy from town. There was also the ever present danger that he would be recognized as a Jewish boy and be turned in by one of the neighbors. My brother had no other choice and did what he was ordered to do.
All during the German occupation, I hid out at the Orbelis residence. They had a garden farm next to the house with the cows and a vegetable garden. Besides that, they earned their living from home-made spirits.
I was obliged to work hard along with the mistress of the house. When I worked outside, I would be dressed in peasant clothing so that the neighbors wouldn't recognize me and report me to the police. I saw my brother at very long intervals. It became known to me that the Karabelnik sisters, and Dubaleh Shapira and Hirsh Shaffer were still alive. I was happy to learn that, in addition to my brother and myself, there were some other Jews still alive. My joy grew sevenfold when I found out that the Chaluzin brothers were armed and roaming in the area.
It must be stated that the Catholic priests gave moral support all during the German occupation to the families with which we hid out. The Catholic religion gave me a certain soulful calmness during that difficult time in my life.
In the end, at the start of the month of October, 1944, units of the Red Army liberated Kelem. It was only a coincidence that in the battle for the liberation of my town of Kelem, there served Nissan Gresh, my future husband. He was an officer in the 16th Lithuanian Division of the Red Army.
After the first mass slaughter, out of the fourteen children, there survived only my brother, myself, and the Valk baby girl. All the other children were shot to death in the second mass slaughter of Kelem's Jews. The Valk girl was baptized under the name of Teresa. The people who adopted her imbued in her a hate for Jews. Close to the time of my leaving Lithuania, in 1982, I tried to find out the whereabouts of the Valk girl, who was at that time already a woman. I called her on the phone a number of times. I wanted to tell her about how her parents were murdered and how her sister endangered her life by trying to get some milk to her. To my sorrow, Teresa did not want to contact me. About a year ago, it became known to me that her husband had died and that miraculously she had begun to search for contacts with Jews.
My father's fate became known to me by chance, by means of a man who was an office holder during the time of the Soviet control of Lithuania. The meeting with him took place at the Orbelyehneh house. I was called by her to come up from the cellar to the kitchen. He was seated, drinking spirits. It seems that this man was imprisoned in Resain because of his work for the Soviets during their rule of Lithuania. My father was imprisoned with him. On July 28th, all prisoners who were accused of cooperating with the Soviets were let out of prison. The Jews were not released. The prison guards beat the Jewish prisoners; they tried to drown them; and, finally shot them to death. The man was already drunk while telling me the story, and as he told about it, tears streamed out of his eyes.
After the war, I traveled to Resain. My purpose was to find out more information about my father's fate. To my regret, I wasn't able to find out anything at all. At the same time, I visited the two places at which the Jews of Resain were executed.
The place of Kelem's slaughter of its Jews is called by the Jews the Gravel Pit or Underneath the Pine Tree. This gravel quarry is located about two kilometers northwest of Kelem, behind the Grozheviski estate. In the summer of 1941, the pit appeared to be a depression surrounded by a sort of wall in the shape of a crescent. On the right side of this steep wall, there grew three pine trees. The choice of the place for the mass execution of the Jews was thought out in advance. It was chosen because it was far from any dwelling place and along the side of a dirt back road. Because of the steep back wall of the quarry, it was impossible to escape from there, and, also, impossible to witness the events from afar. The steep wall also blocked out the cries of the victims. Opposite the entrance to the gravel quarry, on the other side of the unpaved road, there stood a low stone cross. In this level gravel quarry, there were dug large and long pits that were turned into the graves of our dear ones. The murderers, after they finished the killing, spread lime over all the dead bodies. The gentiles in Kelem would tell for years later, that after the slaughters, the earth in that place was still moving. After many years, the area of the quarry was covered by a lawn of fresh dark green grass.
When the war had ended, thanks to the Soviet authorities, the area was enclosed in a fence and a memorial stone was erected. When that memorial stone started to crumble, it was replaced by another which had a very plain inscription on it. It read, In memory of the victims of the Fascist Terror 1941-1945. The fence wasn't very sturdy. On our visit to there, we strengthened it by ourselves and also repaired it. Now that Lithuania is independent, the authorities arranged to have a different memorial plate placed on the stone which is written in Lithuanian and Hebrew.
In the summer of 1952, at our annual visit to the quarry, we saw human skulls on the earth's surface. We also saw the remains of eyeglasses and decomposing children's shoes. We buried the skulls in the ground, but after a few days the bones appeared again on the surface of the quarry. This happened again and again. Rumors were heard in Kelem that there were people who were collecting the bones and selling them at a scrap and waste collection center. At this place, people would buy and sell animal wool, horsehair, and old rags. In return for these commodities, the people were given payment to buy their needs. My brother and myself were filled with fury, because of the desecration of our parents' graves. We turned to the police, but to no avail. We then turned to the town's priest. We requested that he make this the subject of his sermon to his community of believers on Sunday in church. The priest granted our wish, and from then on, the grave robbers have ceased from their desecrations.
In the course of a few years after the loathsome slaughter of the Jews, the quarrying of gravel was continued by the local Lithuanians. Their quarrying struck at the roots of two of the three pine trees which grow at the quarry. This is nearby the very place of the slaughter. The trees collapsed. There remains only one pine tree, which can be seen from afar. In 1970, people began to throw trash into the quarry. The place became a dump. This made us tremble in anger. My brother traveled to Kelem and appealed to the town authorities and also appeared before the high school students in this matter. Thanks to my brother's vigorous efforts, the dump was closed. There, and at the place of the slaughter, pine trees were planted all around. Today these pine trees have sprouted and grown. They have become an eternal memorial at this place, so holy to us.
In the summer of 1941, from a family of twentythree relatives, only my brother Yitzak and I remained alive. He has become a well known author. His first book that was translated into Hebrew contains two stories: Stalemate with Death and The Yellow Star. His book Oasis was written when he was already in Israel. The novels which are his best known ones, such as Stalemate with Death, What the world Stands, A week of a Moon, and other works were written on the basis of material from the Fascist occupation period. Yitzak's books have been translated into twenty languages. They are found in these languages in all parts of the world. His books are included in the curriculum of Israel's schools and in the study programs for high school matriculation tests. He is married to Frieda. Their daughter, Miriam, is an artist. Her name was given to her in commemoration of our mother, who was killed in the Holocaust.
I completed my studies at the University of Vilna. I have been working in the medical research field for many years.
My husband, Nissan Gresh, participated in many battles against the German aggressor. He was badly wounded and became a war invalid. After the war, he returned to Lithuania and could not find one living person from his large family. I am very happy that it was granted to my husband to fight against the Nazis. All of us, from our family who survived, made Aliyah to Israel.
It is hard to forget the moment that it was decided to abandon the house and to flee to our relatives at the Chaluzin farm. All the boxes and packages of our necessary belongings were taken out of our house, and it came time to leave. As I was standing at the doorway, I gazed backward. There, I saw the open windows and their draperies which blew in the light breeze; and, the table around which we had all sat so many times; all the family. I saw an overturned chair which no one had bothered to straighten; a child's sock, which lay orphaned on the floor. Someone outside called me to hurry and join the rest of the family. Our house was never empty of people. There was never a need to lock the door. There was always someone in the house; the children or grandmother or someone else. Now the house was completely empty. No living being remained in it. That was very strange and awakened suspicion.
After leaving the house there were many events that were engraved deep into my memory. On the third day of the war, the town of Kelem went up in flames. That sight was unforgettable: the sight of the sky, black with smoke, that appeared before our eyes on the Chaluzin farm, from the direction of Kelem six kilometers away. All of us stared at the clouds of smoke which arose skywards from the burning houses. In our silence, there dwelt the emotions that we all felt inwardly.
Again and again I remember that certain most terrible evening when we were told of the murder of all the people who were taken from us on that morning. First we were told that they were taken to a work camp. That was only a pretext. Many of us, especially the young, pushed into the line to leave, being anxious to leave for the work that was promised them. My sister, Eda, also stood in line with all the youths, but our mother utilized an opportunity in which no one was watching, and dragged her to the house where she hid her in one of the rooms. On that morning Eda felt that she was done an injustice by not letting her go with all of her friends. In the evening, when we heard the terrible news of the cruel fate of those who were taken from us, the fact that Eda remained with us was seen as a miracle by the others who stayed. When they first heard about what befell our dear ones, they refused to believe their ears. Slowly, this ghastly story began to sink into our consciousness, and broken screams were heard everywhere. The space was filled with crying and sobbing.
The small group of women, children, and the few men gathered in the large room of the house. The lights were not put on. The glimmering light of the evening was reflected in the sky. Dark clouds were fringed by crimson. There was the illusion that an artist painted them. The heavens seemed to be spotted with blood. Their fading light shone through the windows on us, now all orphaned. I remember Bentzel Broide, the carpenter. He lost his daughter, Fruma, who was so dear to him, and all the rest of his family on that day. I can't reconstruct exactly the words he used as he turned to the sobbing people who stood around him. I imagine that they were words that shouted to the heavens, that expressed ultimate devastation. He rent his garments, and so did the others who lost their loved ones. The prayers El Mole Rachamim and Kaddish were said. After they were said, they prayed Ma'ariv, the evening prayer. That was an evening which can never be erased from the memories of all those who were present there, and who survived.
It is true that I was a young girl of thirteen, whose family had not as yet lost anyone on that bitter day; but the mourning and the deep desperation and despair that filled my heart can not be described in words. That evening spelled the end of my carefree youth. That evening I not only matured, but I also aged. In my whole being, there was now a clear realization of what happened. It was also clear to me concerning the finality and hopelessness of my situation.
An additional important event happened on the last day of our stay at the Chaluzin farm camp, before the final slaughter.
The Lithuanian soldiers, who arrived at the camp, did not, this time, run wild or beat us. They only gave stern orders to pack everything and to go onto the wagons lined up outside to take us on our last road. All the women feverishly worked at the packing of their belongings. Looking back, it seems that the packing helped the women, for a moment or two, to divert their minds from what would happen to them in a short while. There was a great desire to delay, as much as possible, that fateful hour. When Eda told mother that she had a chance to escape, mother encouraged her to do so. Through the mediation of a neighbor, Vitaotas Etmantis, who knew Eda from the gymnasia where he was the secretary, the armed guard permitted her to pass freely out of the house. I stood at the rear doorway of the Chaluzin house and looked at my sister passing the guard and going on her way. Tears streamed fro my eyes. Vitaotas now advised me to leave as my sister had just done. I entered the room, and asked my mother what I should do. She also encouraged me to leave. And so, with tear filled eyes and a great pain in our hearts, because we left behind our mother, our little sister, our brother, and our grandmother, we continued on our way past the guard's post in the direction of the neighbor Aytmantis's farm. When we got near the farmhouse, Aytmantis's sister came towards us, and said that she couldn't hide us, because the family was afraid of the activists who would punish them if they were found out. She advised us to go the next farm. I remember the two rows of cherry trees on both sides of the path leading to the house. The ripe black cherries glistened on the branches, and the branches could hardly be seen beneath them. From the windows of the house, I could see eyes and faces staring at us, but no one opened the door. I suggested to Eda that we should continue to the next house, but she suddenly burst out that we won't go anywhere else but back again to the Chaluzin farm. I answered that the convoy had surely, by then, set out on the road and that we wouldn't be able to catch up with it. She started a rapid walk, almost running back through the furrows in the fields. I tried to delay her and begged her not to run, but she would not listen to me. A tiredness came over all parts of my body; my legs stumbled and wobbled as if they were made of cotton without any support of bones. When we came at last back to the farm, there were some armed and unarmed Lithuanians walking around. When we approached they, they looked at us as if we were ghosts. Silence surrounded us. That same Aytmantis came over to us and angrily sputtered out the obvious question, Why have you returned?' I wasn't able to open my mouth to answer, but Eda said that we wanted to go with everyone else. We asked about the whereabouts of our family, on which wagon they were traveling? From afar, we could still see the trail of dust left by the wagons. We ran with all of our might until we reached the rear wagon, but there was no place left to sit in it.
The convoy was guarded on both sides by armed Lithuanians. Some of them were simply ordinary people from Kelem. One of them had a rifle on his shoulder. He advised us to walk behind the wagons. We recognized him as one, Karalietis, the barber. He told us that mother, together with grandmother and the other children had succeeded in escaping. He advised us to do the same. Eda asked him why we should escape, if the destination was only a work camp as was promised us. Haralietis explained to us in cold logic, that if the destination was a work camp, we could come to it later. He walked with us and tried to slow down our pace in order that the other armed guards could pass by us. When we were left alone with him, he stopped and told us that our father used to have his hair cut at his shop. He said that he was forced to become a guard when the activists found him walking innocently in town. They gave him a rifle and made him guard the convoy. He said that he had no part in the activities of the activists. He then gave us his hand and asked us to promise that we wouldn't tell anyone that he had freed us. He said that we were to hide in the woods at the side of the road and wait until night. Then we should turn again to peasants houses, whom he thought would surely help us to find refuge. His request, that we not tell anyone that it was he who let us escape, seemed so strange at that moment, so unrealistic, that I smiled and I also noticed a smile on my sister's lips. We didn't wait until nighttime, but instead turned immediately to a farmer with whom, by chance, we were familiar. The daughter of this family knew my sister from school. When she saw us, she became very excited and confessed that it would be dangerous for us to be in her house, because her sister was an enthusiastic nationalist and collaborator. She brought us to another neighbor's house. We were not greeted with great joy at their house, but they decided to permit us to enter. During that evening, other Jews who had escaped the death convoy came to their house. Later, our mother, grandmother, brother and sister arrived. We all sat crowded in a small room. Some people slept on a bed, some on a chair, and some on the floor. I cried bitterly all of that night, even though I was with my mother. I couldn't remove from my memory the image of all of those who were taken to their deaths. I thought especially of my old and nearly blind grandmother, Chaya, my mother's mother. At the break of dawn, we all went out into the nearby forest. I cannot, until my dying day, ever forget the pain in my heart that came over me when a farmer, by the name of Baltrukas, appeared. He asked us who we were and then gave us a comb. It turned out that this comb belonged to grandmother Chaya, who was on this man's wagon in the death convoy. Grandmother Chaya worried about us, her grandchildren, even in her last moments. She had requested that the farmer find us and give us the comb; if not, we would have no comb for our long hair.
On that same night, we split up into separate groups and started our wanderings. We went from place to place in our search after merciful people, who would take us in under their roof for at least a week's time. All of our searching took place now in the vicinity of the Chaluzin farm, among neighbors whom we thought were trustworthy. I remember an unusual situation that took place in one of the first places that took us in. Together with Eda (with the mediation of Hirsh Chaluzin, z'l) under the obligation to repay for the favor granted, we were granted refuge by a young farming couple. We were only promised that we could stay for a week, but even that satisfied us. The young wife received us pleasantly and then started to cook. She then served us a chicken dinner. She had apparently slaughtered the chicken herself. The Lithuanian farmers did not usually slaughter their own chickens for their meals, abut without our requesting it, she did that for us. They explained that Jews are used to eating chicken, and so they did so in our honor.
Our last refuge in that area was in the house of a poor widow, who lived with her two young sons. That whole week she was very nervous and never ceased jumping up to peek out of the window at every bark of the dog. Before the end of the week, she announced, from her room, that there were rumors that there would be a search company in the area looking for hidden Jews. The terrified woman led us to the far end of the fields, to where there was a large, deep depression in the earth. It was used in the autumn to store potatoes before the winter. She advised us to enter into it. In the event that we were discovered, we were to deny that we were at her house. We sat in the hole at the bottom of which was some hay and listened very carefully for any sounds. Two men approached, and we were extremely happy to see that one of them was Etmantis. Our plight became known to him, and he turned to his friend for help and advice. The friend was a priest, formerly from Kelem. They came together an bicycles. We really marveled when we realized that we were being taken to Kelem. When we warned them of the danger to us in Kelem, the priest said that there was nothing to worry about; we should only believe in Divine Supervision. On the way, we passed the length of one of town's streets. Passersby recognized us on the bicycles, dressed in our coats, and began calling out Jew girls were caught. After some more distance, riding on the bicycles, we reached the old cemetery next to the Catholic church. Here our benefactors stopped and revealed their plans for us. They had found an ideal hiding place for us. It was ten kilometers from Kelem, with a very trustworthy family. The condition for taking us in with these people was, according to them, that we should convert to Christianity. At first we were shocked, but after consideration, we agreed to it. There was no choice for us. And so, after some time, we were baptized and taken on the bicycles for a very long ride until we reached our destination.
It is impossible to tell about what follows without describing the house. It was a small wooden house with a straw roof. The boards of the walls were blackened. The window was only a few centimeters from the floor. In spite of the fact that this doll house was located at the edge of the woods, when we arrived there, we had the feeling that it was actually inside the woods. When we went inside, we saw that it consisted of one room, lit by an oil lamp. The floor was hardened earth. A wood burning stove took up one fourth of the room's space. Along the walls were beds made up with clean white sheets. On one of these beds, covered with a pure white quilt, sat an old woman wearing a white headscarf. Her ascetic face was somewhat wrinkled. She appeared to be stern, and her gray eyes looked us over from head to foot. Her two unmarried daughters (one about forty and the other about twenty six or twentyseven) traced after their mother's glance, and it was evident in their eyes that they held her in deep and great respect. After she blessed our arrival, she said that in the eyes of the Good Lord, we were both absolutely pure souls. That was because baptism wipes out all sins; and, if we died at that moment, exactly like newborn babies, we would go straight to paradise in heaven. Therefore, we were to kneel before the picture of Jesus, Mary, and all the saints whose pictures were on the walls of the house. We should also say prayers of praise. We kneeled on the cold floor and were silent. She commanded us to repeat after her the Lord's Prayer, Hail Mary, and the blessing I Believe. When we finished the prayers, a meal was served to us which consisted of omelets and the ultimate, a glass of hot chocolate!
The daughters of this family were very religious. they swore not to ever marry and to guard their virginity for God's sake, for all of their days. In the past, these daughters had been servants in Jewish homes in Kovno, and they knew what Jews and Jewish children ate. That was the first, and also the last, time that we were served hot chocolate. These poor people could not afford to permit themselves any luxuries. They had only one hectare of land, one cow, two pigs, and a number of chickens. We immediately realized their problem in providing for two additional mouths. Their poverty and their distress were very evident. Elena and Yulia Kacshaitis were the names of the two daughters. We called the old mother Babunya, i:e, grandmother. This dear family gave us not only a refuge, but also gave us spiritual values. At that critical time of maturation, when we had no parents, relatives, or friends, the values that they gave to us were extremely important - modesty, frugality, abstention from complaint, from pride, and from falsehood. They taught us love of neighbor and patience among many other virtues. These peasants stamped their seal on us for the rest of our lives. Needless to say, all of this was accompanied by deep study of Christianity. We were inundated with the pertinent religious literature. They held intensive discussions with us about Jesus being the Messiah. According to their belief, almost all the world had accepted Jesus as the Messiah except the Jewish people. That was the reason that the Jews suffered so very much, since Christianity was born. All of this worked very powerfully upon us and brainwashed us. More than anything else, the personal example of these simple people influenced us. They shared everything with us, from bread to clothing. They treated us when we were ill and comforted us. They gave us their love and dedication. After some time, there was brought to the house another Jewish girl from Kelem, Dubaleh Shapira, aged eight. She was also very well received. She was washed, her clothes were cleaned, and she was fed. Later other Jewish girls were brought to the house, Frieda Mendelovitz, twentyeight, and her sister Rifka, and their cousin Leah Kletz. We were all welcomed in spite of the shortage of food and the crowding. In a short while, we were believers in the faith of these wonderful people, Christianity. Many years after the liberation, we continued to believe in that faith.
After about half a year of residence with this marvelous family, my sister and I were told the terrible news about the loss of our mother, our brother, our sister, and our grandmother. They were turned in my the family with whom they had been hiding. This became known by chance to us in a conversation with new friends from Leoliaye, who were introduced to by our adopted family. It was related by them to us that a woman, her two children and a grandmother were murdered. It occurred about a half year before, not far from Lioliaye. The two of us were not in need of any other details about the identification of the victims. Shock took hold of us. We always hoped that our mother and our family were alive, and that we only did not know where they were hiding. We dreamed that we would meet and be united again. We dreamed all kinds of fantasies about our future meeting, and that warmed our hearts and gave us strength. Suddenly our world had collapsed upon us. All our hopes were dashed. At that moment, I felt again completely forsaken, and that all was lost. That was the same feeling that I had when I found out about the first mass slaughter of Kelem's Jews and then about the final slaughter. Indeed, this time the pain was seven times as strong. The sorrow and mourning were even deeper. Again these marvelous ladies ministered to us, and cared for us in our grief. They, who under their protection we stayed alive, wiped our tears and consoled us as much as they could. We can never ever forget them, nor can we ever relate all that the Kaoshaitis family did for us.
Also never to be forgotten was the friend of the Kaoshaitis family, the lady Oulit Gereshaiteh. She also was unmarried and very pious. She even had some theological (Catholic) education. She did great deeds by assisting Jews who were escaping Ghetto Kovno, and who had turned to her for help. My sister, Eda, found a hiding place in a convent in Kerakus, and I was brought to Miss Gereshaiteh. She lived in the town of Kelem itself. Her bravery and steadfast faith also encouraged in me a belief that I wouldn't be recognized and caught, and I would be safe in her house. I was received and treated like the daughter that she had never had. She took care of my clothes and my food. She always tried to dress me so that my clothing wouldn't be less fine than all the other girls in the town that she had known. She sewed and repaired my garments and any clothes that she could obtain for me. She desired that I look well dressed when we went to church together on Sunday. If I expressed a concern that I was afraid that someone would recognize me, one answer would be on her lips; If God watches over us, no one will see or recognize you. Oulita was an enlightened person, who always looked to the future and not just at the present moment.
She was worried about the fact that I could not attend school, and that I was losing valuable time. She made an effort to find private teachers for me. She found two teaching nuns who taught me in return for their lunch. Of course, she told them the secret about my real identity. For a year, I received these private lessons, which prepared me for the high school entrance examinations. Oulita wanted me to study in the high school in Kelem, but after thinking about it again, decided not to tempt fate. She then traveled to the eastern city of Resain and rented a room for me there. Through her influence with the priest of the gymnasia in Resain, I was allowed to take the entrance examination. Previous to that, she had arranged a forged birth certificate with a Lithuanian name. That certificate served me for many years. I used it after the liberation, and until I finished university. I passed the examination and studied for a whole year there, right under the noses of the Germans. I had to be careful not to know too much in the German language lessons. This would have made me suspect in the eyes of the students and teachers alike. I never went out of the house except when going and coming from school. I did not stand out in my appearance, even though my face wasn't exactly Aryan. My hair was in long braids which were then in style with all of the Lithuanian students. The Lithuanian language was no problem, and I spoke it without any accent. Oulita took care of all my needs and was as a mother and father to me.
After the year of study in Resain, the Germans were pushed back by the Russians. That was during the summer recess. The sounds of the battles could be heard in the whole city. I decided to go to my sister, Eda, in the convent. I stayed in that convent after the liberation and continued my studies there until the end of gymnasia. I was allowed to study in that convent because of the generosity of the nuns, who placed a high value upon education.
After I finished my studies, I traveled to the big city, Vilna, in order to study at the university. I did not have to take the entrance examinations, because my gymnasia grades were very high. During the five years that I studied in the ancient university at Vilna, I made friends with all of the other students in my class. Not one of them suspected that I was a Jewish woman. My graduation certificate from gymnasia was under my forged Lithuanian name, and under that name I studied until the start of the final examinations and the granting of my diploma.
On one of the school vacations, I visited Kelem and met with Batya Broide zl. She said that it was not wise to have my diploma on my forged name, but rather to have it on my true name. She helped me as much as she could in order to acquire a birth certificate on my own real name. When I went back to the university in Vilna, I had to prove to the authorities that it was I, whose name appeared on this new birth certificate. In other words, that I was a Jewess, and that my name was Bat-Sheva Karabelnik. That proved to be a very hard task. The Deacon of the University was shocked when he found out about me. He joked and said that I had nerve to do what I had done, and that he didn't' know how little me had succeeded in fooling him for five whole years. I got the diploma on my true name.
While I was working in Kovno as an editor and manager of a book publishing firm, I married. In 1960, I made Aliyah to Israel. In Israel, I worked all of my working years in teaching and completed my career as principal of a school of special education. The source of all of my joy is my daughters, my grandchildren, and my sister, Eda. She, after being widowed, lives during these last years, near me.
In the final analysis, I must proclaim that Israel and only Israel is the true answer for all of my People.
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