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[Page 1849]

The Destruction of Jurbarkas

by Zvi Levit

Translated by Irene Emodi
Translation donated by Joel Alpert

This material also appears on pages 398-403 in the Yurburg, Lithuania Yizkor Book as
"Yurburg in the First Days of the Holocaust"

Yurburg lies in the western part of Lithuania, 10 km. from the German border, at the time of the holocaust about 2,000 Jews were living there. The Germans conquered the town without any resistance, and on July 22,1941 at 8 o'clock in the morning the German warriors were already walking through the streets of the town. The Yurburg residents, Jews and non-Jews alike, were stunned, and many of them, especially those who had connections with Soviet authorities, tried to escape. Some of them managed to flee by boarding the steamship that left that morning.

The regular German army was the first to take over the town. They did not single out the Jews, or treat them badly. The Jews sensed something might happen to them, and huddled together. It is not known where it originated, but a call was heard to go to the bathhouse. It was a large, strong building, with thick walls and the Jews thought they would be safer there. They all went to the bathhouse and crowded there. At first, food was brought only for the babies, but later for the adults too.

The moment they arrived in town, the Germans started to look for possible pockets of resistance, and that is how they noticed the crowd that had gathered at the bathhouse.

Four soldiers broke open the doors of the bathhouse and ordered the Jews to leave.They tried to convince the crowd that it was a very dangerous place, explaining that the building drew attention, due to its size, and a plane might bomb it, causing far more casualties to those inside than outside. They also told the Jews they had nothing to fear, for no harm would come to them. The Jews were impressed by the German soldiers' courtesy and insistence, and they left the bathhouse.

The Lithuanian "activists" already started to get organized in the first days. They put themselves at the disposal of the Germans, and started to take part in the government. Their influence grew by the day, and the Germans gradually transferred handling of the local population to them. A Lithuanian Police was immediately set up, headed by the teacher of the Gymnasia, Lavitzkas. Hoffner was appointed mayor.

Already on the second day of the war an order was issued obliging all the young Jews, without exception, to gather at Mottel Labayosh' yard, on Raisen street. This place became the labor camp. Each day the young men were sent on different kinds of jobs in town. They cleaned the streets, worked in the parks and carried out all sorts of public work.

Each day a new decree was issued: it was forbidden to walk on the sidewalks, a yellow patch had to be worn, etc.

One day the Lithuanian soldiers' wrath fell on he synagogue. It was a very special building, dating from the 17th century. Its holy ark, the pulpit and Elyahu's beautiful chair were decorated in splendid woodcuts. This synagogue was the pride of the Yurburg people. Now the Jews were ordered to destroy the synagogue, bring down its walls and distribute everything inside to the local Lithuanians. The Jews carried out the order ith tears in their eyes, their knees trembling. The Lithuanian throngs stood around them and looked on, but only a few agreed to take the spoils.

Next to the synagogue stood a small building, used as a poultry slaughterhouse - "a Shechita Stiebel". The Lithuanians ordered its destruction as well. The building was full of feathers, and when the Jews started to destroy the building, the feathers stuck to them and they got very dirty. The Lithuanian "activists", who were overseeing the destruction, ordered the Jews to go down to the Neiman river and wash themselves. During the destruction and near the river they tortured the Jews, beat them, kicked them and chased them into the water.

The Germans stood around and took photographs. Some asked: "Why do the Lithuanians hate the Jews so much ?..."

The next day, the torture continued. This time Cantor Alperovitz was the town's victim, an old Jew, tall and distinguished looking. They took the cantor to the center of town, tied a stone to his gray beard and dragged him through the streets of the town.

On June 28, 1941. on the Sabbath morning, all the Jews were ordered to go to work and pull out weeds in the streets. They were also ordered to bring all their books, at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, to the synagogue yard, and the old rabbi - dayan, Rabbi Haim Reuven Rubinstein was forced to bring his books and manuscripts there on a wheelbarrow.

At 5 o'clock the Lithuanians ordered the Jews to remove the Torah scrolls from the synagogues. They were put on the pile of books, and everything was set on fire. The next day all the Jews were ordered to gather next to the town's bookstore, and it was threatened that anyone who refused would be shot. The Jews lined up in rows of three.

Four of the strongest Jews were ordered to remove a statue of Stalin from the store. Pictures of the most important Soviets were placed next to the women. They had to parade through the streets of the town. The teacher Lavitzkas, and the policemen Botvinskis and Kilikovitshus were in charge of the parade. They arrived at the sports grounds near the Neiman. The Lithuanians were already there, "the intelligentsia" up front. They were very happy to welcome the parade. Stalin's statue was placed on a table prepared for the purpose, and all the Jews were ordered to stand around it. One of the house owners was ordered to read a speech from paper handed over to him, containing degrading and nasty words about the Jewish people. After the speech, the statue and pictures were thrown into the fire, and the Jews were forced to dance around the fire and sing. They sang psalms, from the bottom of their heart. The Germans took photographs of the scene.

The Jews used to buy food at the food stores. They were the last in line. Only after the non-Jews bought everything they needed, could the Jews buy something

Yurburg - or as the Germans called it -Georgenburg- is 10 km. from the German border, and it is included in a 25 km. strip for which the Gestapo in Tilsit received an order to exterminate the Jews.

The head of the Gestapo at Tilsit, Bahmah, immediately started to plan the extermination. Thursday July 3 1941 was to be the day. After consultations with mayor Hoffner, the Jewish cemetery was chosen as the place of murder.

Details about the process of preparations and events on the day of the mass murder were heard at the German Court in Ulm, where the members of the Gestapo in Tilsit stood on trial. The record shows the following:

On the morning of July 3, 1941 Bahmah and his helpers arrived in town together with 30-40 Germans from Somlaninko (the border town on the German side). Small groups were formed of the Gestapo, together with Lithuanian assistant-policemen, who were ordered to take the Jewish men from their homes. When the number was insufficient, the teams went back once more to look for Jews and they returned with another 60 men. Three women with their children, who did not want to separate from their husbands, joined the group of men. During the arrest, a Lithuanian doctor asked one of the Gestapo leaders called Karsten, to release the Jewish doctor who was among the detainees. He said the Jewish doctor was a surgeon, and the population needed him badly. When the Lithuanian doctor repeated his request to Bahmah, the latter hit him severely. The arrested Jews numbered over 300.

The detainees were led on foot through the town to the Jewish cemetery. Here they had to hand over all their valuables and take off their clothes. The Jews were ordered to dig more pits, as the existing ones did not suffice for all the detainees. During the digging of the pits, the Germans ordered the Jews to hit each other with the spades, and promised that those who won from their neighbor would be spared.

The victims were led along by the Germans and the Lithuanians under threats, shouts and blows, their cries went up to heaven. They had to stand next to the pits, facing their graves. Some of them were forced to kneel down. The murderers went up to each of them, shot them in the neck and kicked them into the pit. As the victims were brought in at great speed, those who arrived witnessed what happened to the others. The Lithuanians, who resided at the two neighborhoods close to the cemetery, looked on.

Among the victims was a Jewish customs -clearance agent, who during World War I had served in the German army, and received the most distinguished service award, the "Iron Cross" grade 1. He assaulted Bahmah, but was immediately silenced by a murderer's bullet.

Many ran away from the pits. The murderers and guards pursued those who tried to escape. A few Germans and Lithuanians were hurt during the chase.

In this "action" 322 Jews were murdered, among them 5 women and children. Once the murderers had finished their job, a meal was prepared and there was plenty of vodka.

That same day another 80 men, who had been hiding, were caught and arrested. At 10 o'clock in the evening, policeman Botwinskis told them they would be shot at 3 o'clock. According to the report, the Jews were not particularly impressed, noone cried and there even was someone who had an annual Remembrance Day (Jahrzeit). All the detainees ardently prayed "Maariv" (afternoon prayer) in a group of 10 (minyan). The order was not carried out, and they were not shot. Those aged 15-50 who were still alive, were taken to work, and the old men were forced to present themselves at the Police twice a day.

On July 21, 1941 45 old men were arrested when they presented themselves, and were transferred on three carriages of Jewish coachmen to Raisen for a medical check-up - it was claimed. On the way to Raisen, at kilometer 15, they were murdered, together with the Jewish coachmen and the Jews of the small towns in the area. Before they were killed, the old men were forced to write to their families that they were working and did not need anything, and many in the town believed this was true.

On August 1, 1941 all the old women were forced to present themselves for a roll call. They were all put together in the "Talmud Torah" yard. Hundreds of women were cruelly dragged to the roll call, babies crying in their arms. They were held from morning till evening without any food or water.

Towards the evening Lithuanian "activists" arrived and ordered the women to line up in rows, two by two in each row. They were cruelly beaten, in order to urge them to hurry up. The dreadful event started when the women were surrounded by armed Lithuanians who hit them with their rifle butts. They especially tortured those who walked slowly. Children were hit, thrown down and trampled to death. The march went on until they arrived at the dense Schwentshani forest. Through the light of the murderers' torches it was possible to glimpse a deep pit dug that same day. The women panicked. The murderers fired in the air and shouted in frightening voices: "Throw the children into the pits!" They ordered the women to undress and leave their clothes behind. Mothers jumped with their children into the pits, the Lithuanians firing all around. Many were buried alive and some managed to escape amidst all the chaos.

On September 4, 1941 the last women and children of the Yurburg community were taken to the Jewish elementary school. On 7 September they all had to come to Mottel Labayosh' yard, which had been turned into a "labor camp".

All day long groups of Germans and Lithuanians passed along the Jewish homes in order to check noone was left behind. And indeed, not one Jew remained.

When they started to take the last of the flock, everyone understood where they were going, and what awaited them there. The poor women did not remain silent.

They shouted and pleaded with the hangmen, asking why human beings were being put to death. The Lithuanians merely answered by more beatings. The women started to shout to their older children, admonishing them to run, and they themselves attacked the Lithuanian guards with their fists. They bit, hit, shouted and swore. The murderers tightened the circle, shots were fired from all kinds of guns. It was a struggle for life or death between the poor women and the cruel murderers.

In the chaos a few young women managed to escape, and thanks to their testimony we know what happened to the Jewish community of Yurburg in its last moments.

Only 50 men and their families, who worked for the Germans remained in Yurburg for a week and then they were all killed.

At the entrance of the town a sign was then put up, reading: "This place is free of Jews".

In the list of mass graves, published in the book "Mass murders in Lithuania", part 2 - mass graves in Yurburg the following is written:

  1. 322 people are buried in the eastern part of the Jewish cemetery. Date of murder - July 3, 1941.
  2. Near the Kalnanai village, 7 km. from Yurburg on the left side of the road to Memel, 300m. from the road - 200 people. Time - August 1941.
  3. Barantzinas forest, 5 km. from Yurburg, 2 km. from the road - 500 people. Time - September 1941.
  4. Shilinas forest - 1 km. to the west of Yurburg - 200 people. Time - September 1941.

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