by Shmuel Zalman Griliches*
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
The first dentists or, as we called them, tsonarztn [tooth doctors], appeared in the cities and shtetlekh [towns] of Lithuania in the middle of the 19th century. They were mainly feldshers [barber-surgeons] who also were employed with pulling teeth. The majority of them were Christian. But at the end of the previous century [19th], dentists who healed, filled and replaced teeth appeared in Kovna, Shavl, Panevėþys and other large places. The profession became more and more Jewish.
Just in time, the first dental technicians, who were educated by the more professional dentists to be their assistants in their laboratories, appeared in Lithuania. Until the First World War, technical dentistry was exclusively a Jewish profession in the boundaries of ethnographic
Lithuania. Among the 180 dentists at that time, Jews made up 75 percent.
After the rise of the Independent Lithuanian Republic there were about 200 dentists within its borders; the majority of them were women. The Jews were up to 80 percent of the total number.
The Lithuanian University, founded in Kovno in the 1920s, also had a medical faculty with a dental division or, as it was called, an odontological division.
Every year, beginning in 1925, the odontological division graduated approximately 30 new dentists.
As is known, strong propaganda for the Lithuanization of commerce, trades, as well as the so-called free professions, such as doctors, dentists, lawyers, musicians and so on, took place then.
The first graduates of the dental faculty were 75 percent Jewish. Because
the university management continued to be concerned that the number of Jews not be so large, they brought in a special health exam for the candidates to be accepted for the medical and dental [faculties] in a way that would make certain that they not be blamed for discrimination against national minorities. The health committee knew whom to reject.
The candidates were taken from those who graduated from the state gymnazie [secondary school] and later graduated from the private minority gymnazies [and successfully passed the] health exams. They had to take a special additional exam in Lithuanian. The evaluation of the work on the exams was later done according to the judgment and mood of the examiner. The number of vacancies for entry became very limited: 20 of the 100 for medicine and 30 for dentistry. At that, it must be considered that 90 percent of the Jewish students would come from the private gymnazies, Hebrew, Jewish, Russian and until Hitler, German. So all of the screening and objective measurements resulted, in addition, that in time the number of Jewish students both in medicine and in dentistry became much smaller and during the last years (1938-1940) the graduates were almost without any Jews. Characteristically, the number of men among those studying dentistry, both Jews and non-Jews, was very small. At the moment of the German invasion, there were around 650 dentists in the so-called Kovno Lithuania; of them nearly 600 were women. The total number of Jewish dentists, both men and women, was around 450.
As is known, three ghettos were created in Lithuania by the Germans in Kovno, Shavl and Vilna. All of the Jews in the remaining cities and shtetlekh [towns] were murdered immediately, and with them all of the dentists and dental technicians. Only a few survived, hiding with Christians or those who had succeeded in escaping in time from the shtetlekh to one of the three above-mentioned ghettos. But this was temporary survival because the sad fate of the ghetto inhabitants is well known.
There were 180 dentists in Kovno, among them 140 Jews, 14 men and the remainder women, before the Germans occupied Lithuania. During the first seizures and murders, 27 [dentists] perished before entering the ghetto. Several succeeded in escaping to the Soviet Union and
the Soviets took them out under guard before the German-Russian War began. There were 98 dentists (11 men and 87 women) among the 33,000 Jews at the start of the Kovno ghetto.
There were no dentists, only 3-4 young technicians among 500 men [taken] during the deportation of intellectuals.
However, during the first ghetto deportation at Linkever Street on the 26th of September 1941, erev the Sabbath of Repentence [the eve of the Sabbath before Yom Kippur], four dentists were taken; the deportation in the small ghetto on the 4th of October 1941 took two dentists; the large deportation on the 28th of October 1941 had 22 dentists among its victims (two men and 20 women), among the thousands annihilated on that day. Thus, 70 dentists, nine men and 61 women remained at the end of 1941; the Riga deportation came later (on the 9th of February 1942).
During the action to create labor camps in Keidan [Kėdainiai], Koshedar [Kaiiadorys], Ponevezh [Panevezys], Kozlova-Ruda, Roiterhauf and so on the dentists gave their share in every one of them. The terrible Estonian action on the 26th of October 1943 cost the dentists new victims. Several even were placed on the deportation lists that the Ältestenrat [Elders] put together for the Germans. However, at around two o'clock in the afternoon, when the Germans already had devoured the necessary number (3,500) chosen from the Ältestenrat's list, they seized more [dentists].
Even the deportation of the children and the old in the Kovno ghetto on the 27th of March 1944 did not leave the handful of remaining dentists untouched. That day, Dr. Yakov Tveria, the old Kovno dentist, one of the most beloved in the Lithuanian shtetlekh, was taken, as well as the well-known communal worker, dentist, Dr. Sura Auerbach, who voluntarily followed her husband, the medical doctor, Dr. Auerbach, who was taken out directly from the ghetto hospital with another well-known Kovno doctor, Dr. Kapaker.
Several dentists succeeded in leaving the ghetto in time and found refuge on the Aryan side. Five or six were burned in the melynas (hiding places) when the Germans liquidated the Kovno ghetto.
The Germans permitted only two to five dentists to work at their profession in the dental infirmary created there, and never more than eight. The remaining [dentists] had to go to work in various brigades [and] commandos as ordinary hard laborers.
After the liquidation of the Kovno and Shavl ghettos, around 20 dentists were deported to the German concentration camps
(among them six men) from the Kovno ghetto and five to six from the Shavl ghetto, one men among them, the survivor, Dr. Shmuel Verbalinski. The men were all dragged away to Bayern [Bavaria], to Dachau. The women were all brought to the Stutthof labor camp (in western Prussia), where the majority perished. Dr. Ruwin Glikman, well known in Kovno, perished there [in Dachau]. The other five survived, mainly because they were assigned to work in their profession.
Of the 450 Jewish dentists from earlier [pre-war] Lithuania, around 25 to 27, among them seven to eight men or five to six percent, should be recorded as now practicing in Soviet Lithuania (returned from the Soviet Union and from hiding on the Aryan side).
majority of the survivors now live in Israel or the United States.
The dental technicians experienced the same road of suffering; more of them were permitted to work at their profession in Dachau. Of the approximately 100 Jewish dental technicians in Lithuania, 75 lived in Kovno. The provincial [dental technicians] all perished, as well as individuals from Shavl. The Kovno dental technicians contributed their share to every phase of the annihilation of the Kovno Jews.
Among the first arrestees was the well-known oldest Kovno dental technician, Dovid Rubinshtein, who was savagely murdered. Around 20 men survived, including those who now live in Lithuania or America or Israel.
* Former chairman of the Kovno division of the Lithuanian Dentists Union, managing committee member of the International World Union of Dentists. Return
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