Translated by Janie Respitz
The Ruins were plowed in my face,
The flame remains in my bones,
And like the water boils over red hot iron,
The pain boils on my body…and I begin to stride
Over scrap, like a watchman on the prison
In the city, the disruption after the enemy's storm.
I see those returning from wandering,
He stirs the ashes from Latvia with spread hands,
And looks for a green sprout of life in the ruins,
As if someone wants to find the ruins of a golden temple
But the Ghetto is deserted like a cemetery,
And with laughter the wind chases the dust in his mouth.
And his heart cries: oh, who drove me back,
From my home and people only silence remains?
Everyone is dead where are the graves?
I hear his silent cry: who can guarantee,
And in the emptiness the noise still hangs
Translated by Janie Respitz
Sunday the 22nd of June 1941 the youth of New Svencionys played a football match against the youth from Utian(Utena). That evening when the train arrived from Vilna, we learned that that morning the larger cities in Poland were bombed and the German Soviet war had begun.
Monday morning the New Svencionys train station was bombed where the train from Zegalia to Vilna stood. Besides this, the town was also bombed and people began to build trenches.
The Lithuanian Soviet military (Lithuanian soldiers and Soviet officers) that were in the camp at Poligon, marched through the town toward Vilna.
The same day we were informed, that the Lithuanian soldiers rebelled, killed their Soviet commanders and ran away to the forest.
All the Soviet officials left town immediately. With them, all the Jewish recruits like Yitzkhak Gurdus, Heshl Sheyn, Nakhman Khagan, Shneour, Dovid and Efraim Guterman, Khasriel Itzikson,Hirshl Bikson, Aharon Boyershteyn, Sholem Karpas and others.
Tuesday morning, the Lithuanians began to organize and attack the retreating Soviet divisions. They also attacked Jews they met on the way. We learned that at Kakhanovka, the Lithuanians killed Motke Wolfson, the son of Yitzkhak the fisherman. They brought him back to town and buried him in the cemetery.
Wednesday morning the first German tanks drove into town. The Lithuanians were still in charge. The Jews were afraid to go out on the street. We knew that on the road, not far from the Christian cemetery, lay the body of Maliuske Guterman, who was killed by Lithuanian bandits. Her body lay there for a few days as we were unable to go out and bring her back for a Jewish burial.
A few days later the official power in town was given to the Lithuanian partisans. The commander was Kurpis from Boyvid, who had been a Lithuanian officer during Smetana's time. The headquarters was on Vilna Street, in a building which in Soviet times housed the NKVD…
Tuesday June 30th, All the Jews you worked in the Soviet cooperatives were arrested. This was a revenge act for the arrest and sentencing of a Lithuanian girl by the Soviets who had worked in one of the cooperatives.
The girl worked in a cooperative on Vilna Street where the manager was Dovid Kimkhi, Khaim Gordon's son in law. Others working there were Lyuba Fingerhoyt, Itke Rudnitsky, Sheynke Katz, and a few Lithuanian girls. One of them was caught stealing and was sentenced to a year in jail.
When the Lithuanian partisans took over control of the town, the brother of that girl who was a partisan compiled a list of all the Jews who worked at the cooperative. They were all arrested and shot.
Among the first victims were: Gershon Gurvitch, Hirshl Levishteyn, Hadasah Katz, Layale and Bluma Fingerhoyt, Moishe Zak, Sheyna Katz, Ite Rudnitsky, Yosef Gildin, Zilber,Mendl the blacksmith's bortherinlaw and others. Altogether, 18 people.
Dr. Kapeliovitch, whod during Soviet times was head of the train hospital, hid at Kazyutke Dach. The Partisans knew. They brought him to the courtyard of their headquarters and shot him there.
A while later the German S.S took over control. The police force remained pure Lithuanian.
They hung notices throughout the town stating that before they kill on German they would kill 100 Jews. They also captured Jews on the street and dragged them to work.
The S.S closed all the prayer houses and forbid Jews to gather in large groups. They called upon Rabbi Kimkhi and made him supply lists of Jewish workers.
The Rabbi assembled a committee to help him with this task. The members of this committee were: Yakov Shvartz, Yisroel Portnoy, Eliyahu Feygel, Berl Guterman, Moishe Gurvitch, Henekh Gurvich, and Yehoshua Katz. The committee worked on specific lists and presented them to the military commanders. They then stopped grabbing Jews off the street.
A few days later, around 5:00 in the morning chaos suddenly broke out in town: the Lithuanian police went around with a list and arrested the parents of all the children who were in the Komsomol. When they didn't find the listed people at home, they arrested their relatives and neighbours. 43 people were arrested.
Among those arrested were: Yisroel Portnoy, Yakov Shvartz, Motl Gurvich, Eliyahu Feygel, Yitzkhak Milner, Aharon Bank, Nosn Kimkhi, Shmuel Gavenda, Gershon Shutan, Eliyusha Katz, BenZion Fufisky, Yakov Kliatchko, Moishke Abelevitch, Yosl Lipnholtz, Motl Telent, Moishke Wolfson, Feyvke Khayt, the two ritual slaughterers and others. They led them all 3 kilometres from town on the road to Kaltinyan in rows and shot them with machine guns.
The Hasidic slaughterer began to run. They shot him and left him there. Feyvke Khayt was the second to try to run. They shot at him as well but missed. He ran to the forest and hid. At night, he returned to town and hid in the potato fields. Only a few people in town knew Feyvke was saved. Christians came and reported that all 43 had been shot. Thy also brought 100 Jews from Svencionys to the same spot and shot them.
Darkness ruled the Jewish homes. No one knew what to do. Meanwhile, again they asked the Rabbi for lists of workers. No one wanted to sit on that committee.
With great difficulty the rabbi founded a committee that would meet in the small study house in the large prayer house.
The committee had two functions: prepare lists of workers and collect contributions that were demanded from the Jewish population.
This committee continued to operate until the founding of the Ghetto.
Meanwhile, a civilian authority was established in town and Kurpis the leader of the Lithuanian partisans was chosen as mayor. He immediately announced, in the name of the German authority, a ghetto for Jews will be made in New Svencionys. According to his plan, the ghetto was to be on the synagogue street, in the two study houses and in the surrounding houses.
At the request of the committee, I went to Kurpis, who I knew well from before the war, and asked if the Ghetto could be on Katilnya Street, which was inhabited only by Jews.
He agreed and the Ghetto went from Ris' house until Fufusik's.
All the Jews had to immediately leave their homes and enter the boundaries of the Ghetto. Only the rabbi remained in his previous place in the small prayer house next to the house of study.
The Ghetto was not fenced in or guarded. Yet, we were not permitted to leave and walk freely through the town.
Only on market days were Jews permitted to leave the ghetto for two hours in order to buy necessities.
All week we bought products in the special ghetto store which was in Mendl Levin's house.
We lived in the ghetto in perpetual fear. The peasants from the area told us that in the other Lithuanian towns, all the Jews were killed.
We knew about the destruction of Lingmian Jews that took place four days after the outbreak of the war, because my brother Hirsh lived in Lingmian. The day the war broke out he was with us but returned home. He took my younger brother Shimshon with him. We thought that since Lingmian was far from the train station, it would be quieter. Four days later we received the news that all the Jews of Lingmian were killed. They were shot and buried in one grave.
This news left a horrible impression on our town. We were downtrodden and feeling helpless. Apathy ruled. We did not have the strength or will to save ourselves. The majority of the Jews were elderly, women and children families who were very close and did not want to be separated. We thought our town might be spared.
One day we learned from Kurpis, the Germans decided to remove the Jews from Svencionys and bring them to Poligon where there was a labour camp. Kurpis also informed us this would be carried out by the Svencionys commander.
Liquidation of the Ghetto
Knowing of the exodus that the Jews of Svencionys faced, our committee immediately decided to send Khatzkl Levinshteyn to Svencionys to meet with the committee and try to put an end to this decree.
The Jews of Svecionys actually succeeded in convincing the authorities to allow a group of Jews to remain, 40 families, especially artisans, the so called useful Jews. We also tried to convince the mayor of New Svencionys to allow the useful Jews to remain. At first he promised, but later did not keep his promise.
Early Friday, on the eve of Shabbat Tshuva, the commander of the train station came to the Ghetto and chose 20 youths to be sent to Salduchishak to load boards onto the sawmill for the small train.
I was part of that group. At night, when we returned, we found the Ghetto surrounded by Lithuanian police.
The mood in the Ghetto was like Yom Kippur. Everyone felt the sad hour had arrived. Here and there people were making plans how to escape and be saved. The majority were in despair and helpless. It was the eve of a Holy day: no one slept that night. The next morning at 6 the chased all the Jews out of their homes, lined them up in rows and sent them to Poligon.
One Jew remained in town, Yitzkhal Leyzer Katz the tailor. He had to finish sewing a suit for the Police commander. That evening they brought him to Poligon as well.
When we arrive in the camp everyone was reviewed. They took away all our documents, valuables and money.
When they were done they separated the men and the women and sent them to wooden barracks that had no windows, were broken down and filthy. It was horribly overcrowded. There was no place to sit and no room to turn around.
The New Svencionys Jews were the first to arrive. A little later they brought groups of Jews from other towns: Heydutsishok,Stayatsishok, Doygelishak, Meligan and Sveretz.
Every town occupied another barrack. The Lithuanian police spied and guarded strictly to make sure no one escaped.
The next day they had us choose two of the elders in the barrack who every day had to provide a list of Jews in the barrack and report if someone was sick or escaped.
The two eldest in our barrack were Berl Guterman and me. We divided everyone into groups and sent them to work. The women worked picking potatoes; the men worked on the trains and a variety of other jobs in the town. The Jewish homes were locked, the Ghetto was guarded to make sure we wouldn't God forbid remove anything that had been left behind.
A few days later, they opened the Jewish homes, removed the furniture and other important items and auctioned them off to the Christian population.
Life in Poligon was very difficult: overcrowded and filthy, and worst of all great hunger.
The mayor of New Svencionys asked us to send him a few bakers to bake bread for the camp.
Among the bakers were: Shmuel, Zerakh and Leyb Broyda, Yosef Elperin, Kalikshteyn, Nosn Broyda and me. We gathered in the home of Shmuel Broyda and baked bread.
We left our barrack early in the morning and returned late at night. Of course we always returned with bread for the others in our barrack.
Approximately 50 Jews remained in Svencionys Ghetto artisans and their families. They were considered a useful element and they were permitted to bring various foods. They were also able to take out friends and relatives from Poligon on the pretext that they were necessary workers. A few people from New Svencionys were also saved this way: Berl Guterman, Feyvke Khayt, Leybke Troytse and others.
For five days we went to town to bake bread. One day when we returned we encountered this scene in Poligon:
All the Jews were lined up in rows, in front of the barracks. They were surrounded by soldiers with machine guns. In the middle stood a few tall S.S. men and Lithuanian officers. The head German spoke: The regional commissar decided to free all the Jews from the camp, if they are willing to pay a tax either in money, gold or valuables.
The crowd breathed a collective sigh of relief: this means they will let us live. If yes, to hell with the money. They immediately chose special collectors who sat in the entrances to the barracks and all the Jews, willingly, began to bring their possessions. Everyone gave all they had brought from home.
When they gave the Germans all the collected money, they returned the Jews to the barracks and enclosed them like cattle.
The following day, Tuesday the first day of Sukkot, our baking group returned to town to bake bread. Around 8:00 in the morning I went out to hear what was happening in town.
Coincidently, I bumped into the young Giru who was studying medicine at the university in Vilna. He told me:
Asherke, why are you wandering around? Did you know the authorities gave an order that all the Christians in the area must come at 5:00 in the evening to dig graves. Everyone has to bring a shovel and dig graves for the Jews that are imprisoned in Poligon.
I returned to the bakery and told them what I had just heard. Yosef Elperin and Kalikshteyn were already gone. We decided to hide. We left Kaltinya Street and snuck over to the Synagogue Street. We threw ourselves into the nettle bushes that grew tall in Yakov Shvartz's garden.
From there we saw, from a distance how all the Christians were arriving with shovels in their hands and gathering in front of the court house. When it was dark, we left our hiding spot and left town.
First we went to Klushtshan, where the Broyda's had a grandfather. On the way, Shmuel Broyda remained with a Christian friend, but in the morning joined us in Klushtshan.
He brought us horrifying news. All the Jews of Poligon had been shot.
We decided to send a Christian friend to New Svencionys to find out the details of the fate of the Jews in Poligon.
The Christian returned and reported how on Wednesday, the second day of Sukkot, the Lithuanian police removed all the men from the barracks, divided them into groups of 25 and killed them. Thursday, the first day of Khol Hamoed Sukkot, in the same fashion, killed all the women and children. All those shot were thrown into one large grave which the town's Christians and farmers from the surrounding area had been digging since Tuesday.
We realized that all we heard and saw Tuesday was true. The Lithuanian and German animals killed all who were close and dear to us.
This horrible and terrifying news hit us like a thunder bolt. We walked around confused not knowing what to do.
Few days passed and we decided to move on, in the direction of White Russia. First we headed toeard Vidz, where my sister Soreh Hinde from Ignalina was.
On the way we stopped in Mikhalishok where I found people from New Svencionys: Yosef Zak, Leyb Ring, Rafael Shutan and Isser Katcherginsky with their families.
From Mikhalishok we continued to Svir where we found Basia Gurvitch and her son Khaiml, Berl Guterman and his wife plus the Izikovitch and Svirsky families.
From Svir I left for Postav where I stayed with the old Tsepelevitch who was a member of the Jewish committee. He provided me with a wagon and I left for Kazian(Kaziany).
On the road I saw the police taking away the dental technician Sloimeh Hirsh Ridnitsky and his wife. I later learned they were shot not far from Postav.
I spent the night in Kazian and the next morning left for Vidz. I decided to remain in Vidz and tried to bring back my sister and her family.
A short time later the Vidz Ghetto was liquidated and all the Jews were brought to Svencionys Ghetto. 100 talented Jewish workers remained in Vidz, led by Lipman Levin. I succeeded to stay with them.
We then made a huge effort to contact Partisans and go out to the forest.
One day a farmer came to us with a note from a Partisan which said we should all come to the forest and bring Dr. Ginsburg with us. The farmer was captured and they found the list with our names. They immediately arrested four of us and shot the farmer in front of our eyes.
I needed to tear myself from German hands and escape. For two days I hid in the fields around town, then returned to Vidz, found Dr. Ginsburg and together with him joined the Partisans in the forest.
There began a new chapter in my life.
In the Forest with the Partisans
This is how we arrived in the forest outside Kazian, where there was a Partisan detachment. They numbered around 300, commanded by the former Soviet commander Faniemakhov. There were also many Jewish youth, boys and girls from the surrounding towns.
As soon as we arrived Dr. Ginsburg went straight to headquarters and I joined the general Partisan group.
A few days later there was a big blockade. A part of our detachment was destroyed, and a part broke away and headed east. Only a few remained in place, including some Jewish boys and girls and a few Russians, in total, 29 people.
Although our group was small, we decided to carry on with our independent Partisan work. We began with a few diversion actions, and soon, the whole area feared us.
Our group remained in the Kazan area all winter. Around Pesach, the other part of our detachment which escaped during the blockade returned. We united with them and were no longer alone. Soon after, other detachments joined us and we formed a brigade. Faniemakhov was chosen as our brigadier.
The first task of our brigade was to destroy German garrisons around Kazian.
We attacked two towns where the Germans were situated, burnt all the houses and killed almost everyone.
In the forest, I met Rivka Esterovitch, the woman I would later marry.
Together with her, I joined a group that went to a forest near Glubak. I was chosen by the brigadier to command this group and I was ordered to carry out various attacks.
I felt complete in this position and led my group to Vidz, Postav and Svencionys.
One day I learned the Red Army had parachuted Dovid Guterman not far from us. However, the Germans captured him, and his end was horrific: they poked out his eyes, tortured him, cutting off his sexual organs. Then they tied him to a tree and shot him.
When the Red Army liberated our area, my wife and I left for New Svencionys. A terrifying scene unfolded before our eyes: most of the town had been burned, in Poligon they showed us the mass grave where we found the bones of 8000 Jews, residents of all the towns from the former Svencionys district.
A short time later, other Jews began to return. Those who arrived were: Yosef Zak with his wife and children, Khaya and Nisn Las, Yitzkhak Gurvitch, Leyvik Zak, Velvl Sakhar, Yosef Kavarsky, Leyzr Gordon, Dovid Kimkhi, Hirsh Bikson and others.
A little later, returning from Russia were: Moyshke Tzinman, Aharon and Ruvke Boyershteyn, Zalman Gurdus, Khaim Rabinovitch, the sons of Sholem Karpas, Yakov Abelevitch, Avrom Gubesky and others.
My first task was to take revenge on the murderers who participated in the extermination of the Jews. I approached the NKVD and based on my information, the arrested Kurpis, the former commander of the Lithuanian police, the Lithuanian Matyukas and a few other Christians.
I then went a group from the NKVD to Lingmian, and there they arrested all the bandits who help exterminate the Jews of Lingmian. Some of the Christians were sentenced to many years in jail and others were sent deep into Russia.
I could not find my place amidst the destruction of our town. It was impossible to begin a new life on the graves of our former home.
We hung around a short while and decided to leave the town where every stone reminded us of spilled Jewish blood.
Our wandering resumed. We left for central Poland, from there to Germany, and after many hardships, we finally left for Eretz Yisrael.
Translated by Janie Respitz
I was born in the town of Yanishok, 25 km from NewSvencionys. My father was a blacksmith. He worked very hard to provide for his family of six. I finished the Folk Shul and wanted to continue my studies.
In 1939 the Soviets came and I went to work. I worked in Ignalina. When the German Soviet war broke out I ran away to NewSvencionys where my uncle Yisroel Portnoy lived.
A short while later a Jewish committee was formed headed by Rabbi Kimkhi. My uncle was also a member of the committee. The main function of the committee was to provide workers for the Germans. Because I was not registered in NewSvencionys I was not sent to work.
One morning at 6:00 I heard screaming. My uncle went out to see what was happening. He never returned home.
When the Lithuanian police saw him, they arrested him on the spot. They took 43 men, including my uncle.
From the house we saw how they took them away through Kaltinya Street, toward Poligon. We never saw them again. People were saying they were sent to work. The same day I learned the sad truth, all 43 were shot. A Lithuanian farmer friend happened to be passing by the hill where they were murdered. They stopped him, and he saw everything.
He told us my uncle had to bury the others. Then they made him dig a grave, shot him and threw him in.
I did not tell anyone the truth, as I did not want my aunt to know. Portnoy was not just my uncle. He was an uncle to all the Jews in NewSvencionys.
Many Jews in town called him lovingly: Uncle.
If someone needed a loan, they came to Yisroel Portnoy; if a poor Jew had to marry off a daughter and did not have the means, Portnoy would help.
My uncle never refused anyone. He helped everyone as much as possible. He would mainly give money from his own pocket. If the amount request was to too large, he would not be embarrassed to go to this one and that one, explain the importance of the situation and ask them to help out. No one let him leave empty handed. Everyone knew if the Uncle asked, they had to give.
My uncle had an open door and an open hand. His house was a sort of help society for young and old and all the poor people.
Not only the Jews loved him; the Christians also valued and respected him.
It is not surprising that his cruel
and bestial death was looked upon as a thunder on a clear day: if the Gentiles could illtreat uncle Portnoy as they did, the world must be coming to an end. There is no hope for anyone. And the end came quickly.
One time, on a Friday I went to work in Salduchishok, loading planks of wood. In the evening when we were done loading all the wagons, we returned to town. To our surprise, we found the Ghetto surrounded by Lithuanian police. Saturday morning, they told us all to come out of our houses and bring only a light bag. They were taking us away.
I began to imagine where they were taking us and why. I took my aunt Sorele and walked along the railroad tracks. They saw us right away. The caught me and brought me back to town. They let my aunt go. Soon after, I ran away again, through the Shul Street out of town.
I met a farmer I knew from Yanishok and he told me the truth. They were not taking people to work. They were taking them to Poligon where they would be killed. The farmer warned me not to walk around, but to hide and wait a couple of days.
I returned to town and told everything to Hirshl Rotshteyn. We gathered 12 people including my aunt, locked the front door with a key so they would think no one was there and through a back door went down to the cellar.
Lying in the cellar we heard them remove everyone from their homes and lead them through Kaltinya Street. We saw how they led Rabinovitch and the rabbi with their hands up in the air through the street. We even heard Lithuanians arguing about a robbery of flour and a cow they stole from the Jews.
We lay in the cellar until midnight. We had decided to sneak out of town. This was not easy. When we realized the Lithuanian patrol was far from
our house, we all quietly, snuck out and walked toward the Shul Street. The Lithuanians detected something and began to shoot. We hid for a while and continued walking out of town toward Rudzan.
Our escape was not easy. In our group were 4 children, 2 elderly women and Yerakhmiel who was lame who had twisted hands and feet. We had to carry him.
We walked almost all night, until we arrived in Rudzan, where Hirsh knew a farmer.
That Christian received us well. He hid us and warned us to stay put until he could find us a better hiding place.
When we calmed down we asked him to go to NewSvencionys and find out what happened.
He returned and reported they took all the Jews to Poligon. He warned us to stay put until things calmed down.
At night he came to us and said he was afraid to hide us. He took us to a forest, 3 kilometres from the village, led us into a shed where we remained. He came every day to bring us food and news from the town.
First he told us they were taking the Jews from Poligon to work, took large bribes and with a promise they would be freed. But a day before Sukkot, he brought us horrifying news: he heard there was an order from the Germans and Lithuanians, all the farmers in the area should come in the morning with shovels to dig graves for the Jews in Poligon.
We thought we were going mad. We had no idea what to do. The first day of Khol Hamoed Sukkot, we heard the shooting from Poligon. It lasted all day.
In the evening, when it was quiet, the farmer came and told us the truth. They shot all the Jews in Poligon. No one could be saved. We met a Christian who was in Poligon during the execution. He recounted how they murdered. He told us that they did not shoot the children, but threw them into the graves alive.
We saw the Christian was carrying a bag of things that were bloodied. He said all the farmers were doing this: they were taking the clothes and shoes from those Jews murdered in Poligon. He explained before they were shot, they were forced to undress, naked.
Our limbs froze. We could not move.
Two days later, with great difficulty, we arrived in Vidz. We left there and went into hiding until liberation.
Translated by Janie Respitz
On that Sunday in June, when the German Soviet war broke out I was in Ponavezh (Panevezys). Tuesday morning, two days later, I returned to NewSvencionys.
The Germans had already bombed the town. The Soviet army immediately withdrew; the civil authority evacuated and escaped to Russia along with a few Jewish families.
There was no official authority in town. The Lithuanian partisans took advantage of this situation. These were Lithuanian soldiers who ran away from the Red Army, former Lithuanian police plus Lithuanian hooligans and bandits. They organized a type of headquarters, created a jail and began to rule the town.
Firstly, they arrested all the former Soviet officials who were suspected of being communists.
Among the first arrested were Hirshl Levinshteyn, Gershon Gurvitch, Lialeh Gurvitch and his daughter Bluma, Dovid and Lyuba Fingerhoyt, Yosef Lipman and Moishe Zak, Nosn Shutan, Yosef Gildin, Hadassah Katz and the author of these lines.(Levi Zak)
Until today I do not know why they freed me, my brothers Yosef and Lipman Zak and Nosn Shutan. The rest were brought to a hill behind Vilna Street, and shot.
The German army arrived in town the second Wednesday. The civil authority remained in Lithuanian hands.
The Germans immediately gave an order that all Jews had to wear a yellow patch; they were forbidden to walk on the sidewalks and were forbidden to be in the streets in the evening.
Besides this, they established a Jewish council which
had to provide workers every day and help carry out orders that were placed on the Jewish population.
A large meeting was held in the Prayer house, and the members of the Jewish council were chosen. Peopled were asked if they would agree to join. The Jewish council was comprised of; Moishe Gurvitch, Henekh Gurvitch, Yisroel Portnoy, Khatzkl Levinshteyn, Berl Guterman and Yashike Katz.
Every day the council had to put forth workers for the Germans and the Lithuanians.
One day many S.S. and Lithuanian police came to town and removed many Jews from their homes on the pretext their children had been members of the Commosol (Communist youth group). They took 43 men to the outskirts of town to a bridge about 5 kilometres from NewSvencionys and shot them all.
The Christians told us they were all buried by Yisroel Portnoy. Then they shot him and threw him into the same grave.
The horrific annihilation of these 43 men shook the whole town. We now had an idea what the Germans and their Lithuanian collaborators were capable of doing. We now understood what fate awaited the rest of the Jews.
We soon learned they were going to build a Ghetto for the Jews of NewSvencionys. At first they wanted to put the Ghetto near the Shul court yard. But he Lithuanian commandant insisted on Kaltinya Street where many Jews lived.
All of our belongings, furniture and the rest of our things had to be removed from our homes. In the Ghetto, a few families lived in one room. It was crowded, but we could deal with it.
It was not a locked Ghetto and we were able to come and go. On market days, we were even permitted to shop.
The Ghetto existed only for 2 months. Friday, Erev Shabbat Tshuva, they surrounded the Ghetto on all sides and no one was allowed to leave. A Christian friend from a nearby village, Yan Borovsky came to me and told me they were going to murder all the Jews.
He knew this from a good source. He suggested I come to his place to hide.
Friday night, I snuck out of the Ghetto and went to his village. The same night, Yosef Zak and his family, Rafael Shutan, Yakov Bak, Nekhama Tzinman and her son also left the Ghetto.
I hid in Borovsky's attic for 2 days. He told me they had taken all the Jews to Poligon and will shoot them there.
Borovsky was afraid to hide me in his attic and suggested I go to another Christian, Karavatsky in a village called Pokumshe. I listened to him and when I got there I found my brother Yosef and his family, Yakov Bak and Rafael Shutan.
We stayed there for a few days, then, we all left together toward Svir, which was in White Russia, where Jews were not yet being persecuted. On the way we hid in Mikhalishok.
A little later we were joined by Asher Bitushunsky, Zerakh and Leyb Broida. They succeeded in escaping from Poligon.
We did not stay in Mikhalishok very long and continued on our way. We wandered for days until we met a Christian who agreed to hide us.
We stayed with this Christian until liberation. Kravatsky would come often and bring us food. We learned from this Christian how our dear ones were murdered in Poligon.
They took them in groups from the barracks, separated the men and the women, and made everyone strip naked. They took each group to a large grave and shot them with machine guns.
The Lithuanian police did not check if they were actually dead or just wounded. They threw everyone in the mass grave.
When they finished with the first group, they brought a second and third and this continued for two days.
Many were thrown into the grave alive.
The children were not shot. They were smashed into trees. There was one policeman who enjoyed tearing off their little feet. Without exception, all the children were buried alive. After the peasants covered the grave, they continued to hear cries and see the ground move for hours.
There were Christians who fainted doing this work, not able to bear the horrible executions.
The Lithuanians and Germans sang with joy.
When the Red Army freed NewSvencionys, it was learned that amongst the worst murderers were those peasants from the village of Mezhanel who partook in the horrific slaughter. After they covered the grave, they took the clothes and shoes of the slaughtered victims.
Translated by Janie Respitz
This was the first day of Hitler's attack on SovietRussia.
In Poligon, which was in NewSvencionys there was a Soviet officer's school, with a majority of Lithuanians. At 6:00 in the evening they all marched, led by a military orchestra, through the Streets of NewSvencionys toward Vilna.
At night when they reached the fields of Podbrodz, the future Lithuanian officers deserted. The following morning they organized partisan divisions against the Soviet powers. In NewSvencionys they were led by Kurpis, from the village Boyviz, with the support of the young priest Uzialo from the village Gramatskes, 2 kilometres from town. They immediately began their extermination of the Jews. Together with many other Jews, I was arrested as a collaborator with the Soviets. Miraculously I was freed by a Lithuanian.
The 27 Jews, among them were: Gershon Gurvitch, Gershon Zak, Moishe Elye, Lialieh Gurvitch, Bayle Khatzkelevitch, Zakharia's 2 daughters, Ite Rudnitsky, Hirsh Levinshteyn and others were killed in the forest on the way to Vilna.
Not only Jews were killed, they were also against the Poles. They used the same methods and the dead Poles lay among the dead Jews in the same graves.
A few days later the German entered. The German commander called upon Rabbi Kimkhi ,announced many edicts against the Jews and ordered him to carry out his commands.
The Rabbi called a meeting to choose a Jewish council which was comprised of: Rabbi Eliyahu Kimkhi, Henekh Gurvitch, Moishe Gurvitch, Yisroel Portnoy, Yeshua Katz, and Borukh Abelevitch.
One morning the Lithuanian partisans descended on the Jewish homes to take men and women to work. They brought them all to the court house on Vilna Street. The Lithuanian commander freed the women. They took a group of 43 men on trucks, accompanied by armed, drunken Lithuanians, and took them to work in the Baranov forest. Included in this group were: Motl Gurvitch, Yisroel Portnoy, Nokhem Troytse, Mendl Tzinman,
Yankl Klatshko, Note Kimkhi, Shmuel Broide, Shmuel Gavenda, Feiveh Khayt, Bank, Itzkhak Miller and others. In the forest they made them dig graves, and then killed them all. The only one to escape was Feiveh Khayt. (Chait)
Suddenly, they took all the Jews out of their homes and put them on Kaltinya Street where they built the Ghetto. The Jewish council, led by Rabbi Kimkhi, who lived in a small room in the new prayer house, began to distribute work places and collect bribes. They endeared themselves to the greased Lithuanians to learn what was going on and to try to repeal the edicts.
When I heard there were preparations for extermination, I decided to leave the Ghetto. Not willing to listen to my brother Moishe, who was a member of the Jewish council, that they had a promise from the greased ones, I left NewSvencionys and went to Vidz in White Russia, where I had lived until the First World War with my parents.
I arrived in Vidz the first day of Rosh Hashana. I reported in and was considered a citizen of Vidz. I told my family, my mother, my sister and brother and their families, to come to Vidz. Only my mother, my sister Beyle and her son Sholem, and Moishe's daughter came.
Later, my brother Moishe, his wife Esther, their 2 sons and his brotherinlaw Shloime Elperin tried to come. Behind Daugelishok they were noticed by shepherds and were handed over to the Lithuanian bandits. The captured family was killed near Daugelishok.
In Vidz I worked for a Christian who supplied the Germans with hay. This is how I supported the surviving members of my family in Vidz.
In 1943 they took all the Jews from Vidz to the Svencionys Ghetto. By then I was working for Shapiro in a fishing net factory, and maintained contact with my Christian friends in NewSvencionys, in particular the Gratulevichs, who informed me they were already sending people from Svencionys to Vilna and Kovno. I escaped from the Ghetto and began to wander from place to place, from Christian to Christian.
When I heard my mother and the remaining ones were in Vilna, I headed there. Getting off the train I met a group of Jewish workers and together with them, I entered the Ghetto. I found my mother, sister and 2 children naked, barefoot and hungry.
After two weeks in Vilna I realized I would die there so I left for NewSvencionys, knowing that my Christians friends would support my family in the Vilna Ghetto.
I remained in the area of NewSvencionys, hiding in the forests, swamps and bath houses. I hid at Vinik the drunkard's, Skirshinis', Mishun's and Drushtzian's. I was denounced a few times and had to run away. Hungry, barefoot and naked, I was hunted like an animal: I thought of ending my life more than once.
June 1944 I heard Soviet artillery shooting. I lay in a trench in an open field and thought that any moment now, I will be free. But the shooting became louder and drew closer. Will I survive the fire? Suddenly it became quiet. It all seemed unbelievable. The Germans were gone and I was free.
Upon entering NewSvencionys I saw the burning houses were still smoldering. Everything was destroyed. Most of what was the Jewish centre, the Train Street, Kaltinya Street, Svencionys Street, Vilna Street and the Shul Street had disappeared.
I knew that Yosef Zak and his family and his brother Moishe were in Pakumshe. I went to them. We were very overwhelmed. The first Jews I found from our town. Levi Zak and I settled in a room, later Hirsh Bikson, Dovid Kimkhi and Khaya Las with her husband and child arrived, Tzipe Bikson. I met a Jewish captain who helped us to get back on our feet. He said to me: Give me the names of all the bandits and I'll settle with them. That's exactly what we did.
One day I met the Lithuanian bandit who denounced Hirsh Levinshteyn. I told the Soviet authorities about him, and he was arrested. The following morning I received an order to come to
the GeneralSecretary of the party, who tried to get me to repeal the charges I had laid. It turned out the bandit was a member of the Communist party, recommended by the GeneralSecretary. I refused to drop the charges. A while later I received an order to come to the NKVD. Not knowing why they asked me to come, I notified my friend Gratulevitch what to do for me, if necessary.
At the NKVD they accused me of collaborating with the enemy of the Soviet Union. I explain that I was helping to exterminate the enemies. I, a Jew who had suffered so much would collaborate with the murderers? They arrested me and threw me in a cellar. I informed my friends and they did everything they could to free me. They continued to investigate me. I told them the demands of the GeneralSecretary. How he wanted me to drop my charges
against the Lithuanian bandit. They finally believed me and let me go.
One day an inquiry commission arrived that needed to ascertain the slaughter of the Jews and some Poles. The commission was made up of doctors, journalists and legal officials. I went with them to the graves that were on the road to Vilna, and to the large mass grave in the forest near Zemyane.
We did not have to dig for long. After digging one metre we saw the strewn corpses, without any order, mothers and children. They photographed everything and asked me how the Lithuanians participated in the murder. They asked me to sign, and this is how it ended.
It should not have ended like this!
The mass murder should not be forgotten. Remember!
Translated by Janie Respitz
Two days after the war broke out I posed the question: Where can I escape to? I answered my own question: to Russia.
Right after I left our town the question bothered me: If I escape, why all alone? It was already too late. There was no turning back.
The question troubled me throughout my wandering through the steppes of Kazakhstan all the way to Siberia. The feeling of remorse stayed with me during the 5 years and did not let me rest.
As soon as the war ended I decided to return home. Once again I had to endure wandering and difficulties until I finally arrived in NewSvencionys.
I got off the train and encountered a horrifying scene: the streets were empty; the houses burned. Everywhere I turned I saw only smoking walls.
Of all the houses that remained was the train station and Heshl Gordon's outside wall.
I walked through the town and could not recognize where the streets had been.
I began to search for someone who may have been saved. Maybe I will meet someone.
No one remained and I did not want to ask the Christians. It was not worth it. The large grave behind Zhemyane gave witness to what had transpired.
I realized I could not live here among the ruins. I decided to continue wandering, if only to escape the terrifying ghosts from the ruins and the graves.
I continued to drag myself from city to city, from country to country, until, with great difficulty I reached our old, historic home the Land of Israel.
Esther Feyge Furman Khayt (Chait)
Translated by Janie Respitz
At that I time worked as a cashier in the ZagotSkot ( a cooperative that bought cattle). When the Soviets left our town, there were approximately 8000 Rubles in my cash.
The head bookkeeper was Kazlovski, a Lithuanian from Kovno, who later became known as a communist leader who was connected to the underground Lithuanian communist organization in Vilna. He was captured by the Gestapo and betrayed the leader of the United Partisan Organization (P.P.O) in the Vilna Ghetto, Yitzkhak Vittenberg.
He ordered me to give him all the remaining money in the cash. He lived in the village Vikun not far from our town. I went to him and brought all the money.
Meanwhile, there were on going battles between the Soviet Army and the Lithuanian partisans. I could not return safely to town and decided to remain in that village.
I hid in the home of a Lithuanian acquaintance Pukiyenas, the brother of the priest who was the leader of the Lithuanian partisan headquarters.
His wife would bring me all the news from town. I learned from her how Motke Wolfson had been shot on the road; not far from Mohilnik lay the corpse of the murdered Malyuske Guterman; and the partisans killed Hirshke Broyda.
I stayed with them for one week. Pukiyenas wife was very religious. She tried to convince me to convert and stay with them. I thanked her for her kindness, and when the roads became
a bit safer, I returned home.
I barely crossed the threshold into our house when the Lithuanian partisans arrived and forced us to leave. They took us to the fields not far from the church and kept us there all day. When it began to rain heavily, the Polish priest came and allowed us to go inside his barn. This is where we spent the night.
Among us was BenZion Avtchinsky, who had a strange, comic face. The Lithuanian guards did not like him. They took him aside, and shot him.
At daybreak, we escaped from the barn and returned to town.
The mood was somber. We were afraid to go out on the street. I noticed how the known criminal Sushchik was leading my teacher Rufeytz's sister down Kaltinya Street. Not long after we heard that he killed her near the Sprunzske bath.
These were only individual victims. A few days later the Lithuanian murderers killed 43 people. The Action was carried out with a premade plan. They prepared a list of all the Jews whose children had been members of the Comsomol. They arrested everyone. If they they could not find someone from the list, they grabbed a relative or a neighbour to reach the desired 43.
The same day, they took them all outside town and shot them.
A short while later they built the Ghetto which only lasted a short time.
Meanwhile, the Lithuanian police were preparing barracks in Poligon, where they would send all the Jews from the region.
For the time being, our friend Kozlovsky moved into the Ghetto. He lived with in the house of Mordkhe Yose the ritual slaughterer. He came to us and suggested that me and my sister Roshke move in with him.
It was Thursday evening, when me and my sister Roshke left the Ghetto to go live with him. The very next morning, Friday, the Lithuanian partisans surrounded the Ghetto and no one could leave. We lay hidden in a dark corridor and were not noticed. Kozlovsky didn't even tell his children.
Early Saturday morning, the Shabbes before Yom Kippur, all the Jews were taken from the Ghetto and brought to Poligon.
Tuesday, the first day of Sukkot, Yurevitch, who worked at the electricity station, came to Kozlovsky and reported how they mobilized all the peasants from the entire area. They all had to come at night with shovels to dig graves for the Jews in Poligon.
Wednesday morning, the shooting in Poligon began. It could be heard the whole day.
All the gentiles ran to see this great wonder. It was said the Christians were celebrating, shouting and singing.
We thought we would go mad from pain and fear. Kazlovsky's wife would come in and try to cheer us up and comfort us.
By evening the shooting stopped.
We heard the voices and song of the Lithuanian bandits who were returning from the horrific executions. They gathered in the market place to celebrate their great victory.
On Thursday, the shooting in Poligon continued. The executions ended during the day. Once again they mobilized the peasants to cover the grave.
Over 2 days, the Lithuanians murdered almost 8000 Jews in Poligon. They took most of the belongings of the dead. We saw how even the town's Christians took clothing and shoes.
We both believed our hearts would collapse before we would go mad.
Being able to withstand this is a sign that a person is stronger than iron and steel.
Friday morning, Bogdan the medic came to the Kozlovsky's. Through the wall we clearly heard him say:
Good that we finally got rid of the Jews. They were planning a Communist takeover of the world. Now we have sent them to the next world. There they can bully whomever they want. Ha, ha
This was not only the opinion of Bogdan the medic; the majority of the Christian population felt this way.
Morally, they are all responsible for the spilled blood. Here and there you can find individuals who were not carried away in this tide, but they were few, individual people of good character who must not be forgotten and remembered with gratitude.
Translated by Janie Respitz
We lived in Pupisk's house on Kaltinya Sreet where the Ghetto would later be built. Since that house was situated outside the Ghetto, we moved to a Christian building, behind Khaya Elperin.
Living with us were Feyge Gurvitch, Henekh Gurvitch with his wife and children and Basia Gurvich and her son Khaim. Her husband Motl Gurvitch was murdered in the Operation of the 43.
We quickly decided that we must leave the town as soon as possible. We contacted our family in Svir and asked them to send a wagon. They sent it right away and first took my husband and children. I remained in NewSvencionys with a few things. Friday morning, Erev Shabbes Tshuva, my husband returned from Svir with a wagon to take me there. We packed our belongings and wanted to leave for Svir, but we realized the Ghetto was surrounded on all sides and it would be extremely difficult to leave.
When we saw the Lithuanian police go inside to Matovkas, we quickly escaped through the small Shul Street, and we succeeded in leaving town.
We arrived in Lintup, where my brother Rafael Svirsky had a turpentine factory. He employed 40 Jews from Lintup.
My brother immediately took care of my husband and my brother Yitzkhak, and put them to work as useful Jews.
Later Basia Gurvitch also managed to come to us. Henekh Gurvitch did not want to
leave his parents, and at the last minute abandoned his plan to join us.
The calm days in Lintup did not last long. The Germans were planning to liquidate the Ghetto. We then moved to Svir.
The Svir Ghetto also did not last long either. The Jews of Svir were sent in two transports to Kovno and Vilna.
The transport to Kovno went straight to Ponar where everyone was killed. The Vilna transport made it to Vilna.
We were in the Vilna Ghetto until our expulsion to Estonia. Basia Gurvitch and her son were also with us. My Family was on the first transport went to Narva, Estonia .Basia and her son were to go on the second.
We had to work very hard in the camp in Estonia. Khaiml was just a boy of 12. As he was tall and well built, they thought he was older. He went to work together with all the men.
The work was hard and they hardly gave us any food. Hunger was great and soon disease began to spread especially typhus.
Khaiml contracted typhus and died. His mother Basia was killed in Shtuthoff.
My children and I survived all the misery of the camp and had the good fortune to live until liberation. My husband died while walking on our way. He became weak and could not continue. He asked the children to deliver his last greetings to me.
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