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[Columns 1371–1372]

Destruction and Holocaust


The Decline and Fall of Jewish Life in Podbrozie

(Pabradė, Lithuania)


By Ben Zion Lapp

Translation by Yocheved Klausner

Podbrozie belonged to Poland until the first of September 1939, when the Second World War broke out. On the 17th of September, the Soviet army marched into town. On the 28th of October, the same year, the Soviets gave up the entire region to Lithuania, and our town was occupied by Lithuanian troops. In June 1940 the Soviet army returned and remained there until the outbreak of the German–Soviet war.

On June 22 1941, the Germans began bombing the Lithuanian cities Vilna and Kaunas, and our town Podbrozie was bombed as well. The target of this air attack was not only the military objects in our area, but also the important railroad junction. The first German air attacks caused terrible panic among the Jewish population.

The Jews packed their belongings and fled the town to acquaintances among the farmers in the surrounding villages. They believed that in the villages they will not be troubled as in town. The next day, however, they realized that it was not safe in the villages either. We heard, for example, that in the village Karkaziski, some 3 kilometers from town, Lithuanian officers broke into the house of the Jewish family Schmukler and shot both brothers Leizer and Moshe, and in another village Lithuanians shot the brothers Mirski and Chaim Zaken.

Myself, my wife, my father and my father–in–law, my wife's sisters and her brother–in–law, together with the Werfel family – we all went to a village not far from our town, to the home of a Christian acquaintance. Suddenly we observed, through the window, several Lithuanian officers who stopped our host and asked him whether he was hiding Jewish refugees.

We dropped to the floor and tried to be as quiet as possible, and the Lithuanians did not notice us. After a few minutes our host came in, pale and frightened, and when he realized what we had done, he said that we saved ourselves from certain death – for the time being. He had assured the Lithuanians that there were no Jews in his house, that all the Jews had run away. The question was, however, what will happen if they would demand to enter the house and search it.

We all realized that the village was not a suitable hiding place and we decided to return to Podbrozie. On the way we were stopped by Polish hooligans who tried to steal our horse and our belongings. We began asking for mercy and thanks to a Christian acquaintance that came to our rescue they let us go and we continued our journey home.

By that time the town was without regular governing authorities and deserters from the former Lithuanian army ransacked the place. Only on 29 June was Podbrozie formally occupied by the German army. The civil administration was given to the Lithuanian police, which was manned mostly by hooligans and murderers. They soon demonstrated what they were capable of: they would enter the Jewish houses, forced the Jews out and drove them to the army barracks and there they shot them on the spot.

Thus perished: Chaim Levenski, the tinsmith Chanan Schneiderowitz, Kopel Sklyarowitz, Idel Kolbak, the Lieberman brothers and others.

[Columns 1373–1374]

On July 15th the Lithuanians shot over 60 people, among them were: the old rebbetzin [the rabbi's wife] with her two sons, 70–year–old Israel Baruch Bawarski and his niece with her husband and children; Yitzhak Silber with his wife and child; Leibe–Nachum Glass with his wife and four children; Tadd with his wife and children; Abrashe Sklyarowitz with his wife, son and daughter; Kivelewitz with his wife, and several other families.

They were driven to a small forest near the mill, where a pit had been dug beforehand, and shot them upon arrival. Welvel Abramowitz, the old rebbetzin's son, was the sole survivor. He managed, miraculously, to escape from the very grave. Later, he became a partisan and after the war he returned to Podbrozie.

Right after the executions, official restrictions against the Jewish population were issued. At first it was demanded that all Jews wear white patches on the front and the back of their clothes. Later it was changed to yellow patches. Jews were not allowed to walk on the road or on the sidewalk, but only in the gutter and in single file, like animals. Jews were not allowed to shop in the market, not allowed to trade or have any negotiations with Christians and other such atrocities.

The private clinic of the Jewish dentist Kune Suzanne was closed and all the medical instruments taken. The Jewish doctor Reizhevski was forbidden to treat Christian patients. Jews were ordered to give all their radios to the authorities. In general, even those who were still alive were made to feel the hand of the German wild beast.

One day an order was issued, that all Jews – men women and children – gather on the square near the police building. All were certain that it would be the last moment of their lives, that the entire Jewish population will be murdered. Gloom spread over town, sobbing was heard in every corner.

After everybody gathered in the square, the military commandant came and made a speech. He explained that every Jew must work, that without work they will not receive food, and so on.

Right after his speech, a large number of Jews were sent to repair a road not far from town. Others were sent to the forest to chop trees, still others to the army barracks to clean the toilets.

Soon a “Judenrat” was formed, its object being to carry out all German orders concerning the Jews. In particular, the Judenrat would assign people to work and collect the imposed “contributions.”

Several days later, a new order was issued, requesting all the Jews to move to a ghetto, which was to be located in the two Christian streets: the Arnian and Bayarel Streets. The residents of these two streets were to occupy the vacated Jewish homes.

Christians began streaming to the houses of their Jewish acquaintances, each trying to “catch” a better house, with good furniture and riches.

Many Jews dug large pits in their gardens and hid boxes full of household objects, in the hope that they will sometime return to their houses. Others gave all their belongings to Christian acquaintances, hoping that they will be returned in better times.

Some of the Christians, however, asked the Jews to give them their valuable possessions, squarely telling them “what do you need these things, all of you are going to be shot anyway…”

Meanwhile, rumors spread – horrible rumors. Christian neighbors reported that in the surrounding villages and towns all Jews were slaughtered. In Njemenczin, for example, the Jews were taken to a place outside town and all were shot.

Christians, who came to Podbrozie on market day, would cross themselves when they still spotted some Jew. Often we heard them talking to each other, saying that it was a miracle that so many Jews are still alive in Podbrozie.

Receiving all these terrible news, we in the ghetto began to think of ways to save ourselves. The Judenrat collected money in order to try to bribe the Lithuanian police. We asked them at least to let us know when they planned to liquidate the ghetto.

In this gloomy atmosphere we lived in the ghetto 26 days, from the 1st to the 26th,/sup> of September 1941. Friday, 26 September, we heard that they were going to liquidate the Podbrozie ghetto. All Lithuanian teachers, post–office workers,

[Columns 1375–1376]

forest watchmen and tens of hooligans and underworld people were mobilized, to help chase out the Jews.

We decided to escape to Belarus, where the situation was not as dangerous as in Lithuania. Many of the Podbrozie Jews arrived thus to Kimelishak, Svir, Michaelishak, Lintop etc. Some were caught and shot right away.

I and my family, together with the Feller family, 9 persons in all, decided to hide in a cellar of a neighboring house in the ghetto. The door of the cellar we covered with hay. When the police came to look for Jews, they did not notice us, luckily. We heard them entering the house and looking around.

Shortly after we hid in the cellar, we heard shots and loud cries and weeping, mostly of women and children. We realized the slaughter of the Jewish population had begun.

We remained in the cellar the night between Friday and Saturday and the entire day Saturday. The second night we began thinking of going out of our hiding place to look for some food – the entire time we had not had even a sip of water. We all crawled out through a hole in the wall. It was a very dark night and we walked through the fields until we reached the house of a Christian that we knew, Gajdamowitz Gaspar. The Feller family went to another Christian, Stalewski, where they had left the day before their 6–months–old child.

At midnight we knocked on his door. His sister opened, and seeing that we were still alive, she fainted. They took us in and we told them how we were saved, but the wife explained that they were afraid to hide Jews in their house.

Her brother overheard our conversation. He got out of bed and dressed, then came out to us and asked us to follow him. He led us into a small shed and there we spent the night.

In the morning he brought us food: bread, eggs and hot coffee. We all opened our eyes in wonder. He explained, that for the time being we must not leave our hiding place, because death is lurking everywhere. Later the situation will perhaps improve. He led us into a place covered with hay and we remained there all day Sunday.

Sunday night, Gaspar brought the Feller family to join us. Stalewski had flatly refused to give them shelter.

The entire week we hid – all 9 of us – in the hay. Gaspar made great effort to bring us food. We noticed, however, that his entire family was very agitated, worrying that perhaps their neighbors would suspect anything. About a week later, Gaspar's uncle came running and very distressed: he told us that we must leave as soon as possible and run away, because the Germans and Lithuanians are searching the entire region, looking for hidden Jews.

Frightened, we all crawled out of the hay. Gaspar was already waiting for us in the courtyard. He took us aside and told us that the old man, his uncle, is simply afraid to hide us. But Gaspar had prepared for us a plan: one family will remain in the same place and the other will hide in a shack nearby. He will bring us food every day, but his own family must not know.

So we separated from the Fellers and went to our new hiding place. Often Gaspar would bring us some food. In this place we spent over five weeks.

One day, Gaspar came in and brought the news about the annihilation of the Podbrozie Jews. For the first time we heard what had happened and how horribly the 8,000 Jews in the Swenciany region perished.

We all admired the goodness of heart and the devotion of the Christian young man. When he was alone at home, he cooked for us a pot of potatoes and brought it to us. The neighbors probably (and hopefully) thought that he was carrying out food for the pigs or the horses.

In time, we told him where we had buried our money and valuables. He went there and dug them out – and brought us everything. We wanted to give him part of the money as a reward, but he refused categorically: “You – he said – will need it more than I.”

[Columns 1377–1378]

News reached us, that in Belarus the situation was a little calmer, so we thanked him for all he did for us and told him that we have decided to leave for Lyntop [Lyntupy]. He told one of his friends and both took their wagons and took us to Lyntop.

There we realized that Lyntop is about to be annexed to Lithuania as well, so we didn't wait and started on foot toward Svir. On the way we were caught by the Belarus police. The news about this reached the Svir Judenrat and they bribed the chief of police and we were released.

And so we became official residents of the Svir ghetto. We went to work, like all of the Svir Jews, to chop wood, carry stones and other jobs. In the Svir ghetto, it was possible to buy food products, and we decided to send a messenger to Gaspar and ask him to send us some money.

In a few days the man returned and brought money and some other things.

We were not hungry any more, since we were able to buy food products. But together with the money we received through Gaspar the terrible news that the family of Doctor Reyzhewski, Berl and Ben–Zion Eingeltzin and Jonah Kevin with his family – all were murdered in the Barany village.

At about that time, tragedy struck Svir: a large group of young Jewish men were sent to work in a neighboring town, and soon we heard that all of them were murdered.

I was transferred to work in another village and I was able to bring my family with me. We didn't stay there long, since we were soon transferred to the Michalishok ghetto. From there we were sent to Vilna, where I worked at the railroad.

During that time, the Svir and Michalishok ghettos were destroyed and most of the Jews were murdered at Ponar.

One day I found out that my wife's father and sisters were hiding in a village 60 kilometers from Vilna and we managed to correspond with them. They sent us a cart and we went there. A Christian friend prepared for us a special hiding place under the roof of a stable.

We spent there about two weeks and we were glad that we had found a shelter with the help of such a good man, when suddenly terrible news hit us again, like a thunder: not far from us, a hiding place with many Podbrozie Jews was discovered. In the group were Feige Barawski with two sons, Chaia–Rivka Munitz and her son, Shmuel and Tzviya Shmidt and their child. All were shot, including the Christian man who had helped them.

This tragedy made a frightful impression on the Christians, who helped to hide Jews. All became terribly frightened, and “our” Christian not less than the others. He was scared, and we had to leave our hiding place.

We didn't know where to go. During the day we stayed in the forest, at night we would walk through the fields, looking for food and a place to rest.

Finally we found another Christian, who agreed to hide us in an attic for 25 poods [1] of grains a month. Soon, however, he changed his mind and we had to leave. It was raining on that day. Not far from the place there was a large swamp with tall trees, so we went there, and at night we would go looking for food. Some of the Christians in the neighboring villages, who were aware of our plight, had pity on us and would bring us food from time to time.

Finally we arrived to another village, where one of the farmers agreed to hide us. We remained there for a longer time, until Polish partisans came looking for arms. Seeing the partisans, we quickly fled to a nearby wood, because we had heard that the Polish partisans, as well, used to murder Jews.

We stayed a few days in the wood. It was raining and we suffered much. Suddenly, Polish partisans stormed the place

[Columns 1379–1380]

and began shooting at us. My wife and her two sisters fell dead. They shot at me as well but did not hit me and I managed to run away. I found a little ditch and I hid there – it was full of water. I waited until it was dark, then I crawled out and began to walk, alone, not knowing where I was or where I was going.

After days of wandering and misery I arrived to a small village, and without asking anyone's permission I climbed into a small attic over a stable, where I spent the night. I had no food at all, not even water. Nevertheless, I decided to remain there the entire day. When night came, I climbed down and began walking again, until I reached the home of the Christian who had given us shelter before. He took me in and I stayed there for three weeks, all alone. He treated me quite well.

One morning, my host came running and said that troops of the Soviet army were stationed in the village. It was simply unbelievable that I was free, that my troubles and suffering has come to an end.

I went out of my hiding place and made my sorrowful summing–up: my wife and her two sisters remained lying in the little wood; my wife's father died in the village and was buried in a fox's den. All my dear and beloved have perished.

I was the only one left alive. What shall I do now? Where shall I go? I decided then and there, that I shall do everything in my power to reach Eretz Israel. My wish came true: I live now in Haifa.

Translator's Footnote:
  1. pood = a Russian unit of weight Return


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