THE SLAUGHTER OF JEWS IN THE LITHUANIAN COUNTY SEAT RASEINIAI
The Gruesome Slaughter of Jews
Early on Saturday morning, July 26, 1941, the third day of the Jewish month of Av, all of the men and women were ordered to appear in the yard of the camp for roll call. Everyone was ordered to surrender his gold, silver, money and watches. The murderers threatened to shoot anyone who did not hand over these goods. Everyone surrendered almost everything.
That Saturday Dvoyre‘s brother Leybl did not come to the house. The next day, Sunday, he did come into the house, where he related his watch, too, had been taken; Dvoyre had once given it to him as a present and memento. Leybl was very depressed. He explained that it wasn’t the watch he was concerned about, but he considered it a sign that things were not well with the Jews in the camp.
On the morning of Monday, the fifth day of the month of Av (July 28, 1941), Jews were taken away to work just like every day. That day Dvoyre’s brother worked at clearing away the ruins. Dvoyre came to the work site to talk with her brother. But the partisan who was on guard did not permit this, and beat Leybl with his rifle butt. Leybl was very agitated, and cried out: “What, don’t I have a right to talk to my sister?” Leybl was beaten again with the rifle butt, and went off to work.
Dvoyre relates: “The Jews regularly worked in town until after six in the evening. That Monday, however, the work was stopped at half past three. The Jews were driven past our house, and I saw my brother for the last time through the window. After the Jews were taken away to the camp, Jewish political arrestees were also led off in the direction of the camp. The Jews were made to stop near the camp. 350 men were assembled next to the camp.
“It may be that among the 350 were a number of men who were brought directly out of the camp while those who were brought from the city were next to the camp. The 350 men were immediately surrounded by a large number of guards and taken away down Jurbarkas Road, eight kilometers from Raseiniai, into a forest near the village of Zhuvilishkiai. Graves had already been dug for them there. All 350 men were shot that Monday evening, the fifth day of Av.”
Dvoyre relates further: “On the evening of the same day, I personally saw armed partisans driving down Jurbarkas Road into town. They were all cheerful and enthusiastic, and they were singing.
Christians told me later that some of the men had been killed while wearing their clothes. The rest were forced to undress next to the pit. Nearby peasants later explained that the majority of the 350 men were not shot, but simply-beaten to death with military shovels.
The Lithuanian murderers carried out the horrible mass murder with the complicity and under the direction of Germans. This is clear because, before the men were shot, two automobiles with Germans riding in them arrived at the camp, and the Germans consulted with the Lithuanians about something.
Yet the partisans reassured the Jews, both in camp and in the city, that the 350 men had been taken away to work somewhere. Among the Jews there was discussion of letters which had been sent by the men, written in Yiddish. In the letter the men asked for food, clothing and so forth. Later it was said that the Lithuanian murderers had forced a certain Jew to write such letter. However, he was not among the 350.
On Tuesday, the sixth day of Av, Frida’s cousin, Fradl Lazarsky went awąy in the same direction in which the 350 men had been taken, and interrogated the peasants. Eventually she met a peasant woman who lived not far from the spot where the men had been shot.
The woman told Fradl everything that had happened to the men in precise detail, assuring her that they all lay shot and murdered, in a pit in a forest, not far from where she lived. The woman was sick after this experience, because she had heard the cries of the men.
Later Fradl related this information to the Jews in the camp and in the city. But not everyone believed her; rather they assumed that Fradl had gone out of her senses. Most people believed her, but they had no way to save themselves.
The day after the men were shot, Dvoyre’s husband arrived in town. He told Dvoyre that the previous evening, Monday, 350 of the younger and healthier men had been selected and taken away. He explained that the Jews in the camp thought that they had been taken away to work somewhere.
Frida Praz who was in the camp the entire time, relates concerning the 350 men: “On Monday, the camp commandant Norbutas, assisted by Grigelivitsius, drove all the men and women out into the courtyard of the camp to go to work. It was two o’clock in the afternoon. They chose 350 of the youngest and healthiest men, and distributed spades and shovels to them. They announced that they were taking the men who had been selected to do a special job. Before the men were organized, two automobiles filled with Germans arrived in the camp. The Germans had a conversation with the Lithuanians. Later a truck full of armed partisans drove into the camp. They sang Lithuanian songs. The men who had been selected were led out of the camp and driven along the Jurbarkas Road on foot, where they were all shot.”
Frida and her cousin Dvoyre explained while this report was being written that some of the 350 men actually were taken out of the camp, while the rest were selected from among those who had arrived at the camp from work, but were not taken into the camp. Among the latter was Dvoyre’s brother Leybl Yankelevitsh.
A few days later the murderers in the camp shot Mrs Gitl Shmulovsky. This woman had been slightly mentally disturbed since before the war. In Raseiniai she was considered to be not altogether normal. During the summer she used to have episodes of madness. This woman was accused by the Lithuanians of “attempting to set fire to the barracks” in the camp. She was shot by Norbutas.
During the time of the war between Hitler Germany and Poland (in 1939), the entire population of the Kamenetz Yeshiva — the students and their teachers — had arrived in Raseiniai as refugees from Poland. A large number of them were later taken into Russia by the Soviets, in 1940. The rest wound up in the camp with the Jews of Raseiniai. Many of them died during the slaughter of the 350. The rest of them gradually died, together with their teachers, in the course of various mass killings.
The slaughter of the 350 men was only the beginning of the total annihilation of the Jews. Almost every day the murderers Norbutas and Grigelivitsius sought out young people who had belonged to the Communist Youth, or who had occupied positions during the year of Soviet rule. They took them out of the camp and shot them by themselves, without a trial, without an investigation.
Later they stopped checking and selecting altogether. They would take altogether innocent men and women out of the camp, and shoot them at Zhuvelishkiai.
In addition to the daily murder, every week — always on Wednesday — there were “official actions” which were carried out exclusively by Lithuanians. Hundreds of Jewish men and women lost their lives during these “actions.” The shootings were carried out at Zhuvelishkiai.
Yet the Lithuanian murderers constantly reassured the unhappy Jews in the camp and in the city that everyone who was taken away from the camp was working at various locations.
The number of Jews in the camp decreased sharply and steadily. But those who remained were still taken to work in the city every day, as if nothing were happening in the camp. The “man-eater” Grigelivitsius, the commandant of the men in camp, was exceptional for the dreadful murder he committed.
The rabbi of Raseiniai, Rabbi Katz, was not in the camp. He sat in his home and studied day and night. With a broken heart, he observed the annihilation of his congregation. But he could not help them. The heavens, to which he shouted and pleaded for mercy from the depths of his heart, remained mute.
Lithuanian partisans once came to the old man’s house. They found him sitting and studying. They ordered him to get dressed and go along with them. He categorically refused to go along and announced that he knew where they were taking him, and that he was ready to be shot in his home. The murderers spared him two times, and went away. The third time, two partisans came and forced the rabbi to leave his house.
Dvoyre personally saw the rabbi being taken away in the direction of Jurbarkas, to Zhuvelishkiai. The rabbi went slowly, marking his steps, his head bowed down low to the ground. The murderers took the rabbi to Zhuvelishkiai, and there they shot him.
When the number of Jews in the camp was greatly diminished, the murderers began taking Jews to their deaths, from town as well. The only ones remaining there were the elderly, the sick and women with small children. The sick, weak and elderly were driven out of their homes by the murderers, placed into wagons and taken to be shot in Zhuvelishkiai. There was a terrible panic in the city. Everyone closely and fearfully examined every movement of the murderers in the streets of the town. No one was sure of his or her life anymore, and everyone waited for death in fear.
Dvoyre‘s father Perets was sick at home at that time. Once the partisans came to take him. With his eyes pleading and filled with deathly terror, Perets looked at the murderers and at his daughter Dvoyre. With tears in her eyes, Dvoyre begged the murderers to spare her sick father, and promised them anything they desired in return. The murderers left Perets, and went away. But Perets understood well that his reprieve was only temporary.
He was already sixty years old, and he was intelligent. He understood that he would be unable to avoid the tragic fate of all the Jews in town. He suffered from heart disease. He drank an entire bottle of medicine, hoping to die of poisoning. But the fluid in the bottle was too weak to tear the thread of his life. Dvoyre herself experienced the dreadful anguish, suffering and pain of her father. She decided that she would help her beloved father to die, and free him from his suffering, from his bitter, hopeless struggle for life. But she had no poison.
At night the partisan, who had left Perets alone during the day came and demanded what had been promised to him. Dvoyre told him to take everything he wanted. The murderer packed two suitcases full of various items. He promised to help her father as much as possible, and went away with the suitcases. But Dvoyre understood that the elderly and sick were not secure in their homes. In addition to her father, her mother and mother-in-law were also in the house.
By now there were few Jews left in town, and in their loneliness and terror they sought protection together with acquaintances. They clung to each other like sheep terrified of wolves. All of the Jews from the other streets moved to Nemakshtsiai street. They did this partly because the Lithuanians had begun some time earlier, to speak about creating a ghetto in that street.
While Dvoyre’s mother-in-law was being taken to Nemakshtsiai Street she suddenly shouted, “Oy!” and fell dead. She died like a saint, and had an easy death. She was buried at the Jewish cemetery in Raseiniai.
After the burial, Dvoyre found her mother, who lay hidden in a depression in a garden. A peasant woman whom she knew, a neighbor, spotted her and took her coat. In exchange she gave Dvoyre‘s mother food. Dvoyre took her mother to Nemakshtsiai Street as well.
Perets was very afraid of appearing in the city. Sick, he crept from garden to garden on his belly, until he arrived at Nemakshtsiai Street, at the home of his female cousin Kumpinsky (nee Flaysher).
At that time Dvoyre discovered that in the Lithuanian hospital there were sick Jews from Raseiniai, who had remained undisturbed the whole time. Dvoyre went to see Dr Kovalersky, and managed to get her father Perets admitted to the hospital.
One Sunday morning five Jews received permission to come to town from the camp. Among them were Dvoyre’s husband Yakov. The partisans detained the five Jews, lined them up against a wall with their hands up, and threatened to shoot everyone. With tears in their eyes, Dvoyre and other women convinced the partisans not to shoot the men. The murderers took the five Jews to the camp, and threw them into the camp prison.
Dvoyre was well acquainted with a Lithuanian, a neighbor named Zhemaitis. She asked her neighbor to go to the camp and give Grigelivitsius 12,000 rubles to get Yakov released from prison. Zhąmaitis knew Grigelivitsius. Zhemaitis had a large farm, a compound in a village called Dublaukiai, 28 kilometers from Raseiniai. Zhemaitis rode to the camp in his carriage, and requested several Jews to repair the barns on his farm. Grigėlevitsius came out to see him. Zhemaitis asked him to assign him several Jewish workers, including Yakov Lazarsky.
Grigelivitsius understood Zhemaitis’ intentions, and declared, “Your efforts are useless. You won’t be able to save Lazarsky in any case. There’s an order to wipe out all the Jews. If I let him out today, he’ll be shot tomorrow.” But Zhemaitis insisted, and gave Grigelivitsius the 12,000 rubles.
Yakov was freed from prison. Grigelivitsius apparently split the money with his friend Norbutas. Several times the two men saved Yakov from “actions.” Before one “action” Grigelivitsius spotted Yakov and shouted: “What are you doing here? I sent you to feed the horses!” Yakov understood, and left the camp. He never returned there.
Apparently the murderers didn’t want to lose the friendship of Zhemaitis. Yakov found a place in a village seven kilometers from town, with a peasant named Vasilevsky, and hid himself there temporarily.
The Escape from the Camp
Frida Miller (nee Praz) decided to run away from the camp after the 350 men were shot. She believed everything her cousin Fradl Lazarsky had said when she returned to the camp after interrogating peasants concerning the fate of the 350 men.
Norbutas, the commandant of the women, had known Frida for many years before the war. There began to be rumors about a list of women who were going to be taken away from the camp. It was during the third night after the 350 men where shot, when everyone already lay on their bunks. Norbutas summoned Frida, and offered to help save her. He explained that all 350 had been shot, and that a list of younger and prettier women to be taken away and shot had already been prepared. Frida understood that he would exploit her and later shoot her. She pretended to accept the help he offered her, and arranged where to meet him the next day, after leaving the work place.
Frida came to the barrack and told all the women. A panic broke out. The women lay and wept. Some of them said goodbye and kissed each other. No one knew whose fate had already been settled by the murderers. But some of the women did not believe, and comforted each other.
The next day all the Jews were taken to work in town, like every day. Frida escaped from the work site, together with her cousin Shifre Lazarsky. An entire day the two spent lying in the attic of the home of a peasant woman Lazarsky knew. At seven o’clock in the evening, the two women dressed as Lithuanian girls. A peasant woman named Janushkevitziene from the village of Pashaltonis, seven kilometers from Raseiniai, placed Shifrė next to her on her wagon. Frida walked behind the wagon carrying a bouquet of flowers. Three kilometers from town, Frida got into the wagon herself. The two girls reached their destination safely. The Janushkevits family were Polish; all of them were good people. The family took care of the two girls until the arrival of the Red Army.
That same day a larger group of women escaped from the work site. They split up and hid in the villages, fields and forests. Several dozen women escaped in all that day.
- Ten women who spent that day lying hidden in town, in the bushes and in the grain fields, were caught by the partisans and taken to the camp prison. The murderers were still stuffing themselves and getting drunk in celebration of the murder of the 350 men. It was the third day after the shooting of the 350 men. The Lithuanian degenerates raped the ten women that night, and shot them on the spot in the camp.
- A certain girl named Mine Khvaydan escaped that day. She hid first in the city until the evening, and then went to the country. She survived.
- Mine Khvaydan’s brother also escaped from the work site that same day, and hid at the home of a Lithuanian friend of his from the Lithuanian gymnasium. The Lithuanian gymnasium student pretended to receive his Jewish comrade in a friendly way, and asked his mother to give his friend food. He himself went off to call the police and partisans, the latter immediately came, took the young Jew out of the house, and shot him on the spot. The Lithuanian gymnasium student immediately inherited the murdered boy’s coat. Later the gymnasium student occupied a prominent position among the partisans.
- Among the escapees was the young, pretty woman Golde The peasants found her hiding in the grain, and raped her. In the middle of the night the rapists brought her to her home in the city. She lay unconscious in bed for several days. Golde remained in the city from then on. The murderers extorted a large sum of money from Goldefs father.
- Khane Vinik and her sister were well acquainted with the murderer Norbutas. He gave both of them a chance to leave the camp. The two of them went away to the Kaunas ghetto and survived. The escape from the camp aroused the anger of the murderer Grigelivitsius. His behavior toward the women in the camp became unbearable. There were only young women left in the camp. Their anguish, pain and constant deadly terror forced the women to appeal for help from the German commandant of Raseiniai, the Lithuanian German Schmit. The murderer Grigelivitsius decided to take his revenge on these “nervy women” who had gone to complain to the commandant. Once, in the middle of the night, he woke all the women up for a roll call. After the roll call he lined all the women up in rows, and under guard by armed partisans, he led them from the camp in the direction of Zhuvilishkiai. Several machine guns were carried along on a wagon. Outside of town he stopped the women and threatened to shoot everyone for going to complain. The women took advantage of the dark night, and many of them ran away into the fields. The partisans captured some of them and brought them back in line. Grigelivitsius announced: “If you have the nerve to go and report on me again, I’ll really shoot you.”
All of the women were brought back into camp. A large number of the girls who had run away at night never returned to the camp. The various threats of the Lithuanian murderers didn’t help. They were forced to liquidate the camp, and released the remaining Jews from the camp to go live in town. The Jews in the city lived freely for exactly a week and a half. They were free to move about in the market and in the street, and they lived in relative calm. The optimistic Jews developed the impression that no one else would be taken away and slaughtered. It was in the murderer’s interests to create this impression.
Dvoyre remembers well that before the Raseiniai Jews moved into the Biliūnai compound, a truck full of Jews, mostly women, was brought from the surrounding towns. They had all been captured after the slaughter of the Jews in the small towns. All of the Jews who were brought were taken to prison, and they died during various actions, while Raseiniai Jews were taken from the monastery and the city to be shot. But there were no special shootings of those who had come to Raseiniai from the surrounding towns, except for a few who had come to Raseiniai at the beginning of the war, and remained there.
The Total, Horrible Slaughter of the Jews
On the morning of August 26, 1941, an order was issued directing that all the Jews were to leave the city and settle in a compound called Biliūnai, eight kilometers from Raseiniai. They were given very little time to make the move: all the Jews had to be at the compound by 1:00 p.m. on August 27.
They were allowed to take along whatever they considered necessary. The pessimists believed that this was to be their final journey. But there were quite a few who were very optimistic.
On the 25th, Dvoyre was with Mrs Dr Perlow. She was feeling very cheerful, and guaranteed that no one had been shot, that everyone who had been taken away was alive and working. “We mustn’t make life harder than it is in reality,” she admonished Dvoyre.
The dentist Mrs Khazanovitsh and Mrs Dr Perlow rode to the compound and looked everything over themselves. When they returned, Mrs Dr Per low announced: “The camp is set up for people to live in.”
The two doctors even had permission to set up their offices in the compound.
Bearing their baggage, the small children, the sick and elderly on wagons, others on foot with their packs on their backs, the Jews made their way from town to the Biliunai compound. It was a very tragic scene. Everyone’s eyes were red from weeping, and their heads were bowed. They sensed that it was their final path. Even the optimists felt depressed, seeing the tragic caravan of women, children, the elderly and sick. Precisely at the set time, on Wednesday August 27th, all the Jews had arrived in the compound.
There was no fence around the compound. But as soon as the Jews arrived, a heavy guard was posted around the compound, made up of well-armed partisans. The Jews immediately sensed that they had entered a deadly trap, from which they would be unable to make their way out and survive.
On Thursday, August 28, 1941, several dozen partisans came into the compound singing. They were all well armed. The women and children, along with the few remaining men, were taken away from the compound to pits which had been dug nearby, and there they were shot. That Thursday the murderers shot all the Jews who were in the compound.
On Friday the 29th, the sick Jews were brought from the municipal hospital directly to the pits next to the Biliunai compound, and everyone was shot. Later it turned out that while the Jews were making their way from town to the compound, the pits had already been dug.
Neither Frida nor Dvoyre knows the exact location of the pits. They do know, however, that the location is near the Biliūnai compound.
The murderers divided up the clothing of those who had been shot. The cheaper things they distributed or sold at auction.
On Thursday, August 28, 1941., the sixth day of the month of Elul, and on Friday, August 29, 1941, the seventh day of the month of Elul, the old, well-known Jewish community of Raseiniai eternally ceased to exist.
Very few Jews survived. Jews in hiding, who found out about the ghetto at the Biliūnai compound, left their hiding places and voluntarily went to the compound, where they died. Only a few managed to escape the compound.
Those who survived at that time were: Sorele Furmansky, aged 16, and her cousin Reyzele Lurye; Khavive Goldshteyn; Mrs Dine-Zise Floym; and a few others.
To be continued…