THE SLAUGHTER OF JEWS IN THE LITHUANIAN COUNTY SEAT RASEINIAI
Those Who Died After the Slaughter at the Biliūnai Compound
Before the Jews moved to the Biliūnai compound, Dvoyre received a letter from her husband Yakov through the peasant Vasilersky, with whom he was hiding. In the letter he wrote, in addition to other things: “If you can’t come to me and you go to Biliūnai, I will come to you.”
Dvoyre was suddenly faced with a dreadful question: “Whom to choose?” To let her mother go to Biliūnai alone, and leave her father sick in the hospital, or risk the life of her husband and write to tell him to join her in Biliūnai: this was the terrible problem Dvoyre quickly had to make up her mind about. She went to see her father in the hospital. Her father was already about sixty years old, and very intelligent. He understood the terrible problem which was tormenting his daughter.
With tears in his eyes, Perets declared to Dvoyre:” If Biliūnai is a place where people will live, you will always be able to come to the compound; if, God forbid, it is a place where people will die, then why should you die young, when you wouldn’t be able to save me or your mother in any case. Go to your husband!” Perets burst into tears.
Dvoyre had to promise him that she would obey him, and go to her husband. Dvoyre then helped her mother to pack her things, and with a poisoned, broken heart she accompanied her to Biliūnai, where her mother died. Her father was taken from the hospital together with other patients, and shot near Biliūnai.
Dvoyre’s husband Yakov, his father Moyshe-Mordkhe and his sister Fradl lay hidden at the home of a peasant named Saslevsky in a village seven kilometers from Raseiniai.
Fradl no longer wanted to remain in hiding in a potato cellar together with her father and brother, and wandered through the villages, forests and fields for a week. A neighbor spotted Yakov and his father in the potato cellar in the field. He approached them and warned them that partisans were expected to come to the area to look for hidden Jews. He himself went to Raseiniai and reported the two Jews to the police. When the partisans and police came searching, Yakov and his father had already gone away to hide in the forests and fields. There Yakov lost contact with his father.
One of the partisans decided that he had to catch them. Every day he went into the forest with a friend of his to look for them. Once the murderer spotted Yakov and shot at him. Like a poisoned mouse, if the comparison may be excused, Yakov desperately sought a way to hide from the murderers and save his life. His cap was full of holes from the bullets the murderers aimed at him.
Yakov sent a note to Dvoyre by way of a peasant. He complained that he had no place to stay. Dvoyre convinced Zhemaitis to permit her husband and sister-in-law to join her in the compound in the village Dublaukiai. Dvoyre promised the peasant that she would leave the compound as soon as her husband and sister-in-law arrived. Zhemaitis agreed. Dvoyre sent a note to her husband by way of the peasant, and asked him to come as soon as possible. In the letter she did not fail to emphasize to her husband that he shouldn’t go through the town.
For incomprehensible reasons, Yakov and his sister, whom he had met in the forest, went to the compound through Raseiniai. Yakov and his sister hid in a cellar in his own house. Zhemaitis met them, and they begged him to bring them a drink of water. When the peasant brought them water, they were already gone. Both of them had run away from the cellar, and hid in a hay barn in a farm called Rukio Mokykla. In the morning a Christian woman spotted the two of them and shouted out loud: “Lazarsky and his sister are lying in the hay!”
Yakov ran away from the barn in the direction of the Jurbarkas Road and hid in the bushes. The peasants surrounded and captured him.
Frida escaped and hid in the attic of a stall on her farm. She too was found. Both of them were taken to the town prison, where they were kept for several days. There were other captured Jews in the prison. They were taken from the prison to Zhuvelishkiai in a truck, and everyone was shot.
Zhemaitis came to his compound and told Dvoyre that Fradl had been badly beaten when she was captured. The murderers found fifty American dollars in her possession. Fradl managed to tear them to pieces. That was why they beat her so murderously. He also told her exactly how Yakov had been captured.
Dvoyre‘s father-in-law Moyshe-Mordkhe Lazarsky nowhere found a possibility of hiding, and went toward the Kaunas ghetto. Partisans noticed him and shot him. He was on the road to Girkalnis. The murderers buried him there. After the war his surviving daughter, Shifre, exhumed him and reburied him at the Jewish cemetery in Girkalnis.
Hopeless, Dvoyre Makes Her Way to the Kaunas Ghetto
Dvoyre lay hidden at the home of Zhemaitis in town. But there her situation was insecure, and the good Lithuanian advised Dvoyre to move to his wife’s parents’ compound. Early in the morning she dressed like a Christian woman. She pretended to bandage her mouth so that she wouldn’t be recognized. Then she went outside of town. The peasant woman went first, and Dvoyre followed her. They walked the 28 kilometers until they arrived at the compound. The date wąs August 28, 1941. As soon as they left the city, partisans surrounded the entire city and searched for Jews.
It was hard to convince the elderly peasants in the compound to hide Dvoyre. But when they had agreed, they behaved well toward here and took good care of her.
After she lost her husband, nothing interested Dvoyre any longer. She became apathetic, and lost interest in continuing the bitter struggle for life. The peasant woman watched Dvoyre to make sure she wouldn’t commit suicide, which would have caused considerable difficulty for her family. It would have been discovered that she had been hiding Jews.
One time Dvoyre was not cautious enough, and she appeared at the window. A neighbor noticed her. At the same time, the police chief in Raseiniai summoned Zhemaitis’ wife and reported to her that he had received a complaint that she was hiding Jews. Of course the peasant woman denied this, but she rode to the compound on a bicycle and told Dvoyre everything. Dvoyre’s situation became desperate, and she decided to commit suicide. A Lithuanian female doctor whom Dvoyre knew lived in town.
Dvoyre sent the peasant woman to her to ask for poison which she could take and die painlessly. In town, however, Zhemaitis did not permit his wife to go to the doctor. Dvoyre was brought back to town from the compound in a carriage, and she hid at Zhemaitis house. She remained hidden in a child’s room, and she had every comfort there. However, Dvoyre always slept ready, in her clothing.
A young Lithuanian began to come frequently to Zhemaitis’ home. It was absolutely impossible to get rid of him. They began to suspect that he was spying out the house to see if there were any Jews there.
One time a little Lithuanian girl found a revolver wrapped in a cloth at Zhemaitis’ lumber shed. No one knew where it had come from. It became impossible for Dvoyre to stay where she was any longer.
Meanwhile Dvoyre found out that there was a ghetto in Kaunas, where Jews were still alive. She decided to go away to the Kaunas ghetto. After surviving a dangerous journey, Dvoyre arrived in Kaunas on the day of the “action” against the residents of the “small ghetto.” At night Dvoyre learned that the fire which could be seen in the ghetto came from a burning Jewish hospital, which Germans and partisans had ignited and exploded, and where the patients and staff had been burned together.
Here again Dvoyre found Death hovering over innocent Jews, and she altogether lost interest in continuing to live. She believed that in any case the few Jews remaining in the ghetto would be slaughtered in a few days. The peasant woman understood what Dvoyre was experiencing and proposed that she return home immediately. She promised Dvoyre that she would do everything she could to save her life.
At night the peasant woman arranged for Dvoyre to spend the night in Kaunas. The next morning Dvoyre entered the ghetto with great difficulty and at great risk. That morning, at the fence of the ghetto, a woman was shot. She had been taken from the “small ghetto” to the Ninth Fort near Kaunas, where the Jews who were taken away were shot. This woman had managed to run away from the Ninth Fort. When she tried to sneak back through the fence into the ghetto, she was shot.
In the Kaunas ghetto Dvoyre shared the agonies of the Jews of Kaunas. She was there until October 20, 1943.
The participants in this testimony, Frida Praz and her cousin Shifre Lazarsky, were hidden by the peasant Janush Janushkevitsius.
They avoided the slaughter of Jews at the monastery camp, and again later on in the city and at the Biliunai compound. The head of the family, Janush Janushkevitsius, a Pole, and his family were among the righteous Gentiles of that time. They sacrificed themselves for the two girls who had run away from the camp, shortly after the 350 men were shot. The family consisted of the mother, Michalina: a son named Janush and two daughters, Aldona Gricko who had two children, and Janina, who was unmarried.
Frida Praz: Her Heroic Struggle to Remain Alive and
Tell the World about the Slaughter of the Jews of Raseiniai
Frida managed to acquire Aryan documents, and continued living freely. She spoke perfect Lithuanian and looked like a Lithuanian girl. On the other hand, Shifre Lazarsky had to hide. After a certain amount of time she went away to the Kaunas ghetto.
Frida did everything in her power to please her rescuers. She learned how to do every task there is on a farm, and helped out everywhere: in the kitchen, in the field, milking the cows, feeding the cattle, etc.
Not one of the relatives and acquaintances of the family Janushkevitsius imagined that their maid, Onute Dambrauskaite, was Jewish. In such circumstances, Frida was able to observe the moods of the peasants in the countryside and their attitudes toward the Jews, who had already been annihilated throughout Lithuania.
She had the opportunity to become convinced that the vast majority of Lithuanians were happy that the Jews had been annihilated.
The best and most educated among the Lithuanian peasants were of the opinion that it was not necessary to slaughter the Jews, but as long as the job had been started, no witnesses should remain, or else the Lithuanians would pay dearly. She observed no sympathy on the part of anyone for the Jews whose lives had ended through various unnatural deaths. But everyone was very caught up in the fear of responsibility, in case the Germans lost the war.
Frida experienced a number of threats to her life. After the annihilation of the Jews of Raseiniai had been completed, the partisans began actively seeking the Jews who had survived and were in hiding. Their slogan at the time was: “Look for hidden Jews, Red partisans and moonshiners.” Once a work party of peasants (talka) was working in the fields. All the neighbors were there working. Armed partisans arrived on bicycles. Frida thought that the last minutes of her life were approaching. She was certain that someone had betrayed her, and that she was going to be arrested.
The mistress of the house and her daughters laughed sarcastically at the partisans: “You’re looking for Jews here? But you’re not going to find any.” The partisans responded: “We’ve shot all of them, there aren’t any left!” Frida didn’t raise her head, so that no one would notice her terrified expression. The partisans rode further. Frida breathed more easily, making sure no one noticed. Frida lived through such moments more than once.
Frida often found out about Jews who had been in hiding and were then caught. She always took the news very hard. Not one of her acquaintances who told her about such thing could be permitted to hear the beating of her bursting heart, as she listened to all the stories about Jews who had been caught, or about the horrific murders when the Jews were annihilated.
In the winter of the year 1942 the peasant woman Pakarkliene, an acquaintance of Frida’s from the same village, had a birthday. A partisan named Jonaitis, also from the same village, was at the birthday party. Eventually the conversation turned to the subject of Jews. Everyone became an “actor,” trying to demonstrate how Jews used to walk, how they used to talk. Everyone showed off their best imitations of Jews. All the rest were helpless with laughter. Frida also laughed through tears.
Jonaitis related how they had captured a hidden Jewish family in the fall of 1942: a husband, a wife and a six-year-old child. Apparently the family was on their way from one village to another looking for a place to hide. Jonaitis, Jablonski and two other partisans came upon them and took them to the Raseiniai jail. From the prison, Jonaitis and a few others had taken the family away to be shot.
He saw that the child had fine shoes on its feet, and took them off the child” “It was cold by then. The ground was frozen, and the child stood first on one foot, then on the other complaining: ‘Mama! I’m cold!’ The mother hid her eyes and said to the child: ‘It’s nothing my child, soon we will be warm. They spoke perfect Lithuanian, just like Lithuanians. All three were shot. I never had any pity on the Jews, but I can’t forget the child’s words. Who knows, maybe we really shouldn’t have slaughtered the Jews.” — he finished his tale, with an ironic smile. But a while later he gritted his teeth again, and expressed his wish to meet a Jew.
Frida had to listen to this and remain calm, so that no one would suspect her.
Another time Frida was told that a driver from Raseiniai was carrying a load of leather. On the way an old peasant woman asked the driver for a lift. When she got up into the truck, she stepped on someone’s foot. At first she pretended not to notice. In the town of Girkalnis she got off, and immediately reported that the driver was carrying a hidden Jew under his load of leather. The police caught up with the truck, arrested the Jew and took him to prison. Later he was shot. (He was a Jew from the Kaunas ghetto.)
To avoid the company of the cursed Lithuanians was awkward and even dangerous for Frida. And so she had to suffer. Her hope to remain alive and later to tell the entire world about the slaughter of the Jews in Raseiniai, about her beloved parents, relatives and friends, gave her strength and courage to fight for her young life.
With all the pain her heart could hold, she followed the news about the life of the Jews in the Kaunas ghetto, and through letters she remained in contact with her cousins Shifre and Dvoyre Lazarsky. She followed with suspense the political and strategic events taking place throughout the world and at the fronts. She was most interested in “her front” in the east. Every defeat of the Red Army caused her pain, regret and despair. Every loss for the German army strengthened her hope and her will to fight for her life, for a better future.
The bad news from the Kaunas ghetto in the fall of 1943, during the time of the infamous “Estonian action,“ made her very uneasy. She thought mostly about those in the Kaunas ghetto to whom she was close, about Shifre, Dvoyre and a cousin from Verbaln, Miss Cvikaite, who was also in the Kaunas ghetto. She managed to convince her employer to bring the three women out of the Kaunas ghetto. The peasant brought all three of them. All three hid in the attic of the barn, and Frida brought food to them and took care of them.
The women thanked the peasant for his generosity in every way they could. He kept hidden the possessions of their families, which had been placed with him at the very beginning of the war. In addition Dvoyre gave- him one hundred gold rubles as payment for produce.
In the spring of 1944 the Red Army rapidly approached Raseiniai. Unfortunately, the front stopped not far from where they were. They had to survive living in a battlefront. They lay hidden in trenches, and survived to be liberated. On August 3, 1944 they were liberated by the Red Army. Raseiniai was completely demolished in the final battles.
To be continued……