When I talk to Jews about the Holocaust in Lithuania, they point their finger at Lithuanians. When I talk to Lithuanians, they point their finger at Germans. When I talk to Germans, they point their finger at themselves. I wish Lithuanians could be more like Germans when it comes to an honest discussion of the Holocaust and who is to blame. A recent book definitely points the finger at Lithuanians.
Testimonies from Jewish Survivors
David Solly Sandler has recently published a book titled The Testimonies from 121 Jewish survivors of the Holocaust in Lithuania, recorded by Leyb Koniuchowsky, in Displaced Persons’ camps (1946-48).
What is the book about?
The book contains first-hand accounts from 121 Jewish survivors of the Holocaust in Lithuania, recorded by Leib Koniuchowsky in Displaced Persons’ camps from 1946 to 1948. The book describes slaughters of Jews by Lithuanians in many cities, including the following: Anykščiai, Babtai, Batakiai, Daugeliškis, Ersvilkas, Ignalina, Jonava, Joniškis, Jurbarkas, Kaltinėnai, Kedainiai, Klaipėda, Kražiai, Krukiai, Kruonis, Kvedarna, Laukuva, Mažeikiai, Padubisis, Pajūris, Pakuonis, Plungė, Rietavas, Rumsiškės, Šilalė, Šilutė, Skaudvilė, Stakiai, Šveksna, Šventžionys, Telšiai, Titovėnai, Upynas, Vaiguva, Vainutas, Valkininkai, Veiviržėnai, Vendžiogala, Viduklė, Vilkija, and Vilnius.
The testimonies describe the destruction of Jewish life in Lithuania. Perpetrators of the massacre, most of them Lithuanians, acted with enthusiasm and in many cases without help or supervision from the invading Germans, according to the testimonies.
As soon as the Soviets departed and before the Nazis arrived, Lithuanians took control of some towns and started persecuting and murdering Jews, said Sandler. In the summer of 1941, the Lithuanians carried out the slaughter of Jews with very little or no German supervision. Partisans and others broke into Jewish homes and brazenly looted Jewish property, according to these testimonies.
Imprisonment, torture, and summary executions of Jews began shortly afterward, according to these testimonies. First to be killed were Jews with Soviet connections; later, any perceived or invented offense could mean execution. Jews’ homes and businesses were claimed by their Lithuanian neighbors, particularly by the partisans and their families.
My grandfather, Jonas Noreika, took a home formerly owned by Jews in the center of Plungė in July 1941, and his family lived there for six-eight weeks before moving into the government house in Šiauliai in August 1941 when he assumed the position of District Chief. There are also records he purchased bedding and clothing at an auction of Jewish victims’ possessions while in Šiauliai.
The Genocide Center, in its defense against Grant Gochin’s lawsuit on Holocaust distortion as it pertains to my grandfather, claimed that my grandfather was not a participant in the murders and was unaware of what was happening around him. These testimonies of surviving Jews indicate that everyone in Lithuania was aware of how Jews were being murdered. Is it possible that a former captain in the Army who was the district chief of Šiauliai, a territory which covered approximately one-sixth of the nation, as he wrote orders to send them to ghettoes and to appropriate their property, had no idea Jews were being killed? One might surmise that either these Jewish survivor testimonies are lies, or that the Lithuanian Genocide Center’s defenses are lies. Who is telling the truth?
New civilian administrations
In towns and villages, new civilian administrations emerged from the underground with the German invasion, according to Sandler’s compilations. Lithuanian mayors, police chiefs and civil servants worked hand in hand with the partisans and a few Germans. These new governments often worked to extort money, jewelry, and household goods from the Jews, according to the testimonies.
- Jews were harassed and subjected to harsh decrees
- Forced to wear yellow armbands
- Forbidden to walk on sidewalks
- Barred from trading or even talking with non-Jews
- Permitted to leave their houses only at certain times each day
- Had to report for forced slave labor
- Guarded by armed Lithuanians
Lithuanians forced Jews to remove Torah scrolls and holy books from synagogues and study houses to burn them. Lithuanians humiliated rabbis, often cutting or ripping off their beards. Lithuanians raped Jewish women and girls, then tortured and murdered them, according to these testimonies.
Within several weeks of the German invasion, Lithuanians forced Jews out of their homes and confined them in small, closed areas, without food or water, subjecting them to constant harassment and torture, to prepare them for the final slaughter, according to these testimonies. Often their former Lithuanian neighbors turned up as a spectators to watch Jews being beaten and bludgeoned.
The “Devil’s Dance”
One of the Lithuanians’ favorite and most gruesome activities was to force Jews to perform the “Devil’s Dance,” according to many of these testimonies. Lithuanians with spiked sticks and whips stood in the middle of a circle of Jews, then prodded the Jews to run in circles. Whenever a Jew fell from exhaustion, or whenever a Lithuanian decided to blow a whistle, the Lithuanians beat their Jewish victims, spiking and poking their bodies until the Jews resumed running. This was also a spectator sport for the villagers, according to these testimonies.
It was common for Jews to entrust their property to Lithuanian friends or neighbors “until after the war.” The mass slaughter meant that almost universally, the property was never reclaimed. The Jewish survival rate in Lithuania was 3.4 percent. In the rare cases where Jews returned to reclaim property, Lithuanians too often betrayed the Jews, keeping the property for themselves, according to these testimonies.
The current Lithuanian government, unlike the German government, is reluctant to take full responsibility for genocide committed on its territory, said Mr. Sandler. Indeed, some of the perpetrators have been honored as heroes for resisting the Soviet occupation. They have commemorative plaques and streets named after them.
Which passages would you say are the most important and why?
It is very hard for me to say which passages are the most important, said Mr. Sandler. It is very hard to read these testimonies and not be moved and stunned and shocked by each of them. They are repetitive and tell of the systematic and organized slaughter of the Jews by the Lithuanians (after the rape of the woman and torture and beating and humiliation and dispossession of the Jewish population) by their Lithuanian neighbors with much enthusiasm and with little or no German participation. It’s like a collective madness possessed Lithuanians to become like wild animals…because people cannot do to other people what they did.
Why did you take over this book project?
I was very sad when I found out that the testimonies collected by Leyb had not been published despite his lifetime efforts and decided to do so. I see the two volumes: The Lithuanian Slaughter of Its Jews and Testimonies of Life in Lithuania, testimonies collected by Leyb Koniuchowsky, as a small memorial for all my relatives and for all those who perished in the Holocaust.
Who is David Solly Sandler?
I am a Jewish ex-South African and three of my four grandparents came from Lithuania. The fourth was from Latvia. For the past 20 years, I’ve been compiling books on South African Jewish History. Like over 90 percent of South African Jews, my ancestors are Litvak, from Lithuania, Latvia, and the surrounding area. Unfortunately, what many of us have in common in our family trees are relatives who perished in the Holocaust–more correctly slaughtered or murdered.
David was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1952. He qualified as an accountant in 1976 and emigrated to Australia in 1981. He lives in Perth today, is married and has two daughters. He retired in 2007 to compile books on Jewish History.
Who is Leyb Koniuchowsky?
Leyb was a survivor of the Holocaust in Lithuania while many of his family perished and I believe this would have been the main motivator for his collecting of the testimonies. He was an educated man, having studied civil engineering, and was no doubt disciplined and hard working. He had a flare for writing.
How can we get the book?
You can order a copy of the 576-page book from David Solly Sandler at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can read some excerpts here: https://keidaner.com/2020/06/22/the-printed-version/
Where will the proceeds go?
All the proceeds go to Arcadia Jewish Children’s Home (formerly The South African Jewish Orphanage) in Johannesburg, where I spent my childhood from 1956 to 1969, from the ages of 3 to 17. Today they still take care of Jewish children in need in Sandringham, as part of the Johannesburg Chevrah Kadisha that provides cradle to death.
After the death of David’s mother from breast cancer, he and his two siblings were placed in the care of Arcadia Jewish Children’s Home. He received a good secular and Jewish education and was well looked after.
From 1881 to 1910 about 40,000 mainly Lithuanian (Litvak) Jews emigrated to South Africa, and with the generosity of the mainly Litvak Jewish Community in South Africa, Arcadia was established in 1906 to provide for Jewish children in need from the immigrant population. David’s first book in 2006 was 100 Years of Arc Memories celebrating the centenary of Arcadia.
The Storm Door blog
It’s difficult to open that door, but once opened, all sorts of scary and monstrous memories appear, including testimonies from surviving Jews of how Lithuanians themselves behaved during the Nazi occupation. It shows the worst of our humanity. As a Lithuanian, these grisly testimonies have been distressing and painful to read. They are not for the faint of heart. Yet the least Lithuanians can do is devote time and attention to them and finally acknowledge the dark role that our ancestors played. If we can’t acknowledge it, we might repeat it.
The extent of participation of Lithuanians in the genocide of Jews and collaboration with Nazis is still downplayed in Lithuania. The current Lithuanian government is seeking to legislate their responsibility away, said Mr. Sandler. Not a single Lithuanian has been punished for Holocaust crimes by the independent state of Lithuania. Instead, Lithuania doubles down and honors them by focusing on their bravery against the Soviets. Elevating perpetrators who committed these terrible crimes is yet another assault on their victims and an insult to all peace-loving Lithuanians.
I, for one, am grievously ashamed and feel betrayed by my fellow countrymen in making us all look so callous. What makes it worse is how the Lithuanian government, even in 2020, spurns any admission of all this beyond a superficial level.
In related news…
The appeals court is scheduled to hear the Noreika appeal today, on July 16, 2020. Assuming the court will rule against taking away the honors for Jonas Noreika, Grant Gochin will appeal to the Lithuanian Supreme Civil Court. For a list of all the lawsuits Grant has filed, please go here ( https://www.grantgochin.com/summary-of-legal-actions-5-10-15-6-22-20/).
- The Israeli American Civic Action Network has confirmed the fifth member of its Advisory Council: Darren Bergman, the South African Shadow Minister of International Relations and Cooperation. Mr. Bergman is a member of the Liberal International Human Rights Commission. The other members are: Arie Ben-Ari Grodzensky, chairman of the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel; Eduard Dolinsky, director general of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee (in Ukraine); Dr. Marylin Kingston, former vice president of the International Network of Adult Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, as well as the former president of Second Generation in Los Angeles; and Dr. Steven Windmueller, Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service.
- International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Berlin Plenary condemns rehabilitation of historical figures http://holocaustremembrance.com/news-archive/ihra-berlin-new-working-definition-enters-final-phase-plenary-condemns-rehabilitation
Sending a strong message on the importance of truthful remembrance and research, the Berlin Plenary, on July 7, 2020, decided to issue an IHRA Statement on Rehabilitation. Responding to worrying tendencies in multiple countries, the statement warns of the dangers of rehabilitating historical figures complicit in the crimes of the Holocaust and the genocide of the Roma.
Wishing you truth and peace in the storms of your life,
Silvia Foti, granddaughter of General Storm—Jonas Noreika
Regnery History will release The Nazi’s Granddaughter: How I Discovered My Grandfather was a War Criminal in May 2021; Harper Collins Mexico will release Mi Abuelo: El General Storm ¿Héroe o criminal nazi? later in August 2020.
Taglines: David Solly Sandler; Holocaust Distortion; General Storm; Jonas Noreika; Silvia Foti; Writer’s Life; The Storm Door blog; Genealogy; Grant Gochin