Leyb Koniuchowsky collected 121 testimonies from Holocaust victims, which were made public in: The Lithuanian Slaughter of its Jews: The Testimonies of 121 Jewish survivors of the Holocaust in Lithuania, recorded by Leyb Koniuchowsky, in Displaced Persons’ Camps (1946-48)
Please watch my recent speech in Phoenix, Arizona. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5CfFUqF95Bk
In these testimonies, “partisans” means Lithuanian murderers. “Inherited” means theft and plunder from Jewish victims.
The Government of Lithuania has engaged in rampant Holocaust denial, distortion, revision and inversion. They did not punish a single Holocaust perpetrator, instead, they named many of them as their national heroes. The documentaries J’Accuse! and Baltic Truth expose a fraction of Lithuania’s Holocaust fraud.
On Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27, Lithuanian diplomats will produce their annual Holocaust Regret show, while back in the Fatherland, they will honor the murderers.
The government of Lithuania has tried to present themselves as primarily rescuers, and shifted their crimes to Nazi responsibility. The eyewitness testimonies state otherwise. Either all the eyewitnesses were lying, or, the Government of Lithuania is lying. Read the testimony. Decide for yourself who is lying.
EVENTS DURING THE OCCUPATION OF GRODNO AND KAUNAS
GERMAN OFFICERS AND JEWISH FURS
This is a stirring tale about a Jewish merchant from Grodno, who for a period of six weeks fought for his very life by resorting to various ingenious, fantastic plans. Unfortunately, this tale is not a myth or fairy tale, but a tragic episode that occurred during the German occupation of Grodno and Kaunas,
This is an authentic eyewitness account which is part of my Archive Collection about the annihilation of the Jews of Lithuania.
On one of the most populated streets of Grodno lived the Polish Major Roznatowski, who was descended from a prominent military family. He was tall and slim, with characteristically Polish long, twisted mustaches, and steely, sky-blue eyes in his pale face. Although he was not yet fifty years old, the hair on his head, like his whisker was white as snow.
At every opportunity, when talking to his friends, the Major would boast; “I am a Pole…; A Pole and a Major in the Polish Army: I am descended from the… ”
In his relations with people, the Major always behaved with pride and dignity. He walked proudly and arrogantly on the streets of Grodno, taut as a string. When greeting friends or army men, he would smile and quickly touch the brim of his hat.
His wife, a woman of forty, of medium height, with blonde hair and large eyes, was also blessed with a sense of Polish honor. Although born in a German aristocratic family from Berlin, she did not regard herself a German, but was an ardent Polish patriot.
Their only son, a student in the Polish University, resembled his father, the Major, not only in external appearance but in character.
For years the Major served in the Polish Army, his son was a student, and the Major’s wife ran her sumptuous home and was proud of her husband and son.
When barbaric antisemitism raged in Poland in the last years before the war, the Major and his family were outraged and condemned it. ‘They are humiliating and demeaning the honor of my people:” the Major declared to his Polish and Jewish friends at every opportunity.
One of the Major’s neighbors was a Jewish merchant, Isaac (Yitskhok) Kobrovsky, and his wife and daughter. He was a frequent visitor to the Major’s home and the two families were close friends.
Kobrovsky and the Major enjoyed mutual benefits from their relationship, and exchanged many favors.
Isaac Kobrovsky flaunted his friendship with the Major’s family to his Jewish acquaintances, and was as proud as though he himself was not descended from Abraham but from Jan Sobieski.
Isaac Kobrovsky was a tall, broad-boned, corpulent Jew about 45 years of age. He had shrewd black eyes and a clever, round, rosy face. A perpetual smile lingered on his fleshy lips, as though in mockery at this foolish world. He had a slow, plodding walk like a heavy tank. He was a cautious and circumspect man in all his thoughts and actions. These traits were very useful to him in life, as we shall see.
Kobrovsky amazed and amused his friends with an unending store of anecdotes and jokes which made everyone laugh. The Major’s family also enjoyed hearing Kobrowsky’s comical tales. The Major and his family were devoted to Kobrovsky. Most devoted was the Major’s wife, Not, God forbid, because she harbored any improper feelings for him, but because she depended on him to help her in the running of her household,
“Please, Pana (Mr) and “Please Pana Kobrovsky,” the Major’s wife would address him, demonstrating her utmost respect for the Jew.
Isaac absorbed and emulated the manners and behavior of his Polish friends – their mentality, manner of speech and way of thinking.
Not one other Jew in Grodno could ever feel so comfortable, so at ease, like an equal among equals, in the society of the Polish aristocracy, as did Isaac Kobrovsky.
Every Sunday, when they had a drink together, the Major, with rush of affection for Kobrovsky, would call him “the best Jew in Grodno,”
In this manner the friendship between the Major’s family and Kobrowsky’s family flowed peacefully for years, like the water of the Niemann River through Grodno.
The collapse of Poland in the autumn of 1939 broke over their heads like a furious storm, an onslaught of nature, destroying their idyllic existence. Both the Major’s family and Kobrowsky’s family sank into deep melancholy.
Poland was divided between Hitler Germany and the Soviet Union; the arrogant, self-confident faces of the proud Poles were replaced on the streets of Grodno by the Soviet military.
Hatred of the new rulers of Grodno blazed in the Major’s heart. He avoided going out, but sat at home, clad in his uniform and shining Polish boots.
Deep in thought, his mind spinning fantasies, he paced the spacious rooms of his dwelling. In his heart he remained a proud, honorable Polish Major; a Major without an army.
Now Kobrovsky visited his Polish friends even more frequently, listening as the Major poured out his bitter heart, he always found words of consolation and reassurance that restored the Major’s hopes, and gave him the strength to wait for better times. In such sanguine moments the Major would sing the Polish anthem, “Poland has not yet been destroyed”, with a happy smile lighting up his face.
One morning, a short time before the German-Soviet war, several armed Red Army soldiers burst into the Major’s house and in simple soldier’s language “had a long talk” with the Major. Smiling, and in “plain talk” they shattered and reduced to ashes the pride and honor of the Polish Major Roznatowski, ordering him, as though he were a humble man, to come with them. His face ashen, the Major kissed his wife and left the house. He never returned.
A short time later his wife learned that the Major had been removed to a far, far place, to Siberia to the white bears, together with hundreds like him.
Now Kobrovsky became even more helpful to the Major’s wife in the running of her household. He also sent packages of food and clothing to the Major. Roznatowski, the Major’s wife, could not find enough words to express her gratitude for Kobrovsky’s help to her and her son.
Then the situation changed. Crimes of terror and tragedy descended like a storm on the Kobrovsky family and all the Jews of Grodno.
On Monday, June 23, 1941, a day after the outbreak of war between Hitler Germany and the Soviet Union, German planes bombed Grodno. The suburb of Slobodka was razed. The same day the German army marched into Grodno.
The German military was followed several days later by the Gestapo, which immediately imposed its anti-Jewish edicts. All Jews were forced to wear white patches and a Star of David on their sleeves. Sometime later these were replaced by two yellow Stars of David; one on the chest, and one on the back.
Jews were only allowed to walk in the gutters, one behind the other, like a row of geese.
The Polish population of Grodno exulted at the degradation of their Jewish neighbors.
Every day the Gestapo seized Jews; mostly intellectuals from their homes and in the streets, transporting them to points unknown. They were never seen again. Still at this time no-one could bring himself to believe that the Jews were being executed.
Many Jewish men worked for the Wehrmacht. The Gestapo often arrested them as they left work. It was life threatening to leave one’s home to go and buy food. The Jews of Grodno lived under a perpetual cloud of terror.
Kobrovsky, his wife and daughter, no longer visited the major’s wife. Like his Jewish brethren, Kobrovsky stayed home and starved. During this time, however, the Major’s wife did not forget her Jewish friend Kobrovsky and supplied him with food, for which he paid her. One day she informed him joyfully that the commandant of Grodno had moved into her home.
“Please, Pana (Mr) Kobrovsky please! What do you say to that? Ha? The Commandant is tall, handsome and very intelligent. He comes from the Riedel family of Hamburg and he’ll do anything for me,” she smiled coquettishly, and invited Kobrovsky to visit her without fail.
“Pana Kobrovsky, I will introduce you to Commandant Riedel,” she pleaded.
Kobrovsky was panic-stricken. He could not shake off the thought that his long time friend Roznatowski the Major’s wife was luring him into a lion’s cage. She kept reassuring him: “Don’t be afraid, Pana Kobrovsky. You are a visitor in my home, and the Commandant needs many things! I will convince him! Proshe Pan! (Please Sir!”) she begged until Kobrovsky, still doubtful, promised to come.
The seizure of Jewish men continued. No one was sure of his life. Kobrovsky went to Roznatowski’s house. She welcomed him cordially: “In my home, Pana Kobrovsky, you are my guest and a friend of our family: “Take off the yellow patches:” she commanded, and Isaac obeyed.
Roznatowski knocked at the door of the commandant’s room, and without waiting, opened it and announced that Herr Kobrovsky had arrived. Commandant Riedel let Kobrovsky into his room. This is Herr Kobrovsky. He is a Jew, and worth more than a thousand Poles.” She smiled at the Commandant coquettishly and left the room.
The Commandant, a tall, elderly German in a stiff military uniform, paced for a while, his glistening boots squeaking loudly. Then he shut the door, sat down in a deep chair by the table, and beckoned to Isaac to sit down opposite.
For a short time they stared at each other in silence. Under the Commandant’s keen, knife-like gaze, Kobrovsky lowered his eyes, “How are you getting on?” the Commandant began.
“Personally, until now, not bad, Herr Commandant, But I’m not sure of my life from minute to minute,” said Isaac nervously.
“Why?” Isaac grew bolder and told the Commandant about the men who were being seized and led away to be shot.
“That’s impossible” cried the Commandant, as though affronted, Isaac asked the commandant to find work for him, any kind of work, and get him a special permit to protect him.
The Commandant had previously employed Jews, to whom he gave permits stating they were not allowed to work for anyone else. He promised to get one for Kobrowsky, with the understanding that Isaac would provide him with fur skins for a coat. Kobrowsky promised to get him excellent fur.
The commandant was pleased, thanked Kobrowsky gratefully, adding:”Could you get me some karakul skins? I’ll pay you well.”
Isaac promised to get him karakul skins within four days. The two parted on the friendliest terms. The next day Roznatowska brought Isaac a permit, stating that he was working for the Commandant, and that no-one else was allowed to employ him.
Isaac, who had never dealt in fur, had no fur pelts. In addition, it was difficult to get them in Grodno. At that time Isaac took counsel with the Judenrat. This official body had initially intended to try to benefit from the commandant’s presence for the advantage and benefit of the Jews, and promised to Isaac the fur skins. Four days passed, but the Judenrat failed to get the furs.
Kobrovsky begged the Major’s wife to prevail on the Commandant to allow him to go to Vilna or Kaunas, where he had many friends, and hoped to get a good supply of fur skins.
The next day, at 6 in the morning, Kobrovsky visited the commandant at home and was given a special letter of transit for Kaunas. On the morning of July 6, 1941, Kobrovsky, in the company of a German officer, set out for Kaunas in an open car. The journey was a pleasant one. His companion, the lieutenant, was an artist by trade. He offered Kobrowsky food and flattered him unceasingly, hoping, of course, to get some skins for a coat for his wife, although he did not ask directly.
The car sped swiftly on the highway towards Kaunas.
Kaunas had suffered an overwhelming catastrophe. Immediately after the departure of the ‘Red Army’, armed Lithuanians, who called themselves “partisans” assaulted the unfortunate, innocent Jews. In Slobodka they carried out a bestial pogrom. Dead bodies of men, women and children littered the streets and courtyards. The fiends seized young people, even children, from their homes, from courtyards and off breadlines and made them form rows with their hands behind their backs, and herded them to the green hill at the Seventh Fort. Day after day long lines of young boys and girls, their hands tied behind them, their heads proudly raised, were marched on their last road toward the Seventh Fort.
Brides searching for their betrothed in “Partisan” headquarters, women looking for husbands and sons, were detained and herded to the Seventh Fort. The helpless victims were kicked and spat at, while the. “Partisans” and civilians stood on the sidewalks looking on and cheering, on one such a tragic day, a light auto drove into Kaunas and stopped on Leisvess Boulevard.
Isaac Kobrovsky, the Jew from Grodno, stepped out, on his way to visit a friend about the possibility of acquiring karakul skins. As he approached the street corner he was approached by a Partisan. “Zhidas?” (Jew?) he screamed savagely at Isaac, who, without his yellow patches, was walking along deep in thought.
Before Isaac could reply, the Partisan struck him on the head with his club, kicked him, and pushed him into a row of Jews who were being taken to the Yellow Prison of Kaunas under close guard.
The Lieutenant who had accompanied Kobrowsky was not aware of all this, because he was waiting for him in the car.
AT THE SEVENTH FORT IN KAUNAS
In the courtyard of the Yellow Prison the Jews were stripped of all their belongings and taken to the Seventh Fort in trucks. The Seventh Fort was crammed with thousands of men, women and children. The Partisans drove the women and children into cramped, dark, damp casements under the ground. On the grass in a valley, guarded by Partisans with automatics at the ready, thousands of Jewish men were made to sit with bowed heads, their bodies twisted, pressed close to one another or were forced to lie on their backs with their faces turned to the burning sun. For stirring without permission the Partisans would fire their automatics, leaving dead and wounded. There was no food or water.
The blazing sun burned the bodies of the starving Jews in the valley. On a hill not far away strolled Lithuanian young men and girls, festively clad, happily watching the Partisans guarding the Jews in the “zoo”, as the Seventh Fort was called.
The valley where the Jews were being tortured was called “Katilas” (kettle).
Every night groups of men were led out of the ”kettle” and shortly after there was the sound of shooting.
Isaac Kobrovsky, like all the Jews in the “kettle” expected death at any moment.
One morning Gestapo officers came to the Fort, demanding artisans for various kinds of work. Isaac had no trade, but swore that he was a specialist in preserving foods, and named a well-known firm in Danzig where he had supposedly been employed. He and 24 more men were taken to the Yellow Prison and confined in a single cell, No. 40.
IN THE YELLOW PRISON IN KAUNAS
The air in the cell was stifling, and it was hellishly hot. Once a day the prisoners were let out to attend to their natural needs. There was not enough water, and they could not wash. They were not given clean linen and everyone was tormented by fleas and lice and hunger.
The Jews received 150 grams of bread a day. In the morning they had coffee without sugar, at noon a thin soup; and in the evening boiled flour. They had nothing to do, except in rare cases when they were herded out to the courtyard of the prison to work. Their sole occupation was to wait for death.
After five weeks, the Jews were taken in trucks to work at the University Clinic, which had been transformed into a military hospital. They were guarded by Lithuanians with automatic guns. After a long days work, the Jews were transported in trucks back to the prison for overnight.
Here Isaac and the other prisoners were able to revive a little. They were fed, and given an opportunity to wash. Isaac worked at preserving meat and vegetables, although he knew nothing about this process.
His supervisor was a Polish nurse, who taught him the trade. She was very good to him, and looked away when he stole something. More than once she saved him from the blows which the Lithuanian Partisans, wanted to give him.
While in prison, Kobrovsky wrote to his wife to let her know where he was, hoping that, with the aid of the Major’s wife, she could save him from death.
One of the painters in the military hospital was a Pole. Isaac lied to him, saying he had a Polish wife in Grodno, and persuaded him to bring her a letter, promising he would be well paid. He wrote the letter in Polish, giving instructions that the bearer should be paid the sum of 2500 rubles. The Pole took the letter, but did not return.
Several days later, in the evening, a German officer called Isaac out of his cell. To his amazement, he saw Commandant Riedel of Grodno in the corridor. His heart began to pound. He was on the verge of pouring out his story and begging the Commandant to save him, but the Commandant was accompanied by Gestapo men. Undaunted by their presence, the Commandant boldly asked about the furs that Isaac had promised to get for him. Isaac assured him that he had gotten the furs, but the Lithuanians had arrested him. The commandant glared at Isaac, muttered something, and left. Isaac was taken back to the cell. Evidently the Polish painter had delivered the letter to his wife, and the Major’s wife had prevailed upon the Commandant to go to Kaunas and try to save him, however, the Commandant’s visit to the prison brought Kobrovsky closer to death, because the Gestapo promptly executed any Jew on whose behalf there was intervention. He was afraid his days were numbered, and began to plan an escape.
In his working conditions this would not have been difficult, but when he confided his plans to his co-workers, they became panicky and did everything in their power to hinder him. If Kobrovsky escaped they would all be shot. In the past, entire groups of Jews had been murdered in retaliation for one man’s escape. Isaac could not bear to see his comrades’ anguish, and promised not to run away.
In the horrendous conditions in prison and at work, Isaac felt like a caged eagle. His chances of survival were minimal. Finding no rest in his prison cell, he paced back and forth, with folded arms, from window to door and back.
Standing at the window, he saw a clear blue sky and a blazing sun. At night he saw serene, contented people strolling in the street. Inside the cell, he was surrounded by his victimized comrades, who were innocently condemned to death. He would sigh deeply, and his fellow inmates would answer with a sigh. This was the tragic, bitter language of the Jewish prisoners, a language which they all understood, but which was incomprehensible, inaccessible to those outside their experience.
That night Kobrovsky devised another plan of escape, and it did not let him sleep. Spending so much time in the cell, each of the prisoners in turn told his life story, the most important events in his life. One of the prisoners was a furrier, a specialist from whom Isaac learned about all kinds of furs.
The fact that Commandant Riedel had humiliated himself by coming from Grodno to visit a Jew in the Kaunas Prison, to inquire about furs, convinced Isaac not only that fur skins were a precious commodity for the Germans, but that if the Commandant was eager for them, Gestapo officers were also trying to get them.
He waited impatiently for morning, to see his supervisor, the Polish nurse.
“Good morning, my dear, kind sister, he greeted her as he entered the cellar where he worked.
“Good morning:” she replied. “How are you?”
“Dear Sister, I have decided to give you a beautiful present because of your kindness to me. A new karakul coat;” he cried in a strong, confident voice.
Surprised, she thanked him very politely,
The same day Kobrovsky had another surprise for the nurse. He asked her to tell the Chief Physician of the hospital that he owned a warehouse in Grodno full of fur pelts. The nurse warned him that he could be shot, but he was insistent. The same day she gave the doctor this information.
Several days later, two top German officers visited Kobrovsky where he was working in the cellar. The Chief Physician was a stout man of medium height, with a thick red neck, smoothly shaven red face, and gold spectacles. His blonde hair was combed ala Hitler. His adjutant was a tall blonde German with a chest full of medals. They wished Kobrovsky a cordial “good day,” and he snatched his cap from his head and bowed deeply.
“Are you from Grodno?” the Chief Physician inquired affably.
“From Grodno,” Herr Chief Physician Robrovsky stood erect, and replied in military fashion. The two officers smiled at each other. “Is it true that you have a warehouse full of fur pelts?”
Inwardly Kobrovsky rejoiced, for now the first steps of his complicated escape. Plan had been taken. The wheels had been set in motion. He remained outwardly nonchalant, lest the German officers grow suspicious. “No furs, Herr Doctor; I have none;” and he dropped his eyes, in innocence.
“You’re lying, damned Jew:” shouted the adjutant. Kobrovsky looked at him, again pretending innocence, and was silent.
“Shit-head: we know everything!” The adjutant slapped Isaac’s face.
With his plump hands the Chief Physician pushed the adjutant aside, and said to Kobrovsky “Don’t be afraid, we’re not barbarians. You will work for us and you’ll be well off. All I want is a few fur skins,” he cajoled.
“I have a wife and child in Grodno, Herr Chief Doktor. I can’t give away my fur coats and fur skins for nothing. You know I don’t earn anything from my work here. Who will support my wife and daughter?”
The Chief Physician begged the Jew to sell him two karakul coats and two silver foxes, asking politely what they would cost.
“270 marks,” again Isaac stood at attention like a good soldier, “70 for myself, and 200 for my wife and daughter,” he added.
The adjutant and his chief exchanged glances, with pleased smiles. “Here I’ll pay your price!” The Chief Physician slapped the Jew on the back, and grinned.
“I’ll also improve your working conditions,” he promised, “But remember what I told you:” and he put his finger to his lips. And the adjutant warned “Not a soul must know about this:” he warned,
“Of course, of course, nobody must know!” Kobrovsky nodded in agreement, hiding a smile.
Still, he was worried that the Gestapo could liquidate him because of Commandant Riedel’s visit to the prison.
“What if they take away my work permit?” Isaac asked the two officers.
“Come with me!” cried the Chief Physician.
The three made their way to the office of the military hospital. There a blonde German girl wrote an official request to the prison warden to the effect that Kobrovsky be assigned to daily work in the hospital. The note stressed that Kobrovsky was a skilled worker and a specialist in his trade whom no one could replace. Kobrovsky was greatly relieved. The Chief Physician accompanied him along the long, well scrubbed hospital corridor, whispering that in a few days he would go to Grodno to get the furs.
Isaac returned to work, proud of his brainstorm, laughing to himself at the “clever,” “cultured,” and “polite” German officers.
In the evening, the prisoners were brought back to their prison cell. Isaac stood at the window, looking pensively at the setting, blood red sun beyond the hills of the Kaunas suburb of Alekset. He gripped the heavy iron bars of the window, and sank into deep thought.
His cellmates noticed Isaac’s agitation and winked at each other. One of the prisoners in the Yellow Prison was the popular Jewish engineer Blumenthal, from Kaunas. During the era of Lithuania’s independence, Blumenthal had worked for the aviation industry, and had introduced many inventions for which he was awarded high honors. All his achievements did not deter the Lithuanian fiends from arresting and imprisoning him for the crime of being a Jew.
“‘Why are you so downcast, lately, Isaac?” Blumenthal asked with a friendly smile.
“I have a lot on my mind” replied Isaac. Then he revealed his plan of escape to his comrades, some of them waved their hands in resignation to him with a cynical smile. Others thought the plan was a quixotic idea and still others compared it to the impractical notions of Sholem Aleichem’s Menachem Mend!
Isaac heard them all out, lowered his eyes like a shamefaced boy, wringing his hands.
Engineer Blumenthal was the only one who supported him. “Isaac, I am on your side and approve of your plan. Play out the tragic-comedy to the end, dear brother: You have nothing to lose!” exclaimed the tall engineer, clapping Isaac on the back and smiling sadly.
After their supper of boiled flour, all 25 cell inmates stretched out on their hard plank cots, covering themselves with rags, but no one could sleep.
Crimson beams from the setting sun lingered in a corner of the dusty cell. The air was hot, stuffy and heavy as lead. Hundreds of dust motes floated within the long shaft of sunlight. Outside there was youth and life, laughter and song from the Lithuanian passersby.
Isaac’s plan to escape brought the sleepless prisoners thoughts of their families; wives and children; beloved brides and devoted mothers and fathers. They lay on their cots staring into the darkness, their hearts aching with yearning. Each of them was convinced that he would never again see his loved ones.
Only death could liberate them from their anguish, and no one knew how much longer he had to live.
Isaac was plagued by doubts about the success of his plan. Three days passed, and still the Chief of the military hospital had not summoned Isaac. There was no further talk about going to Grodno for furs, and Isaac’s hopes began to fade.
His fellow prisoners began to ridicule his plans; some even told jokes at his expense.
Although he was tormented by the fear that the Gestapo might still shoot him because of Commandant Riedel’s visit, Isaac refused to give up his scheme of action. He decided to change his plan in the hope of tricking the “clever” and “cultured” Germans.
Once at work he approached the Chief Physician, and told him that the prison officials had decided to send him to his native town of Grodno to complete his mission. The doctor looked disappointed, afraid that his chances of getting the furs were lost.
“They won’t take you to Grodno:” he shouted, angry and determined. In the evening he sent a message to the prison warden, then told Kobrovsky to stay in the hospital for “night work.”
After work a German guard escorted Isaac into one of the hospital rooms, brought him a good meal and prepared a soft, clean bed. The German guard sat outside Isaac’s room all night. Isaac could not sleep. He was confused, and strained all his energies to come to terms with his tragic situation, for the end was uncertain.
He was eager to get to Grodno, where he hoped that Roznatowska; the Polish Major’s wife, would call upon Commandant Riedel to set him free. If the worst came to the worst, he wanted to die in Grodno, so that his family would know where he was and could bury him in a Jewish Cemetery. Hot tears ran down his face.
BACK IN GRODNO
A young, summer morning sun cast a radiant glow everywhere. Its warm rays poured into the large, tidy room, where Isaac had been awake for hours. Haunted by fear and doubt, he stared out the window at the summer morning. There was a painful gnawing in his chest. A question mark loomed before his eyes, huge and black,”What will this day bring?”
At six in the morning, the Chief Doctor’s adjutant opened the door of the room. “Good morning, Herr:” he cried with a cheerful smile,
“Good morning, Herr Lieutenant,” replied Isaac, sitting up in bed, his old, ragged black shirt spread like a dark stain against the gleaming white bed linen.
“Everything is ready. Please get ready to go to Grodno.” said the Lieutenant, gaily and cordially, and left the room. Isaac dressed quickly, casting a last, lingering glance at the clean bed.
A sergeant brought him a bowl of soup. After eating it, Isaac asked for food for his wife and child in Grodno. The sergeant brought him a box of apples and four loaves of fresh partly white bread.
A large bus, with comfortable seats was waiting in the hospital courtyard. Three passengers boarded the bus; the Jew Isaac Kobrovsky the lieutenant; and a sergeant. The bus driver was a Lithuanian, several empty crates and some sacks were piled up in a corner of the bus.
The lieutenant double-checked his travel permit, nodded, and said to the Lithuanian driver “Get going:”
The bus started to roll. Passing through the streets of Kaunas, Isaac did not see a single Jew.
Leaving the city, the bus gathered speed. It raced along the highway like a speeding bullet past green meadows, sunlit woods, fields of multi-colored flowers. But even the beauties of nature could not gladden Kobrovsky’s gloomy heart. Thoughts spun round in his head like the wheels of the bus. He had no idea how his complicated hoax would end when he arrived in Grodno, he knew only that his life was in danger. Only his desire to see his wife and daughter, his brothers, his close friends and the Jews of Grodno gave him home and strength to persist. A vague plan began to form in his mind, illogical and impossible.
When they passed through the towns of Alita (Alytus) and Meretch (Merkine;) again there were no Jews in the streets. On the highway not far from Grodno he saw Jewish carters, unguarded, bringing lumber from the forest. They wore yellow patches on their chests and backs. At the sight of these Grodno Jews Isaac sighed with relief. Five kilometers from Grodno he saw Jewish and civilian Polish laborers on the highway, very lightly guarded. Isaac called the lieutenant’s attention to the big difference between Grodno and Kaunas in the treatment of the Jews.
”That is Lithuania, this is the Reich:” the lieutenant explained, The more tolerant treatment of the Jews of Grodno raised Isaac’s hopes for escaping death.
During the trip the lieutenant and the sentry kept a sharp eye on Isaac, lest he try to jump out of the bus. They did not talk to him, and were careful of the Lithuanian bus driver. When they approached Grodno, the lieutenant took out a pencil and notebook.
“What’s your name?” he said to Isaac.
After a moment Isaac said confidently: “Edward Kotlinski.”
“Edward Kotlinski,” the lieutenant repeated and wrote it down.
Isaac did not give his real name and surname because he was determined, if worst came to worst, to try to escape, and did not want his wife and daughter to suffer. The lieutenant, although he had a travel permit was afraid of entering Grodno, and stayed on the outskirts. The two Germans, together with Isaac, continued on foot.
At the edge of the city lived a Polish storekeeper, Novacka. Before the war she had done business with Isaac and Roznatowska, the Major’s wife, used to buy from her, and they were good friends. Isaac suggested to the Germans that they go into the store and find out whether the house where the furs were stored had not been occupied by the military.
There was a Lithuanian officer inside the store. Remembering the persecution of Jews by the Lithuanians in the Seventh Fort in Kaunas, Isaac could no longer restrain himself, and burst out “You, Novacka, a decent Polish woman, talking to a Lithuanian?”
The German officer, understanding that Isaac would not discuss anything with the storekeeper in the presence of the Lithuanian, pushed the latter out of the store. This Lithuanian, who was stationed in Grodno with a group of Partisans, was active in the persecution of Grodno Jews.
Isaac asked the storekeeper to get a message to Roznatowska that he had come from Kaunas to get his furs. The storekeeper was well aware that Isaac had never dealt in furs, but she grasped the situation and immediately set out for Roznatowska’s home.
Isaac and the two Germans walked slowly through the twisted streets, to give the Major’s wife more time to make rescue plans for him. Finally they arrived at her home, she was startled to see that Kobrovsky was accompanied by Germans, however, she greeted them cordially, in a Berlin-German accent, inviting them to be seated and rest themselves.
Roznatowska promised Isaac to do everything in her power to help him. Speaking in Polish, she assured him that she would be able to get the furs.
Isaac told the two Germans that Roznatowska needed twenty minutes to get the fur coats.
“Twenty minutes:” she assured the lieutenant, with a gracious smile, in perfect German.
“Will it all be ready?” the lieutenant was still uncertain,
“All will go so smoothly that you will be surprised! Roznatowska reiterated confidently, smiling coquettishly at Isaac.
Seeing the smile, the lieutenant looked in amazement from Isaac to the attractive middle-aged woman. When Isaac and the two Germans left the house, the Lieutenant, eyeing Isaac from head to foot, asked with envy “Is she your mistress?”
“Not a mistress but a good friend.”
As they walked on, Isaac resolved not to depend entirely on the Major’s wife, but to try to do something himself, to help himself. He invited the two Germans into his house, saying he had one karakul lady’s coat.
Isaac’s wife had already been previously informed by the storekeeper what the situation was.
When they arrives at Isaac’s home, he and the guard went in, while the lieutenant remained outside.
Isaac’s wife and small daughter fell weeping into his arms. He embraced them, held them close, tears rolling down’ his cheeks. “Hurry up: Make it snappy:” the chief guard shouted,
Moshe, Isaac’s brother, was also there, sitting at the table in an agitated state, his fist clenched. Noticing this, the security chief held his revolver armed and ready.
Isaac, who was distressed that his wife had to witness this, decided to use force to get rid of the security chief. “Go get your fur coat:” Isaac ordered his wife.
”What fur coat?” she replied, astonished, unaware of the scheme that her husband was cooking up.
“Get the fur coat, I tell you:” he repeated angrily and pushed her out of the room.
The security chief took Isaac outside. Isaac told the lieutenant that his wife could not bear to part from her fur coat and refused to give it away. The lieutenant advised Isaac not to worry, and not to make a fuss over such a “trifle.”
The lieutenant, impatient and worried kept looking at his watch. Fifteen minutes later they returned to the city to Roznatowska’s home.
She told them, in German, that the Commandant wanted to see them. “Please, gentlemen:” she pointed triumphantly to the commandant’s room. The lieutenant and his security chief grew pale. With angry glances at this impudent woman, they moved towards the door. At this moment Commandant Riedel emerged from his room. The two Germans quickly sprang to attention, and saluted,
Calmly fastening the collar of his uniform, the commandant ran his eyes over the lieutenant; the security chief and Kobrovsky. His gaze fixed on Isaac, he pointed to him and shouted: “Donnervetter: Where have you been keeping this man!? I’ve been looking for him for six weeks: What the hell, and he slammed his fist onto the table.
The lieutenant and the security chief shook with fear. Isaac lowered his eyes, hiding a small smile. The Major’s wife stared out the window. For a short time the commandant held them in suspense while he finished fastening the collar of his uniform. Several times he paced the room, his gleaming boots creaking, and finally came to a halt opposite the two German, his hands in his pockets. “Your documents, please:” he ordered.
The lieutenant showed his papers, explaining that the “Jude” was employed in the military hospital in Kaunas as a skilled worker, and they had brought him here to get linens and winter clothing. The commandant heard them out, then examined their documents. He kept the travel permit, and told them, in no uncertain terms, to appear at his headquarters in half an hour together with the “Jude.”
“In the meantime” he pointed to the door.
At the outskirts of the town, the lieutenant said he was convinced that the woman had betrayed them and would keep all the furs. They decided to leave Grodno as quickly as possible and return to Kaunas.
The bus was waiting. Isaac realized that instead of leaving with them, he should have tried to escape. So close to his goal, and such a fatal ending: But even at this moment, his heart pounding with chagrin and agitation, he did not lose his head.
“Herr Lieutenant:” he; cried. “You are mistaken: That woman did not betray you. She told the Commandant nothing!”
“Hey, Jude, what did you get out of it?”
“Herr Lieutenant I don’t want you good people and the Chief Physician to suffer because of me. He has been very kind to me. I’m telling you the truth. Before the Soviets came I was leader of the Communist Party in Grodno. Then the commandant wanted to detain me and I fled from Grodno to Kaunas.”
The two Germans took out their revolvers and pointed them at Kobrovsky. They ordered the driver to go immediately to the commandant. Isaac, on the other hand, became very calm, feeling that he had succeeded in saving his life at the last moment.
The bus stopped opposite the Commandant’s headquarters. The Germans, their revolvers aimed and ready, took Kobrovsky inside.
Riedel came forward to greet them, and told his guards to escort Isaac to the prison. He invited the lieutenant and the sergeant into his office. In an effort to identify the Jew, the lieutenant read from his notebook; Edward Kotlinski. Smiling, the Commandant corrected him: the real name was Isaac Kobrovsky, a Jew from Grodno, for whom he had been searching for several weeks. They decided to let “the Jude” out of jail.
A minor officer brought Kobrovsky from the prison which was a short distance from the commandant’s office.
“What is your name and surname?” The Commandant asked.
“Isaac Kobrovsky” was the answer.
The irritated lieutenant interrupted: “I have you down for Edward Kotlinski!”
“No I am Isaac Kobrovsky”
The Commandant cut short this exchange and sent Isaac back to the prison, telling the two Germans to be out of Grodno in half an hour.
Several hours later the Commandant sent for Isaac again. He stared at him for a few minutes, then smiled and told him he was free and invited him to visit him at home the next morning. Kobrobsky thanked him and left.
As a result of his ordeal, Isaac fell ill. He suffered severe chills and ran a high temperature. The doctor told him he must stay in bed for at least four days. Kobrovsky sent his wife with a message to the Commandant that he would visit him in five days.
When his friends came to visit, he told them about his grueling experiences. He learned that the Commandant had come to the Kaunas Yellow prison to set him free leaving for him an award of a fur coat and 5,000 rubles with the Major’s wife. When he returned from Kaunas he did not take anything, and asked the Major’s wife to return it all.
“I could not get Kobrovsky out of the Kaunas prison,” he told the Major’s wife regretfully.
One of Isaac’s brothers managed to get skins for a karakul coat, some excellent cloth for a suit, and a gold watch. When Isaac was well again he paid a visit to the Commandant, bringing these as gifts.
Riedel received him with a warm smile, locking the door. He was delighted with the presents and asked Isaac to sit down. He put a bottle of cognac on the table and they had a drink together. Isaac told the Commandant all that he had suffered. The Commandant, in turn, told Isaac about his efforts to save him from the Yellow Prison in Kaunas, and about his conversation with the lieutenant in his headquarters.
They laughed together and Riedel rose majestically from the table, went over to Isaac and kissed him on the forehead. He listened admiringly to the complicated course of action by means of which Isaac had managed to save himself and had also managed to get karakul skins for a coat, keeping his promise.
Riedel assured Isaac that during the time he, the Commandant, remained in Grodno, he could promise Isaac security, unfortunately, however, he would be leaving in a short while to go deeper into Russia.
Before they parted the Commandant warned, “You have seen with your own eyes how the Jews are being treated here. After I leave, keep your head on your shoulder and try to avoid trouble. What is happening to the Jews in Kaunas will be repeated in Grodno, in fact throughout Europe.”
After this, the Commandant remained in Grodno for another month. Isaac was a constant visitor to his home, and the Commandant protected him, as he had promised. And in return he received fur coats as gifts.
Twice Isaac prevailed on the Commandant to send a truck to Vilna, in which Isaac’s brother transported 70 Jews, temporarily saving them from certain death. The truck carrying the Jews was accompanied on its journey by security from the Grodno Police Headquarters.
After Commandant Riedel’s departure from Grodno, a ghetto was established there. Before the liquidation of the ghetto, Isaac and his family managed to flee to the forest surrounding the town of Mareinkanz (Marcinkonis), where he was joined by his sister and four brothers, as well as by surviving Jews from Mareinkonis and other towns in the region
Isaac became the hero of an armed, well organized Red Partisan group.
For further information about the epic of the surviving Jews, with Isaac as their hero, see the collective eyewitness account: “THE ANNIHILATION OF THE JEWS OF MARCINKONIS.”
A HORSE SLIPPED
It was an evening in late autumn, 1941. The sun had already slipped down below the mountains around the Kaunas Ghetto. Gray twists of cloud monotonously circled in the deep blue sky. They snaked past each other and braided themselves and their edges were seared by the infernal fire of the setting sun.
Bits of ice were scattered among the stones on the frozen earth. Trees on the slopes of nearby mountains stood naked, their outstretched branching skeletons covered with ice. Heaps of yellow leaves were still scattered on the ground, mixed with fresh white snowflakes. Columns of smoke hastened toward the sky from the chimneys in the houses, as if they wanted to lift the chimneys and the houses up with them into the heavens.
On the back of the shrunken river Nieman white floes of ice lazily moved, pushing each other further and further towards the sea. It happened in Aleksot, a suburb of Kaunas, near the river.
A sleepy peasant slowly rode along a crooked, frozen asphalt road. The horse, pulling a wagon loaded with wood, climbed uphill with measured steps. The peasant sat wrapped in an old, dirty jacket. A cap with a visor masked his face. Between his teeth he held a pipe, and there was a whip in his hand.
Suddenly the horse’s front feet slipped! It snorted loudly through its broad nostrils, and it began falling and climbing back up, falling and climbing back up. Sparks flew from its front paws. All at once its back paws became caught in the harness, and like a piece of shorn hide it collapsed and began to choke. Fast as lightning the peasant jumped off the wagon and began to release the harness.
Men and women passing by surrounded the horse and released it from the harness. The horse turned on to its side and lay on the ground, its head outstretched.
“Nu! Nu! Stand up!” the peasant ordered the horse, and beat it with his whip. But the horse remained on the ground.
The peasant stood for a while in confusion. With one hand he pushed his cap further up on his head, and with the sleeve of his other arm he quickly wiped his sweaty face right and left. It seemed that the peasant’s patience had given way.
“Get up, get up, you worthless hunk of meat!” he began to shout cruelly. The whip quickly began to whistle through the air and land on the horse’s sides, between its legs, on its head and then between its legs again. Long, swelling blue lines of blood appeared on the horse’s coat.
“You damn snake! You frog!” threatened the peasant, still beating the horse, who yet remained on the ground.
From a small house nearby with a tin roof, crooked, old wooden walls and little windows and a low, narrow door, out came a fat woman. She was wearing a man’s fur coat and a man’s boots, and a flowered kerchief on her head. She ran quickly, her fists clenched, waddling like a duck.
“Criminal! Good-for-nothing! Oh, Jesus! Oh, Jesus! Don’t hit! Don’t hit him, you rotten frog! Don’t beat a living creature! Murderer! Remember there’s a God! You’re tormenting one of God’s creatures!” she shouted as she ran toward the peasant, spitting with fury. She waved her clenched fist in the peasant’s face.
The peasant seemed to be afraid of her, for he stood frozen with his whip in hand.
The impressed bystanders looked at the woman. A few of them approached the horse, caressing its mane and back, raising its head and caressing its chin, which hung like a bit of rag. “Kosh-kosh! Kosh-koshl” they comforted and calmed the horse, which lay staring with its huge eyes.
“The poor thing’s exhausted, sick or suffering from beatings!” the peasant woman with the flowered kerchief on her head bemoaned the horse, and wringing her hands in anguish, she called out a prayer to Heaven: “Oh, Jesus! Oh Jesus! Jesus!”
Downhill along the slippery, twisting asphalt road appeared a long column of people, dressed in torn, old clothes, smeared with mud and clay. Their heads were bowed and their eyes sad, half-extinguished.
These were Jews being driven from backbreaking labor at the nearby airfield. The Jews were guarded by armed Lithuanians in country-style furs and military boots.
“Keep in line! Don’t talk to each other!” the guards teased and warned the Jews in a commanding tone. From time to time the Jews stole a glance around them. Eyes full of sorrow and anger cast an eternal curse on the Lithuanian murderers who had recently been their neighbors, who had betrayed them as soon as the Germans had arrived.
The Jews already knew about the total annihilation of the Jews in the Lithuanian countryside, which was carried out by Lithuanian murderers with the permission of the Hitlerite Gestapo. Most of the Jews in the ghetto had already lost part or all of their families in various deceptive “actions,” especially during the “big action.” On October 29, 1941 the Nazi murderers, with the willing active assistance of armed Lithuanian murders drove out of the Kaunas ghetto more than 10,000 men, women, children, elderly and sick people, and in the course of two days shot everyone at the Ninth Fort near Kaunas.
Those Jews still alive for the time being had to continue going out hungry every day to do hard labor in the city and at the airfield. “Tick-tock! Tick-tock!” the Jews, some in torn shoes, others in heavy shoes with wooden soles, accompanied the dreary march back into the ·ghetto. The column approached the spot where the fallen horse lay.
“Jews! Here come Jews!” one of the Lithuanians shouted. “Let them help, the Kikes, let them get the horse back up on its feet. Let them work a bit, that lazy gang of parasites!” called out bossy voices within the crowd. The entire column of Jews stopped. A guard decided on two rows of four Jews each and brought them over to the fallen horse. “Two at the tail, two at the head, the rest on either side!” the guard boastfully ordered the Jews.
The Jews looked at the horse, at the cheerful, curious crowd standing nearby, and they did not carry out the order promptly.
“Cursed Jews, don’t you hear me?” the guard muttered angrily, and began kicking the Jews with his new military boots.
The owner of the horse quickly pushed his double-visored cap further up on his brow, and with the sleeve of his other arm wiped his forehead and nose. Trembling with fear he looked at the Jews, at his horse and at the armed guards. One of the guards, who was short and fat, tore the whip out of the peasant’s hands and quickly began to rain blows on the bodies of the Jews, who hid behind each other. The guard chased after them with his whip and beat them.
One elderly Jew neither hid nor ran away from the blows. He was beaten more than anyone, both with the whip and with a rifle butt. The Jew placed the ends of his half-black, half-gray beard inside his mouth and bit down hard on them. He was beaten until he collapsed. Red snakes of blood flowed from his ears, mouth and nose. He lay with his bloodied face looking up. His beard was entirely soaked with red blood. His face was covered with red and blue welts. He kept his beard clamped between his teeth and moaned. His eyes opened wide, he looked at the broken red clouds, the mute heavens.
The whip whistled again, the rifle butt broke more bones.
“Ha, ha, ha!” the mad laughter of the satisfied crowd was heard, ever and over.
“Just look at that character with the beard!” the woman with the flowered kerchief pointed to the old Jew.
“Must be a rabbi, with such a long beard!” someone else burst out laughing.
Suddenly the horse raised its huge head, looked around at the cheerful crowd and at the old Jew lying near him on the ground, and shook itself. It raised itself first on its forelegs, then on its hind legs, and stood with its head bowed.
It was already late in the evening. There were no more rays of sun.
Only the edges of the clouds remained dark red. The horse stood calmly with its head bowed down, constantly swishing its tail.
Next to him the old Jew lay covered with blood. The peasant owner of the horse and wagon stood with moist eyes, and looked sympathetically at the bloodied Jew.
From his lips, covered with a thicket of unruly hair, he murmured a prayer to the man from Nazareth: “Oh, Jesus! Oh, Jesus!” And he quickly and repeatedly crossed and crossed himself.
“Get in lines of four, you frogs!” the guard commanded like a general and looked at the surrounding crowd of curious Lithuanians with proud self-confidence.
Two Jews lifted the old man from the ground and got into the first row. But the old man could not stand on his feet. They repeatedly bent over and comforted him: “Reb Moyshe, gather your strength, hold on, Reb Moyshe. Your wife and children are waiting for you in the ghetto. Have confidence!” one of the Jews begged. The old man leaned on the two Jews.
“Forward march!” came a drawn-out command from the guard.
Slowly the rows of Jews began to descend. Reb Moyshe barely dragged along his injured body.
The woman with the flowered kerchief on her head tore herself from the human mass around the horse. With one hand she held her skirt up over her boots, and with her other hand clenched in an angry fist, she ran after the Jews crying repeatedly: “Kikes! Lousy, stinking Kikes! Frogs!”
The whole crowd broke out into joyful laughter: “Oh, Jesus! Oh, Jesus!”
With sympathy in his eyes, the peasant looked for the column of Jews, which had already disappeared. He remained standing alone next to his horse, and crossed himself without stopping. “Jesus, oh Jesus!”
A cold autumn night flooded the world with dense darkness.