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 Lithuanian, recorded by Leyb Koniuchowsky, in Displaced Persons’ Camps (1946-48).
My speech at the Cape Town Holocaust and Genocide Center on October 27, 2022 is here:
THE SLAUGHTER OF THE JEWS IN THE TOWN OF LAUKUVA
The eyewitness testimony of Yoysef Aronovitz, born September 19, 1918 in the town of Laukuva. Father’s name; Azriel-Meyer. Mother’s name; Alte. Lived in Laukuva his entire life, until the outbreak of war on June 22, 1941. Education: Completed six classes of Hebrew gymnasium in Tawrik. Trade: master confectioner.
Laukuva is located in Tawrik County, 50 kilometers from Tawrik and 65 kilometers from Memel. Lake Parsho is located three kilometers outside of town. The highway called “Zhemaitshiu-plantas” goes through the town.
The total population of the town was about 1,200, including some sixty Jewish families before the war. The majority of the Jewish population was occupied in commerce. In villages near the town there lived four or five Jewish families, who were occupied in agriculture. The town had a Hebrew elementary school (until 1941), a library containing 500 Hebrew and Yiddish books, and a study house.
The last rabbi in town was Reb Khayem-Zelik Kaplinsky (a native of the White Russian town of Zhetl), who occupied the position for some 25 years.
The majority of the Jewish youth studied in the gymnasium and the yeshiva in Telshe, in the Hebrew gymnasium in Shavl, and in other large cities in Lithuania.
The attitude toward the Jews on the part of the Lithuanians in town and in the countryside was not bad. There was a small group of anti-Semites; however, they never expressed themselves publicly.
The Outbreak of War
On Sunday, June 22, 1941, the Jews in town immediately became aware of the war. Refugees from Tawrik arrived in the town. The Jews all left the town and settled in surrounding villages. A small group went as far as the Latvian border and had to return, because the Soviets were keeping the border closed.
The Germans arrived in town on the evening of Tuesday, June 24, 1941. The town was occupied without a struggle and without any physical damage.
On Wednesday nearly all of the Jews returned to the town from the villages nearby. All of the Jewish houses had been looted, their doors ripped out and their windows broken. The houses were entirely empty. Even old furniture had disappeared. This was all the work of the town’s Lithuanian residents.
Before the war Yoysef’s family had had a small factory which produced honey, marmalade and extracts of liqueurs. When they returned from the village they found everything in the cellar broken; the house had been completely looted and vandalized.
The Civil Administration; Decrees, Brutality, Looting
The civil administration of the town was taken over by Lithuanians. They were former members of the Gun Club, policemen during Smetonas’ time and partisans. They wore white ribbons on their sleeves and were all armed with rifles. They supported the Germans against the Red Army.
The leader of the partisans was the local Lithuanian Tadas Kelpsha, a former army officer and a bitter anti-Semite. He owned a compound in a village called Divitshio Kaimas, five kilometers from town. This Kelpsha ran the town. His brother had been a general in the artillery under President Smetonas.
Tragic decrees began to be enacted against the Jews. Every morning Jewish men were driven out of their homes to work at various jobs: cleaning streets, grooming German horses, cleaning all the out houses in town and so forth.
On Sunday, June 29, 1941, Yoysef and three other Jews were taken one kilometer out of town to bury four fallen Red Army soldiers. They worked until the evening. The partisan Sugentas from the village of Eitvidaitzio, one kilometer from town, stood guard. His brother Sugentas was a lawyer in Kovno.
When they returned to town, the four Jews noticed trucks in the market place and a group of people running. When he came home, Yoysef lay down to rest after his hard day’s work. Suddenly a German SS man and a Lithuanian partisan broke into the house and drove Yoysef out half-naked.
Other partisans were standing outside in the street. They took Yoysef, together with other Jews, to the marketplace, where most of the Jewish men in town had already been herded together. Yoysef was taken out of his house by a Lithuanian with whom he had been friendly in his youth, Alfonsas Rocevitzius, and by Kulikauskas, an employee of the town creamery. He was taken to the marketplace by Jasas, a tailor in town.
After almost all of the Jewish men in town had been herded together into the marketplace, they were lined up in two rows. The German SS men and the Lithuanian partisans under the command of Kelpsha searched every Jew, taking away their money, rings; watches, better shoes and boots, and so forth. They beat each Jew as they searched him.
The German Ober-Sturm-Fuehrer Dr Schau, who had a large compound of his own in Heidekrug, was also at the marketplace.
The partisan commander Kelpsha related the “biographies” of all the Jews to the German. In general Kelpsha informed him that all of the Jews in town were Communists who had helped the Soviets. Yoysef’s brother Zelik Aranovitz had been a member of the Communist party under the Soviets. He had run away from town when the war broke out, and the family had no news of him.
Suddenly the men who had been driven together at the marketplace saw Zelik being led under heavy guard. Kelpsha spoke to Dr Schau about Zelik, telling him everything that Zelik had done during the year of Soviet rule. Schau listened attentively, and wrote everything down in a notebook.
All of the 80 Jewish men who had been herded together were driven into two trucks. The Jews were forbidden to look behind them or to the side. They were pressed together into the trucks like herring in a barrel. Each truck had a trailer hitched behind it, in which some twenty SS men with machine guns rode.
The Jews were certain that they were being taken off to be shot. The Jews were taken from Laukuva into the town of Khveidan, where they stood for an hour in the marketplace. They were not let out of the trucks.
Some forty Jewish men were at the marketplace in Khveidan. They were waiting for a truck. Some of them had already been taken away. The men from Laukuva were taken from Khveidan to the town of Shvekshne, by the study house in the marketplace.
The First Jewish Victims
At the marketplace Dr Schau ordered the young Communist to come forth voluntarily. Zelik Aranovitz jumped down from the truck and walked up to Dr Schau. Nearby stood the SS man Jakst, also a native of Heidekrug.
The SS ordered Zelik to take off his good fur coat and give it to the Jews in the truck. “You won’t be needing it,” Dr Schau informed Zelik with a shout. Zelik removed the fur coat and threw it into Dr Schau’s face. Jakst beat Zelik brutally.
Before the transport left Laukuva two sick Jews, Avrom-Gershon and Eliyohu Shapiro were taken out of the houses. Both of them were forced to ride in the transport.
In Shvekshne they too were taken out of the trucks. Dr Schau assured the two sickly men that after they buried the Communist Zelik he would leave them in a sanatorium in Shvekshne.
The SS men drove the three Jews away to the neighborhood of the Jewish cemetery. Nine shots were heard. A while later the SS men returned. From Shvekshne the two trucks full of Jews were brought to the village of Mactubern in Heidekrug County.
After the men had been in the Mactubern camp for three or four weeks, a transport of some thirty or forty men were brought in. Some of them were from Nayshtot, some from Vainutas, and the rest from Koltinan. In the group were five or six men from the town of Laukuva. These five or six men from Laukuva had been hiding with friendly peasants since the beginning of the war. The conditions under which they were in hiding grew worse from day to day and the men had “voluntarily” returned to their families in town.
Every day they had to report to the town police headquarters. They were taken to work from there. While the men from Koltinan were being driven through Laukuva in trucks, these five or six men were taken along to Heidekrug.
Among the men from Laukuva who were brought. to Heidekrug Yoysef remembers the following:
- Tsvi Sharanovitz, a student.
- Mikhl Shlakhter, a baker.
- Ben-Tsion Katsev, an agriculturist.
The Boundless Suffering of the Women and Children; Their Death
The five or six men who were brought in told Yoysef that after the 80 men had been taken to Heidekrug, all of the women and children had been ordered to leave their houses and move into the town study house.
The women were allowed to take along anything they wanted. The partisans assured the women that after spending a short time in the study house they would all be taken into a ghetto or a camp. The women and children were driven into the synagogue ten days after the 80 men were taken from Laukuva. Thus, they were taken into the study house on July 10 or 11, 1941.
Around the study house stood a heavy guard made up of partisans, who didn’t let anyone out and didn’t let anyone in to see them. The situation of the women and children was dreadful. The women and children received nothing to eat, nor was there any way for them to get food themselves. Even to go out and fulfill their bodily functions the women were required to get the permission of the partisans. The women were not taken to work.
The five or six men were not taken to the study house. They were locked into a room in the Lithuanian elementary school. They were taken to work every day. They were there for several days, until they were taken away with the men from Koltinan.
Lithuanian arrestees who were members of the Communist Party and of the Communist Youth were also kept in the elementary school. Among those arrested there were three Jewish girls and one boy. The four Jews were accused of active participation in various work for the Soviets. The three girls were the two sisters Reyzl and Beyle Khayet and an aunt of Tsvi’s named Reyze Sharanovitz. The arrested boy was Shloyme Shnayder.
The two sisters and the boy were taken out of the Lithuanian elementary school and shot after the women and children had been taken to the camp in Geruliai.
At the end of the month of August Yoysef Smilansky, a native of Heidekrug who had lived in Laukuva before the war, received a letter from his wife, which was delivered by a German officer. The letter reported that all of the women and children from Laukuva were in a compound called Geruliai near Telshe (Telsiai), and that they were doing agricultural work for individual peasants. The same was written in a second letter as well.
Late in the autumn of 1941 the men in the camp found out that all of the women and children had been shot near Telshe. It was impossible to find out more precise details at that time.
The men still had a few golden rings which they’d managed to keep hidden. They gave them to a Lithuanian boy to take a letter for them. But the Lithuanian brought no reply.
Among the Lithuanian murderers who actively participated in the torture and the looting of the Jewish residents’ possessions, and who helped the German SS men drive the Jewish men out of their houses to take them to the marketplace and from there to Heidekrug, Yoysef Aranovitz remembers the following:
- The partisan commander and owner of a compound; Tadas Kelpsha.
- The partisan and owner of a compound; Shugentas.
- The partisan and farmer; Alfonsas Rocefitzius.
- The employee of the town’s creamery; Kilikauskas.
- The main tailor in town; Kazys Urbonas.
(For details about the fate and the end of the women and children after the men were taken to Heidekrug, see the testimony of Mrs Leye Shapiro.- LK).