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:
Lithuania did not punish a single Holocaust perpetrator, instead, the government of Lithuania deem many of the murderers as their national heroes.
THE SLAUGHTER OF THE JEWS IN UPYNAS (UPYNAS), BOTIK (BATAKIAI) AND SKAUDVILE
These three small towns in Tawrik county are located to the northeast of Tawrik.
- Upynas (Upynas) is on the gravel road between Skaudvile and Laukuva.
- Botik (Batakiai) is not far, on the right side of the highway which leads to Shavl (Shiauliai) from Tawrik.
- Skaudvile is on the highway between Tawrik and Shavl.
The Eyewitness Testimony of:
Mrs. Peshe Meltsner, nee Kahan, from the town of Shilale, born on March 28, 1906. Finished four grades of Russian gymnasium. Trade: a milliner. Peshe’s father’s name: Yakov Kahan, Mother: Keyle, nee Khaymovitz, from the town of Shilale. Until 1929 Peshe lived in Shilale. In 1930 Peshe married Mendl Meltsner from Shilale, and settled permanently in Tawrik, where she lived until the day the war between Germany and the Soviet Union broke out, Sunday, June 22, 1941.
The Outbreak of War
At four a.m. German airplanes bombarded Tawrik. There was a terrible panic in the city. Fires began all over the city. The dead and badly wounded lay in the streets. Most of the residents began to flee the burning city in great panic.
Peshe, her husband Mendl, their two children Keyle (aged 8) and Yankele (aged 6), and Peshe’s brother the lawyer Bene Kahan fled Tawrik along the road which lead toward the town of Upynas.
After wandering through the countryside they arrived that same Sunday evening in Upynas, where they found the town almost deserted.
Most of the residents, and especially the Jews, had abandoned their homes and spread out into the surrounding villages to peasants whom they knew.
On Monday, June 23, the Kovno radio broadcast orders and instructions, explaining how the Lithuanians were to deal with the Jews in the villages. The Jews were forced to leave the villages, and on Monday evening most of them returned to their homes in Upynas. In town there were also many refugees from Tawrik and the nearby towns. Krozh (Krazhiai) and Namoksht (Nemakshtziai), as well as a Jewish peasant family from the village of Stulg. Peshe settled in Upynas with her husband, children and brother.
Civil Administration in Upynas; Looting; Brutality
A few dozen Jewish families lived in Upynas. They were occupied in retail trade and agriculture. Their style of life differed little from that of their Lithuanian neighbors, with whom they lived quite peacefully. The town possessed a small study house. The Jews were strictly religious.
On Monday, June 23 the Germans entered the town. Armed Lithuanians calling themselves “partisans” began to lord it over the town, and immediately turned their attention to the Jews.
The civil administration was set up by the partisans. The mayor was the Lithuanian Jurgis Jurgaitis, a farmer from a nearby village. This Jurgis was a tall, solid man about forty years old, and a bitter anti Semite.
The commander of the partisans.in town was the local Lithuanian Macijauskas, a short man in his thirties.
The Lithuanian German Ewald displayed exceptional cruelty at that time. Several days after the Germans arrived, a German accompanied by a Lithuanian girl forced the town rabbi, Reb Shmuel Sandler, to leave his house. The girl gleefully cut off the rabbi’s beard. Then the German shot and wounded the rabbi in his leg. The rabbi lay on the ground. The Lithuanian healer, who was a neighbor of the rabbi, refused to give medical assistance to his Jewish neighbor. Permission was granted to take the rabbi to a doctor in Skaudvile. The rabbi was killed during the slaughter of the Jewish men of Skaudvile.
On the first Wednesday of the war, the same German in the company of Lithuanian partisans burned the town study house and all of the Torah scrolls and religious books. The Lithuanian residents removed the benches from the burning study house and happily dragged them home.
At night the partisans used to shoot near the Jewish homes, keeping the Jews in constant deadly fear. Quite frequently the Jews would hear knocking on their windows and doors. The partisans banged on the windows and threatened to shoot anyone who didn’t close his shutters. They did the same thing to anyone who did close his shutters. The unfortunate Jews didn’t know what to do in order to please the Lithuanian murderers.
Immediately after the arrival of the Germans the partisans looted the few small Jewish stores. They often broke into Jewish homes in the middle of the night and brazenly looted. The looting by partisans did not end until the men and later the women and children had all been slaughtered.
In the first week of the war the partisans arrested four Jews and took them to prison in Skaudvile.The four were shot together with the Jewish men from Skaudvile. It was not possible to learn details about their death.
The Jews were forced to do various menial tasks in town and along the surrounding roads. It wasn’t the work the partisans cared about and their main goal was to torment the Jews and make their lives miserable. Partisans kept watch as the Jews worked. They mocked the Jews and beat them frequently for the slightest “infraction.” After work the men were allowed to return to their families. The partisans seized men in their homes to send them to work, and would meanwhile loot the houses.
A German SS man arrived from Skaudvile at the beginning of the second week of the war. He ordered all of the Jewish men aged thirteen and over to sleep in the town’s Lithuanian elementary school. The Jewish men worked all day, and at night they had nowhere to rest. Seventy Jewish men were driven into the small elementary school. Some of them were refugees from Tawrik and the surrounding towns.
Peshe’s husband Mendl and her brother Bene were among the seventy men in the elementary school. Those men who were not taken to work could go home, but they had to return to sleep in the school. After the men had been in the school for a week, no-one was allowed to return home during the day, even to get something to eat.
One Saturday before the Christian holiday Zolyne, the partisans guarding the Jews at work murderously beat the 70-year-old kosher slaughterer from Krozh, who fainted and collapsed. That same Saturday the partisans took all the men from the elementary school out into the street and forced them to pull out the grass with their hands. Meanwhile they beat and bullied the men.
The partisans allowed food to be brought from home to the men interned in the school. The women could do so every day, and they had a chance to talk to their husbands, fathers, brothers and friends.
The Slaughter of the Men
On Tuesday, July 22, 1941 the women were still permitted to bring food and packages to the men in the school. Several days earlier they had learned that the men were to be taken away “to work” in a different location. That Tuesday Peshe took along her two children when she brought food and a package of clothing to her husband and brother. Peshe conversed with her husband and brother through the window. They reassured her that she still had enough money to live on for a couple of years. Peshe noticed that her brother was hiding something from her. He said goodbye to Peshe and her children and kissed them through the window. Peshe’s husband did the same.
At three o’clock of the same day the German commander, an SS man from the town of Skaudvile, drove up in a car together with several SS men.
Partisans went from house to house advising both the Jewish and the Christian population not to go out into the street for a while.
The men were taken through town under a heavy guard of SS men and armed partisans. The women saw them. A dreadful weeping and shrieking accompanied the men out of town.
At that time Peshe and her children were living with Mrs Rikhman, nee Prisman. When they saw the men being taken away from town, everyone in the house began weeping and shrieking. An SS man shot into the house, and wounded a young woman from Tawrik named Khaye Berkovitz in the side.
The men were taken away in the direction of Skaudvile. Exactly one hour later shots were heard corning from that direction. Most of the women understood that the men who had been taken away had been shot.
A few hours later the women saw Lithuanians returning to town along the Skaudvile road. The Lithuanians were carrying shovels and the belongings of the murdered men. The sorrowing women were again seized by a terrible weeping and wailing as they mourned for their near and dear ones. There were women who still hoped that the men had not been shot.
A Jewish family called Pakhter lived in the village of Luorni. The elderly father and a son were among those interned in the elementary school. Their daughter brought food and other items to the school for them. On the way, not far from Upynas, she saw the men from Upynas stripped to their underwear. Lithuanians and SS men were forcing them to run, fall down and then continue running.
In addition the unfortunates were forced to do various calisthenics. The SS men and the Lithuanians were “preparing” the unfortunate men for their terrible death.
Peshe spoke to the girl after she arrived in town. The girl was highly agitated, and she appeared almost mad as she related what she had seen being done to the men.
Not one of the seventy men survived. Peshe has no more details about the terrible execution.
Women and Children Taken to the Camp Near Batakiai
On the same day that the men were shot, about ten in the evening, the mayor along with other partisans announced to the women that they were to get ready to be taken to join their husbands the next morning.
With tears in her eyes, Peshe begged the mayor to tell her truthfully whether all of the men had really been shot. The Lithuanian good-for-nothing reassured her: “Only the old ones!”
The women didn’t have much time to think over what had happened during the day. Their responsibilities for their children forced them to prepare for the journey ahead of them. They made noodles, baked bread and packed. Everything had to be done in the dark, because Jews were forbidden to illuminate their homes. The partisans enforced this very strictly.
Lithuanians from nearby villages and from town passed through the doorways of the Jewish homes. They came not to comfort the women, but rather to convince them to leave their better things with them “until after the war”.
Mrs Rikhman took everything she could find that belonged to her husband, and threw it into the fire in the oven, which she was heating up to bake bread. The women got no sleep that night.
Three elderly, sickly Jewish men had not been in the elementary school. After the men were shot, these three remained in their homes and helped the women mourn for the murdered men. At night they helped in the packing, and they prepared themselves to be taken away together with the women.
At 8 a.m. on Wednesday, July 23, partisans drove up in a wagon and removed the three elderly, sickly men. Among the three was Mrs Rikhman’s elderly father, Mr Prisman. With his last bit of strength, he went out of the house. Before going out, he kissed his daughter.
“Forgive me, father!” Mrs Rikhman asked him as he left.
“My child, I’ll plead for you in Heaven,” the old man replied as he parted with his daughter.
The three elderly and sickly men were taken out of town and shot the same day. Details about the execution are lacking.
One hour before the women and children were taken out of town the partisan commander Macijauskas and his comrades went to all the Jewish houses. Threatening to shoot anyone who didn’t obey his command, he took all of the women’s money, gold, silver and other valuables. He only permitted them to keep twenty rubles each. After he left other partisans appeared. They took .the twenty rubles, and completed the robbery.
Mrs Rikhman’s brother, Dr Prisman, got along well with his neighbor, the Lithuanian healer Rimsha. Dr Prisman was away from town at that time. The healer refused medical assistance to a girl name Khaye Berkovitz who had been badly wounded and taken to a camp near Batakiai, together with all the women and children. On the way the partisans stopped the wagons which were carrying the women and children, and checked through their things several times. Each time they stole whatever they pleased.
A small town between Skaudvile and Tawrik, one kilometer from the railroad station. More than ten Jewish families lived there. They were occupied primarily in agriculture and to a slight extent in retail trade as well. There was a small study house in town. The Jewish property owner Shloyme Mendl had a mill.
After the Jewish men of Batakiai were slaughtered, a Lithuanian moved into the mill. A short time later the Lithuanian told Peshe that all the men from Batakiai, together with male refugees from Tawrik and other towns, had been taken out of town and shot in a forest not far from Batakiai. Peshe does not know the details concerning the death of the men of Batakiai.
The camp was located not far from the town of Batakiai, next to the railroad line. The camp consisted of three wooden barracks. Two of them were without windows or doors. Women and children from Upynas, Skaudvile and Batakiai were herded into these two barracks. There were also women and children who were refuges from other nearby towns, cities and villages, including a large number from Tawrik.
The third barrack had been completed; it had windows and doors. In this barrack the partisans set up their headquarters, and they also made primitive arrangements for an ambulance and hospital. Dr Dolnicki, a specialist in internal medicine, had lived with his wife in Skaudvile before the war.
These were among those brought to the camp. The dentist Schmidt, his wife and 13-year-old son, along with his mother-in-law, had also lived in Skaudvile before the war, and were brought to the Batakiai camp. Peshe has no idea how the two Jewish doctors from Skaudvile temporarily managed to escape the slaughter of all the men.
A third man was brought from Skaudvile as well. He was a mentally ill son of the rabbi from Skaudvile. The Skaudvile rabbi and his healthy sons were slaughtered with the rest of the men of Skaudvile.
The women and children received warm food only once during the entire time Peshe was in the Batakiai camp. The rations in camp consisted of half a glass of milk and a piece of dry bread per person per day. The women from Skaudvile were permitted to bring their cows to the camp. They milked the cows under the supervision of the partisans, and distributed the milk among the women and children. Each day the number of cows decreased. The partisans stole the better cows and took them home.
The evacuated Soviet army left bags of dried bread behind in the camp. Each day the partisans distributed one piece per person. They threw the bread down on the ground, as if giving it to dogs. After the women had been in the camp for some time; Lithuanian peasants were allowed to take them to do agricultural work in the countryside and in town. The peasants had to sign an agreement saying that they would bring the Jewish women back to the camp every evening. Most of the women asked to be chosen for work, hoping to get better food for themselves, as well as something to bring back to their children and close friends in the camp.
The camp was surrounded by a high barbed-wire fence and guarded by armed partisans.
Stomach Typhus, Dysentery and Measles Among the Children
The women had neither beds nor straw on which to sleep. They lay on the ground, with nothing for bedding but the old clothes they had brought along. Nor was there ever enough water. The place was extremely filthy. Day and night the barracks were full of the cries and weeping of the small children, and the heartrending moans of their mothers.
After the women had been in the camp about ten days, SS men accompanied by armed partisans arrived in automobiles. All the women and children, including the elderly and the sick, had to crowd together into one barrack. A frightful panic and deadly fear seized the helpless and miserable women and children. There was talk of checking to see who still had money and valuables.
Women threw their rings, earrings and other valuables into the outhouses. They tore their money into shreds.
There were optimistic women who were certain that the children would be taken from their mothers and taken to an institution to be brought up. No–one knew exactly what the refined murderers were planning for the women and children.
Schmidt the dentist said confession and repented for his sins. Weeping women held their children tight, and they too said confession.
Suddenly a high storm wind arose. A black cloud covered the sky. A ·pouring rain began to fall. It rained buckets.
Dr Dolnicki and his wife took poison in an attempt to commit suicide. Dr Schmidt saved both of them. This happened on a Thursday. After the wind and rain began, the SS men and the armed Lithuanians drove away from the camp.
The two Jewish doctors and their families received permission from the partisans to leave and enter the Kovno ghetto. The hunger, filth and crowded conditions led to epidemics of stomach typhus and dysentery among the women, and to measles among the children. The helpless women could do nothing for themselves. The Lithuanian healer Rimsha visited the camp several times, but he was more interested in looting than in healing the sick.
When -the epidemic took on serious proportions, the camp commander gave permission to bring in a Lithuanian female doctor from Skaudvile.
The unfortunate women tried to get an explanation of their condition from the doctor. The Lithuanian doctor replied to all their questions: “You shouldn’t have taken our Lithuanian people to Siberia!”
An eight year old girl from Upynas died in the epidemic. The maiden name of the child’s mother was Itzikovitz. Her father was a tanner by trade.
An elderly female refugee from Tawrik named Kahan also died in the camp. Her son Bere-Leyb had been killed with the men from Upynas. The woman was buried in the Jewish cemetery at Batakiai with the permission of the camp commandant. Before her corpse was removed from the camp, a twelve year old boy eulogized her in such a way that the women burst into weeping .and shed rivers of tears. Two of her daughters and a small group of women accompanied the deceased to her final resting place.
In order to still the terrible hunger and to combat the epidemic, which threatened to spread outside the camp, the partisans permitted local peasants to visit the camp and exchange produce for the women’s possessions. Other peasants came to the camp and demanded that the women sign over to them their houses and land in town. The women gladly did so in exchange for the little bit of produce which they needed for themselves and their children. The partisans did not interfere in this.
Around the middle of August Peshe’s relatives in Shavl obtained permission for her and her two children to leave the Batakiai camp and settle in the Shavl ghetto. Peshe knows no further details about the Batakiai camp. She only knows that all of the women and children were slaughtered a short time after her arrival in the Shavl ghetto. (Concerning the tragic end of the women and children in the Batakiai camp, see the collective testimony of Khayem Goldshteyn and his wife Menukhe, concerning the slaughter of the Jews of Erzhvilik – LK)
Peshe shared all of the suffering and torment of the local Jews in the Shavl ghetto. Peshe lost her two children during the mass execution of children in the Shavl ghetto. But Peshe herself miraculously survived, against her own will.
After the war Peshe was in Upynas, where she visited the mass grave of the seventy murdered men, including her husband and brother.
Tawrik County, 35 kilometers from the German border. About a thousand Jews lived there when the war broke out.
Peshe and her brother, the lawyer Bene Kahan, went from Upynas to Skaudvile by foot several times to get some news. There was a Judenrat in Skaudvile at that time. The Jews of Skaudvile were all still living at home. The men had to go work at various tasks each morning. They came home to sleep.
The chairman of the Judenrat (whose last name may have been Broyde), whom Peshe and her brother used to see when they came from Upynas, once proposed that Bene remain in Skaudvile and work with the Judenrat. Bene did not accept the proposal. This happened before the men in Upynas were forced to sleep in the school.
Peshe remembers clearly that one time the chairman of the Judenrat in Skaudvile asked Attorney Bene Kahan to find out where the men from the nearby town of Batakiai had been taken. The men from Upynas had not yet been interned in the elementary school then, nor had the men from Skaudvile been taken away.
In Skaudvile the following Lithuanians became infamous for their murder and persecution of the Jews:
- The leader of the partisans, by the name of Lepoldas.
- Lepoldas’ assistant, Macijauskas.
Apparently this Macijauskas was a relative of the other murderer, also named Macijauskas, the leader of the partisans in Upynas.
Immediately after the Germans arrived, Lepoldas arrested the Skaudvile Jew Naftali Prop on the charge of membership in the Communist Party, and of being an agitator during the year of soviet rule. However, Naftali stammered, and could not possibly have been an agitator. Naftali miraculously managed to survive that time. Later, however, he died with the rest of the men of Skaudvile.
While she was with her children in the Batakiai camp, Peshe spoke to a woman from Skaudvile named Novik, who told her that the partisans had one day ordered all the Jewish men, women and children to come to the marketplace. The German commander, an SS man, had delivered a speech to the assembled Jews, demanding that they keep their peace vis-a-vis the German army and the Lithuanians.
After his speech the partisans ordered the Jewish men to leave their families and to stand in a different place. The women and children, including boys under 12 or 13 years, were permitted to go home. The men were herded into a barn near town.
Peshe knows nothing about the life of the men in the barn. She does remember, however, that Mrs Novik related that one day the partisans drove all the men out of the barn and shot them. Peshe does not remember the date or location of the execution.
A Jew from Skaudvile named Novik, Mrs Novik’s brother-in-law, survived near the pit. The survivor related all the details of the terrible execution. Not all the women in Skaudvile believed what Mrs Novik told them. Peshe does not know what later became of the survivor Novik.
The women and children from Skaudvile were brought to the camp near Batakiai. On September 15, 1941 they were shot together with the women and children from the Batakiai camp. The shootings were carried out in the forest of Griblaukiai, not far from the town of Batakai.
(See the testimony of Khayem and Menukhe Goldshteyn, concerning the slaughter of the Jews of Erzhvilik – LK)