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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1MlXTQjEK8
Lithuania did not punish a single Holocaust perpetrator, instead, the government of Lithuania deem many of the murderers as their national heroes. Lithuania is the only country in the world to have gone to court to defend the good reputation of a genocidal murderer of Jews.
THE SLAUGHTER OF JEWS IN THE LITHUANIAN TOWNS OF ZAPYSHKIS AND KRUKIAI
Four brothers named Volk are the eyewitnesses.
- Shakhne, born in 1905, a glazier by trade.
- Yerakhmiel, born in 1908, a locksmith by trade.
- Yitzkhok, born in 1914, a butcher by trade.
- Nosn, born in 1915, a carpenter by trade.
All four brothers were born in the town of Zapyshkis, and graduated elementary school. From 1936 on all four lived in Kaunas. Their parents, one brother and a sister remained in town. Another sister named Khane had moved to Kaunas with her husband earlier.
Their father’s name was Yankl (Yakov). Their mother’s name was Libe (born Per in Zapyshkis). Their brother’s name was Yisroel and their sister was Khaye-Leye. Khane Brener and her husband Yisroel were in Kaunas.
The town of Zapyshkis is located not more than 17 kilometers from Kaunas, on the left bank of the Nieman. Until the war broke out eighteen Jewish families lived there. Most of the Jews in town got used to doing local forest work and manual labor. A small number were retail merchants. There were a few forest merchants and some farmers and artisans. The life of the Jews in town was very similar to the life of the peasants in the countryside. Almost every family had a garden and a cow, and some had horses as well.
In the summer a number of the Jews earned their livings from vacationers who came there to rest. The economic life in town was not bad. The Jews got along well with the Lithuanians in town.
The town had a Hebrew elementary school, a library, a study house and a sports club. Those young people who continued their studies went to the Hebrew gymnasiums in Kaunas.
The majority of the Jewish youth had leftist tendencies. Some of them belonged to Zionist movements. Travel to and from Kaunas in the summertime was frequent and comfortable, by means of steamers which went between Kaunas and Jurbarkas.
After the Outbreak of War, June 22, 1941
When the war broke out Yankl Volk was in a hospital in Kaunas. Together with his four sons and their families, he left Kaunas in a horse and wagon on the second day of the war. In Jonava they learned that the Red Army had forbidden wagons on the highway, so that the roadways wouldn’t be congested and the retreat of the Red Army would not be blocked.
After Jonava was taken, Germans and partisans began harassing the few Jews in town. Volk’s entire family left Jonava, and arrived in Slobodka, near Kaunas, without incident. On the way partisans shot at Jews, and they killed one man from Jonava. The Volks buried that Jew.
When they arrived in Slobodka the four brothers and their families settled into their looted dwellings. Their father Yankl was taken to his wife and children in Zapyshkis. The four brothers kept in touch with their parents through the peasant Jeronimas from Zapyshkis. More than once they received packages of food. It was entirely calm in town at that time, and their mother wrote to them that they should come to town, because it would be easier for them financially.
The first days after the war broke out, and immediately after the arrival of the German army in town (on Wednesday, June 25), all power fell into the hands of the smith Jonas Podezhis from town, along with his partisans. Later the civilian administration was set up in town.
The new mayor of town was a German from town, a smith with the last name Herman. The chief of police in town was a Lithuanian from Zapyshkis named Jonas Vaidilys, a journalist.
The partisans used to take the Jewish coachmen of Zapyshkis to do forced labor. The brothers Volk met the Zapyshkis coachmen Noyekh Knebl and Motl Zilberman in Kaunas at that time. They carried the mail and delivered Christian arrestees from Zapyshkis to Kaunas. The Volk brothers found out from them about the situation in their town.
Young men and women were taken out of their houses seven kilometers from town, to the village of Azere, every morning. The Jews were forced to march on foot both ways. The work consisted of digging peat. At work they were guarded by partisans, who tormented and bullied the Jews.
Once partisans from town took the town rabbi, Rabbi Yitzkhok Grin, out of his house, cut his beard off and marched him down the street, beating him with a stick. The Jews of Zapyshkis readily found out about the murders and atrocities committed against Jews by partisans in Kaunas. The terrible news from Kaunas caused dreadful panic in town.
Anti-Jewish decrees also began to appear in the town of Zapyshkis. The worst was when Jews were forbidden to leave their homes for 24 hours in a row.
There were no particular cases of robbery or vengeance in town at first.
Once a coachman performing the forced labor told the Volk brothers that their old father had grown mortally ill. Yitzkhok set off for Zapyshkis that same day. When he arrived in his house in Zapyshkis, Yitzkhok found his father poisoned.
Yankl could not stand the terrible news from Kaunas about the Jews there. The inhumanly hard work imposed on the town’s youth working in the peat bogs, and the general behavior of Lithuanian acquaintances toward Jews, broke the old man’s health and hope, and he poisoned himself by drinking a bottle of essence of vinegar.
Their mother related that Yankl had constantly argued and insisted that the Lithuanian degenerates were getting ready to annihilate all the Jews in Lithuania and inherit their possessions, with the consent and blessing of the Germans.
The police chief forbade the arrangement of a funeral for Yankl. He was taken to the cemetery and buried by one man, Dovid Brener. Yankl’s wife came up by the banks of the Nieman to visit her husband’s grave at the cemetery.
Yisroel Volk had gone to work at the peat bogs. When he came home to the house in the evening, his father was gone. This was Friday morning, the 23rd day of Tammuz.
Forty Jews Tricked and Then Shot
On Saturday, the 24th of Tammuz (editor’s note – Saturday, July 19, 1941), partisans came to Zapyshkis from other locations. All day they partied and got drunk. They were getting ready for some sort of “important work.” The priest in town found out about this. He went to see them at the Lithuanian elementary school, and warned them not to spill innocent Jewish blood. The partisan Litenevitsius, who informed the priest, also gave a speech to his comrades, begging them not to spill innocent Jewish blood. But the Jews didn’t know about this.
That same Saturday evening the partisan Antanas Vaidilis went through the Jewish houses and called out from a list the names of Jews who had to come to the study house for an economic consultation concerning arrangements in town. More than forty Jews were gathered at the study house.
When the Jews arrived at the study house they saw heavily armed partisans nearby. The partisans didn’t let them leave. All the Jews were herded into the study house. None of the Jews understood anything yet. Everyone waited impatiently.
Into the study house came several partisans, who ordered the Jews to “Sing Communist songs!” (“Bainuoti Komunistu dainas” ).
The Jews didn’t sing, and they weren’t afraid, because they saw all of their partisan companions from town, people with whom they had grown up and been friendly.
There came a command for all the Jews to leave the synagogue and line up in rows of four. The partisans promised the Jews that they were being taken to work at a compound called Reingvildishkis, fourteen kilometers from Kaunas. The Jews were taken in the direction of Kaunas. The more than forty Jews were accompanied by about twenty partisans, armed with automatics. Among the twenty were some from the town of Pavilkiai.
When they were one kilometer away from Zapyshkis, all the Jews were taken off the road to the left, near the Jewish cemetery, where they were ordered to line up. Suddenly there was a command: “Ugnis!” (fire!). A hail of bullets riddled the bodies of the Jews, who fell like grass before the scythe.
Yitzkhok Volk, his brother Yisroel and their mother Libe were all present in the study house and during the shooting. Yizkhok Volk, hearing the command to shoot, immediately fell to the ground. The dead and wounded fell next to him and on top of him. He heard terrible moans and sighs of his dying and wounded comrades.
After the shooting was finished, Jonas Poderis ordered a guard to be left behind, “because it’s possible that someone is still alive,” he explained to his comrades. A certain partisan named Bartkus personally “checked” some of those who had been shot. He finished off with a revolver anyone who was still alive. Yitzkhok, however, was covered over with dead bodies, and Bartkus didn’t check him. All the partisans then left. This was on Saturday evening, at 10:00 p.m., the 24th day of the month of Tammuz.
Yitzkhok crawled out from among the heap of corpses, and went to his brothers in Kaunas. Yitzkhok’s clothes were soaked in blood. His right pants leg had a bullet hole.
Among those shot were:
- Libe and her son Yisroel Volk (the mother and brother of the four Volk brothers).
- Esther Zilberman.
- Motl Zilberman and his sons Ruven, Avrom, Efroyimke, Binyominke and a daughter named Sheynele (aged 9).
- Volf Zilberman.
- Menukhe Knebl (born Greiman).
- Noyakh Knebl, his wife Khane and three sons, Yerakhmiel, Yisroel-Aba and Avrom.
- Yakov, Yudl, Peysekh and Tevke Gruman, four brothers.
- Three brothers named Khayem-Leyzer, Fayvl and Yitzkhok Shulman.
- Motl Galinsky.
- Yitzkhok Aranovitz and his son Shimke.
- Nokhke Faynberg.
- Fayvl Abramovitz and his son Moyshke.
- Two brothers named Avrom and Moyshe Knebl, both shoemakers in town.
- Their uncle Ruven Knebl, also a shoemaker.
- Tevye Faynberg and his son Khayem.
- The slaughterer and his son.
Among the partisans who shot more than forty Jews that Saturday, Yitzkhok Volk remembers:
- The smith from Zapyshkis, the leader of the partisans, Jonas Poderis.
- The farmer from the village of Davoglio, two kilometers from town, Jiskevitsius.
- Three brothers from the village of Papishkis, three or four kilometers from town, farmers named Visgaitsiai.
- A farmer from the village of Klonishkis, three kilometers from town, named Bartkus.
- A peasant from the village of Klonishkis, three kilometers from town, named Poderis.
- A worker and partisan named Brashaitis.
Yitzkhok Volk does not remember any others. The next day, Sunday, all of the murdered Jews were buried in a single mass grave near the Jewish cemetery. Among the murdered were eight or ten minors, still almost children, and four women.
Immediately after the more than forty Jews were shot there was an order for all of the Jews to settle in a single neighborhood, in the study house and in the Jewish elementary school nearby. The peasants immediately inherited the cattle from the helpless Jews.
The Jews were only allowed to take small packages out of their houses. There was a heavy guard around the study house and elementary school. There was a barbed-wire fence around the area. No-one was allowed to leave the area. No-one was taken to work. A week after the Jews were settled in that area, more than 200 Jews were brought in from the town of Krukiai.
Immediately after the ghetto was set up, 800 rubles were requisitioned from every Jew (per capita). The Jews who had been brought from Krukiai helped to raise this sum. The partisans kept the Jews in the ghetto for exactly one month. They told the Jews in town that the men who had been taken away were working, and that the rest of the Jews in town would be joining them soon.
Around the time of the High Holidays the partisans took all the Jews out of the study house and the elementary school. Everyone; men, women and children was taken on foot to the bank of the Nieman, to Lagankupes near the Kaletova summer resort, and there everyone was shot. The men, women and children who were shot were thrown into a single grave and buried.
Peasants later reported that when the Jews were shot terrible, heartrending screams of women and children could be heard all around. A few Germans were present at the shooting. They did not shoot, but they observed everything.
The murderers distributed amongst themselves the better clothing of the murdered Jews. They sold the rest at auction. The last one thrown into the pit was Avrom Solsky, who was still alive.
Later the Volk brothers were in the Kaunas ghetto, where they worked at the airport. Peasants from Zapyshkis very often were sent there for forced labor, and they would meet with the Volk brothers. They told everything. Among the peasants who reported what had happened, the Volks remember the following peasants from town: Jurgis Litinevitsius, Jerashius and others.
In the spring of 1942, when the Nieman flooded the entire area surrounding Zapyshkis, it soaked the mass grave and the corpses floated away. Thus the last trace and memorial to the Jews of Zapyshkis and Krukiai was washed away.
The Volk brothers add that among the infamous Jew shooters were also:
- Three brothers, farmers from the village of Papishkis named Visgaitsiai.
- The town baker, the infamous murderer Brashaitis.
Yerakhmiel Volk lost his son Gideon, aged six, during the children’s action in Kaunas. Yitzkhok’s daughter Khanele, not yet one year old, was placed in the Lithuanian orphanage called Lapshelis. She lived there for three months, and died. Khane Brener (the Volks’ sister}, her husband and children were slaughtered during the major action in Kaunas.
The four Volk brothers and their wives were evacuated to Stutthof, Germany, together with all the other Jews in the Kaunas ghetto. There they were separated. All four brothers survived the concentration camps and were liberated by the American Army.
The four women survived the local Gehennoms in the region of Stutthof, and then were liberated by the Red Army.
After the war the four Volk brothers did not go to Lithuania. The Volk brothers received letters from Lithuania, telling them that the mass grave of the men had been washed away from the surface of the earth, and that it was impossible to determine the correct place where a memorial should be placed.
The letters were sent by their wives from Lithuania.