THE WORK CAMPS IN HEIDEKRUG (SILUTE)
Heidekrug is located in Memel (Kleipeda) County. It is a railroad stop between Pagegai and Memel, not far from the Bay of Courland on the Baltic Sea. Until 1939 Memel County belonged to Lithuania, and Heidekrug was one of the few larger cities. Many Jews had lived there from the earliest days. With their efforts, their sweat and their capital they had developed light industries, which considerably benefited their neighbors as well. Most of the latter were Germans, but there were also many Lithuanians. The Jews in Heidekrug did not live badly from the economic standpoint, and they had their own social, religious and cultural institutions.
From the first, the Jews had gotten along tolerably well with their neighbors. They worked and traded together, and they were all concerned with the economic development of their province.
After Hitler came to power in Germany, virulent anti-Semitic agitation was begun in Memel County, which successfully poisoned Christian attitudes toward the Jews.
There was a large German minority in Lithuania and in Memel County they constituted a majority. They couldn’t forget that they had been torn away from their “fatherland” and handed over to Lithuania after the First World War. The Germans in the county viewed the Lithuanians as an inferior, culturally backward race. Their entire East Prussian patriotic passion was devoted to returning to “the Reich.” Hitler and his party exploited these patriotic feelings to great effect. Hundreds of agents throughout the towns and villages successfully disseminated Nazi teachings and an uncompromising hatred of the Jews.
In the year 1939 Hitler had little difficulty occupying all of Memel County, and assigned it to East Prussia, in his “thousand-year Reich.”
A dreadful panic began among the Jews in the county. They were well acquainted with German fascism. They had read enough newspapers and had enough opportunities to speak with Jewish refugees from the Third Reich, to understand quite well what was in store for them. All the Jews in the entire county, from all the cities and towns as well as from Memel, moved into Lithuania proper, leavings behind their old homes and a good deal of their possessions.
All of Memel County became Judenrein, empty of Jews. Germans bought the businesses and some of the houses of the frightened Jews for next to nothing. Many Jews did not sell their houses, and went off to Lithuania hoping some day to return and live to see better times. But the Jews’ tragic fate would have it differently. Some refugees from the county actually did return, but against their will, and not to the homes they had left behind. Rather they were forcefully brought to work camps where, together with Lithuanian Jews from Tawrik (Taurage) County, they were tortured, beaten, mocked and exploited like horses, or like living machines. Many Jews lost their health there, and very many lost their lives.
The Outbreak of the War
On Sunday, June 22, 1941, the war between Hitler’s Third Reich and the Soviet Union broke out. In one day Hitler’s troops occupied virtually all of Tawrik County. Many towns located close to the border were occupied in the early morning hours on Sunday.
Recently-created bands of armed Lithuanians who called themselves “partisans” shot at the retreating Red Army units, assisting in and securing the forward march of the Germans. They greeted the Germans joyfully on the roads and in the streets, with bouquets of flowers and with music. On account of the sudden attack and speedy advance of the German armies, only a small number of Jews managed to evacuate to the Soviet Union. The rest fell into the hands of the brutal Hitlerites and the treacherous Lithuanians.
The armed Lithuanians carried out various acts of vengeance against the Jews in the towns of Tawrik County. They simply confiscated a good deal of the Jews’ possessions, becoming their “heirs” while the Jews were still alive. Like rabbits, which grow helpless and weak from terror when they see a snake close by, so – if the comparison may be forgiven – felt the Jews after the German army advanced into their towns. They had been tragically disappointed by their Lithuanian neighbors, with whom they had lived for centuries.
Sadly, the Jews didn’t realize this treachery, and by the time they understood what their neighbors were doing, it was too late; there was nothing they could do to save themselves. The Lithuanians did everything they could to be rid of the Jews and to inherit their possessions. Together with the Germans, they first killed the Jews morally and spiritually, by means of assorted degrading labors, torture and chicanery, and then began the physical annihilation.
For more precise details about the spiritual and physical annihilation of the Jews in the towns, see the following eyewitness testimonies, collected by Leib Koniuchowsky
For Tawrik County:
- The Destruction of the Jews of Laukuva (Laukuva)
- The Destruction of the Jews of Kveidan (Kvedarna)
- The Destruction of the Jews of Koltinan (Kaltinenai)
- The Destruction of the Jews of Shvekshne (Sveksne)
- The Destruction of the Jews of Vainute (Vainutas)
- The Destruction of the Jews of Nayshtot (Naumiestis)
For Kretinga County:
- The Destruction of the Jews of Verszan (Veivirzenai).
The men from all these towns who were healthier and capable of working, exactly 500 in all, were led away by the Germans to various camps around Heidekrug. The Jewish men thus started on the torturous, hellish road which led from the labor camps and work places near Heidekrug through the Hell of Auschwitz, Warsaw and Dachau concentration camps. Some earlier and some later, nearly all of these men ended their lives with various unnatural deaths. Of these five hundred men, only a few dozen survived the Liberation.
The men from the towns around Tawrik were led away by German SS men from Heidekrug, led by Dr Schau from Heidekrug and his adjutants, Yaksht and Dembrowsky. The partisans from the towns actively participated. The civilian Lithuanian population was happy that the Jews were being driven out of “their” towns.
The Jewish men from the towns around Tawrik were taken away at the end of the first week, and the rest during the fourth and the beginning of the fifth week of the war.
- The men from Verszan were taken away on Saturday, June 28, 1941 there were fifty of them altogether. They were quartered in a camp near the Heidekrug city hall.
- The men from Laukuva, eighty altogether, including five from Heidekrug, were led away on Sunday, June 29, 1941, and quartered in a camp near Mactubern.
- The men from Shvekshne 120 altogether, were taken away Saturday, June 28, 1941. A few of them were taken away Sunday, June 29, 1941. They were brought to the camps together with the Kveidan men that same Sunday.
Some of the men from Shvekshne were taken to a camp called Piktaten, and some to Camp Silwen.
- The men from Koltinan were taken on Sunday, July 20, 1941 to the court of Kalwilischken near Heidekrug. They were there until the next day, Monday, July 21, when they were taken to the camp at Mactubern. It is not known exactly how many men were taken from Koltinan.
- Some of the men from Kveidan were taken away Sunday, June 29, 1941, and some on June 30, 1941; there were eighty in all. Some of the men from Kveidan were settled at a camp at the Heidekrug town council. Another group was settled at Dr Schau’s compound near Rabenwald.
- The thirty men from Vainute were taken on Saturday, July 19, 1941 to the compound at Kalwelischken near Heidekrug. Some of those from Vainute were taken to the camp at Mactubern and some to the central Heidekrug camp.
- The twenty-five men from Nayshtot were brought together with those from Vainute on Saturday, July 19, 1941. Some were assigned to the Mactubern camp, and some to the camp at Silwen.
At the beginning of the war men from Nayshtot had escaped to relatives in nearby towns, where they were seized together with local men and brought to the camps. Thus, the total number of men from Nayshtot in the Heidekrug camps was between thirty-five and thirty-seven.
- The work Camp at Mactubern
The work camp received its name from the village in which it was located. The village of Mactubern is 35 kilometers from Heidekrug, eighteen kilometers from the town of Vainute, and twelve kilometers from the former border on the German side.
Until the night of Saturday, June 28, 1941, French prisoners lived at the camp. They were taken away, and the next day the men from Laukuva were brought in. The camp consisted of one large barrack, surrounded by barbed wire. The barrack contained iron beds with straw mattresses.
The Jews who were brought in had to enter the barrack through a narrow door. SS men stood on both sides, striking the men on their heads with rubber clubs. They also kicked the men with their heavy East Prussian military boots. Everybody tried to run through the doorway as quickly as he could. The worst beatings were received by the older and weaker men, who didn’t run through the doorway quickly enough.
Avrom Moyshe Yeznerovitz, a man from Laukuva aged over 65, fell dead by the door from the blows he’d received. It was dark in the barrack. None of the Jews noticed him, and they trod on him as they ran through the doorway. The camp commander, a German from Tilsit named Kirsch, stood in the dark barrack giving out black coffee. Around two in the morning the men finished drinking their coffee, and had to lie down to sleep. They were all forced to lie quietly without exchanging a word.
The Camp Command
At four in the morning whistles and shouts were heard: “Jews, fall in!” The sighs and moans of the Jews resounded in the large barrack. Dressing quickly, the men lined up in the yard. They were counted in their rows. One was missing. Now everyone discovered the death of Avrom Moyshe. The Jews looked at each other fearfully: “Just the beginning, and already we have a martyr!”
Frightened, sorrowing and hopeless, the men tried to see with glazed eyes into the unclear future. The camp commandant Kirsch introduced himself to the Jews and announced what he was liable to do if the Jews didn’t work well, or didn’t try hard to please him. He listed all of the laws the Jews would have to obey, all of the directives they would have to carry out, and how to do their work. He promised various sadistic punishments if his directives were not carried out, and a cold shudder ran through the unfortunate Jews’ bodies. He spoke at length about capital punishment. Two foremen stood at the roll call, along with two SS men, like dogs considering their future victims.
One of the SS men recognized the Heidekrug merchant Yoysef Smilyansky standing in line. He took Smilyansky out of line, and demanded that he explain and “tell the truth” about how many Christians he had cheated, and where he had hidden his “stolen” capital. The two SS men murderously beat the Jew, and then assigned him to be a cook along with several other Jews.
A Jew from Laukuva named Monish Kagan, a former reserve officer in President Smetonas’ Lithuanian army, was named the head of the Jews. His task was to maintain internal order, and to see that the Jews became good workers.
The men were assigned to work on a construction job for the Tilsit firm of Richter.
All of the camps in and around Heidekrug were commanded by the regional commander, Dr Schau. He was a murderer and a bitter anti Semite. Firms conducting various projects rented the Jewish men from him, looked after them while at work, and paid Dr Schau for the work they did. The doctor’s adjutants were two high-ranking SS men, one a greater sadist than the other.
The two SS men Willy and Otto, who guarded the Jews in the camp and at work, were extraordinarily zealous in their sadism. The men were immediately divided into two groups of 60 and 20, respectively, and they were taken away from the camp.
At a stop roughly two kilometers from the camp, the foremen explained how the Jews would have to work. The location where the work was to be done was a swampy pasture with old, neglected drainage canals. The Jews had to remove the fascines; bundles of sticks used to strengthen the walls of the canal; clear out the canal and reinforce it with new fascines.
The Jews stood three meters deep in the canal, their feet bare and their pants rolled up, hungry and short on sleep, and worked the best they could. Some of the men were old and weak. There were students and yeshiva boys, merchants and rabbis, who were unaccustomed to physical labor. The foremen and the SS men drove them with sticks to make them work harder and with “more diligence.”
The first day the men were tormented at this “labor” from five in the morning until four in the afternoon. But they weren’t permitted to rest, and they didn’t dare to. In the evening plates were distributed, and the men were given lunch. But even this meager lunch didn’t come easily. Everyone had to stand one after the other in a straight row. The two SS men murderously beat those who didn’t keep straight in line.
The first evening, there was a roll call right after the meal. All the men had to line up in rows. The camp commandant Kirsch gave a lecture on how to behave in the camp, in the yard and in the barrack: how to stand and how to sit, how to speak and when to keep silent, and how the Jews were and were not permitted to follow the call of nature.
He repeated the entire catechism several times, accompanied by warnings. He didn’t forget to promise the Jews that if they worked well, they would be “sent home” in three months. It wasn’t even close to sunset yet. Night was still far off. Nevertheless the men had to lie down in their beds. Each one of the men was a separate, tragic little world unto himself. Each one tried in his own way to understand and get at the heart of the situation. The first day in the camp and at work had left them with no sign of good things to come.
Sleepless nights and tormented, difficult days began, at work, at roll call, everywhere and at all times.
Every morning they had to get up after a whistle blew. In the rush they didn’t even have time to wash up before they ran to the kitchen for coffee and prepared for work. At one o’clock the men were led back to the camp for lunch, and then immediately back to work until dusk.
The men received very little food; no more than 250 grams of bread, which was always wet and heavy as clay. Once in a while a bit of margarine or marmalade came along with the bread in the morning, and at night, black coffee with no sugar. At first the lunches weren’t bad. Later the lunches, too, became quite bad.
The Jews began to lose their strength. The hope of quickly finishing the work and returning home encouraged and strengthened them to make the days go by. They were still naive and believed their LagerAeltester, who told them that after they finished the work they would go home. In fact, they were tragically mocked by the horrible reality.
The First Extermination of Men
On Saturday, July 19, 1941, the camp commandant Kirsch came to the workplace and announced that all of the men who were weak, sick or old should report to him, and that he would let anyone who wasn’t fit for work “return home and take care of their families.”
Eyes shining with joy could be seen on the faces of fathers with children, of the weak and the aged. They didn’t know how to thank the camp commandant. And commandant Kirsch wrote down on a list the elderly and weak, and two young men as well, calmly and with a smile. He allowed those on the list to say their goodbyes. Fathers kissed their children, and brothers kissed each other as well. Everyone who remained behind to work asked their comrades to give warm regards and kiss their mothers, wives, brothers and sisters. Tears of joy and longing ran from everyone’s eyes. A number of those left behind wept with jealousy of those who were going home.
Those who were on the list were taken away from work at three in the afternoon and brought to camp. When the workers returned to camp in the evening, those who had been on the list were not to be seen.
On the evening of Monday, July 21, 1941, 40 new men were brought into the camp at Mactubern. Some were from Nayshtot, some from Vainute and the rest from the town of Koltinan.
The men from Laukuva found out from the newcomers from Nayshtot and Vainute that everyone who had been taken away from the camp had been shot that same Saturday night, not far from Nayshtot in the Schaudvitz forest. The newly-arrived men from Vainute even recognized the possessions of the Jews who had been shot. Quite a few of the men in the camp, however, were skeptical that such cruelty was possible.
Several days later the two SS men, Otto and Willy, boasted while at work, teasing the Jews and pointing to their revolvers: “This week we knocked off a lot of Jews.” The tragic incident was also confirmed by Lithuanian peasants. The incident made clear to all the Jews the full terrible scope of their situation.
That same bloody Saturday, July 19, 1941, the healthier men from the towns of Nayshtot and Vainute were taken away and brought to the camps around Heidekrug.
All of the elderly, weak and sick men were taken from their towns and shot near Nayshtot, also in the Schaudvitz forest, under the leadership of Dr Schau and his two adjutants, with the active co-operation of the local partisans.
On that same bloody Saturday, July 19, 1941, Jewish men were taken from all of the work camps around Heidekrug and shot in Schaudvitz.
The following men from Laukuva were taken from the work camp at Mactubern and shot that Saturday:
- Khayim-Zelik Koplinsky, rabbi of Laukuva for 25 years;
- Yoysef Kagan
- Bendet Kagan, owner of a sawmill; Yoysef’s brother;
- Aron-Fayve Katin, owner of a grocery store;
- Eliyohu Rubak, a dealer in textiles;
- Yoyel Levi, a merchant;
- Aba Fayvlman, a yeshiva student;
- Meyer-Yankl Gershon;
- Shabsay-Leyb Gershon, Meyer-Yankl’s son;
- Aron Shapiro, a baker;
- Shabsay Shnayder, a farmer;
- Yankl Fuks, a butcher;
- Mordkhe Kohan, a baker;
- Ben-Tsyon Katsef, a grain dealer;
- Avrom Mayerovitsh, a dealer in textiles;
- Yankl Fritsal, a cabinet-maker;
- Shraga Nayvidl;
- Zalkind Vayner’ a merchant.
Others from Laukuva were shot that bloody Saturday, besides those listed above. However, the eyewitnesses no longer remember their last names.
The Two Comrades, Willy and Otto
After that tragic Saturday the Jews in the Mactubern camp began digging a new canal to drain the water from the swampy pasture. The canal was twelve meters wide and three meters deep. The deeper the Jews dug the harder the work became and the more strength they lost tossing out the earth. The more strength the Jews lost, the more they were driven to work faster, and the more blows fell on their weakened bodies. The foremen would set certain quotas which everyone, weak or strong, young or old, had to meet, or else they would be murderously beaten. And the two comrades Otto and Willy, the two refined fascists, did everything they could to embitter the lives of the Jews at work and after work.
The Jews were not allowed to go take care of their natural functions without permission. They had to approach the guards with a rigid military posture and request permission to step out. The punishment for an insufficiently military approach was a beating. If the request to step out was not properly made, there would be another beating. When they finally gave permission, they would beat anyone who stayed out longer than two minutes. Leaving the camp, on the way back to camp, everywhere they constantly struck the Jews.
In addition to these beatings, they wrote down whoever didn’t work fast enough or well enough, and these were whipped on returning to camp. If they took a disliking to someone, they beat him every evening. They had victims whom they whipped regularly. These were:
- Efrayim Lentin — a yeshiva student and slaughterer from Shvekshne;
- Two brothers, Efrayim and Velvl Yeznerovitz. Their father had died the first evening.
- A man named Shvartz from Koltinan;
- A man named Kaplan, the father of a young son named Avremele, from Heidekrug; and others.
The two always had reasons for a whipping. Efrayim Lentin was whipped because he was a kosher slaughterer; Shvartz was whipped because he had a German last name; and so forth. In addition to the regulars, the two looked for new victims to whip each day. The whippings took place during the evening roll call after work.
During the roll call the men were tormented with various calisthenic drills, or they were forced to run around the barrack. If someone fell behind, they beat him. They threw a dagger at whomever was last. Every day after the roll call they used to bring the Nazi newspaper, Der Sturmer. The head of the Jews, Monish Kagan, had to read it from cover to cover. All of the men had to stand in a circle and listen. If anyone turned his head, he was immediately beaten. The same newspaper was read every day after roll call, until a new one arrived.
The two SS men lived in a separate room in the same barrack. The Jews weren’t allowed to even lie down before 10 o’clock. On several occasions both of them would come into the barrack in the middle of the night and whistle, play harmonicas, shine portable lamps at everyone and order them to sing religious hymns, make them get out of bed and dance, and so forth.
Once the two S.S. men took the slaughterer Kosower from Kveidan out of line during the roll call and beat him as they did every evening. They ordered all of the men to immediately lay down in their beds. They ordered the slaughterer to dig himself a grave in the yard. Then they took him into their own room. Bread, butter, cheese, sugar and the like were laid out on the table.
“Eat as much as you want before you die!” they ordered. The slaughterer had forgotten that such food still existed. Kosower had been starving for weeks. He forgot himself and began eating as much as he could. For this last time in his life, he wanted to taste good, nourishing food. He wanted to die with his belly full.
While the slaughterer was eating Otto and Willy entered the barrack and woke up Monish Kagan. They ordered him to get ten old religious Jews ready to say Psalms in memory of the slaughterer. They went out, and shot several times.
In the main room of the barrack, by the weak light of a summer’s night, ten Jews sat in their underwear and said Psalms by heart. Tears flowed constantly from their eyes. The words came out as sighs and moans, torn from their sorrowing hearts. For half an hour they said Psalms, mourning the slaughterer and themselves. Then they had to lie down to sleep. A few minutes later the two SS men came into the barrack. They brought the slaughterer in, holding him up under the arms on both sides, and ordered him to shout out loud: “Good evening Comrade Jews!” This “performance” took place a short time after Sukkot, 1941.
One time they woke up the Jew Shvartz from Koltinan. They gave him a serving plate and ordered him to pass urine into it. Shvartz pleaded with them: “People eat from that plate!” They beat him so badly that he collapsed.
Shvartz had to carry out their barbaric order: “You dog, you! Cursed Jew! How could you do such a “thing, urinating into a plate people eat out of! That’s the kind of education you Jews got?!?” They beat him so hard with whips that he almost fainted. They forced him to drink the urine.
At the end of the summer the Jews settled into a barrack nearer to the workplace, by the canal. There the two SS men were alone in the guardroom. The men were tormented by hunger. The Jew from Tawrik Haushe Dorfman left the barrack at 7 o’clock to see the German neighbor Schulz, who was sympathetic to the Jews. (Unfortunately, there were few like him LK)
The German gave Haushe bread, butter, pork and eggs. The local Germans were strictly forbidden to meet or talk to Jews. On the way back, a neighbor of Schulz’ saw Haushe. The neighbour warned Schulz that he’d better report the Jew to the camp commandant himself. If not, he threatened that he would report them. He forced Shultz to write a complaint attesting that during the night a Jew had forced him to hand over food. Haushe managed to be at the roll call in time. He hid the provisions in a cupboard.
After work the next day came a strict order from the camp commandant to fall out for roll call. Nobody understood what was happening. Camp commandant Kirsch demanded that the Jew who had gone the previous evening to beg from Germans voluntarily hand himself in. He threatened to shoot ten men if the guilty party didn’t confess. No one confessed.
The camp commandant sent for Schultz and his wife to have them identify the Jewish beggar. Schultz immediately recognized Haushe in the row. But he didn’t want to have him killed, and pretended not to recognize him.
Schultz’s servant woman was brought, along with her grown son. They immediately pointed to Haushe. The servant and her child were Russians.
Kirsch reassured them that Haushe would certainly be sentenced to death, and reported the same to Dr Schau. Meanwhile, he decided on his own to give Haushe 50 lashes right away, and 25 lashes every evening. Kirsch commanded that he was to be whipped by the head of the Jews, Monish Kagan. Monish categorically refused to do so. Kirsch gave Monish ten minutes to think it over, and went into his own room.
Otto and Willy looked at Monish and rubbed their hands with joy at the chance of being able to whip Monish at least once. They had grown to hate him for his “friendship” with Kirsch.
Ten minutes later Kirsch came out and asked Monish whether he had thought it over. “I have nothing to think over! I don’t whip my comrades!” Monish said proudly and with assurance.
“Then bend over yourself!” the camp commandant ordered brutally. Otto and Willy were overjoyed. Monish prepared to take the lashing.
The camp commander pushed him over to the side. “I just learned something!” he shouted, and went into his barrack. The two bandits Otto and Willy gave Haushe 50 lashes. Several nights in a row he received ten lashes. The Jews in the camp couldn’t get over their wonderment at Haushe’s ability to endure.
Torture and Chicaneries
Late in the autumn of 1941 the two sadists Otto and Willy were transferred from the Mactubern camp to the camp at Silwen. The two SS men who replaced them were no less sadistic than the predecessors. One of the two new ones was named Falk. He applied every conceivable sadistic notion to the Jews in the camp. He was extremely fond of torturing the Jews with cold. It was late autumn already; the famous cold autumn and winter of 1941. He used to drive the Jews out of the barrack at night, and after an entire day of hard work in the bitterest cold; force the Jews to kneel with their bare knees on the ice and snow. He would drive the Jews into snowdrifts and make them do somersaults. Those who didn’t quickly carry out his orders were murderously beaten.
The two sadists greatly tormented the Jews during the time of the “utensils roll call.” During the winter, Falk often ordered the Jews to carry out their dishes and spoons. The dishes were made out of tin. He searched for dirt on them with a magnifying glass. If he found dirt, he always found victims to whip.
Once at such a roll call the Laukuva Jew Yose-Velve Aranovitz took from a friend a dish that Falk himself had already checked. Falk, however, found that the dish was very dirty and Yose-Velve got ten lashings. Before the roll call Monish himself would check the dishes.
For a whipping, the victim had to bend over on a bench. One of the SS men held his head, and the second did the whipping.
Among the twelve Jews from Nayshtot in the Mactubern camp was Heyne Elert. The Jews in the camp used all the means at their disposal to keep abreast of what was happening in the world. Above all they were interested in the battles on the eastern front. Jews would steal newspapers from the foremen, and sometimes from the SS guard.
Elert had saved up a pocketful of newspaper clippings. The SS men noticed it one time, and accused him of espionage. The two SS men first gave him 50 lashes. During the whipping, Heyne (Henokh) fainted several times. Heyne could neither sit nor lie for several days and nights. But he had to go to work. Falk himself reported the affair to Dr Schau. The latter commanded that Heyne be severely punished.
At work and during the after-work appeal Heyne was constantly beaten and tormented. Before New Year 1942 both of the SS men went off to the front. The guards who followed them were S.A. men, who were frequently rotated. Those who were newly assigned always took up the work with zeal and began the torment afresh. The Jews worked on the canals until November 15, 1941. The cold was terrible. The earth was frozen deep down, and it was not possible to continue working.
The Winter of 1941-42 in the camp at Mactubern
Some of the Jews spent almost the entire winter working at the railroad station at Stonisken, twelve kilometers from the camp. Early in the morning a group of men would be taken in two long wagons to the train station. By the time they got to work, the men’s limbs would be frozen. At the station the Jews loaded straw and hay, and some of them loaded rye into the cars. Everything was destined for the front. Late in the evening they were brought back to camp in the wagons.
There was a great deal of hunger that winter. The Jews at the station would steal rye, pouring it into their pockets and their pants. There were two small coffee grinders in the barrack, with which the men ground the rye. They cooked the meal on small ovens in the barrack. That winter, the cooked rye meal was the tastiest thing the Jews could imagine. They used to say to each other that if they managed to live to see the Liberation, the only thing they would cook and eat would be rye meal.
Meanwhile there was virtually nothing available to put into the kettle in the kitchen. Yoysef Smilansky, the cook, requested that the rye meal be put into the common pot. The Jews agreed, because many men used to stay in the barrack without a thing to eat.
By this time there were men in the camp who were swollen from hunger, such as the Verne Jew Mane Klaz and the slaughterer from Koltinan. There were about ten such in all. The sick men didn’t go to work, and stayed in camp instead, peeling potatoes and beets for the kitchen.
Disease in the Camp at Mactubern
The Jews in the camp didn’t receive any clean laundry. What they had brought along from their towns was worn, torn and filthy. There was an infestation of lice. Nor was there anywhere to wash oneself that winter. The dirt caused itching and rashes. There were several sick men with wounds covering their body. Monish’ brother Khatskl Kagan was assigned to take care of the sick. Khatskl took the work very seriously. He managed to get hold of an ointment, washed the sick himself, and healed them.
Among the seriously ill was Velve Yeznerovitz, who suffered from fever. In the hallway stood buckets to be used as chamber pots at night. In the darkness, Yeznerovitz couldn’t find the bucket quickly enough, and had to relieve himself on the floor.
In the morning a man from Kelrn named Berl Keltz came in and saw what had happened. He set the feverish Yeznerovitz down on the floor and began kicking him. A commotion began among the Jews in the barrack, who tried to force Berl to ask Yevnerovitz’ forgiveness. But Berl declared that he would do the same to anyone who relieved himself on the floor.
The hunger, cold, dirt and various diseases all made the Jews nervous. They began arguing among themselves and couldn’t find a common language, though everyone was threatened by the same fate and everyone understood their shared, inevitable end. Tormented by hunger, cold, disease and heavy labor the Jews survived to see the spring of 1942. The winter of 1941-42 was the worst time for all the Jews in the labor camps around Heidekrug.
- The Labor Camp at Silwen
Some of the men from Shvekshne, roughly 50 altogether, were brought to this camp at the beginning of the second week of the war. The camp was located in the village of Silwen at a peasant farm, consisting of an old house and two half-collapsed barns. The Jews were quartered in two small rooms on bunk beds built two high. The camp commandant was an SS corporal named Smailius, a former teacher in a German public school and a terrible sadist. Four SS men guarded the Jews. The names of the four murderers who took turns at watch must be recorded, because of their brutality: Zhelenys, born in Rusne; and Bitner, born in Meislauken. In addition, from the late fall of 1941 on, there were the two dreadful sadists Otto and Willy.
The work was being done by a firm which had ordered the workers from Dr Schau, and paid for their work. The head foreman who was the boss on this job was named Anstipl. He had red hair. He was capable of killing a man for the least infraction. More than one Jew lost first his health and then his life on account of this murderer. The Jews called him “the redhead.”
The supervisor of all the firm’s various projects was a construction engineer from Heidekrug, an intelligent scoundrel. The head foreman, the engineer’s assistant, was the infamous Gorgl. He was a cripple, and the worst of all the foremen in the Heidekrug labor camps.
The work consisted of building a new road one and a half kilometers long in the direction of Mactubern. The Jews had to dig up mounds of earth and carry them away in lorries to low spots. They had to toil continuously from morning until evening in the heat. The guards and foremen mercilessly drove the Jews to make the road faster and better.
Beside the burning heat the Jews suffered from thirst, and there was nothing to quench it with. Even if there was drinking water available, the Jews were not allowed to leave the workplace. The bullies were even reluctant to let the Jews go relieve themselves. The Jews worked under a constant hail of blows, with empty stomachs. They couldn’t rest, worrying about their near and dear ones at home.
The Jews were a toy in the hands of the guards and foremen. They tormented and beat the Jews whenever they wanted to have a good time, when they grew tired of hanging around all day long with nothing to do. From day to day the Jews’ strength diminished. They sensed it inside them, and saw it on the faces of their relatives and friends.
The food was bad and scarce. Even if they hadn’t been working, it would have been too little. In the morning there was a dish of black coffee. At midday and in the evening, a poor potato soup. Rarely was there a bit of meat. The firm was responsible for feeding the Jews. They skimped as much as they could. What they did provide would “evaporate” in the camps, in the storehouse and in the kitchen. By the time the provisions reached the Jews, there was very little left.
Other conditions were very bad as well. The only way one could wash was at an old well in the courtyard of the camp. The Jews went many days without washing, either because there wasn’t enough water in the well, or because there wasn’t enough time in the morning, because anyone who was late getting in line for work would be beaten.
The Jews received no clean laundry. They were lousy and broke out in itchy rashes, and various diseases spread.
Torture and Victimization
It was the first week in the camp. Hopeless and exhausted from a hot day of hard work, the Jews lay on their cots. But outside it was still quite light. The hot summer’s day didn’t want to surrender to the cool and darkness of night.
Suddenly a wild roar broke the surrounding calm. “You aren’t outside yet?” came the loud reprimand from the SS men, just as though the Jews had know about their order a long time and hadn’t obeyed. The SS men struck the frightened Jews and drove them out of their cots. In the yard they lined everyone up as if for roll call, and then they announced that whoever had to relieve himself could go do so, and the rest should go to sleep.
Ten or fifteen men went off to relieve themselves. But a long time passed, and they didn’t return to the room. The SS men found that the men hadn’t relieved themselves at the right place. The men were tortured for a long time, forced to do calisthenics. Most of those who had gone to relieve themselves were elderly men, including Naftali Ziv’s father.
The young man Berl Yofe from Shvekshne was one of those who were tortured every day. He was also among those who went off to relieve themselves that night, and he was terribly tortured. Berl no longer had the nerves to survive the devil’s game the SS sadists played. He didn’t have the strength for calisthenics anymore, and decided it would be better to die. While the ten or fifteen men were being tortured, he tore off toward the old well in the courtyard, trying to throw himself in. The SS men caught and beat him. Then they let all the men go to sleep.
The same night Yofe waited for an opportunity, left the room, stole into a nearby field of rye, and escaped. The SS men chased him and shot at him. However, they didn’t catch him. Yofe ran to the border between Lithuania and Memel County. Border police arrested and shot him. Ber Yofe was the first to fall from the camp at Silwen.
The Jewish pharmacist Viktin was another one of those from Shvekshne in the camp. The head foreman Anstip had it in for him from the very first day. The “redhead” hated and tortured all the Jews, but he hated and tortured Jewish intellectuals above all. Vitkin was mostly guilty of being a Jew with a university education.
At work, driving to and from work, and above all in the camp after work, the “redhead” tortured, beat and whipped Vitkin. All of the Jews were forced to watch, in shame and resentment, as the upright, innocent Vitkin was tortured. In those tragic circumstances there was nothing they could do to help him.
As a result of the beatings and filth, Vitkin’s body was full of wounds and abscesses. His soul flickered like a candle. He survived the torture until the winter of 1941-1942, and then died. By then the sadistic SS men were at the front, and the camp was guarded by old SA men, who permitted Vitkin to be buried and to receive a wooden grave marker.
That same winter the Jews found out that both of the SS murderers, Willy and Otto, had fallen at the front. The Jews in the camps at Silwen and Mactubern thus had at least a partial revenge.
The Jews had it hard in the camp, the work was hard as well, but the worst thing was the “spade roll call,” which was held every evening after the meal. The Jews would have been content if they hadn’t been taken back from work to the camp every night. A veritable Gehennom roared and seethed for the Jews interned there.
After eating the men had to clean their spades. SS men watched to see that the shovels weren’t scraped with stones or pieces of brick. The shovels had to shine like a mirror in the setting summer sun.
After he finished cleaning, everyone had to stand in line with his shovel. The Jews in the camp didn’t have names, only numbers. Each shovel bore an engraved number which corresponded to that of the man who used it.
The camp commandant, accompanied by the F.F.D. (work director), first checked the first row, and then the second and third. The work director wrote down the numbers of the spades that weren’t clean enough. After the “spade roll call” the Jews had to fall in around a circle that had been scratched on the ground. The numbers of those whose spades had been found to be insufficiently clean were called out, and they had to go into the circle. Whoever was called in had to bend over forward and call out loud the number of lashes he received. After being lashed, the man who was punished had to stand up straight and shout: “Thank you very much!” Whoever didn’t say this clearly enough was lashed all over again.
There were regular victims at every “spade roll call,” and others were added. The German sadists weren’t looking for clean spades, but victims for a whipping. Many were broken by these constant whippings and became invalid.
After the roll call everyone had to put his shovel away in a certain place. But several times it happened that the Jews were already on their cots when they were driven out and tormented for hours. The sadists always managed to think up a reason for the torture. Quite often they threw several shovels into the yard themselves. Then they accused the Jews in question of not putting their spades away, and tormented them with calisthenics for a few hours. Thus it continued every night without letup. So it was that many men became invalids the first weeks, and were taken away and shot with the first transport in the Schaudvitz forest near Nayshtot.
The First Extermination of Men
That bloody Saturday, July 19, 1941, the camp commandant announced that any Jew who felt too weak to work or who was sick, should report to him, to be sent home to their families. Not all of the Jews believed in the bandits’ goodwill. Yet there were several Jews who sensed that they would die in the camp from hard labor and assorted tortures.
The following men from Shvekshne signed up:
- Mote Bas, a merchant;
- Yankl Preyde Klip;
- Meyer Markus, a butcher;
- Eliyohu Shmulovitsh;
- Khayem Ment;
- Shmuel Ripkin;
- Hershl Meyerovitz;
- Moyshe Ziv, Naftali’s father;
and others whose last names the eyewitnesses no longer remember. Several days later the men remaining in the Silwen camp found out about the tragic end of those who had been taken away.
The Winter of 1941-42 in the Camp at Silwen
The Jews were in the camp the entire winter of 1941-42, until the middle of the spring of 1942. Meanwhile they finished the 1-1/2 kilometer road during the fall. That was the only project which Jews in the Heidekrug work camps began and finished.
All winter the Jews prepared stones for the construction of a new road. In a forest they pulled stones out of the frozen ground. They removed the largest of them with dynamite. When they blew up the rocks, the foremen forced the Jews to remain standing in dangerous places. The Jews split the biggest stones with hammers and dragged them out of the forest to the road with wooden barrows. A German foreman named Tzebedys directed the work. The stones which had been dragged out or carried out had to be split with heavy hammers into little paving stones.
The work was hard. The weather was terribly cold that year. The Jews had little to eat. Where they slept, it was also cold and dirty.
The Jews felt completely drained of strength. Many of them collapsed and lay sick on their cots. There was no medical help, either. The Jews barely survived until spring 1942. When it grew warmer, they were driven out to work on the new road. The foremen teased the Jews, constantly telling them that the good times splitting rocks that winter were over, and now they’d really be black and blue.
But the foremen had fun with the Jews for only one day at the job on the new road. An order came from Dr Schaus to stop the work and bring all the Jews into the central Heidekrug camp. The camp at Silwen was liquidated.
III. The Work Camp at Piktaten
About 60 men from Shvekshne and a smaller number of men from other towns were brought by the SS on Saturday, June 28, 1941 into the village of Piktaten, twelve kilometers away from Heidekrug. Some 60 men were quartered in a house on a peasant farm, on bunk beds stacked two high which had been set up in two small rooms. They were brought in during the evening. In the middle of Saturday night they were driven out into the yard and arranged in two rows. SS men first beat everyone, then wrote down their first and last names and assigned them numbers.
On Sunday morning the men were driven into the yard. They weren’t even allowed to wash. The camp commandant arranged the Jews in rows, and presented them to a fourteen year old Hitlerite dressed up in his Hitler Youth uniform. They were ordered to obey the fourteen-year-old, and to punctually carry out all of his orders. If not, the camp commandant listed all sorts of unnatural deaths which he would hand out to the Jews. He pronounced these warnings joyfully and with a laugh. The Jews understood nevertheless that he was as capable of doing what he said as a demon from Hell.
The fourteen year old Hitlerite immediately began to bully the terrified Jews, who had only a few days earlier been free men.
The young Hitlerite ordered the Jews to do various calisthenic exercises. The smile of a poisonous snake spread over his mouth, as he watched several people in agony as they carried out his commands.
When he finished making the Jews do exercises, he ordered them to crawl over a large heap of dried branches. Nearby German peasants came to see this original “show,” as elderly and younger Jews climbed on the mountain of branches. The young Hitlerist played with the Jews for hours.
Another construction foremen came to the camp that same Sunday and introduced himself to the hopeless men. It was the infamous German, Gorgl. That Sunday he was as drunk as Lot, and he presented himself to the Jews as their father, who was ready to feed his children well if they worked well. If they worked badly, Gorgl promised to beat them not the way a father strikes his children, but the way a Hitlerite sadist beat and tortured Jews in those tragic times.
The Jews could tell from the way the murderer looked what they could expect from him. As they say, “you can tell from the beak what the peck will be like” and the Jews immediately realized that since he was an ugly cripple and lame, they would have all kinds of trouble from him.
That same Sunday Gorgl drove all the men to bathe in a nearby body of water. The Jews were overtired and cold. They were beaten and forced to bathe. Some of the Jews were driven in with their clothes.
Monday morning, June 30, 1941 at three o’clock, voices were heard in the room: “You haven’t gotten up yet?” All of the Jews were driven out into the yard, arranged into rows and handed pieces of bread.
The men were driven to work with shovels on their shoulders. The crippled foreman and the fourteen year old Hitlerite rode on bicycles.
The heat that day was terrible. Fire poured from heaven onto the men, who weren’t allowed to speak to each other and were forced to run, not walk, as fast as Gorgl and the young Hitlerite rode on their bicycles.
They stopped 24 kilometers from Piktaten. Heaps of gravel stood in a road. The Jews had to spread it on the road and even it out. Everyone had to take off his jacket and shirt. There was another foreman on the job, who walked up and down the road with a straight stick. Every now and then he struck a Jew on his bare back. As well as the Jews worked, he was still displeased. He always decided that the Jews weren’t smoothing properly the gravel they had spread out. He constantly pointed out with his stick: “You’ve got a hole here!” and finished with a switch of his stick on the Jew’s bare body.
The men in the camp gave him a nickname: “the hole.” More than one Jew had welts on his body where “the hole” had beaten him with his stick. The first day at work, the Jews stayed until it grew dark. At ten at night they were brought back to the camp on foot.
48 kilometers a day by foot the Jews had to walk, and they worked throughout the day. They were only fed in the morning and at night after work.
Nor did the Jews get any rest at night after they ate. Just like in the camp at Silwen, here too there were “spade roll calls” and Jews were whipped.
Obviously Gorgl, who had the final say at both camps, invented and introduced the “spade roll calls.” Beside the “spade roll calls” the men were bullied after work, or even in the middle of the night.
The weaker and older men could not bear the dreadful conditions, and they were taken out across the Lithuanian border for extermination. A few weeks after the first transport the camp was liquidated, and the Jews were brought to Versmininken.
- The Work Camp at Versmininken
This camp was in a village 26 kilometers from Heidekrug, near the town of Katits. The Jews were quartered in a peasant hut there on bunk beds stacked two high, and lived in crowded and dirty conditions. There was no place to bathe. They received no clean laundry and there was an infestation of lice. The living conditions were even worse than in Mactubern. The work was much harder as well, especially since throughout the entire winter of 1941 the head foreman was the cripple, Gorgl.
The Jews began digging a new road there in the fall. From morning until evening they labored, driven by blows with sticks, whips and fists to work as fast as possible.
Head foreman Gorgl used to gather the Jews every Monday morning, show them the hill they had to excavate, and solemnly promise them that they would be released to go home after they finished the excavation.
The Jews dug up mountains of soil and carried it away in various directions. First they used a small railroad, and then there were lorries. They dug out deep cuttings, preparing the bed for a highway. Sunburned Jews used to stand working day in, day out with shovels and spades, thinking all the time, but there was no way they could think of to free themselves of that Gehenna.
The men used to stand at work remembering their homes from which they had been torn away, thinking of their mothers, brothers and sisters, about their wives and children who had remained in the towns, and tears came to the eyes of more than one of them. And thus thinking, several of them forgot where they were, until blows from a stick woke them up away from their homes, where their thoughts had easily borne them.
Every day they were driven to work, whether it rained or not. The autumn of 1941 was cold, and the men had to work all day. The winter was bitterly cold, and the men still had to work every day. They chopped at the rock-hard ground with their last strength. They had to constantly raise and lower their picks toward the frozen ground, or else they would be beaten. Many blows with the pick loosened a piece of earth the size of a nut. Working on the road during the winter was altogether foolish, idiotic. During one day in the summer the men could have accomplished as much as they did all winter. It wasn’t their labor that the sadists needed, but to weaken, embitter and destroy their life and health. They were several days on which the Jews had to first sweep away the snow in order to remove a few small pieces of earth.
And the head foreman Gorgl continued, every Monday during the winter, to point to the mountain and promise that after the road was excavated the Jews would go home free to their wives and children. The massive cripple certainly knew by that winter that all of the Jews, men, women and children in the towns of Tawrik County had been annihilated in the fall of 1941.
Until the end of May 1942, the Jews suffered in the vale of tears, Versmininken. From there they were taken to the central camp at Heidekrug.
After the Jewish holidays, roughly the 20th or 21st of October 1941, some of the men from the camp at the Heidekrug city council were brought to Versmininken. Among them was the eyewitness Motl Druzin. Motl recalls: The camp commander was an SS man. The head foreman Gorgl came to the camp or the place where we were working only once a day. Gorgl’s aide was a murderous German named Bublik Vencus.
He tormented and beat the Jews at every turn. Every day he noted the numbers of the Jews who, in his opinion, had taken too much time when they went out to relieve themselves, or who hadn’t worked well enough.
In the evening, after work, everyone ate quickly and then fell out for roll call, which lasted hours. The foreman Vencus meted out punishments to all those whose numbers he had noted during the day. The camp commandant received the complaints. The accused had to bend forward and suffer a certain number of lashes. Those who fell down during a whipping were whipped all over again. The owner of the workshop in which the workers were quartered was named Zubaitis. The peasant warned that he would tell higher authorities about the torture, because his old mother was sick and couldn’t stand to hear the screams of those being whipped and tortured. Therefore the whippings were meted out on a chair in the barn, so that they could neither be seen nor heard.
The head of the Jews in the Versmininken camp was Ruven Shenker, a Jew from Shvekshne. He did not treat his fellow Jews well. The food in the camp was very bad. Every day beets were cooked with a bucket of potatoes and one kilogram of meat. The cooks and foremen kept the fat for themselves. At breakfast and supper there was black coffee. No more than 250 grams of bread was given per day. All of the clothes the men had been brought from home and were torn. The men walked to work half-barefoot through the snow in the worst cold. In midwinter everyone was given wooden shoes.
In the spring of 1942 work on the road was stopped, and everyone was brought to the central camp at Heidekrug.
- The Work Camp at the Heidekrug City Council
On Saturday, June 28, 1941, roughly 50 men from the town of Verszan were brought to the work camp. They arrived in the middle of the night, and found not a single Jew there. Before dawn on Sunday SS men removed the rabbi of Verszan, Rabbi Yoysef-Nesanel Graz, together with several other Jews, from the stall in which they were sleeping, and forced them to run across the yard, fall down, and get up again. The Jews were meanwhile beaten mercilessly. When the rabbi fell down, the SS men drenched him with cold water. The same day the men who had been beaten were taken into the streets of Heidekrug and forced to pull grass out from between the sidewalks.
Engineer Nakhman Falkovski, who had been a Soviet citizen for many years before the war, had come from Moscow to Verszan before the war on a visit to his mother and brothers. The torture by the SS men centered on the engineer.
That same Sunday during the day, SS men called out individual Jews from the stall, beat each one and threw them into a pool of water. After this “inquisition” they handed out a portion of bread. All day long the Jews chopped wood. At night they slept in the stall again. That same Sunday evening a large number of men from the town of Kveidan and a few from the town of Shvekshne (who had been in the study house since Saturday the 28th – LK) were brought to the camp. Some of the men from Kveidan were taken the same evening to Dr Schau’s courtyard near Rabenwald.
After the men from Kveidan were brought in, SS men arrived and began “having fun” with the Jews in the stall. They ordered all of the Jews to grunt and snort like pigs out loud. They shined flashlights at the Jews, checking to see who wasn’t grunting, for which they threatened shooting.
Then they ordered all the Jews to leave the stall one by one. They stood at the doorway with sticks, and beat each one. The Jews put their coats on so that they wouldn’t feel the blows. The SS men immediately noticed this, and ordered everyone to take his coat off. They tormented the men one by one in the yard, and then drove them back into the stall. On the way back into the stall the Jews were beaten again.
On Monday morning the second group of men from Kveidan were brought into the camp. (They had been left behind on Sunday.– L.K.) That day, all the men in the camp had to carry large stones on wooden barrows. The barrows had to be loaded so full that the Jews were bent over double carrying them, and the handles of the barrows would bend and groan. The SS men threatened to shoot those who broke handles. The Jews carried the stones all day, until evening.
That same Monday evening the head of the camp, the mayor of Heidekrug, came to the yard and asked Binyomin Lapin to read a newspaper to all the Jews. The Jews were lined up in rows in the yard, and had to listen carefully. The mayor was an extremely evil person. He gleefully explained to the Jews how they were to behave in the camp. For complaining or for not working well enough, he threatened death by shooting.
The Administration of the Camp
The camp commander was an SS man from Heidekrug named Paltin. The guards changed frequently. The first weeks the Jews were guarded by SS men, and then by SA men. A Jew from Nayshtot named Mendl Vinik was named head of the Jews in the camp. Vinik did not treat the Jews well. Of course, there was no way he could help them.
After they had been in the camp for some time, camp commander Paltin sent letters from the Jews to their close relatives in the towns. He got good clothes and food for the men from their families. The better clothes and the food he kept for himself. The poorer clothes he first sent to be deloused, and then distributed among the Jews who worked at Dr Schau’s yard.
The camp was located in the middle of the town in the courtyard of the Heidekrug city council. The Jews were quartered in a stall on bunk beds. In the camp French prisoners had been held; they were removed one day before the Jews were brought in.
The Jews in the work camp were sent off to various tasks. Every morning foremen came to take the Jews from the camp and take them to work. Almost always they took the same Jews to work with them.
The worksites were the following:
- Domestic work in the compound of Milshin. The eyewitness Berl Levit was once brutally beaten by a foreman at this job.
- Some of the men worked in Rabenwald, a suburb of Heidekrug. The Jews worked hard at leveling a street there. They loaded the soil they had dug out onto lorries and took it far from the work site. Lunch was brought to them from the camp at the city council.
- Some worked at carrying large rocks for the construction of a monument in the middle of the city of Heidekrug. The Jews had a difficult time; they had to split the rocks with heavy hammers.
- The synagogue in Heidekrug was already in ruins. A group of Jews worked at finishing the removal of the stones from the foundation, 1-1/2 meters underground. The Jewish cemetery in Heidekrug was vandalized and destroyed. The gravestones were collected in the courtyard of the city council.
- A building was constructed in Heidekrug for the processing of milk. Jews worked there as well.
In addition to these regular worksites, men were selected from the jobs for planning a rifle range, cleaning out the sewers, sweeping and cleaning the streets and parks, and so forth. A group of Jews working in a small marmalade factory weren’t badly off.
Twenty Four Hours in this Work Camp
At six in the morning a whistle blew in the camp. The Jews got dressed quickly and washed up in the courtyard where a trough full of water stood. The men quickly drank bitter black coffee, accompanied by a piece of black bread spread with marmalade. The men received 250 grams of bread for the entire day.
After the coffee the men got in lines of four. The foremen picked out “their Jews” and led them to work. All of the work was carried out under the supervision of head foremen. They constantly rushed, tormented and beat the Jews at work.
At twelve an hour’s lunch break began. Those who were at nearby work sites came to camp to eat. Lunch was brought to those further away. The lunch was not bad. From one o’clock the men continued working until six.
There were frequent “tool roll calls” at the worksites, which were similar to the “spade roll calls” at the camp at Silwen. After the Jews were counted, the Jews went to camp under the watch of armed SA men. On their way through the streets those who smoked often picked up cigarette butts, for which a number of men were beaten. As they walked through the streets, young Germans often followed, shouting: “Jews, where did you hide your capital?”
After eating supper, which consisted once again of black coffee and a piece of bread, the Jews had to cut their hair and shave. The guards and foremen took great care to see that rabbis were shaved and had their hair cut frequently and precisely. There were no roll calls while the men slept in this camp.
Following an order of the mayor, the Jews had to be in their cots at ten o’clock, and they couldn’t go out into the yard after that. He often came to personally see that everyone went to sleep. And although the Jews were exhausted from a day of hard work, they didn’t want to go to sleep so early. As they lay, they talked about their situation, trying to imagine or guess what their wives, mothers, brothers and sisters were doing in their little Lithuanian towns.
And when the day was nice and warm and the evenings were magically pleasant, the men’s gaze played with the few rays of the summer evening’s sun that penetrated the stall. Meanwhile they listened to the joyful shouts and commotion of children and young people, the loving laughter and highpitched calls of girls in the nearby streets. And a desire, a rock-hard yearning to be free of the camp tormented them until they wept. At those moments the men on their hard cots compared their lives and the lives of their wives and children to the cheerful, carefree life of the Germans in the nearby streets. Every evening before he went to sleep each Jew reviewed his life in the camp and the prospects facing his loved ones in the town.
The First Extermination of Men
On the bloody Saturday, July 19, 1941, Dr Schau’s adjutants Jaks and Dembrovsky announced to all the Jews that whoever wanted to go home to his loved ones, or whoever felt too weak and sick to work, should report to them. That was at lunchtime. Young and healthy men reported as well. Most of the men doubted whether this was really a great opportunity. Those whose names were written down remained in the camp. The rest went back to work. When they came back to the camp after work that evening, those who had signed up to go home were no longer there.
The next day the Jews in the camp found out that their clothes had been brought by automobile to a second camp in Heidekrug. They were all shot in Schaudvitz. Those who signed up to go home and shot that Saturday were:
- Mote Bunis, a retail merchant;
- Reb Yoysef-Nasanel Graz, the rabbi;
- Yudl-Meyer Segal, a butcher;
- Moyshe Girshenovitz, a student;
- Nakhrnan Falkovski, the engineer;
- Mendl Falkovski, Nakhrnan’s brother;
- Yisroyel Kvort, a heder teacher;
- Avrom-Dovid Sheftelovitz, a merchant;
- Avrom Kahan, a leather merchant;
- Moyshe Sher, a merchant.
The rabbi’s son, Nokhum Graz, was sick. After the first transport, he was taken away separately. It is not known when or how he was killed.
- Fayvl Gavron, the rabbi;
- Shmuel-Binyomin Rakhmel, a retail merchant;
- Simkhe Nokhomovitz, a merchant;
- Shiye Yung, a farmer;
- Naftoli Gurvitsh, a dealer in textiles;
- Moyshe Marik, a retail merchant;
- Yank Hamelan, a butcher;
- Binyomin Yavnelovitz, a peddler;
- Moyshe Aron, a forest dealer;
- Yoysef Marik;
- Ore Zalmenovitz, a tailor;
- Yosl Azarner, a cattle dealer;
- Yosl Rapoport, a yeshiva student;
- Avrom Bloch, a cattle dealer;
- Azriel Balkin, a storekeeper;
16, Shaye-Leyb Leybovitz, owner of a shoe store.
There may have been a few others who were shot that bloody Saturday, in addition to the men from Verszan and Kveidan listed above. Those who provided this collective eyewitness testimony provided no other names. Exactly one week after the holidays in 1941, the camp at the Heidekrug city council was liquidated. Some of the men were brought to the Versmininken camp, and the rest were brought to other camps.
- The Central Heidekrug Work Camp
This consisted of a large square, surrounded by barbed wire and gates granting entry to the camp. There was a long wooden barrack in the square. The camp was set up not far from the town of Heidekrug in the suburb of Rabenwald. French prisoners of war had been held in this camp as well, before the Jews were brought there.
On the evening of Sunday, June 29, 1941, a large number of the men from Kveidan were brought to this camp, together with men from Shvekshne and other towns.
The First “Reception”
The men from Kveidan were brought in cars to the site of the camp. SS men stood at a narrow door of the barrack, “having fun” with the arriving Jews, preparing to “welcome” them.
The Jews went into the barrack one by one, and were brutally beaten with pistol butts and items of iron. When they went into the barrack, many of them wiped blood from their faces. Many of them had swollen faces and welts under their eyes. The Jews slept that night on cots covered by sacks of straw.
Not only the SS men “welcomed” the Jews. The thousands of bedbugs and fleas in the beds greeted the Jews in their way as well. All night long it was impossible to sleep.
On Monday, June 30, 1941 in the morning, Dr Schau’s adjutant Dembrovski came into the camp. The Jews were lined up in rows in the square, and Dembrovski lectured them. He suggested that the Jews “be careful” and strive to work well. He listed the various good meals the Jews would receive for working well, and the various ways they would be killed if they tried to escape or didn’t work well. He also recited an entire catechism of orders and rules which the Jews had to observe precisely.
Seventy-odd Jews were brought to the central camp altogether.
The major task the Jews in the camp had to carry out consisted of deepening and widening a canal near Rabenwald. On the banks of the canal there was a narrow-gauge railroad with lorries. Some of the Jews stood in the water up to their waists, digging out the banks of the canal and shoveling the sand onto the lorries all along the canal. The Jews had to toss the sand high above them, and the work was very hard. A second group took away the sand which had been loaded up into the lorries and dumped it into a swamp. This group had an easier task than the first. A group of older men worked in a second spot at various lighter tasks.
Other Jews reinforced the banks of the canal with fascines, poured soil onto it and put down grass roots. The foremen beat and tormented the Jews here just as they did at other camps. They were never satisfied.
Some of the Jews had clothes they’d brought from home, which they’d give to the foremen for a little food. The foremen took the clothes but instead of bread or other foods, they handed the Jews blows.
Every chance they got, the guards and foremen accused the Jews of bearing the major guilt for all the sufferings of the upright German people, which was forced against its will to make war on the entire world.
Jews who worked privately for SS men had it very bad. The Jews worked very hard and didn’t receive food. They had to sleep outdoors. Several Jews died while working privately for SS men. When the cold autumn of 1941 came, the work conditions deteriorated. The Jews had to stand barefoot digging in the cold waters of the canal. When it grew even colder, the work on the canal was stopped.
There were smaller worksites where the men from the central work camp spent a short time working. The head of the Jews was a Jew from Vainute named Yoysef Blat. He was good to the Jews.
Twenty-Four Hours in the Central Camp
At dawn the Jews had to jump out of their cots when a whistle blew, and they dressed quickly. A trough of water was set up outside for the men to wash. Afterward they received a dish of black coffee. The Jews, guarded by armed Germans, were led by the foremen to work, which began at seven o’clock and didn’t stop until six at night. There was one hour for lunch, from noon until one o’clock. Those who worked near the camp came to eat in the camp. Lunch was brought for those who worked further away to eat on the spot. The lunches consisted primarily of vegetables and grass. The little bit of fat which was distributed to the kitchen was stolen by the foremen and the German cook.
In the evening, after work, there was a roll call at the worksite, at which the men were counted and the tools were checked to see whether they had been cleaned properly. At eight in the evening the men received a bit of soup and a portion of bread. At nine the Jews had to be in their cots. It often happened that the guards woke the Jews in the middle of the night and forced them to do exercises, or checked to see whether their feet were clean. Meanwhile they beat the Jews murderously. Dr Schau and his adjutants visited the camp quite often. The Jews had nothing good to look forward to before or during their visits.
The First Extermination of Men
On the bloody Saturday, July 19, 1941, all of the older and weaker men were taken to Schaudvitz near Nayshtot and shot. Before lunch that Saturday Dr Schau’s adjutants and other SS men came to the worksite, separated out all the men who weren’t fit for work and took them to the camp. After work in the evening, when the men were brought back from the worksites, those who had been selected were no longer there. The men from Kveidan and Shvekshne who were shot that day have already been listed.
The Winter of 1941-42 in the Central work Camp
The men were forced to do various jobs during this period. Some of them worked in the forest, chopping down trees, preparing wood, cutting off branches and tying them into bundles. They carried the fascines to the banks of the canal as reinforcement. Some of the men had the hard job of clearing away the snow from the streets of the town and cutting ice. The terrible cold that winter, the bad food, the dirt in the camp all ruined their health. Several became invalids that winter and never recovered. There were various diseases in the camp. The Jews in the central camp received no medical assistance.
The Second Extermination of Men
Thus the Jews called the selection of groups of men from the work camps, who were taken away across the border to Lithuania and shot. The execution of this group of men also took place in the Schaudvitz forest near Nayshtot. Peasants who came later from Lithuania spoke of the place.
The witness Meyer Shrnulevitz attests that this took place on the Thursday before Rosh Hashana (the 18th of September LK).
On that Thursday the camp commandants and SS men in all the camps selected Jews who had complained that they were weak or sick, and couldn’t do any hard work. Among the Jews there were young people. The following Jews were taken out and shot that day:
Jews from Laukuva in Camp Mactubern:
- Ruven Getz, a restaurant owner;
- Shloyrne Sharanovitz, a dealer in textiles;
- Mordkhe Katin, a bachelor aged 32 or 33;
- Todres Levin, a butcher.
The Jews in the camp saw the camp commandant Kirsch a few days later, dressed in Shloyrne Sharanovitz’ fur.
One of the Koltinan Jews in Mactubern was the kosher slaughterer from Koltinan.
Jews from Shvekshne in the camps of Versrnininken and Silwen:
- Yankl and Leybe Shrnulevitsh; two brothers, both butchers;
- Hushe Ovseyovitz, a baker;
- Mote-Yose Yaselovitsh, a furrier;
- Meyer Press.
Men from Verszan in the camp at the Heidekrug city council:
- Yankl Shlornovitz, a merchant;
- Yankl Kirzhner, a peddler;
- Yisroyel Kirzhner, aged 15, a son of Yankl;
- Leyb Borukhovitz, a textile dealer;
- Khayem-Leyb Borukhovitsh, a butcher;
- Preyde Gershinovitsh, a peddler.
The guards and camp commandant ordered the remaining Jews to write to their families in their home towns, saying that the work was going very well for them, and that they were all content.
Men from Kveidan, taken from the worksites and from the camp at the Heidekrug city council:
- Hirshl Aron, a flax dealer;
- Moyshe Aron, Hirshl’s brother;
- Yosl Katz, a horse dealer;
- Shmuel Nadel, a tinsmith;
- Leybe Glukh;
- Yitskhok Fleker, a merchant;
- Don Khatzkelevitz, a shoemaker;
- Leyb Druzin, a storekeeper;
- Yankl Fish, the pharmacist;
- Ore Gurvitz, a restaurant owner, a refugee from Tawrik in Kveidan;
- Leybe Kopelovitz, a merchant.
It is possible that there were a few other men from the various camps in the second transport. Those who contributed to the collective testimony do not remember any more names.
Spring and Summer 1942 in the Central Work Camp
- Working with Peat
In the beginning of spring 1942 all of the camps and worksites were liquidated, except for the work site at the courtyard of Dr Schau. In the fall of 1942 all of the worksites at the peat fields and at private peasant farms were liquidated.
II A. The Worksite Varus
After the work camp at Mactubern was liquidated in the spring of 1942, all of the Jews were brought into the central camp. Some thirty men were taken away to repair one dike and to build another at the shore of the Bay of Courland.
The same foremen and the same commandant Kirsch from Mactubern built the dikes. The same firm that had worked on the canals in Mactubern worked here. The thirty men were taken with their beds and straw mattresses from Mactubern and settled in the village of Varus, in a large room in the local public school. Camp commandant Kirsch had his own room there. A kitchen was set up in another room. Here, too, the cook was Yoysef Smilansky, and the head of the Jews was Monish Kagan. The guard, an SA man, was also the same as in the Mactubern camp.
The security was not tight. At night the camp commandant locked the door of the room in which the Jews slept, and that was all.
The village of Varus is four kilometers from the town of Rusne and thirteen kilometers from Heidekrug. For the first month the Jews worked at reinforcing an old, neglected dike. Then other Jews were brought to the camp, and they all began building a new dike. They dug earth in a field, and a narrow-gauge railroad carried it to the dike. The Jews filled the lorries, and then emptied them near the edge of the water and spread the soil. Then they secured it with cuttings of grass roots.
Smilyansky woke everyone at five in the morning. The Jews were able to go wash themselves in a nearby canal. After they had drunk coffee and eaten a piece of bread, they were taken to work. When they were working close to the camp, they would go eat lunch at the public school. If the work took them far from the camp, then lunch was brought to them at work. The food there was better than at Mactubern. For the most part the Jews ate fish and potatoes. The company bought old fish from the local fishermen for next to nothing. The camp commandant knew the Jews well by now, and was looser with them. In this camp the Jews recovered from their difficult winter. In the fall of 1942 the thirty Jews were taken from Varus to Kalwelischken near Heidekrug. This compound also belonged to Dr Schau.
IlI A. The Worksite in the Town of Rusne
The small town of Rusne is located on the left bank of the Nieman, some twenty kilometers from Heidekrug. After the camp in Versmininken had been liquidated, all of the Jews were taken to the central camp at Heidekrug. Some of them were taken to work with peat, and about thirty of them were taken to the town of Rusne. Several of them were men from Shvekshne who had been in the camp at Silwen.
The worksite was located at first in the courtyard of the Rusne town council. The Jews lived simply there. There were no SS guards. The Jews walked freely around the town, and went to peasants’ homes to get food. But the Jews weren’t kept there long. Dr Schau was informed that the Jews walked freely in the streets of Rusne. They were taken from the town council and handed over to a firm that worked on water construction projects. The company housed the Jews in huts on the water, which allowed them to spend their free time on the Nieman.
A man named Jusutis, who was in charge of controlling the flow of water in the river, was the Jews’ boss. He was very good-natured. He was one of the righteous gentiles during those tragic years for the Jews. He considered the brutal treatment of Jews to be a great mistake. Furthermore, he was a German. Jusutis did everything to see that his Jews suffered no hunger. True, he made sure they were kept hard at work, but he didn’t, heaven forbid, beat them and he fed them well. The Jews had enough fish there. Just as in Rusne, they were also able to visit peasants and were free to walk to the villages. The work consisted of reinforcing the banks of the Nieman with fascines and stones.
Some of the Jews would frequently go work for individual peasants, who also fed them well. The Jews recuperated, and gathered strength for the continuing struggle for their lives. But they were fated to lose one of their number here as well.
Among the Jews in Rusne was a mute tanner named Ruben Rikhman. One time he and another Jew went to a village. They were seen out on their own; and they were betrayed to Dr Schau. On one occasion the doctor himself came to the camp. All of the Jews were called out for a roll call. The doctor pulled the mute forward, and got him to agree to point out the other man. Jusutis stood behind the doctor’s back, giving signs indicating that everyone should keep his mouth shut, and not point out the other man.
The doctor took the mute Ruven Rikhman back with him to Heidekrug, where he shot him. Jusutis found out who the peasant woman that had betrayed them was, and refused to let her pass by the camp. In that incident, Jusutis saved the second Jew from certain death.
In midsummer 1942 Jusutis brought another group of Jews from the central work camp at Heidekrug, and they too had a chance to rest. Jusutis would find out when it was a Jewish holiday, and permitted them to hide and not go to work. He obviously risked a great deal in doing so. There were other Germans working there, who were displeased with this overly kindly attitude toward the Jews.
The Jews worked in that camp almost the entire summer of 1942, all of the winter of 42-43 and halfway through the summer of 1943. Then an order came to bring all of the Jews from Rusne back to Heidekrug. Jusitis parted with “his Jews” with a heavy heart, and encouraged them, saying that it wouldn’t take long before the end of Hitlerism came and the Jews were freed. By the summer of 1943 it wasn’t hard to predict the defeat of Hitler’s armies on every front. All of the Jews at the worksite were brought to the Kalwelischken camp at Heidekrug in automobiles. Jusitis personally accompanied the Jews out and took his leave of them.
IVA. In the Brick Factory of Dr Schau
When the Jews were distributed in the spring of 1942, thirty men were assigned to work at Dr Schau’s brick works in the village of Kermalenen, not far from Heidekrug. The work conditions were difficult. From early in the morning until nightfall the Jews dug clay, mixed it with the help of horses in a pit, and loaded it onto lorries. Others shaped the clay into bricks and laid them out on wooden boards. They then took them on lorries to dry off in an open shed. The boards with bricks were loaded on very high shelves. The Jews’ arms grew swollen from lifting the bricks. After they dried, the bricks were taken to the kiln to be fired, usually during the autumn or winter.
The work conditions were hard, but still the Jews felt freer and better off here than they had in the work camps the first summer and winter. True, they slept in a barn on the bare earth, but they were able to wash more frequently, and they didn’t have any “spade roll calls” or whips over them. There were no guards, either.
Some of the thirty Jews frequently did domestic work in the compound where the brick works were located. The food was poor and there was little of it. The Jews often stole off to see peasants in the villages.
The Jews worked in the brick factory until the end of the summer of 1943.
In the summer of 1942 a Jew from Kveidan named Hamelman grew sick and died. The Jews buried him near the edge of a forest, not far from the brick works. His name was Moyshe Tzvi.
The Third Extermination of Men
In the fall of 1942 all of the weakened or sick men from all of the camps and worksites were taken to Lithuania to be shot. Those who were taken away were:
From Verszan: Tevye Berelovitz, a merchant.
From Koltinan: Mane Klaz, a merchant.
From Shvekshne: Leyzer Elyashevitz; and Ore-Yoshe Girshovitz, a storekeeper.
From Laukuva: Mote-Meir Katz, a shoemaker; and Moyshe Getz, aged 20.
All of those who were selected were first taken to Kalwelischken and thence to Lithuania.
In the summer of 1942, some of the men worked privately for SS men under extraordinarily difficult conditions. They were tormented by the hard work and hunger. Three of them died:
- Khayem Likhtenshteyn, a kosher slaughterer from Verszan;
- Khayem Falkovsky, from Verszan, a cousin of Engineer Falkovsky;
- Shloyme Klip, from Shvekshne.
- The Worksite Kalwelischken
The worksite at Varus was liquidated in the fall of 1942, and the Jews brought to Kalwelischken. This was another of Dr Schau’s compounds. They slept all winter in a cattle barn on cramped cots. It was always cold and damp in the barn. There was never any water for washing. The Jews had lice and broke out in rashes.
That winter the Jews were always hungry, and they begged from the peasants at the compound and the nearby villages for a piece of bread, which put their lives in danger. The commandant in Kalwelischken was Butkerait. He had the final say over the Jews in the central camp that winter. There was no heavy guard over the Jews. The entire winter of 1942-43 the Jews helped grade the town square. Dr Schau came to observe the work several times a day.
From all of the worksites at the peat fields and at private peasant farms the Jews were brought to the central camp at Rabenwald in the fall of 1943. The living conditions were the same as in Kalwelischken. The Jews were driven off to do various jobs, just as they had during the first winter in the central camp. There wasn’t work for all the men, so every day many of them remained in camp.
As already mentioned, the Jews in the camp at Rusne and in Schau’s brick factory worked all winter, until midsummer 1943. When the spring of 1943 arrived, a large number of men were once again sent out from the central camp and from Kalwelischken to work for peasants on private farms as well as in the peat fields. Both the work sites and the conditions were quite similar to those in the spring and summer of 1942. This spring and summer, too, the Jews recovered from the second winter in the camps.
The Serpent on Two Feet
A few months before all the work sites in Heidekrug were liquidated, ten Jews who had been brought from other work sites were placed at Dr Schau’s brick factory. At the factory they slept on a bit of straw on the ground in the barn together with the other Jews, and they ate there as well. The ten Jews worked on the narrow-gauge railroad between the village of Koleschen and Heidekrug, fixing up the railroad embankment and loading and unloading the freight cars. Among the ten Jews was a refugee from Shilele who had been living in Laukuva named Kaplan, together with his young boy Avremele. Two older sons of Kaplan named Eliyohu and Hirshl, both painters, were already working in the brick factory. They worked at their trade in the compound, and were relatively well off. The two brothers helped their father and their younger brother in every way they could.
Avremele was the darling of all the Jews at the brick works. Somehow everybody felt that they had sinned against him when they were in his presence. Everyone liked him and regretted that he had to waste his blossoming youth at the camp in such terrible conditions. Years of pain and suffering had made the Jews nervous. They would argue a bit and then make up. But no one ever grew angry at Avremele. If one of his elders grew cross with him, it was like a father admonishing his child.
Avremele never parted from his father, as if he were afraid of losing the last protector he had in life. When his father was taken to work, Avremele went along, although he would have had an easier time staying with his older brothers. His father watched him to see that he didn’t catch cold, and gave him a substantial piece of bread out of his own small portion. At work, his father used to lend a hand and help him out. Unrelated Jews also helped Avremele do his work. The ten Jews had been brought by the head foreman Gorgl.
He directed the work on the line and at the station He had little control over the other Jews at the brick works. And this Gorgl was not an ordinary person. He was visibly crippled, and his appearance was of the kind to which the Yiddish saying refers: There’s nobody there to slug on the snout.
Gorgl was short, and he had one stiff leg which he jerked with every step, just like the stick he held in his hand. He was a peasant of around fifty years. He looked like a rag with two fiery snake’s eyes stuck in, and at his side the man who wasn’t worthy of being slugged in the snout wore a revolver, which terrified the Jews”
Before the war “his Jews” wouldn’t have hired him to sweep the street. Now they shuddered before him because he wore the revolver Dr Schau had given him.
Once, after work, when a marvelous summer evening was complacently stretched above the surrounding grain fields and pastures, and a fiery red sun slowly slid lower toward the horizon, the lame crippled who called himself Gorgl got drunk as Lot.
And then, as the Book of Esther says: “The heart of the king was merry with wine.” Gorgl decided to show off his power to the workers in the compound and ordered “his ten Jews” immediately to fall out in the courtyard. He and one of his “equals” led the Jews away not far from the brick factory to a swampy pasture, and began harrying the Jews, ordering them to run and fall down and get back up. Gorgl felt cheerful and happy, like a general among his obedient soldiers. His cruelty blazed more and more. The cripple with the stiff leg was like someone on hot coals, changing his position. Inside his snake’s soul seethed the desire for blood. Gorgl suddenly began to smile. The snake on two feet had had a “brilliant idea.” He ordered all the Jews to lie on their bellies and crawl forward in the direction of a dirty canal in the pasture. He ordered them to slide across the canal on their bellies. Everyone obeyed the command. Young Avremele was afraid of the canal and the mud, and jumped over, ignoring Gorgl’s order.
The cripple called Avremele over, took out his revolver and aimed at Avremele’s head. His father ran over and began pleading. Avremele too fell to his knees, begging not to be shot and to be permitted to crawl through the mud on his belly.
But a snake has no mercy, not even for such an innocent child. A shot was heard. Avremele lay dead at Gorgl’s feet. A trail of red blood ran down from near his ear. The child fell asleep forever. Shining eyes full of joy burned forth from Gorgl’s rag face.
The rest of the Jews stood as if petrified. Tears poured from their eyes. Avremele’s father moaned incessantly. The two-footed snake ordered everyone to take their hats off and pay their respects to the dead. The sun had already fallen below the horizon. On every side the croaking of frogs could be heard. The Jews buried Avremele’s body next to Hamelman’s grave, in a forest not far from the brick factory. The tragic incident threw all the Jews into depression and deep sorrow. Avremele was the last victim of the work camps around Heidekrug.
In the Extermination Camp Auschwitz
During the last days of July 1943, an order arrived at all of the worksites from Dr Schau to bring all the Jews into Kalwelischken.
Various rumors flew among the Jews. Some of them asserted that foremen they knew had recounted that all of the Jews were being taken to Germany to work in rubber factories. Others, on the other hand, no longer believed in reassurances, and in their opinion people were being taken away to be exterminated. But the latter were a minority.
Jusutis had made up with the Jews from the Rusne worksite that he would talk to a Gestapo officer of his acquaintance, and find out where the Jews were being led, He agreed to come to Kalwelischken and give them a sign: If he scratched his head, it was bad, and whoever could should escape; but if the men are really being taken to work, he would button and unbutton his coat. The same day he came to Kalwelischken and constantly toyed with the buttons of his coat. He found an opportunity to speak with the Jews. He told them that the officer he knew had reassured him that they were being taken to work.
The Jews were taken to Kalwelischken on the last Thursday of July 1943. They spent the night there, and from there they were brought to the central Heidekrug camp under heavy guard. There the Jews were handed over to the authority of the Gestapo.
On Friday they were taken in groups by tractors to the train, where they were loaded onto freight cars, thirty to a car.
Each Jew received one kilogram of bread, a package of margarine and a piece of sausage. Gestapo troops assured the frightened Jews that they were being taken to do easier work at a much better place. 292 men were loaded into the cars in all. They were strictly ordered to remain quietly in the cars and not to look out. If not, they were threatened with shooting. The doors of the cars were locked from outside.
The transport began to move. The further they went the faster the wheels spun, and the heavier the locomotive panted. The Jews in the cars tried to guess where they were being taken. They had never ridden so far in their lives, and they did not know the direction they were going in, so far from their hometowns in Lithuania.
Between the boards of the cars the Jews read the names of Koenigsberg, Tarnowitz and others. The guards in their huts near the cars deliberately spoke loudly amongst themselves, so that the Jews would hear that they were being taken to work in factories. As they rode in constant darkness, the Jews lost track of the days and the nights. When they arrived at the station in Auschwitz, the Jews read the signs. To them, Auschwitz was as innocent as any other station. They had no idea of the place they had been brought to.
For several hours their train manoeuvred back and forth in the station.
On the Platform at Auschwitz
A short time later, after the trains had stopped, the doors of the railroad cars could be heard clanging. With their hearts pounding, the Jews awaited the coming moments, in order to find out where they had finally been brought after two and a half exhausting days. The doors of the cars opened up. A stream of light and fresh air poured into the dank cars.
The Jews were taken to the platform at Auschwitz. SS men with death’s head insignia shouted “Juden raus!” They were all armed with automatic rifles. Large dogs ran back and forth nearby. Jews in striped clothes ordered them not to take their bundles from the cars. Others among them shouted: “Crazy Jews! What are you taking those bundles for? You’re being taken to be burned!” Still others insisted with pity in their voices: “You can get your bundles later!”
Before leaving Heidekrug,. Monish Kagan had received a special affidavit from Dr Schau, in which it was written that all of the Jews were very good workers, and that they should all be put to work.
That same Sunday afternoon, August 1, 1943, Polish Jews were brought to the platform. They were men, women and children from the liquidated ghettos in Bendin and Sosnowiec. There was a terrible commotion on the platform. The weeping of women and children, the barking of dogs and murderous commands of the SS men could all be heard.
When they had left the cars, the Lithuanian Jews were sent in two directions. Some of them were sent to the left and some to the right. Those who were sent to the left were forced immediately to climb into trucks covered with tarps. Those who had been sent to the right had to stand in rows of five. Most of those the SS sent to the trucks were weaker men. Several men ran away and got into the rows to the right, wanting to be with their comrades and acquaintances. The trucks containing the Jews who had been selected drove off. The same day all the Jews were gassed and burned in the crematorium. The remaining Jews found out about this that same Sunday, the first of August 1943. Among those gassed and burned that day were:
- Leyzer Kagan, a miller;
- Yoysef Smilyansky, the cook in the Heidekrug camps.
Mactubern and Varus;
- Bere Keltz , a refugee from Kelm, who owned cars;
- David Gershon, a student;
- Alter Gurvitz, a farmer;
- Zusman Khayet;
- Azriel Khayet, Zusman’s brother;
- Leybe Tabatshnik;
- Khayem Goldfus, a lumber dealer;
- Binyomin Goldfus, a student, Khayem’s son;
- Zev Schneider, a farmer, father of Shrage;
- Shrage Schneider, an agricultural lessee, Zev’s son;
- Efroyim-Yoysef Aranovitz, the slaughterer from Laukuva;
- Binyomin Levite, a merchant;
- Shloyme Levite, a yeshiva student;
- Monish Khayet, a peddler, father of David;
- Dovid Khayet, a student, Monish’s son;
- Dovid Rubak, a merchant;
- Yitskhok Levin, a textile merchant;
- Efroyim Yeznerovitz, a baker;
- zev Yeznerovitz, a storekeeper;
- Moyshe Kaplan, a storekeeper;
- Yekhezkl Kaplan, a carpenter;
- Yankl Kesler , a tinsmith;
- Shimke Kesler, aged 18;
- Gedalye Kesler, aged 16;
- Shimon Yankelevitz, a student.
- Meir Shereshevsky, a merchant;
- Kesler, a miller;
- Zundl Yofe, a yeshiva student;
- Khayem Shvartz, a textile dealer;
- Binyomin Karebelnik, a merchant.
- Moyshe Yavnelovitz, a tanner;
- Fole-Yudl Khatskelovitz, a tanner;
- Bentshe Berelovitz, a merchant;
- Yerakhmiel Aron,a student;
- Yitskhok-Borukh Aron, a merchant;
- Shimon-Yitskhok Robinzon, a merchant;
- YankT!zekhanovsky, a rabbi’s son;
- Mikhe Katz, a merchant;
- Uri Hirshberg, a merchant;
- Meir Kapelush, a student;
- Osher Shvartz, a tailor;
- P.yzik Gershon, a tailor;
- Fayve Segal, a merchant;
- Daniel Aron, a student;
- Ruven Kosover, a kosher slaughterer;
- Shaye Rupl, a smith;
- Meir Shapiro, Shabsay’s brother, a butcher;
- Shabsay Shapiro, Meir’s brother, a butcher;
- Yudl Blekher, a coachman;
- Shmuel-Dov Mel, a merchant;
- Khanon Posl, a bathkeeper;
- Fishl Posl, Khanon’s son.
- Leyb Shlomovitz, a merchant;
- Shloyme Shlomovitz, a fur dealer;
- lvrom Shlomovitz, a farmer (the last three brothers);
- Yoysef Shlomovitz, Shloyme’s son;
- Yankl Pups, a merchant;
- Khone Pups, Yankl’s son;
- Meir Hirshovitz, a butcher, Itshik’s brother;
- Itshik Hirshovitz, Meir’s brother;
- Gershon Hirshovitz, Meir’s son;
- Yose Khonenovitz, a peddler;
- Khayem Khonenovitz, Yose’s son;
- Hirsh Falkovsky, a brother of the engineer;
- Shloyme Tarshish, a coachman.
- Shmuel Glukh;
- Khilke Landon, a student;
- Avrom Eliashevitz, a leather merchant;
- Eliyohu Markushevitz, a farmer;
- Mikhe Osherovitz, an iron dealer;
- Nisn Yoselovitz, a student;
- Yitskhok Alter, an agricultural lessee;
- Borukh Shmulovitz, a butcher;
- Azriel Mayerovitz, Yankl’s brother;
- Yankl Mayerovitz, Azriel’s brother (they leased orchards for a living);
- Hillel Yavner, a miller;
- Ruven Shenker, Moyshe’s brother;
- Moyshe Shenker, Ruven’s brother (both horse traders);
- Yoke Rifkin, a worker;
- Dovid Matis, a tailor;
- Khatskl Velvelovitz, a shoemaker;
- Velve Alter, Osher’s brother, a retail merchant;
- Osher Alter, Velve’s brother, a retail merchant;
- Hirshe-Shmuel Shayevitz, a farmer;
- Ayzik Markus, a student;
- Zalmen Hiller Laks, a bathkeeper;
- Yoysef Shmulovitz, a tanner.
- Yoysef Blat, a merchant;
- Alter Ayzikovitsh, a textile dealer;
- Moyshe Yavnelovitz, a tanner;
- Hirshe Hershler, a farmer.
From Nayshtot (Tawrik):
- Yose Yoselevitz, farmer, Mote’s son;
- Daniel Yoselevitz, a student, Leybe’s son;
- Ruven Sheftelovitz, a butcher;
- Shloyme Tarniter, a gardener;
- Betsalel Volpert, a merchant;
- Mende Vinik, a butcher;
- Shmuel Zusmanovitz, a merchant;
- Berl Yofe, a watchmaker.
In all, one hundred of the 292 that were brought were gassed and burned that Sunday.
In the Birkenau Extermination Camp
The 192 men who had been sent to the right were arranged by the SS in rows of five and marched for ten or fifteen minutes. An incredible scene appeared before the Jews’ eyes. On a large, flat space they saw a forest of wooden barracks in even rows, laid out like German soldiers called to muster. The area was surrounded by a high fence of barbed wire, so thickly intertwined and twisted that even a bird would have had a hard time flying through. The fence had a high-tension electric current running through it. High towers with machine guns poking out guarded the huge camp.
When they came to the main gate, heavily armed SS men greeted the Jews with an ironic smile. They were led through the gate into the women’s camp. An orchestra made up entirely of women played a march to greet them. The SS men ordered the Jews to march to the beat and “watch their feet.” The hearts of the 192 men quickened. For exactly two and a half years they had seen no Jewish women, and here there were so many women and girls? The orchestra consisted of Jewish women. Rays of hope that they might remain alive sparked in their minds. They tried to recognize each of the women as their mother or sister. Yet the pale faces and dull eyes of the women and girls expressed so much Jewish sorrow, so much terror and hopelessness, that the men immediately realized what was going on in the camp.
They were brought to the baths through the women’s camp. They were led into a long barrack. Jewish and Christian kapos, room elders and others with authority surrounded the Jews and asked for cigarettes. They assured the men that they wouldn’t need a thing in the camp. The “veterans” explained in a few sentences what kind of camp it was. The Lithuanian Jews learned from them about the bitter fate of the hundred men who had been separated out on the platform.
The kapos and various taskmasters ordered everyone to undress, keeping only their belts. From this barrack they were led to a second corridor, to the wig makers, where all the hair on their bodies was cut. The wigmakers, too, explained what the camp was in short sentences with simple words.
Then the men went straight to the bath. They came out into a different room, where they were given a shirt, a pair of pants and a jacket. These were clothes which had belonged to the men who were gassed. On the backs of the jackets a cross had been daubed on in red oil paint, and on the legs of their pants, red stripes in oil paint.
The Jews didn’t recognize each other. They all looked like circus clowns. Everyone who looked at his acquaintances saw comic caricatures, the kind people would have run after in the streets and doubled up with laughter during the good times before the war. Here in the extermination camp at Birkenau no one laughed. This was how the Germans dressed their victims on the road to their deaths, which was not a long one.
From the bath they were returned to the first barrack, where they undressed. They no longer found their own clothes there. They all stretched out on the bare brick floor and lay until morning. The Jews were organized alphabetically in a row in the barrack. Two Jewish overseers sat at two tables and tattooed a number onto everyone’s left arm.
The Jews had a frightful night on the brick floor. They were cold after the bath. The nights in Birkenau are humid and the days are hot. At first light they were awakened and taken to a quarantine camp consisting of unfinished barracks. The 192 Jews were held there for five week. They had no particular places to work. They could lie in the sun all day. There was very little food. There were frequent roll calls, which exhausted the Jews. Overseers came to take volunteers to work. The Lithuanian Jews became famous in the camp as good workers.
The camp kapo saw to it that they got special rations. The work camps in Heidekrug, the last summer working with peat and the decent food had all strengthened these Jews, and they were real working men.
After spending five weeks in the quarantine camp, a committee came and determined that the Jews would be returned to the labor camp. They were taken to the bath and given striped clothes, which meant that they were now citizens of the Birkenau extermination camp and had been assigned as workers.
The Lithuanian Jews became popular in the labor camp as well because of their good work, and they were assigned to the Gleis Brigade. The job was to build a railroad line from the Auschwitz “Jew platform” directly to the gas chambers.
Every day, and sometimes at night as well, transports of Jews; men, women and children, were brought to the “Jew platform.” Then trucks covered with tarps brought the unfortunates to the gas chambers, and from there their dead bodies were brought on trolleys to the crematorium. From the “Jew platform” to the gas chambers the trucks were accompanied by a sanitary vehicle, so that the victims wouldn’t realize too soon where they were being brought.
Six chimneys smoked day and night, exhaling in the heavens the gassed bodies of human beings. In the crematorium yard rose heaps of ashes from the burned bodies. And the 192 Jews were assigned to carry out a job which would complete, simplify and rationalize transportation to the horrible death factory.
Monish Kagan’s sensitive soul could not bear this. He went out of his mind. He was taken out of the work camp. He was never seen again. Several dozen of the 192 men collapsed, first spiritually and morally and then physically as well, from the poor food, from the dirt, from fear and from everything they had to see being done to innocent Jews, even women with children.
A special committee observed the men during roll calls, and a doctor determined who was ready for the gas chamber and oven. Those who were indicated had their numbers recorded. After the roll call they were taken out of the camp to the crematorium. Those on the list knew quite well where they were being taken, and they tearfully took their leave before going off to the “Heaven brigade.” That is how those assigned to the gas chambers and crematoria were called.
The Lithuanian Jews experienced two more selections. Many of them died:
- Monish Kagan, a former reserve officer;
- Yankl Kagan, a miller;
- Moyshe Fritzal, a peddler;
- Binyomin Katin, a merchant.
- Khonon (Khone) Druzin, a tanner;
- Dovid-Yitskhok Blekher, a student;
- Azriel Galis,a merchant;
- Zorakh-Mikhl Berelovitz, a student;
- Meir Gurvitz, a textile dealer;
- Avrom Gurvitz, a textile dealer;
- Moyshe Yofe, a merchant;
- Berl Blokh, a cattle trader;
- Tevye Epshteyn, a storekeeper.
- Moyshe Soyfer, a butcher;
- Bere Girshenovitz, a coachman;
- Shloyme Shadov, a printer;
- Ruven Kirzhner.
- Nosn Alter, a horse trader;
- Mende Yavner, a miller;
- Mote Hille Girshovitz, a coachman;
- Berl Pres, a student;
- Yitskhok Nadl, a roofer.
- Kalman Murinik, an electrician;
- Khayem Khatskelevitz, a merchant;
- Shepe Markus.
- Leyb Yoselevitz,a farmer, son of Khaye;
- Daniel Yoselevitz, a farmer, son of Mende;
- Yoysef Pil, a tailor.
The Lithuanian Jews listed did not all die during selections. Many of them became swollen with hunger and became apathetic, which was referred to in the camps as becoming a “Musulman.” They died in the camp. And a large number of Lithuanian Jews were left in the camp and died shortly after the healthier ones were taken on a transport to Warsaw.
Among the Ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto
The healthier and more productive workers in the Birkenau extermination camp were assigned to a certain transport. There were Jews from other European countries in the transport, but none from Poland.
The Lithuanian Jews as well were assigned to this transport. Everyone envied them for being rescued from the Hell of Birkenau. More than a few Polish Jews passed as residents of other countries, and wound up in the transport.
Of the 192 Lithuanian Jews, only one hundred and forty odd went with the transport. The sick and the Musulmen were not brought along; they stayed in the camp. As the Lithuanian Jews were being led out, they looked at the smoking chimneys of the crematorium and parted with their comrades and acquaintances who stayed in the camp, and who later arose into eternity with the smoke of the chimneys.
Those taken out onto the transport were brought into a camp in the city of Auschwitz. They received a bath, and first-class civilian clothes which had belonged to exterminated Jews. Their shoes were taken away, and they were given slippers with wooden soles, covered with white canvas.
After they slept all night in the camp, they each received one and a half kilos of bread, a package of margarine and a piece of sausage, and loaded in groups of sixty men onto freight cars.
On the eve of Yom Kippur 1943 the transport stopped at a bombed out station not far from the ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto. For roughly a half hour they walked until they arrived at the ghetto, to the site of the former Judenrat on Gensia Street, which was fenced in. There were nine unfinished barracks in the yard, lacking floors, windows and ceilings. There were already Jews there who had been brought from Birkenau, primarily from Greece and Hungary, with some from other countries. The ruins of the ghetto were still smoking. They knew nothing of the uprising in the ghetto.
The Lithuanian Jews were led into barrack number 7. A German block elder was appointed. The room elders were Jews. The Jews had to sleep on the naked ground in the barrack. There was no water. During the first two days everyone was registered and taken to a bath in Warsaw. On the third day, commandos were assigned to the various tasks.
The Commando at the Gensia Cemetery
This group had to prepare an embankment for a narrow-gauge railroad line. The gravestones were removed. The better ones were taken to the railroad station, loaded onto railroad cars and brought to Germany. The Jews were forced to dig up the graves beneath the better gravestones and search for gold teeth. SS men guarded them as they worked. Dozens of stones were overturned in every part of the cemetery, and the dead were exhumed.
The Search Commando
Under the supervision of troops from the Waffen SS, a group of Jews walked among the ruins looking for buried cellars, bunkers and tunnels. There they found textiles, leather, money, provisions, sugar and so forth. The SS men carefully saw to it that the Jews took nothing for themselves, otherwise, they threatened to shoot on the spot. But hunger forced the Jews to take that risk.
More than a few of them found money, gold and valuables. With the money and gold that they found, the Jews traded for food or bought it from Polish workers who were taking bricks from the ghetto ruins to a railroad station. Many Jews in the commando were thus able to acquire money or gold and bought themselves food. There were several of the Lithuanian Jews in this commando. Several times the Jews found in the cellars and beneath the ruins Jews who had suffocated or been burned, men, women and children who were barely identifiable. There were cases in which burned mothers were found with suffocated children in their arms.
The Demolition Commando
These Jews, under the supervision of Waffen SS men, completed the demolition of still standing walls and chimneys of ruined buildings. Several men were killed at this job. The air trembled from the explosions. The Jews in this commando also found food and valuables.
The Brick-Cleaning Commando
The older and weaker men, or those who became Musulmen in time, worked in this commando. The Jews spent entire tormenting days at this work, summer and winter. A number of them died from hunger in a sitting position. In winter, many of them froze upon the heaps of bricks. They didn’t have sufficient tools to clean the bricks. The Jews had to clean the bricks with pieces of iron, and arrange them in lots of one hundred. Then Polish coachmen took the bricks to the stations and loaded them onto railroad cars. The bricks were taken to Germany. If the Jews didn’t prepare a set number of bricks, the SS men beat them mercilessly. Sometimes one of the better Polish coachmen gave the Jews a piece of bread if they provided him with bricks for himself.
All of the worksites belonged to German firms which carried out the work. There were other, less significant worksites as well.
“The Last of the Mohicans”
After working some time in the ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto, the Jews learned more details about the uprising. They nurtured a profound respect for every ruin, every cellar and tunnel in which the legendary heroes of the uprising had shed their blood, as they conducted a desperate and unequal struggle against the worst barbarism in the history of the world. The entire ghetto quarter, a scene of destruction marked by huge mountains of bricks, gravel and dirt on the ruins, became holy to them. They found out that the Germans wanted to clear the entire area and turn it onto ”Adolf-Hitler Platz!”
The Jews met Jews from Warsaw working in a “special commando.” Each day they burned the bodies of Polish political arrestees who had been shot. The Jews learned everything about the ghetto uprising from the Jews in this special commando, and from the Poles who brought the bricks to the station.
The Jews in the “special commando” gave newcomers tobacco and food. They got good rations for their hard work. Suddenly they disappeared, and no more was heard of them. Peasants related that they had somehow gotten into trouble, and they were shot.
One time during the work in the ruins, a Jew with two automatic pistols appeared among the mountains of bricks and shot an SS. man. He immediately disappeared, and he escaped being caught. He was “the last of the Mohicans,” the last of the heroic Warsaw Ghetto fighters.
Another time a Jewish girl was found hiding in a room of a ruined building. She was pale and terrified. She still had a large reserve of food in the room. SS men brought her to the camp and fed her. A few days later they shot her.
The Life of the Jews in the Warsaw Camp
Some five thousand Jews had been brought together in the camp. For three months they slept on bare earth in the unfinished barracks. They did not even undress. The good clothes they had received before leaving Auschwitz turned to junk as they constantly wore them.
At five in the morning they were woken up and got coffee. After the coffee there was the morning roll call before work. They worked until late in the evening. When they returned from work, the evening roll call began, and it lasted for hours. The roll calls dragged because each evening there were people missing. Some were buried among the ruins. Others grew weak while working, and fell asleep forever. A number froze to death while sitting in the wintertime. It took hours until it was determined who was missing and where he was. People died from hunger and weakness during these roll calls. One who expired during a roll call was Avrom Kagan, a boy from Laukuva aged 19 or 20.
After the roll call the men were given “lunch,” consisting of rotten potatoes and beets, which stank up the entire camp. this “lunch” the men were given a quarter kilo of bread with some marmalade or margarine, which had to last them the whole day. The Jews continued to wear the wooden shoes with white canvas tops until January 1944. They were always wet. The Jews wrapped their feet in rags they found among the ruins.
Zelik Markus from Vainute was found with his feet frostbitten. During the winter thousands of Jews became Musulmen and gradually went out like candles. Yoysef-Velve Aranovitz, who took part in this collective testimony, was one of the most badly weakened among the Musulmen. He was often beaten as well. He remembers with deep gratitude Binyomin Lapin from Nayshtot, who had found some money and provided for him and other Lithuanian Jews. Binyomin Lapin is also a participant in this testimony.
When the cold of winter arrived the living conditions in the camp grew much worse. An epidemic of spotted typhus broke out.
The Epidemic in the Warsaw Camp
The men became infested in lice because of the dirt, the inability to change their clothes and the need to sleep in their clothes for a long time. Their clothing and pockets were filled with all sorts of lice. There were so many that the unfortunate men used to pull heaps of them out of their pockets. The men had received sweaters. At night after work they used to stand and hold their sweaters near the fire. Thousands of lice used to fall to the floor, burned. The next day the sweaters were once again full of lice.
The bodies of the unfortunate Jews were consumed by the lice. Everyone’s body was scabbed and full of all sorts of wounds and abscesses, from which pus flowed. There was no medical help for the men.
In the winter of 1943-44, spotted typhus spread fast as lightning in the camp. Because of the epidemic, the SS organized a hospital in two blocks, surrounded by barbed wire and painstakingly isolated. Two Jewish doctors from France and one Polish Jew worked in the hospital. The head doctor was a German named Jup. The doctors only served on the ambulance. They did not see the sick patients, because they had no medicine. The sick lay in their beds, which were stacked three high. In each of the small beds lay two bare bodies, with a straw bedding beneath them and a blanket above them. Those who were brought into the hospital were considered as if already dead. The food was the same as in the camp.
The sick were “attended” by Greek and French Jews, who could do nothing to help them.
The elder in charge of all the rooms, called the Wirtschafts-Leiter, was a German Jew named Emil, who stole the little bit of food that was doled out to the sick. This Emil also struck Jews for shaking straw from one bed onto another, for letting the edge of a blanket slip down, and for other trivial reasons. Every morning he went to the sick in their rooms and shouted: “Who’s alive and who’s half-alive?” Emil ordered the dead and nearly dead to be thrown out into a yard, where they became frozen and were stacked up. “You have to throw out the nearly dead, because there’s no room for new people!” Emil commanded the workers in the corpse detail.
The corpse detail was made up of four Jews. Their head was a French Jew named Berman Presman. Every morning the corpse detail checked who was dead and who was nearly dead, and they threw still-living men off of the bunks onto the floor. The bones of the living cracked. Their moans could still be heard. A while later they lay frozen in the stacks. Yoysef-Velve Aranovitz asserts that in his bed fifteen to twenty Jews died.
The corpse would be taken out of its bed, and another brought in immediately. His comrade from Laukuva Tzvi Sharanovitz, aged 25, was one of those who died in his bed, along with Bebke Kapelush from Kveidan. In a nearby bed died Yoysef’s comrade Shoyel Zaltzberg, the only man from Namokscht in the camp.
The dead were carried out of the yard on wagons to the courtyard of a former Jewish school on the other side of Gensia Street. There a row of boards would be set up with a row of corpses; flammable fluid was poured over them and they were ignited. The bodies of those who died in the epidemic were burned day and night that winter. The corpse brigade helped in this “task.”
The SS men were afraid of the terrible epidemic. They were terrified of becoming infected, and hurried to finish a bath where the men could be disinfected. The plague of lice was liquidated. Yoysef-Velve Aranovitz, a participant in this testimony, was feverish with spotted typhus for three weeks, and immediately suffered a lung inflammation. After he recovered he had abscesses on his entire body, from which a great deal of pus flowed. He lay in the hospital for exactly two months altogether.
Some three thousand Jews died in the terrible epidemic.
Lithuanian Jews among them were:
- Tsvi Sharanovitz, a student in the eighth class;
- Betsalel Levitan, a farmer;
- Mordkhe Khayet, a peddler;
- Elkhonon Margolis, a merchant, originally from Antalept;
- Yisroel Ber, a glazier;
- Mikhl Shlakhter, a peddler (remained in the hospital during the departure from Warsaw);
- Yisroel-Dovid Fritzal, owner of a windmill;
- Arye Fritzal, a peddler;
- Elyezer Fritzal, a youngster (the last three all brothers);
- Yisroel Fuks, a butcher;
- Yekhezkl Kagan, a miller;
- Avrom Kagan, a gymnasium student;
- Shoyel Zaltzberg, a refugee from Namokscht in Laukuva at the beginning of the war;
- Freyde Yankelevitz, a teacher.
- Sheftl Valk, a restaurant keeper;
- Alter Shvartz, a petty trader in the marketplace.
- Meir Blokh, a cattle dealer;
- Bebke Kapelush, a student;
- Yekl Levit;
- Ruven Zalmanovitz, a baker who lived in Laukuva.
- Yoysef Shlomovitz, Yankl’s son;
- Mote Shlomovitz, Avrom’s son;
- Ore Gershinovitz, a farmer (remained in the hospital in Warsaw);
- Arke Kirzhner, Yankl’s son;
- Berl Kotzin;
- Shloyme Blokh, a chauffeur
- Borukh-Meir Borokhovitz, Leybe’s son;
- Borukhke Borokhovitz, Khayem-Leyb’s brother;
- Nisn Graz, a rabbi’s son.
- Noyekh Markushevitz, a postal clerk;
- Mordkhe Shmulovitz, Yeshaye’s brother, a butcher;
- Yeshaye Shmulovitz, Mordkhe’s brother, a butcher;
- Yehude Leyb Ment, Khatskl’s brother, a student;
- Khatskl Ment, Yehude’s brother, owned an automobile;
- Fayl Klip, a merchant;
- Ayzik Shayevitsh, a yeshiva student;
- Todres Ladon, a merchant;
- Sholem Lurye, a tanner;
- Khayem-Leyb Mayerovitz, a merchant;
- Shmuel Zelikovitz, a horse trader;
- Nisn Mayerovitz, a merchant;
- Shloyme Shapiro, leased orchards;
- Moyshe-Yitskhok Glukh, an electrical technician;
- Moyshe Movshovitz, a merchant;
- Motl Shenker;
- Shmuel Shenker.
- Khatse Markus, Yitskhok’s brother;
- Zelik Markus, Yitskhok’s brother;
- Dovid Bender;
- Leybl Sukhavolsky, who had escaped being shot in Vainute;
- Hoyshe Fridgut, from Tawrik;
- Yoshe Nekush, Meir-Yitskhok’s brother;
- Meir-Yitskhok Nekush, Yoshe’s brother (both brothers died the same day):
- Yoysef Aranovitz, a roofer;
- Shloyme Markus;
- Khone Markus;
- Moyshe Mendlson;
- Yankl Leybe Gordon, a farmer;
- Hirshe Hershler, Ore’s brother;
- Ore Hershler, Hirshe’s brother.
- Hirshke Elert;
- Berl Lasky, Moyshe’s brother;
- Moyshe Lasky, Berl’s brother, taken to Auschwitz;
- Eliyohu Berelovitz, a merchant;
- Peysakh Vinik, a worker, a butcher;
- Berl Grosman, a merchant;
- Meir Glat, proprietor of a guesthouse;
- Leyb Levinson, a watchmaker;
- Khayem Traub, a wigmaker;
- Daniel Yoselovitz;
- Yisroel Yoselovitz –Daniel’s brother; their mother’s name was Tzese.
All of the Jews listed above died in the epidemic or from other diseases. Not all of them died in the hospital, because there was insufficient room. For instance, Yoshe Nekusht died while sitting at the table in the barrack. His brother Meir-Yiskhok died sitting in the toilet. Meir-Yitskhok was an ordained rabbi and ate no unkosher food the entire time. Hushe Dorfman from Tawrik lay in the hospital. He had regained his health and was waiting to be released. But there were no clothes for him. He lay in the hospital after the Jews were taken from Warsaw to Kutno, and died there.
The Transport from Warsaw to Birkenau
Before New Year’s 1944 some four hundred men were taken to Auschwitz to be exterminated. A committee went through all the barracks selecting Musulmener. Yose-Velve was on the list of those to be sent away. He escaped this fate miraculously. Among those taken in this transport were the Lithuanian Jews Elkhonon Feygus from Koltinan, proprietor of a guesthouse; and Borukh Zalmanovitsh, from Kveidan; and Moshe Laski, from Nayshtot.
Several Lithuanian Jews died at the hands of kapos at work. Berl Kotzin from Verszan asked his kapo for some food. He was beaten, and remained lying on the ground. He was later found frozen.
Replacements for the 3,000 Jews who died were constantly brought from other locations. Before Passover 1944 the number of workers was back around 5,000. Before Passover a transport of men were taken to work in Bromberg. This time healthier and stronger men were chosen. The Lithuanian Jews in this transport were:
- Shaye Itzik Matusa, tailor from Nayshtot;
- Borukh Yudelevitza, merchant from Shvekshne;
- Khatske Ladon, an orchard keeper from Shvekshne;
- Tsvi Gershon, a peddler from Laukuva;
- Shmuel Khayet, a peddler;
- Yitskhok Murinik from Vainute;
- Yankl Levitan from Tawrik;
- Dovid Markus, Shloyme’s brother.
By Foot from Warsaw to Kutno
In the spring of 1944 Yose-Velve Aranovitz was back in the hospital. He had pleurisy. This time his acquaintances and friends didn’t believe he’d survive such a disease under such circumstances. He spent ten days there before the Jews were taken from Warsaw to Rutno.
Once Yose-Velve overheard a conversation between a Jewish doctor and a Czech Jew. He understood that the conversation had to do with the evacuation of all Jews from Warsaw, on account of the quick advance of the Red Army. The next morning Yose-Velve approached the doctor and asked to be released. The doctor refused, however, because Yose-Velve had a high temperature. Finally he agreed. Yose-Velve received clothing and left the hospital while still ill.
At that time a new camp was completed. Transports of Hungarian Jews were brought. The recently brought Jews, together with some of those already there were quartered in the new camp. Yose-Velve was also assigned to the new camp, where he found the Laukuva Jew Aba Halpern.
Aba worked in the SS supply warehouse. He risked his life to steal food and bring it to his acquaintances in the barrack. He brought Yose-Velve bread, butter, sugar and meat. Yose-Velve began to recover.
The preparations for the transport began. The Red Army was nearby and threatening Warsaw. The Jews’ hopes of staying alive grew stronger. But the dreadful German devils refused until the last minute to release their victims, and prepared to evacuate them to Germany. Yet there was no means of transportation, and the evacuation was put off from day to day. It went on like this for ten days. The men were not taken to work. There were roll calls for two days. The SS men repeatedly explained and taught the men how they were to march. They warned that entire groups would be shot if any individual tried to escape.
An order came to prepare for evacuation on foot. Groups of one hundred Jews were divided up, under the supervision of German kapos and three head workers. The SS predicated that the progress on foot would be difficult, and proposed that those who were weak and sick ride in trucks.
About one hundred of the Hungarian Jews, who never got wise to the German’s tricks, signed up. The Shvekshne youth Berke Shmulovitz had swollen feet, and also signed up. Those who signed up were put into the hospital. Many recovered men stayed in the hospital because of the shortage of clothing, and all were later exterminated. Details concerning their death are lacking.
The worst culprit in the murder of those who remained in the hospital was the SS man Muelenc, nicknamed Kaposbauet.
Four hundred Jews were assigned to stay in the camp and help evacuate the SS stores. Most of them died at the time of the Polish uprising in Warsaw.
Those who died in the hospital and during the Warsaw revolt after the removal of the Jews from Warsaw were:
- Eliyohu Kaplan;
- Hirsh Kaplan. These two men were brothers, artisans from Heidekrug. At the outbreak of the war, they had come to Laukuva together with their father and their younger brother Avremele, who was shot by Gorgl.
- Bere-Leyb Shmulovitz, from Shvekshne;
- Yoysef-Yitskhok Elkon, from Koltinan, remained with the four hundred Jews;
- Meir-Hillel Fayn, from Kveidan;
- Shloyme Taytsh, from Verszan.
At five in the morning on July 28, 1944, the Jews were awoken. They were arranged in rows of five and groups of one hundred. Each one received a small loaf of bread with a bit of margarine. Their tragically difficult march began. They were taken through the streets of Warsaw. The Polish population, which had lately been suffering bitterly themselves on account of the Germans, felt for the Jews and stood by sympathetically as they left Warsaw.
The Jews came out onto the Lodz Kutno highway. The days were hot. A burning sun poured down seas of seething rays on the tormented Jews. A stain a kilometer long moved slowly forward among fields of grain, green pastures and forests. Some of the Jews wore concentration camp uniforms, and some were in civilian clothing. Their feet were wrapped in rags, their eyes dull, their faces yellowish-green. They moved with difficulty.
It seemed as though the Jews were demonstrating their anguish and rage, the pain and suffering they had accumulated through the years in the work camps and concentration camps; it was a demonstration against the world, against the nature surrounding them and against the burning hot sun. In front of them, at their sides and behind them walked well-fed SS men driving the living skeletons forward. They marched ever further from liberation, from the only liberator in that region, the advancing Red Army.
On the first day of the death march many men passed out from weakness, hunger and especially thirst. Those who fell and didn’t get up were shot by the SS men and thrown into the ditches on the side of the road. Nobody paid any attention to them, and no one mourned for those who were shot. On the contrary: some of the men envied them for having been freed by death from their terrible sufferings. The first day they marched some thirty kilometers. At night the Jews were taken into a field, where they spent the night.
The second day of the march was more difficult still. The Jews received no water to drink. In the middle of the day they reached the Vistula. Everyone’s eyes began to shine. The Jews “drank” and “were revived” with their glances. With their last strength, they began to hurry toward the water. Everyone was brought near to the riverbank and ordered to set themselves down. The camp commandant allowed the men to go to the river and drink in groups of a hundred. The terrible thirst threw thousands of men into the water. The camp commandant became upset and ordered them to march on. Dozens of Jews were shot in the water. By far the largest number of Jews did not manage to drink. The march forward recommenced. The thirsty Jews parted with the waters of the Vistula, which lazily slid forward, basking in the rays of the sun.
Yose-Velve Aranovitz could stand no more, and decided to stay behind. The two brothers Leyb and Dovid Goldfus from Laukuva comforted Yose and begged him to hold on. Until nightfall they supported him under both arms. The second night everyone slept in a field again.
On the third morning the men could no longer stand the thirst. Dozens stayed behind and were shot. Sender Linkimer from Koltinan took care of Yose that day, and he survived until the evening with great difficulty. They stopped at a swampy pasture of peat. With spoons and plates the Jews dug deep holes, and found warm dirty water. In a nearby field they found raw potatoes, which they ate.
On the fourth day of the march the heavens opened, and a rainstorm poured and raged all day and all night. At nightfall the men were driven into a swampy forest. Soaked through, they lay on the damp ground and wrapped themselves up in the wet blankets which they had brought from Warsaw.
Soaking, they dragged themselves through the fourth day of the march. More men were shot and left behind in the ditches. In the evening they stopped not far from Kutno, near a station. Among those who died on the march was a Lithuanian Jew, Nosn Shadov from Verszan.
Yose-Velve Aranovitsh, the chronic Musulman, was also close to death. Sender Linkimer helped him, and wouldn’t let him stay behind. He saved his life. Both are participants in this collective testimony.
In Freight Cars from Kutno to Dachau
On the fifth day of the march the men were taken to a railroad station, and loaded onto freight cars, ninety to a car. The Jews were packed in tightly, their legs intertwined. The space between the doors of the cars had to be left free for the kapos and head workers. Thus only two-thirds of each car was available, 45 men on each side. They received neither water nor food. They ate salted preserves, which only increased their thirst. Some of the unfortunates drank their own urine.
Steam rose from their wet clothes. It was hot and dank in the cars. The Jews had to perform their natural functions sitting where they sat crowded together. Many went out of their minds and tore the hair from their heads and bodies. In Yose-Velve’s car there was a German kapo named Paul. In the course of four full days he tortured fourteen Jews to death with blows and whippings. A Hungarian Jew went insane from hunger and was murdered. He was the fifteenth victim in the car.
The windows of the car were sealed with boards. Yose-Velve could no longer breathe properly. He stood up and leaned toward a crack in the wall of the car to get a bit of fresh air. Then he tried to lie or sit back down. His place was already taken. He began to be pushed around from one spot to another. He “flew” in the air for several minutes. Paul the kapo and his assistants began beating him murderously. Yose-Velve managed to shout: “Sender, save me!” and fainted. Sender Linkimer was actually in the same car, on the other side of the open area.
Those who were murdered or had suffocated to death were thrown into a special car for corpses. Yose-Velve was also thrown into this car, half dead. Four days the Jews suffered in the dank, sealed cars. On August 4, 1944 the transport was brought to the central Dachau concentration camp. Over 4,000 Jews had left Warsaw by foot. A large number were shot on the way from Warsaw to Kutno. Some 500 died or were killed in the freight cars. Hirshl Zalmanovitz was among the victims.
Three Days in the Central Dachau Concentration Camp
On the western and eastern fronts the Allied armies were dealing death blows to German fascism. On all sides the liberating armies tore at lightning sped straight into the nest of the Hitlerite venom. The central Dachau camp contained thousands of political arrestees from the lands which the German army division were forced to evacuate. Of course, they were all Aryans. Among them were high-ranking military officers who could no longer participate in the bitter end of the Third Reich’s Satanic play.
Under the constant thunder of Allied artillery and the repeated bombing raids, the behavior of the German murderers toward the prisoners improved.
The living and barely living Jews were brought from the freight cars onto the huge Appel-Platz at Dachau. They were allowed to drink. They were given a bath and new clothes. The sick were taken to a hospital. They were attended by political prisoners who treated the Jews well. For three days the Jews were allowed to rest. During those three days they were neither tortured nor beaten.
They were fed decently and allowed to sleep longer. The healthy ones were then sent to various auxiliary camps of Dachau, where they finished drinking to the dregs the goblet of pain and suffering which German sadism had prepared for them.
A large number of the Lithuanian Jews were sent to the concentration camp at Muhldorf and the concentration camps at Landsberg.
The Dead Return to Life
Miracles happened in the Hitlerite Hell as well. As mentioned above, Yose-Velve was thrown into the corpse car. When the transport stopped the living were brought to the Appel-Platz in the central Dachau camp. Four Red Army prisoners of war loaded the dead and murdered onto dollies and dumped them in a room near the crematorium.
It was five in the morning. Outside the air was thick and cool. When Yose-Velve was carried out of the corpse wagon, the fresh cool air began to revive and encourage him. When he was unloaded from the lorry onto the crematorium yard, Yose-Velve sensed that he was still alive. His arms and legs were atrophied, as though they’d been chopped off. He gradually moved his head.
An older German Jew, about fifty years of age, was carried on the same dolly. While he was being unloaded from the dolly one of the German kapos, named Mall, shouted: “This one’s still alive!” The Jew was laid on the side. The same kapo noticed that Yose-Velve was also alive. Both Jews were taken to the hospital on a dolly with rubber wheels. There Yose-Velve was shaved, washed and placed in a clean bed by himself, just like in a hospital before the war.
In that part of the hospital lay sick French and Dutch prisoners and German political invalids. Yose was the only Jew in that ward.
The ward elder was an Aryan from Luxembourg. He did everything he could for Yose-Velve. He fed him well and saw to it that Yose-Velve lacked for nothing. He spent exactly three months in the ward; all his wounds healed and he recovered from the pleurisy. Yose-Velve had miraculously returned to life. Until this day he does not understand how he, as a Jew, managed to spend three months in that ward among pure Aryans, when all the other sick Jews, totalling about fifty, lay in a neighboring block.
As the number of political arrestees from the occupied territories grew, and the sick among them were brought to the hospital, Yoysef was released. Yose-Velve was sent to an auxiliary camp seven kilometers from Dachau, together with the other Jewish patients. This concentration camp was called Allach. There were some 12,000 Aryans and 3,000 Hungarian Jews in the camp at that time.
Yose-Velve did not see again the comrades from Lithuania with whom he had gone through so much suffering. Yose-Velve worked in the camp for some nine months, under terrible conditions. The American army was not far from the camp. But the German devils didn’t release their victims from their claw until the last minute before their death.
All of the Jewish inmates were taken as far as possible from liberation, to the Tyrolean Alps. But this demonic plan was spoiled by the American army. On April 30, 1945 Yose-Velve was liberated by the American army in Staltach, together with the rest of the Jews.
The Jews in the other Dachau auxiliary camps were also forced to march on foot or taken in freight cars to the Tyrol. They too were freed by the American army at the same time. Yose-Velve’s comrades mourned for their comrades who had died in the camps. None of them dreamed that the chronic Musulman, who had been murdered in the train and taken on a dolly to the crematorium, was still living somewhere else. A short time later they met him again, to everyone’s great joy.
The Tragic Reckoning
In the Dachau auxiliary camps, too, there were a number of victims. The Shvekshne Jew Zundl Gershinovitz, an unmarried young man aged about 26, committed suicide in a camp near Landsberg. He could no longer stand the suffering, and threw himself under a train.
In Camp IV near Landsberg the following Jews from Heidekrug camps died from hunger or torture:
- Velvl Druzin, a teacher;
- Ayzik Druzin; these two were both Motl’s brothers:
- Hirsh Galis, a storekeeper;
- Borukh Gershon (in Camp II).
In the extermination camp near Muhldorf died:
- Leyzer Ladon, a student from Shvekshne;
- Moyshe-Leyb Berman, a merchant from Verszan.
In the course of a false liberation on April 27, 1945 at the railroad station of Poing, in Germany, Leybe Kahan from Verszan was shot with a rifle. He died one day before the Liberation.
Of exactly five hundred Jewish men interned in the Heidekrug work camps and work sites at the beginning of the war, very few survived. These are their names:
From Laukuva: Yose-Velve, Aba Halpern, and the brothers Dovid and Leyb Goldfus, four men.
From Koltinan: The only survivor was Sender Linkimer, a participant in the collective testimony.
From Verszan: The brothers Shimen and Yoysef Shlomovitz, Avrom Khononovitz and Mendl Borukhovitsh, four men.
From Kveidan: ,Motl Druzin, Gershon Yung, Hirsh Tarlov and Pinkhes Abramovitz and Berl Levit, five men.
From Vainute: Mendl Nekush, Yitskhok Markus and Zalmen Yavnelovitz, three men.
From Nayshtot: Binyomin Lapin, Azriel Glub, Gold, Refoel Laski, Henokh Elert, Mendl Yoselevitzh, and Berl Glaz, seven men.
From Shvekshne: Shaye and his son Shmuel Osherovitz, Naftali Ziv, Moyshe Ment and his brother: Zev Ment, Yitskhok Markushevitz, Meir Shmulovitz, Meir Ladon, and Gutman Shayevitz, nine men.
Thirty three men in all.