MASS SHOOTINGS OF JEWS IN A MILITARY FORTRESS – THE SEVENTH FORT KAUNAS
A depiction by surviving witnesses, who observed the terrible torture, rape of women, beating and shootings of thousands of Jews. This was carried out exclusively by murderous Hitlerite Lithuanians, at the military installation called the “Seventh Fort”, near Kaunas, Lithuania, during the very first days after the outbreak of war on June 22, 1941. At the same time, in the infested, stifling darkness of the murderous Hitlerite occupation of Lithuania, an incredible comradeship between an Austrian staff sergeant-major in the German army and a Jewish engineer in Kaunas, shone like a meteor in the sky.
The Seventh Fort on the green hill near Kaunas; in a ring of forts around Kaunas; was built by the Russian tsars many years before the First world War. Lithuania was occupied then, and considered as a distant province of the great Russian Empire.
High concrete walls with even higher watch towers surrounded the fortress on all sides, protecting it from unwanted strange eyes. All along the wall was a high fence with a tangle of barbed wire. The entrance to the fortress was through a high, wide iron gate in the outer wall. Attached to the gate were thick hinges and thick iron bars on which large locks were hung outside, and thick bolts and locks inside. It opened onto an area which had apparently been intended for military exercises and drills. The yard led to the entry to the fortress.
A large portion of the fortress was deep underground. Above ground there was a high concrete wall with an iron door, which opened into a corridor in the fortress and thence to long tunnels and large casemates. The windows were covered with iron bars, and looked out from the dark casemates onto the huge iron door in the outer wall, and onto the training ground.
Most of the time, between the two world wars, the old, sleepy fortress, overgrown with moss, was not used by anyone. Residents of the surrounding area spoke fearfully of the “fortress” at the Seventh Fort and could tell various superstitious legends and stories about bizarre voices which they heard coming from the fort, especially at night, both in summer and even more terribly during the long winter nights. They told of the shrieking of strange creatures, against whom rats as big as cats battled for their lives; about a meowing of cats, a barking and whining of insane dogs or maybe even wolves, and sometimes just a noise like that of millstones grinding grain at a mill. All these weird tales which were passed around increased the dread and the mystery of the Seventh Fort.
For some time in the twenties and thirties, between the two world wars, the Seventh Fort often served as a prison for political arrestees, and often also for convicted murderers and criminals.
Outbreak of War
A day or two after the unexpected, brutal attack of Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, the Seventh Fort was occupied by Lithuanian mass murderers, who called themselves “partisans”. They transformed the Seventh Fort into a terrible, gruesome concentration camp for Jews. All of the watch towers were occupied by partisans with automatic rifles, dressed in military and civilian clothing. They managed to be well-organized, disciplined, and well-armed, and shot with success at the evacuating Red Army soldiers and Jews.
Along all the roads leading deeper into the Soviet Union, long columns of Jews formed: men with large packs on their backs; women with children in their arms and in baby carriages; the old and the sick in wagons pulled by horses; intermingled with dust-covered, exhausted Red Army soldiers. All of them hoped to rescue themselves from the gruesome Nazi enemy. Those days it was very hot. Sunbeams flooded with light and heat the pine forests, fields of grain and green pastures, decorated with many kinds of multicolored flowers. In the deep blue sky Nazi planes flew low and unmolested, wave after wave, dropping bombs and strafing with machine guns the thick human mass on all the roads. After the planes stormed through, fires broke out among the nearby forests and fields, and in the tanks which had been hit. Shattered parts of bodies hung on trees in the forests. The dead bodies of women, men and children were strewn among the damaged tanks and flower-covered fields. From all sides the moaning and shrieks of the lightly and seriously wounded was heard, along with the wheezing of those in the throes of death. There was nobody who could help. Children who remained alive nearby a dead mother or father and wouldn’t leave them, bitterly sobbed and sobbed; no one paid any attention or helped them. Mothers tore hair from their heads and wailed and wept over their dead or badly wounded husbands or children; no one could help. The dreadful fear of the Nazi murderers and the powerful desire to save oneself along with the nearest and dearest, from one’s own family, left no time or room for feeling of mercy for those who badly needed help. Whoever still had strength left the dying and badly wounded of his own family, for whom nothing could be done, and ran further hoping to save himself and at least part of his family.
The blockage of all the roads by the crowded human mass seriously interfered with the panicked escape of motorized army details and tanks. Many Jews were crushed and cut by the tanks. In that frightful Gehenna on the roads, caused by the barbaric Nazi Blitzkrieg, beams of love and pity for small children nevertheless appeared here and there. Sadly, there were only a few cases when tank crews stopped for a short time next to small children, who had gotten separated from their parents or who were already orphans, and stood by the side of the road crying and begging for their parents. The tank crews hastily grabbed a child and brought it into the tank, and even faster and more noisily raced forward toward their homeland in the Soviet Union.*
Most of the possessions which Jews had carried along from home; packs of bedclothes, pillows, blankets; women’s, men’s and children’s clothes of all sizes and colors; small and large, half-open or shut suitcases; remained tossed about and spread out by the sides of the road, in forests and in fields, and on flower-covered pastures among dead bodies.
The Seventh Fort — A Dreadful Extermination Camp
Very few Jews succeeded in evacuating to the Soviet Union. Tens of thousands, chased by the Nazi army, were stuck in villages and small towns. Armed, drunken local partisans (as the local Nazi collaborators called themselves) freely lorded it, without orders or supervision. Even before the Gestapo murderers set up their staffs, the partisans robbed Jewish possessions, raped and shot women, and thousands of local and Kaunas Jews were tortured and shot.
The exhausted, despairing surviving Jews, hungry and thirsty, began retreating to their homes. They hoped to find more order and more security in a large city.
But all of the roads around Kaunas were blocked and heavily guarded by armed partisans. They detained the Jews, took everything they still possessed, shot hundreds of men and drove thousands of men, women and children, including the sick and the old, into the Seventh Fort. Only a few of the Jews succeeded in making their way back to their robbed and emptied homes.
The Jews who hadn’t tried to evacuate and had remained in Kaunas had already survived tragic, dreadful pogroms in all parts of the city, which had begun in the very first days of the war.
Jewish women who stood in line to buy bread were hauled out of line and assigned to columns of arrested Jews, who were driven to the Seventh Fort under heavy guard by armed partisans.
Parents sent their under aged children to stand in line for bread, certain that nothing ill would happen to children and partisans took children too out of breadlines and drove them off to the Seventh Fort. Women who had come to the headquarters of the partisans to find out where their husbands or children had been led off to were arrested and brought to the Seventh Fort.
*In the year 1944, a Jewish soldier from the Lithuanian Brigade came to Kaunas. He discovered that a tank crew member had left his little sister with a childless Russian family in Dvinsk. The brother took the good Russian woman in, together with his little sister. The woman was like a mother to his sister until the end of her life. Women who tried to convey small packages of food to their husbands or children were beaten and driven into the fortress at the Seventh Fort.
A young woman locked her small baby in her apartment and brought a package of food for her arrested husband. She was detained. She bitterly pleaded and explained about her baby in the locked apartment. The partisans mocked the woman. She was beaten and thrown in together with her husband in the fortress at the Seventh Fort.
Day in, day out, long columns of arrested Jewish youth could be seen being driven through the streets of Kaunas, guarded by armed partisans. The young boys and girls had to hold their arms crossed behind, and were forbidden to speak among themselves. The columns included even more youths arrested in the courtyards and in their homes. The Jews had no idea why they were being arrested and where they were being led. The boys and girls in the columns went proudly with their heads held high for the last time in their young lives, to the Seventh Fort.
In the courtyard, by the huge iron door in the high outer wall, and also in the open spaces around the fortress, the partisans heaped some of the Jewish possessions which they had robbed from Jews homes in the city and from the Jews arrested on the roads around Kaunas.
Packages of phylacteries, torn prayer shawls, finely embroidered Torah covers and silver Torah crowns; torn pieces of parchment from Torah scrolls; several still intact unrolled Torah scrolls flecked with blood; Talmud volumes, prayer books and other items of holy, symbolic value to Jews, lay discarded in a corner.
Mountains of shoes, clothing, furs of all sizes for adults and children, bedding, pillows and feather-beds, sheets and blankets were in a second corner. Copper and silver holders for ceremonial candles, copper pots, pans, kneading troughs, mortars and a large number of valuable porcelain vessels, silver plates, knives, forks, spoons and other kitchen utensils lay in a separate spot. In an area to the side of the fortress heaps of Yiddish and Hebrew books lay orphaned and photographs of old Jews with beards, photographs of weddings and funerals; photos of entire families; of Jewish gatherings and of communal activists and youth groups belonging to various parties. Even more striking were the framed pictures of Maimonides, Montefiore, Dr Herzl, and the pictures of famous authors and poets of Hebrew and Yiddish literature.
It looked as if the spirit, the culture and the traditional ways of life of the Jews of Kaunas lay orphaned, violated, soiled and shamed, together with their physical being, at the Seventh Fort; and no one paid any more attention to it.
Among the tossed together Jewish possessions and violated spiritual and religious relics, the permanent, long-time residents of the fortress ran about freely: mice, great rats with shining eyes, wild howling cats, spiders and all sorts of colorful beetles, angry, stubborn flees and bizarre creatures with long tails and numerous feet. Arrested Jewish doctors who were there, ascertained that these were poisonous creatures called scorpions.
Nothing that was alive could leave the fort for the world outside without the permission of the drunken partisans, not even the wild cats and the huge rats. Thousands of Jews who had been detained by the partisans on the roads around Kaunas were first herded into the long, dark tunnels in the fortress. Then the women and children were separated from the men and herded into casemates. Drunk partisans estimated the age of young boys and decided who had already had his bar-mitzvah, and would therefore stay with the men in the tunnels. The bitter, heartrending wailing of the separated families resounded with an echo, accompanying the women and children out of the tunnels.
The men received neither food to eat nor water to drink. Their spiritual
and physical strength spent, despairing and apathetic, they already seemed like skeletons which were temporarily still alive. The partisans mocked them, or beat them and designated the Jews as “ripe” (their expression) for execution by mass shooting. In a field not far from the fort, Red Army prisoners dug long pits day and night. Groups of naked men were led out from the tunnels to the edge of the pits. A hail of bullets from machine guns hurled the men into the pits. The executions were held day and night. Blood thirsty flocks of crows and birds of prey circled in the air above the place of the executions. They accompanied the descent of the shot Jews into the pits with a mad intermingling of voices and aerial acrobatics. Surviving men in the tunnels were lead out by the partisans into a valley covered with grass, in the open field next to the fort, where they held many thousand Jewish men under arrest.
In the “Kettle”
It was midday on a Friday, in the beginning of July 1941, the second week after the German army had marched into Kaunas, the capital of Lithuania. It was a fearfully hot day. The heavens were deep, crystal pure and bright blue.
A fiery sun and its sharp, simmering rays laughed at the soil of Lithuania, which was even then soaked with the flowing blood of thousands of Jews. Nature breathed tired and heavily in the stuffy atmosphere. But nowhere in Lithuania was the air so heavy and stuffy, the heat so tortuous and the sun so hot, as in the valley next to the Seventh Fort.
The valley was named the “kettle” by the Lithuanian murderers, who held several thousand Jewish men there until they would, in their expression, be “ripe for death”.
On the edges of the “kettle”, the partisans stood guard, always ready to shoot their automatic rifles. They felt like they were on vacation. They made themselves comfortable, arrogantly strode around, and constantly provoked and bullied the Jews.
“Don’t move, don’t get up, if not we’ll shoot, Zhidsl” they constantly, gleefully reminded the Jews in the “Kettle”. Every two hours they would change guard. The newcomers would sing the same “Song” over again, with more intensity and conviction.
“Oh Help! I’m being burned up!” “I’m dying of hunger and heat!” ”Mama, dear God, save me, have mercy Help!” the sighing and moaning of the Jews in the “Kettle” could constantly be heard.
Day in, day out, the Jews had to lie stretched out, with their faces exposed to the burning sun. Thousands of half-naked bodies covered with sunburn, sweat and mud, darkened, unshaven faces with the eyes extinguished, looked at the blue sky and the burning sun in amazement and despair, as if carrying out a silent debate; as if demanding and insisting: “Why? For what sin?”
And the sun, as if oblivious, still kept roasting and frying the bodies of the Jews in the “Kettle”, who were expiring from heat, hunger and thirst. Their tongues were stuck to their gums. Their intestines were cramped up from hunger and they didn’t dare move, because “Otherwise we’ll shoot!” the murderers constantly reminded the Jews.
But if it happened that someone could no longer control himself and turned to hide his face from the sun, the bandits fired into the whole area with their automatics, and the dead and wounded were left lying.
The Lithuanian Student Who Was a Good Shot
A young man was wounded in his sex organs by one of these shootings. His shrieks were wilder than all the sighing and moaning of the dying and badly wounded around him. He wept, screamed and drowned out the wheezing and moaning of the badly wounded who were slowly dying.
Two partisans came down into the “Kettle” and tried to quiet the wounded with their whips.
“Mama! Dear mama save me! I’m dying of pain!” he didn’t stop shrieking, and continued twisting with his teeth clenched. The partisans commanded four Jews to carry the wounded youth up onto the edge of the “Kettle”.
“Take your clothes off, cursed frog!” one growled to the wounded youth.
“It’s interesting how he screams and meows like a cat, or barks like a dog!” observed a second cheerfully.
“Got the voice of a devil, or a wild goat who’s about to croak!” the first confirmed.
“Croak, croak, just like a frog!” the second one persisted, and broke out in laughter. “Ha ha ha, just like a frog!”
“Take off your lousy things, frog!” they ordered.
The wounded youth tried to undress, but could not. They violently tore his clothes off and the wounded youth lay naked. He hid his wound with both hands. Blood dripped constantly between his fingers.
The two Lithuanians stood with their legs spread apart and their hands on their hips, and like two great connoisseurs looked at the wounded youth with a satisfied, happy smile. The first partisan was of medium stature, about thirty years old. His large head was sunken into thick, high shoulders. He had a strange face, the likes of which the Jews had never seen on the streets of Kaunas. Two large cheeks boldly stuck out on his round, measly face. His yellow-green eyes moved quickly; casting fear with their sneaky, serpentine look. His huge palms, covered with dirt and calluses, his wide, bare feet caked with dirt, testified that just a few weeks earlier he had still been a peasant in his village; or a swineherd.
On the other hand, the second was urbane, an “intellectual”. He was tall and slender, about 25 years old, and his long, full-blooded face was clean shaven. He was dressed in a Lithuanian army military coat, with shining buttons which flashed like lightning in the sun. On his feet were shining military boots.
Among the Jews in the “Kettle” there were students and engineers who recognized him. He was a student of the technical faculty in Kaunas.
“Just look! In his privates! See! Take a good look! Ha ha ha! Oh! Oh Jesus! Oh Jesus!” “You’re really a specialist! Shot from so far away and so accurately!” the partisan with the large head and the green-yellow eyes praised the student “intellectual” in amazement.
The wounded youth’s tear-covered eyes cast glances of submission and pity at them. He nodded his head, and quietly begged: “Yes, yes, in my privates! It hurts me so much, help me, have mercy!” He pressed his hand ever harder against his wound trying to stop the blood. “I don’t know where my mother and my father are! I lost them while I was running… “ he said, attempting to arouse a sense of pity.
“Shut up, frog! Who’s asking you about your cursed father!” the student growled, and cut into the youth’s naked body with his whip.
Several dark-blue welts immediately arouse on his shoulders. He lay on the ground curled up, bemoaning his tragic, blossoming youth.
The two partisans whispered between themselves, and laughed out loud again and again: “Ha ha ha!” Now look, that’s really a great idea, you’re a student for a good reason! On my word!” the partisan with the measly face swore, walking away while he laughed. It wasn’t hard to recognize that the student was the senior among all those standing watch around the Kettle”.
After hearing what the student had to say, other partisans also burst out laughing: “This will be Hoo, ha! What a show! Ha ha ha!”
Two Girlfriends Always Together
Two girls had been born at the same time of year; two gifts for parents in two families who lived near each other on the same street in Kaunas. Both of the children grew like two lovely roses in the spring, laughed, enjoyed and played together; always together.
In grade school, and then in the Jewish gymnasium, they both sat on the same bench. They both finished the seventh class when they were still under seventeen. The two grew up smart and pretty, tall and slender, like young pine trees in a new forest. One a blonde, the second with dark hair, they both had blue eyes. The parents of both were happy and satisfied, and hoped for nakhes fun kinder, “joy from their children”.
Like all youngsters, the two girls enjoyed their vacation, spending most of their time at the beach on the banks of the river Nieman. They rolled over in the sand, soaked up the sun’s rays, swam and splashed in the water, made a huge racket and laughed without concern.
The last Saturday evening before the war, a red sun was mirrored in the waters of the Nieman. On the other side of the river, the forests were overgrown with green trees and various, multicolored flowers. Somewhere among the trees a nightingale sang as it did every spring, with a prolonged, wonderful trill. The two girls strolled on the sidewalks by the shore of the Nieman with friends, singing, clowning and laughing, reveling in their youth. Some of them tried to imitate the nightingale’s trill and laughed just for the fun of laughing. When one is young and healthy, any little thing can bring laughter.
The young girls couldn’t imagine, nor did it enter their heads that Saturday would be the last day of their happy youth, and they would never be able to laugh again in their lives. They wouldn’t be able to, and they wouldn’t want to.
The next day, Sunday at sunrise, the bloody war began. The dark haired girl and her parents attempted to evacuate. After a murderous attack by Nazi airplanes, she could no longer find her parents and ran onward among the stream of Jews, until the German army caught up. She returned to Kaunas together with many other Jews, and was detained by partisans. After taking from her everything she possessed, dressed in a blouse and short pants, she was herded into a casemate in the fortress at the Seventh Fort, together with other women.
The parents of the blonde girl missed the chance to evacuate, and the entire family remained at home. Being the youngest in the family, the blonde girl, looking like a young child dressed in short pants and a blouse, got in line to buy bread at a store not far from her family’s residence. Partisans drove her out of the line and assigned her to a column of young people who were .driven to the Seventh Fort. There she was herded together with other women in a narrow casemate in the fortress, where the two girlfriends met.
They kissed each other and bitterly wept. Both somehow managed to get themselves settled on the concrete floor, in a corner of the casemate jammed tight with women and children.
Without food or water to drink, filled with their tragic experiences, the two sat with their hair undone and spoke little between themselves, only communicating with sorrowful looks. Upon their small, unwashed faces, premature signs of age set in: wrinkles around the eyes and dried, cracked lips.
One midday the iron door opened noisily, creaked open and the partisan with the large head and measly face entered the casemate. His green-yellow eyes examined the women. He stopped next to the two girlfriends: “You with the blonde hair! How old are you?” he asked in a hoarse, drunken voice, and continued without waiting for an answer: “Young women under the age of 18 will be interrogated and if innocent,. they will be released today.”
“I finished the seventh class this spring, I’m not quite·17 years old” the blonde girl assured him in terror.
“And I’m the same age, I finished the seventh class together with my girlfriend” the second girl pleaded.
He regarded the two girls from head to foot, and his measly face grew sweaty and red. “So, you’ve both finished the seventh class. Hoo, ha! Not quite seventeen, young girls, ha?” He started to cough.
With a choking voice he made a vile decision: “Good! Very good! Both of you come along! You’ll be interrogated together, and if you’re not guilty? If you’re not guilty?” he repeated, “You’ll be released today!”
Many women and girls believed that that two young girls would really be freed, and watched them go with jealous looks. The drunken partisan was very nervous, and viciously slammed the iron door of the casemate.
Going out through the huge iron gate in the outer wall of the fort, the two girls sighed and inhaled deeply the fresh spring air. Their eyes, which had grown accustomed to the darkness of the casemate, bit by bit opened wider and looked out at the blue sky and the panorama soaked by bright, hot rays of sun. Their hopes of being liberated grew stronger.
“Over there straight ahead!” he said, pointing with his whip. “And don’t speak!” he warned. Slowly and carefully the two girls walked forward on their weakened feet, with the partisan behind them. When they noticed a naked man sitting with his head bowed down, and the “Kettle” full of suffering men, they broke out wailing and didn’t want to go any further.
“Where are you taking us?” the two cried, not wanting to go any closer to the “Kettle”. They even tried to return but the partisan began whistling his whip with mad cruelty over their heads, warning: “Keep on going! Move on! Cursed frogs! Don’t talk to each other, dirty whores!”
With their heads bowed and their eyes full of tears, they approached the naked man by the edge of the “Kettle”.
“Two girls from gymnasium, finished seven classes, youngsters, not quite seventeen years old” he pointed to the two girls, standing erect as he reported to the student.
The student considered the two girls from head to toe: “Good morning to you, birdies! You had a nice, easy life under Stalin, hah? The “invincible Red Army” ran away, hah? They left you here, hah? Had a short, fun vacation this year, hah?” “It’s going to be a real show!” the student assured the partisans standing nearby.
“Stand up Zhid, you frog!” He lost no time commanding the wounded youth. The youth tried to stand up, but fell back down.
“Dovidl? It’s You?”
“Help that Zhid stand up!” he turned to the two girls, challenging them with his whip. The two girls looked at each other in shame and terror, and slowly lifted the wounded youth.
“Dovid! Oh no! Dovidl, is that you? Quick!” the blonde girl shouted and wept.
“Help! Call a doctor! He’s our friend from school! We went through seven classes together! Call a doctor! Save-him! He’s bleeding heavily!” the second girl shook the whole area, running all around the wounded youth.
Dovidl shuddered, and pressed his hand even harder against his wound. His head bent further and further toward the ground. His locks, dark as pitch, fell across his brow and covered his eyes.
“Really you two?” he wondered. “It hurts me so much, oh how it hurts me!” Dovidl was embarrassed to say. He recognized his friends from school. At that moment they all stood as if petrified, even the murderers became thoughtful and concerned for a moment. No more than three weeks before, the three young people had finished the seventh class in gymnasium. Dovidl had then been less than seventeen years old. He was tall and slender. Dovidl had large black eyes, and more than one girl in the class loved to look at them. A lock of black hair always lay across his high forehead, lending him charm and putting the final touch on his marvelous, slim youth. Everyone in the class liked Dovidl, the students and the teachers.
“Dovidl,” he was affectionately called by everyone. Dovidl was the class geographer. The girls loved to go walking or to study with him. But Dovidl was reserved and tragically shy. He was unable to look the girls straight in the eye, as if he felt guilty towards them in some way.
Both girls noticed Dovidl’s embarrassment and withdrew from him. Tears flowed endlessly from their eyes, sparkling like diamonds in the sun and dropping quickly down their still childish faces.
“What are you standing there for? Kiss that Jew, frogs!” the student whistled with his whip in the air.
The two girls looked at each other, terrified and amazed.
“Kiss him!” the one with the big head and measly face threatened with his fist.
The blonde girl’s heart had never beat as hard as it did then. All of the wellsprings of pity opened up wide in her young heart. Like a mother with her small child, she took Dovidl’s head into her little white hands and kissed the tears away from his eyes.
“Dovidl, dear Dovidl, be strong! We’re all lost, all of us here.”
She gathered her courage, threw her face against Dovidl’s throat, and covered him with tears.
“Just look, you call that a man?” the student mocked Dovidl.
“Give her a kiss! Embrace her! Just look! Give her a kiss, I tell you, frog!”
The second girl looked like an angel, standing and caressing Dovidl and her girlfriend with trembling hands, and soaking both with tears of pity.
The student called the partisan with the large head to the side, and confided something to him. The two exploded in laughter: “Ha ha ha! Can’t wait to see it!”
“Everybody in the Kettle sit up and look this way!” the student commanded. “We’re going to give you a show,” he added.
The whole mass of bodies in the “Kettle” began moving and moaning: “A drink, I’m dying! I’m dying of hunger!” The “fried” Jews saw three young bodies on the hill. Thousands of fathers in the “Kettle” tried to recognize their children.
More partisans standing around the “Kettle” gathered at the spot where the “show” was being held.
“Cursed Jew, do what you’re told! You’re a performer, a performer now! You’re putting on a show for your brothers in the ‘Kettle’! You hear? Hal” the student kept insisting to Dovidl, poking the handle of his whip into Dovidl’s sides. After every poke Dovidl trembled as if he had received an electric shock.
“Raise your hands high, Zhid!” he ordered with a blow of his whip on Dovidl’ body. Dovidl pressed his hand still harder against his wound. “He’s nothing but a damned snake!” shouted other partisans gathered around.
“Well, fine!” he insisted, trying to convince Dovidl: “Your penis wasn’t cut right, they left it too long. Now you’ve been cut a second time, and it’s better now,” he mocked.
All the partisans standing around broke out into hearty, delighted laughter. “Ha ha ha! ·Hoo,hoo! Jesus! Oh holy Jesus!”
The student, drunk and pleased with his ideas, continued in an almost friendly tone: “We just cut your penis for a second time! The wound isn’t serious. You’ll be freed quite soon, together with the girls. They’ll take you away to a doctor, and you’ll get better,” he promised Dovidl. “But first you have to give us a performance! Your brothers in the ‘Kettle’ are waiting for it too!” he went on in a calm tone, as if pleading with Dovidl. “You’re going right home, but first you have to try to have sexual relations with that Zhid girl!” and he pointed to the blonde one.
All the partisans exploded again into loud laughter: “Oh Jesus! Holy Jesus! Oh!”
The partisan with the measly face tore the blonde girl away from Dovidl.
“Take off your blouse, little birdie. Show your little breasts to that dirty friend of yours from school” begged the student in a drunken voice, using “elegant speech.” “We want him to xxxx you. Let him prove that he’s a man. Let him xxxx. There has to be a show for the dirty Jews in the “Kettle”! And take off your panties too!” he didn’t neglect to command.
Weeping bitterly, the two girls embraced each other and refused to be undressed. The student and his fellow separated them violently. The student tried to take the blonde girl’s blouse off by force. She fought and resisted with her last bit of strength. She kicked the student with her weak; bare feet, struck him with her fists, wept loudly and didn’t stop shouting: “Murderer! No! No! I won’t! I won’t let you undress me! Murderer! Hooligan! Save me! Help!” And the girl with the dark hair shrieked at the measly-faced partisan, her fists clenched: “Ugly murderer! Liar! You tricked us! You should be feeding pigs! Ugly gorilla!”
The partisans at the Seventh Fort had never had such a commotion and resistance to their will. They began to grow uneasy and nervous, and ran to catch the girl. She didn’t let them catch her, and shouted while running:
“You’re going to pay for spilling our blood! Murderers! Murderers! You will!”
Suddenly Dovidl went wild. He jumped up like a wounded tiger, moaned loudly, and with his right hand full of blood from his wound, with his last ounce of strength, he punched the student straight in the face. Bits of congealed blood from Dovidl’s wound remained on the murderer’s face. More blood flowed from the student’s nose and mouth onto his military uniform.
On a hill, in the shade of trees, local Lithuanian residents had gathered, cheerful and dressed up for the occasion. Couples hugged each other, enjoying the bizarre “performance” in the “zoo”. That’s how the happy, calm, dressed-up Lithuanians called the “Kettle”: “The zoo!”
“The nerve of that Jew, struck, insulted and bloodied a Lithuanian!” cries of protest were heard.
“Shoot him, shoot that nervy Zhid down like a dog!” the demand was heard from among the ,mass of Lithuanians.
The murderers grew angry as wild animals, and everyone that was close to the three children began kicking with their feet, striking them with fists, with whips. The girls shouted and cried, and Dovidl stood frozen with his hands on his-wound. But his head was by now bowed very low toward the ground. His face could no longer be seen. Black locks hung in disarray all over his face, on which blood was streaking down.
“Stand up here next to that cursed Jew and don’t move” the student ordered, while constantly spitting out and wiping the blood from his face. He placed the two girls so that Dovidl was between them.
“Hands up!” he ordered viciously. “Just keep standing like that, Jewish whores, or else we’ll shoot!” he threatened, and then left.
Surrounded by drunken partisans, the student nervously and hastily gave short, clipped orders. He and his comrade with the large head and the measly face got down on their knees some distance away from the three youths. Both aimed their automatic rifles, and “One! Two! Three! Fire!” counted the student. Shots were heard, along with Dovidl’s scream: “Mama! Ohhhh!” Dovidl bent over, and like a young tree chopped down, fell heavily onto his back. His hands were stuck fast to his wound. The Jews in the “Kettle” covered their eyes with their hands, and moaned bitterly: “Oh, no!·No! How can they?”
Both girls, frightened to death, cast short glances at Dovidl’s dead body. Their moans were enough to shatter Heaven, and bitterly weeping, they shouted: “Murderers! Ugly murderers! You’ll have to pay yet for the blood you spilled! Murderers!” and they prepared to run away.
“Don’t move, or else!” the student called out. Both of the murderers, satisfied, looked first at the girls and then at David, who lay in a pool of blood.
That Friday at the edge of the “Kettle”, David’s dead body and on either side, petrified, two young and lovely girls, their hands up and their proud heads skyward, were mirrored against the background of the bright blue Lithuanian sky. Tears rolled constantly from their eyes. They wept for their dead classmate and for the men in the “Kettle”. The two Lithuanian murderers; student with his feet in military boots, and the second with his huge bare feet, covered with mud set them up on top of Dovidl’s body and, together with a group of partisans standing nearby, sang their national hymn.
And above the whole scene the hot, brazen sun continued to shine after the “performance”, as if nothing had happened! And it “ripened’; the men in the “Kettle” for shooting the same tragic Friday, at night.
The murderers ordered four men from the “Kettle” to carry Dovidl’s dead body into the courtyard of the fort. Both girls followed sadly. Arm in arm, with slow tread. They didn’t speak between themselves, and had no strength left for weeping. Above their heads, following behind them, the partisan with the large head whistled his whip through the air: “Walk quicker, lazy frogs! Jewish whores!” he ordered nervously, and shouted again: “If you want to live, I’m telling you, you better not tell! Don’t tell anybody! Don’t tell about your classmate who we shot, and don’t tell about your lousy fathers in the ‘Kettle’! You hear? Nobody! If you want to live!”
He brought the two girls back to the same casemate they had been taken out from.
The men who brought Dovidl’s dead body to the courtyard of the fort didn’t return to the “Kettle”. They were never liberated from the fort.
Three Young Girls Shot — Robberies
The women in the casemate received the two girls, wringing their hands and weeping quietly. The appearance of both; the sorrow and terror in their eyes, the blue signs of blows on their faces; bore witness to the terrible things that had been done to them. Both girls avoided speaking, even among themselves. They crept under a cot, and lay down on the concrete floor. The crying of children, begging for a drink of water and a piece of bread, drowned out the quiet weeping of the two girls.
It was half-dark in the casemate, even during the day. The wall around the fortress was higher than the window, which was covered with iron bars. Only a few lost rays of sun wandered across the concrete floor and the dirt. The women lay crowded on rags, old blankets and torn, dirty pillows. The walls, which had been painted blue many years before, were damp and faded. More women with small children lay pressed together on wooden cots stacked two high against the walls. The women took care of their bodily functions in a huge tin jug, waiting in a long line. At night, and often by day as well, huge rats ran among the women on the floor. For days they received nothing to eat and no water to drink.
That same Friday, while the student and his partisan comrades were giving a “performance” for the Jews in the “Kettle” and killing Dovidl another group of drunken partisans shot three young girls, in the courtyard of the fort. Women in the casemate near the window saw this, and broke out into bitter weeping. The murderers stood by the dead girls, whistling and laughing, enjoying themselves and besmirching forever the Lithuanian national hymn.
Also on Friday, at night, the heavy iron doors of the casemate scraped open to the shouts of happy, drunken partisans. They set up a wooden chest and one of them called out viciously: “Each one of you, without exception, is to stand up and form two lines! Each without exception must throw all of your gold and silver jewellery, your watches and other valuables into the chest. Whoever doesn’t follow orders and hides something, will be shot without mercy!” The one who had given the order was dressed in a uniform from the former Lithuanian army, precisely the same as the uniform of the student in the “Kettle”. The women, frightened to death, raced forward to be the first to surrender and throw into the chest their earrings, rings, watches and other valuables, including money. The partisans happily carried the chest of jewellery out, and locked the iron door.
That same Friday evening the door of the casemate noisily opened again. The partisan, dressed in a military uniform, asked calmly and almost respectfully: “Which one among you is the midwife who helped a woman give birth yesterday? Another woman is about to give birth. You people have so many children! You had a good time under Stalin, hah?”
The midwife, a woman named Sorenie from Mariarnpol, got dressed. “I need a doctor too! Very important! Very important!” he said, as if he had just remembered. He took Dr Miss Frida Perlrnanaite out of the casemate. Neither of them ever returned.
Young Women to Peel Potatoes
A short time later, the partisan in the military uniform, together with two more partisans dressed in civilian clothes, came back again to the casemate, and once again almost respectfully, quietly, explained: “A good meat meal is being prepared for tomorrow. Who wants to volunteer to peel potatoes? For peeling potatoes in the kitchen,” he repeated. “We need twenty women,” he added with a smile.
Too many women volunteered, hoping to get a bit of water and perhaps something for their children to eat. “Only twenty and no morel” he shouted angrily. He himself chose twenty young women and girls and led them out of the casemate. When midnight came and the group of women still had not returned, everyone in the casemate became uneasy, wondering about their fate. The two girls came out from beneath the cot. They found themselves old, torn clothes which were lying around, and drew them onto their young slender bodies. The clothes were too long and too large. They smeared their faces with ashes from the nearby iron oven, in order to make themselves look older. Several young girls did the same. One, an intellectual woman who had her sixteen-year-old daughter nearby, jumped up and shouted angrily: “What are you doing? Why are you causing a panic?”
Other women were also optimistic, and insisted angrily: “We have to have patience! They’ll definitely come back from the kitchen! There were a lot of potatoes to peel!”
The two girls, especially the blonde, insisted quietly and sadly: “You can’t believe the murderers! They trick you and then they torture, just like they did with us!” and both climbed back under the cot, covering themselves with discarded old clothes and torn pillows.
After midnight the iron door opened with a crash and commotion.
Drunken partisans demanded twenty more volunteers: “Young women only! For peeling potatoes in the kitchen!” they all shouted and made fists, ready to strike. This time, there were no volunteers. Young women rushed to undo their hair, to smear their faces and upper bodies with mud from the floor and ashes from the oven. The drunken partisans sought out the youngest twenty women with electric torches. Among the women they took was the sixteen year old girl, the daughter of the intellectual, optimistic woman.
“If you take my young daughter, I want to go too!” she begged the partisans.
They looked at the daughter and the mother: “Good! Let’s do it! The mother and the daughter! That’ll be just enough!”
Accompanied by bitter shouts and weeping, the chosen women kissed and said goodbye to their nearest and dearest. Others said goodbye to their small children, who were sleeping on the cots. The iron door closed. Those who remained in the casemate lifted their tear-soaked eyes upward to heaven which was blocked by a dirty ceiling covered with spider webs. Many-footed spiders ran back and forth, performing acrobatic stunts as they hung from their webs.
Long after midnight, the iron door opened once again. Behind the open door dead drunken partisans caroused, but they did not enter the casemate. Suddenly they threw in through the open door some sort of heavy mass, which looked like a bundle of torn women’s clothing tied together. It was a women, her hair gray and disheveled. Her creased face, full of mud and dirt, was covered with bits of dried blood, and her mouth twisted to the side. She said in a low, broken voice, her lips trembling: “All the women raped! All of them shot! In the dark tunnels! All of them shot!” and she fell helpless. Women recognized her. She was the intellectual woman, the mother of the sixteen year old daughter. Women broke out in a wailing, panicky weeping, which cannot be described or conveyed in everyday language. The women who still had their little or grown children, pressed them to their weakened bodies, frightened to death. Many of the small children woke up from sleep, never found their mothers again and were already solitary orphans. They pleaded and wept incessantly: “Mama! Ma-ma!”
The two girls, the blonde and the one with the dark hair, crept out from beneath the cot, sorrowing, weak and lacking sleep. They tried to quiet and comfort the children, with gentleness and warm kisses. The same Friday evening; that the women were taken out from the casemate to “peel potatoes,” women who were near the window saw other drunken partisans bringing rows of Jewish men and stopping them in the courtyard.
They took the men’s passports and documents and forced them to take off their shoes, boots and outer clothing. Tortured, badly beaten, half-alive with their hands stretched out in front of them, the men were led out of the courtyard. A short time later the women near the window heard the shooting of machine guns. In this fashion one group of men after the other, like on a conveyor belt, were driven in haste to their tragic death. Until late the next morning Jewish men brought from the “Kettle” were shot. That Saturday morning, various birds of prey and black crows made the entire area around the Seventh Fort resound with their mad calls.
Friendship Between a Staff Sergeant-Major and a Jewish Engineer
In the center of the city of Kaunas stood an old palace with high windows. In front was a large balcony resting on high columns, decorated with assorted plaster figures. Around the palace was a large garden with beds containing various multi-colored flowers. A high brick wall with a huge bronze gate, decorated with bronze and copper figures, separated the palace from the surrounding streets. The palace had been the residence of the Lithuanian President until the outbreak of the war. Several days after the war broke out, the palace was occupied by the German military. The large flower garden was filled with tanks and trucks.
Not far from the palace, among old buildings, at Number 42 Luksho (Lukse) Street, was a new, distinctive three-story building, with two apartments on each floor. In one of the apartments in the second floor two young couples lived in two of the rooms, and in a third room was a bachelor, a construction engineer, whose parents lived somewhere in the provinces, in a small town on the banks of the river Nieman. Both young couples left their furnished rooms on the first day of the war, and disappeared. The engineer didn’t believe that the Nazi army would advance rapidly, and missed the evacuation. A young cousin of his, a schoolgirl from the provinces, was staying with her brother’s family in Slobodka, where the partisans carried out dreadful pogroms against Jews. She escaped at night and came to the engineer’s apartment. Officers settled into apartments of Jewish families which had left the same building. Jewish houses and apartment buildings near the headquarters were avoided by the partisans, and did not suffer pogroms.
The engineer had enough food left over by the two escaped couples. Through his window he watched columns of Jewish arrestees being driven by armed partisans. But he had no idea why and where they were being taken to. He didn’t let his cousin leave the apartment.
On the morning of Thursday, June 26, five days after the outbreak of war, someone knocked loudly on his door, and commanded in German: “Open up! Quick, open up!”
“That’s it! The beginning of the end! Hitlerites are corning to take him!” the engineer said to himself, terrified, and he quietly ordered his cousin to hide under the bed. With trembling hands he unlocked and opened the door.
“Good morning, sir! May we come in?” asked one of them very politely.
“Good morning! By all means, sirs!” the engineer greeted them, opening the door. Two Germans entered. One was above average height, thin, with sunken cheeks, a jutting chin and large eyes, wearing on his small head a tall cap with a long visor, decorated with various commendations. The second was tall, with wide shoulders, long arms, a red face and a very large head covered by a large cap, also decorated with various commendations. Both wore tall, shining boots. When both had come into the apartment, the tall German closed the door.
“Good morning! Good morning sir!” and he smartly touched the long visor of his cap with his hand, clicked his heels and concluded in a loud voice: “Heil Hitler!” “I am a staff sergeant-major (Stabs-Feldfebel)!” the shorter one introduced himself. “I need an apartment for just a short while,” he requested calmly and politely. He didn’t touch his cap with his hand, didn’t click his heels and didn’t call out: “Heil Hitler!”
“Sirs! The house has been nationalized. I live in one room with my young cousin, two other rooms are free, the engineer informed them fearfully.
“Your first name, sir?” asked the staff sergeant-major calmly. “My name is Leon, Sir Sergeant!”
“Not Sergeant, sir! Staff Sergeant-Major, please!” the taller one corrected him, and saluted, clicked his heels, and called out, “Heil Hitler!” The shorter one looked at the taller as if he’d never seen him before. Both of them looked over the rooms, the kitchen, the bathroom and the sparkling parquet floor.
“This evening, Herr Leon, we will come to settle here. Your profession, if I may, Herr Leon?” the shorter one wanted to know. “I am a construction engineer, Herr Sergeant!”
“Oh no, no! My God! Not Sergeant, please! Staff Sergeant-Major!” and with his hand smartly to his cap, with a click of his heels, he finished: “Heil Hitler!” The taller one corrected.
Trembling, the engineer asked: “Sirs, may I ask when I’m to move out of my room?”
“Move out of your room? Why, sir? We aren’t good enough for you?” asked the short one.
“No, sirs, no! I am aware that Jews are not allowed to live under the same roof with Germans. I’m ready to move out of my room immediately,” said the engineer, as if making a request.
“Eh! It’s ridiculous! Herr Engineer, we’d be pleased to have you stay here with us!”
The engineer suspected that he might get into trouble, and wanted to find an excuse to leave the apartment. “Sirs, I can’t be responsible for your things. Armed Lithuanians might find me here, arrest me and take everything in the apartment on account of my presence here.”
“We know what the Lithuanian swine do to Jews. They won’t come here. You stay here, Herr engineer!” the shorter one stubbornly assured him.
“I have to go out sometimes to buy something to eat, and they could find me in the street and arrest me. They’ve been doing so for several days already,” he said, still looking for an excuse to move out of his room.
The taller German took out of his briefcase a special paper bearing an announcement that the apartment had been occupied by the Wehrmacht, signed and officially sealed. “Any Lithuanian swine who tries to get in will be shot,” the tall one assured him angrily, and with his hand to his cap, a click of the heels, he finished in a loud voice: “Heil Hitler!” Heil!”
The shorter one took a half loaf of bread out of his briefcase, along with marmalade and margarine, and handed them to the engineer. “Leon! Don’t lose hope, Leon! Don’t go into the street, Herr Engineer! We know what the Lithuanian swine are doing!” he warned in a friendly tone. And with that they both left.
The engineer and his cousin remained in their room. Yet Leon was very afraid that the two Germans would cause him problems and eventually liquidate him. “Two Hitlerites!” he worried all afternoon. “Who knows? Who knows how this could end?”
In the evening, the shorter German came with his servant, who set down a bundle of food and left. Leon locked himself in his room with his cousin. A while later the staff sergeant-major knocked on the door. “Herr Leon! You and your cousin are invited to come to my room for supper!”
On the table in his room stood several bottles of beer, cans of jam, marmalade and fresh military bread. “Don’t be reserved, you two!” he repeatedly reminded them. “Don’t hold back! Eat whatever you want and as much as you want!”
All three ate with gusto, and didn’t talk.
“Leon, I don’t want you to be afraid of me! Be my friend! Yes! Be my friend!”
“May I have the honor of knowing how to address you, sir?” asked Leon, a bit afraid.
“Meanwhile, Staff Sergeant-Major, that’s my present military rank.”·
“May I know how I am to address the second gentleman?” Leon asked, pointing to the second room. He thought a moment, a bit, and then answered with a broad smile: “Call him Herr Idiot!” He laughed out loud then: “Ha a ha!”
“Herr Staff Sergeant-Major! If I’m not mistaken, the word ‘idiot’ indicates someone who is, unfortunately, a simpleton in a number ·of languages. The sergeant-major laughed even more, and swallowed down his laughter with a glass of beer.
“Good! Leon! You can call him Herr Heinz. That’s his first name. But he’s an idiot all the same! Always with his hand flying to his cap, his heels clicking and like a damned clock you hear his loud ‘Heil Hitler’! It’s like a sort of disease with him already. In the beginning I used to suffer from it, now I’m used to it and I don’t pay any attention. One after the other, “Heil Hitler! Heil Hitler! Ha ha ha.”
Sunday evening, one week after the beginning of the war, the staff sergeant-major came with his servant, a simple soldier who carried in a package of food and left immediately. Leon and his cousin closed the door of their room. A while later the staff sergeant-major knocked on the door. “Leon! You and your cousin are both invited to my table for supper.”
“Thank you! Thank you, Herr Staff Sergeant-Major!” Leon replied.
Leon and his cousin went into his room. On the table stood several bottles of beer, loaves of military bread, cans of sardines, marmalade and margarine. All three ate with enjoyment, and spoke little. When they had finished eating, he helped Leon’s cousin carry the dishes into the kitchen. She thanked him, and went off to her room.
“Leon, please, stay here with me! I want to spend some time with you,” he asked in a friendly tone. He closed the door to his room. “Please, Leon, please tell me, what did you used to do after work? What did you busy yourself with in your spare time? Don’t be afraid of me, please!” he reassured Leon intensely.
“I read a lot,” Leon answered carefully.
“What did you read, Leon?” he asked with curiosity.
“Fiction, especially historical novels, Herr Staff Sergeant-Major.” He thought for a while, and then asked with a trembling voice: “You must have read about the Schutz-Bund in Austria, which fought on the barricades against the cursed Chancellor Dolfus and his Fascist government?”
The engineer grew even more afraid, and answered as little as possible: “I didn’t get involved in politics.”
“Yes, Leon! I understand you. You’re afraid, but you read about it in the newspapers?”
“Yes, Herr Staff Sergeant-Major I read about it in the newspapers.”
After a brief silence, he carefully and with a certain pride introduced himself: “I am a teacher from Linz! A classmate of the famous Schutz-Bund leader Koloman Walischl. I fought at the barricades with him against Dolfus’ Fascism! Did you read about the tragic martyrdom of my dear comrade Koloman Walisch?” With his fist clenched he stood up as if making an oath, and in a few, slow words he ended with intense wrath: “Forever! For all times! The workers in Austria and in the entire world will remember that beloved, brave fighter, my comrade Koloman Walisch! I, too, will remember him until the last day of my life!” the teacher promised enthusiastically.
Both of them sat still and thoughtful for a while. The teacher pressed the engineer’s hand. “Leon, now we are two good friends! I hate Hitlerism like I hate death! After suppressing our struggle, the Fascists came after me. I hid and lived underground, until the Nazis occupied Austria. I was mobilized. I couldn’t hide any longer. Leon! To him” he pointed to the other room “don’t talk to him about this, please!”
He knocked on the door of the other room: “Herr Heinz! Please come in and drink a beer. Leon, I’ll send him off to take care of something at headquarters and we can keep talking, agreed?” he turned to the engineer.
“Agreed, Herr Teacher!”
“I thank you very much for the honor you’ve shown me.”
All dressed up, Heinz came into the room and immediately, with his hand to his cap, with a click of his heels, he greeted them: “Heil! Heil Hitler!” and sat down next to the engineer at the table. The three of them drank beer together. The teacher ordered him to go to headquarters and take care of an urgent matter. Heinz stood at attention, repeated word for word exactly what he was to do at headquarters, and then with his hand to his cap, with a click of his heels, he parted with a “Heil! Heil Hitler!” and left the room.
The teacher, losing no time, began: “Leon! Every day we get reports from the front. Large cities and small fall without fighting. The Red Army is retreating. Why don’t they fight? Why do they retreat? Yesterday at headquarters someone tried to break a Red Army helmet. He banged on it with a heavy hammer and couldn’t break it. One blow of the same hammer and our helmet was shattered in pieces. Specialists, engineers from the Reichswehr examined and tried out a captured tank. They determined that the tanks the Red Army is using aren’t worse and may be better than those the Reichswehr has.
So why are they running away? Why are they running? Please, Leon, what’s your opinion, why are they running? Why aren’t they fighting?” the teacher wanted to understand.
“I’m not a military man, I can’t answer for certain.”
“Leon, you’re an engineer and you’ve read a good deal about war. Tell me what you think of this. In several places they’ve resisted, and they’ve surprised our generals with their battle readiness. In this region they held back from a major victory, and began retreating again. Leon! Tell me what you think about their retreats,” he tried to draw out the engineer again.
“Russia’s territory is incredibly large. They’re running back home, closer to their military bases. The Wehrmacht is advancing fast, and growing distant from its bases in Germany. Hitler’s army will keep advancing, so fast that they’ll lose their breath. They’ll occupy so much territory that Hitler’s general staff won’t have enough soldiers to rule all of the occupied cities, towns and villages. The Russians’ strategy is based on the idea that by running and retreating from the enemy, they win wars. The terribly cold winters are their loyal allies. It’s well known that after all his victories, Napoleon lost the war because he ran after the Russian army divisions too far and too fast.
“And the Russian winter?” Leon began boldly to express his opinion; “Leon! Thank you! Thank you! That’s just what I think, and I tell the idiot so! But he believes that damned crazy Fuehrer and his generals! Day and night, at every opportunity he keeps shouting ‘Heil Hitler!’ When he gets up in the morning, before he eats, after he eats, it’s ‘Heil Hitler’! Such an idiot. That sly Stalin’s going to defeat our crazy Fuehrer!”
He rested, drank a glass of beer and began again: “Leon! Agreed, that Hitler and his generals are going to destroy cities and villages in England, they’re going to bombard their industrial plants; will Churchill capitulate? He and part of his army could evacuate, let’s say, to Canada; would Germany fight against Canada as well? Churchill is a great man, a determined opponent of this German government. Churchill isn’t like that stupid Chamberlain!”
For hours he and Leon talked about politics. “Herr Teacher! Do many people think the way you do about Hitlerism?”
“Leon, certainly there are many of us. Together with me at headquarters works someone who’s also a staff sergeant-major, a social democrat, and a bloody enemy of Hitler and his party. He doesn’t hold back from me, and boasts that his grandfather, his father and all the members of his family were social democrats. He is my closest, most trustworthy comrade at headquarters. He knows everything about me, and we stick together. We help each other out in various situations, the teacher unburdened himself.
With that, the long conversation concluded. He got dressed up and went off to headquarters. The engineer was very pleased by his amazingly intimate friendship with the staff sergeant major.
On the orders of the staff sergeant-major, the soldier who waited on him brought the engineer and his cousin every day a kettle of soup, bread and other food. Each evening the staff sergeant-major invited the engineer and his cousin to eat dinner with him in his room, told them the news from the front and spoke in amazement of the Red Army’s continued retreat. Several days passed in this fashion.
One time his cousin decided to go to the suburb of Slobodka, where her brother and sister-in-law lived, and where there were daily robberies, murders and kidnappings of men and women in the streets, courtyards and homes, committed by murderous drunken partisans. Leon warned her about the danger she would encounter. She wouldn’t obey him, and instead dressed in her best clothes. She looked like a Lithuanian girl; what they called “a good appearance” in those days. She put together a small package of food for her brother’s family. “Don’t worry Leon, I’ll just see my brother and his family, and I’ll be right back. I’ll be back today,” she reassured him, and went out of the apartment.
She did not return that night. Several days passed, and still she did not return. The staff sergeant-major often reiterated, with worry and regret: “Leon, you shouldn’t have let her go, you shouldn’t have let her go out into the street! Oh! That little girl! Where could she be now? Where?”
Leon’s Cousin and a Neighbor’s Family – At the Seventh Fort
On the same floor as the engineer lived a Jewish family: a husband, Abe Kagani his wife Peshe and his wife’s father Jude Kiml and stepmother. All four of them had evacuated, and the German army had caught up to them. On their way back to Kaunas they found out that all the roads were blocked by the partisans, who detained Jews, robbed, beat and murdered, and drove them into the “Fortress”, as the Seventh Fort was called. The family split up: Mrs Kagan and her parents went ahead on the highway, and were detained by partisans. The husband followed after, hiding in the fields. At night he managed to return to his apartment.
Two officers occupied the two larger rooms in his big apartment and he, the owner, was left with only a small room to live in. He often went over to the engineer and complained that the two officers avoided greeting him and didn’t answer his greetings. And when they were in the apartment, he didn’t go out of his little room. The engineer helped him out with a bit of food on several occasions, because Kagan was afraid to go out shopping in the street. He told details about the attacks in the city, about the pogroms in Slobodka, and especially about the torture and shooting of Jews at the Seventh Fort.
The engineer didn’t believe everything his neighbor told him. “You sit here locked up in your apartment, so how and from whom do you receive all this terrible news?” he asked once.
His neighbor looked at the engineer in astonishment and explained: “A friend of mine who lives on this street was in the ‘Fortress’. The Germans took him and some other Jews out of the ‘Fortress’ to work in the military hospital. Every morning he goes to work by himself, and every evening he returns to his home. He saw my family at the Seventh Fort. He told me everything, and my friend also saw an engineer Frenkl of his acquaintance, whose family is living on our street.”
Leon grabbed at his head and sorrowfully cried out: “He too? I was sure that he had managed to evacuate! I worked together with him for years and he was a good friend of mine! A competent engineer!” Leon added with a moan.
His neighbor told him more: “On our street too, no more than a block away from us, lives a Jewish family. The father was a well-known businessman, and had a good reputation as a community activist. After the Soviet system was instituted in Lithuanian, his business was nationalized. Thanks to his popularity and his reputation as an honorable, cultivated man, the Soviets. appointed him to a very good position in a brewery. His wife took a university degree in languages, and taught at the Jewish gymnasium. They have two children, an older son and a daughter. They didn’t get a chance to evacuate. Their daughter is blonde with blue eyes, nice as an angel, tall and thin; she ended the seventh class in gymnasium just before the war. She went out to buy bread at the bakery. The partisans took her out of line and led her off. My friend saw her being brought to the Seventh Fort, too.”
The neighbor rested, sighed and carefully, quietly, declared as if he wasn’t quite certain: “I believe I believe, my good neighbor, that your cousin, too, was taken off to the ‘Fortress'”.
“My faithful neighbor” Leon began, “since the beginning of the war I’ve been living like I was under house arrest, under the protection of my good staff sergeant-major. He brings me enough to eat. I don’t have to go out in the street. Every evening he gives me reports from the front which arrive at headquarters. And I myself sit by the radio all day, listening to the news. But I must admit that I knew little, too little, about what the partisans are doing to the Jews in the city.
Every day through my window I watch armed Lithuanians driving long columns of Jews. But I didn’t know where they were taking the Jews. Now I know more, and I believe everything you tell me. Thank you my good neighbor! Thank you! Let’s hope we live to see better times!” Leon wished both of them.
When his cousin, Tshernele Cicelsky, hadn’t returned two days after her departure, Leon could not rest. He analyzed and thought through various plans. He decided that the only hope was to get help from the staff sergeant-major. Like every evening, the staff sergeant-major invited the engineer to come into his room. Leon lost no time.
Leon’s Plan to Save His Cousin Along With Other Jews
“Herr Teacher I found out that my neighbor’s wife, her father and mother were detained by Lithuanians and are in a fortress at the Seventh Fort. A friend of his was liberated from the fortress together with a group of Jews, and they’re working in the military hospital. His friend also told him that armed Lithuanians have already managed to shoot thousands of innocent Jews, men and women.”
The teacher listened to everything and grew serious: “Leon, I know about that. My friend at headquarters, the social democrat, was there already, and he saw the Lithuanian pigs torturing the Jews in an open field. He took many photographs. Terrible! Horrible! There’s an extermination camp there! He talks on and on, telling me about the terrible things he’s seen with his own eyes.”
“Herr Teacher! May I trouble you about my cousin? I’m afraid that she has been dragged off, and is already in that fortress.”
The two of them looked at each other sorrowfully, and were silent for a while. Leon’s face took on a submissive expression: “If I have found favor in your eyes, please, allow me to ask you to do a great thing for my cousin, and for several other Jews.”
The teacher thought for a moment, as if he was remembering something, and laughed loudly: “Ha ha ha! Leon, you used a phrase from the Bible, and I recognized it! So let’s have a drink. He poured out two glasses of beer, and raising his glass, he answered: Good, I’ll also use a phrase from the Bible in my answer: ‘Leon, until a half of my kingdom it shall be given to you!’
“Oh sir! You’re not a teacher for nothing! You remember how that evil Haman wanted to kill all the Jews, thousands of years ago, Leon responded, admiring the teacher.
“A teacher and a freedom fighter!” the teacher laughed amiably. “Please tell me what you want.
“Sir Freedom Fighter! Leon decided to call the teacher. “If you could, and if it wouldn’t be too much for you, if you could go to the fortress, and demand that my cousin be released, because you need her as a servant, and she knows where all the keys to your lodgings and the cupboards and cabinets are.”
“That’s all? Of course! Of course I’ll try to do it!” he answered without hesitation.
“Thank you so much, my friend! I think that if you only ask to have my cousin released, it will look like you have a personal interest in the matter. The Lithuanian murderers might suspect that you’re being paid for it, and make it hard to free her. But if you ask for workers, a detail of workers, it would be more credible to them. What I’m asking you to do is affected by the fact that all authority over the Jews in the fortress is exclusively in the hands of the Lithuanian partisans, without any possible intervention by Germans.”
The teacher walked around the room a while, nervous. “I have to talk to Heinz now,” he decided, and went into the other room. He didn’t spend much time consulting with Heinz, and when he returned he was content. “Leon! It’ll work! Everything’s in order! He readily agreed to work with me in order to get your cousin and a small detail of Jews out, all of your acquaintances!” After thinking a while, he added: “Basically Heinz is a decent fellow. He has a lot of sympathy for your cousin and for all the Jews in the fortress. But he’s a professional, disciplined soldier, raised in the spirit and tradition of the Prussian Junkers, born in East Prussia. Marching, accepting and carrying out precisely commands from those of superior military rank, and giving commands in turn, is as natural and necessary to him as the air he breathes. Raising his hand to his cap, clicking his heels,· isn’t a conscious act for him, but a reflex. He’s never been a party member and he’s still not a member of the damned Nazi Party. He never deceives anyone and he keeps his word, he never lies. Tell me my friend, how many people are in the detail we have to demand they free from the “Fortress?”
“My friend, between six and eight people! I believe there are four women and four men.”
“Good, Leon! ‘Unto a half of my kingdom it shall be given to you”‘. And he added with a smile: “It’s a perfect piece of literature about the clever, beautiful Jewish queen and her husband, the stupid king,” he said, wanting to show that he was familiar with or had perhaps even read a German translation of the scroll of Esther.
Leon told his neighbor all the details of the plan to liberate a group of Jews, a detail, on the pretext that they would be doing various tasks.
His neighbor opened wide his eyes, reddened from lack of sleep at night and from weeping. “Almighty God! Maybe the staff sergeant-major will be your messenger, and free my family?” He broke out into spasmodic weeping.
Leon began to review and count the names he had written on a slip of paper: “The first one will be my cousin, your wife and her parents that makes four. I’ll write down the engineer I know, that makes five. Who else?” Leon turned to his neighbor.
His neighbor thought it over. “Hal Yes! The blonde girl! Her mother has already passed out and fallen several times from sorrow. She doesn’t stop weeping and wailing. She can’t eat or drink anymore.”
“Good! Her name, please?” Leon wrote it down and counted: “Six people! I spoke to the staff sergeant-major about six or eight people. Yes” Leon remembered “If possible? Eight people?”
His neighbor closed his eyes, knitted his brow and tightened up as if he’s gotten a bad cramp in his stomach. “Oh! Yes! Yes! I remember! A well known writer and correspondent for the Jewish newspaper, along with his young son!” He thought until he remembered their names. “Yes, a good writer! I used to enjoy reading everything that he wrote!” Leon wrote down the names of the father and son: “There, we have all eight already. I just hope we’re able to liberate all eight. I believe the staff sergeant-major will agree to eight,” said Leon, and finished the list of names.
After the neighbor went back to his room, Leon began again to analyze the composition of the eight names on the list, and was dissatisfied. “The men and the women should appear on the list in two separate columns. On the right side, the women, and on the left side, the men,” he made up his mind, and began to write: his cousin’s name first; his neighbor’s wife, in the second spot; the wife’s mother, in the third sport and he stopped writing and thought: “The young blonde girl, taken away from her parents! How would my parents survive if the Lithuanian murderers tore my fifteen year old sister away from them, and kept her locked up in that dirty prison, in that little provincial town? In the care of guarded by drunken partisans? My little, innocent sister!”
With tears filling his eyes he decided: “I’ll beg him, I’ll beg the staff sergeant-major to do everything, not to leave her to stay in the fortress any longer. That young blonde girl must be freed! I’ll remind him over and over again. The young blonde girl in the fourth spot!” and he ended the women’s column.
Engineer Leon still didn’t know then that when he was working so hard to save eight Jews from the risk of death at the Seventh Fort, near Kaunas, his parents, brother and sister and all of the Jews in his provincial hometown had already been tortured and shot by local Lithuanian partisans the very first week of the war, and that they already had been thrown into a mass grave in a nearby forest.
Leon paced back and forth. He reminded himself that he had agreed with the staff sergeant-major to have six to eight people liberated. He had already written down four women. There was room for two in the men’s column, if the teacher only agreed to six. The neighbor’s father-in-law was one and “Who should be the second? My good friend, the engineer, who has a wife and children? Then the writer and his son will stay at the Seventh Fort, exposed to torture and perhaps even to a risk of death? It’s no good! a tragedy! It’s very bad! Why did I mention six? On account of my foolishness it’ll be my fault if something bad happens to them. Oh, how could I?” Tearfully, Leon declared himself guilty and responsible: “I’ll ask the staff sergeant-major to have mercy on me and convince him to agree to eight people,” he decided. “So with eight, my neighbor’s father-in-law is first on the list of men! So who will be the second? The third? If my friend, the engineer, is the second, then the writer and his son will be the last ones on the list.
It may be that the partisans will grow stubborn and insist that only two men can be freed, and no more! So naturally the last two on the list, father and son, will have to stay at the fort.” Leon went over the possibilities for so long that he got himself into a frightful state of mind. He grew horrified at the thought that because of his determination of the order of men in the list, he was taking on himself the right to determine, perhaps, who would be liberated and who would remain at the Fort, God forbid, to die.
Ruminating like this, he began to feel weak, his head hurt, he was dizzy, and his eyes could not see clearly. He grabbed his head with both hands and leaned over on the table, sighing “Oh, oh!” He began to doze, and fell into a trance, overflowing with memories.
Leon’s Youth and Prior Life
Leon’s parents in their provincial town were always full of worries concerning their livelihood. As the eldest, at the age of thirteen he already spent the first of the day in school, and the second half working. He gave his entire earnings to his parents, to help ease their financial burden. At sixteen, he finished the sixth level, the highest in the school in his town. He was accepted into a gymnasium in Kaunas. The teachers helped him to sign up enough private students to tutor so that he could pay for his expenses. He finished the gymnasium, and was accepted into the technical faculty in Kaunas University. Tuition and obtaining the necessary books were a heavy burden on his financial means.
Leon managed to obtain more private lessons. With all the fervor of his youth, with stubborn will, he pushed forward to his goal: an engineering degree.
While taking the advanced courses, he began working every summer vacation at a construction firm as a technician, and all year round he continued tutoring privately. Then it was easier for him to save money to send to his parents, and he had enough for himself as well. He began to wear better, more elegant clothes. Leon, taller than average, slender, with a head of black hair and large black eyes, was intelligent and good-looking. No wonder that several of the young female students noticed him and were eager to make his acquaintance. The one who succeeded was a girl from Kaunas who studied pharmacy at the university. She was lucky: as the only daughter of wealthy parents, she didn’t lack for money. She didn’t let Leon pay for any of their dates, calming him with a smile: “Sweetheart, don’t be silly! Is it my money? It belongs to both of us!
Leon finished his studies at the university and received his diploma exactly a year and a half before his girlfriend. He was 24 years old, and immediately began working for a large construction firm.
In 1939 the Red Army obtained the right to build military bases in several places in Lithuania, by agreement with the Lithuanian government. There was a shortage of engineers for these major construction projects. In 1940 the Soviets took power in Lithuania. The government of President Antanas Smetana escaped to Hitler in Germany. Lithuania became a Soviet republic. The firm in which Leon worked was nationalized. Engineers received large salaries. The two lovers received permission from her parents, and the date and place of the wedding had been set. On the Saturday before the war broke out, the two spent a pleasant day with Leon’s parents in the country. That evening, Leon’s mother had told them, with tears in her eyes, wringing her hands: “My dear children! A Polish neighbor visited us today, and confided that in the next few days war is going to break out between Germany and the Soviet Union, and the ‘Lithuanian shepherds’ are getting ready to exterminate all the Jews.
He advises us to go with you to Kaunas, where it will be easier for us to hide.”
Leon and his girlfriend looked at each other. “False rumors!” both of them reassured his mother, and broke into loud laughter. Leon’s father had gone to the synagogue for the afternoon prayers. Leon and his girlfriend kissed his weeping mother, his brother and his sister, and left the house. His mother accompanied them out with tears in her eyes. The next day, Sunday, the war began. Leon did not know where his beloved was, and perhaps his girl was already…. God forbid… Who knew? Who knew where?
Leon woke up from his trance. Shaking his head rapidly, he quickly became alert. “Not me! Not me! Let Fate decide! I’ll draw lots to see who the last three men are!” he made up his mind resolutely. He wrote their names onto three separate slips of paper. He rolled the slips of paper into little balls, threw them into a glass and shook it up. With his eyes closed, he took each slip out of the glass separately, and wrote the names down on the list of men. He then carefully read the names he had written on the men’s list: the first was his neighbor’s father-in- law! The second was the engineer, and the third was the writer and the fourth was his son. “Fate! Fate decided, not me!” he breathed a little easier.
In the evening the staff sergeant-major returned from headquarters bearing detailed news of battles at the front. “My friend! I’ve prepared the list of names of four men and four women,” Leon dared to interrupt him, and added: “One of the eight is a young, blonde girl, less than seventeen years old, but she’s already finished seven classes of gymnasium. The staff sergeant-major tried to read the names and burst out laughing: “Ha ha ha! Strange names! Very complicated names! Good, Leon, everything is organized. Sundays the officer isn’t in headquarters. My friend the social democrat stays at the telephone; Heinz and I will ride to the fort. In case the Lithuanian swine want to cause problems, I’ll suggest they call headquarters. My friend at the telephone will speak to them in a tone which will convince them that they’d better immediately free the eight persons we’re demanding.
“My dear friend! I don’t have words to thank you for what you’re going to do!” Leon pressed his hand, and after a brief silence, began to speak again: “Oh yes, I almost forget to bring something to your attention. It would be good if the eight names were written on a piece of official stationery from, your headquarters and stamped, with someone’s signature. That will be more credible. The Lithuanian’s won’t have to call headquarters, and you won’t have to waste a lot of time. After all, Sunday is your day of rest!”
“Leon, you’re a good strategist! You’re precise! That’s how an engineer should be! It’s really a good thing you made me think of it good, I always have several pieces of stationery with me.” He took out a sheet of official paper from his briefcase, stamped it, and gave it to Leon with a smile.
“Dear friend! I thank you very much! You are clever, more precise and a better strategist than any engineer.
They both laughed, and drank beer.
On that tragic Friday, July 4, 1941, when Lithuanian partisans shot Dovidl at midday near the edge of the “Kettle”; when three girls were shot in the courtyard of the Fortress; when they took fifty young women out of the casemate at night, raped and then shot them; when men were taken out of the “Kettle” all night long and shot, Leon the engineer prepared the list of names of four Jewish women and four Jewish men, on official paper from the German military headquarters.
The Rescue Operation Successful; Nine Jews Liberated
On the morning of Sunday, July 6, Heinz and the teacher dressed up in their military uniforms and their shiny boots.
“Herr Engineer, don’t worry! We’ll do everything in our power,” the staff sergeant-major assured him.
Leon thanked him and then turned to Heinz: “You look so fine in that beautiful uniform. May I know your military rank, Herr Heinz?”
“Certainly, of course! Herr Engineer! My military rank now is sergeant-major! Sergeant-major!” he responded happily and loudly and then a flick of his hand to his cap, a click of his heels, and he shouted “Heil! Heil Hitler!”
They both hurriedly left the apartment.
When Leon was alone, he began very nervously to pace back and forth across the apartment. He remembered his last visit to his parents, together with his girlfriend. As if to increase his despair and spiritual pain, he started worrying about his beloved girlfriend: “where could she be now? Where?” he tormented himself. Suddenly he stood still and in a drawn-out, broken voice, he accused himself: “What if she, too, is in the Fortress? Why did I forget? Why didn’t I put her on the list too? Idiot! What a good for nothing I am!”
There was no comforting his pain and suffering any more. His neighbor was also very nervous, waiting impatiently for his wife and her parents. He went over to the engineer’s several times, but didn’t stay long; he spoke little, and then went back to his apartment. It seemed to both of them that time was dragging, and that the hands on the clock were moving slowly.
Just before midday, they heard many footsteps on the stairs to the second floor. They both fixed their gazes at the door, which quickly swung open. First the two Germans came in, and after them five women with an elderly man. The teacher lost no time, and called out: “Leon, dear Leon! All eight of them! And we liberated one more! Your friend the engineer, the writer and his son, got off near their homes on the way.”
In worried silence the neighbor watched his wife and her parents, and broke out into a wild, bitter weeping. He spread out his arms to embrace and kiss the staff sergeant-major.
“No, no, sir! Don’t kiss me, sir! Please!” The staff sergeant-major protected himself with both hands. Heinz, too, would not let himself be kissed. The old man, the neighbor’s father-in-law, could not stand on his feet, and almost collapsed into a chair. With his eyes protruding from his face, burned and creased by the sun, he looked at a spot on the ceiling. And with a cry expressing the terror of death, he shouted without respite: “Gevalt! gevalt! The Lithuanians are shooting all the men! They’re shooting Jews at the Seventh Fort! Oh, oh, oh!
The neighbor and his wife and mother-in-law supported the old man’s arms, and went off to their apartment, taking short steps.
The three women remained in the engineer’s apartment. The eldest understood what was troubling him, and she introduced herself: “Leon, unfortunately we didn’t meet before the war. I’m a cousin of yours by marriage, the wife of your cousin. Your little cousin Tshernele came to us in the evening. I went out to buy something to eat, and partisans detained me near the store and led me off to the fortress together with other Jews. Don’t worry! Your little cousin isn’t in the fortress! She’s definitely with her brother, my husband, in our apartment in Slobodka.”
The engineer breathed easier. The two girls and the cousin he had just met were hungry, exhausted and saddened. Their faces were creased, full of dirt, dust and black ash. They showered and washed themselves. In the closets they found clean underwear and clothing, and put it on. When they had washed, the two younger girls looked like wilted roses after rain.
The staff sergeant-major ordered Heinz to go to headquarters, and take his friend’s place by the telephone. He also asked Heinz to send the soldier who served them with enough food for five people. “Heinz! Please! The women are hungry! We need a lot of food! Understand?”
He set several cans of sardine and some bread on the table, and invited the engineer and the three women to eat. “That’s just for now, later there will be more food,” he excused himself.
The Account of the Rescue
As concisely as a military report the staff sergeant-major related: “We arrived at the fortress in a rented coach. We saw thousands of men lying on the ground in a valley. The valley was in an open field. Armed men in civilian clothes and military uniforms stood watch over the Jewish men. A uniformed Lithuanian met us and greeted us. I explained to him the kind of work we needed the men and women to be liberated for.
He argued that only he had the right to determine who was to be freed. I showed him the names of the men and women and the telephone number on the paper, and demanded that he immediately call in to headquarters. He read and examined the official stationery from headquarters, seemed to grow afraid and wrote down the names in a notebook. In a submissive tone he smiled and assured us that he would find the four men. He showed us the spot not far from the valley where the four men would be waiting for us. He also showed us which gate to go through to get to the part of the fortress where the women were.
“A Lithuanian in a military uniform opened the gate for us. He was so drunk that he swayed on his feet. When he saw the paper from headquarters with the official seal and the name of the women, he greeted us warmly and asked us to accompany him. He spoke a poor, recently acquired German, and led us through a number of iron gates and dark, long corridors. He opened a heavy iron gate and·led us into a large room.
My dear Leon, it was terrible! Horrible! What we saw was unbelievable! The air was stifling, and it stank. Heinz covered his nose with a handkerchief. Both of us looked at the ‘Lithuanian swine’ furiously. I felt like shooting down like a dog that drunken, uniformed Lithuanian murderer who was the guard and master over those unfortunate women and small children in that chamber of Hell. Dear Leon! I don’t have the words now, and I’ll never have the words to communicate what the women and children looked like. I’ll leave it to the women, who are now sitting here with us at the table. Let them tell you how it was!” he concluded, pointing to the three women. “They! They can tell you many dreadful things!”
The three women sat in sorrow with their heads bowed, and he began to recount further: “We need four women to do housekeeping! My good ladies! Four women! Please come forward!” I read out the first and last names of your cousin, and instead of your young cousin these good women came forward” he indicated the women at the table. “What is your last name?’ I asked once again. She explained to me that the woman I was looking for was a younger sister of her husband. ‘Do you have relatives in Kaunas?’ I asked, wanting to be sure of her identity.
“‘Yes! I have a cousin. He’s an engineer.’ “‘What is his name?”
“‘His name is Leon!’
“‘Good, very good! Please come with me!’ I ordered in a louder tone. I called out the names of your neighbor’s wife and her mother, and both of them came forward. I had no problems with those two.” I looked around the room for the blonde girl. It was very, very hard to recognize her. All of the women’s faces and entire heads were smeared with ashes and mud. With difficulty I managed to call her first and last name out loud. She responded. She was sitting with another woman and there were several small children near them. ‘Are those your’ children?‘ I asked
“‘No, they’re not ours. They’re orphans. They don’t have any mothers anymore one of them explained.”
“I calmed her and explained: ‘You’re being freed! We need women for housework’ She broke into loud weeping, and locked her arms around the woman who was sitting next to her. I called out her name again.
She pressed herself even closer to her girlfriend and categorically refused to come along. ‘Without my friend I don’t want to go! I won’t let her stay here alone!’ she angrily shouted.
“I looked at the two girls, and then I turned to the blonde: ‘Tell me please, tell me my child how old are you?’
“‘We’re both the same age, not quite seventeen years old,’ she answered for both.
‘”My child, don’t answer for both of you!’ I demanded, and asked further: ‘Your education? Tell me please!’
“‘We both finished seven classes of gymnasium,’ she again answered for both.
“‘Is she a relative of yours?’
“‘No! we both grew up together, we’ve been together our whole lives! I won’t go without her!’
“Her girlfriend pleaded with tears in her eyes: ‘Dear sir! If my friend has found favor in your eyes, please, for her sake, take me along as well!'”
He grew thoughtful, emptied a glass of beer in one long swallow, and looked a while at the two friends who had been freed. Then he turned to the engineer: “Leon, after I had heard and seen their friendship, my throat began to tighten and I had to hold back the tears from my eyes.
In order to avoid that, I began to walk among the women and children in the room. I stopped next to the two girls, and ordered in a loud voice: ‘Both! Both of you come with me!’
“Heinz, who had been silent the whole time, also thanked me out loud: ‘Thank you Staff Sergeant-Major! Thank you for your brilliant decision to take both of them along!
“Before leaving that chamber of Hell Heinz said goodbye: ‘Ladies! Don’t worry! You will all be liberated!’ and with his hand to his cap, a click of his heels, he shouted out: ‘Heil! Heil Hitler!’
“We left the fort with the women and came to the valley in the open field. The Lithuanian dressed in the military uniform led us to the four men, who were already waiting for us. The old man didn’t want to go, and kept pleading incessantly: ‘I don’t want to go along! Please let me die a natural death! I’m so old already, I don’t have much time left to live. Why do you want to shoot me? Let me die by myself.’
“His daughter begged him: ‘Dear father! These good Germans are freeing us! They’re taking us to work for them at our home! Don’t be afraid, father!’
“The older and weaker got into a coach together with me. Heinz walked together with the rest, and all’s well that ends well!” Thus he finished. his account.
“Now, Leon, please take the women into your room, and let them lay down to rest,” asked the staff sergeant-major.
The Staff Sergeant-Major Records the Women’s Account
The soldier assigned as his servant brought packages of food from headquarters and left. The staff sergeant-major loaded the table with cans of jam, marmalade, margarine, Swiss cheese and bread. He invited the women and the engineer to the table. The women held back, ashamed. The staff sergeant-major encouraged them, and amused them with pleasant stories and anecdotes to make them feel at home.
After everyone had eaten, the staff sergeant-major prepared a large steno pad: “Please, ladies! Tell me everything you saw heard and experienced,” he asked in a friendly tone.
With tears in their eyes .the women retold what they had lived through, describing it as graphically as ‘human language permits’.
He took everything down very fast in stenographic code.
“I’m going to write to my family and friends in Linz about these atrocities,” he assured us.
Each of the women received a package of food; The soldier returned. The staff sergeant-major ordered him: “Bring this woman to her husband, healthy and unharmed; bring back, also unharmed, a young girl who is this woman’s cousin!”
The woman kissed the staff sergeant-major’s hand. The soldier took the woman’s arm, and they left the apartment. He carried out the staff sergeant-major’s command exactly. Leon the engineer had his young cousin back with him. Both of the girls insisted that they wanted to be with their loved ones.
“Where do your parents live?” The blonde girl answered that her parents lived not far from where they were presently. “Good,” he agreed. “Where do your parents live?” he asked the other girl with the dark hair.
“We’ll go to my parents together!” the blonde girl declared.
“So! You’re both going to the same place? Good! Still both together! Very, very good together!”
He gave orders to the soldier, and turned to the two girls: “He knows exactly what his task is. In case you don’t find your parents at home, he’ll bring you both back here. You’ll stay here with my friend the engineer under my protection, as long as Heinz and I stay here.”
Both girls wept, and couldn’t find the words to thank the staff sergeant-major. Both of them kissed the engineer. The soldier opened the door for the two of them; and they left. It didn’t take long. He returned and announced: “Herr Staff Sergeant-Major! Both girls have been returned to their parents!”
From Civil Administration to the Gestapo
The staff sergeant-major turned to Leon the engineer: “Leon, what you’ve done was a good thing! Your plan to free these people has been successfully concluded! You should be content now, too!”
“Sir Teacher! It was only possible thanks to your help you gave me like a true friend. Without you it wouldn’t have been possible.” He thought, and then resumed: “I’ve already told you many cheerful, nice things about the girl I decided to marry. I don’t know where she is. Perhaps she’s in the fortress too? Who knows? The thought tortures me. How could I forget to include her in the list? Instead of four women, my girl would have been the fifth.”
The teacher thought for a while: “Leon, I’ll speak to my friend,·the social democrat, and try to convince him to go to the fort with Heinz, while I stay at headquarters by the telephone. It wouldn’t be good for the armed Lithuanians to see me freeing Jews a second time. I’ll do whatever is possible. Meanwhile stay calm!” Leon thanked him.
Acquaintances of the neighbor found out about the “good Germans” and asked the engineer to have pity and help liberate those in their immediate families. The engineer once again wrote a list; this time with the names of three women. His girl was the first name on the list. The following evening, he handed the list to the staff sergeant.
The teacher looked at the list of names of women to be freed, and shook his head no. Then he explained: “My friend! It’s no longer possible! The gruesome Gestapo gang has already settled in the city, and are administering every aspect of civilian life. It’s been announced at headquarters, together with threats of severe punishment against anyone who concerns himself with questions pertaining to civil administration and especially severe punishments for having contacts with Jews. The Gestapo murderers are spreading rumors that Lithuanians don’t want to live with Jews. Therefore, a fenced-in ghetto is going to be built for the Jews, just like in the Middle Ages!” he told Leon angrily. And if remembering something, he added: “My friend! They’re saying in headquarters that an order is going to be posted saying that by August 15; all the Jews must move into a ghetto in the Kaunas suburb of Slobodka”
Hearing this bad news, the engineer painfully realized that he had no more hope of seeing his girl again. In his sadness, his face broke out in perspiration. Leon was preoccupied day and night. The steadfast engineer, who had lived through all sorts of troubles in life starting with his early youth, grew nervous and couldn’t sleep at night. Together with his young cousin, he prepared to leave the apartment and settle immediately into a ghetto.
The Difficult Parting
Exactly one week after the four men and five women were freed from the fortress, the staff sergeant-major came back in the evening worried and downcast. “My friend,” he said to the engineer, “a command came into headquarters that our division is to leave Kaunas in two days, and get closer to the front.”
The last evening, everyone ate supper in the staff sergeant-major’s room. Each one of them was sunk in his own thoughts. They ate without speaking much. Before going to sleep, the staff sergeant-major invited the engineer into his room.
“Dear Leon! We have to get up very early tomorrow morning, and we’re going to leave the apartment. I want to say goodbye to you now. We’re going to the front, deeper in Russia. I have a feeling that we won’t come back from there alive. We’re being tricked into a certain death by Stalin. I want to give you my address. If you survive I ask you to promise me that you will write to my family in Linz, Austria, and let them know the dates when I entered and moved out of your apartment, and the date on which I was sent to the front. Please don’t forget! Thank you, Herr Engineer! Here is the address.
He thought for a while and continued: “My friend, terrible times are coming for the Jews. They’re saying at headquarters that what’s happening at the Seventh Fort and what the Lithuanian swine are doing to the Jews in the countryside is just a beginning. The Gestapo murderers are preparing to do terrible things to all the Jews. Keep your head high above the tragic waves! Don’t believe anything the Gestapo murderers say! Do the opposite of what they command, and stay alive! You’re an intelligent and a good person.” As if unburdening his heart, he sat drinking beer with the engineer, thought awhile and resumed: “I saw how the two girls held together with such commitment, and wouldn’t let themselves be parted. I believe that all people can and must be that comradely, that friendly with each other. Entire nations can be the same way. That was the ideal and desire of my comrade in struggle Koloman Walisch, who died heroically and tragically on the barricades, fighting in Linz against the ugly Fascism of Mr Dolfus.”
In silence the two pressed each other’s hands, and the engineer went off to his own room. But he couldn’t and didn’t want to fall asleep, so that: he could see the staff sergeant-major once again.
In the wee hours of the morning the staff sergeant-major pressed both hands of the engineer with his two hands. They cast piercing looks into each other’s eyes, parted and eternalized their friendship. Then Leon took leave of the sergeant,-major: “Herr Heinz! Thank you for everything you’ve done for me and the others. I wish you a speedy return, healthy and strong, to your family and home!”
“Herr Engineer,” he responded in a friendly tone. “You are a fine man. We’re going to the front. We will win! With the Fuehrer’s help we will win. And with his hand to his cap, with a click of his boots, he took his leave: “Heil! Heil Hitler!” And they both left the apartment.
Leyb Koniuchowsky collected 121 testimonies from Holocaust victims, which were made public in: The Lithuanian Slaughter of its Jews: The Testimonies of 121 Jewish survivors of the Holocaust in Lithuania, recorded by Leyb Koniuchowsky, in Displaced Persons’ Camps (1946-48)