Michael Kretzmer’s documentary J’Accuse! has been bestowed yet one more “Best Documentary of 2022” award. For me, each honor stands in lieu of a gravestone for a Jewish child murdered in Lithuania. After just seven weeks on the international film festival circuit, J’Accuse! has garnered twenty eight awards – exactly two for each child in the featured photograph. Two hundred and twenty thousand Jews were murdered in Lithuania during the Shoah. At this point in time, for each honor, there were over seven thousand, eight hundred victims.
The children have no markers at their places of rape, beatings, starvation, torture, enslavement and slaughter. Many times, Lithuania has instead erected monuments for their murderers and lavishes the murderers with medals, honors, monuments and street names.
Lithuania has proven itself impervious to truth about the Holocaust. We cannot make Lithuania revoke their glorification’s of murderers of Jews. We can only inform and educate the world how the Holocaust in Lithuania unfolded, who committed the crimes, and who were the victims. J’Accuse! does that.
The world is honoring the children, while Lithuania honors their murderers.
As J’Accuse! garners more awards, let every award stand as a mark of shame against the malignant ideology of honoring Holocaust murderers. Let every honor stand as a memorial for a murdered child.
The victims speak in their own voice:
THE SLAUGHTER OF THE JEWS IN JONIŠKIS
Testimony of Efroyim Veinpres, born in Joniškis April 24, 1927. There he graduated from the Lithuanian elementary school. He was a butcher by trade. Efroyim lived in Joniškis his entire life, until the day the Jews of the town were annihilated.
Geographic Situation, Population, Occupations and Cultural Life of the Jews
Joniškis is located thirteen kilometers northwest of the town of Podbrodz, thirteen kilometers from Dubingiai and 26 kilometers from Malat on Lake Driria. A gravel road connects the town with Malat. Joniškis was located about two kilometers away from the former Polish-Lithuanian border until the year 1939, and was considered part of Utena County.
After Poland collapsed in the fall of 1939 and after the Vilnius region was assigned to Lithuania, Joniškis was assigned to Švenčionys County. Until the war between Germany and the Soviet Union broke out, more than ninety Jews lived in Joniškis among a smaller number of Lithuanians.
The Jews were occupied in retail trade and agriculture. Almost all of the Jews in town possessed substantial parcels of land and cattle. Many of them received support from their relatives overseas. The Jews in town did not live badly from an economic standpoint. They always got along well with their Lithuanian neighbors.
The town had a Yiddish elementary school, a few cheders, a small Hebrew-Yiddish library and a study house. The Jewish youth in town were oriented toward nationalist Zionism. Some of the young people studied in the gymnasium in Ukmerge and Utena. The older generation were deeply religious.
The outbreak of War: The Civilian Administration is set Up
On Sunday morning, June 22, 1941 the news spread about the outbreak of war between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. The Jews, closely tied to their homes and farms, had no desire to evacuate. Several of the wealthier Jews whose goods had been nationalized under the Soviets calmed the rest, saying that it would be possible to live under the Germans as well, and that no good awaited them in the Soviet Union.
On Monday, June 23, 1941 there was no panic among the Jews in town. They continued their normal daily work.
On Tuesday, June 24, 1941 the Soviet authorities abandoned the town together with the Red Militia. Retreating Red Army units rode through the town. On Wednesday, June 25, 1941 the town and surrounding region began to feel the effects of the activities of armed Lithuanians, who shot the retreating Red soldiers in the back. The same thing happened the next day, Thursday, June 26, 1941.
On Friday, June 27, 1941 a German reconnaissance man drove up on a motorcycle and went to see the priest Mazheika, who later turned out to be the chief of the Lithuanian partisans. Immediately afterward armed Lithuanians appeared in town wearing white armbands. They joyfully greeted the arriving German army units.
The Germans didn’t stay in town. They concentrated in the surrounding villages and began clearing out the remaining Red Army soldiers who remained in the nearby forests and put up a resistance.
On Saturday, June 28, 1941 the civilian administration was established in Joniškis, consisting of armed Lithuanians who arrived from surrounding towns and villages. Lithuanians from town had little to do with the newly-established administration. They kept to themselves throughout the entire period of the German occupation.
The mayor of the town was a Lithuanian who had come from somewhere else. The chief of police in town was a Lithuanian named Zhelenas from a village not far from the town of Zarasai. During Smetona’s rule he had also been the chief of police. After the Soviets arrived in the summer of 1940 he escaped from town, and he returned after the Germans entered Joniškis. The heart and brains of the newly-arrived partisans was the town priest Mazheika. At his home there were regular consultations of· the police and other town leaders. All of the anti-Jewish decrees in town, along with the plan for the total slaughter of the Jews, were worked out at the priest’s house.
The First Victim and the Seven Who Were Shot
On Saturday, June 28, 1941 the 21-year-old Shimon Strenelsky, a cousin of Efroyim’s, was shot by the partisans in the middle of the street near the town hall. During the year of Soviet rule Shimen had been the Secretary of the Communist youth in town. His burial place remains unknown.
On Monday, June 30, 1941 at 10:00 or 11:00 p.m., partisans took seven men out of Jewish houses. Before they took the men out of the houses they promised the men that they would all be able to return immediately after taking care of a certain task. But the men did not return the next day. Women and children ran to the partisans’ headquarters, which was located at the Lithuanian elementary school. There they demanded to be told where their husbands and children were. The partisans again promised that all the men were living and working.
A few days later the Jews in town learned that the seven men who had been taken away had been shot that same Monday evening in a the forest of Armenu, at a polygon, about six kilometers from Joniškis in the direction of Podbrodz. Peasant acquaintances reported to Jews in town about this.
Efroyim Veinpres states that the first Jews taken from Podbrodz were also shot in that forest.
The seven Jews who were shot on Monday evening, June 30, 1941 were:
- Yehoshue Veinpres, Efroyim’s father.
- Hirsh Berlin, a butcher aged 26 or 27, and his father.
- Leybe Berlin, a butcher aged 60.
- Yosl Zaleschansky, an employee, aged about 26.
- Khatzke Reiz, a butcher, aged 29.
- Yisroel Reiz, Khatzke’s cousin, a coachman aged about 26.
- Mendl Osherovitz, a storekeeper, aged about 30.
Those who took part in taking the seven Jews out of their homes and later shooting them included:
- Zajantskauskas, Efroyim’s fellow student at the Lithuanian elementary school, a farmer from the Cuprinkiai compound, two kilometers from town.
- Ratskelevitsiai, two brothers, both farmers, from the village of Zhugedai, six kilometers from town.
- Jonas Baltaduonis, a farmer, one kilometer from town.
- Nitsuinas, a farmer who had lived near the town prison for several years. He was the guard at the prison under the Germans. He was short and dark.
Efroyim doesn’t remember any others. Partisans from other places took part as well.
Decrees against the Jews in Town
When the war broke out, the Jews in town did not escape, instead they continued with their daily activities. After the Germans arrived a few able-bodied Jews were taken to do various tasks. Immediately there was a strict order for the Jews to bring their radios, bicycles, gold, silver, hardware and other valuables to the partisans’ headquarters.
At the same time the Jews were strictly forbidden to have any dealings with Lithuanians or to leave the town for the countryside. The Jews had to mark themselves with two Stars of David, on the back and front of their clothing.
Roughly a week after the Germans arrived, skirmishes with Red soldiers hiding in the forests were still taking place. Several Lithuanians who were collaborating with the Germans were shot by the retreating Red Army soldiers. One partisan was found shot near Lake Orina. The partisans blamed the Jews for this.
The Mass Slaughter
On Tuesday, July 8, 1941, at 10:00 a.m., partisans from the surrounding area rode into town. An order was immediately issued for all the Jews to stay in their houses.
The Jew Moyshe Epshteyn, a father of seven children, was harnessed to a wagon. Then they climbed onto the wagon and ordered him to pull them around in the street. Meanwhile the partisans beat Moyshe with whips and cat-o-nine-tails.
At the same time those partisans who had earlier settled in town surrounded all the Jews houses and drove out all the men, forcing them to take along shovels and spades. All the men were taken away near the church under heavy guard.
A short time later the leader of the partisans from out of town, Petronis came to the Jews. He indicated to them where to dig two pits, and how long and wide they should be. The deathly terrified Jews were strictly forbidden to speak amongst themselves. They murderously beat with sticks and rifle butts anyone who tried to utter a word. Among the Jews who dug the pits was the eyewitness Efroyim Veinpres. The guards at the pit consisted of drunken partisans who laughed and came up with witticisms at the Jews’ expense.
Eventually they grew tired of standing on the Jews’ necks, and they began amusing themselves. Efroyim seized a chance to run away from the pits. He managed to run into a nearby woods without being spotted. Efroyim ran all night in the direction of New Švenčionys. The next morning, July 9, 1941 he arrived at the home of his uncle Yisroel Portnoy in New Švenčionys, deadly tired and frightened.
On Friday, July 11, 1941 Efroyim learned from peasants that all the Jews of Joniškis had been shot. A few weeks later Efroyim personally spoke to a peasant woman from Joniškis named Tarakovitsiene. She told Efroyim that all the Jews of Joniškis had been taken out of their homes on Tuesday and shot next to the church. The mass graves of the men, women, children, elderly and sick Jews of Joniškis, who had been shot on Tuesday, July 8, 1941, are located about 200 meters from the town church, near the priest’s woods.
Details about the execution at the pits are not available to Efroyim Veinpres. But he does know that the main leader of the Lithuanians who shot the Jews was a certain Petronis from the small town of Labonas. His father had been a major in the Lithuanian army under Smetonas.