The eye witness is Mikhoel Potashnik, born December 10, 1910 in Adutiškis. He graduated in the Yiddish elementary school there. By profession he was a flax dealer and farmer. Until the day the Jewish community of Adutiškis was liquidated, Potashnik lived in the town his entire life. His father’s name was Ruven and his mother was Fradl Svirsky, from the town of Svir.
Geographical Setting, Population and Economic Life of the Town
Adutiškis is located thirty kilometers east of Švenčionys, on the little river Kamaike. The highways between Švenčionys and Pastoviai, and between Kobilnik and Vidz pass through the town. The town has a railroad station on the line between Pastoviai and Lentupis.
Until 1939 the town was in Švenčionys County, Poland. After Poland collapsed and the Red Army marched in during the fall of 1939, Old Švenčionys and the surrounding region, including Adutiškis, were assigned to the White Russian Soviet Republic.
After the Red Army entered Lithuania in the summer of 1940, Švenčionys and the entire surrounding region, including Adutiškis, was assigned to the newly-established Lithuanian Soviet Republic, on the border with the White Russian Soviet Republic.
2,000 people lived in Adutiškis. Among them were about a thousand Jews. The majority of the Christian population were Lithuanians, and the rest were Poles, White Russians, Old Believers and Tatars.
The villages to the northwest of the town were occupied by Lithuanians; to the east and south were Poles, along with White Russians and a few Tatars.
The Jew in Adutiškis worked in trade, artisanry and a little bit of agriculture. Adutiškis was a commercial center for Vilnius county. There Jews would buy their agricultural products from the peasants living in the surrounding countryside. There was a brisk trade in flax and seeds there. Thousands of tons would be bought up there, and sent further into Poland or even overseas. A significant amount of flax was treated on the spot, and transformed into semi-raw material. Hundreds of people, including laborers and clerks from town and from the countryside, worked at the tasks of purchasing the flax and seeds, loading it into the wagons and treating it. Among the specialists at treating the flax were a number of Jews. Adutiškis was such a significant commercial center that it was nicknamed “Little Danzig.”
There were a number of Jewish retail merchants and peddlers. A large number of Jews from town had large plots of ground which they worked themselves. Almost all of them had their own cows, poultry and horses.
In addition to the more prominent Jewish flax dealers Adutiškis had a number of large Jewish businesses:
- A sawmill, oil and varnish factory belonging to the Fridlender family.
- A lemonade factory belonging to Gershon Bronshteyn.
Up to a thousand workers a day were employed at the larger flax processing plants. These plants also belonged to Jews from Adutiškis. Among the prominent dry goods dealers, Zalmen Abel’s store must be mentioned.
The economic situation of the Jews of Adutiškis was good on average, until the war broke out between Germany and Poland in 1939. Adutiškis was cut off from the external flax markets in Poland and especially overseas, owing to the war.
Cultural, Social and Political Life of the Jews
Adutiškis had four study houses and about sixty Torah scrolls with silver finials. The Holy Arks were adorned with beautiful covers. There were many holy books in the study houses. The town had a slaughterer, Reb Moyshe Levin, and a rabbi named Elkhonon Mashitz, originally from Slonim.
Two cemeteries testified to the age of the Jewish community. One of them was very old. The gravestones at the old cemetery had sunken into the ground, and it was hard to read the inscriptions. The second cemetery was also filled with old and new graves. It was said that the Jewish community in Adutiškis had existed since the thirteenth or fourteenth century.
Adutiškis had two elementary schools. In one of them the language of instruction was Yiddish, and in the other it was Hebrew. The Jewish political parties in town were grouped around these two schools. The Bund, the Yiddishists and other “Diasporist” Jewish parties were grouped around the Yiddish elementary school. They also had their own library, with a large number of books. There were two dramatics groups as well: a Yiddish drama group attached to the Yiddish elementary school, and a drama group attached to the Hebrew elementary school. In the same manner the Zionist movement had their own library and a drama group, based at the Hebrew elementary school.
The movements based in the two elementary schools competed with each other, trying to win over as many children and young people as possible. The competition between the two groups also led to the building of two separate buildings for the two schools, each boasting all of the comforts available through the latest technology. The two buildings were completed in 1938. The Polish authorities didn’t permit classes to be held in the old buildings any longer. The Polish authorities hoped that they would be able to close the Jewish elementary schools altogether and take some of the children into the Polish schools. Thus they imposed very difficult conditions on those who wanted to maintain the two elementary schools. The conditions were that there had to be new, modern buildings with all of the features necessary and appropriate for a school. Since both Jewish groups wanted to continue in existence and to continue competing, they built two separate buildings.
Adutiškis had a ten-piece Jewish wind orchestra. Any Jewish child who wanted to could study an instrument there. There was also a Jewish fire brigade with sixty members, modern fire-fighting equipment and their own headquarters. All of this was done with money raised exclusively from Jews.
There was no Christian fire brigade in town. The Adutiškis fire brigade did quite respectably at regional fire-fighting contests. Adutiškis also had a Jewish community bank and a free-loan society. Here as well there was a political struggle between the two Jewish groups based in the elementary schools.
Owing to the struggles between the two groups, which no longer served any practical purpose for the town’s Jews but had taken on the character of a sporting contest, almost all of the youth in town belonged to one of these movements, and they remained stubbornly involved in politics. The young Jews in town were cultured and self- aware.
Thanks to the favorable economic situation many young people studied in gymnasiums in Vilnius and Švenčionys. Quite a few studied at the Polish universities.
The Village of Stajatzishkis
Four kilometers from Adutiškis was the village of Stajatzishkis, which was called “Palestine” because its population was entirely Jewish. About forty Jewish peasant families lived in the village. They owned large farms and worked them in exemplary fashion. The village also had a steam mill belonging to three Jewish partners. The Jewish village belonged to the Jewish community of Adutiškis. (For more details about this Jewish village see the testimony of Zalmen Yofe and his wife Reyzl LK)
The relations between the townspeople and the Jews were good. This can be explained by the fact that there were large minority populations both in the town of Adutiškis and in the surrounding villages, all of whom were oppressed by the Poles. All of the minorities disliked the Poles, and their hostility toward the Poles led them to leave the Jews alone. Even the Lithuanians were friendly with the Jews in Adutiškis.
When war broke out between Poland and Germany in September 1939, a large number of the Jewish youth were called up to the army. The social life in town was paralyzed. On October 18, 1939 the Red Army entered Adutiškis. Life began to pulse with an entirely different rhythm both economically and politically than what had been expected over the previous years by the two Jewish political tendencies.
Life changed in every respect; now everything was done Soviet-style. Both groups were banned, and they disappeared entirely from Jewish life.
During the period of Soviet rule the larger Jewish enterprises and shops were nationalized. The larger houses were nationalized as well.
The Outbreak of War Between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union
The Jews of Adutiškis learned from a speech delivered by Molotov on the morning of June 22, 1941 that war had broken out between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. The news hit the Jews like a bolt of lightning out of a clear blue sky. Everyone sensed that terrible times were approaching for the Jews. Everyone was confused.
On Monday, June 23, 1941 refugees from Lithuanian towns appeared in Adutiškis. The Jews of Adutiškis hadn’t begun to think about evacuating. Jews in town learned that the peasants in the countryside were shooting at the roads Red Army units were using for their retreat.
On Tuesday; June 24, 1941 Red soldiers and a few Lithuanian Red Army units retreated through the town. Before the war they had been posted at the military compound near Švenčionėliai. Some of the Jews from town tried to evacuate together with the Red Army, on foot and in wagons. The trains had stopped running, because the tracks had been bombed in several places by the German air force.
That day about 300 Jews escaped from town, most of them young people, along with some women and children.
On Wednesday, June 25, 1941, a few Red Army stragglers passed through town, along with Jewish refugees from Lithuanian towns.
On the morning of Thursday, June 26, 1941 the Soviet authorities fled the town. Groups of armed Lithuanians who called themselves partisans immediately appeared. They shot at the last few stragglers of the retreating Red Army and took their weapons. One Lithuanian, a partisan named Vagela, was shot that day in a conflict with the Red Army.
Peasants from town and from the surrounding villages sensed that there was no authority in town that day, and they began robbing the former Soviet warehouses.
On Friday, June 27, 1941, the majority of the Jews in town left their homes and escaped to hide in the surrounding countryside until the front passed by. There were more and more robberies in town. The peasants looted all of the Soviet warehouses. Some of them came with horses and sacks they had prepared.
Gasoline and benzine had been left at the station. The peasants stole this as well.
When they finished looting the warehouses, the peasants began robbing the possessions of the Jews who had escaped to hide in the countryside. Hundreds of peasants came with empty wagons to loot the town that day. They left their horses in the yard near the church, and set off for the Jewish houses with large sacks. Wagonloads of stolen clothing, furniture and merchandise were carried off to the peasants’ homes in the countryside. At night they would go to loot the homes of Jews who had not even left town. Most of the peasants who did the looting were Lithuanians from the surrounding Lithuanian villages.
The Polish priest reproached the peasants, trying to prevent them from stealing the Jews’ possessions. However, he was unsuccessful. The crowd was out of control; not only did they loot the Jewish homes, but they vandalized them as well. The Jews who lay hiding in the countryside saw peasant friends with their carts loaded up with Jewish goods. The peasants didn’t want to keep the Jews any longer. Lacking alternatives, many Jews returned to their looted houses.
While these robberies were taking place in Adutiškis, mass murders of the local Jews in the town of Vidz, thirty kilometers from Adutiškis, were committed by local hooligans. In the course of a couple of days a few hundred Jews were murdered there. Their possessions were looted.
A large number of Jews escaped from Vidz at that time, abandoning their possessions. Some of the refugees came to Adutiškis to seek protection. There they were seized by Lithuanian partisans and locked into the town prison. Ten Vidz Jews were taken out of town by the partisans and shot.
The more attractive women among those who had fled Vidz were raped by the partisans. They raped two sisters and then shot them. One of them was badly wounded, and survived. She reported everything later.
The Jews in Vidz were murdered with knives, pieces of iron, and boards, and some of them were shot. The ten Jews who were shot outside of town were buried at the Jewish cemetery in Adutiškis.
At the same time the partisans arrested the following Adutiškis Jews:
- Gershon Kharmatz, aged 18.
- Khayem Gordon, aged 25.
- The dental technician Avrom Yokhlman, aged 25.
All three were accused of being Communist sympathizers. Gershon was ransomed for a large sum of money. While Yokhlman was being led away, he struck a partisan in the head and ran away. He survived. Khayem Gordon was shot. All this took place before the Germans arrived in the area.
Study Houses and Torah scrolls Destroyed; The Jewish council
On Wednesday, July 2, 1941 the Germans marched into Adutiškis. They didn’t stay in town, however, and instead hurried on eastward. They kept marching through the town for three days.
As soon as they arrived in town they vandalized the study houses. They tore the.Torah scrolls and stepped on them. Jews risked their lives to save some of the Torah scrolls from destruction. The partisans and peasants continued looting.
On Saturday, July 5, 1941 a German military commander came to Adutiškis. The looting in town ceased. Jews returned to their ruined homes from the surrounding villages and roads. The commandant released the Jews from Vidz who had been arrested.
At the end of the first week of the war armed Lithuanians from town and from the surrounding countryside had appeared with white armbands. They were joined by ten uniformed partisans from the Lithuanian interior. The civil administration in Adutiškis was recruited from the ranks of these murderers.
- The new mayor in town was Pawl Rakowsky, a Lithuanian farmer from the village of Jakele, four kilometers from Adutiškis. His assistant was a farmer from town named Petr Rakowsky. The members of the town council were:
- Pawl Pashunas, a Lithuanian farmer from town.
- Pawl Rimsha, a Lithuanian farmer from town.
- Julius Shidlowsky, a Lithuanian farmer from town.
The new chief of police was a Lithuanian who had come from the interior. The commander and leader of the partisans in town was Pijus Rakowsky, one of the sons of Petr, the mayor’s assistant.
The surrounding Lithuanian villages were full of partisans who had been recruited among the local youth. The Lithuanians who had lived together with the Jews for generations, and had sometimes even been friendly with them, forgot about everything. They did everything they possibly could to make the lives of the Jews miserable. They began issuing orders and decrees against the Jews. The Germans, who were the real bosses, were satisfied with their Lithuanian collaborators. They had nothing else to add when it came to oppressing the Jews.
During the second week of the war, on the evening of July 6, the police in town announced that all of the Jews had to report to the market place very early the next morning, July 7. No-one was allowed to stay at home, not even the elderly and the sick. Everyone had to come to the market place. The houses had to be left open.
On Monday morning all the Jews in town came to the square. The peasants living nearby immediately found out and came ready to loot, carrying sacks under their arms. They thought the Jews were being taken out of town.
In the square, however, various ordinances were read to the Jews. All the Jews above the age of eight had to wear a special insignia; a yellow patch on their chests with a Star of David and a “J” (for Jude) in the middle. A board marked with a yellow Star of David of a specified size had to be hung on every house where a Jew lived. Every Jew between the ages of ten and sixty, including men and women, had to report for work at the market place each morning, and work for twelve hours.
The Jews were strictly ordered to hand over their bicycles, radios and weapons. Anyone who didn’t carry out these orders was threatened with death. After all of these rules and regulations were read out, the Jews were allowed to go back home.
The Lithuanian administration began throwing Jews out of their residences and settling their own families, or other Lithuanians from town or from the countryside in place of the Jews.
Notices of anti-Jewish ordinances began appearing on the walls of the houses and streets. Jews were forbidden to go outside of town, to do business or speak with Christians, to go out into the street during the curfew, and so forth.
Every day each Jew was allowed to buy three hundred grams of bread at designated stores. Every Thursday, the market day, the Jews were permitted to go to the market for one hour in the afternoon to shop. A policeman would whistle to give the signal that any Jew who wanted to could go to the market for an hour. When the Jews heard a second whistle, they had to leave the market place. Anyone who didn’t leave the market place quickly enough was beaten. Jews had to pay fixed prices for the goods they bought. The peasants didn’t want to sell at the established price, however. Every morning the Jews gathered at the market place. From there partisans took them to do various jobs.
While the Jews worked they were tormented both physically and morally. At that time there were Jews who began “doing something” about their community’s terrible situation. These representatives were two citizens named Zalmen Abel and Ber Fisher. They began bribing the leaders of the partisans and the police, along with the mayor. In addition they made contacts with the Germans. The Jews liberally bribed all these people, and kept giving them “gifts” and even to ordinary peasants who threatened to report “Communists.” On the other hand the Jews tried to work hard and convince the Germans that the Jews were useful. Jews thought at the time that this would save them.
One month after the Germans arrived in town a new German division settled in Adutiškis. In order to frighten the local Jews, they shot a Jew named Yisroel Lapide, a baker, on the pretext that he had run to hide something. The newly-arrived Germans once again began looting each and every Jewish home. They took everything they found worthwhile.
The Ghetto in Adutiškis
In the middle of the month of August 1941 the Lithuanian police announced that in the course of four hours all the Jews had to leave their homes and settle into a single neighborhood on Vidz Street. The Jews quickly began packing their few possessions. Before they went into the ghetto the police, partisans and peasants checked the packages the Jews were bringing along. They explained that they had to make certain the Jews weren’t bringing any weapons into the ghetto. The degenerates didn’t leave the Jews much after these “examinations.” They confiscated the better things. The partisans and police cut the four hours which were originally allotted down to just two hours. The Jews didn’t manage to move much of their things during those two hours. The majority of the possessions they had assembled in the course of generations was abandoned to their Christian neighbors.
In that neighborhood the Jews packed themselves into all of the attics and stalls. The crowding was terrible. The weeping and screaming of women and children echoed throughout the little ghetto quarter. Before entering the ghetto and then while they were in the ghetto, the Jews had their machines, cattle, bedding and better furniture taken away.
In such a chaotic situation there obviously could not be any kind of cultural, political or social life. The Jews in the ghetto were trapped. They were isolated from the surrounding world. They heard rumors about the slaughter of Jews in Lithuania. No-one believed the full extent of the slaughter they heard about.
All of the decrees against the Jews in the nearby village of Stajatzishkis were issued by the Lithuanian administration in Adutiškis.
While they were in the ghetto the Jews still had to go to do various jobs. They were allowed to leave the ghetto and walk in the streets. But all of the Jews were afraid to do this, and they stayed in the houses. On the Sabbath the Jews would gather in a house to pray.
Very often the Germans wanted to enjoy themselves, so they would force the Jews to run three kilometers out of town with bags of sand on their backs. The degenerates would run after them with whips and beat the Jews. Sometimes they would force the Jews quickly to fetch full buckets of water from a well outside of town. If someone brought a bucket that wasn’t full, he would be whipped.
Some time before Rosh Hashana rumors began spreading to the effect that the Jews of Adutiškis were going to be deported. There was no precise information about this.
The representatives and communal officials gathered gold, silver and valuables from the Jews and took it to the higher-ups in Švenčionys who had control over the lives of the Jews of Adutiškis. The representatives pleaded to have their town spared. The Lithuanian degenerates took the “gifts” that had been brought to them, and promised to leave Adutiškis alone.
The Liquidation of the Adutiškis Ghetto
On Friday, September 26, 1941 Jews from town rode to Švenčionys to hear the news and bribe the Lithuanian authorities there. When they returned they reported that the situation was very unsettled in Shvetnzionys, and the Jews were getting ready for something bad to happen.
That same Friday the Jews in Adutiškis noticed that the police and partisans were beginning to assemble in groups. They quickly mobilized the Lithuanian youth in town. During the day on Friday a delegation consisting of Moyshe Lev the slaughterer, Elye Valotzky and the eyewitness Mikhoel Potashnik went to the Polish priest in town to ask him to find out what was going to happen to the Jews.
The priest was a good man. He went to the offices of the police and partisans. When he returned he calmed the Jews, telling them that nothing was going to happen to them. The delegation told the Jews in the ghetto about this answer.
Not long afterward police, partisans and organized civilians in town surrounded the ghetto neighborhood. Those who lived at the edge of the ghetto quickly had to move further toward the center. The ghetto neighborhood shrunk considerably. The panic constantly grew. But no-one could predict how it would end. Still, the Jews weren’t expecting to die.
That same Friday evening before candle-lighting time, the Jews in the town of Stajatzishkis were herded into the ghetto on foot. Small children, the elderly and the sick were brought in a few wagons. The Jews who had been brought were herded into the reduced ghetto area. The partisans and police strictly forbade the Jews to try to leave the neighborhood and threatened to shoot without warning anyone who dared to do so.
That Sabbath, September 27, 1941, at 10:00 a.m., all of the Jews were driven out of the ghetto into the market place. They were allowed to bring along small packages in their arms. Those who didn’t leave their houses quickly enough were brutally beaten by the murderers. They left five families of “useful Jews” behind in town. Among the five families were the two families of the Jews’ spokesmen.
These families were those of:
- Ber Fisher, his wife and children, and a sister of his.
- Zalmen Abel, his wife and a child, Zalmen’s father, mother and sister.
- David Shapiro, a tailor, his wife and a child, and David’s nephew with his wife and child.
- Binyomin Gitler, a tailor, and his two sisters.
- Moyshe Shapiro, a quilt-maker, his wife, his son, and his sister-in-law and her daughter.
At 11:00 a.m. that same Saturday the Jews assembled at the market place were taken away in columns in the direction of Švenčionys. The sick, elderly and weak ones were taken on wagons. They were herded along by police, partisans and civilian Lithuanians from town and from the surrounding countryside. With a heart-rending cry the Jews took their eternal leave of their old, beloved home town and their houses.
On the way to the military compound near Švenčionėliai the Jews Shloyme Don, aged 28 and Shimen Reykhl, aged 70, were both shot. Other Jews were shot as well, but Mikhoel does not know who. When they crossed the bridge over the stream to the compound near Švenčionėliai, it was dark already. Eight young people escaped from the column, crossed the river in their clothes and reached White Russian towns. Two brothers named Nokhum and Avrom-Bune Gordon experienced a bitter struggle for life in the ghettos of White Russia and survived. The other six died in the ghettos of White Russia.
A few old and sick people stayed in their houses in the ghetto, and didn’t go to the square. They were shot by partisans in their houses. Among them Mikhoel Potashnik remembers Mrs Ise Sheytl, aged seventy or seventy-five, and Taybele Kurlantzik, aged 70.
- On Friday, September 26 the Jew Yitzkhok-Yakov Zeyger went to the mayor to find out what was happening to the Jews. Partisans arrested him and shot him on the spot.
- The quilter Moyshe Shapiro, who was left behind as a “useful” Jew, moved into a different house on Saturday, September 27, after the Jews were taken from town. The police chief ordered him to do something in Lithuanian. Moyshe didn’t know any Lithuanian, and he didn’t understand the order. The police chief shot Moyshe. Peasants immediately pulled his boots off.
- Five women were hidden in the Polish priest’s barn. On Saturday morning before the Jews were taken away, they left the barn and tried to return to Pastoviai. The assistant mayor’s son, the commandant of the partisans in town, spotted them and shot them next to the priest’s barn, where he also buried them.
The five women were Reyzl Bornshteyn, her daughter Feygele and a niece; Reyzl’s sister, Mrs Rudnitzky, and her daughter. The murderer who shot the women with his own hands was Pijus Rakowsky, a Lithuanian from town.
That Saturday morning the Polish priest in town went to the Lithuanians to beg them to let him take care of twenty children. The murderers refused.
All of the Jews in the towns of Švenčionys County were assembled at the military compound that Saturday. They were kept there for twelve days, under terrible conditions. On Wednesday, October 8, 1941, the shootings began. In the course of three days about 8,000 Jews were shot. Their corpses were thrown into a long mass grave, in a sandy forest about three kilometers from Švenčionėliai. The mass grave was 170 meters long and 10 meters wide.
When the five surviving families of “useful Jews” learned about the slaughter of the Jews in the compound near Švenčionėliai, they all escaped from Adutiškis to White Russian towns. These five families all died in White Russia in the course of various actions and liquidations. Details about their deaths are not known to Mikhoel.
How Did Mikhoel Potashnik Survive?
On Friday evening, September 26, 1941 the panic and crowding in the ghetto became unbearable. Moyshe Potashnik proposed to the young people that they organize themselves and make their way outside of town. He suggested that they burn down the entire neighborhood, and while the fire was burning all of the Jews should run wherever they could. No-one thought his proposal was realistic. Then Mikhoel himself crept on his belly for two kilometers, sneaking past the guards. He crossed the river and arrived at the home of a Polish peasant named Grachowsky, a kilometer and a half from town.
There Mikhoel learned that Elye Volotzky and the owner of the mill, Moyshe Shmukler, together with his wife, born Fridlender, had left the spot just an hour earlier. The peasant told him all three had gone in the direction of Svir. Mikhoel immediately left Grachowsky’s house and went in the direction of Svir. On the way he happened to enter a barn to rest, without the peasant’s knowledge. To his great astonishment he met the three Jews there. Mikhoel learned from them that on Friday before candle-lighting time Elye Volotzky had gone to see the Polish priest. The priest didn’t let him return to the ghetto. Several days earlier Elye had sent his wife Nekhe and their son to an uncle of his at a settlement near the White Russian town of Svir.
Elye left the priest and went to the Polish peasant Grachowsky, where he foud Moyshe Shmukler with his wife Sheyne. They didn’t want to stay at that peasant’s house any longer, and they went to Elye’s uncle at the settlement. On the way they went into the barn to rest, with the peasant’s permission.
When the peasant learned that another Jew had entered the barn he asked everyone to leave. All four arrived at the White Russian town of Kamay, where they found a few other Jewish families. The rest of the Jews had already been taken to Pastoviai. In Kamay they learned about various back roads to Svir, so that no one would spot them on the way. With difficulty they arrived at the home of the Jewish landowner Mendl Karashin at the Dombrovsky compound, four kilometers from Svir, where Elye’s uncle lived. There they found Elye’s wife and child. Mendl Karashin made documents for the refugees stating that they had been born in Svir and that they were farmers. The Jews lived reasonably well at the farmer until three days before Purim 1942, when Mendl Karashin’s farm was confiscated and all of the Jews were herded into the crowded Svir ghetto.
Mikhoel in the Svir Ghetto
The ghetto was in a specified neighborhood. There was no fence around it, nor was it guarded. All of the able-bodied men and women went to work. There was a Jewish Council in Svir as well. There were about 400 refugees in the Svir ghetto from towns around Vilnius. The poet Shmuel Katsherginsky was among them.
Mikhoel worked with a group of Jews at the Alshewa compound, twelve kilometers from Svir, in the direction of Lentupis. The group of Jews worked and slept there. The group consisted of twenty men, who worked in a mill belonging to the former Polish count Chaminsky. The supervisor at the mill was a German. The Jews worked near the mill building a bridge. Shmuel Katsherginsky worked there as well.
On April 1, 1942 the town of Svir and the surrounding region were assigned to Lithuania. The Germans recognized this area as a Lithuanian region. The refugees in Svir knew what a “Lithuanian” meant, and they all escaped from Svir to the nearby White Russian town of Kobilnik, where a large number of the Jews were murdered.
On April 1, 1942 a Lithuanian administration arrived in Svir. The refugees were unable to register at Kabilnik. Mikhoel hid at the home of the Jew Leyb Svirsky until June 21, 1942. At that time a Jewish specialist in soapmaking was needed at the nearby town of Myadl. Mikhoel decided to become legal, and presented himself as an accomplished specialist in soapmaking.
Mikhoel Potashnik in Myadl
In this White Russian town as well, some of the Jews had been murdered during the first days after the arrival of the Germans. About two hundred Jews were still living in the town, working at various assignments. Mikhoel went to work making soap there, although at first he had absolutely no idea how to go about it.
News began to come from all of the nearby White Russian towns about the total slaughter of the Jews. The Jews of Myadl didn’t believe that they, the “useful” Jews, would be killed as well. But Mikhoel Potashnik knew from his own tragic experiences that unfortunately, all of the information was correct. He began trying to convince the Jews to escape into the forests, where Red partisans were already beginning to organize. At first the young people from the town didn’t respond appropriately to Mikhoel’s urgings. But when the constant extortion and “requisitions” had completely impoverished the Jews and they no longer had the means to ransom their lives from all of the murderers, Mikhoel Potashnik’s suggestions began to have a powerful influence.
One hundred and twenty of the two hundred Jews came together to organize. On the night of the Sabbath between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur 1942, these 120 Jews, including women and children, escaped from Myadl into the surrounding forests, and hid in “the swamps.” In time they built underground bunkers. About two-thirds of all the Jews who fled Myadl survived until the liberation.
The next day the remaining Jews were herded into a single neighborhood which was surrounded with barbed wire. About six weeks later a division of Red partisans attacked the town. They attacked the German garrison and “liberated” the Jews from the ghetto. Some of those who were “liberated” lived to see the true liberation.
Mikhoel among the Red Partisans
As soon as he reached the forest Mikhoel began trying to make contact with Red partisans. He managed to do this. Along with two other Jewish comrades, he joined the Red partisan company called “The Avenger.” (See the testimony of Zalmen Yofe about the slaughter of the Jews of Stajatzishkis – LK).
However, they were not permitted to join the company without weapons. They were given two alternatives: either to find weapons there, or to join a group of Jewish families who were getting ready to move to the other side of the front. The partisans showed the two young men where the Jewish families were gathering. Mikhoel and fifteen other young people found the group. Just then everything was ready for the Jews to move eastward, and then to cross over to the other side of the front. Among those marching eastward were entire Jewish families, including women and small children, who had managed to escape from various slaughters in White Russian towns. This strange group was led by two Russian commanders. The group moved from one partisan company to another. They always moved at night. They spent the day in the forests. They suffered endlessly from hunger. They usually managed to survive on potatoes which the Red partisans gave them.
The entire journey was filled with various dangers. They had to pass a number of points which were guarded by Germans and by their Ukrainian and White Russian collaborators. They survived more than one attack. Every time there were casualties. The most dangerous times were when they had to cross over railroad lines, which were always well guarded.
Mikhoel and other Jews crossed over the Berezina River at night on a raft. They crossed the Western Dvina River on a boat. The dangerous journey took exactly three months. Many people died on the way. The majority, however, including Mikhoel Potashnik, reached the front, just where the rear lines of the Germany army were, in the month of December 1942.
The Other Side of the Line of Fire
For some time the Red partisans stayed close to the front, investigating every possibility of crossing to the other side. They chose a path through the swampy areas in a forest between Veliki Luki and the city of Veliz. One night a large group of Jews led by experienced Red partisans began the dangerous march through the front. The swamps were partially frozen by then, and the group managed to make it past both lines of fire. Of course, there were losses even at the last moment as they passed the front.
One night in December 1942 Potashnik, along with a smaller number of Jews, reached the other, safe side of the front. The epic journey was over. On the other side of the front the newly-arrived Jews were taken to the partisan headquarters. There everyone was interrogated and assigned to various tasks. Some of them were assigned to partisan units. Some were recruited into the Red Army. Mikhoel Potashnik and other Jews were mobilized into the Red Army and sent to the front.
When they had been at the front for some time, Potashnik and other Jews were formed into a production group who were sent to the Kuznetsk basin in Siberia to work in the coal mines. Potashnik and the others were taken away from the front because of a directive that was issued at that time, stating that anyone who had not been a Soviet citizen before 1939 had to be removed from the Red Army.
Mikhoel Potashnik had a difficult life in the coal mines. He was exhausted by all of his horrible experiences, which hadn’t left him any time for rest. The difficult living conditions in the coal mines, the shortage of food and being so far away from the pulsing, real world all contributed to a permanent deterioration of Mikhoel’s health. Mikhoel Potashnik worked in the coal mines until after Rosh Hashana 1945.
Mikhoel deeply longed for his home, for his birthplace, where he hoped to find someone from his family or one of his friends who had escaped from town the day before Rosh Hashana, Friday, September 26, 1941, before the Jews were taken to the compound. He couldn’t wait to be released from work and allowed to travel legally.
On Rosh Hashana 1945 he left work without permission. After long travels, he arrived in his home town of Adutiškis. Mikhoel was totally drained physically and psychologically from everything he had lived through, from the hard work in the coal mines and from his long journey.
Back in Adutiškis
Mikhoel didn’t find a single one of his friends in town. He didn’t even find any Jews he didn’t know. On the night of Friday, September 26, 1941 about eighty Jews had fled from town, including Mikhoel’s two brothers, Zundl and Shmuel. He learned that Zundl had run away during an action in Kobilnik. He had been seized and shot in Pastoviai after Sukkot 1941. His other brother Shmuel fell while fighting as a partisan. His third brother Yisroel had been a German prisoner of war after the collapse of Poland. He was released and sent to Lublin, where he died.
Mihkoel’s father and mother, his sister Miriam with her husband Moyshe Svirsky and their child Shimen, and his two sisters Khave and Brayne, all died at the compound near Švenčionėliai.
- A few weeks before the Jews were taken from town there was a successful effort to have a Jewish woman from Adutiškis placed in the hospital. Her husband’s name was Henekh Fisher. A few weeks after the Jews were taken from town the Lithuanian murderers found out about her and shot her.
- Elye Valotzky hid in one place, his wife and child in another. At the beginning of 1944 a peasant reported him to the Lithuanians, who arrested and shot him. Mikhoel was unable to learn details about this tragic case. Peasants told him that Elye had been betrayed by the peasant who sheltered him, to whom he had entrusted some of his goods.
Among the Jewish survivors who came to Adutiškis after the liberation were the two brothers Leybe and Velve Katsherginshky. They went to peasants they knew in a village.
In a forest near the village of Mishkinys the two brothers were found murdered. It was said that this had been done by Lithuanians who had loyally served the Germans and then begun hiding in the forests after the arrival of the Red Army.
Thus, out of all eighty Jews who escaped from town that tragic Friday, September 26, 1941, only six survived:
- Mrs. Nekhe Valotzky.
- Her little son.
- Mikhoel Potashnik.
- Gershon Bornshteyn.
- Tankhum Gordon and his brother.
- Avrom-Bune Gordon.
Mikhoel learned at the time that among those who took active part in slaughtering the Jews of Adutiškis, in addition to those listed earlier, were:
- Tsecak, a Lithuanian farmer from town.
- Two Lithuanian brothers from town. Their father’s name was Antverd, from the village of Lechowici, two kilometers from Adutiškis.
All of the Lithuanian youth took active part in the slaughter of ·the Jews.
The town of Adutiškis was totally destroyed. Before the German vandals retreated, they burned it to the foundations. There are no more Jews there. No longer is there the town which pulsed with joy and life. The two old cemeteries remain, with ancient stones from hundreds of years ago, like a monument for the destroyed Jewish life, for the old, established Jewish community.
Testament of Mikhoel Potashnik
All of the facts, dates, names of persons and geographic locations contained in this report of the slaughter of the Jews of Adutiškis and later about my life in the ghettos of White Russian towns and my short time with the partisans, finally about the march toward the east and crossing the front lines, were personally related by me, Mikhoel Potashnik, and I attest thereto with my signature on each and every page.
Eyewitness Mikhoel Potashnik (Signature)
The testimony was collected by Engineer L Koniuchowsky
Feldafing near Starnberg April 28, 1948
The signature of the Feldafing camp resident Michoel Potashnik is attested to by the chairman of the camp committee. E. Reif (Signature)
Translated from Yiddish by Dr Jonathan Boyarin New York November 26, 1994
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)