This testimony contains the phrase “Lithuania for the Lithuanians”. “Lithuanian” was, and remains an ethnic designation for white Christian Lithuanians. Jews were separately designated as “Litvaks” or Jews. (Zydu for male, Zydas for female). Jews could be Lithuanian citizens, but they could never be Lithuanian – a critical distinction. Any current attempts to reinterpret this designation is an effort to erase a very ugly part of Lithuania’s history.
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)
Please watch my recent speech in Phoenix, Arizona. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5CfFUqF95Bk
In these testimonies, “partisans” means Lithuanian murderers. “Inherited” means theft and plunder from Jewish victims.
As the testimony proves, rescuers such as Varute were not saving Jews from Nazis, but from other Lithuanians. This ghetto was unguarded because Jews had nowhere to flee. 0.04% of Lithuanians are proven to be rescuers. Varute states: “”Remember! Innocent blood which has been spilled will not remain silent! We will have to account to the world for this! What will happen then? What will people say of our nation?” The Government of Lithuania has engaged in rampant Holocaust denial, distortion, revision and inversion. They did not punish a single Holocaust perpetrator, instead, they named many of them as their national heroes. The documentaries J’Accuse! and Baltic Truth expose a fraction of Lithuania’s Holocaust fraud.
Another testimony from this village is here.
On Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27, Lithuanian diplomats will produce their annual Holocaust Regret show, while back in the Fatherland, they will honor the murderers.
Again in this testimony, witnesses relate how ironically, Jews sought protection from Germans against Lithuanian torture and murder. Many testimonies repeat this very same irony.
The government of Lithuania has tried to present themselves as primarily rescuers, and shifted their crimes to Nazi responsibility. The eyewitness testimonies state otherwise. Either all the eyewitnesses were lying, or, the Government of Lithuania is lying. Read the testimony. Decide for yourself who is lying.
THE SLAUGHTER OF THE JEWS OF ANVKSHTSIAI
The Outbreak of the Second World War;
Dreadful Executions and Total Annihilation of the Jews of Anykščiai
Note: From here until the conclusion of this part, I have faithfully followed the original text of the eyewitness, except for minor changes in style and punctuation. — L K
June 22, 1941, Sunday morning. The German Attack on the Soviet Union
Sunday morning, June 22, 1941, was beautiful in Lithuania. The early-morning rays of the red sun inflamed the eastern portion of the sky. The sky was endlessly deep and wide that day. As far as the eye could see, not the slightest wisp of cloud was to be seen. The sky seemed to be molded from a single sheet of pure blue. At daybreak the sun began growing hotter and hotter, flooding the fields, pastures and forests with its rays.
A kaleidoscope of multicolored flowers bathed in the dew that settled on the fields and pastures, sparkling and flirting with the sun. That Sunday morning the air of Lithuania was full with the song of bird in the fields and forests. Nature seemed lovely, fresh and young that morning in Lithuania.
At 3:00 that Sunday morning, the German army began its blitzkrieg attack on the Soviet Union. Thus began the great historic struggle between the swastika on one side, and the hammer and sickle on the other.
That Sunday the Hitler-Stalin pact burst like a soap bubble. Towns and cities were bombarded by German airplanes. Tongues of fire and mountains of black smoke stormed upward toward the blue sky. Hundreds of innocent civilians, men, women and children, lost their lives while they still lay sleeping. Thousands were wounded or crippled.
It was quiet in Anykščiai that morning. Not until the sun rose high into the sky and its seething rays began to bake the streets of the town did the inhabitants hear radio announcements that war had broken out.
The inhabitants of Bath Street slept late that morning. The coachmen weren’t in a hurry, because there was no work at the Soviet bases on Sundays. It was Frume, Mentke the Hare’s wife, who brought the news to Bath Street. Frume found out about the outbreak of the war the first thing in the morning, when she went to deliver baked goods to the wealthier families.
When she finished her deliveries, Frume rushed as fast as she could to bring the tragic news to Bath Street.
“Wake up, Bath Street! Jews, get out of bed! War! A war’s been started! How can you lie sleeping? Listen, listen Jews! War! Hitler’s started a war,” Frume sounded the alarm, finally waking the inhabitants of Bath Street.
Half-dressed men and women appeared on the porches and by the open windows, some with their hair already combed but still rubbing their eyes. Among them were young, pregnant women and women with small children in their arms. Bath Street had never had as many babies as it did that spring. Never had there been as many pregnant women as that spring. Their mouths and eyes wide open in fear, everyone listened to the dreadful news. Then, with their heads hanging, they all turned back into their houses. Through the open windows the sighing and weeping of women and children could be heard.
When Mentke the Hare heard the news, he wasn’t terribly surprised. “I’ve been warning you all along that a war was going to start here, too. But none of you wanted to believe it!” Mentke was pale, and his breath came in short gasps. “With a neighbour like Hitler, we should have been expecting this,” Mentke said to himself, but loud enough for Frume to hear.
Frume woke her daughters, and sat down at the table wringing her hands. “What terrible news! What terrible news! What will happen now? What’s going to happen now?” she repeated, sighing constantly.
Mentke ran to the Kuritskys’ house. The children were all still asleep. Yerakhmiel had just gotten out of bed and washed up. He was ready to set off for the synagogue. Golde was still in bed. Her face was pale. Her eyes stared dully at the armoire.
“Yerakhmiel, Yerakhmiel, we have to wake up the children,” Golde said carefully. Then she began to sigh, “Dear God, what’s going to happen now? What’s going to happen to us? Dear God!”
“Motke! Get up, Motke!” It was Mentke who woke Motl. Motl opened his eyes, looking to see where Mentke was.
“What’s happening, Mentke?” Motl replied, as he looked around in fear.
“Don’t you hear, Motl? The war’s started. It began this morning,” Mentke said to the bewildered and sleepy Motl.
“Come on, it’s impossible!” Motl tried to reject the news.
“What do you mean, impossible? Just go outside into the street and look! German airplanes are flying back and forth for everyone to see,” Mentke insisted.
Motl quickly dressed, washed up and went outside together with Mentke. Crowds stood outside, their heads tilted toward the sky, fearfully searching for German airplanes.
On the way home, Motl was silent. He walked around near his house, casting frequent looks upward. He avoided speaking to his mother. But Golde didn’t leave him alone: “Motl, tell me, please, what’s going to happen now? What’s going to happen now?”
“Nothing’s going to happen now, Mother! The Red Army will keep up the fight at the border for quite some time. Things will be calm here for the time being. Later, we’ll see. We might have to evacuate to the Soviet Union,” Motl calmed Golde.
But no one; neither Golde, nor Yerakhmiel, nor anyone else in Bath Street, found any rest. They all sensed that the situation was desperate.
At the command of the Soviet authorities in Anykščiai, everyone had to go to work Monday and Tuesday. They were threatened with severe fines if they failed to report. The majority of the Jews in town weren’t even thinking about evacuating deeper into the Soviet Union. No one expected the Germans to advance rapidly. The Jews were also afraid lest they be accused of causing panic in town. So they waited, tensely following the course of events.
But the events followed each other fast as lightning, and the Jews didn’t have time to plan their strategy. On the evening of Tuesday, June 24, a stream of refugees poured into Anykščiai, on foot, on bicycles and in trucks. They came from the surrounding cities and towns, many of them from Kaunas, Jonava and Ukmerge. That same Tuesday evening the leaders of the local Communist party, the municipal employees and the Red militia all fled the town. The Soviet authorities left without sharing any final communique with the townspeople. Nor did they warn anyone about the seriousness of the situation.
When they saw the crowd of refugees arriving, the Jews of Anykščiai fell into a terrible panic. They began running away from town, wherever they could go. The coachmen of Bath Street removed the slats from their wagons and replaced them with lattice-like sideboards. The inhabitants of Bath Street packed everything they could into the wagons. But no one spoke, no one cried out. The coachmen didn’t even curse their horses.
Sighing, worried and depressed, the Jews carried bound packages out of their houses and threw them onto the wagons. The Kuritskys hurriedly packed as well. Golde found more and more things to bring along. Everything in the house seemed essential to her.
“Mama, you’ve packed and loaded enough already. Everybody else is finished, and they’re on their way.” “Right away, Motl. There’s one more thing I forgot.” Golde came up from the cellar bearing a large container, copper pots and pans, and a mortar and pestle. “I think that’s everything,” Golde thought to herself, standing still and wringing her hands.
The time came for saying goodbye. Golde sat down on the porch, pressed her hands against her eyes, and broke out into bitter weeping.
“Look, Yerakhmiel, look what we are coming to. All our lives we’ve lived here. We’ve had so much sorrow here and so little joy. It’s been so hard for me to get everything we need. Can we just abandon everything?” Thus Golde wept at the thought of losing her poor home and all her possessions. For the last time she cast sad glances at her world, and said goodbye to everything in it. The fingers of her shriveled hands caressed the doorknob, the mezuzah, the chairs on the porch, and she took her leave of each object. And just like Golde, all the other housewives went through the difficult ritual of parting with their homes.
Yerakhmiel stood by the wagon, his dreamy, caring eyes brimming with tears. He looked sympathetically at Golde and at the children who sat weeping on the wagon. Motl walked around with his hands thrust into his pants pockets, watching the residents of Bath Street taking leave of their homes.
Yerakhmiel tore Golde away from the porch, as if she were someone who had to be forced away from a new grave after a funeral. Weeping and barely able to stand on her feet, Golde settled into the wagon next to her children.
Wagons packed full of bedding, clothes and kitchen implements and occupied by women and children left Bath Street one by one, heading for an unknown, huge and stormy world.
When the summer evening gathered over Bath Street, the last rays of the sun wandered like orphans across the sand, onto the porches and into the empty houses.
The non-Jewish population of Anykščiai didn’t even think of evacuating the town. With contemptuous smiles they watched as the terrified, weeping Jews departed. All the roads leading to and from Anykščiai were filled with columns of Red Army troops in retreat, and with Jewish refugees.
Large, heavy tanks, artillery, trucks filled with soldiers and ammunition raced down the roads, leaving behind them clouds of dust. Their noise echoed throughout the region as they hurried further and further away…away from Lithuania, towards the endless plains of the endless Soviet Union.
In the mad rush of the tanks and trucks, dozens of people; including civilians and Red Army soldiers; were crushed, killed and wounded, along with horses and cows. Meanwhile German airplanes freely bombarded the roads and highways. Every bombing raid left behind dead and wounded Red soldiers and civilians; most of the latter were Jews. Suitcases full of clothing, coats and bedding were scattered along the roads, but nobody gave them a second glance. Destroyed tanks, mortars and overturned trucks blocked the progress of the retreating Red Army. All civilians, whether walking or riding in wagons, were forced off the highways and roads. Many Jews returned to their abandoned homes in Anykščiai.
On the morning of Wednesday, June 25, armed Lithuanian supporters of the Germans took power in Anykščiai. They wore white ribbons on their sleeves and called themselves “Partisans.” They remained organized under that name throughout the remainder of the war. At 4:00 p.m. that same Wednesday, June 25, German army units entered Anykščiai, without encountering any resistance.
Crowds of Lithuanians dressed in festive clothing greeted the Germans with bread, flowers and wine. Music played in the streets, and a considerable sector of the population danced and celebrated joyously. The happy ones were the devotees of the Fascist party and its various organizations, who hoped to gain independence under German protection. They had managed to maintain their organizational structure in secret throughout the time of Soviet occupation, and they had also kept in touch with their members who had escaped to Germany after the Soviets entered Lithuania. After the war broke out, they had sniped at the retreating Red Army, as well as at Jews who were trying to escape the Nazis by making their way further into the Soviet Union.
There were others who celebrated as well: Fascist Lithuanians who had gone to Germany, and who now returned in the company of the German army as specialists in the murder and annihilation of Jews.
The members of the Verslas society were thrilled. They now had the opportunity to realize their slogan of “Lithuania for the Lithuanians,” to carry out the “Lithuanization of the cities,” and finally “kick the Jews out of Lithuania.”
Others who celebrated were Lithuanians whose possessions had been nationalized, and who hoped to get them back. The wealthy noble landowners were happy at the prospect of getting back parts of their holdings which had been nationalized and distributed to poor peasants. There were Lithuanians who hated the Soviets for deporting entire families to Siberia, and they were happy to see the Germans come too.
A number of Lithuanians who had accepted positions under the Soviets managed to evacuate. Some Lithuanians had remained neutral and avoided political involvement. They neither celebrated the arrival of the Germans, nor did they miss the Soviets.
From the moment the Germans entered Anykščiai and the partisans took civil power the Jews realized that they were in a desperate and tragic situation. On one hand, the Jews were terrified of the Germans, and on the other hand they were afraid of the partisans. From the very start they were alone and isolated in a world full of enemies. The Jews immediately sensed that the very ground under their feet was rejecting them.
How It Began
Some of the Jews stayed in their homes, rather than leaving Anykščiai. Large numbers of Jews living in the surrounding towns, had been harried by the Germans, and ended up stuck in Anykščiai. When they saw how the Lithuanians were celebrating the arrival of the Germans, the Jews locked themselves inside their homes. No one dared go out into the street.
Through the cracks in their door-frames, through their shuttered windows, Jews looked out onto the street. Motorized German army units raced through the town as fast as the wind, carrying away with them bouquets of flowers as gifts from the Lithuanian population.
Those left behind to rule the town were individual armed Lithuanians with white ribbons on their sleeves, as well as organized partisans. Not a single one of the Jews slept that Wednesday night. The merest rustle, the least motion in the street terrified them. They sat waiting, waiting for the situation to become clear.
At 5:00 a.m. on Thursday, June 26, there began a sudden loud pounding on the doors and windows of Jewish homes. Shouts rang out in German: “Jews out!” They were echoed in Lithuanian: “Jews out!”
Armed Lithuanian partisans broke into the Jewish homes like wild animals. They drove the Jews out into the street, beating them with the barrels of their rifles, with whips and with sticks. They didn’t allow the Jews to bring anything along, not even the smallest package.
Once the Jews were in the street, they were lined up in rows and marched through town in long columns. As they marched the partisans beat them, insisting that once the Jews were assembled in the synagogues and study houses, they would be blown to bits with dynamite and hand grenades.
Children became separated from their parents. Husbands lost sight of their wives and children. While they marched, however, they were forbidden to look for their families. The Jews were forbidden even to speak to one another, or even to weep out loud. The partisans punished those who disobeyed their orders by kicking them with their military boots or cracking their whips over their heads.
When they had herded all the Jews into the synagogue yard, the partisans began beating the Jews with sticks and whips, and especially with military shovels. All the women, children and men ran as fast as possible through the open doors of the synagogues and study houses. Partisans stood by the doorways bearing posts, sticks and shovels, which they brought down on the heads and sides of the mortally terrified mass of Jews streaming through the doors.
The loud thud of the blows of the sticks and military shovels blended with the weeping and shrieking of women and children. The partisans did their work diligently and skillfully. Very few of the Jews managed to avoid their blows. As the Jews moaned in terror and pain, the partisans doubled over in gleeful laughter. The Lithuanian devil was having his day.
When all the Jews had been driven into the synagogues and study houses, the doors were closed. It was terribly crowded. More than half the Jews were injured and bloody. They bound each others’ wounds, trying to staunch the blood. Those with broken arms or ribs leaned against the walls, pale, barely able to breathe, moaning through lips which they bit to keep from screaming. Those Jews who hadn’t been bloodied by the beatings they received didn’t even try to get help, because there was no way even to help those who were bleeding from broken skulls, sliced ears or noses, or knocked-out teeth.
All day Thursday, until evening came, Jews were brought to the synagogues and study houses. These Jews had been chased by the Germans, and had tried to return to their homes. That same Thursday evening, only some of the women with children, along with children under the age of ten, were freed and permitted to go home.
At 11:30 p.m. that same evening, there was a banging on the windows along with mad cries in German and Lithuanian: “Jews out!”
All of the men, women and children in the synagogues and study houses were driven out into the yard. The men were separated out, and lined up in a row facing the women and children. “Begtii” (run), ordered the partisans. The men started running in the direction they’d been told to. At that moment the partisans began shooting with automatic weapons. The synagogue yard was filled with the shrieking and weeping of the women and children, who watched as their fathers, husbands, brothers and sons were shot. Those who had been shot gasped for breath, and the wounded pleaded and shouted piteously. A chorus of terrible shouts, constant shooting and moaning echoed through the night time darkness.
The men whom the bullets had missed hid in nearby courtyards. Some of them obeyed an order to return to the synagogue.
On Friday, June 27, the partisans rounded up the men who were in hiding. At the entrance to the synagogue they were once again beaten with poles, sticks and military shovels. All of the men who were brought back were brutally beaten. But there was nothing that could be used to bind their bloody wounds. Many of the injured stood, their faces pale, pressing their hands against their wounds. Blood poured out between their fingers.
More than thirty men were shot to death that Thursday night. They were buried in a mass grave in the synagogue yard. Two young boys were buried right at the threshold of the old study house. In order to fit them into the narrow grave, they were placed inside head to toe.
On Saturday, June 28, the Jews went back and forth with stretchers, bringing wounded men to the town’s Jewish doctor, Noyekh Ginsburg.
The Lithuanian partisans kept thinking up “clever” ideas. Every day they thought up new methods of sadistic torture. Each night bore its own distinctive program of tragedy for the helpless Jews in the death camp at Bath Street in Anykščiai. By night as well as by day, the Lithuanian “devils” amused themselves at the expense of their victims. They entered the synagogues and study houses with flashlights, seeking out young women and girls and taking them away for entire nights. In the morning some of the women were brought back to the study houses and synagogues. They were pale, exhausted and depressed.
More than once the partisans woke the Jews in the middle of the night and forced them to do heavy calisthenics. The partisans tortured the Jews until they collapsed in exhaustion. Then they drenched those who had fainted with buckets of water. The Jews on the ground weren’t allowed to get up, but were forced to stay prone on the ground in the water and blood.
Every morning the dead and dying were removed from the study houses, and buried in mass graves in the synagogue yard. The man in charge of death was called the “Leather Cap.” He was a Lithuanian from the Klaipeda area who had arrived in Anykščiai after the German conquest.
During the period of Soviet rule in Anykščiai, the Leather Cap had been the secretary of the Communist youth. The Leather Cap used to beat the unfortunate Jews with a long, stout beam. He would barely be able to lift it before he brought it down on the Jews lying on the floor. The screams of the helpless, tortured Jews could be heard throughout the area surrounding the synagogue yard. Each time the beam was raised and brought back down, the blood of a new victim began to flow.
One time in the middle of the night, when the Leather Cap raised and lowered the beam over and over, and screams of pain resounded through the synagogue yard, whistling was heard through the windows of the old study house. Two German Wehrmacht soldiers looked through the window. A short time later both of them were inside. When they saw what was happening, they reached for their revolvers, and argued sharply with the Leather Cap.
Two of the Jewish women told the German soldiers everything. At night the two soldiers came back well-armed, and defended the Jews in the old study house against the Lithuanians. It was the first quiet night in the synagogues and study houses, the first time the Jews weren’t tortured.
The home of the Leather Cap was searched that evening. The searchers found gold watches, rings, valuable furs and other items he had robbed from Jews. The murderer was arrested, and not seen again.
What was happening to the Kuritsky family during this time?
Together with other Jews from Anykščiai and other towns, they set off on the road to the Lithuanian town of Rokishkis, hoping they would be able to continue further toward the Soviet border. In the Shvadusas forest between Anykščiai and Rokishkis, armed Lithuanians shot at the Jewish refugees from all sides. Many Jews were shot. The terrible weeping of women and children, of the dying and wounded blended with the sound of heavy gunfire, echoing through the forest. On the side of the road lay dead and wounded Jews, some of them strangers and others from Anykščiai. Among those who were shot Motl noticed the Feldman family, consisting of the father, Khone-Yitskhok, a quilter; his brother Nosn; Nosn’s wife; and Nosn’s two small children, a boy and a girl. Because of this attack, the surviving refugees didn’t make it to Rokishkis until the morning of Thursday, June 26, 1941.
The Rokishkis Jews were amazed to see the refugees. They didn’t believe the Germans would be able to advance so quickly and easily. They were still staying in their homes, waiting. There were Red Army units in Rokishkis, which were evacuating gradually and calmly. The Soviets told the refugees who wanted to go further that they would be able to repulse the Germans, and that it was important not to cause panic by fleeing. They didn’t let the refugees travel on the highway.
At 8:00 a.m. on Friday, June 27, 1941 the Germans were close to Rokishkis. Bitter fighting began. There was artillery and heavy mortar fire. The Jews hid out in cellars. It was quiet for twenty minutes. Then the Germans entered the town.
Lithuanians wearing white ribbons on their sleeves and carrying flowers in their hands immediately appeared on the streets. Many of them were armed. They welcomed the Germans ceremoniously. They kissed each other, danced and sang Lithuanian nationalist songs.
The Germans rested for a short while, and then marched further on. During the same day, Lithuanian partisans appeared in the streets. They ordered all the Jewish refugees to leave Rokishkis within one hour.
That day hundreds of Jews, including women and children, left Rokishkis either on foot or in wagons, and returned to their homes. The Kuritskys also left Rokishkis, together with other Jews from Anykščiai. None of the peasants would sell any food to Jews. They wouldn’t give them a drink of water. They wouldn’t even let any Jews cross their thresholds. The Lithuanian peasants drove away the hungry, thirsty and exhausted Jews as if they were lepers.
In the evening on Saturday, June 28, 1941, the Kuritsky family and other Jews returned to Anykščiai. All of the roads and paths surrounding the town were guarded by armed partisans. They arrested all of the Jews coming back to town, and robbed everything they had. Among the armed partisans were Lithuanian townspeople whom Motl recognized; neighbors with whom he had once met and spoken every day. Not one of the returning Jews re-entered Anykščiai without permission from the armed Lithuanians.
When the Devil Laughed Out Loud: The Death of Yerakhmiel Kuritsky and Other Jews
On Saturday, June 28, 1941, when the returning Jews were arrested by partisans, the younger men who were suspected Communists were taken to prison. The rest were taken to the study houses and synagogues.
Motl and a group of young men were separated from their families, and taken to the local prison under a heavy guard. There Motl encountered young people he knew from Anykščiai and from other towns. It was terribly crowded in the prison. It was impossible to sit down. Everyone was forced to stand crowded closely together. The Lithuanian guards constantly teased the Jews, threatening them with various forms of death.
The Anykščiai quilter Beynish Statler, a father of four children, couldn’t stand it any longer. On the morning of Sunday, June 29, he hung himself in prison.
Groups of Jews were constantly brought to and from the prison. Many of them were brought to the synagogues and study houses, because the prison was overcrowded. Motl was included in one such group, which was taken to the Shoemakers’ Synagogue. There he found his father Yerakhmiel, who was pale, apathetic and hopeless. His mother and the other children had been freed and allowed to go home. It was as crowded in the Shoemakers’ Synagogue as it had been in prison. Jews from Anykščiai were herded there together with a large number of refugees from Ukmerge, Jonava, Kaunas and other towns. Everyone in the synagogue had been brutally beaten, and they were pale and hungry. Motl noticed how all of the Jews tried to hide in corners to avoid being seen.
At noon on Sunday, June 29, 1941, three armed partisans came into the Shoemakers’ Synagogue. All of them were Lithuanians from Anykščiai. They ordered the father of the Kuritsky family to come forward. Yerakhmiel responded. They took him out of the synagogue, deathly pale, planning to kill him in the courtyard. One of the higher-ranking officers advised them to put it off, rather than causing a commotion in town on a Sunday. Yerakhmiel went back into the synagogue. He sat down next to Motl. The hearty Yerakhmiel had turned into a shadow of a person in the course of that short period. Yerakhmiel sat with his head resting on his palms, lost in sorrowful thought.
Terrified and astonished eyes regarded Yerakhmiel from all sides. The tormented Jews in the synagogue knew that those who were summoned by the partisans didn’t come back. Yerakhmiel stared through his fingers at the mass of Jews lying on the floor; some with bloodied faces, some with their skulls bandaged, some who had lost the ability to speak.
“My child, my Mótele! Look what they’ve turned us into! You don’t know what they did during the short time we were on the road.” Yerakhmiel removed his hands from his face, and looked at Motl with love and empathy.
“I do know, father! I know what they did here! I heard about it in prison!” Motl’s eyes never stopped looking at his father, who was so greatly changed.
“Listen, my child! For years, for long years I rode from village to village. I was acquainted with hundreds of peasants. I would never have believed what their children are capable of doing.”
“Father! I would never have believed it either! Look who’s torturing and killing Jews’ My Lithuanian friends from the orchestra, who used to go visiting at Jewish homes, who were friendly with Jews, who used to go to their homes on the Sabbath to eat gefilte fish. Some of them were Communists. Who would have believed this? Who would have imagined it?”
“Yes, my child. We lived among them for so many years, but we didn’t know them. I never knew what the peasants were thinking, sitting there with a fur robe thrown around their shoulders, smoking their pipes and lost in thought. They always hid all their thoughts in clouds of smoke. We recognized them too late, my child, and now….”
“Father, don’t worry! We’ll live to see better times!”
“No, no, my child. I’ve already lived through two wars. I won’t survive this war, my child. The Lithuanian Devil knows no mercy. You, my child; save yourself any way you can. You’re still young and strong. But me. I’ve wasted all my health and strength traveling around the countryside.”
They were together for ten minutes all told. Then two partisans came back into the synagogue and called out Yerakhmiel’s name. “My child! My Motl! Be well! Stay alive! Don’t forget your mother! Take care of your mother and the rest of the children! I’m going to my death, and I do not know why.”
Father and son looked at each other for the last time. Both felt their eyes brimming with tears. Yerakhmiel was led out of the synagogue. Motl never saw his father again. That same Sunday, while it was still light, partisans took two Jews named Artshik Birger and Henokh Rits out of the synagogue. They were both handed shovels. Some time later they both returned to the Shoemakers’ Synagogue. They told Motl that a retail merchant from Anykščiai named Velvl Fisher and an iron dealer named Yankl Rivesman had been found hiding in their homes by partisans. Both of them were taken to the Jewish cemetery and shot. After they were shot, the partisans took Yerakhmiel to the pit and shot him as well. Artshik Birger and Henokh Rits had filled in the grave of the three murdered Jews.
Among the three partisans who took Yerakhmiel out of the synagogue to the cemetery and shot him were Grazhys, a local coachman, and someone named “Lopatke” Kanapkis.
Immediately after Yerakhmiel was taken out of the synagogue partisans found a bricklayer from town named Yoshe Karebelnik hiding under the platform at the center of the synagogue. The partisans mocked him, beat him, threatened to shoot him and demanded that he tell them whether he wanted to live or not. After he begged to be allowed to live, they shot him.
In the evening that same Sunday, June 29, the partisans assembled a group of six elderly Jews from among those on the floor, all with long gray beards and all with stooped postures. The partisans drove them all onto the platform. “Frogs! Communists! Stalin’s children! Sing Psalms! Shout out loud! Frogs!” This was the order the partisans gave.
The old Jewish men didn’t protest. They didn’t say a word. They looked all around the synagogue through moist eyes. From the platform they could see all the Jews at once. Their glances lingered over the Ark of the Covenant and on the Ten Commandments inscribed on the wall above the Ark. They looked and looked, and began to prepare themselves. They pulled tallioth and prayer-books out from the table on the platform.
“Faster, faster, frogs! Come on, sing those Psalms out loud already!” The partisans kicked the Jews and waved military shovels in front of their faces.
The old Jews stood, threw the tallioth around their heads as if it were time for Kol Nidrei on Yom Kippur, held the prayer-books in their hands and swayed back and forth. In long, drawn-out, pleading tones they prayed to the almighty Jewish God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Tears poured from under their tallioth, and they prayed that God would have mercy on them, on their families and on all the Jews in the synagogues and study houses in Anykščiai. At first it was an almost silent prayer, thin and sharp as a slaughtering knife.
“Let’s hear your Psalms louder! Louder, frogs!” The partisans began to crack their whips over the heads of the elderly Jews. The quiet prayer was transformed into an ecstatic chant of praise to God. The Jews began to say the Hallel prayers enthusiastically. “Hallelujah, Hallelujah servants of the Lord!”
It seemed as though in their ecstasy they had forgotten their surroundings. In their own imaginations they had apparently left the platform, left the earth; they had elevated themselves, and were hovering in the heavens, right by the Divine Throne. In loud voices, in heart-rending tones, they continued pleading. “From the depths I called unto God” They no longer heard the partisans’ orders. They no longer moaned when the whips struck them, and their voices were heavenly, sacred. Some of the Jews on the floor were swept along with them. Anyone who had an ounce of strength joined in the Hallel prayer.
The Shoemakers’ Synagogue had never heard such an enthusiastic Hallel prayer! The partisans stood holding their sides in hilarious laughter. For that moment, the “voice of Jacob” won out over the “hands of Esau.”
The old Jews on the platform no longer heard or paid any attention to the partisans’ commands. The partisans became overcome with rage. One by one, the partisans first broke the old Jews’ skulls with military shovels, and then shot them.
When a military shovel came down over the head of the last Jew standing on the platform, the Hallel was finally silenced. The Jews on the floor watched in terror as the old men were murdered one after the other. They backed into the corners, covering their eyes and ears.
The partisans forced several Jews to carry the murdered men out of the synagogue. The six murdered men were carried off to the Hare Hills in a wagon, and Jews were ordered to bury them there. After the six murdered Jews were buried, the partisans shot another Jew named Meyshke Lafer right next to the grave. The Jews who buried the six elderly Jews told of this incident after they were brought back to the synagogue.
Motl Kuritskv Escapes Certain Death
During the time one group of Lithuanians was torturing the elder men on the platform, other Lithuanians beat the Jews in the synagogue with pieces of iron, with heavy beams and with military shovels. After the elderly men who had been murdered were taken out of the synagogue, shouting and weeping could be heard on all sides: this one was dead, another one was dying. The moans of the dying could be heard along with the pleading for rescue of those who were badly wounded. But nothing could be done for them. The synagogue looked like a slaughterhouse for innocent Jews. The floor was covered with freshly-spilled blood. The entire mass of people tried to crawl into the corners, seeking refuge with wild looks in their terrified, staring eyes. But this wasn’t the end of the terrible slaughter in the Shoemakers’ Synagogue.
At 5:00 p.m. that Sunday partisans came into the synagogue one more time. They indicated to various individuals that they were to leave the synagogue. After they were taken out, shots were heard. A youngster from Anykščiai named Mikhke Karabelnik dared to look out through the window. He saw that those who had been taken out were being lined up next to a pit and shot. Mikhke began loudly telling the other Jews what was going on. Everyone lay down on the floor, hiding their faces to avoid being recognized. The partisans who had come in ordered everyone to stand up. They spotted Motl Kuritsky, and ordered him to go with them. Motl was the seventh man the partisans took out. At the exit stood two rows of partisans. The men who were taken out were forced to run the gauntlet between two rows of Lithuanians. While Motl walked between the partisans, they began beating him with sticks, whips and military shovels. In the line Motl spotted a Lithuanian from town named Bakzevitshius Viktorius, who had played in the orchestra with Motl.
Motl shouted out: “Help me stay alive! They’re taking me off to shoot me!”
Viktorius answered, “You’re a Jew! I can’t save you!”
When he arrived at the pit, Motl saw three Jews; Henokh Rits, Yankele Feygin and Artshik Birger; who were shoveling dirt to cover the corpses in the pit. Next to the pit Motl saw a fourth shovel. He grabbed it, and joined those shoveling dirt. One of the three Jews shouted, “What are you doing? You’re going to destroy us!”
At that moment a nineteen-year-old boy named Abke Segal was taken out of the synagogue through the gauntlet. He stood next to the pit. He was shot, but only wounded. He ran away from the pit. He fell near Motl’s house. The partisans finished him off there, and threw him into the pit. The four Jews resumed shoveling dirt over the corpses. In all the confusion, the drunken partisans forgot about Motl.
While Motl’s uncle Hirsh Romang was being taken out of the synagogue through the gauntlet, he broke free and began to escape. The partisans shot at him, and wounded him in the stomach. Hirshl fell to the ground. The partisans surrounded him. Hirshl begged the Lithuanians: “Let me live. I have three children. Their mother died in childbirth. They’ll be complete orphans!”
The Lithuanians forced him to recite Psalms, and then, laughing out loud, they shot him and threw him into the pit. Motl shoveled dirt over his uncle’s body.
Nekhemke Tunkel (whose father was Motl the chimney-sweep) also broke free while being led through the gauntlet. He continued running until he reached the threshold of his house. His wife looked through the window and saw everything, and quickly opened the door to their hallway. A bullet ended his life at the threshold of his house. The top half of his body was already inside the house. The partisans let him lie there until the pit had been entirely filled in.
At seven or 7:30 in the evening, the shooting at the pit stopped. Apparently there had been an order to hide the evidence as fast as possible. Suddenly a commotion broke out in the courtyard.
Motl lowered his head and worked diligently, in order to avoid being recognized. When the pit was all covered over, the partisans ordered the Jews to cover the pit with a large stone. Motl moved the stone with his last ounce of strength. After that all four Jews were herded back into the synagogue.
That Sunday the partisans shot more than thirty Jews from among those in the Shoemakers’ Synagogue.
The partisans carried out similar slaughters in all of the study houses and synagogues in Anykščiai. When the mortally terrified and tormented Jews saw Motl coming back, they forgot about their sufferings for a while, and abandoned themselves to amazement. Motl told everyone all that had happened, and hid in a corner, so that the partisans wouldn’t notice him again.
Women Raped. Then Everyone Is Shot
That same Sunday evening around eight or nine o’clock, partisans brought into the Shoemakers’ Synagogue a group of 25 or 30 girls from Anykščiai and from other towns. Among the group was Motl’s sister Rokhl-Leyke, his cousin Peshe Romang and his sister’s girlfriend, Khaye-Sorke Beder.
The girls sat down next to Motl and told him that while the men were being taken from the Shoemakers’ Synagogue and shot, a second group of partisans had taken young, attractive girls out of their houses and raped them in the streets and in courtyards.
The women whom the partisans found in hiding were taken to prison. From the prison, the girls who had been seized were taken to the Shoemakers’ Synagogue.
At about midnight, half-drunk partisans came into the synagogue. They began shining powerful flashlights into every corner of the synagogue. Motl hid his sister close to him. The other two girls also hid close to Motl. The half-drunken partisans in their heavy boots stepped on the tortured bodies of the Jews, who lay crowded on the floor like herring in a barrel. The helpless people were forbidden to moan or shout when they were stepped on.
Anyone lying on the floor who sighed was stabbed by the Lithuanian partisans on the spot. The other Jews lying nearby were forbidden to get up. They had to continue lying still next to the one who had been stabbed.
The women who were picked were forbidden to moan or scream. Among the women who had been brought to the synagogue was a woman from Kaunas. She lay next to her husband. The Lithuanian partisans spotted her and ordered her to go with them.
The husband wept and pleaded, “Don’t take my wife!” The partisans stood on his throat and choked him. The next day he was found strangled to death. His wife was taken out of the synagogue.
The muted voices of women could be heard outside. One girl named Dobke Dubinovsky fainted after she was raped, and was carried back into the synagogue. When she came to, she wept constantly and related everything that had happened.
After the women were taken out of the synagogue, several Lithuanians would hold the victim by her hands and feet. Meanwhile the rest raped her. After they raped the women, they shot them. Only a few managed to return to the synagogue.
Among the women who were raped were Peshe Romang and Khaye-Sorke Beder. Khaye-Sorke Beder was shot after she was raped.
Motl successfully managed to hide his sister.
The next day, the morning of Monday, June 30, 1941, the partisans loaded all the women who had been raped and shot, and all the men who had been stabbed in the synagogue, onto wagons and took them away to the Hare Hills. The Jews whom they forced to bury the dead were subsequently shot on the spot and buried.
Motl Escapes from the Synagogue and Goes to His Mother
While the partisans were busy raping the women, during the night from Sunday to Monday, Motl seized an opportunity to escape from the synagogue through the window. Yosl the slaughterer lived near the synagogue. Motl crept through the darkness on his belly until he arrived at the yard of the slaughterer’s house. Then, still crawling on his belly, Motl arrived at the porch of his own house. Above all Motl wanted to show his mother that he was still alive.
“Mama, Mama, open up for me!” Motl knocked on the door. Apparently his mother didn’t hear him, and Motl knocked on the door again. It was a dark night. The sky was clouded over. The town was cloaked in mourning. Suddenly there was a beam of light from flashlight. A partisan approached Motl’s house. Motl’s heart banged so hard he thought it would burst. He threw himself down against the floor of the porch. The partisan didn’t spot him, and went on.
“Mama, Mama, open up!” Motl knocked more loudly this time. The door opened up. While Motl had been taken from the synagogue to the pit, his mother had been standing at her window. She had begun tearing her hair, and then fainted. She was certain that her darling Motl was no longer among the living.
When she opened the door and saw Motl alive, she collapsed in astonishment. Motl’s smaller brothers and sisters, half-naked, crowded around Motl weeping. Motl calmed them all down, revived his mother and remained standing in the middle of the room.
Motl didn’t recognize his mother. Her face was drawn, and there wasn’t a drop of blood in her cheeks. Her eyes were filled with sorrow that could have darkened the sun. Her clothes hung on her body as if draped over a living skeleton. Meanwhile Motl’s little brothers and sisters all seemed terrified and depressed. Their shining eyes looked at Motl with pleading and affection.
Motl sensed that he was about to fall apart, here in his own home next to his mother. He quickly realized that he could easily endanger his own life and the lives of his near and dear ones. It had to be quiet in the house. He quickly smoked a cigarette he found lying around, and with difficulty managed to calm himself down.
Motl explained to his mother that he had come to show her that he was still alive, and that he was ready to escape town for the forest immediately. Motl assured his mother that no harm would come to her or the children.
“Motl, Motl! You’re the one who has to protect and care for the little children now! Stay here, Motl, don’t leave me alone!” Golde pleaded with tears in her eyes.
Motl was no longer afraid of the most horrible death, and at that moment he made up his mind. “For you, Mama, I’m ready to sacrifice myself,” he reassured her with an iron determination. He began to design a hiding place for himself. His mother hid Motl under her bedding.
In the morning on Monday, June 30, 1941, partisans went to all the Jewish houses and announced to the women and children that they had to wear yellow Stars of David, to designate that they were Jews.
That same Monday, a group of partisans selected from their houses all the elderly Jews with beards and sidelocks, gave them shovels and brooms, and led them off to clean the market place and the streets of the town. While the old Jews were working, the partisans beat and tormented them, and forced them to sing various songs in chorus.
Peasants from the countryside and Lithuanians from town gathered to watch the “performance.” They enjoyed themselves immensely. After the old Jews had been tortured all day, they were allowed to return home in the evening, barely alive.
The selections and murders went on daily in the synagogues and study houses. The dead were buried in the synagogue yard, or else they were carried out to the Hare Hills in wagons. On Wednesday, July 2, 1941, all of the Jews from other towns and cities were permitted to leave Anykščiai.
Motl Is Rearrested and Meets His Childhood Friends in Prison
On the morning of Thursday, July 3, 1941, one of Motl’s younger brothers noticed the infamous murderer “Lopatke” Kanapkis walking on the street near their home. With all his strength he ran to warn Motl. The murderer noticed Motl’s brother running in fear, and became suspicious. He entered the house and found Motl. Golde wept and begged him not to take her son. She offered to let the partisan take anything he wanted from the house. But Kanapkis was not to be swayed, and he took Motl and Golde to Yurzdikas Street to clear ruins. He left Golde to continue working, together with some other Jews. He assured Golde that Motl would only be carrying wood to the offices of the town council, and that he would bring Motl right back. Golde wept and moaned in a heart rending voice as the Lithuanian took Motl away, lifting his revolver out of its holster and getting ready to shoot.
Kanapkis took Motl to the prison on Skemeny Street. At the prison Motl was thrown into a room where he found three men from Anykščiai, including his best childhood friends, Khayemke Feygin and Elke Binder. They had been imprisoned from the very first days.
Motl saw a terrible scene in the prison cell. The three men lay like pieces of bloody meat, wrapped in bloody rags. They could barely stand up. They were hungry, beaten and tortured. In trembling voices, like invalids on their deathbeds after a major operation, they told Motl: “Several days ago, the prison was still full of Jewish men from Anykščiai and a number of refugees as well, all of whom had been arrested. The partisans used to come into the cells every night and brutally murder Jews with military shovels, poles, beams and pieces of iron. They took the corpses away to the Hare Hills in wagons. Only a few of us have miraculously managed to stay alive, and even we are struggling against death.”
Motl stared at his comrade from school days Khayemke Feygin, who had once shared his bench in the classroom. He looked at his other two friends as well. He tried to discern his friend’s true features, but was unable to do so. It was a grotesque, bloody mass that took the place of Khayemke’s features.
The floor was covered with dried out, black blood. On the walls various slogans had been written in blood. One, in Lithuanian said, “I am not guilty!” Another, in Yiddish, said “A time will come when things are good again!” “Avenge our spilled blood!”
In the evening on Thursday, July 3, newly-captured Jews were brought to prison. Every time steps could be heard in the corridor, the three men in their corner began to tremble as if they were receiving an electric shock. The new arrivals were thrown into a different cell.
The first sleepless, bitter night was extremely difficult for Motl. The next morning, Friday, the four men were allowed to go to the toilet. In the corridor Motl spotted a local Lithuanian partisan who had played in the orchestra with Motl. Motl promised him everything in the Kuritskys’ house if he would free him from prison. At night the partisans let Motl out of the prison, in exchange for the agreed price.
The next day, Saturday, July 5, 1941, the partisan came to Motl’s house. He loaded a wagon full of items he had chosen, and a horse pulled it all away. Golde was together with Motl again. She wept for herself, for her children, for Yerakhmiel, for her entire family and for her Yerakhmiel’s hard-won possessions, which the Lithuanian had inherited.
The partisans used the Jews’ misfortune as an opportunity to get rich quickly. In exchange for large sums of money, they allowed wealthy Jews to leave the study houses and synagogues, and permitted them to go home. Of course, only a minority were lucky enough to be temporarily freed in this fashion.
In the morning on Saturday, July 5, 1941, the total annihilation of all the men began.
Gruesome Torture and Murder of the Men in the Study Houses and Synagogues
Motl saw groups of partisans going to the study houses and synagogues. They were armed with military shovels, pieces of iron, thick poles and whips, in addition to their firearms.
Motl understood that something terrible was about to befall the helpless, interned Jews. He began looking for a place to hide. Every place seemed insecure. He climbed up into the attic and crawled into the pigeon coop. From there he could see everything that was taking place in the study houses and synagogues. What Motl saw and heard that Saturday will remain as an eternal mark of shame, a glaring stain on the Lithuanian people and on all of humanity.
The men in the study houses and synagogues were forced to strip naked. Over-clothes and underclothes began flying out of all the windows. Long coils of dust flew in the air. Blows could be heard. All kinds of blows. Blows from shovels, blows from posts, pieces of iron and whips. All these blows fell on the naked bodies of Jews in the study houses and synagogues. All kinds of shouts and weeping echoed through the entire area. The screams of the beaten Jews, the bizarre, heart-rending shrieks of Jews with split skulls, Jews with broken ribs, arms and legs, made their way through the open windows together with the dust, like a massive cry for help; a cry to help the Jews save their very lives, which the partisans violated, trampled with their feet and destroyed.
To Motl it seemed that the helpless screams of the men, none whom wanted to die senselessly, were appealing to the entire world for help.
And the great, wide world did hear their cries! The residents of the surrounding area, the Lithuanians to whom the dying men called for help, stood nearby with their wives and children, and gleefully grabbed the bloodied clothing which flew through the open windows together with the last screams of pain. They joyfully took home the clothing they had grabbed, while the screams of pain died out in the wide space of the universe. No one responded to the shouts of the tortured Jewish men, not even the heavens, which were so blue that which were so far away from the earth.
Motl tried to stop up his ears with his hands in order to avoid hearing the pained screams. But the screams pierced through his ears into his brain. His heart banged as if trying to burst his chest and his entire body trembled feverishly. Choked words broke through his mouth “My God, what’s happening here? Are these the people we’ve been living among? Is it possible?”
Motl didn’t know to whom he was talking. He didn’t know to whom he could scream and plead. He saw his beloved pigeons hopping around so calmly, so happily, as if nothing unusual was going on just there at the study houses and synagogues.
“How lucky you are, my pigeons! How fortunate that you don’t have to live in this murderous world; the world of those who are tortured to death by their fellow human beings. Thus Motl addressed the pigeons.
Motl desperately wanted to become a pigeon like them, so he could fly away from this place of slaughter. He began imagining what he would do if he could fly. “I’d fly away from here, and I’d fly around through the entire world without resting. I’d pass along this terrible weeping and screaming wherever I went. Perhaps somewhere, someone would take pity and come to help?” These were Motl’s feverish thoughts in the pigeon coop.
The screams of those who were being murdered kept up. Motl lived through an entire, dreadful eternity, starting in the morning and continuing through the afternoon, until the screams began to lessen, began to be quieter. The gasps of the dying and continued deep moans took the place of the screams. Then the moans and gasps died out as well. Finally the last, flickering lives of the men of Anykščiai were extinguished in the study houses and synagogues on Bath Street.
The dust coming through the windows thinned out. The screams, moans and weeping died out. A deathly stillness reigned all around. A cemetery-like quiet spread out among the study houses and synagogues, in the middle of that bright, sunny day on Bath Street.
Some time later, partisans ride into the synagogue yard with wooden platforms. Several surviving Jewish men were forced by the partisans to carry the “products” of the slaughter out of the synagogues and study houses on Bath Street.
The murdered men were piled onto the platforms. From their edges hung the split heads, the broken arms and legs of the victims, who were entirely naked or in their underwear. The dead bodies on the platforms looked like massive pieces of bloody meat which were being brought from a slaughterhouse. Partisans stood next to the platforms, watching the shattered corpses, thinking up witticisms, celebrating and feeling entirely satisfied with the successful “work” they’d accomplished. The Lithuanian Devil laughed out loud that day.
The platforms began to move. Thick drops of blood poured out on every side, and in them the sun’s oblivious rays were reflected. All the men who had been murdered were taken away to the Hare Hills, where they were buried in mass graves.
That terrible day, Saturday, July 5, 1941, between 450 and 500 Jewish men were murdered. The younger women and several men were left in the study houses and synagogues.
The next day, Sunday, July 6, 1941, there were people in the study house who had died of the tortures inflicted the day before. Partisans murdered several Jews that day as well. The corpses of these men were also taken to the Hare Hills. The women along with the few surviving men were freed from the synagogues and study houses that day.
This was the end of the torture and slaughter of Jewish men in the study houses and synagogues in Anykščiai. Among the women who were freed was Motl’s sister Rokhl-Leyke. With terror, pain and tears, she related all the horror she had watched, while the men in the Shoemakers’ Synagogue were being murdered. After all she had lived through, Rokhl-Leyke could not be recognized. She constantly wept, and was reluctant to talk about what had happened.
Motl Defeats Death
After Motl saw what had been done to the men in the study houses and synagogues, he decided not to stay in Anykščiai, but rather to run wherever his legs would carry him. He took his leave of his brothers, sisters and mother, and at 10:00 p.m. that Sunday, he left the house, hoping to make it to the Jewish cemetery.
A peasant named Davidonis lived next to the stream near the bath house, not far from the synagogue yard. His two sons were partisans who had taken active part in the slaughter of the Jews of Anykščiai. As he ran past the farm, Motl saw partisans celebrating the annihilation of the men. Suddenly Motl was attacked by a large dog, which chased after him barking constantly. The peasants raced out of the house with guns in their hands. Motl threw himself down among the potato plants. The dog chased after him. The partisans caught Motl, had “fun” with him, and took him to prison after giving him a beating.
In addition to Elke Binder and Khayemke Feygin, who had already been in prison when Motl got out, Motl saw many more Jews who had been in hiding and then were caught. Among them were Yitskhok Tal, Motke Veynik, Dimant and his wife, Gavriel Kats, Ester Rits, Dr Noyekh Ginsburg and his wife, and Motl’s girlfriend Khaye-Leyke Garber.
The partisans teased the Jews they had captured. They said that the Jews they’d caught wouldn’t be left alive. They constantly reported the latest news from the regions the Germans had just conquered. They said that the Germans were already approaching Moscow. They mocked the Red Army. They made the Jews in the prison suffer in every way they could devise. The next evening, Monday, July 7, 1941, partisans took several groups of Jews out of the prison and brought them to the Hare Hills.
At 10:00 p.m. they took out a group of eleven men. Among the eleven were: Gavriel Kats, None Diment, the pharmacist, Dr Noyekh Ginsburg and his wife, and others. Motl Kuritsky was also among the group of eleven. Everyone was led to the Hare Hills under heavy guard. On the way the partisans teased and beat the Jews. When they reached the Hare Hills and saw a pit already excavated, the entire group of eleven began to run in desperate confusion. The partisans shot at them, and struck a number of them. Some of them managed to escape. Motl Kuritsky made his way to the Jewish cemetery. Motl sought out his father’s grave and shed countless tears there. Then he went to see his mother and show her that he was still alive. Motl spent just one last night in his house together with his mother, brothers and sisters.
In the morning on Tuesday, July 8, 1941, posters appeared in the streets announcing that all Jews; men, women and children; had to leave their homes by Wednesday, and move into the dachas in the Shilalis forest, two or three kilometers from Anykščiai. They would be allowed to bring along small packages which they could carry in their arms.
The announcements promised that nothing would be done to harm those men who had been in hiding the entire time. The partisans made the same promise when speaking to the Jews before they left their homes. The naive Jews believed these promises, and left their hiding places to join their families.
Weeping bitterly, the women and children, along with the few surviving men, left their homes. They bore small packages in their arms. As soon as the Jews left their houses, their Lithuanian neighbors began to rob them. Their eyes filled with tears as the Jews watched their neighbors happily removing all their possessions.
The Kuritsky’s neighbor, a peasant named Davidonis, came to Motl and demanded that the Kuritskys leave their house as fast as possible. Davidonis was employed by Leybe the bath house keeper. He pumped water into the bath. He spoke Yiddish well, and was friendly with the Kuritskys. On the Sabbath he used to come to eat gefilte fish and slices of challah which Golde gave him.
Motl wasn’t taken in by the Lithuanians’ promises. He wanted to escape from town, rather than entering the ghetto. His mother spoke to him, trying to convince him to go with her and the rest of the family.
Motl obeyed his mother.
All of the streets and alleys were sealed off and guarded by policemen and partisans. The Jews had to leave town by way of Mill Street (Malune Gatve).
Motl walked along next to his mother, brothers and sisters. Every ten meters stood an armed partisan. Not far from the police station, Motl noticed a policemen pointing him out. Golde noticed it as well, and she began trembling with fear. Closer to the police station a policeman stopped Motl and arrested him. Motl’s mother and the children broke out weeping. Before Motl was taken away, Golde took her final leave of him: “We’re done for! But you, my child, don’t lose hope!”
Mother and son looked at each other for the last time in their lives.
As the Jews were being taken down the street, the police and partisans arrested all of the men who had been hiding, and took them to prison. Before the men were taken from their families the partisans assured them that they were being taken to work. They gave a solemn oath to bring the men to the newly-created ghetto in the evening.
A half hour later a few dozen men, including Motl, found themselves once again in prison. There Motl found some of the surviving men who had escaped after they were all taken to be shot at the Hare Hills the previous night, and then been recaptured.
In the evening that same Tuesday, July 8, the Jewish arrestees were permitted into the courtyard of the prison and allowed to walk around. The men found out from the partisans that the women and children had moved into the dachas. The partisans said that the women and children would subsequently be moved into a ghetto into the county seat, Utena. The fact that they were allowed out into the yard to walk around gave the Jews some hope of seeing their families in the ghetto.
Thirteen men whom the partisans considered “dangerous” were interned in a single cell in the prison. These thirteen men had previously escaped; some from shootings, some from prison; and had been in hiding. The leaders of the partisans and police had sought the thirteen unsuccessfully. Among the thirteen was Motl Kuritsky.
After the exercise period the thirteen men were taken to the office of the prison. Every one of them had to recite his first and last name, his date of birth and his occupation. There were additional questions. Everything was written down. Everyone had to testify to the information with his signature. Also in the office, the partisans examined everyone from head to toe. After they signed the papers, the thirteen were led into a single cell.
A deathly quiet reigned in the cell. The thirteen men looked at each other mournfully. No one dared to be the first to break the silence with speech. They all sensed that the situation was desperate. Everyone was silent, but at the same time they all spoke: they spoke a mute language with the sad looks in their eyes. First one of them would sigh deeply, then another. The rest would respond with a sigh. It was the only language in which the hopeless situation of the thirteen men could be expressed.
At 9:30 p.m. there were people in the yard, illuminating the area with electric flashlights. The thirteen men thought they were going to be beaten and tortured. They all began looking for a place to hide. Their ears strained to listen to the ringing of the keys in the corridor. The door to their cell was opened. The smiling faces of partisans appeared in the doorway. They asked for volunteers to go out and help with a truck that had gotten stuck in the mud outside of town.
Not one of the thirteen men volunteered. Then they were ordered to get out of the cell and line up in rows of three in the corridor. They assembled in four rows of three, with a single man behind. Everyone was taken out of the corridor into the prison yard. When they got out into the street, the thirteen men were surrounded by more than thirty policemen and partisans, armed with revolvers and automatic rifles.
They all kept their arms cocked and aimed at the thirteen Jews. The partisans strictly forbade the men to speak to each other. They threatened to shoot the entire group if any one of them tried to escape. The thirteen men understood clearly where they were being taken. They understood but there was nothing they could do to save themselves. Everyone was taken in the direction of the Hare Hills.
The evening was fine and warm. It was one of those summer evenings on which people enjoy life to the fullest. It wasn’t dark yet, but rather a summer twilight, neither day nor night. In the sky, a full moon slid smoothly along among fleecy, light hills of clouds, looking down naively and indifferently at thirteen young lives which were being taken to a senseless death.
Outside of town, the partisans ordered the thirteen men “to make themselves lighter,” by taking off their shoes. When they got a little further, they ordered the men to take off their pants, then their jackets, and so forth. The thirteen men were left in their underwear.
When they reached the Hare Hills, they ordered the Jews to walk along a narrow path. A partisan named Grazhys spotted Motl: “You’ve escaped death a few times already! But this time you’re not going to escape!” Grazhys emphasized the promise with a blow of his rifle butt on Motl’s head.
The Jews were forced to go uphill and downhill again several times. Then they were brought amongst some low brush and pine trees, and ordered to stand still. Motl spotted the pit among the brush. At that moment the pit looked like the open maw of the most dreadful beast in the world. The partisans ordered the thirteen men to stand in a line, one behind the other. The police and partisans lined up on both sides of the row. Each one of the Jews had to walk through this gauntlet toward the pit. As he walked, he was struck with blows from boards and wooden beams from both sides. Everyone had to jump into the pit.
Anyone who refused to do so was beaten with boards and rifle butts until he fell into the pit. The partisans responded to the heart-rending moans and screams of pain of the Jews with laughter and more blows.
Motl Kuritsky was the seventh in line. He ran the gauntlet and jumped into the pit on his own, in order to avoid being beaten. When he fell into the pit, Motl immediately ran into a cranny and curled himself up tightly. All of the men were in the pit by then. They all clung closely to each other, squeezing each other’s hand, putting their arms around each other. They all braided themselves together in a corner, forming an indestructible part of the eternity that was to follow their deaths.
Khayemke Feygin, Motl’s best friend, lay near Motl. Khayemke and Motl had gone to elementary school together. They had done their homework together, had often eaten supper at each other’s houses, had chased pigeons together. Khayemke pressed Motl’s hand.
“Motele! We’ve played together, lived together and now we’re going to die together.” Khayemke sighed deeply, and pressed Motl closer to him.
“Yes, Khayemke! Life is so beautiful, and now we’re going to be killed!” Motl answered with a sigh. They pressed each other’s arms tighter.
In Motl’s subconscious, in the depths of his soul, there remained a spark of hope. He pressed himself even further into the corner of the pit. The partisans stood close by to the pit, cracking jokes and getting drunk.
Thirteen hearts banged like motors, making the walls of the pit tremble and bringing bits of earth falling down. Everyone sighed and breathed with difficulty. Motl took his final leave of the world. He looked upward at the starry sky and the moon.
The images of Motl’s murdered father, his mother and the rest of the children appeared in his eyes. He saw himself together with his beloved Khaye-Leyke, riding on a sleigh on a cold winter’s night, not far from the Hare Hills. That night, too, the moon had looked down just as naively. And Motl’s heart thumped and thumped.
Thoroughly drunk and ready for the massacre, the partisans asked if anyone had any last words to say. It was quiet for a time. Then suddenly the mewing of a cat was heard. A small young black and white cat had fallen into the pit. The partisans ordered the men to throw the cat out of the pit. Yitskhok Tal, who was among the ones lying in front, threw the cat out.
“We have pity on the cat, but you Jews….” one of the partisans explained. They all broke out laughing. They laughed loudly.
Some of those in the pit said their “last words.” They pleaded not to be shot, because they were innocent. A certain fifteen-year-old boy named Khonke Beder pleaded: “You’ve accused my comrades. But I’m still so young; what could I have done? Let me live!”
The partisans burst out laughing again.
Then there was an order: “Fire! (Ugnisi)” This was followed by a shout of “Shema Yisroel! (Hear O Israel)” from the thirteen Jews. It was Hell: a mixture of fire and pieces of earth which began raining down on the Jews in the pit. Then the cries of “Shema Yisroel” began to die down, and switched to moans and gasps. The partisans standing above stopped shooting.
Henokh Segal lay next to his son Aba. His son asked weakly, “Father, are you still alive?”
Henokh answered with a moan, “Yes, my son, and you?” The two clutched each other more tightly.
A new shower of bullets began to rain down. Aba began to gasp again, “Fa-a-ther… are you still li-i-iving?” And with that, his soul left his body. Henokh did not respond this time; he only gasped and twitched. The shooting stopped and started once again.
Motl felt that Khayemke’s hand was growing weaker and colder. He felt a warm stream of blood pouring over him, growing heavier and heavier. Motl hadn’t been wounded yet. He removed his hand from Khayemke’s and covered his head with his arm. Suddenly he felt a stab in his backside, and then in his arm. A warm stream of blood poured from his arm onto his face.
The shooting stopped. Then it was quiet for a while.
“Well, that’s it! They’re all dead,” one of the partisans called out.
Motl was squeezed and hemmed in on all sides. Pieces of earth dislodged by the bullets fell down onto the Jews’ bodies, which were still trembling and twitching in the throes of death, and which closed together and pressed against each other like marionettes. Motl lifted his head with a moan. When the partisans heard his moan, they began shooting into the pit again. Motl was slightly wounded in the head.
His body was racked by a cold sweat. He lay there, as if unconscious.
“I’m dying, I’m dying,” was the thought that overcame him. But Motl was still able to hear and sense everything going on around him.
“Well, that’s enough already! We’ve got to shovel some dirt over them,” one of the partisans suggested.
A horrible “earthquake” began. A great deal of sand and dirt poured down from above. The mass of corpses, together with the dirt, became very heavy. Motl began to be squeezed and pressed on all sides. He felt his guts closing in against his heart and lungs, which were already full of blood and dust. Only his head remained out in the air. He kept his eyes squeezed shut. He breathed dusty air through his nose. Motl felt himself being suffocated under the heavy mass. With a desperate burst of strength, he tore himself out and jumped upwards.
Dirt poured around his body on all sides. His head was further away from the dirt. He gradually came back to his senses. He opened his eyes, sighed deeply and at that very moment Motl saw a man standing in underwear, in white underwear, not far from him in the pit. Motl’s tortured, wounded body was overcome with trembling.
The man in underwear crawled closer toward Motl. He looked at him and asked quietly, “Motl Yerakhmiel’s?”
Motl replied with a sigh. Next to him stood Mentke the Hare.
Mentke took hold of Motl under his arms, and pulled him upward. A pile of sand poured down onto Motl’s arms in the corner where he lay. The dead bodies fell into new groups. Motl began to breathe fast. His eyes grew even darker, and multi-colored, long rays of light flew from them like lightning. Motl’s heart beat quickly and then grew very, very weak. Motl swayed like a tree that has been sawed down and is about to fall.
Mentke supported him. The fresh air began to revive Motl. He opened his eyes and looked at the heap of dead comrades, and at the corner where he had lain. He felt terrible pain in his arm and leg.
His head rolled on his shoulders as if it belonged to someone else.
Mentke tried to reach the top of the pit with his fingers, but was unable to. He hastily dug out a foothold in the side of the pit with his hands. He placed one foot in the foothold, leaned on Motl lightly, and pulled himself out of the pit. Motl placed his uninjured foot in the foothold, and Mentke pulled him out of the pit by the arms. For a short while the two men stood next to the pit. A strong, fresh breeze hit Motl’s face. Nearby Motl saw the peaks of the Hare Hills, with rays of moonlight pouring down over them. Everything was calm. Yet the two men were afraid to rest any longer.
“Mentke, should we run?” Motl proposed.
“Yes, let’s run,” Mentke answered.
The two men set off running in the direction of a dense forest nearby. Motl suffered terrible pain in his leg. Placing his weight on his good leg, he ran forward with all his strength, further and further from the pit.
Suddenly, shots began to ring out from among the bushes. The partisans hadn’t left yet. Apparently they were waiting for more groups of men to be brought from the prison. When they saw two naked men running, they opened fire. Motl threw himself to the ground. Mentke fell without having managed to run far away from the pit. Like lightning, bullets flew around Motl with a cruel whistling sound. The shooting stopped. Motl lifted himself up with his last ounce of strength, and ran into the woods near the hills. From there he continued into a valley, where he lay exhausted.
Gradually he came to, gathered his wits and began feeling stronger. He ran as fast as possible and made his way to the Jewish cemetery.
The tops of the trees were still. It was a calm, quiet night. Indeed, it was too quiet. The fall of Motl’s bare feet resounded in his own ears and terrified him. The kingdom of death was shrouded in mysterious solitude and sorrow, barred in by the rays of the moon, which still looked down naively from the heavens. Motl made his way to his father’s grave and fell on it weeping. He pressed his arms and his naked body against the mute, cold grave.
“Father, dear father, tell me! What should I do now? Where should I go now? Father!” Motl pleaded and demanded, but there was no answer. When he had finished pleading and weeping, Motl looked at the mute grave and went away.
The Lithuanian Girl Varute Mishunaite
Not far from the Jewish cemetery lived a Lithuanian friend of Motl’s named Varute Mishunaite. Before the war, Motl had often danced and spent time with her. She was fond of Motl. Motl left the cemetery and went into her yard. He quietly entered the foyer of her house, and then made his way into the attic. By now it was after midnight on that tragic Tuesday, July 8, 1941.
In the morning the sun appeared on the distant horizon, glowing red. Motl looked through the cracks in the wall of the attic and saw Varute leaving the house. She stopped several times, looking in amazement at the blood stains on the walls.
“Varute, Varute!” Motl carefully called out several times. Varute recognized Motl’s voice, and went up into the attic. When she saw Motl in his torn, bloody underwear, with his bruised and bloody face, Varute couldn’t recognize him. She screamed and fainted. Her mother immediately ran up into the attic, and found her daughter unconscious. She brought a pitcher of cold water, and revived Varute.
Motl drank an entire pitcher of water, and fell into a deep sleep. Thick, white foam bubbled from his mouth. Varute stayed near him, wiping the sweat from Motl’s brow and the foam from his mouth. Never in his life had Motl slept as deeply as he did then.
When he opened his eyes, Varute was still sitting next to him. She washed Motl’s wounds, and bathed him with iodine. His right arm and hip were swollen.
By then it was Wednesday, July 9, the day after the women and children had been taken to the dachas. Peasants from town and from the country were still busy robbing Jewish possessions. Varute went to Motl’s house, and brought back some men’s clothing, along with Motl’s winter coat. Motl washed himself and changed his clothes. Motl began to be ruled by a stubborn will to stay alive and tell the world what he had seen. He didn’t lose hope. Yet before his eyes he constantly saw the images of his twelve comrades who had been shot to death in the pit. Their last, pleading words and their cried of “Shema Yisroel” resounded in Motl’s ears for a long time afterwards, tormenting and oppressing his heart and soul.
The names of nine of the twelve murdered men were:
- Elke Binder, a flax merchant;
- Chonke Beder, a quilter;
- Avrom Beder, a quilter, Chonke’s brother;
- Itske Tal, owner of a shoe factory;
- Henokh Segal, owner of a woollen boot factory;
- Abe Segal, a woolen bootmaker, Henokh’s son;
- Moshe-Motke Vaynik, retail merchant and orchard leaser;
- Leyzer Garber, a student;
- Khayemke Feygin, a harness maker.
The names of ten of the thirty Lithuanian murderers were:
- Mishkinys, a student, the chief of police at the time;
- Talotskis, a student and sports instructor;
- Antanas Pumputis, a shoemaker who played in the orchestra;
- Victorius Bakzevitsius, a bagel baker;
- Bakzevitsius’ brother, a bagel baker;
- Grazhys, a coachman;
- Two brothers named Davidonis, whose father worked for Leybl the bath house keeper;
- Viliutis, who owned a sausage shop;
- Kanapkis, nicknamed the “Spade” (Lopatke).
How did Mentke the Hare get to the pit? That remains an eternal riddle. That evening several groups had been taken from prison before the group of thirteen which included Motl. All of them were taken to the Hare Hills to be shot. The pit was long. It is possible that at the other end of the pit, previous groups had been shot and buried over, and that Mentke was among them and had managed to remain uninjured. Motl was never able to figure out exactly how the bizarre incident had come about.
Golde and Her Children Are Taken to Their Deaths
After Motl had been separated from his mother, Golde had been constantly on the verge of fainting. Her weeping and screaming was louder than the shouts and moans of all the rest of the mothers and wives whose men had been taken away.
All of Golde’s children walked close to her, comforting and trying to calm her.
“Mame! Keep up your courage, Mama! You’re not the only one! The rest of us children are close by, and they still need your help.” Thus Rokhel-Leyke and Sorele pleaded with their mother. The smaller children held onto Golde’s skirts, pleading: “Don’t cry, Mama, don’t cry! Motl will come back. You’ll see, Mama, you’ll see! ”
Golde tried to control herself. Her head was thrown back. Her face was pale. Her eyes stared toward Heaven. She no longer wept out loud. Yet from time to time a moan would make its way out from her heart: “Oh, what do they want from my child? Why did they take him away from me? Help, help!” Her moans were so powerful and anguished that it seemed they were ready to challenge the entire, murderous world.
Rokhel-Leyke and Sorele walked along supporting their mother, as if they were headed toward a funeral. “Frogs, frogs! Move it, faster! Let’s go, faster, frogs!” The Partisans constantly drove them onward, cracking their whips over the heads of the women and children. Those who were beaten screamed and wept even louder, and the partisans whipped them even more and laughed out loud. Oh, the Lithuanian partisans had a good laugh that day.
The Jews were forced to set up tents and cover them with sheets on a pasture in the forest, near the dachas. Every tent was packed with women and children. There were children of various ages, including a number of suckling infants. There were a number of pregnant women.
Day and night the screams and weeping of small children could be heard in the camp, along with the heartrending weeping of their mothers, who didn’t know what to do. They had only been allowed to take a little bit of food along when they left their homes. So the mothers went without, and instead nourished their children with the food they’d brought along. For the first days the partisans didn’t provide any food whatsoever. The women were forbidden to leave the camp and go to nearby houses to get something for their children to eat. Armed partisans stood guarding the camp, preventing anyone from leaving the spot. The partisans called the camp the “ghetto.”
Golde, her children, her loyal friend Khane Kats and Khane’s children, all settled into one tent. They helped and comforted each other to the best of their abilities. But both of them had suffered such disasters, both were so miserable, that it was hard to offer each other any comfort.
“Khanke, you’ve still got something to hope for! Your Gavrielke managed to escape being shot. He could still be in hiding. But my Yerakhmiel! They shot him at the Jewish cemetery,” Golde would often say to comfort her friend, while she herself would weep bitterly.
“Golde, Golde, my crown! Where could he have run to? Where could my Gavrielke escape to? To whom? Don’t you see that the Lithuanians are against us,” Khane would reply, refusing to be comforted.
“You see what a disaster befell me! My Motl wanted to escape rather than going into the ghetto with us, and I asked him to come along. With my own hands I… I don’t know! I don’t believe he’s still alive,” Golde would repeat, tearing her heart out in remorse.
The children wouldn’t leave Golde alone for a minute with these agonizing thoughts.
The partisans assured the women that all the men who had been arrested on the way to the ghetto the day before were alive and healthy, and had been taken away to work.
In addition to cold, hunger, worry about the fate of the men who had been taken away, and their tragic helplessness to obtain a bit of bread for their children, the women and girls were in deathly fear of being raped.
At night the partisans would wake the women and shine flashlights at them. They would select women and girls who appealed to them, herd them into the nearby woods and rape them. The screams of the women who had been violated could be heard in the camp; they echoed through the forest. The partisans would use their whips to force the women to be quiet, and they laughed out loud. The Lithuanian devil ruled, and he laughed fiendishly.
Young people from town, including Jews, used to come out strolling to that spot on summer evenings before the war. Now the only ones walking around were Lithuanian boys and girls who often came to see the “zoo.” That’s what the Lithuanians from town called the camp full of Jews. The local Lithuanians were eager and curious as they happily regarded the “zoo.” They listened attentively to the boasts of the partisans about what they had “invented” and accomplished in the field of tormenting the innocent Jewish women and children.
During those summer evenings, the music and singing of the carefree Lithuanians in the houses nearby, and of the youth in the nearby woods, carried to the makeshift camp. The air was full of the singing and trilling of assorted songbirds in the forests and fields.
In the midst of this carefree sea of joyful life, the camp appeared like an isle of tears, where loneliness, terror and hunger ruled day and night, and where one constantly heard weeping, heartrending moans and sighs of Jewish women and children.
Motl rested well in Varute’s attic, and his wounds healed quickly. But he couldn’t remain there quietly very long. He was deeply distressed about the fate of his mother and the children. He absolutely had to know where the women, children and the few surviving old men had been taken. Motl convinced Varute to go to the dachas to find his mother and convey to her the message that he was alive, and that his life was no longer in danger.
Varute had acquaintances among the partisans guarding the camp. This gave her an opportunity to meet Golde. Of course, Varute didn’t relate the story of how Motl had survived the slaughter. However, she assured Golde that Motl was alive. The astonished Golde broke out in hysterical weeping. She didn’t believe what Varute told her, and asked her to bring a letter from Motl. When she got home, Varute went to the attic and told Motl everything.
With his left hand, which had not been injured, Motl wrote just two words on a piece of paper: “I’m alive.” Varute took the note to Golde, along with a package of food.
Her eyes filled with tears, Golde read the note from Motl several times. “Listen, I beg you; do what you can to save my son’s life,” Golde begged Varute, caressing and kissing her.
That day, Wednesday, July 9, 1941, Varute learned from some partisan friends of hers that the next day, Thursday, July 10, 1941, all the Jews in the camp were to be shot. When Varute had given the note from Motl to Golde, she had still been unaware of the terrible news. Varute told Motl the news.
On Thursday, July 10, Motl was unable to find any rest in the attic. He was feverish and overcome with trembling. He was constantly consumed with the thought that his mother, sisters and brothers might no longer be among the living in God’s beautiful world.
All day long, various thoughts and plans raced through his head, as he sought ways for save his near and dear ones. Every tortuously invented plan quickly evaporated in light of the gruesome reality.
While he lay in the attic, Motl looked out through the cracks toward the sinking sun and it seemed to him that this evening the sun was setting for all eternity. When it grew darker outside, he was overcome with a dreadful feeling. He felt drawn, dragged, torn and summoned. At night he descended from the attic and went to the Hare Hills.
In a nearby forest, among some shrubs, Motl hid himself and waited. His heart pounded in fear and agitation. The sky was illuminated by a full moon. Motl remembered how he himself had lain in the pit two days earlier. That night, too, the moon had looked down naively. That was when Motl learned to hate the moon. But now it had come back again.
From a great distance, Motl’s sharp eyes spotted a large crowd of people. Motl’s heart felt like it was about to burst. The more he looked, the more clearly he saw the crowd coming closer and closer to the Hare Hills. And Motl saw that most of the people were women and children.
The partisans made the crowd stop among the bushes. The terrible weeping and screams of women and children could be heard. Motl had never heard such painfully heartrending screams, yells and moans in his life. He also heard salvos of automatic rifle fire. The screams grew even wilder. Motl’s heart felt like it was going to burst in agitation. He felt the presence of death in various bizarre ways, the same ways he had felt it when he himself lay in the pit.
Figures began to appear in his brain. He saw the figures of his mother and the children next to the pit, and then their corpses in the pit. He knew exactly what that would look like. He himself had barely survived the same thing just two nights before.
Motl tried to move, and sensed that he had become chained to the cold ground. He was unable to tear himself away. He felt that he was about to die. With all his strength, with his heart and soul bloodied, he tore himself up from the ground and ran toward the Jewish cemetery. Like a tree that had just been chopped down, he fell down at his father’s grave.
While he lay on the grave, he heard shots coming from the Hare Hills. Motl began bitterly complaining to his father’s soul. He poured out everything his bitter, weakened heart held, accusing his erstwhile Lithuanian friends who had tried to shoot him on Tuesday, and who were now shooting his mother, brothers and sisters. He addressed his father for a long time. He poured out endless tears onto the grave. As much as he wept, his heart felt no lighter. He caressed and smoothed the sand covering the grave, and then he got up.
He began to wander among the graves and gravestones like a shadow. At every gravestone he stopped, complained, recited his tale and repeated the accusations. He felt exhausted, weak, on the verge of collapse. His wounded arm, hip and head all pained him. He lay down between two graves, and stayed there for a few hours. From the direction of the Hare Hills, he continued to hear salvos of shots, followed by individual shots.
Suddenly Motl heard footsteps at the cemetery. He looked around and spotted two children. They were carefully searching among the graves, looking for an appropriate place to lie down and hide themselves. Motl understood that the only children who would look for a place to hide at the Jewish cemetery in the middle of the night had to be Jewish children who had escaped death.
“Who’s over there? Who?” Motl called out carefully.
“Oy, oy, Mama!” the two children cried out in terror. They began to run away.
“Don’t be afraid,” Motl calmed the children. They stopped. Motl approached them. It was terrible to see how the two children looked. They were both deathly afraid, pale, cold. In their terror they were both unable to speak.
Motl recognized them. They were a pair of brothers. The elder, Hirshele, was fifteen years old, and the younger, Moyshele, was thirteen years old. They were Gavrielke Kats’ children. All three went to Motl’s father’s grave and sat down. The children calmed down a bit as they grew accustomed to the lonesome cemetery and began to tell their story:
That evening (Thursday, July 10, 1941) the partisans ordered everybody to get ready to move to a ghetto in Anykščiai. Nobody believed the partisans’ promises. The Lotver rabbi and his wife volunteered to be transported with the first group. He explained to everyone that he was relying completely on God. After that, women and children began to volunteer. Motl’s mother hoped that once in town, she would have a better chance of getting information about Motl, and so she had volunteered as well. The boys’ mother Khane didn’t want to be separated from Golde, so she volunteered as well.
About 300 people were taken from the camp. They were heavily guarded by partisans as they left. There were no rows. A large crowd slowly made its way toward town. Everyone thought they were being taken to prison first. When they arrived at the prison, the partisans ordered everyone to turn left, on the road leading toward the Hare Hills. Everyone understood by then that they were being taken to be shot. Women and children began screaming and weeping.
Golde’s smaller children began tugging at their mother’s skirt, pleading, “We haven’t done any harm to anybody! We want to live!”
“My children, what can I do? They’re taking us all away to be shot.” Golde broke out in bitter weeping. She felt weak, and nearly fell down.
“Don’t cry, Mama, don’t cry. Mama, are they taking us away to be shot at the same pit where Motl escaped?” the younger children asked.
“Be quiet, my children, be quiet! I’m not afraid of death. I can’t help you. But what’s going to happen to Motl?” And Golde began weeping again. The whole time Golde walked together with the boys’ mother Khane, and so they heard everything that was spoken.
When they arrived at the Hare Hills, the partisans ordered everyone to lie down on their bellies. The two mothers lay down next to each other, along with their children. The children clung tightly to each other, and to their mothers. Everyone wept and screamed, and begged the partisans not to shoot them. The partisans began striking with their whips, laughing as they did so. The mothers told the children to run away. Motl’s brothers and sisters didn’t want to leave their mother. Khane’s two sons, however, had held each others’ hands and began running toward the forest. Nobody noticed them. From the forest they had run to the Jewish cemetery.
All three stayed at the cemetery until just before daylight on Friday, and then they went to Varute’s house. When Varute saw all three Jews, she became terrified. She was afraid to hide all of them. But she offered to let Motl stay in her attic, and promised to help him.
Motl didn’t want to leave the children alone, however, and went away with them to hide in a potato field. All morning the three lay still, afraid to move at all. At midday, Varute brought food to all three. She dressed Motl’s wounds as well. It was a very hot day. The sun burned, baking the bodies of the three tired Jews. When evening arrived, Varute took them into the foyer of her house, and fed them. That Friday night all three slept in the potato field.
On the morning of Saturday, July 12, when Varute brought food to the potato field, Motl asked her to go to town and find out exactly what had happened to the Jews in the camp. When she came back Varute related that on the evening of Thursday, July 10, partisans had taken some three hundred women and children, along with a few old men, out of the camp and shot them at the Hare Hills. She also reported that people in town were saying that the surviving women and children had been taken from the dachas to a ghetto in Anykščiai.
When Varute went to the potato field, she would pretend to sing and casually wander about, in order to avoid anyone’s suspecting her true reasons. One time an aunt of Varute’s found her in the potato field. “Why are you out in the potato field all the time? It seems pretty suspicious to me! Tell me what’s going on here,” her aunt demanded. Varute had no choice but to tell her aunt the truth. Her aunt wiped tears from her eyes.
“Don’t be afraid, Varute! I’m hiding Gavriel Kats, the two boys’ father. He ran away, while he was being taken off with a group of Jews to be shot.” Thus she calmed Varute, who later reported everything to Motl.
That night Motl met Gavriel Kats and reunited him with his two children. The four survivors never separated again. Varute offered again to hide Motl at her house. Motl thanked her, but he didn’t want to be alone.
Thus began the four Jews’ hard and bitter struggle to stay alive. They had no valuables or money with which to buy food at night. Nor did they have a place to hide. They remained close to town in forests, fields and in small barns in the countryside. They would steal into a barn to sleep, without the peasants’ knowledge. At every step, they were in danger of being spotted by partisans. Varute was one of the very few who helped Jews during that tragic period. She always knew where the four Jews lay in hiding, and would bring them food and drink.
The Small Ghetto in Bath Street
At the end of the fifth week after the war broke out, Varute related to the four Jews that the last few hundred Jews had been taken away from the dachas and settled in Bath Street, near the synagogue yard. She also said that there was no guard posted nearby. The Jews were only allowed to move about in the small area which had been assigned to them. The four Jews decided to enter the ghetto for a short time in order to rest, and find out what had happened to their relatives and friends.
At 4:00 a.m. on Saturday, July 26, the four Jews stole into the potato field of the peasant Davidonis. Then they crawled on their bellies through the potato field belonging to Leybe Moyshe the bath house keeper, near the bath house. Gavrielke and the children remained lying there. Motl continued alone, through the yard of the study houses, to the home of Eliyohu Hechter. He looked through the window and saw women sleeping there whom he recognized. He slowly entered the door, and went into the house.
Motl saw a dreadful scene. He could barely recognize women whom he knew. Some of them lay on beds which had no bedding. Some of them lay on the naked ground. They were all covered with mud and dirt and wrapped in bits of rag. Among them he saw a friend of his sister’s named Rokhel-Gitke. Motl slowly woke her. Rokhel-Gitke opened a pair of red eyes, and screamed when she saw Motl, whom everyone assumed had been shot. Motl calmed her. The young girl looked like an old woman. Her eyes were red and dirty. Her entire body was caked in mud. Her hair hadn’t been combed in weeks. Motl was frightened by her appearance. She looked to him like a symbolic memorial, indicating the entire situation of the last Jews of Anykshstiai. Rokhel-Gitke looked at Motl, sorrowfully shook her head and wept.
“Motke, Motke, look! Look what they’ve done to us in the twentieth century! We innocent people, who want to live!”
Motl understood Rokhel-Gitke well. Tears began to flow from his eyes. Motl wanted to comfort her, but he could find no words. He calmed her as best he could. She told him that his cousin Peshke Romang and her brother Shmuel, aged fifteen, along with two younger sisters, were still alive.
Motl signaled for Gavrielke and the two children to enter the ghetto as well. Motl, Gavrielke and the two boys went to see Peshke Roruang at Motl’s house.
Motl barely recognized Peshke Romang. The unfortunates once again wept, over what had already taken place and over what was about to happen. All four hid in the pigeon coop on the attic.
That same Saturday, Motl and Gavrielke were visited by representatives of the Council of Elders in the small ghetto of Anykščiai. The men who came were Avrom Pantinovitz and Zalmen Shmushkovitz. The latter had formerly been the owner of an automobile transportation service. These were the few Jewish men who had managed temporarily to bribe the partisans, at a high price, into letting them stay alive. They brought food for the four hidden Jewish men. Various acquaintances came to them to ask about their sons, fathers and mothers.
A girl named Kunke had been a friend of Avremke Beder for some time. They had been preparing to get married before the war broke out. She asked Motl about her fiancée. Motl told her that he had been among the twelve men who were shot in the pit. Kunke screamed and fainted. The whole time she had still been hoping that her fiancée was alive.
Friends brought the group of four food which they had saved from their own reserves. Varute brought Motl food several times as well. The group of four began to get their strength back. Motl’s wounds began to heal.
The situation in the small ghetto proved that there hadn’t been any major change in the attitude of the Lithuanians toward the few remaining Jews in Anykščiai. When partisans would pass through Bath Street, where the four were hiding, everyone in the house would become terrified, not knowing where to go and hide.
The small ghetto was located in part of Bath Street, near the synagogue yard. Some of the houses on Bath Street were locked, their windows broken, the frames of the doors and windows ripped out. Everything in these abandoned houses had been vandalized and robbed. All that remained was some larger pieces of furniture. A sad and lonely emptiness reigned on Bath Street.
During the day the sun’s rays wandered solitary, like yellow fallen leaves in late autumn. There was no longer anyone left for them to caress, to warm, to fill with joy. By night, the abandoned houses looked like old ruins, frightening the residents of the small ghetto. The residents of the ghetto were the last Jews from town still surviving. In these poor homes there were also thrown together Jews from the finer parts of Anykščiai, Jews who had lived in comfortable homes before the war, who a short time earlier had still had businesses, had run factories and workshops. Now their homes were occupied by Lithuanians, especially the partisans and their families, who had also inherited all their possessions.
The residents of the ghetto seldom left their homes to go outside. They didn’t sit on their porches. Like mice, they did their best to remain discreetly hidden. If anyone did look out the window, it was only a short time before he disappeared again. There was no fence around the small ghetto. No one guarded it.
The partisans were confident that their tortured victims didn’t have anywhere or anyone to escape to or to hide with. Anyone who left the ghetto area was threatened with death.
The Jewish representatives of the ghetto population; the Council of Elders; had been appointed by the partisans. The Council of Elders had virtually nothing to do except to assign women to do the various tasks required by the partisans, or simply to “entertain” the partisans and be laughed at by them.
Constant hunger reigned in the ghetto. The Jews lived on potatoes they found in the cellars, or which they dug up in the gardens on Bath Street. In some of the houses people found coarse food which the Lithuanian residents hadn’t paid any attention to when they robbed the houses after the Jews were driven to the camp near the dachas. The small ghetto existed for precisely two weeks and no longer.
At the end of the sixth week of the war a rumor spread through Anykščiai that the Jews of the ghetto were going to be transferred to the ghetto in Panevezys or in Utena. Varute told Motl about this.
On August 6, the Jews in the ghetto reported to each other in terror that preparations were being made to transfer everyone to the ghetto of Utena. The women walked around like shadows, not knowing what to do. They had no choice but to believe in whatever they really wanted to. And all of them wanted so much to live. Motl openly expressed his opinion that nothing the Lithuanians said was to be believed. His terrible experiences had already convinced him of this principle.
Motl explained to his cousin that he was the only young man still alive, and he could not show himself to anyone under any circumstances. He began to get ready to escape from the ghetto. His cousin Peshke Romang begged him not to leave her alone with the smaller children.
In the evening of Wednesday, August 6 Motl, Gavrielke and his two sons left the ghetto, and slipped past the study houses. Shots followed them from every side. It turned out that the area of the small ghetto had already been surrounded. The four Jews ran around like poisoned mice looking for some place to hide. They made their way to the steps of the new study house, leading up to the women’s section. From there they made it up to the attic, where they hid. The partisans ran up onto the stairs, looked around and then continued further. They didn’t notice the opening which led to the attic. The four Jews stayed in the attic all night. Through the cracks between the boards they saw groups of heavily armed partisans guarding the ghetto.
The Ultimate Liquidation of the Jewish Population of Anykščiai
On Thursday, August 7, 1941, at 4:00 a.m., a glowing red sun began to slip down from the mountains. The Jews in the ghetto still twisted in their agony upon the bare beds or on the naked earth. Groups of partisans began banging on the doors, breaking windows and shouting, “Jews outside!” (Zhydai isheikyte). Deathly terrified faces of sleepy women and children began to appear through the open doors. The partisans drove some of the women out of the houses in their underwear. Motl saw through the cracks in the attic women with one shoe on a foot and the other in their hands. Some of them were in their underwear, with their clothing in their arms. The helpless women and children quickly ran out of their houses, not knowing what else to do. There was a terrible panic, as if a fire were racing through Bath Street. Wild screams and weeping could be heard on all sides.
All the Jews were driven into the yard between the old and new study houses, near the walls. Some of the women sat down on the steps of the new study house. They sat wringing their hands, while others held their heads on their palms. It looked like the women were mourning their loved ones. Among those on the steps sat Motl’s cousin Peshke Romang. Motl stood up in the attic and saw everyone. When a partisan left the stairs, Motl called out “Pesh…” Gavrielke’s hand quickly stopped his voice. But Peshke had heard Motl’s voice. She looked around, but couldn’t figure out where he had called to her from.
Gavrielke led Motl over to the other side of the attic.
When all the Jews had been driven out of their houses, the partisans ordered them to line up in rows. The small packages the Jews had managed to bring along were ripped out of their hands. Reyzele, the 17-year-old daughter of Abrashe Pantinovitz, was dragged up the steps by partisans and locked behind the door.
Motl went close to the steps again. He saw Reyzele laying next to a karakul lamb coat. At first there were three partisans. They raped her. In a muffled voice, Reyzele wept and moaned. Motl wiped his moist eyes with his hands. One of the peasants said: “There’s no reason to pity her! They’re going to be taken off and shot at Lake Utena anyway.” Motl couldn’t stand it any longer, and went to the other side of the attic. He heard the partisans leaving, and others coming in. When Reyzele was half-unconscious, they rolled her back down the stairs.
That Thursday, in the middle of the day, the sun poured hot rays down on the roof of the new study house. The heat was terrible in the attic. Motl, Gavrielke and the two children looked out through the cracks in the attic, watching in terror as the partisans drove the last Jews out of Anykščiai.
They saw elderly mothers with sorrowing, wrinkled faces, with scarves on their gray heads. They were barely able to drag their feet, and younger women had to support them under their arms.
They saw young girls and newlywed wives with unkempt hair and aged, unwashed faces. They saw pregnant women, their swollen bellies sticking out, getting ready to bring new lives into the world. Children of all ages clung tightly to their mothers’ skirts. There were still a few old men with gray beard and pale faces. The formless mass of lives slowly and lazily crept forward. Sorrowing eyes looked around, mourned everything and took their leave for the last time.
On the side of the street, dressed in light summer clothes and with the sun’s rays on their faces, stood happy Lithuanians from town. Wearing satisfied smiles, they accompanied the last Jews of Anykščiai out of town. They prepared to inherit whatever Jewish possessions they hadn’t yet managed to rob.
Partisans, carefully groomed and dressed in their uniforms and well armed, stood guard around the tragic mass of Jews on all sides. They cracked their whips now in the air, now over the heads of the women and children.
With tears, with heartrending moans and sighs, the tragic mass of Jews slowly went further and further from town, further from their homes and then they disappeared from view. That day the Jewish community of Anykščiai breathed its last breath.
That day Anykščiai was finally “Lithuanianized.”
Motl Mourns for the Murdered Spiritual and Cultural Beauty
At 2:00 p.m. that Thursday, partisans began carrying out the furniture, bedding, clothing and dishes from all the Jewish houses into the new study house. They also threw in the small packages they had taken away from the Jews before they marched them out of Anykščiai.
In the evening they locked and sealed the doors. Motl, Gavrielke and the two children remained in the attic of the new study house, with partisans standing guard all around.
In the evening the four Jews sought a chance to make their way out of the study house. The partisans outside heard footsteps, and began running around looking for them. Apparently they thought people had come to steal the goods being stored there. But they couldn’t go into the study house because the doors were sealed.
In the morning on Friday, August 8, Motl carefully went down onto the stairs and into the women’s section. Motl looked out through the windows down into the men’s section. A tragic scene was revealed there. Some of the possessions of the town’s Jews which the local Lithuanians hadn’t managed to rob lay there piled in heaps.
Motl called Gavrielke and the boys to come down from the attic into the women’s section. They examined and looked through the orphaned Jewish goods. There were furniture, bedding, brass and silver candlesticks, mirrors, wristwatches. In smaller boxes, other valuables were thrown together: wedding rings, clocks, golden earrings, old pocket watches with long thick chains, and the like.
The weather was dreadfully hot. They had no water. The four Jews were tormented by thirst. Motl went down to look for water, but was unsuccessful. Among the packages there was a bottle. Motl was overjoyed, thinking he’d found water. He opened the bottle. He was disappointed by the strong, bitter smell of kerosene. In the small packages Motl found bread, hard-boiled eggs and other food which the women had prepared to take along for the road. Motl also found a jar of preserved cherries. He found no water. Motl took the food he’d found, including the jar of cherries, back upstairs to the attic.
Gradually the four Jews got used to their situation. Every day they crept down through the oven into the men’s section. Each one, in his fashion, “had his way” with the possessions of the town’s Jews. On the floor lay tefillin with torn straps, tallioth, books, torn volumes of the Talmud, thousands and thousands of photographs, and a number of pictures of Jewish writers and personalities.
The four Jews found ways to fill the long, hot summer days. They looked through the photographs of the Jews of Anykščiai. They found different kinds of photographs there; photographs of aging parents, young couples in love, photographs taken at the Puntikas Stone, groups of young people belonging to various youth movements, marriages, dances, everything. Everything was scattered on the floor, violated and orphaned. On the back of almost all the photographs was written, “as an everlasting memory.” Motl “spoke” to a number of the photographs, asking them why the tragedy had come. He found a number of photographs of himself together with his beloved Khaye-Leyke, and pictures of his entire family. Motl looked at them, read the phrase “an everlasting memory,” and tears poured from his eyes as he mourned all the living Jewish worlds which the Lithuanians had cut short, for the “eternal memories” which were fated for annihilation.
One afternoon the four Jews in the new study house sat down on overturned lecterns in a corner. They looked through the pile of books the partisans had taken out of the library. They looked through thousands of photographs and pictures. Without saying a word to each other, they mourned their tragic situation in the language of the mute. As if they were reciting the Book of Lamentations on the Ninth of Av, the four Jews sat mourning the great catastrophe of their own Jewish community of Anykščiai.
Motl was overcome by a strange feeling which he had never sensed before, and which he was unable to comprehend. He began to hover, to live in an entirely different world from the one he’d been in until that moment. His feverish imagination, his burning soul, began to revive the Jewish lives which had been cut short, the Jewish worlds which had been murdered.
In his imagination he saw once again all the pictures hanging in Jewish homes, in the headquarters of various organizations and in the libraries. He saw all the photographs back in place in their albums or hanging on the walls.
And thus trembling in a holy fever, Motl gradually reassembled and reincarnated in his imagination the rich variety of spiritual, cultural, nationalist and religious Jewish life in Anykščiai.
Motl felt his heart pounding and his pulse racing in his temples. In his brain appeared the figures of elderly Jews, sitting at tables in the study houses between the afternoon and evening prayers, studying the Talmud with intense concentration. He saw the glorious Jewish youth organizations of every tendency and conviction, all dedicated to the nation. He saw their expeditions to the Puntikas Stone, to the dachas, and the way they marched with pomp through the streets of the town, blue and white flags flapping in the wind, bearing fiery torches, accompanied by their own small orchestras as they sang Hebrew and Yiddish songs.
In his feverish fantasy, Motl saw the young men and young women of Anykščiai, whose thoughts and concerns were bound up with the Jewish nation, who celebrated the victories of the Jewish people and who suffered when the Jewish people were in pain. Motl saw once again hundreds of young people from Anykščiai who were prepared to leave their parents’ homes in order to build a better, richer future for the Jewish people, in order to assure the eternal continuity of the Jewish nation.
Motl saw himself together with his comrades in the Communist youth movement, struggling with determination for a better future for all humanity.
Gavrielke looked at Motl, whose eyes were glazed over as he stared at the pile of pictures and photographs, and he was unable to understand why Motl had such a satisfied smile on his face. Motl was indeed happy. He actually laughed, because at that moment he was living in a world his imagination had awoken from the dead. In one instant Motl saw the entire physical, cultural and spiritual world of the Jews of Anykščiai, everything together, murdered by military shovels, poles, beams, whips and firearms, at the hands of the sons of the Lithuanian nation.
And Motl began to understand what the Jews of Anykščiai had once possessed, and what it was they had lost. For the first time Motl really understood and appreciated this slaughtered spiritual and cultural beauty. His heart was filled with a devastating longing for the cultural beauty and glory, for the blossoming, growing, full-bodied and varied Jewish life which had once seemed so natural. Motl’s heart and nerves couldn’t stand it. As if deranged, he threw himself down on the shapeless mass of books, photographs and pictures. As if there were an alien soul in his body, wild moans and a shrieking sort of weeping broke forth from his mouth: “Weep, Gavrielke! Mourn and weep! Children, mourn and weep for this dead beauty! We must mourn for our murdered national and religious beauty! Oh, oh!”
“Motke! What’s with you? What are you doing? Have you forgotten where we are? Have pity on the children? The partisans will hear you!” Gavrielke put both his hands over Motl’s mouth.
The children looked at Motl in astonishment and terror. Gavrielke reminded Motl of the actual, tragic situation. Motl shook his head, rubbed his eyes in wonder and looked around. Biting his lips in a storm of anguish, Motl lifted himself up from the floor and began to tear, break, pluck apart, cut and destroy everything that fell into his hands.
“Gavrielke! Children! Help me destroy all these things that belong to Jews, so that the murderers won’t be able to enjoy them,” Motl ordered.
The four Jews looked through all the goods. They tore apart all the better bedding, pillows, quilts and blankets, and let the down and feathers pour out of them. They plucked and tore several dozen good fur coats. They broke, bent and hid heaps of items made of gold. They broke and bent large copper containers, pots and pans. They ruined everything, throwing it all mixed together into one huge pile. They continued this work for several days. They assembled the books, photographs, pictures, tallioth and tefillin together in a single spot.
It was hot during the day. They were so unbearably thirsty that they were forced to drink their own urine. They found a bit of moisture in the drain near the basin, and they licked that up as well. They jealously guarded the jar of cherries, and gave it gradually to the children, who were so overcome with thirst that they became nervous and began to argue amongst themselves.
For the first half of the day, they would stay in the attic, looking out at the beautiful, free world, at the blue sky and the fiery sun. In the afternoon and evening they would lie idly or sleep downstairs on the pile of pillows and quilts. Thus it continued, every day, every night. They lost count of the days and nights, which swallowed each other in an unchanging series, which were transformed into tortuous eternities.
The Jews could no longer stand their thirst. They were also afraid that after the goods were removed, the attic might be searched. They found long, sturdy towels, tied them to each other, and waited impatiently for night to come.
They threw the “rope” of tied-together towels out through the small window of the attic. They tied one end fast at the top. First the children, and then Motl and Gavrielke, made their way down to the ground. When all four had reached the ground, the partisans heard their footsteps, and began running around to find where they had come from.
The Jews quickly jumped over a fence and fell into the nearby stream.
The partisans began shooting after them. But the four Jews didn’t pay any attention to the shooting. They lay next to the stream, finally drinking their fill of the cold, refreshing water. It made them more alert, gave them strength and encouraged them to continue struggling for their lives.
Thanks to the picket fences and walls around the new study house and the nearby courtyards, the partisans found it hard to chase the four Jews, who knew the area intimately. All four of them ran to the nearby Jewish cemetery, rested there and conferred about how to proceed. The partisans ran around wildly, shooting in the opposite direction.
The four Jews knocked at Varute’s door. She fed them and arranged where she would meet them in the forest to feed them. The Jews found out from Varute what day it was. They had been in the synagogue attic from Wednesday, August 6, until Saturday evening, August 16.
It was dangerous for them to stay at the cemetery any longer. That same evening the four Jews set off for the Kunegishkis forest, and arranged a hiding place among some bushes on the banks of the Shventoji River. Varute was supposed to find them there. Several days passed, and she had not come. The Jews no longer had any food. Motl went to her house by himself. Varute agreed to hide Motl by himself. He refused to leave Gavrielke alone with the two children. Then Varute thought up a new plan. She promised to hide Motl at her place. She would hide Gavrielke and the children in an empty house which belonged to a Jew. It was not far from her house, and had already been filled with hay. She promised to bring food and drink to Gavrielke and the children. There was no other solution. Motl accepted the offer. The Lithuanian girl did a lot to help the Jews.
During the day Motl lay hidden in a stall full of straw at Varute’s house. Varute had her own room in the other half of the house. At night, Varute would bring Motl in to sleep in her heated room. Her mother knew about it, and didn’t try to stop it.
Motl Refuses to Convert and Marry Varute
Before the war Varute had been in the habit of seeking out chances to meet Motl, to dance with him, walk with him or simply spend time together with him. Motl didn’t want to upset his girlfriend Khaye- Leyke, who was jealous. He often avoided Varute. Now Varute exploited Motl’s helplessness, and helped him a great deal.
More than once partisan friends of Varute’s came to her house in the evening and knocked on her window. Then she would hide Motl in a large chest of clothing, which stood next to a window in another room. Motl would lie in the chest, overhearing various conversations, carefully controlling his breathing even as his heart pounded.
Once, when it was already late in the evening, a partisan knocked on Varute’s covered window. Motl quickly ran over to the other side of the wall and lay down in the large chest. The partisan was garrulous, boasting of his “heroic deeds” and brutality during the slaughter of the Jews. All the partisans were eager to talk about their deeds at that time. They were especially boastful when they talked to their girlfriends.
“I can’t listen to any more,” Varute protested.
“What? You can’t listen to it? We visit girls and go dancing with them, and they’re very interested in the shooting of the Jews. Some of the girls don’t want to dance with any one of our men who hasn’t shot enough Jews,” the partisan insisted to Varute.
“Just tell me, what did you do with the Jews who were taken away from Anykščiai,” Varute asked.
“We took them away to Utena that very day on the small-gauge railroad. We kept them locked up in the cars overnight. The next day, August 8, we took them away a kilometer and a half from Utena, near a lake not far from the White Prison, and we shot all of them there.”
“Oh, you frogs! How could you have the heart to shoot innocent women and children with no provocation!”
“What do you mean, how could we have the heart? At first, actually, it was hard, but then we got used to it.”
“Not one of the helpless people escaped?”
“Our men stood with guns around the spot where they were executed, making sure no one could escape. A lot of the Jewish women and children threw themselves into the lake, as if they were crazy. So we shot them in the water, for the fish…”
“Remember! Innocent blood which has been spilled will not remain silent! We will have to account to the world for this! What will happen then? What will people say of our nation?”
“You’re crazy! Not one of the Jews will live to tell the tale. We’re making sure of that! After the war? If the Germans win, then no one will take us to account. If they lose the war, then we’ll say the Germans killed all the Jews in Lithuania. Everybody knows the Germans kill Jews wherever they go.”
“There will be enough Lithuanians around who’ll tell the truth,” Varute reminded him.
“The Devil take them! Meanwhile we have to get rid of the Jews, and Lithuanians have to inherit their riches. And what happens later, we’ll deal with later.”
“As far as the older ones go, you thought up slanders about Communism to accuse them. But why are you shooting small children?”
“When you clean up a house and bottles are broken, you break little ones as well as big ones,” the partisan responded, casually comparing Jewish lives to glass bottles.
“Oh, my God Lord Jesus! Lord Jesus! I saw them being driven from town. There were so many pregnant women among them!”
“Oh, the pregnant women? Ha, ha, ha! You know, Varute, as soon as we brought them to the pits near the lake, a lot of them began to go into labor. They bore their children just like mice. They begged us to shoot them before they bore their children.”
“So what did you do?”
“Us? Ha, ha, ha,” the partisan laughed. “We explained to them that first they had to bear another little Jew for us to shoot. After they were born, we shot the mothers, and we threw the living babies at them in the pit.”
“That’s degenerate! Murder! Frogs!” Varute could no longer stand it, and she burst out weeping. “Have mercy on me, oh Jesus! Dear Jesus! Jesus!”
“Varute! What are you, a Jewish girl? We can’t be sentimentalists. We can’t calculate with pity. Anyone who doesn’t have the courage to kill Jews isn’t a good Lithuanian patriot. We have to get rid of them once and for all, you understand?”
From his tone of voice Varute understood that he was quite agitated. She didn’t want to upset him any more by cursing at him. She began again, more calmly:
“Tell me, do you remember the Garber girl?”
“Which Garber girl do you mean, Varute?”
“You know! The butcher’s daughter, the one who studied at the Lithuanian gymnasium.”
“Oh, that Garber girl? A damned snake!”
“Why? She was beautiful, and she spoke Lithuanian well.”
“You know, under no circumstances would she give herself to our men. That frog! You could have killed her on the spot! They took her to the jail, and tortured and beat her, and she never gave in. So she was taken with some other women to the Hare Hills to be shot. They all snorted like pigs and took their clothes off. But her? Under no circumstances would she take her clothes off. The other ones at least took some of their clothes off, but her? She decided to start a revolution! She felt like having a revolution! One of our partisans got angry. He grabbed her by her braids, and banged her over the head a couple of times with a military shovel. He knocked part of her skull out. He took her clothes off and threw her naked body into the pit.
“Oh, Jesus! Oh Jesus,” Varute screamed.
And in the chest, behind the wall. Motl heard the entire conversation. His heart felt faint. He was desperate for air, and he almost fainted. Until that conversation, Motl had had no information about the fate of his beloved Khaye-Leyke. Motl heard similar boastful conversations a number of times. Afterwards he would tell Gavrielke and the children about them.
“Listen, Gavrielke! Listen, children! Remember! Remember! If any one of us remains alive, we have to remember this and tell the entire world.”
“Absolutely, Motl! We definitely have to remember, and tell the world after the war,” Gavrielke decided. Varute hid the four Jews and conscientiously nourished them. She took care of Motl like a loyal sister. But Varute wasn’t satisfied with what she already had. She wanted to make sure that Motl would be hers forever.
On Friday, August 22, Varute came to see Motl in his straw-filled stall in the middle of the day. She brought him a plate of berries with sugar sprinkled on top. Motl thanked her sincerely. But he noticed that Varute had been weeping. Motl became very afraid. He was afraid that she had revealed to someone the secret that she was hiding Jews, Varute told Motl that she had been to see the priest that morning, and had spoken with him about the possibility of having Motl converted, and then openly marrying Motl. Varute was naive enough to believe that by having Motl converted, she could save a Jewish life and have him for herself.
The blood rushed to Motl’s head. He shuddered as he listened to Varute’s plan.
“No, no, Varute! I thank you sincerely. I’ll never do that.”
“Motl, I beg you! I love you, and you’re fond of me as well. I know that you loved the Garber girl, and you avoided me before the war broke out. I suffered so much. I was jealous! Believe me, Motl, I didn’t want the Garber girl to die. But you must face the fact now. She’ll never be alive again!”
“Varute! I’ll never forget what you’ve done for me, for Gavrielke and for the children. I know that you’ve risked your own life, and I don’t know how I can thank you. But Varute! Don’t forget that I am a son of an innocently slaughtered people, and I’ll never betray the faith of my murdered parents! Never, not even formally. And I know also that the same thing happened throughout Lithuania as happened in Anykščiai!”
“Motl, believe me! I understand very well what you think of my people. But I’m not guilty. I love you, Motl! You’re so young, Motl. Stay alive! Stay alive! Conversion is only on paper. After we get married, you can live your life the way you want to. Meanwhile, save your life! Motl!” Varute pleaded and wept.
“No, no, Varute! I won’t do it! I’m fond of you, and I don’t want to die. But I don’t want to survive by joining the camp of such bestial brutes and murderers. I don’t even want to belong on paper to the religions of the Lithuanian partisans!”
The two of them looked at each other for a while, as if they had just met for the first time. Two alien worlds looked at each other. Varute broke out weeping and left the stall. Motl began to fear Varute and her desperate love. He was afraid that if he continued to refuse to convert and marry her, in her desperate disappointment she might surrender him to the partisans.
That same Friday evening, without telling Varute, the four Jews fled to the Shilela forest. Motl never saw Varute again.
The Great Miracle in the Attic of a Field Bath
No matter whose door the Jews knocked at, whether at the edge of town or in the countryside; everywhere they were driven away, and no one gave them so much as a bit of bread or a drink of water. The Jews fruitlessly tried to find a kinder peasant. Most of them were very hostile toward Jews. Some of them were afraid.
Motl and Gavrielke were left with no alternative, if they wanted to still their own hunger and that of the children. They stole three chickens from a peasant at night. Then they stole a tin pot out of a bath belonging to a Russian named Fedodka, and dug some potatoes up from a field. They took everything away to the Kunegishkis forest, made a fire and prepared a “meal.”
Days and nights began their weary cycle into eternity. The four Jews lost count of the days. Every time they searched for food they placed their lives in danger. Their chances of remaining alive seemed minimal. They decided to leave the blood-soaked soil of Lithuania and go to White Russia, where they hoped to find people who were more friendly toward Jews. But they felt worn out, overtired, chilled and sick. By that time it was already cold in the forest at night. Autumn came early that year. The Jews decided to let themselves rest for a while, gather some food and then begin to march toward White Russia.
They didn’t know about the ghettos in Kaunas and Shavl.
They went to the edge of town near the old post office, and stayed in the attic of a field bath. At night the two adults would leave the attic and pick cucumbers and fruit from the nearby gardens and orchards. They kept the leftovers of the three chickens for the children.
When the peasants heated up the bath, the attic where the four Jews lay was filled with smoke so thick that they couldn’t see each other. The Jews would stick their noses into the cracks between the boards, trying to breathe fresh air from outside. After the smoke would come the dreadful steam and heat, which the peasants made by pouring water over glowing-hot stones. This was torture for the four Jews in the attic.
When they climbed up into the attic, the Jews had to pull apart the boards in the ceiling, which hadn’t been nailed together. Stalks (often from flax plants) would fall down from above. As far as possible, they cleaned this up. But the peasants noticed it, and often looked up at the ceiling.
After the men were finished, women would come to bathe. Once again the attic turned into a steaming Hell. Older and younger Lithuanian women came there to wash themselves, talk and babble on. They spoke in revolting terms about love, about sexual relations, and meanwhile the four Jews lay in the attic, listening to the conversation. Embarrassed smiles and stifled laughter played across the sweaty faces of Motl, Gavrielke and the two young boys.
After the women left, the four Jews would get down from the attic at night, wash themselves and drink water. They would stay warm on the benches of the bath all night.
One time, when the Jews were staying warm after a bath, a peasant woman walked by and looked through the window of the bath. It was impossible to run away, because it was still light out. Before a half hour had passed, the bath was surrounded by armed partisans. The Jews managed to make it into the attic. Partisans entered the bath.
“Who’s in there? Get down!” they ordered.
The terrified Jews remained sitting on the boards. The partisans checked the boards with their rifle barrels. Stalks and dust flew down from the attic. The partisans left the bath.
“But somebody was obviously here,” one of them insisted.
On one side of the bath was a tall hill. One of the partisans climbed up on the hill, pushed the barrel of his rifle through and ripped apart two of the boards in the attic. Rays of light poured into the attic from outside. The four Jews saw the partisans’ murderous eyes. Their hearts began to beat in terror. The four helpless Jews were sure that they had been caught. Then the incomprehensible miracle occurred: the partisan didn’t notice the four Jews. One of them proposed going to the nearby forest to have a look. They all went away.
The four Jews barely made it until nightfall, and then they went to the Kunigishkis forest, at the bank of the Shventoji river. They gave up hope of finding a hiding place at the home of a peasant, and began preparing a bunker. It was impossible to lie on the ground in the forest any longer, because of the rain and the early cold.
The Jews concentrated on digging a bunker, first with sticks of wood and then with shovels stolen from peasants. When they had been digging for some time, the earth would collapse. They didn’t have any tools. They risked their lives when they went to steal from peasants. Their greatest night time enemies were the peasants’ dogs, who would bark loudly and strain at their leashes as soon as the Jews began to approach a house. ‘The Jews carried away in bushel baskets the dirt they dug up and dumped it into the river, so that there would be no evidence of their work. After they’d been working hard for two nights, the sides of the pit collapsed once again. They abandoned the plan of building a bunker, and decided to leave Lithuania.
Motl Remains Alone and Is Unable to Find Gavrielke and the Children
All four of them were worn out from hunger and several nights of hard work. Gavrielke suggested that they go see a peasant who was a good friend of his, get something for the children to eat and begin their march toward White Russia.
At 11:00 p.m. they all left the forest. The sky was clouded over. The earth was already frozen. The entire area was locked in darkness. They quietly reached the modest houses at the edge of town. Suddenly they heard commands in Lithuanian: “Stokytei” (Halt). Flashlights shined on them from every side. The Jews had nowhere to run. The circle around them began to narrow. There was only one chance of survival; by jumping into the Shventoji River.
At that spot the banks of the river were high, almost vertical.
The partisans were sure that none of the Jews would run in that direction. But Motl saw that there was no alternative, and that he was in danger of being captured alive. Motl didn’t think twice, ran to the bank of the river and jumped down from the top of the bluff. Still wearing his clothes, he threw himself into the river and started swimming toward the other side. The partisans shot at him from the bank. Bullets splashed into the water all around him. The current washed Motl up on a boulder, which he grabbed and clung to with his hands. He kept himself underwater up to his neck. The partisans ran along the bank, shooting continuously.
Motl felt desperately cold and heavy. He was being dragged down.
The partisans left. Motl swam to the other side of the river. He saw the situation clearly. He realized that the partisans would cross over the bridge and chase after him down Kowarski Road. Motl set off back toward town.
At the edge of town stood a warehouse belonging to a Jew named Yankl Fisher. Raw pelts lay in the warehouse, which was surrounded by a wooden fence, topped with barbed wire. Climbing over the fence, Motl got one of his feet caught in the barbed wire, and got stuck there. And suddenly he heard riders on horseback and on motorcycles racing down Kowarski Road, and then disappearing. Motl got his foot free of the wire, and fell down into the compound. But he wasn’t safe there either. He broke a windowpane, planning to go inside and hide under the raw pelts. But the window was barred from inside. Wet, tired, hungry and fearful, Motl stayed outside for a while. His last comfort, the last Jews; Gavrielke and his two children, had been lost somewhere. Motl didn’t see them again.
He stayed in the yard of the fur warehouse until just before daybreak. It was late in the autumn of 1941 by then. Outside everything was white and frozen. It made no sense to stay there any longer. Still wet, in need of sleep and hungry, Motl set off across the fields toward the train station. He fearfully made it over the bridge, and arrived at the Hare Hills. In the thick brush Motl rested a bit.
Not far from the Hare Hills, near the edge of town, stood the home of Khonke the quilter. The windows were boarded up. Motl made his way through a window into the empty house. There was a little bit of hay inside. Motl curled up in the hay and fell into a deep sleep.
Before noon a peasant named Bruzhinskis who lived on Skemeny Street near the prison began bringing hay and piling it up in Khonke the quilter’s house. The peasant had inherited the house and turned it into a barn.
Motl crawled into a corner under the hay. The peasant brought wagon-load after wagon-load of hay, and piled it through the window inside the house. It was too dangerous for Motl to leave the house during the day, because the sons and fathers who lived in the surrounding houses were partisans. Motl was afraid to begin a conversation with the peasant. His mind was already made up concerning the Lithuanian peasants. He had to remain still and wait until night came.
The peasant continued energetically loading the hay, and his feet trampled Motl. Motl felt the urge to appeal to the peasant, but his mouth seemed to be sealed shut. He had no air. All day long the peasant kept bringing hay and loading it into the house. In the evening he boarded up the windows and went away. Motl didn’t know whether it was dark yet. The utter stillness outside was the only indication.
Sweat began to flow from Motl’s body. Everything around him became steamy and began to smell of rot. Various worms and flying insects crawled around his body. His mouth was full of dust. He felt as thirsty as if he were in the middle of a desert.
Motl didn’t know how long he’d been lying there. He didn’t know when day ended and night began. Beneath the hay it was as dark as in a grave. He fell asleep there. When he woke up, covered with sweat, he began sweeping the hay away with one hand, and crawled to the edge of the wall. He dragged his wounded arm behind him. His wounded hip was swollen, and his head rocked unsteadily on his shoulders. With difficulty he managed to reach a window. He squeezed his eyes and opened them again several times, but he was still unable to determine whether it was night or day. He fell asleep again near the sealed window. When he aroused himself again, it was already daylight.
Through the cracks in the boarded-up window he saw the autumn landscape. The yellow fields of autumn stretched out into the distance, and pigs and cows grazed beneath the cloudy sky. Shepherds ran back and forth, happily whistling and singing. The bells in the church of Anykščiai began to ring. They called on all faithful Christians to come, kneel and pray to Jesus of Nazareth, king of the Jews. Peasants from the countryside and Lithuanians from the edge of town, along with their wives and children, walked and rode to church in their best holiday clothes.
Motl was seized by a painful thought at that moment. He couldn’t understand what was happening to the world. He couldn’t understand why faithful Christian partisans who had murdered thousands of innocent Jewish men, women and children in such a brutal fashion could now come to kneel before a dead Jew, before the image of a Jew in church. And everyone was allowed to go to church to pray to that Jew. Everyone, including the partisans, stained as they were with blood, the same partisans who now sought to take his young life, could go to church. Motl was tormented by the thought. But he was unable to comprehend it. In any case, he knew that brutality and cruelty lurked all around him. Like in jungles filled with angry humans, like snakes, lions, tigers and other monsters, hunting for him, Motele Tarzan, seeking to destroy his young life. Motl finally decided to leave the familiar landscape, the fields, villages and wonderful woods, and to try his luck somewhere far away, far from these Lithuanians. He decided to set off for White Russia by way of Dvinsk.
A creaking sound broke the silence of the dark night. Motl broke one of the boards covering the window, and left the hay. Motl drank at the nearby stream. Then he left and lay down in the bath house belonging to the peasant Fedodka. Motl took off his wet clothes, and lay down naked on the bench. The bath house had been used during the day. It was warm inside. Motl slept there all night, and through the entire next day.
He began to be tormented by hunger, and had already forgotten how many days he had gone without anything to eat or drink.
Not far from the bath lived the Russian peasant Fedodka. Motl decided to get something to eat from him before he went away. He knocked cautiously on the door a number of times. Fedodka came out in his underwear. His teeth chattered in fear when he saw a Jew. He gave Motl a piece of bread and asked him to go away as fast as possible.
Motl didn’t eat the bread; he wolfed it down in huge chunks. The little bit of food merely increased his appetite. He decided to go to the home of another peasant named Klimanski, who lived on the other side of the bridge.
Motl Parts with Anykščiai and with His Father’s Grave
Actually it was possible for Motl to get to the peasant’s home without going through town. But he was overcome by an overwhelming longing, and he decided to go through town so that he could see the streets and the orphaned Jewish homes for one last time.
It was a dark autumn night. He didn’t think there was any danger of his being recognized by Lithuanians. Motl felt like he was walking in a huge cemetery as he walked along the dark streets and alleys of Anykščiai. With his heart pounding and a feeling of sorrow he thought about the empty Jewish houses, which stood like sphinxes shrouded in mourning. In most of the houses the windows had been broken and the doors ripped from their frames. Every house reminded him of the Jewish heads of households which had lived and enjoyed life there just a few months before, whereas now Motl was reminded of the long, deep pit at the Hare Hills, where he himself had lain nearly dead, and where his childhood friends and acquaintances lay murdered.
Through the pitch dark night, the sounds of an orchestra playing wafted through town. It was the same orchestra in which Motl and other Jews had played a few months before. Motl looked through the window of a dance hall and saw happy, contended Lithuanian boys and girls dancing together. Among them were a large number of uniformed partisans, all of them drunken and sweaty. Motl cast a final look at all of the streets and alleys, especially Bath Street, and then he left town.
When he came close to the home of the peasant Klimanskis, dogs began to bark loudly. Motl didn’t go to the peasant’s house. Instead he went to say goodbye to the Jewish cemetery and his father’s grave.
This time Motl perceived the cemetery in its entirety. The graves and mausoleums were wrapped in darkness. Sorrowful, strong autumn winds whistled angrily. It seemed to Motl that the trees were swaying back and forth reciting the Kaddish, or “All Merciful God” in memory of the dead lying in the graves, in memory of so many generations of Jews who had lived and died in Anykščiai. He felt very depressed and lonely.
After peering around in the darkness until he found his father’s grave, Motl “prepared” himself. He thought about exactly what he should say, what he should relate, and finally what he should ask of his father in the grave. When he arrived and threw himself onto the grave, he abandoned all of his carefully arranged thoughts and “prepared” words.
An endless flow of tears poured from his eyes. He told his father everything that had happened to him in the past few months. Before he left Motl begged, “Dear father, intercede for me, and see that I have luck in my struggle to stay alive!” Motl remembered these last words all throughout his journey to Dvinsk, and indeed for the rest of his life. With a heavy heart he took his leave of his father’s grave, and headed away from the cemetery in the direction of Dvinsk, through fields, pastures and forests.
Motl’s Route to Dvinsk
During the day Motl would lie hidden in forests, among shrubs or in haystacks in the fields. At night he would walk through unfamiliar regions. He was afraid to go to peasants’ homes for food, and he fed himself on white beets, raw potatoes, carrots and cabbages which he found in the fields.
When he had already made it close to Dvinsk, near the town of Subota, Motl felt that he was losing his last strength. A dreadful pain in his guts forced him to think about finding some food. He lay in a haystack in a field all day, observing a peasant farm. He saw that the only ones going in and out of the house were women and children. He didn’t see any men.
At night he went into the house. A frightened peasant woman let him in and fed him. It was the first hot, cooked food he’d had in exactly two months. Motl briefly related his experiences to the good peasant woman. She burst out weeping. She, too, had lived through a tragic experience. Her husband and son had been involved in politics, and had occupied responsible positions during the year of Soviet rule. One day Lithuanian partisans and Germans arrived and took both of them out of the house. She never saw them again.
She told Motl that there was a Jewish ghetto in Dvinsk. Motl was glad to hear the news. She did everything she could to ease Motl’s suffering. She let him wash himself, gave him a change of clothing and nourished him. He stayed in the haystack for two full days. He rested thoroughly, gained a bit of strength and then took his leave of the peasant woman.
It was too dangerous to walk along roads or highways. The roads and highways were filled with German automobiles. Motl decided to make his way along the banks of the Dvina river. He thus was forced to walk several dozen extra kilometers. He walked at night, and when day broke, he decided where to spend the day. Sometimes Motl had to retreat several kilometers in order to find a safe and comfortable place to spend the day.
Every step was filled with danger. The region was completely strange to him. He didn’t even know how to enter Dvinsk. As he walked along the banks of the Dvina, he arrived one morning at a destroyed bridge. A bit further on he noticed a newly-built wooden bridge, over which workers were making their way to work. Close by he saw German soldiers stationed in booths on either side of the bridge. The guards checked everyone’s papers. At that moment Motl felt the full weight of his desperate situation.
He had survived so many dangers, and now Motl was tormented by the realization. But he was determined to make it to the Dvinsk ghetto and meet other Jews. His appearance, his unshaven face, the little package of food in his hands all frightened him. He saw that without documents it would be entirely impossible to cross the bridge. But even at this point he didn’t lose control of himself. He made it to the side of the bridge, climbed up along an embankment and walked among the workers who’d already passed a control point. The German guards in their posts were behind him. A German stood at the other end of the bridge as well, but he didn’t recheck anyone’s papers. In order to avoid suspicion, Motl abandoned his package of food on the bridge, and safely reached the other side of the Dvina River.
Not far from the bridge Motl saw the fortress of Dvinsk. There was a high brick wall around brick buildings. Two Germans stood guard at an iron gate in the wall. Motl was certain that the ghetto must be located in this strange place. He had no idea how to make it inside, just as he had no idea what a terrible place it was, just as he had no idea that his life was in danger. But Motl was cautious.
Around the fortress there are swamps and moats, and between the moats there is a road. Motl set off down the road. He stopped a peasant who was carrying bricks in a wagon and asked him where the Jewish ghetto was. The peasant eyed Motl suspiciously from head to toe and pointed to the fortress: “There are the Jews !”
Motl in the Dvinsk Fortress (Citadel)
Motl had read Jewish history. He knew that once upon a time Jews had lived in segregated areas called ghettos. But the German guards at the gate frightened him. He didn’t quite understand why they were standing at the gate. He approached the gate, looking around on all sides. Suddenly his heart jumped. A cold sweat bathed his body.
Through the open gate he saw crowds of Red Army soldiers, half-dead and miserable. He didn’t see any Jews at all. Nor did he see any women or children. Motl realized too late that the peasant had sent him straight into the jaws of death. He moved over to one side and made his way down toward a moat which surrounded the walls of the fortress like a belt. He sat down among some shrubs and small trees, and thought about what to do next. He took off one pair of pants (he’d been wearing two pairs the whole time), washed his bloody face, “combed” his hair with his fingers and cleaned his black beard with water as best he could. Then he made his way to the nearby swamps, where he sat down to rest and think about what to do next. But as it turned out, he had no time to think.
“Hands up! Hey you! Hands up!” came orders from all sides. Motl saw that he was surrounded by German soldiers, all with automatic weapons cocked and ready to fire. The Germans ordered Motl in strict military tones to walk “straight ahead” toward them onto the road. With his hands up, Motl began pleading with them to let him go around the bodies of water and the deep puddles. But the Germans repeated their order to walk “straight ahead,” through the puddles, and they reinforced the order by threatening to shoot him. With his hands up, Motl crawled through mud and water up to his neck, and climbed up to where the Germans stood on the road. With a satisfied smile, the Germans looked down at him and took him into the fortress.
Motl was placed next to a tree, near the fortress headquarters. Various high-ranking military men came to interrogate him. His only option was to relate where he had come from and how he had ended up there. Motl told them that he had never belonged to any political party, and that he had played together in an orchestra with Lithuanians who had been his friends. When the Jews of Anykščiai were slaughtered, his Lithuanian friends had protected him; they had advised him to go to Dvinsk, where there were Jews living in a ghetto.
Naturally, the German officers didn’t believe him. They accused him of being a spy, or a Russian parachutist. When he heard these accusations, Motl understood what was in store for him. He didn’t need to imagine what they would do to him. Right before his eyes, in the yard of the fortress, he saw tragic living examples. He looked around, trembling in fear. Large crowds of captured Red Army soldiers lay hungry and discouraged on the cold autumn ground. Their cheekbones stuck out sharply, and their faces were yellow as wax. Only their half-extinguished eyes were still alive. They didn’t look like human beings anymore. They looked like skeletons covered with greenish-yellow skin, mixed together with dirt and mud. Their military uniforms and overcoats were torn, worn out and dirty, and lay on them several sizes too big.
Motl was kept standing by the tree all day and all night, near the headquarters of the fortress. Several thousand prisoners slept outside. It was already late autumn. The autumn of 1941 Thousands of half-dead coughed, wheezed and whistled. It was a chorus of the almost dead, the likes of which the world will never imagine or understand.
In the morning dozens of men were found dead, stuck frozen to the ground. Every minute shots were heard in the courtyard. The German guards were shooting the living skeletons in their overcoats. Other Germans walked around with heavy poles in their hands, striking the helpless prisoners over the heads for anything and for nothing. No scream nor weeping, not even a sigh of protest was to be heard. The living skeletons no longer had the strength. And the Germans would “have fun” with the mass of dying lives. They would approach the helpless prisoners with bits of dry bread, move away a little bit and point to the bread: “Khleb!” (bread).
The starving men would creep forward on their knees and on their bellies. The Germans would gradually move back, repeating, “Khleb! Khleb!” The German soldiers teased the poor, barely-living beings as if they were dogs. When they had had their fill of teasing and mocking the prisoners, they would throw the pieces of bread onto the ground. The living skeletons became more mobiles, began arguing over the bread and then the Germans set upon them with poles, striking them on the heads and sides, and doubling over with laughter. After they had their “fun” dead and wounded victims would be left. But no one paid any attention to the dead. It was easy to recognize the recently-captured Red Army prisoners. They pushed wagon-loads of wood or swept the yard. Those who were too weak for the work were immediately shot by the guards. The rest had to continue working as if nothing had happened.
The Jewish Red Army prisoners were kept in a separate group. Their appearance was slightly different. They all had bloody faces and heads, bound with bits of torn underwear. A number of them had broken ribs, arms or legs. Many of them lay in their death throes. The guards would go up to them and shout, “Here you go, Communists, Stalin’s children!” and thick boards would break their bones, which were covered in greenish-yellow skin.
Prisoners of other nationalities still received small rations of bread. The Jewish prisoners got nothing. Some of the Ukrainian prisoners sold their services in exchange for slightly larger bread rations. They were designated by white armbands, and they tortured the Jews just as badly as the Germans did. They would run around the yard shouting that the war was the Jews’ fault, and that the Jews were responsible for the suffering in the fortress.
On the second morning, the Germans brought a Christian boy into the fortress. The Germans forced Motl to take off his good shoes and give them to the Christian. They forced Motl to put on the Christian’s, shoes, which were too small for him. He barely got the shoes onto his feet. Motl complained that the shoes were too small, and that they hurt his feet. The German looked at Motl with an ironic smile, and ordered him to dance in place at his command. Motl felt the tight shoes tearing bits of flesh from his feet. But he had to keep dancing. The German sadist asked contentedly, “Well, do the shoes fit you now?”
“Yes, they fit me now,” Motl pleaded.
After that Motl was taken into the headquarters. As soon as he opened the door, a German officer aimed a revolver at him and fired. The revolver wasn’t loaded. Several German officers began asking him again who he was and where he had come from. He told them the same thing he had said the day before. He was taken out of the office. Motl was placed near the wall in the courtyard of the fortress, together with the Christian. A German officer looked at them, and ordered them to press their noses hard against the wall and stand still.
Motl had no doubt that he was going to be shot. Memories of his childhood began to race through his mind. He saw his parents, brothers and sisters, and he saw their tragic end. The pit which held his comrades flashed before his eyes. Once again he relived the moments before he was shot, and once again he saw the little black and white cat which clambered on the walls of the pit, trying so hard to avoid being killed with the Jews. The partisans took pity on the cat, but they shot his friends. And dozens of Jewish Red Army prisoners were lined up at the same wall. Motl’s heart nearly burst in terror.
“Fire!” came an order in German. Shots rang out. Brief screams from the Jewish prisoners; “Oy! Oy!” blended with the whistle of bullets. All the Jewish prisoners lay dead near the wall. Several meters to one side, Motl and the Christian boy stood petrified.
Some of the stronger Red Army prisoners began to carry away the murdered men. Motl couldn’t figure out whether he was still alive. It took some time before he regained consciousness and convinced himself that he was still alive. Two German soldiers took Motl and two Red Army prisoners out of the fortress. Motl wondered why he was being taken out of the fortress to be shot, and why he hadn’t been shot before.
Motl Arrives at the Dvinsk Ghetto
Motl tried to find out where he was being taken. He asked the Germans who were pointing their rifles at him. One of the Germans shouted in exasperation, “Shut up your snout, damned Jew!” Motl didn’t ask any more questions.
He was brought back across the bridge by which he’d arrived, and taken to the gate of a half-destroyed barracks. Latvian police or partisans stood on either side of the gate. Motl didn’t know exactly where he’d been taken. One of the Germans put Motl inside a narrow gate, facing forward. The German rested, took several steps backward, then ran toward Motl and kicked him from behind. Motl flew into the courtyard.
Motl was overcome with joy. He didn’t believe his eyes. He saw Jews in the courtyard. Jews! All of them wore yellow patches on their chests. Women, children and a few men went back and forth across the yard. Motl felt like throwing himself at the Jews and kiss them, kiss and hug them and weep for joy, and tell them everything he had suffered. But a Latvian stopped him and took him to the ghetto commandant on the second floor. There the Latvian ghetto commandant once again interrogated Motl and ordered him to be incarcerated.
The jail was in a small storehouse, with a small, unbarred window. There was no place to sit down. Inside there was only smooth walls and a concrete floor. Motl looked out jealously at the Jews who were walking around freely in the yard. He saw a number of families with children and babies lying in the yard, because there was no more room in the barracks.
Motl shouted through the windows, “Jews, save me! I’m a Jew from Lithuania! Are there other Jews from Lithuania here? Call them over to me!” Two young boys from Lithuania came over.
“Reb Yid [a polite way to address a religious Jewish stranger], tell us where you come from,” one of them said to Motl.
“I’m from Anykščiai! I’m not Reb Yid, I’m just a boy in my twenties. I haven’t been able to shave, and that’s why I look like an old Reb Yid,” Motl said in a pleading tone.
And in those tragic days, at that agonized moment, Motl saw and sensed with all his being the Jewish soul, shining like a meteor in the murderous darkness all around him. Although it was dangerous for them to talk to Motl, Jews came around from all sides to bring Motl food, handing it to him through the window. He had an appetite for everything that was brought to him, and he continued eating and eating. He saw young boys and girls walking nearby, looking sympathetically through the window where Motl stood. Some of them wept.
“Oh, my dear, beloved Jews! My helpless people,” Motl sighed, looking out through the window. At that moment he felt stronger and more confident, full of hope to live to see better times and then tell the entire world what he had seen and survived.
He wasn’t allowed to go out to relieve himself. He had to evacuate himself in the cell. After he had been in the cell for several days, a Latvian came with a bucket and ordered Motl to toss all his excrement into it with his own hands.
On the fourth day a boy aged about sixteen came over to the window. “Reb Yid, what town are you from,” he asked. Motl tried to remember where he knew the boy from. “Elke, it’s you,” Motl began to shout, and became frightened of his own high-pitched voice. It was Motl’s second cousin, Elke Berkovitz, from Anykščiai.
Every day Elke came to the window, brought Motl food and talked with him from a certain distance. Motl was tortured in the cell for seven days and nights. Every other day he was taken to the Latvian ghetto commandant and interrogated. On the seventh day he was freed from the cell. It was late in the autumn of 1941.
Motl gradually pulled himself together. He shaved his long beard, cut his hair and washed. People got him clothes and saw that they were clean. No longer was Motl a “Reb Yid,” but once again a young, tall, good- looking man with pitch-black hair and fiery black eyes.
Motl had work to do. Lithuanian and Latvian Jews from Dvinsk and the surrounding area came to visit Motl and asked him to recount his bizarre experiences. At first Motl spoke readily, and then he tired of it. Then Jews would come simply to look at Motl, and wrinkle their brows. There were pious Jews, elderly men with long, gray beards, who ascribed Motl’s survival to the realm of the miraculous, which lies in God’s power alone.
The wandering Jews from Lithuania who had been chased to Dvinsk by the German Army, took care of their countryman as far as their means permitted. There weren’t many Lithuanian Jews left. A large number of them had been annihilated together with thousands of Jews of Dvinsk at the beginning of the war, a short time after the Germans entered Dvinsk. But the few surviving Jewish refugees clung to each other and assisted each other. Thanks to his remarkable experiences, Motl earned them all considerable respect in the eyes of the Jews from Dvinsk.