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 Lithuanian, recorded by Leyb Koniuchowsky, in Displaced Persons’ Camps (1946-48).
My speech at the Cape Town Holocaust and Genocide Center on October 27, 2022 is here:
Lithuania did not punish a single Holocaust perpetrator, instead, the government of Lithuania deem many of the murderers as their national heroes.
THE SLAUGHTER OF THE JEWS IN THE LITHUANIAN TOWN OF ANYKSHTSIAI
Reported by Golde Aron (now Yed), born in Anykshtsiai on April 25, 1918. Completed four grades of the Real Gymnasium in Ukmerge. A seamstress by trade. Her father’s name was Leyzer, from the town of Rimshe. Until the war she lived in Anykshtsiai.
Anykshtsiai is located 35 kilometers from Ukmerge, and the same distance from Utena. The town lies on the Shventoji River. Anykshtsiai is a narrow-gauge railroad stop. Near Anykshtsiai there are large forests and spas, which have been celebrated by Lithuanian poets.
About 500 Jewish families lived in town. There were two elementary schools, one Yiddish and one Hebrew. There was also a “Yavne” elementary school. There were two libraries, one Yiddish and one Hebrew. The town had two large study houses, one old and one new; a Hasidic synagogue; and two more smaller prayer rooms.
The Jews did a little bit of trade. Most of them were artisans. They worked at producing woolen boots and children’s shoes in workshops and small factories. Most of the Jewish women in Anykshtsiai were knitters. Anykshtsiai was a town where all the young people worked.
The majority of the young people belonged to leftist movements. During the period of fascist rule in Lithuania Anykshtsiai produced the highest percentage of revolutionaries. Several belonged to the illegal Communist party or other leftist parties.
The outbreak of War Between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union
When the war began the Jews of Anykshtsiai didn’t rush to escape from the town, because the town leaders and Communist Party officials assured them that everyone could safely keep going to work. The leading circles threatened severe punishment for anyone who didn’t go to work and caused a panic.
The Jews stayed calmly in town until Tuesday afternoon. On Tuesday afternoon those responsible for the Party and other institutions began fleeing the town. But the Jews did not manage to evacuate to the Soviet Union. All of the young people left the town and fled, but very few of them managed to make it to the Soviet Union. The rest were caught by the Germans and forced to return to Anykshtsiai.
The Germans entered Anykshtsiai on Wednesday, June 25, 1941. They didn’t stay in town, but continued to harry the retreating Red Army. All power in town fell into the hands of the armed Lithuanians from town and from the countryside. Jews from other towns and cities, mostly from Kaunas, gathered in Anykshtsiai at that time.
As soon as the Lithuanian murderers took power in town, they began openly to rob Jewish possessions. They robbed by day and by night, whenever they felt like doing so. The Jews immediately locked themselves into their houses and avoided meeting up with the Lithuanian murderers in the street. The Jews who had escaped to Anykshtsiai from Kaunas and other towns stayed with the local Jews at first.
Later the Kaunas Jews were confined in the old and new study houses. There was a large square in the middle of the town. In that square the old and the new synagogue and both prayer houses were located next to each other, while the Hasidic synagogue was across the road.
Until Thursday, June 26, 1941 all the Jews in town, along with thousands of Jews from Kaunas and other towns, stayed in Jewish homes.
The Terrible Bloody Inquisition; Mass Graves in the Synagogue Yard
On Thursday morning the Lithuanian murderers drove all the Jews out of their houses. They didn’t allow the Jews to take anything along. All the Jews, men, women and children, were placed into the synagogues, study houses and prayer rooms, even pregnant women, women with nursing children and the elderly. The Jews had to lock the doors and hand the keys over to the murderers.
The leader of the Lithuanian murderers was a certain German from town who had evacuated from Klaipeda and settled in Anykshtsiai. He wore a German SS uniform and a leather cap. The Jews referred to this sadist by the nickname, “the leather cap.”
The Jews were tormented in the synagogues and prayer rooms in various sadistic ways, and there were shootings day and night. The synagogues and prayer rooms were transformed into inquisition halls or slaughterhouses. The floors and the surrounding yard were spattered with blood from the men who had been beaten to death or shot. The courtyard was transformed into a cemetery. Every day Jewish men who had been shot or beaten to death were brought there. The weeping and screaming of the women and children could be heard far outside of town.
The cursed Lithuanian murderers kept sticks, whips, thick beams, military shovels and knives handy. They used all of these to torture and murder the Jewish men in the synagogues and prayer rooms.
That same Thursday evening the older women, nursing women and women with children up to the age of ten, were allowed to go home. All the rest were kept in the slaughter halls, in the synagogues and prayer rooms for two weeks longer.
Two weeks later all the Jews who had come from other towns and cities (mostly from Kaunas), were released and allowed to return to their homes.
Among the most gruesomely sadistic murders was the shooting of 36 young men in the synagogue yard. They were forced to dig a pit right there, and they were shot there. Golde Yed saw to it after the war that a fence be put up around the mass grave.
After the Jews from other places had left town, all the Jews of Anykshtsiai were freed as well, and everyone was allowed to go home. When they got home they found nothing left in their houses. Everything had been robbed and demolished. But after they returned home, the Lithuanian murderers began to torment the Jews in other ways.
The Ghetto; Further Murder and Inquisitions; The Total Slaughter
At the same time the murderers killed Yitzkhok Vinikov, the wealthiest manufacturer in town, along with his wife. Yitzkhok Vinikov and his wife were shot in their home.
A short time later all the Jews were removed from their houses and moved into a ghetto in the forest, where people used to have summer homes. As the peasants from town relate, a large percentage of the Jews in town were taken away to Utena. The summer homes were about two kilometers from town. There was a fence around the ghetto. The guards were Lithuanians. Golde Yed does not know how the Jews were treated in the ghetto. The Jews were kept in the summer homes in the ghetto for about a month. All at once everyone, women, children and men, were taken away on foot and in automobiles three kilometers from town to the Hare Hills, and there everyone was shot.
One person who ran away from the shootings was Leybele Garber, aged 15. Leybele Garber hid at the home of a peasant for a long time. There he was arrested, and taken to prison in Utena. From Utena prison he was taken to Jonava. Leybele Garber was brought to the Kaunas ghetto together with the 208 surviving Jews in Jonava.
Golde Yed, who was in the Kaunas ghetto at the time, spoke to Leybele Garber about her home town of Anykshtsiai. Leybele Garber told her: When the Jewish men, women and children of Anykshtsiai were taken out of the ghetto, he was in an automobile with his mother, sisters and brothers. On the way he wanted to jump out of the auto. His mother talked him out of it, advising him to trust in God and wait for a miracle. When they arrived at the Hare Hills, Leybele found hundreds of Jewish men, women and children not far from the pits which had been dug. The Jews had been herded together into one spot. They were heavily guarded by Lithuanian murderers armed with rifles, automatics and hand grenades.
Leybele immediately escaped. The murderers immediately began shooting at him. But they didn’t hit him, and he managed to escape. After running through the brush and forests near Anykshtsiai, he allowed himself to rest. He heard shooting at the Hare Hills, along with wild screams and shouts of women and children. Leybele Garber told Golde Yed all of these details about the pits when he visited her home in the Kaunas ghetto.
Leybele also reported that before the Jews had been taken away to the ghetto, armed Lithuanians robbed the possessions of the town doctor, Noyekh Ginsburg. Immediately afterward Noyekh’s brother Leyzer Ginsburg and his wife, as well as Noyekh’s mother, were shot at their home.
Noyekh Ginsburg begged the murderers to let him live, reminding them how competently and devotedly he had cared for all the Lithuanians in town. The murderers tricked him out of his fortune, consisting of gold and other valuables. Then they shot him in his home. Armed Lithuanians from town, including Mishkinys, took part in this crime.
His mother was an illegal midwife. Noyekh Ginsburg’s wife was pregnant at that time. The Lithuanian murderers forcefully stripped all her clothing and drove her through the streets of the town. Residents of the town related that while the murderers drove her through the streets they beat and tormented her. After this “show” the murderers killed her in a gruesome fashion.
The inquisitions and slaughter of the Jews in the synagogues and study houses in the small town of Anykshtsiai
- Eyewitness Zalmen Bregman, born in Kaunas on May 1, 1902. His father’s name was Dovid-Yitzkhok, a house painter by trade. Lived in Kaunas until the war.
- Eyewitness Galya Bregman, born in Vilnius on March 12, 1906. Lived in Kaunas until the war.
(See also the testimony of Motl Kuritsky – LK)
Immediately after the war began Zalmen Bregman, his wife, his wife’s mother, his wife’s sister and her child, escaped from Kaunas. Several families rode in a wagon. On the morning of Monday, June 23, 1941 they left Kaunas. Tens of thousands of Jews fled Kaunas at that time, on foot and in wagons. The highway between Kaunas and Ukmerge was jammed.
Immediately after passing the bridge at Jonava Bregman’s brother in-law was wounded. He got caught in the chains of a tank. Zalmen’s older son Avrom, aged fourteen, was seriously wounded by a second tank. Another sister-in-law was badly wounded in the leg, also by a tank. None of the wounded received any first aid from the Red Army medics.
The German military quickly advanced. The Red Army didn’t even have any time to take care of wounded Red soldiers. One tank after another rolled by, shattering everything that crossed their path.
When they arrived in Ukmerge, they immediately discovered that all the Jews of Ukmerge had fled. This was on Monday evening, June 23. Ukmerge was repeatedly bombarded by German aviation. German airplanes flew over the town in waves, hitting it with machine gun fire and bombs. The Red Army didn’t let anyone stay in town. Bregman and his close associates continued further along the road toward Dvinsk. There they rested. When they had got close to Utena, the German aviation once again began heavily bombarding the retreating motorized Red Army units.
The highway was filled with the corpses of civilians and Red soldiers. Ruined heavy artillery, tanks and wagons were strewn on the roads. The highway was blocked. The Red Army forced all the civilians to abandon the highway. The wagons had to leave the highway, and were forced to take the secondary road toward the town of Anykshtsiai.
The German Army Takes Anykshtsiai; The Lithuanians Are Enthusiastic
On arriving in Anykshtsiai on Wednesday, June 25, 1941, they found many of the homes in town empty. All of the young people had fled the town. An old Jewish woman who had stayed behind to guard the house and possessions came out of one of the houses. The old, solitary woman invited Bregman’s:family into her house. All three wounded were immediately brought to the town doctor, Noyekh Ginsburg. All three received medical assistance from the doctor.
There was no Red militia in town. Control of the town gradually passed into the hands of armed Lithuanians who were friendly toward the Germans.
The Germans entered the town at 4:00 a.m. Crowds of Lithuanians from town greeted the Germans with bread, flowers and wine. Music was played. The population celebrated. The Jews who were in town at the time clearly understood their situation, and immediately locked themselves into their homes. No one dare leave their houses and go into the street. The Jews in town were terribly frightened. They immediately realized that they had as much to fear from the Lithuanians as from the Germans. All the Jews stayed inside looking out at the street, which resounded with the celebrations of the Lithuanians and the noise and confusion caused by the German army units which raced through town, taking along with them bouquets of flowers given to them by the Lithuanian population.
The Lithuanians were left in control of the town. Bregman’s family sat there all night. No one took their clothes off or went to sleep. Everyone trembled at the least sound. The Jews understood their situation, and were prepared for anything.
A Holiday for the Lithuanian Population;
Thousands of Discouraged Jews Interned in the Synagogues and Study Houses
At 5:00 a.m. Thursday there was banging on the doors and windows of the Jewish houses. Everyone woke up and understood it had begun. There were shouts and orders: “Juden raus!” There were shouts in Lithuanian as well: “Zhydai isheikyte!” The murderers broke into the houses like wild beasts, and beat the Jews with their rifle butts, with whips and sticks, driving them out of their houses. Jews in other streets had already been driven outside earlier.
The early morning sun shined on the helpless Jews, their eyes full of tears. Galya tried to take something out of her suitcase, and the murderers beat her and drove her out of the house. Everyone was placed into long rows, and taken to the synagogues and study rooms under heavy guard. On the way the murderers shot above the Jews’ heads and threatened to shoot them. They joked and mocked the terrified Jews. They pointed to the hand grenades they were carrying, and cheerfully explained to the Jews that the grenades would soon blow up the synagogues and prayer rooms. But first they would drive the Jews inside.
Thus the murderers “joked,” as they continued to shoot over the heads of the terrified Jews. Children became separated from their parents; husbands didn’t know where their wives and children were, and it was impossible to leave the line to look for them. They were forbidden to talk amongst themselves, nor even to weep or scream. The murderers beat, mocked and kicked the Jews for the least infraction.
They arrived at the synagogue yard. The only ones who took part in the torture were Lithuanians armed head to toe, just as if they were going to the front. When they arrived at the yard they beat the Jews with sticks, shovels, whips and their rifle butts, and drove them into the synagogues and prayer rooms. All of the women, children and men rushed through the doors. A second group of murderers stood in a double row near the doors, striking the crowd of Jews on the head with poles, sticks and shovels. The pushing and shouting at the doors was frightful.
There were screams and weeping of women and children, and the weeping and screaming of wounded Jews, their skulls cracked, their arms and ribs broken. Meanwhile the murderers doubled up with laughter. Spades, sticks and poles constantly fell on the human mass, who struggled and pushed to get inside more quickly and thus to rid themselves temporarily of the murderers.
When the Jews had gotten inside, everyone stood pressed close to each other. More than half of them were wounded and bloodied. They bound each other’s bleeding wounds. Those whose arms, legs or ribs had been broken stood pale and moaning.
In the opinion of Zalmen Bregman and his wife Galya, more than 5,000 Jews were packed into the synagogues and prayer rooms on that Thursday, June 26, 1941. All day Jews were brought in from nearby towns forests and fields, and all day more Jews entered the synagogues.
The Slaughter of the Jews in the New Synagogue; Mass Graves in the Synagogue Yard
It happened that same Thursday evening. All of the elderly women, nursing women and women with children under the age of ten were released from the synagogues and prayer rooms by the murderers, and allowed to go home. Galya’s sister Rivke and her child, and Galya’s mother had been released and returned to town.
On Thursday night the Jews had to lie down on the floor. No one was allowed to stand up or sit. Zalmen and his family had a spot near the door of the synagogue. There they arranged themselves and lay down. At 11:30 p.m. there was banging on the windows of the synagogue, and shouts of “Juden raus!” The same thing was shouted in Lithuanian. The murderers drove all the Jews, men and women, out of the new synagogue.
The women and children were separated from the men. The murderers ordered the men to run in a certain direction. Everyone heard the murderers’ order: “Begte!” (Run!) As the men began to run, the Lithuanian murderers began shooting as well. The women and children saw everything and began to scream and weep. The weeping, screaming and moaning of wounded and dying Jews was heard. A mixture of screams of terror, weeping and continued shooting resounded through the dark nocturnal stillness, all around the town.
The men who managed to escape to the little streets nearby hid out there, while others returned to the synagogue. On Friday morning the Jews who had escaped were recaptured, and the murderers brutally beat the men again with sticks, poles and short military shovels when they were returned to the synagogue. The men who had been rounded up all needed to have their wounds bandaged.
No-one returned with his entire body intact. On Friday morning a young boy from Kaunas was thrown in with Galya in the synagogue. With both hands he held onto his cracked scalp. Galya bandaged him up. Blood ran through his fingers onto his arms. The boy told her that he had been with the men when they were ordered to run. Some men were left wounded or dead after the shootings. He had run away to a nearby house. The Lithuanian murderers had found him there and beaten him over the head, on the sides and on his limbs with a small military shovel. Galya Bregman bandaged his cracked head, but she had no time to bandage his battered sides or bruises, and there was nothing she could do.
Before daylight on Friday six young, healthy men were taken out of the synagogue. The six men had to gather the corpses, dig graves at the synagogue yard and bury them there.
Galya, her husband and their children were in the old study house at that time. They were lying near the exit door. The Lithuanian murderers brought a boy to the door, and forced him to dig a grave near the door. After the grave was dug two men who had been shot were buried in it. Galya even saw the two corpses being placed into the grave. The two were placed head to toe, so that they would fit in the grave. The two men who had been shot were buried at the threshold of the old synagogue.
That same morning, Friday, June 27, the rest were all buried in one or two mass graves in the synagogue yard.
All day Friday the Lithuanian murderers looked for the men who had managed to escape death. All those who had been seized in the houses in town were brought back to the synagogue half dead. At night the murderers ordered the men to run, and shot at them. When they brought in men whom they had seized, they beat them murderously for “trying to escape.”
All day long on Saturday the 28th, dozens of Jewish men were taken on stretchers to the town doctor, Noyekh Ginsburg.
Every day brought new methods of sadistic torture. Every night had its own particular character for the helpless Jews in the slaughter institution the world knew nothing about, the first in Lithuania and perhaps the first in all of Europe.
At night the Lithuanian bandits used to enter the synagogues and study houses and kick their boots into the Jews’ sides and bellies. No one dared stand up, because then they would be beaten to death. All of the murderers had sticks, poles and shovels. They used the shovels to crack the skulls of the Jewish men. They broke the arms and legs of living people into pieces.
Some of the Lithuanians used a flashlight to find young, attractive women and girls, and took them away by force for entire nights. The women would return pale, and fall onto the floor half alive and half dead. More than once the Jews were woken up in the middle of the night, counted and forced to do heavy calisthenics. More than one Jew was left bloody or lame from these “exercises.”
After this sort of torment the murderers brought kegs of water and the Jews themselves had to pour it out over the floor on which their Jewish brothers lay. But the Jews didn’t dare leave their spots, or even sit up. They had to lie in the water and blood on the floor. This was the character of the daily and nightly executions in the small Lithuanian town of Anykshtsiai.
Every day new victims were buried. In a short time the synagogue yard was “decorated” with individual and mass graves.
The Brutal Inquisitor with the “Leather Cap”
The master of death at that time was “the leather cap.” He was a German from the Klaipeda region who had come to Anykshtsiai when Klaipeda fell into the hands of the Germans. The German-Lithuanian beat the Jews in such a manner that at least one of them was always killed. He would beat them with a large, heavy beam. The Jews had to lie on the ground. He would lift the heavy beam and drop it. Every time the beam dropped it killed someone or split a forehead, an arm or a leg. The screams of the helpless Jews could be heard through the entire town. Blood flowed on the floor. The murderer and his comrades mercilessly continued their work.
The eyewitness Zalmen Bregman was once in a situation where he could have died in this fashion. The “white cap” wanted to strike
Several days after the “quiet night” there was a directive stating that all of the Jews from Kaunas who wanted to go to Kaunas had to fill out request forms and questionnaires. Most of the people from Kaunas did so.
Bregman, his wife and children all returned to Kaunas. The family lived through all of the suffering and pain of the Jews in the Kaunas ghetto, and later on they survived a concentration camp in Germany.