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 OF KHVEIDAN (KVEDARNA)
The collective testimony of the following Jews of Khveidan:
- Motl Druzin, born in Khveidan on March 20, 1903. Completed Hebrew elementary school. By trade a baker and merchant. Motl’s father’s name, Bere-Shmuel; mother’s Feyge, nee Aron in Khveidan.
- Gershon Yung, born October 15, 1923 in Khveidan. Completed Hebrew elementary school and six classes of Lithuanian gymnasium. Father’s name, Shiye; mother, Miriam Katz.
- Berl Levit, born May 3, 1917 in Khveidan. Completed Hebrew elementary school. Father’s name, David; mother Sheyne.
- Khayem Nadl, born May 7, 1905 in Khveidan. Completed Hebrew elementary school. By trade a merchant. Father’s name, Shmuel; mother Zlate Hirshovitz.
- Rosa Rakhmil, born in Khveidan on February 13, 1924. Completed Hebrew elementary school in Khveidan and two classes of gymnasium in Telshe. Father’s name, Shmuel-Binyomin Rakhmil; mother, Sheyne-Gute Meyerovitz. Studied in the tailoring department of the Kovno ORT School from 1937, and graduated in 1941.
After the outbreak of the war, the first three were taken by German SS men to camps around Heidekrug. They survived all the Hells arranged by the German Fascists in Auschwitz, Warsaw and finally in the Dachau concentration camps. They survived miraculously.
The last two were in Kovno when the war broke out, and in the Kovno ghetto later on. Khayem Nadl escaped from the Kovno ghetto and joined the Red Partisans. After being liberated by the Red Army Khayem spent six months as the head of the Red militia in his hometown of Khveidan.
Rosa Rokhmil spent a good deal of time in her hometown of Khveidan after the Red Army returned to Lithuania.
Khveidan (Kvedarna) is in Tawrik county, 48 kilometers from Tawrik, 16 kilometers from Shilale and 18 kilometers from the town of Laukuva. Kveidan is connected to Riteve (Rietavas), Laukuva, Shilale and Pajuris by gravel roads. The river Jura flows near the town.
The Occupations, Cultural and Social Life of the Jews
Until the outbreak of the war on June 22, 1941, 75 Jewish families lived in Khveidan, a total of perhaps 290 or 300 Jews. The majority were occupied in retail trade and artisanry, and some worked in agriculture. Almost all of the Jews had gardens or patches of ground, and owned their own cows, poultry and horses. The life of the Jews in town was semi-rural.
Most of the trade was with Memel (Klaipeda). The Jews of Khveidan supplied the city agricultural produce, which they bought from Lithuanian peasants.
After the Memel region was seized from Lithuania by Hitler’s Germany, the economic situation of the Jews grew worse. Trade with Memel was stopped. Overall, the economic life of the Jews in Khveidan was not bad. Nevertheless, many of them received assistance from relatives in foreign countries.
Until the Red Army arrived in Lithuania in the summer of 1940, Khveidan possessed a Hebrew elementary school, a Hebrew-Yiddish library, a Tiferes Bokhurim and a study house. In the summer of 1940 the Hebrew elementary school switched to Yiddish as the language of instruction. The vast majority of the Jewish youth belonged to Zionist movements.
A few participated in the illegal activities of the Communist party during President Smetonas’ rule.
After completing the Hebrew elementary school, a small number of the Jewish youth studied in the Hebrew gymnasium in Telshe or in the six grade Lithuanian gymnasium in Khveidan. Some of the boys studied in the yeshivas in Telshe, Ponevezh or Slobodke.
Relations with Lithuanian Neighbors
These were not good. Before Passover each year the Lithuanians demonstrated against the Jews. The libel about Jews killing a Christian child before Passover each year and using its blood to make matzoh was quite widely believed in Khveidan. During Passover Jews used to wait up until the middle of the night until the Christians left the church. More than once, upon leaving the church late at night, Lithuanians broke the Jews’ windowpanes, detained Jewish youngsters and beat them.
One year before Passover Rosa Rokhmil’s younger brother burst out crying. Just then a nun was walking past the house. She spread a rumor in town that Jews had captured a Christian child. The town’s residents were preparing for a pogrom against the Jews. The nun was arrested, interrogated and released. That year the Jews’ Passover was disrupted. When they conducted their seder, they shuttered the windows and barred the doors.
The organization known as “Verslas” carried out vicious anti-Jewish agitation in town. The old priest Latvis openly turned the Lithuanian populace against Jewish merchants and artisans, calling on them only to buy from “their own.” The agitation was successful, and a number of Jews had to close their shops.This took place after the annexation of the Memel region by Hitler’s Third Reich, from which the anti-Semitic plague spread to all the nearby border towns.
Very often the Jews would wake up to find graffiti on the walls and doors of their houses, saying: “Jews, move to Palestine!”
After the arrival of the Red Army in Lithuania in the summer of 1940, the attitude toward the Jews improved superficially. For obvious reasons, some of the Jewish youth actively participated in economic and political life, on an equal basis with young Lithuanian leftists.
The Outbreak of the war
In the morning of Sunday, June 22, 1941, clashes between the retreating Red Army troops and the Germans began not far from Khveidan. Almost all of the Jews fled their homes in a panic, taking along some of their possessions, as well as their horses and cows. They all fled to the countryside to hide at the homes of friendly peasants. That same day, Sunday, the Germans arrived in town.
The peasants immediately began to drive the Jews out of the villages. The Jews left their horses and cows with the peasants, along with some of their more valuable things, and began to return to town. By Thursday, June 26, all of the Jews had returned to town from the countryside.
When they returned home, the Jews found that everything had been looted or taken over. Lithuanian townspeople had settled in the better Jewish homes and claimed possession of the furniture, bedding, storage rooms, horses and cows which the Jews hadn’t managed to bring to the countryside. The Lithuanians didn’t even feel obliged to come up with explanations, nor were they ashamed in front of their Jewish neighbors. They felt like long-established homeowners in the Jewish homes which they had “inherited.” The Jews were afraid even to protest or to demand anything in return.
Some of the Jewish houses on Shilale street had been burned. The Jews settled together into the few remaining houses.
The Civilian Administration
Immediately upon the arrival of the Germans, Lithuanian townspeople and rural residents put white ribbons on their sleeves and joyfully greeted the Germans. Armed Lithuanians calling themselves partisans appeared in town.
The leaders of the partisans were:
- Petras Kazulis.
- Jakas,a farmer from the village of Prapeme.
- Vladas Mylimas, a brother of the village priest.
- Jonas Kurshelis, a farmer from the village of Paregauda, three kilometers from town.
The town’s civilian administration was made up of these armed partisans. The fate of the town’s Jews was in their hands.
The First Victims; 80 Men Taken to the Heidekrug Camps
On Sunday, the first day of the war, 13 year old Leybe Shvartz and Ruven-Meir, who was mentally ill, were found dead not far from town. They were buried at the Jewish cemetery.
Throughout the first week of the war, partisans rounded up Jewish men in their houses and sent them off to do various tasks, such as working on the damaged bridge over the Jura river, cleaning the automobiles and residences of the German military, and so forth. While they worked they were guarded by armed Lithuanians. After work at night, the men were allowed to go home.
In the afternoon of Sunday, June 29, 1941, armed groups of partisans went to all of the Jewish homes and took away all of the Jewish men over the age of twelve or thirteen. When the men were taken away, they were forbidden to take anything along. The partisans solemnly swore that after working for a certain amount of time, the men would be brought home in the evening. They drove all the men to the marketplace, where German SS men were waiting, led by the infamous Dr Schau from Heidekrug (Shilute) and his adjutants Jakshtas and Dembrovsky.
The SS men greeted the Jews by striking them with their fists, with sticks and with whips. Many of the men were bloodied.
Women began to bring food and other items from home for their husbands. The SS men beat them and drove them away from the marketplace. The cantor’s wife, who was pregnant, brought a package of food for her husband. She, too, was beaten.
A Lithuanian partisan from town by the name of Barauskas, along with one of his comrades, cut off half of the beard of the town rabbi, Fayvl Gavron. Lithuanian townspeople stood around the square, happily applauding their “heroic” brother partisans.
Some ten elderly or sick men were rounded up separately and taken away from the marketplace. The SS men drove the rest into two trucks with trailers. While they were herding the men into the trucks, they beat them again with sticks on the head and sides.
That same Sunday evening, the men from Khveidan were brought into the yard of the study house at Shvekshne and forced out of the trucks.
The windows of the study house had been broken. In the yard, the Torah scrolls and holy books were almost completely burned. All of ther men from Khveidan had to stand around the fire. There was an order to surrender all of their watches, rings and other valuables. The Jews began to throw everything onto the grass nearby. Lithuanians standing nearby picked everything like berries in a forest. Then everyone was driven into the women’s section of the synagogue. Below, in the men’s section, there were still men from Shvekshne who had been rounded up. Some of them had already been taken away. In the evening of that same Sunday, June 29, l94l, the men from Khveidan and the remaining men from Shvekshne were driven out of the study house into trucks and taken to Heidekrug. Some of the men were driven into a barn in the yard of the Heidekrug town hall, and some into Dr Schau’s compound near Rabnwald.
A few men spent the night in Khveidan, because they hadn’t gotten into the trucks. In the morning of Monday the thirtieth, they were taken to Heidekrug on the same trucks. They spent the night at the home of a Jew named Zuse Aron.
A total of 80 men from Khveidan were taken to the camps near Heidekrug. On Monday, June 30 the men were taken to a doctor, where they were given injections in their chests. Many of the men caught a high fever from the injections.
Several days after the injections the men were taken to have a hot bath. As they were leaving the bath, SS men doused them with cold water from a hose. Shiye Yung caught a lung inflammation, and lay sick in bed for several weeks. Eventually he felt better and worked a bit in the camp. However, he was taken away with the first transport and shot. That was on July 19, 1941, a Saturday. (Concerning this transport, see the collective testimony about the camps around Heidekrug – L Koniuchwsky.)
Several Lithuanians from town and from the countryside took part in the roundup of the men at the marketplace. The eyewitnesses remember the first and last names of the following:
- Ignas Kurshelis from the village of Paregaude, three kilometers from town.
- Vincas Kurshelis, Ignas’s brother, from Paregaude.
- Petras Koziulis, a farmer in town.
- Jakas, from the village of Prapeme.
- Vladas Gedvilis, from the village of Kalnytsiai, three kilometers from town.
- Barauskas, a farmer in town.
- Vladas Mylimas, a former leader of the gun club during Smetonas’ rule.
- Kolitsius, a watchmaker in town.
Motl Druzin was taken to the marketplace by the Lithuanian Petras Kaziulis. “Motke, your life is over!” the murderer Petras teased Motl.
Victims after the Men Were Taken Away
While the men were still standing in the marketplace, one partisan arrested a young girl named Leye Nadl and handed her to the SS men. Leye had been active as a young Communist under the Soviets. She was taken to prison. At the same time, a Jew named Khayem Marik was arrested and taken to prison.
After the Red Army returned to Lithuania, Khayem Nadl became the head of the militia in Khveidan. He was able to determine what had become of the two arrestees. For eight days the two had been kept imprisoned. They had been dreadfully tortured by partisans. The two were then taken to Shilale, where Khayem Marik was shot. Leye Nadl was brought back to Khveidan. Peasants reported that she had been so brutally beaten that her entire face was swollen and her eyes were barely visible. Her brother was unable to find out where and in what circumstances she died.
A woman named Tobe-Basye Meres from Khveidan, whose maiden name was Meyerovitz, was shot by the local partisans on Moday, June 30, 1941. It was reported that she was shot when she went to get water. Details are lacking.
On Monday, June 30, 1941, a day after the men were taken to the camps near Heidekrug, partisans from town and villages shot the ten Jewish men whom the German SS men had taken from the marketplace. The ten or eleven men were forced to dig a grave, and then they were shot and buried at the Jewish cemetery.
Those who were shot were:
- Reb Beynish Yofe, the town slaughterer.
- Aba Yofe, Beynish’s son.
- Dovid-Ayzik Aron, a merchant.
- Shabsay Blokh, a merchant.
- Shmuel-Khayem Ment, a glazier from Riteve, who had fled to Khveidan.
- Leyzer Aron, a merchant.
- Meir Katz, a horse trader and farmer.
- David Yung, a butcher.
- Moyshe Fleker, merchant.
- Bere-Leyb Shkolny, a son of the rabbi.
The Ghetto in Khveidan
Shortly after the men were taken from Khveidan, the partisans drove all the women and children into a ghetto on Laukuva Street. They brought the contents of the houses into the study house. Partisans stood guard around the area.
The women were forced to do various tasks in town and at the homes of peasants in the villages. It has not been possible to obtain details about their life in the ghetto. However, a tragic incident concerning three young, attractive girls is known. Three partisans; Gedvilys, Jakas, and a third whose name is not known, took three girls named Rivke Berelovitz, Sore Aron and Mashe Yung out of the ghetto, and took them to an empty house belonging to a Jew named Meir Aron.
These three scoundrels removed the girl’s clothing by force and raped them. Then they burned their sexual organs with lit cigarettes. The cries of the three girls could be heard throughout the town. Afterwards the three scoundrels boasted to their Lithuanian friends in town about what they had done.
After the Red Army arrived in Lithuania, Jakas became the head of the Red Army militia in Laukuva. His crimes were discovered, and he was arrested. He was accused of actively participating in the murder of the ten Jews at the Jewish cemetery, and of raping the three Jewish girls.
Around the time of the High Holidays in 1941, the partisans ordered the women and children in the ghetto to prepare to join the men. They were taken away from the ghetto in trucks. After the war peasants reported that the women and children had been shot in the Tubiniai forest, between Laukuva and Shilale. Details about the execution and its exact date are unavailable.
Avrorn Bereznik, the pharmacist, was shot along with the women and children.
Translated from Yiddish by Dr Jonathan Boyarin Signature May 1, 1987
Additional Testimony of Rosa Rakhmil about the Slaughter of the Jews of Khveidan
- A Jewish girl named Sore-Miriam Hamelrnan studied tailoring with the Lithuanian Pranas Jutkevitzius before the war. Against her parents’ will she often spent time with him, and she married him without her parents’ knowledge. Before the war she had a child in Kovno. She gave it to a Lithuanian woman to raise, and she and her husband settled in the countryside. She stayed there until the town’s Jews were driven into a ghetto, after the arrival of the Germans. She carne to Khveidan to see how her loved ones were doing. Partisans detained her and took her to the ghetto. Her husband Jutkevitzius paid a large sum of money to obtain a marriage certificate, which certified that Sore-Miriam was his wife.
He also managed to get the partisans to agree to release his wife from the ghetto and to have her sister Malkele come work as a servant. However, when he arrived at the ghetto he found that all the Jews had been taken to the Tubiniai forest, where they were shot.
- An 18-year-old girl named Rivke Blekher was hidden in the countryside for more than a year. For reasons which are not understood, she happened to come into Khveidan. She was immediately arrested by partisans and shot. The tailor Jutkevitsius from the village of Grimdshiai reported the incident.
- A Jew named Berl Yokhelovitz, a cattle merchant, spent a good deal of time with peasants in the country before the war. After the Jews of Khveidan were slaughtered, he hid in the country with a peasant for a long time. A neighboring pesant betrayed him to the police in Khveidan, who arrested him and took him to town. After keeping him in prison for some time, he was shot. A peasant woman named Pupsiene told Rosa about this incident after the war.