THE HEROIC RESISTANCE AND LIQUIDATION OF THE JEWS OF MARCINKONIS
A Collective Report by Leyb Koniuchowsky
- Shloyme Peretz, born in Marcinkonis on January 10, 1907. At the outbreak of the war between Hitler Germany and the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, he lived in Marcinkonis. Education, public school; occupation, merchant. Father’s name, Abraham; mother, Shifre.
- Leyb Kobrovsky, born in Marcinkonis on January 18, 1914. At the outbreak of the war on June 22, 1941, he lived in Marcinkonis. Education, public school. Father’s name, Abraham; mother, Khaye, Abraham’s first wife.
- Khayim Kobrovsky, born October 15, 1922 in Marcinkonis. At outbreak of the war on June 22, 1941, he lived in Marcinkonis. Education, Polish public school. Father’s name, Abraham; mother; Perl Aizenshtat, Abraham Kobrovsky’s second wife.
- Khane Gorfing, nee Kobrovsky, born October 1, 1912. Graduated from Polish public school. Father’s name, Abraham; mother, Khaye, Abraham’s first wife. Leyb, Khayim and Khane are brothers and sister.
Before the war, June 22, 1941
Geographic Location of the Town
Marcinkonis, a railway station between Grodno and Vilna, two stations before Grodno. Distance between Marcinkonis and Merecz, 21 kilometers; to Aran 20 km. The town is situated on the small stream, Grudi.
Up to the collapse of the Polish state in 1939, the town was within the borders of Poland. When the Red Army in the fall of 1939 occupied Vilna and its environs, the town was given to Lithuania. The town of Marcinkonis was inhabited mostly by Poles and Jews. The surrounding villages were inhabited mostly by Lithuanians and only a few Poles.
Three hundred and seventy Jews lived in Marcinkonis when the war broke out on June 22, 1941. This number included men, women and children. The majority of the Jewish population was engaged in commerce, petty trade and handicrafts. The larger Jewish enterprises included: (1) a sawmill and a flour mill belonging to Shloyme Kaplan; (2) a small mushroom factory belonging to the partners Leyzer Rushanski and Yaskulko (who came from Bialystok); (3) a mushroom factory belonging to Abraham Kobrovsky.
There were in Marcinkonis large Jewish lumber merchants and shopkeepers. By and large, the economic life of the Jews was prosperous.
The town had a Hebrew elementary school (Tarbuth) of six grades; a Yiddish and Hebrew library, a beys-medresh. Jewish children from nearby communities came to the school in Marcinkonis. The youth was organized in various Zionist movements. The attitude of the Christian population towards their Jewish neighbors was friendly.
After the outbreak of the war Arrival of the Germans
On the third day of the war, on Tuesday, June 24, the Germans entered the town without a struggle. They did not stop but rapidly marched on. A few Jews managed to leave the town. Armed Lithuanians appeared immediately, sporting white armbands on their sleeves. The great majority of them came from nearby villages and from the interior of Lithuania, They called themselves partisans. The chief leader of the partisans was the Lithuanian J Zuraula from the village of Roduky, eight kilometers from Merecz.
The partisans immediately turned their attention to the Jews of Marcinkonis. All able-bodied Jewish men and women had to report for work every morning on the square in front of the municipal building. From there they would be sent out to do all sorts of useless and dirty jobs. Jewish laborers were guarded by armed partisans. The first job consisted of cleaning out all the toilets in the town, while the on-looking partisans ridiculed and beat the Jews.
The Jews were ordered to carry water and chop wood for the partisans and to peel off the bark of the logs near the railway station. The partisans incessantly maltreated them and beat them with sticks and lashes. During the second week of the war they mercilessly beat up the Jewish merchant Yokhl Kaplan and three other Jews. The Jews received neither pay nor food for their work. After a day’s hard labor, accompanied by blows and insults, the Jews would return to their homes before dark.
Oppressive Measures and Insults
On Thursday July 3, 1941 the partisans drove out of their homes shohet David-Leyb Shereshevsky, Raphael Lubotzky, Khayim-Yitskhok Berman and Shimen Latz, all four orthodox Jews. The partisans forced the four Jews to drive a large pig through the streets of the town. Two Jews were made to hold the animal by its ears, one had to hold it by its tail and the fourth Jew had to drive it on with a bread shovel. With bowed heads the four Jews were forced to carry out the orders of the partisans, who regaled themselves with laughter. The townspeople accompanied the “spectacle” with cries of joy and applauded as at a circus.
On the following day, Friday, July 4, the partisans gathered up all the portraits of the Soviet leaders found in the town. They drove all the young people out of their houses and lined them up in a row. Then the partisans addressed the young Jews as follows: “You used to enjoy and kiss the portraits of Soviet leaders. Now you shall gouge out their eyes and lick the dirt from them.” The portraits had been dipped in toilets and smeared. The partisans whipped every young Jew who hesitated to kiss the portraits covered with excrement.
The young girl Beyle Pugachevsky was so brutally beaten up that she fainted. The “spectacle” was attended by peasants who gathered from the nearby villages and hamlets and all laughed uproariously at the “ingenious” schemes of the partisans. For several weeks peasants from the surrounding villages would come into town to “enjoy” themselves watching the humiliation of the Jews.
The shohet David Leyb Shereshevsky was once harnessed to a cart and made to draw it through the streets. At the same time the partisans lashed him with their whips.
Moyshe Kobrovsky, a respected member of the community, was arrested by the partisans. Jezukevicius, one of the partisans, accused Kobrovsky of communism and threw him into jail. The partisan also accused the Jew of having torn off the stripes from Lithuanian officers when the Red Army entered Vilna. Moyshe was brutally beaten up. His relatives then succeeded in ransoming him from prison.
At the same time the partisans arrested the brothers Berl and Moyshe Sosnovich and the Jewish wig-maker David Podberesky. Berl was brutally beaten and released. Moyshe Sosnovich and David Podberesky were beaten brutally in the prison every day. One day both Jews were driven out about two hundred meters from the railroad station, on the way to Druskieniki. In a grove near a stream the partisans shot both Jews to death.
Jews from the town were forced to bury the two on the spot where they had been killed. Those were the first two Jewish martyrs in the town of Marcinkonis.
On July 14, 1941 the chief of the Lithuanian division of the German Gestapo, Antanas Jezukevicius, a university student, the secretary Gaidys and others issued various decrees and regulations against the Jews:
(1) Jews were to bring all theirs cows, bicycles, machines and food stocks to the municipal office;
(2) Jews were not to converse with Christians and were to put on yellow stars of David on their shoulders and chest;
(3) Jews were barred from all places of amusement;
(4) Between 7:00 p.m. and 5:00·a.m. Jews were not to leave their homes.
Anyone violating these regulations was threatened with shooting.
On one occasion the partisans detained the Jews Peretz Bloch, David Gudovsky, Lozer Rozenlut and others and held them until it was past 7:00 p.m. The Jews were taken to prison where they were subjected to beatings and torture all night long, so that they had to stay in bed for several days.
There were quite a number of such cases. On the day after the decrees were issued, on July 15, all the Jews in Marcinkonis, men, women and children, had to report to the town hall. The commander of the partisans, Zuraula, Gaidys and a few others inspected the yellow stars of David of the Jews to see that they were sewn on properly. Whoever, in their opinion, had not carried out this regulation properly was brutally beaten and lashed.
Looting and Indemnities
During the first weeks of the war, Germans accompanied and directed by partisans, would go through Jewish homes and plunder the possessions of the Jews.
One day Antanos Jezukavicius and two Germans came to the house of Khane Gorfing and they gave her two hours to secure cloth for twelve pairs of trousers. The material for all twelve pairs was to be of the same kind. Khane tried to beg off, explaining that it was impossible for her to carry out the order. She opened the closet and asked them to take all its contents and release her from the impossible assignment. But the Lithuanians assured the Germans that Khane was in a position to secure the cloth.
The Germans threatened to shoot her and her whole family if their demand was not met. Thanks to the assistance of friends, Khane succeeded in filling the quote on time. There were many similar requisitions made to the Jews by Germans and Lithuanians.
Apart from these requisitions there were many cases of plain robbery. Any Lithuanian partisan and any German could take from the helpless Jews whatever he wanted.
In the beginning of September a new partisan commander came to Marcinkonis in place of Zuraula. He came from the interior of Lithuania. On Saturday, September 13 he called to his office the brothers Khonen and Ahron Kobrovsky and ordered them to collect from the Jews all their money, gold, silver and other valuables and deliver them all to him at a specified time. He warned the two brothers that the fate of the Jews was in his hands and that it depended on the manner in which his order would be carried out. Balancing his hands up and down, he said the fate of the Jews was in them as in a pair of scales.
The brothers promised to endeavor to carry out his order. Reluctantly the Jews gave up a part of their valuables. When the two brothers brought the loot to the commandant and laid it out on the table, he became incensed and threw everything on the floor. He warned that if by Sunday, September 14, his request was not properly complied with, he would do what he thought necessary. The collected indemnity he considered insufficient. But he did not name any definite amount.
The two Kobrovsky brothers then called a meeting of the Jews in town in the home of Yeshue Berezovsky. There it was decided to raise more money and valuables. Every family was assigned a definite quota for the indemnity. The Jews sensed the seriousness of the situation and everyone gave according to his means, as decided at the meeting.
The collected sum was brought to the commandant of the partisans. This time he agreed to accept the preferred sum and was pacified for a while. While the Jews were collecting the gold, money and valuables, they learned that the peasants of three villages had received orders from the county office not to leave their villages for three days and stand by with their horses and carts.
The Town of Marcinkonis is Detached from Lithuania
The town of Marcinkonis was at this time situated on the border between Lithuania and White Russia. A dispute arose over the town. The Lithuanians tried hard to have it assigned to the Alita district in Lithuania, while the White Russians in Grodno sought to have it become part of the Grodno district.
The Lithuanians sought before anything else to obtain authority from the Germans to deal with the Jews. Three requests of the Lithuanians were turned down. The German military commander, who was also in charge of the railroad station, did not turn the Jews over to the Lithuanians nor did he allow them to be moved to Alita as he needed them for work at the station.
The Jews of Marcinkonis knew quite well by this time what was transpiring in the nearby Lithuanian villages. They had received detailed information about the fate of the Jews who had been taken from Merecz, Aran, Dugai and Bultermonis to a forest in Alita, where they were all shot.
On Friday, September 19, 1941, the Lithuanians spread a rumor that Marcinkonis had been assigned to Lithuania, to the Alita district. To the Jews it meant that they had all been sentenced to death. They hastily gathered their most necessary possessions, abandoned their homes and property and fled to villages in White Russia, where the Jews lived in comparative quiet and were not annihilated.
Some of the Jews fled to the Grodno ghetto and to Druskieniki. Very few Jews remained in town. The German military commander assured the remaining Jews that he would not permit the Lithuanians to take out of the town any Jews whom he needed for work at the railway station. After a while Marcinkonis was made part of the Grodno district of White Russia. German police came into the town and drove out all the Lithuanian officials, police and partisans.
The Jews who had fled began gradually to return to their homes. In many of the houses the doors and windows had been broken and all the goods left by the owners plundered. Little by little the returned Jews began to settle down and to prepare for the winter.
The German police demanded that a Judenrat be elected to represent the Jews. Elected to the Judenrat were Ahron Kobrovsky, Dr Shmuel Leytman, Yeshuye Berezovsky and Ruven Svirsky. Ahron Kobrovsky was elected·President of the Judenrat and Dr Shmuel Leytman Vice-President. The Judenrat was the body representing all the Jews and was the intermediary with the German authorities. The Judenrat supplied the required number of laborers to the Germans. The demands of the Germans were not overly stringent.
A Jewish police force was formed consisting of 6-7 men with Chief Berke Aizenshtat at the head, The police maintained order among the Jews of the town, distributed notices to the Jews about coming to work, etc.
The Judenrat served as a kind of an office for placing orders for the German rulers. The Judenrat had to supply the Germans with anything they demanded. Every Jew in town was assessed a definite tax determined by the Judenrat. The money thus collected was used to fill the “orders” placed by the Germans, to bribe local civil administrators and to purchase “gifts” for the Germans. During the fall of 1941 the Jews of Marcinkonis were near to hundreds of mass graves of Lithuanian Jews who had been shot. The Jews of Marcinkonis worked diligently, carried out the orders of the Germans with meticulous care and they “buttered” the Germans profusely. They were always on guard, however, against any unexpected dangers to their lives that could come at any time.
In the Ghetto
Shortly before Passover 1942 the Commissar of the town office informed the Judenrat that the Jews of Marcinkonis would have to settle in a ghetto. He allowed them to remain where they were until after the holiday “so as not to interfere with the Passover,” as he explained.
The day after Passover all of the three hundred and seventy Jews had to settle in three small houses, one kilometer from the town. The Judenrat brought the commissar a present of a gold watch, a fine fur coat and some other valuable articles and succeeded in having him reassign for the ghetto, 14 small houses near the railway station. Two days after Passover the Jews moved into this section and they themselves had to close it off with a wooden fence.
The Jewish police force was stationed at the gate and around the fence and it was alerted to report on any possible dangers to the ghetto to the Jundenrat and to the Jews of the ghetto. The police force was also charged with the duty of protecting the ghetto population from robbery by Jews inside and by Christians outside.
It was not a hermetically sealed ghetto. Jews could move freely in and out. Some even resumed their pre-war trade with the villagers. Compared to other ghettos, the Jews of the Marcinkonis ghetto lived fairly well. All summer of 1942 they worked at the railway station, on the roads and in the mushroom factory.
In the middle of the summer of 1942 reports began to arrive about the terrible annihilation of Jews in the towns of White Russia. A considerable number of survivors of the carnage came to the little ghetto of Marcinkonis. The Judenrat was responsible for every new arrival in the ghetto. Those who held power over Jewish life in the ghetto warned the Judenrat not to admit any “outside” Jews from the White Russian towns. These Jews had to be concealed. Seventy odd refugees found shelter in the small ghetto in the summer of 1942 and some were sent to Grodno. The arrival of these Jews who had miraculously escaped and the horrid details of Jewish liquidation reported by them created panic among the Jews of Marcinkonis. The inhabitants of the ghetto and the Jewish police intensified their watchfulness.
In the fall of 1942 information reached Marcinkonis about the activities of Red partisans in the forests of White Russia. Some of the young people in the ghetto, together with the refugees began to prepare to leave the ghetto in order to join the Red partisans. The Judenrat knew of these plans and assisted in the efforts to secure arms and to prepare for armed resistance, in case the ghetto was threatened with liquidation. A sum of money was raised for the purpose and 12 rifles were purchased. The rifles were expected any day in the ghetto but they arrived a few days later than agreed upon.
The Heroic Resistance of the Jews of Marcinkonis
During the night of Sunday, November 1, 1942, the Jewish ghetto police noticed that the ghetto was being surrounded by a heavy and strongly armed guard. They immediately notified the Judenrat and all the Jews in their homes. Many Jews had returned late that evening from work and had gone to bed very tired, but no one slept that night. Everyone anxiously waited for the coming of dawn. Marcinkonis at that time had already been severed from White Russia and joined to the Third Reich.
On Monday, November 2, at 6:00 a.m. the Jews gathered at the gate to go out to their work in the town. But they were not allowed to leave the confines of the ghetto. The members of the Judenrat came to the ghetto gate. The Commissar of the Town Office, accompanied by armed police, told the Judenrat that the Jews would no longer go to work and ordered everyone to pack up their belongings and make ready to leave the ghetto to go to “work” in another place. Freight cars stood in readiness a small distance from the ghetto. The Commissar told the Jews to make haste and that all must be at the station with their families by 8 o’clock, lined up, six in a row.
A few had managed to steal out of the ghetto at night. A few left the ghetto in the morning and stole through the armed ring. Only a few score Jews came to the place before 8 o’clock. The German murderers began to feel nervous. The military commander of the White Russian town of Sobakince had come to help in the successful liquidation of the ghetto. He was a notorious butcher who had experience in several acts of annihilation of Jews in ghettos in White Russia. This time he failed.
He sensed that something was going on which he had not been accustomed to see in the destruction of Jews. The Jews had not even dreamed of carrying out his order to line up.
A group of bold Jews, among them Bentsiyon Kobrovsky, 17 years old, Fayvl Rapoport and others, were preparing to attack the assassin with the “red boots” (this is what the Jews called the commander of Sobakince) and to take away his automatic pistol. The members of the Judenrat made as if to approach him, in order to make a request, but he would not allow them to come near. Ahron Kobrovsky, President of the Judenrat, then cried out: “Jews, whoever wants to live, let him run where he can! The play is with the devil!”
The Jews began to run toward the ghetto fence. They also began to run from the houses towards the ghetto fence. The Commandant with the “red boots” began shooting his automatic pistol in all directions. His subordinates did likewise. Cries of women and children were heard and the groans and rattling sounds of the wounded and the dying. Everybody ran from the ghetto. The fence was broken down. The panic and pandemonium in the ghetto was indescribable. There were a few cases of Jewish men beating the armed murderers with their bare fists and trampling them underfoot.
The shooting on every side became intensified. Many dead and wounded fell. Groans and wails filled the air. The Germans did not succeed in catching alive one single Jew, man, woman or child, to throw into the freight car. One hundred and five Jews remained lying dead in the ghetto and outside the enclosure.
The diabolical plan to transfer the Jews of Marcinkonis to Kelbasin near Grodno and thence to the crematoria in Poland was frustrated by the heroic Jews of Marcinkonis, who paid for their effort with their blood. Like wild beasts the murderers set upon the abandoned Jewish houses looking for hidden Jews. But even there they failed to capture any Jew alive.
The President of the Judenrat, Ahren Kobrovsky, his brother Bentsiyon, Yossly Gilinsky and Berl Aizenshtat had managed to hide in a bunker underneath a house. The Germans discovered the bunker and ordered the Jews to come out. Revolver shots came out of the bunker in reply. The Germans threw two hand grenades into the bunker and put an end to the lives of the brave Jews. A number of women and children had gone into the underground hideouts previously prepared under their homes. Apart from the hide-out of Abron Kobrovsky not one such place was discovered by the Germans.
Christians, however, who came in search of loot, stumbled upon some of them and reported them to the Germans and their collaborators. That very day hundreds of peasants from the surrounding villages and many of the local inhabitants came to the ghetto.
They volunteered to bury the 105 Jewish victims. Their object was loot. They pulled off the clothes and boots of the Jews and joyously filled their sacks. One hundred meters from the ghetto, near Lake Kastinis, they dug a mass grave into which they threw the dead along with the still living wounded. Peasants who took part in the burial of the fallen heroes later reported that many Jews had been thrown into the grave while still alive. The mass grave is situated not far from the saw mill which belonged to Shloyme Kaplan.
The German constabulary and armed German civilians took part in the siege of the ghetto and the shooting of the Jews. They were joined by a number of Lithuanian police and partisans from nearby Lithuanian towns.
The mass grave remained unfilled with earth for two days. A wild and desperate chase began for the escaped Jews through the whole countryside. But the pursuers failed to seize a single adult alive. Only small children and a few women were apprehended.
A special detachment of the German constabulary came to Marcinkonis to help catch the escaped Jews. They were assisted by many local Lithuanian peasants, who saw a chance for easy loot. The Germans distributed arms to the peasants and promised them the property found on the Jews. Singly and in group formations the peasants then undertook the chase after the hiding Jews. They called it “jeskoti turto” (treasure hunting). They looked upon the Jews who were hiding out as upon fur bearing animals who had to be trapped for the sake of the profit their skins would bring.
Scores of Jewish women, children and men were brought to their death at the hands of peasants. The peasants demanded gold of the Jews. The harassed Jews called the peasants auksonikai (from the Lithuanian word aukso, meaning gold) and watched out for them. The Lithuanian peasants of the villages Musteika and Darel distinguished themselves especially in the hunt on the Jews.
The Family Kobrovsky
The father Avrohom had been granted the blessing of the command to be fruitful and multiply. Fourteen children; twelve boys and two girls the Kobrovsky parents had raised. All twelve boys were tall, handsome and healthy as the pines in the nearby forests. Both of the sisters matched their brothers in stature and health. The names of the children in order of birth were: Eliyohu, Ahren, Khone, Yitskhok, Borukh, Moyshe, Khane, Leybl, Yakov, Khayim, Bentsiyon, Beyle, Ruven and Fayvl. Eliyohu and Borukh left for Palestine before the war, and thus avoided sharing the suffering of their brothers and sisters.
The last five children were by Avrohom’s second wife Perl (Aizenshtat). Avrohom the father died before the war. Ahren and his brave brother Bentsiyon were killed in a hiding place during the liquidation of the Marcinkonis ghetto, on November 2, 1942. Yitskhok Kobrovsky had married years earlier and .settled in Grodno.
Some time after the arrival of the Germans in Marcinkonis, Leyb Kobrovsky got himself to Grodno, where his brothers Moyshe and Yakov were already. Khayim and Ruven ran away from the ghetto at the time of the liquidation, and met up with their escaped nephews, Elke and Shloyme Kobrovsky, their brother Khone’s sons.
Murdered After the Liquidation of the Ghetto
(1) The wife of Ahren Kobrovsky, Sheyne (nee Kunevsky, from the nearby town Alytus) had left the Marcinkonis ghetto for Grodno a few days before the liquidation, in order to pick up an “order” for the bureau commissar. On November 2, the Grodno ghetto was·also surrounded, Sheyne made her way out of the ghetto, took the yellow insignia off her clothes, and arrived by train at the Marcinkonis station, the morning after the liquidation of the Marcinkonis ghetto. There she found out about the disaster in the ghetto and about her murdered husband. From the station, she entered the nearby forest.
The townsman Antanas Tamulevicius spotted her, and immediately informed the Germans. Armed German civilians hurried out into the forest and captured Sheyne Kobrovsky. They shot her by the ghetto the same day.
(2) Perl, the stepmother of Ahren Kobrovsky, together with her 16 year old daughter Beyle and her 11 year old son Fayvl, lay hidden during the time of the liquidation, together with Mrs Dragutsky. On the third day after the liquidation of the ghetto, Mrs Dragutsky left the hiding place. While running away she fell into a well near the ghetto, and was noticed by local peasants, who informed the Germans. With various threats and tricks, they found out from the unfortunate woman the location of the hiding place. Mrs Perl Kobrovsky and her two children, together with Mrs Dragutsky, were shot the same day. It was, 1942.
(3) Ahren Kobrovsky’s son Binyomin, eleven years old, ran away from the ghetto on November 2 to a Polish acquantance of his father’s named Waclow Dakenewitz. A neighbor noticed Binyomin and reported to the Germans, who went off to Dakenewitz looking that same day. The Germans didn’t recognize Binyomin as a Jew, because his appearance was not characteristically Jewish, and he spoke Polish and Lithuanian well. To the German’s question who he was; Binyomin answered that he was from a nearby village. Dakenevitz explained that he didn’t know who the boy was. The Germans took Binyomin to Marcinkonis. Peasants from the town recognized him. The Lithuanian policeman Jonas Labonas led the child off near the mass grave and shot him. The Lithuanian murderer threw him into the mass grave, badly wounded, but still alive. That was on the day the ghetto was liquidated.
(4) A woman from Merecz (Merkine) had brought her sick daughter Rivele, who was eight years old, into the Marcinkonis hospital before the outbreak of the war. The mother had come from Merecz several times to visit her Rivele. After the shootings of Merecz Jews, during the holiday season in 1941, little Rivele was left bereft of both parents. The Polish hospital doctor, who was known to be descended from Jews himself, looked after Rivele and brought her to health. The doctor informed the Judenrat about the little girl. Ahren Kobrovsky took Rivele into his home and kept her as if she were his own child. Ahren’s boy Leyzerl grew accustomed to Rivele, and the two played together like brother and sister. Leyzerl was just the same age as his friend Rivele. Precisely one year Rivele lived with the Kobrovskys, who took the place of her parents. When the ghetto was liquidated, the two children ran away together and hid for three entire days in a forest. By day they lay in the forest. At night they left the forest for the nearby village to seek food. The third night they went to the peasant Raula Miskinys. He fed both children and then led them into the barn to sleep. The Germans were told about the two children, it is not known by whom, and they found the two children sleeping in the barn. The Lithuanian policeman Jonas Labonas and the Pole Falkowsky, both townspeople, led both children off to the open mass grave and shot them.
When the murderers left, Rivele regained consciousness and recovered. As it turned out, she was only lightly wounded. Rivele crept out of the mass grave and ran back into the forest. The eyewitness Khane Gorfing ran away from the ghetto with her boy Khayiml into the forest and became separated from him. Searching for her boy, she found Rivele. Rivele was wounded in the side, and a thumb of one hand was shot off. Rivele wasn’t crying, and like a grown up she looked at her bloodied hand and at her side. Khane bandaged her hand and side. It was quite cold outside in the evenings. On one foot all she had was a sock; on the second, a torn shoe. Rivele was terrified and pale. She clung to Khane as if to her own mother. She was hungry, and had been collecting berries in the forest. Rivele and Khane wandered around the forest until the evening.
At nightfall the two went into an open stall in the middle of the fields in a settlement near the town of Marcinkonis, belonging to the peasant Motejus Mackelis. In the stall they found an 18-year-old girl named Zelde Novik, and a man from Butrimonys, a beltmaker by trade, with his wife. The beltmaker and his wife had escaped the slaughter of the Jews of Butrimonys and come to Marcinkonis. At the peasant’s, Khane met her husband Yitskhok, who had escaped the ghetto with their second son Shimele. She found her lost child Khayiml at nightfall. The family Gorfing left the place at midnight for another village. The little wounded Rivele remained in the stall with the other Jews.
(5) Wandering through the forests, the Jews from Butrimonys took Rivele.along and met more Jews. All of them together went into the forest called Natzer Pushcha. A young peasant led the way. When they had come close to the village Mancigeriai in the woods, they sat down to rest and made a bonfire to dry out their wet clothes and warm themselves.
The infamous Jew-killer at Ponar near Vilna, the Lithuanian Vincas Likauskas from the village of Mancigeriai, noticed the Jews sitting by the fire. Fifteen Jews had already come together, escapees from the ghetto on November 2.
Likauskas reported about the Jews to German border guards and together with them, he surrounded the group of Jews and opened fire on them with various weapons. Henokh Novik, Fayvl Rapoport and his 14 year old daughter Fanye, the beltmaker from Butrimonys and his wife, the wife of the Marcinkonis dentist Shvartsman, 35 year old Leye Tikulsky, Rivele Magadowsky, aged 18, and little Rivele from Merecs, who had escaped the Marcinkonis ghetto and then the grave lost their lives.
Those of the group who survived were: Rokhel Magadowsky, Dine Sane Kravetsky from Alytus, Yeshayohu Rozenlut, Berl Novik, Zelde Novik, and Moyshe Tikulsky.
(6) Khone was killed while escaping from the ghetto. His wife, Rivke Kovrovsky, aged 38, and her little daughter Feygele couldn’t run from the ghetto, because Feygele lay sick. The Germans left the ghetto the same day. Village peasants and town dwellers let themselves plunder the abandoned Jewish possessions. The Pole Mecislaw Kochansky came to rob Rivke Kovrovsky, and noticed the mother and child in their hideout. Mother and daughter didn’t try very hard to hide from their neighbor.
Kochansky clearly didn’t want to be a robber, and decided better to be an heir to his Jewish neighbors. He reported the mother and her sick child to the Germans. The same day, November 2, Rivke Kovrovsky and Feygele were shot in the ghetto.
(7) The morning after the slaughter in the ghetto, six surviving women came to the Pole Juzef Kawalier, who lived in a settlement nearby Marcinkonis. The women wanted to buy food from the peasant. Among the six women was the girl Beyle Beresovsky. Juzef used to be a frequent guest of Beyle’s family and was well acquainted with Beyle. Juzef led the six exhausted women into a barn and promised to bring them food. He locked the barn. The women, trusing the peasant, lay down to sleep. Juzef brought armed Germans to the women instead of food. The six women were led off to the open mass grave of the 105, and they were shot the same day, November 3,
(8) Aleksandras Jurelevicius and his brother-in-law Jonas Kaseta voluntarily assisted in the liquidation of the ghetto. They furthermore helped to annihilate the hidden Jews. Jonas was taken into the Marcinkonis police force for his “services”. Both of them had lived with the Jews for years and worked for them. The same two bandits, together with a third bandit from the town named Falkovsky, attacked Jews hidden in a forest near the village Darzel, eight kilometers from Marcinkonis. The group consisted of five women and two men. Killed on the spot in the attack were: 16-year-old Rokhel Berezovsky, B. Karzmer, Nokhum Pogacevski aged 17 and his sister Vele aged 14. Three out of the group survived: Yeshayohu Berezovsky, a former member of the Judenrat; his daughter Bashe and his niece Peshe Karzmer. These three lived to see the Liberation. The attack occurred November 20, 1942.
(9) In the same village of Darzel Fayvl Karzmer was killed (whose wife had died in the forest near the same village, see case 8), as was Yerakhmiel Shapiro and his wife. The group wandered in. the area looking for food. Fayvl Karzmer went to the mayor Kazimir Miskinys. Germans caught and shot him. Yerakhmiel Shapiro and his wife saw Germans in the village and began to run away. They were both shot by the Germans.
(10) The young boy Shmuel Novik, together with a Jewish girl, ran away from the ghetto and hid in the forests and fields for a week. At the home of a peasant named Bladas in the village of Drucminiai, in the county of Rudno, the two youth hoped to get weapons. The peasant was well acquainted with Shmuel’s father. Shmuel came into the village at night and instead of the peasant he knew, he went to the ranger Povidaike. The ranger grabbed his gun, arrested Shmuel and led him off to the White Russian town Sobakince, where he was shot.
Shmuel’s comrade, a nurse, stood outside waiting. Seeing her comrade being led under arrest, she ran away. Some time later she made her way to a group of Red partisans and remained alive. She had come to Marcinkonis from the Soviet Union. At the outbreak of the war, she hadn’t managed to return.
(11) The elderly woman Libe Lubotsky and Mrs Hene Krenice came, after escaping the slaughter in the ghetto, to the village of Krakslai and had already crossed the border stream Uli into White Russia. German border guards stopped the two women and shot them on the spot. This was four days after escaping from the slaughter in the ghetto, November 6, 1942.
(12) Tzemakh Shelkovski was wounded while escaping from the ghetto; Together with Mrs Freydl Rosenlut and her two small children Henokh (aged 5) and Itele (aged 4) Tzemakh arrived at a forest near the village of Linici, ten kilometers from Marcinkonis, on the fourth day after escaping from the ghetto. Aleksandras Jurelevicius, a worker at the Marcinkonis railroad station, spotted the four Jews sitting in the forest. Tzemakh was swollen from his wound. Both children’s feet were frozen. They were unable to run further. Jurelevicius and some Germans caught the four unlucky Jews and shot them on the spot, the sixth of November, 1942.
(13) Yeshayohu Rozenlut and his wife Vite, their children Hirshl, aged 15, Henele and their youngest child, aged 6, escaped from the Marcinkonis ghetto on the day of the liquidation. They hid in forests, fields and villages until the end of 1942. Shortly before New Year’s 1943 the family arrived at the forest “Natzer Pushcha” and began to set up a hiding place for themselves. A few days later nine Lithuanian peasants armed with rifles attacked them, opening fire on the family from all sides. Yeshohu and his elder son Hirshl tore away from those surrounding them and escaped.
Several hours later both returned to see what had become of their family. The wife and the youngest boy lay shot on the ground. Henele was badly wounded. The father was unable to help her in the circumstances, and she died several days later.
The nine Lithuanian peasants who participated in the attack were from the village of Pademb, Rudno County, in the region of Alytus. Their names remain unknown. In that village at that time there were tens of peasants, who volunteered to help the Germans catch Jews hidden in the area. They were strongly attracted by the possibility of finding the Jews’ assets. When they searched the helpless Jews, they used the expression “seeking fortunes” (in their language, jeskoti turto). For these murderers, hunting Jews was a kind of gold digging, a way to get rich quick.
(14) Yeshayohu Rozenlut and his son Hirshf found a 12-year-old girl from Marcinkonis, Khasele Shelkovitsh, while they were wandering around the forest. They took her with them. Several days later, they met Ayzik Krenice (see case 19), Beinish and Khencinski. All six stayed together for a long time. One time the latter three men went into their dugout to sleep. They took along a piece of tin, bearing coals from their fire, around which Yeshayohu Rozenlut and the two children stood watch. Before going to sleep, the three men closed the opening of the bunker. The next morning, Rozenlut found them dead; a white foam dribble from their mouths. The three men had been choked by smoked. Rosenblut remained in the bunker for quite some time, because potatoes had been laid in there for the entire winter.
Some time after, Rozenlut enlisted Khasele in a detail of Red partisans. He never met Khasele again. Yeshayohu and his son remained alive.
(15) The Jews of Marcinkonis Alter Grocki, aged 40 and Sheyne Zabner, aged 40, with her girl Rivele, aged 6, stayed together for a long time, conducting a hard and bitter struggle for their daily life. A young boy named Noah clung to the three Jews. His father David Magadovski, aged 45, had hung himself after the Marcinkonis ghetto was surrounded by the Germans. While robbing Jewish houses, peasants found him hanging and reported to the Germans.
The Jews kept Noah close and watched him like their own child. By day they hid themselves. At night they sought food from the peasants in the villages. In the village of Tresnik, Merecz (Merkine) County, the four Jews were caught and led off to the Merecz jail. The peasants of the village handed over the four Jews. A policeman from the same town arrested them. For a certain time the four Jews were taken to the prisons in surrounding towns. The survivors do not know where the four Jews died.
(16) Six kilometers from Marcinkonis in a forest, on the road leading to the village of Linici, lived a Russian ranger. An elderly Jew who had run away from the Grodno ghetto came to this ranger and received food and the chance to rest. A worker from Marcinkonis by the name of Karlon came to the ranger. He immediately realized that a Jew was sitting at the table. Karlon wanted to call in to Marcinkonis about the Jew immediately. The Russian begged Karlen not to kill an innocent person. Karlon threatened to inform on the Russian as well. The Jew begged Karlon to let him live, and offered him everything he possessed. Karlon didn’t agree. The Jew was already severely weakened and the worker was a young, healthy peasant. Karlon called the Marcinkonis police from the ranger’s.
The Lithuanian policemen Luozas Cesnulevicius and Falkowsky, together with several German gendarmes came riding to the ranger. They forced the Jew to take off his overclothes, drove him into the nearby woods and shot him. The Germans took the Jew’s watch. The two policeman shared his overclothes.
(17) While escaping from the ghetto, Monday November 2, Mrs. Hene Frukhtenber was wounded in the arm. While she wandered through the fields for some time, the bone of the wounded arm began to rot. She disguised herself as a village peasant woman and went to the hospital several times. The doctor, who was descended from Jews, cured Hene and treated her well. A Lithuanian girl named Jacente “Maskaukaite” reported Hene to the Germans, who arrested Hene and carried her to prison. Some time later, they shot her in Marcinkonis, near the train station.
(18) Joseph Kravetz with his wife, two sons and a daughter lived before the war in a village called Ashoshnikis. After the Marcinkonis Jews were confined to the ghetto, the family was driven into the ghetto. Before being taken to the ghetto the family Kravetz left their entire fortune along with a sewing machine in the care of a Lithuanian peasant, who was a neighbor of theirs in the same village.
When the ghetto was liquidated the entire family managed to escape to a peasant of their acquaintance named Jonas Averka who lived on a settlement two kilometers from the village of Musteika. Joseph Kravetz went off to the village of Ashoshnikis to his former neighbor to pick up the sewing machine and give it to the peasant Averka for hiding him and his family. His former neighbor asked Joseph to come the next morning; he would have the machine ready. The former neighbor followed Joseph and found out who was hiding the family Kravetz. The next morning German gendarmes and two Lithuanian policemen came to the peasant Averka. They found the Kravetz family and led them off to the village of Ashoshnikis. The Lithuanian policemen, the brothers Veiksneriai from the village Svendubri, five kilometers from Druskinikai shot the entire Kravetz family in the village of Ashoshnikis. The good peasant Averka spent six months in prison for trying to save Jews.
(19) The Jews Zalmen Kunyavsky, Joseph Rapaport and his brother Yankele were killed by the Lithuanian brothers Veiksneriai. The three youths had hidden themselves in a forest three kilometers from the village of Musteika, after escaping from the ghetto. The peasant Makoris Karalius, from Musteika, found out about the three Jews and immediately reported to the police in Ashoshnikis. The brothers Veiksneriai, together with several other policemen, surrounded the indicated place and shot the three Jews. Together with the three Jewish youths, Ayzik Krenice from Marcinkonis was hiding in the forest. He managed to survive. He later recounted the episode to the hidden Jews in the area. (See case 14).
(20) The woman Zlate Krenice hid in the village Marcinkonis. The Lithuanian townsman Julius Korsakas caught Zlate in the village took her himself to the Germans in town, who immediately shot her. The Lithuanian Korsakas had worked for Jews in town his whole life, and had always gotten along well with them.
(21) A few weeks after the liquidation of the ghetto, Mrs Sara Z”r and her small child Hirshele, aged 4, hid in a shanty of the Lithuanian townsman Jonas Krikstapas in the village Marcinkonis, one kilometer from town. The peasant spotted the mother and child and immediately reported them to the police. To the shanty came the infamous murderer Jonas Labonas, who shot the mother and child on the spot.
(22) During the attack on fifteen Jews in a forest near the village Mancigeriai (see case 5), Moyshe Tekulsky ran away wounded and came running to the village Marcinkonis, one kilometer from the town of Marcinkonis. Moyshe went to the farmer Petras Vainelevicius. His neighbor Ana Filimoncik noticed this, and reported to the Germans in town. Two Germans who came shot Moyshe next to Ana’s house. Moyshe had hidden some of his better possessions with the peasant woman.
(23) Mrs Sheyne Sosnovitz and her two girls Miriam and Sara, aged 5 and 7, were captured in the village Darzel by Germans, at the home of the peasant Motejus Kibirkstis. Mrs Sosnovitz and her two children were shot in their village. The peasant himself was suspected of having reported on the three women in the town of Marcinkonis.
(24) About one month after escaping from the ghetto, a group of 21 Jews; men, women and children were gathered in a bunker in the forest near the village of Musteika. Three peasants found out about the hidden group of Jews and immediately reported to the Germans in Marcinkonis. German gendarmes surrounded the bunker, fired on the area with machine guns and finally threw two hand grenades into the bunker. All 21 Jews were killed. Among the Jews killed in the bunker were: Yosl Khayet with his wife and three children; Yosl Jurberg with a daughter and a son-in-law, and a wounded small child; Rakhmiel Sosnovitz with his wife and a small child; Ruven Svirski, Sara Zalishanski, aged 28, Blume Niselevitz, aged 30, with a son. Yerakhmiel’s brother Moyshe Sosnovitz was among the first two Jewish victims in town, during the first days of the war.
Blume Niselevitz and her son were refugees from the nearby town of Merecs (Merkine). The three peasants from the village of Musteika who betrayed the 21 Jew were: Mocius and Eduardas Sakovicius, and Svirskis.
(25) In the same forest, near the village of Musteika, a second group of Jews was hiding. Peasants from the village found out about the Jews and together with the German gendarmes, they surrounded the group of Jews and shot all of them. Among those killed in the group were: Shloyme Dragutsky with a daughter, aged 21; Yudl Kobrovsky with his wife and child; Shloyme Zahner and his 16 year-old daughter Beyle; and Feyge Krenice, aged 15.
The peasants who betrayed them were J Tamulevicius and Makoras Karalius.
(26) Motl Neierman, a butcher, an invalid, escaped the slaughter with a small child in his arms. For some time he wandered and hid. Next to the village of Darzel Germans stopped him and shot him together with his small child.
(27) In the neighborhood of the village Dar el small Jewish children wandered. They had become separated from their parents while running away from the ghetto during the liquidation. Many of the children’s parents died while running away. In that tragic time, the small children were like “grown up Jews.”
They understood clearly the dangers hanging over their young lives. This was just before New Year’s 1943. Many of them had frozen hands or feet. The children knew how to disguise themselves. They made themselves little bags like the Lithuanian children who went to the village schools. With these bags in their hands the children made their way across the villages begging for a piece of bread. The children slept outdoors under the open sky, or else they would steal into a barn.
The fields and pastures were already filled with snow and it was already quite cold. Three little children named Rabinovitsh: Shloymele; his sister Itele and the youngest sister Sorele, wandered through the fields and villages until Sore’s feet became frozen. Shloymele could no longer help his unfortunate younger sister and handed her over to a peasant woman in the village of Kopinikis. For several days the peasant woman kept the five year old Sore. Neighbors found out about it. The peasant woman became afraid to keep Sore any longer and reported her to the Germans in Marcinkonis.
The same woman later told those who participated in the collective eyewitness testimony: The Germans who came interrogated Sore and wanted to find out where she had slept the whole time, and where her brother and sister were. Sore was careful to answer in such a way as not to harm them. Sore was a clever and beautiful child. One of the high-ranking Germans took out his revolver and aimed at Sore. The child began to smile. The German sighed and put his revolver back into its holster.
Other Germans tried to shoot Sorele. But the German murderers’ hands were too weak. Sorele’s moist clever eyes, her looks filled with prayers for mercy, softened the cruel hearts of the German murderers, who stood confused and ashamed.
Together with the Germans stood a Lithuanian policeman named Gulgis from the village of Margewitz, nine kilometers from Marcinkonis. Gulgis was famous for having shot Jews at Ponar near Vilna. You can’t shoot a Jewish girl? Give her to me! The Lithuanian murderer caught Sore out with one hand and shot her with the other.
(28) A larger group of small children wandered in the area of the villages of Darzel and Margewitz. Next to the forest stood an unfinished, roofless barn. By day the children would beg for food in the nearby villages. At night they would come into the barn. Thick snow fell, and the children didn’t know how to cover the footprints of their half bare feet in the snow. Germans discovered the spot. In the barn they found 18-20 small children, lying clinging to one another half-frozen on a layer of straw on the ground. The Germans shot all of the children next to the barn in the woods. On that tragic day, about three weeks after the liquidation of the Marcinkonis ghetto, the Germans with the help of Lithuanians ended the wandering of Jewish children in that area.
Among the children shot were: Khaykele Zar, aged 11 and her brother Shimele, aged 9; a boy named Ayzikl Pugachevsky, aged 7; a boy named Ezra Blakh, aged 8 and his sister Beyle, 15 years old.
The participant in the collective testimony Khayim Kobrovsky, together with several other Jews, were in the region several days before the shooting of the children and saw the children in the barn, but they could not help them in any way and had no place to bring them.
Some of the Jews who had escaped from the ghetto, came together near the village of Musteika, in a forest. In this group was also one of the witnesses, Shloyme Peretz with his little daughter (3 years old), his mother Shifre and his sister Libe. Shloyme’s wife, Sheine-Khaye and his father Abraham perished in the ghetto.
The group also included Abraham Weinberg with his three sons: Khayim, Leybl and Motl; the family Pilevsky, Khayim Shloyme with his wife Khane, a son, Efrayim and a daughter, Sarah. Several days after the liquidation of the ghetto some 20 Jews, men, women and children, gathered in the forest.
These Jews “settled” in tents, covered with branches and foliage, three kilometers’ distance from the village of Musteika.
After a few days the Jews established contact with the Lithuanian peasant, Jonas Balevicius, in the village of Musteika. He was one of the few truly fine peasants who fully sympathized with the plight of the Jews and did all he could to help them. He was a good friend of the Kobrovskys.
Jonas would get money from the Jews and buy them food, traveling many miles to make the purchases and to bring the provisions to the forest. A few days after they settled in the forest he sold the Jews three rifles and ninety bullets, for which the Jews paid him 25 rubles in gold. The possession of firearms made the Jews feel more secure.
On November 2, when the ghetto of Marcinkonis was liquidated, the ghettos in the neighboring towns and in Grodno were also liquidated. The three brothers Kobrovsky, Moyshe, Leyb and Jacob escaped from the Grodno ghetto on November 2. Other Jews escaped from Grodno together with these three brothers, including the daughter of the Jewish druggist of the Lithuanian town of Daugai, Miriam, the young man from Visei, Meyer Khmilevsky and others.
The Grodno Jews went to stay with friendly peasants in Lithuanian villages. The three Kobrovsky brothers with the girl from Daugai came to a peasant they knew by the name of Balevicius who brought them to the Jews in their hiding place in the forest. This was exactly one week after the flight from the ghetto. The brothers began looking for some of their close friends. From the peasants they learned who had perished in the ghetto. Friendly peasants in the village of Kupiniskis informed them that their sister Khane with her husband Yitskhok Gorfing and their two boys had fled the ghetto and were now in the neighborhood. But all their efforts to locate their sister and her family were in vain. They asked the peasants they knew in the surrounding villages to let them know as soon as they learned anything.
While looking for their sister and her family in the forest, near Musteika, they came upon a group of three Jews: Ayzik Krenica, Joseph Rapoport and their cousin Khayele (15 years old) who was Khonon’s daughter. The brothers Kobrovsky took Khayele along to her brothers Elke and Shloyme. Joseph Rapoport and Ayzik Krenica perished a short time later (Rapoport in the forest near Musteika and Krenica suffocated in a bunker).
During this time the Jews obtained, with the help of friendly peasants of the nearby village of Kupiniskis, more arms: two more rifles, a pistol and three hand grenades.
The cold and the snow made it impossible to continue hiding in the same place. Shloyme Kobrovsky had been wounded while fleeing the ghetto and he could not think of recovering in wintertime in the forest. The Jews broke up into small groups. The Kobrovsky family with the girl from Daugai went to a peasant in the village of Kupini kis. Khane Aizenshtadt, her daughter-in-law Gitl with her child and Khane’s son Ayzik went to live with another peasant in the same village. Shloyme Peretz with his family and the rest of the group went further into the forest belt of White Russia known as “Russkaya Pushcha”.
Abraham Vidlansky and His Desperate Struggle for His Life
The family Kobrovsky obtained space for a certain sum of money with a peasant named Gudas Balis in the village of Azerelis on a settlement near the village of Kupinikis. The brothers Kobrovsky hoped to spend part of the winter there, until their nephew Shloyme would regain his health. They rested there for one week only. The Lithuanian peasant Balis Bakanauskas and his family were neighbors of the peasant Balis Gudas.
This peasant had taken in for several days, a man named Abraham Vidlansky from Aran, who had managed to escape the slaughter of Jews in his hometown of Aran, then from Redune and finally from the slaughter of Jews in Pariece. That ghetto was also liquidated on November 2, 1942. The Jews had been led out to Kelbasin, near Grodno. Late at night, lying on a bench at the peasant’s home, Abraham noticed the peasant testing out the material of his new suit. The next day the peasant was in Marcinkonis. In the evening he came back bringing medicine for Abraham. The peasant suggested that Abraham climb up on the oven, because he was expecting guests.
After he had been lying on top of the oven a short time, the door opened and in came a German gendarme with the Lithuanian Jonas Labonas, a policeman. The gendarme and the policemen had originally come into the village to go to the house where the Kobrovsky brothers were.
The Kobrovsky brothers ordered the housewife to go into a corner. They had four rifles, a pistol and a hand grenade. The German and the Lithuanian went straight to their house. The four rifles and the pistol were ready and aimed at the door. The peasant woman knelt and murmured a prayer to Jesus Christ. At that moment the German and the Lithuanian spotted the wife of the peasant, to whom they actually had come. They asked where the peasant Bakanauskas lived. The woman showed them her house.
The Lithuanian and the German went there. The Kobrovsky brothers and their friends got out through a rear window into a nearby forest.
The German and the Lithuanian dragged Abraham down from the oven and asked if there were other Jews. To convince the neighbors that there were no Jews at her place, the peasant woman Gudas called the German in for a drink, shortly after the Kobrovskys ran away. Abraham was left at Labonas’.
Abraham attacked him, and tried to take away his rifle. There was a life and death struggle. Abraham bit the Lithuanian murderer with his teeth. He bloodied his face with his nails.Abraham had already torn the rifle away from the Lithuanian and shot at him, but then, the rifle jammed. The peasant Bolis Bakanauskas came to help the policeman, and then also his son, with an axe.
Abraham was weakened by blows from the axe on his back. Then the policeman shot, but missed. The German was sitting quietly in the other house, from which the Kobrovskys had escaped a short time earlier. He sat eating and drinking homemade alcohol. Hearing a shot, he ran in to Bolis Bakanauskas’ house, where Abraham was struggling with the Lithuanian murderer.
He immediately ordered Abraham to strip to his underwear and made ready to take him outside and shoot him. Abraham tore away toward the door, struck the German in his face and fell out into the darkness outside.
It was a cold, wintry night. A powerful storm wind blew drifts of snow around in the air. The sharpest eyes would not have been able to see more than a few meters forward. Half-naked in his underwear, Abraham jumped over a fence and fell into a snowdrift semi-conscious. The German and the Lithuanian chased after him and shot. However, they neither hit him nor saw him. They ran past him to the nearby forest. Abraham recovered and ran in a different direction into the forest and from there into a second village. He begged some old clothes from a peasant woman. Some time later he made his way to the “Russkaya Pushcha” to the Kobrovsky brothers and was freed together with them.
The Tragedy of the Aizenshtat Family
Aroused and distressed by his failure, the peasant Bolis Bakanauskas led the German and the Lithuanian policeman away to another peasant in the same village, where the family Aizenshtat were hiding.
Fortunately, the boy Ayzik Aizenshtat was out of the house. Seeing the German and the policeman coming, he ran away. His sister-in-law Gitl Aizenshtat hid under the bed. The Lithuanian and the German led out the elderly woman Khane Aizenshtat together with Gitl’s little boy Yudele and shot them in the courtyard. Gitl lay under the bed and heard the crying and screaming of her boy Yudele. The murderers didn’t look under the bed, and Gitl remained alive.
The peasant Bakanauskas then argued with the policeman over the possessions of Gitl’s stepmother Khane and her child Yudele. Some time later Ayzik Aizenshtat and Gitl came to Shloyme Peretz’s group in the “Russkaya Pushcha” and remained alive.
The Bold Raid on a Bakery in Marcinkonis
After escaping from the peasant Bolis Gudas the entire Kobrovsky family went into the “Russkaya Pushcha”. They had finally convinced themselves that it was impossible to survive among peasants. The Daugai girl went with them. While wandering around they found Shloyme Peretz and other of his group who had remained in the Pushcha. They found other escaped Jews as well. A few tens of Jews gathered together.
They decided to prepare several bunkers and get ready to spend the winter in the Pushcha. The men used to “organize” food at night from neighboring villages. They bought with money; but also didn’t stop at taking food with the help of guns. But precisely these trips to the villages meant the danger of being discovered by peasants, who sought the Jews’ “fortunes”.
It wasn’t always possible to disguise footprints in the snow. Thus it was decided to take steps to obtain at once a large amount of bread and other supplies. Moyshe Kobrovsky proposed a bold plan to everyone. It was two days before New Year’s 1943. Moyshe proposed a raid on a bakery in the town of Marcinkonis. Some of the Jews were against the plan. It was a beautiful moonlit night before New Year’s. A group of eight men under the command of Moyshe Kobrovsky left the bunkers in the “Russkaya Pushcha” and approached their hometown of Marcinkonis through the forest.
With their hearts pounding, they stepped through deep, creaking snow. Carefully they approached the bakery one by one. Leyb Kobrovsky made his way to a window slowly and quietly, scratched out the putty and removed.a pane. Then he opened a window and entered the bakery. After him went Moyshe and their nephew Elke.
Two bakers, a German and a civilian Pole, slept soundly and seemed to be enjoying their dreams. They were slowly woken up. Two pairs of sleepy eyes filled with terror and in astonishment saw rifles stretched out before them. The Kobrovskys ordered them with a smile to keep quiet and not to budge from the spot.
In honor of the New Year the shelves were full of small loaves of military bread, challahs and fancily decorated tortes with various items baked out of white flour. The warm bakery air aroused the appetites of the starving, exhausted Kobrovskys. The brown, fresh challahs were snatched into the dirty hands of the hungry Jews and wolfed down.
The brave Jews carried off into the nearby forest over 600 kilos of bread loafs, challahs, pastries and fancy New Year’s cakes. Outside, a few fighters always stood ready to receive any unwelcome guests. Everything went well according to the plan they had worked out. Everything that the Jews found baked and ready for the German border garrison they carried three kilometers into the forest and disguised well. The entire operation lasted from midnight until 6:00 a.m. The Jews carried the bread out twice. The third time they all made ready to go. They tied up the German and shot him in the bakery. They ordered the Pole not to report anything for at least four hours.
They “promised” that if he didn’t follow their orders they would “visit” and shoot him and his entire family. The Pole followed their order.
In the course of two evenings the Jews carried the bread from the forest next to Marcinkonis into the “Russkaya Pushcha. Having so much bread, the Jews less often risked going into the villages. For two full months the Jews had enough bread. The tortes and some of the challahs they held in reserve for their sister Khane, her husband.and children, whom they had not yet managed to find.
The Disrupted New Year
That year, the Germans’ New Year was ruined. The border garrison was left without bread and without challahs. The bold raid made the Germans and their followers fearful, and they stopped living peacefully next to the huge mass grave of the men, women and children shot at the time of the liquidation of the ghetto.
The Polish baker was immediately arrested. He was tortured and interrogated, and then released. The Pole wanted to show his loyalty and friendship to the two gendarmes in town and organized a party for them. There were women at the party, and everyone got drunk, ate and danced.
Two Lithuanian policemen in town, the infamous Jew-murderer Jonas Labonas and his comrade Jonas Miskinys, informed the bureau commissar about the party. Both German gendarmes were arrested on suspicion of having murdered the German baker in cahoots with the Polish baker and robbed the bakery before New Year’s. Both gendarmes were led off to the Grodno prison. After a lengthy investigation both were freed and they returned to Marcinkonis. They found out that the two Lithuanian policeman had libeled them.
At the beginning of February 1943, the two policemen Labonas and Miskinys stood watch one evening in front of the building where the bureau commissar lived. The two gendarmes disarmed the policemen and shot them on the spot.
The Kobrovskys often visited their hometown at night. They had a confidante, the Lithuanian Juozas Jezukevicius (Krauciunas), who obtained soap, razor blades and tobacco for the Jews in exchange for money.
On just the night when the two policemen were shot, they were in town. Jezukevicius was certain that the Kobrovskys had done it. He told them what an impression the attack had made in town and in the entire area. The Kobrovskys didn’t let on that it hadn’t been their work.
The next day a rumor went around the town that the two policemen had been killed by the Kobrovskys. The bureau commissar left his house in terror and settled in the house occupied by the gendarmerie. In town and in the surrounding villages the rumor spread that the sons of Abraham had shot the two policemen. People began to say that the Germans were offering a bounty of a centner (50 kilograms) of sugar and a thousand marks for catching one of the Abramuikai (the sons of Abraham, in Lithuanian).
But catching the Kobrovsky brothers wasn’t so easy. They had meanwhile obtained more and better weapons for the group, and they boldly ignored all of the laws and orders against Jews in general and against themselves in particular. But they had women and children with them, and they were rather careful.
After New Year’s the peasants of the surrounding villages began carrying out of the swamps the hay they had cut during the summer. Taking out the hay during the summer is impossible, so the peasants do it in winter when the swamps are frozen solid.
To avoid being spotted by peasants, the Jews had to leave, and they moved 4 kilometers deeper into the forest. They built three bunkers and settled in for the winter. They got everything they needed from peasants with the help of their weapons. They also got themselves a horse and sled, and used to ride far from their base to see peasant acquaintances in distant villages, to get food and weapons. During that time they made confidences with people in all the villages, who provided them with important news, food and weapons.
At that time the Kobrovsky brothers established relations with the peasant Pranas Kaseta from the village of Kaset, nine kilometers from Marcinkonis. The Lithuanian peasant was a very good man and helped the Jews in their difficult struggle for life.
The Village of Arodisce
This was a White Russian village some seven kilometers from the winter bunker where the Kobrovskys and the rest of their group lived.
In the forests at that time there were surviving Jews from White Russian towns and a few wandering groups of Red Army soldiers, escapees from prisoner of war camps. They often raided and robbed peasants, most often those who were known for their commitment to the Germans. The rest of the attacks did a lot of harm to the Jews hidden in the· forest. There began to be inspections in the villages. The Germans and their accomplices did not rest. On the other side of the village of Arodie, across from the winter bunkers of the Jews from Marcinkonis, about twenty kilometers distant, some fifteen Jews who had survived the slaughters in White Russian towns maintained themselves. They were in the forest called Wilci-Nori in the Russkaya Pushcha. This group of Jews were well armed.
A forester from a nearby village found out about them and reported to the Germans. Apparently the forester underestimated the capacity of the group to defend themselves. He and seven armed Germans approached the group of Jews. All seven Germans were felled by machine gun fire. The forester managed to escape. The possessions and weapons of the seven Germans who had been shot fell to the brave Jews in the Wil i-Nori forest. This was in the beginning of February 1943. One Jew from among the White Russian group fell then.
A few weeks later a detail of Germans came to Arodisce and shot all of the inhabitants, including women and children. Four men managed to escape. These four White Russians, too, began to hide in the forests of the Russkaya Pushcha.
The Gorfing Family Is Brought to the Russkaya Pushcha
After leaving little Rivele from Merecz with a group of Jews at a settlement near Marcinkonis (case number 4), Khane and her husband Yitskhok, together with their two boys Shimon (aged 7) and Khayiml (aged 3) left with no hope of finding a hideout with a peasant. They wandered around for a long time through the forests and fields. The struggle for mere daily life was hard, especially with two helpless children. They suffered cold, wet, hunger and fear of the Lithuanian peasants, who sought “turto” fortunes.
Coming into a forest near the lake Trikampis, between the villages of Rudi-Kaset and Marcinkonis, they built themselves a little bunker and lived there from November 17 1942 until one day before New Year’s 1943.
It was terribly cold in the forest. Snowdrifts surrounded them on all sides. At night Yitskhok left the forest and went to buy food from peasants in the villages. Individual peasants did not have enough to sell, and in order to put together a package, Yitskhok had to make the rounds of several villages and buy from many peasants. Thus Yitskhok left the forest when it was snowing or stormy.
Once Yitskhok noticed footsteps near their bunker, and they had to abandon the spot. At a second place Yitskhok couldn’t manage to dig out a pit for a new bunker, and Lithuanian youths noticed.
Yitskhok and his family left the forest and went deeper into Lithuania. Here a day, there a night they made their way with the two small children until they arrived in the village Boro-Korojsceliai next to a lake, to the home of the peasant Jonas Cviklas, an elderly Christian who had come back from America.
The good peasant accepted the family and became attached to them like a father. He didn’t accept any money from the Jews. He did everything he could to satisfy the hidden family Gorfing, who rested thoroughly at his home and gathered their strength to continue the struggle for life.
A few weeks before Passover the family Gorfing found out from the peasant Pranas Kaseta of the village Kaset, that the brothers Kobrovsky were in the Russkaya Pushcha, 50 kilometers away. The family Gorfing received from the same peasant a letter from the Kobrovskys, saying that they should join them, and that the peasant Kaset would show them the way. In the forest near the lake Trikampis, at the bunker the family Gorfing had first abandoned, waited three of Khane’s brothers. The peasant Kaset brought the Gorfing family to the bunker.
The Family Aizenshtat Is Brought to the Russkaya Pushcha
The Jewish family of Lipman Aizenshtat, his wife Reyne, a son named Borukh (aged 21) and a daughter named Rivele (aged 5), escaped the ghetto on the day of the liquidation. Their youngest son Leybele had died that day. The entire family hid at the home of peasant Jonas Kazabulis in the village of Dubinik.
This peasant was one of the righteous gentiles, and greatly helped the Aizenshtat family. Jonas Kazabulis was a brother-in-law of the peasant Kaset, who also knew about the hidden family Aizenshtat.
Kashet also brought the family Aizenshtat to the bunker next to the lake Tricambis. The brothers Kobrovsky, the family Gorfing and the family Aizenshtat left this bunker for the Russkaya Pushcha.
That night they made some 50 kilometers by foot. The two families were brought into the forest ten days before Passover 1943. A group of surviving Marcinkonis Jews, some 45 men, women and children, had already gathered in the forest.
The Sorrowful Reckoning
The 45 Jews made a sorrowful reckoning. They already knew what had happened to a large percentage of the Jews who survived the ghetto. They restudied the reasons why nearly all of the small children who survived the ghetto, and not a few of the adults, had died.
It was recognized that it had been a mistake to go seeking each other among peasants, who had themselves killed Jews; or had delivered them in the hands of Germans. Seeking help from peasants with whom one had hidden possessions was recognized as a great mistake.
The Jews decided that they had to do just the opposite: locate themselves as far as possible from the villages, deeper in the forest. It was decided that they would obtain weapons for all the adults.
The frequent raids by escaped Red Army prisoners of war on peasants in the surrounding villages took the Germans’ attention away from the forests. The group still had only a few weapons with which to defend themselves during a roundup. It was also impossible because of the women and small children in the group. The Jews decided to avoid as far as possible going into the villages and to try to get themselves weapons as soon as possible.
The Tragic Death of Dr Leytman
Dr Shmuel Leytman, former vice-chairman of the Marcinkonis Ghetto, escaped from the ghetto on the day of the liquidation. Together with him his sister Sara and brother-in-law Yokhl Kaplan survived. The doctor’s wife and two small children were shot while escaping.
For four months the doctor, his sister and brother-in-law hid in a bunker in the Russkaya Pushcha, five kilometers from the brothers Kobrovksy and their group. A Polish acquaintance of the doctor’s in the village, named Pagerenti, provided food and essentials for the doctor and his group in exchange for money.
Hiding in the same forest was the Pole Ludowitz, whom the Germans had caught making homemade alcohol and given a sound punishment. The doctor’s Polish acquaintance Stefan advised him to make a bunker together with Ludowitz. The doctor accepted the suggestion. This was in late autumn 1942.
At the same time and place the doctor’s group met up with five wandering Red Army soldiers and with two White Russian escapees from the village of Arodisce, who had fled while the Germans shot all the residents.
Some 15 people gathered into the group, a friend of Ludowitz named Gancaruk among them. They prepared a bunker together and gradually obtained weapons. They all wintered together in the bunker. Ludowitz never agreed with the doctor. More than once the doctor expressed to the Red Army soldiers he trusted and to the White Russians, the brothers Alyoshka and Nikolai, that they should do anything in their power to rid themselves of Ludowitz.
In the beginning of May 1943 the doctor’s group received reliable news that a big roundup was being readied in the forest. The entire group abandoned the place and fled ten kilometers further, near the village of Pogerelik, White Russia. And in that place the tragedy occurred.
On the fifth day after they settled in the new spot, a large group of men set off to the villages to obtain food. At the new place was left Dr Shmuel Leytman, his old friends Lukash (from Marcinkonis) and Parkhuczek (a White Russian Communist). Aside from these three, the two friends Ludowitz and Gancaruk and several other men were also left in the new spot.
At night, when everyone had gone to sleep, Ludowitz and Gancaruk stood watch around the fire. Before daybreak the two shot Dr Leytman, Lukash and Parkhuczek in their sleep. The two traitors stole the weapons of the men they had shot and ran away. The others in the camp first thought that there was a roundup, and ran away. Coming past the fire, they saw their three shot comrades.
Ludowitz ran out of the forest and reported to the Germans. He became the leader of the roundups of Jews in the forest. Ludowitz’s friend Gancaruk came back into the forest. The White Russian brothers were accustomed to Gancaruk and wandered through the forest with him. Several weeks later the White Russians appeared in the Jewish camps and told of the traitorous role of Ludowitz. They did not accuse Gancaruk. Gancaruk too later appeared among the Jewish groups in the forest.
During the winter, Dr Leytman often visited the bunkers of the Kobrovsky brothers and their group. More than once those Jews had proposed that he settle with them. But the doctor was already well accustomed to the people whose group he was leading. The group was already then getting ready for active work against the Germans.
Before moving to the new place, Dr Leytman brought his sister Sara and his brother-in-law Yokhl Kaplan to the Kobrovskys. The two were miraculously saved and avoided being shot by traitors.
The Tragic Death of Moyshe Kobrovsky
The treachery of Ludowitz and his comrade began to bring the Jews one disaster after another. The Jews found out that Ludowitz and some Germans were following the movements of the Jews, preparing for an attack. It was dangerous to remain in the winter bunkers, because Ludowitz had been there several times in the course of the winter.
The brothers Kobrovsky and the others in their group decided to move to another place, and .settled in huts and swamps. For three or four weeks, until about the end of May, the Jews stayed in that place. During that time they received reliable information from peasants they knew, that the traitor Ludowitz was spying on the Jews in the forest.
Shloyme Peretz and another man went to the nearby village for potatoes. On the way back, they saw Ludowitz with a German, not far from their huts. The Kobrovsky brothers and their comrades immediately began searching for the two, but could not find them. It was decided that the group would split into two and leave the place in the swamp.
The Kobrovsky brothers and their relatives and close friends moved to another spot in the same forest, nearer to the Marcinkonis forest.
The second group, consisting of Shloyme Peretz, his mother, small daughter and sister, together with some others, set off for a different part of the same forest, nearer to White Russia. Together with Shloyme’s group went Gancaruk and both of the White Russian brothers Nikolai and Alyoshka, who knew the area well and knew all the paths through the Pushcha. The Kobrovsky brothers and other men in their group wanted to find out about the traitor Ludowitz. Late in the evening they passed by the spot in the swamps they had just abandoned. Moyshe Kobrovsky was exhausted, and decided to stay by himself for the night and return the next day to the new place to his brothers and comrades. This was several days before Shevuoth 1943.
The next morning Khane’s boy Khayiml noticed Germans in the distance. He let those in the camp know about this. A group of several hundred Germans and Lithuanians surrounded the whole region and began to comb the forest. The traitor Ludowitz conducted the roundup. He led the Germans straight to the spot which the Jews had abandoned six days earlier and in which, unfortunately, Moyshe Kobrovsky had stayed for the night. The entire group of Jews in the new place got away from the blockade without encountering any Germans. From a distance they heard shooting and understood that Moyshe was in danger. Moyshe had the final say in his group.
Some three hours later, after the German attack, several of the Kobrovsky brothers came to the swamp and found their brother Moyshe shot to death. His body was shot through with holes. His entire forehead was torn off. All the bullets had been shot from the back. Moyshe was buried on the spot by his brothers and relatives. Moyshe was the second victim of Ludowitz’s treachery, but unfortunately it didn’t stop there.
The Kobrovskys’ Group Leaves the Russkaya Pushcha
It was impossible to remain in the same place due to the treachery of Ludowitz, who was always looking for the Jews. The entire group left the place and the Pushcha altogether. They settled in the dense Marcinkonis forest, 7 kilometers away from Marcinkonis. There the Jews set up a good bunker and disguised it well. The Kobrovsky family and their relatives spent several weeks there. But the situation regarding food for everyone was bad there. Besides that, the spot was noticed by peasants, who went through the forest looking for mushrooms.
It was decided that they would leave that spot as well. The Aizenshtat and Golubtshik families decided to go away to the village of Marcinkonis to a peasant whom they knew named Petras Garbulis.
The Gorfing family had decided to cross the border and come to Lithuanian villages where Yitskhok knew some peasants.
Yakov Kobrovsky decided to go along with the group to help care for the two small children of his sister Khane and the two small children of his brother Khone. With heavy hearts the large family began their march. The Aizenshtat and Golubtshik families were accompanied by the Kobrovsky brothers until very close to the village of Marcinkonis, and said their farewells. The family Gorfing was accompanied by the brothers up to the border. Yakov left with the family to the Lithuanian villages.
The Tragedy of the Aizenshtat and the Golubtshik Families
Lipman Aizenshtat, his wife Reyne, son Borukh (aged 18), daughter Rivele (aged 16), and little boy Itshele (aged 8), and Fishl Golubtshik with his wife Dora came to the peasant Petras Garbulis in the village of Marcinkonis. The family had been hidden with this peasant for some time after escaping from the Marcinkonis ghetto. But Gorbulis no longer agreed to hide the family.
Aizenshtat arranged with the peasant to buy some weapons for him. The peasant promised to get the weapons in a few days. Aizenshtat left the peasant’s and went back into the forest, where his family and the others were waiting. The peasant Garbulis apparently used the darkness of night to watch where Aizenshtat had gone. Before dawn the next day the peasant Garbulis brought German gendarmes and Lithuanian police from the town of Marcinkonis to the spot.
They surrounded the group of Jews. From all sides bullets from various types of weapon rang out at the unfortunates. In that unexpected attack were killed: Lipman Aizenshtat, his wife and two small children, and Mrs Dora Golubtshik.
Borukh Aizenshtat and Fishl Golubtshik were not near the group at that moment, and managed to escape. Both of them lived until the Liberation. Among the Lithuanian policemen who took part in the attack were: the two brothers Jonas and Alfons, whose last name is Liola, and the brothers Veikaneriai from the village of Svendubri, near Druskinikai.
Yitskhok Kobrovsky: The Beginning of Revenge
The brothers Leybl, Khayim, and Ruven Kobrovsky and their nephew Elke Kobrovsky, together with Yokhl Kaplan and his wife Sara, settled in the neighborhood of the village of Kopiniskis, 13 kilometers from Marcinkonis, after accompanying the Gorfing family into Lithuanian and the Aizenshtat family to the village of Marcinkonis.
For exactly three weeks the brothers’ lives were not bad, as they stayed with various peasants in the village. They had peasant acquaintances and confidantes from before, and meanwhile established new friendships. They did not eat badly, slept at the peasants’ homes and were well rested. Eventually they got themselves new weapons, exchanging their rifles for machine guns, buying hand grenades with money, and growing to feel more secure and more proud.
The tragedy that befell the Aizenshtat family and Mrs Dora Golubtshik made a terrible impression on everyone. The Kobrovsky brothers sought and found the two survivors of that tragic attack, Borukh Aizenshtat and Fishl Golubtshik. It was decided that they would go away from the villages and hide in the forests again. In a wood between the villages of Zurociskis and Kaset they built a bunker and disguised it well. The bunker was located in a burned-over forest. The Jews chose the place so that the peasants from the villages would have no interest in coming around and wouldn’t notice the bunker.
A terrible unrest, a call to take revenge for the murder of Jews, had overtaken everyone. They decided to take revenge on the peasant Petras Garbulis.
The Jews began to prepare for their act of revenge.
They took steps to obtain more provisions and weapons. Their connections also helped to get the Jews everything they needed.
One day the brothers Kobrovsky were astonished by some sensational news. Coming to their confidantes, they were received coldly. The Kobrovsky brothers asked for an explanation. The peasants complained that the Kobrovskys had robbed the possessions of quiet, guiltless peasants. They also recounted that the robbery had been committed together with four Lithuanians, and had been led by one of the Abramukai a “storulis,” meaning someone fat.
The whole matter became clear to the Kobrovsky brothers. They joyfully ascertained that their brother Yitskhok had escaped from the Grodno ghetto and found himself not far away from them in the same area. After a week’s looking and asking around they indeed met up with their brother Yitskhok.
Everyone was overjoyed. Yitskhok Kobrovsky had been living in Grodno for years. After the arrival of the Germans he had survived several life-and-death situations in Grodno, in Kaunas and finally in the Grodno ghetto. While the Grodno ghetto was surrounded on November 2, he escaped with his wife Ade and his daughter Khaviva. A 70-year-old Jew with a daughter, who had come into the Grodno ghetto from the Druskinikai ghetto, had escaped with him.
Yitskhok and his group had made their way to the neighborhood of his hometown Marcinkonis. While wandering he met four Lithuanians who were hiding from the Germans. The group, led by Yitskhok Kobrovsky, had good weapons, were well armed and well clothed. More than one village shuddered speaking of them, after they had appeared in their area. Peasants whose sons served in the police force and who held stolen Jewish property, or who did not have good relations with Jews, learned from Yitskhok’s group a lesson they would never forget. With their merciless attacks on a certain part of the peasant population, they threw the fear of death on the surrounding villages. (For more about Yitskhok Kobrovsky, see the eyewitness report entitled “Jewish Furs and German Officers,”- L Koniuchowsky.)
With the arrival of Yitskhok and his heroic group, the team which was already there, was strengthened morally and physically. Full with confidence and boldness, they began the period of vengeance.
Deeds of Revenge
R1. The first in line to be punished for his crimes against Jews was the traitor Petras Garbulis. The women and children slept in the bunker. All of the men left the woods and approached the village of Marcinkonis. A small group led by Leyb Kobrovsky set off first to reconnoiter. The reconnaissance group met up with a group of Germans hidden in the forest. A bitter, close-up battle broke out. Two Germans were badly wounded.
The reconnaissance group suffered no losses. But the taking of revenge against the peasant Garbulis was put off for another·time. The Germans decided to put an end to the bold attacks of the forest dwellers. Their friends among the peasants provided precise information about the Jewish group in the forest. Roundups of Jews began. The roundups were conducted very carefully, because the Germans and their lackeys already knew that simply shooting Jews in the forest was out of the question now.
The village peasants were promised large bounties for catching Jews or showing where they were hiding. One time, a group of Germans led by peasants, chanced upon the bunker of the Kobrovsky brothers and their friends. The situation was dangerous. It was too late to run away, because there were women and children in the bunker.
But Leybl and Yitskhok kept their heads. They ordered all of the armed men to lie among the burned shrubs ready to begin an all-out battle, and to wait for their order before they began to shoot. They let the Germans approach quite close and suddenly began firing all their machine guns at once. The Germans dropped everything they had and barely escaped with their lives. It was no longer possible to remain in that spot, so the heroic group of Jews moved to a new location near the village of Randemanci.
The bold encounter with the Germans put the entire region in fear of death. Peasants ceased seeking “turto”, Jewish fortunes in the forest. The heroic group of Jews felt stronger and more bold.
R2. Some of the men in the group went to the peasant Bolis Bakanauskas, who had been about to kill the youth Abraham Vidlansky and who had indicated the hiding place of the Aizenshtat family. Khane Aizenshtat and her grandchild died then. The men didn’t find the peasant and his son in the house.
They took whatever they found at the peasant’s. They shot his cows and pigs and burned down his stalls and barns. After beating Bolis’ wife and children, the heroic group of Jews left. High columns of smoke and fire let the entire area know about the deserved punishment of the Lithuanian family of Bolis Bakanauskas.
R3. Jozas from Kluciai is was what the Jews called a Lithuanian murderer from the village of Kluciai near the village of Virsuroduki, 8 kilometers from Marcinkonis. This Jozas had been a fearful murderer in the times just after the arrival of the Germans in Marcinkonis.
One night a group of Jews surrounded his farm. The Jews didn’t find Jozas at horne. The Kobrovskys burned down his farm. Jozas paid dearly for shedding innocent Jewish blood.
R4. After the liquidation of the Druskinikai ghetto, a group of nine Jews hid in the village of Latezeriai, eight kilometers from Druskinikai. The peasant tricked the nine unfortunate Jews out of their possessions and then reported them to the Germans. Eight Jews died then. Berl Pikovsky miraculously managed to survive and he told the story to Yitskhok Kobrovsky. (See the eyewitness testimony of Berl Pikovsky concerning the annihilation of the Jews of Druskinikai – L. Koniuchowsky.)
The Kobrovsky brothers and their comrades came to the village of Lateferiai one night, when a dance was being held. Peasants pointed out the murderer in the hall. He sat there dressed up and content. Next to him his wife sat dressed up, probably in stolen Jewish things. The Jews surrounded the hall. Several of them went inside with their guns. The Jews “played” with their victim for some time. Khayim even managed to take a turn dancing with the girls.
All of the peasants and their wives were “invited” to listen to a death sentence. Several Jews stood close by the murderer and his wife.
Yitskhok read aloud a paper on which the accusation against the murderer and his sentence had been written. In order to avoid disrupting the dancing and amusement of the others, the Kobrovskys led the murderer out to his house and shot him there.
The death sentence was carried out by two Jewish youths from a partisan detail, which had met up by coincidence that day with the Kobrovsky brothers, and had gone along to carry out the act of revenge.
R5. Jonas Kaseta was the head of the village Kaset. Several times he had followed the brothers Kobrovsky and their comrades along the roads, together with Germans. The Jews had dug potatoes in his fields a few times without knowing to whom they belonged, and therefore he had decided to kill them. His son Jonas was a policeman in Merecz (Merkine) and had taken part in the annihilation of the Merecz Jews. The confidante of the Jews had several times protected them from an attack which Jonas had prepared together with Germans.
One night the Jews surrounded his farm. Jonas wasn’t at home. The Jews found stolen Jews clothes, bedding, radios, phonographs and so forth in his barn. All of the radios, phonographs and sewing machines were in good condition. The soft things the Jews packed into eight sacks. They broke the radios and phonographs into small pieces. They took the sewing machine along with them. The Jews beat the peasant’s wife and daughters and returned to their base with the items they had packed.
The Four “Machine Guns”
These several reprisals took away all desire from those peasants who still thought of killing Jews and getting rich quick. Everyone became afraid of the Kobrovsky brothers and their heroic comrades. The betrayals of Jews stopped, except by some of the peasants from a village called Musteika, who continued searching for Jews and their possessions. Revenge came to that village a bit later.
One evening the heroic Jews came to the county writer Kraunelis in the village of Rudni. They forced him to type that any peasants who killed a Jew, or who bore any guilt whatsoever in relation to the death of Jews would pay with their lives and the lives of their families, and that their farms would be burned.
That night the announcements were posted in several villages in the area.
At that time there were already peasants who sought friendships with the Jews. Their confidante Bronius Krusas from the village of Kopiniskis once reported to the Kobrovsky brothers that in the village of Darzel, three kilometers from Kopiniskis, the peasant Tamulevicius had machine guns for sale.
Tamulevicius asked Bronius to bring the Kobrovskys to him concerning this matter.
One night five members of the Kobrovsky group went to see Tamulevicius. The peasant received them warmly and took them off to show them his “machine guns”.
He led them into a nearby wood to a camouflaged pit, and lifted off a hidden covering. He shined his flashlight into the pit, which emitted choking, moist, heavy air. The Jews were bewildered.
Their boldness and heroism dissolved. Instead of four machine guns, they saw four pairs of eyes belonging to “living, moving skeletons”. These were four sisters: Ester, Khane, Dobe, and Itke Zang. The four sisters had escaped November 2 during the liquidation of the ghetto. Nine months the four unfortunate sisters lived hidden in the pit.
The Jews jumped into the pit. On a two-level bare wood cot lay the four “living skeletons”. Terrified and with a plea for mercy in their eyes, the four girls looked at the strangers. They could not speak. Their eyes, sunk deep into their yellow faces, were wide open and glassy. They did not recognize anyone.
The Kobrovskys and their comrades took the four girls out of the pit. The girls were unable to stand up. They were carried into the peasant’s house. It was terrible to see how the four surviving Zang sisters looked.
Their hands and feet were thin and shriveled. These were not even complete bones, but dried-out skeletons covered with a thin, dirty, yellow skin.
The Jews remembered the four Zang girls from before the war and from the ghetto. They had been four brave, full-bodied, heavy girls. The Jews looked at each other fearfully. They looked angrily at the peasant who had starved and tormented the four girls. Yitskhok Kobrovsky proposed that the peasant be shot. The rest stopped him from doing so.
The peasant pleaded in terror that he was extremely poor, that he had a large family and that he had wanted to save the girls.
Milk was brought. Quickly it was heated and given to the girls to drink with sugar. The fresh air and milk brought the girls to a bit. As if gravely ill they began moving their heads and murmuring quietly: “Is Elke here? Is Khayim here?” They began to see with their “glassy” eyes and recognized the Jews from Marcinkonis.
It was impossible to take the girls to the wood. The Jews gave Tamulevicius goods and money and strictly ordered him not to be stingy in feeding the girls, and to do everything to make them healthy. They promised to return in three weeks to take the girls. The Jews took Ester to their base.
The Jews found the four “machine guns” later on the same night as the attack on the village head Jonas Kaseta, for which they had made a special trip.
Some of the things they had taken from Kaseta they gave to Tamulevicius, so he would have something to trade for food for the three girls.
The peasant took the three girls into his house and began to feed them. A few weeks later the Jews returned to the peasant to pick up the girls. Dobe and Ite had already died. They peasant had begun giving the girls too much to eat, and they had grown sick and died. As the peasant told, he had carried away the dead bodies of the two girls at night in a sack and buried them on one of his fields.
The third sister, Khane, escaped the clutches of death. She didn’t look bad, and her strength was returning. The Jews took her to their base.
Khane and Ester Zang healed well, looked healthy and remained alive. Together with the Kobrovskys and their comrades, they were eventually liberated by the Red Army.
Return to the “Russkaya Pushcha”
After the reprisal in the village of Lateteriai against the peasant who had deceived the nine Jews from Druskinikai and betrayed them to the Germans, there came to Marcinkonis a special detachment of Germans whose mission was to liquidate the bold group of Jewish heroes from Marcinkonis.
It was impossible to remain in the same place any longer, especially since the group was responsible for helpless women and children. It was decided to move back into the “Pushcha”.
While going to the “Pushcha” the heroic Marcinkonis Jews had to cross a railroad line which was heavily guarded at that point. They broke through with the use of arms and arrived safely at a spot in the “Russkaya Pushcha”.
After accompanying the Gorfing family across the border into Lithuania, the Kobrovsky brothers had no further news from them. All their efforts to obtain any sort of information about them were fruitless. They had totally disappeared. Before returning to the “Pushcha” they left a letter with their Kaseta, 1
confidante Pranas in which they wrote that they were all leaving for the “Pushcha” and that in order to find out where they were, a peasant acquaintance in the village of Kotre should be consulted.
Returning to the “Russkaya Pushcha,” the Kobrovskys and their comrades often met the group of Jews who had remained there when the Kobrovskys and their entire family left for the Marcinkonis forest. The group which had not left the Pushcha had not lost any people.
Family Gorfing in Lithuania
Grodno and the entire surrounding area as well as Marcinkonis and the surrounding area were included by the Germans in Hitler’s “thousand-year” Third Reich. Between occupied Lithuania and the Grodno region there was a border patrolled by German border police. Without a special pass, peasants were forbidden to cross the border, which was heavily guarded that summer.
In the month of June 1943, the family Gorfing, Khavele and Shloymele Kobrovsky, Khanon’s children and Yakov Kobrovsky, crossed the border and went 50 kilometers deeper into Lithuania. In a forest in the neighborhood of Merecz and Aran the group settled into a bunker and lived there the entire summer of 1943, until the end of the Jewish holidays.
Shortly after the holidays, the group was spotted by peasants from the village of Milioniskis, in Aran County. The peasant reported the group of Jews to the Lithuanian police in Merecz. A group of armed Lithuanian policemen, among them the infamous shooter of Jews, Bobonis with his comrade Lekavicius, attempted a roundup of the Jewish group.
The attack was sudden. Yitskhok Gorfing grabbed his eldest son Simon by the hand and they began running away. The policemen chased them and shot them both. Shloymele and Khavele Kobrovsky were wounded while running away. The policemen caught both children and shot them on the spot.
Yakov Kobrovsky managed to run out from the encirclement and escaped. Khane and her boy Khayiml were caught by the Lithuanians and murderously beaten. Suddenly they noticed that Yakov had gotten up and was running. The Lithuanians aimed with their machine guns. Khane was desperate. With her own eyes she witnessed the death of her nearest and dearest, hoping that at least her brother Yakov would remain alive. A couple of times she grabbed the gunner and distracted him from shooting at Yakov, who quickly disappeared into the thickets of the forest. They beat Khane and her child again and led them both off to the village of Milioniskis.
They undressed Khane, and in just her underwear they drove and beat her. The peasants from the village came running, laughed and took pleasure in the performance. From the village, Khane and the child were taken to the Merecz prison. A student from Marcinkonis, the Lithuanian Vincas Pagacaushkas, who was in Merecz at that time, recognized Khane and her child.
Several times the police took Khane and the child out of the jail, drove her through the streets of Merecz half naked and whipped her. The townspeople came running to see the bloodied, half-naked Jewish woman. For the Lithuanian cannibals Khane and her child were strange creatures who provided them with amusement and a feeling of self-contentment.
Khane and Her Child Escape from Merecz Prison
Several times each day the Lithuanian policemen came to Khane in the prison. They promised to give her all sorts of things, and asked, then harshly demanded that she tell them where she had hidden her “turtos”, her fortune. They gave her and the child neither food nor drink. On the third day Khane asked them to bring something for her little Khayiml to eat. The Lithuanians assured Khane that she didn’t have to worry about her child any more, because the next day, Monday the sixth of October, they were both to be shot.
The last night before this awful death Khane could find no place to rest. Her heart beat fast. Her blood beat in her temples like hammers. One thought came on the heels of the other, one experience after another tormented her. Just three days earlier she had still had her husband and her elder son Simon, along with both nephews. Now Khane and her only child were waiting for death. She wept until her well of tears ran dry. It was late already, the middle of the night.
Morning approached, and with it the pressure of the death promised by the Lithuanians. Khane felt apathetic and depressed about her own life. But she could no way make peace with the thought that her own eyes would have to see the death of her Khayirnl. Khane turned and lay on the bare ground. Next to her Khayiml lay awake; like an adult, he understood the danger but he didn’t cry. Khane lulled him to sleep. The jail was filled with the thick, heavy darkness. Khane patted her sleeping child and decided to hang herself. But there was nothing to hang herself with. She took out the laces of her shoes and underpants. By daylight, she saw a hook built into the brick wall. She kissed Khayirnl and put on the noose. She tried to hang herself. The laces tore.
At that moment Khayirnl began to cry. Khane quieted him down and prepared to try hanging herself a second time. Suddenly it grew quite light in the prison, so light that Khane could distinguish the individual bricks in the wall, the bare floor beneath her feet, and in the corner she saw her father Abraham, who had died before the war. He comforted Khane and warned: “You mustn’t do it! You mustn’t!”
In the prison, it grew dark again, even darker than before. From Khane’s eyes long rays of light began to flow. After that, Khane began digging an exit. With a bent old metal wheel she began digging out the soft dirt and sand from under the doorway. The prison consisted of a small, one-story room, which had not been completely finished. It was a Sunday night and the policemen didn’t show up, but not far away, on the bridge over the Nieman, stood a guard post.
Khane first pushed Khayirnl out through the exit she had dug, and then she came out herself. A cold, dark night gave them an unfriendly greeting. Without any goal, Khane ran with Khayiml across strange woods and field.
Khane knocked on the door of a peasant woman’s house in a village not far from the town. The woman came out an struck Khane. Wandering further with the child, she arrived at the village of Keibu, not far from Merecz. Here, too, she tried to find a place to rest at a peasant’s house. But no one allowed her into the house.
Several torturous days after escaping from prison, Khane climbed into the attic of a cabin. In the village of Keibut lived the wife of the Jew-killer Bonbonis. Lying with her child wrapped in the cotton on the cabin attic, Khane saw the murderer Bonbonis approaching the cabin. He looked around underneath.
Fortunately, he didn’t look in the attic and Khane and her child were saved from certain death.
Bonbonis had been standing watch on the bridge the night Khane escaped from the prison. He was also responsible for guarding the arrestees. As punishment, his weapons were taken away until such time as he found the escapees. He did everything he could to find Khane and her child. But he was unsuccessful.
Khane Meets Her Brothers and They Return to the “Russkaya Pushcha”
The second Monday night, October 13, Khane and her child ran away from the cabin. She was feeling very weak and hungry. Her body was filled with terrible aching. All of the blows she had received from the Lithuanian policemen now began to make themselves felt. And on top of that, the hunger: Khane stole into a peasant’s courtyard and picked out pieces of potatoes for herself and her child.
Late at night Khane arrived at the home of a peasant she knew named Vaclav Grazenis. That day in the same village there had been roundups, and they had searched for Khane. Grafenis, however, was a very good peasant, the best of all the good peasants Khane met after escaping from the ghetto, The peasant received Khane and her child warmly, guarded them and gave them food and drink. The first night Khane discovered that her brother Yakov had been there just one day before and asked after Khane and the child.
The next day, when Khane and the child already lay hidden in the barn, the murderer Bonbonis and his comrade Lekavicius came to the peasant and searched the house. The good peasant got both murderers thoroughly drunk and they went away.
The next night Khane’s brother Yakov came to the peasant’s. Khane lay hidden in the fore-house in a cellar, and heard her brother talking to the peasant, who assured Yakov that he would certainly see his sister. The peasant didn’t want to tell Yakov suddenly that his sister was already at his home. Yakov sorrowfully told the peasant that the same day he had received reliable information that his sister and the child were no longer alive. At that moment, Khane crept out of the cellar and surprised her brother, who stood astonished next to Khane and her child.
Yakov understood that to remain on the bloody soil of Lithuania in hiding was to risk their lives. He decided to seek out his brothers and together with them bring his sister and her child across to a more secure place in the “Russkaya Pushcha”.
Yakov left his sister and child with the good peasant and went off to seek his brothers. For ten days Khane stayed with the goodhearted peasant Grafenis. During that time Khane rested from her terrible recent experiences. She brought Khayiml, too, to better health.
The peasant did everything he could to make Khane and the child feel well. He filled them with the best of food and watched them like the apple of his eye. On the tenth day a group of men, including Yakov and his nephew Elke Kobrovsky, came to the peasant. Elke’s sister Khavele and brother Shloymele had died together with Khane’s husband Yitskhok and elder child Shirnele. On the other side of the border, in the “Third Reich”, Khane’s brother Khayim and several other men from Kobrovsky’s group were waiting for them.
The Jews from Marcinkonis came well-armed with machine guns and hand grenades. After crossing the border the same night, they all returned safely to the “Russkaya Pushcha” the next day. Khane and her Khayirnl were back together with her brothers and comrades.
Shloyme Peretz and His Group
After the departure of the Kobrovsky Brothers and their comrades from the “Pushcha”, Shloyme Peretz, together with his daughter, mother, sister and several other Jews from Marcinkonis remained in the “Pushcha” the entire summer of 1943. They moved to a different spot and settled into tents. The group lived at the new spot not long, a few weeks all told.
Three Christians were together with Shloyme’s group: Alyoskha and Nikolai Sakovicz, both brothers survivors of the annihilated village Arodisce, and Ludowitz’ friend Gancaruk.
In the course of time Gancaruk had very often said that he didn’t believe in the possibility of surviving under such conditions in the “Pushcha, and more than once spoken about a single solution: to report himself and turn himself over to the Germans.
He often mentioned his plans, without worrying or being afraid of the Jews, for whom even such a traitorous solution was impossible. Several times the Jews tried to think of plans to get rid of him.
The three Christian comrades would often disappear for entire days and nights, and the Jews were always afraid that they had gone over to the Germans. That would have put an end to the possibility of remaining in the forest, because Gancaruk knew all the spots where Jews were to be found; His White Russian comrades also knew their way around all the paths and byways of the forest. If they carried out the betrayal, it would have been impossible to escape from the “Pushcha”.
During the grain harvest the three would spend entire days in the surrounding field talking to peasants. Once they brought back to the Jews the news, which they had found out from the peasants, that three thousand Germans were preparing a roundup in the “Pushcha”. They decided to separate from the Jews and to hide separately. Alyoshka advised the Jews to go back to a spot they had abandoned not long previously. He justified his advice by saying that the present spot was too close to the narrow-gauge railroad line, from which the first lines of the roundup might begin. Gancaruk and his two White Russian comrades left the Jews to their own fate and left.
Peretz and his brother-in-law Khayim Vaynberg left the same day for the nearby village of Kotre to their confidante, the forester Shilka. They found out from him that several thousand Germans had indeed come to Marcinkonis, and that the latter had already climbed onto cars on the narrow-gauge railroad. Yet for unknown reasons, they had gotten back out and rode away by train on the wide-gauge railroad.
Shloyme and his brother-in-law breathed more easily. Coming back into the forest, the Jews decided to settle in a different spot, so that the three Christian comrades would no longer know their whereabouts.
For a few weeks the group lived relatively quietly. The men used to steal out into the nearby villages of Kulesi, Twasi, Zamoscina and others. They used to trade money or valuables for peasant’s provisions.
The group of Jews consisted of the following persons: Shloyme Peretz and his daughter Elenke, mother Shifre and sister Libe; Dovid Lampert (who had escaped from the Grodno ghetto) with his wife; Yeshuye Berezovsky with his daughter Basha and niece Peshe Karzmer (see case 8); Ayzik Aiznshtat and his sister-in-law Gitl Aiznshtat; Abraham-Ele Vaynberg with his three sons Khayim, Motl and Leybe: all told, fifteen people.
The group got along well together and lived in two separate tents, one not far from the other. The provisions which were obtained were divided among the two groups. Lampert and Khayim Vaynberg were the oldest in the group. The group was poorly armed. All together the Jews in the groups possessed three rifles.
In time Lampert got himself a rifle. Berezovsky, too, managed to get a rifle. There was no lack of bullets.
At that time a group of five or six Red Army soldiers who had escaped from a prisoner of war camp were wandering in the forest. The group was well armed and used to terrorize all the inhabitants of the Pushcha. The group was known by the name “Parkhuciks”, and thought of themselves as the masters of the forest. Once Khayim Vaynberg and Gitl Aiznshtat were on their way to do an errand in the town of Marcinkonis. It was evening when they arrived in the village of Arodisce.
Out of the ruins suddenly appeared three of the Parkhuciks, and held both Jews. They demanded that the Jews tell them where Gancaruk and his comrades, the brothers Nikolai and Alyoshka were.
Quite some time earlier the Parkhuciks had already been looking to settle accounts with the three, with whom they had personal scores. Khayim assured them that the three were no longer with the Jews in their camp. The Parkhuciks demanded that they say where the Jewish camp was. Khayim categorically refused.
They then took away Khayim’s rifle and ordered him to go back into the forest. When Khayim had returned part way to the forest, they called him back and gave him back his rifle. Khayim and Gitl didn’t go to Marcinkonis, but went off back into the forest.
Before returning Khayim’s rifle, the Parkhuciks asked for his word of honor that he would come back the next evening and tell them about Gancaruk and his comrades. The Jews considered what to do. It was decided to remain “good friends” with the Parkhuciks and to keep their word. The next evening Khayim went back to the village of Arodie and met the same Parkhuciks, whom he assured, that his group didn’t know where Gancaruk and his comrades were.
The First Red Partisan Company
Approximately two weeks after the encounter with the Parkhuciks, the first organized company of Red partisans came from the East. At the head of the company was a Russian Red Army captain, Stankewitz. The company called itself: “Leninski Komsomol”. Captain Stankewitz began to establish order in the forest. He forbade the existence of independent groups and ordered them to report to his company. Those who didn’t follow his order he threatened to disarm and drive out of the forest.
The Jewish family groups had to report to the command and could then continue living separately in the forest under the control of his company. For the Jews, the situat.ion rapidly improved. They no longer had to tremble in fear of various wandering armed bands. Stankewitz related well to the Jewish groups in the forest. Captain Stankewitz issued a strict order to find Gancaruk and his two comrades. In the Pushcha and the surrounding villages, a hunt for the three began.
The End of a Provocateur
Several days after the arrival of the Red company, the survivor of the Marcinkonis ghetto Berl Novik and his comrade Abraham Asner, from Nacz, came to Shloyme Peretz’ group. The two comrades came with Stankewitz’ company, which they had joined some time previously.
That very same day the White Russian Alyoshka came into the camp. He complained that he and his brother Nikolai had gone out of the frying pan into the fire, because Gancaruk was being sought in the villages and in the Pushcha and they were suffering on his account.
He pointed out a shrub behind which Gancaruk sat with his brother, asking those in the camp to do what they wanted.
It was decided that Asner would hide behind a bush and Berl Novik would pretend to fight with Gancaruk, get his hands behind his back and tie him up. The two brothers would, meanwhile, be arrested together with Gancaruk.
Gancaruk and Nikolai were invited to lunch. Everyone sat down around the fire, ate and had a friendly conversation. Novik could not decide to play his agreed role, to struggle with Gancaruk and tie him up with the help of the other comrades.
At that moment Abraham Asner suddenly appeared from behind the bush. On his head he wore a side-cap from which hung a thick shock of hair. He was armed with a machine gun and hand grenades. He looked like a real fighter, like a tiger. Asner shook everyone’s hand and greeted them warmly, as if he had just come to the group. When he came to Gancaruk he watched him closely and ordered him to stand up and hold his hands high.
Gancaruk thought that Asner was teasing and began to smile. Asner placed his pistol against his head and ordered him to stand up, if not? Deathly pale, Gancaruk stood up with his hands high. Berl Novik examined him for any hidden weapons and tied his hands. They pretended also to arrest the two brothers Nikolai and Alyoshka.
Asner and Novik led Gancaruk to the command, which was located not far from the Jewish family group. The commander of the company and the head of the staff interrogated him. Gancaruk didn’t answer a single question. Stankewitz and the head of staff also interrogated the brothers, who were freed and had their guns returned. That same day Gancaruk was stabbed with a rusty Russian dagger and the inhabitants of the Pushcha, especially the Jewish family group of Shloyme Peretz, were freed of the constant fear of being handed over to the Germans and their lackeys.
A short time after the liquidation of the traitor, the Jewish family group of Shloyme Peretz grew larger. From White Russia there came to them Yeshayohu Rozenlut with his son Hirshl (see case 13) and Sholem Bernstein from Aran. Throughout the summer of 1943 this group had no reports from the majority of surviving Jews from the Marcinkonis ghetto who were with the brothers Kobrovsky.
The Jews of Marcinkonis meet again in the Russian forest belt
The group of Jews in the woodland began to receive reliable reports about a well-armed German army which was evidently getting ready to carry out raids in the forests. The group did not remain idle. It sent out scouts to every trustworthy friend in the villages to obtain more detailed information about the impending blockade and they prepared to change their quarters and to move into the more remote part of the woods. In the villages of Kotre and Pagarenci they learned that the Jews who had left the woodlands in the spring of 1943 were now again situated somewhere in a forest. In the village of Gzibaulai they had left a letter for the Kobrovskys telling them where and how they would meet. In a few days the two brothers Yitskhok and Leybl Kobrovsky came to the appointed place where they met with Jews of Shloyme’s group. All went together deeper into the woodland where Shloyme’s group was camped. That very day the Germans began their heavy blockade. Yitskhok and Leybl could not get back to their group, and to their families, wives and children.
The Great Blockade
The inhabitants of the woodland learned that the famous union of Red partisan brigades led by Major Kapustin was waging a bitter battle with a large German army not far from the “Pushcha”. Their trusted informants in the surrounding villages told them that Major Kapustin’s Red partisans had arrived from the east. On their way they had occupied cities, towns and villages, had liquidated small German army units and had destroyed the civil administration along with the Gestapo and SS groups.
Whole divisions of the German forces, armed with every kind of weapon, engaged in bitter battles with Kapustin’s partisan units who were slowly retreating towards the “Russkaya Pushcha”.
In the autumn of 1943 a great battle took place between the Germans and Kapustin’s Red partisans about one and a half kilometers from Kobrovsky’s Jewish group. The Germans used heavy artillery, tanks and airplanes in that battle. Kapustin’s Red partisans were also fairly well equipped and they had artillery. They could not stand up, however, against the regular German army units and they were surrounded on all sides.
The supply convoy with a substantial portion of the Red partisans including Kapustin and his staff broke through the ring and penetrated, into the forest. A short distance from the Kobrovsky group the supply convoy bogged down in the swamps. The Germans stopped at the edge of the forest, fearing to go into the interior of the “Pushcha”. Kapustin and his aides visited the Kobrovsky group and held a friendly conversation with its members. He listened attentively and with interest to their experiences, and told them of his own struggles with the Germans during the past few days and about the losses inflicted on them by his brave soldiers.
Khayim Kobrovsky, Efrayim Pilevsky and a few others of their group led Kapustin’s staff out to the edge of the Pushcha near the village of Kotre. At Kapustin’s request the Jews and a few of his partisans brought to him the forester Shilka, a confidant of the Jews. The forester showed Kapustin and his staff the trails of the vast woodland and took him nearer to its eastern part. A number of the partisans remained in the Pushcha with the wounded. The whole supply convoy, with produce, horses and dogs, remained bogged down in the mire not far from Kobrovsky’s group.
The Jews transported most of the supplies further into the interior of the forest where they hid it and camouflaged the hiding place. The Jews now had enough food for several months. The rest of the supplies fell to pilfering peasants from the surrounding villages.
A few days after the blockade the two brothers Yitskhok and Leybe came back to their group. They had heard the cannonade during the few days they spent with the other Jewish group and knew about the desperate battle. They were certain that all the members of their group had perished in the fire of battle. The Kobrovsky brothers and their friends moved deeper into the “Pushcha” with the other Jewish group from Marcinkonis, where they stayed together as one group until after liberation.
The Jews of Marcinkonis become Red Partisans
Misunderstanding with the Stankevich Company
A short time after the blockade, life in the forest became calm and the inhabitants carried on their precarious and care-laden existence. It was already late in the fall of 1943. The Marcinkonis Jews were now preparing for the hard winter life in the woods and they energetically set out to provide whatever was necessary. One day Red partisans from Stankevich’s company came to the Jews·with the impudent request that the Jews deliver to them their choice arms. To the Jews this meant depriving themselves of any possibility of protection against the least attack by Germans or their collaborators. The sorely tried, hardened and stubborn Jews of Marcinkonis who had learned to understand the significance of weapons refused and stated in no uncertain terms that they would not willingly allow themselves to be disarmed and left defenseless with their women and children.
They stood facing one another; the Jewish heroes of Marcinkonis with their weapons and the Red partisans. Yitskhok Kobrovsky negotiated with the Red partisans and asked them to appreciate the position they would be in if they would give up the weapons they had collected at such peril. He also spoke to them in harsh tones, scolding them and ridiculing their demands. He tried to convince the partisans that such conduct on their part only brought disgrace on their cause and on the reputation of the Red partisans. The latter then proposed that all the young people among the Jews should fight with them. The Jews agreed on condition that the women and children go with them. The Red partisans insisted they wanted only the fighters. The Jews categorically refused. The partisans, seeing that they were faced with determined men who were excellent soldiers not likely to allow themselves to be disarmed, left. In a few days the Jews moved to another place in the woods and began to avoid being seen by the Stankevich Red partisans. The best weapons they concealed.
After ten days thirty well-armed Red partisans arrived at the new place. They demanded vigorously that the young people join their company. The Jews refused to leave their wives and children without protection. A long and bitter wrangling ensued. The partisans spent the night in the forest with the Jews.
The next day they strictly forbade the Jews to get food from private peasants in the villages.
Four Jews of the group, Elke Kobrovsky, Borukh Aizenshtat, Motl Weinberg and Ayzik Aizenshtat, joined their company and took along with them two rifles. The resentment of the Jews was intense.
The men in the group did not lose their heads. They secured more weapons in distant villages and began to obtain food from the large government depots, despite the dangers which this entailed, since German military units were frequently stationed at these depots. But the orders of the Stankevich company against obtaining food from peasants in nearby villages were carried out.
The Jews, together with the fighters in the Stankevich company, began to carry out acts of sabotage. They derailed three military trains and jointly dynamited several road bridges. The Stankevich company made use of the Jews who were familiar with the whole countryside. From day to day relations between the Red partisans and the Jews grew friendlier. The fighters of both sides began to visit one another and spend nights in one another’s quarters
Late in the fall of 1943 a company of Red soldiers took up its quarters in the Russkaya Pushcha, commanded by Davidov and known as the “Davidov company”. It engaged in parachutists sabotage and intelligence activities. They were all first class fighters and well equipped with the most modern weapons, which were parachuted to them from planes. This company, which arrived from the east, took over command over all Red companies in the forest. Among the soldiers in the Davidov company were many Jews from White Russia, who had escaped the massacres of the spring and summer of 1942, including Lipe Skalsky, a good friend of the Kobrovskys, who had survived the massacre at Aran.
Lipe spoke with enthusiasm and admiration of the virtues of Commander Davidov and of his help to the Jews. Davidov was himself a Jew. Lipe took Yitskhok, Leybe and Shloyme Peretz and a few others of the Jewish group to Commander Davidov for a consultation. Davidov received the Jewish representatives very cordially and listened with interest to the tale of their experiences. He expressed his sympathy, comforted them and promised to do all in his power to help their family group.
The next day Davidov paid a visit to the Marcinkonis Jews. He chatted amiably with everyone and played with the children and kissed them. They all lined up before him and Davidov promised to provide everyone with automatic pistols and to see that they received food supplies. He appointed Yitskhok Kobrovsky as commander of the Jewish family company and asked that he be obeyed. All other partisan companies were forbidden to molest the Jewish unit. No one could now deprive the Jews of their weapons.
The Jews in the new family company were now infused with a new spirit of hope and confidence. Firmly resolved to be loyal to their new “father”, Davidov, and to the newly appointed commander Yitskhok Kobrovsky, the brave Jews of Marcinkonis now commenced the life of true partisans.
The Marcinkonis Jews together with the fighters in Davidov’s company set out on their work in earnest. A joint group of both companies derailed a military train and the locomotive was blown to pieces and three cars were damaged. The fighters of Yitskhok’s company once adopted a resolution at a conference to ask Davidov to let a group consisting only of their men blow up a military railway convoy. Davidov agreed. Khayim, Leybl, Shloyme Peretz and Khayim Weinberg, led by Yitskhok Kobrovsky, blew up a military train on the road between Grodno and Vilna, nine kilometers from Marcinkonis.
Twelve cars of ammunition and the locomotive were damaged and several hundred meters of railway tracks were destroyed. The great success of this undertaking meant that the Jewish unit had stood its first test of sabotage action. It now became endeared to Commander Davidov and to his company. The success of this act of sabotage was all the more amazing since it was carried out in broad daylight. For several days the railway connection between Vilna and Grodno was paralyzed. Davidov and his fighting men congratulated the Jews on their success.
All acts of sabotage after this event were undertaken with the participation of the Jewish unit. The Marcinkonis Jews went enthusiastically to carry out such tasks and came back happy with their execution, fired by a desire to avenge the extermination of the Jews of Europe. Dozens of military trains never reached the front. Those that did arrive, were badly damaged and were behind schedule. Other Red partisan groups hammered away at the German military machine.
The trains that managed to get through without damage at one place, were harassed at other points. Davidov’s company destroyed not only military trains but also many bridges of all types. Here too the Marcinkonis Jews displayed their courage and their daring. Following each successful act of sabotage the fighters were given testimonials. The Jewish family company acquired a very large number of such testimonials. Many Jews of other companies were taken by Davidov into his own lines. The four Jews who had joined Stankevich’s company also went into Davidov’s unit.
The Jews, thoroughly familiar with the whole region, successfully carried out acts of espionage with the assistance of their friends in the villages. Many German spies were thus liquidated by Davidov’s group during that winter. Under the command of Yitskhok Kobrovsky, the family company derailed fifteen troop transports. For this Yitskhok was awared high Soviet commendations: “The Fatherland’s War”, first class, and the “Partisan Medal”, first class.
The Jewish family company took revenge at every opportunity against everyone who had committed crimes against the Jews, and first and foremost against those who had actively participated in the annihilation of the Jews.
Reprisals Carried Out By Red Partisans
- In the village of Kotre a White Russian who was a German spy, was liquidated together with his entire family. He had even led roundups. On account of his treachery, the village was threatened with annihilation by the Nazis.
- In the village of Matili lived three White Russians who spied for the Nazis. All three were caught and brought to the forest. One of them was freed after being beaten. Two were liquidated.
- In the village of Gfibauliai lived a traitor named Waluntikevitz. The Jews discovered that he was constantly spying on them. Once a group of Jewish men, from Yitskhok’s company, forced him to take them into the forest with his horse and wagon. When they reached the edge of the forest Elke Kobrovsky, who had lost his parents, brother and sister, shot him. The group laid his dead body into his wagon, and the horse brought him back to his village.
- In the fall of 1939 Jewish refugees from Poland settled in Marcinkonis. They were an entire family named Shvartzshteyn: the father, a dentist; his wife, daughter, and son Henek. After the arrival of the Germans, the girl was shot in the winter of 1941, after being brought out of the town on a sled. Jews buried her next to the first two Jewish victims: Moyshe Sosnovitz and David Podberesky (see page 4). The father and mother died during the liquidation of the ghetto. Henek was left alone, and made his way to the Red partisans. He was in Stankevitz’s company.
In the winter of 1943 fighters from that company attacked the narrow-gauge railroad through the forest, and derailed a train. Henek Shvartzshteyn and several others took prisoner the German head forester of Marcinkonis the chief of all forest watchman in the region of Marcinkonis!. This German had actively participated in the liquidation of the ghetto. Henek brought him into the forest and gave him a painful death.
Revenge against the Village Musteika
In early spring 1944 there was a shortage of provisions. In the “Russkaya Pushcha” large groups of Red partisans had settled. Mayor Kapustin’s Red partisan settled in the Pushcha as well. The surrounding villages were no longer able to provide sufficient provisions. Davidov’s group was also enlarged, becoming a brigade. The commander of the second company was now a Russian named Kolka. Fighters from both companies rode further out from the Pushcha into the village of Kobele for provisions.
On the same day, just a few hours before the attack on the village of Musteika, the brothers Leyb and Khayim and several of Davidov’s non Jewish partisans derailed a military train not far from the village of Musteika.
After years of suffering and bitter struggle for life, the Jews of Marcinkonis were filled with joy at their sweet revenge against the hated, cursed village and its murderous inhabitants. Everyone’s hearts were filled with the hope of living to see the glad day of liberation. The village of Kobele had its turn for revenge later, after the liberation.
Recruitment into the Red·partisans
According to Davidov’s orders, his fighters were to bring people into the Red partisan groups and try to recruit among the White Russians. At the suggestion of Commander Yitskhok Kobrovsky, a group of fighters went closer to Marcinkonis, to a forest where peasants were preparing wood for the Germans.
The Red partisans established relations with the White Russian workers and discussed their joining with the partisans. The discussions went on for several days, however, without bringing any results.
The partisans then forced the group of 40 workers to go along·with them, bringing their tools. On the way to the forest they destroyed a large number of telephone poles, and they destroyed a few kilometers of the narrow-gauge railroad line through the forest. Many bridges over small streams were burned.
German military details began harrying the Red partisans, but without success. Davidov’s fighters returned to the forest safely, with the 40 lumber workers.
The recruitment was done in the villages as well. Through the partisans’ confidantes, it was found out whom the Germans were preparing to take away to work in Germany. Dressed in German military uniforms, the partisans came to the peasants to take them “to work in Germany”. After they were brought into the forest, it was explained to them that they were at a Red partisan camp, and it was proposed that they work with the partisans. In this manner the partisan’s numbers grew. Davidov’s brigade grew by several companies.
Yitskhok Kobrovsky’s company of Marcinkonis Jews also lent a hand in the job of recruitment.
In the spring of 1944, the Pushcha was filled with joy. The inhabitants of the forest gladly heard the news of the great advances of the Red Army and impatiently awaited their liberation.
The thunder of artillery and Soviet Katyushas was heard in the distance. The Red Army took Vilna. With a shudder of joy the inhabitants of the forest heard on the radio the news of the constant victories and steady advance of the Red Army. The Hitlerite armies panicked and retreated in haste steadily “to the Fatherland”.
But it was not easy for them to leave. The partisans everywhere “saw them out” with fire and sword.
Davidov’s brigade didn’t sit in the forest with its hands folded. More than one retreating transport of soldiers and ammunitions was derailed by the brigade. The Jews of Marcinkonis were among the first and most dedicated of those who “saw out” the Hitlerite armies of murderers.
On a beautiful summer’s day, the eleventh of July 1944, Khayim and his brother Leyb Kobrovsky, Efroyim Pilevsky and three other Russian fighters exploded a German transport of gasoline. Flames and clouds of smoke reached to the sky, and to the nearby forests and fields. An entire transport of gasoline blazed, crackled and howled. Bits of fire flew in all directions. It was like a celebration, the last act of diversion by the Marcinkonis Jews and their Russian comrades from Davidov’s brigade.
On their way back from this diversion, the six fighters were stopped by a command in Russian: “Halt! Hands up!” In front of them stood happy Red Army soldiers with machine guns at the ready.
A sea of undescribable joy seized the six fighters, expecially the three Marcinkonis Jews. Tears of joy at the sudden, unhoped for liberation began to run down the faces of the Marcinkonis Jews who had been through so many trials and worked so hard to survive. They wanted to embrace and kiss their liberators. But the Red Army soldiers stood in wonder and kept repeating their order: “Stand still!” The six partisans were brought to the command post. There the situation was explained. The six comrades were warmly greeted by the officers in command.
In honor of the meeting, the six comrades stayed with the commanders overnight and enjoyed themselves. There was no lack of vodka, either.
At the command post the.six comrades found out that on July 11, while they were burning the German gasoline transport, Marcinkonis had been freed by the Red Army.
When the six returned to their base in the forest, no one had yet heard about the liberation. The six were the first to tell them the good news. Tears, tears of joy flowed from everyone’s eyes. Even the exhausted, heroic men could not keep themselves from weeping. All the Jews then began to weep and mourn anew for their murdered relatives, dear ones and acquaintances, wives and children, fathers and mothers. No one spoke about it, but every Jewish fighter sensed that at that moment, among the celebrants in the forest, fluttered the image of the tortured and murdered Jews in the ghettos.
The same day, Davidov sent his fighters to other partisan groups. He himself, together with his Jewish family company, climbed into wagons on a narrow-gauge railroad and triumphantly arrived at the Marcinkonis railroad station.
Hundreds of pairs of murderous eyes among the local population hatefully and fearfully met the surviving heroic Marcinkonis Jews.
That day, July 12 1944, the hard and painful struggles of Davidov’s partisans against the Hitlerite occupiers ended. Ended, too, was the herolc epic of the few surviving Marcinkonis Jews.
After the Liberation
The surviving Jews in the forests and fields came together in their town of Marcinkonis. These were the survivors:
– From Davidov’s brigade:
Yitskhok, Leyb, Yakov, Khayim and Ruven Kobrovsky, five brothers; their nephew Elke Kobrovsky; Borukh Aizenshtat; Ayzik Aizenshtat and his sister-in-law Gitl; Khayim-Shloyme Pilevsky, his wife, Khane, son Efroyim and daughter Sore; Yekhiel Kaplan and his wife Sore; Shloyme Peretz, his daughter Elke, mother Shifre and sister Libel Khane Gorfing and her child Khayiml; Fishl Golubtshikl Yeshayohu Rozenlut and his son Hirshl; Avrom-Eliyhou Vaynberg and his sons Khayim, Leybl and Motl and daughter Rokhl; the two sisters Ester and Khane Zang; Yeshayohu Berezovsky, his daughter Basha and niece Peshe Kartzmer; and Mrs Lampert.
– From Stankevitz’ brigade:
Berl Novik, his brother Zelik and sister Zelde; Henekh Shvartzshteyn; Borukh Matikovskyl Khayele Nayerman.
Ayvush Vidlansky, his wife and two sons Moyshe and Yakov survived by themselves. Some time after the liberation, Ayvush was murdered by bandits who began hiding out in the forests. He was murdered in a village.
At Davidov’s recommendation, his heroic fighters were appointed to create the civil administration of Marcinkonis. Leyb Kobrovsky was the head of the town militia. His heroic brothers and comrades were members of the militia. Others went to work in the Soviet security forces in Marcinkonis and the surrounding towns.
Knowing all the murderers and criminals, they accomplished a great deal for the security forces and used all their force and practice to take revenge on the slaughterers of Jews.
The day after coming into Marcinkonis the Jews arrested the traitor and murderer of six Jewish women; Juzef Kavalier (see (7) ). The traitor was shot like a dog. They came to do the deed bearing a death sentence signed by Davidov. Dozens of Jew-killers from the town and surrounding villages could not avoid the revenge of the Marcinkonis Jews. Several dozen were sentenced to long years at heavy labor in Siberia by Soviet courts. After they were sent to the Siberian prisons, their families as well were sent to Siberia.
Dozens of Jew-killers and traitors began to hide, as the Jews once had, in the nearby forests. Many of them died in conflicts with the armed Soviet security forces.
The murderers and traitors from the village of Kobele were hidden in a bunker in the nearby forests. Armed details of the NKVD (the Soviet security force), together with Jewish militiamen, surrounded the bunker and threw in hand grenades. All of the murderers in the bunker got their deserved punishment.
The Jews of Marcinkonis turned all their resources to the capture of the provocateur Ludowitz. But they found out that while spying on the Red partisans in the area of Bialystok, he had been shot.
A large number of the murderers who had taken active part in the annihilation of the Jews of Marcinkonis ran away to Germany before the arrival of the Red Army.
The Memorial to the Destruction of the Marcinkonis Jewish Community
The body of the Grodno Jew Dovid Lampert, who had fallen near the village of Kobele, was exhumed by the surviving Jews and brought to the town of Marcinkonis. They did the same for three White Russian Jewish partisans. All four heroes were buried in a common grave in the Marcinkonis town park. On the grave a monument bearing the following inscription was established with great ceremony: “In eternal memory of four heroic Jewish partisans, by their surviving comrades”.
Next to Lake Kastinis, not far from the sawmill which once belonged to the Marcinkonis Jew Shloyme Kaplan, lies the large mass grave of the murdered Jews who fell on the day of the liquidation of the ghetto, November .2, 1942.
The monument in the town park and the mass grave are like two living witnesses, which will tell the coming generations of the tragic death and heroic struggle of the small Jewish community of Marcinkonis. The town remained intact after the war. In the homes of the murdered Jews lived Christians, who looked at the surviving Jews in town with hate and bitterness. Almost all the heroic Jewish fighters and their families left forever with a curse on their lips for the bloody Lithuanian earth and its murderous inhabitants, for whom they didn’t care to stay and build socialism.
As former Polish citizens, almost all travelled to Poland and thence to Bavaria in Germany, from which they are preparing to travel onward into the wide world.