THE SLAUGHTER OF JEWS IN THE LITHUANIAN COUNTY SEAT RASEINIAI
A SUPPLEMENT CONCERNING THE SLAUGHTER OF THE JEWS OF RASEINIAI
(Excerpts from the testimony of Yeshayohu Kromas and his daughter Rivke).
Yeshayohu Kromas was born in Raseiniai on December 5, 1900. His father’s name was Aron (Hortshik). Yeshayohu lived all his life until the outbreak of the war in Raseiniai. He was a farmer by occupation. His wife’s name was Hene Kromas.
Until the war broke out on June 22, 1941 about 4,000 Jews lived in Raseiniai among a larger number of non-Jews. After the war against Poland in September 1939, Poland was divided between Hitler Germany and the Soviet Union. Thousands of Jewish refugees came to Lithuania. A yeshiva was established in Raseiniai for the 275 yeshiva students who were refugees from Poland.
The majority of the Jews in town were occupied in trade. A significant number were artisans, and many were engaged in agriculture.
In Raseiniai there were three sawmills which belonged to Jewish owners:
- Leiba and Lozer Perlow;
- Feivl Kagan; and
There was an electronics workshop which belonged to the Jewish businessmen Nisanelis and Perlow.
There were three tanneries, which belonged to Jewish owners:
- Khayim Aleksnansky and Block;
- Berl Veis;
Raseiniai had a recently built Hebrew gymnasium with eight grades. The large, beautiful gymnasium building and the elementary school had been built by the Jews of Raseiniai and paid for with their own resources. Until the summer of 1940 the principal of the gymnasium was Dr Zilber, and the principal of the elementary school was Levin. Until the summer of 1940 there was a Jewish national bank in Raseiniai. The last director was Shugam.
Raseiniai contained two large old synagogues and five small synagogues. The Yiddish-Hebrew library in town was very popular among the Jewish population. The town considered itself religiously oriented.
Materially, the Jews of Raseiniai were not poor. There were also a small number of paupers. The attitude of the non-Jewish population to the Jews in town was satisfactory.
After the arrival of the Red Army in Lithuania in 1940, the Soviet economic system was introduced to Lithuania. The Jewish elementary school was closed, and the large new Jewish gymnasium had to unite with the Lithuanian gymnasium. Superficially, the attitude of the Lithuanian population remained as it had been before. But the hidden dissatisfaction of a large number of Lithuanians with the Soviet order was directed against Jews in general by the politically anti-Semitic propaganda of experienced agitators.
Weeks before the sudden attack of Hitler Germany on the Soviet Union, the Soviet secret police, assisted by the Lithuanian Communist party and government, arrested nationalized and declasse Lithuanian and Jewish families, and took them away in transports deep into the Soviet Union. They did the same thing to leaders of Lithuanian parties, as well as to Zionist leaders, whom they suspected might turn into a fifth column for Hitler. Twenty-eight Jewish families and 100 yeshiva students were taken away from Raseiniai on that occasion.
Although a relatively much higher number of Jews were deported, nevertheless Fascist, anti-Semitic illegal parties and organizations spread false, deceitful rumours that Jewish Communists had established the lists of Lithuanians to be arrested and transported. Unfortunately, this lying propaganda had a great success among the masses of the disappointed and desperate among the Lithuanian people.
The Outbreak of War Between Germans and the Soviet Union
As soon as the war began, Yeshayohu Krom, his wife and daughter escaped from Raseiniai into the village of Dubise, on the Dubise River, nine kilometers from Raseiniai. Krom and twelve other Jews stayed there until the German army arrived in the area. The peasants became afraid of keeping the Jews, and all the Jews in the area, together with Krom and his family, went away to a town called Shimkaitsiai, where Yeshayohu‘s parents lived, with a married sister named Peshe and a married brother named Leyzer. Yeshayohu stayed there with his family for one day. Yeshayohu left with his family and all the rest of the Jews in town, because that very day armed Lithuanians gave all the Jewish men spades and forced them to run a few kilometers out of town. There the Jewish men buried two fallen Red Army soldiers. On the way back, the Lithuanians once again forced the Jews to run and fall, and then get up again. The Jews from Raseiniai thought at the time that things were only this bad for them in this particular small town, and they went back to Raseiniai. Krom found a room there, and moved in with his family.
As soon as the German army arrived in Raseiniai, armed Lithuanians appeared in the streets. They joyously greeted the German troops and immediately took over control of the town. A committee of Lithuanian partisans was immediately established. The head of the committee was a former policeman in Raseiniai during President Smetona‘s rule. His name was Ruikis. Another active member of the committee was Sabalauskas, who was a former government employee.
The German army passed through the town and went further. Several Germans remained in the town, maintaining order.
For roughly three weeks after the beginning of the war, Jews lived in their wrecked houses, or with relatives and friends whose houses had not been destroyed.
Every day the newly established police force and the partisans led the Jews away to do various tasks. While mustering the Jews out of their houses, they would beat the Jews. At first the work consisted in burying the dead bodies of the fallen Soviet soldiers. The Jews also had to gather up arms which had been discarded in the fields and on the roads. The Jews had to clear all the debris from the roads. This work was always accompanied by whippings and beatings with sticks, which the Lithuanian guards took great pleasure in using. In addition to the physical work, there was morally insulting work. The Lithuanian bandits forced the Jews to roll empty barrels for fifteen kilometers at a stretch. The guards were overjoyed at this spectacle. The Jews had to clean out all of the outhouses in town. The better educated Jewish women were forced to wash the floors in the homes of the Lithuanian intelligentsia, and in all the offices belonging to the Lithuanian partisans and to the Germans. After work, the Jewish men and women returned to their homes. At work the Jews received nothing to eat. The men who were working far from town gathering up weapons, hauling away broken automobile parts and so forth, were brought back to town every evening and permitted to disperse to their homes.
Cultural life died as well. Everyone tried to sit at home, and avoid meeting up with Lithuanians. Religious life continued. Every day groups congregated to pray in people’s homes, but everything was done discretely, in order to avoid arousing the Lithuanian population.
During the third week of the war, a flood of anti-Jewish regulations began. An order was promulgated which stated that all Jews of both sexes and of every age had to wear a white patch on the right side of their chests. Jews were strictly forbidden to walk on the sidewalk. Jews had to walk in the gutters. Jews were forbidden to go out into the marketplace, and even the least conversation with non-Jews was forbidden. Jews were forbidden to appear in the street altogether from sunset until the morning. All of these regulations were announced in printed posters which were hung everywhere in town, and which were signed by the county chief at the time, Sabalauskas from Raseiniai. Not all of the Jews could accommodate themselves to such regulations; sometimes they would forget, and walk on the sidewalk. The Lithuanian murderers would use their whips to drive the Jews into the gutter.
Anyone who left home during the curfew was arrested and taken to prison. It was announced that all the able-bodied men and women within specified age ranges now had to report to a certain place for work of their own volition.
The Camp Monastery; the Terrible Slaughter of Jews
The fourth week after the war began there was an order stating that all the Jewish men and women above a certain age had to come by themselves to the monastery located on the road to Jurbarkas, one half kilometer from Raseiniai. This was a compound resting on sixty hectares of land. There were large stalls there, along with barns and a wooden, two-storey house. The place was designated as a camp into which the Jews had to move no later than the end of the month of July 1941. As soon as the Jewish men and women arrived in the compound, forty armed Lithuanian partisans and police began to keep watch so that the Jews would not be able to escape from the camp. They warned that anyone who was caught hiding at home would be shot on the spot. There were very few who were bold enough to hide and refuse to go to the camp. Some were found hiding by the Lithuanian bandits, who took them away to the camp or to prison by force.
Some 2,000 Jewish men and women were driven into the camp at that time. Those families which did not want to separate from their men had the right to come along into the camp. The Jews began to settle in. They arranged themselves into the barns, pig stalls and so forth. Early the next morning the Lithuanian murderers forced all of the Jewish men to shave their heads and wash themselves thoroughly. There were rabbis in the camp as well; they had to cut off their beards and shave their heads.
After that, five automobiles bearing Germans arrived at the camp. The commandant of the camp was the former captain in Smetona’s army, Urbsaitis from the village of Papartsiai or Busginishkiai, in Shimkaitsiai County. His assistants were Grigelevitsius from the city of Raseiniai, a former policeman during Smetonas rule, and the local Lithuanian Kostas Norbutas. They drove all the men out of the barns and stalls, and selected 393 of the younger and healthier men. The rest of the men were driven back into the barns and stalls. The first and last names of the 393 men were recorded, and they too were allowed to return to the barns. Before the 393 men were allowed back into the barns, the Germans inspected them. The Lithuanians did not provide any explanations that day. Everyone thought that the healthier men had been signed up for a special task. The date was July 27, 1941.
On July 28, 1941 in the afternoon, three automobiles bearing Germans came once again. There were about ten Germans. Urbsaitis called off the names of all 393 men, and ordered them to line up in the courtyard. A large number of the men were given spades, and sixty well- armed partisans and policemen herded them along down the Jurbarkas road. Not one of the Jews in the camp knew where the men were being taken.
The Jews in the camp believed that they had been taken away to some kind of heavy labor. Together with precisely 100 Jews taken from the prison and from the work sites in the city, all 393 men were taken five kilometers away from Raseiniai along the Jurbarkas road. There were gravel pits there. Next to the gravel pits trenches had already been dug, and there the nearly five hundred men were shot. While leading the men, the Lithuanian murderers had gotten drunk. Three automobiles went along behind, carrying Germans. The gravel pits where the men were shot were located in a village called Zhuvelishkiai. In the evening the Lithuanian murderers drove back from the pits singing. They were all happy and cheerful. Among the sixty Lithuanian murderers who were involved in the shooting of the men, there were local Lithuanians as well. Among them were the following Lithuanians from Raseiniai: Urbsaitis, Kostas Norbutas, Grigelevitsius, Jablonskis, Kaupas, Anuliai (three brothers), Endrikis, Shimkus, Stravinskiai (three brothers from Shimkaitsiai), Kapatsinskas, and Savitskiai (two brothers). There were also others whose names Yeshayohu does not remember.
After this, there began a constant search and seizure of Jews in the streets of the city and from the hospital, where there were a large number of Jewish patients. The murderers would seize a large number of men and women, and no one knew exactly what happened to them. In addition to the groups of Jews whom they seized in the city, they also brought Jewish men from the camp. No one in the camp knew the exact fate of the groups which were taken away. During that period women in the camp received cards and letters from the men, in which it was written that the groups of Jews who had been taken away were living in agricultural compounds. In these letters, the men who had been taken away asked for bedclothes, food and finally money, gold and diamonds. Many people understood then that the murderers had forced the Jews to write these letters before they shot the Jews, so that the murderers would be more easily able to extort the hidden Jewish valuables and jewelry. Mrs Reykhl Kagan, nee Fish, received such a letter in the camp at that time. Mrs Khveidan received a letter from her husband, asking her to send him several suits. The elementary school teacher, Mrs Yofe, received a letter from her husband asking her to send him a suit by way of the Lithuanian partisans, along with a watch and bedclothes. Many naive women believed that all of the groups of men and women who had been taken away were alive and working on various compounds for Lithuanian landowners.
The number of Jews in the camp and in the city declined steadily. The panic among the Jews was terrible. No one knew exactly what the coming night would bring. No one knew whose turn was coming next. This situation continued for a few weeks.
But every day people were taken from the camp to work in the gardens of the priests’ compounds, to excavate broken telephone poles, and so forth.
Yeshayohu Krom and his family were among those who were taken to the monastery camp.
When the 393 healthy, strong and young men were chosen, Yeshayohu Krom was included. His name was recorded on the list. The Lithuanian murderer Norbutas knew that Krom was a good agricultural worker, and took him out of the line. The murderers were acquaintances of Krom’s, and they permitted him to leave the camp. Krom immediately went to see the county chief Sabalauskas, and the commandant of the town, Tsiurlys.
Both of them were well-known to Krom for several years. The commandant also knew that Krom was a former volunteer in the Lithuanian army; he had fought in Lithuania’s war of independence against the Bolsheviks, and later against Poland. Tsiurlys gave Krom a special attestation, and also gave him an attestation stating that Krom had excelled in the struggles for Lithuanian independence, and that he had a medal.
Yeshayohu Krom went to his own room in the city, and the same day he went to work in the field. The next day Krom drove past the camp with his mowing machine to work. Krom’s field was not far from the camp.
The Lithuanian murderer Grigelevitsius stopped Krom and brought him back into the camp, where his wife and daughter were also located. This was the day after the 393 men from the camp were shot. The murderers confiscated the horse and mower. On the same day Krom escaped from the camp into town, to the home of the peasant Grigelis, where he hid the entire day. In the evening his daughter Rivke came and told him that the commandant of the camp, the police chief Urbsaitis, had ordered Krom to come before him with his attestations from the commandant in the city. Krom went to the commandant of the camp and showed him his documents. There were also Germans present. The Germans interrogated Yeshayohu Krom concerning his activities before the war. Krom insisted that he was only a farmer. The Lithuanian murderer corroborated Krom’s story. One German said then that Yeshayohu Krom would be the only Jew who survived. Yeshayohu Krom then asked what would become of his wife and daughter, the German drove Krom out with a shout: “Out of here, you cursed Jew!”
The Jews in the yard of the camp were in line at that point. Krom told the Jews everything. Then it was clear to everyone that Krom was telling the entire tragic truth about the fate awaiting the Jews. A while later the Germans and the Lithuanians came out and announced that Krom could take along his wife and daughter, and return to his home and work his land.
Krom lived there with his family, and they survived the destruction of the Jews of Raseiniai, suffering sorrow and terror. Yeshayohu could not work. The news about the destruction of the Jews in the surrounding towns and in Raseiniai did not permit him to live or concentrate on any task. Night and day Krom’s family heard shouts, weeping and shooting. In the camp there were rapes committed against women and girls. No more than forty men remained in the camp by then, along with 2,000 women and children. Then it was announced to the Jews that everyone could return to the city and live in their own homes. The murderers promised that nothing bad would happen, and no one would be taken away. The surviving Jews returned to their ruined homes. But this was only to be for a short while.
The Camp in Biliūnai Compound;
The Horrible Slaughter of the Last Jews
One day Mrs. Khveidan came to Krom in his workshop, along with the daughter of Mrs, Risha Zolin, who was married to Mr. Knebl. They related that an order had come down, saying that all of the Jews had to leave the city and settle in the compound of the wealthy landowner Bilevitsius, five kilometers from Raseiniai. The women asked Krom to go to the county chief, and get him to allow the camp to be set up in town instead. Krom and Mrs. Knebl went to see the county chief Sabalauskas. The county chief showed Krom a paper sent by the Germans, stating that a camp had to be established for the Jews outside of town, so that there would be more dwelling places available in town. Furthermore, Sabalauskas announced that the authority over the Jews was now entirely in the hands of the local Lithuanian Grigelevitsius, and that he himself no longer had any authority over affairs concerning the Jews.
Grigelevitsius had to do everything. Krom asked if his own life as well was no longer dependent on the county chief. The county chief replied that Krom had to deal with the new master of the Jews Grigelevitsius in this matter as well.
Krom and Mrs Knebl told everything to the Jews, who did not all take the matter very seriously. Those who understood the situation escaped the city and went to the ghettos in Shavl or Kaunas. Mrs Dr Perlow, nee Blumental, reassured the Jews, predicting that the new camp would be a good place, where everyone could live peacefully. She absolutely did not believe that Jews were being shot. There was no way she could be convinced.
In the city of Raseiniai and in the larger villages announcements were posted, stating that all the Jews from Raseiniai and from all the villages had to move into the compound belonging to the landowner Bilevitsius, called Biliūnai. On the poster there was also a warning that anyone caught outside the compound would be shot on sight. All the Jews had to assemble in the compound by August 27, 1941.
All the surviving men, women and children from Raseiniai, and also Jews who lived on their own farms in the villages, gathered together. In all, there were two thousand Jews in the compound, women and children for the most part. In the compound the Jews began to settle in as best they could. But no one imagined that they would only be there for a short time.
Mothers took care of their small children, trying to make the spots they had chosen in the barns as comfortable as possible. On August 29, 1941, heavily armed partisans arrived in the compound on trucks. The guard around the barn was reinforced. The murderers took out groups of women and children and placed them onto the trucks. No one knew exactly where they were being taken. The trucks quickly returned empty, and took away new groups. This was repeated several times.
The trucks took the Jews in the direction of the town of Girtigola. There is some brush there. Pits had been dug among the brush, where the Jews who had been brought were shot. The pits are located nine kilometers from the town of Raseiniai, and two kilometers from the towns of Girtigola in “Pushyne.”
Not far from the pits there is a village called Revai. The peasant Tamashauskas from that village hid not far from the grave and saw everything that happened there. The peasant told Yeshayohu Krom that the women and children were forced to strip stark naked next to the pits as soon as they descended from the trucks. Naked, they were beaten and driven to the edge of the pit, where they were shot. The women fell into the pit dead or wounded. Their cries were terrible and frightening. There were the cries of the women and children who were forced to strip stark naked, and the cries of the wounded in the pit. Tamashauskas saw small children being thrown into the pit alive. Other children’s heads were bashed against trees, and then the children were thrown into the pit. The peasant related that he had fainted when he saw this. Five large trucks took the Jews from the barn. Before they brought new groups from the barn, the ones who had previously been brought had been shot. The peasant also related that several of the women were calm and quite proud. He related that several women had brushed their hair before going to the pit. It took all day until the Jews were all brought from the barn and shot.
The clothing and possessions of those who were shot were brought back to camp on the trucks by the murderers. From there the goods were brought to Raseiniai. They kept the better things for themselves. They distributed the cheaper goods to the civilian population for free. A few peasants who shoveled dirt over the pits filled with dead bodies later told Krom that before she was shot, a Jewish woman whose maiden name was Dvoyre Bank had born a child. The Lithuanian murderers killed the mother and threw her into the pit together with her new-born child.
- There was probably no one who managed to survive being brought to the pits. But a yeshiva student by the name of Blumschtein hid in the hay in the barn of the compound. He was a refugee from Poland, who had come to Lithuanian in the year 1939, after the war between Germany and Poland, and had been studying in the yeshiva at Blumschtein lived in the barn for three days. In that barn the murderers packed up the clothes and possessions of those who had been shot, and they posted a heavy guard to protect the goods. Blumschtein had to lay hidden deep in the hay without food or water. On the fourth day the goods were taken out of the barn, and the guard was removed. Blumschtein began hiding in a barn on Krom’s farm.
- In the village of Pashąltonis, Raseiniai County, six kilometers from Raseiniai, in a potato cellar, two yeshiva students from amongst the Polish refugees were hiding. After the last Jews of Raseiniai were slaughtered, the two boys lay in hiding for three months. The winter was terribly cold. The two boys sent a note to Yeshayohu Krom by way of a peasant women. It was written in Yiddish. The two boys asked Krom to help get them food, and to send them clothing and a bit of money. They indicated the precise location of their hiding place in the note. Krom put together a good package of food, and also packed two pairs of woollen boots and other clothes, and sent them by way of the peasant woman. Blumschtein also went to join his two comrades.
Blumschtein helped to carry the package from Krom. The boys stayed no more than three kilometers away from Krom. A few weeks later Blumschtein returned to Krom to stay in the hay in his barn. Blumschtein understood the great danger he represented for the entire Krom family, in case he was found among the hay in the barn. But Blumschtein had no other option. He didn’t want to go to the Kaunas ghetto, and he was afraid to do so. His comrades did not want to go to the Kaunas ghetto.
- Dr Kahan from Memel (Klaipeda) survived. Kahan was a popular dermatologist, and had a certificate from the German Army during the First World War. Kahan had been a doctor and an officer during the previous war. The doctor lived and worked in the Lithuanian hospital in
- The Jewish doctor from Raseiniai Khazanovitsh performed an operation for appendicitis before the last Jews were slaughtered, and he remained living together with Dr Kahan in the hospital.
- The great specialist, the locksmith Joreiach, was needed. He received a certificate as a “useful Jew” and lived in his home in Raseiniai together with his wife. His children had already been shot.
- Colonel Tsiurlys was no longer the commandant of the city. Two days before the last Jews in the Biliūnai compound were shot, he visited Krom in his farm, and suggested that he hide for several days. Krom and his wife and daughter hid at the home of a Lithuanian neighbor of theirs named Macikevitsius in the village of Anulinas, four kilometers from Krom lay with his family among the hay in the peasant’s barn for four days.
Those were four terrible days. Mrs. Krom constantly said Psalms. Rivke was also terribly nervous. The family kept receiving fresh news about the terrible slaughter of the Jews, and about the dreadful sadistic murders at the pit.
Krom and his family returned to their farm, and the boy remained lying on the hay in Krom’s barn. The boy received enough to eat and drink, and he quickly recovered. But it was dangerous for the entire Krom family to keep the boy at their barn, because Krom himself was not sure of his life. He was waiting for the day when they would come for him and shoot him. But the boy did not want to depart from the barn, and from his good host.
Those Who Died After the Slaughter of the Raseiniai Jews
- Avrom Mayerovitsh, a landowner near Raseiniai with a wife and five children, lay hidden at the home of a neighbor near Avrom Mayerovitsh kept his possessions and valuables hidden with that neighbor from the very beginning of the war. The peasant kept the Mayerovitsh family for four weeks after the last Jews were shot, and finally the peasant reported them himself. The Mayerovitsh family was arrested and placed in prison in Raseiniai. The name of the peasant was Jasulis. He lived near Raseiniai.
A nephew of Avrom’s, Moyshe Mayerovitsh (an unmarried youth) and Meyer Bank had set up a hiding place in a barn on Avrom‘s farm. The same Jasulis brought them food in the hiding place. When Avrom‘s family were arrested, the barn was surrounded and Lithuanian murderers called out the first and last names of the boys in hiding, ordering them to come out. They threatened to set the barn on fire. The hidden Jews came out of their hiding place and began to run. The Lithuanian murderers shot both next to the barn. One of Avrom Mayerovitsh‘s workers told Krom about this.
- Yankl Mel was hidden at the home of a peasant, together with his wife and children. There were ten Jews there in all. They were with a Lithuanian peasant in the village of Bagdonishkiai, eight kilometers from Krom does not remember the first or last name of the peasant. Yankl Mel and the rest of the Jews remained in hiding at the peasant’s about four weeks.’ They were discovered, and they were all arrested. Krom knows for sure that all of the possessions of the ten Jews were hidden at the home of the peasant with whom all the Jews were hiding. The ten Jews were arrested and taken to the prison at Raseiniai.
- The two Jewish doctors who worked in the Lithuanian hospital, Dr Kahan and Dr Khazanovitsh, together with all the Jews who were imprisoned after being caught hiding among peasants, were taken away down the Jurbarkas road to the village of Zhuvelishkiai. There everyone was shot next to the graves of the first 393 Jewish men from the camp who were shot. This was after the Jewish holidays, about the end of September 1941,
- Before New Year’s 1942 the locksmith Joreiach and his wife were arrested in The two of them were taken to the Jewish cemetery and shot there.
Krom took this as a signal that his life and the lives of his family as well were in great danger. After the locksmith was shot, Krom went to Colonel Tsiurlis to find out where he and his family stood. The colonel advised everyone to separate. He offered to take in Rivke. He wanted to put Krom’s wife up with his brother, Engineer Tsiurlys, near Kaunas. Mrs Krom didn’t want to separate from her husband and daughter. The Krom family remained on their farm and continued waiting for death.
- After New Year’s 1942 the Jewish landowner from Raseiniai Yoysef Tats was found hidden at the home of a peasant in a village near Girtigola. His brother Leyb was also hiding with the same peasant. Leyb managed to escape. Yoysef was kept in the prison of Girtagola for a week. Then he was brought to prison in As people told it at the time, and as Leybl Tats now relates (he lives in Raseiniai now), they were betrayed by a second peasant, a neighbor of the peasant with whom he and his brother were hiding.
- At the same time, not far from the town of Vidukle (ten kilometers from Raseiniai), a family named Gurvitsius was arrested. The Gurvitsius family; a father, a mother, a son and a daughter, had been hiding at the home of a peasant near Vidukle since the first weeks of the war. At the home of the peasant with whom they hid, they were also keeping their possessions. Mr Krom does not know who it was that reported the family. Everyone was arrested and taken to prison in Raseiniai. They were arrested by Lithuanian partisans.
Yoysef Tats and the Gurvitsius family, together with a two-year-old girl, were taken from the Raseiniai prison to the Jewish cemetery and they were all shot there. This was at the end of January 1942.
- The two-year-old girl was the daughter of the Jewish dental technician Josimas from Raseiniai. His wife was a dentist (nee Miss Margolis). The dental technician Josimas hung himself at home after the 393 men from the monastery camp were shot. Josimas found out that after the 393 men were shot, all of the Jews were supposed to move to the camp. He decided to commit suicide, and hung himself in his office.
- Mrs Josimas gave her small daughter to a peasant. A servant who worked for Mrs Josimas personally brought the two-year-old girl to prison. The director of the prison, Mishelis, personally told Yeshayohu Krom about this.
The Krom Family in the Jaws of Death
The Krom family stayed on their farm until March 8, 1942. One morning three Germans from the Gestapo came riding on sleds to the Krom’s, together with three Lithuanian policemen from Raseiniai. At the head of the group was the Lithuanian Urbsaitis, the head of the police. They took all of the valuables belonging to Krom and his family, including their watches and rings. They packed other belongings into sacks. Krom, his wife and daughter were placed into a sled and taken to the Jewish cemetery in Raseiniai. Krom took the reins and turned toward the city. Krom begged the Germans to let him say goodbye to his good friends in the city before he was shot. The German agreed, on condition that the three Jews stay quiet and not dare to call out while they were driving through the city. Krom promised not to shout. There was a market in Raseiniai that day. As soon as Krom and his family were taken into the city, all three of them began weeping and shouting. Hundreds of peasants from town immediately recognized Krom and his family, and began following the sled, shouting and protesting. They all demanded that the Jew Krom and his family, whom they knew well, not be shot. A large number of people followed the sled. Krom and his family were taken to prison. The men who had fought at the front during the battle for Lithuanian independence in the First World War found out about this. The local Lithuanian Rimkus, the chairman of the former soldiers at the front, along with the warden of the Raseiniai prison Mishelis and the head doctor of the Lithuanian hospital, Aleknevitsius — all of these, together with others who knew Krom well went to the German Gestapo, and convinced them not to shoot Krom’s family, but rather to send them to the ghetto in Shavl or in Kaunas. There was a Lithuanian named Gilis who lived in Raseiniai. He had a beautiful wife, with whom the head of the, German Gestapo, Broshke, fell in love. Mrs. Gilis lived with the head of the Gestapo and had a great deal of influence over him. Krom had known the family for years, and they got along very well with each other. The Gilis family had lived in Krom’s house before the war. Krom asked the peasant woman to come visit him in prison. The intermediary was the warden of the prison, Mishelis. Krom asked Mrs Gilis to convince the head of the Gestapo to permit his family either to go free, or to go to one of the ghettos.
The woman insisted that if Krom could offer a bit of money and some valuable items as a gift for the chief, it would help him achieve his speedy liberation. Krom received permission to make a phone call from the prison to the priest in the village of Kalnu. He asked the priest to make the effort to give a message to Mr Morgnholts in the same village, who was to bring the gold and money which he was hiding for Krom. The next day all these things were brought to the prison. Krom immediately sent for Mrs Gilis, and sent the things with her to the head of the Gestapo, Broshke. A few days later Mrs Gilis informed Krom that the head of the Gestapo had decided to free Krom’s family altogether, and to give them permission to occupy and work on Krom’s farm. After this announcement, Krom’s family still remained in the prison for about two weeks.
One time, about 1:00 a.m., footsteps were heard in the corridor. He also heard a Jewish voice. The next day, as he passed by the neighboring cell, Krom saw the yeshiva student who had been hidden in his barn. Krom immediately understood the grave new danger which had suddenly befallen his entire family. The warden of the prison came into Krom’s cell and related in an agitated voice that the boy had been captured in Krom’s barn, and that under interrogation the boy had told the entire truth — that Krom had hidden him, and given him food and drįnk. A report had already been written about this.
Krom convinced the warden of the prison Mishelis to have the entire report destroyed, and to convince the police to write up a different one. Mishelis summoned to Krom’s prison cell the policeman who had the written report. The policeman agreed, and the report was torn up.
A second report was written, saying that the boy had escaped from the Shavl ghetto, and wanted to join his relatives in the Kaunas ghetto. Blumschtein signed this report.
Four weeks passed, with no change in the situation. Meanwhile two Jews were caught at the home of a peasant seven kilometers from the town of Betigole, and both of them were brought to the Raseiniai prison. These Jews were Ziv and Aranovsky. They were brothers-in-law from Betigole. In prison they told Krom that the Jews in the town of Betigole had been slaughtered, and that both of them had escaped from the pits during the shooting. The two Jews were brought to prison beaten and bruised. The two Jews told Krom that the police chief of Shidlava, named Jasulis, had interrogated them, beating them murderously with sticks. The murderer had demanded that the two Jews tell him where their gold, silver and valuables were hidden. The murderer also demanded that the Jews tell him where they had been hiding the entire time. The Jews were kept for two days without food or drink, and then they were taken to the Raseiniai prison. The Jews remained in the prison, hoping that they might still be sent to the ghetto in Shavl or in Kaunas. They stayed together in prison for four weeks. They did not lack for food, because Krom’s peasant friends brought enough food. The warden permitted food to be brought for Krom’s family and the rest of the Jews.
The prison in Raseiniai is not far from the Jewish cemetery. Krom’s daughter Rivke constantly looked out the window at the Jewish cemetery to see whether graves were being dug. Rivke was extremely nervous, and more than once her father had to tie her down. The days and weeks passed in this fashion. On April 25, 1942 Rivke saw through the window that graves were being dug at the Jewish cemetery. Their panic was great. As always in such situations, Mrs Hene Krom turned to her large prayerbook and read Psalms. Rivke began to go into such severe convulsions that she had to be tied down. The watch over the arrested Jews was strengthened. Krom asked for the warden to come. Mishelis came to Krom, bringing with him a liter of liquor. He added that the graves were indeed being prepared for Jews, and comforted Krom by saying that he was hurrying to Kaunas to plead that the Krom family not be shot. Dr Aleknevitsius and Mishelis went to see the Lithuanian General Kubiliunas in Kaunas to request that Krom’s family be taken to the Kaunas ghetto.
In the evening Mishelis returned directly to Krom’s prison cell from Kaunas and reported that they had not found General Kubiliunas, but that they had convinced the German Gestapo not to shoot Krom’s family, but rather to take them to the Kaunas ghetto. Mishelis made Krom promise not to say anything to the Jews who were to be shot.
On the twenty-sixth of April, it rained the entire day, and the Jews were not taken out of the prison. Krom was no longer permitted to walk freely through the corridors of the prison, and no longer saw the three Jews.
On April 27, 1942 in the evening, the three Jews were taken out of the prison. Krom was with his wife and daughter in their cell at the time. He held his daughter’s hand, and tried to prevent her from weeping and screaming loudly. All three Jews were taken to the Jewish cemetery and shot.
The yeshiva student Blumschtein and the two Jews from Betigole, Ziv and Aranovsky, had hoped all along that they too would be taken to a ghetto. While they were being taken out of prison into the courtyard they were very content that they had the chance to stroll around the yard a bit.
The Krom Family Is Brought into the Kaunas Ghetto
The next day, April 29, 1942, a truck arrived at the courtyard of the prison. The Krom family thought that they were facing the same fate as the three Jews had met the previous day. When it was announced to them that they were being taken away from prison to the Kaunas ghetto, they still did not believe it.
When the Krom family got into the truck, they finally began to hope that perhaps they really would be taken to the Kaunas ghetto. When they were close to the town of Girtigola, they once again suspected that they might be shot near that town. Three hearts banged from terror and fright, until all three were actually brought to the Kaunas ghetto.
They were accompanied by a German member of the Raseiniai Gestapo and two Lithuanians. The German was quite polite and decent to Krom’s family, and spent time with Krom’s young daughter Rivke, who was fourteen years old at the time. All of the Jews found out about their arrival in the Kaunas ghetto, and marveled at the fate of these Jews from Raseiniai. Under the conditions at that time, it was simply incredible and incomprehensible. How was it possible that under such circumstances the Krom family had escaped prison and a certain death?
Krom explains this by saying that he had been a farmer and a lumber merchant, and he had also bought grain from the peasants in the surrounding villages, so that Krom had many friends among the Lithuanian population of the town and countryside. Krom had a large compound, where the peasants could stop with their horses and wagons. Krom and his wife Hene got along very well with everyone, and they received the peasants very hospitably in their home. The Krom family was very well liked among the peasants.
All of the higher posts in town were occupied by Lithuanians who had been good friends of the Kroms for many years before the war. Thus, for example, Colonel Tsiurlys had been a visitor to Krom’s house many years earlier. Mishelis was a captain in a regiment during the rule of President Smetona, and Krom had provisioned the regiment, so that they became good personal friends. Krom had quite a few such good friends.
In the Kaunas ghetto the Krom family suffered all of the pain and sorrow shared by all the Jews at that time.
The Escape from the Kaunas Ghetto
On Yom Kippur 1943, Krom and his family escaped from the Kaunas ghetto back to Raseiniai County. A Jew from Vilon named Nakhman Krakinovsky escaped together with the Krom family. This was at the time when the Jews in Kaunas began to be interned in camps.
For thirteen months Krom and his family hid with peasants in the villages. He had many good friends. During those thirteen months, Krom’s family stayed with peasants in various villages. Among them were two who constantly knew where the family Krom was located, and who constantly protected and intervened on behalf of Krom’s family. These were the peasants Jonas Milushis in the village of Anulinas in Raseiniai County, Raseiniai Township, and Stepas Golumbauskas in the village of Bebirviu in Raseiniai County, Shimkaitsiai Township.
These two peasants were the sturdy right arms on which the hopes and lives of the Krom family depended. Thanks to the fatherly concern of these two good peasants, the family Krom managed to survive.
On account of the Krom family and their connections with the Kaunas ghetto, a good peasant from the village of Patasupiu in Raseiniai County named Jonas Bakshys lost his life. The Lithuanian Gestapo in Raseiniai found out that through his intervention, Jews were escaping from the Kaunas ghetto. Some ten Jews escaped from the Kaunas ghetto to that peasant. From there the brothers Feinshtein from the town of Shtakiai, along with Moyshe Vinik from the same town, took the Kaunas Jews to friendly peasants.
The Lithuanian Gestapo suspected the peasant Bakshys. Once they went to his house. The peasant was quite drunk, and he told the Gestapo agents that Jews who escaped from the Kaunas ghetto came to his home, as well as Red partisans from the forests. Nor did he neglect to mention the Krom family. Just one day earlier Yeshayohu Krom had been in the peasant’s house.
The peasant was arrested and badly beaten. He betrayed the good peasant Jonas Milushius. The peasant Bakshys was interned in the Kaunas prison for some time, and then he was shot. The peasant Jonas Milushius managed to buy off the Gestapo for a large sum of money. Three months before the arrival of the Red Army he got out of prison. All the teeth of the peasant Milushius were knocked out in the course of various investigations.
The Long-Awaited Liberation
The Krom family hid with peasants until the front approached Raseiniai, in the spring of 1944. Krom and his family were close to liberation then, but even closer to death. The Germans evacuated the peasants from the region. The front remained in the area for precisely three months. All the villages, fields and forests were full of German military details. They were in all the peasant houses. Krom’s family began hiding in the nearby forests. The front was three kilometers from their location, the thunder of the Red artillery angrily announced the coming liberation.
The peasants from the surrounding countryside also ran away to hide in the forests. Many of them were Krom’s friends from Raseiniai. He separated from them, and began wandering through the forests, facing a grave danger of being shot by the German military, who were everywhere throughout the forest.
One time Krom and his wife wandered into a forbidden zone in the forest, where the German soldiers were practicing their shooting. Krom lay hidden in some brush with his wife, watching the Germans shooting over their heads at a target. After they shot, they would run to see how well they had done. They ran just a few meters past the brush in which Krom and his wife were hiding. Such dangers were a daily phenomenon. There was nothing to eat. It was deadly dangerous to leave the forest and go into the villages. Fortunately, Krom’s daughter Rivke was not with her parents at the time. Krom had delivered her to a friendly peasant, who had evacuated and taken Rivke along with him. The liberation was near, but Krom and his wife were exhausted from laying in the forest day in, day out, without food or a drink of water. Krom had already decided once to hang himself and put an end to his suffering.
But his wife demanded that he kill her first. In the morning the two of them would lick the dew from the wet grass in the forest. While suffering thus, they met “Red partisans,” who were also thirsty and hungry. The “Red partisans” helped Krom to get his wife settled into a well-camouflaged bunker. At night Krom and the “Red partisans” went into the village for food. One morning a group of German soldiers engaged in clearing the forest of Red partisans went past the bunker. They stopped right next to the bunker. Krom and his wife held their bręath, waiting for death to come. But the Germans did not notice the bunker, and they went away.
Krom felt that he had been burdened with more mouths to feed. Everything he managed to beg, he had to share with seven more mouths. This forced Krom to separate from them and seek out a new place. Krom also found out that the seven were not Red partisans, but escaped conscripts from the German army — Ukrainian former prisoners, who had volunteered to fight against the Red Army. It was very hard to get food. Nevertheless Krom managed to find a place to stay with a poor peasant, where he and his wife stayed for a week.
One time a cow was stolen from the German army. Germans came to search the peasant’s barn. Krom and his wife barely managed to get in among the straw, when the Germans entered the stall. Krom and his wife left the peasant after that incident and went into a nearby forest, where they stayed for three days. They were surrounded by shots coming from various weapons. The Red Army Katyusha rockets thundered throughout the area. The “concert” of various arms stopped, and Krom went back to the peasant to get food, it turned out that the Red Army had been in the village a day earlier, and were already chasing the cursed German Fascists further. Krom immediately ran to bring his wife from the forest, out into the long-awaited freedom which the Red Army brought all Jews like Krom and his wife, on August 3, 1944. Four days later Krom met his daughter Rivke and they all went to Kaunas.
Krom attests that the 393 Jews in the monastery camp were killed under the supervision of Germans. The rest of the Jews were slaughtered without the presence of German representatives or German observers. Yeshayohu Krom does not know who gave the order to annihilate the Jews of Raseiniai.