The slaughter of Jews in the Lithuanian County Seat Raseiniai
The Lithuanian government reports that Lithuania “lost” Jews during the Holocaust. Never mentioned is how they got “lost”, nor who caused them to be “lost”. Perhaps this Holocaust testimony might help us to understand who and what caused those “missing” Lithuanian Jews.
Leyb Koniuchowsky collected 121 testimonies from Holocaust victims, which were made public in: The Lithuanian Slaughter of its Jews: The Testimonies of 121 Jewish survivors of the Holocaust in Lithuanian, recorded by Leyb Koniuchowsky, in Displaced Persons’ Camps (1946-48). Either these Survivors were delusional or mendacious, or the government of Lithuania is lying.
As you read, please place yourself in the position of Dvoyre or Frida.
The collective testimony of:
- Dvoyre Lazarsky (nee Yankelevitsh), born May 6, 1909 in the town of Ariogala, 28 kilometers from Raseiniai. From 1920 until the outbreak of the war, on June 22, 1941, she lived in Raseiniai, where she completed six grades of gymnasium. She was a milliner by trade. Her father‘s name was Perets Yankelevitsh.
- Frida Praz, born in the small town of Vaiguva in Shavl County, on October 15, 1924. Her father’s name was Nokhum Praz. She lived in the town of Ushventis, Shavl County, from 1928 until 1931. From 1931 until 1938 Frida lived in the small town of Krazhiai. There she completed six grades of Lithuanian gymnasium, and then she moved to Taurage, where she worked as a cashier in a textile business. Frida lived in Taurage until the outbreak of the war. In the morning of Sunday, June 22, 1941, she fled along with hundreds of other Jews, to her uncle Lazarsky in Raseiniai.
The Geographical Situation of the Town, The Economic and Cultural Life of the Jews
Raseiniai is located 90 kilometers from Kaunas, 22 kilometers from Jurbarkas and 90 kilometers from Shavl. The highway between Kaunas and Klaipeda, known as the Zhemaitsiu plantas, runs through the town. Until the outbreak of the war the population of the town was 10,000, including 4,000 Jews.
The majority of the Jewish population belonged to the middle class. All of them lived relatively well from the economic standpoint. The majority of the Jews were small merchants and artisans, and there was also a small number of farmers.
The cultural life of the Jews was maintained at an adequate level; it was well organized and had been solidly established for decades and centuries. There was a Hebrew gymnasium, until the arrival of the Red Army in Lithuania on June 15, 1940. After the arrival of the Red Army in Lithuania the gymnasium was combined with the Lithuanian gymnasium. The Yiddish and Hebrew library had a large number of books in various languages. There was one large synagogue in Raseiniai, along with a study house and other smaller synagogues. The latter were organized along artisanal lines, such as the tailors’ synagogue, the tanners’ synagogue and others. The Jewish national bank, headed by the director Schugam, was closed after the arrival of the Red Army in Lithuania.
The majority of the Jewish young people studied in the Hebrew gymnasium. A smaller number studied in the Lithuanian gymnasium. Until the arrival of the Red Army in the summer of 1940, they were members of Zionist organizations. A small number were members of the Communist Party, which was illegal during the rule of President Antanas Smetona.
In general the attitude of the Lithuanian neighbors to the local Jews was not bad — but this was only superficially true. Jews fraternized with the Lithuanians, met with them at social events and often spent time together with them at the Raseiniai “Citizens’ Club.” Relations worsened sharply and quickly after the arrival of the Red Army in Raseiniai in the summer of 1940.
After the arrival of the Red Army the Jewish youth began to accommodate themselves to the new social situation, which was similar to the Soviet system. For a considerable portion of the Jewish youth, who were unemployed and had an uncertain future, the system opened many new possibilities. Some of the Jewish youth threw themselves into social life body and soul, while several joined the Communist Youth and the Party. Many of the Lithuanian youth did the same thing. But precisely the participation of Jews in the new life, and the possibility they had to be citizens with almost equal rights, aroused the subterranean anger of the Lithuanian population of the town. The latter were repeatedly propagandized by illegal Fascist underground movements. The anti-Semites were bitter enemies of both the Soviets and the Jews. But the Soviet iron fist “bound” the hands of the bandits and put a “lock” on their mouths. Thus, during the year of Soviet rule (1940-1941), the Jews did not openly feel the hatred of their Lithuanian neighbors.
The Outbreak of the Second World War;
Looting of Jewish Possessions; Decrees and Torture of Jews
Early on the morning of Sunday, July 22, 1941, the Jews of Raseiniai suddenly observed Jews hurrying toward Raseiniai from the surrounding towns located closer to the German border. The Jews from Raseiniai found out from the refugees that war had already broken out between Hitler Germany and the Soviet Union. Most of the refugees came from Taurage on carts, trucks and by foot. There was a terrible panic in Raseiniai.
The Soviet military authorities immediately ordered the civilian population to leave the city, because heavy aerial bombardment by the German air force was expected. By 1:00 on Sunday, everyone had already left the town for the nearby villages. At 2:00 the same day an air attack on Raseiniai actually did begin. The Hitlerite murderers dropped dozens of bombs on the very center of the city, where most of the Jews lived.
Dvoyre and her husband Yakov, her parents and her brother Leybl, ran away from the city into a village. At night (Sunday, June 22, 1941), they saw Raseiniai burning. Dvoyre’s cousin Frida Praz (now Miller), arrived in Raseiniai as a refugee from Taurage on Sunday morning.
After a desperate battle, the Germans entered Raseiniai on Tuesday, June 24, 1941. Many houses, for the most part Jewish, were destroyed either by the bombardment or by the desperate fighting for the city. Dvoyre and Frida relate that as soon as the war began, and before the Germans entered Raseiniai, armed Lithuanians began calling themselves “partisans,” displayed Lithuanian national flags, and joyfully greeted the German army details. The partisans, who had secretly armed and prepared themselves thoroughly, shot at the backs of the Red Army soldiers as best they could, while the latter retreated in panic. Hundreds of Jews from Raseiniai and other towns used every means possible in attempting to evacuate to the Soviet Union, but they were unable to do so. Everywhere the Germans caught up with them.
The women in the Jewish families which had gone to the villages returned to the Raseiniai, “to see how things were.” The men were afraid to show themselves openly, because there were many partisans everywhere. They immediately dressed up with white bands on their arms, and began controlling all the roads. But the Jews were not secure with their lives in the countryside either. Nevertheless, the day after the women departed, all the men returned to Raseiniai.
Several Jewish families packed themselves into the few Jewish houses which remained. The crowding was dreadful. People spread out into the intact Jewish barns, stalls and yards on Vilnius and Nemakshtsiai Streets.
Dvoyre’s father-in-law was robbed by the civilian Lithuanians on Friday of the first week of the war. The Lithuanians responded to Dvoyre‘s father-in-law‘s protests: “Before it used to be yours, now all of it’s ours”
The Lithuanian neighbors in town, amongst whom the Jews had lived for hundreds of years, now openly and brazenly robbed and requisitioned from the Jews everything their hearts desired. Some of them did it “morally,” pretending to be friendly. They suggested that the Jews hide their more valuable possessions with them, so that no one could steal them. In exchange they promised to bring food to the Jews, and also to hide them when the time came. In general the Lithuanians knew that preparations were being made to slaughter the Jews. So many of them made an effort to become the “heirs” of their Jewish neighbors.
There were Lithuanians who sought to provoke Jews, in order to inherit their possessions. This happened to Frida’s uncle Lazarsky. Peasants from town reported to the Germans that Jews had set fire to their own houses before the Germans came to town. They added that Lazarsky wanted to burn down his house. Frida spoke up and declared to the Germans that the house was her uncle’s own, and that the Lithuanians wanted to take it over. This provocation was unsuccessful. There were many such cases in town at that time.
Civilian authority passed into the hands of the Lithuanians at the beginning of the war. They had prepared themselves thoroughly in secret before the war broke out, even though this was illegal during the year of Soviet rule in Lithuania. The mayor in town, for three consecutive years before the war, including under the Soviets, was the Lithuanian from Raseiniai Jodko. Before the war he had been a liberal man, and the local Jews used to vote for him. He was a member of the Lithuanian intelligentsia in town. Now he lives in the city of Hanover in Germany, where he pretends to have been taken for forced labor, although he actually came as a refugee fleeing from the Red Army. His assistant was a Lithuanian German from Raseiniai named Ernst Schmit, who later became the commandant of Raseiniai.
The police force was recruited from the ranks of those who had been policemen during President Smetonai rule, from some of those who had been in the militia during the year of Soviet rule, and from among the partisans who had worked illegally during the Soviet period, and who had shot at the retreating Red Army.
The Jews were forced to do various tasks in and around Raseiniai. The work consisted of clearing away from the streets the rubble of the bombed houses, repairing the streets and highways, cleaning the marketplace. There were many Lithuanians who took Jewish girls as maids. They did this not for the sake of the work, but to have a chance to bully and order around the more educated Jewish women, who themselves had Lithuanian servants before the war.
All men and women above the age of fifteen years had to go to work. Armed partisans kept watch, bullied and teased the Jews at work. The Jews received no pay for their work. Nor did they receive any food.
The Jews were still permitted to go buy food at the market. There were peasants who brought food from the countryside to the homes of the Jews, because the Jews had to pay higher prices. The peasants sought to exchange goods for food.
Once, a few weeks after the beginning of the war, after everyone had assembled at the market to go to work, the partisans selected the pious Jews and arranged a “performance.” The bandits forced the Jews to dance in a circle, and to sing Soviet and religious songs. Afterwards the Jews had to run and fall, stand up and repeatedly fall, crawl on their bellies like snakes, and so forth. Quite a few townspeople stood and joyfully observed the “performance.” There were also several Christian women who wept when they saw it.
Frida relates that while she was being taken to work together with a group of girls, they were guarded by armed partisans, who teased the women: “You’ve lived well long enough, now it’s time to start working!”
Frida felt very insulted at that point and responded: “This is nothing, we’ll survive you!”
The partisans selected the younger and prettier women and took them to clean out the ruins. They took the rest away to pick potatoes. Germans took the younger and prettier women into a house and they were given dishes to wash. The Germans promised regularly to give the women easy work. They asked questions, wondering why the Lithuanians were so brutal to the Jews. After the day’s work the women all went away, without being guarded, to their homes.
From the very beginning of the war a series of regulations began to appear. Jews were not allowed to walk on the sidewalk; there were set times when they were able to go out into the street altogether; they had to put on a white patch; and so forth. But even in these conditions, the Jews made their peace with the fact that that was how it had to be, and there was no way out. Everyone expressed their wishes for each other’s well-being, hoping that all would survive the plague of Hitlerism and its Lithuanian fellow travelers. But the Lithuanian murderers and their German overlords had already thought up something different for the Jews.
This was about six weeks after the outbreak of the war. The Lithuanian “notables,” decided at a meeting to create a camp for the Jews.
The Jews found out from the townspeople that something evil was in store for them. The mood of panic grew constantly. The “good Lithuanians’” proposals to hide the valuables of the Jews until after the war were repeated more and more-often, and only increased the Jews’ suspicions.
The Monastery Camp; the Judenrat
Not far from Raseiniai, an old building had been standing for a long time. It had been used by the priests as a store house. Some of their farm machinery was there as well. During the previous year the monastery (as the building was called in Raseiniai) had been occupied by Soviet military, who had also built barracks there. Their airstrip was located next to the monastery.
A group of Jews were taken to work at that site for a certain time. The Jews cleaned out the barracks and repaired the bunks which remained from before the war. But none of them knew what the barracks and the monastery were to be used for. They did not imagine that they were preparing a camp for themselves.
One morning during the sixth week of the war, before the Jews went out to work, partisans went to all the Jewish houses, conveying strict orders for all the Jews to come to the yard of the town church. At the appointed time almost all of the Jews came. There all the Jews were registered, and permitted to return home. The Jews sensed that a storm was coming. The panic grew even greater. No one knew exactly what the next day would bring for the hopeless Jews. No one slept peacefully.
Early the next morning announcements appeared in the streets of Raseiniai, declaring that every Jewish man between the ages of fifteen and fifty-five, and women from sixteen to forty-five, had to move to a camp at the monastery. They were allowed to take along two sheets, a pillow, three sets of underwear and a coffee cup. They were given only one day following the appearance of the announcements.
The Jews, with packs on their backs, began moving into the camp. They all went on foot. The scene of the wandering Jews was tragic. All of them were gloomy, their heads bowed, as they left their homes. Heart-rending scenes took place as they took their leave of close friends and relatives who had the right to continue living in the city; with tears in their eyes the Jews kissed, embraced and said goodbye to their near and dear ones. There were even Lithuanians who wept as well, and accompanied the Jews to the camp. Yet some of them, while weeping, did not forget to suggest that the Jews leave their better things with them “until after the war.”
When they arrived at the camp, the partisans separated the women from the men and settled them into different barracks. The Jews settled onto bunks in the barracks. The camp had already been surrounded from before with scanty barbed wire, and there were two gates for entering and leaving.
The commandant of the women’s camp was Norbutas, and the commandant in the men’s camp was Grigelevitsius. Both of them were Lithuanians from Raseiniai, both respected leaders of the partisans. Both of them behaved and treated the Jews as they wished. Dvoyre and her cousin Frida were among those who entered the camp.
That same day the police chief of Raseiniai, Urbsaitis, arrived at the camp. All of the Jews were driven out of the barracks and mustered in the yard. The chief of police gave a speech, concluding thus: “If anyone has any complaints, or anything to say, they should step forward from line and say whatever they want to.”
More than a few people who were sick and weak stepped forward. They were immediately formed into a separate group.
Norbutas had known Dvoyre well for many years. He approached her as she stood in line and asked if she wanted something. Dvoyre complained that her mother and father were old and sick, and now had no one to look after them.
Norbutas consulted with the police chief about this, and Dvoyre was freed from the camp. Other Jews were freed in this manner, or in other ways. Dvoyre brought food almost every day to her husband, brother and sisters-in-law. It was not hard to enter and leave the camp.
The Jews were taken to work under guard from the camp, just as they had been from the city. Often the Jews were even permitted to go home from work for lunch. Dvoyre!s husband and brother came home from the workplace to eat lunch almost every day. On Sunday and Saturday there was no work.
As soon as the Jews settled into the camp, the Lithuanian partisans suggested that the Jews organize a Judenrat. The Jews hoped that the intervention of such a committee would do something to alleviate the situation, and that it would have the opportunity to bribe the Lithuanian bosses. The Judenrat consisted of five persons. Among them, Dvoyre remembers the lawyer Fridlander and the owner of a saw mill, the farmer Faynshteyn.
During the roll call on the second day in the camp, Fridlender turned to the Lithuanians: “We are no criminals, and even if we are, even criminals are given food. We work, and we are not fed.” The partisans promised to arrange to get food to the Jews in the camp. But that same night all five members of the Judenrat were taken out of their bunks and taken to prison. At the prison there were already youthful arrestees, who had belonged to the Communist Youth under the Soviets, as well as ordinary Jews who were the victims of libels invented by the Lithuanians, or who had been denounced as Communists. The Lithuanians didn’t need any evidence to support their charges or libels. And the Jews were unable, forbidden to respond or to demonstrate their innocence. The Jews were taken from prison to the heaviest kinds of work, and they were given no food.
To be continued…..