The slaughter of the Jews of Silale
Leyb Koniuchowsky collected 121 testimonies from Holocaust victims, which were made public in: The Lithuanian Slaughter of its Jews: The Testimonies of 121 Jewish survivors of the Holocaust in Lithuanian, recorded by Leyb Koniuchowsky, in Displaced Persons’ Camps (1946-48).
My speech at the Cape Town Holocaust and Genocide Center on October 27, 2022 is here:
THE SLAUGHTER OF THE JEWS OF LAUKUVA AND SHILALE
The testimony of Mrs Leye Shapiro-Rudnik, born in Utena on November 26, 1911. Completed the Hebrew gymnasium in Vilkomir in the year 1929, and the teachers’ seminary in Telshe in the year 1931. Father’s name; Tsivian; mother; Khaye. After finishing the teachers’ seminary, Leye left Utena and settled in the small Lithuanian town of Shilale, where she was a teacher in the elementary school. There Leye married Eliyohu Shapiro in the year 1934. They lived in Shilale. Leye’s parents continued living in Utena.
Two weeks before the war broke out on June 22, 1941, Leye, together with her husband and three and a half year old daughter Esterl went to Laukuva to visit her father-in-law, Aharon Shapiro.
On the first day of the war refugees from Tawrik, Shilale and other towns began appearing in Laukuva. They fled through Laukuva in the direction of Vorne (Varniai). The people from Shilale related that in the distance they saw Tawrik burning. Ten kilometers from Shilale, near the small town of Pajuris, there was a Red Army airstrip. There were many Soviet military engineers, technicians and workers who were preparing fortifications there. When the war broke out, they fled through Laukuva in the direction of Vorne. The Jews from Shilale fled together with them. Some ten Jewish families escaped with the Red Army and arrived safely in the Soviet Union. Some of the young men fell on the front. The others survived, and returned to Lithuania after the war.
The refugees from Shilale in Laukuva related that the Red militia, the Communist Party and other Soviet institutions had left Shilale. The civilian population had escaped to the villages.
Concerning Laukuva, see the testimony of Yoysef Aranovitz, dated October 9, 1947.
The refugees who had arrived in Laukuva caused a panic. All the Jews in town hurriedly abandoned their possessions and spread out to hide with peasants in the surrounding villages. Leye, her husband, her daughter and her father-in-law escaped to a village four kilometers from Laukuva. Friendly peasants received them decently.
On Tuesday, June 24, 1941, the Germans entered the town. The next day, Wednesday, it was announced on the Kovno radio station that all of the Jews had to return to their towns. The peasants in the villages were strictly warned not to hide any Jews. On Friday, June 27 all of the Jews of Laukuva left the villages and returned to their homes.
Several Jewish homes in town were burned. All of the Jewish homes had had their doors ripped out, their shutters and windows broken, and had been thoroughly looted by the local population. The Jews couldn’t bring back to town the few things they had brought along by horse and wagon to the villages, because their horses had been taken away.
Lithuanians with white ribbons on their sleeves who called themselves partisans were already lording it over the town. After the German army marched through town, the partisans took over the civilian administration.
Tadas Kelpsha, a former leader of the gun club in President Smetonas’ times, became the boss in town. He became the commander of the partisans in town.
Each morning the Jewish men and women were driven out from their houses to various dirty tasks. Lithuanian partisans kept guard while they worked. They physically and morally tormented the helpless Jews.
All the Jewish Men Are Taken Away to Camps near Heidekrug
On Sunday, June 29, 1941, SS men rode in from Heidekrug. With the help of partisans, they went into all the Jewish homes, looted them and then drove all the men into the street. Several SS men and partisans came to Leye’s home demanding gold, silver, and paper securities. They beat the Jew Yoyel Levy, who had nothing to give them. Leye wore a golden chain; she took it off and gave it to the SS so that they would stop beating Yoyel.
The SS and partisans drove all the men out of their homes, including Yoyel Levy, Leye’s husband Eliyohu, his father Aharon, and Yoyel’s son-in-law Shnayder. All the men who were driven out were taken to the marketplace by the partisans and German SS men. There all the Jewish men in town were herded together.
In the marketplace the men were tormented with various calisthenics. They were forced to run fast and fall down, and then they were lined up in rows. The murderers took whatever they pleased from anyone. They took watches, knives, money, wedding rings and the like.
All of the men were loaded onto two trucks and taken away in the direction of Khveidan. Each truck had a trailer attached, on which the SS men, armed with machine guns, rode comfortably. (Concerning the subsequent fate of the men who were taken away, see the testimony of Yoysef Aranovitz.)
Arrests, Robberies, Torture of Women at Work
The women and children continued to live in their houses. The partisans and the German SS men assured the women that at a certain time they too would be taken to join their husbands. The women were naive, and still believed everything.
A short time after the men were taken away, partisans arrested two sisters,·Reyze and Reyzl Khayet, a girl named Reyze Sharanovitz and the youth Shloyme Shnayder. All four arrestees were accused of Communist activity and were interned in a small prison in the Lithuanian elementary school.
Reyze Sharanovitz managed to gain her freedom. At the outbreak of the war, the youth Shloyme had escaped from town, and had hidden at a friendly peasant’s home. He could stay there no longer, and returned to town. The partisans immediately spotted him and took him to prison. The partisans also sought a girl named Shviler, a Communist. The girl had changed her name to Kagan. While searching for her through all the Jewish homes, the partisans robbed and beat the Jews.
These three Jewish prisoners were taken out to work every day. Every morning partisans would come to take women off to various jobs, sweeping the streets, doing the laundry and washing the floors in the partisans’ homes and offices, and so forth. Every day the partisans went to the Jewish homes taking away more possessions. The women had to surrender their cameras, gold, paper securities, footwear, and Lithuanian national flags. The women had to bring their radios to the partisans’ headquarters.
The women and children waited each day to be taken to join their husbands and fathers. They had their things packed, and slept in their clothes at night. They waited and waited, but nothing happened.
Women and Their Children Locked Into the Study House
The women received neither any letters from their husbands, nor any news of them. Approximately three weeks after the 80 men were taken away, the two sisters and the youth Shloyme Shnayder were taken to the study house. They took all of the benches, lecterns, tables, books and Torah scrolls out of the study house. They threw everything into a heap in the courtyard. They swept out and cleaned the study house. Partisans stood by as they worked, hurrying them along. No one understood why everything had been thrown out from the study house into the yard.
The women took the Torah scrolls and some of the books from the yard and took them to the wife of the town slaughterer, who lived near the study house.
Several days after the study house had been cleaned out, at seven in the morning, the partisans surrounded the Jewish women’s houses. They forbade anyone to open their doors or shutters. Through a crack, Leye saw women and children being driven into the study house. They had small packages in their hands. In the street could be heard the moans and weeping of woman and children.
Leye herself packed up the things she needed, and along with the rest of the women, she went voluntarily to the study house. Other women and children were taken out of bed by the partisans and they were driven into the study house wearing nothing but their night shirts. They were not permitted even to take along a small package, not even their overclothes. In the course of three or four hours the partisans had driven all the women and children into the study house.
They set a watch around the study house. No one was permitted to go out, nor was anyone allowed in to see the women. The women and children lay on their little packs on the floor. It was very crowded. The shouts and tumult of the children and the women’s wails could be heard throughout the town. The partisans threatened to throw in hand grenades. The weeping and shouting didn’t stop. They assured the women that they would soon be taken to their husbands and fathers in Lublin. The women believed them, and calmed down somewhat.
One market day peasants came to the study house to see the Jews, just like people go to see animals in a circus or a zoo. The partisans would let the peasants in. Other peasants threw in pieces of bread, as if to animals in a cage. The air inside was suffocating. Apparently the roof was damaged, and it rained in on the women and children stretched out on the floor.
Once all the women and children were taken out into the yard and lined up in rows. One of the partisans smilingly ordered everyone to sing the International. Then he warned the women that they had to surrender their gold, silver, rings, golden earrings, watches and the like. He threatened to shoot on the spot anyone who hid anything. The women surrendered everything they still had. Then they were driven back into the study house. The women and children were kept in the study house for exactly one week.
The Women and Children in the Compound at Gerul (Geruliai)
One morning when it was raining very hard outside two trucks drove up to the yard of the study house. The partisans told the women that they were being taken to their husbands and fathers, and ordered them to leave the study house with their packs. The women and children were loaded into the trucks like herring in a barrel. They were taken to the compound at Gerul, 12 kilometers past Telshe. The women were taken from the study house in two separate groups, on two days. On the way the women and children bitterly wept and screamed.
When they arrived at the compound at Gerul, the Laukuva women and children “settled into” stalls for horses on cots stacked two high. The partisans from Telshe took everything the women had brought along from Laukuva in exchange for letting them into the stalls.
In Gerul the women from Laukuva found women from the Reiner compound and from compounds at Visevyan who had previously been brought in. The women from Laukuva found out from these women that the men in the Reiner and Visevyan compounds had been shot. That was when the women from Laukuva first comprehended the fate of their husbands who had been taken away.
Concerning the life of the women and children in the Gerul compound and their tragic slaughter on Saturday, August 30, 1941, as well as about the further hard life of a few surviving women who were taken from Gerul into a ghetto in Telshe, see the testimony of Malke Gills, Yente Alter-Gershonovitz and Khane Golembo.
When the women and children were taken from Laukuva to the Gerul compound, the Jewish community in town was completely liquidated. The town was Judenrein.
All of the Jews’ non-moveable possessions were inherited by Lithuanians from town and from the villages, particularly the partisans and their families.
After the war Leye Shapiro was in Shilale, Laukuva and Telshe. She found out that a woman from Laukuva, named Khave Kagan, and her 13-year-old daughter Minele had escaped from the Telshe ghetto. Some time later her dead body was found in a sack in a lake. Minele was found in a village, with multiple stab wounds.
The girl from Laukuva, Reyze Sharanovitz had also escaped from the Telshe ghetto. She was caught some time later. Kelpsha got some peasants drunk. They took her to the old Jewish cemetery in Laukuva, raped her there and then gouged out her eyes, knocked out her gold teeth and finally shot her.
Tawrik County, a small town 33 kilometers from Tawrik, 40 kilometers from the former German border. Between Shilale and Tawrik there is a first-class gravel road.
Some fifty Jewish families lived in town until the outbreak of the war. The majority of the Jews were engaged in commerce and artisanry, and a few were engaged in agriculture. The economic condition of the Jews in the town was not bad. Many Jews received support from their relatives overseas.
The town possessed a Hebrew elementary school, a folks’ bank (until 1940), a Yiddish-Hebrew library with a considerable number of books and a brick study house.
After completing the Hebrew elementary school, some of the town’s young people studied in the Hebrew gymnasiums in Tawrik and Kovno. Most of the Jewish youth in town were members of Zionist organizations until 1940. A very small minority were active in the illegal Communist Party.
During the regime of President Smetonas the attitude of the Lithuanian population toward the Jews was good until the war broke out.
At some point while Leye and her family were in Laukuva, two young boys from Shilale came to Laukuva. They explained that they had been hiding in the countryside. The peasants didn’t want to keep them any longer, and they had gone home to Shilale. On the way they found out that their lives would be endangered in Shilale, and so they went to Laukuva instead. The two boys were the brothers Eliyohu and Yekhezkl Kaplan. They reported that in Shilale the Jewish dentist Misha Bandalin had been arrested, along with a girl named Libe Zelikman and several other Jews. They had been accused by the partisans of belonging to the Communist Party. The women, men and children were still living in their homes.
While Leye was with the other women in the Laukuva study house, the police chief of Shilale came with a letter from Yokheved Bandalin. The letter reported that her husband, Misha Bandalin, was no longer living. She wrote nothing concerning the rest of the men in town. Yokheved advised Leye to come and be together with her in Shilale. She also told Leye that later on, if Leye wanted to, the police chief would agree to take her to her parents in Utena, in exchanged for signing over to him the furniture in her home in Shilale. The police chief actually came from Shilale to ask Leye to sign over her furniture to him.
Leye did so, hoping to retrieve her furniture after the war. The police chief (whose wife’s name was Kukshtaite) told Leye that the women and children were living in their homes and were well. The men had all been shot. When Leye asked why the men had been shot, the police chief responded: “Buvo toks incidentas” – there was some sort of incident. He told her nothing else concerning the men.
Leye later found the following concerning the “incident:” A short time after the Germans arrived in Shilale, partisans drove out all the men from their homes and drove them into the study house. The partisans did everything they could to get rid of the Jews as fast as possible and to inherit their property.
Once the partisans announced to the Jews that the Red Army was returning, and they pretended to begin to flee themselves. The Jews became confused, and began running away from the study house. The partisans opened fire from all sides, shooting into the study house through the windows. There were many dead and wounded.
After this incident, the partisans led out all the men from the study house to the Jewish cemetery and shot everyone. The wounded in the study house and the arrestees in prison, including Misha Bandalin, were shot at the Jewish cemetery the same day. Leye believes that this happened during the third week of the war. (It was on Friday, July 18, 1941. See the testimony of Sender Linkimer concerning the slaughter of Jews in the town of Koltinan [Kaltineniai] — LK)
The Jewish doctor Moyshe Zaks had married a Lithuanian woman. While the men were being taken to the Jewish cemetery to be shot, the town’s mayor, Birzhishka, and other Lithuanians stood up on Moyshe Zak’s behalf and also tried to rescue him, because of his Lithuanian wife. Apparently there was a German present at the shooting of the men as well. He shouted, “Alles kommt mit.” Dr Zaks was shot that day as well. Among those shot at the Jewish cemetery that day was the town rabbi of Shilale, Rabbi Ziv.
The Slaughter of Women and Their Children
Leye spent a short time in Shilale after the war. There she met a young Jewish girl who had survived, named Hode Miler. Hade told Leye that some time after the men had been shot, the women and children had been herded together into a ghetto near the edge of town, in a few houses. A few Jewish families were granted the privilege of staying in their homes. Among these families were Hode and her two sisters. Hode’s two brothers had been shot along with the rest of the men at the Jewish cemetery.
Hode was the mediator between the partisans and the Jewish women in the ghetto. The partisans exploited Hode, using her to cheat the women out of everything they owned; gold, money, valuables, everything. The partisans assured the women that they would not be evacuated anywhere. The women gave everything away, believing the reassurances of the Lithuanian murderers.
In town the Lithuanian inhabitants constantly insisted to the women that they were going to be shot. On one occasion the rumor was taken quite seriously.
Hode’s sister, coincidentally named Rokhl-Leye, could no longer stand her great sorrow over her two murdered brothers. She also sensed that the women and children’s days were numbered. She took a bottle of pickling acid and went to the grave of her two murdered brothers. She poisoned herself. She returned to town from the cemetery pale and shattered. Bloody foam was running from her mouth. She was taken to the Lithuanian hospital in Tawrik, where she died.
One morning partisans surrounded all of the homes in the ghetto and wherever else Jews were still living in town. All of the women and children were loaded into trucks and taken seven kilometers from Shilale to a forest called Tubiniai, not far from the village of the same name, where all the women and children were shot.
Together with the women and children from Shilale, all of the women and children from the town of Pajuris, as well as Mrs Dvoyre Glezer and her children from the village of Tubiniai were shot as well on the same day at the same place.
Two Jewish families had lived in Tubiniai until the outbreak of the war. One of them was Yitskhok Glezer’s family.
The women and children were forced to strip naked before they were shot. After the shootings the partisans boasted that Mrs Tamara Arenberg, nee Muler, had refused to allow the partisans to take her two children’s clothes off, and hugged them both tightly. The partisans shot her and her two children in this position. Tamara was from Ponevezh (Panevezhys). Her husband was the Veterinarian in Shilale. He was from the city of Marijampole. He was in the Soviet Union during the German occupation, and survived.
After shooting the women and children in the Tubiniai forest, the partisans returned with their trucks, singing Lithuanian nationalist songs. While they drove though the villages they threw the peasants things which had belonged to the murdered Jewish women and children.
When the Jewish houses were being surrounded, Hode’s second sister was getting dressed. She ran out through the window and tried to escape. A partisan shot her in the yard of her house. Her name was Hene.
Hode managed to escape. She hid with peasants in the villages and survived. She was greatly helped by the peasant Aushra, who had been a coachman for her parents before the war. Hode married the coachman, and lives in Shilale.
Hode told Leye that after the war a Soviet commission had opened up the mass grave of the women. The bodies of the women and children had not yet decomposed. Both the women and children lay naked in the mass graves. Hode was personally present at the opening of the graves. Almost all of Shilale was burned out, especially the center of town where the Jewish homes had been. The study house was not burned, and is still intact today. Only the windows have been broken, and covered over with boards.
Among the Lithuanian partisan murderers who actively participated in slaughtering the town’s Jews, or who robbed and tortured Jews, Leye Rudnik remembers the following:
- The police chief in town, whose wife’s maiden name was Kukshtyte.
- The partisan commander, a tall, blond former gymnasium teacher named Sungaila.
- The mayor, Birzhishka.
- A blond partisan who was a former teacher in the Lithuanian gymnasium, named Meijeris.
- The director of the Lithuanian elementary school in Shilale.
- The son of Shilale’s pharmacist, a student named Gaudeshius.
The town’s “intellectuals” always stayed in the background, inciting the murderers against the Jews. They constantly went to Tawrik asking for permission to slaughter the Jews of Shilale. After the men were shot the “intellectuals” had a party, at which they greeted each other with the wish: “That’s how it should always be!”
Leye and her daughter Esther were among the 500 women who were selected to be sent to the Telshe ghetto, before the women and children of the Gerul camp were slaughtered on Saturday, August 30, 1941.
(Concerning the slaughter of the women and children in the Gerul camp and the slaughter of the Jews in Telshe, see the testimony of Malke Gills, Yente Alter-Girshovitz and Khane Golemba – LK)