Leyb Koniuchowsky collected 121 testimonies from Holocaust victims, which were made public in: The Lithuanian Slaughter of its Jews: The Testimonies of 121 Jewish survivors of the Holocaust in Lithuanian, recorded by Leyb Koniuchowsky, in Displaced Persons’ Camps (1946-48).
My speech at the Cape Town Holocaust and Genocide Center on October 27, 2022 is here:
Lithuania did not punish a single Holocaust perpetrator, instead, the government of Lithuania deem many of the murderers as their national heroes.
THE SLAUGHTER OF THE JEWS OF SHVEKSHNE (SVEKSNA)
The collective testimony of:
- Moyshe Ment, born in Shvekshne on December 15, 1904. Completed elementary school. A horse trader and farmer. Father’s name; Khayem; mother; Yehudis.
- Naftoli Ziv, born in Shvekshne on October 25, 1924. Finished four grades of Lithuanian gymnasium in Shvekshne. A student by occupation. Father’s name; Moyshe; mother; Peshe-Rokhel Krom.
- Meir Shmulovitz, born in Shvekshne on February 26, 1910. Completed elementary school. By trade a butcher. Father’s name, Hirshe; mother, Ele Ladon.
- Yiskhok Markushevitz, born in Shvekshne on June 1, 1914. Completed elementary school. By trade, a butcher. Father’s name, Avrom-Eliyohu; mother, Tobe-Leye Glezer.
All of these people had spent their entire lives in Shvekshne. When the war between Hitler’s Germany and the Soviet Union broke out on Sunday, June 22, 1941, they were in Shvekshne.
Shvekshne is in Tawrik County, 60 kilometers from Tawrik and 18 kilometers from Nayshtot, 7 kilometers from the border of the Memel region, after that region was taken from Lithuania by Hitler Germany in the year 1939.
A gravel road connects the town with Verzhan (Veivirzheniai) and with Nayshtot. A highway connects Shvekshne with Heidekrug (Shilute) and Memel.
The Jewish Population and Their Occupations
In the year 1924 the entire town was burned down. The Jews in town received assistance from their relatives in foreign countries, especially from the United States. With great stubbornness and dedication the Jews managed to rebuild their homes, which they had to make out of brick.
(The government had forbidden the building of any wooden houses in the center of town- LK)
They improved their hometown, putting in sidewalks, gardens and orchards. The town was reborn, young and beautiful. Shvekshne was one of the nicest towns in Tawrik County, and the Jews loved their new town.
The Jews in town used to boast about their beautiful park, where the young people enjoyed spending their free time. After lunch on Sabbath afternoons in the summer, the Jews in town would go walking in with their wives and children. The young people played and enjoyed themselves in the park. Even a number of religious Jews with beards could not resist the temptation to fill their lungs with the pure, fresh air in the park. The park was located on the estate of Count Plater. The count’s palace was also on the estate.
One part of town that Jews had avoided for generations was Verzhan Street. It was written in the town chronicle that Jews must not dare to build or to live on Verzhan Street. The chronicle told of an incident that had happened in Shvekshne generations previously: Many years ago, it had been the custom to lead funeral processions to the Jewish cemetery along Verzhan Street.
Once, during a funeral, the Christian residents threw stones at the procession, and many people were wounded. The rabbi at that time placed a ban on the street, and strictly forbade Jews to live there. The Jews who were then living there had to move to other streets. No more funerals went by way of Verzhan Street. And down to the present, Jews did not live on that street, nor did they build there.
Up to the outbreak of the war, about 110-115 Jewish families lived in Shvekshne. Most of them were occupied in retail trade and artisanry. A small proportion was also occupied in agriculture. But most of the Jews in town had their own gardens, cows, and poultry, and lived a semi-rural life.
The mill in town belonged to the brothers Hillel and Mende Yavner. There were also large manufacturing concerns in town, owned by the Jews: Moyshe Ziv, Moyshe-Yoshe Yoselevitz, Shmuel Yoselevitz and a few others. Iron businesses were run by: Mikhl Yoselevitz, Beyle Markus, Khayem Ripkin and others. The Jews carried out intensive trade with Memel, which they supplied with various agricultural products, meat and horses.
After the Memel region was seized from Lithuania, the economic situation of the Jews became much worse. Many Jews lived on money sent by their relatives overseas.
Three kilometers from town was the compound of Kaukishkiai, owned by the Jew Shayevitz.
The Cultural Life of the Jews and Their Contacts With Lithuanians
Shvekshne had a Hebrew elementary school, a heder, a study house and a synagogue. Some of the wealthier young Jews studied in the local Lithuanian gymnasium after completing the Jewish elementary school. A few studied in yeshivas. The vast majority of the Jewish youth were members of Zionist movements, where they spent all their spare time. A very small number were active in the Communist Party, which was illegal during President Smetonas’ regime.
The relations with the Lithuanians had never been good in Shvekshne. The Lithuanian youth who studied in the gymnasium were quite antisemitic. They didn’t only study science in the gymnasium. They also diligently studied various libels against the Jews, whom they regarded as their competitors in every area of life, both socially and economically. The medieval blood libel against the Jews, which claimed that they used Christian blood for matzoh, was quite successful in Shvekshne. Each year before Passover, the Jews fearfully anticipated various anti-Semitic actions.
One year during the 1930’s, before Passover, Lithuanians invented the story that a Jew from town named Ruven Srolomitz had killed a Lithuanian child to make matzoh. An agitated crowd of Lithuanians broke into his house, looking for the dead child. They destroyed or looted everything in his house.
The next day the “lost” child was located in the countryside. The Lithuanians then insisted that the Jews had terrified and then rejected the child. The Jews lived in terror all through Passover.
After the Memel region was appropriated by the Third Reich, Jewish businesses’ signs were often smeared with slogans at night, and announcements were spread calling for the Christian population to boycott Jewish businesses.
After the Red Army arrived in Lithuanian in the summer of 1940, the anti-Semites felt like whipped dogs, and shamelessly began to act in a superficially friendly way toward the Jews. The economic situation of the modest classes improved. Things became worse for the larger merchants. But all of the Jews felt like equal human beings, and were no longer afraid of the various anti-Semites.
The majority of the Jewish youth, together with the Lithuanians, actively participated in the new Soviet economic and sociopolitical life of the town.
The Outbreak of War
Soviet officers and their families lived on the estate of Count Plater. On Saturday, June 21, 1941 the residents of the town noticed a nervous mood in the Soviet military and civilian institutions. At 4:00 a.m. the next day, Sunday, June 22, 1941, German artillery bombarded the estate. The Jews in town panicked. Jews took whatever they absolutely needed, and left the town by wagon and on foot, going as fast as they could to the surrounding villages.
That same Sunday morning the Germans entered the town. The peasants in the villages immediately began to drive the Jews from their houses and farms” Some of them even threatened to shoot the Jews, shouting: “You’ve had enough good times! You won’t be singing any more Soviet songs now!” By Friday, June 27, all of the Jews had returned to town.
The Jews’ horses, cows, poultry and carts were gone when they returned. The houses had been looted by the local Lithuanians. SS men had settled in town. Military details constantly marched through town. The Jews settled in their ransacked houses. Lithuanians from town and from the countryside appeared in the streets wearing white armbands, all of them armed, content and overjoyed. They called themselves partisans and supported the Germans against the Soviet Union. Many Lithuanians who had had government positions under President Smetonas and had been replaced under the Soviets, reappeared in town bearing arms. They created the civilian administration in town.
A Lithuanian named Penkauskas became the mayor of the town. He was a farmer from the village of Jonkakliai, and the former mayor under Smetonas.
The Lithuanian Lomsargis, a townsman who had been in active service under Smetonas, was also very active.
The leaders of the polices and partisans were Lomsargis, from the village of Vilkenai, two kilometers from town, and Palauskas, a Lithuanian from town who had been a border policeman under Smetonas.
The civil administration regarded “the solution of the Jewish question” as its main task.
The First Victims; Harassment and Decrees
- A Jew named Moyshe Shapiro was one of the leaders of the town’s party committee. During the year of Soviet rule, he often helped to requisition grain for the government from the peasants. On Sunday morning he had fled the town. Peasants in the village of Kurmiai recognized and detained him. As it was later retold, Moyshe defended himself, and fired several shots. One of the attackers was wounded. The peasants caught him, murderously tormented and beat him, finally cutting open his belly and stuffing it with grain. Moyshe was buried at the non sectarian cemetery.
- During the first several days after the arrival of the Germans, partisans arrested the young brothers Yekhiel and Leyzer Laden, and the female Communists Zelde Luria, Blume Itsikovitz (Gales), and Aida Ladon.
The three girls were shot by the partisans in the town park on Saturday, June 28, 1941. It was said at the time that another Jewish girl had been shot in the park the same day. Details are not available. The two boys were kept in prison until Friday, June 27. Then they were taken to the study house. From there they were taken the next day, Saturday, along with other men to the camps around the town of Heidekrug.
- Yisroel Gesl had been the secretary of the Communist party in Shvekshne during the year of Soviet rule. When they war broke out he escaped from town to a village near Shilale, where he was chased by the German army. He returned to Shvekshne. On the way he met Jews who were coming back to town from the villages, and who advised him not to go to town. Lithuanian partisans caught him and immediately shot him at the Jewish cemetery in Khveidan on Thursday, June 26, 1941. He was buried there.
During the first days of the war the Lithuanians ordered all the Jews to deliver to the headquarters their radios, bicycles, gold, silver and all other valuables. The partisans’ staff was quartered in the former Communist party hall, at the home of the Jew Shaye Osherevitz. At the same time Jews were forbidden to walk on the sidewalks, and to leave their houses for a certain period each day. The Jews also had to put on yellow stars.
Notices saying “Jewish home” (Zhydu Narnas) were required on each Jewish house. Every morning men and women were rounded up in their homes by partisans and driven off to do various tasks, such as digging holes for telephone poles and burying fallen Red Army soldiers. The Jews had to clean out the outhouses in town. The women were forced to wash windows and floors in the Lithuanian and German offices. Before noon the Jews were allowed to go home to eat. Right after noon they had to reassemble and work until night.
Armed partisans stood guard as the Jews worked. They teased the Jews, tormented and beat them. This went on until the end of the week.
Jewish Men Are Taken Away to Camps
On Friday, June 27, 1941, at lunchtime, German SS arrived in Shvekshne in light automobiles. They went to all the Jewish homes together with partisans, and rounded up all the men above the age of twelve or thirteen. Before they took the men, the Lithuanians ordered them to bring along a tin plate and a spoon. The men were rounded up in the yard of the study house and lined up in rows. They drove the men in groups of several men from the yard into a corridor of the study house, where three tables stood. SS men sat at the tables. Others stood nearby with sticks and braided ropes. Each Jew was thoroughly beaten as soon as he came in.
The screams of those being beaten could be heard in the yard, and everyone outside was certain that those in the corridor were being hung.
At the first table the Jews had to hand over their money, at the second their watches, wedding rings and other valuables. The SS men beat the Jews with sticks and ropes at every opportunity. They might be displeased by someone’s “unmilitary” approach to the table, someone’s failure to walk or stand the way they wanted him to.
They knocked out one of Yitskhak Markelevitz’ molars. They bloodied Mayer Shmulovitz. At the third table the Jews had to hand over their documents and answer a series of questions. All of the men were registered.
After being processed at the three tables, everyone was examined by the town’s Lithuanian doctor, Biliunas, who stood in the corridor confused and upset. The doctor was a very good man, and understood what the Germans were likely to do to those men whom he would declare unfit for work. The good doctor declared all the men fit for work.
A small corridor led from the large corridor into the women’s section of the study house. In the small corridor stood a Lithuanian wigmaker named Ivanauskas, a partisan and a bitter anti-Semite. He had a hair cutter, but he didn’t cut, he ripped the men’s hair out. He cut the beards of the old Jews.
After the hair cut, the men had to immediately walk upstairs to the women’s section. On both sides of the stairs stood SS men holding sticks, who once again brutalized each Jew. The Jews could not walk up or even run up, they had to “fly” up, or else they were beaten with the sticks even more. Of course, the old men were beaten worst of all.
When they reached the women’s section, the men had to quickly join a row of men whom the SS murderers forced to do various calisthenics. The Jews had to run, fall down and get up again, over and over again without stopping. Even the old and weak men had to take part in these “sports.” For three hours the SS men tortured the Jews with these ”sports.”
It was hot outside. In the women’s section it was stuffy. The Jews were very thirsty. The SS men brought a pot of cold water, splashed their hands in it and teased the Jews, pointing: “Water!” But they did not give the Jews anything to drink.
At six o’clock in the evening the women were told that they could bring food for their husbands. The partisans took the food from the women and gave it to the men. The better food they kept for themselves.
Late at night the men had to lie down to sleep on the bare floor. They were forbidden to speak or to get up. The SS men stood guard. They spoke loudly among themselves so that the Jews would hear. They listed all the various forms of unnatural deaths that the Jews would suffer the next day. In the middle of the night they woke up individual Jews, demanded that they surrender their weapons, and meanwhile struck them.
On Friday evening, June 27, 1941, Jews were forced by German SS to take all of the Torah scrolls and holy books out of the study house and to burn them in the synagogue yard. On the same Friday evening other Jews had to take all the holy books in the rabbi’s house and in other Jewish homes to the Jewish cemetery. The Jews were forced to burn them.
The next day, Saturday morning, June 28, 1941, the SS men woke up the rabbi, Yisroel (or Sholem-Yitskhok) Levitan, and took him to the corridor on the first floor. They forced the rabbi to gather the hair from the floor and burn it. The rabbi explained to them that it was his Sabbath, and refused to obey their order. The murderers beat the old rabbi with their Browning and shot once close to his head. Yet the rabbi would not carry out their order.
One of the SS. men called the eyewitness Moyshe Ment down from the women’s section, and forced him to pick up the hair from the floor. They ignited a piece of paper, and used that to set the hair on fire. Moyshe was forbidden to drop the hair from his hands. Then they beat Moyshe and the rabbi, and took them out to the synagogue yard, to the burned Torah scrolls.
Moyshe was forced to stir the coals, which on Saturday morning were still glowing red. While stirring the ashes, Moyshe pointed out to the rabbi a bit of parchment from a Torah scroll. On the unburnt piece of parchment stood the words: “Remember what Amalek did to you!”
The SS men shot several times for no reason. The Jews in the women’s section were certain that Moyshe and the rabbi had been shot. Then the two were driven into the women’s section. In the morning of Saturday, June 28, 1941, two trucks with trailers were driven into the study house yard. The younger and healthier men were driven out of the women’s section into the trucks by the SS. When they ran downstairs, they had to “fly” down. They had to jump into the trucks without touching the sideboards, or else they were beaten once again. And the truck was high.
Two transports of 30 Jews were taken away to a camp not far from the town of Heidekrug. The rest of the Jews were taken to another camp. Altogether about 120 Jewish men were taken from Shvekshne that Saturday. The old and sick men were not taken from the women’s section to the camps.
Together with the leaders of the municipal police and the partisans, whose names have already been recorded, dozens more Lithuanians from town and from the surrounding villages took part in rounding up the Jews in their houses. Among them were:
- Stankus, a tanner who worked for Jews.
- Jablonskis, a tanner who worked for Jews.
- Zhutautas, a farmer who lived in town.
- Juozas Zhutautas, a farmer who lived in town.
- Rupshas, a farmer who lived in town.
- Jonas Rokas, an employee of Jews
- Justinas Montvidas.
- Juozas Montvidas.
- Antanas Shlajis, a fisherman.
- Petras Kaulakis, a gymnasium student, the son of the pharmacist.
- Stankus, a gymnasium student.
There were also Lithuanian women who were active partisans:
- Kungyte, a gymnasium student.
- Ona Gailute-Andriave, a gymnasium student from town.
- Bronia Kondratenkaite, a gymnasium student from town.
Dozens of gymnasium students, both male and female, participated. However, the eyewitnesses do not remember their last names.
The men from Shvekshne who were brought to the camps at Heidekrug were given physical examinations and a doctor gave them injections. After they had gone through this entire procedure, some of them were sent to the camp at Piktaten and some to the camp at Silwen. (Concerning the life of the Jews in these camps, see the collective testimony concerning the camps at Heidekrug – LK)
The Slaughter of the Rest of the Jews of Shvekshne
While living in various camps, the men found out from Lithuanians that the women and children, along with the older and weaker men had been herded into a ghetto on the Jewish street (Zhydu gatve) in Shvekshne.
The surviving men from Shvekshne do not know any of the details about their life in the ghetto and about their tragic death. However, it is known that they were killed by Lithuanian partisans between the villages of Raudishkiai and Inkakliai, six kilometers from Shvekshne, on September 20, 1941, Saturday, the 28th of Elul according to the Jewish calendar.