- THE SLAUGHTER OF THE JEWS OF ŠVENČIONĖLIAI
The testimony of Fayve Khayet, born in Švenčionėliai on May 5, 1915. He graduated from a Yiddish elementary school there. He is a shoemaker by trade. He lived in Švenčionėliai his entire life, until the slaughter of the Jews.
Geographical Setting of the Town
Švenčionėliai is located twelve kilometers from Švenčionys. Near the edge of town flows the Zhemiane river. Švenčionėliai has a railroad station on the line from Vilnius to Dvinsk. There is a highway between Švenčionys and Švenčionėliai. Until Poland collapsed in the fall of 1939 Švenčionėliai was part of Poland. When Vilnius and the surrounding region was assigned to Lithuania that same year, Švenčionėliai was also assigned to Lithuania.
The Population and Their Occupations
About 5,000 residents lived in town. Among them were roughly 1,500 Jews. The majority of the Christian residents were Poles, along with a smaller number of Lithuanians. The surrounding villages were populated entirely by Lithuanians.
The Jews in town were engaged primarily in trade. A smaller number were artisans, and there were a few farmers.
The town had the following larger Jewish enterprises:
- A mill belonging to the Jew Yisroel Portnoy.
- A mill and a sawmill belonging to Borukh Sriro and his father.
- A lemonade factory belonging to Khone Rutshteyn.
- A woollen boot factory belonging to three partners, Moyshe Gurvitz, Moyshe Elpern and Khone Rutshteyn. About thirty people were employed at that factory.
The town had substantial dry goods and hardware stores belonging to Jews. The economic situation of the town was not good on average. A large number of the Jews got by on money sent by relatives from overseas. The community bank and free loan society played an important role in the economic life of the Jews.
The Cultural Life of the Jews
The town had a Hebrew elementary school and a Yiddish elementary school, a library, an amateur drama group, an old study house, a new study house and a Hasidic prayer room.
The Folkists, Bundists and leftists among the Jews gathered around the Yiddish elementary school. The Zionist-nationalist movement, to which a smaller portion of the Jewish youth belonged, was centered around the Hebrew elementary school. The majority of the Jewish youth belonged to the leftist, Bundist or Folkist movements, or to the illegal Communist Party.
Shortly before the outbreak of war between Nazi Germany and Poland in 1939, the proportions changed. All of the leftist movements began to be persecuted, and especially the Jewish ones. Large sectors of the Jewish small town youth joined the Zionist movements at that point.
The attitude of the Christian population toward the Jewish towns people was not bad. The Jews got along especially well with the Lithuanian population in town and in the surrounding villages. This can be explained by the fact that until the collapse of Poland the Lithuanians in the Vilnius region were persecuted.
After the Red Army arrived in Lithuania in the summer of 1940 the economic situation improved for the majority of the Jews. The attitude of the local population toward the Jews was not bad. But their tolerance was forced. In private, neither the Lithuanians nor the Poles could stand the fact that the Jews now enjoyed equal rights, and even had the right to occupy positions in the government, something that had been impossible neither under the Lithuanians nor under the Poles.
The War Breaks Out
The people of Švenčionėliai did not anticipate the outbreak of war between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. The town fell into a panic. The Jews kept going to work all the same.
The next day, Monday, June 23, 1941, one day after the war broke out, German airplanes bombed the railroad station and ruined wagonloads of merchandise. The bridge on the narrow-gauge railroad one and a half kilometers from town was destroyed. A train headed for Švenčionėliai from Vilnius was strafed. A Jew from Švenčionys named Sholem Ligumsky was killed in the bombing while traveling from Vilnius. That same day he was buried at the Jewish cemetery in Švenčionys.
The same day the families of the Soviet officials and officers hurriedly prepared to evacuate. At night they escaped from town together with the Soviet authorities, and along with them went some of the young Jews who had occupied significant positions in the Party and other organizations.
Before dawn on Tuesday, June 24 the rest of the civilian authorities and the Red militia escaped from town. They were joined by a minority of the Jewish youth.
Lithuanian Red Army units had been stationed in Švenčionėliai before the war. These were units of Smetona’s army, which had been incorporated into the Red army after the Soviets entered Lithuania in the summer of 1940. A small number of these soldiers were forced to evacuate. The majority, however, escaped with their weapons and began hiding in the surrounding villages. After the major Red Army units had retreated, the Lithuanian groups became very active, and they began shooting the last retreating Red Army units in the back. Along the roads they displayed their artillery, machine guns and automobiles full of food and ammunition. They all wore white ribbons on their sleeves, and they waited for the Nazi military units to arrive. It is interesting that all of the Lithuanian army units immediately dressed up in their Smetonas period uniforms and the Lithuanian national symbol.
They fortified their position at Švenčionėliai and along all the roads. A number of Jews were killed by them. Some of the victims were buried at the Jewish cemetery. Most of these people were Jews from the Lithuanian interior who had tried to flee.
The Lithuanian army units were joined by hundreds of armed Lithuanians from town and from the surrounding villages. They called themselves partisans. They settled into town on June 24, the third day after the war broke out. The Red army units hadn’t yet managed to retreat from that area.
In town the Lithuanians began to take control of the lives and possessions of the Jews. The vast majority of the Jews did not escape town to hide in the countryside.
That Tuesday the Lithuanian murderers arrested the Jewish doctor Shloyme Kopelovitz and took him to the yard of their headquarters in town. He was shot in the yard without a trial or verdict, and he was buried there as well. The doctor had been the director of the hospital during the year of Soviet rule.
That same Tuesday morning other Jews came to their workplaces. The partisans drove them away and arrested all of the Jewish employees; bookkeepers, salespeople, department directors and so forth. All of the arrestees were taken to the headquarters. Some of them were immediately robbed and released. The majority of the arrestees were thrown into the cellar of the headquarters, which was used as a prison.
For several nights in a row the partisans took groups of Jews out of the cellar and took them to the forest, in the direction of Padbrade near the Russian cemetery, and shot them there.
Among the Jews who were shot Fayve remembers the following:
- Hirshl Levinshteyn, the former chief bookkeeper of all of the co-operatives under the Soviets;
- Ruven Zilber, who had been a musician in the Jewish orchestra under the Soviets. He was aged about 38.
- Moyshe Zak, a butcher in town.
- Ben-Tsion Kopl, a fisherman aged 33. He had worked as a fisherman under the Soviets as well.
- Yisroel Gurvitzz, who had been the director of a food warehouse under the Soviets.
- Yisroel’s daughter Blume Gurvitz, who had been a saleswoman in a store under the Soviets, aged 29.
- Gershon Gurvitz, a merchant.
- A young man named Meyer Shef, a Communist.
Fayve Khayat doesn’t remember anyone else. Refugees who had been arrested by Lithuanian partisans on the roads also died that night.
That same week partisans shot a Jewish girl named Malke Guterman in the village of Great Mizhani, eight kilometers from Švenčionėliai. Malke hid there. She was a member of the Communist Youth, and she was spotted. Her corpse lay in the open field for several days. Birds pecked at her body. Peasants told the synagogue secretary in Švenčionėliai about her. But all of the Jews were afraid to leave town. Peasants buried her at a spot in the same village. Malke’s parents Dale and Bashe Guterman returned from the countryside to town after this incident. They later died at the compound.
The Volfson family fled from Švenčionėliai and hid in the village of Pakumshe, one kilometer from town, at the home of the peasant Rakowsky. After the Lithuanian army units entered town, it became difficult to hide in the country as well. The entire family rode back into town. They left their things in the peasant’s barn. Their son Motl stayed behind. Rakowsky betrayed Motl to the partisans, who shot him. The peasant betrayed Motl so that he could inherit the goods in the barn. At that time Motl was 19 years old. He was a fisherman by trade.
All these murders of Jews were carried out by armed Lithuanians, including deserters from the Red Army and other armed peasants from the countryside who called themselves partisans. It is worth mentioning that the Germans had not yet arrived in that region. The Red Army units had already fled. The leader of the partisans at that time was an elderly former officer in Smetona’s army by the last name of Kurpis, from the village of Buivid, four kilometers from Švenčionėliai and six kilometers from Kaltinenai.
After the Lithuanian military was incorporated into the Red Army, Kurpis had been an officer in the Red Army for some time, and eventually he was released from service.
When the Germans arrived in Švenčionėliai on the morning of Tuesday, July 1, 1941, the Christians in town greeted them in a joyful and festive mood. Music was played. The partisans greeted the Germans with flowers and Lithuanian nationalist flags. Partisans rode in trucks in front to show the Germans where to go, and behind them came motorized German army units. They all set off in the direction of the military compound. No military units remained behind in town. The partisans continued running the town.
They began forcing the Jews to do various jobs. Exactly two weeks later SS men, Germans with special uniforms, came to town. They took the rabbi to the synagogue. They tore up all of the Torah scrolls and stepped on them. They did the same thing to the holy books. They ordered the rabbi to leave his home and move into a room in the synagogue. They appointed him the chief of the Jews, and ordered him to provide the specified number of Jewish workers next to the study house each morning. The rabbi couldn’t carry out these duties himself, and asked a few other men to help him out. Thus a Jewish council came into existence in the town.
The Jewish Council: Anti-Jewish Decrees
The Jewish Council consisted of the following members: Berl Guterman, Yeshayohu Katz and Osher Butshunsky, all three merchants. The newly-established Jewish Council’s main task consisted in promptly providing the necessary number of Jewish workers. They would also explain to the Jews in town about all of the orders and decrees. They tried to have anti-Jewish decrees revoked. The Jewish Council became the intermediary between the Germans and partisans on one hand, and the Jews in town on the other.
The Jewish council was very involved in bribing the leaders of the partisans and the German officers, and often collected “presents” for them. In this manner the Jewish Council hoped they would be able to ameliorate the rage of the murderous partisans and Germans. The Jewish council had little success, however. Almost all of the anti-Jewish decrees were carried out, and the “presents” did nothing to help. Jews were forbidden to communicate with Christians. They had to put on special insignia, which were changed several times. Finally the Jews had to put on two yellow stars, one on their chest and one on their back. Starting at a certain time in the evening until early the next morning Jews were not allowed to leave their houses. There were other decrees which lowered the standing of the Jews in the eyes of the surrounding population.
Every morning Jews had to go to work. Partisans went to Jewish houses looking to see who had stayed home from work. When they found someone at home they would beat him. The partisans profited from·their visits to see if workers were at home. They would fill their pockets with everything they found worth taking. The Jews became paupers. During the first days before the Germans arrived, partisans carried off the Jews’ possessions to their own homes in the countryside on wagons.
When the Jews worked they were guarded by partisans, who used to torment, beat and mock the Jews. The Jews worked on the roads, carrying water and chopping wood for the partisans and Germans, and cleaning out toilets. All of the tasks the Jews had to perform had the goal of morally degrading and besmirching them.
The Slaughter of Fifty Jewish Men
On Tuesday, July 22, 1941 at 4:00p.m., partisans knocked on the doors of Jewish homes and began taking men out into the streets. The panic of the Jews cannot be conveyed in words. Before they drove the Jews out of their homes, the partisans ordered them to bring enough food for three days, as well as a towel and soap. They assured the frightened Jews that the men were being taken to work on a telephone line. Some of the men were driven out of their houses by the partisans, barefoot and wearing only underwear.
All of the men who had been seized were taken to the yard of the partisan headquarters. There they encountered German SS men, who summoned each man separately into the headquarters and ordered them to sign lists which had been prepared. Meanwhile they ordered everyone to tell them his trade, when he was born, and his first and last name.
After they signed, all of the men were taken to the cellar of the headquarters, which served then as the prison. There were a total of 48 to 50 men in the cellar. Among the men in the cellar was Yankl-Velvl Shvartz, the former head book keeper of the Jewish community bank before the war. YanklVelvl declared in desperation that the papers the men had signed had nothing to do with being taken to work, and that he thought all of the arrestees were going to be shot. His speech made a terrible impression on the rest of the men. All of them slumped in hopelessness, waiting impatiently for any news about their future.
Near the window the popular Jewish miller, Yisroel Portnoy, leaned against the wall hopelessly. He said that he had hidden goods with his neighbor Alexksandras Matzukos, and that the neighbor had sent the partisans to arrest him so that he could inherit Yisroel’s goods.
The Jews were kept in the cellar for a few hours. The door opened, and partisans gathered a group of fifteen or sixteen men, whom they took out into the yard, where a truck already stood waiting. All of the men who had been taken out were ordered to get into the truck, and they were taken away. However, no-one in the cellar knew for sure where the men had been taken. A half hour later the same truck and the same driver returned. Another group of sixteen men were taken out and driven away in the truck.
Yisroel Portnoy was among the second group. Exactly a half hour later the same truck returned once again. The partisans took the rest of the men out of the cellar. The eyewitness Fayvl Khayat was among the last group. All of the men had to sit very low in the truck, so that no-one would see them. The partisans sat on the running boards, carrying automatic rifles. When they drove past Fayvl’s house, his mother spotted him and began to run after the truck weeping wildly. A partisan who was passing by struck her and pushed her back into the house.
The truck went to a spot about 150 meters from Mayak toward the military compound, and stopped at a road in a sparse forest. The partisans climbed down from the truck and ordered the Jews to get down and line up next to each other. On a nearby hill the Jews saw piles of earth that had been freshly dug. Near the excavated earth Fayvl clearly saw the dead body of Yisroel Portnoy. Next to him lay Yisroel’s cap. Everyone clearly understood by now what they had been brought there for. With their hearts pounding and terrified eyes the Jews looked at the hill.
The third man in line was the Hasidic slaughterer in town. Fayve had taken his shoes off in the truck and left them behind. Barefoot, he was the last one to climb down from the truck, and he got into the line which was guarded by armed partisans on all sides.
Suddenly the Hasidic slaughterer shouted, “Shema Yisroel!” and began running. Partisans began to shoot and chase after him. There was a panic. Shloyme Volfson, who had one crippled arm, began running in another direction. The partisans opened fire at him as well. Both men were shot while running. Fayve took advantage of the panic to begin running in a third direction, toward a denser forest nearby. The partisans shot at him, but fortunately missed. Fayve kept running unusually fast through thick brush and deep mud puddles. His heart beat extraordinarily loudly. He didn’t even allow himself to look back. Nor did he listen to his comrades being shot. Fayve was afraid to cross over the bridge, so he went through the stream in his clothes. Utterly exhausted, he ran into the yard of his home. He was afraid to go into the house because he was afraid strangers would be there. He hid in the garbage can and waited. His father came out into the yard. Fayve called to him and told him everything. When he went into his house, his mother fell on him weeping. Fayve told everyone in his household what had happened. Other people knew very little about the incident, however.
A difficult life began for Fayve. He constantly had to hide, because otherwise he would have placed his life in danger. The partisans would have rearrested him and shot him, so that there would be no living witness to·what they had done to the men they had taken away.
Among the men who were shot that tragic Tuesday, July 22, 1941, Fayve remembers the following names:
- Shloyme Gubesky, a farmer, aged about 56.
- Avrom Klyatzko, a coachman, aged about 60.
- His son Yankl Klyatzko, aged about 25.
- Yankl-Velvl Shvartz, a bookkeepper, aged about 45.
- Nokhem Troytse, a butcher, aged about 45.
- Yankl Zlotkin, a smith, aged about 65.
- Yankl’s son Shloyme Zlatkin, a smith, aged about 26.
- Ruven Rudnitsky, a porter, aged 18.
- Ruven Nokhemson, a storekeeper, aged about 36.
- Hirsh Broide, a baker, about 18.
- Shmuel Gavende, a student, about 18.
- Moyshe Volfson, a merchant.
- Motl Gurvitz, a leather merchant, about 40.
- Motl Bank, a merchant, about 40.
- Yisroel Portnoy, a miller, about 53.
- Shloyme Volfson, Moyshe Volfson’s brother.
- Yitzkhok Milner, a teacher in the Yiddish elementary school, about 40.
- Elye Katz, a lumber merchant, about 38.
- Mendl Tzinman, a tailor, crippled in one leg.
- Shepsl Shmulevitz, a merchant, about 40.
- Mairim Flaysher, a wigmaker, 18 or 19 years old.
- Note Kimkhi, the rabbi’s son, a student aged about 22 or 23.
- The Hasidic slaughterer.
All of those listed were from Švenčionėliai. Among those shot were a number of refugees from Poland who had settled in Švenčionėliai after Poland collapsed in the fall of 1939. When the men were taken out of their houses to prison, and later when they were taken to the pit in the truck, everything was done exclusively by Lithuanian partisans, under the command of Lithuanian officers. A total of twelve men participated. None of them were from town. Fayve remembers only a few of them from the village of Mazhineliai, a kilometer and a half from town:
- Nalevaikas, a farmer.
- Goiga, a farmer.
- Garla, a farmer.
The rest were strangers from more distant villages.
The Civil Administration in Town
After the group of men were shot the partisans had to hand over their weapons. They all went to work at various spots. The civil administration in town was recruited from their ranks several weeks after the men were shot. The new mayor was a Lithuanian student named Vincenta Blazhys from a village called Kaukishkis, four kilometers from the town of Linknunys. His assistant was the Lithuanian Cicenas from a village near the town of Daugilishkis. This Cicenas had been in charge of the partisans as well before the civil administration was set up.
Some time later Blashys became the mayor of Švenčionys. Cicenas became the mayor of Švenčionėliai. The new police chief was a Lithuanian, a former elderly policeman in town under Smetonas in the years 1939-1940, a man from the Lithuanian interior. The Jewish council did everything they could to please the newly-established civil administration, and tried the old method of bribing and giving “presents” not only to the administration and the Germans, but also Christian civilians who could have harmed the helpless and defenceless Jews. Those who had control over the lives of the Jews did everything they could to get rich at the Jews’ expense. They promised everything to the representatives of the Jews, but they never kept their word after they received their “gifts.”
The ghetto was established about the middle of the month of August 1941. There was a command for all the Jews to leave their houses within a short specified period of time, and move into a single neighborhood on Kaltinenai Street. There was no fence around the ghetto neighborhood, nor was it guarded. The Jews were not allowed to leave the neighborhood. The Jews were not allowed to go to the market to shop, either. There were “good” Christians who shopped at the market for Jews. But the Jews had to pay a great deal more. Buying some food for the Jews became a side income for many Christians, a way of getting rich quick. But the Jews had no alternative, and they traded their better possessions for food.
The Jews had to report near the study house for work every morning. From there they were taken to do various tasks at the railroad station, repairing the roads, and so forth. It was not possible to do any cultural or social work in the ghetto. The Jews fell into an apathetic mood which gradually sank into desperation, however, religious practice continued to be observed even in the ghetto.
The Jews in the ghetto did not receive any news from surrounding towns. They had no idea about the total slaughter of the Jews in all of the smaller towns in Lithuania. The ghetto residents did not believe various rumors passed on to them by peasants about the slaughter of Jews.
The Liquidation of the Švenčionėliai Ghetto
On Friday, September 26, 1941, the day before the Sabbath between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the partisans in town received weapons and surrounded the ghetto neighborhood. All of the roads around the town were guarded. There was a panic in the ghetto. The weeping of women and children could be heard throughout the town. In the evening some of the Jews tried to escape from town. However, they were seized by partisans, who murderously beat the Jews they had arrested, stole their better clothing and brought them back into the ghetto.
All night the Jews were awake. Pious Jews said Psalms and their final confession before dying, and got ready for death. On the morning of the Sabbath between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, at 5:00 a.m. groups of partisans drove the Jews out of their houses and stated that everyone was being taken to work. They permitted the Jews to bring along packages in their arms.
All of the Jews, men, women, the elderly and the sick were herded to a single spot in the street in the ghetto.·From there the partisans marched all the Jews on foot across the river to the military compound. The elderly, weak, sick and the children were taken in wagons which had been brought in. All of the Jews were taken to the compound, about a kilometer and a half from Švenčionėliai. That same day all the Jews from the surrounding towns in Švenčionys county were also brought to the compound.
At the compound the Jews were herded into barracks. The barracks and the compound were surrounded by a heavy guard consisting of wellarmed partisans.
Fayve Khayat hid before the Jews were taken from Švenčionėliai. Unable to stand being in his hiding place any longer, and seeing that the Jews in the compound weren’t being shot, Fayve went to join his family at the compound. (Concerning the life of the Jews who had been herded together in the compound, see the testimony of Fruma Hochmann and Dr Taraseysky – LK)
Fayve didn’t stay at the compound long. Some of the Jews who had special trades were able to get themselves released from the compound in exchange for large sums of money. When one such group was taken from the compound to Švenčionys, Fayve joined them and managed to get back out of the compound. This happened on the evening of Tuesday, October 7, the second day of Sukkot 1941.
On the morning of Wednesday, October 8, the first day of Hol Hameed Sukkot 1941, all of the professional specialists who had been brought from the compound, as well as the specialists who had been left behind in Švenčionys, had to gather at the market place. It was said that all of the specialists who had been left behind as well as those who had been brought from the compound were to be signed up and given special passes. The naive Jews believed this, and went to the market place. 150 Jews were arrested and taken back to the compound, where they were shot.
On Wednesday, October 8 and Thursday, October 9, the first and second days of Hol Hamoed Sukkot, all the Jews at the compound were shot.
When all the Jews in Švenčionys were ordered to report at the market place on Wednesday morning, Fayve Khayat did not go. Instead he hid in an attic. In this manner he continued living in Shventziortys.
In the Švenčionys Ghetto
The surviving Jews in Švenčionys and the specialists who had been brought from the compound on Wednesday were settled into a single neighborhood at the synagogue yard. The Jews themselves had to construct a fence around the neighborhood. A Lithuanian policeman was posted at the gate. A Jewish ghetto police force was also established.
A Jewish Council was organized, headed by Meyer Shukhman, a lumber merchant from Švenčionys. Later Dr Binyomin Taraseysky became the chairman of the Jewish Council. During the course of the winter of 1941-1942 and especially in the spring of 1942 many Jewish survivors of the slaughters in the White Russian towns came to the ghetto, and it became full of Jews from outside. Jews were brought from Vidz into the Švenčionys ghetto, but the ghetto neighborhood was not enlarged.
Fayvl Khayat began to work for a shoemaker named Berla Kharmatz, who worked for Germans. He was given a pass and registered.
The Resistance Movement in the Švenčionys Ghetto
Some of the young people who no longer believed the promises of the Germans and their collaborators the Lithuanians, did not allow themselves to fall into the lethargic, sleepy mood of the ghetto. They began to organize and prepare to go off into the forest to join the Red partisans whose activities already began to be felt in the region. Gradually the young people began to organize in secret, and they managed to obtain weapons. They didn’t have any connections with the Red partisans active in the region, however. (For more about the life of the Jews in the Švenčionys ghetto, see the testimonies of Fruma Hochmann, Avrom Taytz and Dr Taraseysky – LK)
The Liquidation of the Švenčionys Ghetto
At the end of the month of March 1943 there was an order stating that all the Jews who had family members in the work camps could leave the ghetto and move to join their relatives in the ghetto. Some of the Jews signed up to do this and moved. At that time preparations began for the overall liquidation of the ghetto. The partisans and Germans promised that all the Jews would be taken to the Vilnius and Kaunas ghettos. Jewish policeman came from Vilnius to help liquidate the Švenčionys ghetto and move the Jews to Vilnius and Kaunas. But it immediately became clear that while it was easy to sign up to go to Kaunas, only those with privileges, including the local Jewish Council and the Jewish police, were able to sign up to go to Vilnius. This caused a panic. Everyone in the ghetto wanted to register to go to Vilnius. Everyone wanted to be closer to the Jewish Council.
Unfortunately only a few Jews were able to do so. The vast majority had to sign up to go to the Kaunas ghetto. The organized group of youth decided not to go to either ghetto, and prepared themselves to leave for the forest with the few weapons they had acquired. Several days before the Jews were taken from the ghetto a group of 23 young men and one woman left the ghetto and went to the forests surrounding the town of Lentupis. They had six rifles, eight or nine revolvers and five grenades. They had gradually stolen the weapons from Germans they worked for.
There was a late spring that year. The snow was deep and it was cold in the forests around Lentupis. About eight or nine young people couldn’t take the difficult living conditions in the forest, and returned to the Švenčionys ghetto, which hadn’t yet been evacuated. The chief of the police who had come from Vilnius apparently wanted to have these people in Vilnius, and he registered all of them for the Vilnius ghetto. The 15 or 16 young people who stayed in the Lentupis forest, among them Fayve Khayat, constructed “a roof over their heads” from boughs of trees, and posted a guard. They obtained food from peasants in the villages at night, with the help of their weapons. The group of young people who went to the Vilnius ghetto stayed there for a short time.
When they realized the danger facing the Jews in the ghetto they returned to join their comrades in the Lentupis forest. Seven weeks later the Jews made contact with Red partisans (in May 1943).
The Partisan Life
Red partisans had already begun operating some time earlier in that region. The young people in the Lentupis forest, however, found it very difficult to contact them. Meanwhile the group was enlarged by the arrival of three women, including both of Fayve Khayat’s sisters. The two sisters had left the Švenčionėliai ghetto to work for peasants. They didn’t return to the ghetto, and they went into hiding. Fayve brought both of his sisters to the Lentupis forest. One of them returned to the Vilnius ghetto. Rokhl Kramnik, a girl from Švenčionys whom Fayve had married in the ghetto, also came to the forest.
All of the Lithuanian citizens (most of them Jews) were taken out of all the partisan brigades and formed into a Lithuanian national Red partisan brigade, divided up into companies. Fayvl and his wife Rokhl and sister were assigned to the “Vilnius” company. The commander of the company was a Lithuanian named Apivalas, a parachutist. The company settled into the Antonov forests, between Adutiškis and Pastova.
Fayvl Khayet rested for a short time in the forest after he was wounded, but not for long. He began a life filed with danger and constant battles. Fayve was happy that he had the chance to take revenge on the Nazi German murderers and their loyal, hardworking “students” the Lithuanians, who had so gruesomely slaughtered all of the Jews of his hometown of Švenčionėliai and all of the surrounding towns.
The Vilnius company stayed in the Miadzoliai forest until the Red Army arrived on July 7, 1944, when they were liberated.
Back to Švenčionėliai
Immediately after the liberation the few surviving Jews from the countryside and forests came to Švenčionėliai. Before they retreated the Germans burned almost the entire town down. The center of town where the Jews lived was completely ruined. All of the houses had been burned.
The Jewish survivors walked around like shadows, their sorrowful glances seeking the old, prewar life. Nothing remained of their home town. There was a heap of ashes in town, and the mass grave of the murdered Jews outside the town.
Fayve and his wife Rokhl, both of his sisters and a few other Jews went to visit the grave outside of town where exactly 8,000 Jewish men, women and children were buried. The grave was neglected. Pigs and cattle grazed on top of it. No-one paid any attention to it.
Confused, depressed, his eyes full of tears, Fayve walked all around the mute, long mass grave, trying to guess where his relatives and close friends lay buried. But the mass grave was too long and too large. It had eternally buried the terrible tragedy, the last moments experienced by thousands of men, woman and children.
In the mass grave lie buried Fayve’s father Moyshe, his mother Shayne, a sister Gitl and her husband Yisroel Rabinovitz, and their child Leybele, aged two and a half, and two sisters-in-law, Taybe with her three children and Mirl with her two small children.
Fayve dug around the grave, fixed it up and put up a fence. He was joined in the task of cleaning up around the mass grave by other friends and comrades who had a personal, bloody connection to that spot of blood-soaked ground in a small forest near Švenčionėliai.
- ADDITIONAL TESTIMONY ABOUT THE SLAUGHTER OF THE JEWS OF ŠVENČIONĖLIAI
By Fayve Khayet and his wife Rokhl (see their testimony about the slaughter of the Jews of Švenčionys).
- Fayve’s cousin Mirele Rein was brought to the compound near Švenčionys, together with all of the Jews of Tzeikiniai. On Wednesday, October 8, when groups of Jews began to be taken to be shot, a Lithuanian policeman recognized her. Mirele was very pretty. She didn’t look Jewish and she spoke Lithuanian perfectly. The policeman hid her in a pit and covered her over with branches. All day Mirele watched as groups of men, and then groups of women and children, were taken out of the compound to be shot in the nearby forest.
When it grew dark the policeman accompanied her out of the compound. Mirele made her way to the Vidz ghetto on foot. She was brought to the Švenčionys ghetto with the Jews of Vidz. She stayed at Fayvl Khayet’s house in·the ghetto for exactly two weeks. She related everything at that time.
Mirele left the ghetto and sought means to obtain Aryan papers. She went to see the wife of a Lithuanian policeman who had promised to obtain the papers for her. Instead the woman reported the matter to the Lithuanian Puronas, the head of the security police in Švenčionys. At that time Mirele was fifteen or sixteen years old. She had been a member of the communist youth in Tzeikiniai under the Soviets.
Puronas sumoned Moyshe Gordon, the chairman of the Jewish Council. Dr Taraseysky went with him. Puronas demanded that they hand Mirele over. Moyshe Gordon told Fayve Khayet about this. Mirele left the ghetto and escaped to the Pastoviai ghetto, where she died when the Jews of Pastoviai were slaughtered.
While staying at Fayve’s, Mirele related that when the children at the compound were slaughtered, the terrible weeping and screaming made it sound like a slaughterhouse.
After the liberation two coachmen, one name Shmitas and the other a Pole named Schuschlicky, told Fayve that they had been forced to bring in their wagons the elderly, the sick and those who were unable to walk. When the wagons approached the pit, the partisans would tip the wagons over and throw the Jews in while they were still alive.
- It was also said that a Jewish retailer of dry goods, quite an old man, had refused to leave the barracks for the pit. Partisans shot him in the barrack.
III. A Jew named Yudl Volyak, miraculously managed to escape from the pits by the compound. He stayed in White Russian towns for some time, and then he was brought to the ghetto in Švenčionys. Fayve spoke with him several times.
Yudl reported that he had been taken from the barracks to the forest. When he saw the pit, he began running into the forest. He was shot at, but no one hit him. Yudl was very depressed, and even slightly insane. He was physically strong. Whenever he saw a Lithuanian policeman in the ghetto, he would throw himself at the man and beat him. One time he struck a policeman on the head with a shovel. The policeman was taken to the hospital.
The police chief of Švenčionys Kenstavitzius demanded that the Jewish council hand Yudl over. The Jewish police came to arrest Yudl. He resisted, with a shovel in his hands. Lithuanian police came to the ghetto to help arrest Yudl. They saw that he wasn’t in his right mind, and they put off the arrest until another occasion. Yudl was so exhausted that he fell into a deep sleep on the table in Khavesvirsky’s house. The Lithuanian police, who hadn’t yet left the ghetto, approached him while he was asleep and tied his hands behind his back. They took him to the Jewish cemetery on a sled and shot him while he lay on the sled.
The Jewish Council appointed the tinsmith Shloyme Katshizne, the tinsmith Avrom Poshimensky and Motl Faygl to bury Yudl at the Jewish cemetery. This was in the winter of 1941-1942.
- A refugee from the Lithuanian interior, the Jewish lawyer Shakhnovitz, lived in Švenčionys. He worked translating between Lithuanian and German for the town administration. On one occasion two Germans from the regional commissariat came to the Švenčionys town administration and spoke with Shakhnovitz.
The two Germans ordered that he be shot. The Lithuanian policeman Mudinys took the laywer away to the Vayshkune forest, near the narrowgauge rail line between Švenčionys and Švenčionėliai. The lawyer was shot there. Mudinys took the lawyer’s boots to the Polish shoemaker Jan Drozd in town. The shoemaker removed exactly ten thousand rubles which had been sewn into the boots, and gave them to the policeman.
Lithuanian Police and Partisans Who Actively Participated in Killing Jews
- Urbonas, a locksmith and chauffeur, who had lived in Švenčionėliai for a year and a half before the war.
- Milashius, a painter employed by the railroad. He worked as a secretary at the partisan headquarters under the Germans.
- Three brothers named Rugsienas. One a shoemaker from Švenčionėliai. The other two were in the army.
- Shimkunas, who had a restaurant at Matziukas’ on Kaltinenai Street in Švenčionėliai.
- Dilys, from Švenčionėliai, a student. During the year of Soviet rule he had been employed by the government band. His father had a food store in town. This Dilys was a leader of the partisans in town under the Germans.
- Nalevaikas, a farmer from the village of Mazhineliai, a kilometer and a half from Švenčionėliai.
- Goiga, from Mazhineliai.
- Garla, from Mazhineliai.
- Burauskas, from Mazhineliai.
- Goiga, a railroad worker from the town of Veina, two kilometers from Švenčionėliai.
- Juozas Treinys, a farmer from the village of Kumpotzius, three kilometers from Švenčionėliai.
- Sidabris, a farmer from the village of Seniushkis, three kilometers from town.
- Teunelis, a farmer from the village of Padimeni, four kilometers from town.
- Balaweckis, a farmer from the village of Padimeni, crippled in one arm.
- Vaitziulis, from the town of Kedainai, eventually worked as the spokesman for the police chief of Švenčionėliai.
- Mudinas, a farmer from the town of Ignalina.
- Gimzhiunas, a farmer from Ignalina.
- Baranenos, from the village of Shakelishkis, one kilometer from the town of Kaltinenai.
- Kupris from the village of Datinani, four kilometers from Švenčionėliai.
- Kurpis, a former officer in Smetona’s army. Under the Germans he became the leader of the partisans in Švenčionėliai. He was from the village of Buivid.
- Jakshys, two brothers. One of them had been a shoemaker before the war, and the other was a leather dealer. Both of them were from Švenčionėliai.
Fayve Khayet and his wife Rokhl do not remember any more names.