Part one of The slaughter of the Jews of Švenčionys is here:
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 Lithuania, recorded by Leyb Koniuchowsky, in Displaced Persons’ Camps (1946-48)
- THE SLAUGHTER OF THE JEWS OF ŠVENČIONYS
The testimony of Avrom Taytz, born in Švenčionys on February 6, 1908. He graduated from the Hebrew elementary school in Švenčionys. Avrom was the owner of a woolen boot factory and a dealer in uncured animal skins before war broke out between Germany and Poland in 1939. His father’s name was Yoysef. His mother was Khaye, born Svirsky in the small town of Adutishkis.
Švenčionys is located 84 kilometers northeast of Vilnius. The highway between Vilnius and Dvinsk passes through the town. About four kilometers from town are lakes Berezowka, Kachanowka and others. About twelve kilometers from town passes the railroad line linking Warsaw and Leningrad. The station is located in Shventzioneliai, twelve kilometers from Švenčionys. There was a narrow-gauge rail line linking Švenčionys and Shventzioneliai.
Until the war broke out on June 22, 1941, about 3,000 Jews lived in Švenčionys, along with a roughly equal number of Poles and a small number of Old Believers. The majority of the population in the countryside surrounding Švenčionys is Lithuanian. On the eastern side, especially closer to the White Russian-Lithuanian border, the villages are occupied by White Russians and a few Poles.
After Poland collapsed in 1939, and after the Vilnius region was assigned to Lithuania, Švenčionys was assigned to White Russia. Later, in the summer of 1940, when the Red Army entered Lithuania, Švenčionys was reassigned to Lithuania.
The Economic and cultural Conditions
The Jews in town were occupied in trade and artisanry, and there were a few farmers. Among the larger Jewish enterprises the following must be mentioned:
- A woolen boot factory belonging to the Jewish businessmen Avrom Taytz and his brother.
- A woolen boot factory belonging to the brothers Shmuel and Yisroel Volotzky.
- A woolen boot factory belonging to the brothers Khayem, Shoyel and Yakov Vilkomirsky.
- A woolen boot factory belonging to the Jewish businessman Motl Kurlyantshik.
- A woolen boot factory belonging to the Jewish businessman Aron Ginzburg.
- A woolen boot factory belonging to the Jewish businessman Vulf Ginzburg.
- A woolen boot factory belonging to the Jewish businessman Binyomin Shapiro.
- A woolen boot factory belonging to the Jewish businessman Berl Shapiro.
- A woolen boot factory belonging to the Jewish businessman Motl Zar.
- A woolen boot factory belonging to the Jewish businessman Yakov Svirsky.
- A woolen boot factory belonging to the Jewish businessman Zalmen Gilinsky.
- A woolen boot factory belonging to the Jewish businessman Leyzer Zeydl.
- A woolen boot factory belonging to the Jewish businessman Leyzer Taytz.
Two small factories had been set up for the production of various medicinal herbs.
- A medicine factory belonging to the pharmacist Volodya Taraseysky and his brother Dr Nome Taraseysky.
- A medicine factory belonging to Ruven Abramovitz.
Among the larger businesses there was the sawmill belonging to Meyer Shukhman.
The town had substantial dry goods and iron goods stores belonging to Jews. The economic situation of the Jews in town under Polish rule was not bad. The cultural and intellectual life of the Jews in town was at an appropriately high level. The town had a Yiddish-Hebrew library, Hebrew and Yiddish elementary schools, a Yiddish gymnasium until 1933, a community bank, a Yiddish theater hall called Beys Am, two study houses, a tailors’ chapel, two Hasidic prayer rooms and so forth.
The majority of the young Jews belonged to the nationalist Zionist movement. The Jewish students studied at Vilnius University and elsewhere, including foreign institutions.
The attitude of the Polish townspeople toward the Jews until Poland collapsed in 1939 was not bad. In 1940 Lithuanians from surrounding villages and from the interior of Lithuania came to town and took over the civil administration of the town. There were no open anti-Jewish acts.
After the Red Army entered Lithuania in the summer of 1940, both the Poles and the Lithuanians carried out secret anti-Soviet activities, and they also increasingly agitated against the Jews, who had begun to feel and behave like citizens with equal rights. A few weeks before the war broke out on June 22, 1941 the Soviet officials in Lithuania exiled a large number of well to do Lithuanians and Poles into the Russian interior.
A small number of Jewish youth, all of whom worked for the Soviet security organs, participated in these deportations. The secret Fascist organizations successfully exploited the participation of these few Jews in the deportations as part of their propaganda promoting pogroms against the Jews and Soviets.
The outbreak of the Second World War
After the war between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union broke out on June 22, 1941, the Jews of Švenčionys didn’t even think of preparing to flee. The majority of them didn’t imagine that the German army would advance quickly, and they didn’t foresee the terrible disaster that lay in store for them.
On Monday, June 23, 1941 Jewish refugees from Lithuania appeared in Švenčionys, along with a large number of Soviet officials, who were retreating to the Soviet Union as rapidly as possible. A few hundred Jews from Švenčionys, most of them young people, fled to the Soviet Union that day. Most of them were employed by the Soviet institutions, and some of them belonged to the Communist Youth or the Communist Party. Ordinary Jews didn’t think of fleeing. Almost all the Jews stayed in their homes in Švenčionys, fearfully waiting for further developments in the situation, which was rapidly changing.
About twenty kilometers from Švenčionys at the compound where military exercises had been held before the war, armed Lithuanians from surrounding villages began to gather, along with Lithuanian deserters from the Red army. They began shooting the retreating Red Army soldiers in the back, and they didn’t hesitate to shoot Jews who were fleeing.
In this manner the bandits who were called “partisans” later on, shot the Jewish wigmaker from Švenčionys Hirsh Gordon on the road, along with a few other Jews. Some of the Jews had to return to their home towns because of this.
Starting on Thursday, June 26, 1941 there was no longer any government in Švenčionys to supervise the affairs of the town. Peasants in the countryside sensed their opportunity, and came to town en masse with sacks under their arms, ready to begin robbing the Jews’ goods.
Twelve kilometers from Švenčionys at the Lentupis compound there was an alcohol distillery. The peasants robbed everything that was there and got good and drunk. For reasons that are unclear, a fire broke out there. About three hundred drunken peasants burned to death that day.
On Tuesday evening, July 1, 1941 reconnaissance units from the German army appeared in Švenčionys. 64 well-armed Lithuanian partisans under the command of their leader Shvagzlis, the former director of the maistas in Švenčionys before the war, accompanied the Germans. Among the 64 was a Lithuanian woman with a limp, a teacher at the town school before the war broke out. She was a singer and actress.
There was no battle for control of the town, and it was not damaged. The next day, Wednesday, July 2, German military units began marching through Švenčionys. The Lithuanian partisans immediately took over control of the town. They didn’t allow the residents to go out into the street, in order to avoid impeding the progress of the German army. That same day Germans captured a Soviet lieutenant in Švenčionys. The lieutenant seized one German’s revolver and shot him.
As revenge for this the Germans shot three innocent Red Army prisoners. This vicious deed terrified the Jewish townspeople. They realized with whom they were dealing. The eyewitness Avrom Taytz and two other Jews buried the three Red Army soldiers. The Soviet lieutenant escaped from town.
On Thursday, July 3, 1941 announcements appeared in the streets and on the walls of houses, printed in German, Russian and Polish. They stated that Jews were forbidden to leave the town, that they weren’t allowed to go into the countryside, weren’t allowed to ride bicycles or use peasant wagons as a means of transportation. They added that if a single German was shot, one hundred of the civilian population might be threatened in retaliation. These announcements were posted by German command.
On the fourth day after the Germans arrived in town there was an order for all of the Jews to bring their bicycles, radios and other valuables to the Lithuanian partisan headquarters and hand them over. The town rabbi was ordered to provide the partisan headquarters with a list of all of the Jewish men between the ages of sixteen and sixty. At that time a Jewish committee was established at the request of the partisans. The committee’s task was to serve as intermediaries between the German and Lithuanian authorities and the Jewish townspeople. The members of the committee were: Moyshe Gordon, Meyer Shukhman, Dr Taraseysky and others. Moyshe Gordon had to assemble Jewish workers and send them to the partisans every day.
On Thursday, July 3, 1941 a Polish shoemaker named Jan Droza went to see the partisan leader Shvagelis and asked to be allowed to move back into his house, which had been nationalized by the Soviets. The commandant promised to satisfy his request. However, he explained to him that first he would have to make an “arrangement” with the Jews in town. The shoemaker was a good friend of Avrom, and communicated his conversation with the Lithuanian commandant through a Jew named Boris Brumberg. Boris Brumberg had been the vice mayor of Švenčionys for eight years under the Poles, and at the same time he had been the director of the community bank in town. Boris immediately told Avrom about this, and the very same day Avrom fled the town to hide at the home of a Polish friend of his named Eduard Romaslowsky, a former member of the town council under the Poles.
That same Thursday, July 3 Lithuanian partisans arrested eleven Jews and accused them of having Soviet sympathies. They took them away to the Tzerklishkis compound, one kilometer from town. Next to a stall near the compound the partisans forced the Jews to dig a pit, and then they shot all eleven Jews.
Among the eleven who were shot Avrom remembers the following names:
- Meyer Lisky, a smith with two sons.
- Ruven Drutz, a coachman.
- Khatzkl Kurlantshik, a merchant.
- Noyekh Kotler, a [kishkenik].
- A son-in-law of Volak, a gardener.
A deadly panic seized all of the Jews in town after this tragic incident.
The next day, Friday, July 4 partisans once again arrested sixteen Jews. They too were shot the same day at the same spot, near the Tzerklishkis compound, without a trial or a verdict. Most of those who were shot had been employees of the [potrebsoyuz] under the Soviets. Among the sixteen who were shot Avrom remembers the following Jews from Švenčionys:
- Motl Matzkin, a bookkeeper at the [potrebsoyuz].
- Borukh Levin, a [kishkenik].
- Dovid Rokhin, a shoemaker.
- Yankl Svirsky, a flax merchant.
- Avrom Volfson, a coachman.
- Leyzer Kovarsky, a merchant.
There were also young Jews from the surrounding towns whose named Avrom does not know.
On Saturday, July 5, 1941 Lithuanian partisans arrested a third group of exactly 20 Jews. Among the group was the tailor from town Yankl Veksler, who by then was working as a skilled artisan for the Germans and Lithuanians. The teacher with the limp who was working in the partisan headquarters at that point spotted Yankl and took him out of the group. All the rest of the men were taken away that Saturday near the Tzerklishkis compound and shot there. This group also contained a number of refugees from surrounding towns.
That same Saturday, after the group were shot, the partisans once again arrested a group of 20 Jewish men, along with one woman named Khasye Gurvitz. All of the arrestees were taken to the town prison and held there, ready to be shot on Monday.
The military commandant of the town was a Czech. He was also the postmaster. On Saturday evening he met a Jew named Yisroel-Elye Movshovitz in the street. Movshovitz knew German. The German commandant communicated to the partisans through the Jew that from that day on no one was to be shot without his prior knowledge and approval. He angrily explained to the Lithuanian commandant that he was the boss in town. That same day he went to the prison and personally interrogated the Jewish arrestees. After he questioned them he released all the Jews from prison. After this incident the Lithuanian cannibals calmed down for a while.
Immediately after the Germans arrived in town partisans began forcing the Jews to do various filthy and unnecessary jobs. In certain cases the partisans forced the Jew to clean out toilets with their hands. They also repaired the damaged roads, cleaned the streets, and served the Germans and the Lithuanian partisans.
Some of the Jews got steady jobs from the Germans, and received special passes temporarily protecting them from being taken away or abused by the partisans. During the first days the partisans themselves went and took the Jews from their homes to work. After the committee was set up, this was done by Moyshe Gordon, who was responsible to the partisans to see to it that the number of Jews they demanded for work appeared at the specified time. While the Jews worked they were guarded by the partisans, who bullied the Jews, beat and tortured them. After work the Jews could go home.
Avrom, his brother Betzalel and three other Jews got jobs doing agricultural work for a peasant whom they knew, not far from town. They didn’t have to work too hard there, and they had the chance to get better food. Most importantly, they were further away from the nightmare and desperation which reigned among the Jews after the three groups of men had been shot.
While a group of Jews were being taken to work, a partisan hurried them along and beat them. A boy named Alter Grazul couldn’t control himself any longer, and he shouted: “Today you’re leading us, but a day will come when we’ll be leading you!” The partisans immediately took the Jew out of town, to a field near the Tzerklishkis compound, and shot him there.
The robberies of Jewish possessions in town began immediately after the Germans arrived. In the beginning the robberies were carried out by Germans, accompanied by partisans. Later the partisans themselves robbed as much as their hearts desired.
In addition to these robberies the Jews had to provide various “requisitions” for the partisan commander. The murderer would announce to the committee what he needed, and he would order that it be provided within the allotted time.
The committee did everything they could to ease the desperate situation of the Jews. They provided “gifts” to the German and Lithuanian commandant, bribed other anti-Semites and tried to win them over. But the committee had little success. The Germans and Lithuanians accepted the “gifts,” but they did not ameliorate the situation of the Jews.
Information About the Slaughter of All the Jews in Lithuania
The Jews of Švenčionys began receiving reliable information that all of the Jews in Lithuania had been slaughtered. Individual Jewish survivors from entire Jewish communities that had been annihilated began to arrive. The committee increased the bribes it gave to the commander, and tried to find out from him what was in store for their community. The commandant constantly reassured them, saying that the lives of the town’s Jews were safe.
People began saying that the Jews were to be herded into a ghetto near the edge of town. The committee bribed a German doctor, who announced that within the planned ghetto neighborhood it would be very easy for an epidemic to break out, and that such an epidemic would be harmful to the Aryan population as well.
The committee managed to have the order to establish a ghetto in Švenčionys revoked, with the help of the German doctor whom they had bribed.
One Tuesday in August the Jews in Švenčionys learned that the partisans in Shventzioneliai had shot fifty Jewish men.
The next day, Wednesday evening, the partisans in town registered Jewish men. They wrote down the name of every Jew who was found in his house or whom they met on the street. The Jews of Švenčionys sensed that a mortal danger lay in wait for them. Some of the more cautious men hid in town, or escaped to the countryside to stay with peasant acquaintances until the roundup was over.
Early Thursday morning that same week, at about 4:00 a.m., the partisans roused about a hundred Jewish men from their beds and took them to the partisan headquarters. There they took the men’s watches, rings, valuables, money and documents. They took the men in the direction of Shventzioneliai in trucks. All of the men were shot that Thursday in a forest four kilometers outside of Shventzioneliai in the direction of the Bozenowka compound. The total number of men shot that day was 96.
Among those shot were:
- The former chairman of the Jewish community of Švenčionys under the Polish regime, the popular Jew Hirsh Gilinsky;
- Attorney Leyb Gurvitz;
- Engineer Gordon;
- Medical student Avrom-Yitzkhok Gordon, and others.
Avrom, his brother Betzalel and three other Jews were still working for a peasant not far out of town. Two of the five Jews were among the 96 men shot that day.
A peasant who had worked for Avrom before the war immediately told him about the incident. But Avrom didn’t want to cause a panic in town, and he didn’t tell anyone what had happened.
The partisans told the Jewish townspeople that the 96 Jews who had been taken away were living and working somewhere. There were peasants who even brought “greetings” from the men to their loved ones in Švenčionys. They asked for packages of clothing and food to take to the men. A number of Jews gave the peasants the things they had been asked for, believing that their men were alive and working.
Wives and mothers of the men who had been taken away gathered together to draw up lists of healthy Jewish men in town, preparing to go to the German commandant and ask to have their weak husbands and sons exchanged for the healthy men whose names appeared on their lists.
Avrom understood that he couldn’t keep his secret any longer, because the unfortunate mothers and wives were endangering the lives of the men on their list, and told the town the tragic truth about the fate of the 96 men. The innocent betrayal by the unfortunate wives and mothers was avoided.
News came from the nearby towns of Nementzine, Padbarde and others about the slaughter of the local Jews. No-one in town was in doubt any longer about what had happened to the 96 men.
At that time, roughly in the middle of the month of September 1941, partisans went through the Jewish houses and workshops and to doctors, writing a list of everyone they considered useful. Then they removed the machinery at the Jewish woolen boot factories. The Jewish doctors had to write on each container of medicine what kind of medicine it was, and everything was taken away. They took the medical equipment away as well.
The Total Slaughter
On Thursday, September 25, 1941 the assistant to the Vilnius region commissar came to Švenčionys, accompanied by several other Gestapo men.
A group of women in town threw themselves at the feet of the Gestapo, begging that the rest of the surviving Jews not be shot. The murderers didn’t pay any attention to the unfortunate women.
That same day there was a meeting in town between the newly-arrived Gestapo personnel and the local Lithuanian partisan leaders.
The Jews in town knew that the fate of all the Jews was being decided at this meeting. The military commander of the town, Metz, was also present at the meeting.
The tailor Yankl Veksler worked for the commandant, and he had gotten quite friendly with him. The commandant told Yankl the purpose of the meeting and told him to come see him to find out what had been decided. The Jews in town learned from Yankl and also from peasants that at the meeting a decision had been made to remove all the Jews; men, women and children, and leave behind just precisely thirty professional specialists, as “useful” Jews.
There was terrible panic in town. Several hundred Jews escaped from town to hide in the surrounding forests and with peasant acquaintances in the villages. On Friday, September 26 it began to be openly said in town that all of the Jews would be taken from Švenčionys to a ghetto in Shventzioneliai. Some of the Jews believed these rumors.
On the Sabbath between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, September 27, the partisans announced to the Jews in town that everyone had to bring from their houses whatever they needed and gather at the pasture belonging to the Greek orthodox priest in town. The partisans said that from there the Jews would be taken to the ghetto in Shventzioneliai, which was located at the summer barracks at the military compound. Before the Jews left their houses their furniture and domestic animals were taken away.
Peasant friends from town and from the countryside, neighbors with whom the Jews had lived their entire lives, rushed forward to show the Jews how well meaning they were and to offer their “assistance” to the desperate Jews, proposing that the Jews leave their valuables with them “until after the war.” The Jews realized that their “friends” had come to inherit their goods, and bitterly handed over their valuables “until after the war.”
All the Jews in town arrived at the priest’s pasture, except for a small number who escaped. As the Jews were being marched to the pasture, groups of partisans went through the streets, seeing to it that no-one escaped from town. Guards were also posted at the edge of town. The screams and weeping of women and children as they left their houses should have been enough to make the entire murderous world tremble.
The Jews were taken from the pasture to the compound near Shventzioneliai in wagons that had been brought in from town and from the nearby countryside. The tragic convoy was heavily guarded by Lithuanian partisans on the way.
That tragic Sabbath the partisans gathered at the compound near Shventzioneliai, the Jews from all of the surrounding towns. The Jews from the towns of Ignalina, Tveritzius, Tzeikiniai, Malagenai, Adutishkis, Kaltinenai, Shventzioneliai and the smaller communities of Daugilishkis and Stajatzishkis were also brought. All of the Jews from the larger town of Padbrade were also brought to the compound that day.
When the Jews were taken from Švenčionys the partisans left a number of “useful Jews” in town, according to the list that had been drawn up. They also released a number of “useful Jews” from the compound, and brought them back to Švenčionys. A number of people who didn’t qualify as “useful” Jews, managed to join this latter group by bribing the partisans. A total of about 150 “useful” Jews and their families remained in Švenčionys.
At the compound the partisans began “preparing” the Jews for their deaths. The helpless Jews suffered hunger, cold, terror and blows. Tormented and exhausted, they were thrown into the terrible arms of apathy and hopelessness. The partisans walked among their victims in groups, constantly robbing and beating the Jews. They would take away the better-clothed Jews to the nearby forest, take their clothes off them and shoot them. The cannibals would explain as they did this, that the Jews had been shot while trying to escape.
One woman named Abramovitz, born Kovner, gave birth to a child at the compound. The partisans threw the newborn into a pit, as if it were an old, used-up rag. The mother went mad, and suffered a heart attack. She died next to the corpse of her newborn child. The Jew Hirsh Vilkomirsky also lost his mind as a result of the torments. On Wednesday, October a, 1941, the first of the intermediate days of Sukkot, the partisans took all the Jews out of the compound and shot everyone. All of the Jews of Švenčionys county were shot and buried in a single mass grave, eight meters wide by 160 meters long. The mass grave is located one half kilometer past the bridge over the Zhemenai River, to the left, in a forest on a hill. The eyewitness Avrom Taytz attests that 6,800 Jews; men, women and children, lie murdered there.
Details about what happened when the executions were carried out in the forest are unknown to Avrom.
“Useful Jews” from town had to move into a ghetto in the synagogue yard. A number of Jews who had been in hiding came to live in the ghetto.
On Tuesday, the day before Yom Kippur, the Jews entered the ghetto. The next day, Wednesday, the partisans took all the Jews out into the synagogue yard. They separated out the “useful Jews” and their families according to a list and sent them back to their houses. They took the rest to the compound, where they died together with all the Jews.
In exchange for large sums of money, and through contacts with partisans, some of the Jews managed to get out of the compound and to be returned to the ghetto at the synagogue compound in Švenčionys. Some time later Jews were brought from White Russia. About 2,000 Jews were gathered in the ghetto altogether.
The Transports to the Vilnius and Kaunas Ghettos
The Jews were kept in the ghetto until April 4, 1943. Some time earlier, the Jewish council in the ghetto was informed that all the Jews had to move into the ghettos in Kaunas or Vilnius. Some people wrote down that they wanted to go to Vilnius, and some to Kaunas. Four railroad cars full of Jews rode to Vilnius, and the Jews were taken to the Vilnius ghetto. The rest were supposed to be taken to the Kaunas ghetto. When they arrived at Ponary, all the Jews were taken out of the railroad cars and shot on the spot. A large number of the Jews who had been taken to the Vilnius ghetto were eventually brought to Ponary as well.
Some of them were taken to Estonia, where they died. Only a small number of the Jews in the Švenčionys ghetto survived. Among those who survived in Estonia was Dr Taraseysky, the chairman of the Jewish council in the Švenčionys ghetto.
Before the Jews were taken away from the Švenčionys ghetto to the military compound, Avrom’s brother Betzalel, his wife Sonya (born Shapiro in the town of Glubok) and their three year old daughter Matele left the town. All three of them died in the ghetto in Glubok. Avrom’s sister Peshe also went to Glubok, where she died.
A Jew named Shmuel Bushkanetz escaped from the Švenčionys ghetto on April 4, 1943 and hid at the home of a peasant in the village of Nowosolsky. One of the neighbors wanted to earn a bounty and reported the Jew. Lithuanian police seized him at the home of the peasant and shot him on the spot. His corpse was consumed by birds and wild animals. There was no-one to bury him. After the liberation he received a Jewish burial.
Yitzkhok Ogulnik’s daughter escaped from the ghetto before the Jews were taken away. She hid for a short time. One of her Christian acquaintances took her from Švenčionys to her relatives in the town of Kozan. As they passed through the town of Tveritzius, Lithuanians spotted them and reported them to the police. She was shot and buried in a garden near town.
The eyewitness Avrom escaped from Švenčionys on September 26, before the Jews were taken to the compound. He went to the home of the peasant Dominik Romaslowsky, at a settlement near town. He stayed there for ten weeks. From there he went to the peasant Zlotnikow in the village of Mili, four kilometers from town, where he stayed for two and half years. Then he returned to the peasant Romaslowsky, where he stayed for four weeks until the liberation arrived on July 7, 1945.
Avrom paid the peasants generously for hiding him, with money, gold, clothing and other valuable items. Avrom suffered a good deal of terror, hunger and cold while staying with the peasants, until he lived to see the liberation.
Avrom doesn’t remember the first and last names of the Lithuanian partisans who helped to slaughter the Jews of Švenčionys. Most of them were Lithuanians from the surrounding villages, along with some who came from the interior of Lithuania. He does remember two murderers who had worked for him before the war.
- Wanke Wanagitzkis, and
- Three brothers, workers from town, whose last name was Tratzewskis.
- THE SLAUGHTER OF THE JEWS OF ŠVENČIONYS
The testimony of Fruma Hochmann, born December 30, 1925 in Švenčionys. Fruma completed seven grades of middle school there. Fruma lived in the town her whole life. Her father’s name was Peretz, and her mother was Rivke, born Bilkovitz.
After reading over the testimony of Avrom Taytz about the slaughter of the Jews of Švenčionys, Fruma corroborates everything written there, except for a few imprecise points. Fruma does find it necessary to add a number of facts which are not mentioned in the other eyewitness report:
- The number of Jews in Švenčionys was not 3,000, but exactly 2,500.
- The alcohol factory where three hundred Christians burned to death was located at Buszewskis compound.
- When the Jews were taken to the military compound about forty or fifty families were left behind, not thirty Jewish professional specialists, as reported in the testimony of Avrom Taytz.
- The episode concerning Mrs Rokhl Abromovitz-Kovner is not reported accurately. Rokhl gave birth, not at the compound, but a few days before the Jews were taken from Švenčionys to the compound.
- Fruma does not know about the group of Jews who were brought to the compound from Švenčionys on Yom Kippur, Wednesday. Another group of Jews were taken to the compound after all the Jews at the compound were shot. The second group consisted of Jews who had bribed their way out of the compound, along with a few who had never been at the compound and were staying in the city “illegally.” For more details about this, see below.
- Facts Which Were Ignored
- Three days after the Germans arrived in town, Fruma and a group of Jews were working at the garden of the Lietūkis, which was located near the Greek Orthodox priest’s pasture. The work was supervised by a Pole named Ginko. A group of Hitler youth seized about fifty elderly Jews in their houses and brought them to the Kuna stream to wash a car. After the job was done the Jews were herded into the river and forced to sit down and get back up repeatedly. One of the bandits stood on a footbridge and struck the Jews in their faces with a whip. They forced one of the Jews to fetch water in a bucket and pour it over all the Jews in the stream. Then the bandits came to the garden and poured water on the men and women there, mocking the Jews as they did so.
- One time as they were returning from work Fruma saw six Germans sitting in a cart, forcing Jews to pull them around the streets. While this was going on they made two of the Jews go away, to make it harder for the rest.
- One month after the arrival of the Germans, Fruma and a group of Jews were working in a weapons warehouse. On one occasion the Jews noticed partisans leading the popular Jewish Dr Binyomin Kovarsky through the streets. The doctor was unshaven, pale, terrified, dressed in a light summer jacket and filthy. Fruma and a few other Jews followed to see that was going to happen to the doctor. All of the townspeople joyfully went along and laughed as he was taken out of town. When he was brought close to a body of water he was forced to duck under water several times. He was pierced with needles and forced to dance on glass barefoot. Dr Kovarsky tried to jump into the water and drown himself. They didn’t let him have such an easy death. Instead they continued torturing him in various ways, and then they shot him. Dr Kovarsky was a Communist. He had given a propaganda speech on May Day at the podium which had been set up in the market place. Fruma’s father Peretz and her brother Shloyme came back from work in the evening and wept, but they absolutely refused to describe what they had seen when Dr Kovarsky was tortured.
- When the Jews were taken to the compound on the Saturday between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, Mrs Hodl Gurvitz (her husband’s name was Moyshe) hung herself. Hodl understood what the German and Lithuanian murderers were preparing to do to the Jews at the compound, and decided she would rather die in her own home.
At the Compound near Shventzioneliai
On Friday, September 26 the Jews in Švenčionys knew very well that all the Jews were being taken to the compound. There had been a decision to leave behind the specialists, the so-called “useful” Jews. The commandant in town and the leader of the partisans determined who the “useful” Jew were, and wrote their first and last names and the names of their families down on a list.
There were only two furriers in Švenčionys; Fruma’s father Peretz and his partner Khatzkl Shnayderovitz, who were employed in a workshop. Peretz and his partner were certain that they were on the list of the “useful” Jews. But the list actually didn’t consist of Jews with useful professions, but rather of Jews who were able to bribe their way onto the list of “useful” Jews with money, gold or valuables.
On the morning of the Sabbath between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur the Jews were told that everyone had to pack up everything they considered necessary and make their way to the priest’s pasture along with their families and their possessions. Partisans went to every house and announced who was permitted to stay according to the list of the “useful” Jews.
Peretz and his partner were not on the list. Neither their pleas nor their arguments that they were the only furriers in town did any good. The entire town was guarded by armed partisans. They went through the streets in groups, seeing to it that no-one escaped. Some of them went into the houses and drove the Jews out. Civilian peasants noticed the Jews’ misfortune and went to suggest that they hand over their goods for safekeeping “until after the war.” There were heartbreaking scenes when the Jews were driven out of their houses. Women parted with their husbands and children. Mothers with babies in their arms ran back and forth, not knowing what to do. The weeping and shouting echoed throughout the town, along with the murderous commands of the Lithuanians.
Almost all the Jews of Švenčionys had assembled at the priest’s pasture, except for a small number who had escaped from town. The confusion there was terrible. The entire human mass was desperate. Everyone clung to his own family, his close friends and neighbors. There could be heard the cries of mothers and children who had gotten separated in the confusion. There were the moans of the sick and the old, and the screams of little children with their mothers. The helpless mass was guarded by partisans who demanded that they keep calm, and beat anyone they chose to.
Fruma, her parents and her two brothers were part of that human mass. The partisans separated all of the men from the women and children and lined them up in columns. They placed the women and the older children behind them, and finally came the old, the sick, the weak and women with small children, riding in wagons.
Mrs Rokhl Abramovitz-Kovner had given birth several days earlier. She was thrown into a wagon near her house, wrapped in the bloody sheet, together with her newborn child. Fruma’s cousin Rokhl Bilkovitz helped place the mother into the wagon. The commandant of the partisans spotted a gold ring on Fruma’s cousin’s hand and immediately took it.
The men were led away half a kilometer in front. The women followed, and finally came the wagons. On the way the partisans constantly bullied and shouted at the Jews. They beat many of the women.
They approached the compound in the middle of the night. The night was very dark. In the distance the sky over the compound was red. As they got closer, the Jews saw a huge bonfire. Everyone’s heart pounded. Near the bonfire constant shooting could be heard. The Jews thought that Jews were being thrown into the fire alive, or that they were being shot.
The dark night prevented the heavens from being able to see the women wringing their hands, their eyes filled with tears and their faces twisted in grimaces of pain. Moans tore out from the most profound depths of the Jews’ hearts. Fruma was separated from her loved ones. Her father and her two brothers Shloymele and Avreymele were in front. Her mother rode behind.
In that moment, when Fruma was terrified that she would be burned, she comforted herself with the thought that she was alone, so at least she wouldn’t have to witness her mother, father, brothers and other relatives being burned as well.
When she entered the compound Fruma saw a huge, burning bonfire, near which stood partisans carrying rifles. When she saw the group of women being brought, they were happy and they lined up next to a barrack, into which the women were brought. When the women reached the barrack, the partisans beat everyone badly. With their last ounce of strength the women ran into the barrack as fast as possible, in order to avoid the blows.
The barrack was made of boards. It wasn’t finished. It lacked a door and windows. More than a thousand Jews were herded into the barrack. It was impossible to sit down and rest after the march. It wasn’t even possible to stand up, because it was so crowded.
Only Jews from Švenčionys were brought into that barrack. Jews from all of the towns surrounding Švenčionys were already in the other barracks. Some of the men tried to stand near the door, in hopes that as the women arrived they would be able to meet their mothers and wives. But the partisans beat the Jews and forced them to move further and further into the barrack. They repeatedly beat those who were standing close to the door.
The children impatiently waited for their mothers to come in the wagons. One hour later the wagons appeared. Fruma met her mother, and both of them went to look for her father and brothers.
Screams could be heard everywhere in the barrack. Children were screaming, “Mama! Papa!” In the darkness replies could be heard: “Where are you?” “Here I am!” With great difficulty Fruma managed to find her father and brothers in the same barrack.
In several places in the barrack women lit candles and began to arrange places for their children as best they could. People pushed each other. The curses of women who had lost control of themselves in their despair could be heard. Children wept without stop. Partisans patrolled the barracks. Like wild animals they beat the Jews who stood near the door. They beat the innocent Jews near the door as punishment for the weeping of the innocent children in the barrack and for the screaming of the nervous women.
Outside next to the barrack the bonfire kept burning and crackling. The partisans stood around joking and laughing. They looked like wild cannibals roasting their victims in the fire.
The Jews survived the first tragic night in the compound, leaning on each other, on their packs and against the walls.
On the morning of Sunday, September 28 the partisans ordered the men to say goodbye to the women and children and get ready to leave the barrack. People began to weep and scream as they parted from each other. The men were taken away. At night there was constant shooting. The women in the barrack thought that their husbands were being shot.
On Monday morning they learned that the men were in a barrack across from their own.
From evening until 6:00 a.m. the Jews were forbidden to leave the barrack even to fulfill their bodily functions. They didn’t receive any water or food. Screams could be heard, and the voices of people begging for a drink and a bit of bread. On Sunday night the partisans distributed bottles of “water” and pieces of bread. Weeping and screaming could be heard in the barrack. The partisans had deceived the Jews; instead of water they had given the women urine to drink. Needles were hidden in the bread.
On Monday, September 29 several women bribed the partisans to let them fetch some water from the nearby Zhemane River and heat it up in the fire. Although the stream wasn’t far from the compound, the partisans didn’t let anyone go to fetch water. Water slowly dripped from a faucet in the compound.
The women stood in line for hours, pushing and arguing with each other. The partisans exploited the opportunity to beat everyone and drive them away.
- One woman named Sokhar lost all hope of getting a bit of water from the faucet. She took a tea kettle and went to ask the partisans for permission to get some water for her child from the stream. One partisan shot her in the compound as punishment for her “nervy” request. She left behind her oldest daughter Sore-Leye, aged 15, and three smaller children, who bitterly wept day and night for their mother.
- A pregnant woman named Rokhl Abramovitz-Kovner lay on a board sick and pale. Fruma spoke to her. Rokhl constantly complained that she was feeling very weak, and that she was about to die. She asked for a bit of warm water. With great difficulty Fruma managed to obtain it for her. Rokhl died on Tuesday, October 7, one day before the Jews at the compound were annihilated.
- One woman named Merele Yekhiltshik gave birth to a child near the door of the barrack. Her screams could be heard throughout the entire area. The partisans beat all the women near the door in retaliation. Merele gave birth to a child. She was shot along with her newborn child and all the other Jews at the compound. Her husband’s name was Leyzer.
The Jews were forbidden to stay in the barracks during the day. All day the Jews were taken to do various jobs. They carried boards from one place to another and dug pits in the forest. The women had to clean the compound, sweep up and do various jobs.
- For several nights in a row the partisans shined flashlights at the women in the barrack through the windows, removed young, attractive girls and took them away. Some time later shots were heard in the nearby forests. The degenerates raped the girls they had chosen, then shot them and threw them into the pits the men had dug. Several of the mothers of the young girls who had been shot lost their minds. The partisans took them out of the barrack and shot them in the yard.
The bits of food the Jews had brought along with them were used up. Terrible hunger began to reign in the compound. Partisans took advantage of the opportunity to bargain with the unfortunate, starving Jews. They would charge 100 rubles, a great deal of money at the time, for a small loaf of bread.
A small number of young people were taken to Shventzioneliai to dig potatoes. Everyone competed to be chosen for the job. The Jews hoped they would be able to bring a few potatoes back for their relatives. It was quite cold at night by then. This was the terribly cold autumn of 1941. The Jews clung to each other for warmth as they slept. It was mortally dangerous to leave the barrack and warm oneself near the bonfires which were kept burning all the time. Mothers kept their children close to warm them with their bodies. There was no question of really getting enough sleep. Outside by the fire the partisans would sing, scream and laugh, or come in the middle of the night to wake up and remove women they wanted to rape and then shoot.
In order to ease the situation of the Jews trapped in this valley of tears, a committee was set up. A Jew named Shmuel Marashkin was its chairman. They obtained permission for the Jews to have a bit of food brought from town. The representatives of the “useful” Jews in Švenčionys tried to get permission to send food as well. Some food actually was brought from town.
A space was set off in a corner of the barrack occupied by the Švenčionys Jews, to be used as an office. The partisan leaders used to go there for meetings. They didn’t live at the compound, however. They came to check everything over and then rode away.
The chiefs of the police and partisans, and therefore those who really had control over the lives of the Jews, were two Lithuanians. A man from Mazheikiai named Antanas Kenstavitzius was the chief. His assistant’s name was Skarbutenis.
On more than once occasion they rode in with their wives, all well-dressed, well-fed and satisfied. The men took their wives to see the Jews living in the barracks. They would stand and laugh with their mouths wide open as they looked into the barracks. After the visit they would climb back into their carriages and ride off as their laughter resounded. Throughout the whole time there was not a single German at the compound. They were confident that their friends the Lithuanians would arrange everything just right.
On one occasion the two murderers announced to the Jewish committee that the Jews had to raise a specified sum of money as a “contribution.” If the order wasn’t carried out precisely, they threatened to shoot all the Jews. With difficulty the specified sum was raised from all the Jews, and the committee handed it over to the murderer Skarbutenis and his comrades.
Yom Kippur at the Shventzioneliai compound
Fruma doesn’t recall how the Jews observed the Kol Nidrei service on the night of Yom Kippur. She does remember the day of Yom Kippur, however. Early in the morning elderly Jews who weren’t considered “able-bodied” gathered from all the barracks. They put on their prayer shawls and the white smocks worn on Yom Kippur, and they prayed. Jews with beards “girded their loins” and carried out the thousand year old strategy that day. It was the only way left by which they could try to rescue themselves from the murderers’ hands. They all concentrated on the prayers with the utmost seriousness, with all of the passion in their suffering hearts. They all tried to make the most of their last chance to act in this world.
The Jews didn’t plead with God to be “sealed for a good year” this time. They didn’t stand before God this year like sinners asking for forgiveness, but rather as accusers with demands to make of God. From their hearts burst forth a pained shout against the murderers, a protest against God, who had so awfully forgotten and abandoned the “chosen people” at the most dangerous moment in their history.
Hundreds of eyes stared heavenward, pleading and protesting at the same time. Tears flowed from everyone’s eyes. People wrung their hands. Everyone and everything in the barrack raged, and the Jews experienced something terrible.
The slaughterer Moyshe-Mendl Berlin led the services, and his task was a difficult one this time. His trembling voice had a different sound this Yom Kippur. It wasn’t the usual Yom Kippur melody that burst forth from his wounded heart. The slaughterer from Švenčionys had the task that year of changing God’s mind, something that had not been accomplished in generations. But he sensed that he had to convince God, because an entire congregation was just a few steps away from death. And he, an innocent condemned to death along with all the other Jews, prayed with more passion and more tears than he ever had before in his life.
Meanwhile the younger men had to work in the yard, carrying boards to no purpose, back and forth. The bonfires kept cracking. Thick columns of smoke circled one after the other heavenward toward the same heaven the Jews in the barrack were staring at. Meanwhile the partisans stood happily around the fire joking and laughing at the Jews and their prayers. Some of them stood near the windows of the barracks, watching the Jews praying and pleading.
The women also prayed. In various melodies they wept and told God about their troubles, mourned for their raped and murdered daughters and their innocent, murdered fathers, husbands and sons.
Almost everyone fasted that Yom Kippur. Fruma asked her sick mother not to fast, but her mother wouldn’t listen to her.
Men came to help their wives pray and plead with God. The partisans did what they wanted to. They would interfere and laugh. The Jews fasted and prayed all day, protesting and complaining, it was the last Yom Kippur of their lives.
On Monday, the second day after the Jews were brought to the compound, the wealthier Jews began to negotiate with the partisan leader to mark them down as “useful” Jews and liberate them from the compound. The murderers obtained gold, diamonds and other valuables from the Jews. They would summon the Jews into the office. There they accepted the bribes. When a group of such Jews had been assembled, partisans would take them back to Švenčionys.
Peretz did everything he could to get himself released from the compound. More than once he spoke to the commandant, reminding him that he and his partner were the only furriers in Švenčionys. He also promised to hand over everything he possessed. However, Peretz and his partner had very few valuables. Some of the Jews offered the commandant a good deal more.
With the help of friends, Peretz sent his younger son Avreymele back to Švenčionys. Fruma could have gone as well, but she didn’t want to leave her mother. Peretz’s partner also managed to send his children back in this fashion.
Fruma’s uncle Moyshe Bilkovitz in Švenčionys managed to arrange to have his relatives released from the compound and sent back to Švenčionys as “useful” Jews. Partisans removed from the compound Peretz, his wife, and other children, along with Peretz’s partner, his wife and two other girls from Švenčionys.
When they returned to the city they found their houses boarded up. Inside, however, everything had been robbed. Only the walls and the cheaper furniture was left behind. Fruma, along with her family and the rest, returned from the compound on October 5, the day before Sukkot.
Peretz and his partner Khatzkl Shnayderovitz immediately went to work at their workshop. At that time the chairman of the newly-created Jewish Council was the Jew Shukhman.
Back to the Compound
On Wednesday, October 8 Shukhman announced to the Jews that the Germans had ordered every family to send one person to the synagogue yard. Khatzkl was very afraid of going because he was considered to have come from the compound “illegally.” Peretz was certain that his name had been included on the list of the “useful” Jews, and he reported to the synagogue yard.
Germans had come with the old list, and they separated out the “legal useful” Jews. The “illegal useful” Jews were taken to the police station, and then returned to the synagogue yard. Everyone had to go home and show his family to a Lithuanian policeman. But none of the Jews knew that preparations were being made to bring them back to the compound. Fruma’s brother Shloyme ran to the police station to find out about his father, and he did not return. Fruma ran out of the house to look for him. On the way she was detained by partisans several times because her yellow patches were not in order. By fortunate coincidence, she managed to get away each time.
When she reached the police station she found her brother under arrest, along with two other Jews. She waited for a chance to speak to him. Shloyme signaled to her that she should escape and hide as quickly as possible. When Fruma ran to her house she saw a number of strangers in the house, and policemen surrounding it. Fruma ran to her aunt’s house, where she found her younger brother Avreymele. The two young people watched their parents being driven out of their house back to the compound. Avreymele ran out to join them, but turned around and went back to his aunt.
About one hundred “illegal useful” Jews were seized that day and taken to the police station, where they were kept overnight.
On Thursday morning, October 9, 1941, the one hundred Jews were taken to the compound. That same day everyone was shot at the same spot where all the Jews at the compound had been shot a day earlier.
On Thursday morning Fruma went to see the director of the workshop to ask him to help save her family. But the director stated that there was nothing he would do. Peretz’s partner Khatzkl was afraid to get involved altogether.
Lithuanian civilians in town said that day that all of the Jews who had been taken away had already been shot. A partisan who had guard duty at the compound told Fruma the same thing. He told Fruma that it was “already too late.”
In The Švenčionys Ghetto
After the Jews were taken to the compound the rest of the “useful” Jews began to settle into the newly established ghetto in the synagogue yard and in the surrounding houses. The Jews felt thoroughly free for some time longer. Townspeople and peasants from the countryside brought food and traded it to the Jews for items the Jews still had hidden or inherited from their relatives who had been killed at the compound.
Then there was an order for the ghetto to be surrounded by barbed wire, in order to prevent the Jews from having any opportunity to come into contact with the Aryan world. Near the fence on the inside of the ghetto Jewish police stood guard, preventing anyone from going up to the fence. Later on Lithuanian town police were also assigned to stand guard outside the fence.
Life in the ghetto gradually began settling into a routine. The Jewish police, under the command of Khayem-Hersh Levin, kept order in the ghetto.
At that time the chairman of the Jewish Council was the Jew Shukhman. The Jewish Council’s main task consisted of providing a certain number of workers at the specified place and time. After receiving a requisition for a certain number of workers, the Jewish Council would send the police out with announcements telling the residents of the ghetto to report to work at the specified place. At that time there weren’t any permanent worksites at the ghetto or in town.
Fruma and her younger brother Avreymele moved into their aunt’s house. Khatzkl Shnayderovitz registered both of them as part of his family. Fruma was working on cleaning projects in town at that time. Throughout the winter of 1941-1942 Fruma worked clearing snow from the streets of the town. In the summer she worked cleaning the bridge, and at other tasks. In the fall of 1942 Fruma and a group of men and women began doing agricultural work at the Shvinta compound. They had to work from early in the morning until late at night. They all slept on the naked earth. The peasants living nearby behaved badly toward the group of Jews, mocking their appearance and their work. Red partisans appeared in the region at that time. The peasants were afraid that the partisans would communicate with the Jews, and the Jews were dismissed from their jobs. Fruma and her girlfriend Rivke Gilinsky went to work for the new police chief in Švenčionys, Antanas Kenstavitzius. The new chief had earlier been the leader of the police at the Shventzioneliai compound. He had been responsible for guarding the Jews, and then for slaughtering them.
In comparison to the work that other Jews were doing, the girls’ jobs were not difficult. Both of them did domestic work. They both received special documents stating that they could not be forced to do any other jobs. Fruma reminded Kenstavitzius several times that she had seen him and his wife at the compound, and she mourned for her parents and her brother. The police chief didn’t want to talk about that. Fruma worked for him until the ghetto was liquidated.
Fruma remembers the following incidents which took place in Švenčionys at that time:
- Two boys named Gershon Bak and Ruven Myadzolsky tried out a gun in a brick building outside the ghetto. The gun went off and Gershon was wounded. Ruven was immediately arrested and taken to prison. Gershon was taken to the hospital.
At the same time a girl named Sore Levin was arrested and taken to prison at a different location. Fruma does not know why she was arrested.
One day the two young men were taken out of the prison and the hospital along with the girl, and shot at the Jewish cemetery in Švenčionys. This took place early in 1943.
- Shloyme-Yitzkhok Shaytl and Yakov Gurvitz worked for the German commandant Beck and his assistant Grul. Yakov worked there as a heating-system specialist, and Shloyme-Yitzkhok was a chauffeur. The two commandants and a first lieutenant rode to the town of Lentupis in the car. Their translator Rakowska rode along with them. Red partisans apparently stopped the car and murdered the three Germans. They didn’t do anything to Miss Rakowska, and she returned to Švenčionys. The attack was carried out near the village of Kaznadelischki, six kilometers from town.
Immediately after this incident Germans came from Vilnius and arrested Miss Rakowska, a Polish woman, along with the two young men Shloyme-Yitzkhok and Yakov. They also arrested some of the Polish intelligentsia. They shot all of the Polish arrestees along with the two Jews at the Jewish cemetery. The incident threw the Jews in the ghetto into a dreadful panic. Everyone thought that it would end with the slaughter of the few Jews remaining in Švenčionys.
There was no cultural life in the ghetto. The children didn’t study. There were never any political, scholarly or cultural discussions. Everyone was concerned with their own personal problems, trying to survive the grim everyday reality. Gradually there began to be steady jobs, where the able-bodied Jews were employed doing various tasks in town or in the ghetto.
In the fall of 1942 Jews from the Vidz ghetto and Jews from the town of Dubina were brought to the Švenčionys ghetto.
Jews from Lithuania and from slaughtered Jewish communities in White Russia had gathered at Vidz. At that time Vidz was assigned to Lithuania, although earlier it had belonged to White Russia. Many Jews escaped from Vidz in fear of the Lithuanians. Dozens of them died while escaping. Those who remained in the ghetto were brought to the Švenčionys ghetto.
The newly arrived Jews were placed within the already-existing Švenčionys ghetto. No more houses were added to the ghetto. The Jews who had been brought in were placed in the synagogues. Exhausted from their lives in the Vidz ghetto, they had to do the best they could in the synagogues. A large number of Jews had been brought in, and the Švenčionys Jews could offer them little material help.
The Work Camps at the Švenčionys Ghetto
In addition to the camps in Padbarde and later in Dukhstas, there was also a Shventzioneliai work camp attached to the Švenčionys ghetto. A large number of able-bodied men and women who had come from the White Russian towns and from Vidz were transferred to this work camp. The living conditions at the labor camp were difficult. The working conditions were worse. Their situation was eased by the fact that every Sunday they were allowed to visit the Švenčionys ghetto, visit their families, wash up and get their things in order.
The Jewish camp director Yudl Shapiro, who had been sent there from the Vilnius ghetto, caused the Jews in the camp a good deal of unnecessary suffering and difficulty. The Jews kept working at that camp until a few days before the liquidation of the Švenčionys ghetto.
The Liquidation of the Švenčionys Ghetto
Some time before the ghetto was liquidated the Germans announced through the Jewish Council that all of the Jews could move to join their relatives at the labor camps in the Vilnius ghetto. Some of the Jews left the ghetto at that time and actually did join their relatives in the labor camps and in the Vilnius ghetto.
At that time the chairman of the Jewish council was Moyshe Gordon. At the Germans’ command he announced to the Jews that the ghetto was going to be liquidated, and all of the Jews had to go to the Vilnius and Kaunas ghettos. But only those with certain privileges were permitted to sign up to go to the Vilnius ghetto.
All the rest had to register to go to the Kaunas ghetto. Jewish police from the Vilnius ghetto under their chief, Dreisen, came to help carry out the Germans’ command. A few weeks later Gens, the commandant of the Vilnius ghetto, came as well. He gathered all the Jews in the synagogue and gave a speech explaining the situation. He assured the hopeless Jews that they were not going to be annihilated. He assured them that everyone was being taken to the Kaunas ghetto, where they would be able to live better than they did in Švenčionys.
He spoke ironically about the young people who were just then getting ready to escape to join the partisans, promising them that “It’s too early to go visiting, and if you want to, you can do that once you get to Kaunas.” According to his explanation, the Jewish Council had to stay and work until the end.
They hadn’t been able to go to Vilnius earlier, when everyone else was allowed to. Gens told everyone that the Jews in the Kaunas ghetto had made the necessary preparations to receive the Švenčionys Jews, and that he would personally accompany the transport to Kaunas.
Some of the young people didn’t believe Gens’ promises, and escaped to join the partisans. Another group didn’t manage to escape from the ghetto. There was a terrible panic in the ghetto. All of the Jews tried to ride to Vilnius with the Jewish council. But not everyone had the good fortune to go along to Vilnius. All of the authority in town lay in the hands of Moyshe Gordon and the police from Vilnius, under their chief. The Jewish Council distributed special passes to those who were to be taken to the Vilnius getto. All the rest had to go to Kaunas. Fruma and her brother were included among those sent to the Vilnius ghetto, thanks to the efforts of their uncle.
On the morning of April 4, 1943 everybody finished packing. Every family was given a wagon, into which they packed their bags.
The Jews rode from town to the railroad station without anyone guarding them. They got the impression that they really weren’t in any danger. They stayed at the station with their things for half a day, waiting for railroad cars. When they got into the railroad cars they were shown which cars were designated for those who had special passes showing that they were going to Vilnius.
All the Jews rode to Vilnius in freight cars. Those who were assigned to get off in Vilnius were in the last two cars, together with the Švenčionys Jewish Council and the Jewish police from Vilnius. At the station everyone waited for a while, because they didn’t receive an order to get out in Vilnius. The train was already beginning to move. Suddenly Gens came running and managed to have the train stopped, and the last two cars detached.
Everyone else was taken further. The transport stopped at Ponary. That same day all the Jews in the transport were shot at Ponary. The Jews in the two cars which had been detached were brought to the Vilnius ghetto.
Those with relatives in the ghetto went to their relatives. The rest were taken to a camp in the ghetto. After she had been there for a short time, Fruma, her brother and her aunt’s family went to join their aunt’s sister, where they were given a corner to sleep in.
Fruma immediately went to work at a warehouse belonging to the Lietukis, shoveling grain. The brigade was fed lunch at the worksite. During that period some people began preparing places to hide. Fruma’s brother did that work, and he earned a fair amount of money. Then he went to work as a central heating specialist at the ghetto bath house.
Fruma and her brother survived more than one roundup in the ghetto. When Jews were sent to Estonia, Fruma spent four days and nights hiding in a closet in the corridor of the ghetto police. Of course, the police didn’t know about this.
One day before the liquidation of the Vilnius ghetto Avreymele was seized as part of a group of Jews who were taken to Estonia.
Fruma hid until the end. She was taken [af Bose?] together with the last Jews working at the ghetto police station. There Germans separated those who weren’t able-bodied off to the left, and the younger, more able-bodied to the right. The younger people were taken to Kaiserwald near Riga. All of the women had their heads shaved.
Fruma and a group of women then worked at a weaving factory and lived at the Strasdenhof concentration camp. Fruma and a group of women worked at that factory for nine months. When the Red army approached, the camp’s residents were evacuated to Stutthof near Danzig. From there Fruma and a group of five other women went to work for a German peasant in the countryside for three months. When she returned to Stutthof a group of women, including Fruma, were taken to dig trenches near Elbing. Under terrible conditions in bitter cold, naked and barefoot, the women dug trenches for three months, and then returned to Stutthof, where the only people left were invalids. The Red army was quickly approaching, and all the women quickly began to be evacuated.
For one month, in cold weather, tormented, hungry and infested with lice, a group of 1,200 women were constantly marched onward. On the way they were given almost nothing to eat. It was winter, and they slept in barns. Those who stopped on the way were immediately shot. The hungry women ate everything they came across on the way rotten potatoes, frozen beets and the like. After suffering on the road for a month, the women were herded into a large barn in a forest, far from a village. There as well they received almost nothing to eat. The filth, lice, cold and hunger caused an outbreak of typhus. Every day thirty or forty women died. They stayed there for six weeks. Out of the original 1,200, only a couple of hundred women survived. On March 10, 1945 the survivors were liberated by the Red army.
Fruma’s brother Avreymele died in Estonia, in Klooga.
THE ŠVENČIONYS GHETTO
The collective testimonies of:
- Shimen Bushkanetz, born in Švenčionys on November 21, 1908. Education: six grades of Jewish gymnasium in Švenčionys. Trade: a chauffeur and merchant. Father’s name: Shmuel; mother: Leye-Sore, born Markin. Until the war between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union broke out on June 22, 1941, and later on when the Jews were slaughtered, Shimen was in Švenčionys.
- Khaye Ginzberg, born Bushkanetz in Švenčionys. Khaye was Shimen’s sister. She was born in Švenčionys on June 10, 1918. Until the war broke out on June 22, 1941, and later when the Jews were slaughtered, she was in Švenčionys.
Shimen and his sister Khaye relate the following facts and episodes about the Švenčionys ghetto:
- A short time after the arrival of the Germans in Švenčionys, the rabbi at the time, Rabbi Ushpol, was summoned to the Lithuanian partisan headquarters and authorized to requisition Jewish workers each morning. The rabbi asked the Jewish merchant Moyshe Gordon, who knew Lithuanian, to help him carry out the Lithuanians’ order. Gordon gradually became the intermediary between the Jewish townspeople and the Lithuanian and German bosses in town. Gordon was in charge of bribing or giving “presents” to the Germans and Lithuanians. Mrs Liube Gurvitz, whose married name was Gershunovitz (her husband was Mishe Gershunovitz), helped him to assemble the “presents.”
On Thursday, September 25, 1941 Gordon sent his parents, his wife ·and four children to the White Russian town of Svir. His parents were captured and taken to Švenčionys. By Friday Moyshe Gordon was gone from Švenčionys. He, too, escaped to Svir. At that time all of the Jews of Švenčionys knew that the Jews in the nearby surrounding towns had been slaughtered. The eyewitnesses attest that Moyshe Gordon knew that the Jews in the town were in deadly danger. He told his closest friends about this. Most of the Jews in town did not know what Gordon was thinking about the situation of the Jews, and went to the military compound at Shventzioneliai, where they were slaughtered on October 8, 1941.
- In the autumn of 1942 two young men named Ruven Myadzolsky and Gershon Bak tried out a pistol in an old brick building near the ghetto. Ruven shot Gershon in the mouth. A few Jews in the ghetto faintly heard a shot. But no-one knew what the shot meant. Gershon was brought to his parents’ house. Two doctors in the ghetto were summoned. The two doctors were Dr Binyomin Taraseysky and a young Jewish doctor from Vilnius, the oculist Dr Shabad. Gordon and Shimen Bushkenitz were present at the bedside. Shimen was living together with the Bak family in a single room at that time.
After the examination it was determined that the bullet had entered the throat through the mouth, and that the wounded youth’s life was not in danger. The doctors were urged to remove the bullet and keep silent about the incident. Dr Taraseysky refused to operate. Shimen Bushkanetz personally heard Dr Taraseysky proposing that the incident be reported to the head of the criminal police, the Lithuanian Matzulevitzius. Bushkanetz proposed instead that the matter be kept quiet, because there was no-one to be afraid of and no-one in the ghetto knew what had happened.
Taraseysky responded: “I’m afraid of you!” That meant that Taraseysky was afraid that any Jew might happen to report the incident to the Lithuanians or Germans. Shimen adds that Dr Taraseysky had a good reason for being afraid that he might be reported by Jews. First and foremost, however, he was afraid of his sister Rokhl Kopelovitz, who was even more “friendly” with the German commandant Metz and with the Lithuanian Matzulevitzius. The Jews of Švenčionys were afraid of Rokhl Kopelovitz, and they were careful around her. She played a destructive, treacherous role in the ghetto. Rokhl’s husband Kopelovitz, a doctor, suffered a great deal on account of his treacherous wife, who was flirting with the German commandant against her husband’s will, and often in his presence.
The eyewitnesses do not know exactly how the incident was dealt with by the committee. They do know however that Dr Taraseysky and Myshe Gordon, both members of the committee, brought along the father of the wounded Yitzkhok Bak and went to report the incident to the Lithuanian Matzulevitzius, who was the head of the criminal police in Švenčionys at the time. Shimen and his sister do not know what was decided at the time. They do not know about the conversations with the Lithuanian Matzulevitzius, nor about the negotiations.
At that time a Jewish girl named Sorele Levin, aged seventeen or eighteen, was living in the ghetto. She was from Švenčionys, and after her parents, brothers and sisters had been shot at the military compound, she was left alone in the ghetto. When the Jews were taken to the compound to be slaughtered, a young Polish gymnasium student from Švenčionys had rescued her from town and hidden her with friends in the countryside. She often came to the ghetto and returned to be with her Polish boyfriend. She never went to work. She didn’t obey the orders or directives of the Jewish Council.
A few days before the incident involving the pistol in the old building, Sore received a directive from the Jewish Council to report to them and go to work. She didn’t go herself, but that day she sent her cousin, a young woman of the same age, in her place.
Dr Taraseysky demanded that Sorele herself come to work, and he sent the cousin back home. Sorele didn’t go to work that day. The Jewish Council told the Lithuanian police in Švenčionys about Sorele’s stubborn refusal to go to work. That same day an armed Lithuanian partisan went to Sorele and took her into town.
Several hours later Sorele returned to the ghetto and went straight to the Jewish Council, where she encountered Dr Taraseysky. She struck him in the face and cursed him. Khaye Ginzberg went to Sorele’s home that same day. Sorele took off her clothes and told Khaye what had been done to her in town. She showed Khaye the bloody bruises all over her body. Sorele said that she had been arrested by the Lithuanian partisan for refusing to go to work. The partisan had tried to rape her, and when she resisted, she was beaten with sticks and whipped. She lay sick in bed for several days.
Dr Taraseysky’s sister made a big scene in the ghetto, threatening out loud to get even with the [postashke) Sorele for having had the nerve to slap her brother, Dr. Taraseysky. Just then Rokhl was working as a supervisor for the Lithuanian Matzulevitzius, and as the eyewitnesses attest, Rokhl also flirted with the Lithuanian. She had a word with him. Rokhl did everything she could to take revenge on Sorele. The wounded Gershon Bak was taken to the hospital in Švenčionys. Ruven Maydzolsky was arrested by Matzulevitzius. Ruven was imprisoned.
After spending several days in bed, Sorele was arrested by Lithuanian police and taken to prison.
Sorele was kept under arrest for a few days. Early one morning Gershon Bak was taken in a cart from the hospital to the prison, and Ruven Myadzolsky and Sorele Levin were taken out of the prison. The three young Jews were taken to the Jewish cemetery and shot. Christians later stated that Sorele had escaped from the wagons several times, begging to be saved. The tragedy of these three young people took place before the attack of the Red partisans against the SS man Beck and his comrades. (See the testimony of Moyshe Gilinsky about Lentupis.) The eyewitnesses add that Dr Taraseysky devoted himself body and soul to the Jewish community during the period of the terrible epidemic of spotted typhus in the ghetto, the winter of 1942-1943.
III. At the end of the winter of 1942-1943 there was a decision to liquidate the Švenčionys ghetto. A spokesman for Gens, the chairman of the Jewish Council in Vilnius, was sent to the Švenčionys ghetto. The representative from the Vilnius ghetto was the Jewish policeman Frid. The lists stating which of the Jews in the Švenčionys ghetto were to go to the Vilnius ghetto and which were to go to Kaunas, were drawn up by the Jewish Council in Švenčionys. The members of the Jewish Council at that time were: Moyshe Gordon, Dr Taraseysky, Motl Gilinsky, Shure Katzenellenbogen, Khayem-Hirsh Levin and others. The master artisans who worked for the German and Lithuanian authorities were often invited to the Jewish Council to give their advice. Among these advisers were: Yankl Levin, Berl Kharmatz, Yankl Veksler and others. The ultimate authority in the ghetto was the Jewish·policeman Frid, from the Vilnius ghetto, Gens’s representative.
Khaye and her brother Shimen, along with their mother Sore-Leye were on the list to go to Vilnius. Apparently Yankl Levin, who was Shimen’s brother-in-law, had arranged this with the Jewish council.
Several days before the transports left Švenčionys, Khaye and her brother learned that the entire Bushkanetz family had been removed from the list of those to go to Vilnius and reassigned to go to Kaunas. Once Khaye asked Dr Taraseysky why they had been removed from the list, to go to Vilnius. Dr Taraseysky answered, “As far as I’m concerned, you didn’t earn the right to go to Vilnius!”
The Švenčionys Jews didn’t know what fate awaited them on the way to Kaunas, but when they saw that all the members of the Jewish Council and their families and relatives were on the list to go to Vilnius, everyone understood that the situation in Vilnius would be better.
Early in the morning on April 4, 1943 Gens, Dessler, Dreyzen, Auerbach and others arrived from Vilnius. They came together with Gestapo personnel to help liquidate the Švenčionys ghetto. The ghetto was liquidated by noon. The Jews were carried away along with their few remaining possessions to the railroad station in Shventzioneliai, in carts that had been brought in from the countryside.
Shimen and Khaye left their packages in Shventzioneliai and returned to the ghetto to take their mother and the few remaining items. Shimen and other Jews with packages were supposed to ride to Shventzioneliai on the narrow gauge railroad.
In the ghetto Khaye encountered the Jewish policeman from Vilnius, Auerbach, whom she had known before the war. Khaye stood in front of Auerbach and made him swear to tell her the truth about the fate of the Švenčionys Jews. Auerbach and Khaye went to the house where Khaye’s mother waited. Auerbach nervously explained: “The Jews who are supposed to go to Kaunas will be shot at Ponary. Those who go to the Vilnius ghetto will remain alive for now!”
Khaye immediately placed her mother in hiding with a Pole from Švenčionys and ran to the station to tell her brother Shimen the awful news. The narrow-gauge railroad train was already starting to move slowly away. Khaye spotted her brother and in great agitation, waving both arms, she shouted to him that he had to get off.
Shimen and his sister returned to the ghetto. They and their mother managed to make their way out of Švenčionys to a nearby village. All three hid with peasants in the countryside for several months, until they managed to join Red partisans. All three hid with the Red partisans in the Naritsh forests, until they were liberated by the Red Army at the beginning of summer in 1944 (July 4).
The train carrying Švenčionys Jews toward Kaunas stopped at Ponary, and there the Jews were shot.
Solem Motzkin and a few others managed to escape from Ponary. A few of them entered the Vilnius ghetto and reported the tragic episode.