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The slaughter of the Jews of Švenčionys

Švenčionys-Google-Maps
Švenčionys-Google-Maps

Wikipedia offers a list of notable residents of Švenčionys to include

Yitzhak Arad (1926–2021), Israeli historian, director of Yad Vashem from 1972 to 1993

Mordecai Kaplan (1881–1983), Rabbi and founder of the Reconstructionist Judaism movement

Mark Natanson (1850–1919), Russian revolutionary

Menke Katz (1906–1991), Yiddish-language poet

Jacob Samuel Minkin (1885–1962), American rabbi, hospital chaplain, and expert on Hasidism

Each and every life was precious. Everyone had parents, siblings, families and people that loved them. Every life taken was an unforgivable slaughter, and each time Holocaust denial, revision, distortion or inversion is practiced, it is an assault against their memory.

Michael Kretzmer‘s documentary, J’Accuse! describes a typical situation in Lithuania. The witness statements[1] of the survivors explain who did what, to whom.

Source: Michael Kretzmer
  1. THE SLAUGHTER OF THE JEWS OF ŠVENČIONYS

The collective testimonies of:

  1. Binyomin Taraseysky was born in Švenčionys on March 2, 1903. He spent his entire youth in Švenčionys. From 1930 he had lived in the Polish town of Bedzin. When the war broke out between Nazi Germany and Poland, he returned to live with his family in Švenčionys. His father’s name was Nokhem, and his mother was Sore, born Zhagevitsh. He is a university graduate. He is a medical doctor by profession. He survived the slaughter of the Jews of Švenčionys.
  1. Yankl Levin was born in the White Russian town of Lentupis on January 18, 1912. He lived in Švenčionys for his entire life, and survived the slaughter of the Jews there. He graduated from the local elementary school. He was a painter by trade. His father’s name was Khonon, and his mother was Libe, born Kharmatz.

The Geographical Setting of Švenčionys

Švenčionys, a county seat, is located on the highway between Vilnius and Dvinsk, 84 kilometers from Vilnius, thirteen kilometers from Shventzioneliai and between 30 and 32 kilometers from Padbrade. Highways to Shventzioneliai, Padbrade and Maligan pass through Švenčionys. Gravel roads connect Shventioznys to the surrounding smaller towns. A narrow-gauge railroad connects Švenčionys to Lentupis and Shventzioneliai. A few kilometers from Švenčionys are lakes Berezowka and Kochanowka.

 

The Political Situation

Until the collapse of Poland in 1939, the entire region belonged to Poland. On September 17, 1939 Švenčionys and the surrounding area were occupied by the Red Army.

Švenčionys was assigned to the White Russian Soviet Republic, while Shventzioneliai was assigned to the Lithuanian Republic, ruled by Antanas Smetonas.

In the summer of 1940 all of the Baltic republics were occupied by the Red Army and incorporated into the Soviet Union as Soviet republics. Vilnius and the entire surrounding area, along with the region of Švenčionys, were assigned to the Lithuanian soviet Republic.

The Population and Their Occupations

Until the war broke out on June 22, 1941 about 6,000 people lived in town, including some 2,000 Jews. The great majority of the Christian population was Polish, along with a few Old Believers and Lithuanians.

The surrounding villages were occupied by Lithuanians, who had been anticipating for years the day when they would be reunited with the Lithuanian motherland. During the years of Polish rule they had struggled intensely for their national rights, their traditions and their culture. They maintained a Lithuanian gymnasium in Švenčionys, which served as the focal point of their political struggle for liberation from Polish rule, and their general political and social life. During the 1930s the gymnasium was closed by the Poles. The struggle to be united with Lithuania was carried on even more intensely underground. During this period the Lithuanians were friendly toward the Jews in the surrounding towns and in Švenčionys.

The majority of the Jews in town were occupied in trade and artisanry. Some of them were farmers. The Jews had capably and diligently worked over the years to develop small industry. Among the more important enterprises there were:

  1. A village mill belonging to the Jewish brothers Julian and Efroyim Shpiz.
  2. A factory where medicinal herbs were prepared, belonging to the firm of Taravsky and Sons.
  3. Another factory where medicinal herbs were prepared, belonging to Ruven Abramovitsh. These herbs were sold throughout Poland. A substantial amount was exported as well.
  4. A factory where old clothes were recycled into wool for woollen boots.
  5. A woollen boot factory belonging to the Jew Binyomin Shapiro.
  6. A woollen boot factory belonging to the Jew Berl Shapiro, Binyomin’s son.
  7. A woollen boot factory belonging to the Jewish brothers Shoyel and Khayim Vilkomirsky.
  8. A woollen boot factory belonging to the Jew Leyzer Zeydl.
  9. A woollen boot factory belonging to the Jew Yankl Svirsky.
  10. A woollen boot factory belonging to the Jew Motl Kurlyantshik.
  11. A woolen boot factory belonging to the Jew Aron Ginzburg.
  12. A woollen boot factory belonging to the Jew Zalmen Gilinsky.
  13. A woollen boot factory belonging to the Jew Avrom Taytz.
  14. A woollen boot factory belonging to the Jew Leyzer Taytz.

A large number of Jewish and Christian workers were employed in the manufacture of woollen boots in Švenčionys. The finished boots were sold throughout Poland.

Švenčionys had large manufacturing concerns belonging to the Jews Motl Kagan, Avrom Tshasnik, Khesye Gurvitsh and others.

There were substantial iron businesses belonging to the Jews Shokhar, Lupinsky, and Eydlman, along with other, smaller businesses.

The movie theater in Švenčionys belonged to a Jew named Boris Brumberg, who was the vice mayor of Švenčionys until Poland collapsed in 1939.

The two pharmacies were owned by Jews, one by Nokhum Taraseysky and one by Yisroel Levin. Švenčionys had two print shops, belonging to the Jews Yisroel Levin and Ele-Leyb Porus.

The economic life of the Jews in town was not bad. However, there were a number of paupers and their families, who had to struggle hard to get by. A large number of the young Jews lacked opportunities, and were uneasy about the future. A number of them placed their hopes in the possibility of emigrating to join relatives overseas, and a large number tried to make their way to the Land of Israel.

The Cultural Life of the Jews:

Shventzioys had two elementary schools, one Hebrew and one Yiddish. The cultural and social life of the Jews was centered around these two elementary schools. The two elementary schools served as bases for the political struggle between the Yiddishist Diasporist movement and the Zionists. The Bundists, Progressives, Yiddishists and other Diasporist propagandists grouped themselves around the Yiddish elementary school. All of the Zionist parties, representing various tendencies, gathered around the Hebrew elementary school.

There were two libraries in Švenčionys: the municipal Jewish library and the library run by the Yiddish Culture League (later known as the. Bildungs-Gezelshaft). Each of the two main political tendencies had its own dramatic group, which were similarly connected to the Yiddish or Hebrew elementary schools. After graduating elementary school, the majority of the young people learned a trade. Those who continued their studies went to the Polish gymnasium in Švenčionys, which existed until the autumn of

  1. Some of the Jewish youth studied in gymnasiums in Vilnius or in the technical school in Vilnius known as the Technium.

The Jews of Švenčionys had their own theater building, called Bet-Am.

Until the fall of 1939 there was a community bank in Švenčionys, along with two free loan societies. There were two Mitnagdic study houses in Švenčionys, along with an artisans’ synagogue and two Hasidic prayer rooms. There was also a yeshiva, run by Ushpal’s son-in­law.

Thanks to the constant political competition among the parties, the numerous lectures and educational evenings, the Jewish youth of Švenčionys were well-informed about political and social affairs. For some time there were two Jewish orchestras in Švenčionys. The Cultural League sponsored a good string orchestra.

In their free time, or on summer evenings and Saturdays after lunch, the Jewish youth would go outside of town to Lake Berezowka or Kochanowka. They would swim in the lakes as well.

After the War between Poland and Nazi Germany

Švenčionys was assigned to White Russia in the fall of 1939. The economic situation of the Jews in town generally worsened. The political debates among the parties fell off. The Švenčionys Jews sensed that a dramatic and insecure time was approaching.

The Poles gradually lost their hegemony over the local minorities. Their attitude toward the Jews improved.

After the Red Army entered Lithuania and the entire surrounding region was assigned to Lithuania, the economic situation of the less well-off portion of the Jewish population significantly improved. A large number of young Jews got the opportunity to participate in the new political and economic life of the Soviet system. Their material worries disappeared. The Jews felt that they were citizens, the equals of the Poles, Lithuanians and White Russians.

The non-Jewish population jealously watched their Jewish neighbors, who behaved like free citizens. They didn’t openly display their hostility toward the Jews. They discreetely nurtured their hatred of the Jews and Soviets, and carried. on underground work. The new rulers of the region, the Lithuanians, harbored in their hearts a particular hatred of the Soviets and the Jewish citizens. Their hatred of the Soviets and the Jews gave them something in common with their former persecutors, the Poles.

For the wealthier portion of the Jewish population, the economic conditions grew worse. All of the major businesses and factories were nationalized. The Jews were no longer the bosses, and they became employees of Soviet institutions or in the businesses they had previously owned. They gradually got used to the new situation, and made their peace with the Soviet system. They considered the granting of equal rights to be a fair recompense for the material losses they suffered in the process of nationalization.

Naturally, the competition among the parties atrophied. Neither the Zionist nor the Yiddishist groups were able to achieve their goals. Another political force which would tolerate no competition held sway, both among the Christians and among the Jews. More than a few young Jews threw themselves into the new setup body and soul, and accepted positions in the party, the Soviet security services and other agencies.

Shortly before the outbreak of the war between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, the Soviet security forces transferred thousands of former bourgeois, wealthy peasants from town and from the countryside, and former political dissidents deeper into the Soviet Union.

Not one of the Jewish youth participated in drawing up the list of those to be transferred, nor did any of them directly participate in removing the “undesirable elements.” The Poles and Lithuanians angrily accused the Jews of helping to exile their relatives and friends deep into the Soviet Union.

As a result of these transfers, the hostility of the Lithuanian and Polish population in town and in the countryside vis-a-vis both the Jews and the Soviets worsened. They impatiently waited for the day when they would be rid of the Soviets, and have their chance to settle the score with the Jews. They quickly lived to see the day they had been waiting for.

After the Outbreak of War between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union:

Švenčionys without authority:

On the morning of Sunday, June 22, 1941 the Jews found out about the outbreak of the war between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. The Soviet authorities appealed to the population to stay calm and not to panic. The first day of the war passed without any particular news. The Christian population secretly welcomed the war. The Jews greeted the war with terror and uncertainty.

On Monday, June 23 Jewish refugees arrived in Švenčionys on foot, on wagons and on bicycles, from deep inside Lithuania. Their arrival in Švenčionys caused panic in town. Soviet officials from the center of Lithuania also evacuated further into the Soviet Union. The officials of the Soviet institutions in Švenčionys gradually began to evacuate. Most of them were young people who had taken active part in economic and political life during the year of Soviet rule. They were afraid they would be the target of vengeance taken by the Christian population.

The average Jew didn’t think about evacuating that day, but waited in terror for events to develop further.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, June 24 and 25, some of the Jews fled Švenčionys, aiming to get further into the Soviet Union. Lithuanian military units of the Red Army were forcibly evacuated by the Soviet army. When they reached the forests around Lentupis, many of them escaped, returning to Lithuania through Švenčionys.

The escaping Lithuanians shot at the retreating Red Army units and at the Jews who were evacuating. A few Jews from Švenčionys were shot by them. Among those shot was the wigmaker Hirsh Gordon. He was buried at the Jewish cemetery in Švenčionys. A number of Jews from central Lithuania were shot by the Lithuanian bandits.

The armed Lithuanian bandits, who later began calling themselves partisans, shot from their hiding places at the retreating Red Army soldiers and at the Jews as they fled. Almost all of the Jews were thus forced to return to Švenčionys.

Starting on Thursday, June 26 there was no longer any secure governmental authority in Švenčionys. Chaos ruled in the town. Like hyenas, peasants from the countryside sensed an opportunity, and they came to town in groups with sacks under their arms, ready to rob the possessions of the Jews.

During the year of Soviet rule there was a Lithuanian judge in Švenčionys. He was assisted by another Lithuanian and by a Jewish girl, who used a loudspeaker to call on the population to maintain calm and order. The judge riding around on his horse with a rifle on his shoulder, warned everyone not to commit robberies and to maintain calm. He often asserted that the Red Army would return to town in a few days. A high-ranking Soviet official came and said the same thing, threatening to shoot those who committed robberies or caused panic.

The arrival of the Germans on Tuesday evening, July 1, 1941, groups of German reconnaissance men, appeared in Švenčionys. When they came to town they were joined by organized partisans, led by their chief Shvagzlis, the former director of the maistas in Švenčionys under the Soviets. Among the partisans was a female teacher at the Lithuanian school. She was a singer and actress who limped.

There was no battle for control of the town. On Wednesday, July 2 regular German military units began marching through the streets of Švenčionys. Responsibility for maintaining security inside the town immediately fell to the armed Lithuanian partisans, who prohibited the civilians from going outside, so as not to disrupt the advance of the German army.

That Tuesday the Germans arrested a Soviet officer. He managed to grab a German’s revolver, and shot him. In retaliation for this the Germans immediately shot three Red prisoners. This murderous incident cast a pall of fear over the Jewish population, who began hiding in their homes. The Christian population joyfully welcomed the Germans.

The First Anti-Jewish Decrees

Total power over civlian life in town lay in the hands of the Lithuanian partisans, who immediately began bullying the helpless Jews. On Thursday, July 3, announcements were posted on the walls, printed in Russian, Polish and German. These announcements stated that the Jews were forbidden to leave town, to ride bicycles or drive automobiles, to use Christian wagons, and the like.

If any German was found shot, the punishment was to be the shooting of a hundred men selected from among the civilian population. The announcements were signed by German military personnel.

That same week the partisans ordered all of the Jews to bring their bicycles, radios, photo cameras and other valuables to the partisan staff. They threatened to shoot anyone who didn’t carry out the order precisely. Jews had to wear yellow patches. The partisans appointed the rabbi of Švenčionys as the chief of the Jews in town. He had to wear a special armband. The rabbi was too weak to carry out all of the Lithuanians’ commands, and asked a Jew named Moyshe Gordon to help him. Moyshe knew Polish well and also had a little knowledge of Lithuanian.

Immediately after the Germans arrived the partisans began taking Jews to do various tasks, such as repairing the damaged roads, serving the Germans and partisans, and the like. The Jews had to clean out all of the toilets belonging to the Christians in town. Moyshe Gordon had to supply the number of Jews the partisans required each day. While the Jews worked they were tortured and beaten. They were guarded by armed partisans.

Immediately after the Germans arrived, partisans and Germans began robbing Jewish possessions. They would make various “requisitions,” which the unfortunate Jews had to fulfill. They took from the Jews everything that caught their fancy.

The first Jewish victims

Yankl Levin attests that at the end of the second week of the war the rumor spread among the Christian population that during the time Lithuanian deserters from the Red Army had been escaping through the town, Jews had seized one of them and handed him over to the Lithuanian judge. The partisans began arresting Jews, most of them young people, who had occupied any position whatsoever under the Soviets, and took them to prison. Dozens of innocent Jews were arrested at that time. The participants in this collective testimony assert that every day the partisans took Jews out of the prison and shot them near the Tzerklishkis compound.

The eyewitnesses do not remember exactly which of the Jews in town were shot at that time. (For more about this see the testimony of Avrom Taytz–L.K.) While a group of Jews were being taken to work, the partisans would beat them and rush them along. A youngster named Alter Grazul lost control of himself, and evidently cursed and rebuked one of the partisans for his cruel handling. The partisans took Alter outside of town to a field near the Tzerklishkis compound, and shot and buried him there.

The partisans exploited their control over the lives of the Jews, like maddened wild animals. None of the Jews felt his life was secure any longer. Quite a few of them went into hiding. None of the men wanted to be noticed by the partisans, and they would hide to avoid work. Moyshe Gordon had a great deal of trouble providing the number of Jewish workers the partisans demanded.

Some of the Jews obtained permanent positions with the Germans, and obtained special protection certificates for themselves and their families. These certificates temporarily guaranteed their lives, and prevented them from being arrested by the Lithuanian partisans.

Apparently the military commander of the city found out about the repeated murders of Jews, and he forbade the partisans from arresting or shooting Jews without his permission.

At the beginning of the third week of the war two armed partisans came to Dr Taraseysky at his house and took him to the partisan headquarters, on the second floor of the town pharmacy. One elderly partisan, apparently someone of high rank, accused the doctor of having handed over wounded partisans to the Red Army during the first days of the war. Dr Taraseysky understood what the partisans intended, and asked them to speak to the new director of the hospital, the Lithuanian Dr Rimas. They called the hospital, but didn’t reach Dr Rimas.

Dr Taraseysky understood that his life was in danger, and he reminded the chief of the partisans that his own brother had been sent to Siberia, and that he wasn’t a Communist. His explanations didn’t help. Two armed partisans took him to prison.

At the gate of the prison a German stood watch. The guard demanded that the partisans show him a note signed by the commander. Without that, no prisoners would be accepted. The partisans took Dr Taraseysky inside the prison yard. One of them went to the headquarters to see about getting an arrest warrant from the German commander. The doctor remained under arrest at the prison yard.

Dr Taraseysky’s wife Liba ran to the doctor’s sister Rokhl. The two women went to see the commandant to ask him to release Dr Taraseysky. When they got to the commandant, the partisan chief was already there. In the women’s presence, the commandant ordered that the matter be investigated immediately. He strictly ordered that if the doctor was found innocent, he should be released.

Dr Taraseysky was kept at the prison compound for a few hours, and then he was taken to the headquarters of the police force which was beginning to be organized by then. The same partisan chief who had been at the commandant’s office came to the police headquarters some time later and released Dr Taraseysky. The false accusation failed. Dr Taraseysky continued working at the town hospital.

Te head doctor at the town hospital during the year of Soviet rule was the Jew from Švenčionys, Dr Kovarsky, who was well-known and popular among the people. Dr Kovarsky was a good person, and a Bundist by persuasion. His older son was a Communist, and had served time in prison under the Poles for his Communist activities. After the Soviets arrived he became the doctor for the Soviet security forces, the NKVD. Owing to his personal contacts with the Soviet leaders in Švenčionys, he was appointed chief doctor of the hospital.

Dr Taraseysky and a Jewish doctor from Vilnius, Dr Fine, also worked at the hospital during the year of Soviet rule. Naturally all three Jewish doctors got along well, and concentrated on their responsibilities.

At the same hospital worked a Polish doctor named Domyslawsky, a surgeon from Bialystok. At every opportunity he would emphasize his sympathy for the Soviet Union. He was the editor of the newsletter posted on the walls of the hospital and the secretary of the union of Švenčionys health care workers.

When he was alone with Dr Taraseysky, he always liked to repeat nash oslabodili (they’ve weakened us), instead of nash osvobodili (they’ve liberated us),as he used to say at every opportunity in public, in order to underscore his “joy” and “devotion” to the new life. In the month of April 1941 Soviet officials from Švenčionys organized a delegation to Moscow. The chief doctor Kovarsky was appointed as representative of the health workers. Shortly before May 1 they returned from Moscow. It must be added that Dr Kovarsky was truly impressed by what he had seen in Moscow. Švenčionys got ready to celebrate May Day. A stage was set up in the middle of town, and speakers got ready. Dr Kovarsky, as the most educated man in town and someone who really knew how to give a speech in public, was among the speakers on the list. With such a prominent position in town, it would not have been easy for him to refuse to speak when the request came from leading Soviet circles.

During the May 1 celebrations Dr Kovarsky spoke in public about what he had seen in Moscow, and the strong impressions he had brought back with him.

Several days later the Polish Dr Demyslawsky showed his Jewish colleague Dr Fine a photograph of Dr Kovarsky standing on the stage at the May Day celebration, addressing the crowd which had assembled there. The Pole emphasized that the photography might come in handy someday, if the Soviets had to leave Švenčionys. Dr Fine told his colleague Dr Kovarsky about this, and he consulted with Dr Taraseysky about reporting this to Comrade Reyf.

Reyf had come to Švenčionys from the Soviet Union, and he was the director of the health care institutions. Taraseysky advised Kovarsky not to say anything about the matter. On Sunday, the first day of the war, Dr Kovarsky prepared to evacuate to the Soviet Union together with Reyf. Comrade Reyf packed his things and left, leaving the Jewish doctors behind to face their fate.

Dr Taraseysky decided not to flee, but to stay with his wife and child. The rest of the Jewish doctors escaped Švenčionys on foot. Dr Kovarsky had injured his foot some time earlier, and he limped. He made his way to a White Russian town on foot, and then the Germans caught up with him.

On Saturday, just before the war broke out, the Soviet security forces removed the second transport of “undesirables” deeper into the Soviet Union.

On Monday, one day after the war broke out, there was a rumor in Švenčionys that Dr Kovarsky had escaped because he was a Communist and he had signed the lists of those to be exiled to Siberia. It wasn’t hard to guess that the Polish Dr Demyslawsky had deliberately planted this rumor. There was no end to the fury aimed at Dr Kovarsky by the townspeople.·Even the guard and the cook at the hospital spoke angrily about Dr Kovarsky.

When Švenčionys was left without ‘anyone in charge’, Dr Demyslawsky publicly burned all of the photographs of the Soviet leaders at the hospital. There was a rumor in town that a bounty of 5,000 rubles had been offered to anyone who caught Dr Kovarsky.

After the Germans arrived, the Jews immediately began to be taken to do various tasks. The partisans forced Dr Kovarsky’s wife to do the filthiest tasks.

On the way back from Švenčionys to rejoin his wife and children, Dr Kovarsky was detained by a Lithuanian from Švenčionys, who handed Dr Kovarsky over to the partisans. Dr Kovarsky was brought to Švenčionys on foot and herded through the streets. The Christian population followed after him, and angrily spat at him. The partisans took Dr Kovarsky to the field police headquarters, where he was forced to wash automobiles. Meanwhile the partisans beat and tormented him. From there he was taken to prison.

The German major, a good man, was staying at Mrs Kovarsky’s home. He became involved in the issue of Dr Kovarsky’s arrest. At Mrs Kovarsky’s request the major went to the field police headquarters to ask that the doctor be released. When he returned, the major reported that he had been shown a photograph of Dr Kovarsky speaking at a podium in front of a huge crowd on May Day. Dr Kovarsky was taken from prison to the Tzerklishkis compound and shot. This took place at the end of the second week of the war.

The Pole from Švenčionys Bukowsky was employed cleaning out waste from the municipal toilets before the war. Shortly after the Germans arrived in Švenčionys, he got into an argument with the Jewish carpenter Yisroel Movshovitz, who slapped him. Bukowsky reported to the partisans that Movshovitz had been a Communist during the period of Soviet rule. Without any investigation the partisans shot Yisroel Movshovitz. It is not known where he was shot.

Three days after the arrival of the Germans in Švenčionys a group of Hitler youth seized about fifteen elderly Jews at their homes and took them to the Kuna River, where they had to wash a car. Then they forced the Jews to enter the river wearing their clothes, and to dunk themselves under water. One of the German sadists stood on a footbridge with a whip, striking the Jews in the river. They forced one of the Jews to fill a bucket with water and pour it over all the Jews.

The Slaughter of Ninety Six Jewish Men

In the course of time permanent work details were established in Švenčionys. Some of the Jews went to the same jobs every day. The participant in this collective testimony Yankl Levin was a supervisor over fifteen painters during this period, working for the Germans at various assignments. In order to avoid being seized by the partisans in the course of various roundups, all of the painters got special certificates from their German employers, which served to protect them.

One Tuesday the Jews of Švenčionys found out that in the nearby town of Shventzioneliai the partisans had taken away and shot fifty Jewish men. When the Jews of Švenčionys found out about this incident, they fell into mass mourning.

The next day, Wednesday evening, the partisans drew up lists of Jewish men whom they found at home, along with a number they encountered in the street. Yankl Levin found out after that evening that three men in his work brigade were on the partisans’ lists.

At 4:00 am. on Thursday morning of that same week the partisans burst into the Jewish houses like wild animals and drove out the men whose names were on the list they’d drawn up the day before. When the Lithuanian murderers took the men out of their houses they promised them that they were being taken away to work. They permitted the men to bring along money, watches, valuables and packages of food and clothing. All of the men who had been seized were taken to Vilnius Street, to the police compound.

When the painters came to work Yankl Levin announced to the Germans that they wouldn’t be able to complete the tasks assigned to them, because the Lithuanians had taken some of the men to do another job. A German took Yankl along with him to the police headquarters. In the yard Yankl saw all the men who had been seized standing in two rows. He took his painters, and left with them to go to work.

In the evening it was reported in Švenčionys that all of the men who had been seized had been taken from the police station in trucks, in the direction of Shventzioneliai.

Dr Szabad from Vilnius, Attorney Gurvitz and others used to gather at the home of Dr Kopelovitz. Dr Kopelovitz’s wife Rokhl (the sister of Dr Taraseysky) had an opportunity to become acquainted with the commandant of the field police, a very decent German from Vienna. He often came to visit Dr Kopelovitz and his wife. More than once he told them that he was absolutely opposed to the Nazis, and he would openly express his regret that Dr Kopelovitz, his family and their friends hadn’t fled deeper into the Soviet Union. He didn’t predict good news for the Jews under German occupation.

The day after the ninety six men were taken away he came to Dr Kopelovitz’s house and told them in terror that the previous evening he had seen the list of men to be taken away. He told them that he had nervously looked over the list several times, looking for the last names of his friends, and fortunately hadn’t seen them. Before the lists were drawn up by the partisans two high-ranking SS officers had come from Vilnius. Apparently the commandant of the field police had seen the list when they had it in their hands.

Among the ninety-six men who were taken away, the eyewitnesses remember the following names of their friends and acquaintances:

  1. Hirsh Gilinsky, the former president of the Jewish community of Švenčionys under Polish rule.
  2. Attorney Leyb Gurvitsh, a lawyer in Švenčionys.
  3. Naum Gordon, an engineer.
  4. Avrom-Yitzkhok Gordon, a medical student.
  5. Bere-Leyb Grinfeld, a wigmaker.
  6. Meir Shaprio, owner of a brick works.
  7. Fayve Kovarsky and his brother, both grain dealers.
  8. Ruven Kovarsky and his son; the father was a wigmaker.
  9. Yerakhmiel Gordon, a painter.

The relatives of those who had been taken away gathered at the doorways of the Lithuanian and German headquarters, trying to learn about the fate of those who had been taken away. The partisans constantly reassured them that the men who had been taken away were living and working somewhere.

Peasants from the countryside who happened to be in town at the time even brought “greetings” from those who had been taken away, and took packages from the unfortunate Jews, containing food, clothing and money to be brought to the men. Of course, no one ever got a letter in reply. The majority of the Jews believed the reassurances of the partisans and peasants, who said that the ninety-six who had been taken were still alive and working. Those who were in doubt couldn’t learn more about the fate of their loved ones.

The eyewitnesses report that they didn’t know a thing about the fate of·the ninety-six men who had been taken, nor do they know exactly when or where they were killed. (Concerning the slaughter of the ninety-six men, see the testimony of Avrom Taytz – L Koniuchowsky.)

The Civil and Military Administration in Švenčionys

Until the ninety-six men were taken away the county seat was Shventzioneliai, and the chief civil administration was located there.

Shortly after the men were taken away, the chief of police for Švenčionys County, Antanas Kenstavitzius, from Mazheikiai, came to Švenčionys from Shventzioneliai in a wagon. He was joined by a representative of the Jews of Shventzioneliai. They stopped at the edge of town, at the home of the Jew Shokhar. Kenstavitzius explained who he was, and hinted at the power he controlled over the lives of the Jews in Švenčionys. He also announced that he was moving permanently to Švenčionys. It became clear to the representatives of the Jews of Švenčionys that the police chief for Švenčionys County was looking for “presents.”

The new chief of police in Švenčionys was Kenstavitzius’s assistant in Shventzioneliai, Skarbutenis. The new mayor of Švenčionys was the Lithuanian Gaizhutis.

The field headquarters moved out of Švenčionys closer to the front. The commander didn’t forget his Jewish friends, Dr Kopelovitz and his wife. He came to say goodbye to them. He gave them a sealed envelope with nothing on it, and asked them not to open the envelope. If their lives were threatened, they should appeal to him.

Ten men working for the security police settled in Švenčionys, under the direction of Teclau and a German labor official. Two county agricultural directors, both SS men, also came. These two were Beck and his representative Grul. Postal services came under the control of six Germans headed by the SS man Metz, who simultaneously became the military commandant of Švenčionys.

On one occasion the new mayor Gaizhutis sent Levin to the home of the director of the gymnasium on Vidz Street. There a young German was waiting, and he ordered seven rooms to be painted in the course of three hours. Eight painters carried out the order. One panel was left to finish. The next day two painters went and finished the job. Jewish women washed the floors. After the work was finished the two painters were summoned by Metz. Mets’s representative announced that while the work was being done a pair of suspenders, a package of tobacco and a pair of shoes disappeared, and he made the two painters responsible for the losses.

He threatened to shoot ten Jews if the items weren’t returned. He beat the two painters. Moyshe Gordon came and managed with the help of bribes to have the decree revoked.

 

The Mass Slaughter of Jews at the Military camp near Shventzioneliai

After the civil and military administrations were set up in Švenčionys, there were more places for people to work. The Jews did everything they could to please their new German and Lithuanian masters, who had power over their lives. They worked diligently, hoping they would be able to please the Lithuanian and German sadists and thus gradually buy time until the situation improved. A large number of Jews worked at the production center which had been set up in Švenčionys under the Soviets. That large factory produced soap, as well as weaving rope. There was a tannery, a carpenter’s shop, and the like. Groups of Jews worked in every department.

Levin’s brigade of painters worked for Metz at the post office, as well as for the mayor. A group of shoemakers sewed new shoes as well as patching old ones for the German police.

A group of printers worked at a print shop run by the magistrate. At their workplaces the Jews became acquainted with the Lithuanian and German authorities in Švenčionys, and thereby gained access to them.

Moyshe Gordon had contacts with the Lithuanian police chief for the entire county, named Kenstavitzius. The tailor Yankl Veksler had good access to Metz. Berl Kharmatz worked as a shoemaker at the police station.

These three Jews kept the Jews of Shventzionis informed about all the news at the front; in the world of politics; and, most important, about the various decrees that lay in store for the Jews of Švenčionys. With the help of these three Jews it was often possible to have decrees revoked. Of course, this all came at the price of “gifts” that had to be arranged for those who had final say over the lives of the Jews.

In addition to these three there were others who went to intervene on behalf of the Jews. Quite a few women were also involved in such interventions.

On one occasion there was a decision to gather the Jews in a ghetto. The Jews bribed the German doctor, who cancelled the decision on the grounds that the designated neighborhood was too small, thus posing the risk of epidemic not only for the Jews, but also for the Aryan population of the town.

Terrible News of Total Slaughter of Jews in Lithuanian Towns

Unconfirmed reports began to arrive concerning the total slaughter of Jews – men, women and children, in the surrounding Lithuanian towns. The Jews of Švenčionys received reports about the slaughter of the Jews in Nementzine. Poles constantly brought reports, one more horrible than the last.

The majority of the Jews of Švenčionys didn’t believe these reports, suspecting that the peasants wanted to frighten the Jews into handing over their valuables for “safekeeping.”

Several Jews who had survived the slaughter in the surrounding towns also appeared. They corroborated the terrible rumors, and even provided details about the slaughter at the pits.

The Jews of Švenčionys felt like they were rocking on stormy waves in a burning ship. Terrible panic reigned. Everyone began to feel that their own life and the lives of their loved ones were in danger.

The communal officials and representatives began to offer “gifts” for those who had power over the lives of the Jews – the Germans and the Lithuanians. But they didn’t manage to find out what was about to happen to the Jews.

On the second day of Rosh Hashana, during the reading of the Torah portion for the day, Moyshe Gordon announced that he had managed to learn about a decree that was shortly to affect the Jews. He announced that all of the Jews of Švenčionys were about to be taken away to work. He added that people would be allowed to bring along the things they needed most. That same week people learned that it had proved impossible to get the order revoked. From that day on the panic increased.

The confused Jews began packing the things they couldn’t do without. Some of the Jews escaped from Švenčionys that week to nearby White Russian towns, where things were relatively calm at that time.

A few days before the Sabbath between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur the Jews learned that lists of “useful Jews” were being prepared at all of the workplaces, and that these Jews would not be taken away. The lists were drawn up by the German and Lithuanian employers in great secrecy. Yet the Jews managed to learn that this was being done.

On Friday, September 26 the Jews knew who was on the list of the “useful Jews.”

That Friday evening a number of Jews escaped from Švenčionys to White Russian towns, especially Svir.

That same Friday night there were a number of robberies at Jewish homes, committed by peasants from town and from the country. The town pharmacist, a Pole named Schimansky, took goods from several Jews that Friday evening “to keep until after the war.” He inherited all of these things.

That same Friday Dr Taraseysky, Khaye-Etl Gordon, Lize Shteyn, Moyshe Gordon and a few other Jews visited the senior priest in town, and asked him to do something to help the Jews. The priest began to weep, insisting that he could do nothing to help. He advised everyone to rely on Almighty God.

After they left the priest, the delegation went to see the Lithuanian Dr Rimas at the municipal hospital. Rimas promised to try to do something to help the Jews. That Friday evening Dr Taraseysky handed over his diploma to Dr Rimas “until after the war.” That last Friday night in Švenčionys was a terrible night, full of pain and sorrow. Some of them packed the things they needed most, some of them baked food to bring along on the road. And in the middle of the night loud cries and weeping could be heard. This was the result of impatient peasants, who couldn’t wait until the Jews left, to rob their houses.

The Terrible Slaughter of All the Jews in Švenčionys County

On the morning of the Sabbath of Repentance a beautiful, sunny day appeared. Plenty of bright rays of sunshine poured through the windows of the Jewish houses, on the packs which had been assembled, on the bedding strewn on the beds. The tired, frightened faces of the Jews, with their moist eyes quickly glancing all around, shone in the bright sunshine and clearly reflected their tragic situation.

From every side of town, from every street, the screams of women and children could be heard. Drunken Lithuanian police and partisans began taking the Jews out of their houses, meanwhile murderously beating them with whips, sticks and their rifle butts. The Lithuanian two­footed animals gritted their teeth and loudly ordered the Jews to come out faster and leave their houses. They only allowed the Jews to bring along packages they could carry on their backs or in their arms. After the Jews were taken out, Lithuanians would seal the homes.

From every street and lane groups of partisans herded the Jews toward the edge of town, onto the priest’s pasture.

The civilian population began visiting the Jews they knew, offering to hide their valuables” until after the war.” Some of them were even bolder, and simply demanded that the Jews they knew give them money, gold and valuables, which they promised to return “after the war.”

There were even some who stood waiting for the police to drive the Jews out of their houses, so they could immediately move into the homes of the Jews and inherit their possessions. The Jews moved toward the pasture with their heads bowed, their eyes full of tears, sighing and breathing heavily. Women with children in their arms wept bitterly, together with their innocent babes. The Christian population joyfully accompanied them for their final walk, toward the priest’s pasture.

The entire town was guarded by groups of police and partisans, who saw to it that not a single Jew escaped. The process of assembling the Jews at the pasture continued until about 2:00 p.m.

Dr Taraseysky lived at the edge of town, near the priest’s pasture. He and his family were among the last to be brought to the pasture. A group of drunken partisans and police angrily burst into the doctor’s house, and demanded that he hand over money, gold and valuables. They robbed whatever they found worth carrying. They beat everyone in the doctor’s house with whips and sticks, and took them to the pasture.

Moyshe Gurvitz’s wife decided it would be better to die at home. She was found hanging near the door of her house. Her husband, a coachman, had already died.

When the Jews were taken out of their houses the Lithuanain cannibals took no pity on little children, the sick or the elderly. They threw the helpless Jews into the wagons like worthless rags, and took them to the pasture.

Mrs Rokhl Abramovitz, born Kovner, had given birth to a child a few days before the Jews were taken away, and she lay in bed very weak and ill. She was carried out of her house in the bloody sheet and thrown into a wagon, together with her newborn child.

The Christian population of the town gathered near the priest’s pasture, happily watching the doom of their erstwhile Jewish neighbors.

There was terrible panic at the pasture. Mothers looked for their lost children, and wept bitterly. The sighs and moans of the elderly, the weak and the sick could be heard as they were carried on wagons, along with the cries of little children in their mothers’ arms.

The pasture was guarded by Lithuanian police and partisans, who constantly beat the Jews with whips and sticks. German police came to the pasture several times, and went away again. Skarbutenas came quite frequently and beat the Jews at the pasture.

At 5:00 p.m. the partisans and police lined the men up in rows and columns, with the women and children behind them. They began marching the Jews toward the military compound near Shventzioneliai. Behind the women in wagons followed the elderly, the sick, women with little children and several pregnant women. A kilometer-long column of helpless Jews made its way forward. The Jews were guarded on every side by armed police and partisans. There were no Germans to be seen.

The weary steps of the Jews were accompanied by the moaning and weeping of women and children. The Lithuanian degenerates beat the Jews with whips and sticks, hurrying them along. The Jews proceeded for about fifteen kilometers on foot. Late at night they approached the military compound. That night the dark sky was illuminated by huge bonfires laid out in the compound. Constant shooting could be heard in the distance. The Jews were certain that everyone was being shot at the compound and thrown into the fire.

When they reached the compound the exhausted Jews were met by local police and partisans, who threw themselves at the Jews and beat everyone murderously. All of the Jews who had been brought were thrown into old barracks lacking doors and windows. The barracks were terribly crowded, and it was pitch dark. There was a great deal of confusion. The weeping of women and children cried out to Heaven.

If anyone became lost in the barrack, it was impossible to find him. Now and then the partisans would burst into the barrack and beat the helpless Jews in the darkness.

On that Sabbath of Repentance 1941 all of the Jews in the towns and smaller settlements of Švenčionys County were herded together at the military compound near Shventzioneliai.

The Jews from the surrounding towns were herded into separate barracks. The police and partisans who had brought the Jews from the surrounding towns stayed at the compound to help guard the Jews.

On Sunday, September 28 the Jews began to look around their new ·surroundings. Groups would assemble near their barracks, consulting with each other about their situation and trying to guess what was in store for them. Partisans drove the groups along, beating the Jews with sticks, boards and whips.The commander of the police and partisans was the county police chief, Antanas Kenstavitzius. His assistant was Skarbutenis. The worst sadist and torturer of the Jews at the compound was the Lithuanian Urbanas, a sergeant in the police force. Urbanas was always at the compound, and at every opportunity he would beat the Jews with a heavy, thick pole. Kenstavitzius and his assistant would come to check everything and then go away again.

The Jews weren’t even allowed to leave the barracks to fulfill their bodily functions, and they had to relieve themselves either inside or next to the barracks. Gradually the unfortunate Jews lost their instinctive sense of shame, and·men and women would relieve themselves next to each other.

Not far from the compound flows the little river Zhejmiana. The Jews suffered from thirst, but for the first day they were forbidden from going to the river to drink.

One woman named Sakhar went to the stream with a teapot to get water. She asked a partisan for permission. The Lithuanian degenerate shot her. On Sunday evening the Lithuanians distributed “water” to the Jews. It had grown dark in the barracks. Instead of water the murderers gave the Jews flasks of urine, and bread with needles. The Jews were very strictly forbidden to leave the barracks at night, and they were forced to relieve themselves inside the barracks.

The nights were already cold by then. The Jews lay sprawled on the bare floor of the barracks. Between the barracks a bonfire burned every night, and the partisans and police would stand nearby, warming themselves and singing. Frequently they would go over to the barracks to have some “fun” with the Jews, throwing stones through the empty window frames and doorways, spitting and beating the Jews with whips and sticks.

In the middle of the night they would shine flashlights at the Jews, choose attractive women and taken them out of the barracks into the nearby forest. They would rape the women. Afterward they would shoot them and throw them into pits which Jewish men were forced to dig during the day. When they removed their victims from the barracks, weeping and screaming could be heard. Some time later shots were heard in the forests nearby.

More than one mother of these raped daughters went out of her mind, and was shot near the barracks. There were several births at the compound. Among the new mothers was Mrs Merl Yekhiltzik. When she gave birth her screams could be heard in all of the barracks. She gave birth to a child. She was shot with all the other Jews at the barracks, along with her newborn child.

The elderly Mrs Ginzburg was shot one night. She had left the barracks to relieve herself.

Dr Taraseysky does not remember precisely any more of the terrible incidents at the compound. He insists that the hellish suffering of the Jews was so terrible that it cannot be described in words altogether, nor communicated in natural language.

The bit of food the Jews had brought along from their homes was all gone. They received no food. The Jews began to suffer hunger. There was nothing to satisfy the hunger of the little children.

The “useful” Jews who had the good fortune to stay in town did not rest until they convinced the Lithuanians and Germans to let them send bread and potatos to their loved ones in the barracks. The initiative was taken by Peysekh Goldberg, Meyer Shukhman and others. Moyshe Gordon was not on the list of the “useful” Jews. When the Jews were taken to the compound, he hid and escaped to Svir.

The participant in this collective testimony Yankl Levin was one of those who made several trips to the compound bringing bread and potatoes, and he had the chance to see the suffering of the Jews with his own eyes. Yankl’s friend Peysekh Goldberg used to ride with him; some of Goldberg’s relatives had been taken away to the compound.

The “useful” Jews who had been left in town didn’t only help their helpless brothers at the compound by bringing bread and potatos. The “useful” ones also constantly tried to get their relatives and close friends released from the compound and brought back to the Švenčionys ghetto, which was set up immediately after the Jews were taken away.

In exchange for large bribes the commandant Metz, the police chief Teclaw and the Lithuanian county executive would give the “useful” Jews special permits, allowing them to remove from the compound other “useful” Jews on the pretext that they were needed for special tasks. They were paid for these passes with various valuable items.

When they received these passes, the Jews would go to the compound. Kenstavitzius was always present when a Jew was released. Those who were released from the compound were brought to the Švenčionys ghetto under armed police guard.

The county police chief understood well that the Jews were paying for these passes. Kenstavitizus decided that he too would exploit this “golden opportunity” for his own interests. He would eagerly receive and negotiate with Jews in town who approached him about releasing their loved ones from the compound. He didn’t have to sign any passes, because he was actually in charge of the Jews in the compound. In exchange for large sums of money and valuables he would write down the names of those to be released from the compound. Along with those released by Metz, Teclaw and the county executive, he would also release “his” Jews, the ones whose relatives had dealt with him directly.

The German and Lithuanian masters of Jewish lives in Švenčionys thus traded shamefully in Jewish lives. The German and Lithuanian degenerates exploited the gruesome tragedy of the Jews as an easy, safe and quick way to become rich.

The Jews at the compound noticed that a number of people were being released, and they began trying to reach Kenstavitzius to try to deal with him. The wealthier and bolder ones managed to contact him, pay him a great deal of money and valuables and thus get themselves released. Together with those released through the special passes, Kenstavitzius would release “his” Jews from the compound.

Thus he had a personal interest in seeing to it that some Jews were released with passes each day, so that he could send his own “clients” as well.

But not everyone had the good fortune to make a deal with the German and Lithuanian powers in town. It was even harder to reach Kenstavitzius.

The Lithuanians had their office in a small room in one of the barracks. When Kenstavitzius would come, Jews would besiege his office. Partisans and police would drive the Jews away from the office with boards, sticks and whips. Only a few people had the luck to reach Kenstavitzius and negotiate their release with him. But not all of the “lucky” ones were released. If the amount offered him wasn’t large enough, or the “gift” wasn’t extremely valuable, he wouldn’t even answer. When the Jews were released from the compound they would be taken into the office and thoroughly searched. Everything the Jews possessed was taken away from them, and they were released almost naked, wearing only their overclothes which had been thoroughly searched. Not one of those released from the compound managed to hide something and bring it along.

While the Jews were being examined they would be murderously beaten by the Lithuanians. When the “lucky” ones were released they would bring along small children and young people who did not belong to their own families.

The eyewitness Yankl Levin spoke to the mayor Gaizhutis about releasing from the compound his uncle Shloyme Kuritsky (a carpenter) and his family; his other uncle Khatzkl Sorsky (a tailor) and his family; and the well-known family of Elyokum Sheytl. Of course, the mayor wasn’t willing to do this for nothing. He hoped to profit personally from the artisans. He spoke to his friend Kenstavitzius. Yankl’s uncle, his wife Bashe, their four children and the family of Elyokum Sheytl were released from the compound.

Several days later both families were brought back to the compound, together with other “illegal useful” Jews.

On the Sabbath of Repentance, while the Jews were being taken from their houses to the priest’s pasture, Dr Kopelovitz and his wife and child hid. They decided that their lives were in danger, and that it was time to use the sealed envelope which their friend the commandant had given them before he left Švenčionys. Rokhl Kopelovitz took the envelope to Commandant Metz, who was just then in consultation with the rest of the Lithuanian and German bosses in Švenčionys. When he opened the envelope he read it through and showed it to Teclaw. Metz permitted the Kopelovitz family to stay in their house.

After the Jews were taken to the compound Rokhl began trying to convince Metz to release her brother, Dr Binyomin Taraseysky, his wife Liza and their daughter Nina, his mother-in-law Sore Perakh, his step-mother Rivke Taraseysky and her daughter Sore Brezgin. Rokhl managed to do this with great difficulty.

A Jew name Peretz Yokhay worked at the tannery at the production center. He was friendly with a tanner named Kubusch, a Tatar. No one working at the factory was on the list of the “useful” Jews. The Tatar appealed to Metz to release Peretz Yokhay, claiming that he was a specialist at the tannery and that without him the work would suffer.

The command to release both the Taraseysky family and the family of Peretz Yokhay was written on a single sheet. Rokhl and the Tatar came to the compound and showed the order to Kenstavitzius, who refused to release the two families. The Tatar became angry, and demanded to know who had more authority, Kenstavitzius or the German Metz. Kenstavitzius struck the Tatar twice in the face for his “nervy” question.

The next day Commandant Metz came to the compound, accompanied by Teclaw. They took a Jewish girl as a translator, and entered Kenstavitzius’s office. “Tell this Lithuanian dog, that if he refuses to honor my passes again, he’ll be shot like a dog!” Metz ordered the girl to translate into Lithuanian for Kenstavitzius. Shortly after they went away, Kenstavitzius released the two families. However, he didn’t let Dr Taraseysky leave with his family, but left him at the compound instead.

The conflict between Metz and Kenstavitzius had tragic results for the Jews. No more release passes were issued. Nor did Kenstavitzius release any-one from the compound. Dr Taraseysky lost hope of being reunited with his wife and child, who had been released.

On October 5 or 6, at 2:00 p.m., two high-ranking Gestapo personnel from Vilnius arrived at the compound. All of the Jews were driven out of the barracks. One of the Germans stood up on a barrel and announced in a commanding voice: “Jews! Jews! Within two hours I order you to raise the specified sum of money and hand over all of your gold and silver and other valuables. After this time has elapsed thorough searches will be conducted. Anyone who is found still in possession of valuables will be shot with his entire family!” After the order was issued, the two Germans drove off.

A committee was immediately set up to raise the specified sum. The mortally frightened Jews handed everything over. A heap of money, gold watches and rings, and other valuables began to grow higher. In the evening the two Germans arrived, packed everything up into two large suitcases and drove off.

At that point Dr Taraseysky was still with his family at the compound. Yankl Levin and Peysekh Goldberg brought a wagonload of bread and potatoes to the compound that day. When they saw the Germans coming, the two men hid, and they heard the order for the requisition to be assembled.

Dr Taraseysky’s sister Rokhl didn’t rest until she managed to convince Metz to release her brother from the compound. During the night of Tuesday, October 7 Metz called the police in Shventzioneliai and ordered them to pass on to the compound the command to release Dr Taraseysky, along with the tailor Zakharye Nyovkin, his wife, two daughters and a son. Together with them, on Wednesday morning a boy named Khayem-Leyb, Elyokim Sheytl’s son-in-law and a Miss Labunovsky were also released. Miss Labunovsky still possessed valuables, and she gave them to Khayem-Leyb, who bribed the Lithuanian police at the compound.

Those relased from the compound were taken to prison in Shventzioneliai early Wednesday morning. The next day, Thursday, October 9 in the morning, a policeman released them from prison and took them to Švenčionys on foot. On the way they encountered a large group of Jews, men, women and children, returning to the compound.

Dr Taraseysky relates that while in prison in Shventzioneliai he heard shots coming from the direction of the compound all day Wednesday. Several days later the Jews in Švenčionys found out from peasants that on that Wednesday all the Jews at the compound had been shot. The peasants told him that a few days earlier police and partisans had gathered together peasants with shovels and spades, and forced them to dig a deep, long pit, not far from the compound.

The Jews who had been released from the Shventzioneliai prison were taken to the newly-established ghetto in Švenčionys.

Concerning the “unofficial useful Jews,” the participants in this collective testimony are able to attest: After the conflict between Metz and Kenstavitzius, there was apparently some threat that higher circles would learn about those who had been released for money. In order to be safe, the German and Lithuanian authorities agreed that the “unofficial useful Jews” should be sent back to the compound. This was the easiest way for both of them to hold onto the fortunes they had amassed through accepting bribes from the “unofficial useful Jews,” and to get rid of the risk of unpleasantness from higher up.

The “unofficial useful Jews” had gone to work at various locations after they were released from the compound. Everyone tried to get a form stating that he was working. Everyone believed that they were on the list of “useful” Jews.

Meyer Shukhman, who had become the representative of the Jews by then, announced on Wednesday that every head of family had to report to the synagogue yard in the ghetto, as ordered by the Germans. Metz, Teclaw, and Kenstavitzius came to the synagogue yard, along with Lithuanian police who surrounded the ghetto. The German and Lithuanian authorities began separating out the “useful” and the “unofficial useful” Jews. Names were called out from the old list, and those on the list were ordered to stand on the right. The “unofficial useful” Jews who had been released from the compound stayed where they were. Their first and last names were not called out.

The “unofficial useful Jews” were taken to prison by police and partisans. From there policemen took everyone to the ghetto, where each man had to show them where his family lived. The “unofficial useful Jews” and their families were immediately taken to prison. The next day, Thursday, October 9, all of the Jews were taken from prison in wagons back to the compound, where they were shot that same day.

On the Saturday before Yom Kippur, September 27, 1941, Lithuanian police and partisans herded together all of the Jews; men, women and children; from the following Lithuanian towns in Švenčionys County:

  1. Švenčionys.

The Jews from all of these towns, and from smaller settlements in Švenčionys County were herded into the compound at Shventzioneliai.

On Wednesday, October 8, 1941, the first of the intermediate days of Sukkot, all of the Jews – men, women and children, the elderly and the sick, were shot. Details about the terrible mass executions at the pit are unavailable to the participants in this collective testimony.

On Thursday, October 9, 1941, the second of the intermediate days of Sukkot, the “unofficial useful Jews” were shot. The number of Jews taken away that day was estimated to be precisely one hundred men, women and children. These one hundred Jews were shot at the same spot, and thrown into the same mass grave where all the Jews from the compound had been shot the day before.

A total of 6,800 Jews; men, women and children, were shot on those two tragic days. There is no evidence for this precise number.

The mass grave is located half a kilometer past the Zhemenai River, to the left in a forest near a hill after you pass the bridge. The mass grave is in the shape of the letter “L.”

The Establishment of the Ghetto in Švenčionys

On Tuesday, September 28, the day after the Jews were taken to the compound, there was a command for all the remaining “useful” Jews to leave their homes and settle into one neighborhood, at the synagogue compound.

The Jews were permitted to quickly move, bringing along all of their things. On Sunday and Monday the Jews carried their meager possessions to the new neighborhood. At the same time the police and partisans opened the sealed Jewish houses belonging to those who had been taken to the compound, and brought the furniture, bedding and clothes to the synagogue yard. Some of the houses had already been robbed by townspeople and by peasants who had come from the surrounding countryside. The police and partisans kept the better things for themselves while they were transporting them.

Lithuanians from town or new arrivals from Lithuania settled into the empty homes. The Lithuanian police and their families settled into the better houses.

A policeman stood guard over the items that had been brought into the synagogues. Several days later peasants came from the countryside, and along with townspeople they bought up the various items at an auction.

The Jewish spokesman Moyshe Gordon was not on the list of the “useful” Jews and escaped to the White Russian town of Svir before the Jews were taken to the military compound.

A man from Švenčionys named Meyer Shukhman began to take his place. He knew Lithuanian and was acquainted with Kenstavitzius. He began dealing with the Lithuanian and German authorities in the name of the remaining Jews. Apparently the German commandant Metz had appointed him as the representative of the surviving Jews. In any case the Jews themselves certainly hadn’t chosen him, and they did not authorize him to speak in their name. The Jews understood that he had assumed his new responsibilities in order to have some occupation through which he could qualify as one of the “useful” ones. However, Shukhman did the best he could to restore the ruined lives of the Jews. He was assisted by Jews who had access to Germans and Lithuanians among the authorities in town. Among them were:

  1. Yankl Veksler, a tailor who worked for and had access to the commandant Metz.
  2. Berl Kharmatz, a shoemaker who worked for and had access to Teclaw.
  3. Dr Kopelovitz, who was the ghetto doctor.
  4. Aron Kagan, the former bookkeeper at Taraseysky’s medicinal herb factory.

From the beginning these four had served as advisers to Shukhman. Later on, as things were gradually arranged in the ghetto, these men constituted a formal committee, headed by Meyer Shukhman. The members of the committee would gather in the evening. They would listen to the news that Jews brought them from town, and decided who had to be bribed, and which of the German and Lithuanian authorities had to be given a “present.” The committee tried at first to have the boundaries of the ghetto enlarged, but they did not succeed.

Shukhman’s main task consisted in providing the necessary number of Jews to do various tasks in town. He had to obtain all of the “requisitions” and “presents” for the Lithuanians and Germans in order to please them and have continued access to them.

The head of the criminal police, the Lithuanian Matzulevitzius, a terrible sadist and murderer, often came to the ghetto. Every time he appeared in the ghetto the Jews would fall into a deadly panic and try to hide. Every time he found something in the ghetto to complain about, and he would threaten to shoot Jews. This was an easy way for him to obtain anything he found useful. Shukhman would bribe him or promise to give him a fine “gift” later on, and the Lithuanian degenerate would calm down for some time.

He sucked at the Jews of the ghetto like a leech, exploiting them endlessly by terrorizing them in various ways, threatening them until they came up with more and more money and valuables. But he offered the Jews nothing in return.

After the one hundred “unofficial useful Jews” were taken back to the compound, Kenstavitzius ordered that everyone in the ghetto be registered. The Jews who were hiding in the countryside began to return. A total of 240 Jews were registered·at that time. The “useful” ones continued working at their regular jobs. Those who had come out of hiding tried everything they could to obtain jobs. The few surviving Jews could not count on living from day to day, and a number of Jews bribed officials to hire them. A good deal of this was done by the committee headed by Meyer Shukhman;

 

Worksites

The regular worksites at that time included the following:

  1. Fifty men and women did agricultural work at the Tzerklishkis compound at that time.

2.·Twenty women worked at a garden belonging to “Lietukis,” under the supervision of the Pole Ginko.

  1. About fifteen or twenty men worked at the lumber mill at the [promkombinat].
  2. A large number of Jews worked at the production center, making soap, weaving rope, at the carpenters’ shop, making shoes, sewing, and so forth.
  3. When the Soviets retreated, they had left weapons at a camp near Švenčionys. A group of men worked there, repairing and renovating everything.
  4. The painters’ brigade headed by the eyewitness Yankl Levin earned a good deal of respect for the ghetto. They worked doing various renovations, making signs for the Lithuanians and Germans who had power over the Jews, and thus the Jews in the brigade had contacts with the bosses.

A number of artisans set up workshops in the ghetto and did various tasks for the Jews in the ghetto, as well as for the townspeople, especially employees of the civil administration.

Like a drowning man who grabs onto a wisp of straw, all of the Jews seized onto whatever work they could find, which seemed to them to be the only way they could hold onto their own lives and the lives of their families.

All of the workers at the various sites were registered on lists. The lists were signed by the employers every day, and the employers attested that all of the Jews on the list had worked that day. The lists were kept in the archives of the ghetto committee. In addition to these permanent workplaces, there was often temporary work in town, such as cleaning the streets, washing the floors in the Lithuanian and German administrative offices, or clearing the snow from the streets and the surrounding roads in the winter.

In these cases it was very difficult for the committee to gather the necessary number of workers. The families of the artisans who worked for the Lithuanian and German authorities, or those who had regular positions, considered themselves privileged. They didn’t want to follow the orders of the committee, and refused to go themselves or send their wives to do these temporary jobs. For the sake of historical accuracy it must be mentioned that during that tragic time some of the families were too egotistical, too self-centered, which carried a taint of corruption and moral collapse. These families felt no responsibility for the fate of the community. This negative attitude on the part of some of the Jews of Švenčionys always made the work of the committee, and later on of the Jewish Council, much harder.

 

Nutrition in the ghetto

 

At first the ghetto neighborhood was not surrounded. The Jews managed with difficulty to come into contact with the Christian population, with whom they would trade clothes for food. Those who worked in the city had an easier time moving away from their workplaces to get food. The Jews didn’t suffer hunger. The “useful” Jews brought along a good deal of food when they returned to the ghetto.

On one occasion a couple of Germans came from the Vilnius region commissariat, and ordered that the ghetto be fenced in. The Jews themselves surrounded the ghetto neighborhood with two rows of barbed wire. A gate was built at one spot. On the outside of the ghetto Lithuanian police stood guard. It became more difficult for Christians to enter the ghetto. Contacts with the Christian population was controlled. Nevertheless workers from the ghetto could come into contact with the surrounding area, and they moved freely around the town.

The newly-established Jewish Council

 

The Jews in the crowded ghetto neighborhood survived the winter of 1941-42 uncertain whether they would live to see the next day, mourning for their relatives and friends who had been murdered at the compound, cut off from the surrounding world. Švenčionys Jews began returning from the White Russian towns they had fled to, and settled into the ghetto. During the winter the number of Jews in the ghetto reached four hundred. No additional residences were added to the ghetto. The crowding was terrible.

The former spokesman for the Jews, Moyshe Gordon, returned to Švenčionys from Svir during the winter. His arrival in the ghetto was a joyful moment for the ghetto population.

The participants in this collective testimony do not know why Shukhman was arrested and taken to prison. This happened at the end of the spring of 1942. It was said that the German commandant Metz had whipped Shukhman and interrogated him, because he had been guilty of some crime against the Germans or Lithuanians.

The head of the criminal police in Švenčionys began coming to the ghetto even more frequently to terrorize the Jews. In connection with the investigation of Shukhman, he sumoned a number of Jews. Among them were Dr Taraseysky, Khayem-Hirsh Levin and Moyshe Gordon.

Matzulevitzius angrily shouted at the Jews. He claimed that chaos reigned in the ghetto and threatened that he would personally see to it that there was order in the ghetto. He ordered the establishment of a new Jewish Council and appointed its members.

Moyshe Gordon was appointed chairman of the new Jewish council. Dr Taraseysky and Yankl’s brother Khayem-Hersh Levin were the other members. Moyshe Gordon, a butcher, was a down-to-earth person. He knew Lithuanian and was quite capable of fulfilling his responsibilities. He knew how to talk, and how to get along with the German and Lithuanian rulers of the ghetto.

The Jewish Council began to arrange life in the ghetto. A Jewish police force with six or eight members, headed by Khayem-Hersh Levin, was set up. They would guard the ghetto at night from the danger of robbers coming from outside. They kept order in the ghetto. They announced to the Jews who was needed when for temporary jobs. They made sure the ghetto was kept clean, and so forth. The Jewish police didn’t have special uniforms.

Two secretaries were appointed. One of them worked for the Jewish Council. The second supervised all matters pertaining to work.

The newly established Jewish Council did everything it could to maintain the existing work assignments, and to find new ones. The Jewish Council was constantly aware of the terror of being liquidated. Giving “presents” and fulfilling various “requisitions” ordered by the German and Lithuanian bosses was the only “strategy” the Jewish Council knew.

Moyshe Gordon concentrated on handling the ghetto’s external affairs. He was assisted by Jewish artisans who worked for the Lithuanian and German authorities, who used their contacts to help the Jews in the ghetto. Unfortunately it must be said that a number of artisans used the “gifts” and “requisitions” which they gave to their employers as opportunities to win more sympathy for themselves as individuals. In general, however, the artisans did a great deal to maintain contacts between the Jewish Council and the Lithuanian and German powers.

In the spring of 1942 the slaughter of the Jews in the White Russian towns began. Jewish refugees began to appear in Švenčionys, and they spoke about the slaughter of dozens of communities in White Russia. The Jews of Švenčionys once again felt that their daily lives were insecure. Constant nervousness and fear of death infected everyone in the ghetto.

About the Slaughter of the Jews in Lentupis

Red partisans had appeared in that area. They frightened the Germans and their collaborators. The bold actions of the Red partisans often had a quality of legendary heroism. A large group of Red partisans burst into the town of Lentupis one night, and took control for a few hours. A few of their horses were tied up next to the ghetto in Lentupis after they left. The slaughter of the Jews in the ghetto took place the next day.

Four Jews miraculously managed to survive, and escaped to the Švenčionys ghetto. This happened at the end of the month of December 1942.

A representative of the regional commissar came from Vilnius and ordered the Jewish council to integrate forty Jews from Lentupis into the Švenčionys ghetto. However, the Jewish council could not get the ghetto neighborhood enlarged. The forty Jews from Lentupis were brought to Švenčionys at the beginning of September 1942, exactly four months before their ghetto was liquidated.

The Murderers Willy and Simon

These were two Germans who often came to the Švenčionys ghetto. They both lived in Vilnius and worked at the regional commissariat. Their visits to Švenčionys always ended with new problems or decrees against the Jews. They visited the work sites and asked how the Jews were working, and whether they were producing enough.

One of their visits to Švenčionys cost the life of a Jewish lawyer named Shakhnovitz, a man from a Lithuanian town who had been caught by the Germans while trying to flee at the beginning of the war. He had settled in Švenčionys. For a short time Attorney Shakhnovitz worked for the police as a translator into Lithuanian and German. In the summer of 1942 he took the same position as an employee at the town administration, and he worked in one of the front rooms.

Attorney Shakhnovitz had an impressive appearance. He dressed beautifully and kept himself very clean, and wore a yellow patch on his chest and on his back. He slept in the ghetto. One morning Shakhnovitz was noticed by the two comrades Willy and Simon. They became interested in him, and had a conversation about him with the mayor. In the afternoon two policemen took him from his job and led him away from town, in the direction of Shventzioneliai. They shot him near the village of Margumishky.

One time the regional commissar Wolf personally visited the ghetto. He went into the Jewish homes. In one house he found a large piece of bread, and he punished the Jew for this with blows from his own strong fists.

 

The Assassination of Beck

Three young men worked for Beck, the county agricultural supervisor. Khayem-Yitzkhok Sheytl was an assistant chauffeur. David Ginzburg was an electrician, and a fifteen year old named Gurvitz worked as a servant and shined shoes. These three youngsters had it relatively good, and they were satisfied that they worked for such an important man as Beck and were considered “useful.”

At that time, the summer of 1942, a supply commissar with the rank of First Lieutenant came to Švenčionys at the head of a group, evidently all of them SA men. They settled in for a substantial period.

One time Beck, his spokesman Grul and the newly-arrived First Lieutenant rode in the direction of Svir to requisition horses from peasants. Together with them rode their translator, the Polish Miss Rakovska.

At a village four kilometers from Lentupis the car was attacked by Red partisans. Beck, his spokesman Grul and the First Lieutenant were shot, and burned together with the car. The Red partisans allowed Miss Grul to return to Švenčionys.

A special commando patrol immediately came from Vilnius, armed from head to toe. Together with Lithuanian police from Švenčionys, that day they shot all the men in the surrounding villages within a radius of eight kilometers of the site of the attack. They shot any man they found out in the fields working or at their homes.

They also shot almost all of the men in the town of Lentupis that day.

In the town of Švenčionys, both the Polish intelligentsia and the Polish criminal class were all arrested. All of the arrestees were imprisoned. That same day the three young Jews who worked for Beck were arrested, and they were taken to prison as well.

The day after the arrests Lithuanian police and partisans took all of the Polish arrestees and the three Jewish youth out of the prison, took them to the Jewish cemetery and shot them. A total of forty men were shot at the Jewish cemetery, including three Jews. Among the Poles who were shot was the former mayor under the Polish regime Walulewitz, Dr Miklashewitz, the town pharmacist Nedzwecky and a Polish professor at the teachers’ seminary.

At the same time thirty Poles, most prominent among them two priests, were arrested in Shventzioneliai. Next to the highway leading to Švenčionys, one kilometer out of Shventzioneliai, the thirty Poles were shot. The goodness of Dr Miklashewitz, who had done a good deal to help the Jews, must be mentioned here.

At this point it must be emphasized that not one of the Poles who were taken away and shot put up the slightest resistance. Among them were a number of people who had themselves inherited Jewish possessions. After this incident the Poles stopped mocking the surviving Jews of Švenčionys, claiming that they had gone like sheep to the slaughter without putting up any resistance. They began to understand better the tragedy the Jews had suffered.

Gershon Bak and Ruven Madzolsky

These two young men had managed to obtain a revolver. They wanted to try it out in a ruined building. Ruven wasn’t careful enough, and he shot and wounded his friend Gershon. The shot was heard in the ghetto. A short time later everyone in the ghetto knew about this tragic incident. Everyone was terrified. The Jews were afraid that the ghetto might be liquidated because of this incident. There was a special meeting of the Jewish council. Present at the meeting were several people who had advice or proposals about how to deal with the situation.

The father of the wounded boy, the glazier Itzik Bak, was present at the meeting. After lengthy consultations, everyone present decided that they would appeal to the head of the criminal police, Matzulevitzius, asking him to forget about the incident. The father of the wounded boy was well-off, and the Jewish Council didn’t find it necessary to raise money throughout the ghetto to bribe Matzulevitzius.

The decision to appeal to Matzulevitzius was taken because all of the participants and the meeting were sure that sooner or later Matzulevitzius would find out about this disastrous incident, and it would be better to approach him beforehand and try to bribe him.

At first Matzulevitzius threatened to shoot a hundred Jews. The spokesmen for the Jews, including the wounded boy’s father, fell at his feet weeping, and pleading for mercy for their innocent congregation. Mr Bak also promised a beautiful “gift.” However, Matzulevitzius insisted that the families of the young men would certainly be shot. There was no way to get him to forget about the incident.

That same day he arrested Ruven Madzolsky. Gershon Bak was taken to the municipal hospital. The next day Matzulevitzius arrested a young girl named Sore Levin. The participants in this collective testimony do not know the exact reasons for the arrest. Mr Bak and Dr Taraseysky went to Matzulevitzius to ask him to release Sore Levin. Matzulevitzius was very angry and warned them that if they didn’t stop pleading on the girl’s behalf he would shoot both of them.

Several days later, in the morning, Matzulevitzius took all three young people to the Jewish cemetery and shot them. The invalid Gershon Bak was taken from the hospital. The other two were taken from prison.

The Unsuccessful Provocation

All of the permits provided by Kenstavitzius to the Jewish workers, allowing them to go into town to work without being guarded, had expired. The man who took his place when he wasn’t around evidently didn’t get along with him, and must have envied the way his boss was getting rich from the Jews. During the fall, when Kenstavitzius went away on vacation, he annulled all of the Jews’ passes, and refused to honor them any longer. He demanded that the passes allowing Jews to go to work had to be certified by the police and by the German labor bureau.

One morning the policeman at the ghetto gate refused to let the Jews leave the ghetto to work in town. Dr Taraseysky and Moyshe Gordon were awoken. The two men went to see the director of the German labor bureau, and told him everything. The director of the German labor bureau and the two Jewish representatives went to the police’. The Jews stayed outside and waited. “They say it’s your fault!” the director of the labor bureau said with a smile when he came back out.

The three men went to the ghetto and began letting Jews go to work. At that moment Kenstavitzius’s replacement and another man came to the ghetto. He carried a long whip in his hand. He asked who the representatives of the Jews were. Moyshe Gordon and Dr. Taraseysky responded to him. Fires began burning in his eyes, and they became bloody with murderous rage. He shouted as he accused the two Jews of trying to sabotage the labor system, and he ordered them to stand next to a wall near the gate to the ghetto. The Lithuanian murderer was ready to shoot them with his revolver. The director of the labor bureau struck the revolver from his hand, and suggested that the workers should be released, and then they should go to the office of the Jewish Council near the gate.

After the workers were allowed out into town, the enraged Lithuanian arrested Moyshe Gordon and Dr Taraseysky. He took both of them to the prison near the ghetto. The murderer ordered Moyshe Gordon to get down on all fours on the floor. One man held his head, and another man whipped Moyshe Gordon. Moyshe Gordon screamed terribly as he was whipped. Dr Taraseysky watched everything, and after they finished beating and whipping Gordon, it was his turn to lie down. After they were whipped, the prison guards locked both of them into a cell.

An appeal was made to Teclaw concerning the arrest of the Jewish spokesmen. Several hours later a policeman came and announced that both men had been sentenced to 25 lashes. Both men suffered painful torture once again. After they were whipped, the policeman ordered the two men to run quickly to the ghetto. Dr Taraseysky states that for several days he could neither stand nor sit. His entire body was bloodied and his internal organs were swollen.

When Kenstavitzius returned from vacation, Moyshe Gordon received his permission to release Dr Taraseysky from the Jewish Council. Dr Taraseysky went to work at the Tzerklishkis compound as a simple worker. He worked there until late in the fall of 1942.

The camps around Švenčionys

In the summer of 1942 Jews from Vilnius came to the Švenčionys ghetto. They reported that there was a ghetto in Vilnius. They provided information about life in the Vilnius ghetto and about the surrounding work camps, where Jews were living and working. The news from Vilnius sounded as remote to the Jews in Švenčionys as the·legends about the “little red Jews” who live across the river Sambatyon. When they found out that there were still Jews living in Vilnius, the Švenčionys Jews were absolutely delighted, and they became more hopeful that they would live to see better times.

The Vilnius Jews who provided this good news also spoke about the labor camps in Shventzioneliai. A large group of Jews from Vilnius worked at that camp, under the supervision of the Todt organization. The Jews of the camp worked at the railroad station and on the railroad.

The head of the Jews in the camp was a Vilnius Jew named Yudl Shapiro. He often came to Švenčionys, where there was a girl he was friendly with. The central camp was the one at Shventzioneliai. Other camps surrounding Vilnius and Shventzioneliai were attached to the central camp. All of the work camps were staffed by Jews who had been brought from the Vilnius ghetto, and at the beginning they had no contact whatsoever with the Švenčionys ghetto.

Yudl Shapiro often demanded that the Švenčionys ghetto provide material help in the form of money and food. Then, with the help of the Todt Organization, he began to demand workers. A few small groups of young people were sent out to work. However, it was easy for them to buy their way out of the work and return to the ghetto. The Todt organization would take money to release them, and then come to the ghetto to seek new workers. They even obtained the help of the German labor bureau in obtaining workers from the Švenčionys ghetto.

Not one of the residents was willing to go voluntarily, yet the Jewish Council had to provide the specified number of workers, and thus they were under extreme pressure from all sides. The Jews of Švenčionys suffered in every way at the hands of the Todt Organization in the work camps around Švenčionys, until the liquidation of the ghetto.

The Liquidation of the Vidz Ghetto

There was a ghetto in the White Russian town of Vidz until the fall of 1942. Throughout the entire summer the ghetto served as a refuge for Jewish survivors from surrounding towns who had managed to escape the slaughters. There were also a number of refugees from towns near Švenčionys. A large number of strong young Jews were sent to work camps. A number of young people escaped to the surrounding forests to join the Red partisans. Most of the people left in the ghetto were elderly folk and women with children.

In the fall of 1942 Simon and Willy visited the Švenčionys ghetto and ordered the Jewish council to get ready to integrate 2,000 Jews from the Vidz ghetto. For an entire week Jews rode to the Švenčionys ghetto in wagons. They brought their last few possessions along in wagons. For the most part they were depressed, hungry, deathly terrified old people, the sick, and women with children, along with a smaller number of able-bodied men and women.

This unexpected influx of such a large number of Jews placed the Jewish Council in an extremely difficult situation. This time as well, it was impossible to have the boundaries of the ghetto neighborhood increased-a space that was originally designed to house one hundred people. The Jewish Council held one helpless, tragic meeting after another. They decided to move the newly-arrived Jews into the empty synagogues, and to begin fixing up all of the barns and sheds.

Yankl Levin and his brigade of painters were invited to do the renovations in these extraordinary circumstances, without having access to any building materials. The brigade simply accomplished miracles. Out of nothing they managed to create new dwellings. They took out the extra windows from all of the existing dwellings and placed them in the stalls and sheds. They took materials from old, wrecked sheds and used them to repair the old, two-storey brick building where Gershon Bak had been shot while trying out a revolver.

The Jews crowded together into the little ghetto like herring in a barrel. The Jewish Council had an extremely difficult time trying to control the selfishness of a large number of families which didn’t want to crowd themselves in any further by taking into their homes the newly arrived Jews from the Vidz ghetto. By then it was autumn. At night it was cold. The brigade used old pieces of tin to make little stoves and placed them into the crowded dwellings.

It must be emphasized that the accomplishments of the brigade of painters in that tragic situation must be considered as a wonder. Of course, it took a great deal of stubbornness and a strong, self­sacrificing will to help their unfortunate brothers. Meanwhile the brigade couldn’t neglect their work in town, in order not to lose the jobs they’d obtained and to avoid causing the Lithuanian and German bosses to be dissatisfied.

From the time the Jews arrived from Vidz, life in the Švenčionys ghetto was hard, dirty, crowded and hungry. It was clear to everyone that the ghetto was no longer viable, and that it was destined for death. It was autumn in God’s world by then. The gloomy sky spread out over the dying, withered fields and pastures. Yet nowhere in the entire area did the autumn reign as powerfully that year than in the ghetto, where the desperate, terrified Jews suffered and wasted away. Moaning and sighing, the weeping of tormented women with small children accompanied the stormy whistling of the autumn winds, which tore through the cracks in the walls and windows of the helpless Jews’ dwellings.

Everyone in the Švenčionys ghetto was filled with a mood of autumnal decline. The new arrivals told the previous residents terrible details about the destruction of the Jewish communities in White Russian towns. News came from the work camps in Shventzioneliai about the liquidation of the labor camps. Bad rumors came concerning the situation in the Vilnius ghetto. Autumn!

The unfortunate Jews saw decline and destruction before them. An indescribable sorrow and unease clearly lay over everyone’s face. By this time quite a few Jews were leaving their clothes on when they went to sleep at night. At that time a German Sonderkommando rode through Švenčionys.

The Jews who worked as specialists for German and Lithuanian authorities and who therefore had the opportunity to learn something about the fate of the Jews, were often called to meetings by the Jewish council. At one such meeting which lasted until late at night, the decision was taken to get into contact with the Vilnius ghetto and ask them to learn what they could about the coming fate of the Švenčionys ghetto.

The Mortally Dangerous Trip

It was hard for those who gathered that night at the Jewish council to agree on such a measure. It was even more difficult to find appropriate people who were willing to risk their lives and ride the train to Vilnius. At that time it was impossible for Moyshe Gordon to leave the ghetto. Some people openly acknowledged that they didn’t have the courage to take such a bold measure. The specialists couldn’t miss work. The Jewish Council was afraid to take too much time if it was possible to get help. They decided to wake up Dr Taraseysky and Yankl Levin during the night and ask them to carry out the meeting’s decision.

Dr Taraseysky’s wife opposed letting her husband travel and thus put his life in danger, especially since it wouldn’t be possible to obtain permission for him to travel. They begged her, explaining that it was a matter of life and death for an entire community of Jews. “If it’s necessary to go, then go!” she finally said, agreeing to place the precious life of her husband in danger.

That same night Yankl Levin and Dr Taraseysky left the ghetto. Of course, everything had to be done in great secrecy. The two of them made their way to the station, hid in a small-gauge railroad car and arrived at the station in Shventzioneliai (about twelve kilometers from Švenčionys) without incident.

Encouraged by the success of the first stage, the two men went to the work camp. They woke up the chief of the Jews, Yudl Shapiro, and told him about the plan. With his assistance they tried to get one of the Todt Organization personnel to accompany them to Vilnius. Not one of the Todt Organization personnel would agree to come for any price. Yankl Levin and Dr Taraseysky decided to continue their risky journey. They crossed the railroad tracks and waited for a train at the station. They were afraid to be seen. They removed their yellow patches and waited for a train.

They arrived at the railroad station in Vilnius on a military train. During the entire journey they were in the same car with soldiers. Both of them have recognizably Jewish appearances. Their lives were in danger for hours.

A Jew found outside of the ghetto could be arrested by anyone and murdered. For the “nerve” of riding on a train, and especially a military train, a mere sentence of death would have been too easy on a Jew at that time. In such a case the Gestapo would have gradually tortured the Jew to death. Fortunately the two men survived every danger without incident.

Jews from the Vilnius ghetto were working on the railroad lines near the Vilnius railroad station. The two men from Švenčionys went to them and told them who they were. The two men were hidden until the evening. After work in the evening Dr Taraseysky and Yankl Levin went to the Vilnius ghetto with the workers.

Jewish ghetto police took the two guests to the labor bureau. The two Jews from Švenčionys were astonished at everything their eyes beheld. For about a year and a half they hadn’t seen the familiar, dear city of Vilnius and its Jews. They knew that tens of thousands of Jews had been shot at Ponari and they didn’t expect to find a well­organized, functioning Jewish life. Everything they saw encouraged them to think they might survive to see better times. The administration of the ghetto constituted a well-organized, thoroughly Jewish “state” with Jewish “ministers” and uniformed Jewish ghetto police. They saw a telephone at the Jewish labor bureau. The two Švenčionys men looked at each other in astonishment, and a hopeful smile crossed both men’s faces. They were taken to see the chairman of the Jewish council, Gens.

The chairman received the two men very warmly, and listened with concern to their account of their experiences and to their request. With frightened eyes he looked at the two men from Švenčionys as they told him about their dangerous journey.

“Don’t despair! Don’t lose courage! Keep your heads high, Jews! As long as we’re alive we are human beings and Jews!” Gens comforted the two men from Švenčionys like an officer giving military commands. He promised them that the next day he would speak to his advisers and do everything possible for them. Gens was tall and slim. His facial expression conveyed a strong and determined will. All of his movements showed military bearing. He wore the same cap as the ghetto police, decorated with a silver band.

That evening the local performers’ guild gave a performance. Gens suggested that they go to the performance. The two Jews from Švenčionys were astounded at this bizzare suggestion. They were ashamed even to think about sitting in a theater after so many Jews had been slaughtered at the compound, and at a time when so many more Jews in the ghetto were in danger of being annihilated.

As if he read their thoughts, Gens understood. “Don’t despair, Jews!” he ordered them once again.

The two Jews from Švenčionys decided they would rather rest after their journey. Jewish ghetto police took them to the place where they spent the night.

The next day Gens received them, assuring them that the Švenčionys ghetto was in no danger. He announced to them that the Švenčionys ghetto was going to become a department of the Vilnius ghetto and that he, Gens, was going to be in charge.

The Jewish Council in Švenčionys was extremely nervous about the situation of their messengers, about whom they had received no news.

Gens reached the Lithuanian police in Švenčionys through the labor bureau in the ghetto, and asked them to bring Moyshe Gordon to the telephone. Gens assured him that his messengers were well and promised that he would soon visit the Švenčionys ghetto in person.

For exactly one week the men from Švenčionys stayed in the Vilnius ghetto, and they had the opportunity to learn more about the lives of the Jews there. During that week Gens managed to obtain an automobile for a large sum of money, and he prepared to visit Švenčionys in person. One morning the Jews from Švenčionys, together with Gens and his assistants got into the automobile belonging to the Luftwaffe and arrived in Švenčionys.

Gens wore a long leather coat and a uniform, and his entourage were also well-dressed in uniforms. The population of the town respectfully watched the newly-arrived Jews, and said to each other that “Jewish ministers” had come to the Švenčionys ghetto. At the entrance to the ghetto gate the Lithuanian policeman stood at attention when Gens and his helpers approached, and he gave them a proper military salute. At the study house Gens gave an encouraging speech to the downcast Jews, promising to do everything in his power to help them. The Jews took comfort from this and felt more hopeful.

Gens went to see the mayor in the company of Moyshe Gordon to ask that the boundaries of the ghetto be increased. He also had a conversation with the head of the German gendarmes. That same evening there was a crowded meeting at the Jewish Council. All of the members of the Jewish Council were invited, along with all of the advisers who had contacts with the Lithuanian and German authorities.

Gens and his entourage showed them how to rearrange the way the ghetto was governed. He proposed the establishment of a new Jewish Council, consisting of the following people: Moysh Gordon, Dr Taraseysky and Motl Gilinsky. Moyshe Gordon continued as the chairman of the Jewish council. Gens left behind one of his assistants to help in the reorganization of the ghetto administration. That same day Gens and his entourage returned to Vilnius. Several days later the Švenčionys Jewish Council received a document stating that the Švenčionys ghetto was to be considered a division of the Vilnius ghetto. The document had been sent from the office of the regional commissar. The document confirmed the appointment of the three candidates Gens had proposed as members of the Jewish Council.

The Newly-Established Ghetto Administration

The new administration was modelled on the example of the Vilnius ghetto. Gens’s representative at the Švenčionys ghetto helped to set up the administration.

The following bureaus were set up:

  1. The labor bureau under the direction of an art student named Sure (Alexander) Katznboygn.
  2. The supply bureau and social assistance office directed by Motl Gilinsky.
  3. The sanitation bureau, responsible for keeping the ghetto ‘clean, under the direction of Ferber.
  4. The police, who were directed by Khayem-Hersh Levin and his spokesman Zerakh Gordon, a brother of Chairman Moyshe Gordon.
  5. The finance bureau, headed by the bookkeeper Shokhar.

Motl Gilinsky had been a teacher at the Medem Sanitorium in a town in Poland before the war. The pharmacist Ferber was a converted Jew, and he had a Polish wife on the Aryan side.

The labor bureau in the ghetto maintained contacts with the German labor bureau in Švenčionys and fulfilled the demands for Jewish labor forces.

The supply bureau received food from town for the residents of the ghetto. The bureau had a small store in the ghetto where food was distributed to the ghetto population. Thanks to Moyshe Gordon this bureau saw to it that there was food in the ghetto. Along with the foodthat came in from town he would smuggle in flour and other items of food which had been purchased outside the ghetto. In order to bring these items into the ghetto and bring garbage out of the ghetto, Moyshe Gordon received permission from the mayor to possess a horse and wagon in the ghetto.

The supply bureau was also responsible for social support of the hungry and needy Jews, especially the Jews from the Vidz ghetto. The sanitary department kept strict watch over the cleanliness of the dwellings and streets of the ghetto. This department was extremely busy when there was an epidemic in the ghetto. The epidemic broke out late in the fall of 1942.

The Epidemic in the Ghetto

As a result of all of the dirt, the crowding, the hunger and the cold, an epidemic of spotted typhus broke out late in the autumn. On the very first day of the epidemic about a hundred people fell ill. There was a serious danger that the ghetto would be effectively liquidated as a result of the epidemic. The new Jewish Council and its recently established administration felt shattered and helpless in the face of this danger.

That same day Gens’s representative in the ghetto returned to Vilnius. Several days later two Jewish doctors came from the Vilnius ghetto, along with two nurses and a new man representing Gens. The doctors who had come from Vilnius held a meeting together with the members of the Jewish Council and the doctors in the ghetto. It was a tragic, helpless meeting. A series of decisions were taken regarding the fight against the epidemic and all of the dangers the epidemic presented for the residents of the ghetto.

They decided:

  1. To take every step to prevent the Germans and Lithuanians, as well as the Christian population of the town, from finding out about the epidemic, in order to prevent the ghetto from being totally liquidated.
  2. To quickly establish an infirmary for those who had been infected and to set up a bath house.
  3. To strengthen the sanitary supervision of the dwellings, and to visit every house each day to determine whether anyone else had been infected.
  4. To avoid all but the most urgently necessary contacts with the Aryan side.

The epidemic broke out in several places in White Russia that fall. The Germans destroyed entire villages on account of the epidemic. The doctors from Vilnius departed immediately. Yankl Levin and his brigade of painters were immediately summoned to help build the infirmary and the bath house. The members of the brigade clearly understood what a difficult and responsible job they had been assigned. In a short time they had fixed up the women’s section of the study house, hammered together beds for the sick out of old boards, and thus managed to set up a primitive infirmary. The sick were taken out of every house and brought to the “infirmary.”

Bedding, sheets and mattresses were collected from the residents of the ghetto. All of the nurses and nurses’ aides were mobilized for this task. The Jewish doctors had brought along medicine from Vilnius. The number of sick people grew from day to day, and the crowding at the “hospital” was terrible.

A large house consisting of five rooms and a kitchen was emptied out. Yankl and his brigade of painters fixed up this house as well, and got it ready to serve as an infirmary. But this house, too, quickly filled with those suffering from spotted typhus. Sick people began to arrive from the work camp at Shventzioneliai. An isolation ward was set up for those suspected to have been infected with spotted typhus.

The sanitary department went from house to house every morning, and Dr Kopelovitz examined all of those who had fallen ill. Those who were sick with spotted typhus immediately had to go to the infirmary. A great deal of difficulty was caused by those families which hid their ill members because of their fear that the Germans would find out, and burn both the sick people and the houses they lived in.

Next to the study house there had always stood an old brick shed which was used as a toilet. Yankl and his brigade renovated it to serve as a country-style bath house. At the same time the brigade began preparing a bath where people could be disinfected.

It is simply difficult to imagine the commitment and courage of the men who made up the brigade. They had no building materials. The bath house had to be built from nothing. It must be mentioned at this point that a large number of Jews didn’t even want to help, explaining that they worked all day long, and they didn’t neglect to mention the names of the Lithuanian and German authorities they worked for, thus emphasizing how important they were.

Yankl had a good deal of success with that sort of person. When he went to summon them to help work, they were ashamed to refuse, because he and his brigade also had to work in town all day long.

There were four Jews from Lentupis in the Švenčionys ghetto who never went to work in town. When Yankl summoned them to help work building the bath house, they would go, saying “When Yankl calls, you have to go and help.”

Near a small stream in the ghetto stood an old smithy covered over with garbage and dirt. The smithy was cleaned out. Floors were constructed out of old boards torn from the sidewalks of the ghetto. A disinfection station was set up, with places to take one’s clothes off and wash. Yankl managed to bring a 200-liter boiler from town. The primitive stone oven was inside the disinfector. After the stones were heated water would be poured through a small window and the window would immediately be closed.

The disinfector was heated to exactly 120 degrees centigrade. People would hang their clothes inside the disinfector. After they washed, they would remove their clothes from the disinfector. Not only clothing but bedding as well was deloused at the disinfector. It was very difficult to obtain wood for the bath houses and for the infirmaries. All the old sheds, barns and stalls were devoted to this purpose. The epidemic was centered in the study houses where the people from Vidz lived.

The head of the “infirmaries” was Dr Taraseysky, who devoted himself body and soul to the work. He didn’t have much time to devote to affairs of the Jewish council. He went to the Vilnius ghetto several times to obtain assistance.

Later on a third “infirmary” was established, and the sick were brought there for the end of their convalescence. The quota of workers in town had to be maintained in order to prevent the epidemic from being discovered outside the ghetto. The Jewish Council had a great deal of difficulty assembling the necessary number of workers, on account of the selfish attitude of some of the ghetto population.

There was a constant danger that the epidemic would be discovered in town. On one occasion a Jewish woman left the ghetto and asked Christians to sell her milk for her child, who had come down with spotted typhus.

A Jewish girl from the interior of Lithuania worked for Matzulevitzius, the head of the criminal police. She became ill. Matzulevitzius was getting ready to come visit her. In order to prevent the murderer from finding out about the epidemic, she had to be left alone at the infirmary. All of the rest had to be removed temporarily to a different spot. All of the medical personnel, supervised by Dr Taraseysky, hurriedly carried the sick away on their backs.

One day the director of the sanitation department, the pharmacist Ferber, grew ill. He was placed in an isolation room. His wife sat up with him entire days and nights. She was pregnant. On one occasion she asked to be allowed to bring a priest, because Ferber was losing strength. In addition to spotted typhus he had a lung infection. The Jews calmed her down, but didn’t allow her to bring a priest into the ghetto. With great effort it proved possible to cure him.

Almost all of the medical personnel came down with the terrible disease. Finally Dr Taraseysky and a nurse from Vilnius became ill. Dr Kopelovitz had sole responsibility for all of the sick people at that time.

An indescribable epic was played out in the Švenčionys ghetto during that period. Unnatural levels of energy and superhuman physical strength and endurance, along with a willingness to sacrifice themselves were necessary qualities for the medical personnel in their working conditions at the primitive “infirmaries,” in order to overcome the epidemic in the conditions of the Švenčionys ghetto.

The Vilnius ghetto sent a great deal of money, help and medicine. Without that assistance the epidemic would certainly have annihilated the ghetto that fall and winter. For exactly four months’ time the epidemic continued. During that time there were a few dozen deaths. The victims were buried at the Jewish cemetery in Švenčionys.

The Jewish Council had problems stemming from the labor camp at Shventzioneliai. Officials often came to demand workers for the camp. It was difficult to supply the necessary number, especially during the epidemic. On a few occasions the Jewish Council managed to negotiate a lower quota.

That winter a few hundred Jews were taken away to work in camps near the Lithuanian town of Vievis and also near Zhagare. Entire families were taken to the work camps. (Later they were brought to the Kaunas ghetto, and then to a camp near Panevezhys – LK)

After the epidemic was stamped out the situation in the ghetto became calmer, safer and more normal. Every day groups of Jews went to their regular worksites, which were almost the same as during the summer. There were frequent temporary assignments. These temporary jobs consisted of clearing the snow from the streets in town and from the railroad line, washing the floors in the buildings belonging to the German and Lithuanian administration, and similar tasks.

Moyshe Gordon was in charge of the external affairs of the ghetto, and he tried to carry out the “requests” of the Lithuanian and German authorities.

The Jews in the Švenčionys ghetto weren’t fated to have a long time to gather their strength after the epidemic. The approaching spring, for which the Jews had longed throughout the winter, brought uncertainty, terror and eventually the final liquidation of the ghetto.

The Liquidation of the Švenčionys Ghetto

One of Gens’s commissars had remained in the Švenčionys ghetto. He helped to supervise affairs in the ghetto. Once, at the end of March, he came with news from Vilnius about the decision of the regional commissar to liquidate the ghetto. A delegation was chosen to go to the Vilnius ghetto to look into this matter. Taraseysky was one of the ones who went. Gens assured them that no-one’s life was in danger, and that it was simply a matter of transferring the Jews to one of the larger ghettos, either Kaunas or Vilnius. Gens even promised them that all of the necessary preparations had already been made for the Švenčionys Jews to move into the Kaunas ghetto.

Dr Taraseysky explicitly asked Gens whether he was certain that the Jews would be transferred to Kaunas. Gens once again assured them that no-one was in danger, and that everyone would certainly arrive in Kaunas.

The Jews in the Švenčionys ghetto felt in their bones that a great disaster was approaching. They began to draw up lists to see who should go to Vilnius and who should go to Kaunas. The Jews couldn’t decide at first. Some of the families were given the chance to depart to join their relatives at the labor camps around Vilnius and Švenčionys.

Several days before the ghetto was liquidated Gens came from Vilnius, along with his spokesman Dessler, accompanied by Jewish police from the Vilnius ghetto, including Dreisen.

Gens gave a speech at the synagogue to the helpless, terrified Jews, promising that no-one’s life was in danger. The majority of the Jews didn’t believe him, and they couldn’t decide where to go. Gens’s commissar then obtained an order from Vilnius to prepare two transports of Jews, and to carry out the transfer in two stages. Those who had been assigned to the Vilnius ghetto had to go.

Members of the Jewish Council went from house to house, asking Jews to go. There was a shortage of people for the first transport. Dr Kopelovitz and his family were part of the first transport to Vilnius.

On April 3, 1943 Gens and Dessler came from Vilnius, accompanied by Jewish ghetto police. Gens ordered all the Jews in the ghetto to pack up and prepare for the trip. Once again he reassured and calmed the desperate Jews, saying that they were in no danger.

The Underground Movement in the Švenčionys Ghetto

As early as the summer of 1942 some of the young people learned about the organized Red partisans in the forests of White Russia and began to organize themselves. The young people working at the abandoned Soviet armaments camp gradually stole and gathered weapons. That summer they even received a letter from the Red partisans, written in Russian. The letter proposed that the young people join the partisans, and the route to follow to reach them was indicated.

The chief organizers of the resistance movement were the young men Yitzkhok Porush, Berke Yokhay and Yeshayohu Gertman.

It cannot be claimed that the organization was very secretive or that conspiratorial discipline was sufficiently maintained. The Jews in the ghetto knew everything that went on inside the organization. The organization communicated through Motl Gilinsky its request for money to buy weapons. The Jewish Council passed on through Motl Gilinsky a large sum of money (40,000 rubles).

Before the ghetto was liquidated they got ready to leave for the forest. There was a meeting, and the Jewish Council decided to have Gilinsky arrange that they wouldn’t leave more than one day before the ghetto was liquidated, so that the rest of the ghetto residents wouldn’t be endangered in case they were caught with weapons on the way.

Four Jews from Lentupis always walked around the ghetto with weapons in their pockets. One of them had been staying in his clothes at the police station, in order to avoid finding himself in an unforeseen situation. These four Lentupis Jews were a law unto themselves. They didn’t go to work. They didn’t want to communicate with the organized Jewish resistance movement. Before the ghetto was liquidated they announced that they would let the transport leave, and would go into the forest. They did precisely that. One of these four Lentupis Jews was named Moyshe Gilinsky.

About fifteen or sixteen members of the resistance movement left the ghetto on the night of April 3. Smaller, unorganized groups left the ghetto that same nights. Ordinary Jews just furrowed their brows, lacking any options for themelves and their families. One woman from Švenčionys named Khaye Bushkanetz had a friend among the policemen from Vilnius. She asked him to advise her where to go. Her policeman friend advised her not to go at all, but to escape from the ghetto. She escaped from the ghetto with her mother and brother. They hid in the countryside, and both of them survived.

The Slaughter at Ponary

On the morning of April 4, 1943 wagons came to the ghetto. They had been rented from the countryside by the community organization. The Jews packed their last few possessions and rode to the station at Shventzioneliai on the wagons. When they left the ghetto Lithuanian police kept a close guard to make sure that none of the Jews could cross over and “hide” their things with the Christian population.

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.

After they got onto the train Dessler himself closed the doors of the railroad cars from outside. When they reached the station in Vilnius, several cars full of Jews assigned to the Vilnius ghetto were detached from the train. When they left the railroad cars Gens was present. He hurried them along, ordering the people to be taken to the ghetto. The rest of the Jews were immediately taken away in the sealed railroad cars. That same day everyone was shot at Ponari, a station between Vilnius and Kaunas, not far from Vilnius. The vast majority of the Jews in the Švenčionys ghetto tragically died in this fashion after having been so viciously deceived. A smaller number were brought to the Vilnius ghetto.

A few days later the packages of goods belonging to the Jews who had been shot were brought into the warehouse at the ghetto. The Jews had written their first and last names on the packs before they were evacuated.

The Tragic Reckoning

The group of organized young people who had left the Švenčionys ghetto for the forest a day before the ghetto was liquidated didn’t forget about their brothers and sisters in the Vilnius ghetto. They came to the Vilnius ghetto several times and freed small groups of Vilnius and Švenčionys Jews, bringing them into the forest. Khayem­Hirsh Levin, the head of the Švenčionys ghetto police, was thoroughly prepared to leave with one such group. Unfortunately he left the ghetto too late; the group had left just a short time sooner, since it was impossible for them to wait for him. Khayem-Hirsh decided to return to the ghetto and wait for another group to go.

The Jewish police at the ghetto gate arrested him. He asked them to release him, declaring that he was armed. They put him in prison. The agitated Khayem-Hersh shot one of them through the window. There was a panic in the ghetto: Jews were shooting at Jews. Gens himself came running. Everyone was afraid to approach the cell window, out of which Khayem-Hersh was shooting. Gens personally made his way to the window and shot Khayem-Hersh.

The body of Khayem-Hersh was brought to the Jewish council compound. Announcements were immediately posted, stating that an unknown person had entered the ghetto and shot a Jewish policeman, and that in the ensuing conflict the person had been shot. The announcement was written with the intention of averting the terrible danger the ghetto would be in if the Germans had learned the truth.

Khayem-Hersh’s father was arrested in connection with this tragic incident. His brother Yankl and Yankl’s wife escaped and hid outside the ghetto. They didn’t want to abandon their child, so they returned to the ghetto. Yankl voluntarily handed himself over to the Jewish police at the gate of the ghetto. After a long investigation at police headquarters and before the ghetto magistrate, Yankl was released. The tragic case of Khayem-Hersh Levin took place at the beginning of the fall in 1943.

In the fall of 1943 thousands of Jews from the Vilnius ghetto were seized and sent to work camps in Estonia. Most of them died in various painful ways. Among those sent to Estonia were a number of Jews who had been brought to the Vilnius ghetto from the Švenčionys ghetto.

Dr Kopelovitz, Dr Taraseysky, Motl Gilinsky and Yankl Levin were also among those sent to Estonia. The men’s families were taken from the Vilnius ghetto a day later. The administration of the labor camps in Estonia refused to accept the women and children, and they were taken to Auschwitz, where they died.

Dr Kopelovitz, Motl Gilinsky and the chairman of the Jewish Council in the Švenčionys ghetto Moyshe Gordon died in the camps in Estonia.

Shure Katznboygn left the Vilnius ghetto to join the partisans and survived.

Dr Taraseysky and Yankl Levin were in a labor camp called Ereda, a branch of the Goldfields camp. When the Red Army approached Estonia, the German cannibals evacuated the Jews from the camp and from the extermination camp near Stuffhof. Yankl Levin suffered in the concentration camp until February 10, 1945, and then he was liberated by the Red Army.

Dr Taraseysky was transferred from Stutthof together with other Jews to the extermination camp at Buchenwald. When the Americans approached the spot, Christians and some of the Jews, including Dr Taraseysky, were evacuated, and they marched on foot for three weeks in the direction of Matthausen. While they were marching the Americans arrived, and the group of Christians along with the few Jews were liberated. This happened on May 4, 1945, in the Sudetenland.

After the liberation Yankl Levin visited his home town of Švenčionys. All that was left of the town were ruins and a heap of ash. Before the Germans retreated from the town they had burned the entire town center. Only the outskirts of town were left, like a reminder of the destruction. At the military compound in Shventzioneliai, surrounded by a picket fence, lies the huge mass grave, as a heartrending, tragic, solitary monument for the murdered, innocent Jews of all of Švenčionys County.

[1] 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).

About the Author
Grant Arthur Gochin currently serves as the Honorary Consul for the Republic of Togo. He is the Emeritus Special Envoy for Diaspora Affairs for the African Union, which represents the fifty-five African nations, and Emeritus Vice Dean of the Los Angeles Consular Corps, the second largest Consular Corps in the world. Gochin is actively involved in Jewish affairs, focusing on historical justice. He has spent the past twenty five years documenting and restoring signs of Jewish life in Lithuania. He has served as the Chair of the Maceva Project in Lithuania, which mapped / inventoried / documented / restored over fifty abandoned and neglected Jewish cemeteries. Gochin is the author of “Malice, Murder and Manipulation”, published in 2013. His book documents his family history of oppression in Lithuania. He is presently working on a project to expose the current Holocaust revisionism within the Lithuanian government. He is Chief of the Village of Babade in Togo, an honor granted for his philanthropic work. Professionally, Gochin is a Certified Financial Planner and practices as a Wealth Advisor in California, where he lives with his family. Personal site: https://www.grantgochin.com/
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