Leyb Koniuchowsky collected 121 testimonies from Holocaust victims, which were made public in: The Lithuanian Slaughter of its Jews: The Testimonies of 121 Jewish survivors of the Holocaust in Lithuanian, recorded by Leyb Koniuchowsky, in Displaced Persons’ Camps (1946-48).
THE EXTERMINATION OF JEWS IN THE COUNTY SEAT TAWRIK (TAURAGE), LITHUANIA
A collective eyewitness report by the following Jews from Tawrik:
- Berl Gurvitz – born December 20, 1902 in Tawrik. Until the outbreak of the war, he lived in Tawrik. His father’s name was Moyshe.
- Eliyohu Baykovitz – born May 3, 1902 in Kovno (Kaunas). He lived in Tawrik from 1924 until 1940. From 1940 until the outbreak of war, he lived in Kovno. His father’s name was Leyb, and his mother’s name was Perl. Education; he had finished commercial school. By profession, a merchant.
- Mrs Fruma Baykovitz (nee Gurvitz) – born December 24, 1907 a sister of Berl Gurvitz. Education; high school, graduated the Hebrew gymnasium in Ponevezh (Panevezys); by profession a bookkeeper.
- Dvoyre Fish – born November 20, 1900, a sister of Berl Gurvitz. Born in Tawrik, and lived in Tawrik until the outbreak of the war with her husband Shiye Fish, her daughter Ida and son Hershl. Education: three grades in gymnasium.
- Dvoyre’s daughter Ida Fish – born in Tawrik November 23, 1928. Finished three grades in gymnasium.
- Dina Koropatkin – born in Tawrik March 20, 1920. Lived in Tawrik until the outbreak of the war. Father’s name Hirsh Goldblat. Mother’s name Fanye.
- Miriam Kivelevitz nee Zaks – born June 28, 1918 in Tawrik. Lived in Tawrik until the war (June 22, 1941). Father’s name; Hirsh Zaks. Mother’s name; Feyge (nee Bernshteyn). Education: Six grades of Hebrew gymnasium. By profession, a milliner.
- Rokhel Maler born in Tawrik December 10, 1908. Lived in Memel (Klaipeda) from 1931 until 1938 and then resettled in Tawrik, where she lived until the outbreak of the war on June 22, 1941. Father’s name; Isroel Fogelman. Mother’s name; Khaye (nee Arshenovitz), from Daugiai (Alytus) County. By profession, a seamstress.
The Geographical Setting
The participants in this collective report recount:
Tawrik is a county seat, seven kilometers from the former German border at the town of Lauksargen, not far from Tilsit. Through the town flows the Jura River. The highway connecting Shavl (Shiauliai) and Tawrik passes through Kelme. Roughly one and a half kilometers from the town there is a railroad station, on the line connecting Kovno and Memel.
Before the war and at its outbreak some 3,000 Jews dwelled among a much larger number of Lithuanians.
The Economic and Cultural Background
The Jewish population was employed in commerce, retail and artisanry. Among the larger and smaller Jewish enterprises were:
- The shirt factory “Moderne,” owned by Moyshe Nadl and Yitskhok Shus.
- The detergent factory owned by Dovid Yezner and Itshe Segal.
- A candy factory owned by Yitskhok Shus.
- A soap factory and a print shop owned by Borukh Pagrimansky.
- The poultry slaughterhouse owned by the Yezner brothers.
- The sawmill owned by Yehoshue Kayen and Yakov-Hirsh.
- The sawmill owned by Baykovitz and Eliyohu Gutkin.
- The sawmill owned by Ruven Shereshevsky.
- Hirsh Leyb’s mill.
- The mill owned by the brothers Berelovitz.
- The substantial lumber merchants Gutkin, Baykovitz, David Epshteyn and Hirsh Taytz.
- The movie theater owned by Berl Gurvitz and Shiye Fish.
In general, the economic situation of the Jews in Tawrik was good. That may be explained by the fact that Tawrik was a county seat and had good connections with the larger Lithuanian centres of Kovno and Memel. Tawrik also maintained connections with merchants in Germany.
Until 1940 there was a Jewish folks’ bank in Tawrik, which counted 350 members. The last director was Ayzik Zelikhov from Alite (Alytus). There were 200 members in the Tawrik Jewish commercial bank. The last director in 1940 was Dr Vareta. There were two free loan societies as well, one named for the popular Tawrik philanthropist Baykovitz, and the other for the towns. Tawrik had a Hebrew gymnasium which had its own large building, built with the help of a Jew from Tawrik in America. His last name was Miller. This Jew was very popular in Tawrik, since even though he was far from his hometown, he remained interested in the life of Tawrik Jews in Lithuania and sent large contributions to them.
The last director of the Hebrew gymnasium, until l940, was Mariampolsky.
The Jews in Tawrik also built a grade school with the help of Tawrik Jews in America. The director of the school was Benjamin Lazosky.
Tawrik had a modern religious school built with a donation by the philanthropist Leyb Baykovitz. The last director of this school was the teacher Lis. The Jewish library contained some 1,500 books in Yiddish and Hebrew. The founder of the library was Berl Gurvitz.
Tawrik possessed a main study house and synagogue, with a women’s balcony; the “Tiferes Bokhurim” study house; the “Beys David” study house; Baykovitz’ study house; the Shilele synagogue and the synagogue in the old town. The Tawik Jews had a slaughterhouse which had been built specially for the purpose, and a modern bath house with a mikveh. The last rabbi of Tawrik was Ha av Hagaon Shpitz.
The Jewish young people were mainly organized around Zionist movements. A large number of the youth actually emigrated to Palestine. A very small number of the Jewish young people were organized around the illegal leftist workers’ parties during the administration of President Smetonas. Tawrik had only one Jewish sports club, the “Maccabee.”
The attitude of the majority of the Lithuanian population in Tawrik toward the Jews was good. But members of the society called “Verslas” spread virulent antagonism. In a variety of leaflets, they called for a boycott against Jews, called the Jews the most degrading names and invented various slanders against them.
After the arrival of the Red Army in Lithuanian (summer 1940), the antisemites gave up their overt anti-Jewish agitation. They secretly “sharpened their knives” for the Jews, waiting for the war to break out and for the German Army to march into Lithuania.
The Outbreak of the War
On June 21, 1941, about 4:00 on Saturday night, residents of Tawrik were awoken by loud explosions in and around the city. Fires immediately began all over the city. The barracks on Vytauts Street could be seen burning, along with the Lithuanian bank, the chemist’s, Shilale Street and Synagogue Street. Not only bombs dropped from overhead fell onto the centre of town, Tawrik was also barraged by heavy artillery. In a short time the entire city was engulfed in flames. Mountains of black smoke and fire rose toward heaven, accompanied by a wild din.
The civilian population hurriedly left the city, some half-naked. Everyone ran wherever their feet carried them, bringing along their children. It was clear to everyone: The war between Fascist Germany and the Soviet Union had begun.
Six kilometers from the city, the Red Army had built fortifications at the bank of the Jura River. Early Sunday morning there were hundreds of Red Army trucks in the city. Whoever wanted to could climb into the trucks and be evacuated to the Soviet Union. Many Tawrik Jews did evacuate, and thus survived.
In the terrible confusion many people lost their families, and couldn’t think of evacuation. Many Jews did not believe in a quick German advance, and since they didn’t want to abandon all their possession, they only rode the trucks out of the city, temporarily hiding in the surrounding villages, fields and forests.
The Soviet soldiers did everything they could to rescue the civilian population of Tawrik. In doing so they demonstrated great commitment and self-sacrifice. Jews from Tawrik ran in all directions from the hellfire which Tawrik had become.
Killed in the Bombardment
Dozens of Jews died on account of the bombardment and fires in the city. It has only been possible to determine the names of a few of the Jews who died in and around the city:
- Mrs Dvoyre Leshem was paralysed, and her husband and children could not bring her with them when they escaped.
- Peshe Goldshmit, the wife of Mane the Badkhn, was sick and could not escape; she was burned to death in her house. Mane Goldshmit was killed by a bomb which exploded in his courtyard.
- Sender the Teacher was found dead in the street.
- Taytlrnan, a lumber broker, was found dead in the street.
- On the way to Skaudvile, on the edge of the city, Borukh Kirshner and his wife were killed by a bomb.
- Dvoyre Abram was burned to death at home on her sickbed.
- Sheyne Kahan and her three children were killed in the city by a bomb.
Jews from Tawrik were to be found on all the roads nearby, in all the cities and towns, close to and further away from Tawrik. They were the first refugees in that region, and wherever they went they announced to all the Jews: “It’s war!”
The retreating Red Army and the Jews that escaped with them were bombarded by the German flyers, who would fly very low and release a hail of machine-gun fire on the people below. Hundreds lay dead and badly wounded on all the roads. Among them were many Jews from Tawrik, men, women and children.
Advance of the German Army. Establishment of Civilian Administration
At 7:00 a.m. on Sunday, June 22 1941, the German Army entered Tawrik. The Lithuanians met the German army units with bouquets of flowers on all the roads and in the town as well. A Lithuanian living in the town, the driver Pavalkis, immediately became the chief of those who received the Germans.
They immediately hung Lithuanian flags in the town. Dr Proshevitshius greeted the German army units in the name of the residents of Tawrik.
Germans settled into those Jewish homes in the centre of the city which remained intact. The Lithuanian residents robbed and demolished all of the empty homes whose Jewish owners were still in the nearby countryside and villages. The Lithuanians carried away the stolen Jewish possessions to the nearby villages, in wagons and even in trucks.
The civilian administration was established by partisans (armed Lithuanians who shot at the retreating Red Army) and by men who had been police officers during President Smetonas’ times. The mayor of Tawrik was the Lithuanian Tolushys, who had spent time in prison under the Soviets, and when the war broke out, he escaped from prison. It is said that this Tolushys was mayor for only one day. The next day, Monday, June 23, he was shot by collaborators of the Soviet security service, who were hidden in a bunker in Tawrik.
The next mayor after Tolushys was the Lithuanian Jurgilas. The police chief was Jakutis, who had also been the police chief in President Smetona’s times. The police were recruited from members of the former gun club “Shiauliai” and from men who had been police under Smetona. But it was the partisans who had the final say in town, those who helped the Germans drive out the Red Army. Their commandant was a student who had been in the tenth class in gymnasium under the Soviets, named Pavalkis, whose father was the driver Pavalkis.
Edicts, Robberies, Harassment’s and Murders.
The new bosses in Tawrik immediately set about dealing with the Jews. On Sunday, the first day of the war, the Lithuanians reported that the Jew Shulom Dovid and his son Yehoshue had been hiding Russians. The father and the son were both shot immediately, with no investigation or trial. The new bosses immediately passed various edicts against the Jews.
Jews were forbidden to buy from Lithuanians, to go shopping for food at the market, to walk on the sidewalks, to use horses, automobiles or trains. A few days later the rest of the edicts appeared: Jews had to put on two yellow Stars of David, one on their chest and one on their back. When Dr Shapiro’s wife put on only one yellow star, she was beaten brutally.
Jews were forbidden to leave the city. Everyone had to come in person to register at the city council. When they registered, the Jews had to have two Lithuanian witnesses along to corroborate their information. After this registration, yellow documents inscribed in German were handed out to the Jews. The Lithuanian inhabitants took money for going along to serve as witnesses, without which it was hard to get them to come.
Right after the arrival of the Germans in town, some of the Jews settled back into their homes. The majority of the Jewish homes in the center of the city were in ruins, and the Jews voluntarily settled in the building owned by the Jewish landlord Yankl Pubzub; in Khayem Gin’s house outside the city; in Shnayder’s house and at Dr Shapiro’s house.
On one occasion gymnasium students attacked the home of the Jewish family Kivelevitz and Pagrimansky. Paula Pagrimansky was a fellow student of the attackers. She escaped from the house through the window. The student partisans demanded that Paula be handed over to them, and constantly threatened to shoot. There was a panic in the house. The students stole everything in the house. Such cases were commonplace, and the Jews were afraid to undress at night; they always slept in their clothes.
During the very first weeks of the war, the Germans drove Jews to Dr Shapiro’s garden. There they were forced to dig a grave for a horse which had been shot. A German went to Dr Shapiro and wanted to make him help dig. Dr Shapiro was over seventy years old, and suffered heart trouble. He explained to the German that he couldn’t dig a hole because of his advanced age, and also because of his illness.
The German took the doctor out near the dead horse and shot him. The murderer forced the Jews to bury the popular Dr Shapiro in the same grave as the horse.
After the registration, the Jews had to go out on various work assignments every day. All of the men and women had to go to work, as well as young people, and even women who had small children. Miriam Kivelevitz remembers that women used to come to work with their children. Miriam was still in Tawrik then. The work consisted primarily of clearing the streets of the debris from ruined buildings. The women worked washing the floors of the city council buildings.
Partisans kept watch while this work was being done. They bullied the Jews and mocked them.
A peasant woman named Kastautsiene told Mrs Rokhel Maler later, after the war, that she had witnessed a scene in Shereshevsky-Kokh’s courtyard where Jews stood in a row, while a partisan combed the rabbi’s beard with an iron rake.
Slowly, toward the end of the first week of the war, Jews began returning from the surrounding towns and villages. The new arrivals settled into Jewish houses near the edge of the city. Dvoyre Fish and her daughter Ida recall that Wednesday the 25th of June, 1941, during the first week of the war, partisans arrested on the pretext of Communist activities the following Jews:
- Shiye and Shloyme Yezner, both merchants.
- Shakhnovsky, a merchant.
- Note Goldberg, a merchant.
- Itshik Shus, a merchant; the owner of the “Moderne” shirt factory,
- Nadl, a merchant.
It is said that altogether 12 Jews were arrested that day. The arrestees were held for a short time in the town prison, without food or water. All of the 12 Jews who had been arrested were led away by the partisans near the Jura River, not far from the bridge and close to a mill. They were shot there. In the same spot lie Communists who were shot after the “Tawrik Putsch” during President Smetona’s time.
The Shooting of All the Men
At the end of the first week of the war police and partisans surrounded all the Jews’ houses and arrested all of the Jewish men from around 12-13 years, up to the very aged. All of the men were immediately taken to prison. Some of the men who were arrested were working at the German military command. They were immediately released from prison.
A certain coachman named Yoysef Den was among those arrested, however, he was freed. He reported that the condition of the men in the prison was terrible. The Jews were kept in a cellar, half full of water. It was impossible to sit or to lie down. Several barrels stood in the cellar. The men took turns sitting on the barrels. The men received nothing to eat. No one was allowed to visit the arrestees. Packages of food were confiscated by the partisans, and the arrestees never received them. The women later saw their packages being stored at the city council.
The men in the cellar were thoroughly discouraged, and waited for death to come. Though the Germans assured the women several times that all the men would be taken out to work, they were all detained in the prison for several days. Then the men were taken outside of the city, in a valley near the prison. There they were forced to dig graves, and all of them were shot. Near the place where they were shot there is a mill which belonged to a Jew named Yisroel-Itshe. It is a half kilometer from the city, near a brickwork’s which belonged to a Jew named Alter Gudl.
A rumor spread in town that the men had been taken out to work. Finally the women found out that the arrested men had been shot, because their clothes were brought to the city council and the partisans shared them among themselves. Peasants recognized items of clothing worn by the partisans which had belonged to the Jews who were shot, and told the Jewish women about this. The Jewish women found it difficult to believe in such great cruelty.
It was said at that time that during the second week of the war, roughly 150 men were shot. Among them were the following men:
- Sholem Kivelevitz and his two sons, Hillel (aged 35) and Yitskhok (aged 18).
- Soma Taytlman, a student.
- Sandler, a merchant, typesetter and printer.
- Motl Litman, a storekeeper with two sons, Leybl and Shimen.
- Yisroel Akslrod.
- The dentist Most and his son.
- Dr Yofe.
- Moyshe Laib.
- Moyshe Getsov, a merchant and popular Zionist activist.
- Mekhanik, a merchant.
- The butcher Itshik Varpol and his sons.
- Two brothers named Faynberg; Avrom and Shloyme.
- A butcher named Berman (originally from Memel).
- Mane Leyzerovitz and his son Gershon.
- Ortshik Leyzerovitz, a merchant, Mane’s brother.
- Yose Leyzerovitz and his two sons, Yankl and Leyzer.
- Shimen-Haren Rabinovitz, owner of a knitwear business.
- Yankl Zaks.
- Yisroel-Hirsh Shuster, a merchant, with his son Yankl.
- Azriel Blokh, a merchant.
- Shmuel-Yank Man, a merchant.
- Arshinovitz, a merchant.
- Gril, a tailor from Vorne.
- Yisroel Kaplan, a merchant.
- Mote Yezner, a student.
- Ruven Davidovitz, a glazier.
- Khayem Raykhling, a coachman.
- Henakh Ozer, a driver.
- Yosl Taitsh, a retail merchant.
- Rabbi Shpitz.
- The teacher Nayvidl.
- Yeshaye Kahan and his brother-in-law Yakov Hirsh.
- Shpilk and his son.
The Shooting of the Last Men and of All the Women and Children
Shortly after the men were shot, the few men who remained alive, and all of the women and children were herded together into military barracks on Vytauto Street. The barracks were made out of boards, and had no heating stoves. As soon as the Jews were brought in, the electrical current and the water were turned off. There was a barbed wire fence around this ghetto barracks.
Partisans stood watch around it. No food was given to the Jews. Few of them were taken to work. Hunger became a constant concern. The women used to steal their way out through the fence and risk their lives trading their last possessions for a bit of food.
The partisans sometimes came to the barracks to rob the last possessions which the Jews still had. In the barracks the infamous Jew-killer Jotsis knocked out the gold teeth from the mouth of a woman named Paula Yezner.
The guards around the barracks spread rumors that the 150 men were alive and working. The murderers even took money for taking packages “to deliver to the men.”
Dina Koropatkin, a participant in this collective report, was hiding at the home of a peasant in Tawrik at that time. She used to send food to the barracks for Mrs Davidovitz and her daughters and son, and also for Mrs Raykhlin. Dina did not personally visit any of the Jews then.
Miriam Kivelevitz had by then gone to Shavl to be with her husband. Miriam’s husband Mote Kivelevitz had received a letter from his mother and sister, brought by a peasant woman. They wrote in the letter that they were receiving a bit of food in exchange for clothing. A second letter was returned by the peasant woman, who reported that it was impossible to get to the women, because they were located in the barracks under heavy guard
One evening the partisans announced to the women and children that early the next morning, the 13th of August, 1941, the women and their children would be brought to stay with their husbands in a camp.
The women were overjoyed. They all packed carefully and waited for the morrow. At 5:00 a.m. on August 13th, partisans began arriving in trucks. They loaded the women and children in the trucks, and took them five kilometers from the city, near the Shuna River. There, in a small forest, they were all shot.
The peasant woman Jozaitiene lived right next to the barracks at that time. She saw everything exactly as it happened, and related it to Dvoyre Fish after the war.
The peasant woman related that while the Jews were being taken out of the barracks, the Lithuanian inhabitants were forbidden to look out their windows. Yet the peasant woman first saw four truckloads of women being taken away at once. All of them had nothing but underwear on. Sometime later trucks came one by one, bearing away women, children and also men, all wearing nothing but underwear. The screams of the children and women could be heard for some distance. Only partisans went with the trucks.
It was later reported that the younger and healthier women were first made to dig the graves. After the graves were dug, they were immediately shot. The rest waited in the barracks until the graves were finished. Before they were driven away from the barracks the women had to hand over their valuables; rings, earrings and so forth. They all had to undress, and were left in just their underwear. The few men who remained alive had to do the same thing. Children as well were forced to undress down to their underwear.
The murderers themselves later boasted as they told of the horrifying executions at the mass graves. Thus it was found out that the rabbi’s daughter, on the edge of the grave, had realized that she still had a comb in her hair. She immediately handed it over to the partisans, asking them in return to shoot her first, so that she wouldn’t have to see the horror of everyone being shot.
Dr Yofe’s daughter was still hiding a gold watch before the shootings began. She gave it to one of the executioners, asking him to shoot her first, so that her eyes would not have to witness her mother, sister and brother being shot.
The Lithuanian murderers raped the more attractive women before they shot them. A 16-year-old girl name Jakhe Yezner was thus raped. A cousin of hers, Hene Yezner, did not undress, and the murderers wanted to rape her before they shot her. She jumped into the grave with her clothes on. The partisans boastfully related all these incidents to their acquaintances.
Several Germans stood near the mass grave and watched while the women and children were being shot.
One Lithuanian woman, Mrs Petrauskiene a worker at the “Modern” factory told Dina: “A pretty girl asked the German standing near the grave to let her live, and promised to work well for them. The German answered: ‘We’re not shooting anyone! You see who’s doing the shooting!'”
The killers distributed amongst themselves the better clothing and possessions of those whom they shot. They distributed the rest to Lithuanian residents of the town who had suffered during the war.
Shortly after the women and children were shot the driver Petras Sergeyevas from Tawrik rode to Shavl. The Lithuanian driver reported that he had personally seen a Lithuanian girl dressed in Motl’s sister’s clothing, and that the women and children had been shot several kilometers from the city, in the Shilaler Forest.
A photograph of Motl Kivelevitz’ sister Yokheved and her girlfriend Beyle Litman was found at the gravesite at that time.
Shootings of Jews Who Were Discovered Hiding
After the annihilation of the women and children, there were only a few Jews who survived in hiding.
- A young woman named Dina Shulom was hidden for a considerable time. A fellow student of hers in the gymnasium recognized and betrayed her. She was captured and shot.
- The case of a young woman named Khase Mekhanik was similar. She, too, was betrayed by a former fellow gymnasium student.
- While the women and children were being transported from their houses to the barracks, a woman from Tawrik named Leyzerovitz escaped. A short time after the women and children were annihilated, a peasant woman spotted her and betrayed her. She was seized and shot.
- The Jew Borukh Shlomovitz was hidden for a long time at the home of a peasant in a village near Tawrik. One morning a female neighbour noticed him. In the afternoon police came to the peasant’s home. Borukh was captured and shot on the spot. He was buried in the peasant’s farmyard.
- The tanner Fayve Itsikovitz, along with his wife and children, was allowed to live for several months, since he was an excellent artisan. After his family was shot, he hung himself.
Tawrik Jews Who Died in Other Cities and Towns
Very many Jews from Tawrik lie buried in mass graves in surrounding towns in north eastern Lithuania, near the Latvian border, and in Latvia as well.
Many Jews from Tawrik were annihilated in the Shavl ghetto, in Zhagare, Telzh, Kelm; and in other towns. Jews from Tawrik died in the Kovno ghetto as well.
Five Jews from Tawrik died in the Heidekrug camps:
- Yakov Fish, owner of a guest-house;
- Shvartz, a merchant;
- Yakov Fridgut;
- Hushe Dorfman;
- Yankl Levitan.
(See the report about the camps in Heidekrug – LK)
The following died in the town of Kurshan:
- Mordkhe Klugman, his wife and son;
- Rom with his wife Ele and a daughter;
- Two sisters, Khane-Rivke and Golde-Shrage;
- Miss Faye Kaufman.
The Tragic Reckoning
The participants in this collective testimony shared all the suffering and torture of the Jews of Shavl and Kovno. When the Jews were evacuated from the Kovno and Shavl Ghettos to Germany, they were evacuated as well. They lost part or all of their families in various concentration camps. They were liberated by the Allied troops.
On the Sunday when the war broke out, Berl Gurvitz hurriedly left Tawrik and came to Shavl. He was together with the last Jews from Shavl in concentration camps in Germany. He lost his mother Rokhel in the Shavl ghetto. His wife Khave, his 18-year-old daughter Nekhame, son Efroyim (aged 15), and sister Feyge Rubinshteyn died in camps in Germany. He was the only member of the family left alive.
Rokhel Maler, her husband and two children escaped from Tawrik to Shavl. From Shavl they accompanied the Red Army to Kruk (Kriukai) and thence to Zheymel (Zhemelis). In Zheymel they found out that the Soviets were not permitting people to cross the Latvian border, and so they returned to Krok. The Maler family remained in Kruk for a week.
The partisans in the town ordered all of the Jewish refugees to leave Kruk, and to return to their homes in the various towns. The Maler family rode back to Shavl.
Rokhel Maler lost her 8-year-old daughter Gitele in the “children action” in ghetto Shavl. Her son Shloymele stayed with his parents as far as Stutthof, Germany. There he was separated from his parents and carried off to the crematorium in Auschwitz. Rokhel was also separated from her husband at that point. She was liberated by the Red Army in Danzig. Rokhel’s husband survived in a camp in Dachau.
Dina Koropotkin’s family, the Goldblats, left Tawrik the first day of the war, and escaped to Shavl by way of Shkudvil (Skaudvile). Dina’s brother Moyshele got lost on the way. After spending five days in Shavl, Dina rode to Tawrik to search for her brother. There were still very few Jews who had returned to Tawrik at that point. Dina stayed in hiding at the edge of the city, at the home of the Lithuanian Antanas Spelveris.
Jews were beginning to be arrested and tortured in the city. The Lithuanian inhabitants began openly saying that all of the Jews would be shot. Dina stayed in Tawrik for six weeks, and then rode back to Shavl. There she found her lost brother Moyshele. While she was in Tawrik Dina attempted to find a place where she could hide her family, but she was unsuccessful.
While the “Kavkaz” ghetto was being fenced in, in Shavl, a peasant women named Anke Antzekyte, a native of Kurshan (Kurzhenai) arrived from Tawrik. She told Dina that all of the surviving men, women and children had been taken out of the barracks onto the Shilaler Road, near the village of Shunya, and shot there.
After Dina Koropatkin found out about the annihilation of the women and children in Tawrik from Anke Antzekyte, she travelled to Tawrik with a brigade of Jews to pick up vegetables. She then spent five days at the home of a peasant she knew in Tawrik. She found out that everything the peasant woman had told her about the women and children in the barracks was correct. After spending five days in Tawrik, she managed with difficulty to return to Shavl. During the time that Dina had been absent from Shavl, her entire family was taken into the synagogue. From the synagogue they and several hundreds of Shavl Jews were taken away and shot. This was at the time when the Jews of Shavl were supposed to be settled in a third neighbourhood, which was called Kalnukas.
(See “The Destruction of the Jews of Shavl,” by Hirsh Shuster– LK)
Dina was evacuated together with everyone in the Shavl ghetto to Germany, and she was liberated by the American army not far from Landsberg. Those in her family who were taken to the synagogue in Shavl, then taken out and shot were her parents; her three sisters Sore, Ete and Bela; and her three brothers Mendel, Yakov and Moyshele.
Miriam Kivelevitz escaped from Tawrik together with her son Dovidl on Sunday, June 22. She had become separated from her husband. She spent a short time hidden in the villages near Botik (Batakiai). After the arrival of the German army, peasants with axes and scythes attempted to murder Russians and Jews. They helped the partisans a great deal. Miriam and her son, together with other Jews from Tawrik, left Botik and returned to Tawrik. After she had been in Tawrik for a while, she managed to correspond with her husband in Shavl.
Miriam and her son Dovidl left Tawrik after the 150 male arrestees had been shot near the prison, and travelled to Shavl.
At the time of the action against children in the Shavl ghetto Miriam Kivelevitz gave her son Dovidl to a peasant named Jonas Malinauskas in the village of Kurpiu, ten kilometers from Shavl. After she was liberated, she returned to find Dovidl alive and well at the peasant’s home. Miriam was also reunited with her husband, who survived in a camp near Dachau.
The Fish family; Shiye the father and his wife Dvoyre, their daughter Ida and son Hirshl escaped from Tawrik on Sunday morning during the bombardment. While escaping they passed through Radvilishok (Radvilishkis), Shavlan (Shiaulenai), and Sheduve (Sheduva), together with hundreds more Jews from various towns and from Tawrik, and finally they reached Ponevezh. After the German army arrived in Ponevezh all the Jews from Tawrik returned home. Only two families from Tawrik remained in Ponevezh: the Fish family and the Kokh family. Both families stayed in Ponevezh until August 5, 1941. They arrived in Kovno with great difficulty five days before the Kovno ghetto was sealed.
The Fish family entered the Kovno ghetto (near Slobodka) together with the Jewish natives of Kovno, suffered together with them, were interned in the camp at Shantz, a suburb of Kovno, and thence evacuated with the rest of the Jews to Stutthof, Germany. There her husband Shiye and son Hirshl were separated from Dvoyre and her daughter, and taken to a concentration camp near Dachau.
Dvoyre and her daughter were liberated near the town of Torn by the Red Army and returned to Lithuania. Hirshele, aged 12, was taken from Dachau to Auschwitz and exterminated. Shiye died in the Dachau camp on January 28, 1945. (For details about the Fish family, see the testimony about the extermination of the Jews of Ponevezh — LK)
The Baykovitz family received information about the extermination of the Jews of Tawrik while they were in Kovno and later in the Kovno ghetto. The informant was a peasant named Albinas Sabalauskas with whom they were closely acquainted. The situation in the Kovno ghetto grew continually worse. People were already seeing the beginning of the end of the surviving Jews in the ghetto.
Baykovitz personally knew quite a few Lithuanians. Baykovitz had been a member of the Tawrik city council for six years before 1940. He had been a representative on the tax commission for six years as well. He was a member of the county sick fund, and had a mill called the “Progress.” These connections gave Baykovitz the opportunity to be acquainted with many people among the Lithuanian intelligentsia as well as with peasants.
He decided to send his wife and children out of the Kovno ghetto and then to leave himself.
The strategic situation at the front was already clear enough by then. Fascist Germany was marching quickly toward its logical decline and fall. Baykovitz set up contacts beforehand with his Lithuanian acquaintances. Three days before the “Estonian action,” his wife Frume and both children went from the ghetto to a certain Captain More inside the city. In the beginning of the war the Lithuanian captain was the aide to the Kovno county police chief. Frume stayed with the captain for a week. The family could stay there no longer.
One child remained with the captain in the city. Frume went back to the ghetto with the second. The captain sent the boy Leybele to a village seventy kilometers from Tawrik, where he worked for a peasant as a shepherd until the liberation.
Frume and her second child stayed in the ghetto five more days. She dressed as a Lithuanian peasant woman, and rode away to the village Kryszkhalnai near Tawrik with an SS truck that happened to be going that way. From there she continued for five kilometers and chanced upon the home of a peasant in a certain village. She spent one night there and then travelled to a peasant of her acquaintance in Tawrik named Sabalauskas. On the way Frume used Veronal to keep her child constantly asleep, because he knew only Yiddish. Sabalauskas had a store, and Germans used to shop there. The Tawrik Lithuanian Shulcas, who was crippled in one arm, found a place for Frume and her child in the village of Kazberine, at the home of the peasant Leonas Vaishvilis. Frume passed as a Russian woman there. At that time the Germans were seizing women and children deep inside Russia and sending them to work for peasants in Lithuania. Frume was there with her child for seven months, without any documents. Of course, none of the neighbours knew that she was Jewish. Frume managed to give her child to a certain policeman, who had been an infamous shooter of Jews in the town of Batik at the beginning of the war. It was said of this murderer that he had cut off the fingers of those whom he shot who wore golden rings. He had become terrified of the revenge of the Red Army when it would return to Lithuania. He wanted to clear his name and assure himself a place in “the world to come” by rescuing a Jewish child. The policeman was originally from the village of Kazberine. His last name is Jonikas.
(By then there were already many Lithuanians who attempted to save Jews-LK)
After the arrival of the Red Army in Lithuania, this murderer escaped to the forest and hid, yet he saved Frume’s child and took care of him until the Liberation. As the front came closer, raids on Red partisans in nearby villages began. Frume went to the peasant Sabalauskas in Tawrik again. By then, the Red Army had occupied Vilna. Then Frume had the chance to hide in Kazberine with the peasant Stanislav, a brother of the peasant Leonas Vaisvilis. The peasant built a hiding place for Frume, and she was there for two months until the arrival of the Red Army.
After his wife and children left the Kovno ghetto, Eliyohu Baykovitz stayed in the ghetto for five more weeks. Then he escaped from the ghetto to the Tawrik region, to join the functioning Red partisan units. The Red partisans appreciated Baykovitz’ thorough knowledge of the entire surrounding area. His many connections with peasants in the villages made it easier for the partisans to obtain food and to find out everything they needed to know about the Germans. The detail was called “Mestitel” (the Avenger). Baykovitz participated in the group for exactly one year, until the Red Army arrived in Tawrik. During the year Baykovitz met more than once with his wife as well as his children, providing them with everything they needed.
After the Liberation, the Baykovitz parents were reunited with both of their children. From the dozens of peasants with whom he spoke, as well as with the partisans, Eliyohu found out everything about the extermination of the Jews in Tawrik.
In Tawrik after the War
With the exception of Berl Gurvitz, all of those who contributed to this collective eyewitness report were in Lithuania after the war, and in Tawrik itself for some time.
Rokhel Maler spent three-quarters of a year in Tawrik. There she found her surviving brother, Wolf Fogelman.
The centre of the city where the Jews had lived was completely destroyed when the Germans arrived in 1941, and during their retreat.
The following relatives of Rokhel were exterminated in Twarik: her mother Khaye-Sherl Fogelman; her brother’s mother-in-law Khaye Melamed, and her brother-in-law Alter Melamed.
Rokhel visited the Jewish cemetery in Tawrik. She reports that all of the gravestones were overturned and shattered. A Soviet tank battalion and field kitchen were stationed at the cemetery.
Dina Koropatkin visited the barracks from which the women and children had been taken out to be shot. In the first barrack, room number 14, Dina saw the first and last names of the Jewish girls from Tawrik Yokhe Davidovitz and Mekhe-Leye Raykhlin etched on the side of a door. Dina also visited the mass grave of the woman, children and small group of men from Tawrik who were shot together. The mass grave comprises two pits.
Miriam Kivelevitz was in Tawrik for a few days after the Liberation. She visited the mass grave of the men who had been shot. She reports that there is no way to recognize the place. There is one pit; it is not fenced in, and no one pays any attention to it.
Those who provide this information attest that in Tawrik alone some 600 Jewish men, women and children were shot.
Eliyohu Baykovitz reports that some 150 men were arrested and shot. Some 450 women and children, along with a small number of men, were taken out of the barracks and shot, so that the sum of men, women and children is 600. This sum does not include the Jews who were captured while hiding in fields, forests and villages. Hundreds of Jews from Tawrik died in various towns in Lithuania. Some of them were evacuated to the Soviet Union, but few of them survived. The majority fell at the battlefront. Many died from various causes, such as hunger, cold, unhygienic conditions and so forth.
Those who have contributed to this collective. testimony remember the following Lithuanian murderers who robbed, tormented, bullied and finally assisted in shooting, or themselves shot the Jews in Tawrik:
- Jurgilas, the mayor of Tawrik;
- Jakutis, the police chief (and former chief from before the war);
- Pavalkis, the commander of the partisans (a student in the tenth grade in gymnasium);
- Pavalkis, the commander’s father, a driver;
- Jonas Jotzys, a painter by trade, a member of the gun club during President Smetonas’ times;
- Jotzy’s brother, an electrician;
- Jonas Stankus, a student in the Lithuanian commercial gymnasium;
- Jonas Urbutis, a (medical?) student from Tawrik;
- Stirbys, a son of the lawyer Pranas Stirbys;
- Antanas Batzys, a garbage man in Tawrik before the war; from the village of Sartininkay;
- Juozas Apenavitzius;
- Jonas Jonikas, from the village Kazberine;
- Kantauskas, a murderer from Tawrik;
- Dr Prasevitzius, the Lithuanian doctor in Tawrik;
- Kinderis, a student in the Tawrik Lithuanian gymnasium;
- Noreikis, a student in the Tawrik seminary;
- Kiselis, this murderer shot the Jewish boy Yisroel Akselrod with his own hand.
A large number of students in the Lithuanian gymnasium and teachers’ seminary participated in the extermination of the Tawrik Jews. The participants in this collective testimony no longer remember their first or last names.
SUPPLEMENTARY TESTIMONY ABOUT THE EXTERMINATION OF JEWS IN THE LITHUANIAN COUNTY SEAT TAWRIK
Reported by Tobe Gurvitz, formerly Rozensheyn. Born Shokhat in Tawrik on October 1, 1907. Father’s name; Shmuel Shokhat. Lived in Tawrik until the outbreak of the war.
Tawrik, a county seat with a population of approximately 20,000
At that time it was five kilometers from the German border at Lauksargen. One hundred five kilometers away from Shavl. The Jura River passes through the city. Some 3,000 Jews lived in Tawrik. The majority were involved in commerce and artisanry. The attitude of the neighboring Lithuanian population to the Jews was good. Yet even before the war there were demonstrations by the Lithuanian youth against the Jews. Seminary and gymnasium students participated in these demonstrations. However, the attitude of the Lithuanian population grew much worse upon the arrival of the Red Army in Lithuanian in the year 1940.
Tawrik contained a Hebrew gymnasium; a Hebrew grade school; a kindergarten; a folks’ bank; a commercial bank; five synagogues and study houses; a Hebrew-Yiddish library and other communal institutions. Under the Soviet regime in the year 1940-1941 all of the former Jewish institutions changed their character and lost their Jewish value. Almost all of the young Jewish people studied in the Hebrew gymnasium and belonged to the Zionist movement until the year 1940. Shortly before the war broke out, the women from the Soviet Union began to leave the border city Tawrik and hurriedly evacuated.
The Jewish population, more than once, heard warnings from their Lithuanian neighbors that a war would begin quite soon, and Hitler would soon be coming. The Jews sensed the tension and uncertainty of the Tawrik situation, but did not believe that it would begin so soon.
The Outbreak of War
During the night of Saturday to Sunday, June 22, 1941, after 3:00, the city’s inhabitants were awoken by the sound of bombs exploding. Yet no one believed that it was the beginning of the war. However, the large fires in the city revealed the whole tragic truth. The Jews began hurriedly to leave the city. Means of transport were provided by the Soviets, but the press of those leaving the city was so great that they were insufficient. Only a small proportion of the residents of the city escaped with the Soviet trucks.
Tobe Rosensheyn, her husband Yitskhok and three children were among them, reaching as far as Shavl (Shiauliai). Many Jews left the city and settled in surrounding villages, where they went into hiding.
That same morning the Germans arrived in the city, but they were driven out by the Red Army. On Sunday, June 22, 1941, street battles took place in the city. Around 7:00 a.m. that day the Germans conclusively occupied the city.
The Rosenshteyn family continued fleeing past Shavl, intending to evacuate further into the Soviet Union. They arrived at the city of Bauska in Latvia. But the German army caught up to them there, and they were forced to begin the tragic retreat from Latvia to Lithuania. When they arrived at the border between Lithuania and Latvia at the town of Vashkai in the County of Birzai, they found that several hundred Jews had been herded together into a barn. The Rosenshteyn family was brought there as well.
The returning Jews were detained and taken to the barn by armed Lithuanian partisans, who helped the Germans and fought against the Red Army. There was a heavy guard around the barn, and the Jews could not leave it. They spent the night there. The next morning a partisan came into the barn and announced to the Jews that they would all soon be shot.
He, along with others, repeated the threats very frequently with great pleasure. This was on Thursday, June 26, 1941. During the day on Friday, June 27, 1941, a partisan entered the barn and demanded that all the Jews surrender their gold, money, and other valuables. He warned that they would all be shot if they disobeyed. The Jews surrendered some of their valuables, hoping that they would be left alive and permitted to return to their homes. Yitskohk Rosenshteyn gave 5,000 rubles to one partisan, a teacher from Vashkai, to free his family from the barn. The teacher took the money, and gave the Rosenshteyn family ten minutes to leave the town of Vashkai.
Back to Shavl
Hundreds of Jews, including women and children, made their way by foot in the direction of Linkuva, Shavl County. On the way they had stones thrown at them by peasants in the villages, who mocked and laughed at the exhausted, hungry and thirsty Jews: “Ha, you wanted to run after the Bolsheviks! Good for you. Hitler’s going to give it to you now!” the peasants shouted at the Jews.
Near Linkuva all of the Jews were detained by partisans from the town, who threatened to shoot the Jews and shouted: “You cursed Jews, soon we’re going to shoot you like dogs!” All the Jews began to weep, begging them not to shoot. The peasants made all the children kneel in a line with their hands held high, and forced them to shout three times: “Heil Hitler!”
There were Jews from Linkuva, Pakruojis and Ligumai, in Shavl County. Once again the Jews handed over some of what they had left, and the partisans released them. The Jews arrived in Linkuva. In Linkuva all the Jews, men, women and children were already locked up in cellars and barns. Through the window of a storage house, an imprisoned woman with a child on her arm shouted to the arriving Jews: “Jews, cutthroats, where have you come to? We’re all locked up and starving!” The Lithuanian immediately detained the Jews who had come into Linkuva and led them under heavy guard. At that moment German army units rode through the town. Jewish women and children fell on the Germans, begging to be released and allowed to travel home. One German officer ordered the Lithuanian partisans to let the Jews go immediately. All the Jews went their various ways. The Rosenshteyn family returned to Shavl with other Jews.
That day, young men were arrested in Shavl and taken to prison. Shimen Shokhat, Tobe’s brother, was one of those arrested and imprisoned that day. The entire Rosenshteyn family entered the Shavl ghetto together with all the Jews of Shavl.
In the Shavl Ghetto
While in the Shavl ghetto, Tobe received letters from her father. In all these letters there were only hints of the tragic situation of the Jews in Tawrik. However, her father explicitly warned his daughter and her family not to come to Tawrik. Tobe’s sister also sent a letter in which she wrote that her husband had been arrested and was probably on the other side of the border (meaning in Germany). She managed to free her father.
The letters were brought from Tawrik to Shavl by a Christian woman from Tawrik named Ana (she was called “Ana the water carrier”). This Ana said that she had to be very careful taking the letters, because it was forbidden for Lithuanians to have any dealings with Jews. Tobe used the peasant woman as a messenger three or four times. The day Tobe entered the Shavl ghetto with her family, she received from her father the last letter, in which he warned her not to come to Tawrik.
Tobe received further information about the extermination of the Tawrik Jews from Jews who had survived, escaped and come to Shavl.
The Rosenshteyn family lived in the ghetto. They were all evacuated to Stutthof, Germany, and all died in the concentration camps. The only one who remained alive was the mother, Tobe Rosenshteyn. She was liberated by the Red Army in the camp at Chinov, near Danzig, on March 10, 1945. After recovering from a grave illness which lasted three months, Tobe returned to Lithuania.
In Tawrik After the war
In Tawrik after being liberated, Tobe learned the following:
The Germans entered Tawrik on Sunday morning, June 22. Armed Lithuanians immediately appeared and began robbing Jewish possessions. The city continued burning in several spots. There still was no local authority in the city. Like vicious dogs who had torn free from the leash, the Lithuanian murderers threw themselves on the Jewish community in Tawrik. The robberies continued the whole time, until the Jews had been completely exterminated.
Lithuanian partisans arrested the popular Jewish dentist Shakhne Most and his 16-year-old son. They were taken out of town, and both were shot. Before they were shot he asked the murderers to shoot him but to let his son live. The incident made a powerful impression on the Tawrik Jews at the time. Dr Most was not only a doctor, but also a respected social activist. The incident took place in the beginning of July 1941.
In mid-July 1941 partisans drove all the young men out of their homes and led them away. Tobe does not know where the men were led, nor the circumstances in which they were annihilated. Lithuanian townspeople attest that all of the young men were shot the same day.
Among the men who were taken away were:
- Yeshayohu Kahan, a lumber merchant;
- Yank Hirsh, aged 27, a lumber merchant;
- Yoysef Lipshitz, a bookkeeper in his thirties;
- Dr Shakhnovitz;
- Shimen Rabinovitz;
- Mordkhe Foglin;
- the pharmacist Yitskhok Goldshteyn and his brother-in-law Varshavsky, both from Vilkavishkis.
The only people remaining in Tawrik then were old men and women with children. The young women had to go to work every day, clearing the debris from the ruined buildings. Lithuanian partisans kept watch and bullied the women. The women received neither food nor wages for their work. The Lithuanians mocked and laughed at the helpless women as they worked.
At the end of July 1941 all of the older men and women with children were driven into a ghetto on Vytauto Street, in barracks which had been built by Russians before the war. The ghetto was fenced in with barbed wire. Lithuanian partisans kept watch all around. The Jews were in the ghetto for only a few weeks.
The Extermination of the Last Jews
The women were taken from the ghetto to work at various tasks. A Lithuanian peasant woman living in Tawrik, not far from the former ghetto, told Tobe: “On August 13, 1941, Lithuanian came with trucks and took the women. The partisans promised that all of the women were being taken to do good work, so the women were content. They were taken outside of town near Visbut, not far from the prison, where they were shot and thrown into trenches which the Russians had been getting ready to use for sewers.
The possessions of the murdered Jews were brought back to the meat hall in town. There they were distributed to the poorer Lithuanians in town. The county doctor Prashevitzius and others supervised the distribution.” Other Lithuanians in the city told the same story.
Tobe found out that before her father had been shot, he had convinced the murderers to allow him to make a final ritual confession together with the other Jews. The Lithuanian murderers later told everyone in Tawrik about this, laughing at Shmuel Shokhat.
Before shooting, the murderers forced the men and women to strip naked. Hene Yezner, a girl in her early twenties, refused to undress. The murderers began to beat her. Hene jumped into the pit alive with her clothes on. Hene was very beautiful and the Lithuanian gangsters wanted to rape her before she was shot. All the Lithuanians in Tawrik knew about this incident.
Tobe spent six weeks in Tawrik. During that time she investigated the extermination of the Jews in Tawrikl how her father Shmuel Shokhat, her step-mother Tsherne, sister Leye Lifshitz and her husband Yoysef Lifshitz and daughter Dovoyre Lifshitz had all died. All of Tobe’s close friends had died in the town as well.
Tobe does not know who gave the order to shoot the Jews. However, all of those who did the shooting were Lithuanians. Those who led the Jews from the ghetto were Lithuanian partisans. Among the leaders of the Lithuanian murderers Tobe knew the murderer Jotzys and a student in the Lithuanian gymnasium, the murderer Pavalkis.
While in Tawrik, Tobe visited the graves of the women, children and smaller group of men who had been shot. There is nothing there to mark the spot. In the field and on the graves of the men, women and children cows and pigs grazed. No one was interested in fencing and putting in order the mass grave of the Jews of Tawrik.