THE SLAUGHTER OF THE JEWS IN THE TOWN OF VALKININKAI
Eyewitness testimony of Leyzer Goldman, born in Valkininkai on August 15, 1895. He lived his entire life there. When the war broke out he was in Valkininkai. His father’s name was Moyshe. His mother was Esther-Malke. He was a smith by trade.
Valkininkai is located on the Merkys river, fifty kilometers from Vilnius and 25 kilometers from Varniai.
In Valkininkai lived about 600 or 700 Jews. Not far from Valkininkai, three kilometers away, there is a Jewish village called Selo. About 120 Jews lived in Selo. Nine kilometers from Valkininkai there was a village called Leipunis. When the war broke about some sixty Jews lived there. About 900 Jews altogether lived in Valkininkai, Selo and Leipunis.
The Jews of Valkininkai were occupied in trade, artisanry and peddling. In the villages of Selo and Leipunis the Jews worked in agriculture and orchard-keeping. In Selo there was a spa for Jewish psychiatric patients. An average of about 150 patients lived in Selo. In the village of Leipunis as well there was a sanatorium for about forty Jewish patients.
Before the war in 1939 Valkininkai belonged to Vilnius county in Poland. When the Vilnius region was transferred to Lithuania that year, Valkininkai became part of Vilnius county in Lithuania.
The economic situation of the Jews in town under the Poles was not bad. After Valkininkai was assigned to Lithuania the situation improved.
Valkininkai had an elementary school, a library, a synagogue and a study house. The synagogue was old and famous for its woodcarving and various decorations. The synagogue was three stories tall. The hanging in front of the Ark had been a gift from Napoleon Bonaparte in his time. Tourists from all over Poland and overseas came to see the synagogue and its woodcarvings and ancient art.
Most of the young Jews belonged to Zionist organizations.
The villages around Valkininkai were exclusively occupied by Lithuanians.
The Lithuanian Administration: Torture and Regulations Against Jews
On Monday, June 23, 1941, one day after the outbreak of the war, the Germans had already arrived in Valknininkai. The Jews had all escaped from town into the forests. After the Germans arrived, the Jews returned to town and settled into their homes.
On Wednesday, June 25, 1941 Soviet airplanes dropped bombs onto Valkininkai. The majority of the town was burned. The synagogue and study house were burned then as well. The Jews settled in with friends. A small number of Jewish houses remained intact. The Jews of Valkininkai settled into the remaining houses. The crowding was terrible.
The civilian administration was taken over by Lithuanians from the area and others from the Lithuanian interior. Every day the Jews were taken to do various tasks. At work they tormented and beat the Jews. The Lithuanian bandits did whatever they wanted to the Jews. They constantly robbed the Jews of their possessions.
A group of thirty or forty men were taken away to do peat work in a village called Matushe, fifteen kilometers from Valkininkai. Every Saturday evening the Jews came to the town of Valkininkai.
A large number of Jews worked at highway projects. Some of the Jews worked at the paper factory belonging to the Jewish businessmen Binyomovitz and Shemshkin. After the Germans came all the Jewish workers were fired.
The Jews had to wear a ribbon on their sleeve and a Star of David. The word “Jude” was inscribed in German on the Star of David.
The Ghetto Is Set Up; Jews Arrested and Shot
A committee was set up to regulate internal Jewish affairs, in line with a demand of the Lithuanian administration. The chairman of the committee was Khayem Berger. The members were Khayem Kohn and Hirsh Polyatzik. Its task was to intercede between the Jews and the Lithuanian administration, and to make sure that Jews arrived for work on time.
There were no Germans in town. Only a few frequently came. The Lithuanian administration demanded that the committee provide various things, such as furniture, bedding and the like. The committee had to provide these things by the specified time.
One month after the Germans arrived all the Jews had to bring their cattle to the town administration. They also had to surrender bicycles and radios. The same thing happened in the two Jewish villages. The Jewish farmers were left without cows or horses.
Not far from Selo, five kilometers from Valkininkai, the village of Pitzkarni was burned during the German advance. All of the peasants moved in with Jewish peasants in Selo. They brought certificates from the town administration allowing them to take the cows of the Jewish farmers in Selo. The newly-arrived Lithuanian peasants inherited everything from the Jewish farmers of Selo while they were still alive.
There were various acts of revenge carried out in Selo by Lithuanians against the town’s Jews. The Jew Khayem Gersh had been a political activist during the time of Soviet rule. One month after the Germans arrived he was ordered to go to the police. Together with another Lithuanian Communist, he was taken a couple of kilometers from Valkininkai and one kilometer from Selo. There they were forced to dig a pit, and they were shot. Later Jews received permission to bury Khayem at the Jewish cemetery in Valkininkai.
A few weeks after this incident the police ordered the Jewish Engineer Levin, Ben-Tsiyon Vilin, Khayem Goldman and Avrom Taytz to report to them. As soon as the four Jews came to the police station they were arrested and taken to the Lukishky prison in Vilnius, where they were killed.
Engineer Levin and Ben-Tsiyon Vilin worked at the paper factory until the war broke out. Khayem Goldman was a lumber merchant. Avrom Taytz was a teacher. It was unclear why the four Jews were arrested at that time. A few days later they arrested the Jew Yosl Barg and took him to the railroad station at Varenai, where he was shot without an investigation or a trial.
All the Jews Taken to Eišiškės and Shot
Rumors began to circulate saying that all the Jews of Valkininkai would be taken to a ghetto in Eišiškės. There were Jewish survivors from the slaughters in Alytus and Daugiai by that time. The refugees reported everything. Most of the Jews of Valkininkai, however, didn’t want to believe it. A certain Jew named Barg, a quilt-maker by trade, came from Alytus. A husband and wife came. Leyzer does not remember their last name. The Jews of Valkininkai were strictly forbidden to leave the town.
They were allowed to go to the market to shop at first. Then this was strictly forbidden. The Jews in town began to suffer from hunger.
On Saturday, September 20, past midday, it was announced at the peat bogs that the work was over. All the Jews had to leave the village and come to Valkininkai. This didn’t disturb the Jews of Valkininkai, because there was still enough work. On Saturday evening all the men who had been digging peat returned to Valkininkai.
On Sunday, September 21 at 5:30a.m., the partisans woke up the chairman of the ghetto committee and told him that all the Jewish men had to gather at the market square by 7:00. At 7:00 all the men were at the square. All the men above the age of twelve or thirteen had to come to the square. They were allowed to bring along small packages in their arms.
The men were driven from the market place into one house (Pilsudski’s house). As soon as the men were brought the house was surrounded by a guard consisting of partisans who promised the Jews that everyone was being taken to work in Eišiškės, where they would live in a ghetto.
Leyzer Goldman was among the men in Pilsudski’s house. The men didn’t know exactly what was facing them. Some of them believed the partisans. Others began to understand that everyone was going to be shot. They were all desperate, but it was impossible for them to save themselves.
At noon that same day the men were taken out of the house and taken in a column in the direction of Eišiškės. There were a total of about 300 men from Valkininkai, Selo and Leipunis. The guard consisted of about forty armed partisans.
When they had gone ten kilometers from Valkininkai into the Gireikis forest, the partisans permitted the Jews to halt and eat. The men began talking about escaping, but the majority would not agree. Leyzer Goldman became convinced that everyone was being taken to be shot. He proposed to his close friends that they escape, but no one wanted to.
Leyzer decided to escape. Leyzer stole away from everyone and ran away. On the way he was stopped by Lithuanian partisans. He gave them a gold watch and bought his release from them. Leyzer made it to the White Russian town of Woronowa.
The Jewish homeowner Avrom Teykman escaped from the slaughter in Eišiškės, and he too fled to Woronowa. He told Leyzer: After resting in the forests, the Jews marched on. The partisans didn’t notice that one person had escaped. On the way an elderly Jew about sixty named Shloyme Braz became weak, and couldn’t walk any further. The partisans immediately shot him and buried him there. This took place seven kilometers from Eišiškės.
As the men were being driven from Selo to Valkininkai, the partisans shot the Jew Shmuel Bortz. ‘He couldn’t keep up with the rest of the men, who were being rushed toward Valkininkai.
When the men were brought to Eišiškės they were all herded into a barn and heavily guarded. At the barn they took everything from the men. Some of the men had put their best clothes on. Some of them had put on two suits. The partisans took everything from the Jews.
On Monday, September 22, the first day of Rosh Hashanah 1941, partisans brought wagons from town and from the countryside. The Jews were allowed to bring everything from their houses.
The wagons were loaded with bedding, clothing and dishes, along with the women, the children, the old and the sick. They left Valkininkai and rode in the direction of Eišiškės. The partisans surrounded the town and shot repeatedly into the air.
The women and children constantly wept, and said goodbye to their homes with heartrending cries. All the women, children, the elderly and the sick were brought to Eišiškės.
Concerning the further fate of the Jews of Valkininkai in Eišiškės, see the report of Leyb Kaganovitz about the slaughter of the Jews in Eišiškės.
Leyzer Goldman wandered for a long time in White Russia. He lived through the slaughter of the Jews in the following White Russian towns: the Ivia ghetto, the Novograd ghetto, the Lida ghetto and the Woronowa ghetto. He saw Death before his eyes dozens of times. After the Jews of White Russia were slaughtered, Leyzer came to the Vilnius ghetto. From the Vilnius ghetto he escaped to a partisan group in the Rudnitsky forest. In the forest Leyzer was a partisan in the “Revenge” group. This was an exclusively Jewish company led by Abba Kovner and the Jewish commissar Didzhulis.
 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)