Part 1: https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/the-slaughter-of-the-jews-of-kelm/
Part 2: https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/2-the-slaughter-of-the-jews-of-kelm/
The testimony of Khaye Roziene, born in Kelm June 10, 1885. She lived in Kelm her entire life. She had an elementary school education. She was a seamstress by trade. Her father’s name was Moyshe Hil, and her mother’s name was Hana Vaigovsky.
Kelm is in Raseiniai County, 42 kilometers from Shavl, 14 kilometers from the small town of Vaiguva and nine kilometers from the convent compound of Lyal. At the edge of the town flows the small stream Krazhante. Gravel roads connect Kelm with Vaiguva, Krazhiai and other towns.
The Population and Their Occupations
Until the outbreak of the war on June 22, 1941, some 2,500 Jews lived in Kelm, along with a smaller number of Lithuanians. The Jews were occupied in trade and artisanry. There were a number of Jewish farmers around Kelm with substantial holdings. The economic situation of the Jews of Kelm was not bad. A certain proportion of the Jewish population drew their livelihood from the local world-famous yeshivas and the advanced rabbinical school. Quite a few received support from relatives overseas.
The Jews in town had large gardens and plots of ground. A substantial number of Jewish families had their own horses, cattle and poultry. Khaye Roziene, who lived at the edge of town, possessed eighty hectares of land, a few dozen cows, horses and poultry.
The attitude of the Lithuanians toward their Jewish neighbors had never been good. More than once Jews were beaten on market days. The medieval blood libel, which charged Jews with killing Christian children and using their blood for matzoh, was well-entrenched in Kelm. Lithuanian students frequently beat elderly Jews as they left the synagogue or the study house. Advertisement
A poisonous and successful propaganda campaign was carried out by the local anti-Semitic society Verslas, which agitated among the Lithuanians, calling on them only to buy from “their own.” After the Memel (Klaipeda) region was occupied by the Nazis, they began spreading poisonous anti-Semitic propaganda in the Kelm region as well.
After the arrival of the Red Army in Lithuania in the summer of 1940 the relations between the Lithuanians and the Jews superficially became more correct. But in secret, the Lithuanians enmity toward the Jews became even greater. The largest Jewish enterprises were nationalized, and the largest Jewish compounds became state farms. With great material difficulty, the yeshiva and rabbinical school managed to continue their existence.
The Outbreak of War
On the morning of Sunday, June 22, 1941, the Jews of Kelm found out about the war between the Soviet Onion and Hitler Germany. Refugees fom Taurage appeared early in the morning. This caused a panic among the Jews of Kelm. Many Jews from Kelm left their homes that same Sunday, and even more the next day, Monday. On wagons, on bicycles and on foot, refugees from Kelm streamed through all the roads. A small number remained in town. A few families managed to evacuate to the Soviet Union. Advertisement
The Jews who escaped settled in surrounding Jewish compounds and at the homes of Lithuanian peasants. The German army advanced. The town happened to be at the front line. All the Jewish homes at the center of town were completely burned and destroyed. Only four houses remained, all at the edge of town:
- The farm of Khaye Roziene
- The farm of Yisroel Podles
- The house of Moyshe Benyash
- The barn of Zundl Lunts
Immediately after the outbreak of the war, armed Lithuanian partisans appeared in the countryside and on the roads. They shot at the retreating Red Army and prevented the Jews of Kelm from escaping. They greeted the German army in the villages and on the roads with German and Lithuanian national flags. Their joy was great.
The peasants began driving the Jews from the countryside back into town, which had been occupied by the Germans on Wednesday, June 25, 1941.
Desperate, full of fear, the Jews began returning to their burned and ruined homes. There was no place to move back into. The town was nothing but a heap of smoking ash. The returning Jews spent the night in Yisroel Podles‘ farm. The local partisans would detain the returning Jews, rob them and take everything. They did not release any of the men between the ages of fourteen and sixty, but instead herded them into a barn in the compound of Zundl Lunts.
A heavy guard of armed Lithuanians was posted around the barn. The women and children were permitted to go away and settle in surrounding Jewish compounds.
The First Victims
During the battle for the town, the synagogue and the study house began burning. A girl named Mashe Milner rescued a Torah scroll from the burning building and ran together with her uncle Bere Milner. Both of them were shot. Mashe fell with the Torah scroll in her arms.
The Civilian Administration in Kelm
This was constituted at the end of the first week of the war
- A Lithuanian named Tsesnys became the mayor of Kelm
- The township chief was a Lithuanian from town named Lopata
- The chief of the town partisans was the Lithuanian Barkauskas
A role with tragic consequences for the Jews was played by the Lithuanian Rickus.
After the civilian administration was established, the Lithuanians immediately busied themselves with the Jews of Kelm and the surrounding compounds. When they entered the barn camp at the compound of the Jew Zundl Lunts, the Jews had to put on yellow patches.
The women, children and a small number of Jews settled in nearby Jewish compounds:
- The compound of Avrom Mayerovitsh, in the village of Veidzh, ten kilometers from Kelm;
- the compound of Berman, in the village of Katlowcizne, seven Kilometers from Kelm;
- the compound of Kushelevsky, in the village of Paduole, three or four kilometers from Kelm;
- the compound of Moyshe-Leyb Mendelovitsh, in the village of Biecharne, two kilometers from Kelm;
- the compound of Moyshe Gelman, in the village of Lukodeme, four kilometers from Kelm.
- the compound of Shimen Osher, in the village of Kurshun, three kilometers from Kelm;
- the compound of Yankl Kholozhin, in the village of Lucinawa, seven or eight kilometers from Kelm.
The owners of these compounds were permitted to remain and do their work together with their families. The Jews in the compounds moved into the barns, stalls and storehouses. Everyone tried to work as well as he could. They all worked at various agricultural tasks. The Jews in the compounds did their best to prepare provisions for the winter. There were no guards. The Jews in the compounds lived freely. But they were strictly forbidden to go beyond the limits of the respective compounds‘ territories.
A woman from Kelm was in one compound with her two small children. She went from one compound to another. The partisans captured her and shot her on the spot. The two children remained alone in the Paduole compound until the first slaughter of Jews.
The First Slaughter of Jews
The men at Zundl Katz‘ barn and the women and children in the Jewish compounds had no idea of the dreadful plans that were being readied for them. The Jews still hoped that in time the banditry of the Lithuanians would calm down, and they would be able to live and work until after the war. Khaye Roziene and her two grown daughters Hinde and Hene, lived in the Lukodeme compound. The father Mende Roz and his son Khonon were in the barn camp belonging to Zundl Lunts. Khaye Roziene often received permission to visit her husband and son. Khaye‘s second son Hirshl escaped to Shavl during the first week of the war and was later in the Shavl ghetto. Khaye still hoped some day to be together with her husband and children again. But their dreadful fate determined otherwise.
On Tuesday, the fifth of Av (July 29, 1941), the first slaughter took place. At the Lukodeme compound, where Khaye Roziene lived with her daughters, partisans came on Monday, July 28, 1941 and ordered everyone to prepare to transfer to the Kelm compound. The partisans promised that all the Jews in the compounds would be led to the Kelm compound and a camp would be set up for them.
Every woman and child was frisked separately by the partisans. Their valuables and better overclothes were taken.
At four in the afternoon that same Monday, July 28, 1941, the partisans made the Jews in the Lukodeme compound walk to the Kelm compound. First went the women and children, then a small number of men. Everyone was brought to the Kelm compound owned by the Lithuanian Gruzhesky and driven into a large barn. All the Jews from the surrounding Jewish compounds had been herded into that same barn, the owners of the compounds and their families were still permitted to stay where they were for the time being, to guard and work their farms.
The Jews who were herded together didn’t understand what was going to happen to them. Nevertheless many wept and complained that they were being transformed into a plaything in the hands of the murderous Lithuanians.
That same Monday, the fourth day of the month of Av, partisans began selecting two groups from among the Jews in the barn. Some of them were sent to the right, and some were sent to the left. Khaye Roziene was separated from her daughters. One daughter ran over to Khaye and insisted that she see to it that her father and brothers in the barn camp were fed. With tears and weeping, Khaye said goodbye to her two daughters.
The partisans took some of the women and children back to the Jewish compounds on wagons. Khaye Roziene and a group of women and children were taken back to the Lukodeme compound in wagons. Some 1,200 men, women and children remained for the night in the Kelm compound. On Tuesday, while everyone in the Lukodeme compound was working in the field, they overheard shooting next to the Kelm compound. Khaye Roziene realized that they were shooting the Jews who remained in the Kelm compound.
That same evening, a Jew from Kelm named Hershl Shevelovitsh came running to the compound with the terrible news that in the course of the day, the Lithuanian partisans had shot all the Jews who had been taken to the barn at the Kelm compound, along with almost all the men in the Kelm men’s camp, at Zundl Lunts’ barn. Thirty-six men were left alive in the barn. Hirshl Shevelovitsh was able to move freely, because he helped the Germans buy cattle in the countryside.
On that tragic fifth day of Av, Khaye Roziene lost forever her two daughters who had stayed to spend the night at the Kelm compound, as well as her husband Mendl and her son Khonon who were in the camp compound. The Jews were led out in groups to the gravel pits not far from the compound. Before they shot the Jews, the partisans forced them to strip to their underwear, and then they shot everyone.
Among the Lithuanian partisans who took the Jews from the Lukodeme compound, Khaye remembers the following:
- Kafeman, a student at the Kelm Lithuanian gymnasium;
- Feliksas Jakubaitis, a Lithuanian from Kelm;
- Juosas Jakubauskas, a Lithuanian from Kelm;
- Marcinkus, a Lithuanian from Kelm;
- Peniksas, a Lithuanian from Kelm;
- J Kugelis, a Lithuanian from Kelm;
- Adomas Jurgutis, a Lithuanian from Kelm.
After the Jews were taken to the Kelm compound, they were heavily guarded by the following partisans:
- Pipinas, a locksmith from Kelm;
- Berezhnys, a carpenter from Kelm;
- Shpukas and dozens of others whose last names Khaye no longer remembers.
This is a convent compound not far from Kelm. Five Jewish farming families lived there. After the arrival of the Germans, the men were brought into the men’s camp, in Zundl Lunts‘ barn. The women and children were taken into the village of Blecharne, in the compound belonging to the Jew Khace Rol. They died together with the Jews of Kelm in the course of the first and second slaughters of Jews.
This is a small town between Shavl and Kelm. Some ten Jewish families lived there. They were engaged in agriculture. The Jews stayed where they were until the fourth day of the Jewish month of Av. the partisans brought some of the Jews into the Kelm compound and shot them. A smaller number were left where they were and shot later.
Twelve Jewish farming families lived in this village. The Jews in this village were shot in the village of Ribuk. Details are lacking.
The Second Slaughter of Jews
After the bloody Fifth of Av, the Jews fell into a situation of desperation, apathy and hopelessness. Those who survived in the Jewish compounds went into mourning, performing the various Jewish rituals and weeping over their near and dear ones, who had been cruelly and irrevocably torn away from them.
Tragic days and nights followed each other in a monotone, without any spark of life. Like robots, the Jews continued working in the compounds, kept an eye on their children and helped out in the fields. A short time later there began to be talk of taking all the Jews to one spot and creating a work camp for them.
On the twenty-eighth day of Av, Friday, August 22, 1941, partisans arrived at the Lukodeme compound and packed all the Jews – the remaining men, all the women and the children – into wagons and took them to the Kelm compound. At the same time all the Jews from the Jewish compound were brought to the Kelm compound on wagons. (The “Kelm compound” was the name the Jews at that time gave to the compound belonging to the landowner Gruzhewsky.) The thirty-six men from Lunts‘ barn were also brought to the Kelm compound in the evening. All evening and well into the night, all the Jews who had been brought to the Kelm compound were shot in the gravel pits not far from the Kelm compound. This time the owners of the surrounding Jewish compounds and their families were murdered as well. The Lithuanians inherited the compounds, along with their livestock and other inventory.
Khaye does not have sufficient knowledge of more precise details about the atrocities committed by the Lithuanians against the Jews during the execution. Peasants in the villages related that the murderers threw children into the pit while they were still alive. A large number of the unfortunate victims were buried while still only wounded. The peasants also related that one girl had been just lightly wounded. While the mass grave was being covered over, she raised her head from the sand several times. The murderers buried her half alive. The murderers themselves told the peasants about this, boasting about their gruesome acts.
After the second slaughter of Jews, Kelm, which was famous throughout the Jewish world for its yeshivas and its rabbinical scholars, where the religious Jewish spirit was forged day and night, was left Judenrein.
The mystic religious melodies of the yeshiva students, their rabbis and leaders were eternally silenced. The town was ruined down to the foundations; the Jewish community of Kelm was ruined forever. Peasants also related that while the yeshiva students were being taken to be shot, they did not weep. Like stone statues, they moved slowly, with their eyes raised to the sky, murmuring prayers.
How Did This Witness Survive?
Even before the second slaughter of Jews, there was talk in the compound about the possibility that all the Jews in the Jewish compounds would be taken to the Kelm compound. In the afternoon of Friday, August 22, 1941, the elderly Mrs Khaye Roziene was filled with unease. She packed a small suitcase with the bare necessities, and prepared to leave the compound, and go wherever her feet carried her. Her acquaintances noticed this and asked her where she was heading. Khaye didn’t want to start a panic and assured them that she was coming right back.
Unnoticed, she left the compound and entered a nearby peasant house, which stood by the road. She planned to wait there until evening, and then go on further. Before Khaye even managed to rest a bit, armed partisans drove into the compound on a truck. A short time later all the women, their children and the few remaining men were taken on wagons in the direction of Kelm.
At the same time, Khaye saw the Jews from the other Jewish compounds being taken in on wagons. Khaye waited until evening in great impatience and fear. In the evening shots could be heard from the gravel pits. It became clear to Khaye that all of the Jews taken from the compounds had been shot.
That evening Khaye felt like a ship without a rudder. She was entirely alone in a strange and cruel world. It was hard for her to decide what to do and where to go. Khaye began to struggle for her life, as if riding on angry, stormy waves in the ocean. Khaye faced a hard and bitter struggle for her own sad and lonely life. Khaye knew that throughout the surrounding region all the peasants she knew were no longer her friends, and that she had to be careful of everyone in order to stay alive.
A few Jews survived the second slaughter. The partisans knew about them, and in order to be sure that there would be no living witnesses to their bestial deeds, they began an intense hunt for the surviving Jews. Quite a few surviving Jews were caught and shot by the partisans at that time. It was hard for Khaye, at her age, to move from one area to another and thus avoid the roundups. Khaye was saved from death more than once by the fact that her appearance was not obviously Jewish.
From peasant to peasant, from one acquaintance to another, Khaye wandered about, seeking a place to rest her tired feet. Not one of the peasants whom she knew best would hide her and save her from death, because they themselves were afraid.
Khaye decided to go to Shavl, where she hoped to find her one son who hadn’t been shot. Khaye knew that there were Jews living in a ghetto in Shavl. Peasants had told her.
In the Shavl Ghetto
After surviving various threats to her life in the countryside and along the roads, after suffering hunger, thirst and more than a few sleepless nights, Khaye approached Shavl. Five days after Rosh Hashanah 1941, Khaye was brought into the Shavl ghetto by a Jew. It is hard to describe the moment when Khaye met her son Hirshl, who was the only remaining member of her family. At that meeting, Hirshl was the weak one. He could not calm himself for hours, and constantly suppressed a weeping that came from deep inside, so overcome was he at finding his mother alive.
Khaye commenced a hard life in the Shavl ghetto. She had to survive several life-threatening situations during various actions and deportations. The first reason was that she was a “stranger” and the Jewish police didn’t know her. The second was that Khaye’s innocent age was a great disadvantage at that time. She lived and struggled only for the sake of her Hirshl.
When the Jews in the Shavl ghetto were relocated, Khaye and her son were interned in a camp called Daugel. Khaye suffered through that camp until the liquidation of the Shavl ghetto, when all the Jews from all the camps were brought to the Shavl ghetto, and from there evacuated to Germany. Khaye once again decided not to wait, but rather to escape from the camp immediately. Her son left the camp and went into the forest with a group of young people to join the Red partisans. He gave his elderly mother the address of a peasant in the countryside. The peasant was a good friend of Hirshl’s. In the beginning of July 1944, Khaye ran away from the camp by herself. She disguised herself as a Lithuanian peasant woman, and covered about sixty kilometers on foot. Khaye Roziene hid for exactly a month’s time at the home of the good peasant Juosas Bartkevitsius, and then she was liberated by the Red Army. A short time later she found out that her son Hirshl was alive. She met him, and Khaye and her son experienced great joy. But Khaye did not have a long time to celebrate with her only surviving son. He was mobilized into the Red Army. Hirshl fought heroically in the ranks of the Red Army for eight months. He exerted himself with all his youthful energy taking revenge on the German murderers. Not far from Berlin, a short time before the end of the bloody war, Hirshl was wounded in battle and died. The elderly Khaye remained alone in Europe. She has two daughters in Israel.