The slaughter of Jews in Kruonis, Pakuonis and Darshuniskis.
Testimonies from the Lithuanian Holocaust of Jews are from Leyb Koniuchowsky’ s 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).
Related by Yosef Gar, born in Kaunas in the year 1905. A journalist by profession. Education: graduated from the teacher’s seminary in Kaunas. Lived in Kaunas until the war broke out on June 22, 1941. Father’s name Dovid. For the entire time up until the war, Yosef’s mother Esther lived in Kruonis with Yosef’s brother Yakov.
Kruonis is located forty kilometers from Kaunas, on the highway between Alytus and Kaunas. It is twenty kilometers from Kaishiadorys. Kruonis belonged to Kaunas county. About a hundred families lived in town, including twenty Jewish families. Most of the Jews in town were occupied as retail merchants, and a few of them were in agriculture.
The town had a synagogue and a small library. Most of the Jewish youth were Zionists. The attitude of the Lithuanian population toward the Jews was relatively good.
Throughout the period of the German occupation, Yosef Gar lived in the Kaunas ghetto, experiencing all the suffering of the Jews in the ghetto together with his wife and child. When the few surviving Jews of Kaunas were evacuated to Germany, Gar and his wife Rokhel jumped out of a fast-moving railroad car, on July 12, 1944. They wandered through the fields and forests for eighteen days. They were liberated on August 1, 1944 by the Red Army near Pilvishkiai.
On their way to Kaunas after the liberation, the following August, Gar and his wife stopped in at the town of Kruonis, where his mother and brother had died. Gar found one surviving Jewish family named Volpe in town, consisting of the mother Khane, her fourteen-year-old daughter Sheyne, Khane’s sister and the sister’s little boy. ‘The Jewish family, as well as peasant friends, told Gar as follows about the slaughter of Jews in the town.
The Germans entered the town on Tuesday or Wednesday, June 25, 1941. The Jewish families lived in their own homes until the first days of July 1941. No excesses were committed. Nor did the Germans take any particular anti-Jewish measures. Indicative of his was the fact that Gar’s sister in law Bayle Gar worked for a time as a translator for the Germans.
All the Jews in Town Interned in a Barn Advertisement
On the seventh or eighth of July 1941 all the Jews, men, women and children, were arrested. They were kept in a barn guarded by Lithuanian partisans. The houses and farms were abandoned. Several days later the women and children were freed. Only the men were kept interned in the barn. On July 13, 1941 Gar and his wife passed by Kruonis on the way to Kaunas. When he entered the town, he met a Jewish woman named Rokhel Lurya (born Rosenberg) from Kruonis, who told Gar that all the men had been arrested. She told him that women and children had been arrested along with the men, but they had been released several days previously.
On the way to his mother’s house, he and his wife were arrested by two Lithuanian partisans next to the house. One of them was the leader of the partisan bandits in town, Arlauskas, a son of a peasant outside of town, and the other was Malinauskas, a Lithuanian from town.
They forbade him from staying in town, because his papers stated that he and his wife were permitted to go to Kaunas. Finally Gar managed to convince them to let him spend the night in the barn together with the arrested men. But before opening the gate of the barn to let him in, the partisans changed their minds, and Gar and his wife were taken away to the highway leading to Kaunas.
Murders of Jewish Families; Advertisement
The Ghetto in Darshunishkis; Ten Young Women Murdered
Later on the men were also released from the barn. After the men were released, the Jewish family Perlshteyn from town (the husband Lipe, the wife Khane, daughters Khaye and Rokhel, the sons Alter and Hirshe, all grown men) were murdered one night. The murder was committed by a Lithuanian from town, the farmer Juozas Bileishys, with whom the victims had disputes over land before the war.
At the same time two young Jewish men, brothers named Moyshe and Yakov Rosenberg, were also murdered. After these murders most of the Jews left the town, and settled at the homes of peasant friends near Kruonis. At the end of July or the beginning of August there was a decree stating that all the Jews had to come to town in order to move to the nearby town of Darshunishkis, where a ghetto was supposed to be prepared for the Jews.
The Jews of Kruonis, Darshunishkis and Pakuonis were herded together into the Darshunishkis ghetto. Since some of the Jews of Kruonis worked plots of land, they would go from Darshunishkis to Kruonis to work in the fields. Some of the rest of the Jewish men were taken to work on the highways and roads around Kruonis.
One day a group of ten Jewish women and girls walked from Darshunishkis to Kruonis to bring food for the men. About one kilometer from Kruonis all the women and girls were shot. The sisters Khane and Khaye Strazh were among the women who were shot.
A young Jewish man named Faynberg from Darshunishkis, who was sick during the time the men were being taken to work, was taken to work together with the women. He was murdered as well. Ite Rosenberg from Kruonis was also among the ten. The rest of the women were from Darshunishkis.
In Darshunishkis the Jews were badly mistreated, with respect to food, at work and so forth.
On August 15, 1941, on the Catholic holiday of Zholynes, when Christians from the surrounding area gathered at the church in Darshunishkis, the Jewish men were taken away from Darshunishkis in trucks. No one said where they were taking the men. The alibi was that they were being taken to work. Among the men taken from Darshunishkis was a Jew from Kruonis named Dovid Tkatsh, who was elderly and had a limp. He asked the partisans why he was being taken to work, even though he was incapable. The partisans answered: “You’ll only make coffee for the ones who work” (Khane Volpe relates this).
According to later information, the men were taken somewhere near Kaunas and shot there. It was said that the men were supposed to have been shot in the Kamenduliu forest, not far from the Pazhaisliai monastery. It was also suspected that they were shot at the Seventh Fort near Kaunas.
The only ones left in Darshunishkis were the women, children and elderly. At the beginning of September 1941 the Jews learned that something was going to happen to them in the near future.
On September 3, 1941 all the Jews in the Darshunishkis ghetto were shot at the Jewish cemetery. The sick and the elderly were thrown into the pits alive. (reported by Khane Volpe).
A short time before the executions the partisans severely tortured the Jews to get them to say where they had hidden their gold and other valuables. Thus, for example, the Kruonis Jew Shloyme Akhitovits and his wife were murderously beaten. The woman was brought from Darshunishkis to Kruonis and beaten terribly there so that she would show them where they had buried the gold (told by Khane Volpe).
Gar’s sister-in-law, Beyle Gar, escaped from Darshunishkis together with her child. The partisans found out, chased her, caught her, and after beating her murderously, brought her to the execution. She too was tortured in an attempt to get her to show where she had hidden valuables.
Shortly before the execution, the family Volpe from Kruonis found out what was in store for the Jews in Darshunishkis, and a certain peasant kept them in hiding throughout the entire German occupation. The husband Moyshe Volpe stayed with one Christian, while his wife and child, her sister and the sister’s boy stayed with another Christian. The women and children survived. Moyshe Volpe was shot by a peasant from a village near Kruonis with whom he had secured valuables, when he went to the man’s house to ask for something. The peasant’s name is Sadonis.
The Death of the Pakuonis Jews in Darshunishkis; The Tragic Accounting
About ten Jewish families lived there. The Jews of Pakuonis, who had been brought to the Darshunishkis ghetto as well, shared the fate of the Jews of Darshunishkis and Kruonis.
A Jew from Pakuonis named Frenkelshteyn, who had a business selling instruments for dental technicians in Kaunas, was in Pakuonis when the occupation began. The Lithuanian police chief of Pakuonis, with whom Frenkelshteyn had good connections, warned him one day that an action was being prepared against the Jews, and advised him to escape from town. Frenkelshteyn hid for a certain time in the region of Pakuonis, and then he made his way into the Kaunas ghetto, where he died during the liquidation in July 1944.
Frenkelshteyn told Gar in the ghetto that the Jews of Pakuonis had been taken to Darshunishkis, where they were killed together with the Jews of Darshunishkis and Kruonis.
During the military operations in Lithuania in the year 1944, the town of Darshunishkis was completely destroyed in the bombing. The front stopped at the Nieman. The Soviet army, which massed at the river, was heavily attacked by the German army. The town was destroyed during these battles.
Later the local Christians unanimously insisted that it was a punishment from heaven, because innocent Jews had been tortured and killed in Darshunishkis. The town of Kruonis was almost totally undamaged. The town of Pakuonis was also badly damaged during the military operations.
Attestation of Yosef Gar
Everything written about the slaughter of the Jews in the towns of Kruonis, Pakuonis and Darshunishkis (in the Darshunishkis ghetto) was related by me, Yosef Gar, to Leyb Koniuchowsky, and I attest thereto with my signature on each and every page.
Gar also testified: https://www.yiddishbookcenter.org/collections/yiddish-books/spb-nybc200549/gar-joseph-umkum-fun-der-yidisher-kovne
The English language translation is as follows:
28 CHAPTER 28 Page 264
-New problems and worries for the liberated men and women. –
-The life of the surviving Lithuanian Jews during the first years of the last-remnants.
- After recuperating from the first impressions and experiences related to the liberation, a whole series of new problems and worries stood before these liberated people. The situation, however, was entirely different between the women, who were liberated by the Russians, and the situation for the men, liberated by the Americans.
- When the women from the labor camps in Prussia were freed by the Red Army in the beginning of 1945, the sick and weak immediately were transported to hospitals for medical attention. The healthier women, however, were quickly mobilized for various work details for the army, because the war with Germany had not yet ended.
- The work of the mobilized women varied: they worked in military hospitals, in military economic organizations, etc. A larger number of liberated women were also employed in herding animals, which the Soviets were taking to Russia from the occupied German areas.
- However, truth be told, most of the liberated women were not very glad to do such physically exhausting work, like chasing animals on foot for many months. They were not happy for the following reasons:
- First, most women were mainly interested in finding their men or other members of their families, who were taken away on the deportations.
- Second, many women left their children with Christians in Lithuania, and they wanted to get there as soon as possible to recover the children.
- Third, after all the horrible experiences in the Ghetto and in the concentration camps, the women wanted to recuperate and not start all over again being shackled to work, especially under a military regime.
- A small number of more energetic women avoided the work mobilization and tried to strike through all military barriers to get themselves out to Lithuania. Already in March 1945, a few Jewish women who were liberated from the German concentration camps started arriving in Vilna, Kovno and Shavl.
- The appearance of the liberated women was an extraordinary surprise, especially among the former ghetto Jews, because everyone believed that no trace remained of those Jews deported to Germany. So, for example, one day a notice circulated in Kovno that a Kovno liberated woman had arrived in Vilna. Not waiting for her arrival in Kovno, many Jews immediately left for Vilna to look at her, and hear authentic accounts from her about the fate of the deported Jews.
- Furthermore, in the Spring of 1945, even more individuals and groups of liberated women started returning to Lithuania. No one in Lithuania knew anything about the fate of the deported men until the end of the war.
- At this opportunity we must add that the liberated Jewish women received a very cold reception from the official Lithuanian institutions. If not for the little help organized by Jews themselves, many of them would not have had anywhere to lay their head or anything to eat. Most of them lay on the floors of the former Kovno Choir Synagogue and in other community places for weeks until they got work and started having a “normal” life.
- So very fortunate were those liberated mothers who found their little children in Jewish children’s homes, which were established in Kovno right after liberation through the initiative of a group of former ghetto Jews. * They started collecting the little Jewish children who, during the ghetto times, were given away to Christians, and whose parents were not found. In the establishment and existence of the children’s home, particular recognition should be given to the Russian Jew Polkovnik Professor Rebelski, a psychiatrist by profession, who was chief of the large military sanatorium office, located in Kovno in those days. Thanks to his active interest in the fate of the little children during those difficult years, he was successful in creating very basic tangible opportunities for the children’s home. By the way, he was quite an interesting personality and a good person with a very warm heart.
- A Jewish elementary school with a kindergarten was also established in Kovno ** at the same time as the children’s home.
- Many mothers found their little children still in the homes of the Christians. Aside from the older children, the Christians did not want to give the children back. A larger number of Christians didn’t return any Jewish children whose parents were killed, and none of the surviving Jews knew where or by whom the children were to be found. Because of this, there are Jewish children who have remained with the Christians until this day.
- At the end of June 1945 about 500-600 liberated Jewish women returned to Kovno.
- The case of the liberated men was different. In general, the greatest portion of men were in far worse physical condition than the women. To recuperate a bit, they needed immediate medical help and recovery. In addition, like the women, many men became sick with various typhus illnesses right after liberation, which they contracted from the evacuation marches, or a short time beforehand. Being so very weak and exhausted from all the concentration camp horrors, many of them could not get through the illnesses and died. Only the younger and healthier were able to recuperate.
*Those active on the committee to help the children’s home were Benjamin Freidman, Engineer Faivush Goldshmidt, Hirsh Levin, Engineer Mayer Yellin, Engineer Kolodny, David Tepper, Madam Dr. Golvitch, Advocate Diner, Yosef Gar, and others.
**Rafael Levin was the administrator of the children’s home and the elementary school. Teachers in the elementary school and kindergarten were: Berel Cohen, Mrs. Levin-Abramovich, Mrs. Yellin, Frida Strashon, Sonia Garber. After her return from Russia Helene Chatzkels worked in the school as a teacher. Later, Mrs. Solomin took over the running of the children’s home. The businessman, Moshe Sherman, also did a lot for the children’s home).
- Almost all the women who were liberated by the Russians had one clear goal after the liberation –to get to Lithuania as soon as possible. But, among the largest portion of men, there were large differences of opinion right from the beginning.
- A smaller number of the left leaning ones, started to agitate for the men to go back to Lithuania.
- The Zionist leaning elements, on the contrary, decided never to go back to Lithuania. After all the horrific experiences that Jews went through in the Hitler years, every Jew should, irrespective of his past political circumstances, strive to settle in Eretz-Israel.
- The non-political Jews, who, by the way, were the majority, were neutral and waited to receive more exact information about what was happening there before traveling to Lithuania. Men who received word that their liberated wives had returned to Lithuania, left for Poland, to find a way to connect with their wives once there.
- As we know, in the beginning of Summer 1945, a voluntary repatriation of established national minorities started between Soviet Russia and Poland. Those Kovno Jews who did not want to remain where there were mass graves of their murdered family members, strove to join their relatives in Eretz Israel, America and other lands. They took advantage of this stream of repatriation and endured on to Poland. From there, they came to Germany, Austria, Italy, etc., from where they sought a way to get in touch with their foreign friends.
- Those who arrived from Lithuania did not deliver warm regards about Jewish life there. The very fact that they left Lithuania and brought unfavorable news about the situation of that Jewish population, strengthened the position of those “not-returning.” Furthermore, many Jews who were prepared to go back to Lithuania, refused at the last moment.
- Liberated Jews who managed to return to Lithuania, and who discovered that their family members were in Poland or Germany, sought ways to get there.
- Meanwhile, the Jewish mass escape from east to west became even greater from month to month. This escape stream tore the Lithuanian Jews apart even more – both those who were in the Ghetto, as well as those who evacuated to Russia.
- A portion of those Lithuanian Jews, especially the younger ones, succeeded in various ways to immigrate to Eretz-Israel. Some individuals left to go to relatives in the United States and other lands across the sea.
- For a variety of reasons, the overwhelming majority of Lithuanian Jews remained sitting in the Jewish DP camps in the American Zone in Germany or in Italy, where they shared the fate of the entire “remaining remnant.” In Landsberg, Munich, Feldafing, Sankt- Otillian, and other settlements in Germany, as well as in Rome, Milan, Bari, and other points in Italy, many Kovno Jews took up positions of responsibility in local Jewish social life.
- After a while the liberated Lithuanian Jews in Germany and Italy organized themselves and connected with the Lithuanian Jewish organizations and “countrymen organizations” in Eretz Israel, U.S.A., South Africa, Canada, etc.
- A Union of Lithuanian Jews was established in Landsberg, at the end of 1946, in the American Zone in Germany. On the 28th of October 1946, at the 5th year commemoration of the Big Action in the Kovno Ghetto, they arranged a large mourning-commemoration. Almost all the Lithuanian Jews from the “remaining remnant” in the American Zone took part.
- The first conference of Lithuanian Survivors of the Diaspora in Germany took place in Munich, on the 14th and 15th of April 1947.
- At this important conference it was decided to put forth a resolution about “the guilt of the Lithuanian people in the murder of Lithuanian Jewry.”
- This resolution affirmed, as follows: “The conference confirms that:
- All levels of Lithuanian people (academics, officials, peasants, skilled workers, workers, etc.) took an active part, together with the Nazi murderers, in the murder of Lithuanian Jewry, especially in the provinces.
- A large portion of these Lithuanian murderers are in the American, English and French Zones in Germany and Austria where they are counted as “deportees” and enjoy “UNRRA support.”
- “The conference gives latitude to the newly elected management of the Union to publicly inform about the deceptive acts of the large numbers of Lithuanians who, before and during the Nazi occupation, conducted mass-murders of their Jewish citizens.”
- “We, the few remaining from the prior 160 thousand total of Lithuanian Jewry, are living witnesses to the horrible cruelties which were committed by the Lithuanians to their Jewish neighbors. Each one of us can tell numerous facts illustrating the horrible murders by the Lithuanian people toward the unprotected and helpless Jewish population during the occupation years. Despite our huge pain, we must declare that the smaller Jewish settlements in the Lithuanian provinces were exterminated exclusively by Lithuanians, and in the larger Jewish settlements, with their most active participation. As is generally known, the bestial murders of Jews in Kovno, like for example, in the various garages during the horrific Slabodka pogrom, and also at the time of the huge massacre at the 7th Fort, where more than 9,000 Kovno Jews were killed during the early occupation weeks, were conducted by Lithuanians.”
- “Furthermore, it is also known about the active participation of the Lithuanians in the extermination of the Jewish ghettos and camps outside the borders of Lithuania, such as Majdanek, Warsaw, and the like. The Union of Lithuanian Jews in the Diaspora in Germany considers it our Jewish and human duty to bring these facts to the awareness of the Jewish and non-Jewish public.”