THE SLAUGHTER OF JEWS IN THE SMALL TOWN OF RUMSHISHKES

Reported by Khane Shuster (born Bobrovsky), born in Rumshishkes on February 10, 1910. Her father's name was Yakov-Elye. She lived in Rumshishkes with her parents until 1932. She is a bookkeeper by profession. She graduated from the Hebrew gymnasium in Kaunas. When the war broke out She was in Kaunas with her husband Avrom Shuster.

Rumshishkes is located an the banks of the Nieman, twenty-one kilometers from Kaunas. The highway between Kaunas and Vilnius leads through the town. The town belonged to Kaunas County.

Between 40 and 45 Jewish families lived in town until the war broke out. on June 22, 1941. Nearly all the Jews in town were retail merchants, along with a small number of artisans. The majority of the young Jews had already left the small, dull town before the war and settled in Kaunas.

Relations between the Lithuanian population and their Jewish neighbors were friendly until the Red Army arrived in Lithuania in 1940. The Jews met the Lithuanians not only in the market and an the street, but also at social events and concerts which they attended together. The Lithuanian intelligentsia were friendly with the Jewish youth who used to come from Kaunas an vacation.

Much ill feeling was expressed by the Lithuanians toward the Jews in town during the period of Soviet rule in 1940-1941. The head of the Red militia in town was a young Jewish man from Kaunas, who had married a girl from town named Vays. For several years in a row previously the head of Smetonas's police had been a Lithuanian from Kaunas. Only the chief had been replaced. The policemen, all locals, couldn't get over the fact that a Jew had taken the place of their chief, and was giving them orders and acting like their boss.

The Lithuanians in town regarded the Russians as occupiers. But the they threw themselves body and soul into economic, social and political activities. This too caused animosity between the Lithuanians and the Jews.

Outbreak of War, June 22, 1941; Robberies, Revenge and Shooting of Jews; Power Passes Into the Hands of the Lithuanians

The Jews in town did not manage to escape to the Soviet Union, because no one believed that the German Fascist army would advance rapidly. Jews from Kaunas, Shants, Petrashuniai and other locations gathered in the town. They were all caught by the German army an various roads, and on the way back they were left stuck in the town of Rumshishkes.

Two weeks after the war began a farmer in town named Antanas Bernauskas gave them a letter from their parents. No particular news was contained in the letter. (This peasant lived three kilometers from town in the village of Uzhtakiai.)

1) The peasant then volunteered the information that the Jewish pharmacist Yermiyahu Rubenshteyn had been sent by the Lithuanian bandits to the municipal offices. There they demanded that he hand over all the Rubinshteyn was well known and well liked not only among the Jews, but also among the Lithuanian population in town and in the countryside. The Lithuanian murderers tortured the pharmacist. But he didn't have anything to give them, and he was shot together with his wife Asna and their three children, Yosef (aged 9), Khananye (aged 9, Yosef's twin) and Shloymele (aged 2).

2) The carpenter in town Motl Kagan (aged 40?) and his son (aged 18) were shot at the same time, without investigation or trial. During the period of Soviet rule the father and his son were active members in the Communist Party and Communist Youth.

3) The Same peasant also related that the religious Jew Matz had also been shot at the same time, with no reason. The peasant reported that the Jews in town were in a very bad situation. They found themselves in constant fear of dying, and were afraid to go out into the street. All of the power had passed into the hands of the partisans (partisans opposing the Red Army-L.K.), and they were able to do whatever they wanted to the Jews. The leader of the bandits was a former inspector at the municipal offices under the Soviets.

The peasant Antanas Berkauskas came a second time with another letter from Khane's parents, about four weeks after the war began. This letter didn't contain any special news about the situation of the Jews in town, either. The peasant reported that the situation of the Jews was getting worse day by day, because by now the Jews didn't even have anything to eat. The Lithuanian armed bandits had forbidden all commerce with Jews. Many Jewish families packed up their better things and sent it to peasants they knew in the villages for safekeeping. He, too, had been given several bags of soft items by Khane's father for safekeeping. The Jews who had cows gave them to peasant acquaintances. Khane's father sent one cow to the peasant Sadauskas in the village of Ushtakas.

Khane did not See the peasant again.

Sheyne Tsodikov

Before the war a young women from Rumshishkes named Sheyne Tsodikov lived in Kaunas. When the war broke out she escaped to her parents in Rumshishkes. Until the middle of August 1941 she was with her parents. Her fiance stayed in Kaunas, and she returned from Rumshishkes to be with him. Khane met him before the Kaunas ghetto was sealed (before August 15, 1941).

Sheyne Tsodikov told Khane at that time:

The Jewish pharmacist and his family were shot because they didn't want to hand over gold. At the same time Motl Kagan and his son, and Yakov Matz were also shot. She corroborated everything that the peasant had already told Khane, and added that Mrs. Tsile Grinblat was among the first victims in town. The Lithuanian murderers had taken her husband to Pravinishkis to work. She cursed the murderers and Said that a time would come when she would take revenge an them for this. The murderers had shot her at the entrance to her house for this.

Sheyne also related at that time that shortly after the beginning of the war the Lithuanian bandits had gathered all the able-bodied men together and took them to work in peat bogs at Pravinishkis, five kilometers from Rumshishkes. A work camp was set up at Pravinishkis. There all the Jewish men the Lithuanian bandits had encountered trying to escape to the Soviet Union had been herded together. The conditions in the men's camp were terrible. The women from Rumshishkes brought their fathers and Bons food.

The able-bodied women also had to go to work every day. The women were forced to pull weeds out of the street, wash laundry and so forth.

Sheyne Tsodikov also related that every day peasants from the villages used to come ask the Jews for clothing, tools and the like. There were also days when long rows of peasant acquaintances used to stand at every house, "requesting" that the Jews with whom they were friendly give them something, or "lend" them something for "a certain time." In no case did a Jew ever refuse the request of a peasant acquaintance. The Jews gradually parted with the possessions they had worked hard to assemble. Everything they handed over was drenched in tears. The Jews still had no idea what was in store for them. The Lithuanians had a very good sense of smell-the Sense of a hyena spotting a victim. These Lithuanian friends with whom the Jews had lived for hundreds of years, cooperating in every aspect of life, didn't think for a second of saving the Jews or at least comforting them. They came to inherit the Jews' possessions while the Jews were still alive.

Khavive Yonenson had married Yitzkhok Hofnheym in Shiauliai. When the war broke out she escaped to Rumshishkes with her husband and child. Khavive had a good karakul lamb coat and other valuables. As soon as she came to Rumshishkes, the chief of police (a Lithuanian) came to their house and took the karakul coat "for his wife."

Sheyne Tsodikov told Khane later, when they were both in the Kaunas ghetto, that the Jews in town were terrified. After the men were taken to Pravinishkis, some of the sick men remained in town. Among them was Khane's father Yakov-Elye, her uncle Tsvi Shafer, Yitzkhok Hofnheym (from Shantz), and others. The men stayed in hiding at their homes. Every Jewish family lived an its own. They didn't go to visit each other. There was great sorrow among the Small Jewish population.

Tragic Situation of the Jews in the Ghetto; The Total Slaughter

The situation of the Jews in town grew even worse when the Lithuanian bandits dröve the Jewish women, children and few remaining men into two homes belonging to two Jewish brothers named Yosef and Tsemakh Katz. The women were crowded together in the houses like herring in a barrel. A guard was posted to make sure that the Jews didn't leave the houses, and that they wouldn't be able to come into contact with the Lithuanian population of the town.

Nor were the women allowed to bring food to their husbands in Pravinishkis any longer. The Jews were herded into the ghetto in the second half of the month of August. The Jews were kept in the ghetto consisting of the two houses for a short time, and then they were herded into one house of a Jewish businessman named Yekhezkel-Leyb Langman. The guard around the house was reinforced. The Jews suffered from hunger at the time. The Jews weren't in this house for a very long time.

One Sunday, when the religious Christians had already left church, a truck drove up to the house. The bändits herded women and children into the truck, and took them away in the direction of Kaunas. One half kilometer from town, beyond the hill located next to the highway, a pit had already been dug, and there the women and children were shot. In this manner all the women, children and the few remaining men were shot that Sunday. The mass grave is located next to Lion Mountain, on the right side of the highway leading from Rumshishkes to Kaunas, after going over the stream a half kilometer from town.

Peasants from town told Khane Shuster about the ghetto and the slaughter of the women, children and a few men after the war, when Khane herself went to the mass grave.

A peasant woman from town named Roste Abramavitz as well as other peasant acquaintances told Khane that when the Jews had been taken from town to be shot, one woman began going into labor. The murderers didn't stop, and they took the mother and the newborn child to the pit, where they were shot. The maiden name of the mother was Rokhel Langman. All the peasants watched the Jews being taken out of town. They relate that one boy named Katz didn't want to get into the truck, and with tears in his eyes he pleaded with his mother, "Mama, I don't want to die, I'm afraid!" The murderers placed him in the truck by force.

When she was in Rumshishkes after the war, Khane could not find out exactly when the women and children had been shot. Everyone assured her that it was an a Sunday. Khane does not know what happened to the men who were taken away to Pravinishkis. Khane lost her parents and her uncle Tsvi Shafer in Rumshishkes. They all lie murdered in mass graves half a kilometer from town.

The town was completely burned down in 1944, when the Germany retreated. There is no trace left of the Jewish life that once was. The town died forever, together with the Jews.

On November 17, 1943 Khane, her husband Avrom Shuster and their child Yosef left the Kaunas ghetto. They stayed with various peasants they knew, first in the Suburb of Murava (for three months) and then near Aukshtadvaris. They risked death dozens of times, living through hunger, cold, and terror. On July 12, 1944 they were liberated by the Red Army.

THE END

Everything recorded by Leib Koniuchowsky on five pages concerning the slaughter of the Jews in Rumshishkes was personally related by me, Khane Shuster, and I attest thereto with my signature an each and every page. Eyewitness: Khane Shuster (Signature)

The report was written while lying in hospital by Leib Koniuchowsky. Munich Hospital - May 3, 1947

I attest to the signature of Mrs. Khane Shuster. Engineer Shuster
General Secretary of the Union of Lithuanian Jews in the American Zone in Germany
May 3, 1947

Translated fron Yiddish by Dr. Jonathan Boyarin
New York , New York February 27, 1994