During World War II and Afterwards.
World War II started with the German invasion of Poland on the 1st of September 1939, but its consequences for Lithuanian Jews in general and Tavrig Jews in particular had already been felt several months earlier. On the 20th of March 1939, Hitler sent an ultimatum to Lithuania to leave Memel within 24 hours. About 7,000 Jews who lived in Memel and in its region escaped, leaving most of their belongings behind, looking for asylum in the Zemaitija region and in Kovno. Many of them settled in Tavrig, where the Jewish community cared for them.
In June 1940 Lithuania was annexed by the Soviet Union, becoming a Soviet Republic. Following new rules, the majority of factories and shops belonging to Jews in Tavrig were nationalized and commissars were appointed to manage them. All Zionist parties and youth organizations were disbanded, several of the activists were detained, Hebrew educational institutions were closed, and the Hebrew school changed to a Yiddish one (see certificate below that was issued when the pro-gymnasium was already closed).
Those members who were Polish refugees in the "Hekhalutz" "Kibbutz Hakhsharah", were branded as being "unreliable elements" under the new rule and were scattered over several towns in Zemaitija - Kelem, Vilkomir, Yaneve. When Germany invaded Lithuania, about two thirds of them managed to escape to Russia, and after the war about thirty of them came to Israel.
The supply of goods decreased and as a result prices soared. The middle class, mostly Jewish, bore most of the brunt, and the standard of living dropped gradually. At the beginning of June 1941, 17 Jewish families, altogether about 60 people, who were considered "unreliable elements", were exiled to Komi SSR, the most northern part of European Russia. Some of the exiles began to receive food parcels from former Tavrigers in Baltimore, USA, already. at the beginning of 1942. Later on almost all the exiles there received parcels from "The Association of Lithuanian Jews" in the USA on a regular basis. This aid helped many families to survive these difficult years.
A list of the exiles appears in Appendix 4.
The German army occupied Tavrig on the 22nd of June 1941, the first day of the war between Germany and the Soviet Union, after bombing the town, when most of its houses were destroyed. About 20 Jews were injured. Residents of the town, including Jews, escaped to nearby villages, others arrived in Shavl and
other towns in this region, with only a few managing to reach Russia. After the
battles ended, the returning Jews whose houses had been left intact, found that
their homes had been looted by their Lithuanian neighbors.
Tavrig was located on a strip of 25 km near the border with Germany subject to the order of the S.S. Einsatzgruppe commander F.Stahlecker (he was hanged after the war by the Soviets). According to his order this strip of land had do be handed over to the Gerstapo chief from Tilzit Hans Boehme with a special assignment to cleanse it from Jews and Communists.
At first Jewish life and property were in the hands of the Lithuanian nationalists. Several days later, a Gestapo man named Schwarz arrived in Tavrig and asked the new Mayor Jonas Jurgilas for help to identify Communists. Under orders from the Gestapo, the local police chief F.Mintautas and his policemen detained 300 Jewish men and 25 non-Jewish Communists, some of the latter being released later. The Jewish men were kept in the detention barracks of the 7th Infantry regiment of the former Lithuanian army.
Hans Boehme determined the date of the murder for the 2nd of July 1941 and he himself participated. He let it be known that he wanted to show his men a "sample action", so that they would learn how to behave from now on.
On the 2nd of July 1941 the detainees were brought to the nearby village of Vizbutai (Vizhbutai) where anti-tank ditches had been dug. The Jews were compelled to deepen the ditches and after everything they had was taken away from them, they were forced to kneel at the edge of the ditch with their faces turned towards it. Then the Gestapo men and their Lithuanian helpers shot them in their necks and pushed them into the ditch. Evidence in the Ulm trial showed that Dr.Yafe and dentist Dr.Most were among the murdered.
A second group of 122 Jewish men were murdered on the road to Shilel (Silale) between the 3rd and the 10th of July. The arrest of Jewish men and the abuse of young Jewish women did not stop, and from the first day of the armed Lithuanians rule there were no limits to their atrocities.
The local Rabbi Levi Shpitz was also abused and shot to death by the Lithuanians after they asked him for a list of Jewish Communists which, of course, he did not have.
During the first days of occupation, a German entered the house of the 80 year old Dr.Y.Shapira and ordered him to dig a pit for burying a dead horse which lay beside his house. The old doctor hesitated, not understanding what he had to do. The German ordered two women, who were called Blind and Most, to dig the pit together with the doctor, upon which he stood the doctor beside the cadaver of the horse and shot him to death, then ordered the women to bury the doctor together with the cadaver of the horse.
Day after day there were arrests, with men and young women being sent to carry out so called work, but nobody returned. They were murdered and buried in mass graves around Tavrig.
The situation of the women and children and the few old men who still survived worsened from day to day. Deserted, orphaned, frightened, starving and helpless they walked aimlessly in the town.
On the 6th of September 1941 the District commander V.Milimas sent a "not to be published" circular (Nr.227) to the Mayor of Tavrig, to the Chairmen of the County Councils and to the police commanders, which contained details of the orders of treatment of the Jews.
The first clause said that the Jews had to be concentrated in one place, and that they must elect a Jewish council by themselves. Any Jew who applies to the authorities had to have the approval of the council. There followed orders of making it compulsory for Jews to wear a yellow "Magen-David" on their clothes; the counting of the imprisoned; a ban on the transfer of property to non Jews; a ban of walking on sidewalks; Jewish doctors were allowed to care only for Jews; exceptions could be made for the employment of Jewish artisans only where there were no non-Jews who could do the job; Jewish property had to be nationalized and Jews were banned from administering their own property.
Clause 10 of this circular said that Jews could only get the most elementary food products from remains left over after the non Jewish population had received its needs. This clause also permitted the establishment of a Jewish police to keep order.
Clause 12 allowed Jews to be sent to work where there was a shortage of non Jewish workers. Their payment had to be brought to the office of the District Governor, where the workers would receive their wages.
On the same day the police commanders of Tavrig received circular Nr.228 for transfering Jews into one place.
All the Jews were concentrated into incomplete huts in Vytautas Street, which the Soviet army had started to build as sheds for trucks. The plot was fenced off with barbed wire and guarded by Lithuanian auxiliary police. Every strong woman and grown up child was sent to work. It was forbidden to bring in food. These huts, called a Ghetto, housed Jews in inhuman conditions, hungry and dirty, till the 13th of September. Then they were told to prepare to move to another place, where their conditions would "improve".
On the 16th of September (24 of Elul 5701) trucks arrived to transport all of them to the Tavrig grove, about 6 km north-west of the town, 100-150 meters from the road to Shilel. There they were shot by drunken Lithuanian auxiliary policemen, who excelled in their cruelty. Little babies were shredded in two or their sculls were shattered on trees or rocks and thrown into the pits. A young beautiful girl, Henia Yezner, jumped into the pit alive after the murderers started to molest her.
On this day, 513 old women and children were forced to hand over all the valuables they still owned, to undress down to their underwear, and then they were murdered. One of the Lithuanian murderers, Atkatsaitis, boasted that "he still managed to slap a fat Jewish woman on the bottom".
Several Jews who hid with peasants in the vicinity were caught after a short time, as a result of information given by neighbors.
Only a few Jews were left in Tavrig. Nadel, Nathan Goldberg and Yitskhak Shum who worked at the military command, Yisrael Axelrod who worked as a specialist at the sawmill of Shereshevsky. After several weeks they were also murdered. The skilled tanner F.Itzkovitz, his wife and children were left alive for several more months, but after the Germans murdered his family he hanged himself.
According to Soviet sources about 3,000 men, women and children are buried in the mass graves in the Tavrig grove near the village of Antosunija. Near the village of Vizbutai approximately another 900 men and one woman are buried.
In October 1991 a monument on the mass graves at Antosunija, created by the Lithuanian sculptor Bagdonas, was inaugurated at an impressive ceremony. Two plates on top of the monument have inscriptions in Yiddish and Lithuanian: "At this place Hitlers murderers and their local helpers murdered about 3,000 Jews, men, women and children".
A black marble plate was also erected, on which is written: "Their only guilt: they were Jews, whose ancestors lived here in peace for hundreds of years. On this soil they built houses, they were craftsmen, merchants, doctors, and believed in one God. Their memory shall be forever"
On the mass grave in Vizbutai a monument was erected with the following inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian: "At this place Hitlers murderers and their local helpers murdered 900 Jewish men in 1941 ".
After the war a few Jews returned to Tavrig, but their number diminished over the years. In 1970 14 Jews lived there, in 1979--12 and in 1989--only 8.
The Small Lithuanian Encyclopedia, Vilnius 1966-1971 (Lithuanian).
The Lithuanians Encyclopedia, Boston 1953-1965 (Lithuanian).
Lite, New-York 1951, Volume 1 (Yiddish).
Yahaduth Lita, (Hebrew) Tel-Aviv, Volumes 1-4.
Gotlib, Ohalei Shem, page 80.
Yad-Vashem Archives: M-1/E-1738/1619; M-9/8(3), 15(6); M-21/I/661, III/41;
M-33/984, 4043; P-21/2-94; TR-2 report19; TR-10/40, 275, 1096; 0-3/2592, 4043, 6093, 7519; 0-15/634; 0-32-4;
Koniukhovsky collection 0-71. Files 6, 7, 20, 40, 46, 163.
Central Zionist Archives: 55/1788; 55/1701; 13/15/131; Z-4/2548.
YIVO, NY-Lithuanian Communities Collection, files1386, 1561, 1665.
HaMeilitz (St. Petersburg) (Hebrew): 26.4.1881, 7.5.1883, 18.2.1884, 21.3.1884, 24.3.1884, 31.3.1884, 6.6.1884, 18.7.1884, 1.8.1884, 7.11.1884,5.12.1884, 8.12.1884, 14.2.1889, 3.4.1889, 21.12.1896, 15.7.1898,7.7.1901, 13.5.1902.
Dos Vort, Kovno (Yiddish): 26.12.1934, 24.3.1935, 26.3.1935, 28.4.1935.
Folksblat, Kovno (Yiddish): 25.3.1935, 5.6.1935, 17.6.1935, 18.6.1935.
Unzer Veg (Our way) (Yiddish), Kovno, 10.1.1926.
Di Yiddishe Shtime, Kovno (Yiddish), 29.10.1924, 29.5.1928, 21.2.1930, 27.6.1930, 12.5.1931, 19.6.1931, 7.7.1931, 18.3.1932, 28.4.1935, 30.4.1935, 5.5.1935, 15.5.1935, 22.3.1936, 20.3.1938, 23.4.1938, 12.5.1938.
Galin Chaim, The Kibbutz in Tavrig-Lithuania, History of a Group of Khalutsim from Poland, June 1940 till the end of WW2,(Hebrew), Kiryath-Bialik 1991.
Cohen Berl,. Shtet, Shtetlach un Dorfishe Yishuvim in Lite biz 1918 (Towns, Small Towns and Rural Settlements in Lithuania till 1918) (Yiddish) New-York 1992.
Masines Zudynes Lietuvoje (Mass Murder in Lithuania) vol. 1-2, Vilnius 1941-1944 (Lithuanian).
Pinkas haKehiloth. Lita (Encyclopedia of Jewish Settlements in Lithuania) (Hebrew), Editor: Dov Levin, Assistant editor: Yosef Rosin, Yad Vashem. Jerusalem 1996.
The Book of Sorrow, (Hebrew, Yiddish, English, Lithuanian), Vilnius 1997.
Tauragieciu Balsas (Lithuanian) 2.10.1991.
Gimtasis, Nr. 35, 27 August-2 September, Vilnius, Rimvydas Racenas and Lazaris Palukstas "Zydams nebuvo lengviau" (To the Jews it was not easier).