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 Telzs Jews in particular had already been felt several months earlier. On the 20th of March 1939, Hitler transmitted 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 Telz, where the Jewish community cared for them.
In June 1940 Lithuania was annexed to the Soviet Union, becoming a Soviet Republic. Following new rules, the majority of the factories and shops belonging to the Jews of Telz 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 into a Yiddish one.
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 several Jewish families who were considered "unreliable elements" were exiled to Siberia. Among them were at least 2 Zionists with 4 family members (Grisha Volpert, wife Khayah and 2 little daughters) and 2 merchants with 5 family members (Josel and Gavriel Zax), whose enterprises were nationalized
The new rulers confiscated the buildings of the "Yeshivah" and the "Mekhinah", and changed them into an elementary Lithuanian school and a storehouse. The residents of Telz were prohibited to let rooms to "Yeshivah" students on the pretext that the rooms were needed for Red Army soldiers. As a result the students dispersed into five nearby towns (Telz, Trishik, Yelok, Papelan and Shidleve), thereby forcing the teachers to travel from place to place in order to teach them.
Rabbis Mordekhai Katz and Eliyahu Meir Blokh left Telz in the autumn of 1940 in order to collect money for the "Yeshivah" and to discuss the possibility of transferring the Yeshivah to another country. They arrived in America in the winter of 1941, together with ten Yeshivah students, who had made the trip through Siberia, Japan and Australia. In this same year a "Yeshivah" opened in Cleveland, Ohio, headed by these two Rabbis.
After the war the Telz-Stone Yeshivah was established near Jerusalem.
When the Jews of Telz became aware that the German army had invaded Lithuania on the 22nd of June 1941, they began to escape to the surrounding villages and to Russia, but very few managed to get there. On the 23rd the town was bombed by the Germans, and on the 26th they entered Telz.
Even before the Germans entered Telz, armed Lithuanians with white stripes on their sleeves took over the town. On Friday, June 27, Telzs Jews were expelled from their houses and directed to the shore of Lake Mastis, having been ordered to leave their houses unlocked. On the shore of the lake they were encircled by armed Lithuanians under German command, which they interpreted to mean that they were going to be murdered or drowned in the lake. The town's Rabbi Blokh consoled them, telling them that they should behave quietly and proudly as behoves Jews who are going to die on "Kiddush HaShem" (Sanctification of God). During the night men and women with children were separated from each other, and anyone showing opposition was beaten with rifle butts. The men were left by the lake, whereas the women and children were allowed to return home, where they found their houses emptied of their contents, the doors and windows broken.
Inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian: "The Telz Jewish cemetery was in this place was until 1987." Pictures taken by Yosef Woolf, Ilaniyah ,Israel, 1996 The Telz Jewish cemetery
The next day, Shabbath, June 28, armed Lithuanians appeared, expelling them from their houses with beatings, after which they were led to the Rainiai farm, about 4 km from Telz, where they found the men who had been separated from them the night before. A Jew, an American citizen, who had come to visit relatives in Telz, refused to go with them, waving his American passport. He was shot on the spot.
The Jews were held in the open on this farm for several days, and thereafter were imprisoned in stalls full of manure as well as in the barns, men and women being separated. The Lithuanian commander of the camp, Platakis, nominated a Jewish representative committee of seven members, headed by Rabbi Avraham-Yitskhak Blokh and his brother Rabbi Zalman Blokh. The other members of the committee were the engineer Tsemakh Ginzburg, Gurvitz and Yitskhak Blokh. This committee tried to improve conditions, such as setting up a field kitchen, where rye flour porridge was cooked. In the mornings the prisoners would get 100 grams of black bread, 20 grams of butter and several potatoes. They also got permission to be together with their families.
After eight days the men were taken to work, their first task being to dig up from their graves the corpses of 73 political prisoners who had been imprisoned in Telz prison and had been murdered by Soviet security men before they withdrew. Under the pretext that Jews had taken part in that murder, the Telz men were forced to wash the corpses, to kiss them and lick the decayed wounds. The thirty men who were the victims of this abuse, having been beaten and wounded, were forced later to kneel in the street during the funeral of the murdered. The Catholic Bishop Staugaitis proclaimed the day of the funeral, July 13, as "Holy Sunday", to symbolize victory over Soviet Rule.
All the guards in the camp and in the working places were Lithuanians.
After two weeks an order was issued for the Jews to hand over their money, gold and silver items and other valuables. They were promised through their representatives that everything they handed over would be deposited in the Lithuanian Government Bank till after the war. Each family was allowed to keep 1,000 Rubel. The Jews were warned that anyone not obeying this order would be shot. High school pupils and students, escorted by Lithuanian auxiliary police, came to the camp and robbed the Jews of everything they still possessed, even prams.
On the 14th of July several Germans and Lithuanians appeared in the camp, driving all from the sheds and barns. The women and children were returned to the sheds, but the men up to the age of 15 were forced to run in a circle, fall down and stand up, while Lithuanians armed with sticks stood around, scourging them and hitting them all over their bodies. Many of Telzs residents came to see "the special show" and clapped. Several elderly Jews died there and then, the others, smitten and wounded, were put back into the barns.
80 young and strong Jewish men were then taken from there, given shovels and buckets, and led to a nearby grove where pits already existed. They were forced to pump the water out of the pits, then they were shot and thrown into the pits. The shooting was heard at the camp, but the prisoners did not realize what was going on. During the night the Lithuanians came to the camp, demanding 24 men more for work, and after a short while shooting was heard again.
The next day, June 15th 1941 (20th of Tamuz 5701) all men were taken out of the camp, and led, group by group, to the grove and murdered. They were forced to undress and stand on a plank which was put across the pit, and there they were shot. Many fell into the pit unhurt, and thus buried alive. In the afternoon a big rain storm erupted, and the shooting stopped. Those men still alive were ordered to retrieve some garments from the pile, to dress and run to the shacks, where they were concentrated in one of them. Some managed to infiltrate into the women's shack and disguise themselves as women, but the next morning the killing continued, including the disguised men. The rabbis, whose beards were cut off or plucked off together with the skin of their faces, were in the last group.
Telz and the nearby murder sites Mass grave near the dairy company in Telz. ..... The monument on the mass graves at Rainiai. Road sign to the murder site
The woods of Rainiai. In this place the blood of 500 innocent Jewish girls and boys was spilled. They were murdered in 1941 by the Nazis butchers and their local collaborators.
Before the shooting the men were forced to take off their clothes, the good clothes being taken for themselves by the murderers and the rest brought to the camp. The women recognized the garments of their husbands and in them even photos of themselves and their children, and a great cry arose. In the nights the Lithuanian guards would burst into the barns and frighten the women, many of whom were raped.
Several days after the murder, the thin layer of soil which covered the corpses at the graves, started to crack and a terrible stench enwrapped the area. This may have been one of the reasons for transferring the women to Geruliai camp, about 10 km from Telz.
On July 22 Lithuanians appeared in Rainiai camp, announcing that in a few hours all women and children would be transferred to the Geruliai camp. Most of these miserable women had to walk on foot, carrying their few belongings to the new camp, with only a few being taken on carts. Before the transfer several SS men with Lithuanians arrived in Rainiai camp and ordered the women to hand over their leather handbags, shoes, boots etc. and also any money they still had.
At the Vishovian (Viesvenai) estate, located about 9 km south-east of Telz, Jews from the following towns were concentrated: Alsiad (Alsedziai), Riteve (Rituva), Vorne (Varniai), Luknik (Luoke), Loikeve (Laukuva), Zharan (Zarenai), Naveran (Navarenai). Here, like in Rainiai, the men were badly beaten and were then murdered on July 15-17. Women and children were also transferred to the Geruliai camp.
This camp had six big shacks where soldiers of the Red Army had been accommodated before, full of lice in the straw, on the ground, and on the walls. The Telz women and children, together with women and children brought from the surrounding towns, altogether about 4,000 people, were crowded into these shacks. The men from these towns had been shot previously at the Rainiai grove and other places. Food was scarce and many women endangered themselves by going to neighboring villages in order to exchange possessions for food. In August 1941 epidemics of typhus and scarlet fever spread. There was no soap and water was in short supply, so many people died. In several cases women and children were taken to the hospital in Telz, but only a few survived.
The law allowed farmers to take Jewish women from the camp for harvesting, because of a shortage of workers, but they had to undertake to keep in touch with the police and return the women immediately on request. Several hundreds of young women were taken by the farmers, their fate depending of the mood of the farmer. There were some who suffered from the farmers who exploited them ruthlessly, but there were also other farmers who treated them more humanly, later even saving some of them after they managed to escape from the ghetto.
Most of the women and children who stayed in Geruliai camp, managed camp life in spite of the hard conditions there, the women's committee attempting to contact the Lithuanian leadership. They approached Bishop Staugaitis to ask his community to show mercy to the women, but he refused. The district commander pacified them, saying that they would not suffer for long, because their end was close. The district doctor Mikulskis, who was close to the Jews and spoke fluent Yiddish, promised to help them. At a meeting of Lithuanians he demanded that the suffering of the women be ended by their quick liquidation.
By the end of August farmers were ordered to return all their women workers to Geruliai. In and around the camp there was a feeling of increased numbers of guards and policemen from neighboring towns.
On Shabath, August 30th 1941, (7th of Elul 5701), Lithuanian policemen expelled all women and children from the shacks, after having robbed them of their last belongings the night before. The Lithuanians selected about 600 girls and young women from the crowd and led them by foot to Telz. The remaining women were ordered to take off their upper dresses and their shoes and to place them in orderly piles. They were then ordered to form lines, 75 women in a line, and were thus led to the pits which had been prepared near the camp. There they were placed at the brink of the pit and the murderers shot them from behind, the other women standing aside, witnessing the murder of their friends whilst waiting for their turn. Those men who had impersonated women were also among the murdered. Many of the women fell into the pit wounded and were thus buried alive. Children were thrown into the pits alive, the heads of babies being crushed with stones.
Those women and girls who had been brought to Telz were imprisoned in a so-called "Ghetto", which had been established in a shabby alleyway near the lake. Three sides of the Ghetto were encircled by a high wooden fence, with several lines of barbed wire, the fourth side being the lake. There was a gate in the fence, guarded by Lithuanian policemen. Inside the ghetto there were small wooden houses, empty, no furniture and no beds, without windows, doors or stoves. In the middle of the Ghetto was the old Beth Midrash and in the alleyway there was a swamp which had never dried out.
The situation of the women was very difficult. They walked around barefoot, almost naked and were hungry. Some of the garments of the murdered women were brought to the ghetto, the good ones having been taken by the murderers.
Some of the women were taken to work as maidservants in Lithuanian houses where they got some food. Others were allowed to go to the town for several hours in the evenings, in order to beg from door to door for some food. Many were taken for agricultural work by farmers of the surrounding villages. There they were forced to have sexual relations with the farmers. One rich farmer at one of the villages took ten young girls, 14-18 years of age, for work. After the work was finished only five returned to the ghetto, it becoming known later that the other five had been raped and brutally murdered. Most of the farmers used the women for difficult work and treated them with contempt. There were also cases where friendly relations developed between the women and the farmers, some of whom eventually sheltered them when they escaped from the ghetto.
In the ghetto the surviving doctors - Dr.Blat, Dr.Shapira and the dentist Srolovitz - established an improvised clinic. In the terrible ghetto conditions, these doctors tried their best to help the sick women and especially the many women in confinement. All the babies born died after a short time.
On Rosh HaShanah 5702 the women gathered in the old Beth Midrash and a twenty year old woman Kadishon - volunteered to be the "Sheliakh-Tsibur" (Khazan) for prayers. On "Yom Kipur" too prayers took place and another woman - Goldah Hamerlan - was the "Khazan".
The monuments on the mass graves near Geruliai
Forest near the village of Viesvenai. One of two adjacent massacre sites
A Lithuanian committee which came to check, as it were, sanitary conditions in the ghetto, disseminated rumors that a typhus epidemic was raging there, as a result of which the local people refused to supply any food to Jewish women, ousting them from the doors of their houses fearing infection.
The autumn of 1941 was cold and the women in the ghetto as well as those who worked in the fields harvesting potatoes, suffered greatly from the cold. From time to time rumors spread that the liquidation of the ghetto was imminent. There were also rumors that conversion to Christianity could save lives, and many young girls approached the local priest asking for conversion. These girls were allowed to leave the ghetto every Sunday in order to go to church.
On December 22nd an order was issued to return all the women who worked in the villages to the ghetto. Several peasants brought the women tied up, fearing that they could escape on the way. This was the indication that the end of the ghetto was near. Several hundred women managed to escape from the ghetto over the lake or under the fence.
On the 30th and 31st of December 1941 (9th and 10th of Teveth 5702) the women were taken out from the ghetto and led in groups to the pits beside the Rainiai estate, where they were murdered. Of the women who escaped 64 survived and actually reached liberation day. Several tens arrived at the Shavli (Siauliai) ghetto, their fate eventually being the same as the other ghetto Jews.
According to Soviet sources there are four mass graves near Telz:
- In the fields north of the Telz-Plungian railway, where 200 corpses are buried, time of murder - summer 1941
- Rainiai grove, about 5 km south-east from Telz, date - 30.8.1941, about 840 men, women and children are buried here;
- in the forest of Geruliai, about 10 km east from Telz, period 1-15.9.1941, about 1,580 men, women and children are buried here;
- Viesvenai- a grove about 14 km from Telz, 2 km from Vishovian village in the direction of Luknik, 500 meters from the road, period - second half of 1941, 40 families are buried here.
- After the war memorial monuments were erected at the murder sites and in the "Holocaust Cellar" on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, where a tablet in memory of the Telz community was affixed.
In 1970 70 Jews lived in Telz, by 1979 44, and in 1989 - only 23.
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The Lithuanians Encyclopedia, Boston 1953-1965 (Lithuanian)
Lite, New-York 1951, volume 1 (Yiddish)
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Tsait (Time) (Yiddish) Shavl, 12.6.1924
Folksshtime (Voice of the people) (Yiddish) 7.6.1958
Masines Zudynes Lietuvoje (Mass Murder in Lithuania) vol. 1-2, Vilnius 1941-1944 (Lithuanian)
Pinkas haKehiloth. Lita (Encyclopedia of the 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
Janulaitis Augustinas. Zydai Lietuvoje (Jews in Lithuania), Kaunas 1923
Baltakevicius Juozas, Lietuvos Miestai (Lithuanian cities), Siauliai 1932
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