The following is the translation from Hebrew by Regina Borenstein Naividel of the article entitled JURBURG (JURBARKAS) LITHUANIA, from the book Yahudat Lita vol. IV Pages 295-297. It describes the destruction of the Jewish community of Yurburg.
THE DESTRUCTION OF THE JEWISH COMMUNITY OF YURBURG
Jurburg is a district town in Western Lithuania, 12 kilometers (9 miles) from the German border. In the year of the start of Holocaust (1941), 2000 Jews lived there. On June 22, 1941 at 8:00 o'clock in the morning the invaders were already stamping in the streets: the Germans occupied this town without any resistance. The citizens of Jurburg - Jews as well as non-Jews - were stunned, and many of them, especially those who had been collaborating with the Soviet regime, tried to escape. Some of them escaped from the town on the steamship that left the town in the morning.
The first to capture the town was the German regular army. They did not pay any special attention to the Jews and did not discriminate against them. The Jews, however, suspected that something was about to happen stayed together. It is not known who spread the word to gather in the bathhouse. This was a large, strong building with thick walls and it seemed to the Jews that they would be safer inside, since they could more easily defend themselves. A large number of people gathered in the bathhouse and it was very crowded. In the beginning they brought food only for babies, but later on provisions for the adults were brought in as well.
Immediately after the invasion of the city, the Germans started to look for possible enemies and thus turned their attention to the bathhouse as well.
Four soldiers broke down the door of the bathhouse and ordered all Jews to come out. They tried to convince them that the place was very dangerous. They explained to them that due to the large size of the building, it could be the target of bombings, and therefore it was much more dangerous to be inside, than outside. They also told the Jews that they had no reason to fear, and that nothing bad would happen to them.
The friendliness and steadiness of the German soldiers influenced the Jews to leave the bathhouse. Already during the first days the Lithuanian activists started to organize. They volunteered to serve the Germans and were integrated into the government. Their influence increased with each passing day and the Germans put more and more power into their hands. The Lithuanian police force was immediately formed, which was headed by a teacher of the Gymnasium, Levizkas. The mayor was Hapfner.
On the second day of the invasion a pamphlet was published that ordered the young Jews, without any exception, were to gather at Motel Leviosh's property on Rassein street. This place was declared a "work camp". From here the young people were sent every day to performdifferent work in town. They would clean the streets, work in public gardens and do other public jobs.
Every day brought new orders: prohibition against walking on the sidewalk, the requirement to wear the yellow star, and others.
One day the Lithuanian rulers turned against the synagogue. This was a very special building which had been built in the eighteenth century (1790). The holy ark, the altar and the chair of the prophet Eliyahu were decorated with beautiful wooden engravings. This synagogue was the pride of the Jurburkans. The Jews were ordered to destroy the synagogue, to tear down the walls and to distribute everything that could be removed to the Lithuanians. With tears in their eyes and shaking knees the Jews carried out this order. A lot of Lithuanians stood by and watched, but only a few of them agreed to take anything.
Near the synagogue there was a small building which was used for butchering poultry - the "Shchitat-stibel". The Lithuanians ordered the destruction of this building as well. The building was full of feathers, and when the Jews started to tear it down, the feathers stuck to them and they dirtied themselves. The Lithuanian "activists" who had given the orders, now forced the Jews to go down to the Njemen River and wash themselves. The Jews were mocked and mistreated, pushed into the water and kicked, while the Germans were standing by and taking pictures. Some asked: "Why do the Lithuanians hate the Jews so much...?"
The mistreatment continued the next day. This time, the Hazan (cantor) of the town, an old, tall man with a majestic expression on his face, was the victim. He was lead to the center of the the town, a brick was bound to his beard and then he was led through the streets of the town.
On Shabbat, June 28, 1941 all Jews were ordered to remove all weeds from the streets. On the same day, they were ordered to bring their books at 4 pm in the afternoon to the yard of the synagogue and the old Rabbi of the town, Rabbi Haim-Ruven Rubinstein was forced to bring his books and the articles that he had written on a cart. At 5 pm the Lithuanians ordered that the Torah Scrolls be brought to the yard. The Torahs were put on top of the heap of books and all was burned. The next day the Jews were ordered to gather besides the bookstore of the town, and whoever would not appear, was to be killed. The Jews were arranged in lines of three. Four strong Jews were ordered to take the statue of Stalin out of the store. Pictures of famous Soviet leaders were attached to the group and they were ordered to walk around the town. The procession was led by the teacher Levizkas and the policemen Botvinskis and Kolikvizius. The procession arrived at the sport yard besides the Njemen River. There, the Lithuanians, and among them especially the "Intelligensia" were already waiting. They received the procession with glowing faces. The statute of Stalin was put on a specially prepared table and the Jews were commanded to stand around it. One of them was ordered to read a speech that was handed to him, and which included disgraceful and disrespectful remarks about the Jewish people. After the speech, the statue and the pictures were thrown into the fire, and the Jews were forced to dance around the fire and sing. They sang the songs of praise (Tehilim) which came from the bottom of their heart. All this was filmed by the Germans.
The Jews were buying their foodstuff at the grocery. They were always the last ones in line. Only after the non-Jews had bought all that they needed, were the Jews allowed to buy anything.
Jurburg, or as the Germans called it Georgenburg, was included in a part of a 25 kilometers (16 miles) strip, for which the Gestapo in Tilsit ordered for annihilation of all Jews. The head of the Gestapo in Tilsit, Boehme, at once started to plan the annihilation. The date was set for Thursday, July 3, 1941. After consultation with the mayor, Hapfner, the Jewish cemetery was chosen as the location for the murder.
The details of the planning for the day of the mass-murder were told in the German courtroom in Ulm , when the Gestapo of Tilsit was tried. From the protocol (records) we learn:
On the third of July in the morning Boehme and his assistants came to Jurburg together with 30 to 40 Germans from Smalaninken (the border-town on the German side). Small groups of Gestapo people together with Lithuanian helpers were formed; they were ordered to remove the Jewish men from their homes. The number of Jewish men was not enough, and they were sent out a second time and found another 60 Jewish men. Three women with their children, who did not want to part from their husbands, were included in the group.
During the arrest, the Lithuanian doctor turned to one of the leaders of the Gestapo named Karsten, and asked that the Jewish doctor be freed. He explained that the Jewish doctor was a surgeon and the citizens needed him. After repeating his request to Boehme, the Lithuanian doctor was beaten by Boehme.
More than 300 Jews were arrested. They were led through the town towards the Jewish cemetery. There, they were asked to turn over all of their valuable things and also to remove their shirts. They were ordered to dig more pits, since the existing ones were not large enough for the large number of Jews. During the digging, the Germans ordered the Jews to beat oneanother with the shovels, and promised that whoever would defeat his friend, would stay alive.
The victims were led by the Germans and the Lithuanians under terrible threats, shouts and beatings, and their outcries filled the air. They had to stand in front of the holes, facing their own graves. Some were ordered to kneel. The murderers went from one to the next, shot them in the neck and kicked them into their graves. Because of the large number of men, some had to witness the murder of their friends and family. Lithuanian citizens from two neighborhoods adjacent to the cemetery watched the murders.
Among the victims was a Jewish customs agent who had fought in World War I and had been awarded the Iron Cross, Class A, for excellent fighting. He attacked Boehme and hit him. A deadly shot stopped him.
Many tried to escape from the graves. The murderers and watchmen chased them and some Germans and Lithuanians were injured.
In this action, 322 Jews were killed, among them 5 women and children.
After they had completed their task, the murderers held a dinner, celebrated and drank a lot of vodka.
On the same day, another 80 men, who had hidden, were caught. At 10 pm the policeman Botvinskis, informed them that they will be shot at 3 am. The writer mentions, that this information did not make any special impression on anyone - nobody cried, and there was one who had "Jahrzeit" and all the prisoners stood and prayed "Maariv". The information proved wrong, and the prisoners were not shot. Men who stayed alive and were aged 15-50 were commanded to work, and the elderly had to report to the police twice a day.
On July, 21 1941, 45 elderly people were arrested and were transported on three carts that belonged to Jews, to Rassein, as though to go for a physical check-up. On the way, 15 kilometers (10 miles) towards Rassein, they were murdered together with the coachmen and the Jews from the nearby town. Before they were murdered, the old people were forced to write home that they were taken to work and would be treated well; many of the people back home believed what they read.
On August 1, 1941, the elderly women were asked to appear before the commander. All were pushed into the yard of "Talmud Torah". Many women with babies in their arms were violently dragged towards the headquarters. From morning until night the women were kept without food and drink. In the evening, Lithuanian "activists" came and ordered them to line up in lines of two. In order to speed the process, they beat the women cruely.
Panic spread when the women were surrounded by armed Lithuanians who hit them with rifle butts. Especially those who could not follow were mistreated. Children were hit, fell on the ground and were trampled to death. This procession proceeded until they reached the Shwanchanie woods. The lanterns of the murderers lighted a huge pit that had been excavated during the day. Terrible panic spread among the women. The murderers shot in the air and shouted with horrible voices:"Throw the children into the pit". The women were ordered to undress and leave their clothing behind. Mothers jumped into the pit together with their children, while the Lithuanians were shooting. Many were buried alive, but some managed to escape in the chaos.
On September 4, 1941, the rest of the women and children of the community in Jurburg were gathered at the Jewish elementary school. On September 7th all were ordered to come to Motel Leviosh's yard, the place of the "work camp". The whole day German and Lithuanian police searched the houses in order to insure that there were no Jews left.
When they started to lead the rest of the community, everyone knew where they were going. They did not go in silence; they shouted and cried, asking their murderers why they were killing people. The Lithuanians responded with terrible beatings. The mothers urged their older children to escape, and while they themselves attacked the Lithuanian watchmen with their fists. They were biting, hitting, yelling and cursing. The murderers tightened the circle around them and shots from different weapons could be heard. This was a struggle of life and death between unfortunate women and cruel Lithuanian murderers.
In the chaos, some youngsters managed to escape and thanks to them we can recall the history of the Jewish community during these last days. Only 50 men and their families, who worked for the Germans, remained alive in Jurburg for another week, and then they too were killed.
On the road leading to the town a sign was posted, saying:
"THIS TOWN IS CLEANSED OF JEWS".
In the lists of mass-graves that were published in the book "Mass Murder in Lithuania," part B, the mass-graves of Jurburg were mentioned as follows:
1. On the east side of the Jewish cemetery in Jurburg 322 people are buried - date of the murder - July 3, 1941.
2. Near to the town of Kelnenai, 7 kilometers (5 miles) m from Jurburg on the left side of the road, 300 meters from the road, 200 people - date of the murder- August 1941.
3. Rassein woods, 5 kilometers (3 miles) from Jurburg, 2 kilometers ( 1 mile) from the road - 500 people - date of the murder - September 1941.
4. Shilines forest, one kilometer west of Jurburg - 200 people - date of the murder - September 1941.
Zvi Lavit, The Destruction of Jurburg, Collection "Lita" pp. 1849-1854, Jewish - Lithuanian Cultural Society "Lite", Inc., NY, FUTURO Press, Inc, 476 Broadway, New York, 1951
Z. Poran, Jerusalem, according to the report of Hana Megidovitz Goldman.
Records of the Ulm Trial
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