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Wolf Gurvitz

JANUARY 17, 1995,

FELDER: What is your name?

GURVITZ: My name is Wolf Gurvitz.

FELDER: Wolf Gurvitz, where were your born?

GURVITZ: In my shtetl.

FELDER: Which shtetl?

GURVITZ: Krohz, I told you there (in English).

FELDER: In Krohz. And what year were you born?

GURVITZ: In 1913.

FELDER: What was your birthday?

GURVITZ: Yeah, eh . . .  Purim. When is that? In March.

FELDER: Purim 1913. Can you tell me . . .  What was it like in shtetl before the war?

GURVITZ: Eh, a little shtetl. Jews conducted business. butchers.. tailors.. a smith.. a blacksmith.. and . . .  not a rich shtetl. There were several families rich Jews. They had businesses.

FELDER: How many people?

GURVITZ: Ninety families .. nah, a poor shtetl. There were a few families . . .  We had a butcher store, a small house, a garden . . .

FELDER: Was it a religious shtetl?

GURVITZ: Oh, yeah. No Shabbos was open a business.

FELDER: You remember the names of the rabbis and other families?

GURVITZ: Rabbis? By us was an old tzadik (righteous man) who died in 1920. He was named Turbovitch. His son-in-law went to Israel.. not in Israel.. in New York with two sons and published his writings. In America they had Tiferes Ziv, Tiferes Mishna . . .  he was a great tzadik (righteous man). That was the way it was a little shtetl. We lived . . .  conducted business . . .

FELDER: Can you tell me . . . What was it like in your home . . .  Shabbos and holidays? What was it like in your home?

GURVITZ: What was it like? We lived. It was not like in America. A poor shtetl. What was it like . . .

FELDER: Tell me a few words about the shtetl. I am not from a shtetl.

GURVITZ: There was a marketplace on Monday. On other days you go to the marketplace in other shtetls. Kelem was nearby . . .  twenty kilometers. Conduct business. My father was a butcher . . .  buying merchandise, sheep, calves, cattle . . .  slaughtering. In a small shtetl . . .  It was not so rich . . . 

FELDER: Where was the closest town? (in English)

GURVITZ: A big city? A big city was Shavel. That was twenty kilometers from us . . . .there was Kelem . . .  there was a highway. We used to travel about forty-two kilometers with a bus. Shavel was a ghetto and Vilna and Kovno. The rest there were no ghettos. There were larger shtetls but no ghettos. Right away liquidated the Jews in a month or two. In 1940, the Russians arrived and I went to try to work in a bristle factory. If I would stay in my shtetl... there was . . . forget it. We worked about fifty men in a factory and the boss was a Jew and the government nationalized . . . no private property, and every fourteen days we would go to the bank where and get our pay for what we worked... and Sunday . . .  About a years time the Russians were in Lithuania . . .  and Sunday night the Russian flyers in a state theater had a concert . . . there was Sportshall, big hall . . .  about forty thousand people. And Monday morning . . .  Kovno is a fortress city . . . the Jews were sent to the Ninth Fort.. I'll tell you later . . .  Ninth Fort, Forth Fort . . .  There are high mountains and underneath are bunkers. And Monday the Russian Army ran overnight to the border. The German Army came in on Tuesday. And Monday...and the Lithuanians were organized with Lithuanian uniforms and said, "Hitler will arrive to slaughter all the Jews." Why? There were young Communist boys. They were against the Jews. A few Jews, not all, were Communists. In my shtetl was a father with four sons. The father worked in Kovno as a barber. Two sons were Communists. They knew Hitler would come in and.. The Lithuanians said, "We would slaughter all the Jews when Hitler would arrive." That's the way it was. They (the Communists sons) ran to Shavel. Shavel was a ghetto. They remained alive. The rest was all cleaned up. And Tuesday . . . The Russian Army ran away on Monday . . . and Tuesday arrived the whole ammunition . . . The German Army on Tuesday. And there were forty-thousand Jews in Kovno. In two months when we arrived in the ghetto on August fifteenth there were missing ten thousand Jews. We ran and the Germans bombed. In two months were missing ten thousand Jews. We came into the ghetto thirty-thousand and...the Lithuanians went into the houses and worked in the gymnasiums there . . . a few months in Kovno we worked in gymnasiums there . . . other Jews worked in houses . . . Lithuanians came into the houses to search to give over the over the Jews to the Gestapo. I was lucky . . .  Like a lion in the throat. You can't remain alive with the Gestapo. It was announced, the fifteenth, it says in the book, the fifteenth of August the Jews were required . . . there was a city Slabodka . . .  Kovno there is a big river called the Nemen and over it is a bridge . . .  there all the Jews had to move in on the fifteenth into the ghetto. The German Army arrived on Tuesday and Wednesday night Lithuanians came into Slabodka, it's a small town just like from Hollywood from here, and they slaughtered eleven hundred Jews, the Lithuanians. They were not ordered by the Nazis. They helped, the Lithuanians, to destroy the all Jews. Today they are in America.

We had to cross the bridge by the fifteenth of August . . . with a wagon . . . with old clothes. The Lithuanians stood on the bridge and took the Jews. I was lucky they did not take me. (in English). And the Lithuanians gave them over to the Gestapo. And the Gestapo . . .  like a lion in the throat . . .  they ate them up. They arrived in the ghetto . . .  there were forty-thousand Jews in Kovno . . .  there arrived in the ghetto thirty-thousand. There were missing ten thousand Jews. We ran . . . the Lithuanians came into the houses . . . I was two months in Kovno. The Nazis were already there. What happened . . . Come into the houses to get them. I hid. I was lucky! They could have sent me to the Gestapo and been played out.

We arrived in the ghetto thirty-thousand Jews. There was an announcement by a Rabbi Shapiro . . .  There was an airport. Before it was Lithuanian, afterward it was Russian and afterward it was occupied by the Nazis . . .  a big airport fourteen kilometers away . . .  there we all worked. Afterward came an announcement Raucke, you know Raucke? They catch him in Argentina . . . he was the head of the Gestapo in the Kovno headquarters  . . .  There was an announcement after three months in the ghetto, before New Years . . . there was a great square and all the Jews had to be gathered there. Even a sick person from bed they took. All. What happened. And on that day were killed about twelve thousand Jews. Raucke was in the Gestapo. You know . . .  You heard of Raucke? They caught him in Argentina.

And in the Kovno Ghetto they created a Jewish Committee . . . Judenraut. They needed Jews in the Ghetto

And I lived with a rabbi in a house . . . all rabbis. And he (the rabbi) had nieces/nephew about eighteen or twenty, a boy four or five years-old, and a girl. The rabbi said, "Gurvitz, accompany my nieces/nephew to the Aktion." I put my life in danger. Why?
Little children, old people went to the Ninth Fort. I answered, "Yes." I stood with the child . . . it was New Years and cold in Lithuania . . .  holding the child's hand. They (the Germans) said, "right, left." I did not know which side was life and which side was death. I did not know. And it was two o'clock. And I worked at the airport. I had a little card. I did not know what to do with the two children. I put my life in danger. I said, "I work at the airport!" They then were sent to the good side. Two in the afternoon. I took with me two children and the girl. A girl, all right, she could be my wife, but little children. I had a friend from my shtetl who accompanied his aunt . . . an old woman . . . she schlepped him to the Ninth Fort. They took twelve thousand Jews to the Ninth Fort. The Ninth Fort, the Fourth Fort . . . these were bunkers. Kovno was a fortress town since the First World War where they used to keep the nice (sarcastic) enemies. Twelve thousand Jews were sent that day to the Ninth Fort. All the rabbis . . . all. That's how I rescued . . . I rescued two Jews [sic].

But in 1943 there was a book which described a Kinder Aktion. I rescued these children for eight months. There was beginning in 1941 and a year later they killed out the children and those unable to work. I said, "I work at the airport." Ah, "We need him." I accompanied the girl and two small children. I rescued three children. Twelve thousand Jews . . . They took them all to the bunkers.

They took Viennese Jews to the Ninth Fort and Jews from Berlin. So that the Nazis would not let on who liquidated the Jews. And there all the Jews arrived . . . from Germany and Czechoslovakia.

In Kovno Ghetto there remained thirty thousand Jews and every day there were less and less. One time they took one hundred Jews to Riga. I'm going to go to Riga? It was all a trick! The whole Hitler business was a trick.

I was in a bunker for thirty-six hours hiding from the Germans when they came looking to take one hundred Jews to Riga. They did not catch us. They needed one hundred people for Riga. What did they do? The people who arrived in the Ghetto from the work brigade are the ones they took to Riga. Who knows what they did in Riga? They went to their graves.

We remained thirty-six hours in a basement. Afterwards we went out. We went into a house and saw how the Nazis shot an elderly woman. They did not need a old woman; they needed young people. Whoever was able to save themselves saved themselves.

In 1942 we worked ten men and thirty women in the airport. Every day a total of three thousand people worked in the airport. We left the Ghetto about six and it took us about an hour to arrive at the airport. It was about four or five kilometers from the Kovno Ghetto to the airport. We worked from seven until seven – two weeks at night and two weeks during the day.

At the Ghetto there were Jewish police and the Jewish labor committee. Someone from the labor committee told me, "Come blondie, we need another man." I went to work. In our group were ten men and thirty women. What sort of work was there? I tell you I made sabotage too. It was a mitzvah. I also made sabotage in the Ghetto, but that was not very important.

There were (in the airport) crates as big as the table and in the crates were two bombs. A bomb had two corners which were made with silk and wool. I removed the wool and the silk and I went to the village; I knew Lithuanian, (the other men were afraid to leave the airport) I removed my Jewish star and I traded with the Gentiles. I placed on one side the silk and wool (the Gentiles had a slaughterhouse there) and on the other side they placed butter, salami . . .  This way I was able to eat.

These bombs they later sent in 1943 on trains to Stalingrad but these bombs were unable to work. This was good sabotage. Me and one other worker. We placed our lives in danger.

On one occasion I brought the silk and wool into the Ghetto. One time I did it but no more. If they caught me they would liquidate the entire Ghetto. One of my landesman, Shulman, knows the whole business.

I went every day to the village and removed my Jewish star and made business. I had to eat.

I lived with four rabbis in the Ghetto. They did not eat non-kosher. I ate. I gave them vegetables, fruit...The biggest rabbi in Kovno was Rabbi Grodzenski. His son survived and he was here the other year. His two sons were killed in the Ghetto.

In 1943 I went to Palimone (spelling? Note: The only town I think it could be is Panimuna in Yiddish, or Panemunis in Lithuanian) where I worked in a brick factory. About four hundred men worked in this brick factory. A Lithuanian taught me how to put raw bricks into an oven and how to remove raw bricks from the oven. The entire night the oven would bake the bricks.

That year, from 1943 to 1944, the Nazis needed for Austria 3,600 Jews. If I would have been in the Ghetto, it was my luck, I would have gone. I was in Palimone so they did not touch me. Of the 3,600 Jews who were sent to Austria only 240 remained. Every day there were less and less. At that time there were thirty thousand Jews in the Ghetto.

When I was in Palimone there was an announcement that all the Jews in the surrounding work camps had to gather in the Ghetto. It was the beginning of July.

The Nazis knew who was in the surrounding work camps. There was a Jewish committee and everything was written in black and white. The Ghetto was liquidated. We were to go all in Dachau. What did the three thousand Jews who remained in the Ghetto do? They hid in bunkers. The Gestapo arrived with a list. The list said there were seven thousand Jews in the Ghetto. From thirty thousand there were seven thousand. You can imagine? Every day less and less . . . shot, died.

The Jews made underground bunkers in (the) Ghetto. The Germans sprayed the whole Ghetto. One bunker was left . . . Rabbi Ephraim Oshry with forty-five people. Three thousand Jews were left in the ground. I would hide in a bunker?

We traveled in the cattle cars . . . men and women. In the beginning of Germany is camp named Stutthoff where all the women were left. The women mostly survived. We went to Dachau.

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 Compiled by Rochelle Kaplan
Copyright 2007-2009 Rochelle Kaplan

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