During World War II and Afterwards
World War II started with the German invasion of Poland on the 1st of September 1939, and its consequences for Lithuanian Jews in general and Pren Jews in particular were felt several months later.
According to the Ribbentrop-Molotov treaty on the division of occupied Poland, the Russians occupied the Suvalk region, but after delineation of exact borders between Russia and Germany the Suvalk region fell into German hands. The retreating Russians allowed anyone who wanted to join them to move into their occupied territory, and indeed many young people left the area together with the Russians. The Germans drove the remaining Jews out of their homes in Suvalk and its vicinity, robbed them of their possessions, then directed them to the Lithuanian border, where they were left in dire poverty. The Lithuanians did not allow them to enter Lithuania and the Germans did not allow them to return. Thus they stayed in this swampy area in cold and rain for several weeks, until Jewish youths from the border villages smuggled them into Lithuania by various routes, with much risk to themselves. Altogether about 2,400 refugees crossed the border or infiltrated on their own, and were then dispersed in the "Suvalkia" region, including Pren.
In June 1940 Lithuania was annexed to the Soviet Union and became a Soviet Republic. Following new laws, the majority of shops and factories belonging to the Jews of Pren were nationalized and commissars were appointed to manage them. Several Jewish houses whose size was more than 220 square meters (about 2000 square feet) were nationalized and their owners forced to leave them.
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.
All Zionist parties and youth organizations were disbanded, several of the activists were detained (Palenbaum, M.Ainshtein etc.) and Hebrew educational institutions were closed. The Yiddish school, directed by Khmilevsky, remained open.
Some Jews began to join institutions under the new rule. In the middle of October 1940 a Jewish anti-religious meeting took place at the culture club. The meeting opened with a lecture by Reuven Rom "The harm of religion", with Markin, Lundorf, Shor, Lisovsky and Malevsky sitting at the table on the stage. The meeting was addressed by Nathan Rom on behalf of the "Comyug", as well as by Y.Epshtein, the secretary of the local communist party. During celebrations of the "October Revolution" a special party was arranged for Jewish workers. The activists were: Reuven Rom, Sh.Lundorf, Rafael Blum, A.Sheines, Chaim Gordon, Veber.
The German army entered Pren on June 24, 1941. Groups of Lithuanian nationalists immediately organized and took over the rule of the town. They summoned all the Jewish intelligencia, pretending they were needed for work. Among them were the director of the school Ya'akov Rainer, the teacher Shelomo Cohen, the long standing Jewish representative in the municipality council Avraham Ginzburg, the secretary of the magistrates court Minah Finkelshtein and others. All were shot by local high school students.
Several Jews were detained instantly, to be accused of being in opposition to the Soviet regime. Some, together with other detainees, were transferred to the jail in Mariampol, whereas others were shot on the spot.
Restrictions against Jews were issued. They were not allowed to have any contact with non-Jews and had to wear a yellow patch on their back and chest. In Pren a special ban was issued, forbidding smoke be seen coming from Jewish chimneys, so that Jews could not have warm meals at home. Meanwhile humiliation, abuse and robbery continued.
On the fourteenth of August 1941 the annihilation machine started to work. Lithuanian auxiliary policemen ordered the Jews to gather in the synagogue and from there transferred them to the barracks the Soviets had started to build. Armed Lithuanians continued to patrol the streets, dragging every Jew they met to the barracks. Inside these barracks the Jews were kept in terrible conditions, without water and food, and without any sanitary facilities.
In addition to Jews from Pren, Jews from Balbirishok (Balbieriskis), Veiver (Veiveriai), 89 Jews from Yezne (Jieznas), some Stoklishok (Stakliskes) Jews and other small villages were also brought to the barracks. Congestion became unbearable and diseases spread.
On August 25 Jewish men were forced to dig big pits behind the barracks at the beast cemetery. One pit was 20 X 4 meters and the other 10 X 4 meters.
On August 26 (the third of Elul 5701) the final stage of the annihilation began. On that day large groups of Jews were led from the barracks to the pits at the beast cemetery. It is impossible to describe the terrible death procession of hundreds of Jews from Pren and its vicinity. The first two groups comprised men only. They had to undress down to their underwear, and thus clad were led to the pits. After them came mixed groups of men, women and children. The old and ill were brought in carts.
They were shot by machine guns next to the pits and then covered with lime, while many were still alive. According to eye witnesses, corpses in the pits still moved hours after the murder.
The site of the mass graves with the monument The monument
People reported that Mrs. Sarah Blum strangled her own two children, explaining that it is better for their mother to kill them, rather than have them fall into the hands of murderers.
It is known that Mordekhai Damsky, who spoke Lithuanian well and had close trade relations with Lithuanians, found shelter with a Lithuanian priest. Hearing that the Jews were being led to their death, he left his hideout and joined his community.
The owner of the known "Goldberg's beer brewery", Shakov, hid with his family at the Lithuanian Dr.Brunda, and paid for this with all his property. After some time the doctor expelled the family. Shakov and his family, who were left without a penny, tried to hide in a forest, but afraid that they would die there from cold and hunger, handed themselves over to the commandant of the town. All were shot.
Yudl Yonenzon, a rich Jew, gave a Lithuanian "Activist" a large sum of money for hiding him, but after some time he was shot by his so called benefactor.
Only a few of Pren's Jews survived this terrible time: Yosef Podriachik, (he eventually became Dr.Yosef Guri of the Hebrew University), Khyene Fugler-Flaxman, Berta Kovensky-Shtapler all managed to escape to Russia, Peninah Binyaminovitz-Levitan who was hidden by a Lithuanian priest (all now living in Israel) and Eliezer Mozes, who happened to be in the Kovno Ghetto and from there managed to join the partisans in Lithuania and Belarus. He died eventually in Kibbutz Kinereth.
According to Soviet sources 1,078 Jews, men, women and children are buried in the mass grave in Pren, on the left shore of the Neman river.
The Jewish cemetery of Pren was totally destroyed and at its site a monument was erected.
The monument at the site of the destroyed Jewish cemetery with the inscription in Lithuanian: till the year 1941 were buried (here) Jewish residents. The wall bearing the name of Pren in the "Valley of the Communities" in Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
Bibliography (Note: Dates are all indicated using the European convention of Day.Month.Year)
Yad-Vashem archives-M-1/E-1972/1792; M-1/Q-1341/145; TR-2 report 88; O-53/3,21.
Koniuchovsky Collection 0-71; files 120,129.
Central Zionist archives-Jerusalem, Z-4/2548; 13/15/131; 55/1788; 55/1701;
JIVO, Collection of Lithuanian Communities, New-York, Files 876-901, 1538, 1671
Gotlib, Ohalei Shem,- (Hebrew).
Kamzon J.D., Yahaduth Lita (Lithuanian Jewry) pages 79-81 (Hebrew), Rabbi Kook Publishing House, Jerusalem 1959.
Dos Vort - daily newspaper in Yiddish of the Z"S party, Kovno-10.11.1934; 11.12.1934; 23.12.1934.
Di Yiddishe Shtime - daily newspaper in Yiddish of the General Zionists, Kovno,
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HaMeilitz, Odessa - St.Petersburg, (Hebrew), 22.2.1881; 5.7.1881; 3.1.1882; 1.8.1882; 22.8.1882; 17.10.1882; 7.11.1882; 5.12.1882; 19.12.1882; 28.3.1884; 19.5.1884; 11.6.1886; 30.10.1887; 3.5.1896.
Folksblat - daily newspaper of the Folkists, Kovno (Yiddish), 4.11.1935; 30.5.1939; 15.10.1940; 19.11.1940.
Yiddisher Hantverker (Jewish artisan) (Yiddish). Kovno, 1.10.1938.
Di Tseit (The Time) - (Yiddish) Kovno, 4.10.1933.
The small Lithuanian Encyclopedia, Vilnius 1966-1971 (Lithuanian), pages 918-919.
The Lithuanians Encyclopedia, Boston 1953-1965 (Lithuanian), vol. 24, pages 26-28.
Lite, New-York 1951, volume 1 & 2 (Yiddish).
Yahaduth Lita, (Hebrew) Tel-Aviv, volumes 1-4.
Masines Zudynes Lietuvoje 1941-1944 (Mass Murder in Lithuania 1941-1944) vol. 1-2, Vilnius (Lithuanian).
Pinkas haKehiloth. Lita (Encyclopedia of the Jewish Settlements in Lithuania) (Hebrew), editor Dov Levin, assistant editor Joseph Rosin, Yad Vashem. Jerusalem 1996.
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
The Book of Sorrow, Vilnius 1997 (Yiddish, Hebrew, Lithuanian, English)
Naujas Gyvenimas (Prienai), Sept. 4,1991.
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