Historical Context

Matas Janušauskas tells about working in the factory “Veltinis” in Kaunas during the Nazi occupation period and about the rescue of Jews

The original documents – Matas Janusauskas' memoirs about his work in the “Veltinis” factory and and the list of Jews working in this factory prepared and written by him are kept in his son’s – Dr. Raimond Janus private archive

This text is published from: "Whoever saves one life..."
The efforts to save Jews in Lithuania between 1941 and 1944,
compiled by Dalia Kuodytė and Rimantas Stankevičius
Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania 2006, psl. 77

During the German occupation I worked for the Textile Trust (in Kaunas) in the capacity of factory director.
This was a small factory set up in Bolshevik times, which at the beginning of the war had only ten workers and three clerks. There were plans to close it due to the shortage of raw materials, but the cold winter of 1941-1942 made the Germans change their mind. In early 1942 large orders were placed, and by instruction from the top, the factory was granted priority immediately after the arms industry. The Arbeitsamt (Employment Office ) procurement offices and other institutions received an instruction to give priority to the factory. After the question of labour had arisen, 40 Russian prisoners were sent to the factory in the spring of 1942. They arrived in a deplorable condition. Most could hardly stand, and they immediately ate all the grass from the yard, and although only a few of them were able to work, they were kept at the factory out of sheer compassion. After a little encouragement of the workers, I collected some food and we began to make lunch for them every day. Over a short time, they all recovered and became an exemplary labour force. However, due to a typhus epidemic in the winter of 1942-1943, the prisoners of war were not allowed to work. But under pressure from the top, more and more production was demanded ...
The Lithuanian workers, whose number had by now reached 40, and myself, did not want to support the Germans at all. Therefore, work progressed very slowly, the products would come out extremely badly, and so on. To justify this to management, I would always point to the shortage of skilled labour, the poor raw materials, and the like. Then an inspector from Germany, Georg Dimmel, was sent, who, after a short while, reorganised the labour, but arrived at the same conclusion that I had. Unable to get Russian prisoners of war again, Dimmel asked about Jews. The Arbeitsamt gave its prompt approval, and Dr. R., a representative of the ghetto Arbeitsamt, whom I had known for a little while before, arrived at the factory. The work conditions were rather harsh, but I promised to help the Jews as much as I could. Several days later, a group of 20 women arrived. It was headed by Dr. Zalmanas Grinbergas, a 30-year-old born in Siauliai. He had studied medicine and done his thesis at Zurich University. I had not met him before. Not knowing with whom I was dealing, at the beginning I was slightly reserved, but that lasted for a short time, the more so that Dimmel was a man of reasonable views who did not cause trouble or create any obstacles. After Dimmel's departure for Germany a couple of weeks later, we were left completely without restrictions. A black market was organised at our factory immediately, which was the only way of buying food for the Jews. Officially, it was all strictly prohibited, and I, as the person responsible, had instructions not to let Jews work with others in the same room, to talk together, and so on. However, after certain measures had been put in place so that we would not be taken unawares, I allowed free trade under controlled conditions. Another very important issue was meetings between Jews and the local population. Most had left their savings and valuable possessions in the town long before being driven into the ghetto. They would maintain contact with the Lithuanians who kept their belongings.
I always used to have the best and most accurate information about life in the ghetto. The Jews would hide nothing from me. For about half a year, life in the ghetto was normal, if such a life can be described as normal at all. However, towards the autumn, things began to turn. One day the ghetto was converted into a concentration camp. At the beginning it was just a change of name, but soon the true nature of a concentration camp became apparent. The appointment of a new commandant, SS Lieutenant Colonel Goecke, did not promise anything good, as among Jews he was known as a liquidator of ghettos. He immediately undertook various kinds of reform, but I will not speak about that, leaving it to the Jews themselves. I will only mention the issues which had a direct impact on the Jews who worked at the factory under my management.
One day I received an official letter saying that within a few days the Jewish group would be recalled. At that time all Jewish labour units employed outside the ghetto were being recalled. I applied to the top. However, no one helped me to rescue the Jews and to create humane work and living conditions for them, as everybody was afraid of having anything to do with the SD and the SS, upon whose orders the Jews were being withdrawn.
The withdrawal was a big blow to the Jews, because they would be isolated from the town, which would mean their slow starving to death. After a few meetings with Dr Grinbergas, I called on the ghetto Arbeitsamt and happened to find Goecke there. Through the same Dr R. as an interpreter, I demanded a reply to the question whether the Jews would really be taken away, as I had to know, due to the orders from the army and so on. Thinking it over for a while, Goecke answered that in a couple of days he would himself come to the factory to familiarise himself with the work and the place. That was already a major victory, as the very question of recalling the Jews from the factory had become debatable.
On the date set, I sent the Lithuanian workers home early, telling them to tidy up their work areas accordingly, to change things slightly, and so on, in a word, to get ready to welcome the guest. At the agreed time, a car drove into the factory yard, from which Goecke and his adjutant got out. After spending a good hour on the site and familiarising himself with the work quite thoroughly, Goecke must have gained a good impression of our "village Potemkin", as we later called it, and put to me a totally unexpected question on leaving: "How many labourers do you need now?" Grasping the point, I replied: "I need about 100 people for a full team." I had not expected it at all, and began to modify the answer by saying that the total labour capacity could not be fully utilised at the beginning, that I could develop labour only gradually, and so on. Then he changed his decision in my favour, so that I had the right to get up to 100 people on terms and conditions set by me. That exceeded all my expectations. The victory was complete. In fact, the Jews were only recalled elsewhere, with the exception of a few places, probably a total of about ten in the whole city, instead of the previous couple of hundred.
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