‘If the Child Is Circumcised, He Will Be Saved’
From: Smuggled in Potato Sacks
Fifty Stories of the Hidden Children of the Kaunas Ghetto
and Yakov Zilberg
In September 1939 my mother, Genia Saitovich, at the age of 18 set off from her native town of Rokishkis to Kaunas in search of employment. She began to work in one of the local kindergartens.
In Kaunas she met Leibe Chaitas, who was a carpenter by profession; they married in 1940. When the war started my parents decided to flee to Russia. My mother was seven months pregnant at the time. They had not covered a large distance from Kaunas, when the Germans caught up with them at the small town of Jonava.
The Germans and their Lithuanian collaborators drove everyone into the Market Square in Jonava to sort them out. At the time there were Soviet planes above the square and they started bombing. The Germans fled to seek safety and everyone else naturally started running off in all directions too. My parents ran back to the direction of Kaunas.
When my parents finally managed to reach Kaunas it was already occupied by the Germans. They returned to their flat under cover of night; they were too frightened by then to set foot outside. Only occasionally my father would go out looking for food.
Vilijampole, the district where my parents lived, had been chosen as the site for the ghetto, so some relatives moved into my parents’ room. The time for my mother to give birth was approaching, and my parents were getting very worried. I was born in 1941. A midwife by the name of Markovich attended my mother in secret; she survived the war and emigrated to Israel.
One of our relatives was a very religious woman. Naturally, the next question to be decided was whether or not I should be circumcised. The religious relative demanded that the circumcision should go ahead, saying, ‘If the child is circumcised, he will be saved’. So they did. The other problem arose immediately after I was born. Mother had no milk. The religious cousin took on the task. Every day she managed to get hold of 50 grammes of milk, which was very little, but better than nothing.
The Germans began to register all the inmates of the ghetto. They checked out everybody who was in the flat and removed everything that took their fancy. Mother told me about the ‘Great Action’:
On 27 October 1941, Germans left the first shift of workers at Aleksotas airport and did not let the night shift to go to work. This is why Leibe had not been at home at night between the 27th and 28th. On the evening of the 27th members of the Jewish police went round all the houses explaining that the next day, at six o’clock in the morning, all the inhabitants of the ghetto had to assemble in Democracy Square. In the morning I was shivering with fright. It wasraining and freezing cold, so I grabbed you, wrapped in as many pieces of cloth as I could find, turning you into a big bundle, and went out into the street. I went to the square with my cousin and her family. I could not hear you breathing and I was worried that I had suffocated you. Only when it was time for feeding did you start to give any signs of life. I sat down in some inconspicuous corner, the family stood round me and I fed. Meanwhile the Germans were lining everyone up in rows. I passed you to my cousin and ran to look for my husband. Once I had found Leibe, I felt calmer.
The men from the SS were drawing nearer and nearer to us to start sending people to the right or the left. The old and ill were being moved to the right, while the young and healthy were sent to the left. Our religious cousin was sent to the right and we went the left. Those sent to the right were then led away to the Ninth Fort.
On our return home, I found you were wet from head to foot.
In place of our cousin and her family, the ghetto police sent two more families to move into our quarters. Leibe’s brother Zalman and his wife Sara Chaitas also moved into our flat. So we lived, all crammed together until October 1943, when Zalman and Sara were sent to the Klooga Camp in Estonia. Zalman died there, Sara his wife was transferred to Stutthof and survived.
Initially I had hoped we would be transferred to Klooga as well. Zalman advised us to stay in Kaunas promising that if the conditions there were good they would let us know and, if it proved possible, we would join them later. The conditions in Klooga were perfectly dreadful . . .
When their area of the ghetto was reduced, my parents were ordered to leave their flat. Father found a small storehouse, cleaned it and we moved in there. We were joined by another of my mother’s cousins, Sara, her husband, Berl Shpak, and their son Boris. All three survived. Boris came to Israel and lives in Bat Yam. We lived in that storehouse, until the ‘Children’s Action’ took place.
That morning my father had gone off to work, leaving Mother to sleep on. Suddenly my mother’s cousin appeared, shouting, ‘Why are you still asleep? Get up, there’s a round-up! You can’t imagine what’s going on!’ Mother dressed in a hurry and was sitting there totally bewildered.