Dr. Arūnas Bubnys
There were around 200,000 Jews left in Lithuania, when the Nazis occupied the country at the end of June 1941. Only around 10,000 Jews managed to retreat to the Soviet Union in the first days of the war. Jewish children suffered the same kind of persecutions, material and spiritual hardships, mass arrests and killings as their parents. In the first weeks of the Nazi occupation, Jewish children were not arrested and killed in large numbers. In the summer of 1941, Jewish ghettos and temporary isolation camps were founded, where all Jewish families living at the time were transferred. Life in the ghettos was extremely difficult due to constant shortages of food and accommodation, antisanitary conditions, various mandatory jobs, harassment, beatings, restrictions and constant occurrences of capital punishment. In the middle of August 1941, the mass killings of Jewish families began in Lithuania: adults, men, women, children and the elderly alike became targets. Perhaps the first mass killings of Jewish children took place on 15 and 16 August 1941 in Rokiškis. The infamous report by SS-Standartenführer Karl Jäger issued on 1 December 1941 signifies that 3,200 Jewish men, women and children were killed in Rokiškis in those two days. (1) The exact number of children killed in this action is unspecified. Later entries in the aforementioned report often specify the number of Jewish children killed as well. For example, during the action in Ukmergė on 19 August 1941, 298 Jewish men, 255 women and 88 children were killed. (2) While reading the Jäger Report one can notice that the number of children killed in those actions was often a lot less than the number of men and women. We can guess that the parents managed to pass some of their children to non-Jews (Lithuanians, Polish, Russians and others) before the killing. Thousands of Jewish children were shot together with their parents in the summer and autumn of 1941. During the Great Action in the Kaunas Ghetto on 29 October 1941, 4,273 children were shot together with their parents in the 9th Fort. (3) This was the largest children’s killing action throughout the whole Nazi occupation period in Lithuania. Some of the major killings of children have to be mentioned too: 1,609 children were killed near Panevėžys on 23 August 1941, 687 children were killed in the district of Zarasai on 26 August 1941, 1,469 children were killed in Utena and Molėtai on 29 August 1941, 1404 children in Marijampolė on 1 September 1941, 1,737 children in Ukmergė on 5 August 1941, 821 children in Eišiškės on 27 September 1941, 812 children in Vilnius on 25 October 1941. (4) Often, Jewish babies were not even shot; the killers would just throw them in the ditches alive and bury them together with their parents’ corpses. According to the Jäger Report, at least 5,672 children were killed in Kaunas as of 1 December 1941, and 4,639 more were killed in Vilnius. The Nazis saw Jewish minors as completely useless and unnecessary to the German war effort, and therefore they had to be the primary targets for extermination (purportedly they were useless consumers). Only those children who belonged to the families of Jewish specialists and workers who were necessary to the Nazis were allowed to live temporarily. During the peaceful period of ghetto existence (1942–1943) Jewish children were not killed in large numbers. The killings were resumed on 5 April 1943, when around 4,000-5,000 Jews from the Vilnius Ghetto and the ghettos in Eastern Lithuania (Švenčionys, Ašmena, Mikailiškės, Salos) were shot in Paneriai. Among those killed were a large number of children. Some mothers tried to hide their children in piles of clothing near the ditches, but the guards found them and threw them into the pits by their feet. (5)
During the stabilisation period (1942 – beginning of 1943) the administration of the Vilnius Ghetto tried to take care of the life and preservation of children. Healthcare, welfare and education systems were organised. Although women in the ghetto were strictly forbidden to give birth, some resolved to do it anyway. Newly born children would be hidden in the hospital, and when they got older they would be included in the lists of residents as if they were born before the foundation of the ghetto. In February 1942, the department of culture and education was founded in the Vilnius Ghetto. Even earlier, 4 schools had been opened for children over 7 years old. Starting November 1941, teaching of children became regular. A total of 700–900 children studied under more than 100 teachers. In March of 1942, only 2 schools were left in the ghetto where around 700 children studied under 20 teachers. The schools had 10 grades. Lessons would begin at 9 in the morning and continue until 2 PM. Some of the students received lunch at the cafeteria for children, and everyone was given coffee substitute during the long break. (6) In addition to that, there were 2 kindergartens for 3 to 6 years old children, a boarding school for children without parents (opened 8 March 1942), and courses for older children, who had previously attended gymnasiums. Another two schools were founded in the “Kailis” factory Jewish camp. At one time, as much as 80 % of ghetto’s children went to school. There were also two dormitories opened for children, as well as clubs for children and youths. The institutions of culture and education helped the children of the ghetto maintain their morale, resist resignation and degradation. A school of music also functioned in the ghetto, where around 100 children studied under 11 teachers. A lot of children attended the ghetto library and read the books that were kept there (the library opened on 11 September 1941), went to plays and concerts at the ghetto theatre.
On 23 August 1943, the liquidation of the Vilnius Ghetto began. On the same day a selection of prisoners was carried out. Men were separated from women and children and sent to a gathering centre, where they were put on trains and taken to Estonian concentration camps. The women and children were driven to the yard of the courtyard of the Monastery of Missionaries. They were held there under the rain for two days. Another selection was organised on August 25: younger women and those who were able to work went to the right, while older women, seniors and parentless children went to the left. Afterwards all of them were taken to Rasų Street and crammed onto trains. Most of the arrested women and children (around 5,000) were taken to concentration camps (Auschwitz, Treblinka and others). A few hundred elderly and sick Jews were shot in Paneriai. The hunt for Jews who remained hidden in the ghetto took a few more weeks after the liquidation of the ghetto. Jews captured in the ghetto were taken to Paneriai and shot. (7)
About 3,000 Jews were left to work in Vilnius after the liquidation of the ghetto. They worked in “Kailis” factory, Wehrmacht engineering unit workshop, military hospital, and Gestapo workshops. 27 March 1944, a cruel action of children abduction was carried out in the camps of “Kailis” factory and Wehrmacht engineering unit workshops. The action was supervised by Gestapo officers M. Weiss, W. Schröder and others. The lists of children to be taken away were made by Richter – chief warden of the camp. On March 27, he called the children of the “Kailis” factory in for the routine muster (Appel) and supposed medical inspection. When their parents left for work, the children were told to come to the hospital. Then a truck with Gestapo officers and Lithuanian policemen arrived. The Jewish children were taken to the yard and put in trucks. Patients from the hospital were also taken there. All the detained were then taken to Rasų Street and crammed into train cars. All children that had been put on the lists were taken from the first block. The commandant of the second block refused to give away the children, so Gestapo and the police raided the block and hunted out the children. Actor Herbst and teacher Moišė Olickis tried to protect the children, but were taken away together with them. Only a few children managed to hide and avoid being taken away. When the parents returned from work they found out about the tragedy. Sorrow reigned the blocks. Nobody could eat or sleep. The next day, the parents had to go to work as usual. About 250 children and elderly people were taken from the “Kailis” labour camp in an unknown direction. (8)
The Children’s Action was also carried out in the labour camp of the Wehrmacht engineering unit workshops (H.K.P.). Early in the morning, Oberscharführer Richter arrived at the gate of the camp. He was accompanied by Gestapo officers (including M. Weiss) and policemen. Kolysh, the commandant of the camp, was told that all invalid people (children, the elderly and the sick) were to be removed from all camps of Ostland under the order of Heinrich Himmler. Some parents tried to hide their children. The residents of the camp were chocked and the panic set in. The officers started searching the residential premises looking for children and elderly people. Those found were taken to the camp square. A total of 150–200 children were gathered. Mothers trying to protect their children were savagely beaten. One of the women (Zhukovskaya) called M. Weiss a child killer. He brought the woman to her knees and shot her in the back of the head with a pistol. Then the children were put in trucks and taken in an unknown direction. Only a few managed to hide and avoid being taken away. They stayed in the camp illegally until its liquidation. Jews still remaining in Vilnius (2,000-2,300 people) were shot by the Nazis on 2–3 July 1944. (9)
Mass killings of children also took place in the Kaunas Ghetto. On 17 September 1941, the smaller ghetto of Kaunas was surrounded by the forces of German and Lithuanian policemen. They started pushing the residents of the ghetto into Sąjungos square. Medical staff and all patients were driven out of the surgical hospital. Dr. Aleksey Fainberg (who was the chairman of the doctors’ union in Kaunas before the war) was taken to the 9th Fort together will all the children of the children’s home next to the hospital. For some reason, however, this action was called off and Dr. A. Fainberg was brought back to the ghetto together with the children. On 26 September 1941, German and Lithuanian policemen surrounded the Ariogalos and Veliuonos streets in the ghetto. Jews were taken out of their flats and the selection of the condemned began. Women, children, elders and sick people were primarily chosen to be killed. Those arrested were taken to the 4th Fort and shot. According to the Jäger Report, 1,608 Jews were killed on that day: 412 men, 615 women and 581 children. (10) On 4 October 1941, yet another killing action took place in the ghetto. Among those condemned to die were all the patients of the surgical and therapeutic departments of the ghetto hospital. 141 children and their nannies were taken from the children’s home. Babies were kicked and thrown into a truck covered with canvas like firewood, and the truck drove off in the direction of the 9th Fort. The isolation hospital of the ghetto was burnt down with its entire equipment and all documents. October 4, 1,845 Jews of the Kaunas Ghetto were shot including 315 men, 712 women and 818 children. (11) The greatest mass murder of Jews in Kaunas and entire Lithuania during the Nazi occupation was carried out in the 9th Fort on 29 October 1941. 9,200 people were killed at that time: 2,007 men, 2,920 women and 4,273 children. Jäger cynically called this action “cleaning the ghetto of unnecessary Jews”. (12)
After the mass killings in autumn of 1941, the so-called stabilisation period, which lasted until the end of March 1944, began in the ghetto. During this period mass killings of ghetto prisoners were not organised. The department of culture and education was founded on 25 November 1941. The ghetto Council of Elders decided to open a school for children 7–14 years of age on Ramygala Street. On Saturdays religious subjects were also taught at the school. 12 people were employed as teachers. (13) In the beginning of July 1942, the Nazi government issued an order to cut the administration of the ghetto down in size, which is when two schools were closed along with a number of other institutions. The occupation government saw the benefits of the ghetto workshops, and thus allowed the organisation of professional courses and schools of craftsmanship. Courses for masons, carpenters, smiths, plumbers and others were available in the ghetto. On October 1942, 79 students studied the crafts of carpentry and masonry. (14) On 27 March 1944, an extremely cruel action of child abductions took place in the ghetto supervised by the head of the Lithuanian concentration camps SS-Obersturmbannführer Wilhelm Göcke, Oberführer Wilhelm Fuchs and Oberscharführer Bruno Kittel. The action was carried out under the pretext that only those who were able to work were to be kept in the concentration camp (the name for the ghetto at the time), while the children and the elderly had to be liquidated. SS and ROA members raided the ghetto and searched the houses taking children under 12 years old from their mothers and putting them on buses and trucks. Mothers who resisted were beaten with rifle stocks and hounded. Elderly people, who were unable to work, were also among the arrested. In two days, about 1,700 children and old people were arrested and transported to Auschwitz for annihilation. Around 130 ghetto policemen were arrested on the same day: 34 policemen were shot in the 9th Fort, while the rest were returned to the ghetto. (15)
As the front drew near Lithuania, the liquidation of the ghetto began in July 1944. Around 6,000–7,000 Jews were taken to concentration camps in Germany, around 1,000 Jews were killed at the time of the liquidation and around 300–400 survived. (16) Jewish men were taken to the concentration camp in Dachau, while the women and children were first taken to the Stutthof concentration camp. On 19 July 1944, 1,208 women and children from Lithuania were imprisoned in Stutthof. (17) On 1 August 1944, Kaunas was occupied by the Soviet army. The registration of Jews soon took place. A total of only 634 Jews were registered. (18) On 26 July 1944, 1,893 Jews from Kaunas and Šiauliai ghettos (801 women, 546 girls and 546 boys) were taken from Stutthof concentration camp to Auschwitz. (19) Only a few managed to survive until the liberation.
Šiauliai Ghetto. In the summer and autumn of 1941, mass killings of Jews of the city of Šiauliai took place. It is known that 7 through 15 September 1941, Jewish men, women and children were being shot in the forest of Gubernija. The victims were brought to the place of their death by truck or by bus. A special Soviet committee that worked at the place of the killings in November of 1944 uncovered four large ditches. The members of the committee believed, that around 1,000 could have been killed there. (20) On 7 September 1941, the auxiliary police squad lead by R. Kolokša arrested 47 pupils of Jewish children’s home and two of their tutors. Those arrested were taken to the forest and shot. (21) During the stabilisation period, in 1943 schools were founded in both of the Šiauliai ghettos (the Caucasus and Ežero-Trakų). Around 90 children studied in the Ežero-Trakų ghetto and around 200 in the Caucasus ghetto. On 5 November 1943, a selection of children and those unable to work took place in the Šiauliai Ghetto. This action was directed by SS-Hauptsturmführer Ludwig Förster. On that same day, officers of the SS came from Kaunas, took 570 children and 260 elderly people into their custody and took them to Nazi concentration camps (presumably Auschwitz). Judenrat members Ber Kartun, Aharon Katz and paediatrician Uriah Razovski joined the children, unable to leave them alone on such a horrible journey. (22) According to other sources, around 725 children were abducted from the Šiauliai Ghetto and labour camps under its jurisdiction found in Linkaičiai, the airport of Zokniai, Pavenčiai and Daugėliai. On 12 December 1943, the commandant of the Akmenė Jewish camp (this camp belonged to the Šiauliai Ghetto) ordered the arrest and extermination of eight children and one woman. The condemned ones were shot by ROA members inside the camp for all to see. On 8 July 1944, right before the liquidation of the Šiauliai ghetto, the Jews in Frenkel’s factory tried to escape. Reinhardt, the boss of the factory, commanded security guards to shoot the fugitives. Two women and two children were shot. After the Šiauliai Ghetto had been liquidated, Jewish women and children were taken to Auschwitz to be exterminated. Women who were younger and able to work were left in the Stutthof concentration camp. The Soviet army occupied Šiauliai on 27 July 1944. (23)
(1) Masinės žudynės Lietuvoje (Mass murders in Lithuania) 1941-1944, collection of documents, Vol. 1, V., 1965, p. 133.
(2) Masinės žudynės Lietuvoje, Vol. 1, p. 133.
(3) Masinės žudynės Lietuvoje, Vol. 1, p. 135.
(4) Masinės žudynės Lietuvoje, Vol. 1, p. 133–137.
(5) Masinės žudynės Lietuvoje, Vol. 1, p. 172; Record of interrogation of J. Oželis-Kozlovskis dated 16 December 1944, Lithuanian Special Archives (hereinafter referred to as LSA), f. K-1, ap. 58, b. 27968/3, l. 12–48; G. Šuras, Sketches: Chronicle of the Vilnius Ghetto 1941-1944, V., 1997, p. 106–109; K. Sakowicz, Dziennik pisany w Ponarach od 11 lipca 1941 r. do 6 listopada 1943 r., Bydgoscz, 1999, p. 79–84.
(6) G. Šuras..., p. 56-57; Y. Arad, Ghetto in Flames: The Struggle and Destruction of the Jews in Vilna in the Holocaust, New York, 1982, p. 318–320, 326–327.
(7) G. Šuras..., p. 147–150; Y. Arad..., p. 432; Masinės žudynės Lietuvoje, Vol. 1, p. 172.
(8) G. Šuras...., p. 164–166; Record of interrogation of L. Zlatkovičius dated 19 August 1944, LSA, f. K-1, ap. 45, b. 1848, l. 80.
(9) Wilna unter dem Nazijoch. Berichte von Dr. Med. Mozes Feigenberg aufgenommen von Mosze Wajsberg, Landsberg, 1946, S. 46–48; I. Guzenberg, The H.K.P. Jewish Labour Camp, documents, V., 2002, p. 9.
(10) A. Tory, The Kovno Ghetto Diary, V., 2000, p. 39-40; Masinės žudynės Lietuvoje, Vol. 1, p. 135.
(11) A. Tory..., p. 40–44.
(12) Masinės žudynės Lietuvoje, Vol. 1, p. 135.
(13) Minute No. 21 of the Council of Elders dated 25 November 1941, Lithuanian Central State Archives, f. R-973, ap. 3, b. 4, l. 162; Order of the Chairman of the Council of Elders No. 32 dated 5 July 1942, ibid., b. 4, l. 42.
(14) Report on the activities of the Council of Elders in July 1942, ibid., ap. 2, b. 40, l. 61, 65; Report on the activities of the Council of Elders in October 1942, ibid., b. 40, l. 39.
(15) Report of LSSR KGB dated 8 August 1944 on the murders of Jews carried out by Nazi occupants in Kaunas, LSA, f. K–1, ap. 10, b. 16, l. 94.
(16) LSA, f. K-1, ap. 10, b. 102, l. 217; Evidence of Ch. Gordon dated 12 August 1944, Department of Manuscripts of the Library of Academy of Sciences, f. 159–25, l. 5 a. p.
(17) List of prisoners dated 20 July 1944, archive of Stutthof Museum (Archiwum Muzeum Stuthof), Sygn. I–II B–10, S. 169–189.
(18) Report on the annihilation of Kaunas Jews during the German fascist occupation dated 6 September 1944, LSA, f. K–1, ap. 46, b. 1251, l. 12.
(19) Archive of Stutthof Museum, Sygn. I–II C–3, S. 43–67.
(20) Report on the exhumation of bodies of residents of Šiauliai town murdered in Gubernija forest dated 16 November 1944, LSA, f. K–1, ap. 46, b. 1274, l. 47; Дневник А. Ерушалми,Черная книга (Yerushalmi‘s Diary, Šiauliai (Shavli), The Black Book), Вильнюс, 1993, p. 265, 522; Rab. E. Oshry, The Annihilation of Lithuanian Jewry, New York, 1995, p. 248; Enzyklopedie des Holocaust: die Verfolgung und Ermordung der europäischen Juden, München – Zürich, 1995, Bd. 3, p. 1281.
(21) Excerpt from the record of interrogation of A. Stankus dated 20 October 1950), LSA, f. K-1, ap. 8, b. 182, l. 160; Дневник А. Ерушалми, p. 266–267.
(22) Masinės žudynės Lietuvoje, Vol. 1, p. 342; Notes about H. Schlöf’s activities (Feb. 4, 1972), LSA, f. K-1, ap. 46, b. 1228, l. 1-2; Дневник А. Ерушалми, p. 279.
(23) L. Peleckienė, Mournful “Requiem” at the gate of the Šiauliai Ghetto, Lietuvos rytas, 26 July 1994; record of interrogation of E. Gens’ dated 21 January 1948, LSA, f. K-1, ap. 58, b. 42809/3, l. 12–13.