Genocide of the Jews in the Trakai Region of Lithuania, The
Translated by Svetlana Satalova
of the Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum, Lithuania
The following is a selection from a graduation thesis on the Holocaust in Trakai during the Second World War submitted by Neringa Latvyte to the History Faculty of the Modern History Department of Vilnius University. Her study of the fate of the Jewish people in the Trakai district, including Kaisiadorys, Kiemeliai, Zasliai, Vievis, Zezmariai, Semeliskes, Mijaugonys and Trakai, is based on original research in various Lithuanian archives, KGB and police records, as well as personal interviews. These excerpts focus on Vievis.
The Murder of the Jews in the Trakai Region: July - September 1941
The town of Vievis is between Vilnius and Kaunas. Before the war between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany it had 360 Jewish and 4600 non Jewish inhabitants180 [which included mostly ethnic Lithuanians but also Poles and Russians - S.]. In the first days of the war, mass repressions against Soviet activists, Red Army solders and Jews began in Vievis and in its surroundings. This was directed by the "Partisans" [They were also known as "Activists." These were terms for members of the LAF - the Lithuanian Activists ’ front; many of them participated in the murder or harassment of Jews all over Lithuania-S]. Its Vievis’ members included Caplikas, formerly head of the Jurbarkas police, the police officials Sedleckas, Juozas Dzena, and others181 Between June 23 – 28, 1941, members of this organization killed Josif Baider, a member of the Komsomol (Young Communist League), Motel Pik,182 Blecheraite, a (Region Komsomol secretary), Chaim Sherman, Katz, Motke Pik, and Maselke.183 The families of all these victims were arrested and taken to an unknown location.
After the Nazi invasion the local "Activists" also pillaged the town’s Jewish homes, appropriated their property, and harassed the Jews in other ways. They had their own plan for extorting Jewish gold. "When J. Dzena, Victor Vasilevski, Caplikas, Savreika, and others met Jews, they tried to create a situation which would lead to an incident. Then the Jews would be arrested and gold required to release the victims."184
The attacks against the Jews did not stop when Germans arrived in the shtetl. Local "Activists," especially Dzena,185 became indefatigable Nazi helpers. With their assistance, a ghetto was soon established in Vievis. Several work brigades would leave for work every day, under armed guard. Most often the Jews were forced to extend the continuation of the Vilnius-Kaunas highway. [In the 1920’s and 1930’s when the Vilna Region belonged to Poland, Lithuania and Poland had no diplomatic or other relations, and there was no transport connection between Vilnius and Kaunas. The highway was obviously urgently needed for the German military effort. - S.] The Nazis chose Dzena to force the Jews to go to these works and to supervise them while working, "urging them to work harder if necessary."186 Dzena never lost an occasion to "urge the Jews to work harder." As Chaim Goldstein later witnessed at the beginning of August, 1941, J. Dzena beat ghetto workers Chaim Kurgan, Chaim Shapiro, and Itzak Samonov, for slow work.188 For the same reason, Osif Smol was beaten in mid August.188 Since there were many such cases, all the workers did their utmost to satisfy Dzena’s requirements.
On September 22, 1941, all the Jews were arrested and herded to the market square. This was done by the Nazis, the local police, town "Activists," and murderers from the Special Squad [a squad formed in Lithuania at the initial stage of German occupation, on a voluntary basis, who were very active in Jewish murders in Lithuania and Belarus - S.]189 The police head told the Jews to carry all articles of value in their hands.190 This was done so that Dzena and his helpers could grab them more easily from the victims.191 After the Jews were plundered and despoiled in the market square, the police and the"Activist" guards took them to the neighbouring shtetl of Semeliskes, on horsecarts.192
THE PERIOD OF LABOUR CAMPS (1942-1944)
THE LABOUR CAMP AT VIEVIS
As early as 1942, there were two labour camps at Vievis, one for Soviet prisoners of war and the other for Jews. Both were supervised by a German military unit, under the command of an officer named Deling.223 The majority of the Jews were mostly engaged in building the highway. [The Vilnius-Kaunas highway did not exist when Vilnius was under Polish rule and Lithuania and Poland had no diplomatic or other relations - S.] Some others were forced to work at J. Dzena’s and the other camp supervisors’ farms, and to sew clothing for J. Dzena’s family members.224 J. Dzena was appointed the camp chief’s deputy,225 and was called by everybody the "Lagerführer." He carried out and directed the Nazi plans. J. Dzena was always present at his "workplace," supervising and controlling, while the German camp chief was most often sitting in his office and showed up very rarely among the workers.226
In May 1942, there were 700 Jews in the camp. The flow of people was intense: large groups were often removed to be murdered, and others arrived to replace them.227 Prisoners from the Vilnius and Kaunas ghettos worked there.
On May 16, 1942 the Vilnius Gebietskommissar (Area Governor) issued regulations concerning Jewish ghettos and labour camps. It was required to list all the ghettos and camps existing in the Vilnius Region, with their location, number of inmates (separately for men, women, and children under ten), the ghetto conditions, the inmates’ professions, and their places of work. All important events which had taken place in the ghettos, such as births, admission of new inmates, deaths, escapes, etc., had to be mentioned. [This might have been done in the course of preparations for the May 27, 1942, General Population Census of Lithuania - S.] The same message affirmed that "all Jews must work, are required to work daily and should be fully occupied while there."228 Two months later, on July 10, 1942, more severe instructions were issued, requiring all Jews to be listed according to their ghettos and employers, also registering disabled inmates, children, and those doing work which was not important for the military effort.229 Further instructions were given providing for the separation of Jews from the local population, the obligatory wearing of the Star of David, the designation of the Jewish Council and its functions, and the nomination of Jewish police with 12 servicemen. The duration of the workday was fixed; all able-bodied Jews were required to work; the punishment for escapes was spelled out; all commercial relations with the non-Jewish population were forbidden; Jews were allowed to walk outside the ghettos only on the right side of the street. Conditions were stipulated for the occasions when ghetto workers could be lent out to other entities or individual persons. [Many of these general regulations had been put in effect from the start of the Nazi invasion in 1941 - S.] In addition the amount of remuneration the Jews received for working was fixed: men over 16 years old were to be paid 0.15RM [Reichsmark] per hour, women over 16, - 0.12 RM per hour, young workers under 16, - 0.10 RM per hour. The right of (working) Jews to a food ration (of hot soup for dinner) was also stated. Moreover, the money for the ration could be subtracted from the workers’ salary, but could not exceed 0.30 RM.230
The regime at the Vievis work camp was very severe. Leaving the camp was strictly forbidden. The campsite was fenced off with barbed wire and guarded by armed personnel. The working day started at 5:30; the roll-call was at 6:00 a.m. The food was bad. One of the camp’s survivors, G Katz, recalled that "in the morning, some hot water, the so-called tea, most often without tea-leaves or sugar, was given."232 Lunch was brought to the workplaces at 12:00 o’clock. It consisted of a litre of soup made from wayside coarse herbs. Once or twice a week there was some horseflesh or rotten meat, three or four potatoes, some 400-500 grammes of bread, i.e.150 grammes per day.233 In the evening, there also was soup, mainly milk-based. Although the inmates received their rations daily, hunger was rife in the camp. People died of exhaustion and hard labour. There were cases when an absolutely exhausted person just fell down in his work place, and J. Dzena shot him dead on site.234 In order to avoid starvation, the Jews tried to procure food outside the camp, in spite of the prohibition. In June or July 1942, J. Dzena shot Moysey Ozekhovsky and another Jew for having left the camp for eight to ten hours. Local workers were ordered to bury their bodies.235 In the same year, J. Dzena ordered two Jews to be executed for having gone to a village after work to beg for bread. As witness G. Maly stated, in the spring of 1942 J. Dzena beat those who did not work well, especially the Jews brought from Belorussia.236 As this "Nazi helper" himself confessed [during post-war Soviet court proceedings-S.], he did not know why he had killed two Jews in the view of all the camp inmates, in the summer of 1942.237 Sometimes even the Germans were astonished at J. Dzena’s cruelty and proclivity to beatings.238.
Gold was extorted from the camp inmates, as it had previously been in the Vievis ghetto. The main perpetrators were Deling and Dzena.239 Those who did not want to or could not work delayed their deaths by paying with gold. There also were selections of able-bodied Jews to work in the camp. Jews paid gold to be selected for this group. All others were sent elsewhere. If the group of doomed people was large enough, they were taken directly to Paneriai.240 This used to be done mostly at dawn, to avoid witnesses.
In mid-1943 the Vievis labour camp came under the supervision of the Vilnius City Commissar, who was noted for his cruelty. This notwithstanding, if someone wanted to appeal to the German authorities, he was required to make his representations to Dzena first.241 Life and work conditions at the camp continued to be hard. The regime remained strict, labour was, as before, exhausting. The inmates continued to build the highway. Nutrition did not improve, "Quite often you could see Jews returning from work, holding one another so as not to fall."242 The living quarters were unhealthy and even a threat to life. People slept on four-story berths made of boards joined together. They put some straw on the boards, if they could get any. Selections at the camp continued, and groups of Jews were brought to replace others. Those who were ill were most often transferred to the Vilnius or Kaunas ghettos. From these ghettos, the camp received some aid - clothing, boots and other things. Although the internal regime had not changed substantially, confrontations between the Jews and the camp guard became more frequent. In May 1943, "several young Jews escaped from the camp and hid in the forest. [In the same time period, May 1943, there were escapes from other Jewish labour camps in the area; these Jews tried to reach the anti-Nazi partisans.-S.] When they could not stand it any more, they decided to return to the camp. When they approached the ghetto gate, the guard started shooting into them. The young boys replied with the same. One of them was shot dead in the skirmish."243 The camp, seized in terror, waited for the German response. In addition, in June of the same year "the camp workers were afraid that all the inmates would be murdered because of two young Jews who refused to obey the guards’ orders."244 In September, a big group of Jews arrived at the Vievis camp. Selections of those fit to work began immediately. Dzena selected able-bodied Jews, and those who had gold, to remain in the camp. The greater majority, including the elderly people and children, were transported to Paneriai. Before the doomed people were removed, Dzena said to them: "That’s enough! The sun has stopped shining for you here. Now a different sun will shine for you, that of Ponar ..."243 A 45 kilometre narrow-gauge railway line from Vievis to Paneriai had been built, which transported Jews to the site of their death. In addition, sometimes Dzena went to Paneriai, personally, to kill the Jews.246 The Vievis labour camp was liquidated in December 1943. All its workers were murdered in Paneriai.
(The numbering is the one used by Neringa Latvyte for her sources in her original ninety page thesis of which this is just a small part.)
LYA = Lithuanian Special Archives (the former KGB archives)
LVIA = Lithuanian State Historical Archives (Lietuvos Valstybes Istorijos Archyvas)
LCVA = Lithuanian State Central Archives
180 KsKa. Gyventoju Statistika Parapijomis 1937 m. (Population Statistics According to Parishes for 1937).
181 LYA.F.K-1Ap.58.B.45615/3.L.64. Witness Ch. Goldstein’s Examination Record. Caplikas’ and Sedleckis’ first names are unknown.
182 Ibid. L. 18. Witness G. Katz’s testimony.
183 Masines Zudines Lietuvoje (1941-1944). Dokumentu Rinkinys. II d. Vilnius, 1973, p. 292. (Mass Murders in Lithuania, 1941-1944. Collection of Documents). Blecherate’s, Katz’s and Maselska’s first names are unknown.
184 LYA.F.K-1. Ap. 58. B. 45615/3. L. 64. Witness Ch. Goldstein’s testimony. Savreika’s first name is unknown.
188 LYA.F.K-1. Ap. 58. B. 45615/3. L. 64. Witness Ch.Goldstein’s testimony.
189 Atminties Dienos (Days of Memory), Vilnius, 1995, p.185.
190 LYA.F.K-1. Ap. 58. B. 45615/3. L. 29. Witness G. Katz’s Examination Record.
191 Ibid.L.66. Witness Ch. Goldstein’s Examination Record.
192 Ibid.B.9107/3.L.10. Defendant V. Vasilevski’s Examination Record.
193 Ibid.B.45615/3.L.66. Witness Ch. Goldstein’s Examination Record.
194 Levinsonas J. Skausmo Knyga (The Book of Sorrow), Vilnius, 1997. See Appendix No. 34.
223 LYA.F.K-1. Ap. 58. B. 45615/3. L. 62. Witness J. Baranauskas’ examination record. Deling’s first name is unknown.
224 Ibid. L. 31. Witness G. Katz’s examination record.
225 LVIA. F. 3377. Ap. 55.B. 128. L. 55. Excerpt from witness G. Katz’s examination record.
226 Ibid. L. 56.
227 Ibid. L. 55-56.
228 LCVA. F. R-500. Ap. 1. B. 2. L. 429. Vilnius Gebietskommissar’s Instructions on Jewish Ghettos and Labor Camps.
229 Ibid. B. 11 (I p.). 391. Vilnius Gebietkommissar’s Instructions on Behaviour with Jews.
230 Ibid. L. 392-393.
231 LYA.F. K-1. Ap. 58. B. 9107/3. L. 2. Statements of the Judicial Examination.
232 LYA.F. K-1. Ap. 58. B. 45615/3. L. 31. Witness G. Katz’s Examination Record.
233 Ibid. L. 50. Witness G. Katz’s testimony.
234 LVIA. F. 3377. Ap. 55.B. 128. L. 56. Excerpt from witness G. Katz’s Examination Record.
236 LYA.F. K-1. Ap. 58. B. 45615/3. L. 68. Witness G. Malykh’s testimony.
237 Ibid. L. 143. Defendant J. Dzena’s testimony.
238 Ibid. L. 71. Witness J. Zazhevski’s Examination Record.
239 Ibid. L. 66. Witness G. Katz’s Examination Record.
240 Ibid. L. 89. Witness J. Bimkevicius’ Examination Record.
241 Ibid. L. 59. Witness J. Baranauskas’ Examination Record.
242 Ibid. L. 89. Witness J. Bimkevicius’ Examination Record.
243 Tory A. Kauno Getas: Diena Po Dienos. Vilnius, 2000, p. 330.
244 Ibid. P. 410.
245 LVIA. F. 3377. Ap. 55.B. 128. L. 57. Excerpt from witness G. Katz’s Examination Record.