On the Front Line in Lithuania in 1915 (Part II)
В прифронтовой Литве 1915 года
On the Front Line in Lithuania in 1915
Narratives of Jewish Eyewitnesses
(Part II) [go to Part I]
by Anatolij Chayesh
Translated by Gordon McDaniel
Russian original: http://berkovich-zametki.com/
The previous publication on this theme[i] showed that readers are interested in archival documents.[ii] These documents are particularly important for genealogists and family historians because they contain unique evidence about concrete persons and facts sometimes not known to descendants. This paper continues that theme.
The documents in this instance we found in the Russian State Historical Archive (RGIA): Fond 1546 “Jewish Committee for Aid to War Victims,” List 1, Act 236 “Petition from Jewish population about protection from pogroms.” The title is not accurate, since the Act does not contain a petition but rather the recorded narratives of Jewish eyewitnesses. The documents are handwritten without signatures. Dates are given without a year. The Act itself has not been dated by the Archives. It is known, however, that the events described took place in 1915.[iii] Judging by the registration sheet, the Act has not been published previously by researchers.
Let us shed some light on the general outline of events.
After the spring offensive by the German Army at Libove [Liepaja], Raseyn [Raseiniai] and Shavl [Siauliai], by order of the Russian Army Command dated 5 May 1915, all the Jews living west of the line through Kovno [Kaunas], Yaneve [Johava], Vilkomir [Ukmerge], Rogeve [Raguva], Ponevezh [Panevezys], Posvol [Pasvalys], Salat [Salociai], Boysk [Bauska] were to be evacuated completely. They were directed to move to Ekaterinoslav and Poltava gubernias.[iv] These gubernias were not in a position to receive all the evacuees. The governors of these gubernias sent telegrams to that effect. The trains carrying evacuees went to other gubernias, and some even turned back with their cargo.
A large number of the Jewish evacuees settled in Kovno [Kaunas] Gubernia, east of the designated boundary. Thus, in the middle of July, about 200 evacuee families were living in the town of Trashkun (now the city of Troskunai in Anyksciai district). Aid from the Jewish Committee to Aid War Victims (EKOPO [Evreiskii KOmitet POmoshchi zhertvam voiny]) was given to 1,317 individuals in the town of Aniksht (now the city of Anyksciai), and to 166 individuals in the town of Vishinte (now the village of Viesintos, Anyksciai district).
During the summer of 1915 the Germans continued the attack. A representative of EKOPO, I. Rozengart, wrote to the Petrograd Committee on 20 September 1915:
“Before the Germans captured Trashkun and Aniksht [Troskunai and Anyksciai] in this region, the excesses of the Cossacks reached colossal bounds: all Jewish property in the region was completely plundered, there were murders and rapes, etc. Cossack unruliness reached the point that in Trashkun they were about to raise on a pike the Red Cross doctor Tomarovky, who was intervening on behalf of those being plundered. Prosperous people and even the rich were impoverished within a few minutes. Furthermore, the commanders of some army units evacuated all Jews in places under their jurisdiction, sometimes giving people only 15-20 minutes to leave.”[v]
The following recorded narratives are dated 19 July (1915), and from internal evidence describe the expulsion of Jews from villages in the Vilkomir [Ukmerge] district. The recording was done by someone working with EKOPO, possibly in the village of Utyan (now the city of Utena). The given name and surname of each narrator are indicated, as well as brief information about them. Because such recordings are very rare, they are given below with practically no editing.
Salesman in a sewing machine shop, who fled from Krakinove [now the settlement of Krekenava, Panevezys district] to the village of Vishinte [Viesintos].
For three months it was quiet, but soldiers arrived on July 10th. The first two days, the villagers were busy preparing food for the soldiers, and complete silence reigned.
On Monday, everyone was in a panic of fear, the soldiers demanded that not one Jew remain in the village, and we began to abandon the village. They mocked us and robbed us and beat us.
We got carts and went to the nearby village of Dyzhulishki so that we could return the next day and grab whatever we could from what was left of our belongings. But alas! From six versts away we saw that our village was burning, and all of the property that we had acquired through hard work was being destroyed.
We went on in the direction of Dabeyk [now the settlement of Debeikiai, Anyksciai district]. On the way, near the village of Andronishk [now the settlement of Andrioniskis, Anyksciai district],the cart overturned. My wife and children (ages 15 months, 3 years and 5 years) ended up under the full weight of the loaded cart. Soldiers from the unbroken line of transport that stretched along the entire road came to my aid and pulled the children from the muddy ditch. My wife somehow got up on her own. The soldiers took all the food they could. The two youngest children were completely unconscious. It took an hour and a half of effort to revive them. I am powerless to describe what I went through during that time.
In Dabeyk we found out that a commander was there. I went to get a pass, but he said that we could travel further without a pass and advised us to stop several versts from Dabeyk.
We went one and a half versts. We heard the soldiers shout, “Halt!” We stopped. They cursed us for not obeying orders. They searched us and took everything we had: money, watches, etc. We all trembled. They didn’t spare the rifle butts. Mina Priz and Tsiri Grinshteyn were hit especially hard. The soldiers didn’t spare the rifle butts.
Owner of an iron shop from the village of Vishinte [Viesintos].
On July 10th, when there were long lines of military transport carts, people got worried, but the early days were quiet. On Monday a line of military transport carts passed, then swerved, and when they entered the village they began to steal. The whole square was filled with soldiers. My shop was closed. I had been robbed four times that year, so I had fortified it; consequently, they couldn’t break into it easily. They tried to open it, to rip off the locks, but they couldn’t. They tore at the roof, and after a short while they got what they wanted. That is, the roof collapsed to a general shout of “Hurrah!” Some from the higher ranks took part, too. My merchandise was at the disposal of the soldiers. They stole groceries and fancy goods, some of which they gave to peasants, while they loaded the iron goods onto carts and carried them away. Recently I had not been buying textiles,[viii] and I had sent what I did have with my daughter. In Adronishk [Andrioniskis] the soldiers attacked again and wanted to cut up and destroy the (remaining) scraps, but three Jewish soldiers came to our aid. They started to scuffle. They seized one Jewish soldier for getting in the way and threw him to the ground, but he jumped up and threatened to shoot if they didn’t stop the violence. The others were infuriated and left, promising to settle the score that evening.
My 22-year-old daughter Dina was with two other girls. They desperately begged the Jewish soldiers not to leave. It was late in the evening. The shops were closed and doors were locked. The three Jewish soldiers were lying down outside the doors. The other soldiers, as they had promised, came and broke down the doors, shouting and cursing, but they couldn’t get in. It must have been God’s will that saved our daughters from violence and ignominious death.
But look at what was done in our village: everything was at the disposal of various military ranks, mostly the lower ranks but there were even some from the higher ranks. They had taken everything down to the pillows from our living quarters, looting, destroying, assaulting. The whole village moaned.
My tears are nothing in comparison to this horror. But I can’t remember it without tears. Take my situation as an example. A few days ago I had 12,000 or 13,000 (rubles) of capital, and today I am a beggar, a complete pauper, and I must turn to others for aid.
Forty-year-old rabbi from the village of Vishinte.
The army arrived on July 10th. At the request of the soldiers, I told the Jews to bake bread to sell. They baked and sold the bread, and everything was quiet. The next day, the 11th, the Cossack sergeant, on behalf of the regimental commander, took me hostage and seized my passport. On Sunday the 12th, I wanted to leave and asked for my passport. They gave me the passport on Monday. I left the same day. I had sent my family away earlier. I lived on the second floor. I had barely left the house when I saw soldiers starting to ransack our living quarters. Then the soldiers went through the village. People began to run away. They plundered the entire village. While doing so, they beat people with whips and rifle butts. They beat the blacksmith (named Leybe) to death and left his body in a field. Tuesday night they burned the village. Yosl Yofe stayed to put out the fire at his house. They beat him up. The same with Motl Levin, who also stayed behind. Hirsh Berger and his family hid with a peasant. The soldiers found and captured the seven-year-old boy Moyshke, but the shouts and cries of his mother sobered the soldiers and they returned him.
On the road to Aniksht, soldiers searched me and wanted to take my watch, but a Jewish soldier (from Podolsk Gubernia) persuaded them not to steal it.
51-year-old painter from the village of Vishinte.
On Friday the military unit arrived. At first it was quiet. On the 13th (Monday), the commander left and the unit went with him. A second unit arrived and ordered us to leave at once. They stole my horse. I found another one and loaded my things. I wanted to lock up the living quarters, but the soldier on duty would not allow it. Four versts from the village I stopped and thought about returning, but the village was completely in flames. Six soldiers came out of the long line of military carts and demanded money. I didn’t want to give it. The money was in the pillows. They searched, found it, and took it, tearing up my insurance papers. Farther along the road I met other refugees, nine carts in all. Before we reached the village of Dabeyk [Debeikiai] (Wednesday July 15th, at 8 o’clock in the evening), we were surrounded by about 15 soldiers. They asked what I was carrying: “It must be for the Germans.” Again they searched us. They took a woman’s fur coat and watches, and they pulled pillows from beneath heads. The women cried, moaned and sobbed through all this. [The narrator cries as he speaks.] It was terrible. I managed to get away with my cart, and what happened to the other eight carts, I don’t know.
65-year-old refugee from the village of Radvileshik [now the city of Radviliskis], where he left his farm.
I was living in Vishinte since May 1st. On Monday, July 13th, when the military began to plunder, we left at 5 p.m.. A storm forced us to stop. We went to a landowner acquaintance five versts from Vishinte, on the Virinsh estate. I hoped to go the next day into the village and retrieve the rest of my belongings, but the Cossacks and cavalrymen soon arrived, shouting, “Shelter here to welcome the Germans! Everybody out!”
We went on, accompanied by soldiers. They drove us without rest. In villages it was forbidden for peasants to give bread to Jews. They threatened to hold anyone accountable who disobeyed the order. I was hit in the back with a rifle butt and fell. My daughter Mina, trying to protect me, received one blow after another. Her whole body was black and blue, and she couldn’t move because of the pain. They took a small watch from my daughter, but she went to the senior officer and he ordered them to return it. They ordered everyone they searched to be quiet or they’d shoot.
After the search, they took 15 rubles from me, five rubles from the shamus, and when the shamus’ wife tried to interfere, they grabbed her around the middle and threw her to the ground. She barely survived.
Leyb Rozinkevich, a blacksmith, was defending his daughter Etel from rape. He was wounded in the head with a rifle butt, and his daughter was raped. What happened to them, I don’t know. They say that the daughter died and the father was mortally wounded.
Merchant, resident of Vishinte.
I left the village on Monday. No one stopped me. On the road, 16 versts from Vishinte, I met my 74-year-old neighbor Enta Yoselevich and her granddaughter, the daughter of her deceased son. The girl’s mother fled from soldiers who were following her, and the grandmother and granddaughter took this road. The soldiers started to bother this 11-year-old girl, but the pleading of the grandmother evidently influenced them and they stopped. My neighbor Hirsh Berger told me that soldiers or an officer (he couldn’t say which) kidnapped my 8-year-old son near the village of Shimants [now the settlement of Simonys, Panevezys district] to get ransom money from me that I didn’t have. They took him to a village two versts away, then sent him back. Clearly they meant to threaten us, and I shook like a leaf for the life of my boy. The synagogue worker, the shamus, had five rubles, which they took during the search. It’s hard to describe the terror of the women and children in the midst of such carnage. I can’t think of it without crying.
50-year-old woman from the village of Vishinte.
It’s painful to tell you what happened in the village. Everyone feared for his life. I sent my daughter Reychel to Aniksht with some things. When she got there, the things were put in a friend’s cellar. The soldiers arrived and began to loot. They ruined or destroyed or stole whatever they could. Reychel fell at the feet of one officer and begged him to save her things. But the answer was, “You mangy Jews, don’t get near me!” She ran 21 versts without stopping. She met three Jewish soldiers. She told them the whole story. All four of them cried. They accompanied her back to Aniksht, but she couldn’t find any of her things. It’s painful. They called up my only son in January. They sent him to a military post, where he was killed. Now I’m rambling. I have to rest this old head. The house burned down. Our property, worth 1,200 rubles, went up in smoke. My soul is torn apart.
66-year-old shopkeeper and baker from the village of Vizhun[now the settlement of Vizuonos, Utena district].
The army entered the village during morning prayers on July 9th. Everyone ran out of the synagogue in a panic. The soldiers were ordered not to spare anyone.They went into every house, ransacked, broke open cellars and pantries, scattered everything around, stomped on everything, gave our goods to peasants, and some took our goods away in carts. Anyone who resisted was threatened with death. Military transports were everywhere. The ugliness got worse. On Monday, July 13th, they broke into Shmit’s[xv] living quarters, demanded money, and took him out on the street to shoot him. He begged for mercy for his young children, and gave them all his money. Soldiers spent a long time breaking into cellars. They destroyed the pharmacy and gave everything to peasants. From one Jew they took fine goods worth 600-800 rubles. The Jews went to the commander, who ordered the police to find the offenders. The plundering continued until the Jews were completely cleared out. Those who had caused all the destruction were never found.
36-year-old rabbi from the village of Vizhun
They broke into Ber-Mendel Shmit’s place at 1 a.m. on July 8th threatening to shoot him, but released him after taking his money. They beat Hirsh Segal with whips. They robbed Chaim Palev’s grocery store, and also Mikhel Bak and Fintel.[xvii]
47-year-old rabbi from the village of Shimants [Simonys]
A military convoy arrived on Saturday July 11. I told people, even though it was Saturday, to carry out all orders of the military authorities. Jews baked bread, cooked, and so forth. Among the soldiers it was quiet at first. They went to some places (the shopkeeper Lin) and took some of his things without paying. On Tuesday, July 14, the last unit to leave began to loot. They broke into living quarters and destroyed and stole whatever they could. From myself they took five silver goblets, two teaspoons, a gold watch, a bracelet, a muff, four dresses, linens, and bedclothes. They also took everything from the cellar. That was at 1 a.m. Afterwards the owners went to bed but got up when they heard someone breaking into the barn, where there was a horse belonging to an friend who had fled from a nearby village, also a box of his belongings. They took both the horse and the box.
I woke up the horse’s owner. His wife begged them to leave the horse. Her tears were effective and the soldiers returned the horse. For alerting the horse’s owner, the soldiers punished me by breaking into my cellar again. When my wife protested, they tried to strangle her. I called for help. My wife, left by the soldiers, was unconscious for some time.
From the widow [Kh.-E.] Khoruts, whose husband had been killed by three thieves (one of them a reserve soldier), they took a cow. Everything she owned was gone, taken while she was away. They searched Riva Leybovich and took 37 rubles. On Tuesday morning Lesha Shif, 30 years old, the daughter of the owner of the house where I lived, Feyga Bond and Enta Zagef fled into the woods to escape the pursuing Cossacks. The latter two, who were younger, escaped, but the first was tortured. We found her dead in the woods.
They kidnapped Michael Defanovich’s two-year-old child and demanded all the bed linen as ransom. They returned the child once they had gotten everything they demanded. Israel Leyzer Ogand, a 70-year-old baker, left the village later than the others. They beat him half to death.
50-year-old rabbi from the village of Trashkun [Troskunai].
The army came on July 9th, but it was quiet until Sunday, July 12th. On Sunday two Cossacks came to the house and we fed them. They warned us to gather our belongings and leave. I got a cart to carry 36 Torahs. After they were packed, at 2 a.m., the last convoy entered the village, and at 5 a.m. they started plundering. My son and I escaped through a window, taking with us a bag of silver. We hid the bag in the synagogue in the bima.[xx] We thought the silver would be safe there, but at 10 a.m. soldiers ransacked the synagogue and took everything. They threw the books around and trampled them with their feet. Near the synagogue, in the house where Rabbi Meyer Feldberg was staying after fleeing from Survilishik [Surviliskis], Cossacks broke in, searched the rabbi and took his watch. He gave them 20 kopecks as an appeal for mercy, and hurried to leave since he was not completely well, while his wife stayed behind to save the household.
The soldiers came in and unpacked everything. They divided the loot among themselves and the peasants. They lined up the Torahs on the floor, breaking the tips of the scrolls. They searched my wife. When asked to leave a pillow, the soldiers answered that they suffered more than us (the Jews). Two Jewish soldiers salvaged two feather beds by pretending to take them but returning them later. The soldiers would not allow us to take the Torahs on the cart. Finally they arrested everyone and sent us to Aniksht under guard. But on the way, we found a cart. I wanted to (use it to) transport invalids out of Trashkun at 10 a.m. I started to seat a wounded soldier, Berel Skudovich (he had been in the Petrograd military hospital, a recipient of the Cross of St. George [a Russian military decoration]). The soldiers stopped me and beat me with a whip. It was impossible to take anything with us. The soldiers threatened to send us to Petrograd.
They caught the Bageyler girl, 25 years old. She ran away. Naftoli tried to protect her, and for that he was beaten. Zalk, 80 years old, says that they shot Simon from Rogeve [Raguva] and hanged a mentally ill person. Etel Muler, 70 years old, was shot. They executed the butcher, Elye, who was mentally ill, and they shot Kopel Shirman. But these reports are based on the stories of neighbors.
39-year-old worker in the emigration bureau, first in the city of Ponevezh [Panevezys] and later in the town of Trashkun.
It was quiet until July 12th. On Sunday, July 12th, the retreating army occupied the entire town. There was panic. Plundering, destruction and rape did not bypass Trashkun. The residents began to leave town. Many went to Aniksht. I hoped to return the next day from Aniksht to Trashkun to get at least some of my property. But alas, when I got back to Trashkun, I met an officer who asked me where I was going. I answered that I was going to get my belongings. He politely hurried me along and said it was impossible to stay in town for long because the army was retreating. Not far from my house, a Cossack officer stopped me and took me into a yard. Soon two other officers appeared. One of them, without a word, pulled a thick picket from the fence and started to beat me. He hit my left arm, leaving a wound. He hit me on the left side of the small of my back, with the same result. I couldn’t touch my body even lightly because of the pain. They beat me until the picket broke.
Then the same officer who ordered them to beat me called a Cossack and ordered him to tie me to a horse so I would have to keep up with it, and sent me to the commander like that. The Cossack rode around town at full speed and I ran after him, tied to the horse. Only at the town border did the Cossack take pity on me and untie me, and then I walked freely behind him. The commander greeted the Cossack with the words, “What spy did you catch? Who sent him?” “Prince Pushkin,” I think the Cossack answered. I can’t swear to the exact surname. The commander, with no evidence from the Cossack officer, didn’t know how to punish me. Besides, he was in a hurry to retreat, which I understand saved me from a flogging. I was handed over to another soldier, who ran to look for “Prince Pushkin.” When he came back, they searched me and took whatever they could, even my socks.
Then they let me go and sent me, along with other Jews, out of town under guard. They drove us mercilessly. Long convoys stretched along the road. Wagons of refugees were pushed off the road. Several times wagons were overturned. Fainting women and children were commonplace for us. How we got to Aniksht alive, I don’t know.
30-year-old mother of three children in the city of Ponevezh [now the city of Panevezys].
On the first day of May I fled to Trashkun, but was chased out by the police and went to Aniksht, where I lived in peace until July 8th. On Monday, July 13th, the army arrived. One officer announced that he hadn’t seen any Jews in a long time, and another replied that today would be the end of them. The soldiers were ordered to clear the town. We left. We stopped after a few versts and spent two days hiding in a clay pit. We saw them destroy the bridge (between the stations of Aniksht and Trombolishki), and some of the children fainted from fear and the noise. Even now they often faint. We stopped in the village of Modvenishki. The second day we were there, the army went on a rampage. Even invalids and small children were beaten with whips, and many of them barely survived. In Shkumyan [now the settlement of Skiemonis, Anyksciai district] we met soldiers again. There they took our last remaining belongings, and so we went to Utyan [Utena] with absolutely nothing.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Anatolij Chayesh (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an engineer. Since 2001, he has been a scientific researcher at the St. Petersburg Jewish University, where his area of interest is searching for materials and documents on the Jews of Imperial Russia in the libraries and archives in St. Petersburg.
As the son of Lithuanian Jews, Chayesh also has a special interest in the history of the Jews of Lithuania. He has been engaged in genealogy since 1978. He has published several articles on the techniques of searching for documents as well as lists of the Jews found, including:
“A List of Officers of Jewish Prayer Societies in Russia,” 1853-1855, Avotaynu, 1993, No. 2, pp. 25-27.
“Approaching Jewish Genealogical Study in Russia,” ZichronNote, 1994, No. 2, pp. 17-19.
“An 1897 Mortgage in Slonim Byelorussia,” ZichronNote, 1994, No. 3, p. 19.
“Documentary Sources on Jewish History in the Archives of the Christy and Baltic State,” Avotaynu, 1995, No. 1, p. 63.
“Genealogical Information in the Documents of Eisenbet’s St. Petersburg Gymnasium,” ZichronNote, 1995, No. 3, p. 13-19.
“Dead Souls of Satanov: Genealogical Knowledge from Documents Concerning the 1830-31 Cholera Epidemic,” Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies.
[i] Anatolij Chayesh. “V prifrontovoi Litve 1915 goda. Rasskazy evreev-ochevidtsev,” Evreiskaia starina, no. 10, 10 September 2003. Translated by Gordon McDaniel as “On the Front in Lithuania, 1915: Stories of Jewish Eyewitnesses (Part I)” LitvakSIG Online Journal, August 2001. Part I
[ii] “Zametki po evreiskoi istorii: Otzyvy” (“Notes on Jewish History: Opinions”). See, for example, simulacrum, Monday, 23 August 2004 at 13:35:33 (PDT).
[iii] Rossiiskaia evreiskaia entsiklopediia (Russian Jewish Encyclopedia). Moscow, 2000, v. 4, p. 47, 237, 241.
[iv] Anatolij Chayesh. “Vyselenie evreev iz Litvy vesnoi 1915 goda: na primere mestechka Zheimeli,” Evreiskaia starina no. 12, 19 December 2003. [Translated by Gordon McDaniel, “Evacuation of the Jews from Lithuania in the Spring of 1915: the example of the town of Zeimelis,” LitvakSIG Online Journal, February 2000]
[v] RGIA, fond 1546, list 1, act 22, folio 76.
[vi] RGIA, fond 1546, list 1, act 236, folio 1.
[vii] Ibid., folio 2 verso to 4.
[viii] Fine goods: material for clothing and textiles.
[ix] Ibid., folio 8-9.
[x] Ibid., folio 11.
[xi] Ibid., folio 4.
[xii] Ibid., folio 2.
[xiii] Ibid., folio 11 verso.
[xiv] Ibid., folio 6.
[xv] In the source it reads “Shmita,” obviously a slip of the pen; see below.
[xvi] Ibid., folio 9.
[xvii] The second, third and fourth letters of the surname are illegible in the source.
[xviii] Ibid., folio 6 verso - 8.
[xix] Ibid., folio 9-10 verso.
[xx] Bima, a raised place in the synagogue for the reading of the Torah, sermons and singing of the cantor.
[xxi] Ibid., folio 13-14.
[xxii] Ibid, folio 11 verso - 12.