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Remembering 80 years to onset of the Holocaust in Lithuania

June 1941 Nazi invasion of Lithuania
By LitvakSIG, October 2021

The year 2021 signifies 80 years to the start of the Holocaust in Lithuania when the Nazis invaded on 22 June 1941. As I write this, the month of October, we remember with pain and suffering, the 10,000 who were singled out for murder at the Kovno Ghetto on 28 October: the Great Aktion (aktzia gadola). We remember, honor and cherish the memories of over 220,000 Litvaks whose lives were ended brutally.

Members and supporters of LitvakSIG have been kind enough to share memories with us: Chana Prosser shared a memory that Howard Margol z"l told her, Howard Rhode shared his memory of Panevzys, and Sonia and Johanna Kovitz shared memories of Troskunai (Traskun). Do continue reading.

Howard Margol z"l  recalled Pusalotas as told to Channa Prosser:

"On the 23 rd of June 1941, the Germans attacked Russia without warning. Within days the Red Army began to withdraw from Lithuania and the Germans advanced throughout the country. The Lithuanians did not wait for the Germans to arrive. The “Siauliste” (Lithuania Voluntary Militia) started rounding up Jews and Russians and the first victims were the municipal council. Some of the Jews were rounded up and taken to a thick forest on the road to Janishkel about 1 ½ kms away. In a clearing, they were shot and buried in a mass grave. Twenty Jews hid in the small building at the entrance to the Jewish cemetery normally used to prepare the bodies for burial. They were soon discovered and all were shot to death.

When Howard Margol, in Atlanta, Georgia, questioned some of the Lithuanian elders on one of his visits to Pushelat in recent years, he was given vivid descriptions of how the Jews were murdered there. He was told how the “Lithuanian bandits” grabbed the small Jewish children by their ankles, swung their bodies around, and smashed their heads against a wall or tree. The shtetl had only one doctor, a Jew by the name of Joseph Shapiro. One of the Lithuanian women offered to convert Dr. Shapiro to Catholicism and marry him but to no avail. As Doctor Shapiro tried to attend to the wounded, he was brutally murdered. It is not known exactly how many Jews were murdered in Pushelat by the so-called “Lithuanian bandits.” The Germans forced the remaining Jews into the ghetto in Ponevezh. In September, 1941 all of the Jews in the ghetto were herded into the nearby Pajuoste Forest and murdered there.

Of all the Jews who were living in Pushelat on the 23 rd of June 1941, only one man escaped. After the war, he lived in Kaunas until he died in 1992. His son, Janush Boris, still lives in Kaunas. Pushelat is still there today but, as a shtetl, it no longer exists."

Howard Rhode recalls Panevezys and Kovno:

I remember being in Ponevezh in 1997 with Regina Kopelevich and heard the following story from a Lithuanian who lived there.  

Regina and I were talking with a local older man.  We were in the area which the Joint Distribution Committee had established for poor Jews in Ponevezh before the war.  That area was also where the Nazi Jewish ghetto was.

Out of nowhere, this man told us the following story there.  "We know the Jews hid their gold, silver, and jewels in the ground before they died. Since after the war, we have been digging in the ground since then - from 1946 - trying to find their jewels etc. but haven’t found them."

I was shocked. And I asked Regina to tell the man "You should continue to dig!"  

The man had no shame and said this in a completely nonchalant/matter-of-fact way.  We were horrified

At the Green Hills Cemetery in Kovna

I was in the huge 19th-century early 20th-century Green Hills cemetery in Kovna shortly thereafter.  There is a  large number of Jews buried there. (I was looking for the grave of my 3rd great-grandfather, Barukh HaShem, which I was able to locate.)

I found a curious sight.  There were holes in the ground near the heads of many of the people buried there. I asked the Kovna Jews who accompanied why these holes were there.  They responded:  The Lithuanians know that we bury our dead with their heads directly next to the headstones. 

The Lithuanians are looking to extract the gold from the teeth of the dead Jews.  In order to extract the gold,  there is therefore no reason to dig up the entire body because they can get right to the heads where the gold is.

I asked those with me what about gold wedding rings (of course only for the women at that time). They had no answer.


I think these anecdotes demonstrate well how so many people there see us.  This doesn’t deny there are some (few) who are more "sympathetic", but from my experience there, these two stories illustrate very well how so much of the populace sees us.  


Sonia and Johanna Kovitz: The First Days of the Shoah in Trashkun [Troskunai], July 1941

Most of the Jewish people of Trashkun were shot to death in large pits which were dug in the Payost [Pajouste] forest, a few miles east of Ponevezh [Panevezys]. This was the work of the Einsatzgruppen, mobile killing units that followed behind the German front and whose job was to round up and murder all the Jews they could find. Most of the actual shooting at Payost was done by Lithuanian volunteers under the supervision of the German Security Police. For the Jews of Trashkun, the massacre occurred on 23 August 1941.  

to continue reading the entire story please  Download The First Days of the Shoah in Trashkun.pdf

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