Thursday, April 10, 2008

Lazdijai/Lozdzieje, Lithuania...Final Days of the Jewish Community

I found this on the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel website. See this link for more information, including a list of know Lithuanian murderers of Jews in the Lazdijai district. My grandmother Pesa Bergzon was born in Lazdijai in 1910. Thankfully, she and her immediate family left long before any trouble started. There are family stories though saying that cousins on both sides of family were murdered by the Nazis. I hope one day to discover their names. The actual number killed on Nov. 3, 1941 was 1,535 according to this Nazi document (Lazdijai is list about 2/3 of the way down the page...also make sure to read the text at the end of the document).

On Monday the 23rd June 1941, a meeting of the local Lithuanian "intelligentsia" was held in Lazdijai. Thirty people were present at the meeting, at which a committee to administer provincial affairs was selected and a motion to express thanks to the German army and Adolf Hilter was passed. On Wednesday the 25th June, the committee decided to rehouse the Jews in a number of shacks located on Vytautas Street that had been built by the Soviet Army during the Soviet Lithuania period. The Jews were in fact only given half the shacks in which to live with the remaining half occupied by the wives and children of Soviet army officers.

The Lithuanians began carrying out arrests as soon as the Jews returned. Many were arrested under the pretext of being Communists. Young boys who were no more than children were arrested for allegedly being members of the Commsomol. Many people were arrested without any reason at all. Any Lithuanian who felt he had an account to square with one his Jewish neighbours finally had an opportunity to settle the score. In addition people who were known 'Revisionists' (supporters of Beitar) and also old age pensioners were also detained. All those arrested were transferred to Marijampole where they were subsequently murdered.

Right from day one, the Jews' location served as a convenient site for committing larceny and general abuse. Germans and Lithuanians would fre­quently turn up with threatening demands for money, jewellery, gold and so forth. On occasions, policemen escorted by Lithuanian murderers wearing the uniform of the auxiliary police would barge into the huts and give the occupants a severe beating. Every Sunday as the Lithuanians left church after mass, they would head for the shacks where the Jews lived and would proceed to frog march the men to the market square where they were subjected to various forms of ridicule and bullying for the entertainment of the amused onlookers. They would be forced to wriggle on the ground, hit each other and engage in other forms of humiliating­ activity to the peals of laughter from the crowd of spectators that had gathered to watch. Thugs would set upon the Jews and savagely beat them. The Lithuanian guards would always demand that the Jews hand over any money or valuables they had on them and would order them to strip while the pockets of their clothes were being searched. All in all, the Jews were robbed of nearly all their property and possessions during that period.

Rumours regarding the mass murder of Jews in towns reached Lazdijai and during the middle of September came the news of the murder of the entire Jewish com­munity in nearby Leipalingis.
On the 15th September 1941 all the Jews were ordered to move to Army barracks in the Katkishkas estate about one and a half kilometres outside town. They were promised that an area would be designated as a ghetto and they would be able to remain there until the end of the war. The Lazdijai Jews knew however that all the communities in neighbouring towns had been destroyed and they therefore viewed the projected move with grave suspicion. Some people made an advance visit to the designated site to check if mass graves had been dug in anticipation of their arrival. The discovery that no such graves had been dug only partially allayed their fears.

The Lithuanians surrounded the shacks and locked the windows from the outside with wooden beams and iron bars. The people who were imprisoned inside had no food or water. However 180 people managed to escape during the first two nights of incarceration.

Finally, on November 3rd the Jews were taken from the shacks and led naked to pits around 300 metres away where they were all shot. A total of 1,600 people died. No one managed to escape. The orders to carry out this 'operation' were given by the Germans but they merely stood by and watched whilst the Lithuanians carried out the atrocities. A group of murderers from Marijampole were brought in to assist assist in the gruesome task.

As mentioned earlier, many people managed to escape before the massacre. Some of them were severely wounded during the course of their recapture and return to the ghetto. On the day of the massacre they joined the rest of the weary and frail group on their final journey to the execution pits. Some of those who escaped were eventually murdered by farmers in the area. The rest of those people who were caught alive by the Lithuanians were kept in jail and when their number reached 35, they were taken to a mass grave where they were murdered.

1 comment:

Janice said...


Your stories are horrifying, but you do great honor to those people by writing about their lives and deaths. As long as we remember, (hopefully) history will not repeat itself.