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  J O N A V A,  L I T H U A N I A  

The Holocaust in Jonava
From Yahadut Lita (Lithuanian Jewry), Volume 4
Published by The Association of The Lithuanian Jews in Israel, 1984, Tel Aviv
Translated by Daniella Thompson

Yanova (Jonava)

Yanova is situated in the Kovno region, in the center of Lithuania, on the banks of the river Vilia. During the Holocaust period, it had a population of 3,000 Jews.

Already on the first day of the War, the town swarmed with hundreds of Kovno Jews who filled the roads passing east through Yanova. Yanova’s Jews, too—especially those who possessed horses and carts and members of the truck cooperative—began preparing for flight.

On Monday, 23 June 1941, the local authorities were in disarray and unable to control people who showed up for work. They tried to organize men for digging trenches to protect against bombs and tanks, but the shovels were thrown aside, and everybody ran for his life. An indescribable panic rose among the Jews: families and individuals, going by car, bicycle, and on foot, all turned to the east. Since morning, the road teemed with the retreating remnants of Soviet military units. German war planes accompanied the refugees with bombs and mortar shots. There were those who tried to flee to Kovno in order to reunite with their families, and those who remained to face whatever happened, polemicizing that perhaps life wouldn’t be so bad with the Germans.

The nationalist Shaulists and Young Lithuania began organizing from the first night. They gathered in the church belfry and in the secondary school, shooting at refugees and Soviet soldiers. The decisive battle between the Soviet army (which was stationed on the training ground known as the "Polygon") and units of the Wehrmacht occurred on Monday, 23 June. The Germans attacked early, raining mortar shells on central Yanova. Buildings were destroyed, and fires proliferated in the center and the northeastern approaches to town. The residents dispersed in all directions: to the watermill, to the banks of the Vilia, to the cellars. The first victims were those in the cellar of Lieber Farber’s house; seventy Jews were killed or suffocated by a mortar shell. Only the corpse of the burly Meir Vander could be identified. The same night, German soldiers infiltrated the town but did not touch the Jews. Several hundred Jews who had escaped the fire gathered near the watermill. Germans appeared from nowhere and maintained order.

On Thursday, 26 June, the S.S. command released an order to gather all the Jews in the market square. Lithuanian collaborators—led by the agronomist Grigaliunas, Simas Dolgačius (Simonas Dolgacas), the two sons of the builder Vansevičius, as well as Pinkovskis, Monginas, and hoodlums from Young Lithuania—set upon Jewish assemblies in the houses that survived, in the southern part of town, in the synagogues, and in the Tarbut School. They pillaged and plundered, urging the Jews with blows to gather in the market square. The entire community—men, women, and children—were ordered to their knees, the rabbi Nachum-Baruch Ginzburg at their head. Around them stood the Lithuanians with machine guns, apparently ready for a mass slaughter. Suddenly, a cannon shell flew by with deafening noise, hitting the two-story cinema building. Panic and mayhem ensued. The assassins—and the Jews after them—fled, dispersing in all directions.

On 27 June, a young Lithuanian woman named Maria Maciulita, accompanied by a German, arrived at the home of the teacher Shaul Keidansky, on Keidany Street, and accused him of harboring Communists. In the house were all the family members and Motl Fleischman. The German ordered them to take shovels, go out to the yard, and dig a hole in the ground. Then he made them stand next to the hole and shot them. Motl Fleischman and Keidansky’s two sons were killed this way. The father was ordered to cover them with earth. As soon as he finished, he was shot as well. The news shocked the town’s Jewry.

On 29 June, fifty strapping young Jews were arrested and herded into the cellar of Hershl Opnitzky, in the New Market. Each day they were led under watch to the Giralka woods, on the east of town, for trench digging. A rumor was spread about that the trenches were intended for holding fuel tanks. The young men were never set free. They perished later in the trenches they had dug.

At the beginning of July, Rabbi Ginzburg and other community notables were invited to the headquarters of the Lithuanian Activists, where they were informed that they could avoid expulsion (and would be moved instead into the ghetto for work) by paying a ransom of 150,000 rubles in gold, jewels, and securities. The community collected a great deal of money and gold but was unable to reach the sum demanded of it. The Activists suggested that the rabbi travel to Kovno and ask for help from the Jewish community there in order to complete the stipulated amount. The rabbi traveled accompanied by armed Lithuanians. Kovno’s rabbi, A.D. Shapiro, alerted the "askanim" [community workers], and they raised the missing balance. After the ransom was paid, an illusory calm fell upon the town. The Jews were required to wear yellow Star of David patches. They were sent to perform various types of dirty and demeaning work and were treated cruelly while working. Some never returned from work. Jews were not entitled to receive bread. Only one bakery survived intact in Yanova, and it baked for gentiles. When Jews wanted to buy bread, they were told, "Go and ask the Communists, they will give you bread."

On 8 July, most of the young men—about 600—were gathered along with Rabbi Ginzburg in the barracks of Lipniak, were they were incarcerated under heavy guard. They were told that they would be led out to perform field work in the village of Pogloz, seven kilometers from Yanova. They were treacherously advised to write to their families and ask for food, warm clothing, and especially money to be sent to them by way of the note bearers. Their wives naively believed what was written in the notes and sent the goods. Chaim Blumberg, who was hiding with the farmer Raima, sent Raima to the barracks to make contact with his brother Moshe and get him out. Moshe refused to leave the barracks, saying he was certain that they would be taken out to work.

At dawn on 12 July, the men were led out in groups of 200, under heavy Lithuanian guard, in the direction of the Giralka woods. When the wives found out, there were some who wanted to accompany their husbands. The Lithuanian guard fell upon the women, beat and dispersed them. Only the teacher Apatkina, wife of the chemist Eliezer Goldschmidt, and Chana, who was married to the lawyer Arieh Stern, infiltrated the column and marched with the men. They were brought to the trenches that had been dug beforehand and were forced to strip and hand over their clothes, money, and jewels. Then gunfire opened upon them from all sides. It is known that Dov (Ber) Fein, Berman, and Moshe Blumberg fled the scene, running from the woods to the road. There they were caught and killed. Zvi Friedman and Shmaryahu Shapiro resisted mightily and were stabbed with knives. The commanders of the slaughter were Dolgačius and Monginas. Among the assassins were the sons of the builder Vansevičius, Krečmeris, Jonas Maculis, and local farmers. Before and after the slaughter, the murderers were given liquor to "raise their spirits." They were promised a distribution of the plundered Jewish possessions.

The laborer Pilipavičius, who lived not far from the woods, divulged after the war that he outsmarted the German guard and peeped through a crack in the tarpaulin fence erected by the Germans. He saw the bodies lying in the trenches, hovering between life and death, the piles of bodies rising and falling to the sound of grunts and cries as new victims were hurled on top of them.

Remaining in the barracks were only Rabbi Ginzburg, Nathan Wolzkowsky, and the pharmacist Chaim Kagan, who were spared so they could maintain contact with the survivors in town and persuade them to join them—for the final diabolical act.

From the the first week of August, the Germans released proclamations among the farmers, stating that if the latter did not turn in hidden Jews to the authorities, they could expect a death sentence. For every Jew turned in, the farmers were promised a gift of pork and flour corresponding to the Jew’s weight.

A number of Jews reoccupied the Tarbut School and the synagogues, which had survived the fire. The overcrowding was intolerable. New proclamations soon appeared, ordering the Jews—women, men, and children—to move into the barracks. Lithuanian Activists hunted down Jews, forcing them into the barracks.

On 13 August, the Jews were marched out under heavy guard in the direction of the Giralka woods. The farmer Raima from the village Loki related: "I saw how the women and the men put down their bundles and suitcases and took off their outer garments. Then the women were separated from their children. Terrible cries broke out. The mothers refused to part from their children, and the murderers pulled them away forcefully by the arms and legs. Many children ran back to their mothers and were greeted with gunfire. The Lithuanians pushed their victims closer to the trenches and opened fire from machine guns. The children were shoved into another trench; many were thrown in while still alive and were also subjected to intense gunfire. The farmer Kasparovičius, who lived near the woods, lost his sanity after witnessing the slaughter.

A group of rabbis and Jewish refugees from Poland hid in the workshop of the carpenter Nachum Levin. They were placed under the authority of the villain Monginas. He promised Nachum that if they gave him their money, he would protect them and spare their lives. Having taken their possessions, he turned them in. They, too, were led to their deaths that day.

Following the mass slaughter, Yanova was declared "Judenrein" [cleansed of Jews]. The Activists’ leader, Grigaliunas, reported the news to the German conquerors. That evening, a large celebration was held for the participants in the action. The next day, peasants were brought from the nearby villages to cover the graves.

Several dozen families found a hiding place in the Jewish village Alter Gostinetz, 13 kilometers southeast of Yanova. Among them were the veteran Zionist activist Moshe Ivansky and part of his family. At the end of July, Lithuanian policemen arrived, took Ivansky, two other men and a woman, and led them to the Giralka woods. There they were shot and buried. The others—some 80 to 100 souls—were left in the village so they could help the farmers in the fields. Lithuanian Activists arrived from time to time, taking some men out to work; the latter never returned. At the end of September, peasants and wagons were brought. The women, children, and the men were taken to the barracks in Yanova. They were promised their lives. In the barracks were also a few dozen Jews who had been intercepted on the roads as they returned from Dvinsk [Daugavpils, Latvia], Azarni, and Vilkomir [Ukmerge], having been overtaken by the Wehrmacht before they could cross the border into Russia. Thus there were about 150 people gathered in the barracks. On 4 October, they loaded their possessions and children on wagons and proceeded to Kovno on foot, accompanied by the Lithuanian policeman known as Labas. The same day, the Small Ghetto action was carried out in Kovno’s ghetto. It appears that the intention had been to include the Yanova Jews in this liquidation at the Ninth Fort. However, the policeman was an honest man; he treated his charges with understanding and sympathy and did everything they asked, permitting them to buy bread and foodstuffs in the villages, to collect drinking water, and to rest on the way. As a result, they reached their destination only at midnight, after the action had concluded, and were temporarily saved from death, remaining in the Kovno ghetto for the time being.

In 1955, a memorial to the victims of Yanova was erected in the woods, and on it was carved in Lithuanian and Yiddish the legend "Da seinen umgekommen Yanover Yidden durch merder-faschisten" [Yanova Jews were killed here by Fascist murderers].

It was a courageous act in a hostile environment, and a blessing is due to the originators, Mordechai Brezin and David Manosevich.

The book "Yanova" includes a partial list of the 1,268 souls who perished there during the Holocaust. According to estimates, it represents only half the number of victims.

The list is based on calculations by Itzhak Burstein, based on testimonials and memoirs contributed to the book "Yanova," published by Irgun Yotzei Yanova, Tel-Aviv, 1972.



Copyright © 2006-2022 Jose Gutstein. All rights reserved.