Dear Ida and Itzchak,
At this moment I have lit a
Yahrzeit candle for our unforgettable father (Itzchak Berkman),
and all the rest of our family who were murdered together with
him. After Emmanuel's father there is thank G-d my son who can
say Kaddish., may his days be prolonged, but after our father
there is no one to say Kaddish and the only one who can say
Kaddish for our father and our brother Gedalia is you Itzikal.
May G-d give you both many years of good health that you can
continue to do your good deeds, amen.
Today it is exactly 40 years
since I left the Koshadar [Kaisiadorys] camp, the place where the Jews of
Zosle [Zasliai] Ziezmer [Ziezmariai], and Koshadar
were interned for nine days - men, women, and young boys and
girls, 15 years and older.
When they were herded together
in Zosle they were told to take food for three days, so that by
the fourth day they already had no food. Because they were
hungry from before, the murderers allowed food to be brought to
them by those still left in Zosle. Sometimes Sheine (my mother's
younger sister), would carry the food to Koshadar, sometimes Ida
(my aunt from my father's side who was his sister. Their mother,
Rachel, was of course my granny. She, together with Ida,
perished in Semilishok [Semeliskes]. Sometimes I would carry the
On that dreadful day it was my
turn to carry the food in two pails which were attached on
either side to a wooden rod by two hooks. I had to carry all
this because no Lithuanian Goy (gentile) wanted to transport
Jews (or help them in any way, among other things out of fear
for their own safety). August 27, 1941 was a very hot day and
the nine kilometer distance between Zosle and Koshadar never
seemed to end.
Shalom Abba and Moshe Mendel, among others
I carried food not only for my
father (Itzchak Berkman), my husband Moshe Mendel, and my
father-in-law Shalom Abba, but also for Leibe Zippes and his
wife (prominent members of the Jewish community in Zosle and
good friends of our families) and three yeshiva young men who
fled Poland in 1939 (when the Germans invaded Poland on 1/9/39)
who were looked after by our families (they slept at Rochel's
and ate with our family as both our families lived in a one big
house divided in two), but also for the sister of Zalman Epstein
and her husband (who were probably friends of these families).
When all were taken out in the
late afternoon from Yasha Burstein's house - a place where they
had been all locked in for a whole day, either Zalman Epstein or
Yasha Burstein's wife, her name it seems to me was Faesel, cried
out to our mother who stood on the stairs of the shop: "Bluma,
the sun is shining for everyone, only for us it has set."
I stood with my small Emmanuel
and looked through a window from a room on Rochel's side of the
house and when little Emmanuel saw his father, he started to
shout: "Papa, Papal!"
At that moment there came
running one of the murderers with the intention of hitting him
on the head with a rifle butt, and so it would have happened if
I had not fled from the window with him in my arms.
This was the beginning of our
A long procession of people
spread out from Zosle on the route to Koshadar. We followed them
on their way from the veranda, which became black with the tread
of their feet.
I went and stood in front of the
shop (Itzchak Berkman's textile shop was appended to the house)
and saw Gunk's children (one of her female neighbors), together
with her eldest son who was about 15 and many other children. I
looked at the empty Synagogue (called the Bait Hamedrash - as a
place for religious studies) and thought: "The children will
grow up and fill the houses and the Bait Hamedrash will not
Such thoughts ran through my
head, for I had to understand at that terrible moment how to
find comfort in the midst of the unfolding destruction and the
inability to believe what was happening or to forget even for
one moment the night before when the doors and windows were
violently knocked on and everyone was dragged from their beds
and homes. The screams and cries ring in my ears to this day.
On that Tuesday (27/8/41) I
brought them the food. Apart from dry food I brought them a milk Lokshen soup that mother
(my grandmother Bluma) had cooked with
the little flour still left at home. The milk from our cow was
still holding up. (The cow was retrieved by my mother and Sheine
when we returned to Zosle after our liberation - sometime late
in August 1944.)
Until the end of my days I will
not forget how Shalom Abba lay on the floor with everyone
treading on him during the saying of "Oseh Shalom" at the end of
the Shmona Esrei prayer. (This was probably during the afternoon minha prayer service when you take three steps back to say "Oseh
Our father (Itzchak Berkman) was
pale as a rag and did not even want to eat anything. He only
asked that I bring him a fur coat to put underneath him as the
sides of his body ached him very much. Apart from that he asked
that tomorrow I should bring mother (his wife Bluma). He wanted
to see her one more time! He was very depressed and broken.
Moshe Mendel (my father) had
grown a beard and we decided that tomorrow I bring him a razor
to shave and a long dress to disguise him as a women and get him
out of the hut (where all were cramped together).
At that time they were guarded
by a young Lithuanian who was armed only with a revolver - and
had they understood what awaited them, they could all have
easily escaped. But who could have foreseen to himself that this
was the last day of their lives and that they would soon be
forced to dig their own terrible graves?
Around me were gathered Yankel
Madjansky (head of the Zosle fire brigade), Arane the
pharmacist, and Doctor Trapida. (He was the village doctor and
would travel by horse and cart all around to help the Lithuanian
ill. His wife was a dentist and they had a son called Lovke who
was my age. Both survived. I don't know whether they had escaped
from Semilishok or hid somewhere else. The bottom line was that
after the liberation when my mother returned with me to Zosle,
we arrived simultaneously at the village centre and all the
crowd of Lithuanians came to so call greet us. I still vaguely
remember the whole episode. Sheine and her future husband Meir
had arrived a couple of weeks before. To make a long story short
we lived together with the Trapidas in Kovno for several months
in 1945/46). They asked us to deliver their request to their
wives that they should gather what was left of their money and
jewels so as to bribe the head of the Lithuanian "Polizei"
called police)that only those not older than 36 should be taken
to work. In the morning they called Yankel Madjansky who was
regarded by them as the "Ober Jude" (so called Jewish leader)
and told him that in the afternoon everyone would be transferred
to Klapaede (a Lithuanian port on the Baltic, formerly called Memel, which was annexed by the Germans in 1939 some months
before their invasion of Poland on 1/9/39).
Filled with all sorts of
requests I left the hut but in the street there was a huge
commotion! A large lorry had arrived from Kovno filled with
German soldiers, probably the S.S. I was frightened to draw
closer and ran straight out of the townlet of Koshadar. On the
way I met a large group of teenage boys and girls who were being
led in the direction of Koshadar. It appears that everyday they
were being led to dig "Torf" (a kind of fuel). Among the group
there was also Yudele, the youngest son of Abraham the Tinker,
who had some time before been my pupil (in Kovno at the Shwabbe
Gymnasium). I asked him, "Why are you being led so early from
the work at 2 in the afternoon when generally you are brought
back at 4 p.m?" No one knew how to answer my question.
When I returned home I found a
panic and commotion also in our little town (Zosle now Zasliai).
A group of teenage girls who had been digging torf (near the
town) were brought to the town (Zosle), herded onto lorries and
taken to Koshadar. My sister Sheine wanted to travel with them
in order to bring our father a cushion and fur coat, but I did
not let her get on a lorry and so she remained alive.
The wife of Chaim Eliyahu jumped
onto one of the lorries together with her eldest son and a
basket full of food leaving behind the rest of her children.
They perished together with all the rest in Koshadar.
If I had left the hut 10 minutes
later, or stayed there another 10 to 15 minutes, I would not now
be sitting here in Jerusalem and writing this letter to you.
So it is as if today is my
fortieth birthday. (Exactly 40 years had elapsed since the
tragic events portrayed and the writing of my mother's letter.
This is the reason for the allusion to the metaphor of being 40
On the following day (Wednesday)
a lorry arrived in Zosle in the afternoon full of the
perpetrators of the slaughter along with an orchestra. They
played and sang to celebrate what they had perpetrated. All were
A militia man (one of the Polizei) who quartered with the Kat family in the apartment of
the Rabbi of Zosle told their daughter Dvorke (Deborah) that no
one remained alive, all had been shot dead, and that he advised
us not to sleep at home as "they" were coming to gather the
remaining woman and children.
That night I slept together with
my small son Emmanuel at the house of a Lithuanian woman who
used to buy at our shop. I took with me a sack full of things,
mainly for Emmanuel. The next day she made us leave the house in
the morning on the pretext that just now the Germans would be
coming here, and she only allowed to take one pair of panties
for my son.
With my last strength I got to
our house. My mother and Sheine had spent the night in an open
field in a ditch (or a big hole).
On the following day I fled with
my child to the townlet of Vievis (south east from Zosle, about
15 km away, and next to Semilishok about another 15 km further
on). My mother and Sheine were supposed to catch up with us
later. With superhuman effort I managed somehow to evade the
blockades and guards around Zosle, but my mother and Sheine were
caught and brought back to Zosle.
The truth was that on that
Wednesday night the Lithuanians came to collect the remaining
women and children, but their cries and screams halted the
murderers. Apart from that they were unable to carry out their
plans of murder as the ditches prepared for graves had filled up
with water. From Vievis I continued to Semilishok and there,
after three weeks, I was reunited with my mother and Sheine. How
this happened is too long a story to tell right now. Keep well
and healthy and answer me as soon as possible.