George Anastaplo, Editor
(published excerpts as of Summer, 2010)
Table of Contents
The Holocaust and the Divine Ordering of Human Things (2007)………………………………………….3
I. Life, Death, and the Systematic Perversions of Law (2000, 2009)………………………………7
II. European Jews, Their “Christian” Neighbors, and the Holocaust (2000, 2010)…………….61
III. A Return to Deadly Slavery in Twentieth-Century Europe (2000, 2010)……………………122
Simcha Brudno Obituary (2006)……………………………………………………………………………………..168
On Truly Knowing What One is Trying to Do: The Mystery of Evil (2008)…………………………168
Appendix: Remaining Anastaplo-Brudno Conversations (2000-2001) [Provisional Titles]
IV. May 25, 2000. No. 92,126 Settles into Dachau Work Camp No. 10
V. August 3, 2000. What Were the Germans Thinking?
VI. August 10, 2000. Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
VII. September 7, 2000. The Holocaust Museum and Other Lessons
VIII. September 14, 2000. God, Please Choose Someone Else
IX. September 21, 2000. The Fifth of November, 1943
X. September 28, 2000. By 1943, the Lithuanian Honeymoon with the Germans
XI. October 5, 2000. Don’t Expect to Explain Craziness in Rational Terms
XII. October 12, 2000. Are you Listening?
XIII. May 3, 2001. I Can’t Figure it Out to this Day…
I had, during the year 2000 in Chicago, Illinois a dozen taped conversations with Simcha Brudno, a mathematician of note, who had grown up (before the Second World War) in the centuries-old Jewish community of Lithuania. Our conversations recalled and discussed his remarkable experiences during, and his reflections upon, the Shoah (the Holocaust). We had, during 2000, other related conversations that were not recorded, conversations drawn on during the dozen recorded conversations. (There was, also, an additional conversation, recorded in May 2001, with a view to addressing questions left after our dozen Year 2000 conversations.)
Our first three taped conversations (of March 23, March 30, and May 4, 2000) have already been published as appendices to recent publications of mine (two books and a law review article). These host publications have been, in order: Reflections on Life, Death, and the Constitution (University Press of Kentucky, 2009), pp. 251-278; The Christian Heritage: Problems and Prospects (Lexington Books, 2010), pp. 257-300; and “Abraham Lincoln, Lawyers, and the Civil War: Bicentennial Reflections,” 35 Oklahoma City University Law Review 1, 85-111 (2010). These three conversations are brought together for this Summer 2010 collection on the internet.
The three already-published conversations follow, in this Summer 2010 collection, my 2007 Caxton Club talk, “The Holocaust and the Divine Ordering of Human Things,” which provided an appendix for my book, The Bible: Respectful Readings (Lexington Books, 2008). These materials are followed, in this Summer 2010 collection, first by Simcha Brudno’s 2006 Obituary and finally by my “Mystery of Evil” reflections of 2008, which provided an appendix for my 2010 book, The Christian Heritage.
The remaining 2000 Anastaplo-Brudno conversations are available for separate publication. Of course, the entire set of conversations is also available for publication in a separate volume which should run to some four hundred pages in print. It is intended as well that complete sets of these materials should be made available to institutions (in this country and abroad) collecting Holocaust-related materials. (The tapes of these conversations [running to a thousand double-spaced typewritten pages before editing] were transcribed by Adam Reinherz, who was then a student at the Loyola University of Chicago School of Law. The current availability of these conversations in print has very much depended both on his perserverance and his considerable knowledge of Jewish things. This summer 2010 Holocaust Collection, as well as various other things of mine, have been diligently prepared by Elizabeth Hegarty of the Loyola (Chicago) School of Law Secretarial staff for http://www.anastaplo.wordpress.com.)
The reader of these Year 2000 conversations is reminded that the Second World War “officially” began, in Europe, with the German invasion of Poland in September 1939. Thereafter Russia occupied the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania). Germany invaded Russia in June 1941, at which time the German occupation of the Baltic States began. That occupation continued until the German retreat from Russia in 1944, at which time the Russians returned to the Baltic States for decades. (The spelling used, in the transcripts of these conversations, of the names of persons and places in Lithuania and elsewhere could not always be confirmed.)
See, for instructive comments on these matters, Timothy Snyder, “Holocaust: The Ignored Reality,” New York Review of Books, July 16, 2009. That article includes this reminder:
If we concentrate on [the Nazi] Auschwitz and the [Soviet]Gulag, we fail to notice that over a period of twelve years, between 1933 and 1944, some 12 million victims of Nazi and Soviet mass killing policies perished in a particular region of Europe, one defined more or less by today’s Belarus, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia….[M]ass killing happened, predominantly , in the parts of Europe between Germany and Russia, not in German and Russia themselves.
See, on the 1945-1946 Nuremberg Trial, George Anastaplo, On Trial: From Adam & Eve to O.J. Simpson (Lexington Books, 2004), pp. 297-312, 339-60.
July 14, 2010
The Holocaust and the Divine Ordering of Human Things
It is nonsensical . . . to charge a whole people with a crime. The criminal is always the individual. It is nonsensical, too, to lay moral guilt to a people as a whole. There is no such thing as a national character extending to every single member of a nation. There are, of course, communities of language, customs, habits and descent; but the differences which may exist at the same time are so great that people talking the same language may remain as strange to each other as if they did not belong to the same nation. . . .
A world opinion which condemns a people collectively is of a kind with the fact that for thousands of years men have thought and said, “The Jews are guilty of the Crucifixion.” Who are “the Jews”? A certain group of religious and political zealots whose relative power among the Jews of that time, in cooperation with the Roman occupation authorities, led to the execution of Jesus. . . .
England, France and America were the victorious powers of 1918. The course of world history was in their hands, not in those of the vanquished. The victor’s responsibility is his alone, to accept or to evade. If he evades it, his historical guilt is plain. The victor cannot be entitled simply to withdraw to his own narrower sphere, there to be left alone and merely watch what happens elsewhere in the world. If an event threatens dire consequences, he has the power to prevent it. To have this power and fail to use it is political guilt. To be content with paper protests is evasion of responsibility. This inaction is one charge that may be brought against the victorious powers although, of course, it does not free us [Germans] from any guilt. In discussing this further, one may point to the peace treaty of Versailles and its consequences, and then to the policy of letting Germany slide into the conditions which produced National-Socialism. . . .
There was witnessed in the murderous campaigns by the Nazis across Europe for a decade a recourse to evil that can provide a vindication of the dreadful accounts of the Satanic that human beings imagine from time to time. The vicious Nazi programs were probably unprecedented in their ferocity and extent. Particularly singled out for systematic destruction, by the millions, were any Jews that the Nazis could get their hands on.
What the Nazis tried to do and what they in large measure “succeeded” in doing made other systematic atrocities the world had theretofore heard of pale by comparison. These include such depredations as the conquests by Atilla the Hun, the campaigns of the Inquisition, the African slave trade, the dispossession of North American Indians, the massacres of Armenians, Jews and others on many occasions, the aerial bombardment of cities during the Second World War, and even the Stalinist Terror. That is, what the Nazi leadership deliberately set out to do was in critical respects unprecedented.
Such displays of intrinsically evil acts on so grand a scale do remind us of the worst depravities that the human soul is capable of. Such depravities have at times led pious observers to ask, “Where is God?” The very existence of the Divine can be questioned in such circumstances.
The decades-long obsession with Jews as the primary object of Nazi hatred can be regarded as a perverse tribute to that ancient “people.” Their Chosenness by the Nazis, in the Twentieth Century, somehow mirrored that associated with the Divine more than three millennia ago. The only other “people” so distinguished by the Nazis for complete annihilation were the Gypsies, which should make at least the pious wonder whether that people might properly be shown more respect than they usually are in Europe.
Why were the Jews butchered as they were? Why were the Nazis so determined to keep killing Jews when it was obviously against the Nazis’ military and material interests to do so in the closing year of the war? Did the Nazis somehow sense that the Jews were the critical, if not even the defining, opposites to what Nazism stood for?
The Nazis were essentially atheists who worshiped the State and Germanness (as they conceived them). But they had inherited, and politically exploited, a longstanding theological heritage that was (among many) deeply hostile toward Jews. The Nazis, who were hardly respectful of what Christianity truly yearned for, deepened the hostility they had inherited by refusing to respect conversions by Jews to Christianity during recent generations.
My interest in what happened to the Jews at the hands of the Nazis is longstanding. Thus, one of my papers as a law school student, a half-century ago, drew upon my study of the voluminous Nuremberg Trial record (of 1945-1946). I have returned to the Trial from time to time, including in a 1991 public lecture which is incorporated in my 2004 volume, On Trial: From Adam and Eve to O.J. Simpson.
I make the following acknowledgment in the Nuremberg Trial discussion in my On Trial volume:
I have found helpful . . . what I learned by taping, for many hours, my [conversations] in 2000-2001 [drawing upon] Simcha Brudno’s recollections of his dreadful experiences with the Nazis in Lithuania and in Dachau [during the Second World War]. I hope to be able, some day, to publish these conversations in book form. I was initially drawn to Simcha Brudno, a gifted mathematician and a remarkably resilient human being, when I learned that we are virtually the same age: it was intriguing to explore the radically different effects upon us, as youngsters, of the Second World War.
I had met Simcha Brudno during a tea-time preceding the University of Chicago Physics Department weekly colloquium that I have attended for decades. A few minutes after we first began talking he asked me what I thought of the Holocaust, to which I replied that it was “simply unbelievable.”
This was an assessment which he emphatically endorsed, recalling that he had spent a year in Dachau, during which time not a day passed but that he found himself unable to believe that he was really there. He readily accepted my suggestion that we should talk about these matters in taped conversations, meeting before whatever Physics Colloquia his health permitted him to attend. There were, over a year, a dozen such conversations that we could have in a room I had secured for this purpose from the Director of the University of Chicago Library.
The quite comfortable Brudno family was part of a substantial Jewish community that had been in Lithuania for centuries. Simcha Brudno grew up in Siauliai, a small city in which his father and mother managed an important leather factory. His father died in Lithuania (of natural causes), his mother in a concentration camp, and he (after being liberated by the American Army in May 1945) went to Israel, served in the Army there during the founding period of the State, and eventually made his way to the United States (where his sister had gone to live shortly before the War).
Lithuania had to endure, first, a Russian occupation, then a German occupation, and then a return of the Russians. It was the anticipation of that return which led the German army to evacuate Lithuania, taking with it (in July 1944) whatever Jews were still alive after three years of Nazi killings. Thus, there could be seen in Lithuania, as elsewhere in Europe, the disastrous effects of that folly known as the First World War which had permitted the worst elements to come to power in Russia and Germany, elements that fed off and worsened each other.
Simcha Brudno’s mother had an explanation for the miseries to which the Jews of Lithuania were subjected, an explanation which made much of the misconduct tolerated by Jews among themselves. This assessment, by a woman who was scrupulous in obeying the age-old Law of her People, reflected an approach that assumed that there is constant Divine governance of the Universe. Her husband despaired of the prospects of the impending Second World War, anticipating that the Russians would destroy them spiritually and that the Germans would thereafter destroy them physically.
The Russian Occupation did contribute to a breakdown of respect for law and order among the people of Lithuania, Jews and Gentiles alike. The German Occupation included a heartrending round-up (in November 1943) of all the Jewish children who were then shipped off, never to be seen again by their families. But however much the Nazis had railed against the Jews, from well before when they came to power in Germany in 1933, they never described publicly (so far as I have ever heard) what they were doing to the Jews (besides taking control of and harassing them in various ways).
Their remarkable reticence about their systematic slaughter of millions of people reflects the fact that all this was “simply unbelievable.” That is, what they were doing was, at least for the Nazis, somehow literally unsayable. Whatever should have been suspected by many throughout Germany, it was always evident to the Nazi leaders, however much they could usefully vilify and torment the Jews, that they could not count on the German people explicitly to endorse what was actually being done in the Death Camps.
All this testifies to the ultimate incomprehensibility of what was being done, with most of the routine killings of Jews and others on a large scale relegated “off-stage,” so to speak, to Occupied Poland. The typical German, it can be suspected, both did and did not know what was going on. But then, it can be argued, even the Nazi leaders themselves did not truly know B– “could not really face up to” — what they were doing.
To assess matters thus is to assume (along with, say, the Socratics) that evil is ultimately rooted in ignorance. This teaching, which is not widely accepted, is drawn upon, in effect, by Nathan when he confronts King David with respect to the Bathsheba Affair. A story has to be used by the Prophet to help the King to see (truly to see) what he had done.
A more mundane approach to such matters may be seen (as we have noticed) in how Simcha Brudno’s mother accounted for the plight of the Jews she knew. Another mundane approach, less grounded in conventional piety, may be seen in the explanation provided by some of Simcha Brudno’s fellow townspeople. The Jews of Europe, these Zionists agrued, were suffering because they had not gone to the Holy Land when they could have done so.
Some might have added that that had been a place provided for them by Divine favor. They might have added as well that it was illusory for European Jewry to rely on either the Enlightenment or the Emancipation of recent centuries. All this affects how Jews consider themselves obliged to conduct themselves now in the Middle East, having come to believe that they should never again dare rely upon others to protect them.
Most European Jews were left, by the civilized nations of the day, to fend for themselves when they were systematically assaulted by the Nazis. It could seem largely a matter of chance who among them survived, once the Second World War began. Some, in considering who did survive, might prefer to recognize here the workings of Providence.
Simcha Brudno argued that a necessary, not a sufficient, condition for survival was both one’s evident ability to work and one’s apparent willingness to do so. That is, the material self-interest of the Germans could sometimes be counted on. It does seem that the Germans even came to regret that they had starved to death hundreds of thousands of Russian prisoners-of-war that they could have used as slave labor in the closing years of the war.
Even so, the Nazi hatred of Jews was such that scarce resources did continue to be used almost to the very end of the war to ship Jews to the camps where they could be killed. Here, too, it can be argued, the Nazis really did not know what they were doing. Some might even see in all this the workings of an inscrutable Fate among Victims and Victimizers alike.
The inability to see what one is doing is not limited to people of modest capacities and in ordinary circumstances. Such an inability may sometimes be seen as well in the most talented. The career of Martin Heidegger, with his much-publicized collaboration with the Nazis in the 1930s, remains instructive.
Heidegger, considered by many scholars the most powerful Thinker in the Twentieth Century, conducted a dalliance with the Nazis that was deeply scandalous. Although he soon discovered that he could not direct and use the Nazis as he had evidently hoped to do, he was never man enough to repudiate publicly what he had tried to do. What he had done was done by a man who had had devoted Jewish students of note and who owed much to one of his Jewish teachers.
Indeed, it can be argued, Nazism depended on the influence of prominent Germans across half a millennium, Germans such as Martin Luther and Martin Heidegger. These remarkable men were not as prudent as they should have been in talking either about Jews or about statecraft. That is, they did not consider soberly enough who might exploit in the worst possible ways what they so irresponsibly said and did, as well as what they did not say on critical occasions.
It can, perhaps usefully, be considered Providential that the State of Israel could be established when it was. Some might even want to go so far as to suggest that the Nazis, in dramatizing in so awful a manner the constant vulnerability of the Jews, finally compelled “the conscience of the world” to permit Jews to Return, after two millennia, to control by them of a Holy Land once said to have been Divinely allocated to them. It will probably take generations for Jews to feel, and to act as if, truly secure in their Return, just as it has taken generations for Americans to begin to deal properly with the North American Indians and with the slaves by whom they felt themselves threatened.
The hatred encountered by Jews for ages from Christians and during the past century from Arab Muslims is ultimately suicidal for such haters. That is, the Divine revelations necessarily relied on by both Christians and Muslims are ultimately grounded in the revelations and history of the Jewish People. In short, Christians and Muslims, when they hate Jews, simply do not know what they are doing to the very foundations of their own faiths — and they, to say the least, should be ashamed of themselves, especially when they are reminded how tiny is the territory that Jews now claim compared to how much Arabs as well as Christians have long possessed in the Mediterranean world.
I kept Simcha Brudno posted, throughout his final hospitalization, about the progress of my preliminary editing of our conversations, something he had urged on me and was very much interested in. When I telephoned him at the hospital, the morning of June 9, 2006, to report that I had just completed my initial edit (which had reduced a thousand-page manuscript to six hundred double-spaced pages), I was informed by a sober attendant that he had “just passed.” It was, the pious would be tempted to suggest, almost as if my colleague’s indomitable spirit could now take a different, more enduring, form.
This talk was given at the Caxton Club, Chicago, Illinois, February 9, 2007. The epigraph is taken from Karl Jasper, The Question of German Guilt (New York: Capricorn Books, 1947), pp. 40-41, 91. See further, on Simcha Brudno (who is drawn on here), George Anastaplo, “Our Iraq Follies and the Perhaps Inevitable Search for Scapegoats,” The Greek Star, Chicago, Illinois, August 16, 2007, p. 8.
SIMPLY UNBELIEVABLE: CONVERSATIONS WITH A HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR
I. March 23, 2000
Life, Death, and the Systematic Perversions of Law
Anastaplo: How old were you when you left Lithuania for Germany?
Brudno: I must have been twenty. I was born in 1924. Without background, my story doesn’t make any sense. There was a secret protocol between Molotov and Ribbentrop, the 23rd of August . What’s very important about the secret protocol is what I have underlined in this document.
A: “The Northern Boundary of Lithuania,” it says here, “shall represent the boundary of the spheres of influence of Germany and the USSR.”
B: This means that Lithuania is included in the German territories, while Estonia and Latvia are subject to the Soviet influence. But that’s not what happened in real life.
A: Maybe we can talk about that when I have had a chance to look at this document myself.
B: You’ll look at it later on. I have to give this background because it it unusually important. Anyway the 28th of September  there was another agreement by which Lithuania went over to the influence of Russia. On the 28th of September everything changed. Why is it so important to me personally? In the factory in which we worked [in Siauliai, Lithuania] the blue collar workers were Lithuanians, while the engineers and the foreman and the chemists were all Germans.
A: Were they Lithuanian-born Germans or had they come in from Germany?
B: It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter. I don’t want to distinguish.
A: They were both kinds?
B: Yes. For example, take the neighbor that I am very interested in, Garborg. He was a German soldier who came in the First World War to Lithuania. He was, as a matter of fact an officer, who fell in love with a Lithuanian girl, married her, and they settled in Lithuania. The other Germans must have been native Lithuanians. The Germans are those who built the cities in Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania. Butrika, they built; Klipidow, which is in Mammal, they built; Koenisberg, they built–all these cities. They developed the country. Now, why am I telling you this? There was one German who had been a chemist in the place where my mother worked, a glue factory. When you cut the skins in the leather factory that my father ran, the inner layer has fat, and this fat can be turned into glue. The glue factory did that and my mother was basically the boss in that factory. She worked with a chemist, a German, Schroeder, and he is very important to our story. Schroeder had been one of the soldiers who defended the Winter Palace [in Russia] against the Bolsheviks in 19 17 . He said the Bolsheviks tricked them, because the Bolsheviks had claimed that there were many more of them than there were in real life. If they had known how few the Bolsheviks were in numbers, they would not have turned over the Winter Palace to them. That’s history.
A: He was a German?
A: He was there under whose command at the Winter Palace?
B: I have no idea. He never said. He was defending the Czar. That much is obvious.
A: You thought he was in the Czar’s army?
B: Most probably. He’s very important to my whole story. He got very friendly to my mother and, of course, he would play tricks on us. He cut out any newspaper article about the Kristallnacht and leave it on her table. He didn’t say anything, just like that.
A: From what newspaper?
B: It doesn’t matter.
A: It could have been a local newspaper?
B: Yes, Kristalnacht was famous all over the world.
A: That was in 1938?
B: 1938. I am just telling you how good relations were.
A: Why would he leave such a newspaper article for your mother to find?
B: Why are you asking me? I will give you only the facts, you translate it which way you want.
A: Well, how did she understand it?
B: It meant nothing but a trick on his part, but it’s completely on the level. He didn’t say a word about it, he just left it on her table.
A: So what was that supposed to mean?
B: Are you asking me?
A: Well, what did your mother think it meant?
B: It meant that he wants her to feel bad because that’s–
A: To feel bad?
B:–to feel bad because she didn’t know that about him.
A: Was he friendly to her otherwise?
B: He was friendly, he was friendly. He was friendly with me, too.
A: You were fourteen years old then?
B: No! I was a little boy, nothing!
A: 1938. You were fourteen years old?
B: Maybe I was fourteen.
A: That’s Kristallnacht you’re talking about?
B: Yes. Earlier he was the only German who had been invited to my bar mitzvah.
A: And did he come?
B: Of course, he came, and he drank a lot.
A: Did his wife come?
B: No, he was a bachelor. But he did have a child, so he couldn’t have been a bachelor, but he lived all by himself. What he liked very much was to go hunting. But he was well informed; that’s the most important point that I have to underline. He told my mother, in the beginning of the war, that Lithuania would belong to Germany. How could he know it, by any stretch of the imagination, when it was so secret everywhere? How could he know it? Here’s my interpretation and it is very important about Hitler, why he won so much the trust of his nation. Hitler did not play the game of other leaders. He identified with the German people and he shared with them. He shared with some German organizations the most secret agreements. The German government shared with plain Germans even such an a secret agreement. Therefore why shouldn’t they love a leader that is on their side?
B: That’s a very important point that I have to underline. He told my mother that Lithuania would belong to Germany and so he was quite surprised when the Russians entered. He was surprised because that was not according to the agreement. I found out later that the agreement had been changed on the 28th of September. That’s basically what I have to underline, that Hitler shared with a nation that he was on their side. The German nation felt, “Hitler is one of us, he defends us.” And, of course, I see this repeated elsewhere. Why is Milocevic so appreciated by the Serbs? Because they feel he doesn’t play games: he is not on the side of the leaders; he is on the Serbs’ side, right or wrong. He defends the Serbs’ interest, he is on the Serbs’ side, and therefore they love him, true love. This episode, I had to tell you, is very important to me, because I am the only eyewitness to such a thing.
A: You are an eyewitness in the sense that he had said what he did to you —
B: He said very clearly that the Germans will enter Lithuania, beyond any”shade of doubt.
A: Yes, but he was wrong about that, wasn’t he?
B: That was the agreement and he knew about it. What do I care?
A: Well, what he really knew is a question. He may have known–
B: He knew the agreement.
A:–or he may have guessed it to be one or the other.
B: No, no, no guessing! Please don’t be so nice and polite, no guessing. He knew.
A: After all, it was going to be either one or the other, you know.
A: It was going to be the Russians or the Germans.
A: He said the Germans, but it happened to be the Russians.
B: He knew about the agreement. Don’t try to be so wishy washy about such important things. He knew when the Germans entered Memel [in Lithuania].
A: Let me ask you, why is it so important to you that he knew?
B: That Hitler shared with the nation is very important to me.
A: I see. But he didn’t share the change in the agreement.
B: No, he didn’t share with them the change.
A: Why didn’t he share that if he was so big on sharing?
B: It was to his shame. They lost.
A: He shared some things and didn’t share others.
B: Victories he shared. Victories he shared.
A: Now, shall we go on to 1944? You’re twenty years old.
A: The Germans have occupied Lithuania for how many years?
B: Three years.
A: They entered when?
B: 26th of June 1941.
A: So they entered Lithuania in June 1941. It is now three years later. You’ve seen them around, you’ve gotten used to them.
B: I never did get “used to them.” I assumed that this was a temporary thing.
A: Would you have assumed that it was temporary if the Germans had won the war?
B: I didn’t assume that they would win the war.
A: If they had won the war, would they have stayed on?
B: I don’t know.
A: Did you believe they might?
B: I don’t know. I had all kind of little illusions that even if they won, that twenty years later there will be another war and they will lose, that it will go in a see-saw–all kinds of illusions.
A: So the Germans had been there for three years.
B: I had other illusions also which I used, such as the technique that I am not here. Or I am here, but I am a journalist, who is here only to observe what is going on — I am not involved.
A: You’re a foreign correspondent?
A: Stationed in Lithuania?
B: Yes. I am not involved, I cannot accept it. You want the truth? To this day I cannot accept it.
A: Now, by 1944 the Germans had been there three years.
B: Before 1944 a lot of things had happened.
A: I want to talk about this particular part of it, not the other parts, so that I can carry it through systematically. The earlier parts we can take care of separately. By 1944 the Germans had been there three years.
B: Okay., you want 1944, I will give you 1944.
A: You are twenty years old; by this time your father has died.
B: My father is already three years dead.
A: Yes, and your mother is doing what?
B: She is working in the factory.
A: She is still working in the factory?
B: You see me now, I look old, so you assume that my mother was old, but at that time my mother was fifty-two, fifty-three.
A: She was working still.
B: At fifty-three women work.
A: By that time your sister is gone, of course.
B: My sister is in America since 1937.
A: So you are the only one left there, besides your mother, from your family?
A: And you are still living where?
B: In the ghetto.
A: In the house you had been living in?
B: No! No!
A: You had to move out of there?
B: We had been kicked out into the ghetto.
A: Where did you move to in the ghetto?
B: A house in the ghetto.
A: Whose house?
B: It must have belonged previously to Lithuanians.
A: Lithuanians in the ghetto were moved out?
B: Of course.
A: The area was designated as the ghetto by the Germans and they said that the Lithuanians had to leave.
B: No, the thing was arranged much more cleverly.
A: Okay, how was it done?
B: The Jewish houses that were in the city [of Siaulai] were given to the Lithuanians who left the ghetto.
A: I see.
B: So it was for them a bargain.
A: Because the Jewish houses were better?
A: So they moved the Lithuanians out of the ghetto?
B: Besides there were more Jewish houses in the city than Lithuanian houses in the ghetto.
A: Did the Lithuanians have a choice about whether they left the ghetto or not?
B: I don’t think they had a choice.
A: They had to leave? They were told by the Germans–
B: They were told by the Germans or by the Lithuanians, the local officials. I think they were told by the Germans. But they got a good bargain.
A: They got better houses?
B: They got better houses.
A: And so you moved into a house, but you could not move your furniture?
B: We moved the furniture.
A: You did move your furniture?
A: Now you were in the ghetto. How far was that, your house in the ghetto, from the factory?
B: Only a few hundred meters.
A: So you still were close by?
A: Because the ghetto is on the edge of the factory property?
B: The ghetto is special-made for us to walk to the factory.
A: One ghetto only in the town?
B: There were two ghettos, but one was eliminated.
A: Eliminated when?
B: In ‘43.
A: So originally two ghettos were created. The ghettos were created when?
B: In 1941, the 20th of August.
A: Okay, 1941. And there were two of them, created at the same time?
A: And, within a very short time, all the Jews [of Siauliai] or virtually all the Jews were in those two ghettos?
A: And it remained that way so long as the Germans were there, so long as they remained in the town. Is that right?
A: Were you free to come and go out of the ghetto?
A: At all?
A: You could go to the factory.
B: Under the guide of a Lithuanian guard.
A: You could go to the factory?
A: And you could shop in the ghetto?
B: No shops, what are you talking about? There was only one cooperative.
A: Well, where would you get your food, drink?
B: From the cooperative, and we got it not for money, but for coupons.
A: And clothing and things like that, where would you get those?
B: Oh, God!
A: You must have had–
B: God have mercy!
A: Did you ever have to buy clothing at all?
B: No clothes. Stop.
A: No clothing?
B: No clothing.
A: Other things beside food? Did you ever have to buy anything besides food?
A: Only food was available in the cooperative?
B: Only food, using coupons.
A: Suppose you had to get something else for the house, a spoon or something, where would you get it?
B: Forget it.
A: A pencil?
A: A piece of paper; could you buy it?
B: No. See, even you cannot accept it.
A: I’m just trying to find out how closed off it was. So you could not get anything?
B: Not anything. Money was not allowed for Jews to have.
A: If somebody died in the ghetto, what happened to him?
B: He was buried in the cemetery.
A: Was the cemetery in the ghetto, or out of the ghetto?
B: It was next to the second ghetto.
A: Which one were you living in?
B: I was first living in Caukaz, then I moved over to Drakua.
A: You moved when the Caukaz ghetto was closed?
A: Where was the cemetery for the Jews?
B: It was bordering the Caukaz ghetto.
A: Synagogues were in the ghetto too?
B: You really kill me. You really —
A: Were there synagogues in the ghetto?
B: No. How can there be synagogues in the ghetto?
A: I have no idea. Were there houses of worship in the ghetto?
A: Well, where did Jews go for worship?
B: There was a private apartment and people made a congregation there and prayed.
A: I’m just trying to see what it was like to live in the ghetto.
B: I can see that you really don’t understand.
A: You must assume that I’m quite ignorant.
B: I do assume that.
A: That’s not hard to assume, is it?
B: [Chuckles] That’s the usual assumption about anyone. It’s very important, because people don’t realize how bad it was in the ghetto.
A: That’s what I’m trying to find out.
B: So now I am telling you.
A: All right.
B: No houses of worship.
A: The Germans created the ghettos in June 1941. Right?
B: August 1941.
A: They entered in June 1941?
B: The Germans entered my hometown then.
A: In August 1941 the ghettos, two ghettos, were created?
A: How long after the ghettos were created were the Jews moved in? I mean, how long did it take?
B: We were the first ones to enter, my family. It didn’t take long.
A: Would you say it took days, weeks, months?
A: A few weeks?
A: All the Jews were then in the ghettos?
A: How many Jews were there at this time?
B: I don’t know.
B: They said about forty-five hundred. One Jew was allowed to live outside of the ghetto.
A: Who was that?
B: Davidav was his name, he had a factory for all kinds of pills and there was skin from cats and everything.
A: And because he had his factory outside, he had to be there at it, is that it?
B: Yes, he was allowed.
A: Now within a few weeks after the Germans came you’re in the ghetto. At that time you were still very young. You were what, seventeen years old?
A: When you moved into the ghetto, was your father dead yet?
B: No, he died in the ghetto.
A: And you moved into a house in the ghetto?
A: A smaller house than you lived in before–
B: No! No! No! No! Into a room.
A: Into a single room?
B: With two families per room.
A: I see.
B: Now you will begin to see why there was no place for prayer or worship or anything, with two families per room.
A: And was that standard?
A: And that means a bedroom?
B: That doesn’t mean anything. The cooking and the sleeping and the reading–everything was in the same room.
A: You moved into a house, right? How big a house was it? Roughly, I don’t want precision; this is not mathematics.
B: I don’t know.
A: Well, was it one floor or two floors?
B: One floor.
A: The house was one floor?
A: Was the kitchen in the house?
B: In each room there was a stove.
A: There was a stove put into each room?
B: Not “put,” it was originally there.
A: It couldn’t have been original. If a family had been living there before —
B: Please don’t make me angry. There was, there was.
B: You don’t believe it?
A: No, I don’t believe it. I don’t believe that you are saying what you mean to say.
B: No, I mean it. Why don’t you believe that a family lived there before in one room, poor Lithuanians. Why don’t you buy that?
A: What I’m wondering about is this —
B: Why don’t you buy it?
A: Because that may be true of some of the houses, but it cannot be true of all of the houses.
B: I don’t care about all of the houses, I am again very personal. I speak only about–
A: But you must have gone to other houses while you were there. You didn’t just stay in your house in the ghetto, right?
B: I am telling you that was the situation.
A: Okay. You moved into your house. How many families moved into that house?
B: The whole house was only two rooms, so we were four families.
A: Before that there had been two Lithuanian families in there?
B: I don’t know.
B: Most probably, yes. Therefore there was a stove in each room.
A: There was a stove in each room, but that was also the bedroom?
B: Most probably.
A: And it was that for you.
B: Me and my mother and another family!
A: Yes, but as far as your familyB you are talking about you, your mother, and your father?
B: Me and my father and me and my father and mother and then amother family, two women and a child.
A: In the same room?
B: In the same room.
A: How did you divide the room?
B: We didn’t divide the room; when you are in such a situation you don’t divide anything.
A: Well, you put beds in there right?
B: Yes. We had beds.
A: Now, were the beds on one side for one family and on the other side for the other family?
A: One stove. You shared the stove.
B: It goes without saying.
A: What kind of stove was that?
B: It was the kind that you put coal into.
A: Coal or wood?
A: Not gas, obviously.
B: No, not gas.
A: Not electricity, obviously.
B: Not electricity.
A: So you moved in and you had your beds?
A: And then people would go to bed, right?
A: Would they all have to go to bed at the same time?
A: Well, would they leave lights on when one family went to bed? Was there a way of dividing the room?
B: No, no! They didn’t have any space for dividing. Every centimeter counted.
A: I was just wondering what the arrangements were.
B: Very bad.
A: So if you want to go to bed–
B: So, go to bed.
A: But if the other ones didn’t want to go to bed?
B: So, they’d stay up.
A: And would they have their lights on?
B: There’s only one bulb in the whole room.
A: And when did that go off?
B: Somebody shuts it off, by mutual consent. There was never a nonagreement about it. You ask about an outhouse —
A: I haven’t asked yet.
B: Okay, but I am telling you about it. The outhouse was outside; it did not belong to the building. Therefore everyone went outside whenever he felt like it.
A: One outhouse for the building or one outhouse for several buildings?
B: One outhouse for each building.
A: The other family in your room was a mother–
B: A mother, a sister and her boy.
A: How long were you all together in that house?
B: Till my father died and then we exchanged. We went into the next room.
A: Why did you exchange?
B: I don’t know.
A: Who made the exchange.
B: We decided amongst ourselves.
A: Among yourselves? You had altogether four families inside this house. You knew each other before?
B: Three of the families worked in the same factory.
A: So you had known each other before?
A: All this time your mother of course is continuing to work in the glue works?
A: Where were you working at the beginning of the three years? Were you working when you first moved into the house?
B: No, we moved into the ghetto and of course I was not working.
A: You are seventeen years old?
B: Yes. I can’t go out. I am basically closed in the ghetto. That’s not to my liking, I am not the type.
A: You could go out in the ghetto?
B: In the ghetto, yes; in the ghetto, freedom. You could do whatever you liked.
A: How large an area was that?
B: I really don’t know. I have somewhere a map showing how big it was.
A: Well, is it as big as the Hyde Park neighborhood [here in Chicago]?
B: I don’t know how big Hyde Park is.
A: Well, do you have any kind of idea how long or wide it was, any sense at all? Do you know how big the campus of the University of Chicago is across?
B: I always assume everything to me is a square kilometer. I think the ghetto and the cemetery were as big as the factory.
A: Yes, and then how big was the factory?
B: I told you, a square kilometer.
A: So it’s a square kilometer that you can move around in?
A: You don’t need permission to move around in it?
B: No, no, no. It’s a Jewish state.
A: It’s a Jewish state?
B: Yes. Jewish police.
A: The Jews themselves policed it?
A: Did they have their own government in the ghetto?
B: There were three representatives.
A: What do you mean, three representatives? Was it a council that ran the ghetto?
B: These three are responsible to the Germans directly.
A: And did they run things in the ghetto?
A: And how were they chosen? Did the Germans pick them?
B: No, no, no!
A: The Jews among themselves picked the three?
A: And who were the three, do you remember?
B: Yes. One was Boris Captoun, he had before this a linen factory. I knew him personally because I was studying with one of his sons. The children already had been taken away right away when the war started and killed, so he was with his wife. Then there was Rubinshtein and the third one was Katz.
A: Were they all businessmen?
B: Captoun and I think Rubenshtein were businessman. Katz was only a guy who always deals in public–
A: Public affairs, public matters?
A: Okay, so they’re the representatives.
A: You yourself, as a seventeen year old, could move around in the ghetto?
B: Oh, yes.
A: And you did?
B: Of course.
A: Was there any kind of theater or movie house or anything like that in the ghetto?
B: God have mercy!
A: Was there anywhere at all to which people went in order to amuse themselves?
A: They didn’t try to do anything like that?
A: Could they have?
B: I don’t know. What they did try to do, at first, was a school for little children.
A: Only for the little ones.
B: For little ones that don’t go out to work.
A: But not for you?
B: Oh, no. I was already grown up. I had already gone to work. I had already finished high school.
A: So you were just waiting for something to happen. What would you have done if the war hadn’t come?
B: I don’t know because I made my last exams, and the next day, the war broke out.
A: But when you were studying in high school, what were you thinking about?
B: The plan was that I was going to university.
A: You probably would have gone to the university.
B: Yes, in Vilna [Lithuania]. My city didn’t have a university.
A: You were a good student?
B: Just because I insist on the truth. I was very good in mathematics, geography and history–in all of these things I was very good. In languages I was very bad. I am not good at writing till this day. My worst language was Latin.
A: What would you do when you moved around in the ghetto? Where would you go, when you left your house?
B: We would roam around the ghetto, a square kilometer is a lot.
A: Would you go to your friends’ rooms?
B: Yes, friends’ rooms.
A: Visit them?
B: Visit them, yes.
A: But you wouldn’t leave the ghetto?
B: It was guarded.
A: Was there a fence around it?
A: What kind of fence?
B: Barbed wire.
A: Who put it up?
B: Matter of fact, the Jews themselves.
A: The Jews themselves did it?
B: Yes, they were forced to do it.
A: Did you yourself work on the barbed wire fence?
A: How long did it take to put up?
B: I don’t know. I was the first one who started the barbed wire wall and I’ll just tell you the truth. I was in the factory and in the factory my father was king. In order to make the first holes in which to put the fence posts we needed a shtanger. I don’t know what you call this in English?
A: Some kind of thing to dig holes?
B: Yes, so I took it from the factory.
A: You took it? You volunteered it?
B: Yes. Because I was a boss in the factory. Nobody in the factory interfered with me.
A: How did you know that you had to put the fence up?
B: There was an order.
A: From the Germans?
B: I don’t know.
A: Or from the three representatives?
B: No! No! No! No! This was before everything. I didn’t even know about the representatives. I was usually taken to forced labor. Also, I volunteered because I like to know what is going on. I was curious. So one day I am going to the forced labor and I am assigned to build the barbed wire fence.
A: The Germans came in June and this is August?
A: They had only been there two months when this happened?
A: So you understood that they wanted this barbed wire fence put up around the ghetto, right?
B: I didn’t even know it would be a ghetto, honest to God.
A: Well, what did you think they were putting the fence up for?
B: I didn’t think at all. Wait a minute. There were guys, Jewish guys, who assumed that this would be an enclave for Russian prisoners of war.
A: So that’s what you believed?
B: Is it reasonable?
A: I don’t know.
B: You can believe anything.
A: Well, is that what you were told?
B: No, we weren’t told anything, just build it, that’s all.
A: But some of you thought or believed that it was for Russian prisoners of war?
A: And you didn’t mind building it for that purpose?
B: I had absolutely nothing to say.
A: Well, presumably some uses would be better than others, right?
B: There were some Jewish people who were making jokes and saying that they build it for the Russians, but in the reality it would be for German prisoners of war when the Russians came back.
A: I see, but they did not think it was for them?
B: But after awhile we knew it would be a ghetto. Building a fence takes time. It took several weeks.
A: It took several weeks to put a wall all the way around?
B: Yes, a fence around one ghetto and then around the other.
A: Did you work on both of them?
B: No, I worked on Caukaz and then I got fed up so I didn’t go to work there. I stayed in the factory.
A: It took several weeks to build the walls?
A: Who supervised the building?
A: Of course, somebody supervised. You all didn’t just go out and start putting holes in the ground anywhere, somebody must have —
B: People who know how to build, that’s all.
A: But who determined where it was to be built, where the line was going to be?
B: I don’t know. It had already been decided.
A: So, when you came to work there, it had been decided where it was going to go?
B: I just put in the first holes. They started from the Jewish cemetery. That’s all.
A: So you started putting the holes in, others came along and put the posts in?
A: Barbed wire was already there?
B: Then people brought barbed wire.
A: Coils of barbed wire?
A: The Germans supplied that?
B: I don’t know.
A: Was there barbed wire in Lithuania before this?
A: Did it grow there?
B: The factory was surrounded by barbed wire.
A: So you had had experience with barbed wire before?
B: Oh, yes.
A: You are putting it in and it takes several weeks. How many entrances were there to the ghetto?
B: In this Caukaz ghetto at first there were two entrances and then it became one. One was towards the factory and one was towards the city. And then they closed the one towards the factory.
A: How high was the fence?
B: Not so high.
A: As high as a man?
B: A little higher.
A: How far apart would the wires be?
B: If you really wanted, you could sneak through.
A: You could crawl through.
B: Oh, yes. It was not a concentration camp. There were no guards standing with machine guns.
A: Just a guard at the entrance?
B: At the door.
A: Armed guards?
B: I guess so.
A: One or two?
B: Two, of course.
A: Germans or Lithuanians?
B: Lithuanians! Lithuanians! Lithuanians!
A: No Germans involved?
B: No Germans involved.
A: So the Lithuanians are standing guard?
A: Did you know the Lithuanians who were standing guard?
B: I didn’t, but people knew them. Some of them had worked in the factory before.
A: So there were two such entrances?
A: What were the entrances for? People couldn’t leave?
B: People were taken to work and back from work.
A: That was the purpose of the entrance?
B: The only purpose.
A: If somebody got ill, what would happen, if you had to go to a doctor, a hospital?
B: Tough luck.
A: Tough luck?
B: Yes. The Jews themselves made a hospital in the cemetery.
A: Within the cemetery?
A: They set up a room?
B: The Jewish law is that you have to clean a dead man, you have to wash him before you bury him. So there is a little building.
A: And they turned that into a hospital?
B: They turned it into a hospital.
A: And there were doctors, of course.
B: Jewish doctors, yes.
A: What about medicine, drugs? Did you get any of those?
B: [pause] It was illegal to give Jews drugs or anything.
A: But there were some?
B: There were some, because Jewish doctors worked as doctors in the city.
A: They could leave to go out and work as doctors?
B: Yes, as doctors.
A: So some people could leave the ghetto, beside going to the factory, I mean?
B: Yes, there were some people. At first, many could go out; then they were cut down.
A: So some doctors could practice medicine elsewhere in the city?
B: In the hospital.
A: And their patients would be Lithuanians? Not Jews?
B: Yes, Lithuanians and Germans. Not Jews.
A: Not Jews. Jews they had to treat back at the cemetery?
A: And when they went out in this way they would sometimes bring medicines back if they could?
A: Or bandages?
B: Stealing them, of course.
A: Stealing them?
B: They didn’t steal from somebody else. They stole their own property.
A: Who else could leave to go out besides doctors?
B: The police. The Jewish police.
A: Where would they go when they went out?
B: I don’t know, wherever they were sent.
A: They were working as police in the city?
B: No. They were working as police in the ghetto.
A: Who could go out of the ghetto is what I’m trying to find out. Some people could go out to the factory to work. Doctors could go out to work in the hospitals.
B: Yes. There were also other little factories that the Jews still worked in, in the beginning.
A: And they could go there? Could they go by themselves?
B: By themselves nobody could go.
A: Including the doctors when they went to the hospitals?
B: I think the doctors might have.
A: By themselves? How about courts? Were there any courts that Jews would go to?
B: That is a very good question. I didn’t know that there were courts in the ghetto, but later on I read that there were courts in the ghetto.
A: For Jews?
B: For the Jews, among the Jews.
A: Among the Jews?
B: And they had moral authority and they imposed judgments. But while I was in the ghetto I didn’t know about that. I tried to avoid the ghetto like the plague. It’s very personal to me.
A: What do you mean, you tried to avoid it? You were living in it?
B: Till Yom Kippur, I was, unfortunatelyB
A: Yom Kippur?
A: So you only slept in the ghetto?
B: Basically I only went to sleep there.
A: But you didn’t work every day?
B: Six days a week. Is this enough?
A: And on the seventh day?
B: On the Sunday–
A: You wouldn’t sleep all day, would you?
A: You would go out in the ghetto and walk around?
B: Or visit friends.
A: Now, did you ever go out of the ghetto to any place besides your factory work?
A: You never slipped out to go somewhere to visit somebody outside, a Lithuanian friend, nobody outside, you never went out to go walk in the country or something?
A: Nothing like that? Well, did anybody in the ghetto ever do this? Were there any young men who had girlfriends elsewhere who slipped out? None of them ever had things outside that they would slip out to do? You could slip out?
B: In reality, yes.
A: But very few did, you said, because?
B: Because it was illegal, period.
A: But that meant what? Would there be punishment for doing that, or what would happen?
B: Obviously there would be some punishment, but I don’t remember anyone being caught.
A: All right, you’re there, you’re working in a factory, you have one day a week in which you can walk around in the ghetto, visit with your friends. There’s a worship service available in some of the houses or in one house somewhere in some room?
A: There’s no school for anybody beyond the early grades?
B: That’s right.
A: And, of course, all this time you were very much aware of what was happening in the rest of Lithuania?
B: I wouldn’t say so. No.
A: You were not?
A: You got the news regularly about the war?
B: I read the German paper.
A: That was available in the ghetto?
B: No it wasn’t. It was illegal.
A: To have a German paper?
B: Yes. It was illegal for a Jew to read the German paper.
A: Illegal, why was that?
B: What, are you asking me?
A: Did it occur to you to wonder why? :
B: The Germans said that Jews should not know any news. The Germans took away all the radios. Did I tell you that?
A: They confiscated all the radios?
A: But there were some radios still?
A: Some people must have hidden their radios.
A: Of course, somebody did.
B: No. Not at all.
A: You mean there were four thousand people there and no one had managed to keep a radio?
B: No, not even one.
A: Was there a Yiddish press in the ghetto?
B: What are you talking about?
A: I am talking about a Yiddish press.
A: I don’t know. That’s why I am trying to find out.
B: Obviously, no.
A: There was nobody printing anything?
A: No piece of paper with information on it that was being written by Jews and distributed?
A: All right, so there were forty-five hundred people there and they had no paper, they had no radio, they had some idea of what was happening elsewhere by way of German newspapers which it was illegal to have and which you didn’t altogether trust anyway–
B: I trusted them, 100 percent.
A: What they said?
A: You did trust what they said?
B: I did trust what they said.
A: You were following the war by way of German newspapers which were illegal?
B: Which were illegal.
A: All right, and this went on for–
B: In reality, nobody got punished for reading German newspapers. In reality, nobody would know.
A: Where would you get the papers?
B: Every kiosk outside of the ghetto was selling them.
A: Did you have kiosks?
B: No! Outside of the ghetto, I made it very clear to you.
A: Well, how did you get papers from outside of the ghetto if you couldn’t go outside of the ghetto?
B: In the factory, we worked together with non-Jews.
A: So you got the German newspapers in the factories and brought them home?
A: This went on for three years for you?
A: You worked in the factory for three years almost and your mother kept working there all the time you were working there?
B: Yes. Of course, she lost her good job and she had to go work at another job, but she still worked there.
A: Was there any kind of organization of Jews in the ghetto?
B: There was an organization, an underground organization. I applied and was not accepted.
A: You applied to whom?
B: A guy that belonged to the organization.
A: And what kind of organization was this?
B: Supposedly an underground to fight the Germans.
A: To fight against them?
A: And did they fight against them?
B: No, it was only talk.
A: What do you mean that it was only talk?
B: From time to time it would gather together and say that we had to defend ourselves and there would be big speeches about Masada. Do you know about Masada?
B: Big speeches that we have to behave like the heroes of Masada, only talk.
A: But they would talk about Masada?
B: Oh, yes. Talk is cheap.
A: But nobody ever did anything?
B: No. There were some people that ran away to the real partisans.
A: There were some partisans?
A: Where were the partisans hiding?
B: They were not hiding.
A: Well, where were they? They were not in the city streets of Lithuania, were they?
B: They were in the woods.
A: They were hiding in the woods?
B: But very few. The general Lithuanian population was against the Russians.
A: And for the Germans?
B: Against the Russians.
A: Only that, and not for the Germans?
B: For the Germans only as far as Jews are concerned. That’s all.
A: They shared the Germans’ view about the Jews?
B: About Jewish property.
A: It was property primarily that they wanted?
B: Property only. That’s my own analysis.
A: They didn’t have any personal feelings about the Jews themselves, besides about their property?
B: The Jews were a matter of principle.
A: They were what?
B: A matter of principle.
A: What was a matter of principle?
B: To hate the Jews.
A: To hate the Jews?
B: “They crucified our God.” They didn’t need any other excuse.
A: All right, so all this continued for three years?
A: You were a teenager?
A: Was there any kind of entertainment for you?
A: I don’t mean theater. I mean were there —
B: No entertainment.
A: — amusements? Were there sports in the ghetto?
A: Games that people would play?
B: The people could play cards till doomsday, if they wanted to.
A: What about the boys? Card-game playing is not their thing. And what did the girls do in the ghetto?
B: They worked like men. What do you want, for God’s sake.
A: They would go out?
B: Out to work exactly, like men.
A: You had a fairly good idea what was happening in the war?
A: You had an idea that the Germans were in trouble in Russia?
A: You did know that?
B: Oh, yes, they were very open about it. That’s another reason why he won over the German nation. He was open.
A: Hitler, that is?
B: Hitler and the newspapers. The German newspapers were open about it. I remember two places they lost, one near Leningrad, another on the Black Sea. They had written that they had to retreat. They also had written when there were great attacks from Leningrad, that they had to defend themselves
A: And these were in the German newspapers?
B: In the German newspapers.
A: Where were those German newspapers printed?
B: Riga [in Latvia].
A: Riga, and distributed all over this area, is that it?
B: Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania became one country: Austland. The entire thing was Deustertzire in Austland.
A: The Eastland, is that it?
A: So they would distribute the paper out of Riga?
A: The Germans would distribute it themselves?
A: How would it be distributed?
B: I don’t know.
B: I don’t know.
B: No! No!
B: Whatever the usual transportation was.
A: You had a fairly good idea about the war?
B: A very good idea about the war.
A: Now what did you think was going to happen to you?
B: I thought we would all be killed. That was my own personal diagnosis.
A: You thought that from the beginning?
B: Around September I came to that conclusion.
A: September of 1941?
A: You began to believe that–
B: We would all be killed, we were lost, finished.
A: That you would be killed, not just allowed to die?
B: Physically killed.
A: They would be going after you? The Germans would do it?
B: Whoever, who cares, we will be killed. Why? Because that’s what all the German papers were about — the Jews, the Jews, the Jews, the Jews.
A: You mean the German papers that you were reading?
B: Yes, the only papers that there were.
A: They had a lot in them about the Jews?
B: Not a lot, not a lot. They would mention them from time to time.
A: And what would they say about the Jews?
B: Only bad things.
A: Such as what?
B: That the Jews wanted the war.
A: They wanted the war?
B: Yes. What is unifying the British and Americans plutocracies with Communist Russia? The Jews. A very simple answer. How can they both work together? The Jew.
A: The Jew is the link between them?
B: The Jew is the link.
A: I see.
B: The Jew wants the war. If not for the Jew, there would have been peace long ago.
A: Did the Germans want peace?
B: Officially everyone wants peace. Don’t you know that?
A: But did they talk in the papers about wanting peace?
B: No. They worshiped war. But everybody talks about peace. I mean even now, all the newspapers–
A: Well, what else would they say about the Jews, besides the fact that they —
B: Oh, a very interesting thing is about the Karaims, you know the Karaims?
B: A Jewish sect, the Karaims. Have you never heard about them?
A: What about them?
B: This was a Jewish sect that separated from Judaism in the eighth century.
A: Oh, do you mean the Kuzars?
B: No! No! No!
A: No, not them?
B: Karaims. Karaims.
A: Okay. How is that spelled, you think?
B: I don’t know. K-A-R-A-I-M-S.
A: Eighth century, you say?
B: In the eighth century they separated.
A: Where were they living when they separated?
B: They were then in Mesopotamia, in Iraq, Babylonia.
A: Oh, down there. All right. Then what happened?
B: They don’t believe in the Talmud at all. The Talmud is superfluous; they believe only in the Bible. So they have different customs and everything. The Jews and the Karaims didn’t mix, although I know my mother once had a friend who told her that he’s not a Jew, he’s a KaraimB but of course he was a Jew and spoke Yiddish and everything. Savage was his name. What I remember in the German paperB and I was very impressed, it was in the beginning of the war–is that a group of Karaims on horses welcomed the German army. And there was a picture with the Karaims sitting on the horses. And the Karaim religion was called a mixture of the Christian, Muslim, and Jewish religions.
A: Where was this?
B: In Lithuania.
A: They were living in Lithuania?
B: They were living in Lithuania.
A: Did you know any Karaims?
A: They weren’t living in your town?
A: Where had they been living, that they could welcome Germans?
B: I think near Truck, near Trako.
A: There was a little group of them there?
B: Yes. And they survived the war. You never heard about them?
A: No. They survived the war?
A: Did they go to concentration camps?
A: They were allowed to live there?
A: Because they were not thought of as Jews?
B: Not thought of as Jews. There was a huge controversy, and only after the war I found out what the controversy was. At a certain point Hitler decided he needed Muslim allies. So the Karaims had been included as Muslim allies. There were several refuges of these Karaims in France, in Paris, and there was a question as to how to deal with them and then there had been the decision that they were Muslims. Therefore they were to be treated nicely.
B: You didn’t know about them?
A: No. So they were declared to be Muslims.
A: And would you spell that name again?
B: Karaims. K-A-R-A-I-M-S. S is the plural
A: Karaims, all right.
B: They dressed like non-Jews. They were completely non-Jews.
A: How did the Jews dress?
B: The Jews dressed like the average person.
A: Like an average person?
A: Your town itself [Siauliai, Lithuania] was how large?
B: Thirty thousand.
A: Thirty thousand. If a Jew was walking outside the ghetto –
B: No! He was not walking outside the ghetto.
A: If he did–
B: I don’t know if—
A: Well, there must have been somebody that walked outside the ghetto sometimes. The doctors did when they went to the hospital, you already told me that.
B: I forgot to tell you a little detail.
B: No Jew was allowed to walk on the sidewalk.
B: So a Jew had to walk alongside the sidewalk where the horses were going in the middle of the street.
A: How could you tell a Jew from a non-Jew?
B: The star.
A: The yellow star?
A: Everybody wore one?
B: Everybody wore one.
A: And you never had to wear that before?
B: No! The Jews lived in Lithuania like the Jews in America. So it was very good.
A: When did the star come? When did Jews start wearing the stars?
B: I don’t know. I think sometime in July.
A: Shortly after the Germans came?
A: Where did the stars come from?
B: I don’t know. Every Jew had to provide his own material for the star. The government didn’t issue material for the star.
A: It did not?
A: But you had to have one.
B: Everyone had to have two, front and back.
A: How large were they?
B: I don’t remember.
A: Well, were they as big as your fist?
A: As big as your head?
B: No, I think about ten centimeters.
A: Same size front and back?
A: Was there anything else that would be distinctive, besides the star?
B: That’s enough.
A: What about hair?
B: Who cares about hair?
A: I don’t know. I am wondering.
B: Nobody cares.
A: So Jews were not distinctive looking?
B: Jews had brown eyes. It was the only Mediterranean race that went that far north. No Italians, no Greeks, no Spaniards. I never saw a non-Jew that has brown eyes; maybe some Germans have brown eyes; Lithuanians are all blue eyes–all of them.
A: Are you suggesting that a Jew would be fairly easy to identify?
B: For the Lithuanians, not for the Germans.
A: For the Lithuanians to identify?
B: Oh yes.
A: So you lived there for three years?
B: Wait! Wait! Wait! Wait!
A: Oh, I’m sorry.
B: There were Jewish people at first–you know we are all smart alecs–who put the yellow star on so that you could take it off for the moment, and they would take off the yellow star and walk on the sidewalk. I know of two cases where the German police caught them, they were taken to German police headquarters, and they had to pay a fine for walking on the sidewalk. These Jews kept this little piece of paper from the police to show their grandchildren. But they did not survive.
A: What else could the Jew not do when he was out of the ghetto? He could not walk on the sidewalk and he could be outside the ghetto for only limited purposes. Is that it?
B: But there were Jews who risked everything. I know Jews who dared to go to the synagogue.
A: You mean your friends, young friends?
B: I don’t know. There were people that worked in the factory who went to the synagogue.
A: And did anything happen to them?
B: They were never caught. But they were twice in danger, because in the end the Germans needed people to work in Germany, so outside of the cinemas they would catch all the males and send them to Germany.
A: You mean they would wait there until they came out?
A: And they could tell they were Jews?
B: Not Jews, Lithuanians! Jews were not allowed in the cinema. Lithuanians were caught and sent to Germany.
A: When they came out of the cinema?
B: Out of the cinema. You never heard about that?
A: No, I never heard about that.
B: Till now?
B: And they were sent to work in Saxonia.
A: Well, that must not have been very popular.
B: And the Lithuanians called it Saxophonia. They didn’t even call it Saxonia, Saxophonia, that gives it. The Lithuanians, in the end, were not happy with the Germans.
A: So you have three years with the Germans in Lithuania?
B: It is not a continuous thing, the three years, that’s what I am trying to tell you. It’s getting worse and worse.
A: But you were three years in the ghetto.
B: I hated the ghetto. I hate it till this day.
A: Well, what other restrictions were there after the initial ones?
B: At first, we were paid money.
A: To work?
B: Yes. Not as much as the non-Jews.
A: Then after a while they stopped paying you money?
A: And gave you coupons instead?
A: Which you could only use in the cooperative?
A: Was there any way of leaving the country?
B: Where to?
A: I don’t know. Was there any way of leaving the country?
B: Absolutely no chance. What are you saying!
A: No chance?
B: No chance.
A: If somebody asked you to come to Palestine, for example.
B: What are you saying, “If somebody asked”? There was no chance.
A: If somebody sent a ticket to you, could you leave?
B: Jews were not allowed anything.
A: Could people come visit the ghetto from outside?
B: Some non-Jews wanted and came.
A: How about people from outside of Lithuania? Did you ever have any Jews come to visit you?
B: Even Jews from another ghetto were not allowed to visit. Once a truck came to the factory from the Vilna ghetto and Jews tried to smuggle letters to their relatives in Vilna. They were caught, they had the hell beaten out of them. One of the scenes was very important to me. I remember a guy and his father and the German foreman took his stick and beat his father up and that guy stood there and he couldn’t help even his own father and it breaks my heart until this day, the scene was so horrible.
A: A German who was beating up his father, and what was he doing?
B: He could do nothing; he had to look, that’s all. These are the horrible scenes that I remember, that you couldn’t even help your own father. This is horrible.
A: So the restrictions got harder and harder over the three years?
B: Yes, and then the lawlessness got more and more. Finally the Jews stopped worrying about the law at all.
A: Within the ghetto?
B: Everywhere. There was no use listening to the law about what a Jew is allowed or is not allowed to do. You do what you have to do. It didn’t make any sense. There was no relation between the punishment and the crime, absolutely no relation.
A: What about the health of the people in the ghetto?
B: The doctors tried very much to keep the health up.
A: And did they?
B: They tried. There was an outbreak of typhus and it was very important that nobody should know, because the assumption was that if the Germans found out that there was typhus in the ghetto, they would destroy the whole ghetto. So it was kept a secret. Those with typhus went to the hospital; I don’t know what was done to them; and they came back, healed from the typhus. Yes, the doctors were working very hard, very hard.
A: Were there rabbis?
B: They had to work like anybody else. There was no distinction.
A: No distinction?
B: No distinction. The original rabbi from my home town was taken to jail right away. I knew the rabbi because I had visited him. It was assumed that I was a gifted child. So I went to the rabbi; he wanted to talk to me, and he was talking to me and I realized that he didn’t know what world he was living in. Before the First World War, a rabbi was a very important personage. Even for non-Jews the rabbi was considered an honest man and so on. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I knew he was living in an illusionary world and, sure enough, when the Germans came, he was put in jail. He thought that he would say that he was the rabbi and that that would help him. When he was in jail he said, “I am the rabbi.” So they harnessed him on a buggy instead of a horse and beat the hell out of him.
A: They made him pull the buggy?
A: By himself?
B: By himself. And finally they killed him by beating him.
A: Out there in the street?
B: Not in the street, in jail. Harav Bachts that’s his name, Aron Bachts. He didn’t know what world he was living in. Most of the Jews in Lithuania did not know in what world they were. They had no idea what was going to happen or how deep the anti-Semitism was or anything. The number of people that had open eyes was very small.
A: What happened to the three Jewish representatives–Katz and the other two?
B: Very good. Now I have got you. The 5th of November 1943 the Germans took away all the children and the sick people and this could be a whole story in itself, the 5th of November. These representatives went to the German commandant and asked him, “Where are you taking these people?”
A: Women and children?
A: Just the children?
B: Women were working like men.
A: So they took away all of the children.
B: The children up until sixteen and all of the sick people. If a child was fourteen and he looked grown up, they let him alone. So these representatives went to the German commandant; they were very brave, and they asked him “Where are you taking these people?” And the commandant says, “You want to know? Go with them.” And two went. You’ve never heard this kind of story?
B: And two went. Captoun and Katz went and the only one that stayed was Rubinshtein, he was very old. So they went and the Jews believed that these representatives would return to tell them where the children had been taken. They were idiots to believe this. The Germans said that after three days they would come back and report. So people counted three days, and then a week, but they never came back.
A: I see.
B: So, why shouldn’t I be proud of such representatives?
A: Don’t you think they were too trusting?
B: What do you mean “too trusting”?
A: At least, you could be proud of them that they were trying to find out something about their people?
B: I am very proud of them that they didn’t separate themselves from their people.
A: Now. they were replaced —
B: Yes, they were replaced.
A: By two others?
B: Not two others, one guy. Arizal was a Jew who was married to a German woman. An interesting story, this Arizal. He came from Mamalan with his Aryan wife and two children. So when the time came to go to the ghetto, the Germans suggested to her that she say that these two children were bastards and she should not have to go with her husband. But she prepared to go with her husband in the ghetto. This is a good story. This is one you might write when you write my stories, because I do have good stories.
A: So she went into the ghetto with her husband and two children. What happened to her?
B: Very good. He managed to become head of the ghetto. Then he managed, when he learned that we Jews would be transported to Germany, to join the Germans and so he did not go in concentration camp. He managed to get by as a German. He was a soldier in the German army in the First World War and so on, and he was very loyal to Germany. He was a German for all practical purposes. So he survived to be a witness at a post-war trial.
A: And his wife and children survived?
A: Okay. So there you have the representatives, who try to do something, sent off and are never heard of again?
A: Probably they were killed?
B: They were sent to one of those horrible places that I don’t want to mention.
A: So they were sent there and therefore they were very likely killed?
B: Certainly, not “very likely.”xxx
A: In the meantime, you are seeing this happen and you are getting close to twenty years old.
B: I am nineteen, yes.
A: And it’s getting worse.
B: Getting worse.
A: Did you think about running away to Russia?
B: Where is Russia? It is far away to the east. Every Lithuanian will turn me in. That is the whole problem: the local population was not on our side. Not the Russians, not the Germans, nobody. The local population was against us. Twice I made attempts to run away. Both times I failed miserably, so I gave up.
A: When did you try?
B: One day I worked in the factory. The factory I worked in had transports. I went on them to all kinds of places outside, even sometimes on a highway. So I came to a place where I asked a farmer for food. He had a very nice garden and carrots were growing there. He says, “Go and pick as many carrots as you want.” Obviously I grabbed the carrots. I must have worked very hard because the farmer said, “Stay with me and you will work for me.” So I told him, “I have a mother in the ghetto, can she come, too?” He said no. Now there were cases where people faced this trick: they worked for Lithuanians and then, come fall, Lithuanians would bring them back to the ghetto for running away. Being in the ghetto was punishment enough.
A: So you worked for how long for this man?
B: What man?
A: The man with the carrots.
B: Never! It was one day.
A: One day, and the other time you ran away?
B: I didn’t. The other time is in the last day that the ghetto existed, the last day when we were told that we were going to Germany. I went to my mother and I say, “Mama, all these four years I have waited for this moment.” I went to my neighbors who lived in the same factory, who know me and my mother–
B: Lithuanians. And I went to them and I say to them, “Look, during all these three years I never asked you for anything.” These neighbors never treated me like a Jew, but like a neighbor all these three years. “Now is the moment, please hide us.” And this woman says — her husband was a drunk so he didn’t count — and she says, “I will not hide you, but if you and your mother try to run away I will not turn you in. The other Jews I will.” She didn’t have to add this last sentence. She didn’t have to add it, but it hurts me till this day. Ah, I mean that’s life.
A: Now why did it make a difference what she did?
B: She wouldn’t turn me in.
A: Well, was she in charge of you some way?
B: Nobody was in charge of anything. A Lithuanian thought it was his duty to turn in Jews, for God’s sake.
A: Well, I know, but–
B: She told me that if I and my mother tried to run away she would not turn us in.
A: I see.
B: She knew we were decent people.
A: She wasn’t going to help you hide but she would let you–
B: She will not turn us in.
A: But she was not doing anything to help you, was she?
A: I see. Would she have known that you had run away if you had done it?
B: The factory had barbed wire around and people see you. You cannot leave the factory without being seen by people.
A: And she would have known you were gone?
A: So, you say, they were closing down the ghetto?
A: They told you that they were closing it down?
B: No! One day I was working in the factory and all of a sudden there was a rumor that we were being taken away to Germany. A rumor.
A: That who was being taken away?
B: All of the Jews, all of the ghetto.
A: All the Jews in the ghetto?
A: So you went home?
B: I didn’t go home. My mother worked in a factory, I worked in a factory.
A: So what did you do?
B: I took my mother and went to the neighbors and failed.
A: Trying to get a hiding place, you mean? You couldn’t get a hiding place?
B: I couldn’t get a hiding place.
A: If you had had a hiding place, what would you have done?
B: I would go hiding. What kind of question is that?
A: For how long, for how long?
B: It was only a matter of at most two weeks before the Russians entered.
A: The Russians entered in 1944. You mean that the Germans knew the Russians were coming?
B: That’s why they evacuated us.
A: They didn’t want any Jews there?
B: No, they needed the work force. Don’t kid yourself one moment about any other reasons, for them. In the end the Germans were desperate; they really needed a workforce.
A: Whom were they going to take out of the town?
B: The Jews.
A: Well, all the Jews who could work you mean?
B: All Jews work. Those who didn’t work had been killed already.
A: So all that was left by 1944 in the ghetto were working Jews?
A: The children were gone?
A: The old people were gone?
A: The sick people were gone?
A: So all that’s left is–
B: Slave labor.
A: And how many of you were left at the time, do you estimate, of the four thousand originally? There were four thousand?
B: Forty-five hundred.
A: How many of them would have been left by this time?
B: I don’t know, even then I still thought it was about four thousand, but I don’t know. I believed that they took us to kill us, but that was my own personal opinion. I didn’t know how desperate they were–
A: In Germany?
B: In Germany.
A: Okay. But why hadn’t they taken them out before?
B: Taken whom?
A: The Jews, to work.
B: We worked in the leather factory. We were useful for the German war effort.
A: So you were doing the work there?
A: In the factory one day, a rumor came to you?
A: That you were all going to be moved out?
B: Yes. Yes.
A: All that had survived were to be moved out. How long after?
B: I think two weeks after.
A: Everybody you know was moved?
B: All the Jews from the ghetto.
A: Including your mother?
B: She moved, with me, of course.
A: They were moved, they were all moved.
A: How were you moved?
B: That’s another story.
A: We’ll talk about it, maybe next time.
B: If you wish, next time. We were moved in railway carriages.
A: From the town itself?
B: From the town itself we had to walk about twenty kilometers because the railway was already cut off by the Russians. So you had to go twenty kilometers to another railway branch.
A: They walked you over there?
A: All together?
A: All four thousand of you?
B: Not all four thousand. Many of them were already taken by rail transport. But at the last there was no rail connection.
A: That’s when you went, when you were with your mother?
B: With my mother. And we stayed together until the concentration camp. In the concentration camp they separated us.
A: I see. And so you went to this place twenty kilometers away where they could put you on a train?
B: Yes. Wait, wait, wait. I’ll have to tell this story, but I don’t know if it’s true. The story is that the Jewish heads of the ghetto made arrangement with the heads of the train station that there should not be rail carriages for us to be carried out. They made an agreement with them. That’s a story, that’s a rumor.
A: That there should be no rail carriages?
B: There should be no rail carriages for us to be taken to Germany.
A: So how were you going to go?
B: Wait a minute. That’s the rumor. I don’t know if it’s true.
B: There were no rail carriages to carry us. So we walked twenty kilometers, where there were rail carriages.
A: So they thought that they were doing you a favor, but they weren’t?
B: Who is “they”?
A: The representatives.
B: They planned that there should be no railway carriages.
A: Yes, but the only result of that was that you had to walk twenty kilometers further.
B: Yes, that was the result.
A: So that was not a good thing?
B: How do you know that it was not a good thing?
A: I don’t know. That’s what I am asking.
B: They played for time.
A: How long did it take to walk the twenty kilometers?
B: I don’t know.
A: Well, a day?
B: We went out, I think, at noon and I think we got there in the evening.
A: How were you walking? Were you all walking together? How were you walking?
B: Walking on the street.
A: Were the Germans with you?
B: There were German guards on both sides.
A: Front, back?
A: Along the sides too?
A: German soldiers?
A: In uniform?
B: Of course, in uniform.
B: Armed, of course.
A: And did they make sure that everybody stayed together?
B: They tried their best.
A: And how big a group was it, in terms of space when you were walking?
B: I don’t remember. Several hundred.
A: Several hundred people?
A: Over how large an area were they spread?
B: I don’t know.
B: Please. I don’t know.
A: Were they a mile long, a kilometer long?
B: I don’t know.
A: Yes, you know that.
B: I don’t. How could I know, you think I was really measuring?
A: No, but could you see the beginning or the end of it all as you were walking?
B: I don’t know. I never looked back or anything, I looked forward, I really never looked back.
A: Well, how wide was the column?
B: Not wide, not wide.
A: Were there three or four of you abreast, or how many?
B: The usual thing I think was five abreast. That’s the German army.
A: They weren’t marching you, were they?
B: No, we were not lined up.
A: You weren’t marching 1, 2, 3, 4?
B: No, we were not marching like that.
A: And you were talking as you were going?
B: Oh, yes.
B: What are you saying?
A: No singing?
B: No. You are killing me.
A: No singing, no talking. No effort to get away?
B: I looked left and right to see if I had a chance. I didn’t see any chance.
A: So you were looking for a place to run, to get away?
B: Of course. At one point we stopped for people to relieve themselves and I thought maybe this was the opportunity. But it was not an opportunity.
A: They were watching you?
B: They were watching.
A: How many places did they have like that, for relief stops?
A: In twenty kilometers?
A: I see.
B: And people right away started talking about the bad morals that men and women were pissing together and shitting together, how can you become an animal like that.
A: And were they together, the men and the women?
B: What choice have we got?
A: I don’t know. That’s why I’m asking.
A: I see. So you all moved together. Did you have any food? It was half a day.
B: I had enough to take with me. I took bread on reserve for the half day.
A: So you got to the railroad.
B: No, no. We got to a place that was before a factory. We went there and we slept over there a whole night. Only in the morning did the trains come.
A: They came to where you were sleeping?
A: They came. These were Lithuanian trains, German trains?
B: I don’t know. There were railway carriages that were ready to take us away.
A: So the next morning, they took you?
A: How early?
B: I don’t know.
A: Well, was it dark or light?
B: It was light, of course. And we got good food, we got a box of meat and bread.
A: From whom?
B: From the Germans.
A: They had it waiting for you?
B: They had prepared it. It was all prepared.
A: So you all got on the train?
A: How many of you were in the cars, in the carriages?
B: A very good question. Twenty.
A: Only twenty?
B: Only twenty.
A: Did you have seats to sit in?
B: It was a freight car.
A: Would they count you on?
B: They let only twenty on, because at that point they still needed our good will.
A: They needed your good will?
B: Yes, that we shouldn’t panic and try to jump from the train and so on. They were still feeding us all kinds of stories, even the guards. We are being taken to work in Germany?
A: Well, that was true, wasn’t it?
B: Kind of. And they were skilled in treating us fair. Twenty people for each car. We made a separate place for shitting and pissing.
A: Where, in the train?
B: In the carriage. And everything was still families together.
A: And these are all Jews?
A: No Lithuanians?
B: No Lithuanian soldiers.
A: None of the Lithuanians from the cinema or anyone else who had been taken?
B: No, some Lithuanians were running away for their lives with their own free will.
A: And the Jews were certainly not doing that?
B: The Jews were forced.
A: And most of the Lithuanians?
B: They would wait for the Russian occupation. C: Now, how long after you left did the Russians come into your town?
B: I think only one day, at most two days.
A: So they got you out just in time?
B: When we walked we could not carry all of our luggage and our things. They told us to take just food. I took my father’s golden watch. The rest, they said, should be put into sacks and trucks will come and pick them up and bring them up to us.
A: That was very good?
B: Very good. Except what they did was that they came with flamethrowers and burned the whole ghetto and everything.
A: They burned it all?
A: They didn’t even loot it?
B: No, no, they didn’t loot it.
A: Why not, do you think?
B: Don’t ask me why. Maybe they didn’t have the time. They had to run away.
A: Because the Russians were coming?
A: I see. Why were they burning the ghetto?
B: Perhaps a Jew had tried to hide there or something.
A: So even though the Jews were gone–
B: They burned the whole ghetto down.
A: They didn’t say to the Lithuanians, “Go ahead and take it, now that the Jews are gone”?
B: Nothing. They burned it with flamethrowers.
A: Meanwhile you are on the train going to Germany?
B:` We are still not on the train. We are twenty kilometers from there, but then the rumor came that the ghetto had been burnt down.
A: So you are not expecting your sacks anymore?
B: No, no, I did not believe one moment all the stories. I was sure that they wanted to kill us and that’s it. When I saw other people crying when they lost their belongings, I thought, What are they talking about? Their lives are in danger and they are talking about belongings?
A: So they put you on a train the next morning?
A: And they gave you some food?
B: Some good food.
A: Good food?
B: Yes, it was very good.
A: And then how long were you on the train?
B: Five days.
II. March 30, 2000 European Jews, Their “Christian” Neighbors, and the Holocaust
Anastaplo: We were beginning to talk about your trip [in July 1944] from Lithuania to Germany. You had been to Germany before, as a child.
A: And I think you told me once about visiting Koenigsburg,
B: Koenigsburg, yes.
A: And how impressed you were with the railroad station.
B: Oh yes, oh yes.
A: And with going up to —
A: Now that time was —
B: When I was a small child, 1930.
A: And your second trip?
B: My second trip was 1944.
A: And you were at that time nineteen years old?
B: No, in 1944 I was twenty.
A: You were twenty already?
A: Would you just start again at the beginning of the trip. You were told back in your home town [Siauliai, Lithuania], in the ghetto, where you were living then, that you were to be part of a group that would walk out to the place where–
B: This was the last group, you see. I will start from the end.
B: So I got an offer I couldn’t refuse, to go with a free ticket to Germany. So I took it. We are in the ghetto. The fact that we have to go to Germany I found out the 8th of July. And now we have about two weeksBtwelve daysBtill the 20th.
A: They told you two weeks in advance that you were going to leave, roughly?
B: Yes. My hometown had also branch camps, little camps around it. So all the people from the branch camps have also been brought into the ghetto, to concentrate them, you know, for the big event.
A: The big event means the trip?
B: The trip.
A: Now, what proportion of the people then living there were going to be on the trip?
B: All of them.
A: All the remaining Jews in the ghetto?
A: How many Jews were left by then in the ghetto roughly?
B: I don’t know. I told you we were about four thousand Jews.
B: So it must be the same amount. Of course, they cannot go in one trip. There are several trips.
A: But I thought that by this time the children, the sick, and the elderly had been gotten rid of?
B: Subtract six hundred people.
A: All right.
B: So we are in the ghetto and all the Jews from the surrounding branches were brought over. Now we are a concentration camp.
B: It turns out in these branches that there had been brought over Jewish people from all over. It is not only my hometown. So, of course, this is a great occasion for me to talk with people. I found a Hungarian woman. This Hungarian woman had already been in Auschwitz.
A: You said that she had been there, this woman you talked with?
A: But then how come she was in Lithuania?
B: What do you think a camp like Auschwitz was–an extermination camp, right?
A: Well, not altogether.
B: Thank you. So there were people who had to go to work, who were able to work. They were sorted out to work and were sent all over.
A: Even back to Lithuania?
B: Not back; forward to Lithuania. They had never been to Lithuania. They had been in Hungary. They were sent as far away as Lithuania and Latvia.
A: From Auschwitz?
A: How far would that have been?
B: I don’t know. That we could look up.
A: Right. You had two weeks before you were actually put on the train?
A: And you talked with this lady?
B: I talked with these three girls. Two of the girls’ name was Gerre and the third girl was Girstel. The original family name of all three was Girstel, but two of them had been already assimilated Hungarians, and the third still had a Jewish name. They told me that children never had a chance if they went to Auschwitz: that’s it! And they were woman whose head had already been shaven in Auschwitz.. So each one of them tried to go with a hat, not to show their shaven head. They were quite intelligent girls, so I liked to talk with them.
A: How old were they?
B: My age. The younger girl was younger, but much younger people didn’t exist, basically. Younger than fourteen didn’t exist, so the younger girl must have been fifteen, sixteen. This is the first inkling that I got about such a thing, that horrible place in Poland.
A: Now, you got an inkling that people were being killed there?
B: They said that there was no chance for children to survive.
A: What did you understand they meant by that?
B: They had been killed. Nobody used the word “been killed,” as you well know.
A: They would not use it?
B: No “been killed.”
A: Then what would they say? How would they describe it?
B: They didn’t describe it. They said, “No chance they were alive.” That’s all.
A: And now and during these two weeks you were also talking with–
B: I was talking with older people.
A: Other Jews?
B: Yes, yes.
A: Most of the people you talked with were obviously people from your own–
B:–from my hometown.
A: What did they believe was going to happen?
B: They believed that we were going to be taken to Germany and we would work exactly like we had worked in my hometown.
A: The kind of work that you had been doing for a couple of years?
B: Yes, like in the factory. We will work again in all kinds of places where you repair army property.
A: So for two weeks, this is what speculation was about?
B: That’s what the speculation was about. Some people tried to run away. A few people were successful.
A: Now, by “running away” what does that mean? What did they do?
B: It’s going under the barbed wire, which is not a big deal.
A: And where would they try to go when they went under the barbed wire?
B: Wherever anyone tried to go, wherever he wanted.
A: Well, where do you think they tried to go? Where do you believe they were going when they left?
B: If they had anywhere to go, they went. I had nowhere to go. Finish!
A: What do you mean that “they had anywhere to go”– that they had somebody they knew somewhere?
B: They had some Lithuanian friends or something and they had a chance.
A: So one possibility was to go to Lithuanian friends, if they knew of any?
A: Was there anything else that they talked of doing?
B: Try somehow to run away to the forest. The forest was supposedly the place where you can run away and hide. And everybody knew that it a temporary thing. The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming, the Russians are coming. Many Jewish people tried to run away to their Lithuanian friends, and the Lithuanian friends brought them back.
A: What do you mean by that? They would do what? They would go to the friends’ houses?
B: And the friends took them and brought them back to the ghetto.
B: No need “because”! I give you the facts.
A: Well, they must have given a reason why they were bringing them back, didn’t they?
B: They didn’t give any reason, they were not ready to hide them and that’s it.
A: Did they insist upon bringing them back?
B: They insisted upon bringing them back.
A: They couldn’t have just gone to someplace else?
B: The facts are what I’m telling you, what I saw with my own eyes.
A: That’s all right, that’s what I want to find out.
B: They were brought back. And the amazing thing is that people didn’t even seem to take it seriously, ah, you know, smiling etc, etc. To me it was a horrible scene. Here you run away to someone you trust, and they bring you back to the ghetto.
A: But how would they bring them back? How could they bring them back?
B: They walked with them. What else do you want?
A: Well, by force? I am trying to imagine how it worked.
A: How did it happen? You leave the ghetto–
B: Some of them brought back the Jews in this way. [Demonstrates]
A: Oh, you mean arm in arm?
B: Arm in arm, unbelievable, unbelievable.
A: You mean they are escorting their friends to their next–
B: Yes, it’s mindboggling what happened, but people were not really desperate.
A: There was no general sense of desperation, you say?
B: People were optimistic. I didn’t share their feeling. I gave up already. I decided this is the end, finish.
A: For you personally?
B: For all the ghetto.
A: You thought that you yourself were finished?
B: Yes, that I am going to be finished along with everybody else.
A: So you saw these people being brought back.
B: Yes, to me it looked like they lost their lives. They should be desperate, nothing of the type.
A: But you hadn’t run away yourself, while they had?
B: I told you, I couldn’t. I told you that I went to our neighbors. I went to our neighbors and they were not ready to hide me. I had no other place to go, that’s final.
A: And you weren’t going to try to go where the Russians were?
B: Where were the Russians?
A: That’s what I want to know. They’re coming soon, you say.
B: They’re coming soon.
A: How far away are the Russians?
B: At this moment they are about one hundred kilometers to the east.
A: One hundred kilometers?
A: Now you could have walked that? You were young and strong?
B: If I am not turned in, God almighty!
A: That’s right. But if you were not turned in–
B: If I am not turned in–
A:–you could have walked to where the Russians were?
B: You didn’t even have to walk, you had to wait for the Russians to come. But you had to have a place to wait.
A: Either way, you could have done that?
B: Okay, there were people who did it. A friend of mine did it. They were four boys and two girls, and they decided they will run for their lives.
B: They went out, and the first night they found some place to sleep over and everything was okay. Next day, that guy, Menkelov, I’ll even give you names–
B:–he had gone to a Lithuanian school, not to a Jewish school, so he had Lithuanian friends. So a guy who had been together with him in the same grade recognized him.
A: On the second day?
B: On the second day. He recognized him, brought over police to catch them. All six started to run. Two boys and two girls got shot down. Two boys managed to run away into the woods. That’s a fact that I am telling you.
A: So four of them were shot down?
A: Were they killed?
B: What else?
A: I don’t know. They could have been wounded. So as far as you know they died?
B: They died, yes.
A: And two of them got into the woods?
B: Two of them managed, just by sheer running, to go so deep into the woods that the people decided, “Hey, it’s not worth chasing them.”
A: Do you know of any others who ran away?
B: I’m telling you only about those I know. Of course, there were others, too. This was the real situation.
A: Was there any sense of what the odds were, if you run away or if you go on a train? Was there any sense about which was more dangerous? Both were dangerous, right?
B: People are optimistic.
A: I know, but which way was it thought–
B: I would have run if I could. I didn’t.
A: You said earlier you thought that you were finished when you were shipped out. That means 100 percent, right?
B: That means 100 percent.
A: Now what would have been your odds if you had run away?
B: I would have been killed, like one of the four–
A: Well, no.
B:–because I cannot run that quick.
A: Two out of three, right? Two thirds of them were killed?
A: Isn’t that better than–
B: If you want to look at it that way, okay.
A: You are the mathematician, I’m not. You see what I amasking?
B: You have to be strong, physically, and ready to run and be able to run.
A: Was it a matter of chance that they were even spotted?
B: A friend of his.
A: Wasn’t it a matter of chance that he would run into a “friend”?
A: So that was unlucky. It could have been that he —
B: But most of the people were unlucky.
A: Most people were unlucky when they tried these things?
B: Yes, unless you had some particular place to go.
A: Did you know anybody else who ran away, who tried to get away, and succeeded?
B: I’m telling you about these two guys, that’s it.
A: Anyone else?
B: That I remember now?
B: I will continue the story. In these two weeks many things were happening. So there’s a guy who tries every possible means to go out. He tries this, he tries that. Finally, one morning, these people go to the bakery to make bread for the ghetto, so he sneaked out with them.
A: This is a bakery outside of the ghetto?
B: There were no bakeries in the ghetto, there was nothing inside the ghetto. So he sneaked out with them. Got it? The story only begins. Meanwhile the first transport is sent already to Germany.
A: The first contingent from your ghetto is already gone?
B: Yes, they already went to Germany.
A: That was how long after the initial notice?
B: I don’t know.
A: They began taking people before the anticipated two weeks were up?
B: Yes, of course. You cannot take four thousand at one time. This is a continuing process. During the two weeks there are several trainloads.
A: I’m sorry, you were told sometime in July–
B: The 8th of July precisely.
A:–that they would be taking people out of the ghetto.
B: That all of the ghetto is being evacuated to Germany.
A: And that the evacuating would begin when?
B: Who has to tell you anything? Nobody knew anything.
A: What did they tell you?
B: They didn’t tell anything. It was a rumor.
A: Oh, you heard a rumor on the 8th of July that you are all going to be moved out of there?
A: And how long after that did they begin actually moving people?
B: I don’t know.
B: Several days. They had first to bring everybody from the surrounding camps. It took time and–
A: So your friend went into the bakery that morning?
B: Yes, and he escaped with his family.
A: He went to where his family was?
A: Where was his family?
B: They were already with Lithuanians.
A: Obviously not in this area?
B: Yes, in this area.
A: I see. He moved in with them?
B: Please, let’s not generalize. Lithuanians is a general concept. There were Lithuanians who helped Jews and there were Lithuanians who did not. He had Lithuanians who helped him.
A: He moved in where his family was?
A: How long did he stay there?
B: After two weeks, the Russians came.
A: I see.
B: It was a matter of days.
A: So all those people that were taken out of your ghetto, if they had stayed there another two weeks or three weeks, the Russians would have been there? Is that what you are telling me?
B: Three days.
A: You mean they just barely got out of there before the Russians came?
B: Barely. Some of the German guards became prisoners of war under the Russians. Some of the German guards of this ghetto couldn’t escape and they became prisoners of war of the Russians. So you know how touch-and-go the situation was. Wait, wait. These two weeks were a long time. The foreign Jews from Hungary they have already been transported.
A: You mean the foreign Jews went first?
B: More or less. Then there was a jail in the ghetto. There was a police force, there was also a jail. All the servicemen were basically Jewish people who knew German. One guy, who worked for the commandant, found a letter that all those that were in jail should be killed because they are criminals and they don’t want them in Germany.
A: You mean the Germans had standards about whom they would take?
B: Please, it’s all very serious business. So the Jewish people helping to run the jail decided, when there was the next transport, to take all of the jail and send them on the transport, straight from jail. This saved them from being killed. The commandant came and asked, “Where are they?” He was told, “They have been taken away.” “You shouldn’t have sent them away.” “Well, you never told us.”
A: I see.
B: So those people don’t even know that this saved their lives. On the spot, they were protestingB why are they taken straight from jail and not let even to say goodbye to their friends? But that saved their lives.
A: Now, these were criminals, you say?
B: I don’t know what you call them.
A: What were they in jail for? They were not political prisoners?
B: Maybe they tried to go through the barbed wire and were put in jail. All kind of things, all kind of little things.
A: So two weeks are going by.
B: Two weeks are a real long time. In these two weeks I didn’t go to work. I was very desperate. When I was in my routine, I wasn’t able to think. These two weeks I don’t go out to work. I have to think. The situation is really bad and I try to figure out a way. I see absolutely nothing, and I look at the others. All of a sudden, some people from the factory who had tried to hide are being brought back to the ghetto.
A: They had tried to hide where?
B: In the factory. The factory was big. There were several people who did hide in the factory.
A: Until the Russians came?
B: Until the Russians came. So this guy had his wife, two children and his sister. He knew exactly the factory , so they were hiding, but he had to go out to find food, and he was turned in. To be turned in was, in my opinion, like a death sentence. This family, of course, the wife and the two children, were later on sent away to be killed. And he–
A: Wait, wait a minute, I’m sorry. He was caught when he went out to get food, right?
B: So, of course, the whole family was caught.
B: Because they traced him down. What do you mean, “Why?”
A: Oh, I see. So they found out where his family was.
B: Yes, of course. So, anyway, the net result was that the wife and the two children were taken right away to be killed.
A: You mean killed in Lithuania?
A: Killed in a concentration camp?
B: Yes. I will explain later to you. So for them it was a death sentence being caught. But he and his sister survived the war.
A: Were they in jail. Were they some of those put in jail?
B: No. No.
A: But they went on another trip, another train?
B: Yes, they went.
A: To a concentration camp?
B: Go ahead if you have a pertinent question.
A: Did any of your friends come up to you and say, “I have a plan for getting out of here. Come with me”?
B: No, no, God forbid! There were people who said, “If you run, I will run with you.” They trusted me. But where could I run?
A: Did they have a suggestion where to run? Which way?
B: It doesn’t matter which way we run, the situation is so desperate that it doesn’t matter.
A: And you said that you would not?
B: I didn’t say anything. I had no choice. If I had half a choice, I would do it.
A: I’m sorry I don’t understand. Your friends came to you, and some of your younger friends, right?
B: Yes, a younger guy, one precisely.
A: Somebody your age–
A:–says what to you? I mean, how does he put it?
B: Let’s go through the barbed wire. The time to go through the barbed wire was in the middle of the night.
A: That’s right.
B: You know, when the people, the guards, are more or less asleep.
A: That’s right.
B: Wait, the story only begins.
A: And you said, what, to him?
B: I didn’t say anything. I didn’t have to say anything.
A: Well, what did he do?
B: He went, like all of us, to a concentration camp.
A: He wouldn’t go by himself, is that it?
B: He didn’t go by himself. I don’t know why, but he didn’t.
A: I don’t quite understand why you didn’t take up his offer to go with you.
B: Where should I go? I am trying to explain to you the desperate situation. Where should I go?
A: Well, I guess–
B: Besides, wait a minute, before you go further, I have my mother.
A: All right, that begins–
B: Enough, finish! I have my mother.
A: And you didn’t want to leave her?
B: Officially, I don’t want to leave her.
A: What do you mean by “officially”?
B: I don’t know. I was desperate enough. I don’t know.
A: Well, what did your mother want you to do?
B: My mother wanted to have me with her. What kind of question is that. My mother wanted to have me with her.
A: What did your mother say about all this? Did she ever say to you, “Listen, son, you try to get out of here”?
B: No, no, no!
A: “You’re young, you can make it.”
B: No! No!
A: Why not? Why didn’t —
B: The assumption was that we were going to work in Germany. So we work here, we work in Germany.
A: Wait a minute, you have already said that you thought that once you got on the train you were finished.
B: I thought so, I thought so.
A: But did you tell her that?
B: No, no. I don’t have to tell it. These thoughts I keep to myself. The situation is desperate enough. I don’t have to add any black–
A: All right.
B: I’m just looking at the others, who are optimistic, and I think either I am crazy or they are.
A: Now your mother was in good health?
A: She was able to move around.
B: Oh yes, oh yes. Now I am old, so you assume my mother was old. I and my mother, we were young. Wait, wait, the story only thickens. Then, slowly, slowly, the ghetto begins to be empty, so there is more food–
A: As the ghetto is emptying there is more for those who are left behind?
A: Because the same amount of food is being produced for the ghetto?
B: They are baking bread every day.
A: Are they reducing the bread rations for the ghetto?
B: No, no.
A: They are sending in the same amount of bread?
B: The same amount of bread.
A: So the amount of food for each person is improving.
B: It’s improving.
A: So if you are living in the ghetto in the last days, you are better off than you had been before?
B: Yes, definitely, definitely.
A: But you also knew that time was short?
B: I knew it, beyond any shadow of doubt. I personally was completely desperate. I was just looking at what was happening and couldn’t believe my own eyes, that’s all.
A: Well, you must have talked to other people who were desperate, too?
A: Oh, no other young man came up to you–
A:–or young girl came up to you and said that this is desperate?
B: No! No. Wait, the story only thickens. To you it looks so strange. So what things have I been doing during these days? Anyway, all of a sudden, one night, I think the 17th of July, I wake up, I hear the beats of planes flying. You know, from far away, the planes give beats, you know, it’s not a continuous . . .
B: I hear the beats of planes. I wake up my mother. I say, “The Russians are coming. The Russians are coming to bomb us.” She says she doesn’t hear it. Okay, I think she’ll hear it sooner or later.
B: Soon enough, they came more near, more near, more near, and the first bomb fell.
A: On what?
B: Who knows? I hear a bomb falling.
A: In the town somewhere?
B: Yes, of course, the town is going to be bombarded. The town. So I go out and of course I know my laws, I have to lay down on the ground; this is my best chance. And I go out and my mother and all the neighbors are laying there. And, of course, I curse the Russians. I say it’s not enough that we are in so much trouble, we still have to be bombed. And the rest of the Jews are shouting, “Shema Yisrael.” This is “Hear, O Israel,” “you know?” This is what people shout.
A: Oh, you mean they are praying?
B: They are praying, yes, “Shema Yisrael, Shema Yisrael.” And I am cursing the Russians. And my mother says, “Please don’t curse.” Supposedly, it’s not nice to curse them. But this is the way I feel at that time. [Laughter]
A: I take it from your laughter that you see something strange and even funny about this?
B: It is completely mixed up. Wait, wait, wait, the story only thickens.
A: Now the bombing is going on, right?
B: This is what I want to tell you about the bombing. I don’t know if you have ever been bombed.
B: The usual feeling is that every bomb is aimed at you. You hear the plane diving and the feeling is that it dives towards you. You hear the shaking of the bomb, pshhh, you know?
B: But when you hear the explosion, it’s okay, it didn’t hit you.
A: If you can hear it, you are okay?
B: If you hear the explosion, it’s okay. So I am cursing, cursing, and all the time I know that it’s psychology, because everybody feels that way. I know it’s psychology. Then, I hear a diving in the air. I hear a bomb screeching, and a bomb hits very near, and I am covered with dirt. So it’s not a joke.
A: What are they trying to hit?
B: They are bombing the city.
A: But what in the city?
B: Everything, for God’s sake! Everything, God Almighty! You say you have been in the Air Corps. Didn’t the Air Corps bomb cities?
A: I’m just trying to learn what it was that they were trying to bomb.
A: Did you ever form opinion as to what they were trying to do there?
B: The army had to march in. They didn’t want Lithuanian snipers. They wanted the population of my city to leave town.
A: So they were trying to get people to leave the city?
B: Yes, and they bombarded mercilessly.
A: And did people leave?
B: And how! And how!
A: The Lithuanians?
A: So the Russians were successful in that?
B: Of course, they were successful.
A: Did the Germans leave, too?
B: Wait, wait, wait. For the Germans everything is according to plan.
B: The ghetto was alongside the jail. The jailbirds used the opportunity of the bombing. They jumped over the wall of the jail and they found themselves in the ghettoBfrom one jail into another jail. [Chuckling] But they are daring and brave and there is nothing to lose. So they run. There is a German guard and he is holding his gun, not to let them through. A bomb comes and kills the guard. Sheer, pure coincidence, sheer, pure coincidence.
B: So, of course, all these run away, and some Jews run with them.
A: Now the jailed people were Jews, or were they–
A: I see.
B: So they all run away.
A: Some Jews run with them?
B: Towards a lake.
A: And what are they going to do when they get to the lake?
B: Along the lake you go farther in the fields. You go farther, farther. You run–
A: Out of the ghetto?
B: Not out of the ghetto, out of the city.
A: Out of the city?
B: Yes, everybody who has a little amount of mind knows it’s not the time to be in the city.
A: Well, why didn’t you run with them?
B: Don’t ask questions. I am giving you the facts.
A: But why didn’t you? You must have a fact as to why you didn’t run then.
B: I didn’t even know they were running. I didn’t even know.
A: So you didn’t see them running?
B: I see them running but I didn’t know which direction, what their aim is, if they know something. I just thought how pitiful it was of them that they dived from the jail into the ghetto.
A: You thought it at that time?
B: Yes, pity. They thought they are already free, and they are in the ghetto.
B: And that the German guard got killed is a sheer pure coincidence. But wait, here one girl is shot.
A: By whom?
B: By the guards, she tries to run away and I am the one who carries her to the hospital. You have to do now what can be done. I run and take her to the hospital. And the bombing is serious and then came morning and I saw the hole that this bomb made that covered my–
A: That covered you with dirt, yes?
B: When I saw the hole, all my daring and all my bravery left me like nothing. It was like a two-story house, a hole, you know, in the ground. So I knew this game is for real, it’s not jokes. All my daring and all my bravery left me. So during the day people start digging ditches. The first night we had had nothing against bombing. The first day, I think altogether eight people got killed in the ghetto.
A: Now, there are no basements in any of these houses, right?
B: I don’t know. No, not that I remember.
A: So you couldn’t go into a basement, or you wouldn’t want to?
B: I don’t know, nobody thought about it. In my house there was no basement.
A: But they did dig ditches during the day?
B: Oh, during the day even I dug a ditch. So the second night there was again bombing and nobody got killed. The ditches were effective.
A: Were you in a ditch yourself?
A: And your mother too?
A: How long were you in the ditch?
B: What do you mean? As long as the bombing was going on.
A: And how long was that?
A: How many planes would there be? Do you have any idea?
B: Who knows?
A: One or two?
B: No! No!
A: One hundred?
B: No, no. I bet a whole squadron of planes.
A: I see.
B: It’s obvious.
A: All right.
B: Then, the first day after the bombing, the people, a little reality starts to enter their mind. They don’t want to be bombed. They are ready to go to Germany now with their own free will.
A: Why is that?
B: To run away from the bombs.
A: Unless you ran in the direction, where the Russians were–then you would be safe?
B: No, no, no. When you are bombed, all you think is to run away from the place that is being bombed.
A: That’s right, but there were two ways you could run.
B: It was no “two ways”.
A: You could run towards Germany or away from Germany.
B: No! The Germans are offering a way to go. So we take their offer. It looks like that here we would be bombed for certain, and going to Germany we don’t know what is going to happen. So public opinion changed completely, to go to Germany.
A: Because of the bombing?
B: Yes. Two nights they bombed. The second night, I am telling you–
A: So the next morning they said to themselves, “It’s better to go to Germany than to stay here for more of this.” Is that it?
B: Right, right.
A: And did you agree?
B: Please, I decided the game is up.
A: But did you agree that it is up faster one way than the other?
B: I didn’t want to be bombed. That much is clear. I don’t want to be bombed till this day. I don’t like this little excitement. But we were already cut off from Germany, the railway was already in the hands of the Russians, I couldn’t know it then. Incidentally, after the first day I am standing with a guy, and we try to decide if the Russians are far away or not. Several bombs seemed to hit the factory, so we decided they are far away. If they were nearby they would not hit the factory because they needed the factory. As it is, the factory had not been bombedB neither by the Russians nor by the Germans, and it worked thorough all the yearsB but part of it had been mined by the Germans and disappeared. So we’ll have to walk, we’ll have to walk. We are told we should put all of out things in sacks that will be picked up.
A: Are you in the last party from the ghetto?
B: I am in the last party.
A: Now why were you among the last out of the ghetto?
B: Because the locals had definitely a preference.
A: Who made the choice as to who left when?
B: The Jewish representatives.
A: You mean the leaders of the Jewish–
B: The leaders, yes.
A: Now two of the Jewish leaders are gone by this time.
B: So there took over a guy that was married with a non-Jewish. I told you this already.
B: So he’s now the boss.
A: By himself?
B: By himself.
A: What’s his name?
A: Now he’s the boss and he decides who goes. Was it the opinion of the Jews, including Parize, that the longer you could stay there, the–
B: Wait, wait, wait, wait, it’s very important. So people tried to negotiate with Parize to take a chance with the Russians. Parize tried to negotiate with the SS, with the Germans. It so happens, one guy had a gun–
A: “One guy”? One Jew?
B: Yes, he had a gun hidden. And Parize found the gun. I think somebody told him. The gun was oiled. Parize said “Ha ha, I have no chance. If I wait for the Russians I will be killed. Obviously we all go.”
A: Now why did he think he’d be killed if he waited for the Russians?
B: Don’t ask me, that was his opinion.
A: Well, I mean, killed by whom?
B: By the Russians.
A: He thought the Russians would kill him.
A: Did many of the other Jews believe that, that they would be killed by the Russians if–
B: No, no, no, no, he was the head and he knew what to expect. He knew what he had done. Anyway, the story doesn’t end here because he convinced the Germans that he was a German, so he did not go to a concentration camp. The other way around: he stole a lot of things that belonged to the Jews and took them away.
B: To Germany? In Germany he was accepted like a German.
A: Because of his wife?
B: Because he said he was in the First World War. Anyway, during the journey, he took off his star. His second in command, Mr. Burgond, also wanted to take off his star, and Parizel said, “No, no, no, you have to wear the star.” So this Parize just misled us as to what was necessary and we were ready to be misled after the bombings. So now, because there are no railway carriages, we have to walk about twenty kilometers to where there is still rail connection with Germany. So we walk.
A: Including Mr. Parize?
A: Everybody walked?
B: Everybody walked. The German guards also walked.
A: So you all walked twenty kilometers, you say?
A: And were you the last of the ghetto?
A: How do you know you were the last?
B: What do you mean, How do I know?
A: You knew enough about what was in the ghetto, to know that you were the last of them?
B: We were the last contingent.
A: Now as you were leaving, what was happening in the ghetto? Were Lithuanians coming in?
B: No, no, no, no. The Germans are very orderly.
A: The Germans are still in control ofB
B: Of course, in controlB
A: So as you left, you left the Germans behind–
A:–in control of the ghetto.
B: Yes. I don’t want to lie to you. We left them with several Jews.
A: Who were the Jews that were left? To do what?
B: To do the cooking and the washing. Some Jews were left in the ghetto.
A: The Germans kept those to take care of them?
B: These Jews were completely disconnected and they had to be evacuated to Riga because there was no way they could be evacuated to Germany.
B: Because the railroads were cut off.
A: When were they disconnected?
B: After we left the railroads were completely disconnected.
A: Now, how do you know what happened to those Jews?
B: Because I met them later in concentration camp, some of them. They had been sent to Riga and again there is a selection. Those who were good to work and–
A:–were sent to where you were?
B: And they were sent in the same camp. Several days later they came.
A: So as you are leaving, you know that you are the last contingent of Jews?
A: And you know that the others have gone, of course, to the same place you are going?
A: You expect that they will all go to the same place?
A: You are walking twenty kilometers. Your mother is with you?
A: She’s walking the twenty.
B: Of course, she’s walking.
A: And how old is she then?
B: I figured out she must have been fifty-two or fifty-three.
A: In good health?
B: Obviously. She has been sorted out in the camp to work and not to die.
A: So she must have been thought of as being good enough–
B: And they sorted people naked so it was not how you pretend to be. They looked at the body: are you capable or not?
A: I see.
B: So wait; don’t jump the story. So we are coming and like I told you, in the middle of the night, people had to relieve themselves.
B: So we are allowed. People who are squeamish said that men and women should not relieve themselves together. At that moment it didn’t matter.
A: They wouldn’t let men and womengo to different sides?
B: No! No! No!
A: Did they try to go separately?
B: No! I mean this, the sadism was on the surface, They didn’t have to impress us, nothing.
A: The sadism of the Germans?
A: Who were they, the people in charge of you? Was it the guards that had been over at the ghetto, or were these different people in charge?
B: The guards were the same guards.
A: The same guards?
B: Yes. Santa is going to bring special guards for us?
A: And these are all Germans?
B: Germans, yes.
A: They are not Lithuanians?
B: No. All Germans.
A: German Germans?
B: German. I don’t know, maybe Germans from other countries that came over to Germany.
A: But they are not Lithuanian Germans?
B: No, no. The Lithuanian Germans were finished, ethnic cleansing.
A: What do you mean? They have been shipped out?
B: Under the Russians, that’s what I tried to tell you.
A: So the Lithuanian Germans have been taken care of by the Russians, right?
B: By Hitler, God Almighty. This is what I want to tell you all the time and you don’t listen.
A: I’m sorry. I had a–
B: There was an agreement between Germany and Russia.
A: You said “taken care of by the Russians,” but you mean they were taken care because of the agreement with the Russians?
B: The agreement —
A: — with the Germans, and Hitler took them out, back to Germany?
B: Wait, it’s very important, another detail: it was officially an exchange of populations.
B: Namely, Lithuanians in Germany could say that they wanted to go back to Lithuania.
A: Lithuanians in Germany?
B: Because part of Lithuania has been occupied. And guys who wanted to avoid being drafted in the German army of course asked to be written down as Lithuanians. And I know personally a guy that came with this transfer of population. Everything looked very nice, on the level, this population exchange.
A: How long did this trip by foot take?
B: By foot it was one night.
A: You slept on the road?
B: No, we didn’t sleep on the road. It was still light when we left and then we walked, walked, and around midnight we got there. Twenty kilometers is not the end of the world.
A: I know, but that makes it even more puzzling. Twenty kilometers is not very far–
B: Not very far.
A:–and how many more than twenty kilometers were the Russians?
B: Wait, wait, before you jump. The Russians, already during the last bombing, dropped parachutists.
B: Into the town.
A: Into your town?
A: While you were there?
A: You saw the parachutes?
B: No, but I saw the light flares. When they bombed, they didn’t bomb in the dark. They put in a tremendous amount of light flares.
B: So maybe some of the light flares were on parachutists.
A: And what were the parachutists doing?
B: They were to conquer the city. What kind of question is that?
A: I don’t know what they were doing. Were they there to–
B: I don’t know, please, because I don’t know.
A: But you do know that they dropped them?
B: Some parachutists were dropped.
A: But the Germans are still in control of the city?
B: The Germans are still in control of the city. It didn’t make sense then to me, not only now.
A: But they’re still facts?
B: The facts are facts. I was watching, my eyes were open.
A: So you took the twenty kilometer trip?
A: It took all night?
A: Much of the night?
B: No, at the end of the night we were sleeping over there.
A: At the town, at the juncture?
A: Was the train waiting for you?
B: No, no. In the morning some railway carriages came with the locomotive.
B: We had been given good food, boxes of good meat, and good bread.
A: Then you were taken onto the cars.
B: We were taken onto the cars. Families are still together. Twenty people in a car.
A: Very carefully, twenty people to a car?
A: Why twenty?
B: Why are you asking me? I give you the facts.
A: Well, no, let me ask you this, Why didn’t they have forty to a car?
B: Because they still wanted to impress us that this is a civilian movement, that it is all okay.
A: So you load up the train.
B: Yes, and the train starts moving.
A: Does it take everybody?
B: Yes, of course.
A: Why do you say “of course”?
B: Yes, everybody.
A: There’s enough space in the train for all of them?
B: Yes. I’ll give you another thing. All of a sudden they brought water in the encampment where we are. Everybody wants to get their water. I saw the German guard shooting in the air.
A: Shooting what?
B: Just one shot in the air.
B: And all of a sudden, all of these people run away, and I thought, if they want water they want water. So there is one shot in the air. Don’t they see that it is a shot in the air and it means nothing? They didn’t.
A: How many German guards were there?
B: Very few.
A: How many?
B: I don’t know.
A: Well, one hundred?
B: Less, definitely less.
A: How many Jews were there?
B: I don’t know.
A: Do you have any idea how many people walked with you that night?
B: Now I don’t remember, then I knew. Definitely in the hundreds, definitely.
B: Oh yes, definitely.
A: And how many Germans were there?
B: I don’t know, as many Germans as were guarding us.
A: I know, but how many would that have been?
B: Not in the hundreds, definitely not. Assuming one German for twenty persons in quite fair. In reality, if we had decided, we could have overpowered them, even though the guards had rifles.
A: You could have overpowered them?
B: Oh yes, because we were so many more. And it was in the middle of the night.
B: And we could have run away as we were walking through the woods.
B: We could walk away. In reality, that was a chance.
A: If you had done that, if some contingent of you had said, AWe can overpower the guards right here–A
A:–you and some other young men–
A:–you could have overpowered them, right?
B: Oh, yes.
A: And you were right next to the woods?
B: No, we were walking through the woods.
A: Walking through the woods?
B: Yes, no problem to run away through the woods.
A: Which is where other people were hiding too, right? In the woods, some people were hiding in the woods?
B: There were other woods where some were hiding.
A: You, too, could have hidden there for a day or two?
B: Oh, yes.
A: But there was no thought of acting thus, even though you could overcome the guards, there was no serious–
B: Nobody thought about it.
B: Don’t ask me why, because I give you the facts.
A: Why didn’t you try to get it done? You must have had some notion why it was not a good idea.
B: I didn’t think that I had a chance.
A: That’s what I mean. So you didn’t think that it would work. Could you have gotten away for a bit?
B: I did have the thought, but I didn’t think I had a chance, because I think these things should be organized. If one guy attacks, he has not much of a chance.
A: But there was nobody organizing it?
B: No! No! Forget it. Everybody was running away from the bombing.
A: No leaders in the community–
B: No, no. Everybody thought only about running away from the bombing. That was the general feeling, we are not going to be bombed anymore.
A: Did you hear about other communities like yours, when you were in the camp?
B: There was one of the branch camps that the guys tried to run away and they were quite successful but at one point they were caught. Some of them ran away and survived.
A: Some of them actually organized an escape?
B: Yes, yes.
A: And some of them escaped?
A: Successfully got away?
A: Now what made the difference, do you think? Why did they do it? Did you ever find out? Did you, when you talked to people, ever figure out why some were able to do it?
B: In their place they could do it. That’s it. No argument.
A: Okay. So you’re on the train now. How long did you wait for the train to come?
B: Wait! Please, it’s the 20th of July. Does that ring a bell?
A: Yes, they are trying to get rid of Hitler back in Germany.
B: That’s it, and we are in this place before we are put on the train and we hear on the radio–
A: On the German radio?
B: The German guards are lost. Because if, on the day I left for a concentration camp, the attack on Hitler had succeeded, I would never have been in a concentration camp.
A: What did you hear?
B: Nothing, I didn’t hear anything. Everything was rumors.
A: Wait a minute, you just said that you heard something, what did you hear?
B: I don’t remember. I know only that the German guards were lost.
A: By “lost” you mean what?
B: They didn’t know what to do. I know that the Jews said that there is an attack on Hitler and he is dead. That was the rumor.
A: That’s what the Jews thought?
B: Yes. But they got it from the Germans. All the time this information goes freely.
A: So the rumor began spreading. When did it begin spreading?
B: That day when it happened.
A: Morning or afternoon?
B: When it happened.
A: I’m sorry–
B: The German radio said it on the spot.
A: You have to be patient with me, because–
B: No, I will not be patient.
A:–I was not there. You got there at–
B: At midnight.
A:–at the, what do you want to call it?
B: It’s called Pavanche.
A: That’s the place where you got on the train?
A: Now you got there about midnight?
A: You settled down on the ground?
B: We settled down on the ground, some people.
A: It’s warm.
B: Some people even shine their shoes. I mean, like peacetime.
A: Some people shined their shoes?
A: Dressed up?
A: Fixed themselves up a little bit?
A: Waiting for the morning?
B: In the morning it happens, when you get up to start the day.
A: They got up and they started preparing for the day, like they were going on a trip?
A: And the train comes in at what time?
B: I don’t know.
A: Was it the next day?
B: No, no, the same day, but in the afternoon.
A: But long before that–
B: Long before that there is a rumor.
A: You heard a rumor?
B: Yes, that Hitler is dead.
A: Why would there be a morning rumor?
B: Because that’s when it happened. The world is connected. The report came straight from Berlin.
A: And the initial report out of Berlin was–
B:–that he is dead–
A:–that he had been killed?
A: I’m surprised that the attack was very early in the morning in Germany.
B: I don’t know.
A: Because you wouldn’t ordinarily have a meeting early in the morning.
B: Maybe it was the evening before, and in the morning the radio reported it.
A: No, it was the 20th. We know it was the 20th.
B: The 20th?
A: Yes. And this is the 20th?
B: It is the 20th.
A: Some way or other, the message, the rumor gets to you people.
B: Right away.
A: Right away?
A: The Germans are demoralized.
B: They are not demoralized!
A: Or uncertain about what to do?
B: They are not.
A: They are lost, you said earlier?
B: In my opinion they are lost. But they don’t show anything. They got orders to take us, they will take us, if Hitler is dead or alive or anything. They don’t change.
A: Well, you said they were lost. What do you mean by being lost?
B: They are not happy. Let’s put it that way.
A: I see.
B: But wait a minute. I have to give you my innermost thought. My innermost thought is, maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not true. There were all kind of rumors all the time. What would I like it, to be true or not?
B: I wanted it to be not true. Why? Because I hated the Germans at that stage with all my heart. There is not even one soldier on German soil at that time.
A: What do you mean my “one soldier on German soil”?
B: What Allied soldier —
A: Oh, Allied soldier?
B: Yes. I want Germany to be just crushed.
A: And that would not happen unless Hitler is still alive?
B: If he is dead, of course, there is peace and no problem.
B: And Germany has not been occupied.
A: That’s right. So?
B: And they get away again, like in the First World War. I wanted the rumor to be wrong. And I decided that this is a rumor, it has nothing to do with reality. Then I make the decision. I know that if I am taken to concentration camp, I will have to pay a very high price, but to hell with it, the Germans will pay. [Chuckles] That was my innermost feeling.
A: But you consider that kind of funny now, don’t you?
B: No! No.
A: Well, then, why are you laughing?
B: Because it was completely unrealistic. Everything was completely unrealistic but this is how I felt.
A: You hoped that he was still alive so Germany would continue the war?
B: Yes, and they will be occupied.
A: So the Allies would have to go all the way and occupy the country?
B: Yes, yes. That’s revenge.
A: You would get the revenge you wanted?
A: How long did it take you to learn that he was alive?
B: Nobody knows if he is dead or not.
A: How long did it take you to learn that he was not dead?
B: I didn’t believe that he was dead.
A: How long was it before you learned what had happened?
B: Nobody learned what happened that day. That day the Germans behaved exactly by order. We have to be transported, and all the other things don’t matter.
A: When did you get on the train?
B: I think in the afternoon, late in the afternoon.
A: All of you got on by that time?
A: There was nobody left behind?
B: Nobody left.
A: What happened to the German guards?
B: They were together with us on the trains.
A: Was there a guard in each car?
A: Two in each car?
B: Yes. Again, just for the sake of truthfulness, I thought there was absolutely no problem in overpowering the two guys because they fell asleep and left their rifles standing.
A: There would have been absolutely no problem overpowering them?
B: Even to steal their rifles?
A: And then jump out?
B: And then jump out. The question is where to go. This is the whole tragedy. There was nowhere to go. Two guards and twenty people, the twenty people can overpower them.
A: That’s right.
B: The two guys are human beings, they fall asleep. How they ignored us as human beings boils me till this day. They didn’t even consider us dangerous.
A: Because you weren’t?
B: Because we weren’t
A: They were right?
B: They were right, and this is what bugs me till this day.
B: Don’t laugh. [Laughs] This bugs me till this day.
A: [Still laughing] I’m laughing because you are laughing.
B: It was too easy for the Germans. This is what I will swear till the last day of my life. Killing the Jews was too easy. That’s all.
A: Because obviously, you all could have taken over the train.
B: That I don’t know–
A: Well, wait a minute–
B: We could have taken over our carriage. I don’t know about the train.
A: You’ve already told me that they were very methodical, that they put twenty in each carriage.
A: Two guards in each.
A: So there’s no reason to believe the situation was not the same in every carriage.
B: It must be in every carriage.
A: And yet nothing was done in any of the carriages.
B: Nothing was done in any of the carriages.
A: All of the people that got on were there when the train got to its destination?
A: How long did the trip take?
B: Here is what I was going to tell you. We have been taken away from my hometown. We have been taken away up till Telshay. Then the locomotive disconnected us and went away. And we are now a trainload without a locomotive.
A: The locomotive left you off somewhere?
A: On the main line or off on the side?
B: I don’t know. Anyway the main line didn’t matter because there are no trains going anymore. And of course everyone is allowed to go down and relieve himself, out of the train.
A: They weren’t doing this in the car?
B: In the car we had a special arrangement but now we are standing.
A: How long were you traveling in the car before you came to this place?
B: This is one day, only one day.
A: But the full day?
B: And night, I think.
A: So people were not leaving the car during the trip to relieve themselves?
B: No, no.
A: So you had some kind of toilet set up?
B: We put bed sheets around and that was the place where people relieved themselves.
A: So they would go in there?
B: They would go in, do it, and it would be thrown out.
A: And the guards also?
B: No! The guards were free to do whatever they wanted.
A: What did they do?
B: Who cares?
A: Did they make use of the facility?
B: No! Definitely not!
A: Well, why didn’t they?
B: Why should they?
A: They were there all day, what did they do?
B: But they were free to leave the carriage and go wherever they wanted.
A: Well, the carriage is moving all day?
B: The carriage is stopped, and is standing in its place.
A: I’m not talking about when you stopped. I’m talking about as you’re traveling all day. You’ve already told me what happened as you are traveling.
B: We didn’t travel continuously one day, never, not even one day did we continuously–
A: Did you stay in the carriage all day?
B: Yes, we Jews.
A: The Jews did, but the guards could go in and out of the carriage?
B: They could go.
A: Sometimes there wouldn’t be any Germans there at all?
B: No. One guard would go and the other would stay.
A: And the guard didn’t know Yiddish?
B: We spoke German to them.
A: But among yourselves you could talk freely in Yiddish. `
B: But they understand Yiddish, the guards. They understand German, they understand Yiddish. No problem.
A: No problem?
B: They talk both ways.
A: Did they understand Lithuanian?
A: You all did know Lithuanian, didn’t you?
A: You could talk among yourselves?
A: Without any guards knowing what you were talking about?
A: Did you?
B: Don’t ask why, I give you the facts. Nobody even thought about resistance.
A: Or even talking to each other about what the situation was?
B: Nothing, nothing.
A: About what’s going to happen?
B: We are going to work in factories in Germany. Very optimistic.
A: So you are traveling all day and at night. Before you get to the stopping place, how long is the trip?
B: I don’t know.
A: Yes, you do know.
B: I don’t.
A: What time did you get to the stopping place?
B: I don’t know.
B: Who cares?
A: Was it overnight?
B: We are leaving this place and we come, I think the same day in this place.
A: Did you have any meal on the trip?
B: They gave us food; we could decide ourselves whenever we want to eat.
A: And there was no bombing during that trip?
B: No! Now we are happy that we are not being bombed.
A: You’ve gotten away from the Russians?
B: Away from the Russians.
A: And now you get to this place. You are still in Lithuania, obviously?
B: We are in Lithuania.
A: You stop.
B: We stop.
A: The locomotive leaves.
B: The locomotive leaves.
A: Where did it go?
B: I don’t know.
A: Why did it leave?
B: What are you asking me? The theory was that it went back to my hometown no bring more railway carriages for other purposes. I mean they are evacuating the city, the Germans.
A: But the Jews are all gone?
B: The Jews are all gone. They have to evacuate other things, too.
A: So you are there for how long?
B: We stayed there a day, I think.
A: In the carriages or outside?
B: In the carriages. They didn’t allow us outside; only for relieving ourselves. They let out several people and when these people came back, others went out.
A: How far would you have to go to do that?
B: I did it beneath the carriage.
A: Okay. So you are there all day. Did they bring you some more food?
B: No! The food was already given to us.
A: Whatever you had in the beginning was all the food for the trip?
B: Yes, that’s all the food.
A: There was no food served on board?
B: No, no.
A: How about water?
B: The water, they let us pick up water.
A: At this place you stopped?
B: At this place, yes.
A: You stopped there all day?
A: And the night?
B: I don’t remember.
A: By the way, by this time, have you heard any more about Hitler?
A: No more, nothing yet?
B: Nothing. I never heard anything. So what is happening is that the Front stopped. After the Russians conquered my hometown, the Front stopped there. The Russians didn’t go any farther.
A: You mean they came to the town?
B: The aim was to conquer the town.
A: And they came?
B: And they came. They conquered the town and didn’t move any more of–
A: When did they take it?
B: This is jumping ahead. When I came to the concentration camp, I saw, in a newspaper of the 23rd of July, written in German, that my hometown had been evacuated according to plan. And I thought how right they are and how true it is. The German paper gave it.
A: On the 23rd it was already in the German paper that they had evacuated?
B: That they evacuated.
A: And when did the Russians get there?
B: I don’t know. I think the same day, but it’s not obvious because later I saw the Russians give a later date when they entered my hometown. So it may be the Germans left but there were still no Russians there. You know such things happenB
A: So you make this stop on the way. How long were you there?
B: I don’t know, I don’t remember.
A: Well, a week?
B: No, no, no, no.
A: Okay, an hour?
B: If three days later we are in concentration camps, it means the journey took at most five days, at least three days. I think the whole journey took five days.
A: Did you stay the night at this town?
B: Yes, we stayed the night.
A: Where did you sleep? In the carriages?
B: In the carriages.
A: And the following morning, were people still fixing themselves up, shining their shoes and everything?
B: No, no, no, we are already in the carriages, we are already closed in hermetically.
A: So when they get up in the morning they don’t–
B: They do whatever they can do, that’s all. Wait a minute. So we are in this Tersh.
A: That’s a stopping place right?
B: That’s a stopping place. There is no locomotive. And here comes a story I heard only later. So I don’t know, should I tell you now or later?
A: Tell me now.
B: Later I heard a story that there was no locomotive. And we might have stayed there, who knows. So the Jewish leaders bribed a locomotive engineer with vodka. This is why I believe this is a true story.
A: Where was the locomotive driver to be bribed? Where was he?
B: Instead of going back and obeying the orders, they gave him a bribe and he stayed.
A: Going back where?
B: Going back to Shoulet or somewhere, I don’t know.
A: To get more?
B: To get more.
A: They bribed him to stay there?
B: To stay there and take us to Germany.
A: If they hadn’t done that–
B: I don’t know what would have happened but this is the story I heard later.
A: What do you believe would have happened otherwise?
B: I don’t know. I have absolutely no idea. I can’t even guess.
B: The Front stopped. It’s not that the Russians are coming.
A: Why did these Jewish leaders do that?
B: They wanted to run away from the Russians. That was the general feeling.
A: The leaders did that?
B: Everyone wanted to run away from the Russians.
A: You didn’t want to run away from the Russians, did you? Did you want to run away from the Russians?
B: That’s a very good question. Up till this moment I never thought about it. I have to close my eyes and think. Of course, I would gladly fall into Russian hands, no doubt. But I have to think about it.
A: So far as you remember now, you were willing to fall into the Russian hands if–
B: And how! Also just for the sake of truthfulness, I thought all the time in the ghetto we are sitting a ghetto and doing nothing–
B:–and waiting for Russian soldiers who get killed to liberate us. That was my thought. If we do nothing it’s not obvious that Russian soldiers would come and liberate us.
A: You didn’t think that would be fair or what?
B: I am giving you the thoughts that I had then. You cannot demand from others to come and liberate you if you are not ready also to make some effort.
A: But you weren’t willing to put up some effort, yourself?
B: That’s right.
A: So you’re there, you’re waiting for the locomotive. The leaders, you hear later, bribed–
B: Yes, bribed, with two bottles of vodka, and this is why I believe it because in Lithuania, money is money, but the true value is vodka.
A: And these were Lithuanians?
B: Lithuanians, yes.
A: They were the drivers of the locomotive?
A: And so instead of going back to your hometown, they stayed there.
B: They stayed in order to take us up to the German border.
A: That’s what I don’t understand. They bribed them–
B: I don’t know how it happened.
A: Why didn’t you leave immediately then with the locomotive?
B: I think that the locomotive went back to my hometown to bring something and they they came back with something.
A: And then they bribed them?
B: And then they bribed them.
A: Before they went back again, you mean?
B: There was no place to go back to, but they bribed them. My hometown was conquered the same day, the 23rd.
A: Of July?
B: Of July.
A: So now you have a locomotive again?
B: We have a locomotive which takes us to the German border.
A: And you get there when?
B: Wait! On the way we stop in some place to get water.
A: For yourselves?
B: For all the people in the train.
A: For the passengers.
B: Yes. And you know me, I am the one who volunteers always to go because I prefer always to be outside of the carriage than inside.
B: I go, I look, no chance of escape, nothing. So we brought water and the people were very jealous of those who bring the water because we could drink fresh water. The people inside don’t All the people wanted to volunteer.
A: How far would you have to go to get the water?
B: To the next well. What’s the problem?
A: Well, how far would that be?
B: Nothing, twenty meters, thirty meters. We fill up all our water, and again a day goes through, and we come to the German border. Now the story changes completely.
A: Wait a minute. When did you get to the German border? What day was it?
B: I think that must have been the 23rd.
A: Before you get to the German border, do you know whether anybody on the train tried to leave the train?
B: Nobody tried.
A: You don’t know of anybody?
B: I know for certain that nobody tried.
A: Well, how many cars were there?
B: I don’t know.
A: Well, five?
B: I don’t know, please. Don’t squeeze me for what I don’t know.
A: You do know–
A:–something about that. How many cars were on that train?
B: No, I don’t–
A: Well, was it one car?
B: No, no, no, it was a sizeable amount.
A: [Laughs] How many cars do you believe there were? How many people do you think there were, passengers?
B: We were hundreds of people and if only twenty people per car–
A: Very good!
B:–so we were hundreds, it must have been tens of carriages.
A: Twenty, thirty carriages, right?
A: So far as you know now, nobody escaped?
B: Nobody escaped.
A: Nobody tried to escape?
B: Nobody tried to escape.
A: How do you know that nobody tried to escape?
B: I don’t.
A: But then why do you believe nobody–
B: Because nobody escaped.
A: But how do you know nobody escaped?
B: Because people would talk amongst themselves.
A: I see.
B: When they arrived at the camp–
A:–you would have heard about it?
A: So you didn’t hear anybody even talking about whether one should escape?
B: Nobody said a word.
A: Okay, you got to the German border.
B: Wait, here is the story. At the German border, the German guards come alive. Before they were scared, maybe, or something.
A: You mean the guards in your carriage?
B: Yes, all of a sudden they became alive. Like they got a new lease on life. They feel very good. We come in the border town. It’s Memel. Have you heard about Memel?
A: Memel I have heard about, yes.
B: Big huge placards. All the wheels are hauling for their victory. I remember it very well. And here happened a thing that, because you know me, you know it’s true.
B: We are getting coffee.
A: Served to you?
B: By the Germans. Now, this was a place where the German army was all the time moving, so they had a coffee place. Whenever German soldiers were going through they got coffee, and they treated us like German soldiers. We got coffee.
A: Now this would be a house where they make coffee?
B: They gave us coffee in the railway carriage. I don’t know if it was a house or anything. I know we got coffee.
A: Well, was there a restaurant there?
B: No, forget about it. I don’t know anything.
A: All you know is that they brought coffee to the carriages?
B: Into the carriages.
A: Who brought it?
B: The Germans, or they took some Jews to carry for them. I don’t know.
A: Were the soldiers bringing it or civilians?
B: Civilians didn’t exist, we are completely under the soldiers.
A: So there weren’t any German civilians who were being used?
B: No. But we have been treated like German soldiers. This is what I want to underline.
A: This is while you are still in Lithuania?
B: Now we are in Germany.
A: You have crossed the border.
B: We crossed the border. It’s a completely different attitude.
A: Let me ask you a silly question. Was there any identification required when you crossed the border?
B: That is a silly question.
A: I know it’s a silly question.
B: That’s all.
A: No identification was required?
B: You’re talking like it’s peacetime and everything.
A: That’s right.
B: This is a trainload that is running from the Russians.
A: Very good, but what I want to know is–
B: I forgot to tell you.
B: On the way we stopped before, still in Lithuania, we found another train with Lithuanian refugees who were also going to Germany.
B: Lithuanians. What’s more is that some of them knew some of us, and we even exchanged greetings.
A: But you didn’t change places at all?
A: You didn’t try to go into that train?
B: Please, of course not.
A: Were they also twenty per carriage?
B: No! They were like human beings.
A: How many would there have been?
B: I don’t know. They had railway carriages like human beings.
A: Oh, they had seats.
B: Chairs and seats.
A: You didn’t have seats at all, did you?
B: No, no.
A: Just an empty carriage, right?
B: An empty carriage.
A: A freight car?
A: Did anybody try to hide in the Lithuanian carriage?
B: No, we talked through the window. We said “Hi” only through the window.
A: Did you see people you knew?
B: Some people did. I didn’t see people that I knew.
A: So you and they could look out the window?
B: They looked out and called each other by names.
A: It’s summer time. In summer time the windows are open?
A: There was no air conditioning in those days?
B: The people in the other train are standing outside; they are walking along the train.
A: You could talk to them?
B: Yes. And they are running from the Russians.
A: To Germany?
B: To Germany.
A: These are Lithuanians?
A: Why were they running?
B: Because they didn’t want to be under Russian occupation.
A: Were these people political people or just ordinary people?
B: The average Lithuanian does not want to be under Russian rule, to this day.
A: Yes. But most Lithuanians did not leave Lithuania then?
B: Most, no.
A: So why were these people leaving? Who were these people? Were they special? You don’t know?
A: So you saw them there? This was not at Memel, but earlier?
B: Earlier, in Lithuania. And they even talked to us.
A: A brief encounter.
B: A brief encounter.
A: And then you were all running on the same railroad line?
B: Parallel tracks; yes, the same railroad
A: Two parallel lines and the two trains are both going the same direction?
B: Yes, but we stopped our train, and their train stopped for some reason.
A: So this route you’re taking had two sets of tracks?
B: I don’t know if it had two sets of tracks all the way.
A: But it had two sets of tracks at this point?
B: At this point, yes.
A: So you visited with each other a little bit.
B: We talked.
A: You compared notes about–
B: The head of the factory, the Lithuanian head of the factory, was one of them.
A: You saw him?
B: Yes. I forget his name.
A: But you recognized him. Did he see you?
B: He didn’t have to see me, he saw others that he knew.
A: I see.
B: It was like friends talking among themselves.
A: Yes. But there was no sense about what the difference was going to be for each?
B: There was a very good sense of that. We are in railway carriages like pigs and they are in railway carriages like human beings.
A: And did they say anything about that?
B: They didn’t say anything, just “Hi!” The whole atmosphere looked strange to me then and still does, like it’s a joyous occasion, like people are going to a picnic.
A: On the part of?
B: On both parts. It’s excitement, you know; trains are going–
A: But there was no sense, on the part of the Lithuanians you talked to, of sympathy for your situation?
B: No sense, no, nothing.
A: No sense of, “Gee, this is awful, what they are doing to you”?
B: No, no.
A: Nothing like that?
B: Nothing like that. That’s what bothers me more than anything–
A: Yes. That’s why I want to–
B:–that they did not have any pity for us.
A: That is very intriguing.
B: That’s the thing that bothers me.
A: Yes. They saw what condition you were in?
A: There was no question about that, right?
B: If they see what kind of railway carriages we are in–
A: That’s what I mean, they see how you are traveling.
B: They see, and we wave to them, and they wave to us.
A: And you recognized some of them?
A: And yet, so far as you know, may they have been afraid to express pity? Do you think–
B: They didn’t give a damn about us, it’s clear.
A: They didn’t care at all about–
B: Of course, they didn’t. And they were trying to save their own lives, their own hides.
A: Even though some of them were old friends?
B: “Old friends” is an exaggeration, but okay.
A: Old acquaintances?
B: Old acquaintances.
A: Fellow workers?
B: Yes, fellow workers, no doubt.
A: Some of them had been working for your father?
B: No, no, no, no.
A: No, never?
B: No. This factory had been a big huge factory, it had about five departments, five factories, in effect.
A: So they wouldn’t have been with your father? All right, so you are there, you see these people, you greet them.
B: Yes, as if nothing was wrong. I feel that we are condemned to die, and they are saving their own lives. This was my own personal feeling.
A: And at the same time that you feel you are condemned to die, and although you have several days during which to do it, you don’t jump out of the carriage to try to take your chances.
B: To go where? [Stomps down] Where can I go?
A: But you are quite clear in your mind that if you kept going on this trip you are going to get killed.
B: That was my own personal opinion.
A: But you don’t take any measures to get away from the trip.
B: I’m fatalistic. Finished.
A: Okay, you get to Memel.
B: So I was surprised.
A: Because they brought you coffee?
B: Coffee, like we were German soldiers.
A: And people drink the coffee?
B: And how they drink. That was not true coffee.
A: This is what the Germans were getting?
B: This is what the Germans themselves were drinking.
A: And did they bring you anything else?
A: No doughnuts?
A: No cookies?
A: No bread?
B: Have pity. Have pity.
A: No food?
B: Of course not. We had been given food for the whole journey.
A: On the 20th?
B: Yes. We got food enough then.
A: For the whole trip?
A: And so you got to Memel. Let me ask again my silly question. When you got to the border–
B: There is no border! What is a border? A border is what some people say is a border.
A: Well, you already told me you got to the German border?
B: What was Germany?
A: Okay, you got there.
B: Up till here it was Lithuania, then it was Germany.
A: Now you are going to move into Germany?
A: Did anybody come out to see who these people were that were–
B: No, nobody gave a damn. What are you talking?
A:–trying to make sure who these–
A:–who these people are?
B: They know exactly. One thing you have to give to the Germans, everything went according to plan.
A: So you got there, you got to the border, you know you’re in Memel.
A: How long do you stay there?
B: Not long, but we stay to drink coffee. The train stops, we drink coffee like human beings.
A: Now where is the other train with Lithuanian from your hometown that you had met on your trip?
B: I don’t know.
A: You never saw them again?
B: I never saw them again.
A: A day or so earlier you had met them. You had exchanged greetings.
B: That’s all.
A: Then who left first?
B: We did.
A: So they’re behind you, probably?
B: Yes, because for the Germans it was more important to have Jews than to let the Lithuanians have any–
A: So the Jews have a certain priority?
B: Don’t laugh, a priority.
A: Good. Now, you get to Memel.
A: You get your coffee.
B: I get my coffee.
A: How much longer of a trip do you have?
B: Not long. I told you that the whole ceremony from my hometown to the concentration camp was five days. That much I remember for certain.
A: How long would you estimate the trip from Memel to the camp? Another night on the train?
B: Yes, it must be another night on the train.
A: The same conditions? They didn’t change when you got to Germany?
B: No, but listen to what did change: the attitude of the guards.
A: They got rejuvenated?
B: Not only they got rejuvenated. They showed their true colors. Up till that moment they didn’t say anything. They had guarded us like they guarded us in the ghetto. Now they said, “Everything is going to be taken away from you, so if anyone wants cigarettes, give me your watch for a package of cigarettes.” They didn’t grab. They didn’t loot. It was absolutely on the level. “Here is a package of cigarettes, give me your watch.”
A: You mean they set up a market right there on the train?
B: Not set up a market! Straight, that was the price. For a package of cigarettes, give them a watch.
A: So, they set up such “exchanging” only after they got into Germany?
B: Only after they got into Germany. All of a sudden they changed and they said everything is going to be taken away from us. Otherwise, why should a guy give a watch for a package of cigarettes? Now they opened their mouths. All the time on the trip they didn’t say it.
A: They knew this all the time, of course?
B: They knew it, yes, but they didn’t say anything.
A: Now these are the guards you could have easily disarmed on the train.
B: On the train, and in the ghetto. I think easily, because these were not young guys full of pep. These guards were older people, in their forties, and to me they looked old, old, old.
A: Sure, these were people who couldn’t fight very well. So now you are riding on, the guards tell you this, and people did make the suggested exchanges, right?
B: They were desperate for smoking, so what choice did they have?
A: They believed them that–
B: I don’t know if they believed them, but they had to smoke. These people had to smoke, so they gave their watches in order to get a package of cigarettes.
A: And the guards had several packages with them?
B: They had them, of course. They got them from the army.
A: How many packages would a guard have, do you think?
B: I don’t know how many cigarettes they got per week. The American army also got cigarettes.
A: How many watches did they get on this trip?
B: I watched only one such exchange.
A: You suspect there were others?
B: Definitely; people wanted to smoke.
A: You were on the train overnight from Memel?
B: From Memel we were on the train and in the morning we come to Koenigsberg.
A: You are back in Koenigsberg now.
B: This is a personal experience.
A: I know, yes.
B: I looked out and it hurts me now–the same beautiful city that I remembered as a child. And this is fourteen years later.
A: Did you tell your mother that?
B: No, my mother is asleep. Everybody is asleep. The guards are asleep. And their rifles are standing. Now I am a very shy or very personal person, so this was my opportunity to go to the door in peace. So I used the opportunity to relieve myself.
B: The guards were asleep, the rifles were standing, there was absolutely no problem about running away.
A: That’s right, you could have jumped out.
B: And I relieved myself, so it means I felt free and disregarded the guards and everything.
A: In other words, you could have jumped out and you would have been in Koenigsburg?
B: So what?
A: How were you dressed?
B: Like a human being.
A: But you had the star on?
A: You could have taken the star off?
B: Of course, I could have taken the star off.
A: I see. Then you would have looked like the Germans?
B: But that doesn’t matter because you have to eat. You have to eat.
A: I know, I know.
B: You forget this little detail. You have to eat.
A: And your eyes are the wrong color?
B: No, in Germany my eyes are the right color.
A: No problem in Germany?
B: There are dark-eyed Germans. In Germany it’s okay.
A: But you didn’t think about jumping out?
B: Where to? I tried to imbue in you the whole desperate situation.
A: I know you have.
B: The where-to is the problem.
A: And I am asking these questions just to see how desperate it was.
B: Once you jump you need coupons for food. You don’t have coupons. I don’t have to explain to you.
A: So you’re in the station?
B: Koenigsberg, yes. We stopped, of course, not at the station; that wouldn’t be yet the station. But then we went through the Koenigsberg station. I remember the sign vividly and the city looked beautiful, like I remembered it as a small child when I was there with my father. I thought: after fourteen years I still remember. And we cross Koenigsberg and go further.
B: The train is now going full speed ahead, not like in Lithuania you know, when it was slow, slow.
B: Because we are in Germany.
A: But why would it go faster in Germany?
B: That’s according to a plan that trains go fast. Germany is Germany: peace. Germany is like there was no war. They have not been bombed. The British didn’t come that far east. The Russians didn’t have enough then to bomb. This part of Germany is peaceful.
A: So you are rushing across the landscape. While you are traveling on this car did the door remain open?
B: Yes. The door is open because the guards sit at the door. Why should they be closed in?
A: So you are going through Germany–
B: And we see everything. We see people walking and cutting hay and everything.
A: They see you, too?
A: They see people in these freight cars.
B: Yes, and they don’t give a damn.
A: And they know who you are?
B: I don’t know if they knew, but they don’t give a damn.
A: What do you think? What do you believe they believed?
B: Wait, wait, wait, let me continue. Let me continue. Maybe I forgot a lot of things, but here we are coming to the camp. Here is where things–
A: Wait a minute, before you get to the camp. What do you think those people believed out there when they saw you?
B: I don’t know, I don’t know. I didn’t think about that. I will tell you later about what I did think, so don’t push me now.
A: Tell me this now: they clearly saw you in those cars?
A: You were not closed off?
A: You are sure they could see you?
B: Oh, no doubt.
A: They could see car after car?
A: With human beings in them?
A: And they knew they weren’t passenger cars?
B: They knew they were not passenger cars.
A: And so far as you know, they did not wave at you?
B: No. No.
A: Did you wave at them?
A: There was no contact made?
B: No, no contact.
A: None at all?
III. May 4, 2000 A Return to Deadly Slavery in Twentieth Century Europe
Brudno: Allow me just to quote this guy, George Anastaplo, in Campus Hate- Speech Codes (1999), page 61: A Wartime can lead to an engaging heightening of sensibilities. Everything is felt much more intensely than in ordinary times — and this can be exhilarating, allowing those caught up in the heroic adventure, especially the young ones and the young at heart, to believe that at last they are truly living. Of course, this heightening of spirits can lead to the most disturbing disillusionment if things should turn out to have been, and to be, far different from what they had seemed.” Gold, gold, absolutely true. People need this exhilaration. Do you have any substitute for war to provide this exhilaration? It’s a very serious problem. Do you agree?
Anastaplo: I agree. Did you have that experience?
B: Oh yes, of course, of course.
A: You were exhilarated?
B: And how! What kind of talk is that? It is obvious. And it’s not only me, many other people also.
A: So you saw this even when you were in very great danger–
B: It’s exhilarating.
A:–without much opportunity to take charge of the situation? It could still be exhilarating?
B: And how, and how! As a matter of fact, here is an opportunity for me to tell you something. The most exhilarating night in all my life was when the Russians bombed the ghetto [in 1944] and our whole city [Siauliai] was on fire. Unbelievable, that was a sight definitely non-forgettable. The whole city was on fire. That was very exhilarating, no doubt whatsoever. You had to feel alive when you saw before your eyes that the whole city was on fire. And another thing–
A: And it wasn’t just the ghetto that was on fire?
B: No, the whole city. The ghetto was also bombed. Several people died in the ghetto, too. Some Lithuanians thought if they placed themselves near the Jewish ghetto, the Russians would not bomb them. They thought that the Russians were our allies.
A: Did some Lithuanians actually go into the ghetto?
B: No! No! Nobody went into the ghetto. They went near the ghetto. The ghetto would not be bombed, supposedly. It was completely crazy.
A: Was the ghetto itself bombed?
A: Or was it the city that they were bombing?
B: The city and the ghetto, they didn’t distinguish. Why should they distinguish?
A: Why were they doing it?
B: Because they had to enter the city. I mean that was the front.
A: I see.
B: They didn’t want to have people shooting at them from the roofs. They wanted the army to enter and be safe, so they wanted the population to run away. And they achieved their purpose. During all the war my hometown had not been touched, it had not been bombed, nothing but these several nights that the Russians bombed us. But then the whole city was on fire. Later on, when the Russians entered the city, they took pictures and said that this place had been left by the Germans completely destroyed.
A: And that clearly was not so?
B: No. The Russians had done it.
A: You know that the Germans did not do it?
B: Beyond any shadow of doubt. I have to trust my eyes. I just wanted to tell you how people are. Here’s another good quote from the same already-mentioned guy.
A: What page is this one?
B: It’s page 91: “The fact that we cannot do ‘everything’ should not leave us doing nothing, especially when challenged by Hitlerian or Stalinist programs of extermination.” Gold. People most of the time say, “I can do nothing, what can I do?” No excuse. You can’t do everything, but you have to do something. You have to make yourself count. And then there is this on page 93: “Rivaling the Nazis in monstrousness is what the Cambodian Marxists, known as the Khmer Rouge, did to their country in the 1970′s, a disaster to which the shortsighted American policy with respect to Vietnam contributed. We are thus reminded, again and again, that there are monsters everywhere who are available to be recruited for dubious causes.” Gold, absolutely true. So I just want to quote you this guy who knows what he is talking about.
A: Now and then.
B: That’s enough. Everybody cannot do everything. It’s enough that he has said it very clearly. It’s very important for me, because you know he came to these conclusions all by himself and I came to these conclusions by myself, completely independently. Now I don’t remember what I have talked with you about and what I haven’t. I now have more information that I didn’t have before. I found this in a book that was written in the ghetto.
A: Written by somebody who had lived there?
A: Somebody you knew?
B: Yes. He was my teacher. Not only that but this book was used in the Nuremberg process. The Russians used it as evidence.
A: In the Nuremberg Trial?
B: Yes, it was used in the Nuremberg Trial. In this book I found maps of the ghetto. You ask me all the time how big it was. I don’t know how far his information is right.
A: This man survived the war?
B: Oh, yes, he survived. He was in Israel then.
A: Did you see him after the war?
B: Oh, yes.
A: What was his name?
B: Yerushalmi, he was a limski. Yerushalmi, the guy from Jerusalem. Yerushalmi, it’s a Jewish family name.
A: What was his other name?
B: Eliezer is his first name.
A: This book is in Hebrew or in Yiddish?
B: This is in Hebrew. It is translated already.
A: Translated from the Yiddish?
B: Yes. And he has here the maps of both the ghettos. There were two ghettos in my hometown. He has maps. I don’t trust the maps fully; they have been done by somebody, by memory– by an engineer who had been there, in >57, much later. So I don’t know how much the maps are messed up. You know, 1 to a 1000, I don’t believe it that this thing is 1 to a 1000. Do you believe this is 1 to a 1000? A 1000 [indicating a distance] is from here to here, it’s nothing.
A: Which one of these is your ghetto?
B: I was in both. I was first in that one and when it was annihilated we were all put in this one.
A: I see. Where is the leather factory in relation to this?
B: To this side. But here is the real relation.
A: This has both of the ghettos in one map?
B: Both of the ghettos in one map. And all this is the factory. The factory was definitely larger than both the ghettos.
A: How many employees did it have, roughly?
B: In my time it had six hundred, but when the Russians came and after the war they made unemployment disappear, it went up to two thousand. Needless to add, it went bankrupt.
A: Now, this is where the factory was?
A: And your original home was where?
B: My original home was here.
A: Outside of both of these ghettos?
B: Oh, outside, of course.
A: What do you mean, “of course”?
B: The ghettos were outside of the factory. I was born inside the factory.
A: How much time did you spend in each ghetto, roughly?
B: I don’t remember. What’s important is something I didn’t know then: I lived in the middle of both ghettos. From here on [indicating] is the cemetery. I didn’t know then that I lived right in the middle. I was never cognizant of the fact that I was in the middle of all these things. Now I want to tell you what he says was the size. He says the size of the Kofkaz ghetto, of this ghetto–
A:–the first one you lived in?–
B:–yes, was thirty-five dunam. I found out a dunam is one thousand square meters. So thirty-five dunam is nothing.
A: It depends what you are comparing it to.
B: I thought all this was greater, but then I was young. Maybe everything looked to me greater. And there were, according to him, two meters per human being to live in, which is nothing.
A: Does he include streets?
B: No, in the houses there were only two meters per human being, where people could live. I remember when we slept in the other ghetto, when we opened all the beds and everything, there was no place to go. So it was just bed to bed to bed.
A: So you couldn’t move around?
B: No, no.
A: You had to crawl over beds to move?
B: There was no crawling over beds.
A: Well, how did you get out of the room? You must have gotten out of the room somehow in the middle of the night?
B: There was no middle of the night. Nobody moved in the middle of the night. That’s it.
A: Well now, how did this space compare with the German camps that you were in later?
B: In the German camps it was still worse. The German camps were just one, one, one, one, one, one, one.
A: This book was made with Russian permission?
B: Yes. The Russians not only gave permission, they tried to do some very interesting things. Some of the things they did are just unbelievable, how they decided to add Lithuania and Latvia and Estonia to Russia.
A: This bears on the question I want to ask you as soon as you finish.
B: Go ahead. Ask now.
A: How did each of these people that you came in contact with, that is to say Lithuanians whom you grew up among and the Russians who came in, and the Germans who came in–how did each of them see themselves? How did they justify themselves in what they were doing? How did they understand themselves?
B: Very good. The first ones that came were the Russians.
A: No, first were the Lithuanians.
B: The Lithuanians considered the country Lithuania, and Lithuania should belong to Lithuanians.
A: And there’s no problem for them that they should have Lithuania. They had been independent for how long by this time, by the time the Second World War began?
B: Twenty years.
A: Only twenty years, but they had no question that they were entitled–
B: Please, because you push me to the wall, I have to tell you. That is exactly now what Mugabe says about Zimbawe, “This country is ours and whites have nothing to do here. Let’s take over everything.” The Lithuanians behaved exactly the same.
A: Towards whom?
B: Towards the Jews.
A: Before either the Russians or the Germans came?
B: The fight was basically economic.
B: Economic–because, historically, the Lithuanians lost their intelligencia to the Poles. All the intelligent Lithuanians became Polandized, you know like Zilia Noldes. Lithuanians became Polandized, so when they became independent they didn’t have any intelligencia. Thus, the lawyers in Lithuania were all so Jewish that outside of the courtroom they talked amongst themselves in Yiddish. And, of course, the Lithuanians wanted to take over everything: “You are a Jew, you don’t belong.” They did it then, of course, with legal means by the use of various cooperatives. There was only a token Jew here, a token Jew there. The economic fight was very strong.
A: Were the Jews the only minority group in their country that the Lithuanians were concerned about?
B: There were also the Germans. The Germans were considered the experts. I think I told you this. They were the engineers and the chemists.
A: Now I realize that you are repeating some things, but I’ll be editing.
B: So I’ll be repeating.
A: I can edit some of this out.
B: Don’t worry, as long as it will not be contradictory. This is why I insist on telling the truth, because otherwise if I am inconsistent, right away, someone will say, “Aha, aha, aha, aha.”
A: Right. I understand. So there were the Germans who were considered experts. They were somewhat secure because of that? Could they join the co-ops?
B: No, they didn’t own stores.
A: So they had no reason to join the co-ops.
B: They had no reason. Most of them were hunters. They just liked to go hunting in Lithuania.
A: Would they consider themselves a kind of minor nobility or something?
B: Basically, yes.
A: I see. Were there any other minorities? Non-Lithuanian?
B: Yes, there were the Poles. But the Poles were mostly Lithuanians who became Polish. When I was a small boy, Polish was considered the intelligent language and everybody spoke Polish. And then it turned over, and all of a sudden those who speak Polish are not okay, you have to speak Lithuanian. Very chauvinistic. One neighbor, as I have underlined, was a German soldier who fell in love with a Lithuanian girl and married her; he was a German soldier in the First World War. So at home they spoke German, the children and the father spoke German and the mother was somehow set aside, she was Lithuanian. Several years later, things changed completely: they spoke Lithuanian at home and the father was all of a sudden set aside. The net result, to cut it short, was that this family went to America, and a daughter told me that when her father had to sign his nationality, he signed Laturis for Lithuania.
A: Even though he was originally German?
B: Yes, German, 100 percent. And he became a Catholic, because otherwise he couldn’t marry that girl. The daughter is still alive in this country. I visit her. But the son got killed in the war.
A: Were there any other groups?
B: There were Russians but they were not noticed. They were very few. The Russians were mostly people of the Old Belief. The Tzar, as a punishment, sent them to Lithuania. These were the Old Believers.
A: There were still some of them there then?
B: Oh, yes, They considered themselves children of the land, no doubt.
A: But they also considered themselves Russians?
A: They spoke what language?
B: They spoke Lithuanian, they spoke Russian. They spoke whatever you want.
A: Any other groups?
B: No, that’s enough.
A: Then there were the Jews, of course.
B: The Jews were, I think, seven percent. All together minorities were twenty percent.
A: Does that include the Gypsies too?
B: Yes. The Gypsies were nothing. There were very few of them. And they were annihilated during the war.
A: I am going to return to the other question put earlier. When each of these groups comes in, they justify what they are doing?
B: Yes, of course. The Russians justify what they are doing.
A: And the Germans did, too, didn’t they?
B: The Germans did everything for the Aryan race. That’s all, no more justification was needed.
A: I’m not sure what you mean by that. You mean that all they had to do was to say, “We’re Aryans” and they didn’t have to give any reasons?
A: No justification for taking Aryans most seriously?
B: We are Aryans, that’s good enough. Racism is not a joke, please.
A: I don’t suggest it’s a joke.
B: They said, “We are Aryans, therefore it belongs to us, by right.”
A: What is it that’s implied in the “therefore”?
B: We Aryans need the territory, no more, no less.
A: Various of these people that you encountered did what you and I would agree were evil things. Is not that correct?
A: They did what we would identify as evil things to people who were helpless?
A: And who had not done anything to them?
B: Just because they existed.
A: But none of them ever said, “We are going to do some evil things” or “We are now doing evil things”?
B: No, they are doing it for the good of the population.
A: That’s what I am trying to see. What was the good aimed at?
B: The Germans came in 1941. They liberated us from the Russians, which was a true statement. And the Lithuanians welcomed the Germans beautifully and they put Lithuanian flags everywhere. Then after two weeks came an order to pull down all the Lithuanian flags: no independence. And there were German plans to exploit Lithuania. The general plan was to evacuate all the Lithuanians to the east, so that this territory should be available for German colonization.
A: Where to the east?
B: Into Russia.
A: You mean, push them all out of Lithuania somehow?
A: After the army went east they were going to take Lithuanians and settle them there?
B: There are documents about what was to be done after the war. You would be surprised about what I saw in other papers. The British will also be evacuated from England into the east or the Baltics and England should become German.
A: That was never very serious, was it?
B: I’m giving you–
A: You mean that some Germans suggested that some of the British–
B: It had been published in the German paper and the Lithuanian paper translated it. When it was published in Lithuania, the Lithuanian paper stopped appearing. Censorship said that it’s not allowed. So they took it seriously. Don’t kid yourself for one moment that the Germans didn’t take themselves seriously. For example, they decided in 1942 to destroy eleven million Jews. They didn’t have that many under their occupation, but they had a plan to destroy the Jews in all of Europe, including the Jews of Ireland. That’s quite amazing.
A: Wherever they could find them? If we were to speak to them frankly–if we were in a position to ask questions and speak frankly to them–how would they justify all this?
B: Germany is overpopulated, it needs space.
A: And it’s entitled to that space because of what?
B: Because they are Aryans.
A: And that means what? Why does that entitle them?
B: Because they are Aryans. Don’t you see, it’s clear-cut. Maybe not to you, but it was to them.
A: But if among themselves any of them asked why Aryans should have more–
B: They never asked that question.
A: They must have. Somebody must have asked it once in a while.
B: I don’t think so. Don’t kid yourself. It’s like the Jews knowing that they are the Chosen People. Chosen People, that’s it. The Aryans are the Chosen Race, you don’t need any more arguments. Whether it’s true or not doesn’t matter.
A: But the Jews could say, “God has designated us as the Chosen People.”
B: Same for Germans. “God has chosen the Aryans.”
A: They would put it that way, you think?
B: Oh, yes. They are the Chosen Race.
A: Now, when the Russians did what they did–
B: The Russians did it in the name of Communism. They have to liberate the whole world for Communism. They have to liberate the proletariat from the capitalistic system, from the God-forsaken capitalistic system.
A: So they are acting somehow in the cause of justice?
B: Of course, everybody acts in the cause of justice.
A: Now, how would the Germans explain that their programs were just?
B: They didn’t have to explain it to anybody.
A: If they were to–
B: I don’t know. Please, if I don’t know, I am not going to–
A: You don’t have any notion of how they would have–
B: They assumed that being Aryans is enough.
A: Did you ever have a conversation–
B: I didn’t have any conversation. We did have German neighbors.
A: Once you were on the move, did you ever at any place talk with German guards or with others?
B: No. It was very clear to them, no argument.
A: I am not talking about an argument and I am not talking about your demanding anything of them. Rather, did you ever have a conversation with a German once you left your hometown?
B: I didn’t have any conversation.
A: Well, how long were you among the Germans after that train ride that you took?
B: I was all this time in German concentration camps.
A: For how long?
B: For nine months precisely. I don’t want to exaggerate. Nine months were enough.
A: And you had the Germans with you for how long in Lithuania before that?
B: About three years.
A: So you had three years of contact with the Germans in Lithuania?
B: I never had contact with them. I tried to avoid them as much as possible. I once told you that I was so disappointed–and you didn’t believe me–when Germany declared war against the United States. If racism is true, then how can you declare war on behalf of the yellows against the whites, against America?
A: You mean that they became the allies of the Japanese?
B: Yes. There was an order for the German soldiers not to get into arguments about the Japanese. They even said that the Japanese are not non-Aryans, that’s all.
A: They are “not non-Aryans”?
B: Not non-Aryans.
A: I see.
B: So that proves to you that all this racism and everything was nothing. Not one German made a noise about it, not one German
A: Are you saying that the racism really didn’t mean anything to them?
B: In reality, it didn’t mean anything.
A: But earlier you were saying that the fact that they were Aryans–
B: They used it, that is all.
A: But they didn’t really believe it?
B: Are you asking me?
A: Well, you are suggesting they didn’t really believe it.
B: Their actions tell what they believed. They declared war with Japan against America. If you can justify that by racial means, then I give in. I was very disappointed.
A: What do you mean by “disappointed”?
B: Where is racism, where are all their theories? They kill people, they kill a whole race of people, they kill Jews–
B:–and then they act this way. Their actions are inconsistent.
A: You would have felt better if they had been consistent?
B: Of course, I would have felt better, because now I know that I am persecuted for absolutely nothing. Before, at least, maybe there was an ideal behind it.
A: Well, that’s what I am trying to see, whether there was something behind it.
B: What broke my heart is that the Germans did have daring and bravery. They went to their deaths willingly. But the Jews obeyed all kinds of orders. I had to draw the conclusions that the Jews are cowards and the Germans are brave.
A: That’s what you observed?
B: That’s what I observed.
A: But the Germans also obeyed self-destructive orders, didn’t they?
B: I don’t know, please.
A: Well, didn’t you see them obey–
B: In the end, it looked to me that the Germans are very brave and very daring and that the Jews are cowards. That’s what I saw. Don’t worry. Since then I have had to change my mind, but then those were the facts. And it bothered me.
A: Did it bother other Jews?
B: The day before yesterday was exactly fifty-five years since I have been liberated.
A: In Germany?
B: In Germany. So I phoned another guy who was liberated together with me. We have all kinds of strange relations.
A: Where’s he?
B: He’s here in Chicago somewhere. I phoned him and after so many years I asked him, “What did you think under the German occupation?”
A: Back in Lithuania?
B: Yes. “What did you think?” He told me he was always optimistic. He was sure he was going to survive. He never thought about the future. He was sure he would survive becauseB
A: He was your age?
B: Yes. He doesn’t remember half of it. He doesn’t remember one percent of what I remember. Even the facts that he told me are not completely on the level. He told me I cannot argue with him because this is the way he remembers. He claims he stayed alive because he was all the time optimistic that he would survive. And he did survive, he and his father. That’s what he believes. Now I could tell him that I know many people who were as optimistic as he was, who believed they would survive, and didn’t.
A: Do you have a reason, or do you have an explanation for, why he survived?
B: Because he kept breathing. He was healthy, young, and could work. Very simple. Do you need any more?
A: I see.
B: He was my age. I started out as a small boy. How did I survive? Because I was exactly the right age.
A: So there was a certain rationality to the German choices of victims?
B: They wanted work.
A: That’s what I mean.
B: That’s all.
A: If you were young and male. How about if you were young and female?
B: Fine. Jewish women can work. This is when I was convinced finally in the women liberation movement. Now, I am pro-women liberation ten thousand percent. When women have to work, they work. No monkey business. And the Germans knew it. Women can work. My mother was also sorted out to work. People see me now as old, so they assume that my mother was very old. My mother was then exactly fifty-two years old when she had been sorted out to work. Then she was separated from me.
A: And she was still working?
B: She was working, but then she died from hunger. I myself very nearly died from hunger. I mean, the work was hard and there was not enough to eat.
A: Why didn’t they feed you more if they wanted your work?
A: They wanted your work, right?
B: You are all the time pushing me, and I have to answer with the truth. I will give you what they fed us.
A: Now this is in Germany?
B: In Germany, yes. In the concentration camp I got every day 600 grams of bread.
A: 600 grams.
A: Now, how much is that, how many slices of our bread?
B: 600 grams in 600 grams, you don’t have to slice it. 600 grams.
A: I’m trying to–
B: In the whole world it is the same. I refuse to go into any more details. 600 grams is 600 grams.
A: Can’t you tell me what it’s equivalent to in our sliced bread?
B: I don’t–
B: A kilo is 220 ounces.
A: Look, you’ve been eating sliced bread–
B: No! No! No! No!
A:–for the last forty years, haven’t you?
A: Haven’t you?
B: I am not going to–
A: Do you ever eat sliced bread?
B: 600 grams is very well defined, I don’t have to say anything more.
A: It doesn’t tell me anything.
B: You know by the weight. What do you mean?
A: I don’t know bread by weight, I know it by slices.
B: Now, how much does bread weigh?
A: I don’t know, I really don’t know. Perhaps I should be ashamed of myself for not knowing.
B: So you find out. 600 is very well defined.
A: All right, you have 600 grams of bread.
B: Every day.
A: Once a day.
B: Once a day. Then we had soup. The soup was basically potatoes and nothing else.
A: Potatoes and water.
B: Potatoes and water
A: Anything else in it?
B: Just boiled potatoes and water. In my concentration camp we had decent people who decided that they would boil all the potatoes so that it became like a porridge. So everybody got exactly the same amount.
A: What do you mean by “decent people”? I don’t understand?
B: So that everybody will get the same amount of potatoes.
A: If it hadn’t been done this way, what would have happened?
B: Then one guy would get a potato and one would not get a potato, one would get a big potato and one would get a small potato. In my camp it was done completely on the level. That’s one of the reasons I survived. I was in a very decent concentration camp.
A: Decent? Now, who were the decent ones? You mean the Germans there were decent or the Jews?
B: The Germans were and the Jews were. There was no preference for and upper layer. What the Germans gave, we got.
A: This was where?
B: In our Dachau camp.
A: Now, they would give you once a day–
B: A soup.
A: All of your rations at one time?
B: No, no. In the morning we would get the bread.
A: Straight bread, nothing else?
B: Straight bread. No: 20 grams of margarine, or 20 grams of butter, and 20 grams either of sugar or of honey or jam. Sugar we got once a week, 125 grams, and once a week, 125 grams of meat.
A: Once a week?
B: Yes. And then a soup that was called bunker soup, but it was neither here nor there. I wouldn’t even know how to define it. It was all kind of things. But it was called “bunker soup” because the Germans themselves drank it when they were in the bunkers. It was called bunker soup.
A: You mean when they were in the field?
B: And what’s very important is this: I looked in the German newspapers to see how much food they were getting.
B: The only thing they got more of than us, and immensely so, was meat. They really got good chunks of meat, but otherwise they got the same proportions, like whole wheat bread. But they could go and buy more. They could also grow food for themselves. This was something we had no recourse to. That’s very important because most people are not ready to admit it.
A: Admit what?
B: That the Germans almost treated us, foodwise, fairly. Have you ever heard somebody say such a thing?
A: That the Germans treated you fairly?
B: As much as they could.
A: Those who were going to be working, is that it?
B: Only workers! Those who didn’t work, they didn’t consider them.
A: The ones who were not working would be–
B: Would be killed. Forget it.
A: They would be killed?
B: Eventually, one way or another.
A: The ones who were working in your camp were all living together?
A: All of you who were living together were workers?
A: All the men were living together?
B: We were separated, men from the women.
A: Men would be living together?
A: Women would be living together elsewhere. I think you have already described for me how the bunks were arranged.
A: And how crowded they were.
A: And so you get up in the morning. This is Dachau now, right?
B: What are you pushing me to talk about when I want to talk about something else?
A: Well, everything will come in eventually. I want to follow up with what you have just now been saying. I just want to make sure about some details.
B: Okay, do it your way.
A: What time did you get up in the morning?
B: Let me think, I think six.
A: Would you be awakened?
B: Wait, wait. At first we would be awakened at five in the morning.
A: Would you have to be waked up, or would you just get up?
B: The lights would go on in the barracks.
A: Did you get up independently of that, or did you wait until the lights turned on?
B: The lights went on and that’s it.
A: In the barracks?
A: Is it fair to call these “barracks”?
B: They were very far from barracks, but call them barracks. A barrack is a palace in comparison to what we had.
A: Were they sheds? What kind of buildings were they?
B: [A sketch is made.]
A: It was a triangular building?
A: It had a roof that slants up?
B: Yes, it had only a roof.
A: You mean a roof slanting up from each side?
A: Now was it built for this purpose or was it built for something else?
B: For our purpose. Here was a door and you go in the dugout that is dug out so you sleep here on the floor.
A: By “dug out” you mean?
B: Where you can walk below the surface.
A: Below the surface, where people were sleeping?
B: Yes. People were sleeping on the floor.
A: You mean the path between the beds–
B:–was dug out–
A:–below the ground?
A: The floors were dirt completely?
B: We slept basically on the ground.
A: There were electric lights in there?
A: Were there windows?
B: The windows are very interesting. When we came in there were no windows and we had a very decent SS Commandant. I have to underline that. He made sure that glass was supplied for windows.
A: There were holes for the glass to be put in?
B: There were holes that were meant eventually for windows. He supervised a lot of things. I very much insist on the point that he was a decent SS officer. It is very important for me.
A: Do you remember his name?
A: What was his first name?
B: I have no idea. Please, don’t push me.
A: What was his rank?
B: I don’t know, people knew.
A: Captain, Major, Colonel?
B: I never remember ranks.
A: But he was the Commandant?
B: He was in the SS, yes.
A: Did he have just your barracks or did he have more? Do you know?
B: He had the camp.
A: I see.
B: Our camp was a branch of Dachau.
A: I see.
B: So he had a whole branch. There were two Commandants. One was Kollanberg, an old bastard of the first degree. After the war, I think he was hanged. The other was Bier, a decent guy.
A: Bier was younger?
B: Bier was younger and Kollanberg was the older guy. Bier did a lot of good things for us. Because you push me, I will tell you all the good things he did.
B: So we would wake up at five, maybe even at four. I don’t remember, because at seven o’clock we had to be at work. So we would get coffee in the morning. The coffee was actually made from bread crumbs.
A: Made from bread?
B: Yes, from crumbs of bread.
A: Just bread, no chicory or–
B: I don’t know. That’s what I saw.
A: It was hot?
B: It was hot, a good brown drink.
A: It had the right color?
B: Yes, it had the right color. They didn’t have coffee because they had to import coffee and Germany didn’t have anywhere to import coffee from. The German population didn’t have coffee either. It’s not that they did it special for us. So let me tell you what good he did. Even if I die tomorrow, we still have good things recorded about this guy. We would wake up, first, at four, maybe five. All of a sudden, he dropped our being awakened so early and we woke up one hour later. Why? Because we had been a good, well-ordered bunch. If we were told, “Go there,” we went there. There was no disorder.
A: How many of you were there?
B: Six hundred people. He noticed that there were no problems with us.
A: Now the “us” here were all Jews?
B: All Jews, yes.
A: Nobody else, just Jews?
B: Nobody else. First, we had been four hundred from our home town, then two hundred came over from another ghetto.
A: So you knew a number of these people in your work. And there were six hundred men from these two towns?
B: Four hundred and then two hundred. I talked recently with a guy from the other ghetto, who is right now in New York. I have found him. We had been together in the camps and of course he remembers me for other reasons than I remember him, but it’s not important. Important is what he told me and he shook me up. He told me that in the concentration camps he got better food than in his ghetto and I am sure it is true. This guy is not a liar.
A: He is comparing the concentration camp–
B: He said the hunger in his ghetto was so great that when he came to the camp–
A: It was an improvement?
B:–an improvement, and I am sure it is true. I have no doubt it is true. The Germans really wanted work from us.
A: So, whatever hatred they had for the Jews did not keep them from–
B: If Jews are good for cheap labor, they are some good–so you can’t say that Jews are no good at all.
A: They would use Jews–
B: For cheap labor, it’s O.K.
A:–and they will feed them properly?
A: At least enough to keep them going?
B: For cheap labor they are good. Their inconsistencies are just mind- boggling.
A: Go ahead.
B: Now let me tell you about this guy, Bier, why I think he was a good guy. I don’t remember all the other things that I noticed that he’s a good guy. He behaved very strict, according to the law. We were not allowed to be beaten up at work; there was an official beating only in the camp.
A: You mean when you got back to the camp?
A: Only then could you be punished?
B: Only then, yes. And the punishments were twenty-five or ten, however much, on your behind.
A: I see.
B: I remember one scene where they punished one guy for twenty on his behind.
B: This guy was a deaf mute. He made noises that make me, even now, feel horrible. A deaf mute doesn’t know what noises he makes. He made noises like a wild animal in pain. The Commandant couldn’t stand it and said to stop it because it was too much.
A: He knew that he was a deaf mute?
B: I don’t know if he knew, but if you heard these noises, if you had a little humanity in you, you would know that this is too much. He didn’t cry like a human being, you know. He couldn’t cry, he didn’t know the noises he made.
A: Where was he from? Was he from your–
B: Yes, he was from my hometown.
A: You knew him before.
B: Yes. Another thing: if I write my memoirs I will insist on giving names and not initials.
A: Did this deaf mute survive the war?
B: I think he survived, and died later.
A: Okay. Can we go back to those morning rations?
B: Wait, wait, before we go back. I have to talk about this German guy, because whatever I can say–
A: Commandant Bier?
B: Bier. He was very good and he couldn’t stand it. He personally couldn’t stand it. He said, “Stop it,” so they stopped. He had human feelings in him. We were very hungry, so he would go and steal potatoes for us. But the potatoes were so bad that you can squeeze them through the fingers. So what did we do? We make an oven, an iron stove basically. We dropped this thing on the top and it tasted like potato [Laughing] pancakes.
A: Potato pancakes?
B: Yes, because it was from potatoes. What do you want?
A: I see.
B: It tasted very good. Then I thought, why didn’t I do this when I was free, it tastes so good. But wait. The Commandant came into one of his little huts–
A: You’re still talking about Bier?
B: Yes. And he caught us doing it and of course we were all dead, because we were scared. I mean here we are doing a completely illegal thing, who knows what he might do to us. The net result was that the next day he gave an order to divide salt amongst us. That’s a human being.
A: You mean you hadn’t had salt before?
B: We didn’t have salt before.
A: And he thought that you needed it for the potatoes?
B: Yes, that’s a human being.
A: Whatever happened to him?
B: After the war, he got five years and I would go in and witness for him any day.
A: I see.
B: This is why I insist that belonging to the SS is no excuse. The SS is not a criminal organization like Eisenhower said. Even if you belong to the SS, you have to behave like a human being.
A: Like who said?
B: Eisenhower. There was a ruling that the SS is a criminal organization. If you belong to it you are already a criminal.
B: You cannot afford to lose anyone, you have to demand responsibility from everyone. You SS can still behave like a human being. But I have no doubt that if Bier had gotten an order to kill us, he would have, no doubt.
A: He would have?
B: Oh, yes, but as long as we were alive he treated us like human beings. What’s more, he wanted to free us.
A: What do you mean, he wanted to?
B: One day–it was, I think, the 20th of April or the 19th of April, 1945–he called us together and he says the Americans are coming. He has no order what to do. He with his SS will retreat to Dachau proper.
A: He called you together?
B: He made a parade–
A:–of all of you?
B:–of all the workersnd he gave us a speech.
A: In German?
B: Of course, in German. The Americans are coming, he said. He hasn’t got any order what to do with us. Therefore he will retreat with his people to Dachau proper. He belongs there.
A: I’m sorry. You’re now talking about the main camp when you say Dachau.
B: Yes. He doesn’t know what to do with us. He didn’t have any order but the local population around us were afraid of us because we had been held for six years as hardened criminals. That was their perception of us. So we have to promise that we will make a police of our own and we have to promise not go out of the camp until the Americans came. They already knew that when the Americans came, they would keep the camp closed and not let anybody out. They knew it already from their Intelligence. Now here I will be very personal. What should people do–embrace and kiss each other? I mean we had just come out from such a horrible thing. No, we started fighting about who will be the policemen. Each barracks had to provide two.
A: You mean you started fighting among yourselves?
B: Among ourselves. There were amongst ourselves Communists, Zionists, and average people. They started fighting about who will be the few policemen and it went to blows.
B: Really. And I said, “Gentlemen, the war is over.” I knew that the 25th of April will be the peace conference in San Francisco. That I knew from the papers. So it’s only five days. “Gentlemen, I say, this is the end.” So they relaxed. Two hours later, Bier took back all that he said.
A: He retracted?
B: Yes. He had gotten orders to bring us to Dachau proper, but he had really wanted to free us. What happened is then they opened their store rooms. Their potatoes were all of a sudden free. Everybody can grab as many potatoes as he wants, cook as many, and all night people just cooked potatoes and ate because they knew in the morning we would have to start out on a march. The bread and the butter we would have to leave to the local village.
A: But why was that, do you think.
B: Why are you asking “why”? I give you facts.
A: Well, why didn’t they also leave the potatoes for the local village? Why did they leave one and not the other? Do you have any notion about this?
B: No, no, no. I just give you the facts. The potatoes were open, everybody could take as many potatoes as they wanted.
A: And then you started that march which you told me about earlier?
B: I am not going on the march now. There is another point I want to talk about. This is the order that they kill all the crazy people. This is very important to me that you should know about it because they killed all the crazy people.
A: Now who killed all the crazy people where?
B: The Germans, in Germany.
A: In Germany?
A: Germans as well as Jews, right?
B: Germans mainly. Here I have to give you the rationale and you have to judge. The difference between human beings and animals is that humans think. Crazy people don’t think. Therefore they can be treated as animals. Crazy people not only don’t think, they eat and they take away food from the rest of the population. They are mouths to feed and they create nothing. Not only that, other people have to take care of them, people who are occupied with a completely useless enterprise. Conclusion: we have to kill all the crazy people. And they did it. It is not a theoretical thing. Also, here is a list of killing the Jews. I don’t know if you ever saw this list.
A: Of the Jews, you say?
B: Of Jews. Here is the list of killing the Jews. Not only is it sorted out by male, female and children; it is also sorted out by numbers, which place, what date. And one of them, which is very important to me, I will show you. Aglouma.
B: Aglouma is the name of the place.
A: What place? Where?
B: In Lithuania. Here is who was killed and what for; you know this is for being Jewish; that is for their crime, their crime is being sick, 269 men, 227 women, and 48 children. The lunatic asylum inmates in Aglouma were killed by the same people who killed Jews.
A: But these were not just Jews?
B: These were non-Jews, for certain, non-Jews.
A: And they give a date?
B: They give a date. 1941, the 22nd in the 8th month. Very business-like.
A: Now you were saying that the Germans who were then occupying Lithuania decided to start killing the insane.
B: They didn’t decide it only there; it was the law also in Germany.
A: They had already started doing that in Germany?
A: As far as you understand?
A: Did you know they were doing it?
B: A good question. Everybody knew not to show signs of craziness–Lithuanians, Germans, or Jews–not to lose your temper, nothing of craziness, everybody behaved like they were the sanest people in the world. Crazy people were killed outright, no monkey business.
A: The Germans started killing crazy people soon after they came?
B: No, they had already started killing crazy people in Germany.
A: I know, but–
B: Here is a date, the 22nd in the 8th month, in 1941.
A: Is this the first killing of crazy people they had in Lithuania?
B: I don’t know. Here is only a document.
A: Well, how long after the occupation began is that?
B: The occupation started in June.
A: And this is–
B: The 8th month, June, July, August.
A: So three months later they are doing it?
B: They are killing Jews three months later.
A: Yes, they are killing Jews. But you aren’t talking about Jews, you are talking about the crazy people.
B: The same guys. That’s what I want to tell you: the same company that kills Jews also kills the crazy people. This is a report of the company that is doing the killing.
A: Now, if I remember correctly, this company included Lithuanians doing the killing?
B: Yes, definitely.
A: Under German supervision?
B: That’s what the Germans did: it should look like all this was done by the Lithuanians.
A: You knew at the time yourselves, that you should not act crazy in any way?
B: The Lithuanians knew it, and the Jews knew it, and the Germans knew it. Nobody acted crazy. Nobody.
A: Well, except perhaps the people who were already in the asylum? They had already been identified as crazy.
A: Did you know any crazy people who restrained themselves, people you already knew before to be crazy?
B: No, I wouldn’t say crazy. Here in America craziness is so accepted. Many people here in America who are considered crazy are not crazy.
A: I’m just using your term, “crazy.”
B: Crazy means crazy, really crazy.
A: Did you know any “really crazy” people before the Germans came, who were not in the asylum?
B: I knew people who acted what we would call crazy. They raise their voice. They are out of their mind. But with this, they are all of a sudden behaving themselves.
A: Oh, you did know some?
B: All of a sudden, they behaved. Anyone who had a little saneness in him behaved.
A: I see.
B: This is why I don’t buy it when people say, “Oh, he couldn’t help himself, he was crazy.”
A: That’s what’s interesting here. You’re suggesting from what you observed that, except in the most extreme cases–
B:–except when the guy is really crazy, you know, except when it is beyond any shadow of a doubt that he is crazy. But if he only behaves emotionally distraught, or if he’s only angry, when a gun is pointed at his head, he will all of a sudden behave. That is my own experience.
A: I see and you did know some that way?
B: Yes. Yes.
A: Did you ever talk to one of them?
B: I never talked to anyone, please.
A: So you never asked him,–
B: I didn’t have to ask.
A: — “How come?”
B: I judge people by behavior.
A: Well, did people talk about the fact that the crazy people were–
B: Nobody talked, it was known. Lithuanians were scared of being crazy. Germans were scared of being crazy. It was general behavior not to show anything. The whole system was crazy, but you went along with the laws of the whole system.
A: Now, was there anybody that you knew well who was in that condition?
B: There were many people who would lose their temper when you would just say something and they would raise their voice to high heaven–
A: But you never discussed among yourselves what this meant?
B: Nobody discussed anything. I judge only by the facts. It is very important for me that you should underline this.
A: Now where is this, would you point out the item for me again?
A: Let me look at it again.
A: A-G-L-O-U-M-A. You think this is a German list?
B: I know it’s translated from the German. It’s very important, very important.
A: Of course it is. It’s also important that people who are somewhat crazy can restrain themselves. In some circumstances they can become–
B: When a gun is pointed at them, it’s completely different.
A: Did you ever know any of these people afterwards?
B: No. Afterwards everybody was subdued and there were people who went crazy.
A: Did you ever meet afterwards any of these people who, under the threat of the Germans, became more restrained? Did they remain that way?
B: Oh, yes.
A: After the war?
B: Oh, yes. It’s quite an experience.
A: It was therapeutic. Is that what you are suggesting?
B: I don’t suggest anything.
A: It was therapeutic?
B: That’s how people behaved.
A: Now, could we go back to those morning rations?
B: Not yet.
A: You are going to show me something else now?
B: Mixed marriages.
A: Mixed marriages, all right.
B: So, here’s a list of all the mixed marriages in my hometown.
A: Whose list?
B: This is a list that had to be given to the Germans by the Lithuanians.
B: And here is the order about what to do. Two had already been killed before the list even came into being.
A: You mean some of them had already been killed?
B: Yes. Here is Bergen. And here is a Jewish doctor who married a German woman. Here is a Lithuanian whose wife was Jewish.
A: What was done with this list?
B: Wait a minute, you are too impatient. The German commandant who got the list said, “I am not going to do it.”
A: “I am not going to do” what?
B: To kill these people basically or to put them in the ghetto. They lived outside the ghetto.
A: These were —
B: It was very simple. He says, “At this moment there are enough people for our purpose and such an action would bring unnecessary misunderstanding and therefore I haven’t done it. There is no safety reason for doing these things, because we know all of them and all those who might have done anything against safety have already been dealt with.”
A: So these people were safe outside the ghetto?
B: Yes. They survived.
A: And you know they survived?
A: These were Jews who were married to–
A: Either Lithuanians or Germans?
A: And the Germans knew that they were there?
B: They knew they were there and did nothing.
A: And when you all evacuated the city–
B: They stayed.
A: They didn’t have to leave?
B: Nobody forced them. That’s very important, that the Germans refused to obey the order and they gave a very reasonable explanation why not.
A: I see.
B: There was peace, so why make a show and kill. That was very important.
A: Can we go back now to the camp?
B: I must close what I have been showing, so I can relax.
A: Okay, show me.
B: Here’s a map showing how many Jews have been killed by the German commanders.
A: In Lithuania?
B: In Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and White Russia. With numbers and everything, a very nice thing, beautiful.
A: What are those, caskets?
A: The caskets indicate the dead?
A: In White Russia, is that what this is, with Minsk as the capital?
A: You have 41,828.
B: Numbers! Numbers!
A: These are Jews,?
B: Jews, yes.
A: Now, these are killed in Lithuania?
A: This is Latvia?
A: Is this Estonia?
A: And it says “Judenfrei.”
B: Yes, “free of Jews.” There were still camps of Jews in Lithuania, Latvia and White Russia.
A: These are in the ghettos that those countries still have?
B: Yes, yes.
A: And would they have all been killed roughly the same way in these places?
B: This is the company that did the killing.
A: Would they have done it the same way, in all of these places here?
B: Of course.
A: How would they have killed them?
B: By shooting.
A: It would be done primarily by shooting?
B: Not primarily, that was the only way: shooting.
A: Shooting people?
A: In all of these places?
B: Yes. There were no gas chambers at that time.
A: There weren’t any then. There never were any, that is, in these places?
B: Basically, you are right. There were no gas chambers in these places. I never thought about it.
A: So in these places they were doing it all by shooting?
B: All by shooting.
A: Why did they go to the gas chambers?
B: It’s very simple. The shooting commanders went out of their minds.
A: The commanders did?
B: Both the commanders and the plain soldiers. They just went crazy and it had a very demoralizing effect. It had a demoralizing effect on the German army, all of the shootings. It had a demoralizing effect on the local population. It’s not enough that Jews are killed. People are not blind.
A: How do you know this?
B: Germans themselves told me. They themselves told me.
A: That it was just simply too–
B: It’s no good. It’s not good for the morale of the people who are there. It’s not good for those who do the shooting.
A: I see.
B: Sending them away to gas chambers, nobody sees, nobody knows.
A: Except the people there, of course, at the gas chambers.
B: Yes, and they did all these gas chambers in Poland. That’s what’s very important.
A: Why Poland?
B: Because there was tremendous anti-Semitism in Poland. They trusted the Poles. I am not joking.
A: I’m not suggesting you are.
B: That’s it. They didn’t do it in Germany in order not to influence the German population.
A: They didn’t want to do it in Germany, you say?
B: No, they didn’t do it in Germany.
B: Because the local population would be outraged and so on. They took Jews from Germany and sent them to Poland.
A: Are you saying that the Poles hated the Jews more than the Germans did?
B: Definitely, there’s no doubt.
A: No doubt about that?
B: No doubt about it. Because the Jews in Poland were ten percent. The Jews in Germany were less than one percent.
A: And therefore?
B: Competition was critical. Don’t kid yourself for one moment. I am not a Marxist but the competition did it.
A: In Poland, because of the numbers?
B: In Poland and Lithuania and everywhere.
A: So you’re saying that in Poland the Jews were ten percent?
B: Ten percent.
A: In Germany they were one percent?
B: Less than one percent.
A: The Poles hated the Jews–
A:–much more than the Germans did?
B: Oh yes, there’s no doubt about it.
A: Because of the economic competition?
B: In my opinion, it was the economic competition. I can’t prove it one way or another. And we, of course, amongst ourselves always thought that Protestant Christians are better to Jews than Catholic Christians.
A: And were you right?
B: No. Look at what Protestant Germany did.
A: But you believed you were safer among Protestants than you were among Catholics?
A: Well, in one way you were right, because obviously you are saying that it was easier to kill Jews in Poland than it was in Germany.
B: Oh, no doubt, no doubt.
A: No doubt about that?
B: No doubt about it.
A: Now Dachau itself is in Germany.
B: Wait a minute. When they had to have a transport of people to be gassed, they would send them to Auschwitz [in Poland] from Dachau [in Bavaria].
A: They wouldn’t kill them there?
B: They would kill here and there. There was a crematorium in Dachau but it was not producing, it was not a death machine.
A: So Dachau was not primarily concerned with killing people?
B: Definitely not.
A: It was for keeping people to work?
B: Also, it was a jail, to hold Communists and others.
A: There were prisoners there who were not working?
A: Who were just prisoners, is that it?
A: And then there were the workers?
A: Who would be Jews or others?
B: Jews, Russians, and also Germans.
A: So the Germans, originally, were only shooting people?
B: Originally the plan was shooting.
A: And this is what the map shows?
A: And then they began gassing them?
A: Now, when did they begin gassing people, do you think?
B: I don’t know. They say 1942, but it started early–
A: You never saw a gas–
B: I saw it.
B: Stutthof [on the outskirts of Gdansk (Danzig), in Poland].
B: When I had been taken from Lithuania to Germany, for one month I had Stutthof for a concentration camp.
A: Where they were gassing people?
B: But not in large numbers.
A: You knew they were gassing people when they were there?
B: Yes. Yes.
A: You also knew you were going to go on, is that itB or did you know?
B: I hoped that I would go on.
A: Well, did they take people from your village or your town to be gassed?
B: Not during my stay there.
A: As far as you know?
B: Not during my stay there. The month that I was there, nobody got gassed.
A: In other words, for you it was just a transition camp?
B: Transition, yes.
A: You went there after you went to Memel [in Lithuania]?
A: You stayed in Stutthof a month, right?
B: Stutthof was hell incorporated. It was worse than Dachau could ever have been. Stutthof was real hell.
A: Because it was so crowded?
B: No, we were more crowded in Dachau but Stutthof was hell, hell, anything you can imagine in hell. The same loaf of bread that was divided for five people in Dachau, they divided for thirteen people in Stutthof.
A: So you were always hungry?
B: And how hungry! I know that the Germans gave us the same amount per person in Stutthof that they gave us in Dachau.
A: So somebody was taking it?
B: Somebody was taking it.
A: Who was taking it?
B: For God’s sake, are you surprised?
A: The Administration?
B: Are you really surprised?
A: I’m not surprised. I’m just trying to see. Were the Germans taking it or would it have been others?
B: Poles, Poles, the Polish people.
A: Now, when you were there that month, you were always expecting to go on from there?
A: Others had gone on before from there, obviously?
A: But also some people were being killed there?
A: Were being gassed?
A: Did you know there were gas chambers there while you were there?
A: Did you know what they were doing with them?
A: How did you know?
B: You are pushing me to the wall. Stutthof will take two tapes, not one.
A: O.K. How’s it spelled, Stutthof?
B: S-T-U-T-T-H-O-F, Stutthof.
B: That’s a whole other story, Stutthof. But I was in the gas chamber.
A: You were in it?
B: No, not in the gas chamber, I’m lying to you. I was in the crematorium.
A: You were there?
B: I went there. I was curious.
A: Wait a minute. You were in your barracks or your —
B: Not in barracks. We were taken away to work. First, I noticed the gas chamber. It was a closed door and I very innocently asked the German guard, “What is here?” He said this is where you come when all of your clothes are full of lice. So here is where they are fumigated. This is what he told me about the gas chambers.
A: Do you think that he believed it?
B: He didn’t believe it, but this is what he told me. He talked nonchalantly and I talked nonchalantly. We both know nothing, very innocent, but then —
A: You were then eighteen years old?
B: No, I was nineteen, twenty.
B: And then I went to the crematorium.
A: What do you mean you went to it?
B: Exactly. I ran away from work and went to the crematorium because I am so curious.
A: When you were at Stutthof you were actually working?
B: Several days we went to work there.
A: Where did you go to work there?
B: It doesn’t matter where.
A: Outside the camp?
B: Outside the camp.
A: You would be marched somewhere to work?
A: And you would come back?
B: But the crematorium was inside the camp. It was separate.
A: But, first, you saw the gas chamber itself as a hermetically-sealed building?
A: A big one?
B: Not a big one, no.
A: As big as this room [an office in a library]?
B: I don’t know. No, bigger.
A: Bigger than this room?
B: This is very important, so I will tell you precisely. We went to work there to unload. I had decided that this was an opportunity of a lifetime, I couldn’t believe these things. I have to go and see the crematorium.
A: Wait a minute. Had you heard about it?
B: Yes, yes. The people in the camp talked freely about it. There was a chimney. You could see the chimney, so the people talked.
A: You are talking about the crematorium?
B: Yes. So anyways, I went. I went and the people there spoke Polish and I know a little Polish but it was not enough to communicate. I went back to work and I convinced another inmate who spoke Polish fluently. I said, “Come with me.” “No, no.” I said, “Don’t be stupid. Either we are all condemned and then it doesn’t matter. Because for us two they will not start a new fire. Come with me.” He was convinced.
A: Now you were —
B: Wait, wait, wait, don’t interfere!
A: What are you —
B: Don’t interfere! Let me tell you the story! So I went with him to the window and I was very surprised the crematorium didn’t look different from the factory I was born into, the same kind of oven. I asked them —
A: You asked who?
B: The guys that worked there, the Poles.
A: Did they know who you were?
B: Please, don’t interfere, don’t. Let me tell. So I asked them what they are doing and they explained to me the technicalities. About 150 or 200 people are taken to the gas chamber. Fifteen, twenty minutes later, they are all dead and they are shoved from the gas chamber into the crematorium.
A: How far apart were these places?
B: Not far, not far, and they explained to me the technicalities. Then I asked them, “How can you do it?” and they say, “When we came here we had a choice, either have it done to us or we do it to others.” Then he took out a bottle of vodka. He says, “You are hungry and I can drink and eat as much as I want.” And the third thing they said is, “We prepare a rebellion.” They had a factory for repairing new guns. They were preparing to steal guns to make a revolution. So that was enough for my information. I saw them with my own eyes, no doubt anymore.
A: You didn’t see bodies?
B: No. I saw no bodies, but I saw them taking out ashes. There was a razor and a picture of a guy and the other guy says this is a Jew that had died there, that day or sometime. End of story, closed.
A: Wait, let me ask you something. I want to go over your story before we close.
B: Look, this asked too much energy of me. Close it [the recorder] and then–[The recording resumes]
A: Now you went over from the work camp or the work party with someone else. Was he from your village or your town?
B: No. He was from another place.
A: He knew Polish?
B: He knew Polish.
A: You were dressed so that they knew who you were when you came up?
B: What kind of question is that? Of course.
A: You were dressed in a way that they could know who you wereB
A:–that you were not Poles. They knew you were Jews?
A: And it was Jews they had been killing?
B: Not necessarily. This was a camp that was international.
A: They were international in their clientele?
B: Yes. The French and Poles.
A: And they were killing them, too?
B: Everybody who died was cremated.
A: But the people they talked to you about–
B: That’s what they told me, the procedure.
A: Those cremated were people who had been killed, not just those who had died, right?
A: And they knew that you were Jews–
B: Yes, sure.
A:–whom they were telling this to?
A: And these were Poles?
A: What age?
B: I don’t know.
A: Well, were they your age?
B: Of course, they were young guys.
A: They were young like you?
A: You went up to them and began talking to them about this?
A: And they simply said–
B: I told this guy, the guy who knows Polish, “Ask this, ask this, ask this.”
A: And over here is where they get killed?
A: That is what they explained to you?
A: And that was how far away?
B: Not far away.
B: I don’t know, I refuse to–
A: One hundred feet?
B: I don’t know. Please don’t push me.
A: Well, you said that they shoved them in?
B: That’s what they told me.
A: And then they told you they bring them in here. Did they tell you how many at a time?
B: They told me, between 150 to 200 people in the gas chamber.
A: At one time?
A: How many would go into the crematorium at one time?
B: In the crematorium, I got the impression they went one by one.
A: I see.
B: It was a simple oven like in the factory. I was amazed.
B: A simple oven.
A: Yes, a simple oven.
B: And then, of course, they take out the ashes.
A: You had already seen the chimney from this?
B: Yes. Then they take out the ashes, and the ashes are used to fertilize the garden there.
A: In the camp?
A: Right around there?
B: So basically we ate food made from the ashes of people.
A: Well, you didn’t have many vegetables, so you probably–
B: We did have beets.
A: I see. I see. So they told you this?
A: They didn’t apologize for it, obviously?
B: What, apologize! I asked them what they were doing and they told me.
A: And they justified it and said it was either we do it or it is done to us?
A: Why were they there?
B: I told you.
A: Do you have any idea of why they were vulnerable?
B: I told you, I told you. This was in Poland basically and the majority of inmates there were Polish.
A: That’s right. Would these have been Polish criminals, do you think? Why were they in the camp?
B: Polish criminals, whichever, whichever.
A: You see, I am trying to figure out why they were vulnerable themselves. Obviously the Germans weren’t killing all the Poles in the country. The Germans were not out to kill all the Poles, so these people–
B: I’ll ask a blunt question. What do you think that the Germans had done with the Polish prisoners of war?
A: You mean after the war, what would they have done?
B: Not after the war, during the war.
A: I don’t know. What did they do with them?
B: What do you think?
A: Well, I guess you are suggesting that they were killing them, the way the Russians killed the Polish officers in the Katyn Forest.
B: I don’t believe they killed as many as the Russians did, but they did kill Poles.
A: Still, I find it somewhat surprising that these particular men would be so frank with you.
B: In a concentration camp, what do you have to be secretive about? What kind of secrets are there to keep?
A: Let me ask you about all this another way. These men you talked to were the people who were putting the bodies into the crematoria, into the ovens?
A: How about the people who were putting the people into gas chambers?
B: Don’t ask me.
A: Were they the same kind of people?
B: I don’t know.
A: You don’t know about them?
A: They didn’t say anything about–
B: I am not saying anything I don’t know.
A: They didn’t say anything about those people?
B: I didn’t ask.
A: They answered all your questions, or were there some questions they wouldn’t answer?
B: That’s all that I asked and that they answered.
A: How long did you talk to them?
B: Several minutes, because you know I was running away from work.
A: Yes, you had to get back to work?
B: I had to be back to work.
A: But they–how many of them were there?
B: Not many.
A: Well, three, four?
B: Probably between five and ten.
A: And there were two of you?
A: And, as far as you know, they answered your questions?
B: I have no doubt they answered my questions.
A: Yes, and you had no other questions to ask them?
B: I didn’t at that moment. That was enough.
A: And you went back to your work?
B: I went back to the camp.
A: Then you talked to people about it?
B: I don’t remember even if I talked.
A: But this only confirmed what you already knew, is that it?
B: I knew it, but that was theoretical knowledge.
A: Now you had seen–
B: Now I had seen.
A: You didn’t see any bodies but you saw the men who put the bodies–the men who said they put the bodies, in the ovens?
A: And what did your friend think about this?
B: I don’t know. He wasn’t my friend. I never saw him before or after.
A: You didn’t talk about it with him afterwards?
A: As you walked away?
B: No. What was there to talk about?
A: I’m just trying to think, trying to learn. I mean, it must have been shocking. Wasn’t it?
A: Especially when they put it in terms of, “What choice do I have?”
A: Did that sound to you reasonable?
A: You understood what their motivation was?
B: Yes, and they told me they were preparing a rebellion and insurrection. So what else can I ask?
A: And they weren’t afraid to tell you that, either?
B: What is there to be afraid of in a concentration camp? A concentration camp was freedom incorporated —
SIMCHA BRUDNO (1924-2006): SURVIVED NAZI DEATH CAMP
Josh Noel (Tribune Staff Reporter)
When a young friend who recently returned from a visit to Nazi concentration camps thanked Simcha Brudno for the first-hand Holocaust stories that inspired the trip,
Mr. Brudno deflected the credit. “Don’t thank me, thank Hitler,” he said.
A Lithuanian Jew who lost both his parents and scores of extended family during
World War II, Mr. Brudno never lost a passion for science, justice and wry, blunt wit, friends and family said. “He had an unusual sense of humor, but it was always dead on,” said Adam Reinherz, who visited the camps. “He made you stop and think.”
A survivor of the Dachau concentration camp in Germany who became a mathematician, Mr. Brudno, 82, died Friday, June 9, at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge of respiratory and heart failure. He had lived in Chicago.
Born into a prosperous Lithuanian clan, he and his family were relocated to a Jewish ghetto in 1941 when Mr. Brudno was a teen. In 1944 they were shipped to Dachau. Though his mother died in a gas chamber, Mr. Brudno’s strength and willingness to work kept him alive. “They knew they had a worker there and that saved him,” said George Anastaplo, a Loyola University law professor who is writing a book about Mr. Brudno’s Holocaust experience.
After liberation, Mr. Brudno moved to Palestine, where he joined the army and fought for the creation of Israel. He later studied mathematics at Hebrew University and at the Weizmann Institute of Science, but never earned a college degree, said his closest surviving relative, nephew Edward Nachman.
Mr. Brudno immigrated to the United States in 1960 and worked as a math researcher at Florida State University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and finally, the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine, friends and family members said.
He published many papers packed with intricate mathematical theory, including for example, the laboriously titled “On Generating Infinitely Many Solutions of the Diophantine Equation A (circ) 6 + B (circ) 6 + C (circ) 6”
June 13, 2006
ON TRULY KNOWING WHAT ONE IS TRYING TO DO: THE MYSTERY OF EVIL
by George Anastaplo
[T]he man who had drawn the first lot [for the life he was next to live on earth] came forward and immediately chose the greatest tyranny, and, due to folly and gluttony, chose without having considered everything adequately, and it escaped his notice that eating his children and other evils were fated to be a part of that life. When he considered it at his leisure, he beat his breast and lamented the choice [he had made].
— Socrates [in Plato, Republic]
So farewell Hope, and with Hope, farewell Fear,
Farewell, Remorse: all Good to me is lost;
Evil be thou my Good . . .
— Satan [in John Milton, Paradise Lost]
For as to pure evil or malignity for its own sake, apart from some procurement or notion of good, nothing which we see in all nature induces us to suppose it possible. The veriest wretch that ever astonished the community did not perpetrate his crime out of sheer love of inflicting evil, but out of some false idea of good and pleasure, or of avoidance of evil; which idea might have been done away in him by a wiser and healthier training.
— Leigh Hunt [in The Seer; Common-Places Refreshed]Lll (1840)]
Instructive reservations have been recorded, in a Reader’s Comment, on assessments I have made in an essay, “The Holocaust and the Divine Ordering of Human Things.” That essay (included in my book, The Bible: Respectful Readings ) drew on the 600-page transcript of a dozen conversations Simcha Brudno and I had (mostly in 2000) about his experiences, as a Lithuanian Jew, with the Nazis in Lithuania and Germany during the Second World War. I have entitled these materials, Simply Unbelievable: Conversations with a Holocaust Survivor. (The first of these conversations is included in my book, Reflections on Life, Death, and the Constitution . The second conversation may be seen in Appendix A of this Christian Heritage volume .)
That thoughtful Reader’s Comment (of August 7, 2008) included seven observations which I reproduce here, finding it convenient to number those observations as I develop what I have to say on this occasion:
 I have never understood what you and Brudno mean by saying the Holocaust was “simply unbelievable.”  The Holocaust, notwithstanding its deniers, is a matter of fact, not credence.  I have never understood what you mean by saying that the Nazis “really did not know what they were doing.”  They knew full well what they were doing, so much so that they knew they would be condemned for doing it if others knew as much.  The only mystery is why so many of them, knowing what they were doing, continued to do it while disliking what they did.  Whether they were unique in thus acting against their feelings and principles, when they had them, or whether other people such as ourselves would do the same thing, I don’t know.  This crime was theirs.
Observation No. 1 (“I have never understood what you and Brudno mean by saying the Holocaust was ‘simply unbelievable.’”). This characterization goes back to my first conversation with Simcha Brudno, a mathematician of some reputation, whom I met during a Weekly Physics Colloquium tea-time at the University of Chicago. Very early in our first conversation, he asked me (out of the blue) what I thought of the Holocaust. I replied that I found it “simply unbelievable. He responded that he agreed — that he had spent a year in Dachau, and every day he could not believe he was there. That experience was, in short, an incredible distance from the comfortable life he had had (since his birth in 1924, twenty years before) as a member of a middle-class Jewish family in Siailiau, Lithuania.
Observation No. 2 (“The Holocaust, notwithstanding its deniers, is a matter of fact, not of credence.). The typical Holocaust denial cannot be taken seriously, except perhaps as a symptom of a deep psychic flaw. It is indeed “a matter of fact” that some six million European Jews (as well as many others) were deliberately murdered by the Nazis during the Second World War. This must be, by far, the largest systematic destruction of a people of which there is a historical record. One cannot begin to think and speak seriously about this subject if one does not recognize the monstrous proportions of the deadly Nazi campaign against the Jews.
Observation No. 3 (“I have never understood what you mean by saying that the Nazis ‘really did not know that they were doing.’”). What they did very much depended on the appraisal they had of the people they were systematically slaughtering, and of the deadly threat that they evidently believed that that people posed for Germany and the future of European Civilization. Thoughtful observers can be expected to agree, however, that the Nazis were seriously (perhaps even insanely) deficient in what they saw in and from the Jews. In short, the Nazis were doing other than they may have somehow believed themselves to be doing.
Observation No. 4 (“They knew full well what they were doing, so much so that they knew they would be condemned for doing it if others knew as much.”). What the Nazis did know “full well” was that world opinion, and perhaps also much of German opinion, would condemn them for doing what they were ruthlessly doing to the Jews. But the Nazi leaders can be understood to have “reasoned” that the Others (at least, if those Others did not rule out, on principle, all capital punishment) would have to permit (if not even to endorse) the dreadful measures being relied upon by the Nazis if the Jews were truly as dreadful as the Nazis believed them to be.
Observation No. 5 (“The only mystery is why so many of them [the Nazis], knowing what they were doing, continued to do it while disliking what they did.”). The use here of the term, mystery, can be said to have been inspired. It is, indeed, always a mystery how it is that human beings can ever “knowingly” do evil things. If one could see — could truly see — the evil one did, one surely would not want to do it, or ever be able to do it. Fundamental here is the ancient proposition that evil depends, ultimately, on ignorance.
That many of the Nazis “dislik[ed] what they did” is suggested by their abandonment of the reliance on wholesale shootings to get rid of Jews and others. We are told that so direct a slaughter of other human beings, especially on a large scale, proved unbearable for the executioners. Gassing such victims (out of sight, so to speak) proved much more “impersonal” (as well, perhaps, as more “efficient”).
Of course, there was obviously something deeply wrong about those who could be effectively recruited for even the more “impersonal” forms of mass executions. Here, as elsewhere, it must be wondered what it was that such killers believed they were doing. What else did these murderers believe that simply was not so?
Observation No. 6 (“Whether they [the Nazis] were unique in thus acting against their feelings and principles, when they had them, or whether other people such as ourselves would do the same thing, I don’t know.”). What we can know is that people, when either seriously threatened or mightily tempted, may deal inhumanely with others. Consider the culminating grievance in the indictment of the King of Great-Britain in the Declaration of Independence: “He has excited domestic Insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the Inhabitants of our Frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known Rule of Warfare, is an undistinguished Destruction, of all Ages, Sexes, and Conditions.” We can be reminded by this grievance of how comfortable many early Americans could be with both large-scale human slavery and the relentless subjugation (if not even the elimination) of the natives encountered by them on this continent.
Observation No. 7 (“This crime was theirs.”). The crimes of the Nazis were usefully recognized by the historic Nuremberg Trial (of Hermann Goering et al) in 1945-1946. Even so, the most horrendous crime of the Nazis — the systematic murder of perhaps half of the world’s Jews — was not entirely theirs alone. Centuries, if not even millennia, of spiritualized condemnation of Jews, often by the most distinguished authorities in Christendom, can be understood to have culminated in the Nazi madness.
This is not to suggest that “we” have ever been as bad as the Nazis, especially in their merciless campaigns against Jews, Gypsies, and others. But it is to remind ourselves of the dubious “facts” and “principles” that can be conjured up in attempts to justify ultimately unjustifiable measures. It can help to see evil programs for what they truly are. Thus, Leo Strauss observed in 1962, “The Nazi regime was the only regime of which I know which was based on no principle other than the negation of Jews.”
The campaigns against the Jews, ancient as well as modern, can seem incomprehensible, especially when they take the form of systematic excesses in inhumanity. Such evil actions can indeed be unbelievable. It is hard (if not simply impossible) to understand how human beings can promote and perform Satanic deeds, especially deeds on a large scale visible to multitudes. Again we can be reminded of the mystery of evil, grounded as it seems to be in a pervasive (perhaps even a determined) ignorance.
This essay was prepared by George Anastaplo, in August 2008, for his Jurisprudence Seminar at the University of Chicago School of Law.