FROM THE ARCHIVES OF “YAD VASHEM” MEMORIAL
MEMORIES OF CHAIM LEIBOVICH KAGANOVICH
(RECORDED IN 1974)
Russians deceived us. They told us that the Soviet troops were at Tilsit, and there was no reason to evacuate but in fact the Germans were already at Šiauliai. I left my wife in a place three kilometers from the city, took a briefcase, a towel, and my gun and went in the direction of Shukyan.
The police was already panicking. The authorities had no directions. Nobody knew that he had to do. This terrible panic was abetted by the implanted German agents (as we learned later) and the nationalists.
Various rumors were spread. Jews, unfortunately, did not then realize what they faced and even those who did could not escape. It took time to comprehend that the vaunted Red Army was a colossus with feet of clay and that this army would not last long. There were Jews who knew what to expect but could not do anything. Jewish families in the towns were numerous and no transport was available. Some Jews who had horses decided on evacuation but only a few of them eventually reached safe places. First, the Germans were advancing at lightning speed and how far one could get on horse? In addition, on the roads were Lithuanians who by force of arms compelled the refugees to turn back, that is, toward the German troops. How many of these Jews did not return to their homes! Thousands of Jewish bodies covered Lithuanian roads.
As regards the different bodies of Soviet power, they had, of course, been penetrated by all kinds of agents and hostile elements. Then the biggest Soviet “activists” left their subordinates to their own devices while they took to flight at the most crucial moment.
From my Kelme police branch only two policemen, Lithuanians Stas Putivinskis and Bronius Sungayla, decided to flee from the Germans. The first later died at the front and the second apparently was killed on the road. Another one who evacuated was Armanavichus Povilas. Everyone else stayed and openly cooperated with the Germans.
So, I went on foot to Šukionys. On the way I picked up Orchik Golubrodsky and I took him on bike[f1] to Šukionys.
Before entering Šukionys I went to sleep in the barn of the Lithuanian Putvinskas. He did not know about that. I found some people there and slept among them. (There were many lakes in that area where carp were bred.) As dawn broke, I saw the fog and smoke over Kelem; it was ablaze. I did not know where to go. I met a Lithuanian woman and asked her where this road led to. She told me that in one direction it led to Užventis, on the other to Šukionys (I was close to Šukionys.) I was afraid that she would tell the owner of the house that a Jew was on the road. So I went toward Užventis and as soon as she left, changed direction.
I came to Šukionys but found Germans, not Russians, there. It seemed that neither the Germans nor the Russians knew where the frontline was. I took some bread from my brother-in-law Shleyms Shames in Šukionys and walked on. Shleyms refused to evacuate as he expected his children who just stayed at my house. He said, “You are a policeman, so run away, but no one will do any harm to us.”
While I walked with Golubrodsky, Lithuanian nationalists were swarming around us. Already the slogans were heard: “Kill the Jews!” An interesting detail: one of the Lithuanians on the road near Šukionys gave us milk.
We went into Kuršėnai. Everything was closed down. We saw a Jewish woman who owned a bakery. The Lithuanians did not give her an opportunity to evacuate, forcing her to sell them bread. We persuaded her to go with us. From there the three of us went to the town of Žagarė. It was full of evacuated Jews who did not know what to do. The Lithuanians had poisoned all wells in this area (near the synagogue and Jewish school). Local thugs organized and commenced the massacre of Jews. Blood flowed in a stream.
I gathered the Jews and we walked towards the Latvian border. The border guards did not let anyone cross over. Only on Friday morning (the first Friday after the war began) was that border opened.
We covered 80 km in a day and reached Riga. There we asked where the Russia border was. Latvians threw stones at us and we went to the bridge over the Dvina River. At this point the Germans bombed the bridge and it was damaged in several places. Miraculously, we managed to pass over the bridge. From there we went to the railroad track. Here, too, the German paratroopers acted. They blew up bridges and threw contaminated food, sowed panic and in every way hampered the retreat of the Soviet troops. Due to these saboteurs thousands of Soviet citizens were killed. Especially many policemen were killed in Lithuania. First, they did not know the Russian language, a fact for which many perished, and secondly, they all had German weapons, handed to them by the bourgeois police. When the Soviet NKVD people caught these men, they simply commanded to “put them up against the wall.” Thus many Lithuanian officers who also wanted to evacuate were killed. I only later realized that I could well have been killed. Actually, I was saved due to the fact that I looked very much like a Jew.
We got into a train. No one knew whence it had come, nor where it was going. At one point, somewhere in Belarus, the train stopped, we left the cars under fire from the woods and lay on the ground. A man who lay next to me asked me where the railroad led. He spoke with a strange accent, either German, or Latvian. Suddenly we heard a command, “To the cars!” And the man ran toward the woods. He lit a torch and signaled with it. He was caught—he was a German spy. A sophisticated camera and forged documents were found on him. After that, everyone was searched. My gun was taken from me.
On the way I was drafted into the Latvian division. Totally, 4,000 former police officers were recruited. Together with me Bauman, Breslav, Lurye, and many other Jews from Latvia were mobilized. I was in an infantry unit. Our military training began …
[f1]Did the narrator go on foot or by bike?