Saturday, August 29, 2009

Slaughter at Ejszyszki: One Man Survives to Tell

A woman and her child are killed as they run across the fields

During the autumn of 1941, advancing Einsatzkommando units systematically annihilated Jewish communities in villages and small towns in the Baltic states. In Ejszyszki, Lithuania, on September 22, 1941, the Nazi's led 3,500 of the 4,000 Jews who lived in that community to the death pits.

500 Ejszyszki Jews, after being alerted to an impending Nazi sweep, fled into the countryside. They were captured by the Germans and then locked inside three buildings, without food or water. "The next day and night, still denied food and water, the Jews were made to stand in the cattle market. Finally, on September 25, the healthiest men were taken away. Those remaining were told to not be afraid, that the men were working and preparing a ghetto for the community. But there was no ghetto, only burial pits where the Jews were taken in groups of 250 and shot. A survivor recalled hearing the Lithuanian executioners celebrate with boisterous singing and drinking."

In total, only 30 Jews from Ejszyszki survived the war. Zvi Michaeli was one of those who lived to tell. He was sixteen at the time. This is his accounting 68 years later.

"I was with hundred people. In line, he was on the left side. Chaim Levden, a neighbor. Me, my father, my brother, Schmuel Pokavski. That's five people in this line. And we saw a bunch of clothing in front of us. From the previous groups.

A German was sitting near and one foot to the other...a machine gun on his knee, and pointed not at us...but on the pit. We were meanwhile undressing.

When I saw Rabbi Zushe undressed, I thought this was the end. The verses from Psalms that he recited in our ears up until then -- I'd been confident that we wouldn't die. And my father was saying 'You will live, don't be afraid.' He put his left hand on me.

I saw my father naked. I saw all the neighbors naked. Myself, I didn't see. My brother, and my brother...he didn't look on me and he didn't look on nobody. I saw my brother David climbing up on his thigh; so tight, he clung so tight. He was putting his face on my father's leg. Only grabs him so hard he wouldn't let him off. He wouldn't let my father....couldn't make a step without his head. And then we going to the graves. [starts to break down].

Step by step, by the dogs. My father's arm around me with his hands on my neck.
And machine guns started to.... There was a mixture of voices, of people crying, and children, and the shots -- and the dust -- and everything mingled together.... I felt my father give me a push. I fall down. I feel, I remember. He pushed me down. I fall in before him. I assume he fall down on me. I didn't see him falling down on me. But he was the closest down on me. And the nearest to me...holding, and the blood spilling. He covered me. He wanted me to live.

Seconds, it stops. Quiet. That happened in September Rosh Hashanah, 1941."

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