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Fania Brantsovskaya

Interviewer Zhanna Litinskaya
Date of interview: February 2005

Fania Brantsovskaya is a very sociable person. It's hard to get her at
home since she volunteers for the department of former ghetto inmates
and prisoners of concentration camps in the local Hesed. She
corresponds and talks on the phone with a number of her friends and
combatants from the partisan unit and ghetto. Fania gladly agreed to
meet with me. She lives in a small cozy apartment in a 1970s apartment
building. She met me at a bus stop to make it easier for me to get to
the place where she lives. She looks not a day older than 60. She
moves fast. Her hair is cut short and her eyes are bright, shiny and
full of life. Fania wears a business suit and a blouse. She was
dressed in the same way when she visited me in my hotel to complete
this interview. Her apartment is furnished nicely and there is a nice
bunch of heath in her kitchen. Fania offers me a cup of coffee and
starts her story, which is full of humor and accurate descriptions. I
enjoy listening to her.

My maiden name is Joheles. It's an old Jewish surname and has a local
Lithuanian coloring. My paternal grandfather, Velvl Joheles, was born
in Vilnius in 1868. At that time Lithuania belonged to the Russian
Empire. Jews constituted a big part of the population of Vilnius that
consisted of Lithuanian, Russian and Polish people. Before World War
II Vilnius was a center of Yiddish culture in Eastern Europe. There
were over 100 synagogues in Vilnius, educational and prayer
institutions, a charity fund, professional guilds, a Jewish hospital,
an elderly people's home, a charity children's fund, a Jewish public
school, a Jewish theater and choirs, a health organization, a labor
association, a few schools and gymnasiums teaching in Yiddish and
Hebrew. There were many Jewish craftsmen. They were hat makers,
tailors, bronze workers, leather men, etc.

My grandfather was a painter. He was a very skilled and artistic
painter. He made art paintings and exquisite Alfrei works [a technique
of interior decoration and renovation]. He was believed to have been
one of the best experts in his specialty. Many years after my
grandfather perished a friend of mine told me that her father was one
of my grandfather's best apprentices. My grandfather also completed
the most important tasks during the renovation of the Vilnius
University. A few years later, when he needed an eye surgery, he was
taken to the university clinic where he had benefits as an employee of
the university. I remember my mother and me visiting my grandfather in
hospital where he proudly told other patients and doctors how smart
and good I was being his older granddaughter.

Grandfather Velvl had a natural sense of humor. During World War I,
when there were no medications available he used to cure children
using just a thermometer. They never doubted that when he measured the
temperature, they would promptly recover, and they actually did,
however strange this might seem. He also cured his children and
grandchildren from bruises by putting an old galosh as bandage over
their injuries. I once fell and injured myself and when my grandfather
wanted to apply an old galosh, I told him this was nonsense, that I
had no faith in. My grandfather was stunned and couldn't forget it for
a long time repeating, 'How can you like modern young people, these
children… they have no faith!'

I have no information about my grandfather's parents, brothers or
sisters. His wife, my grandmother, Rohe-Gisia Joheles, was three years
younger than my grandfather. Her maiden name was Gilinskaya. She was
born in the town of Svencionys, about 70 kilometers from Vilnius.
There were actually two towns: Svencionys and Svencioneliai. There was
a big Jewish community in Svencionys where my grandmother came from.
From what I was told I know that my grandmother had many brothers and
sisters. She came from a big family.

I've never been in Svencionys. All I know about my grandmother's
relatives is that her brother Dovid Gilinski was a painter and he was
the one who introduced my grandmother to Grandfather Velvl. Dovid's
son Mordke Gilinski was popular in the Jewish circles. Before the war
there was the Meidem recreation home near Warsaw. It was well known in
Poland and Lithuania. [see Annexation of Vilnius to Lithuania] [1] It
was founded by a Bund [2] activist named Meidem for poor children in
Poland. There were two employees there whose surname was Gilinski: one
was the director, who wasn't related to our family. The other one was
Mordke Gilinski. Mordke was a teacher. The children liked and
respected him and addressed him 'father', 'batka' in Polish. Many
Jewish teachers knew Mordke in Poland and Lithuania. Children spent
two to three months in the recreation home. There was a puppet
theater, a radio station broadcasting in Yiddish and a brass
orchestra. The classes were conducted on a high professional level.
Mordke and his wife, who was also a teacher, arrived in Svencionys at
the beginning of the Great Patriotic War [3]. Mordke was a member of
Judenrat [4] in the ghetto in Svencionys. Later he moved to the ghetto
in Vilnius. I saw him last before I escaped from the ghetto. Most
likely, Mordke Gilinski, a great pedagogue and educator, ended his
life in Ponary [5]. People said his wife survived, but we lost track
of her after the war.

Velvl and Rohe-Gisia had many children, which was common for Jewish
families then. My father's older brother Dovid Joheles, born in 1895,
and his family lived in Kaunas. He was a baker. He owned a bakery and
a store where he sold bread, cakes, and pastries that he made. I don't
remember his wife's name, but I remember that they had two children: a
son named Ariya and daughter, Feigele, named after one of our
ancestors, in the same way I was. Dovid's family perished. They were
killed in Kaunas in 1941. My uncle's name is not on the list of those
who were killed in Kaunas, but some people who knew my uncle told me
about it.

My father was the next child in the family, and then came Berl, who
moved to Palestine, when he was young. He changed his name to Dov.
[Berl is the diminutive of the Yiddish Ber, meaning Bear in English,
just like the Hebrew Dov is.] He had two children: Zipora, a daughter,
and a son whose name I can't remember. Dov passed away a long time
ago; his son died in 1990. His daughter is still alive. My father's
brother Girsh, born in 1907, and his wife Esther lived in Vilnius.
They had no children. Girsh had a small shop. He was an engraver and
made skilful monograms on jewelry, dishes and tableware. Girsh and
Esther perished in the Vilnius ghetto [6] during its elimination in
October 1941.

My father's youngest brother, Meishke Joheles, was born in 1914. He
followed into his father's footsteps and made his living by painting.
Meishke kept his fondness of poetry a secret from his family. Many
years after the Great Patriotic War I learned that Meishke was a
member of 'Young Vilnius' [public organization uniting young Jewish
people in Vilnius before WWII], the organization of young poets,
writers and artists. He wrote beautiful romantic poems. The only
living poet from this organization, Sutzkever [7], who was a witness
at the Nuremberg trials, lives in Israel. I met with him and he spoke
warmly about Meishke. In 1938 Meishke got married. His wife Niusia was
an agronomist. Meishke and Niusia moved to Lvov in 1939. Niusia
continued her education there and Meishke entered the Lvov Teachers'
Training University. At the beginning of the Great Patriotic War
Meishke disappeared. Niusia evacuated to Uzbekistan. After the war she
moved to Moscow, defended a candidate's dissertation [see
Soviet/Russian doctorate degrees] [8], remarried and gave birth to two
children. If my memory doesn't fail me, she died in 1998.

My father's older sister Tyoma, born in 1906, finished the 'Ikh Duh
Arbet' school for Jewish girls where they were trained in crafts.
[Editor's note: 'Ikh Duh Arbet', lit. Assist by Working, Jewish
organization established by the Jewish community in Vilnius in the
1920s. It was an 8-year school for girls who were taught various
crafts there. The school only existed before WWII.] Tyoma learned to
sew, knit and embroider and worked in a handicrafts store owned by
Russian immigrants. The store sold yarn and embroidery accessories.
Tyoma wanted me to be good at handicrafts and gave me embroidery sets
as birthday gifts. Only once she bought me an umbrella on my birthday.
Her husband's surname was Finskiy. Tyoma had a daughter with two
names: Genia was her name registered in the documents, but her family
called her Bira after the Jewish autonomous region of Birobidjan [9].
Tyoma, her husband and their child perished in the Vilnius ghetto.

My father's sister Zelda, who was two years younger than Tyoma,
finished a teachers' training seminar in Vilnius. This was a workshop
for Yiddish teachers. Zelda was single. In 1939 she went to work in a
Jewish school in Belarus and disappeared there at the beginning of the
Great Patriotic War.

My father's sister Esther, born in 1912, was a beauty. There was even
a duel between the son of the brewery owner and another admirer.
Esther gave preference to a poor Jewish teacher whose surname was
Fink. They moved to Grodno in Poland [Grodno belonged to Poland in the
interwar period; in 1939 it was annexed by the Soviet Union and today
it is in Belarus, 230 km west of Minsk]. Esther's husband was a
convinced communist. The Polish authorities didn't appreciate such
convictions and he rarely had a job. Esther supported the family by
making clothes. She even had clients from other towns.

Esther had a son, and our family used to tell a funny story related to
his coming into this world. Grandfather Velvl went to his daughter in
Grodno for the brit milah ceremony. He hired a wagon at the railway
station. It took the wagon driver a long time riding him around town
till he brought him back to the station. Esther's house was right next
to the station. My grandfather kept talking about the Jewish wagon
driver's greediness for making him pay three times over the price for
the ride.

When the Soviets came to power [see Invasion of Poland] [10], Esther's
husband started working in the town department for education. On the
first day of the war a shell hit their house, but fortunately, nobody
was hurt, though at times I think it would have been better for
Esther's family if they had perished on that first day. They walked to
Vilnius, which was occupied by the Germans. Esther's husband was one
of the first Jews whom the Germans killed. Somebody reported that he
was a communist. Their son starved to death in the ghetto during the
first months and beautiful Esther followed him a short time later.

My father's younger sister Etha, born in 1916, was a shop assistant at
the jewelry shop on the main street in town. During the tsarist time
this street was named Georgievskiy Prospect after St. George. During
the Polish rule from 1920-1939 this was Adam Mickiewicz [11] Street,
named after the popular Polish poet. During the Soviet rule the street
was called Stalin Prospect. During the Nazi occupation it became
Hitlerstrasse. After the war and until 1956, when Nikita Khrushchev
[12] denounced the cult of Stalin, the street was named after this
great tyrant [Stalin]. Then the avenue was given the name of Lenin,
and only in 1991, after the breakup of the Soviet Union and
establishment of the independent Lithuanian state the street was given
the name of Gediminas [13], the founder of Vilnius. I remember my
mother and me went to the shiny store where Etha was working. Mama
enjoyed looking at the jewelry in the window, but she couldn't afford
to buy any. This was a store for wealthy people.

Etha was fond of singing. There were two Jewish choirs singing in
Yiddish. One was the choir of the Jewish educational society in
Vilnius. Another choir was named after its conductor: Gerstein choir.
Etha's music teacher was Vilbikhor, who also gave classes to my
grandfather Velvl, who was also fond of singing. Six years ago I
traveled to Israel where I visited the kibbutz, founded by the former
inmates of the Jewish ghetto in Vilnius. There was a museum of the
ghetto in the kibbutz. I saw a photo with the choir and my aunt Etha
in the first row. I was truly moved when I saw this picture.

The owner of the jewelry store sold it and the new owner hired new
staff. Etha went to sell inexpensive tea. She offered tea in wholesale
bundles. She also offered her customers a nice teacup as a gift. Her
customers bought tea from her on installments and she collected their
payments on a monthly basis.

In the 1920s Grandfather Velvl and Grandmother Roche-Gisia lived in
the Antokolis district in Vilnius. They had a small apartment. Their
daughter Etha lived with them. My grandfather went to a nearby
synagogue. He had his kippah, tallit and tefillin on, when praying. My
grandmother wore a wig. However, they were moderately religious. They
just followed traditions because they were brought up this way and
they couldn't imagine it any different. I never saw them praying at
home. They didn't follow the kashrut, nor did they insist that their
children or grandchildren observed Jewish traditions.

In my childhood we visited my grandfather and grandmother on Saturday.
We hired a wagon and I was looking forward to it with pleasure each
time. We arrived on Saturday afternoon. My grandfather asked my
grandmother to turn on the lights and she lit a lamp grumbling. The
Sabbath was still on and it wasn't allowed to turn on the lights till
the end of Saturday. However, our visit was more important than Jewish
traditions for my grandfather. In the late 1920s my grandmother had a
stroke and got a problem moving her hand. Though her daughter lived
with her she always waited till my mother came to wash her. My
grandfather, grandmother and Etha were among the first to fall victim
to the fascists. They were killed in one of the first shootings when
Jews from Antokolis were taken to Ponary and executed there.

My father, Beniamin Joheles, was born in Vilnius in 1898. I don't know
whether he attended cheder, but I think it was mandatory for all boys.
I have no information about where my father studied. My father knew
Yiddish, Russian, Lithuanian, Polish and German. He was trained to
become an electric mechanic at a company in Germany and later stayed
to work with this company. He became a highly skilled mechanic. By the
time he met my mother at his older brother Grigoriy Golunskiy's place,
he lived in Kaunas and worked as an electric mechanic at the railway

My mother came from the town of Varena [85 km from Vilnius] at the
border of Lithuania and Poland [in 1934, 393 Jews lived in Varena]. My
mother's father, Bencion Galunskiy, was born in the 1870s. He worked
at the local carton factory. He also dealt in beer wholesales. He
owned a warehouse where he had beer stocks. Grandmother Hana-Leya
[Galunskaya] was a housewife. The Galunskiy family celebrated Jewish
holidays and went to the synagogue. They also raised their children to
respect traditions. However, the children were a new generation,
growing up during World War I and the Revolution in Russia in 1917
[see Russian Revolution of 1917] [14]. Almost all of their children
became atheists. In 1938 Bencion and Hana-Leya moved to Palestine
[today Israel]: their son and daughter had settled down there before
them. Therefore, my maternal grandfather and grandmother escaped
falling victims to fascists like my father's parents and the majority
of Lithuanian Jews. They died in the 1960s and were buried in the
Mount of Olives in Jerusalem [the oldest and most holy Jewish place
for burial]. Their grandchildren visit their grave each year.

Grigoriy Galunskiy, the oldest of the siblings, was born in 1896. He
became a communist. Mama told me he was under arrest frequently and
once he was even sentenced to death. Then the rabbi himself spoke for
Grigoriy. Though it was Saturday, he signed a petition, which saved
Grigoriy's life. [According to the Jewish Law saving life is the
single most important command; it overrules all other commands,
including the Sabbath restrictions.] After 1919 Grigoriy lived in the
USSR and later he moved to Vilnius as Consul of the Soviet Russia in
Lithuania [Lithuanian independence] [15]. The capital of Lithuania at
that time was Kaunas [since Vilnius (Wilno) belonged to Poland then]
and Grigoriy, his wife Esther Grinblat and their children lived in
Kaunas. My mother, who loved her older brother, left Varena to live
with them. Mama told me that Grigoriy's children loved her dearly.

Grigoriy's wife was a Jewish woman from Kaunas. She was also a
convinced communist. Esther was a dentist by profession. She provided
her services to prisoners in the local jail. After finishing his
military service in Lithuania, Grigoriy was appointed consul in
Trieste, Italy. My mother never saw him again. It was only in the late
1930s when a newspaper published the information that Grigoriy
Galunskiy, a famous Bolshevik [16], had died in Odessa. My father
decided not to mention to my mother that her beloved brother had died
hoping that she would never find out, but she did. Her neighbor
visited her and together they were looking at old photographs, when
the neighbor expressed her regrets about my mother brother's early
death. She also mentioned that she had read about it in the
newspapers. Her brother's death was a tragedy for my mother. She
mourned for him for seven days sitting on the floor wearing torn
clothes [she sat shivah]. I don't know what happened to Grigoriy's
wife or children. I failed to find them after the Great Patriotic War
however hard I tried.

My mother's sister Sarrah moved to the USA in the early 1920s. From
there she sent an invitation to my mother. However, my mother had a
double name of Rohlia-Dveire, common for Jews, but it was different
from the name given in the documents. While thinking about obtaining
new documents my mother met my future father. She fell in love with
him and the issue of moving to America became irrelevant. Sarrah got
married in America and had two sons. They became military pilots and
perished on the Western Front during World War II. My cousin sister
found their grave in France. She visited the place several times. I
don't remember Sarrah's family name. I don't know when she died

My mother's sister Shifra moved to Palestine [today Israel]. She
married Avigdor Miller. She had two sons and a daughter. Her older
son, whose name I don't remember, was the mayor of Shefar'am for a
number of years. Bencion, her second son, was born after my Granny
died and he was named after her. He worked as a journalist for the
Jerusalem Post [major Israeli English language daily.]. He is a
pensioner now. His daughter Dale, a teacher, lives in Vardiya [a
neighborhood in Haifa], Israel.

My mother's youngest brothers, Motl and Yitzhok, lived in Kaunas. Motl
became an electric mechanic. Yitzhok was a building contractor. Motl
and Yitzhok had one daughter each. Motl and his family perished during
the Great Patriotic War. Yitzhok's daughter lives in Israel. My
mother's brother Shimon lived in Taurage, near Konigsberg [Russia,
1,000 km from Moscow]. He had five children. On the day the war began,
Shimon and his daughter Shulamit went to see a doctor. When bombs
started falling, his wife and the children left their home. That way,
they lost each other. Shimon and his daughter evacuated to Tajikistan.
When he returned to Taurage, he heard that his wife and four children
had perished. He couldn't bear the thought of staying in his hometown
and moved to Israel. Shimon died in the middle of the 1980s. Shulamat
still lives in Israel.

My mother Rohl [Joheles, nee Galunskaya] – her family called her
Rachil affectionately – was born in 1901. I think she finished two or
three grades of elementary school, but I don't know any details. My
parents had their wedding in Varena on 22nd July 1921. My parents got
married under a chuppah at the synagogue and had a traditional Jewish
wedding. It couldn't have been otherwise in Jewish families at the
time. My parents rented an apartment in Kaunas.

I was born on 22nd May 1922 in Kaunas. I was named Feige, but since my
early childhood everybody called me Fania, which is a Russian name
[see common name] [17]. Mama told me she got severely ill when I was
born. She had to send me to my grandfather and grandmother in Varena
where I lived the first year of my life. My grandparents often showed
me my parents' pictures in a photo album, and when my parents came to
pick me, I said 'Mama, papa – album'. I don't remember any details of
my life in Kaunas. My father worked a lot at the railway power station
[local power plant owned by the railway station, supplied energy to
railroad utilities].

In 1927 my sister Riva [Joheles] was born. This was when my father got
arrested for being a Polish citizen having received his passport in
Vilnius. He was accused of espionage. At this time President Smetona
[18] came to power. Grandmother Hana-Leya, who had come to stay with
us around the time the baby was due, and I visited mama at the
hospital. My grandmother decided to keep silent about my father's
arrest. Since my mother didn't like it that I was wearing a different
coat than she had expected me to wear, my grandmother told her that my
father had gone on a business trip and taken the key to the wardrobe
with him. Well, it's always like this: one has good intentions, but
they don't usually work. Another woman told mama about my father's
arrest. My mother started bleeding and had to stay in hospital for a
long time. My grandfather Velvl's apprentice, a rather high official,
pulled strings for my father. My father was released from prison, but
was to leave the town within three days. I have some vague memories of
us moving out. I remember the horses dragging our wagon across a
little river.

We crossed the border between Lithuania and Poland and arrived in
Vilnius, which belonged to Poland at the time. [The modern Polish
nation-state was created after World War I of the ethnic Polish areas
of the Russian Empire (Kingdom of Poland and areas East of it),
Austria-Hungary (Galicia province) and some Eastern parts of Germany.
Vilnius (Wilno at the time) was also a part of Poland up until 1939.]
My father's parents and sisters lived there and we found ourselves
staying with a big Jewish family all of a sudden. They all shared love
and support.

My father went to work as an instructor of an electric mechanic
laboratory of the polytechnic school of the organization of the
workers' union. My father became a valued teacher at this school.
However, he wasn't paid his regular salary in full: they usually paid
him about 20 percent and put the rest on credit. Once his credit had
accumulated into a big amount, the management paid half of it to my
father. My parents believed it to be a huge amount of money and
decided to have winter coats made for them for this money. However, my
father's salary wasn't enough to cover all family expenses and when my
parents managed to get a suitable lodging my father opened his own
electric technical shop.

My parents started by renting a room. We had to go through our
landlady's room since she lived in the same apartment. Later we moved
to a place on Basanavichus Street. Two months later we moved to a
bigger room. In 1928 my parents rented a room on Pilimo Street. This
big four-storied house behind the synagogue is still there. The
synagogue is also there. Madam Trotskaya, our landlady, lived with her
daughter in Paris. Her Jewish manager collected the rent, and there
was a maid to keep the house clean. The landlady arrived each summer
to collect the money.

There was a signboard with the name Joheles, my father's name, on the
front door. We had a common apartment for the time. The rooms were
located one after another. My father's shop was in the first and
biggest room of the apartment. My father made a partition to separate
the shop from my parents' bedroom. The next room was also divided to
create a dining room and a children's room. Then there was the kitchen
with a backdoor leading to the yard. There was a wood-stoked stove in
the kitchen. In the yard there was a shed where all tenants kept sawn
wood. The winters in the north were severe and one had to be prepared
for it. There were men offering their sawing services for a reasonable
fee walking from one house to another in fall.

Our apartment was modestly furnished, but my mother's eagerness and
skills added charm to it. There was hardly anything my mother couldn't
do. She kept altering clothes and dressed my sister and me to the
fashion. She could knit and embroider. She made napkins for the
furniture and embroidered rugs. When little round tables became
fashionable, mama cut the edges of the kitchen-board, finished it and
placed it on our table. She couldn't wait till my father got some time
for it and did the wiring herself, however crookedly she managed to do
it. Mama whitewashed the walls, moved the furniture and fixed it to
make our life more comfortable. Mama was an excellent housewife.
However hard the times, she always managed to make dinner somehow.

My mother always had some money prepared for donations: there was an
association of the poor in Vilnius. It divided the town into districts
and collected donations on certain days. Poor Jews visited us on
Wednesday and Mama gave each of them a farthing. My father bought
books from his monthly salary. We read a lot: books and Yiddish
newspapers. We also often went for walks together and discussed what
we had read.

My parents weren't religious. They didn't observe the kosher laws
either. We often had sausage and ham at home. Mama was raised in a
more traditional Jewish family and tried to observe Jewish traditions
at the beginning. She lit candles on Sabbath and prayed, but my father
often worked on Saturday and Mama gradually gave up praying, but kept
lighting candles. Later she just told me, 'Fania, light the candles'.
Mama also fasted on Yom Kippur and tried to involve my father in it.
She didn't make dinner on this day and my father and his friend, a
shochet's son, used to go to a missioners' cafe where they served nice
dinners to all those willing. Later Yom Kippur became just a day off
for us; it was a good occasion for the family to get together. Mama
cooked a lot and the family had dinner together enjoying themselves;
Aunt Tyoma and her husband visited us.

Mama usually cooked Jewish food on Pesach. She made sweet and sour
stew, cookies made from the dough boiled in honey, tsimes [19] with
carrots, beans, potatoes and prunes. She also made tsimes with
lentils, grown in Lithuania. She also made imberlach with carrots and
ginger, which I still cook every now and then. On Pesach mama made
borscht with marinated beetroots. She also made jam with these
beetroots and nuts. Mama also made a cake from matzahmuki [matzah
flour] on Pesach. She also served medok, both Jewish and Lithuanian
beverage with honey and hops. We celebrated Pesach, but didn't have
the seder ceremony. We cleaned our house and bought gifts for the
family. However, I cannot remember any Jewish traditions related to
this holiday being observed in our family. Matzah was bought long
before the holiday and kept in a basket. Mama made latkes and little
pies from matzah flour stuffed with fried onions and jam. Mama also
made boiled buckwheat with fried onions – this was a typical Jewish
meal in Vilnius. On Chanukkah mama made potato pancakes. We didn't
have a chanukkiyah.

Frankly speaking, all I know about Jewish traditions I learned from my
father's parents. We celebrated the first seder with them. We hired a
wagon to get there and I loved it. My grandfather wore a kippah and
reclined on cushions at the head of the table. Grandmother sat beside
him. I looked for the afikoman and got a present for this. I also
posed the four questions about the holiday [the mah nishtanah] to my
grandfather. We also visited my grandparents on Chanukkah and I got
Chanukkah gelt. I kept an old whipping top, a memory of my
grandfather, for many years and only recently gave it to an
acquaintance of mine who is collecting old Jewish things. She lives in
Israel. On Rosh Hashanah it was necessary to take a candle with a
little flag placed in a potato to the synagogue. Mama gave me the
candle when I went to the synagogue with my grandfather. She bought
the candle in advance.

There were only Jewish families living in our house. The only
non-Jewish family was our janitor's family. Later a post office was
opened in the building and its director received an apartment in the
house as well. The janitor's children were very happy that they'd
finally be able to meet non-Jewish children and were greatly surprised
to find out that there were no icons in the director's apartment
[Orthodox-Christian families traditionally had icons in their homes.].
They happened to be a Karaite [20] family.

We used to joke that there were three factories in our yard. One was
Nadezha, a confectionary. Its old Jewish owner Vishrut, his son and
one worker made chocolates and lollipops and gave them to daily
workers to wrap them. At that time bone-shaped chocolate ice cream was
very popular. There were no fridges and chocolate in mould forms was
taken to the yard to cool down. The children were waiting for them to
take the forms outside hoping to get some treats. The Vishrut family
had two sons and a daughter. Her name was Anna. Once we were invited
to her birthday party. We made fancy carnival costumes from goffered
paper. We had lots of fun at the birthday party and laughed so much
that we peed and wet our paper skirts. Anna entered university shortly
before the war. Her father had an agreement with the housekeeper that
he would give shelter to the family and hide their valuables once the
Germans came. However this housekeeper happened to be a real fascist
and reported on the family. Their older son, a mathematician, was the
only survivor. He lives in the USA now.

The second factory packed cotton wool. And the third factory had a
special machine to stuff cigarettes. There was also a kitchenware and
everyday goods store in the yard. Maximov, our neighbor, was an actor
of the local Jewish theater. This was his pseudonym; I've forgot his
real name. His son pricked his finger with a pen and died from blood
poisoning. We, cruel kids as we were, took advantage of it showing our
teacher that we pricked our fingers just to get out of the classroom.
Maximov, his wife and children perished in the ghetto.

Our neighbors Sneidman had two children: Lusia and Noah or Nenia. The
father of the family, a tall handsome Jew, owned a warehouse. He
purchased bowels, washed and cleaned them and sold them to his clients
for making sausages. He was a religious Hasid [21], he celebrated all
Jewish holidays. On Sukkoth he installed a sukkah and we enjoyed
spending time there. He died of a heart attack by the door to their
house in the ghetto. His children survived the war. Lusia was in Riga
[today Latvia] and was then taken to a camp in Poland. After the war
she met with her cousin brothers in Vilnius and they took her to
Canada where she married a Jewish man who had been rescued by
Schindler [22]. Noah was in a partisan unit. After the war he stayed a
while with my husband and me. Noah finished a teacher's training
college. He got married and moved to his sister in Toronto. He became
a Russian literature professor at Toronto University.

Our other neighbor Hasia, a Jewish girl, finished Medical Faculty.
During the Great Patriotic War she was at the front. She had a child
from a Ukrainian guy. After the war he took their child to his first
wife. Hasia knew she couldn't manage raising a child during hungry
times. Her son grew up and found out who his real mother was. He is a
sailor. He lives in the north of Russia and often visits Hasia in

There was another family in our house. The father of the family, whose
name I can't remember, was a thief. He was the leader of a gang. He
was nicely and elegantly dressed. Once, Lelka Steiman's father's fur
coat disappeared from the ante-room. The neighbors started discussing
this incident loudly and two days later the fur coat reappeared as
suddenly as it had been gone.

There was also the Gringold family living in our house. They owned a
fabric store on Rudnitskaya Street. They had two daughters. The older
one was my age, and Ada Gringold, the younger one, was about two years
younger. The girls' parents died during the typhoid epidemic shortly
before the war. When the war began, the girls' uncle took them to live
with him in Kaunas. From the Kaunas ghetto [23] they were taken to the
concentration camp in Klooga [24] in Estonia where they met my father.
They told me a lot about his last months. My father stayed strong and
supported the girls as much as he could. The girls moved to their
relatives in America.

The Minz family, who lived on the fourth floor of our house, had
several daughters. Sima, one of them, used to slide down the handrails
and ring the Gringolds' doorbell before running away. This was a
monkey-trick, but it disturbed the neighbors a bit. When the Soviets
came to Lithuania [see Occupation of the Baltic Republics] [25], the
Minz family moved to Japan. Sukiahara [26], a Japanese diplomat,
rescued from oppression many Jews, Buddhists and Zionists by issuing
Japanese visas to them. Sima lives in the USA. She happened to sit
next to Ada Gringolds' at a congress of Vilnius Jews in New York. They
started talking and it turned out they had lived in the same house and
that Sima had been the very girl ringing the doorbell of Ada's

So these are the stories of the people living in our house. There were
two little huts and a bigger house with two apartments in the yard.
One apartment belonged to an old Jewish man. He stored oil products,
kerosene in barrels that he sold. The janitor and his family lived in
the other apartment. All Jews living in these houses also died in the
ghetto. Only one girl survived. After the war she worked as a dancing
teacher and taught Jewish children who had survived the ghetto.

There were a number of schools and gymnasiums for Jewish children in
Vilnius. They were schools where the teaching was in Hebrew and
Yiddish or in Polish. There were 7 and 8-year schools. There were a
number of Yiddish schools: Gurewich, Shimon Fruk, Zeire Kuperstein
schools. They were named after their sponsors and founders. There was
a Tiksin school for retarded children, named after its founder Tiksin.
The humanitarian Realschule [27] and the Sophia Gurwich gymnasium were
the best. I went to the Sophia Gurewich gymnasium. Doctor Shabath's
wife was my teacher. This Jewish doctor was a very nice person. There
were legends about his professionalism and kindness towards the poor.
The teachers were extremely skilled. Our teachers had high goals to
educate and teach Jewish children and make them well-cultured people.
They taught us real things. I remember our teacher once brought milk
to the class. It got sour and after that we knew how sour cream and
butter were made. We wrote compositions and in senior grades we
discussed literary characters.

We also celebrated Jewish holidays at school. We had a masquerade on
Purim. We wore costumes. I remember wearing a Chinese costume once. We
also brought shelakhmones to school. We put everything we brought from
home into a big basket and everyone could take a treat from it. In
this way poor children could also enjoy better shelakhmones. The
gymnasium charged fees. My father paid 50 percent of my tuition fees
as he was a member of the teachers' association. However, it happened
sometimes that I wasn't allowed to come into the classroom when my
father didn't pay my fees on time. We particularly liked the event we
celebrated on 1st March – the School Day. We had a banner made of all
kinds of geometric figures: quadrates, triangles and rhombi that we
took outside. There was a meeting and Sophia Gurewich made a speech.
In 1933 the gymnasium was closed. I know that Sophia Gurewich starved
to death while in evacuation in a town in Russia.

I went to the Realschule. The fee was lower there and they focused on
natural sciences. I was good at those subjects: mathematic, physics,
etc. We were taught in Yiddish. We also studied Jewish history and
literature. Our teachers also lectured at Vilnius University. There
was a wonderful library at school where I spent much time. Our teacher
Malka Heimson, who was also the tutor at our literature club, perished
in the ghetto in 1942.

In those years, young Jewish people in Vilnius followed different
political convictions. In opposition to young fascists who propagated
racial hatred and also used to break windows of Jewish stores, they
formed different unions. There was an underground 'Union of the school
youth', fond of antifascist and communist ideas, and there was an
underground Komsomol [28] organization. There were two Bund
organizations: one for younger and the other one for older members. I
belonged to the Zionist Jewish scout organization 'Bin'. We spent much
time together going on excursions and hiking tours in summer. We often
went to the theater. There were two Jewish theaters and a Jewish
conservatory in Vilnius. In spring our schools had a meeting at the
Maccabi [29] stadium. I remember that when we passed by the Jewish
Bank its employees threw flowers from the balcony of the building. I
can still remember the overwhelming feeling of joy that I had.

Young people argued a lot about the Soviet regime: about the period of
terror [see Great Terror] [30] in the USSR, trials of the Trotsky [31]
and Zinoviev [32] followers [see Zinoviev-Kamenev triumvirate] [33].
Once I even had a fight with my father's apprentice who also stayed
with us. He was telling me that there was something horrible happening
in the USSR and that Lenin's comrades, such as Trotsky, could not be
enemies of the people [34]. Older people also had discussions. Some
were for the Soviet regime and were interested in everything happening
in the USSR.

In 1939 Vilnius was given to Lithuania and became its capital. That
summer I finished Realschule. Four of my friends and I decided to go
to study in Grodno in Western Belarus. This was my idea – first of all
teaching in Grodno was in Polish, which we all knew. Secondly, my aunt
Esther lived there. In Grodno I entered the teachers' training
college. Before the Soviet power was established in Western Belarus
the pupils had to say a Catholic prayer before classes. The prayer was
cancelled and the lyceum switched to Russian [in 1939, when the Soviet
Union occupied Eastern Poland]. It was difficult to study. I lived in
a hostel with other Polish and Belarus girls. They gave me a warm
welcome and even gave me a present according to Catholic traditions.
Some of the girls' parents were arrested by Soviet authorities. One
such girl was the daughter of a policeman. Once she tore the picture
of Stalin grabbing it from the sideboard that belonged to another girl
in our room. The girl realized she might get in trouble and came to me
to ask advice. I told her to go get another picture to replace the one
she had torn and pretend nothing had happened. She did as I told her.
Some time later our lyceum was renamed to college and we had to take
entrance exams in physics and Russian. I said I could only do it in
Yiddish and one Jewish professor agreed to be my examiner.

In early 1940 my friends and I were summoned to the passport agency
and ordered to leave Grodno. We didn't belong there and had no right
to reside in the areas adjoining the border. [The Soviet regime did
not trust those who lived in the areas that were annexed to the USSR.
In particular, it restricted their freedom of movement. They were not
supposed to be close to the border to prevent them from escaping from
the country]. The point of destination indicated in my passport was
Navahrudak, a town in Belarus and I went there. Navahrudak was a nice
town, the town where Adam Mickiewicz was born. I took a teachers'
training course. I was a good student. I joined the Komsomol and was
an activist. Here I fell in love with Ezhi Chizhik from Poland. We
spent a lot of time together and dreamt about the future. When we
finished our studies we were sent to work in different villages. I
went to Zherebkovichi. I taught Belarus, Russian, history and physical
education in a small school. My first class was with an army service
pre-conscription group. I was to teach them how to put their
signatures. My students respected me.

In spring 1941 I went home to Vilnius on vacation. The Baltic
Republics were already occupied by the Soviets. My parents didn't have
anything against it. They believed that at least there was no fascist
threat to Jews any longer. When I came home, Mama was at the parents'
meeting. My sister Riva studied in the former Realschule. Having
missed home-made food for so long, I was eating my mother's borscht
right from the pot. A week later I returned to Belarus. On 1st June
1941 I went to enter Vilnius University. When I came to submit my
documents, I was told to come back in July. I met with my friends whom
I hadn't seen in two years. At this time the Soviet authorities began
with the deportation of Lithuanian Zionists and wealthier people to
the Gulag [35] camps. Some of my friends were gone. On 21st June I met
a friend, whose father was an outstanding doctor. We were standing
near my house discussing whether his parents could possibly be subject
to deportation. On the following morning, 22nd June, the [Great
Patriotic] war began.

On 22nd June the bombings started. My parents and many other people
thought it was another emergency training, common at the time. My
parents had bags packed with everything necessary in case of an
emergency. We grabbed them and went to the basement. On that day my
uncle Finskiy, who was the director of a leather factory, brought a
wagon to pick us. We talked and decided that my father and I were
going: my father wanted to go to the Soviet army and I was a Komsomol
member and was sure I simply had to go. We decided that my mother and
sister could stay at home. It never occurred to us that the fascists
could do any harm to a woman and a girl. In a hurry I grabbed my hot
water bottle: I had had a kidney surgery earlier and never went out
without a hot water bottle. We were going on a horse-drawn wagon and
this was a horrible exodus. The retreating Red army trucks were
passing us. We begged them to take us with them and I even showed my
Komsomol membership certificate, but they were just passing by. There
were many dead people on the road. I thought there could be nothing
worse than what we were going through, but it was all just ahead of

We stopped to take a rest in the town of Gorodishche in Western
Belarus. The house we stayed in was on a hill. The owner's son, a
teacher, showed us the German parachutists landing. I buried my
documents in their garden, while the German motorcyclists were riding
along the streets. The occupation began. In the morning all men
including my father and uncle were taken to the market square. These
were the frontline forces and these men just scared the men around a
bit before letting them go home. We headed home, but in the first
village we passed the villagers took away our horses and we had to
walk on. A few days later we returned home.

It's hard to find words to describe our family reunion. We all cried.
Mama said that when the town was occupied, our housekeeper, an adamant
anti-Semite, came to see her to ask about where we had gone. He told
us we had escaped along with the communists. Then the wife of our new
janitor came by. She said: 'Fania, why don't you tell him that your
husband and daughter went to visit your brother in Kaunas and then the
war began and they had to stay'. So she gave Mama a hand.

A few days later pogroms took place in our town. Fascists tortured
religious Jews making them shave their beards and forcing them to
dance. Every day new orders were issued. The first one was for
communists and Komsomol members to get registered. Fortunately, nobody
in Vilnius knew I was a Komsomol member. My father was forced to work
for the Reich. I was also taken to do odd jobs: we gathered lime
blossoms and other herbs. Later we were sent to clean the streets and
public toilets. All Jews were to wear a big white quadrate with a
yellow circle and the letter 'J' in it on our chest and back. We
obeyed and immediately felt ourselves outcasts. Later these were
replaced with white armbands with a yellow star and then just a yellow
star. Germans shot people if they caught them without the bands. Jews
were killed for not following German orders.

Jews weren't allowed to walk on pavements, go to the market or stores
or use public transportation. There were two small food stores where
we could receive food products for cards. The circulating currency was
Marks. The curfew started two yours earlier for Jews than for other
citizens. Fascists cane to Jewish houses taking away valuables and
making inventory of the furniture. They also took away more expensive
pieces of furniture. There were local reporters giving them
information about wealthier houses. Jews tried to hide their valuables
with their Lithuanian friends. An old Lithuanian woman, who did our
laundry, took a few bags of our belongings to hide. I even gave her
the yarn that aunt Tyoma had given to me.

Every day men were taken away. At first they explained they were taken
to work and men were ordered to take towels and soap with them. But
people said they were taken to shooting grounds. On 11th July
shootings in Ponary, a dacha [cottage] village 12 kilometers from the
town began. It became a death factory. The Soviet authorities had
built huge concrete pits to store fuel, but failed to ever get to use
them. When those pits were full of dead bodies the victims were forced
to dig graves before they were shot themselves. The Jewish population
was to pay the contribution of 5 million Marks and we, just like
everyone else, gave away all our money and valuables.

We knew there were Soviet prisoners-of-war kept in the open air. On
31st August my friend visited me to collect things for the prisoners.
I keep admiring our being brave: we were young and the young have no
fear. My friend Pupa Kavergi and her grandmother lived in the district
of the old medieval Jewish ghetto [36]. Her mother died at childbirth
and her father, an outstanding Bund member, had passed away some time
afterward. She left shortly before the curfew started ignoring my
invitation to stay overnight. On 1st September fascists stage an
incident to cause provocation: on the corner of Dijoy Street they left
two dead Germans and accused the locals of having killed them. At
night all residents of this neighborhood were taken to Ponary or the
Lukishki prison [the oldest prison built in the center of Vilnius
during the tsarist regime in the 1860s. Its prisoners were those who
were not loyal to the regime. The prison is still operating today].
Pupa was one of the first to perish. I'm still tortured by the thought
that she might have survived had I insisted on her staying.

On 4th-5th September the situation in the town grew tenser. Lithuanian
and Polish residents were forced to leave their homes on Strashuno,
Rudninku, Mesino and some other streets in the center of Vilnius. On
6th September at 6am Lithuanian policemen knocked on our door rather
politely. They gave us 30 minutes to pack and move to the Jewish
ghetto. We could take as much luggage as we could carry with us. One
Lithuanian, a more decent man than the others, told us not to worry
since the ghetto was nearby, just across the street from the house and
we could take a lot of things since we didn't have to walk far. We
were just to cross the street to get there. We crossed Pilimo Street
and were pushed into a yard across the street from the Jewish hospital
on Shpitalnaya Street. Our Jewish neighbors and other Jews were in the
yard already. My school friend Hona Tanhu lived in a house in this
neighborhood. His mother heard the noise in the yard and came out of
her apartment. She invited us to come in. We settled down in her
apartment and felt a bit relieved – at least we had a place to stay

There were two ghettos created on 6th September: the one where we were
was big with a central point on Rudninku Street. The smaller one was
on Stikle and Jidu Streets. Many Jews from other streets were taken to
Ponary. All Jews from Antokolis, my grandfather Velvl and grandmother
Rohe-Gisia, and all Jews from Lidskaya Street were taken to Ponary. We
were almost lucky to be living near the ghetto and getting there
before it was overcrowded. All sick and older people were taken to the
smaller ghetto. People who specialized in some crafts were kept in the
bigger ghetto. In late October 1941 the smaller ghetto was eliminated.

The ghetto was fenced. In narrower streets wooden or brick walls were
installed. The Judendrat settled down in the building of my former
Realschule on 6 Rudninka Street. Jewish police headed by Yacob Gensas
also settled down there. There were police offices established in the
ghetto. Jewish policemen watched over order in the ghetto and that all
fascist directions were followed.

On the first days of our imprisonment various actions began. It seemed
the fascists enjoyed changing the ways of selecting Jews for killing.
Young people were taken to work in the peat bog and one day they were
told to go to the sauna. My acquaintance Dodke Vedutskiy felt ill and
didn't go with his comrades on this day. The young people were locked
in a shed and burnt. There were a few synagogues in the ghetto. The
yard of one synagogue was in the smaller ghetto. On Yom Kippur, 21st
September 1941, all Jews that were praying there were taken to Ponary.
My friend Motke Gurewich's parents were also there. His father told
him to stay at home that day. The ghetto inmates used to make shelters
to hide away during various actions. They were called 'malina'
shelters [Russian slang for a secret apartment where those who were
against the regime had their meetings]. Our schoolteacher's daughter
was born in such a shelter and he named her 'Malina'. Unfortunately, I
have no information about what happened to her.

There were a few Judenrat offices responsible for various aspects of
life in the ghetto. There was a work office, a social service office,
a shop maintenance office, an office of culture, a medical office and
a funeral office. There was also a hospital primarily keeping patients
with infectious diseases, a children's home in the hospital, and a
drugstore in the ghetto. The children in the ghetto were taught in
schools organized by schoolteachers. There was also a sports ground,
though nobody seemed to go there, and a library in the ghetto. There
was only a small collection of books in the library, but I borrowed
some to read and my name can be found in the library archive.

Our life was more of existence, really. My father was an excellent
specialist and was given a yellow certificate. The color of these
certificates was often changed and this was another 'monkey trick' the
fascists played. Those who failed to obtain new cards were taken to
Ponary. Each worker could register his wife and two children under the
age of 16 as his dependants. Since I was short and tiny my father
wrote I was born in 1926 instead of 1922, and I was registered as his
dependant until 1942. This gave me the right to stay at home, obtain a
dependant's card, in this way he rescued me from forced labor that I
would not have survived. Many workers registered their relatives as
their dependants: fathers as husbands, mothers and sisters as wives,
and even strangers to rescue them.

Those who went to work outside the ghetto were supposed to walk in
groups. There were policemen on guard at the gate to the ghetto. One
of them, the cruelest of all, beat people black and blue for trying to
smuggle some miserable food into the ghetto: a glass of sugar or
cereal, a few potatoes. Another order was issued ordering the inmates
to live according to the work group division and we had to move to
another apartment in Strashnogo Street near the location where my
father worked. One day all those who had worker's certificates and
their families were moved to the smaller ghetto and all inmates in the
smaller ghetto who had no jobs were taken to Ponary.

We had hardly any food. One had to show the document confirming the
sanitary treatment to obtain a bread card: that was because of the
fear of epidemics in the ghetto. These cards were for little rations
of gray bread with sawdust. Sometimes we were given black peas, frozen
potatoes and cabbage. We were even given horsemeat once. It stunk when
boiling. Mama didn't fail to joke: she added some vinegar to the
cabbage and called it ground herring. She made 'liver paste' from
peas, and 'sweet tsimes' from frozen potatoes. At one time we were
given something called 'vobla' fish [salted fish]. They had taken off
its skin, drained it in water and made cutlets. Mama managed to go
outside the ghetto once. She brought our belongings from the
Lithuanian woman. I started knitting for policemen's wives. I remember
knitting a sweater for the fiancee of the policeman at the gate
torturing people. When searching people at the entrance to the ghetto,
the guards stored everything they could find in the former Gleizer's
sausage store at the entrance. However, everybody tried to hide
whatever food in the inner pockets of their clothes to smuggle it into
the ghetto, and many of them managed.

The Judenrat organized a theater in the ghetto, but we didn't go there
thinking that there was no cause for 'singing in the cemetery'. There
were two choirs in the ghetto. Luba Levitskaya, the soloist in one of
them, was captured once at the entrance to the ghetto trying to bring
in half a kilo of peas. She was beaten badly and taken to the Gestapo.
People said she kept singing at the Gestapo and then she was taken to
Ponary. Fortunately for me I had many friends and spending time with
them made this horrible existence somewhat better. On my birthday a
friend of mine brought me two branches of dandelions. She took a
tremendous risk of bringing flowers past the guard. These two tiny
branches embodied hope and a message from the outside of the ghetto.
My friend Honke, who had given us shelter in his home once, brought me
a little bottle of perfume that he had kept from the perfumery they
had owned.

I knew there was an underground movement in the ghetto. In January
1942 a partisan organization under the leadership of Yitzhak
Vittenburg was established there. I asked my friends to give me a
recommendation to join it. They tried to talk me out of it at first,
but then they took me to this organization. This organization helped
me to get a job: in 1942 I 'sort of' turned 16 [because her father had
changed her birth date from 1922 to 1926] and had to go to work. One
day Sonia Madeisker, one of the leaders of the underground movement,
visited me at home. Sonia lived outside the ghetto. She helped me to
get a job in a shop. At the beginning we weaved straw shoes: the
fascists used to wear them over their boots. Then we got knitting
orders and I worked 12 hours a day. I had my own work coupon while my
mother and Riva were still included on my father's work coupon [as

The underground organization of the ghetto united all parties and
trends such as communists, revisionists, Bund etc. Their common goal
was to fight against fascists. Vittenberg, a communist, was the leader
of the underground movement. His deputy was Aba Kovner, a Bund member.
The organization consisted of groups of five members who only knew
their comrades in the group. In our group the password was 'Lisa's
calling' commemorating Lisa Roft, who had been a member of the
underground, but perished. The younger members of the ghetto were
instructed on how to survive in the ghetto, how to bring in food
without the policemen noticing. We were also supposed to assist our
teachers, who weren't used to physical labor. We also gave people
information about the situation at the front line and provided homes
for people. The enemy was defeated near Moscow and the Soviet army was
in offensive. The senior members brought weapons into the ghetto
risking their lives. We were instructed in shooting in basements with
brick walls. I visited one of these basements recently. We were also
trained in making explosives, but it never came to action.

There were discussions about whether it was necessary to start
fighting in the ghetto. In July 1943 Yitzhak Vittenberg was arrested.
His comrades fought him back using their weapons. I didn't take part
in it as I was a junior member. Then Gensas sent a message to the
underground organization saying that if they didn't give in Yitzhak
all 20,000 inmates of the ghetto would be shot. Yitzhak did a heroic
deed coming out to face his executioners. He was severely tortured by
the Gestapo and shot. The leadership of the underground organization
decided to leave the ghetto and take people to the woods. Their
groups, moving in the direction of Belarus, were captured. Their
relatives in the ghetto were taken to prison or Ponary.

I had a picture for my Polish passport taken in the ghetto, but I
never got one. Our group of five had gatherings in the library. On
23rd September it was decided to send a few girls to contact a
partisan unit. They decided against Jewish guys with a common Semitic
appearance. Kaplan, Vittenberg's deputy, instructed us on where we had
to go and who to talk to. I went home to say 'good by' to my parents.
Mama gave me all she had: boiled peas, a piece of chocolate, a
lipstick and a nice blue shirt. I was to go with Doba Develtof, who
had a common Slavic look. We were waiting for a signal. In the evening
our contact person told us that a man would let us out through a small
gate on Nemetskaya Street. I said 'good by' to my family. My mother
and sister were crying. I stayed strong. It never occurred to me that
this could be the last time I saw them. Though it was summer, I put on
a winter coat with the fur collar torn off, as fur was supposed to be
given to Germans, and we left. Grigoriy Yashunskiy, the cultural
manager of the ghetto, went with us. He was going to hide away.

At the gate Grigoriy went to the left and Doba and I went to the
right. On Nemetskaya Street a policeman approached us telling us to
walk on the opposite side of the street. There were policemen standing
at a distance of ten meters from one another and there were trucks
with armed Germans heading to the ghetto. We knew there was something
terrible to happen in the ghetto.

I don't remember how we left the town and got to the woods. We ate the
peas my mother had given me and then we found wild strawberries in the
woods. Wasn't that a miracle – strawberries in September! We walked
through the woods all night. In the morning we came to a village
called Zverinets and realized we had lost our way: the village was not
supposed to be on our way. We approached a woman telling her that we
were heading to our aunt in the village of Staryie Matseli to help her
dig potatoes. The woman gave us some milk and boiled potatoes and we
moved on. In the evening we arrived in the village of Zhagaryay. The
village of our destination was the next one. Some Lithuanian women
digging potatoes yelled at us: 'Zhidovki!' [Jews]. We saw some armed
soldiers in the village, but what else were we to do but continue on
our way.

A local guy offered us shelter. He may have understood that we were
going to join the partisans. He took us to a shabby forester's hut
where we stayed overnight. In the morning he brought us a bottle of
milk and half a loaf of bread. There were swamps ahead of us and he
made us sticks for walking. We followed him. The guy showed us out of
the swamp and left. He showed us the way, though. For no particular
reason we got overwhelmed with joy all of a sudden. We started singing
Soviet songs aloud, when someone halted us: 'Halt, who's there?'
Instead of saying the password, we started laughing and crying. We got
hysterical. This was a distant patrol of the partisan unit that we
bumped into. One of the guards went to report on us and another one
stayed with us.

At this moment Haya Shapiro, another girl from the ghetto, joined us.
She said the ghetto had been eliminated the very night we left. My
friends, who were with my mother at the time, but survived, told me
that the inmates were taken to some place in the open air. It was
pouring, and my mother kept saying: 'We are alive, but how is Fania
out there?' On that same day a big group of underground members left
the ghetto through the sewer. Samuel Kaplinskiy, who had worked for
the water maintenance agency, led them out of there. Kaplan, Asia Bik
and Hvoinik, who were supposed to get out of the ghetto as well, got
lost, were captured by fascists and hanged.

The partisan unit we met was the one named after Adam Mickiewicz. Its
commanding officer met with us and asked us a few questions. A
beautiful blonde woman, who looked like a Lithuanian woman was sitting
beside him during the interrogation. He suggested that we joined his
unit, but the woman said: 'I shall not let Jewish girls join your
unit!' I was shaking from being hurt: did we escape from the ghetto
just to get into the hands of an anti-Semitic woman. Later it turned
out that this woman whose last name was Glezer, was Jewish and just
felt sorry for us, innocent Jewish girls. There were vague morals in
the partisan unit and she was concerned about us. However, the
partisans treated us like their sisters.

I was trained in shooting and installing mines. I had no good boots,
but was wearing shabby high-heeled sandals. I had small feet.
Borovskaya, the commissar of the unit, gave me the boots of her son
who had perished. My first task was to saw down the telegraph supports
to break the communications. There were three of us: Haim Lazar,
Rashka Markovich and I. We got lost and came to a village we didn't
know. We slept on Haim's coat at night and he was very unhappy that we
destroyed it. In the morning I realized that this was the village
where a guy had given shelter to Doba and I. I knew the way from there
and I led the group. My comrades thanked me and I was happy.

Some time later we joined the group of Samuel Kaplinskiy, the one that
had escaped through the sewer. We formed the big partisan unit 'For
Victory!' under the command of Kaplinskiy. Here, in this partisan
unit, I met my true love. My future husband, Mikhail Brantsovkiy, came
from Vilnius. He was born on 10th November 1921. The name Brantsovskiy
was well-known in Vilnius. There was Brantsovskiy, who owned a paper
factory before the war. There was wood cut for the factory stored in
the forest and our comrades used to joke: 'Misha [affectionate for
Mikhail], we've burnt your wood'. Mikhail wasn't related to the rich
man. His father Max owned a food store.

Mikhail finished a Hebrew gymnasium. Before the war Mikhail's brother,
whose name I don't remember, went to visit his grandfather in Lida
[today Belarus] and perished there. Mikhail, his father and mother
were in the ghetto, but we had never met there. A Jewish man from the
police reported on Mikhail's father one day when he was hiding in a
'malina' shelter. Max was taken to Ponary. Mikhail's mother Dina
stayed in the ghetto. Mikhail and I felt close to one another at once.
We had a common fate: a happy cloudless childhood interrupted by the
war and the ghetto. We were both worried about what happened to our
dear ones kind of guessing their tragic end. We had very moving
relationships in the partisan unit. When Misha and I started seeing
one another, a friend of mine came to tell him not to hurt me.

I became a member of a group. I was given a rifle and then an
automatic gun. I dragged it with me and took part in military
missions. I rarely saw Doba. Since she looked like a Slavic girl, she
joined an intelligence group. We blasted trains and placed explosives
in the enemy's equipment. We shot and killed them. Yes, I did, I
killed them and did so with ease. I knew that my dear ones were dead
and I took my revenge for them and thousands others with each and
every shot. Mikhail was at the head of a group. There were cooks and
other logistics people in the unit to take care of the routines. We
suffered from lack of vitamins. Once, a comrade of mine brought me
half a lemon when he came back from a task. I thought that was very
nice of him. Mikhail suffered from scurvy and wasn't involved in any
missions. Somehow he managed to overcome his illness. I suffered from
stomatitis. Our doctor prescribed me an injection of cow milk. They
must have infected me with something. I got a huge abscess and fever,
but somehow I managed to recover.

We made blouses from parachutes and colored them with onion peels and
herbs to prevent them from luminescence in the dark. Mikhail managed
to get children's boots for me. At some stage I was secretary of the
Komsomol unit. On 24th December 1943 we went on a mission. We were to
blast a bridge. There were only Komsomol members in our group and the
mission was called a Komsomol one. The chief engineer of the local
paper factory, a Polish man, was with us to help us. This took place
during Catholic Christmas and his daughters came to visit him. I was
invited to the party. There were candles on the table and I cannot
describe the feeling I had sitting at a festive table for the first
time in many years. However, this was a rare occasion. Our life
consisted of severe routines, earth huts, fires and missions. On 13th
July 1944 we went on another mission. When we returned, the unit was
preparing to march to Vilnius. The Soviet army was in town, when we
arrived there. Vilnius was liberated. I was happy and sad walking
familiar streets. I knew I would never see my father, mother or sister
again. From what the locals said the ghetto had been eliminated on
23rd -24th September 1943.

Later I heard more details about my parents. My father perished in the
concentration camp in Klooga in Estonia at the very end of the war. I
don't know the exact date, but in fall 1944 he was still on the lists
of the prisoners of this camp. The girls, who were with my mother,
found me. They were taken to Riga. One day all women over 35 were
taken away. My little sister wanted to come with Mama, but a German
pushed her away telling her she was too young. According to the
information I have the women were taken into the sea on a barge and
drowned. My husband's mother Dina Brantsovskaya perished in the same
group with my mother. My sister worked at the weaving factory in Riga.
Riva wrote poems and the other girls told me a few lines from her
poems. She wrote something like 'I'm standing by a machine weaving
belts to hang fascists on them'. All I know is that my little sister
perished in a death camp, one of those that fascists were destroying
before the Soviet army came.

There were hardly any Jews left in Vilnius. When I saw older Jews, or
they looked old to me considering how young I was, I felt like
kneeling before them to kiss their hands. I approached them to talk to
them and find out where they had been during the war. What happened to
our dear ones made my attachment to Mikhail much stronger. On 22nd
July 1944 we actually became husband and wife, we started living
together, and we got married on 17th August that year. We had no
passports. We had our marriage registered in our partisan ID's; the
registry office that had just been opened made an entry about our

The whole unit celebrated our wedding. All partisan groups stayed in
cottages in Vilnius together. Our group got a big mansion on Anglu
Street. Later we got a big apartment in Pilimo Street. My husband and
I had a big room there. We slept on mattresses on the floor. We spent
our evenings with the group and also shared the food with them. We
were intoxicated by the victory, our youth and love.

The Soviet regime needed specialists to restore the economy. We were
invited to the Komsomol central committee where they asked where my
husband and I had worked before the war. My husband had been a worker
at a shoe factory and they made him director of the factory. He turned
down this high level position and became its technical manager. My
friend, who was just a first year student of the Faculty of Economics,
was appointed manager of the planning department. Since I knew
Russian, I was sent to work as secretary of a ministry. At first all
ministers sat in one office. Later the minister I worked for got
another office. I used to take my rifle to work putting it in the
corner. The minister joked: 'One day you'll shoot me!' We didn't care
for any material riches. They didn't seem to matter in comparison to
victory and freedom. However, we had to get used to peaceful life.
Some time later we were ordered to submit our weapons. In summer 1945
Mikhail and I were in the Lithuanian delegation standing on the Red
Square [in Moscow] at the Victory Parade. These were unforgettable
moments. My husband and five others were awarded the 'Medal for
Partisan of the Great Patriotic War' [37], Grade I, and they were one
of the first awardees.

Life was gradually improving. In 1944 Vilnius was bombed several
times, but this wasn't all that scary. I was offered a teacher's job,
but I only wanted to teach Jewish children, and there were very few of
them in Vilnius. In 1945 I finished the technical school of
statistics. In April 1945 I became a statistical analyst in the
Central Statistical Department of Lithuania. I worked there till I
retired. I was promoted to personnel manager, and then became chief of
the registration department.

In 1945 the factory where my husband was working burnt down. We were
very concerned that my husband might get in trouble. There were many
people taken to jail for sabotage or negligence. Fortunately, my
husband's investigation officer from the NKVD [38] happened to be a
decent man. He knew my husband was not to blame. My husband went to
work as chief of department in the Lithuanian Industrial Council and
then worked as chief of Department of State Planning of Lithuania for
25 years. He finished Moscow Institute of Engineering and Economics
extramurally. We joined the Communist Party following our convictions.
We joined it very consciously.

We didn't observe Jewish traditions. We spoke Yiddish to one another.
Shortly after the war the synagogue opened in Vilnius. We attended it,
but not to pray. There was a sort of Jewish center there where Jewish
survivors searched for information about their families. I found my
friend through the synagogue. She lives in Israel, in Haifa. Almost
right after Vilnius was liberated I received a letter from aunt
Niusia, my uncle Meishke's wife. I was very happy to learn she had
survived. I visited her in Moscow several times. Once I met a few
girls from Taurag at a Komsomol gathering. I mentioned that my uncle
Shimon had lived there before the war, the only one of my mother's
brothers who managed to evacuate, and it turned out that Shimon had
survived. He visited us with Shulamit, his daughter, the only one of
his daughters who also survived. He and his daughter visited us in
Vilnius to bid us farewell. Shimon couldn't bear to stay in the town
after losing his wife and four daughters and they moved to Israel.

I knew I had relatives in Israel. My mother's parents, her brother and
sister had moved there before the war. I wrote to them from Belarus
back in 1939 and they replied, but after the war it was no good to try
to get in touch with them. The Soviet regime didn't trust people who
had relatives abroad [39]. People could lose their jobs and the party
membership. Besides, at this time the prosecution of Jews and campaign
against cosmopolitans [40] began. It had no impact on us and we truly
believed the propaganda.

We were given two rooms in a four-room apartment. The apartment was
divided into halves [see communal apartment] [41]. We got a kitchen
and two rooms, and our co-tenants got two rooms and the bathroom, so
we had to install a bathtub in the kitchen. The bathroom was in the
kitchen; we made a curtain to separate it from the kitchen. This other
was a Lithuanian family and we became friends. In 1950 my first
daughter, Vita [Safian, nee Brantsovskaya] was born in this apartment.
This name means 'life' in Latin. This was what my husband and I valued
to the utmost and what we paid a high price for. In 1956 we received a
separate apartment on Gorkogo [presently Dijoli] Street. This was one
of the first houses with central heating in Vilnius. It was very cold
in the first year. In 1958 my second daughter was born. We named her
Dina [Baver, nee Bratsovskaya] after my husband's mother. The children
went to a nursery school and a kindergarten. They had no grandmothers
to help us raise them.

My husband held official posts and earned well, but my salaries were
rather low. My husband could have free stays in recreation homes each
year. I bought a trip from trade unions and went with him [see
Recreation Centers in the USSR] [42]. We usually traveled to Palanga
[resort on the Baltic Sea], and once I went to the Caucasus with him,
but the hot climate there was too much for me.

We raised our children to be hardworking and modest. I remember the
following incidence. My husband had an office car to take him to work;
we never owned a car or a dacha. One day his new driver arrived in the
morning to take my husband to work and our daughters to the
kindergarten. But my husband said he would walk to work and our
daughter was ultimately disappointed considering that it was a cold
nasty day. My husband told him to drive back to the office.

In 1947 all former Polish residents could move back to Poland. We also
had this opportunity, but we believed in our country [the Soviet
Union], in socialism, peace and justice. There was another opportunity
in 1957. Our convictions were not so strong any more then. We went
through the period of state anti-Semitism, the Doctors' Plot [43];
these were terrible years. My husband was summoned to the state party
committee where we were offered to go to provincial areas and organize
a Polish newspaper there. When my husband refused saying that it
wasn't quite his specialty, they had a rough talk with him and even
mentioned that he must have survived under some vague circumstances
during the war, being a Jew. However, there were no follow-up actions
on their part.

The denouncement of the cult of Stalin in 1956, at the Twentieth Party
Congress [44] was an inspiring moment and gave us hope again. I
remember our friend Kovalski, a tailor, staying a whole night with us
arguing and trying to convince us that we had to leave this country.
We stayed and so did he. We've never considered emigration. We didn't
consider it during the mass emigration in the late 1970s. However, we
never cared about possible troubles following our acquaintance with
those friends who decided to move to other countries. Our friends
spent their last days here with us and we accompanied them to the
railway station. Vilnius is closer to Europe than Moscow and we didn't
have such incidents as expulsion from the Party for this kind of
anti-Soviet conduct.

My husband worked till his last days. In 1985, at the medical
examination before his trip to a resort, they diagnosed cancer. He was
operated on and the doctors told us he was to be all right when in
truth cancer struck him all over. On 20th May 1985 he was admitted to
hospital for high governmental officials and stayed there for seven
months. He died in December 1985. He was buried in the town military
cemetery. Our combat friends and his colleagues living in various
towns came to his funeral. They made speeches by his casket for a few
hours. I lost my beloved husband and my best friend.

My work and children helped me to survive. I retired in 1990. My
daughters have had a good life. They finished school with gold medals.
Both graduated from the Faculty of Cybernetics of Vilnius University,
nine years one after another. There was no oppression on ethnic issues
toward them. Vita defended her dissertation in Moscow. She works at
the Ministry of Labor and Social Services. Her husband Mikhail Safian,
a Jewish man from Minsk, is a mathematician. Vita's daughter Anna,
born in 1975, works for a Norwegian/Lithuanian company. She is married
to a Lithuanian man. Anna's son Simon is my great-grandson. He'll turn
four in July.

Dina, my younger daughter, married Boris Baver, a Jewish man from
Vilnius. In 1990 she, her husband and their sons Maxim, born in 1982,
and Beniamin, born in 1984, moved to Haifa, Israel. They are doing
very well there and have good jobs. In Israel Dina gave birth to two
more children: Mikhail, named after my husband, was born in 1994, and
Sapi, my granddaughter, in 2001.

I often go to Israel. In 1989 my maternal relatives found me. They
invited my older daughter and me to visit them. I met my cousin
brothers and sisters. My friends also invited me to Canada and the USA
and I visited there. I live a fulfilled life, also since I'm involved
in the Jewish life in Lithuania. I'm not religious, but I'm happy that
there is a wonderful Jewish community and the Hesed [45] taking care
of old people in Lithuania. I volunteer for the section of former
ghetto inmates. I also conduct public activities as a former inmate of
the ghetto. I meet with children in the local Jewish school - there is
a state Jewish state school in Vilnius - speak at meetings and on
memorial days. I also visit Ponary where Jewish Lithuanians were
killed. I always speak in Yiddish, which is my mother tongue, with
other survivors of the Holocaust.

I don't regret that my husband and I have lived our life in Lithuania.
Though, in the course of time, we had more and more understanding of
the hypocrisy of the Soviet power, we were its true servants. However,
I'm happy that Lithuania has become independent [46]. This promotes
the development of the Lithuanian and Jewish nations. Every year on
9th May, Victory Day [47] I make a speech at the town meeting. At the
45th anniversary of the victory [1990] I spoke in the Jewish Knesset
[Israeli parliament] where I was invited and so were other veterans of
World War II, former ghetto inmates and partisans.



[1] Annexation of Vilnius to Lithuania: During the interwar period the
previously Russian-held multi-ethnic city of Wilno (Vilnius) was a
part of Poland and the capital of Lithuania was Kaunas. According to a
secrete clause in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (Soviet-German agreement
on the division of Eastern Europe, August 1939) the Soviet Army
occupied both Eastern Poland (September 1939) and the three Baltic
states (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, June 1940). While most of the
occupied Eastern Polish territories were divided up between Soviet
Ukraine and Belarus, Vilnius was attached to Lithuania and was to be
its capital. The loss of the independent Lithuanian statehood,
therefore, was accompanied with the return of Vilnius, regarded as an
integral part of the country by most Lithuanians.

[2] Bund: The short name of the General Jewish Union of Working People
in Lithuania, Poland and Russia, Bund means Union in Yiddish). The
Bund was a social democratic organization representing Jewish
craftsmen from the Western areas of the Russian Empire. It was founded
in Vilnius in 1897. In 1906 it joined the autonomous fraction of the
Russian Social Democratic Working Party and took up a Menshevist
position. After the Revolution of 1917 the organization split: one
part was anti-Soviet power, while the other remained in the
Bolsheviks' Russian Communist Party. In 1921 the Bund dissolved itself
in the USSR, but continued to exist in other countries.

[3] Great Patriotic War: On 22nd June 1941 at 5 o'clock in the morning
Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union without declaring war. This was
the beginning of the so-called Great Patriotic War. The German
blitzkrieg, known as Operation Barbarossa, nearly succeeded in
breaking the Soviet Union in the months that followed. Caught
unprepared, the Soviet forces lost whole armies and vast quantities of
equipment to the German onslaught in the first weeks of the war. By
November 1941 the German army had seized the Ukrainian Republic,
besieged Leningrad, the Soviet Union's second largest city, and
threatened Moscow itself. The war ended for the Soviet Union on 9th
May 1945.

[4] Judenrat: Jewish councils appointed by German occupying
authorities to carry out Nazi orders in the Jewish communities of
occupied Europe. After the establishment of the ghettos they were
responsible for everything that happened within them. They controlled
all institutions operating in the ghettos, the police, the employment
agency, food supplies, housing, health, social work, education,
religion, etc. Germans also made them responsible for selecting people
for the work camps, and, in the end, choosing those to be sent to
camps that were in reality death camps. It is hard to judge their
actions due to the abnormal circumstances. Some believe they betrayed
Jews by obeying orders, and others think they were trying to gain time
and save as many people as possible.

[5] Ponary: Forest near Vilnius that became the killing field for the
majority of Jews from Vilnius. The victims were shot to death by the
SS and the German police assisted by Lithuanian collaborators. In
September-October 1941 alone over 12,000 Jews from Vilnius and the
vicinity were killed there. In total 70,000 to 100,000 people, the
majority of them Jews were killed in Ponary.

[6] Vilnius Ghetto: 95 percent of the estimated 265,000 Lithuanian
Jews (254,000 people) were murdered during the Nazi occupation; no
other communities were so comprehensively destroyed during WWII.
Vilnius was occupied by the Germans on 26th June 1941 and two ghettos
were built in the city afterwards, separated by Niemiecka Street,
which lay outside both of them. On 6th September all Jews were taken
to the ghettoes, at first randomly to either Ghetto 1 or Ghetto 2.
During September they were continuously slaughtered by Einsatzkommando
units. Later craftsmen were moved to Ghetto 1 with their families and
all others to Ghetto 2. During the 'Yom Kippur Action' on 1st October
3,000 Jews were killed. In three additional actions in October the
entire Ghetto 2 was liquidated and later another 9,000 of the
survivors were killed. In late 1941 the official population of the
ghetto was 12,000 people and it rose to 20,000 by 1943 as a result of
further transports. In August 1943 over 7,000 people were sent to
various labor camps in Lithuania and Estonia. The Vilnius ghetto was
liquidated under the supervision of Bruno Kittel on 23rd and 24th
September 1943. On Rossa Square a selection took place: those able to
work were sent to labor camps in Latvia and Estonia and the rest to
different death camps in Poland. By 25th September 1943 only 2,000
Jews officially remained in Vilnius in small labor camps and more than
1,000 were hiding outside and were gradually hunted down. Those
permitted to live continued to work at the Kailis and HKP factories
until 2nd June 1944 when 1,800 of them were shot and less than 200
remained in hiding until the Red Army liberated Vilnius on 13th July
1944. (Source:

[7] Sutzkever, Abraham (1913): Poet writing in Yiddish. Born in
Vilnius region, he belonged to the artistic Jung Wilne circle and was
its most illustrious member. He made his literary debut in 1933.
During WWII he was in the Warsaw ghetto, but escaped and joined the
underground army. Subsequently moved to the USSR, but in 1946 returned
to Poland. Since 1947 he has lived in Israel. He published several
volumes of verse, including Di Festung (The Fortress), Yidishe Gas
(Jewish Street) and In Fayer Vogn (In the Fiery Wagon).

[8] Soviet/Russian doctorate degrees: Graduate school in the Soviet
Union (aspirantura, or ordinatura for medical students), which usually
took about 3 years and resulted in a dissertation. Students who passed
were awarded a 'kandidat nauk' (lit. candidate of sciences) degree. If
a person wanted to proceed with his or her research, the next step
would be to apply for a doctorate degree (doktarontura). To be awarded
a doctorate degree, the person had to be involved in the academia,
publish consistently, and write an original dissertation. In the end
he/she would be awarded a 'doctor nauk' (lit. doctor of sciences)

[9] Birobidzhan: Formed in 1928 to give Soviet Jews a home territory
and to increase settlement along the vulnerable borders of the Soviet
Far East, the area was raised to the status of an autonomous region in
1934. Influenced by an effective propaganda campaign, and starvation
in the east, 41,000 Soviet Jews relocated to the area between the late
1920s and early 1930s. But, by 1938 28,000 of them had fled the
regions harsh conditions, There were Jewish schools and synagogues up
until the 1940s, when there was a resurgence of religious repression
after World War II. The Soviet government wanted the forced
deportation of all Jews to Birobidzhan to be completed by the middle
of the 1950s. But in 1953 Stalin died and the deportation was
cancelled. Despite some remaining Yiddish influences - including a
Yiddish newspaper - Jewish cultural activity in the region has
declined enormously since Stalin's anti-cosmopolitanism campaigns and
since the liberalization of Jewish emigration in the 1970s. Jews now
make up less than 2% of the region's population.

[10] Invasion of Poland: The German attack of Poland on 1st September
1939 is widely considered the date in the West for the start of World
War II. After having gained both Austria and the Bohemian and Moravian
parts of Czechoslovakia, Hitler was confident that he could acquire
Poland without having to fight Britain and France. (To eliminate the
possibility of the Soviet Union fighting if Poland were attacked,
Hitler made a pact with the Soviet Union, the Molotov-Ribbentrop
Pact.) On the morning of 1st September 1939, German troops entered
Poland. The German air attack hit so quickly that most of Poland's air
force was destroyed while still on the ground. To hinder Polish
mobilization, the Germans bombed bridges and roads. Groups of marching
soldiers were machine-gunned from the air, and they also aimed at
civilians. On 1st September, the beginning of the attack, Great
Britain and France sent Hitler an ultimatum - withdraw German forces
from Poland or Great Britain and France would go to war against
Germany. On 3rd September, with Germany's forces penetrating deeper
into Poland, Great Britain and France both declared war on Germany.

[11] Mickiewicz, Adam (1798-1855): Often regarded as the greatest
Polish poet. As a student he was arrested for nationalist activities
by the tsarist police in 1823. In 1829 he managed to emigrate to
France and worked as professor of literature at different
universities. During the 1848 revolution in France and the Crimean War
he attempted to organize legions for the Polish cause. Mickiewicz's
poetry gave international stature to Polish literature. His powerful
verse expressed a romantic view of the soul and the mysteries of life,
often employing Polish folk themes.

[12] Khrushchev, Nikita (1894-1971): Soviet communist leader. After
Stalin's death in 1953, he became first secretary of the Central
Committee, in effect the head of the Communist Party of the USSR. In
1956, during the 20th Party Congress, Khrushchev took an unprecedented
step and denounced Stalin and his methods. He was deposed as premier
and party head in October 1964. In 1966 he was dropped from the
Party's Central Committee.

[13] Gediminas (ca 1275-1341): Grand Prince of Lithuania, founder of
the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the city of Vilnius (1323).

[14] Russian Revolution of 1917: Revolution in which the tsarist
regime was overthrown in the Russian Empire and, under Lenin, was
replaced by the Bolshevik rule. The two phases of the Revolution were:
February Revolution, which came about due to food and fuel shortages
during World War I, and during which the tsar abdicated and a
provisional government took over. The second phase took place in the
form of a coup led by Lenin in October/November (October Revolution)
and saw the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks.

[15] Lithuanian independence: A part of the Russian Empire since the
18th century, Lithuania gained independence after WWI (1918), as a
result of the collapse of its two powerful neighbors, Russia and
Germany. Although resisting the attacks of Soviet-Russia successfully,
Lithuania lost to Poland the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural city of
Vilna (Wilno, Vilnius) in 1920, claimed by both countries, and as a
result they remained in war up until 1927. In 1923 Lithuania succeeded
in occupying the previously French-administered (since 1919) Memel
Territory and port (Klaipeda). The Lithuanian Republic remained
independent until its Soviet occupation in 1940.

[16] Bolsheviks: Members of the movement led by Lenin. The name
'Bolshevik' was coined in 1903 and denoted the group that emerged in
elections to the key bodies in the Social Democratic Party (SDPRR)
considering itself in the majority (Rus. bolshynstvo) within the
party. It dubbed its opponents the minority (Rus. menshynstvo, the
Mensheviks). Until 1906 the two groups formed one party. The
Bolsheviks first gained popularity and support in society during the
1905-07 Revolution. During the February Revolution in 1917 the
Bolsheviks were initially in the opposition to the Menshevik and SR
('Sotsialrevolyutsionyery', Socialist Revolutionaries) delegates who
controlled the Soviets (councils). When Lenin returned from emigration
(16 April) they proclaimed his program of action (the April theses)
and under the slogan 'All power to the Soviets' began to Bolshevize
the Soviets and prepare for a proletariat revolution. Agitation
proceeded on a vast scale, especially in the army. The Bolsheviks set
about creating their own armed forces, the Red Guard. Having
overthrown the Provisional Government, they created a government with
the support of the II Congress of Soviets (the October Revolution), to
which they admitted some left-wing SRs in order to gain the support of
the peasantry. In 1952 the Bolshevik party was renamed the Communist
Party of the Soviet Union.

[17] Common name: Russified or Russian first names used by Jews in
everyday life and adopted in official documents. The Russification of
first names was one of the manifestations of the assimilation of
Russian Jews at the turn of the 19th and 20th century. In some cases
only the spelling and pronunciation of Jewish names was russified
(e.g. Isaac instead of Yitskhak; Boris instead of Borukh), while in
other cases traditional Jewish names were replaced by similarly
sounding Russian names (e.g. Eugenia instead of Ghita; Yury instead of
Yuda). When state anti-Semitism intensified in the USSR at the end of
the 1940s, most Jewish parents stopped giving their children
traditional Jewish names to avoid discrimination.

[18] Smetona, Antanas (1874-1944): Lithuanian politician, President of
Lithuania. A lawyer by profession he was the leader of the autonomous
movement when Lithuania was a part of the Russian Empire. He was
provisional President of Lithuania (1919-1920) and elected president
after 1926. In 1929 he forced the Prime Minister, Augustin Voldemaras,
to resign and established full dictatorship. Following Lithuania's
occupation by the Soviet Union (1940), Smetona fled to Germany and
then (1941) to the United States.

[19] Tsimes: Stew made usually of carrots, parsnips, or plums with

[20] Karaite: Jewish schismatic sect, founded in Persia in the 8th
century. Karaites reject the Oral Law, the Talmud, and accept only the
Torah, but have developed their own commentaries. In Russia the
Karaites initially enjoyed the same rights and suffered from the same
oppression as Jews, however, after the 18th century they were given
the right to purchase land. During the Nazi occupation they were not
persecuted, as they were not considered a part of the Jewish

[21] Hasid: The follower of the Hasidic movement, a Jewish mystic
movement founded in the 18th century that reacted against Talmudic
learning and maintained that God's presence was in all of one's
surroundings and that one should serve God in one's every deed and
word. The movement provided spiritual hope and uplifted the common
people. There were large branches of Hasidic movements and schools
throughout Eastern Europe before World War II, each following the
teachings of famous scholars and thinkers. Most had their own customs,
rituals and life styles. Today there are substantial Hasidic
communities in New York, London, Israel and Antwerp.

[22] Schindler, Oskar (1908–1974): one of the 'Righteous Among the
Nations' who during the Nazi persecutions saved the lives of more than
1,200 Polish Jews. Schindler was born in Zwittau, Sudetenland,
Czechoslovakia, and after the annexation of the Sudetenland by the
Germans served as a member of Admiral Canaris' anti-espionage service.
He left the service after Germany's conquest of Poland and established
a factory in Cracow which was later converted into a munitions plant.
Schindler took advantage of this plant to save Jews from the
extermination camps. He arranged for his workers and those of three
neighboring factories whose Jewish workers were about to be deported
to be classified as prisoners doing essential work. He often had to
bribe the SS and other functionaries to turn a blind eye. After the
war, Schindler emigrated to Argentina where he bought a farm, but in
1956 returned to Frankfurt. In 1962 Schindler was honored by Israel as
one of the 'Righteous Among the Nations' and in 1967 was awarded the
peace prize of the International Buber Society in London. The
following year the West German Government awarded him its highest
civilian order, the 'Verdienstkreuz Ersten Ranges' and a small
pension. Schindler, a Roman Catholic, died in Hildesheim and in
accordance with his last wish, was buried in Jerusalem in the Latin
cemetery on Mt. Zion.

[23] Kaunas ghetto: On 24th June 1941 the Germans captured Kaunas. Two
ghettoes were established in the city, a small and a big one, and
48,000 Jews were taken there. Within two and a half months the small
ghetto was eliminated and during the 'Grossaktion' of 28th-29th
October, thousands of the survivors were murdered, including children.
The remaining 17,412 people in the big ghetto were mobilized to work.
On 27th-28th March 1944 another 18,000 were killed and 4,000 were
taken to different camps in July before the Soviet Army captured the
city. The total number of people who perished in the Kaunas ghetto was

[24] Klooga: Subcamp of the Vaivara camp in Estonia, set up in 1943
and one of the largest camps in the country. Most of the prisoners
came from the Vilnius ghetto; they worked under extreme conditions.
There were 3,000 to 5,000 inmates kept in the Klooga camp. It was
eliminated together with all of its inmates in spring 1944, before the
advance by the Soviet army.

[25] Occupation of the Baltic Republics (Estonia, Latvia and
Lithuania): Although the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact regarded only Latvia
and Estonia as parts of the Soviet sphere of influence in Eastern
Europe, according to a supplementary protocol (signed in 28th
September 1939) most of Lithuania was also transferred under the
Soviets. The three states were forced to sign the 'Pact of Defense and
Mutual Assistance' with the USSR allowing it to station troops in
their territories. In June 1940 Moscow issued an ultimatum demanding
the change of governments and the occupation of the Baltic Republics.
The three states were incorporated into the Soviet Union as the
Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republics.

[26] Sugihara, Sempo (1900-1986): Japanese diplomat who saved the
lives of more than 3,000 Jews. He started to work as Vice Consul in
Lithuania in 1939 and was responsible for handling travel documents
and commercial contracts. He helped Dutch yeshivah students leave
German occupied Lithuania via the Soviet Union and Japan for Dutch
controlled Curacao. Consequently, other Jews approached him and
applied for Japanese visas. Disregarding explicit orders of his
superiors, Sugihara, following his sense of morality, continued
issuing the visas until early September 1940, when he was removed from
Lithuania. He issued over 9,000 visas. After returning to Japan in
1947 he was asked to resign from the diplomatic corps for
insubordination. In 1984 Yad Vashem awarded Sempo Sugihara the title
of 'Righteous Among the Nations'.

[27] Realschule: Secondary school for boys. Students studied
mathematics, physics, natural history, foreign languages and drawing.
After finishing this school they could enter higher industrial and
agricultural educational institutions.

[28] Komsomol: Communist youth political organization created in 1918.
The task of the Komsomol was to spread of the ideas of communism and
involve the worker and peasant youth in building the Soviet Union. The
Komsomol also aimed at giving a communist upbringing by involving the
worker youth in the political struggle, supplemented by theoretical
education. The Komsomol was more popular than the Communist Party
because with its aim of education people could accept uninitiated
young proletarians, whereas party members had to have at least a
minimal political qualification.

[29] Maccabi World Union: International Jewish sports organization
whose origins go back to the end of the 19th century. A growing number
of young Eastern European Jews involved in Zionism felt that one
essential prerequisite of the establishment of a national home in
Palestine was the improvement of the physical condition and training
of ghetto youth. In order to achieve this, gymnastics clubs were
founded in many Eastern and Central European countries, which later
came to be called Maccabi. The movement soon spread to more countries
in Europe and to Palestine. The World Maccabi Union was formed in
1921. In less than two decades its membership was estimated at 200,000
with branches located in most countries of Europe and in Palestine,
Australia, South America, South Africa, etc.

[30] Great Terror (1934-1938): During the Great Terror, or Great
Purges, which included the notorious show trials of Stalin's former
Bolshevik opponents in 1936-1938 and reached its peak in 1937 and
1938, millions of innocent Soviet citizens were sent off to labor
camps or killed in prison. The major targets of the Great Terror were
communists. Over half of the people who were arrested were members of
the party at the time of their arrest. The armed forces, the Communist
Party, and the government in general were purged of all allegedly
dissident persons; the victims were generally sentenced to death or to
long terms of hard labor. Much of the purge was carried out in secret,
and only a few cases were tried in public 'show trials'. By the time
the terror subsided in 1939, Stalin had managed to bring both the
Party and the public to a state of complete submission to his rule.
Soviet society was so atomized and the people so fearful of reprisals
that mass arrests were no longer necessary. Stalin ruled as absolute
dictator of the Soviet Union until his death in March 1953.

[31] Trotsky, Lev Davidovich (born Bronshtein) (1879-1940): Russian
revolutionary, one of the leaders of the October Revolution of 1917,
an outstanding figure of the communist movement and a theorist of
Marxism. Trotsky participated in the social-democratic movement from
1894 and supported the idea of the unification of Bolsheviks and
Mensheviks from 1906. In 1905 he developed the idea of the 'permanent
revolution'. He was one of the leaders of the October Revolution and a
founder of the Red Army. He widely applied repressive measures to
support the discipline and 'bring everything into revolutionary order'
at the front and the home front. The intense struggle with Stalin for
the leadership ended with Trotsky's defeat. In 1924 his views were
declared petty-bourgeois deviation. In 1927 he was expelled from the
Communist Party, and exiled to Kazakhstan, and in 1929 abroad. He
lived in Turkey, Norway and then Mexico. He excoriated Stalin's regime
as a bureaucratic degeneration of the proletarian power. He was
murdered in Mexico by an agent of Soviet special services on Stalin's

[32] Zinoviev, Grigory Evseyevich (1883-1936): Soviet communist
leader, head of the Comintern (1919-26) and member of the Communist
Party Politburo (1921-26). After Lenin's death in 1924, Zinoviev,
Kamenev, and Stalin formed a ruling triumvirate and excluded Trotsky
from the Party. In 1925 Stalin, in an effort to consolidate his own
power, turned against Zinoviev and Kamenev, who then joined Trotsky's
opposition. Zinoviev was removed from his party posts in 1926 and
expelled from the Party in 1927. He recanted and was readmitted in
1928 but wielded little influence. In 1936, he, Kamenev, and 13 old
Bolsheviks were tried for treason in the first big public purge trial.
They confessed and were executed.

[33] Zinoviev-Kamenev triumvirate: After Lenin's death in 1924
communist leaders Zinoviev, Kamenev and Stalin formed a ruling
triumvirate and excluded Trotsky from the Party. In 1925 Stalin, in an
effort to consolidate his own power, turned against Zinoviev and
Kamenev, who then joined Trotsky's opposition. Both Zinoviev and
Kamenev were expelled from the Party in 1927. They recanted, and were
readmitted, but had little influence. In 1936 Zinoviev and Kamenev,
along with 13 old Bolsheviks were tried for treason in the first big
public purge trial. They confessed and were executed.

[34] Enemy of the people: Soviet official term; euphemism used for
real or assumed political opposition.

[35] Gulag: The Soviet system of forced labor camps in the remote
regions of Siberia and the Far North, which was first established in
1919. However, it was not until the early 1930s that there was a
significant number of inmates in the camps. By 1934 the Gulag, or the
Main Directorate for Corrective Labor Camps, then under the Cheka's
successor organization the NKVD, had several million inmates. The
prisoners included murderers, thieves, and other common criminals,
along with political and religious dissenters. The Gulag camps made
significant contributions to the Soviet economy during the rule of
Stalin. Conditions in the camps were extremely harsh. After Stalin
died in 1953, the population of the camps was reduced significantly,
and conditions for the inmates improved somewhat.

[36] Medieval Jewish ghetto of Vilnius: From the mid-16th century,
when Jews settled down in Lithuania, up until 1861 Jews were not
allowed to reside in the central part of the city, only in the area of
the ghetto. This was the neighborhood within Jewish, Yatkova and
German Streets; this part of the town is still called the 'medieval
Jewish ghetto'.

[37] Medal for Partisan of the Great Patriotic War: Established on 2nd
February 1943, the 1st class was awarded to partisans, commanders of
partisan detachments, and partisan movement organizers for personal
feats of courage and valor. Approximately 57,000 medals were issued.
The 2nd class was awarded to partisans, commanders of partisan
detachments, and partisan movement organizers for distinction in
carrying out orders and assignments for higher echelons during the
Great Patriotic War. Approximately 71,000 medals were issued. The
medal was awarded to over 100 foreigners fighting in Soviet partisan

[38] NKVD: People's Committee of Internal Affairs; it took over from
the GPU, the state security agency, in 1934.

[39] Keep in touch with relatives abroad: The authorities could arrest
an individual corresponding with his/her relatives abroad and charge
him/her with espionage, send them to concentration camp or even
sentence them to death.

[40] Campaign against 'cosmopolitans': The campaign against
'cosmopolitans', i.e. Jews, was initiated in articles in the central
organs of the Communist Party in 1949. The campaign was directed
primarily at the Jewish intelligentsia and it was the first public
attack on Soviet Jews as Jews. 'Cosmopolitans' writers were accused of
hating the Russian people, of supporting Zionism, etc. Many Yiddish
writers as well as the leaders of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee
were arrested in November 1948 on charges that they maintained ties
with Zionism and with American 'imperialism'. They were executed
secretly in 1952. The anti-Semitic Doctors' Plot was launched in
January 1953. A wave of anti-Semitism spread through the USSR. Jews
were removed from their positions, and rumors of an imminent mass
deportation of Jews to the eastern part of the USSR began to spread.
Stalin's death in March 1953 put an end to the campaign against

[41] Communal apartment: The Soviet power wanted to improve housing
conditions by requisitioning 'excess' living space of wealthy families
after the Revolution of 1917. Apartments were shared by several
families with each family occupying one room and sharing the kitchen,
toilet and bathroom with other tenants. Because of the chronic
shortage of dwelling space in towns communal or shared apartments
continued to exist for decades. Despite state programs for the
construction of more houses and the liquidation of communal
apartments, which began in the 1960s, shared apartments still exist

[42] Recreation Centers in the USSR: trade unions of many enterprises
and public organizations in the USSR constructed recreation centers,
rest homes, and children's health improvement centers, where employees
could take a vacation paying 10 percent of the actual total cost of
such stays. In theory each employee could take one such vacation per
year, but in reality there were no sufficient numbers of vouchers for
such vacations, and they were mostly available only for the

[43] Doctors' Plot: The Doctors' Plot was an alleged conspiracy of a
group of Moscow doctors to murder leading government and party
officials. In January 1953, the Soviet press reported that nine
doctors, six of whom were Jewish, had been arrested and confessed
their guilt. As Stalin died in March 1953, the trial never took place.
The official paper of the Party, the Pravda, later announced that the
charges against the doctors were false and their confessions obtained
by torture. This case was one of the worst anti-Semitic incidents
during Stalin's reign. In his secret speech at the Twentieth Party
Congress in 1956 Khrushchev stated that Stalin wanted to use the Plot
to purge the top Soviet leadership.

[44] Twentieth Party Congress: At the Twentieth Congress of the
Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1956 Khrushchev publicly
debunked the cult of Stalin and lifted the veil of secrecy from what
had happened in the USSR during Stalin's leadership.

[45] Hesed: Meaning care and mercy in Hebrew, Hesed stands for the
charity organization founded by Amos Avgar in the early 20th century.
Supported by Claims Conference and Joint Hesed helps for Jews in need
to have a decent life despite hard economic conditions and encourages
development of their self-identity. Hesed provides a number of
services aimed at supporting the needs of all, and particularly
elderly members of the society. The major social services include:
work in the center facilities (information, advertisement of the
center activities, foreign ties and free lease of medical equipment);
services at homes (care and help at home, food products delivery,
delivery of hot meals, minor repairs); work in the community (clubs,
meals together, day-time polyclinic, medical and legal consultations);
service for volunteers (training programs). The Hesed centers have
inspired a real revolution in the Jewish life in the FSU countries.
People have seen and sensed the rebirth of the Jewish traditions of
humanism. Currently over eighty Hesed centers exist in the FSU
countries. Their activities cover the Jewish population of over eight
hundred settlements.

[46] Reestablishment of the Lithuanian Republic: On 11th March 1990
the Lithuanian State Assembly declared Lithuania an independent
republic. The Soviet leadership in Moscow refused to acknowledge the
independence of Lithuania and initiated an economic blockade on the
country. At the referendum held in February 1991, over 90 percent of
the participants (turn out was 84 percent) voted for independence. The
western world finally recognized Lithuanian independence and so did
the USSR on 6th September 1991. On 17th September 1991 Lithuania
joined the United Nations.

[47] Victory Day in Russia (9th May): National holiday to commemorate
the defeat of Nazi Germany and the end of World War II and honor the
Soviets who died in the war.