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Testimony of Simcha Brudno

Testimony of Simcha Brudno

by phone interview in September of 2005


My paternal grandfather was Avraham, son of Yehuda Leib Brudno. Avraham had twelve children: Yehuda, Berta, Aharon, David, Sima, Sara and (Simcha did not tell me the other names). My maternal grandfather was Simcha Feive Farber. Both of my grandmothers were born into the Soleznik family of Vilna. They were sisters; Nechama was married to Avraham Brudno and Rivka was married to Simcha Feive Farber. My mother was Sheina Tesia (also known by Berta nee Farber) and she was born in Vilna in 1891. My father was Aharon Brudno and he was born in Vilna in 1879. My father’s father, Avraham (son of Yehuda Leib, my great-grandfather), was born in 1844 and died in 1925. (“I have just arrived to the age in which he passed away”). The Brudno family was originally from Smorgon (then in the Vilna region), the town where most of the Brudnos originated.


Since Yehuda Leib received a good job offer in Shavli, Aharon followed his brother Yehuda to Shavli in 1911. They both found jobs in a tannery (a factory to process raw leather), which belonged to a Jew by the name of Chaim Frankel. The firm was the biggest factory  in the region. Before my father left Vilna he married my mother, Sheina Tesia (his first cousin). Their mothers were sisters. Both of my parents, Aharon and Berta, worked at the tannery, albeit in different branches. Both worked as bookkeepers and as part of their benefits, they received a home on the grounds of the factory. The address of the house was Vilnius Gatve #72. In 1912 they had their first child, a daughter, whom they named Nechama after her grandmother who had passed away. In 1914, at the outbreak of the First World War , my father Aharon was taken to serve in the czars’ army. Many of the Russian soldiers looked at him strangely since he was the first Jew they had ever met. He spent most of the time fighting on the front and said that more Russians were killed by each other than by the Germans. Every day he would write a letter to my mother, his beloved wife.


Shavli is located in the western part of Lithuania – not far from Germany. In the spring of 1915, the Russian leaders decided to expel the Jews to the interior of the country, claiming that the Jews had helped the Germans and blaming them for the failures of the Russian army. The Jews of Shavli were forced onto trains to Poltova and later to Kharkov where my mother Berta and sister Nechama spent their days until 1918. When the war ended, they returned to Shavli and reunited with my father, Aharon. Yehuda Leib Brudno ( my uncle) did not come back to Shavli. He returned to Vilna, where he later perished with his entire family. For many years, the family could not see each other because Vilna had become part of Poland. Lithuania and Poland had very bad relations and they did not allow visitation between the two countries.


I, Simcha, was born in 1924 and was named after an uncle (the brother of my grandfather) who had died without leaving any offspring. When I was three, my mother took me to see our family. We had to go from Lithuanian to Latvia and finally, in some strange way, we arrived in Vilna (going north to go south, in a sense). Simcha was also the name of my maternal grandfather.




vilna_pix/front/ fvilna_pix/front/110205_50_b.gif

Berta/Batia Brudno and her son Simcha of Shavli, visit their Brudno relatives in Vilna c 1928. Top from right; Nechemia, Yehuda ( son of Avraham, grandson om Yehuda Leib Brudno), Berta ( oldest daughter of Avraham) , Sima/ Simcha ( youngest daughter of Avraham) David ( son of Avraham) Mr. Bladndes ( son in law of Avraham) middle; Moshe and Simcha (sons of Yehuda), Sarah ( wife of Yehuda) Berta ( holding picture of her husband, Aharon of Shavli (son of Avraham Brudno and daughter Nechama ) , Davids' wife, Sarah Blandes ( daughter of Avraham Brudno) Bottom; Leyzer Blandes, Simcha Brudno (son of Aharon and berta of Shavli) Yisrael and his brother (sons of David), Nechemia Blandes. All but Simcha Brudno ( son of Aharon) perished in the holocaust.



 My parents were very religious and they were also Zionists. Until 1929, my father Aharon was a member of the Zioni Klali movement (mainstream Zionism). After the 1929 massacre in Hevron (then in Palestine), my father became much more radical. He became a Jabotinsky supporter and advocated that Jews should fight for their survival as a nation. We, the children, received Jewish education and I attended the Tarbut school. The children in the Tarbut system studied most subjects in Hebrew, but had to take the tests in Lithuanian. The rules of the Lithuanian government were very clear that children had to study the Lithuanian language. Most Jews spoke Yiddish at home and had a slight accent when they spoke Lithuanian. The Lithuanians used to have the expression “He speaks like a Jew” when someone spoke Lithuanian badly. My sister was a member of Betar and wanted to immigrate to Eretz Israel. The family was well off and could pay for a certificate to make aliyah (immigrate) to Eretz Israel. The youth movement wanted Nechama to have a false marriage to a Chalutz(a male member of the youth movement) so that one extra person could go to Israel on the same certificate. My father refused to allow any false marriages, saying that she should only marry for love. Nechama was in love with Yaakov Pekeris (brother of Chaim Peker, who was born 1918 and lived in Denver, and of Rashka Izkovitz who immigrated to Eretz Israel in the 1930s).


In 1937, my sister Nechama married and moved to the United States with the help of the well-known philanthropist, Mr. Chase. They settled in New Hampshire and had a son, Edward. Nechama was a Hebrew teacher. I had some money in Banko the Roma in Jerusalem (money I intended to use when I made aliyah to Eretz Yisrael). I had to give up the money as part of the dowry of my sister, which in a strange arrangement went to the family of her sister-in-law, Rashka (nee Pekeris) Izkovitz, as her dowry. She and her husband settled in Eretz Israel.

In September of 1939, the Soviets and Germans split Poland. The Soviets took over the Northeastern part, including the Vilna region. The city of Vilna was given to independent Lithuania. As time passed many Jewish refugees arrived from the areas occupied by Germany. They told horrible tales about the tortures they had suffered at the hands of the Nazis. Many of the Lithuanians had also accepted the Nazi propaganda and were extremely anti-Semitic.

The Soviet annexed Lithuania in 1940 and many of the Jews were very happy to receive them since they felt that only the Red Army could protect Lithuania from Hitler. They knew that he had designs for taking all of Europe and that no small countries could defend themselves against him. The Jews were not naēve. They knew that they would suffer financial setbacks under the Soviet rule, but at least, they said to themselves, their families would not be physically harmed under their rule. Things changed after the Soviets arrived. The Tarbut School became a Yiddish school and the kids had a class named “History of the Bolsheviks.” This was added during my last year, grade ten. During the “History of the Bolsheviks” class the teacher often said phrases like “the individual does not count; the masses are the only important element of society.” One day the teacher said, “Each individual could easily be replaced by others.” I immediately interrupted him and asked, "Could then Stalin be replaced by another?" I was suspended for many days.


Strangely, for my father, the arrival of the Soviets became a great opportunity for advancement. All his life he had wanted to be the chief accountant in the tannery. Now that the chief accountant had left the tannery, the Soviets wanted to select appointees who were good party members.  However, the good party members did not know how to do the job.  My father was given the top position and did all the work. I had a nice vegetable garden, which I took great care of. We received letters from Nechama in the U.S and all seemed to go well for her and her family.


All was fine until the Germans attacked the Soviet Union in June of 1941. It had been a few days after I graduated from high school. As soon as the Germans attacked Russia, pandemonium ensued. The official Soviet authorities left the area with their family members, going east and deep into the Soviet Union.  Most of the Jewish people of Shavli did not leave with the Soviets. The exile of Lithuanians and Jews to Siberia during the year of Soviet control had left a bitter taste. Many, not knowing better, decided to take their chances with the Germans instead of becoming refugees in the Soviet Union. They did not think that they had to be in a hurry. They thought they would have time to feel out the consequences.


As soon as the Soviets left, our Lithuanians neighbors by their own initiative kidnapped many of the Jewish heads of households. They were taken to prison and killed, a group of a hundred Jewish people each time. And this was days before the Germans took control. The Lithuanian militia kidnapped any Jews they found walking in the streets. They said that the Jews were Communists. Sometimes they would go to Jewish homes and arrest the men they found. They particularly looked for lawyers, doctors and well-to-do people, as well as intellectual and religious leaders.


When the Germans took control of the tannery, they realized the great potential and decided to continue the work. Soon they found out that many of the essential workers were Jews and most of them were arrested. A committee made up of a number of Jewish leaders in contact with the city officials and the German leaders decided to put the essential Jews in a ghetto for their own protection.  They erected two ghettos: Kavkaz and Traku. Both of the ghettos were located next to the tannery. Since the atrocities against the Jews continued, people wanted to move to the ghetto.

My mother had a job as the factory bookkeeper and for that reason her husband was spared. Soon all the Jews were settled in the ghetto . My family shared a room with the Zerinolivski family (two daughters and a father). My beloved father, Aharon Brudno, suddenly died in his sleep on November  17th , 1941. He had suffered a heart attack. He was the first to die of natural causes in the Shavli ghetto. Aharon was sixty-two years old. He was amongst the few who were brought to Jewish burial during those years.


The first director appointed to head the tannery, a German man by the name Mueller, was responsible for why so many Jews survived in Shavli. Most of the Jews of the towns and shtetls in the region had perished during the first year of German occupation.  However, Mueller was a very handsome and worldly man.  He did not hate Jews and cared nothing about the war. He merely wanted money and power in the form of leather suitcases, handbags, shoes and other such things produced by skilled Jews from the leather in the tannery. The Jews wanted to please Mueller because they knew that if they were necessary, they would be spared. These goods made Muller powerful, especially in wartime. The reasons for him saving the Jews of Shavli do not matter. He established the necessity of keeping alive the Jews of Shavli, in order to operate the factory.  As more factories were opened, Mueller’s policy was continued by the German authorities who were willing to be bribed with leather goods.



The conditions for my mother and I were not as bad as for most Jews in the Shavli ghetto. My mother was the only Jew who had an office in the factory and occasionally other Jews who worked there met in her office. Many pretended to be family members of those who worked in the factory.  Food was rationed out in return for work.  If one didn’t actually work outside the ghetto, one received much less food. We actually worked outside of the ghetto and we were also able to barter for food with some of the local farmers. Jews who were unable to leave the ghetto gave me money so I would buy food for their family members. Sometimes I even had enough money to buy newspapers. All bartering was illegal for Jews and for anyone who would deal with them. Certain people (even German soldiers) still wanted to make money and did not care if the money came from Jews. In August of 1942, an order came from the German authorities that no Jewish woman was allowed to be pregnant and if any Jewish woman brought a baby into the world after a certain date, the entire family would be killed. They told the Jewish doctors to perform abortions on any Jewish women who were already pregnant. At least five women had to ask for abortions and some of the babies were born alive and killed to save their families’ lives. On November 5th of 1943, the Jews were told to collect all of the children under age twelve, as well as the old and the ill. They were told that they would be taken to a camp. Everyone was suspicious of this camp and tried to convince the Germans not to take the children. Others tried to hide the children with Christian people, but very few succeeded. The Germans decided that in order to make everyone believe them, they would send some of the Jewish leaders with the children. They chose people who were leaders in the Jewish community and they took more than five hundred children and a few hundred old people. More than two hundred children were fortunately able to hide. Certain mothers refused to let go of their children and went with them. The entire group was never seen again.


I would regularly read the German paper and when 1944 arrived, I learned that all was not well for the Germans at the front. As the year 1944 arrived it became clear that Germany was losing the war. The Red Army was pushing from the east and by the summer they had liberated much of the area east of us. Even when faced with sure defeat, the Germans refused to let go of their Jewish slaves. On July 7, 1944, an order to evacuate the Shavli ghetto was issued. We did not know where we were being taken to or if they even intended to keep us alive. Some people did escape, but we didn’t feel that we had anywhere to run because we had no help from the local community. While the Red Army was at their doorstep, the Germans took us by train to Germany! First they took us to Stutthof where all of the women (among them, my mother) were dropped off. I never saw my mother again. They then took us to camps in Dachau. They kept transferring me to different camps, although many of them were subcamps of the larger Dachau camp. We were liberated in May 1945. By that time, I was all skin and bones from the hard work and the lack of food (weight ; 40 kilos/ 88 pounds) . To my amazement, our liberators wore American uniforms, but they were Japanese. I said to them, “But you are Japanese!” “No, we are Hawaiian,” they responded.


We were all in such a weak state and practically starving. I went to a nearby German home and asked for food, but they sent the dogs at me. I told the American soldiers about it and they came back with me. They forced the local population to feed the Jews and to give us a place to sleep. Eventually, I got a job working for the Americans. I worked to help my fellow Jews, who lived in the American refugee camps. Eventually, I met women who had been with my mother in Stutthof. They told me that she had died on January 30, 1945 when the death marches started. The Germans had refused to let go of the Jews. They had transferred the Jews to other camps under horrible conditions. My mother had collapsed and her last words were, “It is hard to leave this world, but it is fine for me to die now.”

I got in touch with my sister in the states and found that tragedy had also occurred with her husband. He had died of illness and she was left alone with a baby. She was struggling to make a living as a teacher and to support her young child. At this point, my only wish was to go somewhere to study and to pick up the broken pieces of my life. I was able to get to Eretz Israel without the correct certifications from the British who controlled the area and did not give visas to the Jewish war refugees. I arrived through an illegal boat. Immediately, I applied to the university to study physics and mathematics in Jerusalem. I had no papers to show that I graduated from high school and I had no previous grades either, but I was very insistent. I went to whoever would listen to me from the administration. Finally, I received an okay. They told me that they would accept me for a year and if I were able to get decent grades, I could continue my education. I was able to do it and I finally graduated ( “..Eilat, I studied a year below Ilana Levitan, your brilliant mother in law…..”) I worked in Machon Wiezmann ( see picture from 1954, I am standing 4th from the left)


Physics in the shed ("Machon 4") – 1954- The Weizmann Institute of Science


Sitting, Left to Right: Pesia Abramson, Shmuel Goshe (Goldstein), Reuven Thieberger, Yehuda Yeivin, Simcha Rosendorf

Standing: Yehuda Wolfson, Dan Porat, Israel Pelach, Simcha Brudno, Johanan Romberg, Amos de Shalit, Zvi Lipkin, Tuvia Rotem, Yehuda Eisenberg, Igal Talmi, A. Birman ( Ilana Levitan nee Rosenbloom not pictured, was also with us in Weizmann Institute in Rehovot)


 Now I live in Chicago. Dr. Bodurka (a pharmacologist), originally of Slovakia, is a good
friend of mine. In the early 90's, soon after the Soviet Union’s fall, he traveled with me to Lithuania (at his expense). We came to Shavli and found that due to recent mismanagement
the tannery was closed. The synagogue building, which had been erected so many years ago by the tannery owner, was still there, but it was in bad shape. Bodurka found out that I had my Bar Mitzvah there a few years before the war and he donated a few thousand dollars to repair the place. Another good friend of mine is Dr. Dario Giacomoni. Neither of my two friends is Jewish, but each one is a mensch! I have a number of other good friends including Dr. Ruven Levitan and family. Giacomoni implored me to speak about the Holocaust, about what happened to me during my youth in Shavli. I gave a talk and he typed what I said and gave it to the Holocaust museum in Washington.

The son of my sister, Edward Nachman, lives in New Orleans with his wife and daughter. Due to recent problems they are moving to Georgia.





Yad Vashem reports for relatives of Simcha

Simcha Brudno

Simcha Brudno, who was born on May 30, 1924 in Shavel has deposited a manuscript called "Witness to Nazism" in the archives of the United States Holocaust Museum. This contains information about his Holocaust experiences in Lithuania at the time of the German invasion, his time in the ghetto, and the round-up of children from the ghetto on November 5, 1943.




Brudno David

  David Brudno was born in Wilna, Poland in 1897 to Avraham. He was a high school teacher in Ort and married. Prior to WWII he lived in Wilna, Poland. During the war, he resided in Wilna, Poland. David died in Panar with his children Nechemia and Arie. This information is based on a Page of Testimony submitted on 10/03/1957 by his neighbor.


Brudno Berta

  Berta Brudno was born in Wilna, Poland in 1880 to Avraham. She was a teacher at a vocational school and single. Prior to WWII she lived in Wilna, Poland. During the war she resided in Wilna, Poland. She died in Ponary, Poland. This information is based on a Page of Testimony submitted on October 3, 1957 by her neighbor, Brudno David


Brudno Sonia

  Sonia Brudno was born in Wilna, Poland in 1905 to Avraham. She was a clerk and single. Prior to WWII she lived in Wilna, Poland. During the war she resided in Wilna, Poland. Sonia died in Panar, Poland. This information is based on a Page of Testimony submitted on 10/03/1957 by her neighbor.


Brodno Jehuda

  Jehuda Brodno was born in Vilna, Poland to Avraham. He was married to Sara. Prior to WWII he lived in Vilna, Poland. During the war he was in Vilna, Poland. Jehuda died in the Shoah. This information is based on a Page of Testimony submitted on March 4, 1957 by Nekhama


Brodno Simcha

  Simcha Brodno was born in Wilno, Poland to Yehuda and Sara. He was single. Prior to WWII he lived in Wilna, Poland. During the war he was in Wilna, Poland. Simcha died in the Shoah. This information is based on a Page of Testimony submitted on March 4, 1957 by Nekhama Morashty in Jerusalem.


Brodno Moische

  Moische Brodno was born in Poland to Yehuda and Sara. Prior to WWII he lived in Vilna,

Poland. During the war he was in Vilna, Poland. Moische died in the Shoah. This information is based on a Page of Testimony submitted on March 4, 1957 by Nekhama.


Brodno Sara

  Sara Brodno was born in Vilna, Poland to Avraham and Shoshana. She was married to Yehuda. Prior to WWII she lived in Vilna, Poland. During the war she was in Vilna, Poland. Sara died in the Shoah. This information is based on a Page of Testimony submitted on March 4, 1957 by her relative.


Golomb Bluma

  Bluma Golomb was born in Wilno, Poland to Avraham Leib and Shoshana. She was married to Shmuel. Prior to WWII she lived in Wilno, Poland. During the war she was in Wilno, Poland. Bluma died in the Shoah. This information is based on a Page of Testimony submitted on March 4, 1957 by her relative in Poland.


See more articles from Chicago Tribune (Chicago, IL)

Simcha Brudno: 1924-2006
Survived Nazi death camp.

Article from:
Chicago Tribune (Chicago, IL)
Article date:
June 13, 2006

Byline: Josh Noel

Jun. 13--When a young friend who recently returned from a visit to Nazi concentration camps thanked Simcha Brudno for the first-hand Holocaust stories that inspired the trip, Mr. Brudno deflected the credit.

"Don't thank me, thank Hitler," he said. A Lithuanian Jew who lost both his parents and scores of extended family during World War II, Mr. Brudno never lost a passion for science, justice and wry, blunt wit, friends and family said. "He had an unusual sense of humor, but it was always dead on," said Adam Reinherz, who visited the camps. "He made you stop and think." A survivor of the Dachau concentration camp in Germany who became a mathematician, Mr. Brudno, 82, died Friday, June 9, at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge of respiratory and heart failure. He had lived in Chicago. Born into a prosperous Lithuanian clan, he and his family were relocated to a Jewish ghetto in 1941 when Mr. Brudno was a teen. In 1944 they were shipped to Dachau. Though his mother died in a gas chamber, Mr. Brudno's strength and willingness to work kept him alive. "They knew they had a worker there and that saved him," said George Anastaplo, a Loyola University law professor who is writing a book about Mr. Brudno's Holocaust experience.

After liberation, Mr. Brudno moved to Palestine, where he joined the army and fought for the creation of Israel. He later studied mathematics at Hebrew University and at the Weizmann Institute of Science, but never earned a college degree, said his closest surviving relative, nephew Edward Nachman. Mr. Brudno immigrated to the United States in 1960 and worked as a math researcher at Florida State University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and, finally, the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine, friends and family members said. He published many papers packed with intricate mathematical theory, including, for example, the laboriously titled "On Generating Infinitely Many Solutions of the Diophantine Equation A {circ} 6 + B {circ} 6 + C {circ} 6 = D

18 Aug 1932 Siauliai Siauliai Siauliai BRUDNAS / [BRUDN], Aaron Head of the Household born in 1880 Vilnius 142/03230 Employee Foreign passport issued in Siauliai 18 Aug 1932 is in the file. Passport issued for him, his wife and their son. Foreign Passport Application LCVA/412/16b/1009,1195
BRUDNIENE / [BRUDN], Sheina Base Wife born in 1889 Vilnius Housewife Foreign Passport Application LCVA/412/16b/1009,1195
BRUDNAS / [BRUDN], Simkhe Aaron Son born in 1924 Foreign Passport Application LCVA/412/16b/1009,1195