ON THE FRONT LINE IN LITHUANIA, 1915:
STORIES OF JEWISH EYEWITNESSES
by Anatolii Chayesh
Translated by Gordon McDaniel
Toward evening on August 14, 1915, on the outskirts of the city,
especially in Snipishky, the Cossacks became unruly, demanding vodka,
bothering women. On Kurland Street, Cossacks broke into a Jewish
watchmaker's shop and destroyed it. On 1st Solomian Street, they broke
into the apartment of Sima Balitsky, and neighboring apartments, at
night demanding women. The alarmed inhabitants of Snipishky, gathering
their belongings, fled to Vilnius on the 15th.
On Novgorod and Kiev Streets, Cossacks threatened to cut up all
the Jews before they left. It became impossible to stay on the
outskirts. Many Jews moved to the center of the city, hoping that they
would be safe there.
But even in the center of the city, on Sholenov Street, an old NCO
came up to Peisakh Obelnitsky from Oran 31 on August 19th and asked
him where he had come from. In response, Obelnitsky asked, "Why do you
need to know?" The NCO stubbornly tried to get an answer, and when he
found out where Obelnitsky had come from, said he would take him to
the commandant. When Obelnitsky saw that they were not taking him in
the direction of the train station, where the commandant was, but in
the other direction, to Lipovka, he said we would not go any further.
The NCO struck him with the butt of his rifle. That was on a street
full of people, but no one approached. The NCO called over a second
Cossack and they took him outside town, beat him badly and stole 200
rubles. He tried to file a complaint, but the gendarmerie said it was
none of their business, the criminal investigators had been evacuated,
and so the matter ended.
Rumors about excesses so alarmed the inhabitants that there
appeared an announcement over the signature of the army commander,
General Rodkevich, in the newspapers of August 28:
"Among the population in the region of military activities there
are rumors about plundering and assault against civilians, supposedly
by Cossack units.
I suggest that the population of the region of the army under my
command treat these rumors with the greatest circumspection possible
and not facilitate their dissemination. The majority of these rumors
come from persons wishing in one way or another to cause discord
between the soldiers and civilians. Individual cases of rude behavior
of Cossacks toward civilians are given the coloration of almost
general plundering and assault against civilians.
In order to maintain the life and property of civilians, it is
ordered, after investigation, to call to account any military rank
guilty of illegal behavior toward civilians with the full force of the
law, even to the most severe measures.
In order to prevent in the future even individual cases of damage
to the interests of the population of the region of the army under my
command, I am taking measures and issue the corresponding orders.
I also declare a mandatory evacuation of all those subject to
military service between the ages of 18 and 45; the remaining
population may either stay or voluntarily move to the interior of the
The population will be informed in sufficient time of the approach
of the enemy, and at that time those who wish to leave must do so
quickly and not wait for the arrival of military personnel, because
the soldiers will keep refugees off the road so as not to interfere
with the movement of men and materiel.
At present, population will be evacuated from the region west of
the line Inturki - Nemenchin - Kiiany - Pavlovo - Voronovo.
The population remaining will be provided foodstuffs in monthly
The Jewish inhabitants were frightened and often saved themselves
by fleeing. On the ways out of Vilnius, on the main highways, in
places were there were few Jews, everywhere one could see their
boarded-up homes. In Rukoiniky, Medniky, and Nemenchin32, everywhere
the same picture: troops would pass through, and Jews, fearing
excesses, would move into larger towns or to Vilnius. But even in
larger towns there was unrest. In Smorgon, Oshmiany, and Vileika33,
everywhere there was almost a pogrom situation. The entire fate of the
Jews depended upon the mercy of the local commander. His energetic
interference occasionally prevented catastrophe. In Oshmiany, only the
constable responsible for the Jews was beaten. In Molodechno, in order
to suppress drunken soldiers, arms were deployed and there were dead
and wounded. In Vileika, the commander gave orders not to touch the
civilian population. Without their interference in these places, where
now tens of thousands of soldiers were concentrated, the situation of
the Jewish population would have been unbearable