A Series of Narrow Escapes

By Eliyahu Koenig

I belonged to the Hashomer Hatzair kibbutz (community) in Włocławek (Poland), which included mainly those comrades from the cells in Warsaw, Lodz and Kalisz. When the war broke out and the Germans began their swift campaign of conquest, we received instructions to gather in Vilna, which was about to be handed over to Lithuania by the Soviets. And indeed, a few hundred Hashomer Hatzair members from Poland gathered there.

Because Lithuania’s government frowned on large concentrations of refugees, we began to spread out in smaller groups to different places in Lithuania.  Our group reached Keidan, where we settled in a small building close to the railway station. We did various jobs, in the mill and in the fields, growing vegetables with different Jewish farmers, among them Tzadok Shlapobersky, who later became famous for his bravery. The local inhabitants liked us and treated us well.

When the Russians arrived in June 1940, we could no longer exist as a cohesive group, and thus we divided up, living among the local families in small groups or in pairs. I was on my own, working for the “Dirba” cooperative. I made contact with some Polish friends who had lived in Keidan for generations, and they helped me as much as they could.

As the situation became unbearable, we began to leave Keidan and move east, but the Germans soon reached us. Most of my friends were caught. I also failed to get far from the town. I was already close to the former border between Russia and Latvia, thanks to help from my Polish friends. But I returned to Keidan, where I found ten of our people, who returned after fleeing the Germans or hadn’t tried to leave.

These were the first days of the German-Lithuanian regime in the town. Forced labour was imposed on the Jews. I lodged at that time with the Prusak family. He was the rabbi’s secretary. The town’s intelligentsia was annihilated, Prusak among them. Immediately afterward, all Jewish males aged 16 to 60 were ordered to assemble in the market square, with enough food for a few days. My Polish friends advised me not to show up for this assembly, and with their help I moved to an isolated house, which was at some distance from others, to stay with a Christian family. After a short while, the owner of the house demanded that I leave, fearing the death sentence that awaited anyone caught hiding a Jew.

At that time, there were contacts between former Polish army officers who had fled to Lithuania and the local Lithuanian people of Polish origin. Thanks to these ties, I received the address of a former Polish officer in Maišiagala. I approached him and he gave me the birth certificate of one of his son’s friends, by the name of Henryk Motil. This certificate, along with my “Aryan” appearance, helped me in the time of troubles. He also gave me the address of an estate, where he himself was planning to go soon. Of course, I had prepared a suitable story for myself.  I left my current place and headed for that same estate, hundreds of kilometres away. The farmers on the way treated me well, but obviously didn’t know that I was a Jew.

Translated by Bella Golubchik.