Excerpts of letters from Yehuda Ronder, Kaunas
After surviving the war as a soldier in the Red Army’s 16th Lithuanian Division, Yudel Ronder returned home to Lithuania and spent the rest of his life there. Throughout the post-war years and into the 21st century, he devoted himself to tracking down those who had participated in the slaughter of Jews during the Nazi occupation. The following, translated from Hebrew, are excerpts of letters he sent during the 1960s, and reprinted in Hebrew in the 1977 Keidan “Sefer Zikaron” (Memorial Book). An oral history of his life is here.
September 13, 1964
A short time ago, two of the murderers of the Jews of Keidan went on trial. One had a finger bitten off on August 28, 1941 by the mass grave. They were each sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. Many of the murderers still walk free in the world.
I don’t remember if I have written to you about the “milky” one who was saying “yura” by mistake. She was an important clerk, and was exposed: She had dealings with the Gestapo and with the murderers of Jews; and she herself used to go to the places where they tortured Jews. May their blood blind their eyes!
October 7, 1964
I could write a lot about the trial of the two murderers from Keidan, but it’s hard for me to write about such things. The trial was conducted in camera, and no one heard anything, but I was informed by witnesses about many details.
Many of our teachers from the high school held guns in their hands when the Jews were being shot: Tylenis, the principal in 1935-1940, Dutkauskas, the principal in 1940-1941, the art teacher Vaškevičius, the teachers Vedegys, Kabelis, the music teacher, Karaška (now living in Kovno).
The two standing trial were Berankis and Gylys.
The Jews showed resistance. When a group was being led to the pit, one of the Jews (possibly my brother or your father), grabbed the rifle from the murderer Garšva and fired at him. He hit Garšva in the leg and the murderer was taken, bleeding, to the hospital. The Jewish hero was shot down immediately in the airfield, some distance from the pit. The murderer Garšva now lives in Gotha, and walks with a limp.
Tzadok Shlapobersky, while naked, attacked the murderer Čižas, bit his throat, grabbed his revolver from him, shot him in the back and killed him. Tzadok also tried to shoot the German commander who stood next to the pit, but the German panicked and jumped into the pit where he was only slightly hurt by some of the other Jews, who were still alive, because the murderer Jankunas jumped in to aid him.1
Another unknown Jewish hero tried to kill the murderer Berankis (who was now on trial), using a pocket knife, next to the pit, but he managed only to wound him gravely in the back of his head.
The murderer Gylys shot twice in Babian at a young Jewish woman, a member of the Communist youth league. She remained standing, although bleeding profusely, when another murderer shot her a third time and she fell.
It would be possible to relate many more incidents of heroism and resistance, but it can’t really be done in a letter. One thing is clear, that our fathers, our brothers, our sisters and our dear friends fell heroically in an unfair battle. It is even clearer that we must take revenge, otherwise we are not worthy of living in this world.
Because I can’t write about this resistance to everyone, I ask you to relate this to all our fellow citizens for remembrance, so that they all should know how our Jews from Keidan were massacred. Let these small incidents of great heroism spur us on in our struggle against racist antisemites and serve as an example of resistance.
September 26, 1965
I would like to ask you, in the name of our Jews from Keidan who were massacred. In 1944 a blood-soaked murderer, Edvardas Snieška, escaped to America. Many witnesses saw him at the airfield, near the pit, as he was shooting. The murderer Kariunas, who was also shooting and was sentenced to prison (he now lives in Keidan) said, “I did shoot, and Edvardas Snieška stood and shot next to me.”
The murderer Snieška was born in 1920. He studied at the Kultur Technikum, His father had a metal workshop. He now lives a good life in America. He is walking free and hasn’t been punished. His address is: 1918 Chandler Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
In 1964 he took his mother Alexandra to America. His brother, Antanas Snieška also escaped to America. He is a doctor and lives in Brooklyn, 28 East Foch House.
Never forget! Fascist murderers must be punished. That is what our mothers and our children cry out from the grave…
September 21, 1966
I am sending you four photographs from Keidan in a separate envelope. A gathering took place there this year. Many flowers were laid. I also spoke and denounced the murderers who have either not been punished or have been let off with light sentences.
I have just heard about another murderer, a former Kultur Technikum student, Juozas Maleckas, who now lives in Kovno.
July 16, 1968
I have found a few more photos from Keidan from bygone days, in which a few musicians from Yankel’s orchestra appear. I collect material about Keidan’s Jews and these pictures are a treasure to me. I will pay for any other pictures I receive, as I am eager to collect them.
I found one picture of Yanuk, the firefighter, who participated in the slaughter of the Jews. Yanuk is standing in this picture next to Tzadok Shlapobersky … the murderer is pictured with his victim, with our hero Tzadok. Yanuk is now a pensioner, living the good life. Dozens of murderers of our brothers and sisters still walk about freely.
Translated by Bella Golubchik