A small town in Southern Lithuania
Where the Jewish Community is no more

Jewish Vilkaviskis after 1945
Survivors from Vilkaviskis standing by the Old Holocaust Monument
Glinaitis offered me permission to travel to Vilkaviskis and said he would prepare a written affidavit stating that no property existed in my name. As I was about to leave the room, he asked me if I knew the fate of my brother Molia. I told him that, according to the information I had managed to collect, my brother had died in Ponary, near Vilnius. The meeting with Glinaitis ended. I returned to Kaunas and told them about my meeting with Glinaitis and my decision to go to Vilkaviskis to find evidence. Boma gave me the address of Meir Rutstein, a native of our town, who had lived in Vilkaviskis for several years. I took the bus to my hometown which was full of Lithuanians. I was the only Jew.

When we arrived the bus stopped in the main street. I walked down the street a few steps as though sleepwalking. Where I was standing had been an impressive Catholic church and next to it our two-storey house, almost half the length of the street. There was now no trace of either the church or the house. I did not regret the loss of the house because the family had been expelled by the Soviets. The wartime destruction had been great but the basic shape of the town had been preserved, especially the centre. The most notable change now was the absence of Jews. Once populated mostly by Jews the town now had virtually none.

With great curiosity I crossed the bridge and continued to the street where Stokowski's cinema had once stood at the end. Meir Rutstein lived in a small house and received me very warmly. When he heard about my reason for coming, he volunteered to go with me to my father-in-law's old factory and ask some workers who remembered him to sign a document in my favour for Glinaitis. The factory was on the way to the train station and we walked there. We passed the barracks buildings most of which were ruined. Meir said he remembered well that I had served here as an officer in the Lithuanian army. The former shooting range had become the death site for the town's Jews. It was set back from the road and was where thousands of people from throughout the town had been executed.

From Meir I learned that my father, mother and brother had perished in the nearby town of Pilvaskiai. We stopped at a plot of land which was a large mass grave. It was hard to believe but more than 5000 men, women and children had been buried in this little piece of land. We stood in silence in that terrible place. Meir said Kaddish and I followed him.

He told me how the horrific crime had been carried out. They had taken all the men from the barracks, surrounded by armed Lithuanians under the command of German officers. Before the murders, the men had been ordered to dig trenches on the pretext that they were preparing a fuel storage infrastructure. To disguise the murder plot, they had taken one of the town's dignitaries, Bendet Rabinovitch, an expert in fuel storage, supposedly to check the suitability of the canals for storage. Bendet Rabinovitch, the elected deputy mayor, had not been aware of the conspiracy to murder the Jews. Groups of ten people at a time were brought to the pit, stripped and shot. That was how they had eliminated group after group. In some cases the unfortunate victims had gone crazy. One man called Shmuel Tzikar, strongly built, had attacked a Lithuanian with his teeth and torn open his throat but had immediately been shot dead. The victims’ cries had reached heaven.

The day before the execution, Sergeant Schubert, a German who knew about the decision to exterminate the Jews, had arrived at the barracks and taken about 40 people to the train station to load the carriages with bags of sugar. After loading, he had ordered the sugar unloaded again. Believing that Schubert had simply decided to abuse them, the Jews became even more angry when he ordered them to load the wagons again. He had them work like this all day long before sending them back to the barracks at night time. There they discovered the scale of the disaster that day and realised that Schubert had just wanted to save them.

In the month of August the women and children had been transferred to the barracks and murdered in the same manner. After seeing the huge tomb with my own eyes, I decided to postpone the meeting with the factory workers. I went with Meir to the old Jewish cemetery and among the shattered gravestones found the grave of my grandfather Ephraim and my grandmother Hannah. I was depressed all day. All that was left of my vibrant hometown was a big cemetery.

The next day, on the way to the factory, a Lithuanian named B********** who was selling ice-cream in the market approached us. I knew him and went to greet him. Meir was furious and shouted: “Stay away. We know what you did to the Jews of this town.” I quickly moved away and Meir told me that on the second day of the German occupation of the town, all the men had been taken to the market and this Lithuanian had been on guard there with a rifle. Lithuanians had crossed the road and pointed to the Jews as so-called “Communists”. It had been a ploy to justify the selection and isolation of the young and powerful.

Monia Olimperl’s home had stood next to the market. Some 200 people had been put in the basement of his house, including Maccabi footballers Zakaria Mariampolsk, Chaim Rosenthal, Zeev Rabinovich and Lithuanian army reservists such as Shlomo Yazner and others. For seven days they had been kept in the basement without food and drink until completely exhausted. Then the thugs had come in and taken them to their deaths.

After the war B******** had been imprisoned and sentenced to 25 years in prison. During the thaw, he had been released and had returned to Vilkaviskis. I was stunned. A scumbag like him roamed free and dared to approach us. Meir told me that many like him were walking around the town, due to the authorities' desire to appease the local population. We arrived at the factory and Meir went in to look for veteran workers who remembered me. Several came out and welcomed me. They decided to leave work and join us at the nearest restaurant. I ordered a meal with a drink for everyone and learned from them that after I had been imprisoned, the workers' representatives had gone to the party branch and demanded my release.

However, instead of responding to their request, the authority had threatened that they too would be deported to Siberia if they continued with their demand. In the face of the threat they had given up and returned to work. When they heard my request now, they agreed to sign a document stating that the factory was not owned by me and that my attitude towards them was positive.

We went to the local council which approved the workers’ signatures. I said goodbye to them warmly and then to Meir who suggested adding another signature to the testimony. This was that of Juzas, a cleaning worker for my father-in-law who had risen to prominence and become head of a Kolkhoz in the area. We found his villa with a car in the yard. When I entered his house he immediately recognised me and ran towards me, hugging me and saying he would never forget my father-in-law's warm attitude towards him. After hearing what it was about, he took his car and we drove to the council, where he added his signature to the document. I thanked him warmly and we parted in friendship. I later reprimanded by the party for signing my testimony.

With the document in my hands, I decided to go to Pilvaskiai where my father, mother and brother Ephraim had been executed. During my visit to Vilkaviskis, I realised how untrue it was to say that the Jews had died “like sheep to the slaughter”. The Germans had been aided by a hostile population against whom there had been no chance of organising and retaliating. Except for a few exceptional cases, when brave Lithuanians sponsored a few Jews, all the rest had treated the Jews with cruel hostility.

Our compatriot, Goldin, had managed to escape the town to the nearby forest and been captured by several Lithuanians. He was taken back to the town and killed there. Anyone who raises grave accusations against the Jews has no idea what actually happened.

In the big cities and ghettos, the youth organised in the underground and fought for their lives but in the small towns and villages, the Jews were annihilated without realising until the last minute what awaited them.

I had the address of a Russian who lived in Pilvaskiai and had saved Jews. Without any difficulty I found this noble family. When I entered the house and introduced myself, it turned out that the Russian Gentile, Righteous Among the Nations, spoke fluent Yiddish and knew my family. He introduced me to his wife, who was from Germany. I heard the story of his family’s sacrifice in order to save Jews.

I arrived at the scene of the murder of the Jews of Pilvaskiai, including my father, my mother, and my younger and especially beloved brother, Ephraim, nicknames "Pimela". In one remote mass grave the women were
buried and in a second the men and children.

Details of my mother's murder were later revealed. When the Germans captured Vilkaviskis she had been taken to the town to work at the officers' restaurant. As she understood German, she had heard them talking about the plan to exterminate all the men the next day. In her innocence she had gathered all her valuables and asked the commandant to save my father and brother Ephraim. He pretended to agree but when she turned to leave the office he shot and killed her.

I inquired into the matter and learned that the first commandant, Kramer, had treated the Jews with moderation but afterwards been replaced by a young officer who had had a personal hand in the extermination of the town's Jews. For a long time I could not recover from the shock of standing next to the grave of my dear family members. I also learned the fate of our town rabbi, Eliahu Grin. Together with many of the people of Vilkaviskis, he had come to Pilvaskiai where women had hidden him after all the other men had been taken to extermination. But after a while the Lithuanians had discovered him and after cruelly abusing him, had then murdered the respected rabbi of our town.

Dr Dembowski lived in Pilvaskiai. He had been a colonel in the Tsar's army. After the First World War he had become famous for a book he had written and was a much loved doctor, respected by all of the population. He was killed on the same day as the rabbi. His only son was hidden in a nearby village and there was a chance he would survive but someone informed on them both and neither was spared. I returned to Kaunas broken and shattered.

Until I saw the place of extermination first hand and heard the evidence, I could
not believe it had really happened.

Shmaryahu Pustapetzky was born in Vilkaviskis his father was a well-known businessman. In the interwar period he joined the Lithuanian army and rose to the rank of captain. In 1941 he was deported to Siberia. After many years he was released but remained in "internal exile" Only in around 1956 he was allowed to return to Lithuania. Here he describes his return Vilkaviskis.

The House of the Rutstein Family. Vilkaviskis, , 1956
Meir Rutstein was born in Vilkaviskis – he was married before the war and had two children.
In 1940 he was arrested in 1940 and sent to Siberia but returned to Vilkaviskis after the war. He discovered that both his wife and children had been murdered. He remarried and they had 2 children. Meir rebuilt the house in the picture.

The Rutstein's remained in Vilkaviskis till the 1960's when they emigrated to Israel.

Meir Rutstein the last remaing Jew in Vilkaviskis standing in from graves in Jewish Cemetery

This site was built by Ralph Salinger of Kfar Ruppin, Israel
It is built to the glory of the Jewish Community of Vilkkaviskis
You can contact me with any comments at,il