Interview with Abraham Kaganski 2nd January 2008

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

Independent Lithuania 1918 - 1940
These interviews were made in the hope of saving for future generations the stories of Jewish Vilkaviskis.

I the beginning of May 1941. It was a beautiful wooden building - so beautiful in fact that in 1812 when Napoleon was there before he went onto Moscow that he had wanted the Synagogue dismantled and returned to Paris.

On seeing my pictold Abraham a little of my history and of my connection to Vilkaviskis.

I showed him the pictures from my Vilkaviskis album and when he saw the picture of the Synagogue he told me that there he had held his Bar Mitzvah at tures - Abraham said he studied in the same class as Selig Salinger.

Then he looked at the map of Vilkaviskis prepared in 1940.

Here [near the site of the Lithuanian Gymnasium] lived Dr. Rashkovsky he was married to a German woman, they had two daughters and he was killed on the 22nd of June 1941. He had given assistance to an injured Russian soldier and he was shot on the spot.

I lived on Kapu Street - on this map [from Dvora Dolev] the numbering was different.  Sharkansky lived further down the street. Here was a German Primary School and the Evangelical Church.

Abraham pointed to the area of the Synagogue - here was the large wooden synagogue and two other smaller synagogues and the Beit Midrash. Opposite was the Jewish Old Age Home - and close by was another small synagogue - so that the elderly who could not get to the larger synagogues could pray. In the area of the Synagogues was the place of work of the Schochet [the ritual slaughter].  Here also lived the Rabbi of Vilkaviskis, the Rabbi Grin. Not far from here where the stores of metal that belonged to Mr. Umperel.

Close to the river was the site of the very old Jewish cemetery, the very first Jewish cemetery.

Over the river was the site of the Jewish Primary School where I studied for two years.

On the corner lived the Kinisky family; on the corner lived Mr. Varskavsky the teacher of the Bible.

The map is not correct - the street was only built later - here was the German Primary School and close to it the Evangelical Church.

Close by lived the head of the Jewish Primary School Mr. Kleinstein with his wife and their two children.

Here is the flour mill of the family Teitelbaum and not far from there lived the Salinger's.

We lived at Kapu St., 19, at 17 lived Kvint and at 15 also belonged to Kvint but he rented out the house - it was built from stone. The remaining area was open land and it was farmed by a Jewish man, I cannot remember his name but he grew cucumbers.

Here was a factory that made oil from seeds - it belonged to Mr Korrasky. The Bus Station was close to Lithuanian Cathedral. Not far from here was the Church where the President of Lithuania visited in {I think 1936 or 1937} The hotel of Pustapetsky family was close to the Bus Station. On the corner was the sausage shop of Livniovitch and over the road was a shoe shop of Mr. Lapidius.

Before they built the new Jewish High School the old school was situated here - the building was owned by Mr. Choreletzsky.  It was a long wooden building and it had been divided into classrooms.

Here is the cinema of Starkovsky.

In the grounds of the Gymnasium Ha Ivri was the ORT trade school.

Here was a base of the Lithuanian Army - and here is where all the Jews where killed.

Here a building that had been a seminary for priests  is where all the Jewish men where rounded up at the beginning of June 1941 by the Lithuanians. The Lithuanians stood on each side and beat the men as they entered, and I believe that one man died.

At the beginning of the war all the houses in Kapu Street were destroyed by fire and so we moved to here and lived in a building owned by Mitnitsky - we had 1 room in this building.

From here we left to live in the villages, my mother, myself and my younger sister.

Here was the Post Office where I went to pay our telephone bills, here was the Prison, and here was planned to build a slaughter house.

Here was the flour mill - it was operated by waterpower -its was owned by Mr. Vinzberg.

Around the town square were all the shops that were owned by the Jewish residents of Vilkaviskis.

On the 16th of February every year were held the................................
The Mayor and all the important people of the area attended and all the school children including the students from the Jewish schools marched past - it was always so cold.

Here was the old market square later it was moved to its present position.  Here was the Fire Station and opposite was a restaurant which if I remember correctly was opened in 1941. When the Germans entered Vilkaviskis in 1941 they entered the restaurant to eat and drink something - a Jew who I don't remember his name stole their car and escaped.

In 1940 when the Russians occupied Lithuania - they closed the Gymnasia Ha Ivri and moved us all to the Lithuanian Gymnasia. Thus we were all together and learnt in 2 shifts. Close by was the street where Dr. Rashkovsky - close by he rented rooms where he help to give birth to his patients - my sister was born here.

Here was the area where the land and buildings were owned by the Bishop. When the Russians occupied Lithuania in 1940 they took the land and during the winter they flooded the field and you could go ice-skating.

Here was the town's power station, it was run by gasoline.

Opposite was the Lithuanian cooperative - its was called "The Ring."  The idea was to offer competition to the Jewish store owners.

On the corner where Lithuanian houses - and there was a blacksmith that would repair many household objects.

Mr. Sharkansky lived around here - and opposite him the Litovich family - they were the only Jews that lived in this street.

Our house was a one-story building made entirely from wood - there were five rooms as well as the kitchen.  The living room was very big and then our rooms and a room for the Lithuanian servant.
Outside was a closed verandah - and here we would take up the roof and make the Sukah.

We had a basement and anything that needed to be kept cool was kept here. We drank the milk from our cows but cheeses we bought at the market.  Most of our vegetables came from our gardens - the two Lithuanian farm workers that lived with us had their own vegetable gardens - so we could use them as well.

A little distant from the street was our farm, we had cows and horses as well as the sheds that held the wheat and barley - I doubt remember the exact size. There were four large store houses.

We had a Lithuanian servant and two Lithuanians that worked permanently on the farm, and if needed we would hire extra day laborers. Besides this my father owned another 400 dunams here and owned 50 dunams that he rented. It was a large area to farm. There were other Jewish farms in Vilkaviskis but our farm was the largest.

We owned a small tractor - then we had a harvester that could cut the wheat, then another piece of equipment that would collect the wheat. And another that would collect the hay for cattle food - it was all burnt when the Germans invaded. If my memory serves me correctly we had six horses and at least ten cows. As well as this my father owned the rights for the export of white clover seeds to Germany.

They came from Germany with special sacks - to collect the white clover seeds.

The weather never interfered with the farming; we always seem to manage. The first snows would fall at the end of September and sometimes snow would even fall at the beginning of April.

My father was murdered 28 July 1941 - on the 25 of June 1941 my grandfather, two uncles, Leiser Sharkanshi, another man Hait. and several other Jews were also murdered.   At the beginning of August my mother, my younger sister and myself left the room we had been living in [as I said our house had been destroyed at the beginning of the war] and we went to live in the villages south of Vilkaviskis.

Here we hid - we did not hide in one house but we moved from house to house, village to village I cannot remember all the houses as we moved over 30 times. Sometimes we would often leave one house only to return some time later.

By August 1944, the exact date I do not remember, the Red Army had liberated Kaunas and was approaching Vilkaviskis and the villages that were close to the border with East Prussia. The Germans then ordered the villagers to leave their houses as the area was to be a closed military zone. Thus we too had to leave - everything was a matter of chance - we met another Jewish couple. We also met a Lithuanian who had built a small "hide" on the banks of a small stream. It was a short tunnel covered in earth. He suggested that we all hide there until the front moved on. So we were the five Jews and the three Lithuanians - a couple and a single man. We spent three days in the hide. And on the third day we heard the beginning of the Russian offensive - it was incredible and the ground shook. But our supply of water had run out and we could hear the noise of the stream so close by.

The Lithuanian stepped outside to bring some water but on his way back the Germans had seen him thinking he was a Russian soldier that had infiltrated their lines. They threw a hand grenade into the entrance - it was our luck that there was an air vent at the back otherwise we would have choked to death. They told us to leave and we left with our hands in the air - I am not sure what happened to the Lithuanian who was standing next to me - he had suddenly bent down and the Germans shot and killed him on the spot, he fell dead on my left leg.

A German officer arrived and asked what had happened - the soldiers explained what had happened - and the officer told the soldiers to send us back to the hide - they obviously didn't know that we were Jewish!  For the next three days we stayed there and the Germans even brought us bread! On the third day the officer returned and told us that we could no longer remain as they were building a minefield.

That night they came with a truck and took us to a small village in East Prussia. We got off the lorry and asked what would happen to us - the German soldier told us that here was living a Lithuanian doctor and he would look after us. I was sure that this was our end, as for sure he would recognize us as Jews. When he arrived - it turned out that it had been many years since he had lived in Lithuania and he barely spoke Lithuanian. He asked us what we wanted and I said "tell the driver to take us back to Lithuania!" And he did just that - the doctor gave the driver an order and he took us back to Lithuania. He left us a deserted house which was situated near a large lake - this was at the very south western corner of Lithuania near the border with Poland and East Prussia.

For food we survived on potatoes - around the house were fields with potatoes we would go out to find the potatoes, dig them up, cook them and then we ate them.  We would trade the excess potatoes with the local peasants for bread. But we had no salt, one of the people in our party suggested that we go into the forest nearby and search for plants that if cooked gave the taste of salt, it was called the "cabbage of rabbits."  So we went into the woods and searched, we found plenty and ate and then filled our shirts to take back to the house. As we returned suddenly we saw German soldiers - they shouted "Halt" and we began to run away but there appeared more soldiers and they caught us - they beat us and took us to their headquarters - they of course never suspected that we were Jewish. To my surprise they gave us bread and meat and then released us. When we returned to the house my mother was so pleased to see me - we realized that this was not a good place to be and so we decided to cross the border into Poland and head for the town of Wignay.  We presented ourselves as Lithuanian refugees [my mother spoke Polish] and were taken in by a Polish family. This family was obviously very poor and it would be difficult for them to support us. The husband told us that he worked for Germans who had received a large estate. It was the season for harvesting sugar beets and in return for a day's work we would receive a meal and as well food to take home. So off we went to work harvesting sugar beets, I knew this type of work.

At lunch time we went to the kitchen there we met the German farmer - he asked us who we were and I told him that we were refugees from Lithuania. It turned out that he was from Lithuania, not far from Vilkaviskis. In 1939 or 1940 he had returned to Germany and after the German invasion of Poland he had been given this farm. He shouted to his wife [I don't remember her name] "Come come here are refugees from Lithuania." They had not spoken Lithuania for a long time and they were so happy that again they could speak Lithuanian. He asked me from where I was from - I knew where he had come from so I told him that we had come from the other side of the town. He was overjoyed and said that we would no longer eat in the kitchen but we would all [our host as well ] eat with them. In their dining room they feed us well with much bread, meat, sausages, cheeses etc.

I spoke Lithuanian very well and it was impossible to know that I was not a Lithuanian. For four days the "party" continued.

Then after an incredible artillery barrage the Russian army occupied the area and we boarded a truck and headed back to Kaunas.

For all the years I had been in hiding I had of course not studied so I went back to school, a Lithuanian trade school and studied to be an electrician. At this school they gave us clothes and food. This was at the end of 1944 - in 1945 there began to be organized illegal Aliyah to Palestine via Poland. I was in the same group as Gila Tietelbaum. On the 5th of January 1946 we set out from Vilna. There were four trucks that left Vilna but we had been informed upon and the KGB were waiting for us. We were arrested and taken to the headquarters of the KGB in Vilna and in the basement we were interrogated. At first we were charged with being traitors to the Motherland but later the charges were reduced to attempting to cross a border illegally.

On the 15th May 1946 at the prison named Visnig ?.. the court was held, my mother received a sentence of three years and because I was still under age on received one year. We were sent in closed wagons - like animals to the north to  ? . Here there were work camps where we were employed in felling trees. One day a tree rolled on my leg and broke it. I was taken to the prison hospital and I was released on the 7th of January 1947 on crutches. I returned to Kovno and returned to school, once I had finished my studies I went to the University and completed by studies in 1953. I got as a job in Vilna. In 1956 my wife-to-be came from Siberia to visit her family there where we met.

So this is my story, as you can see we were all Prisoners of Zion, myself, Gila Shoham and Shmarihyu Pustapetski.

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