Shmeryahu Pustapetski tells his story of the Russian occupation

The Soviet army began to make its way across the Neiman river to the towns of Mariampole, Vilkaviskis, Virbalis, and Kybartai on the German border. It was a wonder to see how the townspeople, mostly Jews, received the Red Army with
flowers and shouts of joy, and how this infuriated the Lithuanians. Soon I saw with my own eyes what happened to the interned Polish officers who were brutally taken to the train station under heavy guard. Presumably, they included those who would be murdered by the Soviets after a time in the Katyn forest. The Iron Curtain had descended upon Lithuania, and a process of Sovietisation of the small country began.

Anyone who compares the methods of Hitler and Stalin will find the resemblance astounding. The Soviets immediately began nationalising “bourgeois” property in the same way I had seen in Czechoslovakia against the Jews. An official commissar
was attached to each business and ran it. The only difference was that the owners did not receive a living wage. The Nazis conducted research on “Aryan” descent and went as far as the seventh generation to discriminate against the Jews.
The Soviets did a similar study on the working-class origin of the citizen and if your pedigree was not working class, trouble awaited you. The Hebrew language was outlawed. Hebrew libraries were closed and Hebrew teachers fired. The Zionist parties were also outlawed and their activities banned. The town’s Betar Club was closed. Gossip began about every careless sentence
that people would utter and there was widespread fear of imprisonment. My parents’ home was confiscated by the government and my parents forced to move into a small rented apartment. My father-in-law’s house was also nationalised and we
moved into a small apartment in the neighbourhood. Our apartment was taken over by a “Polkovnik” (Colonel) Zimbal but he treated us kindly and was actually friendly.

Everyone had to take care of their livelihood. Under the Soviet system, nominal control of a business was transferred to a “workers’ committee.” The workers’ committee at my father-in-law’s factory arranged an office job for me. This probably reflected the good attitude I had shown towards the workers both in the factory and in the army. Lyuba started working as a cashier but our parents sat at home, idle.

We closely followed the course of the war and the victories of the Nazis in Europe. Everything reminded me of the words of the SS man in Breslau: “When the young people of the Hitler Youth enlist in the army, Germany will conquer the whole world.”
I went to Kaunas and met members of the now-outlawed Betar movement. The atmosphere was difficult. Arrests had begun. The first to be arrested were Zvi Levin, Isaac Levitan, and others. Communications between people in Lithuania and the outside world were severed.

During the mass imprisonment my friends were exploited. The Communists used the formerly underground network to carry out their dirty work. Facing imprisonment, people would sign incriminating indictment documents. Later in Siberia, I learned that a young Jewish man whom I knew well had signed a document in which I was accused of all possible crimes against the world revolution. Most of these people later perished in the Holocaust and I hold no resentment in my heart. They were called to appear before the Soviet security services and under pressure and threats were forced to sign pre-prepared documents. But there were also zealots, loyal Bolshevists, among them.

I was once speaking Yiddish in the street with some friends, Avraham Zimansky, Monia Olimperl, and Yaakov Starkovsky. Three young officers approached us and started talking to us, also in Yiddish. One of them asked Yaakov about a cargo transporter and he replied without hesitation: “I own a factory.” The officers left immediately, and one of them said you are a capitalist, adding “nisht gut” (not good). We were amazed and talked for a long time about this. Only later, when we were all imprisoned in camps in Siberia, were we reminded of that young officer’s “nisht gut” comment

The Soviets were shocked by the abundance they found in Lithuania. We did not then know the value attached to a Swiss watch, a coat, leather boots, and a sewing machine in the Soviet Union. The officers would buy everything they found and
send them back to their families in Russia. My parents used to visit a Russian officer with the rank of major. He once asked my father to lend him money to buy something, promising that after he returned from a holiday in Russia he would repay
the loan. This was quite a reasonable request, although at that time there was a general feeling that something unknown was about to happen. Money had lost its value. The officer got what he wanted and went to Russia.

Following the declaration of Lithuania as a Soviet republic, the occupiers began to implement Soviet rule. The officer who had received the loan from my father then returned to Vilkaviškis, this time without a uniform, having been appointed chairman
of the Soviet District (Council). One night my mother came to our house pale as chalk. Anxiously she told us that the same officer who was now in such a high position, had invited her for a conversation and secretly revealed to her that my name
was now appearing on a blacklist. The Soviets were about to send me into exile. My mother started begging me to run away at once while there was still the possibility of escape. But we were naïve and still did not know the Soviet system. I responded
by saying: “No, no. Run away! Why do we have to run away? We have lived and grown up here, learned and studied here. All of our friends are here. Now suddenly, I have to leave everything behind and destroy my soul?” I could not believe that, just like that, without a trial and without being charged with any crime, someone could be thrown in jail.

The truck carrying the Olimperl and Friedman households arrived at the train station, about four kilometres outside Vilkaviškis. We could see a huge number of other trucks with prisoners that had come from every direction. Crowds of armed men were leading the prisoners to designated wagons usually used for transporting animals. My father-in-law and I were separated from the rest of the family and put in a car with a sign ZK. We later learned that these letters meant “zaklyuchenij” (prisoners) My wife, mother-in-law and Shlomo were put in another wagon. We would be separated for many years.

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

The Russian Occupation 1940 - 1941
Shmeryahu Pustapetski tells his story of the Russian occupation

In June 1940 Lithuania was annexed to the Soviet Union and became a Soviet Republic. Following new rules, the majority of the factories and shops belonging to the Jews of Vilkovishk were nationalized and commissars appointed to manage them. All the Zionist parties and youth organizations were disbanded, several of the activists being detained and Hebrew educational institutions were closed. Supply of goods decreased and, as a result, prices soared. The middle class, mostly Jewish, bore most of the brunt and the standard of living dropped gradually. Five families and two bachelors were exiled to Siberia, the heads of these families being sentenced to 5-18 years of forced labour in the terrible Reshoti camps there. They were:

Uliamperl Yitzhak, with wife and son, blamed for being the owner of a nationalized factory, and who died in Reshoti;

Pustopedsky Shmeryahu (Zunia) with wife Liuba, blamed because he was a member of the Betar organization, survived Reshoti;

Zimansky Avraham (single), the same accusation, survived;

Starkovsky Ya'akov (single), the same accusation, died in Siberia;

 Uliamperl Munia (with wife and two children), also blamed for being a Betar member, died in Reshoti;

 Kovarsky Berl (with wife), accused of being a shop owner, died in Reshoti;

Goldberg Moshe (with wife and son), blamed for possessing a farm, died in exile

This site was built by Ralph Salinger of Kfar Ruppin, Israel
It is built to the glory of the Jewish Community of Vilkaviskis
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