David P. Boder Interviews Ephraim Gutman; September 12, 1946; Hénonville, France

  • David Boder: France, September the 12th, 1946, at Hénonville, about 50 kilometers from Paris, a home which is maintained jointly by the Agudah, with the educational supervision of the ORT. The interviewee is Mr. Ephraim Gutman.
  • David Boder: And so, Mr. Gutman, will you please tell me again, what is your name, where were you born, and how old are you?
  • Ephraim Gutman: [He speaks German-Yiddish.] Gutman, Ephraim, born 1917 in the Ukraine, have lived all the time in Lithuania, Kovno, the capital, Kovno.
  • David Boder: Yes, so you lived in Kovno?
  • Ephraim Gutman: Yes, I lived in Kovno.
  • David Boder: Now then, tell me, Mr. Gutman, where were you and what happened to you when the war started. [Interviewer switches from German to Yiddish apparently noticing the difficulty which the subject has in his attempt to talk German.] You can speak Yiddish, can you not?
  • Ephraim Gutman: Yes. The 22nd of June, when the war broke out, I was in Kovno. The 23rd of June, the Russians started to retreat from Kovno, from Lithuania.
  • David Boder: You refer to the war that broke out between Russia and Germany?
  • Ephraim Gutman: Russia and Germany.
  • David Boder: There was war before?
  • Ephraim Gutman: Yes.
  • David Boder: You were in Kovno. Under whom was Kovno at that time?
  • Ephraim Gutman: Kovno was then officially under the Lithuanians but it had already joined the Union of the Soviets and it has become a Lithuanian SSR, and the 22nd of June, 1941, when war broke out, when Germany attacked Russia, and the next morning on a Monday we saw how the Russians were already running away from Lithuania. Then all the Jews from Kovno, most of then about 90 per cent of the Jews, wanted to run away with the Red Army into Russia. Unfortunately only a small part managed to run with the Russians, to reach Russia. The rest had to turn around back towards Kovno. And on the roads... on the roads along which the Jews had to return to Kovno stood already Lithuanian partisans, that means Lithuanian hirelings who were in the service of the Gestapo, well ready, and they were catching the Jews and leading them to the seventh fortress, not far from Kovno [see below] and there they were shot en masse. And so it started ... the war had started on Sunday and Wednesday night the Lithuanians... Wednesday night the Lithuanians made a pogrom in Slabodka, that is a suburb of Kovno. There they murdered Wednesday night and Thursday night, it was the first of the month Tammuz, they massacred about 3,000 Jews. For instance, the rabbi of Slabodka, the first murdered while he was sitting over a book of the Talmud. They then cut off his head and exhibited it in the window.
  • David Boder: Well, and where were you? And what happened to you?
  • Ephraim Gutman: I, too, was among the Jews who attempted to run away together with the Russians. And we had run about 30 kilometers from Kovno. That is, to the hamlet Ynovo and proceeding ahead we observed that at the town Vilkomir, or how it was called in Lithuanian Uknage, there were already the Russians, I mean to say, the Germans. [The next sentence is somewhat obscure although I think I got the meaning correctly; he uses a word that I cannot distinguish, probably a colloquilalism.] The Germans there got a hold of the Soviet authorities because the Lithuanians gave them the possibility already before to overthrow the Soviet authorities. And seeing that we were unable to get to Russia we waited a few days until there appeared a semblance of order in Kovno and then on a Saturday, the first Saturday, we returned to Kovno. And we were stopped immediately by the partisans, the so-called partisans, the Lithuanian hirelings, and they wanted to lead us also immediately to the seventh fort.
  • David Boder: Whom do you mean by you or us?
  • Ephraim Gutman: You means myself, my mother and nine brothers and sisters.
  • David Boder: Nine brothers...?
  • Ephraim Gutman: (interrupting) I am the tenth and I am, unfortunately, the only one who remained of our whole clan. From a mother and nine... ten brothers and sisters, I am the only one who remained and...
  • David Boder: And where was the father?
  • Ephraim Gutman: The father was a dayin in Kovno and he died... he was fortunate to die in 1940 in Kovno.
  • David Boder: What is a dayin?
  • Ephraim Gutman: A dayin is a rabbi, in Kovno.
  • David Boder: Well?
  • Ephraim Gutman: And the Lithuanians also wanted to drag us to the seventh fortress but fortunately there was among them a Lithuanian, an acquaintance of ours, he also wore the band on his arm with the swastika, that is, he was also a partisan and for that reason...
  • David Boder: A fascist partisan?
  • Ephraim Gutman: Yes, and he, recognizing us, felt embarrassed and requested his comrades they should let us go because this was the family of the Kovno rabbi. And so we returned to Kovno, the mood was terrible; they were grabbing people on the streets and led them to the forts to be shot. To the forts, I want to say in passing, those are the old fortifications which the Czar in his time has erected around Kovno before the other war. That is, before 1914, a kind of fortifications, and there they led all the Jews to be shot. And so we lived about for a week, a Jew in general couldn't show himself on the street. That is officially, he could come out on the streets but as soon as he would show up they would grab him and lead him to the fort to be shot. And then came the order, there arrived General Paul, not to be confused with General Paulus. That is the general who took Kovno and he started to negotiate with the Kovno rabbi, Rabbi Schapiro, he should take steps to form a Jewish Community Council, and through them establish a ghetto near Kovno, that is in Slabodka.
  • David Boder: That was General Paul. And who was Paulus?
  • Ephraim Gutman: Paulus is the general who was defeated at Stalingrad. The German general who was defeated at Stalingrad and Paul is the general who occupied Kovno, the victorious general. And this victorious general undertook to negotiate with the rabbi of Kovno that there be formed a Jewish community Council consisting of several Jews who enjoyed the confidence of the Kovno rabbi, who should take the steps toward the creation of a ghetto in Kovno. You see, he gave as his reasons, that since the Jews have been suffering mostly from the Lithuanians, and that was correct, so it was this advice, he was advising us that we Jews should be better separated from the Lithuanians, and should better go into the ghetto. And on the second Saturday there was issued an order that Jews have to wear yellow patches, that is, signs of the star of David only on their chests, and so...
  • David Boder: What does it mean, just on the chest?
  • Ephraim Gutman: Because later on when we were in the ghetto, the orders were that we have to wear [it] on the chest as well as on the back.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Ephraim Gutman: While at the start [we had to wear it] only on the chest. Later there was issued an order that the Jews may not walk on the sidewalk , the Jews who... that is, when there was not yet a ghetto, the Jews were permitted to go only...
  • David Boder: In the middle...?
  • Ephraim Gutman: ... in the middle of the street, that is, just like dogs. And many Jews, forgetting that they were already disqualified as humans, would forget themselves and get on the sidewalk, such a thing happened also to myself, and then we would be beaten up, not by the Germans, but, alas, by the Lithuanians with whom we have lived together for hundreds of years, and thanks to whom [us] they have to come to learn what a pair of shoes are. Because before they were called the Lithuanian Klumpes, that means wooden shoes. More than that, they were [once] unable to achieve in their lives, and beyond this they enjoyed [once] no comfort.
  • David Boder: And why was it "thanks to us"?
  • Ephraim Gutman: [interrupting] It was thanks to the Jewish progress, the Jewish industry, the Jewish culture, they became... they began also to develop into humans, like other human beings, and they started wearing shoes. In Lithuania it is known that the Lithuanian is called, not only in Lithuania but generally abroad, it is known that the Lithuanian is called the Lithuanian klumpe, that is, klumpe means a wooden shoe because more than that they never had. So let us continue.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Ephraim Gutman: And now they started establishing a Jewish Ghetto and the order was that by the fifteenth of August, 1941, that is about two months after the Germans marched in, the Germans marched in on the third day after the war started between Russia and Germany. The war started on Sunday and the Germans marched into Kovno on Tuesday by four o'clock in the afternoon. And so the order was that by the fifteenth of August, all the Jews have to move into the ghetto of Kovno. And within that time there occurred as I mentioned before... mentioned before the pogroms in Slobodoca which have caused 3,000 sacrifices, as well as mass arrests of Jews which were led to the fort to be shot. The number of these is beyond count, possibly many thousands. Among them was also arrested during the first few days... also was arrested the famous rabbi, one of the greatest Jewish scholars in the world [the first name is not clear] Wassermann, that is, he was Polish, one of the outstanding rabbis of Poland. He too was grabbed away from home and he too was shot, on the second day he was shot on the seventh fort. Now let us continue. By the fifteenth of August the ghetto was to be closed, that is, the moving was to be completed. The Jews themselves were compelled to build the fence around the ghetto, and the Thursday before that was about the thirteenth, the fifteenth was on Saturday. The thirteenth, the Lithuanians were standing on the bridge, because from Kovno to Slabodka there leads a bridge across the Vilia [river]. There stood the Lithuanians on the bridge, and the Jews were endeavoring to drag across their remaining caboodle to Slabodka, and there stood the Lithuanians, the so-called partisans, that is, the Fascist gang; and they arrested 1500 Jews and again dragged them away to the fort, that is, for an encore [for good measure; he uses the term "for a benefit performance], that is, from the Kovno Jews they arrested another 1500 Jews, led them to the fort, and shot all of them. And so the fifteenth of August, 1941, on a Saturday morning they stopped the march to the ghetto. That is, the Jews were not permitted to leave the ghetto nor were they permitted to enter the ghetto. Neither were the Lithuanians permitted to enter the ghetto. And soon...
  • David Boder: What does it mean, "Jews were not permitted to enter the ghetto"?
  • Ephraim Gutman: It [the transfer] was just stopped. One who had remained in the city had no recourse; he could not get in, nor could he get out. And the sixteenth of August, that was on a Sunday, there came Kaminskoff, a Lithuanian, who was the intermediary between the Jews and the Germans, and he was appointed by the German powers to be; and he came and talked with Dr. Elkes. Dr. Elkes was the "top-Jew," that is, the head of the council of elders, a very decent person, a physician, a known physician in Lithuania to such an extent that when the president, Anton Smetana, was sick, he was treated only by Dr. Elkes. And he told him that since the Bolsheviks, before their retreat, have upset the archives and that it must be again arranged in proper order, so he wanted that he be given five hundred and thirty Jewish intellectuals so that they could put the archives again in order. And he promised that Monday morning the Jews will be led to work, they will get their food there, and for the night they will be returned to the ghetto. At that time there was not yet organized a proper work authority, that is, the Jewish representatives which were to be in charge about work, that is, who should go to work; and so it came about that the Jews themselves had to help to grab, to gather together the five hundred and thirty Jews, and they grabbed together not five hundred and thirty but five hundred and thirty-four so that four went for good measure. And they were led away and so it came seven o'clock in the evening and the people were not back and none of them showed up the next morning and up to the last day that we were in the ghetto the fate of these people remained a mystery. Obviously, we understood that they were not alive, but exactly we didn't know. But when the ghetto was evacuated in ‘44, when the ghetto was evacuated to Germany, Dr. Elkes, before he died--he died in the lager--Dr. Elkes revealed that he was told the next morning by Gerke, who was with the district commissar the deputy for Jewish affairs, a German about 21 years of age, a teacher of physical education, he confided in him that the Jews were shot. And when Dr. Elkes asked why, he said that because fifty-three Jews worked during the first days for the Germans on sugar, and since fifty-three bags of sugar were somewhat damaged five hundred and thirty Jews had to pay for it with the four additional ones thrown in. Also that happened on Monday the seventeenth of August, 1941 [about this massacre of the intellectuals of Kovno see a remark at the end of the interview]. On Tuesday the ghetto was heavily surrounded and the Germans en masse were admitted to the ghetto. And they started looting, that is, robbing the homes. They would enter a home and first demand the surrender of the gold and silver and diamonds and watches, and then order to open all the closets and valises; and they took out the better things and took them for themselves. They also took away the better pieces of furniture and carted them away to the city for themselves. And later mass shootings occurred in the ghetto. The law was that if a Jew sees a German from a distance he has to take off his hat and greet him with good morning irrespective whether the German found it necessary to respond; and if the Jew would not happen to notice him exactly at three, four meters ahead and take off his hat, he was immediately shot. This all was just a preparation, it was just a prelude to the subsequent occurences. Soon afterwards there was issued an order, an official order signed by the Gestapo, that all Jews within a week's time are to surrender all gold, silver, diamonds, money, and may keep only 100 rubles. You see, at that time the ruble still was circulating, the mark and the ruble. The ruble was... ten rubles were worth one mark. And one could have only 100 rubles. That is, the ghetto was impoverished so that they should not have anything to live on further, and all better things, even underwear they also had... there was issued an order that they must be surrendered and all electrical appliances had to be surrendered, and those... and then it was announced that those who will not surrender [their things] at the designated time will be shot. And for the purpose that people should believe them they previously arranged the mass shootings just for trifles or for nothing; they would shoot so that people should believe them that executions are their established practice. And...
  • David Boder: Where did they execute them?
  • Ephraim Gutman: Right there in the ghetto.
  • David Boder: You have seen it?
  • Ephraim Gutman: Yes, right there in the ghetto, with machine guns, they would shoot then, twenty people. And then when this was over, then it was announced that afterwards when the week will have passed there will be... in German they would call it... they will make a recheck for control to see whether everything was properly surrendered or not; and then it was announced in an order thus after the week will have passed there will be made, what they called in German, sampling checkups [Stichprobem] and in case things listed in the order will be found in the possession of one person, not only he will be shot but the whole block, that is, on it could depend the life of hundreds of Jews. Obviously no Jew wanted to risk the life of his fellow men and everybody surrendered literally everything from alef to tof [the Hebrew equivalent from a to z]. Maybe one per cent of the Jews have concealed the better things. And we Jews thought that by these means we will ransom our lives but alas, it was our doom. Soon after, within a week, there came Koslowski, he was a German, he was the commandant of the ghetto and he lived across the street from the ghetto and he said that, since last night shots were fired at his residence, he demands that Dr. Elkes as Aber-Jew [see below] should surrender to him five hundred Jews to be shot.
  • David Boder: As what kind of a Jew?
  • Ephraim Gutman: Dr. Elkes was the Aber-Jew.
  • David Boder: Aber-...
  • Ephraim Gutman: Aber-Jew, Aber-Jew. That is the top elder of the Jews, from the committee.
  • David Boder: In what language is it, Aber...?
  • Ephraim Gutman: Aber-Jude, that is in German. Aber-Jude. And...
  • David Boder: Do you know how they spelled that word?
  • Ephraim Gutman: And Dr. Elkos told him in reply that among the Jews there is no such thing as delivering [people] to be shot. It was clearly stated in the Jewish religion--and that in spite that Dr. Elkes wasn't a specially pious Jew--but still he was a nation conscious Jew and also a Zionist, he told him that it is stated in the Jewish religion to deliver Jews for execution is prohibited. Even in the case if they are being threatened that they all will be shot, they all should submit to being shot rather than deliver one Jew to the shooting. And then Koslowski told Dr. Elkes: "If you will not deliver 500, I shall take more than 500." And Dr. Elkes replied, "It may cost [the lives of] all 45,000 Jews in the ghetto but I shall not deliver to you any Jews to be shot. This happened on Thursday... the conversation took place Friday early in the morning, that is, he claimed that they shot at him in the night from Thursday to Friday, and on Friday already, an half an hour after the conversation took place, many Lithuanians and Germans, that is, the same Lithuanians who were in the service of the Gestapo, marched in into the ghetto; one block of the ghetto was cut off and all the Jews [from this block] were led out to a square and there whoever had a card, that was called a Jordan card, that is, a card of an artisan which was issued a month earlier [there seems to have occured some interruption, possibly a break in the wire during reproduction. However it seems that nothing is missing].
  • David Boder: Go on, go on.
  • Ephraim Gutman: Those remained alive and all those who did not have an artisan's card, they were led away to the ninth fort, that was already not the seventh fort but the ninth fort which was across from the ghetto, a kind of a hill, and there all of them were shot.
  • David Boder: One could see that?
  • Ephraim Gutman: The fort was visible only on the way to the ghetto, because the ghetto was in a valley and the fort was on a hill. And standing in the ghetto one could see how the people were led on the hill. And afterwards, I was that day in the city working for the Lithuanians, doing compulsory labor, and by about four o'clock, I didn't know a thing about it, by about four o'clock I saw the Lithuanians coming drunk carrying Jewish things. I recognized that these were Jewish things because there was a whole truckload of things and on the things [clothing] were the patches, the yellow patches. And I asked the Lithuanians, "How did you get these Jewish clothes and overcoats?" so they replied that there was an action in the ghetto, that is, by action was meant an event when the Jews were taken to be shot. [The term action was a common term in ghettos and concentration camps and meant mass selections either for deportation or execution.] And so that was the first action; afterwards the fourth of September, 1941, it happened... there came the Germans... there were in the ghetto, I want to note that within the ghetto... there were two ghetto; a little ghetto and a large ghetto. And the little ghetto was seperated from the large ghetto by a bridge because a ditch [?] cut through between the two ghetto and the Germans, reserving the by-pass for themselves, made a bridge for the Jews to cross from one ghetto to the other. That day they came to the ghetto, and they put up a German guard on the bridge and the word was passed that no Jew could enter from the large ghetto into the little one, from the little ghetto into the large one, and they led away the whole little ghetto; first they proceeded... there was the hospital of the ghetto, there they first set fire to the hospital with the people and with the doctors all together. That is, with the sick, with the doctors together, and they set fire to it. Also, the same morning early, they set fire to the children's home which they [the previous authorities] were unable to evacuate to Russia, the Jewish children's home, the one-time home of the orphans named after the Kovno rabbi Arav Reb Itzkhok Khonon [I am not sure of the names.] And to this, too, they set fire to the children alive and to all the sick in the hospital. And then they led out the Jews from the small ghetto to a square and again sorted them according to the Jordan cards. The one who had a Jordan card remained alive.
  • David Boder: Will you explain it again, what was a Jordan card?
  • Ephraim Gutman: You see, a month before the first action it was announced that all artisans, skilled workers, should register at the Committee, the Jewish Committee. The Jewish artisans, skilled workers, have registered, and afterwards, a week later, there came an order that all those who have registered should come to the Committee to fetch special cards, called Jordan cards. Jordan was the deputy for Jewish affairs with the state commissar, Herr Kramer. He was practically the boss over the ghetto but not the ghetto commandant. The ghetto commandant...
  • David Boder: Is this the same Kramer who was afterwards in Bergen-Belsen?
  • Ephraim Gutman: No. Kramer was the civilian commandant, the civilian commandant...
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Ephraim Gutman: ...for Kovno. Not the military commandant but the civilian commandant. And the Jews, it was announced that the Jews who had registered as artisans should come, should come and fetch their cards [the word really should cover not only artisans but also professional people]. I, too, registered as a skilled worker, an electrician, and at the time when I was summoned to get my card I didn't know whether that was good or not. For example, they asked me of how many people does my family consist. I replied that I am alone in spite of the fact that I had already a wife, and a mother with eight chil... [the word children has not been finished] brothers and sisters. And they tell me: "But you also have a mother?" so I said that my mother was dead. That was a lie because I was afraid that with such a card one will have trouble, one will get into trouble. But it later revealed itself that those who had a card remained alive after the first actions. So that is what we called a Jordon card. Is that clear?
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Ephraim Gutman: As on this day we go again to the second action, on the fourth of September. First he set fire to the hospital and the children's home and then he led again the Jews out on the square and sorted them out again and this time the Jews who remained alive he did not permit to return to the little ghetto but drove them across to the large ghetto. And all the property of the little ghetto was given away, the Germans took for themselves, but the locality they did not yet take for themselves, and they left the place fenced around from all sides and nobody was permitted to live there, neither a Lithuanian not a Jew. All that... from the beginning all that was incomprehensible, but later it became clear that that was a preparation for the great action. So now we go over to the third action. We don't count what happened in between, lesser shooting [incidents] and so on. And so the 28th of October, 1941, I will repeat 1941, that is, in the same year in the first few months. The 27th of October, 1941, in the evening, it was announced on the streets that all Jews, men and women, children and the old ones and sick ones have tomorrow, the 28th of October, starting at six o'clock in the morning, to report, to assemble on the big square, that is, between the three great buildings, Block A, Block B, Block C, at the Square of Democracy. And there they all have to assemble, and this order I have still with me because with me remained the archives of the Kovno ghetto, [and the order] read that whoever... that the German police will go later searching the homes, and whoever will have remained at home will be shot. The order instructed that only sick people who are unable to get up from bed will remain in the house but there should be a sign on the door saying that upstairs in such and such a room there is a sick person. And in the order it was also said that everything has to remain open, the doors, the wardrobes, the valises, everything is to remain open. And so the Jews started the next morning, on October 28th, by six o'clock to assemble on the big square, and an hour later, that is, at seven o'clock in the morning, the square, regardless that the square was located within the ghetto, was again surrounded by German guards and with Lithuanians, and it was ordered that people should assemble each according to his place of work, in the way how they were designated to work [I am not sure that this last passage is exactly correct]. It was ordered that the Jewish Committee should stand up separately, the Jews who worked as low laborers in the Gestapo--far be it to assume that the Jews have worked in the Gestapo as Gestapo-men--Jewish artisans, carpenters, tailors who have worked for the Gestapo, they should stand up separately, the Jordan brigade should stand up separately [I am not sure that the adjective is correct], Gestapo "airfield" should stand up separately, and so on and so on, and each one should have with him his whole family.
  • David Boder: The "airfield"--what does it mean?
  • Ephraim Gutman: The "airfield" means that in Kovno they were constructing a big aerodrome and there they were driving daily some four to six thousand Jews to work.
  • David Boder: And so they had to stand apart...
  • Ephraim Gutman: And these Jews also had to congregate on the big square and stand up separately, the airfield [workers]. People had an idea that the airfield workers would fare better than all the rest because the airfield was a necessity, but as we have seen later--I continue with the story--and that an half an hour later there arrived the higher German functionaries, Jordan--perish his name and memory--Kramer, Kozlowski, other similar rascals. And they drove in into the ghetto with their small machines and they started lining up the Jews in a manner.
  • David Boder: With what kind of machines?
  • Ephraim Gutman: With small machines. Not armored machines.
  • David Boder: Automobiles?
  • Ephraim Gutman: Yes. And the Jews remained standing in formation and around and around there was a free intermediate space, and there stood German police and did not admit anybody there, and the Lithuanians with them. And then they yelled: "Council of the elders should pass." And then they had not yet wire [fences]...
  • David Boder: The elders...? [He speaks very fast and animatedly.]
  • Ephraim Gutman: The council of elders, that is, the Jewish Committee should march through.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Ephraim Gutman: And it was so arranged since there were no wire [wire fences] with a special gate to march through, but the German guards were so posted [all around] that there was just a little door, a "human door" [a little interval in the tight line of guards], for the people to pass through. And at this gate there stood Jordan with the whole gang and the elders... and the Committee, or how it was called, the "council of the elders" marched through without control, that is, all of them passed through. And here I want to remark: the world knows that left is worse then right. All those--at the former two actions--the people who were led to be shot would be led... would be separated at the left. But this time, in order to confuse the minds, that is, to confuse the Jews, the multitude, they yelled to the Council of the Elders, "Left," and it was assumed that the council of elders, the Jewish Committee, is being led to be shot. Afterwards they passed through the Jewish police, also with their families without control, and the Gestapo brigade without control [by control he apparently means individual checkup], and the Jordan brigade [passed] without control and then... when all that was over they yelled: "And now, the airfield, step forward." With the airfield they started already to classify, that is, they were sorting them out. He stood there with the rest of the gang. Half a day he stood there alone, Jordan, and looked into everybody's face. And who looked younger, he went left, that is to live. And he who looked older was driven across the square to the right. First it was not known what it all meant, right or left. Afterwards when on the right side there were congregated on the right side several hundred or possibly a few thousand Jews, he gave an order to the German guards to lead them away. It revealed itself that they were led away to the former little ghetto, which as I remarked before had remained empty. There they held the people and so it was going on during the whole day without letdown. The one who looked younger, the one who was better dressed, without many children, or not an old man--he went to the left. And the one who was badly dressed, with more children, etc.--he went to the right and until the twilight when he noticed that he won't be able to sort out the forty-four thousand Jews, he would let pass entire parties of about one hundred sending them to the right, and [then] one hundred to the left. Then it could happen, then it happened that younger ones happened to fall in among those to be shot and some older ones fell in [into the group] to remain alive, because he was unable to continue with the classification, he saw that darkness was already falling and so...
  • David Boder: Who was that?
  • Ephraim Gutman: Jordan, always Jordan.
  • David Boder: Jordan...
  • Ephraim Gutman: Later on...
  • David Boder: Who was Jordan?
  • Ephraim Gutman: Jordan was a SS superior commander. That is, a party man, a brown one. He himself was a Scheigitz [a gentile boy], about 21 years old, a teacher of physical education, and as it appears, he possessed but a low sense of human values [I am not sure whether I have translated correctly the interposed Hebrew expression], and that is what they wanted.
  • David Boder: Who was he, a Lithuanian?
  • Ephraim Gutman: A German.
  • David Boder: A German... what happened to him afterwards?
  • Ephraim Gutman: This Jordan afterwards... since he had appropriated by loot large quantities of Jewish property when the order which I mentioned before was issued to surrender Jewish gold and diamonds, so he himself used to take away for himself the better diamond, to take for himself the better things. The other Germans could not fail to begrudge him [this loot] so they reported him, and in punishment he was sent to the front, and later we read in a paper, in the German paper, which we were not free to buy, that is, a Jew was not permitted to buy a newspaper in the city, but still we were buying them, we read an obituary in the newspaper that the extra superior commander, that is, he already was promoted to a still higher rank, has died in action for the Fuehrer and the Vaterland -- cursed be his name and memory. [I am not sure of the exact translation of the last Hebrew expression]. And so let us continue. The Jews, the Jews which were led to the right were led away to the little ghetto. The Jews which were led to the left, and I too was among these fortunates, were led away back to the ghetto and all were ordered to disperse to their homes. It is understood that the weeping and the wailing was great in the ghetto. People returning to their homes would not find their father, wouldn't find their children because at sundown things went, as I mentioned before, at sundown they were thrown in droves to the right and to the left. And in the "little ghetto" people in general didn't know what will be the fate of those 12,000 Jews, 12,000 not to be confused with any other number, 12,000 Jews, and nothing was known. But the next morning...
  • David Boder: How do you know this number?
  • Ephraim Gutman: The next morning there was a census taken and there remained... the census has shown that 12,000 Jews were missing in the ghetto. And the people were kept until early next morning in the little ghetto and lo! even the Jews in the little ghetto could not imagine they will be shot the next morning. They were squabbling there over housing accommodations, over housing with firewood, over flats with some things that the Germans had not managed yet to cart away; and the next morning at seven o'clock, they were aroused, the Jews in the little ghetto, they were ordered to step forward four abreast, and they were all led again to the fort. We standing in the ghetto saw again how a queue for hours long moving again towards the fort and then we heard a short while later... we heard the German M-G fires working, that is...
  • David Boder: Machine guns...
  • Ephraim Gutman: Machine guns, that what they called in Russia pulemeti.
  • David Boder: Yes...
  • Ephraim Gutman: And that settled the events for that day. The next morning Dr. Elkes asked Jordan what has happened to the 12,000 Jews so he replied, [and here he quotes in correct German] "Do not speak any more about it. Those Jews are not alive anymore. But such things will not happen again in the ghetto, that was the last of the last actions. Now you all shall remain alive."
  • David Boder: Who buried those 12,000?
  • Ephraim Gutman: There were prepared ditches. The Russian prisoners would first prepare the ditches, and there they would line up the people, undressed naked or in their underwear... and throw them... those were gigantic ditches, they would line them all up at these ditches and shoot them with M-G fire... and so fell twelve [?] ...throwing them, throwing them [one over the other] and afterwards they would cover them with lime, because they had to leave room for others; so they threw over them lime to prevent an epidemic, and the ditches were kept ready for those whose turn was to come later.
  • David Boder: They would not cover up the ditches?
  • Ephraim Gutman: No, just lime. And so that happened the 28th of October, 1941, and that was indeed the last action in the ghetto, or rather one of the last. And so the ghetto lived with little actions, with greater ones, little actions continued to happen in the ghetto, but not large ones. One of the greater actions occurred the day when Stalingrad fell -- the Germans have lost at Stalingrad...
  • David Boder: Well?
  • Ephraim Gutman: So to give vent to their wrath, they had to pacify their blood in some way so they again went... there came an order to the Lithuanian police in Kovno, that those Jews who are being driven to work, if they should step out a bit from their places of work, should be arrested immediately and brought to the Gestapo. And they were led away to the Gestapo and at night the Gestapo would come to the ghetto and take away the families of those people, and lead them to the fort, again to the ninth fort and shoot them.
  • David Boder: They gathered together...
  • Ephraim Gutman: (interrupting)... the families of those who were arrested that evening in Kovno.
  • David Boder: And they were taken for not working?
  • Ephraim Gutman: Only because they stepped out a bit from their place of work. For example, there was a famous mechanic in Kovno, Sadowski [I am not sure that the name is exactly correct] he stepped out of line to beg for a piece of bread...
  • David Boder: A Jew?
  • Ephraim Gutman: A Jew. He stepped out of line to ask for a piece of bread from a Christian, from a Lithuanian women. It is self-evident that she didn't give him any but the Lithuanian noticed it, a Lithuanian guard, and he arrested him. And at night they came and took away his wife and daughter and they sent them away the next morning and shot them.
  • David Boder: You say... he was shot?
  • Ephraim Gutman: Again on the ninth fort. Later on in 1943, before the high holy days there arrived one nice early morning a German and said that from today on it should not be called anymore the ghetto but it will be called from today on the Kon-lager. That means concentration camp Kovno, Kaunas [that's the Lithuanian name for the city of Kovno], and that he will be the ghetto com... the lager commandant [concentration camp commandant]. His name was Geke, Geke [Gerke?]. He was a top Obersturm-[?]-Fuehrer, that is, of the highest ranks of the German party. From the beginning he revealed himself as an intelligent person. He inquired about the state of nutrition on the ghetto so Dr. Elkes reported [that it consists] of fifty grams of bread, so he said that of course on this the ghetto couldn't live, the people must get more, they must get butter, and they must get other things. And they started giving butter but unfortunately it has cost... [there was a price for it]...
  • David Boder: When was that?
  • Ephraim Gutman: That was in 1943, at the time of the high holidays.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Ephraim Gutman: And...
  • David Boder: You mean by butter -- margarine?
  • Ephraim Gutman: Butter.
  • David Boder: What do you mean, real butter?
  • Ephraim Gutman: Real butter, real butter.
  • David Boder: Where could that be obtained?
  • Ephraim Gutman: That the Germans... oh, for themselves they had, and what they "required" they managed to get for the Jews. They started giving some marmalade [jam]. And in the ghetto there already appeared a saying, "If you get butter today there will be an action tomorrow." And so the 28th of October, again in October, the 28th of October, 1943, the ghetto was surrounded again and they transported three and a half thousand Jews to Estonia and that is where they were sent away[Footnote 1: It is obvious that the improvement in rations was intended to permit them to gether some strength for the journey and for the impending hard labor.].
  • David Boder: To Estonia, to Reval?
  • Ephraim Gutman: No, to various places of labor. First he...
  • David Boder: And Estonia was called [then] Russia?
  • Ephraim Gutman: Estonia was also [among the territories of] former Russia...
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Ephraim Gutman: ... occupied Russia.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Ephraim Gutman: First he announced, a few days before the events, that is, before the 28th of October, he announced that he needs 2,000 Jews for work 20 kilometers away from Kovno. And it came out afterwards that he has told a lie and that he has sent them away to Estonia. The women, all of them, were driven to the airfield and here they seperated the women and childr... the children were taken from the parents and the smaller children were shot by themselves right in Kovno. The women and the men together... less the small children, were driven away to Estonia and it is understood that unfortunately, unfortunately [only] a small part of them has remained [alive]. Also two of my brothers were dragged away to Estonia and one was shot and the second managed even to be [later] in Germany; and afterwards he perished in Germany, in Auschwitz while organizing a revolt in Auschwitz. That is, his revolt was to consist in... he was assigned to burn the dead in Auschwitz and he with other thirty-five Jews have decided that they will take vengeance before they themselves should be burned; it was clear to them that they too will be burned, so every German who would enter there the chamber, what do they call it...
  • David Boder: In the gas chamber.
  • Ephraim Gutman: No, where they burned, in the crematory. So when he [the German] would come in they would strangle him and throw him into the furnace.
  • David Boder: Was there no search [for these missing Germans]?
  • Ephraim Gutman: And so disappeared many Germans until the suspicion was aroused that they disappeared all in the "chamber". And then they all were discovered and for that they all were thrown into the "chamber". This I have learned now from a person who just now has arrived from Munich, from a former brother-in-law of mine [ in European connotation former would mean that the speaker's sister was married once to that person, but was not alive any more] who told me that a comrade who has managed to escape from the chamber has told him...
  • David Boder: From the crematory?
  • Ephraim Gutman: Yes, from the crematory, [has told him] that my brother was the organizer of this act of vengeance against the Germans. And now we continue. Events in the ghetto proceeded, not in the ghetto but the Kon-lager, events proceeded since the action against the three and half thousands, no more mass actions took place. Only the 28... the 27th and the 28th of March, 1944, forty-four, occurred the children's action and the old age action, that is an action against children and old people. I want to state that this man Geke [Gerke?] was very cunning. He seemingly had experience from other ghettos and other camps, because always before all the actions people in the ghetto had a presentiment that something was going to happen.
  • David Boder: [In English] This concludes, this concludes Spool 124 of Mr. Ephraim Gutman and we are going over, we are going over to Spool 125. We are taking now about the so-called Aktion gegen Alte und Kinder. Paris, September the 12th, 1946, in Hénonville.
  • David Boder: This spool, which is called 125 should really be called 125A because there is another section of an interviewee. January 29, 1950. Boder.
  • David Boder: This is Spool 125, Mr. Ephraim Gutman reporting, a continuation of Spool 124. France, Hénonville, fifty Kilometers (50 km) from Paris at a home maintained by for displaced Jews, maintained by the Agudah in combination with the ORT.
  • David Boder: And so you said that they started in Kovno against old men and children.
  • Ephraim Gutman: Yes.
  • David Boder: When did that happen and what was it all about?
  • Ephraim Gutman: That happened the 28th of October [Footnote 2: The date--the 28th of October--is apparently very deeply fixated in his memory.], [he corrects himself] the 28th, the 27th of March, 1944. I want to remark that before an action there was always in the ghetto a kind of premonition, that something irregular was in the air. This time there was no premonition whatsoever that something... that something was in the offing against the ghetto. And in the evening of the 26th, there came Geke, the commandant of the lager [camp]...
  • David Boder: How do you spell his name?
  • Ephraim Gutman: Geke.
  • David Boder: G-e-c-k-e?
  • Ephraim Gutman: That I don't know.
  • David Boder: Oh, well.
  • Ephraim Gutman: And so Geke came to the police, to the chief of the Jewish police. And he ordered that tomorrow morning, that is, the 27th of March, 1941, [he speaks very fast] the Jewish police should assemble at the office of the German commandant to the ghetto... in the former ghetto that is, in the present lager. [this statement would indicate that the events reported occured not in 1941 but as he stated before in 1944], that is...
  • David Boder: Tell me something in a few words about the Jewish police.
  • Ephraim Gutman: About the Jewish police we will talk in connection with the child action and we will see pretty soon what kind of people they were.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Ephraim Gutman: ...and they should all assemble for instructions, to listen to some kind of a speech. And they came rather cleanly dressed...
  • David Boder: The police...
  • Ephraim Gutman: Yes, the police arrived in the morning, it was eight o'clock, and as soon as they arrived at the German commandant's office, there appeared from the hallways of the offices of the German commandant the white Russians, that is, the Ukrainians, in Russia they were called Vlasovzi[Footnote 3: Russian regiments which were organized by General Vlasov, a former Soviet hero who went over to Hitler and was fighting subsequently on the German side against the Soviet Armies.], that is, the "sold out" Ukrainians who fought on the side of Germany; and they appeared with riffles in their hands and ordered the Jewish police to lie down on the ground, with their faces towards the ground. And then trucks arrived, large vehicles, and they were all loaded into these freight trucks and they were driven away to the ninth fort. This all was an overture to the play to come. At that moment...
  • David Boder: And the police were...executed?
  • Ephraim Gutman: No, unfortunately, many of the police remained alive, I want to repeat unfornately a few of the police remained alive. Afterwards...
  • David Boder: What does it mean--a few? What have they done to the rest?
  • Ephraim Gutman: That I will tell you about soon. Also, at the same time, when they led out of the ghetto, a little vehicle, a taxi arrived in the ghetto with a megaphone.
  • David Boder: A what?
  • Ephraim Gutman: With a megaphone, a loudspeaker.
  • David Boder: Yes...
  • Ephraim Gutman: And in it sat a man, whether it was a German or a Jew, we wouldn't know. And this little vehicle ran through the whole ghetto, through all the little streets and called out: "Attention, attention! All Jews should retire to their homes, otherwise they will be shot." That meant that all Jews had to abandon their places of work, since there were also many shops in the ghetto itself, there were right in the ghetto what they called the big shops where several thousand of Jews were working. There were little shops which worked specifically for the Jews in the ghetto, or for the Jews in the--how they called it later--lager. At any rate there were many installations and all these had to come within a moment to a dead stop and everybody was compelled to return to his home. People understood that something is coming about to happen. People who had prepared hideouts or in the ghetto they were called malines...
  • David Boder: What, malines?
  • Ephraim Gutman: M-a-l-i-n-e-s.
  • David Boder: Not bunkers.
  • Ephraim Gutman: Bunkers is in German. And malines originates from the Hebrew word malon which means a hideout. In the ghetto they were called malines, possibly the word originated with the thieves, because the thieves used to say that things had to be "malinated," when they would steal something they would say that the thing had to be "malinated." That means to hide it.
  • David Boder: Jewish thieves?
  • Ephraim Gutman: Yes, [We have here a peculiar phenomenon of language mixture. Malina means in Russian a raspberry or a raspberry shrub. Malinate is a makeshift word which could mean covering up with something sweet hiding it under a sweet, deceptive cover] and this word remained in the ghetto "to malinate," and in all the ghettos the same [the hideouts] word was used, called malines. The Jews who had prepared malines beforehand were running to hide and a short while later when the vehicles had run through the whole ghetto they rolled in large cargo trucks into the ghetto with "whiteRussians," that means again the Vlasovzi, and Germans and also Lithuanians with their rifles, and they went from house to house, and where they saw a little child the child was taken away; or they forced the mother herself to lead him out on the street where there stood a truck on the corner and throw him in there or they would throw him there. And so they worked all day. The Jewish police, meanwhile, was at the moment still on the ninth fort and was not yet shot. All at once... the action dragged itself out until seven o'clock in the evening... then...
  • David Boder: How many people were there in the Jewish police?
  • Ephraim Gutman: There were more than three hundred men in the Jewish police.
  • David Boder: Is that so? Did they wear a uniform?
  • Ephraim Gutman: They were wearing only a cap, a special cap with the star of David, J.G.P. – that means Jewish Ghetto Police, or how it was called later lager police and on their arm, on the left hand they were carrying a band with a blue star of David and inside was inscribed J.G.P., Jewish Ghetto Police with a number. Each policeman had his number, first of all a serial number and second a number of the sector to which he belonged, of the sector to whose militia he belonged. And...
  • David Boder: Were they carrying revolvers?
  • Ephraim Gutman: No, they had no arms.
  • David Boder: What did they have?
  • Ephraim Gutman: Only cold weapons, that is, only a little club or a nagaika [the horsewhips which became famous by their use by the Russian Cossacks of the time of the Czar] and... the action was ended at seven o'clock in the evening and people came – I wish to remark that on that day in order that the ghetto should not suspect what was going to happen, everybody, the work battalions, that is, the people who were going every day, who were driven every day to work, were driven out to work. And in the evening at seven o'clock when the people came back from work, then started the boundless wail of woe [he gives the last expression in Hebrew and then translates it], that is, weeping. People came back from work and did not find either the father or the mother or their children. And...
  • David Boder: You said that that morning they were searching only for children?
  • Ephraim Gutman: Oh, yes, the same thing happened to father and mother. The old ones and the little ones went together the first day. The action was designated "the old ones and small children," but their zeal was directed against small children. The wailing was boundless and people thought that that was the end of the action, because it was customary that actions, in the ghetto lasted only one day. Unfortunately it was observed that the same guard... I want to remark that on a day of the action the ghetto was especially guarded...
  • David Boder: H-um.
  • Ephraim Gutman: ... the ghetto was especially guarded so that the Jews should be unable to escape during an action but then when the action was over at seven o'clock in the evening, the German police were not removed from around the fence. And it was understood that something is agin in the offing. It was assumed that tomorrow they will stage a general action. That means adult as well. But the next morning early at five o'clock the drama was to repeat itself, only in a special manner, in a different form. First they went searching... the second day they went searching for hideouts in [wood] shacks, wherever they could discover the malines by themselves and now they started with the Jewish police. And so Kittel, he was the chief for Jewish affairs with the Gestapo, he was the liquidator of the Vilna ghetto, and his work [there] was already completed in the year ‘43, that is, the Vilna ghetto was liquidated already in ‘43.
  • David Boder: In what way was it liquidated?
  • Ephraim Gutman: Also everybody was led away to Estonia. They were liquidated – the greater part were shot on Panar, which is not far from Vilna. [Here apparently the door to the interview room was opened and somebody called Mr. Gutman. He replies, "Yes, I am coming soon."]
  • David Boder: You were talking about the action on the following day...
  • Ephraim Gutman: Yes, and the police was on the ninth fort and the next morning early Kittel, he was the one who liquidated the ghettoof Vilna, came up to the ninth fort where the Jewish police was held under arrest and informed them: Since they are all doomed to be shot but if they want to ransom their lives, they can ransom it only by pointing out the malines in the ghetto, that is, the places where the Jews have hidden, little children and old people. Unfortunately, many Jewish policemen could not resist the temptation to remain alive and they mounted an automobile together with Kittel and they arrived at the ghetto and pointed out where the malines were, that is...
  • David Boder: What number do you imply by many? You said there were three hundred.
  • Ephraim Gutman: There were three hundred Jewish policemen. So among them were sixty Jewish policemen of whom it is known who drove into the ghetto with the automobiles and have pointed out whereabouts of the malines. I want to point out that the trick was not only to show that in such and such building there is a maline but they had to show how one could get in into the maline so that it could not be found. And they [the Jewish policemen] showed them how to get in, and they took out from there the old ones and the little children and all were led away to the fort and were shot. The police...
  • David Boder: How could the Jewish police know?
  • Ephraim Gutman: The Jewish police... in the construction of the malines [hideouts] people would not take precautions against the Jewish police; it was assumed that they were our friends. However, it revealed itself that they were our enemies. In the moment when their own lives were in peril they preferred to sacrifice [Here he uses the term beat Kapores; this is a ritual performed on the morning before the day of atonement and consists in offering – now symbolically the life of a hen or a rooster – instead of one's own life which one presumably deserves to be taken in expiation of his sins.] the lives of other Jews so that they could remain alive. And then they discovered and ransacked all malines, literally all malines of the ghetto, and all hidden children were dragged out. I want to state that forty per cent of the children remained hidden in the ghetto after all, that is, the children hidden in the malines did not remain alive in spite of it, while children who were hidden in lesser [less safe] places, under a bed or tucked in in a bed remained alive against expectations. And in the evening the action was over and the results of the second day were much worse than the first, that means they were much worse than the first, that means they were better for the Germans, but for us Jews the results were still worse, that is, there were many more victims the second day than the first day. I want to state that when the children were found, many mothers wanted to go with the children together, because it was announced that the children will be shot, but the Germans would not grant it to the Jewish mothers [the expression sounds as if the Germans could not see them having this pleasure], and they said, for instance – they took away a child from one of my sisters – and she pleaded to be allowed to go together with the child, so he [the German] said: "Well, you still have to work, you still can live, your turn will also come," [the words of the German were given in correct German] that is: "Your turn will come but for the time being you still must work."
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Ephraim Gutman: And that day, in the evening, again at seven o'clock in the evening the action against the children was over. This I want to emphasize that the action against the children has made the strongest impression in the ghetto, much more than the great action against the 12,000 Jews on the 28th of October, 1941.
  • David Boder: [the interviewer apparently did not get one of the words clearly.] The strongest what?
  • Ephraim Gutman: The strongest impression, the most horrible impression.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Ephraim Gutman: Because the children... seeing that the children are being taken away and the old people, it was interpreted as a preparation for the total destruction of the ghetto, or how they called it later lager. And so this was over, the action against the children was over, the children, that is, the hidden children were from the start taboo [he uses the word treif, the Hebrew antonym kosher], one could not take them out on the street, but again a few weeks passed and the children again, the hidden children, began to show themselves on the street. Now what has become of the police? The police which betrayed the hideouts were returned to the ghetto. They shot all the higher officials of the Jewish police. Since it was a normal police force how it ought to be, like in other countries, there were higher officials and lower officials, like they called them in Lithuanian, superior ones and inferior ones, and the superior ones were shot, because during their stay on the fort all the secrets of the ghetto were revealed. That means that the Jewish policemen, the ones of lower rank betrayed [the fact] that in the ghetto... that from the ghetto people would escape to the partisans, that is, people were joining the Red partisans, and that in the ghetto were [concealed] arms and so on and so forth, so that the blame fell upon the higher [ranks] of the Jewish police because they...
  • David Boder: You mean higher and lower in the sense of character, or in rank?
  • Ephraim Gutman: No, we mean higher in rank. If we talk about higher we mean in rank. Form the just a bit higher policeman up to the chief of police, all were shot. There was one Moshe Levin, he was the chief of the Jewish police in the lager, by that time they called it already lager. In the ghetto he did not distinguish himself intensely by his kindness or nobility [of character] towards the Jews but one has to give him credit that from the moment he was brought to the fort he was among those who preached to the Jewish police that they should not betray anything about the ghetto to the Germans because they will be shot anyway and they should not bestain the Jewish names.
  • David Boder: A remark of the translator David P. Boder. Chicago, January the 29th, 1950. This is a duplicate spool prepared under the Public Health Grant... and the will be listed or cataloged as Spool 125A, because we discovered that on the same spool there is a start of another interview, which we will then call Spool 125B. The interview was discontinued abruptly, and it's hard to tell for what reason -- at times the interviewee, who by this time has been talking for about an hour or so, hm, was called away on some special duty in the A-j-u-d-a. This is the end of Spool 125A, the end of Spool 125A, the end of Spool 125A. Taken in Hénonville, France, September the 12th, 1946.
  • Contributors to this text:
  • Transcription : Dagmar Platt
  • English Translation : David P. Boder