The writer of this article miraculously survived the Holocaust in Lithuania and for years has been writing on the atrocities committed by the Lithuanians. In this article he describes how the" killing machinery" in Lithuania functioned. The Lithuanians did not have to learn their "trade from the Nazis. Rather, the Nazis, famous for their extreme sadism, could have learned a lesson from these killers.The Lithuanians performed the murders like professional mass-killers, a task which included the " preparation" of the victims before the executions which the murderers saw as necessary to weaken the victims physically and mentally to remove any will to resist.
The Lithuanian Death Machinery
A. Levin, New York
The first victims were usually selected from among Jewish intellectuals. These would usually include rabbis, scholars, teachers, lawyers, medical doctors, pharmacists, artists, musicians and others. The Lithuanians chose rich people first for execution so that they could loot their property and valuables after they were dead.
Then the deportations took place. In larger cities, ghettos or concentration camps were established while in the smaller towns, victims were incarcerated in the main synagogue or similar public building. All these places served as temporary sites where victims were subjected to “preparation” prior to their murder (see below).
The timing of executions varied from place to place. It depended on the readiness of victims and murderers alike. In some places the authorities tried to arrange the murders on a Jewish holiday while in other places they organized killings on Christian holidays or days marking nationalist or fascist events.
“Preparation” was needed to weaken victims mentally and physically and deprive them of any will to resist. This took various forms although torture was the main method used. The Lithuanians excelled at this. It is difficult to understand how people could behave in such a cruel, inhuman, monstrous and bestial way towards other persons, including their former “best friends.”
Eyewitness accounts have revealed that the brutality of the Lithuanians shocked even the Germans. Many SS officers wrote to their superiors to complain about the behavior of local Lithuanian killers. Scholars and rabbis were subjected to more humiliation and abuse than anyone else (see the article “The murder of Lithuanian rabbis). Doctors were similarly abused. Out of the 400 Jewish physicians in Lithuania at the time of the German invasion, more than half were murdered by their Lithuanian neighbors as well as local “activists” during the bloody period of June – December 1941. The doctors provided medical care for the thousands of their sick compatriots right up to their last hours. The “mercy” shown towards some doctors who were temporarily spared to enable them to continue serving the Lithuanian population was short lived. They too, were cruelly murdered together with their families. Despite the longstanding care and attention given to their former neighbors, many of whom were treated free of charge and even received free medication - as in the case of doctors Troib and Zacks of Rietavas - doctors were usually tortured hideously before they were killed. Troib and Zacks, for example, were forced to perform a “demons’ dance” in the city square. Another physician, Colonel Dr. Dambovski of Pilviskiai, was beaten to death with rifle butts.
The preferred methods physical tortured used by Lithuanian on their Jewish prisoners before murdering them were: beatings (with sticks, rifle butts, rubber truncheons, belts, whips, pipes and iron crowbars) designed to break various bones and joints, especially the hands; piercing of body parts (the tongue in particular) with needles; burning with red hot iron pokers; and electrical shocks. Young girls from the ages 10-15 were often raped with their parents forced to stand and watch. Other methods of torture used were making prisoners stand for hours without food or water during the summer months; standing barefoot in the water during the rain and cold of the Lithuanian winter; placing victims in barrels filled with freezing water; tying prisoners to posts and leaving them in the summer sun to die of dehydration and burning people to death. In some cases, prisoners had water hoses shoved down their throats and the water turned on full pressure until their stomachs burst. No less horrendous for prisoners was the mental torture, humiliation and debasement.
Victims were usually transferred to the killing sites (usually in fields outside villages and cities) on foot in large columns. Sometimes , prior to the start of a death march, the victims had to run past a row of policemen, activists and partisans who beat them with clubs, whips and horsewhips. Small children, disabled and sick persons were usually thrown into trucks and brought to the execution site. Some cases are known where children and infants were thrown from windows of buildings and landed on the adjacent pavement rather than in the back of the waiting truck. In one case, a Jewish mother who witnessed her child falling from a window to the pavement below, went mad and throwing herself on the pavement, she began to lick her child’s blood. Her misery was finally ended by a bullet from the rifle from an amused Lithuanian policeman.
Upon arrival at the murder site, police and local activists collected money and valuables from their victims. In many cases wedding rings were cut off together with the fingers they were on and gold teeth were wrenched out together with the whole denture. Women always had to strip naked; men and children were occasionally spared this humiliation. The Lithuanian sadists seized any opportunity possible. The rape of women was, in many instances, considered “payment” for collaborating in acts mass murder.
Pits were dug at execution sites in preparation for the victims to be murdered there. The pits were usually dug either by Soviet prisoners or the victims themselves. Around five pits were generally dug at time, each between 30 to 60 meters long, 3 meters wide and 2 meters deep. Often existing trenches originally dug by the Red army were used; these, of course, were bigger. The actual shootings in major cities and towns were usually carried out by Lithuanian battalions; or by the Mechanized Commando Unit of Haman with the assistance of local police and activists; or by the Lithuanian unit of the Ypatingas Burys with the assistance of the Vilnius battalions. Murders in provincial towns and villages were usually carried out by local police and activists.
The procedure usually started with victims ordered to step down into the pit and kneel or lie either on the earth or on top of the bodies killed earlier. In some cases, victims had to jump into the pit with later groups required to jump on the dead and wounded of previous groups. Once they were in the pits, the victims were mowed down by a hail of gun fire from carbine rifles and machine pistols, which did not require the killers to actually step into the pits to carry out the shooting. However, as the number of prisoners brought for execution steadily grew, the method was revised and instead of stepping into the pit, victims were instead ordered to stand on the edge while their killers opened fire on them with machine guns. Those victims who were still alive after falling into the pits were finished off with pistol shots from officers standing nearby. Many were still buried alive and the sounds of groaning and crying could often be heard from under the earth for days after the killing took place.
The Lithuanians’ bestiality could also be seen in their behavior towards children and babies. These were seldom shot and instead the killers tore off their heads or dashed their bodies against walls, boulders, trees or telephone poles, following they threw them in execution pits. Some babies were impaled on bayonets while others served as entertainment for killers who throw them in the air and shoot them instead of practicing with clay pigeons. Many babies were buried alive.
Lithuanian murderers were paid for their work with the money, valuables and clothes of their victims. They were also given generous rations of alcohol, before, during the course of and following a killing spree. After the executions, the murderers usually celebrated their great “victory” (usually after having killed babies) and met local hostelries or inns to celebrate. In many cases local churches held a special mass attended by the murderers to commemorate the occasion.