Mykolas “At the beginning, they marked the Jews’ houses with the inscriptions “Hier Leben die Juden”. Then, they forced them to do all kinds of physical labor until the day they were shot. Local people looted the Jews’ houses, so during the mass, the priest asked them to stop. No one listened to him…”
This was the second research trip to Kaunas County aimed at investigating Kaunas city and its surroundings and the eastern part of the region, including Ukmergė district of Vilnius region. As a result of migration, the team was also able to find the witnesses of mass crimes in other parts in Lithuania.
During this research trip, 11 of 40 witnesses interviewed during the trip were over 90 years old, and they remember very well the life of the populous Jewish community before the war. They told the names of their Jewish neighbors, classmates and notable Jews of the town. They also showed the still existing former Jewish houses and buildings of the synagogues that survived to this day.
Five witnesses were Jewish survivors of Vilnius and Kaunas ghettos. They told very detailed stories about the organization and life in the ghettos, the difficulties and cruelties the Jews had to go through.
Yahad team interviewed two witnesses who were requisitioned to dig the pits for the Jewish victims. They gave much valuable information about the organization of the mass killings, including the use of local workforce.
During this research trip to the Kaunas region, the Yahad-In Unum team interviewed 40 witnesses and identified 10 mass graves.
Jieznas, Vincentava, Strazdiškės, Liciškėnai, Prienai, Žarijos, Bagrėnai, Mačiūnai, Strielčiai, Rūdupis, Ašminta, Apušotas, Antakalnis, Stasiūnai, Vladikiškės, Mažosios Vladikiškės, Triliškės, Kaišiadorys, Žiežmariai, Pravieniškės I, Pravieniškės II, Pašuliai, Beištrakiai, Šukiškės, Aleksandruvka, Uta, Užtakai, Baniškės, Pamieris, Naujasodis, Grabučiškės, Rumšiškės, Ukmergė, Vaitkuškis, Skardupiai, Vilkupiai, Bijotai, Gudkaimis, Jonava, Ežerėlis, Zapyškis, Kaunas, Garliava, Jonučiai, Teleičiai, Babtai, Rinkūnai, Darsūniškis, Dijokiškės, Astragai, Sekionys, Kruonis, Glėbiškis, Migonys, Kazlų Rūda, Bebruliškė, Čečetai, Klevinė, Kazliškiai.
According to Lithuanian historian Arūnas Bubnys, Kaunas County virtually occupies the central role in the history of the Holocaust in Lithuania because it was the administrative and political center of the country during the Nazi occupation. Before the war, almost all of the country’s district centers were populated by Jewish communities. Jews were mostly involved in trading and crafts, and participated in cultural, sports and other public organizations.
The persecution of the Jews began on the first days of the German occupation, and sometimes even days before. One of the first and most infamous incidents happened in “Lietūkis” garage in Kaunas on June 27, 1941, when dozens of Jewish men were publicly tortured and beaten to death. In the beginning, Jews were often persecuted for political reasons, i.e. for supporting the Soviet regime.
Recorded testimonies provided a closer insight into the following steps of the genocide in Lithuania:
- – prewar anti-Semitic sentiments;
- – killing of the communists and Jews in the first weeks of the German occupation;
- – ghettoization and forced labor;
- – use of the local workforce to organize the mass executions;
- looting and selling of the Jewish property after the executions.