Thursday, January 5, 2012

Rachowitz family -- My grandfather and a Brief History of his Family during World War II

A picture of my grandfather Hirsch-Meir Rachowitz (standing on the left), his mother, Rachel Rachowitz Richter (later murdered on March 27, 1944 at age 64 in the Kovno/Kaunas Ghetto in the special Aktion; i.e., on March 27-28, 1944, a special Aktion took place in the ghetto, in which 2,500 children, elderly and sick persons were hunted down; please see details below), his father Abraham Rachowitz (later murdered on March 27, 1944 at age 64 in the Kovno Ghetto in that same special Aktion), and his four sisters: Taybe, Malka, Esther-Hinda (Hinda died in the Kovno Ghetto on June 5, 1942) and Hene/Hannah (standing on the right). Hene Veller survived the Kovno Ghetto but two of her three children, namely Shayne and Israel-Abba, were killed in the ghetto in that same special Aktion (Die Kinder-Aktion, see below), and only her daughter Leah stayed alive. Taybe and Malka were deported from the Kovno Ghetto to the Stutthof concentration camp, but survived. Fortunately Hirsch-Meir managed to escape the Holocaust by fleeing East, to the Soviet Union one day after the Germans invaded the Soviet Union. In other words, on June 23, 1941, my grandfather Hirsch-Meir, together with his wife, Rivka-Rachel, and their two children, Aaron-Israel (my father) and Nathan, managed to escape into the Soviet interior amidst heavy bombardments and attacks by the Germany. They boarded the last train (actually a freight train) in Kovno, whose mission was to evacuate the families of the Soviet forces stationed in Lithuania (please see Aaron's Life Timeline, above).

As of June 28th 1941, 3,800 Jews were slaughtered in Kovno/Kaunas, and an additional 1,200 were murdered in surrounding towns and villages. The Kovno/Kaunas hospital was raided, and any Jewish patients were poisoned. The infirmary closest to Slobodka (known to Lithuanians as Vilijampolė) was sealed off and burned with all of its patients inside. The Jews of Mažeikiai/Mazheik near the Latvian border were rounded up by Lithuanian Nazis and transported to the Lietūkis Garage/bus station in Kaunas, where they were brutally executed either by firing squads, hangings, killings with high-pressure water hoses or beatings which were carried out by groups of anti-Jewish locals. The remaining Jewish population of Kaunas and the surrounding towns and villages were rounded up and herded into what became the Slobodka/Kovno Ghetto. On August 15th 1941, The Ghetto was sealed. There were about 30,000 Jews enclosed in the ghetto in Slobodka or Vilijampolė (at its peak the ghetto held more). Most of these Jews were annihilated during the following years of Nazi occupation (in the concentration camps at Auschwitz, Dachau and Stutthof, or at the nearby killing fields of the Ninth Fort). All Slobodka Jews were ordered to sew yellow Stars of David on the fronts and backs of their clothing. On March 27th and 28th 1944, Einsatzgruppen A, consisting of German and Ukrainian SS soldiers, undertook what was officially designated Die Kinder-Aktion. Roughly 2,500 children ranging in age from infants to 12-year olds, and adults over 55 years, and disabled Jews were rounded up and loaded onto trucks and military vehicles... Vilijampolė, which was the cradle of Jewish Kovno/Kaunas in the 15th century thus became, during the war years, its cemetery. Of the 37,000 Jews in Kovno, less than 3,000 survived the war. Abruptly, like this, came the end of 600 years of culture and life on the shores of Vilija/Neris (The Slobodka yeshiva was one of Europe's most prestigious institutions of higher Jewish learning). Below is a picture of the interior of Slobodka/Vilijampolė synagogue vandalized at the end of June 1941


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