(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)
On this date in 1942, at close to 11:00 p.m., Shimon Cohen was shot to death in the village of Kalesnik, Lithuania.
A barber by trade, he had somehow managed to evade the roundup and mass shooting of all the Jews in the area eight months before. But he could only postpone capture and death for so long.
The details of Shimon’s death were recorded in the diary of 22-year-old Abelis Veinsteinas, later known as Aba Gefen, a fellow Jew who was also hiding in the area. Gefen and his brother were staying in the home of the Matulevich family in exchange for payment.
On May 18, Gefen wrote:
[Two days ago] Shimon Cohen was caught at friends of his. A fight broke out between the wife of the farmer who was hiding him and the farmer’s sister. One of the women informed on Shimon to the mayor of the village, who told the police. Shimon and the farmer were arrested. They say Shimon asked a priest to come and convert him, because he knows that he will die and he wants to die a a Catholic. I am very sorry to hear that — that he’ll die as a traitor to his people.
Shimon, it seems, was quite the ladies’ man, juggling multiple romantic partners at the same time. As often happens in these cases, it came back to bite him in the ass:
It seems that Shimon was betrayed by Marta, his mistress. When the Germans began to remove Jews from the town, Marta suggested that he hide with her family in the country. He agreed and lived with her at her brother’s house. But Marta’s sister-in-law also fell in love with him. Jealousy and hatred got the better of the two women. Shimon thought he would be able to save his life by declaring his love for both of them. But Marta was furious that he was making love to her sister-in-law and turned him in.
It would be kind of a funny story if it didn’t involve Nazis and death.
As Gefen recorded in subsequent diary entries, one of Shimon’s lady friends tried to save him by pulling some boards loose from the wall of the prison outhouse so he could escape. Shimon did indeed run away, but the authorities quickly caught him and he wasted no time in selling out the woman who had facilitated his escape attempt. (She was arrested, but her ultimate fate is unrecorded.)
In the days prior to his death, Shimon took religious instruction from a priest and was baptized.
At great risk, Gefen would occasionally leave his attic hideout and go to the village to retrieve some more of his family’s valuables to give to the Matuleviches.
He wrote in his diary that he was out on one of those surreptitious excursions, tiptoeing in the dark in his stocking feet, when he heard Shimon Cohen being executed:
When Mrs. Matulevitch and I went to Kalesnik at night and crossed the railroad tracks not far from the road that leads there, we heard shots … Today, when Mrs. Matulevich came back from the village, it turned out that those shots were bullets that killed Shimon Cohen, a Jew who converted just before his death. May Shimon rest in peace — but it was still no way to die.
Piletsky the partisan shot him. He had shot Jews before. In fact, they say he’s shot seventeen Jews. Now he’s killed Shimon, and he got 15 German marks for his trouble.
Gefen and his brother survived the war, staying with various villagers and occasionally in the fields. He moved to Israel in 1948. He published his diary under the title Hope in Darkness.