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1941: 534 Lithuanian Jewish intellectuals

August 18th, 2013 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this date in 1941, 534 Jewish intellectuals were lured out of the Nazi ghetto in the city of Kovno, Lithuania (also known as Kaunas), taken to Ninth Fort, and shot to death.

Over 5,000 Jews would die there during the Nazi occupation.

The Nazis had captured these people using a very clever ruse: on August 14, they had advertised for 500 Jews to help sort out the archives at City Hall, which were in disarray due to the chaos that followed the Germans’ conquering the city in June.

The workers had to be intelligent, educated types and fluent in German and Russian. They would be treated well and given three solid meals a day, in order that they could do the work properly and make no mistakes.

Most of the other jobs available for Jews at that moment involved manual labor under brutal conditions, on starvation-level rations.

More than the requested 500 showed up. The Nazis happily took them all.

Vilius “Vulik” Mishelski (later anglicized to William Mishell), who was 22 and had studied engineering in Vytautas Magnus University [Lithuanian link], was nearly victim no. 535. His mother told him about the job offer, because it upset her when he home from working at the airfield, “my clothes torn, my face covered with dust and sweat, my fingers bleeding, and I myself so exhausted I could hardly speak.” The archives job seemed like a gift from heaven to her.

Vulik wasn’t so sure.

Why, he asked, had the archives not been sorted out sooner? After all, the Germans had conquered Kovno a full two months earlier.

And why not get Lithuanians to do the job? It certainly wasn’t necessary to employ Jews.

He debated with himself for the next four days, then finally decided to go. Many of his friends were going, he wrote later on, and “this put me at ease. All of them could not be crazy.”

When he actually arrived at the gate, however, what he saw made him profoundly uneasy. The size of the guard was unusually large, and he witnessed Jewish police and Lithuanian partisans mistreating and beating people. Because it was taking long for the quota of 500 people to arrive, the Lithuanians started dragging people from their homes by force.

This struck me as odd. This was supposed to be a job where we were to be treated in a civilized manner; was this the treatment awaiting us? Oh, no, I would not be caught in this mess! Without hesitation, I turned around and rushed back home.

My mother was astounded. “What happened, why are you back?” she asked.

“Don’t ask questions,” I said, “move the cabinet, I’m going into hiding.”

Vulik was right not to trust the Nazis’ promises. He stayed in his hideout, a little cubbyhole behind the kitchen cabinet, all day.

The chosen 534 didn’t return that night, or the next night either, and no one believed the assurances that the work was taking longer than they thought, and they had spent the night at City Hall. Before long, the truth leaked out.

That same day, the men had been lead away in several smaller groups to an area containing deeply excavated holes in the ground. Then the Lithuanian guard, known as the Third Operational Group, had shot them all. Several men who tried to escape were killed on the run. Almost the entire intelligentsia of Jewish Kovno had thus been liquidated in one mass execution.

Mishelski stayed in the Kovno Ghetto until 1944, when he was sent to Dachau. He survived the war: 95% of the Lithuanian Jews, including most of his family, did not.

Mishelski moved to America, changed his name to William Mishell, got a master’s degree in engineering from New York University, and settled in Chicago. Following his retirement in the 1980s, he wrote a memoir titled Kaddish for Kovno: Life and Death in a Lithuanian Ghetto, 1941 – 1945. Mishelski died in 1994, aged 75.

Also on this date

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Germany,Guest Writers,History,Intellectuals,Jews,Lithuania,Lucky to be Alive,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Not Executed,Occupation and Colonialism,Other Voices,Shot,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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2 Responses to “1941: 534 Lithuanian Jewish intellectuals”

  1. 1
    JCF Says:

    Memory eternal.

  2. 2
    James Says:

    Very informative; however, the role of the Lithuanians in the murder of these men needs to be reported. It was the Lithuanians who murdered these men. It was the Lithuanians who roamed around Kovno and the countryside murdering Jews even before the Germans arrived/consolidated their occupation of Lithuania. The Lithuanians were not civilized like the Danes or the Bulgarians not only in stopping the Germans from torturing and murdering their Jewish neighors but actively participated and were willing murdering accomplices of the Germans. Over 200,000 Jews were killed in Lithuania by the Lithuanians, not the Germans. And today, Lithuania is one of the few countries which still refuse to return Jewish property to its rightful heirs which not only include buildings but books which belong to the Jewish community at large. And the recent restitution program constitutes less than 1% of the value of Jewish stolen property. The Lithunians make the Germans look like decent people. The Lithuanians tolerate the celebration of Hitler’s birthday, permit the display of the Swastika, look the other way when anti-Semitic acts occur and most despicable: have honored the killers of Jews (war criminals) during World War Two.

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