Gens Tells Vilna Jewish Leadership
About Aktion in Oszmiana

(October 27, 1942)


Protocol of the Meeting on the Aktion in Oszmiana

 

October 27, 1942

 

Present: The head of the ghetto, Mr. J. Gens; Commissar Dessler; the head of the Health Department, Milkonovicki; the deputy head of the ghetto, Fried; Mr. Fishman; Mr. Braude, liaison; Rabbi Jakobson; Z. Kalmanovitch; the Commander of the Gate Guards, Levas; the Commander of the Work Police, Toubin; the Commander of Police District No. 1, Ring; P. Natanson; and M. Ganionska.

Gens: Gentlemen, I asked you to come here today in order to relate to you one of the most terrible tragedies in the life of Jews when Jews led Jews to their death. Once more I have to speak openly to you.

A week ago Weiss of the SD came to us in the name of the SD with an order that we were to travel to Oszmiana. There were about 4,000 Jews in the Oszmiana ghetto and it was not possible to keep so many persons there. For that reason the ghetto would have to be made smaller by picking out the people who did not suit the Germans, to take them away and shoot them. The first to go should be children and women whose husbands were taken away last year by the "snatchers." The next to be taken would be women and families with a large number of children. When we received this order we replied: "At your command."

Mr. Dessler and the Jewish Police went to Oszmiana. After two or three days the Jewish Police observed and reported to the Gebietskommissariat (in Vilna) that, first of all, the women whose men had been taken away last year were now working and could not be taken away, and, secondly, that there were no families with 4 or 5 children. The largest were families with two children. There were only a few [families] with three children. So that would also not work. (I forgot to say that no fewer than 1,500 persons had to be taken away.) We said that we could not provide such a number. We started to bargain. When Mr. Dessler arrived with the report from Oszmiana, the number dropped to 800. When I went to Oszmiana with Weiss, the number dropped again to 600. In reality the situation was different. We argued about the 600 and during this time the question of the removal of women and children was dropped. There remained the question of old people. In reality, 406 old people were collected in Oszmiana. These old people were handed over.

When Weiss came the first time and spoke about the women and children, I told him that old people should be taken. He answered: "The old people would die off in any case during the winter and the ghetto has to be reduced in size now."

The Jewish Police saved those who must live. Those who had little time left to live were taken away, and may the aged among the Jews forgive us. They were a sacrifice for our Jews and for our future.

I don’t want to talk about what our Jews from Vilna have gone through in Oszmiana. Today I only regret that there were no Jews [i.e., Jewish Police] when the Aktion was carried out in Kiemieliszki and in Bystrzyca. Last week all the Jews were shot there, without any distinction. Today two Jews from Swieciany (Old-Swieciany) came to me and asked me to save them. The Jews from Swieciany, Widze and other small places in the neighborhood were [collected] there. And today I ask myself what is to happen if we have once more to carry out a selection. It is my duty to tell them: my good Jews, away with you; it is not my wish to soil my hands and send my Police to do the dirty work. Today I will say that it is my duty to soil my hands, because terrible times have come over the Jewish people. If five million people have already gone it is our duty to save the strong and the young, not in years only, but in spirit, and not to indulge in sentimentality. When the Rabbi in Oszmiana was told that the number of persons required was not complete and that five elderly Jews were hiding in a maline (hiding place), he said that the maline should be opened. That is a man with a young and unshaken spirit.

I don’t know whether everybody will understand this and defend it, and whether they will defend it after we have left the ghetto, but the attitude of our police is this rescue what you can, do not consider your own good name or what you must live through.

All these things that I have told you do not sound sweetly to our souls nor yet for our lives. These are things one should not have to know. I have told you a shocking secret which must remain locked in our hearts. I want to tell you what the policemen did who carried out the terrible task, who segregated people and ordered "left" or "right"... This is no court of law. I want men of public affairs, men of Gemara [Talmud] to know what is a ghetto, and, on the other hand, what is police and what were the roads that other Jews had to tread.

From you, gentlemen, I want moral support. We all want to live to leave the ghetto. Today, as we work, it may be that not many of the Jews fully comprehend the danger in which we operate. None of us can know how many times every day he could get to Ponary... I myself, as it happens, was on the battlefield. I was not afraid then, only later when I remembered it. It is the same for us now. We will think about it well later, after the ghetto. Today we must just be strong. Those who have faith will say: the Almighty will aid us. Those who have no faith must ask the aid of the spirit of Jewish patriotism and public feeling. To survive it all and to remain, after the ghetto, a human being fit for the great Jewish future. Rosenberg said recently that it is the task of the Germans to exterminate the Jewish people in Europe. I don’t know what he means. If he were to come here to us in the ghetto he might well be frightened by us: people who have been driven into maline, to Ponary, torn from their families and in the course of a year we have built up a new life, we have built up much more than the Aryans that is the Jewish people: a strong spirit and faith that we shall live. So that Rosenberg’s words do not come true, we must fight today. In every fight the aim justifies the means, and sometimes the means are terrible. Unfortunately we must use all means in order to fight our enemy.

The Jewish people saw no blood in the whole of the 2,000 years. They saw fire, but blood they did not see. But now the ghetto has seen it. Jews have come from Ponary with bullets through their feet and hands. Once there were five women and a child in the hospital, all returned from Ponary. The Jewish people has become familiar with blood, and then one loses one’s sentimentality.

I want to draw you into today’s life a little and to let you understand the naked facts of this life, the naked fight. That is why I called you here, you, who are people far from police [affairs]....

 

Moreshet Archives, D. 1.357.


Source: Yad Vashem