from Ekhiel Zilberman to Shmuel Tatz - 1994
For a long time you have been asking me to tell you the story of our family, to describe your genealogical tree in detail. The reason I did not comply is simple - I know very little about it. At the time it was possible to find out more by asking your father or my mother, but we didn’t do it and now, unfortunately, it’s too late. It was lucky that in the eighties I had the sense to make a genealogical tree with my mothers help, which I have already given to you. Now I can only add some detail to this limited information - I will try to do it.
I must emphasise that my information about your
roots is very poor. For your fathers side I can only tell you about our
great-grandfather Moishe Tatz and his wife Freide-Rokhle, the parents of Shmuel
Tatz, our grandfather. I actually know nothing about the parents of our
grandmother Zivie Tatz (nee Blacher) except that their names were Hirshl
(Blacher) and Dvoira (nee Blokh). The only one I have some information about is
our grandfather Shmuel and your father Leib.
Well, I’ll start from the eldest, Moishe Tatz.
He and his family lived on the estate rented from Polish landlords. The estate
was in the Rasein (Raseiniai) area in Lithuania, near a small town - Girtegole
(Girkalnis). The main part of his life, maybe all, he spent on the Visbar farm.
It’s possible that Visbar was the place where previous generations lived as
well. The Jews nick-named our great grandfather Moishe Visbarer (from Visbar)
and the family di Visbarer. I also remember other names of the farms connected
with Tatz’s - Skri and Olgovo.
Maybe they were occupied by Shmuel and not
Moishe, who was practically an owner of the farm, where the wheat, vegetables
and fruits were grown and sold to dealers. They usually did quite well. This
applies to Moishe Tatz as well. They were wealthy but not extravagantly rich. At
this time (the middle of the 19th Century) the
rich city Jews already started to detach themselves from some of their
They often tried to omit the external signs which made them noticeable in
their surroundings, such as unique clothes. They gave their children a non
religious education as well as a religious one, and sent them to study abroad.
The rich village Jews, including our great grandfather, were slow to succumb to
The labourers that worked the land were Lithuanians.
Moishe’s relationship, and later Shmuel’s, with the farm-hands were good. With
landlords they spoke Polish, with workers Lithuanian. Funny that all Tatz’s used
Lithuanian words while speaking Yiddish - my mother, 40 years after she left
Lithuania, still used some Lithuanian sayings. The influence of Lithuanian
language on city and small town Jews was diminished.
What can I say about our great grandfather’s
accomplishments? At that time the most valued Jews were those who knew Tora,
Talmud, and other religious works. Those who permanently studied and increased
their knowledge in this area were deeply respected. The expert who studied all
his life was called a ‘lamdan’. Our great grandfather was not one of them. In
the old times to a persons credit were his noble roots, i.e. existence in the
line of educated relatives….and non-existence of labourers or craftsmen (people
who made a living with their hands). In the Tatz family there were no shoemakers
or tailors, but neither were there yeshibotniks, not to mention rabbis, so we
have not much to be proud of.
This is not serious if we talk about Moishe
Tatz’s qualities. But more seriously, our great grandfather was an honest and
kind man. He contributed a lot to the community of a neighbouring town,
especially to the Girtegole synagogue. In the seventies he donated a Torah to
the synagogue, helped the poor and the beggars. The latter were numerous among
the Jews. These were people who made a profession of it. They periodically
visited their benefactors and got what they considered as their due. I remember
them from my childhood (the twenties and thirties). I was told that once, after
Moishe’s death, they stayed overnight in the house and at night left the place
taking with them all the silver and other valuables. In the morning the hosts
pursued them in vain. There was of course a possibility of applying to the
authorities, and, most probably, the thieves would have been caught and severely
punished but the Tatz’s would not even consider such a possibility - they were
prepared to lose a fortune but not to cause such a disaster to poor Jews and
their families. Those were the moral standards at this time in the Jewish
Moishe Tatz died much too early. In Lithuania,
and especially in Jamaitya, at the end of the nineteenth century and at the
beginning of the twentieth century there were burglars who sometimes even killed
their victims. Of course, they picked rich people. They had something of Robin
Hood style. Maybe that was the reason that the local population supported them
and they were seldom caught. Our ancestor had an encounter with one of the kind.
The burglar got into the house, I don’t know what damage was done to the
property, but Moishe himself got so frightened that he had a stroke, became sick
and soon died.
Our great grandmother Freide-Rochle outlasted
him by many years. She lived a long life. After her husband’s death
Freide-Rochle became responsible for her family’s well-being. All the troubles
of the estate landed on her head. In this situation she did exceptionally well.
She made a success of managing the farm, which gave her the possibility to
provide each of her daughters with a good dowry. At the farm she had help from
her only son Shmuel. Later all the management went to Shmuel. He was respectful
to his mother even when in old age she became disturbed. In Freide-Rochle’s
character, charity and communicability were mixed with self-respect as expressed
in recognition of her quite high status in the society. She was fond of the
Polish landladies’ company, had a lot in common with them, and spoke with them
Taking into consideration that mother, son and all the daughters were all very different, they shared common sense, good heart and respectability - we may be sure that Freide-Rochle herself was a clever and kind woman.
Our grandfather Shmuel’s main problem with his
mother was that she wanted to distribute to the poor all she had at home and on
herself. Therefore he had to be watchful of her contacts all the time without
restricting her freedom. Unfortunately, I met her only when she was already not
well. She was about 90 and I was only 5-6 years old. Shmuel at the time lived
already in Girtegole.
I remember when on the day of my arrival she
took me outside and pointed at the house, the fields, the vegetable garden,
telling me each time “This is mine and this is mine”. I was also very
possessive. I asked her pointing out the fruit garden, “Is this also yours?”.
Freide-Rochle looked at me in wonder but didn’t react. Somebody who heard this
conversation told the story to others and I was the subject of jokes for some
Our great grandmother died at the age of more
than 90, and her death was speeded up by an accident. In Girtegole, where no
transport other than wheelcarts were seen (and those only on Sunday market days)
a motorcycle once appeared. Freide-Rochle was crossing the street when it hit
her and injured her. Soon after the accident she died. I was 8-10 at the time. I
remember feeling it very strongly, it was the first time in my life when I heard
about death and I was frightened. Little did I know that ten years later my
people would die not separately but whole families and friends together.
Our grandfather Shmuel lived for many years on
rented estates. There Zivie, his wife, gave birth to three sons and three
daughters. At least the four youngest of them, your father and my mother among
them, were born in Guzaiskishek. My mother always told me that she was brought
up on a picturesque farm. The family occupied all thirteen rooms of the house
with garden, behind it was a thick forest. On this farm Shmuel became widowed
and his children orphaned. Zivie died at the age of 35 of heart disease. It
happened a couple of years before the First World War. From the remaining
photographs you can see that she was a handsome woman. The family mainly
remembers facts connected with sickness.
During the war the Tatz family, like other Jews,
were ordered by the Tzar to leave the places in which they lived. The Russian
Government were positive that every Jew was a potential German spy therefore it
was necessary to take all the Jews away from the front line. Shmuel and his
family found themselves in Vilno where they lived with close relatives. I have
no information at all about these relatives. I only remember that when in 1939
when Poland was divided between the super-powers, Vilno was annexed to Lithuania
and it became possible to visit, my mother went to see them. After the Second
World War she was not able to trace them. Most probably their fate was as that
of the majority of our nation.
After coming back from exile the family didn’t
live on the estate, but in a house in Girtegole. When our grandfather bought
this house, before or after the war, I don’t know. In the town the nature of his
activity changed - he became a dealer (trader). At the front of the house was
his shop where all kinds of goods were sold: clothes, household products, tools,
instruments and many other things. The family lived on the ground and first
floor. Behind there was a vegetable garden, for family needs. Adjoining was the
fruit garden, mainly apple trees. A bit farther were other buildings and 5 ha of
land. Shmuel came to the house with a big family, slowly the number went down.
In 1918 (approx.) in this house the youngest of Shmuel’s daughters lost her
life. The time was restless. The area was full of armed Russian POW’s on the
run, and on the first floor was stationed a German officer (the occupation army
was still in Lithuania). Once, at night, hearing shooting from outside, Feige
ran with a candle to the officer for help. Seeing the light from the window the
bandits shot right into it. She was mortally injured. Later, in completely
different circumstances, her daughters left the house. The second daughter
Pese-Risl (Polia), and later the eldest Dvoire (Deborah) got married and left
for a big city Shavl (Siauliai). It was considered that their life was going
smoothly. About ten years later Shmuel’s mother died, and soon after, the
youngest son Chaim-Leib got married and left the house. Shmuel was practically
alone in his big house. Only the second son Yosl lived with him, but he mostly
stayed on the Plemberg farm near Ragole town (Ariogala). Yosl was one of the
owners of this farm. In 1940 the communist authorities confiscated the house in
Girtegole and the farms. Yosl was forced to leave Plemberg. Shmuel and Yosl
remained in the house as tenants. In August 1941 the Lithuanian murderers took
our grandfather from this house to his last destination - execution. This time
our uncle Yosl succeeded in getting away, but in winter they traced him and
killed him in the Jewish cemetery in Raseiniai.
The house of Shmuel Tatz was well built and it
still stays strong. Who was our Shmuel? I’ll start from the looks. Taller than
average. The features handsome and clear. He looked extremely noble. When I got
to know him he was heavily built and walked slowly. His voice deep and pleasant
- the talk slow, calm, clear. As to his character, he was soft, without grudge
and without malice. He was not ambitious as shown by his indifference to wealth
and to the influence in society. His pride was in his honesty and his word of
honour. I remember his mentioning the fact (not to me, to some adults) that some
people after the war refused to pay their debts, but not him, he paid all his
creditors on returning.
There was a big gathering every summer time in
Shmuel’s Girtegole house - all the relatives, mostly young, the grandchildren,
the great-grandchildren, the great-nieces, and great-nephews. They stayed weeks
and months, feeling themselves perfectly at home. I, personally, felt better
than at home (and I didn’t feel bad at home). Apart from the freedom we were
enchanted by the grandness of the fields, gardens, forests, by the village life
style, the cows and the horses. But most of all by the attitude of our host. In
this house we were not deprived of anything, though at the time Shmuel was not
rich. He was always equally calm, tried to make everybody happy, never made a
remark or said a cross word, even when we got into the shop where sweets were
sold with other goods.
It’s worth saying a few words about eating
habits in Shmuel’s house. There was always prosperity in bread, butter, white
cheese, milk, sour cream, eggs, vegetables and fruits. All this was in
abundance, it was produced locally. I remember seeing for the first time how the
butter was made.
For midday meal servants made a meat dish,
usually mutton. The speciality of the house was ‘shaltanoses’, the word is of
Lithuanian origin and means shaltas - cold, nosis - nose. It’s triangular and is
served cold. It’s a paste filled with soft cheese under sour cream. The other
dish on duty was fruit soup (a dessert of cooked fruits served cold) which was
cooked in buckets.
In my childhood I loved my grandfather more than
anybody else, more than my parents. I loved all that belonged to him and all I
saw in his house, and also everybody who was connected with him. I loved Antanas
- a strong fair guy with a dazzling smile - who worked on Shmuel’s farm and
partly served as a coachman. Several years later I was to learn that Antanas was
one of those who took the Jews of this town, among them his boss, outside
Girtegole to the ready pits.
Not only the relatives, but others also valued
and deeply respected Shmuel Tatz. His opinion was valued in the local society
and synagogue, to which, in the family tradition, he continued the charity.
In the thirties the text of the Sefer Tora,
donated some sixty years earlier by Shmuel’s father, started to fade due to its
frequent use. Shmuel invited a specialist from Slobodke (in Lithuanian
Viliampole) to repair and rewrite the missing words of the Tora, at his own
expense - the person lived in Shmuel’s house till he finished the work (it was
Shmuel had a lot of friends among the non-Jewish population. On Sundays and other market days all kinds of transport flew to his house - carriages of landlords and carts of farm workers. First they did their shopping and then moved to the living room to continue the talks at tea: yield, local news, agricultural problems. In these places he was considered an expert in farm managing matters. I liked to see that people addressed my Granddad with ceremony, with respect, and listened carefully to his words. It is significant that having no education Shmuel was on friendly terms with Professor (MD) Gudovich who was Polish and came from the same place as Tatzes.
All the troubles and disasters that had befallen
Shmuel had little effect on his quiet character and equal behaviour. I mean the
early widow-hood, exile from the native place, the death of a daughter. Later he deeply
felt for his sons, and was involved in their problems. The eldest son Shleime
lived in South Africa. He married a non-Jewish woman, a rich widow.
It was known to relatives, friends and strangers; only Shmuel knew nothing about
it. It was kept secret from him, they were trying to protect him, not to let him
know that his son left his own people. Therefore Shmuel was only worried that in
l941 his son at the age of 45 still hadn’t settled down. The second son Yosl,
who I think was closer to him than the other children, lived a very un-quiet
life. Along with the good deals there were many unsuccessful ones. When he
became owner of Plemberg estate his partners gave him a lot of troubles Yosl was
worried and Shmuel was worried. Yosl had no family though he was 38-39 in l941.
This was also a reason for worries. Just before the Soviets occupied Lithuania,
Chaim-Leib had a financial crush, he became bankrupt, the creditors were
pressing hard for payments, and he was in a very difficult position. All the
relatives were worried and Shmuel the eldest of them especially. In retrospect,
later, in German occupation, Shmuel’s troubles and those of other Jews remaining
on Lithuanian territory, do not look so bad. At the time it was painful.
Taking upon myself the task of telling you about
the family I must tell you about Shmuel’s death. His end was like that of many other Jews who
lived in small towns of Lithuania. Right after the Soviet army was expelled the
persecution of Jews by their Lithuanian co-citizens, began. There were groups of
young people who called themselves nationalists, patriots, rebels, partisans -
actually they were blood-thirsty murderers and robbers. They were encouraged by
the German authorities and most frightening of all was that the majority of the
population not only didn’t condemn but rather understood and supported their
activities. Jews understood that they were facing something huge and terrible,
something they didn’t know all their lives (nor other generations) on Lithuanian
But still they couldn’t imagine the dimensions
of a disaster, couldn’t believe they were facing total extermination. They
thought that perhaps men were in danger; women, children and old people would
suffer but wouldn’t be killed. Therefore your uncle Yosl and your father Leib
decided to hide.
They found a refuge in the house of peasants whom they knew well. Leib’s
family, wife and the two children, came from Rasein to Shmuel in Girtegole.
Other relatives who lived in Rasein came as well. Probably they thought that Shmuel’s good
relationship with Lithuanians might help them to survive difficult times. About two months
passed with the new regime before the town was totally cleaned of Jews. During all this
period Jews were robbed, deprived of the most elementary means and were exposed
to insults. Neighbours who were considered friends turned their backs on
in a few houses in a small area, Jews knew already that in other towns their
brothers were being slaughtered and that their turn may come any day. Your
father even had information that children were buried alive. And there were no
signs of rescue, no hope to look at. The German army was quickly advancing into
the Soviet Union, and Lithuania was still celebrating its so-called
Sometimes I have a desire to enter Shmuel’s flesh and heart and to feel
what he, such a kind and honest man, felt through these days. This deep felling
of hurt should enter our conscience as strongly as possible, so that neither we
nor future generations should forget the harm caused to us.
One of these days, on 21st August l941, Shmuel’s and other Girtegole Jews’
suffering came to an end. Leibl counted 40 of our relatives whose lives ended on
this day. Among them were his wife Ida, the children - Zvika - 8 years old,
Feigele four, Shmuel’s sister Hene Kaplan, her husband Isroel and 14 year old
Dveirele. Chase Blacher, also his sister, her husband Avraham Blacher, daughter
in law and the grandchildren. Unfortunately, I don’t know who were the others,
probably they were from Rasein and came hoping to survive in Girtegole.
When in l946 Leibl told me about the tragedy in
Girtegole he didn’t mention all the people killed that day and I didn’t want to
ask; it was too difficult to speak about it.
I don’t know the details about Shmuel’s last
days and his death. The images of these days are maybe in the memories of their
executioners. They ran away when the Germans were defeated. Sure enough, they
are not going to tell us how all this happened. Therefore, I sometimes try to
image how could all this happen, what was it like - Shmuel’s last journey. I see
how a drunken guard pushes him with his gun to move faster - he walked slowly. I
imagine that he was deep in thought about his executioners’ meanness. How they
herded them like a flock to the butchery. All those cheering young men were
well-known to him, he saw them growing up. He doesn’t curse them (he didn’t know
how), he says to them that God would punish them for their crimes.
I imagine him holding his grandson Zvika’s hand,
trying to distract him, to answer his questions calmly. Some people cry
loudly, scream, pray. In all this horrible choir which the Devil himself
couldn’t think of, I don’t hear our grandfather’s voice - he prays and cries in
silence, sometimes he exchanges glances full of horror with his sisters and
other close people.
Murderers and those behind them distributed the
property of executed Jews and that’s how the Jewish problem was ‘solved’ in
Girtegole. After, they had a celebration party. I was told by Zisl Blacher that
the same day they had a big fete in the town, all the town went drunk. All of a
sudden in the middle of the party somebody cried out that two Jews were still in
hiding. Hillel Bregman and his son (Hillel was my father’s cousin - to you he
isn’t so close). The meeting jumped up and rushed to get them. They got them and
killed them right in the town near the swamp, the bodies remained there until
they disappeared in the watery ground. That was the culmination of the
After the war I lived in Russia, often came to
Lithuania, to my native town Shavl, to Palange, where as a child I spent many
holidays with my family to Rasein and other places. Only one place I avoided for
a long time - Girtegole. I was afraid to come back to a place once so dear to
me, and moreover - to stay in a place where the blood of our grandfather and
other Jews of this town was spilt freely. Only in l979, 33 years after the first
visit to Lithuania after the war, I resolved to visit Girtegole. As I expected,
the visit became a nightmare. My heart was going to explode when I came near the
house from which the Tatzes went to their death, and through the fence I could
see the apple trees planted by Shmuel himself. Zisl Blacher took me to the Jewish cemetery -
the only remaining sign of Jewish life in this town. The fence of the cemetery
was still in place, there were some recognisable graves. Zisl showed me that
of grandmother Zivia. And nearby browsed cows. A cemetery, a reminder from the
past like nothing else, symbolises the future and the present of Jews in this
country. But really unbearable was to stay at the picturesque forest which was
hit by the bullets which killed Shmuel and where other people dear to our hearts
fell, and where the Jewish town of Girtegole ceased to exist. The place was
fenced (Zisl told me it was only the place of shooting). Also there was a
modest memorial, I don’t remember what exactly was written there, something
like: “This is a place where German-fascist occupiers shot Soviet citizens”.
These are actually the words you can find on every Jewish memorial on the
territory of the Soviet Union. Two facts connected with these inscriptions - its
anonymity and not mentioning that those killed were Jews - are not only a public
demonstration of disrespect to the victims, but also a reminder to those who
survived of their inferiority as members of society and citizens of the country.
Near the fence there were signs of bonfire and an empty tin. I took it as a sign
of disregard, or at least as indifference to the memory of the victims and their
tragic fate. There is still more left to tell about your father Chaim-Leib or
simply Leibl. When Shmuel’s wife was dying she asked her elder children and
close relatives to take care of her youngest child, little Leibele.
Her wish was willingly obeyed. Leibele grew
surrounded by love and attention. His sisters (my mother Polia and our aunt
Deborah) continued to take care of him even after they left for Shavl. Those were first
years of independent Lithuania, Jews got many rights which they didn’t have
before, and the prosperity of Jewish culture begun. Jewish high schools were
opening in Lithuanian towns for the first time. The elder sisters decided that Leibele must
study at a high school in Shavl. Leibele accepted the offer and came to Shavl.
He stayed with my parents, who acted as his parents before the school started.
At that time Leibl was already a merry, sociable and active 14-15 year years old
big guy. At school he made many friends, they loved him. Everything was all
right, but one thing - he didn’t want to study, he slept over lessons. He
preferred much better the socialising, activities in “Maccabi”. Leibl loved
jokes. Many years later my parents told me his “chohmes”. Like, when my father
took him to school for the first time. You may remember my father wasn’t tall,
so Leibl who was much taller, on the way to school asked him “Nochem, they might
think that it’s me who is taking you to school. What shall we do?”
When I was two years old I had a young Germany nanny. After the family dinner she used to say getting up - “Mahlzeit”. Naturally, Leibl, a guy from Girtegole, not knowing German manners, used to say, pretending he was cross: “We must break her off of this mishugas”.
When Leibl returned to Girtegole and later lived
in Rasein, he, like his brother Yosl, often came to see us. Me and my brother
Misha waited impatiently to see them. When we were 5 and 8 we were mostly
interested in presents. With Yosl everything was simple, he ceremoniously handed
us his present. With Leibl it was much more complicated, the moment he crossed
the doorstep and we rushed to meet him he asked “children what present did you
prepare for me?”. We understood it was a joke but it took some time.
Leibl returned to Girtegole without graduating
from high school. In Girtegole he was active in all Zionist organisations,
organised Jewish library. In grandfather’s house were the remains of this
library. I loved rummaging in it and choosing books for reading.
Your father got married young at 23 and got a
nice dowry too. Then he settled with his pleasant wife Ida in the centre of
Rasein, where, with the help of the dowry, he opened an all-purpose shop. In
Rasein their two children were born, Zvika was a redhead, handsome and quiet.
When he was 3-4 he came with his mother to visit us in Palange. Misha and I took
care of him, we followed him everywhere. I remember when he saw the Baltic Sea for the
first time, he was extremely surprised, then thoughtfully exclaimed: “A greise
Prabaide”, which means “big Prabaide” (a very small river in Rasein!). Also he looked
after all the things they brought with them from Rasein, he didn’t let them
become mixed with ours. About daughter Feigale I remember only that she was
lively and had a lot of black hair, some thought she resembled her aunt Polia,
On my way to Girtegole I always stopped at Leibl
& Ida’s. I
was welcome there. I stayed overnight, played with the children, looked at a
wonderful collection of independent Lithuania postmarks, which belonged to
Leibl. I left the house to visit other relatives in Rasein, which was a great
pleasure to me. Only one circumstance worried me - stories flied to their
windows, it was the way a young woman expressed her anger that Leibl didn’t
marry her. A lot of women paid attention to a young pleasant Tatz, among them
were all kinds.
At the end of thirties the business in Leibl’s
shop went right down. Being kind Leibl gave a lot of goods on credit. The debtors didn’t
hurry to pay back and the wholesalers from Kovno, where the goods were taken on
credit, pressed for accurate payments. His organising talent didn’t help.
Neither his popularity. He became bankrupt and was facing huge Ida’s nobility
troubles. Among the relatives was significant - - she didn’t blame Leibl. Quite
unexpectedly Leibl’s troubles appeared to be fortunate. In July l940 Lithuania
was occupied by Soviet Union, the Soviet regime took over. Due to the fact that
at the moment Leibl already wasn’t a rich businessman, he got a government job
in commerce. He fully expressed his talents in this area, he was highly ranked
As I’ve already mentioned, at the beginning of
occupation, Leibl succeeded in hiding with a Lithuanian peasant family. It was
due to his friendly relationship with many Lithuanians. He stayed most of the
time with one family but altogether there were 24 families who gave him shelter.
Needless to say that these people risked their lives. The number 24 proves that
Leibl was very popular among the locals. Also the fact that Leibl’s hiding was
known to so many people and he still remained alive shows that even at the time
of blood-thirsty murderers, at this shameful period of Lithuanian history, there
were still honest, noble and courageous people.
When the situation in the East front improved,
it was felt in the occupied territories and partly in Lithuania - near Rasein a
Soviet partisan group was based. Leibl joined them. Being the only local who
knew the area well and the local population, he was priceless in helping to
carry on their actions - finding people who co-operated with Germans, getting
supplies. At this time he was comparatively free to move, and that was when he
met Dora, his future wife and mother of his two sons who was also in
survived the Kovno Ghetto where she lost her husband and their only two years
Yes, Leibl had a lot of sorrow. In vain I try to
imagine how an innocent, and at the same time persecuted, person must hide in a
cellar of a farm house - knowing well that he may be discovered any moment and
terror of this possibility and the knowledge that all the family and close
people are dead, that life is totally destroyed, might drive a normal human
being crazy. But Leibl was surprisingly strong and capable of living. He not
only remained alive, he remained the same - suffering and torments didn’t break
After his release, energy and good temper returned to him, his easy
character was still there.
By the way, Leibl didn’t forget his rescuers, he
helped them in all ways till his last days. When a son of this family was in
trouble with Soviet authorities, Leibl rescued him. But we must not think that
he paid his debt, as much as we may try to reward them, we never will.
I’ll finish here. I hope I have fulfilled your
request to describe your “roots”.
Yours, Yechiel (Zilberman)
Acco, September l994
Memoirs of the Tatz Family
Yitzchak Kaplan - 1996
When I was asked to write down my memories of
the Tatz families I thought long about what I could actually write. Would it be
possible to condense in a few pages the history of families and would I remember
everything 55 years after the Holocaust? Could I convey the atmosphere in
Lithuanian exile generally and in our families in particular? Could I convey the
characteristics of a few members of our families and could I tell of that life
without a certain element of distortion and without digressing into
Yes, until the Holocaust our families lived
humdrum lives. There were celebrations, weddings, births and on the other hand
there were days of worry and sorrow, sickness, and, Heaven forbid, funerals. And
the constant concern to make a living. There were altercations, occasionally
minor quarrels, but they always stayed in the family. These were ordinary,
everyday, lives, the lives of Jews in one of the Exiles, the Exile of
I can see in my mind’s eye my Uncles and Aunts;
sometimes I would visit them, the Aunt serving me with a glass of tea or milk
and a slice of cake or tasty jam. The Uncles were sometimes amusing, sometimes
jesting, telling you how much you’ve grown, even if you were the shortest of all
the children in the family!
I can see my sickly mother. The youngsters would
come to her for a chat but mainly to complain a little about how their parents
were annoying them. Mother would calm them down and smooth things out as if this
was her task in the large family framework.
I can see the children playing, laughing and
sometimes crying. These children would today be over 60 years old, probably
complaining about their health and worrying over their grandchildren.
So again, what can I write about a world that
was and suddenly disappeared - a world that has become imaginary? It hurts, and
hurts even more when one realises that this seemingly normal situation had
already been sown with the seeds of the most terrible tragedy in the history of
our people which came to fruition just a few years later. People hardly felt it
- but what could have been done by them?
The few of us who were born and grew up before
the Holocaust, and those who were born after it, must remember our families
every day. They passed on to us not only genetic qualities but also a certain
culture based upon a belonging to the Jewish people without having to declare it
every day; on a lifestyle based on loyalty and integrity which was very typical
of the Jews of Lithuania generally.
It certainly will not be a detailed description,
so I beg your forgiveness.
The Tatz families between the two World Wars
Moishe and Freide-Rochel Tatz had one son and six daughters. Their son, Shmuel, has been written about with feeling and love by his grandson, Yechiel Silberman. I will try to write about my memories of the sisters, who lived in Rassein and in the nearby town of Girtagola (Girkalnis) which was about 10 km from Rassein, an hour’s cart ride in the transport conditions of those days. In Rassein lived Pessia Vinnik, who left later on for Tavrig, Tzilla Ratman and my mother, Henia Kaplan. In Girtagola lived Chassia Blacher and, of course, Shmuel Tatz. It must be remembered that Mina Saxe emigrated with her daughters to Palestine in the beginning of the Twenties and the youngest of Moishe and Freide-Rochle’s daughters, Sara Taub, lived in Shavli.
How hard it is today to write about the distant
past to one of the few who survived the mass destruction; even more so when
today, in retrospect, it is clear that it was in the situation of the Jewish
population of Europe between the two wars that the beginnings of the most
terrible tragedy that has happened took place.
The story of the Tatz families in the 20’s and
30’s needs first and foremost a short description of the environment and the
specific nature of the lives of Jews in the towns of Lithuania in that
I will try to paint a picture of the life of the Jewish community in a town in Independent Lithuania. In Rassein there were some 3,000 Jews in a total population of over 5,000. (In today’s terms this would be a small town). The Jews congregated mainly in the centre of the town, in its main streets, where they lived in very crowded conditions, usually in wooden single-storey houses. They also had their shops and workshops. The market was in the centre of the town where there was also the main synagogue and behind it the Beit HaMidrash. The market operated twice a week and then it were as if the town had woken from its slumbers. The villagers came in their hordes to sell their produce and to buy their goods from the Jews’ shops. Contact with the Gentiles was only in commerce and the trades practised by the Jews. The richer homes had Lithuanian servants who came from poor villager families. In the course of time these servants became like members of the family, often speaking Yiddish and observing diligently the requirements of Jewish tradition.
At that time some 80% of the population of
Lithuania were villagers and Jews formed only about 7% of the total population,
living only within the towns and cities, thus comprising about half the urban
Thus we were born with the knowledge that we were living our special lives and that our connection with the population around us was that it was from them that we made a living, traded and worked with. We paid our taxes to the Authorities. As boys we were enlisted to Army service; it was incumbent upon us to evade this at all costs - even if sometimes we were not successful. Thank G-d, even with all the pressures of the Authorities, somehow we managed. The corrupt officials (perhaps somewhat less than the Tsarist officials) took bribes from Jews in distress and there were also intermediaries who had access to those in power.
I was born two years after Lithuania gained its
independence; the Jews welcomed the change. The Republic of Lithuania declared,
upon its establishment, equal rights to all its citizens in a new National
Democratic regime (which later changed for the worse). The Jews adapted
themselves to the new regime and supported it. In the early years the Jewish
minority gained quite a few achievements, mainly in the field of culture. Jewish
High Schools were opened, mostly with Hebrew as the language of tuition. Other
cultural institutions were also established. There was also an improvement in
their economic situation. Later on, during the world economic crisis, Jews were
removed from several influential economic positions simultaneously with the
rising growth of anti-Semitism.
Life in the Community - Organisation, Culture
The Jews in the generation before mine were
mainly traditional; they kept kosher homes, most of their fathers went to
Synagogue on Shabbat and Festivals, most of the children managed to avoid going.
A very few were extremely orthodox - in any event, Haredim as known in Israel
today were unheard of. In Lithuania, as is known, there were no Hassidim. The
typical ‘Litvak’ was a ‘Misnagid’, usually learned (not only with religious
education), obstinate, known amongst the Jews of the world as the ‘cross-headed
Litvak’. Their studiousness, determination and logic were a source of pride to
the Litvaks. On Saturdays the shops were closed, workshops did not operate and
the town seemed to have closed down.
The town had a Catholic church with a small
monastery nearby; one Russian Orthodox church, a Protestant church and seven
Synagogues. A butchers’ Shul, a tailors’ Shul named after Bloch (my father
prayed there), a main Synagogue, Beit HaMidrash and others. Why this split? It
seems to me that this gave people communal positions of honour to the important
‘Baalebatim’: these important people could have seats of honour on the Eastern
wall of the Shul. When I see the unnecessary administrative duplications in
Government, Municipal and Communal offices in Israel I can immediately detect
its source - my town!
There was an active Jewish life in a Lithuanian
town. There were two elementary schools, one secular the other religious. Most
of the children went to the secular school. There was a High School where
teaching was in Hebrew and children from other towns also studied there. The
mother tongue was Yiddish. Parents knew Hebrew according to the Ashkenazi
pronunciation from the siddur. We learned Sephardic Hebrew but spoke Yiddish
amongst ourselves. The teachers were good: I wouldn’t say they were all
outstanding pedagogues, but their education and intellectual levels were way
above those required from a schoolteacher. In addition to a general education
they imparted to their pupils an open way of thinking and a wider view of
things. For nearly two years one of our teachers was the poetess Leah Goldberg
(she came to us after completing her PhD in Germany in 1932).
There was intense Zionist political activity in
the town. Most of the young people belonged to one or other of the Parties. The
arguments between the ZS (Zionist Socialists) Party and the Revisionists
(Jabotinsky’s Party) were sometimes very bitter, particularly before elections
to the Zionist Congress, sometimes deteriorating to physical violence. There
were some who saw Marxism as the solution to the National and cultural problems
- e.g. as portrayed by Communism in Russia.
The communal organisation of the Jews in the
town was special and wonderful. I am sure that there is nothing like it in any
minority in the world. From charity collected from families according to their
means they maintained a small hospital, an old-aged home for a few widowed, they
helped poor brides, gave out Passover food, helped beggars etc. All this without
tax inspectors, police and law courts: and while there were always bitter
quarrels between the members of the community, called ‘Machloikes’ (from the
Hebrew), frequently with raised voices and invective, there was never any
recourse to the gentile Authorities.
I remember painfully that dissension in the
community continued even after Hitler came into power in Germany and was about
45 km from Rassein in Eastern Prussia, there were Nazi parades singing the Horst
Wessel song ‘When Jewish blood sprouts from the knife it does my heart good…’
and in my town the bitter argument was who would take the place of the ritual
slaughterer who had recently died - his son or one of the doyens of the
community who had fallen on hard times. This problem kept every household abuzz
and I, as a young boy, felt this was a real crisis which had split the Jews of
One of the biggest problems was unemployment. A
young generation had grown up which could not find work nor make a living.
Industrial development was very slow and was only concentrated in the larger
cities. Trade was fully employed and this even more so in the last years before
the War when the Lithuanians expelled the Jews from some branches of trade.
There were too many artisans so the only solution open to young people was to
emigrate. In the 20’s it was still possible to emigrate to the USA, South Africa
or South America. Some of the young people wanted to emigrate to Israel
(Palestine) but the British Government had restricted the number of entry
permits (‘certificates’ as they were called). The number issued was so few that
only a small number of the young Halutzim who had been trained in farms in
Lithuania managed to get permits. In the 30’s, the years of international
economic crisis, America shut its doors almost completely and other countries
limited immigration. The chances of finding a place to love and work somewhere
became so slim that the braver emigrated to more outlying places in South
America. Some members of our family emigrated - unfortunately only too few.
The Rise of Anti-Semitism
Jews were originally invited to Lithuania in the
15th Century by Prince Vitautas. His objective
was to develop trades in skills in Lithuania. Later Lithuania came under Polish
rule (it was called Joint Polish-Lithuania) and from the end of the 18th Century it was under Russian rule with a strong
Polish cultural influence. Over the centuries the Jews did not mix with the
local population, there was not a trace of assimilation, neither into the
Polish-Russian society and certainly not into the Lithuanian. The Jews of
Lithuania kept their Jewish identity, unlike in most European countries.
As strangers there was never much liking of the
Jews by the local population. Hatred was fostered by the Church - the Jews had
crucified Christ, they had betrayed God - these were the themes of the Sunday
sermons in Church. The isolation of the Jews from their environment by their
religion, customs, language, activities and appearance, together with Church
propaganda, brought about terrible Blood Libels - Jews were using Gentile
children’s blood to bake matzoth, they were poisoning wells (in the days of the
plague) etc. But there were never any Pogroms, and in the towns of Lithuania
Jews lived most of the time in cordial relations with their neighbours -
sometimes even in friendship.
As far as the Tatz family was concerned, who for
generations had leased lands from Polish landlords and lived close to the
Lithuanian farmers, they were accepted and respected by the Gentiles surrounding
By the 30’s a Lithuanian intelligentsia had
arisen who were looking for influence and income. Nationalism increased, Jews
were removed from economic positions, unofficial limitations were imposed on
acceptance of Jews to universities and a typically anti-semitic magazine was
published. The bestial Nazi propaganda certainly had its effect on the
Lithuanian people, especially amongst government officials and the free
professions. It is a great pity that in the 30’s the writing on the wall was not
detected - had it been, a part if not all Lithuanian Jewry could have been
The Tatz Sisters
Freide-Rochel was widowed at a relatively young
age - in her forties. She was left with her seven children and continued to
manage the estate with the help of her eldest son, Shmuel. The six girls were
still young. I do not know what the relationship was between the girls but when
they were older and I knew them they were extremely warm. I will try to tell
what I know about the sisters and their families but these are only fleeting
memories from my childhood. I left Rassein when I was 17, furthermore, in
adolescence one is not that interested in Aunts - but who would have thought
that in a few years these Aunts would vanish together with their families.
I don’t remember who was the older, Chassia or
Pessia - I think Chassia. In any event, there was not much difference in age
between them. Chassia married Avraham Blacher, the brother of Shmuel’s wife
Zivia. I remember that Avraham came from a very respected family. In those days
respect (Yichuss in Yiddish) was to a great extent more important than property,
wisdom or beauty. Yichuss came from being learned and Torah-wise, Rabbis, long
inherited wealth - not from nouveau-richesse. Avraham came from such a family
from the town of Kelm. This town was famous for its religious Jews of high
morals - indeed they were called ‘Mussarniks’ (very moral people). Of all our
family, it would seem that Avraham was the most orthodox and his sons were more
God-fearing than the descendants of the other sisters, most of whom were totally
secular. Avraham was considered among the family to be an honest man but was by
no means as clever as his wife. Aunt Chassia was full of wisdom; the family used
to quote her sayings. I remember that in the 30’s Chassia underwent a serious
operation, the removal of a malignant growth in her womb. She was operated on in
a private hospital in Kovno. While she was recuperating Avraham came to visit
her and told her that he had been to the Cemetery and had prayed at his father’s
grave for her speedy recovery. Chassia said to him “Why did you go to ask this
of your father? He probably would have wanted you to say to you “don’t worry my
son, do as I did, it’s not such a major disaster”” (Avraham’s father had
remarried after his first wife died). I remember that once in Kovno I was
walking with my mother and Chassia, both of whom had been to the doctor, when a
man tried to pass us in the street. He said to Chassia “Move over, Auntie”. She
turned around and said, quite seriously, “I don’t even know this nephew!”.
Avraham used to come to Rassein sometimes, would
visit the family and always had some bicarbonate of soda and a teaspoon in his
pocket. After each meal he would drink a glass of water with the soda -
apparently he suffered from permanent indigestion.
I felt at the time that all the boys respected
their parents and especially Chassia. I don’t remember Haim’s emigration to
Palestine but Moishe’s and even more so Israel’s emigration I remember well. I
used to think that Israel was a very lively person who liked to entertain the
kids. I only met Moishe and Israel for a few hours when they came for a visit to
Lithuania. Their financial support of their parents all the years allowed them
to live without the worries of a livelihood. I knew well the two sons - Zissel
and Itsik who stayed in Lithuania. Zissel at one time caused his parents much
aggravation - he had a Lithuanian girlfriend, a local dressmaker. In those days
this brought shame upon the parents and the community could not accept it. His
parents obviously took him to task and he came to my mother for advice. By the
way, any of the family who ever felt that they had been offended by another
member used to come to my mother - she has unlimited patience to listen to their
woes, to comfort and make peace. The Lithuanian dressmaker saved Zissel’s life
in the Holocaust.
After the War he used to visit us every two
weeks or so. He used to amaze us with his opinions that the Soviet regime would
not last and would change by the Autumn. In those days it sounded absurd, the
Soviet regime was stronger than it had ever been. However, his prophesy came
true 30 years later. Zissel lived in Girtegola after the War, the only Jew in
the town, with his Lithuanian girlfriend. He died a few years after she did. I
remember that he had asked her to cover the crucifix on the wall after he died,
should he die before her, and to let me know. He used to accompany me to our
parent’s cemetery in the Korpishky forest. He died many years after I came to
Israel. Yosef Tatz and Lucia Ratman looked after him until he died - I was
already in Israel.
His brother had a terrible life. As I was very
close to him in the years after the War I will try to relate his troubles
briefly. Remember, before being enlisted into the Lithuanian Army he fell in
love with a girl called Liba (I don’t recall her surname) who worked as a shop
assistant for Uncle Shmuel. Liba came from a really peasant family, her father
died when her mother was young leaving two sons and two daughters. They had a
windmill where they would grind wheat for the farmers. They also had a small
plot of land. The family were hardworking, strong people. In my youth I admired
them - Jewish land workers. Avraham and Chassia were not enthusiastic over the
bride, particularly her lack of ‘Yichuss’. When Itsik came back from the Army
they decided to marry secretly and went to Kovno to a Rabbi who was known to be
co-operative and for a special fee would marry couples without the presence of
their parents. Aunt Chassia heard about this; she decided that she did not want
to lose face in the town so she borrowed a cart from Shmuel, decorated it and
rode out to the main road with Avraham to meet the newly-weds who were due to
return by bus. Thus Liba stayed with them. The couple had their own room and
brought up two handsome children. They opened a shop in the town and this
provided them with a living.
Then the Germans came and the young Lithuanians
began to go wild. Liba could hide with her non-Jewish acquaintances (her brother
and sister survived) but she did not want to leave her children, so she perished
with the rest of them…
In the massacre in the Korpishky woods near
Girtegola, Itzik was wounded and covered by earth. At night he managed to dig
himself out of the pit - he was an exceptionally strong man - and ran to
Lithuanian friends who bandaged and hid him. Thus he fled from place to place
and managed to stay alive until the Soviets came.
After the War, Itzik, together with another
group of Jews tried to get across illegally to Poland. Legal emigration was, of
course, forbidden. All the group fell into the hands of the Secret Service and
were sentenced to two years imprisonment. Generally this was regarded in Russia
as being a light punishment, as for crossing the border illegally the usual
sentence was 10 years in prison. After two years he was released, bloated from
hunger. Zissel and I took care of him - I found him a job as a labourer in a
factory where I was the technical manager.
Then the next tragedy occurred. When they had stopped him at the border they took ‘for safe keeping’ several personal items: his watch, wedding ring and some other jewellery. He received a receipt from the Financial Authority of the KGB. He showed me the receipt and asked my opinion if he could get the things back with this receipt. To my regret, I, and apparently some others, told him to go to the Authority office and ask…The effects had been confiscated. Hew went to the Office and never came back. The ‘Troika’ of the KGB gave him a re-trial and sentenced him to 10 years imprisonment less the 2 years he had already served in a camp - a total of 8 years in prison. Since it was not possible to be present at the trial, and only a few lawyers were allowed to appear before the ‘Troika’ I found a lawyer and as far as I can remember he told me that his presence there would be like funeral music, but at least through him I would know what had happened. It is interesting that when I told Zissel the bad news he did not seem too worried. He said that the regime would not last 8 years and that Itzik would probably be released long before. Unfortunately the regime lasted for many years after this. Itzik was a very strong man, he served the heard labour at the camp, doing double the required labour. After 4 years or so he was released at the end of 1952. While in camp Zissel sent him food parcels. Again I found him a job in the paint shop of the same factory. In 1956 he fell ill and had a malignant intestinal growth removed. He lived on a further 10 years without any major health problems.
During these years he married and divorced.
Finally he entered into a fictitious marriage with a Polish gentile woman who
had official permission to emigrate to Poland. His intention was to get to his
brothers in South Africa via Poland. Someone informed on them that the marriage
was fictitious and they weren’t allowed to leave Lithuania. He had a relapse of
his cancer and died in 1965. While he was ill his Polish wife looked after him
very well. I remember that several days after he died she visited us and told us
that Itzik had offended her badly two days before his death telling her that she
should remember that she was not his real wife. I understood (although I didn’t
explain to her) that he was an orthodox Jew and, sensing that his end was near,
he wanted to meet his maker sinless, not to put his parents to shame there (in
Heaven) - obviously ‘there’ fictitious marriages were not acceptable even when
he had this burning desire to be united with his brothers after such a long
separation and hardships.
In my childhood memories Aunt Pesia remains a
chubby, warm-hearted woman who always welcomed the children of the family warmly
and had something tasty to give us. I did not see her in my youth. When she
married for a second time in the early 30’s she moved to Tavrig. Her husband
Velvel - Itzick Vinnik died in the United States whilst on a fund-raising
mission for some Yeshiva or Torah institution. He died there in 1918/19. I am
named after him as are Pesia’s two grandchildren.
Aunt Pesia had two sons and two daughters. One
son died at an early age, the second son Mula (Shmuel) was also a sickly person
(he had a slight hunchback). He was an extraordinarily talented man. He had
virtually no formal education and was self-taught. At the age of 16 during the
First World War he was a clerk in the German occupying Authority - he spoke
German well. During the Lithuanian regime he used to write requests for Jews of
the town to the various Offices in faultless Lithuanian even though he never
learned the language formally. He would read books on philosophy and medicine
and would even write out prescriptions for various ointments mainly for skin
diseases which the local chemist would accept. He had a haberdashery shop and an
agency for gramophones, later for Philips radios. At the end of the 20’s Jews,
mainly older people, would gather in his house to hear records of well known
Cantors of the time such as Hirschmann, Rosenblatt etc.
He remains in my memory especially as being an
exceptionally talented man who was direct and spoke what he thought. He didn’t
gossip or have secrets, he hated hypocrisy. He married comparatively late in
life to Leah Leiboshitz who was a sales girl in his shop. They had twins. They
Pesia’s daughter, Helia, lived in Shavli. She
was a very, very pleasant and clever person. While I was in Shavli for two years
before the War, I used to visit and it was always interesting to talk to her.
Her husband, a good and pleasant person, was a commercial traveller who only
came home for Shabbat. Of their family the only survivor was Yehudit. Her
parents and her brother Yitzchak, a clever and handsome boy, perished in the
Holocaust. Yehudit, may she live long, looks very much like her mother.
Pesia’s daughter Chiena, married in the 20’s and
emigrated with her husband to Palestine. They found it difficult to cope with
the hard life there and in 1932/3 went back to Lithuania. Hienna was a nice and
energetic woman. She helped with the family income by embroidering tablecloths
and other pieces. They had a girl and a boy, both good looking children. They
all died in the Holocaust. They couldn’t take the hard life in Palestine and
returned to their tragic deaths in their country of birth.
Aunt Tzilla was one of the younger sisters, perhaps the
most beautiful, although they were all good looking. We lived next door to them,
our houses had a shared wall. Tzilla was a good-hearted person, known in the
town for her generosity. She was chairperson of the Women’s Guild, which
collected funds for the needy. I think she also helped my mother financially
because frequently we went through hard times. Her husband, Mishel, did well in
the 20’s selling special metal products and they were relatively well off. I was
so attached to them as if we were one family. I cannot look at Tzilla and her
family objectively, they were also my family.
Tzilla always cooked more than was needed, one
woman beggar always came to finish off the left-overs. Her food was rich and
sweet. Usually the Synagogue Beadle would send over a guest for Shabbat. Mishel,
her husband, would come over to us on most days after closing his shop. He would
lie on the couch and snooze, often sending me to the chemist shop to buy
headache powders. He used to talk a lot to my mother, complaining mildly about
Tzilla’s supposed extravagance. I heard it told that he was Freida-Rochel’s only
son-in-law who returned the dowry after the wedding. Each daughter had received
2000 gold roubles as dowry. In the evening we would knock on the shared wall to
invite Mishel over for dinner. After a long chat he would take a short nap and
go back home till the following morning. I remember that when he used to see us
children eating fresh wheat rolls, he would call us ‘Wheat Bottoms’ in Yiddish -
he would always joke with us.
The two girls Lucia and Masha grew up in that
house. They were very different. Lucia from childhood was solid, serious and
studious. She played the piano, was clever and sensible and pretty too. Masha
was much more of a tomboy, very active and sociable. From a very young age she
had romances with older boys.
Tzilla and Mishel were exiled to Russia because
they were rich. This was in June 1941, a week before the German invasion into
Russia. Conditions there were very hard and they died of hunger and cold.
Lucia and Masha were not in Rassein at that
time. Lucia studied Biology at Kovno University before the War. She was very
talented. When the War broke out she evacuated herself to Inner Russia. She
couldn’t help her parents, it was hard enough to get hold of a slice of bread to
overcome the hunger. After the War, Lucia was involved in research and did a
Doctorate in Biology. She became an authority in her profession. She came on
Aliya later at the age of 74. Even then she worked voluntarily and died in 1993.
Her personal life was very unsuccessful, she married quite late to a man who did
not deserve her and who caused her much trouble even until she died. During the
Soviet occupation Masha worked in an office in Shavli. During the Nazi
occupation she lived in the Shavli Ghetto and from there she was sent to a
Concentration Camp in Germany where she died.
My Mother Henia
cannot write objectively about my mother. Her physical disability affected her
character and behaviour. As a child she fell (or was pushed) and as a result
limped all her life. In those days this sort of disability could not be
would appear that as a result she married below her class and position. My father was a
handsome, good-natured and healthy man, very involved in communal life in the
town. He did not do well in commerce. Mother was sickly and a worrier. Her anxieties were
written on her face, expressed themselves in her behaviour, and we hardly ever
saw her happy. If she ever had a happy moment she never shared it. We children
were used to it. She was a wise woman and members of the family, not her sisters
but mainly the younger generation, would consult with her on their problems. She
knew how to listen and advise.
I remember that in l940 when the Russian Army
invaded Lithuania (I had just arrived home) and mother saw the tanks and the
soldiers in the street, she said to me in her typically confident tone of voice:
“This Army will not stand up to the German Army!”. Later on I remembered her
Lithuanian Army had no tanks and people were impressed by the show of Russian
force, but this 50 or so year old little woman from a little town seemed to have
sensed from their appearance, carelessness and behaviour, and perhaps other
things, that they would not withstand the German Army. She had a tremendous
influence on us children even though she did not teach since she had no mind for
this. Her personal example, intelligence and consideration for others certainly
affected us. She tried subconsciously to get us to be modest, not proud, and
this lowered our self-confidence. It caused Mordechai and me much harm. We were
three children, Mordechai, myself and little Dvora (she was 14 when she was
killed). My elder sister, Masha, died when she was a baby at the beginning of
the First World War. Of the three of us, Mordechai was the best child. He was
optimistic, healthy, good-natured and, as far as I can remember, never caused
the family any aggravation. When he grew up he cared for the family, succeeded
in his work and helped out. There are really not many such good sons. He was
called up to the Lithuanian army and then to the Russian army and after his
release married Yehudit, the daughter of Helia, Pessia Tatz’s
Dvora was a pretty child, somewhat spoilt as
mother had lost her first daughter. She had really wanted another but then two
boys were born and then eventually at the age of 39 she gave birth to a girl
whom she spoilt. Mother and Dvora were murdered in the Korpishky forest (in
Girtegola). Father was killed in Rassein. Mordechai died in l993.
She was the youngest of the sisters and as far
as I can remember was regarded as the least successful. She married quite late
to a man much older than herself who was sickly. They lived in Shavli. For a long time they
did not have children and then two daughters were born to them in quick
succession. When I lived in Shavli I visited them several times - she always
welcomed me and made a good impression. I also knew her husband. They all died
in the holocaust.
She was the only one of the sisters to survive
the War. Her daughters and her grandchildren who knew her could certainly tell
more about her. After her husband’s death, and her return to Lithuania in the
early 20’s, she came to Palestine with her three young daughters. Probably they
suffered much hardship in Palestine in those days. Whilst in the USSR and in
Lithuania I used to correspond with Mina (for someone working in a senior
industrial position it was quite dangerous to write to a relative overseas). Her
replies were full of wisdom and we used to read them to family and friends. From
her letters I realised that she was very old then but we admired her wisdom,
clarity of thought and the optimism which flowed from her letters. What a pity
that she was no longer alive when I came to Israel.
What I have written above is an attempt to relate from my
memory episodes from the lives of the Tatz sisters and their families. Readers
will forgive me if this does not give a full picture of the lives of each and
every one, or what typified each sister.
I left home and town at the age of 17 and at
that time I certainly did not regard the aunts and uncles as being important. At
that age one takes things for granted and they do not cause you concern.
One’s wildest imagination could not have
foreseen the possibility of the events that took place only a few years
later. May the
Nazis and their Lithuanian accomplices rot in hell!
We , those who remain, have a duty to remember and remind ourselves of so many of our vast family who were murdered in the Holocaust.
May their pure and holy memories remain with us forever.