On the 14th of April, 1996, I went with my sister Cecilia (Cissy, Tzilla) Meroz from Israel to Lithuania - Lita, Der Heim.
Our father, Aaron Blumsohn, z"l and a"h, had come from Lithuania to South Africa in 1927 and our maternal grandmother (Tilly, nee Boner) and grandfather (Charles Tannenbaum), z"l and a"h, had lived in Kelme and Pinsk (White Russia) respectively, and had come to South Africa in the late 1890s.
My father, Aaron a"h, who passed away in 1957, had told us episodes of Linkuva and of life there, dominated by poverty and Yiddishkeit, but it always seemed to me as something unreal, something of the very distant past, a lost world. I, as a young child, remember him weeping and mourning for his father, z"l and a"h, who died in 1937: he received the news in a letter in Yiddish many months later, I think. And I remember his horror at news of the unbelievable Holocaust, in which many of his family perished.
I, of course, remember my mother, Leiba's , z"l and a"h, parents too: I lived with them in Roodepoort. They too came from Der Heim; but many years earlier.
One could not visit Lithuania during or after the war, and, in fact, not till the early 1990s, when Lithuania became independent from Russia. I really wanted to go, with no expectations or preconceived hopes of finding anything or anyone at all. I just wanted to walk on the ground of the shtetlach in Lita, to breathe the air and to dream of what was in a vanished, destroyed world. In spite of Lita being a graveyard, ghettos, cemeteries and Holocaust for the Jews, deep inside, I wanted to be there.
I had read the history of the Lithuanian Jews, notably in Masha Greenbaum's book The Jews of Lithuania: A History of a Remarkable Community 1316 - 1945 (Jerusalem 1995/5755, Gefen Publishing House Ltd.)
In Johannesburg, I visited a Mr. Eli Sament and his wife. He had written an article in the South African Jewish Times on a visit to Lithuania. His main destination was Zagare, which is not far from Linkuva. He published a photograph of the Shul in Linkuva, and he wrote of their guide, Regina Kopilevich. I visited Mr. Sament with Mr. Natie Aremband whose family had come from Linkuva.
I had obtained copies of some of the archives of births, marriages and deaths from Pakroi, a town very near Linkuva [See Map]. Pakroi seems to have been where records of these events in Linkuva were made. The names of Aremband and Nochumsohns and Blumson and Borkum and Blecher and Girsh appear here. I will refer to these later.
On Saturday night, Chol Hamoed Pesach, 6th of April, I flew to Israel to visit my sister, Cissy Meroz, and her family. We spent a wonderful week together.
To Lita We went to the airport at about 3 in the morning, and flew Lufthansa to Vilnius (Vilna) with a stop in Frankfurt. Cissy had her visa; I was told that mine would be awaiting me at Vilnius airport. At Ben Gurion airport, they did not want to allow me to board, as I did not have a visa with me, but they eventually did. At Vilnius, there was no record of my visa. The authorities were firm and would not let me into the country. We spent a few worrying hours. Later, when we returned to Israel, Cissy found at her work (Joint Distribution Committee, JDC in Jerusalem) the official faxed surety that my visa was in order.
The airport was drab and sparse, cold and cheerless, with only bare necessities - a reminder of the long-standing Russian influence. I had asked my travel agent if she could arrange for Regina Kopilevich to be our guide. Regina is 31 and Jewish. Her parents came from St. Petersburg, Russia, to Lithuania long after the war. She is friendly, charming, helpful and gentle. She knows her Lithuania, and she knows the Jewish community in every town, and they all know her and love her. She knows Lithuanian, English, Hebrew, and Yiddish. She spent all the eight days with us. She has a mother, whom we did not meet and a sister, Dina, a pharmacist, who later took us to Trakai in her car.
Vilna (Vilnius) Regina took us to our hotel, the Neringa in Gedimino pr. It was near to most of the places we went to in Vilna, walking distance or walk plus a bus or two - the buses are very cheap. Neringa was comfortable, our rooms were airy and clean and it was reasonably priced. The staff were friendly and helpful. We drove from the airport through the old city. The buildings are old, austere and drab, there are large churches and belfries, the streets are cobbled, and women sweep up the dirt and dust and snow from the streets into many small heaps. It was wintertime, but not too cold. It did not snow, but there was lots of as yet unmelted snow on the ground everywhere we travelled.
We had brought our own food - manot chamot - dried vegetarian meals to which we added boiling water, cereals, cheese, tinned sardines, polony, - so we bought bread - dark black bread, and we ate boiled eggs, coffee, jam, honey, herring and potatoes (blattos), radishes, borscht and blintzes and fruit.
Next day and the following day, we toured Vilna - mostly on foot, with a bus on occasion. We saw churches, the opera house, government buildings, monuments to Vytautis the Great and other rulers, and we walked among the people. We walked among outdoor stalls selling fruit and flowers; we went to the telephone exchange; we went to a bank and changed money into Lithuanian Litas.
The museum is really three museums. Firstly - a museum honouring the Righteous Gentiles, some of the few Lithuanians who helped Jews in their dire distress. There are heartrending stories told in detail. There is a wonderful photograph of Mrs. Landsbergis, President Vytautas Landsbergis' mother, who was a righteous gentile, and a monument to a Japanese and to a Dutch consul, both righteous gentiles.
The second museum houses relics from some of the magnificent old Shuls of Vilna - only a few saved from the brutal destruction at the hands of the Nazis: parts of sifrei Torah, mantles, pointers, menorot, doors of the Shul and of the aron kodesh, Purim-shpiel figures of Esther, Mordechai and Achashverosh, and a wonderful tapestry of Queen Esther made from all the letters and all the words of the entire Megillah. We were the only visitors, and throughout our personalised tour in Lithuania, we saw virtually no Jewish tourists at all.
The third museum is an excellent but harrowing Holocaust Museum, telling in words and pictures and exhibits the whole frightful story. We had a very personal tour and cried and cried. This was on Yom Ha-Shoa, in fact - a very fitting way to remember. Lo tishkach!
The museum publishes a regular monthly newspaper in English and in Yiddish. Napoleon had called Vilna the Jerusalem of Lithuania, so the newspaper is named Jerusalem of Lithuania or Yerushalayim de Lita.
We visited the University campus and many of its faculties and lecture halls. We walked through the streets of the large and the small ghettos. Our hearts were heavy. We walked through the streets where the Yeshivot were. We saw the remains of the ghetto Shul, with a Magen David on the old bricks, and buildings which housed youth movements. The streets were so narrow, the dwellings so cramped. What tales these cobbled streets and bricks could tell - of Torah learning and family love and piety and courage and heroism and hope and despair and horror.
We saw Zamenhof Street (he introduced Esperanto) and Yascha Heifetz (the violinist) Street and many others. We spoke at various times of Avram Sutzkever, Abba Kovner and Hersh Glick, who wrote the Partizaner song, and of the Vilna Ga'on and the Slobodka Yeshiva.
Regina introduced us to many, lovely, warm, human people, who spoke Yiddish. Each has his/her own story. These included Rachile Konstanian, the museum curator and Joseph Shapiro, who designs Ex Libris graphics. We met Mr. David Leibzon(as) (Leibzon is the Yiddish for Ben Gurion) a gentle, kind, humble man, a painter and a piano player.
We went to the New Shul, the Choral synagogue or Vilna Choir Shul, built originally in 1904, destroyed and now being restored. It is the only Shul in Vilna today, a beautiful Shul, and they have barely a Minyan for services. We met Avraham, a charming elderly Chazan, who sang the universal Lecha Dodi for us. A new foundation stone was laid by Rabbi Shlomo Goren. (Do you remember the wonderful photo of him blowing the Shofar at the Wailing Wall in 1967?) And we saw a JDC calendar with depictions of Coptic script Biblical passages.
With Regina and David Leibzon, we visited Eliyahu (Ilja) and Leah Levitas in their home. He is a retired professor of literature and she a Hebrew teacher. He was originally from Linkuva, but could not help us with his memories of the shtetl. A young music professor visited too.
Since independence from Russia in 1991, there have been apologies from the Lithuanian state for the horrors perpetrated. Consequently, many plaques and memorial stones are now to be found at places of massacres, ghettos and cemeteries. They tell of what happened, some in English, some in Hebrew or Yiddish or Lithuanian or even in Russian. They record that the evil deeds were perpetrated by the Nazis and their collaborators - the Lithuanians themselves!
Before the war, there were 240,000 Jews in Lithuania, and 220,000 were murdered. There are only about 5,000 Jews in Lithuania now, most in Vilnius, next most in Kaunas (Kovno) and in Siauliai (Shavel).
The forests of Lithuania must have been very beautiful - spruce, fir, pine and alder, - as we could see, but the horrors perpetrated in these forests spoiled it all for all time. We visited Panerai forest, about ten miles from Vilnius. About 70,000 Jews were killed and thrown in pits after digging their own graves. When we went, there was snow all around and eleven pits, large and small. These were actually dug by the Russians beforehand for storing oil. The Nazis simply used these for their holocaust. A railway siding is nearby. We walked from pit to pit with heads bent, and I said the first Kaddish of the many I recited in Lita.
We went to the Vilnius Jewish Cemetery. The Vilna Gaon (R. Elijah b. Yehuda Solomon Zalman) and his family are buried there in a family mausoleum or crypt. People place written petitions or prayers in the stones like at the Kotel HaMaaravi in Jerusalem.
Other talmidei chachamim are buried there too. There is a grave and memorial of the teachers of the children of the Vilna Ghetto. They were wonderful people indeed: - giving encouragement and hope, and teaching ethics.
A Three Day Tour
We then went on a three-day tour. You can follow this on a map. [See Map] Vilnius to Kaunas (Kovno) to Kelme to Siauliai (Shavel) to Linkuva and Pakrojis (Pakroi) to Telsiai (Telz) to Plunge to Panevezys (Panovezh) to Ukmerge (Wilkomir) to Vilna to Trakai.
We travelled in an old big car. Our driver was a paediatrician who had no work. He perpetually worked on the engine of his car whenever we stopped. Regina had Schoenberg and Schoenberg's book on the Jews of Lithuania, to which she repeatedly referred. We took turns in reading sections. It is an excellent book with names of families and histories of each of the shtetlach. It is different to Masha Greenbaum's book, and they certainly complement each other well. In many instances, the Schoenberg's book is an English translation of the Hebrew Yahadut Lita.
In the archives we had found records, especially records of my grandfather's birth in 1869, and of the births of his later siblings. [See Linkuva Archive on Resouces Page] We now knew that our grandfather's father's name was Ze'ev, so he was Calel (Betzalel) ben Ze'ev. Before we had left Vilna, Regina had looked up some of the archives for births and marriages for the Jews of Linkuva. She works in the archives departments when she has no tourists, and coincidentally, she had been working on the Linkuva section before we came. She now studied these with particular reference to the Blumsohns and the Barrs (our paternal grandmother's maiden name). What she found was interesting, especially records of my grandfather's birth in 1869, and of the births of his later siblings. We now knew that our grandfather's father's name was Ze'ev, so he was Calel (Betzalel) ben Ze'ev.
As I said before, I never really expected to find anything or anyone who knew our family, but Cissy, my irrepressible, optimistic, wonderful sister told everyone we met that we were going to Linkuva to find our grandfather's burial place and tombstone. Everyone was sceptical and shrugged her off with a wave of the hand and "Ah! Forget it! Impossible!"
We now went to Kaunas (Kovno), about 70 miles from Vilna. On a hill, just outside the city we visited the infamous Ninth Fort, an ancient fortress, later used by the Nazis and their local collaborators as a prison with cells and torture chambers. 9,000 Jews were murdered on 28 October 1941. 900 French Jews died there on 18 May 1944. The place is grim, cold, and forbidding. There were a handful of miraculous escapes, and there are names and photographs of some of these.
There is an imposing monument to freedom and a memorable simple memorial to the children of the holocaust.
We visited the cemetery of Kovno and the ghetto, and we visited the modern town, which is virtually free of Jews.
We went to the Shul at Mincha time, and there we met the president, a Mr. Yechezkiel Zak(as), a man in his 70's. We spoke to each other in Yiddish.
He asked where we were going. We said Linkuva. He became excited, said he knew Linuva well, and that he was in the Shavel Ghetto during the war with Blumzons from Linkuva ("tzwei brider", he said). One was our Uncle Meier; who could the other have been? Meier, a"h, later was sent to Dachau and then Flossenberg, where he perished. He said that I resembled Meier, and he also mentioned the names of Girsh, Borkum and Blecher from Linkuva. He ran home to fetch the address of a Mr. Shimon Girsh for us. He lives in Jerusalem, and Mr. Girsh's father, Sha'ul, a"h, he told us, was Uncle Meier's very best friend.
Kelme: No Trace of Our Family
We then went to Kelme, a very small shtetl, and Regina took us to the only Jews in the town: Shayele Birger and his wife Danuta, who is not Jewish, and their daughter and son-in-law Dr. Meir Ceikinski. Cissy slept the night at the home of the older people and I with the public health doctor and his wife. We went for supper to a small restaurant far out of town and ate herring and potatoes and talked and talked.
Our maternal grandmother, Tilly Boner had come from here, but we found no traces at all of the family. Perhaps we did not have sufficient knowledge or information. She died in 1943, a gentle Yiddishe mamma, a"h.
The graves in the Kelme cemetery are scattered about, broken, buried and in a real mess. It was almost impossible to decipher names and there were very few surnames anyway. The cemetery has been in some measure restored and rededicated thanks to the efforts of Meir Ceikinski himself. Thank you, Meir.
We now went to Linkuva via Shavel. It was amazing, and, in a sense, unreal and unbelievable to see the countryside and the road signs to Linkuva. We came to the Mushe river - Dad had told us about the river, and then to the small town. There are few paved main roads, few shops, and the town is so very small. The houses are small, wooden, brightly painted, and as we did not even know the address, we imagined that one of these near the Shul must have been our grandparents' and father's home. We found the Shul, where my frum, devoted, sincere Jewish father (and his father, the shochet) must have prayed so many times as a youth. The Shul is in bad condition, old and decrepit, turned into a few apartments and a cinema, no longer in use. There was a date in Hebrew and in English - 1890. My father was born in 1905, so to him, it must have been quite new. I thought a lot about him, praying in Tallis and Tefillin, going to Cheder with his sandwich and onion, being carried through the winter snow by his friend, Shrolinke Mer. I thought of him, leaving his family - forever! - and going to the port to go by ship to America, where two brothers had gone ahead several years before, of his waiting in a queue and fainting there due to lack of food and money, being carried out of the line, losing his place to go to America, and then therefore coming to South Africa. I thought of him being transplanted from Linkuva - where I now stood with Cissy - to Balfour, then Nigel, then Roodepoort.
We visited the Mayor of Linkuva in his office, and he denied ever knowing any Jews. He looked about 40 years old, too young to have been around during the War. There are no Jews in Linkuva now. Regina spoke to several people, some elderly women and an old teacher, but none had known any Jews or any Blumsohns.
Inscription on grave
We then went to the Jewish cemetery. It was cold and there was snow, mud, slush and thick grass all around the uncared-for neglected cemetery. We managed to cross the snow and ice with few mishaps. Regina suggested that we start at the far end working our way back towards the "entrance", and, as we could all read and decipher Hebrew inscriptions, that we split into three, each looking for grandfather's grave. His would be the only family grave we were likely to find, as he died in 1937 before the Churban. Cissy, before we even reached the far end, knocked her foot against a gravestone, and remarked that this was a fine stone. Regina immediately went down on hands and knees and felt with her fingers along the inscribed letters. One could certainly not see them well enough to decipher them. She said, excitedly, "We have found it! We have found the grave!" It was unbelievable, incredible, against all the odds! The stone had fallen and partly broken on the upper left-hand corner and down the side. We could not adequately lift it and restore it in position.
It took us more than half and hour to clean the stone with snow - there was no running water and we were far from anywhere - and then wipe and scrape it dry with the thick, stiff, stalks of grass, until we could clearly read in Hebrew:
Reb Betzalel ben Ze'ev Blumzon
I said Kaddish and I wept. He had died in 1937, his surviving family in Linkuva were butchered soon after; so for nearly sixty years, no one had been there. We were the first. I felt so very humble.
An interesting thing was the date on the tombstone 5 xii 1937, the Hebrew year date being , corresponding to 5698. But a year date must end in a figure from 1 to 9, i.e.
If the year ends in a figure 0, there is no Hebrew equivalent, e.g., 5730 is . It can never end in a which is 90. It should have been . I felt that I had not copied it incorrectly. Later, in Jerusalem, we were reminded that means "to kill", as in the Ten Commandments (Lo Tirtzach). This is not acceptable, so the custom is to transpose the last two letters, as had been done here. The same thing happened more recently - in the year 5744. Tashmad means "destruction" and this was also transposed.
See here for more details of inscription on grave
A Yiddish obituary to my grandfather was published in Lita. My "literal" English translation follows:
Sunday Rosh Chodesh Tevet by us in Linkuva ( ) at the age of 68 years - died the very well-known and well-loved R' Betzalel Blumzon , may his memory be blessed. In the course of 32 years, he was the schochet of Linkuva. He embodied in himself the great man of learning, of wisdom, of honesty and the pious Jew. His death evoked an especially great mourning by all those involved in the day-to-day routine Zionist work. Thanks to his great influence amongst religious Jews, both in Linkuva and surrounding areas, he established a positive relationship with Zionism amongst those religious Jews through his warm and hearty relationship to Zionism amongst those who found themselves in his circle of influence. One can rightly say that only thanks to him, the religious fanaticism with its destructive effect on sound Zionist work, both in Linkuva and its surrounding areas, found absolutely no place. He was loved and respected by all strata of the population irrespective of differences of opinion.
And now his granddaughter, Cissy, lives in Israel, with his great grandchildren and his great-great grandchildren!
We went to a forest on the outskirts of Linkuva where 300 Jews were killed - many of our family. Another Kaddish, and more tears.
Pakroi, Shavli, Telz, Plunge, and Panevezys
We went to nearby Pakroi, home, before the war, to my father's sister, Sarah Epstein, and her family. It is right on the riverbank, looks so tranquil today and we saw an old wooden Shul there. We went back to Siauliai, where my father was born - once a great, old, revered centre of Jewish learning and Yeshivot. We met Meir Ceikinski as arranged earlier. He took us to his public health offices, to the Jewish centre and introduced us to the people, who keep Yiddishkeit alive; and then took us on a personal tour of the city, including the old Yeshivot and ghetto. He was a gracious host.
We drove to Plunge. There Regina took us to see the only Jew, Mr. Yaakov Bunka. He is a woodworker, and he recreated in his wonderful huge wooden carvings the Yiddish world of Lita, and he remains there as a witness. The carvings in his large forest are made into large living trees. They are near life-size, and commemorate the early life in Lita and then the horror of the Holocaust. There is a wonderful carving of his own father and brother, victims of the slaughter. He invited us home for tea/lunch, played beautiful Yiddish music on tape, so gentle and so inspiring. Cissy bought a beautiful small wooden statute of a devout Jew davening in a Tallis and tefillin. He told us that Antony Sher, ex South African actor and author (Middlepost) was originally from Plunge and that he met him on a recent visit.
Then, to Telsiai, the old Telz. We spent the night in an old run- down decrepit Soviet hotel. Next day, we walked the streets, along a lake, among old Yeshivot and ghettos. The famous yeshiva is now in Cleveland, Ohio.
A once vibrant Jewish life - all gone.
We traveled back to Vilna via Panevezys (Ponovezh) - again ghettos, cemeteries, and Churban. The famous Yeshiva is now a bakery. And then we passed through Ukmerge (Wilkomir).
Last Days in Lita
On Erev Shabbat, Friday night, Rosh Chodesh, we went to a Kabbalat Shabbat service in Shul in Vilna. There were about twenty men and Cissy was the only woman. We were invited home for supper and Kiddush by a young Lubavitcher Rabbi from America. They had been there for two years and hoped to stay as long as they were needed. The meal was a satiating American Jewish meal, and he walked us home to our hotel, a short distance from their home.
In Trakai, there is an ancient typical Lithuanian castle and museum, and we saw a non-Jewish wedding on the edge of a frozen, iced-over lake. Trakai once had a large Karaite congregation, and we saw remains and ruins of their easily recognisable Shuls with distinctive groups of three windows.
On our last morning in Lita, all alone, I wandered through the streets, alleyways and labyrinths of Vilna, to the Shul and to the Jewish Centre: places which in a way had entered my soul.... A long walk into the past, with "memories" of things which I had never personally experienced. Can we "remember" things when we had not even been there? I believe we can. It was like going years ago (again with Cissy) to Mount Sinai and "remembering" being there at Zeman matan Torateinu. I read of a woman who had left Vilna as a teenager before the war. She never returned. Her mother urged her not to go back
"Makh nisht keyn hurbn fun dayne sheyne zikhroynes". "Don't destroy your beautiful memories."
We had to sleep over in Frankfurt, and we went on a night-tour of the city. It is magnificent, and has entirely arisen from the ashes of the war. Cissy described it as coming from the 19th century (Lithuania) to the 21st [Germany]. I felt most uncomfortable in Germany, and thought of Nazism and antisemitism. We were met the next day at Ben Gurion airport by Yehuda and I then spent Yom Ha-atzmaut in Israel with the Merozim. It was Israel's 48th anniversary.
Linkuva telephone directory discovered
Back in Israel we visited Sammy Barr in Tel Aviv, a relative from our grandmother's side. From Linkuva as a youth, he went to Palestine in 1934, then went to Scotland to study pharmacy, and returned to Palestine in 1946. We told him about Lita and he told us that he was a member of the Society of Lithuanian Jews in Israel. Their address is 1 David Hamelech Boulevard, Tel Aviv 64953 and Telephone number 6964812.
We (Cissy, Yehuda and I) then phoned Mr. Shimon Girsh in Jerusalem. We had been referred to him by Mr Yechezkiel Zak(as) of Kovno. He invited us to his home; he was the son of Meier Blumzon's best friend, Sha'ul Girsh, and they were all together in Shavel ghetto (the Girshes, father and son, and Meier and Yechezkiel Zak). He and his wife welcomed us warmly, and recognised me as a Blumson. I looked like Meier, he said. He spoke of those days (hayu z'manim) with deep feeling and mixed memories.
He showed us a page of a telephone directory for Lietuvos for 1939, page 297, and there is Linkuva. Note the name of Blumzonas Mejeris, our uncle Meier. And here is his home address, Dariaus Gireno g-ve 19 (and telephone number 35). Note lower down, Girsas Saulle (the father of Shimon), same street No. 5 (telephone number 3). See too, three insertions of the Baras family, the Barrs.
Shimon told us that Blumzon (Meier), Girsh and Borkum were, in fact, three very courageous, brave people - heroes, during the war, staunch friends, three musketeers. Apparently Meier had become wealthy - a wheat and flax and cotton merchant (Hebrew), and he used his money to bribe the authorities to get Jews out of jails and concentration camps.
He showed us two books in Hebrew in which Blumzon, Borkum and Girsh from Linkuva's story is told: Pinchas Shavli Yoman magito Lita (1941 -1944) me'et Eliezer Yerushalmi (Note especially pages 143/9, 174, 187 for the whole story), Ein Zu Agada.
The other book is Yahadut Lita. My nephew Aubrey had previously sent me pages of a book in Yiddish - Lita by Sodarski and Katzenelenbogen in which Linkuva is certainly mentioned, but I couldn't find anything of our three heroes.
The Pakroi Archives
On looking again through the births, marriages and deaths from the Pakroi archives (see Annexure 1), I found the actual birth record of the very Shimon Girsh we visited! Note on 26/9/1925 Simonas Girsas, father Saulas (Uncle Meier's friend). The third next name records the birth of our cousin - Harry Nochumsohn, second son of my father's sister Yachne and Calel Nochumsohn. Harry was later to die on active service during the war in 1945. Isn't this amazing?! His parents (and our Uncle Woolfie Blumsohn) and their children emigrated to South Africa after our father did.
Note, further in the Pakroi records, the marriage in Linkuva on 18/3/1923 of Calel(is) Nochumson'as and Yachne Blumzon - father Calel. And the birth of Sidney in Linkuva on 18/3/1924.
And (!) there is a record of the death (Mirties) of an Ete-Beile Blumzon - father Aronas - in Linkuva on 26/10/1925. Although the record has nyas (male), instead of moteris (female), I feel sure that this must have been a misprint, and that this must have been our great-grandmother, viz. Betzalel's mother. Note in the records Regina gave us that she was Ete-Beile, daughter of Orel (= Aron) Choresh. In 1925, she must have been about 80, and she must have died about two years before our father left Linkuva!
There is a record of a birth of a Kotlovic (Shmuel - Ovsei: father Benjamin) in Linkuva on 7/7/1914. Binyamin Kotlowitz was my father's cousin (from his mother's side), who emigrated to Cape Town, South Africa. They had children Raphael, Nathan, Meilech and Rachel - all names ending in -el (Refa-el, Netan-el, Micha-el, and Rach-el). Was Shmuel an earlier son? Who died?
Both Mr. Zak (in Kovno) and Mr. Girsh (in Jerusalem) mentioned names of other people from Linkuva, notably Borkum, Luria, Blecher, and Mer. There are records of these names and of Zak and of Girsh too and of an Aremband (the family of the man who went with me to Mr. Eli Sament's home).
Our Uncle Meier had been taken to Dachau, and our Auntie Rochel (Rachil) to Stutthof Concentration Camp. We had obtained information from International Tracing Service, Arolsen, Germany of what had befallen them.
Rachil survived the camp and emigrated alone (without her child) to the USA on 14/11/1949, where she later died. Maurice, in fact, once visited her in America. Our father's two brothers, whom I referred to as having earlier (1912 or 1914) gone to America were Irving and Herman Bloom. Irving had remained a bachelor, and Herman and his wife, Florence had two children, Sammy (a"h) and (Paul) Irving. I have been fortunate to have met them and their families both in the USA and in Israel.
But, note too, that several of our grandfather's brothers and sisters had emigrated to America too in the 1880s and 1890s, -- eg., Fruma, Martin Bloom, Harris S. Bloome, George, Fanny, Louis, Rose and Paul. See the Linkuva archive in Resources page. Martin appears as Moshe Itzik, Harris S. as Shlomo Hirsh, Fanny as Feige, Louis as Lozer Yudel and Rose as Sheina Bluma. Bezalel Blumsohn was one of 10 children. One died young in Lithuania. All of the other siblings ended up in the US, and changed their names to Bloom (or some variant spelling). Of these Martin, Rose, Harris, Fruma, and George are all buried near one another in the Mount Hebron cemetery in Queens.
On the last day of my stay in Israel, Cissy's son took me to Yad Vashem. We found the same books discussed above and we became very engrossed in them. We found names of other Blumzons, such as Yosef and Reuven. I have not followed these up.
Two final thoughts
I thought of Uncle Meier - imprisoned and tortured in ghettos and camps in Lithuania and in Germany, of his courage and of his death after being deprived of Liberty; and, on the other hand, of his nephew, Harry Nochumson, of his freewill, fighting in a South African uniform in the war against Nazism and for freedom at the age of about 20. Aleihem hashalom and zichronam livracha - both of them. Truth really is stranger than fiction.
We now have the telephone directory of Linkuva, and so we have the address of Blumzonas Mejeris. I note that recently there have been moves afoot to reclaim Jewish property in Lithuania. Shall we try to put in a claim?! Just perhaps to close the links with our roots?!
Thanks These pages are dedicated to the 200,000 Jewish men, women and children of Lithuania who were murdered by the Nazis and their Lithuanian collaborators. Amongst them were approximately 250 Jews from the village of Linkuva. It is also dedicated to my beloved parents, Aaron and Leiba Blumsohn.
"Listen, my son, to the teaching of your father and don't neglect the instruction of your mother." "They walked before Hashem in truth and sincerity of heart and did what is good in his eyes."
I am deeply grateful to my nephews, Aubrey and Gary, whose idea it was to put my narrative on the Internet and who carried out the idea by creating the website and editing the story to suit the Internet.
I am also grateful to my brother, Maurice, who was the sender of many messages back and forth from me to Aubrey in Scotland and to Gary in the USA and receiving theirs in return.
I thank them for their devoted help, superb editing and advice. I appreciate their guidance, encouragement, availibility, kindness and infinite patience. I am delighted and deeply touched by their interest and by their many hours of dedication to the task. My love and respect to them. May Hashem bless them and their families.
My sincere thanks too to my sister, Cissy, my travelling companion, for sharing these experiences with me and for the wonderful video which she made of our journey. My love to her. May Hashem be gracious to her and to her family.
Thanks too, to Regina Kopilevich, our wonderful guide and friend. Le'hitraot.
Some documents relating to this story
Lithuanian archives for Linkuva
A notebook from Shavli
Extracts from Yahadut Lita
Josef Lurie, The Story of a Holocaust Survivor from Linkuva (interview)
Witness account of the murders in Linkuva
Linkuva and its Residents. Essay on the Jews of Linkuva by Teodora Katiliene (non Jewish)
A visit to Linkuva, by Julie Goell
[Table of Contents] [Background - Journey to Linkova] [The Journey to Linkuva] [Photograph Gallery - Linkuva, Lithuania] [Maps of Lithuania] [Blumsohn tree] [Linkuva Directory] [Linkuva and Holocaust Resources] [Audio testimony - Murder in Linkuva]