Go Back

The Linkuva blood libel


A VISIT TO LESLIE GOLDBLATT, AUTHOR OF "IT WAS BUT YESTERDAY" AND AN AMAZING COINCIDENCE

Two chapters of this book relating to the Linkuva Blood Libel can be downloaded here in Windows helpfile format for reading offline.

Foreword

My brother David, my wife Joy and I visited Mr. Leslie Goldblatt and his wife Mona at their home on the afternoon of the 20th June 1998. Mr. Goldblatt is the author of the book "It Was But Yesterday" which deals with life in a Lithuanian shtetl called Velinka, a fictitious town modelled on Linkuva. One of my sons got hold of a copy of the book, and we all read it with great interest. It is an extremely moving book about life in the shtetl in the early 20th century.

I remembered reading, with great enjoyment, many stories and articles written by Mr. Goldblatt in Jewish newspapers and periodicals in South Africa, such as the Zionist Record, Jewish Times, Jewish Herald and Jewish Affairs but I don't think I ever knew that he came from Linkuva. Perhaps my father told us but I do not recall it. However, we did not know if he was still alive until we made contact with him through some other people who came from Linkuva.

During our visit Mr. Goldblatt told us many interesting facts about himself and life in the shtetl.

He was born in 1914 and lived in Linkuva, Lithuania until 1928 when he emigrated to South Africa. He arrived in South Africa on the 23rd August 1928 aboard the boat Toledo and the entry in the "Immigration Book" shows that he was 18 years old and that he was proceeding to his aunt, Mrs. F. Seel in Pretoria. She was his father's youngest sister.

I had been the day before to the Jewish Board of Deputies library to examine the Immigration Lists. If I had not known that his name was Onias when he arrived here I would not have found the entry about his arrival. I asked him why his age is given as 18 when he was really 14. He said that Lithuania was fighting a war against Poland at the time, about 3 million people against about 30 million and Lithuania needed every soldier they could find. They took them into the army at age 18 and for their own convenience, altered ages to 17 when the children were only 13. So he had to get out of there before he turned 14 (18 in their books ) if he did not want to land up in the army.

His mother's maiden name was Mer (Mehr). He had two brothers and two sisters all of whom have since passed away. His brothers, David and Louis both lived in South Africa. David and his family went to live in Israel in 1948 and helped to found a Kibbutz which at the time was a South African one. Tzilla lived in Mexico. Sonya was a Zionist who wanted to go to Israel but stayed in Lithuania because she was the only child left there. She and their parents were slaughtered in the Holocaust.

He does not remember any very happy times in Linkuva. There was the war against Poland, there was anti-Semitism (he remembers the Jews being chased and called "Jew-pig") and of course there was the blood libel which is described in two chapters of "It Was But Yesterday", Lithuania was not a very pleasant place for the Jews.

Many of the Jews were not religious. There were many who were called "free thinkers". Some of the Jews were Zionists but there were many who were not. Most of the religious Jews such as his father could never think of Jerusalem as a place to live and as something physical. To them it was only spiritual and could only be spoken about in religious terms. In the same way, to those people it was a sin to speak Hebrew which was only to be used for religious purposes. He said that the Jews tried to live near one another and away from the non-Jews but were not really successful. The Jews were the shopkeepers and traders and were hated by the non-Jews because of jealousy.

He remembers that his father was the Rebbe (note, not The Rabbi). We did not quite understand this but think he meant a teacher. He said he thinks the Rabbi's name was Levitan. He certainly remembered Bezalel Blumzon the Shochet (my grandfather).

His father was very strict with him and when he was 9 years old he was sent to Ponovezh Yeshiva to study for the Rabbinate. He doesn't remember too much about where he actually lived and slept during the next 2 or 3 years but remembers being hungry a large part of the time. His food consisted of black bread and onions. He was a useless (his word) Yeshiva bocher and got sick when he was about 12. He revolted and refused to continue his studies and that was the only formal education that he ever had. (He mentioned that his wife was a very educated woman and helped him with his English writings.) So he went to work.

His family name in Lithuania was Oni (Oney) to which -as is added in Lithuanian, thus Onias. His uncle who came to South Africa before him, changed it to Goldblatt. Apparently he was ridiculed here with a name like Onias which sounded like onions. He doesn't know why Goldblatt. So his brothers followed suit when they came here and so did he. On his arrival in South Africa he went to live in Sybrandskraal and learned Afrikaans before English. He was fluent in Afrikaans but never wrote in that language.

When he had been in South Africa for a couple of years he wrote articles in Yiddish for the Amerikaner, an American Yiddish newspaper which I remember my father buying in South Africa. He says they did not know that he was only 16 at the time.

In 1936 he left South Africa for London to take up a career in acting and singing. He acted with famous actors and actresses such as Marlene Dietrich and sang with some great singers, such as Caruso. He said he doesn't tell too many people about that as it seems as though he's boasting. When the war broke out he volunteered and went into the Metropolitan War Police. When years went by and he saw no "action" he got fed up and resigned and came back to South Africa.

He took a job in the furniture business and earned a living as a manager with Barnetts. He married his wife, Mona in 1944. (Sadly, Mona passed away in the winter of 2000. We are sorry that we did not have the opportunity to get to know this charming lady better.) He took up painting around then and some of his paintings (landscapes) hung on the walls of their apartment. He says he sold many of his paintings. He also made furniture such as tables. We saw some beautiful examples in the apartment. However he says he never made a living from painting nor from writing. He stopped writing and painting in about 1990.

We asked to see some of his writings. He showed us some huge "books" with numerous cuttings of his published works and some I think that were not published. He wrote mostly short stories and poems. He called himself a leftist and said that a lot of what he wrote had to be hidden in the apartheid days. Some of it was published in banned Communist newspapers. He had some published under a nom de plume, Leslie Oney! When we saw what he had written and on questioning him, we felt that he was not a communist nor even a socialist. He was obviously anti-apartheid and opposed to racism but he did not believe in redistributing wealth nor in all other Communist dogma. We found his poems to be moving and touching, about being black and disadvantaged as opposed to being white and advantaged. The King David School had chosen one of his poems to be taught as part of English studies.




Maurice Blumsohn
October 1998

AND NOW THE AMAZING COINCIDENCE

While we were looking through these huge books and stopping every now and then to read something aloud or to make some comments, David, who was looking through one of the smaller books on his own suddenly said, "Wow, have a look at this!" This is what we saw.:-

"A Review by Dora Sowden" published in The Zionist Record on August 17th 1951

"AUTHENTIC PICTURE OF LITHUANIAN VILLAGE

How much of Mr. Leslie Goldblatt's story of a Lithuanian village 'It Was But Yesterday' is fiction and how much is fact it is not easy to judge but there is an authentic ring of recollection in most of what he has to describe-- the struggle to make a living, the pursuit of holiness, the little scandals and the gradual dispersal of the family across the wide waters. That Mr. Goldblatt does not intend us to take this as an actual autobiography can be seen from the name he gives his 'hero', Moshe, and from the name he gives his home town, Velinka.

Mr. C. Gershater who has written a foreword to this little book, mentions that the author comes from Linkuva and rightly says that any record of old Lithuania is very welcome. But surely Mr. Goldblatt has allowed himself a little too much latitude in the choice of what he cares to remember. Surely it must be exaggerated fancy to imagine that a Jewish child would let herself be made the tool of a hideous blood libel, the spectre of which has been the cause of so much fear and tragedy among Jewish communities in those countries where persecution and injustice were never far off.

That a Jewish child would allow a non -Jew to persuade her to say that she saw her own father kill a child is quite unacceptable, either as fact or fiction. No Jewish child, however much she was open to outside influences or wicked promptings, could support such a horror. And even supposing that such an incredible monster of a child ever did exist, surely she should be forgotten as quickly as possible. Mr. Goldblatt's memory and imagination could be put to better purpose.

Amateurish as Mr. Goldblatt's pen is, this work would (apart from this shuddering blot) have been an artless but attractive account of the old life in the old world.

Without much descriptive ability the author manages to give a vivid picture of village life.

As Mr Gershater says, 'His book would have been of special interest as a record of a childhood and a youth. It assumes particular poignancy because it describes a world that has passed and is no more."


AND RIGHT NEXT TO IT WAS PASTED THE FOLLOWING LETTER WHICH HAD APPEARED IN THE FOLLOWING ISSUE OF THE ZIONIST RECORD:-

" Friday, August 24th 1951

BLOOD LIBEL IN LINKUVA
Sir,

I would like to tell the Dora Sowden who reviewed my Landsman's book 'It Was But Yesterday' that his story of the blood libel was not an exaggerated fancy. My late father was the schochet in Linkuva and he wrote to me the whole story.

The Jewish child in the story was the only Jewish child that attended the Lithuanian school and she was made to feel miserable by both sections, the Jewish and Lithuanian. It would appear that the principal had either hypnotised her, threatened her or bribed her. My late father, who was one of the accused was questioned on the subject for several days.

Yours etc.

A Blumsohn
P.O. Box 152
Roodepoort


We were absolutely thrilled to find this and we could so easily have missed it as we did not go through all his cuttings by any manner of means. Mrs. Goldblatt said that they remembered that Dora Sowden had given this rather bad review and that they had wanted to respond, but felt that it would not be the right thing to do. They remember being very glad at the time that someone had come to his defence but they obviously would never have remembered that it was my father.

"My family and I are now happy to be able to publish on this website some extracts from the book "It Was But Yesterday" as a tribute to the Jews of Linkuva. We are extremely grateful to the author, Mr. Leslie Goldblatt and his family for allowing us to do so. We hope that all who read these extracts will contact Mrs. Galvad as suggested, with a view to making a donation to "Our Parents' Home". (Perhaps we shall be able to publish the book in its entirety in the not-too-distant future.)"

Maurice Blumsohn

March 2001

The exact circumstances surrounding the events of the Linkuva blood libel are uncertain. It is clear that the events described in Mr Goldblatt's book are broadly in accordance with what did happen, and that an investigation did take place into an alleged blood libel in Linkuva. It is not however clear whether a child did actually disappear. The Linkuva blood libel is mentioned in prior publications and correspondence:

See http://www.jewishgen.org/Yizkor/rokiskis/rok066.html which mentions the circumstances surrounding the Linkuva blood libel and the exact year this took place. This predates Mr. Goldblatt's book

"In 1924 there were "blood libels'' in Mariampol, Shantz, Linkova, and Ayranoleh. In the last two shtetlach, the witnesses upon whom the accusers relied were two young Jewish girls, aged seven and eight. The girls were students in a Lithuanian school and were brought as witness by the instigators of the libel who were the girls´ teachers in the Lithuanian school. In both situations, it was the Lithuanian intelligentsia of the small towns that sounded the alarm and protested the libel. The intervention averted a pogrom on the Jewish population. The Lithuanian intelligentsia of the larger cities were more practical than the peasants in the small towns. The Lithuanians living in the larger cities did not make accusations of blood libels nor commit hurtful acts."


This story is reproduced in memory of the Jews of Linkuva

Extracts of the book "It Was But Yesterday" are published on this website with the permission of the author, Mr. Leslie Goldblatt and of his family. Readers of the (extracts of) the book "It Was But Yesterday" by Leslie Goldblatt on this website are asked to note by the author and his family that they are privileged to read these extracts free of charge. They are requested kindly to contact the author's daughter, Mrs. G. Galvad by e-mail at flubs@pixie.co.za if they wish to make a donation to "Our Parent's Home", which is a home for Jewish Aged in Johannesburg, South Africa. All donations will be acknowledged by the family.

@insertion2

Chapter 11 - Linkuva Blood Libel Part I

The following afternoon Simeli took us back home to Velinka, and father and mother sat on the sleigh sighing. People were always sighing after a celebration, for the prospect of going back to the drudgery of every day life was not a pleasant one.

The empty house seemed cold and dark. Mother lit a fire in the clay oven and we all crowded round it for warmth. A bluish-grey light filtered through the small, frost covered window panes. It was Shvat, the coldest month of the year.

These winter days were very short, and at the oratory, where father taught us the Talmud, we studied long after nightfall. "And thou shalt learn the Torah day and night," he quoted, and added appropriately, "regardless of the weather."

One cold, moonless evening, I lit the candle in my small, square lantern and made my way to the oratory. A bitterly cold wind stung mercilessly at the exposed parts of my face, and the greyish-blue snow crunched noisily under my boots. The lights of the oratory shone dimly but warmly through the frost covered window panes, and a gust of warm, stale air greeted me as I opened the door. I found father sitting at the long wooden table, deeply engrossed in a large book. He seldom went home for supper in winter. Instead, soon after the evening prayers, he made his way to the oratory and remained there studying, even after the children had finished their lessons and gone home. He did not seem to hear me come in, but as he felt the gust of cold air which accompanied me as I entered, he gave a little shiver. and continued his learning without interruption. I seated myself quietly at the table, opened my book of the Talmud and started to learn.

"Is that you my son?"

His voice was so soft and kind that I looked up in surprise and confusion.

"Yes, father," I said, and noticing that his face was the colour of ash and his eyes painfully sad, I added, "What's the matter?"

"Nothing, my son, nothing, if it will please the Holy Name."

I glanced at Reb Yehudah the Porush, who preferred the oratory to the synagogue during the winter months because it was warm there, and was surprised to see that he was not learning. Instead, he was staring into space, deep in thought. Yonteh the beadle came in, tended the fire in the oven, sighed deeply and went out without as much as a word of greeting.

Strange, I thought, everybody looked as if perhaps the Rabbi of Velinka, God forbid, had suddenly died an unnatural death.

Even at home father remained melancholy and pre-occupied.

"What's the matter?" complained mother. "You walk about and cackle like a half dead hen."

Father turned his sad eyes on her. "Golda," he said, "there is great trouble brewing. It may culminate into a terrible calamity for Velinka and for all the Yeeden of Lithuania, but we must not lose faith in the Almighty."

"Nu," said mother, "don't talk in riddles, tell me what is happening."

"A child is missing," father broke the news abruptly. A Gentile child."

Mother went as white as a sheet. She understood the implication of his words. Every Jew knew what it meant when a Gentile child disappeared a few weeks before Pesach. It meant a blood-libel; accusations against the Jewish community that they had killed the child and used its blood for matzo.

"An old trick of the enemies of Israel," sighed father. "Many pogroms were caused by it. Although the innocence of Israel has been proven time and again, our enemies persist, thirsty for our blood."

To meet the emergency, the Rabbi of Velinka called a meeting of the congregation at the synagogue.

"Yeeden," he said, "you all know what black shadows, God forbid, are hovering over our community. Don't lose faith, Yeeden. Trust in the Almighty."

"Let us search for the child," suggested a member. "It must be somewhere. Perhaps it has lost its way, or is in hiding!"

"So be it, and may the Lord be with you," said the Rabbi. "I have full trust in Him."

Every merchant, peddler, tailor and hawker, took it upon himself to look out for the child. The description -about four years old, blonde hair and blue eyes, was of no use. Ninety percent of all Lithuanian children of that age would have answered to that description, but soon his name was known, Jonas Petrauskas.

A week went by without any news. In the meantime Purim had passed without the accompanying celebrations. It was not the usual happy affair in commemoration of the event when Esther had saved the Jews from the hands of Hamman. Although the children still shot their toy pistols, made a noise with their rattles and ate hammantashen, the grown-ups were in no mood for celebrating. They were worried and deeply concerned. There seemed to be so many Hammans seeking to harm the Jews of every generation; so many monsters lurking in the dark and thirsting for Jewish blood, that their joy turned to sadness, and their gladness to sorrow. The Jews lived their hard, simple lives without hurting anyone, and buried their sorrows in trust of the Almighty; they rejoiced in the little joys and celebrations of their festivals, but the sword of Hamman continually threatened them.

The sword was now poised and ready to strike. But where was Hamman? Where was the cruel hand which drew the sword from its sheath? Was there such a monster in their own dear little village of Velinka.?

As yet there had been no direct accusations levelled against the Jews, but the atmosphere was one of a sinister and frightening calm before the break of a furious, devastating storm. Should the child not be returned to its parents before Passover; should there be some flimsy proof that the Jews had a hand in its death, then all the concealed, smouldering hatred would flare up to crush the defenceless structure of the Jewish community.

The melting snow was a sure sign that spring was near at hand. The ice upon the pools and rivers cracked and broke. The black crows disappeared, and the swallows returned from down south. The cold hand of winter was loosening its icy grip upon the world, and the kind, mild spring was on its way to warm its frozen heart. Bare trees sprouted buds; frail blades of grass poked their young, green heads above the melting snow; and waking bears stretched, yawned, and opened their sleepy eyes to view the birth of a new world.

The spring rains once again turned the streets and lanes into thoroughfares of mud, and back came the galoshes, the wooden side walkway, and the sacks in front of doors for wiping mud-covered shoes. As if overnight, the double windows disappeared from the houses, and the windows were flung wide to let the fresh air flow freely through the house for the first time in four months.

In normal times these would have been the days of great activity in Jewish homes. The topic of discussion would have been the problems involved in the baking of the unleavened bread. Relatives, neighbours and friends would have come together, as they had done in previous years, and helped each other willingly and cheerfully. Every available person, child or grown-up, would have lent a hand in the baking of the matzo. There would have been singing and laughter, and everyone equally conscientious whether it his own or someone else's matzo he was helping to bake. This year however, the preparations for the Passover went on slowly and joylessly. Mother looked at the

wooden cask of cherry wine, with its wooden tap, and sighed.

"Who knows if we'll use it?"

All the household utensils, which were specially kept from one Passover to the other, were still packed away in their wooden cases in the "dump." It was too soon to haul them out, but when mother checked through them to see if she was not short of anything, she handled them indifferently and without spirit. That same rhetorical question, "who knows if we'll need them?" Kept playing havoc with her peace of mind.

On the surface, life in Velinka went on as usual. People continued with their daily tasks as if nothing was happening, and even the Gentiles still traded with the Jewish shopkeepers. The undercurrents however, were strong, though on the surface there was calm.

We stood alone in our firm belief that we were innocent. As far as we were concerned, it was a foregone conclusion that the child would return home soon after the Passover. It always did, but by then the pogrom would be over; the slain would not return, nor would the devastated homes be compensated for.

Anxious days. People always felt closer to one another in their adversity, and seemed more understanding. Words were superfluous It was only three weeks before Passover, and still there was no sign of the child. Suspense gave way to the horrible certainty of a pogrom, but the Jews of Velinka were determined to have a hand in their fate. Under the leadership of Bentzeh the Blacksmith, a secret meeting was called in Jose the merchant's cellar. Bentzeh was a big, powerful man with a thick, curly black beard and large warm eyes which seemed to reflect the burning embers of the fire in his forge. His bull-neck and steel-bound arms were the terror and envy of rowdy peasants for miles around. He was a comparative newcomer to Velinka, for he had come to the village soon after the 1905 revolution in which he was somehow involved. Rumour had it that his real name was not Bentzeh and that he possessed a false passport.

Now his underground training stood the village in good stead. With the help of a local youth organisation he drew up a list of all the young men and boys in Velinka and sent word for them to assemble. None failed to answer his call.

It was a motley assembly; Zionists and Communists, orthodox and freethinkers, merchants and toilers, old and young, all united for a common cause.

"Men," said Bentzeh, mounting a dust-covered barrel, "we are here to organise a self-defence organisation. I'm not going to hold any speeches and seek to inspire you, because it is not necessary. We are all Jews, and all under the same horrible threat of a blood libel. We protect our homes and the lives of our mothers, wives and children. We cannot stand by and see them slaughtered by blood-thirsty beasts. We'll fight for our own lives and theirs, and if there is anyone among us who is coward enough to shrink from this sacred duty, let him leave this place now."

Bentzeh, big, burly and confident as he was, was cut out to be a real leader. He looked magnificent as he stood there on the wooden barrel, posed against the dim, pink light of the hurricane lamp hanging on the wall. He scrutinised the faces around him, waiting for someone to speak. No one moved. A grim silence prevailed. There was Motel the teacher, with his thin, refined face and nervous eyes, who spent all his time in class-rooms and with exercise books, and who would shrink from killing an insect; there was Srolik the crazy poet who spent his life dreaming about, the sound of rippling brooks and the twitter of birds, but never of violence and blood; there were the bearded Talmudists who lived with the musty pages of ancient books, engrossed in the depth of reason and powers of persuasion, and bore no malice towards anyone. There were the small, anaemic-looking tailors, who knew how to thread a needle, but the grip of the sword was strange to their touch; there were the simple, hard-working and kind-hearted Jews, who knew how to toil for bread, but were ignorant of the arts of warfare.

Bentzeh waited, but his motley assembly of "warriors," many of whom would probably have fainted at the first sight of blood, looked grim and painfully resolute. Not one of them betrayed his fears openly, and not one of them moved to leave. This was more than Bentzeh had expected. He smiled with visible satisfaction.

"Good," he said. "We are sixty-seven men. There is hope for us if we are well disciplined and keep calm. There is no time to lose. This organisation must remain a dead secret from the Gentiles. When the trouble starts there will be thousands of them ready to kill or loot, and the element of surprise is our strongest weapon. They'll come expecting no opposition, but when we hit back and hurt some of them, there will be chaos, and they'll start killing one another or run away. Most of them will be looters. We can easily oppose that small number who are out for blood."

"What are we to fight with?" Asked Bereh the cab driver. "With whips?"

"With all we have or can lay our hands on," replied Bentzeh. "Axes, iron bars and knives, and we may even get some revolvers." With the mention of arms the stark horror of the situation suddenly dawned on them. The idea of chopping someone with an axe, splitting someone's head open with an iron bar, or sticking a knife into someone's back, was awful. It was sickening and nauseating.

"They are coming to kill you said Bentzeh. "If you don't kill them, they'll kill you, your wives and children. When we are gone there will be no one to revenge our blood. No one will take our part, even after our innocence has been proven, and our children rotting in their untimely graves. We are but Jews!"

All the Jews of Velinka knew about the self-defence organisation. Some welcomed it, but most viewed it with pathetic concern.

"What chance will the few of us stand against the massed thousands of Gentiles? They'll gather from far and wide. Thousands of them !"

Although Leibe was a member of the organisation, father was one of the pessimistic ones.

"Ach, ach," he sighed. "Let the Uppermost One be our protector."

With this sentiment no one disagreed, but some maintained that to depend entirely on the Uppermost One's protection was not altogether wise.

"The Almighty helps those who help themselves," they said. "We must do all we can, then the Almighty will help us." There was no repudiating that.

Hence every Jewish heart in Velinka was with those who belonged to the self-defence organisation. Every mother and wife took special care that her man was well fed and warmly clad when he went out at night to the secret meetings and training places.

Bentzeh's blacksmith shop carried on as usual, repairing wagon wheels and shodding horses hoofs, but secretly, between the visits of Gentile customers, Bentzeh and his son Abkeh were feverishly working on armaments. The hammer beat tirelessly with its rhythmic tune upon the anvil, and bars of iron were cut into handy sizes, and shaped to give a comfortable grip and a dangerous point.

"As good as any sword," Bentzeh commented grimly.

"But too heavy for some of our men," remarked Abkeh.

Bentzeh weighed a piece of iron in his huge hand. "Hmm...." he groaned, "some of these tailors and pen-pushers have hands like those of baby girls. We'll have to make some lighter ones for them."

They hid the weapons in secret places throughout the village where there were training centres. Each member of a station knew only where his own dump was situated.

"There must be no chaos when the time comes," lectured Bentzeh "You must all stick to your stations, and orders will reach you in due course."

Chapter 12 - Linkuva Blood Libel Part II

The hidden sword of Hamman struck suddenly. It descended with such force and so unexpectedly, that it left the Jews stupified and badly shaken, and the Gentiles bewildered and seething with anger. Never before had a blood-libel taken such a turn, and even the newspapers of far off Kaunas were issuing detailed accounts of what was taking place in the little, unknown village of Velinka. Travellers carried the news far and wide, so that the whole countryside was astir, breathlessly following events as they unfolded themselves, heading towards the inevitable, cruel disaster.

The storm broke on that fateful Wednesday, fifteen days before Passover. Malutka, Lova the merchant's little girl, who attended the Gentile school in Velinka, came and told her classmates that she knew what had happened to the missing Gentile child. The teachers started to question her and she told them a most gruesome story, that she herself had seen, how the child had been brought into their house and tied to the table-top after a short prayer by the Rabbi, and the shochet killed him in the same way as he slaughtered sheep. As blood poured from the child's throat, Reb Abba and Yonteh the beadle hastened to hold a basi q under the crimson stream, which was to be used in the baking of the unleavened bread for Passover. Then the body was wrapped in a grain-bag and taken away.

Action followed very quickly. Malutka was immediately taken to the police station where she told the same story to a kindly policeman who gave her sweets as encouragement.

Although Leibe was a member of the organisation, father was one of the pessimistic ones.

"Ach, ach," he sighed. "Let the Uppermost One be our protector."

With this sentiment n'~ one disagreed, but some maintained that to depend entirely on the Uppermost One's protection was not altogether wise.

"The Almighty helps those who help themselves," they said. "We must do all we can, then the Almighty will help us." There was no repudiating that.

Hence every Jewish heart in Velinka was with those who belonged to the self-defence organisation. Every mother and wife took special care that her man was well fed and warmly clad when he went out at night to the secret meetings and training places.

Bentzeh's blacksmith shop carried on as usual, repairing wagon wheels and shodding horses' hoofs, but secretly, between the visits of Gentile customers, Bentzeh and his son Abkeh were feverishly working on armaments. The hammer beat tirelessly with its rhythmic tune upon the anvil, and bars of iron were cut into handy sizes, and shaped to give a comfortable grip and a dangerous point.

"As good as any sword," Bentzeh commented grimly.

"But too heavy for some of our men," remarked Abkeh.

Bentzeh weighed a piece of iron in his huge hand. "Hm. .m.." he groaned, "some of these tailors and pen-pushers have hands like those of baby girls. We'll have to make some lighter ones for them."

They hid the weapons in secret places throughout the village where there were training centres. Each member of a station knew only where his own dump was situated.

"There must be no chaos when the time comes," lectured Bentzeh. "You must all stick to your stations, and orders will reach you in due course."

The news spread like wildfire, and the atmosphere at the Jewish houses was sadder than on the Day of Atonement. Father was pale and silent, but mother and the girls wailed and bemoaned our fate. Many were the good people who came, not to console, but to add their tears to ours. Lawyers and many government officials rushed down to Velinka from Kaunas, and police reinforcements were sent from Siauliai. The preliminary enquiry was to begin with-out delay, for the countryside was astir, and the trouble might flare up at any moment.

The Jews lived under a self imposed curfew. Shops were shut, doors bolted, and windows closely shuttered. It was Thursday, market day, but no Jew dared venture into the streets. The "great ones" from Kanuas were already busy compiling the evidence and questioning witnesses. Farmers and peasants were streaming into Velinka from all directions. On their carts and wagons they had the usual produce intended for sale, but hidden under grain bags on the floor of the wagons, they also had axes and knives, for market day might end "successfully" and they might return home with carts and wagons loaded high with loot.

The fate of the Jews of Velinka, possibly of the whole of Lithuania, was hanging in the balance. Malutka was questioned again and again, but she kept doggedly to her story.

"Where were you at the time when all this took place?"

"At home," she replied.

"Didn't your father send you into another room when all the people came?"

"I was supposed to be asleep, but I wasn't, and I saw everything."

"Why didn't you tell anyone about it before?"

"I was frightened."

"Who told you to tell this story?"

"Nobody."

The questioning had taken a serious turn and went on for long stretches at a time. Malutka had to do without her sweets to which she was accustomed. She did not like all the strange men who were asking her so many questions pointing their fingers at her and even shouting. She was afraid of them, but now there was no stopping. Everybody seemed to be very concerned with what she was saying, her mother was crying bitterly and did not even try to stop all those nasty people from bullying her.

"I want to go home," she cried, but they would not let her, and question followed question.

Soon the strain began to tell on her. She started to whimper and to cry, and answered "I don't know," to many of the questions she had previously replied to so promptly. The lawyers could not get any further by keeping her there, so they sent her home and adjourned till next morning.

It was a fearfully long night for the Jews of Velinka. Terror of what might happen to them during the hours of darkness, and anxiety for the morrow, robbed them of their rest. The men of the self-defence organisation were on guard, and the women and children sat in the darkness of their barricaded homes and listened, with trembling hearts, to any sound or movement which reached them from the darkness outside. When morning came, they dropped o~ into an uneasy and restless sleep.

Malutka was brought again for questioning. She was tired and listless. Her mother told the lawyers that the child had cried nervously throughout the night.

"Don't take me to those men again," she pleaded frantically. "I'm afraid."

But there was no mercy, and the bombardment of questions started again.

"Who brought the child in?"

"Who tied him onto the table?"

"Didn't he scream?"

"Weren't you afraid to look at him when his throat was cut, and the blood flowed?"

Wincing, Malutka shrank back; then she screamed and lapsed into a fit of loud crying.

The teacher from Kaunas, who was one of the principle witnesses, since he had brought the whole matter to the notice of the police, went up and tried to pacify her.

"No one is going to hurt you. Tell the gentlemen the story as you told me. Don't be frightened. Come on Malutka, you are a good girl."

But the teacher's approach only made matters worse, for she shivered, shrank back, then tried to run away.

"I want to go home," she screamed frantically. "I want to go home."

Her voice rose to a hysterical scream, and there was no calming her.

"Her nerves are going," someone remarked. "We']l get nothing more out of her."

She was again sent home, and once more the hearing was adjourned until the following day.

It was Friday evening, and for the first time since anybody could remember, the synagogue of Velinka was not illuminated on Sabbath. Six men, including father, managed to reach it at the risk of their lives, but there was not a minyan, so they welcomed ~e Sabbath in solitude and darkness, and spent the night there on the hard benches. If they must die, let it be in the House of the Lord, near His holy Torah. The rest of the Jews of Velinka prepared to spend the night in a similar way to the previous one; starting nervously at any unusual sound or movement in the darkness outside.

The self-defence organisation was out on guard as on the night before, only they were more confident now since

they had received a reinforcement of ten men from the Jewish chalutz organisation of Kaunas. Bentzeh was pleaded with them. They were fine, muscular lads with the love of freedom in their hearts, the liberty which they hoped to find in Eretz Israel. They also brought two revolvers with them, and this delighted Bentzeh and heartened the other men as though they possessed a cannon. Now they had real weapons, and a force of seventy-seven men.

Mother was lying fully dressed, on the sofa in the general room, trying to snatch a few moments of undisturbed sleep. She had pleaded with father not to go to the synagogue and expose himself to the danger of the streets, but he would not listen. His safety he said, was in the hands of

the Lord, and he would not welcome the Holy Sabbath in solitude and at home. Leibe was out the whole night on guard duty, the girls and I were asleep, but for mother there was no rest. She had to be up, ready to wake the children, fight for them and if necessary, die for them. So she lay on the sofa, her mind in torment, starting up I suddenly at any imaginary sound or movement, and easing her worried heart with tears. At last she dozed off, but not for long. She was suddenly awakened by a noise in the yard. There were footsteps, whispering voices, and then a tap at the door. Should she wake the children? No, not the girls. Their nerves were on edge, and they would scream.

"Mother." Came a hoarse whisper from outside. Did not he imagine it? Was it her imagination deceiving her? "Mother, open the door". It must be Leibe. She ran first to the window, then to the door. In her confused haste, she fumbled clumsily with the heavy bolts. Leibe and another man were waiting outside. They were nervous and impatient. To "Mother," Leibe whispered excitedly, "I've come to tell you that you may not see me for a few days. Maybe even till after Peisach. There has been a bit of a fight, and I. I hurt someone. I must run away and hide somewhere. It's impossible to hide here, for someone may have seen us.

Please don't ask me any questions now. There is no time to talk. I must hurry. Goodbye, mother. Don't worry. I'll be back." He kissed her and in the same moment he was gone. Dazed, mother remained leaning against the open U door. Her lips moved but no sound came from them.

"It must have been a dream, or... maybe I am going

mad. Leibe couldn't have been here. He is on guard."

Then the familiar creaking of the gate closing at the

far end of the yard, and the sound of hurrying feet splashing through the mud, brought her to her senses.

"Oh," she screamed, "Leibeleh, my dear little Leibeleh," She ran a few steps towards the closed gate, stopped, and sank to the ground covering her face with her hands.

From early morning the rumble of wagon wheels echoed over the mud-covered cobbles of the market place. The mass influx of peasants was supposed to be early worshippers for the Sunday mass, but everyone knew that this was only a cloak with which to conceal the real object of their coming. They lingered about the closed shops and looked through the windows with covetous eyes. There was no mistaking what they were waiting for. Some were already half drunk, splashing about in the mud, and openly voicing their pent up sentiments. They had taken part in pogroms before, and the good old slogan used in the days of the Tzarist occupation still held good for them.

"Kill the Jews and liberate Russia." Although Velinka was now under Lithuanian rule, the people were still the same; ignorant, superstitious, and prejudiced. The Jew was undoubtedly the cause of all their troubles, their misfortunes and poverty.

"Kill the Jews and liberate Russia."

True, Russia had found another way of liberating herself, without killing her Jews, but those simple peasants who came to Velinka that day and who were now drunk and ready for a pogrom, were not interested in Russia's methods. Russia was Russia, and a pogrom was a pogrom. Unfortunately there were policemen here, and nothing could be done before the outcome of the trial, and this tedious waiting made them all the more restless. In the good old days things were different. Someone only had to shout "Kill the Jews," and everyone immediately rushed to take part in the sacred task. No waiting, no trials, no nonsense and no policemen to obstruct them. The country had gone to the dogs under the Lithuanian rule. You couldn't even kill a Jew or loot a shop nowadays, without the police interfering with you. There was however, no real hurry. They could wait. There was plenty of time, for the fields were still too wet to be ploughed, and the pigs in their sties would not kill each other.

Malutka was tenaciously hanging onto her mother's skirt when they entered the police station. She looked like a frightened little animal crouching against a fence for shelter. Anna too, was worn out with anxiety. Her eyes were red from lack of sleep and weeping, but now her head was held high and there was a shadow of triumphant martyrdom illuminating her sad face. She came as a victim of shameful conspiracy, and now having suffered at the hands of her victimisers, had come to face them with the proof of her innocence and stood ready to be vindicated. What she was about to tell them would cause a sensation. It was in her power now to eradicate the black stains with which her name, and that of the whole Jewish nation, had been smirched by this gruesome blood4ibel. If they had any human decency in their hearts, they would now repent, not only for this fabulous insult, but for all the previous shedding of innocent Jewish blood.

"Where is your proof," asked one of the lawyers.

"Here," said Anna taking Malutka by the hand. "Tell them, my child, all that you told me last night."

Malutka shrank in fear, and clung to Anna's dress. The horrible nightmare which had awakened her screaming the previous night, was still vivid in her memory.

"No mother," she screamed. "No, he'll kill me, he said he would if I told anybody."

The teacher from Kanuas slunk back in his seat and went very pale, his frightened eyes darting longingly across the room to the door. It was hopeless to think of escape, as hopeless as his love for Mashinka. When he had formulated it, the plan seemed so sound, so utterly fool-proof, but he had not counted on the child breaking down under the strain. Had his plan succeeded, Mashinka would have been compelled to come to him for help, on his own terms.

After this sensational revelation, the missing child was mysteriously returned to its parents. Doors were unbolted, shutters flung wide, and the spring sun shone once more in-to the relieved Jewish homes. Once again the streets be-came alive with peaceful people preoccupied with their daily tasks. Shops re-opened, tradesmen went back to work, and lamps and candles once more illuminated the synagogue where the Jews of Velinka assembled to give thanks to the Almighty Saviour who had delivered them from the hands of the many.

[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]


© Copyright AB 2000

Webmaster: Contact Us