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24 Hours Between Life and Death
A Young Holocaust Survivor: A Boy Named "Emke"

By Abe "Emke" Malnik


I'm enclosing herewith an article about the fate of a young boy who together with his family, was incarcerated in the Kovno Ghetto and was almost a casualty of the great "action," but due to his intuition, patience and will to survive he won the fight, and came out alive.

The total destruction of the Jewish community in the Kovno Ghetto the high point of the Jewish tragedy is the big "action" October 28, 1941. The day of the "action" is not to be forgotten.

The surviving Jews from Lithuania, who are dispersed all over the world, commemorate that day as a day of mourning for the destruction of Lithuanian Jews and their history.

                                                                                      Very Truly Yours,

                                                                                      Alex Faitelson



 14-year-old Abe Malnik next to Kovno Ghetto fence, 1941


This Article was published by the Yiddish newspaper in Israel, at the 50th Anniversary of the State of Israel and the anniversary of Lilly and myself, from the archives in Yad Vashem #10956 by my friend Alex Faitelson, the leader and organizer of the largest escape from 9th Fort, the killing fields in Kovno (Kaunas) Lithuania. My wife's cousin Bella Borreda translated it into English.

Feiga & Josef (Kalman) Malnik


I wrote this manuscript in memory for my dear father Josef Malnik, who was my hero, my savior, who almost without hesitation gave his life to save the lives of my dear mother and me. In many instances saved the lives of people in the Ghetto who tried to commit suicide by jumping in water wells.

In this article I touched only a small part of my father's devotion and love for his family during the four years in Kovno ghetto at #5 concentration camp.

I hope this will be a legacy to my father and my wonderful mother who perished early in her life just days before liberation at Stutthof concentration camp, and as a remembrance for my children and their families who never knew their Bubby Feiga and will only have good memories of the Zeide Josef.

My love and memories will always stay in my heart with them.

                             Emke (Abe)

Editor's Note: In the story below, Emke's father Josef is referred to by his Yiddish name, Kalman.


In the total destruction of the Jewish community in Lithuania, is a chapter of the great "Action" in Kovno Ghetto, the high point of the Jewish tragedy, October 28, 1941 the day of the big "Action" is not to be forgotten. The surviving Jews of Lithuania who are scattered all over the world commemorate that day in various commemorations. That day is to honor the memories of the Lithuanian Jews.

He was an only son, they gave him the name Abraham, his mother and father used to call him Avramke, when they used to ask him when he was knee high, what's your name he answered Emke, and so he grew up with that name, that he gave himself. With that name he went to study in the "Yiddish Komertz Gymnasia" in Kovno.

With that name he went with his parents to the Kovno Ghetto.


Abe Malnik helping build the
Kovno Ghetto fence, 1941



His father Kalman Malnik, was a barber and in his youth a volunteer fireman. Therefore in the ghetto he became a fireman also, in the ghetto fire department. The ghetto prisoners age 12 to 55 were forced to work. Because of Emke's young age (13) his father got him a job at the Fire Department as a courier (eilbote).

The functions of the young boys was to carry messages to the elders of the various community depit in the Ghetto. On the 28th of October 1941, the Germans issued an order that the entire Jewish population of the Ghetto should assemble at an empty field in the ghetto. This field was called "Democratic Platz." On that field the Germans announced that they would conduct a survey of the ghetto Jews. The Jews went into the "Platz" to be counted like sheep. There they put everybody in columns according to their place of work. Emke and his family were in the Fire Department column; all the fireman wore armbands with the lettering "Judische Ghetto Fuerwehr" (Jewish Ghetto Fireman).

The Jewish Ghetto Police together with the Lithuanian Police Battalion, their was Major Kazi Schimkus, kept order. The Lithuanians Police from this particular Battalion called themselves "Partisans Liberators of Lithuanian," who had already accomplished to kill all the Jews of Lithuanian Provinces and a third of the Kovno Jews.

They came now to continue their bloody work in the Kovno Ghetto. This battalion was organized and initially supported by the provisional Lithuanian Government and Prime Minister Yosas Ambrazavitius and unfortunately there is a street named after him in Kovno in the vicinity of the 4th fort where on the 18th of August 1941 they filed 534 Jews of the intellectual "Action" with the usual German punctuality at 9 in the morning, the German murderer Helmut Rauka, started sorting (not counting) the Jews on that field. The Jews did not understand what was happening.

The first column was composed of the Jewish Ghetto leaders and their families; the second column was Jewish Police Force and their families. Rauka immediately motioned for these two columns to move aside from the rest of the columns. The Rauka started sorting the fireman and their families. Emke and his parents, grandmother, and his hunchbacked aunt stood in on row of that column. As soon as Rauka saw his grandmother and his aunt he waved his hand and sent them to the right. They still did not understand what's going on or what was happening. They went where Rauka pointed. But Emke's heart told him something was wrong. This 13½-year-old young boy felt that a tragedy was about to occur. The Lithuanian police surrounded them with pointed guns and drove them in the direction that Rauka pointed at. Emke's mother did not lose her composure. She begged Emke's father to escape and maybe later he'll be able to rescue them. Emke's father would not hear of it, our fate is together but the mother insisted and with tears in her eyes begged him, Kalmanle, "escape now" there is not much time left. They were getting close to the small Ghetto*, which was also fenced in and separated from the large ghetto. They were assembled like sheep. As they were driven by the Lithuanian Police with guns pointed the father slowly started to move away from them. Because he was a Fireman his armband was similar to the Jewish Police armband, therefore the Lithuanian police did not pay much attention to him and he was able to blend in with the Jewish police.

The Malnik family understood that their fate was preordained, the outcome was already set, but didn't understand the scope of the tragedy.

*The Germans had established a large ghetto and a small ghetto; the two ghettos were connected with a bridge. The small ghetto contained a hospital and the overflow of the large ghetto was housed in the small ghetto. The Germans had already planned without the people's knowledge, that when the big action occurred, they planned to eliminate 10,000 people as a holding area before taking them to the ninth fort to be executed. On October 4th, they surrounded the small ghetto, burning down the hospital with doctors and patients still inside, and transported the residents of the small ghetto to the ninth fort where they were exterminated.

They were the first to be driven into the small ghetto, along with other Jews, which included Emke's aunts, cousins, school friends, gymnasium teachers, neighbors and many other friends.

Because they were among family and friends they were more hopeful and optimistic. They encouraged each other, clung to each other like sheep and were hopefully that the Germans would give them work and they would still be useful. But this mood of hope soon dissolved, as they saw with what ardor the Lithuanian police were beating the incoming Jews in the small ghetto with their rifles, and to see the broken heads and bones of the old and weak people.

Emke stood by the side and watched with horror and disbelief at the hate emanating from the Lithuanian police and how could they possibly do such a thing. Among the people who were brought in to the small ghetto, were young and productive people but most of them were the elderly and the sick, and Emke with his childish mind, came to the conclusion, that this is going to be the end. As the Malnik family were the first to be brought to the small ghetto and as Emke was the only male left in his family, he told them they must fund a house for the whole family. Since all the houses in the small ghetto were empty, due to the October 4th action. So the twelve of them, eleven women and Emke, the only male, they moved into a large story house. They occupied the first floor; those who came later took up the second floor. The situation became one of panic, Jews were running around looking for housing, people fought and cursed, they were fighting for a place and a roof over their heads. The Jews lost their minds. Broken morally, depressed, torn apart from their families (as some were separated when the sorting took place) so they needed an outlet to vent their anger, the situation was very chaotic and made unbearable by the cursing and beatings of the Lithuanian Police.  The whole burden to protect the family of women fell upon Emke's small and slender shoulders, on that day Emke became older.

He felt the heaviness and responsibility for his family.

The windows of the house in which they were staying faced the barbed wire fence, around which the Lithuanian Police stood guarded with guns pointed. As if a voice from above said to Emke, "Emke, this is not a house for you," his mother and grandmother and the rest of his family had already settled in, there were no chairs in the house, so you were forced to sit on the floor or iron beds which were still there. Emke stood in the middle of the room and pronounced in a loud voice "that he did not like this place, the house is too close to the barbed wire fence, we must leave this place." At first they would not hear of it, they were laying there tired, broken and beaten. Emke did not stop talking and pleading, finally they decided to leave the house. Evening fell and houses were hard to find, all twelve of them were walking and looking where to put their heads down. Everywhere houses were already filled up. All were sorry that they had left the first place. How long they walked Emke can't remember, but when they did finally find a little broken down house at the end of the Ghetto it was already night. Hungry and thirsty dirty from the dust, they all stretched out their bones wherever they could on the floor, there were not beds and they all fell asleep on the floor exhausted.

In the middle of the night Emke's father risked his life. He gave a gold piece to a Lithuanian guard to let him in through the barbed wire fence, in order for him to find his family. He was running through the small Ghetto and calling the name of this family. He wanted to rescue them. Unfortunately he couldn't find them and had to return to the large Ghetto.

Emke and his family woke up in the middle of the night to shooting and screaming. Emke does not remember how long he slept, but when he awoke for the bullet's exploding penetrated the dark night. The Lithuanian Police were shooting all night long in the air, which caused a fright among the Jews. This was to warn them not to leave the houses and try to escape from the Ghetto. The continuous night shooting around the Ghetto was always a warning to the Jews of an upcoming German action. The loud banging of the rifle butts on the doors of the houses and yelling they should get out, was an announcement that the murders had arrived.

God had little pity on the Jewish victims and sent sunrays that illuminated but not warm their souls; they were frozen from fear of death. The march from the small ghetto started with the typical German efficiency. The victims did not know what's happening up front, they all came in a small line from the house onto the sidewalks and next to them walked the Lithuanian with rifles pointed.

Emke let everybody move ahead, he was standing as if a magnet held him back, he held back his family until everybody passed him. They were the last 100 people left. Emke was learning against a wooden fence, standing next to him was his mother, grandmother and aunt, in front of him in a couple of rows was the rest of his family. All of a sudden as if the sky opened up, Emke heard a loud scream, "Feiga, Kalmale is coming." Like lightening, tore away from the row- his father walked fast, his top coat open, his hair disheveled from the wind and with fire in his eyes was searching the rows. This was the last column of the 100 Jews and his family was standing in the rows of this column.

Next to his father was walking a German officer. The officer was walking fast, but his father was walking faster. In his heart Emke knew that his father would come, he ran to him and embraced him, the German looked saw the resemblance of father and son and asked is "this your son?" "Yes" answered Emke's father. "And where is your wife"? Emke's father pointed to his wife, Feiga. "Heraus" shouted the officer. They all three held hands with tears in their eyes. From fear they did not turn around to look for the last time at their beloved family. This was the last two minutes before the liquidation of the Jews. The rest of the people were taken by truck to the ninth fort. With that was the final emptying of the Jews of the small ghetto from the "Big Aktion." With broken hearts the three of them returned to the large ghetto. There Emke had enough courage to turn around and see how the last truck departed on the road to Hell-The ninth fort.

Then they all realized what a terrible tragedy befell the family. Emke's mother Feiga, fainted and his father Kalman Malnik cried with bitter tears. Every one of us Jews-Emke wrote-had his own fate and how he survived life in the Ghetto.

It started when a German officer went to check with the Lithuanian Police who were guarding us. As I recall it was approximately 10 minutes before noon. Because at 12 noon, the small ghetto where the 10,000 Jews were kept before being transported for liquidation in the ninth fort was emptied out.

We were already the last group to be taken to the truck for transportation. As the German officer passed by our group, he recognized a woman who used to work for him, he ordered her to step out and follow him the large ghetto. When she reached the large ghetto she realized that she had left her child with our group and she fainted. As fate would have it my father happened to be standing next to her, he tried to revive her and succeeded. When she opened her eyes, he asked in a trembling voice, maybe you saw my family there? Yes she answered in a weak voice, they are still there. As he heard that he started begging the same German officer to save his family. The head of the Jewish Ghetto Police (Michael Kopelman) happened to be standing next to them, and also started to pleading with the German officer. Telling him that my father was a good fire fighter, and when the German officer asked my father who do you have there?

My father did not lose his composure due to his experience from the previous day. Because of my elderly grandmother and my aunt who had a hunchback, we had all wound up in the small ghetto and destined to die-so his answer was only my wife and son. As the German officer was looking at my father begging on his knees, he barked out" come on follow me." As I was standing in the last group to be taken away, all kinds of thought went through my mind. I was in a row with my grandmother, aunt and my mother. I was leaning against a fence in from of us were more members of my family, aunts-cousins. My mother also recognized the principal of my school, whom I knew most of my life, but I couldn't recognize him, because in the past 24 hours he looked 20 years older, he became an old man.

All of a sudden I heard screaming, Feigele, Feigele (my mother's name) Kalman is here. To me it was if an angel from the sky or the Messiah had arrived. I ran out from the row and I saw my father running towards me with the German officer behind him. His hair was disheveled from the wind and his eyes were looking for us. As we approached each other I jumped on him. The officer observed all that and in a harsh voice while seeing the resemblance between us, yelled out "is this your son?" "Yes my Herr" said my father. Then he said. "Take your wife and follow me." The words of my mother still ring in my ears. "Kalmale can you save my mother and sister" My father told her "don't even turn around, I can save only you"

And this the miracle of how we survived the liquidation and murder of the 10,000 Jews which was called the "Big Aktion" of the Kovno Ghetto, October 28, 1941. Reference of this tragedy written by me can be found in Yad Vashem.

Other Family Photos:

Landsberg DP Camp Boxing Team; Abe Malnik is second from left


Abe Malnik's boxing gloves from Landsberg DP Camp


Abe Malnik's
Landsberg DP Camp Sports Certificate


Abe Malnik standing next to Kovno Ghetto fence, 1942


Abe Malnik


Josef (Kalman) Malnik


Feiga Malnik
(Killed in Stutthof)


Chaja Itka Malnik
(Killed in Ninth Fort)



Copyright © 2006-2021 Jose Gutstein. All rights reserved.

Material and photos courtesy of Evan Malnik