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 KAMENSHCHIK
 DON
 NEMENCHINSKI

 
     
  K A U N A S,  L I T H U A N I A  
 
 
HOLOCAUST TESTIMONY - SON OF KOVNO SURVIVOR MEETS SON OF NAZI  
 
 

Preface: This exchange of letters occurred after a chance meeting at the Ninth Fort on October 28, 2007, between Wolf Middelmann (son of a Nazi member, and himself a Hitler Youth member) and Evan Malnik (son of Kovno Ghetto survivor Abe Malnik). Both men were there commemorating the passing of the 9,200 Jews killed in one day. Evan's father and grandfather Josef were one of the last 100 people that were supposed to be marched to their deaths. At the last minute Josef was able to rescue his wife Feiga and son Abe from certain death at the Ninth Fort. All three were eventually sent to Stutthof concentration camp, where Feiga was separated from the others and never heard from again. Josef and Abe managed to survive.

Originally sent: December 12, 2007

Dear Mr. Malnik,

I wonder whether you remember me. We met on October 28th in Kaunas at the IX.Fort, the memorial day of the victims who were slaughtered there during the German occupation.

 

 Wolf Middelmann

   

You were sitting next to me. In our conversation you seemed utterly astonished to meet a German individual, a person whose father was a 200% Nazi, who spent 2 years in the Hitler Youth and told you that in this period he felt good in the H.Y. because he had had "good leaders" who never practiced any racialism, Anti-Semitism and all the terrible lot of the Nazi ideology. All this must have astonished you, because there were quite a few moments when you stared at me in disbelief and surprise. A fairy, nightmare, ghost story?

And what had this German and his wife to do here at this most depressing occasion? I told you that we were here during our 28th trip in order to visit Jewish survivors. Again: rather unimaginable?

You told me that your father originally came from Lithuania. Was he a victim? Have you so to say been educated/ brought up by a former concentration camp inmate? Imagine that your father/your parents would still live in Lithuania! In that case we would probably have got in contact with him/them within our visits . . .

My wife and I do this on a purely individual basis. No church, party or any organization behind.

I told you that we write a report on our visits each time, addressed to the donors (because we collect money, above all for medical aid). I asked you whether you could find an interpreter of such a circular letter. You told me that this would not be difficult at all. So we send you a copy of our last letter dated November 2007. I wonder whether it will be translated to you. In the report you will find that we have followed the traces of Jewish Lithuanians who were desperately looking for places for hiding.

Well, dear Mr. Malnik, I don't know whether we shall meet in the future.

That would be fascinating! We hope that you understand a little bit of our engagement in the Baltic states.

All the best to you and your family for 2008. "Seid gesund", as the Jews say!

With warm greetings

Hanna and Wolf Middelmann


Dear Wolf,

 

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

   

It was wonderful hearing from you. I often think of you and our meeting at the IX Forte during my first trip to Lithuania. You mentioned in your letter that I seemed amazed to learn about your childhood experience in the Hitler Youth and your father’s Nazi past. You read me right; it was an incredible experience for me, as most non-Jewish Europeans I’ve met that lived during the Holocaust not only deny any familial affiliation with or support for the Nazi movement, but also claim they were unaware of the mass murder of 11 million people that was occurring within their own cities, villages, and towns. I’m sorry I didn’t have the opportunity to tell you about my family, but, since it may be quite a while until we meet again, I will put it in writing.

Feiga & Josef (Kalman) Malnik

 
   

My father lived in Kaunas (Kovno), Lithuania, with his parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. When the Nazis turned Kaunas into a ghetto, he was 14 years old and was forced, with other Jewish prisoners, to build the ghetto fence that enclosed approximately 30,000 Kaunas Jews. He and his family were imprisoned there for the next couple of years until the Great Action massacre when, on October 28, 1941, over 9,000 Kaunas ghetto Jews were marched to the IX Forte, shot, and buried in mass graves. Due to my grandfather’s bravery, my father and grandparents escaped the slaughter, but the rest of our family was among the thousands that perished. When the Nazis subsequently liquidated the Kaunas ghetto, most of the Jews were transported to concentration camps. My father and his parents were sent to Stutthof concentration camp, where my grandmother was separated during the selection process and was never heard from again. Over the next two years, my father and grandfather, together, were transported to four more concentration camps: Lietmeritz, Flossenberg, Dachau, and Theresienstadt, where they were liberated. With train cars filled with retreating German troops, my father, grandfather, and thousands more survivors jumped and rode on top of the train cars headed to the Displaced Persons Camp in Landsberg, Germany. Many fell to their deaths before reaching complete freedom.

 

Abe Malnik helping build the
Kovno Ghetto fence, 1941

   

My mother is from Antwerp, Belgium, where she lived with her mother, brother, and sister. When she was 13 years old, she went into hiding for approximately two years with her Aunt and Uncle in Brussels, until she was reported to the Gestapo by a neighbor, was arrested and transported by truck to a Calvary Post in Malines, Belgium, and forced into a cattle car transport to Auschwitz/Birkenau. She was assigned to forced labor for several months, then reassigned to kitchen duty, during which time she was confronted and threatened by the “Dr. of Death,” Joseph Mengele. Her mother and siblings were also arrested and transported to Auschwitz/Birkenau and were never heard from again. After approximately one year in Auschwitz/Birkenau, as the allied troops were making headway, my mother was one of millions of prisoners forced on a “Death March,” as the Nazis evacuated the concentration camps and killing centers to hide evidence of their atrocities, while planning to utilize the prisoners for their continued war effort. Several weeks later my mother arrived in Bergen Belsen concentration camp, where she was imprisoned for six months until her liberation. 

Among the hundreds of Holocaust documents I have obtained from various sources, two are from the Red Cross Archives in Bad Arolsen, dated May 28 and 29, 1944. Written on these documents are: Birkenau and Der Lagerarzt KL Auschwitz II An das Hygiene-Institute der Waffen-SS und Polizei, Anbei Werden Rachenabatriche Untersuchung auf Diphtherie engesand t u. zw. The documents are signed by SS Obersturmfuhrer Frauenlager. On these documents are listed 112 prisoners, including my mother. Next to each name is a number that was tattooed on each prisoner’s arm for tracking and identification. My mother is listed twice—in position 4 on the first document, and position 82 on the second. Instead of being branded with one tattoo, my mother was branded twice. The Nazis erred while processing her transport, so, in keeping with the organized and methodical system of the “Final Solution,” they tattooed a line through the first tattooed number and replaced it with another. She bares both numbers to this day.

After the war, my parents immigrated to the United States where they met and were married. Thanks to the invaluable training my father received from ORT, he worked as an automobile mechanic for many years and eventually became a successful businessman. My parents had three sons (I am the youngest), made a comfortable life for their family, and made many friends, including several survivors—survivors who formed a close-knit group, shared similar experiences of loss and survival, and talked about their desires to educate people about the Holocaust to safeguard future generations.

In the 1960’s the survivors formed a social and charitable organization called Club Shalom, of which my father was president for a time. In addition to raising funds for Jewish communities and Israel, the Club formed a Speaker’s Bureau that worked with high schools, churches, synagogues, and universities, to provide a platform for survivors to give their audiences first-hand accounts of the Holocaust and warn them that genocide will continue to strike anytime and anywhere unless educational and preventative measures were taken. The Bureau continues to fulfill its mission today through its affiliation with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. The Museum also has a Committee on Conscience that creates Museum exhibits that inform the public about regions where genocide is occurring or likely to occur. The current exhibit is entitled, Genocide Emergency—Darfur, Sudan: Who Will Survive Today? 

In 1995, my father had another opportunity to serve the public when the United States Justice Department contacted him to testify as a key witness against a former Lithuanian guard and Nazi collaborator, Jonas Stelmokas, who headed the battalion that massacred the Jewish prisoners at the IX Forte. The Justice Department had recently arrested Stelmokas, who had been working as an architect in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where the trial was to be held. My father agreed to testify, and I went with him to provide emotional support. During the first several days of the trial, we watched and listened as Robert Seasonwein, Michael Macqueen, and Denise Slavin, from the Office of Special Investigations of the United States Justice Department, made their case. Afterward, my father and another survivor were called to testify. They spoke of how the Nazis ordered all the Kaunas ghetto prisoners to report to the main square at Democracy Plaza (within the ghetto), and how they selected and separated over 9,000 of those prisoners, including themselves and their families. My father continued by telling of the escape he and his grandparents made just before the selected prisoners were marched to the IX Forte, slaughtered, and buried in mass graves. After their long, detailed, and disturbing testimonies were heard, a visibly shaken Judge Dubois abruptly called for a recess and exited the courtroom. As a result of that trial, Jonas Stelmokas was stripped of his U.S. citizenship and given orders for deportation. After you and I met, I gave copies of the trial transcripts to the IX Forte Director, Julija Menciuniene. 

Sadly, my father passed away last April. But his memory lives on, as I carry on his zest for life and his spiritual connection to our family that was lost in the Holocaust. Shortly before he passed, my wife and I spoke with him about our plans to visit Kaunas to continue three of his important, yet unfinished, missions. The first was to locate the lost grave of his young brother, Simon, who, on December 30, 1936, was tragically struck and killed by a bus while crossing Luksio Street in Kaunas.  The second was to continue a charitable project he and his friend, Max Reznik, started that sends donated funds to Kaunas' 400 Holocaust survivors and their descendants who live in poverty and isolation. And the third mission was to try to locate documentation that proves my family’s longstanding Lithuanian citizenship and identifies our family’s property that was confiscated and stolen by the Nazis and their Lithuanian collaborators. It was during my first “mission” trip to Kaunas that you and I met.

During my trip to Lithuania, I met many fascinating and influential people, visited my family’s former Kaunas home across from the former Presidential Palace, and located the barber/beauty shop (kirpykla) my grandparents owned at Luksio 20. I also discovered my family’s property deeds and titles, tax records, passports, and birth and death certificates that date back to 1906—all documentation my father attempted to locate for 60 years through the Lithuanian government and other sources. I felt I had returned “home.” Unfortunately, though most of those experiences were positive, a very unsettling incident occurred during my attempt to find my uncle’s gravesite in the Kaunas Jewish Cemetery. As I searched through the cemetery full of shattered and desecrated headstones, and empty spaces where stolen headstones previously marked the graves, I witnessed several Lithuanians taking their dogs to urinate and defecate on the cemetery grounds. My parents had seen the same deplorable acts when they visited the cemetery ten years ago. Considering the Lithuanians’ collaboration with the Nazis during the Holocaust, such indecent and blatant disregard for the Jewish deceased not only demonstrates a lack of moral decency, it may also serve as a symbol of their nationwide resistance against accepting responsibility for their crimes.

Prior to the Holocaust, approximately 200,000 Jews lived in Lithuania. Today, there remain approximately 3,000 in Vilnius, and 400 in Kaunas. I visited both cities and discovered that many Lithuanian Jews live very modest lives, and most elderly Holocaust survivors live at or below poverty level with little food or medical attention. According to several community and political leaders I met with, most charitable donations that are intended for Lithuanian Jews are sent to Vilnius for processing, accounting, and distribution. Kaunas receives local donations at their Choral Synagogue, where I personally visited. Unfortunately, neither the Vilnius donations nor the Choral Synagogue donations are being equally distributed throughout the Kaunas Jewish community, particularly to the senior citizens. Efforts are underway to inform charitable organizations of this problem, to ensure that Jews who continue to suffer from the Holocaust’s devastation receive the assistance they need.

Although you and I come from opposite ends of this historical spectrum, it seems we share a common goal to seek justice in the aftermath of the Holocaust. Therefore, I invite you to participate in this project and, through our combined efforts, we will not only help the remaining Kaunas survivors but also send a message of unity, hope, and peaceful coexistence for future generations.

I look forward to hearing from you soon, and I extend to you and your family best wishes for health and happiness in the New Year.

Evan Malnik

 
     

 

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


Material and photos courtesy of Evan Malnik