What if Tuvye had remained in, or returned to, Birzh?

Jewish families had lived in Birzh since the end of the 16th century.  But during the Second World War, after the German invasion of Lithuania in 1941, some of their Lithuanian neighbours helped massacre the entire Jewish population of 2,400.

 

One month after the Nazi troops entered Birzh in June 1941, the Jews were moved into a ghetto.  Fifteen were shot by German soldiers in the Cemetery in July 1941.  The rest of the Jews - some 2,400 people, including 900 children - were killed on 8 August 1941. The night before two large pits were dug by 500 Jews and prisoners, in the Astravas forest 3.5 kilometres north of the town. Starting at 11 a.m. on the 8th of August, the Jews of Birzh were forced to strip to the waist and kneel alongside the pits. They were shot by Gestapo officers with 30 Lithuanian helpers from Linkuva and 50 others from Birzh. [i] Having completed the task by 7 p.m., the killers returned to the town singing [ii].

Tuvye’s sister Hinda, her husband Shlomo Nachamowich and their son Eliyahu were among the 2,400 Jews massacred into the pits on 8 August 1941.  Also killed in the Holocaust were Taube’s sister Chana Reza, her husband Ethanan Shapiro and their son David. What happened to some of his other siblings is also not known.

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Left: Old memorial in forest marking the pits where the Jews were buried.

Above: New memorial, erected in 2019 with names of some of the 2,400 Jews from Birzh who were killed.

Click on the photos to see larger versions.

Notes:

[i] Lithuanian Holocaust Atlas, pp 130, 131

[ii] Schrire, Gwynne, Rabinowitz, Bennie and Veronica Belling, “Remembering Birzh” Jewish Affairs, Vol 70: No 3 Chanukah 2015.

© Kaplan Centre
Letters courtesy of Phil Kretzmar