July 1944 - the Crucial Month for the Remnants of Lithuanian Jewry
During the summer of 1944, Soviet Forces advanced to the eastern frontiers of Lithuania. At that time 50,000 Lithuanian Jews out of 250,000 in 1939 were still alive; 33,000 were under Nazi occupation and 17,000 under Soviet rule. The Germans were resolved to evacuate or liquidate the Jewish remnants. The 3,000 Jews remaining in Vilna were slaughtered at Ponar or Kovno. Only 150–200 Jews managed to escape. During that July almost all the Jewish remnants in Estonia were liquidated. The Kovno Ghetto still had a population of 10,000 Jews. Despite desperate attempts to escape, 7000–8000 were transported to concentration camps in Germany and the rest murdered in the ghetto. A few dozed survived. The Jews concentrated in the Shavli ghetto experienced a similar fate, 8000 being evacuated to Germany. Some hundreds of Jews working in Wehrmacht warehouses were left to die. Hundreds of Jewish partisans and those hiding in small towns and rural areas were liberated by the Russians. In July 1944, 15,000 Lithuanian Jews were scattered throughout the Soviet Union, most in Central Asia. The young men joined the Soviet forces; the aged, the women, and the children had to fend for themselves. Communist Party members and orphans had better conditions. Some 4,000 ‘capitalists’ and Zionist leaders were exiled to Siberia. With the advance of the Red Army, Jewish soldiers confirmed reports of the mass liquidation of Lithuanian Jews by the Germans. Of Jewish partisans in Lithuania, 1,000 of 2,000 were still alive in July 1944. They had maintained contact with the ghetto Jews during the Nazi occupation. They participated in the battle to liberate Vilna, where some 500 Jews emerged from hiding. Many Lithuanians were hostile to the Jewish remnant. The Communist Party re-established itself in the city. The Jews established a commission that included Abba Kovner to investigate crimes against the Jews. At the end of July Kovno was liberated. Some 200 Lithuanian Jews had survived. When Germany surrendered in May 1945, 8,000 Jews had survived Nazi occupation and another 17,000 had lived out the war in Soviet territory. Altogether ten percent of Lithuanian Jewry survived World War II.