at The 7th Fort
evening as I watched the basketball game between Maccabi Tel Aviv
and Zalgiris Kovna, I felt nauseus. It brought me back to the horrors
of my childhood and the murder of my brother.
After the Nazi invasion of Lithuania, in July 1941, a German
army team played basketball against a Lithuanian team. The Lithuanians
had no difficulty in defeating the Germans as before world war two
they were champions of Europe.
As a ‘reward’ the Lithuanian basketball players were allowed to
shoot a dozen Jews at the 7th Fort. Among the Jews who were shot
there was my brother, Zwi-Hermann. If he was shot by a basketball
player or some other Lithuanian murderer we will never know.
Ironically, anyone who watched the game saw that Maccabi Tel
Aviv, as if by a miracle, won the game against Zalgiris, Kovno.
Perhaps, if the German army team had won the game in July 1941,
the Lithuanian basketball players wouldn’t have been rewarded
with shooting Jews and my brother would have been alive today.
AT THE 7TH FORT
On July 1941,
the Germans with the help of the Lithuanian collaborators gathered
thousands of Jews, men, woman and chidlren from the town of Kaunas
and brought them to the old Russian fort, known as the 7th Fort.
Fort was one the many forts built by the Zarist regime sometimes
in the beginning of the Century. Because of the proximity to the
German border, Kaunas was always considered by the Russians a strategic
town, especially since it was situated between two wide rivers,
the Niemunas and the Vilija and surrounded on all sides by fairly
The forts that originally housed heavy artillery were built to prevent
the enemy from entering the town. But after WW I their strategic
importance became insignificant. The fort occupied a fairly large
area and was surrounded by heavy stone walls and barbed wire.
When the Germans
attacked the Soviet Union, on June 22, 1941, my parents decided
to escape to Russia. Unfortunately, we never made it to the Russian
border and we were forced to return to Kovno. Due to the heavy bombing
by the German airforce, my mother,my brother and I where separated
from my father and sister. On the way back thousands fo Jews
were slaughtered by Lithuanian guards and the special German units
assigned to murder Jews. We didn’t know whether my father and sister
escaped the slaughter.
Somehow the three of us, made it to the outskirts to Kovno, where
we were arrested by Lithuanians and brought to the 7th Fort.
My brother who
was twenty years old at the time, was seperated from my mother and
myself and taken away by the Germans. We never saw him again.
By some miracle, my mother and I were allowed to leave the fort
and go home,
but the scene of the mass murder that we saw at the 7th Fort will
stay ingrained in my mind till the day I’ll die.
my original diary:
‘As soon as we entered
the court yard of the fort we were told by a German in an SS leather
uniform to wait there. Then he mounted his heavy motor cycle, started
the engine and left.
The court yard contained a low lying building with barred
iron windows that seemed almost touching the ground. There were
another stone wall separating the court yard from the inner compound
of the fort. From behind these walls we heard shots being fired
and the distant cries of many people.
About half an hour had passed and we received no orders from
any one. We just sat there on the carriage waiting. In the meantime
the firing behind the walls increased in intensity. Several machine
guns joined in and we could hear the cries of what sounded like
thousands of people that sent a chill down my spine. We knew that
the end is near and mother began to cry.
She tried to talk to the Lithuanian in the thick glasses,
telling him that we were peaceful neighbors of theirs for many generations
and what have we ever done to them to deserve this.
This only incensed the guard’s anger and he began shouting
at her to shut up.
" You blood suckers took the bread out of our poor peoples
mouths, and now you are going to get what is coming to you. All
of you, kaput, you understand." And he made a sign across his throat
with his right forefinger.
A small gate opened up in the inner wall and three Lithuanians
in partisan uniforms came out. They carried their rifles upside
down on their shoulders and they seemed to be drunk.
" Hey, what do we have here! Some privileged Jews? Why are
they allowed to sit here in the carriage so comfortably? Why don’t
they join the party inside the fort? "
The guard with the thick glasses looked at them uncomfortably.
He told them about the order of the two SS officers, and they only
" Hey, hey, this is Lithuania.. and not Germany.. It is our
country.. and we fought the Russians for it. We don’t have to take
any garbage from the Germans.. Let’s get those Jews inside
and give them the welcome they deserve.. "
The other two joined in the conversation swaying from side
to side. They were very drunk and could barely stand on their legs.
Suddenly there was a tremendous increase in firing coming
from the inside of the compound. It sounded like a battle was taking
One of the guards came up to the carriage and yanked my mother down
to the ground. The other two grabbed me by the neck and began dragging
me towards the small gate whence they came. I could barely breath
and felt that I was passing out.
I could hear the Lithuanian in the thick glasses protesting.
Apparently he was scarred of the two SS officers.
As soon we entered the gate a vision of hell opened before
our eyes. Surrounded by walls on all sides was a huge compound with
sloping hills that began from the walls and ran down to a sort of
valley in the middle.
Inside this valley sat and lay on the ground thousands upon
thousands of men, women and children. The place was full of them.
On the surrounding slopes sat hundreds of Lithuanian partisans with
rifles and machine guns and they were shooting into the crowd bellow.
We could see the yellow firing flashes from the machine guns and
the blue cordite smoke rising in the air. Bellow, men were running
in a frenzy from place to place and were collapsing in heaps as
they were hit by the murderous fire. The terrible sound of screaming
and moaning came from thousands of the injured and the dying. It
was a sight that will remain engraved in my mind to my dying day,
and if there is life beyond, I will carry this burden with me for
When all seemed to be lost and we resigned ourselves to our
immediate death one of the two officers of the SS appeared at the
gate. Next to him stood the Lithuanian guard with the thick glasses
and a tall man in a Lithuanian officers uniform.
" Let go of these two Jews!" He bellowed on top of his voice
The three drunk Lithuanians turned around startled. They let go
of my mother and me and we both fell to the ground.
One started to protest, but the German cut him short and they sneaked
off towards the slopes and joined the others in firing into the
When we returned to the court yard and the gate of hell closed
behind us, I noticed the green trees and small bushes growing in
the yard. The sky seemed especially blue and there were fleecy clouds
in the sky that looked like small sheep. The world looked so beautiful
and I wanted to live! To live!
What followed was nothing short of a miracle. The Lithuanian
officer listened with a frown on his face to what the SS man told
him. I can swear to this day that I overheard him saying that he
gave his word to let us go.
What my brother Herman said to the Germans and how he obtained their
promise to let us go will remain a mystery for ever. Mother later
told me that she thinks that Herman sacrificed himself to save us.
Perhaps she knew more than I, but she never told me what it was.
Finally, the guard with the thick glasses was instructed to
take us to our home and make sure that nothing happened to us on
And thus we travelled from the Seventh Fort across the town
to where we lived on Kalviu 13, in the old part of the town. We
were stopped several times by Lithuanians, but our guard explained
to them his orders and they let us go.
Later, we found out that between eight to twelve thousand men were
killed by the barbarians on the Seventh Fort. Women and children
were tortured and raped there in the underground barracks.
The well known Lithuanian Jewish historian Joseph Gar described
the events at the Seventh Fort in his book " The Holocaust of the
Jewish Kovne ".
The book was written in Yiddish and was published in Munich sometimes
after WW II. He was a friend of my father and he gave him one of
the first copies. My father before his death, passed the book on
to me and asked me to pass it on to my children.
" The descendants of the survivors of the Lithuanian Jewry should
know the gruesome facts of the destruction of their forefathers,
so they won’t make the same mistakes we made.” He told me.
Today, as I
watched the basketball game between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Zalgiris
Kovno, I couldn’t help thinking of the basketball game of July 1941,
between the Germans and Lithuanians, and the reward the Lithuanians
got for winning the game.
with the murder of the Jews at the 7th Fort here is a letter that
I received from a producer Willie Weinbaum:
Thu, 25 Mar 2004 00:19:53 -0500
Letter to Solly Ganor
"Laurence Weinbaum (E-mail)"
Dear Mr. Ganor,
I am working
on a television project regarding the report that there was a 1941
basketball game in Kovno between Lithuanians and Germans that resulted
in the massacre of Jews in the Seventh Fort. I am just completing
a trip to
Lithuania for this project and I met Shimon Davidovich, who suggested
I contact you.
If you have any suggestions of people or documentation we might
find to advance this story, we would be most appreciative.
We have already contacted more than 20 survivors and have combed
through printed references (including the mention of this episode
in your book).
I have cc'd
my brother, Laurence, who is working with me and is based in Israel
- - he works for the WJC (I am based in New York). We are
working on a tight deadline - - I am flying home today and we are
expecting to broadcast our report next week.
I can be reached
via e-mail, or phone. Perhaps you can e-mail us your phone
number, if you prefer
that we call you for any suggeestions you might have.
Thanks, in advance,
for you help!