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Chapter Eight


Russians Again


Actually, the bulk of the Russian army had not advanced this far. There was only a small group of ten or fifteen young fellows. They wore green shirts and blue trousers with no hats and all carried automatic rifles in their hands. It was a forward scouting unit. The commander, a Jewish boy by the name of Borovick, couldn't believe his eyes when he saw a Jewish family hiding underground. They were very friendly and, it seemed to us, took the whole war in an easygoing manner. Everybody got out of the trench. We still felt very much afraid of our co-occupants of the trench because, who knew? Maybe tomorrow the Germans would be back again. We roamed around this area the whole day while the shooting continued. The few Soviet soldiers made themselves comfortable by digging trenches for themselves to protect against the bombing and the occasional bullets. Things calmed down a little after noon and our new protectors advised us to move one half mile away because they thought there would be lots of activity in the area where we were. Close to sundown the pattern of artillery shooting became more clear. It looked as if the Germans were still in the city and the Russian units were further away behind us. We were between the city and the surrounding Soviet troops. For hours artillery shells were fired over our heads from behind towards the city. Probably the time passed slowly for us because we got bored and toward evening we men in the group decided to play a final game of cards, Blackjack, with German marks. We were confident that the next time we played we would be using Russian rubles. We played cards until it became dark. After that we just lay down for awhile on the floor of a barn in the company of some cows and fell asleep with the shells still flying over our heads.

When I woke up in the morning it was already full daylight and it was dead quiet. This was July twenty-seventh. No sound could be heard around. The artillery units were silent and nothing was moving. Who had won? We crawled out to the edge of a hill from the top of which we could see the city of Shavli. It was smoking. We waited quite a time, then, suddenly, everything started moving. It turned out that the fields were filled with Russian soldiers. Thousands of men with small peasant vehicles, horse-driven, started moving like ants. Not far away they set up a kind of kitchen with a loud radio transmitter reporting Stalin's "order" that the city of Shavli was liberated. We felt so exhausted that we didn't even realize the significance of what had happened and what it meant for us. We still feared that the tide would turn and we didn't know where we would find friends or where there were enemies. We went back to Barbara's home not far away to see if anyone was around and then decided later on in the day to go see what had happened to the city. We were not far from the city - about a mile and a half. When we got there we couldn't recognize the streets. At first it looked like a series of columns had been erected on both sides of the streets. When we got closer, we realized these columns were chimneys. Before leaving, the Germans had ignited every house so that only the stoves and the chimneys remained standing. The road was littered with broken and burned vehicles, dead horses and corpses. It was a terrible sight. The stench of burning flesh filled the air. The whole city had been burned to ashes. Only several buildings remained and they were the best ones in town. Probably the Germans had left them in case they should return. Some single people were walking around aimlessly. There were some Russian partisans who had been operating in the woods and who now felt free to enter the city. They had red bands on their arms and automatic rifles. Some of them were from Shavli and recognized me. They invited me to enroll in their ranks immediately. Others looked at us with great suspicion. We felt very uncomfortable in the situation because we could have been easily hit by stray bullets or arrested as disguised German soldiers or as spies. I went back with Gita along another street of burned houses. There we saw bodies of German soldiers without boots or watches--these were the two most important items for a fighting soldier. From there we went back to Barbara's.

It seems that our whereabouts were known in the city already because the next day an emissary came to invite me back to the factory. The occupying Soviets were very well-organized in the sense that, before liberating a city or a country, they had the whole administration of it ready. There was a group all ready for Shavli on the same day as the announcement was made that Shavli was liberated. There was a mayor, an industrial chief, a police chief, etc. Even the factories already had directors. In the administrative group in Shavli were some of my old friends who had managed to run away to Russia at the beginning of the war. Chaim Eirshovitz was put in charge of rebuilding the city. Doctor Levine was in charge of medical considerations. Shumkauskas was director of the tannery. Naturally, when they found out where I was, they called me back to the tannery and appointed me chief engineer with the task of rebuilding the part of it destroyed by the bombing and also the shoe factory which the Germans had destroyed. I was happy to go back to work because otherwise I would have to enroll immediately in the Red Army and go to the front. This important job gave me a shield.

The first days were very hectic. The Russians, as invading soldiers, grabbed everything they could. They especially looked for Vodka and for women. They came to the factory where there was a huge warehouse with solvents similar in smell to alcohol. In fact, it was Amyl alcohol and Amylacetate. They took away every single drum. Some of them were poisoned and many suffered from it.

Only very few Jews appeared on the scene at that time. There were maybe a dozen of them. Some of them had been hiding directly in the tannery, like Kaplan, the handbag man. He hid in the ovens of the patent leather department. After I arrived Kaplan came running to me and told me a high Russian officer was looking for me in the city. It turned out to be Shavdya, one of the Russian officers who had lived in my mother's suite in our four-plex. During the years since he left he had become a high officer--a general--in the supply department of the army. When he heard on the radio about the liberation of our city he was a hundred kilometers away. He came immediately to see what had happened to us. When we met he embraced and kissed us and cried tears when he heard what had happened to Tamara, my mother, and other members of the family. He stayed several days in the city. He brought us hundreds of cans of all kinds of food, helped us get temporarily settled at Kaplan's house and, the main thing, helped us to go and bring Ruth back home.

Ona's house was still very close to the front. The front had stopped at about this area after pushing the Germans back and no civilians were allowed to enter the region so Shavdya gave us an army vehicle and a couple of soldiers to accompany us and we went to get Ruth.

Ona was expecting us. Ruth, in the time she had been there--over a year--had changed quite a bit. She had grown and looked at us as at strangers. She spoke Lithuanian very well and had become a very pious Catholic. She did not fail to make the sign of the cross very often.

The feeling of war was still in the air in this area. We could hear artillery shells not far away so we couldn't stay too long. Ruth was not too anxious to go with us. She felt very much at home with Ona and Antanas. What could we tell Ona? How could we express our gratitude for what she had done for us? She gave us back the addresses we had left with her and wanted to return the valuables too. We refused to take them. On the contrary, we left her some more. We also left her a lot of food and other things that we had received from Shavdya. Then we had to hurry back to Shavli. However, later on we had many chances to see Ona and Antanas again.

Returning, we went to our temporary refuge at Kaplan's house. Across the street from his house was a church tower which had been partly destroyed by the bombing. We could see the church through a window and Ruth, the Catholic, spent hours at that window praying and crying because the church had been damaged. We did not rush to change her newly acquired religion. On the contrary, to make her comfortable, we even invited some of our Lithuanian acquaintances to attend church with her whenever she wanted to go.

We were in close contact with Shumkauskas at that time and he kept us informed about the happenings at the front. His attitude toward me had changed a good deal. Probably, the four years of suffering and bloodshed had cleared his mind and he turned out to be a very good friend. On August 16, 1944, while he was sitting in our house, a messenger came to call him back to headquarters. It turned out that the Germans had started a counter offensive on our front and he advised us that we could expect more warfare.

After all these years of being held captive by the Nazis I had no interest in letting our family take another chance so we decided to run before it was too late. My father-in-law was still at Barbara's place at that time and the only means of transportation I could find was a horse and wagon from the tannery. With the help of Schnider--one of the survivors--we drove back to the country. We could already hear the artillery and see, far away, the smoke from the burning houses. This time Shifman didn't put up any resistance. We took him back to Shavli, picked up Gita and Ruth and a couple of other refugees and started moving back in the direction of Radvilishkis and Panevezys which were several miles inside the Russian front. We had just left when our airport was bombed. It was a hectic night, being worried whether we would be overtaken again by the Germans. The speed of our travel was very slow and I couldn't imagine why the horse walked like a turtle. Finally I realized that it was my fault. I did not have enough communication with the animal. All changed drastically when I gave the reins over to one of the refugees who was with us. Then we started to move briskly ahead.

It took about two days before we reached Panevezys, sixty miles from Shavli. Panevezys was quite different from our native Shavli. There had been no fighting in this area and the city was left completely intact. It hurt us a lot, seeing this quiet and peaceful place which looked as if nothing in the world had ever happened. The only thing was, there were no Jews there. They had all been exterminated right at the beginning of the occupation. I went to see the house where my sister, Tzilia, had lived on Mero Street. The people who lived there at that time couldn't tell me very much. However, we managed to find Tzilia's housekeeper and she told us that all the Jews of Panevezys were rounded up at the beginning of the occupation and were shot in a little valley not far from the city. Only one Jewish person survived. We met him. He was saved by his Lithuanian girlfriend who had kept him hidden for four years.

Artillery bombing could still be heard there but some railway operations were already functioning and we managed, together with other refugees, to land in a flat car on a train that was going in the direction of Vilnius. That was quite a distance away from the front and, after we arrived, we started looking for a place to stay. It turned out that Chaim Hirshovitz, being in charge of buildings, etc., had at his disposal an empty apartment so we landed there and were happy to have a place to sleep on the naked floor. The apartment was completely empty because the pro-German Lithuanians who lived there during the war had run away to Germany before the Russians came and had taken all their furniture with them. We had company in this apartment. In one room Doctor Goldberg lived with his wife and two children. In another room were Lisa Gerber with her family. They were from Radvilishkis--our ex-competitors in the leather trade.

Every one of us was busy getting some food and also making plans for the future. The whole world was in a turmoil. The fronts were moving fast. The Russians were moving toward Poland, the Americans were coming from the west, but still the war was going on and nothing could be known for certain about the outcome. Most of our acquaintances planned to move further to Poland and from there to the west to get closer to the American armies. I was also tempted to move in this direction, not only because I had no appetite for getting stuck with the Russians but also because I had an idea at that time of changing my profession. I felt it was not an easy job to be a tanner and was looking for something less complicated and responsible. For six weeks the news from the front was consistent. There were continuous counter attacks involving heavy tanks in the area of Shavli. The front stopped only a couple of kilometers away and finally the battle petered out. I felt like a free man at that time, bound to no discipline. One day we were just sitting outside discussing the situation with friends when a Dodge semi-truck with some armed men stopped at our group. Their leader got out, pointed at me and said, "Are you Engineer Kron? You are requested to return to Shavli immediately to rebuild the factory." How they found me I still don't know. I had no choice but to board the Dodge on the spot. I didn't need to take any suitcases because I didn't have anything but what I was wearing. Gita, Ruth and Mr. Shifman were left in Vilnius.

In Shavli the front was very close. I got a place to sleep in one of the houses of the compound of the tannery. There was not too much to do in that kind of atmosphere. The main entertainment was to watch the night skies where steady air fights were occurring and to bet which plane would be the first to be downed.

Not far away, in Latvia, a very big modern tannery was evacuated. Tens of thousands of hides, in different states of processing, were brought to us from this tannery for finishing.

Ona found out at that time that I was back "home" and she came running, asking for help. Her brother had been arrested by the Russians, probably for collaboration with the Germans, and she thought I would be able to help her get him out. Actually it wasn't me who got him released but several pieces of leather worked like a charm with the guards. However, I was pleased that I could do something for Ona.

In the following two years, while we stayed in Shavli and I once again moved to a high position, I was able to help her in various ways. However, our contact broke down when we fled the Soviet Union in 1946. Only about ten years ago did I find a way to communicate with her again. Luckily, it was a most appropriate time because the first letters I had from her were very pitiful. Both she and Antanas were sick and their material position was very bad. At that time it was not too hard to send parcels of things to Russia and our help was very useful. Since then we have been in steady contact with Ona. Their position had been very lamentable but, with our help, they managed to pay off their debts and build a little house for themselves, including inside plumbing and central heating. The last news from her arrived a couple of weeks ago (in mid August, 1980). By clandestine means, I found a way to send her five hundred rubles which has a value there of more than a year's pension and I received a report about the great happiness they felt when they received it, dropping as it did like a gift from the sky.

It was the middle of November, 1944, when the Red Army was ready to attack with force again. They hit the Germans a great blow and the front moved further away from our town. I managed to get a place for us to live in one of the few houses which remained intact. I had a downstairs suite and Shumkauskas was upstairs. I was able then to pick up Gita and Ruth and Shifman. At that time Nesia, who had survived the concentration camp, was with us. To keep papa happy, we had Ryazansky, the ex-owner of the Hotel Versailles in Shavli, share his room. They were old friends. We also gave shelter to a young girl who had lost her parents during the war. A certain pattern was established at that time. I was, as usual, busy at the factory. Gita decided to become a nurse under the guidance of Doctor Goldberg who had become chief doctor in the city. My father-in-law and Nesia took over the household in a very efficient way.

The Soviet armies were already, at that time, marching into Germany and, on the way back, they brought all kinds of goods--thousands of cattle, truckloads of furniture, radios and carpets, pictures, everything. These were soldiers who used to go east on their own--some on leave, or whatever. Everyone had something with him. As a result, we had no problem in furnishing our suite, getting rugs for the floor, a radio and some good cognac and other good drinks which the defeated Germans still had in their cellars. All this we got in exchange for leather. The military unit stationed in our area at that time was the so-called "Lithuanian Division" which was formed inside Russia during the war. Most of the soldiers and officers in this division were Lithuanian Jews and, as part of the great Russian offensive, they had to fight their way through, beginning from Kursk, until they reached Berlin. There were no hotels left in our town and we usually had to accommodate some of the soldiers in our place. All they needed was a place to sleep on the floor. Quite often we would also accommodate high officials from Vilnius or Moscow. All of them shared the same service. During the evenings we used to drink Vodka most of the time and play poker or blackjack, quite often losing all the money to the last penny. At the end of the game we would drink the last cup with the toast, "Day boch neposledenyuyu!" which means, "Let's hope that this is not the last drink!" As a matter of fact, for many of them it was the last drink.

No day passed when somebody was not hit by artillery shrapnel or bombing even when it was quiet on the front. One of these men who was killed was a brother of my friend, Fabelinsky, a frequent visitor of ours.

The Smersh, a division of the NKGB especially assigned to look after the security of the front and find spies and German collaborators, was very active at that time. They usually lived in small unimposing peasant houses. Quite often they called me in for various inquiries and information and I hated this because no matter what I said I was always under suspicion of being a collaborator myself. These meetings used to be in the middle of the night and I was never sure I would return home. It was quite a problem for me to get approved in my job through the Gorcom--the city committee of the communist party. The first question I was asked was, "What did you do for the Germans that you survived?" So, in general, the contact with them was unpleasant. I tried to keep a distance between them and me. Their job, though, was understandable because there were many people who had collaborated with the Germans.

One day I arrived home for lunch and no sooner had I got there than a jeep arrived with armed men. They had come to pick me up. I kissed Gita goodbye, not knowing where I was going. They drove me to the outskirts of the city to a little house, very nice and clean inside. When I went in I had to wait quite a long time, not knowing why I was there. Finally I was introduced to the other room. There was, as it turned out, no reason to be afraid. Confronting me there in the hut was a small man in a general's uniform who came to me with tears in his eyes and embraced and kissed me. He said in Yiddish, "You are an engineer? A Jew?" He was surprised by this news. It turned out that he was in charge of the army intelligence on the Western Front and, coming to Shavli for inspection, he enquired about the situation and was told about me, a survivor from the Germans. He was overwhelmed because all the time he had been progressing with the advancing Red Army he had not seen a Jew alive. We became very good friends after that. He came to us several times while in our area and later on we met him and corresponded with him.

When the war situation calmed down in our district more people started to arrive from Russia. Some of them were refugees from our country who had run away at the beginning of the war. Others were Soviet citizens who came to look for their relatives, mostly unsuccessfully. One, a man called Budyansky, was looking for his wife and daughter who had come just before the war to visit their relatives in Lithuania. He stayed with us several weeks and went in every part of town and every nearby village but had to go back with a broken heart.

On New Year's Day, l945, our factory had a great celebration with lots of food and drinks and music. I was in charge at that time because Shumkauskas was, for some reason, out of town. I had to deliver the main speech praising the Red Army and comrade Stalin for our deliverance. What I said was certainly true for us and we were very happy at this moment. For entertainment we borrowed the ensemble of songs and dances from the army. The musical entertainment was excellent. One singer in the group was from the Bolshoi Opera and there was a guitarist from the Moscow Symphony. There was no shortage of dancers either. It was a great evening. Naturally, it wasn't allowed to pass without some political indoctrination. A colonel of the Red Army delivered the political speech.

After the great ball I invited the top musicians and singers to our home as well as the Political Kommissar. They stayed with us the whole night and we became good friends. The Political Kommissar turned out to be Professor Slavsky, a professor at the well-known University of Marxism and Leninism in Moscow. He was a very friendly Jewish fellow. It happened that he was due for release from the army and planned to return to Moscow in a short time. We sent a parcel with him for my sisters--some food and clothing as well as boots and a leather briefcase for Yuly, my brother-in-law, the professor. I found out later that he never used them. They were too luxurious for him to appear in before his students. That was the first chance I had to get in touch with my sisters. They were overwhelmed and overjoyed with the news that we had survived the Holocaust and grieved endlessly about all other members of our family who perished during the war. They sent a parcel back to us but what could they send? They had nothing. I was richer than they were. The parcel contained the same items our mama had brought them many years earlier. What I remember for sure was the wide lacy bloomers.

We continued to be in touch with Slavsky and met him later when we visited Moscow. Being in a high position in the party, he knew many things which were usually not known to the general population and he was the first one to tell me about the hundreds of concentration camps that existed in Russia, especially in the far east and north. It was his job to visit the camps and indoctrinate the inmates. These were not prisoners of war but political prisoners and there were millions of them. Stalin, as everyone knows, was a ruthless tyrant who was suspicious of everybody. He killed millions and sent millions more to Siberia. In the regions newly liberated from the Germans we started to feel this grip of suspicion and fear once the initial "honeymoon" of liberation was over. This feeling of being suspected and followed grew in intensity as time passed and as life in general started to normalize.

Actually, times never really were normal. In my job, we had to rebuild two factories, the leather factory and the shoe factory. The shoe factory had been completely destroyed. The Germans had left time bombs there which exploded a couple of days after they had gone. Part of the leather department was also destroyed. These establishments were two different companies before the war. The shoe factory was called Batas (which means "shoe" in Lithuanian) and the leather factory was called Frankel, after the owner. The intention of the Soviets was to combine both into one operation. Shumkauskas was appointed director and I was the superintendent or chief engineer. It was an impossible task to get these factories back into operation because there was no normal or legal way to procure hundreds of machines for the factory and material to rebuild the buildings and produce finished goods to fulfill the government-appointed plan.

Officially, for every one of these items, we required a permit to buy but the process of issuing these permits was not established and, besides this, the goods were not available. Thus the whole task of finding supplies was left on the shoulders of the industry itself. Therefore the leaders of the industries--directors, etc.--had to look for any means to get the items needed, even without permits, and that was punishable by law. Equally punishable by law were the people who did not fulfill the plans of production.

We repaired the burned machines of the tannery ourselves while the machinery in the shoe factory, which had been completely destroyed, had to be replaced by other machines. To obtain these we bartered (for leather) with the Soviet army for machines found in occupied Germany. We did all this for the government but, since it was illegal, we were all in great danger of being persecuted for it. If anybody wanted to get rid of one of us it would have been no problem to disclose such transactions and have us put in jail. And what about fuel? Luckily, the military airport had a good supply of coal, most of it left by the Germans. We procured this by clandestine means also, spending many hours of drinking with and bribing airport officials--and all of us, the airport officials and the factory officials, working for the same government! There were always problems, some of them very dangerous ones.

We had to make a living ourselves too. I used to get the highest salary in the USSR at that time. I received twelve hundred rubles a month and was given also other privileges accorded to technical top brass. However, that was not enough to survive on. Despite this, we were with our leather connections, the best-provided-for people in town. Everyone was frisked leaving the factory but there were always ways for the workers to slip some leather out. Often they would just share what they had with the guards. But the bosses couldn't do this. We would be noticed if we went into the warehouses. We had to make arrangements with the receivers in Vilnius or wherever to send them more goods than were on the order and then settle the account with them later, splitting the profits. All these transactions were very dangerous. If one person was arrested, all were in trouble. The whole country was involved in illegal trades. The management personnel were officially given special cards to obtain materials--foods, etc.--but that was only a piece of paper and one couldn't get the goods without the right connections. It was all quite complicated and everyday we were confronted with problems of illegal barter for the government, for the factory, or for ourselves. Stealing was a way of life and everyone from the top to the bottom of society was involved and knew the situation. Nobody, of course, talked of it openly. There was then--and probably still is--a special organization called Goscontrol. This means "state control". This was a completely independent branch of the Soviet Union. They could check anyone at any time regardless of a person's position or standing.

In a factory like ours where thousands of people were involved how could one avoid the discovery of shortages of materials? That problem bothered me because the first ones to be accused were always those in management. Partly to deal with this problem, I devised a system. When a shipment of hides came into the factory (there would be thousands of hides at one time), they would be checked and their condition established. We set up a special committee of workers to check the quality of the arriving raw materials. It was not a big problem to establish that they were of low quality and would give a lower yield than indicated by the general technology. The minutes of these committee meetings were kept in a safe place and the reported low quality of the raw hides helped to account for missing ready leather. During my time there were two probes of the Goscontrol, both of which we passed with flying colors.

Thirteen years ago, when I went to Expo '67 in Montreal, I met a worker from Batas. I was staying with a friend of mine, Hirshel Noik (who was, for a time, a partner of mine in Canada after we left Europe) and I guess that word got around that I was visiting there. I received a phone call from someone who said he wanted to meet me. It was an ex-operator of a machine in Batas. He has just escaped from the Soviet Union and had landed in Montreal. He was very happy to hear I was there. We met again over a glass of Vodka and had a good time telling stories about the old days. I asked him about life in the Soviet Union and he told me a story I knew beforehand--that to survive one had to do illegal things. When I asked him, "How did you personally manage?" he replied, "The way you taught us to." He was a cutter in the shoe factory and had to plan to cut a certain number of pairs of shoes from, say, one thousand square feet of leather. For safety purposes, the leather was labeled grade three and the expected yield was declared to be much lower than it actually was. He had officially to deliver fewer shoes than he actually could and the balance he split with his foreman. Most likely I was not the only "genius" who instituted this system, which shows how widespread these illegal practices are on the other side of the Iron Curtain. I was surprised, though, to find that, even eleven years after I had left, they knew who had set the system up.

One day the whole shaving department of the tannery (eight people) was arrested for theft. One of them was the husband of our ex-maid from before the war, Olga. She felt that I would be able to use my influence to free her husband. Olga wouldn't come to me with empty hands so she came to our house bearing a live turkey. If I had been at home I wouldn't have let her in the door, but my father-in-law was very excited about the gift and, without asking any questions, he accepted. When I got home I was very upset at Shifman for accepting a thing like that. It created a problem for me because, for some reason, this man was freed the next day. After that people started coming to me thinking that I had close connections with the NKGB, which was not true.

In the factories there were always official representatives of the secret police. They watched everyone and judged everything from their own point of view. When they found that someone was not on the level they would remove him without any warning and without giving any indication of where they had taken him. This usually happened in the middle of the night. A person would be awakened from sleep and he and his family would be moved away. Everyone was in danger of being arrested and almost every morning we heard about a family removed the previous night. Officially I was very highly praised in the party and in the city government circles, but who knew what they were thinking? Despite all this, however, we lived a pretty carefree life in some ways. Quite often during this time musical groups came to town to entertain the public and we often had parties, dinners and drinks, especially with the Russian officials who came frequently to Shavli.

I had the problem of finding some way to get to Moscow to see my sisters. This was quite a difficult task. You couldn't just buy a ticket and board a plane or train. In the end I found an official excuse for going to Moscow. I needed a special komandirovka (a travel order) approved by the Minister of Light Industry, Teryoshin. He was a nice fellow. He used to come quite often to Shavli and spent many nights on the floor of my dining room. When everything was organized for my trip I took a jeep from the tannery with a driver, Alexandrovitch, and an aid, Halperin, a cousin of Fabelinsky's. We had to go from Shavli to Vilnius where we were to board the Vilnius Moscow train. Tires were a great problem so the driver took enough rubber and glue and other ingredients to fix any flats. The roads in Lithuania were never good. They were just gravel and you can imagine how they were during the war. After seven flats there was no material left to repair the tires and we got stuck in the middle of the road about twenty kilometers from Vilnius. What to do? The only solution was to somehow get to the city and try to find a spare. We pushed the vehicle off the road into a farmyard and Alexandrovitch stayed there with the farmer while Halperin and I hitchhiked to the city. The best thing to do was go to Teryoshin but it happened that it was the eve of a Catholic religious holiday which coincided with a Soviet holiday so he wasn't in his office. The only thing we could think of then was to barter for a tire with one of military transportation units which were scattered around town. We went looking for one of them and we found a unit with lots of trucks and cars. We asked for the officer in charge and told him the story, offering him a pair of boots for a spare tire. He got angry and started shouting that this was illegal and that he would denounce me to the secret police. In the end we made a deal with him for three pairs of boots but he had no tire. He had to steal one from his general who had a similar type of tire on his luxurious ZIS. The general was at the celebrations so the officer drove us to where the party was being held, left us outside in the pouring rain and disappeared into the building. He said he wouldn't be long but he took quite a while. The building was heavily guarded and the guards, seeing two suspicious-looking personages hanging around the area, arrested us and took us inside to be questioned. We had problems getting out of there because we couldn't tell them the truth. However, my papers showing that I was a big shot made the right impression. After a long time our friend reappeared with the tire, put it in his car, drove us the twenty kilometers to our jeep and helped us to mount the tire. We had, unfortunately, only two pairs of boots instead of three but he trusted us for the third pair and we parted as the best of friends. We delivered the third pair of boots in due time. Finally, I got to the train and to Moscow.

The trains in Soviet Russia had two classes at that time--called "soft" and "hard", which referred to the seats. Maybe they still have two classes even now. People on government business naturally had the soft class. They had reserved seats and also a place to sleep. The hard class was for plain people. They had to fight very hard to get into the train and many of them were lucky to find standing place in the aisle or even in the washroom.

This, my first trip to Moscow, was in April, 1945. The trip itself went uneventfully. Travelling through the country on the slow-moving train was an appalling experience. We travelled through the area where the major fighting took place in 1941. It was a picture of complete devastation.

Nowadays books and newspapers try to demonstrate the effects of the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and publish pictures of these cities after the bombings. The devastation in Russia was much worse and covered a tremendous area. Hour after hour we travelled through the vast spaces where everything had been destroyed--single houses, farm houses, cities. From time to time it was possible to discern a stove pipe popping out of the ground. It was underground where the populace had finally looked for shelter.

The difference between the destruction in Japan and that in Russia was that, in the Japanese cities, hundreds of thousands perished abruptly. In Russia, millions perished but over a longer period of time. All in all, the loss of human life and the extent to which the country was devastated was much worse in Russia.

All this changed abruptly as we came close to Moscow. The city was intact. I was told that there had been bombing in Moscow in 1941 and that some buildings had been destroyed. Even the Bolshoi Theatre had been damaged. However it had been restored in every minute detail. There were no signs of destruction in the city. In fact, there had even been some improvements since I had left the city many years earlier in 1920. Some new modern buildings had cropped up, like the Ministry of Light Industry building where I had business to attend to. A new university had also been built. The greatest achievement was the new Metro (subway) which was called Kagainvitz after Stalin's brother-in-law. It was a great architectural achievement. Every station was built in a different style and was decorated with sculptures and paintings and lighted by luxurious fixtures. It was kept scrupulously clean and worked like a clock. Still, it was the same old Moscow with its wide streets and circular boulevards--the "rings" surrounding the city.

After waiting a long time at the station I got a taxi and went to the house I knew so well on Kreevokoleny Lane. This building was a tremendous complex and was the same as I remembered it, except there were more cracks in the walls outside and it was more dilapidated inside. It had not been redecorated since the time of the Tzar. My sisters still occupied suite number four and I rang four times to get the door open for me.

Yuly, Chaytze's husband, and Anne were at home at that time. Chaytze was at the Far Eastern Front with Japan so I had no chance to meet her again after our last goodbye in 1920. Mary was at the ear, nose and throat clinic when I arrived. It was a great moment when I first met my brother-in-law and when I saw my sister Anne after twenty-four years of separation. Anne had changed very much since 1920. She had been a lively, happy girl with bright eyes and curly brown hair when we had separated. Now her hair was grey and her eyes were opaque and unsteady. She was on edge all the time. Her voice was subdued and controlled. It was evident that she wanted to make sure that neighbours in adjacent rooms could not hear us. Yuly was very much more at ease. He looked very much the way I had visualized him--a good-looking well-built man with pince-nez and neatly cut black hair. He looked like a professor. He wore a typical khaki shirt with a high neck and a semi-military suit.

There was not much food in the house but I had plenty of things with me--things that they had not had for a long time. When I enquired about the food situation I found out that it was very precarious. They were one hundred percent law abiding Soviet citizens and lived strictly according to existing war time rules. They received their rations only if they were available in the stores. They had to line up for hours for a piece of bread or a herring. Clothing and other necessities were not available at all. Thus, when I arrived with various luxuries like meat and wine, I looked like a very well-situated person to them.

I was in a different position because at home the black market was an established way of life and, having a commodity like leather available to me, I could get what I wanted. Besides that, as a leader in the industry, I had legal ways of getting articles which ordinary Soviet citizens weren't in a position to obtain. Besides having access to ORS (Department of Supply) which, from time to time, had special appropriations of food, furniture and other articles, I was also entitled to purchase luxury articles in the so-called Osobtorg (Department Stores) which were available only for select people. No wonder my sisters were impressed!

It didn't take too long for me to find out where peasant market in Moscow was. At this market the peasants were allowed to sell their produce at high prices without restriction. My sisters were especially happy with the fresh vegetables and meat I procured there and which they hadn't seen in years.

At home I was able to use my good connections to furnish our home and to get carpets, a radio and good food by swapping pieces of leather with Russian soldiers and officers returning from Germany. Yuly and my sisters had no chance to get anything exceeding the minimum. My sisters' clothes were the ones mama had given them at the time of her visit. Yuly's outfit also lacked elegance.

Later on this situation changed for the better. After Yuly began teaching atomic physics he was considered a valuable citizen and he was entitled to higher rations. My sisters, the doctors, and Anne, the librarian, had to be satisfied with the minimum.

However, Julius' position, while it entitled him to extras, restricted his contacts and those of people associated with him. Later on, after I was out from under Soviet rule, communications between Yuly and my sisters and I broke up for years. Later, when Gita and I were in Canada, they got in touch with us by letter via Vilnius and Tel Aviv. A more direct way of communicating with my sisters started later, after Yuly's death. This was probably because they were not then so vulnerable.

I think that they were not expecting me at the time when I first arrived in Moscow and we decided that I should go to Mary's clinic as a patient and surprise her there. That's what I did. It was an exciting two weeks. There was lots of joy and still more tears. My sisters, being older than I was, knew much more about the early days of our family and there were a million stories and remembrances from the days of our childhood.

As a representative of the "liberated republic" I was warmly welcomed in the Ministry of Light Industry in Moscow. I had to deliver several papers about the leather industry in the west, an area which was quite unfamiliar to them. I was highly praised in technical circles. I visited several industrial plants and was impressed by the fact that the workers were all women, and was further impressed by their hard work. I was also introduced to the Stachnoviks, the aristocrats of the workers, who regularly fulfilled and topped the established norms of production. My task was to get in touch with contracting organizations and start elaborate plans to reconstruct our tannery. While I was there we planned for a second visit several months later.

At that time the war was still going on. Soviet armies were advancing toward Germany via Hungary, Poland and Bulgaria while, from the west, the Americans advanced through France, Belgium and Holland. From the Baltic States and Prussia, the Soviets were moving into Germany and advancing to Berlin. The end of the war with Germany was not far off. It occurred in May that year. I remember two events that I heard of while I was in Moscow, namely, the fall of Budapest and the death of Roosevelt.

The fall of Budapest was a great event because the Red Army had fought so hard to get it. Every Soviet citizen was absorbed with every detail of the fighting there. The news of Roosevelt's death didn't make a great impression on them. Russian propaganda always tried to suppress the importance of the American involvement in the war. They ascribed all the successes mainly to Stalin and the Russian army.

The two weeks in Moscow were a memorable time for me. My sisters had a radio in their room on which we listened to the war news. All of us were excited with the great news of the advancing Soviet troops. Their apartment was a very big room divided by a screen behind which lived the married couple, Chaytze and Yuly. It was nicely arranged and cozy and hadn't changed much through the years. They had had a tough time during the war and when the Germans had advanced, in the winter of 1941, to the outskirts of Moscow my sisters had been evacuated to Kuybishev (which was called Samara before the war). They had stayed there until the danger to Moscow was over. Leaving Moscow, they had just locked their door and left everything in their room. They found everything intact when they returned later. We had, in the evenings, time enough to look over the old pictures which were highly valued by my sisters. They gave me some of them but, unfortunately, I had to dispose of most of these later on when I had to flee the Soviets.

When I returned to Moscow a half year later we had an even better reunion because Gita was with me. We arrived that time on September first, 1945, the day of the victory of the Allies over not only Germany but also Japan. There was a grandiose celebration. The streets were full of dancing and singing and kissing crowds. Stages were erected in the squares and there the best actors and singers of the country performed for the crowds. The dancing continued the whole night under the stars and the fireworks which illuminated the sky. The biggest impression was made by the pictures of Lenin and Stalin that were created by the fireworks. It was a perfect welcome for us.

The spring of 1945 had been loaded with events of far reaching significance which left their imprint on the rest of the century. Germany was falling apart under the tremendous pressure from east and west and the Allied leaders were already planning ahead, deciding how to arrange the world after the coming victory. The old animosities between the capitalist and communist regimes reappeared and both camps tried to secure better positions for themselves in the new world order to come.

After the victory over Germany, Stalin's politics changed in that he chose as culprits for the war not the German people but the Nazis. While the fighting was going on the slogan had been "Bay Nemtzev"--"Kill Germans". After the victory, he softened the slogans and blamed only the Nazi party. He tried to establish good relationships with newly liberated Poland and allowed millions of refugees who had escaped from the Germans in 1939 and 1940 to return to their native Poland. As a result a new wave of immigration - Poles going back to Poland - began. In those days Poland was not completely subjugated to Russian rule and was considered by many as the gateway to the west. Many Jewish immigrants from Poland tried also to return and other people, especially Jews, who wanted to leave Russia used this wave of immigration to get out of the communist regime. The World Zionist Organization took advantage of the situation to transport Jewish people, sometimes by legal but more often by illegal means, to the west and to Palestine.

With this big mix-up of immigration there was no problem getting false passports identifying one as a Polish citizen. Using these, one could travel west. It became kind of a fad and the only thing people talked about was whether or not to go to Poland. Many so-called Machers charged large amounts of money to transfer people, to provide false documents and so on.

In the meantime, life in Lithuania became increasingly unpleasant and the idea of going with the stream caught up with Gita and me also. By the time we went for a second visit to Moscow at the end of August, 1945, we had just about made up our minds to go. My sisters were amazed to hear such ideas. They were true children of the Revolution, ready to suffer to the last without raising a voice and with no feelings of hesitation about the cruel system in which they lived. Even after standing for hours in a store line-up and getting nothing but a piece of bread or some potatoes, they never dreamt of protesting against the conditions in their homeland.

This second trip to Moscow didn't go too smoothly either. This time I had no problems with tires. But to get to Moscow was nevertheless only possible after leaping several hurdles. In order for Gita to accompany me, she also needed a special permit from the Council of Ministers of the Lithuanian Soviet Republic. I received the necessary permit through my good connections with the Minister, Teryoshin, and we boarded the train happily in Vilnius. We got two separate seats in the same compartment as I had the feeling we shouldn't sit together. My name was spelled "Kronas" in Lithuanian and Gita's was spelled "Kroniene", meaning "Mrs. Kron". Every several hours there was a pass control as well as a ticket control and at first it looked like everything was going okay. However, the railway police eventually made the connection between Gita and me and started to question our relationship. I had my identification indicating that I was chief engineer in a big factory and that satisfied them as far as I went. Gita was supposed to be accompanying me as my secretary. However, she didn't have enough proof of her occupation. Therefore, shortly before Moscow, she was told to leave the train. At first I tried to use my "diplomatic papers" (i.e., nicely cut pieces of sole leather packed in my briefcase) and I tried to get an audience with the chief of police attached to the train. (Every train had a police car on it.) However, I had no chance to talk to him privately and when the train stopped at Vyazma, Gita had to disembark. Naturally I went with her. Using the factory's stationary with rubber stamps on it, which I had taken with me in any case, I made up identification papers for Gita indicating that she was employed as a secretary and was going on government business to Moscow. Armed with this, I approached the chief of police of the station at Vyazma. I told him the horror story about the treatment the police of the train had given Gita and asked what I was to do. We had now official documents proving our identities so, after leaving him some nice samples of our products, the doors of the train were again opened to us.

When we reached my sister's room there was another great reunion. My sisters met Gita for the first time. They had a group of old friends over several times during our stay - people like Milvitsky, Banchevskaya and Lina Schochet who was a sister of one of the people we stayed with when we first returned to Shavli after World War One. All of these people had been close since the days of Bogorodsk and I knew them all. They came to visit and to get acquainted with the new sister-in-law.

Gita was much more open in her conversation than the Moscovites and she didn't mind criticizing the Soviets. She even went so far as to hint about our secret ideas to escape. They were scared to even listen to her.

A couple of weeks passed there amidst joy and tears. Again I made good progress as far as business went. I settled a contract with an engineering firm to rebuild our tannery and made some money on the black market by buying gold coins in the Hotel Moscow. We danced in the Hotel in the exquisite ballrooms and visited the Bolshoi Theatre where we saw the performance of Carmen with Davidova. To make further good use of the trip I followed up on a tip I had been given and bought lighter flints. It was possible, at that time, to buy flints in Moscow by the pound. They were sold in our country by the piece.

For the trip back from Moscow we decided we didn't trust the trains anymore. We were able to secure two seats in an airplane. It was an ex-army plane, a Douglas, and it took several hours to cover the distance. It was a terrible trip. I was sick all the time. I remember that the moment they closed the door Gita said to me, "Marotchka, what have we done?" For air-sick passengers there was a special compartment in the back of the plane with a pole to hang onto. I didn't move from the spot the whole journey. Gita, I think, had some pills and she slept most of the way until she awoke to find her head on the knees of an army sergeant.

The work of rebuilding the factory proceeded swiftly and efficiently after the project engineer came from Moscow. We spent many days and nights with him. The work was always done under pressure but, despite this, thoughts of how to arrange an escape were always in the back of my mind. It was quite difficult because I was a well-known person in the city and I lived in the same house as my director, Shumkauskas. That would make it natural for the authorities to accuse him of assisting in my escape if I disappeared. Thus the first step was to quit the job, move from the city and go further from there. Because of my position I couldn't quit just like that and my director had no right to dispose of my services. I needed a special order from the Ministry. It was a hard decision to make. However, the flow of events pushed me in this direction.

Quite often after work the employees in the office used to arrange birthday or name-day parties or parties for any other occasion to be able to drink Vodka, have a good time and forget about the daily troubles. The management, the director, the chief engineer, the main bookkeeper and the representative of the NKGB were naturally invited to these parties. On one of these occasions, after having consumed a sufficient amount of alcohol, my neighbour at the table, the representative of the secret police, told me, "You know, Miron Levovich (Meyer, Son of Leo), if I were you I wouldn't stay very long in this place. Your file is about complete, considering your previous status." (They considered me to be the son of an exploiter rather than the son of a worker.) Another hint came to me from the new director of Batas. He was appointed about this time to head the shoe factory and told me similar things. These events persuaded me to go ahead and make plans.

To leave Shavli I had to get an order from the Minister to transfer me to Vilnius. How to do this? First I had to prepare somebody to take over my position. Such a person was more-or-less already present. His name was Jakubauskas. In the first year of the German occupation the Germans had told us that Jewish specialists were to train Lithuanian or German replacements for themselves. This fellow, Jakubauskas, was chosen by them and sent to me for this reason. He was a little fellow, the son of the owner of a large laundry. He had some knowledge of chemistry and was interested in the job. When he approached me at that time I said to him, "If you want to learn I will not stand in your way. My life is of no value so I don't care if you learn or not. You can look and watch and learn anything you want." I was no longer interested in keeping any secrets as we had done in former times.

He turned out to be a very capable fellow. I liked his desire to learn and his ambition and in the three years which followed we became friends. He learned a lot and when I talked with Shumkauskas about my situation I suggested that Jakubauskas be appointed chief engineer. Then it was up to me to get permission from Vilnius for my move. I took a month's vacation with the idea of preparing the top management for my departure. I had to deal with. Kazlauskas, a shoemaker previously in Batas, who was the chief of the Leather Trust, and Teryoshin, the Minister of Light Industry.

For them, the reason given for my desire to move from Shavli was that, after all the events of the war and after losing our families and our child, my wife could not stand to live in the city any longer. I spent lots of time and money and leather on these two people and gave them all kinds of other gifts and they promised to give me the necessary Prikas (order). However, nothing happened until I took a month's vacation and went to Vilnius.

While I was in Vilnius I made enquiries about ways to get out of the country. There were essentially two ways. One was the way organized by the Zionists. They organized transportation and provided Polish documents. There were also private people who had direct connections with persons who could make the necessary arrangements for joining a group. While in Vilnius I met, by accident, Nachman Daitch, a man of our town whom I had known for a long time. He had the reputation of being a very resourceful and versatile person so I asked him to introduce me to somebody who could eventually help me to get out. He had an answer ready and invited me to a nearby bakery which was also a small restaurant. He introduced me to the owner who was supposed to be the person I was interested in meeting. At that time I was not ready to make any arrangements but I kept the man in mind. While I was there it happened that our old acquaintances, the Reises, the people with whom we had shared the hiding place at Barbara's, were also in the bakery along with their teenage boy. I presume that they heard our conversation with the baker but they didn't take part in it.

In the spring of 1946 the Regular Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was called. This is a great event that takes place every few years throughout the Union and every Soviet Republic has to account for its activities and progress during the previous few years. It was especially important on this occasion after the war had ended with victory and a whole year of rebuilding was supposed to have taken place. The major task of every Soviet Republic (Lithuania was the Sixteenth Republic) was to fulfill its plan. To prepare for this event every city, town, factory, etc., was to double and triple its effort to fulfill the plan so that the top brass would be able to report on their success. To get ready for the Congress, Teryoshin called a conference of top technical personnel of all the industries and everyone had to give his preliminary account of the situation. The situation in our plant was miserable. There was a shortage of everything - raw hides, extracts, coal or other materials to furnish energy--and I stated that there was not much chance I would be able to report successful completion of the factory's plan. At that point Teryoshin called me in to another room and told me, "If you want to get your Prikaz to move from Shavli you had better make sure that the plan is fulfilled." The meaning of this was clear to both of us.

In the end he was not really interested in physical fulfillment of the plan in the sense that the goods had to be produced: so much leather produced or so many shoes completed. What he really needed was a report from me stating that we had done the job whether we had or not. With the cooperation of our local planners and some ingenious tricks, I was proud to present him with a wonderful account of our activities and accomplishments. For instance, our shoe factory was supposed to produce a certain number of shoes every month. Making a shoe is quite a complicated task which involves using not only leather of different types. It involves upper leather, sole leather and insole leather. It needs, as well, thread, glue and dyes. But the main thing it takes is a tremendous amount of work to cut the material properly and put the pieces together to produce a reasonable kind of product. The amount of leather is only a small part of the value of the whole shoe. To make things easier we at the factory reached an agreement amongst ourselves that, for purposes of fulfillment of the plan, we would record as shoes only the cut and unassembled leather.

There were additional problems. One was the shortage of chemicals and bark. In the old days tanners used to make their leather differently. They did not use the various chemicals we use now but a good so-called "vegetable tanning" technique for which wood extracts and extracts of barks from various trees were needed. After the war activities ceased the top "brains" of the industry came up with the wonderful idea that as long as there were lots of trees in Lithuania we could use more bark and the planning department of the Leather Trust outlined a plan for every factory to procure a certain amount of bark. In the old days, farmers used to gather the bark and sell it to the industry. In this case, nobody was interested because the farmers had no interest in the paper money they could get for doing this. Thus we had to send our own crews to the woods to gather bark. I got a paper from the planning department in Vilnius stating that we had to gather an astronomical quantity. I took my time and figured out that to be able to procure this amount of bark the number of trees needed would be considerably more than the total number of trees there would be if the whole Republic of Lithuania were covered with trees. With this figure I went to the top planner. Instead of giving me a technical reply he just took out of his filing cabinet a document with bark appropriations. He showed it to me and pointed to the signature on it. It was signed by Stalin himself. There was no more argument and I knew his action meant I was to do what I found necessary. I found it necessary to report that the plan was fulfilled and that one hundred percent of the bark required had been gathered.

Another problem was to get raw hides from the country. For the same reason mentioned above, the farmers were not interested in selling their hides for money. It was therefore decided to accept raw hides from the farmer and to give him a certain percentage of ready-made leather in exchange. When this was announced it attracted thousands of farmers. They brought raw hides and lined up for blocks. That replenished our stock of hides. Our employees often made deals with farmers and took in their hides for them, giving them ready goods in exchange. This way the farmers did not have to wait for days before they got their turn and in this way some of our employees got their own stocks of goods

A curious thing happened to Katzev, the foreman of the sole leather department. He managed a department of about twenty people occupying a very large building in the corner of which was his own small glassed-in office. One day he made a good deal with a farmer and secured some leather for himself which he left in his office. This was Katzev's own leather and was very valuable in those days. When he arrived at his office the next morning, however, the leather had disappeared. He was very disturbed over this and told everybody that he had been robbed by his own men who knew that he was in the same needy position that they were. This story spread quickly through the whole factory. Several days later, when he again arrived in his office, he found a stack of money and a note saying, "Sorry, we didn't know the leather was your private property. We thought it was government leather." A generous amount of money was left in place of the stolen goods.

Coming back to the fulfillment of the plan, we finally got the figures together and presented an excellent report to the Ministry. Teryoshin fulfilled his promise and gave the necessary instructions to Shumkaushas via the Leather Trust (Kazlauskas) to release me from my duties. Shumkauskas knew my plans and I figured that others presumed what they were and that my final goal was to leave the country, but nobody stood in my way in this case. The only problem was that my father-in-law did not want to leave. He decided to stay in Shavli but had no objection to our going. We left to his disposition our furniture and our piano and he got a room with the neighbours next door where Nesia also found accommodation. We moved to Vilnius and stayed with our friend and Gita's schoolmate, Dr. Chezia Savich, and his wife, Etale who was a dentist and had her dental practice in the house. Chezia's brother also lived there.


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