Do you know the meaning of being alone?
Is there someone to understand my aching heart?
My father, my mother, my husband – all my family are lost
To whom can I look and turn to?
My pining heart is wounded and bleeds
But the well of tears is already dammed
From so much suffering, everything has turned to stone...
I shall never be together with them again.
I will never know the same sweeping happiness
That filled my heart only yesterday.
No longer have I a father and mother, nor loving husband...
Can I still dream of a drop of bliss?
Will I never see them again?
Is my life gone forever, was it all in vain?
Will I hear again the words ‘I love you’?
Will my life be as bleak as an autumn night?
The meeting for which I had yearned for so long suddenly came to an end. Kagan burst into the room and ordered everyone to go into hiding, in the bunker in the house. They were looking for those who had escaped from the Ninth Fort in the ghetto. The Jewish police together with the special department of the Gestapo were spreading out over the ghetto.
Kagan removed the opening to the smokestack of the baking oven and everyone crawled into the underground hiding place. There it was only possible to lie flat. We lay there throughout the day. After the danger was past, Kagan permitted us to come out.
The Jewish police went out together with the German police on their search through the ghetto and afterwards went to the former ghetto, which had been wiped out not very long since. They looked for “malinas” among the empty dwellings. The Jews who were hiding there were warned and fled in time. The searches did not produce satisfactory results and the Germans left the ghetto.
After Sunday, Chaim Yellin ordered Peretz Padison, one of the older members of the Jewish police and a member of AKO, to visit places where groups of people congregated and find out if they know anything about the escape from the Ninth Fort and the fate of the escapees. Padison found out the whereabouts of two of the escapees from the fort – Israel Gitlin and Yudl Maister. He immediately transferred them to a safe place.
For lack of space, not all the escapees from the fort who were in the ghetto were placed in the same "malina." Some comrades found shelter elsewhere. It was important to concentrate all the escapees in one place. AKO found an empty house where pieces of furniture belonging to people who had been expelled from the ghetto had been stored. The house was at 6 Broliu Street, between those of Chone Kagan and Peretz Padison. The house was evacuated and all the escapees lodged there. In order that it should not be thought that only young men lived there, it was decided to allow the married comrades to have their wives stay with them. Chaim Yellin made Peretz Padison responsible for the safety for the people of the fort. On Tuesday, December 28, once again Dr. Fuchs, the Gestapo chief, arrived in the ghetto and informed Meishe Levin, head of the Jewish ghetto police, that it appears that the auto mechanic "Fendelson" (Faitelson) was in the ghetto and he wanted him handed over at once. If not, the ghetto would be destroyed. Meishe Levin said he did not know anyone by that name and that the Gestapo could do whatever they pleased about it.
Chaim Yellin told me all about what was happening with regard to the escape from the Ninth Fort. He had appealed to representatives of the Allies in the military and technical committee and requested that the “malina” in Block Z, which belonged to them, be put at the disposal of the escapees. They replied that they did not wish to know anything about the escape from the Ninth Fort. Hence, the house in Broliu Street was found for us. “Now they would like to meet you, so that you can tell them about the Ninth Fort and the escape. And you will do nothing of the sort.” Chaim also told me to tell this to the rest of the comrades.
I asked Chaim to arrange for a place where we could wash properly and change our clothes. In the evening, he sent a group to the partisans in the forest. Chone Kagan was one of this group.
A shelter had been built in Block Z as well as a special bathhouse for workers of the Jewish Council. Chaim Lipman, who was a member of AKO, was an expert plumber for water installations and it was he who arranged the water and heating pipes of the bathhouse and also worked there as a stoker. Rabbi Efraim Oshri was its director.
After returning from accompanying the third group to the forest, on the following day, Wednesday, December 29, Chaim immediately contacted Rabbi Oshri and imposed on him the absolutely secret task of preparing the bathhouse for the escapees from the Ninth Fort and of burning their clothing which smelled of rotten flesh. Rabbi Oshri describes this mission in his book Churbn Lita (The Destruction of Lithuania, New York, Montreal, 1951):
“This was a daring act, which had a whiff of danger about it. Chaim told me: Rabbi, you know what this smells of? I know. I’m not worried about dying, in order to save the Jews. I just don’t care.” (pp.137–8)
Chaim instructed Yerachmiel Berman to help Rabbi Oshri, together with Lipman, to prepare the bathhouse in utter secrecy, for the cleansing of the escapees from the Ninth Fort who were at the time located in the house set aside for them.
It was freezing outside. We walked quickly under Padison, Berman and Lipman’s supervision to Block Z. It was very hot in the bathhouse. The hot water ran freely and there was even soap. Berman and Lipman did not leave me alone. They helped me to soap myself, lent me a hand, and urged me to tell them how we had escaped. I told them quietly and briefly a few details about the preparations to escape. They listened with open mouths, while their gaze reflected astonishment and respect.
Meir Grinberg and Alte Boruchovitch-Teper saw to it that we had clothing. Underwear was something of a problem. The Germans had robbed the Jews in the ghetto of all their underwear during the very first days of the ghetto's existence. Some prisoners managed to save their underclothes or use them in exchange for bread. People remained with whatever they were wearing and very rarely managed to retain spare underwear.
Rivka Kagan, a member of AKO and a professional nurse, who worked in the surgery of the ghetto hospital, recalls those days:
“I was the member of a cell headed by Alte Boruchovitch-Teper. One evening Alte came to me and secretly ordered me to immediately find underwear for the escapees from the Ninth Fort who had reached the ghetto. I was working in the ghetto hospital at the time. My superior was Dr. Benjamin Zacharin. I could not turn to him or anyone else. On that same day, a man and his wife had been brought to the hospital, both of them very old, who had committed suicide by hanging. They were dressed in new jersey clothing. I asked those who were looking after them to wrap them in shrouds and to give me their underwear for someone very much in need of it. In this way I managed to gather a quantity of underwear in the hospital, sent them to the laundry and the dried and clean underwear was handed over to Alte.”
Chaim Yellin asked Padison to keep an eye on the escapees and prevent any undesirable characters from visiting them. Only Alte, who was looking after us, was permitted to enter the house. Meir Grinberg saw that we received food. He would ask us endlessly, in a loving tone: “Children, what do you want? Just say what you would like and I will supply you with it.” One day, I said to him: “Meir, we want vodka! We would really like to have a snifter!” Meir looked at me in astonishment, did not say a word, and went out. Later on, when he brought our lunch, he took a quarter-liter bottle of vodka out of his pocket.
Members of the group would only leave the house to go to the doctor. Everyone had some excuse: one to the internist, another to the eye doctor. Suddenly they all began to suffer from toothaches and would leave the house. I could not use this kind of pretext. Even my hat and leather coat was taken away from me.
I was very keen on seeing my relatives who had looked after Sima. One evening Sima was brought to me together with my cousin Mina. I was allowed to go outside to her without any outer clothes. After a moment, I had to run back into the house, frozen. Another evening, Padison was permitted to bring my Aunt Reizl. Sima brought her to Padison’s house and we met there.
In the evening, most of my fellow escapees would separate and go to their respective “doctors” while I remained in the house on my own. I was not permitted to go out. The outer door was locked. I couldn’t find a corner for myself. I would wander from room to room, looking for something warm to put on – but to no avail.
In one of the cupboards I found a cotton coat and a summer hat. I put them on, opened the window and jumped into the cold air.
I walked quickly through the snow-covered lanes of the ghetto past the little red blocks where my relatives lived. I went in. Five adults and four small children lived in one room: my cousin Mina, my cousin Leibl, Sima, Uncle Berl, Aunt Reizl and four children whose parents had been sent to Estonia.
Sima and the cousins were not at home. Uncle embraced me and sat me down near the table. My aunt started to extract various things from different places: butter, white cheese, bread, sausage... the table was loaded with foodstuffs the likes of which I had not seen for ages. I could not eat anything; I had been too long without any food of this kind. My uncle, surrounded by grandchildren, asked me about the Ninth Fort, what went on there and what I had seen...I answered that it would be better not to talk about it. He did not press me further, but constantly looked at me in astonishment and surprise, respect and love.
For the time being, we were not sent to the forest, a fact which I found very worrying. It was difficult to get a vehicle. The leadership of AKO revealed an unusual sense of inventiveness on getting the fighters out of the ghetto on a truck when the ghetto itself was surrounded day and night by German and Lithuanian guards. The road to town was also filled with German police squads, SD and Gestapo agents and the Lithuanian secret service. It was not so simple. They would stop people and cars in the street, examine them and arrest the passengers. The inventiveness of AKO merited praise from the former commander of the partisan movement of southern Lithuania, H. Ziman, in his book Siluetai, on page 164:
“The fighters and partisans of the Kovno ghetto improved to such an extent in the course of time, that they could take the fighters from the ghetto in trucks straight to the forest.”
The many setbacks experienced by AKO when sending fighters to different parts of Lithuania in order to establish contacts with the partisans – the trek to Augustovo which failed, the long and difficult march of the first group to the forests of Rudniki, and the fact that all these experiments led to the loss of comrades – all these forced AKO to find a way for the fighters to spend less time on the roads and thus lessen the possibility of failing and also prevent the loss of lives.