Original text of Alex Faitelson's Speech at the Museum of the Ninth Fort, Sixtieth Anniversary of the Escape December 19, 2003:
It is not easy to go back to the tragic events, which took place sixty years ago…
But fate has decreed that I tell:
When German troops stood at the gates of Moscow and were about to occupy it any day, when throughout the whole of Lithuania, the Nazis, with the help of Lithuanian “liberators of Lithuania” were carrying out the total destruction of the Jews, when in the Kaunas ghetto its inmates were being persecuted and killed – within that ghetto a resistance movement was developing, which was to become the Anti-Fascist Military Partisan Organization under the leadership of the writer, Chaim Yellin. The aim of the Anti-Fascist Military Partisan Organization was to mobilize the masses in the ghetto and take them out into the forests to make war on the Nazis.
In carrying out one of the aims of the organization, to establish a partisan base in the Augustovo forests, the ghetto fighters came up against the Lithuanian auxiliary police. Some were killed, wounded, taken alive. I was one of those, who was taken alive. We were handed over to the Gestapo. Beatings and torture were not able to help the Gestapo achieve results. And that is when the Gestapo sent us to a place from which there was no return. We were brought to that place, where rivers of blood flowed together into the sea of Jewish tragedy – the Ninth Fort. Thousands of Jews from Kaunas and other European countries were shot here. To this day, voices are heard in the world that this never happened, that this is a figment of the Jewish imagination.
But I saw THIS.
I saw them, undressed, naked, thrown into pits. Shot …
I saw babies shot and killed in the arms of their mothers, shot and killed…
To this day I see their petrified, bulging eyes, while those who had not been shot dead still had their mouths wide open, suffocated under the weight of the earth piled over them …To this day I see their clenched fists, as if they summon to avenge them! My parents were amongst them. And I had to carry them to the pyre, to commit them to the flames. Clouds of smoke rose to cleave the heavens. But on earth, nothing changed …An officer of the Gestapo in uniform stood by, and on the buckle of its wide belt we could read the words: “Gott ist mit uns!” (God is with us!)
All night long the fire burned, its flames licking the dead victims. To ensure that no traces remained, those bones which had not been completely roasted, were chopped up, and together with the ashes were scattered by the wind over the fields, to ensure that no traces remained.
We could not rest at the thought that we were the ones making it possible for the perpetrators to hide the evidence of their guilt. It was this thought that gave us the strength to organize and carry out the escape from the Ninth Fort. The way out of the fort brought my comrades and me under the command of the military organization, into the ghetto, from whence Chaim Yellin took us by car to the partisans in the forest.
We fought the war in the ranks of a partisan detachment and survived till victory came, but the end of the Lithuanian Jewish community was evident. As you know, out of a Jewish population of nearly 240,000, only just on 5 percent survived. It must be pointed out, that some of them were saved by the courageous and noble sons of the Lithuanian people and their mothers.
What were the perspectives for the Lithuanian people during the German occupation of Lithuania? The shortsighted pro-German rulers of Lithuania miscalculated in their hope that Hitler would grant them independence and equality of rights.
The Abwehr and the Gestapo knew that Hitler would fly into a rage at the words “Lithuania” and “Lithuanians." At the sound of those words, he would roll up his eyes, clench his fists and hysterically and hoarsely shout, “I don’t want to hear anything about Lithuania!”
Following the end of the First World War, Germany lost many territories under the Versailles Treaty. Amongst them was the city of Memel with its adjoining lands, which came into the disposition of the Entente. Taking advantage of the situation that had come about, the Lithuanian government sent its troops into this region, occupied Memel and renamed it Klaipeda. Memel had been an important German port on the Baltic Sea. This was something Hitler could not forgive the Lithuanians. At Nazi gatherings he would repeat the headlines of the Nazi press, shouting, “The Lithuanians seized Memel (Klaipeda). This primitive forest tribe wants to lord it over Europe’s most cultured nation.” To ensure that there were to be no dealings with Lithuania, Hitler gave the order, “Wipe Lithuania from the map!”