Peretz Padison was born on June 21, 1903 in the town of Vilkomir in Lithuania. On May 5, 1919 Padison enlisted, as did many Jewish young men, as a volunteer in the newly-formed Lithuanian army which was fighting the Poles and the Bolsheviks, who were fighting each other for control of Lithuania. Thus the seventeen-year-old Peretz Padison fought for the independence of Lithuania. He was wounded twice in the battle against the Poles, and was awarded two medals: the “Vyties Kryžius” (Vyties Cross), first and second class. In the army he served as a machine-gun instructor. Padison and his family, a son and a daughter, lived in Kovno. He joined the organization of Jewish military personnel who had participated in the liberation of Lithuania.
When Lithuania was occupied by the Germans, he was imprisoned in Kovno ghetto. In the ghetto, he joined the Anti-Fascist Combat Organization (AKO). The organization sent him to work in the Jewish ghetto police, where he was appointed assistant to the police commander for criminal affairs. As a former trained soldier, the AKO appointed him as an instructor to teach members how to use weapons.
Leib Sher writes in his memoirs, in the book Not Like Lambs to the Slaughter:
"Chaim Yellin told the military instructors that we were going to be joined by former Jewish officers from the Lithuanian army, to teach a particular military tactic, how to defend ourselves in the conditions of the ghetto.
This happened on a certain Sunday, a day on which we did go out to work in the town. We gathered in the safe house at 2 Linkmeno Street. Chaim sent me to meet the important visitors at the gate – two men, who were supposed to give a particular password. When the appointed time drew near, I saw two men approach in the lane: Ika Grinberg – head of Police District 1 in the ghetto, and Peretz Padison – a member of the Jewish secret police in the ghetto. As soon as the two men appeared, the street emptied: people recognized them well and knew that it was better not to be seen by members of the police. I remained in my place. It was not necessary to inform those gathered in the apartment of the danger: a game of cards was taking place there, as a form of camouflage.
At exactly two o'clock the two police officers approached me. It occurred to me that the entire business could collapse because of them. One of them held a folded map of the ghetto, and asked me where the supervisor of the tree workers' group lived. That was the password. I replied with the second half of the password: 'I can show you.'
When I took them into the apartment the card game was in full swing. Immediately the faces of those seated around the table paled: never mind the game – two VIPs! But Chaim slapped his ace down on the table and grinned broadly.
With this gesture the tension was broken. Our conversation with the two important men was both pleasant and useful."
In the book Lexicon of Heroism (Vol. 1, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, 1968), it says that Peretz Padison was the military instructor and taught the young people of the ghetto to use weapons. (p.97) The source of this information is Bar-On/ Levin, The Story of an Underground.
After the daring escape of AKO fighters from the Ninth Fort, Padison was charged by Chaim Yellin with safeguarding the escapees who had come into the ghetto. Padison, as an officer of the Jewish ghetto police, transferred the fort escapees from one hiding place to another when the Germans were searching for them, and watched out for them. His activities beyond the framework of his everyday duties as a police officer attracted suspicion, and he was forced to disappear from the ghetto. He joined the group of escapees from the Ninth Fort when they left to join the partisans in the forest on January 6, 1944. In the forest, he was appointed commander of a unit in the “Death to the Occupiers” partisan camp in Rudniki Forest, Vilna district.
Left behind in the ghetto were his wife Rachel and his twelve-year-old daughter Cheina Maya. The little girl died in the Children's Action of March 28, 1944, and during the liquidation of Kovno ghetto, on July 12, 1944, his wife died too.
The war came to an end. Jews and partisans came out of the forest. Soldiers were released from military service. The Jews of Kovno scurried here and there throughout the town, searching the former ghetto in the hope of finding their relatives… but hope faded along with the smoke of war. It was necessary to start building life anew. Homes that had been destroyed could be rebuilt, families that had been destroyed could be put back together again, but the fathers, the mothers and the children, innocent of any crime, who had been murdered by the Lithuanians and the Germans could not be brought back to life. The deep wound in the heart would be healed only by death.
On August 1, 1944 the Thirty-ninth and Fifth corps of the Third Byelorussian Front captured Kovno. After liberation of the forest, the Kovno department of the Lithuanian KGB arrested a number of people who had collaborated with the Nazis in annihilating the Jews in Kovno ghetto. As a result of the investigation, they were sentenced by the military court of the Kovno Command.
Among those sentenced there were also Jews: the head of the Jewish ghetto police Meishe (Michael) Kopelman – to fifteen years' hard labor; the deputy head of the “Order Police," responsible for the gates of the ghetto and the ghetto prison Tanchum Arnstam – to twenty years' hard labor; and the senior police officer of the ghetto, Meishe Ushpitz – to fifteen years' hard labor.
On March 27 and 28, 1944, during the action carried out by the Germans in the ghetto to capture children up to the age of twelve and adults over the age of fifty-five, Arnstam and Ushpitz were among those who revealed to the Germans where the hiding places (the “malinas”) were in the ghetto.
The head of the Gestapo and SD in Lithuania, SS Oberführer Dr. Wilhelm Fuchs, writes in his report to Berlin that on March 23, 1944 twenty-five bunkers (“malinas”) were discovered in the Kauen concentration camp (Kovno ghetto), some of them very well concealed.
On October 28, 1944 Pavl Margolis, head of the department for recruiting work forces in Kovno ghetto, was also arrested and required to bear criminal responsibility. However later in the investigation it was determined that Margolis had maintained contacts with the Anti-Fascist Combat Organization (AKO) in the ghetto, which was linked with the Soviet partisans. Margolis helped members of the AKO escape from the ghetto and join the partisan camps in the forests. The file against him was therefore closed on October 31.
After the hell of World War II, a group of Jews who had, by a miracle, remained alive organized the Jewish Museum in Vilna. Former partisans and writers were invited to its opening, and we were photographed by the facade of the museum. But the museum did not open. The Stalinist policy campaigns destroyed the museum on June 10, 1949. The exhibits were transferred for "safekeeping" in other museums. It was the start of the destruction of Jewish culture and its representatives. In January 1948, Shlomo Michaelis (the head of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Organization in Russia during World War II) was murdered. A struggle developed against those who were called the "Cosmopolitans." A wave of trials began in the Soviet Union against Jewish writers and doctors.
On December 3, 1952 the NKVD in Lithuania arrested Peretz Padison and put him on trial. He was charged with helping the Nazis annihilate the Jews of the ghetto during his service as officer of special affairs in the Jewish ghetto police.
Padison vehemently denied the charges. Faithfully, from the bottom of his heart, he told about his activities in the AKO in the ghetto.
The commander of the AKO, Chaim Yellin, enlisted people who had served in the Lithuanian army to instruct and train members of the underground in the use of weapons. He sent some of those he recruited to work in the Jewish ghetto police, and one of these was Peretz Padison.
During the investigation this “sin” was also held against him. Padison produced for the MGB investigators positive evidence, character references and confirmations. Below are two of the documents attached to his file.
“I, Riva Teper, a member of the Communist party since 1943, no. 4772130, a member of the AKO committee in Kovno ghetto, under the leadership of the underground municipal committee of the party during the German occupation, am familiar with Comrade Peretz Padison as an active member of the AKO. I confirm that Padison was sent at the order of the AKO to work in the Jewish ghetto police. Throughout the time that he was in the AKO he showed himself to be a disciplined member, valiant and dedicated, and a patriot of the Soviet homeland. In January 1944 Comrade Padison was sent with a group to the “Death of the Occupiers” partisan camp and was appointed commander of a group of fighters, and later an elder of the camp. I was in the camp at that same time.
Signature – Teper”
(original of certificate attached).
“I, Solomon (Shlomo) Holtzberg, a member of the Communist party since 1947, no. 4773991, have known Comrade Peretz Padison Mordchelevitz (son of Mordechai) since the end of 1941 as an active member of the underground anti-fascist organization in Kovno ghetto, under the leadership of the underground municipal committee of the party during the German occupation. As a member of the Communist Youth Association committee I often approached Comrade Padison for party assignments. I also know that Padison was sent by the AKO committee to go out to the partisan camp, to obtain weapons, drugs etc.
In January 1944 Comrade Padison was sent to the “Death of the Occupiers” partisan camp. He was immediately appointed commander of a group of fighters and later elder of the camp. In the partisan camp Comrade Padison gained the reputation of being a disciplined and valiant fighter, loyal to the Soviet homeland.
This character reference is intended for the place of work.
Signature, October 22, 1951”
Positive responses, such as those given by Teper and Holtzberg, were also given to the MGB by the partisans Nachum Mendelevitch (son of Mendel) Endlin, Israel Goldblatt and Meishe Sherman. And yet, without taking into account all these positive certificates, the MGB arrested Padison and in February 1953 the Kovno District Court sentenced him to twenty-five years' imprisonment, under sections 58-3, 58-4 and 58-10. The court rebuked Padison’s comrades in arms for their political short-sightedness.
The question arises: why were the positive testimonies of the witnesses taken into account and the prisoner released in the case of Margolis, while in the case of Padison an innocent man was sentenced to twenty-five years? I found the answer in the minutes of the investigation material, when three witnesses were bought face to face with Padison. The evidence of one of them, Meishe Rubinson, I present below:
* * *
January 6, 1953, Vilna
I, senior investigator in the Investigations Department of the MGB in the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic (LSSR), senior lieutenant of MGB Petrov, and assistant prosecutor of the LSSR for special affairs, legal counsel Bogachev, carried out a confrontation between the accused Padison and the witness Rubinson.
Question to the accused Padison: With whom did you have contact in the underground organization in Kovno ghetto?
Answer: As I already said earlier, in 1942 I was in contact with the leader of the underground organization in Kovno, Chaim Yellin, and with the secretary of the underground Communist Youth Organization, Rubinson, who is seated here across from me.
Question to the witness Rubinson: Was the witness Padison in contact with you in the Kovno ghetto underground?
Answer: No, I personally, as secretary of the underground Communist Youth Organization in Kovno ghetto, had no contact with Padison in the Kovno ghetto underground from mid-1943. For example, at the beginning of 1943 I once happened to be guarding the place where Padison met with the leader of the underground, Chaim Yellin. I learned from Yellin that Padison was helping with the activities of our underground organization, but I did not know of it personally.
Question to the accused Padison: To whom did you give written permission, in connection with exploiting your authority in the police, to release people from labor in the ghetto?
Answer: I gave such letters of authorization to Chaim Yellin and to Rubinson.
Question to the witness Rubinson: Did you personally receive from Padison written permission to release people who were essential to the underground organization?
Answer: No, I personally did not receive such written authorization from Padison, but from what I was told by Yellin I know that Padison was supposed to bring him such letters of authorization.
Question to the accused Padison: Who can confirm that you carried out training lessons for underground groups in connection with their departure for the partisan camps?
Answer: I have already told you that in Kovno ghetto I gave illegal training lessons and taught underground groups how to use weapons, for all those who were preparing to go and join the partisans in the forest. This should be well known to Rubinson too.
Question to the witness Rubinson: Do you confirm this fact?
Answer: I do not remember from whom I heard that Padison was apparently holding a training session for one of the groups. I personally did not participate in these training lessons, so I cannot tell you anything about it.
Question by the accused Padison to the witness Rubinson: Does the witness Rubinson remember when we both participated in an illegal consultation concerning the preparations for departure to the partisans' camp?
Answer: No, I don't even remember the actual existence of such a consultation, and other than the fact about which I made a statement, Padison's meeting with Yellin, I did not come across him any more.
Question by the accused Padison to the witness Rubinson: Does Rubinson remember that he came to me a few times, to the criminal police station, and received release from work permits for friends in the underground?
Answer: I cannot remember such cases, because they never happened, and I declare once more that I never received a release permit from Padison.
Question by the accused Padison to the witness Rubinson: Does Rubinson remember when we both participated in a consultation about the question of organizing the uprising in connection with the preparations for the mass shooting of Jews?
Answer: No, I certainly do not remember such a fact.
There are no more questions and details to complete. Our answers have been written down correctly and read out to us.
Signed: Padison and Rubinson. The minutes were also signed by: Chief Investigator of the MGB interrogation department of the LSSR, Senior Lieutenant G. B. Petrov, and Assistant Prosecutor of the LSSR for Special Affairs, Legal Assistant Bogachev.
In Yellin and Gelpern's book, Partisans in Kovno Ghetto (Moscow, 1948) it states: "The AKO committee appoints Rubinson to lead the communist activities. Rubinson will receive instructions from Chaim Yellin, head of the AKO, for organizing the communist youth group and a program for its activities." (pp. 30, 37)
Sara Ginaite-Rubinson quotes in her book Atminimo knyga (The Book of Memory), from a letter about her husband, Meishe Rubinson, written to her by Meir Yellin from Israel in October 1998: "Yellin writes that he knew him as a man of principles, who was not afraid of jeopardizing his career in the defense of truth and justice." (p.195)
Peretz Padison was rehabilitated on July 15, 1956. He came to Israel in 1975 and died on March 22, 1999.
And here is a letter from distant America, written by Chanan Padison, Peretz Padison's son. Both father and son were fighters, members of the AKO and partisans in the “Death to the Occupiers” partisan camp in the Rudniki forest near Vilna.
Chanan writes in his letter of March 6, 2003:
"… as to the behavior of M. Rubinson in the KGB, and his denial of his long-standing acquaintanceship and collaboration in the AKO with my father, Peretz Padison, I must emphasize (as hard as this is for me), that Meishe Rubinson, or Michael, as he is called, acted in a weak and cowardly manner. He was anxious about his career and lied, giving false evidence. I remember well that in the criminal police station in the ghetto Padison gave Rubinson, in my presence, a white ghetto police armband so he could move around freely in the ghetto area, day and night, carrying out tasks for the Combat Organization. After my father received a full rehabilitation from all the unfounded accusations, he told me at length about Rubinson's behavior during their investigation together in the KGB.
I thank you once more. We wish you good luck, and we are sure that the chapter in your book about my father will serve as a monument to him, and he deserves it.
Many people from Israel and abroad will be reading your new book, including his grandchildren, great-grandchildren and the children of his great-grandchildren. We wish you good health and much joy from your family.
Hadassah and Chanan"
December 4, 2003
Beloved friends, Sima and Alter!
I would like to thank you, again, for the book (Sixty Years from Hell) and the tremendous work that you invested in fulfilling your plan. We appreciate it very much. Well done!
I would like to make a modest contribution to your expenses. In addition, I thank you for the book you sent to my best friend David Aharonson, we have been friends since kindergarten.
Sources: The Central Archives in Lithuania: 1) 583, b. 1693, ap. 2, F. 561, 1.279, b. 324, ap.7, F. 930; 2) The Archive of the Ghetto Fighters Museum; 3) Bar-On/Levin, The Story of an Underground; 4) Lexicon of Heroism, Volume 1, Yad Vashem 1968; 5) Not Like Lambs to the Slaughter, Israel 2001, p. 280.