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Murder at The 7th Fort

 

This evening as I watched the basketball game between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Zalgiris Kovna, I felt nauseus. It brought me back to the horrors of my childhood and the murder of my brother.
After the Nazi invasion of Lithuania, in  July 1941, a German army team played basketball against a Lithuanian team. The Lithuanians had no difficulty in defeating the Germans as before world war two they were champions of Europe.
As a ‘reward’ the Lithuanian basketball players were allowed to shoot a dozen Jews at the 7th Fort. Among the Jews who were shot there was my brother, Zwi-Hermann.  If he was shot by a basketball player or some other Lithuanian murderer we will never know.
 Ironically, anyone who watched the game saw that Maccabi Tel Aviv, as if by a miracle, won the game against Zalgiris, Kovno.
Perhaps, if the German army team had won the game in July 1941, the Lithuanian basketball players wouldn’t  have been rewarded with shooting Jews and my brother would have been alive today.


MURDER AT THE 7TH FORT
by Solly Ganor

On July 1941, the Germans with the help of the Lithuanian collaborators gathered thousands of Jews, men, woman and chidlren from the town of Kaunas and brought them to the old Russian fort, known as the 7th Fort.

The Seventh Fort was one the many forts built by the Zarist regime sometimes in the beginning of the Century. Because of the proximity to the German border, Kaunas was always considered by the Russians a strategic town, especially since it was situated between two wide rivers, the Niemunas and the Vilija and surrounded on all sides by fairly high hills.
The forts that originally housed heavy artillery were built to prevent the enemy from entering the town. But after WW I their strategic importance became insignificant. The fort occupied a fairly large area and was surrounded by heavy stone walls and barbed wire.

When the Germans attacked the Soviet Union, on June 22, 1941, my parents decided to escape to Russia. Unfortunately, we never made it to the Russian border and we were forced to return to Kovno. Due to the heavy bombing by the German airforce, my mother,my brother and I where separated from my father and sister.  On the way back thousands fo Jews were slaughtered by Lithuanian guards and the special German units assigned to murder Jews. We didn’t know whether my father and sister escaped the slaughter.
Somehow the three of us, made it to the outskirts to Kovno, where we were arrested by Lithuanians and brought to the 7th Fort.

My brother who was twenty years old at the time, was seperated from my mother and myself and taken away by the Germans. We never saw him again.
By some miracle, my mother and I were allowed to leave the fort and go home,
but the scene of the mass murder that we saw at the 7th Fort will stay ingrained in my mind till the day I’ll die.

Excerpts from my  original diary:
 
        ‘As soon as we entered the court yard of the fort we were told by a German in an SS leather uniform to wait there. Then he mounted his heavy motor cycle, started the engine and left.
 The court yard contained a low lying building with barred iron windows that seemed almost touching the ground. There were another stone wall separating the court yard from the inner compound of the fort. From behind these walls we heard shots being fired and the distant cries of many people.
 About half an hour had passed and we received no orders from any one. We just sat there on the carriage waiting. In the meantime the firing behind the walls increased in intensity. Several machine guns joined in and we could hear the cries of what sounded like thousands of people that sent a chill down my spine. We knew that the end is near and mother began to cry.
 She tried to talk to the Lithuanian in the thick glasses, telling him that we were peaceful neighbors of theirs for many generations and what have we ever done to them to deserve this.
 This only incensed the guard’s anger  and he began shouting at her to shut up.
 " You blood suckers took the bread out of our poor peoples mouths, and now you are going to get what is coming to you. All of you, kaput, you understand." And he made a sign across his throat with his right forefinger.
 A small gate opened up in the inner wall and three Lithuanians in partisan uniforms came out. They carried their rifles upside down on their shoulders and they seemed to be drunk.
 " Hey, what do we have here! Some privileged Jews? Why are they allowed to sit here in the carriage so comfortably? Why don’t they join the party inside the fort? "
 The guard with the thick glasses looked at them uncomfortably. He told them about the order of the two SS officers, and they only laughed.
 " Hey, hey, this is Lithuania.. and not Germany.. It is our country.. and we fought the Russians for it. We don’t have to take any garbage  from the Germans.. Let’s get those Jews inside and give them the welcome they deserve.. "
 The other two joined in the conversation swaying from side to side. They were very drunk and could barely stand on their legs.
 Suddenly there was a tremendous increase in firing coming from the inside of the compound. It sounded like a battle was taking place there.
One of the guards came up to the carriage and yanked my mother down to the ground. The other two grabbed me by the neck and began dragging me towards the small gate whence they came. I could barely breath and felt that I was passing out.
 I could hear the Lithuanian in the thick glasses protesting. Apparently he was scarred of the two SS officers.
 As soon we entered the gate a vision of hell opened before our eyes. Surrounded by walls on all sides was a huge compound with sloping hills that began from the walls and ran down to a sort of valley in the middle.
 Inside this valley sat and lay on the ground thousands upon thousands of men, women and children. The place was full of them. On the surrounding slopes sat hundreds of Lithuanian partisans with rifles and machine guns and they were shooting into the crowd bellow. We could see the yellow firing flashes from the machine guns and the blue cordite smoke rising in the air. Bellow, men were running in a frenzy from place to place and were collapsing in heaps as they were hit by the murderous fire. The terrible sound of screaming and moaning came from thousands of the injured and the dying. It was a sight that will remain engraved in my mind to my dying day, and if there is life beyond, I will carry this burden with me for eternity.
 When all seemed to be lost and we resigned ourselves to our immediate death one of the two officers of the SS appeared at the gate. Next to him stood the Lithuanian guard with the thick glasses and a tall man in a Lithuanian officers uniform.
 " Let go of these two Jews!" He bellowed on top of his voice in German.
The three drunk Lithuanians turned around startled. They let go of my mother and me and we both fell to the ground.
One started to protest, but the German cut him short and they sneaked off towards the slopes and joined the others in firing into the masses.
 When we returned to the court yard and the gate of hell closed behind us, I noticed the green trees and small bushes growing in the yard. The sky seemed especially blue and there were fleecy clouds in the sky that looked like small sheep. The world looked so beautiful and I wanted to live! To live!
 What followed was nothing short of a miracle. The Lithuanian officer listened with a frown on his face to what the SS man told him. I can swear to this day that I overheard him saying that he gave his word to let us go.
What my brother Herman said to the Germans and how he obtained their promise to let us go will remain a mystery for ever. Mother later told me that she thinks that Herman sacrificed himself to save us. Perhaps she knew more than I, but she never told me what it was.
 Finally, the guard with the thick glasses was instructed to take us to our home and make sure that nothing happened to us on the way.
 And thus we travelled from the Seventh Fort across the town to where we lived on Kalviu 13, in the old part of the town. We were stopped several times by Lithuanians, but our guard explained to them his orders and they let us go.
Later, we found out that between eight to twelve thousand men were killed by the barbarians on the Seventh Fort. Women and children were tortured and raped there in the underground barracks.
 The well known Lithuanian Jewish historian Joseph Gar described the events at the Seventh Fort in his book " The Holocaust of the Jewish Kovne ".
The book was written in Yiddish and was published in Munich sometimes after WW II. He was a friend of my father and he gave him one of the first copies. My father before his death, passed the book on to me and asked me to pass it on to my children.
" The descendants of the survivors of the Lithuanian Jewry should know the gruesome facts of the destruction of their forefathers, so they won’t make the same mistakes we made.” He told me.

Today, as I watched the basketball game between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Zalgiris Kovno, I couldn’t help thinking of the basketball game of July 1941, between the Germans and Lithuanians, and the reward the Lithuanians got for winning the game.
 
 

In connection with the murder of the Jews at the 7th Fort here is a letter that I received from a producer Willie Weinbaum:
 

 

              Date:
                       Thu, 25 Mar 2004 00:19:53 -0500
                  From:
                       "Weinbaum, Willie"
                Subject:
                       Letter to Solly Ganor
                    To:
                       solganor@netvision.net.il
                   CC:
                       "Laurence Weinbaum (E-mail)"
 
Dear Mr. Ganor,

I am working on a television project regarding the report that there was a 1941 basketball game in Kovno between Lithuanians and Germans that resulted in the massacre of Jews in the Seventh Fort.  I am just completing a trip to
Lithuania for this project and I met Shimon Davidovich, who suggested I contact you.
If you have any suggestions of people or documentation we might find to advance this story, we would be most appreciative.  We have already contacted more than 20 survivors and have combed through printed references (including the mention of this episode in your book).

I have cc'd my brother, Laurence, who is working with me and is based in Israel - - he works for the WJC (I am based in New York).  We are working on a tight deadline - - I am flying home today and we are expecting to broadcast our report next week.

I can be reached via e-mail, or phone.  Perhaps you can e-mail us your phone number, if you prefer
that we call you for any suggeestions you might have.

Thanks, in advance, for you help!

Best wishes,

Willie Weinbaum
ESPN-TV Producer