Q. In the street?
A. In their homes they used to search in the most intimate
places, as if there were gold and silver there. I
received for treatment two women who were injured by SS
men with leather gloves, and had to stitch their sexual
organs which were damaged by the searches.
Q. Were work projects organized and did the people begin
going out to work?
A. Yes. Obviously this was the hope, and possibly the
illusion: that they needed workers, labourers. At the
beginning they took out 5,000 “Sheinim” (“Schein” in
German: Certificate) – they were called “Jordan Sheinim.”
Q. What is that?
A. Jordan was the assistant of the Stadtkommisar, the
official in charge of the city, and he was his assistant
for Jewish affairs. He was a sadist and when he would
arrive in the ghetto we knew that this meant trouble. He
handed out 5,000 certificates – he gave them to the
Supreme Jewish Council – and told them that they had to
distribute them among skilled workers. Then it was plain
to us that these people, as it were, had been sentenced to
live, and the others – were not. Later on it turned out
that this did not help either. In one “action” these
certificates did help; whoever had one, did not have to go
over to the wrong side. But afterwards the whole matter
lost its significance.
Q. What was the third police unit?
A. This was an SS Dritte Polizeikommando. It was a
special unit. Its commanding officer was Hauptmann
(Captain) Torenbaum. I still remember him very well – his
coarse face. He was always half drunk. There were Jews
working in his house, serving him, and they told us that
when he was drunk and played the piano, we knew that he
would be in the ghetto the next day. He was, as it were,
sharpening his nails by means of this drinking and playing
the piano. And, indeed, on the following day, he would
show up with his commando. He was the one who organized
the searches, he introduced all the terror and fear into
the ghetto – he also used to carry out the “actions”
Q. On 17 September an attempt at a general rehearsal for
an “action” was made?
Q. How was it done?
A. It came suddenly. This was in the small ghetto – and I
was then still in the small ghetto, where there was both a
hospital and an orphanage, and also an Home for the Aged
and suddenly an order was received, a vehicle arrived
suddenly with the whole Polizei Kommando, and they
dispersed amongst the courtyards and the houses and chased
out all the people into the street with their hands
raised. We approached a field, and in this field stood
tall, uniformed SS men, who began to classify the people;
some of them had been placed on trucks, those who
possessed the Jordanschein went to one side, and those who
were without the Jordanschein went to another side.
Suddenly a German arrived in a car and said “Alles hat gut
geklappt, es hat eine halbe Stunde gedauert” (Everything
has gone off well it has taken half-an-hour), and they
sent all of us back home. We did not comprehend, and
naturally all kinds of assumptions began to be made, as
always happens in a group. The Jews were split into
pessimists and optimists. The optimists said that an
order from above had arrived here and we were saved –
nothing more than that. The pessimists saw in this a
rehearsal, for the Germans wanted to know whether the Jews
would resist, whether the matter would go off smoothly.
This “action” was actually a rehearsal – on that occasion
they did not take anybody off to death.
But, some days later, another zone of the ghetto was
surrounded by the same commando and we watched through the
fence. We were in the small ghetto and noticed that
something was going on there. The men were away at work.
Most of those who remained in the homes were women and
children. They then sealed off this zone and later we saw
that more than 1,500 persons climbed up the hill, where
there was the notorious road to the Ninth Fort. When the
men came home from work, they found their homes empty.
This was a small “action.” A week or two later, there was
an “action” in the small ghetto, where there had
previously been the trial “action.” There was also a
hospital there. They separated the population, some
remained there, the children and the sick, and some were
taken over the bridge to the other side. Those who
remained were taken to the Ninth Fort. When we crossed the
bridge and entered the large ghetto, naturally completely
destitute, just as we were leaving the house, we noticed
that the hospital was on fire. There they burned to death
the sick together with a friend of mine, a doctor who was
inside, and two nurses. The babies, of course with the
nurses who were caring for them, were removed in trucks to
the Ninth Fort.
Q. What happened to them in the Fort?
A. We did not know – there were all kinds of guesses.
Afterwards we received the news from the city by means of
our contact with Lithuanians – they told us that all of
them had been shot in deep pits which had been prepared in
advance, and were covered over.
Q. Dr. Peretz, you are a gynaecologist. Were there births
in the ghetto during the occupation?
A. There were births, obviously, for pregnant women had
entered the ghetto – in all the months of pregnancy.
Q. What were the orders regarding pregnant women?
A. In July 1942 an order was issued forbidding women to
become pregnant and to give birth.
Q. What women?
A. The women in the ghetto, the Jewish women. And we – I
must tell the truth – both the Aeltestenrat and the
doctors, did not take this order too seriously. For each
time we received a new blow, some time had to pass for us
to believe and get used to this blow. But once, when a
woman came to me in the advanced months of pregnancy and
told me that an SS man had encountered her in the street,
in one of the lanes of the ghetto, had recorded her
address and said that he would come in two weeks’ time and
if she would still be pregnant he would kill her – the
matter became clear. And, as the gynaecologist in the
ghetto, I received an instruction from the Aeltestenrat to
end each and every pregnancy that came our way. We then
made arrangements and received confirmation from the
Germans that only those who were in the eighth and ninth
months would be permitted to give birth, and up to the
eighth month the pregnancy would be terminated.
Naturally, as a doctor, I was confronted with very serious
medical problems, because to end a pregnancy in the sixth
and seventh months involved a difficult operation. The
conditions were very bad, for when we left the small
ghetto they burned the hospital, and we did not have one.
All the operations were performed under difficult
conditions – in kitchens, in small attics, amidst terrible
congestion, and understandably there were fatalities. But
the head of the Jewish Council was at the same time a very
well-known physician of Kovno, an internist; he understood
these problems, and he told me that we were permitted to
end a pregnancy on the grounds of danger to the woman’s
life, because anyhow the life of the woman was in danger
and consequently “You have to terminate the pregnancy.”
We terminated every pregnancy. There were women, I would
say, who displayed signs of heroism and who, under no
circumstances, wanted to end their pregnancy. And it goes
without saying that, in such cases, we encouraged them,
although I now feel myself to be guilty. For I, too,
would encourage her – I would give her further strength.
All kinds of outside events or news items, which described
a setback for Hitler, would encourage the women to
continue her pregnancy. I remember most of these cases.
I remember the case of a lawyer who came with his wife.
They had waited for a child for many years, without her
becoming pregnant. And here she came to me in the ghetto
and said: “I am expecting a child and I don’t want to put
an end to
the pregnancy. At present there is a conference in
Casablanca.” We had always hoped that some conferences
would bring us redemption. She added that, perhaps, it
would be worthwhile to wait. She asked if she could delay
the abortion until the end of the conference in
Casablanca. I said to her: “You can wait.” And,
obviously, Casablanca did not bring salvation. With every
political event women would come and ask: “Perhaps I
should wait some while longer before having the abortion.”
There were also those who took the risk and did not put an
end to it. Needless to say their fate was very bitter,
afterwards, when the babies were put to death. Women who
were forbidden to give birth would cover themselves
beneath the pillows, they didn’t cry out, they would not
utter a sound, so that nobody would hear any cries. I was
also requested only to come to a birth when I was sent for
by the midwife or nurse, when there was some complication,
and not to go to a normal birth, for by doing so I could
arouse the suspicions of the neighbourhood.
Q. Your Council of Elders – was it respected by the Jews?
A. The Council of Elders was respected, for at its head
stood a Jew of high moral stature, and we knew that he was
suffering together with the sufferings of the ghetto. He
protected their interests as far as it was possible to
protect them, with dignity. The entire Council was
Presiding Judge: What was his name?
Witness Peretz: Dr. Elkes, he was one of the best-known
doctors in Lithuania, who died afterwards in the Dachau
Ghetto, after they had removed us to Dachau.
Attorney General: Tell us something, Dr. Peretz, about the
children in the Kovno Ghetto.
Witness Peretz: I think that possibly the greatest tragedy
the Jewish people underwent was the tragedy of the
children. The children in the ghetto also used to play and
laugh, and in their games the tragedy of the Jewish people
was reflected. They used to play at graves, they would
dig a pit, place a child in it, and call him Hitler. They
used to play as if they were at the gate of the ghetto,
some would be Germans and others Jews. The Germans would
shout and strike the Jews. They used to play at funerals,
and all such games. The Jewish child matured before his
time. We always wondered how children at the age of three
and four understood the whole tragic nature of the
situation, how they endeavoured to keep quiet when it was
necessary, how they knew how to hide away. We ourselves
did not believe our ears when little children whom we
wanted to put to sleep by means of an injection would say,
as a little boy said to me: “Doctor, it isn’t necessary,
I’ll keep quiet. I won’t shout.” We always marvelled at
this maturity of the children.
It goes without saying that the peak of the horrors in the
ghetto was reached in the “action” against the children.
This was at the end of March, 1944. As I have said, with
every blow we received we thought that there could not be
a worse one. The parents in the ghetto were of two
groups: one group tried to find a place for their
children, to get them out by all kinds of means, whether
in suitcases or carts, under cover.
Q. To whom?
A. They would find them, find some arrangement with a
Lithuanian, in a village or a town, for money or through
some other contacts. Some of these children used to come
back to the ghetto after some time. Some of the parents
who had sent them away had a very hard time, because from
time to time the child would vanish and they didn’t know
where he was. They would show up in the ghetto, after
having been sent back. The child would be sent back,
after the money had been taken. But there were parents
who decided not to hand over their children, to die
together with them. I belonged to this category of
parents. For I had heard so many horrible stories about
lone children who kept in hiding in solitary places,
alone, without a common language, with the fear of death.
I decided to die together with the child – it became clear
after the Kinder-Akzie (“children action”), at the time of
this “action” that it was impossible to do this. There
could be situations where the children go and you remain
alive, and for the parents this was an unbearable
situation. Only after the “children action” they began to
look for ways and means. Only a small part of the
children survived after the “children action” only those
children who had hidden in the bunkers and were not
Q. What was the “children action”?
A. This happened after a relatively quiet period in the
ghetto. And we were not ready, nor were we expecting, any
event. Suddenly our police in the ghetto, the Jewish
police, received an order to appear the following morning,
clean and polished, at a particular police station, under
the pretext of receiving instructions in regard to air
raids. Thus they took this police force away – the
population in the ghetto didn’t know about it. Early in
the morning a car entered the ghetto and announced over a
loudspeaker: “Anyone going outside will be put to death.”
This voice gradually became louder and reached all the
alleys of the ghetto. Instinctively, and perhaps more
because we knew that something had happened with the
children in the neighbouring ghetto – Shavli – the mothers
suddenly cried out “Children,” they felt as if the danger
to the children had arrived. Then some of the mothers, in
houses where there were cellars – Malines as they were
called – went down with the children into the Malines.
Trucks playing music entered the ghetto; inside the trucks
a gramophone played, apparently so that the cries of the
children should not be heard. And in a moment Germans and
Ukrainians spread out in pairs into all the courtyards and
began to remove the children they found on their way.
They put them into the trucks, sometimes together with old
people, grandfathers and grandmothers. They transported
them to a destination of which, at that time, we were not
Q. How many children were there?
A. The ” children action” lasted two days. On the first
day I went into a cellar with children and I injected them
with medical drugs. There were 17 children in the cellar.
We spent that day in the cellar. When we emerged,
needless to say, we learned of the children of friends who
had gone. On that day 1,000 children went. The following
day we thought that the horror was over. People did not
go to work, there was heavy mourning, for a child had been
torn away from each
house. The following day people stood in the streets and
suddenly it was as if something had exploded. Those units
entered again, and again everyone ran into his cellar. I
made my decision, I placed my child with my wife in the
cellar. There was a wooden shelf there which covered the
entrance. Before the children came in, every time the
mother would place the child before me at this opening,
and I would inject him with drugs in order to keep him
quiet. And then I went upstairs into the house, I sat on
the second floor by the window and watched what was going
on in the street.
Q. What did you see?
A. I saw shattering scenes. This was close to the
hospital. I saw trucks, and from time to time mothers came
up to them with children, or children came without
mothers, and behind them walked two Germans with rifles as
if they were bringing in robbers. They threw them into
the trucks. I saw mothers who were shouting, I saw a
mother whose three children had been taken, she approached
the truck and shouted to the German: “Give me my
children.” And he asked: “How many children do you have?”
She answered: “Three.” And he said: “You can take one.”
She climbed on the truck – three children turned their
heads towards her and, needless to say each child wanted
to go with the mother. The mother was unable to choose,
and she climbed down from the truck alone – went away from
the truck. A second mother clung to the truck and would
not let it go; the truck departed and a dog came up to her
and bit her. They were there with dogs. One mother came
with two children – and this I saw from my window – and
she asked the Germans to return one child to her. He took
the girl by the shoulder and threw her down to her. There
were scenes such as these all day. Afterwards I went out
of my house near the hospital and went into the hospital.
There, in the hospital, apart from the patients, sick
children were lying. A group of three people came along,
amongst them Dr. Boehmichen* *SS Hauptsturmfuehrer Dr.
Boehmichen, Chief doctor in the Kovno Ghetto.} – as far
as I remember, he was, so to speak, the person in charge
of medical affairs in the ghetto and he informed us that
he knew that children were hiding under the mattresses and
under the hospital beds, and that he would be returning in
an hour, and if we did not hand over the children – all
the hospital staff would go together with them. Needless
to say a severe panic started in the hospital. There were
huts there of patients with infectious diseases. The
Germans were afraid to be infected and did not enter them.
There were a number of children who were concealed inside
the hospital. They were put in the huts for infectious
diseases. They were put into the beds. Temperature
charts were prepared for them. The Germans did not go in
there. A German, who had remained with us, evidently of a
lower rank, told his officers when they returned that he
himself had gone through the rooms without finding anyone.
They took two couples, there was an elderly doctor who was
lying ill, together with another Jew – and left the
Presiding Judge: I didn’t understand – which two couples?
Witness Peretz: They took two old men, couples, an elderly
doctor, his name was Dr. Kavko, together with his wife,
and took them away. Meanwhile I went back to my house and
again watched from the window what was taking place. My
nerves couldn’t stand it, for I saw that below, a German
entered together with a Ukrainian our courtyard with an axe. I
heard blows as if they were breaking in downstairs and
searching for the bunker, and I believed that in another
minute my wife and my child would appear in the street, in
the same way as people were appearing who had been hiding
in the bunkers and had been discovered. To my joy they
didn’t find the bunker and left the courtyard empty-
handed. It went on like this for a whole day and at the
end of the day there was a total of 300 children. Other
children remained in the ghetto, but not legitimately, for
no child was supposed to be in the ghetto. In the morning
my son looked for a place where he could hide, and
consulted me. He would open a chest, enter into the chest
and close it.