The Holocaust in Šeduva, a Town in Northern Lithuania




ŠEDUVA  |  HISTORY  |  MUSEUMS  |  POLITICS OF MEMORY  |  SHTETL COMMEMORATIONS

by Evaldas Balčiūnas

Just like each and every other town in Lithuania, Šeduva has as the most barbarous episode of it history the Lithuanian Holocaust. It is not easy to tell this story. There are many narratives that contradict each other, with many omitted or unclear episodes. The omissions can be partly explained by the current policy of historical memory in Lithuania, as well as by the authority of some organizations that thsemlves took active part in these horrible events. Narratives that are unfavorable to them are denied, downplayed, or classified as “information warfare” (in other words: “Russia”). I have previously written about the difficulty in asssessing assorted narratives here.

The summary version of of the Šeduva Jews’ massacre that I recounted includes these critical dates:

June 25, 1941: The Nazis occupy Šeduva.

July 22, 1941: Šeduva’s Jews are driven into the town’s ghetto established to incarcerate its Jewish citizens.

August 25t, 1941: The city’s 665 Jews are  murdered in Liaudiškiai forest. But a few of the Jewish families of volunteers (veterans) of Lithuania’s War of Independence in 1918 are “allowed” to live, under the condition that they abandon their Jewishness and get baptized. The residents of Šeduva and its vicinity observe the public baptism at the church. A couple of weeks later those baptized are driven to Panevėžys and also shot dead, like all their unbaptized brethren who were not “saved by baptism” for having volunteered over two decades earlier to fight in the nation’s War of Independence. The only one who survived was Ms. S. Nolienė, who was hidden by the priest M. Karosas.

The shooters  shared amongst themselves the Jews’ property. In their testimony they claimed not to know the names of the Jews they shot, but they recall in exquisite detail the property they got for their work and which Jews had owned. The Germans actually bickered over the Jews’ valuables. The record contains Šiauliai Gebeitskomissar Gewecke’s complaint “To the Reich Commissar for Ostland” where he complains that “A Captain Stasys Senulis, residing in Schadow, Ponnewesch district, appeared today at the office of the Regional Commissariat in Schaulen, stating that he had been ordered by SS Colonel Jaeger to seize all silver and gold articles of Jewish ownership” (pages 517-518 ).

This time, I will try to tell the story of those responsible for this tragedy.

Yes, the massacre was initiated by the Nazi occupiers. However, many Lithuanians readily took an active part in it.

Let us start the list of accountable commanders with I. Pucevičius, the first “Lithuanian superintendent” of Šeduva (today regarded as a “hero” by state institutions here…). After evicting Jews from their homes and herding them in the airfield barracks, Pucevičius quickly rose through the ranks of the Lithuanian Nationalist Party and left Šeduva. We do not know much about his activities in the party. Z. Blynas mentions him a couple dozen times in his diary, but the context is usually not political or military, but concdern rather financial speculations and exchange of goods. The Nationalist Party got rich in the summer of 1941 and a bit later, especially when it was assigned the job of managing the wealth that had been confiscated from Jews. Pucevičius’ role in these processes is unclear. After the War, he stayed in Lithuania and died “as a leader of anti-Soviet partisans.” We do not know who exactly were the Germans that came from Panevėžys.

The fact that, on August 25, 1941, during the massacre of Šeduva Jews, families of the War of Independence volunteers were separated from others and baptized instead of killed, carries some implications. The Germans did not differentiate between baptized and non-baptized Jews, nor did they care if some Jews had taken part in the War of Lithuanian Independence. Lithuanian forces, on the other hand, would often try to help the latter. Which allows us a guess that the Germans did not control the massacre of Jews in Šeduva. They delegated this bloody crime to the Lithuanians. Which is also attested by Gewecke’s complaint quoted in my previous article. Gewecke says that gold, silver, and other treasures were given to Jaeger by Senulis. If the massacre had been controlled by members of the Einsatzgruppe III, they would have taken all the riches themselves.

It is difficult to see what the exact position of the Catholic Church was. On the one hand, baptism of several families may be seen as an attempt to rescue them. On the other hand, by August 25, multiple massacres of Jews had already transpired in Lithuania, during which baptized Jews were murdered as well. The Catholic Church at Šeduva should have already understood that Jews can be rescued only by hiding them, but such aid was provided only to one woman, Ms. Nolienė…

A number of Holocaust perpetrators were put on trial by the Soviets, and we have their names on file. Of course, cases conducted by Soviet authorities are not to be considered trusted sources. However, I find it worthwhile to present a list of names and personalities here:

In the previous article, I quoted Feliksas Švėgžda’s testimony on Pucevičius being the initiator of driving Jews into the ghetto. It is established that Pucevičius was commander of operation of “driving Jews into ghetto”. But who was initiator we don’t know.  In testimony Švėgžda recounts  two persons from Panevėžys (one a fluent speaker of Lithuanian).

On August 25, the shooting was led by Jonas Senulis. This was testified to by Antanas Adomaitis, Feliksas Švėgžda, Ignas Jonušauskas. An important participant of the events was the ghetto superintendent Petras Kyga.

People who took part voluntarily  in the shootings of Šeduva Jews include:

  • Antanas Adomaitis: shot to death (case closed in 1944), himself testified on having shot thirty Jews on the first day of the massacre and twenty on the second. Also mentioned in Jonas Žulpa’s and Feliksas Švėgžda’s testimonies.
  • Jonas Adomaitis (died in 1942): mentioned in testimonies of Jonas Žulpa and Feliksas Švėgžda.
  • Jonas Alksnis, on the testimony of Michail Juškevič.
  • Mykolas Astrauskas, on the testimony of Žulpa.
  • Balenevičius from Vėriškiai village, on the testimony of Žulpa.
  • Jonas Cinskis, on the testimony of A. Adomaitis.
  • Mykolas Dikauskas, on the testimony of Žulpa.
  • Ignas Janušauskas (sentenced to 20 years in prison in 1944), on the testimonies of Žulpa and Švėgžda. Janušauskas himself testified that he did not take part in the shooting, insisting he had only guarded the prisoners and dug the graves.
  • Jurgis Janušauskas (police officer, transferred to Vilnius in 1942, where he allegedly died), on testimonies of A. Adomaitis, Antanas Pranskeitis, Feliksas Švėgžda, and Ignas Janušauskas.
  • Vytautas Merkys (police officer, guarded the ghetto), on the  testimonies of A. Adomaitis, Jonas Polišaitis, Ignas Jonušauskas.
  • Vincas Misiūnas, on the testimony of A. Adomaitis.
  • Jonas Monšauskas, on the testimonies of A. Adomaitis, Feliksas Švėgžda, Ignas Jonušauskas.
  • Jurgis Narinas, on the testimony of Feliksas Švėgžda.
  • Jonas Pališaitis (sentenced to 15 years in prison in 1944), on the testimony  of A. Adomaitis that Pališaitis was a driver at the butter factory.
  • Mykolas Petrauskas, on the testimonies of Antanas Pranskeitis and Feliksas Švėgžda.
  • Jonas Pinskis, on the testimonies of Jonas Žulpa and Feliksas Švėgžda.
  • Jurgis Plungė, on the testimony of Ignas Jonušauskas.
  • Justinas Plungė, p nthe testimony of  Karolis Žulpa that he would take children by their feet and swing them into trees; participation in the massacre testified to also  by Jonas Polišaitis and Ignas Jonušauskas.
  • Antanas Pranskeitis: sentenced to death by shooting in 1944. Confessed to having thrown two babies into the pit, on the testimonies of A. Adomaitis, Karolis Žulpa, Feliksas Švėgžda, and Ignas Jonušauskas.
  • Rozgaitis, a driver, on the testimonies of Jonas Žulpa and Feliksas Švėgžda.
  • Petras Rumbis, on the testimonies of Feliksas Švėgžda and Jonas Polišaitis.
  • Ružinas, on the testimony of Bronius Konovertis.
  • Stasys Skačkauskas (police officer), on the testimony of Ignas Jonušauskas.
  • Stasys Skipitis, on the testimonies of A. Adomaitis and Karolis Žulpa.
  • Steponas Skipitis, on tghe testimonies of A. Adomaitis, Karolis Žulpa, Jonas Žulpa, Feliksas Švėgžda, and Ignas Jonušauskas.
  • Jonas Sinskis, on the testimony of A. Adomaitis.
  • Feliksas Švėgžda: sentenced to death by shooting in 1944. Confessed: “I, personally, shot 20–25 people, beat 30–35 people, 10–15 of them severely. I was given a special stick for beating. We used weapon butts for beating, too, sometimes to beat people to death.” Also, testimonies of A. Adomaitis and Jonas Žulpa.
  • Jonas Tamošiūnas, on the testimony of Jonas Polišaitis.
  • Antanas Valys: Karolis Žulpa testified that Valys would swing children into trees; Jonas Pulišaitis testified that he was extremely cruel when beating Jews.
  • Jonas Venslavas, on the testimony of A. Adomaitis.
  • Mykolas Zikauskas, on the testimonies of Antanas Pranskeitis and Feliksas Švėgžda.
  • Karolis Žulpa (sentenced to death by shooting in 1944), on the testimonies of A. Adomaitis, Karolis Žulpa, and Feliksas Švėgžda.
  • Jonas Žulpa (sentenced to death by shooting in 1944), on the testimonies of A. Adomaitis and Feliksas Švėgžda.

Source: Lithuanian Special Archives, f. 3377, a. 55, b. 156.

Here, we should note that the Nazi racial theories had not yet touched the Šeduva Roma by then. The Orlovas family survived the war, they were still living in Šeduva in the 1960s.

The epilogue to the massacre was written already in 1941. The pro-nazi newspaper Panevėžys Native drew quite a picturesque overview of the situation in the town on October 19, 1941:

Šeduva: A new life has begun in Šeduva. The atmosphere is back. Work has a meaning again. Everyone is well aware that the war is still going on and we must each do our part: to continue the struggle until the Bolsheviks are crushed in Europe and beyond.

Šeduva used to have a hotel. One is needed nowadays, too. One family could make a living by running it. However, nothing of substance has yet been done about a hotel. If there is no private initiative, it should be taken care of by the City Municipality and a Burgmeister-level town should not be left without a place to spend the night. It is nice to give the private initiative space, but…

The City Municipality should take note of outhouses under the residents’ windows, a pigsty being built in the very center of the town, etc. We need more hygiene, more taste. There are, still, old signboards and old traces in the town: the generals are gone, but their epaulets remain. We need more prudence.

There is a street in Šeduva, named after Vėriškiai. It is similar to the Kaunas Old Town. The Old Town will be demolished, but the Vėriškių Street is not to be touched even in designs. The County Municipality decided to move into a house that suits it the least, designed a building to be built on the Vytauto Street, and forgot about the Vėriškių Street… These pioneers are not doing their best. If it is done for personal reasons, we should not tolerate such behavior.

There are the cooperative stores in the town. For more than a month, there is a shortage of cigarettes in them. Many citizens react with a smile, and with a good reason: “The cooperative manager is a non-smoker”, although the truck courses to and fro. The cooperative manager could really use some popularity.

The hospital is to be moved to a new location. However, the new building has troubles with water. The well is exhausted: must be from the works. The water they have now may be used for mopping the floor, but not for washing the newborn.

The great markets of Šeduva have dwindled. The main peddlers have mysteriously disappeared. The famous Gipsy family of Arlovas are returning from their “holidays”. The old Arlovas, former uncrowned king of the Gipsies, roams the streets, discussing the matters at hand with the town’s rascals.

And on November 14 of 1941, the same Native wrote of the end of Šeduva as a town:

Šeduva: On November 1, the Šeduva Town Municipality was abolished and all its inventory and files were transferred to the County Municipality. This was done because the Town Municipality’s income dwindled and, in general, fewer workplaces remain in the town after a part of its inhabitants were evicted, especially seeing how the evicted needed constant surveillance. Seems like a rational thing to do.

 

The shtetl Šeduva (Yiddish: Shádeve, older Shádov) was lost forever. Here, we should note that Šeduva had been known as a town since 1542. The town got its Magdeburg rights on June 25, 1654. The Nazi collaborators murdered all but one of its Jewish citizens, the victims including the veterans of the nation’s war of independence. Such is the story of this old shtetl’s eradication during the Holocaust.

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