Yesterday, I wrote about the determined liquidation of the Jewish quarter of Vilnius, Lithuania, by Nazis and mentioned a “game” called Catches & Snatches. A reader responded and asked for more information about this activity that Ruth read about in the Vilnius Holocaust Museum’s Chronicles from the Vilna Ghetto.
I pieced together what she wrote, did some further research, and came up with the following information which is admittedly sketchy but the best available. I kept reminding myself that this was a confusing, terrifying time for the Jewish population of Vilnius, so how can anyone expect clear, detailed reports?
Anyway, here’s what I learned. Between the arrival of the Nazis in 1941 and the establishment of concentration camps where eventually 4,000,000 human beings were exterminated, occupying Germans were told to chase Jews with mixed results. What apparently helped the Nazis round up Jews were the actions of groups of Lithuanian youths wearing armbands called hapunes (I also saw the word Khapunes used to identify them). They, the catchers and snatchers, roamed the streets looking for Jews whom they took either to police stations or prisons. Some of the hapunes even broke into houses and removed Jewish males. The price paid for a kidnapped Jew was 10 rubles (roubles?). Apparently to justify doing this, these snatchers claimed they were under orders. But Germans in righteous denial reportedly claimed they knew nothing, so they would release at least some of the taken Jews, especially the ones who actively protested. The “game” continued, causing constant panic in the Jewish community. One report called the Khapunes special groups of 10 that belonged to the ghetto police. Who knows? I also found stories about baby kidnappings, people selling belongings for almost nothing, and groups of up to 500 people being lined up along dug pits and shot. Those who somehow escaped being sent to camps were often victims of “death by slow starvation”, a deliberate Nazi policy.
A man named Herman Kruk survived the Vilna ghetto and concentration camps for 5 years, 1939-1944. During that time he recorded his experiences. He made a final entry on September 17, 1944, and managed to bury his loose-page diary, a day-to-day account of his experiences, before he was shot and his body burned. Miraculously, his account was recovered and published in Yiddish in 1961. An English version appeared later with the title The Last Days of the Jerusalem of Lithuania. I have no idea where this book might be found, but I’d be interested to read it if anyone knows.
ps. I mentioned how hard it was to find this Holocaust Museum. Above is a picture of it in case you have the opportunity to visit.