Like all Holocaust Survivors, life did not turn out as was planned for my father Boris Kot. When my father was born, his mother decided that her son Beryl (his Yiddish name) later to be nicknamed “Beke” was going to be a Doctor. And she decided that he would be a specialist, an Obstetrician. My father was sent to the best schools his parents could find.
He and one other cousin, Lenny Lan, were the only family in Eastern Europe during the Holocaust to survive. My father had a few lucky relatives, they had left Eastern Europe before the war; however, it was not because of the Holocaust. My father had 2 aunts one on his mother’s side in Moscow and one on his father’s side in New York City and one uncle on his mother’s side in Everett, MA. Finally, he had several cousins that left Lithuania in the early 30’s to fight for Israel in Palestine. My father came from a large family each of his parents had 8 siblings.
The invasion of Lithuania by the Nazi’s occurred in June of 1941. My father, 16 years old had just graduated from high school. Within days the Jews were required to wear yellow stars on the front and back of their clothing. Additionally, the Jews were not allowed to walk on the sidewalks, they were only allowed to walk in the gutters. The gutters were not like we are used to, there were no drains and they were filled with sewage and rats.
By July 15th 1941, the Jews of Kovno (Kaunas), the capital of Lithuania were ordered to leave their homes and businesses and move to a poor section on the outskirts of the city. There were 40,000 Jews in Kovno, they were herded into an area that probably should have held less than 10,000. Families gave up large apartments and homes to move into an apartment and share it with several other families. They were lucky if there were only 4 in one small room.
Although my father was under 18 years old and was not required to work, he worked to enable his family to have a little extra food. During the first week of being in the Ghetto, my father and several others - were rounded up by the Nazi’s and taken to a field. As they stood there, the Nazi officer said that another group were prisoners were guilty of bringing contraband (extra food for their families) into the ghetto. The Nazi’s shot and killed the prisoners. One prisoner ran and was shot right in front of my father. He and the others were forced to dig a pit, throw the bodies in, cover them up and then ordered to dance on the grave.
My father said that he expected that when the Jews were killed that the day should have turned cloudy and gray. It was sunny the whole time. This was my father’s first experience witnessing the murder of his fellow Jews.
During the next few months, under the rouse of needing professionals, thousands were removed from the Ghetto, never to return again. They were taken to killing fields.
During the week that preceded October 28, 1941 the Jews of the Ghetto were notified that on October 28, 1941 all Jews of the Ghetto were ordered to a (field) called Democratic Park by 6 am, under the rouse of a census. The announcement also explained that anyone found in their homes or hiding would be killed on site.
While keeping everyone standing in the field all day the German’s and their collaborators searched the Ghetto, killing those they found. Towards the end of the day, 2 Nazi officers began having the thousands of people walk by them. At which time they sent some to the right and some to the left. All the while the Nazi officer was eating a big sandwich.
My father was with his parents, several cousins and an aunt and uncle. When it was their turn, one of my father’s cousin’s (the older child, who was my father’s age) was sent to the right, the other cousins a little boy and girl were sent to the left with their parents as well as my grandparents. At the end of the day approximately 12,000 Jews were marched into the main gates of the Ninth Fort (which was a prison) and through the back gates to a field behind the fort. These 12,000 innocent victims, were murdered not only by the Nazi’s but also the locals, the Lithuanian neighbors did most of the killing. The locals were so good at the killings that the Nazi’s took them all across the Baltic States and into the Soviet Union to do the killings there.
Although not wanting to believe that his parents were killed, he knew in his heart that it was true. He wanted revenge! Revenge, for the murder of his parents, family friends, neighbors all the innocent victims that their only crime was to be born Jewish.
Because my father was an orphan, 16 ½ years old, he had no family members to help keep him out of danger. On several occasions, in the middle of the night, several of the Jewish Ghetto police, with orders from the Judenrat; came to the house where my father was sleeping, woke him up and asked to see his working papers. The Judenrat was the Jewish government put in power by the Nazi’s to keep the Ghetto organized and through whom they got their workers. In order to get the daily ration the persons work card had to be stamped. They claimed my father’s papers were not in order, they had him get dressed and took him to a make shift jail.
In the morning, several trucks were brought in and these prisoners were loaded on the trucks and were taken out of the Ghetto. At this point, my father didn’t know where he was being taken. Although, he knew that at a certain point if they took a right turn, they would be going to their death. He vowed to jump off the truck and take his chances if they took a right. The trucks went straight and my father was taken to a work camp.
At the work camp my father was given a job cleaning in the kitchen. Although it was forbidden to take food back to the barracks, my father smuggled in as much as possible for his friends. While working in the kitchen, my father did not go hungry.
My father was given a job, to carry a milk can filled with coffee to the Polish workers approximately 2-3 kilometers away. It was a job that required 2 men. My father got one of his friends to help. It was a good job. During the first few weeks a German officer escorted them through the muddy field to where the Polish prisoners worked. It was not a clean job, getting covered with mud, after a few weeks the German officer let them go by themselves.
During the first few weeks, my father noticed a train that went back to the city. One day when the train came by my father told his friend, “lets leave the can and hop on the train”. His friend was very scared, but when my father said if they find you here alone and they ask where I went you will be in as much trouble as me. He went with my father and they snuck back into the Ghetto.
At one point my father heard the rumors about a group that wanted to not sit by and wait but to fight the Nazi’s and their collaborators. He could not get any information. Everyone was suspicious that if they told someone about the partisan group being formed that they would all be caught.
My father’s parents had friends and my father would see them and help them. He knew he could trust them. He asked if they knew about the Partisans. The family friend said he would try to get the information he needed. Finally, my father was told that before he could join the group, he had to either have a rifle or get 100 dollars or Marks to buy the rifle. Where would he be able to get that much money? Luckily, my father still had one aunt alive and he told her about his plan, she gave him her husbands gold watch so that he could come up with the needed money for the rifle.
When he had the money he went back to the family friend. My father was given an address to go to and a phrase (password) to get in. He couldn’t remember it exactly but it was something like ‘I’m here to buy a pillow.” He was let in and when he walked into the living room, he was surprised to see that about ½ of the people were his friends.
My father and a group of partisans walked approximately 60 kilometers in three nights, they slept during the day so they would not be seen by the locals. The first group never made it to the forest; they went during the day, were seen and the Germans were told where they were.
The forest as they called it was not a forest it was a swamp. The partisans built mud huts and they took turns sleeping. They slept three to a bed or more; if they could fit in, they did.
As a partisan, my father went on various maneuvers, anything to slow the German war effort, blowing up munitions trains and bridges to planting bombs to kill the Nazi’s and their collaborators. Anyone that they knew assisted the Germans was fair game.
In July of 1944, my father’s partisan group named “Death to the Occupiers” was fighting along side the Soviet Armey to free Vilna (Vilnius) part of Poland, previously the capital of Lithuania. During his watch on guard duty, my father was wounded by a hand grenade. My father’s friends and comrades carried him to a Polish “MASH” unit where there happened to be a Jewish Doctor, who promised to save my father. After getting my father ready for travel, my father was put on a train for a 12 day ride to a Soviet Military Hospital, where he underwent 5 operations in 8 months. The results of his injuries left him without his right hand, left eye, mangled feet and legs from shrapnel from the grenade. With all that he had gone through he did not give up. He would not let them win.
He had to live to tell his history, that his family, friends and fellow Jews who were murdered would not be forgotten.