A Haunting Photograph

Posted By Ann Rabinowitz

Michelis Baumslagas
Prison Intake Photograph

When you go searching in an Archive, there is no telling what you will find.  Such was the case when I visited the Lietuvos Centrinis Valstybes Archyvas (Lithuanian Central State Archives) in Vilnius, Lithuania, some years ago.  I was looking for information on several family names and ancestral shtetls as well as just general information regarding Lithuanian Jewry. 

It was in the Archives that I found a remarkable collection of 4,200 files, of which approximately 1,200-1,500 were of Jewish origin.  These individuals had been arrested in the period which inaugurated the independence of Lithuania after 1919.  There, in neatly labeled files in alphabetical order, were police and court documents with prison photographs of individuals, both Jews and non-Jews, who had been arrested for various trespasses many of which were for actual or supposed socialist, communist or Jewish / Zionist activities.

The documents were, in the main, typed on official forms, but there were quite a number which were handwritten too.  There was even a listing of all of the individuals who were police informers and their addresses.  I am sure that the individuals who were arrested would have been quite shocked at the number of informants listed and who they were.  In fact, some of the informers perhaps were more interested in monetary gain or reeking revenge on a rival or some other reason apart from the truth.

The data in the files was fairly impressive ranging from the name of the person arrested and his address, date and place of birth, parent(s) name, date/place of arrest, reason for arrest, length of incarceration, release date and any further info after that such as if they left the country or if they were sent elsewhere or died.

A series of three photographs was taken of those arrested and an example of one of these is provided above.  The photo portrays Michelis Baumslagas, a young man, born in 1906, who had left his home in Daugavpils, Latvia, for better opportunities in Lithuania.  It was not long after that he was arrested.  Upon his arrest, his “mug” shot was taken.  If you look closely, you can see that he has a recent injury on the side of his forehead; his lip is cracked where he may have been hit; and he is a bit disheveled. 

He was probably quite frightened and wondering what was going to happen to him next.  Eventually, he was released from prison after six weeks incarceration.  Upon his release, he left immediately for South America which was a place that was easily open to him.  He fled to Montevideo, Uruguay, and there he married, raised a family and started a business and continued his activities.  He then went to Buenos Aires and there he disappeared from view in the 1960’s. 

His mother, Chaia-Leah Geversonyte, his sisters Sonia and Luba, and one of his brothers, Dr. Boruch (Boris) Baumslagas, were not as lucky as they were caught in Lithuania during the Holocaust and were killed there.  Only one other brother, Kalman, survived as he had managed to go to South Africa in 1929, long before the horrors of 1941. 

The photo is a haunting reminder of the excesses that were practiced by the police in their crackdown on dissenters whether guilty or not.  The files of those arrested and their accompanying photographs are an invaluable resource for genealogical researchers. 

Ultimately, these records will be translated and indexed when funding is obtained.  Subsequently, these will be included in the Litvak SIG’s All-Lithuania Database.


  1. My grandmother, Micheleh Wineman or Veynerman Sklar was able to get out of Vilna and to the States in time. Her sisters had to go to Montevideo.

    Is there any way to find out who
    Michelis Baumslagas married?

    Thank you,

    Joanne Gilbert

  2. The best thing to do if you are interested in tracing your Veynerman/Wineman family or the Baumslag family is to go to the JewishGen Family Finder and look up the name and find out who else is looking for them or who else is tracing family in Uruguay.


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