A Forgotten Memory Comes to Light

Posted By Ann Rabinowitz

The other day, I got an e-mail from Regina Kopilevich, a well-known Lithuanian guide and researcher. She mentioned that she had met a retired journalist, Aurelija Akstiniene, who lives in Vilnius, Lithuania. She had been born on a remote farm of fifteen hectares which was in the village of Sakaliskis, nearby to Rokiskis, Lithuania. In the process of talking about her background, Aurelija remembered several long forgotten incidents from her childhood.

In 1941, when she was a young child of nine years old, Aurelija remembered that along with her sister who was five years older and her brother who was one year older, she lived happily on the farm with her father, Antanas Deksnys, who was a feldsher or paramedic, and her mother Monika.

Her father, at the insistence of her mother, took some of his colleagues from the Rokiskis ghetto and “employed” them on his farm. One of Antanas Deksnys’ colleagues had been a doctor, another has been a pharmacist and there was a third who Aurilija did not remember well. It was not uncommon that the majority of doctors and pharmacists in Rokiskis were Jewish.

In order to hire the Jews, her father had to bribe the Gestapo. In confirmation of this, Yad Vashem records that the Rokiskis Jews were brought daily to perform forced labor for local farmers. When someone approached the farm, these Jews picked up a rake or pitchfork or other farm implement and pretended that they worked there.

One Saturday, her mother Monika cooked fish for shabbes and by the next Sunday, the Jews had all been taken away. This concurs with the Yad Vashem data that the men were taken away August 15-16, 1941 and then the women, children and the elderly on August 25, 1941. See also the Rokiskis Shtetlink site and the Rokiskis Yizkor Book.

One of the Jewish families on the farm was named Cindel and another was the Sher family. The Sher (spelled Ser in the records) family had originally come to Rokiskis from Moletai, Lithuania, when Chaim ben Leizer Ser had married Sore-Braine Levin from Rokiskis on August 20, 1882. Their son, Teodoras Sher, became a pharmacist and married Rocha-Leja Cindelyte and they later had a daughter Sora-Braine, who was born January 2, 1933.

It was this family who had remained a long-forgotten suppressed memory in Aurilija’s mind. Teodoras’ daughter had been Aurelija’s age and she missed the girl because they had played together in the courtyard of the farm and had become friendly. Due to the children’s evident bond to one another, Aurelija’s parents had offered to keep Sora-Braine as a playmate for their daughter. However, her parents did not want to separate themselves from their child. At that point, they did not realize what the future held for them.

No one thought that these people would be taken away and brutally shot to death and buried in a pit in the forest. The four forest killing sites for Rokiskis residents were Steponiai forest (July, 1941), Vizunai forest (July, 1941), Valniadova grove (August 15-16, 1941), and Atanusa forest (August 25, 1941).

Bajorai Killing Site

There is no comprehensive list of the many Jews killed in Rokiskis, as approximately 3,000 Jews were living in the shtetl in 1939. Many more had fled there to find safety as the war progressed as well as a number from surrounding towns who were gathered there to be killed.

Memories such as this, from Lithuanians like Aurelija, who were children at the time, permit a brief flicker of remembrance for those who were killed. They are a strong reminder too of the pitiless way so many were destroyed in this Lithuanian community without a prayer or headstone to mark their passing.

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