United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Perpetrators, Collaborators, and Witnesses: The Jeff and Toby Herr Testimony Initiative
Interview (in Lithuanian) at http://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/irn45221
Transcribed and Translated by Indre Joffyte, University of Vilnius
Interviewer: Firstly I would like to ask you to introduce yourself – what is your name and surname?
Leopoldas Gutautas: Gutauts Leopolds [dialect].
I.: Which year were you born?
L.G.: In Skuodas, Shauliu Street, house number 2. 4.
I.: So it is almost the same place where we are filming now?
L.G.: Just in this house over there, but the house was big back then.
I.: Tell me please – before the war, were there many Jews in Skuodas?
I.: How many – half of the town’s population?
L.G.: In the Old town almost half.
I.: Where were you when the war broke out?
L.G.: I was at home, here in Skuodas.
I.: Did you see what happened to the Jews of Skuodas?
L.G.: I did.
I.: Could you please tell us?
L.G.: I do not know where to start. When that group attacked Skuodas, the German army had already come, about 200 soldiers, they spent that night in the gymnasium, which is now the museum, about ten cars drove into Skuodas, they shot the commandant there right away, and a big battle started – a street battle. Nothing was going on during the battle – no one could show up in the street, no one wanted to go out; there was a soldier next to the other soldier. Whoever simply moved, they were shot right away – different people died this way, there were peaceful citizens among them. The Jews were not touched that day. But when the next day the whole shooting calmed down, then they started to gather the Jews and take them to the Riflemen’s Hall, to the two buildings, then to the cinema, then to the Jewish Shul, the so called synagogue. So they started to take them, they took them to the Riflemen’s Hall, in the first days they took them to the square of the gymnasium, and they shot a lot of Jews right away there, mostly men.
I.: Wait a minute, I would like to go back to the beginning now – you said “when that group attacked” – which group attacked?
L.G.: It was already a week after Liepaja was beset, and here around the Baltic Sea some army units were left.
I.: What army?
L.G.: Russian army.
L.G.: Yes, Russian, it was also mixed with the civilians, there were also sailors, of different nationalities, and around 40 cars drove into Skuodas, some of them wanted to go somewhere, I do not know where, but did not succeed, so they drove just in the fields, where the road ends.
I.: As I understand, German soldiers were already based in the gymnasium then?
I.:The German soldiers were already based in the gymnasium then?
L.G.: Yes, they came in the evening, stayed overnight there. They started to shoot early in the morning, so they went out in their underwear with guns.
I.: The Germans were in their underwear?
L.G.: What else did could they do when they were attacked – the battle started? We were just sitting motionless. The people could not even stick their heads out of the windows. We were here outside, we dug a bunker, we climbed in there and were lying there, and the Germans passed by and warned us not to go to anywhere and not to stick our heads outside.
I.: So how did this battle end?
L.G.: They shot many people, and I do not know where the others disappeared; but they shot many people, cars were full of dead bodies, well, it was a street battle.
I.: As a result, who won that battle?
L.G.: The armies… The Germans had already passed; it was already a week, you know, there was just a reinforcement here, when they were going on foot, not in the first lines, but after a week. So most of them were staying here, there was a commandant, some others; the police were shot, they shot the prisoners.
I.: Who shot the prisoners and policemen and when?
L.G.: At the same time, during the battle. What can one say about that battle? A person could not even walk at that time. If someone walked out, he received a bullet. One civilian was shot here, by the stream; here was a stream, and there a small bridge. And there another civilian, and some soldiers were shot – they were lying there.
I.: You mentioned that they shot the commandant. What commandant was shot?
L.G.: German. What other commandant could it be when the Germans had already invaded? There was no other commandant.
I.: So this happened during that battle?
L.G.: Yes, during the battle.
I.: And where did the dead bodies disappear after the battle?
L.G.: After the battle, they were lying there for a few days, at the same place where they were shot. And then when they gathered the Jews, these Jews were given carts, and they had to gather the dead bodies, and bring them here, beyond the Riflemen’s Hall, they dug pits there, and buried them.
I.: Did you see them gathering the bodies?
L.G.: I saw them transporting. They were carrying through our street, so one could clearly see it.
I.: And what did it look like, tell us.
L.G.: What could it look like? One Jew was holding the shafts; another Jew was driving, yet another was pushing the cart – and that is it; the carts were full of dead bodies.
I.: So there was no horse?
I.: How many carts did you see – one or more?
L.G.: I cannot tell you that. It happened 61, no, 65 years ago. We, young boys back then, did not care about it; we were interested in other things. And nobody actually wanted to stare at these horrible things that were happening. I accidentally looked at it, but then I ran away as fast as I could.
I.: Did you go later to that place where they were brought, by the Riflemen’s Hall? Did you go to see what they looked like, did you see the burial?
L.G.: The dead bodies were placed in pits right away. The other Jews, who had already been in the Riflemen’s Hall, had dug the holes before. Then in the evening they covered the bodies.
I.: Did you see them placing the bodies in the pits?
L.G.: Nobody was allowed to come closer to that place; on the other hand, it did not seem a pleasure for us to go and see these horrors – blood splashed all over the place. Terrible, it was a nightmare, and nothing else.
I.: You mentioned that the Jews were shut in the Riflemen’s Hall and in the synagogue, and then you mentioned the cinema.
L.G.: Yes, they were in the cinema.
I.: So they were kept in three places?
L.G.: One, two, three. I do not know. There was also a brick synagogue there in the New Town, but I am not sure whether they were there as well or not. They were quickly taken out of the cinema; they did not stay there for long. Many of them were in the Riflemen’s Hall, many in the synagogue. I do not know where else. When they shot the Jews, the women and children from the synagogue were driven by force to Darbenai to be shot there in the forest – on the way to Palanga and Sventoji, before the railroad, it is marked there. Those who were not able to walk were shot right away.
I.: What did you see of this expulsion of women?
L.G.: What did I see – they convoyed the people, and that is it. They were crying and shouting, those who did not go were beaten… We did not really go far. The view was very unpleasant for us kids, but we were saying to each other: “look, they are convoying the Jews!” So a child would run, have a quick look, and return back very soon. We were not standing there all the time. But later the people were talking to each other, telling who saw what. But the fact is that it happened.
I.: When they were shooting those women, when they were convoying them, from where did you see that – from here?
L.G.: No, I saw them being convoyed from the synagogue to the courtyard, from the courtyard to the street, then further in the street. This is what I saw. But I was not there, I saw it from afar. Then I heard a shot once, I nearly got it myself. So I did not go there anymore, it was an unpleasant sight.
I.: How were the women dressed?
L.G.: How? Simply, they were dressed in simple clothes, like everyone.
I.: There were women and children?
L.G.: Yes, and also teenagers.
I.: Did you hear any sounds?
L.G.: What sounds were heard… The convoyed people were crying, shouting, screaming. What sounds could there be… People were shouting; wherever a group of a few hundred people is convoyed, there is terrible noise. And then there were children, not knowing where they were going.
I.: What was the size of the group that you saw?
L.G.: All of them were convoyed; absolutely all of them, no one was left. But how many of them there were, I cannot tell.
I.: They were all convoyed from the synagogue, right?
L.G.: From the synagogue, then from the second block of the Riflemen’s Hall – there were mostly younger women. There were no people in the cinema hall; they had already been brought here. So they were all gathered here and convoyed to Darbenai. How many there were – no one counted, and no one tried to come closer. Everyone looked from afar, and no one counted anything.
I.: And then there in Darbenai, as I understand, by the railroad – what was there? Were the pits already dug there?
L.G.: I do not know. When passing by, I only saw an inscription saying that people were buried there. But how it was, what it was …
I.: You mentioned that the Jews were convoyed to the Riflemen’s Hall. This Riflemen’s Hall is very close to the place where you live.
L.G.: Yes, you can see it. It could be seen, as these houses were not built yet back then.
I.: Did you happen to see anything by the Riflemen’s Hall or hear anything?
L.G.: One could hear that they beat the Jews, as they were shouting; there was a guard on the outside. But not much could be seen through the windows. But noise was heard sometimes. What else could I say…?
I.: Could you tell who convoyed the Jews, who guarded them?
L.G.: Lithuanians were guarding, so called white stripers, they were wearing a white band around their arm. Most of them were local, from Skuodas, but there were others as well – many of them were from the villages.
I.: Could you tell their names?
L.G.: No, I will not tell the names, because there are some acquaintances of mine among them, so it might be awkward. They know it themselves. Their leader was… He has relatives or not… Vaseris, he is already gone.
L.G.: He was the leader, Vaseris.
L.G.: We called him Vaseris. He was the commander. There was a small house…
I.: Who else was there from Skuodas?
L.G.: There were many, there were about 50 people.
I.: Fifty people were in that group [of white stripers]?
L.G.: I cannot tell exactly how many, but there were many: some of them were guarding, others were convoying to the shooting place, they were doing different things, also some of them were guarding the synagogue, different people were there, some of them also had to prepare food. So it was the whole “set”, different people were needed.
I.: How many of them were from Skuodas? At least half of them were from Skuodas?
L.G.: Most of them were from Skuodas. There were many from the villages, from around Skuodas, and from somewhere else… There were a few Germans who had settled there, they also took part. They shot one, they shot the other. The Germans shot one themselves by mistake. The other is buried in the churchyard.
I.: Who is buried in the churchyard?
L.G.: I do not remember the names.
I.: They were Jews or Lithuanians?
L.G.: Lithuanians – the so called white stripers. One was shot at the same place where they shot the Jews, somebody shot him. The Germans themselves shot the other one here. Nobody watched the soldiers. There was burning and crackling everywhere around, it was not possible to stick one’s head out.
I.: You mentioned that the Jews were gathered in the Riflemen’s Hall. What happened to them later?
L.G.: Later, in a month or two (I do not remember), in groups of 40-50 people, through that main street they were convoyed to the gravel pits, and were shot there.
I.: And you used to see those groups?
L.G.: Yes, I saw, when they were convoyed. There happened to be very nice evenings and afternoons, so people were staring out of their windows, but nobody went out in the street, there was sorrow in the atmosphere, you know, some kind of dissatisfaction.
I.: Did you see anyone you knew among those Jews?
L.G.: Of course, everyone knew each other here; I just do not know the names.
I.: There were women or men?
L.G.: Only men. I have already said that women and children were convoyed to Darbenai, along with all the young girls. And all the men perished here.
I.: So the men were convoyed to the gravel pits, as you mentioned?
L.G.: Yes. I cannot tell you how many groups were convoyed, but definitely more than one. They convoyed once in the morning, it was foggy, so the Jews tried to flee, but soon were gathered back. Later they did not convoy in the mornings, they convoyed in the evenings, in the afternoons.
I.: Where were they convoyed?
L.G.: To the gravel pits.
I.: How were they dressed?
L.G.: Simply, just like I am dressed today, in simple civilian clothes.
I.: Did you see those who were convoying?
L.G.: I did, they were standing beside them, about six guards.
I.: How were they dressed – in uniforms, or civilian clothes?
L.G.: In civilian clothes, just with the white band.
I.: Were they armed?
L.G.: What could one do without a gun?
I.: Did you see anyone you knew among those who were convoying?
L.G.: Yes, there were some acquaintances. As most of them were from Skuodas, how could I not know them? I did not have business with them, but I knew them, however not personally. As we were young boys, schoolboys, we did not care.
I.: What was the fate of these people from Skuodas after the war?
L.G.: Whose fate?
I.: Of those who were wearing white stripes?
L.G.: Many of them died or went to prison, others escaped to Klaipeda and other places – this is their fate. But many of them were sentenced to prison. One neighbor came back after spending 10 years in prison.
I.: What is the name of the neighbor?
L.G.: I will not tell.
I.: No one is punished for the same crime the second time…
L.G.: He is dead by now.
I.: But he has already done his time in prison.
L.G.: But there are his family, children, acquaintances – they might say that I stabbed his reputation. Let them know their faults.
I.: Do their children know?
L.G.: Probably yes, how come they would not? And these children are my age. They must know. They were not so small back then; I was 15 and half years old, when I saw this.
I.: Tell me did you happen to see when the Jews were convoyed to the Riflemen’s Hall?
L.G.: We saw when they gathered Jews from their houses, there were many of them, and most of the houses in the Old Town were inhabited by Jews, on one side and on the other. We did not go very close, but we could see them going in the street, they were in groups of ten, five, seven, one – different sizes. They were convoying for more than one day. They found one child after seven days, barely alive.
I.: Were there any Jews who tried to resist?
L.G.: I think the fate was that nobody resisted. I did not see. When one’s fate is like that, one becomes unfeeling. I have already told you about that one morning, when there was a fog; they used the fog and were dispersed and tried to escape, but then they were all gathered, so probably it was their fate. They could escape, but they came back. When they were convoyed to the shooting place, they were checked to see if they had anything in their pockets, and also in their mouths – to check if there was any gold. Once I was passing by when the Jews were queued in a row, and were checked. One of them did not want to open his mouth, and then they found something there; he was shot in the head right away – and the Jew fell – horrible.
I.: Did you see when they were checked?
I.: And when they shot him?
L.G.: If I had not seen it, I would not be telling it. I do not tell things that I have not seen.
I.: This queue was of women or men?
L.G.: Men, I am mostly speaking of men. As I said before, women were convoyed there, and I did not see them.
I.: How many people there were in that queue?
L.G.: Around 40-50, in groups. They convoyed them to the cemetery, no, shooting place, they also checked if they had anything, it was impossible to hide, some people were going to watch, they were searching them, and sometimes they found some gold, this and that, sometimes a watch or other things.
I.: Whom did they search – the Jews?
L.G.: They lined them in a queue and told them to hand over all their valuables. And they checked, then they found something, someone had something in his mouth, they took it out, and because he had not given it to them, they shot him right away. The others were so scared that they gave away everything. It is a simple thing – this happens whenever there is a massacre.
I.: This happened before convoying them to the massacre site, yes?
L.G.: Yes, they checked, so that nothing would be left.
I.: Who were checking – the white stripers?
L.G.: Who else could it be? I did not see Germans, the Germans showed up later at the shooting site. They were not shooting, but standing there with guns so that they could subdue rebels in case of resistance. But it did not happen.
I.: He who shot the Jew that was hiding something in his mouth – did you know him?
L.G.: I knew him, but I do not remember much. He was not alone, there were a few of them; even more – maybe five, six, or seven.
I.: What happened to the Jewish property when there were no Jews left?
L.G.: People started to grab and rob everything.
I.: Did you see it happening?
L.G.: Yes, they were carrying stuff that they were able to carry in bags.
I.: Who was carrying?
L.G.: People. Who else could it be? There were some daredevils who were not afraid of anything; they were passing through fire and water. Somebody became rich out of other’s disaster.
I.: You want to say that some people became wealthier after that?
L.G.: Of course – after all everything was left – dishes etc. People went away with just their clothes on, and everything else was left behind. There were some people who robbed their houses, we did not interfere.
I.: The shootings in Skuodas – people say that there were many shootings, as Skuodas is not such a small town after all. How many days was that happening, or how many times? Or how many shootings did you see yourself?
L.G.: The first convoy when they were gathered from their homes lasted for a few days. Some men were separated, I do not know why; probably they separated mostly young men, or maybe those who were trying to resist. Some of them were taken to the Hall, and the others were shot without delay here. When it all calmed down, they started to shoot them in groups. It was in about a month that they started to form these groups and bring them there. When they were all shot, then the women were convoyed to Darbenai to be shot.
I.: Did you see the gravel pits?
L.G.: No, I did not go there. And nobody was allowed to come closer there.
I.: But you could have seen it from afar?
L.G.: The pits were in a hollow, with big slopes. You could see it if you go there.
I.: Could you see the people at the edge of the pit?
L.G.: Yes. They were undressed by the corner of the cemetery, their documents were taken, everything… Then they had to go down the pit, and were shot there.
I.: Did you see when they undressed them?
L.G.: Yes, but not all the time, I only saw it once, afterwards I did not go.
I.: What would be the size of the group that you saw at the gravel pit?
L.G.: I have already said that it was a group of about 40-50 people and these groups were convoyed more than once.
I.: How did you happen to be there so that you could see how they undressed them, and how they took the documents?
L.G.: The cemetery looked like that [gesturing with his hands], here was the corner, they were convoyed by this corner on the road, and here was a fence, not very tall, and it was not possible to stand there, we were standing here [pointing] and we saw.
I.: What do you mean by “we”? Who went there? You were there and who else?
L.G.: I cannot tell.
L.G.: Enough to say that I was there.
I.: Children or grownups?
L.G.: We were young boys, around the age of 15, between 14 and 16; there were a few of us, probably three.
I.: What other cases of shootings have you seen?
L.G.: What cases….
I.: Maybe there were some individual shootings?
L.G.: No, I did not want to see it; my heart was melting when seeing these horrors.
I.: Let us go back to the episode when you saw that they were shooting the men, at the beginning.
L.G.: Yes, at the beginning.
I.: When there was still this chaos, as you said… You saw that someone shot somebody?
L.G.: Yes, I saw. There was an outdoor toilet there, and there were bushes beside it, so we were hiding there, and it was possible to see from there. There was the gymnasium’s athletic field, where we used to play basketball. There at the corner [someone, some people?] were shot, the place was full of blood. The grass did not grow there for five years after that.
I.: How far away from it were you to be able to see it?
L.G.: About 60-70 meters.
I.: How many people approximately were shot there?
L.G.: What can I tell you, there was chaos, and nobody was going closer to check or to count. You could get a bullet in your head for that, the bullets were flying even from afar. You could get hit if you were not hiding. Nobody was staring. These horrible things happened, I saw it, people were crying and shouting, you can imagine, if it happened to you… Some were braver and stayed calmer, but others were shouting and crying… in this chaos… there were 1, 2, 3, or 4 people… All of them were shot.
There was a wedding in the courtyard of Kive Reif’s house. It was one week before. There was a tall house, we were there also. The chief officer of the customs was living on the second floor. We got on well with his children. There was a Jewish wedding in the courtyard, and they liked or it was their tradition to pour water on the newlyweds. So we were pouring the water, and throwing something at them. Then suddenly it happened that I saw that the boy with a girl (I knew them) were convoyed through the yard. I went to see round the corner. They were taken there, she did not want to let him go, and she was crying and shouting, and finally they both were shot at the beginning of the square. She was holding so tight that her nails were stuck in the clothes, it was summer time, and she was wearing light clothes.
I.: Who shot them? Who convoyed?
L.G.: People convoyed – the same white stripers.
I.: How many were there?
L.G.: I do not remember. Two or three…
I.: Did you come close to them so that you could see?
L.G.: No. After they were shot, the next day I went to see.
I.: They were lying there all that time?
L.G.: Yes. Until the Jews started to collect the corpses, some bodies were already lying for a week. It is just one thing I do not want to tell. I will tell you personally later. So later the corpses disappeared, they were carried away. They were taking the bodies themselves: one was holding the shafts, the other pushing, but one of them, one Jew – maybe he wanted to pee, so he tried to step away from the road – what happened to him? But there were two or three guards, they ran after him, called him, but he did not stop, so they just shot him – simple thing, no miracles.
I.: Did you see that Jew?
L.G.: I was standing on the bridge.
I.: Do you know his name?
L.G.: How can I remember? Maybe he was called Yonkele, maybe not…
I.: Did you know the Jews who were pushing the cart?
L.G.: I knew them by sight, but I did not know their names, there were a lot of different names, I was young, I did not care about it.
I.: What was the name of that young family who was shot here?
L.G.: They were from Kive Leizer Reif’s family. I do not remember if it was their son, or daughter. But I know that from there, I remember the wedding clearly.
I.: So they married not long before that happened?
L.G.: About a week before the Germans came. Germans came on Sunday, and one week before, on Sunday there was a wedding.
I.: So we can say it was a couple of newlyweds?
L.G.: Yes, newlyweds. I have already told. That was very cruel, beyond impudence. They tried to tear them apart. People tell what they have not seen, or what they did not hear, but the facts remain facts. It was a nightmare. But a person could not go and watch it on purpose, this is all a coincidence.
I.: You mentioned that you saw people standing by the edge of the gravel pit where they were undressed and then convoyed to the pit. So you could not see this. Did you hear the shooting from the pit?
L.G.: Yes, I heard.
I.: What kind of arms were they? What was the sound of the shots?
L.G.: There were different kinds. There were self-firers, and simple guns.
I.: How long did the shooting last?
L.G.: How can I know, I do not remember. Not too long… Maybe about 10 minute, maybe less…
I.: One more question. The episode when you saw the shootings of men next to the Riflemen’s Hall. How long did you watch it?
L.G.: Not long, I watched it for a few minutes. Groups of people were going; there were shootings, we were afraid to be there. When the bullets started to fly, we ran away. But we did not stay long. Later from afar we saw the piles of the shot people. Later we went to see in the New Town, there were bones, brains, blood, everything. You would not stand there, you just take a look, and that is it. You would not watch it with eyes wide open, it is not interesting, but it was important to see the fact itself. You just see that it happened and go away. To know that it happened. But to see when the people were convoyed and shot – that was of no interest.