The Nazis in Vilna | Facing History & Ourselves

The Nazis in Vilna

In his testimony for USC Shoah Foundation, Holocaust survivor Jack Arnel describes what he saw as a 12-year-old when the Nazis occupied Vilna, Lithuania in 1941.
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At a Glance

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English — US


  • History
  • The Holocaust

The Nazis in Vilna

It died suddenly. We heard all these explosions, and my father jumped out of that and got out to speak to the neighbors and all that. And we knew that they were-- that the Germans are attacking because we saw also some of the Russian soldiers running in our streets. And as a matter of fact, they were in such a disarray, and they were actually escaping from the German attack.

So the next morning, we got up. It was silent. It was quiet. And I went down into the courtyard, and I saw some of my friends-- the Polish boys that were very close friends of mine-- we walked out in the street a little bit further. And suddenly, a German motorcycle-- on a motorcycle, three Germans were-- it was with a cab that they had on the side. And they had machine guns on their backs. Stopped in front of us-- we must have been maybe six or seven boys altogether. I was the only Jewish boy.

How old were you then?

Well, it was 1941. I was born in 1929. I was 12 years old.

And my friends-- they didn't understand any German, but since I spoke Yiddish, I was able to understand what they were saying. So one of the Germans said to them-- in German, he said that alle Juden will be killed-- that all the Jews will be killed. Well, I felt a tremendous weakness in my knees. And as they stood there talking, I just walked away quietly.

And then I ran home, and I ran into my room. And I fell onto my bed, and I was sobbing uncontrollably. I couldn't understand it. I couldn't understand. Why would they say a thing like this?

And my mother and my father came to me trying to console me, to try to help me. And I just kept asking, why did they say that? Why? It just blew my mind. I couldn't understand it.

And so the real tragedy has begun. The tragedy of-- as a 12-year-old, I was rather young. I was brought up in a protective environment. It hit me like an atomic bomb. I just could not believe the things that have developed in there. And it had weighed a tremendous burden on my mind and on my heart.

Did the Germans immediately occupy Vilna right after that?

Oh, yes. They were-- it's a matter of days, they were right in. As a matter of fact, they occupied Vilna, I believe it was June of 1941.

And what was the first thing they did that you remember?

Well, as soon as they got in, within a few weeks, the first command came from-- they established their own government there of Vilna. And all the different divisions of the German Nazis, they had the Einsatzgruppen, and they had the SD-- the police. And they had all kinds of different divisions-- all murderers' divisions.

And the first thing they did was an order that all Jews must wear the yellow badge with a J inside inscribed-- one on the front, and one on the back. That was the very first indignation that was to separate us from everybody else, that was to insult us-- to most importantly, to have control over us.


The Nazis in Vilna

USC Shoah Foundation

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