This has been quite a day. Again.
My visit with the last Jewish survivor from Keidan in Lithuania was very special. Yudel is 92, 7 years younger than dad if he were still alive. He remembered my father and seemed to look up to him. Twice he said, with Simon translating, "he was very handsome". I replied: "and I look like him don't you think?" And he replied "no". bed ridden from a stroke 4 1/2 years ago, Yudel still has opinions. he remembers a lot.
I got a very important piece of information that my father went to Uzbekistan to flee from serving in the Lithuanian army. Yudel ran into him there by chance. They got jobs together as washers of milk bottles. (See letter from Sara in Israel below: maybe my father was working as a doctor in Tashkent.)
This confirmation of my father being in Uzbekistan puts some questions into play. Did my father return to Lithuania and then get deported to Siberia for being a Zionist? Or did my father enlist himself into the Soviet army to escape starvation conditions in Uzbekistan?
Yudel remembered my great-uncle Finkelstein as a firefighter. He told the story of a firefighter and boxer named Shlopovsky who bit a German soldier.
Yudel's house was close to my father's. Yudel played in my father's courtyard. My father and his friend Turitsky set up a pretend play store there for neighborhood kids.
Yudel asked to see a picture of my father in the US. I showed him a picture taken 20 years ago where my father is holding my newborn son Adam. Yudel asked if my father's grandchildren were close to him. "Yes. very close," I replied.
Yudel was much decorated as a soldier in the Lithuanian branch of the Soviet army. He was a lawyer and he was involved in community theaters. these activities seem to have kept his mind sharp. he is extremely well tended by his nurse, pictured here, who wanted to show me Yudel's medals and asked me if I played basketball. Both made me feel very welcome and we sat together for at least an hour. Many thanks to Simon for organizing this visit. As recent as last night, Simon thought Yudel was too sick for a visitor but I never doubted it would happen because that is how this trip is going.
I received this wonderful message by email from Sara in Haifa on August 7, 2014. I forgot to ask how she found this blog, but probably from the Yahoo Keidan group.
Shalom and Hello dear Barbara,
I am Sara Yakubovski from Haifa, Israel. My mother Mina Ronder was Yudel Ronders first cousin.
I have enjoyed reading the notes of your trip to Lithuania. It brought me back to my first trip to Lithuania in 1993 (since then I have been there 3 more times).The progress and the changes in Lithuania are unbelievable. Needles to say that your visit to Yudel was very interesting for me and made me almost decide to go and see him again (before it is too late) We are very close and I love him very much.
As to your question about Tashkent I can help:
On June 22, 1941 the first bombs of the German aircrafts fell. It was still not clear what is going on-Moscow radio did not report anything until noon. The German radio was broadcasting Riventrop's speeches saying that Germany announced war against Russia. There were all kinds of rumors- nothing was clear .
The next day a lot of Keidaner Jews decided to leave Keidan and go to the east, towards the Russian border. Yudel and his nephew Velvke (who was one year younger than Yudel) were given bikes and warm clothes and were asked by the family to try and get to Russia.
Many other people from other villages and towns were also trying to go to Russia. It was not easy and not simple-they were not permitted to stay in several places, they walked by foot, rode bikes, used some trains (if they could find room on the jammed trains) If not –they walked (by foot) miles and more miles along the train bars. their feet and legs were swollen. They crossed rivers, had no food, had lice, had not where to sleep so they slept in the streets. When they were already in Russia they worked in farms, in a coal mine, in a factory and what not. They have met on the way some good people who helped them and they were advised to go to Tashkent because the winter is very cold and difficult and in Tashkent it is warmer. So they headed to Uzbekistan. They also thought that from Tashkent they would be able to cross the border to Iran and from there go to Israel. Yudel told me that as a child in Hashomer Hatsair youth movement they used to sing a song which said:"Tashkent –the city of bread"…
They came to the railway station in Tashkent and it was jammed with refugees and the authorities told them that they can't stay there so they chose t o go to Fergana which is also a big city in Uzbekistan. There Velvke met, by chance, a young Keidaner who took them to the stop to Kuba-Say where he worked as a doctor in a clinic. His name was Zilber or Zilbert
(Can it be your father??? Velvke wrote in his memory notes around 1977 that "this Zilber lives now in the USA")
He helped Velvke to find work in a factory of chemicals where Velvkee worked until he was drafted to the army.
Yudel and Zilber were drafted earlier-in April 1942.Yudel was in the Lithuanian Division where
many Jewish soldiers served and later Velvke too was in that division.
After the war three Ronder survivors: my uncle Chayim Ronder (the only eye witness of the massacre in Keidan, Yudel and Velvke reunited in Kaunas (Kovna).