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Baltic States investigation. [First interim report] (Volume pt. 1) online

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we proceeded on our way again.

We were taken to Vilnius, and in Vilnius we were taken into the
yard of the Security Building, but the building had already been
bombed.

Then, there, they put some more men into our van, about 4 or 5
more prisoners, Lithuanians, and they took us away. They took us
that way, packed tightly in a bus toward Minsk. Not far from Minsk,
one bus went out of order, and they charged the chauffeur that he
had performed sabotage, and he had warned them, the Russians,
that the transmission box was out of order so that the bus could not
proceed very far; that attention in the garage was necessary. But
they charged that he was a saboteur, and they led him away to be shot.
He begged, and he said that he had children, and he asked them to
spare his life. The man fell to his knees. He tried to kiss the legs
of this NVKD man. The man kicked him right in the face, and his
face was blood-splattered, and at that moment, he shot him ; two shots
in the head.

Later, they stopped some army trucks. They removed the soldiers
from the army truck, and transferred the prisoners there, and at night
they brought us to the prison in Minsk. They placed us in the Admin-
istration Building's guardrooms. Toward the morning, the Germans
began to bomb the city.

Mr. McTiGUE. Minsk is in Russia ?

Canon Pei^raitis. Yes. They had some guns, antiaircraft gims on
the roof of that prison, and they fired at the Germans, and it seemed
that the Germans bombed us, and two bombs hit the building we were
in. All we could feel, there was a stench, and the ceiling began to
fall. There were four cells in that building, so it looked like all of
the prisoners had been killed, and more than a dozen NKVD men, and
our cell was in the extreme corner and it was not destroyed.

One hour later, we were led away from this cell, and we saw that
the entire building had been destroyed except that corner, and we were
transferred to the real prison where there had been a great many
])risoners, and we were kept there during the day until the night.

Mr. McTiGUE. What happened the next night ?

Canon Petraitis. The next night it was dark, because all the light-
ing system had been destroyed. The prisoners were led into the yard,
and were lined up. W^hile we stood there in the yard, they led out
about — 11 or 12 men Avere led out of the prison. They took them
through the gates and then we heard the shots. They were executed
on the spot. And our men noticed that one lady was taken past.
That was the wife of General Prankonis. When they w^ere executed,
they led us into the streets, and they told us to form a column of four
anci to start rmming.

There were a great many dead people in the streets, and for a dis-
tance of about 10, maybe 12 miles, at times, they told us to start
running. There had been quite a few prisoners, maybe 6,000 people,
maybe 5,000.

Mr. McTiGUE. You say that in this column, Father, that you just
described which started or was formed in Minsk, that there were
approximately 6,000 people?



416 BALTIC STATES INVESTIGATION

Canon Petraitis. Approximately that many. There were soldiers
among ns and so they are accustomed to counting and when we saw a
column marching uphill, and then go downhill, we could see the end
of the head of the column, so they said it was approximately 6,000
people.

Mr. McTiGUE. Where did these 6,000 people come from that were
put into the line of march you are just starting to describe. Father?

Canon Petraitis. Oh, there were all sorts of people. There were
just about 100, maybe 115 Lithuanians; the rest of them were Poles,
Estonians, Latvians; there were Russians, Ukranians, and Polish-
Ukranians.

Mr. McTiGUE. Wliat I am trying to establish now, Father, is where
this column was formed.

Canon Petraitis. This column was formed in the yard and when
the head of the column moved out, they took out more prisoners from
the regular prison building.

Mr. McTigue. The approximately 6,000 prisoners then came from
this prison that you have just described, Father?

Canon Petraitis. The prison was overloaded with prisoners
brought from other places. It was a four-story building. There was
hardly air enough to breathe.

Mr. McTigue. When the column started then, from this prison in
Minsk, what happened ?

Canon Petraitis. I must mention that there were also a great many
women there, and even children. Wlien we marched about 10 or 12
miles, the older people began to complain that they could not march
any longer. One of us, a Lithuanian major, Apulskis, told them, "I
am an old man. You leave me here." So the Russian said so politely,
^'Oh, very well. Major, you just go here to the forest." As soon as he
crossed the ravine, he got two shots in the back.

From that time on, we continually heard those individual pistol
shots and after each shot there was one prisoner less.

One scene I will not forget until die. There was one woman with
a boy 4 or 5 years old, not more than that. She was arrested quite
recently because both she and the child were dressed well. The boy
began to ask for food and water, and, of course, nobody could give
him anything. People began to disrobe; some people were nearly
naked because they were trying to shed their clothing and there could
be no talk of any food being carried with them.

Mr. Kersten. That was in the month of June, was it not ?

Canon Petraitis. In June. We were taken away during the night
of June 24th to 25th.

Mr. Kersten. 1941 ?

Canon Petraitis. Yes. That mother carried her cliild and other
people helped her to carry the child. She carried this child. She
was so hot — warm. She was either a Pole or Ukraine because she
spoke both Polish and Ukranian. As much as I could remember, she
was a resident of the Polish-administered Ukraine. I saw that that
woman was removed from the column with the child, and I thought
to myself, "Well, at least they had mercy on her with a child." And
I said, "May the Lord be praised that child will not suffer any longer."
but then I heard voices behind me. I turned around and saw two
NKVD and one was handing the pistol to the other and said, "Here,



BALTIC STATES INVESTIGATION 417

shoot them." So the other man apparently did not want to do that
and so he said, "Well, you can do that." The other man said, "No,
but the NKVD commander ordered you." So he took the pistol,
hid it behind his coattail and jumped across the ravine and that woman
was standing in front and the child was hugging his mother.

He approached more or less the distance from that chair above
to here.

Mr. IvERSTEN. That would be about 15 to 20 feet, would it?
Canon Petraitis. About that.
Mr. KJERSTEN. Go ahead.

Canon Petraitis. And he aimed the pistol at the mother. The
child understood there was something wrong and he yelled, "Mother,"
and hugged his mother. Two shots' were fired.

The mother fell, and the child was still hugging her. The child fell
on top of his mother. So he came up and lifted the child by the collar,
and he fired two shots into the back of his head, and he tossed the child
on top of the mother and left them there .

Two weeks later when we were returning, I saw the same scene,
that same child with the mother.

Mr. McTiGUE. You saw their bodies?

Canon Petraitis. Yes, they were still there. Some time later,
probably around noontime, they picked some women, there were 16,
when I saw them lined up. They were all pregnant, and men who
could hardly understand such things could realize that. They just
fired the automatic rifles and all of those people were mowed down.
Just before that I heard them say that the women could not reach
their destination, they could not walk, so they were left there.

Then during the night they did not march us. They kept us on a
certain lawn, and placed machine guns all around us. They kept us
there in a clearing in the forest.

Mr. McTiGUE. Did you have any food or water during the course of
this march, Father.

Canon Patraitis. No, nothing, no bread. We were not permitted
to stand up. Whoever tried to raise himself was shot down, and peo-
ple who happened to be laying in a pool of water, they just had to lay
in that pool of water.

And, at clawn, in the morning, we were all aroused, and then the
march continued again.

Mr. McTiGUE. Was this the morning of the second day of the
march ?

Canon Petraitis. Yes, the second day. They took us back to the
same highway, and we had seen a great many executed people lying
in the ravines beside the road. Apparently other prisoners had been
led over the same road before, old prisoners, because they were dressed
in rags and very emaciated. And, when we reached the huge forest,
the morning of doom began. When the column was marching, they
would just look around and motion for the man with their finger to
come out, and then you would hear a shot, and the man is dead. Tliey
always said "March into the forest," and as soon as the person turned,
they shot him in the back of the neck.

iVll of us Lithuanians got mutually acquainted by that time after
we had spent some time in the single cell in Minsk.

When the sun had risen fairly high, some Lithuanians were taken
from our column. That was Zdanivious and Bitinas. They said



418 BALTIC STATES INVESTIGATION

"Goodbye, men," and they were shot. And, there was a Polish officer
with his wife, and he was tired. He was in prison a long time, since
1940. So, he said he could not walk any longer. He was weak, and he
fell, and his wife remained by his side. So, the young NKVD man told
them ' 'I advise you to go on. I would not advise you to stay." She did
not leave her husband. She would not leave her husband. She em-
braced him and stayed there. Then when we passed some distance, we
heard shots. There was a female scream, and those who were marching
in the rear of the column, they saw how both of them had been thrown
into the ravine, and there was another Estonian. A great many people
had been shoeless, and this man was barefoot, and you know how those
highways are out there, sharp stones. They are paved with stone and
gravel, and so his soles were cut through. He knew that he was
going to be shot, so he knelt down and walked on all four. So, one
man said, "Well, I had better go and finish him off." So the other
one said, "Oh, no, no. We will see how long he can continue that way."
Then, of course, he could not walk fast, so he began to lag behind. So
one man seized him by the collar, and then there were two shots, and
he was tossed into the ravine.

^Vlien we passed that forest they did not shoot any more people
on the road to Cherven. The Cherven prison was overfilled with
prisoners so they told us to lie down in the courtyard.

Mr. McTiGUE. How many days, father, did it take you to reach
the Cherven prison?

Canon Petrattis. That was the next day, I think; about 2 days,
because they took us out at night; we marched during the day and
night, and just a few hours short of 2 days.

Mr. McTiGUE. So you now have been marching for 2 days with this
continual slaughter going on?

Mr. Kersten. About how many miles would that be ?

Canon Petraitis. I cannot say; about 150 kilometers. I couldn't
say exactly, myself, or less, maybe. I can't say that.

]Mr. McTigue. What is that in miles, approximately. Father ?

Canon Petraitis. About lyo kilometers to a mile; you know better.

Mr. McTiGUE. That is approximately 90 miles ?

Canon Petraitis. Eighty or seventy; I don't know. And people
were so thirsty and tired, so they asked for water. So they brought
one barrel of water, some dirty water. So only a few people could get
a drink. Then they said : "Well, wait until about 11 and 12 o'clock
tonight. Then we will give you a real good soup."

We did not understand what that soup meant. Cherven was bomb-
ed by the Germans in the evening but the bombs did not hit the
j)rison.

At dusk we were aroused in the prison courtyard and they began
to separate us into two groups.

Mr. Kersten. At that time, can you estimate about how many peo-
ple were left out of these prisoners ?

Canon Petraitis. Those prisoners who were taken out from Minsk,
except for children — as I said, except for children, they began to
separate us into two groups. There were Russian soldiers among
them; not so many, but a great many Russian young men, so they
asked these young ones



BALTIC STATES INVESTIGATION 419

Mr. Kersten. Just one moment. I was wondering if you can tell
me about how many prisoners there were at the time you are now
talking about, approximately ^

Canon Petraitis. Well, as I said, there were probably around 6,000,
except those people, of course, who had been shot on the way.

Mr. Kerstek. Well, I was wondering about how many had been
shot ; therefore, how many were left is my question.

Canon Petraitis. Here, I will tell you. You see, when they
started separating us into two groups. In one group there were these
citizens, and the criminals, and those who wanted to enlist in their
army, and the criminals. In the courtyard of Charven, at night,
the Lithuanians, Estonians, Latvians, the Poles, and Ukrainians were
split, put into another group. And I know there were three Jews
from Latvia. One told me he was from Latvia and he was the friend
of the other. Of this, our second group, they split the people again
in two parts. Some were placed by the fence and the others were
lined up against the prison wall. Then, when we were grouped, they
formed us into a column and we were marched out and the others
remained in the prison yard. There were some very noisy trucks
placed around the prison; they were making very much noise and
we were led, already, outside of the prison. Then there was a mass
of army moving by and a mass of civilians, too. So I heard them
say, and others who understood Russian, "It is inconvenient here.
People are passing here."

Mr. Kersten. What was that ?

Canon Petraitis. "It is inconvenient here. People are passing
here."

Mr. McTiGUE. Who said this ?

Canon Petraitis. The NKVD men were talking to each other.

Mr. Madden. What did they mean by that ?

Canon Petraitis. They apparently intended to shoot us down there
and that is why all these motortrucks — truck motors were making
that terrific noise.

Then we were formed into columns and marched out of the city,
about 3 or 4 kilometers, 8 men in a line, and they told us to link our
arms together, 8 men in a line, and they marched us that way.
Then they stopped us for a while and they said, "Close in together
tightly."

Mr. Madden. How many were in that group ?

Canon Petraitis. You see, who could count them? But I could
speculate there may have been eight or nine hundred men, but who
could say the whole number.

Then they fired and some of the men were down. They were firing
this way [indicating], the column was standing here, so you see, they
were firing cross ways from both sides. And there was a light ma-
chinegun opened from the rear.

One man who holding me from the back, and he was shaking.

Mr. McTiGUE. He was what ?

Canon Petraitis. He was shaking, and he was struck, and he
crumpled down.

When these men began to fall down, this fire began to injure their
own men. There was an open space made in the mass

Mr.^ McTiGUE. You mean the NKVD men were caught in their own
crossfire ?



420 BALTIC STATES INVESTIGATION

Canon Petraitis. Yes, they were wounded. They didn't intend
to, but they wounded each other, when our men fell down and made
a gap.

So then we heard them yell, "Don't shoot, stop shooting, you are
shooting your own people."

And they stopped, and they told us : "Those of you who are alive,
stand up and march out," and the rest, the wounded and the dead,
remained behind.

As to those who were wounded, some NKVD men were left behind
and the wounded were finished off either by bayonets, or those short
trench shovels, to cleave their heads — mostly by those trench spades
or shovels.

Mr. Madden. Trench shovels?

Canon Petraitis. Yes. Then they marched us ahead and told us
to lie down in the road. It seemed to me that less than one-half re-
mained from the original group.

Mr. McTiGUE. Were there still women and children in this line
of march ?

Canon Petraitis. No; there were no women there, except that
women were brought slightly ahead of us on board of a truck.

I don't know how many women were there. They brought them
by truck, and they executed them, and they were screaming a lot.

Mr. McTiGUE. Did this execution take place up ahead of your
column. Father?

Canon Petraitis. A little to the side, on the lawn.

Mr. McTiGUE. Proceed, please.

Canon Petraitis. And so, when we lay down, they opened fire from
both sides again into the mass of lying people, and the people flopped
down, and they began to crawl into the ravines, and so the bullets
were again crossing this road.

And while we were lying down, an armored truck came up from
behind and it stopped. It was a regular army truck.

Mr. McTiGUE. Was this an army truck or an army tank?

Canon Petraitis. I am not a soldier and I do not know, but I heard
the others say it was an armored truck. It was proceeding on those
wheel tracks.

Mr. Madden. It was a caterpillar truck ?

Canon Petraitis. Yes. So, the chauffeur said, "How can I ride
through? There are people lying on the road." So I heard the
orders of the NKVD commander, "Go ahead."

So I heard the motor start. The truck started moving, and we
could hear these noises, and whoever was struck by those wheels

Mr. McTiGUE. Did this tank run over the column of men who were
lying in the middle of the road ?

Canon Petraitis. Straight on the people, over the people. The
driver did not want to go.

Mr. McTiGUE. And it crushed everybody who happened to be lying
on the road in front of it ?

Canon Petraitis. Yes; it crushed them like pancakes. You can
understand wliat happens. So, when he passed away and over tliem,
he continued on, and they opened fire again, and later, those who were
not wounded also were lying down, and we heard them say, "Those
who are not wounded, get up." Very few got up. And those of us
were marched ahead airain, and some NKVD men were again left



BALTIC STATES INVESTIGATION 421

behind to finish off those wounded with the bayonets and with the
trench shovels. Tliere were a number of us. My brother was in
that cokimn, too.

After that shooting when we were told to rise again, I saw that my
brother was alive. He got up too.

Mr. Machrowicz. He got up ?

Canon Petraitis. He got up; then they marched us again about
30, maybe 50 or 60 meters, but there were only 50 or 40 of us, between
40 and 60, a small group of us left. I must note here that there was a
very interesting thing.

They marched us this way : Here is one NKVD man standing [indi-
cating] ; here is another soldier, and in the second group, it was ac-
companied by trained dogs. The idea was that no one should escape,,
that dogs should overtake the men.

Mr. Kersten. About how many dogs were there, do you remember
that?

The Interpreter. May I translate this first?

Mr. Kersten. All right.

Canon Peteaitis. It was a surprising thing. They kicked those-
dogs and the dogs would not go after people. So they said it was a
surprising thing that they would not go after men. The entire column
was encircled by these NKVD men and every second line of those
NKVD men had the dogs.

Mr. Kersten. In other words, the dogs were more humane than
the NKVD men?

Canon Petraitis. Whether it was blood or shots, I don't know,,
but they were trained dogs. They were not afraid of shots. Not
one of them took after the men so they kicked those dogs and they
were yelping.

Then, our group of 40 to 60 men was marched about 50 meters ahead
again and they told us to lie down. Then the NKVD men, all of the
men crossed over to one side of the road and they told us that whoever
will raise their head will be shot at. Then they opened fire just from
one side this time. Tiien a great many people began to rise as long
as there were soldiers only on one side and they wanted — they tried
to escape. Then I heard them say, "Now we will shoot the ducks."

Mr. McTigue. D-u-c-k-s?

Canon Petraitis. Yes. As long as a man is rising, they opened
fire and the man falls down. My brother, at that time, jimiped up,
crossed the ravine and fell.

Mr. McTigue. Your brother was killed at this juncture. Father?

Canon Petraitis. No, he was not. He was wounded, and he es-
caped in the end. He had died in Gemiany in 1948.

Then they stopped shooting, and nobody was getting up, so they
said, "Now we must make a check to see that no one is alive." 1
thought to myself I was not wounded at all, and I thought it is terrible
if they will start bayoneting me ; I would rather they shoot me. So I
decided that I will rise and run and if they will shoot me down, at least
they will not cleave my head. When I rose to run, I was able to run
about 10 meters without being fired at because there was a ravine.
Then, you see, those men were standing there on the road killing off
the wounded on the other side. So I heard them being ordered to lie
down and they opened fire on me. I don't know how it was

52975— 54— pt. 1 28



422 BALTIC STATES INVESTIGATION

Mr. Kersten. Just when was that? What time of day was it; day
oi night ? Have him tell us when that was.

Canon Petraitis. That was at night.

Mr. Kersten. What time ?

Canon Petraitis. Around 2 o'clock, because when I was run-
ninjr-



Mr. I^RSTEN. You mean 2 o'clock in the morning ?

Mr. JuRGELA. Yes.

Mr. Kersten. Ask him.

Canon Petraitis. Two in the morning. The light was coming up.
I was running and — I don't know what the English expression of it
is — like a whole swarm of bees bullets were on all sides. Just like
a swarm of bees the bullets were singing.

And they missed. Just before I reached the forest there were fallen
tree branches, and my feet got mixed up and I fell down. Then I
didn't run, but I seized the grass with my hands, and I moved that
way, inched my way about 30 meters slightly to the side.

They kept firing, still in the same direction that I had been running,
as I could see branches falling down to the ground.

I moved away about 30 meters or so, and then I got up and ran
again into the forest. I got into the forest and entered the swamps.

There I met 3 Poles, 1 Polish officer and 2 soldiers, and that was
the next day, the next morning.

Later on I met, in their company I also met my brother. His left
arm was bandaged. One Pole tore up his underpants and bandaged
his arm. In 2 weeks his arm got well. It did not get poisoned or
anything.

We lived about 2 weeks, or 9 or 10 days in the swamps there.

Mr. McTiGUE. Where did you go from there, Father, in the final
episode of your escape ?

Canon Petraitis, In the forest we had nothing to eat, but we used
to suck those pine needles and grass, and a little water. It was
soft gi'ass.

We could not enter the dry woods, because the woods were full of
Russian soldiers, and they were shooting at us. We heard them say
they intended to march us farther on to the other side of Berezina
River, but you see, the Germans were threatening to encircle them,
so they shot us down. They wanted to shoot other people down, but
they were afraid to die themselves.

But the Germans did not complete that closing. So we had to stay
for a long time in the swamps.

Mr. McTiGUE. When did you finally reach safety. Father?

Canon Petraitis. In the month of July, I should say around the
8th or the 6th day of July.

Mr. McTiGUE. Of what year ?

Canon Petraitis. 1941.

Mr. McTiGUE. When did you emigrate to the United States, Father ?

Canon Petraitis. In 19'44, when the Germans were retreating and
the Bolsheviks were coming back. I did not want to stay in that
hell again.

Mr. McTiGTjE. When did you immigrate to the United States?

Canon Petraitis. In 1949, on September 11.



BALTIC STATES INTESTIGATION 423

Mr. McTiGUE. I want to ^o back for two questions. How long did
this march from Minsk, the prison in Minsk, to the forest of Cherven
take?

Canon Petraitis. About 2 days ; not quite 2 days.

Mr. McTiGUE. Two days ?

Canon Petraitis. Yes ; and nights.

]Mr. McTiGUE. Two days and two nights ?

Canon Petraitis. Yes.

Mr. McTiGUE. How many people — men, women, and children — were
in the column when it started from Minsk ?

Canon Petraitis. We had no chance to count them.

Mr. McTigtje. Approximately?

Canon Petraitis. About five or six thousand.

Mr. McTigtje. How many were left after the final shooting in the
Cherven Forest when Father Petraitis escaped ?



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