Vilna (Vilnius), Lithuania
Druskin was born in 1921 in Vilna, Lithuania, a city in Poland of 317,000 people with a Jewish population of about 50,000. The major industry was lumber production and most of the Jews were business and trademen. Referred to as the “Jerusalem of Europe,” Vilna had many Jewish organizations and two Jewish theaters. Druskin grew up with three sisters and attended Hebrew elementary and high schools in Vilna. After he finished high school, he earned a degree in mechanical engineering.
Druskin remembers anti-Semitic experiences before 1939; sometimes Jewish shops and homes were set on fire and if a Jew passed a Catholic church without taking off his cap, he was beaten. At this time, the Jews of Vilna were aware of what was happening to the Jews of Germany and many of them tried to emigrate to America and other safe countries. In 1936 the government issued a new order: Gentiles could no longer buy anything from Jews. The business of Druskin’s father, who traded leather, was greatly affected by this order because he could only sell his products via a Gentile middleman.
Vilna (which was under Lithuanian control) was occupied by the Russian army in 1939. The Russians stayed in the city for eight to nine weeks, then handed it over to Lithuania. During the Russian occupation, Druskin’s father lost his business and went to work in a factory.
When the German army conquered Lithuania in June 1941, many former Lithuanian soldiers collaborated with the Germans. They captured Jews on the streets and shot them outside the city. Many people tried to flee into the Russian-occupied zone, but the Russian army would not let them in. After six weeks, the Nazis built two ghettos one for 30,000 “productive” Jews and one for 11,000 “unproductive” Jews. In 1942 the first ghetto was liquidated but Druskin managed to hide and get to the second ghetto. The living conditions in the ghettos were very bad. Druskin, his sisters and his parents had to share their flat with six other families. There was only one bed, no heat, and not enough to eat. Fifty percent of the Jews who lived in the ghetto had jobs as laborers. Druskin got a job as an electrician so he received more food. He also used to buy bread from a Gentile and smuggle it into the ghetto.
Within the ghetto there were several organizations and factions with different views. Ultimately they were united in the underground army. It was very hard for the underground to become organized. Sometimes as many as fifteen families shared a flat and the members never knew if someone would overhear them and betray the underground to the Nazis or to the ghetto police. The ghetto police consisted of Jewish and Lithuanian policemen and was very unpopular.
Druskin became a member of the underground army which had connections to the Communist party. Their plan was to buy or steal arms, break out of the ghetto, and join one of the partisan groups in the woods around Vilna. The Nazis discovered their plan and shot the man who had the members’ passes. When the Nazis found out Druskin’s name, they killed his whole family as a retaliatory measure.
After a dangerous journey through German-occupied territory, the underground troops who had escaped joined a partisan group. When the Russian army re-occupied Vilna, they hired Druskin to work for them because he knew the streets of Vilna and was good at organizing things.
When the war was over, Druskin went to Hungary, then Austria, France, and Israel, where he met his wife, who was from Belgium. They returned to Belgium and later emigrated to America.
Date: November 9, 1990
Length: 1 hour 20 min
Interview by: not identified
Format: Video recording
Place: Florida Atlantic University