Shavel (Lithuania), Kaukazas ghetto, Stutthof, Dachau
Pruchno describes a very comfortable life in Shavel, Lithuania, where he was born. He lived in a wealthy community where his father was a vice president of a bank. The relations between Jews and non-Jews were “relatively good.” He recalls only a few specific incidents of anti-Semitism among certain elements of the community.
Once the Germans occupied Shavel, Pruchno remembers how their non-Jewish neighbors and friends acted as though his family never existed. He, his brother, sister, and brother-in-law fled to the countryside. When they were forced to return to Shavel, he describes the changes that took place during the next few months. His family was forced to give up their home and move to the Kafkasa ghetto in Shavel. A Judenrat was established and Pruchno remembers that by September 1, 1941, you could only leave the ghetto if you had a work permit. He describes the crowded conditions, lack of food, and the work done in the Frankl Leather Factory.
Pruchno recalls that the Lithuanian partisans demanded that the Judenrat turn over 70 strong young men for hard labor. He and the others were taken to a work camp where there were no sanitary facilities, no clean clothes, no place to wash, and only straw to sleep on. They unloaded railroad ties and laid track. He remembers that when the Germans needed men to work on an airfield, they were brought back to the ghetto.
He recalls that the winter of 1942 was particularly hard on the ghetto inhabitants. Food rations were low and they had to risk their lives to trade valuables with the Lithuanians for extra food. Searches were made every time workers returned to the ghetto and new regulations and demands were made constantly.
Pruchno’s entire family was relocated to an army camp that was approximately one hour from the ghetto. He worked in the laundry. His father was not accustomed to extreme physical work and took ill in 1942. He was taken to the Trakai hospital, where he died in April 1944.
The Pruchno family was eventually returned to the Kafkasa ghetto and Pruchno remembers how he had to slip through a brick wall to trade table cloths and linens for food. When the Germans caught a man bringing two loaves of bread into the ghetto, he had to witness the hanging. He also remembers when the German soldiers surrounded the Trakai ghetto and took all the children away.
Deportations began and Pruchno recalls that each person was allowed to take one suitcase. They were marched to the railroad where approximately 80 people were loaded onto each car. He describes their arrival in the Stutthof concentration camp, how the men and women were separated (this was the last time he saw his mother and sister), and the procedures the men were put through as they were beaten by German kapos. The next day he was taken by truck to a railroad station and again transported by box car to a labor camp near Dachau.
At the camp he unloaded cement and he describes the poor sanitary conditions in the camp and an incident when he was beaten by a Jewish kapo. He details what he had to go through to get a pair of shoes and how he was punished when he stole some bread. Their rations were cut by this time, the lice were torturing them, but they could hear gun fire close by. The prisoners knew the war was coming to an end.
Sometime in April the SS issued orders that no one was to leave for work. Instead the prisoners were marched under heavy guard away from the camp. Pruchno recalls that they received no food or water and that he was getting weaker and weaker. He escaped to a home in a town near Munich and tells how he was treated by the woman who answered the door and her husband. He then describes how he was rejoined with his brother, brother-in-law, and the other prisoners and how they were liberated by the Americans on May 1, 1945.
Date: January 5, 1983
Interviewer: Anita Schwartz
Format: Audio recording