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Jar of stones from the river near Eisiskes

Object | Accession Number: 1992.169.31

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    Jar of stones from the river near Eisiskes

    Overview

    Brief Narrative
    Jarred containers of stones from the Olkieniki river near Ejszyszki (Eisiskes) Poland (now Lithuania). Jews had lived in Eisiskes for over 900 years. Prewar Eisiskes, circa 1939, had approximately 3500 Jews, the majority of the population. The town was occupied by German troops on June 23, 1941, days after the surprise invasion of the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany. The German authorities issued a proclamation in September that gave Jewish residents permission to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Just before the holiday, Lithuanian collaborators rounded up the Jewish residents and detained them in the synagogue and two adjoining buildings. They were joined by 1000 Jews from neighboring villages. On September 25-26, 1941, the Lithuanians and German mobile killing units began the systematic slaughter of the captives; only 29 escaped the massacre.
    Geography
    use: Ejszyszki (Poland) (historic); Eisiskes (Lithuania)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Yaffa Eliach
    Contributor
    Subject: Yaffa Eliach
    Biography
    Yaffa Sonenson was born on May 31, 1936, to Shalom Ben-Shemesh (Moshe) and Zipporah Katz Sonenson in Eisiskes, Poland (Lithuania). Her older brother, Yitzhak Uri, was born in 1932. Yaffa's maternal grandparents, Yitzhak Uri and Alte Rahel-Yehudit Katz, were professional photographers. Alte also owned a bakery, was a pharmacist , and served as director of the school education committee. Eisikes was occupied by German troops on June 23, 1941, two days after Germany launched a surprise attack on the Soviet Union. The Jewish residents were harassed and humiliated by the soldiers. Moshe, who was a member of the volunteer fire department, was ordered to hose down his brother with the fire hose or he would be shot. A few days later, attack dogs were set upon members of the Jewish council, including Moshe. About the same time, Zipporah gave birth to another boy; the brit milah was held in secret. The Jewish council was told to organize men for forced labor units. Then, a few days later, Jewish residents were told to surrender all their valuables. The Germans announced that Jews had permission to hold High Holiday services. Moshe was suspicious and wanted the family to flee, but his mother-in-law, Alte, refused. Moshe sent Yitzhak and Yaffa to live with Zozia Aliszkewicz, their Polish housekeeper. On the eve of the Jewish New Year, Lithuanian collaborators began rounding up Jews. They were held in the main synagogue and two adjoining buildings. Four days later, on September 25-26, 1941, the Lithuanians joined with German Einstazgruppe (mobile killing units) and began systematically killing all the Jews. Alte was among the murdered. After the shooting stopped, a peasant boy came to Zozia's house to fetch the children and bring them to their father who had fled. Once they met their father, they had to continue walking to a safer hiding place, passing the bodies of murdered friends lying in the snow. They went to Vassiliosk and stayed with a former business acquaintance. That night, Moshe was arrested and jailed. He escaped and, badly beaten, fled again with his children. After two days of walking, they came to Radun where they reunited with Zipporah and the infant.

    The Germans had established a ghetto in Radun, and the Sonensons lived there for about six months. Yaffa attended a clandestine Hebrew school, and her father and brother went out to work. On May 10, 1942, Moshe heard that the Germans planned to liquidate the ghetto and decided the family should flee again. He brought the family to a carriage house used to store fodder for horses. There were already other Jews hiding there who feared that the baby would give them away. Moshe negotiated to allow his family to remain; the baby was smothered and died. When they came out of the hiding place, they saw streets filled with dead bodies. Only sixty Jews remained, assigned the job of cleaning up. Moshe's family temporarily joined this group, and then fled to the forests on May 28. Moshe next took his family to the home of Kazimirz Korcucz, a Polish Catholic aristocrat who Alte and Uri Sonenson had assisted during World War I (1914-1918). He was reluctant to help, but eventually agreed for a sum of money and found them a spot in a cave under a pigsty. As rumors spread in the village that Kazimirz was hiding Jews, he told them they had to leave. They stayed briefly with another Polish friend who also became fearful and asked them to leave. By this time Zipporah again was pregnant. The family had nowhere else to go and returned to Kazimirz in desperation. He hid them again. After the baby's birth, Moshe left him in a basket outside the church with a note saying the baby was born out of wedlock to a member of a prominent Polish family and requested that he be baptized and adopted. On July 13, 1944, Soviet troops liberated the region.

    The family returned to Eisiskes. Jews had lived in the town for over 900 years. From a prewar Jewish population of 3500, the Sonensons were among only 29 who had survived. That fall, Moshe went to the priest and managed to retrieve his youngest son. A party was held on October 20 to celebrate the return of the boy who they named Chaim. Soon after the party ended, the family heard an uproar and hid in a closet. A band of young members of the Polish Home Army barged into the home and found the hiding place. They shot and killed Zipporah and the baby at close range, but they did not notice Yaffa, Moshe, and her brother Yitzhak. The police arrested the assailants, but freed them almost immediately. After the funeral, Moshe left with the children for the neighboring town of Aran. Two months later, in December 1944, Moshe was denounced by other Jewish survivors, arrested by the NKVD (Soviet secret police), and sentenced by the courts to forced labor for life in Kazakhstan. Yaffa and Yitzhak went to stay with a group of Jewish former partisans. After a while, Yaffa found her uncle Shlomo, Moshe's brother. He had a British passport since he had lived in Palestine before the war. Claiming Yaffa as his daughter, they left the Soviet Union and made their way to Palestine, arriving in April 1946. Yaffa attended a religious Zionist Mizrahi high school. It had a young principal, David Eliach, and they fell in love and married in 1953. Moshe finally was freed and permitted to leave the Soviet Union in the mid-1950s. He came to Israel and became a farmer.

    Yaffa and David emigrated to the United States. The couple has two children. Yaffa received a doctorate in history and founded the first Center for Holocaust Studies in the US. The Tower of Faces exhibit in the USHMM permanent exhibit was created from the Yaffa Eliach Shtetl collection. It contains nearly 1000 reproductions of prewar photographs of Jewish life in Eisiskes that Yaffa gathered from more than 100 families. Most of them were taken by her grandparents, Yitzhak and Alte Katz, and their assistants, Ben-Zion Szrejder and Rephael Lejbowicz. Dr. Eliach, 79, passed away on November 8, 2016.

    Physical Details

    Language
    Hebrew
    Classification
    Materials
    Category
    Stones
    Object Type
    Pebbles (lcsh)
    Physical Description
    jar containing stones
    Dimensions
    overall: Height: 3.125 inches (7.938 cm) | Diameter: 3.125 inches (7.938 cm)
    Materials
    overall : glass, metal, stone, paper, adhesive, ink

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    No restrictions on access
    Conditions on Use
    No restrictions on use

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Provenance
    The jar of stones was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1992 by Yaffa Eliach.
    Funding Note
    The cataloging of this artifact has been supported by a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
    Record last modified:
    2022-07-28 18:21:50
    This page:
    https:​/​/collections.ushmm.org​/search​/catalog​/irn5989

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