Davoud: A touching story of physical and moral endurance. As a "Goi" who lived in Israel for several years in the 1970's I got to know a number of Holocaust camp survivors and a few partisans who managed to escape arrest. What I did not know was that any Jews were released from a Nazi prison as late as 1941. How did that come about, I wonder?
Doron Avni: This picture, of my grandfather, was taken at the end of 1941, after his release from the Nazi prison (called the “Red Prison”) located on Traku street in Siauliai, Lithuania. 800 Jews were brought into this prison, after 2 months only 140 survived. The conditions at the prison where terrible, and some of the Jews, among them my grandfather, were forced to dig graves for their fellow Jews in the nearby Kozai forest, and that is how they stayed alive. My grandfather told me that while he was in the prison, “I made a vow, that if I survived, I would have myself photographed so that the memory would never be obliterated” – and so he did, with the help of a fellow prisoner, the photographer Zvi Difkind.
From the picture, my grandfather gazes at me – thin, after losing 16 kg of his weight, hair in wild disarray, the yellow patch on his garment but with strength and determination shining in his eyes.
After his release my grandfather went to live in the Siauliai Ghetto, which he escaped after the “kinder Akzia” in 5.11.1943, when his 8 years old niece, Cila Gutstein, together with 800 children and elderly people, were taken to Auschwitz. For almost a year he hid in the forests with my grandmother Lea, whom he married in the Ghetto. They were eventually liberated by the Soviet Army in the summer of 1944. At first, the Russian soldiers mistakenly thought my grandfather to be German, and wanted to kill him. His life was saved when my grandmother presented this photograph, which he stitched to his coat when escaping the ghetto, showing my grandfather wearing a yellow star. My grandfather died in Israel in 2009 at the age of 91.