Isaak Rutman, who had been living in Sovetsk, the former Tilsit, since the beginning of the fifties, took a lively interest in the history of the city and collected all the signs of the times he could get hold of. On the balcony of his apartment, for example, he kept the last remaining gravestone of the city’s former Jewish cemetery.
After opening the Kaliningrad region to foreign visitors in 1991, he did not fail to interview many of the city’s guests about their memories of Jewish citizens. As a result, he noted, among other things: “And even after the First World War many of the Jewish war participants proudly wore their “Iron Cross” on their chest. Among them, as I know, were in Tilsit:
1) The lawyer Ehrlich;
2) the owner of the cloth shop in the Deutsche Straße, the former officer Brinitzer;
3) the one-armed Schumacher Silberstein, who lived in the apartment building on the corner of Moltkestraße (Gastello Straße) and Balgadlenstraße (Suvorova Straße). He had lost his arm somewhere at the front, and he never showed up on the street without the “Iron Cross”.
Later the fatherland thanked his heroes in the following way: The son of Silberstein attended the Realgymnasium on the other side of Moltkestraße. Once during class, probably in 1938, the door unexpectedly opened and someone called the boy out into the hallway. Since then neither his schoolmates nor his parents have seen him…
At that time, in the thirties, eleven Tilsit Jews committed suicide one after the other. Among them was the famous gynecologist Mr. Segal. In the city he was also known for his honorary charity work. During the First World War he was the chief surgeon of the Tilsiter Military Hospital. The grief-stricken widow died soon afterwards, and her son Herbert – a concert violinist of the Tilsiter City Orchestra – emigrated to China”.
Several inhabitants could remember the November pogrom, the so-called Kristallnacht, even after decades.
Mr. Heinz Kebesch – he lived not far from the synagogue, in the Fabrikstraße (Iskry Straße) – told the story:
“In 1938 the synagogue was burned and destroyed by the Nazis. When I went to work once in the morning, I saw a fire. To this day I cannot forget this terrible picture.”
The former Tilsiter Bruno Lehnert, who also lived in the Fabrikstraße until the war and attended the old elementary school there from 1936 to 1940, still remembers:
“In November 1938 my father was very ill. At night I had to call the doctor who lived in the Kasernenstraße (Komsomolskaja Straße). Since we slept badly at night, I woke up late in the morning and went to school late. When I reached the outside stairs of the school, I was surprised to find the door closed. The building seemed surprisingly quiet to me, no child’s voice was heard. It smelled like something burned. I went to the corner of Saarstraße (that’s how Kirchenstraße was called since 1935), here on the corner of Rosenstraße the building of the Jewish synagogue burned, so the school was closed. I was nine years old and didn’t know what that meant. Only many years later did I understand the terrible deed that took place at that time. I also noticed the firemen pretending to put out the fire. I wondered and understood nothing at all…”
Another former Tilsiter, who wanted to remain anonymous, remembers:
“Until 1988, there was a Jewish religious community in Tilsit that had its synagogue in the western part of the city, near the cemetery. At that time we lived in Waldstraße 52 (Lesnaja Street). On the night of November 9, 1938, our mother – four brothers and sisters – fetched us from our beds and led us to the front door. On the left side we saw the glow of fire. Mother told us that the Jewish synagogue was burning there.
The next day, on November 10, 1938, I went to the Hohe Straße (Pobeda Straße). There, near the Grundbank was the big shoe shop “Salamander”. Its gigantic shop window in the lower part, approximately on the chest height were broken and the shoes thrown out in confusion. Glass splinters lay next to them. To the right and left of the shop window stood two men in SA uniforms. David stars were painted on the right and left of the glass (at that time such stars were called “Jewish”), and between them stood in white color with words about 1 meter tall: “Don’t buy from Jews”.
From 1940 to 1943 I attended the Realgymnasium (secondary school for boys in Tilsit – I.P.). A Jewish teacher taught in this school. What his name was and what he taught – I don’t remember. He was not tall and had a white full beard. One day – I don’t remember which year it was – this Jewish teacher disappeared and never showed up in class again. Students said he went to a “labor camp. We didn’t know what tragic significance it had at that time.
This Jewish teacher was married to a so-called “Aryan” who, despite the prohibition of such marriages, did not divorce her husband. According to fascist terminology, they had a half-Jewish son. He also attended our school. One day, a few weeks after his father’s “sending away”, he did not come to school. What happened to the woman is unknown to me.”
The former Tilsiter inhabitant Kurt Lahmrat, who lived in the Sommerstraße (Turgenewa Straße), tells:
“Our family wasn’t rich, so they couldn’t buy me the new shoes for the new school year. My older brother once said to me: ‘You don’t have any shoes, they threw a lot of shoes out of the Jewish shop onto the street on Hohe Straße. Go and take as much as you want…”
An old German, who was still a child in 1938, tells: “She remembers how a Jewish woman, the owner of the shop in the neighboring house, came to their house in a hysterical attack. Their families were friends. The Jewish woman cried and lamented: ‘How can we live now if a poster has been hanging on the windows of my shop since that night: “Don’t buy from Jews! Whoever buys from Jews is a traitor!
from the Russian into German by Alina Gromova