Jacob Abramowitz was born in Kovno, Lithuania, in December 1907. Both parents were teachers who also owned some rental property enabling them to provide t he f amily with a comfortable standard of living. Mr. Abramowitz graduated from a private academic Hebrew day school and went on to college where he was trained as a dentist.
In 1939 he married and lived with his wife in an apartment they rented from his parents. Following the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact in August 1939, the Russians occupied the Baltic nations of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, as well as part of Poland, while the Germans marched into Poland in September precipitating the outbreak of World War II in Europe.
Mr. Abramowitz continued to practice dentistry in Kovno. He had some Russian officers as patients, and generally saw the Russians as reasonable occupiers of his homeland. Interestingly, however, he makes no indication that he ever considered himself a Lithuanian. He was a Jew and saw Lithuanians as others. Even when he discussed the fact that he knew many languages, he said he had forgotten Lithuanian completely, and as soon as he could, because it was the government language. The level of assimilation of Lithuanian Jews, therefore, appears to have been minimal. Under the Russians, some Lithuanians and some Jews were relieved of their property as attempts were made to eliminate major capitalistic aspects of the society.
Mr.Abramowitz 's family was not affected by this redistribution of wealth. Antisemitism was not a feature of the Russian occupation . Mr. Abramowitz expressed no anti-Russian sentiments during the interview and, in fact, diverged into a discussion of present Soviet antisemitism as being the Jews' own fault.
In the Spring of 1941, the Nazis marched into Lithuania and occupied Kovno. The Jews immediately were counted, relieved of their property, and herded into a section of Kovno which became the ghetto. All able-bodied workers were used to enclose the area with a fence. Families were crowded into rooms and apartments in the ghetto, while those people who had lived there were given access to the living spaces in the rest of the city that the Jews had vacated.
Mr. Abramowitz described life in the Kovno Ghetto as hard but not unbearable. He described major round-ups of Jews by the Nazis which in at least two instances resulted in mass murders numbering in the thousands.
According to him, initially there were 30,000 Jews. By the time the Nazis transported the Jews to Dachau in 1944, there were about 13,000 to 15,000 remaining. He briefly described the Jewish government of the ghetto, and the Jewish police who enforced Nazi rules. He characterized these police as collaborators, although he grudgingly acknowledged their difficult position. He made several references to Lithuanians and their role, describing some who helped Jews with food and some who helped the Nazis. His parents died during this period.
Mr. Abramowitz and his wife survived through buying food and supplies with precious metals which he, as a dentist, had access to and had smuggled into the ghetto with him. When asked about resistance and political organization in the ghetto, he indicated that he was aware of none.
As the tide of battle turned and the Russians went on the offensive, the Nazis emptied the Kovno Ghetto.The remaining Jews were put on freight cars and moved West. Mr. Abramowitz and his wife, as well as his brother, were on one of those trains. At some point, the train stopped in Germany, and all but able-bodied men were removed, including Mrs. Abramowitz. He never saw her again.
The remaining Jews from the Kovno ghetto were sent to Dachau. At this point sometime in 1944, they numbered 8,000 according to Mr. Abramowitz. He believed that part of the camp was new at this point. In fact, he and the other Kovno survivors worked at building cement silos and bunkers at Dachau. He described their daily routine as long and hard, with food and clothing being minimal, i.e. paper weave pajamas for clothing and one cup of a kind of potato broth per day. The prisoners slept on pine needles covered by a kind of A-frame roof.
The work involved moving large quantities of building materials under close supervision of SS guards. He described frequent beatings by the guards. Prisoners who could no longer work were executed and cremated. Several times Mr. Abramowitz was told by the doctor, a prisoner himself, that he should not work and to go to another line at roll call.
Each time Mr. Abramowitz did so, he sneaked back into the work detail line because he believed that those who were labeled as ill would be shot. He smiled as he recalled how clever he was to do this. Again, when asked about resistance or political activity among the prisoners, he indicated there was none. When asked about religious activity, he said that they had all lost their belief in God. He did talk, however, about one prisoner who prayed three times a day. He had sneaked his wife into the camp. She worked in the kitchen and was occasionally able to get some bread to her husband. Mr. Abramowitz cynically indicated that the prisoner ascribed his good fortune to God.
After about 9 months at Dachau, the Germans marched the prisoners East as the allied troops approached from the West. This was in April of 1945. The German guards shot stragglers and used dogs to push the prisoners the required 30 kilometers per day. Mr. Abramowitz describes a guard with whom he struck a bargain. The man, in his sixties, was reluctant to do this assigned duty, and was unable to continue carrying his pack for 30 kilometers each day. Mr. Abramowitz offered to carry the pack in return for half of the guard's daily food ration. In this incident, and in others, Mr. Abramowitz displays a surprisingly sympathetic view of some of the German soldiers. During the march, the prisoners slept in the fields at night. One morning, May 2, 1945, they woke up and discovered that the guards had left.
The prisoners organized themselves and marched to the nearest village where they persuaded (through intimidation) the local Burgermeister to provide food and shelter. The Americans arrived shortly thereafter and provided the prisoners with medical attention and supplies. Mr. Abramowitz spent some time recuperating from his ordeal and eventually went to Munich. There he became involved in efforts to provide medical and dental attention to the population. He spoke with pride of his efforts and accomplishments in helping to establish a clinic and a dental school, and of his ability to use coffee and cigarettes as currency for the necessary supplies.
He operated in Germany until 1951 when he emigrated to the U.S. with his health and a considerable amount of money (several thousand dollars). In the US he soon became a partner in a dental laboratory supervising several technicians. He retired in 1973.
Biography written from a synopsis of an interview conducted by George Adler