Oral History

Henny Fletcher Aronsen describes liberation from a death march from Stutthof

Henny was born into an upper-middle-class Jewish family in Kovno, Lithuania. She and her brother attended private schools. In June 1940 the Soviets occupied Lithuania, but little seemed to change until the German invasion in June 1941. The Germans sealed off a ghetto in Kovno in August 1941. Henny and her family were forced to move into the ghetto. Henny married in the ghetto in November 1943; her dowry was a pound of sugar. She survived several roundups during which some of her friends and family were deported. Henny was herself deported to the Stutthof concentration camp in 1944, when the Germans liquidated the Kovno ghetto. She was placed in a forced-labor group. The Germans forced Henny and other prisoners on a death march as Soviet troops advanced. After Soviet troops liberated Henny in 1945, she eventually reunited with her husband and moved to the United States.


Eventually we wound up in Chinow [Chynowja], which was the last village of this death march. By then they knew, the Germans knew, that they had lost the war and that the Russians are on their tail. They put us in a barn and that was really Dante's "Inferno," that was real hell because everybody was dying. I wouldn't be surprised that 85 percent of the people died there because the diarrhea and the stench and the frozen bodies were unbelievable. Every place, you sat next to a corpse. And one of my friends I went to school with, uh, actually she was not in the same area I was, this was kind of a, a, uh, they decided to gather all the rest of the area of these people in Chinov. It was like a, uh, what do you call it, a, the last, the last, the last stop, and she was in a different camp. And she came over to me and she said, "Henny, you still are walking around. Would you help me bury my mother?" And I helped her carry out her mother because that was the very, the first thing they did is made us dig deep ditches because they knew. And I dropped the mother on a pile of bones. And, uh, then I went back and we went back to this barn and, and surrounded by, by death, and, except for my two friends. Yes, one escaped, two escaped on the way, kind of. One with the shoes and the other one kind of also, I don't know, she kind of escaped. So two of them left, so the three of us, we're still holding on to each other and suddenly we hear voices. They closed the barn doors, it was like ten o'clock. I remember because when we were liberated, it was about an hour later. It was ten o'clock. They closed all the doors of the barn in Chinov. They poured gasoline around, all around, and they were gonna burn the whole thing. Next thing, it was a matter of about, I don't know, next thing, we hear banging on our, on our barn doors, and Russian spoken. And they opened up the doors, and of course the ones who could walk out--I was one of them, and my friend, my two friends--we immediately ran out.


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection
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