Joshua, the son of Szleime and Fejgele (Liberman) Salman, lived in Vilna, Lithuania. Joshua's parents were both teachers. Vilna had a large Jewish population, and was famous world-wide as a major Jewish cultural center. In 1941, over 80,000 Jews lived in the city.
Joshua was called Iske by his family and friends. His grandfather had been a rabbi and cantor, and his mother had attended university. Joshua's little brother, Ruben, was born when Joshua was four.
When the Germans entered Vilna in June 1941, they were greeted by the Lithuanian people with cheers and flowers. Both the Germans and their Lithuanian collaborators immediately began persecuting Vilna's Jews. About 35,000 Jewish men, women and children were murdered in July, in a wooded area about five miles from Vilna, called Ponary. Among the victims were the leaders of the Jewish community.
On September 6, 1941, the remaining Jews were herded into two sealed-off ghettos. Conditions were horrible. There was little food and terrible overcrowding. Three months later, Joshua, his little brother, and his mother, along with other Jews, were arrested and thrown into jail. They were kept there for three days without food or water. From there they were taken to Ponary where they, too, were murdered by special German mobile killing squads called Einsatzgruppen. Joshua was eight years old.