Rescuers of Jews

Rusteikaitė Marija

Marija RUSTEIKAITĖ (1892–1949)

Rescued fifteen people, among them: Dveira Mesnikienė and her daughter Fruma, Liuba Gisaitė, Tatyana Klibanskaya's three sons – Samuil, 7, Avraham and Asaf – both 6 years old, Eta Gavronskaya, her daughter Polina Froman and granddaughter Shulamit Froman-Lev.
Marija Rusteikaitė was a well-off woman who purchased the children's home for her own money. She sheltered the Jewish women and children as a Christian, not asking for any reward. She obtained forged passports for the women, and baptism certificates for the children.

'My dear Mother,

I am eternally grateful to you for your help at a difficult hour. If not for your good heart and courage, we would all be dead. When we were surrounded by enemies on all sides and there was nowhere to go, you extended your helping hand and gave us a shelter. It is not possible to ever forget it, since by helping us you were risking your head.
My dear Mother, take care of your health and think at least a little of yourself. I am very well aware that for you other people go in the first place, and only then you remember yourself. Sometimes you even forget to have a meal.
We are just like before. It is hard to start everything anew. Shortages are numerous but I got used to being satisfied with little. What is important is freedom, while everything else will slowly arrange itself.
Sincere wishes from all of us to each and everyone.
With deepest respect,

Polė Fromanienė 'Žukauskienė'
Vilnius, March 1945

From Hands Bringing Life and Bread, Volume 1,
The Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum. Vilnius, 1997

From Shulamit Froman-Lev‘s Memoirs

All my life I have had a feeling that I remember what had happened to us, though I understand that I cannot remember it.
I was born on 7 June 1941 in Šiauliai. A pediatrician said to my mother – “if on Sunday, the 22nd of June, the weather is nice, you may take the baby outside.
However, the war broke out that Sunday and we spent the whole day in the cellar. Like all the Jews who failed to escape, we were shut in a ghetto. There were two ghettos in Šiauliai, and after the people had been “sorted out”, my grandmother was sent to one ghetto and my mother, father, and I were sent to the other one. My mother gave her ring to somebody and my grandmother was allowed to stay with us.
My mother was driven to work and my grandmother stayed with me. I was often ill; we had nothing to eat. My mother did hard physical labour – sometimes she worked on the railway (once the ghetto women even had to push a heavy train), sometimes in the slaughterhouse, or in the fields, or she cleaned carriages. When my mother worked at a slaughterhouse, she tried to milk at least some drops of milk from every cow into a small bottle that she had tied to her leg. She would deliberately put on wide trousers with elastic at the bottom. It was prohibited to bring anything into the ghetto. One was threatened by the death sentence for that. The policeman who was nicknamed “one meter eighty” treated everybody especially cruelly. When he was at the ghetto gate the people would throw away whatever they carried, but my mother would take a risk because she had her baby waiting at home. Once they searched her and upon finding the milk they took her to the police station, but one inhabitant of the ghetto, Isaac Sher, got vodka and tobacco from somewhere and managed to redeem her from the policemen. A human life was worth that much.
Once fortune really smiled on my mother. She was sent to clean the carriages in which civil German railroad engineers lived. They spoke to my mother (she knew German) and gave her some foodstuffs from their food rations. It was known in the ghetto that the Children's action was going on. This hour struck in Šiauliai Ghetto too. We lived on the first floor, and there was an attic above us. At night, by putting a stool on a table, my parents lifted my grandmother and me through the opening in the ceiling into the attic. The little beauty, Aviva, who was several years older than I, and her grandmother, were together with us. To prevent me from crying I was given some sleeping pills.
In the morning my mother was driven to work with everybody else. When people returned to the ghetto in the evening, many of them did not find their children. Uncontrollable sobs and piercing shrieks started. Mother was coming towards our house without knowing what she would find there. One heartbroken old man told her that he had seen her mother and her child being taken away. My mother had my cap in her pocket; she pressed that cap in her hand, firmly convinced that it was all that was left for her of her child. Like crazy she rushed towards the house and ran into a policeman who was sitting and playing the mouth organ. She ran up to him and shouted, “You scoundrel, how dare you play when blood is being shed all around and your hands are steeped in blood?” She expected him to kill her since she had neither the desire nor strength to go on living. But the policeman did not even beat her. He only said, “You are still young; you will go to Germany to work.”
My mother reached the house and climbed up to the first floor. My grandmother, slightly opening the aperture called her by name but my mother did not answer for a long time. At last she understood that somebody was calling her. My grandmother handed me down asleep and then climbed down herself. My mother found it difficult to believe that we were alive. My grandmother pinched her, hit her on the face to mal her come to her senses. Then she told mother everything that had happened. The policemen walked through the flats and took away the children. When they came to our house and saw an opening in the ceiling, the policemen started to hit it with the butts of their rifles and shout: “Get out!” Aviva's grandmother' nerves could not stand it and she whispered to my grandmother: “Let us go down. I have jewels and we shall ransom ourselves”. My grandmother answered that if it were fated that she should die, let death come by itself, but she would not go out to meet it. Aviva's grandmother opened the aperture. The policemen took her and beautiful Aviva away.
After the Children's action there were to be no children left in the ghetto and those children who were left were doomed to death. My mother made plans how to escape. She used to go out of the ghetto at every available opportunity and take the six-pointed star off her clothes. It was necessary to find people who could and wished to help us. Neither my mother nor my grandmother looked like Jews. My mother spoke Lithuanian and German very well. Antanas Margaitis, who was the teacher at the Šiauliai Gymnasium, and his family were the first people to extend a helping hand to her. Antanas Margaitis waited for us in the yard on the agreed day at an agreed hour. That day my grandmother, my mother and I were in the column of people herded to work. Before setting off I was given some sleeping pills again. Then my mother tied me to her body with strings, put on a wide coat and wrapped herself in a large shawl. While going she held me under the shawl – it seemed to her that I was slipping. My mother and grandmother succeeded in jumping out of the column. Antanas Margaitis put us onto the cart and took us to the village.
Our wanderings began. We used to move from one farm to another because it was dangerous to stay in the same place for long. During that time my grandmother and mother managed to obtain forged passports: my mother became Žukauskienė and my grandmother – Stankienė. The genuine birth certificate of a dead girl (who was about my age) was procured for me. I became Marytė Kazlauskaitė. Unfortunately, I do not remember the name of the noble priest who issued that birth certificate.
The small town of Vaiguva near Šiauliai was the last place of our wanderings. There was a manor there whose owner Marija Rusteikaitė gave shelter to us. My mother worked at an office, my grandmother was dressed in nun's clothes, and I was placed in the orphanage opened on the same manor. By that time I had absolutely forgotten Yiddish and spoke only Lithuanian. I was taken to Church. I prayed and crossed myself like a Catholic. My mother could not come up to me on her own. To avoid suspicion I never, even upon meeting my mother, would utter the word “Mommy”. Once, when there was nobody around I asked: “Oh Lord, there is nobody around can I say MOMMY to you?” I often ponder: is it possible in a normal life to make a child never utter the word “Mommy”? I am sure that it is not. Under extreme circumstances, children very soon become adults.
We stayed at Marija Rusteikaitė's manor till the end of the war.
Our family was lucky. A lot of good people helped us save ourselves. Amor these people were simple peasants, a teacher, the highly educated Marija Rusteikaitė, as well as German railroad engineers who used to give food to my mother.

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