Rescuers of Jews

Satkevičius Eduardas

Margalit Stender-Lonke

I Think You Are My Mother

From the 4th book Hands Bringing Life and Bread

I would be happy, if I could help someone while pursuing a noble goal: to preserve the memory of those who survived the Holocaust and those who saved those doomed to death. Regretfully, I do not remember much myself. In 1941, when they closed us in the Kaunas Ghetto, I was barely two years old. I remember only bits and pieces of situations and feelings, but my late mother told me a lot.
Before the war our family lived in Kaunas. My father was born in Riga, Latvia. He was a violinist and his name was Robert Stender (Robertas Stenderis). He gained his higher education in Berlin and was invited to take the position of concertmaster and conductor at the Kaunas Opera. My mother Roza studied to be a radiologist in Paris for two years and came back to live in Kaunas around 1933. To the great joy of my parents, I was born in August 1939 and during the first years of my life we all lived in happiness and love.
In August 1941, three days after the closing of the Kaunas ghetto, the so-called Intelligentsia Action was carried out, killing 534 people. My father, Robert Stender, was in the first group of people murdered.
We were together in the ghetto with my grandfather Shmuel Cvi Per, my mother’s brother Yakov Per (a famous architect), his wife Golda and their sons Joram and Amos.
As a child, my grandfather studied in a cheder, and then graduated from a yeshiva and received the right to become a rabbi. Later, during the First World War, he left for St. Petersburg and graduated from a Teachers’ Institute in Russia. During the days of starvation and cold in the ghetto, when my mother was washing military uniforms of the Germans, I stayed with my grandfather. He was a beam of light in my life. I will always remember him.
With actions becoming more frequent in the ghetto, rumours were spreading about the Children’s Action. By the end of 1943, Frau Helene Holzman and Natalija Pavlovna1 called on my mother from the ghetto to tell her that the Children’s Action was approaching and if she did not take me from the ghetto, I would not be there any longer.
On a late winter’s night, with me on her arms, my mother managed to run away from the ghetto unnoticed. Natalija Pavlovna was waiting for us and led us to a flat. Perhaps it was the place of Frau Holzman. I was left there for a short time until they could find another place, but they were afraid to leave my mother there. They said she was a courageous and energetic woman and that she could find a place to hide herself.
My mother was looking for a place to stay for 18 days. She wandered around during the night, because it was too dangerous to walk during the day. She knocked on many doors but in vain. This is why, she decided to go back to the ghetto. Luckily, on her way back she met Natalija Pavlovna, who stopped her and took her to the flat of Sofija Binkienė, a Guardian Angel to many people, which was already overcrowded with Jews. Sofija took her in, let her wash herself (my mother was hiding for 18 days in passageways) and fed her. They spoke for a long while and soon they discovered that a Lithuanian language teacher from the same gymnasium in which my mother had studied years ago lived in the same house.
To my biggest regret, I cannot remember his first or last name
He saved my mother. He had a farm in a village near Kaunas. He created a biography for my mother: allegedly she was a Tartar (she was similar to a Tartar), an animal handler, and the housewife (the teacher’s mother) needed help. They kept my mother with them until the end of the war in Lithuania.
I was given from one family to another. If I am not mistaken, my first rescuer was Olga Pavlovna Dauguvietienė, a famous actor. During those days they sold Russian children in one of the squares: 4 litas for a boy and 3 litas for a girl. Olga Pavlovna ‘bought’ one boy to save him, and took me as a purchased girl. I was given the following legend: I am Irina Petrova, my father is at the front, and my mother was sent to work in Germany.
I vaguely remember Olga Pavlovna. She was a very kind-hearted woman and lovely woman. I remember when one night I woke up in a cot and heard a quiet conversation. There was very little light. I stood up in the cot, looked at Olga Pavlovna, then look at the visitor and said: “I think you are my mother.” We burst into tears. My mother told me that in the spring when the flowers would blossom she would come to take me with her. Olga Pavlovna could not keep me any longer: perhaps it was some dangerous period which is why she contacted my mother.
I was moved to the family of Valerija and Eduardas Satkevičius. Satkevičius was violinist, my father’s colleague. Vladas Varčikas helped my mother get into contact with this family.
The Satkevičius couple took me in. They had two sons who were older than me. In the morning they went to school and the parents went to work. I stayed at home alone. Of course, I was not allowed to go to the balcony so that the neighbours would not see me. Even today I am terrified when I hear a loud telephone call or a doorbell ringing. When the telephone would ring I would lay on the sofa and cry. One day I probably went to the balcony because the neighbours noticed me, a little girl, who would never leave the flat. It happened that one day, in the morning, when the Satkevičius family left for work, there was a long and persistent doorbell ringing. Although I was strictly forbidden to open the door to anyone and was told to stay still, I could not stand the pressure (that is way I am still terrified of doorbells ringing). I went to the door, took the chair, climbed it and said that they should not open the door right away until I get down from the chair.
Two or three uniformed men entered the corridor. They had brought a doll and candy with them. One of them put me on his knees and starting asking me who I was and where my parents were. My mother had told me I should only repeat my biography: I am Irina Petrova, my father is in the front, my mother is sent to Germany to work and I was bought at the market. When the Satkevičius family came back, I told them everything. It was very dangerous for them. On the same night Satkevičienė took me to some people: I do not remember them. What I remember is that we crossed a huge empty square. Later there was a huge warm kitchen, a big bowl into which I was placed and washed: there were many women busy around me and I was very ashamed.
I do not remember how I was moved to the Mongirdas family. Mikalojus Mongirdas was a singer and worked at the Kaunas Opera theatre. His mother took me to her place in the village2. I remember her with deep gratefulness and love. She was very good and very attentive to me. Everybody saved me, but she saved me twice. I do not recall the first time I was at her place but when the Germans were approaching them, she took me to another place, and before the liberation I was returned to the Mongirdas family. I do recall this period better. Madam Mongirdienė was a very intelligent and sincere person. She saved me in every sense. I was not only physically ill. At that time I could not digest any food: no matter what I ate, I threw it all up. Probably out of fear, because I was thrown like a ball from hand to hand so that the Germans could not catch me. Madam Mongirdienė understood me well: in the lower part of the cupboard she made a special food corner for me and I could eat whenever I wanted. This is how I calmed down and stopped vomiting. I felt free as a bird with her, I even walked barefoot in Olga Mongirdienė’s garden.
I was saved. It happened in the summer. The war was over in Lithuania.
And then one beautiful day, when I was walking with a slight limp (I had hit my toe) on the road, I saw her, very similar to my mother. I said: “I think you are my mother.”
My mother was very ill, she stayed in bed at Olga Mongirdienė’s place for a number of days, unable to stand up. She really did not know if she could find me and if I was alive.
I was rescued by many people: Frau Holzman, Natalija Pavlovna, Olga Pavlovna Dauguvietienė, Madam Mongirdienė, the Satkevičius family, and Vladas Varčikas, who developed contacts with the Satkevičius family to save me
Everyone hid me. But Sofija Binkienė hid everyone. She had vowed to to save everybody in the true sense of the word, everybody she was able to.
Seven families hid me. If it had not been for them, I would not have survived. The people who were committed to saving Jews were extraordinary. I remember them all.
I will say a few words about our further life. After the war, my mother and I moved from Kaunas to Vilnius. We lived there until 1957. In March of that year we left Lithuania for Poland and from there, eight months later, we emigrated to Israel. My mother was very ill and died early at the age of 65. I think that her experiences left their mark.
My husband, physicist Dr. Aron Lonke, died suddenly at the age of 58.
I have two children: son Josef, a mathematician, Ph.D., and daughter Avitel, who also obtained higher education. I have three grandchildren: two girls and a boy.
Since my childhood I wanted to become an actor and my dream came true in Israel. I learned Hebrew and entered the Habima National Theatre. I performed in the best theatres of Israel, set up a theatre studio in Ber-Sheva and was one of the founders of a theatre in the town of Ber-Sheva. Later I left with my family for London, was accepted into courses for directing and took part as a viewer, in the rehearsals of major theatres.
Today I still continue doing my work.

The Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum, 2009

Compiler and editor's notes
1. During the war, Natalija Pavlovna Jegorova stayed with Natalija Fugalevičiūte in the Žaliakalnis residential area in Kaunas. From the first days of German occupation in Lithuania, she was actively involved in organising the saving of Jews. In 2005, Natalija Jegorova (1899–1989), Natalija Fugalevičiūtė (1905–1985), Lidija Golubovienė–Fugalevičiūtė (1896 –1980) and Helene Holzman (1891–1968) were acknowledged as the Righteous Among the Nations.
2. During the war, Olga Mongirdienė lived in Vilkija. In 2007, Eduardas Satkevičius (1907–1972) and Olga Mongirdienė (1889–1981) was awarded a Life Saving Cross for saving Margalit Stender.

Keywords: gelbetojai
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