Rescuers of Jews

Saunoris Jonas

Jocheved Čartokaitė–Inčiūrienė’s Testimony

I was born on 10 February 1924 in Kaunas in a family of future teachers. I went to a Jewish Gymnasium in Maironis Street where the school subjects were taught in Lithuanian. We lived in Flat 5 of Laisvės Avenue 22, a house located in the backyard of the Capitol Cinema. After the soviet invasion in 1940, our school was merged with the Jesuit Gymnasium and it was called Secondary School No 9. I joined its class 10b.
When the Germans occupied Kaunas on 23 June 1941, my mother, sister, and I decided to flee from the Germans to Russia. We took the road to Daugavpils. However, when we reached Belvedere on the third day of our walk Wehrmacht forces caught up with us and then left us behind. My mother was unaccustomed to such hikes and her feet were badly hurt. She could walk no further. We knocked on the first random farm door on our way and asked for shelter. We were heartily received. The hostess dined and slept us and treated my mother's feet with lard and other ointments. A couple of days later my mother could walk again and without any further ado we headed back for Kaunas. We safely reached the house of my grandparents at Laisvės Avenue 45. Our own apartment at Laisvės Avenue 22a-5 had already been occupied by Wehrmacht soldiers.
All nationalized houses were returned to their owners. However, Jews did not get anything back and they were all fired from their jobs.
Under the command of Kaunas military superintendent Bobelis all Jews had to be moved to a newly established ghetto in Vilijampolė. The relocation was organized by my mother's father Moisiejus Ceitelis. The documents of the military commander's office filed with Kaunas County archives say that M. Ceitelis and his family were provided with 1 (one) room in Block B in Varnių Street. Our six-person family was given a 16m2 room. My father Mauša Čartokas and mother Menucha, my sister Ajelet (who studied at V. Kudirka primary school), my maternal grandfather Moisiejus Ceitelis and grandmother Chana, and myself (Jocheved) were sharing this room. In the ghetto the Jews had approximately 1.7 m2 of living space each.
On 15 August armed guards were placed at the ghetto gates. The guards were policemen called baltaraiščiai who were dressed in the uniforms of Lithuanian army. Gestapo soldiers were also guarding the gates.
On the third day after the gate was closed, the organised terror against the Jews started. 534 male intellectuals were taken to Fort 4 where they were shot. The next day brought the beginning of organized extortions. For instance, Captain (Hauptsturmfurer) Alfred Tornbaum entered our room with a pistol in his hand and ordered a Jewish carrier to gather all our winter clothes and father's suits and to take them to a truck in the yard. When I tried to take my father's wages and holiday pay from the pocket of his coat, Tornbaum threatened me with his gun and instructed to put everything back. I started arguing that we will have no money for food. He gave me a burning glance and told me that if I came to work for him we would all have enough food and clothing. I answered that I would sooner starve to death than work for him. My parents and grandparents winced and waited for what was going to happen next. But nothing happened. He left and went to rob other apartments. I was watching through the window our possessions being carried when I heard Tornbaum screaming “spring mal Jude”. An elderly Jew was carrying our things to the truck. He stopped and started jumping from one leg onto the other (in Yiddish springen means jump). Tornbaum pointed his pistol at him and shot him there and then.
Every morning except Sundays all the Jews who were able to work had to gather in the square next to the main ghetto gate (on the crossing of Kriščiukaičio, Linkuvos, and Ariogalos Streets) where they were distributed for works. They formed brigades to perform different kinds of tasks.
We were driven in columns to Aleksotas Bridge for works at the aerodrome. Here the columns would fall apart since the bridge across the River Nemunas had been blown up and only a narrow wooden footbridge connected its ends. Therefore we had to cross the bridge in single file whilst other Kaunas citizens were walking alongside. After crossing the bridge they would arrange us back into the columns. The same would happen on the way back. I had my identification sign, the yellow Star of David meant to be sewn on our breasts and backs, fixed on the corners of my scarf. Thus I had no identification signs when I would take the scarf off.
Here I would like to acknowledge several families who provided me with refuge (there were more than 10 during the hiding period).
The most convenient way for me to escape was on my walk back from the aerodrome. After crossing the bridge I would hide the scarf in my pocket and blend into the crowd of local citizens walking along the pavement to the House of Perkūnas where I would hide in the yard of the Jesuit Gymnasium.
In academic year 1940-1941 we became friends with a Secondary School No 9 student Jonas Adomavičius. He and his sister Liudmila were orphans and lived with their grandmother in the attic of a wooden house in Šiaulių Street. After graduating from secondary school in 1941 Jonas worked as an accountant while Liudmila continued her studies. Once after work I waited for him near his house and asked if I could sleep at his place. Without a second thought he took me to his attic. It was a bedsitter. They were very poor and they were only eating the food they would buy against food vouchers. While I was quartered at their place the bread received against the vouchers for three persons would be divided into four equal portions. The taste of that bread will stay with me forever. I would never stay at their house for longer than a day at a time.
Jonas and his sister empathised with my tragic state of affairs. However they were unable to maintain me but they found a hiding place in the yard. When the Adomavičius family was visited by a familiar landlord from Kėdainiai County they told him about me and asked him to take me to his estate.
As agreed, Jonas Saunoris came to the Adomavičius on January 15, 1942. They dressed me in thick sheepskin coat, laid me in the sledge, covered with a big pile of straws, and took me away.
In spring Jonas Adomavičius came from Kaunas to visit me. He wanted to make sure that I was treated well. Jonas Adomavičius took care of me like an elder brother and felt responsible for my safety.
After the war Jonas Adomavičius graduated the conservatoire and played in the Lithuanian Philharmonic Orchestra. Later he worked in its administration. He died in Vilnius in 1986. His sister Liudmila stayed in Kaunas. I used to be in regular contact with her and to support her financially. I helped her get a job in my workplace.
After Jonas moved to Vilnius, we hardly kept in touch. After his death his daughter used to come and visit me. She would stay for 2-3 days. Unfortunately she had a mental disorder and was undergoing regular treatments in a neuropsychiatric hospital.
Once on a street I met a student of Jesuit Gymnasium Feliksas Molskis. He came up and started talking to me. He was asking about his fellow students who had been sent to the ghetto and invited me to come and visit him. We went to his room and he brought me some food from the kitchen. He lived with his parents and a sister. His sister Genė entered the room and immediately understood the situation. She took me to her room and let me sleep in her bed. In the morning she gave me a full package of food and I returned to my work brigade.
I used to feel rather ill at ease as I could not enjoy cleanliness after a day's work in the barracks. Their father Molskis worked as a cook in Metropolis Restaurant and he would only get home late at night. I did not even get to see him the first time I stayed at their house.
They were very sympathetic toward me and their mother would always see me off in tears. They lived in a two-storey house in Italijos Street and were terrified of being informed on by their neighbours. The danger was really immense as posters all over the city said that anyone would face a death penalty for hiding Jews.
Before seeing me off, Mrs. Molskienė would go out onto the staircase to check whether their neighbour, who had sent many Jews to the forts, was not there. She was afraid that if I was spotted leaving their flat both the family and me would come to a bad end. Only when I got married and had children of my own did I understand how scared and how concerned she was about her children.
Although she had never told me to refrain from coming. I tried to avoid frequent visits. Her tears in the doorway when I used to leave the house will always remind me of her virtue, kindness as well as a mother's anxiety about her children's lives.
Feliksas' parents are already both gone. Genutė Molskytė-Nėniuvienė died in 1996. Architect Feliksas moved to the United States and died there in 1966.
I received a lot of help from Ona Mažeikienė. She was renting an apartment in the same house where we had lived before the Nazi occupation ( Flat 1 Laisvės Av. 22). Once at Aleksotas Bridge I failed to blend myself into the column of Jews returning from the aerodrome and had no choice but to look for a place to sleep. The temperature was about –20. I went to the yard of my former house and saw Elena Bagdonavičienė, who lived there. She talked to me and asked about my parents and sister. I could feel her sympathy and thus I gathered my courage to ask her for a shelter. I was told that her husband was working for the police and if he returned drunk he would kill us both. But she suggested trying Flat No 1 where a very kind woman, Mrs. Mažeikienė, lived. Bagdonavičienė believed that Mažeikienė would definitely help me.
I knocked on the Flat 1 door and invented a story of coming from a village located near Vilkaviškis in search for a job but having arrived so late I had nowhere to stay. Mrs. Ona Mažeikienė invited me in and let me stay for the night. In the morning she told me that she had understood at once that I was no villager but a Jewish girl looking for a hiding place. She gave me a substantial breakfast and told me on my way out: “Should you ever find that you have no place to go, you're welcome here, my child”.
I stayed there some four times. She was greatly concerned about her little daughter she had left with her friend at Grinkiškis just before the German occupation. That friend had fled to the West and had taken the girl with her.
Her husband Vladas was a very quiet man who was also very sympathetic toward me. He used to spirit me up and kept telling that I should never lose hope.
In spring 1942, Jurgis Inčiūra (my future husband) was going to Kaunas and I asked him to give my best wishes to Mrs. Mažeikienė and to tell her I was safe and sound. She was very glad to hear that and offered to introduce Jurgis to a man from the ghetto.
Inčiūra met the man who turned out to be my English teacher Šulgaser, the inspector of our Jewish Gymnasium. My father had been teaching mathematics there and Mr. Šulgaser knew him very well. Inčiūra asked him to tell my parents that I was alive. He used his own discretion to ask for some of my clothes. Several days later Mr. Šulgaser left a package with some of my undergarments and a skirt with Mrs. Mažeikienė. There were no other clothes left but it was a real asset to me as I had nothing but the clothes I had been wearing when I had left for work.
In spring 1944, Ona Mažeikienė helped J. Inčiūra to contact Šulgaser again. He intended to hide all my family in Kiauneliškis. But my father was the only one to be still in the ghetto as my mother and my sister had been taken to a concentration camp in Klooga, Estonia. My grandparents had been killed in the IXth Fort in Kaunas. According to Šulgaser, my father refused to go into hiding. He died in 1944 upon the liquidation of the ghetto.
Ona Mažeikienė was a shapely woman, a good seamstress and a modiste. She wasn't highly educated but was a lot more brainy and hearty than most highbrow women. Her husband Vladas Mažeika was a vet and they had a four-year-old son Vytautas. After the war Vladas Mažeika worked at the Veterinary Academy in Kaunas. Both Ona Mažeikienė and Vladas Mažeika have passed away. Their son Vytautas lived in Vilnius but we do not know each other.
This is how I managed to escape the destiny of my nearest and dearest.
The family of Elijošaitis and Jonas Saunoris have been awarded Yad Vashem medals Righteous among the Nations; the families of Elijošaitis, Adomavičius and Molskis have received the Life Saving Crosses. But on my mind journeys to the past I ever more recall the names of those who were among the first to offer me help and support in Kaunas. I did not approach them for help. They were the ones to offer it. Jonas Adomavičius – maybe because he was my fellow student and we were friends before the war broke out; Feliksas Molskis – because he was a friend of a Jewish schoolmate. Not to mention the entire families of Molskis and Mažeika – who was I and what was I to them? Thanks to those people I survived the horrors of the first half-year of the war in Kaunas when the Jews were forced into the ghetto while anyone helping a Jew could have been shot. But they did help me.
At that time I took it as a continuation of friendship and acquaintance. I was probably too young to fully understand their deeds. I can hardly decide on the motives for their behaviour: maybe they were just friendly, or they simply acted as people who were not fully aware of the dangers but hated injustice – anyway, whatever the reason They did it.

September 15, 2005

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