Rescuers of Jews

“I was afraid of only one thing: to lose consciousness or that I would talk”

Alfonsas SONGAILA (1924–2006)

An extraordinary young man by the name of Alfonsas Songaila was living in Šleževičius’ home. In the face of danger, he helped Rachel a number of times. When the Nazis invaded our country, he was still under 19, but he had already lived a life full of hardship. In 1936 he lost his father and in 1940 his mother passed away. A big family of 12 children was left without parents. Alfonsas worked and helped the little ones as much as he could. The war caught him in Labūnava village, Užventis region. Songaila had seen a lot of affliction and hated the servants of oppressors and fascists. The atrocities committed by the Nazis seemed horrible to him, but they also inspired a strong resolution in him to save people who were facing death.
There was no communication between the ghettos. Neither there was communication between the ‘Aryan’ world and the ghettos. Songaila started with the correspondence – he would take letters to the Šiauliai Ghetto where they would be distributed to the recipients. Often he would deliver the letters to the tannery located not far from the ghetto, where Dovydas, a person from the ghetto, worked. Jagminas noticed that Songaila was visiting the Jew regularly and told the police about it. Once, the Nazis showed up while Alfonsas was sitting in the tannery. Dovydas managed to hide him under the furs. He spent one and a half hours there and almost suffocated, but the Nazis did not find him. At first Songaila would only carry letters, but soon he started saving people. He would harness a horse, travel to Šiauliai and take fugitives from the ghetto to Lithuanian farmers. It was difficult to save adults, but wresting children from the jaws of death was even harder. The smallest sound of a child could give him away, therefore they had to be sedated before taking them out of the ghetto. Once, Songaila carried a sedated baby from the ghetto in a bucket. Alfonsas took eleven people from the Šiauliai Ghetto and many more from other similar death camps.
This noble work was not only dangerous but also extremely hard. He had no home and had to live with strangers. He did not even have his own passport and would travel to Šiauliai with his brother’s document. Danger was lurking behind each corner. Once, he was taking a young Jewish man, whose name he cannot recall, to Kuršėnai via Užventis. The boy had a grenade in his hand. “I will not give in alive if we are stopped,” he said. Nobody stopped them, and although Songaila could have easily died with the young man if they were stopped, this did not deter him from continuing his work.
Songaila became a marked man. This was noticed by his neighbours as well. A dire menace threatened him – the Gestapo. Acquaintances advised him to stop visiting Šiauliai at least for some time. He replied: “I have to go. People are dying there.” It was the summer of 1944. The front line was rapidly approaching, and the Nazis were about to liquidate the Šiauliai Ghetto. Songaila loaded his carriage with hay, took a few rakes and pitchforks and went to Šiauliai. Here, he took three women who had fled from the ghetto, camouflaged them with hay and headed back. About 2 o’clock at night he was stopped by policemen not far from Šaukėnai town. Songaila and the fugitives were arrested and taken to Šaukėnai prison. On the way, Alfonsas managed to destroy the letters with addresses that might have given away many people in hiding.
In prison he was beaten, tortured and demanded to give away the hidden Jews. But Songaila did not give away anybody. In the morning, a policeman came and said: “Get a spade and let’s go.” “This is the end”, thought Songaila. He took the spade and went outside. After a while, another policeman came. Songaila still does not know who that man was, but he told him to put the spade away and go home. His horse and his carriage were confiscated. When Songaila came home barely alive, he said: “I was afraid of only one thing: to lose consciousness or that I would talk.”
Songaila was in close contact with doctor Girbudas. Often they would coordinate their actions. None of the fugitives knew Songaila’s surname. They would call him Alfa. Among those saved by him, was Rachel Kacav, three Pelcaitė sisters, three Kacaitė sisters, brothers and sisters Chalozinas, Michailas Gutmanas and his wife, Frumanas and his wife, Ita Šneidaitė and others. This fearless young man wrested more than 40 people from the claws of the Nazi animals. The number is so easy to say now – “more than 40”. But saving each of those people required heroism and dedication. Those were the features of Alfonsas Songaila.

“Unarmed Fighters”, editor S. Binkienė, Vilnius, 1967
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