Rescuers of Jews

Stakauskas Juozas

The Account of Juozas Stakauskas

I found him firing up the stove. The man was sitting on a chair and poking up the fire. The charcoal was burning, sparkling as if memories after so many years.
“Those are very old times,” said Juozas Stakauskas while stroking his grey hair, sparse from the weight of years. “I and Vladas are in our late 60s. I often think to myself: a striking movie could be made from our experiences during the Nazi occupation. The horror, the massacre of innocent people, the atrocities...
I once saw swarms of people with yellow patches on their backs walking one after another. Men, women, children. Like shadows, barely moving, pale and exhausted. They were walking and falling right there on the ground.
“Why am I not doing anything while seeing this? Why am I not helping them?” the thought had been nagging from that moment on. “I have to save at least one person from death!”
The plan to help them brewed slowly. And when occupational government offered assistants and ordered me to find the premises for the Archive, I decided that the former monastery was the most suitable place for their shelter. But I saw that I was not able to do it by myself. Vladas was for me like a white cane for the blind. I remember how I was running about for the whole week until my feet went numb to get him appointed to work in the Archive.
For some reason, people trusted him more at first; they approached him and asked for the permission to stay in the Archive in case of trouble. Perhaps, they did not trust me because I was a manager... In the meantime, I found a shelter in a village through a reliable person without telling them anything. But they could take only four people. Once, I mentioned that to two doctors who were helping us; they did not wish to hide themselves saying that there was no danger in the ghetto yet. But they found others to take their place: several families received the password from me and went to the given address. Thus they survived until the coming of the Soviet Army. One of the doctors was not familiar to me at all; the other now gives lectures at the Veterinary Academy in Kaunas. 12 people were saved through the Archive and beside them I myself took care of several more people. I accommodated a 4-year-old girl in the Central Archive’s keeper’s room. She was the daughter of the brother of the author of the letter you have received. It was hard. A child remains a child – now she wants to look through the window, now she wants to sing... Only on the last days before the liberation I took her to the hideout of her parents. Another girl was brought by an acquaintance of mine. She came wrapped in shawl to hide her black hair pretending she had a toothache. Unknown to me, another woman was brought to our group of fugitives by our helper Marija.
“Don’t be angry,” she said to me one time when I came to her. Marija told me that the despaired woman had been going to drown herself in Neris with her child. She said the woman had been brought by reliable people and asked me to let her stay.
“Of course,” I said and went to look at the newcomers. I remember the boy was very fond of drawing; I have heard he is an artist now.
The people we used to hide sometimes write letters to me: it is nice to know that they still remember.
We were afraid, naturally. My heart would freeze each time upon seeing Nazis who were daily visitors at the Archive. I remember when the head of the archives came from Riga. He was nosy and was snooping around everywhere. He stopped at the artificial partition wall and asked:
“Is this the end?”
“This belongs to the church,” I replied him in a cold sweat.
That menace passed just like all the other. The people themselves, of course, were careful. They were disciplined as we had agreed. I used to visit them at different times of the day; mostly at daytime, in the afternoon, in the evening, and once I showed up in the morning. What horrifying looks they had on their faces! Was there something wrong? I calmed them down by saying that I wanted to see how they were holding up in the morning... I would always try to comfort them in every possible way.
How did I manage to feed them? To tell you the truth I was not wealthy, the salary was not big enough. Once, one of the doctors presented me with a collar of expensive fur. I sold it and bought coal. ‘Let that collar warm you all,’ I said upon receiving the fuel. From then on, others too started giving me garments or this and that to sell. To avoid suspicion I was not selling them myself. The manager of the musical theatre helped me. He would sell the stuff and I would buy food products at my own discretion after receiving money.
“Stay with us,” the people said in one voice when I came to say goodbye. The common horror and common risk drew us close together at that time but later our ways separated. Vladas is in Vilnius, as you know, while Marija is in Poland.
I was a priest for ten years after the war and now I am old.
It is getting harder and harder to remember and I am losing the details. One can say that there is nothing left in my memory anymore. Just like the beard that I was growing during the years of the Nazi occupation,” said the old man upon parting.
The clear April sun is in the sky. The dream to see this sun was probably the strongest in the people marked with yellow patches more than twenty years ago. And some of them – although they were only a small part of the thousands of the condemned – did see it through the dedication of the others.

J. Šinkūnaitė, Tiesa, 9 April 1967

After the war J. Stakauskas was a parson in Gelvonai, Kazokiškės, and Žasliai. He wrote fifteen volumes of historical works, the manuscripts of which have survived. He died in Vilnius in 1972 and was buried in Žasliai. At his funeral, Priest Br. Bulika said: “He was taking risks at the time when others were deathly afraid of everything. He remained a real Human at a time when others turned into true rapacious wolves, when others did not see light and had lost all hope. He shared smuggled bread with people at a time when others were sharing massacred people's clothes. He hid and never said a word when others could not hold their tongues and betrayed. He had a compassionate and human heart, a human conscience – he was guided by his conscience, not by indecent laws and orders stuck on each lamp-post.“
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