Rescuers of Jews

Urbanovič (Urbanowicz) Marija

Marija Urbanovič (1906-1988)

When in September 1941 in the Vilnius ghetto special certificates were issued, allegedly to protect the Jews and their families, the baker Rožanskis was told to escape, his trade was useless in the ghetto, and only qualified workers would be given certificates. It became clear then that the days of the redundant were numbered.
Before leaving for the ghetto, the Rožanskis managed to discuss with their neighbour Marija Urbanovič the possibility for their 14-year-old daughter Cilė to hide at Marija's home in the event of the impending deadly threat. Marija knew the girl very well: she was fair-haired, spoke Polish without the slightest accent, and got on very well with her dead sister's children, who were then in the care of the good woman. Cilė's parents Chasė and Dovydas Rožanskis sometimes came to Marija to see Cilė and to sleep over there.
It so happened that the family of the former Polish army officer Rimša were looking for an inexpensive housemaid. Marija seemed to have found one in the countryside. The Rimšas were satisfied with the new maid: she was hard-working and obedient, just what they wanted. They were pleased that Česia (Cilė's new name) stayed indoors and spent all the time either in the kitchen or in her little room. Withdrawn into herself, she watched what was going on around her in the home. The Rimšas did not like Jews, they talked about the slyness and wickedness of the race, and their hatred of Christians. The events of the time were divine retribution... Česia merely closed her door tighter in order not to listen to such misconceptions. Sometimes Marija came to see her. When Česia asked about her parents, Marija only sighed and, her eyes fixed on Česia's face, changed the subject.
One day Rimša came to Marija looking furious.
'Who did pani recommend as a servant? We asked you for a maid, and you sent us death. We're Catholics and we have compassion on all people, but that's not right, it's a curse on all of us, the whole street knows that Jewess. How could pani dare? Please take her back as soon as possible.'
Marija again said to Cilė: 'Don't take it to heart; we've lived and we'll live.' After dark she took her to her home and told her not to appear in anybody's presence. Early the following morning, she returned home, her eyes shining with happiness. 'Yes, there are good people. My relatives will shelter you. Only remember: you are Česia, you are not Cilė, and that's that.'
Marija's relatives really were good. And the story might have had a happy ending but for some people. One day somebody asked: 'How is that Chaika of yours? What a perfect deception! From a distance you would never be able to tell her from our girls.'
The woman's face glared in terror: she had talked with a Jewess, held her by the hand; that Jewess shouldn't be seen any more here...
Marija again hurried to her relatives out of town and again said that they had lived and would live. She had relatives even further, at a distance of a hundred kilometres from the town, where no rumours would reach and she would live a secure life. Again, good people hid Cilė and took care of her, a young lady from Vilnius.
Marija came again and took Cilė still further from Vilnius and away from the 'good' people. Everywhere she was accepted as a relative, as one of their own. But again somebody whispered that the girl was a Jewess. Then Marija would come and would take her still further, until there was nowhere to go. They reached the front line. And then unexpectedly Cilė vanished from the face of the earth. Marija thought that her ward was no longer alive. However, a letter came from Israel, in which Cilė invited Marija to her where only good people lived and where Marija could live as long as she wished... Marija sighed: how could she leave the country which was her flesh and blood, although all sorts of people lived here? She only went to Israel to see Cilė.
Thus they met for the last time in the land to which Cilė was led by the hand of the good Marija Urbanovič.

From Hands Bringing Life and Bread, Volume 3,
The Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum. Vilnius, 2005

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