Rescuers of Jews

Varnauskienė Bronislava

“Come outside, You are free!” Sara Lamdanskienė’s letter on the 4 October 1990, to the Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum, is preserved in the museum’s Department of Righteous Gentiles. The letter is named The Noble Bakša family saved my daughter Lamdanskytė Roza from death. Roza Lamdanskytė-Riaikkenen, the girl saved by Kazimieras Bakša and Marija Bakšienė, sent her testimony on 7 March 2006, to the museum from Australia. Roza called her recollections Come outside, you are free. Excerpts from the recollections of both the mother and daughter are used for this publication. Sara Lamdanskienė: After the war started, my husband Lamdanskis Pinchus, an engineer, withdrew to the Soviet Union, and I remained in Kaunas with his parents and our 3 year-old daughter Roza. During the first days of occupation the Germans arrested my husband’s parents. His father was shot, but his mother returned from prison, and all the three of us were confined to the Kaunas ghetto. We escaped the Great Action (autumn 1941) because we were released from the Ninth Fort by a German officer. All three of us returned to our little room on Linkuvos street in the Kaunas ghetto. Afterwards, the Germans kicked us out and sent us into the barracks on Demokratų Street. I would go with the ghetto brigade to work. There I would exchange our last piece of clothing for a small piece of bread, so I could support the aging mother-in-law and a small child. During the Children Action (27 March 1944) my husband’s mother was taken and killed. I managed to save my child. The men living in the barracks found out about the Children Action in the Šiauliai ghetto, and prepared a hiding place in the attic of the barracks. All the children of the barracks were brought in bags to the hiding place, among them my little daughter. The Germans surrounded the barracks; however they could not find the entrance to the attic and left. This was how the children in the hiding place remained alive for the time being. Before the war, I had a friend, Varnauskienė Bronė (Gasparonytė) from the village of Žaideliai, not far from Kupiškis. She found us in ghetto and helped in any way she could. Having found out about the Children Action that had taken place in ghetto, she was ready to save Rožytė (Roza’s name in Lithuanian). Her husband Varnauskas Kazys, a former political prisoner, agreed. They looked for trustworthy people, who would agree to take and hide the child. And they found such people - the Bakša family, from whom they had once rented a flat. The Bakša family lived in the Vilijampolė district of Kaunas, on Raudondvario street, not far from the “Silva” factory, where I worked the night shift. Accompanied by a German, I went to their place and agreed to bring the child. The next day at dusk, I pushed Rožytė through the barbed-wire fence of the ghetto, got out myself, and we ran as fast as we could to Rožytė’s new home. Our luck, there was an air raid siren just then, and people ran to their houses and no one paid attention at us. Then we knocked on the Bakša family’s door, and they were already waiting for us. The hosts of the house, Bakša Kazimieras and Bakšienė Marytė, met us with an air of calm, friendliness, even joy, like a sister and brother, like the child’s real parents. Risking their lives, they took my little girl into their care, protected her from prying eyes and looked after her, as they would look after their own daughter. There were more people living in the courtyard, and the police had established themselves on that street. Kazimieras had dug a hiding place in their house under the stove, so they could hide Rožytė during times of danger. Roza Lamdanskytė-Riaikkenen: I remember that hole well. The hole was under the stove in the middle of the house. They took off the piece of tin under the stove and dug a small hole – just enough to put a child there. The earth that had been dug up had to be taken out behind the house at night and scattered about. I would not sit there for long, just until the danger had passed; I remember how afraid of the dark I was. I also hid in that hole when the German soldiers or Lithuanian police came to search the house. Kazimieras, whom I called Tėvelis (Daddy), told me not to cry or move under the fireplace. I was not let out in the courtyard to breathe fresh air, it would have been too dangerous. I could only go out on the veranda, the windows of which Tėvelis covered with paper, so no one could see who was inside. Later when I got used to my new life and cheered up, Tėvelis found a textbook and started teaching me to read. Kazimieras Bakša and Marija Bakšienė agreed to take my mother also. Sometimes they would leave the cellar in the courtyard open so mother could hide there. However, my mother did not want to cause danger to me, her daughter, and her rescuers, which is why she refused to hide together with me and went the way of her fate, which led her to the Stutthof concentration camp on the border of Poland and Germany. Marija Bakšienė, Mamytė (Mommy) as I called her, often travelled to remote villages to exchange things for food. Otherwise the family would have died of hunger. Each time when she would go, she would bring a little bit of honey, just for the child, and bread and eggs, and flour, and grain for everyone. After each long journey by foot (she did not have any form of transport), she would be bent over from the heavy bag on her back. She could not straighten her back for a long time, and I would ask her: “Why are you walking so ugly, Mamytė?” The “Silva” factory was situated too close to the Bakša’s home, and Kazimieras and Marija were afraid that they could be bombarded. So they decided to take me to their friends, or perhaps they were relatives. Unfortunately, I do not know where and for how long we moved before the Germans withdrew. It seems to me, that it was for a few weeks. Mamytė had black hair like me, and she hoped that their family would not be suspicious to the police, or simply to curious people. She taught me how to talk and how to answer to other people’s questions. It was a risky journey. Mamytė and Tėvelis had to talk to people, though they wanted to avoid any kind of communication at all costs. Of course, there were people who suspected who that little girl Rožytė was, but they stayed silent. We returned to our home, and after one more night of fear (what will the Germans do before leaving the city, will they bomb us?) the Soviet army moved into Kaunas. One morning, while I was still sleeping, Tėvelis came in and woke me up: “Come outside, you’re free!” I jumped out of bed and ran through the courtyard into the street. Endless columns of soldiers marched through the street. They were Russian soldiers, gray from fatigue, with gray, faded uniforms. This was my image of freedom! Sara Lamdanskienė: when the Bakša family found out that people were returning from the Soviet Union, they looked for Lamdanskis, the little girl’s father. Looking for him, Kazimieras Bakša, by chance, met an engineer named Brūnas, a friend of Lamdanskis, on Laisvės avenue. Brūnas sent a telegram to my husband, telling him that his daughter was alive and living in Kaunas. Lamdanskis at once came and took his daughter to Vilnius where he settled at that time. He said to me afterwards that when he had come the little girl hid under the bed and cried her eyes out because she didn’t want to leave her ‘parent rescuers’. At the time I was still in Germany, at the Stutthof concentration camp, to where the Germans kicked out the Jews still alive from the Kaunas ghetto. Roza Lamdanskytė-Riaikkenen: I remember, right before New Year’s Eve, 1945, or even on New Year’s Eve, my father and I went in an open car to Vilnius. We were living there until the end of the war, when, after difficult trials and tribulations in the concentration camp, my mom returned from Germany. Sara Lamdanskienė: When Rožytė’s first granddaughter was born, her daughter named her after Mamytė’s name, Marija. Mamytė’s picture (with a puppy) hung above her little bed. Mamytė lived until she was 90. Rožytė came from Moscow, and we prepared a beautiful jubilee celebration for her. She was very satisfied, and happy. She died two months later. Tėvelis had died earlier. We also kept in close contact with the Varnauskas family during the entire post-war period. They lived in Kaunas, in the Botanical Garden, where Varnauskas worked all the time. They are not among the living anymore. The Varnauskas family’s daughter, Audronė Šarakauskienė, lives in Vilnius. She graduated from Vilnius University and works in Vilnius. Roza Lamdanskytė-Riaikkenen: I will never forget my second mother Marija Bakšienė. She was very close to me and was my first teacher of love and spirituality. Mamytė, who took concern that everyone would live: people, cats, and birds – each one getting food from her hand and awaiting help from her. Mamytė worked hard for her whole life. She studied maybe just a few years in a rural primary school, but her wisdom always amazed me. “It’ll be ok” was a typical saying of hers. And you believed in her words, because you felt that real life experience came from her lips. My daughter Margarita and four grandchildren (Maria, Igor-Paul, Richard and Eliza) live in Australia now. The life and deeds of my rescuers became an example for them to follow. From the 4th book Hands Bringing Life and Bread The Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum
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