Rescuers of Jews

Vasiliauskienė Veronika

Chaja Roza Šeraitė-Goldinštein

Roza was only eleven when the war broke out and the Germans invaded Lithuania. On the third day of the war, pogroms began in Varniai. The Nazis would break into the houses of the Jews and plunder their property. The girl saw how the Fascists cut an old man's belly... A doctor who tried to defend girls from being raped was killed on the spot. All the Jews of Varniai were driven to the village of Viešvėnai. Once twenty-three young men were selected, driven behind a fence, and shot. Roza's father was among them...
On the following day the Fascists killed the remaining men, old men and boys, and the women were driven to a concentration camp in Geruliai. There were already women and children there from other places of Žemaitija - Luoke, Salantai, Tverai, Tirkšliai and Laukuva.
In August of 1941, the Geruliai concentration camp was liquidated. All the inmates, about 10 thousand women and children, were led away and divided into two groups. The stronger ones were told they were being transferred to Telšiai, while the others would be taken 'for a walk'. The majority realised where it was - where deep ditches were gaping... As if foreboding it, Roza ran to the first group; her mother and little brother remained in the second one.
'When our column was moving towards Telšiai, we heard the blaze of machine-guns and heart-breaking screams. We understood that those who were 'taken for a walk' were being slaughtered. My mother and brother were among them...' This, Roza remembers.
Nobody gave them any food in the Telšiai ghetto. In the fence enclosing the ghetto, they found a weak plank. They would lift it and crawl 'to freedom', usually at dawn when the guards at the gate were dozing. The unfortunate would go to villages asking for work, so that they could earn at least a bite of something to eat. The people of Žemaitija sympathised with the victims of the Fascists. Some would give a splash of milk, others some bread.
Then the winter of 1941 came. On Christmas Eve Roza knocked on the door of an unknown farmer. They let her in and fed her, and the farmer said, 'Quickly run back to your people and tell them that the pits have already been dug for you. Pits! Do you understand?' As if she didn't understand... Roza ran back to the ghetto as fast as her legs could carry her. People already knew about it there. Kind-hearted Lithuanians had warned them.
And again she carefully lifted the weakest plank, and ran where her eyes took her. She reached the grove of Rainiai and fell under a fir tree, exhausted. She was shivering but not as much of cold as of the screams coming from the direction where the inmates of the Telšiai Ghetto were being slaughtered. Realising she would freeze to death that evening, Roza crawled from under the fir tree and knocked on the door of the nearest farm. 'Vacys, look, a Jewish girl has emerged from the pit!' roared the man who appeared on the porch, 'Pass me the gun, and quick!'
She ran again, stumbled, fell down and ran again. She reached a cowshed, got inside and burrowed in the hay. It was warm and cosy there, and she fell asleep next to a calf. The master of the farm found her there early in the morning. He took her to the kitchen and offered her hot potatoes. Then he showed her the way to the barn where six Jews were lying on a stack of flax. Roza stayed with them for a week. Then the master said, 'I cannot keep all of you; it's dangerous and I haven't got enough food. Let the woman with two children remain, and the others - go...'
The girl went from farm to farm. Some would feed her, while others, fearing the revenge of the invaders, would slam the door in her face. She has experienced a lot. At last she decided to go back to Varniai where her grandfather, a fisherman, had lived, and where people knew him well. Maybe somebody would pity her there.
On the way she stopped at the Juozas Mikutis' place, whose cottage stood beside the road. His wife bathed her, changed her clothes and fed her.
During the daytime they would keep her in a wardrobe, and only at night could she come outside for a breath of fresh air. Roza realised that although she was feeling well at the Mikutis', it was not safe there. She left them. In Karkliškiai village, the fisherman Vladas Vasiliauskas put her up. He used to know her grandfather well. His sister Stase and grandfather Jonas pitied the orphan and hid her from strangers' eyes for almost a year. If a stranger came, Roza would run to a nearby grove and stay there until the master called her. When it was no longer safe to stay there, the Vasiliauskas passed her to Danielius Radavičius and Juzefa Radavičienė in Govija village.
Once, however, she fell into the hands of the police. She was thrown into the basement of the Varniai police. She did not even cry, just curled up in a ball and looked into the distance with indifferent eyes. Petras Mėčius, the police commandant, found her like that. He made her stand up, shook her, and said, 'Tomorrow you will be taken out of Varniai, as if to be shot. Don't be afraid. Nobody will shoot at you. You only have to run! And remember, it was me, Petras Mėčius, who ordered it so! Petras Mėčius, will you remember?'
That was what happened. At dawn she was taken away; somebody shot, and she started running...
(...)During the war the peasants would not open their hearts to many; the parish priest of Varniai Juozapas Gasiūnas was the one to whom they did. The parish women would tell him which families were hiding Jews, and when they were in danger, he would advise on where to move the unfortunate people. For almost a year, Roza hid in the priest's house. The steward, Konstancija, was especially good to her.
In 1986, the parish priest Gasiūnas celebrated his 80th birthday and the 50th anniversary of his priesthood. Among his guests, there were also seven Jews whom he rescued during the war.
'When I was preparing my well-wishing words to the jubilee hero, I was thinking that at last there was an occasion to say many beautiful words to him in public. There was so much gratitude in my heart,' says Roza Šeraitė. 'At the last moment I realised that words could hardly convey gratitude. I gave him a bunch of flowers and, on my knees, just said, 'My saviour!'
With gratitude Roza remembers her other rescuers: Genė Pupšytė (at present Laurinavičienė, she lives in Kaunas), and Elžbieta Dužinskaite (Servienė) from the town of Pavandenė. The people who hid Roza showed genuine mercy and heroism. Anyone who hid a Jew could be shot dead and invite disaster on the whole family.
'I remember Juzefa Radavičienė, Vladas Vasiliauskas, Veronika Vasiliauskienė and Stanislava Vasiliauskaitė very well. They are like family to me now,' says Roza.

Recorded by Abraham Brio.

Vilnius, 2001

From With a Needle in the Heart. Memoirs of Former Prisoners of Ghettos and Concentration Camps. Genocide and Resistance Research centre of Lithuania. Vilnius. 2003

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