Rescuers of Jews

Vitkauskas Arėjas


The Vitkauskai is a pleiad of beautiful people. The large blue eyes of Julija Vitkauskienė were joyfully looking at the newly born Rinutė, the daughter of their neighbour doctor, Maksas Gildė, and his wife, Eida.
When the war started, the family of Gildės returned to Žaliakalnis after an unsuccessful attempt to escape from German-occupied Kaunas. Later, when all Jews were driven to the ghetto, Julija apprehensively waited for news from her friends. In 1942 she managed to contact the Gildės. With a group of workers Maksas would come from the ghetto to the printing house, where Julija would give him some food and milk for the little girl. When the rumors spread that the children would be killed, Eida came running to the printing house, begging Julija to save at least Rinutė. Julija, who herself was struggling, agreed, while her son who had the same beautiful blue eyes said, “What is life for if it is not to help other people.”
They could not say 'no' when the old typesetter Joselevičius appeared in the printing house. Through his friend Julija Vitkauskienė he contacted the Lukauskas family (Elena and Mikas), who agreed to hide the two children Chana and Pesachas, where they were kept from April 1944 to the middle of 1945.
However, neither Maksas nor Eida came back. Little Rinutė was surrounded by the love and care of “mummy Julė” and “brother Arėjas.” Later Maksas' friend, a doctor, appeared, and he convinced Julija that the girl would be better off in a family of “people with status.” The separation with Rinutė was painful for Julija, but one would sacrifice anything for the sake of a child! It was agreed that Vitkauskienė would visit the girl on weekends, but later, in order not to disturb the girl, Julija was requested to discontinue even these meetings. Arėjas was arrested in 1948. And what for – his songs, his poems, his paintings? Most likely, for those beautiful eyes of his...
For many years Julija, burdened by her misfortunes, would secretly go and look from round the comer at Rinutė walking to school, later – to lectures at the Medical Institute. At the same time, dreadful Gulag days were passing in distant Siberia – the negative experience of eight years marked the rest of Arėjas' life and work with sadness. Horrid impressions of wartime intertwine with the outcomes of the Stalinist machine of human extermination, turning into a single, generalized image of suffering man:

Thousands driven to slavery
Along blossoming land,
There was the last path,
Do you remember me?

The fog envelops the native field,
A crowd of the killed.
Dewdrops swaying on marguerites,
Do you remember me?

In 1966 Julija and Arėjas received the news that they were awarded the titles of the Righteous Among the Nations. They were the first Righteous in Lithuania – the number of their certificate is 184. At that time there were cases when people refused this honorable title. After saving the doomed and putting their lives at risk in wartime, in the late sixties some people could not make up their minds whether to take the symbolic step, which could ruin their careers or their children's future. The Vitkauskai displayed their civic courage again – they agreed to accept the award. However, they could not get either the medal or the certificate of honour – was it possible in those days to go to the capitalist, Zionist Israel, which was charged in the Soviet press, to receive an award from that country when it was forbidden to visit one's own brother or sister? Arėjas Vitkauskas' son, Linas, and daughter, Ramunė, both with shining blue eyes like those of their father and their grandmother Julija, are able to get the Yad Vashem medal today.

From Hands Bringing Life and Bread, Volume 2,
The Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum. Vilnius, 1999
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