Rescuers of Jews

Želvys Juozapas

Antanas BOGUSLAUSKAS Juozapas ŽELVYS The New Year and Christmas are family holidays. It is a time for get-togethers with relatives and for giving presents. These days, however, are not the most joyful for Dovydas Leibzonas. His parents are dead, and his only sister, Ada Leibzonaitė-Kantorovič, lives in Israel. But in his life he has managed to meet people whom he calls his nearest and dearest. Dovydas’ mother wrote about them: “We bow down before them. They are more saintly than the saints. God save them...” Before the war the Leibzonas family lived in Kaunas. Mina Leibzonienė had graduated from the Jewish secondary school in Marijampolė and studied in Belgium. Her husband Efraimas had studied chemistry at the University of Vienna. They lived and worked like any other people, and had two children. When Kaunas was occupied by the Germans, the whole family was sent to the ghetto, where they lived in a flat with four more families. Under the floor the men dug out a sort of wide cellar, 60 centimetres deep. It was not spacious enough; therefore, both grown-ups and children continued to deepen it at night. The dug-out soil was carried out into the garden. In 1943 the rumour spread about the preparations for the Children’s Action. The Leibzonas had neither great hopes nor illusions; nevertheless, they searched for ways of hiding the children. Before the war Mina Leibzonienė had taught literature, and at the same school the Lithuanian Zofija Simokaitienė had taught the children domestic science. When the column of ghetto prisoners was taken to work, Mina succeeded in breaking away and went to the home of the Simokaitis, who agreed to shelter her, Ada and Dovydas. To stay in Kaunas was too dangerous, and the decision was made to send both children to Zofija’s parents who had a farm in Žemalė, in Žemaitija. The boy was to be taken by Simokaitienė’s brother, a student, Antanas Boguslauskas, while the girl was to go in another railway carriage. Ada was sent to Juozas Simokaitis’ sister, Petrutė Zasinauskienė, who had a five-month-old daughter, and Ada became her nurse. It so happened that with the front line approaching, the Germans set up their headquarters in Zasinauskas’ home. It was too difficult to live in permanent fear, and the Zasinauskas, together with Ada, hid in the woods and returned when the front line had been pushed further on. Efraimas remained in the ghetto. He worked at the aerodrome and as a painter at the Silva factory. Before the liquidation of the ghetto he went to his old wooden house, in the lumber-room of which he could hide his overalls. By the time he had crossed the bridge over the Neris it was noticed that several workers had disappeared from the factory, and the guard was strengthened. “If you are fated to live, you even get across a bridge on time,” he later commented. But how is it possible to explain what happened to Mina? Fate? A miracle? From a distance she watched Antanas lifting Dovydas into the carriage and getting on himself. Thus reassured, she too got on to the train. She had no ticket and was soon found out. Nevertheless, she made a dash for it and jumped off the moving train. She got up and went on on foot after the train and her son. When Antanas asked about the noise, he was told that a woman had jumped out of the train. Fearing that it was Mina, he and Dovydas got off at the next station. The two of them went back along the line and met Mina, and they all arrived safely at their destination. Not every man could have endured the hardships which Mina had to experience, but the mother’s love and readiness to sacrifice herself achieved the impossible. Efraimas also got to the Simokaitis. He was hidden by Father Juozas Želvys of St Anthony’s Church. The priest kept Efraimas for as long as Mina Leibzonienė and Dovydas lived on the Boguslauskas’ farm in Žemaitija. After the war it so happened that nearly all of the heroes of this story met in Kaunas (except Antanas Boguslauskas, the father of Zofija Simokaitienė, and her brother Antanas). A picture was taken in which we can see (from left) Efraimas Leibzonas, his daughter Ada, his wife Mina, old Zofija Boguslauskienė (in the centre), Dovydas Leibzonas, Zofija Simokaitienė, Juozas Simokaitis and little Antanukas. The fates of the rescuers were varied, and fortune did not always smile on them. Father Želvys, having provided many Jews with fictitious documents, was found out by the Gestapo. Efraimas Leibzonas recounted how they succeeded in ransoming him in the literal meaning of the word. The family of Juozas Simokaitis’ sister, who had rescued Ada Leibzonaitė, were exiled to Igarka, and returned to Lithuania only in 1958. Zofija Simokaitienė’s father, Antanas Boguslauskas, on whose farm Mina Leibzonienė and Dovydas had hidden, was arrested soon after the war and died in a concentration camp. The Leibzonas family met many honest and selfless people during the war. On the other hand, it is no secret that there were people of a different sort as well. “Unfortunately there were such ones,” said Efraimas Leibzonas. He remembered how once he was looking for a pram. He found out that an acquaintance of his had one. He was taken into the lumber-room so that he could choose from several prams. Efraimas was stunned to learn that all the prams had been taken from the ghetto. Decades passed, and many of the rescuers and the rescued passed away. On 23 September 2003, President Rolandas Paksas decorated the rescuers with the Life Saviour’s Cross. The younger Antanas Boguslauskas’ award was presented to his daughter, since he was ill at the time. A month later, however, Dovydas, who now lives in Vilnius, was amazed to see Antanas Boguslauskas on the doorstep of his flat with a big basket in his hands. He had brought apples, pears and quince from his garden, and country sausage. An old man, greatly advanced in years, he had come by train from Trakų Vokė to Vilnius, then by trolleybus to Kalvarijų gatvė, and to Dovydas’ flat on the fourth floor... The human heart can be great and generous. From Hands Bringing Life and Bread, Volume 3,
The Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum. Vilnius, 2005
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