Rescuers of Jews

Reinhard Kaiser

Monday, 25 September 1944, a 53 years old woman Helene Holzman, a painter, a teacher of drawing and German language, and a bookseller living in then Soviet and nowadays Lithuanian city of Kaunas begins writing down what she has experienced, suffered, seen, heard and accomplished during the past three years of her life. She writes with a pencil in a thick notebook.
Eight weeks earlier, in the end of the summer of 1944, Wehrmacht and German civil administration retreated from Kaunas. Almost eight months were left until the final capitulation of Germany. But for Lithuania and for Helene Holzman the war ended on 1 August 1944. /.../
/.../ The pages of three notebooks are marked by hand: the first one from page 1 to page 224, the second one from page 1 to page 200, the third and the thickest one from page 1 to page 216, and after a few blank pages again from page 1 to page 65 containing the story of Tolia. A total of seven hundred and five pages. /.../
In the beginning of her notes, Helene Holzman marks the date of 19 June 1941. Her story starts with the description of this day. She writes about her and her husband’s train trip from Vilnius, where they had found a new apartment and were returning to their two teenage daughters in Kaunas. The story continues with the meeting with the girls who had been staying at home alone for a several days, and the whole scene ends with a sentence: “None of us anticipated that those were the last happy hours we spent together.”
Three days later, war broke out started by Germany in the end of the summer of 1939. It overwhelmed the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic, the city of Kaunas and the Holzmans. Six days after June 19, on the day when the troops of Wehrmacht entered the city, Max Holzman and his elder daughter Marie were detained by Lithuanian “partisans” together with hundreds of other people. Max Holzman disappears. Forever. Marie is released three days later. In the beginning of August, she is arrested again – in the hospital where she, despite the warnings of her mother, used to visit German soldiers and talk to them about peace. This time, she spends twelve weeks in Kaunas prison and in the end of October 1941 is shot to death together with several hundred of other prisoners and ten thousand of Jews sorted out from the ghetto during the so called Great Action.
Helene Holzman carries on with her life. Taking huge risks. “Husband - Jew; daughter – communist,” notes an officer during the night search in her apartment. However, after a period of inner stagnation full of desperation she breaks free from her fears. Helplessness is replaced by the resolution to save her younger daughter Margarete and as many people, who are facing danger, as she can.
She is not alone. She keeps in touch with other conspirators – mostly Lithuanian, Russian and German women. Many of them had also lost their husbands during the first weeks of the German occupation. They all seek to keep in touch with the ghetto and make new connections. They encourage the residents of the ghetto to escape, and to those who dare to step into freedom blighted by death, they provide the first hideout, new documents and help finding a place far from prying eyes and enabling a more or less safer existence.
“A small group of conspirators...” writes Helene Holzman. Elena Kutorgienė, a Lithuanian oculist, also belonged to this cluster. Her son and Helene Holzman’s elder daughter Marie had been friends. During the German occupation Elena Kutorgienė was writing a diary. In it, without mentioning her name or surname, a portrait of Helene Holzman is described in the first days after the death of Marie...

31 October (1941) ...Today, I was visited by a wonderful woman of unparalleled willpower and courage. Her husband – participant of World War I (awarded a medal) – disappeared during the first days of war, when the Jews were being arrested in the streets and sent to death. Her daughter, 17, was shot in a prison these days, and her second daughter was acknowledged a half-Jew and is likely be sent to the ghetto... Mother is in constant danger, but is helping others as hard as she can. I gave her poison, so she could choose death in case she is arrested. With strength and dignity she bears the boundless grief of a mother... I admire her and bow before the grandeur of her heart...

“The book (Margarete Holzman (Hrsg.), Reinhard Kaiser
Dies Kind soll leben. Die Aufzeichnungen der Helene Holzman 1941-1944. Schöffling und Co. Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2000. Soft-cover edition: Munich: List 2001.
Translations into French 2002, Polish 2002, Chinese 2002, Lithuanian 2003, Italian 2005, Spanish 2005.

Keywords: gelbėtojai Holzman
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