Rescued Jewish Children

Bluma Alkanovich

A History Never Discussed
Bluma Alkanovich

From: Smuggled in Potato Sacks
Fifty Stories of the Hidden Children of the Kaunas Ghetto

Solomon Abramovich and Yakov Zilberg

After so many years I still cannot help but cry when I speak about my family. I was born in 1934, the eldest daughter of Mendel Alkanovich, and Rise Alkanovich-Melamed. The vast Melamed family was well known in my mother’s small provincial hometown of Vevis. All of them perished during the Nazi occupation.
My younger sister Frida was born at some time between 1937 and 1939. My father worked as a clerk in a big Jewish firm and my mother was a housekeeper. When the Germans invaded Lithuania my mother urged my father to escape, but he hesitated. He did not believe that any harm would come to us at the hands of such a civilized nation as the Germans. So they stayed: my father was arrested immediately by the Lithuanians and sent to dig trenches in Kaunas. Mother used to bring him meals everyday. One day she came as usual, but no one was there. She learnt later that all the Jewish workers from this group had been shot by the Lithuanians at the Seventh Fort.
Once in the ghetto, my mother found herself alone, with two daughters to care for. At the beginning we lived with a couple with two children in the ‘Small Ghetto’. After this was closed, we went to live in a wooden house with the Beiders and their three sons, Chaim, Olef (Alek) and David.
I can clearly remember the horrific ‘Great Action’. It was cold, tiring and so frightening! Our family and our neighbours were all sent to the right side. That, as it appeared later, meant that we were sentenced to death. Cvania Beider, the husband of my mother’s sister Mina, held a position in the Judenrat. He noticed that we were included in this ‘selection’ and managed to transfer us to the left side.
I know that we did not starve. Our resourceful mother worked outside the ghetto and always managed to obtain enough food for us.
During the ‘Children’s Action’ my mother, Frida and I, together with Mina and Olef, hid in the wooden attic. At first we were not discovered by the Germans, although they did search in the attics. We kept very silent behind a load of garbage. But at the second round-up they came with vicious dogs, which discovered us immediately. We were all dragged from our hiding place and led by armed policemen to the van that picked up children and the elderly. For some reason – perhaps the policemen thought that Olef and I were big enough to work – they let all us go back to our home. But not so my sister Frida, who was taken away for ever.
As far as I know, all the Beiders perished in the ghetto or in the concentration camps. I searched intensively to find a trace of them among survivors, but to no avail.
Having lost Frida, my mother would not leave me alone in the ghetto, and took me with her to the factory called ‘Incaras’, where I started to work as well. Without telling me, my mother found a Lithuanian woman who agreed to look for a hiding place for me. People told me later that she was actually a Jewish woman who had converted to Catholicism. This woman led many Jews across the river to hide in a bunker in the woods near Kaunas.
I was hidden in a sack among empty baskets on a cart that was bound for Kaunas to fetch bread for the ghetto. I was smuggled through the fence, transferred to another cart carrying straw and brought to a woman who, I am almost sure, was called Steffa. She took me by steam boat to Kulautuva or Birshtonas.
I was blonde, and with my looks, no one would suspect that I was Jewish. I was placed on the second floor of a country holiday home, a dacha. On the first floor, a Lithuanian woman and her son were on holiday. I spoke with this boy and although I could speak Lithuanian well, his mother probably suspected something, and hastily left for Kaunas with her boy the very next day. My hostess immediately sent me in the opposite direction to a remote farm. I remember a pretty place on a hill on the bank of the river. It was totally isolated, no one came there. The owners were nice to me. I remember some old women taught me to work on the spinning machine.
I stayed in this farm till autumn, when Steffa appeared. She told me, ‘We are going back to Kaunas’. I was happy. I thought we were going to see my mother, but in Kaunas Steffa told me that my mother had been killed.
I learnt that after my rescue operation, the woman who had found where to hide me had organized my mother’s escape to the same bunker I mentioned above. Close to the end of the war she was asked by two Latvian men to help them to hide from the Germans. She agreed and led them to the bunker. These Latvians turned out to be provocateurs. The bunker was blown up, together with all its Jewish occupants, including my mother.
For a short time I lived with Steffa. Then I was passed on to the Taft family, who at that time had three children: their son Yakov, and Matias and Riva Taft, a nephew and niece whom they adopted after the war.
From the Tafts I went to live with the Rachkovsky family, and eventually I was taken in by Naum Meriesh, my father’s cousin, and Feiga Abramovich. There I grew up together with their son and daughter who had been born after the war, and Feiga’s son Alik. We were one happy family.
With Naum Meriesh we went to look for Steffa. I remembered exactly where she lived. However, when we knocked at the door, a strange woman greeted us with hostility and said there was no one by the name of Steffa living there.
I graduated from Kaunas Medical School in 1959, and married a young physician, Tolochka. We have a son and two grandchildren. Until my retirement I worked as a neonatal paediatrician and intensive paediatric care specialist in Lithuania.

First published in 2011 by Vallentine Mitchell
London, Portland, OR

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