I Always Celebrate My Birthdays
Hasia Aronaite-Gitlin and Volodia Katz
From: Solomon Abramovich and Yakov Zilberg “Smuggled in Potato Sacks”, 2011
My father, Chaim Aronas, moved to Kaunas from Ionava, a small Lithuanian town, and worked in the famous Kapulsky shop and café. There he met my mother Michle, née Katz, who was also originally from Jonava. Both my parents were Communists.
I was born in 1936 in Slobodka; two and a half years later my brother Motele was born. When the Germans invaded Lithuania, father's parents and three of his brothers were killed in Jonava. My parents tried to retreat to Russia, but were stopped by Lithuanians and forced to return to Kaunas. I remember very well the long and tiring journey we made on foot. Our cart turned over and German soldiers helped us to put all our belongings back in order.
When we reached Kaunas, we found our home occupied by our former housemaid; she did not let us in. It was a German officer who ordered her to leave our apartment. In the cart accident I had badly wounded my leg. It was bandaged, and whenever my parents left our apartment, they used to hide money and jewels beneath the plaster. Once, when my parents were not at home, several Lithuanians came in. They searched every corner of our house, but found nothing. Eventually they undressed me, tore my plaster and took the money and jewels. They beat me and then left me there naked and frightened.
Although our house was in Slobodka, it was not within the ghetto borders. We were forced to move to the ghetto. I was a very agile and mischievous child. At time of the 'selection' during the 'Great Action' I constantly moved from one column to another until a German soldier shouted, 'Stay still!' Eventually we were selected to join the 'good' line, but my Uncle Moshe Aronas, his wife and two children were sent to the Ninth Fort.
I can remember my birthday celebrations in the ghetto and even remember receiving a very special present from the neigh- bour's son: it was a bandage glued with pieces of coloured paper to wear as a crown on my head. These days I always celebrate my birthdays; if we could celebrate it in the most terrible conditions of the ghetto, it is a Mitzvah and duty to celebrate now when we are free and well.
From our house we could see Jews being led to the Ninth Fort. I also saw the escape of prisoners from this fortress; one of them, our relative, came to our room. My mother was terribly anxious: if he was found, we would all be punished by death. After maybe only a day my father led him somewhere else.
When my parents went to work, they always left us some food on the table. My father used to say, 'The food does not belong to the one who gets to it first, but to the one who waits patiently.' I always sent my younger brother first, and then reminded him what our father would say.
Though my mother protested, my father joined the anti-fascist underground organization. He would let me distribute proclamation leaflets in the ghetto. I was a naughty girl and would play snow fights with the neighbours' children, with the leaflets hidden under my dress. Motele was a much more responsible boy; he would pull me by the sleeves saying, 'Come on, we have chores to do.'
During the 'Children's Action' Motele was hidden in a bunker together with several other kids. They were discovered by the Germans, led to a laundry and there burnt alive, while the distraught parents were forced to watch their execution. My father told me, that when the fire caught Motele, he shouted, 'Mother, Mother, when I burnt my finger, you would blow on it so it would not hurt!'
My mother ran towards him to throw him out of fire. A Ukrainian policeman struck her with the handle of his rifle. She lost consciousness and suffered a bad backbone injury in her fall. My mother never recovered after this incident.
I was smuggled out of the ghetto twice; I think at that time I was already aware of what was going on. The first time there was an arrangement with a woman who lived in the central part of Kaunas. She was paid generously for hiding me.
I was told to crawl under the barbed wire of the ghetto fence at a strategic moment and to walk in a certain direction where a Lithuanian woman would be waiting for me. After successfully getting past the fence I walked in the darkness until suddenly a strange woman called to me. She brought me to another woman's apartment where I was hidden for some time. I remember that if there was a round-up, I would be locked in a basement. I was only 6 years old, but I sat there quietly talking to rats that wandered around me. I do not think I was afraid! Today I am afraid of spiders, insects, you name it!
I did not stay in that apartment for long. One day I heard that a Jewish girl had been discovered and killed together with a Lithuanian woman in this neighbourhood. I ran to my 6-year-old cousin Cilia Katz who was being hidden nearby with another Lithuanian family. I told her, 'We are going back to the ghetto.' We walked a long way through the Kaunas streets, and it was evening when we reached the ghetto. I stood close to the fence and saw my mother come out of our house. I called to her. She looked around but saw nothing in the darkness. She entered the house and told my father that she thought she had heard me call- ing. My father thought this was nonsense, but Mother insisted that he should go check outside. I called him and he saw us. I chose the right moment to slip under the wire fence; Cilia crawled next. She was a little bit clumsy and tore her new coat on the barbed wire and cried bitterly.
Cilia Katz disappeared for ever during the 'Children's Action'. She was exactly my age, the daughter of Hanah and my Uncle Yosef Katz. Yosef was a very good carpenter. Before the war he built a wooden house in Slobodka. The house is still there, but Yosef, Chana and Cilia are not with us. Only Volodia Katz, the youngest son in this family, born in the ghetto on 21 September 1941, survived.
After receiving a shot of Luminal, Volodia was smuggled out of the ghetto in a suitcase. It was agreed that a Lithuanian carpenter whom his father had known for many years would transfer him to a priest. Volodia stayed with this priest for some time but fell ill and was transferred to Dr Baublys, who ran an orphanage and saved many Jewish children. Volodia stayed at the Baublys orphanage until the end of the war. Dr Baublys was able to keep him because he was not circumcised.