Rescued Jewish Children

Alfonsas Bukontas. Poet, translator, member of Lithuanian and Israeli writers’ unions

I, Alfonsas Bukontas, was born in 1941 (as written in all of my identification documents) in Dapšiai village, Mažekiai District. My father Jeronimas Bukontas was a farmer and had a farm with 25 hectares of land. He married a peasant Marija Daubarytė who was working on his farm with her sister Elena Lauraitienė. Their third sister Kotryna Šulcienė was residing in Židikai, 11 km from Dapšiai.
My memories of my father Jeronimas Bukontas are vague: in 1945, when the Soviet army returned to Lithuania, he was arrested and we never heard of him again. Later, when Stalin died and people started coming back from Soviet labour camps, my mother was informed that her husband had died of torture in the Arkhangelsk forests. He was accused of collaborating with the Germans and sentenced as a traitor and “enemy of the nation”.
At home, I was surrounded by love and attention. Such atmosphere of kindness surrounded me until 1954 when I graduated from the 7-year school and entered the 8th grade of Židikai secondary school. There, I rented a room from my aunt Kotryna. In Židikai, I came into the focus of the so called “rescuers”: they used to stop me in the streets and ask me how I was doing and if I knew anything about my real fathers. I tried to avoid those unpleasant conversations. However, this became a major topic of gossips between my classmates. From various fragments and hints, I got to know that my parents were Jews and that they had both perished during the war.
In 1958, I graduated from the Židikai secondary school and started studying Lithuanian language and literature in Vilnius State University. My visits to Židikai were rare, except for the summer vacations. Once, aunt Kotryna told me that priest Vaclovas Martinkus was inquiring about me in his letter to his relatives. I was aware that he had been a priest in Židikai during the war and had emigrated to the United States via Germany in 1944. The aunt gave me the priest’s address and asked me to write to him. Vaclovas Martinkus confirmed that he had known my mother and that she had been a dentist, and told me more about the events after the German occupation. It emerged that Kotryna Šulcienė happened to be living in front of my parents’ house and used to visit them often to help with the house cleaning and farming. Meanwhile, my parents were away – they had left for Vilkaviškis to visit my grandparents. Only my father’s sister Ševa was at home with me and my brother. When the Nazis started taking the Jews for alleged works in Lublin, Ševa decided to leave me with good people (I was several months old then) and take my brother with her. I stayed with Kotryna Šulcienė for some time, but when “white armbands” found out that she was hiding a Jewish baby, they started terrorising her. Vaclovas Martinkus gave her a horse and a cart, instructed her and she and her husband Zenonas Šulcas took me to Dapšiai. The priest came to the village shortly after, baptised me and entered me in the church’s book of baptised babies.
However, someone informed against the priest for baptising a Jewish baby. Vaclovas Martinkus was interrogated, but he was strong. Later the local nationalists intimidated sisters Marija and Elena demanding to give up the baby under the threats of shooting everyone. However, the sisters risked their lives and the lives of their children and refused to obey the hitmen. The situation was improved due to Jeronimas Bukontas’ ties with the Germans and knowledge of German language – the family managed to buy off with money, food and vodka. I have this memory that reminds more of a dream of me being carried by Jeronimas Bukontas and speaking:
This is my son! He will bear my family name..!
Each time, when strangers crossed our yard, he would take me to the empty rooms of the huge house and asked me to stay there and tried to distract me with various games... My mother Marija Bukontienė took the secret of my life to her grave. She loved me very much and took good care of me grieving for my setbacks and rejoicing over my achievements. Elena and Kotryna were also very motherly. Often it seemed to me that I would get more tenderness and attention than their real children. One summer, when I came back from Vilnius to Dapšiai, aunt Kotryna was there too. We went for a walk, sat on the grass by a stream and she willingly told me about the past. Among other things, she willingly told me about my parents – my mother Nechama Gurwich-Michnicky and my father Jankel Michnicky – and about my brother Azinkas (Azriel). Then she told me my real name – Moninka (Mordechai). Upon my return to Vilnius, I tried to find any documents about myself and my relatives. Unfortunately, I was refused any help and told that all documents regarding the Jews were lost during the war.
The Jewish poet Hirsch Osherovich got to know my story. He inquired all his acquaintances and soon I had addresses of several people who had known my parents. Finally, I got the first pictures of my mother, father, brother and myself. I found out that my father had studied law in Paris and the University of Sorbona and that he perished in Kaunas in 1941. My mother had graduated from the Medical Faculty of Kaunas University. She was taken with my father from Vilkaviškis to the Kaunas Ghetto, and in 1944 was driven to the Stutthof concentration camp where she perished in April 1945, two weeks before the liberation. Meanwhile, my brother and aunt Ševa were shot in a pinewood on the bank of the Venta River, not far from Mažeikiai… Almost 70 years have past since the horrible massacre of my nation. I stand hand in hand with those who have miraculously survived. I mourn for those millions of innocent children, mothers and old people who fell slain by bullets, were buried in pits and became mere smoke and piles of bones. My heart trembles and there are tears in my eyes when I think of those simple, bright and fearless righteous people who have fulfilled the sacred behest of the Torah without elaborate words and intricate reasoning – they saved dying people by loving their neighbours as themselves.
With boundless love and gratitude, I whisper these names:
Jeronimas Bukontas, Marija Bukontienė, Vaclovas Martinkus, Kotryna Šulcienė, Zenonas Šulcas, Elena Lauraitienė.

Vilnius, 2009
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