Rescued Jewish Children

Rina Gilde-Rubinshtein

Finally I Found My Roots

Rina Gilde-Rubinstein

From: Solomon Abramovich and Yakov Zilberg “Smuggled in Potato Sacks”, 2011

One of my earliest memories of childhood: I am in a small country house with Yulia, a kind-eyed woman. A bespectacled stranger in a black coat and with a stick in his hand enters the room. He smiles pleasantly, talks with Yulia and caresses my head. Shortly after, I am in a military car riding along country roads. Eventually we arrive at a different house. The man in the black coat carries me into a big kitchen. I am sitting there, a little girl in a white fur coat and valenki (winter boots) on a big oven. I am embarrassed by presence of strangers around me.
From this moment my life completely changed. I had grown up in Vilnius; we lived in a nice apartment in the centre of the city; I had my own, private room. My new father, Victor Micelmacher, was a highly respected professor of medicine and my new mother, Anna, was a chemist. My new parents always employed a housekeeper.
I remember an old, bearded doctor often visited me there. Now I know it was Dr Baublys. I was a skinny girl with a big belly; obviously I was suffering from rickets. We were three children in the family: Tolik, Gena and I.
The mother was responsible for our education since the father was always busy. We were treated very well by both our parents, but I was especially fond of Father. I will never forget one special day, when I was 8 years old. We were playing outside, and a boy from our neighbourhood told me that my parents were not really my Dad and Mom. I burst into tears, ran into our apartment and shut myself in my room. My parents asked what was wrong with me, and I asked them what the boy's words meant. Instead of an explanation, I was told that the boy would be punished. After that, one thought constantly bothered my mind: I am an adopted child, where are my real parents?
One particular woman from Kaunas used to visit us quite frequently; she always came with lots of presents for all the children, but especially for me. She was a mysterious person, but could feel her affection towards me. She and my father used to talk privately for hours. I remember that I was very much upset after one of her visits. I could not understand the reason for my mood. I liked her, but I also felt some uneasiness: I did not know her identity. After this visit, she disappeared for a long time. Later I learned it was at the request of my parents; I felt there was some secret surrounding me, but nobody talked about it.
Several years later, I went one evening, deeply frustrated, to my father's room, and demanded that he should tell me the truth: who were my parents? He became very emotional and told me that my parents had perished in the Kaunas Ghetto. He said he was a friend of my biological father, so he had resolved to find and to adopt me. Ever since I have felt profound gratitude to the Micelmacher family for their love and care, and the education they provided me, that enabled me to achieve what I am.
I was accepted. When I was a student in the Kaunas Medical Institute, I discovered that the mysterious woman who visited us for many years was my paternal aunt, a well-known paediatrician, Fruma Gurvich. Although she became my very close friend, we never talked about my past or my parents' fate.
In 1962 I married Reuven Rubinstein. His family had been deported by the Soviet authorities to Siberia on the eve of the war, returning to Kaunas in the late 1950s. Just before the wedding, I received a present from Israel from my aunt, Fruma Hasman, my mother's sister. She also sent me my mother's photos. Mother looked very much like I had imagined her in my dreams. I didn't even know of Fruma Hasman's existence, so her appearance was a complete surprise to me. It was my future mother-in-law, who after hearing my story, wrote letters to my aunt in Israel. Much later, Fruma told me that in 1950 she made unofficial inquiries at the Israeli Embassy about the possibility of taking me to Israel: there was of course no chance that the Soviet authorities would permit this.
Fruma Gurvich introduced me to my rescuers, Yulia Vitkauskiene and her son Arejas, very fine, pleasant people. During our first meeting, Yulia did not talk much, but only looked at me with affection. It turned out that for many years Yulia had corresponded with my aunt Fruma in Tel Aviv, who had supported the Vitkauskas family by sending parcels from Israel. Later I also did my best to maintain our relationship, and to express my love and gratitude to these wonderful people who saved my life.
It is mainly from my aunts and Yulia that I have learned what happened to my family in the Holocaust. My parents, Max Gilde and Eida Judelevich, were born in Shauliai. In 1935 my mother, who later became a singer and actress, moved to Palestine, where she acted in the 'Matate' theatre. My father graduated from the Kaunas Medical Institute. In 1937, after completing his training in gynaecology, he followed my mother, and they married in Tel Aviv.
Conditions in Palestine at that time were very difficult. Father could not find a work as a physician, and Mother lost her work in the theatre as well, so in 1938 they decided to return to Lithuania temporarily. I was born in Kaunas on 16 April 1940 and was given the Hebrew name Rina. From the letters my mother sent to her sister in Tel Aviv before the war, I learned that my parents' dream was always to return to Palestine.
On the first day of the war my parents tried to escape from the Germans and join a partisan detachment. Unfortunately I had whooping cough and so it was difficult for my parents to hide me and to pass through multiple checkpoints on their way. After two weeks, tired and exhausted, they knocked at the door of Yulia, a Lithuanian woman who had been their neighbour before the war. They had nowhere to live; their apartment was already occupied by the chief of the Lithuanian police. Yulia led them to her relatives in Vilijampole. On the second day, the house where we were staying was surrounded by barbed wire and became a ghetto.
Yulia had always been very friendly to our family, and she started helping us in the ghetto. Sometimes, when my father was taken for hard labour work in the city, he escaped from the convoy and went to meet Yulia. Secretly, she would put food into my father's pockets, and sometimes a bottle of milk for me.
During the 'Children's Action' my father sedated me, together with other children, to keep us quiet in a hiding place. Immediately after this 'action', my mother arranged to meet Yulia outside the ghetto. Tired and suffering, she begged Yulia to save me: 'You would be rewarded with God's blessing for it,' she told her. With the consent of Arejas, her 16-year-old son, Yulia decided to help us. After some failures and in great danger, my father put me, certainly sedated, in a sack of potatoes on a cart and took me, with assistance from the bribed German guard, to Yulia, who was waiting for us at a meeting point. When I was taken out of the sack, I asked immediately, 'Where is Mom?' The German soldier looked at me with his penetrating eyes, then looked at Father and mumbled, 'What a pretty girl.' It was obvious he wanted an additional award. My father gave him his gold watches. The German was pleased and said, 'Let's get moving, we must return to the ghetto.'
Yulia had to change apartments regularly because of me, a typical Jewish-looking child. I spent a lot of time just sitting under the bed, neither eating nor drinking, out of fear that I would be discovered by the Germans. Warnings appeared on the walls of Yulia's house: 'People helping Jews will be punished by death.' Despite this, Yulia helped to save two more children: Pisinka (Pesah) and Chanale Joselevich. When there was a short- age of money and food, Yulia left her house and took us, three Jewish children, to her parents in the countryside, good and kind people. Arejas remained in Kaunas and took over Yulia's responsibilities in their publishing business.
We learned that we had to run whenever we heard the word 'Germans', the three of us, and hide under the sofa. We could sit there for hours, silently and without asking for food or even water. The neighbours in the village did look at us with some suspicion, but Yulia kept us till the end of the war.
Yulia and her son were real heroes. They both were awarded the title of 'Righteous among the Nations'. Unfortunately, they died before the ceremony was held in Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
My parents were burnt alive, when the Germans liquidated the ghetto.
In 1973, after a long struggle with the Soviet authorities, we emigrated to Israel with our daughter Ilana. In 1975 our son Eitan was born. I worked in Israel as a paediatrician until my retirement.

Haifa, Israel, 2008

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