Rescued Jewish Children

Rosian Bagriansky-Zerner

My father, Paul Bagriansky was a partner in a successful international textile business, had a law degree a rank of lieutenant from the military school; he was also a good soccer player and a popular person in the Kaunas Jewish society. My mother Gerta Chason, born in Koenigsberg, East Prussia, a graduate of piano and pedagogy studies in Paris, met my dad during a stopover to see her friends and parents in Lithuania. It was love at first sight.
My maternal grandparents, as well as my two aunts and uncle waited to emigrate to Palestine until the day after I was born. They had hoped that we would all live there together. However, my father was not a Zionist like them and hoped that all the rumours of dangers to come were false. When reality struck, it was too late to leave, even though we had even purchased land in Canada.
We had lived in a big apartment house in the centre of Kaunas belonging to my grandfather Solomon, who owned the first electric flour mill in Lithuania. As a prominent Jew, my grandfather was tortured and murdered within the first weeks of the Nazi invasion as was my grandmother Amalia, who was denounced by neighbours in a bread line when she forgot to wear her yellow star.
Then, we had nothing but our lives. We were herded into the Kaunas Ghetto with all other Jews with whatever possessions we could arrange to take. I remember that mother did not know just what would be useful and she took this huge fig plant that shortly thereafter died in the freezing ghetto quarters. Mother was able to have us moved from our first quarters because she could not remove the splattered blood on the walls no matter how much she scrubbed. Our home then was a room that held four beds. Rivka Schmukler-Osherovich lived with us. There was also a table and that fig tree. And one of the coldest winters on record and no heat! Water melted from snow became ice before we could drink it, and rotten, frozen potatoes, when available, were often our meals. My mother, who became the concertmaster of the Lithuanian Opera after the war, valiantly cooked the potato peels with her frozen hands, and was resourceful in finding straw or other weeds for her soups.
The deceit of the Nazis who promised that each atrocity would be the last one was unmasked when the Great Action brought death to 10 000 Kaunas Ghetto Jews. The card saying we were workers and the “Lebenschein” (the official paper that proved it) obtained by our family through mother’s tireless efforts saved our lives. However, my parents did not wait for the upcoming Children’s Action and decided they had to take a chance and escape. I would be the first since I was in most danger. I was six years old and children were dispensable.
My escape was planned and executed by my parents at the risk of their own lives. I learned the details of the story of my escape from the Kaunas Ghetto through my father’s writings.
My parents had dug a hole under the barbed wire surrounding the ghetto that was just big enough for a 6 year old child. Then, after meticulous, exact timing for pauses between the searchlights, the dogs and the changing of guards, I was pushed through the hole to safety.
Bronė Budreikaitė was waiting for me outside the ghetto and we walked to her apartment. Bronė was my father’s secretary and the sister-in-law of Jacob Gens, the head of the Vilnius Ghetto. She kept me with her only a short time since I was crying so much but she did visit me at the farm of Lidija Golubovienė where I was hiding later. Apparently, the story was that I was her illegitimate child and that she was keeping me in the countryside because of shame. Margarete Holzman, who was also my rescuer with her mother Helene, would join Bronė in some of the rare visits. My wartime name was Irena Budreikaitė.
As with most other Jewish children who were hidden, my hiding places needed to be changed whenever the situation became dangerous. My rescuers were Lidija Golubovienė (Fugalevičiūtė), Natalija Fugalevičiūtė, Natalija Jegorova-Melioranskaja, Helene Holzman, Margarete Holzman, Bronė Budreikaitė, Vytautas Kauneckas and Stefanija Andriūnienė (who did not know I was Jewish when I was hiding at the orphanage she was in charge of). The main rescuers are now listed as the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem except for Bronė and I hope that this will happen soon.
During the war, I was baptised Catholic. This was not uncommon and was perceived to add to security and helped the rescuers avoid lies. Some survivors continued practicing Catholicism after the war.
Then my mother and father escaped to the Vilnius Ghetto. My father became a partisan, where the skills he learned in the Lithuanian officers’ school served him well and his knowledge of languages made him a translator. Mother went into hiding and she actually visited me once in Kulautuva at Lidija Golubovienė’s farm where I learned how to churn butter, picked apples, milked cows and was as helpful with the farm as a child could be. Mother brought me the only real toy I remember from those years: a doll she made from rags and dressed in clothes knitted from yarn remnants. I treasured that doll for many years.
Ultimately, our whole family survived in Lithuania, where more than 94 percent of the Jews were murdered. Few children were reunited with both parents after the war so I consider this a miracle and continue living in gratitude.
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