Rescued Jewish Children

Rut Latzman

Twenty-Six Years of Expectation

Rut Latzman-Peer

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

My father, Joshua Latzman, and my mother, Frida Pelerite-Latzman, met in the Jewish Gymnasium at Kaunas; they were both teachers. My father was a writer as well. His first book of poetry in Yiddish was published before the war. He was one of ten children: two of his sisters, Rochale and Henia, survived the ghetto and the camps and emigratedto Israel, all the other brothers and sisters were killed.
Father's marriage with Frida was his second; he had two children from the first marriage, Lili and Daniel. Lili spent the war years in an orphanage in Kazakhstan; 9-year-old Daniel Latzman perished in Kaunas Ghetto. Mother's parents were killed by Lithuanians in the town of Plunge. All I have of my mother is several photos given to me by her friend, Rocha Zacharovich.
I was born in Kaunas in April 1941. On the first day of the German invasion my parents joined the crowd hastily leaving Kaunas and heading towards the east: my sad story was about to begin. As I slept peacefully in a pram I could not have known how my future was to unfold. Suddenly a lorry stopped and a driver shouted to the people in the crowd, 'Women and children only!' Father helped my mother to climb into the lorry, lifted the pram with me in it, and the lorry rolled forward. They thought the truck would take us east where we were heading. Nobody even suspected that after several kilometres the driver would turn 180 degrees and drive back directly to Kaunas. My father, together with many other men, continued his very long journey until he reached Kazakhstan.
My mother and I spent about two years in the ghetto, where we lived in one flat with my Uncle David and Aunts Rochale and HeniaLacman. Meir and Chaim Elin, the head of the anti-fascist underground, were my father's close friends. They decided to rescue me. Meir's wife, Busia Elin, found a place for me in the orphanage of Dr Baublys.
Naturally my mother did not want us to be separated, but she was persuaded to agree. I was given a shot of Luminal, wrapped in tattered garments and put on a sledge. Sonia Novodzelskyte (later Lupshisiene), a 17-year-old member of the underground organization with Aryan looks, was entrusted with carrying me out of the ghetto. After passing through the gates among the groups being led to work, she slipped away and reached the orphanage safely. She left me on the porch of the orphanage and fled. Sonia managed to survive. I remained in close contact her until her death in Vilnius several years ago.
I stayed in the orphanage for quite a long time. I was a blue-eyed, blonde-haired girl, so nobody in the orphanage, except Dr Baublys, knew I was Jewish. I carried a small tag on a necklace with the name Irena Baltadonyte written on it; nevertheless Dr Baublys felt they should find me a home as quickly as possible. So a Lithuanian couple, the Urbonas, arrived looking for a child to adopt, and I was offered to them.
My adoptive parents lived in the small town of Simnas. Since I did not speak Lithuanian at all, gossip spread among the Urbonas' neighbours suggesting that I was not really a Lithuanian girl. They called me 'Zydelka' or 'Sorke'. I didn't know they were calling me a Jew and I ran to my mother, Maria, to ask her what this meant. I remember how neighbourhoodchil- dren mocked me and pushed me into the river and how again I ran home crying. My adoptive parents felt it was dangerous to stay in Simenas, so we very promptly moved to a different part of Lithuania, to a small village called Butrimonys, which was nothing more than a number of houses around a church. We didn't leave anybody our new address. When I was 4, I asked Maria where my real parents were, and she told me they were not alive.
After the war we moved to the town of Alytus where I grew up until I was 16. I graduated from a vocational college in Vilnius and specialized as a bookkeeper. I was sent to work in the town of Prenai and after several years I returned to Alytus, where I worked in a bookshop for the next thirteen years. Throughout all those years I felt I was Jewish and expected to be found by my biological parents.
My father spent the five war years in Kazakhstan; it was a time of difficulty and deprivation. There he met Lina, who became his wife. They returned to Lithuania, where he was informed that his wife Frida had died in Stuttoff and that I had survived. Father looked for me everywhere, but he could not trace me. I was told that a young man named ShmuelPeipert had come to our village looking for hidden Jewish children, but we had already left.
My father's new family lived in Vilnius where my half-brother Leopold (Levy) was born. Father continued to write and to publish poems in Yiddish; during the period of Stalin's persecu- tion of Jewish intellectuals, he was arrested and spent several years in jail. There his health was badly damaged. He was released after Stalin's death. When Leopold reached the age of 18, my father told him about me and about his failure to find me.
Leopold initiated a search, but nobody knew the name that was given to me when I was smuggled, or what my name was now; Leopold asked our sister Lili to help him. She worked as a solicitor. While attending a conference she told colleagues about her search for me. By chance, a client of mine from the bookshop was also participating at this conference. She knew my story and approached Lili and thus they succeeded in tracing me. Lili and Leopold contacted me and I invited them to come see me in Alytus; Lili said that she immediately recognized me.
By then, I was a mother myself. My son Gil was already 6 months old. So, in 1967, after twenty-six years of separation I was reunited with my father, and the return to my Jewish roots and to my family began. Father and his family emigrated to Israel in 1971: he was a Zionist and had fought for his right to go to Israel for sixteen years! I joined them in 1973 with my son Gil. I did not want to leave Lithuania; in fact, it was my adoptive mother, Maria Urboniene, who encouraged me to leave. She came to visit us in 1989, and we were all so happy to meet again. Two years later she died; I have visited her grave several times. May this wonderful woman rest in peace.
My aunts and my father's wife Lina warmly embraced me into the family. My father died in 1984. Lina and I remained friends until she too passed away. In Israel, I quickly realized that I needed to change my profession. I went to nursing school in the Kaplan Hospital in Rehovot. I remember wondering how I would juggle my studies and bring up my son. I was told that many of the nurses' children were being taken care of at a board- ing school while the nurses were studying for their qualification. This solution was absolutely out of the question for us, after what I had been through: I would never consider sending my child away from me.
After graduation I worked in the Kaplan hospital for six years. Then I married and we moved to Tel Aviv. I worked in Beilinson hospital till my retirement several years ago.

Tel Aviv, Israel, December 2008

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