Rescued Jewish Children

Markas Petuchauskas

From a man to a man... I do not remember how I was born. My mother said it happened in a Šiauliai hospital. After I was born I found myself in the house of Mr. Ibianski – my parents rented a flat here. I, however, remember only our second residence, which was on Dariaus ir Girėno street, in the house of the wealthy Mr. Gordon, where my parents rented a flat above the cinema of the time, called “Kapitol”. On the third floor, above us, lived a music educator, whom everyone called professor Kravec. So right from the start I was kind of squeezed among the arts. Below me I would hear the sound of movies and there was always music playing above. Was this fate? This was not enough for my parents, who were intelligent people and could not ignore my cultural education. My mother, whose maiden name was Michlė (Marija) Lichtmacheraitė, went from Kėdainiai to Russia during World War I together with her whole family (her father was a house painter), she studied in the Yekaterinburg University and admired the great Russian writers. She used to read me fairytales by Korney Chukovsky and poems by Samuil Marshak when I was still a child. My father had great musical aptitude: when he listened to good music, he would act like a conductor without even noticing it. I didn’t know at the time that there were brilliant musicians in his family, some of them were even conductors at the opera. My parents were very delighted when the nice old man, professor Kravec (this is the memory I have of him from when I was a five-six year old squirt), agreed to teach me music. When Kravec asked me, what I would rather study, the violin or the grand piano, I answered straight away – the grand piano. And I proceeded to explain: I do not want to stand stretched out like a doggy and play the violin, while my teacher is comfortably sitting in his chair, beating the time with his leg and explaining how things should be done: this was right and that was wrong. The grand piano was a different business altogether. We would sit side by side as equals... I suffered quite a bit later in life because of my straightforwardness. I have too much tongue. Of course, I was properly adjusted during the Soviet era but this disease of mine seems to have never been cured. My dad, Samuelis Petuchauskas, who would constantly be elected Vice Mayor of Šiauliai during the 20-year period of independence, was not religious. He had quite a few nuisances with the rabbis of Šiauliai because of that. The latter resented that such a reputable man did not attend the synagogue. According to my mother, who was not religious either, eventually a compromise was made: my dad would come to the synagogue on the most important occasions. He used to take me with him. As a matter of fact, dad was against my circumcision too. Only after he went away, my father’s mother, Badana, my grandmother and a very religious woman, organised my circumcision. It created quite a few headaches for my sensitive mother: the circumcision was long overdue and she was worried that I might not be able to have children or have a normal sex life. (Life proved that my mother’s worries were highly exaggerated, I probably surpassed her expectations when I grew up). As far as I know, my father was a man of principle, he held to his opinion and beliefs strongly and was coherent in their realisation. He never tried to get rich (even though he could have), he didn’t purchase real estate or build houses, unlike most of the people of pre-war Šiauliai. He rented a flat for all those twenty years. Even when the municipality of Šiauliai began selling lots in the city to encourage constructions, my father bought such a lot in Tilžė street belatedly and reluctantly – he practically did it because he was following the guidelines for the expansion of the city of Šiauliai, practiced by the municipality over which he presided, and because he was urged to do so by his colleagues. The construction was not started until the Soviet occupation though. He found it strange and uninteresting. My dad was known for his honesty and low tolerance for corruption. He respected those, who had elected him. According to my mom, even if he could not help every man who came to him, he would explain everything honestly, give advice, and whoever came left dignified, never offended and always in a friendly mood. It must be a talent to communicate in a humane, sensitive and respectful manner. My father had it. The fortitude of his beliefs and his honesty in realising them was known all over Šiauliai and gained him popularity not only among Jews, but also Lithuanians. Only by the votes of citizens of all ethnicities was he ever elected during the whole period of Lithuanian independence. Mayors would come and go, nationalists replaced social-democrats, but Samuelis Petuchauskas would always be elected the Vice Mayor. Thus it was for twenty years, until the Soviets dismantled the municipalities. My dad had this opinion: if you live in Lithuania, first of all you have to know the language well. So after his son was born, he spoke to him only in Lithuanian. This is how the Lithuanian language became my first, native language. Another principle of my dad’s: the son has to speak the language of his homeland – Israel. Therefore I was taken not to the kindergarten for Jews, but to the one for Hebrews and later I went to a Hebrew school. I was a good student, my religion teacher even commended me in front of the whole classroom as an example everyone should follow. He asked me how come I was so good at completing religion assignments, to which I answered: they are very beautiful fairy tales, and I simply love fairy tales. There was a terrible uproar. My dad was immediately called to the school to explain, why I was parented in such a liberal way. Again, trouble over my damn tongue. My dad was not mad, he laughed a lot though. My mom later remembered another slip of my tongue that caused quite a bit of laughs. One weekend a lot of guests gathered in our house, the elite of Šiauliai at the time. After waking up late in the evening, feeling sleepy, I went to the living room half-naked. Some of the guests were speaking loudly, others were playing cards, while some were having snacks. Sleepy, and probably unhappy about the racket, all of a sudden I said: “I only have to say one word and you’ll all be gone”. The guests were interested to hear and insisted that I tell them what that word was. Finally I said: “Out!” I remember an exciting trip with my father to a forest bonfire camp of Lithuanian scouts. Many of the guests at the ceremony were in uniform with epaulettes and the whole deal. I remember how proud I felt, when I got into a brand new municipal limousine next to the driver and rode through the main streets of the city. I remember the Milšteinas’ café on Dariaus ir Girėno street, across from the “Kapitol”. I remember the amazingly delicious pastries, which my father would take me to eat when he thought I was worth it. I remember when my mom told me a story of the visit of our president Antanas Smetona to Šiauliai. The latter knew our family and had met with my dad on more than one occasion to discuss the matters of the city of Šiauliai. Smetona asked my mother to dance at the welcoming party that evening. He complimented my mother’s dancing and said that she was the most beautiful lady in Šiauliai. I can’t deny it: the president had good taste. My mother was indeed very beautiful, she was Madonna with regular spiritual features and big blue eyes radiating with special light. Men would turn their heads when she walked down the street. I know many friends and acquaintances of our family, who admired her in one way or another. The most natural motif in her life, one that you could almost take for granted, was her altruism, and she preserved it right up until she died. She always came last in her own mind. She was primarily worried about others – her husband, her son, her grandson, her acquaintances and even people she didn’t really know. I do not know if my father realised this, if he appreciated it as he should have. We did not have time to talk about it, the same way we had no time to talk about a lot of things. He was shot in Paneriai when I was nine. With great pain I can remember the special scent of his hair, the same scent that I kind of breathed-in for the rest of my life while living in our apartment on Algirdo street 6 in Vilnius, from which my father was taken away in the summer of 1941 never to return.
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