Rescuers of Jews

Sofija Binkienė

Sofija Binkienė wrote these recollections in 1964, while preparing the texts for the book Unarmed Fighters (Ir be ginklo kariai). However she did not include them in the book. Therefore, they were most probably, left unfinished. They are published here for the first time.

On the streets of Kaunas, well-built Germans (hitlerjugend) with bayonets pointed forward were herding prisoners of war barely alive and akin to the shadows of people and people with yellow stars on their chests and backs were walking on the roads. What could one do, how could one live? One thing was clear: you could not sit and watch. Something needed to be done, but what and how? I could not leave my ill husband alone.
Twenty years have passed since these terrible times. Many of my recollections have faded away, while some have disappeared completely. Therefore, my story may seem fragmentary. These years were twice as difficult for me: apart from the global disaster, I was also suffering from a personal one: my husband was seriously and desperately ill (Kazys Binkis (born on 16 November 1893 in Gudeliai (Biržai district) and died on 27 April 1942 in Kaunas): a Lithuanian poet, playwright, journalist).
We lived in the S. L. Writers’ House (Soviet Lithuania Writers’ House (Tarybų Lietuvos Rašytojų namai)). When the war started, I decided to take the ill person to a quieter place, further away from the eyes of the Hitlerites. We settled in Panemunė. My husband’s mother and the children stayed in Kaunas. Once I came back home I found the doors sealed. It appeared that the Hitlerites moved his ageing mother to Garliava, arrested my daughters Irena and Lilijana and took them who knows where (In 1940–1941, invited by poet Eduardas Mieželaitis, Lilijana Binkytė worked in the editorial office of the newspaper Komjaunimo tiesa. At the beginning of the war, the SS division arrested sisters Lilijana and Irena allegedly for former collaboration with the Soviet regime). I started looking for my daughters. There was no direct connection with Panemunė, the bridge had been blown up. Each day I left my ill husband, who needed constant care, and I walked to the city. I did not know whom to ask and therefore I used to walk desperately from one institution to another looking for my daughters. Having found nothing out, I would go back home, wondering with horror whether I would find my husband alive or not. This lasted about two weeks until I finally managed to find out that my daughters had not been exiled, had not been killed, but were imprisoned by the Gestapo. After much effort I managed to rescue them. We also made great effort to get a new flat on Vydūno avenue. /.../
/.../ One day I met my former colleague from the Elta news service, Natalija Jegorova. She asked me if I would agree to hide a girl who ran away from the ghetto for a while. I of course agreed. This is how 11-year old Gita Judelevich (Gita Judelevičiūtė) came to live with us. She stayed with our family throughout the entire occupation (with the exception of a short break).
Sometimes Gita’s mother Raja Judelevich (Raja Judelevičienė), a smart and educated woman, would visit us. Binkis liked talking with her. I do not know where she was hiding at the time. Later an engineer named Kaušinis helped her to get a job with his relatives in the countryside as a nanny for his orphan children./.../
My husband died in the spring of 1942.
We stayed in the same flat on Vydūno avenue. A German Gestapo officer with his family, Vatterchken and Mutterchen (that’s how they called each other) lived on the first floor of that house. The house had central heating. The German had coal, but we did not. Every day they would burst into our flat and check our radiator to see if we were using his heating. Sometimes he came with his Mutterchen. At that time, another woman lived with us, Beba Taborisky. Luckily, Vatterchen was more concerned about our radiators than my “daughters”, who would always lie in bed during his visits, with their heads covered, professedly because of cold. /.../
/.../ Every morning I saw through the window as the German officer would bring a girl with yellow stars on her clothes to provide housework services to our neighbour. Every time I went upstairs to hang the laundry, for some reason the girl’s eyes were always following me. One day I asked her why she was following me. She did not answer but pointed out at the smoked lard and geese on the hooks. It was clear that the German told her to spy on me so that I would not be tempted to take his goods. Then I told the girl that if she needed help she could come to me. She used that opportunity and when she ran away from the ghetto she stayed with us for a short while. Her husband Shmuel Segal was hiding with her. Her name was Ada./.../
/.../ Soon we were evicted from the flat: the house owner, a repatriate, came back. We settled on Basanavičius street. However we were unlucky with our neighbours. A Lithuanian who worked for the Gestapo lived next door. The flat on Basanavičius street was a real hotel in a sense. Some people came there looking for temporary shelter, others stayed with us for a longer period of time. I will not be able to tell everything in a consistent manner, but I do not think it is necessary. Doctor Miron Ginkas with his little son Kama stayed with us for a longer period of time, with the exception of short breaks. This boy was our biggest concern. First, he spoke only Yiddish. Second, he was extremely lively, the whole flat was full of him. If somebody rang the bell, everybody would rush to their hiding places except for him: he would run to the door. When his parents brought him to us, he had whooping cough and was coughing heavily. This caught the attention of the Gestapo officer’s wife. I had to explain to her where the boy ill with whooping cough came from. I do not know whether our neighbour got wind of something but she became suspiciously interested in our home library./.../
/.../ Sometimes there were rumours that our neighbourhood was to be searched. My residents, except for Gitutė, would go out for a walk for a time. Or sometimes the opposite: they would all come to us because elsewhere it was unsafe.
I remember that once after I heard the rumours I took all the original documents of my residents which I was asked to keep. After some time I heard the doorbell ring, I opened the door and saw the house owner with a familiar packet in his hands. “It seems, that this belongs to you,” he says, handing me the packet and looking at me. “Yes, thank you,” I said and closed the door. How could he have found out that those things belonged to me? I flip through the documents carefully and found a note with my daughter’s address. It was clear that we were poor “conspirators”... Although our lifestyle was very dangerous, it was quiet in our house, and no alarm was felt at all. We even spent an interesting time together, stayed up late at night, listening to the Moscow radio, reading good books, my son-in-law Vladas Varčikas shared the news from the city with us, commented on political events, while Gita and my daughter were playing the piano. My little granddaughter was a true source of cosiness and family warmth at home. All of us lived with a hope, and a belief in victory gave us strength. /.../

From the 4th book Hands Bringing Life and Bread.
The Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum
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