Rescued Jewish Children

Aleksandras Shtromas

My Story Was Quite Different

From Aleksandras Shtromas’ interview with Jonė Ladigaitė-Ardžiūnienė
As told by Aleksandras Shtromas

From the 4th book Hands Bringing Life and Bread

When the German Army occupied Lithuania, I was in a children’s’ pioneer camp in Palanga, and my parents were in Kaunas. Irena says, though I am not sure, that my parents might well have escaped to Russia, but since I was not with them, they decided to stay. The war started on Sunday and on Monday my father went to work. He was the director of the company Parama and was arrested there by partisans. We used to call them baltraiščiai. My father was killed, in the infamous garage of Lietūkis together with all the others who were caught . He was arrested on Monday and Irena and my sister Margarita managed to see him before he was killed on the Friday. My father was tortured to death, not even shot. In the garage they did not shoot people they killed them by torture.
At the very beginning of the war, when I got back from Palanga after some adventures, I did not find my daddy in the flat. I found my mother and sister Mara (Margarita). Irena may have been there too.
Before 15August 1941 all the Kaunas Jews were confined to a ghetto in Vilijampolė, fenced in by barbed wire and the ghetto was closed. Later on it was turned into a concentration camp and we were kept there as prisoners. Irutė (Irena) was also there, as was our entire family. It so happened that four of us managed to survive: my sister and myself, Irutė (Irena) and our cousin Vova (Valdemaras) Ginsburgas. In 1943 three of us escaped, went into hiding, and were not found. If we hadn’t escaped we would not be alive today.
Vova (Valdemaras) Ginsburgas stayed in the ghetto until he was deported to a concentration camp and survived Dachau.
Of course, people helped me to escape. I was a child and I would not have managed on my own. There was an informal group of people in the ghetto who were looking for ways to save children. They were looking for contacts with Lithuanians outside the ghetto, who would be prepared to take risks and save a child. My story was quite different. There was little hope that somebody would take me in. That group, the committee, decided that it would be best for me to join a group of Russian children. At the time there were many children, separated from their parents, who where wandering along the roads and highways of Lithuania asking farmers for food and work. According to the plan, I had to pretend to be a Russian child, who had lost his parents, and had to join a group of Russian children. I was provided with some sort of a map stolen from the German General Headquarters and had to study the village of Maksimovka in the region of Oriol. Since the Germans were already expelled from there, this village was in the hands of the Russians, so nobody could check on me. Therefore, it was believed to be a good, safe story which would help me to survive. I was quite prepared for this, and Russian was like my native language. Nobody would have suspected that I was not Russian and that I was only pretending.
There was a certain Chana Bravo in the ghetto. She used to work as a book-keeper for my father at the company Parama. She was not a very close friend, but in the ghetto she was very active in looking for places where children could be hidden. During the Smetona years, Chana Bravo worked with Mrs. Macenavičienė at Žemės ūkio bank. Macenavičienė was also a book-keeper. Assigned to a workers’ brigade in town, Chana Bravo met up with Mrs. Macenavičienė, who said: “If you have any problems, tell me, and I’ll help. It’s hard for me to watch what’s going on, we need to do something”. This made Chana Bravo think it would be a good idea to send me to the Macenavičius family, so that when I escaped from the ghetto I could spend a safe night there and then go to look for the Russian children. She even provided me with some clothes. At night, during the curfew when nobody was allowed to be outside, she, holding my hand, took me out of the ghetto. Chana had already alerted the Macenavičius family that she would be bringing me. She left me there and returned to the ghetto. Everything was arranged, the guards had been given some money. There is always a price to be paid for everything.
The Macenavičius family treated me well, they washed me in the tub as I was very dirty and asked me what I was going to do. I told them about the plan to pretend I was a Russian boy from Maksimovka village. They told me that they would not let me go and that they could not commit such a sin, because if they let me go, they would be letting me go to my death and they would never be able to live with this. They offered me to stay with them and so I did. I lived there from November 1943 till August 1944 – for nine months.
It was great to stay in Vilijampolė, in Kaunas, near the ghetto. They thought of another ‘story’ for me: I became Aleksandras Strimaitis from Joniškis, the son of a friend of Mr. Antanas Macenavičius. Thus my Joniskis legend was created. I had never been to Joniškis before and that is why one lady actually caught me out, understood that I did not know Joniškis at all and so did other neighbours, the Rupeika and Jasinskis families, especially as I was not hiding, lived without any documents, quite openly; but nobody turned me in.

Post scriptum
Professor Irena Veisaite, A.Shtromas’s cousin, remembers Marija and Antanas Macenavicius

I was introduced to the family of Antanas and Marija Macenavičiai by the end of the war, perhaps in the autumn of 1944 or in 1945. We became real friends. I felt enormous admiration for them. During the terrible years of Nazi occupation they witnessed how Jews from Kaunas and other places were taken to the 9th Fort (the road to which went past their house) and they did not remain indifferent to the fate of their neighbours and had the courage to come forward to help. Many Jewish people found temporary shelter in their home, and my cousin Aleksandras stayed with the family for as long as nine months. Macenavičius was not frightened even when a German army unit took position in his garden.
Antanas Macenavičius never boasted about his courageous actions, he rather preferred to keep it to himself. When the war ended people would be afraid of the neighbours’ denunciations. There were rumours that Macenavičius received a lot of gold from the Jews. Superstitions and continuous suspicions are a horrible thing. Antanas Macenavičius was a person who radiated light and trust, also he had a wonderful sense of humour. He was a realist but he had an optimistic view of the world. He never became rich. That’s not what he wanted.
Aliukas and our entire family were friends with the Macenavičius family and we are still close with their only daughter Judita Rumbutiene.
I am happy that there is a lasting tribute to Antanas Macenavičius – a wonderful portrait of him painted by Antanas Kmieliauskas. It is kept in their daughter’s house in Dotnuva.

The Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum, 2009

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