Rescued Jewish Children

Leon Volpert (Leonid Goldberg)

They lived to See Freedom in Šepkaičiai

Josifas Judelevičius

From the 4th book Hands Bringing Life and Bread

During World War II, agronomist Vincas Mikolaitis, his wife Felicija Mikolaitienė and daughter Dalia Mikolaitytė lived in the centre of Šiauliai on Rūdės street 19. Their flat was close to the Jewish ghetto, established in August 1941. The ghetto gates were just several hundred metres away. In autumn 1943, late in the evening, a very hurried woman, a stranger, came to the Mikolaitis flat with a bundle, hiding an ingeniously wrapped and well-veiled small child. The lady had much trouble trying to take the bundle from the ghetto. A bit earlier, with the persecuting of Jews worsening, agronomist Girshovich (Giršovičius) from Šiauliai had agreed that his colleague Mikolaitis would hide Girshovich’s son. The circumstances changed radically and instead of Girshovich’s son, another child was delivered to the Mikolaitis family. The little boy’s name was Leon Volpert (Leonas Volpertas). His nanny was a very courageous woman to take him away from the ghetto. Vincas Mikolaitis was not too surprised about the twist of the circumstances: many things happen during the war... He did not ponder a second to save the child. Little Leon’s nanny did not disclose her name. She just left the address of the child’s relatives living in Moscow. That is how the hiding of Leon Volpert started and it lasted until the end of the German occupation.
Before the war agronomist Vincas Mikolaitis graduated from the Dotnuva Agricultural Academy. In the land plot, which he rented near the town of Gruzdžiai, he established an exemplary farm in Šepkaičiai village. Felicija Mikolaitienė’s parents lived there.
Rūdės street 19 in the very centre of Šiauliai was not the best place to hide people: it was watched by many curious eyes, let alone German officers who were living on the ground floor!
Soon Leon Volpert was taken in a wicker basket to Šepkaičiai, to be taken care of by Felicija Mikolaitienė’s parents, Vincas Murinas and Emilija Murinienė. During the summer, the Mikolaitis family spent most of their time in Šepkaičiai. During the entire time of hiding little Leon was in safe hands, vigilantly protected from prying eyes until the German Army was expelled from the area.
In the summer of 1944, several weeks before the liquidation of the ghetto and with the front approaching Šiauliai, two youngsters, Simon Girsh (Simonas Giršas) and Abrasha Sharfanovich (Abraša Šarfanovičius) (the latter’s father knew agronomist Vincas Mikolaitis) escaped from the ghetto. The Mikolaitis family provided shelter to both escapees and swiftly organised their secret transportation to the Šepkaičiai farm, where Vincas Murinas and Emilija Murinienė hid the young men in the granary. Finally the day came when the frontline approached the Šepkaičiai farm. That happened in late July 1944.
Despite the orders of the occupation government, the Mikolaitis family took risks in saving another person under persecution. They provided shelter to land surveyor Moses Barilka (Mozė Barilka) who refused to stay in the Šiauliai ghetto. Barilka had married a beautiful Lithuanian girl who had no possibilities of hiding her husband. For several months Barilka was living in a small room in the Mikolaitis flat. Having smoked for many years, he could not resist a temptation to smoke a cigarette. The cough caused by it and the smell of tobacco smoke probably attracted the attention of neighbours and put both Moses Barilka and the entire Mikolaitis family at great risk. One night, some woman knocked at their door and warned the Mikolaitis couple that they had to transfer the person they were hiding to another place. The woman said that during the night the flat would be searched. If a ghetto-escapee, a Jew, were found, everybody would be hanged. The Mikolaitis family believed what the woman said and took action. During the night, Felicija Mikolaitienė and her daughter Dalia took Moses Barilka from the hiding place to some other trustworthy people on the outskirts of the town (later he was transferred to another quiet place in the Joniškis region and was finally liberated there).
The woman came right in time to warn about the search. At midnight, a huge squad from the German gendarmerie searched the entire flat of Mikolaitis, every room and every wardrobe but in vain…
During the war, the Šiauliai railway station was replete with haggard and famished prisoners of war, including homeless orphans. The Mikolaitis family picked up one starving orphan, took him home, washed him, gave him something to eat and saved him from famine. The kid appeared to be of Lithuanian origin. His name was Kostas Čižauskas. His parents had died during the bombing and Kostas managed to run away from the Leningrad front and reach Šiauliai. The Mikolaitis family took Kostas Čižauskas to Šepkaičiai, to be taken care of by of Vincas Murinas and Emilija Murinienė. In their care, the boy was brought back to life.
After the war, Leon Volpert, whose parents were killed, lived with the Mikolaitis family in Šiauliai until 1947. When his mother’s relatives, the Goldbergs, came from Moscow, he left with them for Moscow. The Goldberg family adopted Leon Volpert and he became Leonid Goldberg. While in Moscow, Leonid Goldberg studied, got married and worked in a famous watch factory until he got retired. He still keeps contacts with Dalia Mikolaitytė-Gelumbauskienė, who lives in Kaunas.
After the war, Simon Girsh lived in Kaunas, worked in a household commodity shop and later emigrated to Israel. He settled in Jerusalem and still lives there. Until 1998, he kept correspondence with Dalia Mikolaitytė-Gelumbauskienė.
Abrasha Sharfanovich managed to leave to the US right after the war but his place of residence is unknown.
Moses Barilka from the Joniškis region came back to Šiauliai and worked as a senior land management specialist in the Radviliškis region for many years.
Kostas Čižauskas graduated from the Kaunas Institute of Physical Education, got married and worked as a teacher until he died in 2006. For many years, Kostas Čižauskas and Dalia Mikolaitytė-Gelumbauskienė were very good friends.
In 1954, Dalia Mikolaitytė-Gelumbauskienė graduated from the Kaunas Medical Institute, got married and worked in a variety of medical institutions in Lithuania. Now Dalia is retired and lives in Kaunas.
Vincas Murinas and Emilija Murinienė, as well as Vincas Mikolaitis and Felicija Mikolaitienė died well after the war. All of them were buried in Kaunas.
While looking back at this distant past, at the deed performed by the two families, Mikolaitis and Murinas, who saved five people from unavoidable death, we still adore them for their sacrifice and humanity.

The Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum, 2009
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