Rescuers of Jews

Banionis Juozas


The residents of Tauragė were very familiar with the local Elijah Baikovičius before the war, a mill owner and proprietor of the "Progresas" sawmill, philanthropist, recipient of the Gediminas Order for his public and charitable activities, long-time member of the city council, and a prominent chess player who represented Lithuania at the Munich Olympics in 1936. In 1940, when the Soviets nationalized the mill, the Baikovičius family—Elijah, his wife Fruma, and sons Leiba (born 1936) and Jakob (born 1938)—moved to Kaunas, where Elijah's parents lived and had a residence. When the war broke out, the Baikovičius family ended up in the Kaunas Ghetto. As the situation in the ghetto became increasingly dangerous, Elijah Baikovičius decided to find a hiding place for his wife Fruma and children in the Tauragė region, where he had many acquaintances and was respected by his fellow countrymen.

On October 29, 1943, Fruma Baikovičienė and her children managed to escape from the ghetto and were taken in by an acquaintance, Vytautas Moras, a former captain in the Lithuanian army. Fruma and her children couldn't stay with him for long, so she returned with her son Jakob to the ghetto, while the elder son Leiba was sent by Moras to trustworthy farmers living outside Tauragė, who later handed him over to his parents. Fruma's escape from the ghetto was aided by a woman from Tauragė, Barbora Banionienė, who was living in Kaunas at the time.

From B. Banionienė's recollections:

"Taking my daughter in a carriage, I used to go to the ghetto in the evenings. I went many times. My legs and hands trembled, I couldn't bring myself to take the boy. After a few days, bad weather came, the ghetto guards were not visible, and Baikovičius handed over his son Jakob. I put him in the carriage next to my daughter and went home, barely able to walk. The child cried in Yiddish: “Muter, muter ikh vil esn” (“Mother, mother, I want to eat.”)

At Juozas and Barbora Banionis, the boy stayed for several days until Elija Baikovičius organized the sending of his wife and son to the Tauragė region by truck, which carried a German car for repair near Kryžkalnis. Barbora Banionienė helped them reach Tauragė, they all had to walk several kilometers on foot.
A friend of the Baikovičius family in Tauragė, Albinas Sabaliauskas, could not accommodate Fruma and her son in his home, so they were taken to the village of Kasbarynai to Leonas Vaišvilas and his wife Stanislava. Later, Fruma and her son were transferred to Leonas's brother Stasys (Stanislovas) Vaišvilas and his wife Juzefa. When the Germans settled in at Stanislovas and Juzefa's place, Fruma hid on the second floor of the house in a hideout between the walls. Baikovičius's son Jakob (Juozukas) was hidden in the family of Leonas and Stanislovas Vaišvilas's sister Vlada Arvasevičienė in the same village. Stanislovas and Vlada Arvasevičius raised two children—daughter Kristina and son Romanas. Jakob's parents used to come to visit him. A hiding place was prepared for them in advance in the bedroom—a double wall with a gap where they hid during the day because they could only come out of hiding at night. The children were taught not to tell anyone that a Jewish family was being hidden in their home; the older daughter Kristina became her parents' helper. When Juozukas had a toothache, he had to be taken to Batakiai to a German doctor, and he was told not to say anything. The Arvasevičiai also took their son Romanas so that there would be no suspicion that Juozukas was a Jew. Elijah Baikovičius, having escaped from the ghetto, joined the partisans fighting against the Nazis near Tauragė. After spending a year with the partisans, he often visited Fruma and the children, staying with the Vaišvilas family. After the war, the Baikovičius family left for Canada through Poland and Germany.

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