Rescuers of Jews

Byra Juozapas

From Jakov Gurvitch‘s Memoirs „The Road of Salvation for the Condemned”

I started wandering again until I came to the family of Juozapas and Stanislava Byra in Vygantiškiai village, about 5 km from Telšiai.
I would like to write separately about the villages of Kalnėnai, Vygantiškiai and Buožėnai (4–5 km from Telšiai).
When I found myself there, it seemed I was in another world. I felt like a free man.
The peasants living in these villages were very friendly towards the Jews. The doors were always open for those who were hiding, and they would always find a plate of food and a bed.
The residents of all three villages helped the Jews. Abraham Desiatnik, sisters Roza and Dora Zyv (Zivaitė), sisters Gita and Lea Druk (Drukaitė), their mother, Jehoshua Shochot (Jehošua Šochotas), his mother Reizl Shochot (Reizl Šochotienė) and myself Jakov Gurvitch were hiding there.
For some time a friend of mine, Abraham Desiatnik, found me a job at the seminary’s manor house that was some 2 km from Telšiai in the village of Džiuginėnai. There were a few families that lived in this manor house, in the so-called seminary folwark: the Eidintas family, which I stayed with, and the Šimkus and Tekorius families.
I would like to emphasize that all three families helped me a lot. I lived there without fear, I worked and I was well fed. They all took care of me as if I was their child. Adelė Eidintaitė helped me in particular. She was only eleven, but had the mind of an adult. She went to Telšiai to Dr. Plechavičius to ask for clothes for me. When the Gestapo was looking for us, she again went to Telšiai to the Adomaitis family to ask them to take me to a safe place. She was an irreplaceable person to me and the first person to help in the times of trouble.
I stayed on this estate for a month and a half or two. At night I grazed the horses there. After some time the estate elder was replaced. The new elder knew who I was and helped me, however, I did not trust him and after some time I went to Vygantiškėss village and stayed there for a few weeks at the place of Leonas Austys.
Leonas Austys and his wife Petrė were wonderful people. In June when we were celebrating Leonas’ name day, there were many people. The host put me in the most honourable place and said: “In response to the anger of all murderers a Jew is partying with us”. Leonas Austys was Byra’s brother-in-law.
The Byras family also lived in Vygantiškiai village. I stayed for longer in this family, during June, July and August of 1943. I became friends with all their children: Aldona, Modesta, Juozas and Eugenija. While living there I used to go berry and mushroom picking. The host would bring them to a collection point and would get what they called points. One could buy soap, oil and other deficit goods that were very necessary with these points. On Sundays I used to go through the villages and nobody touched me, this was a kind of rest for me after all that we had to go through.
Unfortunately I had to leave the Byras family as the Gestapo came and started carrying out raids there.
This is how it happened.
At the end of August one Lithuanian who served in the German army came to the village. His last name was Petravičius. He went to the village dance and saw my friend Abraham Desiatnik and got very furious that a Jew came to the village dance. He went to the Telšiai police and turned him in. Mr. Dambrauskas who worked at the Telšiai police at the time hated the Communists, but was sympathetic towards Jews. He gave a message to the village to be more cautious, as the German soldier had reported to the police. During the next dance event the guys, who were friends with me and Abraham Desiatnik (Abraham Desiatnik during the German occupation was called Adomas), beat this snitch Petravičius up and threw him into the pond. Having realised that the local police was not doing anything, Petravičius went to Šiauliai and complained to the Gestapo. A few days later a group of Gestapo agents came to the village and the raids started. Even though the villages were big, soon everybody found out that the police was looking for Desiatnik. They did not find him at home, as Adomas was digging potatoes outside. When they approached him and asked where to look for the Jews, Desiatnik said: “There are a lot of boletus, leccinum and other mushrooms, but I haven’t seen Jews”. The Gestapo agents searched for the entire day, but found no one, while nobody knew at all were I was living.
In the evening the Gestapo agents were at the Kazlauskas family and arranged a good drinking party there. At the time I was at Mr. Byras, and I was sitting quietly with Stanislovas, the head of the household, and thinking what to do next. Suddenly we heard someone knock on the door. My host was a determined man, took a pitchfork and the axe and went to open the door. And here we saw Adomas with a litre of moonshine who said: “If the Gestapo agents can drink, why can’t we”. We had barely taken a swig and heard the knock again. Another friend of ours had come, a Lithuanian named Vaclovas Gricius (a nice man, he helped me and Adomas Desiatnik a lot, and was hiding the Zyvaite sisters). That night he had come with Roza Zyvaite (Roza Zivaite). Vaclovas also had brought a bottle of vodka. In fact, the Gestapo agents were about a kilometre away from us drinking, while we were right nearby them also drinking and singing songs. In the morning, having woken up and sobered up, we thought everything over: it was dangerous, we have to each go our separate ways. My friend went to Alsėdžiai, Roza Zivaite was taken somewhere by Vaclovas Gricius, whereas I went to a Lithuanian family who had connections with the Adventists. I asked them to somehow tell my mother that I needed help. At the time my mother was living as a Russian refugee on the Patveriai estate, where the owner was an Estonian named Johanson, also an Adventist, even though Johanson knew that she was a Jew. I agreed with my mother that I would go on Žarėnai Road. I was told to wait until a carriage comes with a big man and a woman with an umbrella. They would take me. And that’s how it went. They took me to the estate and I spent there three four days with my mother. I discovered the most important news, which was that my sister was alive and that she had a son. It seemed that once she was in great danger and wrote a letter to my mother that they were getting ready to kill her...

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

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