Rescuers of Jews

Budreikaitė Bronė

Rosian Zerner’s speech

Madame President, distinguished officials and guests who are here to confirm the importance of this day. Thank you for continuing to commemorate rescuers with this ceremony. It honors the righteous as well as the act of righteousness.

How can one ever thank for the gift of life enough or well enough? Many of us are here only because we have been given this precious gift – a second chance for life – by those individuals who put their own lives at risk. Our rescuers may have been ordinary people but they became extraordinary because of their deeds, as they stood out among the many who participated in and accepted the horrors of the Holocaust. They proved that there can be goodness, there could be courage, selflessness and moral fortitude.

Bronja Budreikaite became one of these extraordinary individuals. She was the secretary at my father’s Paul Bagriansky firm, Ratner and Bagriansky, and the sister-in law of Jacob Gens, head of the Vilnius Ghetto. Even though she is the last of my rescuers to be recognized, she was the first one to hide me. And it is her name that I carried throughout WWII. My wartime name was Irena Budreikaite. I was the first of my family to escape the Kovno Ghetto. My parents timed the searchlights and the guards to dig a hole under the barbed wire risking their own lives to save mine. They again did so when they pushed me through that hole into the arms of Bronja who was on the other side of the barbed wire. I was 6 years old.

I reluctantly, fearfully crossed the bridge and Bronja took me to her apartment for at least one night. I am told that I cried nonstop and she then brought me to the Natalija Yegorova and Natalija Fugaleviciute, who then took me to her sister Lyda Kulautova. All these rescuers have been recognized here. In Kulautova, I was known as Bronja’s illegitimate child and she occasionally visited me to make it official. Margarete Holzman recalls that when she joined Bronia on some of these visits, I would call Bronja mother. So in addition to rescuing me in Kaunas, she also assumed the shame of an illegitimate child to save me. She also helped my mother Gerta to reunite with my father who was already at the apartment of Jacob Gens in Vilnius. She physically brought mother there and stayed with them until she was sure they were safe.

If it were not for Bronja, I may not be here today. Because Bronja was a giver of life when life was to be taken away from Jews that I have come from far away to honor her actions and memory, to speak to you today as a witness in gratitude. I am also here today as a survivor who is of the last generation that is eyewitness to the experience of the horrors of the Holocaust and as such a symbol of how history should not be repeated. We need not bypass the past but learn from it to change the future, especially at a time when Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism are on the rise. Einstein said that “the world is dangerous not only because of people who do evil but because of the people who sit and let it happen”. Bronja did not stand by and let it happen. And that potential for good is in each and every one of us. Even if we act as a just drop in the ocean that ocean would be the less for that missing drop. And that drop can create ripples for a better world that go on in perpetuity. For ourselves, for our children, for our children’s children and all generations to come.

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