Rescuers of Jews

Bukontas Jeronimas

Jeronimas BUKONTAS Marija BUKONTIENĖ Jeronimas Bukontas was born in 1903 in the village of Dapšiai in Mažeikiai province. He worked on his farm. In 1920–30, he lived in Germany, earning money in sawmills, construction companies, the Krupp factory. In June 1941, he took part in the uprising against the Soviet regime, Early in 1945 SMERSH, a special group of the Soviet secret police (NKVD) accused him of collaborating with the Nazis and deported him to the Yagrinsk concentration camps near Archangelsk. There he died late in 1945. Marija Bukontienė was born in 1901 in Ritinė village, Mažeikiai province. She worked on the farm, took care of the house. After Jeronimas Bukontas' arrest she became the wife of “an enemy of the people” and was hiding from deportations to Siberia. She died in 1970, in her own home in Dapšiai. Dearly loved and spoiled, I grew up in a beautiful farmstead in Žemaitija (Samogotia), on the bank of the Varduva river. At home, any talk of my past would be abruptly stopped – my mother Marija would do so, sometimes very delicately, at other times rather angrily. I heard something about myself at school, when a quarrel over a trifle with my peers would occur. I started realizing that my origins were enveloped in a terrible and painful mystery, however, I instinctively avoided disentangling it. Even at a secondary school in Židikiai, a town that was once the place of a bloody 20th century drama, I was not able to find anything out. When studying at Vilnius University, I applied to the archives more than once, but the curt reply would always be the same: to look for documents after such a disastrous war was absurd, people died, papers burnt. Once during the holidays in my native place, I received from my aunt Kotryna Šulcienė the address of priest Vaclovas Martinkus in America. She suggested that I should write to him, since he inquired about me. I wrote to him and, before long, received an interesting and tender letter. The priest answered many questions that were gnawing at my soul, he explained and comforted. From his other letters I understood that he was interested in my fate not only as a good priest and decent Christian, but also as an especially concerned person, very close to me. Yes, he baptized me. When my life was in danger, he put much effort in taking me to the remote village of Dapšiai, to the farmstead of Jeronimas and Marija Bukontai; having baptized me, he entered my name in the diocesan books of records, to avoid the prying of the officials. More than once did he assert from the pulpit that nobody could be arrested or killed if they had not violated law and the courts had not proven him or her guilty. I later found out that Marija and Jeronimas Bukontai were also threatened with death, but they were not scared, they would justify and buy themselves out. Alas, what escaped compatriots and the German invaders, was finished by the steel hand of the NKVD: after cruel interrogations, Jeronimas Bukontas, a healthy 42-year-old farmer, survived just a few months in a Soviet concentration camp. Mother died ignorant of what had happened to her husband in the woods of Arkhangelsk, where he was laying rails towards the Belomor canal... Nearly 50 years later, when the Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse, Jeronimas Bukontas was rehabilitated. It was impossible for me to meet priest Vaclovas Martinkus: the KGB closely followed our correspondence, opened letters, openly hindered communication. Finally, a visit to the priest was offered to me under unacceptable conditions and when I refused it, I fell into long-lasting disfavor. I am happy that, when Lithuania's independence was re-established, my second parents and priest Vaclovas Martinkus were awarded the Life Savior’s Crosses. Risking their own lives and those of their relatives, they observed the Torah's commandment: love thy neighbour as thou lovest thyself. Without loud words or intricate demonstrations they fulfilled the sacred duty – saved a dying man. Thus there is good reason for their names being written on the wall of the Righteous Among the Nations of the World, on the Mount Herzl in the very heart of Jerusalem. From Hands Bringing Life and Bread, Volume 1,
The Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum. Vilnius, 1997
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