Rescuers of Jews

Helene HOLZMAN – Unforgettable Name in the Avenue of the Righteous

Who was Helene Czapski-Holzman – the extraordinary woman brought by fate from Germany to Lithuania and marked with the sign of the fate of the European Jews? Where did she grow up and what people surrounded her?
Helene Czapski was born on 30 August 1891 in the town of Jena, Thuringia, Germany. Helene’s father, a famous physicist Siegfried Czapski, was a member of the administration of Karl Zeiss factories of optical systems. He was one of the most famous people in the town, who had contributed to the industrial and cultural prosperity of the town through his reformist actions.
Helene was raised amidst advanced scientific and modern social ideas; she had no restrictions to study art and continuously improve her talent. After graduating from the Jena Karoline School, Helene studied in the Art School of the Grand Duke of Saxony in Weimar, later studied fine arts in Jena, the Academy of Fine Arts in Wroclaw, as well as in Berlin, Hermsdorf, and Paris.
In 1922, Helene married a Jewish painter Max Holzman and in 1923 they moved to Lithuania. In Kaunas, the temporary capital of Lithuania, Max Holzman opened a branch of the “Pribačis” bookstore (Pribatsch was the name of Max’s uncle, famous bookseller from Breslau). Helene started working as a drawing teacher in Kaunas German Gymnasium.
In 1922 and 1924, two daughters – Marie and Margarete – were born in the family of Helene and Max Holzmans.
In 1930, painter Helene Holzman put her paintbrush aside for the next 25 years. She dedicated her entire time to the girls, work in “Pribačis” bookstore and school.
During the years of the German occupation, the family of Helene and Max Holzmans were drawn into the horrible maelstrom of extermination of the Jews, which tore this beautiful family to pieces. People who were in love with each other were forced to go through unspeakable suffering and the horror of death.
During the pogroms in Kaunas in June 1941, Helene’s husband Max Holzman was lost forever. Later, the elder daughter of the Holzmans, 19-year-old Marie, who would visit wounded German soldiers in Kaunas Hospital and talk to them about peace, was arrested, imprisoned and later shot to death in the 9th Fort.
After this dreadful loss, Helene managed to overcome her desperation and decided to save her younger daughter Margarete and as many people as she could, concentrating on the children from the Kaunas Ghetto who were facing death. One of the people saved by her, Fruma Vitkinaitė-Kučinskienė, tied her fate with Helene Holzman and her daughter Margarete for ever. When it became clear that Fruma’s parents and her brother died during the liquidation of the Kaunas Ghetto, Helene Holzman adopted Fruma and surrounded her with love and kindness.
Once the war was over, in September 1944, Helene Holzman started writing down everything she saw, heard and experienced during the three years of war in Kaunas. These memoirs were kept by her daughter Margarete for over half a century. Only in 2000, with the help of the writer Reinhard Kaiser, Helene Holzman’s reminiscences were made available to the public: in 2000, the book Dies Kind soll leben. Die Aufzeichnungen der Helene Holzman 1941–1944 (This Child Must Live. The Writings of Helene Holzman 1941–1944) was published in Germany. Later, this book was translated into many languages and in 2003 it was published in Lithuanian titled Šitas vaikas turi gyventi.
After the war, Helene Holzman taught German in Kaunas high schools, including the 10-year Kaunas Music School from 1950 to 1957. In the 1950s, Helene Holzman ended her career. She found the strength to speak through images and started painting again.
In 1965, after a long endeavour, Helene Holzman and her daughter Margarete obtained permission to repatriate to the Federal Republic of Germany, where they at first lived in Tegernsee, and from 1966 in Gießen. The return to the fatherland marked the beginning of yet another stage of life of the 74 years old painter – she began creating collages of blossoms, seeds, leaves and feathers. This was the harmonious end of Helene Holzman’s creative life.
25 August 1968, Helene Holzman died in a car accident.
Many years later, Helene Holzman returned to Lithuania revealing the entire beauty of her soul through the touching imagery of the film Vilties etiudas (Study of Hope) dedicated to her memory (directed and written by Lilija Kopač; project manager and co-writer Danutė Selčinskaja).
Thus, we wanted to honour this extraordinary woman – painter, the Righteous among the Nations, whose life painfully marked by dictatorships remained straight and dignified.
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