Rescuers of Jews

Jankus Augustinas


Augustas JANKUS

No good Lithuanians came to the rescue of the Zelikovičas family. The partisans of Skuodas were among the first to dispose of the “Bolshevik Jewish elements”. Standing at the edge of the pit, they possibly had only one bright idea: the daughter Estera was not with them, she was in Vilnius, and in a big city she could be rescued.
In the first days of the war, Estera, a university student, was going to flee to Skuodas, where she had many acquaintances and knew good people who smiled on her. However, the rumours about mass graves and massacred Jews reached her.
Estera met several familiar people, but they pretended not to know her and tried to avoid seeing her. Nobody wanted to have anything to do with the Jews, and Estera, like her parents, did not find a single good person. She had to go to the ghetto. The actions bypassed the young and still strong girl, and she was spared for some time. But she had to be as hardworking and as submissive as a slave.
Working long hard months, she resigned herself to her fate. Deadly tired and hungry, she was glad that she was still alive. Each time the overseers found her a harder job, until finally she was sent to Pravieniškės to carry wet peat in wheelbarrows and put it out on boards for drying. The work was exhausting, but times had changed. People said that by listening hard they could hear the distant rumble of heavy guns in the east. When the situation became clear to the Germans, the confusion among them became obvious, and they began treating the prisoners in the concentration camp as an inconvenient burden, to be discarded as redundant. One day a middle-aged German guard came up to Estera and, looking around, told her that the camp would be liquidated in a matter of days...
Estera succeeded in escaping. Her thoughts were in a whirl. The world was wide, but she had nowhere to go; there were many houses around her, but no door to knock on. She could go in only one direction – towards her native town, her home, Skuodas.
Her former schoolmate Staselė was frightened, not for herself but for Estera, when she saw how the Jewish girl looked and what terrible wrongs she had suffered. She chided her for not coming earlier. It is not true that great wealth and cordiality do not go together. Staselė’s father, a former teacher, worked on his farm with the hired hands. He welcomed her as her daughter’s friend, who had come to her on holiday. The labourers were also told that.
Estera went to the Promised Land. Meanwhile, her rescuers were sent to Siberia. Much time had passed before the two friends could meet again... by correspondence. In 1992 the Medal of the Righteous Among the Nations was conferred on Stasė and her husband Augustas. Stasė’s father Stasys Žukauskas was awarded the title posthumously. Neither Stasė Jankienė nor Augustas are alive. The Life Saviour’s Cross was accepted on their behalf by their son Donatas. And Estera? Are letters in envelopes with beautifully curved writing still winging their way towards the village of Gintalaičiai?...

From Hands Bringing Life and Bread, Volume 3,
The Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum. Vilnius, 2005
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