Rescuers of Jews

Kauneckas Vytautas


He hid Riva Shmukler-Osherovich, and the musician Gerta Bagriansky and her husband Paul Bagrianskis in Kaunas.

Having learned that the Viršubskis, whom he had got to know in Berlin, had been taken to the ghetto, Vytautas Kauneckas procured a permit to enter the ghetto. Grigorijus Viršubskis was sawing wood in one of the yards of the ghetto, and at his flat Kauneckas found only his wife Liolė and their teenage son. He left them some money...
In December of the same year, the Kauneckas moved house and sheltered Riva Shmukkler, an escapee from the ghetto. All day long Riva would sit at the radio and listen to forbidden broadcasts from the West and the East. After some time she had to be moved to a more private place, behind the Saulė secondary school in the home of the Natašas, Fugelevičiūtė and Jegorova. Sometimes, accompanied by Kauneckas, Riva would come to sleep over at his place. Once, before the curfew, they got caught up in the crossfire between two tipsy white-bands in Savanorių prospektas, and bullets whistled past them on the pavement.
Riva Shmukler asked Kauneckas to shelter her friend Gerta Bagriansky, who was going to escape from the ghetto with her husband Paul and their six-year-old daughter Rosian. Gerta was not only accommodated in a separate room, she was even registered for a ration card. The Lithuanian officer at the address bureau, looking at the photograph in the passport, probably understood that the “nurse” was not at all a certain Gabrielė Baranauskienė, born in Grenoble... Without saying a word, she put a stamp in the house registration book.
Gerta was born in Danzig. She had studied music in Paris and her husband Paul had studied in England. Both were pleasant and educated people. They were going to move to Vilnius with forged passports. Paul Bagrianskis spoke good German and did not look like a Jew. Kauneckas and Edė Jankutė prepared a fake travel document: citizen N (a false name) was going to Vilnius on business. Kauneckas and Jankutė were participating in a doubly dangerous crime: they helped a Jew and forged documents for him. These papers were like delayed-action bombs. At the time Kauneckas could not even imagine that both their lives, and that of Bagrianskis, would be hanging by a thread...
What happened subsequently was told by Riva after the war. Bagrianskis probably did not want to upset Kauneckas post factum. That time Bagrianskis successfully reached Vilnius and at the beginning he stayed with Jokūbas Gensas, the Vilnius Ghetto commandant. Then he found a room, and once in the daytime he was walking in the street carrying his suitcase. Suddenly he was stopped by three men: “Hey, Bagrianskis, why are you walking freely? Why aren’t you in the ghetto?” They were his former schoolmates and they took their schoolmate to the Gestapo office in Lukiškių Square. Leaving him in the corridor, they went into the office of some chief to report about the detention of a runaway Jew.
What could be done? Not only would he fall victim, but so would those Lithuanians who had forged his documents, Bagrianskis realised. He took out his wallet and tucked it behind a radiator. There was no other place where he could hide it. Bagrianskis was sentenced to death for escaping, but Gensas managed to pay a ransom for him. The ghetto commandant feared that Bagrianskis might not stand up to torture and might talk about staying at his place... Then his entire family would suffer. Paul had to be ransomed with 40 other Jewish prisoners. Ransoming one person could raise suspicions. He never learned how much was paid.
In 1942 the Germans were still continuing to advance, and there were doubts about the outcome of the war. That state of uncertainty unsettled Gerta, and she decided to leave the shelter of her friends. One day she put on a fine sealskin coat and went out into the street. It was a risky undertaking. People wondered: Look, a Jewish woman is walking free. Since the venture put her friends in danger as well, she made up her mind to leave Kauneckas’ home. Thanks to an acquaintance, she got to Banienė’s estate, not far from Kaunas. Banienė believed that she was taking in a gardener’s widow. However, on subsequently learning that she was hiding a Jew, she did not show any hostility...
Hiding together, Gerta Bagriansky and Riva Shmukler waited for the end of the war. Once thieves got in through an open window and stole a sewing machine. The two women were in the kitchen and did not dare to reveal themselves to the thieves.
Before the liquidation of the Vilnius Ghetto, Paul Bagrianskis escaped and arrived at the village of Keturiasdešimt Totorių. There he found the Kuzminskis, with whom he had become familiar while logging in a ghetto team. Their little son Antonas took him to the partisans in Rūdninkai forest.
Kauneckas also took care of the Bagrianskis’ little daughter Rosian. He applied to the rector of the Kaunas seminary, Pranciškus Petraitis. The clergyman regretted that he could not take her in: he was already hiding three Jewish children in his flat, and people were beginning to talk about it. The priest Stanislovas Būdavas procured a forged birth certificate for Rosian, and she lived with Lidija Golubovienė in Kulautuva. She was betrayed, and two Germans came for the girl. It is not known how Golubovienė managed to convince the German officer to leave the girl alone. After the war, Golubovienė was exiled to Igarka. She returned to Lithuania after a long time...

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