Rescuers of Jews

Kukolevskis (Kukolewski) Jan

Zofija KUKOLEVSKA (KUKOLEWSKA)
Jan KUKOLEVSKIS (KUKOLEWSKI)

Helena ZIENOVIČ (ZIENOWICZ)


Kukolewska, Zienowicz and the Jankovskis rescued Renana Gabajūtė, Benjaminas Gabajus, Jokūbas Finkas and Vilis Finkas in Vilnius,and hid the doctor Abelis Gabajus and his wife in the village of Anglininkai near Butrimonys.

At the start of the German occupation, the Zienowicz lost their livelihoods. The father was ailing and old, and did not have any pension, the sisters Janina and Helena were teachers and both of them lost their jobs. Janina decided to go to the countryside to look for work. Arriving at the farmers Jankovskis, with whom she was familiar, she met a crowd of “guests”. Yes, Anna Jankowska nodded, Doctor Abelis Gabajus and his wife and two children had fled from Butrimonys, where the ‘action’ had taken place. How could you turn away the family doctor... And Jokūbas Finkas... How could you send him away? Riva Finkienė, rescuing people during the typhus epidemic, had contracted the disease and died, leaving the orphan Vilinkė. There could be no doubt about it... Going to Vilnius, Janina could take them along. It’s a big city, and they would dissolve there and hide with acquaintances.
The following day all of them departed. When it was time to feed the children, Ana Jankovska dropped in on her old acquaintance Jan Kukolewski in the village of Anglininkai. When his wife Zofija learned where they were going she was aghast: there the order really was German, all the Jews had been driven into the ghetto, from where they were taken in groups to Paneriai to be shot. The road to Vilnius was a straight road to death... Anna’s hands trembled, and she started muttering that it was impossible to continue the journey. Taking the escapees to the city would be madness, disastrous for all of them.
The Kukolewskis looked searchingly at the Jews and sighed, saying that no cap would be able to hide facial features that had been given by God at birth. They could save themselves only by going into hiding. The adult would understand it, the children wouldn’t; therefore, they had to separate. The adult would stay there, and the children would continue the journey with Janina. In Vilnius there were many kindhearted people who would shelter the unfortunates. The children would not be noticed; while here malevolent people would be quick to notice them. The teacher went up to the children and started dressing them and preparing them for the journey.
The sullen hungry city was inhospitable towards the newcomers. On hearing about them, people soon turned away, and the teacher did not dare to condemn them. They couldn’t even feed their own children, and to accept others, and Jewish at that... That was beyond the bounds of possibility. The privations were obvious in every home. Nevertheless, Janina once again wrapped herself up in her shawl and again went out in search of some guardians. Then Helena said categorically that it was enough running around in vain, if God had brought these children into their home they should stay with them, they couldn’t act against the will of God. Helena was a devout Catholic, and she spoke like that, although there were no children in the plans of her life. She was attracted by the nun’s life and service of God. On the other hand, maybe God was sending her tribulations in this way... Janina could look after the schooling, and Helena would take care of the children and keep house. We’ll survive, the occupation won’t be for ever.
Rumours about the increase in the Zienowicz family spread quickly, and many people came to help them. The first was the priest Vladislavas Kisielius. He brought money to buy milk for the children, promising to bring more another time. Then came a former pupil, Irutė Rytel, to play with the children and to let the teacher have a rest or go out. Then other pupils started coming, Emilija Ivanovska, Irena Chudyba, Eugenija Kislovska and Teresa Bžovska, to look after the children by talking and singing with them. Some frequent visitors were the “holy couple”. That was how people referred to Marylia Abramovič-Volska and her husband Feliksas. Offering help seemed to be not only their calling but also their profession, so many escapees from Vilnius had passed through their home.
The four-year-old Renana Gabajūtė, Vilis Finkas of the same age and the ten-month-old Benjaminas Gabajus, whom everybody called Mimusis, grew up in the home of the Zienowicz sisters as if on a razor’s edge. All of a sudden, spoilt brats would shout out “Jew” in the street, neighbours would find the Gabajus’ documents somewhere in the attic, a word of the not-yet-forgotten native language would escape the children’s lips... Loose tongues wagged that the children were not their relatives at all, probably they were... Helena had not gone into a convent because they were her children, weren’t they? Or possibly, God forbid, they were...
Hard days befell the cramped Zienowicz flat. The family was underfed. There was no great need for schooling. Rye flour porridge was a regular meal, often without salt, and it was very good when some milk was added...
The family was often visited by the erudite doctor of philosophy Jerzy Orda. The priest Romualdas Svirkovskis brought birth certificates for the children: from that time on they were Zienowicz. Who could have foreseen that the noble priest would make the ultimate sacrifice for his rescuing activity? Benediktas, the Zienowič’s son, was arrested by the Gestapo and died in prison.
Meanwhile, the adults waited for better times in the distant farmstead of Zofija and Jan Kukolewskis in Rūdninkai forest. When it became too dangerous to be there, they went to Vilnius and had to go into the ghetto. There the mother of Danutė-Renana and Mimusis died: she could not endure the many hardships and the absence of her children. Abelis Gabajus survived, and, with Danutė and Benjaminas-Mimusis, he went to Israel via Poland in 1959. Jokūbas Finkas went to America.
And Vilis? The doctor Vilhelm Zienowicz, residing in Warsaw, writes: “I have two mothers. One brought me into the world; the other rescued and brought me up.”

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