Rescuers of Jews

Norbutas Povilas


From “With a Needle in the Heart”, Memoirs of Former Prisoners of Ghettos and Concentration Camps

I was born into the family of a cantor on 25 February 1931 in the small town of Šilalė. It is in the county of Tauragė in the western part of Lithuania. The Germans occupied Šilalė on the second day of the war, that is, on 23 June 1941. The Jews of Šilalė knew about the genocide being carried outand tried to run away, but only a very few families succeeded. Massacres started. The fascists and their helpers first of all arrested the women who 'worked' for the Soviet authorities. The butchers jeered at them, cut five-pointed stars on their skin, cut off their ears and tongues, and after such tortures they killed them in the Jewish cemetery in Šilalė. The butchers came to our house to rob us of our valuables. At that time I was alone at home. They wanted to kill me with a large knife. I jumped out of the window and ran away.
On 7 July 1941 over a hundred men and youths were herded and shut into the synagogue. At night the guards started tossing grenades through the windows, and many of the Jew inside were killed. Those who survived were killed the following day. I was also shut in the synagogue together with my father and brother. A grenade tore my brother into pieces. Shivering with horror, we pressed against each other by the wall without realizing whether we were still alive or dead because the moaning of the wounded or dying people rang throughout the synagogue. Later we were driven out to be shot. We were separated near the ditch dug for the people sentenced to death. I saw my beloved father falling into the ditch.
An old attendant of the synagogue shames, was among the people driven to be shot; standing on the edge of a ditch he asked a Lithuanian guard at his side for a cigarette. When the guard bent down to take a cigarette, the old man attacked him and summoning all his strength bit the guard's throat. Confusion arose, the executors rushed to the guard to help him. I was a short boy and while running away I hid under one or another tree till I reached the Lokysta stream. I returned to the town where the women with children, lost and frighteneds had been left. Some time later they were informed that they would have to help the farmers to do agricultural work. They were also told to take along all their jewellery, valuable things, and better clothes so that they could exchange them for food for their children because the money they were going to receive for their work would not be enough. The women took what they could, and together with their children they were driven to Tūbinės forest about 7 kilometres away from Šilalė –Tubinės highway. Wide long ditches were dug there for dumping the corpses. The women and children started screaming. They all were herded into the ditches, of course after everything they had of value had been taken from them. To save cartridges, the butchers flung small babies violently against a tree, and though still alive threw them into the ditch on top of the people who had died or were dying. The ditches were dug insufficiently deep. The soil hardly covered the bodies and did not absorb the blood. And so a stream of blood flowed into a nearby small river turning the water red. I also was driven to that massacre. However, again I succeeded in escaping.
I ran through the forest and reached the town of Varniai. At that time, Jews were not shot there though everybody was strictly ordered not to leave home. But one night the Jews living in Varniai were encircled and driven to Telšiai ghetto. I was among them. Again I managed to run away from Telšiai ghetto before the Jews were driven out to be shot. The butchers did not notice a small, frightened boy who was inconspicuous. It was the fifth time that I had managed to escape death.
After several days spent in the forests, I reached Šilalė and knocked gently on the window of the Lašaitis house, who were personal acquaintances of our family. The Lašaitis welcomed me with great surprise as if I had risen from the dead. They wrung their hands listening to what atrocities I had to suffer. They knew that I was the youngest in the family, the apple of the eye. They washed and fed me. However, since anybody would notice me there, I was sent to the village of Jokubaiciai, 5 kilometres away from Šilalė, and settled in the home of Ona Norbutienė. I was hidden there in a cold larder, though sometimes I went outside dressed in the clothes of her son Povilas. I usually stayed inside because the house was by the road and the Germans often pass by; the white armbands also frequently used to drop in to have lunch or a glass of brandy. Norbutiene was known in the village as a women's 'doctor', and she was a respected person in Šilalė. I was often sent, either on my own or together with her son, to pasture the cows. Foreboding something bad, Ona Norbutienė made arrangements with her sister Marijona and her husband Povilas Stonkus who lived in the town of Žvingiai. It was decided that their place would be safer for me. The Stonkus' family took me in, greatly risking their lives because a German family lived in Žvingiai. The priest of the town alone knew about me. In the summer I used to 'live' in the rye and in the autumn and spring - in the barn in a shelter built under hay. It was a very difficult time for me.
In October 1944 the fascists were driven away from Žvingiai, and some days later I thanked my rescuers and moved to the house of Pranas Šimutis and his sister who lived in the village of Serikai near the town of Šilalė. They were single, lived on their own, and treated me as their own child. I helped them to do all jobs on the farm. While living there, I finished Šilalė high school in 1951 and started my independent life.
In 1956 I graduated from Vilnius University, the Faculty of Physics and Mathematics, and later worked as an engineer and a teacher. In 1964 I got married and brought up a daughter who now lives in Israel, is married, and has two children. I am a pensioner.
My mother died in 1939 of meningitis. My father, my two brothers and sister were shot. My rescuers Marijona and Povilas Stonkus by decree of the President of the Republic of Lithuania were awarded the Life Saviour’s Cross.

Vilnius, 2001

Keywords: gelbėtojai Norbutas
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