Rescuers of Jews

Pietrik Antonina


Israel Gurwicz testifies:

My name is Israel Gurwicz known as Izzy, born Wilno 18/6/1932.
My elder brother is Abraham (Allen) Gurwicz also born Wilno on 29/1/1929. Our parents‘– my late father Moshe Hirsch Gurwicz – my late mother Bluma Gurwicz (nee Treger), my late sister Deborah Gurwicz born Wilno 1/1/1938 – were murdered by the Nazis during the years 1943–1944 during the Holocaust period. I presume, my mother and my sister were murdered in the forests of Ponary near Wilno and my late father in Dachau. Both my parents we very well-known people, wealthy and prominent in the Cattle and Produce business. They were Merchants in Wilno Poland.
My brother and I were brought up with the best of everything, and we were known as people of substantial material means.
Tonia was Gentile, and was a member of my grandfather's household, who after the marriage of my parents, joined our household as a Governess/Housekeeper/Nanny.
We resided at Konska Ulica 26 –Wilno.
When Allen and I were born it was Tonia who brought us up from the cradle, changed our nappies, fed us, taught us how to walk and to speak. Both my brother and I worshipped her like a mother, and as a result her love for us was very strong.
Tonia was so devoted to us, that she did not marry in life.
In 1941 the Nazis marched into Wilno and several months later the Wilno Ghetto was formed.
We could take with us only the minimum essentials, only sufficient clothing and bedding that we could hand-carry and the whole household was left intact in
the hands of Tonia.
Most important was her undying love for my sister Deborah then 3 ½ years old,
from whom she could not be parted. My mother was more than happy to leave her in the care of Tonia.
After being in the Ghetto for several months, a message came through that the Lithuanian Police had arrested Tonia and my sister Deborah. Tonia, having the strength that she had convinced the Police that she was Deborah's adopted mother, and that they should at least hand Deborah over to her true mother who was in the Ghetto, and by some miracle Tonia was released and Deborah was re-united with the family in the Ghetto.
During the years of 1941/1942 until the liquidation of the Wilno Ghetto in September 1943, Tonia on a daily basis provided us with the daily essentials and food, plus clothing, gave us hope and prayed for us. To keep us alive my late father insisted that Tonia disposes of some assets, which she declined to do, but instead took on a job as a wash maid. During the whole period 1941/43 Vytautas who was her nephew and was then 25 years old, was before the war a regular visitor to our home. He was an orphan and grew up with our family. He was a highly intellectual individual as he studied Medicine at the Wilno University. Vytas was Tonia's greatest confidant as well as to my parents, and was at all times a pillar of strength for Tonia, when she was alone. During the liquidation of the Wilno Ghetto in September 1943 we were hidden in a "masquered" Cellar on Straszuna 6 in the Ghetto for a period of 35 days, without running water nor food. Conditions in the cellar were unbearable, thus the discipline broke down.
During the first 10 days in hiding in the Cellar, my brother Allen with two other men decided to break out from the Ghetto at night and by some miracle found his way to Tonia's home. Tonia was so happy to see him, she accomodated him at once in a masqueraded cupboard. Tonia immediately then contacted Vytautas who together with Allen worked out a plan of action, as to how to try to save the rest of the family.
Vytautas had connections with some Lithuanians who were prepared for a sum of money to take any chances they could, so a rendezvous was arranged with a clandestine Agent Party to rescue us from the Ghetto, but due to some misunderstanding Vytas 1 contact got caught and shot dead by marauding Lithuanian and Ukrainiun Police in the middle of the night.
25 days later our hiding place was discovered and 110 men, women and children of all ages were taken out to the Gestapo Jail, where we were all beaten up, and robbed of our possessions. It was the "SS Executioner Bruno Kittel" personally who started to make the selection - to the left all females, to be shot at Ponary all males to the right. I was then 11 years old and being tall, with luck I was selected "to the right", with my father.
We were then taken to a Motor Transport Labour Camp called H.K.P. which was located in a suburb of Wilno, which had then several hundred families of Jews who were still useful to the German War Effort. On arrival later, my father made contact with Tonia and only then did we learn that my brother Allen was alive in hiding with Tonia. Tonia begged for me to escape, and come to her. She is ready to save me.
I made a miraculous escape from H.K.P. Labour Camp with the hope that Tonia would be there to accomodate me and I found myself with Tonia. Tonia masquered both myself and my brother into a concealed cupboard where we stayed day and night until the liberation of Wilno by the Red Army in the late summer of 1944.
Vytautas was always in constant contact with Tonia, prepared Arian false papers of birth for Allen and my self, in case we were caught. Tonia herself was illiterate but provided us regularly with newspapers and I can remember very clearly an incident in a daily newspaper in Polish, on the front page, featuring a Gentile woman hanging from a tree, and affixed to her body was a placard reading "This is the price you will pay for hiding or assisting Jews - Do you wish to be next?". Tonia asked me to read this to her. Which'I did and her reply to me was "No might of the German Army will take my children away from me.”
After the liberation in 1944 up to 1946 we were in Wilno, than as Polish Citizens we left to Poland Tonia, Allen and I. We thereafter were able to make contact with our Relatives in South Africa, who without delay went ahead and got the necessary documents for permanent residence in South Africa for Tonia, Allen and myself. The Polish Government however declined to give Tonia an exit Visa on the grounds that she was Gentile. Thereafter Tonia became ill due to worry and anxiety, and developed the heart complaint Angina. After we arrived in South Africa I continued my hard fight to get Tonia released, but unfortunately it was too late. I received a letter in 1956 that Tonia had passed away in Lodz/Poland.
We lost contact with Vytas in 1944 after the liberation and presumed that he was killed. We didn't give up hope however and continued looking for him, and with the help of the Polish Red Cross in 1974 established a line of communication with him again and there after began assisting him from here with clothing etc, which we sent to him through London.
Vytautas is now in very poor health. His vision is very poor, an injury from the war years, and he is also hard of hearing. However, due to the recent developments in Eastern Europe, we have been able to obtain a Visa for him to come on a visit to us here in South Africa from Vilnius – U.S.S.R. the main purpose of course being to show our deepest gratitude to this outstanding human-being, for helping and assisting Tonia all the time, to save the lives of my brother Allen and myself.
Letters between us have been exchanged on a regular basis for several years, and all the time we hear of his suffering, eyesight deterioration, hearing problems, and failing health. It has now become a matter of emergency that we assist Vytas here in South Africa with Doctors and Opthalmic Surgery. Vytas has a wife, a son and two grandchildren.
I regret feeling myself not capable to record all the foregoing information in greater detail. It is far too painful, too heartbreaking and soul destroying to re-live the events of the Ghetto and Holocaust. It only brings back "horrific" nightmares, and memories, sad one's, of 47 years ago back into our lives.

I now end this Memorandum with the following comments:

Tonia, whose photograph I carry in my wallet all my life will remain in my heart and that of my family, from generation to generation, as a Saint of Righteousness
Vytautas Korsakas is a champion of men amongst us and the people of Wilno, who knew our family intimately, and I have and always will have the greatest respect for him and hold him in the highest esteem, as his personal sacrifices for us will never be forgotten, or could ever be rewarded.

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