rescued jewish children

Rina Joels-Parason

There’s a Yellow Dog Running By
Rina Joels-Parason

From: Smuggled in Potato Sacks
Fifty Stories of the Hidden Children of the Kaunas Ghetto

Solomon Abramovich and Yakov Zilberg

I, Rina Joels, the second daughter of well-established Lithuanian Jews, Benjamin Joels and Malka Joels-Kaplan, was born in 1940, when my elder sister Bella was 5 years old. My father owned a grocer’s shop on the central street of the old city of Kaunas. He had three brothers: Shlomo evacuated with his family to Russia, where his wife died but he and his daughter Masha survived. Father’s second brother, Shmuel, died in a concentration camp, but his wife Hanah and her 10-year-old daughter, Riva (Riva Knobel), survived the camp and came with her family to Israel. Father’s third brother had gone to live in South Africa long before the war and we all lost contact with him.
I was a mere 10 months old when my family was driven into the Kaunas Ghetto. We lived in a small room with my maternal grandmother, Uncle Reuven Kaplan and Aunt Berta. My grandmother perished in the ghetto; Uncle Reuven miraculously survived Dachau and came by way of Italy to Israel.
In 1943 my father succeeded in contacting a Lithuanian family by the name of Sinkiavichius, who agreed to save me and my sister for payment. My father used to go on a cart to work in the town, and he bribed one of the guards at the gate so that he would not check the cart. Twice attempts to take us out of the ghetto failed because the ‘wrong German’ had been on duty at the gate; on the third occasion he did manage to get through. When the cart drew level with the Lithuanians waiting on the pavement, Father threw out a sack of potatoes with me in it, fast asleep after being given a sedative. My sister had been given instructions to cross the road as quickly as possible to join the ‘Uncle’ and ‘Auntie’ standing on the pavement waiting for us. My father heaved a sigh of relief when he saw the peasant pick up the ‘sack’. The two of us stayed with that Lithuanian family for a while, but it soon turned out to be dangerous, because Bella and I used to speak Yiddish to each other. One day, I was running after a dog and, although I was surrounded by Lithuanians and in a place where Germans sometimes appeared as well, I shouted in Yiddish:‘There’s a yellow dog running by’. It was decided to separate us and I was sent to a village to live with the Sinkiavichius family’s grandmother, an old Lithuanian peasant, who by then had gone to live in the farm (dvaras), which had been purchased not long before using money obtained from my father.
The farm was in a village not far from Kaunas. My sister Bella, meanwhile, was living with young representatives of the Sinkiavichius family and growing up with their two children on the Green Hill. Gradually I forgot my Yiddish and began speaking only Lithuanian: even my name was changed, I started being called Jadviga (Jadzike). As far as I know I was not baptized or officially registered with a new name.
In July 1944 the ghetto was disbanded and everyone who was still alive was transferred to concentration camps. On his way to Dachau my father jumped out of the moving train with Shlomo Yarmovski, after they had removed some boards from the floor of the goods truck. Yarmovski settled after the war in Zürich. In 1973 he visited Israel and called on us so as to tell me about his last conversation with my father. Despite the fact that the two of them had been shot at, they had not been wounded. For safety’s sake they had decided to go off in separate directions. According to Yarmovski, my father had told him that he would try and get to the Lithuanians who were hiding his daughters. They said goodbye to each other and ran off in separate directions. My father never reached us. He probably died while on his way to find us. After the war my mother looked for him, turning to all sorts of organizations, but there was no information about him anywhere.
I stayed in the Lithuanian household until 1945, when my mother and Aunt Berta returned to Kaunas from the concentration camp and came to fetch us straight away. Naturally I did not remember anything about her: she looked like an old woman to me. We had even been taught, most probably to keep us safe, that one had to be frightened of Jews, because they ‘would put you in a sack and carry you off’.
It was only after long conversations and repeated meetings, in particular after I had met up with my sister again, who reminded me of little familiar details from that life long ago, that I at last threw my arms around Mother’s neck and agreed to go with her. It took a good deal of time and effort before I finally felt part of the family again, and ‘real life’ could be resumed. Of course there were all sorts of amusing incidents after that. I was told how, if I had forgotten to say my prayers before going to bed, I would cry out in the middle of the night and look for my little crucifix on the wall. When I failed to find it, I would remember that my life had changed and that I was back together again with my mother and Bella. The time that had been disfigured by the horrors of war, which happily for me I had not understood, was fading into the past, but leaving one gaping wound open for ever – the loss of Father.
I know that at the end of the war our mother stayed in contact with the Sinkiavichius family and helped them financially. Quite soon after the war the grandmother of that family which had taken me in died. Shortly after that her daughter, who had taken my sister in, died of cancer, and in circumstances that remain unclear, her husband was killed by the Russians. The younger members of that family have since moved and so we have lost touch with them.
I graduated from the Kaunas Medical School, where I became friendly with many other Jewish students and developed my own sense of identity. In 1961 our mother suddenly died. In 1962 I married Moshe Parason. In July 1973 we at last came down the steps of a plane on to Israeli soil with our two sons. Thirty-five years have passed since then, and we are both still working as physicians. We have restored the family to life, the line has continued. Our parents, if they were alive today, would be proud of us.
In 1986 I learnt by chance from the evening news on TV that George (Hirsh) Kadushin, who had once been imprisoned in the Kaunas Ghetto, had come to Israel from the USA. Being a photographer by profession, he had taken pictures of the ghetto Jews with a hidden camera. An exhibition of his photographs from that period had opened in Tel Aviv’s Museum of the Diaspora. Naturally the whole family went to see the exhibition. To my delight and astonishment we discovered on the walls of the museum several photographs of my relatives: my father, my mother, my aunt and myself with my sister. I treasure these photographs as the only precious memento I have of my father and mother from that time, all that is left from that childhood ruined by the war!
My sister, Bella Joels-Tal, was a civil engineer and came to Israel with her husband and two children in 1972.

First published in 2011 by Vallentine Mitchell
London, Portland, OR