rescued jewish children

Moshe Kuklianskis

As soon as the Nazis invaded Lithuania in 1941 or maybe even a bit earlier, persecutions, murders and soon mass killings of unarmed and innocent Jewish fellow citizens began – just because the colour of their eyes was different.
In parallel, a completely different process was going on – the defence the persecuted and offended people and their lives rescue.
The first process – the persecutions and killings – was organised, it contained defamation, the inspired hattred, publicity, all kinds of violence, and had a mass character. The aim was – to kill the entire Jewish population, till the last one.
Differently from this, the events of the persecuted rescue cann't be considered as organized. The rescuers acted by themselves, spontaneousely, each one – according to his conscience, drived by the humanity and neibour-love, by the desire to help and rescue. They acted secretly, in the most cases they kept secrets even from relatives or the best neibours. They made shelters for the doomed, shared their bread, risked their and their family's well-being, posessions and lives. They acted against the stream, and there were relatively few of them. But there they were, and despite of the danger, they did what they did and have rescued people. It was extremely difficult for them and they deserve the supreme honor and glory.
Our family was caught in the horrible whirlwind of the war on its very first day (we were living in Alytus at that time). Soon we lost our 44 years old mother who was a doctor, while the remaining four members of our family (father who was a chemist-pharmacist, me, my sister and my brother) would have undoubtedly perished too if kind and brave people hadn't helped us in the most critical moments. We came to call them saviour angels.
Karolis Jarmala from Aukštadvaris was one of the first such angels. Aukštadvaris is located near our native Veisiejai town where we returned after pogroms in Alytus in the beginning of July. On the eve of the relocation of all the town’s Jews to Katkiškė (where everyone was shot dead two months later) we've followed Karolis Jarmala's unexpected, friendly and persuasive advice to leave our home and go into hiding.
As we did not want to endanger Jarmala, we decided to look for our fortune in the south. Thus, in the beginning of autumn, we became homeless vagrants. We didn't use to appear in the presence of people at daytime and we were content with only the basic survival and living conditions. We could not find a shelter in Lithuania and when we approached the Nemunas River, the former border with Poland, we decided to cross it and reach the other side, which was the land of the Nazi.
It happened at dawn. Most probably, we would have been caught by the soldiers (it appeared after all that the bridge was guarded), if Kazys Žukauskas – a young, smart, courageous and kind-hearted resident of Bugieda village – had not appeared all of a sudden like an angel and helped us. He saw us from afar, perceived who we were and what our goal was, realised the mortal threat lying ahead of us, and risked his wellbeing and life to help us. He came running, took us to a boat and rowed us quickly across the river without even saying his surname.
On the other side, we were helped by another angel Matiukevich, the resident of Świętojańsk village, whom we met and approached in the forest at dusk after a long day. When he found out our background and our situation, he invited us to his home, prepared dinner for us, and put us up for the night in the house. In the morning he gave us breakfast and advised us to go to Grodno, where the Jews were free to live in their homes. On his own initiative, Matiukevich organised relay escort for us via forest paths up to Grodno (the guides would change about every 6 kilometres). And he did all this after we told him in advance that we had no money to pay him for his services...
In Grodno, Mrs. Sidija-Liuba Shvarc was our angel – my father’s colleague, a pharmacist from Veisiejai. She took the risk to keep us, fugitives, in her apartment. She gave us clothes, bedding, food and – most important – provided us with documents. Then we started taking care of ourselves. To our surprise, the local Jews still lived in reasonable or even good living conditions. Nobody could believe our story.
However shortly, all 30,000 Grodno Jews were herded into two ghettos, and less than a year later, i.e. in the end of the summer of 1942, night roundups began and the Jews were taken to labour camps that in fact were extermination camps. We were did forced labour at daytime and hid in the slums of the ghetto at night. Thus we hid until mid-February 1943 when the last 1,000 victims were taken away and the ghetto was liquidated. We decided to take our last desperate chance and escape from the ghetto through a row of carefully guarded barbed wire fences and hardly passable terrain, and – in case of success – to return to our native lands.
Incredibly and unexpectedly, we succeeded in escaping from the ghetto and from Grodno, and reaching Mr. Matiukevich in Świętojańsk village by the Nemunas River. This time, we were ferried across the river among floes by Matiukevich’s brother.
I am afraid to think of what might have happened had we not met angel Vladas Daugevičius from Sventijanskas village after an hour of desperate hard walking across the native-foreign land late at night. From that moment, he and his entire family – his mother Rozalija, elder brother Jonas with his wife Zosė, his sister Janina and his brother Pranas – became our true saviour angels. They accommodated us in a forest bunker dug by them and gave us food prepared by them and secretly carried it to us in turns. This lasted for two months until Easter, when mushrooms appeared in that part of the forest. Our rescuers transferred us to the temporary shelter under a huge fir in a dense fir forest on the edge of the Baltoji Ančia River. There we were detected by yet another of our saviour angels, Jonas Lukaševičius, a young neighbour of our rescuers Daugevičius.
He told his family about us and they all – mother Mikalina, sons Antanas, Stasys and Jonas, and sisters Gabrinė and Juzė – decided to help us according to their own plan based on their knowledge and sympathy of the locals, although they knew nothing of our ties with the Daugevičius family.
They found a suitable place for us in the forest and helped us construct a hideout. They devised a plan for us to get food as charity from farmers: we had to walk barefoot to different villages and farmers once per week and ask for food. They also allowed us to take as many potatoes from their potato pit as we needed. And we would always find some better food prepared for us too. The Lukaševičius family was also assisted by their relative Bronislavas Radzvilavičius and his brother Aleksandras.
From then, we were taken care of by both families of angels, who were trying to keep the secret even from each other. Without their care and the support and sympathy from the locals, including the then Gerdašiai priest, we would not have survived the long year and a half despite the choir of trees that was constantly reminding me: “The world is big and beautiful, but there is no place for you in it!” Those fairylike forests between the Baltoji Ančia and the Nemunas rivers, and the four villages – Bugieda, Sventijanskas, Mocevičiai and Vainiūnai – still seem like a humanity reserve to me. The locals followed their reason and their beliefs and would not easily succumb to the influence of others. All rescuers with no exception did what they did out of humanitarian considerations, high principles and love for human beings; they did it for no reward and shared their humble and scanty food with us.
67 years have passed since the horrible and complicated events described here. I was 18 then, but I remember almost everything. The evil, the misery, the unfounded hatred, the smell of death in each moment of those long three years, as well as the kindness, the will to help, the friendliness, the cordial sympathy that used to give us hope and strength, the charity and finally the salvation.
We kept in touch with our rescuers and supporters, while they were still alive. We would visit them and used each opportunity to once again express our gratitude for saving us, we rejoiced with them when they admired our children and our grandchildren – the offspring of their noble deeds. Now we still visit our only surviving saviour Janė Daugiavičiūtė-Ruoškienė and the descendants of our rescuers, who still live or gather in their homeland. We are grateful to them for the merit of their parents and we try to tell them how noble, humane and courageous their parents were. We come with our entire families, because we want our younger generations communicate too. Each of these reunions becomes a true feast.
We have many pictures of our rescuers and the places of rescuing. Some of them decorate the walls of my apartment. I write my memoirs in two languages. I used to tell my recollections to the students in school. Now our grandchildren write homework according to the school programme about the roots of their families and the lives of their grandparents. Often such a work is transformed into a book with a nice binding and artwork. Our grandchildren and children know our history; they know how their grandparents and grand grandparents died, how we were saved, who helped us and how they did it. Our rescuers were, are and will be included respectfully in all our works.