rescuers of jews

Matulevičienė Ona


Before the war young people would go on outings in the Kolesnikai grove. Early in September 1941 a crowd of intimidated, worn-out people – the Jews of Simnas – were driven and shot dead there. The family of Vainšteinai were among the murdered.
Two children of this family – Abelis and Josifas – succeeded in hiding in the bam of a local resident. From there they heard the sounds of the shooting, the moans of the wounded and the dying. Since it was dangerous to hide in the unknown bam for a long time, the elder Abelis made up his mind to look for a more reliable shelter for his brother Josifas and himself. That was the start of their wanderings from village to village. Sometimes people would let them in, give them some food, and let them stay for a short time, but, being afraid of neighbours, soon asked them to go on.
Winter was approaching, and the nights became bitterly cold. On the cold evening of October 11, Abelis and Josifas were moving along fields in search of an acquaintance of their father's, farmer Smaidžiūnas from the village of Gluosnikai.1t was dark; they did not know the way and got lost. They saw a farmstead nearby with lights in the windows, but they were too scared to go there. They stopped in the pasture where a horse was grazing. Suddenly, a woman appeared from the darkness. At the sight of strangers close to her horse, she started shouting, “Help, help, thieves!” Then Abelis calmed her, “Don't be cross, auntie, we are Jews from Simnas!” Ona Matulevičienė immediately invited them to her home where four frightened children were waiting for her...
At last, having visited at least twenty farmsteads, Abelis and Josifas found permanent rescuers in Saulėnai village. The young Matulevičiai – Sebestinas, Juozas, Vladas and little Petronėlė – lived in a cottage. The cottage was cramped, so the boys were put up in the bam. However, the heart of kind Ona would surrender during the severe winter frosts and, despite deadly danger, she would take Abelis and Josifas to the cottage.
During that hard period Abelis was keeping a diary, which was published in Israel after the war under the title The Youths in the Hideout.
The family of Matulevičiai were poor, but they shared everything they had with us: we read in the diary. “On the first night, we were washed, our underwear was laundered, and we were dressed in their children's clothes. Ona Matulevičienė took the fate of the Jews of Simnas deep to her heart, and promised her help. One night she had some milk; she divided it between her own children and ourselves, not leaving a single drop for herself. She was looking at us and crying, and she said that maybe someday her own children might have to endure the same things. She said she was praying everyday for our lives. To express my gratitude for their kindness, I taught the girl, and when some good people would give me food, we all shared it!
Ona Matulevičienė, like her three sons, are no longer among us, and only the youngest daughter Stanislava Petronėlė Matulevičiūtė-Kubertavičienė still lives in Simnas, in the Alytus region. She was awarded her mother's medal of the Righteous Among the Nations.

From Hands Bringing Life and Bread, Volume 2,
The Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum. Vilnius, 1999