Rescued Jewish Children

Konstantin MATIUKEVICH (1898–1965)

One September day of 1941, Saulius Kuklianskis and his children – Moshe, Ana and Samuelis – with the help of Kazys Žukauskas, the resident of Bugieda village, crossed the Nemunas River into the territory of the Third Reich, i.e. former Poland.
In the village called by the name of St. John – Świętojańsk – (there is also a village by a similar name of Sventijanskas on the other side of the Nemunas River, i.e. in the territory of Lithuania), the Kuklianskis family met another kind-hearted man Konstantin Matiukevich.

From the memoirs of Moshe Kuklianskis:

<...> Despite of us being complete strangers and confessing at once that we had no money, he hosted us very kindly and even hospitably. He gave us food twice a day at the table, told us that the Jews were still living freely in Grodno in their own homes and advised us to go there offering to accompany us via minor roads up to the very town. He kept his word and took us to Grodno organising three or four escort relays. <...>

The life of the Kuklianskis family in the Grodno Ghetto is a different story of survival: each day of the 17 months spent in the ghetto could have been the fateful. The ghetto contained 30,000 prisoners at first, but on 18 February 1943, only 1,000 remained, while the rest had been taken to the death camps in Germany. That was the day when under the cover of a blizzard the Kuklianskis family and another fugitive Jankelis Pentiakauskas from Lazdijai town – a total of five persons – managed to cross several barriers of barbed wire and escape the Grodno ghetto with the only goal to return to Lithuania and go into hiding in the vicinity of their hometown of Veisiejai. However, the Lithuanian-Polish border had to be crossed first.

Moshe Kuklianskis remembers:

<...> We decided to find Mr. Matiukevich in Świętojańsk village. We walked hoping to find his home by miracle. With no map, compass or advance planning of the route (about 25 km), we travelled across a snowy forest following pathways, traces of pathways and often without any roads at all. As if led my some canine intuition, without asking for directions and without wandering off the route, in the midnight hour we came straight to the house of Konstantin Matiukevich. It was unbelievable and seemed like we reached the place miraculously. In a couple of days, at night, when most of the ice in the Nemunas River was gone, Konstantin Matiukevich’s brother rowed us among the floes to the Lithuanian bank. <...>

The help of Konstantin Matiukevich and his brother was of extreme importance to the Kuklianskis family in the autumn of 1941 as well as in the winter of 1943. Moshe Kuklianskis describes Konstantin Matiukevich as a man of exceptional courage and wits, and an active antifascist.

In 2008, Konstantin Matiukevich was titled the Righteous Among the Nations.
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