Rescued Jewish Children

Leo Rozentalis


From “With a Needle in the Heart”, Memoirs of Former Prisoners of Ghettos and Concentration Camps
Genocide and resistance research centre of Lithuania. Vilnius. 2003.

I was born in 1937 in Kaunas. Before the war, my mother Ronia Rozentaliene-Šmuilovaite worked as a director of a kindergarten. My father Shmuel Rozental was a teacher of a higher school of commerce. Before the war we lived in Kaunas.
The first day of the war is engraved in my memory as an outing – we were going somewhere, mostly along ditches for God knows what reason, spent the night in a forest, and then returned home.
At the ghetto we shared a room with my mother's parents Shmuilovs, and my mother's brother Liusia (Elijah) and his wife. A relative of my grandfather also stayed with us. In January 1942 my sister was born. One morning we were taken outside into a large square. I remember that the day was cold and we stood for a long time outside. There were many people in uniforms around. Then we were told to go. My grandmother, grandfather, and their relatives were taken away in the opposite direction. I took hold of my grandmother's hand and would not let it go, but a man in a uniform hit me and pushed me away from my parents. I never saw my grandparents again. I was afraid of uniformed men for many years to come. That was the Great action; nobody who has gone through it will ever be able to forget it.
Uncle E. Shmuilov and my parents became involved in the underground movement. Elijah was a representative of the Underground Committee of the town of Kaunas in the ghetto; he was arrested together with the entire Committee and shot dead in Fort IX.
Some time later my cousin Šmuilovaite was born; she was called Liusia in memory of her dead father. Our room was partitioned by wardrobes, and the girls stayed behind them almost all the time. I used to spend the days together with them, used to give them bottles with milk. We were quiet children and never made noise.
Under the instructions of the Underground, my father organised a school and children of school age attended it in the evenings. I was bored, and cautiously, so that my father could not see me, I used to slip into the classroom, get under the table and sit there; thus I learned to read and write in Yiddish. The pupils did not betray me, and my parents did not understand for a long time where I used to disappear in the evenings.
The Underground charged my mother with the task of rescuing the children. From her appearance sometimes I could hardly recognise her. My mother used to go to different institutions (children's orphanages, churches and others), and to the homes of her Lithuanian acquaintances to arrange “transportation” for the children. Before falling asleep I used to hear a whisper and I memorised some unheard names – Baublys, priest (then I thought it was a name). I was one of the first children carried out of the ghetto, then followed my sister and many others. For rescuing Jewish children, Ronia Rozentaliene was posthumously awarded the Cross for Saving People under Threat of Death by Decree No 128 of the President of the Republic of Lithuania on 20 September 1993.
At night I was carried out of the ghetto in a sack through a hole in the wall and given over to a farmer, Macijauskas, who told me to get into another sack filled with potatoes and then drove quickly to the village of Rožiai in the vicinity of Fort IX. Some days later four men came to Macijauskas' place and we all hid in the barn.
Perhaps one of the neighbours reported to the police that Jews were hiding on the Macijauskas' farm and the policemen came to search the place. The adults managed to escape to the forest and I remained hidden under the hay. The policemen came into the barn and fired a series of shots; however, in the wrong direction. Then somebody got on a haystack and started sticking his bayonet into it. Once the bayonet barely missed my nose, but I knew that I had to keep silent and I kept quiet as a mouse in my hiding place; they did not find me. They took Macijauskas away, beat him, and let him go the next day. The men did not come back from the forest and 1 was alone “on the farm.
Macijauskas dug a ditch under the stove, lined it with boards, arranged a sleeping place and installed ventilation. I cannot remember how he managed to arrange the hiding place so that light got into it, but it was not dark there. Early in the morning they would heat the stove, cook meals, give swill to the animals, etc, like in any country dwelling-house. In the evening when the stove cooled off, they would open the door and I would climb out of my hideout. They used to feed me, let me breathe in some fresh air, and go to the toilet. After about two hours I would climb back into my hideout. I used to take something to drink (usually some tea), some slices of dry brown bread, and stayed in there till the following evening.
Once when I climbed out I saw a strange woman and it took me some time to recognise my own mother. She felt badly for me and urged me to go with her. I refused (perhaps my sixth sense prompted me not to go). I was warm, safe and cosy in my hideout – no men in uniforms; in a word, I felt safe there. That was the last time that I saw my mother.
When the ghetto was being liquidated my parents were taken to concentration camps via Estonia. My mother was sent Stutthof (her number was 41091). She died there, and my father was sent to the concentration camp in Dachau (his number was 84851). He came back in the autumn of 1945.
My parents had arranged with Macijauskas that if, after liberation, they would not come to fetch me, Macijauskas should give me over to the Jewish children's home. In October 1944 I became one of the first inmates of Kaunas Jewish children's home.
At the end of May 1945 I received a postcard bearing Stalin's portrait by mail. On the back side of the post-card the following words were written: “Kaunas Jewish Children's Home, Leo Rozental. I am coming. Dad”. The postcard with the portrait of Stalin did not get lost, and I learned that my father was alive. He returned in the autumn of 1945, and somehow managed to get a job with the Ministry of Education (who needed a teacher of Yiddish and Jewish history!). On 16 January 1946 I was transferred to the Vilnius children's home where I stayed till January 1948. Later I lived with my father and sister.
Only five out of the ten members of our family who had been shut in the ghetto, survived – five children (they were all rescued by Lithuanian families). My aunt Šmuiloviene (after her husband had been shot she carried her daughter to a safe place and joined the partisans) and my father also survived.
I finished school in 1955 and graduated from Vilnius University in 1960. In the same year I got married; my wife has gone through the same “school” of life -the ghetto and hiding. 1 worked at “Plasta” factory for 39 years. Now I am a pensioner.

You are currently using the mobile version of this website.

Switch to mobile view
Mobile version