Rescuers of Jews

Gavelytė-Stražnickienė Genovaitė


On 12 September 1941 Lazaris Cvilingas' parents were shot dead in Vidzgiris, close to Alytus. Had he not fainted and fallen into the pit just before the first shots were fired, he would have perished himself... A true slaughter took place in Vidzgiris that day – Jews driven from different locations and prisoners of war brought from distant places were exterminated there. Even now no one knows the precise number of people killed. The bodies that fell into the shallow pits were bestrewn with lime and covered with earth... It was probably the bitter smell of lime that brought the teenager back to consciousness, and, driven more by horror than by instinct, he started running.
He did not know himself how long he had been running before he saw the first house in his way. It was in the village of Udrija, 14 kilometers away from Alytus.
That afternoon, Genovaitė's mother asked her to go to the bam for eggs. Genovaitė was mortified and shrieked with horror when she saw a head sticking up from the hay. The man looked terrible: dirty, covered in lime, his clothes stained with blood. She called her parents, and they immediately started discussing what to do next. The Gaveliai were wringing their hands as they listened to the young man's story about the horrors he had gone through. Was it possible to send away this man so severely wronged by fate, Stasys Gavelis thought? And what about the obligations to the family? His son Antanas had just finished his studies and was working as a forester; he had his whole life ahead of him. The younger Genovaitė, a teenager, was becoming a beauty... And although the shadow of looming danger darkened their future life, they did not refuse to hide the orphan.
“I came to S. Gavelis; he did not know me, but, having understood the essence of the matter, sheltered and hid me in his home. This hiding could have meant capital punishment for him and his whole family…” later wrote L. Cvilingas, an employee of Kaunas water supply and sewage department.
From September 1941 to 29 July 1944 when German invaders left Alytus, the boy who had not previously experienced any hardships, who attended a gymnasium and whose parents had owned a small factory, was feeling quite well in the cattle-shed. Every day for two years, ten months, and seventeen days, Jadvyga Gavelienė and her daughter, Genutė, would take food to the escapee and talk to him.
When Soviet troops were passing the village, Lazaris Cvilingas left his hideout and marched to the front with them. After the war he settled in Kaunas and reunited with his rescuers until the Gaveliai were deported to Siberia in 1948.
When they returned to Lithuania in 1956, the Gaveliai found strangers in their house. It was a sad return – here, on their own land, they were alien and unwelcomed. In order to somehow alleviate the sad fate of his rescuers, in 1956 L. Cvilingas wrote a note about his rescue.
“So Gavelis saved my life,” wrote L. Cvilingas, “guided by the principle of humanism alone. I did not give him any money or property and I could not have given him any, since I left the site of the killings barefooted and in rags, without any personal belongings.”

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