Rescuers of Jews

Gobis Antanas

Antanas GOBIS “Don't be afraid, my child, don't cry. I will be a father and a mother to you since you no longer have a home” That was what Judita Zakšteinaitė-Vainbergienė wrote of her first encounter with her rescuer, priest Antanas Gobis. The unfortunate children from the Palanga summer pioneer camp were walking in the direction of Liepaja when Nazi tanks caught up with them. Weak, exhausted children were divided into two groups – Lithuanians and Jews. Fair-haired, blue-eyed Judita who did not look like a Jew at all, was put with the Aryans and found herself in the Panevežys children's home. She was constantly asking to be taken to her mother. The girl was promised that, and one day she was taken to the church in the old town of Panevežys. Many years later, Judita Zakšteinaitė still remembers: “A priest was standing in front of me – he was fairly short in height, he had a tender face with kind, sincere eyes. His look was full of pain and compassion...” Risking his own life, he looked after her, protected her, and hid her. In 1990, although seriously ill but with an excellent memory, the priest said: “I was not alone, people helped me. The good Lithuanians. Not just one of them was rescuing Judita and many other Jewish and Russian children. We were doing it quietly, therefore we do not need praise and medals today.” The priest recalled the people who were protecting quietly... They hid, taught, educated. Teacher Bebrienė, teacher Ona Šapalaitė, priest Buba, and many others. The priest would send all of his earnings to Judita's guardians. When he noticed that the girl had a beautiful voice, he taught her music. The priest watched over Judita all his life. Her wedding, the birth of her two children – son Zalmanas and daughter Golda Vainbergaitė – were his personal happiness. In 1972 Vainbergaitė left for Israel and wrote letters to the priest. Judita referred to Antanas Gobis as her father, her children called him grandfather. In the flat of Golda Vainbergaitė-Tatz, a well-known US pianist, there is a bronze bas-relief of priest Antanas Gobis. “My grandfather,” Golda explains to her guests. It was only in 1990 that the brother and sister Vainbergai brought the medal of the Righteous Among the Nations and the Certificate of Honour to Lithuania – the 84-year-old priest was too weak to travel to Israel himself. The priest, being of respectable age, lived in Rokiškis surrounded by tenderness and children's chatter. He and Aldona Šukytė from the Caritas, who was looking after him, gave shelter to unhappy, abandoned boys and girls from the Obeliai boarding school. At weekends and during holidays, the home of priest A. Gobis would become their home. Here they learned kindness and spirituality. Because only kindness creates kindness... And how beautiful life is when one does something good and fair. From Hands Bringing Life and Bread, Volume 2,
The Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum. Vilnius, 1999

Golda Wainberg Tatz – Daughter of Holocaust Survivors Recalls Heroic Priest by Simi Horwitz When the recent conflict over the Carmelite convent at the Auschwitz concentration camp site was resolved by the Pope, pianist Golda Wainberg Tatz was greatly relieved. Yet the whole event brought ambivalent memories to the surface. Tatz is a Lithuanian Jew and the daughter of holocaust survivors ”but my grandfather is a priest,” she says matter-of-factly. ”Not my biological grandfather, but my spiritual grandfather.” She is referring to the extraordinarily courageous priest Antanas Gobis, 84, who 48 years ago saved her mother from the gas ovens. For Tatz, now living on the West Side, the story has become almost routine, the texture of autobiography, like anyone else's. Only her history is not like anyone else's. And the controversy at Auschwitz added a new dimension to those recollections. In the spirit of ecumenism, the petite, dark-haired Tatz offered to tell TV Shopper her mother Judith's story. It was the summer of 1941 and my mother was 12 at the time. Like so many other kids – Jews and Christians – she was at summer camp. But it was not like every other summer. That was the summer the Nazis invaded Lithuania. My mother used to describe the sounds of the bombs exploding and the children in the camp – not far from the Baltic Sea – running, screaming, desperately looking for cover. ”The Nazis rounded up all the children and segregated them into two groups: Jews and Christians; They did this largely on the basis of what the kids looked like. In Lithuania, the Christian kids were for the most part blond and blue-eyed, the Jews dark-haired and it was assumed she was Christian and sent off to a Christian orphanage in the small Lithuanian town of Panelizes. The Jewish kids were sent to the ghetto Palling, where ultimately they were lined up and shot. They didn't even bother to send them to concentration camps. They just killed them in the streets. After the war my mother discovered that this is exactly what had happened to her parents and siblings, too. They were piled into a ditch and shot.” What's striking is the off-hand way in which Tatz recounts the story. Like many survivors – and children of survivors – her voice in describing these atrocities suggests events that are almost commonplace. “At the Christian orphanage one of the teachers realized that my mother was Jewish,” Tatz continues. “It was her name, Judith. That was the giveaway. The teacher who did not want to see the child killed took her to Father Gobis, a priest at a small Catholic church in the village. He was willing to take her in. My mother used to repeat the first words he said to her, “Don't be afraid. I'll be mother and father to you.” Here Tatz pauses, ”What he did was at great personal risk. There were only too many Lithuanians who would have been eager to point out a Jewish child and her protector to the Nazis. And the Nazis would have shot the priest on the spot.”
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