Rescuers of Jews

Juknelevičius Jonas


Before the war, Meyer Weinstein, with his wife Ruhama and four sons – Jehuda, Joseph, Benjamin and Abel, lived in Simnas, Alytus district. On June 22, 1941, Germans invaded Simnas and began the genocide of the Jews. On August 22, 1941, the Nazis with local helpers so-called white armbanders (auxiliary police), selected about 100 young, physically strong Simnas Jews and transported them to Alytus. Meyer Weinstein and his son Benjamin were also selected to this group. They all were shot in the forest near Alytus Prison within few weeks. Only old Jews and women with children remained in Simnas. On September 10, the remaining Jews were ordered to assemble to the temporary ghetto located in the former soviet barracks. It was thought that Jews would be later transported to another location for the forced labor. A couple days later, on 12 September Nazis, with local helpers, so-called white armbanders guided all Jews from the barracks to the Pošnelė forest and shot them – 68 elderly men, 197 women and 149 children. Among them Ruhama, the mother of Abel and Joseph Weinstein and their brother Yehuda were shooted too.
Several Jews of Simnas managed to escape the death. Abel (later Aba Gefen) with his younger brother Joseph succeeded as well. The families of Juknelevičius, Kazakevičius, Emartas, Krasnickas, Ona Matulevičienė, Šiupienis, Berčiūnas, Beinaravičius were involved in the rescue of the Weinstein brothers Abel and Joseph.
        The Juknelevičius family house was friendly place to hide for Maxuks – the nickname of Abel and Joseph given by Simnas residents. Jonas, the son of Adam and Elena Juknelevičius, who lived and farmed with his parents was in close contacts with Abel. Maxuks were involved in the day-to-day farm work if it was possible and not risky. Jonas together with Abel were chopping down trees, reaped the wheat, threshed the grain and even sometimes had a fun time. Jonas was known country musician, violinist, so he taught Abel to play the violin sometimes. The diary of Abel („Hope in the Darkness. The Aba Gefen Holocaust Diaries” Holocaust Library, New York, 1989) mentions the numerous times he and his brother Joseph came to the Juknelevičius family house, where they could always count on a place to hide, to wash themselves and to eat warm food. There they got even some bullets for the pistol to defense as well. The death danger followed always not only escapers Maxuks but Juknelevičiai family as well. Abel wrote in his other book (Aba Gefen. 'Defying the holocaust: a diplomat‘s report', San Bernardino, Calif.: Borgo Press, 1993) about local white armbanders who came to the Juknelevičius house twice searching for Gefen. Luckily, the house stood parallel the road, so once they escaped away using the house as the fence.
        From Aba Gefen's 2012 letter to Jonas Juknelevičius' son Romualdas: The Juknelevičius and Kazakevičius were very good people and I visited them many times when I was hiding from the Nazis. I only stayed with them for a day or two, but my younger brother Joseph was there for a week or two.
        Abel and Joseph Wainstein succeeded in avoiding the tragic fate of the most Simnas' Jews. In 2012, the Juknelevičius and Kazakevičius families were awarded with the „Life Saving Cross“. During this ceremony, Jonas Juknelevičius, son of Adam and Elena Juknelevičiai, was awarded with the „Life Saving Cross“, who risked with his parents their lives to rescue Abel and Joseph Wainstein.
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