* Recognized in 1997
About the rescuer and the rescue story
Information based on the publication "Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Utena (1930 - 2006)"
Stefanija Marija Sabina Eigelytė was born in 1916 in the village of Kloviniai, near Utena, into a peasant family. There were 10 children in the family: four girls and six boys, Stefutė was the ninth. Her sister, who was born after her, died soon after, and the nine grew up. Her parents were very religious and got along well. The children also got along with each other. They were taught to be hard-working, honest and friendly.
Stefutė felt the desire to dedicate herself to God at an early age, and when the elder Sister Apolonia (Sister Marija Gertrūda, who later went to the USA) went to Marijampolė, to the monastery, Stefutė went with her, but because of her young age, she was not accepted. She was advised to wait a couple of years. During those years, Stefutė graduated from the Antalieptė School of Agriculture and, after receiving a letter from her sister, was happy to go to Marijampolė. Neither in the novitiate nor afterwards did she have any doubts or hesitations, because with all her heart she wanted to be close to God. At that time, Sister Stasė Propiestytė taught about fifteen novices. All of them were satisfied with the Master and the Mother Superior of the Monastery, then called Mother Uršulė Novickaitė. She took her first vows in the Monastery in 1938. Until 1942 she worked in the printing house of "Šešupė" in Marijampolė, and from 1942 until her death in Utena.
The fateful summer of 1940 arrived. Russian tanks rolled through Lithuania, roaring eerily, and a different kind of order prevailed: newspapers and magazines were shut down, Catholic organisations were abolished, and monks were expelled from their convents. The sisters who worked in Utena also had to leave their institutions and disperse.
Sisters Juozapa Kibelaitė and Zuzana Janušaitytė went to Samogitia, to the relatives of Sister Juozapa. They stayed there until July 1941, when the situation changed with the outbreak of the war and, invited by Canon Petras Rauda, they both returned to work at the children's shelter in Utena. There they found a huge mess: the head of the children's shelter had run away, the children had been distributed to the villagers. Only three old workers remained: Juozas Kozmanas, a farm worker, Zosė Markevičiūtė and Veronika Rakauskaitė, who had already linked her life to the Congregation of the Sisters of the Poor, although nobody knew it at the time.
People from the villages returned the children who had been given to them for care to the Children's Shelter. Around sixty orphans gathered again. Sister Juozapa Kibelaitė was appointed head and Sister Zuzana Janušaitytė was appointed bookkeeper. The orphanage was again given 15 hectares of land from the nationalised Balsevičius Manor. The land had to be cultivated and animals had to be raised to feed the orphans. Apart from Juozapelė and Zuzana, other sisters living and working in the Children's Home were Česlova Rasiulytė, Emilija Stragaitė, Jadvyga Eidejūtė, Stefanija Eigelytė and Ona Juozūnaitė.
In the special conditions of the war, the orphanage also had the courage to take a long-term risk - to rescue Jews, because at the beginning of the war, a Jewish mother and her son, the Shinder, were wounded during a bombing raid in Utena. The boy's father, a soldier, had already left for the depths of Russia. The injured mother and child were admitted to hospital. When the Germans started shooting Jews, both wounded were in danger. As a result, the child, Aleksiukas Shinder, was taken in by the Children's Home in Utena. In order to avoid suspicion, his name was kept and his surname changed. At the time, the boy was about three years old and his eye was injured. The mother managed to escape and went into hiding somewhere in Kaunas. Occasionally, she came to visit her son. Sister Juozapa would take her into the servants' room and invite Aleksiukas in. The mother managed to find an eye doctor, who cured the eye and, because he was a good person, did not betray the child or the sisters who took care of him. Aleksiukas stayed in the orphanage throughout the war. Apart from Sisters Juozapė and Zuzana, it was also known to Sisters Stefutė Eigelytė and Veronika Rakauskaitė, who, as mentioned above, had returned from Marijampolė. [...]
As Sister Juozapa told us before her death, when the Germans were expelled from Lithuania, both Aleksiukas's parents met again by chance in one of the hospitals in Vilnius, and when they recovered, they came to Utena to pick up their son. Aleksiukas was already grown up, but had not yet started school. It was May, the lilacs were in bloom, and the surroundings of the Jasoniai Children's Home were really beautiful. The father was unable to go inside the Children's Home, but walked excitedly around the paths. [...]
Summer 1944. The front was approaching. The Germans were retreating, bombing Utena relentlessly, and buildings were falling down. Deafening explosions frightened day and night. What were the Sisters to do, looking after a large orphanage? The large barn, and especially the cellar underneath, served as a refuge. When there was the roar of planes, or when the lights of the city were overhead at night, the Sisters would take the children to a shelter in another building, wrap them in blankets and carry them. The older children also helped.
After the war, the Sisters stayed on at the Children's Home. It was decided to separate the bigger and smaller children. The bigger ones, who were already attending school, were left in Utena, while the smaller ones were moved to the Jasoniai Manor, four kilometres away. Staff are again needed. But who will move to the village in such troubled times, when the Soviets are always looking for Lithuanian partisans? The Sisters. They take it upon themselves to serve the poor even under Soviet rule.
In 1947, they move to Jasonis with their little children. Angelė Getvilienė, a former pupil of the Utena Children's Home, which the Sisters had been running all along, was appointed headmistress. Sister Juozapa Kibelaitė was appointed head of the economic department, Sister Zuzana Janušaitytė was employed as an accountant, Sister Ona Juozūnaitė as a housekeeper at the children's home, and Sister Stefanija Eigelytė as a storekeeper. In addition, Sister Marija Agnietė Rutkauskaitė started working as a nurse, and Sisters Viktorija Jankauskaitė and Veronika Miškinytė as childminders.
In this way, the Soviets, finding no other way out, employed all the Sisters in the Jasoniai Children's Home, even though they knew they were nuns. How wonderfully God took care of the little orphans and the Sisters.
At that time, all that was left of the Jasonis estate was a single-storey house, a bathhouse, a few small outbuildings, because the other outbuildings had been burned down and... and thirty hectares of land for an auxiliary farm.
The number of children arriving from the various distribution points and orphanages was increasing. At the same time, the number of workers increased. Working conditions were difficult. Sister Juozapa and Sister Zuzana lived in the office, while the others, together with the secular women who worked in the orphanage, lived in two or three rooms.
Since the premises of the manor were not suitable for the children, it was necessary to start renovation and construction work. The second floor of the house was added, the outbuildings were rebuilt and some of them were converted into living quarters. A large brick house with a hall and a canteen for the children was built, as well as two other houses, one with a laundry and a sauna and the other with rooms for servants.
Gradually, the living conditions changed for the nurses, the staff and especially for the children.
Year after year, the Jasonis Children's Home became not only comfortable and cosy, but also a true home from the Motherland. The environment has been nurtured by hard-working hands and has become extremely beautiful. The large flower gardens were full of colourful flowers from spring to the cold autumn, the pond, the forest, the beautiful rooms decorated with national motifs, the well-decorated and well-behaved children attracted guests.
The orphanage was maintained at state expense, so the order had to be ideal. Audits were carried out every year and lasted a week. Inspectors came not only from Vilnius but also from Moscow. And what did they find? The homes were different from the others in terms of order, care and provision for the children. State money was not wasted, let alone stolen.
To show off, the Utena district authorities and the Children's Home Department of the Ministry of Education brought guests not only from Lithuania and other republics, but also from... from abroad. When such distinguished guests started to visit, the worries of all of them increased: everyone had to be welcomed, occupied, and often even fed... Staff from similar orphanages were sent to learn how to run an orphanage. The news about Jasonis spread through Lithuania. The orphanage was hailed as the most exemplary in Lithuania.
The children loved the good sisters who were like caring mothers to them. The former pupil, Danutė Mirauskaitė - Ambrozaitienė, was grateful for the care and love, and with the compassion of a true daughter, she took care of Sister Juozapa - her mother and grandmother - until her death. In her memoirs Danutė writes:
" [...] Thus, in the winter of 1950, I found a second mother, and not only her, but at least two at once. They were sisters Juozapa Kibelaitė and Zuzana Janušaitytė. [...] I remember how at night the partisans would knock on the window and Mum and Stefutė would go to give them food. And during the day, the Stribai would come and they would have to be fed. [...] The children were taken on all kinds of excursions: to Vilnius, Kaunas, Palanga, and money was needed for carousels and ice-cream. There was no cash, and they had to find it. So they raised a bull, to which the villagers would take the cows, and in this way they would get money for the children's ice cream. [...] Thanks to everyone's devotion and care, the children were well looked after, well fed, and beautifully dressed. Women who had been deceived, wronged and lonely by their husbands were hired. Here they found work for themselves and shelter for their children. [...] Even after many years, former children of the orphanage, now grown men and women, would come to visit. They knew they would find loving hearts in the red brick house near the church in Utena."
The hard, strenuous, restless work did not wear the sisters Juozapėlė and Zuzana down, but it was time to say goodbye to their lovely children and their favourite work and retire.
At the same time, the other Sisters also left the Jasoniai Children's Home. They all returned to Utena and, not without God's help, bought a house on Bažnyčios Street for a small price. The diligent workers of the Lord could not remain without work.
Sister Juozapa began to decorate the altars with flowers, which were grown on a small plot of land by Sister Stefutė and the other sisters. The faithful women of the area also brought flowers from their gardens.
Stefutė took care of the house, especially the plot of land where she grew flowers to decorate the church altars. When she fell ill, the doctors advised her to have a pacemaker, but she refused. The doctors told her to stay in bed, but Stefutė worked as if she worked. "If I lie down, I'm just waiting to die..." - she joked.
In the spring of 2001, when her leg hurt badly, she went to the doctors. They found nothing serious and told her to apply compresses... The pain did not stop, but got worse. In the autumn, the leg was X-rayed. The photo showed that the bone cancer was already advanced. The pelvic bone had only a suture left. She had to lie down because she could not stand. She suffered very patiently until God called her to eternity in the early hours of 2 January 2002.
Rescued persons (Yad Vashem website):
Aleksandr (Aleksiukas) Shinder
Juozapa Kibelaitė at the bottom, Stefanija Eigelytė at the top
Children in the washroom
Aleksandr (Aleksiukas) Shinder