* 1914 - 1983
* recognized in 2007
About the rescuer and the rescue story
Julija Bernotaitė was born in 1914 in Saint-Petersburg, Russia. At the age of 17 she moved to Kaunas, Lithuania, where she attended nursing classes and worked as a housekeeper for well to-do families. One of these families was the Jewish Kamber family. Julija soon became friends with Maja, the Kambers’ daughter, who was the same age as she, and the two kept in touch even after Maja’s marriage in 1934. On the eve of the German occupation, Maja (married name Pagirski) had two daughters: four-year-old Ilana and the two-year-old Dalia. Julija, although not married, had a four-year-old daughter named Regina. With the beginning of the German occupation the Pagirski family were forced to move into the ghetto. Maja’s husband, David Pagirski, perished during the so called “Akzia of the intellectuals”, when the authorities summoned Jewish members of the intelligentsia on the pretext that they were needed to organize the archives, and murdered them in the notorious Fourth Fort of the Kaunas Fortress. With her husband taken away, left with two little children and a sick mother, Maja searched for ways to save her daughters from the ghetto horrors. With the help of Hirsh Levin, a member of the Judenrat, she contacted Julija and she agreed to help. One day in the fall of 1941 little Ilana, fast asleep, was taken out of the ghetto in a sack of potatoes and transferred to Julija, who had already worked out a rescue plan: she decided to move with the girl to the village of Radviliškis, where her remote relatives were living, and present Ilana as her daughter.
Her own child remained in Kaunas with her friends, a childless couple named Strumila, who cared for Regina throughout the war. The black-haired and dark-eyed Ilana did not look like a typical Lithuanian child, and in order to make her appearance more common Julija would bleach her hair. Since Julija’s relatives knew she had a daughter they did not question her identity. As time passed Ilana got used to her “new” mother and to her new name Regina, and the memories of her real parents and pre-war life faded away. In the meantime, Maja Pagirski was able to place her younger daughter Dalia in a Lithuanian orphanage, under an assumed name. From now on she was called Marytė. Soon a Lithuanian couple adopted her and raised her as their own. Sadly, Maja herself did not survive. Though she knew that Julija was willing to hide her if she escaped the ghetto, she did not dare to leave her mother behind. After the liberation of Kaunas, in August 1944, David Pagirski’s sisters, Bluma and Tauba, returned to their home. Out of their numerous relatives only Ilana and Dalia survived. With many difficulties the relatives persuaded Dalia’s adoptive parents that the girl should be returned to her biological family. Ilana was adopted by Bluma and Yakov Epshtein and moved with them to Vilnius; Dalia remained with Tauba and Abram Judelevich. Julija and her daughter moved to Vilnius as well, where Julija found a job of a nurse in the Red Cross Hospital and worked there for the next 35 years. Ilana (married name Rozentalienė) became a physician. She and her family maintained close contacts with her rescuer. In 1983 Julija Bernotaitė was killed in a car accident. On September 23, 2007, Yad Vashem recognized Julija Bernotaitė as a Righteous Among the Nations.
Ilana Pagirskaitė – Rozentalienė
Information collected using:
Katalogas "Išgelbėjęs vieną gyvybę, išgelbėja visą pasaulį"
Ilana in the middle