* 1913 07 15 - 1993 10 16
* Recognized in 1980
About the rescuer and the rescue story
Before the war, Henrikas Jonaitis lived in Plungė, taught at Plungė high school (before that he studied medicine in Kaunas). In Plungė, he knew the family of lawyer Hirsh Rolnik. After some time, H. Rolnik with his wife Taiba and four children - Miriam, Maša, Raja and Ruvik - moved to Vilnius. The teacher Henrikas Jonaitis also came to Vilnius and before the war he lived on Šopenas street, worked as a physics and mathematics teacher at the Vilnius 1st secondary school, where Maša and Miriam Rolnikaitė also studied. When the Nazi occupation began, Henrikas Jonaitis sided with the persecuted Jews and was not afraid to lend them a helping hand under any circumstances.
On the second day of the war, realizing that Vilnius would soon be occupied by the Germans, Hirsh Rolnik decided to retreat with his family and rushed to the ticket station. In the general confusion and panic, H. Rolnik got lost from his wife and children. He got into a car of Russian soldiers retreating to Minks and spent the rest of the war with the 16th Lithuanian division.
Having lost her husband, T. Rolnikienė returned home with her children. Soon all the Jews of Vilnius were driven to the ghetto. T. Rolnikienė and her children also entered the ghetto. Her daughter Masha was fourteen years old at that time. H. Jonaitis always helped them as much as he could: he brought food, money, clothes, he took it upon himself to protect the library of lawyer H. Rolnik, he mediated correspondence, he passed letters, he kept in touch with people who tried to save the Jews of the Vilnius ghetto. H. Jonaitis helped transfer Miriam Rolnikaitė, who entered the HKP from the ghetto to Konstantinas Jablonskis, who had agreed with priest Juozas Stakauskas that he would accept Miriam to the monastery in Ignoto street, where together with like-minded Žemaitis, he set up a hiding place. H. Jonaitis accompanied Mira there, and this is where the girl was rescued. During the liquidation of the Vilnius ghetto, T. Rolnikienė and her two younger children - nine-year-old Raja and seven-year-old Ruvik - were killed (presumably taken to Auschwitz), while Maša Rolnikaitė was taken first to Kaiservaldas in Riga, then transferred to Štrasdenhof (also in Riga), and later - to Stutthof.
Hirsh, Marija and Miriam Rolnik managed to stay alive. Marija Rolnikaitė described all the sufferings and horrors she experienced in her diary "I have to tell" (published in 1963; translated into 18 languages) written throughout the war years. H. Jonaitis also saved Gutmanas, a classmate from his studies at the Kaunas Medical University. A few weeks after the start of the war, H. Jonaitis contacted Gutman, who was in a very difficult situation, and hid him in his sister's house in a remote village. When one hiding place became too dangerous, H. Jonaitis took care to find another place and took his friend there. Throughout the war, he actively cared for both Gutman and other Jews.
Usually, the word "teacher" is associated with the period of school life and a certain subject.
I want to talk about one of my teachers, now associate professor of V. Kapsukas Vilnius State University Henrikas Jonaitis, who remained a teacher and friend for life.
It was June 1941. The eve of war. I passed the last exam of seventh grade. As a happy group, we hurried from school to the cinema to watch the movie "The Great Waltz", and then we went home, agreeing to go to Trakai tomorrow.
But in the morning the sirens wailed. The bombs exploded. The house collapsed. Life collapsed.
We lost our father and found ourselves terribly lonely, depressed, and helpless in front of the swastika aliens - mother and four children – I, my older sister, the other sister in first grade and a five-year-old brother.
A few days later I went to school for a certificate. But the former classmate, even recently a so-called friend, did not allow it. Pushed, I retreated to my feet, still unable to realize that I was being kicked out of school.
And I still got into school. My teacher, Henrikas Jonaitis, led me in by the hand, as if I was a first-grader, pushing the unbeliever out of the way. And I suddenly felt calm, good, hurt and fear disappeared. I just didn't want to let go of that hand and feel helpless loneliness again. From that hour, the teacher's hands were stretched out for a long time.
Here, the fascists imposed a contribution of five million rubles on the Jews of the city of Vilnius, for failure to collect which they threatened to shoot everyone. And the teacher's hand reaches for the wallet, takes out all its meager contents and adds the money we carry.
We are locked in a ghetto. H Jonaitis accompanied, even giving his bread ration. Unsettled about our fate (I was lost from my mother), he takes advantage of the chaos of the first days and the unfinished barricades and walks around the ghetto, posing as a sanitary inspector to the guards. Several students from our school helped the fascists, who, if they had met him, would certainly have betrayed him.
There was only one punishment for supporting the Jews and even keeping their belongings - death. H. Jonaitis saved my father's entire library without even erasing the name of the real owner written on the first page of the books. He, despite my mother's pleas not to take risks, to be more responsible, he himself brought food and things to the ghetto gate, waiting for an opportunity to somehow hand them over. And once he stood near the gate of the ghetto for the whole long and cold autumn night. Because he found out that they could shoot at night. He thought that if they walked us out, maybe he could somehow save us.
Every such stand at the gate of the ghetto, every piece of clothing handed to us, a loaf of bread or even a spoken word could end up in Paneriai for him. And they killed in Paneriai. Alive were thrown in pits. Children’s’ heads were split up.
I was very afraid of death. But life was also extremely difficult: expelled from school, from home and attempted murder. And my fourteen-year-old imagination drew people beyond the ghetto fences only as I saw our executioners - German fascists and local mecenery.
I don't know where my childish views would have gone if it wasn't for teacher Jonaitis. Not that every bite of bread counts when you're starving. Not because we hoped that maybe we would be able to save ourselves with his help. No. I began to understand that there are good people living beyond the ghetto, such as the teacher Jonaitis, and nationality does not matter for people's friendship. And fascist hatred is powerless against humanity. I believed in the victory of good over evil.
And that faith helped me a lot to not break all the long years in the fascist concentration camps. If it became unbearably difficult, I tried to remember Vilnius and teacher Jonaitis.
Dear friend Jonaitis! I know you are very modest and don't like to hear nice words about yourself, and I try to avoid them. But if your life, deeds, diligence (about which there was no opportunity to talk here) became an example for me, why shouldn’t it become for others? I hope that in this behalf you will forgive me for such exaltation, according to you.