*Recognized in 2007
About the rescuer and the rescue story
Juozas Karaška, an organ player and a piano tuner, lived with his wife Elena and their little daughter Gražina in Kaunas. The family owned a private house on Krantas Street, in the Šančiai area. During the years of the German occupation Juozas made his living by giving piano lessons and tuning musical instruments. In January 1943 the Karaškas’ second daughter was born.
At the beginning of 1944 Natalija Jegorova, a family friend, brought to the Karaškas’ a six-year-old Jewish girl by the name of Debora Biron. She was slightly younger than Gražina, spoke Lithuanian, and did not look very Jewish. Elena welcomed the girl, showed her around and explained that she would stay in this house for a while until Debora’s mother would come to pick her up. The six-year-old got her own room with a bed and a wardrobe, and a new name, Janutė. Compared to the ghetto, where she had spent the last two years of her life, this was luxury. Still, Debora missed her parents and could not conceal her sadness and occasional tears.
Around April that same year the Karaškas welcomed two more Jewish girls, sisters Edita and Juta, aged ten and five. Their father Kurt Rudaitski had perished in the beginning of the German occupation; their mother Anna Shvab was in hiding and did not survive the war.
Juozas and Elena could not tell the neighbors that those two girls were also their nieces, like Debora-Janutė, – this would have been too difficult to believe, so Juozas decided to dig a shelter for them.
The work went more quickly when other Jews joined the Jewish children: Frieda, Debora’s mother, and her friend Herman Lurie had fled the ghetto and come to stay with the rescuers. They prepared a deep and narrow hole in the cellar and put makeshift beds there, turning the place into some sort of living quarters. Planks covered the entrance to the hole. The hiding place was big enough for four people, but before the beginning of the summer David and Taube Shvab, who were Edita’s and Juta’s grandparents, arrived as well, since their former shelter was no longer safe. Out of the seven Jews, Debora was the only one who could enjoy freedom, but she preferred to stay by her mother’s side in the damp and overcrowded bunker. The girl worried about her father and waited for him every day. Only years later did she realize that by then he had already perished. On the eve of the liberation the Karaškas’ house was searched. All seven Jews, as well as the head of the family, were inside the bunker; Elena and her own children went down to the cellar and sat on the planks covering the entrance to the bunker. German soldiers, who were searching the building for army deserters, had found Elena and the two girls, frightened to death, in what seemed to be an empty cellar, and called off their search. After the liberation, on August 1, 1944, Debora, her mother, and Herman Lurie, who later became Debora’s stepfather, left Soviet Lithuania and settled in the United States. David and Taube Shvab and their granddaughters moved to Vilnius. They kept in touch with the Karaškas for many years. In the 1980s Edita Rudaitski Olevson and Juta Rudaitski Stolyar immigrated to Israel. On November 28, 2007, Yad Vashem recognized Elena and Juozas Karaška as Righteous Among the Nations.
Rescued persons (Yad Vashem website):
Information collected using:
Elena and Juozas Karaška
Debora Biron with her family