* 1901 – 1967
* recognized in 1992
Saltoniškės cemetery, Vilnius
About the rescuer and the rescue story
A true, diligent Christian, Stefanija Ladigienė believed in loving one’s neighbor, helped everyone as much as she could, had a rare ability at that time to understand those who thought differently than herself, and demanded more of herself than others. She saw the situation of the Jews during the Holocaust as the greatest injustice and tried to do her best to help them. That's how Stefanija welcomed a 14-year-old Irena Veisaitė to her house on Trakai street. Irena became Stefanija’s 7th child. During dinner, Stefanija introduced Irena to her children and told them that she is their sister and that they should love, respect and care for her. At that time, three of the children had already left home and three still remained. Coincidentally, Stefanija’s eldest daughter was also Irena, so Stefanija used to say that she had two Irena daughters - one white (blonde) and one black (dark-haired). In fact, Irena's nationality was never mentioned to the younger girls - Marija and Jonė. They even walked down the street together, even though the SS headquarters was located nearby.
Irena remembers how, at her first dinner, Stefanija gave her more lazanki (skryliai) than she gave her own children. Probably, as a mother, she felt the child’s hunger. At bedtime, Stefania would approach the children, draw a cross on their foreheads with her thumb and kiss each one. When she kissed Irena, the girl started to cry. Stefanija, not knowing if she had done something wrong, asked the girl why she was crying. Irena answered with the question "Is it not disgusting for you to kiss a Jew?", because after so much persecution, bullying and suffering, people were made to feel like lepers and monsters. Irena had not been kissed for a long time. Her mother was taken out of Kaunas hospital from the first days of the war to a hard labor prison after an operation, and Irena never saw her again, her dad lived outside Lithuania. So, this simple, warm, motherly kiss at bedtime made the girl emotional. When Stefanija heard this, she also burst into tears. Then they sat talking until four in the morning. Irena says that from that moment on, Stefanija became her second mother.
Stefanija was a fervent believer, widow of Lithuanian General Kazimieras Ladiga, mother of six children and a journalist. During the First World War, Stefanija’s family (Stefanija’s dad, Tomas, was a book carrier and used to hide forbidden press received from Bishop Motiejus Valančius himself) fled to Russia. Stefanija graduated from the St. Petersburg Gymnasium, the “Žiburys” Gymnasium in Tambov (Russia), took various courses (acting, plasticity, music, foreign languages, Kazimieras Būga’s Lithuanian language course in St. Petersburg), and was also interested in the social sciences and education. She returned to Lithuania ready to work for its welfare. At the age of seventeen, Stefanija became a correspondent, she worked in the Ministry of Agriculture and in the evenings she was a secretary to Jonas Jablonskis while he was working on Lithuanian grammar. She was a member of the Lithuanian Catholic Federation “Ateitis”, the Lithuanian Catholic Women’s Union and the Lithuanian Women’s Committee for the Defense of the Homeland. As a sincere Christian, she took the liberty of criticizing what priests said about the place of women in society and new customs and dances - she said that “tango will be danced as before, and there is no point in unnecessarily burdening the conscience of young people...” She also considered women’s own passivity on the issue of emancipation a misdemeanor. She became the first editor of the first women’s publication “Moteris”, worked in the editorial office of the daily newspaper “Lietuva”, served as editor of the magazine “Naujoji Vaidilutė”, and was its publisher. Worked in the National Assembly. When the possibilities to take action were limited during the reign of A. Smetona, her husband, General Ladiga, was placed under house arrest, and the Ladiga family left Kaunas to settle in Gulbinėnai – in an used-up manor with a large park, which was a real paradise for children. Here she worked in cultural activities for the benefit of the area. She wrote articles on self-education for girls and women, conducted pedagogical seminars for rural women in 18 locations, and encouraged them to go beyond the confines of the home and to be financially independent. “If we value ourselves to the extent that we are human beings and not puppets, society as a whole will begin to do the same”, – wrote Stefanija. The outbreak of the Second World War once again disrupted normal life. Her husband was arrested, and she with children settled in Vilnius. About Kazimieras’s execution Stefanija found out when she was already in exile. Her apartment became a meeting point for the intelligentsia. Acquaintances wondered how she still hasn't been arrested. It happened in 1946. Irena Veisaitė says that she ran and shouted after the police car with booth ("voronoka") who took her second mother to prison. Her testimony of salvation meant nothing to the Soviet occupiers. Stefanija Ladigienė received a prison sentence for anti-Soviet activities and ten years of exile. That term was shortened only by the reward given to her son Benediktas, who was also exiled. The officials of the regime had to choose – to take away the award or to rehabilitate the family members. Since it was already after Stalin's death, the choice was to rehabilitate. Stefanija and her two sons were set out to go home to Lithuania. But on the way she got typhus. She came back very ill and was carried off the train in people’ arms. Here she was surrounded by everyone's care, quickly recovered and became the heart of family life. Irena stayed by her side as well as many acquaintances who were returning from exile.
Information collected using:
Ludvika Pociūnienė's comments;
Video interview with Irena Veisaitė;
Book “Moterys, kūrusios Lietuvą” (“Women who built Lithuania”), Vilnius: 2020;
Exhibition catalogue “Išgelbėjęs vieną gyvybę, išgelbėja visą pasaulį” (“Saving one life saves the whole world”), Vilnius State Gaon Jewish Museum, Vilnius:2018
S. Ladigienė in exile in Kasjanovka (Cheremchov district) with her children Algis Marijonas (right), Benediktas Pijus (left) and Jone (Joana), who came to visit (1957)
S. Ladigienė (seated first from the left) with other members of the Christian Democrats group in the Seimas (1926)
Stefanija ir Kazys Ladiga (1927)
Irena Veisaitė (1948)