* 1898 - 1952
* Recognized in 1983
About the rescuer and the rescue story
Carpenter Jonas Paulavičius with his wife Antanina and two children - 16-year-old Danutė and 15-year-old Kęstutis - lived in Panemune, a suburb of Kaunas during the war. Jonas Paulavičius was an unyielding opponent of the Nazi regime. When his friend Česlovas Prapuolenis asked to give shelter to a four-year-old Jewish boy, he willingly agreed. After consulting with the family members, Jonas Paulavičius decided to take the boy's parents, Yitzhak and Lena Shames, and the boys grandmother into hiding. Jonas Paulavičius and his son Kęstutis, while working at night, installed a hiding place for Jews under the floor of their house, where the Shames family hid. However, the Paulavičius did not stop there - understanding the suffering of the Jews locked in the ghetto, they decided to save as many people as possible.
Jonas Paulavičius started meeting people from the Kaunas ghetto, offering shelter in his home. His son Kęstutis did the same - he brought his school friend Yohanan Fein from the ghetto to his house, who stayed in the room together with other members of the Paulavičius family. Two women, Miriam Krakinowski, Riva Katavushnik, escaped from the column of Jews driven to deportation at the last minute. Noticing this, Jonas Paulavičius and his son Kęstutis, who were on the street at the time, brought the woman, whom they didn’t know by that time, to their home, where all the Jews were rescued in the same hiding place.
Lauras Sabonis, Vilnius, 2014:
In July 1944, as the Eastern Front was approaching Kaunas, the Nazis decided to liquidate the ghetto and labor camps - to shoot some Jews and to take others to Dachau and Stutthof. Twenty-year-old Miriam Krakinowski (then Schumacher) from Troškūnai was in one of the convoys driven to the railway station. While marching across the Panemune bridge, there was a crowd. One Jew took advantage of this and suddenly jumped into the Nemunas river. The Nazis opened fire, there was a commotion, and Miriam fell from the column onto the sidewalk. The girl instantly tore the yellow star off her chest, but a German guard jumped up to her and tried to shove her back into the column of prisoners. The Jewish woman was not disturbed and shouted at the guard in clean Lithuanian to let her go, because she was just passing by. The Nazi was confused, then pushed Miriam down the embankment, and the column moved on without her.
Miriam didn't know it at the time, but two people, a father and son, were watching the commotion on the bridge from a boat floating nearby. Miriam says that when she got up, shook off the dust and started walking, the following happened: "I was walking along the shore far from the bridge and I saw a man sitting in a boat [...]. He greeted me in Lithuanian, I answered him in the same way. He asked if I saw what happened on the bridge. I said no and walked away. A few minutes later, I heard the man's voice behind me again. I turned and asked why he was following me. He replied that he thought I needed help [...]. The man said not to be afraid of him, and although I was indeed afraid, unfortunately I had nowhere to go.”
The stranger took Miriam to his home in Panemune. They went down to the basement, the man pushed aside the workbench standing in the middle, swept up the scattered carvings and knocked on the floor several times. A small door opened, and the man told Miriam to climb down. Miriam remembers: “I could not see where I was climbing, but I was silent. Then it got a little brighter, looking around I realized that I was in a tiny, stuffy room full of half-dressed Jews. They rushed to ask me about the ghetto, and then I started crying.” Three weeks after Miriam's rescue, the Germans withdrew from Kaunas, Soviet soldiers occupied the city.
The man who saved Miriam and other Jews in the hiding place was Jonas Paulavičius, a Lithuanian carpenter, who, with the help of his wife Antanina, son Kęstutis and daughter Danutė, saved a total of 16 people from death during the war: 12 Jews, 2 Russian prisoners of war and two Lithuanians whom the Germans were preparing to arrest. And all this is not accidental: Jonas realized what he was doing and what a threat he was posing to himself and his family. Paulavičius had set himself the goal of rescuing as many bright, educated, qualified Jews as possible from the ghetto, so that after the war they would contribute to the restoration and flourishing of the Jewish community anew.
Some details of this story are still forgotten, but what is clear is that in the spring of 1944, Kęstutis asked his father to rescue and hide Yohanan Fein, a fourteen-year-old violinist, with whom Kęstutis studied at the same school before the war. Paulavičius and his contacts in the ghetto organized the boy's escape - Yohanan got involved in the work brigade and slipped out of Vilijampolė. Kęstutis came to meet him at the agreed place, and they returned together to Panemunė. In the Paulavičius household, Yohanan became a member of the family and even got a new name - Juozas. In his memoirs, Fein writes: "Kęstutis parents appointed him to take care of me. He brought me food, cleaned the night pot, and took care of my lonely soul. He brought chess, a book about chess, a set of Maironis’ lines that he bought especially for me. Kęstutis sympathized with me, devoted a lot of time to me: talked with me, told me about the movies he had seen, brought books. [...] I stayed alive and I will not exaggerate when I say that it is only thanks to Kęstutis."
However, Yohanan was very surprised when he found out after the end of the Nazi occupation that he was not the only person sheltered and hidden by the Paulavičius family. And it happened like this: the colleague of Jonas Paulavičius, Česlovas Prapuolenis, originally from Kybartai, was approached by his acquaintances, Yitzhak and Lena Shemes, also from Kybartai, and asked to rescue their four-year-old son Shimele from the ghetto. Česlovas could not take the child to his home, so he turned to Jonas and asked him to take Shimele. Paulavičius, who discussed it with his wife, agreed, and after some time the boy was taken out of the ghetto and ended up in Panemune. It didn't take long for Jonas and Antanina to decide that the boy's parents should be saved as well. Lena asked John to take in her old mother as well - soon four members of the Shemes family lived in the Paulavičius house in Panemunė.
Before receiving Shemes, Jonas decided to install a hiding place under the house where the Jews could safely wait for the end of the war. In a few nights, Jonas and Kęstutis dug a hole under the foundation of the house (secretly dumped the earth into the river), strengthened its sides with boards, installed four double beds, built a bucket, hung a curtain, and brought a small radio and a map - so that the movement of the front could be followed. In the cellar floor, Paulavičius and his son cut a small opening and installed a door, which he sometimes opened to let fresh air in, but mostly he kept it closed and disguised it with a shutter pushed on top, and sprinkled cravings around the table.
John told the Shames to find more Jews because he could hide them in his house as well. Yitzhak then told his familiar doctors Chaim and Tania Ipp about Jonas proposal. At first, Chaim was skeptical, because he and his wife did not have any property, so he did not believe that someone would save the Jews, without taking payment for it, and even more so hide them in their house, risking their lives and those of their household. But when Yitzhak arranged for Jonas and Chaim to meet (somewhere outside the ghetto), Dr. Ipp has a change of heart. His wife Tania later shared her memories of Jonas Paulavičius: "Jonas proved to be a special person, the kind you rarely meet: an extremely noble, determined, sincere and fearless man who recklessly bravely risked his life." You couldn't help but admire Jonas - he took care of the Jews as if he were his own." Paulavičius tried to visit the families in the hiding place as often as possible - he not only brought them coffee and bread and took out a bucket in the mornings, but whenever he could, he came to talk with them, listen to the radio together with them and discuss the situation at the front. After work, Jonas would go to look for where to buy food: flour, peas or bacon. And this had to be done far from home, every once in a while, and it was possible to buy only a small amount, because Jonas had to be careful not to arouse suspicion. Paulavičius sold another house he owned in order to feed so many mouths, but sometimes he just couldn't get food, and everyone had to wait for the next day with empty stomachs. And sometimes luck smiled - once Jonas managed to get some military allowances from somewhere, which he exchanged for bacon.
Jonas showed intelligence not only in searching for food in a war-torn land. Paulavičius and his acquaintances once took several more Jews out of the ghetto: they bribed a Lithuanian who worked as a Gestapo driver, and that German car secretly took the Jews from Vilijampolė and dropped them off at an agreed place in another part of Kaunas, while Jonas took them back to Panemunė via detours. Yitzhak’s cousin Mania Nejmark (later Gershenman) got into the Paulavičius house in this way: when Jonas met her, who had escaped from the ghetto, they agreed that he would go first, and Mania would follow him, keeping a distance. If the Nazis noticed and arrested the Jewish woman, Jonas would go on without looking back. He couldn't risk falling into the hands of the Germans when so many people in Panemunė depended on him. fortunately, Paulavičius and Mania overcame several kilometers happily. Soon Mania's husband, engineer Aaron Nejmark, also found refuge in Panemunė.
Rescued persons (Yad Vashem web page):
Feinsilver (Lena Feinsilver Shemesh’s mother)
Mania Shames Nejmark (Gershenman)
Miriam Schumacher Krakinowski
Lena Feinsilver Shemesh
Jonas and Antanina Paulavičius