* 1889 – 1945
* Recognized in 1983
Petrašiūnai cemetery Kaunas
About the rescuer and the rescue story
Mykolas Šimelis was born on 10 October 1889 in the village of Golinka in the Grodno district (now in Belarus) into a peasant family. He studied at the Grodno Gymnasium. He started working at the age of seventeen. After graduating from the non-commissioned officers' school in Pskov (now Russia), he was conscripted into the Tsar's army. He took part in the battles of the First World War. In 1916 he was severely wounded - a fragment of an exploded shell hit his head, knocked out his eye and injured his arm. Then, at the age of 26, Mykolas became a war invalid. He is known to have been married to Stefania Rūdaitytė, with whom he had a daughter. Later, he paid his first wife monthly child support money.
When Lithuania regained its independence in 1918, Mykolas linked his life to an independent Lithuania.
After graduating from the forestry course in Raudondvaris (near Kaunas) in 1921, he became a freelance clerk of the State Forest Service, and soon afterwards a forester of the forestry of Bačkoniai (near Žiežmariai, in the present-day territory of the district of Kaišiadorys). Šimelis devoted the rest of his life to the development of Strošiūnai pinewood.
Around the third decade of the twentieth century, he married Jadvyga Žilionytė. The Šimelis family had 5 children - Gražina, Ramutė, Vidas, Gediminas and Algirdas.
During the Holocaust, Mykolas and his wife Jadvyga hid 14 people in a hiding place dug in their house.
In 1944, Mykolas' wife Jadvyga died giving birth to their sixth child.
It is known that Mykolas was imprisoned in a workhouse in Žasliai. When he returned home, he told his children that he doubted whether he would have got out alive had it not been for a Jewish lawyer from St. Petersburg.
On July 10, 1945, Mykolas Šimelis left home to go to work in the forest and never returned. After Mykolas disappeared, his house and the forestry were searched, and the children witnessed unknown men parting with Mykolas' belongings. The body of Mykolas Šimelis, who was murdered in the Strošiūnai forest, was never found. In his report, KGB chief Ščensnovičius summarised that Mykolas Šimelis had been shot by Lithuanian bourgeois nationalists, a conclusion that the children of Mykolas and Jadvyga never believed. The remaining 5 young children were raised in an orphanage.
Polia and Moisei Musel, who were saved by Mykolas Šimelis, tell the story:
"One day Mykolas Šimelis appeared at Koren's workplace and said: "My door is open", and disappeared. Koren again began to think about how to escape from the ghetto and where to hide. Then he remembered Šimelis, the forester, and what he had said. Here he had two problems. Šimelis would not be able to support Koren's family of five. In wartime, food was not so easy. Šimelis himself and his wife Jadvyga had five small children (Gražina aged 8, Ramutė aged 7, Vidas aged 5, Gediminas aged 3 and Algirdas aged 1.5). Koren decided to take Aranovsky and his wife with him. They promised to pay for food for them and for Koren's family until they had to live with Šimelis. The second concern was how to get to the Strošiūnai forest district, where Šimelis lived in the village of Tarpumiškės.
At that time, Aranovski had no chance of getting a car, and so they came to us to ask for my husband's help: Koren promised to take my husband and me with him, but we would have to pay our share for the food. And so a group of nine people was formed. In the garage, my husband got to know the driver, Ignas Šepetys, better. He had already helped to take some people out of the ghetto. My husband had to go back to the ghetto because he had to organise cars to take the ghetto underground in the woods to the partisans. So at the end of November 1943, we left the ghetto as a work brigade for the night shift. The car stopped about a kilometre from Šimelis' house. We walked further. Koren knocked on the window, and the door opened quickly. Šimelis hugged Koren, who explained why he had to bring four more people. To this, Šimelis replied that his door was open to everyone. My husband went back with the car, and we eight people went into the house.
From that moment on, a time of great trouble and mortal danger began for Šimelis' family. For a short time we lived in one small room. Šimelis explained to the children not to tell anyone about the guests. We took Lithuanian names. Soon we started to dig a bunker. The opening was made in a cupboard in a cold room - Jadvyga kept food there. There was a small window in the room where air and light came in. To avoid being seen, we carried the dug-out earth not outside, but in buckets to the shelter. The walls of the rooms were torn apart by the weight. Šimelis brought planks, helped to build the walls, helped to build the diving boards, brought an iron stove, nailed a small table to the wall, put in a light, and made sure that we had humane living conditions.
On January 10, 1944, my husband and Ignas Šepetys brought Koren's brother, his wife, and ten-year-old Chaim Kaplan, and my husband stayed with us. So there were already twelve of us. It was not easy for Šimelis to feed so many people. It was dangerous to show up at the market and buy sacks of potatoes and flour to bake bread - people would suspect that you were not buying for yourself. Šimelis asked a trustworthy man, Vasilij Baradulin, to buy food for us, and he would bring it to us at night.
In April, Jadvyga Šimelienė died in hospital in Kaunas. As Šimelis was preparing to go to the funeral with his three children (the two little ones stayed at home), Šimelis asked a neighbour to stay at his house. We were supposed to be hiding in the bunker at that time, so that the invited neighbour would not see us.
The next day, several Jews escaped from the Kaišiadorys labour camp. The Germans and the local policemen rushed to find the escapees. They were looking in our village too, going from one house to another. When we were in the bunker, we heard military footsteps. When a German asked a woman if there were any Jews hiding with her, she said that the forester had gone to his wife's funeral and she was a stranger here. The German started to look around and, finding nothing, was about to leave, but he noticed the door of the room and grabbed the handle, but before he could open it, Šimelis and his children arrived. He shook the German's hand, said hello and invited him in. Vodka and snacks appeared on the table. When they had finished drinking, the German said that they were looking for Jews who had escaped from the camp. A stone fell from Šimelis' heart. After drinking and eating, the German left, forgetting about the door.
In the evening, when everything had calmed down and the neighbour had gone home, Šimelis knocked quietly on the door and told the following story. Walking from the railway station to his house, he met a neighbour who told him that Jews were wanted in the village. After talking for a few minutes, the neighbour went on his way, not knowing what kind of blow he had struck at Šimelis. The forester had no doubt that they were looking for us, that the neighbour would have spotted us and betrayed us. He stood there for a minute, wondering what he should do. Not return to the house, hide in the woods with the children and wait to see how it would end, thus saving himself and the children? But he decided otherwise. "A man dies once," he said quietly to himself, "but can I save them? - And he started to run home with the children. And he made it: he gave the German his hand and drew his attention away from the door, which was locked from the inside. I do not need to write much about the forester - that one fact shows what a special man he was.
Some time later, Elena Stankūnienė came to Mykolas from Kaunas to stay in the village and raise his children. She didn't know about us at first, but when she suddenly spotted Mejer Koren, she told Šimelis that she was afraid to stay here and wanted to return to the city. When we heard this, we wanted to leave the forester's house, not to disturb him, and go to the forest. Šimelis did not agree to this at all - he was afraid that we would be caught and killed. Every time we regretted how much trouble and hassle we were causing him, he would reply: "The world is not without good people." Those words are written on the monument we erected in Kaunas, in the Petrašiūnai cemetery, where Šimelienė is buried, and his name is symbolically inscribed. On that difficult day, when Elena did not want to stay with the forester, my elder sister and her husband escaped from the ghetto - they ran to the forester and he hid them in a bunker. And so we, fourteen people, stayed there until 13 July 1944. When the Red Army liberated us, Šimelis didn't take any money from us, nor did he take any gifts, nor did he take any rewards. He was a great humanist, he loved people, he was honest, he had a good heart. He was a Human Being!
Not everybody liked such a man, especially because he saved 14 Jews from death, gave them shelter, risking his own and his family's lives. On July 10, 1945, Mykolas went to the forest to see the eigul and never came back. At night, people from the forest came to his house, took his clothes and told that he would not return. Thus tragically ended the life of such an honourable man. In 1981, when we were already in Israel, we appealed to Yad Vashem to recognize Mykolas and Jadvyga Šimelis as Righteous Among the Nations. Our request was granted, and they received that honorable award.
We, our children and our children's children, will forever preserve the sacred memory of Jadvyga and Mykolas Šimelis. Yad Vashem told us that Mykolas Šimelis is one of the most honorable Righteous Among the Nations."
Prepared by Rolandas Gustaitis, historian of Kaišiadorys Museum
From Book IV Hands that Carry Life and Bread
State Jewish Museum of Vilnius Gaon
Rescued persons (Yad Vashem web page):
Haviva Fischer Koren Liuba Haviva
Meir Koren Mayer
Morris Koren Moishe
Polis Musel Karnovski
Fanya Nehmad Karnovski
Mykolas Šimelis with his children Gražina, Ramute and Vidutis in Tarpumiškis village
Tarpumiškis Forestry. On the right - Mykolas Šimelis with his wife Jadvyga
On the occasion of the 15th anniversary of Mykolas Šimelis' forestry in Tarpumiškis village. In the middle of the first row - Mykolas Šimelis, forester. 1936
Gedimino Šimelio wedding, Vilnius 1967. Šimelis' children and saved Jews.