* 1884 – 1960
*Recognized in 2005
Griškabūdis village cemetery,
Šakiai district, Lithuania
About the rescuer and the rescue story
The fate of the Glikas family from Kudirkos Naumiestis during the Holocaust
Until World War II, our family – my dad Jankelis, mom Malke, two sisters Pešė and Mina, two brothers Leibas, Kopelis and me – Izraelis-Iseris (Izaokas) lived in Kudirkos Naumiestis, near the border of Eastern Prussia. My grandfather’s family lived there too: three of my dad’s brothers, two sisters and my mom’s relatives.
Early in the morning of 21 June 1941, the German army crossed the border of Lithuania. We heard shots and a strong explosion, when the headquarters of the Russian border guards was blown up. My father realised the tragedy of this event. He knew German and used to listen to radio news from Germany, therefore he knew about the persecution and terror of the Jews in Germany and Poland. When he first saw German soldiers through the window, he said: “Disaster has befallen us. We are doomed.”
The local Lithuanian police – the “white armbands” – started acting actively on that same day. Jews were ordered to sew yellow stars of David on all items of their upper clothes. Jews were barred from walking on sidewalks, using the town well, in the evening they had to gather in the market square for a check-up. The police and the soldiers used various methods to jeer at and humiliate Jews: made them pick-up cigarette butts, shine their shoes, if they did not like someone – they would beat them. Tree Jews were shot without any warning that day.
On July 4, German messengers went to Jewish homes and told all men over 14 years of age to gather on the street. A policeman came into our house, my father knew him very well. He told my dad and my eldest brother, Leibas, to go out on the street, while my younger brother Kopelis was allowed to stay at home. He told them to dress warm and take food for 3 days, and that purportedly they would be taken to work in Germany. More and more men gathered in the file, there were even old people in crutches, who could barely move. Dad bid us farewell, advised to leave town and said, that it was not likely we would meet again. Everyone in the market square was taken to the Jewish cemetery, where the Russian prisoners of war had dug long and deep trenches. The file was lead by “white armbands” and a few German soldiers. When it started to get dark, the first shots were heard – they did not stop until morning. Around 250 Jews – young men, seniors and teenagers – were shot in Kudirkos Naumiestis that night.
A new order came in the middle of July: all the Jews in town – women, children and old bedridden codgers were allowed to live on only four streets, on the remote outskirts of the Šešupė River. This place became the Jewish ghetto. It was forbidden to go elsewhere.
In the middle of September, Gediminas Gudėnas, a police officer whom we knew very well and the son of the town pharmacist, who had employed my eldest sister Pešė, told my sister that in the nearest few days all the remaining Jews in town would meet the same fate the men had. He offered my sister his help. My sister, however, answered that she would not go anywhere alone if he could not help all of our family. The policeman thought about this for a few days and agreed to help all of us. He came up with a plan how to leave the ghetto. It was not possible to leave the ghetto in advance, because check-ups were held every evening. We had to be taken to the farm of the pharmacist Kazimieras Gudėnas, which was 5-6 km away from town. A good friend of my father’s, Juozas Vaičiūnas, served there as housekeeper. He prepared a hideout in the stack yard, visited us and explained how we were supposed to act. The town was surrounded by the rivers Širvinta on one side and Šešupė on the other. The bridge over the Šešupė was guarded by German soldiers. In the evening of August 15, policeman Gediminas Gudėnas told us that all Jews, children and seniors among them, would be taken to the forest of Paražniai for extermination the following morning. Juozas Vaičiūnas, the housekeeper of Gudėnas, came late that evening with a carriage full of bags and hay. They hid my brother Kopelis between them and took him to the hideout. My elder sister Pešė was blond and did not look like a Jewish girl at all, so early that morning she simply crossed the bridge with a bucket, as if she were going to milk the cows, and thus made it to the hideout. If we wanted to reach the hideout, me, my mom and my younger sister Mina would have to wade across the Šešupė. We managed to do it: my mom carried me, a seven year old boy, on her back, because the water was up to her chin in some places. That morning all the Jews in town were lead to the forest and killed – around 600 women, seniors, children and even babies. It is a known fact, that our do-gooder policeman took part in this killing action in the forest of Paražniai. In the morning, after the shootings, the policeman came to the farm drunk, but did not know the exact spot of our hideout. The saviour of our family, housekeeper Vaičiūnas, warned us not to answer the policeman’s call, not to give ourselves away.
Everyone knew about the fatal risk of hiding or helping the Jews. The Nazis had announced that those hiding the Jews and the fugitives themselves would be shot on spot and their whole property and buildings would be burnt down. We had no money or valuables to pay with. War was taking place and everybody was short on food, clothes and footwear. However, people would help unrewarded. Lithuanian farmers were courageous and inventive – people knew how to construct hideouts and would hide us and feed us.
We spent around 3 weeks on the farm. Hiding in one place was becoming unsafe. Housekeeper Vaičiūnas found some farmers, who knew my father well and agreed to help his family. He took us to the village of Norvaišai in the district of Bubeliai, county of Šakiai, to stay with two needy farmers, Sabaitienė and Plaušinis, who had suffered from the war. We spent around two weeks with them. One Sunday morning when she was coming back from church, Sabaitienė talked to Konstancija Stanaitienė and her husband Motiejus, who agreed to shelter and hide us. We lived with these people until late autumn 1941.
This is how families helped us one after another. It was war and everyone lacked food, clothes and shoes. My mother realised that it was too dangerous for us to stay in one place. In the long term, five strange people would have been too much of a burden for the people that were hiding us, and the outcomes could have been fatal in case of a disaster. Therefore, my mother decided that we had to split up and hide separately.
My eldest sister Pešė became Onutė and was taken to the village of Žalvėderiai in the district of Žalvėderiai to the farm of brothers Justinas, Bronius and sister Kunigunda Smilgys. My youngest sister Mina, who became Janutė, and brother Kopelis, who became Petras, went to live on the farm of Justinas and Marija Dubininkas in the same village of Žalvėderiai. None of our family members stayed with the same hosts for long. We would constantly change our hideouts staying with dozens of honest families until the end of the war. I have attached hereto a list of all the surnames of Lithuanian families who hid us.
I, Iseris (Izaokas), later named Jonukas, being the youngest stayed with my mom Malke at the Stanaičiai farm until the end of winter 1942. When the cold winter of 1942 came, we still wore summer clothes, since we had fled as we stood. At the time we were living with the family of Albinas and Klerutė Puskunigis – young people who had seen their share of misfortunes during the war – in the village of Tupikai in the district of Žvirgždaičiai. Once, after coming back from church, our hostess told us that the police was expected to come to the village to investigate why the farmers were not doing their duties to the Reich.
Our hosts told us to leave the house and explained how we could reach another village, where we would be sheltered on the farm of the Dočys family, whom they knew. The hostess gave a wrap to my mother and gloves to me. I was dressed in thin pantyhose, short pants and a summer jacket. It was a 5 kilometre walk. We went out in the evening, it was a bright moonlit night and the temperatures dropped below -20 °C. We went through fields, walked through untrodden snow. I became weaker and weaker, and it was harder to walk with every step I made, my body was stiff from the cold. We saw a stack of hay in the middle of the fields. We went to it and burrowed ourselves in the hay, mom covered me with her wrap and warmed me with her body. I got a little warmer, but still could barely feel my legs so I told her that I could not walk anymore. Mom refused to carry me and said that I would get warmer while walking. Exhaustion overcame me, however, and I began to doze off in a drift of snow. When mom realised how cold I was, she rubbed my legs, covered me with her wrap, and we continued walking. Finally, we reached a homestead. The dog started barking in the yard, we knocked on the door and on the window, but the people, not knowing who was knocking and why, were afraid to let us in. They told us to leave the yard, before they unleashed the dog. As we were walking by the animal shed, we opened the door and felt the warmth inside. We wanted to hide there and get warm, but the dogs would not stop barking, so we had to keep walking towards the homestead we were told about after having gotten a little warmer. Eventually we reached the homestead of Vincas and Onutė Dočys in the village of Žalvėderiai. The housekeepers fearfully took us in, fed us, warmed us, gave us bedding and lodged us in a cold granary where I and my mother cuddled together and fell asleep with our clothes on. At noon, we were told to hide, because the hostess saw a few neighbours coming in a sledge. These proved to be the same people who turned us away from their house that night. The woman, Mrs. Serbentienė, was worried that she had committed a sin by not giving shelter to homeless fugitives of war when she saw a child’s footsteps in the yard that morning, so she followed us to the homestead, where we had found shelter. After finding out who we were and where we came from, she was scared at first, but then said she could help the countrymen of Christ. Which she did – at a difficult time for us the Serbenta family sheltered and hid us for a few days, gave me and my mother some old warm clothes and wool socks. Later we returned to Vincas and Onutė Dočys, who took us to Ona and Jonas Poniškaitis in the same village of Žalvėderiai. They hid and fed us, even though they had a large family themselves.
In the summer they were visited by the brother of our hostess, priest Antanas Skeltys, who was in charge of the Salesian monastery in Vytėnai. He commended the noble behaviour of her sister and offered to take me to the monastery to herd geese. This is how I ended up alone far away from mom in Vytėnai, Raseiniai district, East Prussia,. My eldest sister Pešė also hid there until the end of the war.
The Salesian male monastery housed several children and teenagers, who were given shelter as victims of the war, or as orphans. Later I found out that a few Jewish children from nearby towns were among them, but we knew nothing about each other. We all used catholic names. The priest christened me, and gave me the name Antanas, which is how I came to be known Antanukas. Father Antanas Skeltys entrusted my secret to the teacher-seminarian of the monastery, Jonas Stašaitis, who became my godfather. Skeltys used to pass children and teenagers on to Salesian priests who shared his viewpoint – priest B. Paukštys and J. Žemaitis, who also protected Jewish children.
When the people around me started taking interest in my background, father Antanas Skeltys asked my godfather, teacher Jonas Stašaitis, whether his parents would agree to take me in to herd the geese. Godfather Jonas got his parents’ approval and thus I started living with the parents of my godfather, Juozas and Agnieška Stašaitis, in the village of Patalupiai, county of Raseiniai, in the summer of 1943.
There were three teenage daughters and two grown-up sons, the eldest of whom was my godfather, Jonas Stašaitis, in the family of Juozas and Agnieška Stašaitis. This family was very kind to me and treated me as an orphaned child of their relatives. This was what they told their neighbours although they knew my background. I felt a full member of the family: I did not have to hide; I could live in freedom like others and interact with the children of the village. Before the war, I went to a Lithuanian kindergarten, therefore I knew Lithuanian and spoke without any accent.
In the autumn of 1944, when the German army was retreating, the hostilities became more intense. Bombings, fires and air raids became commonplace. The buildings of our hosts were shelled so they took their daughters and me to their relatives, who lived in the district of Šimkaičiai in Jurbarkas District. They had a big house. Lots of German soldiers came into the yard in a few days, they told all of us to live in the barn and used the house as a temporary headquarters. They told us not to be afraid and said that soon they would push the Russians back and we could live “freely” again. I did not raise any suspicions to the Germans, they would even ask me to bring water from the well and help them wash themselves. They would be really happy when I poured water on their necks. They gave me “bon-bons” for that.
The Germans soon retreated under the pressure of the Red Army and the Russian army entered the village. The Germans had tried to scare people, by telling them that the Russians – “Asians” – would torture and kill the locals, rape women, and so on, so everyone was overcome with fear and many people retreated West together with the German army.
I believe it was two months earlier, that the Red Army came to the place where my mother, brother and sisters were hiding. When my mother found out that the Germans had left the area where I was hiding, she came looking for me. She walked approximately 80 kilometres on foot to reach my hosts, but she did not find me there as I was taken to their relatives. Several days later, the host came and took me home, but I was not told that my mother was there. I saw a woman sitting in the dim light of an oil lamp beside my hostess whom I used to call “mother” at that time. I was overwhelmed by an unspeakable feeling, joyfully cried out “Mother!” and embraced her. My hostess burst in tears at that moment. We stayed embraced with my mother all night long, we talked and rejoiced our freedom, and we were happy that we won’t have to hide any more and would be able to be together. My mother had hopes to find our father as she thought he might have managed to hide and survive. I wished that very much. I could envision the doors opening and daddy coming in through them, just like when I saw mom.
A few days later, we travelled to our homeland. Our host gave me and my mother a ride to the Nemunas. After getting to the other side we travelled on foot and occasionally by car or carriage. The journey took 7 or 8 days. Compared to that cold winter’s night, this journey seemed like a road to happiness. Everywhere we went we met many good and compassionate people who would offer us lodging and food, and would share their last bite of bread with us.
We came back to the same farmers who hid us – Ona and Juozas Poniškaitis and Marija and Justinas Dubininkas, where our long travels began. We had nowhere to go, because our house in Kudirkos Naumiestis had been burnt down during the war as were most of the other houses in the town.
Rescued persons (Yad Vashem webpage):
Vytėnai manor, where the Salesian monastery was located
Skeltys in the first row, second from the left. Italy, 1939
Skeltys during the persecution, around 1956