*Recognized in 2012
Rokantiškės cemetery, Vilnius
About the rescuer and the rescue story
Antanas Starkus was born on 7 January 1901 in Rudamina in a very Christian family that upheld true Lithuanian values. Antanas's father was a teacher who cared about the education of all his children, so all 6 Starkus children were educated - Antanas became a doctor - a pathologist, an anatomist, an oncologist, one of his brothers was the Minister of the Interior of Lithuania, the Director of the Board of the Bank of Lithuania, his siblings included a priest, a Latin teacher, a botanist.
Antanas volunteered for the army in 1919, took part in Lithuania's independence fights, and in 1923 took part in the Klaipėda Uprising, and was awarded the Order of the Cross of Vytis. He graduated from the University of Lithuania in 1928. In 1926, while studying there, he co-founded and headed the student atheist corporation Kęstutis. In 1928-31 he worked as a doctor in Vabalnininkai.
While working in Vabalninkai, Antanas met his future wife Elena, who was working as a teacher in Vabalninkai at the time. In 1931, the first child was born in the Starkus family - a son, Kęstutis, and in 1935, a daughter, Elena - Valerija.
After returning to Kaunas, Antanas taught at Vytautas Magnus University and Kaunas Theological Seminary in 1931-40, and in 1940 he was promoted to Associate Professor. In 1937 he trained at the Institute of Pathology of the University of Geneva. In 1937-40 he was also head of the Biology Department of the Research Laboratory of the Armament Board. He was a contributor to the journal Medicina. In 1940-43 he taught at Vilnius University, in 1941-43 he was the head of the Department of Pathology and Pathological Anatomy.
Antanas was strongly patriotic and wanted to work for Lithuania. Even though he knew that he was on the deportation list, he was determined not to flee Lithuania.
In 1942, an acquaintance knocked on the door of the Starkus family and asked them to hide Olga Gurvich, a former student of Antanas's streaming lectures, in their house. Antanas, who had to make a sudden decision, replied that their family had to help. The Starkus family lived in an apartment block and shared a staircase with a Gestapo officer. Antanas and Elena gave Olga a room and did not force her to go into hiding - in the evenings she even went for a walk. However, the family had a plan of action in case of danger - the children were taught to run into the house before guests entered and to warn Olga, and in case of a search, Olga had to run to wash her head to hide her dark, luxuriant hair so that she could be introduced as a housemaid. Moreover, the sisters Viktorija and Elena Jacinavičiūtė, who lived in the basement of the same apartment block, rescued a Jewish girl, Ada Feldstein. Ada spent the nights at the Jacinavičiūtes' and the days at the Starkus and Olga's.
In 1943, Antanas was arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned in Stutthof concentration camp. He was first imprisoned in a death squad and later was appointed a camp doctor. Risking his life, he saved a number of prisoners, not only treating and nursing them, but also diagnosing more serious conditions, thus giving the sick a few extra days of rest and a little more nutritious food. In Stutthof, Antanas worked to find a cure for typhus.
After the liberation of the Stutthof prisoners, Antanas went to Sweden. While in Sweden, he managed to pass on the news that he was alive to his wife Elena, who had been left behind in Lithuania: before he was taken to Stutthof, Antanas managed to take a small glass sculpture from his home, which he kept throughout his imprisonment in Stutthof, and when he arrived in Sweden, he passed it on to Elena via a messenger. He moved from Sweden to the United States in 1947 because he could not return to Lithuania. While in the USA, he made contact with his family in Lithuania through the Red Cross.
In 1952, he was admitted to practice in New York State. He worked at St. Mary's Church in New York. He worked at St. Mary's Hospital in New York, heading its Pathology Department. He wrote several articles on oncology. He was appointed chairman of the New York Society of Lithuanian Physicians several times. In America, he was in contact with the rescued Olga Gurvich, who moved to America after the end of the war and worked as a dentist after completing her medical studies.
While living in the USA, Antanas actively supported the activities of VLIK (The Supreme Committee for the Liberation of Lithuania). In 1973, his wife Elena came to America to stay with Antanas. Despite his career in the USA, Antanas was always looking for ways to return to Lithuania. Finally, he succeeded - Vilnius University invited Antanas to teach. Unfortunately, Antanas died in the USA the same year. His wife Elena brought Antanas' urn back to Lithuania.
Olga Gurvitch Horwitz gave a speech at the funeral of Antanas Starkus:
"I have also come to say goodbye and to say thank you one last time to Dr. Antanas Starkus. His body has passed away, but his spirit will live forever in the hearts of his family, friends and loved ones. As long as my heart beats, I will never forget the determination and sacrifice of Dr Starkus and his family to save me. I lived in the Starkus family for a year and a half. It was a long, horrible, horrible life, not only for me, but also for Professor Starkus, his family, his little son and daughter. As I remember today, when I came home from church on Sunday, the children were the first to tell me: "Hide quickly, the guests are coming!" The children sensed the danger, but they never asked questions - they were silent, protecting me and sharing the last morsel. The children were brought up in the spirit of their parents. Many who came here to say goodbye spoke of Dr. Antanas as a volunteer, a figure in Catholic societies, a doctor. I knew Antanas Starkas as a person. Just as Father Yla said that without Dr Starkus's care in the Stutthof concentration camp he would not have survived, I can say the same about myself. Many have mentioned the kingdom of God. If there is one, he will be among its inhabitants. Dr. Starkus tried to realise the kingdom of God here on earth by his work and sacrifice. He was a noble man. He was a man of honour and profound wisdom. He did not sell his soul to the Stalinists or the Hitlerites. Instead of hatred, revenge and greed, he gave his love, understanding and dedication to the enslaved people. Even when my spark of hope was fading and I could no longer look forward to tomorrow, he was able to rekindle the spark of light and show me that not all of humanity has turned into beasts. He was a pure, clear drop in a sea of blood. Thank you, Doctor! May your noble spirit be an example to your countrymen, to humanity and to the younger generations."
Rescued persons (Yad Vashem webpage):
Antanas in his office in the USA, 1974
The Starkus family. 1940
Antanas and Elena reunited after 30 years of separation. 1973