*1920 - 2011
*Recognized in 1997
Rokiškis district, Lithuania
About the rescuer and the rescue story
At the outbreak of the War, Stasys Sviderskis was only 21 years old when he took up the position of the head of the Druskininkai Pioneer Camp. On the bright morning of June 22, 1941, Stasys had no time for long deliberations - he was responsible for 150 children, more than 70 of whom were Jewish. Realizing that he had to flee from the border, Stasys made a deal with the echelon driver, whom promised to give the keys to all the camp premises in return for a favor. He told the children that they were going hiking, on an excursion, because he didn’t know that it would take a month and end at the Urals. The situation in Vilnius was not safe at that time either. So Sviderskis decided to take the children further east to find a safe place. Sviderskis and the children travelled all across Russia to Udmurtia, the city of Sarapul. The rescued children were accommodated in a former holiday home, and moved to the Sharkany orphanage when winter approached. In the winter of 1941-1942, S. Sviderskis was mobilized into the 16th Lithuanian Division, which was being formed. He was seriously wounded and was admitted to a military hospital. There he was found by an envoy of the government of the Lithuanian SSR, because the children in Sharkany were living together with Udmurt children, called fascists, abused, and taught only in Udmurt. S. Sviderskis was exempted from further service in the military and appointed director of the orphanage. The premises for the children’s home were found in Debiosy. The allocation of the premises “required an enormous amount of personal initiative. I just don’t want to describe the suffering and hardship before I took the children from Sharkany to Debiosy. I only emphasise that it was more difficult than the journey from Druskininkai to the Udmurtia ASSR”. A Lithuanian secondary school was established near the Debiosy orphanage, land and livestock were allocated. Everyone worked on the farm, the headmaster, teachers and children. There was no more hunger. After living there for a few years, all the children, together with Stasys Sviderskis, saw the end of the war and returned to Lithuania. Most of the Lithuanian children in Sviderskis’ care happily returned to their parents, but unfortunately, only a few of the 70 Jewish children in Lithuania still found their families.
One of Stasys’ rescued victims, Šulamita Elpertaitė-Kurilenko, remembers:
“It was he, the Lithuanian lad Sviderskis, who on the first day of the War did not run, did not leave us to our fate, did not get lost, but lined us up, and we walked to the station in an orderly fashion. [...] Many times the echelon stopped because of bombing, we had to run outside, lie on the ground, hide, and then he would carefully gather us up and put us back on the wagon. Among us was a disabled girl and a dwarf called Ickė. During the bombing and shooting, Sviderskis would carry them in his arms and, hugging them, would run for cover.That’s the kind of man he was, the kindness and compassion he had within him. And what troubles were on his shoulders! – After all, we were making an extremely long journey, and everyone had to be fed, which was not easy in those days. Many children were sick, had to be given medicine, and some had to be dropped off and taken to the hospital.
... In faraway Udmurtia, our first summer passed without our parents, but he did his best to be there for us, he loved and cared for us all like a real father. [...] Oh, how hard it was for him with us – there were 150 children, 70 of them Jews, and he loved everyone without exception. He travelled around the towns and villages of Udmurtia, collecting clothes, books and notebooks for us all. Thanks to him, we were able to live and to learn.”
Stasys Sviderskis was for a long time not recognized by Yad Vashem as a Righteous Among the Nations because he did not meet one of the criteria - he did not live and shelter the children during the Holocaust in Germany or in Nazi-occupied territories, and evacuation organizers are also only awarded the title of Righteous in very rare exceptions. However, the former children of the Debiosy Lithuanian Children’s Home knocked on the doors of various institutions until they proved that Stasys deserved the title of Righteous Among the Nations.
It is a beautiful coincidence that Stasys’ brother Alfonsas, who lived with their dad, a wife and a son during the War, did not know anything about Stasys’ fate and the mission to save so many children. However, common human values and moral attitudes were strongly instilled in both brothers, because while Stasys was saving children in Udmurtia, Alfonsas was saving a Jewish girl in his home in Kaunas, and in a special hiding place, he protected the girl’s father and two other men who had escaped from the ghetto. Alfonsas hid these people in his farmhouse, which, hard to believe, was the temporary headquarters of Hitlerites.
Rescued persons (Yad Vashem webpage):
Rescqued people meeting 1963