Danutė Selčinskaja

Jonas Paulavičius: Volunteered a Century Ago for Lithuania’s War of Independence, Went on to Save 16 People During the Holocaust



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by Danutė Selčinskaja

Jonas Paulavičius (1858-1952)

During the Nazi occupation years, when humanity was being trampled, and marauding and murder were rampant, when all effort was put toward turning the inhabitants of occupied lands into obedient and unfeeling creatures, meeting a dedicated person who dared to resist the spreading hatred seemed like a miracle to the unjustly persecuted. Jonas Paulavičius, indomitable enemy of the Nazi regime and veteran volunteer of the Lithuanian Wars of Independence, went on to become such a miracle to twelve Kaunas Jews, two Russian POWs, and two persecuted Lithuanians. Jonas made a decision: the only way to resist the terror of the Nazis and their helpers was to save at least several Jews who were suffering at the hands of the Nazis and whose lives were at risk.

Jonas Paulavičius was born in 1898 to a family of poor peasants. He learned the trade of the carpenter in his teenage years and could earn a living by himself, thus becoming self-sufficient and independent at a young age. After Lithuania declared independence in 1918, it soon became clear that, without a military of its own, Lithuanian statehood was doomed. During the period of its initial formation and the first stage of battles against the Bolsheviks, the Lithuanian military was comprised of 3,000 volunteers who responded to the December 27, 1918, call issued by the Government: Lithuania is in Danger. Jonas Paulavičius was among the brave men who volunteered immediately to fight for the freedom of Lithuania.

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Antanas Zubrys and his Wife Dr. Matilda Zubrienė: Defending History’s Persons of the Year (2020)



OPINIONHISTORY

by Danutė Selčinskaja

 

Who were the people who managed to disregard the ubiquitous government warnings and the abundant anti-Semitic propaganda and refused to remain passive onlookers? Those who went on to rescue their Jewish neighbors from the fate of persecution and murder during the Second World War? Jews were rescued by people of various educational background, beliefs, ages, and professions. Each of them had to make this not-at-all easy decision by themselves, led by no one but their conscience. Upon seeing such direct and overt brutality, these courageous people were simply unable to act in any other way.

Antanas Zubrys and Dr. Matilda Zubrienė

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2022 Persons of the Year: Tadas Pocius & Barbora Urbonavičiūtė-Pocienė; Antanas Volskis & Stanislava Volskienė; Leonas Vaidotas & Stanislava Vaidotienė — in a village called Karalgiris



PERSON OF THE YEAR SERIES  |  LITHUANIA  |  LITVAK AFFAIRS  |  HISTORY

by Danutė Selčinskaja

Berl Kagan (Kahan)

Eminent scholar, author, and Holocaust survivor Berl Kagan, often known as Berl Kahn (1908-1993)  renowned in his pre-war Lithuania youth as a scholar, lecturer and editor  (of the newspaper Dos Vort), worked after the war in New York at the Yivo (Yiddish Scientific Institute, later Yivo Institute for Jewish Research) from 1954, is widely known for his concise encyclopedia of Jewish towns in prewar independent Lithuania, the final volume of the encyclopedia of Yiddish literature plus a volume of addenda, and numerous other works that are regularly consulted in our second decade of the twenty-first century. Fewer people, perhaps, are aware of his much more deeply personal work, A Yid in Vald (A Jew in the Forest), his Holocaust memoir.

While hiding from the Nazis and their local henchmen in the Lithuanian forests, he felt the need to record what he, his wife Raya, and his wife’s sister Nechama had to endure in the Kovno Ghetto and, from 1943, hiding in the barn of the inspirationally courageous peasant Tadas Pocius (known to friends as Tadeush) in Karalgiris village and, later, in the woods outside the Pocius family’s farm. Since there was no paper to write on, Kagan would write in between the lines of a paperback that he carried with him. In 1955, based on these clandestine records, Kagan published A Yid in Vald. After his death, his daughters Ada Kagan and Miriam Kagan Lieber ensured that the book would appear in English translation A Jew in the Woods.

Defending History’s Person of the Year series

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