By Miriam Kagan (Kahn) Lieber (New York)
My family was delighted to learn that Defending History 2022 Persons of the Year are the inspirationally courageous Lithuanians who risked all to save my parents and a small group of their friends from certain death in Kovno by hiding them in the forests near their rural homes. This is our amazing tale of discovery, in brief.
In the summer of 2019, my cousin traveled to Lithuania to visit the country where much of our family originated, home to my parents, Berl and Raya Kagan, and aunt, Nechama Ilman Himmel. It was our good fortune that he met Stanislovas Stasiulis of the Vilna Gaon Museum of Jewish History, who introduced us to his colleague Danutė Selčinskaja, long time head of the museum‘s department for discovering, recording and acknowledging Rescuers of Holocaust-era Lithuania.
Danutė knew the story of six heroic Lithuanian peasants from the hamlet of Karalgiris who rescued eight Jews from the Kovno Ghetto. She was very familiar with the story that had been published in post-war newspapers in Lithuania and in the book, Unarmed Fighters (Ir be ginklo kariai), but despite several attempts, lacked the documentation to confirm the accuracy of the story.
She was not yet familiar with my father’s diary, published in 1955 in Yiddish in New York by the Congress for Jewish Culture, entitled A yid in vald (A Jew in the Woods). The entries in the diary would confirm what was written in several post-war publications about this rescue, including the first names of each of the rescuers. She, along with Stanislovas, quickly grasped the historical value of the published Yiddish diary as it provided an in-depth picture of the rescuers of the Holocaust period in Lithuania. And due to Danutė‘s hard work and dedication she brought to fruition the long overdue recognition of these righteous Lithuanians this past September.