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Thanks to Danutė Selčinskaja and Stanislovas Stasiulis, We found Families who Saved My Parents During the Lithuanian Holocaust



Lithuania  |  History  |  Persons of the Year  |  Litvak Affairs

 

By Miriam Kagan (Kahn) Lieber (New York)

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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.

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Editor’s Comments on Defending History Persons of the Year 2022


[UPDATE]


OPINION  |  LITVAK AFFAIRS  |  LITHUANIA

by Dovid Katz

Note: An earlier version of this comment appeared on Dovid Katz’s personal Facebook page on 31 Dec. 

Each year on New Year’s Eve, when the clock strikes midnight (Vilnius time), our Defending History community publishes its Person(s) of the Year, in most years, and this year once again, chosen from among the most inspirational and eternal of Lithuania’s 20th century heroes: the amazing people who risked everything, starting with themselves and their children and families, to just save a Jewish neighbor and fellow citizen who was targeted for death by the Nazis and their local collaborationists and lackeys. Most years, and this year again, we are fortunate to have an authoritative summary of the achievements of the folks we are honoring prepared for the Persons of the Year series by Danutė Selčinskaja, longtime director of the Project for Commemoration of Rescuers of Jews at the Vilna Gaon Museum of Jewish History in Vilnius. With brevity, authority and humanity, Danutė tells the tale of our 2022 Persons of the Year: Tadas Pocius and Barbora Urbonavičiūtė-Pocienė; Antanas Volskis and Stanislava Volskienė;Leonas Vaidotas and  Stanislava Vaidotienė — all of the tiny speck of a village Karalgiris… All simple people of the land whose heart and soul stood entire heavens and firmaments above so many with education, jobs, money, authority, and all the rest.

See Defending History’s Persons of the Year

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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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