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The Kindnesses

By Nesse Godin

In June 1941, the Germans occupied Lithuania within three days. Shauliai, the town where we lived, was taken over on the third day. We had heard what had happened to the Jews in Kaunas and in other cities. My brother Jecheskel was a student at the university in Kaunas and he had told my parents that the Nazis and their collaborators were looting Jewish homes. Jecheskel suggested that my parents try to ask some of their Lithuanian friends to hold some of our valuable things for safekeeping. My parents asked a few friends and some agreed to help us.

A doctor and his wife, a midwife, who were my parents’ close friends, were the first to respond. Mama quickly took them our jewelry and a few other valuables. Some of our other valuables, like leather and fur coats and new shirts and dresses, were divided among other people. Among the people who held items for my family was a young man named Kaziukas, who was a doorman in a hotel; Jozas, a nephew of our live-in housekeeper; and Zenia, the lady who came every month to do our laundry. Our housekeeper, Ana, who was our nanny and lived with my family for 14 years, was upset that we did not leave everything with her. She wondered why my parents would trust all those strangers. I remember Mama telling her that we did not know what would happen and that it was not a good idea to put all of our eggs in one basket.

It was not too long after this that the ghetto was formed and the SS and Gestapo came to every Jewish home to assign us places in the ghetto. When they came to our apartment the first thing they did was to gather my family in the kitchen. There one of the SS helpers, a young girl about 17 years old who had taken German in school, was assigned to fill out certificates that assigned persons to a place in the ghetto. The Nazis told her to fill out certificates for my parents and my brothers but not for me. While the Nazis were looking for things they could take from the other rooms, my mother begged the girl to write a certificate for me. She gave her money. The girl did not say anything, but as soon as this commission left our apartment, my parents counted the certificates and found that there were two for my parents, two for my brothers, and one extra blank one that my parents could fill out for me. The girl was smart; she must have figured that if the Nazis checked, she could say that it had gotten stuck to the other certificates.

It is because of this girl’s decision and her kindness that I was able to get into the ghetto. The people that did not have that certificate were killed in a forest called Zagare. Thirty-five hundred human beings from our town were killed there.

When we were pushed into the ghetto, life was terrible. There was only hunger and fear; the food that was given was so little. There were many Selektions in which people were taken away to be killed. Jewish workers who worked with Lithuanians started to exchange their clothing for bread. Since my parents had some valuable items hidden with their friends, they tried to get word to someone who could help us. My parents somehow found out that our housekeeper had packed up everything that we had left in the apartment and had moved to a farm where her brother lived. The doctor and his wife had left town, no one knew for where.

The only people that helped us were Kaziukas, Jozas, and Zenia. They exchanged the merchandise we’d left with them for food and somehow got it to us. Sometimes my brothers snuck into Zenia’s house and brought food into the ghetto. Sometimes Zenia just tossed it over the fence to us. It was their kindness that helped us survive the ghetto. May their souls be blessed in heaven.

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