Israel pays tribute to Lithuanians

  • 2000-02-17
  • Sandra L. Medearis
VILNIUS - A Lithuanian woman has received Israel's highest award to a non-Jew, the Yad Vashem diploma and medal naming her "Righteous Among Nations," for helping to save Jews in Vilnius during the Holocaust.

Elzbeta Tomasevskaya received the thank you to her and on behalf of her mother, Marija Paskevic, at a Feb. 10 ceremony at the Jewish Community Center in Vilnius, along with relatives of 10 others honored posthumously. Relatives received the awards for: Ustinia Vasilieva, Anastacia Yemelianova, Julija Vitkauskiene and her son, Arejas-Stasys Vitkauskas, Ona and Eduardas Leonavicious, Gene Jonusiene-Premeneckaite, Kipras and Elena Petrauskas, and Stanislovas Jakubauskis.

For the award to be given, people saved must come forward to nominate the savior. Then the Yad Vashem organization conducts an extensive documentation of the nomination through witnesses and documents some researched in archives, Ronit Ben Dor, charge d'affaires with Israel's embassy in Riga.

"A lot of research is going on," she said. "The fact that the Iron Curtain has dropped has made it possible to find out about and reach these people."

In praising those who risked their lives to save Jews, Ben Dor said that "people have to distance themselves from differentiating among their fellow humans and reject prejudice."

"Righteous among nations are a model to all of us in their hum heroism. I am sure you will agree that these people are so special, so exceptional, that as many others as possible should know about them," she said.

Jehuda Bailis of Israel was saved as a child by Jonusiene-Premeneckaite and Jakubauskis. He nominated them for the award.

Bailis, his father, mother and sisters were taken from the Kaunas ghetto to a killing place called the Ninth Fort where people were slaughtered in waves. Bailis, 13, watched his family getting shot. No bullet hit Bailis, but he dropped in the pit. He reached his dying mother who told him, "Live."

When the day turned to darkness, Bailis crawled out of the pit and went back toward Kaunas. As he was resting along the way, he met Gene Jonusiene-Premeneckaite who took him her home where he stayed for some months. Then he left, as his benefactor was under threats. She helped him return to the Kaunas ghetto. Bailis was ensnared again and escaped. Once again he was hidden by Jonusiene-Premeneckaite. From her house he went to see his teacher at the seminary he had been attending during winter time. That teacher was Jakubauskis Stanislovas.

Bailis, who currently lives in Israel, told his teacher that he did not need help, but that there were children needing assistance - children whose parents were perpetrating rebellion against the Nazis. Jakubauskis Stanislovas gave Bailis drugs and money. The money he used to buy cigarettes and other treats to bribe guards when necessary. The medicine he used to dose the children one by one that they might ride calmly on his back as he carried them to safety. Bailis, with the pastor's help, carried 22 children to the seminary.

The Lithuanian Parliament's chairman, Vytautas Landsbergis, whose mother was earlier awarded the diploma and medal of Yad Vashem, Ben Dor said, attended the ceremony.

"I was surprised and very glad," she said.