An Unusual Story of Jewish Rescue


The Vilnius-based publishing house Kitos Knygos has published in Lithuanian a book by Yochanan Fein called Berniukas su smuiku [Boy with a Violin].

Yochanan Fein: Boy with a Violin

History, memoirs; 2017; ISBN 978-609-427-253-0 (printed edition), ISBN 978-609-427-296-7 (e-book); 304 pages; hardcover

translated by Ina Preiskel (Finkelšteinaitė) and Arvydas Sabonis, edited by Asta Bučienė

In the distant Kaunas neighborhood of Panemunė on the high banks of the Nemunas there once there stood a large wooden house with a stairwell inside. It was built by Lithuanian military volunteer and Šančiai railroad carpenter Jonas Paulavičius, who was called behind his back “father of the Jews” during World War II, having rescued 16 people from the clutches of death. He and his wife Antanina were recognized as Righteous Gentiles because of their heroic acts.

Among the fortunate was 14-year-old Yochanan Fein, who knew how to play violin, hiding in a pit dug in the garden together with a Russian POW and an Orthodox Jew. In his dotage he wrote a book of memoirs called “Boy with Violin” in which he explained the tragic stories of the lives of those rescued and presented an authentic painting of wartime and post-war Kaunas in many colorful details. The book was first published in Amsterdam in 2006 and two years later in Tel Aviv.

The author manages to avoid tired clichés about the confrontation of good and evil usually found in such books. Here the rescuers are not lionized, neither are the murderers demonized. Even the picture of Jonas Paulavičius is complicated, but his Communist views didn’t stop him from rescuing Jews from the Stalinist regime, either.

The book is valuable from the historical perspective as well. Fain doesn’t limit his story to the weary life in the Kaunas ghetto from 1941 to 1944; he also writes about the ruined city after the war from 1944 to 1947, and the third section is unique: there are  no authentic stories in the Lithuanian language about Jewish immigration out of Lithuania after 1944.

Full announcement in Lithuanian here.

More information about the Hebrew edition here.

Publication partially financed by the Goodwill Foundation.