On February 1 at the age of 105 attorney and honorary citizen of the city of Šiauliai Gražbylė Venclauskaitė passed away. She was born in 1912 to a notable and special family, each member of which individually and as a family became part of history and inseparable components of the life and growth of Šiauliai and Lithuania. In deepest sorrow the Lithuanian Jewish Community mourns her loss. The Community had been preparing a greeting to her on her birthday, noting all the accomplishments of her and her family rescuing both Jews and Lithuanians. The State of Israel recognized Venclauskaitė’s bravery in saving Holocaust victims, bestowing the title of Righteous Gentile.
Venclauskaitė had become a symbol of the city of Šiauliai, embodying optimism and quick wit, and was a living legend. She will likely be buried next to her father Kazimieras Venclauskis, the first mayor of Šiauliai in independent Lithuania before World War II.
One could write and say much about each member of the Venclauskis family, each represents a unique and significant contribution to the culture of Lithuania at all levels, but today we have lost Gražbylė, in whose person the entire family’s work was concentrated. She lived through difficult times, including two periods of Lithuanian independence, two world wars, the triumphs and failures of more than a century and painful losses, but the vision of the homeland like an unextinguishable road sign informed all the twists and turns in the life of Gražbylė and her family. Those paths are marked with the giant figures of Kazimieras Venclauskis, Stanislava Jakševičiūtė-Venclauskienė, Danutė Venclauskaitė, Vydūnas the philosopher, Jonas Šliūpas, the Sondeckis family and many, many others.
Perhaps it is sufficient to talk about her family home alone, the donation of that wonderful and beautiful palace, devotion to their hometown and their nation, their special goal in the difficult battle for the rebirth of the nation to preserve the symbols and experience of the past while celebrating the current and future Lithuania. And perhaps the material millions involved in this move is not so important, perhaps the idea is most significant. But still we must this was a unique and exceptional deed without precedent or analogue in the history of modern Lithuania. This move was not just shocking and intriguing, and perhaps not understandable to some, but also provoking: what have I given to my nation being reborn, how have I contributed to restoration of this land washed in blood and tears?
We bid farewell to honorary citizen of Šiauliai Gražbylė Venclauskaitė who heroically passed through all the difficult and dramatic ordeals, who continued in and donated to Šiauliai and all Lithuania those paths they had blazed, becoming a symbol and example for the people and nation now and even more in the future.
Professor Vytenis Rimkus
For special merit and important contributions to the educational, social, cultural and communal life of the city of Šiauliai, Gražbylė Venclauskaitė was made the first honorary citizen of the city on March 9, 2000. She and her sister donated a priceless gift to the city: the Venclauskis family palace where the Aušra Museum is housed. In 1995 Israel conferred the title of Righteous Gentile on Gražbylė Venclauskaitė for her courage in rescuing Holocaust victims.
She told family members she wanted to be buried next to her father, attorney and first mayor of Šiauliai in independent Lithuania Kazimieras Venclauskis at the old cemetery in Šiauliai.
May her memory shine on brightly.
A book about the Venclauskis family was published called “Namuose ant Pasadnos ulyčios” by Leonas Peleckis-Kaktavičius. The first edition came out in 1991, with a second expanded edition in 2009. The entire text in Lithuanian can be read here.