The Lithuanian Jewish Community has learned with great sadness of the loss of chairman of the Union of Former Ghetto and Concentration Camp Inmates Tobijas Jafetas. Born in 1930, he was still a child when World War II came to Lithuania. He often said he only survived because of help from Righteous Gentiles.
Although he was from Vilnius, he was with his mother Berta and uncle Lazeris in Kaunas when the Nazis arrived. Other relatives were imprisoned in Latvia. All of this family was murdered and he was the only survivor.
He, his mother and the other Jews of Kaunas were forced into the Slobodka ghetto.
“Life in the ghetto was very hard and one of the biggest problems was figuring out how to get enough to eat,” Jafetas said one year ago. “Tradition and the necessity of maintaining Jewish identity were very important to us under such conditions. In April of 1944 ghetto prisoners sensed danger and the ghetto was surrounded and the guard increased. I managed to escape death by hiding in an attic under hay for rabbits being raised there. The soldiers didn’t find me. In April of 1944 my mother told me to flee the ghetto as quickly as possible.
“I was 14 when I escaped. My aunt and uncle, from Kaunas, had moved to Vilnius at that time. My aunt’s father was a military officer from the time of Smetona and asked his sister living in Druskininkai, Kotryna Katinskaitė, to take me to Vilnius. The Katinskai family saved me. When the front approached my uncle travelled to Šilalė where my cousin was working and my aunt and I stayed in Vilnius. The front arrived and we hid from the bombardment in the St. James Church in Vilnius. That’s how we survived. After the war I lived with the Katinskai family until I finished high school.”
His experience of the Holocaust didn’t break Tobijas. Wise, sincere and always with a warm and beautiful smile–that’s how the Jewish community will remember Tobijas Jafetas as we express our shock and condolences over his loss to his daughter Judita, all his grandchildren and everyone who had the honor to encounter this sensitive and extraordinary person.