A new mobile exhibit from the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum has begun its rounds with an opening in Kaunas on March 5. “When You Save a Life, You Save a World” debuted at Vytautas Magnus University to a large audience, including Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas and members of the Community, relatives of rescuers and those rescued, city residents and guests from other locations.
Vytautas Magnus professor Juozas Augutis gave a word of welcome and said he was proud of the exhibit opening and the light shed by the Righteous Gentiles. He said the children lost to the Holocaust were a great loss to everyone: “Kaunas’s pain is the pain of all of Lithuania.”
Dr. Kamilė Rupeikaitė–then deputy director of the museum but last week becoming its new director, replacing longtime director Markas Zingeris–emphasized the museum’s long-term commitment to and work on researching the stories of rescuers of Jews. Danutė Selčinskaja, the curator of the exhibit and of the accompanying catalog and the director of the museum’s department for commemorating rescuers of Jews, presented the overall concept of the exhibition with an emphasis on stories from Kaunas. Fruma Vitkinaitė-Kučinskienė, a Holocaust survivor rescued by gentiles, said the Righteous Gentiles were the gift of fate to whom she is still grateful, and she said she was so happy today to be able to talk to members of the families who rescued her. “I think there are many who will agree that those days when Jewish children were rescued were the most beautiful days in the Lithuania of that time,” Juozas Vocelka said. He is the son of Righteous Gentile Pranas Vocelka who dedicated his life to saving Jews.
The exhibit contains many stories from Kaunas of Jewish rescuers. The story of Righteous Gentiles Vladimir Zubov and his wife Danutė show all the Jews who found safe haven at the Zubov and Čiurlionis homes received the greatest and most sincere care and concern of the heads of household. Dalia Palukaitienė, the daughter of the Zubovs, spoke during the opening ceremony and talked about music teacher B. Elin and her daughter Estera who found safety within her family, and famous engineer and architect Rozenblum, his wife, their son and the wife’s parents did as well, as did Kaunas doctor Leon Gurevitch, as well as many other families in Kaunas.
The grandson of Righteous Gentiles Pranas Mažylis and wife Antanina, professor Liudas Mažylis, spoke of stories he heard from his aunt which seemed incredible; the realization that all of this happened around one, in one’s own town, was overpowering, he said.
Vytautas Magnus University historian Dr. Linas Venclauskas was master of ceremonies at the event and was accompanied with musical interludes by violinist Paulina Daukšytė.
The launch of the exhibit and its presentation in Kaunas were organized by Association of Lithuanian Language Teachers deputy chairwoman Irena Navickienė and Rimantas Stankevičius, the author of several books about those who saved Jews from the Holocaust.
“When You Save a Life, You Save a World” will run till March 25 at the Great Hall of Vytautas Magnus University, located at S. Daukanto street no. 28 in Kaunas. The Vilna Gaon Museum plans to show the exhibit in other Lithuanian cities and towns as well. If you’re interested, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos by Gintarė Kubiliūtė