Award ceremony of “Righteous Among the Nations” in Zagare
March 19, 2013
Zagare gymnasium, Kestucio St. 1
Dear Mr. Gediminas Čepulis, Mayor of Joniskis!
Dear Mr.Virginujus Kancelskis, Principal of Zagare Gymnasium!
Leadership of the Jewish Community!
Ladies and Gentlemen!
Dear friends and guests of honour!
It is a great honour for me to represent today the State of Israel in this significant ceremony, awarding two Lithuanian families with medals and certificates of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Heroes’ and Martyrs’ Authority.
The Yad Vashem Authority that was established in Jerusalem, was entrusted with the task of commemorating the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators through the establishment of memorial projects; gathering, researching and publishing testimony of the Holocaust; and imparting its lessons.
Another important task is the identification of the names of the people who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust and recognition of them as “Righteous Among the Nations”.
The Righteous were beacons of hope in the “black ocean” of horror and despair. By their noble and courageous deeds they saved not only persecuted Jews, but also human dignity that was utterly lost during the Holocaust. In their case, the sentence - “whoever saves one life is as though he had saved the entire world” - receives a very special meaning.
I would like to use this opportunity and express my gratitude to all those who were involved in organizing and implementing this significant ceremony dedicated to the “Righteous Among the Nations” and namely Mr. Virginijus Kancelskis, Director of Zagare Gymnasium, for hosting the event at school’s premises, to Mr. Gediminas Čepulis, Mayor of Joniskis, to Mr. Julius Bieliauskas and especially Mr. Valdas Balciunas, the main organizer and coordinator of the event, thanks to those efficient efforts we have all gathered here today to award two noble and courageous Lithuanian families.
Special thanks also go to Ms. Sara Manobla, who found time to come to Zagare from Israel to take part in this touching ceremony and who invested much effort in tracking one of the rescued people in Israel in order to provide Yad Vashem with the missing evidence for acknowledging Edvardas Levinskas, his wife Terese and sister-in-law Lilija Vilandaite as “Righteous Among the Nations”. In the nearest future Ms. Sara Manobla intends to publish a book on the history of Jewish Community of Zagare.
And now I would like to tell briefly the story of both awarded families.
The family of Edvardas Levinskas and Terese Levinskiene and Terese’s sister Lilija.
The Levinskas family was from Panevezys, where Edvardas worked as a supervisor of primary schools. Because of his opposition to the Government, Edvardas gave up his job in 1941 and moved to Zagare.
Edvardas Levinskas was a member of a group of Tolstoyans, supporters of the Russian writer and philosopher Lev Tolstoy, who advocated and preached humanity, spirituality, manual labour and a natural way of life. The group, led by Juozas Petrulis, rescued and hid a number of Jewish families after arranging their escape from the Siauliai ghetto.
After the family moved to Zagare, Edvardas, his wife Terese and her sister Lilija, (who, by the way, were of German origin) worked in agriculture. They got permission to employ Jewish labourers from the Zagare ghetto to work in their fields, and obtained food for them and helped them. They were witnesses to the massacre of the Jews of Zagare in October 1941. In 1944 they gave shelter to Batya Trusfus and her granddaughter Ruth Joffe who had escaped from the Children Action and liquidation of the Siauliai ghetto, with the help of Petrulis. Ruth Joffe stayed with the Levinskas for a few days, and then moved to the Kalendra family. Batya Trusfus was hidden in the Levinskas’ house for 8 months, the last months of the German occupation. The son of Edvardas and Terese, Leonas Levinskas, was12 years old at that time.
Today he is receiving the award on behalf of his parents.
The Second awarded family is the family of Vincentas and Petronele Buožis from Siauliai. The story of this family is the following:
Before the war, Ela Geimanaite’s parents and their 6 children lived in Telšiai region. At the break of the war all of them, almost half naked, were driven to the Viesvenai concentration camp. There the father and the boys were killed, while the mother and both daughters, Ela and Dora, were taken to the Geruliai camp. The girls were sent to the countryside to work on farms.They earned some food which they gave to their mother.
During the liquidation of the Geruliai camp all the elderly and sick Jewish women were exterminated. Ela’s and Dora’s mother was among them. Both sisters were imprisoned in Telšiai ghetto.
Before the liquidation of the Telšiai ghetto, Ela and Dora managed to escape. They found shelter with the family of Ursule and Konstantinas Žutautas in Dadotkai village. However, it was not safe there, and they were forced to move to Stanislava and Raimondas Buknys in the village of Užpelkiai. When the situation became dangerous there, Stanislava applied to her relative Petronele Buožiene, and Ela found refuge in the family of Petronele and Vincentas Buožis. Ela lived safely in the family, because she was fair-haired and spoke good Lithuanian.
Later on Ela wrote, “I cannot remember Petronele without tears in my eyes, She was a woman with great heart. She was always giving me something better to eat, saying, “You do not have a mother to cherish you”.
To keep out of danger, Petronele took Ela to the family of her sister Ona Gelžiene, where she stayed until the end of the war.
Today the grandson of Petronele and Vincentas Buožis, Mr. Vytautas Buožis is receiving the award on behalf of his late grandparents.