1913 07 15 - 1993 10 16
Buried in Saulės cemetery,
54, 69 33 55 (š. pl.)
25,31 28 57 (r. ilg.)
On the eve of the German invasion of Lithuania, Henrikas Jonaitis (b. 1913) lived in Wilno (Vilnius) and taught physics in one of the city’s schools. In the past, Jonaitis had gone to medical school in Kaunas, where he met and made friends with a Jewish student named Gutman. Several weeks after the German-Soviet war broke out, when Jonaitis became aware of the harsh situation of the Jews of Lithuania, he located Gutman who, in the meantime, had managed to escape from the Kaunas ghetto. Gutman was in a temporary hiding place, and when Jonaitis saw that the hiding place was not safe, he moved his friend to the home of his sister’s family in a remote village. From that time onward, Jonaitis looked after Gutman, and whenever danger threatened, he moved him to a different hiding place. At the same time, Jonaitis was helping the families of his Jewish students who had been interned in the Wilno ghetto. Disguised as a health inspector, Jonaitis would enter the ghetto and give the people he knew food and clothing, helping them as much as he could. After the war, Jonaitis became a professor of mathematics and physics in Vilnius University, and provided material assistance to the Jewish students whose parents or relatives had perished in the Holocaust.
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Typically, the word "teacher" refers to the period of school life and to a particular subject.
I want to talk about one of my teachers, Henrikas Jonaitis, associate professor of Vilnius State University of Kapsukas, who has remained a teacher and friend for life.
It was June 1941. The eve of war. I passed the last seventh grade exam. A few of us were going from the school to the cinema to watch the movie "The Great Waltz". Afterwards we went back to our houses, agreeing to go to Trakai tomorrow.
But in the morning the sirens rose. We heard explosions. The house fell. Life collapsed.
We got lost from our father and we found ourselves terribly lonely, depressed, helpless. A mother and four her children - two more sisters (one older, another first class) and a five-year-old brother against intruders with swastika.
A few days later I went to school for a certificate. But a former companion, a so-called recent friend, didn't let me in. I was pushed out from school, unable to comprehend that I was being kicked out from school.
And yet I went to school. Henrikas Jonaitis took my hand and like a father helped me enter the school asking the offender to move away. And I suddenly became calm, grieve and fear was gone. Just did not want to release that hand and feel the helpless loneliness again. From that moment the teacher's hands were ready to help for a long time.
Then, the fascists put a contribution of five million rubles to the Jews in the city of Vilnius, for which no one was threatened to shoot. And the hand of the teacher reaches the wallet, removes all its little content and adds to our money.
We're closed in the ghetto. Henrikas Jonaitis, he escorted us, and gives us the last bread from his table. Worried about our destiny (I was lost from my mother), he takes advantage of first days confusion and unfinished building barriers and walks around the ghetto, called himself the sanitary inspector. Some of our schoolchildren also helped the fascists, who would have betrayed him, of course.
There was only one punishment for helping Jews or even for storing their belongings - death. Jonaitis retained the entire library of my father, even without deleting the names of their real owner on the first book page. He, without satisfying my mother's demands for being more cautious, was bringing food and stuff to the ghetto gate, waiting for an opportunity to pass them on. Once upon a time, he stood near the ghetto gate all night long because he find out that there might be shootings at night. He thought that he might save us somehow.
Any such stand at the ghetto gate, every piece of clothing, bread loaf, or even a word that was given to us, could have ended up in Paneriai for him. And they killed in Paneriai. They throw people in pits. They crushed childrens' heads.
I was very afraid of death. But it was also extremely difficult to live: I was taken out from school, from our house, and was about to be killed. And my fourteen-year-old imagination painted people beyond the ghetto fences just as I could see our watchmen - German fascists and local soldiers.
Wherever my childish imagination would have taken, if not teacher Jonaitis. Not because every bit of bread is significant in starvation. Not because we hoped to escape with his help. No. I began to understand that there are good people beyond the ghetto, such as teacher Jonaitis, and nationality does not matter to people's friendship. And the hatred of fascists was powerless against humanity. I believed the victory of good against evil.
And that belief greatly helped me not to break all the years of fascist concentration camps. If it was hard to do, I tried to remember Vilnius and teacher Jonaitis.
Dear friend Jonaitis! I know you are very modest and do not like to listen to beautiful words about yourself, and I try to avoid them. But if your life, your deeds, your diligence (which I didn't have the chance to talk about here) became an example to me, why not to try with others? I hope you will forgive me for this, according to your exaltation.