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Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum
Valstybinis Vilniaus Gaono Žydų Muziejus

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STORY OF THE MONTH

 
Published: 2018-03-09

ANTANAS TUMĖNAS (1880–1946)
JANINA TUMĖNIENĖ (1884–1972) 

Antanas Tumėnas was a lawyer, member of the Ist and IInd Constituent Parliaments of Lithuania, chairman of the commission that prepared the first Constitution of Lithuania and a law professor at Vilnius University. From June 1924 till February 1925 he acted as Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers and as Minister for Justice. After the Nazi occupation and when the fierce prosecution of Jews started, Antanas Tumėnas together with his wife Janina Kairiūkštytė-Tumėnienė extended a much needed helping hand to the family of a well-known lawyer David Volpert.
 
Extract from the testimony of Rieta Volpertaitė-Lesochin of 2 February 2016: ‘I was born in 1934. Before the war I lived in Kaunas together with my parents Ida Gurvičaite-Volpert and David Volpert. My father was a well-known lawyer and my mother was a pianist. When the war started, right after the Russian army retreated from Kaunas, my father received a phone call from his colleague and a friend of our family Antanas Tumėnas, who was also a lawyer and a professor of law. Tumėnas seemed to be worried about the anti-Semitic outbreaks in the city and asked my father not to leave home for any reason at all, to pack the most necessary belongings (I remember grabbing my doll) and wait for him to come. Soon Tumėnas arrived with a coachman and took us to his home. For several weeks we stayed at the Tumėnas’ place and were taken good care of, whereas other Jews were forced to move to the ghetto. I remember the wife of Antanas Tumėnas really well. Her name was Janina. She was really nice and made us very welcome in their home. I remember how much this attractive grey-haired women cared for me and did her best to help when I was feeling unwell… Certainly, Antanas and Janina Tumėnas helped us without any thought of a reward.’
 
Antanas Tumėnas was a well-known lawyer in Kaunas, thus he was not in a position to provide a reliable shelter to the Volpert family in his home in the centre of Kaunas for very long. Moreover, according to Rieta Volpertaitė-Lesochin: ‘Neither my father, who finished his studies in Germany, nor Tumėnas believed that the Germans would be a serious threat to the Jews in the ghetto. All my father’s relatives and the families of his sisters and brothers moved to the ghetto, and my father wanted to be with them.’
 
In mid-August 1941 Ida and David Volpert found a room in the ghetto and moved there together with their daughter Rieta. David Volpert’s colleagues and former clients offered him help a number of times, but he did not want to leave his relatives. Rieta Volpertaitė was saved by her babysitter Elena Chlopinaitė, but her parents perished in concentration camps: David Volpert died in Dachau and Ida Volpertienė – in Stutthof. In 1974, Rieta Volpertaitė emigrated to Israel together with her former nanny Elena Chlopinaitė, who had saved her life during the war.
 
In 1944, Antanas Tumėnas was arrested by the Gestapo for participating in the underground anti-Nazi resistance movement. However, the medical commission established that he was critically ill and Tumėnas was released to wait for the court sentence at home. With the frontline approaching, Antanas Tumėnas and his wife Janina retreated from Lithuania. In 1944, having escaped peril a number of times, the Tumėnas family reached Vienna, but Antanas Tumėnas was in extremely bad health. Tumėnas remained faithful to his principles of serving society, helping those close to you and not giving in to the general flow of events even if it meant suffering to the end of his days. He longed for Lithuania, and always hoped to return to his homeland one day. Antanas Tumėnas died on 8 February 1946 in Bachmaning, Austria.
 
In 2017, at the request of Rieta Volpert-Lesochin, Antanas and Janina Tumėnas were awarded with the Cross for Rescuing Those in Peril for extending the much needed helping hand to the Volpert family during the very first days of the war in Kaunas.
 
Prepared by Danutė Selčinskaja,
Head of the Department for Commemoration of Rescuers of Jews at the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum
 
VVGŽM, GS, f. 1, b. 730

 

 

 
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