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Vilna Gaon Museum of Jewish History
Vilniaus Gaono Žydų Istorijos Muziejus


The Alley of the Righteous: Ona Šimaitė

Published: 2020-05-05
In the virtual Alley of the Righteous, we present Jewish rescuers who have not faded in the memory of the rescued people over the years. They were able to resist the environment, the Nazi occupation regime, and for many days and months became the only hope for the condemned.
In 2018 the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum prepared an exhibition and published a catalog “Whosoever saves a single life, saves an entire universe” for Jewish rescuers, Righteous Among the Nations, who rescued Jews in various Lithuanian cities, towns and villages. The virtual exhibition is based on the catalog “Whosoever saves a single life, saves an entire universe”.

Exhibition curator Danutė Selčinskaja 


1 8 9 4 – 1 9 7 0
No one is so small that they can’t do something great...
Ona Šimaitė
Ona Šimaitė took to rescuing Jewish inmates from the very first days of the Vilna Ghetto. She was the ghetto’s ad hoc communications officer and would smuggle letters and forged passports in and out, hide those who ran away and find hideouts for Jewish children by risking her life, and even smuggled arms and ammunition into the ghetto. Entering the ghetto on the pretext of doing work for the library of Vilnius University, Šimaitė would bring the people trapped there as many necessities as she could, and when leaving the ghetto, she would take valuable archival material out for safekeeping, including documents, manuscripts
and rare books. She would spend her entire salary from the library to buy food that she would then give away to the ghetto prisoners. In spring 1944, an informer
turned Šimaitė in for hiding a ten-year old Jewish girl in her apartment.
On 28 April she was arrested at work in the library. The German occupational government sentenced Šimaitė to death. However, Vilnius University professors
and staff managed to collect enough money to bribe German officials to lighten the sentence to imprisonment at a concentration camp. Šimaitė was first sent to
Dachau and was later transferred to a concentration camp in a French territory occupied by the Third Reich. After more than four months of hard labour (loading train cars) she was seriously ill. Luckily, on 10 September 1944 Šimaitė and other inmates were liberated by the Allied army. Sensing she was in for repressions of the Stalinist regime, Šimaitė never returned to Lithuania, but stayed in France and settled down in Paris. In 1953, the people she rescued invited her to come to Israel where she was received with great joy and respect. In 1956, Šimaitė returned to Paris, the city of her dreams, where she lived till her death.
The saved Sali Wachsman, 1948.


From: Whosoever saves a single life, saves an entire universe
Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum, Vilnius, 2019
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