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Vilna Gaon Museum of Jewish History
Vilniaus Gaono Žydų Istorijos Muziejus



Published: 2020-06-18

I once saw crowds of people with yellow patches on their backs walking one after the other: men, women, children. Walking like shadows, barely moving, all pale and exhausted. Walking and falling on the ground out of exhaustion.

Why am I not doing anything at the sight of this?
Why am I not helping them? I could not help thinking.
I must save at least a single person from death!
Juozas Stakauskas
1 9 0 0 – 1 9 72
1 9 0 3 – 1 9 9 4
1 9 0 0 – 1 9 8 0
Reverend Father Juozas Stakauskas, Director of Vilnius State Archives, teacher Vladas Žemaitis and religious sister Maria Mikulska (Sister Benedikta) set up a hideout in the former Benedictine Nunnery on Šv. Ignoto St. 5 in Vilnius and thus saved 12 Jews from the Vilna Ghetto from certain death. During the years of Nazi occupation the archive was used to store looted books and various documents. With time a need arose for new premises. When the occupational government ordered that bigger premises be found, Stakauskas decided that the former nunnery would be the best place not only for books, but also for hiding people doomed to die. Being aware that he would not be able to implement this plan on his own, Stakauskas invited his fellow countryman Vladas Žemaitis to join him in the effort and never regretted the decision. ‘He was like a walking stick for a blind man’, Stakauskas remembered years later. They set up a small hideout behind bookshelves which, after the liquidation of the Vilna Ghetto and until the moment the Nazis retreated, served as a hiding place for Jews. Both the rescuers and the Jews who were hiding there were under constant deadly threat because Nazi officers were working right above the room where the hideout was. There was constant tension in the hideout and whispering was the only acceptable way to talk. One day the Head of Archives from Riga came on a visit. He made a tour around the building and stopped right at th artificial partition behind which Jews were hiding and asked: ‘Is that it?’ Stakauskas then replied that the premises located further on belonged to the church.
Thanks to the effort of Juozas Stakauskas, Maria Mikulska and Vladas Žemaitis, in this hideout Aleksander Libo, Vera Libo, Luba Libo, Jakov Jaffe, Sofia Jaffe, Monika Jaffe, Esther Jaffe-Kantorovich, Grigorij Jaszunski, Irena Jaszunska, Samuel Bak, Mita Bak (Markovska), and Miriam Rolnikaitė-Lisauskienė lived to see the liberation.
Jakov and Sofia Jaffe with their daughter, Vera Libo with her son-in-law and daughter, 1958.
Photo Samuel Bak in a camp for displaced persons. Landsberg on Lech, 1946.
Photo Premises of the archive on Šv. Ignoto Street where the hideout for Jews was located.
On 22 September 2000, a memorial plaque to the Righteous Among the Nations Juozas Stakauskas, Maria Mikulska and Vladas Žemaitis was unveiled on the wall of the former Benedictine nunnery on Šv. Ignoto St. 5 in Vilnius. The unveiling ceremony was attended by (from left): Bishop Jonas Boruta,the Ambassador of the Republic of Poland to Lithuania, Eufemia Teichmann, Speaker of the Parliament of the Republic of Lithuania Vytautas Landsbergis, Miriam Rolnikaitė-Lisauskienė who survived by hiding in the hideout, initiator of the memorial plaque and author of the book Slėptuvės aristokratai [Aristocrats of the Hideout] Rimantas Stankevičius, Juozas Stakauskas’ nephew Benediktas Stakauskas, Vytautas Vitkauskas and actress Nijolė Gelžinytė.
From: Whosoever saves a single life, saves an entire universe. Vilna Gaon Museum of Jewish History, Vilnius, 2019.
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