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Vilna Gaon Museum of Jewish History
Vilniaus Gaono Žydų Istorijos Muziejus


Story of the Month

Published: 2017-10-01


The Generations and Destinies exhibition took place at the Tolerance Centre of the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum from February to May 2017. The event commemorated the centenary of the birth of painter Algirdas Savickis. Paintings by members of the Savickis (sometimes spelled ‘Savickas’) family were exhibited. The tragic death of the gifted young artist in the Kaunas Ghetto when trying to rescue his wife Julija struck the hearts of the prisoners of the ghetto even though they were not short of painful experiences. Many Jews went to bury Algirdas Savickis in the ghetto cemetery in Vilijampolė (Slabodka); everyone who knew him, loved and respected him. 
Algirdas Savickis was born on 10 September 1917 in Copenhagen, Denmark, into the family of Jurgis Savickis, a Lithuanian diplomat and writer, and Ida Trakiner-Savickienė, a doctor whose family was Jewish and originally from Saint Petersburg. In 1919 a second son, Augustinas, was born to Jurgis and Ida Savickis. The parents divorced before WWII. Jurgis Savickis stayed abroad and went on to create another family, while his former wife Ida Savickienė returned to Kaunas with her son Augustinas.
The older son, Algirdas, was a university student at the time of the break-up of his parents’ marriage. He studied first in Germany and then went to Switzerland where he studied English. Soon after returning to live with his mother in 1938, he married a Jewish girl called Julija and adopted her daughter Regina. In 1938–1940 Algirdas Savickis studied painting at the Art School of Kaunas and in 1940 he worked at Kaunas University. After Lithuania was occupied by the Nazis, Augustinas Savickas managed to move to Russia but his mother and brother Algirdas found themselves in the Kaunas Ghetto. Relatives and friends tried to convince Algirdas not to live in the ghetto but he refused to consider leaving his wife and daughter. During the ‘Great Action’ Algirdas and Julija Savickis were designated to the ‘bad’ side. When the doomed were herded to the place of execution Algirdas carried Julija’s daughter in his arms while Julija threw herself at the guards and tried to convince them that they were Lithuanians. She pointed at the passport which said that Algirdas Savickis was Lithuanian. Eventually one guard showed mercy and allowed them to return secretly to the ghetto. The family waited in a stinking underground sewage tunnel for nightfall and made it back to the ghetto when darkness set in.
After this dreadful action Ida once again pleaded with Algirdas to abandon the ghetto but he would not be moved. Julia too, could not leave the ghetto because of her small daughter, elderly mother, and her sister who was in poor health. So, the women decided to stay. Algirdas went on forced labor with the other prisoners; at times, he would remove the yellow stars, visit his relatives, get food to bring to the family and hear news from the front. One summer day in 1942 the guards searched him as he was returning to the ghetto from his uncle’s home in Linksmadvaris. They took away his food, beat him with their fists and legs and left him lying in a pool of blood.
But the most awful tragedy occurred on 1 October 1943. From the memoirs of his wife Julija Savickienė: “My husband could have been free. But he loved me and remained steadfast. He went to the ghetto along with me in spite of his relatives trying every way possible to talk him out of it. He endured continuous humiliations with me [...]. In the evening of 1 October Algirdas and I were on our way home through the kitchen gardens. The ghetto guard Kučinskas ordered us to stop and started to question us about where we were going and why. Algirdas explained to him patiently that we were coming back from work. Kučinskas looked me in the face, mumbled something and started to pull me to the side. Algirdas bent the guard’s arm behind his back and shouted to me: ‘Run in zigzags and bring people!’ I ran without taking a breath. Then I heard a shot and thought it was aimed at me. When I came back with company, my Algirdas was lying in his blood while the killer stood by and smoked. He threw the butt away saying: ‘When I left the guards’ office I said to myself: ‘Today I must kill a Jew.’ Here, this one got in the way.’ For a full two hours, which felt like two years to me, he did not allow me to approach my wounded husband. He waited until Algirdas had bled to death…” (A. Gumbaragis, ‘Pasakyk man dar vieną žodelį’ [‘Speak Just One More Word’; Julija Savickienė’s story], Švyturys, 1963, Nr.8, p. 21).
Ida Savickienė, the mother of Algirdas and Augustinas, hid at her relatives’ place from spring 1944, but when the front was approaching she could not bear the losses any longer and killed herself. After the liquidation of the Kaunas ghetto Julija Savickienė and her daughter Regina were transferred to the Stutthof concentration camp. Balys Sruoga, a Lithuanian writer who was a prisoner there at the time, helped them endure the horrors of life in the camp.
Prepared by Danutė Selčinskaja, Head of the Department for the Commemoration of Savers of Jews
VVGŽM, GS, f. 1, b. 480


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