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A Forester's Sacrifice

Holocaust survivors from Koren family with daughter of Simelis family (Photo: Yad Vashem)

Mykolas and Jadvyga Simelis

Mykolas Simelis was a humble woodsman who lived in a small Lithuanian village with his wife Jadvyga and their five children. Mykolas had become friends with Meir Koren, a Jew who owned a tar and terpentine factory in the nearby town of Vievis. In October 1941, the Nazis killed nearly all the Jews in Vievis. However, Meir and his family were able to go into hiding, eventually being placed with the rest of the Jews in the Kaunas ghetto.

By the end of 1943, Meir, his three children, and his sister-in-law fled the ghetto and came to the Simelis home. The Christian family welcomed their Jewish friends and made a hiding place beneath the floorboards. Soon, nine more Jews - friends and family of the Korens - would also take shelter beneath the Simelis' homestead's floor.

Hiding fourteen people was dangerous work. It was also hard for Mykolas and Jadvyga to feed so many mouths, and difficult for them to keep such goings-on a secret. But despite the challenges, the Simelis family cared for their Jewish friends, providing them everything they would need.

In April of 1944, tragedy struck the Simelis family. Jadvyga had to undergo surgery, and died during the operation. But despite the loss of his wife, Mykolas continued to care for his Jewish friends. He did so until the area was liberated from the Nazis in July 1944.

Sadly, one year later, Lithuanian nationalists murdered Mykolas for helping Jews. After the war, most of those who had hidden beneath Mykolas' home made aliyah (immigrated to Israel), and maintained contact with the children of the family who had saved their lives, as seen in the above photograph taken at the grave of Mykolas and Jadvyga Simelis. The couple was recognized for their actions in 1983 when Yad Vashem named them Righteous Among the Nations.

Tags: Advocates and Allies

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