Before World War II began, Jewish doctor Max Gilde lived happily in Kaunas, Lithuania, with his wife Eida, a singer, and their young daughter Rina. They were friends and neightbors with a Christian woman, Julija Vitkauskiene and her son, Arejas-Stasys.
But when the Nazis stormed the town of Kaunas, all Jews were confined to the local ghetto, including the Gilde family. Julija did not see her friends for nearly a year, when one day Dr. Gilde was assigned as a forced laborer at the same printing company where Julija worked. Happy to see her friend again, Julija provided the good doctor with food and tried to life his spirits.
In 1944, with deportation and death looming for the Jews of Kaunas, Dr. Gilde asked Julija if she would shelter four-year-old Rina. Julija discussed it with her son, who also agreed to take in the little girl.
For many months, the mother and son moved from one apartment to another so as not to arouse suspicion because of the young girl they were sheltering. In March 1944, they helped smuggle other Jewish children out of the ghetto, as well, hiding them until other families could be found to house the youngsters.
Sadly, Dr. Gilde and his wife did not survive the Holocaust, both of them murdered by the Nazis. After the war, one of the Gildes' family friends asked to adopt little Rina. Julija realized this would be in Rina's best interests, and they parted with heavy hearts.
Many years later, Rina learned how the Vitkauskiene family saved her life while risking their own lives. She found them once again and they all kept in touch. In 1966, Julija Vitkauskiene and her son Arejas-Stasys were named Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem.