From Opera Star to Holocaust Hero

The Fellowship  |  September 22, 2020

Kipras Petrauskas in opera costume
Kipras Petrauskas in opera costume

A tenor in the world of European opera, Kipras Petrauskas also taught music and helped found the Lithuanian National Opera. However, this singer’s greatest role came during the Holocaust.

Kipras Petrauskas and his wife – Elena Žalinkevičaite-Petrauskienė, a famous Lithuanian actress and poet – found themselves tasked with an important request. In the spring of 1942, the Nazis occupied Lithuania and began slaughtering the country’s Jews. One of Lithuania’s most well-known Jews, violinist Daniel Pomeranz, came to the couple with a request. Would they shelter his daughter?

Of course Kipras and Elena could not allow the six-month-old baby, named Dana, be murdered by the Nazis. So they took the little girl in as their own (along with their own three children) and uprooted their own lives and careers. Being public figures, the two could not easily hide a new addition to their family. So first, the couple moved to a rural village in Lithuania. Then, to escape the Nazis and public scrutiny in their own homeland, they headed to Austria and to Germany.

Kipras and Elena continued to shelter Dana until the end of the war. Then, the Petrauskas family returned to Lithuania, where they found Dana’s parents and reunited the girl with her family. But for decades, Dana – herself an accomplished violinist like her father – considered Kipras Petrauskas and his wife Elena to be her second parents. And in 1999, Yad Vashem recognized the brave and loving couple – Kipras Petrauskas and Elena Žalinkevičaite-Petrauskienė – as Righteous Among the Nations.

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