On March 15, the Union of People with Disabilities in the Panevėžys Region held a meeting with teachers, educators and employees of Panevėžys in order to get to know the traditions and customs of the communities living nearby, to refute many stereotypes, to counter the manifestations of anti-Semitism and Romaphobia not only around us, but also in the context of the current global world and events.
Those gathered warmly welcomed Gennady Kofman, chairman of the Jewish community of Panevėžys, who told about the activities of the Jewish community, traditions, the tragic history of the Holocaust in the city and the region of Panevėžys, listened to the stories with great attention and asked many questions about Jewish history and the Holocaust.
The chairman of the Jewish community of Panevėžys emphasized that the day of March 15th was announced for the first time as the Day of Rescuers of Lithuanian Jews and dedicated to people who did not lose courage in the face of death and saved Jews from one of the most terrible tragedies of the 20th century – the Holocaust.
Gennady Kofman invited the participants to join this commemoration and to come to the statue on Tilvytis Street in Pnevėžys, which is dedicated to the memory of Marija Rusteikaite, a former founder of the congregation of sisters.
During World War II, Marija Rusteikaitė bravely sheltered Jewish children and adults in order to save them from the ghetto. The husband of a Jewish woman rescued from the ghetto said that mother Marija used to bring sausages and all kinds of other food items and give them to the ghetto supervisor so that he would let her take some people as her workers. There were cases when she hid Jews in the attic of a residential building, in the woods, and employed them at her workplace.
Sulamita Lev, a witness who survived the Holocaust, lives in Lithuania today and was saved by sister Marija Rusteikaite. Sulamita often visits Panevėžys and meets the nuns of the Congregation of the Sisters of Providence. She is still grateful to Marija Rusteikaite and calls her the Mother. Marija Rusteikaite saved many lives of Jews, sent some to other people, because she was very risky, she could have been shot at any time if it was found out that she was hiding Jewish children. For her heroism, the State of Israel posthumously awarded her with the Commemorative Medal of the Righteous Among the Nations, and the Certificate of Honor, and the State of Lithuania awarded her with the Cross of Saving the Dying and a Certificate of Gratitude.