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Lithuanian FM pays respect to great-grandmother honored by Yad Vashem

By Etgar Lefkovits

(JNS) The foreign minister of Lithuania on Thursday honored the memory of his great-grandmother, who had been recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations for risking her life to save a Jewish girl during the Holocaust.

On an official state visit to Jerusalem, Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis took the routine VIP tour of Yad Vashem—the Holocaust History Museum and the Hall of Names, a memorial ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance—before a personal highlight of the trip, visiting the Garden of the Righteous to pay respect to the memory of his grandmother’s mother, Ona Jablonskytė-Landsbergienė (1894-1957), who received Yad Vashem’s highest honor more than two decades ago.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to visit Yad Vashem and bow my head to the millions of victims of the Holocaust—the greatest tragedy of the last century—some of [whom] were brutally murdered in Lithuania,” Landsbergis said in a statement after the visit.

“However, this place is also a hopeful testimony that even in the darkest times, there will always be people who will choose the light, regardless of any circumstances.”

In the fall of 1943, Jablonskytė-Landsbergienė brought a seven-year-old Jewish girl, Avivit Kissin, who was the daughter of friends, to her sister Julija Petkeviciene’s house and asked her and her husband, Tadas Petkevicius, to take the girl in after the girl’s parents learned that the children in the Kaunas Ghetto were to be murdered, according to Yad Vashem records. Jablonskytė-Landsbergienė even managed to obtain a false birth certificate for the girl, who did not look Lithuanian. While kept from having any contact with strangers who entered the house, Avivit was not forced to hide and lived there as part of the household.

In July 1944, the ghetto was liquidated and the surviving Jews, including Avivit’s parents, were sent to Nazi death camps in Germany. Her father was murdered in Dachau while her mother survived. The girl was reunited with her mother and her older siblings after the war and immigrated to Israel. In 1964, Avivit reconnected with the family that save her, who were themselves persecuted by the Soviet regime in the postwar years. Decades later, they were recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by the Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Center.

More than 95% of Lithuania’s approximately 210,000 Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, a higher proportion than in any other country.

A total of 28,217 people from 51 countries—including 924 from Lithuania—have been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations.

Main Photo: Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis visits the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, March 2, 2023. Courtesy of the Lithuanian Embassy.

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