DUDENAI, LITHUANIA… JULY 1941
Israel Katz lived with his wife, Berta, and two children, Mary and Leibel, above their store in Giedraiciai, Lithuania. One of his customers, Leokadija Ruzgiene, a widow from the nearby village of Dudenai, lived on a farm with her daughters, Egle and Meile, and son, Aurimas. The families were friends. When Germany invaded Lithuania in June 1941, life dramatically changed. The Germans and their Lithuanian collaborators began to round up and kill Jews. Leibel Katz was taken from the Katz home and killed. Though Israel Katz was also taken, he managed to escape. Seeking shelter, Israel, Berta, and Mary Katz walked to the Ruzgys’s farm in the middle of the night. The Ruzgys family hid the Katz family for more than three years. One day the Lithuanian police came to the Ruzgys’s home and arrested Leokadija, Mary, and her parents; they had been denounced by neighbors. They were taken to the prison in Ukmerge. The Ruzgys children sold what little they had so they could bribe prison officials to keep their mother and the Katz family alive. Leokadija, Mary, and her parents spent six months in the prison before the Soviet army liberated the area. The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous reunited Egle and Aurimas with Mary at its 2011 dinner. They had not seen each other since 1945.
To read more about the Ruzgys family, click here.