Holocaust survivor to be reunited with her saviors

Mary Katz Ehrlich, 83, to be reunited with two Lithuanian Catholics who rescued her from the Nazis.

By JORDANA HORN, JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
November 23, 2011 05:34
4 minute read.
The Ruzgys family

THE RUZGYS family 311. (photo credit: (The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous)

NEW YORK – Just in time for Thanksgiving, an airport reunion on Wednesday will be a study in the ultimate definition of gratitude.

Thanks to the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, Jewish Holocaust survivor Mary Katz Ehrlich, 83, will be reunited on Wednesday afternoon – after 66 years apart – with Egle and Aurimas Ruzgys, two Lithuanian Catholics in their 80s who helped rescue her from the Nazis as children.

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“There are no words that can say how I feel about this,” Ehrlich told The Jerusalem Post by phone Monday.

“They were the most wonderful people, and I owe them my life. If not for them, I don’t know if myself and my parents would have survived. We owe them a lot, and I’m thrilled to meet them again.”

Ehrlich was a child in Lithuania during World War II, and when Germany invaded in 1941, her father, Srolis, and brother were taken to an execution pit in a forest and shot.

Srolis escaped and asked one of the customers of his store, a local Catholic farmer named Leokadija Ruzgys, for help. Ruzgys and her children hid him, his wife and his daughter.

Ehrlich recalls the family’s kindness and the tremendous risk they seemed willing to take on her own family’s behalf – even the three Ruzgys children (one of whom, Miele, has since died), who were risking their lives.

“We stayed in their house, and they had a back room where they used to keep potatoes and all kinds of vegetables, so we stayed in that little room,” Ehrlich said. “At night, we were in the house with them, and during the day, too, but we kept watch all the time through the window and would sometimes go and hide in the smokehouse.”

There was also a small bunker, she remembered, where the family would hide in emergencies.

They hid with the Ruzgys family for three years.

“The kids were very careful,” she recalled. “They even watched their mother that she shouldn’t let anyone know that we were there. They were very careful and good. I was like one of them – we were very close.”

She expressed regret that Miele, the oldest, had not survived to see the upcoming reunion.

“God bless them, they were the most wonderful kids,” Ehrlich said.

When soldiers came to the house, having found out the Katz family was in hiding, Ehrlich recalled that Miele Ruzgys had lied to the soldiers, telling them no Jews were there and that their mother had gone from the house.

“She said, we don’t know anyone by that name – no one is here but the three of us,” remembered Ehrlich.

“The soldiers hit her and said, if you don’t tell us where they are, we will hit you harder. But they already knew where we were.”

The police caught and sent Leokadija Ruzgys and the Katz family to prison. However, Egle and Aurimas Ruzgys helped keep their mother and the Jewish family alive by selling the goods they had to corrupt prison officials.

The family was liberated by the Russians shortly afterward. Upon their liberation, they went back to the Ruzgys house, walking miles, and stayed with them overnight before walking back to their hometown.

To show their appreciation, Ehrlich said, her family gave her grandparents’ house to the Ruzgys family.

“But it was not enough gratitude, not enough,” she said. “I’m so thrilled.”

Her daughter in New York will host a Thanksgiving dinner this year, at which the Ruzgys siblings will be the guests of honor. They will also be honored at a Jewish Foundation for the Righteous dinner at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria next Tuesday evening.

The foundation, which gives financial assistance to people who helped save Jews during the Holocaust, has arranged Thanksgiving reunions for survivors and their rescuers since 1993.

According to Stanlee Stahl, the foundation’s executive vice president, “Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday. Regardless of someone’s religious belief, it is the right time for the Jewish family to say thank you to the Christian family for saving a life. It is a wonderful time for the JFR to welcome the Catholic rescuers and to introduce them to such a wonderful tradition as Thanksgiving.”

Founded by Rabbi Harold Schulweis in 1986, the foundation provides monthly stipends to over 800 aged and needy Righteous Gentiles in 23 countries, the majority of them in Eastern Europe, including Aurimas and Egle Ruzgys.

Last year, the organization distributed almost $3 million in support of people who helped rescue Jews from the Holocaust.


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