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Woman of Valor

She smuggled the child in a potato sack.

Bronislava Krištopavičienė was a Christian nurse in Lithuania who smuggled a Jewish toddler out of the Kovno ghetto in 1944 and kept her safe until the end of World War II.

Born in a small village in Belarus to a devout Christian family in 1888, Bronislava moved to Kovno, Lithuania as a child. She married Povilas Krištopavičienė, a Lithuanian army officer.

Povilas was arrested by Soviet authorities in 1940 and sent to a labor camp in Siberia, where he perished. Left to raise her teenage son as a single mother, Bronislava started working full-time as a hospital nurse.

In 1944, Bronislava was approached by a young Jewish woman she’d known before the war,  Zinaida Levina. Since August 1941, Zinaida, her husband Grigoriy, and her parents had been imprisoned in the squalid Kovno Ghetto. Zinaida gave birth to a daughter, Anita, in September 1941. Miraculously, the family had kept the baby safe despite the danger and deprivation. The adorable little girl was a ray of sunshine in the filthy ghetto.

On March 27-28, 1944, the Kovno ghetto was the scene of a horrific atrocity: “Kinder Aktion.” Nazi storm troopers snatched over 2000 children from their families and brutally murdered them. The Kovno Jews, who’d already lost their homes, careers, possessions, security, and dignity, now had to watch their children slaughtered in the streets like vermin. The Levinas were the lucky ones: they managed to hide Anita during the pogrom, but they knew they had to find a safe home for her. Zinaida approached her old acquaintance Bronislava Krištopavičienė, who immediately agreed to help. Bronislava entered the ghetto with a Jewish work crew, and left the next morning the same way – carrying a potato sack with little Anita hidden inside! The toddler had been given a soporific to put her to sleep.

Bronislava brought the child home with her, and cared for her as her own. Anita learned Lithuanian (her native language was Yiddish) and was introduced as Bronislava’s orphaned relative. Bronislava kept in touch with Anita’s parents, and let them know the adorable little girl was healthy and safe. In July 1944, the ghetto was liquidated. In the chaos, Zinaida managed to escape and ran to a non-Jewish friend’s apartment, where she stayed until Kovno was liberated by the Red Army on August 1, 1944. Zinaida’s husband and parents were all killed in concentration camps. Only Zinaida and Anita survived the war.

Zinaida remarried, and and she and Anita settled in Vilna. They remained extremely close with Bronislava. For the rest of her life Zinaida and her family took care of Anita’s rescuer, providing help and support and visiting frequently. Bronislava died in 1969 at age 81. In 2006, Bronislava Krištopavičienė was named Righteous Among the Nations by Israeli Holocaust Memorial Yad Vashem.

For opening her home and her heart to a Jewish child marked for death, we honor Bronislava Krištopavičienė as this week’s Thursday Hero.

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