The Story of Ona Simaite


"If there are ten righteous Gentiles in the world," wrote Abba Kovner,
"Ona Simaite is one of them." Ona Simaite, a Lithuanian librarian who
was forty-two when the Germans took Vilna, resisted against the Nazi's
unjust treatment of Jews. She had been taught by her grandfather not to
believe the unjust slanders about the Jews, and her righteous actions
clearly prove she found truth in his advice. In October 1941, directly
after 80,000 Jews of Vilna were forced into a ghetto, Ona and the
director of the city library went to see what conditions were like a how
she could help. Tanya Sterntha, a survivor, testified that Ona came back
to the gates of the ghetto almost daily. "She carried out
life-sustaining errands and missions for hundreds of Jews who were
strangers to her." Not only did she help to save the health of many Jews
by giving up a large portion of her weekly rations, but she strove to
preserve the culture of the Jews of Vilna, one of the great centers of
Yiddish tradition and learning.
A few days before the liquidation of the ghetto, Ona brought out a ten
year old girl and registered her as her own niece. The false papers,
however, did not fool the Gestapo and Ona was arrested and sentenced to
death. Her friends from the university were able to come to her aid and
bribe the Nazi officials into commuting the sentence. Ona spent the rest
of the war in a concentration camp in France, where she then made her
permanent residence after the war. Ona Simaite died peacefully in 1970
having willed her body to science.

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