In Cellars, Pits and Attics
Robert and Johanna Seduls
Roberts Seduls, a former seaman and boxer, worked as the janitor of a building in Liepaja, Latvia. Following the German occupation he promised David Zivcon, a Jewish resident of the building with whom he was friendly, to help him in a time of need. Little did Seduls know that he would eventually become the rescuer of 11 Jews.
In October 1943, Zivcon decided that the situation had become too dangerous and that it was time to go into hiding. He fled from the ghetto with his wife and another couple. Robert Seduls welcomed his friend and the unannounced guests, and arranged shelter for them behind a concealed partition in the building's cellar. They were to remain there, without seeing the light of day, until liberation, 500 days later. Several months after they arrived, they were joined by another three men. Another three Jews arrived in April 1944, and a week later Rivka, David Zivcon’s sister-in-law arrived with her three-year-old child, Ada. Fearing that the child would reveal their hiding place, Seduls arranged shelter for Ada with Otilija Schimelpfening, a widow of German origin. In total, 11 Jewish people were now taking shelter in the cellar.
Providing food for so many people during wartime was a great challenge. Since some of the refugees were expert workmen, they took on a range of repair works, which enabled Seduls to earn additional money and pay for their food. One of the Jews, Kalman Linkimer, kept a diary, in which he described life in the small, crowded hiding place, under constant stress and the fear of being detected. The terrible tension left its mark, and sometimes strained the relations between the Jews in hiding. They also watched their benefactor with trepidation, fearing that his resolve to rescue them would weaken. "Robert is terribly nervous," Linkimer wrote in December 1944. "The whole business is dragging on too long. If he had known, he would have considered it very carefully…."
A special light was set up by Seduls in the cellar, so that he could warn the hiding Jews in a case of danger. One time, the light flashed as Germans approached the building. For one long hour the Jews stood in the cellar with drawn pistols, prepared to fight the intruders if their hideout was discovered.
Seduls took care not only of the physical well-being of his wards, but also made sure to keep their spirits high. He brought them books and news from the outside. In order to alleviate Rivka’s worry about her daughter and the pain of separation from her, he would visit the child, make sure that she was well taken care of, and take photos of her, which he would bring to her mother.
Seduls did not live to see the day of liberation. On 10 March 1945, he was killed by a Russian shell. His wife, Johanna, continued to care for the Jewish fugitives until the end of the war. After liberation, they emerged from the cellar, free at last.
Only 30 out of 7,000 Jews who had lived in Liepaja before the German occupation survived the Holocaust. Eleven of them were saved by Robert and Johanna Seduls.
On December 2, 1981, Yad Vashem recognized Robert and Johanna Seduls as Righteous Among the Nations.
Twenty-five years later, and only after her mother died, Ada Zivcon-Israeli applied to have her rescuer, Otilija Schimelpfening, honored.