The story of Michael and Hilda Skutletski, who were hidden by Sedul

Reported by Melech Neistat, July 1981

“….The initiative to hide in the bunker came from David Zivcon, an X Ray specialist who lived in the four story building in town, where Robert Sedul was janitor. For many years there had been a bakery in the building’s basement, that was now re-named “Deutsche Reichsbaekerei”. Zivcon had agreed with Sedul that he would come to hide when the ghetto would be liquidated. Until the last minute Zivcon worked in the SD workshops repairing electrical and X Ray machines. He was the Oberjude of these workshops where some 16-17 Jews and around 50 Russian POWs worked. Michael Skutletzki was Zivcon’s friend. He worked as a jeweler for the SD commander, Dietrich, producing gold and silver jewelry. He thus had a labor permit issued by Dietrich himself. During the time in the ghetto he had his own workshop where he manufactured Dietrich’s orders. Zivcon told Skutletski about his plan to hide at Sedul’s place. Both of them had permits that enabled them to move around freely, and they were able to leave the ghetto and stock food at Sedul's home.

The ghetto in Liepaja existed from July 1942 until October 1943. At the beginning of October 1943 a Latvian SD man warned Zivcon that the ghetto was about to be liquidated. Four people escaped from the ghetto and got to Sedul’s bunker – David Zivcon and his wife, and Michael and his wife Hilda Skutletski. At the beginning they were only four, and within half a year their number had risen to 11. Incidentally, Seduls wife, Johanna, was privy to the secret, and both of them equally and with the same dedication took upon themselves the burden of hiding eleven Jews.

The bunker was situated under the bakery in the basement of the building, under the water, electricity and gas pipes. Therefore the people in the bunker had no problems with electricity, water and gas for cooking. The problem was not the cold, but rather the suffocating heat. David Zivcon with the help of the others, mostly Sedul, had taken care of all the necessary facilities. The camouflage was perfect. The hideout could not be discovered. A narrow passage that lead from the bakery to the basement was disguised, and so was the slim door that was operated with an electric engine. Seduls had concealed electric switches in the bakery with which he could warn the hiding Jews. They could peep out through a narrow crack which was also used to air the basement a little. In an emergency, if warned by Sedul, they could crawl out of the bunker and escape. Sedul got them revolvers. Had they been discovered, the first person to enter the basement would have received a bullet in the head.

At the beginning there was no lack of food. Sedul and his wife could buy food in the market. Additional money was gained by repairing electric appliances that they would do in the bunker. Sedul would receive orders, pretending to be the expert who can fix any instrument. Later on it was no longer possible to obtain food in the market, and the people suffered from hunger. There was bedding for every one, but they would sleep in shifts. At night they would listen to the radio broadcasts from Moscow, London, etc.

When Robert Sedul was killed by a bomb that hit the building, their situation became difficult. It has to be added that a young woman lived in the same building who was Sedul’s lover. She was part of the secret, and remained loyal to the hiding Jews even after Sedul’s death. It was astonishing that it was agreed upon between Sedul, his wife and his lover that whatever would happen and whatever the relations between them, nothing would change their determination to save the Jews in the bunker. This continued even after Sedul was killed.

After her husband was killed on March 10, 1945, Johanna Sedul turned to another Latvian for help. The man, Arvidas Skara, was a Social democrat and had worked as a librarian. He immediately agreed to help Mrs. Sedul to take care of the Jews in the bunker. But three weeks later the man was arrested for forging identity cards for his friends. The burden was again on the two women’s shoulders. Several times, when Sedul was still alive, the bunker was in danger. Since Sedul would steal bread from the bakery for the bunker residents, the police came with dogs to find the thieves. The dogs sniffed around the bakery, but did not discover the passage to the bunker and the existence of people under the bakery’s floor, because the bunker residents used petrol and garlic to deceive the trained dogs. More than once did the hiding Jews hear the policemen conducting searches, but they were unable to recover the stolen bread, nor were they able to discover the bunker."