Three-year-old Binyamin Abramovich Survived the Holocaust in Šiauliai, Lithuania, under an Assumed Identity

Binyamin Abramovich was born in 1941 in the Šiauliai ghetto, Lithuania, to parents Azriel and Manya, a younger brother for Salomea (b. 1929). Azriel was a lawyer, and the family lived comfortably until the outbreak of war.

The Germans occupied Lithuania in June 1941, and Šiauliai was occupied on 26 June. Hundreds of Jews escaped from the city into the Soviet Union in the first days of the war. The Abramovichs remained in Šiauliai as Manya was in the advanced stages of pregnancy after several miscarriages. Persecution and murder of the Jews started immediately after the advent of occupation. Lithuanian nationals hauled Jews out of their homes and threw them into prison, and on 28-29 June 1941, the detainees were murdered and buried in the Kužiai Forest. Azriel Abramovich was murdered during this massacre. In the summer, the Jews of Šiauliai were confined in two ghettos. Manya and Salomea were incarcerated in the ghetto established in the impoverished Caucasus neighborhood, where they lived in half a room together with Manya's mother Feige Gordon and sister Lyuba. Manya and 12-year-old Salomea worked in a brush factory outside the ghetto. When she went into labor, Manya exited the ghetto with a group of workers, and then sneaked away, removed her Jewish badge, and checked herself into hospital under an assumed identity as a Lithuanian woman. Giving birth to a son, she named him Binyamin. After the birth, Manya succeeded in returning with Binyamin to the ghetto, where she once again took on her true Jewish identity. She made sure to have Binyamin circumcised in the ghetto, out of respect for her father, who had been religiously observant. Binyamin was a dark-skinned baby, with dark eyes and black curly hair. He fell ill, and Manya received food contributions for him from fellow ghetto inmates. Manya and Salomea continued to work outside the ghetto, while Feige took care of her baby grandson.

On 5 November 1943, the "Children's Aktion" took place in the Šiauliai ghetto.  SS men and Ukrainians surrounded the ghetto and seized 574 children, 190 elderly, 26 disabled people and four women, and sent them to their deaths.  Salomea, who was 13 at the time, recalls in her testimony:

In the morning, they told us not to go out to work… but suddenly they said: "All workers, leave for work."  Mother wasn't sure what to do.  I told Mother that she should stay and I went to work, but as I departed, I saw lots of vehicles waiting, and I had a bad feeling.  When we returned, the wailing and screaming was horrific.  All the mothers saw that their children were gone… and where the mothers had refused to give up their children, they took them with the mothers… We assumed that they would murder them… we weren't under any illusions.

That day, Manya's brother warned them and urged them to hide. Manya, Binyamin and Feige hid in a concealed pantry in the apartment, and survived the Aktion.  After the Children's Aktion, Manya searched desperately for a way to save her little boy.  She succeeded in making contact with a Lithuanian woman, Leona Margait, later recognized as Righteous Among the Nations. After making sure he was asleep, Manya smuggled Binyamin out to Leona.  Leona and her husband Antanas kept the child in their home for a few days, and then transferred him to relatives of Leona in a village, fearing that they would be given away.  One of the daughters there, who had black hair, passed him off as her illegitimate son.  Giving Binyamin the assumed identity of Stalinas Benius, Leona obtained food coupons for him.  When the Lithuanian family wanted to baptize Binyamin, Manya agreed that if no one from the family survived, they could baptize Binyamin and bring him up as a Christian.

In early 1944, Manya, Salomea and Lyuba succeeded in escaping, and reached the house of Lithuanian farmer Mikhail Juškevič, a client of Azriel's from before the war.  Mikhail and his wife Anastasia, who had brought up five daughters of their own, took in the three women and took care of their every need, initially in their own home, and then in a hiding place in the forest.  Feige had reached Mikhail's brother's house earlier on, and lived under an assumed identity posing as a Lithuanian.  Locals set the Juškevič farm on fire after being tipped off that they were sheltering Jews.  The women fled, were caught by the Germans, and imprisoned as partisans.  They eventually managed to escape, but Lyuba was murdered before the Red Army liberated the region.  Mikhail and Anastasia fled from their home to the forest, and survived.  Manya, Salomea and Feige survived too.  They returned to Šiauliai after liberation and located Binyamin, who didn't remember his mother, and was parted from the Lithuanian family against his will.

Manya, Salomea and Binyamin moved to Vilna.  Manya remarried, and they all immigrated to Israel in the 1970s. 

In 1980, Yad Vashem recognized Mikhail and Anastasia Juškevič as Righteous Among the Nations.  In 1992, Salomea Abramovich-Stein submitted Pages of Testimony to Yad Vashem in memory of her father Azriel and other relatives.  In 2011 Binyamin Abramovich's food stamps booklet, displayed here, was donated to the Yad Vashem Archives as part of the "Gathering the Fragments" project.