Mykolas Simelis - The Woodsman’s Heart
A humble woodsman, Mykolas Simelis lived in a small Lithuanian village with his wife Jadvyga and their five children. Mykolas befriended Meir Koren, a Jew who owned a tar and turpentine factory in the nearby town of Vievis. In October 1941, the Nazis killed nearly all the Jews in Vievis. However, Meir and his family went into hiding, but eventually found themselves imprisoned with the rest of the Jews in the Kaunas ghetto.
Beneath the Floorboards
By the end of 1943, Meir, his three children, and his sister-in-law fled the ghetto and came to the home of Mykolas Simelis. The Simelis family welcomed their Jewish friends and made a hiding place beneath the floorboards. Later, nine other Jews, members and friends of the Koren family, joined them: Tanhum and Jehudit Koren, Moshe and Polia Musel, Solomon and Fanya Nehmad, Alter and Etel Arinovski and ten-year-old orphan Chaim Kaplan.
Hiding fourteen people proved very dangerous work for the Simelis family. It was also hard for Mykolas and Jadvyga to feed so many mouths, and difficult for them to keep such goings-on a secret. But despite the challenges, the Simelis family cared for their Jewish friends, providing them everything they would need.
Triumph and Tragedy
In April of 1944, tragedy struck the Simelis family. Jadvyga had to undergo surgery, and died during the operation. But despite the loss of his wife, Mykolas Simelis continued to care for his Jewish friends. He did so until the area was liberated from the Nazis in July 1944.
Sadly, one year later, Lithuanian nationalists murdered Mykolas Simelis for helping Jews. After the war, most of those who had hidden beneath Mykolas’ home made aliyah (immigrated to Israel), and maintained contact with the children of the family who had saved their lives, as seen in the above photograph taken at the grave of Mykolas and Jadvyga Simelis. On April 4, 1983, the couple was recognized for their actions when Yad Vashem named them Righteous Among the Nations.