The Forrester’s Sacrifice
Mykolas & Jadvyga Šimelis
Mykolas Šimelis was a simple forester and lived in the village of Tarpumiškis near the town of Kaišiadorys with his wife, Jadvyga and their five young children. Šimelis had working relations with Meir Koren, the owner of a tar and terpentine factory in Vievis – a relation which developed into friendship. Most of the Jews in Vievis were killed in October 1941. Koren and his family managed to go into hiding, helped by several locals. By August 1942 they were able to reach Kaunas where they joined the Jews in the ghetto.
On November 26, 1943, Koren, his three children Moishe, Benjamin, and Liuba (later Haviva Fischer), as well as Michla Furie, Meir’s sister-in-law, fled from the ghetto and came to the home of the Šimelis family. Šimelis and his wife welcomed the Jews into their home and prepared a hiding place for them under the floor of the house. Later, nine more 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 Jews was not only very dangerous, but obtaining food for so many people was an extremely hard challenge and was something that was difficult to keep secret. Nonetheless the Šimelises relentlessly provided their Jewish wards with all their basic needs. Mykolas’ resolve didn’t waver even when, in April 1944, his wife Jadvyga Šimelienė died, while undergoing surgery in the hospital. He continued to care for the hidden Jews until the liberation of the area from Nazi occupation, in July 1944.
A year later, on July 10, 1945, Lithuanian nationalists murdered Šimelis for helping Jews. After the war, most of the rescued immigrated to Israel and maintained contact with the Šimelis children.
On April 4, 1983, Yad Vashem recognized Mykolas Šimelis and Jadvyga Šimelienė as Righteous Among the Nations.