Danuta Venclauskas – A True Heroine
Recipient of The Righteous of the Nations Award 1998 by the Israeli Government and Yad Vashem Memorial Institution
Danuta Venclauskas at the age of 95 received the the highest award given to an individual by the government of Israel and the Yad Vashem Museum for her bravery and courage. It is highest award given to a non-Jew by the state of Israel. She was responsible for saving hundreds of Jewish people in Lithuania from the horrors of the Nazis.
She established a clothing factory which employed hundreds of Jewish people together with her sister Grazbyle 85, and her late mother. Without their help these Jewish people would have been sent to labor camps and killed. They even paid the Germans money so they would look the other way in order to save the Jews. She sold her father’s gold to pay profit to the Nazis. In addition, they smuggled in goods from the Siauliai ghetto to feed the starving Jews.
Danuta received the award in May 1998 by the Jewish Federation of Waterbury and Northwest Connecticut. She was praised by the Israeli consulate Ofra Fahri, for being a ray of hope for humanity when mankind’s heart and soul seemed to be sick.
What is truly amazing is the fact that for years she hid her identity until a Tel Aviv professor Jacob Reuveny who was one of the Jews saved by Danuta sought to find her and thank her. As an eleven year old child, he was hidden in the Venlauskas home for six weeks. They risked their own lives since the Nazis would have killed any individual for harboring Jewish people. They even moved him to another hideout after being under suspicion by the Nazis for helping Jews. He was liberated in October 1944 and never forgot who had saved his life. For years he searched to find her.
More than 200 people from the community witnessed the ceremony during the official week of Holocaust remembrance. Danute accepted this award on behalf of her late mother and sister who had been recovering from surgery at the time.
The RBY Recording Studio from Southbury, Connecticut made a video oral history with Danute. She hid her identity for years and did not want any kind of compensation for her righteous deeds. This tape has been sent to many libraries so others may learn of her bravery and actions. Copies were also sent to the Yad Vashem Museum in Israel and to the Lithuanian Museum commemorating and honoring the Venclsauskas family.
The video sheds light on two shaping influences. One is a Jewish funeral and at the time her grandfather was a member of the underground and was fighting the Germans. He was in hiding because he had been declared a traitor in Lithuania. At the same funeral she found him hiding nearby in the words. He was pretending to be a Jew and from that moment she also became a Jewish woman who would sneak food to him.
Another influence on her life was her best friend Sheina who was Jewish and these two incidents had a tremendous impact on her.
In 1950 Danuta and her mother came to Wolcott, Conn. She continued to help and support people for the rest of her life.
Sid Frenkel, my brother and the son of Sonia Frenkel was one of the speakers at the event. He said that her name would become legendary with all of the great humanitarians of our time.
Danuta Venclauskas was a special friend of my family. She met my father Aaron Frenkel in 1950 and they were life long friends. I am honored to have known Danuta and will never forget the kind hearted human being that she was. Her memory will live on forever in the hearts of many. She was unique. She was worthy to have been a recipient of the highest award given to anyone outside of Israel and I dedicate this page to all of the people and families she saved through her bravery, courage and kindness.
Information taken from: The Waterbury Republican American May 1998-
by Terry Corcoran