Vilnius honoured the public figure and the Righteous Among the Nations Stefanija Ladigienė
A memorial plaque to Stefanija Ladigienė (1901-1967) was unveiled on the house marked number 10 in Trakų Street. S. Ladigienė is a public and political figure, a publicist, a pedagogue, and a rescuer of Jews, who was awarded the title of Righteous Among the Nations after her death.
S. Ladigienė lived in Trakų Street at the beginning of the German occupation (in 1942-1946). Her family apartment had become a sort of a gathering centre for Catholic resistance thought. Students, officers, teachers and famous people, including the archbishop Mečislovas Reinys, the priests Alfonsas Lipniūnas and Ladas Tulaba,the poet Faustas Kirša, the writers Juozas Keliautis and Balys Sruoga, who had already been released from concentration camp, often visited her apartment and found shelter there.
“Stefanija Ladigienė represents our true Lithuania – not the country, which tried to survive and got lost, not the one, which collaborated, and even not the country, which fought desperate fights, but that Lithuania, which boldly stood in the face of humanity,” said the Mayor of Vilnius Remigijus Šimašius at the ceremony for unveiling the memorial plaque.
Ambassadors of the USA, Germany and Israel also came for the ceremony for honouring the famous Lithuanian and rescuer of Jews.
„To refuse to discriminate against those who are different from us is an act of consciousness. To risk one’s life and wellbeing to protect those who are vulnerable is an act of courage. In Stefanija we find inspiration and a reminder that we must uphold and protect the values and ideals of dignity and human rights for all,” said Robert S. Gilchrist, the Ambassador of the USA.
„I did not know Stefanija but I do believe that it was the internal power that drove her to save a little Jewish girl and to risk her own life. The power of humanity – the power that we all have to look at the bad and to say this is bad and to look at the good and to say this is good, not to lose ourselves and our humanity in the darkest times.” – said Yossef Levy, the Ambassador of the Israel.
„The last point of gratitude goes to the city of Vilnius and You, mayor Šimašius. Because part of our debt of gratitude I believe is to not forget, to not allow others to forget and to keep the memory alive of what happened in these horrible years of genocide and to keep alive the memory of those who resisted like Stefanija Ladigienė.“, said Matthias Sonn, the Ambassador of the Germany.
„She lived in very difficult times. You would think, God forbid to end up in exile at such a young age, where one grey day comes after another and nothing is happening. But this does not apply when talking about her – our grandmother never wasted a minute, making use of every single minute of her life for some good deed. She was a really wonderful person and I am very happy to be her granddaughter who grew up on her knees,” said Liudvika Pociūnienė, granddaughter of S. Ladigienė, who also is a journalist and translator.
A fighter for women’s rights and rescuer of Jews
S. Ladigienė left a deep impression on the lives of many people. She was famous for her progressive view of the world back in the early 20th century: she emphasized the independence of women, their financial independence, education and freedom, was the first editor of the “Moteris” (English: Woman) magazine, and one of the first women elected to the Seimas of Lithuania. S. Ladigienė said that “if we were to appreciate ourselves for being human beings rather than dolls, the society would do the same.”
Even after giving birth to 6 children with the Lieutenant General Kazys Ladiga, she always found time to help other women as well, holding educational courses, supporting poor families, single mothers, and was able to inspire girls and women to pursue education and a more independent life.
S. Ladigienė provided shelter to Irena Veisaitė, a literary scholar who had escaped from the Kaunas ghetto, and took care of her as of her own daughter. I. Veisaitė shared touching memories of Stefania, who would make a cross on the foreheads and kiss all her children when putting them to bed in the evenings, also kissing the Jewish girl, and that tenderness which she felt coming from Stefania remained among the most significant memories from her foster childhood.
In 1946, S. Ladigienė was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison in the Pechiora and Taishet labour camps for being a member of the Atheist Organization and accused of anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda. Although own children of S. Ladigienė remained separated from her, she became the second mother and teacher to students and pupils of the gymnasium imprisoned together with her.
- Ladigienė returned from exile suffering from illnesses. She spent her last years of life surrounded by her loved ones and intelligentsia and died in 1967.
After her death, S. Ladigienė was awarded the Cross of Salvation of the Dying and the title of Righteous Among the Nations.