Margaret Kagan photograph collection
The collection consists of 25 photographs relating to the experiences of Margaret Kagan and her family before and during World War II. Margarita (Mara) Shtromaite (later Lady Margaret Kagan) was born in Riga, Latvia, and grew up in Kaunas (Kovno), Lithuania.
- Credit Line
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Margaret Kagan
- Document Creator
- Margaret Kagan
Margarita Shtromaite (Mara, later Lady Margaret Kagan) is the daughter of Jurgis (b. 1894) and Eugenia Shtromas (b. 1901). Margarita was born on July 12, 1924 in Riga, Latvia, and grew up in Kaunas (Kovno), Lithuania. Her younger brother, Alexandras (Alik), was born on April 14, 1931. Though their father was born in Lithuania, their mother, Eugenia, was born and raised in St. Petersburg, Russia. After the Russian Revolution, she fled to Germany to escape the Bolsheviks. Jurgis had left Lithuania to study economics in Belgium and fought for the French Army in World War I. After Lithuania became independent, her returned home and earned a law degree. He joined the Lithuanian Foreign Service and became an economic counselor in the embassy in Berlin, Germany. While stationed there, he met Eugenia. After a whirlwind romance, they returned to Lithuania. Jurgis Shtromas then left the Foreign Service to run the main office of the Lithuania State Lottery. Unlike many Lithuanians, the Shtromas family lived a secular assimilated lifestyle. Margarita was one of the only Jewish students who attended her Lithuanian high school.
Lithuania remained independent for the first year of World War II, but on June 15, 1940, the Soviet Army marched into the country. Almost exactly one year later, on June 22, 1941, Germany invaded Lithuania. During the first days of the German occupation of Kovno, Lithuania nationalists integrated a series of attacks against the local Jewish population whom they blamed for their year of Soviet rule. On June 27, they rounded up approximately fifty Jewish men and beat them to death in the Lietukis garage on Vytautas Prospect. Jurgis Shtromas was among those killed. A few days later, Lithuanian partisans raided the Shtromas’ house and confiscated their valuables. In August, Kovno’s Jews were ordered to move to a ghetto in the suburb, Vilijampole. Almost immediately, Germans began rounding up groups of Jews and killing them in a series of “aktions.” Though Margarita, her mother, and her brother survived, thousands were killed, including her aunt, Edita Stromas, and her son, Liowik.
In 1943 as conditions worsened in the ghetto, Margarita’s friend, Chana Bravo, offered to find a hiding place for Margarita’s younger brother, Alik. She brought him to the home of Antanas and Marija Macenavicius who sheltered him throughout the rest of World War II. While in the ghetto, Margarita met Joseph Kagan. He was building a hiding place for himself and his mother, Mira Kagan, outside of the ghetto and asked Margarita to join him. Margarita was reluctant to leave her mother and grandmother but changed her mind after her mother insisted that she would be much more use to her safe and outside of the ghetto. Margarita agreed to marry Joseph and go into hiding with him. Joseph had been working in a foundry run by a pre-war German acquaintance, Johannes Bruess. Bruess had given tacit approval for Joseph to build a secret hide-out in the factory’s loft. The firm’s Lithuanian bookkeeper, Vytuatas Garkauskas, also approved of the plan, but Joseph was primarily aided and saved by the factory foreman, Vytautas Rinkevicius.
Joseph arranged for Margarita to work at the foundry on a one day pass and then to later return to inspect the hiding place prior to making their final move in November 1943. That day Joseph and Margarita went to work at the foundry but did not return to the ghetto in the evening with the other workers. Instead, they went up to the attic where their hiding place had been nicely laid out and equipped. However, they had to keep absolutely quiet during the day when other workers were there. Each day Rinkevicius told them when it was safe to move around, and he also supplied them with food. Alik meanwhile found someone willing to hide their mother, but by then it was much more difficult to leave the ghetto. Eugenia Shtromas never succeeded in escaping the ghetto, and in July 1944 she was deported to Stutthof concentration camp where she died in November 1944.
Soviet troops approached Kaunas in the summer of 1944. There were rumors that the Germans would blow up the factories before retreating. Therefore, Rinkevicius arranged for them to move to the home of Alik’s rescuers. Alik cam nearby leading a white goat; and once the Kagans spotted him, they followed him from afar to his home. Joseph and his mother left first, and Margarita followed later. They were liberated on July 31, 1944, one week later than the city. Margarita who was the only one who looked visibly Jewish spent the final week hiding in a hay loft. Immediately after liberation they went to live with Vytautas in his house. Eventually they found their own apartment. In early January 1945, Margarita and Joseph left Lithuania, and the following year they arrived in England to join his relatives there. In the subsequent decades, it became difficult for them to maintain contact with their rescuers due to the Cold War, but Margarita returned to the Baltics for the first time in 1964. Antanas and Marija Macenavicius and Vytautas and Elia Rinkevicius were recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 1976. In 1989, they arranged for a special ceremony honoring their rescuers in the House of Lords in England. Vitalija Vytautas’ daughter received the award on her parents’ behalf.
- System of Arrangement
- The Margaret Kagan photograph collection is arranged in a single series.
- Topical Term
- Geographic Name
- Legal Status
- Permanent Collection
- Lady Margaret Kagan donated the Margaret Kagan photograph collection to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2005.
- Funding Note
- The cataloging of this collection has been supported by a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
- Conditions on Access
- No restrictions on access
- Conditions on Use
- No restrictions on use
Record last modified: 2021-05-25 15:07:55
This page: https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/irn523212