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Portrait of Margarita Shtromaite taken in the Kovno ghetto shortly before her marriage to Joseph Kagan.

Photograph | Digitized | Photograph Number: 88711

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    Portrait of Margarita Shtromaite taken in the Kovno ghetto shortly before her marriage to Joseph Kagan.
    Portrait of Margarita Shtromaite taken in the Kovno ghetto shortly before her marriage to Joseph Kagan.

    Overview

    Caption
    Portrait of Margarita Shtromaite taken in the Kovno ghetto shortly before her marriage to Joseph Kagan.
    Date
    1943
    Locale
    Kaunas, Lithuania
    Variant Locale
    Kauen
    Kovno
    Kowno
    Photo Credit
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Irena Veisaite

    Rights & Restrictions

    Photo Source
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
    Copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
    Provenance: Irena Veisaite
    Second Provenance: Margaret Kagan
    Source Record ID: Collections: CR 1013
    Second Record ID: Collections: 2005.524.1

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Biography
    Lady Margaret Kagan (born Margarita (Mara) Shtromaite) 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 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. After the Russian Revolution she fled to Germany to escape the Bolsheviks. Jurgis had left Lithuania to study economics in Belgium and fought for French army in World War I. After Lithuania became independent he returned home and earned a law degree. He joined the Lithuanian Foreign Service and became an economic counselor in the embassy in Berlin. 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 Lithuanian State Lottery. Unlike many Lithuanians, the Shtromas family lived a secular assimilated lifestyle. Margarita was one of the only Jewish students in her Lithuanian high school. Lithuania remained independent for the first year of World War II. However, on June 15, 1940 the Soviet army marched into Lithuania, and almost exactly one year later, on June 22, 1941, Germany invaded Lithuania. During the first days of the German occupation of Kovno, Lithuanian nationalists instigated a series of attacks against the local Jewish population, who 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 so-called Aktions. Though Margarita, her mother and 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 the war. While in the ghetto, Margarita met Joseph Kagan. He was building hiding place for himself and his mother, Mira Kagan outside of the ghetto and asked Margareta 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 useful to her safely outside ghetto. Margarita agreed to marry Joseph and went into hiding with him. Joseph had been working in a foundry run by a prewar 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 Margareta 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 Margareta 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 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, and in July 1944 she was deported to Stutthof where she perished the following November. 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 Margareta and Joseph to move to home of Alik's rescuers. Alik walked nearby leading a white goat, so that the Kagans could surreptitiously follow him 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 looked visibly Jewish, spent the final week hidden in a hay loft. 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 in 1976. In 1989 they arranged for a special ceremony honoring their rescuers in House of Lords. Vitalija, Vytautas' daughter received the award on her parents' behalf.
    Record last modified:
    2006-10-25 00:00:00
    This page:
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