Tobias Iafetas


Tobias Iafetas was born in 1930 in Rafael and Berta Iafetas family, Kaunas. His father was a Lithuanian representative of the British textile company and supported the family. Tobias’ mother was a house wife. Tobias was the youngest son in the family. His older brothers were Azriel (b. 1925) and Fima (1926–1933). There were several languages used in Tobias family. Mother and father spoke Russian among themselves. Tobias spoke German, Hebrew and a little bit of Lithuanian. Tobias started attending school when he was 6. Firstly he went to the Jewish-Lithuanian school where language of instruction was Lithuanian. Later parents decided to send Tobias to Schwabe Hebrew gymnasium. When the Red Army entered Lithuania Hebrew gymnasium was closed and Tobias went to the Sholem Aleichem Yiddish gymnasium.


As 1939 was approaching Tobias’ father Rafael sensed the danger for the Jews to remain in Europe. Tobias family together with his cousin went to England. While travelling the mother worried about the family’s property in Lithuania, as well as she wanted to return back to the parents her sister’s daughter. The family got separated. The father and Azriel remained in England. Mother, Tobias and the cousin returned to Lithuania. The Second World War broke out. The Red Army entered Lithuania in 1940. Tobias, his mother and extended family escaped the Soviet persecution and exile to Siberia. But the family lost any chances to reunite in England. Tobias dreamt to get into the Soviet pioneer camp. He got there in June 1941. When the Nazi Germany Army entered Lithuania, Tobias was in Palanga pioneer camp. Persecution of the Jews followed the Wermacht entry to Lithuania. The Jewish children of the pioneer camp went through selection, imprisonment, forced labour and finally murder. Tobias was lucky to escape the death. His friends helped him to return to his mother in Kaunas.


Tobias and his mother moved to Kaunas ghetto in the middle of July, 1941. They survived the great action which took place in October 28, 1941 when about 9 thousand people were murdered. In the ghetto Tobias learned to work with metal, played with the friends, kept rabbits, looked after vegetables, worked as the police messenger. Tobias tells us about the life in the ghetto after 50 years. He understands that it was the mother who realized much better the tragedy of their situation in comparison to him, 11 year old boy. Mother took care not only of the food, clothing and safety. She sent her son to go through bar mitzvah when he turned 13. The children action took place in the ghetto on March, 27–28, 1944. Children were arrested and murdered. Tobias hid among the rabbits and survived the action. Soon after the children action the mother organized Tobias escape from the ghetto. The mother’s sister Maria and her husband Juozas Katinskai took care of Tobias. The mother also wanted to leave the ghetto. She tried to bribe the ghetto guard who shot her. The mother was buried in the ghetto cemetery which didn’t survive.


On March 27–28, 1944 about 1300 children (among them some 55 adults) were arrested in the ghetto and shot in the IX Fort. After the children action Tobias couldn‘t live in the ghetto legally. The mother contacted people in Kaunas to ask the help of her sister Maria Katinskiene. Maria lived in Vilnius under Lithuanian identity. Tobias left the ghetto successfully. April – July, 1944 he lived with Katinskai family in Vilnius. July, 1944 Tobias’ mother tried to bribe the ghetto guard and leave the ghetto. She was shot. 1 August, 1944 the Soviet Army entered Kaunas.


After the war Tobias lived with Katinskai family. His aunt Maria Katinskiene loved him as her own son. Tobias spoke German, Russian, Lithuanian and Yiddish languages. After the war he put lots of efforts to learn Lithuanian. Tobias graduated the secondary school, Pedagogical Institute and worked at the computer factory. When Lithuania got its independence Tobias became very active member of the Lithuanian Jewish Community. Till the death Tobias was the Head of the Ghetto and Concentration Camp Prisoners Union.