Kotia (nee Rosenthal) Bileviciene (born in 1921 in Kaunas), is in charge of all the Yiddish correspondence at the Jewish Museum of Vilnius.

When I first came to Vilnius, she was suggested to me as a person with whom I could stay. I didn't know then that she would become my Lithuanian "Yiddishe mama".And, like all good "Yiddishe mamas", she was fond of telling me to, "eat eat, and did I have enough to eat?" In the morning Kotia loved to cook varlinkas they were made out of white farmers cheese which had been mixed with one egg some vanilla, corn meal and then rolled into little balls before being dropped for a short time into boiling water. They would be served with smentina (sour cream) or a homemade jam. They were a nice way to start the day. We would leave her apartment together and even on the coldest of mornings walk about 40 minutes to the office where she worked. There we would have a tea and some dry crackers and then go about the tasks that each of us had set for ourselves that day.

Kotia always wanted to know who I had talked to, where I had been. Often she helped to contact the people whom I planned to see and joked that in addition to being my landlady and cook that she was also my social secretary. She somehow knew everybody and it seemed that everyone knew her.

Kotia as a young girl had finished 7 years at the Jewish Gymnasium of Kovno and had started to work in a cloth factory. When the Germans came in 1941 she escaped to Russia. There she worked in a factory at Engels Stadt on the Volga. Returning to Lithuanian after the war she found that 20 members of her family had been killed.

Today surrounded by a loving family which includes a daughter with her two children, who live in an apartment next to hers, and a son with two children who lives near by Kotia keeps busy. in cooking and finding the ingredients for the many good dishes she likes to serve her friends and family. She is not one to sit still.

Photos © 1998 Laurence Salzmann

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