Violinist Dana Mazurkevich – a professor of music at Boston University – was born in a basement in October 1941, in the Kaunus ghetto in Lithuania.
The ghetto had been established earlier that year by Nazis who’d concentrated thousands of Jews inside, including Mazurkevich’s pregnant mother and her father, a famous pre-war violinist. Inside the ghetto, the family skirted death multiple times.
“There were so many miracles,” said Mazurkevich.
Terrified that the Germans would eventually kill her baby, her mother devised a risky plan to save her daughter, by then a year old. She secretly contacted a gentile woman she’d known before the war, a stage actress named Elena Petrauskas who was married to a prominent opera singer.
“My mother told her, ‘I have a beautiful daughter. She has blue eyes and blond hair and doesn’t look like a Jewish child. Can you save her?’”
Elena instantly agreed, though she had three children of her own. The baby was smuggled out of the ghetto by a Lithuanian man who’d agreed to help, carrying her out in a potato sack. Her mother had drugged the baby first with sleeping pills so she wouldn’t stir, but as they passed a German guard she began to whimper.
“What’s inside?” the guard asked.
“A little pig,” the man answered. The guard let them pass.
“And that is how I came to that family and was adopted,” said Mazurkevich. She lived with them until she was about 6. The ghetto was liquidated. Her mother went into hiding; her father was deported to the Dachau concentration camp.
Remarkably, they all survived and reunited, though meeting her parents was traumatic for Mazurkevich, who had no memory of them at all, and had never been told she’d been adopted.
“I was in shock,” she said. “It was unbelievable stress.”
But she describes herself as an optimist by nature, and has no bitterness. Her father taught her violin, and she later studied at the Moscow Conservatory with the legendary David Oistrakh. She married Yuri Mazurkevich, also a student of Oistrakh’s. They immigrated to Canada in 1975, and joined the music faculty at Western University of London, Ontario. She’s appeared worldwide as a soloist and in a duo with her husband, and made many recordings.
Since 1985, Mazurkevich has taught at Boston University. Over the years, she has stayed in touch with the Petrauskas family that saved her.
Since Paula Apsell interviewed her for her documentary, “Resistance: They Fought Back,” Mazurkevich has been thinking a lot about heroism and resistance. A while back, over dinner with friends and her family, someone asked her who she considered a hero in her life.
“I started to say my adopted mother, because she risked her life and her family’s lives by adopting a Jewish child,” Mazurkevich said. “But then my daughter said, ‘Your own mother risked everything so you wouldn’t be killed by the Germans.’ To tell you the truth, I don’t think I would be able to do that. I would die together with my daughter. But after that day, I started to think about resistance in different terms.”
Read about future film by Paula Apsell about the untold story of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust here: https://jewishjournal.org/2022/03/17/film-will-reveal…ng-the-holocaust/