Getting It Right: Three Memoirs Tell It Like It Is




B O O K S

by Olga Zabludoff

 

Ponary Diary 1941-1943: A Bystander’s Account of a Mass Murder, by Kazimierz Sakowicz; edited by Yitzhak Arad. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2005

Ruta’s Closet, by Keith Morgan with Ruth Kron Sigal. London: Unity Press (an imprint of Unicorn Press Ltd), 2013

Malice, Murder, and Manipulation: One Man’s Quest for Truth, by Grant Arthur Gochin. Los Angeles, 2013


 

The concept “Holocaust memoir” encompasses many subgenres in time and place. This review will cover the interlocking treatments by three very different types of witnesses:

(1) a Polish Christian eyewitness to the murders of Jews and others at Paneriai (Ponary, Yiddish Ponár) who himself did not survive the war but whose diary was saved;

(2) a Holocaust survivor in Canada who worked in partnership with a dedicated journalist to record the story (the survivor died in 2008; the journalist brought the project to press in 2013);

(3) a scion of a Lithuanian-Jewish family born in South Africa after the war who has chronicled his family history, including the Holocaust, and his long struggle for recognition of that history.

The three memoirs have three features in common: location – Lithuania; timeline – the Holocaust era (Malice, Murder and Manipulation spans 1837-2012); literary genre – wide-angle lens non-fiction. Perhaps what sets apart these memoirs from others on the same theme is the manner in which the respective authors zero into the histories they are retelling. Sparing few details, their works are cushioned in notes and references, supporting documents and extensive explanatory material. Yet they are not academic texts. The reader can feel the meticulous attention to historical truth and to a commitment to retell the stories exactly as they were, devoid of embellishment.

Ponary Diary 1941-1943: A Bystander’s Account of a Mass Murder is a treasure which should be read by every Litvak — and all others — interested in the Holocaust in Lithuania. Better yet, every Litvak who should be interested in the Holocaust of his/her ancestors, relatives and people. It tells the story of Ponár (Polish Ponary, Lithuanian Paneriai) where some 70,000 Jews from Vilna and the Vilna region were massacred in a few years. (The diary’s author knew about 60,000 Jews murdered at Ponár in huge pits; current figures cite 70,000 Jews and about 30,000 non-Jews.) This book is particularly timely in this 70th anniversary year of the liquidation of the Vilna ghetto, from where most of the captives were transported to their deaths at the pits of Ponár just outside of Vilna.

The book, as the title implies, is a diary – a diary reconstructed from scraps of paper which had been placed in empty lemonade bottles, sealed and buried in the ground in various locations. The author, Kazimierz Sakowicz, was a Polish Christian journalist who lived in the village of Ponary, as it was known in Polish. Over a period of several years Sakowicz was an eyewitness to the chilling atrocities that occurred on an almost daily basis. He recorded these events with painstaking attention to detail in a dispassionate tone. Sakowicz did not identify with the victims; he was a neutral figure simply chronicling what he observed without obvious emotion or empathy. The Diary is the most unique document of the Lithuanian Holocaust since the testimony was witnessed and recorded at the site and at the time by an observer without an emotional or political agenda. Occasionally the writer included accounts he had heard from neighbors and others, and in such cases he documented the reports as second-party testimonies.

There is no comparison of the importance of Ponary Diary with the dozens of fine survivor memoirs. This book remains the primary document of an eyewitness to the massive voluntary Lithuanian participation in the murders of 100,000 people at the gruesome site near Vilna. First published in Polish in 1999, the Diary was re-discovered, assembled and meticulously transcribed by Dr. Rachel Margolis in a scholarly format. The English edition (translation copyright 2005 by Yad Vashem) opens with a well-written Foreword by Margolis:

This diary […] is one of the most shocking documents of its time. Historians were denied access to this diary for many years, possibly because it provides evidence of the atrocities committed by Lithuanians (Sakowicz’s ‘Ponary riflemen’) as well as by the German occupiers of the city.

When I first learned of the existence of this document I resolved to track it down and publish it so that the widest possible audience could learn the truth about the last years of Wilno, the Eastern European cultural center known as the ‘Jerusalem of Lithuania.’ (p. vii)

On July 11, 1941, the first day of mass executions, Sakowicz and his wife heard the sounds of gunfire at the airbase. He immediately recognized the importance of recording the ongoing events, and from then on never missed anything that occurred at Ponary. From a hiding place in his attic he observed the executions taking place at one of the pits. He also made inquiries among his neighbors and talked with railroad employees, farmers who bought the victims’ clothes, and the Lithuanian killers, or ‘Ponary riflemen,’ themselves. He counted the number of people brought to the execution site, noted the numbers on the trucks and automobiles that carried the victims, and described the clothing the victims wore. (pp. x-xi)

Following Dr. Margolis’s foreword is a preface by Dr. Yitzhak Arad, distinguished historian and former chairman of Yad Vashem:

In his diary, Sakowicz describes the final stage in the destruction of the Jews of Wilno, their last journey and hours in the valley of death that was Ponary. The diary offers testimony from a bystander, an ‘objective’ observer who saw tens of thousands of Jews murdered in front of his eyes on an almost daily basis over a period of two years and four months. […]

The events he describes – the murderers leading the victims to the fenced-off area and the pits, shooting them, and covering their bodies with lime – constituted the final stage in the destruction of the Wilno Jews. (p. xv)

Sakowicz’s diary is unique. No similar documentation has survived from any of the other mass murder sites at which Jews were shot: Babi Yar in Kiev . . . and hundreds of other places in the occupied Soviet Union. That Sakowicz’s diary offers ‘objective’ testimony from a bystander rather than from a victim, devoid of any emotional agenda that might call its credibility into question, places it among the most important of the Holocaust testimonies. (p. xvi)

Ponary Diary has detailed annotations throughout by Dr. Arad. This explanatory material, interspersed among the corresponding diary entries, helps guide readers through the individual entries, providing historical and geographical information that anticipates the questions readers might naturally ask.

The entries themselves, dated in chronological sequence, describe both events in which small numbers of Jews were exterminated as well as mass shootings. The entries are shocking, unbearably painful and unimaginably gruesome. The one message consistently echoed is that most of the murderers of the Vilna area Jews were local Lithuanians sometimes working under the orders of the German occupiers and sometimes on their own initiative. Driven by inconceivable sadism and uncontrollable hatred, it becomes clear that they had transformed themselves into a cult of monsters who looked upon their victims – their fellow citizens – as the scum of the earth. Below are typical diary entries:

Tuesday, September 2, 1941

Wind. A strong rain, cold, clouds. At 7 in the morning I go to Pirczupki. Along the road, down the main road, and into the square a passenger car comes, followed by two trucks carrying Jews. When I was near Chazbijewicze, shots had already been fired. Half an hour later on the road there was a long procession of people – literally from the [railroad] crossing until the little church – two kilometers (for sure)! It took them fifteen minutes to pass through the crossing. There were, as it turns out, 4,000 – so says Jankowski; others claim it was 4,875, exclusively women and many babies. When they entered the road (from the Grodno highway) to the forest, they understood what awaited them and shouted, ‘Save us!’ Infants in diapers, in arms, etc.

Eighty Shaulists did the shooting, while the fence around [the pit] was guarded by 100 Shaulists. [Shaulists were Lithuanian riflemen.] They shot while they were drunk. […] The men were shot separately. The women were stripped to their underwear. […] (pp. 27-28)

October 30

Beautiful weather, sunny. At 9 in the morning four trucks full of Lithuanian officers and soldiers arrive. Immediately after, four trucks arrive full of old women and children. The shooting begins. At 10:00 near the chapel the second procession appears. […]

After entering the gate, a Jewish woman realizes where she is going; she persuades her child (teenage boy) to escape. […] A Lithuanian officer notices. He shouts at them to stop and shoots. The child stops, the officer runs up, and with several shots (a burst of fire) kills him. The child falls. The mother lunges at him, but the soldier stabs her with a bayonet. She falls. . . . (pp. 37-38)

Tuesday, August 25, 1942

Eight people killed; who they were is not known. Weeping was heard and then a quick succession of pistol shots. As usual the Lithuanians did the shooting. . . . (p. 51)

Monday, July 26, 1943

At about 12 o’clock a car and truck arrived. Quite a number of Lithuanians and three Germans. The car stopped at the pit . . .

A novelty: a wolf dog with the Germans. From the car a woman was led out and 2 little girls about seven to nine years old, no more. The German says something, the woman holds out her hands and also says something, weeping. At this a Lithuanian leaps out and begins to beat the woman with a rifle butt. The little girls are terrified, in tears; they take their dresses off over their heads, the woman as well. The German places the children on the edge of the pit, the woman is led to the pit and shot in the neck. The woman falls. The Lithuanians shoot the children with rifles. […]

Again a woman from the car, again undressed, with only her shirt left. The woman tears the hair from her head. A Lithuanian lugs her to the pit, places her on the edge – a volley, the woman disappears. Again a third woman, again a volley. Three men are taken from the car, a volley. Again a few men – a volley, but before this they are stripped. At last one can see that the pit is filled up on this side. Therefore Lithuanians with weapons stand here, and on the opposite side are the victims, who cannot now be seen, as they are cut off by trees and sand. Germans train a dog to catch victims. They order him to escape, and the dog chases the victim. The Lithuanians see this and laugh. (p. 99)

Friday, August 6

In the afternoon a rumor circulated throughout Ponary like lightning that in Wilno, Jews are again being loaded at the railway station under the pretext of being sent to work. Shortly afterward [we learned that] a total of 3,0000 Jews in Wilno had already been loaded, and we can expect that tonight or in the early morning that train will be in Ponary […] (p. 103)

The last entry in Ponary Diary is dated November 6, 1943. The Ponary murders continued well beyond that date. The Sakowicz family claimed that the entries continued to be recorded until the day Kazimierz Sakowicz was fatally wounded by gunfire while riding his bicycle from Vilna to Ponary on July 5, 1944. It was never determined who shot him. Sakowicz’s wife claimed her husband was shot intentionally by Lithuanian collaborators. However, the Red Army was approaching Vilna at the time; the city and its environs were a battlefield. Dr. Arad believes “. . . it seems likely that Sakowicz was accidentally shot during an encounter between Soviet forward elements or partisans and German forces.” (p. 143)

The fate of the missing diary pages remains unclear. Sakowicz may have hidden them separately from the rest, and they were never discovered. Another theory is that they were hidden together with the other pages but destroyed by Lithuanian or Soviet elements who had gained possession of the Diary at a later stage because they contained severe indictments of Lithuanians for participating in the Ponary murders.

Ruta’s Closet, the true story of Ruth Kron Sigal’s terrifying (and retrospectively guilt-ridden) childhood in Šiauliai (Shavl), a sizable town in northern Lithuania, paints everyday life in the squalid Shavl ghetto. From her hiding place Ruta watched in paralyzing fear the transportation of playmates and family to Auschwitz-Birkenau. After 60 years Ruth (Ruta) could still hear their screams muffled by the deafening band music that blasted from the speakers atop the trucks which took away the captives forever. Without the bitterness of vengeance she relates the ultimate betrayal of Jews by their neighbors once considered their friends. It is the tone of the narrative, written in the impersonal third person, and its non-judgmental style that makes the reader look at, rather than away from, the difficult issues and topics that plague Lithuania to this day. The reader is transported into Ruta’s chaotic world, experiencing the life of the ghetto up close. Few Holocaust memoirs are as revealing from a tiny “hiding place.”

Chapter 2, “The Enemy Within,” opens the window on a controversial subject in the current dialogue on the Holocaust in Lithuania. It is Saturday morning, June 14, 1941 – less than one week before the Germans invaded Lithuania. The railway station in Šiauliai is crowded with people; they are shouting and screaming in an effort to make sense of what is happening to them and where they are going. Among the crowd are Ruta’s grand-uncle Aharon (Ore) Shifman and his family. They shiver as they are shuffled with the crowd towards the cattle cars waiting in the blackness ahead of them. They had been awakened a few hours earlier by Soviet soldiers banging loudly on their door. The soldiers ordered them to dress quickly and to pack a bag with clothes.

Ore noted with no surprise that Jews were well represented . . . The former mill owner had no doubt his capitalistic tendencies had earned him his ticket. However, he was surprised to see such a significant number of ethnic Lithuanians manhandled into the wagons parked in the rail yards. This action was not some manifestation of antisemitism because he was sharing the platform with some homegrown persecutors of his fellow Jews. . . . No, the common thread was that all those arrested were potential troublemakers, according to the Soviet regime. (p. 28)

This was not the first time that Soviet authorities had arrived at the doors of Jews in Šiauliai in the dead of night, arresting and deporting them. There had been deportations of both Jews and Lithuanians throughout the country ever since the first Soviet occupation of Lithuania in 1940. For some of the exiled Jews it was their very deportation that saved them from the Nazis who invaded Lithuania after driving out the Soviets in 1941. But others did not survive the harsh climate and almost impossible living conditions. The Shifman family all perished in exile in Siberia, slave laborers who succumbed either to starvation, exhaustion or disease.

The pervasive myth that Jews were Communists and had aided the Soviets in deporting Lithuanians to gulags in Siberia – therefore earning their fate at the hands of the Nazis and their Lithuanian collaborators – has not subsided to this day and continues to be spouted even by educated Lithuanians. Recent research is showing that in fact Jews were not spared by the Soviets and were deported in even larger percentages than ethnic Lithuanians. (See: http://ksiegarnia.karta.org.pl/product.php?action=show&id=728&page=1 ) This reality is not often addressed in Lithuanian history which more often focuses on the suffering of Lithuanians under the Soviet occupation regimes. The fact that the Soviet deportations and abuse of Jews is borne out in Ruta’s Closet gives an added dimension to the book and is a tribute to its authors.

Like many survivors Ruth had locked away her memories in a mental closet until she realized her story would die with her. It was then that she began to share that story with journalist Keith Morgan who became her co-author. The book is dedicated to Tamara Kron, Ruta’s little sister, who at age four was thrown onto a truck destined for Auschwitz-Birkenau. Tamara was one of approximately 725 children dumped into trucks by Lithuanian collaborators and gassed when they arrived at their destination. Ruta had been on the same truck sitting next to Tamara.

It was November 5, 1943, the day of a Kinderaktion at the Šiauliai ghetto. Ruta and Tamara had been discovered late in the day by the search squads. The two sisters were jammed onto the truck. Moments before the vehicle was to depart, Ruta heard an SS officer say angrily, “The older one can stay because she can work but the other one must go.” (p. 181) The SS officer was speaking to Ruta’s Uncle Wulf who quickly lifted her out of the truck.

“Ruta don’t go . . . please take me with you,” little [Tamara] screeched repeatedly, her stick-like arms waving wildly. (p. 181)

This memory haunted Ruth for the rest of her life. When the war was over and she was reunited with her parents who had miraculously survived, she tells of the day of their freedom:

The laughter of her parents faded as Ruta retreated into the private world of her imagination. She recalled the time when she had missed the ride on the back of the big truck that had taken her little sister Tamara.

Tamara’s screams drowned out her parents’ celebrations. She could hear her sister’s desperate pleas for help. She could see those outstretched stick-like arms waving all over again.

Ruta stared expressionless as the mayhem of the displaced persons camp disappeared into the distance, wishing she could have had another chance to hold on tightly to her sister. (p. 314)

Ruta’s Closet makes clear that not a single Lithuanian Jew could have survived without the help of the saintly Christians who risked their lives and those of their families to save a Jewish child or to hide a Jewish family. The reader enters the home and hearts of the Lithuanian family who had sheltered Ruta.

After Tamara had been taken away during the Kinderaktion in the Ghetto, Ruta’s parents decided that their remaining daughter’s only chance of survival rested on her being “adopted” by a Christian family. That family, Ruta’s saviors, turned out to be Ona and her schoolteacher husband Antanas Ragauskas. They had lost their three-year-old son Rimantas to diphtheria nine months earlier and were still grieving the loss of their child. At least they still had a one-year-old daughter left. Realizing that Ruta’s parents might not survive, Ona and Antanas Ragauskas pledged to raise Ruta until adulthood and to love her as their own child. Ruta was smuggled out of the ghetto to freedom and safety in a garbage truck.

A year after Ona and Antanas had buried their little son, Ruta contracted diphtheria. Ona would never forgive herself if she lost another child to the dreaded disease. She pedaled to the hospital in Šiauliai to see Ruta’s Uncle Wulf, the physician who had once before saved Ruta’s life when he had made a deal with the SS officer the day of the Kinderaktion. He provided Ona with the serum and syringe necessary for the treatment. Ona tended to Ruta with loving care and prayers. She prayed also that her daughter Gražina would not catch the highly contagious disease. Her prayers were answered and Ruta recovered.

When Ruta’s parents came to reclaim her after the war, they were rejected by their young daughter:

Ruta moved away from the window and began to run to the back of the house. Her parents rapped on the door. Ona answered, beckoning the little girl to come with her. Ruta ventured forward a few steps hiding behind Ona’s skirts . . . She peeked at them suspiciously. There was not a trace of a smile. Meyer and Gita had prepared themselves for this kind of reception. Rescued children often rejected their own parents in these circumstances. […] (p. 281)

It is unfortunate that the book suffers from a few technical flaws: too many typos were overlooked by the publisher in what should have been a final proofing of the manuscript before its publication. This reviewer was bothered also by an inconsistency, bumpiness, in writing style evident among the various chapters, the possible result of collaboration between a journalist and a story-teller. Apart from these overall trivia, Ruta’s Closet is a poignant account born from an astute and remarkable childhood memory and retold through a lens that captures the experience in an intimate yet objective presentation. It is one of the most reliable Holocaust memoirs to date, a mature work than can stand alone without the crutch of teachers’ manuals or discussion questions.

Malice, Murder, and Manipulation is a work in which the sum is greater than the parts. Grant Gochin’s book is the culmination of thirty years of research tracing his Lithuanian-Jewish family over a period of more than a century. They had lived in Papilė (Yiddish: Popilán – a shtetl in the Šiauliai/Shavl District of northern Lithuania) since the late 1700s and possibly much earlier, but prior documents do not exist. The author opens his family tree with the birth of his great-great-grandfather Faive (Fáyve) Gochin (born 1837). Faive’s son Avram (Avrom) was deported with his entire family from Papilė on May 4, 1915 during World War 1. The Gochin family, one of thousands of deported Jewish families, was exiled to Melitopol in the Ukraine. Thus begins the saga of one family’s encounter with malice, murder and manipulation:

We travel on a journey through time. Some survived, most did not. Jewish migration and Jewish citizenship rights affected life and death, and the very survival of Jews in Europe. We are the tattered remnants, tasked with memory. This book is about memory. (p. 9)

On February 16, 1918 Lithuania was declared an independent state. Slowly families of exiled Jews attempted to return to their homes. Word spread among the deportees that Jews would be well received in the new Lithuania since Jews had supported the movement for Lithuanian independence.

Faive Gochin, the father of Avram Gochin whose family had been exiled to Melitopol in the Ukraine, submitted an application to the Lithuanian authorities to permit his son and family to return to their former home in Lithuania. The application was dated December 26, 1921, almost seven years after the family had been deported.

Since the Papilė vital records had been destroyed on April 17, 1915 during the war, Faive had to prove that his progeny were indeed his progeny and that they were in fact Lithuanian citizens by right. Individual family testimonies were provided. The Papilė Jewish community also furnished testimony that the Gochin family members had all been born in Papilė.

Citizenship legislation of the newly independent Lithuanian state was generous. A constitution was drafted which defined citizenship specifically: (1) Those who live and lived in Lithuania, and whose parents and grandparents previously lived in Lithuania; (2) Children of the persons mentioned above who did not currently live in Lithuania, but returned to live in Lithuania; (3) Persons who lived in Lithuania not less than ten years before World War I and had property or permanent situation in Lithuania; (4) Children of Lithuanian citizens; (5) A wife or widow of a Lithuanian citizen; (6) Illegitimate children of a Lithuanian citizen. (p. 16)

The council of Papilė testified to the office of Head of the Šiauliai District on February 28, 1922 with a document stating they found no reasons why the Gochin family could not return to Lithuania. The council issued the following written statements: (1) They [the members of the Gochin family] were all born in Papilė and lived there until May 4, 1915 (the deportation date of the Jews in Šiauliai); (2) Avram Gochin’s occupation was a butcher and roofer; (3) The Papilė vital records were burned and destroyed during World War I, and there was no possibility of delivering those birth certificates. (pp. 20-21)

One month later, on March 28, 1922, the Lithuanian Department of Citizens Security, in a brief to the head of the Siauliai District, overturned the District findings and ruled that the Gochin family was not to be allowed to return to Lithuania. It stated that the Gochin family lacked the documents to prove they were Lithuanian.

No amount of bona fide documents from the Papilė city council, the Papilė Jewish community and Gochin family relatives then residing in Papilė could satisfy the Lithuanian Department of Citizens Security – all this occurring in the early days of interwar independent Lithuania, a period during which Jews were guaranteed equal rights as full Lithuanian citizens. It was supposed to be the Golden Age for Lithuanian Jews since they had contributed so heavily in the fight for independence, many of them sacrificing their lives for the cause. But while the law espoused one legal code, Lithuanian bureaucrats implemented that law according to their own interpretations or their own whims. On April 18, 1922 Faive Gochin was notified that his application requesting permission for his family’s return to Papilė had been officially denied.

Meanwhile in the months prior and in the days, weeks and months that followed, many members of the Gochin family died in exile of disease, starvation and exhaustion, among them Avram. But his widow Chaie (Kháye), ignoring the denial of re-entry, took her surviving children and grandchild to the Obeliai (Abel) border crossing, completed her re-entry paperwork, proved her Lithuanian citizenship, and was permitted to re-enter Lithuania on September 27, 1922. She returned to Papilė to begin to rebuild her life.

That history repeats itself is more than a cliché. That Lithuanian history repeats itself is a sinister warning. In December 2004 Grant Gochin, great-grandson of Avram Gochin who was denied re-entry to his native Lithuania and died in exile, submitted a citizenship application to the Lithuanian government. Two and a half years later, on June 18, 2007, he received the decision that his application had been denied due to “insufficient proof” – the same insufficient proof that had barred his great-grandfather Avram Gochin eighty-five years earlier from returning to the country of which he was a legal citizen. (p. 72)

The issue was the inability to provide the birth record of Grant’s grandfather Sam Gochin who was born February 15, 1902 in Papilė. Even though the Ministry of the Interior had been advised that the Papilė vital records had been destroyed on April 17, 1915 during World War I, and the Lithuanian State Historical Archives had verified the information with an official document, the Ministry of the Interior repeatedly requested the nonexistent birth record. (p. 73)

The case has been in the courts of Lithuania now for almost a decade. In spite of personal testimonies from Lithuanian citizens and others, no one had been able to satisfy the Lithuanian government that Grant Gochin is the grandson of Sam Gochin of Papilė, Lithuania! (Sam’s death record states he was born in Lithuania.)

Finally, on July 21, 2011 the High Administrative Court (Supreme Court) issued their ruling and

found it inconceivable that the lower courts could not find that Sam Gochin was my grandfather. They ruled that the lower courts had not adjudicated the facts, and had not provided reasons for rejecting the documentary proof in the case. They found the lower courts’ and Migration Department’s decisions ‘unjust and wrongly motivated,’ and declared that Sam Gochin was indeed my grandfather and a Lithuanian citizen. […] (pp. 89-90)

On October 26, 2011, the Lithuanian government issued a new finding that Samuel Gochin was my grandfather and a Lithuanian citizen. My grandfather now again existed as a legally recognized Jewish Lithuanian man; it was the respect he so richly deserved. (p. 94)

My accomplishment here is that I have honored my grandfather and his dignity, and forced a dishonest government and court system to tell the truth. (p. 96)

Malice, Murder, and Manipulation is a virtual archive — a researcher’s dream. The collection of documents amassed over a period of thirty years from archives in Lithuania and elsewhere is extensive. A story of tragedy and ultimate triumph, the book is well organized and easy to read. Much like the preceding two memoirs reviewed here, this work exposes Lithuania in an unflattering light and forces thought not only of the past but also on the present and future.

The author addresses Lithuania’s continuing policy of honoring Lithuanian perpetrators as heroes. The book contains a section (pp. 48-57) which details the wartime activities of Jonas Noreika, chief of the Šiauliai (Shavl) region, and cites the honors accorded him in recent years. About the infamous founder of the Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF), Colonel Kazys Škirpa, who has streets named after him in both Kaunas and Vilnius, Gochin writes:

Imagine if the city of Berlin named one of its main streets Adolph Hitler Street, or if the street in front of the Twin Towers in New York were renamed Osama Bin Laden Street. Imagine the revulsion this would elicit from any civilized human being. Yet twenty-first century Lithuania has no issues with honoring murderers. (p. 55)

Last – but hardly least – Gochin addresses the May 2012 reburial with full state honors of Juozas Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis, the Nazi puppet Prime Minister of the 1941 Lithuanian Provisional Government. The reburial was funded by the office of the Lithuanian Prime Minister. It was Brazaitis who had signed the orders to create the Kovno Ghetto. After the war he escaped to Germany and later entered the U.S. He died in Connecticut in 1974. Almost four decades later Lithuania saw fit to exhume his remains and to rebury this “hero” in his hometown of Kaunas. There are memorials to Brazaitis in public places in Kaunas.

“Memory” has become a keyword in dialogue about Lithuanian history. That the Holocaust happened cannot be reversed. But how the event is remembered and recorded by Lithuania and her people will determine the country’s direction. The three memoirs here are faithful recollections and should be read by both Lithuanians and Litvaks who are sincere advocates for truth and reconciliation.

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