Grigory Tzvi Kritzer, a native of Vilnius, Lithuania, who settled many years ago in Israel, is a well-known Israeli soccer (football) agent. He was the primary organizer of the series of events that culminated in a march by thousands, unveiling of a multilingual monument, and launch of an exhibition, book, and film, in the small town (former shtetl) Malát (Molėtai, northeastern Lithuania) on 29 August 2016. The book and exhibition were the products of the initiative and creative work of regional museum director, Viktorija Kazlienė, in close cooperation with Leon Kaplan who edited and translated the book.
The day marked the 75th anniversary of the 1941 massacre of the town’s 2,000 Jews, then a majority of its population. This year’s day of memorial events there has drawn wide and varied media comment and coverage.
The following is the English text of Tzvi Kritzer’s speech, provided by his office at the request of Defending History. The translation is by Aleksandras Federas.
We decided to walk that road one and a half years ago, and then I imagined that there would be only a few people here… Now, look around, my heart is beating with joy that our relatives and loved ones, who perished here in Molėtai, have not been forgotten.
Thanks to all of you, to those who have come from faraway countries and to those who live here, in Lithuania. I am particularly moved to see here people from all corners of Lithuania. I would like to thank the mayor of Molėtai, Mr. Stasys Žvinis, and all his team for their help and support.
We are now at the place where battered and humiliated men and women, children and old men were herded along this road 75 years ago in order to be brutally murdered in one common pit. Their only fault was that they were Jews.
The day was as bright as today, August 29.
I was born in Vilnius. However, my roots are in Molėtai. This is my home. My ancestors had lived here for hundreds of years. They were happy, they had children, studied and worked here.
This is the motherland of all the descendants of those who have arrived here today, who miraculously survived or had left before the Shoah.
This is our homeland not because the property of our relatives was looted, but because there are graves of our relatives here, who died and were brutally murdered. They are here forever.
During my childhood years, in the early 1960s, an old bus used to depart from Vilnius on the last Sunday of August carrying the relatives of the slain, the Jews of Molėtai who miraculously survived. Some of them had returned from the Siberian exile, others had gone through World War II fighting against the Nazis, still others had survived the death camps and ghettos. That was a tradition to honor those who perished, to come to a former hometown that had become alien to them, the town that had become their open bleeding wound; the town that had become for them only a common grave.
Today, we see here not just a small bus and a small group of people who had survived miraculously, but a great number of people who have arrived from all over the world, from all the corners of Lithuania, the people of different religions and nationalities. They have arrived in order to pay their respect and walk the road that the poor victims had walked in August of 1941.
My father, Tzodil Kritzer, the son of Honna and Tziva, was the only survivor in the family. He was born in Molėtai like his parents and like their ancestors. I have never seen my grandfather and my uncles, and I do not know what they looked like. The only thing that my father found after the war was a small picture of his mother.
My mother, Menuha Kritzer, her parents Zelik and Dvora Skurkovich, all of them had been born and grown in Molėtai and its region. Thus, I have my two feet firmly standing on this land. There are about thirty of my relatives who are buried in the graves of Molėtai, Gedraičiai and Inturke. In all of Lithuania, in Ukmergė, Utena, Jurbarkas, Kupiškis, the Ghettos of Vilnius and Kaunas, more than 200 people of my extended family, including children, were murdered. This happened not only in my family. This tragedy happened in most of the Jewish families of Lithuania, where the number of the victims is not in single digits, but in dozens and sometimes in hundreds.
These innocent victims were murdered in a single day, with no chance of survival. There was no analogy even in the ghastly Nazi system of the extermination of the Jews in Europe. There were trains, ghettos, camps, and atrocities; however, there were at least minimal chances to escape.
Here, everything happened in one day. There was a Jewish community, and in one day, nobody was alive. This is the biggest horror and tragedy of the Jews of Lithuania.
We have gathered here today after long years of oblivion. This important event is the revival of the memory.
Our duty is to preserve the memory of those who perished and to hand it over to the next generation. This memory has to be like a relay to be passed over from generation to generation. This is the memory not only of the brutally murdered people, but also of our parents who miraculously survived and were not overwhelmed by hatred.
Our duty is to remember the names of the Lithuanians, Russians and Poles who risked their lives and lives of their families and children by trying to save the Jewish families, who exercised the highest level of humanity and love towards their neighbors, and, most importantly, who were not careless bystanders. There were thousands of them in Lithuania, but I would like to mention the names but a few of them, who were doing it in the region of Motetai:
Dr. Marija Apeikytė. Dr. Albertas Jauniškis. Pharmacist Jeronimas Ivanauskas. Elena Umbrasienė. Marytė Kaušinytė-Ruzgienė. Eglė Ruzgytė-Bimbirienė. Aurimas Ruzgys. Povilas Vitkauskas. Juozas Vitkauskas. Rachelė Vitkauskenė. Kazimieras Rudėnas. Veronika Rudėnienė.
The address by Holocaust survivors presented at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem says:
“In the Jewish tradition, memory has a special value. Despite the fact that the memory of the Holocaust is filled up with victims, evil and loss of human face that threaten any human value, we — the survivors, who were marched in the vale of death, saw the extermination of our families, our communities and our people, we have not descended into the abys of despair and have not lost our belief in the humanity and the image of God.”
Memory has to be the basis and the source of power for the creation of a better world. Never again.