Janusz’s story is told as a memoir left by his mother, of which twenty pages were true and more filled in by him. Alongside the personal story of finding a war arrive on your property, forcing decisions about who/what to trust and what to do to save the life of your family, Janusz also fills in substantial researched history, especially his favored military history. The juxtaposition of highly personal events and the course of World War II as affecting Lithuania are powerful. The book is not perfect and could have been edited and cut for a few things, but it is highly readable, fascinating, and meaningful to émigrés from that era.
We Are Here: Memories of the Lithuanian Holocaust by Ellen Cassedy. 2012.
The story of Ellen Cassedy’s journey to Lithuania to learn Yiddish and uncover family history is a wonderful and personal story written as a memoir. She meets with a whole spectrum of people, for example, some of the few Jews remaining in Lithuania, and Lithuanians who wanted to “witness” something to her (a Jew) before they died. Like a mystery writer, she uncovers tiny pieces of evidence and puts them together. Like an anthropologist, she captures deep values and prejudices.
Most important and most interesting to me were the moral ambiguities. Did Lithuanians help and even independently carry out genocide for the Nazis? Did Jews who served as police in the ghettos collaborate or protect lives when they delivered up hundreds of ghetto occupants at a time knowing they were being sent to be shot in the forest? Why didn’t Jews fight back? Did Lithuanians help them survive? Who suffered the most, Jews or thousands of Lithuanians deported to Siberia by the Soviets (a question debated in Lithuania)? She captures views from every perspective, whether we like them or not.
If you are Jewish or Jewish-Lithuanian-American, this is an fascinating adventure into horrible events and the views of every-day people possibly including your family. If you are interested in the Holocaust, it is painfully detailed.
Her narrative is told as the experience of a visitor in Vilnius, like a diary. It shows that she is an accomplished journalist. The book filled in many blanks for me. I am glad to see it won many awards.