We Are Here: Mem­o­ries of the Lithuan­ian Holocaust

  • Review
By – June 13, 2012
This remark­able blend of per­son­al nar­ra­tive and unclut­tered research explores both the author’s need to enhance and trans­form her Jew­ish iden­ti­ty and the capac­i­ty of the Lithuan­ian peo­ple to deal pro­duc­tive­ly with the issues raised by Lithuania’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in Hitler’s destruc­tion of its Jews. Wish­ing to immerse her­self in the Jew­ish cul­ture of her ances­tors, the author trav­els to Vil­nius for a sum­mer of study. Here, while tak­ing a stren­u­ous course in Yid­dish lan­guage and lit­er­a­ture, she avails her­self of every oppor­tu­ni­ty to learn about the Holo­caust in Lithua­nia, as well as the con­di­tions of Jew­ish life dur­ing the peri­ods of Russ­ian and Sovi­et rule sur­round­ing the Nazi reign.

Rev­e­la­tions by her great-uncle, a mem­ber of the Jew­ish police under Nazi occu­pa­tion, lead Cassedy to track down those indi­vid­u­als who shared his expe­ri­ence. She also explores the expe­ri­ences and present atti­tudes of the non-Jews who had assist­ed their con­demned neigh­bors and those oth­er Lithua­ni­ans who had been bystanders – indif­fer­ent or fear­ful wit­ness­es. How do those peo­ple feel, now, about their behav­ior then? What did they learn from their expe­ri­ences? What, if any­thing, did Lithua­nia learn?

Cassedy spent much of her time search­ing through archives and ques­tion­ing oth­er researchers. She trav­eled from Vil­nius to oth­er cities and towns in search of wit­ness­es. She vis­it­ed the neigh­bor­hoods of her grandfather’s world and the sites of the mass exe­cu­tions and buri­als. She asked hard ques­tions. For all of her need to look back­ward, to recov­er the past, Cassedy came to real­ize that the impor­tant ques­tions had to do with the future.

At one time, Lithua­nia was the home of about 240,000 Jews. Only a tiny frag­ment, per­haps sev­er­al thou­sand, remains. At one time Vil­nius was called The Jerusalem of the North.” What can bal­ance the loss of such a vibrant cul­ture?

All answers are ten­ta­tive. All ques­tions are cru­cial. Cassedy’s quest is bal­anced, engag­ing, and pen­e­trat­ing. Author’s note, fam­i­ly tree, sources, timeline.

Philip K. Jason is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of Eng­lish at the Unit­ed States Naval Acad­e­my. A for­mer edi­tor of Poet Lore, he is the author or edi­tor of twen­ty books, includ­ing Acts and Shad­ows: The Viet­nam War in Amer­i­can Lit­er­ary Cul­ture and Don’t Wave Good­bye: The Chil­dren’s Flight from Nazi Per­se­cu­tion to Amer­i­can Free­dom.

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