Saturday, June 21, 2014

Lithuanian history of early 20th century, abridged

Several people referred me to Wikipedia as the best source for figuring out the very complicated Lithuanian history of wars, occupations, and deportations in the prewar and interwar periods. I needed to square up the chronology of events in my fathers life with history.
The simple explanation was always that my father was born into free and independent Lithuania without major persecution until the Soviet invasion and his exile to the gulag and subsequent conscription to the soviet army as a doctor during WW2. My father defected after the war from a divided Berlin by a contact he was able to make at a party he managed to get to in the western quadrant.

On this trip, people kept referring to the Polish occupation. But I did not remember anything of Polish occupation from my father's story. It was time to brush up on Lithuanian history.

The chronology of the prewar and interwar periods is much more complicated than I realized.
independence and democracy began in 1905 but was not achieved until 1918 when my father was 3. That date is fuzzy because conflicts continued. independence was hard fought to maintain, with conflicts with Poland, Germany, and the soviets.  The region of Vilnius was occupied by Poland, for example, and Kaunas became the capital of independent Lithuania. However, from how I am understanding this, the right wing government of the Polish occupation 1926-1940 was a time of relatively minimal antisemitism and thus a relatively good period for Jews in Lithuania.

Lithuanian independence is dated at approximately 1918-1940. For my father those years correspond to ages 3 to 25 so must have felt like his whole growing up life. I never understood how lucky he was to have his formative years during such a brief democratic time. In June 1941 soviet occupation and deportations of those considered potential soviet dissidents began.  Ironically,  those sent to the gulag and conscripted to the army turned out to be the lucky Ones....the period of 1941-1943 consisted of three terrible phases for Lithuanian Jews. More about that later. This afternoon are guided tours of the Jewish ghetto, in the neighborhood of our Astoria Hotel. But first, I will play hooky from Shabbat services at the sole surviving synagogue in Vilnius and take a bike ride along the Neris River on one of those bright orange bikes I have been so eager to get on.


PS I have adjusted settings in hope of receiving comments from subscribers.  Thank you for the emails letting me know you tried. I truly am grateful for company and support on this personal journey.

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