Jay interviewed by Thijs Korsten

Thijs Korsten interviewed Jay M. Ipson on February 25, 2014, discussing Jay’s life from 1935 to 2014.  Details include his childhood, Holocaust experience, and his life since liberation.  The following list organizes the questions and answers by specific topics.

 

Childhood in Lithuania: #1 & 4

Family’s religion: #2, 41, & 45

Parents and sibling: #3

World War II/Soviet invasion of Lithuania: #5

World War II/German invasion of Lithuania: #6, 7, & 43

World War II/Ghetto life in Lithuania: #8-12, 44, & 63

World War II/ Escape from ghetto: #13 – 14

World War II/Hiding after escape: #15-16

World War II/Soviet liberation of Lithuania: #17-20, 49, & 56

Learning about extermination camps: #50

Moving to USA: #21-23

Life after arriving in USA: #24-28

Army Reserve service: #29

Virginia Holocaust Museum co-founder: #30

Reflections on the Holocaust experience: #31-40, 48, 54, 61, 62, & 64

Response toward Germans: #51-52

Response toward rescuers: #53

Response toward war criminals: #55

Response toward collaborators: #60

Response toward wars and genocide after World War II: #68, 71, & 72

Palestine and Israel: #57 – 59

Syria: #66

How to fight prejudice today: #65, 67, & 73

Lithuanian survivors: #42

Return to visit Lithuania: #46

Jay’s children: #47

Jay’s identity: #69

Languages spoken by Jay: #70        ))))

 

73 question & Answers Interview for Thijs Korsten by emails: Finally, here is the (very long) interview I promised to post. I interviewed Jay Ipson, Holocaust Survivor via email.

===========================================

--- “Proper and honest education is the best weapon against evil.” ---
- Lithuania, Germany and the United States, between 1935 and 2014, World War II and aftermath
- Interview with Jay Ipson - United States, 25 February 2014
- About Jay Ipson's life

"Interview, Holocaust Survivor – Mr Jay M. Ipson

1. I will start off with your childhood. You were born in 1935, in Lithuania, your father and mother were called Israel and Edna, and your original name was Jacob Ipp. It may be quite a strange question to start with, but how does it feel to have a name that differs, to some extent, to the one your parents gave you?

My mother’s name in Lithuania was Eta. We changed our name in the U.S. to assimilate more easily, on the recommendation of an aunt. It was in part to avoid anti-Semitism, as our accent would not speak for itself.

2. Also, I am quite interested in your family. I assume it was a Jewish family, but were your parents very religious? And how about you? Are you a strong believer?

Yes, we are Jewish, and my parents were strong believers. I, not as much as they, but I am a believer and practice my Jewish faith.

3. Furthermore, what was your family like? Do you have any siblings? And what sort of people were your parents?

My parents sacrificed all for me. They risked their life many times to protect me. I had a six month old sister, who died as a result of getting bad milk as we were trying to escape the German assault. My mother did not have sufficient breast milk to feed her.

4. Can you describe to me what you can remember of Lithuania, the country you grew up in, apart from memories of the Holocaust and the war?

Since I was young and did not know the world situation, and was shielded from all by my parents, the world was my oyster, as they say here in the U.S. I was one spoiled kid.

5. You were very young when World War II started. I was wondering—do you have any memories of the Soviet invasion?

Absolutely, I thought it was great, as I did not know the ramifications of their invasion, and that we would lose all our belongings in our motorcycle business. They took it all.

6. At some point, in 1941, when you were six years old, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union and thereby Lithuania too. I have read that the initial reaction in Lithuania was mainly seeing the Germans as liberators from Russian oppression. One of the reasons for this, according to historians, are the mass deportations by the Russians of everyone who opposed the communist occupation. Can you remember people being deported from Kaunas or your parents talking about it? Or were you too young to have remembered anything about this? Did your parents talk about the Russian occupation of your country after the war?

The Russians deported Jews and Lithuanians to the Siberian Region. The Lithuanians blamed the Jews for that, even though the Jews had nothing to do with it. The Russians treated the Jews and Lithuanians alike, even though the Lithuanians blamed the Jews for their treatment. Many Jews could speak Russian and the Lithuanians could not, therefore many Jews could work with the Russians, as did my father. He was able to get a job after the Russians confiscated what we had, he worked as a foreman in a transportation association with horse and buggies.

7. Have you remembered anything about the start of the Nazi occupation of Lithuania? Can you remember the Nazis being greeted as liberators, or not at all?

As the Nazis attacked the Russians, my father already knew what was in our future under the Germans, and we tried to escape with the retreating Russian Army. We were cut off by German paratroopers, and ordered back to where we came from. As we returned our Lithuanian neighbors were killing the Jews in the streets.

8. When you were six years old, you and your family were forced to move to a ghetto. How were the days before your family was forced to move? Was it completely unexpected? Had your parents been afraid of the Nazis already once the country was occupied?

We were afraid of both our neighbors and the Germans. We knew what the Nazis did in Poland, and Polish Jews used to come to our house. Mother always had food for strangers and they would tell us what was happening in Poland, so we knew what was ahead.

9. Could you tell me what happened the day your family had to move to the ghetto? And why on that day?

The order was issued by the Germans. We were lucky: my grandfather’s house was in the section inside the ghetto area, so all of us moved in with them. In total fourteen of us lived in a house build for five.

10. Could you describe what you can remember from the ghetto in general? How was life there? How did you spend your time?

For the most part I played in the street with older kids that were not forced yet to work as slave labor or in the workshops of the ghetto. We played tag, hide and seek. We had no toys.

11. Do you have any good, positive memories from the ghetto?

The day I gave away some of my slice of bread for a wooden toy air plane that an older boy had built.

12. Were you very fearful, frightened in the ghettos? Or did you simply not have a clue about what was going on?

I felt protected by my parents and thought that if I could just get my hands on Hitler I could fix it all.

13. Could you tell me the story of your escape? How did you and your family escape, with whom, and why did you escape the moment you did?

We had heard that the Germans were going to deport the children. That meant that they would be killed. My father wanted to prepare an escape for me. I refused to go. Mother and I at this point were the only two that survived a deportation to Riga, Latvia where 2700 Jews, including my mother’s family, were deported. A Jewish police man that was a friend of my father’s, pulled me out of line and told me to take Mother with me and go home. She wanted to stay with her family, but I started to cry and told her I wanted to go to my Father. She followed me, after that when I refused to go alone; my father planned the escape with the help of a cousin and a Lithuania farmer by the name of Marchuk. My father had helped him before the German invasion and met up with him at his work at the airport when Marchuk came to sell farm produce to the Germans.

14. Did you fear that your escape would fail? Did you ever lose hope?

I was terrified that a Lithuanian who lived in the house of the yard I was hiding in, would come out for whatever and find me stooped in his yard behind the bushes waiting for my mother to find me. It was a very cold November night. Hope is what kept us fighting for survival.

15. After fleeing from the ghetto that would later be transformed into a concentration camp, you and your family had to hide in the countryside. Can you tell me where you escaped and how you felt about hiding for nine months?

It was transformed into a concentration camp in 1943 before our escape. My father cut the wire near his aunt’s house that faced the road to the Ninth Fort; Panerių gatvė (Paneriu Street). We ended up in the Trakai area and a farmer, his wife and stepson (Vaclovas and Ona Paskauskas and their son Stanislovas Krivicius) risked their lives to save us. We lived in his barn hidden behind the hay on the top level for three months. We had a few close calls, but were not discovered. During that time, my father used to go out at night and with his hands and stick dug a tunnel from a potato hole in a field near the woods and a pond. He opened a chamber of nine by twelve foot, four foot high, where thirteen of us ultimately lived for six months. There was also a second tunnel for escape to another potato hole. A German Shepard, by the name of Rexxyx, was our alarm. When he barked we knew that someone or something was amiss and we kept our breath that it would pass.

16. When hiding, did you get any help from other people?

My mother’s uncle was a farmer. He was very good to his neighbors. He and my father would go at night begging for food. We lived on sauerkraut, potatoes and black bread.

17. What did you expect to be the outcome of the war and did your expectations change?

As I expected, the Russians were victorious and we were liberated.

18. Can you describe the situation when the area you were hiding in, was liberated by the Soviet army? How did you and your parents feel about it?

We were free at last and could get a steam bath in the sauna that was built by the lake, and clean six month of dirt off our bodies and try to get to the concentration camp as quickly as possible to see if any of my father’s family might have survived. My mother’s family was deported to Riga and executed.

19. When Lithuania was liberated, you moved back to Kaunas. Had the city changed a lot? What were your first days back in Kaunas like?

The city had not changed at all. We returned to our house where our furniture was and a Lithuanian collaborator that lived on our furniture, had left with the Germans. We took our house back, and lived in it until we escaped from the Russians.

20. Then, your father was declared a state enemy of the Soviets. Can you explain what you can remember from this? How was your family’s reaction? What did you do?

My father was in charge of five cooperatives: a flower mill, a shoe and boot factory, a cookie bakery, a jewelry manufacturing company, and a company for manufacturing items from amber, such as desk sets, pens and such. The war was still going on and his cooperatives excelled, so he was awarded the Russian Flag for excellence. Many of his employees were survivors of the concentration camps. They were women, and part of their job was to cut wood for the furnaces that were used in the manufacture of the goods. He used the excuse of the excellent performance to give them half a pound of cookies, and some sugar. They sold that on the black market, an illegal act that made him an enemy of the Soviet Republic. He heard his name on the loud speakers in the street. The Russians were letting the Poles in the area to return home. He and Mother knew that sooner or later we would have to escape from the Russians. The name of Mother’s maiden was Butrimowitz. It was a Polish name. They had prepared and had forged documents for the three of us. We left that afternoon with the clothes on our backs, in the back of an NKGB truck that used to park in our yard. Dad bribed the driver to smuggle us out of town on the way to a safe house on an escape route that my father knew.

21. I understand it took a long time to escape to the United States. Could you describe how you managed to get there, via what places, who helped you and your family, and what you thought when you had to escape again?

When we arrived at the safe house, my parents were making further plans as to our entry to Warsaw, Poland. The family that sheltered us had a six-year-old son. I was nine at the time so we went out to play in the snow. There was a bombed out house nearby and wooden slats were lying on the ground. I took a couple of them and made me some skates.  There was a lake within view so I said, “Let’s go out to the lake and skate.” The lake was covered with snow, but one particular spot was clear. I said to the young boy, “There is a good spot, it is clear of snow.” “No,” he said, “someone fell through it a few days ago.” I took a stick and struck the ice. It did not break, so I stepped out on it and skated away from the edge. Sure enough I fell through. I could not swim, and every piece I grabbed broke. The young boy started calling to me in Russian, as that was the only language he knew. I spoke Lithuanian, Russian and Yiddish. “Give me your hand”. I reached out to him, and he was able to help me get on solid ice. I followed him home. They took my wet clothes off, dried me off and gave me hot tea with cherry preserve and vodka in it. I did not get a beating. The next morning we started our journey to Warsaw. We made our way to a synagogue, there were other refugees there. Father and I slept on a table and the women were in another room. After resting—I don’t remember how long—we tried to get on a train toward Czechoslovakia. The train was made up of cattle cars with Russian soldiers guarding it. They were commanded by a captain. My father went to the captain and asked if we could hitch a ride in one of the cattle cars. He told my father, “No way.” My father had a new pair of boots on, made in the shoes co-operative that he was in charge of. He observed that the captain’s boots were all worn out. My father told the captain, “I will give you my boots for yours if you let us board the train.” The deal was made. Mother, Dad, and I got in the cattle car with some other people, I don’t remember how long it took or when the train started rolling towards the Czech border. We finally got to the border. It was awful, and scary. Hundreds of people of all ages. The Czechs did not let them pass. They were being searched. Some said, “There is a hole in the wall. Drop your valuables and documents in it, so that the guards don’t find it.” We backed away. My father was brilliant, he could read people, and soon he spotted a man that he figured to be a guide that would be able to smuggle us through the border.
He told my father that he was waiting for a large group and could not help us, but if we went through the woods and headed in such and such a direction we would cross the border and be in Germany. Without a compass, or any other knowledge of the outdoors we took off; we each had a back pack. Mine had the down blanket that we used in the hiding place. Mother and Dad had some clothing. The snow was up to my waist. I soon could not take another step. I said to my parents, “I don’t care if they kill me, I can’t go on.” My mother took my back pack, and my father picked me up, placed me on his back pack and we proceeded. I don’t know for how long we walked, it seemed like forever, and we finally broke out and saw a light from a house. We proceeded to that light.
We knocked on the door. A man opened the door. He was dressed in an insulated underwear top and a pair of military pants and boots. Father spoke German and told the man we were lost and that we were trying to get to the American zone. He told us to wait a minute and when he came back he was dressed in a uniform with a weapon and told us to follow him. My father whispered to me, “It looks like we are caught.” He took us to the border between Russian-occupied Germany and the French and American zones. The area that was known as Checkpoint Charlie. He told the guard to open the crossing and told us to proceed through and we would be in the French zone. We crossed the French zone without incident and proceeded to the American zone. We ultimately arrived in Munich. My Father was able to get a job as transportation chief, with the AJDC (American Joint Distribution Committee) and UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Restitution Agency). It was not easy for Jews to come to the United States at that time. Thousands of Nazis were brought to the US by the state department, but Jews had to have a sponsor. Fortunately my mother’s uncle qualified and we came to the United States in June 1947.

22. What did you think when World War II had officially ended?

That we were free at last and all our fears would be over and we would live life like everyone else.

23. What was the final immigration to the United States like? What was the journey like?

After getting papers that we had a sponsor, we had to appear before the American consul; some consuls were kind, others were not so, and we got one that rejected all applicants. Many of our friends were waiting in the hall for their turn to visit a consul. When they saw who we were assigned to, they told us, “Ipp, we will see you in six months”. That was the waiting period when you got rejected. My father replied, “If that is God’s will, so be it.” When we entered his office, the consul held up a wad of green wool and asked me what color it was. It was green, so I said, “It is green.” “Good,” he said, “if nothing else, you can wash Pepsi Cola bottles.”  I had no idea what Pepsi was. I later found out that my mother’s uncle was the Pepsi Cola bottler in Richmond, Virginia. We got the pass to come to the United States. We said our goodbyes, and friends and drivers that my father had worked with saw us off to Bremen Hafen—the German port that we were to leave from. We waited for a month before our ship came: the SS Mariner Merlin. While waiting for the ship we used common shower facilities, and I picked up a bad case of athlete’s foot. On the way, our ship broke down, and everyone on board got sea sick, including me. We were without power for 24 hours until repairs could be made. I celebrated my twelfth birthday, June 5th, on the ship. On June 10th we landed in New York, and my mother’s brother and an uncle that lived in the US picked us up, and put us on a train to Richmond, Virginia. We arrived at Richmond Main Street Station on June 12th.

24. Once you arrived, what had your expectations been and what was your first actual impression of the United States?

I had no idea as to what to expect. I could not speak English, had no education, but we were free of fear.
My first experience was that my bother bought me an orange from a fruit stand. I had never had one before. It was delicious.

25. Was adapting to American society difficult?

A little, I could not speak English and had no friends. My clothes were different. I was afraid to go out of the house. We lived in a second floor apartment. I could see the children playing in the street. They called to me, but I did not understand and would run back inside. One time, my aunt came home from work and told me in Yiddish that George, one of the boys in the street, had told her that if I would come down and play, he would let me ride his bicycle. That did it and we became friends and I learned some English from him.
26. Where did you live in the United Sates at first?

With my mother’s sister and her husband, on the 3400 block of Cutshaw Avenue, in Richmond, Virginia.

27. Did you tell people about your experiences or did you mostly keep quiet at first?

I kept quiet and tried to assimilate. No one was interested in our ordeal. We got to work within days. My father’s first job was to clean toilets at a service station. Mother worked as a seamstress, and I delivered three afternoon paper routes.

28. You went to high school and university in the United States. Did you have many friends and did you talk about your experiences with them?

I had a few friends. After school, I went for an hour to Hebrew school, and made a few friends. When I finished high school, my next-door neighbor, a newspaper reporter, told me that I needed to go to college. We didn’t have much money and my English was not that good. I was good in math, history and other subjects, but failed English every year and spent every summer in summer schools learning English. I was never held back as I always showed improvement. He said to me that he knew the dean and he would take me. After a few minutes the dean told me that my English was not good enough, and that I should go to the professional division and study English and some other subjects and come back in a few years.
I never went back as after two years of studying, while in school and the work force, we owned a service station and a wholesale auto parts business. I started a family and in 2010 I gave the commencement address in that same university.

29. Why did you join the army in 1954?

A customer of mine asked me to join him in the Army Reserve. I wanted to pay back for my good fortune, and learn more how to defend myself. Never again was I going like a sheep to slaughter without putting up a fight.

30. You are a co-founder of the Virginia Holocaust Museum. Please explain how the museum came into being. Did sharing your memories also help coping with them?

I was active in the Jewish Community.  In 1988 my father and a few friends started a Holocaust Committee. They had the foresight of the importance of Holocaust education. I was an active member of that committee and then became the chairman. A young man, Rob Zwang, was the assistant executive director of the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond. We worked well together and the program expanded. I was also president of Temple Beth-El, a conservative synagogue. My house committee chairman was Al Rosenbaum—a very successful business man, an artist and sculptor. His work depicted the Holocaust. One day he and another friend, Mark Fetter, came to my office at American Parts Company, and asked me to help install a Holocaust exhibit at the Valentine Museum, here in Richmond. I was the technical advisor, and at lunch time I would give a short talk on the Holocaust. The Valentine is near the Medical College of Virginia and would draw patrons to the exhibit. I agreed and it was a huge success. A few months after that, they came back a second time and said that we should build a museum. During the ‘Valentine exhibit’, I also gave a lecture to over 1400 students. I used an overhead projector, and most of the pictures that I collected came from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. George Kadish, a Holocaust survivor of Kovno, took many pictures of the atrocities that were happening in the Kovno ghetto and concentration camp. Among those pictures was one of me, my mother and her father in a group to be deported for execution in Latvia. Mother and I were the only ones to survive. I thought it was a crazy idea to build a holocaust museum in Richmond. We had no money or place, and the best museum was in Washington. I never liked competition in business, so why should we try to become competitors to the museum in D.C.? I rejected the idea, but finally agreed to go to D.C. and talk with them of this crazy idea. I was certain that they would discourage us, but instead, said that I was the perfect person to tell the story through a museum, using my experience as the main focus. “Why me?” I asked.  “There are other Holocaust survivors that suffered more than I.” “We have a story called Daniel’s story, it is written for young people to understand, but you are the real Daniel, and if you decide to go ahead we will give you cobble stones from the Warsaw ghetto and rail tracks from Treblinka.” I was sold. In 1997 we built a museum in the back of Temple Beth-El, in the former education building—the students had been moved to a brand new education building.

31. Now, we have chronologically discussed most of your life’s story before, during and directly after World War II. Is there anything you would like to mention or add?

We need to keep in mind that an atrocity such as the Holocaust can happen anywhere. We need to keep vigilant. You can lose your freedom overnight if you don’t monitor the government and hate groups. It is always possible for a leader of a hate group to get elected.

The following questions are more general questions about your opinion on various subjects, or about other memories from World War II and the Holocaust. They are basically in a random order.

32. When did you come to understand the Holocaust?

I am still striving to comprehend how an educated people like the Germans could allow such a thing to happen. I still can’t comprehend it. That is why I teach about it, hoping that in some small way I will reach and influence some to become better citizens.

33. How did and does it feel to be a Holocaust survivor?

We put on a happy face, but on the inside we suffer from the lack of growing up with a family. Most of us don’t have grandparents, aunts, uncles or cousins. It is a lonely life.

34. How do you cope with your memories?

You try to bury them deep, but a look, a word, a gesture, brings them right back to the for front until you can again try to forget, and replace it with a happier memory.

35. Do you dream sometimes about the things that happened to you?

I used to, but now I have replaced them with good memories; however, sometimes they return.

36. What is the most awful thing that happened to you?

The day that in front of my eyes my grandfather, grandmother, uncles, and aunt were taken from me. I will never forget it.

37. What helped you most during the Holocaust?

The protection of my mother and father. They shielded me with their strength.

38. Over the years, does dealing with memories become easier?

When you have an outlet as I do by teaching, yes.

39. What scares you most now?

That it could happen again, and I would have to live through it again.

40. Did the Holocaust change you as a person?

I don’t know what kind of person I would have been as I was so young. My parents molded who I became. I have a lot to be grateful for. They were kind, generous, and always gave from themselves to help others.

41. Are you still as religious?

Not as religious as my parents, but yes I am.

42. Have you spoken to other Lithuanian Holocaust survivors?

Yes, on October 28th of every year we have a memorial service in New York, at the 5th Street Synagogue. We remember the big selection of October 28, 1941. That day 27,000 of us were assembled on a big field known as Democracy Square. By the end of the day, 10,500 were executed at the Ninth Fort, among them were 4,254 children.

43. In Lithuania, almost all of the Jews were eliminated. How do you feel about this? Why do you think it was so drastic in Lithuania, why were the Nazis so successful?

98% were eliminated, 92% by our Lithuanian neighbors. Out of 220,000 Lithuanian Jews less than 5,000 survived, only 118 children of which I am one. The Nazis were successful because the Lithuanian Church taught anti-Semitism, and the Lithuanians blamed the Jews for their Russian oppression, even though the Russians treated the Jews the same way they treated the Lithuanians. To this day the Lithuanian Government is the most anti-Semitic in all of Europe.

44. Do you know of any friends, relatives or neighbors being deported and killed by the Nazis?

As previously explained all my family and friends with the exception of my mother and father and those in the potato hole who my father saved, were killed.

45. Have you ever wished not to be Jewish?

No, I am proud to be Jewish.

46. Have you returned to Lithuania? If so, please tell me something about visiting your home country after the war.

I returned to Lithuania in November of 2003. I went because my father used to speak about his beautiful synagogue in downtown Kovno. I was building the Virginia Holocaust Museum, and wanted to rebuild that synagogue as the auditorium. I took my son and Mark Cohen, one of the best cabinet makers in our city. We took measurements and got a copy of the original plans. We also went to the field under which we had hid for six months, and visited Stasuk the sixteen-year-old son, who was now 74. He was the one that came to rescue of my father when the cave in happened, as my father was digging the hiding place. We also went back to my grandfather’s house that was in the ghetto; when the woman that now lived in it saw us, she said, “Did you come to take my house?” “No,” I said, “but I will give you ten dollars if you let me come in my house.” She was very happy that I did not come to claim the property and invited us in. Nothing had changed. It was just as I had remembered it as a child.

47. How many children do you have? Have you talked a lot with them about your experiences? How did they react to your stories, and what do they think about your memories and the way you share them?

I have three children, two girls and a son, and four grandchildren. Yes, I told them all about it, and my grandchildren too. They are all very helpful to me in passing on the message of ‘tolerance through education’. As I, they understand how important that is.

48. When did you become so open about your Holocaust experiences?

About 25 years ago, around 1985.

49. What was your first day of freedom in Lithuania like?

It was wonderful to be able to take a steam bath for the first time in nine months. At that time there were no baths or showers in the country.  Mr. Paskauskas built a small hut.  Inside was a pile of stones.  Under the stones a fire was built and water from the lake was poured onto the hot stones.  That created steam and some lard that was made into soap was used and then cold water from the lake was used to rinse yourself off.  We no longer had to be afraid of the neighbors, at that point they were more afraid of us, now that the Russians were all over the place.

50. When did you first hear about the concentration camps and gas chambers, and what was your reaction?

Some of the Russian liberators told about the horrors of the extermination camps that they had liberated, and some of our friends that survived and returned told us about it too.

51. When you learned about the immense scale of the Holocaust, what did you first think of ordinary Germans? Did you become very angry with Germans in general?

First came our collaborating neighbors. Then the Germans. The Germans claimed that they did not know nor participated in being Nazis or what the Nazis did in the camps.

52. How do you feel about Germans—but also people from other nationalities—who knew about the Holocaust but did not act?

Some were scared for themselves, others profited from the Holocaust, for them I have no use whatsoever. Others could have done something, and did nothing. Them I cannot forgive. God is dealing with them. We are still trying to find justice, and until my dying day I will fight for it.

53. What do you think about people who helped Jews, but thereby risked their own lives and those of others, due to reprisal killings of ordinary citizens by the Germans?

They were heroes. There is no greater love of man than when one gives up his life to save another.

54. What was the key point or most important thing you did for survival? Or do you think you were simply lucky?
Luck, God’s will, and my parents’ ingenuity all contributed to the end result.

55. To which extent do you think people now considered war criminals, are actually responsible? Do you think they should be held accountable for their acts, or do you think they cannot be accused of everything they did because they were brainwashed and indoctrinated?

Every human being is responsible for his actions. In the military you don’t have to follow an unjust order. Some in Germany paid with their lives rather than kill their neighbors. They were the heroes, and will be remembered forever.

56. After the war, Lithuania remained Russian territory how did and do you think about that? Were you angry with the Americans about this? Did you feel ‘betrayed’?

The Americans had nothing to do with it. It was up to the UN to tell Russia to return to its original borders. I was betrayed by my Lithuanian neighbors. Lithuania is still the most anti-Semitic country in Europe. They have not returned but a little of the Jewish property or belongings. The only ones that betrayed me were the Lithuanians. They have not prosecuted a single perpetrator, and there is evidence against many that are still alive and live on government pensions and are treated as heroes.

57. What do you think about the situation in Palestine and Israel nowadays?

The Arabs could benefit greatly, if they chose to live in peace with their Jewish neighbors. These Arabs that live in Israel now are treated the same as any Jewish citizen of Israel, and have a better standard of living than those in Gaza, or Syria.

58. Did you support the creation of Israel?

Of course.

59. What is your opinion about extreme Zionism?

It all depends on what you consider extreme Zionism.

60. What is your view on collaboration during the war? Can you understand that some people thought the Germans would win the war eventually, so they felt they were better off cooperating with them?

Only a defeatist would think that way, and someone who had no pride in their country or heritage.

61. Have you ever thought about what could have happened if the Axis powers had won World War II?

If they had left the Jews alone, that might have happened. Most of the brilliant scientists and chemists were Jews, and they always gave their all in the country of their birth, wherever it might have been.

62. What is your opinion about the atomic bombs being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the Americans, to end World War II and make Japan surrender?

I am glad I did not have to make that decision. Japan started the war.  Many more thousands of Americans would have died if President Truman had made another decision. War is a terrible thing. So is bullying, you have to defend yourself.

63. In the ghetto, did you ever see the Germans beat someone up or even kill someone?

I saw an eighteen-year-old boy by the name of Meck, get hung.

64. I read the extract below on the Wikipedia page about the Holocaust in Lithuania:

“A combination of factors serves as an explanation for participation of some Lithuanians in genocide against Jews. Those factors include national traditions and values, including anti-Semitism, common throughout contemporary Central Europe, and a more Lithuanian-specific desire for a “pure” Lithuanian nation-state with which the Jewish population was believed to be incompatible. There were a number of additional factors, such as severe economic problems which led to the killing of Jews over personal property. Finally the Jews were seen as having supported the Soviet regime in Lithuania during 1940–1941. During the period leading up to the German invasion, the Jews were blamed by some for virtually every misfortune that had befallen Lithuania.
The involvement of the local population and institutions, in relatively high numbers, in the destruction of Lithuanian Jewry became a defining factor of the Holocaust in Lithuania.
Not all of the Lithuanian populace supported the killings. Out of a population of close to 3,000,000 (80% of it ethnic Lithuanians), a few thousands took an active part in the killings while many hundreds risked their lives sheltering the Jews. Israel has recognized 723 Lithuanians as Righteous Among the Nations for risking their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. In addition, many members of the Polish minority in Lithuania also helped to shelter the Jews. Lithuanians and Poles who risked their lives saving Jews were persecuted and often executed by the Nazis.”

What is your reaction after having read this?

A: The majority of the statement is true. In the 1600s the Jews were invited to come to Lithuania. In 1940, when the Russians came to Lithuania, they treated the Jews as Lithuanians, and deported a great number along with the Lithuanians. The Lithuanians, however, did not see it that way. The Church taught hate towards the Jews and blamed the Jews for the problems of the Lithuanians. Lithuania adopted the 1938 Nuremberg Laws against the Jewish intellectuals.

65. What do you believe we can do to fight indifference, hatred, racism, ethnic violence, genocides and anti-Semitism today?

Proper and honest education is the best weapon against evil.

66. What do you think about the situation in Syria nowadays? Do you condemn that the international community does not take action?

The UN is corrupt and does not function as it was meant to be. As long as you have corrupt and not freely elected governments, we will have upheaval. Freedom is precious. When people are free they build great economies that benefit all.

67. What is your opinion about the ‘ban on homosexual propaganda to minors’ in Russia? In other words, what is your opinion about the discrimination of, and racism towards, homosexuals in Russia (but also in many other countries) today?

People can’t choose how they are born. They should be left alone, as long as they don’t commit crimes, they have every right to live as the partners choose.

68. Having moved to the United States, what did you think about the Cold War that emerged, including the wars in Korea and Vietnam?

Wars are not the answer. When there is peace, all benefit.

69. What is your ‘identity’, do you think? Do you feel that you are Lithuanian, American, Jewish, Litvak (Lithuanian Jew), or a combination of all?

I am an American of Jewish faith. Just as there are Americans of Catholic, Protestant, Methodist or other faith.

70. Do you still speak Lithuanian, or possibly Yiddish?

I am fluid in Yiddish.  I still remember some of the other languages to some extent.

71.  Many genocides and other forms of ethnic violence have occurred after the Holocaust; in Rwanda, former Yugoslavia, Cambodia… to name just a fraction of all possible examples. Do you think people have learned from the Holocaust?

Most of these places know nothing of the Holocaust, or care about it. Only by means of education, and when the religions of the world learn to live with one another, this will stop.

72. From the Caucasus to Kurdistan, from Quebec to Nigeria, from Catalonia to Cyprus, from the Basque Country to Kosovo and from Palestine to Kashmir, there are still territorial, ethnic and secessionist conflicts. All cases are very different. To which extent, do you think, do ethnic groups have the right to their own country?

The grass is always greener in your neighbor’s back yard. Some have more than others, but it seems that is never enough. When the human beings will learn that we all bleed red, and have but a limited time on this Earth, and realize that with peace we accomplish more than with war, and that all religions have a right to exist, then there will be peace on Earth.

73. I can imagine I have asked far too many questions already, so this one will be the final question. How do you think ordinary people, like me, can contribute to a better world without genocides, racism, ethnic violence etc.?

You are doing just that right now. Learn and teach tolerance. Only through understanding and not being afraid of understanding, can we live as it was intended."