This is the story of one Lithuanian Jewish family, and all the things history threw at them.
During the Middle Ages, Lithuania was a large and powerful country. In 1795, however, Lithuania was taken by the Russian Empire and remained occupied until 1918. Read more about the early history of Lithuania, and its occupation by the Russian Empire that ended with Lithuania’s Declaration of Independence on February 16th, 1918.
In this article provided by the U.S. Library of Congress, you can read more about Lithuania’s years of independence from 1918-1940.
What had happened in Russia during WWI and why did Russia have to surrender Lithuania? The war did not progress well for Russia and political tensions began to rise. The combination of social unrest and the wartime grievances eventually led to the February revolution of 1917.
In a second revolution in October 1917, the Bolsheviks were placed in power. On this BBC Homepage you will find an article on the causes for and the major happenings of the October revolution.
Eventually, the Soviet Union was created in 1922 . After Lenin's death in 1924, Joseph Stalin came to power, imposing a Terror Regime on the Soviet Union that would be pursued also after his death in 1953.
In August 1939, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed between Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union (see the original documents in German and Russian provided by Lituanus, an journal dedicated to Lithuanian and Baltic studies). Together with his German counterpart, foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov (you may know his name due to the infamous "Molotov cocktail", named after him by the Finnish military during the Soviet-Finnish War 1939/40) signed this agreement, which renounced warfare between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.
In addition to stipulations of non-aggression, the treaty included a secret protocol dividing the independent countries of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania into Nazi and Soviet spheres of influence. The Avalon Project, by the Yale Law School, offers profound insight into the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.
In 1940, the Soviet Red Army invaded Lithuania (as well as the other countries specified in the secret protocols) and occupied the territory once again. Here you will find more information about the Soviet occupation of the Baltic states, as well as a timeline of the events that took place in 1939-1940.
On June 22, 1941, however, Germany broke the treaty by invading the Soviet Union. To find out more about this invasion, which operated under the code name “Barbarossa”,read this article by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
In 1944, the Soviet Union took back Lithuania from Germany and until 1990, Lithuania remained under Soviet rule. In this article provided by the U.S. Library of Congress, you will find more information on Lithuania during WWII, as well as on the continued Soviet occupation.
The Soviet occupation was by no means an uncontended process. Read about Lithuania’s Struggle Against Soviet Occupation 1944-1953 in this article from the Baltic Defense Review.
Lithuania declared independence on March 11, 1990 (click here for the Lithuanianoriginal version) and was recognized in September 1991 as an independent country by what remained of the Soviet Union. Find out more about the process that lead to Lithuania’s independence. For the first time after WWII, an independent Lithuanian government assembled – and Ranana Malkanova was there as an interpreter!
The Kleinstein family lived in a Lithuanian town called Vilkaviskis. Vilkaviskis had a rich Jewish heritage and a considerable Jewish population – as Ranana states in the film, 3000 of the 7000 inhabitants were Jewish before WWII. If you want to find out more about Jewish life in Vilkavistkis, visit this homepage with extensive information, as well historical maps and pictures.
Ranana tells us that different groups of people were expelled from Lithuania during the Russian occupation that started in 1940: they deported rich people, as well as members of the middle class and Zionists. To find out what Zionism means, read this brief definition by the Jewish Virtual Library.
The father of modern Zionism is Theodor Herzl (1860-1904). He was an Austro-Hungarian journalist who wrote the famous book Der Judenstaat ("The Jewish State"), which you can read online here. In this book he explains his belief that anti-Semitism cannot be defeated or cured, and that the only way to avoid it is the establishment of a Jewish state in Israel. Learn more about Theodor Herzl on the Herzl Museum website.
One of the main reasons why Herzl wrote his Judenstaat was the strong anti-Jewish sentiment that developed at the end of the 19th century, which repeatedly resulted in violent outbursts and pogroms. Read this article on pogroms by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, with an extensive section on the pogroms in the Russian Empire. Another of these incidents was the Dreyfuss Affair, a political scandal fuelled by anti-Semitism that divided not only France, but affected all of Europe.
For a concise outline of the events that took place in Lithuania during the Holocaust, read this article provided by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
This Haaretz article about the recently discovered remnants of the personal belongings of the Jews killed in the city of Kovno goes deeper into the dark story of what happened during the Holocaust in Lithuania.
To find out more about Jewish life and suffering during the Holocaust in Lithuania, and the process of recording and remembering, read this Haaretz article about recent publications based on the Kuniuchowsky collection of testimonies of Holocaust survivors from the provincial towns and villages of Lithuania.
As you have heard in the film, the 20th century held a terrible fate for the Lithuanian people, stumbling from one occupation to the next. This article entitled “Neglecting the Lithuanian Holocaust”, provided by the New York Review of Books, discusses the difficulty of coming to terms with the Holocaust in Lithuania, particularly in the light of the constantly pending comparison with the horrors that befell Lithuania during the Soviet occupations.
If you want to find out more about particular aspects of this topic, take a look at thisbibliography comprising articles about Lithuania and the Holocaust, provided by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Ranana and her mother went to Vilnius when the German occupation was over. She recounts that what they found was devastating: Vilnius had been a thriving Jewish city – it had even been called the “Jerusalem of Lithuania” – but nothing was left when they got there. Find out more about the Jewish history of Vilnius and what happened there during the Holocaust.
As you have heard in the film, one thing was very important for Ranana: she wanted the Strimaitis family to receive the ‘Righteous Gentile’-Award from Yad Vashem. 'Righteous Gentiles' is the phrase used for those non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. Find out more – lists of names, statistics, etc. – about these ‘Righteous among the Nations’ on this encompassing homepage provided by Yad Vashem. Read more ‘Righteous Gentiles’ stories in this database.
Centropa has made another film about a ‘Righteous Gentile’: “Three Promises” tells the story of The Kalef family from Belgrade. While the family was murdered during the Holocaust, the two sisters Breda and Matilda and their mother were saved by a Catholic priest named Father Andrej Tumpej.
EXCERPTS FROM THE INTERVIEW
Read more about Ranana's life before the war.
If you want to find out more about the time when Ranana and her mother went from one hiding place to another, and when they stayed with the Strimaitis family, read this excerpt.
Ranana re-built her life after the terrible things that happened during WWII. Read more about her life after the war!
Ranana tells us that her husband Matvey Malkhan was from Novosibirsk and that belongs to the ethnic group of the Buryats. The homeland of the Buryats is called Buryatia, or Buryat Republic. Here you can read more about the homeland, customs and culture of the Buryats.
Explore more family stories from Lithuania in Centropa’s database, where you can find 26 Lithuanian interviews in English.
Have a look at more photos from Lithuanian families and search Centropa’s photo database, where you can find 446 Lithuanian photos.
This map shows Lithuania today; and here you can browse through a huge selection of historical maps of Lithuania.