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. However in 1795, 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.
Lithuania's interwar years were turbulent, the newly independent nation forming a democratic multi-party system while negotiating border disputes with Germany and Poland. Learn more about Lithuania's years of independence here.
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.
A second revolution took place in October 1917, placing the Bolsheviks in power. Find out about the causes of the October revolution on this page. The Soviet Union was created in 1922 under Vladimir Lenin.
In August 1939, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed between Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union. In addition to terms 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.
Ranana grew up in a Lithuanian town called Vilkaviskis. Vilkaviskis had a rich Jewish heritage and a considerable Jewish population – as Ranana states in the film, before the Second World War, 3000 of the 7000 inhabitants were Jewish. Find out more, and learn about the town's wooden synagogue that Ranana mentions in the video, by exploring this website.
Ranana’s mother was born in Pilviskiai, another small town in Lithuania. Like Vilkaviskis, Pilviskiai had a rich Jewish history: you can read about it here.
Find an overview of the history of Lithuania's Jewish community on this page.
Ranana tells us that different groups of people were expelled from Lithuania during the Russian occupation that started in 1940: they deported wealthy people, members of the middle class, and Zionists. Theodor Herzl popularised Zionism in his influential book Der Judenstaat (in English, The Jewish State), explaining 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. The Jewish Virtual Library provides a more detailed definition of Zionism.
To find out more about Jewish life and suffering during the Holocaust in Lithuania, and the process of recording and remembering, read this article about recent publications based on the testimonies of Holocaust survivors from the provincial towns and villages of Lithuania.
As discussed in the film, it was very important for Ranana that the Strimaitis family 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 about the Righteous on the Yad Vashem website, and read stories from the war in their database.
In 1940, the Soviet Red Army invaded Lithuania (as well as the other countries specified in the secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) and occupied the territory once again. More information about the Soviet occupation of the Baltic states can be found here, as well as a timeline of the events that took place in 1939-1940.
However Germany broke the treaty in June 1941, invading the Soviet Union. The Axis invasion of the Soviet Union was destructive and brutal: millions of soldiers and civillians died, food stores were burned, and infrastructure destroyed. Read an article on the Soviet-German War (1941-1945) or take a look at pictures of what Russians refer to as the Great Patriotic War. During this time, German forces also occupied Lithuania.
The Holocaust claimed the lives of almost 90% of Lithuania's Jewish population. Ghettos were created in large cities, labour camps formed, and mass executions and deportations were conducted. This article, about the belongings of Jews killed in the city of Kovno, provides more information about the atrocities of the Holocaust in Lithuania. For a broader overview, visit this page or read this essay.
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 the war, as well as on the continued Soviet occupation.
The Soviet occupation of Lithuania was by no means uncontested. From the end of the Second World War to the fall of communism in 1990, protest movements and a literary dissident scene actively opposed Soviet authorities. Read about the dissident movement in the Soviet Union here.
The Baltic states were the first to call for independence in the revolutions of 1989, and Lithuania was among the first to leave the Soviet Union. Read about Baltic independence in this essay.
Lithuania declared independence on 11th March, 1990, and what remained of the Soviet Union recognised it as independent country in September 1991. Working as an interpreter, Ranana witnessed the first gathering of an independent Lithuanian government since the World War Two.
View this timeline of the fall of communism on the BBC website for more information.