Rūta Vanagaitė, one of Lithuania’s most popular public personalities and the successful author of numerous best sellers, became persona non grata in her homeland after this book was originally published in Lithuania. Efraim Zuroff is the chief Nazi hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and director of the center’s Israel Office and Eastern European Affairs. A Holocaust historian, popular lecturer, and author, he lives in Jerusalem.
There are, fortunately, useful updates and additions in this English version. The authors tell us more about their relationship to each other, to Lithuania and to the Holocaust. The bitterest additions are two new chapters, one, ‘Lithuania Today: Minimizing the Crimes’, on the treatment of the Holocaust in school textbooks and official museums, the other, ‘Mission Impossible?’, on trying to trace all the graves, victims and perpetrators.
It is not memory, but history that helps the authors turn over a new leaf together . . . In Lithuania, the authors visited thirty-five of the 234 mass graves of Jews mainly murdered by Lithuanians and five such graves in Belarus where Jews had been annihilated by Lithuanians as well. With few exceptions, nearly all these sites are memorialized in some way, yet they are largely neglected to the point of rendering them practically inaccessible. . . . Whenever possible, they interviewed either very old locals or younger people, some of whom (even museum officials or guides) were totally unaware either of the events of 1941 or of the prominent Jewish presence in what was once called “the Jerusalem of the north.” Documents attesting to what actually happened are included in each chapter, often followed by a dialogue between the two authors.
Our People is a harrowing, but important, book that must be read. Uncompromising in its descriptions of the people who committed mass murder, of the Jewish communities they wiped out, of those who helped, and of those who stood by, it is also suffused with the humanity of the two narrators as they painfully learn what happened here in 1941 and what it means for a nation to face the truth of its murderous history.
6/18/2020: The Jerusalem Post profiles authors Rūta Vanagaitė and Efraim Zuroff in "Unearthing the unvarnished truth about Lithuania’s Holocaust."
10/14/20: Book and authors mentioned in New York Review of Books feature “Speak, Memory?”