Yitskhok Rudashevski was only thirteen years old when he began keeping his diary. The event that prompted him to write was the invasion of Lithuania by Germany on June 22, 1941. Vilna, Yitskhok’s home city, had already witnessed much upheaval. From the time of his birth, Vilna had been part of Poland. At the beginning of World War II, it was taken by the Soviet Union according to the terms of the secret non-aggression pact between Germany and the USSR. A few weeks later, the Soviets ceded the city to Lithuania, but later seized the entire country in June 1940. Vilna remained under Soviet rule until the German invasion one year later.
In spite of all the twists and turns, Yitskhok was not at all confused about what he wanted to happen. He was a committed Communist and eagerly desired the return of Soviet troops to retake the city. Unfortunately for his wishes, this would not happen anytime soon. Yitskhok was very bitter that some of the Lithuanians seemed to prefer the Germans to the Soviets. On June 24th he wrote, “I observe the empty, sad streets. A Lithuanian with a gun goes through the street. I begin to understand the base betrayal of the Lithuanians. They shot the Red Army soldiers in the back. They make common cause with the Hitlerite bandits. The Red Army will return and you will pay dearly, traitor. We shall live to see your end.” Part of Yitskhok’s affection for the Soviet Union may have come from its official rejection of anti Semitism. When Soviet troops came, Yitskhok may have seen them as freeing Jews from local anti-Jewish prejudice. Unfortunately, there was often a great deal of hatred of Jews among the Soviets as well, whether it was an official part of communist ideology or not. Jews who hoped that Soviet rule would deliver them from antisemitism were often disappointed.
The Lithuanian with the gun who was so bitterly denounced by Yitskhok was probably not very different from him. He most likely resented the Soviet Union for occupying his homeland and thought of the Germans as liberators. He was also destined to be disappointed. The German occupation turned out to be murderous and brutal and not only toward Jews. It is true that many Lithuanians joined the Germans in persecuting the Jews, but many did not. Eventually, the war turned against Nazi Germany and Lithuania was again taken by the Soviet Union. It would not experience independence again until 1991.
You may read entries from Yitskhok Rudashevski’s dairy in by Alexandra Zapruder.
Click here to learn more about the German invasion of the Soviet Union, known as “Operation Barbarossa.”
Find out more about the Holocaust in Lithuania here.
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