We arrive at the bagel shop, which is overflowing with customers. It is lunchtime peak. The two ladies behind the counter are struggling to keep up with orders, most of which are for brown rolls with smoked salmon. We can barely hear each other. Like so many survivors they were reluctant ever to speak about what had happened, in part to shield their children from the trauma. You know, you hear things late at night, you start talking to your friends, you pick things up through the years. The author, American journalist Helen Epstein, had spoken with dozens of second genners about their upbringing and noticed patterns.
Many described feeling disconnected from other North Americans of their generation, separate even from the sizeable Jewish community that existed on the continent prior to the War. Some spoke of a paranoia they could be kidnapped at any moment or encounter violence. A psychiatrist Epstein interviewed concluded that the trauma of survivors was, at some level, being transmitted from one generation to the next.
Angelico was dumbfounded by what she read.
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Thousands had experienced a childhood like hers. Epstein had, above all, brought to light the special affinity second genners felt for each other, regardless of social background or political disposition, and the shared longing for answers about their family history. For Angelico, that was empowering.
She began to picture herself doing the same thing, which triggered deeper questions. Was it mere luck that saved her parents?
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Would she have survived in their place? If she had been born German, or Lithuanian for that matter, how would she have behaved during the War? The genie was out of the bottle but nothing could happen yet. Angelico was busy establishing herself as a film producer. Before long the Second World War came up yet it was still something of a no-go zone.
Resistant at first, Angelico gave in. To her surprise, she was not upset by what she saw. He comes across like a professor, a likeable presence even. I felt like I could have been sitting there talking to him and actually enjoying his company. They were real people as relatable and complicated as anyone else. On her bookshelf stood a dust-covered manuscript. Decades earlier, when Angelico was only a baby, he had written down a plain, factual account of his wartime experiences. Her mother hid the book away, unveiling it only once her daughter had come of age.
Why not make a film about Irene Angelico and her life as the child of Holocaust survivors? You have to remember how raw all this was. Now considered a classic, the National Film Board of Canada named it one of the fifty greatest documentaries ever made. The two ladies have disappeared behind a plastic barrier to wash dirty plates. Peak hour appears to be over. It is quiet at last. I take advantage of a lull in the conversation to tell Angelico about the shop. It opened late last year as a tolerance project initiated by the Lithuanian Jewish Community.
The idea was that non-Jewish volunteers would operate a little stall for special events in the Jewish calendar. After a few months of start-stop operation the demand for the delicious boiled rolls became so strong the outfit mutated into a full-time business. A small but promising success story for Jewish affairs in Lithuania, I venture. And not the only sign a taboo is being lifted, Angelico replies. The festival is joining this movement with a special retrospective on Holocaust in film, hoping that it will contribute to this painful, but very important reflection.
We never thought of it as our history, Lithuanian history.
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There will be resistance. Emotions shall run high. But the country must persevere, she says. Giving voice to survivors, perpetrators and bystanders, through film, for instance, is a necessary step, as is dialogue between their descendants. Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment. Twitter Facebook. About us Contact Wanted. Previous Inconvenient questions for Karbauskis. Next New board of Lithuanian Railways appointed.
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