My name is Solly Ganor and I'm writing from my home is Herzelia, Israel. I'm a Holocaust survivor from the Kaunas getto in Lithuania, and the notorious Dachau concentration camp near Munich Germany.
After my liberation I realized that in order for the Jewish people to survive in this historically hostile world, they must have their own state. Although I was weary of conflict and destruction, I went to Israel in 1948 and fought in the War of Independence. I'm proud to have helped establish a country where all Jews, no matter what their circumstances, are welcomed and protected.
For many years after my liberation, I remained silent about my Holocaust experiences. What I had witnessed was much too difficult, too horrible to remember and speak about.
It has been more than half a century since the US army liberated me. Yet the four years I spent in the hell of Hitler's concentration camps loom much stronger in my memory than the fifty-five years that have passed since. I deeply regret that I was silent for so long because there is so much to tell in such a short time left to me. I am seventy-two years old now, among the youngest survivors of the Holocaust. Those who were older than I are mostly gone. Those who were younger did not survive the Holocaust as they were considered by the Nazis too young for work and were sent to the gas chambers.
Thus I am among the dwindling number of Holocaust survivors who can still bear witness to the bestiality of the Nazi regime. Since my book "Light One Candle" was published in 1995 and translated into German and Japanese, I have been invited to lecture all over the world, mostly to young people. It is their very positive feedback to my lectures that prompts me to reach out to the new generation of youngsters who want to know what really happened there, in the "Abyss of Evil," that was Hitler's empire.
Why do I find it so important to reach out to the young people of this world? For two reasons: One, to provide an accurate description of what happened from a first hand source like myself, a survivor. And two, to make the current generation aware of the threats lurking ahead. Even today there is a danger of Neo-Nazi and other extreme elements taking over power in the world. If you think this far fetched, allow me to tell you that I thought so too when a young boy.
It was June 22, 1941, a date that burns in my mind as if it were branded with an iron.
I was a thirteen-year-old boy when the Nazi war machine, like a deadly flood, swept over my country, Lithuania, murdering the Jewish population in its wake. One day I was an ordinary school boy from a well to do family, next day, a hunted animal. The Nazis declared a hunt on Jews, and anyone who felt like it could murder us with impunity. So hordes of Lithuanian Christians descended on their Jewish neighbors, slaughtering them in their homes, in the streets and anywhere they could find them even before the German army fully occupied Lithuania.
Jewish blood flowed freely in the streets of my hometown of Kovne Lithuania, for no other reason than we were Jews. After five hundred years of living together in peace, the thin veneer of civilized behavior disappeared the day the Germans arrived. The Germans were only too happy with the results. In some places the Gestapo even offered a kilo of sugar for every Jew caught by the local population. However, the onslaught of the hordes was so terrible that even the Germans frowned on the gory spectacles. (Little children were decapitated and the drunken hoodlums played football with their heads.) Ironically, the Germans told us that they are locking us into ghettos to protect us from our Lithuanian neighbors.
In the first few months of the German invasion, special German army squads, the German police battalions, and their Lithuanian helpers murdered three quarters of the Jewish population of Lithuania.
Having said that, there were those among the Christian population who risked their lives to save Jews by hiding them from the Germans. Lithuanian Christians saved some of my cousins.
In the four years of the Nazi rule, 94% of Lithuanian Jewry was murdered. The highest count in Europe.
My father my sister and I were the lucky ones to survive. My mother, brother and dozens of family members perished. So did most of my friends, teachers, doctors and rabbis. The glorious Lithuanian Jewry was wiped off the face of the earth leaving behind a pitiful number of survivors.
When the Russians reconquered Lithuania in July 1944, we were evacuated to the concentration camp of Dachau, where half of the prisoners died. After our liberation by the US army, most of us went to Israel, the rest dispersed to all corners of the globe.
For most of my life I never said a word about my Holocaust experiences, neither to my wife or children. For fifty years I was silent. There was nothing in the world that could have induced me to face the horrors of the past, let alone speak about it. After my liberation from Dachau, I simply locked the door on the Holocaust and threw away the key. I never intended to look back. At least that was my plan.
Arriving in Israel in 1948 with a group of Canadians who joined Israeli army to fight in the war of Independence, I assumed a Canadian identity, and played this role for many years.
Then something happened that changed my life in a profound way.
In April of 1992 a group of people from the San Francisco Holocaust Oral History Project, headed by Eric Saul and Lani Silver, showed up one day in Jerusalem with the former US army veteran who at the end of World War II saved my life. The name of the soldier was Clarence Matsumura, a Japanese American, who had served with the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion.
I remember the morning Clarence saved my life as if it were yesterday.
It had been snowing the whole night and the surrounding fields were covered with snow. Clarence and his three buddies were driving in a signal command car, chasing after the retreating German army when they noticed some clumps in the snow. Upon closer inspection they realized that those were human beings lying there. I was one of the clumps they saw.
On May 2, 1945 I was among a group of prisoners on a forced death march from Dachau to the Tyrol Mountains. We were, frozen and starving, at the end of our endurance.
At night we dropped on the frozen ground and soon were covered by a blanket of snow. Some of us froze to death, but a few like myself somehow survived. The American Army was very near when the SS guards got their orders to shoot us.
Hearing the Americans approach, they began shooting into the snow mounds and then fled in panic.
I was on the verge of death when Clarence lifted me up from the snow. At first I thought that the Germans came to finish us off and I closed my eyes waiting for the bullet to end my suffering. Then I heard him speak English to me.
"You are free, boy, you are free . . ." When I opened my eyes and saw the oriental face smiling down on me I couldn't have been more surprised if an angel had descended from heaven to personally rescue me. That smile will follow me till the end of my life.
Clarence then wrapped me in a blanket and gave me something to eat. His quick action brought me back to life. Fifty years later, Clarence Matsomura found me again, this time in Jerusalem.
It was the emotional catharsis of that meeting that brought about the profound change in me. It was time to confront the past. In a way, it was like my second liberation. The sixteen-year-old boy whom I had buried in my subconscious after my liberation emerged into the light. My life hasn't been the same ever since. I started on the long road to remembrance. It has been a long and painful journey, but definitely worthwhile.
Soon afterward meeting Clarence in Jerusalem, I began lecturing about the Holocaust, first in Israel than all over the world. In the last eight years I have been traveling around the world, the US, Japan, Germany and Israel, speaking to communities, high schools, universities, and various military organizations.
Once of the most important consequences of my decision to speak about my Holocaust experiences was the publication of my book, "Light One Candle." As a boy I has kept a diary, and although the original was destroyed in the war, I reconstructed it after my extraordinary second meeting with Clarence Matsomura. Kodansha International published my diary in English, and it has now been published in Japanese and German. "Light One Candle" is being used as a standard Holocaust text in both Germany and Japan.
I frequently receive letters and hear scholars speak of the enigma of the Holocaust. Many cannot understand how it could have happened. But to me and many of my fellow survivors, it is not an enigma. The Holocaust is a sinister epilogue to the two thousand-year-old relentless persecution of the Jewish people. Hatred against Jews had been building for centuries, fueled by bigots, anti-Semites and inflammatory sermons from Christian clergy.
The Holocaust was the culmination of a two thousand-year-old vendetta against the Jews by Christian nations.
All it needed was a spark to set it off, and that spark was Adolph Hitler. He broke the frail dam of liberalism, freedom, and democracy that held back the seas of hate, and allowed them to flow freely across Europe. To us the Holocaust was like an unprecedented volcanic eruption of evil that engulfed European Jewry and burned us to ashes.
Therefore the emphasis of my lectures is that the Holocaust and the lessons it teaches us must not be forgotten. The possibility of great evil exists within even the most "civilized" of nations if we allow the forces of hatred and intolerance to prevail.
Many of these forces of bigotry are at work today on the Internet. As a witness to the Holocaust, it is my duty to use this web site to help counter those who would deny the past.