My Grandfather, the Secret Policeman
Rita Gabis knew only that her mother’s Catholic family came from Lithuania after the Holocaust. Then she started asking hard questions.
Poet and writer Rita Gabis grew up surrounded by grandparents with accents—Russian, Yiddish, Lithuanian. That makes it sound like a familiar Jewish immigrant tale, but it was far from that. While Gabis’s father came from a family of Russian Jews who immigrated to the United States well before WWII, her mother was born in Lithuania. She and her family emigrated in the 1950s. And they were Catholic.
As a child, Gabis was vaguely aware that these two different family backgrounds were at odds with each other. It was as an adult, however, that she came to understand that the divide went much deeper, and that her mother’s father, her beloved Senelis as she called him, had been the chief of security police under the Gestapo in a Lithuanian region that was the site of two massacres—one of Jews and one of Poles.
In A Guest at the Shooter’s Banquet, Rita Gabis describes her search to understand her grandfather’s role in the war. It was a journey that took her to Lithuania, Poland, and Israel. She joins Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry to discuss what piqued her curiosity about her grandfather’s past, the conflicting messages she got as a child about her identity, and why it was important to break the silence about her grandfather’s past.
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