Dedication | Introduction | History | The Voices | The Correspondence | Conclusion


The Zitler family lived in Vilna, a town famous as a center of Jewish learning. The history of Vilna (in Lithuanian Vilnius) was complicated. At times Vilna was ruled by Lithuanians, Poles, Russians and briefly Germans. After WWI, Vilna became part of Poland, and it was in Polish Vilna that Shep Zitler grew up.

Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, starting WWII. The Germans rolled across Poland in a few weeks. Thousands of prisoners-of-war were taken. The Jewish soldiers were separated from gentiles. Eventually, the Polish prisoners-of-war including 61,000 Jew were demobilized and sent home. However, 72 so-called Lithuanian Jews, including Shep Zitler, were detained until the end of the war. This may be a have to do with the fact that between the invasion of Poland in September 1, 1939, and the German invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, control of Vilna passed through four hands. The diplomatic relations of Germany with these governments was not altogether friendly.

Just before Germany invaded Poland she signed the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact. Secret provisions dealt with dividing Poland into German and Soviet spheres of influence. Vilna fell into the Soviet sphere of influence. In a friendship treaty the U.S.S.R. transferred Vilna to Lithuanian rule.

There were anti-Jewish riots on the day Vilna came under Lithuanian control. Autonomous Lithuanian rule lasted six months. The Soviet Union charged Lithuania with disloyalty and too much independence. In June of 1940, by a popular election a government sympathetic to the Soviet Union was set up which lasted until the German invasion of June 22, 1941.

Vilna fell to German forces on June 24, 1941. Almost immediately murder operations were begun by the Einsatzgruppen at Ponary. The Vilna Ghetto was established. Although there was a resistance organization, there was no general revolt. Most of Vilna's Jews perished.