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
was established. Although there was a resistance organization, there was
no general revolt. Most of Vilna's Jews perished.