Award-winning poet and prose writer Rita Gabis was born into a family of Eastern European Jews on her father’s side and first-generation Lithuanian Catholics on her mother’s side. Both sides of her family were beloved to her.
As a child, Gabis was told the story of her Lithuanian Catholic grandmother’s capture by the Soviets during Stalin’s massive purges in the spring of 1941, of her torture and years spent in several Siberian gulags. Five years ago, she learned of another dimension to her family story, when she was blindsided by the discovery that between 1941 and 1943 her beloved maternal grandfather served as the chief of security police under the Gestapo in the Lithuanian town of Švenčionys. During the fall of 1941, eight thousand Jews were murdered over the course of three days in the nearby killing field of Poligon and the local Polish population was hunted down over the following year.
Compelled to uncover the truth about her grandfather’s collaboration and learn as much as she could about her Lithuanian grandmother’s ordeal, Gabis embarked on a long journey of discovery, beginning at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. and propelling her across four countries where she conducted rare, dramatic interviews with survivors and witnesses to Soviet and German occupations, including members of her own extended family in Lithuania.
The resulting scholarship and first-hand accounts fill the pages of her engrossing, lyrical memoir A Guest at the Shooters’ Banquet: My Grandfather’s SS Past, My Jewish Family, A Search for the Truth (Bloomsbury 2015).
“Engrossing… An eloquent testimony to the war’s enduring, violent impact.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Intense, moving…a deeply personal and important addition to Holocaust literature.”—Booklist (starred review)
“Heartfelt…Gabis paints an engrossing portrait of the snake-pit of ethnic animosities in wartime Lithuania, and of the intimate horrors of the Holocaust.”—Publishers Weekly
“In this intricate and intimate journey Rita Gabis brings macrocosmic Holocaust horror into the microcosm of our dining rooms, kitchens, and bedrooms—a noble feat, one you will not soon forget.” —New York Journal of Books