readings + video
An Interview with Solly Ganor
In 1939, Solly Ganor was an 11-year-old Jewish boy living in Kaunas, Lithuania. After a chance meeting with Chiune Sugihara, Solly and his family shared an emotional Hanukkah dinner with the Sugiharas. In 1940, he received a visa from Sugihara, but was still not able to flee the country. After the Nazi invasion, young Solly spent three years in the feared Kovno Ghetto and eventually was deported to the Dachau concentration camp. Sugihara could not save him, yet incredibly, Solly did survive the Holocaust and was eventually rescued by Japanese-American soldiers at the war's end.
Today, Ganor and his wife Pola share time between Israel and California. They have two children and three grandchildren. Solly Ganor recorded his experiences in his book, Light One Candle, published in 1995. Filmmaker diane estelle Vicari interviewed Kranzler on September 28, 1998, for the making of Sugihara. What follows is an edited transcript.
> Watch a clip about Solly Ganor from the film, including a portion of this interview.
What was life like in Lithuania before the Second World War, in 1937 on up? Was it a happy time?
SOLLY GANOR: Well, Lithuania itself was a small country with about 3 million people. Most of them were farmers, [or] peasants, and [there was] very little industry. [The] Jewish community was [a] successful community. And because of the difference in cultures, [there] was very little integration between the Jewish and Lithuania[n] population, much less than in any other European country. ... The Jewish population spoke mostly Yiddish and did not try to adopt the local language. ...
Now let's jump back a little bit to 1933. Where had you been living and [what were] the circumstances of your move to Lithuania?
GANOR: Well, my father had a factory in a small town. ... It was mostly populated by German-speaking [people], or Germans from east Russia. But, after World War I it was handed over to the Lithuanians. And we lived there. And as a child the first language I spoke was German ... and the neighbors were, as I remember, quite friendly.
... By 1933 there was a sudden change. ... [The] Nazis came over and they prepared [the] population for the fact that they will be rejoining the right, already as early as that. So there was a certain coldness and even hostility. And so my father decided to sell his factory and his business and move back to Kaunas, which was the capitol [of Lithuania] at the time. ... And by 1933, we moved back to Kaunas. ...
Now going from the small town to the big town of Kaunas, what was that like?
GANOR: I was 5 years old. And to me it was like a gigantic place. I couldn't believe that such a thing existed. ... It's quite [a] nice town, lying between two major rivers and well situated. ... But for me it was incredible. I had a lot of cousins who were taking me around, showing me sights, and the rivers.
... I spoke German, actually, when I came, and then I heard all these babble of languages; you know, Hebrew, and Yiddish, and Russian, and German. Everybody ... spoke all these languages. That to me ... was a kind of a very turbulent reception.
Now, during that time, was there a sense of the bad times to come? I mean, before the invasion of Poland, were there any rumors of what was to happen?
GANOR: Not really. ... From the day we moved there, my father and my uncles and friends would come and would discuss the Hitler phenomenon. And [they] did not think that [it] would last very long. [We're] talking about '33 to '35, maybe '36.
... As the time went by and we could hear his speeches on the radio, I remember how they were cursing him, you know, saying that it was impossible that he would ... persecute the Jews in the 20th century. ... It's supposed to be the enlightened century, of emancipation, you know. Nobody believed it because maybe they judged it by the past and nothing like that ever existed.
Do you remember September 1, 1939?
GANOR: Yes, I remember it very well. ... I was in a summer resort [where] we had our own summer house. And a Lithuanian friend of mine ... used to go across by a sort of a contraption built of barrels [with] a wooden deck. It was sort of a ferry boat. He would ferry people across the river to the other side [where] there were orchards, [and] we would buy apples.
So, I remember we were returning from the other side [of the river with] lots of apples. And suddenly there was a motorcycle; a soldier or a sergeant came roaring up and he wanted to get onto the ferry. But this [Lithuanian] guy ... hated anything that had to do with motorcycles or any gasoline engine. And he told him to get off, and cursed him, you know. And [the soldier] just drew his gun and pushed him in his face and said, "Are you crazy? Don't you know there's a war on?"
... We didn't know anything about it. It was the first of September, and he was bringing some sort of pouch full of some papers in it, and he forced himself onto this ferry. And that's how we found out how when the war started.
What was the reaction? Did it feel like you were in jeopardy at that point?
GANOR: Well, it was incredible [that] happened, actually. Nobody really expected such a thing to happen. They were talking about it and they thought that the allies will give in all the way. ... But then when it happened, the Jewish population began to feel threatened. [They thought] that if [the Nazis] moved into Poland, they probably would move into Lithuania as well.
Was it shortly after that, then, that some of the Polish Jews started to come across?
GANOR: Right. Well, [and] then we got a direct oral report [about] what's happening in Poland. ... Up to then, we just heard the rumors or were told, you know, by other people who didn't exactly know what was happening. But when the refugees came, they opened up the flood of [information about] the persecutions. ... Right from the beginning, they were murdering Jewish people in the small towns. ... We heard from refugees from small towns that they were murdering people in synagogues.
Was it a great flood of people coming in?
GANOR: Well, for Kaunas, [which] had a population of about 120,000, of which 30,000 were Jews, the amount of refugees that came in were quite numerous. I remember most of the Jewish homes accepted the refugees, so the [refugees] must have been well into the thousands, probably even more.
You accepted a family into your home; the Rosenblats. Can you explain the circumstances of their coming to live with you?.
GANOR: Well, actually my uncle ... had them in his house for a while. And then there [were] some relatives who came also from Poland to my uncle's place, and he asked if [we] would accept [the Rosenblats]. And, of course, my mother agreed and, actually they lived in my room. So I had to stay with my brother, my older brother. So in the beginning, I resented it. But then we ... heard all the stories [about] what was happening in Warsaw; they were from Warsaw. And so ... my mother sort of scolded me. [She] said, "Listen, we all have to do our part."
And they became sort of — not part of the family — but part of the scene for a while. But I remember [that] as soon as they came, they started running around the embassies and various consulates trying to get visas because they were absolutely sure that Lithuania [wouldn't] be spared and will be next on their list, of attack.
For your family, were there any thoughts of moving, of getting to the States?
GANOR: Yes, there was. ... My father had a sister and a brother living in the States, and they urged us to come. And, actually, we received a visa to get to the United States. ... [But] my mother hesitated to leave her family, [since] my grandparents were there.
We were quite well situated financially, so it was always a discussion going on whether to go or not. We don't know the language. What are we going to do? We're not so young any more; how are we going to exist? So my father said, "If we sell my business then we'll have enough money to start all over in United States." So that was actually the plan. And my mother was the one who was pulling us back, in a way. Until we began hearing the story from the refugees. And then my father said, "That's enough, we cannot stay here."
And then we were advised by Sugihara. He obviously knew what was going on. And he told my father to get out; [to] forget about the business. "If I were you, I would just not think too much about the business," he says.
And my father was sort of upset about that. I remember at night they were arguing, my mother and him, and that day. And finally, my mother gave in, [and they] decided we will leave ... without even selling the business; just get out. Because by that time, the Rosenblats and ... other refugees came, and we begin to hear the horror stories. And also the situation in the world began to heat up; the war.
For my father, actually, the refugees really influenced him more than anything. ... They were quite panicky, so my father thought, "If they are so convinced this is going to happen to us, we have to really do it."
We were all ready to buy tickets and then what happened was that my father received an offer for his business at 20%, let's say, [of] what it was worth, but the person who ... made him [the] offer could only pay him in six weeks' time, or something like that. So it was very tempting, and ... my parents thought, "What could happen in six weeks?" But that was our undoing, because in those six weeks the Russians came in and we couldn't get out any more.
Young Solly Ganor meets Sugihara in his aunt's gourmet shop in Kaunas in 1939, and invites him to the Ganor's Hanukkah party.
Let's talk about Hanukkah in December 1939, when you had a special guest at your family party. Now perhaps you can explain, first of all, the story about collecting the money.
GANOR: Ah. You mean ... the gifts that children receive during Hanukkah? Well, that's sort of a Jewish habit, that for Hanukkah, all the elders and uncles and aunts ... give children money. And I collected quite a nice sum; about 10 litas, which for a child was a lot of money. But then there was a committee of ladies who were collecting money for the refugees for various purposes. For buying visas they said, or for food. And so I, sort of impulsive, gave them my 10 litas that I received.
And, at that time, I remember there was a movie. It was very crazy; [one of the] Laurel and Hardy movies, [which] in that time were very popular, especially among children. And I said, "Oh no, I haven't got any money." ... My mother was going to give [it to] me, [but] my father said, "No, you gave away your money. So now, stick to your principles."
... The only person [I could go to] was my aunt. She had a gourmet shop not far from where we lived and she was a very kind person. I could always, you know, go to her. That's what I did.
... It was a few days before Hanukkah, actually. ... I walked into her shop and she was speaking to a very elegant, well-dressed gentleman. ... That was the first time I saw a Japanese person. And he looked kind of strange. I [had] never seen a person with slanted eyes.
He kind of smiled at me. And so my aunt called me over ... and she said, "Don't stare." You know? And [then] she introduced me to "His Excellency." She said, "This is Sugihara." And he looked at me and ... I felt very comfortable with him. ... There was a certain aura of kindness about him; I don't know how to explain. You know, as a child, I guess you feel these things more. Your senses are more acute. ... So I liked him immediately.
And then ... I told [my aunt], "I want to go to the movies." She says, "Oh, okay." So she went to get some money. And [Sugihara] whipped out this ... money, and he said, "So you're going to see a movie and this is your holiday, little boy? Well, I'll be your uncle for the holiday."
I was kind of surprised, obviously. ... I didn't know whether to accept or not, but, finally, I took it. ... I [felt] comfortable with him. And I said, "Thank you very much." But then I had this crazy idea. And I said — a very impulsive thought — I said, "You know, if you're my uncle, why don't you come to our Hanukkah party on Saturday?"
And my aunt heard it, and she was kind of embarrassed. And she said, "Oh, His Excellency, you know." But the way he was speaking to me, he didn't, you know, ... usually when you're a child, ... people have a certain way of talking to you. I won't say condescending, ... but, you know, a grown-up to a child. He was talking to [me] as if I was ... a small person. ... So maybe [that's why] I felt comfortable [with] him.
And he said, "No, no, that's all right." And she said, "Well, if you're interested ..." [And] then he said, "I would be interested, actually." He [had] never been to a holiday like this, sort of [a] party, [a] Hanukkah party. [He had] probably heard of all these things before, because he was in Harbin and he was in touch with Jewish people, I assume. So that was that. She said, "All right, if you'd like to come, please do."
... I went to the movie after that and I came back. There was my aunt laughing, you know, sort of looking at me. And my father was sitting there and I said, "Oh no, I'm going to get it." You know, inviting this strange consul from Japan. ... [But] he says, "It's all right, don't worry about it. You did the right thing, you know. You should invite strangers to our holidays." But all my uncles and aunts; they never told them who was going to be coming. ... And [so it] was really a big surprise.
... About 30 people were there, you know, aunts and my cousins and uncles. It was a big family. And it was my Aunt Anaska [who] walked in with this couple. Yukiko [Mrs. Sugihara] was well dressed, [with] a long dress, I remember, and she really looked radiant. ... She was such an exotic-looking person, [and] I hadn't seen [her] before; I [had] just seen him. So everybody went, "Ahhh ... who are these people?" It was quite an event.
With them, [Sugihara spoke] Russian and German, and Mrs. Sugihara spoke German. ... And so it was very successful, in this respect, that everybody was telling stories. And, of course, they offered him lots of food and cakes. And around 50 years later when I met Mrs. Sugihara in Yaotsu, she said, "Oh, I remember your family very well to this day." ... I said, "Why?" She says, "I was sick the whole night from the cakes that your aunts and mother fed me." The Japanese don't know how to say "No," you know.
... So that that day [and] evening, ... we were singing Hanukkah songs, and Mr. Rosenblat, actually, his little daughter, she lit the candles together with me. And then my father asked him to tell everybody what was taking place. And he told everybody. And he broke out crying; broke down crying. And I noticed that Sugihara ... was listening very carefully to what he was telling. ... We're talking about December 1939.
Later .. Mr. Rosenblat cornered Sugihara, and he was talking to him about getting a visa to Japan. My father was really embarrassed. "You know," he said, "... this is silly idea. Why do you bother a guest with your requests, which have no foundation? Japan, of all things! What do you want [with] Japan, ... Hitler's allies?"
And Sugihara, I guess ... he had the same reaction, really. At that time, I don't think he even considered such a thing. Because it seemed very impractical, you know. ... Number one, they wouldn't let him in Japan, he thought. Number two, why would the Jews go to Japan? ...
What was your first impression of Sugihara when you first walked into your aunt's shop? What did he look like? I mean, was he big, formally dressed?
GANOR: He was formally dressed. He always was formally dressed. He had sort of a dark suit, and he had such a British type of hat ... and it looked very, very formal. ... His bearing was formal, but his face showed friendliness and warmth, I'd say. ... [When] I looked in his eyes, ... I remembered what my grandfather said once to me. He said that if you look ... closely in a man's eyes, you can sometimes see what's behind [them]. And, at that time, you know, I was a young boy, I didn't know what the hell he was talking about. But, when I saw [Sugihara], I remembered what my grandfather said, and it sort of made sense. ...
So what did you do when he gave you the money?
GANOR: I ... hesitated, you know? And I didn't know whether to take it or not. My aunt was there in the back of the store. But ... he explained why I should take it. He said, "Consider me your uncle for the holiday, then you're safe to take the money." So I took it and then ... it just came to me, naturally, or spontaneously, and I said, "Well, if you're my uncle, why don't you come to our Hanukkah party on Saturday?" He laughed and he said, "Don't you think you should ask your parents first?" Something like that. And my aunt came over at that time and ... she made it all right.
So was this something out of character for you, to have done this invitation?
GANOR: Oh, definitely out of character. I mean, it was the first time I ever did anything like that. I was only 11 years old, and to invite a perfect stranger, especially somebody so exotic, to a family festivity, I would call ... totally out of character for me. Why I did it and how I did it, to this day, I don't know. It was some sort of a feeling, kind of a reaction to how he reacted to me.
You obviously had this connection with him. Was there any sense that he connected with you? Was it mutual, do you think?
GANOR: Yes. ... We had a kind of a friendship, you know, later. Once he came to our house, and he found out that I collect stamps in those days. Yeah, I was a heavy stamp collector. ... He was asking me questions, you know about school and my friends and what I was interested in and I told him, "I'm collecting stamps." ... So he said [for me to] come over and he'll get some stamps and cookies. You know, Japanese cookies, which were not exactly to my taste, ... but the stamps were nice. He used to get a lot of stamps from Japan and these were rare ... for my collection.
... And I felt very comfortable in [the Sugiharas'] home, in their house. I would come there and I would get some cookies and tea, ... and I would play with the children. And then they would give me an envelope with stamps.
[Sugihara] was always around. Actually, he wasn't very busy. ... So I saw him a lot, you know. Once they even took me ... on [an] outing with the children by the river. ... I was quite happy to go there, to that consulate.
Did you find that they were interested in Judaism?
GANOR: Well, when he was at [our] Hanukkah party, he told us that he was interested in Judaism because at the time there [were] sects in Japan who thought somehow that there [was] a connection between the Jews and the Japanese. And he was trying to compare their festivities with ours; on how we function and what we do and the various rites. ... He was Christian, actually, at the time, already, yes. But he was interested in Judaism, definitely.
But did they get comfortable with your family?
GANOR: Yes, yes. They got comfortable. Mr. Sugihara was a person who I think could fit [himself] into any situation. It was probably part of his job, but he was such a personality. He was a friendly man with a lot of knowledge, and curious. ... I know, later, he was also coming to many other Jewish families; ... until he started issuing visas. He was ... invited by many families in Kaunas.
Tell me again the part of the story when Mr. Rosenblat was explaining what was happening in Poland.
GANOR: Yes, he well, what happened was that [Rosenblat] was in the house in Warsaw and the Germans bombed Warsaw very badly. The bomb fell in their house, and his wife and two children were killed. And he and the little girl were saved by some sort of a beam that fell and saved them. ... He told us about the Germans, the way they behaved. Right from the beginning, you know, they went ... into a shop and they didn't like the Jewish ... guy who was behind the counter, and [they] shot [him]. It was right in the beginning. So he was telling us the that things are happening without any reason at all.
This was something incredible to us. That, you know, it just isn't like a person to just shoot you without any [reason] and there's nobody to do anything to him at all. You are free to do it. And so since right from the beginning, the Jews had no rights.
And Sugihara's reaction?
GANOR: Well, Sugihara, he was listening very carefully to that. ... I think he even made some notes, but I'm not sure, I don't remember exactly. Because this was part of the thing that he wanted to find out. What is taking place ... under the German occupation in Poland.
Do you think, in looking back on it, that the events of that night influenced Sugihara in terms of what he did later?
GANOR: Well, it could have been a kind of a starter. ... With Mr. Rosenblat, he felt bad about what he told him; I believe that he genuinely felt sorry for him. And he probably knew more than we did of what was taking place in Germany, so I think [it] did definitely [have] an emotional impact. That Hanukkah party had a definite emotional impact on both of them, on him and [his wife] ... we don't know really, but I think, most likely, it did.
Jumping ahead a little bit, by June, when the Russians came in Lithuania, what happened then? How did things change?
GANOR: Well, the minute the Russians marched in, the Jewish population ... had ambivalent feelings. ... Number one, we'd known Russia ... was a tremendous power, and [had] a huge army. So we thought that if the Russians are here, the Germans will not be marching in. It didn't make sense that [they] would go to war with Russia at the time while they were busy with England. So in a way, we thought this would save us. And the Polish refugees, also, to a certain extent, accepted that. ... They felt a certain relief.
But, of course, then, the Russians started shipping the ... rich Jews, or those they considered like the rightist or revisionists ... to Siberia. So that was the bad part.
And my father ... [had] actually participated ... in the [Bolshevik] Revolution. He knew Trotsky. ... And after the Revolution took place, and the Bolsheviks took over, he was condemned to death by them. He managed to escape to Lithuania through a friend of his who was a Bolshevik ... [but] he was very scared because he suddenly realized that these were the Communist[s], and they had a long memory and they probably would go after him. So in our family we were very worried.
And at that time, it was too late. ... There was no way of getting out of Lithuania at that time, [because] our [Lithuanian] passports became invalid. ... So the visa we had to the United States was useless. The Russians simply wouldn't let us out.
... My father was very worried about it, and he thought they would be arresting him immediately, but, actually, they didn't. After a while, a few months passed by and when they didn't come after him, he actually [began] supplying the Russian army. He was actually making some money.
As this is progressing, were you friendly still with Sugihara?
GANOR: Yes. ... I used to go over there and collect the stamps and speak to them from time to time. And at that time, there [were] still no exceptional activities there.
I think at that time already, that he was approached probably by various institutions. ... He was approached also probably by other people. And those Jewish people who knew him. Because suddenly ... the refugees realized that he's the only hope to get out. As impossible as it was to go to Japan, it was better to go to Japan than stay on and be ... occupied by the Nazis.
... By that time, June 1940, ... there were [already] rumors. And there was a big army and tank movement from the Soviet Union to the borders of [Lithuania]. ... So that sort of alerted [us] that there is a possibility of a war. Why should they do that, otherwise?
... One day this Rosenblat, actually, came in with somebody. It was a young man who was of Dutch descent. ... He was studying [in Lithuania], sent by his parents in Holland. And Holland was occupied by that time. ... So he didn't know what to do.
He and another Dutch fellow went to the Dutch consul, ... [but] there was no consul, there was just a guy who was a representative of the Phillips [Corporation] [who] took over [the] function of consulate. ... He had a visa stamp. And he asked them, "What shall I do?" ... He advised them to maybe try to get to the Dutch Caribbean Islands. ... That was his idea, really. So there was an end station.
How did Sugihara fit into this plan?
GANOR: What happened was, those kids ... did not have end visas, that was the whole problem. And Sugihara said that without end visas it made no sense to go anywhere because to give them a visa to Japan, the Japanese would simply not accept them. ... So this young boy came with Rosenblat to our house. And they asked whether we [would] go, knowing Sugihara; whether we would help them obtain the visa. That was before the big rush came, ... it was among the first.
... My father agreed to it and he thought maybe we would get a visa ourselves, although the passports were invalid. He thought maybe we would be able to get out somehow. So we went ... with Rosenblat ... myself and my father.
And [Sugihara] was already ready by that time. ... He said, "That's it. That's the end visa that we can use." And at that time he, I guess, must have been speaking to the Russian — the drinking buddy of his or whoever. ... And he went to the phone ... while we were waiting there, and he called. ... I remember we felt that this was sort of going to be a decisive moment. And then ... I guess he got a positive answer because he said [something which] means good in Russian. And then he said, "We can give you now transit visas." ... Somehow they got the word that it's okay, ... that they will be allowed to go through Russia.
Who was that person he called?
GANOR: I think ... I even saw him once, he even came to my aunt's shop. I don't know his name. Everybody was asking me, I can't remember him. He was such a jolly fellow with a red face. And he was the consul or the ambassador of the Soviet Union at that time — maybe a consul, because ... little Kaunas was actually the capital at that time. So he could have been ambassador. And I once saw him in Sugihara's house ... probably January 1940, or February ... but I didn't know much about him. But obviously ... he had a big influence on this whole story. I don't think [Sugihara] could have done it without him.
So what did your family do with the visa they got?
GANOR: Well, we were among the first to get visas, and we actually tried to get out. You know, at that time, we were pretty desperate. My father was afraid of the Russians and of the Germans coming. He thought the Germans would be worst. And he thought [that] maybe if we go to Russia, [the Soviets] would not go after him, ... or he would arrive there somewhere and hide.
... But we went to the railway station in Kaunas and ... [the] refugees who had visas, Polish refugees, were checked. This train was going into Russia, ... and at each entrance, there was a KGB or Russian police checking the passports while we were entering. And when we approached, we saw a family that we knew who tried the same trick like us, but they were arrested because they had these Lithuanian passports which were invalid, because they [were technically] Soviet citizens. ... [They] were taken away to prison, I don't know where.
My father said, "It's useless for us to land in prison now." So we went back home. That was our only attempt. Later, we found out that from other stations, there [were] some Lithuanian Jewish people who managed to get on those trains. Not too many, but some did go.
Did you ever get a chance then to see Sugihara again? I mean, was there a situation where you got to say goodbye to him before he left?
GANOR: Well, ... it was the end, you know ... the situation was really hectic then. ... I came over a few times but I saw such a chaotic conditions. Everybody was pushing and trying to get into the consulate and he ... hired some help to keep them back. ... Once [he] saw me ... he was...in his shirt, [with] rolled-up sleeves ... he didn't look so regal anymore. And he waved to me. ... That was more or less the last time I saw him; probably a day or two before they left the consulate for Germany.
How fast did things deteriorate after he left?
GANOR: Well, we're talking about August 1940. He depart[ed] and Rosenblat and his daughter left, and most of the Polish refugees left, those who got visas. Not all of them went. Many of them stayed. [Either] they didn't believe in the Japanese venture, or they just stayed behind and got caught with us. ... But after he left, I kind of missed him. ... I got very used to them being there and my stamps and my weekly visits. ... So, I was sorry that they left.
And everybody was ... talking about what he did. You know, nobody expected this guy to — to do such a thing. ... I remember my aunts and uncles, they were all discussing how different he was from what they thought he was. How he turned out to be such a nice guy. ... They compared him to the other consulates, most of [whom] were bastards or who just threw you out and went, and nobody gave visas. Or very few did.
So [Sugihara] became sort of a legend, in a way, ... because, obviously, ... he did it out of no gain for himself. At that time, you weren't quite sure whether [the Japanese] government did allow him to do it or did not allow him to do it. ... In the beginning, ... he resisted it because he said that the government did not approve to give any visas. And so the story went that he did it against the government's orders, against the foreign office orders. To what extent it is true, I don't know. But that's what everybody was saying in Kaunas.
So what happened to you?
GANOR: ...Surprisingly, nothing happened, really. Until 1941. My father, by then, really thought that the Russians forgot all about him. ... He was doing quite [a] business with them, with the Russian army, until maybe ... around May, [when] the Russians started shipping out the Jews and Lithuanians to Siberia quite seriously.
My brother, he was about 20 years old at the time and he was playing soccer ... with some Russian soldiers, and making friendly with a Russian officer who ... turned out to be ... from the Russian intelligence. And then, the Russians were going to conscript him because they were going to take every able-bodied young man. And [since] this captain ... became friendly with him, he said [that] instead of going just as an ordinary soldier, like my other cousin who became a Russian soldier, he took him into the intelligence section.
And apparently my brother found out that we were going to be shipped out to Siberia. And he warned us. ... He was not in uniform, but already in the army. ... [But] there was nothing you could do about it, you know.
... We were told not to take suitcases or anything like that; just to get some necessities, you know. And we were ready to go that night. ... The Russians would come at night; police or KGB or whoever, [they] would knock at the door ... and take you away at night.
And I remember that night, we were sitting there waiting. ... We slept in our clothing waiting for the Russians to come. And they didn't show up. So we were kind of surprised. ... Around five in the morning, I looked out the window, and I looked over [at] the airport and I saw ... something was flying there, it was silvery dots in the sky. And then I heard a huge explosions ... coming from the airport. And [it was] that night, when we were supposed to have been [taken], [that] the Russians didn't come because the Germans attacked the Soviet Union. We just missed [going] to Siberia by one day.
So ... the war started then, and ... [my] father decided to try to run away, to escape from the Nazis because we knew by then ... what they were like. And so we tried to go to the train station but there was no train; ... they took away all the cars, the Soviets anyway, [so] we had no transportation. So we just went on foot — not on foot, actually, there was one Jewish guy with a horse and wagon, and for a large sum of money he agreed to take my mother and myself on the wagon together with his family and one of my uncles. I was just two weeks after an operation for my appendix. So that's how we started out.
And the march, you know, I'll never forget that. There was an endless stream of — of refugees mixed with army, Russian army. It was a narrow road, you know, [since] Lithuanians didn't have any developed highways. ... We [had] lumbering Russian tanks with cannons and retreating dirty, dusty, tired, hungry soldiers, mixed with mostly Jewish refugees, or maybe Christian communist Lithuanians who were trying to escape.
And the Germans were attacking us, ferocious. I mean, they ... were bombing ... and the people were dying right and left. ... I remember once there was such an explosion ... [that it] lifted me off the ground. And I saw ... there was a truck, a Russian truck with ammunition, apparently, that was hit. And the driver was lifted out like I was lifted, out of that truck. And the truck exploded and must have decapitated him, because his body ... to this day I see [it] like ... [it was] frozen in time. ... I saw his body and his head. His eyes went popping and he just flew by a few yards from me in that explosion. To this day I remember that it was as if he was trying to say something to me. And I was deaf about the whole day.
... We kept on that march. But [at] the end, there were German paratroopers who were actually dropped ahead of us, [and] we realized we could not reach the border that time. So ... we had to return.
On the way back, before we entered Kaunas, my brother was arrested through Lithuanian collaborators who were ... rounding up Jews and ... immediately shooting them up in one of the forts. ... My brother was stopped [by] ... a German army car and the two Lithuanians who stopped us were going to shoot us. ... [But] my brother jumped out and he stopped the car. He spoke German well, and he spoke to these officers. And [they] told the Lithuanians to bring us up to the fort; not to kill us.
... And then we came to the seventh fort and ... we were in sort of a courtyard. And inside, there was a big fort, you know, and we heard a lot of shooting going on. Later, we found out that they were shooting about 3,000, mostly men, with some women. And for some reason — I don't know what my brother said to them ... somehow we were let go. ... The German came out and said, "Lithuanian, take him home and don't harm [them]." And that's how we actually survived.
That was July 1941, [the] beginning of July. ... A month later, we were put into a ghetto. ... Ironically, the Germans said, "We have to put you in the ghetto to protect you from the Lithuanians," because the Lithuanians ... were killing Jews right and left. Even the Germans didn't like [them]; they said they were messy. Messy, you're killing with axes, he said. They were really terrible. That was our neighbors, mind you. ... And in a way we were kind of happy to get out, you know.
So we were in the ghetto, but soon we found out what the Germans intended to do with us. ... In the end of October 1941, ... the whole ghetto was about 30,000 people. They sorted 10,000 out and ... first they put them in some sort of a small ghetto which was empty at the time, [since] the inhabitants were already killed two or three weeks earlier. And the next day, they marched them out to the ninth fort, the whole 10,000. [It was about] 10 miles away, above in the hills, and we could hear the machine guns going day and night. ... You could hear them being killed.
... By the time the Russians were coming back in July 1944, there was about 5,000 of us left. So they managed to kill 25,000. I mean, all together it was about 250,000 Jewish people in Lithuania and right from the beginning, in the small towns and the villages, they killed them right off. From 250,000, I think about 4% were left.
As the Russians approached, the last of the remnants of the Jews of Kaunas were sent to die. The women stayed in the camp, my mother and my sister, near Danzig ... whereas the men were sent to ... what they called satellite camps, working camps.
... The Germans ... had [already] developed the jet plane, and ... Hitler realized that finally he had some sort of a tremendous weapon here. ... Jet planes could have shot out all of the American and British planes out of the sky because they were twice or three times as fast. And so he decided to build those underground factories where the planes would be [built].
[So in the working camp] we were building ... tremendous underground factories. ... [It] was about half a mile long. There was [a] semi-rounded roof with five meters thickness of concrete. And they built it because no bomb would be able to penetrate it.
... Most of the remnants of the [Lithuanian Jews] ... were worked to death. They hardly had 400 calories a day and had to carry cement sacks which were about 50 kilos, which is over 100 pounds. So in no time at all, you know, most of them died from starvation or hard work or just being beaten up by the foremen. ... I, luckily, got a job in a kitchen of the German [army]. ... That's how I survived. I was helping my father too, you know, there was a question of a little bit of extra food.
Tell us about the Liberation and how ironic it was for you.
GANOR: Yes, well, at the end — it was about April 24th — we realized that things were already at the end because ... one of the soldiers [came] and took me [and two other fellows] out of the kitchen to a small road which led towards Munich, and they told us to dig a hole in the ground. And we thought they were going to kill us or something. ... Then we found out that they were making ... a new place for [an] anti-tank gun.
So that ... made us aware of the situation, that if they are really putting anti-tank guns on the roads inland as far this, ... we realized that that must be the end. But the same afternoon, we were ordered to go back to the camp and they marched us out to Dachau, the main camp of Dachau, which was about 60 miles from where we were. That was what they called the mother camp.
When we arrived there, we slept over one night, and were given some rations. And they had no way of killing us then, because the orders were not to allow us to fall into the hands of the Americans. But they didn't know what to do with us.
Afterwards, we found out that they asked the air force to bomb the various camps, but the German air force either didn't have the means on how to do it or they refused to do it. Then they wanted to poison us, we heard. Putting some poison in the food. But, at the end, ... [they] sent 10,000 of us to march towards the ... mountains.
... They themselves had no idea ... that [Germany] is collapsing so fast. After all, they resisted in Italy, took them years for the allies to happen. So they felt in Germany the resistance would be so fierce that they will last for a much longer time. And so they decided, we heard later, to build a fortress in the Alps in the Tyrolean mountains, and resist the allies. And we would be the ones to build that and then they would kill us. ... That march was about six days. And then we could hear the Americans saying we were going in circles, because the Americans were there, and all the Germans ... didn't know what to do.
... And then May the first, ... they marched us in sort of a clearing in the woods. And the Germans, too, were by that time very tired. ... In the five days, ... half or more than half died. Only the young ones like myself [survived]. I was in pretty good shape because I worked in the kitchen. So we sort of survived. But I probably wouldn't have been able to last very long.
We fell just to the ground. And then it started snowing. First of May, and it snowed quite heavily. ... I wrapped myself up in my blanket and I didn't even realize that I was snowed under. But I had, I guess, enough air; I don't know, I guess there is enough air under the snow.
And [then] I heard there were shots, you know, during the night. They got the orders to kill us. But the Americans were really maybe just a few hundred yards away. So they were just shooting in our direction. I heard it, but few were hit, not too many. They just simply didn't have enough time to dig us out one by one. So the snow, in a way, saved me. And the other my other friends, too, [although some of] those who survived ... died under the snow.
... I was sleeping, I was so tired. Then, somebody woke me up and I didn't know where I was, you know? ... Number one, I opened the blanket and there was this white blanket above me. ... I thought maybe I'm dead already or in heaven. What is this white stuff? Then it started falling in my face and I realized it was snow. So I dug myself out of the snow. And it was absolute silence. I felt as if I was the last man on earth. There was nothing around. There was nobody around, not even the prisoners. And the sun was shining and, you know, and ... the reflection of the sun in the snow was like blinding me. And then it was this silence. ... So I realized to myself, "The Germans took off." And I couldn't believe, you know, that this is the end of the nightmare.
And then, as I was coming out, I suddenly saw a sort of an army vehicle come towards me. And the first thing came to my mind was the Germans. ... I closed my eyes, [expecting] I didn't have enough time to run away. And then I heard them speak English. And then I opened my eyes and there were these strange-looking soldiers. ... They kind of looked dirty, [with] some dirty uniforms, and they didn't look like ... Germans at all. And that already made me happy.
I had heard [them] speak English ... but they didn't look like Americans to me. ... They had Oriental features. And then I looked at them closer and I remember that Sugihara looked like them. So I said, "Oh, my God, they must be Japanese. But then, what are Japanese doing in American uniforms?" So that was really confusing to me, but one of them came to me and ... he put a hand on my shoulders and said, "You're free, you're free, boy! Don't worry, don't be scared of us, you know. We are Americans." ... And I looked at him and suddenly they laughed ... they says, "Oh, we are Japanese Americans."
... It was kind of strange to me, you know. I was thinking all the time, during the war, about Sugihara and ... [how] it could have turned out different if my father had taken his advice. And then there was these four Japanese-American soldiers. I guess there weren't too many of them in the American army and I just happened to be the person to be rescued by them.
... He gave me ... a bar of chocolate. It was a thick bar. I tried to chew on it and it was quite hard. ... I already began to feel bad. And he saw me, [and] he said, "Oh, you're getting pale." And they took me, [and] they wrapped a blanket around me and they took me to a field kitchen for the American army, and he gave me some soup. So that sort of brought me back to life, in a way. ... I've seen many people die, just like that, they just dropped. And I was probably very near that, too.
And the person afterwards ... brought me more food and he said his name was Clarence. ... I remember that name because it's such an unusual name. ... There were four of them. But Clarence ... was the one who actually took care of me more. He was the one who brought me the food. He brought me the soup. He later came to visit me. We were brought into a barn in [a] small village ... where we slept the first night, and he came to visit me. And most of the Japanese Americans were afterwards sent further to the chasing of the German army. But Clarence, he was from the signal school. And he and the other two guys of the same [unit] they occupied that house. ... So he came to visit me a few times and brought me some more food the next day. And he stayed around for another two or three days.
How about Mr. Sugihara? Did you ever have a reunion with him?
GANOR: No. When [Israel honored him], 1985, I think it was, ... I was at the time [in] the United States, [and] I didn't hear that he was being brought there. Actually, after the war, he kind of disappeared. Many people were, I heard, were trying to find him and didn't know what happened to him. My father also made inquiries ... but nobody knew what happened to him.
And the Japanese, they were writing to them and didn't get any answers from the foreign office. So everyone was busy with his own thing, you know, and since we couldn't find him, we couldn't find him. So we thought maybe he perished or something happened to him.
Looking back on it, why do you think Sugihara did what he did?
GANOR: Well, basically, he found himself in the position [where] there was nobody else to help. I think that was his main motive. He ... sort of saw himself as a most unlikely person to do this type of thing, but under the circumstances, I guess something very human woke up in him.
What else was there for him? Why should he have done it? I mean there were dozens of consuls who not only ... weren't helpful, but some of them were even worse than the governments allowed them to be. And he did this ... [for] people who were total strangers to him, really. I mean, who were the Jews to him?
... Many of those consuls did not see the Jews in an unbiased way. To [Sugihara], the Jews were just people. ... He was ... he was a true humanitarian, in my eyes, because of what I knew of him, because [of] the way he behaved, and the way of his kindness. ... I'm not really surprised that he did it, considering what I knew of him. I would've expected him to do that, really.