Memory Office: M. Elberg

Masha Grizaitė Elberg is a resident of Israel with the roots in Kaunas. She shares her memories about the destiny and life of her family in Kaunas and Israel.

We lived in Kaunas from 1951 to 1971. Then we moved to Israel.

My late mother Eta Kačernik Grizienė was born in Kaunas, Lithuania. She lived in a large beautiful family. Unfortunately, during the war, most of them got lost or were killed. The only ones who survived were my mother’s sister Malka Tezla Kačernik and my grandmother Bliuma Kačernik. My mother’s brother went to the woods as a partisan during the first days of war and never returned. I was named in his honor: Masha. The rest ended up in Kaunas ghetto in 1941. In 1944, they were brought to Stutthof concentration camp. The work in it was very hard, of course. They would search for food in the fields, looking for some remaining potatoes. Some German saw it and hit her with the butt of his gun. She was marked by the holes reminding her of the Ghetto for the rest of her life.

On 2 May 1945, the English arrived, and the camps were liquidated. The family of my mother came back to Lithuania, because they expected to find some relatives. Even though everyone said: do not go to that side, better go westwards, to England... But my grandmother would keep on repeating: let’s go to Lithuania, to Lithuania. I think that there have been many of those who returned.

The story of my father Chaimas Grizas is very similar. He studied at school in Kaunas, was a literate man. When the war broke, they also ended up in the ghetto and then in Dachau concentration camp. He was the only one in his family to survive the horrors of the war. When everything ended, my father also decided to come back to Lithuania and he immediately went to the army.

I have been hearing about the war experiences of my parents since my teen years. They used to tell me how they slept, worked, what they ate. I think it is impossible to forget. When we lived in Kaunas, we would go to the 9th Forth every year. I do not tell my children the stories of my parents. They know only facts. They are a different generation.

My parents met in Kaunas. After the war, they did not have a chance to study. They were simple workers. My mother worked very hard in Kaunas Radio Factory. She would even bring work to home. In the evenings, I would help her to ensemble the details. My father worked in Laisvės Alėja, Kaunas Footwear Factory “Raudonasis spalis” (Red October; later Lituanika). My parents were good people. They had a lot of friends.

We lived at the corner of Laisvės Alėja and Maironio Street. I remember how I liked to look around through the window.  When I was little, children in the yard would call me žydelka, but I did not know what that could mean. Since I was little, I had bright hair, I did not look Jewish. At school, I was called Marija. My parents would not feel antisemitism in Kaunas. Even though there were others who did. Basically, I was happy in Kaunas. I felt happy there.

We followed Jewish traditions in the family. Celebrated Jewish holidays. Went to the synagogue. My grandmother would make very delicious Jewish dishes. Together we would go to dine to some cafés as well, like Tulpė or Metropolis. During the holidays, we went to Lampėdžiai, Panemunė, Palanga.

As a teenager, I went to the Trade Union Palace of Kaunas and danced in Sajevičiai ensemble. We would dance national Jewish dances. The audience would mostly consist of Jews, friends. Lithuanians were probably not attending those. Later I would go to Orbita, Spurginė, Drama and Musical Theaters, cinemas, stroll along Laisvės Alėja and the Old Town.

And then I turned 20. I remember talking to my friends one evening, planning to spend an evening at Orbita. And then we got a call, saying: you can go to Israel. It was epidemic at that time. Both those who wanted and not wanted to go left. For example, I did not want to go. I was then studying in Kaunas Polytechnic Institute. I was at my third year. The dean invited me to his office and asked me: “So, where do you think you are going?” I told him: “I am leaving with my parents, even though I like it here..”. I was the only daughter. I could not leave them. They, of course, wanted me to finish my studies, but at the same time, they dreamt of Israel. Even though my parents did not know where they were going and what waited for them tomorrow. One could say that we simply ended our life in Kaunas.

The first year in Israel was very hard. I did not know the language: in Kaunas, within our family, we would speak Yiddish and Lithuanian, I knew Russian and there everyone spoke either Hebrew (or Ivrit). These were two completely different languages, completely unrelated. I started studying at the university from the second course. All books there were in English and I did not know that language. In Kaunas, I studied German. I understood that it was too difficult for me and started attending medicine courses. After completing them, I worked at the hospital for 43 years. I got married, had two children. Right now, I have even five grandchildren.

Now I have a Lithuanian passport, because my roots are here. I do not know Kaunas any longer, only its centre. I feel good there. If I was younger, I would get back to live here.

I arrived here for the first time three years ago.

It is hard to be Jewish. We live in a place inhabited exclusively by Jewish, but I think that in other places of the world, people do not like us very much. We are an unhappy nation. It is difficult for us because we always live either at war or during war. I am not afraid for us, but I am worried about the future. The new generation. Children, grandchildren...

Data of the interview: 02-08-2018.