Ruta’s Closet – Essential Backgrounder by co-author Keith Morgan

Ruta’s Closet is the true story of how a Lithuanian Jewish family sought to escape the deadly clutches of Hitler’s Final Solution.
Meyer and Gita Kron’s determination to survive grew stronger and they became more resourceful as family members and good friends perished at the hands of the Nazis and marauding armed collaborators.
A series of narrow escapes in their hometown of Shavl - Siauliai in the Lithuanian language – and threats of betrayal by formerly friendly non-Jewish neighbours failed to extinguish the family’s spirit.
This story takes place in a tiny Baltic country that even today wrestles with its collective conscience. It does so not because so many of its population stood by and watched their Jewish neighbours perish but because too many among them played a significant role in the annihilation of more than 200,000 Jews – 96 percent of the pre-war Jewish population.
Today’s Lithuanians are constantly reminded of the complicity of many of their forebears. Virtually every community is stained by the blood of murdered Jews, who lie in shallow mass graves on the edge of town identified only by simple memorial stones, revealing the approximate numbers of Jews buried there.
To date, the telling of the story of mass murders and collaboration in Lithuania has been largely confined to academic publications and limited distribution Holocaust survivor memoirs, rarely read outside of the Jewish community at large.
Ruta’s Closet explores that dark side of recent history but it also celebrates the few who risked their lives to save their Jewish brethren. Outside the high barbed wire fence of each ghetto there were Catholic priests, who practiced what they preached. They ignored the entreaties of the church hierarchy not to become involved in rescuing Jews. They also decried brother priests who played an active role in the wholesale murder of the Jews.
The righteous clergy members were aided by members of their mainly rural flocks, whose faith moved them to save Jewish lives. It’s the selflessness of such ordinary folks that makes it possible today to share the Krons’ inspirational story of the triumph of good over the jackbooted evil that rampaged through the Baltic lands in the 1940s.
Many rescuers of Jews remain unheralded today because their surviving kin still fear retribution even in the 21st. century, more than 65 years after the last shot was fired. Years under the Russians, following the departure of the Nazis, has left many unsure of their newfound freedom in the now independent and democratic Lithuania.
Nevertheless, in Ruta’s Closet you will encounter some of those saintly folks, whom the Jews call Righteous Gentiles, and read of their bravery. It is the authors’ hope that the telling of this story will lead to the recognition of more heroes.
This book is not fiction but written in a fictional style to make it more accessible to all. The late Meyer Kron left behind a substantive unpublished memoir entitled “Through the Eye of the Needle” from which the basic story outline was drawn. Similarly, members of the Peisachowitz, Gotz-Ton, Luntz and Perlov families graciously provided unfettered access to unpublished memoirs and personal documents, enabling a better description of events and even the inclusion of near contemporaneously recorded conversations.
While the story focuses on the Krons and their extended family, it also tells of others who touched the lives of the family. Descriptions of important events in the ghetto are based on material gleaned from traditional academic sources such as books authored by learned and respected historians, documentary film, archived contemporaneously written material, and survivor memoirs, in addition to recent extensive interviews with survivors and review of their personal diaries and papers. A bibliography cites the published books used in research and recommends further reading.
The conversations and event reconstructions derive largely from memoirs and survivor interviews. Where no accounts of conversations exist, the authors created them in keeping with the nature of the occasion and in line with how the subjects typically spoke at the time.
As Saul Issroff, a London-based genealogist said, “They did not necessarily have calendars in the ghetto.” Dates and times have been hard to nail down in some cases, especially those concerning the experiences of individual ghetto residents recalled many years after the fact.
Contemporaneous records of meetings and ghetto events kept for the Shavl Judenrat – Jewish Council – greatly assisted but they are not foolproof. However, we are confident the dates and times are close enough. A great deal of the material used to describe the debate and activities of the Judenrat was gleaned from a volume published in Hebrew only, called Pinkas Shavli: A diary from a Lithuanian ghetto (1941-1944), written by the council scribe Eliezer Yerushalmi.
The Lithuanian language poses a challenge for English readers and writers in that surnames are gender specific. There is a common stem but the ending changes depending on the gender and relationship of the person within the family unit. For ease of understanding, we have used only the male adult form of surnames for all family members.
Lithuanian given names retain their original form. German names and army ranks used reflect the records of the day. The authors attempted to obtain all chosen names but documentation is lacking in some instances. In the case of the latter, a surname alone is used. Individual Jews are identified by their Jewish names rather than Lithuanian versions found in documentation.
Throughout the book, some people describe non-Jews as ‘Lithuanians’ to denote their ethnicity rather than identify their citizenship as would be the case today. Its use also distinguishes them from the Jews, who were, of course, also Lithuanian citizens. Often, Soviets are referred to as ‘Russians’ which, while technically not always accurate, is in more common usage among Western readers.
Communities within Lithuania take Yiddish names with some minor exceptions, generally in quoted conversations involving Lithuanians or Germans.
In conclusion, Ruta’s Closet is not an academic paper or strict documentary but it is an honest attempt to share the experiences of one family and tell the broader story of the Shavl ghetto and the tragedy of the Holocaust in Lithuania.
Keith Morgan, April 2011.

Read Ruta’s Warning . . .