Rita Gabis comes from a family of Eastern European Jews and Lithuanian Catholics. She was close to her Catholic grandfather as a child and knew one version of his past: prior to immigration he had fought the Russians, whose brutal occupation of Lithuania destroyed thousands of lives before Hitler's army swept in.Read more...
Rita Gabis comes from a family of Eastern European Jews and Lithuanian Catholics. She was close to her Catholic grandfather as a child and knew one version of his past: prior to immigration he had fought the Russians, whose brutal occupation of Lithuania destroyed thousands of lives before Hitler's army swept in.
Five years ago, Gabis discovered an unthinkable dimension to her family story: from 1941 to 1943, her grandfather had been the chief of security police under the Gestapo in the Lithuanian town of Svencionys, near the killing field of Poligon, where eight thousand Jews were murdered over three days in the fall of 1941. In 1942, the local Polish population was also hunted down. Gabis felt compelled to find out the complicated truth of who her grandfather was and what he had done.
Built around dramatic interviews in four countries, filled with original scholarship, and mesmerizing in its lyricism, A Guest at the Shooters' Banquet is a history and family memoir like no other, documenting "the holocaust by bullets" with a remarkable quest as Gabis returns again and again to the country of her grandfather's birth to learn all she can about the man she thought she knew.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-07-13
- Reviewer: Staff
Guilty secrets and a searing identity crisis prompt an exploration of the Holocaust in this heartfelt though scattered personal history. Poet Gabis (The Wild Field), whose father was Jewish, learned that her beloved maternal grandfather was an official in the Lithuanian police force during the German occupation in WWII, and that he may have participated in atrocities including a massacre of 8,000 Jews and the execution of hundreds of Polish civilians. While investigating her grandfather’s life, she pieces together a kaleidoscopic assemblage of garbled family legends, archival research, interviews with witnesses and survivors, and fraught ruminations on her conflicted emotions. Her search for the truth sometimes seems self-involved (she dramatizes everything from a bout of food poisoning to a burst water-pipe in her apartment), and her self-conscious lyricism (an account of a massacre ends with an imagined pastorale of Jewish children “linking arms before the soccer goalie gets in position and the kick-off sends time spinning in the spring grass”) can feel strained, as though she doesn’t trust readers to register the tragedy in these events. Still, Gabis paints an engrossing portrait of the snake-pit of ethnic animosities in wartime Lithuania, and of the intimate horrors of the Holocaust. Agent: Lisa Bankoff, ICM. (Sept.)