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Crossing the River

Shalom Eilati, Vern Lenz

Publication Year: 2009

Crossing the River is a personal memoir—and more. Against the backdrop of Lithuania’s occupation—first by the Red Army, next by the Germans, and then again by the Russians—it is a story reflected through the prism of a sharp-eyed young child, Shalom Eilati. His story starts in the occupied Kovno Ghetto and ends with his flight across the Soviet border, through Poland and Germany and finally, his arrival in Palestine.
The adult survivor, while recalling the terrorized child that he was and how he then perceived the adult world, also takes stock of his present life. Throughout the memoir, Eilati attempts to reconcile his present life as a husband, father, scientist, and writer, with the images, feelings, and thoughts from the past that have left an indelible mark on his life and that continue to haunt him.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press

Cover Page

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p. 1-1

Title Page

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiii

I didn’t really want to leave that morning, to emerge from the dim warmth of our only room and my mother, to prepare to depart. But I had to. All the arrangements had been made, and now everything depended on getting past the sentries successfully. ...

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1. How It Began

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pp. 1-18

The closer we got to our allotted area the more people we met dragging things along with. them. Some carried huge bundles on their heads or on their backs. Others pushed wheelbarrows or children’s carriages; some even dragged overloaded tin bathtubs on the street. A fortunate few had a wagon hitched to a horse. ...

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2. Summer

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pp. 19-36

A new day broke and we, deep in our cellar, held our breath; the Germans had indeed arrived. We remained there for a few days more; only our parents emerged from time to time. Later, even we children dared to return to our flat, feeling somewhat ill at ease, exposed upstairs on the fourth floor; the dark cellar seemed warmer and safer. ...

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3. Autumn

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pp. 37-52

In my private world, the first few months in the ghetto were a kind of immense game of make-believe in which everyone participated— Jews, Lithuanians, and Germans. Soon, I imagined, every one of us would return home and life would resume its normal course. But the facts were different. ...

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4. Winter

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pp. 53-66

Little time was left to lament and mourn. One wintry Sunday, the weekly day of rest, we were ordered to evacuate within four to six hours. We had to clear out of our quarter and move to the west, to the other side of Democrats’ Square. This was German logic, cold and severe: since the ghetto population was diminished by at least a third, ...

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5. The Quiet Season/Childhood in the Ghetto

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pp. 67-88

People in the ghetto became more and more accustomed to their peculiar condition. Life before the war became wrapped in the veil of a distant fable. Vain hopes of sudden miracles and last-minute salvation were held no longer. The war front receded gradually, hovering somewhere between Moscow and Stalingrad, ...

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6. Another Fall and Winter

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pp. 89-116

One day Mother did not come home from work. The stream of returning workers at twilight dispersed into the streets and disappeared into houses, and Mother wasn’t among them. At that time, mothers had to work four or five days a week and we were on our own most of the day. ...

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7. Spring

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pp. 117-134

It was an ordinary Sunday in spring between Purim and Passover. Many things awaited Mother’s attention on the weekly day of rest. But Sunday was also the only day we could see one another a little, so I had taken to staying in our room rather than going outside with my friends. ...

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8. Escape

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pp. 135-138

When Mother and I got dressed, it was still completely dark outside. We grabbed something to eat and out the door we went. This time we took the narrow lane between our house and the one parallel to it, along Grinius Street. Perhaps Mother thought this would draw less attention to us, or slightly shorten our route to the riverbank. ...


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pp. 139-148

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9. On Green Hill

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pp. 149-164

Julija Grincevičiene was an elderly widow whose only son had been jailed for theft. We didn’t talk much about it for many days because she was ashamed of it. It occurs to me that her son is probably still alive. He might know the identity of the blond woman who led me to Julija’s home. ...

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10. In the Village

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pp. 165-176

It was another fine sunny day in June, a Sunday morning just like the one three years before when the war had begun. Peckyte arrived early. With an intense look on her face like the one she had had during her first visit, she inspected my clothing and knapsack. I said good-bye to my Lithuanian lady and we left. ...

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11. Liberation

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pp. 177-190

One Sunday morning while I was playing in the yard with the old dog by his kennel, happy that we were beginning to be friends and that I could already pet him without his being at the end of his long chain, a motorcycle with a sidecar suddenly drove into the yard, and in it were two German soldiers. ...

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12. A New Year

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pp. 191-220

In the blink of an eye, at dawn, the Germans were gone. In an instant the death sentence that had been hanging constantly over my head was repealed and was no more. And right away, as a direct result of my great excitement, I felt the need for action, for movement. Staying in one place had been part of the hiding. ...

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13. Second Year/Seven Journeys

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pp. 221-264

Things had begun to happen during that summer. One after another people were disappearing. Aided by the repatriation act that allowed former Polish citizens to return to their country, thousands of people in the Soviet Union began moving westward, whether with authentic passports or forged ones. ...

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Epilogue: Back to the River

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pp. 265-293

Like so many of my friends, I had deep-seated reasons for rejecting the idea out of hand: the abhorrence, amounting to hatred, of this land of blood, where so many of its citizens had served as enthusiastic hangmen. And whom will you visit there, with all your dear ones absent; your rescuers no longer alive; the ghetto long since destroyed and its land built over again? ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780817386825
E-ISBN-10: 0817386823
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817357580
Print-ISBN-10: 0817316310

Page Count: 307
Illustrations: 16 illus
Publication Year: 2009