My father’s autobiography, “Vilties Kelias,” written with Valdas Bartasevicius, was published in Lithuania in 2003. The English translation, “Odyssey of Hope,” appeared a few years later.
In the fall of 2014, the book will be published in Germany as “Wege der Hoffnung.” While my father was very pleased that the book would be available in German, he was very anxious to include a personal note to potential readers.
In the last months of his life, he was haunted by a wartime memory and a profound longing to reach out to the German people and one individual in particular. He felt guilty he had never been able to adequately express his gratitude for an act from an unknown soldier that he was convinced saved his life and the lives of his wife, Alexandra, and young daughter, Jurate.
Ms. Erda Lapp was the translator of the German edition and kindly translated this foreword into English. She wrote me that my father’s “wisdom and deep experience touched my heart. I felt that this book was carrying very important messages for me.”
I think the story and my dad’s words and sentiments are beautiful. The family thanks Ms. Lapp for her sublime effort. As she said, “I translated it with my brain and my heart.”
— Jurate Kazickas, July, 2014
A note to the reader, by Joseph P. Kazickas
My parents, who have endured much hardship in their lives, taught me the following wisdom as a child: “if someone does you a good deed, thank this person and if possible, try to pay him or her back by doing good yourself.” I have always tried to follow this principle. When for some reason this was not possible, a feeling of an unsettled debt seemed to burden me.
I feel I have an unsettled debt in my life to a German soldier, who saved our family in 1945 in Breslau. It is a great joy for me, that my memoirs have now also been published in German – I am getting the opportunity to thank the unknown soldier, if only after seven decades.
Naturally it is very unlikely that the soldier will read my words of thanks. I do not even know if he survived the terrible war. The last image in my memory of our encounter is a military hospital train with wounded soldiers departing from Dresden station. I am standing on the platform with my wife and our daughter, less than two years old, I am waving good-bye to our savior in the wagon, and I believe I can see a gesture of farewell on his part behind the window.
I am not sure if I saw this in reality or only in my imagination. Too many years have passed since then.
I regret not having asked the soldier for his name. Probably I was too excited, tense, full of worries about the future.
For various reasons Germany has always been dear to me, and it still is today. One important reason is that the path of rescue and hope, my path to freedom led through Germany.
I often reflect on my long and turbulent life. In such moments the feeling of an unsettled debt to this soldier comes back. Without his help we would not have been able to get out of Breslau, and the Soviets would certainly have taken me to a labor camp, since my name was on one of their black lists, and my wife and daughter would have been deported to Siberia. I was lucky to reach the free world, to get a foothold in the USA and to build up a prosperous life for myself and my family.
I clearly remember the moment of our rescue, when all hope to get on the last train that left Breslau, which was under Soviet attack, seemed in vain. The soldier’s hand, our rescue, appeared unexpectedly from the window of a wagon and first pulled my little daughter and then my wife into the wagon. When I think of this fateful moment, I wonder how the heavily wounded soldier found the strength to pull not only the child, but also my wife through the window into the wagon – as if she was as light as a feather. I remember his left hand was bandaged.
I keep asking myself: why did this soldier save us? He did not know us, and there was a desperate crowd on the platform. He may have remembered his own child, when he saw my wife and daughter on her arm. The frightened woman with her child may have made him think of his mother, whom he possibly would never see again. The longing for his family and people he loved may have caused him to reach out for my wife with his helping hand. It is my sincere and deep wish that this soldier survived the war and reared children of his own.
I have thought much about this moment, and I understand it as God’s will, which through the hand of this wounded soldier permitted me and my family to continue our journey on the path of hope.
Two months later the war was over. For four years we lived as war refugees in Germany. Together with the Germans we lived through the meagre post-war period, we shared our bread and our hardship. After our emigration to the USA I built up a business and soon my fate led me back to Germany. I delivered coal to Germany’s reviving industry. I think I contributed a bit to Germany’s reconstruction, and I consider this to be my thanks for the rescue from death in a Soviet camp.
I have often traveled to Germany on business. My business partners were responsible and competent business men. Many became my friends. Germany became yet another homeland for me.
My moral debt to the soldier who saved us has remained. I hope that my memoirs will help the German reader see how the history of our countries is interwoven. In Lithuania I took part in the resistance against the Hitler regime, but never, not even in the war years, did I feel hatred towards the Germans. I understood that many of them were also victims of the system. I reached this understanding with the help of our savior – the soldier, who became the symbol of German magnanimity.
Thus the publication of my memoirs in German is an opportunity to embrace the unknown soldier, who may not even have survived the war, and to say thank you. I dedicate this book to him.
Joseph Kazickas, March 2014
On April 23, 2015, the German edition of “Odyssey of Hope” was presented at the Lithuanian Embassy in Berlin. Read more about the Wege Der Hoffnung presentation.
A Letter from the Honorable W. Michael Blumenthal
In May, 2015, Jurate Kazickas received a letter (see below) from Mr. Blumenthal, a friend of hers and her husband for more than 35 years. Among his many notable life achievements, Mr. Blumenthal was the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury from 1977-1979 and is the Founding Director of the Jewish Museum Berlin which opened in 2001. In April, 2015, he was elected an Honorary Citizen of Berlin, the city’s highest, and rarely bestowed, honor.
Mr. Blumenthal is the author of “From Exile to Washington: A Memoir of Leadership in the Twentieth Century” and “The Invisible Wall: The Mystery of the Germans and the Jews.”
“I have just finished reading the German version of your father’s biography “Wege der Hoffnung” – a fascinating story about many historical events I hadn’t known much about. It’s his family’s history and the early parts of his life (and yours) in Lithuania and Germany which I found particularly interesting. Sometimes I could hardly put the book down. I learned a lot and I am really very grateful that you sent it to me.
While your dad’s background and mine – Catholic Lithuanian and German Jew – could not have been more different, I nevertheless see certain parallels in our life stories. Both of our lives, typical 20th century lives, were fundamentally touched and altered in similar ways by the rise and fall of the century’s brutal dictatorships. He, by the Soviet and Nazis; I by the Nazis and (slightly more benignly), the Japanese. Our immediate families and both of us were lucky to survive some close calls, and then we both succeeded (probably beyond our dreams) through hard work, ambition and good fortune in building wonderful new lives in the U.S.
Your dad was obviously an enormously strong, courageous and resourceful man. Even in the worst, most dangerous moments he never gave up, fought back, and managed to rescue the family from grave danger. In the worst moments, he saved his family. In our case, it was my mother who was the strong one and did much the same thing, rescued my father from Buchenwald, fought to get us away from the Nazis and kept us alive in wartime Shanghai. She, too saved our lives.
In an odd way, I see another parallel. As good Germans, my parents at first misjudged the Nazis and didn’t see the depths of their evil, which is why they stayed put in Nazi Germany until the very last moment and only barely escaped. Your family’s history under the Soviets also led them to pin their hopes on the Germans at first, only to discover that the Nazis were even worse than the Soviets, with all the dire consequences in Lithuania and their end of war years as refugees in Germany. Moreover, a significant part of the pre-war Lithuanian population were Jews. How did the murder of these Lithuanian fellow-citizens, literally before their eyes, affect non-Jewish Lithuanians? Your dad mentions this briefly but I can’t help but think that it is this, if nothing else, that must have been a great shock and eye-opener about the true nature of Nazi Germany. Even the Soviets didn’t engage in this kind of genocidal madness.
A final, more general thought. What struck me in reading your father’s memoirs, is how much pre-war Europeans were affected by the many past animosities and increasingly anachronistic notions (in today’s microchip world) of nationalism, national ambition and pride. Today little Lithuania, a classic victim of geography, is part of the EU and its borders are open (to the West). Hating and fearing Poles for example, now a fellow EU nation, needs no longer be an issue and shouldn’t be. Lithuanians no doubt realize that in today’s world they would be lost if left to their own devices. Today, what counts is to be part of the EU together with her neighbors, rather than at arm’s length from them. Patriotism is “in,” nationalism is not. Who is a Lithuanian, pole, Latvian, German, French, etc. is no longer a matter of life and death. (“I am a Lithuanian – not a Pole,” your father once had to say to an SS man at a critical moment. How odd that sounds today!)
We must talk about all this again when next we meet …