Last Updated on August 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 652
This novel is rife with startling imagery and powerful quotations. Given that it is a story about a family enduring deportation and the cruelty of labor camps, I have chosen some passages that highlight these inhumane actions as comparable to the Holocaust.
Mother continued to speak in Russian and pulled a pocket watch from her coat. I knew that watch. It was her father’s and had his name engraved in the soft gold on the back. The officer snatched the watch, let go of Jonas, and started yelling at the people next to us. Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother’s was worth a pocket watch.
This is a quote that hearkens to another novel, "Sophie's Choice," in which a Jewish woman is forced by Nazis to choose which child she can save. It's an impossible choice, an unlivable choice, and the one that leads to a life of guilt and eventually her death. Elena is confronted with the worth of her own child's life, and the soldiers are shown as crass and cruel men who take what they want because they have the power to do so.
“Jonas,” said Mother, stroking my brother’s face. “I can’t trust them. Stalin has told the NKVD that Lithuanians are the enemy. The commander and the guards look at us as beneath them. Do you understand?”
The excuse for genocide often comes in terms of fear. Soldiers are not always monsters, but fear does terrible things to a population. Infecting the common man with the knowledge of an enemy he can punish for the things going wrong in society creates a scapegoat for the leader and allows conditions like that of the Vilkas family to proliferate, even while citizens are aware of the atrocities happening.
“The Jews are the scapegoat for all of Germany’s problems,” said the bald man. “Hitler’s convinced racial purity is the answer. It’s too complicated for children to understand.”
This quote from the bald man requires that the Lithuanians being forced into labor camps see the situation in Germany. It also showcases how clearly those separated can see the truth behind propaganda. Often, excuses are made under the pretense that citizens did not really know what the government was doing to people in internment camps, but as we see here, that's not the case. It's a horrible realization of the things people are willing to excuse in a time of...
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