The post below is signed by Emmanuel Cortey, Deputy Director of Yahad- In Unum, who is accompanying the research trip to Lithuania.
Translation from French: Yelena Moskovich
Friday, July 10th, 2015
In over ten years of research, Yahad – In Unum has developed a rigorous methodology in the preparation of the research trips, and the conduct of the interviews. It is this skilled precision that allows each research trip to protect the memory of so many victims of the Holocaust, and to stand up against the silence.
Beyond this scientific methodology, I would like to try to explain just to what extent the effectiveness of the investigations is also based on flexibility of action, and an alert responsiveness, which is constantly being tested.
There are so many challenges that must be continually addressed, many of which are practical nuances. We must find the witnesses, of course, but we must also be careful in chosing the best moment to meet with them, in order to avoid a last-minute refusal. We must also evaluate and choose what testimonies will best serve to advance the understanding of the genocide. To address these challenges, both teams criss-cross the region where the investigation is taking place and remain in constant contact. Michal, the team leader, receives the pre-interview reports on his phone and develops the agenda for each day accordingly, so that the work can be at its most fruitful. There is a continual reflection upon these points by the team members, who all know that today, every moment counts.
One moment particularly counts for me from this trip. The interview of Melamedas. Born in 1926 to a Jewish family from Biržai. He is a survivor of the Holocaust.
1941, the Germans are nearing Biržai. Melamedas is a teenager. He sees his brother in a truck full of Soviet soldiers. He approaches. Amidst the confusion, the arm of his brother reaches towards him, and he grabs it and holds it in a moment of farewell.
Suddenly, he is hoisted onto the truck himself, going East.
He recalls with a smile that the weapon which he received upon his arrival in Latvia was taller than him. With the German troops at their heels, constant bombardments, the group flees all the way to the Soviet Union. After this unimaginable escape, Melamedas joins a kolkhoz. He works there for several years before being returned to Lithuania, which had then become Soviet again.
When I first met Melamedas, he seemed to be very vulnerable and fragile. But after I shook his hand and met his eyes, I was taken aback to see him so solid and present. After his testimony, he appeared to me as strong as stone.
Back in Biržai, Melamedas worked in a bakery. He was planning to leave Lithuania but, once again, fate took hold. However, this time, in a much sweeter way. It was a young lady who had come into the bakery. She became his wife and together they still live in his hometown.
*The pictures above are those of Melamedas’s brother.