Judel (Judah) Ronder has had two goals for the better part of his life: to identify the Lithuanian killers who murdered 220,000 of his fellow Lithuanian Jews; and to find those who helped rescue a few - too few - of them.

As an 18-year-old in June 1941, he sensed that his survival depended on getting away from his little town of Keidan. By the end of that summer, its entire Jewish population (save a few who, like Ronder, left in time) was killed by Lithuanian Partisans. Yudel fought with the 16th Lithuanian Division of the Red Army. After the war, he returned to Keidan to find that his whole family had been murdered.

Now 73, Yudel says he can't rest until he has made known the identities of both the killers and the rescuers. He explained with a motion of his two hands held flat together; flipping them back and forth; he said simply, "schvarts, vays." Good and evil. Knowing there were good people among the evil ones gives him the strength to go on. The names of the murderers fill a book he calls his "blackbook." In it are close to 2,000 names. He said they represent only a small percentage of those who killed Jews in Lithuania. A few were executed after the war, but many have never been punished. Some are living in the U.S. and in Canada.

Ronder's one daughter and two grandchildren have recently moved to Frankfurt Germany where, despite being only 1/2 Jewish and 1/4 Jewish respectively, they were sponsored by the Jewish community. Judel explained that, though his wife was Lithuanian and his daughter's children were fathered by a Lithuanian Pole, they are still Jewish. How he was able to convince the Rabbi in Germany of this only attests to Juddah's great ability as a story teller. Judel said he had no plans to move to Germany. Israel might be okay, but for the moment he plans to stay right in Kaunus to continue to pursue the work that has been the mainstay of his life for the past forty years.

Photos © 1998 Laurence Salzmann

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