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Writer To Open Up About Grandfather's Nazi Past At Westport Library

Rita Gabis
Rita Gabis Photo Credit: Contributed/Rina Castelnuovo

WESTPORT, Conn. -- Rita Gabis made a startling discovery five years ago.

Her maternal grandfather, whom she adored, had served as the chief of security police from 1941 to 1943 under the Gestapo in a Lithuanian town where 8,000 Jews were murdered over three days in the fall of 1941.

Gabis' close relationship with her grandfather made the horror more real and the confusion more profound, she said.

“He was someone I knew well in childhood,” Gabis said. “He wasn’t an abstract figure to me.”

Gabis began to look into her grandfather's his role in the Holocaust. She compiled her research into a memoir, "A Guest at the Shooters' Banquet: My Grandfather's SS Past, My Jewish Family, a Search for the Truth,” which she plans to discuss at the Westport Library on Tuesday, Oct. 13.

In the book, Gabis, the daughter of a Lithuanian Catholic mother and Russian Jewish father, shares her journey to unravel the truth about her beloved grandfather.

Her research took her to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., where she was surprised to find documents pertaining to her grandfather.

“I had no idea there would be a paper trail on him,” Gabis said.

She also made several trips to Europe, interviewing Holocaust survivors.

“People shared with me the most heartbreaking experiences of their lives,” she said. “Each of those interviews was very meaningful to me.”

Aside from her book, her research will forever be a part of the museum, which will archive her extensive interviews over her five years of research, Gabis said.

Gabis, who teaches creative writing at Hunter College in New York City, has also authored two books of poetry and co-authored a book on the craft of writing.

Her awards include residencies at Yaddo and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. 

Gabis has also received grants from the Connecticut State Arts Foundation and the New York Foundation for the Arts.

Gabis hopes that those who attend her talk will be inspired to dive into their own family histories.

There are questions in every family's past, Gabis said. The key, she said, is “to ask the questions before it's too late.”

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