Author Rita Gabis comes from a family of Eastern European Jews and Lithuanian Catholics. She was close to her Catholic grandfather as a child, but as an adult, she discovered an unthinkable dimension to her family story: from 1941 to 1943, her grandfather had been the chief of police under Gestapo leadership in the Lithuanian town of Svencionys, near Poligon, where eight thousand Jews were murdered in three days in 1941. In 1942, the local Polish population was also hunted down. Gabis’ exploration into this truth of who her grandfather was and what he had done resulted in her memoir, A Guest at the Shooter’s Banquet. Built around interviews from four countries and filled with original scholarship, the book documents the Holocaust by bullets and chronicles Gabis’ journey to learn all she could about her grandfather. The Museum hosts Gabis in conversation with Lithuanian author, poet, and artist Laima Vince.
Rita Gabis is an award winning poet, essayist, and prose writer. Her work has been featured in Harvard Review, Guernica, Poetry Magazine and elsewhere. Full length publications include A Guest at the Shooter’s Banquet: My Grandfather’s SS Past, My Jewish Family, A Search for the Truth. Her memoir was included in Kirkus’ 2015 top ten nonfiction books of the year. Gabis has taught creative writing at Hunter College in New York City, and is a founding member of the New York Writer’s Workshop at the UWS JCC in New York City. She is currently at work on a novel.
Laima Vince graduated from Rutgers University with a BA in English and German Literature, and then earned an MFA in Writing (Poetry) from Columbia University School of the Arts, an MFA in Nonfiction from the University of New Hampshire, and in 2022 defended her dissertation Memory and Postmemory in the Writing of North American Writers of Lithuanian Descent, earning a PhD in Humanities from Vilnius University. She is the recipient of two Fulbright grants in Creative Writing, a National Endowment for the Arts grant in Literature, and a PEN Translation Fund grant, among other honors. She wrote the introductory essay to The Unlocked Diary, and translated into English from Lithuanian the diary and poetry of Litvak poet Matilda Olkinaitè (1922-1941), who was killed in the Holocaust in Lithuania at the age of 19. She has also written an analysis of the memoir Painted in Words by Holocaust survivor Samuel Bak, which was published by Pucker Gallery as Catharsis Through Memory.