Biography of Solly Ganor, the author of
“Light One Candle.”
Solly Ganor is a Holocaust survivor from Kaunas (Kovno), Lithuania. He was liberated by Japanese American soldiers of the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion from the infamous Dachau Death March on May 2, 1945. During World War II, he kept a diary as a young boy in the Kovno ghetto. Over the years, Solly prepared an autobiography of his experiences in the Holocaust and of his liberation by Nisei soldiers. In 1995, it was published as Light One Candle: A Survivor's Tale from Lithuania to Jerusalem (Kodansha America). This is his story and excerpts from his book.
Solly Ganor was born on May 18, 1928, in Heydekrug, a small town near the East Prussian border, where most of the inhabitants spoke German. He was the youngest of three children of the Genkind family. His father Chaim Genkind was from Minsk, white Russia, and his mother Rebecca Genkind-Shtrom, came from a family that traces its origin in Lithuania to 1756. His sister Fanny was fourteen years older than he, and his brother Herman seven.
In 1933, when Hitler came to power, the Genkinds moved back to Kaunas (Kovno), Lithuania, where they had a very large family. The family soon established itself in a new business, and Solly had to adjust from his native German tongue to Yiddish, Lithuanian and Hebrew, which most Jews in Kaunas spoke.
In the introduction of his book, Solly described his youth:
Kaunas, Lithuania, is a little-known spot on the map for most Americans. It looms large in my memory, however. It is where I spent the greater part of my childhood, and where a large part of the story that follows takes place.
Kaunas was a lovely city of nearly 120,000 people. More than thirty thousand Jews lived and prospered in the town, my family among them. For many years, Kaunas was one of the few places in Europe where the Jews were able to live nearly autonomously, and they built a strong community. Its Yeshivas attracted students from all over Europe. Its professionals and scholars and merchants played an important role in the town’s economy. Its cultural life was diverse and sophisticated. There were four Hebrew high schools and one in Yiddish in Kaunas. Several Yiddish newspapers and a Yiddish theatre, was part of the Jewish culture. Most of the Jews of Kaunas were Zionist. I remember my childhood as a very happy one.1
On Hanukah 1939, Solly met by chance the Japanese consul to Lithuania, Chiune Sugihara.2 The Genkinds were among the first to receive a life saving visa from Chiune Sugihara, but when the Soviets entered Lithuania their Lithuanian passports became invalid.
Solly and his family were caught by the Nazi invasion and spent three years in the Kovno ghetto, where most of the Jewish inhabitants were killed in various actions and deportations.
On March 27-28, 1944, 1,600 Jewish children aged 12 and younger were rounded up and brutally murdered by the Nazis, along with more than a thousand parents who tried to protect their children. It was known as the Kinder Aktion (children’s action). Solly miraculously survived this action. He wrote:
Of all the atrocities I witnessed during the years of the Holocaust, none affected me as the Children's Action.
That day, Germans decided to "eliminate,” as they called it, all Jewish children and the elderly people. The scenes I witnessed that day overshadowed all other atrocities I had witnessed. It was the epitome of sheer brutality and meanness to babies, little children, and the elderly.
Mothers who wouldn't part with their babies were brutally beaten to death. The old and the sick who couldn't move fast enough ended up crawling under a hail of kicks and blows and were attacked by the dogs when they collapsed. They were thrown into the waiting trucks and brought to the 9th Fort where they were shot.3
Eighty-five percent of Lithuanian Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.4 This was among the highest death rates of the countries in Europe.
Having survived all the actions, Solly and his surviving family were deported to German concentration camps, on the eve of the Soviet army reoccupying Kaunas. Solly’s mother and sister were sent to the Stutthof concentration camp, near Danzig, Poland, while he and his father were sent to a satellite camp of Dachau, known as Lager X, near Utting, Germany.
Solly’s mother died in Stutthof of typhoid fever, while his sister Fanny survived and was among the Jewish women who were shipped out by the Nazis on boats to the Baltic Sea where they were going to be drowned. Solly and his father worked in Lager X under the most appalling conditions.
Hard labor, starvation and beatings were their daily rations. Many died, and at the end of the war, the rest were sent on a death march from Dachau to Tyrol.
Thus the remnants of the once glorious Lithuanian Jewry died from starvation, exhaustion and freezing weather and their bodies lay strewn about where they fell and were shot. This tragedy took place at the end of April 1945 on the picturesque roads of Bavaria.
Solly Ganor survived the Dachau death march, and was liberated by a unit of the 522 Field Artillery Battalion of the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team of the US Army. The unit consisted of Japanese American soldiers from Hawaii and the mainland. Ironically, a number of these soldiers and their families had been unjustly imprisoned at the beginning of World War II because of their Japanese ancestry. One of Solly’s liberators was Clarence Matsumura, who was from California. Clarence and his family were interned at the Heart Mountain Japanese American prison camp near Cody, Wyoming.
In 1992, Clarence and other veterans of the 522nd were reunited with Solly, along with other survivors of the outer camps of Dachau, in Jerusalem. It was both a tearful and joyous occasion for all. An exhibit on the Japanese American experience in World War II, entitled “Unlikely Liberators,” was curated and shown at Israel’s Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem. The veterans were honored in the Israeli Knesset (parliament).
After his liberation, Solly spent some time with the American army, where he worked as an interpreter for an army counter intelligence (CIC) unit that was seeking out Nazi war criminals hiding among the Displaced persons.
Solly’s father, who survived the Death March, married a Canadian woman who was in charge of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) in the Munich area. Solly was supposed to have joined them in Canada.
On May 15, 1948, when the State of Israel was declared, Solly decided, instead of going to Canada, to join the Israeli Defense Forces and fought in Israel’s war of Independence.
After the war, in 1949, he joined the fledgling Israeli merchant marine, where he eventually reached the rank of captain.
In 1960, Solly was accepted by the London University, where he studied English Literature and languages. In 1963, he returned to Israel where he married his wife, Pola. They have two children, Daniel and Leora, and three grandchildren. After returning from England, Solly was offered a job to manage a textile factory belonging to Pola’s family and in 1977, they moved to La Jolla, California.
By 1984, their daughter Leora became 18 and went back to Israel to serve her two years in the army. The Ganors returned to Israel the same year.
Solly spends most of his time lecturing on the Holocaust, in the US, Germany, Japan and Israel.
While Solly was living in the Kovno ghetto, he had a hidden library of books he had collected, which he kept in the attic of one of the old houses. These books were a temporary respite for Solly from being trapped in the ghetto.
In 1939, Solly began writing a diary. He continued making entries until the spring of 1944, when the ghetto was liquidated and he had to leave the diary behind. Over the years, Solly recreated his childhood diary, with thoughts and stories of his vivid childhood memories. In 1995, it was published by Kodansha America as the book “Light One Candle: A Survivor’s Tale from Lithuania to Jerusalem.” His book has been translated into German and Japanese and has become an international best seller. Solly receives letters and emails from all over the world complimenting his book.
Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner Eli Wiesel, on his PBS website, recommended several books for students. Along with his book “The Night” and Primo Levi’s “If this be a Man,” he also included Solly’s book ‘Light One Candle’ as educational reading of the Holocaust. See Elie Wiesel’s recommendation on PBS web (http://www.pbs.org/eliewiesel/teaching/activity1.html).
In Germany and Japan, Solly’s book has been recommended reading for high schools for many years now. This approval by Elie Wiesel, whom many survivors consider as their spokesman, makes him feel that has finally fulfilled his promise to his perished friends to tell their story. He has finally lit ‘One Candle’ for them.
In 1994, Solly Ganor and Clarence Matsumura attended the 49th anniversary of the liberation of Dachau concentration camp by the Allied Forces. For the first time, Solly and Clarence went to the very site of their liberation and meeting in Waakirchen, Germany. (See speech below.)
In the summer of 1994, Solly and his wife Pola, along with a number of other Sugihara survivors, went on a commemorative trip to Japan, organized by Japanese American veterans Noby Yoshimura and Harry Fukuhara. There, they were reunited with Sugihara’s widow, Yukiko Sugihara, and their eldest son, Hiroki, at a moving ceremony attended by the Deputy Prime Minister of Japan. They rededicated a commemorative monument in Yaotsu, Japan, near Nagoya, in a memorial called Hill of Humanity, dedicated to the memory of Chiune Sugihara and other heroes.
Also in 1994, the Museum of Tolerance, of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, hosted an exhibit called “Visas for Life” and a ceremony to honor the life and rescue work of Chiune Sugihara. Yukiko Sugihara and her son attended a banquet in their honor. A second exhibit on Sugihara was dedicated in the California State Capitol in Sacramento the same year, also attended by Yukiko Sugihara, her son, and Solly.
In April 1995, a major tour was organized by the Jewish Survivors of the Outer Camps of Dachau to commemorate the 50th anniversary of their liberation in April 1945. They toured the sites of the old concentration camps and retraced the route of the infamous death march. During this tour, a series of memorials to the Jewish death marchers were dedicated. These sculptures were created by German artist Hubertus von Pilgrim. The towns of Fürstenfeldbruck and Gauting, and the city of Munich, Germany, hosted the survivors. Solly was one of the organizers of this historic tour.
In 2001, an exhibit was curated using texts and writings of Solly Ganor. The exhibit featured many of the photographs taken by George Kadish (Hirsch Kadushin). This was a series of spectacular photographs of daily life in the Kovno Ghetto during the Nazi occupation. The exhibit also featured photographs taken by Japanese American liberators as they encountered the Dachau death march. The exhibit premiered at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, in New York City. The exhibit then toured to various historic sites in Germany.
Solly was featured in the PBS documentary, “Sugihara: Conspiracy of Kindness,” which was first aired on public television in 2005 (https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/sugihara/readings/ganor.html).
Solly’s articles on the Holocaust and Israel has become widespread on the Internet. His website can be visited at: Solly Ganor Remembrance (http://www.rongreene.com/solly.html).
Solly’s beloved wife, Pola, passed away in May 2019.
Light One Candle: A Survivor's Tale from Lithuania to Jerusalem
Excerpt by permission of Solly Ganor
Kaunas, Lithuania, is a little-known spot on the map for most
Americans. It looms large in my memory, however. It is where I
spent the greater part of my childhood, and where a large part of the
story that follows takes place.
In Lithuania, Kaunas has been known as the "provisional capital"
of the country ever since 1920, when Poland annexed Vilnius during
the Russo-Polish war. A minor war, by later standards, and only one of
many struggles that have torn the Baltic states over the centuries. In
Lithuania you don't have to look far for reminders of the bloody
history. Kaunas itself is ringed by old forts, built around the turn of
the century by a Russian Tsar. When I was about nine years old,
around 1937, my friends and I were thrilled to stumble upon the
skeleton of a Russian officer. He was in a cave in the woods surrounding
Kalautuvas, a little resort town a few miles downriver from
Kaunas. Around the earthly remains of this lonely soul, who died so
far from home, we concocted a whole history full of dash and
heroism and high tragedy.
By 1940 Vilnius was once again the capital of Lithuania, but
Lithuanians continued to refer to Kaunas as the "provisional capital."
It was a lovely city of nearly 120,000 people. More than thirty thousand
Jews lived and prospered in the town, my family among them.
For many years Kaunas was one of the few places in Europe where
the Jews were able to live nearly autonomously, and they built a
strong community. Its Yeshivas attracted students from all over
Europe. Its professionals and scholars and merchants played an
important role in the town's economy. Its cultural life was diverse and
sophisticated. I remember being very happy there.
I was eleven years old when Hitler marched into Poland. The
weeks and months that followed were fearful ones, as news of atrocities
against Polish Jews reached us and refugees began streaming
over the border into Lithuania. The Nazis had begun their inexorable
march across the face of Europe, and would soon put our old
Tsarist forts to hideous use. The next six years would turn out to be
far more terrible than even the grimmest pessimists among us could
In 1939 and 1940 Kaunas became a sort of way station filled with
people desperately seeking asylum from the Nazis. They sought help
from any country they thought might receive them. Most of them
were denied and were turned away by one government after another,
including the governments of the United States and Great Britain.
The one official who offered the Jews of Kaunas any hope was the
representative of a government which shortly became Germany's
strongest ally. That man was the Consul of Japan, Chiune Sugihara,*
who risked his career, his honor, perhaps even his life, to save more
than six thousand Jews.
*Sugihara's proper given name was Chiune, but I knew him as Sempo, a friendly nickname by which he was known in Lithuania.
Read more excerpts from Solly's book
Speech by Solly Ganor at Fürstenfeldbruck, Germany, on April 28, 1994
On the occasion of the dedication of a monument to the Jewish survivors of the Dachau Death March
Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends.
To begin with, I would like to express my thanks to the Arbeitskreis Mahnmal that invited me to this commemoration ceremony.
I can see among you several friends who were our guests in Israel. I am glad to meet you once again and extend to you my greetings.
Those that do not know me: my name is Solly Ganor and I also speak on behalf of our Israeli association of survivors of the Landsberg/Kaufering concentration camp.
I was born in Heydekrug, a small town on the German Lithuanian border, and I live presently in Herzelia in Israel.
The flight from Tel Aviv to Munich lasted only four hours, but psychologically it lasted forty-nine years. It was not an easy journey to undertake.
I was barely seventeen when I marched these very same streets, 49 years ago. I could hardly believe then that one day I would be standing in front of you and speak to you in such a friendly manner. Then I had only one thing on my mind, namely how to survive the day. That was the last period of the war, the end of April 1945.
To survive to that period, I had to spend four terrifying years in the Nazi hell. Behind me, I left dozens of family members who were murdered and the ruins of my childhood home in Lithuania.
That nightmare began for me on June.22.1941, when the German army, like a deadly flood, invaded our lives. In one day I became, from a happy thirteen-year-old, perhaps somewhat spoiled boy, a hunted animal. A hunt was declared by the Nazis on Jews and no one needed even a license for that. Anyone could murder us without suffering any consequences. In the first days of the war, the Nazis and their Lithuanian helpers murdered three quarters of the Jewish population in Lithuania. Those who lived in the small towns suffered an especially gruesome death. They were locked up in the synagogues and, men, women, children, babies, as if they were rats, were all burned to death.
Since that day in June 1941, till the day of my liberation, I was a prisoner in the worst and most repugnant hell created by men, the Nazi concentration camp; where the most abominable atrocities were committed by men against men in the annals of human history.
Unfortunately, there hasn't yet been created a language that could describe our pain, the fear, the humiliation we suffered during those years. The feeling of helplessness and the endless feeling of hunger as our stomachs consumed our bodies, till there was nothing left of us but skin and bones.
And at the end of the war, there was the death march. That grotesque, inhuman expression of cruelty of the Nazis. As their "thousand-year" empire crumbled at their feet, they marched us out of Utting and Dachau on a journey to nowhere. The last remnants of European Jewry marched through rain and snow without food or shelter, in a thin striped prisoner's uniform, wooden shoes, a blanket and nothing else. We were like a column of ghosts that shuffled through the snow barely able to continue. Many of the men who were still marching were driven by their spirit alone because their bodies were barely alive.
And so we marched many days; we had stopped counting them. The nights we slept on the wet ground and in the morning there were hundreds of dead bodies lying around everywhere. And so in the seven or eight days of the march thousands of people died who couldn't keep their bodies and soul together. They were strewn about in the streets and roads of this beautiful and picturesque country. What a cruel and inhuman end to so much suffering!
Of the eight days of the march, I can recall only a few episodes. One: as we arrived from Utting to the main camp of Dachau, we were brought to a shower. My father pressed my hand so hard that it hurt. He was sure that we were being taken to a gas chamber. And then I remember the terrible weather. It rained and snowed as if the God himself wanted to have part in our misery. And then I especially remember when we marched through Koenigsdorf. I was at the end of my endurance and was ready to lie down and give up the ghost as suddenly we walked by an old house. Through a crack in the blackout curtain, I saw an old man sitting in a rocking chair. A golden flame was flickering from a fireplace, casting shadows on the wall. The scene was the closest thing to paradise I could imagine. I could almost feel the coziness, and the warmth of the fire. It was a scene of painful normalcy, all feelings that I had forgotten long ago. Yet at the same time it brought me out of my thoughtless lethargy. From somewhere inside of me, a source of untapped strength sprang forth, forcing my trembling legs to move ahead.
And so I continued. That was the last day before our liberation. That night we were brought into a forest, where we, starved to death and exhausted, simply fell to the ground. It snowed that night and the snow covered our bodies. For some, the snow became their grave; for us who survived, the snow was our means of survival, because the SS men who wanted to shoot us couldn't see us. The Americans were too close for them to start digging us out one by one. During the night, they ran away and in the morning, we were freed. My liberators were Japanese American soldiers of the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion that found me half-dead in the snow and brought me to Waakirchen.
How we survived the Holocaust is a miracle; how we survived it mentally is a different story. No one who survived that hell could escape with his mental health intact. Our minds, and even our souls, were wounded. We were traumatized to such an extent that no human soul could tolerate. But in spite of it, we are still here! From the burned down tree trunks that we were, we grew new branches and buds. We built new families and turned the desert into a fruitful land.
And now we stand close the end of the century. Once more, there are many dangers before us. Dangers of fascism, anti-Semitism and the hatred of foreigners. This time we shouldn't stand on the sideline and we must explain to the coming generations to what it can lead.
We together, the survivors from the camps and the Germans, who remember our bloody past and are not willing ever to forget it, to you we stretch out our hand in friendship, for the coming generations. May the world take an example from us.
As the world-famous psychologist Victor E. Frankl said: “The world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best.”
So, let us be alert--alert in a twofold sense. Since Auschwitz, we know what man is capable of. And since Hiroshima, we know what is at stake.
And now I would like to surprise you, with two of the ex-soldiers of the American Army, Clarence Matsumura and John Tsukano, who then, in May 1945, found me in the snow and saved my life. They are here with us. They came from Los Angeles and Hawaii in order to be with us at this commemoration ceremony.
A third guest is the historian Eric Saul from San Francisco, who two years ago in Jerusalem brought us together once more.
Quotes by Solly Ganor
The Diary of Solly Ganor (Light One Candle)
In 1933, when I was five years old, Hitler came to power in Germany and my parents decided to leave the predominantly ethnic German population of Heydekrug where I was born. We moved to Kaunas, where a third of the population, some 30,000 people, were Jews. The Jewish community was diverse, and Jewish cultural activities were highly developed. There were schools conducted in Hebrew and Yiddish, Jewish newspapers and theaters.
The move to Kaunas caused a great upheaval in my life.
My mother's family was huge. My grandparents, two great uncles and their wives, five sets of aunts and uncles, and more cousins than I could count. All lived in Kaunas. My father called them the Strom clan, and that was the maiden name of my mother.
I remember my childhood with great fondness. I was surrounded by a loving family who pampered me with their affection.
In Hanukah 1939, I met someone that had a profound influence on my life to this day. His name was Chiune Sugihara, the Consul of Japan in Kaunas.
I met him quite accidentally, at my Aunt Anushka's gourmet shop and he gave me some Hanukah money. He smiled when he gave me the money and told me that he is my Japanese uncle. There was humor and kindness in those strange eyes, and I immediately warmed to him. "You should come to our Hanukah party on Saturday," I blurted out. "The whole family will be there. Seeing as how you are my uncle," I added.
That was the beginning of a strange friendship between an eleven-year-old boy and his Excellency, the Consul of Japan. It was eight months later, in July 1940, that we found out what a great humanitarian I befriended, when he began issuing visas to Jewish refugees from Poland against his government's orders. I remember Jewish crowds besieging the consulate, where Chiune Sugihara sat and wrote visas from early morning till late at night, with barely a break for food. In August 1940, he left by train for Berlin, his new post. A crowd of Jewish refugees came to the station and with tears in their eyes, bid him farewell. "We will never forget you, Chiune Sugihara," they shouted, and I shouted these words with them.
Although we had received a visa from Mr. Sugihara, the Soviets stopped us from leaving. Our Lithuanian passports became invalid.
Massacre at Kazy’s Farm
"When they were down to their underwear, the German told them to line up in front of the pit, but the Lithuanians wanted them to strip, especially the women.”
"'Let the men have their fun. They've earned it,' the Lithuanian officer said.
"No!' the German snapped. It's psychologically undesirable for the men to see them naked, especially the children. Many good men simply lose their nerve. Better to leave these Untermenschen in their ridiculous underwear. You understand me?'
"The Lithuanian looked doubtful, but didn't argue the point.
"I will never forget the German's little lecture. He had enunciated clearly, and in my hiding place, I heard every word. It gave me my first insight into the Nazi killing machine.”
The massacre of these people at such close range, where we could see, hear, and smell every minute of it, went through me like a branding iron. I was a normal thirteen-year-old boy brought up in a sheltered environment, and suddenly I was plunged into a world where anyone who felt like it could hunt me down and kill me.
“Soon after I began writing my diary in 1939, Kaunas became a sort of way station filled with people desperately seeking asylum from the Nazis. They sought help from any country they thought might receive them. Most of them were denied and were turned away by one government after another. The one official who offered the Jews any hope was the representative of a government, which shortly became Germany's strongest ally. That man was the Consul of Japan, Chiune Sugihara, who risked his career, his honor, perhaps even his life, to save more than six thousand Jews."
"In my memory of those years Sugihara stands out as a single light in a sea of darkness. My family, for various reasons, was not among the fortunate thousands he helped directly, but he remained an inspiration to me throughout the terrible years to come-years spent in the Slabodke ghetto and in the camps of Dachau." (p. xii Solly Ganor. Light One Candle)
The diary of Clarence Matsumura
Almost all of them were wearing black and white striped uniforms. I don't know how any of them could stand on their feet. They were nothing but skin and bones. We kept finding them along the roads. We went into the village and got the Germans out of their houses and brought these prisoners in. We put them in their beds, on their sofas, wherever we could make them comfortable.
"The first thing we got them was water. But the thing was, a lot of them couldn't swallow. They were starving, but only the strong ones could eat or drink.
"I remember holding these people up and trying to feed them broth. We were doing that day and night for several days. We didn't know what else to do. They were so emaciated you couldn't tell whether they were men or women.
"Did I talk about it with my family, with the other Nisei? No, I didn't talk about it. We couldn't understand why people had to go and do things like that to other human beings.”
(Light One Candle, p. xiii)
"We sat in tense silence, listening to screaming women and children and the guttural orders of the Germans. Suddenly we heard a rapid knocking at the window. I cautiously looked out and saw a little girl of about six looking straight at me...
“It's Havale, our neighbor's daughter,” Lena whispered.
"Let me in, Lena, please let me in,” Havale cried.
"Before we could even rise to go to the door two