Raised in a Jewish family, Josef lived with his wife, Feiga, in Kovno, a cosmopolitan city that was picturesquely situated at the juncture of two rivers and was known as the "Little Paris." Josef was a barber, his wife was a beautician, and together they ran a shop in downtown Kovno.
1933-39: Every day Josef and Feiga walk to their shop which is not far from their house. It's hard work being a barber--Josef is on his feet most of the day, seven days a week including a couple of hours on Sunday. He has some interesting customers, though, such as the opera star, Kypris Petraskaus. All the work will seem worth it if he can help his son, Abe, have a better life, as a doctor or a lawyer. He's a good boy and sometimes helps his parents out at the shop.
1940-44: The Germans have occupied Kovno. They've forced all the Jews to wear the Star of David and to relocate to a fenced-in ghetto. Every day the guards take people away, never to return. This morning--a cold, drizzly autumn day--everyone in the ghetto has to report to Democracy Plaza for an inspection. The Litwaks have to comply or risk being killed. Josef wonders where will they take them and what will happen to them. They march to the Plaza over streets lightly dusted with snow--Feiga, Abe and Josef, Feiga's sister, Yenta, and their 66-year-old mother.
That October 26, 1941, Lithuanian guards under German orders killed 10,000 Jews. Josef escaped. In 1944 he was deported to five concentration camps. He was liberated in 1945.