On June 14 Lithuania commemorates the Memorial Day of the Mass Deportations. That day in 1941 trains with tens of thousands of citizens of occupied Lithuania were deported to the Nort or Far East of the Soviet Union.
On this day I always remember the story of a Jewish teenager, Hermanas Perelsteinas, who survived his Holocaust in Siberia.
Hermanas Perelsteinas was born in 1923 in Königsberg. At his childhood he moved to Lithuanian Kaunas with his family. He was very talented in music and languages, studied piano at the Conservatory of Kaunas. After just one year of his medicine studies, at the age of 18, he was exiled to Siberia exactly on this black day – June 14, 1941.
He lost his both parents, but managed to survive working as a fisherman, an accountant, and a teacher. In Siberia he became a choirmaster and founded his first boys’ choir.
Hermanas Perelsteinas managed to return back to Lithuania in 1956 and settled in Vilnius. Here his second exile began: a Jew, being not accepted by the Soviets as a former deportee, he gained the opportunity to “legalize” himself in Vilnius only with the help of famous opera singer Kipras Petrauskas. In 1959 he founded a boy’s choir “Ąžuoliukas” (Little Oak Tree), the most famous boys’ choir of all time in Lithuania, but the choir was not Jewish: local Jews were not very fond of this idea. Hermanas Perelsteinas worked in the Music Academy of Lithuania (the Conservatory at that time) for a long time, but never had a chance to become PhD.
In 1979 he finally emigrated to the USA, his third and the last exile, where he worked as a music teacher. During his last visit to his home country – independent Lithuania, he was re-habilitated as a professor and recognized as PhD.
Hermanas Perelsteinas died in 1998 in New York and was buried in New Jersey.
His story is another story of proud survival.
Thanks to his former students and choir singers, a firm oak tree is growing near the National Museum of Lithuania. The tree was planted back in 1979, when Maestro was departing abroad. Memorial plaque is installed on the house where Hermanas Perelsteinas once worked in Vilnius.