During World War II, extreme atrocities were committed across the globe. Between Shades of Gray is the story of the genocide of the Baltic people of Eastern Europe by the Soviet Union, one that is significantly less well known than the genocide of the Jews and other minorities in the Holocaust. Eager to institute Communist rule and reduce dissent in Baltic countries annexed by the Soviet Union during the war, Josef Stalin charged dissidents with crimes against the state and sentenced men, women, children, and the elderly to years in labor camps under inhuman conditions. The mass murder of the Baltic people is still not well known, in large part because, unlike the Nazis in Germany, the Soviet Union continued under Stalin’s rule after the end of World War II, and former prisoners faced further punishment if they spoke out about their years in the camps.
By writing Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys, the daughter of Lithuanian immigrants, hopes to bring awareness of the plight of the Baltic people during the Second World War—to memorialize their loss but also to capture them as real, living people, and to put them back into the history from which they were swept away.
Genocide Quotes in Between Shades of Gray
The truck stopped in front of the hospital. Everyone seemed relieved that they would tend to the bald man’s injuries. But they did not. They were waiting. A woman who was also on the list was giving birth to a baby. As soon as the umbilical cord was cut, they would both be thrown into the truck.
Mother continued to speak in Russian and pulled a pocket watch from her coat. I knew that watch. It was her father’s and had his name engraved in the soft gold on the back. The officer snatched the watch, let go of Jonas, and started yelling at the people next to us.
Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother’s was worth a pocket watch.
“Jonas,” said Mother, stroking my brother’s face. “I can’t trust them. Stalin has told the NKVD that Lithuanians are the enemy. The commander and the guards look at us as beneath them. Do you understand?”
“Because they threatened to kill me unless she slept with them. And if they get tired of her, they still might kill me. So how would you feel, Lina, if your mother felt she had to prostitute herself to save your life?
Jonas was learning Russian much quicker than I was. He could understand a fair amount of conversation and could even use slang. I constantly asked him to translate. I hated the sound of the Russian language.
“For I have eaten ashes like bread, and mingled my drink with weeping.
My days are like a shadow that declineth; and I am withered like grass.”
I grabbed our family photo and stuffed it up my dress. I would hide it on the way to the kolkhoz office. Kretszky didn’t notice. He stood motionless, holding his rifle, staring at all the photographs.
“The Jews are the scapegoat for all of Germany’s problems,” said the bald man. “Hitler’s convinced racial purity is the answer. It’s too complicated for children to understand.”
“I can’t do this! I won’t die here. I will not let a fox eat us!” Suddenly the woman grabbed Janina by the throat. A thick gurgle came from Janina’s windpipe.
Mother threw herself on Janina’s mother and pried her fingers from her daughter’s neck. Janina caught her breath and began to sob.
“No, I saw it. She was pretty. Krasivaya.”
No. Not that word. I was supposed to learn it on my own. Not from Kretszky.
“It means beautiful, but with strength,” he slurred. “Unique.”
It is my greatest hope that the pages in this jar stir your deepest well of human compassion. I hope they prompt you to do something, to tell someone. Only then can we ensure that this kind of evil is never allowed to repeat itself.