I’ve just returned from two busy weeks in
Lithuania. It was a packed and fascinating trip!
Vilnius Book Fair
The annual fair draws 60,000 people. Long lines
outside, elbow to elbow inside. For a writer, what could be
more heartwarming? Mes
esame cia, the Lithuanian edition of my book, is now
available in hardback and e-book formats. Order it here.
I gave talks at schools in six cities, speaking about
Lithuania’s Jewish history, the Holocaust, and the actions and inactions
of Lithuanians during the Nazi era. I told students about
tolerance leaders in Lithuania today. I described my searing
encounter (described in the book) with a Lithuanian witness to the
Holocaust in my ancestral town. I asked students to reflect on
how they themselves can help build a tolerant society where citizens
can stand up and speak up.
I was inspired by the teachers I met who’ve stepped up to teach about
these subjects. At the Atzalynas high school in Kedainiai, for
example, 15 teachers are leading a school-wide curriculum about the
Holocaust. Eighty-five high schools now form a network of official
I spoke with activists who used Facebook to recruit
people to join in commemorating the Jews of the Vilna Ghetto.
On the anniversary of the liquidation of the ghetto, people came
together to read out, one at a time, the names of those who
perished. These same activists took yellow stars to the
Lithuanian Parliament and asked Members of Parliament to wear them in
solidarity with the murdered Jews; many did.
In Vilnius, I saw new exhibits at the Jewish Museum’s Tolerance
Center and the Green House (the Holocaust Museum). I visited
the new Jewish Culture and Information Center in the old Jewish
quarter, and the new Holocaust exhibit at the controversial Museum of
Genocide Victims. In the meeting room of the new Vilnius Jewish
Library, I spoke to two high school classes, including students from
the Sholem Aleichem Jewish high school.
In Kedainiai, I visited the impressive new Holocaust exhibit at the
Multicultural Center. I admired the extraordinary commemorative
sculpture outside the former synagogue.
I attended a performance of a new play, Night and Day (“Diena ir
naktis”), by Daiva Čepauskaitė, which interweaves the Holocaust past
with present-day Lithuania, powerfully challenging and educating the
I met a young man who had led the building of a new Holocaust
memorial in the center of Zagare, a town that traces its Jewish
history back to the 1600’s. He wrote to a Jewish descendant of
My initiative to unveil the plaque is a small step
forward to explain the truth to local residents. I do not want
my children to grow up in a world of lies. The more I talk, the
more response and understanding I get from others, and I slowly
achieve small results.
The Jewish spirit
is alive, and I and my family want to make it stronger, if there is a
way – to do something to ease the pain.
now on, even though I know Zagare will remain the sad recollection
for Jews, may I once again call it your home – sad, still bleeding,
but the roots are priceless.
I paid my respects at the grave of my
great-grandfather, Dovid-Mikhl Levin, in the old Jewish cemetery. In
the local high school, I was warmly welcomed by students, teachers,
museum staff, the mayor, and a beautiful player of the kankles
(zither). Then, with a museum official, I made my way through
the snow to the mass murder site in the forest outside town. A
few days later, I spoke to the Rokiskis Club of Vilnius; I was moved
as elderly people who grew up in Rokiskis shared their painful
memories of the events of 1941.
Looking to the Future
Throughout my visit, I was privileged to engage in long conversations
with people who care deeply about Jewish remembrance in Lithuania –
people who, in a sometimes hostile environment, are working to build
an active, tolerant civil society. As one longtime tolerance
leader told me: “We have still a long way to go – but the main
thing is that we are going.”
London & Leeds
My talk at the very exciting London Jewish Book Week was sold
out. I also spoke at University College London, the Jewish
Genealogy Society of Great Britain, and the wonderful Jewish
Historical Society in Leeds. A special highlight was a singing
tour of London’s East End, the old Jewish quarter, conducted by Vivi
Along with winning the 2013 Grub Street National Book Prize and a
2013 Prakhin International Literary Foundation award, We Are Here is a
finalist for a Book of the Year Award from ForeWord Reviews.
Help Spread the Word
We Are Here is now in its second printing. Please
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