What to read before Jewish heritage Tour to Lithuania

Reading is an exercise in empathy; an exercise in walking in someone else’s shoes for a while. — Malorie Blackman

Getting ready for a jewish heritage tour

JeruLita team offers travelers an overview of books related to the Jewish history and culture of Lithuania, its cities, and sites to visit. It will be а useful material for better orientation on the spot and in time, as well as for a correct understanding of the context of the historical events of a given place. For those who have been here, this will be an excellent occasion to recall what they have seen.

"The Gaon of Vilna - The Man and his Legacy"

Elijah ben Shlomo Zalman, known as the Gaon of Vilna, was born in 1720. In 2020 we celebrate the 300th anniversary of the great Talmudic and halakhic scholar. Lithuanian Parliament, Seimas, proclaimed this year as a year of the Gaon of Vilna and Lithuanian Jewish History. You will find in this book several articles about the tremendous rabbinical authority and his time. The work in the form of an album is valuable because it contains portraits, painted by the Gaon’s admirers and the views of the Jewish Quarter in Vilnius. It also presents paintings of the Great Synagogue of Vilna and illustrations from the numerous Judaic books published in this city.  

“Profiles of a Lost World” by Hirsz Abramowicz

It is a book of Memoirs of East European Jewish Life before World War II by Hirsz Abramowicz (1881-1960), a prominent Jewish writer, educator, and cultural figure. The book contains articles, essays, ethnographic studies, memoirs about Lithuanian Jewish life before and after the Great War. Abramowicz describes the rural Jewish occupations and what was Lithuanian Shtetl, he gives the reader an idea of what was the diet Lithuanian Jews, and what was Jewish vocational education at that time.

His particular interest is, of course, the “Jerusalem of Lithuania,” Vilnius (Vilna), which was the center of the East European Jewish intellectual and cultural life. Since he wrote all his works in Yiddish, he puts a particular emphasis on the mameloshn, a mother tongue of 99% of Vilnius Jewish residents. In his book, Abramowicz portrays the Jewish fighters against the tzarist rule, Jewish writers and poets, Jewish scholars and artists, and Jewish political and public figures.

You can buy it on Amazon.com

"The three tragic heroes of the Vilnius Ghetto: Witenberg, Sheinbaum, Gens" by N.N. Shneidman

This book is particularly useful reading for those who are to visit Vilnius during the Jewish Heritage Tour in the Baltic States. An integral part of this tour is the story of Vilna ghetto, and therefore, it is impossible not to talk about these three personalities. Thе book covers the two years of the existence of the ghetto in Vilnius. The author describes the harsh living conditions of its prisoners and their struggle for liberation from the German oppressors and the local assistants. All three men, who were the central figures in Vilnius, fell in the Large Ghetto in 1943. On the example of their fate, the author investigates three different ways of survival, three different approaches to the ways of combating the Nazis.

You can buy it on Amazon.com

Michael Good: "The Search for Major Plagge: The Nazi who saved Jews."

Another chapter of the history of the struggle against the Holocaust in Lithuania is a place in Vilnius, called “The Cheap Houses.” Here in the years, 1943-1944 SS and Wehrmacht established a forced labor camp HKP 562. The commander of the camp was Major Karl Plagge. 

Michael Good, the son of a survivor from this camp, wrote a book containing two parts, of course, related to each other. The first part is the story of the unbelievable salvation of 200 Jews from the SS hands due to the help of Major Plagge. The second is a story of the extraordinary persistence and striking stubbornness of the author in his efforts to restore historical justice. In 2005, Yad Vashem, after two unsuccessful attempts, recognized Karl Plagge as Righteous Among the Nations.

The book available at Amazon here


Yaffa Elliach: "There Once Was a World"

This book is a reading for those who want to dive deep into the details of the day-to-day life of the Lithuanian Jewish shtetl. The author was a professor of history and literature at Brooklyn College and the founder of the first Center for Holocaust Documentation and Research in the US. 

In her detailed chronicle of the shtetl of Eyshishok Yaffa Elliach covers hundreds of years of Jewish religious practice, commerce, handicrafts, agriculture, transportation, medical care, and education. Although she describes the specific town where her family comes from, it reflects the life and fate of all Lithuanian Jewish communities, and this is the most incredible value of her book. The bitter end of all of them was the same. But the work of Yaffa Elliach preserves for the coming generations the memory of that unique world.

You can buy it here

"Vilna My Vilna": Stories by Avraham Karpinowitz

All previous books represented documentary prose, essays, researches, studies, and memoirs. This book is a work of fiction, a collection of short stories, based, however, on the city folklore. The author was born in Vilnius in 1913 in the family of a director of a Yiddish Folk Theater. The boy grew up in the backstage of the theater, what he narrates masterfully in his stories. 

A lot of solid books were written about famous Vilnius residents; their names are known all over the world. Appears, that next to the prominent rabbis, scholars, writers, artists, and musicians, other people, so-called “prosteh Yidn” (simple Jews) were living in the same city. Just them the author colorfully portrays in most of his stories: artisans, peddlers, beggars, thieves, prostitutes, or just city “meshuggenehs”. These were peculiar, sometimes strange personalities, but often great idealists, whom the author describes with love and light humor. In his short stories, Avraham Karpinowitz manages to convey the authentic atmosphere of the narrow streets and crooked lanes of his native Vilnius.

to buy the book click here