MEMOIRS | GLORIFICATION OF COLLABORATORS | HUMAN RIGHTS | PERSON OF THE YEAR | LITHUANIA | LITVAK AFFAIRS
My good friend and colleague for two and a half years in Vilnius, Dónal Denham, has written a book with the title Nine Lives: The Reflections of a Dedicated Diplomat. The book is an interesting, fascinating read about an eventful career in the service of Ireland at home and abroad, enriched by an excellent selection of photos that add life and substance to the text. The author also draws a vivid picture of his early formative years in Ireland and England and student years at Trinity College. He writes warmly about his family, not avoiding the pain of personal losses, exacerbated by separation and distance. Diplomats from all countries would subscribe to his tribute to his wife Siobhan (“without whom nothing worthwhile would have happened to me”) who “as an unpaid ‘trailing spouse’ was a treasure beyond measure, largely unrecognized by officialdom.”
So, which are Dónal Denham’s nine diplomatic lives?
This is part of a “reflection” that has been more than 65 years in the making. My earliest memories are of being surrounded by a warm and caring rather secular Jewish family in Johannesburg, South Africa, that all seemed to have hailed from a tiny place called Plungyán, in Lithuania, which made us all “Litvaks”. Only more recently did I learn that this pertained not only to my mother’s side of the family. My father’s side came from Riga in Latvia, also Litvaks, fortunately. Both families left The Pale of Settlement in the time-frame 1890-1906, eventually finding their way to Heilbron in the Orange Free State in the case of my Mom’s family, and Ceres in the Cape of Good Hope for my Dad’s. Both of these were to become part of the Union of South Africa in 1910.
I grew up believing that the most important people in my world came from The Pale, most specifically this tiny dot on the map called Plungyán, that they migrated to South Africa where they settled, proliferated, bickered, were educated and prospered. Then, after two or three generations, many, if not most left South Africa, perhaps the biggest group to Israel in the 1950’s and 60’s, some to Australia, the UK and USA, and the Daneman clan to Canada.
N. Fresco, Remembering the Unknown
On the 18th of February 1960 my late father Ernest Lowenberg went to the German embassy in London to declare his brother Paul Loewenberg and Latvian born father David Loewenberg/Levenbergs dead.
The following letter, presented in German facsmile of the original and in a draft English translation, was sent by German soldier Heinrich Sandt (1908 — 19??) from Kaunas (Kovno), Lithuania, on 29 June 1941 (the letter is both dated and stamped with the date). He was a member of the 10th Company of Infantry Regiment 89 (later Grenadier Regiment 89). He wrote the letter to his wife Elisabeth about what he witnessed in Kaunas. The 89th appears to have crossed the Nemunas (Nieman River) on 25 June 1941.
Whenever I drive from Skaudvilė to Batakiai I almost always turn off the road at Šilas, stopping at the location of the mass grave of the people who were shot there in 1941. Here, the sky is always dark. The sunlight over the graves is blocked out by a forest of unruly spruce, birches, aspen. Everything seems completely calm here. Occasionally, I catch the light scent of the forest, carried out on a breeze as the wind roars through the trees. I pause. I remove my hat. Slowly, I pull a photograph out of a notebook I carry with me always. A twelve year old girl smiles out at me from that photograph. The photograph is quite worn out. In places there are creases. That’s because I have been carrying this photograph around with me for many years now. The person who this photograph belongs to is already long gone and buried. I listen and I can almost hear her voice: “My Algis, farewell. I am leaving forever.”Continue reading
I was born in 1927 in the city whose official name was then Wilno, Poland (historically Vilna, today’s Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania). When I was fourteen, the Nazis took over the city, began murdering its Jewish population and set up the Vilna Ghetto. My own survival is due to my having been taken as a teenage repairman of German military vehicles at the plant known as HKP (Heereskraftfahrpark or Army Motor Vehicle Repair Park) on Subotsh Street (today’s Subačiaus). That one enterprise was under the directorship of Major Karl Plagge (1897–1957), a righteous gentile who did everything he could to protect as many Jewish workers as possible from the huge murder machine. Famously, shortly before the Nazi flight from the Soviet army in the summer of 1944, he gave a coded warning to his workers about a need for imminent escape.
Ponary Diary, 1941 — 1943. A Bystander’s Account of a Mass Murder. by Kazimierz Sakowicz. Edited by Yitzhak Arad. Foreword by Rachel Margolis. Yale University Press: New Haven and London 2005.
It goes without saying that a book of eyewitness Holocaust testimony penned at Lithuania’s largest mass grave site in the years 1941 to 1943, and first published in English in 2005, does not lose its importance for those who have not read it even a decade later; even if many other, much less important books, sport a more recent date of publication. Moreover, given the Lithuanian government’s campaign against the scholar who rediscovered and first published the manuscript in the 1990s, and against the scholar who edited the English edition cited above (both as part of its campaign against Jewish partisan survivors), the poignancy and human interest are even greater. It is indeed a most appropriate time to pay tribute to that rediscoverer, Dr. Rachel Margolis (1921—2015), who passed away in Rehovot, Israel last summer, without realizing, in her nineties, her dying wish of visiting her native Vilna one last time, because of her fear of prosecutors’ threats and intimidation.
While there has been some research on and recognition of the exiles from Nazism who settled in the UK, little is known about their children: the British second generation, and what the long term effects of their parents’ exile have been on them. Indeed, this has been a largely invisible group. My book Breaking the Silence. Voices of the British Children of Refugees from Nazism (Rowman and Littlefield, 2015) set out to cast light on this second generation group.
Coming across the Jewish Life in Poland section of Yivo’s website, I decided to write this short memoir. This photograph shows the teachers and graduates of the Vilner Yiddish Real-Gymnasium (Vílner yídishe reál-gimnázye) in 1930. The school’s principal was Leyb Turbowich, and the literature teacher (until his migration to Minsk in 1928) was the great Jewish poet Moyshe Kulbak, the author of a well-known Yiddish poem Vílne, among many others.
“For us, all of Latvia is a huge cemetery – a cemetery without graves or gravestones.”
— Max Kaufmann
The English edition of Max Kaufman’s largely forgotten book, Churbn Lettland: The Destruction of the Jews of Latvia, now available online, is a most welcome, and important, addition to the library of serious works on the Latvian Holocaust.
This extract from a Litvak memoir by Shloyme Gilinsky who was born in 1888 in Lingmyán (now Linkmenys, Lithuania), and died in 1961 in the US, has been translated from the original Yiddish by the author’s son, Victor Gilinsky (Los Angeles, California).
Victor Gilinsky writes:
“My father was born in 1988 in Lingmyan and died in 1961 in Lexington NY, on a summer holiday. He lived n NYC. I have attached my favorite picture of him—teaching a class, probably around the time of World War I. Note the kids have very short hair—just growing back after having their heads shaved to deal with lice, and they don’t have shoes. This was their only way to the larger world, like in an earlier generation the Gaon’s Kloyz, and the ferment around it, was for him.
“I’m in Santa Monica. I had a small memorial plaque put on a bench facing the ocean near the Santa Monica pier. I was allowed three lines of 24 characters each so I had to figure out how to sum him up with that limitation. I had them inscribe:
Shloyme Gilinsky d 1961
Started Yiddish schools
in Poland, mourned them
I write this in nineteen hundred sixty in New York, a long way from my beginnings before the turn of the century in a Lithuanian shtetl. We Jews called it Duksht. The Lithuanians in the surrounding countryside had their own name, as did the Poles, and the ruling Russians. But we lived apart from the rest, in our own world, a situation that was about to change. I want to tell you how Henke’s legend awakened me and the other young Jewish boys in town to the broader world, and how it ultimately set the course of my life.
In 2011, I made my first journey to Riga, the capital city of Latvia.
A few months before, I had been tracked down by two distant cousins on a genealogy site, quite out of the blue. I remember the strange feeling I had when one of them asked me if I felt “Latvian.” Latvian? German Christian, German Jewish, British, yes — but Latvian Jewish? No.
This is a chapter from the memoirs written by Yehiel Zilberman, translated from Russian by Olga Gorelik (© Yehiel Zilberman & Olga Gorelik). The chapter appears in Defending History by permission of the copyright holders, with thanks to the good offices of Victor Shifrin (Los Angeles).
The Vilna Ghetto memoir of Rozka Korczak-Marlé (1921–1988) is unfortunately completely unknown to Lithuanians today. I have therefore decided to translate the book into Lithuanian (from the Russian edition that Korczak herself edited), and have published two samples, here and here, on Anarchija.lt.