Monday, May 21, 2012

We Are Here: Memories of the Lithuanian Holocaust by Ellen Cassedy 2012

Interviewing locals, uncovering forgotten archives and encountering a strange old man who wants to 'speak to a Jew' before he dies, Cassedy weaves together a historical quilt that provides important context. From a review by Abe Novick published in the Baltimore Jewish Times on 4/27/2012

Ellen Cassedy, a journalist, felt many emotional connections to the Jewish Lithuania where her maternal grandfather immigrated from, and, after her mother died, she especially missed the Yiddish that helped to connect her to that world. So she enrolled in a summer Yiddish course at Vilnius University in Lithuania and visited towns, streets and buildings that were connected to the life of her family.

She had two other goals as well. Before she left for Lithuania she visited her grandfather’s elderly half-brother, Willie, the last surviving member of her grandfather’s generation, who had been a prisoner of the Shavl ghetto. He looked at maps with her and gave her information she wanted to check out. And she also was interested in assessing how contemporary Lithuanian institutions and ordinary Lithuanian citizens were dealing with their roles in all but eliminating the Lithuanian Jewish community.

The author had a challenging but rewarding stay in Lithuania. She was overwhelmed by the intensity of her Yiddish classes. The same was true about her travels around Lithuania and her conversations with both Jewish and non-Jewish citizens. All of it was emotionally exhausting, but she found her Yiddish improved in leaps and bounds. And in her travels, in some cases she found what she assumed she’d find: many Lithuanians ignorant of their own history. But she also met Lithuanians who had played a role in saving Jews and heard stories about others who had hidden Jews in barns and attics and had passed food over the ghetto walls.

What was most enlightening to Cassedy and what she spends some time developing are the essential questions she began to formulate after her encounters with both Jews and non-Jews. She conducts an interesting analysis of the supposedly opposing terms: victim and collaborator, enforcer and protector, resister and bystander. And her discussion of how you define resistance both within and outside the ghetto is thought provoking, as is her discussion of forgiveness, condemnation, revenge and hatred.

In this engaging memoir the author, who begins with an informative overview of Lithuanian Jewish history and then takes us through the horrors of World War II and its aftermath, ends in the present, contemplating the future. She takes comfort in learning that young Lithuanians are far better informed because of the many thoughtful programs and exhibits that have been designed by Jews and non-Jews.. She learns that they are presented at schools and museums, and she sees that markers memorializing murdered Jews have become part of the landscape. She hopes against hope that lessons about the past will take hold and inform the future.

To consult a Lithuania Holocaust atlas, click here.
 To read an interview with Ellen Cassedy about the writing of this memoir click here.

Dovid Mikhl Levinas – married Asne; second wife Soreh
    Yankl (Jack) Levinas – son of Dovid Mikhl and Asne
        Ellen Cassedy – married Jeff Blum; author
            Tim and Meg Blum – children of Ellen and Jeff
    Shaya Levinas – son of Dovid Mikhl and Asne
    Aaron Levin(as) – son of Dovid Mikhl and Asne; married Sonya
        Asya Levin Shindelman – daughter of Aaron and Sonya
        Vova Levin – son of Aaron and Sonya
    Taybe Levinaite – daughter of Dovid Mikhl and Asne
    Soreh Levinaite – daughter of Dovid Mikhl and Asne
    Rikle Levinaite – daughter of Dovid Mikhl and Asne
    Luba Levinaite – daughter of Dovid Mikhl and Asne
    Menachem Mendel Levinas – son of Dovid Mikhl and Asne
    Pinchas Levinas – son of Dovid Mikhl and Asne
    William Levin(as)– son of Dovid Mikhl and Soreh; married Manya
        David and Daniel Levin – cousins of author; probably sons of William and Manya

Friends and Acquaintances and Sources
Mendy Cahan
Yitskhok Niborski
Khanan Bordin
Irena Veisaite (Veis, Weiss)
Shimon Alperovitch
Efroyim Gens
Jacob Gens – brother to Efroyim
Abner Kovner
Itzik Wittenberg
Leonidas Donskis
Regina Kopilevich
Emanuel Zingeris
Rokhl Kostanian
Milan Chersonskij
Shimon Davidovitch
Dana Pomerants
Boris Stein
Levi Shalit
Eliezer Yerushalmi
Khayim Zhilinski

Vilnius (Vilna), Lithuania
Vilna ghetto, Lithuania
The Chor Shul (the Choral Synagogue), Vilnius
Rokiskis, Lithuania
Siauliai (Shavl), Lithuania
Shavl ghetto, Lithuania
Kaunus (Kovno), Lithuania
Kovno ghetto, Lithuania
Ponar forest, Lithuania
Kedainiai, Lithuania
Birzai, Lithuania
Butrimonys, Lithuania
Bajorai, Lithuania
Sobibor Concentration Camp, Poland
Dachau Concentration Camp, Germany
Irkutsk, Siberia
Vorkuta, Siberia