We Are Here: Memories of the Lithuanian Holocaust

We Are Here: Memories of the Lithuanian Holocaust

We Are Here: Memories of the Lithuanian Holocaust

We Are Here: Memories of the Lithuanian Holocaust

Synopsis

Ellen Cassedy's longing to recover the Yiddish she'd lost with her mother's death eventually led her to Lithuania, once the Jerusalem of the North. As she prepared for her journey, her uncle, sixty years after he'd left Lithuania in a boxcar, made a shocking disclosure about his wartime experience, and an elderly man from her ancestral town made an unsettling request. Gradually, what had begun as a personal journey broadened into a larger exploration of how the people of this country, Jews and non-Jews alike, are confronting their past in order to move forward into the future. How does a nation of successor generations, moral beings overcome a bloody past? How do we judge the bystanders, collaborators, perpetrators, rescuers, and ourselves? These are the questions Cassedy confronts in We Are Here, one woman's exploration of Lithuania's Jewish history combined with a personal exploration of her own family's place in it. Digging through archives with the help of a local whose motives are puzzling to her; interviewing natives, including an old man who wants to speak to a Jew before he dies; discovering the complications encountered by a country that endured both Nazi and Soviet occupation Cassedy finds that it's not just the facts of history that matter, but what we choose to do with them.

Excerpt

The sky was a brilliant blue, with puffy clouds, as I hurried through the iron gates of Vilnius University. (Founded in 1579, it is among the oldest in Eastern Europe.) I crossed the cobblestoned courtyard where we’d gathered the evening before and climbed a steep staircase. High up under the eaves was a classroom just big enough for twenty students, with a blackboard and four rows of battered wooden tables. Through the open window, a light breeze carried the sounds of voices, honking horns, and clattering silverware from Pilies gatve (Lithuanian for “Castle Street”), the busy thoroughfare down below.

We students introduced ourselves. We were young, old, and in-between. Most were Jewish, but many were gentiles. Among us were two German teachers from Japan, a Soviet dissident now living in Israel, an American man whose dying father had begged him to study Yiddish. There were a Dutch librarian, a tango singer from Argentina, a white-haired Holocaust survivor from Australia, and a German psychiatrist who’d started learning Yiddish when her psychotic patient refused to communicate in any other tongue.

From our seats, we took stock of the instructor we would be facing for two hours every morning. Yitskhok Niborski was a distinguished scholar from a Yiddish institute in Paris. (Pronouncing his name, YITS-khok, with its guttural traffic jam of consonants . . .

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