Jewish Cultural Life in the Vilna Ghetto

Roskies, David G.

Each Nazi ghetto was different, and each Nazi ghetto was the same. The historian's task is to reconstruct the life of each ghetto in relation to its past, specific surroundings, and chronology of destruction. In terms of size, location, demography, languages, and politics, Vilna was as different from Warsaw as Warsaw was from Lodz. Samuel Kassow, in his meticulous comparison of the two great ghetto diaries by Herman Kruk and Emanuel Ringelblum, has demonstrated that without knowledge of the Polish language (for example), one cannot understand the inner working of the Warsaw ghetto. In Vilna, by contrast, a knowledge of Yiddish and Hebrew is sufficient. However, the various forms of Jewish self-expression in the Vilna ghetto were quite similar to those of other ghettos: theater and cabaret, concerts and choirs, sermons and communal prayer, eulogies, classes for children and adults, journalism, public lectures and colloquia, scholarship, sports, popular songs, epic and lyric poetry, the graphic arts, proclamations, and diaries. What is more astounding: the comprehensive scope of this list, a whole culture reconstituting itself in the face of total destruction; its internal coherence“•the same forms everywhere“•testifying to the extraordinary viability of Jewish culture throughout central and Eastern Europe; or the degree to which secular modes of self-expression so far outweighed the classical forms? Other than sermons and communal prayer, eulogies, and popular songs, these forms of self-expression had entered the culture of Yiddish-speaking Jews barely a century before“•and some, such as sports and proclamations, much more recently than that.



Also Published In

Lithuania and the Jews: The Holocaust Chapter: Symposium Presentations
Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

More About This Work

Academic Units
Jewish Theological Seminary
Published Here
June 27, 2012