Conference Proceeding: New Life for an Old Library: Report from the Vilna Ghetto

In the Vilna Ghetto during World War II, the ghetto library drew thousands of patrons and circulated more than 100,000 books. Today, a group of young Lithuanians are hoping that the now-empty building, currently owned by the Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum, will again become a place where Lithuania’s magnificent Jewish cultural heritage can be remembered, mourned, and honored. The first event – a reading of poetry by ghetto prisoner Avrom Sutzkever, in Lithuanian translation – was held in September. This presentation describes the library’s prewar history and its functioning as a cultural center within the ghetto. Ellen will then describe how current plans for the building’s restoration fit within the broader project of Lithuania’s encounter with the Jewish past. As expressions of anti-Semitism proliferate in many European countries, officials, educators, activists, and scholars are seeking to connect this small Baltic land with the Jewish past and with the Holocaust. Once, the ghetto library opened a wider world to trapped ghetto residents. In the future, perhaps, it will once again become a place that opens minds and hearts.