Before the Holocaust

For decades, a confessional in a church in Lithuania’s capital Vilnius kept a precious secret: a trove of documents offering an unprecedented glimpse into Jewish life in Eastern Europe before and during the Holocaust

Published: 03rd January 2018 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 03rd January 2018 01:56 AM   |  A+A-

For decades, a confessional in a church in Lithuania’s capital Vilnius kept a precious secret: a trove of documents offering an unprecedented glimpse into Jewish life in Eastern Europe before and during the Holocaust

Treasure trove of religious texts in Lithuania

The cache, with documents dating back to the mid-18th century, includes religious texts, Yiddish literature and poetry, testimonies about pogroms as well as autobiographies and photographs. The trove was discovered earlier this year during a cleanout of the St. George’s Church that was used as a book repository during Soviet times, according to AFP

‘Jerusalem of the North’

Known as the “Jerusalem of the North” before World War II, Vilnius—Vilna in Hebrew and Vilne in Yiddish—was a hub of Jewish cultural and religious life and home to hundreds of Jewish social, religious, cultural and scientific organisations

Established in 1925, the YIVO Yiddish Scientific Institute, that documented Jewish life in Eastern Europe, was among the most important. Its New York branch was founded in 1926, and became the institute’s headquarters in 1940 as Nazi Germany invaded Eastern Europe

Saving Jewish texts from Nazis and Soviets

After occupying Vilnius in 1941, the Nazis destroyed the Jewish community and plundered its cultural wealth. Jewish poets and intellectuals were coerced by the Nazis in the Vilnius ghetto into selecting Yiddish and Hebrew books and documents for a planned institute in Germany about the people they had slated for annihilation

After the war, a Lithuanian librarian, Antanas Ulpis, intervened to save those documents that had survived the Nazis from the country’s new Soviet occupiers, who were bent on destroying them as part of dictator Joseph Stalin’s anti-Jewish purges. The entire collection which included nearly 1,70,000 pages then remained untouched for decades in the St. George’s Church till now

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