By Desrae Saacks, Editor Cape Jewish Chronicle
In April I will be visiting Lithuania as a guest of the Lithuanian government.
I’ve been invited for a week-long trip in my capacity as editor of a South African Jewish publication, and in acknowledgement of the majority of South African Jewry’s Lithuanian roots. It’s no secret that the Lithuanians are reaching out to our community, in a gesture of friendship and relationship-building. I have been wrestling with the question of whether it is appropriate that I accept this invitation.
The CJC regularly carries adverts from different agencies offering to facilitate access to Lithuanian citizenship, and many have been successful in achieving this. Recently, the film J’accuse was screened — at the Labia Theatre and again online. The film documents the exceptionally cruel fate of the Jewish community that was still living in Lithuania in 1941, and the complicity of the local Lithuanian population. It highlights the failure of the current Lithuanian government to acknowledge the role of its people, even to the point of elevating one particularly brutal mass murderer to hero status.
Another glimpse into Jewish Lithuanian life-as-it-was can be seen at the Cape Town Holocaust and Genocide Centre’s current exhibition (see page 16 or click here). Through the lense of posters recovered from the Vilna Ghetto, we see a community rich in culture, education and faith. As a predominantly Litvak community, we are painfully aware that many of us might have had family members among them. The scale of the loss is brought into focus as we get a glimpse into these people’s humanity, aware of the unspeakably horrific fate that awaited them, and the richness that they and their descendants would have added to our lives and our communities had they survived.
Also on page 16, read an excerpt of the address by the Lithuanian ambassador at the opening of the exhibition. Clearly, attempts are being made to redress the terrible crime perpetrated against the Jews of Lithuania, often at the hands of Lithuanian nationals. In preparation for my trip I’ve been reading various sources (courtesy of the Gitlin Library) on the history of Lithuanian Jewry.
I will travel to Lithuania, receptive to my hosts’ efforts at reconciliation, but mindful of the need for full disclosure and honesty for this to be possible.
I look forward to reporting back on my trip.
• Published in the March 2023 Digital Edition – Click here to start reading.
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