Chapter 3 - Jewish Vilnius
2005年 03月 02日
Traku Street meets at right angles with Vokeciu Street and the street was the border of two Jewish ghettos. Vokeciu means German and the name is derived from German merchants who had settled on the street. In the period of Nazi occupation there existed two ghettos, one small and one big, facing each other on each side of Vokeciu Street. In the small ghetto around 11,000 Jews were packed in and they were intelligentsia, workers and handicapped people. In the big ghetto there were around 30,000 people and they were mostly craftsmen. The massacre started in the autumn of 1941 and the small ghetto was totally perished on October 21. Nazi authorities left the people alive in the big ghetto for a while, since they were beginning to lose against the Red Army and they needed more workforces to support their economy. In September 1943 the big ghetto was finally liquidated and many of the Jews were killed and others were imprisoned in concentration camps. The one who conducted was Nazi SS but they were not the only ones. Lithuanian police and sometimes even local people helped them, too. A few years ago I read an article about Lithuanians who were accused of helping the Nazi to exterminate Jews. Since the holocaust a long time has passed but the past is still waiting to be liquidated in this present time.
My residence was just outside of the big ghetto. It’s hard to believe that only 6 decades ago Jews were forced to live in the area only a few blocks away from my apartment, and they couldn’t get out where I could get in and out freely now. There are a lot of old buildings which remain from the period but most of them have been renovated and it is hard to find out there were Jewish ghettos in the area. Unfortunately almost no Jewish cultural sites or homes of renowned Jewish personalities are remembered. One synagogue in Vilnius out of 105 synagogues in the whole of Lithuania remains now. Only the signs on the wall of buildings tell there used to be Jewish ghettos. If you walk in the area you might step into Zydu(Jewish) Street or feel strange to see the sign of Ligonines(Hospital) Street where there is no hospital. They are small traces of Jewish Vilnius.
While I was a student of Lithuanian Studies I heard that there were Jewish Studies held by Vilnius Yiddish Institute during the summer. When I visited the synagogue an old man who looked after it told me that a lot of students from all over the world come to Vilnius to learn Jewish culture and history. As he said Jewish Vilnius still mesmerizes people even though the culture has been totally destroyed now, or that’s why people become interested to seek the traces of the lost heritage.
At that time the summer course of Jewish Studies cost only US$500 and I wondered if I would take it or not. Then I didn’t. Instead I chose to spend the same amount of money to travel to other Baltic States. Now I found that the cost of the tuition fee skyrocketed to1339 Euro. I really regret that I didn’t take the course while it was still cheap.