Memorial Books of Lithuanian Jewish Communities: Between Idyll and Heartbreak

Lara Lempertienė (Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania)

Lithuania-originated Jewish diaspora began to form in the West at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. The texts reflecting the diaspora experience and its connection with the “old country” belong to different genres: memoirs, almanacs, prose, poetry, etc. The object of this presentation is a particular refraction of the diaspora narrative which emerged after WWI and fully developed after the Holocaust: memorial books (Yid. yizker-bikher, Hebr. sifre zikaron) dedicated to the perished communities of different Central and East European towns, and published by the initiative and efforts of the surviving community members. Each volume narrates the prewar history of the town and the community, but essentially, they are as much symbolic memorials as history books. About 1,000 such books were published by the end of the 1980s, from which several dozen concerned Lithuanian Jewish communities. In my presentation, I analyze this particular segment of the memorial books.