As we leave, the journalist in me wants to know how Victor felt about all this. How his students felt who did the March of Death the week before. I ask Loreta to ask him. His response is bland and avoids the “feeling” question. I ask this question a few times and each time he says nothing. I tell Loreta, insistently and in a very American Jew pushy way she later chides me about, what do the children feel? The Victor finally relents and says “They feel pity for the Jews and anger at the Germans; they feel pity...Read More
Author: Lennard Davis
Part of Jewish tourism is trying to find or generate the appropriate emotions—sadness, nostalgia, horror, or despair. It was hard for me to do any of this in such a location. The grumpy farmer, the silent high-school teacher, the stolid guide. We turn around and trudge back from the site. As we walk I try to talk with the farmer, but it’s impossible to communicate since neither of us speaks the other’s language. I ask Loreta to thank him for showing me the beautiful farm and the cemetery. I’m not sure what she says, but he doesn’t seem to...Read More
Ruta told me that people who had escaped the ghetto would come back. So would people who had been taken off to the nearby killing pit in Ponary forest, who had been shot along with thousands of others, buried in mass graves, but who were still alive, would claw their way out from under the dirt and return to the ghetto. So strong was the feeling that death with family was preferable to life alone and on the run. There comes a point where life has dwindled down to a series of resignations, and then the final one—which way...Read More
I meet Ruta, my tour guide, in the lobby of my hotel in Vilnius. She is in her early 40’s by my guess, still young, a commanding presence, tall like many of the Lithuanian women. She is wearing a green velvet jacket with a snazzy handkerchief in its chest pocket and she sports black leather pants. She is native of Lithuania, not Jewish, but she studies Jewish history. Ruta tells me what made her interested in that history was death. Some people, she says, want to contemplate the life of Jews in Lithuania—the details, how they lived, how they...Read More
I never cared very much for the Holocaust. As a child born shortly after the war, I grew up barraged by sordid black-and-white images and film footage of the piled-up, naked bodies of Jews, heaps of gold teeth, lamps made from their skin. These emaciated, striped-suited people in concentration camps seemed abject. I knew they were Jews, but they didn’t at all seem like me, my family, and my Jewish friends living in the Bronx. They weren’t Jews really to me; they were haunting images with scary eyes and belonged more in the B-horror movies I watched in my...Read More
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