When veteran broadcaster Sara Manobla represented Israel at an international conference of journalists in Moscow in 1977, little did she realise that her contact with the Jews of the Soviet Union would become the start of her own voyage of self-discovery. Her commitment to the cause of the refuseniks and her involvement with them once the gates of emigration opened and they arrived in Israel eventually led to an exploration of her own family history. Together with her cousin, she embarked on a roots journey to Zagare, a little shtetl on the border between Lithuania and Latvia. Here she met Isaac Mendelssohn, the sole survivor of the town's Jewish community. Unexpectedly, a meaningful and fruitful relationship developed between Isaac, a group of descendants and a group of local inhabitants, a relationship always shadowed by memories of the slaughter in 1941 of Zagare's Jewish population by Nazis and local Lithuanian collaborators. The culmination came in 2012 with a joint project of the two groups to erect and dedicate a memorial plaque in the centre of the town. As part of her desire to accept Zagare, Sara Manobla followed up on the story of an elderly Jewish woman and her granddaughter who had been rescued and hidden by a Zagarean family during the Nazi occupation. She tracked down the granddaughter, now living in Jerusalem, and her testimony resulted in the Zagarean family being posthumously honoured by Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Authority as Righteous among the Nations. The book ends on a note of hope and reconciliation, as this account of a search for roots leads to a coming to terms with today s highly charged relationship between Lithuanians and Jews.
The erection of the plaque and its wording were the result of much preparation and care, given the “ambivalence, denial, guilt and hypocrisy” of the older generation of Lithuanians, and the pain grief and anger of Lithuanian Jews (“Litvaks”) surviving the Holocaust. Not only were some 96 percent of Lithuania’s Jews murdered during the Nazi occupation, but the Germans found eager collaborators in the Lithuanian populace, enabling Lithuania to boast of the highest proportion of Jewish citizens killed among communities in Europe that had more than 1,000 Jews.
Unfortunately, Lithuanians cannot claim they were forced to commit genocide the the Nazis; in fact it was primarily Lithuanian volunteers who carried out the murders. Moreover, the Lithuanians were known for their particular cruelty. The author does mention that Jewish women were raped before killing them, but not the extent to which this action involved young girls, or the brutal nature of the rapes. She does not at all mention the torture of rabbis, or the murder of infants by bashing in their heads, since “the little ones were not worth a bullet,” as a Lithuanian “partisan” explained to an eyewitness. However, she tells enough to give us the picture, and in any event the focus of her account is about reconciliation and healing.
It has not been an easy road. Valdas Balciunas, a remarkable young Lithuanian who was blown away by the shock of what his village did, wrote:
“Fifty years of Soviet rule have erased the Jewish heritage except the buildings and the cemeteries from Zagare’s face. Pretty much from people’s minds too. There was no reason for people to talk about it: some locals participated in the massacre; some took the belongings; some lived in the Jewish houses after the community was eliminated. Naturally there is little will to come to terms and it is easier not to think about it for many locals whose parents lived together with the Jewish community.”
There is not much in current writing about what happened in Lithuania. The recent popular book “Between Shades of Gray” by Ruta Sepetys is set in 1941 but emphasizes the Soviet cruelty to Lithuanians rather than atrocities committed on Jews. That author “… wanted to give a voice to the hundreds of thousands of people who lost their lives during Stalin’s cleansing of the Baltic region.” This book helps give voice to the Jews who were killed. It is a welcome addition to Holocaust and post-Holocaust literature.
This book is a good read. A sad read. Humanities unkindness to their fellow man appears to remain and will never go away. I appreciate being chosen to read this book. I will be passing it along to a friend of mine who I believe will continue to pass it along. That is about all one can do to help educate others.
This book is an interesting blend of personal memoir and social history, worth reading for the firsthand accounts of Jewish holocaust survivors, and others. It's not a scholarly book, but it's the kind of book that needs to exist to document the realities of the situation and the efforts made to find justice. It is a call for us to all examine our own knowledge of history and to confront it head on. I think that many of us look at the past and see bygones that we can't possibly change--Mrs. Manobla's book is a reminder that there ARE things that we can do today--whether it be through educating others, honoring those who deserve to be honored (no matter how belatedly), or simply giving those who need it an opportunity to reconcile themselves to the past or to express their regret.
Overall, this is a quick and easy read, and reasonably informative. My main criticisms are that chapter 7 was a bit repetitive of earlier themes, and I wished that there were more firsthand historical accounts--those that were included were by far the most interesting part. The stories of the Jews in Russia under Soviet Rule, while not the main focus of this book, were also worth documenting---perhaps one day they will find a book of their own. I did expect to find more of these stories, but the bulk of the book is actually taken up by retelling how this little town was brought to the place of reconciliation, and of all the people who were involved in helping this process along. In other words, this is not a book about the holocaust as much as it is a book about the present day.
For those who are interested in Eastern Europe, the Holocaust, and coming to terms with the past, this is a book worth reading. Lithuania is a country often overshadowed by it's larger neighbors, but it's story is equally valid and not to be overlooked.
The book is a short, quick read of only seven chapters and 16 pages of personal pictures highlighting the town and people of Zagare as well as Manobla’s personal family. It contains few additional historical accounts and focuses almost exclusively on the small group of Jews who can trace their ancestry back to the city. This makes for an entertaining memoire read but is not necessarily useful for additional into additional research into Lithuanian Jewish treatment or the history of Zagare. Manobla admits she has little interest in the town except for personal connections to the Jewish community including finding herself “indifferent, even negative, untouched by the so-called needs of the town” outside of the Jewish connection (p.52).
The seven chapters focus on Manobla’s family remembrances (Chap. 1); her move to Israel and visit to the former USSE (Chap. 2); Zagare’s rich Jewish history and community prior to WWII and their extermination by both German and Lithuanian forces in 1941 (Chap. 3); Manobla’s first visit to the city during its 800th anniversary celebrations (Chap. 4); the story of Ruth Yoffe—a Holocaust survivor hidden by a Lithuanian family with connections to Zagare (Chap. 5); a dedication of a plaque in the town center detailing Lithuanian involvement in the Jewish extermination instead of the former “blame transfer” to the “Soviets” and Germans (Chap. 6); and Manobla’s acceptance of the perceived “lip service” given to the Jewish population by Lithuanian community (Chap. 7). Her personal connections and feelings become increasingly apparent in the writing.
The book is a good memoir (entertaining, witty, and not dry) but to truly understand the Lithuanian-Jewish relationship, more research needs to occur.
In the process, she discovered that her family roots were in Zagare, Lithuania. With the help of several people, including her cousin Joy, she began searching for her family’s story.
Jews had made up sixty percent of Zagare prior to World War II. Only one Jewish person remained following a massacre of the entire population who hadn’t been moved into slave labor. They were buried in a mass grave outside the town. A memorial plaque in Lithuanian, Hebrew, and Yiddish marked the location but was put up only once a year.
ZAGARE is the story of how Joy and Sara, among others, reached out to the people of Zagare. They did so by helping the residents meet their current needs as well as move beyond focusing on the suffering they experienced during both the war and under the Russian government after the war to face what happened to the Jews who had lived there.
Ninety six percent of Lithuania’s Jews were murdered during the three years of the Nazi occupation, most of them within the months following the invasion. The remainder were herded into ghettos and used for slave labor until they were unable to work. This readiness of so many Lithuanians to collaborate with the Germans resulted in the almost complete annihilation of the indigenous Jewish population, heading the statistics of all the Nazi-occupied countries of Europe.
Most were killed by Lithuanian partisans prior to the arrival of the Nazis.
Not all the residents were anti-Semites or people who ignored what was happening to the Jews. As a result of Monobla’s research, one resident of Zagare was recognized as a Righteous Gentile at Yad Vashem in Jerusaem.
I was interested in reading ZAGARE because my maternal grandparents emigrated from Lithuania and my paternal grandparents came from Latvia in the early twentieth century. There were a few relatives left in Lithuania before the Holocaust and they all died there.
ZAGARE had chronological inconsistencies. Names and incidents were included that did not add to the story. There was a good deal of repetition. It would have been a good magazine article but had too much filler to create an engrossing book.
This book was an advance copy from LibraryThing.
I admit I was a bit disappointed in this book. I just didn't find it very interesting, and it seemed to be too much Lithuania and too little Holocaust. The author talked about her efforts about forming ties between
I have a friend who has actually been to Zagare and we were able to discuss the book at length. It is a well written, personal account of one family trying to trace their
A beautiful account of discovering and remembering places and people.