Zagare: Litvaks and Lithuanians Confront the Past

by Sara Manobla

Book, 2014



Call number

763 MAN



Jerusalem ; New York : Gefen Publishing House Ltd., 2014


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.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member nbmars
This short memoir tells the story of how a memorial plaque came to be erected to the Jews of Zagare, Lithuania, where 2,236 Jews - almost every single citizen, were massacred on October 2, 1941. The author provides eyewitness accounts of how the killings were accomplished, including the diabolical
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scheme of rounding up the strongest men in advance (with authorities saying they were needed for special work outside the town) to preempt any effective resistance on the day of the massacre. Although some older persons in the town remembered well what had taken place there, younger generations were completely unaware until efforts - which originated by the author’s cousin in her “Lithuania Link” program, enabled some of the current generation to learn what had happened.

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.
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LibraryThing member JanicsEblen
This is certainly a well written book. As a non-Jewish person reading the book there were words I had to keep looking up in the dictionary even though there is a Glossary in the back of the book. For me it was not comprehensive enough. While I have read a good many books about the Holocaust I was
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not familiar with the events in Zagare. Reading about a community wiping out so many of its members, based solely on their religion, remains painful to read about. To learn that even at this point in time there is little responsibility taken for the actions of the residents so many years ago is even more painful.

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.
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LibraryThing member meldridge
Prior to reading this book I was completely unaware of the history of Lithuania during WWII. This book provides quite a bit of historical information while not losing the personal story at the core. A recommended read for anyone interested in WWII history and especially for those wanting to know
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more about countries and regions involved in WWII outside of the ones most often written about
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LibraryThing member LipstickAndAviators
In 2013 America, most of us have had the privilege to find closure (or perhaps ignore) in the difficult events of WW2, not realizing that citizens of many countries have not been allowed to grapple with the realities of the past. In Zagare, a Lithuanian town where the entire Jewish population was
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systematically murdered, people turned their faces away and let their wrongdoings be masked by their own story of struggle and hardship under Soviet oppression. Sara Manobla's book, Zagare-Litvaks and Lituanians Confront the Past, brings to light the evolution of Zagare as it's people come to terms with their history and their role in the Holocaust, all while sharing her own fight for justice and reconciliation for Jewish people around the world.

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.
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LibraryThing member ShieldmaidenOfRohan
Sara Manobla, an emigrant to Israel and the head of Israel Radio’s English Department, recounts her rising personal interest and involvement with the Litvak (Lithuanian Jewish population) and Lithuanian relationships prior, during, and following the October 2, 1941 murder of the Jewish population
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of Zagare, Lithuania. Part personal history and part journalistic research, Zagare: Litvaks and Lithuanians Confront the Past gives a brief overview of the Jewish involvement in Lithuania prior to WII and then chronicles Manobla’s personal work in bringing their story to the world.

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.
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LibraryThing member Judiex
Sara Manobla’s grandfather moved to England. Her mother’s family had moved there two generations earlier and looked down on the newcomers. Her family wasn’t religious. The main contact with Judaism was from the dishes her mother cooked. She later moved to Israel and, following the Six Day War
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in 1967 and Yom Kippur War in 1973, encouraged her to learn more about her religion. One of her first actions was becoming involved with Russian scientists who were Refuseniks, Jews who lived in the Soviet Union who wanted to practice their religion and emigrate.
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.
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LibraryThing member antiquary
The subtitle of this book is very accurate. It is not so much a book about the distinguished Jewish/Yiddish Litvak cultural tradition n pre-World War II Lithuania, nor the destruction of that culture by the Nazis and the Lithuanian collaborators, though both these are discussed, it is chiefly about
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how Jews descended from the Jewish LItvak tradition and modern post-Soviet Lithuanians have come together to respond to their sometimes contested understanding of the past. The author worked with the group Lothiania LInk which assisted Lithuania and Zagare in particular after the fall of Communism, but has also worked to promote recognition in contemporary Lithuania of both the Litvak culture and the role of some Lithuanians in its destruction. On the whole, itnis a positive book culminating in a ceremony in Zagare which unveiled a monument in the town square which recorded the destruction of the town's Jews (and the Lithuanian part in it) much ,ore openly than other commemorations (which tend to be in the isolated sits where most of the massacres took place, and o downplay the Liithuania aid to the Nazis.) The most awkward issue is the Lithuanian doctrine of the "double genocide" --of Jews by Nazis and Lithuanians (and many other Eastern Europeans) by the Soviets, which many contemporary Jews see as a way to devalue the unique suffering of the Jews. The author does try to be fair-minded about this and concede there was genuine suffering of Lithuanians at others at the hands of the Soviet regime, though she argues it was a matter of working people to death for economic reasons, not ethnic ones. I think this is not entirely accurate. It is of course true that the Soviets (like the Nazis) made extensive use of slave labor, but their victims were often chosen for ethnic or political reasons, and by no means all were merely worked to death --many were simply shot, as in the notorious Katyn massacre of Polish officers, which was clearly not economically motivated but intended to destroy potential supporters of Polish independence. It is just to say the Soviets never attempted to exterminate every Lithuanian or every Pole or every member of other nationalities, but they were quite prepared to exterminate those who resisted Soviet domination. On the eastern front, there were few good moral choices aside from the handful of Tolstoyans honored in this book for rescuing Jews. If one was not a pacifist, the options were fighting for the Nazis or fighting for the Soviets. That Lithuanians who had just been conquered by the Soviets chose to fight alongside the Nazis, and Jews who ha just escaped the Nazi/Lithuania holocaust chose to fight for the Soviets, were both fighting beside people who were committing unspeakable atrocities, but there really was not other viable option at the time.
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LibraryThing member SAMANTHA100
The author tells of the atrocities that occurred in Zagare, Lithuania during WW II. She also tells of what she, and a group she was part of, did to help the town of Zagare meet its present needs. This book provides important historical information. I found it to be an interesting read.
LibraryThing member SAMANTHA100
The author tells of the atrocities that occurred in Zagare, Lithuania during WW II. She also tells of what she, and a group she was part of, did to help the town of Zagare meet its present needs. This book provides important historical information. I found it to be an interesting read.
LibraryThing member Clancy.Coonradt
A touching book that has enormous amounts of first hand material condensed into a story. This book really reminds the reader just how fresh the wounds are for many in the areas hardest hit by the eradication programs that were used by the Nazi's, and just how effective they were in certain
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localized areas.
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LibraryThing member meggyweg
(I got this book free from Librarything's Early Reviewers in exchange for a review.)

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
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Communist Lithuania and the West, including forming a nonprofit organization called Lithuania Link, and there wasn't nearly as much there about Holocaust remembrance as the book description made it out to be. However, there isn't a lot out there about the Holocaust in Lithuania (which had a higher death rate than any other nation in Europe; 95% of Lithuania's Jews were killed), particularly about what happened after the war, so I can recommend it on those grounds.
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LibraryThing member yarnyenta
Given that I travel to small villages that have been scarred by the Holocaust, this book was one I was very pleased to receive.
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
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roots and piece together the past, and more than that, reach out to the region that their family was from.
A beautiful account of discovering and remembering places and people.
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