Book Review: The Book Smugglers of Vilna

(Wall Street Journal) Gerald J. Steinacher - In The Book Smugglers, David E. Fishman, a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, introduces us to a thriving Jewish culture in Eastern Europe and to the people who risked their lives to save this culture from the barbaric Nazi onslaught. Vilna, Lithuania, was the cultural capital of Eastern European Jewry. Yiddish literature flourished in the town where 28% of the population were Jews. On June 24, 1941, the German Wehrmacht captured Vilna, and the assault on the Jewish community began almost immediately. 40,000 people were first crammed into two small ghettos and then rounded up by the SS and its local Lithuanian collaborators and shot in the nearby forest of Ponary. Alfred Rosenberg, the leading ideologist of the Third Reich, was especially interested in plundering books and artifacts related to Jewish culture. But a group of Jewish scholars and librarians from Vilna worked to hide important papers and books from the Nazis, placing them in secret hideouts. When Vilna was taken by the Soviet army in July 1944, the surviving members of the group found some of the hiding places still intact. The writer is an associate professor of history at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

2018-02-02 00:00:00

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