The Memory of a Lightning. Avrom Sutzkever in Vilnius


Avrom Sutzkever spent two brief and tempestous periods of his life in Vilnius. The first began in 1921, when at the age of eleven, following the death of his father in Siberia, where the family had lived during World War II, he settled in Vilnius with his mother. Here Sutzkever went to cheder and to secular high school, took several courses at Vilnius University, and began to write and publish poetry. The most important part of Sutzkever’s life at that time was his friendship with other Jewish writers and artists, with whom he founded the “Yung Vilne” art group. His first poetry book was published in 1937, and the second in 1940.

Sutzkever’s second time in Vilnius began in 1941, when, upon the Nazi invasion, when he was imprisoned in the ghetto together with his mother and wife. Enduring inconceivable sufferings – the death of his mother and his newborn son, witnessing the annihilation of Vilnius Jewish community, he kept writing poetry, albeit different from his previous creations. This was poetry fighting against the non-being. Indeed, in Vilnius ghetto Sutzkever fought incessantly. He fought for saving treasures of Jewish culture from Nazi plundering, for making conditions for ghetto children to learn, sport, and create. Finally, he joined partisans to fight with real arms.

After the liberation of Vilnius, Sutzkever, accompanied by his fellows in arms and art, worked hard to restore Jewish communal and cultural life of the city. Only when it became clear that his efforts were futile and the goal no longer attainable did he leave Vilnius. But Sutzkever’s works remained here, the greatest of which are the books and manuscripts saved by Sutzkever himself and his friends, now preserved in the National Library of Lithuania. Recentlyfound among them are several Avrom Sutzkever’s poetry manuscripts from the ghetto time. They are presented in this exhibit, alongside other works of Sutzkever and his friends.