The Rokiškis regional museum awarded the 2023 Ruvin Bun Award to the Žemaičių muziejus “Alka,” which, on its own initiative, translated the entirety of the 505-page yizkor (memorial) book for the Jewish community of Telšiai into Lithuanian.  The project began in 2016 upon the initiative of Alka museum’s librarian Loreta Norvaišienė and was completed in 2022.  The Lithuanian translation was published in December 2022.

Yizkor books, which were typically published in Yiddish and Hebrew, contain articles written by people who knew the Jewish community of a given town.  Such articles would include the history of the community and its history, customs, institutions, and prominent figures, as well as an account of its destruction.  Because Jews often constituted more than half of the population of most towns and villages in Lithuania in the 19th and early 20th Centuries, the yizkor books contain important information about the histories of those places. 

This is important because much local history in Lithuania was distorted, if not suppressed, during the succession of totalitarian regimes that controlled Lithuania between 1940 and 1990.  Lithuanian-language translations of yizkor book materials provide a key source of local history that otherwise would not be known to Lithuanians.  It is hoped that the “Alka” museum’s project will inspire other institutions in Lithuania to take up similar translation projects for their yizkor books of their communities.

From left, Philip Shapiro, Loreta Norvaišienė, Alka Museum director Eva Stonkevičienė, and Rokiškis Regional Museum director Aušra Gudgalienė.

From left, Loreta Norvaišienė, Eva Stonkevičienė, and Hon. Tomas Katkus, the mayor of the Telšiai regional municipality.

The Telšiai yizkor book includes a Yiddish-language poem by Tzvi Brik about life in the town’s market-square area, the focal point of which was the communal well.  Prof. Romualda Inčirauskas of the Telšiai branch of the Vilnius Academy of Art was inspired to create a plaque with the Lithuanian translation of the poem.  The plaque is now displayed at the site of the well:

The English translation of the poem reads:

Around the cliff, next to a grove of fir trees,

There flows a creek

Where a bridge was built with stones

There is my little town of Telšiai.

 

Around the market with butchers’ shops

Stands a row of houses

Children are playing with their slingshots.

Proud Jews are going to pray.

 

The Great Synagogue and the tailors’ house of prayer

Are filled with Jews, just as is the market.

Yeshiva people from every house

Are strolling from Russian Orthodox Church to the green hill.

 

In the old, deep well

The water is as clear as a mirror.

I am looking in it as if I am in a dream

Where has all of this gone?

 

Wind, take into your embrace my prayer

Of longing, accompanied by a tear.

The heart melts

For my little town which is no more.