6/25/2004:  The Archives of Vilnius, The Museum of Tolerance, and the Jewish Synagogue


The Archives of Vilnius:

Friday began with a visit to the State Historical Archives in Vilnius.  Howard Margol, the trip's organiser, is well known here;  he was able to get a special reception for our tour group.  We were given a lecture on what records were available in the archive, the history of the records, and how the genealogy research was done.   We were shown a sampling of some of the older records, including a 19th century book of police photos of revolutionaries from the 1831 Polish  Revolt  (against Russian rule), you never saw criminals who looked so good.

  Handwritten, handdrawn book of the Christian Armaggedon.

We were also given a tour of the library.  Some of the records date back the fifteenth, sixteenth century;  some of the record books a foot thick.
Archive Stacks
  Archive Stacks

In the Archives, I met with Vilius Botryius, who I have hired to research for me.  That morning, he had a minor success:  he found a 1903 birth record for a possible nephew of Barnet Lieberman.  Here is a quick translation he wrote down for me:

#5 Movsha Fishel LEIZEROVICH, born February 10, 1903. 
His father: Leizer Leiba Leizerovich, at this time living in Balbieriskis, 26 years old, permanent residence of Vilijampole (Kovno gubernia). 
His mother:  Liba maiden name LIBERMAN.

A niece we definitely know about is Hinde Leiserowitch Schwartz, who married her cousin Faivel.  Her mother, who had to be a Lieberman, was unknown -- could it be Liba?  The story as I remember it was that before Hinde immigrated in 1921, there was a debate in the family about who should come over, Hinde or her brother.  Great-grandpa Barney wanted to bring the brother over, so that he could escape military service.  Hinde's proponents won day, and her brother was eventually drafted by the Lithuanian (?) army, where he died.  Could Movsha be the brother?  I think it was Movsha.

The Museum of Tolerance:

The next stop was a bit of a misstep, the Museum of Tolerance is closed due to the construction of a new exhibit;  we were told we could get a special preview of the exhibit, a series of artifacts from the Holocaust.  Unfortunately, two other tours also were told to visit at this time, and our tour got lost in the confusion.  Instead we were led into an auditoreum that had been a Jewish musical theater before WWII, where all tour groups were seated and where we were given a speech by Emanuelis Zingeris
.    In a previous term, Mr. Zingeris had been a member of  Parliament, the only Jew so far to hold office;  now he is running for office in the European Union.  He is good friends with the Margols, and it is due to his efforts that there is a Holocaust Museum, a Museum of Tolerance, and many other fine Jewish institutions.

The only Jewish (former) member of Parliament.

One interesting question that Mr. Zingeris asked was "How do you recreate Jewish life with so few Jews?"  I'm not sure what the current population statistics are, but through word of mouth the numbers seem to be on the order of 5000 Jews to 4 million Lithuanians in general.  Tourism of American and Israeli Jews is big business, so there is some interest in creating and restoring museums and memorials, but a true revival of the famous Litvak Jewery seems impossible.

The Jewish Synagogue:

I was worried about contacting a man in Drohiczyn, whom I hope will be my guide there, so I walked back to the hotel to make a phone call.  Along the way I passed by the Jewish Synagogue, where the Gaon of Vilna had ... lived?  practiced?

Jewish Synagogue  The Jewish Synagogue

Ironically, the Synagogue is now closed due to sectarian in-fighting.  The current "Head" Rabbi of Lithuanian is a Hassid;  an Othodox rabbi also claims the right to be Head Rabbi.  Both claim authority over the Synagogue; one has claimed that minions of the other roughed him up.  So the Synagogue is closed, the Litvak-Hassid rivalry begins to reassert itself.