The Poets and Partisans Who Saved Jewish Books and Documents from the Nazis

In The Book Smugglers, David Fishman tells the story of a group of literary figures from the Vilna Ghetto, led by the poet and resistance fighter Shmerke Kaczerginski, who risked their lives to save their city’s enormous repository of Jewish books and manuscripts from destruction. Cecile Kuznitz writes in her review:

[W]ithin six months of the arrival of the German army [in Vilna] on June 22, 1941, over half of the city’s Jews had been shot and buried in mass graves at Ponar on Vilna’s outskirts. Living Jews were not the Nazis’ only target. A mere week after the initial Nazi foray into Vilna a member of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), the Nazi agency in charge of looting cultural property in occupied territory, arrived to survey local libraries, museums, and art collections.

Vilna, which was known as the “Jerusalem of Lithuania,” was a special prize. Its legendary status as a center of Jewish learning was symbolized by two great institutions. The Strashun Library stood in the heart of the traditional Jewish quarter and was famous for its collection of rabbinic works. In a newer part of the city stood the Yidisher Visnshaftlekher Institut (Jewish Scholarly Institute, known by its acronym YIVO), . . . which was rooted in a secular vision of the Jewish people as a modern nation. . . .

When the Nazi archivist-looters of the ERR returned to Vilna in 1942, they set up several sorting centers, including one in the YIVO building itself. There they assembled a team of slave laborers who were forced to comb through the YIVO collections as well as books, documents, and art and ritual objects looted from local libraries, museums, and synagogues. The most valuable were shipped to Germany to be used for “Jewish research without Jews,” once the work of extermination had been completed. As it became clear that what was not shipped away would be destroyed, the workers faced a heartrending predicament. . . . [They thus] decided to organize the “paper brigade.”

As Fishman relates, after Germany’s defeat the surviving members of the paper brigade once again had to save the material they had smuggled out of the ghetto or hidden within its walls, this time from the city’s new Soviet rulers.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: History & Ideas, Holocuast, Resistance, Vilna, YIVO

As Hamas’s Power Collapses, Old Feuds Are Resurfacing

In May, Mahmoud Nashabat, a high-ranking military figure in the Fatah party (which controls the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority), was gunned down in central Gaza. Nashabat was an officer in the Gaza wing of the Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, a terrorist outfit that served as Fatah’s vanguard during the second intifada, and now sometimes collaborates with Hamas. But his killers were Hamas members, and he was one of at least 35 Palestinians murdered in Gaza in the past two months as various terrorist and criminal groups go about settling old scores, some of which date back to the 1980s. Einav Halabi writes:

Security sources familiar with the situation told the London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat that Gaza is now also beleaguered by the resurgence of old conflicts. “Many people have been killed in incidents related to the first intifada in 1987, while others have died in family disputes,” they said.

The “first-intifada portfolio” in Gaza is considered complex and convoluted, as it is filled with hatred among residents who accuse others of killing relatives for various reasons, including collaboration with Israel. . . . According to reports from Gaza, there are vigorous efforts on the ground to contain these developments, but the chances of success remain unclear. Hamas, for its part, is trying to project governance and control, recently releasing several videos showcasing how its operatives brutally beat residents accused of looting.

These incidents, gruesome as they are, suggest that Hamas’s control over the territory is slipping, and it no longer holds a monopoly on violence or commands the fear necessary to keep the population in line. The murders and beatings also dimension the grim reality that would ensue if the war ends precipitously: a re-empowered Hamas setting about getting vengeance on its enemies and reimposing its reign of terror.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Fatah, Gaza War 2023, Hamas