In the Vilna Ghetto, Jews Fought to Preserve Their Culture

The Frankfurt School philosopher Theodor Adorno, the German-born son of a Jewish father, famously declared that “To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” But while Adorno was in the Pacific Palisades with other German exiles from the Third Reich, the great Yiddish poet Avraham Sutzkever was in the Vilna Ghetto, where he wrote, in his own words, “more than I did the rest of my life.” And not only that, writes Justin Cammy:

Sutzkever . . . mentored [the ghetto’s] youth group, helped organize the ghetto theater, and, of course, read his poetry at literary gatherings. He also worked heroically alongside others as a member of the so-called Paper Brigade, those slave laborers whom the Germans appointed to sort materials from various Jewish libraries who smuggled and hid as many of the most valuable literary treasures as they could.

In his memoirs of this period, which Cammy has recently edited and translated, Sutzkever writes:

The day after my mother was murdered, the young director Viskind came to pay me his condolences. He invited me to a meeting of Yiddish actors. They wanted to establish a theater. I looked at him, astonished: “A theater in the ghetto?”

“Yes,” Viskind confirmed. “We must be true to ourselves and resist the enemy even with this weapon. We must not surrender under any circumstance. Theater was also performed in the ghettos during the Middle Ages. The origins of Yiddish theater are there. Let us, too, create a theater to delight and embolden the ghetto. It might even be the vanguard of a new Yiddish theater in a free world.”

I left. Viskind’s faith soothed my sadness. At Strashun Street 7, in the frigid little attic belonging to the actor Blyakher, I met with the remaining actors in the ghetto. All of them were in favor of establishing a theater. I agreed with them and accepted the position of literary director of the planned theater.

We got to work on the first performance. It was a challenge to choose appropriate material. With what words could we appear before audiences and avoid dishonoring their anguish? How could we temporarily cloud the vision of mass graves before their eyes? And how could we awaken ghetto residents to the heroism of Jewish history, to appreciate beauty, and to continue to believe in the future?

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Avraham Sutzkever, Holocaust, Jewish Culture, Vilna, Yiddish theater

Why Hizballah Is Threatening Cyprus

In a speech last Wednesday, Hizballah’s secretary general Hassan Nasrallah not only declared that “nowhere will be safe” in Israel in the event of an all-out war, but also that his forces would attack the island nation of Cyprus. Hanin Ghaddar, Farzin Nadimi, and David Schenker observe that this is no idle threat, but one the Iran-backed terrorist group has “a range of options” for carrying out. They explain: 

Nasrallah’s threat to Cyprus was not random—the republic has long maintained close ties with Israel, much to Hizballah’s irritation. In recent years, the island has hosted multiple joint air-defense drills and annual special-forces exercises with Israel focused on potential threats from Hizballah and Iran.

Nasrallah’s threat should also be viewed in the context of wartime statements by Iran and its proxies about disrupting vital shipping lanes to Israel through the East Mediterranean.

This scenario should be particularly troubling to Washington given the large allied military presence in Cyprus, which includes a few thousand British troops, more than a hundred U.S. Air Force personnel, and a detachment of U-2 surveillance aircraft from the 1st Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron.

Yoni Ben Menachem suggests there is an additional aspect to Nasrallah’s designs on Cyprus, involving a plan

to neutralize the Israeli air force through two primary actions: a surprise attack with precision missiles and UAVs on Israeli air-force bases and against radar and air-defense facilities, including paralyzing Ben-Gurion Airport.

Nasrallah’s goal is to ground Israeli aircraft to prevent them from conducting missions in Lebanon against mid- and long-range missile launchers. Nasrallah fears that Israel might preempt his planned attack by deploying its air force to Cypriot bases, a scenario the Israeli air force practiced with Cyprus during military exercises over the past year.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Cyprus, Hizballah, U.S. Security