The Vilna Ghetto Library

Most of the Jews whom the Nazis forced into the Vilna Ghetto, which they constructed in 1941, did not survive to the end of World War II. But a surprising number of documents did, which provide—in the form of posters advertising various public events—a record of Jewish attempts to preserve some shreds of normal life. The Seforim Blog describes some of these:

For example, one poster announces a basketball tournament that includes men, women, and seniors. Another announces the opening of the Jewish ghetto theater, whereas others announce specific plays and other cultural events, such as a night commemorating Hayyim Nahman Bialik. . . . On the intellectual side, there were lectures on Jewish history, one on . . . the pairs of rabbis [mentioned] in the Mishnah.

One of the most astounding documents was an announcement that on Sunday, December 13, 1942, at noon, a “Celebration of 100,000 books loaned by the Ghetto library” since it opened in September 1941. . . . These were nearly the same circulation numbers—90,000 yearly—as before the Nazi invasion and ghettoization of the Vilna’s Jews.

In his ghetto diary, Herman Kruk describes the way reading habits changed during the war, based on the library’s records:

For example, there was a 600-percent increase in readership for War and Peace, and [other] books on war, such as All Quiet on the Western Front and Emile Zola’s War, were also in high demand. The library’s readers of history were focused on books regarding the Crusades and other martyrdom literature.

Read more at Seforim

More about: Holocaust, Libraries, Vilna


Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict