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25 November 2020

Online panel discussion “Avrom Sutzkever: TEN POEMS”

On 23 November, there was a remote discussion dedicated to “Tsen Lider. Ten poems. Dešimt eilėraščių” by Avrom Sutzkever. This book was published this year by the Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania and the Jewish Research Institute in New York (YIVO).

Avrom Sutzkever (1913–2010) was one of the most famous Yiddish poets of the 20th century, who survived the Holocaust. In 1969, he was awarded the Icik Manger Prize for literary work and in 1976, received the Head of Government Award. In 1985, he was awarded the Israel Prize, the most prestigious award in the country. In 2008, on the occasion of Lithuania's Independence Day on 16 February, President Valdas Adamkus awarded A. Sutzkever with a State award, the Knight's Cross of the Order of Grand Duke of Lithuania Gediminas.

The narrative of Avrom Sutzkever, one of the leaders of cultural resistance, is a source for the history of the Vilnius Jewish ghetto testifying to the gloomy everyday life of the ghetto, the darkness of the sewer wells, the greatness of the unbreakable spirit and resistance of the enslaved.

In 2017, a cache of Jewish materials was discovered at the Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania. The discovery included a manuscript of “Tsen Lider” (“Ten Poems”), a collection written and compiled by the Yiddish poet Avrom Sutzkever while living in the Vilna Ghetto. This unique manuscript includes variants of later published poems and preserves Sutzkever's original spelling and punctuation. Sutzkever's manuscript, along with other materials discovered in 2017, are being digitised as part of the Edward Blank YIVO Vilna Online Collections Project.

In 2020, the National Library together with its partner in New York, the YIVO Institute, published the trilingual publication “Tsen Lider. Ten poems. Dešimt eilėraščių”. The book was presented at the Vilnius Book Fair and immediately received great international interest and recognition.

The book offers facsimile images of the original manuscript, translations into English and Lithuanian and essays on Sutzkever and his literary work by Mindaugas Kvietkauskas and David Fishman with the forward by Lara Lempertienė. The book’s designer is Sigutė Chlebinskaitė.

The online discussion “Avrom Sutzkever: TEN POEMS” was co-organised by the Consulate General of the Republic of Lithuania in New York, the Lithuanian Culture Institute and the Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania.

Participants of the discussion, moderated by YIVO's Executive Director and CEO Jonathan Brent, were the Lithuanian Minister of Culture Mindaugas Kvietkauskas, the Head of the Judaica Department at the Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania Dr. Lara Lempertienė and the literary and cultural historian Justin Cammy.

Welcoming remarks were given by the Director-General of the Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania Prof. Dr. Renaldas Gudauskas. To quote Director-General Gudauskas, “Our Library follows a strategy to increase promotion of the cultural heritage and strengthen awareness by the general public of the history of ethnic communities of this country. Experts of the National Library in cooperation with Lithuanian researchers and with our foreign partners carry out publishing projects for promoting the Jewish documentary heritage. The book presented today is the project’s first result. The publishing partner for the book is the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York. I sincerely thank our partners for the joint work and I am sure that together we will continue this activity. I also want to thank our colleagues at the Library and our partners MIndaugas Kvietkauskas and Sigutė Chlebinskaitė for their contribution.”

At the beginning of his statement, Lithuanian Minister of Culture Mindaugas Kvietkauskas read a poem by Sutzkever in the Yiddish, English and Lithuanian languages. He said, “The story of this book and this manuscript is a miracle. I recall very vividly the moment when Lara Lempertienė showed me Sutzkever’s manuscripts and a special handmade notebook: it appeared as a book arranged following a poetic concept, not just a draft of some poems. They are all dedications, poems or prayers; they are all addressed to somebody – an intimate or beloved person, a lost one or a metaphysical power, God or a miracle. It is an example of a dialogical attitude towards the world when the dialogue between people is being destroyed. And because of that, it is a vivid example of cultural, poetical and spiritual resistance against the power that attempts to break links between people and community members.”

The book also tells the story of this manuscript, which was made on a night of 1943, on the eve of the final destruction of the Vilna Ghetto and the uprising of Vilna Ghetto partisan organization. “Every work, every newly discovered line of one of the greatest modern Yiddish poets is very important. It is also it is a testimony of an indestructible human spirit, a special, almost unnatural, creativity that manifested itself against the background of day-to-day fear, danger and death in the horrific circumstances of Vilna Ghetto”, noted Dr. Lara Lempertienė, Head of the Judaica Department at the Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania.

We kindly invite you to watch a video of the online discussion and learn more about the story of Avrom Sutzkever’s manuscript.