Dr. Rachel Margolis
A Partisan from Vilna.
by Rachel Margolis, edited by Marjorie Margolis
520 pp. cloth
to order go to http://www.academicstudiespress.com/JewishInPaper.aspx
Publication Date: April, 2010
Avaible in paper:
Publication Date: April, 2010
A Partisan of Vilna is the memoir of Rachel Margolis, the sole survivor of her family, who escaped from the Vilna Ghetto with other members of the resistance movement, the FPO (United Partisan Organization), and joined the Soviet partisans in the forests of Lithuania to sabotage the Nazis. Beginning with an account of Rachel’s life as a precocious, privileged girl in pre-war Vilna, it goes on to detail life in the Vilna Ghetto, including the development and struggles of the FPO against the Nazis. Finally, the book chronicles the escape of a group of FPO members into the forest of Belarus, where Rachel became a partisan fighter. Rather than “keep house” back at their bunker like other female partisans, Rachel demanded assignments to active duty alongside the men. Going on military assignments, Rachel burned down a bridge, blew up railroad tracks, and helped bring in food supplies for her fellow partisans. The book opens with an introductory essay by renowned historian, Antony Polonsky.
“One of the last surviving partisans of Vilna, Rachel Margolis has written a vivid and compelling account of the murder of Lithuania’s Jews, and of the battle for survival and dignity amongst those who escaped. It is also a testament to those who in the midst of degradation and destruction continued to embrace the best ideals of humanity even as they determined to resist and fight back against the Nazis and their local collaborators. And, at the same time it is an intimate portrait of a creative and vibrant community, the Jews of Vilna, as well as a deeply personal account of growth and maturity in the midst of that turbulent and tragic period.
This book serves as a stark reminder to those who would deny or trivialize the reality of the Holocaust in Lithuania and reminds us once again of the human dimension of that genocide. The questions that it raises about resistance and complicity, collaboration and betrayal, anti-Semitism and xenophobia, are questions that resonate even today. It is only by facing the past and that we can hope to build a better future. Rachel Margolis, through this memoir, as well as her other activities in Vilna, has helped set us on that path. We are all in her debt for doing so, and can only hope for the widest possible impact of this evocative, authentic and powerful memoir.”
--Mark Weitzman, Director of Government Affairs, Simon Wiesenthal Center
Series: Jews of Poland
Honored in Tel Aviv’s Leivick House
Dr. Rachel Margolis, one of the founders of the Green House (Lithuania’s only Holocaust museum, a branch of the Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum of Lithuania), was honored at a major event in Tel Aviv at Leivick House on June 19th. Leivick House, the Israeli Center for Yiddish Culture, is one of the main Yiddish cultural centers in the country. It is home to the Association of Yiddish Writers and Journalists in Israel.
Over a hundred people of all ages packed the hall of its Tel Aviv headquarters on Dov Hoz Street, a few seconds from the city’s central Dizengoff Street, to honor and hear from the dynamic 87 year old Vilna-born biologist, Holocaust survivor, resistance hero, and Holocaust scholar. As widely reported in the international press, Dr. Margolis is unable to return to Lithuania because of the unfortunate campaign against Holocaust survivors who resisted, one that continues to be waged by some Lithuania prosecutors, intellectuals, journalists and politicians. Dr. Margolis has been honored in recent months by the United States Congress and an array of Holocaust related organizations around the world. In a bold display of solidarity, a large group of NATO and European Union area ambassadors in Vilnius wrote to her, at her home in Rechovot, Israel, expressing support, and looking forward to her safe return to Vilnius to enable them to hear her talk on the Holocaust, the Vilna Ghetto, and the Jewish Partisan resistance. For nine consecutive years (1998-2007), her talks each summer had been an integral part of the program of the Vilnius summer program in Yiddish language and literature at the Vilnius Yiddish Institute at Vilnius University. Detailed information about the situation in Lithuania is available on the website: www.holocaustinthebaltics.com.
The recent Tel Aviv event was chaired by Leivick House’s director, the composer Daniel Galay, the director of Leivick House. It featured talks by: H.E. Chen Ivri Apter, the ambassador of Israel to Lithuania and Latvia; Professors Israel Bartal and Dov Levin, both of Hebrew University in Jerusalem; Professor Dovid Katz, founder and research director of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute and professor of Yiddish at Vilnius University who flew in from Vilnius for the event. Special highlights were a poem written for the occasion by the dean of Israeli Yiddish poets, Rivka Basman Ben-Chaim, and a presentation by schoolchildren who study Yiddish, led by their teacher Hannah Polin Galay, who was a Fulbright student at the Vilnius Yiddish Institute in 2004-2005. The schoolchildren led in the singing of the partisan hymn, written by Hirsh Glik, “Zog nit keynmol az du geyst dem letstn veg” (‘Never say you are going the last way’).
During the event, Professor Katz presented to Dr. Margolis a certificate of recognition from the British House of Lords, signed (in English and Yiddish!) by Lord Janner of Braunstone (formerly MP Greville Janner), a longtime advocate of Holocaust commemoration, survivors and truth in European history.
The high point of the program at Leivick House was the speech of Rachel Margolis herself, concerning her survival and resistance, and touching also on her recent works on Holocaust Studies. She was warmly acclaimed by an array of scholars, diplomats, major figures from Jewish organizations, and senior leaders of the various survivor organizations of Lithuanian Jewry in Israel. The event was videographed by Leivick House and covered by a journalist from Kol Yisrael Israeli radio.
Rachel Margolis, born in Vilna in 1921, was hidden with a Christian family after the Nazi takeover in 1941, but decided voluntarily to be together with her family in the Vilna ghetto. In the ghetto, she joined the Jewish resistance in the ghetto, and in September 1942 escaped into the forests to join the partisans who were resisting the Nazis and their local collaborators. She earned many medals for her bravery in the war against Hitler. Her own parents and brother were killed just days before liberation in July 1944.
After the war, Rachel studied biology and volunteered to help at the short-lived postwar Jewish Museum led by Yiddish poets, ghetto survivors and partisan veterans Shmerke Katsherginski and Avrom Sutzkever. They told her about the secret diary of Kazimierz Sakowicz, a Christian Pole who had witnessed the murders of tens of thousands of Jews and others at the mass killing site Ponar (Paneriai). Sakowicz was himself killed in 1944, but left behind a diary which reported that the killers were by and large enthusiastic Lithuanian “partisans” serving the Nazis. More than half a century later, thanks to the rise of Lithuanian independence, democracy and open society, Margolis, with the help of colleagues at the Green House, was able to obtain access to the archive where the manuscript (which Sakowicz had buried in a variety of jars in his garden) was kept. Dr. Margolis painstakingly deciphered and transcribed the work, in the original Polish, and published it in 1999. An English edition, called Ponary Diary, was brought out by Yale University Press in 2005, edited by Dr. Yitzhak Arad. In 2006, the Vilna Gaon Museum proudly published Rachel Margolis’s memoir in Russian, A Flash of Light in the Darkness. Thanks to a committee comprising her cousin Marjorie Margolis in the United States and Professor Antony Polonsky of Brandeis University (who has written a preface), the book’s publication in English is now at an advanced stage and is due to appear in the spring of 2010.
April 9th, 2009
Born in Vilna, Lithuania in 1921, Rachel Margolis was incarcerated in the Vilna Ghetto from 1942-1943 before escaping to join the anti-Nazi Jewish partisans. She discovered and transcribed the Kazimierz Sakowicz diary, Ponary Diary, 1941-1943: A Bystander’s Account of a Mass Murder, which documented the daily executions of Lithuanian Jews. In 2006, Dr. Margolis’s own memoir was published in Lithuania, and her cousin, Marjorie Margolis of Sharon N.H., is working on an English translation.
In Lithuania, prosecutors are studying the memoirs of several elderly Jewish Holocaust survivors to find evidence of deaths of Lithuanian citizens at the hands of pro-Soviet partisans. Although Dr. Margolis was honored for her valor as a partisan as recently as two years ago by the Lithuanian prime minister, material from her memoir has been used to support charges brought against other Lithuanian Holocaust partisans.
Margolis, an 87-year-old dual Israeli-Lithuanian citizen, spends most of the year with her daughter in Israel, but has always summered in her homeland. Now she is afraid to return, since her words are being used to support government prosecutions of Jewish Partisans for their anti-Nazi resistance. Marjorie Margolis asked Congressman Hodes to advocate for her Lithuanian cousin and other WW II-era Jewish partisans, and he is working closely with Congressman Wexler’s office and the US House Committee on Foreign Affa ir..
…If trials do go ahead, it seems that a third Jewish partisan could be the primary witness for the prosecution. Rachel Margolis, founder of Vilnius’s Jewish museum, has written a memoir recounting her escape from the ghetto and her time as a partisan. Extracts from her book, she fears, could be used as evidence by prosecutors.
Margolis, who lost her family in the Holocaust and now lives in Israel, was unavailable to talk to the JC. But according to Efraim Zuroff, director of the Jerusalem office of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, an investigator was sent to the address which she uses in Lithuania. He says the investigator interviewed Rachel Konstanian, the director of the Vilnius Jewish Museum, and told her that he was looking for Margolis in order to question her regarding an investigation into Fania Branstovsky.
Margolis’s cousin, Budd Margolis, who lives in London, fears that the stress of going through a trial could prove life-threatening to Holocaust survivors now in their eighties. “This is very shocking and upsetting,” he says. “My cousin, as well as the other two people involved, are all quite elderly now, and it’s very unfortunate that they have to deal with this at this stage of their lives. It’s terribly unjust.”
He adds that his cousin is now too scared to return to Lithuania. “She is worried she may get arrested.”
Rachel Margolis’s memoir, which has been published in Lithuania, contains a description of how a group of partisans, including Fania Branstovsky, attacked a Nazi garrison in the village of “Kanyuki”. She writes: “The partisans had surrounded the garrison, but the Nazis were exceptionally well armed and beat off all attacks. They broke the flanks of the Jewish detachments, and the partisans withdrew precipitously. Then Magid jumped up on a rock and yelled: ‘We are Jews. We will show them what we are capable of. Forward, comrades!’ This sobered the men up; they ran back and won.” For more go to;
Dovid Katz wrote…
Warmest congratulations to Dr Rachel Margolis of Rechovot, heroic 88 year old Jewish partisan veteran of the anti-Nazi resistance in the forests of Lithuania, on the appearance of the English edition of her memoir, A PARTISAN FROM VILNA (Academic Studies Press, Boston 2010). The book appears precisely two years after the sad day (5 May 2008) when prosecutors sent police looking for her in Vilnius (on the basis of biased press reports on one paragraph in the original Russian edition of this very book). Rachel, who sends her friends hearty regards, still hopes to return to her native Vilnius. After 40 years as a biology professor at Vilnius University, she made unique contributions as a Holocaust scholar.
April 7, 2009
Dr. Rachel Margolis
Dear Dr. Margolis,
On behalf of NCSJ, an American Jewish organization that works on behalf of
Jews in the former Soviet Union, we salute you for your courageous actions as an
anti-Nazi partisan in Lithuania during the Second World War.
We are also deeply troubled by the Lithuanian government’s continued
persecution of you, and at their allegations that you committed “war crimes.” This
government harassment is unconscionable, especially given the record of
Lithuanian collaboration with the Nazis during the Holocaust. You and other
Jewish partisans who resisted the genocidal campaign of the Nazis are true heroes
of your country, and of humanity. Your wartime efforts to cherish life and fight
against those murderers who would extinguish it are the hallmarks of true
Richard B. Stone Alexander Smukler Mark B. Levin
Chairman President Executive Director