October 21st, 2013
The author has been honored to be this academic year recipient of YIVO’S AWARD FOR JEWISH BALTIC STUDIES
As an important part of my research is made public on this website, I find it important to present here the text of my application, to which I only added a few documents relating to it.
RESEARCH PROPOSAL FOR YAVNE TELZ SCHOOL WAS LIFE
PROGRESS REPORT OF “BAT KAMA AT”
Yavne Telz School Was Life is a future exhibition and the development of the project “Bat Kama At ?” about the life and fate of 500 girls from Telz/Telsiai in Lithuania, a broader project aiming to maintain and deepen the knowledge of the history and the culture of Lithuanian Jews, to highlight aspects of history that have remained neglected, namely the exceptional excellence of the education provided to the girls in the Gymnasium Yavne, a Jewish religious secondary school, in the Interwar period. The Yavne Girls’ Gymnasium was established in Telz in 1920, amidst the effervescent atmosphere of the young and independent Republic of Lithuania (1918-1940). From its earliest years, the institution aspired to excellence and attracted the best female students of the region, and from more distant cities as well.
Born during the making of my film [nemt]: A Language Without A People For A People Without A Language and the (co-)writing of my father’s memoirs from a fascination with three class photographs saved by my mother during the war, the project has traveled a long way since then.
In 2008, I went to Israel to meet the last remaining witnesses of this community and collected a significant number of class and group photographs. Although most of the 500 girls and women were massacred in December 1941 during a last phase of the Holocaust in Telsiai (Telz), the conduct (exclusively in Yiddish) of interviews of the survivors focused on the school history and yielded unedited materials. In 2011, I have also interviewed three rebbetsins of the rabbinical family Bloch. Through the interviews, part of the girls has been identified by their name or a biographical information. This historical research is developed on the website: http://batkamaat.org/ supported by the Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Shoah, in Paris, and as soon as they will be edited part of the accounts will be available on line.
The newest development of this already large collection is the discovery of 489 documents in the Lithuanian Central Archives (file 1382-1), including class reports, pedagogical meeting reports, exam reports, around 380 diplomas delivered by the Lithuanian Ministry of Education in Kaunas between 1924 and 1940, more than 250 identity photographs on the diplomas. The American Embassy in Vilnius has provided support to acquire copies of these documents. The introduction to the catalogue and almost 100 documents have been published on this web page: http://batkamaat.org/?page_id=32
CONNECTING ARCHIVAL DOCUMENTS WITH ORAL HISTORY AND OTHER SOURCES
The collection relating to the Yavne Gymnasium in Telz conserved in the Lithuanian Central Archives is unparalleled in its importance. We are aware of additional archives documenting Jewish schools from the interwar period, a time when they developed throughout Lithuania. An enormous amount of important research awaits us in this new, untapped field. The pioneering research of Naomi Seidman on the Beis Yakov movement shows that traditional models of education as well as secular ones are at work in the organization of Jewish education to Orthodox girls in Eastern Europe since the end of the 19th century.
Founded under the authorization of the Lithuanian government on November 8, 1920, the Yavne School for Girls stood at 16 Market Square, Turgaus gatve. The documents’ dates range from 1924 until the Soviet authorities closed the school in 1940.
The study of file 1382-1 in the Lithuanian Central Archives containing 489 remarkably preserved documents permitted us to discover in detail the school’s curriculum, as well as the individual trajectories of several of its future teachers, thereby significantly advancing our knowledge of this educational community. A significant part are diplomas where the Lithuanian page faces the Hebrew one. Some documents are only in Lithuanian: http://batkamaat.org/?page_id=32
But we are still a long way from having analyzed all the documents and examined them on the background of the oral sources – the interviews – and the literary sources. Some testimonies are still sleeping in the archives of Yivo as the one of Leyb Koniuchowsky about the Holocaust in Telz and the surrounding shtetlekh, translated by Jonathan Boyarin some 15 years ago and unexploited. Sefer Telz, has many details about the life and the schools of the town, but information about the schools are also to be found in other yizker bikher from the Lithuanian towns and cities – among them Kovne who had Yavne schools – about the Yavne system of education.
Lists of the Telzer population (specially 900 names of the Lithuanian Names Project) are revealing information as we are examining and publishing each document of the file 1382-1. Knowing more about the school community and its teachers requires also to examine the 50 first documents of these archives (from 5 to 50 pages) consisting in pedagogical reports and meetings from 1924 to 1940. The study of these archives will bring a knowledge of the concerns of the school authorities year by year from 1924 to the eve of the war.
By now, this case study illustrates the school’s high standards of completeness and excellence reflected in these documents. This amazing bibliography speaks for itself:
Throughout the curriculum we bear witness to a religious teaching based in reason, comprehensive study of Hebrew language and literature, as well as a wide variety of world literature in Hebrew translation. A very high level of science and technology and the study of modern languages, as well as Latin, were stressed in a commitment to providing these girls with a solid foundation of professionalization along with religious and ethical principles. What we need to understand better are the influences that have brought the religious authorities in Telz to open so widely the girl’s curriculum to secular culture, notwithstanding the fact that, doing so they took the risk to jeopardize their own influence. Whatever will be the outcome of this research, the community’s religious leaders must be given due credit for their wise and forseeing concern for the education and future of their daughters, no matter the choice – secular path or religious tradition – they have entrusted in the hands of the young women.
THE AUTHOR AS LIVING ARCHIVE: A QUESTION OF DISCIPLINE
One of the theoritical aspects that has emerged in this work is at the crossroad of the archival research itself with the usual cross-checking of oral, archival and literary sources, and a reflection born in the course of this specific investigation of a history to which the author is directly related by its family narrative and personal memories.
Through the process of interviews and identifications, the author received a documentary yet intimate body of knowledge, difficult to put in order, and sometimes contradictory. Lists of names, faces with no names, faces reappearing in multiple photographs… Some faces became familiar and when their names were finally established, the author recognized them as one of those she frequently heard about as a child, in the family narrative. Some of these memories would never have surfaced if not the discovery of the 489 documents of the file 1382-1 of the Lithuanian central archives with the rich information they carry. But, on the other hand, these archives would have never appeared under the same light to somebody without the clues of these vivid narratives.
Becoming a living archive means being capable of establishing links between information provided by informants and documents which gradually emerge. One must connect the dots between names cited in narratives heard at home and those which emerge during the accounts of other witnesses, as well the living archive remembers – or not – the captions of photographs published in the Telz book of remembrance read a thousand times over, the Sefer Telz. The family memories are not stored in a place where they are automatically available, they have to be awaken or activated by new information, involving or emotion or idea association. Very much like the accounts delivered by the surviving witnesses that have been interviewed. Gradually, from one document or photograph to another, the investigation delivered new names, suddenly faces became familiar, friendships and family ties were established, and the information began to take form in a manner which resolved outstanding questions and led to new, more precise ones. Through the website http://batkamaat.org/, part of this material is slowly being reconstructed and immortalized.
I propose to explore this specific position as an author working at the articulation of history and memory with the methods of history and anthropology but open to and even hungry for the perceptions of a creator. Through a number of similar literary, anthropological and historical approaches, from writing autobiography as history in Pierre Vidal-Naquet’s Memoirs, to Daniel Mendelsohn’s family quest in The Lost, throught the work of the archeologist Laurent Olivier in The Dark Abyss of the Past , I will draw a picture of a form of research that has been widely developed in the field of different disciplines without having always been sufficently pointed out as a global phenomenon relating to the changing statues of history, and in the context of this changing itself.
Pour une microhistoire de la Shoah, Ed. Claire ZALC, Tal BRUTMANN, Ivan ERMAKOFF, Nicolas MARIOT. (Paris: Seuil, Le Genre Humain, sept. 2012.) See the essays of Paul-André ROSENTAL, “Généalogies mentales”, and Ivan JABLONSKA, “Écrire l’histoire de ses proches”, pp. 12-69.
Laurent OLIVIER. The dark abyss of time archaeology and memory; translated from French by Arthur GREENSPAN. (Lanham: Alta Mira Press, 2012).
December 3rd, 2011
Paraphes des enfants
Ensemble, les filles et les garçons des écoles Yavné de Telz rendaient visite le 27 octobre 1933 au musée régional de Samogite récemment créé dans leur ville.
Ce document qui porte les paraphes des enfants et des enseignants présents ce jour-là nous a été transmis par les Archives du Museum Alka et nous apporte d’innombrables informations: