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Support FMS / Soutien FMS

Written by author
February 23rd, 2013

This website is granted by the Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Shoah,
Paris – France

Ce site reçoit le soutien de la Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Shoah,
Paris – France


Students meeting

Rencontre des étudiants



On February 14th 2013 the students of V. Borisevičiaus gymnasium, with teachers Lina and Janina, visited the students of the Art Academy of Telsiai, class of Fashion and knitwear design, under the direction of Pr. Zita Incirauskiene. Both groups of students are involved in the project Bat Kama At.
The synergy and the dynamics that emerged from the participation of these students to the project Bat Kama At has already produced high artistic quality works. It opens great expectations to the students contribution to the exhibition Yavne Telz School Was Life.

Le 14 février 2013 les étudiants du lycée V. Borisevičiaus, accompagnés de leurs enseignants Lina et Janina, ont visité l’exposition réalisée par les étudiants de l’Académie d’Art de Telsiai, de la classe de création textile, dirigée par le Pr. Zita Incirauskiene. Les deux groupes d’élèves sont impliqués dans le projet Bat Kama At.
La synergie initiée par la participation de ces étudiants a d’ors et déjà produit des travaux de grande qualité. Elle ouvre des perspectives prometteuses à notre proposition de laisser une place nécessaire à leur expression dans l’exposition “Apprendre c’est vivre”.

Teachers of Vincento Borisevicius

Jewish Lives in Fabric
Vies juives, d’étoffes et de nuages

Are eyes the mirrors of the soul?

– The Jewish Girls of Telz from Yesterday seen by Today’s Lithuanian Girls/
– Jeunes filles juives d’hier à Telz vues par des jeunes filles lituaniennes d’aujourd’hui à Telsiai

This artistic contribution for the project “ Bat Kama At?” is the creation of 3 students of the 3rd year class of Fabric design under the high-minded direction of Pr. Zita Incirauskiene, in Telsiai Art Academy, a section of Vilnius Art Academy.
These photographs were taken during the first presentation of the works in the Art Academy, on January 2013.

The approach of the young artists Simona Remeikaitė, Kristina Balsytė and Rytė Krakauskaitė, is the most rewarding answer that we can imagine to our own endeavour as historians and authors. It captures not only the vulnerability and the features of the young woman and girls from Telz during the flourishing interwar period, but also the fragility of the historical traces. Doing so, these thoughtful artistic contributions become powerful reminiscence in the present and a sign, a call for keeping this fragment of outstanding educational history for the future.

The high quality of these three contributions foreshadows the place they are going to take in the exhibition: Yavne Telz School Was Life.

Kristina Balsytė

– My work for Bat Kama At project is an interpretation of the school life. It is composed with a few diplomas of the girls and the image of a dress/uniform.

The diplomas are printed on fabric. As well, the uniform is made from the same fabric used as a frame to present the work. As a whole, it appears as a classroom blackboard on the wall.

Lives in fabric

I imagine the bright school life before the tragedy, each detail sounds familiar to us. We are the same age the girls were, maybe we have similar thoughts on our minds despite the fact that we live in another century.

Telšiai is my native town, and through this project I know about it more.

I’m glad to be a part of this project.

Kristina Balsytė

Simona Remeikaitė

– With this work for Bat Kama At project, I wanted to thrill the hearts of all.

For that, I chose feminine accents – lace, handkerchiefs, women’s accessories. These subtle details convey sensitivity, gentleness, goodness, which connect these 500 killed women and girls with the present and future generations of women and girls. I have put together the details in a simple cardboard box, which symbolizes simplicity and impermanence.

simona 1


Detail Simona

The second installation confronts the tragic death of women and girls, with or without portraits on blank white matter sheets. Sometimes an added detail of feminine lace softens and gives the sensitivity to the evocation. These portraits and blank sheets aim to recollect the affected girls and woman for future generations, as if the future depends on this reminiscence: implicitly, the fact that their portraits appear on white sheets prevents from the recurrence of such events.
In this work I wanted to pay attention to the delicacy and tenderness of women, powerless to defend themselves and other women. I hope that this imaginative recreation incites you to think not only about the past but about the present and the future.

I hope that seeing our works has the power to change at least the perspective of one person among hundreds of minds about the future. I hope that what have happened to the Jewish girls of Gymnasium Yavne could never be repeated, and that their behavior as young educated girls serves as a model.

Feminine accents – lace, handkerchiefs, women’s accessories

Rytė Krakauskaitė

– My contribution to the project “Bat kama at?” is named “Souls”.
This work includes eight different textile elements bedecked with calligraphy and photo prints. These eight parts constitute the narrative of an abstract and spiritual story of the students of the Yavne Gymnasium, in Telz, Telsiai before WWII.
My work starts with school and classes pictures, then continues with calligraphied texts about the gymnasium in English and Lithuanian. To that I added details from portraits of the girls, specially of their eyes which are supposed to be the mirror of the souls. I finished my “story” with calligraphied Jewish prayer. The texts and photographs are printed on a material light and transparent like veils or clouds.

Like veils and clouds

calligraphy: Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God

I also wrote a Jewish prayer

The first text in calligraphy is something that I wrote shortly about the Yavne Gymnasium history in Lithuanian.
On another element, I wrote the translated text of the mezuza in English. I wrote:
Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your resources. And these things that I command you today shall be upon your heart. And you shall teach them to your children, and you shall speak of them when you sit in your house and when you go on the way, when you lie down and when you rise up. And you shall bind them as a sign upon your arm and they shall be an ornament between your eyes. And you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

I also wrote a Jewish prayer on another element. I took the prayer from this website .

Rytė Krakauskaitė


Written by author
July 19th, 2012

Bat Kama At is very honored to present the board of its Advisory Committee:


Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett:
– Professor of Performance Studies, New York University
– Program Director, Core Exhibition, Museum of the History of Polish Jews:

Jonathan Boyarin:
– Leonard and Tobee Kaplan Distinguished Professor of Modern Jewish Thought, Jonathan Boyarin, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill:

David Biale:
– Emanuel Ringelblum Distinguished Professor. Chair, Department of History. University of California, Davis.
– Author and editor of many books:

Yitskhok Niborski:
– Professor of Yiddish at INALCO, Paris. Founder and main figure of “Maison de la Culture Yiddish Bibliothèque Medem”, Paris.
– Author of dictionaries Yiddish-French:

Samuel Kassow:
– Charles H. Northam Professor of History, Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut:
– His major contribution to Jewish historiography: Who Will Write Our History: Emanuel Ringelblum and the Oyneg Shabes Archive, Indiana University Press, 2007.

Jonathan Brent:
– Executive Director, YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.
– Editorial Director of the “Annals of Communism” at Yale University Press :

Anna Foa:
– Professeur of modern history, Faculté de Lettre de l’University “La Sapienza”, Roma.Spécialist of social and cultural contemporary history
– Author and editor


Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett:

– Professeur du département “Performance Studies”, New York University;
– Directrice du programme de l’exposition permanente du Musée d’histoire des Juifs de Pologne :

Jonathan Boyarin:

– Professeur émérite, chaire Leonard and Tobee Kaplan en “Modern Jewish Thought”, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill:

David Biale:

– Professeur émérite, chaire Emanuel Ringelblum.
– Président du départment d’histoire. University of California, Davis.
– Auteur et éditeur de nombreux livres traduits en plusieurs langues:

Yitskhok Niborski:

– Professeur de yiddish à l’INALCO. Fondateur et co-directeur de la Maison de la Culture Yiddish Bibliothèque Medem, à Paris.
– Auteur de plusieurs dictionnaires Yiddish-Français:

Samuel Kassow:

– Professeur d’histoire, chaire Charles H. Northam,Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut:
– Sa contribution à l’historiographie des Juifs de Pologne est fondamentale particulièrement avec son dernier ouvrage (traduit de l’anglais): Qui écrira notre histoire ?: Les archives secrètes du ghetto de Varsovie, Grasset, 2011.

Jonathan Brent:

– Directeur du YIVO : Institute for Jewish Research.
– Directeur éditorial des “Annals of Communism” , Yale
University Press :

Anna Foa:

– Professeur d’ histoire moderne, Faculté de Lettre de l’Université de La Sapienza, Rome.
– Spécialiste de l’histoire sociale et culturelle contemporaine (notamment des femmes):

The sharp memory of Rosa Ziv Rabinovitch

Written by author
June 6th, 2012

In which language did they read Homerus in Gymnasium Yavne, Telz, Lithuania?

Rosa Ziv is not only a gracious 90 years old lady. Her smile and her openness is so charming when she welcomes the author with her cousin Boris Portnoi and his wife Patricia, from Netanya.
Patricia will be filming this day of April 13, 2012 (we will publish excerpts of this interview as soon as it is edited). In the meantime here is a summary (in French) of Rosa Ziv’s interview.
As we are speaking together and examining the photographs I brought to work with her, her memories turn out to be sharf, her narrative precise and her points of view assertive. Her mind is well organized as is her beautiful garden planted with elegant poppies, and the plates she has decoratively dressed for us with strawberries and kiwis. If she fondly and playfully remembers her school mates, her good friends, she doesn’t give a dime to bigotery, even if she profoundly respects her survivor friends who are rebbetsins.

She also treasures the memory of her teachers.

A few anecdotes are worth to be told, at least for their yiddisher Tam. Professor Sapozhnikov who is holding a glass on the top right of this photograph was a gingin (that means red hair in Hebrew). Was it the reason why the girls had a rhyme about him ?

Shabske der reyter, krikht af a leyter, zet a meydl, vert er a teyter – Shabske the red hair, climbs on a ladder, turns into a dead man (he swoons).

The most beautiful story concerns Professor Odessas whose wife received the nick name of Penelopa. “Of course, tells Rosa laughing, from Odysseus!” So in which language, we have now to ask her, did they read Homerus in Gymnasium Yavne, Telz, Lithuania?
As every subject matter which was not Lithuanian, Latin, German or English (before 1931 when Latin replaced English), Odysseus was studied in Hebrew and read in a Hebrew translation. Now, did the pious Jewish girls of Yavne Gymnasium read also Ilias?

Rosa cherishes the memory of one of her teachers. She looks for her on each photograph I am showing to her. Khaske (Khasia) and Soske (Sarah) Gering, sisters looked very much alike. Rosa finally recognized her beloved teacher, Sarah Gering. (Geringaite Hassia-Frida, her sister, received a diploma in 1928, still to come)

But the bloody thugs who murdered the Jews, she has no words to speak about them.
She gives an account of the murder of the Lukniker Rebbe, the father of Miriam Kravitski, beaten to the blood and massacred by Lithuanian murderers before the first German has entered into Luknik. She also describes the ordeal of the men of Luknik, forced to a parody of “dance” during hours and hours before they are shot by their murderers. It was July 15th 1941, 3 weeks after the German assault.

By: Susan de la Fuente
from the
May 17th, 2012

Rivkah Bloch grew up in Telz (Telsiai), a historic township and renowned Torah center in north-west Lithuania. In 1939 the Jews of Telz numbered about 2,800, some 28 percent of the population. Rivkah’s paternal grandfather Reb Yosef Leib Bloch, (1849-1930) zt”l, also known as Maharil Bloch, was a distinguished personality and a prominent scholar and educator. Besides his position as town rabbi, he headed the great Yeshivah of Telz that his father-in-law Rav Eliezer Gordon, zt”l had founded. Its student body numbered around 400 students in 1900.

One of eight children, Rivkah Bloch attended the high school that her grandfather had founded. At Yavne, which belonged to the high-level educational network of Agudath Israel, limudei kodesh or sacred subjects were taught in Hebrew alongside a broad curriculum. Since the girls were actively encouraged to talk Hebrew during school breaks, Rivkah acquired a sound knowledge of Hebrew and also learned Lithuanian, German and Russian.

When Lithuania lost its independence in 1940, the Russians disbanded the yeshiva and the religious high schools. The disastrous German invasion followed on June 22, 1941, reaching Telz on June 26, where they wreaked slaughter and destruction. Armed Lithuanians under Nazi command brutally rounded up the Jews, stole their valuables and ejected them from their homes. On July 15, Rivkah’s father, brothers and male relatives were shot to death or buried alive with the other Jewish men in mass graves at Rainiai, four kilometers away. In bidding farewell to three of his daughters, Chasya Hy”d, Naomi and Rivkah, Rav Zalman-Shmuel Bloch urged them to remain true to their heritage as religious women.

Most of the Jewish women and children were liquidated at the Geruliai concentration camp on August 30. Children were buried alive, while babies’ heads were smashed with stones. (Many of the atrocities are documented at According to this source a few Lithuanian farmers extended help to the suffering Jewish women on forced labor details, while others abused them severely and murdered them in some cases.)
In the final months of 1941 the Lithuanians and the Gestapo continued their cruel abusive behavior. Fifteen-year-old Rivkah was transported to the Jewish ghetto in nearby Shavli (Siauliai) late in 1941. Aware that death was imminent if she stayed there, Rivkah escaped together with her cousin Miriam Kleiner. The girls sought refuge in a wooded area where they wandered among farming villages and forests.

During the final years of the war, Rivkah was often left to face adversity totally alone. Sometimes non-Jews in isolated areas would pity her and shelter her for a few days, but mostly she had to hide in barns, cowsheds and pits and forage for food in garbage heaps. Since Nazi sympathizers were swift to alert the police to her presence, the Gestapo almost caught her many times. Once she burrowed deep into a pile of hay to hide, concealing herself just a fraction deeper than the jabbing and poking of her pursuers who finally abandoned their search. Another time she huddled, trembling behind a bed, while the police searched the house of her host. Their daughter covered for her by sitting on the bed, where she busied herself with some sewing or knitting. On another occasion, when the police came to the front door of a house where Rivkah sheltered, she was unceremoniously pushed out the back door into a snow-covered potato field. Famished, she ate some raw potatoes to still her hunger and spent the night without shelter. Even more traumatic than the torments of hunger and cold was her isolation, the heaviest burden she had to bear. Believing that she was probably the last Jew to survive, she pleaded with the Almighty not to leave her all alone in the world.
Although Rivkah’s two surviving siblings in the USA urged her to join them, she was resolved to resume her life in Israel. Her sister, Naomi Bloch Stein, who married Rabbi Pesach Stein zt”l in 1948, and her cousin Chaya Bloch Ausband were the only two Jewish women to survive the war in Ghetto Shavli. Another sister, Shoshana, was brought to America before the war by her chosson, Rav Mordechai Gifter zt”l. However, because Rivkah simply did not wish to live among non-Jews any longer, she joined up with other illegal immigrants who went to Israel via Italy. They landed in the middle of the night on a rickety Maapilim boat in 1946 near Atlit, and luckily the British authorities did not notice their landing.

Twenty-year-old Rivkah recovered her happy disposition and sense of humor in Israel, putting behind her the years when, in her son’s words, “She lived like a hunted animal.”

Une exposition qui se construit

Written by author
May 17th, 2012

Afin de commencer à mettre en place l’exposition des 500 jeunes filles, Michel Grosman est parti à Rome rencontrer Massimo Berretta, photographe et graphiste.
Ils ont travaillé une semaine en mai pour chercher la voie la plus sûre qui permette de raconter la vie des élèves du lycée Yavné. Il y a toujours une dimension magique qui opère lorsqu’on restitue du néant de jeunes et beaux visages. Les regards marquent l’esprit, l’émotion affleure. Deux exemples de beauté tirés des archives de Vilnius….sans commentaire.

Bat Kama At in Lithuania

Written by author
May 3rd, 2012


April 23- April 30

1) Meeting again with Kamile Rupeikaite, Deputy Director at Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum, we discussed common perspectives on the project. The period of end of spring/beginning of summer 2013 has been envisioned for the exhibition of the works the students of Telšių Vincento Borisevičiaus gimnazija, in dialogue with our own work in process representing the life and education of 500 Jewish girls from the Yavne gymnasium in Telsiai – beginning with around 100 to 125 portraits.

2) Meeting with Jonathan Berger, Public Affairs Officer, and Inga Sydrys, Grant Manager and Outreach Coordinator at the Embassy of the United States of America.
a) We discussed the possibilities of supporting Bat Kama At for the research of new larger grants to develop the project and the exhibitions.
b) They expressed a great interest in screening our film [nemt].
c) After having supported our acquisition of the copies of documents (File 1382-1) at the Lithuanian Central State Archives, further support for the project has been considered on a higher level.

3) Meeting with Audelin Chappuis, Attaché culturel and Directeur adjoint of the Centre culturel français. Demo of the website. Interest in the project and in screening of our film [nemt].

4) In Telšių Vincento Borisevičiaus gimnazija, 4 full cessions of work with the teachers team and large groups of students (2 days) – in the form of conferences and workshops encouraging strong a involvement from the students. Classes of 12th, 11th and 8th grades reprensented and involved. Director Robertas Ezerkis, Janina Bucevičiūtė, professor of History, and Lina Garbaliauskaitė, professor of English were present and involved.

a) We have made a historical presentation of the context of the Jewish society in Telsiai, focusing on social and educational life of young people. Answer to many questions risen by the students.
b) In the workshops, motivated students have proposed many very good projects, among them 2 written scenarii during the cessions:

– One fiction short film (26’ – );
– One short documentary film about the work of the students on Bat Kama At (10’) ;
– One fiction photo novel with some historical reconstitution in costumes (black and white) ;
– One photo reportage team to explore the visual traces in what is left of Jewish places in Telsiai ;
– Different individual drawing and painting projects – some have already been realized at the occasion of the Conference on Holocaust Day under the guidance of the art teacher, Marija Krajinskiene, soon to be presented on this page ;
– Individual writing projects (audio support).

5) We had the priviledge to meet the well known Gemaite artist Romualdas Inčirauskas in the presence of his wife Zita, and son Kazimieras, and presented them the project Bat Kama At and the website.
a) We presented to Romualdas our project of a 24h installation of the 500 portraits (see website) in Telsiai on the Market place and in the streets.
b) We evoqued with him the possibility of his own involvement in the project, individually as an artist, and as professor in the Telsiai Art School.
c) Romualdas Inčirauskas has had a main exhibition in the Gaon Vilna Jewish State Museum, and has many major works of sculpture in the historical Telsiai, related to all aspects of the history of Gemaite, including the door of the Cathedrale. He and his family are profoundly concerned by the future of Jewish memory in Lithuania. They have walked us to the new monument erected to honor the memory of the 500 girls and women of Telz murdered on December 1941.

Reyzel Berkman : Un carnet écrit avec son sang

Written by author
April 21st, 2012

Reyzel Berkman : Un carnet écrit avec son sang

Reyzele Berkman, aujourd hui Shoshana Privalski, avait fait état au téléphone de ses craintes par rapport à Internet, ce nouveau media inconnu. Elle ignorait que ses documents scolaires et ceux de sa sœur Bat Sheva figuraient déjà sur ce site :
Lors de notre rencontre, le 17 avril, elle reçut donc la copie de ces trois documents qu’elle examina avec une certaine émotion et aussi quelques commentaires teintés d’humour sur les notes obtenues à mi parcours figurant sur le diplôme de la 4e année délivré par le lycée Yavne. « A sheyne meydele bin ikh geven », finit-elle par conclure – j’étais une jolie petite fille.
Un simple bulletin d’école primaire concerne sa sœur Bat Sheva, dite aussi Bebele, reconnue par plusieurs témoins sur des photographies de classe, et dont le nom m’était familier depuis le début de cette enquête. La fille de Reyzele, Dvoyre, se joint rapidement à nous ainsi que sa petite fille Bat-Sheva, nommée d’après sa sœur.

Sa fille me confie qu’elle veut se rendre depuis longtemps à Telsiai, sur les traces de sa famille, et s’enthousiasme pour le travail accompli par ce projet.
Officiellement Reyzl est née en 1924, mais elle s’était rajeunie de 2 ans pour pouvoir entrer au lycée. Son père était shoykhet, abatteur rituel.
Si elle peut reconnaître de nombreux visages, en revanche peu de noms lui reviennent. C’est du reste compréhensible car je lui présente des photographies de classes dont les jeunes filles sont plus âgées qu’elle.
Elle me montre le livre qu’elle a publié en Israël. D’abord nous le feuilletons et elle commente quelques-unes des photographies. La qualité de la reproduction étant très médiocre, on voit mal les visages des jeunes filles qu’elle me montre et je ne mesure pas le caractère réel de ce livre, l’origine de ces mémoires.
Sur une de mes photos, elle rectifie l’identification d’une des jeunes filles, il s’agit d’une des filles Merkin et non de Myriam Bloch. Elle est formelle. Sur une autre de mes photographies, elle reconnaît (en bas 5e au milieu) Rasia Taitz (Tayts). Sur la même photo (en haut 1ère à droite), elle identifie également la 3e des filles Merkin.
Au milieu de la photo se tient un professeur de latin. Elle affirme que l’un deux aurait assassiné des filles juives pendant les tueries, et que celles-ci auraient crié : « Professeur …., pourquoi tirez-vous sur nous ? ». Elle n’est pas sûre du nom de cet homme.
Outre cet épisode déchirant, le caractère crucial du livre de Shoshana se dévoile peu à peu. Elle décrit l’épuisement de sa sœur au moment où elles se décident à fuir le ghetto. Elles ont été prévenues de la liquidation des jeunes filles sous peu. Au moment de gravir la barrière qui approche les deux mètres de hauteur, le sentiment d’abandon gagne tantôt l’une, tantôt l’autre. Elles s’exhortent mutuellement et chacune est tentée de s’effondrer dans la neige et de se laisser mourir plutôt que de fuir en plein décembre.
Durant leur fuite, Shoshana, plus brune, plus juive d’apparence, prend la décision de se séparer de Bat-Sheva, de complexion plus claire, qui peut passer plus aisément pour non-juive. Comment elles on pu s’en tirer pendant toute la durée de la guerre, elle ne le comprend toujours pas. Elle me parle d’une famille Rabinovitch dont tous les membres ont été massacrés dans leur maison.
Enfin Shoshana fait sortir à sa fille Dvoyre d’une grande boîte en carton argentée un manuscrit de grand format 21 par 24, relié dans le sens de la largeur. Il me faut encore un temps pour comprendre. Enfin Shoshana fait amener à sa fille un petit sac à main. Celui-ci contient une petite pochette qui ne la quitte jamais, comme celle où Rosa Portnoi conservait ses trois photos de classe, au fond de son sac.
De la pochette, elle tire un tout petit manuscrit, relié il y a bien longtemps lui aussi dans le sens de la largeur. C’est l’original de la copie en grand format et du livre.

L’écriture est régulière et serrée, soignée, hâtive et parfois délavée et reprise. Le papier manquant, les lettres et les mots se resserrent de plus en plus.

Le journal, me dit-elle, a été rédigé chez la femme lituanienne qui l’a protégée pendant toute la guerre, cachée, nourrie, habillée et traitée comme sa propre fille, au risque de sa vie. Afin de contribuer à son entretien, Reyzl/Shoshana travaillait au métier à tisser.
Lorsqu’elle n’avait plus d’encre pour écrire son journal, elle utilisait parfois la teinture qui servait à colorer les étoffes (du lin probablement. Parfois, à cours d’encre ou de teinture, elle se piquait les doigts et écrivait avec son sang. Elle me montre ainsi des passages écrits au sang qui se sont estompés. Son journal rapporte, au jour le jour, les quatre années de persécution et de peur vécues sous la protection de cette femme chrétienne.
Après la guerre, lorsque Shoshana lui envoyait des colis d’Israël, la femme l’implorait de ne pas priver ses propres enfants pour elle.

Mon grand-père Trotski

Written by author
April 11th, 2012

11 avril 2012, Tel Aviv, Bat Kama At s’apprête à rencontrer Sonia (Sarah) Toor.

L’une de mes jeunes filles née en 1920, et que je dois interviewer Dimanche, Sonia (Sarah) Toor, me rappelle très troublée.
Après s’être assurée que le père de ma mère se nommait bien Borekh Portnoi et que la famille vivait en face du cimetière de Telz, elle me dit : « Je me souviens parfaitement de cette famille. C’était une maisonnée très pauvre et pleine de petites filles (il y avait à la veille de la guerre 7 filles et un garçon). Ton grand-père, sais-tu comment on l’appelait à Telz ? ».
Je reste interdite, hésitant entre plusieurs souvenirs et autant d’émotions. Rosa Portnoi, qui était intarrissable sur son lycée Yavne de Telz, ne s’épanchait pas sur sa famille, et savait peu de chose sur l’histoire de son père, qui était un orphelin, originaire de Pinsk, et avait deux frères dont l’un avait émigré aux Etats-Unis au début du siècle et l’autre vivait à Ber-Sheva.
« Ton grand-père – dayn zeyde – poursuit-elle, était connu sous le nom de Trotski parce qu’il était éloquent, élégant et professait avec conviction des opinions de gauche. »
Baruch Portnoi avait travaillé aux chemins de fer (Pinsk faisait partie de l’Empire tsariste), et semblait avec sa vareuse et son képi portant un insigne sortir d’un film d’Eisenstein.

La guerre dite soviéto-polonaise et son cortège de pogromes, qui avait fait rage jusqu’en Biélorussie en 1919 et 1920 avait-elle dévoré sa famille ? Rosa parlait d’un oncle, un jeune étudiant de yeshiva, qui avait été fusillé par les soviétiques sous l’accusation d’espionnage. Les Juifs – qui n’avaient pas un goût inné pour la guerre, même révolutionnaire, et lui préférait l’étude – avaient souvent fait les frais de telles violences.
Rien n’indique quand Barukh a quitté Pinsk. En 1921, Rosa, la première-née de huit enfants, voit le jour à Telsiai (Telz)
La santé de Barukh n’était guère brillante et c’est, paraît-il, pour cela qu’il abandonna les chemins de fer pour devenir un bal-hagole, un conducteur de charette, qui ne transportait pas de marchandises mais conduisait les clients à la gare ou sur de courtes distances.
Sonia ne pouvait oublier la pauvreté dans laquelle elle avait trouvé cette famille, dans la maison située en face du cimetière de Telz et à une faible distance du premier emplacement de l’école Yavne. Une image est restée gravée dans sa mémoire et c’est cette image surtout qui l’avait poussée à me rappeler et qu’elle ne pouvait garder pour elle jusqu’à dimanche. Un jour d’hiver, par un froid mordant, elle se rend dans la maison avec Rosa Portnoi et voit qu’une vitre brisée n’a pas pu être remplacée et qu’elle est colmatée par un coussin qu’on a fixé là pour atténuer le froid.
C’est vers cette époque peut-être qu’a été prise cette photo de famille. Pour quelle occasion, je ne sais, mais on y voit la mère de Rosa portant son cinquième enfant, et les petites filles au regard un peu perdu dans leurs robes parfois trop grandes, et Nekhemie, le petit dernier assis sagement. Les yeux de Barukh fixent sereinement l’appareil.

Dans son costume trois-pièces bien coupé, il pense peut-être à l’avenir de ses filles. C’est lui qui encouragea sa première et celles qui suivirent à acquérir une solide éducation. Rosa, quant à elle, désirait fréquenter le Gymnasium Yavne après l’école élémentaire, et suivre les cours réputés de son directeur, le Dr. Rafael Holsberg-Etsyon, mais l’année même où elle intégra le lycée, à la rentrée scolaire de 1933, celui-ci se mit en route pour la Palestine. Barukh avait l’habitude d’aider sa fille dans les matières scientifiques et de la gratifier d’une pièce de monnaie pour chaque bonne note.
Rosa parlait de son père comme d’un homme pieux, mais sans doute a-t-elle effacé de sa mémoire les tensions qu’elle a dû ressentir entre sa très religieuse éducation au lycée Yavne de Telz et ce père aux idées de gauche très arrêtées et hautement revendiquées. La Lituanie indépendante qui glissait lentement vers un régime autoritaire sous la présidence de Smetana laissait encore une petite place et la vie sauve à ce supposé émule de Trotski.