Written by author
April 5th, 2012

Each face in its utter singularity

Michael Gottsegen, Ph.D.
Department of Religious Studies,
Brown University

Each face in its utter singularity, eyes meeting mine, imploring, asking, putting me into question. My comfortable world is punctured, my ease, my present, my future, are called into question by the past which becomes strangely present in each of these faces. Indeed my time is displaced by the time of the other, and though that other’s time, as measured by clocks and calendars, expired long ago, beholding, and being held fast by, the singular face which looks at me straight on, my own easy relation to time is undone, as I am undone.

students of Gymnasium Yavne, Telz Lithuania, around 1936

How does one look at these faces which look back, which look ahead untroubled by a future which would doom them all and come to trouble us profoundly? If one takes in these photos as ensembles, as period portraits, as generalized symbols of what was lost, then one might become nostalgic, respectful, elegiacal — without being especially troubled by the individual faces which in their utmost singularity implore and demand a singular answer from each of us who permits the other’s claim to register as such. Even if only regarded as a collective portrait, these pictures are still poignant historical artifacts which have much to tell us about a vanished world whose loss we feel compelled to mourn. But if we permit ourselves to be interrogated by these faces in their individual particularity, something deeper still comes into focus: a moment in which we are elected and compelled to respond with all that we are and with all that we have to the charge conveyed by the last glimpse of a life that is irreducibly unique and at the same time is shadowed by a disaster which is about to cut it short.

Levinas, in writing of the face, acknowledges that the height and uniqueness of the other, which is especially signified in the other’s face, is not only signified there. Thus he speaks of the face being sensed in the line of the other’s shoulder or neck or torso. In viewing the documents gathered together on Bat Kama At? I was reminded of this broader conception of the face when I came upon the signatures of the students of Yavne Schools of Telz which struck me as even more singular and as even more poignant than the faces in the photographs. In a different way, perhaps, each signature is even more expressive than the faces in the group photos of the intangible uniqueness of each of the girls. Each signature is different – one more firm, one less so; one more rounded, one more angular; one more graceful, one more emphatic. But just as the ethical point of the face to face relation is missed if the relation to the other becomes an exercise in prosography, so too is it missed if the relation to the other’s handwriting becomes an exercise in graphology. Rather the ethical point with respect to the other’s face and signature is not what they are as objects, which we might characterize and which in their objectification affirm us as subjects, but what they signify individually as expressions of the other’s irreducible uniqueness which demands something from each one of us as they call into question our own unreflective self-absorption and summon us as singularities ourselves to respond deeply, ethically, individually to the question posed by the singular face that challenges us. There is a shock or surprise in such an encounter which recalls Jacob’s utterance to the effect that “God was in this place but I did not know.” But having met the face of God in the faces of the others whose gaze meets our own when we look upon these photographs, or upon these signatures, we emerge changed, different from who we were before, and charged to act differently, to act better in the world of the present, to pay it forward, as it were, because we cannot give back, at least not in a direct way, to the girls of Telz whose lives are forever captured in these photos. And for having brought these photos to light, and for having brought these young women to our attention, we are greatly indebted to Isabelle Rozenbaumas, daughter of the daughters of Telz, who has retrieved these still glowing embers from the ashes.

Michael Gottsegen, Ph.D.
Department of Religious Studies,
Brown University

Signature of pupils of the Yavne elementary schools during a visit at the Samogitian Museum “Alka”. October 27, 1933. This museum of Samogitian region and culture has been created in the early thirties with the strong support of the Telsiai Jewish community. (Source of document and information : Museum Alka, documentalist of the museum, Ms. Vida Rimkuvienė)

TENTATIVE LIST OF THE CHILDREN WHO VISITED THE MUSEUM ON OCTOBRE 27TH 1933 with references to other sources mentioning their names:

M. Pšedmeski
  Signature of the teacher and director of Elementary school Pshadmetski

S. T. Šorisaitè
  Sore-Toybe Shores
2011-09-08-Rosa Portnoi-names-yavne-Museum Alka. A taylor’s daughter remembered by Rosa Portnoi, mother of the author

Ch. Klocaitè

M. Jankelevičutè
 M(ina) Yankelevitz
    USHMM list (Lithuanian Name Project)

M. Šlomovičiutè
  Shlomovitch: According 2011-09-08-Rosa Portnoi-names-yavne-Museum Alka Rosa Portnoi, a girl with red hair

Ch. Litvinaitè
  2011-09-08-Rosa Portnoi-names-yavne-Museum Alka, mother of the author recalls her childhood friend, the shoemaker’s daughter.

N. Zotaitè (Nochè)
  Zott 2011-09-08-Rosa Portnoi-names-yavne-Museum Alka
  see document F1382-436 (to come) – diploma August 22, 1940 – Gymnasium Yavne
    Zott Nakha: USHMM list (Lithuanian Name Project)

R. Portnoiaitè – Rosa Portnoi
 2011-09-08-Rosa Portnoi-names-yavne-Museum Alka, mother of the author  comments the names on the list and recalls her school friends and their  families in this short audio document.

D. Drapkinaitè

F. Abelsonaitè (Feige)
 Abelsonaite Feige see document F1382-58 – diploma May 18, 1933 – Gymnasium Yavne
    Abelson Feige: USHMM list (Lithuanian Name Project)

H. Blochaitè
  According to Khaye (Bloch) Ausband: Hennia Bloch (Blokh), Reb Elimelekh’s daughter
    Hennia Bloch
    Blochaitè Henny: diploma in document F1382-351 (to come)
     see also USHMM list (Lithuanian Name Project)

Ch. Vesleraitè
  Vesleraitè Chasja – diploma June 15, 1940 – Gymnasium Yavne in document F1382-291 (to come)
   Vessler Khassia: USHMM list (Lithuanian Name Project)

R. Rostovskytè
  Rostovski Rakhel: USHMM list (Lithuanian Name Project)

N. Blochaitè
  Noimi Bloch, from the rabbinical family Bloch
   Noimi Bloch
    interview June 2011 (to come)
     Blochaitè Noimi grade report 1933 ; diploma – August 7, 1940 – in document F1382-448
      Naomi Bloch: USHMM list (Lithuanian Name Project)

M. Pelcaitè – M. Peltz.
 The USHMM list (Lithuanian Name Project) has a number of members under this  family name familiar to the author through her own family narrative. Girls  from this family have graduated in Gymnasium Yavne. Their diplomas are in the  file 1382 of the Lithuanian Central Archives (to come).

F.(?) Palivnikaitè
 Polivnik, Freida: USHMM list (Lithuanian Name Project)
   A young Polivnikaitè Sara-Mirjam graduated on Mai 9, 1938 (document F1382-203 to come)

B. R. Varejesaitè
  Varejesaitè Bliüma-Rochel (Vareyes): document F 1382-284 – August 21, 1933 (to come)
    On the USHMM list (Lithuanian Name Project), many names from the family Varyas, Vareyes.

P. L. Klocaitè
  Klotz, one of the young girls of this family Klotz – Pessia, Pessia Breine ou Pessia Luba was the friend of the authors mother
   This family name is familiar to the author through her own family   narrative. Girls from this family have graduated in Gymnasium Yavne.   Their diplomas are in the file 1382 of the Lithuanian Central Archives   (to come).
   Klotsaitè Pesè-Libè: see document F1382-165 – June 12, 1940
    Klotz Pessia Luba :USHMM list (Lithuanian Name Project)
     The USHMM list (Lithuanian Name Project) has a number      of members of this family

Ch. Blochaitè
 Khaye Bloch, from the rabbinical family Bloch
  Rebbetsin Chaje Ausband: interview 2011
   Blochaitè Chaja: grade report of 1934 and diploma August 21, 1940
    Blochaitè Chaja: document F1382-341 (to come)

H. Šavėlaitel
 Members of the family Shavel have written testimonies in the Sefer Telz
  Several members on the USHMM list (Lithuanian Name Project)
   Document F1382-266 for Šavėlyte Šheinė Reichė (to come)

From there,2011-09-08-Rosa Portnoi-names-yavne-Museum Alka, as the daughter of the author has noticed it in this audio document, begins the signature of the young boys visiting with the girls. Among them:

J. Kačas
  Katz, on the USHMM list (Lithuanian Name Project), many names from the family Katz:
 Yaakov, Yehoshua, Yerukham

M. Y. Blechmanas
 Moshe Yitzhak Blekhman: the USHMM list (Lithuanian Name Project), among many names from the family.
  Probably a brother of Malke Blekhman who graduated from Yavne Gymnasium in 1928 and   taught humash in the   Elementary school and the Gymnasium.

On the right side of the list

T. Balsemas
  Tuvie Balshem, one of the redactors of the Sefer Telz and one of the main informant of the author, who gave access to some photographs of his collection. When this little audio 2011-09-08-Rosa Portnoi-names-yavne-Museum Alka was recorded, in September 2011, the author didn’t know yet that he had passed away in June 2011. His children take care of his important photo collection in Israel.

But also:
Y. Vareyes, according Rosa Portnoi and Moishe Rozenbaumas, maybe Itsik Vareyes.

Ch. B. Shapiro, according Rosa Portnoi, a boy from her family from Telz, from a rabbinical family.

Si vous aimez Batkamaat, partagez le sur vos réseaux sociaux

Bat Kama At is also a humanistic project to help people cross boundaries in contexts of conflicting memories.
There are things that have to be done at the political level, and other things that have to be done at a cultural,
social, artistic, human level. The place of Bat Kama at is precisely there. It is not politically innocent, but it plays on other aspects of consciousness.
What it needs is a dynamic of people, experts, institutions ready to support the goals of a project striving at the level of people’s awareness, acting
on the profound thoughts and the imaginary of young people, not through fantasy but through knowledge. The author’ endeavor is to shape a methodology based on historical truth and knowledge and on a humanistic philosophy to work in contexts of conflicting memories, and these contexts are everywhere all over the word.

Feed backs are very welcome to help the dynamics of the project !

Ce projet est au départ l’oeuvre d’une personne et a maintenant besoin de votre soutien. Visitez le site et réagissez !
Si vous le trouvez à votre goût, mettez un lien sur vos sites, et partagez le sur vos réseaux sociaux.

Written by author
March 19th, 2012

Begin the visit of this site with “Why Bat kama at”?

Begin the first visit of this website with Why Bat kama at ?

Commencer la première visite de ce site par Pourquoi Bat Kama At

Artist France Hilbert has worked on three photos

Written by author
March 15th, 2012

The 3 class photographs of the Yavne schools in Telz/Telsiai, Lithuania, that have inspired the project Bat Kama At, after artist France Hilbert has re-scanned and edited them. Click on each photo twice and look at the faces.

Cher Mr Milosz,
C’est avec grand intérêt que nous avons pris connaissance de votre article paru dans la Gazeta Wiborcza et repris dans les colonnes du Courrier International du 14 décembre 2000, N ° 528. Vous y analysez les éléments qui font de Vilnius, l’actuelle capitale de la République de Lituanie, une ville inclassable, riche d’un passé multiculturel très ancien au carrefour des cultures polonaises et juives. Vous remémorez aux Lituaniens les drames du passé qui laissent encore la ville en proie aux fantômes et aux esprits des morts.Vous mettez tout particulièrement en évidence le rôle de Vilnius au début du siècle écoulé, dans sa composante juive litvak et yiddish, au point que vous la comparez avec le bouillonnement de la New-York d’alors.
Or vous finissez ce paragraphe par une phrase qui nous laisse perplexes et mal à l’aise. Nous pensons qu’elle mérite un développement de votre part : « Je pense qu’il est difficile et douloureux d’oublier que Vilnius fut la Jérusalem du nord, mais c’est indispensable si l’on veut que les esprits des morts nous laissent en paix. »
Comment les esprits des morts qui rôdent encore et toujours sur les quelques 250 lieux de massacre collectif où la quasi totalité des populations juives de Lituanie furent exterminées par les Lituaniens eux-mêmes, de la manière la plus implacable et barbare qui soit connue, pourraient-ils jamais nous laisser en paix ?
Comment nous, les vivants, pouvons-nous faire le silence et oublier, alors même que les fosses dans lesquelles les Litvaks européens reposent désormais par centaines de milliers, sont en voie d’abandon et d’oubli. Alors qu’aujourd’hui même, certains, plus nombreux que nous n’osons le croire, tentent de faire disparaître les traces de ce passé comme un fardeau trop lourd à porter ? Les consciences les plus tourmentées sont malheureusement souvent celles des innocents, voire celles des victimes et de leurs descendants. Qui au juste s’agit-il de soulager dans le silence et l’oubli ?
Beaucoup de peuples anciens instituaient des rites domestiques par lesquels ils se conciliaient les mânes de leurs ancêtres et plaçaient leurs actions sous leur protection bienveillante, en supposant une proximité étroite entre ces esprits et la sphère divine. Dans la tradition juive, le pèlerinage sur la tombe d’un parent décédé appelait l’intercession de celui-ci aux moments décisifs de l’existence. Un homme, une femme, ne sont pas nés du néant et ne retournent pas au néant, quand bien même on a effacé jusqu’à la trace la plus infime de leur passage sur cette terre. Il s’inscrivent dans une suite de générations et n’existent que dans la chaîne ininterrompue de celles-ci et, peut-être, au-delà de la dimension historique, dans le temps aboli où toutes les générations se retrouvent et se confondent. S’il venait une époque de la tranquillité au prix de l’oubli, ce serait celle d’une génération qui aurait précisément oublié qu’elle est la dépositaire éphémère et la vigie de ce monde-ci, un chaînon, un maillon, un passeur.
Il nous semble qu’au contraire la pleine lumière doit être faite pour apaiser les âmes errantes des morts et la peine toujours égale des vivants, qu’ils soient Lituaniens, Européens, Juifs et tout simplement humains. La consolation est impossible car l’injustice et le crime n’ont pas relâché leur emprise. La part de la justice paraît encore dérisoire, c’est pourtant la source unique de réparation. C’est précisément en cela que le concept de « crime contre l’humanité » et sa qualification d’imprescriptibilité a réintégré les valeurs propres de l’histoire, de l’éthique et du sacré du moins en Occident.
Il est au contraire indispensable de se remémorer encore et toujours, de générations en générations car le prix sera toujours très lourd à payer de voir comme c’est la cas aujourd’hui de se mettre en œuvre simultanément, à l’est comme à l’ouest, de tragiques révisions historiques dès que les témoins oculaires ont disparu.

Michel Grosman, auteur-réalisateur, et Isabelle Rozenbaumas, traductrice et bibliothécaire.

Written by author
February 19th, 2012

Begin the visit of this site with “Why Bat kama at”?

Begin the first visit of this website with Why Bat kama at ?

Commencer la première visite de ce site par Pourquoi Bat Kama At

From Survivor Mina Bod

Written by author
February 19th, 2012

Mina Bod was interviewed on July 21, 2008 in her apartment in Holon and confirmed much information given to the author by Rosa Portnoi and Moishe Rozenbaumas.
Publishing the documents recently located in the Lithuanian Central Archives leads us to a document possibly for an entrance exam that she took for the year 1935/1936.
We will soon publish excerpts from her interview on our page Films and testimonies where she recalls the fate of her sister Dvoyre Bod who was killed trying to escape in the direction of Poland. The father of the author, who used to work as a tailor in the workshop of Zalman Bod, remembered Dvoyre as the most beautiful girl in the city. Dvoyre’s diploma, recovered in the file 1382 of the Lithuanian Central Archives will soon be published on this website under her Lithuanian name Dvaura Bodaite.

Visitors of Bat Kama At discover names of members of their family

First time today a visitor has discovered on the page “500 names, 500 noms” the name of his relative:
“Thank you for working on this remarkable project. The Guta-Mera Broide listed above, is my great-Aunt Miriam who came to the United States with most of her siblings before the war.”
And was able to discover a school document relating to the Jewish education of his grand-Aunt in the Gymnasium Yavne in Telz/Telsiai, in Lithuania, on the page School was Life
1st page of document BKAVA1382-68a

2nd page of document BKAVA1382-68b

Guta-Mera’s diploma was delivered in 1928. As we can see, she has studied Hebrew, Lithuanian, German and English, as well as a propedeutics class to Philosophy.
We know from the catalogue to these documents that the level in Languages and Science was reinforced in this hight school, and that in 1931 Latin has replaced English.

Poverty and richness

Written by author
January 24th, 2012

Poverty and richness

The father of the author has been very appreciative of what the Sefer Telz has accomplished for the Jewish survivors of this city.
Only about one aspect has he expressed a slight restriction. He has always felt that little attention has been given to the grip of poverty on the Jewish population of the city, probably because of the deep nostalgy of the redactors and the witnesses for their beloved and lost community.

In his memoirs published in 2004, Moishe Rozenbaumas somehow sadly remembers that at different moments of the family fortunes and misfortunes, they were lucky enough to be able to improve the daily shvartser breit (dark bred) with shmalts (goose fat) or sugar. Then, he adds that more than one family were simply satisfied when they could get the piece of dark bread. He also mentions that families were living in basements with almost no furniture.
The author has often heard her father refer to the difficult living and work conditions that he experienced as an apprentice at differents tailors in Telz – from the most terrible one to the best one. Among his fond memories of his “ bosses”, the fondest relates to their wifes, the balabostes, the real heads of these Jewish households, who always treated him like a child of the family – he was more than once the only employee – meaning that he worked his 12 hours a day and was fed like any other child. More than once he was also secretly in love with one of the daughters of the family (usually, the prettiest). When Shabbes and Suday came, his greatest joy was when he was a guest at friends who were Jewish young peasants and whose parents worked on farms in the surroundings. Not only he loved the nature but, here too, the mothers looked after that he comes back home with a bucket of milk for his mother and brothers, knowing that Moishe’s father was absent.

We should keep in mind this atmosphere of poverty when we admire the high level of education they received and we look at the class photographs or at the identity photos of the certificates and diplomas. Behind their dignified pose and a smiling or sad face, the young girls may not have had a new dress each year, they may have salvage the shoes of an older sister – or wear klumpes (peasant woden shoes), they were not always well-fed when the goast of hunger was not hanging around. And a notable proportion of the students of the gymnasium Yavne dropped out after 6 or 7 years because they had to sustain their family, it was the case of Rosa Portnoi, the author’s mother and the eldest of eight siblings.