Vilnius Jewish library collection presented

Katz speaks at the unveiling ceremony with Brent seated to his right. Photo by Richard Schofield/Baltic Reports

VILNIUS — The beginnings of the country’s first Jewish literature library was unveiled on Thursday, marking the culmination of six years work by American Wyman Brent.

Brent, a native of San Diego and a Christian, came to Vilnius in 1994 and said he fell in love with the country and with the Jewish history of Vilnius, which stretches back around 700 years.

The library currently has no permanent home, but it already has around 5,000 items, which will eventually increase to around 200,000. It is expected to open to the public by late July and will likely be based at Gedimino 24, the building that houses the Vilnius Small Theater.

“Jewish culture was and is a part of Lithuania’s past, present and future. I came here and I fell in love, but I did not know for what reason — then when I had the idea for the library, Vilnius was again the Jerusalem of the north. It is the greatest center of Jewish culture in Europe,” Brent said at the opening in the Lithuanian Culture Research Institute in Vilnius.

Culturologist and moderator of the panel of speeches at the opening Žilvinas Beliauskas said that to be a real citizen of Vilnius, called Vilna in Hebrew, was a challenge because the current generations of people entered the city after its large Jewish population was massacred during the Second World War.

He said that learning about the history, including the Jewish history would make Lithuanians true citizens of Vilnius.

Brent said the library will be open to all.

“I don’t look at this as a library for Jewish people, but for all Lithuanians. I want everyone to feel free to come into this library, come in, hang out, drink some tea, have a good time,” Brent said.

The library was compiled exclusively from Brent’s own savings and from the donations of those around the world in possession of the material. He expects that the library will continue to grow based on donations.

The library already has books, CDs, DVDs, architectural plans and pieces of art. All of the items have some connection to Jewish culture and come from various languages.

Seimas member Petras Auštrevičius was one of those people instrumental in turning the library from a dream into a real possibility

He said that although the country had lost a lot of its Jewish culture, “we should strive to show this culture and get this culture back.”

Fellow Seimas member and Jew Emanuelis Zingeris said that the library would serve as a means for Jewish literature to filter back into the city,

Professor of Yiddish language Dovid Katz said that the library will be a catalyst for reconciliation between Jewish people and Lithuanians.

“No one believed he’d come and no one believed that he’s come with the books. There are many vexed and different Jewish issues here and an outsider can make a huge burst of progress,” he said.

Katz said the library was a fitting stepping stone in the reconciliation process given the Litvaks’, the Lithuanian Jews’, tradition of honoring literature.

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8 Responses for “Vilnius Jewish library collection presented”

  1. Wyman Brent says:

    Hello Adam,

    Thank you so very much for being present at the first event for the Vilnius Jewish Library. I am still in shock over how incredibly well everything went. It is thanks to so many people that the event went as it did. I am in debt with so many for their incredible kindness and support of the idea to strengthen Jewish culture in the Jerusalem of Lithuania.

  2. I regret that I could not be with you and rejoice at this marvelous beginning. I can’t wait to return to Lithuania and add my book, Izzy’s Fire: Finding Humanity in the Holocaust, to the collection. I am working on a second book, also set in Lithuania, that I plan to donate to the collection when it is published. Over the last 13 years, It has been my privilege to be trusted by many Jews who survived untold cruelty and had reason not to trust anyone. Because of their continued trust and love, I have become a conduit for their rich history. As a Christian, that has very deep meaning for me. Mazel Tov on your opening and may you have continued success! NWB

  3. James + Dovilė says:

    Very happy that your making so much progress with the Library, looking forward to popping in for a cuppa when were next in Vilnius. Great for you Wyman, an asset for book lovers everywhere.

  4. Jennifer says:

    It’s finally happening!

  5. Absolutely, the Northen Jerusalem (Vilnius) must have it. Vilnius citizens must know it.

  6. Wyman Brent says:

    Hello everyone.
    Thank you so very much for your kind words and support. Miracles do happen even if they take six years. It is onward and upward for the Vilnius Jewish Library!

  7. Wyman Brent says:

    The Vilnius Jewish Library is having its next event on 2 July at 15:00. It will be held at Galera in Uzupis. Everyone is welcome. My thanks to Adam Mullett and Baltic Reports for sharing the story of the first exhibition with the public. The upcoming event should be interesting!

  8. Zalman Lazkovich says:

    Hello to all and to Wyman Brent,

    I want to express my deepest appreciation for the Wyman’s amazing initiative and wonderful work that he has done and all who involved in this wonderful project. I wish I could be in Vilnius and be present at everything what’s happening in in Jewish Life, and possibly a revival of the Jewish Life.
    I was born in Vilnius in 1947, and have left it, like many many Jews were leaving to our homeland, Israel.
    Since then I have rediscovered Vilnius and Lithuania again, thru thousands of old and new books, and mainly thanks to the unlimited sources of Internet.
    My heritage is deeply deeply rooted in Lithuania and I have a special bond to Vilnius not only because I was born and raised there, but because of my father’s late uncle David Umru, who was a prominent and very popular writer before WWII, he was an editor of a Yiddish newspaper, and a director of a Yiddish Theater right before June 1941.

    So, I thank you again Wyman and everybody who are working hard to revive the Jewish life in Vilnius!!!

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