“Between Life and Death” – exhibition opening in Vilnius

Klara Jackl / English translation: Andrew Rajcher, 14 February 2019
The official opening of the “Between Life and Death” exhibition in Vilnius took place on 24th January 2019 at the Tolerance Centre of the Gaon State Jewish Museum to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The exhibition is dedicated to stories of help provided to Jews, in six European countries, including Lithuania, during the Holocaust. The exhibition will remain open until 17th March.

A year after its firs presentation at the European Commission in Brussels, the exhibition “Between Life and Death” opened in Vilnius at the Tolerance Centre of the Gaon State Jewish Museum. The Official Opening coincided with International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Among those who took part was the Lithuanian Culture Minister Dr. Mindaugas Kvietkauskas and the Polish Ambassador to Lithuania Urszula Doroszewska.

Exhibition Showing in Vilnius

In her speech, Minister Mindaugas Kvietkauskas said that the exhibition especially draws attention to the fate of ordinary people who, during the War, were not famous heroes, soldiers or politicians, but they did display immense heroism. That is why they need to be remembered.

Ambassador Urszula Doroszewska stressed that Vilnius, jas a city with a multicultural traditions and history, including Jewish, is an important place where this past, through projects like this exhibition, should be remembered and promoted.

Gaon Museum Director, Markas Zingeris, said:

It is difficult to remain human when barbarism becomes the norm of war. […] I am proud and happy that this exhibition of stories of help from around Europe can be displayed today. Such deeds are described in books and films. Unfortunately, many of them will disappear and, as Martin Gilbert stated, some of the rescuers will remain the silent heroes of the Holocaust.

Prof. Jan Rydel, Coordinator of European Network Remembrance and Solidarity stress that,

Naturally, the healing effect of remembering the Righteous would end if we devote ourselves exclusively to recalling their glorious deeds, ignoring or displacing knowledge about perpetrators, collaborators and those who were indifferent, consituting the majority of society in each of the countries affected by World War II.

Following the speeches, guests were guided through the exhibition by its creator, Klara Jackl of POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, together with Danuta Selčinskaja of the Gaon Museum. Iga Makuteniene, granddaughther of Sofija Binkienė, one of the exhibition's heroes, told the gathering the story of her family.

The Exhibition “Between Life and Death”

During the Holocaust, six million Jews died in German-occupied Europe. Confronted by mass crimes, civilians were faced with a difficult challenge – how to respond to these acts of genocide. Attitudes towards the Holocaust varied, but only a few decided to help persecuted Jews.

The exhibition “Between Life and Death – Stories of Rescue During the Holocaust” presents stories of those who provided help and of those who received help. It tells of their experiences, efforts and motivations, It draws the viewer's attention to acts of courage and to the will to survive. In an historical context, it shows the fates of heroes from Lithiuania and also from nine other European countries – Croatia, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Slovakia, Ukraine and Hungary – all shown in a broader historical context. The exhibition explains conditions in the occupied countries. It also shows the multi-dinmensional relations and emitional ties between the rescued and the rescuers.

Stories From Occupied Lithuania

What was daily life like for Jews hiding from the German Holocaust machine and who were those who, at the risk of their own lives, often helped them? 

The part of the exhibition which is dedicated to occupied Lithuania presents the stories of  Holocaust Survivor Jehoszua Szochot and Sofija Binkienė, Righteous Among the Nations. The abridged versions appears below:

At the end of 1941, Jehoszua escaped from the liquidated ghetto on Telsze (Wysoczyzna Żmudzka) thanks to help from a friend – a nurse Domicelė Pagojutė (1889–1972). She arranged numerous hiding places for him, his mother and brother.With her help, by the end of the war, they had changed hiding places twenty-two times. She also helped Rachela Taic-Zinger. Domicėlė, together with thirteen other people, enabled Szochot to survive the Holocaust. They were all honoured with the title of Righteous Among the Nations. Today, Jehoszua lives in Israel.

I am the only one to survive all of my Jewish school classmates. During the war, I lived an illegal life and hiding in fifteen places. It was all possible thanks to the extraordinary help and courageous dedication of Domicėlė and other Lithuanians.
– Jehoszua Shochot, Holocuast Survivor

Sofija Binkienė (1902–1984), together with her husband Kazys, daughters Liljana and Irena, stepson Gerdas, stepdaughter Eleonora and son-in-law Vladas, helped Jews in the Kovno ghetto, hiding them in her own apartment. They included Kama Ginkas, whom she hid from June 1941 until the end of German occuption in 1944. In 1967 and 1968, the entire family was honoured with the title of Righteous Among the Nations. To date, this honour has been bestowed upon almost 900 Lithuanians.

On the streets of Kaunas, Germans with bayonets pointing forward were herding prisoners of war barely alive and people with yellow stars on their chests were walking on roadways. What could one do, how could one live? One thing was clear: you could not sit and watch. Something needed to be done, but what and how?
– Sofija Binkienė, Righteous Among the Nations

The exhibition will remain on display in Vilnius until 17th March 2019. Reports of the exhibition's 2018 official openings can be viewed from the links below: 

European Commission in Brussels, 24/01–06/03/2018 »

 Castrum Peregrini in Amsterdam, 13/06–15/08/2018 »

 Bratislava University Library, 09–29/112018 »

* * *

Authors of the Exhibition: Dr. Martyna Grądzka-Rejak (ENRS) and Klara Jackl (POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews), in cooperation with Marta Ansilewska-Lehnstaedt (Silent Heroes Memorial Centre)

Academic consultants: Dr. Aleksandra Namysło, Prof. Jan Rydel (ENRS), Dr. Piotr Trojański (ENRS), Prof. Johannes Tuchel (Silent Heroes Memorial Centre)

Organisers: European Network Remembrance and Solidarity, POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews and Silent Heroes Memorial Centre in German Resistance Memorial Centre Foundation

Financial support: Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, Federal Government Representative for Culture and Media (BKM)

Partners: Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum, Memorial of Chambon-sur-Lignon, Mémorial de la Shoah, Danish Jewish Museum, "Tkuma” Ukrainian Institute for Holocaust Studies, Castrum Peregrini, NIOD, the Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Museum of the Second World War in Gdańsk