Many South African Jews have Lithuanian ancestry and yet not many know much of the details of their Lithuanian heritage. Lithuanian Jews (Litvaks) who were Yiddish speaking came to South Africa in waves of emigration that began in the late 1800’s .They brought with them their culture, their humour, their way of seeing the world and their community infra-structure. It was in this world that we grew up. But they did not speak of the trauma of the Holocaust which they had escaped. Most Jewish families in South Africa had some family still living in Lithuania on the eve of WW2. Usually that family was never heard from again. Lithuanian Jews, Litvaks, had lived beside their neighbours for hundreds of years. During WW2, almost the entire community was murdered and buried in over 200 mass killing sites scattered throughout the country.
Where is Kovno? is the journey of three Jewish South African artists, Yda Walt, Cheryl Rumbak and Phillip Miller, back to their ancestral homeland.
They need your support to re-construct the original exhibition and to expand it for a more universal audience. Where is Kovno? was initially created for an exhibition in Kaunas, Lithuania. The installation explores the tragedy of the genocide of Lithuanian Jewry, many of whom shared close ancestral links with the South African Jewish community.
Three Jewish South African artists, Yda Walt, Cheryl Rumbak and Phillip Miller first created the Kaddish installation in 2009 for exhibition in Kaunas, Lithuania. It was a memorial to the murdered Jewish citizens of Kaunas (known by its Jewish inhabitants as Kovno). The intention of the work was to ignite memory and break the amnesiac silence of post war Lithuania. The exhibition that will be shown in South Africa will include the original Kaddish installation consisting of reproducing pages of a 1939 Lithuanian telephone book giving addresses, professions and telephone numbers of the citizens of Lithuania including all the Jews who subsequently perished. The installation also consisted of an embroidered map of the killing sites of Lithuania. The Kaddish prayer is printed on fabric and the haunting soundscape by Phillip Miller of the Yiddish lullaby Oyfn Propetshik. The artists are making a second installation which looks at the experience of South African Jews of Litvak descent, who grew up during the Apartheid era in South Africa and who have journeyed back to Lithuania in search of ‘der Heim’, their grandparent’s lost world. It is in this installation a work of David Goldblatt’s will be shown of the Popolan forest. The Popolan forest is where the Jews of Popolan, homosexuals, Roma and mentally ill of the town were murdered and buried.
As racism and xenophobia escalates in our modern world, we must make sure that this kind of tragedy never happens again.
We need your help! Where is Kovno? will be exhibited at the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre in April 2017
All proceeds go directly to the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre.