Let me start with an apology to author Ellen Cassedy for taking so long to review the Audible audiobook edition of her memoir We Are Here: Memories of the Lithuanian Holocaust (published in print by the University of Nebraska Press) which she sent me many months ago.
We Are Here is a beautifully written memoir about learning to speak and write Yiddish as an adult. Signing up for an intensive summer Yiddish language course and traveling to Lithuania to explore her Lithuanian Jewish roots leads the author into a deeper understanding of the history of the Holocaust in Lithuania under the Nazi regime, when over 200,000 Jewish citizens of Lithuania (94% of the Jewish population of the country) were killed. The Soviet occupation of the country after World War II led to more mass deportation and murder of Lithuanian citizens. This “second genocide” receives more attention in the history books and museums in Lithuania than the decimation of the Jewish population, suggests the author, perhaps because the Soviets are a simpler villain than the Nazis, who were aided by Lithuanian citizens in the killing of other Lithuanians.
This Audible audiobook is narrated by Suzanne Toren. I highly recommend it! In addition to We Are Here’s being a very well produced audiobook with an excellent narrator, it was great to hear how all of the Yiddish words in the book actually sound.
Here is an excerpt from the beginning of the book. (Read the full excerpt on the author’s Web site.)
A soft summer rain was falling as a white-haired woman made her way to the microphone. “Tayere talmidim!” she began. “Dear students!” Through the pattering of drops on my umbrella, I leaned forward to catch her words. The old woman’s name was Bluma, a flowery name that matched her flowered dress. She was a member of the all-but-vanished Jewish community in Vilnius, Lithuania, the city once known as the Jerusalem of the North. “How fortunate I am,” she said in a quavering voice. “I have lived long enough to see people coming back to Vilnius to study Yiddish.”Seventy-five of us – students of all ages from all over the globe huddled on the wooden benches that were clustered together on wet cobblestones. Around us, the damp walls of VilniusUniversity rose into the heavens. As the rain continued to fall, I shivered. It was a complicated place, this land of my ancestors– a place where Jewish culture had once flourished, and a place where Jews had been annihilated on a massive scale.My reasons for being here were not simple. I had come to learn Yiddish and to connect myself with my roots – the Jewish ones, that is, on my mother’s side. (On my father’s side, my non-Jewish forebears hailed from Ireland, England, and Bavaria – hence my name, Cassedy, and my blue eyes and freckles.) But I had other goals,too. I wanted to investigate a troubling family story I’d stumbled upon in preparing for my trip. I had agreed to meet a haunted old man in my ancestral town. And I planned to examine how the people of this country – Jews and non-Jews alike – were confronting their past in order to move forward into the future. What had begun as a personal journey had broadened into a larger exploration. Investigating Lithuania’s effort to exhume the past, I hoped, would help me answer some important questions.
Cassedy, Ellen, author
Toren, Suzanne, narrator