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Vilna Gaon Museum of Jewish History
Vilniaus Gaono Žydų Istorijos Muziejus



Published: 2022-01-05


Exhibits – documentary facts, diary entries, memoirs and press releases – complement each other, intertwine, and form a symbiosis that reveals a multitude of stories of Lithuanian Jewish families, which are both similar and at the same time distinctive, and have been interrupted by the Holocaust. On the 27th of January, the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we commemorate those who perished during the Holocaust. On this occation, let us look back into the treasures of museum documents and prints to learn about one of such stories – that of the Rozenthal family.
Leiba Rozenthal was a writer and a poet born in 1913 into the family of Nochum Rosenthal, the publisher of the Jewish newspaper Vilner ovnt kurjer (Vilnius Evening Courier).
Ovnt kurjer (Evening Courier), Yiddish, 29 January 1931, No. 25 (2013), 8th year of printing. Ref. No. VŽM 6564
Leiba began writing poems from the age of 15. His poems were printed by various Jewish publications. For a while he had been writing texts for the Ararat theatre and published the newspaper Lider Folksblat (Lida People’s Newspaper). In 1939–1940 he had been writing and translating popular songs and established the Vilnius Jewish Miniature Theatre. Together with his sister, singer Chayela Rozenthal, they became laureates of the first Lithuanian Folk Song Festival.
 In the Vilna Ghetto, Leiba Rozenthal created humorous texts on topical issues from the ghetto life. Cuoplets from the musical vaudeville Peše fun Reše (Pešė from Riešė) and texts from the play Men ken gornit visn (You Never Know) became very popular. The collection of songs created in the Vilna Ghetto in the Yiddish language and stored as part of the holdings of the Holocaust documents contains a handwritten text of the nostalgic song ‘I miss home’ (Ref. No. VŽM 4635):
You have great ambitions in life –
Then you're still having fun.
Abandoned and forgotten
Is your home, your nest,
But there is no way to go back in time.
When old age comes,
You start remembering
And you're wondering what happened
In no time at all –
It’s been so long since you have been a child...
I want to see my home one more time,
Is everything there still the way it was?
Here's that fence,
That tree,
Here's the roof that's barely holding up,–
My poor home.
Four walls, a table and a bench.
I spent a whole lot of time here.
It was here that I was dreaming
About the joys of my youth. The dreams of my youth.
I miss home:
I hear singing in the rustle of the night –
This, of course, is my mother rocking me holding close to her heart.
How much longing, how much grace
Lies there in my mum's poor house.
Be it made of brick or stone,
Be it made of straw or clay,
I miss home.
In 1943, Leiba Rozenthal was deported to the Kloga concentration camp in Estonia, and killed in 1944.
Leiba's sister Chaya Rozenthal-Piatka (1924–1979) survived the Holocaust. From 1951, she lived in South Africa, played in Jewish theatre and became a famous Jewish songwriter.
On 24 September 2003, Lithuanian Jewish Cultural Society, led by drama theory and history expert Prof. Dr. habil Markas Petuchauskas, presented the mono performance ‘Better Don’t Talk’ by actress and director Naava Piatka, daughter of Chayela Rozenthal, who came to Vilnius from the US. The performance became a continuation of the international days held in 2002 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the opening of the Vilna Ghetto Theatre. The performance was dedicated to the memory of Chayela Rozenthal, an actress, singer and playwright of the Vilna Ghetto Theatre, and Leiba Rozenthal, a playwright.
Prepared by Ilona Murauskaitė, Head of Inventory, Research and Conservation of Holdings Department
© From the holdings of VGMJH
© Photographs courtesy of Paulius Račiūnas
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