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Vilna Gaon Museum of Jewish History
Vilniaus Gaono Žydų Istorijos Muziejus


Exhibit of the month

Published: 2019-03-25


Identity document issued to Mr. Shabtai-Shepsel Blecher on Oct 1st, 1941, print edition VGSJM 1302.
Born in Vilnius in 1904, Shepsel Blecher grew up in a working-class household of the Hirsh and Dina families together with his brother and sisters. Both Shepsel and his siblings received a traditional Jewish upbringing: S. Blecher studied in Cheder, a religious primary school, later he went on to study in the Hebrew high school. Whilst studying in high school, the young man was the most enthusiasticin the theatre group, showing his passion and drive towards the art he played many main roles.
In the year 1919 S. Blecher travelled to a summer camp near Warsaw with a children’s group from Vilnius, where he fell in love with the Yiddish language through songs and theatre. During that summer camp the young theatre lover initiated drama classes. Together with his teachers’ guidance and help, they both organised for new children’s plays to take place every two weeks.
Vilnius Art Association established an artisan theatre studio in 1921, where S. Blecher became one of the first students. Until this point S. Blecher had studied in college, he decided to drop his studies and commit to a life of theatre production: working as an actor, prompter and translator. Having finished theatre studies in 1923 S. Blecher began to work in Folks teater –National Theatre, occasionally working in the operetta, until he went to work in the New Jewish Theatre of Riga in 1926. After a few years upon returning to Vilnius, he began working in the cities best Jewish Theatre troupe, together with the biggest Yiddish theatre stars: Julius Adler, Esther Rokh and Ida Kaminska’s, Sigmund and Jonas Turkov et al.
S. Blecher was one of the main initiators who helped to create a theatre in the Ghetto of Vilnius. Towards the end of 1941, several actors and the poet Avram Sutzkever assembled in S. Blecher bedroom, located in the Ghetto. According to the Vilnius Ghetto Prisoners documents of 1942, S. Blecher and his wife Gitel lived at 7/16 Strasuno Street. After many long discussions, the community decided upon establishing a theatre. Despite notions against this idea, “a theatre does not belong in a cemetery”, the theatre soon became one of the biggest places in the spiritual resistance movement, where Jews were able to spark joy and build faith. Whereby Jews of the Ghetto were able to remember that despite terrible circumstances they were still humans.
In the Ghetto S. Blecher actively contributed to the community: he helped youth clubs, and assisted as a member for the board of community of writers, artists and painters, later becoming the secretary of the community.
Also, S. Blecher had added to the deep history of the Ghetto, through his memorial work towards murdered and diseased artists. He had written about the life histories of twenty murdered and one diseased actors.  In 1943 his accounts about life in the ghetto were found along a street, and preserved for the future. Later in 1962, these documents were released for public domain in the original Yiddish language. Those who published S. Blecher 21 biography records, had contributed another biography, this was his own life-history. For this reason, the book was titled ‘Twenty-One and One’ (‘Ein Un Cvancik Un Einer’).
1943 September 23rd post liquidation of the Vilnius Ghetto S. Blecher was transported to Klooga concentration camp (Estonia), where he was murdered in 1944 September 19th.


Prepared by Saulė Valiūnaitė, the Head of Exposition of the Museum of Culture and Identity of Lithuanian Jews. Translated by Samanta Gudžiūnaitė. From VGSJM holdings. 
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