Noted Holocaust historian Geoffrey Brahmer returns to BHC at 5 p.m., Friday, August 1 to present findings of his recent research into the events of the life of Avrom Sutzkever, a poet of the Vilna Ghetto.

The public is welcome to all guest speaker events. Admission is free.


Geoffrey Brahmer Presents Vilna Poet Avrom Sutzkever, August 1

By Eileen Regen

Geoffrey Brahmer returns to Bethlehem Hebrew Congregation at 5 p.m., Friday, August 1 to introduce poet Avrom Sutzkever, one of the greatest Yiddish poets of the 20th century.

Sutzkever was a survivor of the Vilna Ghetto where he and his wife Freydke became members of the ‘Paper Brigade,’ a group which hid rare books from the Nazis. Later they escaped the ghetto to join the partisans.

Written in Yiddish and translated into English by Barbara and Benjamin Harshav, Sutzkever’s poems illuminate the experience of living and dying in the Holocaust. His postwar poems, most written in Israel, also depict his own journey as a living witness of the dead coming to grips with both the memories and the meaning of the Holocaust in his own life as well as in all times.

The presentation will focus on the life, work, and experiences of Sutzkever in the Vilna Ghetto and as a postwar survivor. Community participants will read selected Sutzkever poems.

Sutzkever was born in Russia in 1913 and exiled with his family to Siberia in 1915. Following the death of his father in 1921, the family moved to Vilna where Sutzkever joined the Young Vilna Writers’ Group. His first book of poetry was published in 1936.

When Germany attacked Russia in 1941, his mother and family were murdered. Sutzkever was saved and hidden by Righteous Gentiles. In the Vilna Ghetto (1941-1943) Sutzkever was a poet, teacher and smuggler. He served with the partisans from 1943-1944, and was ultimately airlifted to Moscow to be called as one of the first Holocaust witnesses in Russia. He later testified at the Nuremburg Trials. In 1947, he and his wife Freydke illegally immigrated to Israel where he founded and edited Israel’s leading Yiddish literary journal “Di Goldene Keyt” (The Golden Chain) and spent his life as a Yiddish writer of poetry and prose using the Holocaust and Israel as his major themes for over fifty years. In 1985, he won the Israel Prize. Israel’s highest award.

In a 1985 interview with the New York Times, Sutzkever said, “If I didn’t write, I couldn’t live. When I was in the Vilna Ghetto, I believed, as an observant Jew believes in the Messiah, that as long as I was writing, was able to be a poet, I would have a weapon against death.”

When Sutzkever died in 2010 at age 96, Joseph Berger wrote in the obituary: “… Sutzkever was one of the great Yiddish poets of his generation who evoked the nightmare of the Holocaust with images of a wagonload of worn shoes and the haunting silence of a sky of white stars.”

The poetry readings in the program are from “A. Sutzkever: Selected Poetry and Prose,” translated from Yiddish into English by Barbara and Benjamin Harshav. (Berkley: University of California Press, 1991)

Brahmer dedicates this talk to the poet Avrom Sutzkever, his family, and all victims and survivors of the Holocaust. 

Geoffrey Brahmer, M.Div., lives in Arlington, Massachusetts. A graduate of Harvard Divinity School and a fine arts photographer, he is the Educational Coordinator for Plastic Surgery and Hand Surgery at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. He has spent the past several years researching people, places and events of the Holocaust, and he shares his findings in lectures presented in the United States, Israel and Europe.