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Epistolophilia: Writing the Life of Ona…

Epistolophilia: Writing the Life of Ona Simaite

by Julija Sukys

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Ona Simaite (pronounced Ah-na Shi-may-teh), a Righteous Gentile who saved the lives of many Lithuanian Jewish people during the Holocaust, really ought to be a lot better known than she is. The problem, as Sukys notes in this biography, is that most of the primary sources about Simaite and most of her own writings (she was an astonishingly prolific letter-writer, sometimes composing more than twenty a day) are in Lithuanian, and only about three million people can speak/read the language.

If you're looking for thrilling tales of Ona Simaite's heroic Jew-saving actions during World War II, you will probably feel disappointed by this book. Sukys chose to focus on Simaite's entire life rather than those few years, and there was never a lot of information about her lifesaving efforts to begin with. For her own safety and for those she helped, Simaite would deliberately forget names and faces. The exact number of Jews she saved isn't known, other than that it was a large one.

I see this book being in the "woman's studies" subject as in the history and Holocaust/World War II subjects. As Sukys points out, Simaite did not have a very happy life, particularly in her old age (she was in exile in France, very lonely and living in great poverty; she died in a nursing home that sounded like a dump), and a large part of that was because of the limitations imposed on her due to her gender and her unmarried status. But her being a woman probably helped when it came to saving Jewish people during the war.

This book could interest a lot of people, if they are of a scholarly bent. I would recommend it alongside Simaite's own 88-page memoir of the Holocaust, And I Burned With Shame. ( )
  meggyweg | Apr 28, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0803236328, Hardcover)

The librarian walks the streets of her beloved Paris. An old lady with a limp and an accent, she is invisible to most. Certainly no one recognizes her as the warrior and revolutionary she was, when again and again she slipped into the Jewish ghetto of German-occupied Vilnius to carry food, clothes, medicine, money, and counterfeit documents to its prisoners. Often she left with letters to deliver, manuscripts to hide, and even sedated children swathed in sacks. In 1944 she was captured by the Gestapo, tortured for twelve days, and deported to Dachau.

Through Epistolophilia, Julija Šukys follows the letters and journals—the “life-writing”—of this woman, Ona Šimaitė (1894–1970). A treasurer of words, Šimaitė carefully collected, preserved, and archived the written record of her life, including thousands of letters, scores of diaries, articles, and press clippings. Journeying through these words, Šukys negotiates with the ghost of Šimaitė, beckoning back to life this quiet and worldly heroine—a giant of Holocaust history (one of Yad Vashem’s honored “Righteous Among the Nations”) and yet so little known. The result is at once a mediated self-portrait and a measured perspective on a remarkable life. It reveals the meaning of life-writing, how women write their lives publicly and privately, and how their words attach them—and us—to life.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:37 -0400)

Scholar Julija ukys attempts to piece together the life of Ona imait? (1894-1970), a librarian who slipped into the Jewish ghetto of German-occupied Vilnius countless times to carry food, clothes, medicine, money, and counterfeit documents to its prisoners.… (more)

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