Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre
Duncombe Road, Forest Town, Johannesburg
8 Oct – 19 Nov 2017
The Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre remembers the lives of Lithuanian Jews with the exhibition of a major artistic installation
WHERE IS KOVNO? is a journey piece, an evocation of a time, and a place of importance for the South African Jewish community today.
Created by Yda Walt and Cheryl Rumbak, with a soundscape by composer Phillip Miller, and a photographic narrative by David Goldblatt, the work explores the tragedy of the Second World War genocide of Lithuanian Jewry. Many shared ancestral links with the South African Jewish community.
Lithuanian Jews, also known as Litvaks, had lived beside their neighbours for hundreds of years. During the war almost the entire community was murdered and buried in over 200 mass killing sites scattered throughout the country.
The artists first created a version of the installation in 2009 for exhibition in Kaunas, Lithuania. It was a memorial to the murdered Jewish citizens of Kaunas (known by its Jewish inhabitants as Kovno). The intention of the original work was to ignite memory and break the amnesiac silence of post war Lithuania.
The artist’s statement for the exhibition notes: “We grew up in apartheid South Africa, part of a tightly knit white Jewish community of Litvak descent. We visited our grandparents, ate their food and heard them converse in the secret language of Yiddish. But there was also a shadow — a sadness and a silence that covered an unspoken trauma.”
A decade of research — including interviews with original Lithuanian inhabitants, a gathering of musical memories and a search for ordinary artifacts of Lithuanian Jewish life – cullminates in a hauntingly atmospheric exhibition.
The message is that what happened in Lithuania can happen anywhere if we allow racism and xenophobia to strip away the humanity of those with whom we share our vital space.
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