Where is Kovno?

Where is Kovno?

From October 8 to November 12, 2017, The Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre will present Where is Kovno? a journey piece, an evocation of a time, and a place of importance for the South African Jewish community today.

Created by artists Yda Walt and Cheryly Rumbak, the work includes a soundscape by composer Phillip Miller, an audio conversation with David and Lily Goldblatt, as well as filmed survivor testimonies by Andy Spitz. It explores the tragedy of the second World War genocide of Lithuanian Jewry, many of whom 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 an 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. They explain, “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 – culminates 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.

The guest speaker will be Janet Love – daughter of the late Dora Love (nee Rabinowitz) who was the only member of her family to survive the Lithuanian Holocaust. She is also the National Director of the Legal Resources Centre and was an active anti apartheid activist.



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