unheimlich in vilnius


And having arrived in Vilnius, the “Jerusalem of Lithuania”, with my proclivity for playing the part of the emphatic nymph Echo everywhere I went, I was anxious to discover something in my family’s history that would secure for me a place in this city’s dramatic Jewish past. Unfortunately (or fortunately), I was born into a family that had been assimilated for at least three generations. At school we became well-versed in Ancient Greek mythology, but we never learned about Moses or Jesus.[1] I never heard a word of Yiddish or Hebrew spoken at home, never went to synagogue, never saw the Bible.[2] None of my close relatives perished in the Holocaust or in the Gulag. My Jewish origin was stated in my Soviet internal passport – a kind of ID card in Russia – but I was, evidently, too much of a conformist and therefore too reluctant to dig deep enough in search of my Jewish roots in fear of discovering that I am not like everyone else. Apart from an occasional exchange of nastiness in the playground, common amongst adolescent boys in every country, I had never heard an anti-Semitic remark directed at me personally, nor had I ever in my life and my career suffered from an anti-Semitic deed or gesture on the part of any organisation or institution in the Soviet Union.[3] In 1975, when I decided to apply for an exit visa to emigrate to Israel, the officials were trying, in many cases quite sincerely, to dissuade applicants from leaving the mother Russia. All in all, I left my Soviet fatherland with no regrets but also with no feelings of hatred: the Moscow of that era was for me the most entertaining prison in the world – I enjoyed staying there; but I also wanted to see what was happening outside the prison gates. The only way available to me (being of no-propaganda value to the Soviet authorities) was to emigrate. Since then I’ve written a few novels, arguing quite successfully why people like me succumbed to an urge as mad as to leave their own country for good. Now, I can only say that the urge to get out was stronger than my sense of attachment.

more from Zinovy Zinik at Eurozine here.