For most American Jews, the old country ("di alte heym") exists only in memory. We have faded images, some stories, a few shreds that our grandparents carried with them. We assume Jewish history in Eastern Europe ended with Hitler - what he didn't wipe off the map, the Soviets must have bulldozed. And the people, those cousins and lansleit who survived the Holocaust and survived Stalin - if they aren't yet in Israel or Brighton Beach, we assume they're still trying to get out.

It's not quite true. Though their numbers are pitifully small, and their future painfully uncertain, tidy communities of Jews still exist, ironically isolated in what once was the heartland of Yiddishkeit. Since the Soviet collapse, moreover, Jews in the newly independent Eastern European nations such as Lithuania have regained the right to a life that the Communists denied them. They can organize, create schools and cultural organizations, and strive for some belated measure of justice.

Here and there a former communal building is returned to Jewish uses or a cemetery or monument to the Shoah's victims is restored and maintained. Just short of complete extinction, they are still holding on, bearing witness to what we all have lost in this tragic and devastating century.

Laurence Salzmann is a photographer who previously documented surviving Jewish communities in Turkey and Romania. He spent a month traveling in Lithuania visiting those who still reside in that battered land. His images capture a fragmentary people whose relations with their non-Jewish neighbors are colored both by 500 years of shared history, and by the still-living memory of Lithuanian involvement in the Holocaust.

Photos © 1998 Laurence Salzmann

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