During the course of one month in 1941, most of the thousands of Jewish residents of Utena, Lithuania, were rounded up by the Nazis, taken into the forest and murdered. Only a few dozen managed to escape. That episode nearly buried the entire history of the centuries-old town, but through the efforts of the nonprofit MACEVA and volunteers like students at Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School in Northridge, this history is finally being unearthed. On Jan. 23, the entire eighth-grade class at Heschel filled the gym to translate the Hebrew inscribed on recently uncovered gravestones from Utena.
On Sept. 6, 1941, the Nazis crammed 20,000 Lithuanian Jews into the Vilna ghetto. On Sept. 9, 1943, the ghetto was liquidated and its remaining 12,000 Jews were marked for extermination.
Remarkably, during the two years of its existence, the ghetto supported a thriving theater, orchestra and cabaret, where patrons in their best finery laughed, wept and applauded, though they might be deported the next day.