cover image Epistolophilia: Writing the Life of Ona Simaite

Epistolophilia: Writing the Life of Ona Simaite

Julija Sukys. Univ. of Nebraska, $24.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-8032-3632-5

In this captivating and remarkable book, Sukys (Silence is Death: The Life and Work of Tahar Djaout) celebrates the life and letters of Ona Simaite, one of the lesser-known Righteous Among the Nations. In 1940 Simaite was a young librarian at Vilnius University, hired to head the catalogue department as the school converted from a Polish to a Lithuanian curriculum. The following year, when the Soviets sent 17,000 Lithuanians to Siberia and German bombs rained on the city, the librarian began to smuggle medicine, food, forged documents, clothes and correspondence into (and out of, in the case of letters) the Jewish ghetto. Three years later she was arrested by the Gestapo, brutally tortured, and shipped to Dachau, eventually landing in a prison camp in occupied France, the capital of which she would later call home. Sukys brings to life a solitary woman dedicated to saving the dispossessed and capturing her memories by producing an enormous amount of letters; Simaite wrote, on average, 60 letters a month after the war. Sukys draws liberally from thousands of pages of correspondence and numerous diaries to create a portrait of a deeply thoughtful woman trying to make sense of history and her own life by putting it all to paper. Also of Lithuanian descent, Sukys's own meditations on the power of letters and writing make this a powerful testament to the confluence of history and individual lives and passions. B&W photos & maps. (Mar.)