Meaghan's Reviews > Epistolophilia: Writing the Life of Ona Simaite

Epistolophilia by Julija Sukys
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Apr 28, 12

bookshelves: read-in-2012, holocaust-righteous-gentiles, holocaust, biography, history
Read on April 21, 2012

Ona Simaite (pronounced Ah-na Shi-may-teh), a Righteous Gentile who saved the lives of many Lithuanian Jewish people during the Holocaust, really ought to be a lot better known than she is. The problem, as Sukys notes in this biography, is that most of the primary sources about Simaite and most of her own writings (she was an astonishingly prolific letter-writer, sometimes composing more than twenty a day) are in Lithuanian, and only about three million people can speak/read the language.

If you're looking for thrilling tales of Ona Simaite's heroic Jew-saving actions during World War II, you will probably feel disappointed by this book. Sukys chose to focus on Simaite's entire life rather than those few years, and there was never a lot of information about her lifesaving efforts to begin with. For her own safety and for those she helped, Simaite would deliberately forget names and faces. The exact number of Jews she saved isn't known, other than that it was a large one.

I see this book being in the "woman's studies" subject as in the history and Holocaust/World War II subjects. As Sukys points out, Simaite did not have a very happy life, particularly in her old age (she was in exile in France, very lonely and living in great poverty; she died in a nursing home that sounded like a dump), and a large part of that was because of the limitations imposed on her due to her gender and her unmarried status. But her being a woman probably helped when it came to saving Jewish people during the war.

This book could interest a lot of people, if they are of a scholarly bent. I would recommend it alongside Simaite's own 88-page memoir of the Holocaust, And I Burned With Shame.
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