Aaron Garon (1919, Vilna - 2009, Israel)

Updated: Apr 7

Journalist, essayist and translator Aaron Garon was born into a secular Jewish family in Vilna. His father, Avrom Itskhok Garon, was a Bund member, but, respecting national traditions, he held a personal place in the Great Vilna Synagogue. On Jewish holidays he took his son there to listen to famous cantors.

In Sofia Gurevitsh’s gymnasium, where Aaron was sent by his parents, the education was conducted in Yiddish. The pupils received excellent, versatile modern-style education: they studied world literature and history, Latin and Greek, they staged performances.

In 1935, his father lost his job. The family illegally crossed the Polish-Lithuanian border and reached Kaunas, the temporary capital of Lithuania. Not knowing a word of Lithuanian, the 16-year-old Aaron took up any temporary job to help his family survive. In the evenings, he attended an evening school, where he mastered Lithuanian to such level that he subsequently acted as a journalist for Lithuanian-language periodicals.

Garon’s linguistic and literary abilities were soon noticed by a young Kaunas teacher Genrik(as) Ziman(as), who would later - during the Soviet period - head the main Lithuanian newspaper "Tiesa". On his recommendation, Aaron was hired by the popular Yiddish newspaper “Ovntblat” (Evening Paper). The editor of the newspaper was Leib Schaus; subsequently, Garon would describe him in his memoirs: "He was the star of the Jewish press of Kaunas, a born journalist."

In July 1940, after the entry of the Red Army units, Lithuania became a Soviet republic, a part of the USSR. In the same year, Garon became the editor of the Yiddish youth magazine “Shtraln” (Rays) and breathed fresh spirit into that periodical, attaching special significance to the section of literature and art.

But WWII began, and Aaron Garon was conscripted. He fought in the ranks of the 16th Lithuanian division. After the war, the young officer never found anyone of his large family alive: all of them died in Dachau, Stutthof, or Ponar (Paneriai).

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Stalin’s campaign against so-called "cosmopolitanism" raged in the USSR, Mikhoels was killed, the leading Yiddish writers were shot dead, then the "doctors' case" followed. Rampant anti-Semitism stopped the development of the original national culture of Lithuanian Jewry. Talented Jewish journalists took prominent positions in Lithuanian-language periodicals. Aaron Garon returned to Vilna – now called Vilnius, and started working as a deputy editor of the “Švyturys” magazine.

Not until “perestroika” was Garon able to write and publish again in Yiddish. As Jewish communities’ activity revived in the Baltic states, he took up working for the new-founded multi-language “Lithuanian Jerusalem” newspaper, editing its Yiddish issues.

In the early 1990s, Garon immigrated to Israel. Despite his advanced age, he discovered a wide field of activity for himself: he contributed to local Yiddish newspapers, wrote articles for the New York newspaper “Forverts”, and edited books in Yiddish. Garon also prepared for publication his memoirs book "Di yidish velt fun Vilne" (The Jewish World of Vilna). It appeared in Vilnius in Yiddish and Lithuanian after Garon's death, in 2018.

The well-known journalist and drafts player Yakov Shaus, Leib Shaus’ son, wrote about its author: “Aaron Garon was one of the last witnesses of the unprecedented flourishing of Jewish culture in Lithuanian Jerusalem. In his book, separate essays are dedicated to the brilliant Vilna cantor Yoel-Dovid Leventstein-Strašunski, the wonderful doctor Cemach Szabad who is believed to be the prototype of Dr Aybolit [the Russian remake of Dr Dolittle], the outstanding sculptor Mark Antokolsky, the great violinist Jascha Heifetz, the brilliant Yiddish poet Moyshe Kulbak who died in the NKVD dungeons. It was mostly a secular culture. But the remarkable writers, musicians, artists were carrying the same powerful charge of Jewish spirituality, which Vilna Gaon’s disciples had adopted and inherited from their teacher... "



Aaron Garon - photo from personal archive. Book "Aaron Garon. Jewish World of Vilna"


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