In 1938, the author was given a internship to work at YIVO, the Jewish Scientific Institute in Vilna, Poland. It was watershed time. Jews were desperate to get away from Europe and she was going to it.
In this this thematically organized account Ms. Dawidowicz explores a artistic, intellectual strata of an important Jewish center of learning Vilna, which was proudly proclaimed "the Jerusalem of Lithuania".
She involves herself in this aspect of Vilna society with her comrades in the artistic movement "Yunge Vilna", especially the poets Chaim Grade and Abraham Sutzkever whom she would meet again after the war.
She discusses the class and religious structure of the community and the pervasive effects of poverty and of modernism. Vilna was being affected by the modern world, and could no longer be wholly characterized by the image of a tradition bound society.
She analyzes the political spectrum from the Socialists, to the Bundists (labor), to the militant Zionists. She witnesses the fiery oratory of the Betarist, Vladimir Jabotinsky.
She describes the social life including meetings at the melting pot Velfkeh's restaraunt. She describes the eminent YIVO institute where she worked and the selfless persons who were dedicated to its success as a beacon of Jewish learning and the Yiddish language.
The political situation worsens. She wants not to desert her new friends in their peril, but they prevail upon her. She makes a tense escape on the cusp of war between Germany and Poland, including a harried train journey through Nazi Germany itself.
Back at the New York branch of YIVO she agonizes over her friends grasping at each scrap of news. Finally, returning to Europe in 1946 she is entrusted with the job of saving the remants of YIVO and the famous Strashun Library of Vilna. She has insightful observations about survivor guilt, complicity and entitlement. Includes a map.