A memorial plaque to Emanuel Levin in Kaunas


It surprises no one when a boy who spent all his childhood in his father`s bookstore in his adult years becomes a philosopher existentialist. But when a professor of Sorbonne university says that he published his first article in the Lithuanian journal “Vairas”  (en. “Steering wheel”) it catches more attention. And when the same man talks in an academic manner about the French and German cultures in Yiddish, Russian, Hebrew, or Lithuanian languages, the attention of the public is fully attracted. This one extraordinary person was Lithuanian Jew Emanuel Levin. His life and work example shows us, that the multicultural scenery of interwar Lithuania meant more than just having acquaintances who each go to different prayer houses. This multicultural experience is more about a cultural openness towards the world in general.

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In 1906 Emanuel Levin was born in the family of Kaunas Jews. From his early years, the boy was interested in reading, so lucky for him, his father owned a bookstore in the Laisvė (en. Freedom) alley in Kaunas. Although Emanuel`s family spoke Yiddish at home, the boy was usually surrounded by Russian-speaking people –  his father owned a bookstore that sold Russian literature, Emanuel went to Jewish gymnasium with the Russian language as the language of instruction. The young boy learned Lithuanian and Hebrew languages from his surroundings, and eventually, he got to learn French at school as well. Emanuel had a great relationship with his mother – it was her, who encouraged the talented son to continue his studies abroad – as he did in 1923 enrolling in the famous Strasbourg university.  The departed student did not lose touch with Lithuania – there he left his loved Raisa. Eventually, Raisa came to live with him in France, where they got married and lived all their lives together. Emanuel Levin died at the honorable age of 99 at his home in Paris.


The name of Emanuel Levin is remembered nowadays in Kaunas in many ways and many forms. In 2006 a memorial plaque was unveiled on the Oldtown house where Emanuel Levin was born and raised (Karalius Mindaugas pr. 37). On this plaque, the philosopher is called one of the most prominent thinkers of the 20th century. And we could not agree more. After six years the second memorial plaque has been unveiled next to the first one – only now it is in French. In 2013 the street in Kaunas was named after Emanuel Levin, and after two years the square received his name as well. However, the most important legacy of Emanuel Levin is in his books, which can be found in libraries and bookstores in his hometown of Kaunas and in his beloved Paris, and in many other cities and countries around the world.


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