Lyube Levitski was born in the culturally vibrant Vilna of the inter-war years. Her musical talent was recognised while she was still a student at a local conservatory, and with the support of family and friends, she went to study music at the Vienna Conservatory, where she graduated with honours. Back in Vilna, her beautiful voice quickly made her a star; at the age of 21 she had her first big success as Violetta in a 1938 production of La Traviata at Vilna's Yiddish opera theatre. Her career took her to many theatres in Vilna and Warsaw, where she became widely acclaimed. Hitler’s 1939 invasion of Poland led her to return to her family in the relative safety of Vilna. The early war years under Soviet occupation were successful ones for Levitski, who worked in radio and as a music teacher. In the summer of 1941, however, Levitski and her family were consigned to the Vilna ghetto. With many friends in the non-Jewish musical world of Vilna, Levitski was offered the opportunity to hide outside the ghetto with some musician friends. She could not bear being parted from her mother, however, and chose to join her inside the ghetto walls.
Once in the ghetto, Levitski continued her musical work. Every day she worked at hard labour outside of the ghetto, returning every evening to teach singing to the children of the ghetto music school. Perhaps her most memorable ghetto performance was at the memorial concert on 18 January 1942, which was intended to commemorate the mass murders that had taken place the previous autumn. News of the concert was initially greeted with scepticism by many ghetto inmates, but among others Levitski’s moving performance helped to convince people of the value of this memorial. The poet Avraham Sutzkever remembered how 'the audience stood in sacred silence as one stands in front of an open grave. Every word, every sound recalled the victims at Ponar'. Among the items Levitski performed at the concert were ‘Di Nakht’ (The Night) and a lament from an opera by Abraham Goldfadn.
The year following this concert was a difficult one, during which Levitski narrowly escaped death a few times. In January 1943, she was rehearsing the leading role of an opera under the direction of Wolf Durmashkin. On the day of opening night, she returned to the ghetto after forced labour, smuggling some food for her sick mother. She was given twenty-five lashes, kept in solitary confinement for a month, and then killed at Ponar.
Arad, Y., 1980. Ghetto in Flames: The Struggle and Destruction of the Jews in Vilna in the Holocaust, Jerusalem: Yad Vashem: Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority Ktav Pub. House.
Kalisch, S. & Meister, B., 1985. Yes, We Sang! Songs of the Ghettos and Concentration Camps, New York: Harper and Row.
Rosen, P., 2002. Bearing witness: a resource guide to literature, poetry, art, music, and videos by Holocaust victims and survivors, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.