US Public Television Airs Documentary on Jewish Vilna

Photo courtesy PBS

by Geoff Vasil

Owen Palmquist’s documentary on two sites in Jewish Vilna aired last week on the US public television network PBS’s NOVA program. According to the director, there are rumblings of a broadcast in Lithuania, but so far there are no concrete plans to show it here.

The documentary is called Holocaust Escape Tunnel and focuses on two sites in and near Vilnius: the former Great Synagogue, which was damaged in World War II and torn down by the Soviets in the early 1950s, and the Ponar mass murder site outside Vilnius, where more than 70,000 people were murdered during the Holocaust.

Obviously Ponar got top billing. Last summer as director Owen Palmquist was shooting the footage with his crew, he said they hadn’t settled on any definite title and hadn’t decided what to feature yet, but he had the idea he wanted to talk about the rich Litvak Jewish culture of Vilnius. Focusing on the Holocaust actually makes more sense within the American context, since Lithuania is generally seen as one of the more enthusiastic societies to take up arms and murder Jews during World War II. It’s an easier sell to media managers. Litvak history is complicated and spans centuries; the Holocaust is immediate and “in your face.”

Vilnius City Council Names Samuel Bak Honorary Citizen

Samuel Bak, the famous Litvak painter, has been named an honorary citizen in his hometown, Vilnius. Bak now becomes only the 15th honorary citizen of Vilnius. The award is granted based on exceptional contributions to Lithuania and her capital city. Bak was nominated for the title by the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum. Bak is planning to travel to Vilnius this year and present 100 of his works to the museum.

Bak was born in Vilnius August 12, 1933. At the age of 9 he and his parents were imprisoned in the Vilnius ghetto. There he had his first exhibition, of his drawings. In 1945 he lived in a displaced-persons camp in Germany. In 1948 he made aliyah to Israel. Later he lived in France, Italy and Switzerland. In 1993 he moved to Weston, Massachusetts, in the United States. Since 1959 he has exhibited his works in galleries and museums in Montreal, Jerusalem, London, Paris and Rome. His second exhibition in Vilnius took place in 2001. He holds the degree of honorary doctor of the visual arts at the Massachusetts College of the Arts.

Samuel Bak portrays his experience of the Holocaust in his pictures.

Although the world-renowned artists is truly a “citizen of the world,” he has never forgotten his hometown, Vilnius, and what he experienced here, which gave rise to his artistic career. His work is characterized by his personal style combining details of perfect Renaissance-type figures with metaphysical spaces, an individual interpretation of iconography and a deep symbolism.

Honorary citizens of Vilnius include the architect Algimantas Nasvytis, late former US president Ronald Reagan, father Kazimieras Vasiliauskas, composer Mstislav Rostropovich, disgraced former speaker of the US House of Representatives Dennis Hastert, the writer Czesław Miłosz, Lithuanian writer Justinas Marcinkevičius, the anti-Communist Zbigniew Kazimierz Brzezinski, Lithuanian mathematician Jonas Kubilius, Lithuanian rock musician Algirdas Kaušpėdas, the writer and philosopher Tomas Venclova, the late former Israeli prime minister and president Shimon Peres, late former Lithuanian prime minister and president Algirdas Mykolas Brazauskas and former Icelandic foreign minister Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson, the first Western government official to recognize the reaffirmation of Lithuanian independence in 1990.

Goodwill Foundation Press Conference

Gerosios Valios fondo spaudos konferencijoje

by Paulius Gritėnas, 15min.

A meeting of the executive board of the Goodwill Foundation for Disbursing Compensation for Jewish Religious Community Real Estate met in Vilnius Thursday. The board decided how to use monies allocated by the government to fellow Jewish citizens for losses incurred during the Holocaust. Board chairwoman and Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky said: “Rather sensitive issues were discussed. Issues such as the rebuilding of the Great Synagogue in Vilnius, cemetery protection, Holocaust education.”

“It’s wonderful that the large world Jewish organizations are returning to Lithuania. Many of them have Litvak roots,” Kukliansky noted, pointing to Andrew Baker, director for international Jewish affairs for the American Jewish Committee who also serves as co-chair of the Goodwill Foundation’s executive board.

Baker said the issue of the Great Synagogue was especially important. “Lots of discussions are taking place on what should be at that site, but whatever happens, it must reflect the historical and cultural moment which that site is,” Baker commented.

“I know there are legal arguments which could be employed, we could assert our rights and became the owners of the site. Our board resolved we should go that route,” Baker said.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Lithuanian and American Jewish Reps: Museum at Palace of Sports Impossible

Vilnius, April 27, BNS–The Palace of Sports, built above old graves in the old Jewish cemetery in the Šnipiškės neighborhood of Vilnius, is not an appropriate place for a museum of Jewish history, according to Lithuanian and American Jewish representatives.

“There’s agreement the Jewish cemetery is not an appropriate site for a museum,” American Jewish Committee representative Andrew Baker, who is a leading executive in a fund for disbursing compensation for Jewish property, told reporters Thursday.

“We believe there should be a kind of presentation of the history of the cemetery and of the people buried there,” he added. Baker is a chairman on the executive board of the Goodwill Foundation which supervises monies paid in compensation for Jewish religious community property. Under a law adopted in 2011 Lithuania is obligated to pay out 37 million euros over ten years in compensation for property seized by totalitarian regimes.

Old Jewish Cemetery No Place for Jewish Museum

by Laima Žemulienė, ELTA

“Today’s agenda for the meeting of the Goodwill Foundation was connected with Jewish heritage and its use in Lithuania. There are issues, however, which the Goodwill Foundation would like to solve with the Lithuanian Government. These include the rebuilding of the Great Synagogue in Vilnius, a Jewish History Museum in Lithuania, cemetery protection and education, especially Holocaust education. There are issues for which the international Jewish communities can make recommendations, and we are using those recommendations. Many of the people in those communities have Litvak roots. The Goodwill Foundation is in contact not just for allocating monies, but also with international Jewish organizations,” Faina Kukliansky said.

The Great Synagogue which stood on Jewish street in Vilnius was the center of the Jewish community.

“I know there are specific legal considerations which could be used for us to take ownership of that site. Our executive board decided we should go that route. The most important interest for us is how the site will be used, how it will be respected,” Rabbi Andrew Baker said.

Play Silenced Muses in Panevėžys

The Rokiškis Theater Association of the Juozas Miltinis Gymnasium presented the play Nutildytos Mūzos [Silenced Muses] directed by Neringa Danienė in Panevėžys April 21 to commemorate Holocaust victims. The play was based on real events. The original play was written using the diary of the young Jewish girl Matilda Olkin and the memoirs of her contemporaries. The moving story about the fate of the family of the pharmacist Naum Olkin from Panemunėlis in the Rokiškis region of Lithuania and the muse silenced before its time just as it was about to bloom in the young and talented poetess Matilda is topical in the context of ever-growing dangers in the world today, and compels us to think about the senselessness of war and the fragility of this day.

Lithuanian Jewish Community Social Programs Department Clients Give Back

Last week the staff of the Social Programs Department at the Lithuanian Jewish Community received an unexpected gift: a giant Lithuanian šakotis pastry!

The brothers Antanas Kaplanas and Leonas Janušauskis of Raseiniai, Lithuania, rescued from death during World War II, sent the gift to thank SPD employees for the services they provide.

The SPD has been supplying them with coal for heating during the cold months along with help in acquiring needed medications and food products.

We are proud of our clients as well as our staff who work so professionally and with such great dedication.

Happy Birthday to Zinaida Zaprudskaja

Zinaida was born after the war in a mixed family, her father was Russian and her mother Jewish, in the village of Yashkin in the Tula region of Russia. Her mother Yevgeniya Kupershmit was a primary school teacher and her father Ivan Grigoryevich was a driver and tractor operator. Zinaida grew up, married the soldier Nikolai Zaprudskiy in 1966, living in Russia until 1975. In 1979 she came to Panevėžys and has lived here ever since. She has two sons and five grandchildren.

The Panevėžys Jewish Community loves and respects Zinaida. She has served as a volunteer for over 10 years now. She visits the Community and daily and is a tremendous help to Community chairman Gennady Kofman in resolving different issues within the Community.

We hope she never changes, that she remain the same person we know and live, always ready with a smile, always cheerful. As we celebrate her birthday, we wish every day would bring her new success, joy and happiness.

May she live to 120!

Happy Birthday to Eta Gurvičiūtė

Eta was an active member of the Community for many years and worked at the medical consulting center at the LJC. Her birthday is on April 27.

Dear Eta, the Lithuanian Jewish Community wishes you excellent health and as much warmth as you gave so many others over the years. May the coming years bring you happiness and joy, strength and hope. May you live to 120!

Yom haZikaron

Dear Community members,

The embassy of the State of Israel and the Lithuanian Jewish Community invite you to come mark Yom haZikaron at the Lithuanian Jewish Community, Pylimo street no. 4, at 7:30 P.M. this Sunday, April 30.

Please DO NOT share this invitation on social media. Please DO bring identification.

To register, contact: +370 672 40942,

March of the Living Speakers: Important to Remember Rescuers and Collaborators

Vilnius, April 26, BNS–Participants at the March of the Living to commemorate Holocaust victims in Vilnius say both the crimes of the murderers and the deeds of the rescuers need to be judged in commemorating the mass murders.

For the tenth time in as many years marchers walked from the Ponar railroad station along the same path the victims were marched during the Nazi occupation to what is now the Ponar Memorial Complex.

“Today we both recognize and thank the individuals who, despite the risk not only to their own lives, but to the lives of their entire families, saved Jewish lives. We thank them and we bow our head,” Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon said at the ceremony.

He noted the inscription on one memorial speaks of 70,000 Jews murdered, but noted there are more than 200 mass Jewish graves where the same thing happened in Lithuania. He stressed the importance of remembering the Jewish community wasn’t a group of “temporary residents,” and contributed significantly to the creation of the state of Lithuania in the areas of economics, science, technology and art.

Ambassador Maimon said there were the names of people, families and communities behind the statistics who, as the prime minister of Lithuania noted, lived together for many years. He said it was our moral imperative to insure the names appear at these sites, not just the numbers.

Lithuanian Jewish Community Chairwoman Faina Kukliansky Speaks at March of the Living in Ponar

Today we mark Yom haShoa. Under the laws of the State of Israel, this day marks the national day of the Holocaust and heroism. On this day Israel and the world mark together the victims of the Holocaust as well as the heroes who gave their all in the fight against the Nazis.

I would like to point out Holocaust commemoration, and together the entire history of the Jews, is not limited to the experience of one country, one religion or one people. Israel has been marking this day since 1953, while we here in Lithuania gather now for the tenth time here at Ponar to observe Yom haShoa. The first March of the Living was the initiative of Beit Vilna, of the former ghetto and concentration camp prisoners and the children and grandchildren of Vilna Jews. Beit Vilna is not with us today, but together, Jews around the world are commemorating the victims of the Holocaust. As do members of the executive board of the Goodwill Foundation, most of whom have Litvak roots. Thank you for the bridges of memory you have built, connecting Lithuania, Israel and the world.

Yom haShoa not only reminds us of the mass murder of the Jews at the hands of Lithuanians here, or of the systematic extermination carried out in Nazi Germany, occupied Poland and elsewhere. It also reminds us who we are, Jews, and even that totalitarian extermination mechanism was unable to extinguish our spirits, our faith, our identity.

During the Holocaust there was massive Jewish resistance in the underground organizations, and no less important was the inner battle, for one’s dignity in the face of suffering and death. As we follow in the path of the condemned we also fight here and now, we fight against apathy, against forgetfulness, against ignorance. The Holocaust failed to end Jewish history and the path of Lithuanian Jews towards historical justice continues now in 2017. Many unsolved issues remain. Restitution, Holocaust commemoration, teaching Jewish history at Lithuanian schools, commemorating Righteous Gentiles, condemnation of the murderers, heritage preservation–these are only a few examples which will be remembered in Jewish history, and that of Lithuania in general, back in the 21st century.

Just now yet another generation of students has followed the path taken by 70,000 condemned to death. Young and old, some of whom, Jewish Community members, still remember the Holocaust and who care about passing on the memory of the Holocaust, have taken the same path. I am endlessly grateful to each and all of you.

According to the custom of the State of Israel, I invite you to reflect in a moment of silence on the victims of the Holocaust as the siren sounds.

Goodwill Foundation Press Conference

Media are invited to a press conference following the April 27 meeting of the executive board of the Goodwill Foundation. The press conference will be held at 2:00 P.M. at the Narutis Hotel, Pilies street no. 24, Vilnius. Foundation chairs and other members of the executive board will attend.

March of the Living

Lietuvos žydų (litvakų) bendruomenės pranešimas spaudai apie Gyvųjų maršą

The 10th March of the Living will take place at 4:00 P.M. on Wednesday, April 26, 2017, at the Ponar Memorial Complex outside Vilnius. The march is intended to commemorate Holocaust victims.

The procession will make its way from the Ponar railroad tracks down the road Jews were marched during the Holocaust to their deaths in the pits of Ponar. The ceremony will culminate with the Partisan Anthem, created by Vilnius ghetto inmate and Holocaust victim Hirsh Glik, performed by Fayerlakh vocalist Michailis Jablonskis with Boris Kirzner accompanying on violin.

Buses will be provided for members of the Vilnius and other Jewish communities to make the trip to Ponar just outside Vilnius, and will return passengers to the city after the ceremony. Please register for the bus ride by sending an email to with your name or by calling +370 672 40942. The buses will leave with registered passengers from the Lithuanian Jewish Community at Pylimo street no. 4 at 2:35 P.M.

Happy Birthday to Jakov Mendelevski!

Happy birthday! The Lithuanian Jewish Community wishes you health, happiness and strength… A human life is not measured in years, but deeds. Your life is filled with many useful and wise deeds in which you can take much pride. You have stored up a treasure house of wisdom and experience, and seriousness in the paths chosen, in your heart. We hope the passing years bring you joy, warmth and hope!

May you live to 120!

Meeting of Executive Board of Goodwill Foundation

Press Release

A meeting of the executive board of the Goodwill Disbursement Foundation for Compensation for Jewish Religious Communal Property, or Goodwill Foundation, will be held April 27, 2017.

The formation of the Goodwill Foundation was an important step for Lithuanian Jews as well as the Lithuanian state, representing the first successful attempt to compensate at least partially the losses of fellow Jewish citizens during the Holocaust. Based on the law adopted, by 2023 the Lithuanian state budget is to transfer 37 million euros in compensation to the Goodwill Foundation to be disbursed for financing Lithuanian Jewish religious, cultural, health-care, athletic, educational and academic projects in Lithuania. The Lithuanian Government annually allocates approximately 3.6 million euros for purposes defined in the law on goodwill compensation. From its inception the Goodwill Foundation has expanded and become an organization striving for the sensible and appropriate use of funding for Lithuania’s Jews.

In 2014 the Goodwill Foundation began financing projects adhering to the prescribed goals laid out in law. Each year the Foundation has disbursed about half of the monies received from the Lithuanian Government, or about 1.6 million euros, setting aside the remainder for future projects. The chairs of the Goodwill Foundation, Rabbi Andrew Baker and Faina Kukliansky, have insured the efficacy of the Foundation’s work, as demonstrated by the conclusion of the 2016 audit by the Lithuanian State Auditor’s Office.

One of the top agenda items for the April 27, 2017, meeting of the executive board of the Goodwill Foundation is executing allocation of annual monetary compensation according to project applications received. The allocation of Goodwill Foundation monies for projects follows established criteria. The Goodwill Foundation’s executive board will also consider issues concerning investment of deferred funds, maintenance and acquisition of buildings in support of the activities of the Jewish communities, preservation of surviving portions of the Great Synagogue of Vilnius, plans for establishing Litvak museums and commemoration of and insuring due respect for the mass murder site at Ponar.

The Goodwill Foundation operates according to legal acts of the Republic of Lithuania and the findings and recommendations of international audit bodies, assuring the appropriate acceptance, assessment and approval of applications and the appropriate administration of the Goodwill Foundation itself. Our hope is the recommendations from the audits conducted will become an important tool helping the Foundation to achieve our goal of becoming an example of best practices for organizations disbursing funds for implementing projects.

Members of the media are invited to a press conference following the meeting of the executive board of the Goodwill Foundation on the ground floor of the Narutis Hotel, Pilies street no. 24, Vilnius, beginning at 2:00 P.M. The chairs and members of the executive board of the Goodwill Foundation will be at the press conference.

ORT and Non-ORT Schools Join in Partisan Anthem Project

With each Yom haShoah the number of Survivors dwindles making the challenge of engaging new generations more difficult and more urgent. We have found a way to involve ORT students across the former Soviet Union.

We have started an international push to popularise the partisan song Zog Nit Keynmol by linking ORT and non-ORT schools in an online programme to not only learn its Yiddish – and Hebrew – words but also to delve into its meaning and historical significance and to share what they learn.

The result has moved groups of students at World ORT schools in Kiev, Odessa, Kishinev, Vilnius, Chernivtsi, Tallinn, Moscow, Kazan and Samara to prepare videos for Yom haShoah singing the anthem written by the Vilna poet Hirsh Glik to a melody by the Soviet-Jewish composers Dmitri and Daniel Pokrass.

This is a powerful statement and shows that we can link the generations this way and honour the legacy of the Survivors.

World ORT has added a new video: A Song for Yom haShoah:

The next stage will evolve into a program in which our youth learn about their family histories within the context of our Jewish cultural history.

Find out more about my project here:

Best regards,
Eli Rabinowitz

Kaunas Jewish Community Celebrates Inventor of Esperanto

Zamenhof’s grave in Warsaw, visited by members of the Kaunas Jewish Community

The Kaunas Jewish Community marked the 100th anniversary of the death of Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof, the inventor of the artificial international language Esperanto who sought to bring the races and linguistic groups of the world closer. Dr. Zamenhof sought to make Esperanto the world’s second language. The residents of Kaunas are proud L. L. Zamenhof called the city home for a time and proud of the legacy he left the world in the form of Esperanto.

According to wikipedia: “By 1878, his project Lingwe uniwersala was almost finished. However, Zamenhof was too young then to publish his work. Soon after graduation from school he began to study medicine, first in Moscow, and later in Warsaw. In 1885, Zamenhof graduated from a university and began his practice as a doctor in Veisiejai and after 1886 as an ophthalmologist in Płock and Vienna. While healing people there he continued to work on his project of an international language.”

More about Zamenhof and the language he created is available in the Lithuanian language:

Zamenhof and Kaunas

What happened to Esperanto?

Website for learning Esperanto and learning about the history of the language.

How is Lithuania connected to Esperanto?

Fun Passover Celebration at Šiauliai Jewish Community

On April 15 the Šiauliai Jewish Community celebrated Passover. Community chairman Josif Burštein welcomed participants and Israeli ambassador Amir Maimon and wife were the guests of honor, speaking about the story of Passover and the meaning behind eating matzo.

Lithuanian art critique, theater expert, writer and doctor of liberal arts Markas Petuchauskas also attended with his wife. The evening included performance of Jewish song and dance, provided by the benefactor Vadim Kamrazer.

Thanks go to the Lithuanian Jewish Community’s Social Programs Department and the Goodwill Foundation for making the wonderful holiday possible.

Silenced Shtetl of Divenishok Speaks Again

by Ieva Elenbergienė

A conversation with Dieveniškės Technological and Business School director Ilona Šedienė

Ilona, tell me about “your” Jews.

Today there are none left alive in Dieveniškės [Divenishok]. The amount of history we revive, that’s the amount we’ll have. The surviving historical material isn’t generous. We only know the center of Dieveniškės was one of many Lithuanian shtetls. In Jewish history a shtetl doesn’t mean just any town, the term is applied to towns where the Jewish population was truly large and was part of the life of the entire town. Most of ours were craftsmen. They also had their own synagogue, but the think was it was at the bottom of the hill so it didn’t stand above the Catholic church.

A significantly lesser amount of information remains about Dieveniškės than, say, Eišiškės [Eyshishok]. For those seeking information, the internet page Jews in Lithuania,, explains all shtetls in Lithuania were more or less similar. There was a customary order to life, a specific rhythm, and they were to a greater or lesser extent the same. Read about other ones and you’ll find they are similar to yours. But authenticity is always wanted… We’ve discovered material from local collectors, we’ve translated a portion of memoirs by Jews, and when we had a bit better picture put together, we staged an exhibit about the life, history and present situation of the Jews of Dieveniškės.

Full story in Lithuanian here.


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