Free Israeli Dance Lessons

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photo: Giedre Rozmanaite Photography

The Israeli embassy in Vilnius invites everyone to free Israeli dance lessons in Vilnius! An experienced instructor from Israel will conduct the lessons.

Come to the square in front of the Old Town Hall at 7:00 P.M. on July 28 and 29.

About dance instructor Orly Goldshtein:
Residence: Ramat Ha’Sharon, Israel

New Torah Study Library at Choral Synagogue

We invite all our friends to the inauguration of our new Torah library at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius.

Every synagogue is more than just a house of prayer–it’s also a house of learning. Even more so in Lithuania, where Torah study has always been of the highest priority. Now our synagogue will provide the opportunity to teach Torah in the classic way.

Thanks to the Šeduva Jewish Memorial Fund and their understanding of the importance of this library in Vilnius, the synagogue will now contain a classic Jewish library of more than a hundred books needed by everyone who wants to engage in serious learning.

The Torah (Pentateuch) and the Books of Prophets with all the classical commentaries, Mishnah, Talmud, Rambam, Tur and Shulchan Aruch–if the latter are missing it is impossible to study Torah, to prepare for lessons and to teach those who are resolved to make progress in their knowledge and Torah study.

The Šeduva Jewish Memorial Fund and the Lithuanian Jewish Religious Community invite you to share in our joy and to make a small l’chaim at 7:00 P.M. on August 24 at the Choral Synagogue.

Commemoration of Holocaust Victims in Biržai and Molėtai in August*

Biržai: Commemorative ceremony to remember the Jewish community annihilated in the Holocaust, 11:00 A.M. on August 28.

Molėtai: Procession from the Molėtai synagogue to the mass murder site (~1.5 km) where 2,000 local Jews were murdered, marking the 75th anniversary of that event.

*There is a possibility the LJC might be able to provide transportation from Vilnius for those wishing to attend these events. Please contact info@lzb.lt or call 8 5 2613 003 before August 8 if you need transportation.

Preparations Under Way for Švenčionėliai Mass Murder Site Renovation

Ruošiamasi Švenčionėlių masinių žydų žudynių vietos tvarkymui

Work to renovate the Švenčionėliai mass murder site under the current plan is scheduled to begin in August and September, Švenčionys Jewish Community chairman Moisiejus Šapiro says. The period from June to November of 1941 was the most horrible and tragic period in the genocide, when about 80% of Jews in Lithuania were murdered. A ghetto was established in Švenčionys and mass murder operations were begun there. According to different sources, 7,000 to 8,000 Jews were shot across the Žeimena River in Švenčionėliai. A memorial marks the site.

Determining the exact identity of those murdered and buried near Švenčionėliai has been fraught with difficulty. After approaching numerous archives, only the names of seven Holocaust victims buried there were found. Chairman Moisiejus Šapiro is asking Holocaust survivors from the Švenčionys region and the small shtetls there and their children, grandchildren and relatives, wherever they might live now, to tell their stories and send him the names and surnames of those murdered at Švenčionėliai

He can be reached by email at moisa50@mail.ru

Important Delegation of Rabbis

smaller synagogue group

Rabbi Kalev Krelin reports on an important delegation who visited Lithuania last week.

“I had the honor to host a group of rabbis and philanthropists from the US. At the head of the group were R. Yeruham Olshin, head of biggest yeshivah in the world in Lakewood, New Jersey, and R. Reuven Desler, businessman and philanthropist, grandson of famous Rabbi Eliyahu Desler.

“The group visited the tomb of the Gaon and R. Chaim Ozer in Vilnius, and also the gravestone of Rabbi Boruch Beer Leibovitz at the Užupis cemetery. They visited the grave of Elchonon Spektor in Kaunas, prayed at the 7th Fort on the date when R. Elchonon Wasserman from Baranovichi Yeshiva was killed there, and also visited another cemetery.

“After that the group returned to Vilnius and prayed an evening prayer at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius.

Polish Constitutional Court Upholds Restrictive Restitution Law

Dear Friend,

Today we received disappointing news from the Polish Constitutional Tribunal. The Court affirmed the constitutionality of a law passed by the Polish Parliament that limits the rights of claimants to restitution for private property in Warsaw.

Please see the below article from today’s New York Times describing the law and its implications. This article, as well as other media stories, have highlighted our position. Hebrew speakers may also read this article on Ynet.

The World Jewish Restitution Organization wrote to then-President Bronisław Komorowski last year asking him not to sign the legislation. President Komorowski agreed, and sent the law to the Constitutional Tribunal. WJRO submitted a “friend of court” brief urging the Court to declare the law unconstitutional for violating former owners’ rights.

Sulamita Lermanaitė-Gelpernienė Would Be 90 Tomorrow

Antanas Sutkus
photo: Antanas Sutkus

Sulamita Lermanaitė-Gelpernienė would have celebrated her 90th birthday tomorrow, July 28. People who knew her remember her.

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…After being graduated from the Vilnius Conservatory, she became a pianist, a concert performer and a concert master at the Lithuanian Conservatory.

Lithuanian Music Academy professor and cathedral head Leonidas Melnikas told [the magazine] Muzikos Barai about Sulamita Lermanaitė-Gelpernienė whom he met when he went to work at the Music Academy as a young man. The professor spoke with the reporter Asta Linkevičiūtė. An excerpt is provided below.

What sort of person, colleague, fellow worker was she?

This was a person to whom you could always go to ask for help of a professional nature, whom you could ask about something, who always sincerely offered advice. She gave advice on how to come up with a repertoire, what material to teach during the school year, how to educate students. Professional communication with her was important human communication and also very pleasant. She was an active member of the cathedral, a real patriot of the collective, she was a fan of the cathedral and the students. The people around Gelpernienė always felt her attentiveness, interest and support.

LJC Statement about the Seventh Fort in Kaunas

Statement by the Lithuanian Jewish Community concerning Cnaan Liphshiz’s article “This Lithuanian Concentration Camp Is Now a Wedding Venue” published at http://www.jta.org/2016/07/24/news-opinion/world/lithuanian-concentration-camp-is-now-a-wedding-venue

The Lithuanian Jewish Community thanks the author of the article and the news agency who have again brought attention to the problematic situation at the Seventh Fort in Kaunas. We also feel it is our duty to explain and add to some of the facts and circumstances brought up in the article.

In June and July of 1941 a concentration camp was set up at the Seventh Fort where up to 5,000 people were murdered, mainly Jews resident in Kaunas. During the Soviet era the fort was used for military purposes and the exact location of the mass grave was unknown and inaccessible to the wider public. In 2009 the Lithuanian State Property Fund, which had ownership of the complex, allowed it to be privatized. The Lithuanian Jewish Community never approved of this decision and numerous times wee expressed our position that this was a huge mistake which couldn’t be allowed to happen at similar sites. In any event, after the fort buildings were privatized, the new owner, Karo paveldo centras [Military Heritage Center], received the right to lease the land around the buildings, which belongs to the state. The mass grave site, whose exact location was not known then, thus fell within territory controlled by a private corporate entity.

Numerous times, and long before Rūta Vanagaitė’s book mentioned in the article, the Community has approached the Lithuanian Government, the Kaunas city council and the Karo paveldo centras corporation to insure the physical safety of the Holocaust site at the Seventh Fort and to ask for respect for the memory of the victims buried there.

The article relates a painful event when a few years ago human bones were discovered above ground while cleaning up the mass grave site. The author says when human remains were discovered, the owner, Vladimiras Orlovas, went to different institutions, including the Jewish Community, but without any result, and so implying responsibility lay not with Mr. Orlovas, who was conducting earth-moving operations at a suspected mass grave site, but with the Jewish Community which hadn’t taken care of their removal and reburial. Further on the author based on the local press states that in the end the municipal government of the city of Kaunas took care of reburial.

It did not in fact happen that way. In the spring of 2012 the Lithuanian Jewish Community received information human remains were discovered during clean-up work at the Seventh Fort in Kaunas. The Community immediately shared this information with the Cultural Heritage Department. A special commission of the Kaunas city council was supposed to adopt a decision on where to rebury the remains found. After discussions were drawn out for a long time for no good reason, the Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Kaunas Jewish Community took the initiative in August of 2014 to solve the problem of reburial of those murdered at the Seventh Fort. After consulting with the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe, the proposal was made to rebury the human remains where they were found by adding a layer of soil on top of the existing layer, thus maintaining Jewish customs and not disturbing the eternal rest of the dead. The Cultural heritage Department and the Kaunas city council’s special commission approved this proposal. So on October 28, 2014, the human remains received dignified burial due to the efforts of the Lithuanian and Kaunas Jewish Communities in cooperation with the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe, the Kaunas municipality, the Cultural Heritage Department and the Karo paveldo centras [Military Heritage Center] corporation.

Following this event, the Lithuanian Jewish Community many times demanded of the Kaunas city government and Karo paveldo centras [Military Heritage Center] that a monument be erected at the mass grave site (in the Soviet era the site chosen for a monument was the only accessible part of the territory, although the most distant from the mass grave itself); that access for pedestrians be improved; and that a program be drafted for the long-term maintenance and commemoration of the mass grave. For its part, the Kaunas division of the Cultural Heritage Department under the Lithuanian Ministry of Culture demanded a halt to activities disturbing the eternal rest of, respect for and commemoration of the dead in a letter to Karo paveldo centras [Military Heritage Center] dated July 17, 2015.

“The Lithuanian Jewish Community believes Lithuanian institutions must make sure the memory of the victims of the Holocaust doesn’t become subject to private business schemes. Unfortunately, the Seventh Fort, the first concentration camp in Lithuania, has become an notorious example of this sort of exploitation, despite constant calls by the Lithuanian Jewish Community. We hope the international attention focused on this problem will encourage Lithuanian institutions to solve it in a final way and to operate more responsibly in the future. The Lithuanian Jewish Community has protested many times against these sorts of activities which disparage the memory of the victims of the Holocaust,” Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky said. “All conceivable manner of actions were taken against this barbaric behavior when dances were held on Jewish bones, but no one paid attention. I regret that the correspondents of the Jerusalem Post news agency are spreading information without checking the facts with the Lithuanian Jewish Community.”

Fayerlakh Kindles Spirit of Litvak Culture

Larisa Fajerlech

The Lithuanian song and dance ensemble Fayerlakh has been around for four and a half decades now and for the last 18 years has been led by the energetic Larisa Vyšniauskienė. The group which celebrates Litvak traditions is a frequent guest at different holiday celebrations in Lithuania but also performs abroad. Fayerlakh is one of the oldest ethnic community folklore collectives in Lithuania. It was formed in 1971 as a continuation of the Jewish cultural volunteer movement which was reborn after the war in Lithuania in 1956.

“It’s no accident this revival happened in Lithuania first, since even after the war in which millions of Jewish people were exterminated, there was still strong expressions of anti-Semitism in Russia, the Ukraine and Byelorussia. All sorts of low-lifes rise to the surface during wars, of course,” Vyšniauskienė said.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Work Continues to Remove Jewish Headstones from Power Station

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The transformer substation before removal work began. Photo by Lukas Balandis, courtesy 15min.lt

More than a year after a Vilnius resident reported his discovery an electric substation on Olandų street was constructed using Jewish gravestones, and following the announcement this June removal work had begun, the site is now littered with bits of headstones partially surrounded by a simple wire fence and some plastic tape. Most of the fragments are marked with graffiti on at least one surface, and several piles of larger pieces contain partial inscriptions in Hebrew characters, see pictures below.

Israeli Media Report on Parties at Seventh Fort in Kaunas

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Vilnius, July 25, BNS—Parties held at the Seventh Fort in Kaunas have received attention by the media in Israel following efforts last year to resolve conflicts between the fort’s owners and Jews concerned about the Jewish mass grave discovered there several years ago.

Cultural heritage protection specialists say there haven’t been any complaints recently about unethical activities at the Seventh Fort, and Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky said the Israeli press was just bringing up “old stories.”

Discussion of entertainment events at the Seventh Fort came up last year when the Cultural Heritage Department sent the fort’s owners a letter calling upon them not to hold celebrations, games or similar events there.

An article in the Jerusalem Post Monday told the story of the fort’s privatization, the fee charged visitors to the museum territory there and parties held there despite the discovery there in 2011 of a Jewish mass grave.

The article said the Seventh Fort is a popular venue for graduation parties and wedding receptions and the space is available to be used for parties, for cooking on campfires and to host summer camps for children.

This Lithuanian Concentration Camp is Now a Wedding Venue

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A film crew preparing to record at the former concentration camp known as the Seventh Fort in Kaunas, Lithuania, on July 12, 2016. (JTA/Cnaan Liphshiz)

KAUNAS, Lithuania (JTA) — In this drab city 55 miles west of Vilnius, there are few heritage sites as mysterious and lovely looking as the Seventh Fort.

This 18-acre red-brick bunker complex, which dates to 1882, features massive underground passages that connect its halls and chambers. Above ground, the hilltop fortress is carpeted with lush grass and flowers whose yellow blooms attract bees and songbirds along with families who come here to frolic in the brief Baltic summer.

It’s also a popular venue for graduation parties and wedding receptions, complete with buffets and barbecues, as well as summer camps for children who enjoy the elaborate treasure hunts around the premises.

Most of the visitors are unaware that they are playing, dining and celebrating at a former concentration camp.

Israeli Antiquities Authority Reports Major Finds in Lithuania

2.Historical with team
Photo: Ezra Wolfinger/NOVA

Historical Discovery in Lithuania: The Escape Tunnel of the “Burning Brigade” in Ponar (Paneriai) Has Been Rediscovered

For the first time since the Holocaust the famous tunnel used by the prisoners of Ponar to escape from the Nazis has been located using new technologies for underground predictive scanning.

In an exciting new discovery using electric resistivity tomography at the Ponar massacre site near Vilnius in Lithuania, the escape tunnel used by the so called “burning brigade” to elude captivity and certain death at the hands of the Nazis has been pinpointed.

Some 100,00 people, of whom 70,000 were Jews originating in Vilna and the surrounding area, were massacred and thrown into pits in the Ponar forest near the Lithuanian capital during World War II. With the retreat of the German forces on the eastern front and the advance of the Red Army, a special unit was formed in 1943 with the task of covering up the tracks of the genocide. In Ponar this task was assigned to a group of 80 prisoners from the Stutthof concentration camp.

At night the prisoners were held in a deep pit, previously used for the execution of Vilna’s Jews, while during the day they worked to open the mass graves, pile up the corpses on logs cut from the forest, cover them with fuel and incinerate them. All the while their legs were shackled and the worked in the full knowledge that on the completion of their horrendous task, they, too, would be murdered by their captors. Some of the workers decided to escape by digging a tunnel from the pit that was their prison. For three months they dug a tunnel some 35 meters in length, using only spoons and their hands. On the night of April 15, 1944, the escape was made. The prisoners cut their leg shackles with a nail file, and 40 of them crawled through the narrow tunnel. Unfortunately they were quickly discovered by the guards and many were shot. Only 15 managed to cut the fence of the camp and escape into the forest. Twelve reached partisan forces and survived the war.

Ponar Escape Tunnel Found

Mokslininkai Lietuvoje rado tunelį, kuriuo žydai bėgo nuo nacių

An international group of scholars has completed nearly two weeks of archaeological digging at two sites of importance to Lithuanian Jewish history. They looked for a tunnel known from Holocaust testimonies and attempted to confirm information about the Great Synagogue and surrounding buildings in Vilnius. They used new non-invasive techniques: ground-penetrating radar and electrical resistivity tomography. The international group of scholars included scientists from Israel, Canada, the US and Lithuania. Project leader Dr. John Seligman is the head of the archaeological digging department of the Israeli Antiquities Service. US student volunteers helped at the sites. Some were in Eastern Europe and Lithuania for the first time.

Full story in Lithuanian on Vilnius University’s web site.

Jewish Cultural Event in Anykščiai

The A. Baranauskas and A. Vienuolis-Žukauskas Memorial Museum invites the public to come to the Old Town in Anykščiai, Lithuania, where a celebration of Jewish Culture will be held from 10:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. on July 23.

Synagogue Square music stage: At 11 the Rakija Klezmer Orkestar will perform. At 12:15 tenor Rafailas Karpis takes the stage, followed by Arkadiujus Gotesmanas’s mini-play Story of a Man of God at 1:15. At 2:15 Judita Leitaitė and Jurijus Suchanovas perform songs.

The kosher food restaurant Rishon operates on Sinagogos and S. Daukanto streets and offers Jewish treats, souvenirs and books.

An entire human life-span has passed since the summer of 1941, when Jewish song and prayer went silent in the Anykščiai Old Town, the wind carried off forever the smell of their baking bread and dust covered well-beaten tracks. Jewish names and faces now return to Anykščiai.

Ellen Cassedy to Speak in Vilnius

Ellen Cassedy to Speak in Vilnius

The Jewish cultural and information center in Vilnius Old Town is proud to continue its brand new summer series of mini seminars in English for the local and international communities, a series of one-hour free and open forums where harmonious exchange of views, traditions and information becomes a fun part of your week.

All are welcome, free coffee at first event; cafe onsite with choice of bagel snacks and drinks available for purchase.

Meeting: Thursday night, July 28, 2016, from 6 to 7 P.M at the Jewish Cultural and Information Center, Mesiniu 3, Vilnius

website http://www.jewishcenter.lt/

facebook https://www.facebook.com/%c5%bdyd%c5%b3-kult%c5%abros-ir-informacijos-centras-136849083044494/

Topic: Jewish Vilne

a lecture, question and answer session with Ellen Cassedy, author of We Are Here, has explored Lithuania’s encounter with its Jewish heritage for ten years. Her book is the winner
of numerous awards. She is a frequent speaker about the Holocaust, Lithuania and Jewish culture.

www.ellencassedy.com

World Jewish Congress Head Demands Apology for Remarks on Polish Role in Holocaust

WJC logo

NEW YORK–World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder July 20 severely criticized statements by high-ranking Polish officials on Polish complicity in the mass murder of Jews during and after World War II. He was responding to remarks made by Poland’s education minister Anna Zalewska casting doubt on Polish participation in two pogroms against Jews in Jedwabne, and that city’s mayor Michael Chajewski even called for exhumation of the corpses contained in mass graves there. Lauder said such statements cause concern and seem like “a spit in the face” to the victims of the Holocaust in the town. In the pogrom in Jedwabne on July 10, 1941, Poles murdered about 340 people.

Lauder said the minister and mayor’s statements in effect discredit all the efforts made by Polish scholars, who for 25 years have been researching, studying and looking for evidence about the brutal violence Poles executed upon Jews. The president of the WJC called upon the Polish Government to demand immediate and clear apologies and retractions by both officials. Lauder recommended Zalewska and Chajewski would do better to listen carefully to the words of Polish president Andrzej Duda, who spoke at the 70th anniversary of a pogrom in the Polish town of Kielce in early July, saying: “There is no place in free, sovereign and independent Poland for any superstitions, racism, xenophobia or anti-Semitism.” Lauder noted the statements were especially troubling coming from Polish officials, and called Poland the leader in the fight against Communism in Eastern and Central Europe and a country which has accomplished much in Holocaust education. He said after the fall of Communism, Polish society collided with dark passages in the nation’s history, but showed courage and dignity, and because of the work done has become worthy of respect and has shown the way to neighboring countries which have been unable to come to terms with their own history.

Boris’s Litvak Roots

Jungtinės Karalystės užsienio reikalų sekretoriaus Boriso Johnsono šaknys Lietuvoje

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Lithuanian Roots of UK Formin Boris Johnson

British foreign secretary Boris Johnson has said he’ll travel to Lithuania because he has roots here. What roots? The newspaper Lietuvos Rytas tried to find out. Lithuanian foreign minister Linas Linkevičius discussed Lithuanian immigrants in Britain with the UK’s new foreign policy strategist Boris Johnson the day before yesterday and invited Johnson to visit the land of his ancestors. Johnson reportedly accepted the invitation enthusiastically. The family tree of Johson, 52, shows an Elias Avery Loew born October 15, 1879, in Kalvarija in what was then the Russian Empire. He later changed his surname to Low and is the father of Johnson’s grandmother. Both of Eli Low’s parents were born in Lithuania: Charles Loew, a silk merchant was born in Kalvarija in 1855, and Sarah Ragoller in Kaunas the same year. Later the family emigrated to the United States. Lithuanian archives don’t preserve the vital statistics on Johnson’s ancestors. Galina Baranova, advisor to the director of Information and Dissemination Department of the Lithuanian History Archive who has worked successfully for many years with the Lithuanian Jewish archives, said there is no way to find out more about the British foreign secretary’s forefathers, although it is clear he had ancestors in Kalvarija. Those records don’t survive and vital statistics only go back to 1922 now. There was a Ragoler family in Kaunas from 1898 to 1925, according to Kaunas Jewish Community birth records, but there is no way to connect this family with Boris Johnson’s.

Full story in Lithuanian here.