In the previous century Kaunas had a Jewish population of over 30,000, but now that number barely tops 300. How did people of this ethnicity contribute to Kaunas’s prosperity in the years between the wars? Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas and Jewish document collector Michailas Duškesas spoke to us about Jewish history.
Žakas said Kaunas became one of the centers of concentration for Litvaks. “Kaunas was the cradle of Litvaks, the capital. Before the deportations and mass murders more than 30,000 Jews lived in Kaunas accounting for about 20 percent of the total population. After World War II some came back, for example, my father and his brother returned from the Dachau concentration camp to Lithuania to look for family members. Ten thousand left for Israel, America and many went to Germany after World War II. I had the chance as well to go to America, but I stayed in Kaunas because it is my hometown,” Žakas said.
Document collector Michailas Duškesas stressed Lithuanian Jews, or Litvaks, are respected people in the world. “Litvaks in the world, this is a kind of super-brand, if you say you are a Jew from Lithuania you are considered exceptional, noble and honorable,” he said.
Full text in Lithuanian here.