The Lithuanian Jewish Community is proud the Bagel Shop Café was part of Sugihara Week celebrations in Kaunas at the beginning of last month.
The Lithuanian Jewish Community is proud the Bagel Shop Café was part of Sugihara Week celebrations in Kaunas at the beginning of last month.
by Romualdas Beniušis
Stella Maris-Marija. Mary, the star of the sea. That’s what the brothers Galidkas—priest Jurgis (1883–1963) and Lithuanian volunteer soldier Valentinas(1902–1966)—called the wooden chapel they paid for and built in Pašventys village on the banks of the Šventoji River. The Catholics of Šventoji, Būtingė and the surrounding area had no church of their own and they had to go to Palanga, Laukžemė or Darbėnai to attend church.
Galdikas in exile in Germany, ca. 1918
Jurgis Galdikas was born in Lazdininkai village in the Kretinga district in 1883 to the family of an average farmer. He went to school in Lazdininkai and the Darbėnai primary school, then the Palanga pro-gymnasium, and upon graduation chose to enter the priesthood and entered the Kaunas Priests Seminary. He was consecrated as a priest after being graduated in 1907, then continued to study theology in Austria, Belgium and Switzerland. He defended his thesis to become a doctor of philosophy in 1911. After returning to Lithuania he was the vicar in Šiauliai and was then appointed parish priest after the outbreak of World War I. He established and headed a gymnasium there. In 1916 the occupational regime of Kaiser’s Germany deported him with a group of Lithuanian priests to Germany where he spent two years. Returning to Lithuania in 1919, he was appointed director of the Kražiai pro-gymnasium, whose curriculum was based on etiquette, ethics and morality and which became the Žiburys gymnasium in 1924. He was sent to Telšiai in 1927 to become a canon of the capitulum (collegium) in the Telšiai diocese and from 1927 to 1932 he was a teacher and inspector at the Telšiai Seimnary.
Speaker of the Israeli Knesset Yuli-Yoel Edelstein visited the Lithuanian Jewish Community and met with members who listened to his warm words for the community. Community members were also able to meet the speaker at the Vilnius Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymnasium Wednesday afternoon at a ceremony to honor the Bujel family who rescued Jews from the Holocaust.
Edelstein’s visit is a big and important event for Lithuania and the Lithuanian Jewish Community. Relations between Israel and Lithuania this year are the best and closest in history. Both countries are interested in strengthening existing cooperation and expanding the friendly relationship. This was demonstrated in the Knesset speaker’s meetings with all of Lithuania’s top leaders.
Visits by high-ranking Israeli leaders, begun four years in 2013 with Shimon Peres’s visit, are very important to Lithuanian Jews, imparting morale to the community as well as honor, but most of all they’re important because, for however brief a time, there is an opportunity to listen to one another. “The democratic state of Israel is a second homeland for Lithuanian Jews,” Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky remarked at the meeting at the LJC. Edelstein in turn praised the Community’s activities.
The chairman of Israel’s parliament said Lithuania after independence cares much more about remembering the Holocaust now, and that Vilnius–the Jerusalem of the North–was one of the most important cities for Jews. Paying his respects at the Ponar Holocaust memorial, Knesset speaker Edelstein called upon Lithuania “to remember honestly” that there Nazis, Lithuanian collaborators but also rescuers of Jews in this country during the Holocaust. “This is history, you can’t rewrite it, you cannot cross it out,” he said. Changes begun in Lithuania several years ago in Holocaust consciousness have led to better relations with Israel. Edelstein told BNS this was thanks decisions made by the Lithuanian Government. He also told BNS he hoped Lithuanian leaders would maintain this line, and said it was the task of the Lithuanian Government to insure there are not xenophobic and anti-Semitic sentiments in the country.
Sugihara Week celebrations in Kaunas drew a large number of guests from Japan, including his eldest son Hiroki’s widow Michi Sugihara and the only surviving son Nobuki Sugihara.
Mr. Sugihara laid a wreath and observed a minute of silence for the Jews murdered in Garliava, a suburb of Kaunas. The scion of the Sugihara legacy said his father inculcated in him an interest in history and taught him respect for those who didn’t escape.
Lithuanian Jewish Community members and staff gathered to clean up the Jewish cemetery on Sudervės road in Vilnius on Sunday, September 10.
Israeli ambassador Amir Maimon pitched in, as did LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky with her grandchildren. Community members, administrative staff and rabbis all came out to perform a small mitzvah in the run-up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. They raked up leaves, gathered garbage and sorted it for recycling, tended abandoned graves and cleaned and beautified the only working Jewish cemetery in Vilnius.
Thank you to all the volunteers for your good work!
A week has passed during which Lithuanian remembered her shtetlakh. The fourteenth celebration of the annual European Day of Jewish Culture has taken place in Lithuania, this year with the theme “Diaspora and Heritage: The Shtetlakh.” Lithuanian towns which used to be called shtetlakh hosted events, tours of surviving old towns and Jewish residential sections, interesting talks on the former life of Litvaks there. The word shtetl was heard much in Lithuania after the Holocaust, with the loss of the former Litvak world and the Yiddish language.
This year the European Day of Jewish Culture was observed in more than 20 towns and cities, including Alytus, Jurbarkas, from Kaunas to Žasliai and Žiežmariai, Kelmė, Klaipėda, Kretinga, Molėtai, Palanga, Pakruojis, Pandėlys, Pasvalys, Pikeliai, Šiauliai, Šilalė, Jonava, Joniškis, Kupiškis, Darbėnai, Šeduva, Švėkšna, Ukmergė, Zarasai and Želva.
The Lithuanian Jewish Community thanks all the participating cities and towns for remembering the shtetlakh and the Jews who lived, traded, created and built there. They deserve to be remembered. Many cities and towns held lectures, conferences, exhibits, concerts and film screenings this year.
LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky also thanks the organizers of the events at the Jewish Community for their interesting program, and thanks the participants and speakers who spoke about the remaining traces of the shtetlakh in Lithuania. We thank Fania Brancovskaja, Vytautas Toleikis, Sandra Petrukonytė, Ilona Šedienė, Rimantas Vanagas and Antanas Žilinskas not just for their interesting presentations, but also for their own work, books and research on Jewish history, contributing to making the shtetlakh part of the heart of our country, without which Lithuania is impossible to imagine.
Thank you also to the Bagel Shop Café for the tasty Jewish dishes, the Sabbath ceramics exhibit and the holiday atmosphere, and to the Fayerlakh ensemble for the wonderful concert!
Our sincere thanks to everyone.
For Japanese people he is a hero, known to all, from the youngest child to the oldest person. The diplomat Chiune Sugihara is also well known in Lithuania. Even so, greater attention to his life and deeds is only know being paid. A group of scholars, public figures, politicians and diplomats from Lithuania and Japanese discussed Sugihara’s extraordinarily heroic deed at a conference in Kaunas September 6.
Full story in Lithuanian here.
Events for the Sugihara Week being celebrated in Kaunas are scheduled from September 2 to 8.
Sugihara Week is a series of events to commemorate Japanese diplomat and Righteous Gentile Chiune Sugihara’s life and deed. From 1939 to 1940 Sugihara and Dutch consul Jan Zwartendijk saved over 6,000 Jewish lives from the Holocaust by issuing so-called visas for life.
“Consul Sugihara has become ever more known in the world and I am happy ever new ways to commemorate his heroism are appearing. It is significant that this wonderful initiative for a Sugihara Week came from Kaunas, which is the epicenter of the entire Sugihara story,” Toyoei Shigeeda, Japan’s ambassador to Lithuania, said.
Kaunas, September 4, BNS–A group of painters dressed in white just arrived from Japan gathered at the residence and now museum of famous interwar Japanese diplomat and Righteous Gentile Chiune Sugihara Monday to help in the renovation of the building.
Tokon International chairman Keiichi Yasuda, whose company sent the painters, told BNS the painters wanted to help and make people happy.
“There are many companies which do everything for money, but money doesn’t bring happiness, the meaning of life is not money, but happiness, and we wanted to do something to help make people happy,” Mr. Yasuda said.
Saturday a week-long celebration of Japanese diplomat and Righteous Gentile Chiune Sugihara began in Kaunas, Lithuania. The audience learned of Sugihara’s life-saving mission in concert with Dutch consul Jan Zwartendijk which resulted in over 6,000 Jews being saved from the Holocaust. The events included creative workshops, lectures, screenings of films, concerts and exhibits for young and old.
On August 20 the Kaunas Jewish Community threw a birthday party for Righteous Gentile Aldona Radzevičienė (maiden name Norvaišaitytė), who just turned 90. KJC chairman Gercas Žakas and KJC Rescuers Committee chairwoman Judita Makevičienė attended the festivities. Mrs. Radzevičienė didn’t just sit passively through all the well-wishes and gift-giving, but got up and danced the waltz and even performed a song.
Although she doesn’t make a big deal of it, as a young teenage Mrs. Radzevičienė helped her parents Uršulė and Juozas tremendously and the entire family took part in rescuing Alper Kirkilovski, Haim Chernevski, the sisters Shenke and Tzipke Vėberytė and the Shavel family from Kaunas in the Vilkaviškis region of Lithuania during the Holocaust. The had a hideout in the forest during and during the winter they slept in the barn. Juozas Norvaišaitis was arrested by the Nazis after neighbors informed on him. He was deported to Saxony in Germany and nothing further was ever heard of him. All of the Jews the family rescued survived the Holocaust. The father, mother and Aldona Radzevičienė were recognized as Righteous Gentiles in 2001.
Happy birthday to Aldona Radzevičienė, to whom we bow our heads. May you live to 120!
Vilnius, August 24, BNS–As German president Frank Walter Steinmeier planned Friday to pay respects at a Holocaust commemoration at Ponar, Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky said his presence gave rise to emotions of gratitude and joy.
“We are so very thankful for the respect being shown, and Ponar is the symbol of all the murdered Jews of Lithuania,” Kukliansky told BNS.
She also said the Nazi regime was responsible for the Holocaust, but not all Germans.
“The regime turned some people into beasts, and we must hold the rescuers in the highest regard for not surrendering to that… I actually have this ambivalent feeling, I have the urge to apologize to the president because I was raised to think Germans are evil, but neither Germans nor Lithuanians are evil, the regime was evil. We should just thank him and take joy in the fact the president is coming to Ponar to express his respects for the people who were murdered so brutally,” she said.
Kukliansky pointed to modern Germany as an example to follow in the country’s stance towards Nazi crimes.
President Steinmeier on his official visit to Lithuania will also visit German soldiers at the military base in Rukla, Lithuania, on Friday.
You’re invited to attend the events of the first-ever Sugihara Week celebrations in Lithuania from September 2 to 8 in Kaunas.
The week-long celebration commemorates Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara who saved not less than 6,000 Jewish lives in Kaunas together with Dutch consul Jan Zwartendijk.
Japanese ambassador to Lithuania Mr. Toyoei Shigeeda said: “Consul Chiune Sugihara is becoming ever better known in the world and it is pleasing that his great deed is being remembered in ever new ways. It is significant that the Sugihara Week initiative arose in Kaunas, which is the epicenter of the entire Sugihara story.”
Kaunas deputy mayor Simonas Kairys said: “Although Sugihara Week is being held for the first time, it has received major attention in both Lithuania and Japan. It’s incredible what a tie these two distant and different countries share. At the beginning of September many honored guests from Japan will arrive in Kaunas, including representatives of the Japanese Diet, Gifu Prefecture and the Japanese media.”
The deputy mayor invited Kaunas residents and guests to make time in their calendars to attend the wonderful events planned, free and open to the public. The events program includes concerts, symposia, screenings of films, public lectures, exhibits, creative workshops and others in different spaces and venues around Kaunas.
The Sugihara House Museum, housed in the diplomats former diplomatic residence and office, has more information available here.
Sugihara Week also has a facebook page undergoing constant update here.
A listing of events is available in PDF format in Lithuanian here.
Sugihara House may be reached directly by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Borisas Joselovich has sent Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky a letter from Israel in Lithuanian. A translation follows.
Your thoughts in the text published on the issue of proposed draft amendments to the law of the Republic of Lithuania on citizenship about returning citizenship to former Jewish citizens of Lithuania who left for Israel after 1990 exactly mirror my own personal thoughts and probably the position and hopes of a large number of Litvaks living in Israel.
Spain, which deported the entire Jewish community 500 years ago, adopted a fair and honest decision to return national citizenship to Jews exiled from Spain. This decision by the Spanish government has been carried out successfully for several years now.
Lithuania, in whose territory almost the entire Jewish community was physically exterminated, is simply morally obligated to take the exact same step towards those several thousand descendants of murdered Jews living in Israel, and to return them the citizenship taken away from them earlier.
You are doing very important work in restoring what was for centuries the natural Jewish element of Lithuanian society to the place it belongs, and so I wish you the highest success in achieving your goals in this difficult mission.
(Israeli citizen since 1993)
The Fayerlakh Jewish song and dance ensemble performed at the White Nights music and art festival-contest in St. Petersburg, Russia, from June 8 to 11, 2017.
Fayerlakh competed in the category Folk Ensembles and Folk Songs, along with 65 other contestants. Fifty-nine finalists competed in the final concert, where Fayerlakh took first place. The Lithuanian Jewish group was also presented a gift certificate for high art in celebrating Jewish culture and traditions, which they will be able to use at the next festival-contest.
Their performances at such festivals not only demonstrate the ensemble’s excellence and professionalism, but also stimulates tolerance between peoples and faiths. Besides presenting Jewish culture, Fayerlakh also presents multicultural Lithuania on the international stage. These sorts of tours and performances abroad also build real solidarity among members of the song and dance collective, crucial for further creative work.
The competition also provided members of the collective the opportunity to see one of the world’s most beautiful cities, an important education inspiring and expanding the horizons of younger members of the ensemble. Fayerlakh performed a small concert at the Choral Synagogue in St. Petersburg.
Director Larisa Vyšniauskienė and the entire Fayerlakh collective thank the Lithuanian Jewish Community, the Goodwill Foundation and the Joint Distribution Committee for their full support.
Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman and Community member Grafman attended a ceremony at the Povilas Matulionis Pre-Gymnasium in Kupiškis, Lithuania, May 30 held by the Israeli embassy to Lithuania to award the title of Righteous among the Nations posthumously to the priest Feliksas Ereminas (1890-1962). The Catholic cleric rescued the Jewish girl Rachel Rozenberg during World War II. For rescuing and further taking care of her, ambassador Amir Maimon presented Ereminas’s relative Tauras Budzys the Righteous among the Nations medallion and certificate issued by the Yad Vashem Holocaust authority in Israel.
The ambassador said the event is a lesson for our future. Professor Aldona Vasiliauskienė told the moving story of the rescue and how she collected the material required for the award.
Ambassador Maimon said: “We are happy and proud to have the opportunity today to recognize Feliksas Ereminas. Eighty years have passed since that time. Today we can only imagine those difficult times when Jews had to seek asylum.”
“It’s difficult to express in words our gratitude and respect. It is our duty to remember not just the victims of the Holocaust, but also those brave people who risked their lives and those of their families to rescue Jews, sometimes their neighbors, sometimes friends, but more often complete strangers,” Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas at an annual evening event to give thanks to rescuers and their children , grandchildren and now even great-grandchildren. He thanked those in attendance for their close and war ties with the Jewish Community and for so enthusiastically attending Jewish Community events.
Singer Judita Leitaitė, pianist Rūta Mikelaitytė-Kašubienė and violinist Paulina Daukšytė performed at the event. Kristina Kazakevičiūtė, the daughter of a rescuer and an actress at the Kaunas Chamber Theater, read some profound poetry and then lightened the mood with some Jewish jokes. Participants in school tolerance education centers also attended and there were discussions of how to teach Jewish culture to school pupils in a more interesting way. The evening ended with the presentation of small gifts.