Grateful

Opening of Exhibit “Żegota: The Council to Aid Jews”

The Polish foreign minister is to open the exhibit “Żegota: The Council to Aid Jews” in the Lithuanian parliament’s Building III at 4:00 P.M. on September 13. The embassy of the Republic of Poland and the Polish Institute in Vilnius in cooperation with the Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Lithuanian parliament are to present the extraordinary exhibit about the Polish Council to Aid Jews as part of commemorations of the 75th anniversary of the destruction of the Vilnius ghetto and to celebrate the Year of Irena Senderlowa. The exhibit was made by Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance. It was first shown at the Ninth Fort in Kaunas earlier this year.

Those planning to attend the opening ceremony include Polish foreign minister Jacek Czaputowicz, Lithuanian MP Arūnas Gelūnas, LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, Polish ambassador to Lithuania Urszula Doroszewska and Polish Institute director and advisor to the ambassador Marcin Łapczyński.

Please report your intention to attend by sending an email to danguole.stonyte@lrs.lt

Valid identification is required for entry to the parliament building.

LJC Chairwoman Faina Kukliansky’s Greetings on Rosh Hashanah 5779

As the high holy days draw near, I am glad to be able to share with you important Lithuanian Jewish Community news. The Lithuanian Jewish Community faces many challenges every day, but this year we’ve grown, we’ve grown stronger and we are receiving ever more public and political support. Interest in Jewish culture is not fading, either, as shown by European Days of Jewish Culture events in Lithuania, a program which grows richer by the year. I greatly appreciate that 1,500 Litvaks abroad have officially joined the LJC from the Litvak Association in Israel chaired by Arie Ben-Ari Grozdensky. Jewish unity is the largest goal for the LJC which is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the national revival this year.

Thanks to the active work of the regional Jewish communities and Jewish organizations, Jewish values remain strong in Lithuania. A young generation of Jews is growing up and we need to pass on our history and our future to them. For a long time now we have been developing the idea of reviving the tradition of Litvak scouting and this year we finally managed to make it a reality working with French and Polish Jewish scouting organizations. Vilnius ghetto prisoner and Jewish partisan Fania Brancovskaja was part of Jewish scouting in Lithuania before the war and shared her experience in scouting at our recent camping event. Although the Jewish community in Lithuania isn’t large, we have proven we are able to continue the old traditions and to start new ones.

We met the Litvak prime minister of Israel, Binyamin Netanyahu, and his wife Sara at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius, celebrating its 115th anniversary this year. This was an historical occasion to remind Europe and the world the Jewish nation is an indivisible part of European culture, and Europe should be grateful to the State of Israel for so many European lives which have been saved thanks to the work of Israeli intelligence in stopping attacks. Two small democracies, Israel and Lithuania, find striking parallels in their histories. We will recall them this December in celebrating 100 years of the union of Lithuanian Zionist organizations, which also supported Lithuanian aspirations for statehood.

In September we mark a great tragedy which has come to be a symbol of the Holocaust in Lithuania. We mark the painful 75th anniversary of the destruction of the Vilnius ghetto. It’s very significant that we are dedicating ever more informal means to commemorate history, but there are still areas where more needs to be done in discussing the role the Lithuanian Activist Front and the Provisional Government of Lithuania played in the Holocaust, and more needs to be done in the state’s school curriculum as well.

We esteem highly as well the great work our partners–the joint Lithuanian-Israel archaeology group–have done in work on the Great Synagogue of Vilnius. The LJC is responsible for drafting a study on ways to commemorate the Great Synagogue. As the spiritual successors to the Vilna Gaon, we feel a great responsibility to insure the respect due this special Jewish sacred site and the appropriate presentation of what’s left of this heritage site to the public.

I want to thank sincerely all those who have been and are with the Lithuanian Jewish Community. Thank you for your energy and support. I wish you a sweet and happy 5779!

First New Litvak Scouting Camp, Sabbath in the Forest

The first new Litvak scouting camping trip with children from Vilnius, Kaunas, Klaipėda, Panevėžys and Molėtai took place over the weekend. Litvak scouting has a long tradition in Lithuania until the Holocaust and there were thousands of scouts. Jewish scouting stopped after the Holocaust, making the revival, Sabbath in the Forest, an important milestone. The goal of the renewed organization is to include religious Jewish children, secular Jewish children and non-Jewish children in Jewish scouting activities. The main concern is to make sure minimal standards are adhered to to allow religious Jewish children to attend the camping trips. The camping trips place special emphasis on Jewish religious traditions and prayer, serve kosher food and observe all the requirements of the Sabbath.

Many of the children experienced the great outdoors for the very first time, setting up tents and sleeping in them, setting up wooden picnic tables, cooking bread on the fire and challa in an outdoor oven and going on an evening hike.

Fania Brancovskaja, a member of the Bin scouting organization in Vilnius, ushered out the Sabbath last Saturday. The scouts called her “Sister Fania” as she shared her experience in scouting and stories about the scouts in pre-World War II Lithuania. Fania was presented a Lithuanian scouting necktie.

Ona Šimaitė Dedicated Her Life to the Welfare of Others

by Rasa Baškienė, Bernardinai.lt

Ona Šimaitė was named a Righteous Gentile in 1966 for saving Jews from the Vilnius ghetto. She constantly risked her life from 1941 to 1943, when the Vilnius ghetto existed, saving Jewish children and adults and seeking out shelter and support for them. Vilnius University rector Mykolas Biržiška, his brother Vaclovas Biržiška, the director of the Vilnius University library, and professors and staff at the university helped Ona Šimaitė, as did the writer Kazys Jakubėnas and the clerics A. Lipniūnas, M. Krupavičius, M. Vaitkus and others.

Vilnius Ghetto


Rūdninkų street in the Vilnius ghetto.

On September 6, 1941, after the Germans had occupied Vilnius, 57,000 Jews were marched to the two ghettos in the Vilnius Old Town. They included many Vilnius University students and teachers, famous professors and scholars. Rector Mykolas Biržiška, university leadership and head librarian Vaclovas Biržiška tried to think of a way to help the Jews condemned to death. Finally a seemingly innocent way to do so was found: they would send two university librarians–catalog department director Ona Šimaitė and reading room director Godliauskaitė into the two ghettos to collect unreturned library books from Jewish readers.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Screening of The Good Nazi at Tolerance Center

Come see the Lithuanian premiere film “The Good Nazi” about Righteous Gentile Karl Plagge at the Tolerance Center, Naugarduko street no. 10/2, Vilnius at 5:30 P.M. on July 12, 2018. Major Karl Plagge was in command of the HKP slave labor camp on Subačiaus street in Vilnius. The camp repaired and maintained German military vehicles. Plagge saved a number of Jews there. The event includes a discussion with the filmmakers and visiting archaeologists. Sponsored in partnership with the US embassy in Vilnius. Film and event in English, all are welcome, entrance is free.

Thank You to Out-Going Cultural Heritage Department Director Diana Varnaitė

The Lithuanian Jewish Community sincerely thanks Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Department director Diana Varnaitė for all the work she’s done to preserve Jewish heritage in Lithuania. The Community is also wondering who could replace her professionalism, intellect and sense of heritage as a significant legacy we leave to future generations.

Since Faina Kukliansky became chairwoman of the LJC in 2013, the Community has paid special attention to the preservation of Lithuanian Jewish heritage sites. Mainly because of director Varnaitė’s personal attention to Jewish heritage, it became one of the Cultural Heritage Department’s priorities and thus a priority for protection nation-wide. The Jewish story in Lithuania began almost 700 years ago and much has been lost, but what remains needs urgent work to save it as a treasure of the state and the people which draws people here from around the world.

Lithuanian Jewish heritage sites are relics of a cultural landscape created over centuries by the community which once numbered a quarter million people living in almost every Lithuanian city and town. It is around 200 cemeteries, more than 200 mass murder sites and mass graves and over 40 synagogues listed as cultural treasures.

Happy Birthday to Grigory Kanovich

Happy birthday to Grigory Kanovich who celebrates his 89th this week.

This year the re-established Lithuanian Jewish Community celebrates its 30th anniversary. Looking back on the time of national revival, back to 1989 when the founding meeting of the Lithuanian Jewish Cultural Association took place, we remember Grigory Kanovich was elected the organization’s first chairman. Kanovich is an internationally acclaimed writer, winner of Lithuania National prize in Art and Culture for 2014, an honorable citizen of Jonava, chairman emeritus of the LJC and the recipient of the Order of Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas, third degree. He currently lives in Israel.

We appreciate our first chairman (1989-1993) and writer, author of the novel “A Kid for Two Pennies” which was adapted and performed by the Little Theater in Vilnius as “Smile Upon Us, Lord,” and which won first prize at the Baltic and Northern European Theater Festival. It was truly an unforgettable play and several generations of people find much meaning in it.

Living in Israel, Grigory Kanovich wrote the novel “Jewish Park,” recognized best Israeli novel in Russian in 1997.

The entire Lithuanian Jewish Community is so proud of you, beloved Grigory, and we all wish you the happiest birthday from the bottom of our hearts, and wish you great health, happiness and love.

City of Kaunas Honors Righteous Gentile, Dutch Consul Jan Zwartendijk

Jan Zwartendijk, the honorable consul of the Netherlands in Lithuania at the beginning of World War II and a rescuer of Jews, was honored Friday at Freedom Alley in Kaunas outside his former office where he also worked as a representative of the Philips company. The location was decorated with a lighting installation and a commemorative plaque was unveiled to honor Zwartendijk.

Dutch artist Giny Vos said she was trying to commemorate Zwartendijk the man, but also his humanitarian actions; Zwartendijk never considered himself a hero, although his so-called Curaçao end-visas he issued over 10 days in the summer of 1940 ended up saving around 2,400 lives directly in conjunction with transit visas issued by Japanese ambassador Chiune Sugihara, and countless more lives if succeeding generations are included. She said her light-show installation’s spiral symbolized life, movement, growth and hope, and that each individually sized and colored LED light in the installation represented a life saved, with the emphasis on hope, light and the future.

Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė, Kaunas mayor Visvaldas Matijošaitis and Jan Zwartendijk’s son Rob spoke about the man and his humanitarian actions at the event.

Istanbul Convention Presented for Ratification

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky congratulates Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė’s decision to present the Istanbul Convention, the Council of Europe’s convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, to the Lithuanian parliament for ratification. This is an important step forward for human rights in Lithuania. The Istanbul Convention is a crucial legal instrument to strengthen state resolve in the fight against violence against women. It is binding and based on experience from around the world of the best measures for decreasing gender-based violence.

Thirty of the 47 members of the Council of Europe have already ratified the convention.

More information in Lithuanian here.

Photography Exhibit Remembers Jewish Rescuers

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky took part in an opening ceremony for an exhibition of photography about Lithuanian rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust, part of a joint project by the LJC and the Sovereign Order of Malta to commemorate and provide aid to rescuers. Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė and Order of Malta ambassador to Lithuania Manfred Leo Mautner Markhof also took part at the opening ceremony in the exhibit space of the Tuskulėnai Memorial Park Complex in Vilnius May 29.

The Lithuanian president said the exhibit, which will go on display around Lithuania, documents Righteous Gentiles who saved hundreds of Jews at great risk to themselves. They shared hope, bread and their homes with Jews during the Holocaust. She said by extending a helping hand, they also saved humanity and the dignity of the Lithuanian nation. They have become a source of inspiration in the lives of Lithuania’s people today, she said, adding their attitude towards others and their self-sacrifice is needed daily.

LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky said:

“More than 800 Lithuanians made the fateful decision during World War II to resist the axiomata of hate. Their only weapon was their conscience which, led by the choice to remain human, made these non-Jews an eternal and spiritual part of our people. Our gratitude cannot be expressed in words, nor measured in numbers; it is limitless and intangible, having become as it were a light of God’s being in the imperfect grey ghetto or in hiding in a forest hideout. These are people thanks to whom we were reborn to new life, thanks to whom we gout back our energy for the old faith.

Busy Week for Kaunas Jewish Community

The second week in May saw numerous events and meetings at the Kaunas Jewish Community.

The hectic and hot week began with a meeting between representatives of the Kaunas Jewish Community and the Denkendorfer Kries für christlich-jüdische Begegnung (Denkendorf Association for Chirstian-Jewish Encounter) from Germany. Association board members Eva and Otmar Vöhringer have been inviting their compatriots for several years now to undertake what are in a sense pilgrimages to Holocaust sites in Poland and the Baltic states and to meet survivors and descendants of survivors in those countries. More than 20 years ago now Dr. Hartmut Metzger began and became the spiritual inspiration behind this initiative. He also worked with late Kaunas Jewish Community member Judelis Ronderis to organize aid for impoverished Jews who had been evacuated to the Soviet Union during the Holocaust.

On May 8 the members of the association of family and friends of deportee convoy no. 73 visited Kaunas and the Ninth Fort in Kaunas. The group comes to Kaunas from France once every two years and warm and friendly friendships have been made with the Kaunas Jewish Community. LJC executive director Renaldas Vaisbrodas attended the ceremony at the Ninth Fort this year. On May 15, 1944, convoy no. 73, a train from Drancy, France, delivered 878 Jews to the Baltic states, most of whom were taken off the train in Kaunas and shot at the Ninth Fort. Others were taken to the camp in Pravieniškiai, Lithuania, and to Estonia.

Victory Day 2018 in Panevėžys

Members of the Panevėžys Jewish Community together with Panevėžys city residents came to the memorial to the unknown solider on the warm and sunny morning of May 9. The memorial contains the mortal remains of soldiers who fell in the city and region of Panevėžys from 1941 to 1945. They came to mark Victory Day, when Nazi Germany capitulated to the Allies 73 years ago, celebrated in the West on May 8 as Victory in Europe Day because of time-zone differences.

People of all ethnicities suffered during World War II, but as a percentage the Jewish people lost the most members of their population. Panevėžys residents and members of the Jewish community laid wreaths and lit candles at the monument marking the location of the Panevėžys ghetto gates. Everyone observed a minute of silence for the victims of the Holocaust in the city and region, where more than 13,000 Jews were murdered. Also attending were Russian embassy advisor L. Nikolai Yurevich and Belarusian embassy advisor Aleksandr Ignatenko. Both wished everyone present peace.

Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman welcomed and greeted everyone on the occasion of Victory Day, and noted next to the monument where everyone had gathered once existed the Panevėžys ghetto, where more than 10,000 people were held before being murdered in surrounding forests.

The chairman also spoke about Lithuanians who had risked everything to save Jews from death. He also noted the Panevėžys Jewish Community has a member, Yefim Grafman, who survived the Nazi blockade of Leningrad, and that Yuri Smirnov had cheated death and survived the Holocaust through a miracle. The chairman thanked all present for not forgetting the holiday and for remembering the soldiers who fell fighting for our lives. He wished everyone peace, good health and success.

Later members gathered at the Jewish community building and recalled the fates and heroism of their fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers who fought the Nazis and died during World War II. Members took away memories of the dead and the undying hope such things will never happen again.

Kaunas Jewish Community Honors Rescuers

Kauno žydų bendruomenė pagerbė gelbėtojus

It is the duty of the Kaunas Jewish Community to remember the rescuers of Jews as well as the victims of the Holocaust, the quiet heroes and true apostles of humanity who risked life and family to help.

For more than two decades now the KJC has attempted to thank these Righteous Gentiles by inviting them to an annual event among friends. Of course it is inadequate and there is no way to truly thank them. As these heroes slowly fall to the attrition of age, their places among the ranks are assumed by their children and grandchildren in this gathering which has become a large family. The heads of school tolerance centers are also invited to attend and this year 8th graders Diana and Barbora performed dances and songs from the ghetto in Yiddish. The KJC thanks everyone for making this year’s event a success, including the great organizational work by KJC Rescuers Committee chairwoman Judita Mackevičienė.

Statue Unveiled in Kaunas to Abraham Mapu, Founder of the Modern Hebrew Novel

A sculpture to honor Abraham Mapu, the founder of the Hebrew novel who was born in Kaunas, was unveiled to the public at a ceremony held in the courtyard of the Ars et Mundus Gallery on Mapu street in Kaunas Thursday evening. Sculptor Martynas Gaubas made the statue commemorating Mapu (1808-1867), who was born and lived in Kaunas and was a beloved local literary figure.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky thanked the Kaunas municipality for its favorable view on commemorating Litvak figures and noted Mapu is known and loved in Israel where even small towns have a street named after him. She praised the Kaunas Jewish Community for its unity and initiative and singled out Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas for his success in cooperation and getting things done.

Chairman Žakas and Olegas Darčanovas, the prime mover behind the statue project, noted the large turnout for the ceremony but also said the statue had begun drawing people into the yard even before the ceremony, with locals and tourists flocking to get a look.

Members of the Kaunas city council Ina Pukelytė and Jonas Audėjaitis spoke of the Litvak contribution to the cultural, economic and social life of Kaunas, Lithuania and the world, and confirmed there would be continued commemoration of notable Litvaks who were born, lived and worked in Kaunas.

Monument to Jan Zwartendijk in Kaunas

Kaunas deputy mayor Simonas Kairys Thursday announced the plan to commemorate Dutch consul Jan Zwartendijk who rescued Jews during World War II.

Following four years of work between partners in Lithuania and the Netherlands, the deputy mayor said: “This day is truly extraordinary. Kaunas is like an outdoor museum city with many strata and signs testifying to different time periods. I think Kaunas has demonstrated many times over the city is strong when its content is strong and when the city is able to show that content to others.

Honorable Dutch consul Jan Zwartendijk issued so-called Curaçao end-visas to complement Japanese transit visas Chiune Sugihara issued Jews in Kaunas during the early days of World War II.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Academic Ethics Ombudsman Fired for Anti-Semitism

Virgilius Sadauskas has been fired at academic ethnics ombudsman.

The Lithuanian Jewish Community welcomes this win for common sense and is grateful to the 29 MPs from the Liberal, Conservative, Social Democratic and Peasants factions for initiating a vote of confidence in Sadauskas.

The LJC feels the actions by this public servant, offering a monetary reward for collecting information “about people of Jewish ethnicity who contributed to deportations and torture,” incited ethnic discord and fall under the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism adopted by the European Parliament on July 1, 2017.

We hope this decision becomes an example of best practices in the continuing fight against anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred in our country at the national and community level.

In a secret poll, 77 MPs voted in favor of firing Sadauskas, 17 voted against and 13 abstained. Three ballots were ruined.

Greetings, Thank-You Note and Mittens from Righteous Gentiles Elvyra and Regina in Biržai

The Lithuanian Jewish Community received the following wonderful holiday greetings, thank-you note and accompanying mittens:

We sincerely congratulate you on the upcoming holidays. May the purity of snow fill your days. Let success and strength follow you all of your days. We wish you strength and determination. Our sincerest thanks for your sympathy and understanding.

Elvyra Čyžauskienė and Regina Kežienė

Hanukkah Greetings from LJC Chairwoman Faina Kukliansky

As I celebrate Hanukkah every year with my grandchildren, I remember the Hanukkah of my childhood with my grandmother. The holiday wasn’t as fun then as it is now and we didn’t get treats. My grandmother, hiding in the kitchen where there were no windows, lit the candles and prayed. We didn’t have a menorah, it was lost with all the family heirlooms during the Holocaust. She prayed, but her prayer wasn’t happy or celebratory, because she was always thinking about her son, and she always thought someone was coming, and she used to warn me: “hide, the children’s aktion is coming.” There weren’t fun times after the war. My grandmother was probably not the only one who remembered not just the Temple in Jerusalem, but also her murdered children.

Now we have better celebrations, we live better, so let’s learn to be happy and as we celebrate, let’s remember what miracle Hanukkah signifies for us all. I wish every member of the Jewish community more light, more understanding and warm and happy feelings. May the Hanukkah flame spread goodness in your home and provide the children waiting for their Hanukkah gelt happy moments, and the adults and everyone who sits at the family table to try the tasty Jewish latkes.

Happy Hanukkah, dear members of the Jewish community!

Dmitrijus Kanovičius Donates 250 Grigorijus Kanovičius Books to LJC

The Lithuanian Jewish Community sincerely thanks Dmitrijus Kanovičius for the wonderful gift of 250 books of the selected writings of Grigorijus Kanovičius.

Everyone, not just Jews, read Grigorijus Kanovičius’s books written with his great talent and profound emotional notes because they give the true story of the life of Lithuania made more charming with a sincere sense of nostalgia. These books are like living portraits with images of the past, of our forefathers, memories with color, words, laughter and pain. Today they stand as a monument and testament to all the murdered Jews… Grigorijus Kanovičius’s works for us are important as a treasury of memories, of those we have lost who shall live on forever in their shtetlakh, now mostly abandoned towns. It is said truly that Jews will live on even when there is no one left to remember them. We are so glad that thanks to the creative work of Grigorijus Kanovičius Lithuania has a rich saga of Jewish life featuring our ancestors from the 18th century to today.

Thank you, Dmitrijus.

Birthday Party and Award for Daumantas Todesas at the LJC

The Lithuanian Jewish Community celebrated Daumantas Lveas Todesas’s 70th birthday this week and the director of the Lithuanian Department of Ethnic Minorities presented him an achievement award at the party.

Department of Ethnic Minorities director Vida Montvydaitė personally awarded him a golden badge of honor called the For Merit award in recognition of Todesas’s life-long dedication to improving society and to preserving ethnic culture and identity.

Lebn zolstu biz hundert un tsvantsik yor! Mazl tov!