Heritage

Will We Tell Students the Whole Truth, or Only What’s Useful to Us?


by Mečys Laurinkus, www.lrytas.lt

Toppling (taking down temporarily for restoration) the “idols” on the Green Bridge [in Vilnius] under natural field conditions with no special measures taken, I overheard the complaint: the topplers themselves name streets and hang memorial plaques to the “heroes” who took part in the shooting of Jews. The public is interested in history, reads, listens to discussions and judges the actions of the government. You cannot forbid this.

Virginijus Savukynas in his television show “Istorijos detektyvai” [History’s Detective Stories] returned to this often emotionally explosive topic. Kazys Škirpa, in whose honor a street is named in Vilnius, a noteworthy founder of the Lithuanian state and the organizer of the June, 1941, uprising against the Russians, while under house arrest in Berlin issued a statement about Jews which was totally contrary to his biography and likely his own views, one which was comparable to the spirit of the Gestapo. I will restate my thoughts again a bit later. Jonas Noreika, aka Generolas Vėtra, who had fought against the Nazis and the Bolsheviks and was shot by the latter, appointed head of the Šiauliai district administration by the Provisional Government of Lithuania in 1941, blessed with his signature the establishment of a ghetto for Jews in Žagarė, Lithuania.

General Vėtra (actually just a captain) has been honored with a commemorative plaque. Not somewhere marginal. On the building of the library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences. In an even more visible location there still stands the statue to Petras Cvirka, who brought back the sun of Stalin not at all because of any political manoeuvering to help Lithuania in the grindstones of time, but out of conviction that “Mother Russia” would take us in and protect us. Of course she did take us in, but only to a very cold place, where poets such as Kazys Jakubėnas, upon whom Cvirka informed to Soviet security, were sent.

Jewish Gravestone Fragments to be Used in Memorial


by Monika Petrulienė, LRT TV News Service, LRT.lt

Jewish headstones used during the Soviet era for construction in Vilnius are being returned to the Jewish cemetery on Olandų street. Fragments of grave markers were removed from buildings and stairwells in the capital. A memorial will be made from the remains of headstones at the cemetery.

More than 1,000 metric tons of grave stones are being transported to the old Jewish cemetery on Olandų street. Less than half have been brought there so far. They are to be examined by experts to determine to which cemetery they will be returned ultimately. The Jewish cemetery on Olandų street covers almost 12 hectares and is roughly equal to the Rasos cemetery in Vilnius in size and number of burials.

“The first decision made was that the stones should be arrayed somewhere in what we might call an open working area, so that project authors, architects and landscape artists can learn about and get a feel for them, and so that they can be used directly from that area for certain compositions,” Martynas Užpelkis, heritage protection specialist for the Lithuanian Jewish Community, said.

Heritage protection experts say the majority of the Jewish grave markers were used in building stairs on Tauro hill in Vilnius. Many were also used in constructing electrical transformer substations and support walls in the city. Historians have examined about 2,500 pieces so far. The majority of inscriptions have been in Hebrew, but there are also inscriptions in Yiddish, Polish and Russian. The plan is for most of the stone fragments to stay at Olandų street, with the remainder going to the old Jewish cemetery in the Šnipiškės neighborhood.

Vilnius Returns Jewish Headstones to Cemetery


photo: S. Žiūra

This week the Vilnius municipality is sending all known fragments of Jewish gravestones from different Soviet-era sites around the city to the old Jewish cemetery on Olandų street. The headstone fragments mainly came from the historic Olandų and Šnipiškės Jewish cemeteries and were used as construction material during Soviet times. More than 1,000 metric tons of grave marker stone were sent to the Olandų cemetery. All fragments will undergo examination to determine their final destination, either the Olandų or the Šnipiškės cemetery.

Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius said: “Modern Vilnius must assess, remember and honor appropriately the history of the city and its residents. The return of a huge number of headstones to their historic and sacred sites demonstrates the respect Vilnius residents have for the Jewish community and the commemoration of the dead. Stones from the disassembled transformer station and other sites in the city where the Soviets used Jewish headstones for construction have already been returned to the Olandų cemetery. Our goal is for all gravestones to be returned to the location where they belong.”

About 1,000 metric tons of Jewish cemetery marker stones have been collected and stored at the Vilniaus žaluma company so far.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

LJC Hosts “Person with a Backbone” Discussion on Public Holocaust Awareness

The Lithuanian Jewish Community together with the Polish Institute in Vilnius, the Goodwill Foundation and the Czarne publishing house hosted a discussion September 27 called “Person with a Strong Backbone” on public awareness of the Holocaust and of Polish and Lithuanian Righteous Gentiles who rescued Jews from death. The guest of honor was Romuald Weksler-Waszkinel who was born in Švenčionys and escaped death due to the efforts of Righteous Gentiles.

The discussion was based on the book of the same name by Polish radio journalist Dariusz Rosiak who discovered a hero in Waszkinel (Człowiek o twardym karku. Historia księdza Romualda Jakuba Wekslera-Waszkinela, Wydawnictwo Czarne, Wołowiec 2013). The author and his book’s main character shared with the audience memories and reflections of Polish and Lithuanian Righteous Gentiles against the backdrop of Waszkinel’s moving story of his salvation by Polish rescuers and how they raised him as one of the family.

Vilnius Polish Institute director Marcin Łapczyński said: “The Holocaust is one of the greatest and most horrific tragedies in the history of humanity. Millions of Jews lost their lives because of the crime planned by the Germans. About half of Poland’s 6 million citizens who died during World War II were Jews. It’s worth recalling Poles constitute about 25 percent of all people awarded the title of Righteous among the Nations for the heroic rescue of Jews. They are in first place in the awards list. Likewise, Polish families in Lithuania helped Jews. Examples include Katarzyna and Ignacy Bujel from Vaidotai, Maria and Antoni Kruminis-Łozowski from i Jašiūnai and of course Emilia and Piotr Waszkinel from Švenčionys. Among the almost 900 Lithuanian citizens who are Righteous Gentiles, Poles form the majority.”

Well-known Vilnius teacher, bibliophile and proponent of multiculturalism Vytautas Toleikis led the discussion, after which Grzegorz Lindowski’s documentary film “Embedded in David’s Star, the Cross” (“…wpisany w gwiazdę Dawida – krzyżm,” 1997) was shown, in which Romuald Waszkinel shares his dramatic story, his dilemmas and thoughts which led him to inner peace and certainty.

Žiežmariai Synagogue One of a Handful of Surviving Wooden Synagogues in Europe

LRT TV News Service LRT.lt

When Lithuania joined the European Route of Jewish Cultural Heritage, the synagogue in Žiežmariai was chosen as the symbolic first site. The wooden house of prayer is a rare surviving example of wooden synagogues in Europe. Even so, it took more than a decade for reconstruction to begin. After work is done, the plan is for the small building located in a town along Lithuania’s main highway to host a museum.

About 500 Jews lived in Žiežmariai when the synagogue was built in the 19th century. Before the war there were up to a thousand. Now the synagogue is getting back its former face, with work on the façade, windows, walls and the already-finished roof.

Restoration experts working on the building say the synagogue succeeded in surviving because of daily care by local residents. They boarded up windows and removed garbage dating back to Soviet times, when the building was used as storage. Neighbor Liudvikas Markuntavičius said the synagogue serves more than just to remind the small town of a glorious past. During World War II the synagogue territory was used as a ghetto and the Jews of Žasliai and Kaišiadorys were imprisoned there.

Survivor Yochanan Fein’s Memoirs Presented in Lithuanian in Kaunas


Photo courtesy Vincas Kudirka Public Library

The Lithuanian translation of Yochanan Fein’s memoirs called “Berniukas su smuiku” [Boy with a Violin] was presented at two locations in Kaunas: the Vincas Kudirka public library’s Panemunė branch and the President Valdas Adamkus Library and Museum. The author impressed audiences with his warmth, humor, humanitarianism and perfect Lithuanian and his story drew both laughter and tears.

Members of the Paulavičius family, who rescued Fein during the Holocaust, attended the book presentation at the presidential library, along with members of academia, Kaunas Jewish Community members, former ghetto prisoners and Fein’s son and daughter, who accompanied him throughout Lithuania on his book tour.

Recalling his life in the ghetto and his rescue as well as what led up to his writing the book, Fein said that although the book is written in blood, it contains no hatred, revenge or attacks. Fein even received some criticism from friends for that reason, so he explained he would never forget what happened and who did it, but he also discovered enlightened people during those dark days who preserved faith in humanity, risking their lives and those of their families. Fein said he didn’t like the word “everyone” and that there is no universal crime or guilt. He said we need to talk about the real heroes of the nation, the extraordinary people who adhered to Fein’s father’s life-long maxim “men darf zayn a mentsh,” one must remain a human being.

Jewish Lithuanian Soldier Volf Kagan Remembered in Balbirishok

A commemorative plaque was unveiled on October 5 to honor the memory of Volf Kagan, Jewish Lithuanian soldier and two-time recipient of the order of the Cross of Vytis, in the town square of Balbieriškis (Balbirishok) next to the local government building in the Prienai region of Lithuania. Volf Kagan (1900-1941) came from this town.

According to Balbieriškis Tolerance Center director Vitas Rymantas Sidaravičius, the plaque honors both Kagan and the former Jewish community of Balbieriškis. The plaque was the brain-child of Lithuanian journalist Vilius Kavaliauskas, author and editor of articles and the book “Pažadėtoji žemė – Lietuva” [Lithuania: The Promised Land] about Litvaks, and was financed by the Prienai regional administration. Lithuanian Jewish MP Emanuelis Zingeris attended the unveiling ceremony as did Prienai regional administration head Alvydas Vaicekauskas, deputy regional administration head Algis Marcinkevičius, representatives of the Kaunas Jewish Community, Vilius Kavaliauskas, Prienai regional culture, sports and youth department director Rimantas Šiugždinis, Išlaužo žuvis company director Rimantas Jurgelionis, Balbieriškiis parish head priest father Remigijus Veprauskas, head town doctor Angelė Sidaravičienė, Balbieriškis alderwoman Sigita Ražanskienė, members of the aldermanship council, Balbieriškis primary school students and teachers, Culture and Leisure Center staff and local residents.

One Hundredth Anniversary of Birth of Jewish Soldier and Poet Abba Kovner


Abba Kovner with Jewish partisans and ghetto underground, July 14, 1944 (standing in center). Photo: Ilya Erenburg

by professor Pinchos Fridberg, for the web page of the newspaper Obzor

I am writing before the event: a half year remains until the birthday of the famous figure, but decisions need to be made now.

Don’t look for legendary Litvak Abba Kovner on the Lithuanian-language wikipedia, the hero of Jewish resistance to the Nazi occupation in Lithuania, the fighter for Israeli independence, the famous poet and writer, has no entry there. There are entries in the Hebrew and English wikipedia, in the Polish and Russian, but not in Lithuanian.

He apparently doesn’t merit a wikipedia page in Lithuanian. Every people has their heroes. On March 14, 2018, Abba Kovner, z”l [zikhrono livrakha, of blessed memory], turns 100.

I hope the Lithuanian Jewish Community remembers this significant event.

Abba studied at the Tarbut gymnasium, the building at Pylimo street no. 4 in Vilnius which now houses the Lithuanian Jewish Community. I therefore think “God Himself” commands us to hang a memorial plaque (in Lithuanian, Yiddish and English) to his memory in the foyer of this building. I foresee a question arising: why in the foyer and not on the outside of the building. My answer: I don’t want to see the issue of a memorial plaque get bogged down in endless negotiations.

LJC and Greek Embassy Event to Celebrate Righteous Gentiles

Marking the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Lithuania and the Republic of Greece, the Greek embassy to Lithuania and the Lithuanian Jewish Community invite you to an event to celebrate Lithuanian and Greek Righteous Gentiles and Lithuanian and Greek Jewish relations in the Diaspora.

The event will be held at 6:00 P.M., Tuesday, October 10, 2017, at the Lithuanian Jewish Community at Pylimo street no. 4, Vilnius.

Program:

Presentation of book “Greek Righteous among the Nations,” edited by Dr. Photini Tomai-Constantopoulou, a representative of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Documentary about Greeks at Auschwitz

Presentation by Patrida, the Greek community in Lithuania

Greek music, Greek and Jewish food

The event is free to the public and the main language of the event will be English. Greek ambassador to Lithuania Dr. Vassiliki Dicopoulou is scheduled to attend.

Tale of a Man with Two Names, One Life

by Algis Jakštas

I first wrote several years ago about a man with an exceptional story, a man with two names and two surnames, Romuald Jabuk Weksler-Waszkinel, who was born in Švenčionys during the war and by some miracle became the only survivor from among all his family and relatives who once lived there. That miracle was the work of Piotr and Emilia Waszkinel. Jakub and Batia Veksler handed their son born February 28, 1943, over into their care and Piotr and Emilia had him baptized as a Christian.

Romuald Jakub Weksler-Waszkinel now lives in Israel and has come to Lithuania at the invitation of the Polish Institute in Vilnius. He also found time to visit his native Švenčionys. He visited the Menorah statue which recalls the former ghetto gate and other sites. As I said, none of his relatives who lived in Švenčionys survived. Some were killed in the forest near Švenčionėliai, others at concentration camps. His parents died at a concentration camp.

Barbara Orszewska, project coordination for the Polish Institute in Vilnius, accompanied Weksler to Švenčionys and was happy to translate for him. Švenčionys Jewish Community chairman Moisej Šapiro also accompanied him. I spoke with him by the Menorah monument there. My first question, or more precisely request, was for him to talk about his life, worthy of a movie or book.

“My story is, that until I was 35 I didn’t know I was Jewish. I was always unsure about ethnicity when I tried to compare my features and appearance with those around me. I didn’t look like a Pole, and Poles lived around, or like my Polish parents. When I turned 35 my mother told me I had other parents, Jews, who were murdered during the war. She didn’t know my original name. For 14 years I sought my true roots until I found my Jewish surname, Weksler. Now I have two first names and two surnames. And this is my greatest treasure. The Jews Jakub and Batia Weksler gave me life, and without the Poles Piotr and Emilia I wouldn’t have survived. In 2009 I went to live in Israel. There I found relatives of my mother and father, there I felt as if I had come home. I am very grateful to people and God.”

What feelings overtook you when you discovered you were Jewish instead of Polish?

Commemoration of Šeduva Shtetl in Lithuania and Abroad

Milda Jakulytė-Vasil,
museum curator,
Šeduva Jewish Memorial Fund

The beginning of the Šeduva Jewish community should be dated to the first half of the 18th century when Šeduva, having received Magdeburg charter self-government rights and after becoming a city, underwent rapid development the Jewish population grew remarkably. In 1793 the writer Fridrich Schulz (1762-1798) in his description of his impressions of visits to Poland (Fridrich Schulz “Reise eines Livländers durch Polen,” 1793) described Šeduva as a small town very similar to many he’d seen along the way. The traveller’s eyes didn’t miss the fact that almost none of the homes in the town had chimneys. Of course this sort of observation in a travelogue probably wasn’t intended to kindle the interest of readers and get them to visit the location, and beyond being an observation by the writer and traveller probably only meant that fires could and often did ravage these sorts of towns and cities.

In essence Šeduva wasn’t especially known for anything in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. We can say Šeduva was a typical town where Jews formed a significant part of economically active residents, and if their activities didn’t cause urban development, they at least had an influence over it. There were many such shtetlakh/towns in Lithuania, but upon closer inspection each has surprising and interesting events and stories, and the descendants of these towns are found now around the world.

In the shtetl of Šeduva in the period between the wars, constituted of about 900 Jews, the residents knew (or at least recognized) each other. The historian Saulius Kaubrys found the entire Jewish population Šeduva fit more or less along three streets, and this dense residency led to more intimate mutual interaction. There’s a story which illustrates the maxim that there are no secrets in a small town: “Shlomo had a brother named Nisan, an old man, about 60, but in his father’s eyes he was still ‘the kid,’ so he took him to buy a pair of shoes once. The two entered the shop and the father told the shopkeeper: ‘Give me some kid shoes.’ The shopkeeper looked around, but where was the child? At that point the father pointed to his 60-year-old son, ‘the child.’ Of course the entire shtetl knew about ‘the kid’ (that’s how it is in the shtetlakh)… They also lived in Šeduva.”

Come Learn about Jewish Fall Holidays

Žydų rudens šventės – kviečiame į paskaitą

Sukkot, or Sukkos, is the feast of tabernacles, meaning tents.
Simchat Torah, or Simkhas Torah, is a celebration of the Torah.

Description:
The Lithuanian Jewish Community and educator Natalja Cheifec invite you to a lesson where you’ll learn:

Why Jews must dwell in these booths made especially for Sukkot
When sins become good deeds
What the requirement of the four species means
Why Simchat Torah is the holiday of rejoicing in the Torah
Why Jews are not only allowed but required to drink during Simchat Torah

and many additional interesting facts. Students will also receive a small gift.

Register here:
https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1oN-Nj3-EYpdg2xFAl82GJPeWLxqhzyomQ6e6JdEZ9OQ/edit

We meet at 2:00 P.M. on October 8 at the entrance to the Bagel Shop Café located at Pylimo street no. 4 in Vilnius.

Zavl Shul Opens Doors to Public Briefly

The historic Zavl synagogue near the Vilnius train station opened its doors to visitors briefly Sunday, October 1.

The building has been undergoing extensive repairs and a full restoration over the last several years after it was returned to the Lithuanian Jewish Community. Initially the LJC undertood emergency measures to fix the roof after a wind storm displaced shingles and a gaping hole appeared. Several years on now the entire external façade including walls, windows, cupola and roof have been restored to something approximating its authentic appearance before the Holocaust.

The public event featured a series of humble and eclectic art installations by a group of designers located in the women’s gallery and on the main floor.

Descendants of Victims and Perpetrators Tell the Same Story


Reglindis Rauca accidentally learned the true story of her grandfather and it changed her writing and her relationship with her family. Photo: Romas Jurgaitis/Lietuvos žinios

by Gintarė Čiuladaitė
© 2017 Lietuvos žinios

Reglindis Rauca, writer, actress and granddaughter of Helmut Rauca, the butcher of the Kaunas ghetto, is visiting Lithuania. She learned of her grandfather’s war crimes by accident in 2003 when she was searching the internet for information about her maiden name.

“It was completely accidental that I learned the true story about my grandfather Helmut Rauca. The discovery of these horrific crimes and their significance caused great shock and became an important theme in my life and work,” Reglindis Rauca said.

She met Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum director Markas Zingeris in Vilnius. The latter also wrote about Helmut Rauca in his novel “Grojimas dviese” [Performing as a Duet] published in 2002, describing him as a fanatic servant of the Third Reich and the perpetrator of fantastic crimes.

“Reglindis Rauca is a brave woman who has considered these heavy issues and was driven by them to travel to Lithuania. She visited the Ninth Fort in Kaunas and other World War II and Holocaust memorial sites. I realized both us were painfully affected by him, just in different ways,” Zingeris said.

Frau Finkelstein

Hello, Frau Finkelstein. You’ll forgive me if I continue to call you that, the way it’s written here, Frau Finkelstein? Thank you.

Don’t be angry, Frau Finkelstein, that it’s happening like this. It just turned out that way. By the way, why did they record you this way here, in the Jewish cemetery in Kaunas, not in Hebrew but in Roman characters, and as if that weren’t enough, why did they add “frau?” Was your husband German, Frau Finkelstein? Well, OK, fine, I know it’s none of my business. It’s just interesting, you know–you don’t even meet such a frau in the Jewish cemeteries in Lithuania. It’s too bad there’s no photograph of you. I guess there probably used to be. All that remains of you, Frau Finkelstein, is part of a headstone, the top portion of which is probably now part of some stairway or maybe a card table–black marble, candle flame, a glass of red wine, a deck of cards and the queen of spades, instead of your photograph, and they are playing poker there, which is at least an intellectual game, not some kind of “go fish.” … What? You say that’s cynical? Do you really believe so, Frau Finkelstein? God protect us, this is no cynicism, Frau Finkelstein. What does it say here on your remains–October 17, 1928. Hold on for a second, Frau Finkelstein, I want to check my mobile to see which day of the week that was.

LJC Rosh Hashana with Community and Guests

The Lithuanian Jewish Community celebrated the eve of Rosh Hashana with traditional dishes and a party at the Community. Community members and guests were feted with delicacies supplied by the chefs at the Bagel Shop Café and were given new calendars for 5778 featuring the synagogues and especially historic wooden synagogues of Lithuania.

LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky welcomed audience and expressed good wishes for the coming year, and Israel’s ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon spoke about Rosh Hashana traditions unchanged over centuries. Israeli honorary consul in Lithuania professor Vladas Bumelis, Lithuanian MPs Rimantė Šalaševičiūtė and Irena Šiaulienė and guests from Israel celebrated together. Natalija Heifetz, a guide at the Choral Synagogue, delivered a family heirloom, the shofar horn, blown on Rosh Hashana.

New LJC Calendar for 5778 Features Lithuanian Synagogues

The new calendar for the Jewish year 5778 published by the Lithuanian Jewish Community features graphic representations of the synagogues of Lithuania in the drawings by Gerardas Bagdonavičius.

Bagdonavičius (1901-1986) was an artist working in drawing and painting, an illustrator, a theater designer and teacher. His legacy, a corpus of more than 4,000 works, is preserved at 11 Lithuanian museums, with the majority at the Aušra Museum in Šiauliai, the collection to which the illustrations in the new calendar belong.

Of the hundreds of synagogues once gracing the Lithuanian landscape, only several dozen remain. There were more than one hundred synagogues in Vilnius alone before the Holocaust. Currently 44 synagogues and synagogue complexes are listed on the registry of Lithuanian cultural treasures. The majority have disappeared forever, in many cases leaving us no picture of how they looked. The Bagdonavičius drawings of synagogues featured in the calendar are a rich source of information, drawings he made during different ethnographic expeditions in the period between the two world wars.

Only two of the synagogues portrayed in the calendar are still standing: the synagogue of the Chaim Frankl leather factory in Šiauliai and the synagogue in Pakruojis. The latter belongs to the LJC with whom the Pakruojis regional administration has a use agreement. It was only reopened to the public in the spring of 2017 after extensive renovation over several years. It is the first wooden synagogue restored after the Holocaust in Lithuania.

Renovation work is being performed on three more synagogues which belong to the LJC: the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius, the Zavl kloyz on Gėlių street in Vilnius and the wooden synagogue in Žiežmariai.

Zavl Shul Design Concepts

You’re invited to a sneak-peak of the newly renovated Zavl synagogue located at Gėlių street no. 6, Vilnius. at 4:00 P.M. on Sunday, October 1, 2017.

The synagogue on Gėlių street is one of only eight such buildings which survive in Vilnius. It is currently undergoing extensive restoration work.

We have brought together a team of young designers to address some important issues concerning the re-emergence of the building into the life of 21st-century Vilnius. It likely will play a role in the continuity of Jewish life in the city, but so far its future function hasn’t been determined.
The designers come from different backgrounds and have different ideas about “what design can do.” Most are alumni from the Vilnius Academy of Arts and six studied at the Design Academy in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, one of the world’s leading institutions for critically examining the role of design in society. Two Eindhoven graduates previously studied in Israel.

The presentation on Sunday will consist of ideas, associations and suggestions, not definite projects. They are all connected to the long history of the building and the Jewish presence in Lithuania but they are not intended as memorials. Instead, the presentations are intended to serve as a jumping-off point for future projects dealing with issues facing many communities in a globalized world: how to weave strands of culture, tradition, heritage, religion, identity and history into the fabric of contemporary life.

The presentation starts at 4:00 P.M. at Gėlių street no. 6, Vilnius.

We would very much appreciate your presence.

Koen Kleijn, Design Academy Eindhoven
Vytautas Gečas, Performance Design Association, Vilnius
Martynas Užpelkis, Lithuanian Jewish Community

Inter-Institutional Cooperation for the Preservation of Lithuanian Jewish Heritage

A paper delivered by Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky at the conference “Diaspora and Heritage: The Shtetl” held to mark the European Day of Jewish Culture and the Lithuanian Day of Remembrance of Jewish Victims of Genocide at the Lithuanian parliament on September 25, 2017.

The Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Jewish Heritage Today

According to the census of 2011, there are 3,050 Jews living in Lithuania. Other sources say the number is up to 5,000 Jews, of whom 2,000 live in the city of Vilnius. For comparison, in the mid-19th century there were 250,000 Jews living in what is now the territory of Lithuania. Lithuania lost more than 90% of her Jewish community in the Holocaust.

Today Lithuanian Jews are united in 28 non-governmental organizations which are in turn united in the association the Lithuanian Jewish Community. Heritage, although it is very important, is only one of the Lithuanian Jewish Community’s areas of endeavor. The Lithuanian Jewish Community is actively working in providing constant social support to Community members in seven regions of Lithuania, organizes educational programs, keeps alive the memory of Holocaust victims, is carrying out various project activities and is engaged in human rights advocacy.

Returning to the topic of heritage, Litvak heritage means relics of the cultural landscape created over more than 600 years by the community which once reached a quarter million people, spread throughout almost all the cities and towns in Lithuania today. This includes almost 200 cemeteries, more than 200 mass murder/mass grave sites and more than 40 synagogues which have been declared cultural treasures.

The Need for and Experience in Cooperation

The current, post-Holocaust Lithuanian Jewish Community would never be able to guard and conserve that which has been created over centuries throughout the country without the help of governmental and municipal institutions, NGOs and active citizens.

Commemorating Lithuanian Day of Holocaust Remembrance

At 1:00 P.M. on September 26 the public gathered at the main monument at the Ponar Memorial Complex to mark the Lithuanian Day of Remembrance of Jewish Victims of Genocide. The day is marked on September 23, the anniversary of the liquidation of the Vilnius ghetto, but the 23rd fell on a Saturday this year.

Boris Traub began the commemoration with a violin solo, followed by several young girls who read heart-wrenching Holocaust poetry in Lithuanian. Next Lithuanian prime minister Saulius Skvernelis spoke, pledging the Lithuanian people would never forget the Holocaust. This was followed by the laying of wreaths, first using an honor guard in the name of Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė. The Lithuanian Ministry of Culture also laid a wreath, as did Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius and by Ronaldas Račinskas personally, the executive director of the International Commission to Assess the Crimes of the Soviet and Nazi Occupational Regimes in Lithuania. Foreign embassies and the Lithuanian Jewish Community, the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum and others also laid wreaths at the base of the monument in Ponar. The medium-sized parking lot at the memorial complex was almost filled with automobiles bearing diplomatic license plates. Some sported national flags, including those of Estonia, the Czech Republic and the Russian Federation.

Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon spoke with a very soft musical accompaniment in the background and reiterated the victims had names, and are not a statistic.