Heritage

Concert to Celebrate 70 Years of Israeli Statehood

The Choral Synagogue in Vilnius will host a concert to celebrate 70 years of Israeli statehood beginning at 2:00 P.M. on Sunday, May 27, 2018. Notable Lithuanian musicians will perform Jewish songs and melodies. The event is free and open to the public.

Happy Birthday to Professor Pinchos Fridberg!

Our best wishes go out to Holocaust survivor, resident of Vilnius, Jewish intellectual, doctor habil. of physics, author of numerous articles, great Yiddish speaker and true Jewish and Litvak patriot Pinchos Fridberg!

We wish you the best health, patience, much happiness, more smiles and a care-free life filled with gentleness and happiness. Your sense of humor is endless and ironic, and everyone has greatly enjoyed your Motke Chabad stories published in Obzor.

Mazl tov! May you live to 120!

March of the Living 2018 at Ponar

For the eleventh time now in Lithuania the March of the Living walked the route from the Ponar train station to the Ponar Memorial Complex to commemorate the Jews murdered there. Among the marchers were Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas, Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman and Švenčionys Jewish Community chairman Moshe Šapiro. Other participants included Lithuanian foreign minister Linas Linkevičius, Lithuanian ambassador to Israel Edminas Bagdonas and Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon, as well as members of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, students from the Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymnasium, members of the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel and Holocaust survivors Fania Brancovskaja and Sameul Bak.

The Lithuanian foreign minister, the Israel ambassador, representatives of the Vilnius mayor’s office, the LJC and former ghetto and concentration camp prisoners among others laid wreaths at a monument in the center of the Ponar Memorial Complex to the accompaniment of violin music.

Fania Brancovskaja spoke: “Ponar was a murder machine where from 1941 to 1943 before Vilnius was liberated from Nazi occupation murder was carried out continuously. Seventy-thousand Jews were murdered in Ponar just because they were Jews, all that remains of them is ashes mixed with sand. Not many of us are left, but we are here. I am one of those who went through the entire ghetto and please, do not forget them. As long as we live, we ask you to pass on the information to your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren so that they do not forget the victims who died.”

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.

Seeking Todes Family Roots in Panevėžys

Two families from the United States and Israel visited the Panevėžys Jewish Community May 15. Jack and Rose Todes came from Philadelphia and his sister Phillipa and husband Benjamin Segan arrived from Israel. Their ancestors lived on Ukmergės street in Panevėžys. Grandfather Todes was a member of the Panevėžys city council in 1890. The family owned real estate, shops and factories.

Phillipa Segan was greatly interested in archival photographs of the city and promised to keep in touch.

Following the visit, Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman took the guests to the Holocaust mass murder site in Kurganava Forest where 24 members of the Todes family were murdered in the early days of World War II in Lithuania.

Europe Day Celebration in Kalvarija, Lithuania

The Kalvarija Public Library held events to celebrate Europe Day on May 9, 2018. Historian Alvydas Totoris led a large group on a tour of Jewish features surviving in the small Lithuanian town. The walking tour concluded at the large synagogue complex in Kalvarija where there was an exhibit of old photographs of the city.

More information in Lithuanian here.

Lithuanian Parliament Names 2020 the Year of the Vilna Gaon and Lithuanian Jewish History

“We praise the Lithuanian parliament’s unanimous decision to announce the Year of the Vilna Gaon and the History of the Jews of Lithuania in 2020. We appreciate this initiative was discussed with the Lithuanian Jewish Community.

“We consider this significant and a continuation of Lithuania’s pledge to take into consideration the history of the Jews of Lithuania and to pay it sufficient attention at the national level,” Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky commented.

The parliament, taking into account that in 2020 we will mark the 300th anniversary of the birth of the Vilna Gaon, Eliyu ben Salaman Zalman, the great Lithuanian rabbi and the leader of the Litvak misnagdim school of thought, resolved to name 2020 the Year of the Vilna Gaon and of Lithuanian Jewish History. A total of 92 MPs voted unanimously in favor of parliamentary resolution No. XIIIP-1289(3) to name this commemorative year.

The resolution emphasizes Lithuanian Jews are an indivisible part of Lithuanian society from the time of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and have contributed significantly to the development of Lithuanian statehood, history, culture and learning.

This decision celebrates the more than 700 years of Lithuanian Jewish history as an inalienable part of Lithuanian history and deepens ties with the Lithuanian state among Jews living in Lithuania and those who have moved abroad.

The Lithuanian parliament proposed the Government form a commission for celebrating the Year of the Vilna Gaon and of the History of the Jews of Lithuania which would by February 1, 2019, draft a plan and series of measures for marking the year, and allocate funds for implementing the plan.

Lecture Series

A lecture on Gaucher’s disease.

Gaucher disease is an inherited disease which causes specific organs and tissues to accrete specific substances. Compared to the general population, Ashkenazi Jews have a much higher incidence of Gaucher’s.

This is a unique opportunity to learn more about this disease from medical experts and to take a free blood screening.

Come at 1:00 P.M. on Sunday, May 13, 2018, to office number 306 at the Lithuanian Jewish Community, Pylimo street no. 4, Vilnius. For further information please call 8 678 81514

High-Profile Ceremony for New Museum in Lithuania

On May 4, 2018, a ground-breaking ceremony for the Lost Shtetl Museum and Memorial Complex took place in the middle of Lithuania, in Šeduva. The project is designed by professor Rainer Mahlamäki and Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Architects, Finland. Professor Mahlamäki attended the ceremony, as did Dr Inna Rogatchi, the author of a forthcoming film and book on Rainer Mahlamäki’s memorial architecture projects.

The ceremony was attended by the entire leadership of Lithuania and a large group of the diplomatic corps. President of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaitė sent a letter of greetings to the ceremony which was read by the president’s special adviser.

The president of Lithuania said in her address: “Today this symbolic capsule marks not only the start of the construction of this unique museum. It also heralds the reconstruction of an important part of Lithuanian history closely interlinked with the history of Lithuania’s large Jewish community and its tragic fate. The Lost Shtetl Museum will bring back from oblivion the names and faces of many families, friends and neighbors, as well as their customs and traditions.”

Full text here.

Searching for Jewish Roots in Panevėžys

Descendants of the Navias and Frame families led by the guide Viljamas Žitkauskas visited the Panevėžys Jewish Community to find out more about their genealogies and great-grandparents.

They told their family histories over tea. Their Litvak roots go back to the town of Raguva where their great-grandfather Isaak Frame was born in 1894 and where he then lived, eventually owning a leather workshop. Their great-grandmother came from Pašventinys in the Šiauliai region.

Isaak Frame and the Navias families emigrated to South Africa in the early 20th century. Sometime between 1900 and 1910 many members of the family emigrated separately to Canada, England, Palestine and China.

Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman told the visitors about the Jewish history of Panevėžys in the interwar period, screened a documentary film for them and answered their questions. The guests were keenly interested in the photographs in the series “Fragments of the Jewish History of Panevėžys” from the Panevėžys Jewish Community’s history museum.

The visitors thanked the chairman for his hospitality and historical information.

Zenowiusz Ponarski Book Presentation

The Lithuanian National Martynas Mažvydas Library will host the Vilnius Polish Institute’s presentation of Zenowiusz Ponarski’s book “Friend of Lithuania and the Birds. On Oskar Miłosz” and discussion called “Czesław Miłosz and Oskar Miłosz: Diplomats in the Service of Poland and Lithuania” at 6:00 P.M. on Monday, May 14, at the library located at Gedimino prospect no. 51, Vilnius.

The event is being co-organized by the Polish Institute, the library and Znad Wilii magazine. The author, Zenowiusz Ponarski, was born in Vilnius in 1921 and lived in Szczecin in Poland after World War II. He currently resides in Toronto, Canada. The author of many books about notable 20th century Polish and Lithuanian people, in this book he goes beyond the facts of the lives and work of Oskar Miłosz as known from his cousin Czesław and provides completely new and hitherto unknown material. Oskar Miłosz was an ardent proponent of Lithuanian independence during World War I, acquired Lithuanian citizenship and served as a member of the first Lithuanian legation to the League of Nations. The discussion following the book presentation is intended to reveal both Miłoszes’ contributions to Poland and Lithuania. Panelists are to include poet, writer and publisher of this book Romuald Mieczkowski, Naujoji Romuva magazine editor Andrius Konickis, VU lecturer Dr. Darius Kuolys, Dr. Józef Szostakowski representing the Władysław Syrokomla museum in Bareikiškės, Lithuania, and others. The event and discussion will be held in Polish with synchronous translation to Lithuanian. The event is free and open to the public.

More information in Polish here.

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.

Discussion on How to Protect Disappearing Jewish Heritage in Kaunas

Lithuanian parliamentary speaker Viktoras Pranckietis and Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky have visited the former Kaunas Hassidic synagogue now falling into ruin. They toured the building together with Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas, Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Department Kaunas chapter senior state inspector Andrius Liakas, Vilnius Art Academy Kaunas faculty professor and Kaunas city council member Jonas Audėjaitis and others. The Vilnius Art Academy currently manages the property.

Participants discussed how to protect the Hassidic synagogue, an example of authentic Jewish heritage which is fast disappearing. Chairman Žakas and other members of the Kaunas Jewish Community presented to the parliamentary speaker the current needs of the Kaunas community and the need for a functioning synagogue. This synagogue was built in 1880 and following restoration would be one of only a handful of working synagogues in Lithuania, serving the religious and cultural needs of the local Jewish community. The Kaunas Jewish Community is the second largest Jewish community in Lithuania with more than 300 members.

Lost Shtetl Museum Construction Begins


Photo: Gintaras Šiuparys

A ceremony was held Friday to mark the beginning of construction work on the Lost Shtetl museum in Šeduva, Lithuania. The museum will be a completely new kind of experience using modern technology to present the history and culture of and to commemorate the former Litvak shtetl.

Marija Dautartaitė delivered a welcome on behalf of Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė, followed by speeches by speaker of the Lithuanian parliament Viktoras Pranckietis, prime minister Saulius Skvernelis, foreign minister Linas Linkevičius, Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum director Markas Zingeris, US ambassador to Lithuania Anne Hall, Finnish ambassador to Lithuania Christer Michelson, genealogist and education Eli Rabinowitz from South Africa and Australia, Holocaust film director Saulius Beržinis and Šeduva Jewish Memorial Fund founder and museum project manager Sergey Kanovich.

Also attending were ambassadors and heads of mission from the embassies of the United Kingdom, Ireland, Sweden, France, Germany, Russia and Romania, as well as members of the municipal and regional governments and interested citizens from all parts of Lithuania.

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.

Kaunas Jewish Community Invites You to Unveiling of Mapu Statue

A presentation and ceremony to unveil a statue to commemorate Abraham Mapu will be held at 5:00 P.M. on May 3 in Kaunas. The ceremony will take place in the courtyard of the Ars et Mundus art gallery located at A. Mapu street no. 20 in Kaunas. The sculptor was Martynas Gaubas. The event will include Jewish music. Ars et Mundus is the author of the project and Artkomas and the Kaunas Jewish Community are partners.

Old Užupis Jewish Cemetery Renovation Proposals

The Vilnius municipality is preparing proposals for renovating the old Užupis Jewish cemetery in Vilnius. The municipality’s planning agency Vilnius Plan has hired architect Victoria Sideraitė-Alon for this purpose and she has performed an examination of the territory and has provided proposals on how best to showcase fragments of headstones desecrated by the Soviets.

Sideraitė-Alon’s creative group (Samuel Bak is the author of the main symbol, A. Šimanauskas is the creator/designer, A. Perelmuter is the Israeli architect and consultant) has proposed a project called Arch, which was unanimously approved by an international advisory group on heritage issues established at the Lithuanian Jewish Community and by artists and intellectuals including P. Morkus, M. Ivaškevičius, S. Beržinis, S. Valius and by the Jewish Religious Community and the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry.

The Arch project proposal has not received the approval of the Vilnius Plan agency, which instead proposed a different project to commemorate the road blazed through the cemetery during the Soviet era, actually more of a ditch, called Kirkuto alley, but without any monument carrying a deeper semantic or emotional content. Instead, the alternate proposal is for arranging the headstones and fragments, more or less appearing now as stairs, in an artificial layer of soil above the parking lot where they are now housed to create the effect of a small “Jewish” graveyard there.

Lithuanian PM: Let’s Protect Our Common Lithuanian and Israeli Cultural Legacy

Lithuanian prime minister Saulius Skvernelis Thursday visited the Vilnius Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymansium to attend a celebration of Israel’s 70th birthday.

THe Lithuanian prime minister greeted principal Mišą Jakobas, Israeli ambassador Amir Maimon and other honored guests at the event on the occasion of Israeli independence day.

The Lithuanian PM thanked the Lithuanian Jewish Community for consistently defending the country and supporting its independence, and for making significant contributions to the development of Lithuania currently.

“Lithuania really appreciates our partnership with Israel. Youth exchange programs are growing, our economic mercantile cooperation has been stimulated, and we place great hopes on efforts by the international community to insure peace and security. We are hoping Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu will visit Lithuania this year. By June during our visit to Israel we are planning a discussion by both Governments on relations,” the Lithuanian prime minister said about expanding ties and pragmatic cooperation between Lithuania and Israel.

Full text in Lithuanian here.

Memorial Plaque Unveiled on Ninth Fort Mass Murder Field

At the field of mass murder at the Ninth Fort in Kaunas a ceremony to unveil a memorial plaque took place April 13. The plaque commemorates the Jews deported from Frankfurt murdered on November 25, 1941, at the Ninth Fort.

Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas, Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon, deputy Lithuanian foreign minister Darius Skusevičius, Kaunas municipality deputy director of administration Nijolė Putrienė, Frankfurt Administration Cultural Department director Johannes Promnitz and representatives of the Brueder-Schoenfeld Forum participated. The memorial plaque was the result of cooperation between the Kaunas Ninth Fort Museum, the Kaunas municipality, the Brueder-Schoenfeld Forum organization and the Frankfurt municipality.

Užupis Jewish Cemetery Commemorative Monument Proposal Approved by LJC Advisory Group


The heritage issues advisory group of the Lithuanian Jewish Community has learned of plans for renovating the Užupis Jewish cemetery tendered by the Vilnius municipality and a composition called Arch made of desecrated headstone fragments used as stairs during the Soviet era.

The international creative team behind the Arch are architect Viktorija Sideraitė Alon, creator/designer Albinas Šimanauskas and Israeli architect consultant Anna Perelmuter. The composition uses a symbol created by the Litvak American painter Samuel Bak.

The heritage issues advisory group of the Lithuanian Jewish Community helps solve outstanding Lithuanian Jewish heritage issues professionally and effectively. The group includes Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, POLIN Polish Jewish museum advisor to the director and senior curator of exhibits; Assumpció Hosta, general secretary of the AEPJ; writer Sergejus Kanovičius, founder of Maceva and the Šeduva Jewish Memorial Fund; professor James E. Young of University of Massachusetts, Near Eastern Studies, English, Judaism; Samuel Kassow, doctor of philosophy, POLIN senior researcher specializing in 19th century history and the history between the world wars; Lyudmila Sholokhova, PhD, YIVO director of archives and library; and Sergey Kravtsov, senior researcher, Jewish Art Center, Hebrew University.

Experts unanimously supported the artists’ idea for commemorating the Jewish cemetery and offered a number of useful suggestions and observations which will be taken into consideration.

This week members of the advisory group plan to discuss the project proposals with the mayor and city administration specialists.

Later the project ideas and visualizations will be presented to the public.