Many events have taken place recently at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius. Besides daily prayer services and Kollel Torah studies, seminars, traditional Jewish holidays, Sabbath and kiddush with many visitors from around the world as well as Women’s Club activities, there is a growing demand for traditional Jewish rituals.
We can take pride that this year there were two circumcision and 3 bar mitzvahs as well as a traditional huppah or Jewish wedding ceremony held at the Choral Synagogue.
Last week two families from the USA held bar mitzvah ceremonies at the Choral Synagogue. The young men were born in America but have family roots in Lithuania.
The boys had been prepared well for the Torah reading. Their gratitude to their parents and their parents’ stories about the footsteps taken on the way to adulthood and how much they love their children moved the large audience of friends, relatives and guests.
by Vaidotas Žukas, Bernardinai.lt
Jews constituted the majority of the population of the towns of the Molėtai region before World War II. In 1941, however, the Nazi regime issued a verdict against the Jews, the descendants of David were to be abused, tortured and shot… And only God knows how many people from this beautiful lake country contributed to the rescue of their neighbors and vice versa, informing upon them, betraying and shooting them. The Nazis only sent a few Germans to Molėtai. Lithuanian lowlifes performed all of the arrests and shootings of Jews.
There is a bright side, though, to this tragedy: there were also several hundred rescuers of Jews in the Molėtai area, since it took the conviction, daily work and risk-taking in the face of death of several dozen people to hide and protect one Jew. Respect to them!
The Alanta synagogue is one of only several surviving wooden synagogues in Lithuania; it hasn’t been destroyed and wasn’t burned down, but it’s still not in good order and unrestored. During the Soviet era grain and fertilizer were stored there. The cut-up wooden walls of the synagogue and the tin roof still with bullet holes from the war witness to both the Holocaust and the continuing reluctant position taken towards Jewish religious and historical heritage in Lithuania.
Folk artist and celebrator of Žemaitijan Jewish history Jakov Bunka’s (1923-2014) wooden sculpture exhibition “Moses of Plateliai” is being shown at the Lithuanian National UNESCO Commission gallery at Šv. Jono street no. 11 in Vilnius on occasion of the 95th anniversary of Bunka’s birth.
Bunka was unique. He was the only Jewish folk artist in Lithuania who commemorated Jewish characters within the Lithuanian tradition in wood, he was the last Jew to remain in Plungė and he was rider in the cavalry of the Don Cossacks. After reaching Berlin in 1945 he dedicated his life to commemorating the communities of his fellow Jews annihilated in Lithuania between 1941 and 1945. He made the Kaušėnai memorial to the exterminated Jews of Plungė, wrote a book about the history of the Jews of Plungė, was an honorary citizen of Plungė and was awarded the honor of Knight of the Cross of the Rider of the Order of Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas. As Grigoriy Kanovich put it so fittingly in his inscription in his book he gave to Bunka: “To a Žemaitijan Jew, to a Jewish Žemaitijan.”
Jonas Rudzinskas, the chairman of the Union of Lithuanian Folk Artists, said of Bunka: “Jakov Bunka’s aesthetic views, mentality, optimistic nature and work ethic formed in the Žemaitijan environment. … In creating large or inside sculpture, the master did without trifles and insignificant detail. … His responsible, sincere attitude towards creative work and unique style set Jakov Bunka apart from others and he joins the ranks of our greatest folk artists who set the development of folk art.”
From the third issue of Naujasis Židinys-Aidai, 2018
Ina Pukelytė, Žydų teatras tarpukario Lietuvoje: Monografija [Jewish Theater in Interwar Lithuania: A Monograph], Kaunas: Vytauto Didžiojo universitetas, 2017, 192 pp., print-run of 100. Illustrated by Saulius Bajorinas.
Ina Pukelytė says one of the main goals of her monograph is to reconstruct Jewish theater activity in Lithuania between the two world wars, from 1919 to 1940. Another goal is to determine what influence Lithanian Jewish theater had on Jewish theater in the diaspora and on the evolution of Lithuanian theater, based on an examination of different literature and comparison with theater around the world. The author used Lithuanian periodicals, archives, libraries and museums as well as material from Yad Vashem and YIVO, including lists of actors from Yiddish troupes who toured Lithuania, founding documents of theater associations, correspondence with the Lithuanian Education Ministry, tax files of Jewish theaters and their directors, lists of foreign actors who came to work in Lithuania and iconographic material.
Full article in Lithuanian here.
Under an agreement of several years’ standing Edit Perry and Ewa Baranska have led another delegation of people from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities to Panevėžys and the Panevėžys Jewish Community. Many are adults involved in continuing education during the academic year on the topic of Jews from the Baltic states. During the summer they strive to visit as many sites as possible where they had family in Lithuania, including Panevėžys. The students were keenly interested in the photography exhibit and archival documents illustrating Jewish life before World War II preserved at the Panevėžys Jewish Community.
Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman and member Jurijus Smirnovas delivered lectures at actual historical sites inside the former ghetto territory and the old Jewish cemetery which is now called Memory Square.
Smirnovas shared his experience of World War II with the visitors. He was a small child at the concentration camps in Panevėžys and Šiauliai and lost his family members.
Seventy-seven years ago, on July 3, 1941, the first mass murder of Jews was carried out in Jurbarkas (Yurburg), Lithuania. The number murdered was 322 people, including about 20 ethnic Lithuanians (including Jurbarkas sculptor Vincas Grybas). The Jurbarkas community remembers this tragedy every year and holds an Hour of Memory at the grave site of the victims of the genocide, attended by local residents and friends and family of the Jews who lived in Jurbarkas and experienced the Holocaust there.
This year representatives of the Jurbarkas regional administration including deputy mayor Saulius Lapėnas, administration director Vida Rekešienė, Culture and Sports Department chief Antanas Gvildys, Jurbarkas alderman Audronis Kačiušis and staff from the Jurbarkas Regional History Museum and Jurbarkas Cultural Center attended along with victims and relatives the July 3 Hour of Memory held at the Jurbarkas Cultural Center.
Former Jewish Jurbarkas resident Jakovas Rikleris travelled from Germany to the event and said: “I am so glad you have not forgotten and maintain this site so dear to us, the old Jewish cemetery. There were extraordinarily noble, brave people from the land of my birth, from the area around Jurbarkas, people who were unable to remain uncaring seeing these brutal massacres. These people are immeasurably brave, in fear of the mortal danger they rescued Jews, hid them, shared their meager wartime food provisions with them and believed that in saving people from death they were performing the most important duty, sacrificing themselves for the lives of other innocent people. These are the true people of the Lithuanian nation.”
Young actors from the Jurbarkas Cultural Center’s children and youth theater Vaivorykštė under the direction of Birutė Šneiderienė read selections from Grigori Kanovich’s Shtetl Love Story and compositions by Jurbarkas composer Kęstutis Vasiliauskas were performed on violin.
V. Čečeta began working at the Lithuanian General Consulate in Vilnius on September 17, 1939. Photo: Archiwum akt nowych w Warszawe
Chiune Sugihara and Jan Zwartendijk are foreign diplomats who rescued Jews and they have been commemorated in Kaunas and the world, but they were only able to do what they did between 1939 and 1940 because of efforts by Lithuanian state officials.
Have we forgotten our own role?
When a monument costing 150,000 euros is erected next year in Kaunas to the so far little-known honorable Dutch consul in interwar Lithuania Jan Zwartendijk, the world will learn about another foreign diplomat who rescued Jews.
As current Dutch ambassador to Lithuania Bert van der Lingen told BNS, The role world-famous rescuer of Jews Chiune Sugihara was only made possible because Zwartendijk made an entry in the passports the travellers were travelling to a Dutch overseas territory. This entry, the Dutch ambassador says, was the basis for Sugihara to issue visas to Jews to transit Japan. But have we thought about our own diplomats in this context?
That there is little interest and even avoidance of this topic was demonstrated by the difficult search for historians and Foreign Ministry representatives able to say anything about the topic of the activities of the Lithuanian General Consulate in Vilnius in 1939.
At first they lost their civil rights, then their property and, in many cases, their lives. Jews from Lithuania are still waiting for the time when they can at least get their property back.
by Antanas Manstavičius
IQ magazine, June, 2018
For several decades now Lithuanian Jews who survived the Holocaust, along with other residents of the country, have had little hope of restoration of property rights, due to objective reasons. Lithuanian citizens who survived the Soviet and Nazi occupation have finally been allowed to get back private property seized or at least get compensation. Many have made use of this right.
Those who had to flee to save their lives during World War II and their descendants find themselves in a completely different situation. Until now, Lithuanian laws categorize those seeking to have their rights to property restored according to citizenship: those who don’t have it still cannot get their property back.
“You have to be a citizen to get property back,” Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman and attorney Faina Kukliansky said. “But what if you don’t want to be one? How can one be forced to become a citizen of Lithuania?” She says she has clients who still haven’t been to get real estate in Lithuania back. For at least some of the Litvaks living abroad, it’s not about the money, it’s a matter of principle.
Monika Šinkūnaitė and her colleague appealed for help to the Panevėžys Jewish Community on June 11 regarding a project called Orientational Walking Tour and a discussion called Jewish Culture in Panevėžys. During the meeting both parties discussed scenarios for the event and topics for the discussion.
The point of the project is to get young and older people interested in Jewish heritage.
The educational walking tour happened on June 29 and was called Along Jewish Roads, including important historical Jewish heritage sites in the city. The youth group began the tour at Freedom Alley where there was a thriving Jewish neighborhood before World War II. There were Jewish residences, stores, workshops, dentistry and medical clinics and attorneys’ offices. Some streets were named after Jewish public figures, including Dr. Mer, Rabbi Gertzel, the industrialist Kisinas, Dembas and others.
The discussion was held after the walking tour at the café Kavos Dėžutė. Panevėžys publicist Donatas Puslys, Panevėžys Regional History Museum director Arūnas Astramskas, bishop emeritus Jonas Kauneckas, nun Eleonora Kasiulytė from the Congregation of the Sisters of God’s Love and Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman participated.
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.
The families of Jews who lived in Panevėžys before the war are now scattered around the world. Even before the war, back in tsarist times, Panevėžys Jews migrated widely to countries such as Argentina, the United States, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Brasil and also South Africa and Australia. The Panevėžys Jewish Community often receives visitors from these countries, and especially from South Africa. This time Kelly Rozmarim from Australia visited with her husband, brother and two daughters. She brought documents showing her grandfather Hona Shepts was born in Panevėžys in 1908 and immigrated with his brother to South Africa in 1939. Her father Judelis Shepts was a rabbi. He and his three sisters were also born in Panevėžys and stayed in Lithuania. All of them died in the Holocaust.
In South Africa in 1939 there was a world-renowned Jewish community called Ponevezh. Kelly Rozmarim has a document, a list of people who sailed to South Africa which includes members of her family. She and her brother have also discovered relatives in Šeduva, Pasvalys and Biržai.
The family’s visit to the Panevėžys Jewish Community enriched our archives and provided valuable information about the Jewish residents of Panevėžys back then. The visitors thanked Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman for his active efforts to preserve the Litvak heritage and to commemorate it in Panevėžys. All of the family members left warm words and greetings in the Community’s guest book.
Dr. Jon Seligman of the Israeli Antiquities Authority has announced excavation of the Great Synagogue and the former complex of surrounding buildings known as the Shulhoyf in Vilnius will resume this summer July 9 and will continue till July 27. Those interested in volunteering should contact Dr. Seligman, address below.
The Great Synagogue and Shulhoyf of Vilna (Vilnius): The 2018 Season
A Research, Excavation, Preservation and Memorial Project
A Quick Summary of the Work until Now
The successful outcome of the preliminary excavation of 2011, the 2015 ground-penetrating radar survey and the 2016 excavation showed us the potential of continued excavation at the site to uncover further sections of the Great Synagogue and the surrounding buildings. Given the resources available to the team, we decided to initially concentrate on issues relating to the water system of the shulhoyf that developed in and around the Great Synagogue in the 18thcentury. Written sources inform us that a pipeline was established in 1759 to bring water from the Vingrių springs, that belonged to the Dominican friars, to the synagogue complex. It supplied water to the communal “well,” and apparently to the bathhouse constructed between 1823 and 1828 that included a miqve and a public lavatory.
The Lithuanian Jewish Community has never said or claimed and never will that all Lithuanians are murderers of Jews. Although approximately 95 percent of Jews in Lithuanian were murdered in the Holocaust with the help of local collaborators, it’s not fair to label the entire Lithuanian people with the offensive and shameful accusation of murderers.
This is especially not fair to those who remained steadfast and passed the most difficult trial of being human. Those brave Lithuanians who seemed to find themselves in a hopeless situation and nonetheless found within themselves the power to fight antihuman ideas and Nazi doctrine. We can speak the names today of more than 800 of these quiet heroes although certainly the names of more have been lost to time.
Marking on June 25 the massacre of Jews at Lietūkis garage in Kaunas, honoring the memory of our ancestors and their rescuers, the LJC cannot remain indifferent when several days ago in the heart of the capital a celebration was held, while flags of mourning should have flown in the country to remember the first victims of the Holocaust in Lithuania.
On June 21, 2018, the municipality of the city of Vilnius published on their internet page an invitation to mark the anniversary of the June 23 uprising in which, among other things, that in June of 1941 revenge was exacted for the deportation of family members to Siberia and other northern regions of the Soviet Union, and that the sons and daughters of our nation, relying only upon their own bravery and themselves, were able to drive out the hated occupier and at least briefly (from June 22 to 28, 1941) restore Lithuanian statehood and the independence lost due to the culpability of their politicians and military leaders.
Should we really be encouraging the celebration of revenge, should we really utilize hate in the alleged goal of uniting the nation? Even after 70 years have passed since the end of the war, these sorts of phrases, recalling those during the Holocaust, remain painfully familiar.
For the fourth year now Edit Perry from Israel has led delegations of visitors to Panevėžys and the Panevėžys Jewish Community. This year, on June 25, the guide and teacher led a group of 23 people from Tel Aviv and other locations in Israel engaged in researching Jewish heritage and history. They are university students who study Jewish history during the academic year and spend their summers actually visiting locations connected with the life of their forefathers in Lithuania and Poland.
Community member Jurij Smirnov shared his experience of the Holocaust as a child in the concentration camps in Šiauliai and Panevėžys, the death of family members and how he came to Panevėžys with surviving family.
Following the discussion, the visitors viewed a photography exhibition and Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman presented a brief history of the Jews of the Panevėžys region before World War II. All visitors were given a Jewish calendar published by the Lithuanian Jewish Community featuring drawings and paintings of Lithuanian synagogues by Gerardas Bagdonavičius made before the war.
A conference and inspection tour took place in Pušalotas, Lithuania, June 15, of the synagogue there known as “Yoshke’s house” which also included a Jewish primary school. The synagogue was built by Howard Margol’s great-grandfather, all of whose relatives lived in Lithuania during Tsarist times. One of Margol’s relatives is former Israeli prime minister and long-time leader of the Labor Party Ehud Barak.
The inspection tour in Pušalotas included members of the Panevėžys Jewish Community, Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon, members of the Pušalotas community, officials from the Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Department and staff from the Lithuanian Jewish Community, Pasvalys regional administration chairman G. Gegužinskas, Lithuanian MP A. Matulas, Pušalotas township alderwoman P. Stravinskienė and Pušalotas community chairman A. Kumpauskas, among others. They inspected the synagogue which is in critical condition. For 75 years it hasn’t been used as a synagogue and was left derelict for some time. Margol and family had a commemorative plaque placed on the synagogue and put the old Pušalotas Jewish cemetery in order in 2005. The external structure of the synagogue is intact and authentic, and it could be restored and used by the local community.
YIVO executive director and CEO Jonathan Brent led a delegation visiting Vilnius earlier this week. The Lithuanian Jewish Community cherishes our long-term cooperation and meaningful work with YIVO in preserving the Jewish cultural heritage in Lithuania and the world. We thank the United States embassy for their invitation to attend a reception for Jonathan Brent.
A new book by the late scholar and historian Dr. Solomonas Atamukas (1918-2014) was lauched June 11 in the Jascha Heifetz Hall at the Lithuanian Jewish Community in Vilnius. The book, “Lietuvos žydų keliai: atmintis, tikėjimas, viltis” [Paths of the Jews of Lithuania: Memory, Faith, Hope] was written and intended by the author to be a continuation of his first book. Late in life Dr. Atamukas suffered health problems and in order to insure the continuation of his first book would be published, enlisted the help of his son, daughter, grandson and daughter-in-law, who performed careful research and collection of information. According to his daughter, long-serving deputy chairwoman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community Maša Grodnikienė, the family paid for the publication of both books.
This is a useful new source for the reader interested in Litvak history. It contains 458 biographical sketches, called biograms in the book, of Litvaks, arranged by country of residence. The book contains large amounts of information about world-famous Litvaks, their origins in Lithuania, education, work and achievements. The author sought to collect as much information and write as many biograms as possible about Holocaust survivors.
Leading Polish musical group Vocal Varshe performed a concert of Jewish song last week at the old synagogue complex in Kalvarija, Lithuania, where services were last held more than 77 years ago.
The Polish group sang and played accordion to a full house. The windows were opened and the music reverberated throughout the former shtetl where Jews were the majority population before the Holocaust. A local youth choir sang a Jewish song at the beginning of the concert to honor the victims.
Construction began on a synagogue in “Jewish Calvary” in 1713 when the ruler of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Augustus II, granted the kahilla a charter to engage in different forms of trade and manufacturing, to set up cemeteries and to build synagogues not taller than the highest church.
The Kalvarija synagogue complex is listed on the Lithuanian registry of protected cultural treasures. It includes the Baroque synagogue built in the 18th century, the electric synagogue built in the latter half of the 19th century and the adjacent Talmud school and rabbi’s residence built at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Vocal Varshe, a group of musicians from Poland, performed songs in Hebrew, Yiddish and Ladino at the site of the former Great Synagogue in Vilnius, destroyed after World War II, on the evening of June 6, 2018. The event was organized by the Polish Institute in Vilnius and the Lithuanian Jewish Community. The Polish musicians from Warsaw performed songs from the Warsaw and Vilnius ghettos.
LJC executive director Renaldas Vaisbrodas began the event with the poem Vilne by Moshe Kulbak.
Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius greeted the audience and said the concert venue reminded the public, Polish and Lithuanian residents of Vilnius, that more could have been done to save Jews from the Holocaust. He also called for an appropriate commemoration at the site, whether that be partial reconstruction of the synagogue or some other form, to remind future generations of what happened. He said this would serve to unite the different ethnic communities in Vilnius.
LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky thanked the musicians for coming and performing and the Vilnius mayor who granted permission for the concert at the site infused with the spirit of the teachings of the Vilna Gaon.