Heritage

Grigory Kanovich: A Good Book is a Life Teacher

G. Kanovičius: gera knyga visada yra gyvenimo mokytoja
by Donatas Puslys, www.bernardinai.lt

Rūta Oginskaitė’s book “Gib a Kuk: Žvilgtelėk” recently hit the book shops, in which the author, Grigory Kanovich and his wife Olia paint a portrait of the Lithuanian writer and an entire era. On November 29 London’s Central Synagogue will host the launch of the English translation of Kanovich’s book “Shtetl Love Song.” We spoke with Grigory Kanovich about his relationship with his readership, love of homeland and the painful moments in our history.

There’s a proverb that a prophet is not recognized in his homeland. Your work is an important monument to the history of the Jews of Lithuania and their memory. The book requires, however, a reader who is able to enter into a dialogue with the text. Do you sense the presence of such readers in Lithuania, do you think there is a dialogue and discussion going on with your texts? Should we conclude from your recent works published abroad that your work is more interested to foreign than Lithuanian readers?

I hold to the view that prophets are rare in their homeland, and one more frequently encounters only clairvoyants and the righteous. I think “prophet” is hyperbole. I won’t deny that my novels are an attempt to create a monument to pre-war Jewish history and to commemorate my compatriots.

I wouldn’t dare claim some wide-ranging discussion is taking place between me and my readers in Lithuania, but I do receive a lot of good-willed responses from different locations from readers reading my work in Lithuanian and Russian. I can’t complain about that. I am happy foreign publishers are interested in my work. For instance, the recent publication of my Shtetl Love Song by a leading London publisher.

Full interview in Lithuanian here.

Japanese Volunteer Teacher Visits Panevėžys Jewish Community

Svečio iš Japonijos Susumu Nakagawa vizitas Panevėžio miesto žydų bendruomenėje

Last week Susumu Nakagawa from Japan visited the Panevėžys Jewish Community. Mr. Nakagawa is visiting Panevėžys for the second time as a volunteer teacher, teaching beginning Japanese at the Panevėžys Technology and Business Faculty of Kaunas Technology University. Mr. Nakagawa is building a bridge of friendship between the two countries, he says. He’s interested in Litvak history and culture, and when he learned there is a living Jewish community in the Lithuanian city, he decided to visit. He was accompanied by art teacher Loreta Januškienė.

Mr. Nakagawa and his family are Christians and interesting in the Old Testament and Jewish history and traditions. Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman told Mr. Nakagawa about the history of the Panevėžys Jewish community over tea, and showed him documents and photographs. Mr. Nakagawa posed a number of questions to the chairman, and they touched upon the legacy of Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese diplomat who rescued Jews in Kaunas during the first stages of the Holocaust.

Faina Kukliansky Says Jews and Lithuanians Need to Resolve Disagreements


Photos: BNS
by Birutė Vyšniauskaitė, www.lrt.lt

Although the scandal caused by writer Rūta Vanagaitė’s statements on the partisan Adolfas Ramanauskas has subsided, Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky believes the tranquility is only temporary. Vanagaitė’s book Mūsiškiai about the mass murder of Jews in Lithuania is soon to appear in English translation. She also enjoys the support of the European Jewish Congress and has many proponents in Israel. In an interview with LRT [Lithuanian Public Radio and Television], Kukliansky said we shouldn’t fear coming scandals.

“I really liked historian Saulius Sužiedėlis’s idea that it’s possible to read a given document or set of documents a number of times and come to different conclusions. It takes special training and understanding to study documents. An elderly grandmother could read the same documents, and while they might be interesting to her, she won’t be able to make sense of them. So, what if a book is written for public relations, seeking profit and to sensationalize readers and listeners?” Kukliansky told LRT regarding the aftermath of the Vanagaitė scandal.

Tens of Thousands of Jewish Documents Lost during Holocaust Discovered in Vilnius


YIVO announces the discovery of 170,000 Jewish documents thought to have been destroyed by the Nazis. Photo: Thos Robinson/Getty Images for YIVO

NEW YORK (JTA)–A trove of 170,000 Jewish documents thought to have been destroyed by the Nazis during World War II has been found.

On Tuesday the New York-based YIVO Institute for Jewish Research announced the find which contains unpublished manuscripts by famous Yiddish writers as well as religious and community documents. Among the finds are letters written by Sholem Aleichem, a postcard by Marc Chagall and poems and manuscripts by Chaim Grade.

YIVO, founded in Vilnius in what is now Lithuania, hid the documents, but the organization moved its headquarters to New York during World War II. The documents were later preserved by Lithuanian librarian Antanas Ulpis who kept them in the basement of the church where he worked.

Most of the documents are currently in Lithuania but 10 items are being displayed through January at YIVO, which is working with Lithuania to archive and digitize the collection.

“These newly discovered documents will allow that memory of Eastern European Jews to live on, while enabling us to have a true accounting of the past that breaks through stereotypes and clichéd ways of thinking,” YIVO executive director Jonathan Brent said Tuesday in a statement.

United States Senate minority leader Charles Schumer, democrat from New York state, praised the discovery.

“Displaying this collection will teach our children what happened to the Jews of the Holocaust so that we are never witnesses to such darkness in the world again,” Schumer, who is Jewish, said in a statement.

Israeli consul general in New York Dani Dayan compared the documents to “priceless family heirlooms.”

“The most valuable treasures of the Jewish people are the traditions, experiences and culture that have shaped our history. So to us, the documents uncovered in this discovery are nothing less than priceless family heirlooms, concealed like precious gems from Nazi storm troopers and Soviet grave robbers,” he said.

Full story here.

New Fall Issue of the Bagel Shop Newsletter

After skipping a beat this summer, the newest Bagel Shop newsletter has hit the stands. The fall issue includes a complete news round-up from spring to the present, the usual sections and articles about the history of the Bund, efforts to restore Jewish headstones removed from Soviet-era public works projects around Vilnius to their rightful locations and the history of the Jews of Skuodas. The Jewish Book Corner this issue features a book about the tractate Nazir from the Babylonian Talmud and the Telšiai Yeshiva.

Look for the newest issue at the Bagel Shop Café, available for free, or download the electronic version below:

Bagel Shop Newsletter No. 2, 2017

Unique Jewish Archive Emerges in Vilnius

Vilnius, November 3, BNS–As Judaica studies intensify in Vilnius, scholars have identified thousands of important Jewish manuscripts this year which had laid forgotten in a church basement during the Soviet years and were scattered to separate archives for two decades following Lithuanian independence.

Some of the newly identified documents are currently on display in New York City and there are plans to exhibit some of the collection in Lithuania in the near future as well.

Lithuanian National Martynas Mažvydas Library director Renaldas Gudauskas said the identification of ever more documents makes him confident the library currently conserves one of the most significant collections of Judaica in the world.

Hidden at a Church

Vilnius had hundreds of Jewish communal, religious, cultural and education organizations before World War II. YIVO, the Jewish research institute founded in 1925, was an important member of that group. YIVO did work on Jewish life throughout Eastern Europe, from Germany to Russia and from the Baltic to the Balkans, collecting Jewish folklore, memoirs, books, publications and local Jewish community documents, and published dictionaries, brochures and monographs.

New Calls for Jewish Restitution


by Vytautas Bruveris, www.lrytas.lt

After adopting a law on compensating Jewish religious communities, Lithuania should go further and compensate Holocaust survivors for their private property. Both US officials and the Lithuanian Jewish Community are calling for this.

The Lithuanian prime minister’s advisor on foreign policy Deividas Matulionis said: “The issue of returning Jewish private property was raised earlier, but it’s being discussed more frequently now. I wouldn’t say there’s pressure, but the Americans have let us know return of Jewish property remains on the agenda.”

Matulionis was government chancellor in the earlier Government led by Andrius Kubilius when the law creating the Goodwill Foundation was adopted. Under that law the state pays out compensation for Jewish religious community property lost during the war, financing Jewish cultural, religious, educational and other socially useful activities.

The Lithuanian Government is obligated to pay 37 million euros in total to the foundation.

US Diplomat Visits

Matulionis recently spoke with Thomas Yazdgerdi, the US State Department’s special envoy for Holocaust issues, in Vilnius.

The American diplomat also met MPs and leaders of the Lithuanian Jewish Community.

One of the Yazdgerdi’s main topics of discussion was the continuing return of Jewish property.

He said Lithuania following the examples of other Central and Eastern European countries should keep moving forward by returning private property to Holocaust survivors and their descendants or by paying out compensation.

US Officials Urge Lithuania to Return Jewish Property

Vilnius, November 8, BNS–US officials and the Lithuanian Jewish Community are calling upon the Lithuanian Government to return private property to Holocaust survivors and their descendants, the daily Lietuvos Rytas reported Wednesday.

“The issue of restitution of private Jewish property has been raised in the past, but it is being increasingly discussed lately,” Deividas Matulionis, foreign policy adviser to prime minister Saulius Skvernelis, told the paper.

Matulionis recently discussed the issue with US State Department special envoy for Holocaust issues Thomas Yazdgerdi in Vilnius. The Lithuanian prime minister’s advisor told Lietuvos Rytas they hadn’t discussed any specific measures for restitution or numbers.

Matulionis said they talked about possibly compensating Jews for a portion of the value of their property and said that would be more of a symbolic gesture.

Six years ago Lithuania committed to paying 37 million euros compensation for Jewish religious communal property by 2023.

Public Relations Horoscope


by Sergejus Kanovičius

The weighing ritual from the Soviet era has impressed itself deeply in memory: a plump woman standing behind the counter in a store with a white apron, the apron is somewhat wrinkled and with grease stains, the scales have larger and smaller weights, and she stands and watches, if she has something to way. One weight, and another, then another is needed to reach complete balance, placed on the right-hand plate of the scales, always a deficit, whose weight is measured by this very important woman. The woman is all-powerful. Usually she set some fifty or more grams aside, she also had to supplement her salary. Why do I remember this? I see how today the PR masters and the politicians who have taken up their ideas are joyfully weighing and trying to place a weight or two on a much emptier plate of the scales of historical truth. But one gets the impression that they, just as the woman in the Soviet store did, are setting a bit aside. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Usually more, unfortunately.

You leave their store and unwrap the purchase and hey, either it’s just paper, or else they’ve taken a bit for themselves again. And then you wait again until they decide the time has come to mete out some sort of historical deficit.

As I understand it, the quota for naming the year of the coming 100th anniversary of the state has been used up. Other years are being suggested, maybe the year of the bear on the Chinese calendar, or perhaps the year of the dragon or the cat on the Japanese, one year under the Jewish calendar and a different one according to Christ. Well anyway, we like to baptize, to be baptized and to attend baptisms, it’s fun. Even if there is no baby, we’ll make one up.

LJC Challa-Making Event Big Success

The challa-making event at the Lithuanian Jewish Community on October 26 was a fun-filled evening with klezmer music and treats from the Bagel Shop Café. Four generations of women participated, some with their children and grand-children, others with friends, kneading and braiding the dough which was then baked and taken home.

The event was in solidarity with the annual Shabbos Project, now in its fourth year.

More photos here.

Righteous Gentile Marija Rusteikaitė to Be Commemorated in Panevėžys

Dear members,

A ceremony to unveil a stele honoring Marija Rusteikaitė, rescuer of Jews, teacher, nurse, public figure and founder of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Love of God, will be held at 1:00 P.M. on Friday, October 27.

The ceremony will be held at the intersection of Tilvyčio and Krekenavos streets in Panevėžys. Bus transportation from Vilnius will be provided from the Lithuanian Jewish Community at Pylimo street no. 4 in Vilnius at 10:45 A.M. There are ten seats left at the time of this writing. Those wishing to take the bus should send an email to info@lzb.lt

Those riding by bus will be delivered back in Vilnius in time for the special Sabbath at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius.

One People, One Sabbath

For the fourth time in as many years, Jews around the world will meet in their communities for an evening of making challa and greeting the Sabbath. The point of the international Shabbos Project is to unite Jews at least once a year wherever they may be around the world and to celebrate Sabbath together. This time, October 26 to 28, over a million Jews in 96 countries and 1,357 are expected to take part.

Last year 6,000 volunteers in 95 countries and 1,152 cities organized challa-making events during a single Sabbath, events which included over 8,000 women and participants speaking more than 10 different languages in Buenos Aires, and five city blocks in Los Angeles were closed to traffic for setting up cooking tables in the streets. In Melbourne 10,000 people attended the havdala concert and the event generated 61,884,223 images posted on the internet.

The Shabbos Project has been called the Jewish spring, a global social phenomenon and an incredible experience.

We’re inviting everyone to the Lithuanian Jewish Community at 6:00 P.M. on October 26 for an evening of challa-making and baking. The program includes kneading and baking, a contest for the best braided loaf, a presentation of women’s obligations on Sabbath and song and dance with the Rakja Klezmer Orekstar. So far over 100 Community members and friends have signed up, spanning four generations. Riva Portnaja, the senior chef at the Bagel Shop Café, will be showing her one-year-old great-granddaughter how challa is made at the event.

Everyone is welcome. We begin activating the yeast at 6:00 P.M. on October 26 at the Bagel Shop Café inside the Lithuanian Jewish Community at Pylimo street no. 4 in Vilnius.

For more information, contact Dovilė Rūkaitė at projects@lzb.lt

LJC Calendar for 5777 Wins Prize at Unusual Ceremony

A Jewish calendar published by the Lithuanian Jewish Community last year took first place in an annual Lithuanian calendar contest October 20.

The 28th annual Laurynas Ivinskis Prize ceremony was held in Kuršėnai, Lithuania with live Lithuanian folk music and a performance by the Fayerlakh ensemble.

The theme of the LJC calendar for 5777 was Lithuanian rescuers of Jews. It featured interwar president Kazys Grinius and wife Kristina on the cover, both Righteous Gentiles. Each month featured more than one story of rescue.

Laurynas Ivinskis (1810-1881) was a 19th century calendar maker whose agricultural calendars were also more text than calendar, and were for a period of time forbidden by Russian authorities because they were written in Lithuanian using the Latin rather than Cyrillic alphabet. His almanachs included stories and parables in pre-standard Lithuanian.

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.