Heritage

Kaunas 2022 Program to Revive Lost Memory

The first event in the Kaunas 2022 program has been held at the M. K. Čiurlionis National Museum and was dedicated to commemoration of the Kaunas Jewish community before the Holocaust.

Kaunas residents often boast their city is the most Lithuanian city, but that’s not the whole truth. In the early 20th century Kaunas was very multicultural and this was an important part of the city’s identity. The “Office of Memory” part of the Kaunas 2022 program is aimed at reviving the history of the city and encouraging residents to remember that which has been forgotten.

Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon said there must be realization the Jews of Kaunas were Lithuanian citizens who had lived in the country for aeons, loved their country and worked to improve it. The ambassador spoke of a modern Jewish museum, one which would be attractive and interactive, “telling the story of the entire nation through the stories of different individuals.”

Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas said the old Hassidic synagogue in Kaunas would be an ideal site for such a museum. He also said the heroes of the brutal period of the Holocaust cannot be forgotten and that a monument to Lithuanians who rescued Jews should be erected outside the museum.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

One Century out of Seven Exhibit a Hit with Jews in Chicago

The cultural center of the Lithuanian consulate in Chicago is hosting an exceptional exhibition starting at the end of November called “One Century out of Seven: Lithuania, Lite, Lita.” The exhibit covers the history of Litvaks from the first arrivals and settlement of Jews in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to the present day. The exhibit is now circulating in Chicago and suburbs. On January 12 it was presented to the Jewish community of Highland Park.

Exhibit author Pranas Morkus was able to present remarkable details of the relationships between Jews and locals and included a number of notable Litvaks, the most notable and best known being the Vilna Gaon, who is credited with making Vilnius the Jerusalem of Lithuania.

On January 15 the exhibit opened at the North Suburban Beth El Synagogue. Visitors sent photos to facebook and they may be viewed on the LJC webpage.

A large number of Jews with roots in Lithuania live in America and are proud to call themselves Litvaks.

The exhibit was the result of work by Pranas Morkus, the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, the Lithuanian Jewish Community and the designers Victoria Sideraitė-Alon and Jūratė Juozėnienė from the JUDVI design studio.

Lithuanian consul in Chicago Mantvydas Bekešius said the exhibit demonstrates Jews were, are and will always be an important part of the story of Lithuania.

Happy Birthday to Adomas Jacovskis

The Lithuanian Jewish Community wishes the renowned Lithuanian artist, scenographer and painter Adomas Jacovskis a happy birthday. Jacovskis is a recipient of the Lithuanian National Prize for Culture and Art and has done much to make Lithuania known in the world.

He calls himself an individualist from birth. He dreamed of painting and became a painter after choosing to study scenography under the famous painter Augustinas Savickas. He currently teaches at the Vilnius Art Academy. His sister, daughter and son are all artists as well.

We wish you great health, inspiration and resolution in your continuing remarkable work. We are honored by and proud of your achievements and recognition.

Japanese PM Abe to Visit Sugihara House in Kaunas


Photo of Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara and an old Japanese flag on display at the Sugihara House Museum in Kaunas which housed the Japanese Consulate from 1939 to 1940. Photo: AFP-JIJI

KAUNAS, LITHUANIA–A Japanese diplomat who saved 6,000 European Jews from the Holocaust by issuing visas so they could escape war-torn Lithuania will be hailed by Japan’s prime minister decades after defying Tokyo to help the refugees.

Prime minister Shinzo Abe will pay tribute to Chiune Sugihara on Sunday when he visits the two-story building that housed the consulate where he worked in the Baltic state’s second city Kaunas.

Sugihara is thought to be among around 15 diplomats who issued visas to European Jews during World War II and is often called “Japan’s Schindler”–a reference to German industrialist Oskar Schindler, who is credited with saving 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust.

Delegation Visits Alanta Wooden Synagogue

A delegation including Israeli ambassador Amir Maimon, US ambassador Anne Hall, Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, deputy Lithuanian foreign minister Darius Skusevičius, Cultural Heritage Department heritage expert Alfredas Jomantas and Molėtai regional administration head Stasys Žvinys visited the Alanta wooden synagogue near Molėtai, Lithuania, on December 3. The synagogue is listed on the Lithuanian registry of cultural treasures and is in dire need of restoration, according to members of the delegation. The Molėtai regional administration webpage carried details of that discussion:

Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon said: “It is important to all of us that history is remembered and all sites important and significant for history are restored. We’re talking today about Lithuanian heritage, not Jewish heritage. This is your history, this is my history.”

US ambassador to Lithuania Anne Hall said: “In recent times the Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Department has done great work in initiating the restoration of synagogues, churches and other important historical buildings. It is really impressive. This is one of the buildings whose restoration we look forward to, and I know many Americans are looking for a way back to Lithuania, Lithuanian and Jewish émigrés.”

Molėtai regional administration head Stasys Žvinys said the administration lacks funding for the synagogue’s restoration, although it is the only synagogue still standing in the entire region. He asked the Israeli ambassador to take the lead in solving the problem. “Although this is our shared responsibility, unfortunately the administration cannot at this time allocate from its budget the resources appropriate for restoring this synagogue. The synagogue is maintained to the extent the community is able to maintain it,” he said.

Faina Kukliansky, chairwoman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, said: “Even if monies were found for putting the synagogue in order, there has to be content for this synagogue. Logically, if the building is restored but not used, not heated, not used for some purpose, then the money is wasted,” she commented.

The LJC has approached the Cultural Heritage Department about the wooden synagogue and applied for financing for restoration, but cultural heritage conservation specialists say there are many abandoned historical buildings in Lithuania and priority is given sites which have a foreseen use and function.

US Ambassador Anne Hall Continues Tour of Lithuania Visiting Sites of Jewish Life and Death

US ambassador to Lithuania Anne Hall continued her tour of Lithuania in late December with a stop at Šeduva where she met with people from the Šeduva Jewish Memorial Foundation and learned about their Lost Shtetl project, which has invested more than 3 million euros so far in restoring the old Jewish cemetery on Žvejų street there. Project director Sergejus Kanovičius recalled how they cleared the 1.3-hectare territory of weeds and bushes before cataloging and restoring headstones.

Lithuanian sculptor Romualdas Kvintas’s work commemorates the lost Jewish community and mass murder sites. There are three Holocaust mass murder sites around the town.

The cemetery restoration was just the first phase of the project and was completed in 2014. The project received honorable mention in European Union heritage preservation awards. A museum celebrating Lithuanian Jewish life is planned for 2018.

US Ambassador Anne Hall Visits Oldest Wooden Synagogue in Pakruojis

Seniausią Lietuvoje medinę Pakruojo sinagogą aplankė JAV ambasadorė Anne Hall

US ambassador Anne Hall with Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky and the chairmen of the Panevžys and Šiauliai Jewish Communities toured the renovated Pakruojis wooden synagogue in late December. The oldest wooden synagogue in Lithuania was restored using period photography. The synagogue features unique paintings on the ceiling and wall paper. The interior and primitive paintings have been the subject of much interest. The restored synagogue has become a draw for Jews, Lithuanians and tourists from different countries.

The small synagogue on the banks of the Kruoja River was built in 1801 and operated as a synagogue until the Holocaust when the Pakruojis Jewish community was murdered. After the war it was used a recreation center and then as a movie theater. At some point it was used a gym. It caught fire several times, doing great damage. The Pakruojis regional administration and the Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Department went to great efforts to save the building.

The Pakruojis regional administration and the Lithuanian Jewish Community signed a 99-year use agreement on January 21, 2011, on the synagogue’s administration and adaptation for cultural use.

The Pakruojis Jewish community formed in the early 18th century. Most of the resident Jews were merchants who contributed to the economic development of the town. The growing Jewish population also influenced the overall development of the town and its public life.

There are no Jews living in Pakruojis now.

Lithuanian Jewish Community Chairwoman Faina Kukliansky on the Vilnius District Court Decision

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky has issued a statement regarding the Vilnius District Court decisions of November 22 and December 21, 2017:

Two contradictory findings have been made by the same court regarding the Lithuanian Jewish Community.

The legal format of the Lithuanian Jewish Community is that of an association, and the corresponding principles and means of operations are regulated by the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania and the Lithuanian Law on Associations. On December 21, 2017, the court issued a finding without regard to the imperative of law guaranteeing the right of every association member to vote and each member’s equality of rights, and without regard to the articles of incorporation and regulations of the Association providing for discretion of action by its board of directors.

Likewise, on November 22, 2017, the court based its findings on a resolution of the Government of the Republic of Lithuania on proposed amendments to section 4 of article 8 of the Law on Associations rather than on existing law. Basic principles of law were ignored, and therefore the LJC plans to utilize its right to appeal this decision through the appeals process in the immediate future.

Furthermore, the court finding of December 21 contradicts a finding by the same Vilnius District Court on November 22, which determined the section of LJC regulations regarding differentiated numbers of votes by members at a Conference is in violation of existing and binding Lithuanian law and was therefore found to be null and void.

On April 19, 2017, the board of directors of the LJC initiated an annual report and elections conferences following the letter of the law and correspondingly seeking to insure the equal representation of the rights of all members of the LJC. At that time it was regretfully impossible to find agreement on this issue based on dialogue and negotiation, and it had to go to court.

This in itself is a defeat, not of the organization, but of all of us, all Jews. The internal disagreements made public will not bring greater honor to anyone, will not quell expressions of anti-Semitism, will not help tear down stereotypes and will not contribute to consolidating energies for meaningful in service of the members of the community. It is regretable that this small Jewish community has been divided when it would be possible to consolidate efforts for achieving greater things, including battling anti-Semitism, caring and providing for the needs of community members, promoting Jewish culture and history and preserving Jewish heritage. In November of 2017 the Lithuanian Jewish Community proposed to the Vilnius Jewish Community we disengage from legal battles through a peace treaty or through mediation. We do not withdraw this offer even now, but to date the Vilnius Jewish Community has ignored the proposal to solve disagreements through negotiation.

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

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

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

Elvyra Čyžauskienė and Regina Kežienė

Professor Dr. Adolf Bolotin on Quantum Physics, Restitution and the Lithuanian Jewish Community


lzb.lt

Professor Dr. Adolf Bolotin is an honored member of the Lithuanian Jewish Community and the former chairman of the Vilnius Jewish Community. He also holds a doctorate in physics and mathematics, is the recipient of the Republic Prize, has received awards as a Lithuanian teacher and is a member of the Israeli and New York Academy of Sciences. He is now 92 years old. Most of his life has been centered around Vilnius University. Aspirantura, doctorantura followed by successful defense of his work, earning him a doctorate in quantum physics. He has published more than 250 and “raised” more than 20 doctors of the sciences. He has two children he raised together with his wife. He is highly respected by his friends, colleagues and the Lithuanian scientific community in general.

We spoke with Dr. Bolotin about the Jewish community and Jewish life.

“Very soon my book translated to English should appear in America. I have written a textbook for students on how to solve problems in quantum mechanics, not just about theory, but how to do this practically, with examples. I imposed upon one of my former students who now lives in the USA to translate it. The translation was sent to a publisher I was not familiar with and we received the immediate reply: ‘Great, we will publish it within one year, if you want to change anything.’ The book ‘Solution of Certain Problems in Quantum Mechanics’ by Adolf Bolotin should hit the shelves very soon.

“The publisher paid me, I didn’t pay them to publish it. They came up with the agreement and paid me under very good conditions.

“My wife and I lived together 71 years until her death. I am a widower; my daughter lives with me. I don’t lack anything, I am well taken care of, I get a good pension and I can’t complain about anything. Now I feel it has become difficult to fix the car, even though I have good hands, and I like to work on things because I graduated from university as an experimental physicist and then transferred to theoretical physics later.”

Israeli Delegation Visits Panevėžys

Delegacijos iš Izraelio viešnagė Panevėžyje

On the sixth day of Hanukkah guests from Netivot, Israel, visited the Panevėžys Jewis Community and lit Hanukkah candles with Rabbi Pinchas Koen. The group of about 20 prayed together and sang Hanukkah songs.

They also learned about Panevėžys Jewish life with a special focus on religious activities by the city’s rabbis, including Grozbuh, Kagan, Kahaneman, Mihel and Brener, who have all left behind a strong legacy in Lithuania.

The guests toured the Panevėžys Jewish Community’s new religious activities room scheduled to open very soon. The topic of Torah scrolls came up, and Community representatives had to admit they still don’t have their own.

Rabbi Koen signed the guest book and expressed gratitude for the warm reception they received and to Viljamas Židkauskas who escorted them. He expressed joy as well that one of the oldest Jewish communities in Lithuania is still in existence under the steady leadership of chairman Gennady Kofman. All other guests signed the guest book as well.

Perps and Victims to Be Named at Mass Murder Sites in Lithuania

December 14, BNS–There is a proposal to set up information boards at Holocaust mass murder sites in Lithuania containing the names of both the perpetrators and the victims.

MP Eugenijus Jovaiša, chairman of the Lithuanian parliament’s Education and Learning Committee, tabled the proposal Thursday, saying it had been proposed earlier by Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon, and considered within the Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of Lithuanian Residents for some time, although the Center said it would need additional financing to implement the idea.

“It’s not easy to do because there aren’t complete studies and we cannot say for every site exactly who is buried there. Yes, there are studies of this kind, there is some material, but to include all of Lithuania, to set up these signs, similar to the one in Leipalingis, as an example of a memorial, all across Lithuania, there’s not enough material. So it’s clear the activity of the Genocide Center will need financing, it will require funding, and we’ll find it,” Jovaiša said.

Jovaiša said there are only two mass Jewish graves in Lithuania today where visitors can read the names of the victims. He said it would require 86,000 euros to conduct a year-long study and erect the signs. He also said the stands would include information about the Holocaust, the local mass murders, the names and ages of victims, but also information about the perpetrators. Another commemorative sign was just installed in Leipalingis near Druskininkai, with an official opening ceremony scheduled for Friday.

Jovaiša told BNS this was “a project of the future” which would take longer than one year. He believed additional financing could come from the Lithuanian Government without increasing the budget for the Genocide Center.

Genocide Center director Teresė Birutė Burauskaitė said it has been the long-term goal of her institution that the names of the victims of the Nazi as well as Soviet regime wouldn’t remain nameless. She said the proposed signs would present the life of the local Jewish communities before World War II as well as the names of the perpetrators of mass murder based on historical sources and testimonies, and the local population’s view of the Holocaust.

“Sometimes the behavior of the local population is presented in a very one-sided way. Our goal is to show more fully what happened. Not just in Kaunas and Vilnius, where there has been much research, including our own and that of Western scholars, of our former fellow citizens, the memories and stories of the descendants of Litvaks. Everything which is accessible now should be included: all documents, testimonies. If we simply undertook to present a list of the names of all victims… we could name about 80% of them. But we think it’s very important to present the entire process and all of the participants, so that this history would be available at every site,” Burauskaitė told reporters.

She also admitted it would take more than one year to do this, and said Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum and others “who understand the value and necessity of this work” might also be able to contribute.

According to Genocide Center statistics, there are about 200 Jewish mass murder and grave sites in Lithuania. More than 90% of Jews were murdered in the Holocaust in Lithuania out of a total of approximately 200,000. Today about 3,000 Jews live in Lithuania.

Lithuanian Students Experience Hanukkah in Perth for Second Time in Two Years

For the second year in a row students from Atžalynas High School in Kėdainiai, Lithuania, experienced Hanukkah in Perth, Australia, via skype on a large screen in their classroom.

Last year they heard Dylan Kotkis, Carmel School captain for 2018, sing Maoz Tzur while Western Australia’s Chabad Rabbi Shalom White explained the festival and the message of Hanukkah to the 15-year-olds.

This was probably the first time in 75 years this Hanukkah song had been heard in this town in central Lithuania once so important to Jews. No Jews live in Kėdainiai today.

This year teacher Laima Ardavičienė and her class attended the candle-lighting ceremony at Ben-Gurion Park in Perth with members of the Western Australian Jewish Community via skype. The ceremony performed by Rabbi Shalom White of Chabad Lubavitch House was preceded by an enjoyable performance by the entertainer Mickey Shaked. The Lithuanian students also had the opportunity to meet some of the locals via skype.

One of these was Heiny Ellert, a 95-year-old Lithuanian Holocaust survivor from Neishtot-Tavrig, today known as Žemaičių Naumiestis. I filmed his testimony for the Western Australian Holocaust Institute in 2014. It can be viewed at https://youtu.be/118HN2_NYHs

You can read more about this and last year’s Hanukkah activities and about Heiny and his shtetl at http://elirab.me/chanukah-in-the-park/

Eli Rabinowitz
Perth, Western Australia
December 13, 2017

Dmitrijus Kanovičius Donates 250 Grigorijus Kanovičius Books to LJC

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

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

Thank you, Dmitrijus.

Return Jerusalem to the Arabs? Fine. Let’s Return Vilnius to Poland, Too


by Arkadijus Vinokuras

Well, I’ll present a somewhat more modest proposal to Lithuanian foreign minister Linas Linkevičius. To those who say East Jerusalem should be returned to the Arabs of Palestine.

He missed an opportunity to stay silent. It is unseemly for the foreign minister of Lithuania to say the same thing over and over like a parrot, or more precisely, to recognize the rules of the Middle Eastern game thrown down by the United Nations which is inimical to Israel. So my modest proposal would be this: let’s return part of Vilnius, with the Gates of Dawn, to Poland. After all, for centuries they’ve had an historical and religious connection with Vilnius. If Lithuania opposes it, Poland can appeal to the United Nations whose 151 member-states, full of hate for Lithuania, will recognize the Vilnius Old Town with the Gates of Dawn Polish territory. How does that scenario suit you, Mr. Foreign Minister? If you don’t like it, then recognize all of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Full editorial in Lithuanian here.

Forgetfulness Is an Incurable and Dangerous Disease

An interview with Litvak writer Grigory Kanovich by Stephan Collishaw

SC – To what extent is the novel Shtetl Love Song autobiographical?

GK – True, Shtetl Love Song is an autobiographical novel.

Your character in the novel seems very close to his grandmother and goes with her regularly to the synagogue. Is the synagogue still a part of your life?

My grandmother Rokha was a very religious person. When I was a child the synagogue played a big role in my life. There was not a single Saturday, nor a Jewish holiday when my grandmother wouldn’t take me to synagogue. My grandfather was religious, but didn’t go to synagogue so often. He joked, ‘If you hear something interesting from Him, you won’t be able to keep it from me long, you’ll tell me.’ I, myself, am not religious; the synagogue doesn’t play such a strong role in my life now as in my childhood.

The Woman Who Rescued Jewish Books from the Vilna Ghetto


by Erika Dreifus

Some 75 years ago a group of Jews under German occupation in Vilna was assigned to assist Nazi authorities in curating books and other cultural items destined for shipment to Germany. There, the selection of Judaica materials was to be conserved as a collection of artifacts from an extinct people.

Some items were indeed shipped away as ordered. Some the authorities destroyed and diverted to be used for scrap.

Others were smuggled and hidden by the same Jewish scholars, teachers and writers who had been designated to sift through and catalog them. The heroism of this Paper Brigade has recently received new attention, thanks largely to two developments: the discovery of another trove of materials that the squad managed to squirrel away, and the publication of historian David E. Fishman’s fascinating new study, “The Book Smugglers: Partisans, Poets, and the Race To Save Jewish Treasures From the Nazis” (ForeEdge).

Bagel Shop and Israeli Embassy at Charity Christmas Fair in Vilnius


Photo, from right: Prime minister Saulius Skvernelis, LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, Israeli embassy deputy chief of mission Efrat Hochstetler, PM’s wife Silvija Skvernelė

An international Christmas fair fundraiser was held again this year at the Old Town Square in Vilnius. Visitors were invited to purchase handicrafts, Christmas decorations, sweets and other knick-knacks made and sold by the spouses of foreign ambassadors resident in Vilnius, embassy personnel, social welfare organizations.

Photo: President Valdas Adamkus, Faina Kukliansky, former first lady Alma Adamkienė

The international Christmas fair is an annual initiative by the International Women’s Association of Vilnius, which includes women from Lithuania and foreign women temporarily living and working in Lithuania as members.

Photo: Apostolic nuncio archbishop Pedro Quintana

Lithuanian Jewish Community and Bagel Shop volunteers went all out this year to make this event a success. The Israeli embassy’s booth sold Lithuanian and Israeli products and collected almost 4,500 euros for charity, three times more than last year’s amount.

More photos here.

Saulius Sužiedėlis Interview on Lithuanian Holocaust Collaboration


by Mindaugas Jackevičius, www.delfi.lt

U.S.-based professor emeritus of history Saulius Sužiedėlis says it’s inappropriate for the state to honor those who contributed in any way to the Holocaust, and calls upon Lithuania to review for whom statues have been erected

Sužiedėlis says Lithuania could have and should have done more to detect and prosecute Holocaust perpetrators. He says Lithuania doesn’t have to admit complicity in the murder of Jews, but finally needs to admit collaboration by Lithuanians without excuses and to stop downplaying the significance of that collaboration.

The historian says this is harming Lithuania’s reputation which is important for defending national sovereignty. Sužiedėlis says no one will want to defend a country with such a poor reputation.

Well-known German historian Dr. Christoph Dieckmann, who in 2011 wrote the fundamental work “Germany’s Occupation Policy in Lithuania 1941-1944” [co-authored by Saulius Sužiedėlis], in an interview with Delfi last spring raised the moral question of why Lithuanian society, seeing and hearing the Jews being killed around them, didn’t protest. Do you think this is a well-founded question?

I think the question is not completely justified, because there were few opportunities to resist. And let’s remember that in the first two months the Lithuanian consciousness was still focused on the deportations, and Red Army soldiers shot at least 1,000 innocent Lithuanians as they withdrew. The psychology was completely different. What Lithuanian would die for Stalin? So resisting would have been difficult psychologically.