Heritage

Photography Exhibit Remembers Jewish Rescuers

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky took part in an opening ceremony for an exhibition of photography about Lithuanian rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust, part of a joint project by the LJC and the Sovereign Order of Malta to commemorate and provide aid to rescuers. Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė and Order of Malta ambassador to Lithuania Manfred Leo Mautner Markhof also took part at the opening ceremony in the exhibit space of the Tuskulėnai Memorial Park Complex in Vilnius May 29.

The Lithuanian president said the exhibit, which will go on display around Lithuania, documents Righteous Gentiles who saved hundreds of Jews at great risk to themselves. They shared hope, bread and their homes with Jews during the Holocaust. She said by extending a helping hand, they also saved humanity and the dignity of the Lithuanian nation. They have become a source of inspiration in the lives of Lithuania’s people today, she said, adding their attitude towards others and their self-sacrifice is needed daily.

LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky said:

“More than 800 Lithuanians made the fateful decision during World War II to resist the axiomata of hate. Their only weapon was their conscience which, led by the choice to remain human, made these non-Jews an eternal and spiritual part of our people. Our gratitude cannot be expressed in words, nor measured in numbers; it is limitless and intangible, having become as it were a light of God’s being in the imperfect grey ghetto or in hiding in a forest hideout. These are people thanks to whom we were reborn to new life, thanks to whom we gout back our energy for the old faith.

Ceremony to Honor Jewish Volunteer Soldiers

Commander of the Lithuanian military lieutenant general Jonas Vytautas Žukas and the Kaunas Jewish Community invite the public to an event to honor Jewish soldiers who fought in the battles for Lithuanian independence. The event is to take place in Kaunas on May 30. At 12:30 P.M. the ceremony including speeches, a moment of silence, wreath-laying and music begins at A. Mapu street no. 18 at the building where the Union of Jewish Soldiers Who Fought in Battles for Lithuanian Independence was located in the period between the two world wars. A discussion follows at 1:30 P.M. at the Vytautas Magnus Military Museum at K. Donelaičio street no. 64.

Jews in Lithuania Experiencing Crisis in Values

by Faina Kukliansky, chairwoman, Lithuanian Jewish Community

Jews as with any people are not homogenous. The history of Jews in Lithuania stretches back almost 700 years and during that time all sorts of things happened, rises and declines, and the effects of the Holocaust were especially painful in Lithuania, and following the attempt at physical annihilation the Soviet occupation attempted to destroy the Jewish people spiritually.

People often ask me, Jews are so united, why is it different in Lithuania? It’s not different in Lithuania, divisions exist in secular and religious Jewish communities in Israel as well as the rest of the world. The wealth of the Jewish people is our diversity, our knowledge, our faith and our ability to remain Jews.

I am proud of my people. Unfortunately, all sorts of things go on inside the Jewish community. It’s sad, but we have only partially passed our “trial by money.” On the one hand, we have the well-functioning Goodwill Foundation, which only adopts decisions by consensus and allocates compensation for Jewish communal/religious properties, and which has been audited for many years now by the Office of State Auditor, the highest auditing institution, and has always received a glowing review. On the other hand, we have over-ambitious community members who believe they can do everything the best, in the most transparent manner and preferably all by themselves. They claim the opinion of the majority is merely a simulation of democracy.

In Lithuania, as in the world, volunteer leaders lead the Jewish communities. This post is for me first of all an honor and a pleasure. Before I assumed responsibility, I learned much from the earlier chairmen, Grigory Kanovitch and Dr. Simon Alperovitch. Much of what is needed for this work I learned from active Community members and intellectuals attorney professor Jurijus Bluvšteinas, Josif Levinson and Maša Grodnikienė.

LJC Reporting Conference

The Lithuanian Jewish Community will hold its annual reporting conference May 28, 2018, during which annual financial and activity reports will be considered.

The conference is the highest governance body of the LJC convoked and organized once per year by the LJC board.

Under LJC rergulations only real members of the LJC participate at the conference, meaning association members which are corporate entities and whose activities are connected with Jewish culture, education, religion, tradition, learning, sports and so on. All the regional Jewish communities are LJC members.

The LJC was especially active in 2017 in the areas of social welfare, culture and Jewish heritage. We are happy that hundreds of Jewish senior citizens, community members in difficult financial situations and young families across Lithuania received home care services, aid in acquiring household and hygiene items, help in preparing for school and appropriate heating during winter. More than 400 people made use of aid provided by the Community for acquiring food and medicine.

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.