History of the Jews in Lithuania

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.

Sholem Aleichem School Holds Bar/Bat Mitzvah Ceremony at LJC

The Vilnius Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymnasium held their annual bar and bat mitzvah ceremony at the Choral Synagogue and Lithuanian Jewish Community. According to the Torah, boys became adults at age 13 and girls at age 12. The rite of passage was led by Hebrew teachers Motti Feigin and Ruth Reches. Principal Miša Jakobas recalled his own bar mitzvah ceremony 55 years ago in Telšiai. He congratulated each participant individually. LJC executive director Renaldas Vaisbrodas presented the warm wishes of the Community and presented all of the participants presents. Israeli ambassador Amir Maimon also sent a letter of congratulations. The new adults lit candles for their grandparents, parents, for the LJC, Jerusalem, Israel and child Holocaust victims. They also performed skits, scenes from Jewish life, and spoke Hebrew on stage, then performed a final song to great applause.

LJC Chairwoman Delivers Holocaust Diary to Yad Vashem

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky met Avner Shalev, chairman of Yad Vashem, on May 15. She personally gave him a copy of the LJC’s Lithuanian translation of the Holocaust diary of Vilnius ghetto prisoner Yitzhak Rudashevski. They discussed the influence the book would have in the future on Holocaust consciousness in Lithuania. Avner Shalev praised the LJC and the chairwoman’s continuing efforts and work in raising Holocaust awareness and promoting Jewish culture.

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 Translation of Rudashevski Diary Presented in Tel Aviv


Photo: Milda Rūkaitė

The Beit Vilna association of Litvak survivors from Vilnius hosted a presentation of the new Lithuanian translation of Yitzhak Rudashevski’s Vilnius ghetto diary in Tel Aviv May 16. Rudashevski’s two surviving cousins Sora Voloshin and Golda Rudashevsky attended the event. Voloshin escaped while her family and Ytizhak and his parents was being sent to Ponar to be executed. She later found the diary written in school notebooks in the ruins of a location where the Rudashevski family hid.

The Lithuanian translation was the initiative of the Lithuanian Jewish Community. LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky and Lithuanian ambassador to Israel Edminas Bagdonas attended the event in Tel Aviv, as did Beit Vilna director Miki Kantor and Arie Ben-Ari Grozdensky, the chairman of the executive board of the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Isrsael.

Rudashevski’s diary is one of only a few Holocaust chronicles recorded as events happened, and one of even fewer such diaries written by children. He wrote the diary in Yiddish. The Lithuanian edition contains the same Yiddish text in the second half of the book.

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.

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.

Victory Day 2018 in Panevėžys

Members of the Panevėžys Jewish Community together with Panevėžys city residents came to the memorial to the unknown solider on the warm and sunny morning of May 9. The memorial contains the mortal remains of soldiers who fell in the city and region of Panevėžys from 1941 to 1945. They came to mark Victory Day, when Nazi Germany capitulated to the Allies 73 years ago, celebrated in the West on May 8 as Victory in Europe Day because of time-zone differences.

People of all ethnicities suffered during World War II, but as a percentage the Jewish people lost the most members of their population. Panevėžys residents and members of the Jewish community laid wreaths and lit candles at the monument marking the location of the Panevėžys ghetto gates. Everyone observed a minute of silence for the victims of the Holocaust in the city and region, where more than 13,000 Jews were murdered. Also attending were Russian embassy advisor L. Nikolai Yurevich and Belarusian embassy advisor Aleksandr Ignatenko. Both wished everyone present peace.

Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman welcomed and greeted everyone on the occasion of Victory Day, and noted next to the monument where everyone had gathered once existed the Panevėžys ghetto, where more than 10,000 people were held before being murdered in surrounding forests.

The chairman also spoke about Lithuanians who had risked everything to save Jews from death. He also noted the Panevėžys Jewish Community has a member, Yefim Grafman, who survived the Nazi blockade of Leningrad, and that Yuri Smirnov had cheated death and survived the Holocaust through a miracle. The chairman thanked all present for not forgetting the holiday and for remembering the soldiers who fell fighting for our lives. He wished everyone peace, good health and success.

Later members gathered at the Jewish community building and recalled the fates and heroism of their fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers who fought the Nazis and died during World War II. Members took away memories of the dead and the undying hope such things will never happen again.

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.

Best Lithuanian Gymnasia Announced

The best schools are:

1. Klaipėda licėjus (took 1st place last year),

2. Panevėžys J. Balčikonis Gymnasium (2nd place last year),

3. Vilnius Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymnasium (7th place last year).

A total of 360 gymnasia without entrance exams were sampled and assessed. The rating is based on the averaged final state examination performance by students last year including tests on Lithuanian language and literature, history, English, information technology, physics, chemistry, biology and geography. The best-scoring gymnasium received eight points and the worst zero.

The rating was also weighted with bonus points for 12th graders who received 100% on their final exams and the number of students who went on to win government-paid places at universities. Bonus points were also given for the number of students who went on to study at institutions of higher learning abroad.

More information in Lithuanian here.

VE Day at the Jewish Cemetery in Vilnius

May 8 is VE Day, marking the victory of the Allies against the Nazis in Europe. At a monument to Vilnius ghetto underground resistance leader Yitzhak Vitenberg and partisan Sheina Madeisker in the Jewish cemetery on Sudervės road in Vilnius, veterans and members of the Jewish community gathered Tuesday to pay their respects to those who fought and died, and the victims of the war.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky said it was difficult for Jews to call the day a holiday. “Is it a holiday when you have lost most of the members of your family?” she asked in her brief speech at the monument. “Those who survived carry within the pain of loss. The only thing which can be called a holiday is the end of the horror of war, and to thank Almighty God for that,” she added.

Shmuel Yatom, cantor at the Choral Synagogue, performed kaddish.

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.