History of the Jews in Lithuania

Sixth Annual Klezmer Music Festival 2018 Presents Two Legends of the Century

A concert by various performers dedicated to the composers Anatolijus Šenderovas and Vyacheslav Ganelin. Anatolijus Šenderovas and Vyacheslav Ganelin meet as chamber music composers and speak with the audience.

Where: Tolerance Center, Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum, Naugarduko street 10 /2, Vilnius
When: 6:30 P.M., September 17, 2018

For more information contact Arkadijus Gotesmanas by email at gotesmanas@yahoo.com or call 863466675.

American Virtuosi Perform in Panevėžys

For the third time the American Virtuosi led by Charles Borowsky have toured Lithuania with concerts in Vilnius, Kaunas, Panevėžys and Alytus. The event was organized by violinist Boris Traub from Vilnius and Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman as a gift to local residents in celebration of Panevėžys’s birthday, the 100th anniversary of the restoration of Lithuanian statehood, the Jewish new year and in the run-up to September 23, the Day of Remembrance of Lithuanian Jewish Victims of Genocide. The family band began their visit to Panevėžys with a visit to the mass murder site in Kurganova, then toured the Panevėžys Art Galley and historic sites in Panevėžys.

Deputy administrator of the Panevėžys municipality Sandra Jakštienė spoke: “Music is the best bridge uniting the people of the whole world. That has been the attitude of this ensemble from the very beginning of their activities. The American Virtuosi have toured in China, Cuba, Viet Nam, Germany and other countries of the world, they have visited more than 80 countries of the world and have received acclaim everywhere. Professor Cecilia Borowsky on cello, as with her husband professor Charles, have created a music group to show the world the family has great potential, raising their children with a positive attitude towards life, their son Dr. Emmanuel on violin and daughter Elizabeth on piano. The family has consistently demonstrated that music can stimulate thought and creativity, and can become the catalyst for human relations. The concerts and courses in excellence by the Borowsky family are noted for their solo and chamber music and the expression of the personality of each member of the family.”

Embrace the Past Tense

A concert to commemorate Holocaust victims will be performed on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the liquidation of the Vilnius ghetto. Tenor Rafail Karpis, pianist Darius Mažintas and poet Sergejus Kanovičius present Embrace the Past Tense.

Can Yiddish and Lithuanian meet under one roof?
Do you know it’s a lullaby if it’s in a language you don’t understand?
Is dialogue possible between spoken Lithuanian and sung Yiddish?
Can love, longing and regret meet in memory?

6:00 P.M., September 26
Applied Art and Design Hall,
Arsenalo street no. 3A, Vilnius
Admission free

For more information write info@lzb.lt or call +370 672 40942

Event sponsors: Lithuanian Jewish Community, Government of the Republic of Lithuania

Born Efraim, Raised as Kazimieras


Photo: Karolina Savickytė

Bernardinai.lt

There is a holy silence at Ponar today. The wind softly brushes the tops of the pines and occasionally carries the sound of trains rolling on the tracks. As we walk the winding paths of the memorial complex we hear the voices of American tourists. When we run into them face-to-face, one man points to an older man and says: “This man is a survivor of the Kaunas ghetto.”

An athletics jacket, a light turquoise shirt, dark jeans and black leather shoes–I would say the usual image of a modern intellectual. The old man smiles and we smile back. Suddenly he points at the woman leading the tour and telling the tragedy of Ponar, and says to us in fluent Lithuanian: “She is speaking very well, telling everything correctly. Take a listen.”

“But we wanted to ask you,” I reply and receive a piercing look from his brown eyes.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Opening of Exhibit “Żegota: The Council to Aid Jews”

The Polish foreign minister is to open the exhibit “Żegota: The Council to Aid Jews” in the Lithuanian parliament’s Building III at 4:00 P.M. on September 13. The embassy of the Republic of Poland and the Polish Institute in Vilnius in cooperation with the Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Lithuanian parliament are to present the extraordinary exhibit about the Polish Council to Aid Jews as part of commemorations of the 75th anniversary of the destruction of the Vilnius ghetto and to celebrate the Year of Irena Senderlowa. The exhibit was made by Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance. It was first shown at the Ninth Fort in Kaunas earlier this year.

Those planning to attend the opening ceremony include Polish foreign minister Jacek Czaputowicz, Lithuanian MP Arūnas Gelūnas, LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, Polish ambassador to Lithuania Urszula Doroszewska and Polish Institute director and advisor to the ambassador Marcin Łapczyński.

Please report your intention to attend by sending an email to danguole.stonyte@lrs.lt

Valid identification is required for entry to the parliament building.

European Days of Jewish Culture Celebrated in Plungė

More than 20 Lithuanian cities and towns took part last week in European Days of Jewish Culture from September 2 to 9 with tours, lectures, concerts, exhibits, conferences and other events. This year the theme of European Days of Jewish Culture was “Stories.”

On September 7 residents of Plungė (Plungyan) and others attended one such event at the Plungė Public Library. Saulė Gymnasium Tolerance Center students began the event with a violin concert and readings from Holocaust survivor Maša Rolnik’s autobiography. Rolnik was born in Plungė. A specialist from the Plungė Tourist Information Center presented a new Jewish tourism itinerary in Plungė, and the publication “On the Jewish Streets of Plungė” which details in English and Lithuanian a 3-kilometer route through the town where buildings which once belonged to the Jewish community, statues and other sites have been marked with signs.

Eugenijus Bunka greeted the audience with the upcoming Jewish new year and gave a presentation on world-famous Jewish figures with roots in Plungė.

Invitation to Read the Names

NAMES. The person is not a number

Marking the Day of Remembrance of the Genocide of Lithuanian Jews on September 23, the names of Holocaust victims will be read out at different locations around Lithuania. More than 90% of the Jews who lived in our country were murdered during World War II. The Names civic initiative invites everyone to remember the people of Lithuanian brutally murdered by reading their names out loud.

Readings of the names in public in Lithuanian cities and towns has been going on for eight years now. Participants say this form of Holocaust remembrance really helps them to feel at the personal level the scope of the tragedy.

“When you read in your own voice the names, surnames and professions of these people who lived here, you can no longer pretend they didn’t exist, you can no longer pretend that that person never lived, and the statistics become more than numbers. In this way the courage appears to look at history more openly,” Milda Jakulytė-Vasil says.

Nazi Collaborator or National Hero? A Test for Lithuania


Photo: Brendan Hoffman

by Andrew Higgins
Sept. 10, 2018

ŠUKIONIAI, Lithuania — For the tiny village of Šukioniai in western Lithuania, the exploits of General Storm, a local anti-Communist hero executed by the Soviet secret police in 1947, have long been a source of pride. The village school is named after him, and his struggles against the Soviet Union are also honored with a memorial carved from stone next to the farm where he was born.

All along, though, there have been persistent whispers that General Storm, whose real name was Jonas Noreika, also helped the Nazis kill Jews. But these were largely discounted as the work of ill-willed outsiders serving a well-orchestrated campaign by Moscow to tar its foes as fascists.

Blaming Russian propaganda, however, has suddenly become a lot more difficult thanks to Mr. Noreika’s own granddaughter, Silvia Foti, a Lithuanian-American from Chicago who has spent years researching a biography of her revered relative and went public in July with her shocking conclusion: her grandfather was a fierce anti-Semite and Nazi collaborator.

Full story here.

LJC Chairwoman Faina Kukliansky’s Greetings on Rosh Hashanah 5779

As the high holy days draw near, I am glad to be able to share with you important Lithuanian Jewish Community news. The Lithuanian Jewish Community faces many challenges every day, but this year we’ve grown, we’ve grown stronger and we are receiving ever more public and political support. Interest in Jewish culture is not fading, either, as shown by European Days of Jewish Culture events in Lithuania, a program which grows richer by the year. I greatly appreciate that 1,500 Litvaks abroad have officially joined the LJC from the Litvak Association in Israel chaired by Arie Ben-Ari Grozdensky. Jewish unity is the largest goal for the LJC which is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the national revival this year.

Thanks to the active work of the regional Jewish communities and Jewish organizations, Jewish values remain strong in Lithuania. A young generation of Jews is growing up and we need to pass on our history and our future to them. For a long time now we have been developing the idea of reviving the tradition of Litvak scouting and this year we finally managed to make it a reality working with French and Polish Jewish scouting organizations. Vilnius ghetto prisoner and Jewish partisan Fania Brancovskaja was part of Jewish scouting in Lithuania before the war and shared her experience in scouting at our recent camping event. Although the Jewish community in Lithuania isn’t large, we have proven we are able to continue the old traditions and to start new ones.

We met the Litvak prime minister of Israel, Binyamin Netanyahu, and his wife Sara at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius, celebrating its 115th anniversary this year. This was an historical occasion to remind Europe and the world the Jewish nation is an indivisible part of European culture, and Europe should be grateful to the State of Israel for so many European lives which have been saved thanks to the work of Israeli intelligence in stopping attacks. Two small democracies, Israel and Lithuania, find striking parallels in their histories. We will recall them this December in celebrating 100 years of the union of Lithuanian Zionist organizations, which also supported Lithuanian aspirations for statehood.

In September we mark a great tragedy which has come to be a symbol of the Holocaust in Lithuania. We mark the painful 75th anniversary of the destruction of the Vilnius ghetto. It’s very significant that we are dedicating ever more informal means to commemorate history, but there are still areas where more needs to be done in discussing the role the Lithuanian Activist Front and the Provisional Government of Lithuania played in the Holocaust, and more needs to be done in the state’s school curriculum as well.

We esteem highly as well the great work our partners–the joint Lithuanian-Israel archaeology group–have done in work on the Great Synagogue of Vilnius. The LJC is responsible for drafting a study on ways to commemorate the Great Synagogue. As the spiritual successors to the Vilna Gaon, we feel a great responsibility to insure the respect due this special Jewish sacred site and the appropriate presentation of what’s left of this heritage site to the public.

I want to thank sincerely all those who have been and are with the Lithuanian Jewish Community. Thank you for your energy and support. I wish you a sweet and happy 5779!

LJC Calendar for 5779 Features Children of the Holocaust


This September, 2018, reminds us of the destruction of the Vilnius ghetto 75 years ago, the Holocaust, marking the history of our country for the ages with great loss.

The most fragile portion of our society, the children, also became hostages to this horror. By condemning our children to death, the Nazi invaders and their local collaborators attempted to snuff out our future; more than a million children in Europe became the victims of those who supported this ruthless and inhumane ideology. And the effects of the Holocaust in Lithuania were also ruthless: complete Jewish shtetlakh left empty, broken Jewish families, family lives cut short and the loss of great civic and intellectual potential.

American Virtuosi Return for Concert Tour

The American Virtuosi are back in Lithuania for another series of concerts. They are to play a concert to celebrate the 120th birthday of Righteous Gentile Jonas Paulavičius in the Great Hall at the Catholic Theology Faculty of Vytautas Magnus University, Gimnazijos street no. 7, Kaunas, at 5:30 P.M. on September 10, 2018. Admission is free and the event is being supported by the US embassy in Vilnius, the Goodwill Foundation, the Lithuanian Jewish Community and others.

At 5:30 P.M. on September 11, 2018, the virtuosi are set to play the Panevėžys Art Gallery in Panevėžys, Lithuania. Price of admission is 2 euros.

Sutzkever Exhibit

The Judaic Studies Center of the Lithuanian National Martynas Mažvydas Library celebrated European Days of Jewish Culture with an exhibit called “Žaibo prisiminimas,” or “Memory of Lightning,” dedicated to the poet Abraham Sutzkever. The poet was a partisan and one of the first authors of memoirs of the Vilnius ghetto. Before the war he contributed to the flourishing of Yiddish literature in Jewish Vilnius; after he chronicled the death of Jewish Vilnius.

Sutzkever’s granddaughter Hadas Calderon, Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky and Israeli ambassador Amir Maimon participated at the event.

Kaunas Jewish Community Commemorates Holocaust Victims

Kauno žydų bendruomenė pagerbia Holokausto tragedijos aukas

Traditionally the Kaunas Jewish Community on the last weekend in August by visiting the Petrašiūnai mass murder site and the Fourth Fort where the Jewish intellectuals were murdered in Kaunas. This year we included mass murder sites in Prienai and the surrounding towns of Birštonas, Stakliškiai, Jieznas and Balbieriškis.

Prienai Regional History Museum director Lolita Batutienė and advisor to the head of the Prienai regional administration Jūratė Zailskienė spoke about remembering and the importance of commemorations for Lithuanians as well as Jews. They said Lithuanians need to understand the Holocaust wasn’t “someone else’s” tragedy but that of all Lithuanian citizens, a horrible loss to the nation which destroyed the life of the towns and deprived everyone of diversity.

Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas said a few words in Yiddish, a language which hasn’t been heard in Prienai and surrounding towns for many years, and thanked the organizers, the young musicians who performed and all who turned out for the commemoration. Afterwards participants went to the Prienai Regional History Museum and viewed an exhibit on loan from Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum called “A Rescued Jewish Child Talks about the Holocaust.” Curator of the exhibit Viktorija Bielievičienė was pleasantly surprised to discover Kaunas ghetto inmate and KJC member Fruma Kučinskienė among the viewers, who spoke about herself, her rescuers and some of the people contained in the exhibit.

Ceremony for Inscribing New Torah Scroll Held at Choral Synagogue

A ceremony marking the beginning of the writing of a new Torah scroll was held at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius September 4, initiated by Rabbi Sholom Ber Krinsky. This is an historical event, the first time since the Holocaust Jews have written their own “Litvak” Torah scroll.

Calligraphy experts (soferim) with special ink are inscribing the new Torah scroll with special quills on parchment together with members of the Lithuanian Jewish Community. This is a centuries-old scribal tradition among Jews. For most, this is the first time they’re witnessing such an event. This is the first time Torah has been copied since Lithuanian independence in 1990 and since World War II.

The Choral Synagogue in Vilnius, celebrating its 115th birthday this year, will receive a unique, sacred gift.

Smhuel Levin, chairman
Vilnius Jewish Religious Community

Back to Shul Exhibit at Zavl Shul

Richard “Sco” Shofield presented a photography installation at the Zavl Shul at Gėlių street no. 6 in Vilnius September 2.

The exhibit was part of European Days of Jewish Culture which began last Sunday.

Schofield is a photographer and director of the non-profit International Centre for Litvak Photography which he founded. He studied photo-journalism and documentary photography at the University of the Arts in London.

The Zavl and Levinson Shul is still undergoing renovation but the catwalks and platforms were successfully used to hang the works. Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky opened the exhibit and Choral Synagogue cantor Shmuel Yatom sang.

European Days of Jewish Culture 2018

Everyone who’s interested is invited to attend European Days of Jewish Culture. For several years now European Days of Jewish Culture are held beginning on the first Sunday in September. The theme for the next year is chosen as soon as the Days have concluded so that organizers have time to prepare. This year the theme is “Jewish Stories” allowing for broad interpretation and broad public education on Jewish heritage with a special emphasis on true stories, jokes and visual work.

The story-telling tradition remains current in the Jewish collective memory. Stories come from the Torah, and there is a rich oral tradition from the shtetlakh. Stories is an inclusive theme which offers a number of opportunities. All European Days of Jewish Culture coordinators are free to choose and propose their own topics and organize this interesting event. This is what the Lithuanian Jewish Community is offering this year:

September 2

2:00 P.M. Richard “Sco” Schofield’s installation “Back to Shul” at the Zavel and Levinson synagogue, Gėlių street no. 6, Vilnius

September 6, LJC

3:00-5:00 P.M. The Bagel Shop Café invites you to come learn how to make challa. Registration: goo.gl/bstFEC

6:00 P.M. Presentation of the 5779 LJC calendar

September 7

4:00-5:30 P.M. Concert by Vitalijus Neugasimovas, Gėlių street no. 6, Vilnius

September 9, Leipalingis, Lithuania

11:00 A.M.-2:00 P.M. The Bagel Shop Café presents Jewish dishes on the eve of the Great Autumn Holidays, Leipalingis manor square, Leipalingis, Lithuania

Sabbath at the LJC with Actor Marius Repšys (Cohen)

What does cohen mean? That was the question for some who came to celebrate Sabbath at the LJC with famous Lithuanian actor Marius Repšys, who turned 34 on September 1. Lithuanian Jewish Community executive director Renaldas Vaisbrodas moderated the event.

“I wanted to get back my father’s surname, Cohen, which was changed when I was a child, but when I went to the Justice Ministry, I found out I can’t do that, because it’s difficult to prove following my father’s death in Israel,” Repšys told the audience. Marius’s father was Jewish and his mother is mixed Tartar and Russian. When he was 8 his mother decided it would be better for him to change his surname, to be a Lithuanian rather than a Jew, because, she said, “everyone attacks Russians and Jews.” She had divorced his father when Marius was 4. He only learned his father was Jewish when he was 7.

Twenty years later he visited his father in Israel on his father’s birthday and brought as a gift an album of photographs of him in his childhood. “My father was moved and cried, but the next day there was an ashtray on top of the photo album,” Marius recalled. He went to Israel the second time for his father’s funeral.

Renaldas Vaisbrodas recalled it was fairly common to switch ethnicity in Soviet times, and parents did this to protect their children from bullying.

Pope Francis to Honor Holocaust Victims in Vilnius

According to the Lithuanian Government’s planning committee for the visit of Pope Francis, the head of the Roman Catholic Church will honor Holocaust victims in the Vilnius ghetto after returning from Kaunas on September 23.

On September 23, 1943, the final destruction of the ghetto took place. In Lithuania September 23 is marked as the Day of Genocide of the Jews of Lithuania.

Sugihara Week in Kaunas to Include Japanese Culture Component

Sugihara Week celebrations and events will take place in Kaunas from September 3 to 9 this year and will include concerts, a symposium, film screenings, lectures, creative workshops and other events. Visitors will learn more about Japanese culture and friendship between Lithuania and Japan.

The program begins Monday, September 3, with a concert called “Improvisational Music” performed by Japanese and Lithuanian musicians at the Kaunas State Philharmonic.

On September 5 an international symposium called “Diplomats Who Saved Jewish Lives” will be held in the Small Hall at Vytautas Magnus University with speakers from Israel, the USA, Japan, Poland, the Netherlands, Germany and France.

More information in Lithuanian here.

First New Litvak Scouting Camp, Sabbath in the Forest

The first new Litvak scouting camping trip with children from Vilnius, Kaunas, Klaipėda, Panevėžys and Molėtai took place over the weekend. Litvak scouting has a long tradition in Lithuania until the Holocaust and there were thousands of scouts. Jewish scouting stopped after the Holocaust, making the revival, Sabbath in the Forest, an important milestone. The goal of the renewed organization is to include religious Jewish children, secular Jewish children and non-Jewish children in Jewish scouting activities. The main concern is to make sure minimal standards are adhered to to allow religious Jewish children to attend the camping trips. The camping trips place special emphasis on Jewish religious traditions and prayer, serve kosher food and observe all the requirements of the Sabbath.

Many of the children experienced the great outdoors for the very first time, setting up tents and sleeping in them, setting up wooden picnic tables, cooking bread on the fire and challa in an outdoor oven and going on an evening hike.

Fania Brancovskaja, a member of the Bin scouting organization in Vilnius, ushered out the Sabbath last Saturday. The scouts called her “Sister Fania” as she shared her experience in scouting and stories about the scouts in pre-World War II Lithuania. Fania was presented a Lithuanian scouting necktie.