Many events have taken place recently at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius. Besides daily prayer services and Kollel Torah studies, seminars, traditional Jewish holidays, Sabbath and kiddush with many visitors from around the world as well as Women’s Club activities, there is a growing demand for traditional Jewish rituals.
We can take pride that this year there were two circumcision and 3 bar mitzvahs as well as a traditional huppah or Jewish wedding ceremony held at the Choral Synagogue.
Last week two families from the USA held bar mitzvah ceremonies at the Choral Synagogue. The young men were born in America but have family roots in Lithuania.
The boys had been prepared well for the Torah reading. Their gratitude to their parents and their parents’ stories about the footsteps taken on the way to adulthood and how much they love their children moved the large audience of friends, relatives and guests.
by Vaidotas Žukas, Bernardinai.lt
Jews constituted the majority of the population of the towns of the Molėtai region before World War II. In 1941, however, the Nazi regime issued a verdict against the Jews, the descendants of David were to be abused, tortured and shot… And only God knows how many people from this beautiful lake country contributed to the rescue of their neighbors and vice versa, informing upon them, betraying and shooting them. The Nazis only sent a few Germans to Molėtai. Lithuanian lowlifes performed all of the arrests and shootings of Jews.
There is a bright side, though, to this tragedy: there were also several hundred rescuers of Jews in the Molėtai area, since it took the conviction, daily work and risk-taking in the face of death of several dozen people to hide and protect one Jew. Respect to them!
The Alanta synagogue is one of only several surviving wooden synagogues in Lithuania; it hasn’t been destroyed and wasn’t burned down, but it’s still not in good order and unrestored. During the Soviet era grain and fertilizer were stored there. The cut-up wooden walls of the synagogue and the tin roof still with bullet holes from the war witness to both the Holocaust and the continuing reluctant position taken towards Jewish religious and historical heritage in Lithuania.
by Rasa Baškienė, Bernardinai.lt
Ona Šimaitė was named a Righteous Gentile in 1966 for saving Jews from the Vilnius ghetto. She constantly risked her life from 1941 to 1943, when the Vilnius ghetto existed, saving Jewish children and adults and seeking out shelter and support for them. Vilnius University rector Mykolas Biržiška, his brother Vaclovas Biržiška, the director of the Vilnius University library, and professors and staff at the university helped Ona Šimaitė, as did the writer Kazys Jakubėnas and the clerics A. Lipniūnas, M. Krupavičius, M. Vaitkus and others.
Rūdninkų street in the Vilnius ghetto.
On September 6, 1941, after the Germans had occupied Vilnius, 57,000 Jews were marched to the two ghettos in the Vilnius Old Town. They included many Vilnius University students and teachers, famous professors and scholars. Rector Mykolas Biržiška, university leadership and head librarian Vaclovas Biržiška tried to think of a way to help the Jews condemned to death. Finally a seemingly innocent way to do so was found: they would send two university librarians–catalog department director Ona Šimaitė and reading room director Godliauskaitė into the two ghettos to collect unreturned library books from Jewish readers.
Full story in Lithuanian here.
Folk artist and celebrator of Žemaitijan Jewish history Jakov Bunka’s (1923-2014) wooden sculpture exhibition “Moses of Plateliai” is being shown at the Lithuanian National UNESCO Commission gallery at Šv. Jono street no. 11 in Vilnius on occasion of the 95th anniversary of Bunka’s birth.
Bunka was unique. He was the only Jewish folk artist in Lithuania who commemorated Jewish characters within the Lithuanian tradition in wood, he was the last Jew to remain in Plungė and he was rider in the cavalry of the Don Cossacks. After reaching Berlin in 1945 he dedicated his life to commemorating the communities of his fellow Jews annihilated in Lithuania between 1941 and 1945. He made the Kaušėnai memorial to the exterminated Jews of Plungė, wrote a book about the history of the Jews of Plungė, was an honorary citizen of Plungė and was awarded the honor of Knight of the Cross of the Rider of the Order of Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas. As Grigoriy Kanovich put it so fittingly in his inscription in his book he gave to Bunka: “To a Žemaitijan Jew, to a Jewish Žemaitijan.”
Jonas Rudzinskas, the chairman of the Union of Lithuanian Folk Artists, said of Bunka: “Jakov Bunka’s aesthetic views, mentality, optimistic nature and work ethic formed in the Žemaitijan environment. … In creating large or inside sculpture, the master did without trifles and insignificant detail. … His responsible, sincere attitude towards creative work and unique style set Jakov Bunka apart from others and he joins the ranks of our greatest folk artists who set the development of folk art.”
From the third issue of Naujasis Židinys-Aidai, 2018
Ina Pukelytė, Žydų teatras tarpukario Lietuvoje: Monografija [Jewish Theater in Interwar Lithuania: A Monograph], Kaunas: Vytauto Didžiojo universitetas, 2017, 192 pp., print-run of 100. Illustrated by Saulius Bajorinas.
Ina Pukelytė says one of the main goals of her monograph is to reconstruct Jewish theater activity in Lithuania between the two world wars, from 1919 to 1940. Another goal is to determine what influence Lithanian Jewish theater had on Jewish theater in the diaspora and on the evolution of Lithuanian theater, based on an examination of different literature and comparison with theater around the world. The author used Lithuanian periodicals, archives, libraries and museums as well as material from Yad Vashem and YIVO, including lists of actors from Yiddish troupes who toured Lithuania, founding documents of theater associations, correspondence with the Lithuanian Education Ministry, tax files of Jewish theaters and their directors, lists of foreign actors who came to work in Lithuania and iconographic material.
Full article in Lithuanian here.
Under an agreement of several years’ standing Edit Perry and Ewa Baranska have led another delegation of people from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities to Panevėžys and the Panevėžys Jewish Community. Many are adults involved in continuing education during the academic year on the topic of Jews from the Baltic states. During the summer they strive to visit as many sites as possible where they had family in Lithuania, including Panevėžys. The students were keenly interested in the photography exhibit and archival documents illustrating Jewish life before World War II preserved at the Panevėžys Jewish Community.
Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman and member Jurijus Smirnovas delivered lectures at actual historical sites inside the former ghetto territory and the old Jewish cemetery which is now called Memory Square.
Smirnovas shared his experience of World War II with the visitors. He was a small child at the concentration camps in Panevėžys and Šiauliai and lost his family members.
The Kaunas Jewish Community and artists from the Kiemas Gallery in Kaunas invite you to the opening ceremony of the Burning Stones project to commemorate the Slobodka Jewish ghetto in Kaunas (1941-1944) at 1:00 P.M. on July 15, 2018, at A. Kriščiukaičio street no. 21 in Kaunas.
“You stand before the gates of the Vilijampolė [Slobodka] Jewish ghetto which operated from 1941 to 1944. Beyond them stretched the territory of death. The stylized stones in the mosaic commemorate the Jewish historical and cultural heritage; while the sun rises and sets, the memory of those who lost their lives in the ghetto, the thousands of Lithuanian citizens of Jewish origin will remain in our minds and those of future generations. The portrait of boys embracing called Neighbors symbolizes the importance of friendly relations between Lithuanians and Jews in the context of those days, closeness, common ground, the ability to forgive. The color clouds floating by remind us of the course of time and, despite the scope of the tragedy which occurred, of hope, and reminds each of us of our responsibility to insure it never happens again.”
–Vytenis Jakas, creator of the Burning Stones project
The project was financed by the city of Kaunas. The opening ceremony will be financed by the Goodwill Foundation.
Sora first on left.
The Lithuanian Jewish Community wishes Sora Voloshin a very happy birthday, good health and to be surrounded by the strong love of family. Mazl tov! Biz hundert azoi ve tsvantsik!
Yitzhak Rudashevski’s cousin Sora survived the Holocaust while Yitzhak and his family were murdered at Ponar. She ran away when they were being taken to Ponar. After the war she went back to the place the Rudashevski family hid, found Yitzhak’s diary and loaned it to Abraham Sutzkever for use as an exhibit in the ill-fated post-war Jewish Museum in Vilnius.
The Lithuanian Jewish Community published a Lithuanian translation of the Yiddish diary this year as we approach the 75th anniversary of the liquidation of the Vilnius ghetto.
Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė decorated Lithuanian and foreign citizens for contributions to the Lithuanian state on July 6, State Day.
“Today I would most like to emphasize what has been accomplished, and to thank everyone who works for Lithuania from their heart. Those whose civic-mindedness is not a pose or empty words, those for whom this country is the most important one in the world. Thanks to you Lithuania has in less than three decades travelled this road of statehood and today confidently compares itself to many states in Europe and the world with whom we have strong ties of friendship,” she said at the awards ceremony.
The Lithuanian Jewish Community is proud of and congratulates our members who were decorated on State Day on the 100th anniversary of the Lithuanian state.
Theater expert and propagator of historical memory and tolerance professor Irena Veisaitė was awarded the Great Cross of the Commander “For Merit to Lithuania.”
Journalist and radio host Ernestas Alesinas was recognized for encouraging civic-mindedness and strengthening civil society. He was awarded the Order of the Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas.
Come see the Lithuanian premiere film “The Good Nazi” about Righteous Gentile Karl Plagge at the Tolerance Center, Naugarduko street no. 10/2, Vilnius at 5:30 P.M. on July 12, 2018. Major Karl Plagge was in command of the HKP slave labor camp on Subačiaus street in Vilnius. The camp repaired and maintained German military vehicles. Plagge saved a number of Jews there. The event includes a discussion with the filmmakers and visiting archaeologists. Sponsored in partnership with the US embassy in Vilnius. Film and event in English, all are welcome, entrance is free.
Seventy-seven years ago, on July 3, 1941, the first mass murder of Jews was carried out in Jurbarkas (Yurburg), Lithuania. The number murdered was 322 people, including about 20 ethnic Lithuanians (including Jurbarkas sculptor Vincas Grybas). The Jurbarkas community remembers this tragedy every year and holds an Hour of Memory at the grave site of the victims of the genocide, attended by local residents and friends and family of the Jews who lived in Jurbarkas and experienced the Holocaust there.
This year representatives of the Jurbarkas regional administration including deputy mayor Saulius Lapėnas, administration director Vida Rekešienė, Culture and Sports Department chief Antanas Gvildys, Jurbarkas alderman Audronis Kačiušis and staff from the Jurbarkas Regional History Museum and Jurbarkas Cultural Center attended along with victims and relatives the July 3 Hour of Memory held at the Jurbarkas Cultural Center.
Former Jewish Jurbarkas resident Jakovas Rikleris travelled from Germany to the event and said: “I am so glad you have not forgotten and maintain this site so dear to us, the old Jewish cemetery. There were extraordinarily noble, brave people from the land of my birth, from the area around Jurbarkas, people who were unable to remain uncaring seeing these brutal massacres. These people are immeasurably brave, in fear of the mortal danger they rescued Jews, hid them, shared their meager wartime food provisions with them and believed that in saving people from death they were performing the most important duty, sacrificing themselves for the lives of other innocent people. These are the true people of the Lithuanian nation.”
Young actors from the Jurbarkas Cultural Center’s children and youth theater Vaivorykštė under the direction of Birutė Šneiderienė read selections from Grigori Kanovich’s Shtetl Love Story and compositions by Jurbarkas composer Kęstutis Vasiliauskas were performed on violin.
V. Čečeta began working at the Lithuanian General Consulate in Vilnius on September 17, 1939. Photo: Archiwum akt nowych w Warszawe
Chiune Sugihara and Jan Zwartendijk are foreign diplomats who rescued Jews and they have been commemorated in Kaunas and the world, but they were only able to do what they did between 1939 and 1940 because of efforts by Lithuanian state officials.
Have we forgotten our own role?
When a monument costing 150,000 euros is erected next year in Kaunas to the so far little-known honorable Dutch consul in interwar Lithuania Jan Zwartendijk, the world will learn about another foreign diplomat who rescued Jews.
As current Dutch ambassador to Lithuania Bert van der Lingen told BNS, The role world-famous rescuer of Jews Chiune Sugihara was only made possible because Zwartendijk made an entry in the passports the travellers were travelling to a Dutch overseas territory. This entry, the Dutch ambassador says, was the basis for Sugihara to issue visas to Jews to transit Japan. But have we thought about our own diplomats in this context?
That there is little interest and even avoidance of this topic was demonstrated by the difficult search for historians and Foreign Ministry representatives able to say anything about the topic of the activities of the Lithuanian General Consulate in Vilnius in 1939.
At first they lost their civil rights, then their property and, in many cases, their lives. Jews from Lithuania are still waiting for the time when they can at least get their property back.
by Antanas Manstavičius
IQ magazine, June, 2018
For several decades now Lithuanian Jews who survived the Holocaust, along with other residents of the country, have had little hope of restoration of property rights, due to objective reasons. Lithuanian citizens who survived the Soviet and Nazi occupation have finally been allowed to get back private property seized or at least get compensation. Many have made use of this right.
Those who had to flee to save their lives during World War II and their descendants find themselves in a completely different situation. Until now, Lithuanian laws categorize those seeking to have their rights to property restored according to citizenship: those who don’t have it still cannot get their property back.
“You have to be a citizen to get property back,” Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman and attorney Faina Kukliansky said. “But what if you don’t want to be one? How can one be forced to become a citizen of Lithuania?” She says she has clients who still haven’t been to get real estate in Lithuania back. For at least some of the Litvaks living abroad, it’s not about the money, it’s a matter of principle.
Monika Šinkūnaitė and her colleague appealed for help to the Panevėžys Jewish Community on June 11 regarding a project called Orientational Walking Tour and a discussion called Jewish Culture in Panevėžys. During the meeting both parties discussed scenarios for the event and topics for the discussion.
The point of the project is to get young and older people interested in Jewish heritage.
The educational walking tour happened on June 29 and was called Along Jewish Roads, including important historical Jewish heritage sites in the city. The youth group began the tour at Freedom Alley where there was a thriving Jewish neighborhood before World War II. There were Jewish residences, stores, workshops, dentistry and medical clinics and attorneys’ offices. Some streets were named after Jewish public figures, including Dr. Mer, Rabbi Gertzel, the industrialist Kisinas, Dembas and others.
The discussion was held after the walking tour at the café Kavos Dėžutė. Panevėžys publicist Donatas Puslys, Panevėžys Regional History Museum director Arūnas Astramskas, bishop emeritus Jonas Kauneckas, nun Eleonora Kasiulytė from the Congregation of the Sisters of God’s Love and Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman participated.
The Lithuanian Jewish Community sincerely thanks Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Department director Diana Varnaitė for all the work she’s done to preserve Jewish heritage in Lithuania. The Community is also wondering who could replace her professionalism, intellect and sense of heritage as a significant legacy we leave to future generations.
Since Faina Kukliansky became chairwoman of the LJC in 2013, the Community has paid special attention to the preservation of Lithuanian Jewish heritage sites. Mainly because of director Varnaitė’s personal attention to Jewish heritage, it became one of the Cultural Heritage Department’s priorities and thus a priority for protection nation-wide. The Jewish story in Lithuania began almost 700 years ago and much has been lost, but what remains needs urgent work to save it as a treasure of the state and the people which draws people here from around the world.
Lithuanian Jewish heritage sites are relics of a cultural landscape created over centuries by the community which once numbered a quarter million people living in almost every Lithuanian city and town. It is around 200 cemeteries, more than 200 mass murder sites and mass graves and over 40 synagogues listed as cultural treasures.
The families of Jews who lived in Panevėžys before the war are now scattered around the world. Even before the war, back in tsarist times, Panevėžys Jews migrated widely to countries such as Argentina, the United States, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Brasil and also South Africa and Australia. The Panevėžys Jewish Community often receives visitors from these countries, and especially from South Africa. This time Kelly Rozmarim from Australia visited with her husband, brother and two daughters. She brought documents showing her grandfather Hona Shepts was born in Panevėžys in 1908 and immigrated with his brother to South Africa in 1939. Her father Judelis Shepts was a rabbi. He and his three sisters were also born in Panevėžys and stayed in Lithuania. All of them died in the Holocaust.
In South Africa in 1939 there was a world-renowned Jewish community called Ponevezh. Kelly Rozmarim has a document, a list of people who sailed to South Africa which includes members of her family. She and her brother have also discovered relatives in Šeduva, Pasvalys and Biržai.
The family’s visit to the Panevėžys Jewish Community enriched our archives and provided valuable information about the Jewish residents of Panevėžys back then. The visitors thanked Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman for his active efforts to preserve the Litvak heritage and to commemorate it in Panevėžys. All of the family members left warm words and greetings in the Community’s guest book.
Dr. Jon Seligman of the Israeli Antiquities Authority has announced excavation of the Great Synagogue and the former complex of surrounding buildings known as the Shulhoyf in Vilnius will resume this summer July 9 and will continue till July 27. Those interested in volunteering should contact Dr. Seligman, address below.
The Great Synagogue and Shulhoyf of Vilna (Vilnius): The 2018 Season
A Research, Excavation, Preservation and Memorial Project
A Quick Summary of the Work until Now
The successful outcome of the preliminary excavation of 2011, the 2015 ground-penetrating radar survey and the 2016 excavation showed us the potential of continued excavation at the site to uncover further sections of the Great Synagogue and the surrounding buildings. Given the resources available to the team, we decided to initially concentrate on issues relating to the water system of the shulhoyf that developed in and around the Great Synagogue in the 18thcentury. Written sources inform us that a pipeline was established in 1759 to bring water from the Vingrių springs, that belonged to the Dominican friars, to the synagogue complex. It supplied water to the communal “well,” and apparently to the bathhouse constructed between 1823 and 1828 that included a miqve and a public lavatory.
Grant Gochin is a member in good standing of the Lithuanian Jewish Community. Originally from South Africa, he’s worked as a wealth and financial planner in the United States for decades. A dual citizen of Lithuania and the United States, he also operates the consulate of Togo in California, as well as performing important duties for the African Union. The following was published in the AU magazine Invest in Africa in the June, 2018, edition.
Full issue here.
Vilnius, June 27, BNS–The Lithuanian Jewish Community Wednesday criticized an invitation to the public from the Vilnius municipality to mark the anniversary of the 1941 uprising.
According to the Community’s statement, in June of 1941 “Lithuania won a brief and very conditional freedom essentially in exchange for becoming a Nazi ally.”
The LJC said the Lithuanian Activist Front which staged the uprising against the Soviet government became a tool of anti-Semitic policy in Lithuania and the Provisional Government never passed any act condemning the mass murder of Jews.
“The LJC can’t remain indifferent when several days ago in the heart of the capital a celebration was held, while flags of mourning should have flown in the country to mark the first victims of the Holocaust in Lithuania,” the statement said.
The uprising in June, 1941, is supposed to have been a struggle the restore Lithuanian statehood destroyed by the Soviet occupation, but critics say the insurgents and the Provisional Government were not favorable towards Jews.
The invitation published on the internet page of the Vilnius municipality claims the 1941 uprising demonstrated the resolution of Lithuanians to fight the Bolshevik occupation.
“In June, 1941, to avenge for those murdered and family members deported to Siberia and other northern regions of the Soviet Union, the sons and daughters of our nation, relying only upon their own bravery and themselves, were able to drive out the hated occupier and albeit briefly (June 22 to 28, 1941) restore Lithuanian statehood and the independence lost due to the culpability of their politicians and military leaders,” the Vilnius municipality’s invitation said.