History of the Jews in Lithuania

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.

Lithuanian PM: I Believe We Have Learned Lessons of History

Lithuanian prime minister Saulius Skvernelis and Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu took part in a commemoration of Holocaust victims and an awards ceremony for Righteous Gentiles at the Ponar Memorial Complex.

“This is the place where pain, endless sorrow and helplessness permeate our thoughts and feelings. This is the place of perpetual silence and a lost future. Looking in each others’ eyes, we witness the tragedy and bow our heads before the people of Lithuania who became victims of the Holocaust, victims of occupying totalitarian regimes and an aggression against humanity of unprecedented scope,” the Lithuanian prime minister said.

The Lithuanian PM said the Holocaust is among the most painful and horrible tragedies in the history of Lithuania. Here a large part of Lithuania, including its citizens, was destroyed; people were deprived of the opportunity to say their last good-bye to their close relatives. Thus, with the victims of Ponar in our minds, we commit ourselves to those who died and were martyred here. We pledge to do everything that needs to be done to avoid this ever being repeated in the future and to prevent any threat to humanity and the right to life.

Binyamin Netanyahu Visits Lithuanian Jewish Community at Choral Synagogue

A long queue of Lithuanian Jews and friends of Israel eager to hear Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu crowded the sidewalk outside the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius Sunday. Scheduled to start at 11:00 A.M., Netanyahu arrived about an hour and a half late, which only seemed to increase the audience’s anticipation, with applause when he and his wife entered. The main hall and the balcony were full to capacity as Israeli and Lithuanian security scanned the crowd during the first visit ever by an Israeli prime minister to Lithuania.

Netanyahu appeared very natural at the podium, thanked everyone for coming and singled out Lithuanian foreign minister Linas Linkevičius, MP Emanuelis Zingeris, Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon and his wife and Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky for special recognition.

In his brief address Netanyahu said he was a Litvak on both sides of his family, that he was returning to Lithuania as the prime minister of a powerful and innovative state and that he took two lessons from the Holocaust: that brutality and extremism need to be stopped as soon as they appear, and that Jews need to be able to defend themselves. He said the state of Israel was that defense. He also said Israel has many friends in the world, none greater than the United States, but that Israel has many more friends than people know, including in the Arab world. He mourned the passing of US Republican senator John McCain of Arizona. Lithuanian Jewish Community executive director Renaldas Vaisbrodas introduced the prime minister and provided an accurate synchronous translation of his words in Lithuanian.

Rafaelas Karpis performed the Partisan Hymn in Yiddish and several other songs, after which Choral Synagogue cantor Shmuel Yaatov sang a biblical passage about the loss of Israel. Rabbi Ber Krinsky thanked the prime minister for coming and expressed special support for Israel, for the prime minister and for his family. The event ended with the Israeli national anthem.

Israeli PM at Ponar


VILNIUS, August 24, BNS–Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Ponar Friday, part of Vilnius where over 100,000 people, mostly Jews, were killed during World War II.

After laying a wreath at the Ponar memorial, Netanyahu said that his grandfather had been severely beaten near what he called “a forest of death.”

The Israeli prime minister said that he had learned two lessons from the Holocaust.

“First, we must fight barbarism or it will burn all of us. The second for us, Jews, is that we must never be defenseless again,” Netanyahu said.

“I want to say to my grandfather today: saba, I am back here today and this is a forest of death. As the prime minister of Israel. We will never be defenseless again,” he said.

“We have a state, we have an army and we are capable of defending ourselves by ourselves”.

Netanyahu’s grandmother Sarah Mileikowsky, née Lurie, was born in Šeduva, a town in Lithuania, and his grandfather Nathan Mileikowsky was born in Kreva in what is now Belarus.

Endowment Fund of the Good Will Foundation

By a decision of the Board of Directors of the Good Will Foundation, funds that have been set aside from the annual payments by the Government to the GWF will now be invested as allowed under the law and according to the recommendations of the Good Will Investment Committee. The Investment Committee (Daiva Gerulytė, Harold Paisner, Krzysztof A. Rozen and Rokas Grajauskas) has proposed equally dividing these funds (now approximately 9 million Euro) between passive, long-term investments and an active investment portfolio managed by a reputable financial advisor. The goal of this Endowment Fund is to provide for the continued support of Lithuanian Jewish communal life once the annual payments have ceased. The Investment Committee will continue to monitor the progress of this investment strategy and recommend changes when and if necessary.

Events to Commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the Destruction of the Vilnius Ghetto


Programme

September 18

2:00 P.M. Reading of the names of prisoners of the Šiauliai ghetto, library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences, Žygimantų street no. 1 (time subject to change)

September 21 

3.00 P.M.  Ceremony to unveil memory stones commemorating Lithuania’s Righteous                   Gentiles, Garden of the Missionaries, Mairono street.

September 22

6:00 P.M. Premiere of the play Ghetto, Kaunas National Drama Theater, Laisvės prospect no. 71

September 23

10:00 A.M. Reading of the names of Vilnius ghetto prisoners, Choral Synagogue, Pylimo street no. 39
12 noon Readings from the diary of Yitzhak Rudashevski in the former ghetto (location to be announced)
2:00 P.M. Commemoration ceremony at the Ponar mass murder site, Ponar Memorial Complex, Agrastų street
* Pope Francis to honor Holocaust victims in ghetto territory in Vilnius Old Town
6.00 P.M. World Premiere by Giedrius Kuprevičius “Under David’s Star”, Vaidila Theatre, A. Jakšto street no. 9

September 26

6:00 P.M. Tenor Rafailas Karpis, pianist Darius Mažintas and poet Sergejus Kanovičius present “Embrace the Past Tense.” Can Yiddish and Lithuanian meet under one roof? Is it possible to recognize a lullaby if it is sung in unknown words? Is dialogue possible between those singing in Yiddish and those reading their work in Lithuanian? Can love, longing and shared grief meet in memory? The Old Arsenal, Arsenalo street no. 3

September 27

6:00 P.M. Evening of Vilna Ghetto songs by Marija Krupoves, Lithuanian Jewish Community, Pylimo street no. 4

September 28

Commemorative Sabbath, Lithuanian Jewish Community, Pylimo street no. 4

October 4

6:30 P.M. “Heroism against Destruction,” an evening of creativity by Nechama Lifshitz Ensemble (Israel) dedicated to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust. Theater Hall, Vilnius University, Universiteto street no. 3

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

Tunklgold Concert a Rousing Success

Jascha Heifetz Hall on the third floor of the Lithuanian Jewish Community in Vilnius was filled Thursday for a concert concluding the summer course of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute at Vilnius University.

Vocalist Regina Hopfgartner with Gregor Unterkofler on piano and backup vocals performed a program of old Yiddish favorites to the audience of staff and students from the summer course and staff and members of the LJC as well as interested members of the public.

The duo performed in Yiddish but the introduction to each song was given in English. Both the Yiddish and the English had a hint of German, and in “Bei Mir Bisttu Shane,” the culmination of the concert, there was no separating the accents. The audience gave a long standing ovation and came out to give their personal congratulations to the performers in the foyer.

Irena Giedraitienė, Panevėžys Jewish Community Member and Photographer

Long-time member of the Panevėžys Jewish Community Irena Giedraitienė won wide renown and a number of prizes for her photography in the 1970s but hasn’t appeared much lately at exhibits and in the press. Happily, the city newspaper Sekundė has printed an article featuring this wonderful artist with such a surprising biography.

This photographer who has left a real mark in Lithuanian photography has held more than 40 exhibits of her work, took part in another 100 group exhibits around the world and has won dozens of coveted awards.

She still has something to say and something to show, so she’s preparing for more exhibitions, putting her archive in order, taking new series of photographs and thinking about interesting projects for the future.

Right now she’s focusing on the upcoming Fotoskrynia exhibition which is being partially financed by an art grant from the city municipality.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Lithuania Pays Tribute To a Genocidal Monster


Jonas Noreika from the private collection of his granddaughter, Silvia Foti

Jonas Noreika, whose granddaughter confirms he murdered more than 14,000 Jews, is honored as a national hero

Silvia Foti, the granddaughter of one of the worst genocidal monsters in history, has published an explosive expose of her grandfather, Jonas Noreika, showing that he was indeed responsible for the murder of more than 14,000 Lithuanian Jews. Foti identifies the Lithuanian Government’s odious attempts to revise history as “one of the greatest cover-ups of the 20th Century.”

First exposed by the German magazine Der Spiegel in 1984, it has long been known that Noreika was culpable in the murder of his Jewish neighbors in Northwestern Lithuania. Yet Noreika officially and legally remains one of Lithuania’s greatest national heroes, and is honored with a plaque on the Vilnius Library of the Academy of Science building. Over a decade ago, this incongruous adulation of a genocidal monster struck me, a Jewish Lithuanian citizen, as reprehensible. I immediately began my campaign to remove this monument. I had no idea that the official conversion of monsters into heroes was a deliberate Lithuanian agenda.

Full text here.

Eli Rabinowitz from Australia and Israelis Visit Panevėžys

The Panevėžys Jewish Community had the unexpected pleasure of a visit by several guests this week. Daniel Veid and his wife Eti and their son Shmuel from Israel visited and Daniel said he was researching his family’s roots. His great-great-grandfather Solomon Veid was born and lived in Panevėžys and his great-great-grandmother Shaike Levine was also born there. Solomon and his family moved to South Africa in the early 19th century.

On July 31 Eli Rabinowitz, who grew up in Cape Town and now lives in Perth, Australia, also visited. He spoke about his project to help teach the Holocaust to young people around the world.

Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman spoke with Rabinowitz about Community projects with local schools which also teach young people about the Holocaust.