History of the Jews in Lithuania

Kazys Škirpa: When an Inconvenient Truth is Suppressed


by Arkadijus Vinokuras

I carefully read Vidmantas Valiušaitis’s article “Why Is Kazys Škirpa Slandered?” I felt I was missing the position of the late Barry Rubin, the famous Litvak, also well known in Lithuanian, and professor of Israeli history.

There he goes: “I would like to stress that events need to be examined as objectively as possibly, that evidence needs to be provided objectively, it needs to be confirmed and then the facts need to be pursued.” Professor Rubin’s relatives were murdered in Lithuania. www.delfi.lt provided an interview with Barry Rubin in which he said without qualification that Jews who became Communists had become traitors to Jewish society, and that it was laughable to be afraid to talk about the crimes of Communism and to argue who had suffered more.

I base my claims on statements by Lithuanian historians. For instance, professor emeritus Saulius Sužiedėlis, liberal arts professor Alvydas Nikžentaitis and Vilnius Gediminas Technical University Philosophy and Communications lecturer Andrius Kulikauskas. I also base my claims on famous interwar Lithuanian diplomat Eduardas Turauskas (1896-1966), a member of the Futurist Society, an attorney, a journalist, diplomat and a member of the Lithuanian Catholic Academy of Sciences.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Lithuania Initiated Netanyahu Visit to Brussels

BNS–Lithuania initiated the historic visit by Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu to Brussels to meet with EU foreign ministers, diplomats confirmed Tuesday.

“Lithuania initiated what led to the planned meeting between the Israeli prime minister and EU foreign ministers during a meeting of EU member-state foreign ministerial council December 11,” Lithuanian Foreign Ministry media representative Rasa Jakilaitienė told BNS. Over the last decade Lithuania has become one of Israel’s strongest diplomatic supporters within the EU. Many other EU member-states take stronger exception to the expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.

Lithuanian foreign minister Linas Linkevičius remarked direct dialogue is necessary to solve remaining disagreements.

In a comment sent to BNS, Linkevičius wrote: “We seek discussion between all EU states on the concerns of the Union and Israel. Direct dialogue is crucial. Only by hearing the arguments presented in discussion can we harmonize what are sometimes very different positions.

Observers say Lithuania’s pro-Israel stance might stem partially from coordination of policy with the United States and might also be due to the history of Lithuanian Jews. Recently Israel and Lithuania have intensified bilateral relations in the military and economic spheres. The Jerusalem Post reports this will be the first visit by the prime minister to Brussels in more than two decades.

Israel annexed the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem following the Six-Day War in 1967. Most EU countries and the EU as a federated entity do not recognize Israel’s declaration Jerusalem is the nation’s capital and cite the need to follow United Nations Resolution 181, or Partition Plan for Palestine, of 1947 which envisaged Jerusalem as an international city. The Jerusalem Corpus Separatum in that plan included Bethlehem and surrounding areas.

Happy 70th, Daumantas Levas Todesas!

The Lithuanian Jewish Community sends birthday greetings to Daumantas Levas Todesas, born November 25, 1947, a long-time member of the LJC executive board, the director of the Jakovas Bunka charity and support fund, vice-president of the Makabi athletics club and consultant to the director of Moscow’s Vakhtangov theater, among other things.

You have dedicated so much of your life to the preservation of Litvak heritage and of the remaining wooden synagogues, to promoting Jewish history and culture, to fostering understanding between Jews and Lithuanians and to encouraging recognition of Jewish traditions in Lithuanian society.

In 1989 you were one of the organizers of the Makabi delegation sent to the Maccabiah Games in Israel, back when Lithuania was still under the Soviets, the delegation of athletes who raised the Lithuanian flag for the first time in decades at an international event.

Daumantas, we wish you health and happiness and that your beguiling charm, great sense of humor and sharp wit would continue to illuminate the Community for many years to come!

Lebn zolstu biz hundert un tsvantsik yor! Mazl tov!

Saulius Sužiedėlis Interview on Lithuanian Holocaust Collaboration


by Mindaugas Jackevičius, www.delfi.lt

U.S.-based professor emeritus of history Saulius Sužiedėlis says it’s inappropriate for the state to honor those who contributed in any way to the Holocaust, and calls upon Lithuania to review for whom statues have been erected

Sužiedėlis says Lithuania could have and should have done more to detect and prosecute Holocaust perpetrators. He says Lithuania doesn’t have to admit complicity in the murder of Jews, but finally needs to admit collaboration by Lithuanians without excuses and to stop downplaying the significance of that collaboration.

The historian says this is harming Lithuania’s reputation which is important for defending national sovereignty. Sužiedėlis says no one will want to defend a country with such a poor reputation.

Well-known German historian Dr. Christoph Dieckmann, who in 2011 wrote the fundamental work “Germany’s Occupation Policy in Lithuania 1941-1944” [co-authored by Saulius Sužiedėlis], in an interview with Delfi last spring raised the moral question of why Lithuanian society, seeing and hearing the Jews being killed around them, didn’t protest. Do you think this is a well-founded question?

I think the question is not completely justified, because there were few opportunities to resist. And let’s remember that in the first two months the Lithuanian consciousness was still focused on the deportations, and Red Army soldiers shot at least 1,000 innocent Lithuanians as they withdrew. The psychology was completely different. What Lithuanian would die for Stalin? So resisting would have been difficult psychologically.

Grigory Kanovich: A Good Book is a Life Teacher

G. Kanovičius: gera knyga visada yra gyvenimo mokytoja
by Donatas Puslys, www.bernardinai.lt

Rūta Oginskaitė’s book “Gib a Kuk: Žvilgtelėk” recently hit the book shops, in which the author, Grigory Kanovich and his wife Olia paint a portrait of the Lithuanian writer and an entire era. On November 29 London’s Central Synagogue will host the launch of the English translation of Kanovich’s book “Shtetl Love Song.” We spoke with Grigory Kanovich about his relationship with his readership, love of homeland and the painful moments in our history.

There’s a proverb that a prophet is not recognized in his homeland. Your work is an important monument to the history of the Jews of Lithuania and their memory. The book requires, however, a reader who is able to enter into a dialogue with the text. Do you sense the presence of such readers in Lithuania, do you think there is a dialogue and discussion going on with your texts? Should we conclude from your recent works published abroad that your work is more interested to foreign than Lithuanian readers?

I hold to the view that prophets are rare in their homeland, and one more frequently encounters only clairvoyants and the righteous. I think “prophet” is hyperbole. I won’t deny that my novels are an attempt to create a monument to pre-war Jewish history and to commemorate my compatriots.

I wouldn’t dare claim some wide-ranging discussion is taking place between me and my readers in Lithuania, but I do receive a lot of good-willed responses from different locations from readers reading my work in Lithuanian and Russian. I can’t complain about that. I am happy foreign publishers are interested in my work. For instance, the recent publication of my Shtetl Love Song by a leading London publisher.

Full interview in Lithuanian here.

The Litvaks: 900 Years of History

You are invited to a multimedia presentation called “Litvaks: 900 Years of History” by the students of the Saulėtekis school in Vilnius. The Saulėtekis school has presented a number of plays on Litvak culture and the Holocaust. The school has a strong Holocaust education component. In addition, student choirs often perform songs in Yiddish and Hebrew, most recently at the Holocaust commemoration at Ponar at the end of September where they performed the Vilnius ghetto anthem, Zog Nit Keynmol.

The presentation will take place at the Russian Drama Theater at Basanavičiaus street no. 13 in Vilnius at 6:00 P.M. on Wednesday, November 29.

Admission is free.

Japanese Volunteer Teacher Visits Panevėžys Jewish Community

Svečio iš Japonijos Susumu Nakagawa vizitas Panevėžio miesto žydų bendruomenėje

Last week Susumu Nakagawa from Japan visited the Panevėžys Jewish Community. Mr. Nakagawa is visiting Panevėžys for the second time as a volunteer teacher, teaching beginning Japanese at the Panevėžys Technology and Business Faculty of Kaunas Technology University. Mr. Nakagawa is building a bridge of friendship between the two countries, he says. He’s interested in Litvak history and culture, and when he learned there is a living Jewish community in the Lithuanian city, he decided to visit. He was accompanied by art teacher Loreta Januškienė.

Mr. Nakagawa and his family are Christians and interesting in the Old Testament and Jewish history and traditions. Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman told Mr. Nakagawa about the history of the Panevėžys Jewish community over tea, and showed him documents and photographs. Mr. Nakagawa posed a number of questions to the chairman, and they touched upon the legacy of Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese diplomat who rescued Jews in Kaunas during the first stages of the Holocaust.

Faina Kukliansky Says Jews and Lithuanians Need to Resolve Disagreements


Photos: BNS
by Birutė Vyšniauskaitė, www.lrt.lt

Although the scandal caused by writer Rūta Vanagaitė’s statements on the partisan Adolfas Ramanauskas has subsided, Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky believes the tranquility is only temporary. Vanagaitė’s book Mūsiškiai about the mass murder of Jews in Lithuania is soon to appear in English translation. She also enjoys the support of the European Jewish Congress and has many proponents in Israel. In an interview with LRT [Lithuanian Public Radio and Television], Kukliansky said we shouldn’t fear coming scandals.

“I really liked historian Saulius Sužiedėlis’s idea that it’s possible to read a given document or set of documents a number of times and come to different conclusions. It takes special training and understanding to study documents. An elderly grandmother could read the same documents, and while they might be interesting to her, she won’t be able to make sense of them. So, what if a book is written for public relations, seeking profit and to sensationalize readers and listeners?” Kukliansky told LRT regarding the aftermath of the Vanagaitė scandal.

Screening of “Aš turiu papasakoti”

The film “Aš turiu papasakoti” (“Ya Dolzhna Rasskazat”) will be screened at the Lithuanian Jewish Community, Pylimo street no. 4, Vilnius at 6:00 P.M. on November 23. The movie is based on the book by Marija Rolnikaitė about surviving the Holocaust.

The film is open to the public and admission is free. Director Feliks Dektor and producer Eugenijus Bunka will be there.

Tens of Thousands of Jewish Documents Lost during Holocaust Discovered in Vilnius


YIVO announces the discovery of 170,000 Jewish documents thought to have been destroyed by the Nazis. Photo: Thos Robinson/Getty Images for YIVO

NEW YORK (JTA)–A trove of 170,000 Jewish documents thought to have been destroyed by the Nazis during World War II has been found.

On Tuesday the New York-based YIVO Institute for Jewish Research announced the find which contains unpublished manuscripts by famous Yiddish writers as well as religious and community documents. Among the finds are letters written by Sholem Aleichem, a postcard by Marc Chagall and poems and manuscripts by Chaim Grade.

YIVO, founded in Vilnius in what is now Lithuania, hid the documents, but the organization moved its headquarters to New York during World War II. The documents were later preserved by Lithuanian librarian Antanas Ulpis who kept them in the basement of the church where he worked.

Most of the documents are currently in Lithuania but 10 items are being displayed through January at YIVO, which is working with Lithuania to archive and digitize the collection.

“These newly discovered documents will allow that memory of Eastern European Jews to live on, while enabling us to have a true accounting of the past that breaks through stereotypes and clichéd ways of thinking,” YIVO executive director Jonathan Brent said Tuesday in a statement.

United States Senate minority leader Charles Schumer, democrat from New York state, praised the discovery.

“Displaying this collection will teach our children what happened to the Jews of the Holocaust so that we are never witnesses to such darkness in the world again,” Schumer, who is Jewish, said in a statement.

Israeli consul general in New York Dani Dayan compared the documents to “priceless family heirlooms.”

“The most valuable treasures of the Jewish people are the traditions, experiences and culture that have shaped our history. So to us, the documents uncovered in this discovery are nothing less than priceless family heirlooms, concealed like precious gems from Nazi storm troopers and Soviet grave robbers,” he said.

Full story here.

Samuel Bak Museum Opens

Painter and Vilnius native Samuel Bak attended a press conference in Vilnius Wednesday to announce the opening of a Samuel Bak museum in Vilnius.

Bak, now based in the US, donated over 50 of his artworks for the museum. Born in 1933, the Jewish painter is a Holocaust survivor. He began drawing and painting in the Vilnius ghetto. After the war he lived in Israel and Western Europe. He and members of his family plan to spend just over a week in Vilnius on their current visit.

Bak is scheduled to be awarded honorary citizen of Vilnius at a ceremony to be held at the Vilnius Old Town Hall. The museum is to open November 17. 2017.

LRT TV Program Author Vitalijus Karakorskis Wins Prize for Intercultural Communication

November 16 is UNESCO’s International Day of Tolerance. Under the UNESCO definition in its Declaration of the Principles of Tolerance, tolerance doesn’t mean a tolerant attitude towards social injustice, nor the renunciation of one’s principles and their replacement with someone else’s. It means everyone is free to hold their own convictions and recognizes the right of others to do the same. It means recognizing people are born with different appearances into different social conditions, learn different languages, behavior and values, and have the right to live in peace and preserve their individuality.

The Ethnic Minorities Department under the Government of Lithuania named winners of its prize for intercultural communication November 13. There were 37 separate works in the running this year, including television programs, articles and interviews.

The judges’ panel awarded the prize to journalist, editor and filmmaker Vitalijus Karakorskis for originality and for discovering incredible connections between the ethnic communities resident in Lithuania in his making of an episode of the Lithuanian public television (LRT) program Menora on the topic of Dr. Jonas Basanavičius and Lithuanian Jews, on the 90th anniversary of the death of the patriarch of the Lithuanian state. They also awarded the prize to Siarhey Haurylenka for exceptional treatment of the cultures of Lithuanian ethnic minorities and the Belarusian language in the LRT television series about culture and history called “Cultural Crossroads: The Vilnius Notebook.”

New Fall Issue of the Bagel Shop Newsletter

After skipping a beat this summer, the newest Bagel Shop newsletter has hit the stands. The fall issue includes a complete news round-up from spring to the present, the usual sections and articles about the history of the Bund, efforts to restore Jewish headstones removed from Soviet-era public works projects around Vilnius to their rightful locations and the history of the Jews of Skuodas. The Jewish Book Corner this issue features a book about the tractate Nazir from the Babylonian Talmud and the Telšiai Yeshiva.

Look for the newest issue at the Bagel Shop Café, available for free, or download the electronic version below:

Bagel Shop Newsletter No. 2, 2017

The Jewish Contribution to Interwar Kaunas

Žydų indėlis tarpukario Kaunui

In the previous century Kaunas had a Jewish population of over 30,000, but now that number barely tops 300. How did people of this ethnicity contribute to Kaunas’s prosperity in the years between the wars? Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas and Jewish document collector Michailas Duškesas spoke to us about Jewish history.

Žakas said Kaunas became one of the centers of concentration for Litvaks. “Kaunas was the cradle of Litvaks, the capital. Before the deportations and mass murders more than 30,000 Jews lived in Kaunas accounting for about 20 percent of the total population. After World War II some came back, for example, my father and his brother returned from the Dachau concentration camp to Lithuania to look for family members. Ten thousand left for Israel, America and many went to Germany after World War II. I had the chance as well to go to America, but I stayed in Kaunas because it is my hometown,” Žakas said.

Document collector Michailas Duškesas stressed Lithuanian Jews, or Litvaks, are respected people in the world. “Litvaks in the world, this is a kind of super-brand, if you say you are a Jew from Lithuania you are considered exceptional, noble and honorable,” he said.

Full text in Lithuanian here.

Kaunas Jewish Community Invites You to a Conference

The Kaunas Jewish Community and chairman of the organizational committee Valentinas Aleksa, also chairman of the Sūduva Regional Scientific, Historical and Cultural Association, invite you to attend the conference “Diplomatic Document of Lithuanian National Self-Respect and Civic Courage in Nazi-Occupied Lithuania in World War Two” on November 14, 2017.

The conference is to be held at the Raudondvaris manor at Pilies takas no. 1 in Raudondvaris in the Kaunas region. Registration from 12:20 P.M. to 12:50 P.M., conference to start at 1:00 P.M.

The conference is dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the restoration of the Lithuanian state and to 75th anniversary of the signing of a memorandum by the three heroic Lithuanians third Lithuanian president Dr. Kazys Grinius and former Government members and MPs professor Jonas Aleksa and professor Mykolas Krupavičiaus.

Kaunas regional administration head Valerijus Makūnas is the patron of the conference.

Anti-Semitism Will Remain, But It’s Not Always a Threat, US Professor Says

by Rūta Kupetytė, LRT radio program Ryto garsai, www.lrt.lt

Just as anti-Semitism, xenophobia and Romophobia have long existed in the subconscious, so they will remain, but don’t pose an extreme threat. So said US professor of history Saulius Sužiedėlis in an interview aired on Lithuanian national radio.

He said history has shown these kinds of sentiments only became dangerous in certain situations, but in others a nationalist attitude can even be a healthy thing.

Professor Sužiedėlis was in Vilnius to give a presentation at the international conference “Remembrance, Responsibility, Future.”

Several years ago you said there is almost no such Holocaust denial in Lithuania as it exists in the West, because everyone knows the Jews were murdered here, but that there are certain problems of suppression and diminishing of significance, and attempts to down-play Lithuanian involvement in the process. You said that seven years ago. Has the situation now changed?

Sužiedėlis: Let’s remember one thing: there was no greater mass murder in Lithuania than the genocide of Jews in 1941. These are the very worst mass murders in Lithuanian history.

Full interview in Lithuanian here.

International Conference Remembrance, Responsibility, Future Held in Vilnius

Vilniuje vyko svarbi tarptautinė konferencija #AtmintisAtsakomybeAteitis

To mark the international day against fascism and anti-Semitism, the Lithuanian Jewish Community held a large international conference November 9 called “Remembrance, Responsibility, Future” which attracted well-known scholars and media attention. Speakers discussed whether commemoration of painful historical events can serve as a bridge to understanding contemporary politics and prevent such events in the future.

LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, US ambassador Anne Hall, German ambassador Angelika Viets and deputy chief of mission for the Israeli embassy Efrat Hochtetler welcomed conference participants.

Unique Jewish Archive Emerges in Vilnius

Vilnius, November 3, BNS–As Judaica studies intensify in Vilnius, scholars have identified thousands of important Jewish manuscripts this year which had laid forgotten in a church basement during the Soviet years and were scattered to separate archives for two decades following Lithuanian independence.

Some of the newly identified documents are currently on display in New York City and there are plans to exhibit some of the collection in Lithuania in the near future as well.

Lithuanian National Martynas Mažvydas Library director Renaldas Gudauskas said the identification of ever more documents makes him confident the library currently conserves one of the most significant collections of Judaica in the world.

Hidden at a Church

Vilnius had hundreds of Jewish communal, religious, cultural and education organizations before World War II. YIVO, the Jewish research institute founded in 1925, was an important member of that group. YIVO did work on Jewish life throughout Eastern Europe, from Germany to Russia and from the Baltic to the Balkans, collecting Jewish folklore, memoirs, books, publications and local Jewish community documents, and published dictionaries, brochures and monographs.