Holocaust

Will We Tell Students the Whole Truth, or Only What’s Useful to Us?


by Mečys Laurinkus, www.lrytas.lt

Toppling (taking down temporarily for restoration) the “idols” on the Green Bridge [in Vilnius] under natural field conditions with no special measures taken, I overheard the complaint: the topplers themselves name streets and hang memorial plaques to the “heroes” who took part in the shooting of Jews. The public is interested in history, reads, listens to discussions and judges the actions of the government. You cannot forbid this.

Virginijus Savukynas in his television show “Istorijos detektyvai” [History’s Detective Stories] returned to this often emotionally explosive topic. Kazys Škirpa, in whose honor a street is named in Vilnius, a noteworthy founder of the Lithuanian state and the organizer of the June, 1941, uprising against the Russians, while under house arrest in Berlin issued a statement about Jews which was totally contrary to his biography and likely his own views, one which was comparable to the spirit of the Gestapo. I will restate my thoughts again a bit later. Jonas Noreika, aka Generolas Vėtra, who had fought against the Nazis and the Bolsheviks and was shot by the latter, appointed head of the Šiauliai district administration by the Provisional Government of Lithuania in 1941, blessed with his signature the establishment of a ghetto for Jews in Žagarė, Lithuania.

General Vėtra (actually just a captain) has been honored with a commemorative plaque. Not somewhere marginal. On the building of the library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences. In an even more visible location there still stands the statue to Petras Cvirka, who brought back the sun of Stalin not at all because of any political manoeuvering to help Lithuania in the grindstones of time, but out of conviction that “Mother Russia” would take us in and protect us. Of course she did take us in, but only to a very cold place, where poets such as Kazys Jakubėnas, upon whom Cvirka informed to Soviet security, were sent.

Much Applause

“The project was conceived in 2014 when Zubin Mehta conducted the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra in Vilnius. The person who runs the orchestra, Gintautas Kevisas, informed ambassador Laimonas that he was planning a visit to South East Asia with the Lithuanian Symphony Orchestra, and was wondering whether they could give a couple of concerts in Mumbai. The ambassador approached Khushroo Suntook and the two days, the 10th and 11th, were finalized,” says a spokesperson about the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra, wich performed to great acclaim at the NCPA this week, and which we had the pleasure of attending on Wednesday evening.

“Dr. Yusuf K. Hamied, chairman of CIPLA, whose mother was Lithuanian and who was born in Lithuania, came forward to make it happen.”

As was to be expected, the presence of this international group of acclaimed musicians was highly applauded, and the packed auditorium was witness to many shouts of “Encore” and “bravo,” especially when the dapper resident conductor and violinist of the Symphony Orchestra of India, Marat Bisengaliev, participated as a solo violinist. What’s more, we noted: it wasn’t just the usual suspects of well-heeled Parsis savoring the fare.

Lithuania’s ambassador to India Laimonas Talat-Kelpsa with Linas Antanas Linkevicius, minister of foreign affairs in Lithuania, along with the consul generals of Spain, Hungary, Argentina and Holland and minister of external affairs M. J. Akbar were in the audience.

(From the Friday, October 13, 2017, print edition of Mid-Day newspaper, Mumbai, India)

Litvak Sponsors Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra Concert in India

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky at the invitation of the Lithuanian embassy to India attended a concert by the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra in Mumbai October 10 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the restoration of Lithuanian independence.

Indian pharmaceutical magnate with Litvak roots Yusuf K. Hamied, a close family friend of the Kuklianskys and his wife Frida sponsored the concert through their foundation.

Photo: (from left) Indian minister of state for foreign affairs Mobashar Jawed “M. J.” Akbar, Lithuanian foreign minister Linas Linkevičius, LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, Cipla Ltd. pharmaceuticals and biotech company director Yusuf K. Hamied.

Save the Date: International Conference #RememberanceResponsibilityFuture

Save the Date: International Conference #RememberanceResponsibilityFuture

Introduction

Dovilė Budrytė, Ph.D., Professor of Political Science
Georgia Gwinnett College, Georgia, USA

Writing about memory in Eastern Europe, Alexander Etkind observed in his book Warped Mourning that various groups are likely to cultivate different versions of the past, define their friends and foes, thus creating separate memory communities that are likely to engage in memory wars.  Etkind’s observation raises several fundamental questions about historical memory in Eastern Europe:  Can a major historical trauma start uniting various groups to combat current expressions of prejudice and violence?  How should major historical traumas be commemorated so that memory wars are avoided?  Are there proper ways to remember horrendous events to make sure that history does not repeat itself?

Cipla’s Journey: How a Muslim-Jewish Romance Shaped One of India’s Biggest Pharma Firms

by Kenneth X. Robbins and John Mcleod

In 1992, the editor of the Times of India telephoned one of Mumbai’s most prominent businessmen–Yusuf K Hamied. The editor asked Yusuf “as a Muslim leader” his opinion on communal riots that were taking place in the city. “Why aren’t you asking me as an Indian Jew? Because my name is Hamied? My mother was Jewish,” Yusuf replied. His maternal grandparents perished in the Holocaust.

Yusuf, chairman of one of India’s largest pharmaceutical firms, is the son of an aristocratic Muslim scientist from India and a Jewish Communist from what is now Lithuania. Defined by his parents’ extraordinary marriage, he unites his father’s scientific skills, business acumen, and Indian patriotism with his mother’s compassion for the less fortunate. He charges the Western pharmaceutical industry with “holding three billion people in the Third World to ransom by using their monopoly status to charge higher prices.” And he has devoted himself to making life-saving inexpensive generic medications for the inhabitants of poorer countries.

NHK World Documentary Painting with Soul

Japan’s largest broadcast NHK invites you to watch their documentary “Painting with Soul.”

The “To-Kon Painters” add color to the lives of people who are short on cash. They’re volunteers who will travel anywhere for a good cause, painting buildings and playground equipment free of charge. Most are former social dropouts who once belonged to biker gangs or quit school. We follow them to Lithuania, where they repaint a memorial honoring Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat who helped 6,000 Jews flee the Holocaust during World War II. The painters must overcome cultural and linguistic challenges to get the job done.

Watch here.

LJC Hosts “Person with a Backbone” Discussion on Public Holocaust Awareness

The Lithuanian Jewish Community together with the Polish Institute in Vilnius, the Goodwill Foundation and the Czarne publishing house hosted a discussion September 27 called “Person with a Strong Backbone” on public awareness of the Holocaust and of Polish and Lithuanian Righteous Gentiles who rescued Jews from death. The guest of honor was Romuald Weksler-Waszkinel who was born in Švenčionys and escaped death due to the efforts of Righteous Gentiles.

The discussion was based on the book of the same name by Polish radio journalist Dariusz Rosiak who discovered a hero in Waszkinel (Człowiek o twardym karku. Historia księdza Romualda Jakuba Wekslera-Waszkinela, Wydawnictwo Czarne, Wołowiec 2013). The author and his book’s main character shared with the audience memories and reflections of Polish and Lithuanian Righteous Gentiles against the backdrop of Waszkinel’s moving story of his salvation by Polish rescuers and how they raised him as one of the family.

Vilnius Polish Institute director Marcin Łapczyński said: “The Holocaust is one of the greatest and most horrific tragedies in the history of humanity. Millions of Jews lost their lives because of the crime planned by the Germans. About half of Poland’s 6 million citizens who died during World War II were Jews. It’s worth recalling Poles constitute about 25 percent of all people awarded the title of Righteous among the Nations for the heroic rescue of Jews. They are in first place in the awards list. Likewise, Polish families in Lithuania helped Jews. Examples include Katarzyna and Ignacy Bujel from Vaidotai, Maria and Antoni Kruminis-Łozowski from i Jašiūnai and of course Emilia and Piotr Waszkinel from Švenčionys. Among the almost 900 Lithuanian citizens who are Righteous Gentiles, Poles form the majority.”

Well-known Vilnius teacher, bibliophile and proponent of multiculturalism Vytautas Toleikis led the discussion, after which Grzegorz Lindowski’s documentary film “Embedded in David’s Star, the Cross” (“…wpisany w gwiazdę Dawida – krzyżm,” 1997) was shown, in which Romuald Waszkinel shares his dramatic story, his dilemmas and thoughts which led him to inner peace and certainty.

Žiežmariai Synagogue One of a Handful of Surviving Wooden Synagogues in Europe

LRT TV News Service LRT.lt

When Lithuania joined the European Route of Jewish Cultural Heritage, the synagogue in Žiežmariai was chosen as the symbolic first site. The wooden house of prayer is a rare surviving example of wooden synagogues in Europe. Even so, it took more than a decade for reconstruction to begin. After work is done, the plan is for the small building located in a town along Lithuania’s main highway to host a museum.

About 500 Jews lived in Žiežmariai when the synagogue was built in the 19th century. Before the war there were up to a thousand. Now the synagogue is getting back its former face, with work on the façade, windows, walls and the already-finished roof.

Restoration experts working on the building say the synagogue succeeded in surviving because of daily care by local residents. They boarded up windows and removed garbage dating back to Soviet times, when the building was used as storage. Neighbor Liudvikas Markuntavičius said the synagogue serves more than just to remind the small town of a glorious past. During World War II the synagogue territory was used as a ghetto and the Jews of Žasliai and Kaišiadorys were imprisoned there.

Chabad Feuds with Jewish Leaders over Cozy Ties to Eastern European Autocrats


by Lili Bayer and Larry Cohler-Esses

In the former Communist states of Central and Eastern Europe, established mainstream Jewish groups are increasingly worried that Chabad, the international Hasidic movement, is allying itself with authoritarian governments.

In countries from Hungary to Russia, they say, Chabad is at times playing down anti-Semitism in a bid to compete with local Jewish groups and win access to financial resources and political influence.

Chabad, in turn, says that mainstream groups are too embroiled in secular and political issues, including polarizing disputes about democracy and civil liberties, at the expense of guarding core communal Jewish interests of physical security and Jewish religious freedom. In some cases, Chabad officials say, these establishment groups are also corrupt.

The increasing tensions between Chabad and more established Jewish groups are playing out in different ways in different countries. Each case is unique:

Survivor Yochanan Fein’s Memoirs Presented in Lithuanian in Kaunas


Photo courtesy Vincas Kudirka Public Library

The Lithuanian translation of Yochanan Fein’s memoirs called “Berniukas su smuiku” [Boy with a Violin] was presented at two locations in Kaunas: the Vincas Kudirka public library’s Panemunė branch and the President Valdas Adamkus Library and Museum. The author impressed audiences with his warmth, humor, humanitarianism and perfect Lithuanian and his story drew both laughter and tears.

Members of the Paulavičius family, who rescued Fein during the Holocaust, attended the book presentation at the presidential library, along with members of academia, Kaunas Jewish Community members, former ghetto prisoners and Fein’s son and daughter, who accompanied him throughout Lithuania on his book tour.

Recalling his life in the ghetto and his rescue as well as what led up to his writing the book, Fein said that although the book is written in blood, it contains no hatred, revenge or attacks. Fein even received some criticism from friends for that reason, so he explained he would never forget what happened and who did it, but he also discovered enlightened people during those dark days who preserved faith in humanity, risking their lives and those of their families. Fein said he didn’t like the word “everyone” and that there is no universal crime or guilt. He said we need to talk about the real heroes of the nation, the extraordinary people who adhered to Fein’s father’s life-long maxim “men darf zayn a mentsh,” one must remain a human being.

Jewish Lithuanian Soldier Volf Kagan Remembered in Balbirishok

A commemorative plaque was unveiled on October 5 to honor the memory of Volf Kagan, Jewish Lithuanian soldier and two-time recipient of the order of the Cross of Vytis, in the town square of Balbieriškis (Balbirishok) next to the local government building in the Prienai region of Lithuania. Volf Kagan (1900-1941) came from this town.

According to Balbieriškis Tolerance Center director Vitas Rymantas Sidaravičius, the plaque honors both Kagan and the former Jewish community of Balbieriškis. The plaque was the brain-child of Lithuanian journalist Vilius Kavaliauskas, author and editor of articles and the book “Pažadėtoji žemė – Lietuva” [Lithuania: The Promised Land] about Litvaks, and was financed by the Prienai regional administration. Lithuanian Jewish MP Emanuelis Zingeris attended the unveiling ceremony as did Prienai regional administration head Alvydas Vaicekauskas, deputy regional administration head Algis Marcinkevičius, representatives of the Kaunas Jewish Community, Vilius Kavaliauskas, Prienai regional culture, sports and youth department director Rimantas Šiugždinis, Išlaužo žuvis company director Rimantas Jurgelionis, Balbieriškiis parish head priest father Remigijus Veprauskas, head town doctor Angelė Sidaravičienė, Balbieriškis alderwoman Sigita Ražanskienė, members of the aldermanship council, Balbieriškis primary school students and teachers, Culture and Leisure Center staff and local residents.

One Hundredth Anniversary of Birth of Jewish Soldier and Poet Abba Kovner


Abba Kovner with Jewish partisans and ghetto underground, July 14, 1944 (standing in center). Photo: Ilya Erenburg

by professor Pinchos Fridberg, for the web page of the newspaper Obzor

I am writing before the event: a half year remains until the birthday of the famous figure, but decisions need to be made now.

Don’t look for legendary Litvak Abba Kovner on the Lithuanian-language wikipedia, the hero of Jewish resistance to the Nazi occupation in Lithuania, the fighter for Israeli independence, the famous poet and writer, has no entry there. There are entries in the Hebrew and English wikipedia, in the Polish and Russian, but not in Lithuanian.

He apparently doesn’t merit a wikipedia page in Lithuanian. Every people has their heroes. On March 14, 2018, Abba Kovner, z”l [zikhrono livrakha, of blessed memory], turns 100.

I hope the Lithuanian Jewish Community remembers this significant event.

Abba studied at the Tarbut gymnasium, the building at Pylimo street no. 4 in Vilnius which now houses the Lithuanian Jewish Community. I therefore think “God Himself” commands us to hang a memorial plaque (in Lithuanian, Yiddish and English) to his memory in the foyer of this building. I foresee a question arising: why in the foyer and not on the outside of the building. My answer: I don’t want to see the issue of a memorial plaque get bogged down in endless negotiations.

LJC and Greek Embassy Event to Celebrate Righteous Gentiles

Marking the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Lithuania and the Republic of Greece, the Greek embassy to Lithuania and the Lithuanian Jewish Community invite you to an event to celebrate Lithuanian and Greek Righteous Gentiles and Lithuanian and Greek Jewish relations in the Diaspora.

The event will be held at 6:00 P.M., Tuesday, October 10, 2017, at the Lithuanian Jewish Community at Pylimo street no. 4, Vilnius.

Program:

Presentation of book “Greek Righteous among the Nations,” edited by Dr. Photini Tomai-Constantopoulou, a representative of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Documentary about Greeks at Auschwitz

Presentation by Patrida, the Greek community in Lithuania

Greek music, Greek and Jewish food

The event is free to the public and the main language of the event will be English. Greek ambassador to Lithuania Dr. Vassiliki Dicopoulou is scheduled to attend.

Tale of a Man with Two Names, One Life

by Algis Jakštas

I first wrote several years ago about a man with an exceptional story, a man with two names and two surnames, Romuald Jabuk Weksler-Waszkinel, who was born in Švenčionys during the war and by some miracle became the only survivor from among all his family and relatives who once lived there. That miracle was the work of Piotr and Emilia Waszkinel. Jakub and Batia Veksler handed their son born February 28, 1943, over into their care and Piotr and Emilia had him baptized as a Christian.

Romuald Jakub Weksler-Waszkinel now lives in Israel and has come to Lithuania at the invitation of the Polish Institute in Vilnius. He also found time to visit his native Švenčionys. He visited the Menorah statue which recalls the former ghetto gate and other sites. As I said, none of his relatives who lived in Švenčionys survived. Some were killed in the forest near Švenčionėliai, others at concentration camps. His parents died at a concentration camp.

Barbara Orszewska, project coordination for the Polish Institute in Vilnius, accompanied Weksler to Švenčionys and was happy to translate for him. Švenčionys Jewish Community chairman Moisej Šapiro also accompanied him. I spoke with him by the Menorah monument there. My first question, or more precisely request, was for him to talk about his life, worthy of a movie or book.

“My story is, that until I was 35 I didn’t know I was Jewish. I was always unsure about ethnicity when I tried to compare my features and appearance with those around me. I didn’t look like a Pole, and Poles lived around, or like my Polish parents. When I turned 35 my mother told me I had other parents, Jews, who were murdered during the war. She didn’t know my original name. For 14 years I sought my true roots until I found my Jewish surname, Weksler. Now I have two first names and two surnames. And this is my greatest treasure. The Jews Jakub and Batia Weksler gave me life, and without the Poles Piotr and Emilia I wouldn’t have survived. In 2009 I went to live in Israel. There I found relatives of my mother and father, there I felt as if I had come home. I am very grateful to people and God.”

What feelings overtook you when you discovered you were Jewish instead of Polish?

Švenčionys Jewish Community Chairman Moisej Šapiro Speaks in Former Ghetto


by Galina Romanova

It almost seems as if nothing new can be said about a long-standing Jewish tradition to meet on the first Sunday in October by the Menorah sculpture in the central park in Švenčionys, Lithuania and at the obelisk people call the Polygon in the forest between Platumai village and Šalnaitis Lake, where 8,000 Jews from the entire Vilnius region were brutally murdered and buried. It almost seems that way, but every meeting is different in its own way. This year, on October 1, there was a prevailing spirit of real and sincere communication, just as there is every year, and the people who come here often end up becoming long-term friends, or at least get to know one another much better. Those who come bring with them photographs and souvenirs from different times.

Yochanan Fein to Speak at LJC Presentation of His Testimony in Lithuanian Translation

berniukas-su-smuiku_large

The memoirs of Yochanan Fein have been translated and published in Lithuanian and the new book will be presented at the Lithuanian Jewish Community at 6:00 P.M. on October 5, 2017. Author Yochanan Fein is scheduled to speak at the event to be moderated by professor Leonidas Melnikas. A musical performance is to be provided by violinist Jokūbas Račiūnas. The event is to take place mainly in Russian. Fein is a Holocaust survivor from Kaunas and the the new book is called “Berniukas su smuiku,” or “The Boy with the Violin.”

Commemoration of Šeduva Shtetl in Lithuania and Abroad

Milda Jakulytė-Vasil,
museum curator,
Šeduva Jewish Memorial Fund

The beginning of the Šeduva Jewish community should be dated to the first half of the 18th century when Šeduva, having received Magdeburg charter self-government rights and after becoming a city, underwent rapid development the Jewish population grew remarkably. In 1793 the writer Fridrich Schulz (1762-1798) in his description of his impressions of visits to Poland (Fridrich Schulz “Reise eines Livländers durch Polen,” 1793) described Šeduva as a small town very similar to many he’d seen along the way. The traveller’s eyes didn’t miss the fact that almost none of the homes in the town had chimneys. Of course this sort of observation in a travelogue probably wasn’t intended to kindle the interest of readers and get them to visit the location, and beyond being an observation by the writer and traveller probably only meant that fires could and often did ravage these sorts of towns and cities.

In essence Šeduva wasn’t especially known for anything in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. We can say Šeduva was a typical town where Jews formed a significant part of economically active residents, and if their activities didn’t cause urban development, they at least had an influence over it. There were many such shtetlakh/towns in Lithuania, but upon closer inspection each has surprising and interesting events and stories, and the descendants of these towns are found now around the world.

In the shtetl of Šeduva in the period between the wars, constituted of about 900 Jews, the residents knew (or at least recognized) each other. The historian Saulius Kaubrys found the entire Jewish population Šeduva fit more or less along three streets, and this dense residency led to more intimate mutual interaction. There’s a story which illustrates the maxim that there are no secrets in a small town: “Shlomo had a brother named Nisan, an old man, about 60, but in his father’s eyes he was still ‘the kid,’ so he took him to buy a pair of shoes once. The two entered the shop and the father told the shopkeeper: ‘Give me some kid shoes.’ The shopkeeper looked around, but where was the child? At that point the father pointed to his 60-year-old son, ‘the child.’ Of course the entire shtetl knew about ‘the kid’ (that’s how it is in the shtetlakh)… They also lived in Šeduva.”

Zavl Shul Opens Doors to Public Briefly

The historic Zavl synagogue near the Vilnius train station opened its doors to visitors briefly Sunday, October 1.

The building has been undergoing extensive repairs and a full restoration over the last several years after it was returned to the Lithuanian Jewish Community. Initially the LJC undertood emergency measures to fix the roof after a wind storm displaced shingles and a gaping hole appeared. Several years on now the entire external façade including walls, windows, cupola and roof have been restored to something approximating its authentic appearance before the Holocaust.

The public event featured a series of humble and eclectic art installations by a group of designers located in the women’s gallery and on the main floor.

Descendants of Victims and Perpetrators Tell the Same Story


Reglindis Rauca accidentally learned the true story of her grandfather and it changed her writing and her relationship with her family. Photo: Romas Jurgaitis/Lietuvos žinios

by Gintarė Čiuladaitė
© 2017 Lietuvos žinios

Reglindis Rauca, writer, actress and granddaughter of Helmut Rauca, the butcher of the Kaunas ghetto, is visiting Lithuania. She learned of her grandfather’s war crimes by accident in 2003 when she was searching the internet for information about her maiden name.

“It was completely accidental that I learned the true story about my grandfather Helmut Rauca. The discovery of these horrific crimes and their significance caused great shock and became an important theme in my life and work,” Reglindis Rauca said.

She met Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum director Markas Zingeris in Vilnius. The latter also wrote about Helmut Rauca in his novel “Grojimas dviese” [Performing as a Duet] published in 2002, describing him as a fanatic servant of the Third Reich and the perpetrator of fantastic crimes.

“Reglindis Rauca is a brave woman who has considered these heavy issues and was driven by them to travel to Lithuania. She visited the Ninth Fort in Kaunas and other World War II and Holocaust memorial sites. I realized both us were painfully affected by him, just in different ways,” Zingeris said.