The Tolerance Center of the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum opened an exhibit of artworks by Rafael Chwoles February 17 called “They Watch Us: Portraits of Vilnius Residents, 1945-1949.” The exhibit will run till March 27.
The diary of Yitzchak Rudashevski written in the Vilnius ghetto and providing an eye-witness account by the young man has been translated into Lithuanian and is to be launched at the Vilnius Book Fair Sunday. Although Rudashevski was only 14 when he began the diary, many who have read the book in the original Yiddish, English and other languages say he displays both incredible talent as a writer and a wisdom beyond his years. He was murdered at Ponar in late 1943. The original diary is conserved by YIVO with copies made available to other institutions and archives.
The Lithuanian Jewish Community invites everyone to read and learn about the Rudashevski ghetto diary.
The book is to be launched at 11:00 A.M. on Sunday, February 25, 2018, in conference room 1.2 at the Vilnius Book Fair.
LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, Yiddish translator Dr. Mindaugas Kvietkauskas, Sigutė Chlebinskaitė, Jewish partisan Fania Brancovskaja and Akvilė Grigoravičiūtė are to attend the launch.
Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu sent a letter to Lithuanian prime minister Saulius Skvernelis, a greeting from him and the people of Israel congratulating Lithuania on the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the first Lithuanian Republic.
Netanyahu wished the people of Lithuania a memorable and happy holiday. He noted the close historical connections between the people of Lithuania and Israel and the importance of the Lithuanian Jewish community to the entire Jewish people and their religious and intellectual development. The Jewish people who lived in Lithuania earned great respect and included famous philosophers, writers and scholars.
The Israeli PM also noted the current Lithuanian Jewish community and Israeli citizens from Lithuania celebrate a spirit of solidarity and close cultural contacts between the two peoples. Netanyahu noted Israel appreciates highly Lithuania’s promises regarding Holocaust education and in fighting anti-Semitism. He called Lithuania one of Israel’s closest partners in Europe at the present time, and said Lithuania had contributed significantly to fostering constructive dialogue between Israel and the European Union.
Lithuania’s 100th Independence Day was also observed by the municipality of Tel Aviv where the municipal building was lit in the colors of the Lithuanian flag.
Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė awarded writer and founder of the Šeduva Jewish Memorial Fund Sergejus Kanovičius the state honor “For Merit to Lithuania” February 15. He received the award for his work to preserve the Lithuanian Jewish heritage. The bernardinai.lt website, where Kanovičius frequently contributes, published his acceptance speech:
I share, because I have received. That’s what my Parents taught me. That’s what my Parents learned from their Parents, my grandparents, to share what you get with others. Always, whether you have a lot or a little, and someone else has even less. I share because this is not all my doing. It probably isn’t even mine at all. It belongs to my Parents, to my entire family without whom I wouldn’t be able to work the work I do in Lithuania, it is my brother’s example to share, to support and help, and so it belongs to all of them.
What would I have been able to do for Lithuania alone? How would I have received this sort of award if not for the wonderful people who work with me? How would we be able to work without our hard-working patrons, without whose help we wouldn’t be able to make my vision and our mission happen?
I won’t lie, it’s very nice to be awarded. But it’s even nice to know this award doesn’t belong to me alone. It belongs to all of us. As it does to Lithuania, for whom we all must try to make a contribution, through work seen and unseen. Love and respect for our fellow man, respect for historical truth and justice, for commemorating the past. For commemorating that which has come down to us and must remain after us.
We have all done merit for Lithuania because we are her children. Let’s love her and be loved.
I sincerely believe this award, although it was given to me, really does belong to all of you.
My grandfather, may he rest in peace, the suit maker from Jonava, Shloime Kanovich, always used to ask any customer who came in, “Do you have material?” We have an abundance of material. What’s important is that we sew it together honestly.
Thank you, everyone. And as my Father wrote on a similar occasion and on completely justified grounds, thank you, Lithuania.
by Linas Linkevičius
Lithuanian Jews helped build the country, and their legacy remains an integral part of Lithuanian history.
This year, while Israel is celebrating 70 years of modern statehood, Lithuania is celebrating 100 years of restored independence.
For centuries Lithuanian Jewry was part of the educated and intellectual elite of our society. One hundred years ago they took the most active part in the process of creating the Republic of Lithuania. They were elected to the Lithuanian Parliament, took up diplomatic posts, served in the army. I would like to particularly mention some of those great men.
Back in the 1920s the chairman of the Vilna Jewish community Jacob Wygodsky became the first Jewish affairs minister in Lithuania–the very post was a completely new phenomenon in our history. Shimshon Rosenbaum, a famous Zionist movement activist, became vice minister of foreign affairs and was a member the Lithuanian delegation to negotiate the peace treaty with Soviet Russia. Nachman Rachmilevich is yet another great example. He became vice minister of industry and trade.
Full text here.
Jokūbas Vygodskis (Jakub Wygodzki in Polish, Yankev Vigodski in Yiddish) was born in Bobruisk now in Belarus in 1855 and his family moved to Vilnius in 1860, where he received a traditional Jewish education. He completed high school in Marijampolė and attended medical school at the University of Saint Petersburg, additional studies in Vienna, Berlin, and Paris, after which he returned to Vilnius with the city’s centuries-old Jewish community.
Vilnius always had sufficiently capable people who knew how to organize the life of the Jewish community according to ethical standards, providing a helping hand to the poor and weak. Vygodskis organized the Society of Jewish Physicians in Vilnius besides practicing medicine as a gynecologist, pediatrician and medical researcher, as well as writing; initially he published medical articles in Russian and German journals, but later contributed to the Yiddish and Hebrew popular press and wrote at least three books of memoirs in Yiddish.
In September of 1917 the Lithuanian Taryba (national council) was elected in Vilnius with the goal of establishing an independent state. Wygodzki was appointed minister for Jewish affairs. In 1918 he joined the World Zionist Federation and is called a general liberal Zionist in the literature available on him.
While there are many Litvaks in the world who are known for great accomplishments and high intellect, a recent book in Lithuanian called “Pasaulio lietuviai: šlovė ir geda” (Alma littera, Vilnius 2016) [Lithuanians of the World: Glory and Shame] features a perhaps lesser known Litvak figure whose accomplishments were no less important, Hermann Bernstein.
It’s not Lithuania alone who has problems with the emotional experience and historical interpretation of the Holocaust, but unlike in Lithuania where there is no idea even to ban by law statements with no basis in historical fact … the right-wing Government of Poland has chosen the path of prosecution.
What for? For wide-spread statements the death camps in Poland were Polish.
Well, there were no Polish death camps, as Angela Merkel has said.
So why this law politicizing the discipline of history and restricting free speech? Supposedly to defend Poland’s honor, the right-wing Government adopted a law carrying penalties of up to three years in prison for those who publicly call the death camps established in Poland by the Germans “Polish.” And three years as well for those who say the Polish people collaborated with the Nazis. Responding to Israel’s concerns on the attempt by Poland to possibly hoax history, the webpage wPolityce supported by the Polish Government has been publishing articles which accuse Israel of engaging in a conspiracy with Brussels, Jewish lobbyists in Washington, D. C., and the Polish opposition to harm the ruling Law and Justice Party in Poland. The state channel TVP on the evening news program showed anti-Semitic inscriptions claiming Israel was exploiting the Holocaust in order to pump billions out of Poland.
Full editorial in Lithuanian here.
The Lithuanian Jewish Community for many years now has been posing the question: does Lithuania even know and is she able to name her true heroes? As we begin to celebrate 100 years since the founding of the Lithuanian Republic and look back over all the people who contributed, we cannot forget the noble Lithuanian Jews and the noble rescuers of Jews from the Holocaust who managed to keep the flame of hope alive during the most shameful passage in Lithuania’s history. The Sondeckis family who saved Lithuania’s honor are now forced to defend their own.
At the start of Lithuania’s 100th birthday celebration, the Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of Residents of the Republic of Lithuania (hereinafter Center) has on their webpage published a journal containing a registry of files on people from the KGB archive.
This list includes Saulius Sondeckas, the son of Jackus Sondeckis, a well-known Lithuanian public figure, a member of the independence movement over 100 years ago and a Righteous Gentile who saved Jews. On February 3, 2018, we marked the three-year anniversary of the death of Saulius Sondeckis, a true aristocrat of the spirit who represented Lithuania and put Lithuania on the world map with his exceptional musical talent and noble deeds. That these allegations of possible criminal activity leveled against Saulius Sondeckis, who is now dead and unable to defend himself, and against his family fall on the 100th anniversary of the modern Lithuanian Republic makes graver the circumstances surrounding the charges and increases the harm done to the family who so rightly deserve the honor of the Lithuanian nation for their contributions. This accusation treads upon the title Righteous Gentile and also inflicts damage on the Lithuanian Jewish Community, which considers Saulius Sondeckis an honorary member.
For over 10 years Panevėžys theater director Valerijus Jevsejevas has been putting on an Anne Frank drama based on the diary on stages around Lithuania.
On February 4 there the play “Forever Yours, Anne Frank” gave its farewell performance at the Juozas Miltinis Drama Theater in Panevėžys, attended by members of the Panevėžys Jewish Community. Tenor Rafailas Karpis performed a concert concluding with kaddish.
Interview by Ieva Elenbergienė
Professor emeritus of history at Millersville University Saulius Sužiedėlis explains the Nazis didn’t need gas chambers in Lithuania. While 40 percent of Holocaust victims were murdered in gas chambers, this wasn’t the case in Lithuania, where the Nazis discovered sufficient man-power for mass murder. Although there were informal attempts to stop the violence in Lithuania, Dr. Sužiedėlis says there was no universal condemnation, nor public statements against by authorities. Church officials were also silent. Sužiedėlis says we must stop denying ugly things and look our past squarely in the face.
At the end of November Saulius Sužiedėlis was invited by the Lithuanian Jewish Community to speak at the conference #AtmintisAtsakomybėAteitis held in Vilnius.
When people are talking publicly and the topic turns to Lithuanian collaboration in the Holocaust, there is often a defensive reaction expressed as an attack on Jews: “But they did this and this and that to us!”
It’s not just characteristic of us, the human reaction of trying to place guilt on others. For instance, in the USA for a long time the destruction of the Indians was completely ignored, there was talk of the wars of the Wild West, but new studies show these so-called Indian wars were in many cases nothing more than the massacre of peaceful local residents. Of course some people didn’t like this, and accusations came up, for example, “But what did they do to the cowboys?” and so on. I personally, though, have no concern about what Jews have done. I’m concerned with what Lithuanians have done. Of course there were Jews, just as there were Lithuanians and Russians, who were involved in deportations. What does that have in common with, let’s say, Jewish children murdered in Telšiai? I don’t feel personal shame–I wasn’t even born yet–but I do feel a kind of collective shame, that people of my ethnicity were able to act this way in this Catholic, religion-practicing country.
A meeting of the executive council of the Lithuanian Jewish Community Monday discussed topical issues, shared examples of best practices and voiced suggestions for expanding LJC activities. Current administrative issues and the future of support for Holocaust rescuers were discussed. The council elected a new LJC board of directors including Faina Kukliansky, Gercas Žakas, Feliksas Puzemskis, Gennady Kofman, Shmuel Levinas, Daumantas- Levas Todesas and Semionas Finkelšteinas. The board of directors is in charge current activities and maintenance between conferences based on the regulations of the LJC and under decisions made by the executive council.
Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky and executive director Renaldas Vaisbrodas met speaker of the Lithuanian parliament Viktoras Pranckietis Wendesday. They discussed current issues in the Lithuanian Jewish Community regarding protection of Jewish heritage sites and the transfer of the former Hassidic synagogue in Kaunas for use by the Jewish Community, and agreed to work together to mark the 75th anniversary of the liquidation of the Vilnius ghetto with an academic conference at parliament.
Photo: O. Posaškova/Lithuanian parliament
The two-storey wooden synagogue in Varėna, Lithuania, has been listed on the registry of cultural heritage treasures.
It was listed as being of local significance and important for its architecture and as a memorial. The synagogue has a stone and mortar foundation under the compact wooden building. Some of the original windows have survived.
The synagogue was mentioned in an account by a traveler from the Crimea in 1930, who wrote: “There were three Jewish synagogues and about 600 families in Varėna before the war. Now there are barely 70. There were three public schools, now there is only one. The only synagogue [left] was rebuilt in 1922. The Jews have their own People’s Bank established in 1920 with a turnover of one million litai in 1929.”
January 27, 2018, New York–AJC Central Europe is firmly opposed to legislation which would penalize claims that Poland or Polish citizens bear responsibility for any Holocaust crimes.
The bill approved by the lower chamber of the Polish parliament makes it a crime punishable by up to three years in prison to use statements such as “Polish death camps,” suggesting Poland bears responsibility for crimes against humanity committed by Nazi Germany.
“This kind of legislation is both provocative and totally unnecessary. It will inflame the debate over historical responsibility,” said Agnieszka Markiewicz, director of AJC Central Europe.
“Education, not punitive laws, is essential to building greater awareness of all the facts of what transpired in Poland during World War II and the Holocaust,” Markiewicz continued. “The Polish government should reconsider this measure aimed at penalizing the use of language, even if we agree this language should not be used.”
A group of students in the sixth grade at the Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymnasium in Vilnius decided to make a presentation on the Holocaust and the Vilnius ghetto. Saulius Vinokuras, Danielius Bedulskis, Aleksandras Kormilcevas and Kajus Maksimaitis came up with the idea of asking complete strangers, resident in Vilnius, what they know about the Vilnius ghetto and the Holocaust. The result is a six minute video with captions in English edited by Saulius Vinokuras. Watch it below.
The date and topic of the event wasn’t accidental. Ariogala gymnasium principal Arvydas Stankus said this event was a kind of mobile memorial recalling history. Event guest Gercas Žakas, chairman of the Kaunas Jewish Community, expressed satisfaction at the large turn-out, over 200 people, and said he expected they were tolerant people, not militants, able to speak what exists and what has been lost. He said it was important to remember losses because otherwise we would again enter into historical oblivion. Until World War II everyone got along well and there were about 3,000 Jewish volunteers for the Lithuanian military. It was recalled Lithuanians gave Jews Easter eggs before the war and Jews gave Lithuanians matzo. Then the Soviets came, and all groups suffered, then the Nazis with their crazy policies culminating in genocide.
Ronaldas Račinskas, executive director of the International Commission to Assess the Crimes of the Soviet and Nazi Occupational Regimes in Lithuania, said the world opened the gates of Auschwitz 73 years ago and saw what had gone on there. He said the world did not see other things, and perhaps didn’t want to see or judge what happened up to that point. He said the conference was a sad occasion since it commemorates the murder of 6 million Jews. It would be easy, he said, to claim that this was down to circumstances, Nazi policy and power supporting the idea of the destruction of people, but that there were signs of values pointing to the future, people who took exceptional risk, and some had made accomplishments of global significance. Račinskas said we no longer live in times when aid to the weaker carries a death penalty. Now we can demonstrate our values without waiting for extreme situations to occur. This will result in a better, stronger and more educated Lithuania, he said, and 100 years from now there will be no need to mark June 14, August 23, September 23 or January 27, since it will not be able to happen again at that point. He pointed out there are people at each and every educational and cultural agency doing much more than is demanded by different programs, and said he looked forward to the appearance of leaders whom others would follow. Without the heart-felt and since work and the personal commitment of the teachers, he said, such events as this could not take place.
A wagon of newspapers and artwork, including a bust of Leo Tolstoy, recovered in Vilnius in July, 1944. Photo: YIVO Institute for Jewish Research
Lithuania has a long history of book smuggling, but the Lithuanian side of the story usually focuses on efforts by smugglers to import books in Lithuanian into the territory of the Baltic states incorporated into the Russian Empire by Catherine the Great and attempts to set up underground Lithuanian schools in barns across the country. The entire lore of book smuggling was popularized after World War II by the author Ray Bradbury in his novel “Fahrenheit 451.” Now the Wall Street Journal and author David Fishman remind Lithuanians and the world of another chapter in the same story: the “Paper Brigade” in the Vilnius ghetto answerable to Rosenberg charged with looting Judaica treasures from YIVO, the Great Synagogue and other sources in the Nazi-occupied Lithuanian capital.
The Book Smugglers: Partisans, Poets and the Race to Save Jewish Treasures from the Nazis. The True Story of the Paper Brigade of Vilna, by David E. Fishman. 312 pp. 28 photos, 2 maps. University Press of New England, 2017. Audiobook narrated by P. J. Ochlan.
Review by Gerald J. Steinacher
The Book Smugglers of Vilna
How a small band of Jews resisted Nazi efforts to destroy the cultural treasures of the Jerusalem of Lithuania.
The Nazis did not merely want to murder all the Jews; they were also determined to eradicate all Jewish art and literature. In “The Book Smugglers,” David E. Fishman, a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, introduces us to a thriving Jewish culture in Eastern Europe and to the people who risked their lives to save this culture from the barbaric Nazi onslaught.
Vilna, better known today as Vilnius, was the cultural capital of Eastern European Jewry. Nicknamed the Jerusalem of Lithuania, on the eve of the Holocaust the town had an ethnically diverse population of 193,000, of whom about 28% were Jews. It was foremost a city of books for the people of the book. Yiddish literature flourished in a vibrant writers’ scene. The city’s Jewish cultural institutions, such as the Strashun Library and the Yiddish Scientific Institute, were famous for their rare literature and Jewish-history collections.
Pope: Indifference a virus which is contagious in our time
Pope Francis stresses the importance of responsibility, remembrance and education in fight against anti-Semitism.
In his speech to participants attending the Rome International Conference on the Responsibility of States, Institutions and Individuals in the Fight against Anti-Semitism in the OSCE Area, the Pope got right to the heart of his address by emphasizing three words, responsibility, indifference and memory.
Regarding responsibility, Pope Francis said, “we are responsible when we are able to respond. It is not merely a question of analyzing the causes of violence and refuting their perverse reasoning, but of being actively prepared to respond to them.”
He went on to say, “the enemy against which we fight is not only hatred in all of its forms, but even more fundamentally, indifference; for it is indifference that paralyzes and impedes us from doing what is right even when we know that it is right.”
I do not grow tired of repeating, he said “that indifference is a virus that is dangerously contagious in our time, a time when we are ever more connected with others, but are increasingly less attentive to others.”
The Jews of Poland were once the largest Ashkenazi Jewish community in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, but those of them who remain today, it seems, will not be able to understand the decision made by the Polish Sejm on January 26, 2018. Historically Lithuanian and Polish Jewish communities are connected by ties of friendship in all spheres, we maintain exemplary relations with the secular and religious community, we know of the efforts made by Lithuanian MPs in solving disputes over the use of Polish orthography and we remember the efforts made by the Polish presidents Aleksandr Kwaszniewski, Lech Kaczynski and Bronislaw Komorowski to improve relations with Lithuania.
What could have happened so that the current members of the Polish parliament adopted a law imposing three years’ imprisonment to anyone who openly says the Polish state or nation is guilty of Nazi crimes, or who uses the formula “Polish death camps?” The law reflects the official position of the Polish Government that the great majority of Poles acted heroically during the Nazi occupation. Nonetheless there were many in the country who did collaborate with the Nazis and committed horrific crimes.
Another question arises for me: isn’t it from such irresponsible steps, from these sorts of anti-Semitic laws and assessments as well as statements that everything began during World War II?
We also remember Chiune Sugihara who provided the Jews of Poland condemned to the Holocaust in Kaunas his “visas for life.”
Faina Kukliansky, chairwoman
Lithuanian Jewish Community