Happy Birthday to Semionas Finkelšteinas

Dear Semionas,

We are so happy to be able to celebrate your birthday together. We wish you the greatest success as head for 28 years now of the Makabi Lithuanian Jewish Athletics Club. After you completed your studies in economics at Vilnius University, you were one of the initiators behind the reconstitution of the Makabi club in Lithuania and have been its president since 1989. And you have been active in the work of the Lithuanian National Olympics Committee. May athletics always remain important in your life. You have won so many laurels in long distance, as a sprinter and a light athlete, and in the summer of 1990 we remember you together with a group of just over a dozen or so Lithuanians who ran around the Baltic Sea! The years together have been happy and meaningful, and with all our heart we wish success and great health will follow you closely forever!

Mazl tov!

Chairs of Lithaunaian, Kaunas Jewish Communities Visit Kaunas Jewish Cemetery

Faina Kukliansky, chairwoman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, visited the old Jewish cemetery in the Žaliakalnis district of Kaunas August 15 at the invitation of the Kaunas Jewish Community. She and members of the Kaunas Jewish Community, Kaunas-area religious Jewish community and Kaunas Hassidic Synagogue Community and together they studied maps of the cemetery, toured the territory and learned about recent public controversy occasioned by a cemetery neighbor planting decorative trees in the area. Despite the state holiday, Jewish cemetery administrator Edmundas Mikalauskas of municipality’s cemetery supervision enterprise cheerfully agreed to attend the meeting. KJC chairman Gercas Žakas and other participants outlined their positions on the controversy: not only do they approve of the plantings in the area, but enthusiastically welcome and congratulate the person demonstrating this sort of initiative and their beautification of part of the cemetery, in stark contrast to the weedy bushes growing up in other parts of it.

What seemed to cause consternation and surprise wasn’t the landscaping, but the reaction by responsible parties to the artificial scandal generated by one Kaunas figure who always attempts to draw attention to himself through various destructive actions (all the more so since there are plots of land within the cemetery which have caused much more controversy, for example, people living within the cemetery territory for many years who have gardens and even keep animals next to their homes). The KJC chairman mooted the idea of revising the boundaries of the cemetery because the cemetery, which ceased operating in 1952, is constituted of 8 hectares, a large part of which includes empty plots of grass where no burials were ever made. The cemetery, established in 1861, was expanded several times with a view to the future when the Kaunas Jewish community was quite large to meet future demand. Currently there isn’t great demand for grave sites and the cemetery isn’t operational anyway. There is, however, a working Jewish cemetery in Kaunas on H. ir O. Minkovskių street. The LJC chairwoman said she would examine the information received and make a decision soon regarding the planting of decorative trees there.

Most Famous Litvak Ever?

The Zamenhof monument in Veisiejai, Lithuania, recalls how he began as a doctor.

The Polish Institute in Vilnius with the Lithuanian National UNESCO Commission and the Union of Lithuanian Esperanto Speakers are presenting an exhibition on Ludovik Zamenhof, the inventor of the artificial international language Esperanto and the best-known Litvak in the world. The exhibit is on display at the Lithuanian National UNESCO Commission gallery at Šv. Jono street no. 11 and celebrates the 100th anniversary of Zamenhof’s birth. It details the famous Litvak and his family, his life in Białystok, Poland and the birth and popularity of the Esperanto language. Classic literature translated into Esperanto is also on display. UNESCO declared 2017 the Year of Ludovik Zamenhof. In 2014 Poland’s Ministry of Culture and National Treasures listed the Esperanto language on its registry of intangible national treasures.

Born in Białystok, he also lived and worked in Warsaw, Kaunas, Moscow, Vienna and Plotsk, and began his practice as a doctor in Veisiejai, Lithuania, in 1885. In 1886 he was an ophthalmologist in Vienna and Plotsk. In 1879 he wrote a Yiddish grammar published in part in the magazine Lebn un visnshaft (Vilna, 1909) followed in 1887 by his book “Lingvo internacia” under the psuedonym Dr. Esperanto, which became the name of the language he invented. He died in 1917 and is buried in Warsaw.

The exhibit is open to the public without admission charge till September 19.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Famous Producer Making Documentary about Jewish Vilna

As US archaeologists continue their research in Lithuania in search of traces of Jewish culture and history, a group of Canadian filmmakers have arrived and plan to release a documentary in fall of next year.

An international team of archaeologists led by professor Richard Freund of Hartford have been working at several sites in Lithuania over the last few weeks, including the Kaunas forts, the Great Synagogue site in Vilnius and the Jewish labor camp on Subačiaus street also in Vilnius, where they are looking for malinas, or hiding places. They also studied a Nazi POW camp in Šilutė, Lithuania. For some of the sites they employed non-invasive techniques enabling them to make discoveries without tearing down existing structures. The archaeologists are wrapping up their work in Lithuania this week.

The archaeological and documentary teams traveled together to Vilnius where the Canadian filmmakers concentrated on the HKP labor camp on Subačiaus street in Vilnius. The HKP repaired Germany military automobiles.

Stephanie Stolin Visits Panevėžys

Stephanie Stolin of Paris visited the Panevėžys Jewish Community August 10 looking for information about her grandfather Leo Berger. He was born in Subačius and studied at the Ponevezh yeshiva, and after reaching adulthood moved to London in 1910, and later to America. Her other relatives remained behind in Subačius. Her grandmother and her children daughter Leya Berger and son Mordechaim were murdered in Subačius in 1941.

Community chairman Gennady Kofman showed the guest old archival photographs and documents in which Stolin discovered the surname of her great-great-grandmother and photographic images of other relatives.

Stephanie Stolin thanked the chairman for his hospitality and aid in her search for traces and roots of her family, and promised to keep in touch with the Community in the future.

On the Radvilėnai Cemetery in Kaunas

Yesterday was a strange day. As if by prior agreement, Jewish residents of Kaunas and Vilnius called to ask the opinion of the largest Jewish religious community in Lithuania, the Vilnius religious community about “a botanical garden being built” in the Radvilėnai Cemetery in Kaunas.

I was caught by surprise and took a look on the all-powerful facebook. Actually, saplings and flowers are being planted in the cemetery, a sprinkler system has been set up and there is even a garbage dumpster on site.

For Jews cemeteries are a place of extraordinary respect and commemoration. This Jewish ethical position has been followed for centuries. This reminded me of the spiritual Holocaust which came in Soviet times, when Jewish, Christian and Orthodox cemeteries were “beautified” and “put to cultural use” as parks with fountains and benches for relaxing and reading Pravda.

Will Kaunas, which today is known for its innovative solutions and beautiful reconstruction, really let this happen? Will the city famous for its cultural traditions remain apathetic in the face of this malicious vandalism? It’s time to answer that question. Since my opinion was asked, I give it here.

The Kaunas city landscape is not a matter for the Jewish religious communities. We the living say: we are responsible for the memory of our dead and martyred brothers and sisters, for their rest and respect. Even a crooked, toppled, broken matseva (headstone) is extremely dear to us.

If someone is bothered by the view onto “unaesthetic Jewish graves” from the window of their home, let them install frosted windows. Or they should demonstrate civic pride, invite friends, invite the Jewish community, grab some brooms and rakes and clean up the cemetery. The unborn children and grandchildren of the victims of the Ninth Fort and the Lietūkis Garage in Kaunas have no opportunity to tend the graves of their relatives, no way to insure their eternal rest. Only we can do that now. Jews and Lithuanians. Citizens of the Republic of Lithuania.

Shmuel (Simas) Levinas, chairman
Vilnius Jewish Religious Community

Golda Vainberg-Tatz Concert

The accomplished pianist Gold Vainber-Tatz is returning to Vilnius and will perform at 6:00 P.M. on August 10 at the Lithuanian Jewish Community. Her performance is to include works by Bach (Busoni editions), Beethoven, Ravel, Debussy, Chopin and others.

Stories of Vilner Life Accompanied by Music

Arkadijus Gotesmanas, photo from the press release.

Klezmer music festivals are scheduled from August 10 to October 5 in Vilnius, Klaipėda, Kaišiadorys, Joniškis, Merkinė and other Lithuanian towns which will include a nine-concert series called Music for Failed Plays adapted from Abraomas Karpinovičius’s collection of tales The Last Prophet of Vilnius, festival organizers said in a press release.

Avant-garde jazz percussionist and modern music performer Arkadijus Gotesmanas is the force behind the festival. He says he wants to introduce the Lithuanian public to the original writer Abraomas Karpinovičius (1918-2004) who wrote in Yiddish.

His work commemorates the former Jewish life of Vilna, the Jewish drama theater and the Jewish community. Often his characters are odd, for example, Gedalkė Kantorius, who believed melodies could be frozen in a teapot and kept till spring, or the folklorist at the Halle market in Vilnius who collected profanities, or Rokhala who claimed to be a member of the royal court, or the woman who drew banknotes for the future state of Israel outside the Great Synagogue.

Maceva Summer Camp to Study Kaunas Jewish Cemetery

This year Maceva has been invited to join the international project Oppression and Opposition: Opportunities of Civic movements in Europe’s Past and Present. Lithuania is one country along with three others–Greece, Italy, Hungry–who are hosting a special kind of summer camp this year. From the 6th to the 20th of August, 25 international volunteers from Germany, Austria, Ukraine and Lithuania and including Maceva representatives will be participating in various activities in Kaunas and Vilnius. The main activities of this summer camp will be complete documentation of the Žaliakalnis Jewish cemetery–who exactly was buried where and when–and the elaboration of all findings.

Maceva’s main partner in the summer camp project is Germany’s Action Reconciliation Service for Peace and this will be the third such summer camp organized by Maceva ( in Lithuania. Results from all four countries participating this year will be presented in Germany this November.

After successful participation last year, students from Vytautas Magnus University will be joining the summer camp again to help preserve the historical cemetery. We have and are receiving significant support from the Kaunas municipality who are paying close attention to the cemetery and doing their best to bring it back to a respectable state.

The Jewish cemetery in the Žaliakalnis district of Kaunas was established in 1861 and closed in 1952. It is listed on the registry of cultural treasures and is protected by the Lithuanian state as a cultural heritage site. Many famous and notable figures are buried there, including politicians, scholars, religious leaders and cultural figures such as the writer Jacques Lipchitz and the vocalist Daniel Dolski. The graves of more historical personalities will likely come to light after successful inventory and documentation this summer.

Besides the work in the cemetery, volunteers will have an opportunity to get to know more about Lithuanian Jewish history and culture. We look forward to meeting people from the Judaica Research Center, the International Center for Litvak Photography and Bella Shirin.

Maceva is an associated member of the Lithuanian Jewish Community.

Keen Interest Surrounds Archaeological Work at Kaunas Mass Murder Sites

The archaeological research being conducted by an international team led by Hartford professor Richard Freund in Kaunas is getting wide coverage in the Lithuanian press. The team studying the Holocaust sites at the Fourth, Seventh and Ninth Forts and the Žaliakalnis Jewish cemetery in Kaunas has been visited by US embassy staff and is working closing with different departments in the Kaunas city government and the Kaunas Jewish Community. They plan to announce their finds in fall and to present a comprehensive study to Klaipėda University archaeologist Dr. Gintautas Zabiela, who is accompanying the group and whose certification will be required for the discoveries to be recognized officially in Lithuania. Dr. Zabiela promised to present his report to the Kaunas Jewish Community as well.

Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas showed the team an area in the Žaliakalnis Jewish cemetery where an Israeli archaeologist five years ago determined there was a mass grave. This could be the place where the victims of the Lietūkis garage massacre were buried. Residents in the buildings around the cemetery gave testimony they witnessed trucks arriving with corpses who were buried there in late June of 1941.

Many of the team members have Jewish and Litvak roots. Professor Freund is in communication with Avraham Gol, who has roots in Kaunas. Gol’s father Shloma Gol was one of the eleven prisoners who successfully escaped Ponar by digging an escape tunnel and testified at Nuremberg.

More about Gol’s testimony here.

Image of Roma and Jews: Brighter or Darker?

Romų ir žydų paveikslas: šviesiau ar tamsiau?
by Ieva Elenbergienė

Few Lithuanian people personally know real Jews or Roma, so their image is painted for us by the most accessible sources of information. This is an interview with Monika Frėjute-Rakauskiene who has researched how ethnic communities are portrayed in the Lithuanian media and on the internet. The interview is about the power of the media to paint their subject in a brighter or darker light.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Litvaks in Love

Professor David Roskies delivered an interesting lecture to a medium-sized audience at the new Judaica Center at the Lithuanian National Library Thursday evening.

“Using the tools of a cultural historian, drawing upon my Litvak identity and turning feminism into a source of knowledge, I think I have successfully cracked the DNA of Jewish collective memory. I know what it is, and I know how it works. Jewish collective memory is organized around saints, sanctuaries and sacred times. In this way, each generation of Jews shape a model life, the model community and the model time. You don’t have to be a Litvak to unlock the DNA of Jewish collective memory, but it certainly helps, because Lite [Lithuania] is where this triple axis, this three-pronged model, emerged in bold relief. The model was so stable that it remained in place even when the world began to change. In Lite things really began to change with the rise of religious revival movement called Hassidism at the end of the 18th century. So long as the hassidim were limited to Podolia and Volhynia which, after all, are located south of the gefilte fish line, and where people spoke a different Yiddish, there wasn’t much to worry about. So there was talk about a new cultural hero named Yisroel Ba’al Shem-Tov, better known as Besht. He was a faith healer, a tzadik or saintly person, a righteous person, who engaged in all manner of non-Litvak behavior. He was an effective preacher and teacher, but he came into conflict with renowned Torah scholars, who were the elite of traditional society. Worse yet, he popularized the study of Kabbalah–Jewish mysticism–, he claimed to have paid periodic visits to Heaven and he encouraged mystical prayer performed with bizarre and ecstatic song and dance at all hours. Then, before you knew it, hassidic prayer houses were beginning to appear in Lite, too. The time had come for the rabbinic establishment to take action,” Rosskies said in a lecture which ranged seamlessly from the drier facts of cultural history to his own personal experiences and thoughts, employing moving Yiddish lullabies to make certain points.

Darius Udrys Uncovered How Unprepared We Are to Discuss Morality without Outrage

Darius Udrys. Photo by Kiril Čachovskij, DELFI, © 2017

by Andrei Khrapavitski

I have written a short facebook comment in Lithuanian regarding the latest meltdown within the local liberal circles, but this story is worth expanding on. The gist of the matter is that Remigijus Šimašius, the liberal mayor of Vilnius, fired Darius Udrys, the head of Go Vilnius development agency and my former colleague at the European Humanities University.

A formal reason for dismissal was lack of results, but this reason looks very improbable, given the short time both Darius and the agency had worked and could achieve those results. A more probable one is the scandal Darius provoked after posting a facebook comment in which he asked whether it was moral for forest brothers (Lithuanian partisans who waged guerrilla war against Soviet rule during the Soviet occupation during and after World War II) to kill organizers of kolkhozes, collective farms put in place by the Soviets on the occupied lands.

Darius raised a lot of eyebrows by simply asking on what moral grounds it was OK to kill the civilians who were organizing those kolkhozes. A group of conservatives immediately demanded his dismissal and put a lot of pressure on the mayor of the Lithuanian capital to do so. It seems quite likely that the liberal mayor gave in to the demands of the conservative members within the coalition and let Darius go. Apparently you can be fired in 21st-century Lithuania for asking a question about the morality of killing. The liberal mayor found neither the courage to stand for freedom of speech nor to acknowledge the real reason for the dismissal. As mentioned above, Remigijus tried to spin it by claiming that Darius lost his job for not demonstrating results.

Full text in English available here.

Litvaks in Love, a Lecture by David Roskies

David Roskies, professor of Hebrew University and the New York Jewish Theological Seminary, will deliver a lecture called Litvaks in Love at the Judaica Center of the Lithuanian National Martynas Mažvydas Library in Vilnius at 4:00 P.M. on July 27.

For more information, visit the Judaica Center’s webpage here.

Summer Dig Ends at the Groyse Shul in Vilnius

by Geoff Vasil

This summer’s archaeological dig at the Great Synagogue site in Vilnius wrapped up in the early evening of Friday, July 21, with volunteers working right up to the last minute.

This summer’s dig is the second by an international team led by the Israeli Antiquities Authority’s Dr. Jon Seligman and Hartford professor of Jewish history Richard Freund. The composition of workers and volunteers was significantly different this summer; only Shuli of Israeli Antiquities appeared again amid a group of others from Canada, Israel and the United States. Mantas Daubaras remained the chief Lithuanian archaeologist at the site and this year there were significant numbers of Lithuanian volunteers, almost all of them apparently university students. This year the focus was exclusively on the Groyse Shul or Great Synagogue site, whereas last year the Ponar Holocaust mass murder site was also part of the project, as documented recently in Owen Palmquist’s good documentary Holocaust Escape Tunnel, which aired on the PBS program NOVA earlier this spring. The lead archaeologists attended a Lithuanian screening of the documentary at the Tolerance Center a week before the end of their work at the Shulhoyf in Vilnius.

When Was Lithuanian Citizenship Rescinded for Jews and Never Reinstated?

According to the Lithuanian Migration Department, Jews with Lithuanian roots are making active use of the opportunity to restore Lithuanian citizenship following amendment to the law on citizenship adopted in July of 2016 to streamline the process. Following the changes, the number of Litvaks restoring citizenship has grown dramatically. The amendment was adopted by the Lithuanian parliament and signed into law by president Dalia Grybauskaitė, and Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky contributed much to the initiative and lobbied heavily for it. The legislation now safeguards the right of Jews who left Lithuania during the period between the two world wars–and their descendants–to restore Lithuanian citizenship.

Many Litvaks died in the Holocaust and others are now spread around the world. Many of them identify themselves with Lithuania, but no longer have Lithuanian citizenship. The issue is not just one of morality, it’s also a legal issue. When we are speaking of Jews who survived the Holocaust and the war, they weren’t deprived of their citizenship in the concentration camps. They were deported, isolated and murdered not as citizens of Lithuania, but as Jews. People were exiled to Siberia because they owned property, or were lawyers, fire-fighters or volunteer soldiers. So the well-founded question arises: when exactly did they lose citizenship?

LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky says: “The doctrine of the Lithuanian law on citizenship remains unclear to this day. State leaders and politicians associate citizenship with restitution. There is a wide-spread but incorrect belief that after granting citizenship or making that process easier, under some sort of reverse discrimination making it easier for Jews, there will be a flood of applications from people of other ethnicities for restoration of citizenship. The fact is often ignored that Polish citizens, arrivals from Poland, were never Lithuanian citizens, because they lived in a territory which at that time belonged to Poland, after Poland occupied Lithuania. Likewise, Germans from the German lands were never Lithuanian citizens because they lived in territories which were occupied by Germany.

“Speaking of restitution, we are talking about a very small portion of Lithuanian Jews who survived the war, who were deported violently and lost all their rights in Lithuania following the occupation. If we base our thinking on legality, then they were deprived of citizenship under the occupational regime and never got it back, or got it back after the deadlines for submitting property claims. This is equally urgent for Jews who left after 1990, they were included the newly drafted law on citizenship presented in parliament. Are they somehow opposed to the Lithuanian state because they live in Israel, which is neither a NATO nor an EU member? Is Israel really considered an enemy of the Lithuanian state?

“So I again ask, when were Jews deprived of certain rights and property by the laws and bylaws of the local or occupational government, and when did they lose Lithuanian citizenship? If they didn’t lose it, because the occupational regimes and the actions they carried out were illegal, then when should these people be issued documents testifying to their citizenship in Lithuania, and when should their illegally seized property be returned? The Lithuanian law on citizenship doesn’t address these issues.

“Reviewing the history of the first independent Republic of Lithuania and its sad fate, we find a lack of legal judgment regarding the occupational Soviet government, the Lithuanian Provisional Government, that of Nazi Germany, the second Soviet occupation and finally of the current independent Republic of Lithuania. So it remains who deprived Jews of citizenship, property and other civil rights, and when they did this, and whether these have been restored. I don’t deny there are a number of studies on this issue, but how do they affect the legal verdicts being issued now or those which will be issued in the future? I’d like to remind everyone we are not talking those who perished in the war, but about the Jewish citizens of Lithuania who were persecuted and murdered in the territory of the state of Lithuania.

“So far the state hasn’t been able to solve issues surrounding Jewish history and culture as well as legal status. Perhaps these matters need to solved serially, one after another: the problem of education, of Jewish history and issues around restoring rights violated. These matters are not for NGOs such as the LJC to solve, but for the state. The issues enumerated were solved long ago throughout Western Europe. They remain unsolved only in the former Soviet Union. We cannot forget Lithuania is in the lead among all former republics in the Soviet Union–the issue of restitution for Jewish communal property has been solved–but the cynical view of the individual’s civic, political and social rights as being of secondary importance remains more what it was in the USSR than anything else.

“I have heard rebuttals that Russia has also failed to make restitution with Lithuania, but this point of view and social attitude can hardly be expected to lead to further progress not just in restitution, but in a host of economic, social and other issues.

“The Lithuanian Jewish Community is concerned with all issues surrounding citizenship and restitution. This is a problem and a great injustice of urgency for Litvaks living abroad. The European Commission recently adopted a declaration again emphasizing remembrance and justice, which is what we seek and invite all Lithuanians to pursue with us.”

Litvaks Abroad Using Opportunity to Restore Lithuanian Citizenship

Užsienyje gyvenantys litvakai aktyviai naudojasi galimybe atkurti pilietybę

Vilnius, July 20, BNS–Jews with Lithuanian origins are actively making use of the opportunity to restore Lithuanian citizenship following amendments which came into effect in July last year making the process easier, officials reported Thursday.

The Lithuanian Migration Department announced 1,131 people restored Lithuanian citizenship in the first half of this year. In the second half of last year the number was 912.

Director Evelina Gudzinskaitė said the majority were Litvaks.

“After the law on citizenship was changed last year, the numbers are really growing. Litvaks from Israel and the Republic of South Africa are the majority, and people who left for the United States are also making active use of the opportunity,” Gudzinskaitė told BNS.

In the first half of last year Lithuanian citizenship was restored to 481 people. In July of 2016 amendments came into effect allowing people who left the country in the interwar period and their descendants to receive Lithuanian citizenship.

The law was changed after Migration Department officials and courts began refusing to restore citizenship to certain Litvaks who failed to provide proof they were persecuted in independent Lithuania between the two world wars. Lithuanian officials calculate there are about 200,000 Jews living in Israel with Lithuanian roots, and more than 70,000 Jews with Litvak roots in South Africa.

People and Books of the Strashun Library Exhibit to Close July 28

Paroda „Strašuno bibliotekos žmonės ir knygos“ veiks iki liepos 28

For those who haven’t seen the exhibition at the Lithuanian National Martynas Mažvydas Library, People and Books of the Strashun Library will close July 28. Judaica Center director Dr. Lara Lempertienė is planning to lead a tour July 28 for those interesting in learning why the Strashun Library looms so large on the Litvak cultural horizon, to be followed by a discussion. She is inviting interested parties to gather in the exhibition hall on the third floor at the library at 3:00 P.M., July 28.

Sergejus Kanovičius: Let’s Put Our Whole Heart in It, There Won’t Be a Second Chance

by Donatas Puslys

A unique project should open its doors in 2019: the Lost Shtetl Šeduva Litvak history, culture and commemoration museum. We spoke with the project director and founder of the Šeduva Jewish Memorial Fund Sergejus Kanovičius about his work, commemorating the memory of Litvaks and the challenges he faces.

Let’s begin our conversation with the context surrounding the entire Šeduva project. How are doing here in Lithuania in integrating Lithuanian Jewish history into the general historical narrative? Is it an integral part of the story now, or still just an interesting footnote adding color to the main story?

It’s hard to assess this because you can never have all the information. You can only try to take it all in. What’s important is that all of these kinds of projects, including Šeduva, serve a very noble goal, to preserve or create cultural treasures. I think all the efforts connect up and achieve their goal sooner or later, each project is doing something worthwhile, contributing to educating the public. It might be somewhat boring to keep repeating it, but I will say it again, that everything will change, and I believe it will change for the better, when the educational system gets serious about these matters and the content of textbooks will be much different so that the story of the Jews–of Vilnius, Šeduva, Jonava and Lithuania–doesn’t begin and end in the Holocaust mass graves. There is a normal cycle to life. A person’s life begins with being born, and the history of the Jews of Lithuania begins here with the movement and settlement of people. The history of this settlement is extremely varied and rich and needs to be told. I think this is a question of educational reform.

Full interview in Lithuanian here.