Litvaks

Perps and Victims to Be Named at Mass Murder Sites in Lithuania

December 14, BNS–There is a proposal to set up information boards at Holocaust mass murder sites in Lithuania containing the names of both the perpetrators and the victims.

MP Eugenijus Jovaiša, chairman of the Lithuanian parliament’s Education and Learning Committee, tabled the proposal Thursday, saying it had been proposed earlier by Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon, and considered within the Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of Lithuanian Residents for some time, although the Center said it would need additional financing to implement the idea.

“It’s not easy to do because there aren’t complete studies and we cannot say for every site exactly who is buried there. Yes, there are studies of this kind, there is some material, but to include all of Lithuania, to set up these signs, similar to the one in Leipalingis, as an example of a memorial, all across Lithuania, there’s not enough material. So it’s clear the activity of the Genocide Center will need financing, it will require funding, and we’ll find it,” Jovaiša said.

Jovaiša said there are only two mass Jewish graves in Lithuania today where visitors can read the names of the victims. He said it would require 86,000 euros to conduct a year-long study and erect the signs. He also said the stands would include information about the Holocaust, the local mass murders, the names and ages of victims, but also information about the perpetrators. Another commemorative sign was just installed in Leipalingis near Druskininkai, with an official opening ceremony scheduled for Friday.

Jovaiša told BNS this was “a project of the future” which would take longer than one year. He believed additional financing could come from the Lithuanian Government without increasing the budget for the Genocide Center.

Genocide Center director Teresė Birutė Burauskaitė said it has been the long-term goal of her institution that the names of the victims of the Nazi as well as Soviet regime wouldn’t remain nameless. She said the proposed signs would present the life of the local Jewish communities before World War II as well as the names of the perpetrators of mass murder based on historical sources and testimonies, and the local population’s view of the Holocaust.

“Sometimes the behavior of the local population is presented in a very one-sided way. Our goal is to show more fully what happened. Not just in Kaunas and Vilnius, where there has been much research, including our own and that of Western scholars, of our former fellow citizens, the memories and stories of the descendants of Litvaks. Everything which is accessible now should be included: all documents, testimonies. If we simply undertook to present a list of the names of all victims… we could name about 80% of them. But we think it’s very important to present the entire process and all of the participants, so that this history would be available at every site,” Burauskaitė told reporters.

She also admitted it would take more than one year to do this, and said Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum and others “who understand the value and necessity of this work” might also be able to contribute.

According to Genocide Center statistics, there are about 200 Jewish mass murder and grave sites in Lithuania. More than 90% of Jews were murdered in the Holocaust in Lithuania out of a total of approximately 200,000. Today about 3,000 Jews live in Lithuania.

Sign Erected in Leipalingis to Commemorate Jewish Victims of Holocaust

A commemorative sign was unveiled in the Lithuanian town of Leipalingis in the Druskininkai region Friday to commemorate the victims of the mass murder there in 1941. Israeli ambassador Amir Maimon, Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, parliamentary Education and Learning Committee chairman Eugenijus Jovaiša, Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of Residents of Lithuania director Teresė Burauskaitė, students from the Leipalingis pre-gymnasium and local community members attended the unveiling ceremony. The students read out the names of all the victims at the ceremony.

Jovaiša said the victims need to be commemorated appropriately, that they not remain nameless, and that the names of the perpetrators of the genocide also need to be made known to the public. He called for setting up information signs at all mass murder sites in Lithuania.

Burauskaitė said it was possible to name about 80% of Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust in Lithuania currently, and that more research and cooperation with different institutions engaged in research were needed.

The commemorative sign in Liepalingis is allegedly the first of its kind in Lithuania, according to the parliamentary Education and Learning Committee, with more comprehensive information about what actually happened at the site in 1941 when the mass murder of local Jews was carried out. It’s the first sign in a project called The Names of the Holocaust Victims Live On, which intends to mark all Holocaust mass murder sites in Lithuania with similar signs. There are reportedly about 270 such sites in Lithuania. The project will take several years to complete for a total price-tag of over 86,000 euros.

Lithuanian Students Experience Hanukkah in Perth for Second Time in Two Years

For the second year in a row students from Atžalynas High School in Kėdainiai, Lithuania, experienced Hanukkah in Perth, Australia, via skype on a large screen in their classroom.

Last year they heard Dylan Kotkis, Carmel School captain for 2018, sing Maoz Tzur while Western Australia’s Chabad Rabbi Shalom White explained the festival and the message of Hanukkah to the 15-year-olds.

This was probably the first time in 75 years this Hanukkah song had been heard in this town in central Lithuania once so important to Jews. No Jews live in Kėdainiai today.

This year teacher Laima Ardavičienė and her class attended the candle-lighting ceremony at Ben-Gurion Park in Perth with members of the Western Australian Jewish Community via skype. The ceremony performed by Rabbi Shalom White of Chabad Lubavitch House was preceded by an enjoyable performance by the entertainer Mickey Shaked. The Lithuanian students also had the opportunity to meet some of the locals via skype.

One of these was Heiny Ellert, a 95-year-old Lithuanian Holocaust survivor from Neishtot-Tavrig, today known as Žemaičių Naumiestis. I filmed his testimony for the Western Australian Holocaust Institute in 2014. It can be viewed at https://youtu.be/118HN2_NYHs

You can read more about this and last year’s Hanukkah activities and about Heiny and his shtetl at http://elirab.me/chanukah-in-the-park/

Eli Rabinowitz
Perth, Western Australia
December 13, 2017

Dmitrijus Kanovičius Donates 250 Grigorijus Kanovičius Books to LJC

The Lithuanian Jewish Community sincerely thanks Dmitrijus Kanovičius for the wonderful gift of 250 books of the selected writings of Grigorijus Kanovičius.

Everyone, not just Jews, read Grigorijus Kanovičius’s books written with his great talent and profound emotional notes because they give the true story of the life of Lithuania made more charming with a sincere sense of nostalgia. These books are like living portraits with images of the past, of our forefathers, memories with color, words, laughter and pain. Today they stand as a monument and testament to all the murdered Jews… Grigorijus Kanovičius’s works for us are important as a treasury of memories, of those we have lost who shall live on forever in their shtetlakh, now mostly abandoned towns. It is said truly that Jews will live on even when there is no one left to remember them. We are so glad that thanks to the creative work of Grigorijus Kanovičius Lithuania has a rich saga of Jewish life featuring our ancestors from the 18th century to today.

Thank you, Dmitrijus.

Šiauliai Jewish Community Hanukkah Greetings

Šiaulių žydų benduomenės sveikinimas

May the light of Hanukkah envelop you in warmth and comfort, and may wisdom accompany your decisions, may success follow you in your work, may tolerance inform your relationships and may love, health and goodness dwell in all of your homes and families.

Sincerely,

Šiauliai Jewish Community

Lithuanian Prime Minister Sends Hanukkah Greetings to Lithuanian Jewish Community

Lithuanian prime minister Saulius Skvernelis greets the Lithuanian Jewish Community which today has lit the first Hanukkah light and has invited all people of good will to celebrate the holiday with such a long tradition.

“I sincerely congratulate the entire Lithuanian Jewish Community with the beginning of the holiday of light and faith. Hanukkah presents us the wonderful opportunity to remember old traditions and celebrate fundamental values. It is to be welcomed that this beautiful Lithuanian Jewish community holiday is receiving ever more public attention,” prime minister Saulius Skvernelis said in his holiday greeting.

On the eve of the holiday the PM thanked the Lithuanian Jewish Community for its exemplary cooperation with the Government and other institutions in solving constructively issues of concern to the Community.

“We can only be happy about the restored Jewish cultural heritage sites and the synagogues coming back to life. Today throughout the country these buildings are being utilized by the people of Lithuania for cultural and educational purposes. Jewish cemeteries are being restored and kept up, Jewish culture is being celebrated and old traditions are being revived. All of this allows to state confidently that our cooperation will only intensify in the future and we will accomplish many important things in the future through joint efforts,” the head of the Lithuanian Government said in his holiday greeting.

Lithuanian Jewish Community Celebrates Hanukkah

The first Hanukkah candles were lit at different locations around Lithuania Tuesday evening, beginning the eight-day holiday.

Lithuanian prime minister Saulius Skvernelis, foreign minister Linas Linkevičius and Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius sent greetings to the LJC.

The Kaunas, Ukmergė, Šiauliai and Panevėžys Jewish Communities also sent holiday greetings and warm wishes.

“Let’s learn to be happy and as we celebrate, let’s remember what miracle Hanukkah signifies for us all,” LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky said in her greeting to the Lithuanian Jewish Community.

Members of the Community and honored guests celebrated the first night of Hanukkah together at one of the largest ceremonies held at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius. Irish ambassador David Noonan, US ambassador Anne Hall, Polish ambassador Urszula Doroszewska, Israeli ambassador Amir Maimon, Vilnius archbishop Arūnas Poniškaitis and signatory to the Lithuanian act reestablishing independence in 1990 professor Vytautas Landsbergis attended, among others.

Simas Levinas, the chairman of the Vilnius Religious Jewish Community, said he was pleased by the large turnout. “I am very pleased that every year more and more people keep coming to celebrate Hanukkah at synagogue. This year there was a full house, full of good people and bright guests who came here to celebrate this holiday which is very important to us together,” he said.

Rabbi Aharon Shteinman Has Died

Litvak Rabbi Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman passed away December 12, 2017. He was a famous Orthodox rabbi and the greatest legal and spiritual authority among religious Litvaks. He was 104.

Aharon Shteinman was born in Brest-Litovsk in 1913. He fled to Switzerland during World War II where he taught at yeshiva.

Ponevezh Yeshiva Rabbi Kaanman asked Rabbi Shteinman to lead the Ponevezh Yeshiva for Young Men in Israel in 1955, where he was director to the end of his life. He also opened other yeshivot, Gaon Jaakov and Orkhot Torah.

The rabbi’s students published a collection of their teacher’s commentaries on Torah and Talmud.

In 1988 Rabbi Shteinman was a member of the Degel haTorah Torah sages’ executive board.

He was recognized in 2001 as one of the leaders of Litvak Judaism, and in 2012 Rabbi Shteinman became the leader of the Degel haTorah party.

Forbes magazine in 2012 reported Rabbi Shteinman was among the top three most-influential rabbis in Israel. Thousands flooded the streets for his funeral on December 12.

Hanukkah Greetings from LJC Chairwoman Faina Kukliansky

As I celebrate Hanukkah every year with my grandchildren, I remember the Hanukkah of my childhood with my grandmother. The holiday wasn’t as fun then as it is now and we didn’t get treats. My grandmother, hiding in the kitchen where there were no windows, lit the candles and prayed. We didn’t have a menorah, it was lost with all the family heirlooms during the Holocaust. She prayed, but her prayer wasn’t happy or celebratory, because she was always thinking about her son, and she always thought someone was coming, and she used to warn me: “hide, the children’s aktion is coming.” There weren’t fun times after the war. My grandmother was probably not the only one who remembered not just the Temple in Jerusalem, but also her murdered children.

Now we have better celebrations, we live better, so let’s learn to be happy and as we celebrate, let’s remember what miracle Hanukkah signifies for us all. I wish every member of the Jewish community more light, more understanding and warm and happy feelings. May the Hanukkah flame spread goodness in your home and provide the children waiting for their Hanukkah gelt happy moments, and the adults and everyone who sits at the family table to try the tasty Jewish latkes.

Happy Hanukkah, dear members of the Jewish community!

Simas Levinas Remembers Hanukkah in Šiauliai

Vilniaus žydų religinės bendruomenės vadovas Simas Levinas prisimena savo paauglystės Chanuką Šiauliuose

Šiauliai was a strange town in 1960. It was the Soviet time, there were still some “synagogues” illegally operating in apartments. Almost all of the local Jews used to go there to pray. It wasn’t entirely clear whether this was to satisfy a religious need, or the need to spend time with people of the same ethnicity. Or to speak Yiddish. Or to remember the horrible experiences of the Holocaust.

Or perhaps it was the instinctual psychological need to heal one’s wounds. Everyone wanted to enjoy the life which the miraculous lottery of fate had given them.

The town’s Jews stuck together and were ready to support anyone who needed it. This really wasn’t any kind of official community. Its leader was… a family with a larger apartment. We held all traditional and Sabbath evenings of Saturday talks and meetings there. This took place at the home of Josif Burshtein (the chairman of the Šiauliai Jewish Community until last summer) where Jews congregated right up until the restoration of independence.

Hanukkah was the holiday to which the town kids (they called us little Jewies) really looked forward. We were treated to hanukkahgelt, ponchikes and latkes. The parents carved dreidls out of wood. Some had managed to preserve their family heirlooms, a really miracle!, and we lit candles on pre-war menorahs.

Now I realize our parents did everything they could so that we wouldn’t know what they experienced. Everyone chipped in and used to hold the holiday, the miracles of Hanukkah, for us.

And even today most of the Jews who come from Šiauliai know and speak Yiddish. Those us “fun Shavl” [from Šiauliai] scattered around the world by fate maintain our ties.

This year on the eve of Hanukkah another miracle has taken place! We are witnesses to history. The world has begun to remember that King David’s city, whose age goes back more than 3,000 years, is the capital of the state of Israel!

The victory of the Macabbees has again lit the oil lamps of the Hanukkah miracle.

Vilnius Ghetto Chronicler Yitzhak Rudashevski: The Teenager Whose Thoughts Were Beyond His Years

Yitzhak Rudashevski, the young chronicler of the Vilnius ghetto, would have turned 90 today (December 10). Imprisoned in the ghetto with his mature values and a gift for writing, he wrote down in his school notebook the reality around him, images of the ghetto, struggle and faith in the future.

Trapped in the ghetto and seeing the suffering, Yitzhak didn’t stop taking pride in his Jewishness and he wasn’t overcome by hopelessness and self-pity. On the contrary, his thirst for life propelled him forward.

“I am ashamed to be seen on the street, not because I’m a Jew but because I am ashamed of my powerlessness. The yellow patches are sewn to our clothes, but not to our minds. We are not ashamed of the patches! Let those who put them on us be ashamed,” he wrote in his diary.

The young man’s thoughts about the dignity of man and freedom might seem obvious today, but the entries from 75 years ago paint a much different picture of that period. They speak of a world where the concept of human rights didn’t exist. Taken in context, we marvel at the maturity, courage and talent it took for a teenager to write about what he did.

Birthday Party and Award for Daumantas Todesas at the LJC

The Lithuanian Jewish Community celebrated Daumantas Lveas Todesas’s 70th birthday this week and the director of the Lithuanian Department of Ethnic Minorities presented him an achievement award at the party.

Department of Ethnic Minorities director Vida Montvydaitė personally awarded him a golden badge of honor called the For Merit award in recognition of Todesas’s life-long dedication to improving society and to preserving ethnic culture and identity.

Lebn zolstu biz hundert un tsvantsik yor! Mazl tov!

Forgetfulness Is an Incurable and Dangerous Disease

An interview with Litvak writer Grigory Kanovich by Stephan Collishaw

SC – To what extent is the novel Shtetl Love Song autobiographical?

GK – True, Shtetl Love Song is an autobiographical novel.

Your character in the novel seems very close to his grandmother and goes with her regularly to the synagogue. Is the synagogue still a part of your life?

My grandmother Rokha was a very religious person. When I was a child the synagogue played a big role in my life. There was not a single Saturday, nor a Jewish holiday when my grandmother wouldn’t take me to synagogue. My grandfather was religious, but didn’t go to synagogue so often. He joked, ‘If you hear something interesting from Him, you won’t be able to keep it from me long, you’ll tell me.’ I, myself, am not religious; the synagogue doesn’t play such a strong role in my life now as in my childhood.

Hanukkah Greetings

The Abi Men Zet Zich Club greets all our clients and friends on the upcoming holiday of Hanukkah!

At 1:00 P.M. on December 6 students and teachers from the Saulėtekis will perform in a concert called “Let’s Light the Hanukkah Light” on the third floor of the Lithuanian Jewish Community in Vilnius.

At 3:00 P.M. on December 12 you’re invited to the lighting of the first Hanukkah candle at the same location.

For more information contact  Žana Skudovičienė, zanas@sc.lzb.lt, +370 678 81514

The Woman Who Rescued Jewish Books from the Vilna Ghetto


by Erika Dreifus

Some 75 years ago a group of Jews under German occupation in Vilna was assigned to assist Nazi authorities in curating books and other cultural items destined for shipment to Germany. There, the selection of Judaica materials was to be conserved as a collection of artifacts from an extinct people.

Some items were indeed shipped away as ordered. Some the authorities destroyed and diverted to be used for scrap.

Others were smuggled and hidden by the same Jewish scholars, teachers and writers who had been designated to sift through and catalog them. The heroism of this Paper Brigade has recently received new attention, thanks largely to two developments: the discovery of another trove of materials that the squad managed to squirrel away, and the publication of historian David E. Fishman’s fascinating new study, “The Book Smugglers: Partisans, Poets, and the Race To Save Jewish Treasures From the Nazis” (ForeEdge).

Interview with Grant Gochin

Interview with Grant Gochin
by: Alexandra Kudukis

Alexandra: Hello Grant, thank you for speaking to me today. Your recent article in the Jerusalem Report magazine has caused quite a stir. Various segments of the Lithuanian government and society have called you an “agent of the East,” a “Kremlin puppet,” a “useful idiot for Putin,” and other such descriptions.

Grant: Such ad hominem assertions reveal the utter absurdity of the Lithuanian government’s position on these matters. No matter how small an issue, everything is dismissively ascribed to Russia so that the government need not take responsibility for historical truth. It used to be that Jews were the ultimate source of blame, but now that Lithuania has virtually no Jews remaining, all ills are attributed to the Russians.

In America and, frankly, in all Western democracies, people acknowledge problems and actively seek solutions. By contrast, in Lithuania, it would seem the Government’s response is to say: “We have a problem, let’s find a way to ignore it or blame an external party.” You cannot fix a country’s problems that way, especially with the whole world watching. The outside world has long been aware of how Lithuania’s Jews were murdered in 1941 and that this preceded the January 1942 Wannsee Conference, when Nazi Germany decided to make mass murder its state policy.

Full story here and here.

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.

Launch of Victor David Brenner Catalog

You’re invited to the launch of a catalog of works by Victor David Brenner, the Litvak who designed, among other things, the United States one-cent coin.

The publication will be launched at the Jewish Culture Information Center at Mėsinių street no. 3a in Vilnius at 3:00 P.M., Monday, December 4, 2017. The launch of the catalog will be accompanied by an exhibit showcasing Brenner’s design work.