Sergejus Kanovičius Receives State Award

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 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.

From Darkness to Light

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: Lithuanian Jewish Affairs Minister, Lithuanian Taryba Member, Polish Sejm Deputy, Vilnius Jewish Community Chairman, Good Man

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.

Hermann Bernstein: the Litvak Julian Assange

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.

Attack on Righteous Gentiles as Lithuania Celebrates 100th Birthday

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.

Dr. Saulius Sužiedėlis Explains Why Gas Chambers Weren’t Used in Lithuania

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.

LJC Chairwoman Meets Parliamentary Speaker

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

Gita-Enta Broidi Sings in Šiauliai

Gita-Enta Broidi performed at an evening of Yiddish song at the Šiauliai Jewish Community February 4. Chaim Bergman of Kaunas attended and said he was pleasantly surprised to learn almost all members of the Šiauliai Jewish Community speak Yiddish well. Many lingered after the concert for coffee and conversation and the vocalist spoke of her work in Israel. She studied under the famous Nekhama Lifshits and has her own reputation and record of accomplishment around the world. She is a past winner of the International Yiddish Song Festival prize.

Vilna and Mezhrich: Two Schools of Torah Study

Vilna ir Mežrič: dvi Toros studijų mokyklos

Natalja Cheifec invites you to a lecture on the following topics:

Who are Litvaks?
Lithuanian Jewish traditions and customs
What is Hassidism, how it arose and a short history
Mitnagdim: the heirs of the Vilna Gaon
Mitangdim and Hassidim: is there a real reason for the communal conflict?

Time: 3:00 P.M., February 11, 2018
Place: Meeting hall, second floor, Lithuanian Jewish Community, Vilnius

Please register for free here:

National Conference “The Stories of the Jews Who Lived in Lithuanian Cities and Towns” in Ariogala, Lithuania

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.

Book Review: The Book Smugglers

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.

What Happened to Poland?

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

Emmanuel Levinas and His Connection with Lithuania

The Lithuanian Jewish Community hosted the launch of “Laikas and kitas,” a Lithuanian translation of Litvak philosopher Emmanuel Levinas’s book “Time and the Other,” on January 25. Translator Viktoras Bachmetjevas, an advisor to the Lithuanian minister of culture, was there, as were Dr. Aušra Pažėraitė of the Religious Studies Center of Vilnius University, philosopher Dr. Danutė Bacevičiūtė of the same center and Vytautas Magnus University Public Communications Cathedral teacher Algirdas Davidavičius. The four held a panel talk and talked about the book based on a series of lectures by Levinas.

The Jonas ir Jokūbas publishing house published the book with support from the Goodwill Foundation.

Dr. Aušra Pažėraitė agreed to talk more about the Litvak philosopher for


We can speak of two aspects of the connection between one of the most prominent philosophers of the 20th century, Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995), and Lithuania. First, it is known he was born and grew up in Kaunas and his parents were also from Lithuania. He was born in Kaunas January 12, 1906, old style, which is December 30, 1905, on the Julian calendar, or the 15th of Tevet on the Hebrew calendar. Kaunas then was the seat of the Kovna guberniya in the Russian Empire. According to the entry in the vital records of the Kaunas Jewish community, his father was Kaunas resident Yekhiel Levin and his mother was named Dvoira. There’s also a date for his circumcision in the entry, January 6 according to the Julian calendar.

His father was also a native resident of Kaunas, born there to Abraham Levin and Feige in 1878, and his mother came from Ylakai, where she was born in 1881 to Moshe Yitzak and Eta Gurvich. He attended a Jewish primary school in Kaunas until World War I. The family was forced to evacuate as many Lithuanian Jews were during World War I. The Levin family ended up in Ukraine, where Emmanuel was accepted at a gymnasium in Kharkov, where at the same time a Kaunas boys gymnasium had been relocated. The story goes the entire family was overjoyed because this represented an opportunity for Emmanuel to pursue a higher education somewhere in the Russian Empire, but the war ended and the chaos and changes of the revolution began and Lithuania achieved independence, the family returned to Lithuania.

Jewish Educational Conference Lithuanian Limmud 2018

Dear friends,

This year Limmud will be even better than usual, so if you haven’t registered yet, do so now.

The conference will take place at the Vilnius Grand Resort Hotel from February 9 to 11.

Lecturers and performers are to include:

Prof. Zeef Chanin from Israel.

Yulia Rutberg, an actress from Russia, to host the Creative Evening.

Yuri Tabak, religious studies scholar, Jewish history expert and writer from Russia.

Tzvi Kaplan, rabbi, family specialist and psychologist from Israel.

Dr. Lara Lempertienė, scholar, Vilnius University teacher, senior bibliographer for Jewish books at the Lithuanian National Martynas Mažvydas Library, from Lithuania.

Regina Pats, a film expert from Estonia, to present program of new and interesting films.

Hop Stop Banda, a German musical band.

Maja Tarachovskaja, teacher, writer from Lithuania.

Sasha Song, a vocalist from Lithuania.

Ala Segal, beauty expert, Lithuania.

Grigoriy Abramovich, rabbi, Belarus.

Irina Abromovich, rebitsen, Belarus.

Svetlana Liser, yoga activities, Lithuania.

Laurina Todesaitė, Jewish culinary expert, Lithuania.

Boris Kirzner, violinist, Lithuania.

Daumantas Levas Todesas from Lithuania, to present the film “Aš turiu papasakoti” [I Must Tell the Story].

Boris Burda from Ukraine and the game “Who, what, where?”

Play by students of Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymnasium “Let Me Live.”

For more information, contact or call Žana Skudovičienė at +37067881514.

LJC Chairwoman Faina Kukliansky’s Speech at Lithuanian Foreign Ministry January 26

Honorable foreign minister,

Dear Holocaust survivors,

Dear rescuer friends,

Members of the Jewish Community,

Honored ambassadors,

This day is dedicated to remembering, thinking and looking towards the future.

We have gathered here to honor the victims of the Holocaust. Today we mourn together.

Let us honor the victims of the Holocaust with a minute of silence.

We mourn our countrymen, our friends, patriots, and in the case of members of my community, every time we experience the loss again of our family members.

We appreciate that the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, in other words, the Lithuanian state, initiated this shared honoring of the victims.

Lithuanian State Commemorates International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Užsienio reikalų ministerijoje surengtasTarptautinės Holokausto aukų atminimo dienos minėjimas

The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry in conjunction with the Lithuanian Jewish Community commemorated International Holocaust Remembrance Day at the ministry Friday, January 26.

The event was humble, tasteful and without much fanfare, but was attended over 100 people, including survivors, children of survivors, grandchildren, foreign ambassadors, staff and members of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, the foreign minister and the father of Lithuanian independence, professor Vytautas Landsbergis, along with many ministry employees.

Foreign minister Linas Linkevičius spoke briefly and fully “owned” the Holocaust for Lithuania, saying while it was sad to begin the year celebrating the 100th birthday of the modern state with the Holocaust, it was necessary so that people would never forget. He called the Holocaust a scar across the face of the nation and the darkest page in Lithuania’s and humanity’s history, but also pointed out Lithuania now boasts 891 Righteous Gentiles.

LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky spoke and said the fact the Foreign Ministry was hosting the event meant the Lithuanian state was recognizing the importance of remembering what happened. She also announced the upcoming release of Yitzhak Rudashevski’s ghetto diary in Lithuanian.

A representative from the Israeli embassy praised Lithuania for adopting the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.

Rafailas Karpis performed songs in Hebrew and Yiddish.

Lithuanian Jewish Community Chairwoman Faina Kukliansky’s Appeal Regarding Legal Disputes within the Jewish Community

I would like to address our Community again:

• As you know, a group of people calling themselves “the Vilnius Jewish Community” initiated legal proceedings.

• We received no reply to our proposals, made directly and in written form, to give up these legal disputes. A decision was handed down in the Vilnius Jewish Community’s petition which will be appealed in the usual appeals process and we have complete confidence the decision will be annulled.

• In other legal proceedings, the court found the rules and regulations of the LJC were not legal, and the point allowing the formation of a representational quorum during elections was voided. The court again emphasized the rules and regulations must conform to the law: one member, one vote. This affects the regional communities, but moreover all of the associated members, and means that the LJC elections in 2017 were held in keeping with the law. This decision by the court is final and is not subject to appeal.

Again, every Lithuanian Jew may decide for him or herself what sort of community they want, but first, everyone must know the truth. Leaders and community members who await the end of the disputes so they can decide which side to support must wait a little longer. I feel this decision is a matter of conscience for each person to make on their own.

I ask those who are sowing division between Jews, engaging in provocations, filing complaints and spreading rumors and gossip to stop it, without regard to whatever posts they occupy. You are doing harm to the entire Lithuanian Jewish Community.

I invite all members of the community to come together and join forces for things that are important rather than engage in fruitless internal struggles. Our priority tasks are celebrating and passing on the distinct Litvak culture and historical memory of the history of Jews in Lithuania, and making life better for Jews here and now. We can only accomplish this by coming together.

Al Jaffee Cartoon Exhibit “Childhood Adventures in Zarasai”

The exhibit at the Zarasai Regional History Museum contains illustrations by Al Jaffee included in Mary-Lou Weisman’s book “Al Jaffee’s Mad Life: A Biography.” In an interview with his biographer Al Jaffee called himself a reverse immigrant: when most people were leaving Lithuania for the USA, he went in the opposite direction. Savannah in the 1920s had electricity, inside toilets, asphalt streets, movie theaters and newspapers with daily comic strips. Zarasai, however, hadn’t changed much since the end of the 19th century. Al was the odd man out among the local children in Zarasai, where multilingualism was the rule and people spoke Lithuanian, Russian, Polish and Yiddish. He did manage to adapt to live there, though. The children invented games as children do and the entire town was their playground. The small town became the petri dish where Al and his brother Harry developed their creative talents. Even now Al says the years of his childhood he spent in Zarasai are some of the happiest years of his life.

Al’s popularity has grown continuously. In 1955 he began drawing for Mad magazine in New York City. He’s still drawing now. He lives with his wife Joyce in Manhattan.

You’re invited to visit the exhibit weekdays from 10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. (other times are available as well if prior notice is given).

We Remember 2018: Once Upon a Time There Lived Aizik Kanovich

Rokha (Rocha-Samuraj) and Dovid Kanovich, Solomon’s brothers Moshe-Yankel,
Aizik and Motl, sister Khava (from collections of Sergejus Kanovičius and Lisa

by Sergejus Kanovičius

The sky was light blue. “So clear, almost like the water in the yard of the house in Jonava,” Aizik Kanovich thought, and closed his eyes again. A few flakes of snow fell from the blue of the sky. In a way you could almost count. Like members of the family: the snowflake Sara, snowflake Rosette, snowflake Yosif and snowflake Bernard, one, two, three, four, Aizikas counted with his eyes shut.

“Faster, move, move, go on, the train won’t wait,” the bossy voices echoed.

“Aizik, Aizik, get up, we don’t have much time, just a little, and we’ll be on the train. And a little longer and we’ll be home in Paris,” Moris-Moshe Zuskind whispered, bent down towards his friend, his hands tucked into his armpits away from the cold.

Aizik’s thoughts travelled back to his first home, where he was born, on Fishermen’s Street in Jonava. Back to December, 1920, when he crossed the threshold and proudly said:

“Look here, I have a passport. With the signature of burgermeister Ramoška. Now I can go.”

“When?” the quiet Shlome asked.

Full story in Lithuanian here.