Litvaks

Remembering the Holocaust Victims in Švenčionys

The Lithuanian Jewish Community and residents of Švenčionys remember the victims of the Holocaust from this Lithuanian city at the Menorah statue in the city park October 7. Those who turned out for the event then went to the Švenčionėliai polygon [military reservation] mass murder site in the forest between Platumai village and Šalnaitis lake where about 8,000 Jews from around the Vilnius region were murdered.

The commemoration is always held on the first Wednesday in October by the Menorah statue in what was formerly the Jewish ghetto.

Švenčionys Jewish Community chairman Moshe Šapiro personally thanked all who arrived, especially those who travelled long distances. LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas, Beit Vilna [Association of Jews from Vilna and Vicinity in Israel] president Mickey Kantor and Polish ambassador to Lithuania Urszula Doroszewska attended the event, among others. Choral Synagogue cantor Shmuel Yatom performed the prayer.

Exhibit of Michailis Duškesas’s Document Collection

The third floor of the Lithuanian Jewish Community is now hosting an exhibit of documents to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the final destruction of the Vilnius ghetto. All of the documents relate to Vilnius and the people of the city, including Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski, Dr. Tsemakh Shabad, banker Israel Bunimovich, the businessman Isak Shuman and others. The documents are from around the world with the majority from Germany, the USA and Israel.

One interesting document appears in the first display case at the new exhibit. It carries the inscription in Russia “Proyekt ustava dukhovnogo obschestva Vilniuskoy sinagogi” and the date 1888. It was acquired in Israel and comes from the collection of Leizer Ran, a well-known collector of Judaica.

There are many photographs from various angles of the Great Synagogue and the Choral Synagogue.

Document collector Michailis Duškesas says he began collecting pre-Holocaust Lithuanian Jewish documents about 15 years ago, and began collecting stamps since about 1980. He has an extensive stamp collection from around the world featuring the game of ping pong. He says he’s constantly enlarging his Judaica collection and now has a great number of documents concerning Lithuanian cities and towns where Jews lived. His documents have been exhibited before at the Lithuanian parliament, the National M. K. Čiurlionis Art Museum and the Lithuanian Historical Presidential Palace in Kaunas. He says they have also been used in documentary films about Jewish life in Lithuania before the Holocaust.

Street in Šiauliai To Be Renamed after Prominent Jewish Family


Jakob, Dora and Haim Frenkel ca. 1893, Šiauliai. From the collection of the Aušra Museum.

The Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community learned October 4 the Šiauliai city municipality had decided to rename Elnio street after a famous local Jewish family, the Frenkels.

Haim Frenkel was a Jewish industrialist in Šiauliai.

The Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community would like to thank the city council for adopting their proposal so quickly, and singles out Zina Žuklijienė, Gintaras Karalevičius and Domas Griškevičius for special mention, as well as MP Stasys Tumėnas and his team of advisors, the politician Vytautas Juškas, the Aušra Museum, Laiptai Gallery director Janina Ališauskienė, Šiauliai Tourist Information Center director Rūta Stankuvienė and others.

The Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community believes this is a lesson in civics which will help restore historical justice to some extent.

Lithuanian Public Television Features Program about Litvaks

The Lithuanian Radio and Television television program Misija: Vilnija [Mission: Vilnius Region] about ethnic communities and minority cultures in Lithuania featured Litvaks as the program entered its fourth season at the beginning of October.

In the interview with Miša Jakobas, the principal of the Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymnasium in Vilnius, he remarked how much freer children have become in Lithuania, which he said has its plusses as well as minuses. He said he never sees students carrying books during breaks between classes anymore and that the current student body was born into a technological society they know better than his generation does. Hostess and interviewer Katažina Zvonkuvienė and Jakobas discussed the sense of loss and sadness in which the post-war generation of Lithuanian Jews lives and which is sometimes unperceived as such. They also talked about the role of the state in guaranteeing the rights of all ethnic communities in Lithuania and the multiethnic and interfaith composition of the Sholem Aleichem school’s student body.

Interviewed at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius, Vilnius Jewish Religious Community chairman Simas Levinas spoke about the glorious reputation for scholarship Jewish Vilna once had, and the slow path to drawing back more Jewish families to tradition and to restoring what existed before.

Sholem Aleichem Gymnasium Hebrew teacher Ruth Reches spoke about the durability of Jewish tradition in the face of assimilation. She said rather than grandparents passing on tradition to children, the reverse process seems to be at work now: children are learning Jewish traditions at school and teaching their parents.

Riva Portnaja, the chief chef and baker at the Bagel Shop Café, recalled her childhood in Žemaitija when keeping a kosher kitchen was the customary thing, and spoke about the great demand in Vilnius for Jewish cuisine among Lithuanians.

A Special Evening in Panevėžys

Professor Rita Aleknaitė-Bieliauskienė, formerly a resident of Panevėžys, invited the Panevėžys Jewish Community to attend an event to present her book “Iškilūs XX a. Lietuvos atlikėjai ir pedagogai Aleksandras Livontas ir Olga Šteinberg” [“Notable 20th Century Performers and Teachers Aleksandras Livontas iand Olga Šteinberg”], a screening of the documentary films “Žmogus su laiko žyme” [“Person Marked by Time”] and “Dainos galia” [“The Power of Song”] and a discussion of other remarkable 20th century performers and teachers. The professor’s book has real historical value, presenting the cultural inheritance and the past through contemporary eyes to readers. Not everyone is able to do this, but Rita Aleknaitė-Bieliauskienė has succeeded, as she always does. Panevėžys poet Elvyra Pažemeckaitė helped organize this cultural event.

It’s impossible to picture Lithuanian cultural life and the Lithuanian past without the Jewish contribution to cultural evolution. In her book the professor describes longevity in the words of the writer Grigory Kanovitch: the development of the individual begins with the number of books he’s read.

Sidney Shachnow Has Died

Kaunas ghetto inmate, legendary Litvak and US military officer major general Sidney Shachnow has passed away. He was born in 1934.

He survived the Holocaust in Lithuania and went on to become a legendary member of US military special forces. After spending three years in the ghetto, he escaped and later resettled in the United States.

His military career there was impressive. He did two tours in Viet Nam and served as a highest-ranking US military officer in West Berlin as the Cold War was grinding to a halt. US Special Forces, the Green Berets, are said to venerate Shachnow to the point of hero worship. He retired in 1994. He passed away at the age of 83 on Friday, September 28. His autobiography is called Hope and Honor.

More information in Lithuanian available here.

The Pharrajimos and the Shoah: The Uncomfortable Photography of Richard Schofield and Andrew Mikšys

by Agnė Narušytė

Two photography exhibits which don’t exist provoked me to write this article. One was supposed to open next week, but will not, and the other ran for just one day in a synagogue full of construction platforms. Neither artist was born in Lithuania but they live here now. Both exhibits concerned ethnic groups who were victims of the Holocaust: Jews and Roma.

British photo-journalist Richard Schoefeld came to Vilnius in 2001 and lived there until 2013 when he moved to Kaunas to work on a project connected with Litvaks. Since then Litvak culture has been his main theme. In 2015 he established the International Centre for Litvak Photography, an NGO which seeks to make Jewish history and culture topical and especially for young people to learn about Litvak culture using photography, art installations, workshops and other means. For several years now he has been trying to convince the intellectuals and government of Kaunas of the need to restore the Šančiai synagogue which is falling into ruin. He hasn’t succeeded.

So then Schofield drew up a list of about one hundred Lithuanian synagogues and set for himself the task of visiting each one. He hitchhiked for 12 days, kept a diary and used his mobile phone to record some of the people he met and the surviving and ruined synagogues. Only a very few had any signs of restoration work: bags of cement, bricks, tools. Many are simply falling down, although they are protected by the Lithuanian state as “monuments of great cultural, historical and architectural value.” As an example, the entry in his diary about the synagogue in Žemaičių Naumiestis reads: “Trees and bushes are growing in the middle of the building. Rays of sunlight shine through holes in the roof. Someone needed some flooring so they just stole it.”

An Evening to Remember Saulius Sondeckis and Simonas Alperavičius Z”L

The Destinies series of events invites you to come mark the 90th birthdays of the late Simonas Alperavičius and the maestro Saulius Sondeckis.

Program:

Discussions and recollections
Piano trip Musica Camerata Baltica
Screening of film “Aš kažkaip laimingas” (“I’m Happy Somehow,” 2014) by Berznitski and Gintarė Zakarauskaitė

Special television program “Svyatoslaw Belza Interviews Saulius Sondeckis”

6:00 P.M., October 18, Jascha Heifetz Hall, Lithuanian Jewish Community, Pylimo street no. 4, Vilnius

Initiated and moderated by Maša Grodnikienė

We will visit the graves of Saulius Sondeckis and Simonas Alperavičius, Z”L, in the morning on October 11.

Sukkot Celebration in Panevėžys

This year the Panevėžys Jewish Community and the Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community celebrated Sukkot together. According to tradition, during Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles (or more simply “tents”), everyone sets up a sukka, a booth or tent, together in which the ancient holiday associated with the annual harvest is celebrated. It recalls the sojourn of the Jews in Sinai when the people lived in tents. The usual practice is to make a sukka according to one’s means. This year in Panevėžys a buffet table stood next to the sukka featuring fruit and vegetables grown by community members. The main feature of the Sukkot table is the four species, the lulav, hadas, aravah and etrog, bound in palm fronds.

Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman said Sukkot is a continuation of the Jewish high holidays Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Many of the older participants spoke about how their families used to celebrate Sukkot when they were children. They used to make the sukka out of green wicker and put the table next to the sukka, where the whole family sat. The children received gifts rare at the time: bananas, oranges and tangerines. They also recalled the times of difficulty for the Jewish people when they wandered in the deserts of Sinai.

Maria Krupoves Performs Holocaust Commemoration Concert at LJC

Maria Krupoves performed Vilnius ghetto songs in Yiddish accompanied on piano by Artūras Anusauskas at the Jascha Heifetz Hall at the Lithuanian Jewish Community September 27. Krupoves holds a PhD and is a scholar and folklorist as well as an outstanding musician. A polyglot, her repertoire include songs from across Central and Eastern Europe sung in Yiddish, Polish, Lithuanian, Belarusian, Romani, Karaïte, Tartar and a number of other languages. Her performance this time included the songs Es is geven a sumer-tog; Vilne, Vilne, undzer heymshtot; Unter dayne vayse shtern; Zog nit keynmol and others.

Memory Stones Placed in Ukmergė Old Town

On September 24 two memory stones commemorating Holocaust victims were placed on the ground in Ukmergė (Vilkomir). The idea of memory stones is to remember victims of fascism where they lived and worked. One stone was set in the ground on Vasario 16 street near an athletics school where the Great Synagogue of Vilkomir once stood and is dedicated to Rabbi Josif Zusmanovitch. The second is at Kauno street no. 17, dedicated to the photographer Moshe Levi whose studio was located there.

Artūras Taicas, chairman of the Ukmergė Jewish Association, thanked the project organizers in the name of the entire Jewish community for remember the lost world of the Litvaks.

Vepriai primary school teachers Aldona Medonienė and Vitas Medonas, Lithuanian Human Rights Center reps Simona Gaidytė and Jūratė Juškaitė and Ukmergė Regional History Museum representative Jolanta Petraitytė also spoke at the ceremony to unveil the stones.

Remembering and Teaching the Holocaust in Panevėžys

The Panevėžys Jewish Community held an event to commemorate Holocaust victims with long-term community partners the Saulėtekis gymnasium, the J. Balčikonis school, the V. Žemkalnis school, the J. Miltinis gymnasium and the M. Rimkevičaitė school of business and services.

In the first part of the event teachers and students from the schools participated in a quiz about history, Jewish culture and the Holocaust. Many displayed a deep knowledge while others heard for the first time about the ghettos in Vilnius, Kaunas, Šiauliai, Panevėžys and other towns.

Next, participants presented posters they had made on the theme of “never again.” Teachers who head tolerance centers at their schools judged the pictures full of pain and suffering.

Every school was awarded prizes, trophies, thank-you letters and souvenirs for the knowledge, initiative, creativity, tolerance, bravery and artistry they displayed. Students from the Balčikonis school won the quiz.

Nechama Lifshitz Ensemble Commemorate Holocaust Victims in Vilnius

The Nechama Lifshitz Ensemble from Israel presents a creative evening to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust called “Heroism in the Face of Destruction. Testimonies,” directed by Regina Driker. The evening is dedicated to the heroes of the Vilnius ghetto. Passages from books, photographic documentation and songs of the ghetto in Yiddish (with Lithuanian translations). Performers: Gintaras Mikalauskas (actor, Lithuania), Gali Ben-Ari (vocalist, Israel), Roza Klein-Gofanovich (vocalist, Israel), Maksim Levinski (vocalist, Israel), Ada Pashaev (vocalist, Israel), Jana Yankovski (vocalist, Israel), Gregoriy Stolovich (multi-media), Regina Driker (pianist, director, playwright).

Time: 6:30 P.M., October 4, 2018
Location: Theater Hall, Vilnius University, Universiteto street no. 3, Vilnius.
Duration: ~one hour and thirty minutes

New Book Remembers Litvaks of Greater Kaunas Area

The Kaunas Regional Public Library Monday presented a new book written by multiple authors called “Žydai Pakaunėje” [Jews in the Area around Kaunas]. The collected writings were compiled by Dr. Inga Stepukonienė, a teacher at the Garliavos Jonučiai Gymnasium and associate professor at the Kaunas branch of Vilnius University.

Book authors, historians and members of the Jewish community attended the book launch.

Historical documents show Jews settled in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 14th century and numbered over a quarter million people by the 18th century.

Litvaks were considered hard-working, talented and creative. Many fought in Lithuania’s volunteer army and participated actively in national life. Interwar Lithuanian and Jewish politicians, scholars and writers forged a common vision for the new nation.

The book features many recollections. Most of the authors tackling the subject of Jewish life in the villages around Kaunas are local residents. Regional historian Antanas Vaičius is from Čekiškė, Algirdas Marazas of Kulautuva writes about Jewish life there and Garliava residents Inga Stepukonienė, Robertas Keturakis and Ovidijus Jurkša pay tribute to the history of the Jews of Garliava.

Some Litvaks from the area around Kaunas even achieved world renown: Leiba and Estera Tile moved to America and became the adoptive parents of Louis Armstrong, aka the jazzman Satchmo.

Who Are Lithuania’s Heroes Today? Škirpa, Noreika or the Righteous Gentiles?

Former ghetto prisoners, members of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, members of international Jewish organizations, ambassadors from Israel and other countries, Government ministers, parliamentary speaker Viktoras Pranckietis and Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius were among those attending a commemorative ceremony at Ponar September 23, 2018, the 75th anniversary of the final destruction of the Vilnius ghetto.

“Nine hundred Righteous Gentiles testify that 75 years ago people had the choice not to commit murder. The only ones without a choice were those selected for death. Even after 25 years of independence, Lithuania continues to bear the burden of that choice. I would like to ask one question: who is a Lithuanian hero today? Is it Škirpa, Noreika or the citizens who rescued Jews in Lithuania, who fought for their independence, worked for the benefit of their country, who risked their lives and saved their fellow citizens from death?” Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky asked the audience.

Arie Ben-Ari Grodzensky, chairman of the Association of Jews from Lithuania in Israel, said: “It’s impossible to forget the tragedy of the Holocaust, and we must exert all efforts to make sure the Shoah never happens again. I want to add that our organization, made up of more than 1,500 Litvaks around the world, has officially joined the Lithuanian Jewish Community this year. We are very happy and very supportive of LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky.”

Mickey Kantor, president of the Beit Vilna Association of Vilnius and Vilnius Region Jews in Israel, remembered her relatives murdered at Ponar with great emotion, and told the story of her mother who was rescued.

The Murdered Don’t Vote

Nužudytieji nebalsuoja

by Sergejus Kanovičius

They no longer have a voice. Although, as my father says, they speak to us without stop. From the pits on the forest’s edge. Marked and unmarked. From both those somewhat maintained and those littered with trash. They speak to us and our conscience. The handful who possess a conscience respond, some with respectful silence, some, as in the forests of Šeduva and a few other places, quietly carrying and lighting a candle at that dismal site, some uttering something not very popular about the state of our memory which has become oblivion.

Those who are offended by this constant remembrance of two hundred thousand lives laid down in the pits also respond: after all, how much can you continue to appeal to our conscience, how much can you blame us for being apathetic about what happened, how much can you remind us that you still lie and will lie eternally there where the garbage of our memory swirls? Then there will appear those who express their annoyance with intellectual cynicism, who will remind us of the Jewish ghetto police, of Jacob Gens, who will argue that so many of you died because you didn’t know how to run away (yes, there are those, too). These people, calling themselves journalists or some sort of PhDs or even attorneys will speak cynically about the victims’ responsibility in their becoming victims. They’re the guilty ones. Do you hear that, you who lie under layers of garbage and moss? You’re the guilty ones.

LJC Chairwoman Faina Kukliansky on Commemorating Rescuers of Jews

On September 23, the Day of Remembrance of Lithuanian Jewish Victims of Genocide, we will again walk the path of the condemned in Ponar. Everyone we lost has a name, each one of them is important, those whose lives were extinguished during the mass murder of the Jews. Seventy-five years having passed since the destruction of the Vilnius ghetto, which has become the symbol of the Holocaust in Lithuania, we have come to the conclusion that now everyone who can witness to the story of the Holocaust is just as important.

Even now, under democratic conditions, it still takes courage, wisdom, will and fundamental human understanding to witness to historical truth. We can only imagine and wonder at what set of values was held by those people who found in themselves the courage and resolution to rescue those condemned to death, Jewish men, women and the children who were completely helpless in the face of war.

We, the Jewish people, are marked by the agony of the Shoah, and are obligated by it as well: we would trample upon the memory of our forefathers if we forgave those who intentionally became the executors of Nazi policies who are now still often presented as Lithuanian heroes. But we have inherited the experience of the Holocaust, and the fundamental understanding of what a priceless gift life is. While we are not able to forget those who deprived us of this gift, we also will always remember those who, like second parents, granted it to us anew.

About 900 Lithuanians made the fateful decision during World War II to oppose officially sanctioned hate. Their only weapon was their conscience, whose decision to remain human led them, non-Jews, to become an eternal, spiritual part of our people. Our gratitude cannot be expressed in words, it cannot be measured, it is impossible to comprehend and immeasurable and it is as if it has become the light of God’s being in the corrupt grey of the ghetto or the daily life in a forest hideout. These are people thanks to whom we were reborn to new life, thanks to whom our energies were restored for the old faith.

These brave Lithuanians built eternal bridges between nations and generations, they became true goodwill ambassadors representing hope, humanity and faith. The time has come for Lithuania to remember the names of the nation’s heroes, their names and stories should be recorded in textbooks, their names should adorn streets and schools and statues should be erected in their honor.

Today, twenty-eight years after independence, celebrating the centennial of statehood, a commemorative marker to the Righteous Gentiles will adorn the courtyard of the Church of the Missionaries in Vilnius, reminding the state of its duty to remember its heroes. I bow my head to all the known and unknown people who rescued Jews, to all those here today and to all those whom time has taken. Thank you, all of you. You were there for us, the Jewish people, you are there and you will always will be.

Stele Unveiled for Jewish Rescuers at Monastery of the Missionaries in Vilnius

A stele was unveiled to commemorate those who rescued Jews from the Holocaust in the Tymas neighborhood of Vilnius September 21. The stone marks the future site of a larger monument to rescuers.

This milestone event was achieved only after many years of requests by the Lithuanian Jewish Community to the city of Vilnius for a site for such a statue, without response. Discussions on a monument commemorating Righteous Gentiles continued for several years with the institutions responsible criticizing one another.

The LJC asked for a commemoration site near Ona Šimaitė street, named after the Righteous Gentile Ona Šimaitė, at the intersection of Misionierių and Maironio streets in Vilnius. The courtyard of the Missionaries Monastery was the site of the final selection on the last day of the liquidation of the Vilnius ghetto, September 23, 1943. Thousands of Jews from Vilnius were forced to undergo the selection and several members of the ghetto resistance were hung in the courtyard.

LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, who initiated the idea for a statue to the rescuers, spoke at the ceremony and personally thanked the Žukauskas, Matukevičius, Daugevičius and Lukaševičius families for rescuing her relatives from death.

WJC and Lithuanian Jewish Community Mark 75 Years Since Liquidation of Vilnius Ghetto

WJC and Lithuanian Jewish community mark 75 years since liquidation of Vilnius Ghetto: “We must continue to strengthen Jewish life in Lithuania”

WJC President Lauder praises Pope’s participation in commemoration: “Pope Francis is a true friend of the Jewish people”

NEW YORK–The World Jewish Congress and its affiliated community in Lithuania marked the 75th anniversary of the liquidation of the Vilnius Ghetto, alongside Pope Francis and other notable personalities.

“Seventy-five years ago, the Germans and local Lithuanian accessories nearly obliterated one of the most vibrant Jewish communities in Europe, a hub of cultural and intellectual Jewish life for thousands of years,” WJC President Ronald S. Lauder said. “But they did not succeed entirely. From the ashes of the Holocaust, the broken community is slowly rebuilding itself and working to ensure the future of Jewish life in Lithuania.”