Learning, History, Culture

Lost Property

Lost Property

At first they lost their civil rights, then their property and, in many cases, their lives. Jews from Lithuania are still waiting for the time when they can at least get their property back.

by Antanas Manstavičius
IQ magazine, June, 2018

For several decades now Lithuanian Jews who survived the Holocaust, along with other residents of the country, have had little hope of restoration of property rights, due to objective reasons. Lithuanian citizens who survived the Soviet and Nazi occupation have finally been allowed to get back private property seized or at least get compensation. Many have made use of this right.

Those who had to flee to save their lives during World War II and their descendants find themselves in a completely different situation. Until now, Lithuanian laws categorize those seeking to have their rights to property restored according to citizenship: those who don’t have it still cannot get their property back.

“You have to be a citizen to get property back,” Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman and attorney Faina Kukliansky said. “But what if you don’t want to be one? How can one be forced to become a citizen of Lithuania?” She says she has clients who still haven’t been to get real estate in Lithuania back. For at least some of the Litvaks living abroad, it’s not about the money, it’s a matter of principle.

Young People in Panevėžys Interested in Jewish Heritage

Monika Šinkūnaitė and her colleague appealed for help to the Panevėžys Jewish Community on June 11 regarding a project called Orientational Walking Tour and a discussion called Jewish Culture in Panevėžys. During the meeting both parties discussed scenarios for the event and topics for the discussion.

The point of the project is to get young and older people interested in Jewish heritage.

The educational walking tour happened on June 29 and was called Along Jewish Roads, including important historical Jewish heritage sites in the city. The youth group began the tour at Freedom Alley where there was a thriving Jewish neighborhood before World War II. There were Jewish residences, stores, workshops, dentistry and medical clinics and attorneys’ offices. Some streets were named after Jewish public figures, including Dr. Mer, Rabbi Gertzel, the industrialist Kisinas, Dembas and others.

The discussion was held after the walking tour at the café Kavos Dėžutė. Panevėžys publicist Donatas Puslys, Panevėžys Regional History Museum director Arūnas Astramskas, bishop emeritus Jonas Kauneckas, nun Eleonora Kasiulytė from the Congregation of the Sisters of God’s Love and Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman participated.

Thank You to Out-Going Cultural Heritage Department Director Diana Varnaitė

The Lithuanian Jewish Community sincerely thanks Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Department director Diana Varnaitė for all the work she’s done to preserve Jewish heritage in Lithuania. The Community is also wondering who could replace her professionalism, intellect and sense of heritage as a significant legacy we leave to future generations.

Since Faina Kukliansky became chairwoman of the LJC in 2013, the Community has paid special attention to the preservation of Lithuanian Jewish heritage sites. Mainly because of director Varnaitė’s personal attention to Jewish heritage, it became one of the Cultural Heritage Department’s priorities and thus a priority for protection nation-wide. The Jewish story in Lithuania began almost 700 years ago and much has been lost, but what remains needs urgent work to save it as a treasure of the state and the people which draws people here from around the world.

Lithuanian Jewish heritage sites are relics of a cultural landscape created over centuries by the community which once numbered a quarter million people living in almost every Lithuanian city and town. It is around 200 cemeteries, more than 200 mass murder sites and mass graves and over 40 synagogues listed as cultural treasures.

Jews from Australia Visit Panevėžys

The families of Jews who lived in Panevėžys before the war are now scattered around the world. Even before the war, back in tsarist times, Panevėžys Jews migrated widely to countries such as Argentina, the United States, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Brasil and also South Africa and Australia. The Panevėžys Jewish Community often receives visitors from these countries, and especially from South Africa. This time Kelly Rozmarim from Australia visited with her husband, brother and two daughters. She brought documents showing her grandfather Hona Shepts was born in Panevėžys in 1908 and immigrated with his brother to South Africa in 1939. Her father Judelis Shepts was a rabbi. He and his three sisters were also born in Panevėžys and stayed in Lithuania. All of them died in the Holocaust.

In South Africa in 1939 there was a world-renowned Jewish community called Ponevezh. Kelly Rozmarim has a document, a list of people who sailed to South Africa which includes members of her family. She and her brother have also discovered relatives in Šeduva, Pasvalys and Biržai.

The family’s visit to the Panevėžys Jewish Community enriched our archives and provided valuable information about the Jewish residents of Panevėžys back then. The visitors thanked Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman for his active efforts to preserve the Litvak heritage and to commemorate it in Panevėžys. All of the family members left warm words and greetings in the Community’s guest book.

Great Synagogue Excavation to Resume

Dr. Jon Seligman of the Israeli Antiquities Authority has announced excavation of the Great Synagogue and the former complex of surrounding buildings known as the Shulhoyf in Vilnius will resume this summer July 9 and will continue till July 27. Those interested in volunteering should contact Dr. Seligman, address below.

The Great Synagogue and Shulhoyf of Vilna (Vilnius): The 2018 Season
A Research, Excavation, Preservation and Memorial Project

A Quick Summary of the Work until Now

The successful outcome of the preliminary excavation of 2011, the 2015 ground-penetrating radar survey and the 2016 excavation showed us the potential of continued excavation at the site to uncover further sections of the Great Synagogue and the surrounding buildings. Given the resources available to the team, we decided to initially concentrate on issues relating to the water system of the shulhoyf that developed in and around the Great Synagogue in the 18thcentury. Written sources inform us that a pipeline was established in 1759 to bring water from the Vingrių springs, that belonged to the Dominican friars, to the synagogue complex. It supplied water to the communal “well,” and apparently to the bathhouse constructed between 1823 and 1828 that included a miqve and a public lavatory.

LJC Participates in 100 Faces of Lithuania Event

The World Lithuanian Community sponsored an event July 1 at Old Town Hall Square in Vilnius where for the first time since independence Lithuanians in Lithuania had the chance to learn about Lithuanian communities living around the world and Lithuanian ethnic minority communities at the same time. The Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Nerija Lithuanian Community in the State of Israel participated with stands on the square. Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė visited the LJC’s Bagel Shop stand and tried the imberlakh. The event also featured a concert and art exhibition in and around the Old Town Hall.

Litvak Grant Gochin Receives Mention in Prestigious African Magazine

Grant Gochin is a member in good standing of the Lithuanian Jewish Community. Originally from South Africa, he’s worked as a wealth and financial planner in the United States for decades. A dual citizen of Lithuania and the United States, he also operates the consulate of Togo in California, as well as performing important duties for the African Union. The following was published in the AU magazine Invest in Africa in the June, 2018, edition.

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Full issue here.

First Hebrew Camp

For the first time in post-war Lithuania this summer a Hebrew language camp was held from June 22 to 24. Vilnius Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymansium Hebrew teacher Ruth Reches organized the event. She has been teaching Hebrew to adults for two years now at the Lithuanian Jewish Community.

Ruth says the idea for the camp occurred to her spontaneously. “I was speaking with students and we began to talk about how it wasn’t enough to learn Hebrew in the classroom. We were thinking about immersion in a Hebrew language environment and how good it would be to go to Israel for that reason. But first we decided to attempt to create a Hebrew environment at a camp,” she said.

The camp was held on a rural farm where for three days over 40 people from all over Lithuania gathered. The people ranged in age from students to pensioners.

LJC Criticizes Vilnius Municipality Invitation to Celebrate 1941 Uprising

Vilnius, June 27, BNS–The Lithuanian Jewish Community Wednesday criticized an invitation to the public from the Vilnius municipality to mark the anniversary of the 1941 uprising.

According to the Community’s statement, in June of 1941 “Lithuania won a brief and very conditional freedom essentially in exchange for becoming a Nazi ally.”

The LJC said the Lithuanian Activist Front which staged the uprising against the Soviet government became a tool of anti-Semitic policy in Lithuania and the Provisional Government never passed any act condemning the mass murder of Jews.

“The LJC can’t remain indifferent when several days ago in the heart of the capital a celebration was held, while flags of mourning should have flown in the country to mark the first victims of the Holocaust in Lithuania,” the statement said.

The uprising in June, 1941, is supposed to have been a struggle the restore Lithuanian statehood destroyed by the Soviet occupation, but critics say the insurgents and the Provisional Government were not favorable towards Jews.

The invitation published on the internet page of the Vilnius municipality claims the 1941 uprising demonstrated the resolution of Lithuanians to fight the Bolshevik occupation.

“In June, 1941, to avenge for those murdered and family members deported to Siberia and other northern regions of the Soviet Union, the sons and daughters of our nation, relying only upon their own bravery and themselves, were able to drive out the hated occupier and albeit briefly (June 22 to 28, 1941) restore Lithuanian statehood and the independence lost due to the culpability of their politicians and military leaders,” the Vilnius municipality’s invitation said.

It’s Unfair to Say All Lithuanians Murdered Jews

The Lithuanian Jewish Community has never said or claimed and never will that all Lithuanians are murderers of Jews. Although approximately 95 percent of Jews in Lithuanian were murdered in the Holocaust with the help of local collaborators, it’s not fair to label the entire Lithuanian people with the offensive and shameful accusation of murderers.

This is especially not fair to those who remained steadfast and passed the most difficult trial of being human. Those brave Lithuanians who seemed to find themselves in a hopeless situation and nonetheless found within themselves the power to fight antihuman ideas and Nazi doctrine. We can speak the names today of more than 800 of these quiet heroes although certainly the names of more have been lost to time.

Marking on June 25 the massacre of Jews at Lietūkis garage in Kaunas, honoring the memory of our ancestors and their rescuers, the LJC cannot remain indifferent when several days ago in the heart of the capital a celebration was held, while flags of mourning should have flown in the country to remember the first victims of the Holocaust in Lithuania.

On June 21, 2018, the municipality of the city of Vilnius published on their internet page an invitation to mark the anniversary of the June 23 uprising in which, among other things, that in June of 1941 revenge was exacted for the deportation of family members to Siberia and other northern regions of the Soviet Union, and that the sons and daughters of our nation, relying only upon their own bravery and themselves, were able to drive out the hated occupier and at least briefly (from June 22 to 28, 1941) restore Lithuanian statehood and the independence lost due to the culpability of their politicians and military leaders.

Should we really be encouraging the celebration of revenge, should we really utilize hate in the alleged goal of uniting the nation? Even after 70 years have passed since the end of the war, these sorts of phrases, recalling those during the Holocaust, remain painfully familiar.

Kaunas Remembers Lietūkis Garage Victims

On an overcast Monday afternoon members of the Kaunas Jewish Community, friends of the Community and those who care honored the victims of the Lietūkis garage massacre. Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky recalled the historical event when in the first days of World War II in Lithuania when one group of citizens brutally tortured and murdered another group of citizens just because they were Jews as a crowd looked on in the middle of the day. She spoke about enduring myths about Jews, the Holocaust and the reasons the Holocaust happened.

Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas and ghetto inmate Fruma Kučinskienė recalled what their family members said about those horrible and not-so-distant times and the still living, blood-curdling images fixed in memory.

Chairman of the Kaunas chapter of Sąjūdis [Lithuanian independence movement] Raimundas Kaminskas and Ninth Fort Museum deputy director Marius Pečiulis both expressed condolences to Holocaust victims and their descendants and apologized for the crimes of their countrymen.

All speakers expressed a common idea: the need to educate children, not just to talk about the historical facts, crimes against humanity and genocide, but to try to figure out together with children how and why these sorts of crimes occur, what happens to the human mind, psyche and spirit so that a person loses all sense of humanity and commits inconceivable acts.

Israelis Visit Panevėžys

For the fourth year now Edit Perry from Israel has led delegations of visitors to Panevėžys and the Panevėžys Jewish Community. This year, on June 25, the guide and teacher led a group of 23 people from Tel Aviv and other locations in Israel engaged in researching Jewish heritage and history. They are university students who study Jewish history during the academic year and spend their summers actually visiting locations connected with the life of their forefathers in Lithuania and Poland.

Community member Jurij Smirnov shared his experience of the Holocaust as a child in the concentration camps in Šiauliai and Panevėžys, the death of family members and how he came to Panevėžys with surviving family.

Following the discussion, the visitors viewed a photography exhibition and Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman presented a brief history of the Jews of the Panevėžys region before World War II. All visitors were given a Jewish calendar published by the Lithuanian Jewish Community featuring drawings and paintings of Lithuanian synagogues by Gerardas Bagdonavičius made before the war.

Educational Plein Air

July 31-August 4, 2018

The Savickas Art School of the Lithuanian Jewish Community is holding their 4th plein air outdoor drawing and painting workshop. Spend 5 days and four nights in the company of famous artists surrounded by nature. Raimondas Savickas, Ramunė Savickaitė-Meškelienė and specials guests from Israel and Lithuania will be on hand to give advice. The setting this year is the Karvys manor estate on Lake Karvys in Paežeriai village near Vilnius.

Registration is open till noon on July 16. To register or for further information, contact Žana Skudovičienė by email at zanas@sc.lzb.lt or call +370 678 81514.

Lithuanian Mini-Maccabiah Games Celebrate 100th Anniversary of Lithuania

Lithuanian Makabi Athletics Club held a mini-Maccabiah games event celebrating 100 years of Lithuanian independence Sunday at the Educology University in Vilnius. Athletes from Vilnius, Kaunas, Panevėžys, Šalčininkai, Lentvaris and Israeli exchange students from Kaunas competed. All participants received participation medals and the youngest contestant, Grytė Vaisbrodė, received a participation trophy. Best athletes in all team sports received personal trophies. Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky and Makabi vice president Daumantas Levas Todesas welcomed and congratulated athletes.

Competition was held in indoor football, 3-on-3 basketball, volley ball, table tennis (men’s and women’s), chess and badminton (men’s and women’s).

A luncheon was held following the competition.

Honor the Lietūkis Garage Victims

The Kaunas Jewish Community invites you to come and honor the victims of the Lietūkis garage massacre at the monument commemorating these horrific events (Miško street no. 3, Kaunas) at 5:30 P.M. on June 25. Excursions to other Holocaust sites, the Slobodka ghetto, the old Jewish cemetery in the Žaliakalnis neighborhood and the Seventh Fort will follow the commemoration.

First Lithuanian Dramatic Film about Mass Murder of Jews in Production

Lately it’s been fashionable to talk about Lithuania’s breakthrough and how we can achieve it. Stasys Baltakis, the producer of the film Izaokas–probably the first Lithuanian dramatic film to discuss the relationship between Lithuanian Holocaust perpetrators and Jews–says we will begin to move ahead as a country and nation only when we accept and solve internally the problems of our darkest history and identity.

Over the last several years there have been more open discussions of the Holocaust in Lithuania and collaboration by locals. About 90 percent of the Jews of our country were murdered. Stasys Baltakis, however, says there is a lack of constructive discussions and–most importantly–an open and sincere recognition of history.

Already in post-production, Jurgis Matulevičius’s first film with a running time of 90 minutes tells the story of main character Andrius Gluosnis who murders the Jew Izoakas [Isaac] in the Lietūkis garage massacre in Kaunas in 1941. The film is based on the short story of the same name by Antanas Škėma. It is scheduled to hit theaters on September 15.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Conference to Preserve Jewish Heritage in Pušalotas, Lithuania

A conference and inspection tour took place in Pušalotas, Lithuania, June 15, of the synagogue there known as “Yoshke’s house” which also included a Jewish primary school. The synagogue was built by Howard Margol’s great-grandfather, all of whose relatives lived in Lithuania during Tsarist times. One of Margol’s relatives is former Israeli prime minister and long-time leader of the Labor Party Ehud Barak.

The inspection tour in Pušalotas included members of the Panevėžys Jewish Community, Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon, members of the Pušalotas community, officials from the Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Department and staff from the Lithuanian Jewish Community, Pasvalys regional administration chairman G. Gegužinskas, Lithuanian MP A. Matulas, Pušalotas township alderwoman P. Stravinskienė and Pušalotas community chairman A. Kumpauskas, among others. They inspected the synagogue which is in critical condition. For 75 years it hasn’t been used as a synagogue and was left derelict for some time. Margol and family had a commemorative plaque placed on the synagogue and put the old Pušalotas Jewish cemetery in order in 2005. The external structure of the synagogue is intact and authentic, and it could be restored and used by the local community.

Happy Birthday to Grigory Kanovich

Happy birthday to Grigory Kanovich who celebrates his 89th this week.

This year the re-established Lithuanian Jewish Community celebrates its 30th anniversary. Looking back on the time of national revival, back to 1989 when the founding meeting of the Lithuanian Jewish Cultural Association took place, we remember Grigory Kanovich was elected the organization’s first chairman. Kanovich is an internationally acclaimed writer, winner of Lithuania National prize in Art and Culture for 2014, an honorable citizen of Jonava, chairman emeritus of the LJC and the recipient of the Order of Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas, third degree. He currently lives in Israel.

We appreciate our first chairman (1989-1993) and writer, author of the novel “A Kid for Two Pennies” which was adapted and performed by the Little Theater in Vilnius as “Smile Upon Us, Lord,” and which won first prize at the Baltic and Northern European Theater Festival. It was truly an unforgettable play and several generations of people find much meaning in it.

Living in Israel, Grigory Kanovich wrote the novel “Jewish Park,” recognized best Israeli novel in Russian in 1997.

The entire Lithuanian Jewish Community is so proud of you, beloved Grigory, and we all wish you the happiest birthday from the bottom of our hearts, and wish you great health, happiness and love.

YIVO Director Jonathan Brent Visits Vilnius

YIVO executive director and CEO Jonathan Brent led a delegation visiting Vilnius earlier this week. The Lithuanian Jewish Community cherishes our long-term cooperation and meaningful work with YIVO in preserving the Jewish cultural heritage in Lithuania and the world. We thank the United States embassy for their invitation to attend a reception for Jonathan Brent.

City of Kaunas Honors Righteous Gentile, Dutch Consul Jan Zwartendijk

Jan Zwartendijk, the honorable consul of the Netherlands in Lithuania at the beginning of World War II and a rescuer of Jews, was honored Friday at Freedom Alley in Kaunas outside his former office where he also worked as a representative of the Philips company. The location was decorated with a lighting installation and a commemorative plaque was unveiled to honor Zwartendijk.

Dutch artist Giny Vos said she was trying to commemorate Zwartendijk the man, but also his humanitarian actions; Zwartendijk never considered himself a hero, although his so-called Curaçao end-visas he issued over 10 days in the summer of 1940 ended up saving around 2,400 lives directly in conjunction with transit visas issued by Japanese ambassador Chiune Sugihara, and countless more lives if succeeding generations are included. She said her light-show installation’s spiral symbolized life, movement, growth and hope, and that each individually sized and colored LED light in the installation represented a life saved, with the emphasis on hope, light and the future.

Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė, Kaunas mayor Visvaldas Matijošaitis and Jan Zwartendijk’s son Rob spoke about the man and his humanitarian actions at the event.