Learning, History, Culture

Europe Day Celebration in Kalvarija, Lithuania

The Kalvarija Public Library held events to celebrate Europe Day on May 9, 2018. Historian Alvydas Totoris led a large group on a tour of Jewish features surviving in the small Lithuanian town. The walking tour concluded at the large synagogue complex in Kalvarija where there was an exhibit of old photographs of the city.

More information in Lithuanian here.

Vilnius Dance Troupe to Perform in Tel Aviv

The Vilnius dance troupe Low Air will give a performance called Game Over at the Tmuna Theater, Shontzino 8, Tel Aviv, Israel, at 8:00 P.M. on May 24.

Inspired by the author Julio Cortázar, Low Air presents an innovative live dance installation which connects both visual and performing arts.

The performance Game Over revolves around the gaming perspective, inviting audience to witness the collision of reality and dreams. Spectators imagine themselves in a particular situation and considers their relationship with others and themselves. Subtle feelings interfere with fiction and magic, while becoming an inevitable element of movement and sight.

Cortázar writes magical realism which has inspired artists for some time now. The writer’s stories are particularly vivid and have become a map for motion and choreography.

More information here.

Lithuanian Translation of Rudashevski Diary Presented in Tel Aviv


Photo: Milda Rūkaitė

The Beit Vilna association of Litvak survivors from Vilnius hosted a presentation of the new Lithuanian translation of Yitzhak Rudashevski’s Vilnius ghetto diary in Tel Aviv May 16. Rudashevski’s two surviving cousins Sora Voloshin and Golda Rudashevsky attended the event. Voloshin escaped while her family and Ytizhak and his parents was being sent to Ponar to be executed. She later found the diary written in school notebooks in the ruins of a location where the Rudashevski family hid.

The Lithuanian translation was the initiative of the Lithuanian Jewish Community. LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky and Lithuanian ambassador to Israel Edminas Bagdonas attended the event in Tel Aviv, as did Beit Vilna director Miki Kantor and Arie Ben-Ari Grozdensky, the chairman of the executive board of the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Isrsael.

Rudashevski’s diary is one of only a few Holocaust chronicles recorded as events happened, and one of even fewer such diaries written by children. He wrote the diary in Yiddish. The Lithuanian edition contains the same Yiddish text in the second half of the book.

March of the Living 2018

At 12 noon, Wednesday, May 23, 2018, we will march with Litvaks from Israel on the path 70,000 Jews walked to their mass murder from the Ponar railroad station to the Ponar Memorial Complex.

We invite you to come and remember what happened.

This year we ask those wishing to make use of transportation provided by the Lithuanian Jewish Community to register beforehand by sending your name and surname by email to info@lzb.lt or to call +370 672 40942. A bus will depart from Pylimo street no. 4 at 10:50 A.M. on March 23 to carry registered participants to the event.

Lithuanian Parliament Names 2020 the Year of the Vilna Gaon and Lithuanian Jewish History

“We praise the Lithuanian parliament’s unanimous decision to announce the Year of the Vilna Gaon and the History of the Jews of Lithuania in 2020. We appreciate this initiative was discussed with the Lithuanian Jewish Community.

“We consider this significant and a continuation of Lithuania’s pledge to take into consideration the history of the Jews of Lithuania and to pay it sufficient attention at the national level,” Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky commented.

The parliament, taking into account that in 2020 we will mark the 300th anniversary of the birth of the Vilna Gaon, Eliyu ben Salaman Zalman, the great Lithuanian rabbi and the leader of the Litvak misnagdim school of thought, resolved to name 2020 the Year of the Vilna Gaon and of Lithuanian Jewish History. A total of 92 MPs voted unanimously in favor of parliamentary resolution No. XIIIP-1289(3) to name this commemorative year.

The resolution emphasizes Lithuanian Jews are an indivisible part of Lithuanian society from the time of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and have contributed significantly to the development of Lithuanian statehood, history, culture and learning.

This decision celebrates the more than 700 years of Lithuanian Jewish history as an inalienable part of Lithuanian history and deepens ties with the Lithuanian state among Jews living in Lithuania and those who have moved abroad.

The Lithuanian parliament proposed the Government form a commission for celebrating the Year of the Vilna Gaon and of the History of the Jews of Lithuania which would by February 1, 2019, draft a plan and series of measures for marking the year, and allocate funds for implementing the plan.

Israel Wins Eurovision

Israelis celebrated Netta Barzilai’s victory with the song “Toy” for Israel at the Eurovision song contest at squares and cafés in the larger cities Saturday. Traditionally the winner’s home country hosts the contest the next year, and Barzilai greeted millions of viewers around the world by saying “next time in Jerusalem!” By Sunday planning was already under way for holding next year’s competition in Jerusalem, Israel’s self-declared capital which many European states don’t recognize, according to the Times of Israel.

Lecture Series

A lecture on Gaucher’s disease.

Gaucher disease is an inherited disease which causes specific organs and tissues to accrete specific substances. Compared to the general population, Ashkenazi Jews have a much higher incidence of Gaucher’s.

This is a unique opportunity to learn more about this disease from medical experts and to take a free blood screening.

Come at 1:00 P.M. on Sunday, May 13, 2018, to office number 306 at the Lithuanian Jewish Community, Pylimo street no. 4, Vilnius. For further information please call 8 678 81514

High-Profile Ceremony for New Museum in Lithuania

On May 4, 2018, a ground-breaking ceremony for the Lost Shtetl Museum and Memorial Complex took place in the middle of Lithuania, in Šeduva. The project is designed by professor Rainer Mahlamäki and Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Architects, Finland. Professor Mahlamäki attended the ceremony, as did Dr Inna Rogatchi, the author of a forthcoming film and book on Rainer Mahlamäki’s memorial architecture projects.

The ceremony was attended by the entire leadership of Lithuania and a large group of the diplomatic corps. President of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaitė sent a letter of greetings to the ceremony which was read by the president’s special adviser.

The president of Lithuania said in her address: “Today this symbolic capsule marks not only the start of the construction of this unique museum. It also heralds the reconstruction of an important part of Lithuanian history closely interlinked with the history of Lithuania’s large Jewish community and its tragic fate. The Lost Shtetl Museum will bring back from oblivion the names and faces of many families, friends and neighbors, as well as their customs and traditions.”

Full text here.

Victory Day 2018 in Panevėžys

Members of the Panevėžys Jewish Community together with Panevėžys city residents came to the memorial to the unknown solider on the warm and sunny morning of May 9. The memorial contains the mortal remains of soldiers who fell in the city and region of Panevėžys from 1941 to 1945. They came to mark Victory Day, when Nazi Germany capitulated to the Allies 73 years ago, celebrated in the West on May 8 as Victory in Europe Day because of time-zone differences.

People of all ethnicities suffered during World War II, but as a percentage the Jewish people lost the most members of their population. Panevėžys residents and members of the Jewish community laid wreaths and lit candles at the monument marking the location of the Panevėžys ghetto gates. Everyone observed a minute of silence for the victims of the Holocaust in the city and region, where more than 13,000 Jews were murdered. Also attending were Russian embassy advisor L. Nikolai Yurevich and Belarusian embassy advisor Aleksandr Ignatenko. Both wished everyone present peace.

Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman welcomed and greeted everyone on the occasion of Victory Day, and noted next to the monument where everyone had gathered once existed the Panevėžys ghetto, where more than 10,000 people were held before being murdered in surrounding forests.

The chairman also spoke about Lithuanians who had risked everything to save Jews from death. He also noted the Panevėžys Jewish Community has a member, Yefim Grafman, who survived the Nazi blockade of Leningrad, and that Yuri Smirnov had cheated death and survived the Holocaust through a miracle. The chairman thanked all present for not forgetting the holiday and for remembering the soldiers who fell fighting for our lives. He wished everyone peace, good health and success.

Later members gathered at the Jewish community building and recalled the fates and heroism of their fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers who fought the Nazis and died during World War II. Members took away memories of the dead and the undying hope such things will never happen again.

Searching for Jewish Roots in Panevėžys

Descendants of the Navias and Frame families led by the guide Viljamas Žitkauskas visited the Panevėžys Jewish Community to find out more about their genealogies and great-grandparents.

They told their family histories over tea. Their Litvak roots go back to the town of Raguva where their great-grandfather Isaak Frame was born in 1894 and where he then lived, eventually owning a leather workshop. Their great-grandmother came from Pašventinys in the Šiauliai region.

Isaak Frame and the Navias families emigrated to South Africa in the early 20th century. Sometime between 1900 and 1910 many members of the family emigrated separately to Canada, England, Palestine and China.

Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman told the visitors about the Jewish history of Panevėžys in the interwar period, screened a documentary film for them and answered their questions. The guests were keenly interested in the photographs in the series “Fragments of the Jewish History of Panevėžys” from the Panevėžys Jewish Community’s history museum.

The visitors thanked the chairman for his hospitality and historical information.

Zenowiusz Ponarski Book Presentation

The Lithuanian National Martynas Mažvydas Library will host the Vilnius Polish Institute’s presentation of Zenowiusz Ponarski’s book “Friend of Lithuania and the Birds. On Oskar Miłosz” and discussion called “Czesław Miłosz and Oskar Miłosz: Diplomats in the Service of Poland and Lithuania” at 6:00 P.M. on Monday, May 14, at the library located at Gedimino prospect no. 51, Vilnius.

The event is being co-organized by the Polish Institute, the library and Znad Wilii magazine. The author, Zenowiusz Ponarski, was born in Vilnius in 1921 and lived in Szczecin in Poland after World War II. He currently resides in Toronto, Canada. The author of many books about notable 20th century Polish and Lithuanian people, in this book he goes beyond the facts of the lives and work of Oskar Miłosz as known from his cousin Czesław and provides completely new and hitherto unknown material. Oskar Miłosz was an ardent proponent of Lithuanian independence during World War I, acquired Lithuanian citizenship and served as a member of the first Lithuanian legation to the League of Nations. The discussion following the book presentation is intended to reveal both Miłoszes’ contributions to Poland and Lithuania. Panelists are to include poet, writer and publisher of this book Romuald Mieczkowski, Naujoji Romuva magazine editor Andrius Konickis, VU lecturer Dr. Darius Kuolys, Dr. Józef Szostakowski representing the Władysław Syrokomla museum in Bareikiškės, Lithuania, and others. The event and discussion will be held in Polish with synchronous translation to Lithuanian. The event is free and open to the public.

More information in Polish here.

The Silenced Muse: The Life of a Murdered Jewish Lithuanian Poet

by Laima Vincė

On a beautiful hot day in the summer of 1941, at a bend in the road that leads out of the village of Panemunėlis towards Kavoliškės, a group of men, known to local people as baltaraiščiai or “those who wear white armbands,” essentially local Lithuanians who collaborated with the occupying Nazi forces, arrived on bicycles. They left the bicycles in the forest across the road from an isolated farmstead that belonged to the farmer, Petras Šarkauskas.

They began to dig ditches in the forest. They did not have much success because tree roots prevented them from digging very deep. So they gave it up and took their shovels to the other side of the road and began digging in the boggy land that belonged to the Kavoliškis manor.

Full text here.

Best Lithuanian Gymnasia Announced

The best schools are:

1. Klaipėda licėjus (took 1st place last year),

2. Panevėžys J. Balčikonis Gymnasium (2nd place last year),

3. Vilnius Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymnasium (7th place last year).

A total of 360 gymnasia without entrance exams were sampled and assessed. The rating is based on the averaged final state examination performance by students last year including tests on Lithuanian language and literature, history, English, information technology, physics, chemistry, biology and geography. The best-scoring gymnasium received eight points and the worst zero.

The rating was also weighted with bonus points for 12th graders who received 100% on their final exams and the number of students who went on to win government-paid places at universities. Bonus points were also given for the number of students who went on to study at institutions of higher learning abroad.

More information in Lithuanian here.

VE Day at the Jewish Cemetery in Vilnius

May 8 is VE Day, marking the victory of the Allies against the Nazis in Europe. At a monument to Vilnius ghetto underground resistance leader Yitzhak Vitenberg and partisan Sheina Madeisker in the Jewish cemetery on Sudervės road in Vilnius, veterans and members of the Jewish community gathered Tuesday to pay their respects to those who fought and died, and the victims of the war.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky said it was difficult for Jews to call the day a holiday. “Is it a holiday when you have lost most of the members of your family?” she asked in her brief speech at the monument. “Those who survived carry within the pain of loss. The only thing which can be called a holiday is the end of the horror of war, and to thank Almighty God for that,” she added.

Shmuel Yatom, cantor at the Choral Synagogue, performed kaddish.

Kaunas Jewish Community Honors Rescuers

Kauno žydų bendruomenė pagerbė gelbėtojus

It is the duty of the Kaunas Jewish Community to remember the rescuers of Jews as well as the victims of the Holocaust, the quiet heroes and true apostles of humanity who risked life and family to help.

For more than two decades now the KJC has attempted to thank these Righteous Gentiles by inviting them to an annual event among friends. Of course it is inadequate and there is no way to truly thank them. As these heroes slowly fall to the attrition of age, their places among the ranks are assumed by their children and grandchildren in this gathering which has become a large family. The heads of school tolerance centers are also invited to attend and this year 8th graders Diana and Barbora performed dances and songs from the ghetto in Yiddish. The KJC thanks everyone for making this year’s event a success, including the great organizational work by KJC Rescuers Committee chairwoman Judita Mackevičienė.

Discussion on How to Protect Disappearing Jewish Heritage in Kaunas

Lithuanian parliamentary speaker Viktoras Pranckietis and Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky have visited the former Kaunas Hassidic synagogue now falling into ruin. They toured the building together with Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas, Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Department Kaunas chapter senior state inspector Andrius Liakas, Vilnius Art Academy Kaunas faculty professor and Kaunas city council member Jonas Audėjaitis and others. The Vilnius Art Academy currently manages the property.

Participants discussed how to protect the Hassidic synagogue, an example of authentic Jewish heritage which is fast disappearing. Chairman Žakas and other members of the Kaunas Jewish Community presented to the parliamentary speaker the current needs of the Kaunas community and the need for a functioning synagogue. This synagogue was built in 1880 and following restoration would be one of only a handful of working synagogues in Lithuania, serving the religious and cultural needs of the local Jewish community. The Kaunas Jewish Community is the second largest Jewish community in Lithuania with more than 300 members.

Lost Shtetl Museum Construction Begins


Photo: Gintaras Šiuparys

A ceremony was held Friday to mark the beginning of construction work on the Lost Shtetl museum in Šeduva, Lithuania. The museum will be a completely new kind of experience using modern technology to present the history and culture of and to commemorate the former Litvak shtetl.

Marija Dautartaitė delivered a welcome on behalf of Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė, followed by speeches by speaker of the Lithuanian parliament Viktoras Pranckietis, prime minister Saulius Skvernelis, foreign minister Linas Linkevičius, Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum director Markas Zingeris, US ambassador to Lithuania Anne Hall, Finnish ambassador to Lithuania Christer Michelson, genealogist and education Eli Rabinowitz from South Africa and Australia, Holocaust film director Saulius Beržinis and Šeduva Jewish Memorial Fund founder and museum project manager Sergey Kanovich.

Also attending were ambassadors and heads of mission from the embassies of the United Kingdom, Ireland, Sweden, France, Germany, Russia and Romania, as well as members of the municipal and regional governments and interested citizens from all parts of Lithuania.

Site Selected in Vilnius for Commemorating Righteous Gentiles

In a letter to the Lithuanian Jewish Community dated April 28, 2018, Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius agreed to a 2016 proposal by the LJC to erect a statue to honor rescuers of Jews from the Holocaust in the garden of the Church of the Missionaries near Ona Šimaitė street, renamed after the prolific rescuer several years ago. The walled-in garden area of the church was the site of the final selection of Jews for life and death after the liquidation of the Vilnius ghetto. Šimašius said an alternate site, Rūdninkų square inside the former ghetto, was no longer a fruitful option.

The Lithuanian Jewish Community thanks all parties for inter-agency cooperation in solving an issue of national importance, commemorating those who risked life and family to rescue Jews.