Lithuania in the Period between the Wars Would Have Recognized Jerusalem

Simon Rozenbaum at the consulate in Tel Aviv. Photo: LTV program Menora

by Aidanas Praleika

Lithuania recently supported the United Nations against Donald Trump’s initiative supporting Jerusalem. How would Lithuania have voted a century ago?

Many today association Zionism with conspiracy theories, but a century ago the basic “conspiracy” was the foundation of the State of Israel. An idea which Lithuania, a state based on ethnicity, supported. If Lithuania had been asked back then to give her verdict on recognizing the capital of the Jewish state, she would have almost certainly voted the other way. Lietuvos Žinios spoke with publicist and Menora television program producer Vitalijus Karakorskis about the connection between the Zionists and Lithuania back then.

The Jewish Floridan reports G. Volkauskas’s appointment as Lithuanian general consul in Palestine.

Lithuanian-Israeli diplomatic relations are numbered in the years since the restoration of independence, but you are talking about a much larger time scale.

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.

Pope Tells Anti-Semitism Group Memory Antidote to Indifference

Pope: Indifference a virus which is contagious in our time

Pope Francis stresses the importance of responsibility, remembrance and education in fight against anti-Semitism.

In his speech to participants attending the Rome International Conference on the Responsibility of States, Institutions and Individuals in the Fight against Anti-Semitism in the OSCE Area, the Pope got right to the heart of his address by emphasizing three words, responsibility, indifference and memory.

Regarding responsibility, Pope Francis said, “we are responsible when we are able to respond. It is not merely a question of analyzing the causes of violence and refuting their perverse reasoning, but of being actively prepared to respond to them.”


He went on to say, “the enemy against which we fight is not only hatred in all of its forms, but even more fundamentally, indifference; for it is indifference that paralyzes and impedes us from doing what is right even when we know that it is right.”

I do not grow tired of repeating, he said “that indifference is a virus that is dangerously contagious in our time, a time when we are ever more connected with others, but are increasingly less attentive to others.”

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 www.lzb.lt.


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 limmudlietuva@lzb.lt 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 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.

Kaunas 2022 Program to Revive Lost Memory

The first event in the Kaunas 2022 program has been held at the M. K. Čiurlionis National Museum and was dedicated to commemoration of the Kaunas Jewish community before the Holocaust.

Kaunas residents often boast their city is the most Lithuanian city, but that’s not the whole truth. In the early 20th century Kaunas was very multicultural and this was an important part of the city’s identity. The “Office of Memory” part of the Kaunas 2022 program is aimed at reviving the history of the city and encouraging residents to remember that which has been forgotten.

Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon said there must be realization the Jews of Kaunas were Lithuanian citizens who had lived in the country for aeons, loved their country and worked to improve it. The ambassador spoke of a modern Jewish museum, one which would be attractive and interactive, “telling the story of the entire nation through the stories of different individuals.”

Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas said the old Hassidic synagogue in Kaunas would be an ideal site for such a museum. He also said the heroes of the brutal period of the Holocaust cannot be forgotten and that a monument to Lithuanians who rescued Jews should be erected outside the museum.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Learn to Embrace the Simple Past Tense: A Concert to Commemorate the Holocaust

You are invited an event to commemorate victims of the Holocaust with a presentation by tenor Rafailas Karpis, pianist Darius Mažintas and Sergejus Kanovičius called “Embrace the Simple Past Tense.”

Is it possible for the Yiddish and the Lithuanian language to meet under one roof?
Is it possible to feel a lullaby even if you can’t understand the words?
Is dialogue possible between sung Yiddish and Lithuanian work read out loud?
Can love, longing and remorse meet in memory?

Come, feel it and find out the answers on the last Sunday in January:

PLACE: Third floor, Lithuanian Jewish Community, Pylimo street no. 4, Vilnius
TIME: 5:00 P.M., January 28.

Come Celebrate the 210th Birthday of Abraham Mapu

The Kaunas Jewish Community will celebrate the 210th birthday of Abraham Mapu at 5:00 P.M. on January 18 and everyone is invited! The event called “Abraham Mapu: Writer, Teacher, Kaunas Resident” is to be held at the Youth, Art and Music Section of the Vincas Kudirka Public Library at A. Mapu street no. 18 in Kaunas.

Participants include Dr. Lara Lempert, director of the Judaic Studies Center at the Lithuanian National Martynas Mažvydas Library; literature studies doctoral candidate Goda Volbikaitė; director of the Ars et Mundus public enterprise and initiator of the statue to Mapu Olegas Darčanovas and members of the Makštutis family who will perform a concert.

New Series of Seven Lessons Begins at Choral Synagogue

The first of seven lessons in the “Oh My G_d” series kicked off Sunday at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius with 40 people attending. They discussed the topic “How can we know G_d exists?” Seminar organizer and moderator Rabbi Sholom Ber Krinsky engaged the majority of people at the seminar and drew them into the discussion with his passion and characteristic sense of humor.

The main topics of discussion were:

– Is belief based on reason or blind faith?
– What sort of proof is there that G_d exists?
– What are the arguments of atheists?
– Is atheism more rational than belief?

Participants lingered after the formal lesson ended, discussing and spending time with one another, and were treated to cakes and fruit brought by Rebbetzin Dina.

The “Oh My G_d” series of seminars will now include seven classes. The next seminar’s topic will be “Are there logical proofs G_d exists” with the following subtopics for discussion:

– Whence does belief in G_d arise?
– Is there rational proof G_d exists?
– Is it more rational to believe on G_d the Creator, or something else?

All are welcome at the next, the second seminar, at 4:30 P.M. on Sunday, January 21 at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius. Both men and women are encouraged to come. The seminar will last approximately one hour.

Discussion on Maintaining Žaliakalnis Jewish Cemetery in Kaunas

Work has begun on restoring a monument to Holocaust victims at the mass grave at the Žaliakalnis Jewish cemetery in Kaunas. Members of the Kaunas Jewish Community, representatives of the Kaunas municipality, Lithuanian Jewish Community executive director Renaldas Vaisbrodas, LJC heritage specialist Martynas Užpelkis and architect, designer and museum specialist Victoria Sideraitė-Alon met to discuss the issue, after which they visited Sugihara House and its new exhibit “Casablanca North: Kaunas 1939-1940” on the newly renovated second floor of the museum with a guided tour by Sugihara House director Simonas Dovidavičius.

Sugihara House is also exhibiting a show and film about Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who saved about 20,0000 Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust.

One Century out of Seven Exhibit a Hit with Jews in Chicago

The cultural center of the Lithuanian consulate in Chicago is hosting an exceptional exhibition starting at the end of November called “One Century out of Seven: Lithuania, Lite, Lita.” The exhibit covers the history of Litvaks from the first arrivals and settlement of Jews in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to the present day. The exhibit is now circulating in Chicago and suburbs. On January 12 it was presented to the Jewish community of Highland Park.

Exhibit author Pranas Morkus was able to present remarkable details of the relationships between Jews and locals and included a number of notable Litvaks, the most notable and best known being the Vilna Gaon, who is credited with making Vilnius the Jerusalem of Lithuania.

On January 15 the exhibit opened at the North Suburban Beth El Synagogue. Visitors sent photos to facebook and they may be viewed on the LJC webpage.

A large number of Jews with roots in Lithuania live in America and are proud to call themselves Litvaks.

The exhibit was the result of work by Pranas Morkus, the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, the Lithuanian Jewish Community and the designers Victoria Sideraitė-Alon and Jūratė Juozėnienė from the JUDVI design studio.

Lithuanian consul in Chicago Mantvydas Bekešius said the exhibit demonstrates Jews were, are and will always be an important part of the story of Lithuania.

Japanese Prime Minister Abe Visits Sugihara House in Kaunas

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe visited Sugihara House in Kaunas Sunday accompanied by Lithuanian foreign minister Linas Linkevičius.

The Sugihara House museum is located at the site of the Japanese consulate where Chiune Sugihara rescued Jews by issuing transit visas in 1939 and 1940.

Kaunas mayor Visvaldas Matijošaitis, other city officials and several dozen children greeted the prime minister outside. Mr. Abe viewed the office where Sugihara worked and signed the guest book before touring the rest of the museum.

Suihara House director Simonas Dovidavičius told BNS said the visit was a very important one as the museum struggles to develop. “This site has virtually no permanent financing because we are an NGO,” Dovidavičius said.

Full text in Lithuanian and more photos here.

Happy Birthday to Adomas Jacovskis

The Lithuanian Jewish Community wishes the renowned Lithuanian artist, scenographer and painter Adomas Jacovskis a happy birthday. Jacovskis is a recipient of the Lithuanian National Prize for Culture and Art and has done much to make Lithuania known in the world.

He calls himself an individualist from birth. He dreamed of painting and became a painter after choosing to study scenography under the famous painter Augustinas Savickas. He currently teaches at the Vilnius Art Academy. His sister, daughter and son are all artists as well.

We wish you great health, inspiration and resolution in your continuing remarkable work. We are honored by and proud of your achievements and recognition.