Mysteries of the Žagarė Ghetto

Mysteries of the Žagarė Ghetto

by Evaldas Balčiūnas, bernardinai lt

The history of the Žagarė ghetto is brief, terrific and painful. The ghetto didn’t have any internal Jewish council, so its history is marked by even more brutal slave labor, “restrictions” and murder of the Jews. It concludes with orders for exhumations performed by the Soviets. The Holocaust wiped out the Jewish community of Žagarė. It wasn’t just Jews from Žagarė who were imprisoned in the ghetto in 1941, but also Jews from surrounding communities such as Linkuva, Pašvitinys, Žeimelis and others. About 3,000 people were murdered at Naryškinas Park in Žagarė and another 500 Jews in Vilkiaušis Forest.

The white armbanders began the mass murder of the Jews of Žagarė before the ghetto was established. The best-known event was on a Sunday in July of 1941, when the white armbanders shot eight people at the Latvian cemetery. The Soviets sought to stress the Soviet-ness of the victims and so listed their jobs in a written finding issued after the war in 1958.

Full text in Lithuanian here.

Makabi Swimming Competition in Kaunas

Makabi Swimming Competition in Kaunas

The best swimming pool in Lithuania at the Girstutis sports and recreation complex in Kaunas hosted Makabi athletic club’s autumn swim-off with competitors from Kaunas, Panevėžys, Šiauliai and Vilnius October 28. Athletes competed according to age categories. The competition consisted of 25 meters freestyle and 50 meters of breast-stroke with men’s and women’s groups.

Valentina Timofejeva and her student Erika Kolokolenkova won for both distances each in the women’s group. Albertas Savinčius from Panevėžys and Vilius Rackevičius from Vilnius won twice in the men’s. Candidates for the European Maccabiah Games are Andrej Fadeev, winner multiple times in the European and World Maccabiah, and Robert Nikitin. In the 50-meter breast-stroke, Robert beat Andrej by 0.01 seconds. Sadly Kamilė Ilijonskytė was not able to compete; in other competitions she swam a distance of 1 kilometer.

All competitors received a medal of participation and the champions were presented nice trophies. The youngest and oldest competitors, Oleksij Kokov of Vilnius and Konstantin Chružkov of Panevėžys, respectively, received special trophies as well. Athletes relaxed after the competition in the sauna and hot tub, and at lunch. Senior referee Goda Overlingaitė conducted the competition well.

Holocaust Victims Remembered at Seventh Fort in Kaunas

Holocaust Victims Remembered at Seventh Fort in Kaunas

Lithuanians and Jews remembered the victims of the Holocaust at the Seventh Fort in Kaunas October 31. Kaunas Seventh Fort director Vladimiras Orlovas told the Kauno Diena newspaper said this was the only time Jewish community representatives, in this case the Kaunas Jewish Community, participate in the traditional Lithuanian holiday Vėlinės, or All Hallows’ Day, during which Lithuanian traditionally go to family cemetery plots and honor dead family members.

Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community is an Active Community

Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community is an Active Community

September 23 is marked as the Day of Remembrance of the Lithuanian Jewish Victims of Genocide. On that day members of the Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community gathered in the Luponiai Forest near the village of Kužiai in the Šiauliai region where over 8,000 Jews were murdered. A moment of silence was observed in memory of the victims, flowers were placed on the monument and candles lit. Speakers recalled the events of history. From there members travelled to the Šiauliai ghetto to honor the victims there as well.

Community members also honored the victims at the Bubiai and Žagarė mass murder sites. Historical sources say two ghettos were established after the Germans entered Šiauliai. The prisoners there were murdered, some in the Luponiai Forest while others were sent to the Žagarė ghetto. Aleksandras Rabinovičius located the mass murder site in Luponiai Forest with the help of locals. The people of Šiauliai erected a commemorative obelisk and signs and built footpaths there.

On October 21 members of the Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community met Roma Mačienë, a pioneer in ecological bee-keeping. She related much new information to members about bees, bee species, that bees have five eyes and they also have a keen sense of smell. In the world of bees it’s important to have a good, strong family which is able to reproduce to insure the continuity of the line, the basis of all life. The bee-keeper called bee products a miracle of miracles. Members learned about honey but also pollen and other products produced by bees.

Discussion on Prospects for Jewish Heritage Conservation

Discussion on Prospects for Jewish Heritage Conservation

The Lithuanian Jewish Community held a discussion October 24 about Jewish heritage protection from the present till 2020, about the priority tasks and goals in the context of 2020 being named the Year of the Vilna Gaon and the Year of Litvak History. The discussion mainly focused on the former Great Synagogue in Vilnius and how to protect what remains of it.

LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, members of the Community, US embassy adviser on political and economic matters Shai Moore and foreign members of the LJC’s own heritage group, including Lyudmila Sholokhova (YIVO), Assumpcio Hosta (AEPJ) and Sergey Kravtsov (Hebrew University), took part in the discussion.

Chairwoman Kukliansky reminded participants Jewish heritage is important to the Lithuanian state and everyone concerned with heritage conservation, as well as to Jews. Discussions have been going on for years about how to protect the Great Synagogue site, the LJC’s role in that process and what to do with the school there, under which archaeologists last summer unearthed a portion of the synagogue’s central bimah. The situation is complex concerning the site: the school was scheduled for demolition but this year it was leased for two years to several organizations. There is clearly a commercial interest in this special location, Kukliansky noted.

It’s difficult to find experts in Vilnius who could be asked how best to commemorate the Great Synagogue, so the arrival of the international group of heritage specialists, their participation in LJC meetings, their perspectives and discussion of these perspectives is an important event.

Neringa Latvytė-Gustaitienė, the head of the history department at the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum, said the Great Synagogue of Vilnius is not just a symbol belonging to Lithuania, but to all Jews of Eastern Europe. It is a priority heritage site but sadly there hasn’t been any break through in the cultural community on this issue, she added.

New Exhibit at Ponar Memorial Complex

New Exhibit at Ponar Memorial Complex

A new exhibit will be unveiled at the Ponar Memorial Complex on October 31. Ponar was a place where residents of Vilnius, including Jews, liked to go in the summer, but which became infamous as the site of the mass murder of Jews in Lithuania. The exhibit features the history of Ponar and the mass murder of Jews there. It was made by the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum and financed by the Chancellery of the Government of Lithuania.

Although Ponar is now synonymous with the mass murder site where Nazis and Lithuanians murdered the Jews of Vilnius and surrounding areas, before World War II the forest near Vilnius was a frequent destination for those seeking a proximate location. In 1939 the town was even named an official vacation destination. When the Soviet Union occupied Lithuania, they began to exhume more than a dozen pits for aviation fuel tanks and munitions stores there. Between 1941 and 1944 from 50,000 to 70,000 Jews were murdered there. Most were Jews from Vilnius and the surrounding region, but also included Polish resistance fighters, some Lithuanians, Soviet POWs, Roma and others.

The first monument to the victims at Ponar was erected in 1948, but was swiftly removed by Soviet authorities, and until the restoration of Lithuanian independence in 1990 the site was officially commemorated as a site where Soviet citizens were murdered by fascists. In 1991 the Ponar site was given over to the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum. In early 2014 a project for maintaining and updating the Ponar Memorial Complex began along with comprehensive studies of the killing field which wholly changed ideas about the site. Different new sites were located there: mass murder sites, a tunnel for prisoners, guard posts, the location of former buildings and gates. It also became clear that the mass murder territory was significantly larger than it had been thought before: it probably spanned a territory of 70 hectares.

Choral Synagogue Commemorates Jews Murdered in Pittsburgh

Choral Synagogue Commemorates Jews Murdered in Pittsburgh

The Jews murdered in the tragedy in Pittsburgh were commemorated on Monday, October 29, at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius, Lithuania. Lithuanian Jews expressed their solidarity with American Jews and lit candles in remembrance of the victims.

Members of the Lithuanian Government came to pay their respects along with foreign diplomats and non-Jewish members of the public as well. Lithuanian Government chancellor Deividas Matulionis, deputy Lithuanian foreign minister Darius Skusevičius and Lithuanian MP Emanuelis Zingeris attended, as did a number of ambassadors to Lithuania.

United States ambassador to Lithuania Anne Hall said: “I never though these kinds of mass murders could happen in the USA. We have to all we can so similar sorts of tragedies don’t happen.”

Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon and Lithuanian MP Emanuelis Zingeris spoke about unacceptable anti-Semitism and the ideology of hatred.

Vilnius Jewish Religious Community chairman Simas Levinas said: “It’s difficult to imagine a more horrible and cynical crime than murder committed during Sabbath prayers.”

Choral Synagogue rabbi Sholom Ber Krinsky said: “Despite the tragedy of this terrorism, we must be stronger in our faith, to follow G_d’s commandments, because over the ages religion has inculcated the eternal values in people, the universal morality of man, upon which this challenge has trampled.”

Choral Synagogue cantor Shmuel Yatom sang the prayer Merciful G_d in memory of the victims.

Call for Help: Update

Dear readers,

A family with 3 children, clients of the LJC Social Department, recently had their washing machine break down, which they need very much, especially since one of the children is only three-years-old.

An anonymous donor has stepped forward for the family to buy a new washing machine. Thank you so much for the rapid response! The family still has a number of needs and if you can help, please contact family support coordinator Rashele by telephone at 8 652 13 146 or by email at rasheles@sc.lzb.lt

Thank you!

Rabbi Sacks Issues Statement on Pittsburgh Attack at Tree of Life Synagogue

Rabbi Sacks Issues Statement on Pittsburgh Attack at Tree of Life Synagogue

Upon hearing the horrific news of the attack in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Rabbi Sacks issued the following statement:

The deadly attack inside a synagogue earlier today in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has pierced the heart of Jewish communities worldwide. My thoughts and prayers go out to the families who have lost loved ones–may they be comforted among all the other mourners of Zion. I wish those injured a complete recovery, both physically and mentally, from this traumatic ordeal.

This attack, which is being reported as the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States, is a tragic reminder that, somehow, within living memory of the Holocaust, we still live in a world where anti-Semitism exists and deadly attacks on Jews take place.

The fact this attack happened inside a synagogue, whose name is the Tree of Life, makes it all the more horrific. The synagogue is a place where people come together, in peace, to celebrate and give thanks for all we have, above all for God’s greatest gift, life.

Today lives were lost and shattered. We are the people who were commanded by Moses to “choose life” and ever since, despite the tragedies of our history, past and present, have always striven to choose life and sanctify life. That is what the community of Pittsburgh will now do, and Jewish communities around the world will support them as they rebuild and remember the lives lost.

Text of statement here.

Condolences

With great sadness we report the death of Ženė Živulinskienė on October 17. She was born in 1926. Our deepest condolences to her son Viktoras.

Condolences

Aleksandr Šuchat passed away October 20. He was born in 1931. Our deepest condolences to his son Jevgenijus.

Vigil for Pittsburgh Victims at the Choral Synagogue Tonight

B”H

Saturday morning during Sabbath services an extremist opened fire at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, shouting “All Jews must die” and killing eleven worshipers. At least another six people were wounded, including police officers who entered the synagogue to stop the shooting.

The Choral Synagogue in Vilnius will hold a vigil to express the deep loss we feel and to express solidarity with the Pittsburgh Jewish community today, October 29, at 6:00 P.M.

Everyone is invited to come a light a candle in memory of the victims.

Vilnius Jewish Religious Community
Lithuanian Jewish Community
Lithuanian Jewish Religious Association

Litvaks in the Creation of Modern Lithuania and Israel

The Lithuanian National Martynas Mažvydas Library is to host a conference called “Together towards the Modern State: Litvaks in the History of Lithuanian and Israeli Statehood” on November 13 to mark the 100th anniversary of Lithuanian and 70th anniversary of Israeli statehood.

Speakers are to include Lithuanian and Israeli academics who will present the contribution Lithuanian Jews made in the creation of the Lithuanian state in 1918 and the contribution Litvaks also made to foundation of the state of Israel. Lithuanian students will also present their research on the life of local Jewish communities.

Please register before November 12 by sending an email to gustas.siauciulis@praktika.urm.lt

The conference will begin at 10:00 A.M. on November 13 at the national library.

The library’s Judaica Research Center will also present an exhibit during the conference called “Reflections in a Broken Mirror” presenting the life of the Lithuanian and Vilnius Jewish communities in the period between the two world wars.

Information available in Lithuanian here.

Eleven Murdered at Pittsburgh Synagogue

The Lithuanian Jewish Community was shocked by news of the mass murder at the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue taking the lives of eleven worshipers.

“This reminds all Jewish communities around the world that we must stick together and stay alert. Anti-Semitism remains a great challenge threatening to disintegrate our societies. Jews cannot be powerless in the face of hate,” Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky said.

The Lithuanian Jewish Community is shocked and saddened by the senseless murder and expresses deepest condolences to the families of the dead and the wounded, including at least two police officers. We would like to express our solidarity, along with so many others, with the Jewish community of Pittsburgh. In each and every generation the scourge of anti-Semitism rises up, but never prevails.

Book Launch: And the Goat Does Bring Happiness

You are cordially invited to attend the launch of Ilja Bereznickas’s book Ir ožka neša laimę [And the Goat Does Bring Happiness] on Monday, October 29 at 6:00 P.M. at the Lithuanian Jewish Community in Vilnius. The author will be there along with illustrator and publisher Leonardas Armonas, and there will be a screening of Ilja Bereznickas’s animated film Ne ožkoje laimė [Happiness Is Not Found in a Goat], perfectly suited for adults and children alike (film and book in Lithuanian).

Condolences

Feiga Koganskienė passed away October 23, 2018. She was born in 1926. For many years she served as deputy chairwoman for the Kaunas Jewish Community and was responsible for social needs of the community. She was also the director of the Community’s Yiddish Club and spoke the language fluently. Our deepest condolences to her many friends and relatives.

Global Sabbath

The Vilnius Jewish Religious Community invites you to come celebrate the Sabbath during the global Shabbat project on Friday, October 26. Millions of Jews around the world are participating. We’ll be meeting at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius Friday evening, with prayer services scheduled to begin at 5:30 P.M. Food will be served after. Wherever you find yourself, you can keep Sabbath in solidarity with millions of others.

It all started in South Africa in 2013, when Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein called on the community to keep the Shabbat of October 14 together–to astonishing effect. In the days and weeks that followed, communities across the Jewish world lit up with the excitement of the prospect of bringing the Shabbat Project to their city.

Happiness Is Not Found in a Goat (Or Is it?)

The tailor Mendel Katz lived with his prolific family in a small village together with other tailors, cobblers, poor musicians and strange and wise rabbis… They lived in poverty and as head of the house Mendel worked from early in the morning to late at night, sewing shirts, vests and trousers. The work had to be done very carefully and peace and quiet was required to concentrate, otherwise all sorts of things happened: a sleeve was sewn to trousers, or a pant-leg to a shirt. Mendel often made such mistakes. Why? For several reasons. His wife Sonya was a great village gossip. The children–five girls and even worse, ten bone-headed boys. And wife Sonya also had a spinster sister, a mother dissatisfied with everything and a father who was going deaf. This was reason enough for someone to be driven out of their mind.

The entire family lived in a tiny house. Mendel’s sewing machine stood next to a dark window. How can one possibly work when the scandals never end from the morning onwards? But, as the local wise man Josef said, an end comes to every person’s patience, even that of a Jewish tailor. And one morning Mendel’s patience ended.

This is how it happened. Mendel began sewing in the morning, the entire famished family sat around the table, the children banged their spoons waiting for the porridge to be ready. Sonya put a pot of porridge on the table and stood there in silence, but not for long. The eldest daughter, blue-eyed Riva, a real boss, pointed her finger towards, she told the youngest daughter, a fly which had alighted on the ceiling, and this young fool of a girl turned her head upwards and began searching for the fly. You understand that this was exactly what Riva had wanted. As soon as the youngest understood she had been tricked and her porridge eaten, she began to howl so that even the deaf father-in-law was awakened from his slumber, the mother-in-law in fright and the unexpectedness of the thing sat on the cat. And so it began… Mendel’s wife grabbed the broom and began chasing the eldest daughter through the small house with it. The brush flew off the handle and hit the wedding dress which Sonya’s quiet spinster sister had been sewing.