International Roma Holocaust Day Marked in Lithuania

Paminėta Tarptautinė romų Holokausto aukų atminimo diena

Solemn ceremonies marked International Roma Holocaust Day commemorations August 2 in Ponar and at the Old Town Hall in Vilnius. A wreath-laying ceremony was conducted for the victims at the Ponar mass murder site and a new exhibition called Traditions, Customs and History of the Romani of Poland opened at the Old Town Hall.

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Image of Roma and Jews: Brighter or Darker?

Romų ir žydų paveikslas: šviesiau ar tamsiau?
by Ieva Elenbergienė

Few Lithuanian people personally know real Jews or Roma, so their image is painted for us by the most accessible sources of information. This is an interview with Monika Frėjute-Rakauskiene who has researched how ethnic communities are portrayed in the Lithuanian media and on the internet. The interview is about the power of the media to paint their subject in a brighter or darker light.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

The 9th of Av: National Day of Mourning for the Jewish People

The ninth day of the month of Av (August 1 this year) is the saddest holiday of the Jewish year, marking the destruction of the First and Second Temples. No one eats or drinks on this day, nor do they wear leather shoes. The fast begins on the evening of the 8th of Av just before sunset and ends with the appearance of the first star on the evening of the 9th. The 9th of Av is also the one day during the year on which a Jew is not only not obliged to study Torah, but is forbidden from doing so (learning being considered a source of joy).

New Jacques Lipchitz Museum to Open in Druskininkai


photo by Romas Sadauskas-Kvietkevičius, courtesy DELFI

Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum museum specialist Aušra Rožankevičiūtė speaking Tuesday at the exhibition by SPA Vilnius in Druskininkai, Lithuania, called “From Druskininkai to Jerusalem: Moments in the Life and Work of Jacques Lipchitz” announced a new Lipchitz memorial museum could open in the Lithuanian spa town within two years.

Rožankevičiūtė, who hopes to exhibit Lipchitz’s work in Druskininkai, noted the Vilna Gaon Museum had managed to accomplish an ambitious plan last year on the 125th anniversary of Lipchitz’s birth to bring his work to Vilnius.

“Of course the works worth millions can’t be brought to Lipchitz’s hometown Druskininkai because there is no where to show them. Our goal now is to, within two years, although the legal issues involved are moving ahead slowly, open a Jacques Lipchitz memorial museum on Šv. Jokūbo street in Druskininkai,” she said.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

American Team Examining Mass Murder Sites in Kaunas

A group of researchers led by Hartford professor Richard Freund are scanning the ground in Kaunas to determine the exact extent of Jewish mass murder sites recorded in testimonies and historical accounts. They are checking the ground around the Fourth, Seventh and Ninth Forts in Kaunas and the Jewish grave site on the Radvilėnai highway. Freund’s team includes specialists from a number of fields.

Litvaks in Love

Professor David Roskies delivered an interesting lecture to a medium-sized audience at the new Judaica Center at the Lithuanian National Library Thursday evening.

“Using the tools of a cultural historian, drawing upon my Litvak identity and turning feminism into a source of knowledge, I think I have successfully cracked the DNA of Jewish collective memory. I know what it is, and I know how it works. Jewish collective memory is organized around saints, sanctuaries and sacred times. In this way, each generation of Jews shape a model life, the model community and the model time. You don’t have to be a Litvak to unlock the DNA of Jewish collective memory, but it certainly helps, because Lite [Lithuania] is where this triple axis, this three-pronged model, emerged in bold relief. The model was so stable that it remained in place even when the world began to change. In Lite things really began to change with the rise of religious revival movement called Hassidism at the end of the 18th century. So long as the hassidim were limited to Podolia and Volhynia which, after all, are located south of the gefilte fish line, and where people spoke a different Yiddish, there wasn’t much to worry about. So there was talk about a new cultural hero named Yisroel Ba’al Shem-Tov, better known as Besht. He was a faith healer, a tzadik or saintly person, a righteous person, who engaged in all manner of non-Litvak behavior. He was an effective preacher and teacher, but he came into conflict with renowned Torah scholars, who were the elite of traditional society. Worse yet, he popularized the study of Kabbalah–Jewish mysticism–, he claimed to have paid periodic visits to Heaven and he encouraged mystical prayer performed with bizarre and ecstatic song and dance at all hours. Then, before you knew it, hassidic prayer houses were beginning to appear in Lite, too. The time had come for the rabbinic establishment to take action,” Rosskies said in a lecture which ranged seamlessly from the drier facts of cultural history to his own personal experiences and thoughts, employing moving Yiddish lullabies to make certain points.

US Embassy Staff Visit Kaunas Jewish Community

The US embassy to Lithuania paid a visit to the Kaunas Jewish Community. Ted Janis, adviser on policy and economics (on left in photo), and US embassy representative Renata Dromantaitė met KJC chairman Gercas Žakas and asked about daily life in the Community, its activities, relations with the municipality, Jewish cemeteries, projects planned and opportunities for working together more closely. The time allotted for the meeting passed very quickly and there wasn’t time to express many thoughts and address many issues, which will be part of the agenda for a future planned meeting. Embassy staff said they would like to and plan to participate in commemorations of the mass murder of the Jews of Petrašiūnai and the mass murder of intellectuals in the Kaunas ghetto at the Fourth Fort in Kaunas at the end of August.

Darius Udrys Uncovered How Unprepared We Are to Discuss Morality without Outrage


Darius Udrys. Photo by Kiril Čachovskij, DELFI, © 2017

by Andrei Khrapavitski

I have written a short facebook comment in Lithuanian regarding the latest meltdown within the local liberal circles, but this story is worth expanding on. The gist of the matter is that Remigijus Šimašius, the liberal mayor of Vilnius, fired Darius Udrys, the head of Go Vilnius development agency and my former colleague at the European Humanities University.

A formal reason for dismissal was lack of results, but this reason looks very improbable, given the short time both Darius and the agency had worked and could achieve those results. A more probable one is the scandal Darius provoked after posting a facebook comment in which he asked whether it was moral for forest brothers (Lithuanian partisans who waged guerrilla war against Soviet rule during the Soviet occupation during and after World War II) to kill organizers of kolkhozes, collective farms put in place by the Soviets on the occupied lands.

Darius raised a lot of eyebrows by simply asking on what moral grounds it was OK to kill the civilians who were organizing those kolkhozes. A group of conservatives immediately demanded his dismissal and put a lot of pressure on the mayor of the Lithuanian capital to do so. It seems quite likely that the liberal mayor gave in to the demands of the conservative members within the coalition and let Darius go. Apparently you can be fired in 21st-century Lithuania for asking a question about the morality of killing. The liberal mayor found neither the courage to stand for freedom of speech nor to acknowledge the real reason for the dismissal. As mentioned above, Remigijus tried to spin it by claiming that Darius lost his job for not demonstrating results.

Full text in English available here.

Annual Israeli Embassy Fun Run

The Israeli embassy to Lithuania invites the public to attend the third annual Vilnius Bike Ride fun run sponsored by the embassy, meeting at 11:00 A.M. noon on Sunday, August 27, 2017. This year the route will be 10 kilometers from the Vilnius Old Town Hall Square to the white bridge. Those who want to participate but are unable to ride are invited to join the cyclists at the white bridge in Vilnius at 12 noon.

The Israeli embassy strongly recommends wearing protective helmets and promises event t-shirts to teams who register before August 1, although supplies are limited. Teams are invited to send in the number of shirts and sizes required. For more information contact the embassy at +370-5-2502500 or info@vilnius.mfa.gov.il

The embassy team will assemble at Old Town Hall at 10:00 A.M. and the embassy suggests others come early as well, with the start set for 11:00 A.M. sharp.

Litvaks in Love, a Lecture by David Roskies

David Roskies, professor of Hebrew University and the New York Jewish Theological Seminary, will deliver a lecture called Litvaks in Love at the Judaica Center of the Lithuanian National Martynas Mažvydas Library in Vilnius at 4:00 P.M. on July 27.

For more information, visit the Judaica Center’s webpage here.

Summer Dig Ends at the Groyse Shul in Vilnius

by Geoff Vasil

This summer’s archaeological dig at the Great Synagogue site in Vilnius wrapped up in the early evening of Friday, July 21, with volunteers working right up to the last minute.

This summer’s dig is the second by an international team led by the Israeli Antiquities Authority’s Dr. Jon Seligman and Hartford professor of Jewish history Richard Freund. The composition of workers and volunteers was significantly different this summer; only Shuli of Israeli Antiquities appeared again amid a group of others from Canada, Israel and the United States. Mantas Daubaras remained the chief Lithuanian archaeologist at the site and this year there were significant numbers of Lithuanian volunteers, almost all of them apparently university students. This year the focus was exclusively on the Groyse Shul or Great Synagogue site, whereas last year the Ponar Holocaust mass murder site was also part of the project, as documented recently in Owen Palmquist’s good documentary Holocaust Escape Tunnel, which aired on the PBS program NOVA earlier this spring. The lead archaeologists attended a Lithuanian screening of the documentary at the Tolerance Center a week before the end of their work at the Shulhoyf in Vilnius.

When Was Lithuanian Citizenship Rescinded for Jews and Never Reinstated?

According to the Lithuanian Migration Department, Jews with Lithuanian roots are making active use of the opportunity to restore Lithuanian citizenship following amendment to the law on citizenship adopted in July of 2016 to streamline the process. Following the changes, the number of Litvaks restoring citizenship has grown dramatically. The amendment was adopted by the Lithuanian parliament and signed into law by president Dalia Grybauskaitė, and Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky contributed much to the initiative and lobbied heavily for it. The legislation now safeguards the right of Jews who left Lithuania during the period between the two world wars–and their descendants–to restore Lithuanian citizenship.

Many Litvaks died in the Holocaust and others are now spread around the world. Many of them identify themselves with Lithuania, but no longer have Lithuanian citizenship. The issue is not just one of morality, it’s also a legal issue. When we are speaking of Jews who survived the Holocaust and the war, they weren’t deprived of their citizenship in the concentration camps. They were deported, isolated and murdered not as citizens of Lithuania, but as Jews. People were exiled to Siberia because they owned property, or were lawyers, fire-fighters or volunteer soldiers. So the well-founded question arises: when exactly did they lose citizenship?

LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky says: “The doctrine of the Lithuanian law on citizenship remains unclear to this day. State leaders and politicians associate citizenship with restitution. There is a wide-spread but incorrect belief that after granting citizenship or making that process easier, under some sort of reverse discrimination making it easier for Jews, there will be a flood of applications from people of other ethnicities for restoration of citizenship. The fact is often ignored that Polish citizens, arrivals from Poland, were never Lithuanian citizens, because they lived in a territory which at that time belonged to Poland, after Poland occupied Lithuania. Likewise, Germans from the German lands were never Lithuanian citizens because they lived in territories which were occupied by Germany.

“Speaking of restitution, we are talking about a very small portion of Lithuanian Jews who survived the war, who were deported violently and lost all their rights in Lithuania following the occupation. If we base our thinking on legality, then they were deprived of citizenship under the occupational regime and never got it back, or got it back after the deadlines for submitting property claims. This is equally urgent for Jews who left after 1990, they were included the newly drafted law on citizenship presented in parliament. Are they somehow opposed to the Lithuanian state because they live in Israel, which is neither a NATO nor an EU member? Is Israel really considered an enemy of the Lithuanian state?

“So I again ask, when were Jews deprived of certain rights and property by the laws and bylaws of the local or occupational government, and when did they lose Lithuanian citizenship? If they didn’t lose it, because the occupational regimes and the actions they carried out were illegal, then when should these people be issued documents testifying to their citizenship in Lithuania, and when should their illegally seized property be returned? The Lithuanian law on citizenship doesn’t address these issues.

“Reviewing the history of the first independent Republic of Lithuania and its sad fate, we find a lack of legal judgment regarding the occupational Soviet government, the Lithuanian Provisional Government, that of Nazi Germany, the second Soviet occupation and finally of the current independent Republic of Lithuania. So it remains who deprived Jews of citizenship, property and other civil rights, and when they did this, and whether these have been restored. I don’t deny there are a number of studies on this issue, but how do they affect the legal verdicts being issued now or those which will be issued in the future? I’d like to remind everyone we are not talking those who perished in the war, but about the Jewish citizens of Lithuania who were persecuted and murdered in the territory of the state of Lithuania.

“So far the state hasn’t been able to solve issues surrounding Jewish history and culture as well as legal status. Perhaps these matters need to solved serially, one after another: the problem of education, of Jewish history and issues around restoring rights violated. These matters are not for NGOs such as the LJC to solve, but for the state. The issues enumerated were solved long ago throughout Western Europe. They remain unsolved only in the former Soviet Union. We cannot forget Lithuania is in the lead among all former republics in the Soviet Union–the issue of restitution for Jewish communal property has been solved–but the cynical view of the individual’s civic, political and social rights as being of secondary importance remains more what it was in the USSR than anything else.

“I have heard rebuttals that Russia has also failed to make restitution with Lithuania, but this point of view and social attitude can hardly be expected to lead to further progress not just in restitution, but in a host of economic, social and other issues.

“The Lithuanian Jewish Community is concerned with all issues surrounding citizenship and restitution. This is a problem and a great injustice of urgency for Litvaks living abroad. The European Commission recently adopted a declaration again emphasizing remembrance and justice, which is what we seek and invite all Lithuanians to pursue with us.”

Panevėžys Jewish Community Youth Meet

Susibūrė Panevėžio m. žydų bendruomenės jaunimas

Children of members of the Panevėžys Jewish Community and their parents gathered July 12 to consider the formation of a Panevėžys Jewish Community youth organization. They discussed how to stimulate organizational, cultural and athletic activities among youth. The goal of the meeting was to encourage more Community youth to learn Jewish traditions. The Community building includes a room with religious regalia, literature, albums, magazines and multimedia equipment for screening films and holding lectures. The proposal was made to use the room for youth activities, specifically for personal study of Judaism.

The meeting made plans to travel to Ventspils in Latvia on August 5 and 6 and learn about the former Jewish community there. The trip would include an excursion into Joniškis, Lithuania, to view the newly restored Red and White Synagogues there. The trip to Ventspils is to include meetings with the surviving Jewish community there and the conclusion of a cooperation agreement between the two communities. The trip is supported by the Goodwill Foundation and members of the Panevėžys Jewish Community. Members are invited to participate.

Israeli Choirs Big Hit

Izraelio chorų koncertas

The concert by choirs from Israel in Vilnius July 24 was a great hit. The Vilnius Old Town Hall was full to overflowing for the concert mainly in Hebrew but with some Yiddish and even a Yemeni song.

The Israeli embassy to Lithuania sponsored the free public event and ambassador Amir Maimon reminded the audience the Old Town Hall stood right next to the big and small Vilnius ghettos where almost all prisoners were murdered during the Holocaust.

Introduction to Israeli Cinema with Giedrius Jokubauskis, July 26-August 30

What do you know about Israeli cinema? The question might make some embarrassed. General knowledge would tend to answer that by saying Israeli cinema is films about Israeli history, Christianity and Jewish-Arab relations. Few could name films, directors or actors. Is Israel too distant culturally, historically and geographically? Well, it’s time to learn about the country. We invite you to Israeli film evenings beginning at the close of July and taking place every Wednesday until the end of August. International relations specialist Giedrius Jokubauskis will be master of ceremonies. Films will be screened in their original language with English subtitles.

Full announcement in Lithuanian on the National Library site here.

Jewish Unity: Call Me Naïve

Blogger and CEO of the American Jewish Committee David Harris explores the tortured route many Jewish couples are forced to take towards marriage.

Jewish Unity: Call Me Naïve
by David Harris

When I was growing up on the West Side of Manhattan, I recall elderly men from Jerusalem ringing our doorbell a couple of times per year. They were pious, and they were raising money for their institutions in Israel.

My mother and I lived alone, and, as a working woman, she had very limited disposable income, but she never let them leave empty-handed.

When I asked her why she would give money to people who, it was obvious, lived a very different lifestyle than ours, and why she never asked probing questions about the organizations they represented, she would simply say, in effect: “They’re Jews. We’re Jews. We need to support one another. Hitler made no distinction among Jews. We all were targeted for annihilation, irrespective of our beliefs, clothing, dietary habits, whatever. Why should I make a distinction?”

My mother survived the Holocaust. I took her words seriously. Indeed, I took them to heart and have sought to put them into practice on a daily basis. If we really are one people, then, whatever our differences, we need to act as one people.

Forty-two years ago, I joined the Jewish communal world, getting started in Rome and Vienna, the two transit points in Europe for Jews able to leave the Soviet Union and plan new lives beyond the grasp of the communist world.

Full text here.

International Roma Holocaust Remembrance Day

The Roma Community Center, the Polish Institute and the Vilnius Old Town Hall invite you to come commemorate together the International Day of Commemorating Roma Victims of the Holocaust on August 2.

Planned events:

12:00 noon laying of wreaths at Ponar Memorial Complex

3:00 P.M. Preview of exhibits for International Roma Holocaust Remembrance Day in the Grey Hall of the Vilnius Old Town Hall, Didžioji street no. 31:

Traditions, Customs and History of the Roma of Poland exhibition
Nomads of the Future exhibit of photography by Prashant Rana from Sweden

For more information, contact the organizers at +370 682 41218

Litvaks Abroad Using Opportunity to Restore Lithuanian Citizenship

Užsienyje gyvenantys litvakai aktyviai naudojasi galimybe atkurti pilietybę

Vilnius, July 20, BNS–Jews with Lithuanian origins are actively making use of the opportunity to restore Lithuanian citizenship following amendments which came into effect in July last year making the process easier, officials reported Thursday.

The Lithuanian Migration Department announced 1,131 people restored Lithuanian citizenship in the first half of this year. In the second half of last year the number was 912.

Director Evelina Gudzinskaitė said the majority were Litvaks.

“After the law on citizenship was changed last year, the numbers are really growing. Litvaks from Israel and the Republic of South Africa are the majority, and people who left for the United States are also making active use of the opportunity,” Gudzinskaitė told BNS.

In the first half of last year Lithuanian citizenship was restored to 481 people. In July of 2016 amendments came into effect allowing people who left the country in the interwar period and their descendants to receive Lithuanian citizenship.

The law was changed after Migration Department officials and courts began refusing to restore citizenship to certain Litvaks who failed to provide proof they were persecuted in independent Lithuania between the two world wars. Lithuanian officials calculate there are about 200,000 Jews living in Israel with Lithuanian roots, and more than 70,000 Jews with Litvak roots in South Africa.