This year the Union of Former Ghetto and Concentration Camp Inmates lost ten of our members. The tenth was Anastazija Baltusevičienė of Kaunas, mother of Robertas Baltusevčius. She was born June 17, 1942, and passed away on December 25, 2018. Our deepest condolences to her son Robertas and sisters Filomena, Liucija, Elžbieta and Elena.
On January 1 every year a ceremony is held to replace the Lithuanian flag on the tower on the hill of Gediminas in central Vilnius, to mark Lithuanian Flag Day. Traditionally, the older flag is given over to the protection of one of the Lithuanian schools which has been noted for teaching civics and preserving historical memory.
The modern Lithuanian tricolor, the symbol of the independent Republic of Lithuania, was first raised on the tower on January 1, 1919. It was flown by a group of Lithuanian volunteers led by Vilnius city commandant Kazys Škirpa. The raised flag was saluted with gunfire and the volunteers sang the national anthem.
Today a small road next to the hill of Gediminas is named after Kazys Škirpa. For several years now the Lithuanian Jewish Community has been petitioning the municipality of Vilnius to change the name of the street named after a Holocaust perpetrator. The LJC’s position is quite clear: Kazys Škirpa Alley needs to be renamed if only to show respect for all the citizens of Lithuania.
The Kaunas Jewish Community and the Russian meeting club Nadezhda held a commemoration of Litvak poet Osip Mandelshtam (aka Osip Mandelstam, 1891-1938) at Palangos street no. 1 in Kaunas, where the poet lived as a child, on December 27, 2018.
For many years it wasn’t known Mandelshtam died en route to his second deportation, the gulag in Kolyma, just as it wasn’t known he was a Lithuanian Jew and both parents were Litvaks: his father Emil Mandelshtam was from the town of Žagarė and his mother Flora Verblovskaya was from Vilnius. Many of the relevant documents in the life of Osip Mandelshtam are still unknown to literary experts.
The public release of these documents began relatively recently. Even so, even in the newest articles about Mandelshtam, for example, in Pavel Nerler’s “Osip Mandelshtam: Life and Family” (Znamya no. 12, 2016), the claim is made that Mandelshtam’s vital records have never been located. This is no longer true: Geršonas Taicas from Vilnius has found the record of Mandelshtam’s birth in Warsaw.
Taicas did further research and discovered the reason why Osip Mandelshtam (and his father, mother and their other son Aleksander) lived in Kaunas in 1896. Taicas also believes the surname, Mandelshtam, might not mean exactly what the accepted interpretation says it does, namely, “almond tree.”
Yitzhak Rudashevski’s ghetto diary published in Lithuanian by the Lithuanian Jewish Community was compiled and translated by Dr. Mindaugas Kvietkauskas. The unusual design of the book itself was the creation of Sigutė Chlebinskaitė. The Tokyo Type Directors Club has recognized the book design as worthy to be nominated along with another 2,860 books for their annual award in 2019, in the design category.
From the organizers of the Tokyo TDC Annual Awards 2019:
Dear Sigute Chlebinskaite,
Thank you very much for your entry to the Tokyo TDC Annual Awards 2019. We received 2,860 works from around the world. Among the entries, we are pleased to inform you that your entry below has been selected for our annual book. We hope the year 2019 will be a fruitful year for you.
Tokyo Type Directors Club
Amos Oz (aka Amos Klausner) passed away December 28, 2018, following a battle with cancer. He was born in Jerusalem on May 4, 1939. His father was a Litvak from the Vilnius area who studied comparative literature. Our condolences to his friends, family and many fans.
(JTA)–Amos Oz would often speak in the kind of tossed-off epigrams that come only with a lot of practice. But just when you wanted to smack him for his breezy erudition, he would redeem himself with a flash of spot-on–and hilarious–self-awareness.
In 2011, speaking at the 92nd Street Y about the novel he’d just published in English, “Scenes from Village Life,” Oz said that 99 percent of the typical media coverage of Israel involves extremist settlers, ultra-Orthodox fanatics and brutal soldiers “and one percent saintly intellectuals like myself.”
Oz died Friday at age 79, having won nearly every literary prize short of the Nobel and having become perhaps Israel’s most widely translated author. If Jews were in the canonization business, Oz would have earned his wings (halo? robe? my theology is shaky) on the basis of “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” his 2002 novel cum memoir. Like so much of what he wrote, the book is not just autobiographical, but a biography of Israel itself. Although his story ends before he is out of his teens, the young Amos bears witness to the destruction of European Jewry, the height of the British mandate, a Hebrew renaissance in Jerusalem, the great Zionist debates (and debaters) of the day, the rise of the kibbutz movement and the birth of the state.
Full text here.
Anastazija Jadvyga Baltusevičienė passed away December 25. She was born in 1942. Our deepest condolences to her children and sisters.
Marija Rusak, born in 1935, passed away December 27. Our deepest condolences to her husband Leonid and daughter Alla.
Fourteen participants from ages 18 to over 55 competed Sunday in the best Jewish woman contest Israelit de Lita in Vilnius. Categories included cooking, talents and knowledge.
Contest organizer Larisa Vyšniauskienė explained feminine beauty fades over time, but spiritual beauty remains, and that was the basis for this competition.
The participants earlier attended lessons for several months on Jewish history, cuisine, cosmetics, fashion and the woman’s role in the Jewish family.
The Fayerlakh group provided music and dance for the event. Arkadijus Vinokuras and Božena Sokolinska were the MCs.
And the winners were:
The Kaunas Jewish Community and the Lithuanian-Russian Meeting Club Naderzhda invite the public to a commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the death of famous Litvak poet Osip Mandelshtam at 12 noon on December 27 outside the house where he spent his youth, located at Palangos street no. 1. Similar commemorations are to take place simultaneously in Riga, Kiev, Warsaw and Paris.
By Robert R. Singer
This article originally published in Jerusalem Post December 20, 2018
As ISIS and Al-Qaida dominated headlines surrounding the omnipotent threat of global jihad in recent years, the international community’s memory appears to have dulled to the dangers of one of the most lethal terrorist organizations in history: Hezbollah, responsible for the large-scale murders of civilians, soldiers, and diplomats across the globe over the course of a 36-year reign of terror.
I sincerely thank you for the meaningful time we have spent together, for all different kinds of support, for your friendship and cooperation.
The Lithuanian Jewish Community wishes you and yours a beautiful holiday season!
We sincerely thank you for your warm communication and cooperation and greet you on the occasion of the beautiful winter holidays, hoping their special mood will awake the child within you, the child’s ability to take joy and find wonder in simple things, to have fun, to believe in miracles and to put every cell of the body into the task at hand. We wish you wonder, color and many pleasant surprises in the daily routine! We wish you a white Christmas and a successful new year!
Kaunas Jewish Community
The Panevėžys Jewish Community opened an exhibit of works by famous 19th century Litvak sculptor Mark (Mordechai) Antokolski to mark the 175th anniversary of his death at the Panevėžys Jewish Community headquarters in cooperation with the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum.
Antokolski was born in the Antakalnis neighborhood in Vilnius in 1843 to a religious Jewish family. From childhood he liked to draw and he learned to carve wood. He matriculated at the St. Petersburg Art Academy in Russia in 1862, was graduated in 1871 and thereafter embarked on a series of works on Jewish and other themes. His bas-relief “Jewish Tailor” won a silver medal. His works were much heralded in artistic and cultural circles in St. Petersburg.
His works reflect a variety of subjects, including scenes from antiquity and Christian, historical and ethnic themes. The sculptor passed away in 1902 and is buried in St. Petersburg. A small street in the Vilnius Old Town was named in his honor following his death.
The Panevėžys Jewish cemetery marked its 300th anniversary this December 18. It opened on the outskirts of the city back in the 18th century, on a plot of land bought by Jews who were moving to Lithuania. People of all different walks of life were buried there, including rabbis, scholars, businesspeople and farmers. During World War I Jewish volunteer soldiers who fought for Lithuanian independence against the Kaiser’s Germany were laid to rest there.
The cemetery expanded in the 19th and early 20th century. It is now listed on the Lithuanian cultural heritage registry as an historic monument and enjoys the protection of the state. Jewish burials ceased after World War II because there were so few Jews left in the city. The cemetery was closed in 1955. In 1966 city officials liquidated the cemetery and created a city park on the site. A fountain was placed in the middle of the cemetery. Headstones were taken and used for construction in Panevėžys, for building fences in the city center and also incorporated into a decorative wall at the J. Miltinis Drama Theater. Way back in 1980 there were attempts to correct the damage done; the fountain was moved to Senvagė leaving an open pit in the cemetery. The newly recreated Panevėžys Jewish Community and friends from Israel, the USA, South Africa and other countries called for fixing the damage in 1991, and in 2003 they all supported Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman’s idea to commemorate the dead with a statue. The architect Vytautas Klimavičius designed the ensemble and Panevėžys sculptor Vytautas Tallat-Kelpša made the statue which stands there today, “Sad Jewish Mother,” unveiled in 2009.
The Lithuanian Jewish Community sincerely congratulates Dr. Mindaugas Kvietkauskas on his selection as Lithuania’s new minister of culture.
Dr. Kvietkauskas will be the first member of the Lithuanian Government to speak Yiddish in many years. Likely the last was Jewish affairs minister Jokūbas Vygodskis who left the post when the interwar Republic of Lithuania annulled official Jewish autonomy in the country.
Kvietkauskas has translated a number of Yiddish works into Lithuanian. After completing Lithuanian literature and language studies at Vilnius University, he studied at Oxford’s Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. He also acquired skills in Yiddish from Fania Brancovskaja, the Jewish partisan and Vilnius ghetto inmate.
At the behest of the Lithuanian Jewish Community an international Heritage Advisory Group consisting of renowned global experts on Jewish heritage was formed, including:
Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, advisor to the director and senior curator of main exhibits at the POLIN Polish Jewish History Museum; Assumpció Hosta, general secretary of the European Association for the Preservation and Promotion of Jewish Culture and Heritage (AEPJ); Sergey Kanovich, founder of the Maceva NGO and project manager of the Šeduva Jewish Memorial Fund; Lyudmila Sholokhova, PhD, director, YIVO archive and library; Sergey Kravtsov, senior research correspondent, Jewish Art Center, Hebrew University; the Lithuanian Jewish Community was represented by LJC heritage conservation specialist Martynas Užpelkis and architect and designer Victoria Sideraitė-Alon.
The expert group now has issued a set of recommended guidelines for the memorialization of the Great Synagogue of Vilna.
Since it is basically clear that attempts to rebuild the Great Synagogue would send a false message, they instead recommended emphasizing the uniqueness of the site’s history and its current state. Commemoration should pursue the objectives of conserving what remains and proper education. The project should focus on recovering and expressing the centrality and unique meaning of the site in Lithuanian Jewish history and memory.
The Lithuanian Jewish Community ushered out 2018 with a concert Monday called Heart to Heart with Markas Volynskis and Marija Drukshna on vocals, Jurijus Sukhanovas on piano and Boris Kirzner on violin.
Shmuel Yatom, the cantor at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius, opened the concert by reminding the audience the synagogue is celebrating its 115th anniversary currently. His words and songs, some solo, some with Markas Volynskis, created a warm and comfortable atmosphere in the hall. Well-known Lithuanian mezzo-soprano Judita Leitaitė MCed the concert and sang to a great response from the audience. Her warm and funny introductions of the other performers also contributed to the entertainment. Musical works by Kern, Pakhmutov, Dunayevsky and Olshanetsky, classical Russian favorites and old-time Jewish favorites elicited much applause.