Jewish Volunteer Soldiers Remembered in Kaunas

Lithuanian military commander lieutenant general Jonas Vytautas Žukas and the Kaunas Jewish Community invited the public to a commemoration on May 30 of Jewish volunteers who fought in early 20th-century battles for Lithuanian independence. Those attending included lieutenant general Žukas, Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, representatives of regional Jewish communities, Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon, commanders of Kaunas divisions, soldiers and representatives of the Kaunas municipality and other organizations.

May 30 is an important date, marking one of the first planned military operations by the Lithuanian military. At the end of May and in early June of 1919 Lithuanian soldiers, including many Jews, aided by volunteer soldiers from Saxony, liberate Utena from the Bolsheviks and seized the initiative in battle against the Red Army.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky and Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas took part in the commemoration.

Karolis Zikaras, the head of the Civic Education Division of the Lithuanian military’s Strategic Communications Department, said the contribution Lithuanian Jewish soldiers made was great. An estimated 3,000 Jewish soldiers laid down their lives in the battles for Lithuanian independence. Twenty Jewish volunteer soldiers received the highest military honor of the Lithuanian state, the Order of the Cross of Vytis.

“Jewish Lithuanian soldiers did not remain apathetic towards the welfare of Lithuania and following the battles for independence they formed the Union of Jewish Soldiers Who Fought for the Restoration of Lithuanian Independence. That organization they actively participated in Lithuanian public life at that time. For instance, the union was one of six organizations who came up with and organized the first celebration to bring the Lithuanian military and the public closer in 1935, a holiday which we know today as the Day of Commemoration of Lithuanian Partisans and Unity between the Military and Society,” Zikaras noted.

The ceremony was held at Mapu street no. 18 in the Kaunas Old Town, the same building where the Union of Jewish Soldiers Who Fought for the Restoration of Lithuanian Independence. operated from 1937 to 1940.

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