The web page of the Government of the Republic of Lithuania now features in Lithuanian and English texts about the Vilna Gaon, famous Litvaks and visual materials for celebrating 2020 as the Year of the Vilna Gaon and Litvak History.
Most Prominent Jewish Personalities in Lithuania
Lithuania has been home to many Jews, who were born in this country, lived and created here leaving an indelible mark in the scholarly and cultural heritage of Lithuania as well as of the world.
Icchokas Meras (1934-2014). The author of books on the Holocaust (Geltonas lopas (The Yellow Patch), Ant ko laikosi pasaulis (What the World Rests on), Lygiosios trunka akimirką (A Stalemate), and a film script writer for well-known Lithuanian films Kai aš mažas buvau (When I Was a Child), Birželis, vasaros pradžia (June, the Beginning of Summer) and Maža išpažintis (Small Confession).
Chaim Grade (1910-1982). Vilna-born writer, a member of Yung Vilne (Young Vilnius), a group of avant-garde writers and artists. Chaim Grade is considered to be one of the leading Yiddish writers in post-Holocaust period. Nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.
Avrom Sutzkever (1913-2010). Born in Smorgon, he spent a considerable part of his life in Vilnius. He was a member of the Yung Vilne (Young Vilnius), a group of avant-garde writers and artists. At the beginning of the Holocaust, he was imprisoned in the Vilna Ghetto, where he took part in the activities of the famous Paper Brigade and greatly contributed to the rescue of Jewish cultural heritage. After the war, he briefly returned to Vilna, where, along with a group of other Holocaust survivors founded a Jewish museum. Avrom Sutzkever wrote in Yiddish (mostly poetry, though he also penned his own memoir Fun Vilner Geto (From the Vilna Ghetto). In 1966, he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Ayzik Meyer Dik (1807/1814?-1893). Born in Vilna, Ayzik Meyer Dik was the first professional and best-selling author in the Yiddish language. Until then, there had been few printed works of fiction in this language.
Abraham Mapu (1808-1867). The writer was born in what was then known as Slobodka (today Vilijampolė in Kaunas). Mapu is regarded as the first novelist in the Hebrew language. Until then, this language was used exclusively for religious purposes.
Shmerke Kaczerginski (1908-1954). Vilna-born writer, a member of Yung Vilne (Young Vilnius), a group of avant-garde writers and artists. At the beginning of the Holocaust, he was imprisoned in the Vilna Ghetto, where he took part in the activities of the famous Paper Brigade and greatly contributed to the rescue of Jewish cultural heritage. After the war, he returned to Vilnius for a short while, where he founded a Jewish museum together with a group of other Holocaust survivors.
Leah Goldberg (1911-1970). The writer was not born in Lithuania but she spent her childhood in Kaunas. She came back to Kaunas after World War I, finished school there and went to university. Goldberg is one of the Israeli literary classical writers who wrote in Hebrew.
Neemija Arbit Blat (1908-1999). The artist was born in Kaunas. He became interested in art while still at school, he went to study in Germany and later in Paris. In 1932, Neemija Arbit Blat opened up the first private modern art gallery in Kaunas, where he exhibited works of Lithuanian and Jewish artists.
Lasar Segall (1891-1957). Born in Vilnius, the artist later moved to live in Brazil. He is one of the most influential avant-garde artists of this country.
Mark Antokolski (1843-1902). Vilnius-born sculptor. The first famous sculptor of Jewish origin and a pioneer of secular Jewish art.
Max Band (1900-1974). Born in Naumiestis, the artist lived in Marijampolė from the age of three. He studied drawing in Berlin, later moved to Paris, since 1940, he lived and successfully created in the US, he painted a portrait of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Boris Schatz (1866-1932). The artist was born in Varniai. He became known as the father of Israeli art, and he founded the Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts.
Izis (Israel Bidermanas) (1911-1980). The photographer was born in Marijampolė. He moved to Paris, where he made his name as a photographer. Izis became a major figure in the mid-century French movement of humanist photography, and his work stands on the same footing as that of Henri Cartier-Bresson or Robert Doisneau.
Victor David Brenner (1871-1924). The sculptor and medallist was born in Šiauliai. Brenner is probably best known for his enduring one-cent coin design to commemorate the 100th birthday of Abraham Lincoln. Brenner’s design had been picked by President Theodore Roosevelt, who had earlier posed for him in his studio.
Jacques Lipschitz (1891-1973). The sculptor was born in Druskininkai. One of the most famous Lithuania’s sculptors in the world.
Samuel Bak (1933). The artist was born in Vilnius. While he was a prisoner in the Vilna Ghetto, he held his first exhibition at the age of nine.
Jascha Heifetz (1901-1987). The violinist was born in Vilnius. He is considered one of the greatest violinists of all time.
Daniel Dolski (1890-1931). The singer was born in Vilnius and later moved to Kaunas, where he became the pioneer of the inter-war popular music.
Benjamin Gorbulski (1925–1986). The composer was born in Kaunas. His creation covers various genres, from popular songs to operas.
Daniel Pomerantz (1904-1981). The violinist was born in Šiauliai. One of jazz pioneers in Lithuania.
Anatoly Shenderov (1945-2019). The composer was born in Ulyanovsk, later moved to Lithuania and studied at the Lithuanian State Conservatory. He is one of the most famous Lithuania’s contemporary composers.
Leiba Hofmekler (1900-1941). The conductor and pianist was born in Vilnius. He moved to live in Kaunas, where he worked as a concertmaster, conductor and later as a conductor of the Kaunas Radio Orchestra.
Herman Perelstein (1923-1998). The choir conductor and educator was born in Königsberg and studied in Kaunas. After World War II, he returned from exile to Vilnius, where he founded boys’ choir Ąžuoliukas in 1959.
Nechama Lifshitz (1927-2017). The singer was born in Kaunas. She was called the Jewish nightingale of the Soviet Union. Although the Soviet authorities sought to suppress any fostering of national culture and traditions, Nechama Lifshitz was best known for her songs performed in Yiddish and Hebrew.
Vyacheslav Ganelin (2004). The pianist and composer was born in Moscow, he moved to Vilnius with his parents in 1951. Vyacheslav Ganelin is a famous jazz musician. He composed music for legendary Lithuanian musicals and films (Velnio nuotaka (Devil’s Bride), Riešutų duona (Walnut Bread) and others).
Clara Rockmore (1911-1998). Vilnius-born musician was admitted to the St. Petersburg Conservatory at the age of four. Later she moved to the US. She started playing theremin and became a pioneer of electronic music.
Leopold Godowsky (1870-1938). The pianist was born in Žasliai. He was one of the most reputable performers of his time.
Al Jolson (Asa Yoelson) (1886-1950). The actor was born in Seredžius. Best known for starring in the first sound film Jazz Singer.
Lawrence Harvey (Zvi Moshe Hirsh Skikne) (1928-1973). The actor was born in Joniškis and later emigrated to South Africa with his parents. He starred in movies together with Frank Sinatra and Elizabeth Taylor.
Israel Segal (1906-?). The actor and director was born in Kaunas. Before the war, he worked at the Šiauliai Drama Theatre and was a director of Kaunas Jewish Theatre for a while; he also played at the Lithuanian State Theatre. During the Holocaust, he was a prisoner in the Vilna Ghetto. He was an artistic director of the Vilna Ghetto Theatre. After the Holocaust, he moved to Palestine. Israel Segal collaborated closely with Joshua Sobol for his famous play Ghetto, sharing his memories and experience.
Ilja Bereznickas (1948). The animator was born in Vilnius. One of the pioneers of this genre in Lithuania.
Adomas Jacovskis (1948). The artist was born in Vilnius. One of the most famous Lithuanian stage designers.
Andrew V. Schally (1926). The Vilnius-born endocrinologist is the winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine.
Aaron Klug (1926-2018). The biophysicist was born in Želva, he emigrated to South Africa with his parents at the age of four. He is the winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
Hermann Minkowski (1864-1909). The mathematician and physicist was born in Aleksotas (Kaunas). In Zurich, he taught mathematics to Albert Einstein. One of the authors of the theory of relativity.
Bernard Lown (1921). Born in Utena, the doctor emigrated to the US with his family at the age of 14. He is the original developer of the direct current defibrillator. He was a co-founder of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War federation. This medical organisation was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The prize was handed over to Bernard Lown and Yevgeniy Chazov.
Markas Petuchauskas (1931). The theatre critic and art historian was born in Šiauliai, where his father Samuelis Petuchauskas served as vice-mayor of the town for about 20 years. Markas Petuchauskas was a prisoner in the Vilna Ghetto.
Irena Veisaitė (1928). Kaunas-born theatre and literary critic, survivor of the Kovno Ghetto.
Leonidas Donskis (1962-2016). Lithuanian philosopher, public figure and a politician.
Max Weinreich (1894-1969). The linguist was born in Kuldyga. After his studies, he settled in Vilnius and became one of the co-founders of the YIVO Institute. The YIVO Institute created a Yiddish language standard used today.
Nachman Shapira (1894-1943). He headed the Department of Semitology at the University of Lithuania (now Vytautas Magnus University) and was a scholar of Hebrew literature. He published several books with translations of Jewish authors into Lithuanian with a view to bringing greater awareness of Jewish literature among Lithuanians.
Chackel Lemchen (1904-2001). The linguist and dictionary compiler was born in Papilė, studied the Lithuanian language under Jonas Jablonskis, compiled a large number of Russian dictionaries that have been used and appreciated to this day.
Vilna Gaon (1720-1797), his real name was Elijah ben Solomon Zalman. One of the most prominent authorities in traditional Judaism.
Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor (1817–1896). The most reputable rabbi of the Russian Empire in the 19th century. Occasionally referred to as the Kovno Gaon.
Nahman Rachmilewitz (1876-1941). A politician, diplomat and economist was born in Vilkaviškis, Grodno governorate. He moved to Vilnius, where he made a successful carrier in politics: he was a member of the Board of the City of Vilnius, a member of the Council of Lithuania, Vice-Minister for Commerce and Industry, a member of the Constituent Seimas, and Consul General of Lithuania in Tel Aviv.
Jakub Wygodzki (1856/1857-1941). Bobruisk-born medical doctor and politician, who later settled in Lithuania. Apart from his successful medical career, he was an active politician and held various offices in government: a member of the Council of Lithuania, a Minister without Portfolio for Jewish Affairs, and a member of the Vilnius Council. After the annexation of the Vilna region by Poles, he was elected to the Polish Sejm.
Shimshon Rosenboim (1859-1934). The politician was born in Pinsk, Minsk governorate. He was an important figure in inter-war Lithuania: he served as Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of the First Lithuanian Government, Minister without Portfolio for Jewish Affairs, was a member of the Lithuanian delegation to the Paris Peace Conference, and participated in negotiations on the Lithuanian-Soviet Russia peace treaty. Later he left for Palestine. He served as Honorary Consul and later as Consul General of Lithuania in Tel Aviv.
Max Soloveitshik (1883-1957). The politician was born in Kaunas. From 1919 to 1923, he served as Minister without Portfolio for Jewish Affairs. His signature is on the Constitution adopted by the Constituent Seimas in 1944.
Emma Goldman (1869-1940). Played an important role in developing the political philosophy of anarchism.
Tsemakh Shabad (1864-1935). Vilnius-born doctor and politician remained faithful to the city and its Jewish community for all his life. He was a member of many Jewish organisations in Vilnius. After the annexation of Vilnius by Poland, he was a member of the Polish Sejm.
Joe Slovo (1926–1995). Obeliai-born politician emigrated to South Africa with his parents at the age of eight. He studied with Nelson Mandela and was an active opponent of apartheid.
David Wolfson (1856-1914). The businessman was born in Darbėnai. Best known for being a Zionist politician and creator of the Israeli flag. It was Wolfson’s idea to name the taxes collected from the participants of Zionist congresses as shekels, which later gave the name to the Israeli currency.
Jacob Robinson (1889-1977). The lawyer and politician was born in Seirijai. He was a member of the Second and Third Seimas of Lithuania, a defender of Lithuania’s political and legal positions in the Klaipėda Region, and Antanas Smetona’s Extraordinary Ambassador for Special Foreign Affairs.
Isaac Anolik (1908-1943) – a cyclist, a member of Lithuania’s Olympic team (1924 and 1928). He is a three-fold winner of Lithuanian championships.
Senda Berenson Abbott (1868–1954). She was born in Butrimonys and later emigrated to the United States. A pioneer in women’s basketball and in women’s team sports (until then, team sports were considered too rough and that is why seen as men’s domain only).
Aharon Barak (1936-2006). Kaunas-born lawyer, survivor of the Kovno Ghetto, where he was prisoned with his parents. After the Holocaust, he moved to Palestine. He was a professor of law at numerous universities and a judge at the Supreme Court of Israel.
Abraham Juzefovitch. Sigismund the Old granted him the title of nobility and appointed treasurer of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Over nearly ten years, he completed a good number of reforms, which helped improve GDL’s finances. His brother Michel Juzefovitch was the head of the Brest customs office.
Hermann Kallenbach (1871-1945). The architect was born in Žemaičių Naumiestis. He developed a long-lasting friendship with Mahatma Gandhi, was his financial supporter and co-organiser of protest actions, one of which ended in their imprisonment together.
Liba Mednikienė (1875-1941). In the years from 1922 to 1923, she helped the Lithuanian army and the freedom fighters in the struggle for the recovery of Širvintos. She was awarded with the Order of the Cross of Vytis.
Tobias Bunimovich (1868-1938). Together with his father Israel Bunimovitz, Tobias Bunimovich opened up a chocolate factory Victoria in Vilnius. The factory burned down, however, and the entrepreneur established a bank instead. He was appointed Honorary Consul of Spain.
Julius Ludwig Wiener (1795-1862). Born in Danzig, he later settled in the then Memel (Klaipėda). Was a member of the city magistrate. After his death, he left 300 000 thalers (about half a million dollars) to the town.
Joseph Schereschewsky (1831-1906). He was born in Tauragė. While at a rabbinical school, he became interested in the New Testament, and soon he left the school and converted to Christianity. As part of his missionary activities, he went to China, where he became Anglican Bishop of Shanghai and a co-founder of Shanghai’s St. John University. He was better known in China as Joseph Shi.
Boris Efros (1914-2000). The first surgeon in Lithuania to perform heart surgery.
Anatoly Rosenblum (1902-1973). Bialystok-born civil engineer, who later moved to live in Kaunas with his family. His architectural achievement highlight is Kaunas Sports Hall.
David and Gedal Ilgovski. In the inter-war Kaunas it was half-jokingly said that Lithuania was controlled by Chodakauskaitė sisters and by Ilgovski brothers, who in fact were among the largest construction contractors.
Drawn up by:
Head of Museum of Culture and Identity of Lithuanian Jews exposition at VGSJM
More information available here.