First Day of Rescuers Celebrated at Lithuanian Jewish Community

First Day of Rescuers Celebrated at Lithuanian Jewish Community

In 2022 the Day of Rescuers of Lithuanian Jews was added to the list of official commemorative dates in Lithuania. The date March 15 was chosen as the day in 1966 when the Yad Vashem Holocaust authority in Israel first recognized a Lithuanian as a Righteous Gentile. As a new commemorative date, there is no set tradition on how to celebrate the holiday. The Lithuanian Government urged public commemoration of March 15 and included two events as possible venues: the opening of an exhibit about Righteous Gentiles at a museum in Vilnius, and a reading of the names of rescuers at Vilnius University, a tradition associated with the many victims of the Holocaust, many of whom remain unknown except for their names, rather that with the heroes of the Holocaust, most of whose biographies at least in Lithuania have been fully explored and documented.

The Lithuanian Jewish Community celebrated the first instance of Rescuers Day by recalling how the Jews of Lithuania actually live. As LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky has said repeatedly, if not for the Righteous Gentiles in Lithuania, no Litvaks would have survived in Lithuania.

Family members of rescuers, Holocaust survivors, Community members, students, politicians and foreign diplomats attended the Rescuers Day ceremony at the LJC on March 15, including the Conservative Party MP Paulė Kuzmickienė who initiated making March 15 Rescuers Day last year. Also attending were German ambassador to Lithuania Matthias Sonn, Israeli embassy first secretary Erez Golan, US deputy consol William Kendrick and former parliamentary speaker and Conservative Party leader Vytautas Landsbergis.

Survivors told their stories.

LJC chairwoman Kukliansky said the rescuers didn’t just demonstrate courage in opposing the mass murderers, they also preserved the dignity of their families and nation. She awarded the special Year of Litvak History and the Vilna Gaon medal at the ceremony to Danutė Selčinskaja, the former head of the Righteous Gentiles Department at the Vilna Gaon Jewish History Museum who has done and published extensive research on Lithuanian rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust.