The Paliesius Manor house in the Ignalina district of Lithuania hosted a concert to mark International Holocaust Day on January 27 by maestro Gidon Krember and the Kremerata Baltica chamber orchestra. Many thanks to all those who made this possible, including Gidon Kremer, Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, the Paliesius Manor estate, professor Julius Ptašek, LJC board member Ela Gurina, Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymnasium principal Ruth Reches, LJC executive director Michailas Segal, Fayerlakh Jewish song and dance ensemble director Larisa Vyšniauskienė, LJC programs director Žana Skudovičienė, Švenčionys Jewish Community chairman Moshe Shapiro, Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman and everyone who attended.
Choral Synagogue cantor Shmuel Yaatom performed kaddish at the Ponar mass murder site outside Vilnius on International Holocaust Day last week.
Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman thanked the Israeli embassy and chargé d’affaires Erez Golan, Švenčionys Jewish Community chairman Moshe Shapiro, young people from the Sholem Aleichem school and all members of the community who turned out to pay their respects to the victims of the Holocaust at Ponar and who came to pay their respects to those who rescued Jews at the monument dedicated to their memory in Vilnius.
On Sunday bells rang out around the world and in Lithuania to remember the hostages who were kidnapped by Hamas on October 7 in Israel.
The date marked 100 days since that attack and 100 days of horror, darkness and unknowing for the hostages still being held.
We thank Evangelical Lutheran bishop Mindaugas Sabutis for his support in joining the campaign and ringing church bells to bring them home.
The Fayerlakh Jewish song and dance ensemble led by Larisa Vyšniauskienė held a benefit concert to raise funds for the Israeli victims of Hamas and decided to send 1729 euros they raised to the survivors of the Cohen family, Sandra and her two sons Liam and Dylan. A further 298 euros was donated into a special bank account set up for the surviving family members.
Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel director Arie Ben-Ari Grodzensky reported fifty members of that organization had raised a further 5650 euros for the Cohens and said he hoped the money would at least help the family in some way to overcome the consequences of the attack by Hamas on October 7.
Thank you to all who donated and those who haven’t heard the story yet can read about it at the link below and make a donation if they so desire:
Thank you to all the participants and attendees for making this year’s Darna Festival to celebrate the International Day of Tolerance a success.
Some snapshots from the festival:
When terrorist group Hamas attacked Israel on October 7 the world witnessed acts of incomprehensible brutality where women, children, the disabled and the elderly were taken hostage and murdered, taken hostage and used as human shields, and publicly tortured and executed.
We say with no reservations at all that Israel is a sovereign state. No one has the right to attack Israel, to invade Israel’s territory and to murder the people of Israel. There can be no justification nor mercy of any kind for the murderers.
Today, 50 years later, the words of beloved Israeli prime minister Golda Meir sound prophetic: we had a secret weapon in the war: there was no alternative. Again Israel is fighting for survival.
This brutal war is especially painful to the members of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, there is no Jewish family in Lithuania whose members haven’t been touched by these terrific events. Our close relatives are fighting on the front lines, healing the wounded, rescuing people buried in rubble, helping those who are stuck and who could die. We are extremely proud of them.
Our thoughts and hearts are with our parents, brothers, sisters, children, grandchildren and friends who remain in Israel. With every person fighting for our historical homeland. With everyone who is experiencing the horror and loss.
Unfortunately it isn’t just our relatives in Israel who have found themselves in danger, but also in Lithuania. In the country where we were born, grew up and work, the country which we love, whose citizens we are, anti-Semitism is spreading, not just on the social media and at protests, but from the podium at the Lithuanian parliament, and even children are being attacked: they are being threatened and hurt on purpose. Yesterday a Bolt taxi driver of dark complexion who didn’t speak Lithuanian asked a minor, a child, what his ethnicity was, and when he found out his passenger was Jewish, he refused to take him to school. This is certainly not the only and not the worst incident, but it’s very illustrative of the situation.
These kinds of incidents make our community feel unsafe, but we are concentrated and unified, we are unified both by our thousands of years of history, but also by the future.
We are inn close cooperation with the Lithuanian Police Department and other security structures. Ee are in continual contact with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Lithuanian embassy to Israel and international Jewish organizations. We are exchanging information and sharing data.
Despite the shock of it all, we are striving to help Lithuanian citizens stranded in Israel as well, and to help Israeli citizens in Lithuania to fly home. We are providing information, consulting, helping to provide solutions to the unexpected problems which have come up all at once.
We thank Lithuanian president Gitanas Nausėda, speaker of parliament Viktorija Čmilyte-Nielsen and prime minister Ingrida Šimonytė for the firm support for Israel and the Lithuanian Jewish Community they have expressed. We are very encouraged Lithuania has condemned unequivocally the actions of the terrorists and has stood for the right and just side.
We are extraordinarily grateful to the people of Lithuania as well who have sent us their messages of condolence and support and who are praying for our brothers and sisters taken hostage by the terrorists. At the same time we caution people should assess critically the information they receive and only share news from official Israeli institutions and agencies.
Am Yisral khai. The people of Israel live.
Faina Kukliansky, chairwoman
Lithuanian Jewish Community
Last week we bade farewell to outgoing US ambassador to Lithuania Robert Gilchrist. We thanked him for three and a half years of sincere friendship, genuine care, infectious energy and reliable partnership, as well as for his real interest in Litvak history and traditions, constant attention to culture and resolute support of the Lithuanian Jewish Community in all initiatives. We also saluted his lack of patience with all forms of anti-Semitism and discrimination. Immediately upon arrival, ambassador Gilchrist got involved with Holocaust commemoration and never passed up an invitation to attend a Holocaust event, even when COVID-19 was a threat. We thank him for his great contribution to sustaining the Jewish communities in Europe and for the attention he gave to regional Jewish communities as well. We wish him the best of luck and success in all his new postings and appointments. Until we meet again!
The Sugihara House museum in Kaunas has opened a special Jan Zartendijk room to celebrate the Dutch Righteous Gentile who worked hand-in-hand with Righteous Gentile Chiune Sugihara to rescue Jews from the impending Holocaust, according to the Russian-language obzor.lt webpage. Although the two men reportedly never spoke, they both issued visas for Jews. Japanese ambassador Sugihara issued visas for transiting through Japan, but Jews needed a visa for a final destination, which Dutch consul Zwartendijk furnished by stamping passports with a fictitious visa for the island of Curaçao in the Caribbean, which at that time didn’t require visas from travellers.
According to obzor.lt, museum staff had considered including a period typewriter in the exhibit, but Zwartendijk’s daughter told them he never used the device.
Full story in Russian here.
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.
In 2005 the Department of Righteous Gentiles of the Vilna Gaon Museum published their third edition of “Hands Bringing Life and Bread” in a combined Lithuanian- and English-language edition. According to the museum’s website it:
“contains stories of those who showed humanity during the darkest hours of history, the Righteous Gentiles. It is dedicated to Ona Simaitė in celebration of the 110th anniversary of her birth. This courageous woman is well known for her deeds during WWII, but is only one of 72 Rescuers of Jews in Lithuania presented in this volume.”
Compiled by Viktorija Sakaitė and edited by Dalija Epšteinaitė, 2005, 128 pp.; Lithuanian & English, ISBN 9986-34-144-2
This year Lithuania marks March 15 as the day of rescuers of Lithuanian Jews for the very first time. To celebrate this important date, the Lithuanian Jewish Community presents a special plaque to commemorate the rescuers. The plaque, with multiple layers of symbolism and meaning, will be placed on residences where the rescuers lived and hid Lithuanian Jews from the Nazis.
“This is our thanks to the brave people who didn’t falter in the face of danger and who were not just the rescuers of Jews, but, as Icchokas Meras wrote, were also the blossom of goodness of their nation and heroes of the spirit who resisted the murderers,” LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky commented. Her family was also saved from the Holocaust by brave Lithuanians with big hearts, rescuers who number among the 900 Yad Vashem recognizes as Righteous Gentiles in Lithuania.
Plaque designed by the JUDVI & AŠ creative group.
Project author: International Commission for Assessing the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupational Regimes in Lithuania.
Righteous Gentile Janina Vansovičiūtė-Grigaliūnienė has died. We extend our deepest condolences to her friends and family members.
Janina Vansovičiūtė-Grigaliūnienė, then Janina Vansovičiūtė, lived in an apartment in Kuršėnai which her parents had rented with Sofia Vashkevitch, who was using forged documents showing she was Janina’s sister. After the war both girls returned to the Vansovičius home in Raseiniai. Janina and her parents Jonas and Natalija were recognized as Righteous among the Nations by the Yad Vashem Holocaust authority in 2011.
The Lithuanian Jewish Community thanks Rabbi Nathan Alfred for three meaningful and fascinating days spent with our community.
We took some snapshots of the Kabalat Shabbat on Friday and the Shacharit prayer service last Saturday morning, below.
The first concert in the Kaunas Jewish Community’s Yiddish song project was called “The Jewish Nightingale from the Provisional Capital,” dedicated to the late Yiddish songstress Nehama Lifshitz’s 95th birthday, ended with the promise made by everyone to meet again five years from now to celebrate Nehama’s 100th birthday, perhaps with a two-part concert, perhaps even with an orchestra.
It’s not enough to say this was a wonderful concert, that would be an understatement. It was an extraordinary evening with so much love, inspiration, light, humanity and the victory of life, overcoming all the world’s misfortunes. The entire experience was good and those special emotions will remain with us for a long time. At least this morning the music heard yesterday evening is still echoing through mane hearts and minds.
We are so thankful for this concert, for this miracle created, to Svetlana Kundish for her thanksgiving and hymn to her teacher, and to the accomplished team of musicians including Patrick Farrell, Rasa Vaičiulytė, Dainis Buika and the young female soloist Ramunė Buikaitė.
The spirit of Nehama, fragile and gentle, firm and fearless singing of life, truly visited the Kaunas State Philharmonic concert hall last Monday evening.
We are thrilled to share some wonderful moments from our 11th Litvak Days. The Lithuanian embassy in the UK and ambassador Eitvydas Bajarūnas sincerely thank our incredible panelists Daiva Price, Vaidas Petrulis and Shira Levy Benyemini and our moderator Paulina Pukytė. Their discussion made us see Kaunas from a different perspective. They explored and shared Jewish life stories, architecture, and their legacy in the past and present of this modernist city, showing its uniqueness locally and internationally, notably comparing it to Tel Aviv.
A big thank you to “Apartment House” and their captivating musical performance. Another big thank you goes to the Jewish community centre JW3, their head of arts and culture Mekella Broomberg and their programing director William Galinsky for hosting this year’s event and creating an incredible atmosphere last night. We were delighted to welcome Faina Kukliansky, the head of the Lithuanian Jewish Community. She is a loyal supporter of Litvak Days and makes this annual gathering even more special.
We thank our cultural attaché in London, Ūla Tornau, and our partners the Jewish Music Institute, the Lithuanian Culture Institute and Kaunas 2022. Most importantly, we thank everyone who joined us online or in person and shared this special evening. Although the 11th Litvak Days in London 2022 are over, we are already excited to see you all next year with an event dedicated to Vilnius and its 700th birthday.
On August 5 the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Lithuanian parliament approved the idea of providing the Sugihara House in Kaunas 150,000 euros annually to keep the museum open.
This followed a plea by museum director Ramūnas Janulaitis, appointed in the wake of the death of the museum’s founder and director Simonas Dovidavičius in December of 2019, for help maintaining the museum after a steep reduction in tourist visits because of the virus panic and the Ukrainian war.
Ambassadors from Japan, Israel, the United States, the Netherlands, Germany and Poland to Lithuania responded to the plea with a joint letter to Lithuania’s minister for culture and minister for science, education and sports. In their letter they said Chiune Sugihara’s legacy was important for building democracy, tolerance and human values.
Local residents commemorated Righteous Gentiles Elena and Juozapas Markevičius at the cemetery in the town of Palėvenė September 23 with flowers and candles, after which a prayer was held at St. Dominykas’s church for priests who rescued Jews, including father Zenonas Karečkas who hid the Jewish girls Mira Burdė and Irma Degon who had fled the Vilnius ghetto in a local monastery, and the priest Antanas Juškas, who passed Feigė Kaganaitė off as the Catholic nun Teresė during the Holocaust. Prayers were also said for the Markevičius family who rescued nine Jews. Kupiškis regional administration mayor Dainius Bardauskas attended the Mass, following which local historian and museum specialist Aušra Jonušytė presented an exhibition of photographs called “Remembering the Rescuers of Jews from the Palėvenė Parish.” She said the local rescuers experienced repression and exile after the war under Stalin’s rule.
Aldona Ramanauskienė, the head of the local chapter of the Lithuanian Catholic Women’s Union, spoke about the Markevičius family. Litvak guide from Kaunas Chaim Bargman spoke about the priest Antanas Juškas. Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman also spoke about Righteous Gentiles. Vidmantas Markevičius thanked everyone for remembering his grandparents.
We wish a very happy milestone birthday to Semionas Finkelšteinas, modern founder and president of the Lithuanian Makabi Athletics Club and head of Lithuanian Makabi delegations abroad. We wish you great health, happiness and a continued sharp wit. Mazl tov. Bis 120!
We wish a very happy milestone birthday to our long-time member and WWII veteran Tatjana Archipova-Efros. Mazl tov. Bis 120!