Three years ago Jewish bagels reappeared in Vilnius. For three years the Bagel Shop Café has been providing a Litvak bagel which customers enjoy with lox, cheese and other spreads. Thank you to all our customers who have helped bring back culture back on our tables and into our hearts.
Photo: Rolan Novitsky
A special ceremony to honor WWII Japanese diplomat in Lithuania Chiune Sugihara (杉原 千畝 “Sempo”) was held in Jerusalem on Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27.
A memorial plaque to Righteous Gentile Sugihara was unveiled at the Chamber of the Holocaust or Martef haShoah on Mount Zion in Jerusalem.
Sugihara was Japan’s vice-consul in Kaunas, Lithuania, from March, 1939, to August, 1940, during which time he issued transit visas to Lithuanian and Polish Jews fleeing the approaching scourge of Nazi Germany, saving more than 6,000 lives. In 1985 the Yad Vashem Holocaust authority in Israel awarded him the title of Righteous among the Nations. A Russian Orthodox believer, Sugihara is also honored by that church and is a saint in the Japanese Orthodox Church. Sugihara passed away in 1986.
At the ceremony on Mount Zion the song Way of the Samurai by Natella Botyanskaya dedicated to Sugihara’s memory was performed to the audience of relatives of Jews who survived because of him, Japanese embassy staff and organizers including representatives of Limmud FSU, the Claims Conference and March of the Living.
By early Friday, January 18, the Protestant Evangelical Church in central Vilnius (during Soviet times the Kronika movie theater) had completed the removal of stone stairs leading up to the entrance which were in fact Jewish headstones placed there by Soviet authorities.
This represents a victory in the Lithuanian Jewish Community’s long-term efforts to insure respect for the dead and the Jewish legacy in Lithuania.
Since 2013 the LJC has been cooperating actively with the Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Department and the Vilnius Protestant Evangelical consistory (session, or governing council) to determine whether the stairs were in fact taken from Jewish cemeteries. It was determined Jewish headstones were used in the construction of the stairs, headstones taken from the old Jewish cemetery in the Užupis neighborhood of Vilnius. Since that determination, the LJC has been appealing constantly to the institutions involved for the stairs to be removed. A number of LJC members have been involved actively in making this happen, as have some Lithuanian public figures, including late professor and MEP Leonidas Donskis.
The Lithuanian musicians support fund and association Atgaiva held a concert at the Church of Sts. John January 7, 2019, and the audience filled the church.
Excellent and well-known musicians performed: the trio Musica Camerata Baltica with Leonidas Melnikas, Boris Traub and Valentinas Kaplūnas, and solo vocalist Judita Leitaitė.
The wonderful acoustics of the church, the high level of performers and the program of works selected for the concert all cast a spell upon the audience. The applause endured for a long period as the audience thanked the performers for this unique, enchanting and sublime classical music concert.
Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky sincerely thanks the concert organizers and performers.
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!
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.
Sister Cecylia Maria Roszak passed away at a convent in Cracow on November 16 at the age of 110, the archdiocese of Cracow reported. She was probably the oldest Catholic nun in the world at the time of her death. She was also a Righteous Gentile who harbored Jews in Nazi-occupied Vilnius, including writer and partisan leader Abba Kovner.
Maria Roszak was born March 25, 1908, in Kiełczewo and joined the Dominican order at the Gródek monastery (named after an old fortification and now neighborhood, adjacent to the Church of Our Lady of the Snows) in Cracow at the age of 21. In 1938 she and several fellow nuns were sent to Vilnius, then Wilno under Polish control, or more precisely to Naujoji Vilna outside the city, where the order had a wooden house and chapel on five hectares of land and intended to set up a monastery under Anna Borkowska, aka Mother Bertranda. World War II cut short these plans.
Vilnius came under Soviet occupation and then Nazi occupation. During the Nazi occupation Roszak and fellow nuns under Mother Bertranda hid 17 members of the Jewish resistance at their convent, including future ghetto underground leader, partisan and writer Abba Kovner.
The Kaunas Jewish Community celebrated the 30th anniversary of its restoration with the concert “From Mendelssohn to Latėnas” October 22. Members of the Kaunas Jewish Community, city society and cultural figures attended the elegant event reminiscent of Kaunas in the period between the two world wars.
Speaker of the Lithuanian parliament Viktoras Pranckietis greeted the audience and the Community.
The Lithuanian Jewish Community is proud of the achievements by the Kaunas Jewish Community and thanks chairman Gercas Žakas for his efforts in rallying and uniting the Jews of Lithuania’s provisional capital, for his sincere and ceaseless concern for the needs of members and Righteous Gentiles, for popularizing athletics and reviving Yiddish culture.
We are so proud of you and wish you many more such anniversaries! Mazl tov!
The Juozas Naujalis Music Gymnasium in Kaunas has unveiled a plaque commemorating Righteous Gentile, teacher and famous violinist Vladas Varčikas, and has also created his portrait based on the memories of colleagues and those he rescued.
The Juozas Naujalis Music Gymnasium and the Kaunas Jewish Community commemorated Varčikas at the gymnasium where he worked as a teacher of violin from 1946 to 2008.
Varčikas isn’t just well known to the musical community, he’s also venerated in the Jewish community, as stated in the inscription on the plaque by the sculptor Gediminas Pašvenskas placed on the wall of the Chamber Hall of the gymnasium. The white marble plaque says he is a violinist, pedagogue and Righteous Gentile.
Full story in Lithuanian here.
Jakob, Dora and Haim Frenkel ca. 1893, Šiauliai. From the collection of the Aušra Museum.
The Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community learned October 4 the Šiauliai city municipality had decided to rename Elnio street after a famous local Jewish family, the Frenkels.
Haim Frenkel was a Jewish industrialist in Šiauliai.
The Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community would like to thank the city council for adopting their proposal so quickly, and singles out Zina Žuklijienė, Gintaras Karalevičius and Domas Griškevičius for special mention, as well as MP Stasys Tumėnas and his team of advisors, the politician Vytautas Juškas, the Aušra Museum, Laiptai Gallery director Janina Ališauskienė, Šiauliai Tourist Information Center director Rūta Stankuvienė and others.
The Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community believes this is a lesson in civics which will help restore historical justice to some extent.
A class and consultation by cardiologist Virginija Ežerskienė was held for senior citizens of the Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community October 4. Our elderly learned about modern heart treatments and the doctor gave individual consultations and answered questions following the lecture.
Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community senior citizens said they find these sorts of lessons very useful. In line with the wishes of our seniors we will try to hold lectures with consultations by medical specialists once a month. The Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community is deeply grateful to Dr. Virginija Ežerskienė for her gift of expertise and advice to our senior citizens.
On September 23, the Day of Remembrance of Lithuanian Jewish Victims of Genocide, we will again walk the path of the condemned in Ponar. Everyone we lost has a name, each one of them is important, those whose lives were extinguished during the mass murder of the Jews. Seventy-five years having passed since the destruction of the Vilnius ghetto, which has become the symbol of the Holocaust in Lithuania, we have come to the conclusion that now everyone who can witness to the story of the Holocaust is just as important.
Even now, under democratic conditions, it still takes courage, wisdom, will and fundamental human understanding to witness to historical truth. We can only imagine and wonder at what set of values was held by those people who found in themselves the courage and resolution to rescue those condemned to death, Jewish men, women and the children who were completely helpless in the face of war.
We, the Jewish people, are marked by the agony of the Shoah, and are obligated by it as well: we would trample upon the memory of our forefathers if we forgave those who intentionally became the executors of Nazi policies who are now still often presented as Lithuanian heroes. But we have inherited the experience of the Holocaust, and the fundamental understanding of what a priceless gift life is. While we are not able to forget those who deprived us of this gift, we also will always remember those who, like second parents, granted it to us anew.
About 900 Lithuanians made the fateful decision during World War II to oppose officially sanctioned hate. Their only weapon was their conscience, whose decision to remain human led them, non-Jews, to become an eternal, spiritual part of our people. Our gratitude cannot be expressed in words, it cannot be measured, it is impossible to comprehend and immeasurable and it is as if it has become the light of God’s being in the corrupt grey of the ghetto or the daily life in a forest hideout. These are people thanks to whom we were reborn to new life, thanks to whom our energies were restored for the old faith.
These brave Lithuanians built eternal bridges between nations and generations, they became true goodwill ambassadors representing hope, humanity and faith. The time has come for Lithuania to remember the names of the nation’s heroes, their names and stories should be recorded in textbooks, their names should adorn streets and schools and statues should be erected in their honor.
Today, twenty-eight years after independence, celebrating the centennial of statehood, a commemorative marker to the Righteous Gentiles will adorn the courtyard of the Church of the Missionaries in Vilnius, reminding the state of its duty to remember its heroes. I bow my head to all the known and unknown people who rescued Jews, to all those here today and to all those whom time has taken. Thank you, all of you. You were there for us, the Jewish people, you are there and you will always will be.
Photos: Robertas Dačkus
Pope Francis has returned from Kaunas to Vilnius and prayed silently at a monument to victims of the Vilnius ghetto in the Lithuania capital’s Old Town.
According to representatives, the silent prayer meant it was impossible to say anything of significance in the face of the Shoah. The Pontiff stood before a small monument at the edge of Rūdininkų square in the former ghetto, knelt and prayed. Vatican watchers note the Pope always pays his respects to the Jewish communities in countries he visits.
The Vilnius ghetto was established originally in two parts in the Vilnius Old Town on September 6, 1941. The small ghetto was liquidated almost immediately.
Press Service of the Office of the President of the Republic of Lithuania
September 21, Vilnius–Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė decorated Lithuanian citizens who risked their lives and those of their families to save Jews during the Holocaust with the Order of the Life Saver’s Cross Friday.
This year is the 77th anniversary of the Holocaust and on September 23 it will have been exactly 75 years since the final destruction of the Vilnius ghetto. On the occasion of the Day of Remembrance of Lithuanian Jewish Victims of Genocide, 39 Jewish rescuers were recognized. Most of them are no longer among the living, so their descendants and other relatives attended the ceremony and received the awards.
The Lithuanian head of state said every time we remember the victims of the Holocaust we also remember those who rescued Jews, and that this is a great lesson in sacrifice and courage for humanity. She said those attending the ceremony were a living bridge between today and those times of brutality and extraordinary altruism.
Full text here.
Friday, 21 September, Vilnius–President Dalia Grybauskaitė awarded the Life Saving Cross to Lithuanian citizens who risked their lives and the lives of their families to rescue Jews from death and persecution during World War II.
This year marks the 77th anniversary of the Holocaust in Lithuania, and on September 23 we will commemorate the 75th anniversary of the destruction of the Vilnius Ghetto. State decorations were awarded to 39 rescuers of Jews on the occasion of the National Memorial Day for the Genocide of Lithuanian Jews. Most of them have already passed away, so the ceremony was attended by their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and other family members.
According to the president, each time that we honor the memory of the Holocaust victims, we remember their rescuers and the great lesson of humanity, sacrifice and courage. Those attending the ceremony are the living bond between the present and the past marked by both brutality and compassion.
The president underlined that we were proud of every Lithuanian who dared to stand up in the whirlwind of a brutal war and fight evil with the goodness of their heart. It was action over words: the decision to open the door and share life. And fate. They did not know how it would end, but they took the risk.
The president extended her gratitude to all the rescuers and called upon all to cherish the memory of the Righteous Among the Nations and the light they had left behind.
Press Service of the President
Full text here.
The Polish foreign minister is to open the exhibit “Żegota: The Council to Aid Jews” in the Lithuanian parliament’s Building III at 4:00 P.M. on September 13. The embassy of the Republic of Poland and the Polish Institute in Vilnius in cooperation with the Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Lithuanian parliament are to present the extraordinary exhibit about the Polish Council to Aid Jews as part of commemorations of the 75th anniversary of the destruction of the Vilnius ghetto and to celebrate the Year of Irena Senderlowa. The exhibit was made by Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance. It was first shown at the Ninth Fort in Kaunas earlier this year.
Those planning to attend the opening ceremony include Polish foreign minister Jacek Czaputowicz, Lithuanian MP Arūnas Gelūnas, LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, Polish ambassador to Lithuania Urszula Doroszewska and Polish Institute director and advisor to the ambassador Marcin Łapczyński.
Please report your intention to attend by sending an email to email@example.com
Valid identification is required for entry to the parliament building.
As the high holy days draw near, I am glad to be able to share with you important Lithuanian Jewish Community news. The Lithuanian Jewish Community faces many challenges every day, but this year we’ve grown, we’ve grown stronger and we are receiving ever more public and political support. Interest in Jewish culture is not fading, either, as shown by European Days of Jewish Culture events in Lithuania, a program which grows richer by the year. I greatly appreciate that 1,500 Litvaks abroad have officially joined the LJC from the Litvak Association in Israel chaired by Arie Ben-Ari Grozdensky. Jewish unity is the largest goal for the LJC which is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the national revival this year.
Thanks to the active work of the regional Jewish communities and Jewish organizations, Jewish values remain strong in Lithuania. A young generation of Jews is growing up and we need to pass on our history and our future to them. For a long time now we have been developing the idea of reviving the tradition of Litvak scouting and this year we finally managed to make it a reality working with French and Polish Jewish scouting organizations. Vilnius ghetto prisoner and Jewish partisan Fania Brancovskaja was part of Jewish scouting in Lithuania before the war and shared her experience in scouting at our recent camping event. Although the Jewish community in Lithuania isn’t large, we have proven we are able to continue the old traditions and to start new ones.
We met the Litvak prime minister of Israel, Binyamin Netanyahu, and his wife Sara at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius, celebrating its 115th anniversary this year. This was an historical occasion to remind Europe and the world the Jewish nation is an indivisible part of European culture, and Europe should be grateful to the State of Israel for so many European lives which have been saved thanks to the work of Israeli intelligence in stopping attacks. Two small democracies, Israel and Lithuania, find striking parallels in their histories. We will recall them this December in celebrating 100 years of the union of Lithuanian Zionist organizations, which also supported Lithuanian aspirations for statehood.
In September we mark a great tragedy which has come to be a symbol of the Holocaust in Lithuania. We mark the painful 75th anniversary of the destruction of the Vilnius ghetto. It’s very significant that we are dedicating ever more informal means to commemorate history, but there are still areas where more needs to be done in discussing the role the Lithuanian Activist Front and the Provisional Government of Lithuania played in the Holocaust, and more needs to be done in the state’s school curriculum as well.
We esteem highly as well the great work our partners–the joint Lithuanian-Israel archaeology group–have done in work on the Great Synagogue of Vilnius. The LJC is responsible for drafting a study on ways to commemorate the Great Synagogue. As the spiritual successors to the Vilna Gaon, we feel a great responsibility to insure the respect due this special Jewish sacred site and the appropriate presentation of what’s left of this heritage site to the public.
I want to thank sincerely all those who have been and are with the Lithuanian Jewish Community. Thank you for your energy and support. I wish you a sweet and happy 5779!