Heritage

MEMORIAL TO JEWISH COMMUNITY UNVEILED IN LITHUANIAN TOWN  BY ILANIT CHERNICK

MEMORIAL TO JEWISH COMMUNITY UNVEILED IN LITHUANIAN TOWN BY ILANIT CHERNICK

“Jerusalem Post” Diaspora by Ilnit Chernic

A memorial commemorating the extinct Jewish community of Jurbarkas in western Lithuania was dedicated this weekend.
World-renowned Israeli designer and sculptor David Zundelovich said his Synagogue Square Memorial “is dedicated to [the] many generations of the Jewish people [who lived] in this town, and the tragic end of this community.
Jews settled in Jurbarkas during the 17th century. By 1790, the town was home to over 2,500 Jews and boasted a wooden shul and a cemetery, both believed to be among the oldest in the region.

By the late 19th and early 20th Century, the community was thriving with schools, synagogues and businesses, with Jews making up between 32% and 43% of the town’s population over the decades.

Jurbarkas’s Jewish community came to a tragic end, along with hundreds of years of Jewish history, when the Nazis invaded Lithuania in June 1941.

“Also, this monument is dedicated to those who saved Jews, and thus this memorial is tightly connected to the Litvak history as a whole,” he said in a statement. “It is the first memorial of its kind. I am happy that we have completed the memorial, with the help of so many good-willed people.”

Great Synagogue Complex in Vilnius Most Significant Synagogue Site in Europe

Great Synagogue Complex in Vilnius Most Significant Synagogue Site in Europe

Honored guests and media representatives viewed the unique finds from this summer’s dig at the Great Synagogue complex in Vilnius July 18.

Lithuanian Government vice-chancellor Deividas Matulionis spoke at the press conference, stressing the special significance of the Great Synagogue complex, or Shulhoyf.

Deputy Lithuanian foreign minister Darius Skusevičius welcomed guests and reminded journalists 2020 has been named the Year of the Vilna Gaon and Litvak History. He expressed hopes for appropriate decision-making to preserve the site damaged during the war and razed by the Soviets for posterity.

Lithuanian Jewish Community and Goodwill Foundation chairwoman Faina Kukliansky said: “Probably Vilnius Jews are the happiest about what has been discovered during excavation of this Vilnius Acropolis. Some of the inscriptions which have now been uncovered on the bima of the Great Synagogue are truly sensational and we must thank this entire group of archaeologists who have worked so conscientiously throughout the digging and have found such incredible things. We don’t have the financial resources to allocate additional funds for continuing the excavation, but everything which has been discovered so far are finds of global significance.”

Holocaust Archaeology: A Race against Time as Eye-Witnesses Pass Away

Holocaust Archaeology: A Race against Time as Eye-Witnesses Pass Away

by Geoff Vasil

What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.

The Lithuanian Jewish Community hosted a presentation of Dr. Richard Freund’s book “The Archeology of the Holocaust. Vilna, Rhodes and Escape Tunnels” Tuesday evening with slide-show presentations by Harry Jol, Philip Reeder, Paul Bauman and Alastair Clymont as well as Freund. This group of archaeologists has been working on the Great Synagogue site in Vilnius for several years now, as well as Holocaust sites in Lithuania including their discovery of the escape tunnel of the burners’ brigade at Ponar, which became the main topic of a documentary aired by the Nova program on the PBS network in the United States.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky greeted the audience and introduced the topic and speakers, thanking the archaeologists for their important work on Lithuanian Jewish heritage.

Marcus Micheli, deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Vilnius, spoke next. The US diplomat also called the archaeologists’ work crucial and said it had given rise to new conservations about the painful past.

Unique Finds as Work Ends for Summer at Great Synagogue Site in Vilnius

Unique Finds as Work Ends for Summer at Great Synagogue Site in Vilnius

Press release

As archaeological work concludes for the summer season of 2019, archaeologists are reporting a number of unique discoveries.

The press is invited to the unveiling of the discoveries at 11:00 A.M. on Thursday, July 18, features hitherto not found in historical sources and blue prints. This includes a basement chamber under the central bimah which likely collapsed before World War II when the synagogue was still in use. This probable collapse preserved gold-plated memorial plates with inscriptions in Hebrew characters. Also among the new discoveries is a silver coin from the late 18th century bearing the likeness of Catherine the Great. Lithuanian archaeologist Justinas Račas called the finds “of global significance, a unique discovery, and there have been no other basements discovered under bimahs in Lithuania.”

The Goodwill Foundation contributes financially to the archaeological research at the former Great Synagogue in Vilnius. Other project partners include the Lithuanian Jewish Community, the Israeli Antiquities Authority and the City of Vilnius.

Lithuanian Jewish Community and Goodwill Foundation chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, Israeli Antiquities Authority archaeologist Jon Seligman and Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Protection Department archaeologist Justinas Račas will reveal these historic discoveries to media representatives and officials at 11:00 A.M. on Thursday, July 18, at Vokiečių street no. 3a in Vilnius.

Lithuanian Jewish Community Greets New Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda

Lithuanian Jewish Community Greets New Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda

Your excellency, president Gitanas Nausėda,

The Lithuanian Jewish Community is gladdened by and confident in the decision of the Lithuanian people and congratulates you as the new president of the country. Our wishes to you are to overcome all obstacles in aspiring to make Lithuania known in the world and in working for the benefit of the people of Lithuania. We also wish inexhaustible strength to your family who support you in your difficult tasks of governance.

It is a great honor and privilege to become head of state in the run-up to marking the 300th birthday of the Vilna Gaon in 2020. The memory of the Vilna Gaon, the symbol of Litvak learning and identity, is not subject to time, crossing national borders and uniting entire generations, as an echo from the past of the grandeur of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Jerusalem of Lithuania. We hope the rationality, philosophical thinking and spiritual legacy of this man will inspire you as well and serve as a guidepost in your future decision-making.

This is the best opportunity to consolidate political will in solving the old problems of historical justice, Holocaust commemoration, restitution, conservation of the Jewish physical and cultural legacy and improvements in the institution of citizenship.

Lithuania is a small country with a gigantic history and the Jews of Lithuania are an inseparable part of the country for 700 years now. As we move into 2020 together, we invite you to undertake an important moral challenge: to provide a new opportunity and stimulus for this history to continue.

With deepest respect,

Faina Kukliansky, chairwoman
Lithuanian Jewish Community

Opening Ceremony for Synagogue Square Memorial in Jurbarkas

Opening Ceremony for Synagogue Square Memorial in Jurbarkas

The official opening ceremony for a new memorial commemorating the memory of the Jews of Jurbarkas, Lithuania, will be held at 12 noon on July 19 at Kauno street no. 64 in Jurbarkas. At 2:30 P,M. the choral group Aukuras from Klaipėda will perform at the Transfiguration of Christ Orthodox church. At 3:30 there will be a look back at the Synagogue Square Memorial Project at the Grybas Museum at Vydūno street no. 31, and at 4:30 there will be a meeting and discussion with the authors and creators of the memorial at the Jurbarkas Regional Public Library at Vilniaus street no. 4.

Teaching the History of Ethnic Communities Is a Problem

Teaching the History of Ethnic Communities Is a Problem

Dr. Akvilė Naudžiūnienė. Photo: Evgenia Levin/Bernardinai.lt

by Rosita Garškaitė
Bernardinai.lt

Historian Akvilė Naudžiūnienė who defended her dissertation “Ethnic Minorities in the Educational Narrative of Lithuanian History, 1918-2018” at Vilnius University last month says: “There is an attempt to integrate ethnic minorities in the teaching of history, but there is avoidance when they don’t fit the image of Lithuanian history being created.”

She interviewed teachers and found they tend to consider ethnic minorities a problem and a problematic issue, not a simple fact of life. This is especially true when it comes to the Polish and Russian communities. On the other hand, there are no problems regarding the Karaïtes and Tartars because they are exotic and teachers are able to talk about their ethnic foods. Jews are seen as a problem in the context of the Holocaust but become very interesting in discussions of cultural legacy and cooking.

How does the understanding of the ethnic minorities as a problem express itself?

Some teachers come out and say it is a problem and say it is difficult to teach the Holocaust and in Vilnius schools it’s hard to discuss Polish and Lithuanian relations in the interwar period. Teachers say disputes still arise between Lithuanian and Polish students. Of course this isn’t easy for teachers. Teachers also reported a negative reaction from students when they begin to talk about Russians in Lithuania. So the discussion is avoided, teachers close up and don’t want to do anything about it. This supports the idea there is an attempt to integrate ethnic minorities in the teaching of history when they are not perceived as problems and that there is avoidance of the topic when they are not in keeping with the vision of Lithuanian history being created.

You conducted 14 interviews with teachers. What else of significance emerged?

I observed efforts by separate teachers to, as it were, redeem the guilt of the Lithuanian people regarding the Holocaust. It was constantly noted in the interviews that there truly is discussion of Jews during lessons and the need to talk about the Holocaust. When this topic came up, the tone and even the manner of speech of the teachers changed. It seems to be this attitude is a learned response. I often felt some teachers were just saying what they thought they were supposed to say. The myth of multiculturalism is current in the schools, but almost none of the teachers were able to say how to apply this educational approach. The teachers didn’t get engaged is such things “from the top.” Although they frequently renew and enhance their own knowledge, it didn’t appear as if their understanding of how to teach has changed.

Full interview in Lithuanian here.

Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community: Ona Šimaitė Commemoration in Akmenė

Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community: Ona Šimaitė Commemoration in Akmenė

A day-long commemoration of Righteous Gentile Ona Šimaitė lasting into the evening will be held in Akmenė, Lithuania, July 22. “Šimaitė Invites You to Speak” is a project dedicated to honoring the local Jewish community and Ona Šimaitė and Righteous Gentiles in general. It was initiated by the Marijus and Diana Lopaitis family with the Akmenė regional public library and with support from the Akmenė town community, the Lithuanian Cultural Council, the Jakovas Bunka support fund, the Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community and the Akmenė regional administration to be held on the birthday of the town of Akmenė.

Events will take place at the Akmenė Regional History Museum at Kasakausko street no. 17 and the Akmenė House of Culture at Sodo street no. 1 in Akmenė.

Program:

11:00 Conference “Šimaitė Invites You to Speak” (Akmenė Regional History Museum)

part 1: The history and fate of the Akmenė regional Jewish community
part 2: Ona Šimaitė: The Story of a Righteous Gentile
part 3: Official openings of exhibits including of manuscripts by Šimaitė, a photo exhibit called “Kaddish for the Wooden Synagogues of Lithuania” and carvings and the exhibit “The Litvak Literary Legacy” by the Akmenė regional public library.

Locating the Lost Shtetl of Rumšiškės: Targum Shlishi Supports Team from University of Hartford

Locating the Lost Shtetl of Rumšiškės: Targum Shlishi Supports Team from University of Hartford

(Miami, July 7, 2019)—This summer a team from the University of Hartford is working to locate the lost shtetl of Rumšiškės (Rumsheshok) in Lithuania, which is now located under Lake Kaunas. Home to approximately fifty Jewish families who were massacred in 1941, the village was abandoned and the Soviets later created a dam, resulting in the village’s remains now being under water. Filming throughout the process will document the work, which will result in a documentary film, museum exhibitions, and presentations in Lithuania and the U.S. Targum Shlishi’s grant is helping to support the five-person student team, which is led by archaeologist Richard A. Freund, a professor at the University of Hartford who has headed the university’s Vilna Excavation Projects for the past four years.

Project Background and Scope

“This is a unique program for students to work on. The students will document our summer excavations and create a documentary film that will show our underwater search for the lost village of Rumshishok,” Freund explains. “We will be working with high-tech, robotically-operated vehicles and professional divers to find the village and we will work with our ground penetrating radar equipment to identify the location of the mass grave of the Jews of Rumshishok which will ensure that no future development can take place at that site.”

More Events to Mark 75th Anniversary of the Destruction of the Kaunas Ghetto

More Events to Mark 75th Anniversary of the Destruction of the Kaunas Ghetto

July 11

6:00 P.M. Screening and discussion of the film Gitel directed by Robert Mullan, 2016, at the Vincas Kudirka Public Library, A. Mapu street no. 18, Kaunas.

7:00 P.M. Thematic tour “Holocaust in Lithuania” at the Ninth Fort Museum, Žemaičių highway no. 73, Kaunas.

8:00 P.M. Screening and discussion of the film “Devil’s Arithmetic” directed by Donna Deitch, 1999, at the Ninth Fort Museum, Žemaičių highway no. 73, Kaunas.

July 12

5:00 P.M. Free guided tour called “Voices of Hope” starting at the Kaunas Municipal Museum, Petrausko street no. 31, Kaunas. Registration required, call (8 37) 731 184 or email mkp.kasa@kaunomuziejus.lt

Grigory Kanovich: I Tried to Create a Written Monument to the Lithuanian Jews

He is the last Lithuanian Jewish author with first-hand experience of the shtetls, the small Jewish towns which vanished from the face of the earth in 1941.

”I have tried to create a written monument to the Lithuanian Jews”, says Grigory Kanovich in an interview with Baltic Worlds.

Kanovich turns 90 this summer. At 85 he stopped writing when he published his last book, Shtetl Love Song. The book Devilspel, from which an extract is published in this issue of Baltic Worlds, was written back in 2002 but not translated into English until now.

Kanovich has lived in Israel since 1993, and his son Sergey has helped in translating our questions into Russian and then translating the answers into English. First his father only answered three of the questions, and he was too tired to continue, but the following day came the rest of the answers.

Full text here.

Archaeological Dig Resumes at Great Synagogue Site in Vilnius

Archaeological Dig Resumes at Great Synagogue Site in Vilnius

The summer archaeological dig at the site of the former Great Synagogue in Vilnius is set to resume this year starting July 1 and running to July 19. The team includes archaeologists from Lithuania, the USA and Israel. The continuing exploration of the site is being supported by the Goodwill Foundation in partnership with the Israeli Antiquities Authority and the Lithuanian Jewish Community.

In 2011 the team discovered the exact boundaries and fragments of the former building. In 2016, 2017 and 2018 they explored the former mikvot, or bathhouses used for ritual purification and located the central bimah of the synagogue.

This year they hope to continue exploring the remains of the building and to locate the aron kodesh, the ark used to house the Torah scroll in synagogues. Within the first three days of digging the team had already uncovered the rear entrance to the main hall of the subterranean synagogue, a set of descending steps located near the mikvot.

Events to Mark 75th Anniversary of Destruction of Kaunas Ghetto

Events to Mark 75th Anniversary of Destruction of Kaunas Ghetto

Events have begun in Kaunas to mark the 75th anniversary of the liquidation of the ghetto there. On June 15 the Kaunas Drama Theater staged Getas [Ghetto] directed by G. Varnas and on June 29 the Kaunas City Museum invited the public to a free guided tour called Voice of Hope where museum specialist Aušra Strazdaitė-Ziberkienė told of the Jewish musicians who worked at the Kaunas State Drama Theater and the music school, the conservatory and other venues, and their contribution to establishing and enriching Lithuanian music and popularizing Lithuanian composers. She also spoke about the tragic mass murder of the Jews in the Holocaust. The tour was followed by a screening of Seserys [Sisters] by L. Kopač and D. Selčinskaja telling the story of the rescue of Danutė Pomerancaitė, the accomplished violinist.

Those who missed the event can attend repeat performances at 5:00 P.M. on July 12 and 12 noon on July 13. Please register either by calling (8 37) 731 184 or by sending an email to mkp.kasa@kaunomuziejus.lt

More information about the tour is available in Lithuanian here.

Righteous Gentile Commemoration Architect: They Were Better People

Righteous Gentile Commemoration Architect: They Were Better People

Bernardinai.lt

by Augminas Petronis and Gediminas Šulcas

“At first it was very frightening to carve another person’s headstone. Yes, I have hands, I have carved this and that, but to carve on someone’s headstone… I sat with the sculptors for a month, and they told me: ‘It will be ten times easier than you imagine.’ But I was getting ready for it as if for a flight into space, and I hung the first commemorative sign for my uncle, just in case I ruined something…” said Tauras Budzys, the Vilnius architect who thought up and implemented a project to hang commemorative symbols on the headstones of rescuers of Jews.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Lithuania Faces Challenges Celebrating 2020 as Year of Vilna Gaon and Litvak History

Lithuania Faces Challenges Celebrating 2020 as Year of Vilna Gaon and Litvak History

Several months of silence have ensued since the publication of a shocking “explanation” with the features of gross Holocaust denial issued by a Lithuanian state institution, the Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of Residents of Lithuania, published with no author attributed.

The “explanation” from this Lithuanian national historical research institution claims “the inhabitants of occupied Lithuania did not understand ghettos as part of the Holocaust” in attempting to vindicate Jonas Noreika’s culpability in establishing the Šiauliai (Shavel) ghetto, isolating Jews and seizing their property.

The Lithuanian Jewish Community not only believes these statements violate article 170-2 of the Lithuanian criminal code, but also desensitize the public to the Holocaust, and possibly intentionally and calculatedly encourage conflict in society and belittle and debase the memory of brave Lithuanians who rescued Jews from the Holocaust.

Just after marking the anniversary of the horrific Lietūkiis garage massacre and as we mark the 75th anniversaries of the destruction of the Kaunas and Šiauliai ghettos in coming days, we feel it is important to recall the roots and origins of the Holocaust in Lithuania.

European Commission Considers Security of European Jewish Communities

European Commission Considers Security of European Jewish Communities

A meeting convened by the European Commission to discuss challenges facing Jewish communities in Europe was held on June 20 in Brussels.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky spoke at the meeting, thanking Lithuanian law enforcement institutions for long and productive cooperation, but stressed Lithuania is one of only a few European countries without a systematic policy for safeguarding Jewish sites and institutions.

The LJC has adopted all security measures meeting European standards by itself and with help from the Security and Crisis Center under the European Jewish Congress.

The True State of the Jewish Cemeteries in Vilnius

The True State of the Jewish Cemeteries in Vilnius

The True State of the Jewish Cemeteries in Vilnius. Part of a Proud Past Which Must Be Protected

In the international sphere there has been no respite regarding preservation of the old Jewish cemetery in Vilnius (in the historical neighborhood of Piromont, now known as Šnipiškės): petitions are being circulated, the issue has even been raised in the United States Senate and there is the attempt being made to put a halt to plans to renovate the Palace of Sports building there. But are these disputes over the now-destroyed cemetery sufficiently well-founded?

The Soviet Era Destroyed the Šnipiškės Jewish Cemetery and Buried Its Memory

It’s important to look at the history of the Šnipiškės cemetery. The old Jewish cemetery in Vilnius established in 1592 or 1593 (although other sources say 1487) was for all intents and purposes closed in 1830, after which part of the cemetery was destroyed, with another part surviving to the end of World War II.

The Executive Committee of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic adopted a resolution on October 15, 1948, to close the old Jewish cemetery. At that time it had an area of just over three hectares, a quarter of the size of the Užupis Jewish cemetery on Olandų street in Vilnius.

Remember Those Who Rescued Children from Druskininkai Summer Camp in 1941

Remember Those Who Rescued Children from Druskininkai Summer Camp in 1941

When World War II came to Lithuania, the children were on summer vacation, many at Communist Youth and pioneer summer camps in Palanga, Kačerginė and Druskininkai. Stasys Sviderskis (1920-2011) was assigned leader of the youn pioneer camp in Druskininkai, where of the 150 or so children, 70 were Jewish.

Stasys was recognized a Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem in 1997 and Lithuanian president Algirdas Brazauskas awarded him the Life-saver’s Cross. His elder brother Alfonsas saved Jews from the Kaunas ghetto and was named a Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem in 1980.

When the war arrived on June 22, 1941, Stasys Sviderskis didn’t wait for instructions and collected all the children in his care to send them east away from hostilities. On the first day of war he managed to put the children on a train to Vilnius which continued a long journey to cities in the east in the Soviet Union. Despite the many dangers which confronted him, Sviderskis evacuated all of his wards out of Nazi-controlled territory and so all the Jewish children were saved. He was named a Righteous Gentile on October 6, 1997, with Yad Vashem also publishing a list of the children he rescued.

Yale University President Peter Salovey Visits Lithuanian Jewish Community

Yale University President Peter Salovey Visits Lithuanian Jewish Community

Yale University president Peter Salovey visited the Lithuanian Jewish Community on the last day of his visit to Lithuania on June 21.

Salovey, a descendant of the famous Soloveitchik family of rabbis who were followers of the Vilna Gaon, maintains close connection with his Litvak roots in Kaunas and Volozhin. One of his relatives was Max Soloveitchik, a Zionist who was a member of the first interwar Lithuanian parliament, an attorney and who actively fought for recognition of Lithuania’s independence at the Paris Peace Conference. He later became Lithuanian minister of Jewish affairs.

Peter Solovey is known for his theory of emotional intelligence. With John D. Mayer, he significantly expanded the scope of the concept and authored several of the field’s seminal papers, arguing people have widely ranging abilities pertaining to emotional control, reasoning, and perceptivity. In contrast to earlier theories of intelligence which held emotions in rivalry to reason, Salovey and Mayer claimed emotion could motivate productive outcomes when properly directed. He worked to develop models and tests of emotional intelligence such as the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test. Salovey’s second area of research is in health psychology, where he applied social psychology principles to investigate the efficacy of information and education in promoting HIV risk reduction, early cancer detection and quitting smoking

Vilnius YIVO Headquarters Commemorative Plaque Ceremony Held

Vilnius YIVO Headquarters Commemorative Plaque Ceremony Held

The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry and the Lithuanian Jewish Community invited guests and the public to a ceremony to unveil a plaque near the site of the former Vilnius headquarters of YIVO on Vivulskio street in Vilnius June 20. Those attending included deputy to the LJC chairwoman professor Leonidas Melnikas, the heads of YIVO, Lithuanian foreign minister Linas Linkevičius, Lithuanian culture minister Dr. Mindaugas Kvietkauskas, Jewish partisan Fania Brancovskaja and the mayor of Vilnius.

YIVO began in Vilnius in 1925 and was originally housed in the apartment of its founder and prime mover Max Weinreich on Basanavičiaus street (aka Pogulanskaya, Pogulnaka and Wielka Pohulanka street) in Vilnius. Dedicated to research on the language, literature, culture and history of Jews in Eastern Europe, the institute collected a large mass of documents and archive material from local Jewish communities before the Holocaust.

Architect and designer Victoria Sideraitė-Alon designed the new YIVO plaque.

Although much of YIVO’s material was lost during the war, some made its way to the provisional war-time headquarters in New York, which became world headquarters following the war.