Heritage

No, Mr. Kasčiūnas, Jews Did Not Create the Corona Virus

No, Mr. Kasčiūnas, Jews Did Not Create the Corona Virus

by Arkadijus Vinokuras

I’m having a dark laugh, Homeland Union/Lithuanian Christian Democrats member of parliament Laurynas Kasčiūnas did not, thank God, accuse Jews for the corona virus. But he did accuse the Lithuanian Jewish Community of financially supporting “that liar” Rūta Vanagaitė’s book “How Did It Happen.”

You might ask what my fake headline has in common with MP Kasčiūnas’s accusation against the LJC. Well both ideas are false and allow for manipulating the truth.

See, the main figure in the book isn’t Rūta Vanagaitė, but Dr. Christoph Dieckmann, one of the best known European historians and an expert on the Holocaust in Lithuania. Or is it this fact which frightens Kasčiūnas? It’s one thing to criticize a “dilettante of history” (as Rūta Vanagaitė’s critics claim) and quite another to criticize a member of the International Commission for Assessing the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania, convened and supported by the president of Lithuania.

Plan for Commemorating Vilnius Great Synagogue Becomes Clearer

Plan for Commemorating Vilnius Great Synagogue Becomes Clearer


by Roberta Tracevičiūtė for 15min.lt

The Vilnius city municipality reports agreement has been reached wit the Lithuanian Jewish Community on how best to commemorate the site of the former Great Synagogue in Vilnius’s historical Jewish quarter.

The plan according to the city is to set up a memorial square or park with an open-air exhibition and no permanent construction of any kind. According to the city, the undeveloped other side of Jewish Street will host a playground and athletics field [which it does now--LZB].

Discussion on how to commemorate the site has gone on for years. Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius said earlier the synagogue site will be commemorated in 2023 when Vilnius celebrates its 700th birthday.

Roman Abramovich to Plant 25,000 Trees in Israel in Memory of Litvaks

Roman Abramovich to Plant 25,000 Trees in Israel in Memory of Litvaks

The Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael) held a ceremony to set aside a memorial site and begin planting a forest in memory of the Lithuanian Jewish community, the Russian-language website www.vesty.co.il reported on March 11. The plan is to plant 25,000 trees as part of a KKL environmental protection project for afforestation in southern Israel. Famous Russian-Israeli businessman and philanthropist Roman Abramovich is providing major financing for the project.

Abramovich’s great-grandparents were Litvaks from the Kovna guberniya in the Russian Empire. In spring of 1941–a year after Lithuania was made part of the Soviet Union–the affluent Abramovich family was exiled to Siberia.

Roman’s grandfather was born in Eržvilkas and his grandmother Toiba Berkover was born in Jurbarkas. His grandfather Nakhman died in a camp in Krasnoyarsk in 1942 and his grandmother raised their three sons on her own, Aaron Arkady being Roman’s father.

Lithuanian Government Lists Famous Litvaks

Lithuanian Government Lists Famous Litvaks

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.

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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.

Writers

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.

Happy Holidays, Žydelkos

Happy Holidays, Žydelkos

by Sergejus Kanovičius

Once, long ago, I attended a Lithuanian school. Back then there were two Jews, or more accurately, a Jewish boy and a Jewish girl. The boy was in the grade next to her. Dark-skinned speaking without an accent, the Jewish boy always got into fights when others reminded him he was different. Different and therefore not as good. No one tried to break it up. There were always observers. Later they called themselves pals because they didn’t get into fights with him. They didn’t defend him, but they didn’t beat him, either. It’s much safer to stand to the side and keep quiet. That’s been proven historically. The Jewish girl didn’t get into fist fights. She was shy and had curly hair. Whenever someone called her žydelka [Jew-girl], which is now for some reason considered an endearing diminutive term, she used to walk away, sometimes wiping a tear. When I used to hear these “terms of endearment,” unlike the majority of the žydelkos, I had to get into a fight again.

There have always been more apologists for epithets such as žydelka, žydo išpera [Jew-spawn] and others and they have always been stronger. But my family taught me one thing: never to retreat from abuse, to oppose it. I would be lying if I said I had ever been the victor in some fist fight. The combatants were always greater in number and I lost. No matter what, though, they got theirs. Of the many wonderful teachers there were only a few who didn’t give out beatings, they found a pseudo-intellectual way of telling the whole class that this one is different and therefore is worthy of less respect. This kind of intellectual pedagogical encouragement to hate. Like the mark for dictation, when because of one comma the dark kid used to get four [out of ten] with a minus. Just because. So I wouldn’t forget I was different.

Many years later as Lithuania counts her fourth decade of independence, no one dare beat me. Fists have become unpopular. They beat through words. Sometimes rather beautiful ones. The world is free. But it is painful the Lithuanian National Defense Ministry’s magazine Karys [Soldier] has published the lie of a pseudo-historian about the local leader of anti-Semitic ideology (who knows whether another NATO member who sometimes guards our airspace, if the French Defense Ministry would try to tell their soldiers what a great diplomat and patriot Pétain was). Or insistently try to prove “Jew-girl” is a term of endearment (happy International Women’s Day, žydelkos!). Frida Vismant of Šeduva recalls that’s what they called her on the streets in 1940. “You just wait, žydelka padalka, Hitler will come and we’ll show you!” (Out of endearment, I guess, they told her she was a žydelka in the Šiauliai ghetto after they took her firstborn Rachmielis and beat him to death along with 600 child žydelkos).

Eugenijus Bunka Named Tolerant Person of the Year

Eugenijus Bunka Named Tolerant Person of the Year

Eugenijus Bunka was named Tolerant Person of the Year February 2 in Kaunas. Bunka is the creator of the Litvak Memorial Garden, a regional historian, writer and journalist. At the awards ceremony he said he was carrying on the work of his father, Jakovas Bunka. The Bunka welfare and support fund finances children’s camps, meetings at schools and other events.

The award comes from the Sugihara Foundation/Diplomats for Life, which has been giving the award since 2001. They said Bunka received the distinction for his many years directing the Jakovas Bunka fund and carrying out civic and educational initiatives, commemorating the Jews of Plungė, Žemaitija and Lithuania both in his own region and around the world.

The foundation said Bunka in 2019 undertook active educational work, refuting the wartime and postwar stereotype of Jews as Communists specifically in the administration in Plungė using arguments and facts. They also noted his research into Louis Armstrong’s Litvak foster parents in America, Leiba and Tilė Karnovskiai from Vilkija, Lithuania.

Donskis Prize Winner Linas Vildžiūnas’s Acceptance Speech

Donskis Prize Winner Linas Vildžiūnas’s Acceptance Speech

LRT.lt

The Leonidas Donskis prize was awarded this year to Linas Vildžiūnas, the director of the “7 meno dienos” [Seven Days of Art] weekly newspaper, by the board of directors of the Sugihara Foundation/Diplomats for Life and Jolanta Donskienė.

On February 2 the Sugihara Foundation/Diplomats for Life announced their annual award for Tolerant Person of the Year at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas. This year that person was Eugenijus Bunka. They also awarded the Donskis prize to Linas Vildžiūnas. Leonidas Donskis was a philosopher, professor, the author of numerous books, a television personality, an advisor to the Lithuanian president and an important voice in the modern Republic of Lithuania.

Vildžiūnas was awarded the distinction “for his meaningful presence on the cultural scene which was unaffected by regime changes and fashion, and for his continuous reminder culture is a fundamental value whose quality is enriched by supporting dialogue and discussion. [And] for his long-time battle against forgetfulness, reminding us that only the maintenance of memory, however uncomfortable it might be, strengthens dialogue and empathy, that the memories of our grandparents and great-grandparents is of value for the younger generation rather than a fading memory. [And] for his belief and the example he set, showing that a strong civic attitude is able to withstand tendentious attacks, manipulations and efforts to ‘nationalize’ it.”

This is the speech Linas Vildžiūnas gave on acceptance of the Donskis prize:

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Dear Mrs. Jolanta Donskienė, honored members of the board of directors of the Sugihara Foundation/Diplomats for Life, ladies and gentlemen,

In accepting from your hands this honorable award in recognition of my humble efforts, I am deeply moved and at the same time disturbed. The Leonidas Donskis prize set a very high standard, bearing in mind his irreplaceable role in our public life and academic discourse and his novel insights which have added to our lexicon of philosophy and sociology (take just for example his and Zygmunt Bauman’s idea of “liquid evil” in the final book coauthored by both thinkers). We all feel that void which appeared in public life on the loss of Leonidas Donskis, who was the most remarkable and sometimes the only voice of our intellectual elite.

Jewish Quarter of Vilnius: From Grand Duke’s Privilege to Soviet Demolition

Jewish Quarter of Vilnius: From Grand Duke’s Privilege to Soviet Demolition

Photo: Antokolskio street, 1940/Mečys Brazaitis

The spacious square by Žydų (Jewish) Street in central Vilnius now contains little else than a children’s playground, parking lots and a derelict kindergarten, but it was densely packed with houses before World War Two. Most of the houses were occupied by Jews and the area was the center of the city’s Jewish quarter.

Lithuania has dedicated the year 2020 to the Vilna Gaon and the History of the Jews of Lithuania. LRT English together with Vilnius University and Jewish Heritage Lithuania bring you a series of stories exploring Litvak history.

The official beginnings of the Jewish quarter of Vilnius date back to the 17th century when king of Poland and grand duke of Lithuania Wladyslaw Vasa granted a privilege [charter] to the Jews to reside in this quarter. Jewish Street had this name even before that, so it is likely Jewish residents already lived there.

Full story here.

Israeli Litvaks Protest Lithuanian MP Gumuliauskas in Tel Aviv

Israeli Litvaks Protest Lithuanian MP Gumuliauskas in Tel Aviv

Photos: Dr. Andrejus Aron from Vilnius, resident in Israel

Litvaks held a protest January 24 at the Lithuanian embassy to Israel in Ramat Gan, a neighborhood of Tel Aviv.

The Association of Lithuanian Jews Living in Israel under the leadership of former Vilnius resident Arie Ben-Ari Grodzenskis sponsored the protest, which was mainly attended by elderly Litvaks, most of whom were born after the war, their grandparents having been murdered in Lithuania in the Holocaust.

Despite cold weather and rain, they gathered to remember the 220,000 Jews who lived in Lithuania before the Holocaust and built the Jerusalem of Lithuania.

The picket was aimed specifically against Lithuanian MP Arūnas Gumuliauskas, the chairman of the Lithuanian parliament’s Battles for Freedom and State Historical Memory Commission who announced in mid-December he was drafting a parliamentary resolution proclaiming the Lithuanian state and nation innocent of participating in the Holocaust, because the state and the people were under occupation, first by the Soviets and then by the Nazis.

One of the signs at the protest read: “Gumuliauskas: no law can wash away Jewish blood.”

The Vilna Gaon: The Central Figure Who Made Vilnius the Jerusalem of the North

The Vilna Gaon: The Central Figure Who Made Vilnius the Jerusalem of the North

by Mindaugas Klusas, LRT.lt

The Vilna Gaon, the 18th-century sage from the Jerusalem of the North, has left behind a significant legacy of Jewish scholarship as well as many legends about his erudition and idiosyncratic devotion to the study of religious texts.

Lithuania designated 2020 the Year of the History of Jews of Lithuania, and 2020 is also the 300th anniversary of the Vilna Gaon. Lara Lempertienė, an historian and the head of the Judaica Department at the Lithuanian National Library, spoke with LRT.lt about the 18th-century sage from Vilnius.

While other nations are proud of battles and glorious buildings, Jewish history is about writing and books, Lempertienė quoted a modern rabbi. The Vilna Gaon and his town Vilnius, often dubbed the Jerusalem of the North, played a crucial role in this history.

Full text here.

Reconstruction of Sports Palace Agreed, First Event Scheduled in 2023

Reconstruction of Sports Palace Agreed, First Event Scheduled in 2023

Press release, lrytas.lt

Representatives and technical coordinators from Lithuania’s Turto Bankas, which administers and maintains real estate belonging to the state, the Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe have arrived at joint solutions for renovating Vilnius’s Palace of Sports as a conference and cultural venue and preserving the territory of the old Šnipiškės Jewish cemetery which surrounds the building.

The reached basic agreement on solutions for reconstruction and maintaining the cemetery territory.

The decisions made regarding the technical project are based on a protocol signed by Lithuanian Government and the Lithuanian Jewish Community in 2009 on heritage protection for the site and a buffer zone and on reconstructing the former sports arena for conferences and other cultural events. The Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe approved the protocol in 2016.

Lithuanian Parliament Hosts Photo Exhibit “Brave Jews in the Battle for Lithuanian Freedom”

Lithuanian Parliament Hosts Photo Exhibit “Brave Jews in the Battle for Lithuanian Freedom”

The Lithuanian parliament is hosting a photo exhibit called “Brave Jews of the Battle for Lithuanian Freedom” in its exihibt space from January 2 to 15. The photo exhibit chronicles Lithuanian Jewish veterans who fought for Lithuanian independence in the run-up to the first republic in 1919, including a large number of officers, recipients of military awards and those who laid down their lives for the new state.

The Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Vytis Support Fund organized the photo exhibit. It was inspired by a similar exhibit at Yad Vashem on Austrian Jewish military heroes.

Condolences

Condolences

Simonas Dovidavičius passed away December 14. He was deputy chairman of the Kaunas Jewish Community, the founding light and director of the Sugihara House museum in Kaunas, highly educated, a tour guide and a good friend. His loss is a great loss to the Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Kaunas Jewish Community. Our condolences to his many friends and loved ones.

Those wishing to bid him farewell may do so at the St. Anthony of Padua Church in Kaunas, Radvilėnų highway no. 15A, Kaunas, on Tuesday, December 17, beginning at 5:00 P.M. He will be buried at noon on December 18 at the Aleksotas Jewish cemetery in Kaunas.

Property of Murdered Jews Cannot Be Shrugged Off

Property of Murdered Jews Cannot Be Shrugged Off

by Vytautas Bruveris

How should the state and its politicians act when they come across some sort of passionate, sensitive issue, or one which causes controversy: should they stick their heads in the sand, or nonetheless speak and discuss it?

It seems as if it’s a lot more useful and clever to talk. This seemingly self-evident matter, though, seems to be a mystery to almost the complete majority of Lithuania’s political elite.

This eternal truth was again confirmed last week at a conference held by the Lithuanian Jewish Community (LJC) and the Goodwill Foundation on restitution of Jewish property stolen during the Holocaust.

New Book by Dr. Aušra Pažėraitė

New Book by Dr. Aušra Pažėraitė

The publishing house of Vilnius University has published a new book called “Nesuk į kelią iš takelio. Lietuvos žydų religinės ir filosofinės minties paveldo trajektorijomis” [Don’t Quit the Path for the Road: Along the Trajectories of the Litvak Religious and Philosophical Thought Heritage]. The Lithuanian-language book contains extracts from the texts of the Vilna Gaon, Chaim of Volozhin, Grozdinsky, Israel Salanter and Emmanuel Levinas with commentaries.

Dr. Aušra Pažėraitė has written a bit about her book especially for the www.lzb.lt website:

“It has long been my dream to write a book talking about, examining and interpreting the heritage of Litvak religious and philosophical thinking. … [Among others,] another problem which arose was the time-period and the range of what Litvak means. I mean the problem of geographical boundaries in which we can look for the Litvak heritage, which has changed drastically over history, and it happens that the same historical figures are assigned to Lithuania’s, Poland’s and Russia’s legacy… So I chose a narrower problem, the Litvak-ness which is associated with religious tradition, historically connected with the Vilna Gaon and his circle of followers. So this allowed for choosing a specific perspective which would allow me to connect schools of thought otherwise hard to reconcile: the Western understanding of religion which is still forming in the modern period, which seems to so many people self-evident… i.e., between the written sacred texts and the oral texts, the traditional of passing traditions on orally. …”

The book is available at the Vilnius University bookstore, at the Versmė chain of bookshops and on the internet sites patogupirkti.lt, knygos.lt and humanitas.lt

Presentation by Joachim Tauber at Holocaust Property Restitution Conference

Presentation by Joachim Tauber at Holocaust Property Restitution Conference

Among other notables, renowned German historian Joachim Trauber delivered a presentation at the Goodwill Foundation’s conference on Jewish property restitution held at the Lithuanian Jewish Community this week. Professor Trauber is a lecturer at the Institute for the Culture and History of the Germans in Northeast Europe of the Nordost-Institut at the University of Hamburg in Lüneburg and is a member of Lithuania’s International Commission for Assessing the Crimes of the Nazi and Communist Occupational Regimes in Lithuania as well as of similar commissions in Latvia and elsewhere. He is the author of number books and academic articles about the Holocaust in Lithuania and Northeast Europe. We are please to be able to post a copy of the slideshow presentation he gave Monday for those who were unable to attend the conference in Vilnius.

holocaust in lithuania 1941-1944_6
Presentation by International Law Expert Dirk Haupt at Holocaust Restitution Conference

Presentation by International Law Expert Dirk Haupt at Holocaust Restitution Conference

International law expert Dirk Haupt of Lund University in Sweden delivered a presentation at the conference held at the Lithuanian Jewish Community on December 2 organized by the Goodwill Foundation and dedicated to discussing Jewish property restitution in Lithuania and Europe. We are pleased to be able to share his slideshow presentation below with those who were unable to attend.

haupt dirk roland - presentation 2019-12-02 compensating for nazi injustice and indemnifying jewish victims - the german experience2
LJC Hosts Regional Conference on Holocaust Restitution

LJC Hosts Regional Conference on Holocaust Restitution

Marking the 10th anniversary of the Terezin declaration, the Lithuanian Jewish Community hosted a regional conference on Holocaust restitution issues Monday.

The conference covered experience of communities in other European countries in the return of Jewish property stolen during the Holocaust. Renowned Holocaust historians and others gave presentations and spoke on the past and goals and tasks for the future.

Rabbi Andrew Baker, director of international Jewish affairs at the American Jewish Committee, knows the issues in Lithuania well. He was a participant in Lithuania’s road towards restitution and the small country’s historic decision in 2011 to pay compensation worth 37 million euros to be used to support Jewish community life. The Goodwill Foundation was formed then to manage these monies. Baker spoke about class-actions suits brought by attorneys representing Jews in America. He noted Austria and France have solved the problem of property restitution. Austria has paid out compensation for pre-war property and France has done the same.

Goodwill Foundation Conference on Holocaust Restitution Update

Goodwill Foundation Conference on Holocaust Restitution Update

Press Release (updated)

Regional Consultation about Restitution of Holocaust Era Assets

Next week regional consultation regarding restitution of Holocaust era assets will be held in Vilnius. The experiences of returning assets of European countries will be reviewed and well-known historians will present their research about what happened in Lithuanian during WWII.

The conference is dedicated to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Terezin declaration. In 2009 47 countries, Lithuania among them, has signed the document in Prague and announced a program of activities directed at securing assistance, compensation and commemoration of Nazi victims’ memory. It is noteworthy the countries stressed the importance of ensuring communal and private property restitution.

“Noting the importance of restituting communal and individual immovable property that belonged to the victims of the Holocaust (Shoah) and other victims of Nazi persecution, the Participating States urge that every effort be made to rectify the consequences of wrongful property seizures, such as confiscations, forced sales and sales under duress of property, which were part of the persecution of these innocent people and groups, the vast majority of whom died heirless,” the Terezin declaration says.

Honoring Lithuania’s Jewish Soldiers in Kaunas

Honoring Lithuania’s Jewish Soldiers in Kaunas

by Dr. Raimundas Kaminskas

A ceremony to honor Jewish volunteer soldiers was held at the Žaliakalnis Jewish cemetery in the Gričiupis aldermanship in the Kaunas region on November 23. Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas recalled for the audience historic Jewish-Lithuanian relations and the contribution Jewish Lithuanian soldiers made in the battles for Lithuanian independence in 1919 and 1920 and later in the national Lithuanian military.

Director of the Kovo 11-osios Street Community Dr. Raimundas Kaminskas shared his thoughts on the civic-minded and patriotic Jewish soldiers in the period of Lithuanian independence from 1918 to 1940 and presented the chairman of the Kaunas Jewish Community a medal commemorating the Union of Jewish Volunteer Soldiers Who Served in the Liberation of Lithuania.

After the commemoration the audience moved to the St. Antthony of Padua Church where the mortal remains of church builder, rescuer of Jews and Lithuanian military volunteer father Juozas Želvys (1899-1985) are interred. The Žaliakalnis Jewish cemetery was established in 1861 and operated until 1952. The Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Department reports among the burials of many noted public, cultural, political and religious figures there, 14 of the graves are those of Lithuanian Jewish soldiers who perished in the battles for Lithuanian independence.