Heritage

LJC Chairwoman Delivers Speech on Lithuania’s Day of Remembrance of Jewish Victims of Genocide

LJC Chairwoman Delivers Speech on Lithuania’s Day of Remembrance of Jewish Victims of Genocide

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky spoke at the Lithuanian president’s ceremony to award the Lithuanian Cross of the Life-Saver to those who rescued Jews during the Holocaust on Lithuania’s Day of Remembrance of Jewish Victims of Genocide.

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Your excellency, honorable Mr. president Gitanas Nausėda, honorable first lady Diana Nausėdienė,

Honorable rescuers of Jews and family members, honored Holocaust survivors and dear guests,

It is a great honor for me to speak to you including in the name of the Lithuanian Jews words of gratitude to those who rescued Jews for the light of humanity they gave during the darkest of times. It is thanks to these greatest of people that I stand here today.

So many Lithuanians surrendered themselves to an unprecedented, systematized hatred during World War II, becoming henchmen sowing death or kowtowers in their native land. So giving the honor due and commemorative tribute to those who found themselves at a dead end of human values, to those who opened the gates of hope to the people were condemned to death, to those innocents sentenced to death, is the least our generation and the next generation can do.

The story of the rescuers needs to do more than sleep in the history textbooks, more than simply be celebrated in statues. The priceless lesson of humanity which these heroes gave us, gave Lithuania and gave to the entire international community is no less important today when democracy, civic-mindedness and historical truth are drowning in the rhetoric of crisis or getting lost in the maze of political narratives and interests.

Even in what seemed a hopeless situation, balancing between the suppressed truth and the sanctioned lie, the example of the rescuers reminds us there is always a choice between killing and saving. The choice to save was the choice made by about 900 Lithuanians based on basic conscience. This was a voluntary choice, neither purchased nor sold, but based on a free mind unfettered by fear and uneclipsed by false promises.

In marking this the Year of the Vilna Gaon and the Year of Litvak History, I invite you again to remember our heroes. I hope the name of each rescuer of Jews will inspire us, illuminate our consciousness with hope and belief, and strengthen our peoples and the generations building bridges of historical memory.

Gumuliauskas and the Historical Plan for the Love of Lithuania

Gumuliauskas and the Historical Plan for the Love of Lithuania

by Arkadijus Vinokuras

I read the ramblings of MP professor Arūnas Gumuliauskas, the title of which should have been “How I Love Lithuania Tortured by Her Enemies.” He writes like a professor. I say “like” because there is doubt on the quality of the text itself. Because his entire long text could be expressed in a single sentence: “Everyone who thinks otherwise is an enemy and an agent of the Kremlin.” Back in Soviet times a CP member would have written it like this” “Everyone who thinks otherwise is an enemy and an agent of Washington.”

The generalized “all” dominates in the text, probably stemming from the elementary fear of naming specific liars and agents. Because it might turn out some of these unnamed critics aren’t lying. And they aren’t any kind of agent. Hence the author would be dressed down naked in court for libel. The professor had a good command of this sort of jargon back in Soviet times, in 1987 when he defended his doctoral thesis “Activities of the Lithuanian Communist Party in Developing the Theater Arts in the Republic.” That was the same year the Lithuanian Freedom League held a meeting under the Adam Mickiewicz statue in Vilnius. Forgive me, I’m not trying to joke around, but it is seriously difficult to impossible to think about Gumuliauskas as some sort of sincere nationalist. But this is not surprising, he is, after all, a member of a party which doesn’t confess any ideology, not even basic political morality.

So sometimes the Lithuanian Peasants/Green Union pretend they’re on the left, sometimes on the right, but its members agree on one thing at least: democracy is just stage decoration which can be toyed with as one likes. So it’s also no surprise that the search for and discovery of enemies lurking around every corner is programmed into this part. Gumuliaksuas is no exception.

Concert by Gidon Kremer and Georgiy Osokin a Gift to Jews of Lithuania

Violin master Gidon Kremer gave a special concert for members and friends of the Lithuanian Jewish Community September 24 which included Schumann’s sonata for violin and Polish-Jewish composer Meczyslaw Weinberg’s 24 preludes adapted for violin by Kremer himself.

During the concert photographs flashed across a screen by Antanas Sutkus, a renowned Lithuanian photographer, of the faces of Lithuanian Jewish survivors, adding to and adding significance to painful and unforgettable Jewish history. This was music for the heart and soul. The Lithuanian Jewish Community sincerely and deeply thanks Kremer and Osokin for the extraordinary concert. Because of fears of the virus, audience members were evenly spaced around the hall and wore masks.

We recall Latvian classical violinist gave his first recital in Vilnius way back when. Kremer’s orchestra travels the world giving concerts on the world’s great stages with the best orchestras and conductors.

Ponar Calls on Us to Remember

Ponar Calls on Us to Remember

I thank all of you who walked with the Lithuanian Jewish Community today along the route taken by 70,000 men, women and children 77 years ago.

While the bodies of the victims of Ponar, reduced to ashes, will not rise again, no attempts to burn the pages of history will liberate our fellow citizens from the guilt dwelling in the subconscious over the murder of the Jews, nor will it relieve the suffering of the experience of the Holocaust even of the generation which came after.

No actions will return the lives of the more than 200,000 people of Lithuania lost during the Holocaust while words, whether in Lithuanian or Yiddish, will only briefly return a glimmer of the crown of the Jerusalem of Lithuania.

The memory of the Holocaust, however, isn’t just filled with shame for one side and pain for another. Its memory awakens our conscience and our duty to the future: to remember and honor the dead, thus imparting some sense to the victims of senseless hatred, lessons written in innocent blood for humanity. As long as we’re alive we must insure through joint effort, testifying to the memory of the Holocaust victims, the tragedy of Ponar never recurs, and that it doesn’t become the object of new and error-filled forms of hatred.

As we recall the events of that era of pain, it’s just as important to remember those giants of the spirit. I don’t know how many times now here in Ponar I’ve talked about Liba Mednikienė, a heroine of Lithuania’s battles for freedom. Finally now, during the Year of the Vilna Gaon and the Year of Litvak History, a monument to her memory, to this Lithuanian patriot murdered at the hands of Lithuanians, has found a home in the town of her youth, Širvintos.

Today hope is reborn, listening to the words of the president and prime minister and watching the soldiers pay tribute to Lithuania’s Jewish victims of genocide, hope that our society and out state have matured, have reached a new stage in the dialogue between Jews and Lithuanians, devoted wholly to learning and recognizing historical justice. We have an history inherited and shared from the time of Vytautas the Great, and so I believe commemoration of the victims of the Holocaust and being an indivisible part of it will become, eventually, not a matter of just marking an event or opportunity, but an issue of civic dignity and our view of the world.

Thanks to all of you for being here today with us, the small Lithuanian Jewish Community, for blazing a path in remembering those who were innocent and were sentenced to death.

Faina Kukliansky
September 23, 2020
Ponar, Lithuania

Jewish Street in Utena Gets New Street Sign in Yiddish and Hebrew

Jewish Street in Utena Gets New Street Sign in Yiddish and Hebrew

The Utena regional administration in northeastern Lithuania decided to celebrate 2020 as the Year of the Vilna Gaon and Litvak History with a project called “Signs of the History of the Jews of Utena.” Project events were scheduled to coincide with European Heritage Days 2020 from September 11 to 20.

One of the first events was the unveiling of a street sign on Žydų gatvė (Jewish Street) in the town of Utena with the name of the street in Hebrew and Yiddish. Earlier a portrait of kosher butcher Kavinskis appeared on a wall next to the street to recall the formerly large Jewish community there. Between the two world wars most of the central parts of the town was inhabited by Jews. Nobel prize winner Bernard Lown, the inventor of the defibrillator, came from Utena.

Utena regional administration mayor Alvydas Katinas said at the unveiling ceremony Lithuania and Utena are on the right path: “Jewish commemorations, cherishing Jewish history and culture and keeping up cemeteries–this activity should become a daily one. I believe honoring Jews shouldn’t be limited to just memories or knowing how many Jews lived in Utena and how they lived here. Our work primarily should testify to the fact Jews live with us in the here and now.” LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, MP Emanuelis Zingeris and others including many local residents attended the ceremony as well.

Lithuanian MPs Send Rosh Hashanah Greetings

Lithuanian MPs Send Rosh Hashanah Greetings

Members of Lithuania’s parliament Gediminas Kirkilas and Aušrinė Armonaitė sent Rosh Hashanah greetings to the Lithuanian Jewish Community as the country’s Jewish community marked the beginning of the new year, 5781 on the Jewish calendar.

Former prime minister Gediminas Kirkilas, now deputy speaker of parliament and chairman of the European Affairs Committee there as well as heading his Social Democratic Labor Party, regularly sends greetings to the Community on major holidays and occasions.

Aušrinė Armonaitė was voted in as an MP in 2016 on the Liberal Movement ticket and was a member of the independent faction there. In 2019 she helped found and was voted in as chairwoman of the new Freedom Party. Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius is a deputy chairman in the new party.

Remembering the Victims in Žagarė

Remembering the Victims in Žagarė

On Sunday, September 13, foreign ambassadors, Lithuanian Jews and local residents gathered in Žagarė in northeast Lithuania to remember the once-thriving Jewish community who were murdered in the Holocaust.

Israeli ambassador Yossi Avni-Levy, German ambassador Matthias Sonn, Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky and Sania Kerbelis of Šiauliai, among others, gathered at the small Dmitrijus Naryškinas park in the center of the rural Lithuanian town. Kerbelis’s grandmother, cousins and other relatives were shot in this park in 1941. They were killed in a mass murder operation where German, Lithuanian and Latvian police mowed down starving Jewish men, women and children with machine guns.

Around 800 victims were murdered in there in the town square. Smaller children were murdered by smashing their heads against trees and walls. Those who weren’t killed on the town square were marched into the nearby forest to pits where another 3,000 victims were cast.

One 15-year-old Jewish girl survived the massacre on the town square, taken and hidden by a Lithuanian family. That girl’s granddaughter is Kornelija Tiesnesytė, Lithuanian deputy minister of education, who was at the ceremony Sunday.

Jewish Symbols in the Calendar for 5781

Jewish Symbols in the Calendar for 5781

The Lithuanian Jewish Community is greeting the new year, 5781, with the publication and distribution of our Jewish calendar for the coming year. As well as being attractive and nice to look at, this year’s calendar, as in past years, points back to our shared Litvak legacy. Every featured item once belonged to the Lithuanian Jewish communities and Lithuanian synagogues.

Dr. Aistė Niunkaitė has written a text about Jewish symbols and shared it with us in Lithuanian and in English translation below.

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See, the Lord has called by name Bezalel…

LJC Marks New Year 5781 This Week with New Jewish Calendar

LJC Marks New Year 5781 This Week with New Jewish Calendar

The year 5781 is almost upon us. The Lithuanian Jewish Community is celebrating the new year with our calendar, which has become a tradition, dedicated this time to the unique symbols of the Jewish people and their significance.

Before talking about the next year, I can’t pass over the foregoing which became a year of challenges and coming together for the entire world. The corona virus restricted our social life and the Community’s operation, but at the same time showed to us we are capable of taking care of our members, especially the elderly, that we can apply and perfectly well use digital technology and that even under the most difficult conditions we were able to mark the dates so important to Jews, Israel, Lithuania and the world and our own holidays.

The Community was not able to mark appropriately the Year of the Vilna Gaon and Litvak History declared by the Lithuanian parliament because of the pandemic. But the historical past of Jews and its importance for Lithuania’s culture don’t fit within the frames of a single year, so I promise we will continue to organize events dedicated to Lithuania’s Jews, to Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman aka the Vilna Gaon and other important people. There can never be too many such events.

Twelve Thousand Holocaust Victims Commemorated Near Ukmergė

Twelve Thousand Holocaust Victims Commemorated Near Ukmergė

The annual commemoration in fall of about twelve thousand Holocaust victims killed in the Pivonija forest near Ukmergė (Vilkomir) were commemorated at their mass murder site Sunday. The annual commemoration takes place at noon on the first Sunday in the month of September.

Members of the Ukmergė Regional Jewish Community and a significant group of Jews from Vilnius, Šiauliai and the Kaunas Jewish Community attended the commemoration of the third largest mass murder site in Lithuania. So did representatives of the Ukmergė Regional Administration and the US embassy.

Ukmergė Regional Jewish Community chairman Artūras Taicas spoke, recalling the sea of people who moved from Ukmergė to the Pivonija woods 79 years ago, including thousands of children.

Who Is That Gaon?

Who Is That Gaon?

by Sergejus Kanovičius. Photo by Evgenia Levin/Bernardinai.lt

Soon the Year of the Vilna Gaon will end: the news websites will stop carrying out the internet education plans dedicated to Jewish history and the school curricula will remain as they always were: impoverished, and with the suppression of history. Everything will depend on the teacher’s initiative, again. The statues to the Gaon and Tsemakh Shabad will stare out, with acid poured over them. Plaques will hang commemorating the “desk murderer” in Vilnius and the statue to a murderer of Jews will continue to stand in the center of Ukmergė, and schools will continue to be named in their honor. The center tasked with researching genocide will offer jobs to people who think the “Lithuanian Activist Front would have found it easy to agree with Zionists.” Only suppressing the fact the LAF helped those Zionists travel into the bosom of Abraham.

Virtual internet reality will never coincide with true reality, and the proposition of living in two worlds will continue to be proposed. The official one will soon mourn at Paneriai and on Rūdninkai square because that’s what’s required. Actually, the pandemic in the true sense of the word helped save a pile of money which would have been used for those pompous but failed events. I would ask, couldn’t the money saved be used to change the school curricula so that a student who reads a headline or title “The Vilna Gaon…” doesn’t have to search the internet to find out who he was and why he’s important?

The best surrogate education–sampling Jewish foods–takes place via the stomach, and via internet. In both cases the effect of learning is equal to the time spent by the learner chewing a bagel or reading about some shtetl lost to oblivion, sipping coffee while reading the screen. There’s no need to even raise the question of enduring value or the long-term effect…

Kaunas Jewish Community Greets Fall with Renewed Pledge to Remember

Kaunas Jewish Community Greets Fall with Renewed Pledge to Remember

The Kaunas Jewish Community ushered out the waning summer and greeted the fall by remembering those who have gone before and the tragic loss of life in the Holocaust. In the last week of August Community members visited Prienai and remembered the victims there and in surrounding areas. The Kaunas Jewish Community would like to thank Prienai District Administration staff, representatives of the Balbieriškis (Balbirishok) Tolerance Center and students for caring that the Holocaust tragedy is their tragedy, too, with all its agony and loss, and for coming together without being told to hold a commemoration of those who once lived in the area as neighbors and perhaps even as friends of their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.

As the summer days fade into fall and under a dreary and drizzling sky Community members also visited and remember the victims of the mass murder of the Jews of Petrašiūnai and the victims from the Kaunas ghetto of the intellectuals’ aktion also murdered there. The Kaunas Jewish Community would like to thank violinist Jonė Barbora Laukaitytė for braving the weather and performing her melody to which resonated so clearly with out own heartstrings.

The end of summer also saw the premiere of Aleksandras Rubinovas’s one-man-play “My Father” which was supposed to happen back on March 13, and the Kaunas Picture Gallery is still featuring a show of Samuel Bak’s paintings until September 13.

LJC Chairwoman Faina Kukliansky Meets with Klaipėda Regional Administration mayor Bronius Markauskas

LJC Chairwoman Faina Kukliansky Meets with Klaipėda Regional Administration mayor Bronius Markauskas

Klaipėda Regional Administration mayor Bronius Markauskas visited the Lithuanian Jewish Community and spoke with LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky about continuing cooperation. The two spoke during the meeting about plans to construct a bus station at Gargždai (Gorzhd), a town located about 15 kilometers east of the city of Klaipėda within the Klaipėda district, near the site where around 500 resident Jews were murdered during at least three mass murder operations on June 24 and September 14 and 16, 1941.

Fun Celebration of European Day of Jewish Culture for 2020

Fun Celebration of European Day of Jewish Culture for 2020

On Sunday, September 6, 2020, the Lithuanian Jewish Community held a fun celebration of the European Day of Jewish Culture. Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky and Community members, the Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Yosi Levy, Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Department director Vidmantas Bezaras and guests had a good time and attended the Hebrew language lesson provided by Vilnius Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymansium principal Ruth Reches. The public, invited by the LJC, came to celebrate the first Sunday in September by sampling Jewish treats made at the Bagel Shop Café, located on the first floor of the Lithuanian Jewish Community building in Vilnius, a center of Litvak bagel culture.

The Bagel Shop Café presented paintings from Mark Kaplan’s collection during the event.

Participants also attended the lecture “Deification and Demonization of Jews: Anti-Semitic Superstitions in Society.”

You Are Invited to the European Days of Jewish Culture in Vilnius

You Are Invited to the European Days of Jewish Culture in Vilnius

The Lithuanian Jewish Community is continuing the tradition of marking the annual event European Days of Jewish Culture, this time for the fifth year, with a program of events in Vilnius scheduled for Sunday, September 6, 2020.

All parts of the event program are free and open to the public. The number of participants has been limited this year due to health concerns so please register as soon as possible.

For cooking lessons, register by sending an email to kavine@lzb.lt
For the Jerulita tour, register by sending an email to travel@jerulita.lt

To register by internet, click here.

Simnas Celebrates Title of Tiny Capital of Lithuanian Culture for 2020

Simnas Celebrates Title of Tiny Capital of Lithuanian Culture for 2020

On August 23 the largest event so far this year took place in Simnas, Lithuania: the Simnas church celebrated its 500th anniversary and the town of Simnas celebrated its recognition as the Tiny Capital of Lithuanian Culture for 2020.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky and Catholic cardinal Sigitas Tamkevičiusattended events there, which included a book launch, consecration of a new cross at the church, Catholic Mass, a performance by opera singer Rasa Juzukonytė and a performance by the Lithuanian Ground Forces orchestra. A procession left the church for the town square where the formal opening ceremony of the event took place only then. There followed vocal and instrumental concerts and a fair featuring religious items, folk art and crafts.

A synagogue in Simnas has been restored and renovated. It was built in 1905. There was a school on the second floor and the prayer hall was arranged so worshipers prayed facing in the direction of Jerusalem. A Soviet palace of culture operated there after World War II, followed by an athletics hall. Consideration is on-going on how to utilize the synagogue space.

Bid for Righteous Gentile Monument Announced

Bid for Righteous Gentile Monument Announced

A public tender has been announced for a conceptual sculptural and architectural project to erect a monument to Lithuanian residents who rescued Jews during the Holocaust.

The Vilnius city municipality and the Lithuanian Culture Ministry said the project is to be guided by principles of historical justice for honoring, commemorating and recalling at a national and international level Lithuanian residents who saved Jews during the Nazi occupation, for creating a respectful and socially effective solution in continuance of traditions of respecting the Jewish people, for representing appropriately the content and foundation of the site commemorating Righteous Gentiles, and for contributing to the education of the general public regarding history and the world.

Criteria for judging projects submitted include context, social efficacy, aesthetics, the quality of the space created, cost and financial soundness. The site selected for the monument is on Ona Šimaitė street near Maironis street in Vilnius where a commemorative stele stands announcing this as the location for a future monument to Righteous Gentiles, those who rescued Jewish lives during the Holocaust.

Field Trip to Alytus and Merkinė

Field Trip to Alytus and Merkinė

Over a weekend in mid-August the Kaunas Jewish Community sponsored a field trip for its members to the town of Merkinė and the city of Alytus, the capital of the Lithuanian ethnographic region of Dzūkija in the southeast quarter of Lithuania.

Teacher and friend of the Community Meilė Platūkienė provided the travellers a tour of Alytus, including sites witnessing to the once-large Jewish community there. They took in the balconies of the former Singer family home there, entrance lions there, former movie theaters in the city and on Beiralas hill the restored synagogue and cemetery (the headstones have long since disappeared and the cemetery plot is only marked with an information stand). The tour also visited what is, sadly, a feature of every Lithuanian city, town and village: a Jewish mass murder site in the surrounding forest.

Travelling on to Merkinė, Merkinė Regional History Museum director Mindaugas Černiauskas provided a guided tour of the small but interesting museum collection and the history of the town, which included members of royal families and the once-large Jewish community there. A visit to the local manor estate featured a meeting with celebrity chef Vytaras Radzevičius who operates an eatery there and who entertained the travellers with his cooking, wit and energy.

Tomas Venclova: Conscience is Greater Than Independence

Tomas Venclova: Conscience is Greater Than Independence

by Gabija Strumylaitė, 15min.lt

After spending forty years in exile, the professor returned to Vilnius in 2018; here he actively participates in Lithuanian cultural life and courageously expresses his opinion on topics important to the country and the world. The website 15min.lt spoke with Tomas Venclova about the meaning of independence, principles of liberalism, historical memory, ethnic minorities and other issues.

This year has also been named the Year of the Vilna Gaon and of Litvak History. What do you think, do Lithuanians understand and appreciate sufficiently the Jewish legacy? What should we be doing to honor these people? Do we need, for example, to rebuild the Great Synagogue, or establish a modern museum of Jewish history?

In this regard I think we are doing better compared to the situation over ten years ago, never mind earlier periods. I’m not just thinking about Jewish affairs, but those of other ethnic minorities as well: Poles, Russians, Belarussians, Karaïtes, Tartars.

There is a large amount of latent distrust of minorities in Lithuania overall. I will mention another minority about which there has been a lot of concern lately: the Roma. The great majority of the Lithuanian public are prejudiced against them, and this is senseless and unnecessary, and needs to be corrected.

LJC Member Leonidas Melnikas Interviewed

LJC Member Leonidas Melnikas Interviewed

The Catholic newspaper and website Bernardinai has published an interview with long-time Lithuanian Jewish Community member and pinaist professor Leonidas Melnikas as part of a series of articles and interview about ethnic minorities in Lithuania partially financed by Lithuania’s Department of Ethnic Minorities.

“In childhood when we used to visit homes as guests and we didn’t find a piano in a home, that was strange to me, how people could live without a musical instrument. In general at the time the profession of musician was highly esteemed, and musicians were a bit freer than people in other professions. If you’re playing Bach, Mozart and Beethoven all the time, no one can complain about your politics, only about your music.

“From the very first grade I attended the Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis School of Art in Vilnius. It was my parents’ joy I did music, and their encouragement helped me overcome the initial barriers, but later some inertia came up, it came up in the 8th grade which was competitive, and they had to chose who stayed and who would pursue something else. I stayed. There weren’t many people in my class, we graduated, it seems, eleven of us, so the relationship between student and teacher was very familiar and friendly, there was a lot of attention. We studied a somewhat different curriculum than they did at other schools, we studied musical things from the first grade and they kept increasing, and in the 10th grade we completed general education disciplines–chemistry, physics, mathematics–and in the 11th grade we only had social and humanitarian topics left, and music of course.”

Full story in Lithuanian here.