Heritage

Monument to Icchokas Meras Unveiled in Kelmė

Monument to Icchokas Meras Unveiled in Kelmė

A statue was unveiled to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the death of Icchokas Meras. The ceremony and monument were the work of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, the Lithuanian Jerusalem Vilnius Jewish Community, the Jakovas Bunka support fund and the Kelmė regional administration. It took place on March 13 at Icchokas Meras Square in Kelmė. Students and teachers from the neighboring Jonas Graičiūnas Gymnasium, Kelmė municipal representatives, fans of Meras’s work and visitors from Vilnius, Kaunas, Šiauliai and Panevėžys and members of those Jewish communities attended.

Feliks Dektor arrived from Israel for the ceremony. He translated to Russian Meras’s novels “Ant ko laikosi pasaulis” and “Lygiosios trunka akimirką” as well as a collection of short stories called “Geltonas lopas,” some of the first literary works about the Holocaust to be published in the Soviet Union.

MP Emanuelis ZIngeris was unable to attend but sent a message which was read out loud:

“Icchokas Meras his entire life spoke for the silenced ghettos of Kelmė, Vilnius, Kaunas and Šiauliai. In his work he didn’t stand for the isolation of the ghetto, rather he scaled to the heights and plumbed the extraordinary depths of humanity. In Soviet times everyone looked forward to the appearance of his novels and stories in the magazines Pergalė and Nemunas. This was a protest hurled against the Soviet reality. Because Icchokas Meras was and remained a Lithuanian writer who modernized the language of Lithuanian prose and invented new ways to express himself.

Monument to Icchokas Meras to be Unveiled in Kelmė

Monument to Icchokas Meras to be Unveiled in Kelmė

A monument to Litvak writer Icchokas Meras (October 8, 1934 – March 13, 2014) is to be unveiled on the fifth anniversary of his death on Icchokas Meras Square in his hometown of Kelmė, Lithuania, at 1:00 P.M. on March 13, 2019. Meras, a Holocaust survivor, wrote in Lithuanian and won numerous awards in Israel and Lithuania. His work has been translated into over 25 languages including Yiddish and Hebrew. He moved to Israel in 1972 and passed away in Tel Aviv in 2014 at the age of 79.

The monument is the fruit of cooperation between the Lithuanian Jewish Community, the Jakovas Bunka welfare and support fund, the Lithuanian Jerusalem Vilnius Jewish Community and the Kelmė regional administration.

Those wishing to attend are invited to send notice of their intention to renginiai@lzb.lt because the LJC plans to provide free transportation to and from the event if there is sufficient interest. Please send an email by March 11 or call 8 673 77257 for more information.

Panevėžys Jewish Community Accepting Donations as a Non-Profit

Panevėžys Jewish Community Accepting Donations as a Non-Profit

When people pay their income tax in Lithuania, they have the option of donating 2 percent to various non-profits. The Panevėžys Jewish Community is a non-profit organization, and members make use of this option annually to donate money. All Lithuanian tax-payers can do the same if they so desire, and the Panevėžys Jewish Community uses these funds for support and maintaining the Community museum it is establishing.

Local resident Egidijus Sanda is interested in Jewish history and traditions and taught himself Yiddish. He and his wife Lilijana visited the Panevėžys Jewish Community and they personally presented their 2 percent to the Community.

Community chairman Gennady Kofman invited the guests to tea and thanked them for their contributions. They discussed local Jewish history and traditions, and the Sandas left a record of their visit in the guest book. Chairman Kofman said he was so happy to receive the understanding and support of Panevėžys residents who have a desire to learn more about Jewish culture, which is a part of Lithuanian culture.

Born in Leviatan’s Clinic

Born in Leviatan’s Clinic

The Lithuanian Jewish Community hosted the launch of the Lithuanian translation of an unusual book on February 21. Professor Uri Leviatan’s book “From Hand to Hand” is unlike the academic works by this much-published anthropologist and sociologist who focuses on the modern phenomenon of the Israeli kibbutz. It is his own story, and that of his parents and grand-parents, which he began writing for his son Lior in 2014, the fruit of personal research stretching back decades, in which the author seeks to answer the question of his origins and what exactly happened to him as a child during the Holocaust.

The autobiography reads like a thriller novel and the author himself describes it as a series of detective stories.

Asked to speak about his experience as a child of the Holocaust at a Holocaust survivor and Jewish partisan conference held in Israel in the ’90s, Leviatan realized he had actually been passed from one guardian to another at least seven times. Initially his parents had him smuggled out of the Kaunas ghetto, where they perished, but after that his path to Israel after the war became very foggy in his own mind. Hardly unusual for a child born in 1939 to not remember all of the horror of the Holocaust in his first few years, but Leviatan’s memory gaps seem to have always bothered him, and he managed over the decades to track down real documentation of himself as a Jewish orphan in Lithuania and later at the Sanhedria children’s home in Israel, now sporting a different first name following what he described as his “almost kidnapping” by a Jewish religious group which gathered up Jewish orphans in Europe. This group changed his name, falsified his date of birth and it was only when his aunt, already in Israel, went looking for him and happened to ask another child from Kaunas about Uri that he was rescued.

Presentation of Uri Levitan’s Book “From Hand to Hand” at LJC

Presentation of Uri Levitan’s Book “From Hand to Hand” at LJC

The Lithuanian Jewish Community kindly invites you to attend a presentation of the book “Iš rankų į rankas” [“From Hand to Hand,” translated from the Hebrew to Lithuanian by Victoria Sideraitė-Alon with an introduction by Dalia Epšteinaitė, who also edited the Lithuanian version] by head of the Sociology and Anthropology Faculty and head of the Kibbutz Institute of Haifa University professor Uriel Leviatan and a meeting with the author at 6:00 P.M. on Thursday, February 21, at the LJC in Vilnius.

Professor Leviatan was born in Kaunas. His grandfather Isaac Leviatan was a renowned gynecologist in prewar Lithuania. The birthing clinic he created on Miško street in Kaunas in 1926 is still operating. Isaac Leviatan was a talented doctor and an active figure in Kaunas public life. He became chairman of the Zionist party Zionim Klaleem in 1935 and was the long-time representative of that party at Zionist congresses held in Europe.

Of the family of Isaac Leviatan renowned in Kaunas and throughout Lithuania, only Uriel survived through a kind of miracle. His parents sensed the coming liquidation of the ghetto in 1943 and made sure three-year-old Uriel was smuggled out of the ghetto…

Jewish Scouts Hike to Synagogue in Žiežmariai

Jewish Scouts Hike to Synagogue in Žiežmariai

The Lithuanian Jewish Community invited Jewish scouts for a winter hike on February 17. The delegation left by train for Žasliai where they were welcomed by the town alderman and local students. The scouts presented the community and the school with a gift, the ghetto diary of Yitzhak Rudashevski in Lithuanian.

The hike began through Strošiūnai Forest where the scouts learned how to build a fire and had a snack.

Hikers later visited the Jewish mass murder site in Strošiūnai Forest where everyone laid a stone in memory of the victims. The hike concluded at the Žiežmariai Cultural Center where the scouts, along with Kaišiadorys regional administration head Vytenis Tomkus, they raised and viewed the traditional Žiežmariai haShomer haTzair scouting flag, generously donated for the occasion by the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum.

Launch of Book about Jews of Švėkšna

Launch of Book about Jews of Švėkšna

Monika Žąsytienė, a Bagel Shop project volunteer and museum specialist, has written a book called “Švėkšnos žydų bendruomenė XVII–XX a.” [The Jewish Community of Švėkšna from the 17th to the 20th Century].

The Bagel Shop Café will host the launch of the new book at 6:00 P.M. on February 19. Register here.

According to the author, the book makes no pretense of being an historical work. Instead, Monika Žąsytienė sought to bring together local lore and regional history for future work on the subject. She made use of material from Lithuanian archives, Yad Vashem and the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D. C. Some of the information–testimonies, memoirs, correspondence in Yiddish, Hebrew, German and English–appears for the first time in Lithuanian in her book.

Aaron Garon’s Book Vilnius Jewish World Presented at LJC

Aaron Garon’s Book Vilnius Jewish World Presented at LJC

Aaron Garon (Garonas, 1919-2009) was born in Vilnius and most of his life was associated with his beloved home town. He moved to Israel in 1992 but always looked forward to the summers when he would return to Vilnius.

Garon became a witness to the phenomenon of the Vilnius Jewish world at a young age and harbored a life-long and deep love of Jewish culture and his native Yiddish language.

A reserved and proud Litvak, Garon painfully witnessed, too, the decline of Yiddish: “How can we erase a thousand years of Jewish cultural history?”

Garon’s terse tales of his home, parents and school–all of which he adored–served as a kind of return to paradise lost for him: “If there is anything positive in me, I must thank my parents and school and our wonderful principal Sofia Gurevich for this,” he wrote.

The Jewish world of Vilnius thrived for centuries but was wiped out in the Holocaust, although survivors continued to speak Yiddish with their families for decades. Most of them made their way to Israel, and Yiddish was no longer heard on the streets of Vilnius. This book–a Lithuanian translation of select articles by Garon the journalist and writer–is more than just vivid memories, it is a testimony to and a painting in Yiddish of a lost world which might teach future generations just how much the city lost. The new book is in both Lithuanian and Yiddish.

Exhibit by Kaunas Collector at Choral Synagogue in Vilnius

Exhibit by Kaunas Collector at Choral Synagogue in Vilnius

An exhibit of items in the collection of well-known collector Michailis Duškesas regarding pre-war Vilnius Jewish organizations is on display at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius showing the rich and active life of Vilnius Jews before the Holocaust.

Thank you to Michailis and Natalija Duškesai of Kaunas who made the effort to organize and set up this unique exhibit in Vilnius.

The second floor of the synagogue is still hosting an exhibit of photographs of wooden synagogues as well. The photos were donated by Daumantas Todesas, director of the Jakov Bunka support and welfare fund.

Fate of Litvaks in the Holocaust in Yad Vasherm Documents and Projects

Fate of Litvaks in the Holocaust in Yad Vasherm Documents and Projects

Serafima Velkovich from Israel delivered a public lecture at the Chaim Frankel villa on February 14, 2019, called “The Fate of Litvaks in the Holocaust in Yad Vasherm Documents and Projects.” The event was intended to mark the 75th anniversary of the liquidation of the Šiauliai ghetto. The lecture was in English with simultaneous translation to Lithuania. Velkovich works in the archives of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial institute in Israel. The event was attended by members of the Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community, Lithuanian MP Stasiys Tumėnas’s advisor Nerijus Brazauskas, representatives of the local municipal and regional administrations, employees from the Aušra, Joniškis and Pakruojis Museums, high school students from Šiauliai and local public figures and members of the public.

The event was organized by the Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community. Partners included the Goodwill Foundation, the International Commission to Assess the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupational Regimes in Lithuania, the Aušra Museum in Šiauliai, the Klaipėda Jewish Religious Community, the Kaunas Jewish Religious Community, the Conference of European Rabbis, descendants of Litvaks abroad, the Panevėžys Jewish Support Association and the Jewish Cultural Heritage Route Association.

Lithuanian State Auditor’s Office Completes Annual Audit of Goodwill Foundation

Lithuanian State Auditor’s Office Completes Annual Audit of Goodwill Foundation

The Lithuanian State Auditor’s Office has completed an annual audit of the Goodwill Foundation for the proper management, use and disbursement of state budget funds in the year 2018. The audit was conducted according to the requirements of the Lithuanian State Auditor’s Office and to the highest standards of international auditing agencies.

The Lithuanian State Auditor’s Office’s audit of the proper management, use and disbursement of funds the Lithuanian Government Chancellery allocated to the Goodwill Foundation in 2018 found there had been no violations.

The audit report can be viewed in Lithuanian here.

Lithuanian State Auditor’s Office press release here.

Launch of Aaron Garon’s Vilnius Jewish World

Launch of Aaron Garon’s Vilnius Jewish World

The Lithuanian Jewish Community will host the launch of Aaron Garon’s (1919-2009) “Vilnius Jewish World” at 3:00 P.M. on February 17.

Participants are to include his daughter Tamara Garon, son Eugenijus Garon, Fania Brancovskaja, Simas Levinas, signatory to the Lithuanian Restoration of Independence Act Česlovas Juršėnas, Faina Kukliansky, publisher Stasys Lipskis, Maša Grodnikienė and Milan Chersonski.

“Vilnius Jewish World” is a collection of articles published in periodicals in Yiddish by famous journalist Aaron Garon illustrated with archival photographs. Most of the texts in the book are eye-witness accounts of Jewish Vilna in the interwar period.

Garon was born in Vilnius and most of his life was connected with his beloved city.

For more information call (8 5) 261 3003.

Hike for Scouts

The Jewish Scouts of Lithuania invite children, teenagers and parents on a hike from the synagogue in Žasliai to the synagogue in Žiežmariai. If your child is 14 or older he/she may participate independently, but all younger hikers need to be accompanied by their parents. The event will include scouting entertainment, a bonfire, a guided tour of the newly-renovated synagogue in Žiežmariai and snacks. The hike will take place on February 17. The start of the hike is reachable from both the Vilnius and Kaunas central railroad stations and the plan is to return hikers to the Vilnius and Kaunas central bus stations. More information is available in Lithuanian here and you may also contact Renaldas at renaldas@lzb.lt for additional information. Parents need to sign a permission form here and send it to renaldas@lzb by February 11.

Synagogues: The Difficult Road to Revival

Synagogues: The Difficult Road to Revival

by Kazys Kazakevičius

Of the almost one-and-a-half thousand synagogues in Lithuania before World War II, only about 80 have survived to the present. Only two are operational and all other buildings are being used for other purposes or stand empty. It takes a lot of money to revive a synagogue for new life. The Jewish communities don’t have it, and neither do the municipalities which often become the owners of synagogues where there are no Jewish communities. Some EU support helps, at least.

An opportunity for fully restoring a former synagogue in Alytus, Lithuania, has come up; after the war the synagogue became a salt storehouse and a chicken hatchery. In January the city mayor’s office signed an agreement with a contractor for the further capital renovation of the synagogue built in 1911 which has been undergoing some repairs for three years now. The plan foresees a year-and-a-half’s worth of work for 400,000 euros. Around half of that cost will come from EU funds with the municipality picking up the rest. Specialist Ingrida Leskevičienė of the Alytus mayor’s office’s department of finance and investments reported the building is to house a visual arts center as a branch of the Alytus Regional History Museum. The first floor is to be used as an exhibition hall to host exhibits, conferences, seminars, lectures, book launches and showings of films.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky said, however, there are still synagogues whose fates are causing great concern. Renovating or rebuilding them, even if funds were available, wouldn’t make sense if there was no on to use the buildings.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Synagogue in Pušalotas Receives State Protection

Synagogue in Pušalotas Receives State Protection

Lithuanian minister of culture Dr. Mindaugas Kvietkauskas has placed four cultural treasures under state protection: Petras Klimas’s villa in Kaunas, the synagogue in Pušalotas in the Pasvalys region, the former Lithuanian Foreign Ministry building in Kaunas and a building in Vilnius which formerly housed Jewish cultural institutions.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Maushe Segal, the Last Jew of Lithuanian Kalvarija

Maushe Segal, the Last Jew of Lithuanian Kalvarija

Since 2005 we have marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day (officially “International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust” as designated by the United Nations) and have remembered the once-large Lithuanian Jewish community 78 years ago. There have been no Jews left in the shtetlakh for a long time now, although the Jewish legacy endures in the form of the old towns and synagogues they built, and the cemeteries and mass grave sites. We spoke with Maushe Segal (Maušius Segalis), the last Jew of the town of Kalvarija in western Lithuania, about his life and what Holocaust Remembrance Day means to him.


Maushe with grandson at the Kalvarija synagogue. Photo: Milda Rūkaitė

Segal: It’s important to me to remember, because this is a day commemorating the once-large community now dead. For many years we Jews gathered at the cemetery on September 1, since that’s the day all of the Jews of Marijampolė [Staropol] were murdered. That was before, now there are no Jews left in Kalvarija or Marijampolė.

What do you remember seeing as a child, or did your mother tell you?

They took my father and me to be shot on September 1, 1941. They shot him, but my mother grabbed me, I was small, from the pit in Marijampolė after the shooting.

Jewish Headstones Desecrated by Soviets to Return to Cemetery

Jewish Headstones Desecrated by Soviets to Return to Cemetery

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.

Monument to a Monument Photo Exhibit

Monument to a Monument Photo Exhibit

Roža Zinkevičienė, the principal of the Saulėtekis school in Vilnius, invites the public to the opening of a photography exhibit there called “Monument to a Monument (Jewish Cemetery Destroyed in 1964)” by photographer Rimantas Dichavičius. The opening is to take place at 10:00 A.M. on January 17, 2019. The school is located at Kaminkelio street no. 10 in Vilnius. The exhibit is dedicated to marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Jewish People’s Bank in Lithuania: Support for Co-ops, Small, Medium Business

Jewish People’s Bank in Lithuania: Support for Co-ops, Small, Medium Business

by Ona Biveinienė

Lithuanian Jews since olden times engaged in lending at interest. The charter of rights Vytautas the Great granted the Jews of Brest-Litovsk in 1388 included the right to loan money at interest, a rather new thing in the Grand Duchy at that time, along with the right to practice Judaism. According to the charter, “a Jew may accept any object brought him as collateral, no matter what the item is called, without question, except for bloodied or wet clothing and Church clothing and vessels, which he should in no way accept.”

For several centuries Jews were the main lenders, saving neighbors fallen on hard times by loaning them money, at interest, of course.

Lithuania’s declaration of independence on February 16, 1918, provided a favorable environment for Jews living here to expand customary and create new businesses. The Jewish people, as no other, seized upon the opportunity; they attempted to restore and expand the shops, workshops and factories they had before World War I. Many courageously started new businesses and in many cases were the first in Lithuania to engage in little known or unprecedented enterprises.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Goodwill Foundation Funds for Most Significant Lithuanian Jewish Projects

A meeting of the board of the Goodwill Foundation has resolved to fund the most significant Lithuanian Jewish projects, approved spending limits for 2019 and planned the 2019 budget for administrative costs for the foundation.

One of the more interesting projects is on-going archaeological exploration of the Great Synagogue site in Vilnius. There is also a project to commemorate the Jurbarkas synagogue with a statue by the sculptor Dovydas Zundelovičius. The foundation will also remember conductor, teacher and professor Saulius Sondeckis with the publication of a monograph.

The Goodwill Foundation board also addressed the issue of ownership of the former Tarbut gymnasium building at Pylimo street no. 4 in Vilnius, the headquarters of the Lithuanian Jewish Community.

Full text here.