Rudashevski Vilnius Ghetto Diary Presentation March 27

The literary monument of a fifteen-year-old chronicler of the Jewish ghetto to the suffering of the Holocaust, Yiddish culture, the will to survive and hope. For those who haven’t yet had a chance to learn about the Vilnius ghetto diary of Yitzhak Rudashevski, we invite you to come to the Lithuanian Jewish Community at 6:00 P.M. on March 27, 2018, for a public books launch. Participants: LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, translator Dr. Mindaugas Kvietkauskas, designer Sigutė Chlebinskaitė, Holocaust historian Neringa Latvytė-Gustatienė. Dr. Lara Lempert will serve as moderator.

Pakruojis Wooden Synagogue Featured on Lithuanian Public TV Culture Channel

“Lithuania is slowly restoring the country’s rich legacy of synagogues. Synagogues are still standing in towns, the former shtetlakh, where not a single Jew has remained. Braver and cleverer mayors and communities, encouraged by the Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Department and the Lithuanian Jewish Community, have begun restoring what has now become the priceless Jewish legacy, wiped out by the Holocaust. The synagogues are coming back and are being used for the cultural needs of the towns.

“Lithuanian public television channel Kultūra is producing a series called Reflections devoted to heritage. On this page you will find and be able to watch a film about restored synagogues. At the beginning you will see the oldest surviving wooden synagogue in Lithuania, restored in 2017. The synagogue operated as such until World War II, when the Holocaust exterminated the Pakruojis Jewish community. The regional administration of Pakruojis has renovated the Pakruojis Jewish synagogue and adapted it for public use. The project was financed by Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. The restorers did great work and the interior is dominated by characteristically Jewish elements of decor and Jewish ethnic symbols, and the painting is filled with floral and faunal motifs. The former aron kodesh of this synagogue is especially decorative and impressive.

“After the Pakruojis synagogue, you will also see restored synagogues of Kaunas and Joniškis in the film”

Video program in Lithuanian here.

Lithuanian Jewish Community Booth at Vilnius Book Fair

Lietuvos žydų bendruomenės stendas Vilniaus Knygų mugėje

The Lithuanian Jewish Community has participated with its own booth at the Vilnius Book Fair for the first time, launching a Lithuanian translation of Yitzhak Rudashevski’s Vilnius ghetto diary. The booth featured other books about Jewish history and culture published with financial help from the Goodwill Foundation. Purim treats were also passed out. Visitors were interested in the publications, but also had plenty of questions about what the Community does and Jewish culture and traditions. They shared stories from their grandparents about the latter’s childhood spent in common with Jewish children.

Translators Mindaugas Kvietkauskas and Akvilė Grigoravičiūtė signed books.

The Return of Samuel Bak

by Markas Petuchauskas

Now that some time has passed since the opening of the Samuel Bak museum, I would like to look back. To remember how this world-famous painter’s return to Lithuania began. To remember what I experienced. And these experiences date back to 1943.

Bak was probably never more open about himself than in the introduction to the Lithuanian translation of his book Painted in Words. He tells how Vilnius “tortured” him, how he sought to forget the city and was never able to do so. For more than half a century the artist placed a taboo on thoughts of Vilnius. On the city of his happy childhood and the land drenched in the blood of his family, where he would never set foot again.

I dare say one of the first unexpected reminders of Vilnius after sixty years was Pinkas. It is very nice that Bak was reminded of Pinkas in 1997 in the Lithuanian magazine Krantai (not speaking the language, the artist believed incorrectly this was a publication from the Lithuanian Ministry of Culture). The special third issue of the magazine, this was a publication by the Lithuanian Jewish Cultural Club which I founded in 1994. The magazine was set up at my initiative using club funds, and was intended to commemorate the Vilnius ghetto theater during International Art Days. Lithuanian National Museum employee Simona Likšienė wrote about the pinkas conserved at the museum in the magazine and included the title page.

Jewish Attorneys Laid the Foundation of the State

As we mark the day of the restoration of the Lithuanian state and celebrate her 100th birthday, let’s also remember those who built this state, where the law is not just a paper concept but a category forming the foundation of the state and citizens and affecting our daily lives.

Jews comprised a large part of the community of Lithuanian attorneys. The majority of Jews had the experience of both being caretakers of the law and of having their legal rights taken away from them. The textbooks don’t talk about Jewish attorneys and it is only rare archival material which gives us a glimpse of their professional portraits. Very little is generally known about cases at the Lithuanian Special Archive which detail the fate of Vilnius attorneys arrested in 1939.

Full text in Lithuanian here.

Today We Witness Lithuanian Freedom

The March 11th Hall of the Lithuanian parliament had an overflow audience Thursday during a ceremony to commemorate 100 years of Lithuanian independence. The commemoration began with the singing of the Lithuanian national anthem and a reading of the February 16, 1918, Act of Independence and the names of the signatories to that act.

Parliamentary speaker Viktoras Pranckietis delivered a keynote speech and said that we are all equal in the context of 100 years since the restoration of Lithuania.

“Today we all witness Lithuanian freedom. Each person gives rise to a small individual world, merging seamlessly into a community,” he said. The Lithuanian people have always fostered and defended their identity, he said, and noted the Order of Vytis was awarded to members of 15 different ethnic communities for fighting for Lithuanian independence. He said 100 years wasn’t a long time in the life of a nation which recently celebrated their millennium. “Many people and events went into the creation of Lithuania, including the heroic deeds of the grand dukes and of nameless citizens, unions and partitions, occupations and uprisings. The deeds in song of those who proclaimed freedom and the paths trodden by the book smugglers,” he said at the ceremony.

Pranckietis said although only 20 Lithuanians signed the Act of Independence, the entire nation saw Vilnius as their capital. He called for celebrating the present as well as the history of Lithuania.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Lithuania We Built Together, an Exhibit on Lithuanian Minority Communities

The Lithuanian House of Ethnic Minorities presented a new exhibit February 15 called “We Built Lithuania Together,” an overview of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities living in Lithuania, their history and famous figures from these communities.

The exhibit is the creation of students and teachers from the History Faculty of Vilnius University, the Lithuanian State Archive, the Vrublevskiai Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences and the Lithuanian National Martynas Mažvydas Library, with help from other museums, archives and libraries throughout Lithuania.

Following the launch, exhibit organizers planned to present it all over Lithuania at libraries, schools and exhibition spaces. The exhibit is in Lithuanian and English.

Rudashevski Diary Published in Lithuanian

Knygų mugėje – penkiolikmečio Vilniaus geto kalinio palikimas

The diary of Yitzchak Rudashevski written in the Vilnius ghetto and providing an eye-witness account by the young man has been translated into Lithuanian and is to be launched at the Vilnius Book Fair Sunday. Although Rudashevski was only 14 when he began the diary, many who have read the book in the original Yiddish, English and other languages say he displays both incredible talent as a writer and a wisdom beyond his years. He was murdered at Ponar in late 1943. The original diary is conserved by YIVO with copies made available to other institutions and archives.

The Lithuanian Jewish Community invites everyone to read and learn about the Rudashevski ghetto diary.

The book is to be launched at 11:00 A.M. on Sunday, February 25, 2018, in conference room 1.2 at the Vilnius Book Fair.

LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, Yiddish translator Dr. Mindaugas Kvietkauskas, Sigutė Chlebinskaitė, Jewish partisan Fania Brancovskaja and Akvilė Grigoravičiūtė are to attend the launch.

From Darkness to Light

by Linas Linkevičius

Lithuanian Jews helped build the country, and their legacy remains an integral part of Lithuanian history.

This year, while Israel is celebrating 70 years of modern statehood, Lithuania is celebrating 100 years of restored independence.

For centuries Lithuanian Jewry was part of the educated and intellectual elite of our society. One hundred years ago they took the most active part in the process of creating the Republic of Lithuania. They were elected to the Lithuanian Parliament, took up diplomatic posts, served in the army. I would like to particularly mention some of those great men.

Back in the 1920s the chairman of the Vilna Jewish community Jacob Wygodsky became the first Jewish affairs minister in Lithuania–the very post was a completely new phenomenon in our history. Shimshon Rosenbaum, a famous Zionist movement activist, became vice minister of foreign affairs and was a member the Lithuanian delegation to negotiate the peace treaty with Soviet Russia. Nachman Rachmilevich is yet another great example. He became vice minister of industry and trade.

Full text here.

Jokūbas Vygodskis: Lithuanian Jewish Affairs Minister, Lithuanian Taryba Member, Polish Sejm Deputy, Vilnius Jewish Community Chairman, Good Man

Jokūbas Vygodskis (Jakub Wygodzki in Polish, Yankev Vigodski in Yiddish) was born in Bobruisk now in Belarus in 1855 and his family moved to Vilnius in 1860, where he received a traditional Jewish education. He completed high school in Marijampolė and attended medical school at the University of Saint Petersburg, additional studies in Vienna, Berlin, and Paris, after which he returned to Vilnius with the city’s centuries-old Jewish community.

Vilnius always had sufficiently capable people who knew how to organize the life of the Jewish community according to ethical standards, providing a helping hand to the poor and weak. Vygodskis organized the Society of Jewish Physicians in Vilnius besides practicing medicine as a gynecologist, pediatrician and medical researcher, as well as writing; initially he published medical articles in Russian and German journals, but later contributed to the Yiddish and Hebrew popular press and wrote at least three books of memoirs in Yiddish.

In September of 1917 the Lithuanian Taryba (national council) was elected in Vilnius with the goal of establishing an independent state. Wygodzki was appointed minister for Jewish affairs. In 1918 he joined the World Zionist Federation and is called a general liberal Zionist in the literature available on him.

LJC Chairwoman Meets Parliamentary Speaker

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky and executive director Renaldas Vaisbrodas met speaker of the Lithuanian parliament Viktoras Pranckietis Wendesday. They discussed current issues in the Lithuanian Jewish Community regarding protection of Jewish heritage sites and the transfer of the former Hassidic synagogue in Kaunas for use by the Jewish Community, and agreed to work together to mark the 75th anniversary of the liquidation of the Vilnius ghetto with an academic conference at parliament.

Photo: O. Posaškova/Lithuanian parliament

Verėna Wooden Synagogue Listed as Heritage Site

The two-storey wooden synagogue in Varėna, Lithuania, has been listed on the registry of cultural heritage treasures.

It was listed as being of local significance and important for its architecture and as a memorial. The synagogue has a stone and mortar foundation under the compact wooden building. Some of the original windows have survived.

The synagogue was mentioned in an account by a traveler from the Crimea in 1930, who wrote: “There were three Jewish synagogues and about 600 families in Varėna before the war. Now there are barely 70. There were three public schools, now there is only one. The only synagogue [left] was rebuilt in 1922. The Jews have their own People’s Bank established in 1920 with a turnover of one million litai in 1929.”

National Conference “The Stories of the Jews Who Lived in Lithuanian Cities and Towns” in Ariogala, Lithuania

The date and topic of the event wasn’t accidental. Ariogala gymnasium principal Arvydas Stankus said this event was a kind of mobile memorial recalling history. Event guest Gercas Žakas, chairman of the Kaunas Jewish Community, expressed satisfaction at the large turn-out, over 200 people, and said he expected they were tolerant people, not militants, able to speak what exists and what has been lost. He said it was important to remember losses because otherwise we would again enter into historical oblivion. Until World War II everyone got along well and there were about 3,000 Jewish volunteers for the Lithuanian military. It was recalled Lithuanians gave Jews Easter eggs before the war and Jews gave Lithuanians matzo. Then the Soviets came, and all groups suffered, then the Nazis with their crazy policies culminating in genocide.

Ronaldas Račinskas, executive director of the International Commission to Assess the Crimes of the Soviet and Nazi Occupational Regimes in Lithuania, said the world opened the gates of Auschwitz 73 years ago and saw what had gone on there. He said the world did not see other things, and perhaps didn’t want to see or judge what happened up to that point. He said the conference was a sad occasion since it commemorates the murder of 6 million Jews. It would be easy, he said, to claim that this was down to circumstances, Nazi policy and power supporting the idea of the destruction of people, but that there were signs of values pointing to the future, people who took exceptional risk, and some had made accomplishments of global significance. Račinskas said we no longer live in times when aid to the weaker carries a death penalty. Now we can demonstrate our values without waiting for extreme situations to occur. This will result in a better, stronger and more educated Lithuania, he said, and 100 years from now there will be no need to mark June 14, August 23, September 23 or January 27, since it will not be able to happen again at that point. He pointed out there are people at each and every educational and cultural agency doing much more than is demanded by different programs, and said he looked forward to the appearance of leaders whom others would follow. Without the heart-felt and since work and the personal commitment of the teachers, he said, such events as this could not take place.

Lithuanian Jewish Community Chairwoman Faina Kukliansky’s Appeal Regarding Legal Disputes within the Jewish Community

I would like to address our Community again:

• As you know, a group of people calling themselves “the Vilnius Jewish Community” initiated legal proceedings.

• We received no reply to our proposals, made directly and in written form, to give up these legal disputes. A decision was handed down in the Vilnius Jewish Community’s petition which will be appealed in the usual appeals process and we have complete confidence the decision will be annulled.

• In other legal proceedings, the court found the rules and regulations of the LJC were not legal, and the point allowing the formation of a representational quorum during elections was voided. The court again emphasized the rules and regulations must conform to the law: one member, one vote. This affects the regional communities, but moreover all of the associated members, and means that the LJC elections in 2017 were held in keeping with the law. This decision by the court is final and is not subject to appeal.

Again, every Lithuanian Jew may decide for him or herself what sort of community they want, but first, everyone must know the truth. Leaders and community members who await the end of the disputes so they can decide which side to support must wait a little longer. I feel this decision is a matter of conscience for each person to make on their own.

I ask those who are sowing division between Jews, engaging in provocations, filing complaints and spreading rumors and gossip to stop it, without regard to whatever posts they occupy. You are doing harm to the entire Lithuanian Jewish Community.

I invite all members of the community to come together and join forces for things that are important rather than engage in fruitless internal struggles. Our priority tasks are celebrating and passing on the distinct Litvak culture and historical memory of the history of Jews in Lithuania, and making life better for Jews here and now. We can only accomplish this by coming together.

Kaunas 2022 Program to Revive Lost Memory

The first event in the Kaunas 2022 program has been held at the M. K. Čiurlionis National Museum and was dedicated to commemoration of the Kaunas Jewish community before the Holocaust.

Kaunas residents often boast their city is the most Lithuanian city, but that’s not the whole truth. In the early 20th century Kaunas was very multicultural and this was an important part of the city’s identity. The “Office of Memory” part of the Kaunas 2022 program is aimed at reviving the history of the city and encouraging residents to remember that which has been forgotten.

Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon said there must be realization the Jews of Kaunas were Lithuanian citizens who had lived in the country for aeons, loved their country and worked to improve it. The ambassador spoke of a modern Jewish museum, one which would be attractive and interactive, “telling the story of the entire nation through the stories of different individuals.”

Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas said the old Hassidic synagogue in Kaunas would be an ideal site for such a museum. He also said the heroes of the brutal period of the Holocaust cannot be forgotten and that a monument to Lithuanians who rescued Jews should be erected outside the museum.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

One Century out of Seven Exhibit a Hit with Jews in Chicago

The cultural center of the Lithuanian consulate in Chicago is hosting an exceptional exhibition starting at the end of November called “One Century out of Seven: Lithuania, Lite, Lita.” The exhibit covers the history of Litvaks from the first arrivals and settlement of Jews in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to the present day. The exhibit is now circulating in Chicago and suburbs. On January 12 it was presented to the Jewish community of Highland Park.

Exhibit author Pranas Morkus was able to present remarkable details of the relationships between Jews and locals and included a number of notable Litvaks, the most notable and best known being the Vilna Gaon, who is credited with making Vilnius the Jerusalem of Lithuania.

On January 15 the exhibit opened at the North Suburban Beth El Synagogue. Visitors sent photos to facebook and they may be viewed on the LJC webpage.

A large number of Jews with roots in Lithuania live in America and are proud to call themselves Litvaks.

The exhibit was the result of work by Pranas Morkus, the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, the Lithuanian Jewish Community and the designers Victoria Sideraitė-Alon and Jūratė Juozėnienė from the JUDVI design studio.

Lithuanian consul in Chicago Mantvydas Bekešius said the exhibit demonstrates Jews were, are and will always be an important part of the story of Lithuania.

Happy Birthday to Adomas Jacovskis

The Lithuanian Jewish Community wishes the renowned Lithuanian artist, scenographer and painter Adomas Jacovskis a happy birthday. Jacovskis is a recipient of the Lithuanian National Prize for Culture and Art and has done much to make Lithuania known in the world.

He calls himself an individualist from birth. He dreamed of painting and became a painter after choosing to study scenography under the famous painter Augustinas Savickas. He currently teaches at the Vilnius Art Academy. His sister, daughter and son are all artists as well.

We wish you great health, inspiration and resolution in your continuing remarkable work. We are honored by and proud of your achievements and recognition.

Japanese PM Abe to Visit Sugihara House in Kaunas

Photo of Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara and an old Japanese flag on display at the Sugihara House Museum in Kaunas which housed the Japanese Consulate from 1939 to 1940. Photo: AFP-JIJI

KAUNAS, LITHUANIA–A Japanese diplomat who saved 6,000 European Jews from the Holocaust by issuing visas so they could escape war-torn Lithuania will be hailed by Japan’s prime minister decades after defying Tokyo to help the refugees.

Prime minister Shinzo Abe will pay tribute to Chiune Sugihara on Sunday when he visits the two-story building that housed the consulate where he worked in the Baltic state’s second city Kaunas.

Sugihara is thought to be among around 15 diplomats who issued visas to European Jews during World War II and is often called “Japan’s Schindler”–a reference to German industrialist Oskar Schindler, who is credited with saving 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust.

Delegation Visits Alanta Wooden Synagogue

A delegation including Israeli ambassador Amir Maimon, US ambassador Anne Hall, Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, deputy Lithuanian foreign minister Darius Skusevičius, Cultural Heritage Department heritage expert Alfredas Jomantas and Molėtai regional administration head Stasys Žvinys visited the Alanta wooden synagogue near Molėtai, Lithuania, on December 3. The synagogue is listed on the Lithuanian registry of cultural treasures and is in dire need of restoration, according to members of the delegation. The Molėtai regional administration webpage carried details of that discussion:

Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon said: “It is important to all of us that history is remembered and all sites important and significant for history are restored. We’re talking today about Lithuanian heritage, not Jewish heritage. This is your history, this is my history.”

US ambassador to Lithuania Anne Hall said: “In recent times the Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Department has done great work in initiating the restoration of synagogues, churches and other important historical buildings. It is really impressive. This is one of the buildings whose restoration we look forward to, and I know many Americans are looking for a way back to Lithuania, Lithuanian and Jewish émigrés.”

Molėtai regional administration head Stasys Žvinys said the administration lacks funding for the synagogue’s restoration, although it is the only synagogue still standing in the entire region. He asked the Israeli ambassador to take the lead in solving the problem. “Although this is our shared responsibility, unfortunately the administration cannot at this time allocate from its budget the resources appropriate for restoring this synagogue. The synagogue is maintained to the extent the community is able to maintain it,” he said.

Faina Kukliansky, chairwoman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, said: “Even if monies were found for putting the synagogue in order, there has to be content for this synagogue. Logically, if the building is restored but not used, not heated, not used for some purpose, then the money is wasted,” she commented.

The LJC has approached the Cultural Heritage Department about the wooden synagogue and applied for financing for restoration, but cultural heritage conservation specialists say there are many abandoned historical buildings in Lithuania and priority is given sites which have a foreseen use and function.