Heritage

Town of Darbėnai Deciding How to Commemorate Jewish Past, Some Ideas Divisive

Town of Darbėnai Deciding How to Commemorate Jewish Past, Some Ideas Divisive

by Jovita Gaižauskaitė, LRT TV

Residents of the town of Darbėnai in the Kretinga region are deciding how to commemorate the former Jewish population of about 550. The proposals so far have stirred up division in the town: no one wants to showcase that Jews were murdered there.

About 550 Jews lived in Darbėnai before World War II. Now the marked mass murder sites witness to their fate.

There is a plaque commemorating the Zionist Dovid Volfson, considered the inventor of the Israeli flag and the man who gave the modern shekel its name, on one of the houses in the Lithuanian town. Local residents keep coming up with more ideas to commemorate other Jews who lived there.

Yeshiva Being Restored in Telšiai

Yeshiva Being Restored in Telšiai

by Gintaras Šiuparys

The city of Telšiai has been putting its Old Town in order and has begun restoration of the former yeshiva there.

The remains of the building standing on Iždinės street doesn’t bring to mind the former glory of the world-famous yeshiva. Rabbis from the US, Great Britain, South Africa, Hungary Uruguay and other countries came to learner here. After a fire early in the 20th century, the rebuilt and expanded was huge. At one time up to 500 rabbis and other students studied here.

One of the most famous Jewish religious schools, it operated until the occupation of Lithuania in 1940. Actually it was recreated and still operates across the Atlantic: since November of 1941 the Telshe yeshiva has been operating in Cleveland, Ohio. It follows the same program of study as the former yeshiva in Lithuania.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Kaunas Library Conducting Jewish Tours

Kaunas Library Conducting Jewish Tours

The Vincas Kudirka Public Library in Kaunas invites the public to a series of tours in a project called Jewish Heritage in Kaunas. The tours will be conducted on September 6, 8 and 10 and will cover modern architecture, the Old Town, Slobodka and major achievements by Litvaks. Registration required. Call (37) 22 23 57 or send an email to renginiai@kaunas.mvb.lt

The guided tour on September 10 begins at 6:00 P.M. and will be led by local guide Asia Gutermanaitė.

Statement by Lithuanian Jewish Community Chairwoman Faina Kukliansky on the New Jonas Noreika Plaque

Statement by Lithuanian Jewish Community Chairwoman Faina Kukliansky on the New Jonas Noreika Plaque

Thursday evening a plaque commemorating Jonas Noreika was erected on the outer wall of the Vrublevskiai Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences in central Vilnius. A number of police observed the scene.

This is a wanton act by a mob. It demonstrates the attitude of the organizers of this event, of those who hung the plaque, towards the law and obeying the law.

We saw the organizers took the path of force, pushing their belief as the only correct one. We saw that before in Lithuania in 1941.

Despite the LJC’s critical view of Noreika’s actions during the Nazi occupation, it never occured to us over those 22 years the plaque stood there to come and simply take it down. We respect the laws of Lithuania.

I have no doubt that the events of Thursday evening have done harm to the nation’s reputation. High-lvel delegations from the United States are due to arrive in September alone and we will mark the day of remembrance of the genocide of the Jews of Lithuania on September 23. And will this plaque look on from its central perch as we mark the Year of the Vilna Gaon and of Litvak History declared in 2020?

It is crucial that the leaders of the Lithuanian state express their views and a principled position, and that the appropriate Lithuanian institutions take all necessary measures.

The only consolation seems to be that today, Thursday evening, as I watched this so-called action, I saw only a small group of people who truly do not represent the whole of Lithuania. There were no young people, no intellectuals on hand, whose voices have been lacking in this.

What we are demanding is very simple: 1) stop denying the Holocaust, 2) stop portraying Holocaust perpetrators as heroes, 3) honor the victims of the Holocaust and 4) follow the IHRA definition of Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism adopted by Lithuania last year. If the IHRA definition isn’t followed it’s meaningless for Lithuania to remain a signatory to it or a member of IHRA.

I would like to remind the public again that my relatives were imprisoned in the Šiauliai ghetto, from which they never returned. I would like to quote the famous writer Sholem Aleichem, in whose honor a school is named in Vilnius. One of his works begins with the words: “How good it is that I am an orphan…” I would also like to say: “How good it is that I am an orphan and that my parents aren’t around to see the man who condemned their entire family to death in the Šiauliai ghetto celebrated and lionized.”

March of the Living

March of the Living

You’re invited to take part in the March of the Living procession in Ponar at 1:00 P.M. on September 23, 2019. The march begins at the Ponar railroad station and concludes at the main memorial in the Ponar Memorial Complex, where a commemoration ceremony to remember the genocide of the Jews of Lithuania will begin at 1:15.

A bus will offer transport from the LJC to the memorial complex leaving at 12 noon. Registration begins September 16. To register, call 8 5 261 3003.


European Day of Jewish Culture Events in Šiauliai

European Day of Jewish Culture Events in Šiauliai

The Aušra Museum in Šiauliai will mark European Day of Jewish Culture on September 8, 2019. At 1:00 P.M. a game will be held on the grounds of the Frankel factory. At 2:00 P.M. the museum will open the exhibit “The Frankel Factory: A Symbol of Šiauliai Industry and Modernization” and screen a series of documentary films about Jews of Šiauliai called “Dingusio pasaulio pėdsakais. Žydiškieji Šiauliai” [Traces of a Lost World: Jewish Šiauliai] directed by Jūratė Sobutienė at the Chaim Frankel villa.

The game will requires teams of from 2 to 4 people with telephones or tablets with internet access. To register your team call 8 41 524 392 or send an e-mail to istorija@ausrosmuziejus.lt

More information:
www.ausrosmuziejus.lt
https://www.facebook.com/events/698501067290781

Augustė Labenskytė, acting director,
History Department, Aušra Museum

Focus on Cuisine and History at European Day of Jewish Culture Events

Focus on Cuisine and History at European Day of Jewish Culture Events

VILNIUS, September 1, BNS–Events were held to celebrate European Day of Jewish Culture in Vilnius on the first Sunday in September. Tours of the Lithuanian capital, lectures and authentic Jewish cuisine were offered to the public.

The events program included Jewish music in the Vilnius Old Town–the old Jewish Quarter–and restaurants offering authentic Jewish foods.

“Jewish cuisine is an inalienable part of Jewish culture, Jewish tradition and Jewish heritage. Jewish cuisine is a prerequisite part of any Jewish holiday,” Lithuanian Jewish Community projects director Dovilė Rūkaitė told BNS.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

LJC Celebrates 20th European Day of Jewish Culture in Vilnius Old Town

LJC Celebrates 20th European Day of Jewish Culture in Vilnius Old Town

The Lithuanian Jewish Community celebrated the 20th European Day of Jewish Culture in the traditional Jewish Quarter of Vilnius September 1 with song, dance and food. The weather was beautiful. Restaurants in the Vilnius Old Town feature Jewish foods with traditional breakfast served at the Bagel Shop Café, restaurants and cafés on Žydų and Stiklių streets and other locations. DJs RafRaf, Akvilina and Marius Šmitas provided dance music with a 10-hour musical program at the Amadeus Bar.

LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky greeted celebrants and Vidmantas Bezaras, director of the Cultural Heritage Deparment, and Vida Montvydaitė, director of the Department of Ethnic Minorities, also spoke, noting there is no town or village in Lithuania without some sign of a Jewish presence. Vida Montvydaitė said this isn’t just Jewish heritage, it’s Lithuania’s legacy, and protecting it is becoming ever more important.

The writer Kristina Sabaliauskaitė spoke about her childhood memories of the Jews who still lived in central Vilnius then and with whom she made lasting friendships. She says interpersonal relationships are still one of the most important things in life to her.

Sergejus Kanovičius: Revolutionary Pessimist, Writer, Successful but Still Looking for His Calling

Sergejus Kanovičius: Revolutionary Pessimist, Writer, Successful but Still Looking for His Calling

by Evaldas Labanauskas 15min.lt

When you put “Sergejus Kanovičius” into a search engine, it comes back with “poet, essayist, translation…” There are also references to Grigoriy Kanovich, who recently celebrated his 90th birthday. The latter is a Writer with a capital W, and Sergejus also talks about his Father (also capitalized).

When I read one of your father’s works, “Žydų parkas” [Jewish Park], I got the impression that it was a monument to Litvak culture and civilization, spanning 700 years but now dead. What is the current situation of Litvaks in Lithuania? Do you think this culture/civilization is being reborn?

There are people who express the opinion there are certain parallels between the project which I lead and my father’s work. If one is a material monument to the culture of the Jews of Lithuania, then my father’s work is a literary monument to an extinct ethnos. I think the Jewish community in Lithuania is experiencing a period of transformation. The word “reborn” might be more appropriate if we were talking about what happened 30 years ago, when there were 20,000 Jews in Lithuania, but today there are barely 3,000 Jews in Lithuania. Any sort of activity is encouraging, but claiming there is some kind of very bright future–I, as a revolutionary pessimist, would refrain from that sort of evaluation. Honestly, I am very glad about what is happening, and as much as I’m able I contribute to the activities of the Jewish community, but… while there is a lot of action, there is the question: is there a future?

Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community Tours Jewish Sites in Akmenė Region

Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community Tours Jewish Sites in Akmenė Region

Members of the Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community spent the day of August 20 touring the Akmenė visiting sites with once populous Jewish communities. The tour began in Šiauliai and continued on in Papilė, where wood carver, traveller, naturalist and geographer Steponas Adomavičius met the group and gave them a guided tour of Jewish residences from before the Holocaust. Members visited the old Jewish cemetery in Papilė, a cemetery which features a commemorative stone and which Adomavičius himself maintains without remuneration. He cuts the grass and hedges and plants small trees. A grateful Jewish man living in America installed a bench bearing Steponas Adomavičius’s name in the cemetery in order to thank him.

The group was unable to reach the Jewish mass murder site in the woods of the Papilė aldermanship because there was no path through the forest at all. Adomavičius spoke about new projects he’s doing in connection with preserving the memory of the Jewish people.

From Papilė the group went on towards Akmenė, where the teacher Rita Ringienė met them and imparted much important information. Some Jewish structures survive in Akmenė. The teacher and pupils from her higher classes have done a study called “Inscriptions on Headstones in the Akmenė Jewish Cemetery and Their Translation to Lithuanian.” The group visited the old Jewish cemetery in Akmenė.

Sabbath in the Jewish Quarter September 1

Sabbath in the Jewish Quarter September 1

The Lithuanian Jewish Community invites you to come celebrate the 20th annual European Day of Jewish Culture, “Sabbath in the Jewish Quarter,” in the Vilnius Old Town on September 1.

World-renowned writer Chaim Grade called the Vilnius Old Town the Jewish Quarter ca. 1930, and wrote: “Long Fridays of Summer. The housewives go to the bakery to shop for Saturday: they buy dry bagels, dark cookies and pastries with poppy seeds, small little cakes with powdered sugar…” (from his Der shtumer minyen, or Silent Minyan).

On Sunday, September 1, restaurants and cafés located in the Vilnius Jewish Quarter will present a menu of Jewish dishes, Jewish music will play and there will be lectures and tours. LJC chairman Faina Kukliansky will open ceremonies with a welcome speech at 12 noon. Saulius Pilinkus will MC and new Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Yossi Avni Levy, Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Department head Vidmantas Bezaras and Lithuanian Ethnic Minorities Department director Vida Montvydaitė will also welcome participants.

The Walls Remember, the People Tell

The Walls Remember, the People Tell

As part of the 20th annual European Day of Jewish Culture, the Lithuanian Jewish Community invites the public to visit the former Jewish Quarter of Vilnius. Recently several frescoes appeared on the walls there. The creators will lead a tour and talk about their surprising project The Walls Remember on September 1. Project author Lina Šlipavičiutė-Černiauskienė describes it this way:

“Vilnius had one of the largest and most active Jewish communities in our region. The horrors of World War II almost completely destroyed this community and this is without doubt one of the most painful losses for Lithuania and especially Vilnius. We don’t have the right to forget these people, and we do not forget them.

“But we forget too much the time when the people of Vilnius were simply happy. These bright memories should be visible: how these people worked, grew up, created families and grew old… How they shaped their lives in Vilnius whose streets we walk today, the same town we the current inhabitants of Vilnius love.

Notes from the Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community

Notes from the Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community

On May 21, teacher Nijolė Teišerskienė taught students about the history of the Šiauliai ghetto. Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community member Ida Vileikienė survived that ghetto and told the children her story, including how she was rescued by the Staškas family, how she lived in hiding and what she did after the war. She invited the children to learn to respect one another as a general life lesson.

On May 23 Inga Kvedariene of the Šiauliai territorial medical system met with community members and talked about the payment system hospitals use and which services are free to those who have social insurance. She then fielded questions from the audience.

On June 14 members of the Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community visited the site of the former Lithuanian shtetl Zhagar (Žagarė) beginning with tours of the Žagarė Regional Park and the Naryškinas manor estate. Land management specialist Giedrė Rakštienė spoke authoritatively on the Jewish population of Zhagar and many community members learned new things about Jewish life there. Žagarė gymnasium geography teacher Alma Kančelskienė led the tour which included still-standing Jewish buildings which used to be synagogues, the house of the rabbi and a school, and members also visited the site of the former mikvah there. Members also visited the home of E. Vaičiulis. He is the owner now of the site of the former Jewish textile factory on the banks of the Švėtė river and of a wooden Jewish house where he now lives. Under several layers of wallpaper there are parts of old Jewish newspapers on his walls which the former owners glued there once upon a time. He has preserved the original exterior and the interior is decorated with period pots and dishes. Surrounded by a stone wall, Vaičiulis’s collection is a veritable museum of the former time when Jewish life was front and center in what is now a Lithuanian town. Pride of place is occupied by a Torah scroll discovered in Zhagar. Members also visited the Jewish cemetery and mass murder sites in and around the town.

The Doors Open: An Installation to Remember Jewish Merkinė

The Doors Open: An Installation to Remember Jewish Merkinė

The town of Merkinė, Lithuania, held a big celebration August 17 and 18, marking the 660th anniversary of the first mention of the town in the historical sources and the 450th anniversary of the town receiving autonomous Magdeburg charter rights. The Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Fayerlakh group were invited to the celebration.

The project “Doors Are Opening” was dedicated to commemorating life in Merkinė during the period between the two world wars, when the majority of the population was Jewish. Before the Holocaust Jews accounted for about 80% of inhabitants. The old Jewish doors were donated for the celebration.

“It’s normal not to want to talk about the painful past, but it’s abnormal if we try to live our lives as if none of those experiences ever even existed,” Mindaugas Černiauskas, the director of the Merkinė Regional History Museum, said.

European Day of Jewish Culture Events in Vilnius

European Day of Jewish Culture Events in Vilnius

Sabbath in the Jewish Quarter, a lost tradition where every Friday evening the Jewish family sat down at the dinner table together, lit the candles, prayed and broke bread, followed by a day of rest on Saturday, and the beginning of the new week on Sunday.

Let’s rediscover the ferment, history, tastes, smells and melodies of the Jewish Quarter on the European Day of Jewish Culture.

Program here.

Registration here.

Jews of Merkinė

Jews of Merkinė

Merkinė Jewish school, ca. 1928-1930

by Mindaugas Černiauskas

“Decades have passed since I left you, Merkinė. You are always on my mind. Every day I walk your small crowded streets in my thoughts. I know it’s not real, but I haven’t learned to come to terms with the fact the terror of the Holocaust was also in my town.” –Dorit Blatshtein, refugee from Merkinė.

Exactly 78 years ago the Jews of Merkinė were marched to the sand pits in Kukumbalis forest and left there for the ages powerless and desecrated. The introduction of the book “Mano senelių ir prosenelių kaimynai žydai” [My Grandparents’ and Great-Granparents’ Jewish Neighbors] published in 2003 contains the line that “the destruction of the Jews of Lithuania was so blood-curdling and unexpected, so cynical and public, accomplished right here in view of all other residents, that it essentially touched in one way or another every member of society.”

It’s difficult not to agree with this, as it is difficult not to agree with the idea that traumatic experience is often pushed into the subconscious. It’s clear experience doesn’t disappear and can become a festering wound and neurosis, especially when we view history based on idealized versions of national history where we only want to see examples of goodness, beauty and harmony which make us proud.

Vytenis Andriukaitis Comments on Noreika Plaque Take-Down, Hitler-Stalin Equivalency

Vytenis Andriukaitis Comments on Noreika Plaque Take-Down, Hitler-Stalin Equivalency

Photo: © 2019 DELFI/Lukas Bartkus

In an interview conducted by the Lithuanian Telegraph Agency ELTA and published on the Delfi news site, outgoing Lithuanian European Commission commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis commented on the public controversy over the removal of a sign commemorating Jonas Noreika in Vilnius.

Question: Agitation has arisen in society because of the removal of the commemorative plaque for Jonas Noreika and the renaming of Kazys Škirpa Alley. In other words, conflict has arisen because of collective historical memory and this has provoked clear conflict between the Jewish community and [ethnic] Lithuanians. Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky announced the closure of the synagogue and the community building due to threats received. The prime minister and the president immediately condemned expressions of hate, but the information had already been sent out to the international community that Jews are not safe in Lithuania. You are a highly educated person as well as an historian. As an historian, how do you view interference by politicians into historical memory? Do they have the right to do this?

Answer: The biggest complaint I have to make to the conservative ideologues is very clear: they politicize and rewrite history. Putin rewrites history, but this is being done in Lithuania by Landsbergis as well. Those who attempt to place an equal sign between the crimes of Stalinism and Nazi crimes–deportations, murders, exile–are also rewriting history. The Holocaust, however, is a unique Nazi crime, because the Nazi racial ideology is unique, one of a kind in the world. Communism was a universal system of beliefs … No distinction is made in Lithuania between Stalinist and Nazi crimes … The Holocaust of Naziism was a unique crime based on the Nazi ideology, based on an ultra-racist point of view, breeding people to create a superhuman breed and placing people in genetic categories: people, genetically deformed people and subhumans. Jews and Roma were subhumans, they were scheduled for extermination … This is horrific. Show me at least one Stalinist crime committed of this nature. The Stalinist concentration camps were crimes against humanity.

Full interview in Lithuanian here.

LJC Chairwoman Debates Ultra-Nationalist MP on Lithuanian TV

LJC Chairwoman Debates Ultra-Nationalist MP on Lithuanian TV

Lietuvos rytas, a television station, newspaper and website, broadcasted Tuesday an interview/discussion with Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky and Conservative Party/Christian Democratic Union MP Laurynas Kasčiūnas on Saturday’s removal of a plaque commemorating Nazi collaborator Jonas Noreika from central Vilnius Saturday.

Kasčiūnas said he and people of like mind have asked the Lithuanian Prosecutor’s Office to investigate the removal of the plaque by Vilnius major Remigijus Šimašius for possibly violating the public interest and the principles of the rule of law. He quoted a finding by the Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of Residents of Lithuania–a state-funded, state-administered historical research agency–claiming the Center found Noreika had not collaborated with the Nazis.

Kasčiūnas dominated the interview and spoke rapid-fire according to Conservative Party talking points, repeating claims made by other ultra-nationalists in recent days. When the hostess asked chairwoman Kukliansky to respond to Kasčiūnas’s initial barrage of falsifications, disinformation and half-truths, she asked whether anyone had finally determined who commissioned the Noreika plaque in the first place. Kasčiūnas claimed Šimašius had produced documentation showing the Vilnius city municipality commissioned and paid for the plaque in 1997 or 1998. This appears to be a key point in the entire story and could be of vital importance in legal challenges to Šimašius’s move in the future.