by Polina Pailis on his 110th birthday for Septynios meno dienos newspaper
New trends in art appeared in Lithuania in the early 20th century based on new ideas and the search for new techniques for expression. Many cartoonists and caricaturists appeared in the press in the interwar period. The artist Leizeris Kaganas was especially prolific from 1931 to 1933.
Kaganas was born in 1910 and his place of birth is unknown. In 1929 he attended the Kaunas Art School but left after his first year. His off-the-cuff sketches and caricatures first appeared in the Kaunas newspapers in 1931. In the second half of that year he moved to Riga and competed in sketching contests there. In 1932 and 1933 he held exhibitions in Lithuania. In 1932 he was part of an exhibition in Stockholm. In 1939 and 1940 he lived and worked in Denmark. Kaganas’s fate following the German occupation of Denmark is unknown.
The first article about the young artist appeared in Lietuvos aidas newspaper on September 30, 1931, which said his talent had been noticed from the beginning.
Photo: 3-D miniature diorama of the Old Town of Šiauliai by Saulius Kruopis, late 19th or early 20th century. Photo by Karolina Savickytė
by Gabija Strumylaitė, 15min.lt
It’s impossible to tell the story of Šiauliai without the names of important Jews who come from there or lived there. One was the industrialist Chaim Frankel whose leather factory once employed a fifth of the city’s population. Victor David Brenner, the Litvak whose most famous work is the United States Lincoln penny still in circulation, put Šiauliai on the world map.
“Before World War I Jews were about 60 percent of the population of Šiauliai. In the period between the wars this figure dropped to 30 percent. There truly is a lot of Jewish heritage in Lithuania. We often stumble upon it and realize it only now. For instance, until my colleague Andrius Kvedaras, whom you will also meet today, nobody conducted exclusively Jewish tours of Šiauliai. It was just part of the general program,” Aušra Museum historian Milda Černiauskaitė said.
Photo: Faina Kukliansky, by Vidmantas Balkūnas, courtesy 15min.lt
Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky remembers January 13. Lithuanian Jews, who restored their community finally 30 years ago after decades of restrictions, took part in events in those days [in 1991] Nowadays when they talk about the struggle for freedom, members of the community emphasize the greatest gift: the opportunity to speak freely.
What do you remember personally about that fateful night at the TV tower, the Lithuanian Radio and Television building and the parliament? What does the Jewish community remember about these events?
Jews did the same thing as everyone else in Lithuania. We have collected the recollections of our community members of that fateful night. They watched the television broadcast until it was cut off and they went to the barricades, in Vilnius but also in Kaunas and other cities.
We were there where the majority of Lithuania was. I remember when I travelled from Varėna during that time and saw the road full of tanks. At that time I had an elderly guest from America who said he was seeing tanks for the first time in his life.
On that particular night my friends and I–all of us were together with our young children–followed events, held vigil, waiting for our husbands who were there in the crowd by the barricades or who were doing their job as doctors.
My children are now grown up and always remember that night and the tension. It wasn’t clear what would happen and the tanks were already in place in the city. We didn’t have any information, we had seen the final frame when E. Bučelytė had to quit the [television] studio. We learned that night from medics that there were dead and wounded people.
by Geršonas Taicas
Shmuel Abba Sniegas was born in Rokiškis [Rokishyok] in 1878. He attended a Jewish primary school and completed the Kneses Israel yeshiva in Slobodka (now the Vilijampolė neighborhood of Kaunas) in 1913. He was deported to the Pskov guberniya in Russia during World War I. He began working as a rabbi in 1916.
Facts worth knowing about the Litvak poet Osip Mandelshtam
by Rūta Ribinskaitė, LJC member, for 15min.lt
As we mark the 130th anniversary of Osip Mandelshtam, the Lithuanian Jewish Community is inviting the public to take a new look at one of the most renowned poets of the Silver Age of Russian poetry. We present to readers long-forgotten and little-known facts about the phenomenal poet Osip Mandelshtam.
Mandelshtam’s family on both his mother’s and father’s side came from Lithuania. The Mandelshtam family’s roots are in northern Lithuania in the town of Žagarė. There are assertions the family settled in the town in the early 19th century.
The poet’s mother Flora Mandelshtam née Verbolvskaya was a musician and his father Hatzkel-Emil Mandelshtam belong to the first guild of merchants and was a leather tanner. The young married couple lived in Warsaw where the future poet was born on January 15, 1891, and then moved to live in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1896 and 1897.
Full text in Lithuanian here.
The Lithuanian Jewish Community is inviting the public to learn more about one of the best poets of Russia’s Silver Age, Osip Mandelshtam.
Join the virtual day of poetry at 2:00 P.M. on January 15 on facebook by going to https://fb.me/e/1cV0KYzFo
Speakers and critics will present new insights and little known facts in Mandelshtam’s biography and poetry. The actors Viačeslavas Lukjanovas and Larisa Kalpokaitė will read excerpts in Russian and Viktorija Verikaitė will read Lithuanian translations of Mandelshtam’s poetry.
Chaimas Kurickis was born in Utena, Lithuania, in 1921. He and his mother fled east as the German army approached in June of 1941. They were arrested, separated and imprisoned in Daugavpils, Latvia, his mother being sent to the ghetto and he to jail.
The hero of his book was also in the ghetto and several concentration camps, where he fought to survive right up till May 5, 1945, when Germany was defeated finally. Chaimas Kurickas set down his recollections and experiences along with several poems in a book called “To Survie and Tell the Tale,” translated to Lithuanian under the title “Išgyventi ir papasakoti” by Edmundas Kutka. The book has also been translated to Hebrew and Russian, and has caught the interest of Latvians who utilize it to talk about the tragic events of the Daugavpils ghetto, and Germans. The Lithuanian translation is expected to be of keen interest to Lithuanians and especially people from Utena who might be interested in the native author’s youth and experiences.
The launch of the Lithuanian translation of the book, published with aid from the Goodwill Foundation, included a panel of speakers, including tour guide and historian Chaim Bargman, Vilna Gaon Jewish History Museum RIghteous Gentiles Department director Danutė Selčinskaja, teacher and historian Danguolė Jonaitienė who knew Kurickas from before the war, translator Tamara Jefremova and the translator of this book Edmundas Kutka.
The 20-year-old Utena native learned of the onset of war in his hometown. The rapid progress and unexpected moves of the German military forced him to adapt quickly to change. He and his mother and sisters were forced to flee, but the Kaunas-Daugavpils route was overcrowded with much military transport, Russian tanks and hundreds if not thousands of fleeing civilians, mainly Jews, trying to make their way towards Russia.
by Lithuanian foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis and Israeli foreign minister Gabi Ashkenazi, DELFI.lt
“The purpose of redemption is to protect the truth,” the Vilna Gaon said. One of the most renowned scholars and exegetes of the Torah and the Talmud, the Vilna Gaon held great influence through his works on the religious and cultural identity of Litvaks. The Lithuanian parliament declared 2020, the 300th anniversary of his birth, the Year of the Vilna Gaon and Litvak history.
The year 2020 was dedicated to the extraordinarily rich, continuing 700-year history of Jews in Lithuania. The unique Lithuanian shtetlakh gave birth to many religious authorities and sages, and also to Jewish artists of world renown. The painter Marc Chagal bloomed under Lithuanian skies. Memories of Lithuania live in contemporary author Grigoriy Kanovitch’s work. The land inspired Emmanuel Levinas to ponder the secrets of existence and provided the nostalgic ring to Lea Goldberg’s poems. When we talk about the exceptional history of the Jews of Lithuania, we also remember the horrific tragedy of the Holocaust. All of us must pledge never to forget what happened, and to judge honestly and objectively our shared past, no matter how painful it might be.
by Rasa Jakubauskienė and Vaidas Banys for 15min.lt
Kėdainiai [Keydan] is a city rich in history, culture, heritage and synagogues. Currently one of the synagogues houses the Multicultural Center of the Kėdainiai Regional History Museum, another an art school, and yet another is undergoing restoration. Restoration of the exterior of the latter was finished last year and this year the interior is being restored.
Jorūnė Liutkienė, advisor to the mayor of the Kėdainiai regional administration, said work is ongoing inside and isn’t complete. Kėdainiai historian Vaidas Banys reported, as we were writing this article, that he had discovered interesting facts never before published concerning the emergence of this synagogue, and shared them for the first time with readers of the newspaper Rinkos aikštė [local Kėdainiai newspaper].
by Gediminas Pilaitis, Lrytas.lt
Many residents of Klaipėda don’t know the city’s largest synagogue once stood on Daržų street.
There are plans to commemorate the synagogue which operated in the interwar period in the Klaipėda Old Town. A commemorative plaque is to be placed on the hotel which now occupies the location. The city has approved the plan initiated by the local Jewish community.
We are saddened to report the death of Baruch Shub. Born in Vilnius, a Holocaust survivor and a young Jewish partisan in the Vilnius ghetto, Shub went on to work as a member of the board of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany for many years. Our deepest condolences to children, grandchildren and many friends.
by Geršonas Taicas
This year marks 125 years since the birth in Lithuania of the famous artist and sculptor Antonietta Raphaël-Mafai. She was born in what is now the Kaunas neighborhood of Viljampolė, aka Slobodka, although the town didn’t extend that far then, to a large family. According to archival information the family had 12 children, although other sources say 14, but Antonietta was the only girl.
Her father Simon Rafael was a melamed, Hebrew for teacher, and he taught Hebrew and Jewish traditions at a heder, or primary school. Her mother Mariam was a seamstress and tailor. Simon died in 1903 and her mother took the remaining children to live in London in 1905.
by Artūras Jančys
Should we restore desecrated Jewish grave markers and set up meditation and commemoration spaces in Jewish cemeteries, or should we leave the dead in peace and leave everything as it was? There is still no one good answer to the these questions.
Several years ago the municipality of Kaunas took resolute steps to include old Jewish cemeteries in the general context of the historical heritage of Kaunas. Students from Vytautas Magnus University were organized and sent to make photographic records, recording almost 6,000 Jewish headstones on film.
Each gravestone was photographed from several different angles resulting in well over 10,000 individual photographs. They will be entered in a general database which will aid in the continuing project to restore Jewish graveyards. The students’ work will also be displayed on a special internet site created for that purpose.
“Traditions are a sacred thing, but even they change, and now there are even female rabbis,” Gercas Žakas, chairman of the Kaunas Jewish Community, said.
Full story in Lithuanian here.
Hag Hanukkah Sameach!
On behalf of all the members of the European Association for the Preservation and Promotion of Jewish Culture and Heritage, the AEPJ, we would like to send you our deepest wishes for joy, happiness and health on this Hanukkah 5781.
Chanukah Illuminates the Jewish Heritage of the Mediterranean
Today the world marks International Human Rights Day which began when the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Universal Human Rights Declaration on December 10, 1948. The call to stand up for human rights invites us to get involved and engaged in creating solidarity and societies respecting human rights, and calls on us to learn more about ethnic, religious and cultural communities and the way they live. Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky calls it symbolic that this year’s International Human Rights Day coincides with the beginning of the traditional Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, a celebration of victory in perhaps the first battle for freedom of worship and freedom of conscience.
“The victory for our religion two millennia ago has continuity with modern Lithuania where all people have religious freedom. Hanukkah is an opportunity for the broader society to undersant and discover traditional Jewish culture as well as the activities of our community. We believe that it is only through understand and communication that we can overcome miscommunication and stereotypes, to insure respect for the rights of all people living in Lithuania,” chairwoman Kukliansky said.
Respect for human rights is urgent right now, she continued, because Jewish communities around the world are facing anti-Semitic sentiments. The European Union Council has responded to increasing attacks against Jews and all manner of anti-Semitic expressions, and on December 2 adopted a declaration on joint-efforts to fight anti-Semitism. The European Jewish Congress representing the Jewish communities of EU member-states and other European countries is asking national leaders to listen to the words of the declaration, follow it and pay additional attention towards creating a relationship of solidarity with the Jewish communities.
All the important Jewish holidays are described in the Torah except for two: Purim and Hanukkah. These two holidays celebrate the victory of the Jews over their enslavers and persecutors. They are celebrated because our sages have decided so, both of them following the revelation of the Torah to the Jews.
Hellenistic rulers ruled the land of Israel from 198 B.C.E. onward. They destroyed Jewish traditions, forbade the reading of the Torah and banned celebrating the Sabbath. They weren’t anti-Semites per se, they didn’t seek the physical destruction of the Jews, they more pressed for the spiritual destruction of Judaism.
After the victory of the Maccabees and the liberation of the Temple in Jerusalem, the Most High apparently emphasized the importance of this event. The vessel of oil intended for the purification of the Temple miraculously lasted eight days instead of one. That was the time needed for making more ritual oil.
Dear colleagues and friends, I greet you on this wonderful, bright and memorable holiday! It is not celebrated by military parades, but by candlelight, with doughnuts and traditional games.
Hag Hanukkah sameakh!
Simas Levinas, chairman
Vilnius Jewish Religious Community