Heritage

Review of BBC Documentary How the Holocaust Began

Review of BBC Documentary How the Holocaust Began

Photo: Historian James Bulgin at the Majdanek concentration camp, near Lublin, Poland Credit: Benjamin Holgate/BBC

James Bulgin’s BBC Two documentary contains horrifying footage, showing how ordinary people facilitated the Nazis in murdering Jews

What springs to mind when you hear the word “Holocaust?” This was the question which opened James Bulgin’s film “How the Holocaust Began” (BBC). Most likely you will think of somewhere like Auschwitz, and the Nazis presiding over processed mass murder. But Bulgin, an historian from the Imperial War Museum, wanted to show us something different.

Large-scale executions of Jews began in 1941 as the Germans made their way across Eastern Europe. Hitler’s Einsatzgruppen death squads carried out many of these murders. But the chilling truth presented here was that they did not, in fact, could not, act alone. They needed not just the tacit support of the civilian population, but their active participation. Ordinary people facilitated and sometimes carried out the mass killings of men, women and children.

The documentary contained horrific footage, a “home movie” shot by a German soldier of people being marched into trenches and shot in the head. Spectators gather round, smoking and talking, to watch. It was a terrible thing to see. But equally unforgettable were the words of Faina Kukliansky, whose grandmother had been rounded up in Alytus, Lithuania, and taken to a forest along with 2,500 others to be murdered. Kukliansky had discovered that this was done by local townsfolk and even school children: “That confirms what my uncle used to tell me… That probably his classmates killed his mother.”

Full review here.

LJC Asks Conservative Party to Look Into Member’s Anti-Semitic Remark

LJC Asks Conservative Party to Look Into Member’s Anti-Semitic Remark

Photo: Old cemetery in Nemakščiai

The Lithuanian Jewish Community has asked Gabrielius Landsbergis, the leader of the conservative Homeland Union/Lithuanian Christian Democrats Party, to look into remarks made by fellow party member Remigijus Laugalis.

“If you don’t vote for me, then you can bury yourself in the Jewish cemetery,” Laugalis allegedly remarked.

Remigijus Laugalis is currently the alderman of the town of Nemakščiai and is seeking to be elected to the town council of Raseiniai, Lithuania.

The LJC has asked Landsbergis to undertake actions to educate residents of the Raseiniai district about the consequences of uncontrolled anti-Semitism and racism. The LJC has offered to help hold educational meetings with historians, cultural experts and writers in a spirit of cooperation based on mutual respect.

Ona Šimaitė Bio Better Known in US, Israel, France than Lithuania

Ona Šimaitė Bio Better Known in US, Israel, France than Lithuania

Rimantas Stankevičius utilized Holocaust Remembrance Day to present again his biography of Lithuania’s first recognized Righteous Gentile Ona Šimaitė on Holocaust Remembrance Day. The book was published back in 2021 by the Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of Residents of Lithuania. He gave an interview about his book to the news website delfi.lt.

“… at the intersection of Stiklių and Didžiosios street [in Vilnius] there was a false-flag operation intended to show Jews had attempted to kill a German officer. … Men, women, children and the infirm were sent en masse [from the nieghborhood] to the prison. One elderly woman was carried. Women marched cradling babies and with small children who clung to their mothers’ skirts. Many children from the orphanage were marched there along with their teachers. I saw a cobbler with a limp from Stiklių street whom I knew well. He wasn’t able to walk without a walking stick. They took his cane at the entrance to the prison and began beating him with it. Then they threw the stick through the prison gate whistling, guffawing and cursing the prisoners. On the other side of the prison I saw a Jewish woman in a white hospital gown. She appeared to have become completely lost. I looked for my 11-year-old daughter who was taken from home to no one knows where when she was supposed to be on duty at the hospital. I advised the woman to go home quickly so she wouldn’t end up in the prison. I wrote down her name and address and promised to do everything I could. The well-known Lithuanian public figure Marcelė Kubiliūtė and I went to the home of Buragas, the director of Jewish affairs. I went to Lithuanian security. I looked over lists there but didn’t find the girl’s name. I shrugged my shoulders and asked, ‘Is it worth getting all worked up about a Jewish girl?’ When I inquired where the girl might be, they suggested I go to the Lithuanian Special Squad which was shooting Jews. There was no sense going there at all,” Ona Šimaitė, librarian at Vilnius University from 1940 to 1944, stated.

First Plaque Commemorating Jews of Palanga

First Plaque Commemorating Jews of Palanga

International Holocaust Remembrance Day reminds residents of Lithuania’s sea-side city of Palanga of June 27 and October 12, 941, the days on which more than 400 fellow residents, the Jews of Palanga who were hard-working, innovative lovers of life and the sea, became victims of the Holocaust. One out of eight residents of Palanga was murdered during those two days. And that’s not a definite tally, it might be higher.

Friday Palanga mayor Šarūnas Vaitkus, deputy mayor Rimantas Antanas Mikalkėnas, director of the city’s Culture Department Robertas Trautmanas, Palanga Jewish Community chairman Vilius Gutmanas and other members of the Palanga Jewish Community observed a moment of silence at a memorial in the Palanga cemetery to remember the 106 Jews and Lithuanians murdered in the southern part of Birutė Park on June 27, 1941, the majority of whom lived in Palanga.

Candles were lit and the traditional stones were left to honor and remember the city residents who became the first victims of the Holocaust in Lithuania. Friday also saw a new page of history open with the unveiling of a commemorative plaque to mark the site of the former synagogue complex at what is now a supermarket on Vytauto street.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Holocaust Remembrance Day in Palanga

Holocaust Remembrance Day in Palanga

Residents of Palanga are invited to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day this Friday, January 27, with a candle-lighting ceremony at the Old Cemetery in Palanga at 11:00 A.M. followed by the unveiling of a new plaque commemorating the town’s synagogues destroyed during World War II at Vytauto street no. 98 at 11:30 A.M.

Our Home Town Vilne Is 700

Our Home Town Vilne Is 700

Today Vilnius begins celebrating its 700th birthday with a series of events over the coming year. Over its entire 700 years of history the Jewish people have lived, built, created, started families, studied and achieved major milestones in culture, medicine, business, the arts and many other fields of human endeavor.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky remarked: “Today there remains only a very small Vilna Jewish community, but the contributions made by many generations of Jews to the success and thriving of this city called the Jerusalem of the North won’t allow us to forget.”

The Lithuanian Jewish Community has published a calendar to mark Vilnius’s 700th anniversary with a special Vilnius 700 logo and collages from old Jewish Vilne. The designers of the calendar were Victoria Sideraitė Alon and Albinas Šimanauskas from the creative group JUDVI & AŠ.

“The 700th anniversary of the founding of the city of Vilnius is a wonderful and significant day for all residents of the city and beyond. Sadly, in the excitement in preparing for this holiday, few remember who built the capital of Lithuania, who contributed so significantly to giving birth to this pearl of UNESCO,” chairwoman Kukliansky commented.

Marc Chagall: World in Turmoil

Marc Chagall: World in Turmoil

“The whole history is packing bundles and getting away. Nobody else can be as tender and delicate with bundles. That’s a Jewish man tying a bundle.”

Those lines from Arthur Miller’s Monte Saint Angelo aptly characterizes an unusual exhibit of paintings by Marc Chagall during his period of exile from the 1930s and 1940s which opened in Frankfurt and will run till February 19, 2023. The exhibit is called World in Turmoil.

“A few kilometers from there is a place, more precisely a town, which I haven’t visited for a long time, but I always remember it. So I took advantage of your invitation to go and wander around there a little,” Marc Chagall said at the World YIVO Conference held in Vilnius (Wilno) on August 14, 1935.

This conference is mentioned in the artist’s biography and the catalog for the exhibit at that time. His journey back to Poland (now Lithuania) gave rise to works which appear unusual and dark for Chagall. His oeuvre is usually arranged chronologically, from his native Vitebsk, striving to reattain this magical homeland. In Vilnius Chagall comes as close as possible to actually returning.

International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust

International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust

To mark the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust instituted by the United Nations in 2005, the Lithuanian Jewish Community will host a presentation of Vytautas Magnus University teacher Linas Venclauskas’s monograph about Lithuanian anti-Semitism and of Vytautas Toleikis’s book about the portrayal of Jews in Lithuanian literature.

The two presentations in Lithuanian begin at 6:00 P.M. on Thursday, January 26 at the Lithuanian Jewish Community in Vilnius. Note the United Nations’ International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust. more commonly called International Holocaust Remembrance Day, is officially on Friday, January 27, to mark the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp complex by the Soviet Red Army in 1945.

LJC Chairwoman Attending Conference of European Jewish Leaders in Israel

LJC Chairwoman Attending Conference of European Jewish Leaders in Israel

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky is attending a conference of European Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. The conference agenda includes meetings and discussions on relations between Israel and the Jewish communities abroad, current events and rising anti-Semitism.

Israeli president Isaac Herzog met with the chairwoman at his office and spoke about his Litvak roots, saying his great-grandfather Shmuel Yitzhak Hilman was born in Šeduva in 1868 and studied under his uncles in Pašvitinys outside Šiauliai and in Pasvalys. In 1897 he became rabbi for Berezino in the Minsk region. In 1908 he became rabbi for Glasgow in Scotland. Thousands attended his funeral in Jerusalem in 1953. His great-grandson Isaac was born in Tel Aviv in 1960.

Moabite Stone Does Reference King David

Moabite Stone Does Reference King David

Researchers have discovered additional evidence for written historical records referencing the biblical King David.

The Moabite Stone, also known as the Mesha stele, was discovered in 1868 at Dhibān (Dibon) about 15 miles east of the Dead Sea. The basalt stone slab was damaged by locals in 1869, but not before a papier-mâché cast was made. Pieces and fragments were collected and sent to Paris where they were reconstructed. It is still the major monument of the Moabite language.

The text on the stone is written in the first person of Moabite king Mesha (ca. 850-800 BC) who claimed to have led his warrior to victory against Israel, including recapturing cities and slaying their inhabitants. The text breaks off with about five lines missing at the end.

Call to Teachers, Youth Workers: Two-Day Introduction to Roma, Jewish Communities

Call to Teachers, Youth Workers: Two-Day Introduction to Roma, Jewish Communities

The two days of activities are intended to teach the traditions and customs of the Roma and Jewish communities in Lithuania and to counter stereotypes and fight anti-Semitism and Romophobia at home and abroad in various contexts. This is the first time educators from Lithuania are being invited to meeting with representatives and lecturers from both communities. We believe these teachings will be helpful for teachers working with young people as well as for cultural workers in the towns and cities where Jewish heritage is undergoing restoration. Those who work with young people and representatives from NGOs are invited to attend. The two-day workshop begins in January at the Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymnasium in Vilnius with the participation of experts from the Lithuanian Human Rights Center and the Padėk Pritapti organization, and of course the Lithuanian Jewish Community as well. We invite you to share this invitation with your colleagues. For more information, click https://bit.ly/3PXEoTz. To register, click https://bit.ly/3jDbJa5. A program in Lithuanian is available here.

For more information, contact Dovilė Rūkaitė at projects@lzb.lt.

United States of America Hail Jewish Compensation by Lithuanian Parliament

United States of America Hail Jewish Compensation by Lithuanian Parliament

Photo: Robert Gilchrist, by D. Umbrasas courtesy LRT.lt

The U.S. embassy in Vilnius said Tuesday the United States hail the Lithuanian parliament’s decision to compensate Jewish private property seized by the Nazis and Soviets to the tune of 37 million euros.

American ambassador to Lithuania Robert Gilchrist said: “The passing of this legislation is an important step in recognizing the tragedy of the Holocaust in Lithuania. It is not, however, only about addressing claims for the past. It is about preserving the memory of the Holocaust for future generations and working together against intolerance and hatred.”

U.S. special envoy for Holocaust issues Ellen Germain commented: “After the Holocaust, there was little time to create successful restitution programs before the Communist regimes nationalized private property. By passing this bill, Lithuania has taken another important step in fulfilling restitution commitments. For survivors and their families, this is a direct acknowledgement of the great wrong that was done to them.”

The Lithuanian parliament Tuesday adopted a new redaction of the existing Law on Goodwill Compensation which additionally allocates 37 million euros for compensating Jewish private property. The existing law and previous compensation payments were for communal and religious property seized by the Nazis and the Soviets. The new legislation comes into effect in January.

Lithuanian prime minister Ingrida Šimonytė proposed the new compensation package saying Lithuania has made compensation for Jewish religious community property, but hasn’t made compensation for nationalized private property.

Lithuanian Parliament Allocates 37 Million Euros for Private Property Looted from Jews

Lithuanian Parliament Allocates 37 Million Euros for Private Property Looted from Jews

The Lithuanian parliament Tuesday voted in favor of compensation to the amount of 37 million euros for private property looted from Jews by the Nazis and the Soviets.

Seventy-two MPs voted in favor, six against and two abstained in the ballot of a new redaction of the Law on Goodwill Compensation which will come into effect in January.

Lithuanian prime minister Ingrida Šimonytė proposed the new compensation package saying Lithuania has made compensation for Jewish religious community property, but hasn’t made compensation for private property nationalized.

“There are two kinds of property, and for one a solution was found, while the search for a solution to the second was sought, perhaps not entirely sincerely, perhaps sincerely… I believe the Government has succeeded in agreeing to and proposing such a solution, and today we consider this legislation,” she said.

Community Hanukkah Events

Community Hanukkah Events

In addition to all the other events already announced, the Lithuanian Jewish Community is offering a walking tour of Jewish Vilna with guide Viljamas Žitkauskas and an Israeli dance marathon with Rikudim.

The tour begins at 2:00 P.M. on Saturday, December 17, meeting at the bell tower at the Arch-Cathedral in Vilnius. Program: Tour, avdala ceremony, dinner at the Bagel Shop Café, performance by the children’s section of the Fayerlakh Jewish song and dance ensemble. Registration required. Send an email to zanas@sc.lzb.lt or call +37067881514 on weekdays between 10:00 A.M. and 6:00 P.M.

The Rikudim Israeli dance marathon will be held in the Jascha Heifetz Hall at the Lithuanian Jewish Community in Vilnius from 11:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. on Sunday, December 18. To register send an email to Julija at Juliradv@gmail.com.

Jewish Scout Jamboree

Jewish Scout Jamboree

The Lithuanian Jewish Community invites all students to attend a Jewish scouting jamboree under the guidance of scout leader Adomas Kofman at 2:00 P.M. on December 4 at the Ilan Club at the Lithuanian Jewish Community located at Pylimo street no. 4 in Vilnius. Contact skautai@lzb.lt for more information.„“

NATO 2023 in Lithuania: Rife with Political Pitfalls

NATO 2023 in Lithuania: Rife with Political Pitfalls

Photo: Outer wall of so-called Genocide Museum on Vilnius’s main street near parliament. Personal collection.

by Grant Gochin

One of the greatest public relations catastrophes of president Reagan’s tenure was his May, 1985, visit to a cemetery in Bitburg, Germany, which contained numerous members of the SS. Today, nearly four decades later, the visit is still remembered with anger, amazement and mostly, for America, embarrassment.

NATO has announced that the next meeting of NATO heads of state and government will be held in Vilnius, Lithuania, on July 11-12, 2023. There are, unfortunately, obvious parallels to Reagan’s “goodwill” visit to Bitburg.

In World War II, and primarily in the second half of 1941, about 200,000 Lithuanian Jews–about 96%–were systematically expelled from their homes, robbed, starved, tortured, and brutally murdered primarily by ethnic Lithuanian death squads euphemistically referred to as “auxiliary police” units. Lithuania does not acknowledge the fact that most of the mass murderers were ethnic Lithuanians. To the contrary, Lithuania in many cases has elevated the stature of many of those who led the Lithuanian Holocaust, arguing that they were anti-Soviet. This itself is an echo of the Nazis’ canard conflating Jews with Communism.

Split Identity: Jewish Scholarship in the Vilna Ghetto

Split Identity: Jewish Scholarship in the Vilna Ghetto

Photo: Exterior of YIVO building in Vilnius, ca. 1933. Courtesy YIVO.

by David E. Fishman

ABSTRACT
In this essay David Fishman draws a comparison between yidishe visnshaft, or Jewish studies scholarship, and Judenforschung, the Nazi field of anti-Semitic Jewish studies used to justify the persecution and extermination of Jews in scientific terms. He examines the work of Zelig Kalmanovitch, who had been a well-known scholar and co-director of YIVO before World War II, during the time when he was forced to produce scholarship as a member of the Jewish slave labor brigade assigned to the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) in Vilna. Fishman notes the remarkable scholarly accomplishments Kalmanovitch was able to achieve in a time of enormous adversity. He also demonstrates several junctures in which Kalmanovitch, a meticulous scholar, omitted facts or altered scholarship in order to save lives. These dual impulses of preserving historical truths about Jewish communities and a willingness to obscure facts over which people could be killed contribute to Fishman’s assessment that Kalmanovitch’s scholarship emerged from erudition, love and dedication to the Jewish people about whom he wrote, the very opposite of the purposes for which his scholarship was obtained by his Nazi slave masters.

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On June 16, 1942, Herbert Gotthardt, a staff member of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) in Vilna, instructed Zelig Kalmanovitch to prepare an essay and bibliography on the Karaïtes. Kalmanovitch, a well-known scholar and co-director of YIVO before the war, was a member of the Jewish slave labor brigade assigned to the ERR which segregated Jewish and other books, manuscripts and documents into two categories: valuable items to be sent to Germany, and valueless items to be destroyed. The former YIVO co-director was an expert bibliographer in this work brigade, nicknamed the paper brigade, based in the YIVO building at 18 Wiwulskiego Street. The brigade was headed by librarian Herman Kruk and consisted of twenty physical laborers and twenty intellectuals, including the Yung-Vilne poets Abraham Sutzkever and Szmerke Kaczerginski.

Holocaust and Home: The Poetry of David Fram from Lithuania to South Africa

Holocaust and Home: The Poetry of David Fram from Lithuania to South Africa

Cover: Hazel Frankel, “Holo­caust and Home: The Poetry of David Fram from Lithuania to South Africa.” Legenda, 2021. 230 pp.

My mother started learning Yiddish late in life. I felt as if she was reaching out to her dead parents, trying to connect with them. Both her mother and her father were immigrants to South Africa from Lithuania, one from the town of Shadova, the other from Pokroy. My grandfather, Abe, who came from a long line of yeshiva bochers, attended the famed Telz yeshiva. Intellectually curious, he read War and Peace in the original Russian. Later, at the Claremont shul in Cape Town, he gave many of the Saturday afternoon shiurim, written in Yiddish but delivered in English.

His wife, Anne, for who I am named, was nine years his junior. They owned a dress shop in Cape Town and, before the war, Abe went on business trips to Europe to buy the latest fashions, often with specific customers’ needs in mind. Both Abe and Anne died in their fifties, several years before I was born. I know them only from photographs. Their sepia-toned wedding photo hung in our breakfast room, where we ate all our meals. Abe was short, wore glasses, and gazed solemnly at the camera. Anne seemed softer, gentler, and had a twenties-style headdress that looked like a shower cap. There were odd flecks of white on the image that I always imagined was confetti but must have been blemishes on the photographic paper or the camera lens.

Lithuanian PM Says Plans for Litvak Museum at Sports Palace Bogged Down

Lithuanian PM Says Plans for Litvak Museum at Sports Palace Bogged Down

Lithuanian prime minister Ingrida Šimonytė told Baltic News Service the idea to establish either a museum or a memorial dedicated to the history of the Litvaks at the Vilnius Palace of Sports complex could turn out to be a long and difficult process.

“It’s on-going, but in order to create a truly meaningful and thus memorable site about the Jews of Lithuania, we’ll have to work hard. The commission will select ideas to be adopted by consensus,” she said.

She cautioned decision-making on the concept could become bogged down and generally difficult. She said this commission will include academics, rabbis, historians and others from Lithuania and other countries and is scheduled for formation by the end of 2022. The idea since 2015 when the Lithuanian state privatization bank Turto bankas acquired the property has been to turn the Palace of Sports built in 1971 and now falling into ruin into a conference center. Different Jewish groups have opposed that plan because the Palace of Sports was built inside the old Jewish cemetery in Vilnius.

Yiddish Concert in Kaunas

Yiddish Concert in Kaunas

The Kaunas Jewish Community invites you to their concert “Yiddish Heard Again in Kaunas: Inspired by Grandma’s Songs” at 5:00 P.M. on Sunday, November 27 at the Kaunas Artists’ House located at V. Putvinskio street no. 56 in Kaunas.

Alejandra Czarny of Argentina and more recently the United States with firm family roots in Kaunas will sing accompanied by Michel Gonzales on guitar, including Litvak Yiddish from different periods and Yiddish songs from Argentina and South America. Besides singing Yiddish her entire life, she also has her own radio program and is a cantor for synagogues located in South Florida, where she lives.

The concert is free and open to the public, but prior registration is required by filling out the form here:

https://forms.gle/nkT9Ww3oouyf1RyC8