Heritage

Gesher Club Visits Poland

Approximately 30 members of the Lithuanian Jewish Community’s Gesher Club from Vilnius, Kaunas and Šiauliai toured Warsaw and Cracow in late July on an educational and site-seeing journey. Most were already familiar with Warsaw with its unique architecture, wide boulevards and skyscrapers puncturing its centuries-old skyline. Club members said their deepest impressions came from the POLIN Museum of Polish Jewish history.

In historic Cracow the visitors toured the Kazimierz old Jewish quarter there and attended a klezmer concert.

Long-time LJC member and professional tourist guide Markas Psonikas organized and the trip.

WJC President Lauder Condemns Despicable and Deliberate Anti-Semitic Vandalism of Elie Wiesel House


Elie Wiesel Memorial House in Sighetu Marmației, Romania, with vandalism found August 4

August 5, 2018

WJC president Lauder condemns “despicable and deliberate” anti-Semitic vandalism of Elie Wiesel house, calls for swift investigation and penalty

“This callous act was an attack against the very principles of morality and humanity for which Wiesel stood,” Lauder says.

NEW YORK–The World Jewish Congress strongly condemns the anti-Semitic vandalism carried out over the weekend at the childhood home of late Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel in Romania.

WJC president Ronald S. Lauder said: “The World Jewish Congress unequivocally deplores the despicable and deliberate anti-Semitic act targeting the Elie Wiesel Memorial House. This was a clear gesture of hate that spits in the face of the Jewish community and the memory of the six million victims of the Holocaust.”

“Over the course of his life and legacy, Elie Wiesel stood as a moral compass to the world, teaching that the opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference. We must not stay silent or remain indifferent as the childhood home of the man who illuminated this message is desecrated in a callous act of enmity. This was an attack not just against the Jewish community, but against the very principles of morality and humanity for which Wiesel stood and dedicated his life to teaching.”

Eli Rabinowitz from Australia and Israelis Visit Panevėžys

The Panevėžys Jewish Community had the unexpected pleasure of a visit by several guests this week. Daniel Veid and his wife Eti and their son Shmuel from Israel visited and Daniel said he was researching his family’s roots. His great-great-grandfather Solomon Veid was born and lived in Panevėžys and his great-great-grandmother Shaike Levine was also born there. Solomon and his family moved to South Africa in the early 19th century.

On July 31 Eli Rabinowitz, who grew up in Cape Town and now lives in Perth, Australia, also visited. He spoke about his project to help teach the Holocaust to young people around the world.

Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman spoke with Rabinowitz about Community projects with local schools which also teach young people about the Holocaust.

Paul Packer, New Chairman of the United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, Visited Lithuania in July

Paul Packer, chairman of the United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, visited Jewish heritage sites including the Ponar Memorial Complex and the old Jewish cemetery in Šnipiškės with representatives from the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, the US embassy, the Cultural Heritage Department and the Lithuanian Jewish Community, and discussed Jewish heritage topics and directions with representatives of the Lithuanian Government and Vilnius municipality.

The chairman of the United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad and Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky visited Jewish heritage sites together in Kaunas, Kėdainiai, Pakruojis and Joniškis. Packer praised efforts by the LJC and local municipalities to preserve authentic Litvak heritage and especially maintaining authentic synagogues and old Jewish cemeteries.

Packer visited the Great Synagogue archaeological site and learned about the dig there. He was keenly interested in possibilities for commemorating the sacred and symbolic historical site. The LJC plans to continue active cooperation with the chairman of the United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad who has taken a firm position on the control of the Great Synagogue. He said the Great Synagogue should be under the Lithuanian Jewish Community. A resolution protocol was adopted by the Lithuanian Government on June 29, 2018, tasking the LJC with drafting a study for ways to restore fragments of the Great Synagogue in Vilnius.

Questions by Pinchos Fridberg regarding the LJC Statement on Noreika

I’ll say right away I’m not a diplomat, I am a person “rough and unrefined,” but I am a member of the Community and that means this statement was written in my name as well. I will quote:

“The Lithuanian Jewish Community asks the institutions responsible to take quick action to solve this political, ethical and legal problem and to pay due respect to the victims of the Holocaust. We are asking for the plaque to Noreika to be taken down before the Lithuanian Day of Remembrance of Jewish Victims of Genocide on September 23.”

I would like to ask the authors of this statement several clear and not very pleasant questions. I hope my questions will be posted without delay and I won’t have to look for another place to post it. Note the references are just to the original document.

1. Do the authors of the statement know Jonas Noreika (General Vėtra) received decoration (posthumously), the Great Cross of the Order of the Cross of Vytis?

Note: The award number and date of the decree is easy to find on the presidential webpage.

Then-president Algirdas Brazauskas signed this decree but I was unable to find the text of the decree, the official presidential webpage only covers decrees promulgated between 2009 and 2018.

2. Do the authors of this “statement” understand the status of this award?

Note: this is article 57 of the text:

“The order of the Cross of Vytis is awarded to people who have demonstrated remarkable heroism, bravery and resolution in defending the freedom and independence of the Republic of Lithuania.”

3. Do the authors of this “statement” understand that it’s not possible to “turn the four screws” on the commemorative plaque without the president first rescinding the Great Cross of the Order of the Cross of Vytis by decree?

4. Do the authors of the “statement” believe this sort of resolution might really be signed, and moreover, by September 23, 2018?

P.S. I don’t need a response. I will be satisfied if you post these questions, but without editing, please.

Pinchos Fridberg, average Community member

Markas Zingeris Wins Liudas Dovydėnas Literary Prize

Writer Markas Zingeris has won this year’s Liudas Dovydėnas prize for best new Lithuanian novel for the book “Aš sėdėjau Stalinui ant kelių” [I Sat on Stalin’s Knees] published in 2017 by the Lithuanian Writers’ Union.

Zingeris is the director of the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum but is an accomplished and prolific writer who has won a number of literary prizes previously. Some of his books have been translated to other languages.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Three Weeks of Digging Culminate in Discovery of Bima at Great Synagogue

On July 26 reporters were invited to get a better look at the results of this year’s archaeological digs at the site of the former Great Synagogue in Vilnius.

An international team of Israel, American, Canadian and Lithuanian archaeologists made a number of discoveries this year, the third summer in a row digging has been conducted in and around the Soviet-era school built in 1952 on top of the former synagogue. Under one classroom the edge of the bima, the raised platform where the Torah is read, and the base of a column in the elaborate design of the bima were discovered. Lead archaeologist from the Israeli Antiquities Authority Dr. Jon Seligman explained to reporters the aron kodesh, or ark where the Torah is kept, would like be just under the fence bordering the street in the front of the school. He said the street had slightly shifted in location since the pre-war period. The bima and the ark form the main axis around which activities take place in the main hall of the synagogue.

Digging resumed in the playground and uncovered the men’s mikve next to the women’s discovered last year and suspected the year before. The mikvot constituted a two-storey building behind the synagogue from the side of the street still called Jewish street. A mikve is a bathing facility used for ritual purification. Two areas uncovered displayed what appeared to be almost new, slightly over-sized ceramic bathroom tiles, alternating squares of white and an orangish-red color.

Adjacent to the mikve building archaeologists determined the exact location of the outer wall of the synagogue proper this year.

Great Synagogue Site Compared to Acropolis and Vilnius Castle

15min.lt

Last week the Lithuanian Jewish Community confirmed archaeologists had discovered the bimah, or speaking platform, one of the most important elements of the Great Synagogue. Experts say this gives real stimulus to the digs at the site which have been going on for three years now. The Great Synagogue in Vilnius was one of the most important Jewish centers from the end of the 16th century to World War II. Damaged during the war, the Soviets razed what was left to the ground in the 1950s and built a school there. The green and brown Baroque bimah built in the 18th century was found under the school.

Call to Get Rid of Noreika Commemorations

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky thanked the archaeologists who studied historical descriptions and blueprints as well as digging for sharing their finds. “We are in the former ghetto, and this find is comparable on Vilnius’s scale to discovering the Acropolis. Not the shopping center, the historical Acropolis,” Kukliansky said. She thanked the Vilnius municipality for the support and initiative in commemorating the former synagogue, and used the occasion to remind Vilnius city leaders commemoration of the Great Synagogue isn’t compatible with a public plaque commemorating Jonas Noreika. “I want to make this little observation that the Great Synagogue and a monument to Noreika don’t really go together in one city,” the LJC chairwoman said at press conference next to Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius, asking for the issue to be solved..

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Archaeologists Find Holiest Part of Vilnius Great Synagogue Razed by Soviets


VILNIUS, Lithuania (AFP) — For decades, little did the principal of a kindergarten in Lithuania’s capital realize that her office stood on top of a sacred part of Vilnius’s 17th century Jewish temple, once famous across Europe.

An international team of archaeologists announced THursday the discovery of the most revered part of the Great Synagogue of Vilnius, Lithuania’s major Jewish shrine before it was destroyed by Nazi and Soviet regimes.

Installed in the 18th century, the Baroque bimah was found under the former kindergarten and primary school built by the Soviets on top of the demolished synagogue in the 1950s.

Following this discovery, Vilnius authorities pledged to demolish the school building in a couple of years and properly commemorate the synagogue by 2023.

Bima Found at Great Synagogue Site in Vilnius

The international team of archaeologists from the USA, Canada, Lithuania and Israel working at the site of the former Great Synagogue in Vilnius have located the central feature of the synagogue, the bima, as well as the outer back wall and part of the synagogue floor.

The bima is the central feature of synagogues. It is the platform upon which the rabbi reads the Torah and leads prayer, to which and from which the Torah scroll is taken from the Ark and returned to it.

The bima at the Great Synagogue site was discovered directly under the Soviet-era school built over the site in 1958.

The archaeological dig has been going on for several years and is currently being led by Israeli Antiquities Authority archaeologist Dr. Jon Seligman and Lithuanian archaeologist Justinas Račas. The Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Goodwill Foundation are supporting the dig.

Earlier non-invasive archaeology revealed the presence of the mikve, or ritual bath, complex on the northern side of the site. Digging revealed multi-colored floor tiles and green oven tiles. It is believed to be a male mikveh based on historical documents.

The press and the public are invited to visit the site at 2:00 P.M. tomorrow, Thursday, July 2018, located at Vokiečių street no. 13A (formerly ulica Żydowska or Žydų gatvė no. 6) in Vilnius to get a better look at this unique site and the discoveries made there.

The archaeological group, Vilnius mayor Remigijaus Šimašius and Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky are scheduled to attend the press conference, among others.

Contacts for further information:

Dr. Jon Seligman: seligman.jon@gmail.com

Zenonas Baubonis and Justinas Račas: z.baubonis@gmail.com

Monika Antanaitytė, LJC: telephone +37067240942, info@lzb.lt

Condolences

With sadness we report the death of Estera Klabinaitė Grobman who lived in Israel. She lived a long, interesting and difficult life. Born in November of 1920 to a well-to-do Jewish family in Kaunas, she always called herself a Kaunas resident. Her parents had a large bakery before the Holocaust. Imprisoned in the Kaunas ghetto and Stutthof concentration camp, Grobman, who passed away at the age of 98, was an avid reader and shared her memories right up to the time of her death. In May, 2018, the rector of Vilnius University travelled to Israel to present her an honorary diploma.

We share in the pain of her friends and family and send our deepest condolences to her son Aron, her daughter-in-law Ele, her grandchildren Daniel and Saul and too many more to name. Although we seem to know that death is an inevitability, it always hits us painfully and unexpectedly. Rest in peace, Estera.

Mikveh Drawings from 1904 Discovered


Geršonas Taicas, left, hands mikveh documents to Jon Seligman, right, at the Great Synagogue archaeological dig in Vilnius, July 24, 2018.

Lithuanian Jewish Community member Geršonas Taicas has discovered architectural drawings made in 1904 and approved in 1908 for the mikveh (ritual bath) complex once located next to the Great Synagogue in Vilnius. The mikveh complex has been the subject of archaeological digs since 2011. Taicas personally brought the old architectural plans to Jon Seligman at the dig. Seligman is one of the leaders of the archaeological team from the Israeli Antiquities Authority. He said he hadn’t known of the existence of these drawings and was very pleased and surprised.

Seligman said the drawing might have been drafted when the Vilnius Jewish community received a grant of $50,000 from the Joint Distribution Committee in New York for building a mikveh for impoverished Jews of Vilnius. The drawings from 1904 showed either what the mikveh should look like, or how it should be modified, he reasoned, commenting the architectural plan approved in 1908 showed the mikveh had electricity, a good stone floor, new rafters and supports and a metal roof. Seligmas said there is a good description in Yiddish from 1930 describing the interior of the mikveh.

According to the architectural drawings, the two-storey mikveh building was 70 meters long and 12 meters wide.

On Holidays at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius

Many events have taken place recently at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius. Besides daily prayer services and Kollel Torah studies, seminars, traditional Jewish holidays, Sabbath and kiddush with many visitors from around the world as well as Women’s Club activities, there is a growing demand for traditional Jewish rituals.

We can take pride that this year there were two circumcision and 3 bar mitzvahs as well as a traditional huppah or Jewish wedding ceremony held at the Choral Synagogue.

Last week two families from the USA held bar mitzvah ceremonies at the Choral Synagogue. The young men were born in America but have family roots in Lithuania.

The boys had been prepared well for the Torah reading. Their gratitude to their parents and their parents’ stories about the footsteps taken on the way to adulthood and how much they love their children moved the large audience of friends, relatives and guests.

Alanta Synagogue Hosts Memory Exhibit

by Vaidotas Žukas, Bernardinai.lt

Jews constituted the majority of the population of the towns of the Molėtai region before World War II. In 1941, however, the Nazi regime issued a verdict against the Jews, the descendants of David were to be abused, tortured and shot… And only God knows how many people from this beautiful lake country contributed to the rescue of their neighbors and vice versa, informing upon them, betraying and shooting them. The Nazis only sent a few Germans to Molėtai. Lithuanian lowlifes performed all of the arrests and shootings of Jews.

There is a bright side, though, to this tragedy: there were also several hundred rescuers of Jews in the Molėtai area, since it took the conviction, daily work and risk-taking in the face of death of several dozen people to hide and protect one Jew. Respect to them!

The Alanta synagogue is one of only several surviving wooden synagogues in Lithuania; it hasn’t been destroyed and wasn’t burned down, but it’s still not in good order and unrestored. During the Soviet era grain and fertilizer were stored there. The cut-up wooden walls of the synagogue and the tin roof still with bullet holes from the war witness to both the Holocaust and the continuing reluctant position taken towards Jewish religious and historical heritage in Lithuania.

Jakov Bunka Wooden Sculpture Exhibit

Folk artist and celebrator of Žemaitijan Jewish history Jakov Bunka’s (1923-2014) wooden sculpture exhibition “Moses of Plateliai” is being shown at the Lithuanian National UNESCO Commission gallery at Šv. Jono street no. 11 in Vilnius on occasion of the 95th anniversary of Bunka’s birth.

Bunka was unique. He was the only Jewish folk artist in Lithuania who commemorated Jewish characters within the Lithuanian tradition in wood, he was the last Jew to remain in Plungė and he was rider in the cavalry of the Don Cossacks. After reaching Berlin in 1945 he dedicated his life to commemorating the communities of his fellow Jews annihilated in Lithuania between 1941 and 1945. He made the Kaušėnai memorial to the exterminated Jews of Plungė, wrote a book about the history of the Jews of Plungė, was an honorary citizen of Plungė and was awarded the honor of Knight of the Cross of the Rider of the Order of Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas. As Grigoriy Kanovich put it so fittingly in his inscription in his book he gave to Bunka: “To a Žemaitijan Jew, to a Jewish Žemaitijan.”

Jonas Rudzinskas, the chairman of the Union of Lithuanian Folk Artists, said of Bunka: “Jakov Bunka’s aesthetic views, mentality, optimistic nature and work ethic formed in the Žemaitijan environment. … In creating large or inside sculpture, the master did without trifles and insignificant detail. … His responsible, sincere attitude towards creative work and unique style set Jakov Bunka apart from others and he joins the ranks of our greatest folk artists who set the development of folk art.”

Litvak Theater between the Wars

From the third issue of Naujasis Židinys-Aidai, 2018

Ina Pukelytė, Žydų teatras tarpukario Lietuvoje: Monografija [Jewish Theater in Interwar Lithuania: A Monograph], Kaunas: Vytauto Didžiojo universitetas, 2017, 192 pp., print-run of 100. Illustrated by Saulius Bajorinas.

Ina Pukelytė says one of the main goals of her monograph is to reconstruct Jewish theater activity in Lithuania between the two world wars, from 1919 to 1940. Another goal is to determine what influence Lithanian Jewish theater had on Jewish theater in the diaspora and on the evolution of Lithuanian theater, based on an examination of different literature and comparison with theater around the world. The author used Lithuanian periodicals, archives, libraries and museums as well as material from Yad Vashem and YIVO, including lists of actors from Yiddish troupes who toured Lithuania, founding documents of theater associations, correspondence with the Lithuanian Education Ministry, tax files of Jewish theaters and their directors, lists of foreign actors who came to work in Lithuania and iconographic material.

Full article in Lithuanian here.

Continuing Education Students from Israel Visit Panevėžys Jewish Community

Under an agreement of several years’ standing Edit Perry and Ewa Baranska have led another delegation of people from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities to Panevėžys and the Panevėžys Jewish Community. Many are adults involved in continuing education during the academic year on the topic of Jews from the Baltic states. During the summer they strive to visit as many sites as possible where they had family in Lithuania, including Panevėžys. The students were keenly interested in the photography exhibit and archival documents illustrating Jewish life before World War II preserved at the Panevėžys Jewish Community.

Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman and member Jurijus Smirnovas delivered lectures at actual historical sites inside the former ghetto territory and the old Jewish cemetery which is now called Memory Square.

Smirnovas shared his experience of World War II with the visitors. He was a small child at the concentration camps in Panevėžys and Šiauliai and lost his family members.

Holocaust Victims and Rescuers Remembered in Jurbarkas

Seventy-seven years ago, on July 3, 1941, the first mass murder of Jews was carried out in Jurbarkas (Yurburg), Lithuania. The number murdered was 322 people, including about 20 ethnic Lithuanians (including Jurbarkas sculptor Vincas Grybas). The Jurbarkas community remembers this tragedy every year and holds an Hour of Memory at the grave site of the victims of the genocide, attended by local residents and friends and family of the Jews who lived in Jurbarkas and experienced the Holocaust there.

This year representatives of the Jurbarkas regional administration including deputy mayor Saulius Lapėnas, administration director Vida Rekešienė, Culture and Sports Department chief Antanas Gvildys, Jurbarkas alderman Audronis Kačiušis and staff from the Jurbarkas Regional History Museum and Jurbarkas Cultural Center attended along with victims and relatives the July 3 Hour of Memory held at the Jurbarkas Cultural Center.

Former Jewish Jurbarkas resident Jakovas Rikleris travelled from Germany to the event and said: “I am so glad you have not forgotten and maintain this site so dear to us, the old Jewish cemetery. There were extraordinarily noble, brave people from the land of my birth, from the area around Jurbarkas, people who were unable to remain uncaring seeing these brutal massacres. These people are immeasurably brave, in fear of the mortal danger they rescued Jews, hid them, shared their meager wartime food provisions with them and believed that in saving people from death they were performing the most important duty, sacrificing themselves for the lives of other innocent people. These are the true people of the Lithuanian nation.”

Young actors from the Jurbarkas Cultural Center’s children and youth theater Vaivorykštė under the direction of Birutė Šneiderienė read selections from Grigori Kanovich’s Shtetl Love Story and compositions by Jurbarkas composer Kęstutis Vasiliauskas were performed on violin.

Lithuanian Diplomats in the Arena of Humane Action and Aggression


V. Čečeta began working at the Lithuanian General Consulate in Vilnius on September 17, 1939. Photo: Archiwum akt nowych w Warszawe

kauno.diena.lt

Chiune Sugihara and Jan Zwartendijk are foreign diplomats who rescued Jews and they have been commemorated in Kaunas and the world, but they were only able to do what they did between 1939 and 1940 because of efforts by Lithuanian state officials.

Have we forgotten our own role?

When a monument costing 150,000 euros is erected next year in Kaunas to the so far little-known honorable Dutch consul in interwar Lithuania Jan Zwartendijk, the world will learn about another foreign diplomat who rescued Jews.

As current Dutch ambassador to Lithuania Bert van der Lingen told BNS, The role world-famous rescuer of Jews Chiune Sugihara was only made possible because Zwartendijk made an entry in the passports the travellers were travelling to a Dutch overseas territory. This entry, the Dutch ambassador says, was the basis for Sugihara to issue visas to Jews to transit Japan. But have we thought about our own diplomats in this context?

That there is little interest and even avoidance of this topic was demonstrated by the difficult search for historians and Foreign Ministry representatives able to say anything about the topic of the activities of the Lithuanian General Consulate in Vilnius in 1939.