Heritage

Saul Kagan: Litvak, Conscience of the Claims Conference and Warrior on the Invisible Front

Saul Kagan: Litvak, Conscience of the Claims Conference and Warrior on the Invisible Front

Saul Kagan, who fled Lithuania, spent decades leading the Jewish welfare organization which was primarily responsible for restitution worth more than $70 billion to Holocaust survivors and their descendants.

Saul Kagan came the to the USA in 1940 after losing his mother and brother to the barbarity of the Nazis. In 1951 he became the director of World Jewish Congress responsible for material claims by Jews against Germany. B’nai B’rith and other Jewish organizations brought an unprecedented claim, demanding reparations from “the heirs of the state of the Third Reich,” meaning West Germany, for the Nazi genocide against the Jews of Europe.

Kagan’s agreements signed over the following fifty years demanded the governments of West Germany and Austria and a falange of fascist corporations compensate people who survived the Holocaust for the houses, homes, buildings, furniture, art and other property seized from them during the Nazi era. They also demanded the payment of pensions, stipends and aid to the elderly they otherwise would have had if they hadn’t been persecuted instead, as well as compensation for hundreds of thousands of Nazi prisoners, Jews and non-Jews, used as slave labor by Germany’s industrial giants, corporations such as IG Farben and Krupp.

The Lithuanian Jewish Community Invites You to the 5th World Litvak Congress

The Lithuanian Jewish Community Invites You to the 5th World Litvak Congress

The Fifth World Litvak Congress will be held on May 23-26, organized by the Lithuanian Jewish Community. We invite you to join the events and enjoy Litvak culture, heritage, history and music. Share the news with your relatives, friends and colleagues.

Pre-registration is required by filling out the following form:

https://forms.gle/VJa9nMHaHjH4t5Lf6

The program may be found here:

BUKLETAS_EN_1 (1)

>>PROGRAM in Lithuanian

Events Program for the Fifth World Litvak Congress in Vilnius

Events Program for the Fifth World Litvak Congress in Vilnius

The following is the program of events for the Fifth World Litvak Congress to be held in Vilnius from May 23 to May 26, 2022.

A PDF file of the program can be downloaded here.

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Events Program for the Fifth World Litvak Congress in Vilnius

May 23

Opening ceremony for the Fifth World Litvak Congress

The Lithuanian Jewish Community invites Litvaks living around the world to return to Vilnius May 23 to May 26, to visit the land of our ancestors and to attend the Fifth World Litvak Congress.

A Remarkable Event: Litvaks from around the World to Gather in Vilnius

A Remarkable Event: Litvaks from around the World to Gather in Vilnius

The Lithuanian Jewish Community is inviting Litvaks from around the world to come to Vilnius from May 23 to May 26, to visit the land of their ancestors and to take part in the Fifth World Litvak Congress. The four-day congress has a program which includes discussions, tours of historical sites and different cultural activities dedicated to Jewish heritage in Lithuania and achievements by Litvaks on the world stage.

Events include the opening at the Lithuanian parliament and a concert by American cantor and professor Joseph Malovany at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius in an evening of concerts called “A Date with Vilne” which will include Lithuanian musicians and actors paying homage to the memory of the Jews who lived and worked in Lithuania.

Lithuanian parliamentary speaker Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen is the official patron of the Fifth World Litvak Congress. She said: “This Litvak Congress is happening while aggression is running wild in the Ukraine, when war fever has infected the entire region, which is significant to Lithuania historically and today, and to the entire world of Yiddish culture. In the face of blind brutality and violence it is always important to emphasize humanitarianism, empathy, the highest spiritual values from which the long Litvak tradition has always taken strength. This is especially urgent today when in the east of Europe an aggressive and imperialistic anti-Semitism has again raised its head, distorting historical facts and manipulating peoples’ emotions. We must oppose this.”

Lithuanian Parliament Bans Symbol Commemorating Soviet Liberation from Nazis

Lithuanian Parliament Bans Symbol Commemorating Soviet Liberation from Nazis

In late April the Lithuanian parliament adopted and the Lithuanian president signed into law legislation banning the public display of the ribbon of St. George, usually worn on Victory Day in Lithuania to mark the liberation of the country by the Red Army from Nazi Germany in 1944.

According to Lithuanian parliamentarians it symbolizes Russian aggression in the Ukraine and is now banned along with hammers, sickles and swastikas.

The draft legislation had included bans on the public display of the letter Z, but this was apparently removed from the final draft with the parliament’s Cultural Committee pointing out Z is a common company logo and that Russian troops in the Ukraine are also using the letters V, O, X and A. The Cultural Committee also said use of letters by Russian troops appeared to be arbitrary and subject to change as the campaign continues.

Lithuanians at March of the Living in Poland

Lithuanians at March of the Living in Poland

Members of the Lithuanian public took part April 28 in a March of the Living procession at Auschwitz. People from 25 countries including non-Jews attended.

The event was timed to commemorate the Warsaw Uprising on April 28. Marchers walked about 3.5 kilometers from the Auschwitz museum to the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. A group of about 50 people from Lithuania attended. A ceremony to honor the victims took place at the former concentration camp. This began with a word of welcome in 25 languages, including “sveiki,” meaning hello, in Lithuanian. Polish president Andrzej Duda spoke there and used the occasion to compare the war in the Ukraine to the Holocaust.

Survivors spoke of the horror of the camp. Edward Mosberg recalled the murder of his family and spoke about his life history. Torches were lit during the ceremony to symbolize the loss of 6 million murdered Jews. A female university student from Lithuania lit one torch in concert with young people from Germany, Austria, Poland and Israel.

Those who came from Lithuania for the march included Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community chairman Sania Karbelis and other members of the Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community, and others.

Following the event participants had the chance to meet Righteous Gentile Chiune Sugihara’s son Nobuki.

Yom haShoah Commemoration at the Ponar Memorial Complex

Yom haShoah Commemoration at the Ponar Memorial Complex

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky spoke at the gathering at the Ponar Memorial Complex near Vilnius April 28 marking Yom haShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“The scars left by the tragedy of the Holocaust go deep not just in the memory of the Jewish people. These are also unhealing scars for Lithuania which the passing years serve in no way to diminish. This nightmare took place on the streets and squares of Lithuania’s cities, in the suburbs and at the margins of forests,” she said.

“Today we must look at the tragedy of the Holocaust with open eyes and combat arising expressions of anti-Semitism through specific actions,” she continued.

She said attacks on the Ponar Memorial Complex would not be tolerated and that they dishonor the memory of the Lithuanian Jews who were murdered. In April vandals painted the letters V and Z on several signs and monuments at the memorial complex, letters associated with the Russian invasion of the Ukraine.

“”We will not stand silent and we will not tolerate these sorts of actions. History has taught us that silence and bowed heads only encourages the criminals to go further. That will not happen,” Kukliansky said.

LJC Calls on Government, Institutions to Stop Repeated Vandalism at Ponar Memorial

LJC Calls on Government, Institutions to Stop Repeated Vandalism at Ponar Memorial

The Lithuanian Jewish Community is upset by continuing attacks at the Ponar Memorial Complex mass murder site. We do not understand the apathy demonstrated by the institutions responsible and have written Lithuanian prime minister Ingrida Šimonytė and interior minister Agnė Bilotaitė demanding rapid action to stop these repeated attacks and to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky said:

“The continuing attacks at the Ponar mass murder site transgress all bounds. This is a holy site for the entire Lithuanian Jewish community and the Lithuanian state. We all understand what is signified by the letter Z which was written on the memorial commemorating Holocaust victims.

“State institutions can no longer pretend this is not Lithuania’s responsibility because, despite the nice words, nothing is happening. The representatives of the state likely think it’s sufficient to attend a commemoration once per year at Ponar and the rest of the year the memorial complex can swim in garbage, and host drinking parties. Although the Lithuanian state took the memorial complex under its protection back in 1991, it apparently sees no need up to the present time to actually maintain it. The infrastructure there is lacking and security there is best illustrated by the events of recent days. Is it so difficult to set up even a minimal security system there, even just video cameras? Is the state saving money this way? What sort of signal does this send about the state’s attitude towards the Holocaust in Lithuania and the tragedy of the Jews of Lithuania? We will not stay silent and look on passively as swastikas and the letter Z are drawn at sites which are sacred to us. We will not stay silent because we know what kind of signal this is sending to us as a community. The entire Lithuanian Jewish Community is disgusted, insulted and hurt, and we will not allow this to go on.”

Synagogues of Ukraine, Past and Present

Synagogues of Ukraine, Past and Present

by Abby Seitz

The borders of modern-day Ukraine encompass parts of what was once the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1569-1795), the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1867-1918), the Russian Empire (1721-1917) and the former Soviet Union (1922-1991). The history of Jews in Ukraine goes back over 1,000 years; sources in the Cairo Genizah note a Jewish presence in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, as early as 930 CE. Throughout Ukraine’s history, Jews could be found in major cities and in shtetls alike.

Many synagogues were built from the 13th through the 18th centuries, especially in the region of Galicia. Few of these structures remain. Synagogues were a common target during pogroms which hit with full force throughout the 19th century; additionally, many Jewish community buildings were destroyed by Nazi forces during World War II.

In the second half of the 20th century, nearly all surviving synagogues were confiscated by the Soviet Union and used for a variety of state purposes, ranging from storage warehouses to opera houses. Upon declaring independence in 1991, the newly sovereign state of Ukraine returned many synagogues back to remaining Jewish communities. Today, a small number of historical synagogues have been restored and continue to serve as hubs of Jewish prayer and education. Other synagogues are permanently gone, with only a plaque nearby to remind passersby of the Jewish community that once gathered there.

Lithuanian Parliamentary Speaker Visits Israel

Lithuanian Parliamentary Speaker Visits Israel

Lithuanian speaker of parliament Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen toured Yad Vashem and opened an honorary Lithuanian consulate in Netanya Monday. During her visit she met with Israeli president Isaac Herzog and Knesset speaker Mickey Levy.

She plans to visit Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh in the occupied territories as well, and to attend a round-table discussion with Palestinian women’s organizations. The trip to Israel and the occupied territories is scheduled from February 6 to 10.

She pledged Lithuanian support to Israel in the international arena.

Šiauliai’s First Professional Photographer Reveals Interwar World

Šiauliai’s First Professional Photographer Reveals Interwar World

The Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community is hosting an exhibit of photographs from their archive by Sošana Zaksaitė, the city’s first professional photographer. Zaksaitė’s photos capture Jewish life in Šiauliai before the Holocaust.

This is the Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community’s second exhibit of Zaksaitė’s photography.

Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community chairman Sania Kerbelis says the current exhibit continues where the last one left off. The Community has a digitized collection of Zaksaitė’s work numbering around 300 photos.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Panevėžys Jewish Community Receives an Extraordinary Guest

Panevėžys Jewish Community Receives an Extraordinary Guest

The Panevėžys Jewish Community received an unusual guest on January 26: modern art genius from South Africa William Kentridge-Geffen and wife.

The artist was invited to Lithuania to participate in the “Kaunas, Cultural Capital of Europe 2022” program. An exhibition of his work is now showing at the M. K. Čiurlionis National Art Museum.

Kentridge-Geffen is an intellectual and a person who causes others to think and feel. His sources of inspiration range from science to literature and his artistic methods are the most varied, from sketches with coal to painting, textiles, animated films and opera productions, demonstrating his broad education and broad field of interests.

William Kentridge-Geffen said Lithuania made a deep impression on him because of its natural beauty and architectural legacy. He said with obvious emotion:

Happy Birthday to Aleksandras Rutenbergas

Happy Birthday to Aleksandras Rutenbergas

Aleksandras Rutenbergas celebrated his 75th birthday Monday.

We wish our always active member a very happy birthday, good health and good times. Aleksandras, your contribution to maintaining Jewish heritage is great. You helped build the Tolerance Center of the Vilna Gaon Museum at the site of the former theater there. You were always there in the middle when there was work to be done. You introduced Europe to Litvak heritage, organizing two exhibitions of Vilnius ghetto posters in Padua and Strasbourg.

We would like to express our great respect for your good work and your tolerance.

Mazl tov. Bis 120!

Project “Young Leaders of the Jewish and Roma Communities for the Preservation of Historical Memory and Justice”

Project “Young Leaders of the Jewish and Roma Communities for the Preservation of Historical Memory and Justice”

The year 2021 reminded us all of the suffering and misfortune the people of Lithuania had to live through in the 20th century, finding themselves at the intersection of the interests of the world’s great powers. There were commemorations, conferences and exhibitions throughout Lithuania. Even so, we haven’t done all our homework to insure the preservation of historical memory and teaching the younger generation a deeper sense of history don’t merely become annual events, but an inalienable part of national politics where all institutions work towards a common goal in a coordinated way, so that the combined resources of the state and society work together according to a clear strategy.

The Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Roma Social Center are beginning the implementation of a project called Young Leaders of the Jewish and Roma Communities for the Preservation of Historical Memory and Justice organized by Germany’s EVZ Foundation aimed at teaching the public the importance of the history of the Roma and Jewish communities with the goal of including and engaging the younger generation of both communities.

Do members of these communities feel safe living in their own country?

Parliamentary Amendments to Law on Citizenship to Allow for Restoring Lost Ties

Parliamentary Amendments to Law on Citizenship to Allow for Restoring Lost Ties

The Lithuanian Jewish Community welcomes the decision by the Lithuanian parliament to approve amendments to the Law on Citizenship correcting long standing gaps (since 2017) in legal regulations and creating opportunities for closer ties between the Litvak communities in Lithuania and the world.

“The Lithuanian state often underlines its connection with notable Litvaks and their descendants, takes pride in their achievements and invites them to visit Lithuania. At the same time, it has to be stated that for many years these same people had to have iron constitutions when attempting to restore Lithuanian citizenship. I have called consistently on all Lithuanian institutions to solve this problem and I am pleased to say that today we can see the result of that joint effort,” Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman, attorney Faina Kukliansky said.

These amendments broaden the circle of people with the right to restore Lithuanian citizenship. The procedure until now demanded those seeking to restore their Lithuanian citizenship prove that their ancestor who had Lithuanian citizenship (or if they themselves had it) was a citizen on April 15, 1940. This requirement demanded exhaustive research of historical facts which demonstrated and proved which citizenship documents the person or his or her ancestor had in their possession until April 15, 1940 (exclusively), and at what moment and on what basis these people acquired the citizenship of another country. Moreover, there are no institutions which issue certificates showing that a person was a Lithuanian citizen on April 15, 1940. With the adoption of these amendments, now one only has to prove they were a Lithuanian citizen at any time, and that they didn’t lose that citizenship at that time in a manner prescribed by law. Implementation of these amended regulations means the bureaucracy will be reduced for those seeking to restore their Lithuanian citizenship and opportunities will be insured for members of the Litvak community around the world to restore their connection with Lithuania.

Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe on Šnipiškės Cemetery

Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe on Šnipiškės Cemetery

PRESS RELEASE by the Committee for the Protection of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe
(CPJCE)
January 18, 2022

The Lithuanian Government reaffirms its commitment to follow CPJCE guidelines on future plans of the Sports Palace Building situated in the Snipiskes Jewish cemetery in Vilnius.

The future function of the existing Sports Palace Building was discussed at a meeting held in Vilnius on November 25, 2021, between first deputy chancellor Mr. Rolandas Krisciunas, accompanied by his working team, and Mrs. Faina Kukliansky, chairwoman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, together with Rabbi H. Gluck OBE and Rabbi Y. Schlesinger representing the CPJCE.

Rabbi Gluck pointed out that regardless what the future plans hold, the Government must respect the agreements signed between the Government and the CPJCE in 2009 and 2015 and therefore no movement of soil is allowed in the entire cemetery area, and the Government should continue to work hand-in-hand with CPJCE to ensure the safeguarding of the cemetery and other cemeteries in the framework of the halachic guidelines.

Lithuanian Prime Minister Talks about Jewish Legacy in Radio Interview

Lithuanian Prime Minister Talks about Jewish Legacy in Radio Interview

LRT.lt: This interview is taking place on January 27, which is International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust. This topic is important to you, you took part in the Road of Memory procession several times if I recall correctly. The topic of the Holocaust is sparking a great many discussions in Lithuania and it’s clear we haven’t answered many questions. Have we, Lithuania, as a state, bearing in mind the entire history, have we commemorated sufficiently the victims and rescuers?

Lithuanian prime minister Ingrida Šimonytė: I think we haven’t fully realized over all what Jews mean in Lithuanian history. … The very scope, the understanding that 200,000 people, that the residents of the towns were in the majority the large Jewish communities which simply disappeared, someone took and wiped 200,000 people out of the picture. I came to that realization rather late.

Regarding the Palace of Sports, it has its own specific features because it is a building which is [protected] cultural heritage, nothing new may be built there, it can only be commemorated and put to public use. I won’t hide that there are people who say we should let this building fall into ruin because there are so many off-limit areas, so let the building fall down of its own accord. This is a difficult decision, to wait for the building to fall down in the middle of the city. I don’t think we should do this, but I also don’t think some other kind of application would meet with great support.

Resurrection of the Palace of Sports: Could It Become a Jewish Memorial?

Resurrection of the Palace of Sports: Could It Become a Jewish Memorial?

On International Holocaust Day Lithuanian prime minister Ingrida Šimonytė told LRT.lt the Palace of Sports complex in Vilnius could become a memorial to Jews. For more than a decade now there has been consideration on how to renovate this historical building of brutalist architecture. The main idea was to create a modern conference center, but the Government might not go along with this now.

The building has a unique roof and is an example of brutalism [Soviet architecture]. If there are even a few sites in the Lithuanian capital where it’s possible to travel back through time in an instant, the Palace of Sports is one of them. Abandoned and apparently forgotten, although it once throbbed with life.

Many Lithuanian music stars performed on its stage and festivals and plays were held there.

In 1989 while the USSR still existed the group Sonic Youth performed there.

The Lithuanian independence movement Sąjūdis held its founding conference there.

Vytautas Mikalauskas Art Gymnasium Students Commemorate Holocaust Day in Panevėžys

Vytautas Mikalauskas Art Gymnasium Students Commemorate Holocaust Day in Panevėžys

Panevėžys students marked International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust. Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman was invited to speak at the event.

“Today like never before young people must know, understand and remember. This is the only hope that this indescribable horror not repeat itself, it is the only way to bring us out of darkness,” Jewish writer and Holocaust survivor Elisa Springer said.

At the event, Elena Adelina Kofman served as moderator, and said the systematic mass murder and genocide of the Jews, also known as the Shoah, saw the greatest percentage of victims over a very short period in Lithuania. Around 96 percent of Jews were exterminated in Lithuania, around 200,000 people. She said that made this commemoration especially important.