Heritage

Presentation of Uri Levitan’s Book “From Hand to Hand” at LJC

Presentation of Uri Levitan’s Book “From Hand to Hand” at LJC

The Lithuanian Jewish Community kindly invites you to attend a presentation of the book “From Hand to Hand” by the head of the Sociology and Anthropology Faculty and head of the Kibbutz Institute of Haifa University professor Uriel Leviatan and a meeting with the author at 6:00 P.M. on Thursday, February 21, at the LJC in Vilnius.

Professor Leviatan was born in Kaunas. His grandfather Isaac Leviatan was a renowned gynecologist in prewar Lithuania. The birthing clinic he created on Miško street in Kaunas in 1926 is still operating. Isaac Leviatan was a talented doctor and an active figure in Kaunas public life. He became chairman of the Zionist party Zionim Klaleem in 1935 and was the long-time representative of that party at Zionist congresses held in Europe.

Of the family of Isaac Leviatan renowned in Kaunas and throughout Lithuania, only Uriel survived through a kind of miracle. His parents sensed the coming liquidation of the ghetto in 1943 and made sure three-year-old Uriel was smuggled out of the ghetto…

Jewish Scouts Hike to Synagogue in Žiežmariai

Jewish Scouts Hike to Synagogue in Žiežmariai

The Lithuanian Jewish Community invited Jewish scouts for a winter hike on February 17. The delegation left by train for Žasliai where they were welcomed by the town alderman and local students. The scouts presented the community and the school with a gift, the ghetto diary of Yitzhak Rudashevski in Lithuanian.

The hike began through Strošiūnai Forest where the scouts learned how to build a fire and had a snack.

Hikers later visited the Jewish mass murder site in Strošiūnai Forest where everyone laid a stone in memory of the victims. The hike concluded at the Žiežmariai Cultural Center where the scouts, along with Kaišiadorys regional administration head Vytenis Tomkus, they raised and viewed the traditional Žiežmariai haShomer haTzair scouting flag, generously donated for the occasion by the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum.

Launch of Book about Jews of Švėkšna

Launch of Book about Jews of Švėkšna

Monika Žąsytienė, a Bagel Shop project volunteer and museum specialist, has written a book called “Švėkšnos žydų bendruomenė XVII–XX a.” [The Jewish Community of Švėkšna from the 17th to the 20th Century].

The Bagel Shop Café will host the launch of the new book at 6:00 P.M. on February 19. Register here.

According to the author, the book makes no pretense of being an historical work. Instead, Monika Žąsytienė sought to bring together local lore and regional history for future work on the subject. She made use of material from Lithuanian archives, Yad Vashem and the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D. C. Some of the information–testimonies, memoirs, correspondence in Yiddish, Hebrew, German and English–appears for the first time in Lithuanian in her book.

Aaron Garon’s Book Vilnius Jewish World Presented at LJC

Aaron Garon’s Book Vilnius Jewish World Presented at LJC

Aaron Garon (Garonas, 1919-2009) was born in Vilnius and most of his life was associated with his beloved home town. He moved to Israel in 1992 but always looked forward to the summers when he would return to Vilnius.

Garon became a witness to the phenomenon of the Vilnius Jewish world at a young age and harbored a life-long and deep love of Jewish culture and his native Yiddish language.

A reserved and proud Litvak, Garon painfully witnessed, too, the decline of Yiddish: “How can we erase a thousand years of Jewish cultural history?”

Garon’s terse tales of his home, parents and school–all of which he adored–served as a kind of return to paradise lost for him: “If there is anything positive in me, I must thank my parents and school and our wonderful principal Sofia Gurevich for this,” he wrote.

The Jewish world of Vilnius thrived for centuries but was wiped out in the Holocaust, although survivors continued to speak Yiddish with their families for decades. Most of them made their way to Israel, and Yiddish was no longer heard on the streets of Vilnius. This book–a Lithuanian translation of select articles by Garon the journalist and writer–is more than just vivid memories, it is a testimony to and a painting in Yiddish of a lost world which might teach future generations just how much the city lost. The new book is in both Lithuanian and Yiddish.

Exhibit by Kaunas Collector at Choral Synagogue in Vilnius

Exhibit by Kaunas Collector at Choral Synagogue in Vilnius

An exhibit of items in the collection of well-known collector Michailis Duškesas regarding pre-war Vilnius Jewish organizations is on display at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius showing the rich and active life of Vilnius Jews before the Holocaust.

Thank you to Michailis and Natalija Duškesai of Kaunas who made the effort to organize and set up this unique exhibit in Vilnius.

The second floor of the synagogue is still hosting an exhibit of photographs of wooden synagogues as well. The photos were donated by Daumantas Todesas, director of the Jakov Bunka support and welfare fund.

Fate of Litvaks in the Holocaust in Yad Vasherm Documents and Projects

Fate of Litvaks in the Holocaust in Yad Vasherm Documents and Projects

Serafima Velkovich from Israel delivered a public lecture at the Chaim Frankel villa on February 14, 2019, called “The Fate of Litvaks in the Holocaust in Yad Vasherm Documents and Projects.” The event was intended to mark the 75th anniversary of the liquidation of the Šiauliai ghetto. The lecture was in English with simultaneous translation to Lithuania. Velkovich works in the archives of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial institute in Israel. The event was attended by members of the Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community, Lithuanian MP Stasiys Tumėnas’s advisor Nerijus Brazauskas, representatives of the local municipal and regional administrations, employees from the Aušra, Joniškis and Pakruojis Museums, high school students from Šiauliai and local public figures and members of the public.

The event was organized by the Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community. Partners included the Goodwill Foundation, the International Commission to Assess the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupational Regimes in Lithuania, the Aušra Museum in Šiauliai, the Klaipėda Jewish Religious Community, the Kaunas Jewish Religious Community, the Conference of European Rabbis, descendants of Litvaks abroad, the Panevėžys Jewish Support Association and the Jewish Cultural Heritage Route Association.

Lithuanian State Auditor’s Office Completes Annual Audit of Goodwill Foundation

Lithuanian State Auditor’s Office Completes Annual Audit of Goodwill Foundation

The Lithuanian State Auditor’s Office has completed an annual audit of the Goodwill Foundation for the proper management, use and disbursement of state budget funds in the year 2018. The audit was conducted according to the requirements of the Lithuanian State Auditor’s Office and to the highest standards of international auditing agencies.

The Lithuanian State Auditor’s Office’s audit of the proper management, use and disbursement of funds the Lithuanian Government Chancellery allocated to the Goodwill Foundation in 2018 found there had been no violations.

The audit report can be viewed in Lithuanian here.

Lithuanian State Auditor’s Office press release here.

Launch of Aaron Garon’s Vilnius Jewish World

Launch of Aaron Garon’s Vilnius Jewish World

The Lithuanian Jewish Community will host the launch of Aaron Garon’s (1919-2009) “Vilnius Jewish World” at 3:00 P.M. on February 17.

Participants are to include his daughter Tamara Garon, son Eugenijus Garon, Fania Brancovskaja, Simas Levinas, signatory to the Lithuanian Restoration of Independence Act Česlovas Juršėnas, Faina Kukliansky, publisher Stasys Lipskis, Maša Grodnikienė and Milan Chersonski.

“Vilnius Jewish World” is a collection of articles published in periodicals in Yiddish by famous journalist Aaron Garon illustrated with archival photographs. Most of the texts in the book are eye-witness accounts of Jewish Vilna in the interwar period.

Garon was born in Vilnius and most of his life was connected with his beloved city.

For more information call (8 5) 261 3003.

Hike for Scouts

The Jewish Scouts of Lithuania invite children, teenagers and parents on a hike from the synagogue in Žasliai to the synagogue in Žiežmariai. If your child is 14 or older he/she may participate independently, but all younger hikers need to be accompanied by their parents. The event will include scouting entertainment, a bonfire, a guided tour of the newly-renovated synagogue in Žiežmariai and snacks. The hike will take place on February 17. The start of the hike is reachable from both the Vilnius and Kaunas central railroad stations and the plan is to return hikers to the Vilnius and Kaunas central bus stations. More information is available in Lithuanian here and you may also contact Renaldas at renaldas@lzb.lt for additional information. Parents need to sign a permission form here and send it to renaldas@lzb by February 11.

Synagogues: The Difficult Road to Revival

Synagogues: The Difficult Road to Revival

by Kazys Kazakevičius

Of the almost one-and-a-half thousand synagogues in Lithuania before World War II, only about 80 have survived to the present. Only two are operational and all other buildings are being used for other purposes or stand empty. It takes a lot of money to revive a synagogue for new life. The Jewish communities don’t have it, and neither do the municipalities which often become the owners of synagogues where there are no Jewish communities. Some EU support helps, at least.

An opportunity for fully restoring a former synagogue in Alytus, Lithuania, has come up; after the war the synagogue became a salt storehouse and a chicken hatchery. In January the city mayor’s office signed an agreement with a contractor for the further capital renovation of the synagogue built in 1911 which has been undergoing some repairs for three years now. The plan foresees a year-and-a-half’s worth of work for 400,000 euros. Around half of that cost will come from EU funds with the municipality picking up the rest. Specialist Ingrida Leskevičienė of the Alytus mayor’s office’s department of finance and investments reported the building is to house a visual arts center as a branch of the Alytus Regional History Museum. The first floor is to be used as an exhibition hall to host exhibits, conferences, seminars, lectures, book launches and showings of films.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky said, however, there are still synagogues whose fates are causing great concern. Renovating or rebuilding them, even if funds were available, wouldn’t make sense if there was no on to use the buildings.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Synagogue in Pušalotas Receives State Protection

Synagogue in Pušalotas Receives State Protection

Lithuanian minister of culture Dr. Mindaugas Kvietkauskas has placed four cultural treasures under state protection: Petras Klimas’s villa in Kaunas, the synagogue in Pušalotas in the Pasvalys region, the former Lithuanian Foreign Ministry building in Kaunas and a building in Vilnius which formerly housed Jewish cultural institutions.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Maushe Segal, the Last Jew of Lithuanian Kalvarija

Maushe Segal, the Last Jew of Lithuanian Kalvarija

Since 2005 we have marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day (officially “International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust” as designated by the United Nations) and have remembered the once-large Lithuanian Jewish community 78 years ago. There have been no Jews left in the shtetlakh for a long time now, although the Jewish legacy endures in the form of the old towns and synagogues they built, and the cemeteries and mass grave sites. We spoke with Maushe Segal (Maušius Segalis), the last Jew of the town of Kalvarija in western Lithuania, about his life and what Holocaust Remembrance Day means to him.


Maushe with grandson at the Kalvarija synagogue. Photo: Milda Rūkaitė

Segal: It’s important to me to remember, because this is a day commemorating the once-large community now dead. For many years we Jews gathered at the cemetery on September 1, since that’s the day all of the Jews of Marijampolė [Staropol] were murdered. That was before, now there are no Jews left in Kalvarija or Marijampolė.

What do you remember seeing as a child, or did your mother tell you?

They took my father and me to be shot on September 1, 1941. They shot him, but my mother grabbed me, I was small, from the pit in Marijampolė after the shooting.

Jewish Headstones Desecrated by Soviets to Return to Cemetery

Jewish Headstones Desecrated by Soviets to Return to Cemetery

By early Friday, January 18, the Protestant Evangelical Church in central Vilnius (during Soviet times the Kronika movie theater) had completed the removal of stone stairs leading up to the entrance which were in fact Jewish headstones placed there by Soviet authorities.

This represents a victory in the Lithuanian Jewish Community’s long-term efforts to insure respect for the dead and the Jewish legacy in Lithuania.

Since 2013 the LJC has been cooperating actively with the Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Department and the Vilnius Protestant Evangelical consistory (session, or governing council) to determine whether the stairs were in fact taken from Jewish cemeteries. It was determined Jewish headstones were used in the construction of the stairs, headstones taken from the old Jewish cemetery in the Užupis neighborhood of Vilnius. Since that determination, the LJC has been appealing constantly to the institutions involved for the stairs to be removed. A number of LJC members have been involved actively in making this happen, as have some Lithuanian public figures, including late professor and MEP Leonidas Donskis.

Monument to a Monument Photo Exhibit

Monument to a Monument Photo Exhibit

Roža Zinkevičienė, the principal of the Saulėtekis school in Vilnius, invites the public to the opening of a photography exhibit there called “Monument to a Monument (Jewish Cemetery Destroyed in 1964)” by photographer Rimantas Dichavičius. The opening is to take place at 10:00 A.M. on January 17, 2019. The school is located at Kaminkelio street no. 10 in Vilnius. The exhibit is dedicated to marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Jewish People’s Bank in Lithuania: Support for Co-ops, Small, Medium Business

Jewish People’s Bank in Lithuania: Support for Co-ops, Small, Medium Business

by Ona Biveinienė

Lithuanian Jews since olden times engaged in lending at interest. The charter of rights Vytautas the Great granted the Jews of Brest-Litovsk in 1388 included the right to loan money at interest, a rather new thing in the Grand Duchy at that time, along with the right to practice Judaism. According to the charter, “a Jew may accept any object brought him as collateral, no matter what the item is called, without question, except for bloodied or wet clothing and Church clothing and vessels, which he should in no way accept.”

For several centuries Jews were the main lenders, saving neighbors fallen on hard times by loaning them money, at interest, of course.

Lithuania’s declaration of independence on February 16, 1918, provided a favorable environment for Jews living here to expand customary and create new businesses. The Jewish people, as no other, seized upon the opportunity; they attempted to restore and expand the shops, workshops and factories they had before World War I. Many courageously started new businesses and in many cases were the first in Lithuania to engage in little known or unprecedented enterprises.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Goodwill Foundation Funds for Most Significant Lithuanian Jewish Projects

A meeting of the board of the Goodwill Foundation has resolved to fund the most significant Lithuanian Jewish projects, approved spending limits for 2019 and planned the 2019 budget for administrative costs for the foundation.

One of the more interesting projects is on-going archaeological exploration of the Great Synagogue site in Vilnius. There is also a project to commemorate the Jurbarkas synagogue with a statue by the sculptor Dovydas Zundelovičius. The foundation will also remember conductor, teacher and professor Saulius Sondeckis with the publication of a monograph.

The Goodwill Foundation board also addressed the issue of ownership of the former Tarbut gymnasium building at Pylimo street no. 4 in Vilnius, the headquarters of the Lithuanian Jewish Community.

Full text here.

When Moshe (Misha) Arens Called from Vilnius, or, the End of World War II

When Moshe (Misha) Arens Called from Vilnius, or, the End of World War II

by Sergejus Kanovičius

The internet didn’t exist yet, and the way to connect from Israel with parents and friends left in Lithuania was by fax or telephone. There wasn’t a surplus of money and both means were very expensive, so hearing the voice of a loved one was the greatest gift; letters are fine, but human nature it seems is such that we need living emotion, moments which dissolve in the past… When you hear the voice of your Father, or Mother, or grandfather, it feels as if you are with them, much more than reading a letter which has been in transit for a long time. Sometimes the people who helped us in so many ways in saving our son knew the longing for loved ones, they knew what longing means, because they themselves had experienced these separations and knew what they meant. The independency of Lithuania was going slowly, so it was expensive to call from Israel to Lithuania and from Vilnius to Tel Aviv. As I remember it, from Vilnius you longer had to wait for a previously ordered international call, all you had to do was dial 8, wait for the tone and then enter the number. But it wasn’t raining and isn’t raining money anywhere, neither there where rivers of milk flow along banks of honey, nor there where pack-ice gently caresses the banks of the Neris. Sometimes the worst thing you could pull out of the mail box was a nostalgic numerical reminder for some month, sometimes the telephone bills were such that you wanted to take that apparatus to a bank and lock it in the safe.

Works by Litvak Sculptors Presented in Panevėžys

Works by Litvak Sculptors Presented in Panevėžys

The Panevėžys Jewish Community opened an exhibit of works by famous 19th century Litvak sculptor Mark (Mordechai) Antokolski to mark the 175th anniversary of his death at the Panevėžys Jewish Community headquarters in cooperation with the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum.

Antokolski was born in the Antakalnis neighborhood in Vilnius in 1843 to a religious Jewish family. From childhood he liked to draw and he learned to carve wood. He matriculated at the St. Petersburg Art Academy in Russia in 1862, was graduated in 1871 and thereafter embarked on a series of works on Jewish and other themes. His bas-relief “Jewish Tailor” won a silver medal. His works were much heralded in artistic and cultural circles in St. Petersburg.

His works reflect a variety of subjects, including scenes from antiquity and Christian, historical and ethnic themes. The sculptor passed away in 1902 and is buried in St. Petersburg. A small street in the Vilnius Old Town was named in his honor following his death.

Information Board Teaches Visitors about Panevėžys Jewish Cemetery

Information Board Teaches Visitors about Panevėžys Jewish Cemetery

The Panevėžys Jewish cemetery marked its 300th anniversary this December 18. It opened on the outskirts of the city back in the 18th century, on a plot of land bought by Jews who were moving to Lithuania. People of all different walks of life were buried there, including rabbis, scholars, businesspeople and farmers. During World War I Jewish volunteer soldiers who fought for Lithuanian independence against the Kaiser’s Germany were laid to rest there.

The cemetery expanded in the 19th and early 20th century. It is now listed on the Lithuanian cultural heritage registry as an historic monument and enjoys the protection of the state. Jewish burials ceased after World War II because there were so few Jews left in the city. The cemetery was closed in 1955. In 1966 city officials liquidated the cemetery and created a city park on the site. A fountain was placed in the middle of the cemetery. Headstones were taken and used for construction in Panevėžys, for building fences in the city center and also incorporated into a decorative wall at the J. Miltinis Drama Theater. Way back in 1980 there were attempts to correct the damage done; the fountain was moved to Senvagė leaving an open pit in the cemetery. The newly recreated Panevėžys Jewish Community and friends from Israel, the USA, South Africa and other countries called for fixing the damage in 1991, and in 2003 they all supported Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman’s idea to commemorate the dead with a statue. The architect Vytautas Klimavičius designed the ensemble and Panevėžys sculptor Vytautas Tallat-Kelpša made the statue which stands there today, “Sad Jewish Mother,” unveiled in 2009.

Jewish Heritage Experts Agree Guidelines for Commemoration of Great Synagogue

Jewish Heritage Experts Agree Guidelines for Commemoration of Great Synagogue

At the behest of the Lithuanian Jewish Community an international Heritage Advisory Group consisting of renowned global experts on Jewish heritage was formed, including:

Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, advisor to the director and senior curator of main exhibits at the POLIN Polish Jewish History Museum; Assumpció Hosta, general secretary of the European Association for the Preservation and Promotion of Jewish Culture and Heritage (AEPJ); Sergey Kanovich, founder of the Maceva NGO and project manager of the Šeduva Jewish Memorial Fund; Lyudmila Sholokhova, PhD, director, YIVO archive and library; Sergey Kravtsov, senior research correspondent, Jewish Art Center, Hebrew University; the Lithuanian Jewish Community was represented by LJC heritage conservation specialist Martynas Užpelkis and architect and designer Victoria Sideraitė-Alon.

The expert group now has issued a set of recommended guidelines for the memorialization of the Great Synagogue of Vilna.

Since it is basically clear that attempts to rebuild the Great Synagogue would send a false message, they instead recommended emphasizing the uniqueness of the site’s history and its current state. Commemoration should pursue the objectives of conserving what remains and proper education. The project should focus on recovering and expressing the centrality and unique meaning of the site in Lithuanian Jewish history and memory.