Heritage

Battle for the Soul of Lithuania on BBC HARDtalk

Battle for the Soul of Lithuania on BBC HARDtalk

The BBC television interview program HARDtalk interviewed granddaughter of Lithuanian Nazi Jonas Noreika on April 16, 2021, and has been airing the episode this week.

The description for the episode called “Silvia Foti: When truth trumps family loyalty. Silvia Foti on grappling with family responsible for the Holocaust” reads:

“Silvia Foti’s grandfather was a Lithuanian man hailed as heroic patriot who paid with his life resisting the Soviets. But according to her, Jonas Noreika was no hero–he had the blood of thousands of Jews on his hands. She’s chosen to speak out, angering many in Lithuania. What happens when truth trumps family loyalty?”

Interviewer Stephen Sackur pressed Silvia Foti for documentary proof her grandfather was responsible for the murder of around 1,800 in Plungė–the entire Jewish population–in 1941. Foti went further and said she had reliable documents and sources showing Noreika was responsible for mass murders of Jews in Plungė, Telšiai and Šiauliai. Sackur was interested in Foti’s journey from that of a proud Lithuanian-American to the point where she had to confront Holocaust crimes within her immediate family. Foti countered the problem was much more widespread than her family, that the perpetrators and their descendants were still covering up the Holocaust in present-day Lithuania, and cited the Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of Residents of Lithuania as one party involved in the nation-wide cover-up. She said her and Grant Gochin’s legal battles to have the plaque commemorating Noreika on the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences building in Vilnius was really a battle for the soul of Lithuania. Sackur asked whether Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center was correct in calling Lithuania the locomotive in the train of Holocaust distortion in Eastern Europe. Foti admitted she didn’t know the situation in Eastern Europe in general, but that this was possible.

An audio recording of the interview is available here and here.

Vilnius Greets Israel on 73rd Israeli Independence Day

Vilnius Greets Israel on 73rd Israeli Independence Day

Vilnius marked Israel’s 73rd independence day by illuminating three main bridges in the colors of the Israeli flag, blue and white, for the duration of the 24-hour period.


Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Yossi Avni-Levy and Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky on the White Bridge in Vilnius April 14, 2021.

Vilnius Bridges Lit with Israeli Colors for Israeli Independence Day

Vilnius Bridges Lit with Israeli Colors for Israeli Independence Day

The Lithuanian Jewish Community in cooperation with the Vilnius city municipality will light up three bridges in the Lithuanian capital on the evening of April 14 to celebrate the 73rd Israeli independence day.

From Wednesday evening to sundown on Thursday blue and white lights will illuminate the White, Green and King Mindaugas Bridges. These colors were chosen for the flag of the state of Israel by Dovid Volfson who was born in the small town of Darbėnai in Lithuania in the mid-19th century.

“Around the world Vilnius is known as the Jerusalem of the North because of the important Jewish cultural and historical figures who were born, grew up and studied here. A number of them actively contributed to the creation of fortification of the independent state of Israel, forging extremely strong and deep ties between Vilnius and Israel and its people,” LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky said.

Happy 10th Birthday to Maceva, the Litvak Cemetery Catalogue

Happy 10th Birthday to Maceva, the Litvak Cemetery Catalogue

Photo: Restored Jewish cemetery in Šeduva, Lithuania.

Mazl tov to Maceva, the Litvak Cemetery Catalogue, which is celebrating a milestone: ten years of activity documenting, cleaning, digitizing, and restoring Jewish cemeteries in Lithuania.

“Beit Olam, cemeteries are the house of living. It is the place were our memory comes to life,” the non-profit organization, established in 2011, said in an anniversary statement on its facebook page.

This is How It Was Done in Vilne…

This is How It Was Done in Vilne…

Photo: Pinchos Fridberg, the only Jew left in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius who was born there before the Nazis invaded in 1941. By Brendan Hoffman for the New York Times.

by professor Pinchos Fridberg, an alter vilner id [an old Jew born and raised in Vilnius]

Rebe, will there ever come a time when the words Vilne and Yidish will be inseparable again?”
Saydn nor mit Meshiakh’n ineinem.” [Not unless it comes with the Messiah.]

Introduction

The article “Как это делалось ин Вилнэ…” [This Is How It Was Done in Vilne] became the main feature for issue no. 505 of the international magazine “Мы Здесь” [We Are Here] in 2015. More than 7,000 people read it, and I began receiving letters from people whom I didn’t know.

The largest Russian-language weekly newspaper in Lithuania “Обзор” [Review] reprinted this article on its website on March 8, 2021.

The article concerns the history of Jewish Vilnius.

I think it might be interesting to non-Russian-language readers as well. *

“This is How It Was Done in Vilne…”

As I was putting my archive in order, I came across a small program for a concert to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Jewish volunteer collectives. This program is more than half a calendrical century old. I think the reader might be interested to see “how it was done in Vilne.” The program contains over 30 photographs. I will present a few of them. I believe it has long been time for them to be revived on the wider internet.

Choral Synagogue in Vilnius Opens Virtual Doors

Choral Synagogue in Vilnius Opens Virtual Doors

The Lithuanian Jewish Community is inviting the public to take a virtual tour of the only synagogue operating in Vilnius according to all Jewish laws, the Choral Synagogue. The virtual guided tour will demonstrate the synagogue itself and also offers tourists the chance to learn about Jewish cultural and culinary traditions and the High Holy Days.

The virtual tour covers the synagogue’s interior, the mikva, the kosher kitchen and the only surviving matzo-making machine in Lithuania, as well as Jewish religion, philosophy, traditional holidays, lifestyles and Jewish sacred songs. Virtual lessons are available in the kosher kitchen for those wanting to learn about the Jewish culinary tradition. Over six millennia strict traditions have developed for religious and secular holidays for making certain foods for specific holidays, for example, only round loaves of challa are baked and fish heads prepared for the Rosh Hashanah table, doughnuts and potato pancakes are fried for Hanukkah and hamantaschen, pastries filled with poppy seeds, are made for Purim.

Around 10,000 tourists visit the Choral Synagogue annually, many of them the Litvak descendants of Holocaust survivors living in diaspora around the world, and also local residents, students, and social partners in the field of culture and tourism in Lithuania and abroad. Visiting the synagogue is being restricted because of the corona virus, so a virtual tour has been set up for Lithuanians and for Litvaks living abroad who are able to visit at least virtually the synagogue of their parents’ youth or adolescence.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky said the virtual introduction to Jewish culture and tradition strengthens the multicultural expression of the city community and popularizes Jewish cultural heritage.

The Lithuanian Cultural Council is financing the project called “Choral Synagogue of Vilnius: Prayer, Kitchen, Mikva.”

The Seder Table: A Jewish Tradition Unchanged for Millennia

The Seder Table: A Jewish Tradition Unchanged for Millennia

Passover, the most important Jewish holiday which lasts for eight days, begins on March 27 this year. The date for celebrating Passover is set by the lunar calendar: the first full moon after the vernal equinox. The name of the holy day comes from “pesakh,” meaning passed over, recalling the story of the Angel of Death which passed over the Israelites before Moses led the slaves out of Egypt.

“The symbolic meaning of this holiday is that it wasn’t separate Jewish families which came out of Egypt, but a single, united Jewish people. The Jewish people throw off the yoke of slavery and leave in order to reach the Promised Land, and there create their nation,” Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky explained.

Passover Traditions over the Millennia

Keeper of Jewish cultural and religious traditions Natalija Cheifec said although the exodus from Egypt occurred more than 3,300 years ago, Passover traditions have remained almost unchanged over the many centuries. The main feature of the eight-day holiday is the seder dinner when the Hagada is read out, prayers are made and people sit at the seder table and eat from the seder plate, or ke’are.

Hagada in Three Languages for Community Members

Hagada in Three Languages for Community Members

The Lithuanian Jewish Community is making available Hagada for the first night of Passover in Hebrew, Lithuanian and Russian. To order, call +370 678 81 514 from 10:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M. and pick up your order at Pylimo street no. 4 in Vilnius before 2:00 P.M. on March 26.

History of the Alytus Synagogue: From House of Prayer, to Salt Storehouse, to Poultry Hatchery

History of the Alytus Synagogue: From House of Prayer, to Salt Storehouse, to Poultry Hatchery

Cultural Infrastructure Center

The Cultural Infrastructure Center of Lithuania is completing renovation work on the synagogue in Alytus. Emergency preservation work followed by renovation led to a fuller restoration and the building is now housing a section of the Alytus Museum.

The old synagogue on Kauno street in Alytus, Lithuania, appeared in total ruin just five years ago, with boarded-up windows and bricks falling from the walls. Experts saw even worse things at work.

“The condition of the outer wall was poor… In spots several bricks were missing, and in some places even larger sections of bricks had fallen out. The mortar on the lower portion was visibly damaged by moisture or salt which it will still take several years to drive out of the building walls. The façades on the southern side of the building were especially damaged. We found the interior also deeply damaged, with the floor dug up and windows and doors removed,” Cultural Infrastructure Center acting deputy director Viktoras Vilkišius said.

Strong Jewish Community Formerly Lived in Alytus

The first wooden synagogue was built in the western section of Alytus in 1856 apparently at the same site the currently restored synagogue occupies. It was a small building heated with a stove and housed a school and the rabbi’s living quarters.

New Dead Sea Scroll Fragments, World’s Oldest Basket Found in Desert Cave

New Dead Sea Scroll Fragments, World’s Oldest Basket Found in Desert Cave

6,000-year-old child skeleton also found in Judean Desert cave. It is the first such discovery since the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947 and the early 1950s.

Some 1,900 years ago, Jewish refugees fleeing the Romans made their way to the Judean Desert. Among the belongings they carried with them were scrolls featuring the biblical books of Zechariah and Nahum. Two millennia later, fragments of those texts have reemerged, the Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced Tuesday.

It is the first such discovery since the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947 and the early Fifties.

In recent decades, the caves have been targeted by looters eager to find artifacts to sell on the private market. For this reason, a few years ago, the IAA, in cooperation with the Civil Administration’s Archaeology Department, launched a rescue operation to survey all the caves in the area.

The findings, which include not only the biblical fragments, but also dozens of artifacts dating back as early as 10,000 years ago, have been astounding.

Lithuanian Jewish Community Marks Sabbath with Johannesburg Rabbi Julia Margolis

Lithuanian Jewish Community Marks Sabbath with Johannesburg Rabbi Julia Margolis

Julia Margolis of the Beit Luria Progressive Shul in Johannesburg led a Sabbath celebration with the Lithuanian Jewish Community last Friday via the internet. She was the first female rabbi to open a progressive synagogue in South Africa along with others from the South African Union of Progressive Jews. The synagogue is the eleventh progressive synagogue in South Africa and the first in Gaunteng province in many years.

Tull Eckhart provided music during the virtual meeting.

Protecting the Summer Synagogue in Kalvarija from Rain and Snow

Protecting the Summer Synagogue in Kalvarija from Rain and Snow

A special project to conserve and prevent the collapse of the summer synagogue in the Lithuanian town of Kalvarija was prepared back in 2016.

The Kalvarija synagogue complex belongs to the Lithuanian Jewish Community. Under an agreement signed in 2014 the Kalvarija municipality has exclusive use of the buildings for 50 years for cultural, educational and academic needs and for tourism.

Advisor at the Alytus-Marijampolė section of the Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Department Violeta Kasperavičiutė said work to conserve the synagogue was just approved, including installing wooden columns in the interior and along the perimeter of the outside walls, reconstruction of the wooden roof, bricking and mortaring windows and the roof cornice to protect them from precipitation, installing doors, roof shingling to protect against rain and snow and tin roofing where needed for further protection.

Israeli Modern Art Curator Ory Deassau: Give Artists the Freedom to Decide

Israeli Modern Art Curator Ory Deassau: Give Artists the Freedom to Decide


by Jolita Jankuvienė, www.DELFI.lt

Well-known Israel art curator and writer Ory Dessay with the modern art gallery Vartai presented an international exhibition at the end of 2020 called “An Unfinished Project” to mark the Year of the Vilna Gaon and Litvak History. It wasn’t easy to hold the exhibition during the virus pandemic and the curator was unable to travel to Lithuania as had been planned, but despite everything, art is priceless in removing limitations, it is free and mobile, posing questions as well as answers, which the curator presented to the public in a virtual form.

Which exhibit was the most significant and memorable for you?

As the musician Duke Ellington once said when asked about his best musical work, I would repeat that the most important exhibit is the one coming up next which I will curate. I give all of myself to the project on which I am working. Currently an exhibit is taking place at the Vartai art gallery in Vilnius. This location makes the process of my curating and presentation easy. I am especially intrigued by the historical conditions of the location of the exhibit “An Unfinished Project,” it is part of Jewish history. There are many untold stories here which we can show to the audience. I am enchanted by the vitality of Vilnius, not just because of the recent success Lithuanians enjoyed at the 58th modern art Biennale in Venice, but because I really feel a strong attraction to this city.

Full interview in Lithuanian here.

Sabbath Discussions: New Project by Lithuanian Jewish Community and Viljamas Žitkauskas

Sabbath Discussions: New Project by Lithuanian Jewish Community and Viljamas Žitkauskas

It has been said the Sabbath is the time to forget food for the body and provide food to the soul. The Lithuanian Jewish Community and Viljamas Žitkauskas have invited members and the public to a series of Sabbath discussions, the first one dedicated to Zionism among Litvaks.

Viljamas Žitkauskas recounted to the virtual audience historical facts about the Vilna Gaon and his contribution to Zionism. Religious Litvak Zionists consider the Gaon the father of the national movement. Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the father of the modern Hebrew language, spent his whole life adapting Hebrew, which had become mainly a liturgical language, for use in daily life. Abraham Mapu was a Hebrew novelist. Menachem Begin helped found the State of Israel and served as Israel’s seventh prime minister.

Žitkauskas spoke about these Litvaks and the history of Zionism and his audience showed rapt interest throughout.

The virtual meeting and discussion concluded with the havdalah ceremony to mark the end of Sabbath.

Purim Greetings from the Panevėžys Jewish Community

Purim Greetings from the Panevėžys Jewish Community

The entire Jewish people celebrate the happy spring Purim holiday. Although the times are not amenable to personal meetings and celebrations together, Jews do not give up to despair. As Esther revealed evil schemes and save the Jewish people from destruction and slavery, so will the Purim holiday lighten the mood and bring joy to every home.

The Panevėžys Jewish Community has prepared holiday Purim food parcels for our members and gifts for the children which will be distributed as will the holiday spirit.

Vilnius and Cape Town Celebrate Sabbath

Vilnius and Cape Town Celebrate Sabbath

A special joint internet Sabbath celebration was held between Vilnius and Cape Town, South Africa last Friday, February 19.

Cape Town Rabbi Greg Alexander greeted the internet celebrants in both cities and presented Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman to those in South Africa.

The Sabbath was ushered in with song. The rabbi and Millian Rivlin sang and played guitar, after which prayers were delivered. Despite the distance between the two cities, communication was almost instantaneous, and it felt as if everyone were in the same room at home.

The vast majority of Jews living in South Africa were and are Litvaks. That affinity was clear during the internet Sabbath.

Lithuanian History Institute Director Tells Parliamentary Speaker Genocide Center Planned Propaganda Campaigns

Lithuanian History Institute Director Tells Parliamentary Speaker Genocide Center Planned Propaganda Campaigns

15min.lt

Speaker of Lithuanian parliament Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen met representatives Tuesday of universities and the Lithuanian History Institute to discuss the situation at Lithuania’s Genocide Center, following a boycott of Genocide Center announced by these institutions. Lithuanian History Institute director Alvydas Nikžentaitis said the problem is not just a domestic one and needs a final solution.

Historians from Vilnius University, Vytautas Magnus University, Klaipėda University and the Lithuanian History Institute sent the speaker a letter complaining the new leadership of Genocide Center under Adas Jakubauskas after he was appointed in February of 2020 had led to a primitive politicization of sensitive and painful events of the past without taking sources into account. They said they could no longer work with Genocide Center under those conditions, and didn’t agree with unprofessional statements made by representatives of the Genocide Center.

Nikžentaitis said there had been indications very long before Jakubauskas’s appointment that things weren’t right at the Center, and that his colleagues had made numerous complaints. Nikžentaitis said some of them were even persecuted for expressing their opinion regarding the Center. Nikžentaitis listed among other complaints that there were allegedly discussions inside Genocide Center that if the current director of the Center’s Department of Historical Research [Arūnas Bubnys] withdrew from the post, he would be given a different post, while behind the scenes agreement was reached on replacing him with another person more obedient to the leadership.

“So basically this was preparing the ground, let’s say, for preparing opinions very far from academic at the Center, so that the Center would be ready to carry out specific propaganda goals,” Nikžentaitis said.

On the meeting with the speaker of parliament, Nikžentaitis said they discussed how to change the existing situation. He added that in a certain sense the problems at Genocide Center were pre-programmed from its very inception.

Full article in Lithuanian here.

Mass Murders in Utena: Memories of the Holocaust

Mass Murders in Utena: Memories of the Holocaust

Photo: Just a few buildings witnessing to the Jewish past still stand in Utena.

Translated to Lithuanian by Vytautas Ridikas from Massacres in Utena by Tsozdik Bleiman writing in Russian

§§§

As the only living witness left, I am able to share some special memories.

My father Jakov Bleiman, who was formerly a rabbi in Crimea, performed the same duties in Utena, where my brother-in-law Efraim Yudelovich also lived with the family. At the beginning of the war I lived in Kaunas.

I decided to see my parents and then, if the right conditions were in place, to evacuate with the entire family. As it turned out there was no way to leave for somewhere, because just as I arrived in the city the Germans entered. Our fate became clear: we were all condemned to death.

Thursday. The first day of the German regime. Dozens of Jews are herded to work, led to the Germans and their Lithuanian helpers. The work is meaningless and insignificant, just in order to deride the Jews, sending them around all day with brooms, shovels and other implements.

Bringing Bagels Back to Vilnius

Bringing Bagels Back to Vilnius

by Wailana Kalama

After a long absence, the Jewish staple has returned to the Lithuanian capital

Most food historians place the origin of the bagel somewhere vaguely in the Jewish alleys of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In those days in Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius–also known as Vilna, the city once dubbed the “Jerusalem of the North”–bagels were ubiquitous, sold on the streets, and in the bakeries and markets. In modern times, however, the bagel had all but been erased from popular memory. Until now.

For centuries, the city’s Old Town was home to a thriving community of Litvaks, as local Jews referred to themselves. The district was lauded for its cultured elite and a Great Synagogue that attracted scholars from all over Europe. All that changed with the Holocaust, during which 95% of Lithuanian Jews were deported and murdered. Now, all that remains in the Old Town are monuments to what once was: street signs in Yiddish, inscriptions educating about the ghetto, a bust of the famed intellectual Vilna Gaon.