Heritage

Lost Property

Lost Property

At first they lost their civil rights, then their property and, in many cases, their lives. Jews from Lithuania are still waiting for the time when they can at least get their property back.

by Antanas Manstavičius
IQ magazine, June, 2018

For several decades now Lithuanian Jews who survived the Holocaust, along with other residents of the country, have had little hope of restoration of property rights, due to objective reasons. Lithuanian citizens who survived the Soviet and Nazi occupation have finally been allowed to get back private property seized or at least get compensation. Many have made use of this right.

Those who had to flee to save their lives during World War II and their descendants find themselves in a completely different situation. Until now, Lithuanian laws categorize those seeking to have their rights to property restored according to citizenship: those who don’t have it still cannot get their property back.

“You have to be a citizen to get property back,” Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman and attorney Faina Kukliansky said. “But what if you don’t want to be one? How can one be forced to become a citizen of Lithuania?” She says she has clients who still haven’t been to get real estate in Lithuania back. For at least some of the Litvaks living abroad, it’s not about the money, it’s a matter of principle.

Young People in Panevėžys Interested in Jewish Heritage

Monika Šinkūnaitė and her colleague appealed for help to the Panevėžys Jewish Community on June 11 regarding a project called Orientational Walking Tour and a discussion called Jewish Culture in Panevėžys. During the meeting both parties discussed scenarios for the event and topics for the discussion.

The point of the project is to get young and older people interested in Jewish heritage.

The educational walking tour happened on June 29 and was called Along Jewish Roads, including important historical Jewish heritage sites in the city. The youth group began the tour at Freedom Alley where there was a thriving Jewish neighborhood before World War II. There were Jewish residences, stores, workshops, dentistry and medical clinics and attorneys’ offices. Some streets were named after Jewish public figures, including Dr. Mer, Rabbi Gertzel, the industrialist Kisinas, Dembas and others.

The discussion was held after the walking tour at the café Kavos Dėžutė. Panevėžys publicist Donatas Puslys, Panevėžys Regional History Museum director Arūnas Astramskas, bishop emeritus Jonas Kauneckas, nun Eleonora Kasiulytė from the Congregation of the Sisters of God’s Love and Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman participated.

Thank You to Out-Going Cultural Heritage Department Director Diana Varnaitė

The Lithuanian Jewish Community sincerely thanks Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Department director Diana Varnaitė for all the work she’s done to preserve Jewish heritage in Lithuania. The Community is also wondering who could replace her professionalism, intellect and sense of heritage as a significant legacy we leave to future generations.

Since Faina Kukliansky became chairwoman of the LJC in 2013, the Community has paid special attention to the preservation of Lithuanian Jewish heritage sites. Mainly because of director Varnaitė’s personal attention to Jewish heritage, it became one of the Cultural Heritage Department’s priorities and thus a priority for protection nation-wide. The Jewish story in Lithuania began almost 700 years ago and much has been lost, but what remains needs urgent work to save it as a treasure of the state and the people which draws people here from around the world.

Lithuanian Jewish heritage sites are relics of a cultural landscape created over centuries by the community which once numbered a quarter million people living in almost every Lithuanian city and town. It is around 200 cemeteries, more than 200 mass murder sites and mass graves and over 40 synagogues listed as cultural treasures.

Jews from Australia Visit Panevėžys

The families of Jews who lived in Panevėžys before the war are now scattered around the world. Even before the war, back in tsarist times, Panevėžys Jews migrated widely to countries such as Argentina, the United States, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Brasil and also South Africa and Australia. The Panevėžys Jewish Community often receives visitors from these countries, and especially from South Africa. This time Kelly Rozmarim from Australia visited with her husband, brother and two daughters. She brought documents showing her grandfather Hona Shepts was born in Panevėžys in 1908 and immigrated with his brother to South Africa in 1939. Her father Judelis Shepts was a rabbi. He and his three sisters were also born in Panevėžys and stayed in Lithuania. All of them died in the Holocaust.

In South Africa in 1939 there was a world-renowned Jewish community called Ponevezh. Kelly Rozmarim has a document, a list of people who sailed to South Africa which includes members of her family. She and her brother have also discovered relatives in Šeduva, Pasvalys and Biržai.

The family’s visit to the Panevėžys Jewish Community enriched our archives and provided valuable information about the Jewish residents of Panevėžys back then. The visitors thanked Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman for his active efforts to preserve the Litvak heritage and to commemorate it in Panevėžys. All of the family members left warm words and greetings in the Community’s guest book.

Great Synagogue Excavation to Resume

Dr. Jon Seligman of the Israeli Antiquities Authority has announced excavation of the Great Synagogue and the former complex of surrounding buildings known as the Shulhoyf in Vilnius will resume this summer July 9 and will continue till July 27. Those interested in volunteering should contact Dr. Seligman, address below.

The Great Synagogue and Shulhoyf of Vilna (Vilnius): The 2018 Season
A Research, Excavation, Preservation and Memorial Project

A Quick Summary of the Work until Now

The successful outcome of the preliminary excavation of 2011, the 2015 ground-penetrating radar survey and the 2016 excavation showed us the potential of continued excavation at the site to uncover further sections of the Great Synagogue and the surrounding buildings. Given the resources available to the team, we decided to initially concentrate on issues relating to the water system of the shulhoyf that developed in and around the Great Synagogue in the 18thcentury. Written sources inform us that a pipeline was established in 1759 to bring water from the Vingrių springs, that belonged to the Dominican friars, to the synagogue complex. It supplied water to the communal “well,” and apparently to the bathhouse constructed between 1823 and 1828 that included a miqve and a public lavatory.

It’s Unfair to Say All Lithuanians Murdered Jews

The Lithuanian Jewish Community has never said or claimed and never will that all Lithuanians are murderers of Jews. Although approximately 95 percent of Jews in Lithuanian were murdered in the Holocaust with the help of local collaborators, it’s not fair to label the entire Lithuanian people with the offensive and shameful accusation of murderers.

This is especially not fair to those who remained steadfast and passed the most difficult trial of being human. Those brave Lithuanians who seemed to find themselves in a hopeless situation and nonetheless found within themselves the power to fight antihuman ideas and Nazi doctrine. We can speak the names today of more than 800 of these quiet heroes although certainly the names of more have been lost to time.

Marking on June 25 the massacre of Jews at Lietūkis garage in Kaunas, honoring the memory of our ancestors and their rescuers, the LJC cannot remain indifferent when several days ago in the heart of the capital a celebration was held, while flags of mourning should have flown in the country to remember the first victims of the Holocaust in Lithuania.

On June 21, 2018, the municipality of the city of Vilnius published on their internet page an invitation to mark the anniversary of the June 23 uprising in which, among other things, that in June of 1941 revenge was exacted for the deportation of family members to Siberia and other northern regions of the Soviet Union, and that the sons and daughters of our nation, relying only upon their own bravery and themselves, were able to drive out the hated occupier and at least briefly (from June 22 to 28, 1941) restore Lithuanian statehood and the independence lost due to the culpability of their politicians and military leaders.

Should we really be encouraging the celebration of revenge, should we really utilize hate in the alleged goal of uniting the nation? Even after 70 years have passed since the end of the war, these sorts of phrases, recalling those during the Holocaust, remain painfully familiar.

Israelis Visit Panevėžys

For the fourth year now Edit Perry from Israel has led delegations of visitors to Panevėžys and the Panevėžys Jewish Community. This year, on June 25, the guide and teacher led a group of 23 people from Tel Aviv and other locations in Israel engaged in researching Jewish heritage and history. They are university students who study Jewish history during the academic year and spend their summers actually visiting locations connected with the life of their forefathers in Lithuania and Poland.

Community member Jurij Smirnov shared his experience of the Holocaust as a child in the concentration camps in Šiauliai and Panevėžys, the death of family members and how he came to Panevėžys with surviving family.

Following the discussion, the visitors viewed a photography exhibition and Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman presented a brief history of the Jews of the Panevėžys region before World War II. All visitors were given a Jewish calendar published by the Lithuanian Jewish Community featuring drawings and paintings of Lithuanian synagogues by Gerardas Bagdonavičius made before the war.

Conference to Preserve Jewish Heritage in Pušalotas, Lithuania

A conference and inspection tour took place in Pušalotas, Lithuania, June 15, of the synagogue there known as “Yoshke’s house” which also included a Jewish primary school. The synagogue was built by Howard Margol’s great-grandfather, all of whose relatives lived in Lithuania during Tsarist times. One of Margol’s relatives is former Israeli prime minister and long-time leader of the Labor Party Ehud Barak.

The inspection tour in Pušalotas included members of the Panevėžys Jewish Community, Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon, members of the Pušalotas community, officials from the Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Department and staff from the Lithuanian Jewish Community, Pasvalys regional administration chairman G. Gegužinskas, Lithuanian MP A. Matulas, Pušalotas township alderwoman P. Stravinskienė and Pušalotas community chairman A. Kumpauskas, among others. They inspected the synagogue which is in critical condition. For 75 years it hasn’t been used as a synagogue and was left derelict for some time. Margol and family had a commemorative plaque placed on the synagogue and put the old Pušalotas Jewish cemetery in order in 2005. The external structure of the synagogue is intact and authentic, and it could be restored and used by the local community.

YIVO Director Jonathan Brent Visits Vilnius

YIVO executive director and CEO Jonathan Brent led a delegation visiting Vilnius earlier this week. The Lithuanian Jewish Community cherishes our long-term cooperation and meaningful work with YIVO in preserving the Jewish cultural heritage in Lithuania and the world. We thank the United States embassy for their invitation to attend a reception for Jonathan Brent.

Solomonas Atamukas’s Book on Lithuanian Jews Launched at Lithuanian Jewish Community

A new book by the late scholar and historian Dr. Solomonas Atamukas (1918-2014) was lauched June 11 in the Jascha Heifetz Hall at the Lithuanian Jewish Community in Vilnius. The book, “Lietuvos žydų keliai: atmintis, tikėjimas, viltis” [Paths of the Jews of Lithuania: Memory, Faith, Hope] was written and intended by the author to be a continuation of his first book. Late in life Dr. Atamukas suffered health problems and in order to insure the continuation of his first book would be published, enlisted the help of his son, daughter, grandson and daughter-in-law, who performed careful research and collection of information. According to his daughter, long-serving deputy chairwoman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community Maša Grodnikienė, the family paid for the publication of both books.

This is a useful new source for the reader interested in Litvak history. It contains 458 biographical sketches, called biograms in the book, of Litvaks, arranged by country of residence. The book contains large amounts of information about world-famous Litvaks, their origins in Lithuania, education, work and achievements. The author sought to collect as much information and write as many biograms as possible about Holocaust survivors.

Old Kalvarija Synagogue Springs Back to Life

Leading Polish musical group Vocal Varshe performed a concert of Jewish song last week at the old synagogue complex in Kalvarija, Lithuania, where services were last held more than 77 years ago.

The Polish group sang and played accordion to a full house. The windows were opened and the music reverberated throughout the former shtetl where Jews were the majority population before the Holocaust. A local youth choir sang a Jewish song at the beginning of the concert to honor the victims.

Construction began on a synagogue in “Jewish Calvary” in 1713 when the ruler of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Augustus II, granted the kahilla a charter to engage in different forms of trade and manufacturing, to set up cemeteries and to build synagogues not taller than the highest church.

The Kalvarija synagogue complex is listed on the Lithuanian registry of protected cultural treasures. It includes the Baroque synagogue built in the 18th century, the electric synagogue built in the latter half of the 19th century and the adjacent Talmud school and rabbi’s residence built at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Polish Group Vocal Varshe Performs at Sacred Site in Vilnius

Vocal Varshe, a group of musicians from Poland, performed songs in Hebrew, Yiddish and Ladino at the site of the former Great Synagogue in Vilnius, destroyed after World War II, on the evening of June 6, 2018. The event was organized by the Polish Institute in Vilnius and the Lithuanian Jewish Community. The Polish musicians from Warsaw performed songs from the Warsaw and Vilnius ghettos.

LJC executive director Renaldas Vaisbrodas began the event with the poem Vilne by Moshe Kulbak.

Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius greeted the audience and said the concert venue reminded the public, Polish and Lithuanian residents of Vilnius, that more could have been done to save Jews from the Holocaust. He also called for an appropriate commemoration at the site, whether that be partial reconstruction of the synagogue or some other form, to remind future generations of what happened. He said this would serve to unite the different ethnic communities in Vilnius.

LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky thanked the musicians for coming and performing and the Vilnius mayor who granted permission for the concert at the site infused with the spirit of the teachings of the Vilna Gaon.

International Forum of Jewish Scouts Director Alain Silberstein Visits Kaunas

International Forum of Jewish Scouts director Alain Silberstein during his visit to Lithuania last week visited Kaunas where he met with the chairman of the Kaunas Jewish Community, scouts and young people. The French visitor gave an enthusiastic presentation of the Tsofim Yehudim program, plans to expand Jewish scouting activities in Europe and plans to revive Jewish scouting in Lithuania. He reminded his audiences this movement was very active in Lithuania before the Holocaust. Girls who attended the meeting at the KJC said they found his presentation very interesting and inspiring. Scouting, as presented, allows everyone to find themselves and to get involved in activities they love most, and also provides the opportunity to expand one’s horizons to activities which might not have appeared interesting at first. The Jewish scouting movement is attractive because of the values it espouses, its orientation towards Jewish culture and traditions and its tolerance. The ideas interested the audiences in Kaunas and there are great hopes the Jewish scouting movement will return to Lithuania.

Vocal Varshe Concert at the Winter Synagogue in Kalvarija

The Vocal Varshe group from Poland will perform a concert of Jewish songs in Yiddish and Hebrew including songs from the Warsaw and Vilnius ghettos at the synagogue located at Sodų street no. 18 in Kalvarija, Lithuania, at 7:00 P.M. on June 7. Entry is free. Limited transportation from Vilnius will be provided with a small bus leaving the Lithuanian Jewish Community at 4:00 P.M. on June 7 and returning sometime between 10:00 P.M. and 11:30 P.M. Please contact neringa@lzb.lt if you want to make use of this limited transportation.

Interview with Mizrachi Feminist and Litvak Dr. Smadar Lavie

Visiting lecturer Dr. Smadar Lavie recently returned to Vilnius and agreed to a short interview for www.lzb.lt.

I came here for my father’s posthumous degree. They had a big ceremony. I said I didn’t grow up as a Litvak, I grew up as a shvartze, because my mother is Yemeni, and Israel has lots of racism by the Ashkenazi Jews towards the Mizrachi Jews. So now that you’re talking to me, almost all of my classmates were Ashkenazi, children of survivors, and they didn’t have grandparents. They were very envious that I had a Yemeni grandmother. My grandmother was very nice to my friends because they didn’t have grandparents. I didn’t know why. It was just … over there. We use to call it “over there.”

So where did you study then?

I grew up in Holon, it’s a suburb of Tel Aviv, and I went to Bialik elementary school. I did my BA at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and my PhD is from University of California, Berkeley.

From Lithuania to Santiniketan: Schlomith Flaum and Rabindranath Tagore

English and Lithuanian editions of Dr. Shimon Lev’s book “From Lithuania to Santiniketan: Schlomith Flaum and Rabindranath Tagore” (originally written in Hebrew) were launched at the Lithuanian Jewish Community on the evening of May 31 with pageantry, live Indian music and dance, readings of selections and speeches by the author, the Lithuanian intelligentsia and members of the diplomatic corps.

Shovana Narayan, recipient of a national award in India and classical Indian dance master, performed several pieces based on Tagore’s poetry with two assistants to kick off the event. Narayan is related to Rabindranath Tagore.

Judita Gliauberzonaitė read selections of Tagore’s poetry in Lithuanian.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky welcomed the audience and speakers, noting the unique nature of Flaum’s travelogues and testimony, and said it wasn’t very often the LJC hosted such highly cultural and intellectual evenings as this one.

Former Lithuanian ambassador to India Laimonas Talat-Kelpša and his wife, celebrating her birthday, attended and Talat-Kelpša spoke about the remarkable travels Schlomith Flaum undertook in the early 20th century and the connections between Lithuania, India, Israel, and the connections between Zionism, the national movement in India and Lithuanian statehood.

Author and Israeli Litvak Dr. Shimon Lev talked about how Flaum became the earliest source of information about India in nascent Israel, her strength as an early female traveller and travel writer and the magic involved in the process of translation. He also spoke about Vilnius as a center of learning with the Vilna Gaon as the preeminent Jewish scholar in the modern age.

Plans to Memorialize Kaunas Ghetto

Plans are afoot in Kaunas to get the former Slobodka ghetto into better shape by marking its most significant sites, providing information about the aktionen or mass murder operations carried out there, commemorating ghetto government institutions and appropriately commemorating the Holocaust and its victims. Currently a lone obelisk stands in the former ghetto marking the site of the main gates, and most people have no idea even where Democracy Square was, the place where the selection for the Great Aktion took place.

Remarkably, the forces behind the proposed refurbishing and educational outreach are just two individuals from different countries who presented their ideas at the same time.

One is Yaarit Glezer, a frequent visitor to Lithuania who lives in Israel now. When she entered retirement she decided she had to do something more to commemorate the Holocaust in Lithuania, which took the lives of her family. Incidentally, Yaarit’s father was one of only a few who managed to escape from the Ninth Fort, where the majority of Jews were murdered in Kaunas.

Jewish Volunteer Soldiers Remembered in Kaunas

Lithuanian military commander lieutenant general Jonas Vytautas Žukas and the Kaunas Jewish Community invited the public to a commemoration on May 30 of Jewish volunteers who fought in early 20th-century battles for Lithuanian independence. Those attending included lieutenant general Žukas, Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, representatives of regional Jewish communities, Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon, commanders of Kaunas divisions, soldiers and representatives of the Kaunas municipality and other organizations.

May 30 is an important date, marking one of the first planned military operations by the Lithuanian military. At the end of May and in early June of 1919 Lithuanian soldiers, including many Jews, aided by volunteer soldiers from Saxony, liberate Utena from the Bolsheviks and seized the initiative in battle against the Red Army.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky and Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas took part in the commemoration.

Litvak Scouting Revival

Before the Holocaust there were huge groups of Jewish boy and girl scouts throughout Lithuania. Some groups were religious, others Zionist, others secular. The one thing they all had in common was having fun outdoors, learning together the basic skills and fostering a shared Jewish identity.

Now there are plans to revive the Jewish scouting movement in Lithuania, which now has a mostly aging population of just under 3,500 Jews.

President of the International Forum of Jewish Scouts (IFJS) and member of the board of Éclaireuses éclaireurs israélites de France (EEIF) Alain Silberstein arrived in Vilnius to discuss French cooperation in the Litvak revival with Lithuanian Jewish Community leaders.

Parents of children aged 12 to 17 were invited to attend a discussion at the Lithuanian Jewish Community Wednesday. In an underwhleming show of support, several scouting-age Jewish girls, an interested member of the Jewish community in Vilnius and a handful of others came and heard a presentation by president Alain Silberstein and LJC executive director Renaldas Vaisbrodas.