Heritage

Pope Francis Commemorates Holocaust Victims in Vilnius Ghetto

Popiežiaus Pranciškaus tyli malda prie paminklo Vilniaus geto aukoms
Photos: Robertas Dačkus

Pope Francis has returned from Kaunas to Vilnius and prayed silently at a monument to victims of the Vilnius ghetto in the Lithuania capital’s Old Town.

According to representatives, the silent prayer meant it was impossible to say anything of significance in the face of the Shoah. The Pontiff stood before a small monument at the edge of Rūdininkų square in the former ghetto, knelt and prayed. Vatican watchers note the Pope always pays his respects to the Jewish communities in countries he visits.

The Vilnius ghetto was established originally in two parts in the Vilnius Old Town on September 6, 1941. The small ghetto was liquidated almost immediately.

Star of David Composed of Stones in Former Vilnius Ghetto


Photo: Saulius Žiūra

by Vytautas Budzinauskas, BNS

A star of David was composed of stones on Rūdninkų square in Vilnius Sunday to mark the 75th anniversary of the final destruction of the Vilnius ghetto. Pope Francis is expected to say a prayer in memory of Holocaust victims at the square on Sunday as well, the final day of his visit to Lithuania. More than 50 people turned to wait for the Pope and slowly filled a metal frame with stones in line with the Jewish tradition of placing stones on grave markers. The crowd included entire families and visitors from around Lithuania and from abroad.


Photo: Vytautas Budzinauskas

Rescuers of Jews: The Great Lesson for Humanity

Friday, 21 September, Vilnius–President Dalia Grybauskaitė awarded the Life Saving Cross to Lithuanian citizens who risked their lives and the lives of their families to rescue Jews from death and persecution during World War II.

This year marks the 77th anniversary of the Holocaust in Lithuania, and on September 23 we will commemorate the 75th anniversary of the destruction of the Vilnius Ghetto. State decorations were awarded to 39 rescuers of Jews on the occasion of the National Memorial Day for the Genocide of Lithuanian Jews. Most of them have already passed away, so the ceremony was attended by their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and other family members.

According to the president, each time that we honor the memory of the Holocaust victims, we remember their rescuers and the great lesson of humanity, sacrifice and courage. Those attending the ceremony are the living bond between the present and the past marked by both brutality and compassion.

The president underlined that we were proud of every Lithuanian who dared to stand up in the whirlwind of a brutal war and fight evil with the goodness of their heart. It was action over words: the decision to open the door and share life. And fate. They did not know how it would end, but they took the risk.

The president extended her gratitude to all the rescuers and called upon all to cherish the memory of the Righteous Among the Nations and the light they had left behind.

Press Service of the President

Full text here.

Vilnius Mayor Not Ready to Remove Noreika Plaque, Jewish Community and Intellectuals Ignored

A roundtable discussion led by Edmundas Jakilaitis on Delfi TV’s Center of Attention program on September 19, 2018.

In a few days the 75th anniversary of the destruction of the Vilnius ghetto will be observed. What should Lithuania do with monuments to Nazi collaborators who fought for Lithuania’s freedom? Recently Lithuania has come to the center of attention of the most important global media because of these statues. Should calls by the country’s major thinkers and the requests by the Jewish community be taken to heart and memorial plaques removed and statues taken down? Should the president rescind state awards granted them?

On Delfi Center of Attention we have Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, journalist and publicist Rimvydas Valatka and historian and politician Arvydas Anušauskas. Also on the program: commentary by world-famous Lithuanian writer, poet and professor Tomas Venclova and Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius.

Mrs. Kukliansky, yesterday you held an event at the Jonas Noreika memorial plaque, you read the names of Jews murdered in the Šiauliai ghetto. Why?

Kukliansky: Because we didn’t see any other way to bring the public’s attention to the fact the plaque is located there, on the side of the Academy of Sciences building, honoring, in our understanding, a person who collaborated with the Nazis. We’re not just saying this, but in possession of a finding by the Center for the Study of the Resistance and Genocide of Residents of Lithuania. Perhaps the center or other leaders upon whom the erection and removal of the plaque depend do not consider isolation of Jews collaboration with the Nazis, but we think that if only this had taken place, that Mr. Noreika isolated Jews, that would be sufficient to say this person should not be honored in public spaces.

Opening of Exhibit “Żegota: The Council to Aid Jews”

The Polish foreign minister is to open the exhibit “Żegota: The Council to Aid Jews” in the Lithuanian parliament’s Building III at 4:00 P.M. on September 13. The embassy of the Republic of Poland and the Polish Institute in Vilnius in cooperation with the Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Lithuanian parliament are to present the extraordinary exhibit about the Polish Council to Aid Jews as part of commemorations of the 75th anniversary of the destruction of the Vilnius ghetto and to celebrate the Year of Irena Senderlowa. The exhibit was made by Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance. It was first shown at the Ninth Fort in Kaunas earlier this year.

Those planning to attend the opening ceremony include Polish foreign minister Jacek Czaputowicz, Lithuanian MP Arūnas Gelūnas, LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, Polish ambassador to Lithuania Urszula Doroszewska and Polish Institute director and advisor to the ambassador Marcin Łapczyński.

Please report your intention to attend by sending an email to danguole.stonyte@lrs.lt

Valid identification is required for entry to the parliament building.

European Days of Jewish Culture Celebrated in Plungė

More than 20 Lithuanian cities and towns took part last week in European Days of Jewish Culture from September 2 to 9 with tours, lectures, concerts, exhibits, conferences and other events. This year the theme of European Days of Jewish Culture was “Stories.”

On September 7 residents of Plungė (Plungyan) and others attended one such event at the Plungė Public Library. Saulė Gymnasium Tolerance Center students began the event with a violin concert and readings from Holocaust survivor Maša Rolnik’s autobiography. Rolnik was born in Plungė. A specialist from the Plungė Tourist Information Center presented a new Jewish tourism itinerary in Plungė, and the publication “On the Jewish Streets of Plungė” which details in English and Lithuanian a 3-kilometer route through the town where buildings which once belonged to the Jewish community, statues and other sites have been marked with signs.

Eugenijus Bunka greeted the audience with the upcoming Jewish new year and gave a presentation on world-famous Jewish figures with roots in Plungė.

LJC Chairwoman Faina Kukliansky’s Greetings on Rosh Hashanah 5779

As the high holy days draw near, I am glad to be able to share with you important Lithuanian Jewish Community news. The Lithuanian Jewish Community faces many challenges every day, but this year we’ve grown, we’ve grown stronger and we are receiving ever more public and political support. Interest in Jewish culture is not fading, either, as shown by European Days of Jewish Culture events in Lithuania, a program which grows richer by the year. I greatly appreciate that 1,500 Litvaks abroad have officially joined the LJC from the Litvak Association in Israel chaired by Arie Ben-Ari Grozdensky. Jewish unity is the largest goal for the LJC which is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the national revival this year.

Thanks to the active work of the regional Jewish communities and Jewish organizations, Jewish values remain strong in Lithuania. A young generation of Jews is growing up and we need to pass on our history and our future to them. For a long time now we have been developing the idea of reviving the tradition of Litvak scouting and this year we finally managed to make it a reality working with French and Polish Jewish scouting organizations. Vilnius ghetto prisoner and Jewish partisan Fania Brancovskaja was part of Jewish scouting in Lithuania before the war and shared her experience in scouting at our recent camping event. Although the Jewish community in Lithuania isn’t large, we have proven we are able to continue the old traditions and to start new ones.

We met the Litvak prime minister of Israel, Binyamin Netanyahu, and his wife Sara at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius, celebrating its 115th anniversary this year. This was an historical occasion to remind Europe and the world the Jewish nation is an indivisible part of European culture, and Europe should be grateful to the State of Israel for so many European lives which have been saved thanks to the work of Israeli intelligence in stopping attacks. Two small democracies, Israel and Lithuania, find striking parallels in their histories. We will recall them this December in celebrating 100 years of the union of Lithuanian Zionist organizations, which also supported Lithuanian aspirations for statehood.

In September we mark a great tragedy which has come to be a symbol of the Holocaust in Lithuania. We mark the painful 75th anniversary of the destruction of the Vilnius ghetto. It’s very significant that we are dedicating ever more informal means to commemorate history, but there are still areas where more needs to be done in discussing the role the Lithuanian Activist Front and the Provisional Government of Lithuania played in the Holocaust, and more needs to be done in the state’s school curriculum as well.

We esteem highly as well the great work our partners–the joint Lithuanian-Israel archaeology group–have done in work on the Great Synagogue of Vilnius. The LJC is responsible for drafting a study on ways to commemorate the Great Synagogue. As the spiritual successors to the Vilna Gaon, we feel a great responsibility to insure the respect due this special Jewish sacred site and the appropriate presentation of what’s left of this heritage site to the public.

I want to thank sincerely all those who have been and are with the Lithuanian Jewish Community. Thank you for your energy and support. I wish you a sweet and happy 5779!

Sutzkever Exhibit

The Judaic Studies Center of the Lithuanian National Martynas Mažvydas Library celebrated European Days of Jewish Culture with an exhibit called “Žaibo prisiminimas,” or “Memory of Lightning,” dedicated to the poet Abraham Sutzkever. The poet was a partisan and one of the first authors of memoirs of the Vilnius ghetto. Before the war he contributed to the flourishing of Yiddish literature in Jewish Vilnius; after he chronicled the death of Jewish Vilnius.

Sutzkever’s granddaughter Hadas Calderon, Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky and Israeli ambassador Amir Maimon participated at the event.

Meeting to Discuss Commemoration of Great Synagogue

According to 15min.lt, an international creative workshop of “academic youth,” professors and specialists involved in heritage protection, urban planning, architecture, communications and museum studies from Lithuania, Israel, Latvia, Poland, Sweden, Germany and Ukraine have come up with ideas for commemorating the Great Synagogue in Vilnius and will present their proposals next Thursday at the Old Town Hall in Vilnius.

“The presentation will talk about ideas for commemorating the synagogue, the name of the new cultural space, archaeological findings, the range of activities and the architectural expression of the idea,” the article on the 15min.lt website said.

The article also claims the Nazis burnt the Great Synagogue down, which isn’t true.

Full text in Lithuanian here.

Back to Shul Exhibit at Zavl Shul

Richard “Sco” Shofield presented a photography installation at the Zavl Shul at Gėlių street no. 6 in Vilnius September 2.

The exhibit was part of European Days of Jewish Culture which began last Sunday.

Schofield is a photographer and director of the non-profit International Centre for Litvak Photography which he founded. He studied photo-journalism and documentary photography at the University of the Arts in London.

The Zavl and Levinson Shul is still undergoing renovation but the catwalks and platforms were successfully used to hang the works. Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky opened the exhibit and Choral Synagogue cantor Shmuel Yatom sang.

Statement Regarding False Information in the Media on Protection of Jewish Cemeteries and Mass Murder Sites

The Lithuanian Jewish Community (LJC) is disappointed to report that the text “On the Old Jewish Cemetery Located at Žalgirio street no. 3 in Šiauliai” containing false information was posted on social media and sent to official representatives of the Lithuanian state on August 29, 2018. The text was signed by representatives of the Šiauliai District Jewish Community, the Panevėžys Jewish Support Association, the Kaunas Jewish Religious Community, the Klaipėda Jewish Community, the Ukmergė Regional Jewish Community, the Klaipėda Jewish-Judaic Religious Community and the Vilnius Jewish Community.

The text, among other things, claims a court has found the LJC leadership to be illegitimate. The LJC notes there is no court decision which found the LJC leadership was elected illegitimately. The intentional propagation of this text with false information harms the LJC’s reputation, insults the Jewish people and possibly violates article 154 of the criminal code of Lithuania, and the LJC reserves the right to defend its interests in the manner prescribed by law.

The text also takes a position on the protection of Jewish heritage. In reply, the LJC notes that over many years of consistent cooperation with the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe (hereinafter Committee) official positions and assessments have been provided on issues surround the protection and maintenance of Jewish cemeteries and mass murder sites. The cooperation which has come about is founded on the high competence, expertise and experience of the Committee and is beneficial in the attempt to insure the protection of Jewish heritage and to insure that all conservation work would meet the requirements of Jewish law. The state and municipal institutions engaged in protection of Jewish heritage sites also need the expertise and judgment which the Committee provides.

European Days of Jewish Culture 2018

Everyone who’s interested is invited to attend European Days of Jewish Culture. For several years now European Days of Jewish Culture are held beginning on the first Sunday in September. The theme for the next year is chosen as soon as the Days have concluded so that organizers have time to prepare. This year the theme is “Jewish Stories” allowing for broad interpretation and broad public education on Jewish heritage with a special emphasis on true stories, jokes and visual work.

The story-telling tradition remains current in the Jewish collective memory. Stories come from the Torah, and there is a rich oral tradition from the shtetlakh. Stories is an inclusive theme which offers a number of opportunities. All European Days of Jewish Culture coordinators are free to choose and propose their own topics and organize this interesting event. This is what the Lithuanian Jewish Community is offering this year:

September 2

2:00 P.M. Richard “Sco” Schofield’s installation “Back to Shul” at the Zavel and Levinson synagogue, Gėlių street no. 6, Vilnius

September 6, LJC

3:00-5:00 P.M. The Bagel Shop Café invites you to come learn how to make challa. Registration: goo.gl/bstFEC

6:00 P.M. Presentation of the 5779 LJC calendar

September 7

4:00-5:30 P.M. Concert by Vitalijus Neugasimovas, Gėlių street no. 6, Vilnius

September 9, Leipalingis, Lithuania

11:00 A.M.-2:00 P.M. The Bagel Shop Café presents Jewish dishes on the eve of the Great Autumn Holidays, Leipalingis manor square, Leipalingis, Lithuania

Israeli PM at Ponar


VILNIUS, August 24, BNS–Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Ponar Friday, part of Vilnius where over 100,000 people, mostly Jews, were killed during World War II.

After laying a wreath at the Ponar memorial, Netanyahu said that his grandfather had been severely beaten near what he called “a forest of death.”

The Israeli prime minister said that he had learned two lessons from the Holocaust.

“First, we must fight barbarism or it will burn all of us. The second for us, Jews, is that we must never be defenseless again,” Netanyahu said.

“I want to say to my grandfather today: saba, I am back here today and this is a forest of death. As the prime minister of Israel. We will never be defenseless again,” he said.

“We have a state, we have an army and we are capable of defending ourselves by ourselves”.

Netanyahu’s grandmother Sarah Mileikowsky, née Lurie, was born in Šeduva, a town in Lithuania, and his grandfather Nathan Mileikowsky was born in Kreva in what is now Belarus.

Gesher Club Visits Poland

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

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

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

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


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

August 5, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Eli Rabinowitz from Australia and Israelis Visit Panevėžys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions by Pinchos Fridberg regarding the LJC Statement on Noreika

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note: this is article 57 of the text:

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

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

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

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

Pinchos Fridberg, average Community member

Markas Zingeris Wins Liudas Dovydėnas Literary Prize

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

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

Full story in Lithuanian here.

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

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

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

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

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