Learning, History, Culture

Walking Tour to Remember Lost Shtetl of Jonava

Walking Tour to Remember Lost Shtetl of Jonava

The Jonava Regional History Museum invites the public to attend a walking tour of Jewish sites in the now-lost shtetl at 6:00 P.M. on July 19, starting in the courtyard of the museum. Participants will walk through the former Jewish section of the town and learn about the Jewish history of Jonava. The tour will follow the motifs in Grigory Kanovich’s novel Shtetl Love Story. For more information, visit the Jonava Tourism Information Center or call +37061421906

Vilnius City Council to Decide Again on Renaming Škirpa Alley July 24

Vilnius City Council to Decide Again on Renaming Škirpa Alley July 24

The Lithuanian Jewish Community presents the opinion of the historian Dr. Norbertas Černiauskas concerning the issue of renaming a central Vilnius street now named after Lithuanian Nazi ideologue Kazys Škirpa. On July 10 the city council postponed making a decision until July 24 on renaming the street Tricolor Alley in remembrance of Škirpa’s act at the dawn of interwar Lithuanian independence, placing the Lithuanian tricolor flag atop the tower of Gediminas overlooking central Vilnius.

Dr. Norbertas Černiauskas:

The issue of the name of the alley which runs along the Vilnelė creek long ago became no longer an issue of history or a matter connected with the discovery of some additional documents. This is a matter of political culture and communal empathy now.

Both the International Commission for the Assessment of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupational Regimes in Lithuania and the Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of Residents of Lithuania along with other major researchers on the Holocaust in Lithuania have stated in their works the Lithuanian Activist Front commanded by Škirpa, despite all the patriotic, anti-Soviet and “the creation of a New Lithuania” rhetoric, promoted political (not personal) anti-Semitism which was transmitted via various channels to Soviet-occupied Lithuania as well.

Great Synagogue Complex in Vilnius Most Significant Synagogue Site in Europe

Great Synagogue Complex in Vilnius Most Significant Synagogue Site in Europe

Honored guests and media representatives viewed the unique finds from this summer’s dig at the Great Synagogue complex in Vilnius July 18.

Lithuanian Government vice-chancellor Deividas Matulionis spoke at the press conference, stressing the special significance of the Great Synagogue complex, or Shulhoyf.

Deputy Lithuanian foreign minister Darius Skusevičius welcomed guests and reminded journalists 2020 has been named the Year of the Vilna Gaon and Litvak History. He expressed hopes for appropriate decision-making to preserve the site damaged during the war and razed by the Soviets for posterity.

Lithuanian Jewish Community and Goodwill Foundation chairwoman Faina Kukliansky said: “Probably Vilnius Jews are the happiest about what has been discovered during excavation of this Vilnius Acropolis. Some of the inscriptions which have now been uncovered on the bima of the Great Synagogue are truly sensational and we must thank this entire group of archaeologists who have worked so conscientiously throughout the digging and have found such incredible things. We don’t have the financial resources to allocate additional funds for continuing the excavation, but everything which has been discovered so far are finds of global significance.”

Ninth Fort in Kaunas Holds Ghetto Commemoration

Ninth Fort in Kaunas Holds Ghetto Commemoration

On July 11 the Ninth Fort Museum in Kaunas held an evening to remember the Kaunas ghetto. The audience gathered to mark the 75th anniversary of the destruction of the ghetto in Kaunas and were offered a chance to take a guided tour.

After the tour the film Devil’s Arithmetic (made-for-TV movie, 1999, directed by Donna Deitch, filmed in Canada and Lithuania) was screened at the museum. According to imdb.com:

“A 16-year-old American girl with an apathetic view towards her Jewish family history finds herself pulled through time into 1941 to a small Polish village where the Nazis have just began their genocidal propaganda.”

Museum staff and the audience engaged in a discussion following the film.

Information from the Ninth Fort Museum

Holocaust Survivors Meet German President Steinmeier

Holocaust Survivors Meet German President Steinmeier

Members of Lithuania’s Union of Former Ghetto and Concentration Camp Victims visited Berlin from June 10 to 21 and visited German federal president Frank-Walter Steinmeier, to whom they gave a gift, the German translation of Markas Petuchauskas’s book Price of Concord. Union members also saw the sights in Berlin. The Maximilian-Kolbe-Werk humanitarian foundation organized the visit.

Thank You From Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel

Dear Faina Kukliansky

Thank you.

As chairman of the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel, and in the name of all of our members I wish to express our sincere gratitude for your support and participation in the events memorializing the liquidation of the Kovno Ghetto and the Siauliai Ghetto.

We appreciate your good will and hospitality, and hope you will share our appreciation with your members, families and colleagues.

This was an outstanding demonstration of co-operation between Lithuanian and Israeli authorities, national and municipal, and between the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel and the Lietuvos Žydų Bendruomenė (Lithuanian Jewish Community), and the Jewish Communities of Kaunas and Siauliai.

Respectfully,

Arie Ben-Ari Grodzensky, chairman
Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel

Holocaust Archaeology: A Race against Time as Eye-Witnesses Pass Away

Holocaust Archaeology: A Race against Time as Eye-Witnesses Pass Away

by Geoff Vasil

What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.

The Lithuanian Jewish Community hosted a presentation of Dr. Richard Freund’s book “The Archeology of the Holocaust. Vilna, Rhodes and Escape Tunnels” Tuesday evening with slide-show presentations by Harry Jol, Philip Reeder, Paul Bauman and Alastair Clymont as well as Freund. This group of archaeologists has been working on the Great Synagogue site in Vilnius for several years now, as well as Holocaust sites in Lithuania including their discovery of the escape tunnel of the burners’ brigade at Ponar, which became the main topic of a documentary aired by the Nova program on the PBS network in the United States.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky greeted the audience and introduced the topic and speakers, thanking the archaeologists for their important work on Lithuanian Jewish heritage.

Marcus Micheli, deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Vilnius, spoke next. The US diplomat also called the archaeologists’ work crucial and said it had given rise to new conservations about the painful past.

Unique Finds as Work Ends for Summer at Great Synagogue Site in Vilnius

Unique Finds as Work Ends for Summer at Great Synagogue Site in Vilnius

Press release

As archaeological work concludes for the summer season of 2019, archaeologists are reporting a number of unique discoveries.

The press is invited to the unveiling of the discoveries at 11:00 A.M. on Thursday, July 18, features hitherto not found in historical sources and blue prints. This includes a basement chamber under the central bimah which likely collapsed before World War II when the synagogue was still in use. This probable collapse preserved gold-plated memorial plates with inscriptions in Hebrew characters. Also among the new discoveries is a silver coin from the late 18th century bearing the likeness of Catherine the Great. Lithuanian archaeologist Justinas Račas called the finds “of global significance, a unique discovery, and there have been no other basements discovered under bimahs in Lithuania.”

The Goodwill Foundation contributes financially to the archaeological research at the former Great Synagogue in Vilnius. Other project partners include the Lithuanian Jewish Community, the Israeli Antiquities Authority and the City of Vilnius.

Lithuanian Jewish Community and Goodwill Foundation chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, Israeli Antiquities Authority archaeologist Jon Seligman and Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Protection Department archaeologist Justinas Račas will reveal these historic discoveries to media representatives and officials at 11:00 A.M. on Thursday, July 18, at Vokiečių street no. 3a in Vilnius.

Panevėžys Jewish Community Receives Esperanto Speakers

Panevėžys Jewish Community Receives Esperanto Speakers

The Panevėžys Jewish Community hosted a meeting with Esperanto speakers during the 55th Baltic Esperanto Congress held in Panevėžys, with visitors from Ukraine, Israel, Romania, Russia, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Estonia and Latvia all speaking the universal language invented by Ludvik Zamenhof.

Polish director, writer and Esperanto enthusiast Roman Dobrzyński spoke about Zamenhof, aka Dr. Esperanto, and took an interest in the history of the Holocaust in Panevėžys. Lucy Rimon, a translator from Israel, proposed a joint project to offer Lithuanian Jews an opportunity to learn Esperanto. Amri Wandel, a professor of astrophysics at Hebrew University, guest professor at UCLA and president of the Esperanto League in Israel, donated his book and other items to the Panevėžys Jewish Community. He spoke about Jewish Esperanto speakers in Israel. The Russian delegation was represented by writer, translator and author and performer of Jewish songs Mikhail Bronshtayn, who performed several of his works in Yiddish.

Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman told guests of the founder of the Esperanto organization in Panevėžys, Yakob Kan, who lived at Respublikos street no. 49 in the city. Kan was graduated from the Jewish gymnasium, was a press correspondent and had a personal library. He attended the 26th Esperanto congress in Stockholm, studied medicine at Moscow University in Tsarist times, was widely-read and a music enthusiast, especially opera. Kan’s wife Regina, whom he married in 1937, was his true helper and advisor. Kan was taken prisoner in June, 1941, and shot. His wife left Panevėžys immediately after his execution on June 21.

Kaunas Ghetto Anniversary Heavily Attended by Locals, Guests, Jewish Community Reps

Kaunas Ghetto Anniversary Heavily Attended by Locals, Guests, Jewish Community Reps

The 75th anniversary of the destruction or liquidation of the Kaunas ghetto was marked in Lithuania’s second-largest city from morning into the evening July 14, 2019. Many, doubtless, were driven to attend by the inner conviction that the tragedy of the Holocaust must never happen again. Unfortunately, as Dr. Vytautas Landsbergis said in his speech at the event, man’s inhumanity to man seems to tend to repeat itself and it is the duty of every thinking person to make sure the nightmare is never repeated. Speakers spoke at segments of the event held at the Ninth Fort Museum, the former ghetto gate, the opening of the Pro Memoria exhibit of photography and the Kaunas State Philharmonic. All speakers elaborated upon a shared theme, which can be summarized by quoting Elie Wiesel:

“The opposite of love is not hate, it is apathy.”

More photos here.

Thank you to all those who made the July 14 commemoration a success.

Chemistry in the Service of Humanity

Presentation by Yusuf Hamied, FRS, chairman, Cipla Ltd., India, July 11, 2019

I am privileged to address this audience and to share with you some features of my life’s work. It is an occasion I will cherish and treasure for the rest of my life. I am an ordinary person, neither an academic, an outstanding chemist or a leading scientist. At an early stage in my life, I met an exceptional individual, a past President of the Royal Society, Lord Alexander Todd, who forever changed the course of my life. In 1953, a chance meeting during one of his visits to India, led to an opportunity for me to study Natural Sciences at Cambridge University from 1954 for 6 years. During 1957 to 1960, under his tutelage, I did research in natural product chemistry, “Structure of the Aphid pigments”. It was the first time that the new methodology of Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) was applied to determine the structures of large organic molecules. Lord Todd was my teacher, guide, mentor, friend and advised me throughout the important stages of my career until his demise in 1997.

I returned to India, armed with a PhD in chemistry and embarked on a career spanning 6 decades in the global pharma industry. During this period, my major contribution was the adaptation and implementation of the chemistry that I had learnt in this country. This led to my maintaining a strong and close scientific and industrial bond with Britain.

An Indian philosopher, Swami Vivekananda, once said, “Wisdom lies not in the amount of knowledge acquired but in the degree of its application”. The application of one’s knowledge, specifically in areas where one has expertise is essential to contribute to the betterment of society. This is one of the prime objectives of the Royal Society.

Lithuanian Jewish Community Greets New Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda

Lithuanian Jewish Community Greets New Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda

Your excellency, president Gitanas Nausėda,

The Lithuanian Jewish Community is gladdened by and confident in the decision of the Lithuanian people and congratulates you as the new president of the country. Our wishes to you are to overcome all obstacles in aspiring to make Lithuania known in the world and in working for the benefit of the people of Lithuania. We also wish inexhaustible strength to your family who support you in your difficult tasks of governance.

It is a great honor and privilege to become head of state in the run-up to marking the 300th birthday of the Vilna Gaon in 2020. The memory of the Vilna Gaon, the symbol of Litvak learning and identity, is not subject to time, crossing national borders and uniting entire generations, as an echo from the past of the grandeur of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Jerusalem of Lithuania. We hope the rationality, philosophical thinking and spiritual legacy of this man will inspire you as well and serve as a guidepost in your future decision-making.

This is the best opportunity to consolidate political will in solving the old problems of historical justice, Holocaust commemoration, restitution, conservation of the Jewish physical and cultural legacy and improvements in the institution of citizenship.

Lithuania is a small country with a gigantic history and the Jews of Lithuania are an inseparable part of the country for 700 years now. As we move into 2020 together, we invite you to undertake an important moral challenge: to provide a new opportunity and stimulus for this history to continue.

With deepest respect,

Faina Kukliansky, chairwoman
Lithuanian Jewish Community

Thank You for Ten Productive Years Together, Madam President

Thank You for Ten Productive Years Together, Madam President

Photo: Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė, right, at photo exhibit on rescuers of Jews

Your excellency, madam president Dalia Grybauskaitė,

The Lithuanian Jewish Community send you our sincerest thanks for the ten years you have devoted to Lithuania and the people of Lithuania. We are grateful for the firm political position you’ve taken in complicated situations and your resolute decisions.

Israeli president and Litvak Shimon Peres visited Lithuania in 2013 and we witnessed the birth of a new era of close cooperation between Lithuania and Israel. The year 2013 was also the year restitution began, when Lithuania, first among the countries of the region, undertook a firm legal obligation to make compensation for Jewish communal property seized during the Holocaust and to make symbolic restitution to Holocaust victims for the losses they experienced. In 2017 you decorated Fania Brancovskaja, a member of the underground resistance in the Vilnius ghetto and one of the liberators of the ghetto, recognizing her actions as worthy of merit to Lithuania. This was another important sign of respect for the memory of the Holocaust in Lithuania. In 2018 Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu visited Lithuania, demonstrating the highest respect to the country and to the Lithuanian Jewish Community. In September of 2018 we prayed with Pope Francis, Catholics and Jews together, in memory of the victims of the Vilnius ghetto. This year, in the run-up to 2020 as the Year of the Vilna Gaon and Litvak History, we visited the archive of the YIVO institute in New York City, where a portion of the statistics on the Jewish population once kept by the Great Synagogue in Vilnius are conserved, again recalling the memory of the lost Jerusalem of Lithuania.

Thank you for the important step we have taken together on the road to mutual understanding between Jews and Lithuanians.

With respect and gratitude,

Faina Kukliansky, chairwoman
Lithuanian Jewish Community

Removing Filth from the Streets


by Grant Gochin

There is only one hero in this story.

On Wednesday, July 10, 2019, the municipality of the Lithuanian capital Vilnius voted on changing a street currently named for one of their national heroes, Kazys Škirpa. The vote is the result of an intensive campaign led by British citizen and ex-member of the Vilnius City Council Mark Adam Harold.

The Lithuanian Government states they have exhausted all means of investigating Škirpa, and deem him a national hero. To the rest of humanity, Škirpa remains a war criminal.

The FBI has tied Škirpa to two of the most powerful Nazis who were executed after the Nuremberg War Crimes trial, von Ribbentrop and Rosenberg. This evidence, however, has always been, and continues to be irrelevant to the Lithuanian government. Lithuanian authorities claim during his lifetime Škirpa was not tried and not convicted and hence remains “completely innocent” of any crimes. If we apply this standard we find both Stalin and Hitler would also be exculpated of crimes against humanity. Horrifying.

Full editorial here.

Opening Ceremony for Synagogue Square Memorial in Jurbarkas

Opening Ceremony for Synagogue Square Memorial in Jurbarkas

The official opening ceremony for a new memorial commemorating the memory of the Jews of Jurbarkas, Lithuania, will be held at 12 noon on July 19 at Kauno street no. 64 in Jurbarkas. At 2:30 P,M. the choral group Aukuras from Klaipėda will perform at the Transfiguration of Christ Orthodox church. At 3:30 there will be a look back at the Synagogue Square Memorial Project at the Grybas Museum at Vydūno street no. 31, and at 4:30 there will be a meeting and discussion with the authors and creators of the memorial at the Jurbarkas Regional Public Library at Vilniaus street no. 4.

Grandson of Famous Rabbi Dovid Shapiro Visits Panevėžys

Grandson of Famous Rabbi Dovid Shapiro Visits Panevėžys

After a half-year of correspondence, Dovid Shapiro’s family helped fly grandson Ernest Milton (Shapiro) Hurwich with his daughters Anna Rut and Liba to Panevėžys from the USA. Ernest is the grandson of famous rabbi Dovid Shapiro and the family came to research their roots.

Rabbi Shapiro and his relatives lived the city of Panevėžys and in small towns in the region, according to documents discovered in the Panevėžys Jewish Community’s archives. More than 30 members of the Shapiro clan lived around the Jewish hospital on Ramygalos street in Panevėžys. The visitors were able to view original photographs and buildings and houses where Rabbi Dovid Shapiro and his brother Moshe were born and raised. The tumult of historical events and wars disrupted Jewish life and Panevėžys Jews entered a new phase of life after World War I when many migrated to South Africa, South America, the USA and Palestine. Dovid Shapiro’s family settled in the United States. His brother Moshe remained in Lithuania and was murdered in the Holocaust.

Anna Rut Hurwich is the genealogist in the family and is carefully investigating the family’s history.

What We Forget When Celebrating Town Holidays

What We Forget When Celebrating Town Holidays

Snapshot from a meeting in Laukžemė, from right: Marvin Hecker, Zita Aldona Danielienė, translator Olga Šardt, daughter Jenifer and wife, journalist Gaylon Finklea Hecker.

by Romualdas Beniušis, Pajūrio naujienos

Litvaks spread around the world by historical catastrophe and their descendants are coming back to Lithuania searching for their roots and visiting the places where the once-populous Lithuanian Jewish city and town communities were annihilated by the Nazis. They are also looking for the descendants of those who rescued individual Jews from the Holocaust.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Teaching the History of Ethnic Communities Is a Problem

Teaching the History of Ethnic Communities Is a Problem

Dr. Akvilė Naudžiūnienė. Photo: Evgenia Levin/Bernardinai.lt

by Rosita Garškaitė
Bernardinai.lt

Historian Akvilė Naudžiūnienė who defended her dissertation “Ethnic Minorities in the Educational Narrative of Lithuanian History, 1918-2018” at Vilnius University last month says: “There is an attempt to integrate ethnic minorities in the teaching of history, but there is avoidance when they don’t fit the image of Lithuanian history being created.”

She interviewed teachers and found they tend to consider ethnic minorities a problem and a problematic issue, not a simple fact of life. This is especially true when it comes to the Polish and Russian communities. On the other hand, there are no problems regarding the Karaïtes and Tartars because they are exotic and teachers are able to talk about their ethnic foods. Jews are seen as a problem in the context of the Holocaust but become very interesting in discussions of cultural legacy and cooking.

How does the understanding of the ethnic minorities as a problem express itself?

Some teachers come out and say it is a problem and say it is difficult to teach the Holocaust and in Vilnius schools it’s hard to discuss Polish and Lithuanian relations in the interwar period. Teachers say disputes still arise between Lithuanian and Polish students. Of course this isn’t easy for teachers. Teachers also reported a negative reaction from students when they begin to talk about Russians in Lithuania. So the discussion is avoided, teachers close up and don’t want to do anything about it. This supports the idea there is an attempt to integrate ethnic minorities in the teaching of history when they are not perceived as problems and that there is avoidance of the topic when they are not in keeping with the vision of Lithuanian history being created.

You conducted 14 interviews with teachers. What else of significance emerged?

I observed efforts by separate teachers to, as it were, redeem the guilt of the Lithuanian people regarding the Holocaust. It was constantly noted in the interviews that there truly is discussion of Jews during lessons and the need to talk about the Holocaust. When this topic came up, the tone and even the manner of speech of the teachers changed. It seems to be this attitude is a learned response. I often felt some teachers were just saying what they thought they were supposed to say. The myth of multiculturalism is current in the schools, but almost none of the teachers were able to say how to apply this educational approach. The teachers didn’t get engaged is such things “from the top.” Although they frequently renew and enhance their own knowledge, it didn’t appear as if their understanding of how to teach has changed.

Full interview in Lithuanian here.