History of the Jews in Lithuania

Town of Darbėnai Deciding How to Commemorate Jewish Past, Some Ideas Divisive

Town of Darbėnai Deciding How to Commemorate Jewish Past, Some Ideas Divisive

by Jovita Gaižauskaitė, LRT TV

Residents of the town of Darbėnai in the Kretinga region are deciding how to commemorate the former Jewish population of about 550. The proposals so far have stirred up division in the town: no one wants to showcase that Jews were murdered there.

About 550 Jews lived in Darbėnai before World War II. Now the marked mass murder sites witness to their fate.

There is a plaque commemorating the Zionist Dovid Volfson, considered the inventor of the Israeli flag and the man who gave the modern shekel its name, on one of the houses in the Lithuanian town. Local residents keep coming up with more ideas to commemorate other Jews who lived there.

On Photography and Memory: Antanas Sutkus Exhibit Pro Memoria to Mark the 7th Anniversary of the Destruction of the Kaunas Ghetto

On Photography and Memory: Antanas Sutkus Exhibit Pro Memoria to Mark the 7th Anniversary of the Destruction of the Kaunas Ghetto

by Paulius Jevsejevas

Šiaurės Atėnai (No. 17, 2019)

Antanas Sutkus has photographed a wide variety of people over his career, from famous figures such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Jonas Mekas and Marija Gimbutienė to deaf and blind children living on the margins of society.

Even so, the photography in Pro Memoria disturbed me and wouldn’t allow me to build on earlier experience. Not because of some characteristic of the people portrayed, not because of the artistic choices the photographer made, and not because of my own attitudes as viewer. I am disturbed probably because I don’t have any definite words at hand to describe the general photographic situation I found myself in standing in from of these portraits. As I stood looking at those faces at least two different inner voices appeared and engaged in an unnerving inner dialogue.

On one side, we all now know that the people portrayed in this photographs along with hundreds of thousands of others for several long, seemingly endless years were placed beyond the bounds of society, intentionally separated and finally condemned to death. So these people, unlike other Lithuanian people photographed by Sutkus, these people didn’t have any social status at all. The people in the portraits survived, but I cannot forget all those who were murdered, even if I can’t see them: Every face, hand, glance in the series of portraits stands before me like a living body and at the same like a text which contains a story of the dead.

Full text in Lithuanian here.

Arkadijus Vinokuras: Rule of Law? Not Funny

Arkadijus Vinokuras: Rule of Law? Not Funny

Delfi.lt

Today’s Lithuania has utterly failed to give birth to political visionaries prepared to replace society’s erroneous tolerance of legal nihilism. What other explanation could there be for president Gitanas Nausėda’s reluctance to criticize the wanton behavior of the nationalists? It seems the state has been encompassed by legal paralysis again, just as in the “good old days” of the violet criminals [apparently a reference to a pedophilia scandal in Lithuania–translator].

It requires exceptional courage to change society’s flawed tenets. Especially when a portion of citizens consumed by fear still seek strength from Lithuania’s authoritarian past. Looking back over 30 years of Lithuanian society’s process of becoming freer, one cannot fail to see this process has become stuck. Over these years no Lithuanian political party has been able to look directly without fear at Lithuanian history in the bloody years from 1941 to 1944. No political party has been able to offer an alternative to the pre-war authoritarian nationalism which holds no respect for the principles of the legal state and the rule of law. When the Lithuanian anthem talks about drawing strength from the past, it’s clear the past is tripping up the development of a modern civic democratic and humanist identity. When strength is draw from authoritarianism based on fearful respect for the leader, it’s no surprise there are still no courageous politicians or courageous public servants, or bureaucrats (with a few exceptions), who are not afraid to defend the foundation of the state and the rule of law.

Full text in Lithuanian here.

On Contexts

On Contexts

by Sergejus Kanovičius
Photo by Paulius Peleckis/BFL © 2019 Baltijos fotografijos linija

Ghettos are good. Herding people into them was an attempt to save the Jews. Honoring the herders is nothing special, just good etiquette. As is the division of property of the murdered.

The installation of plaques commemorating false heroes is a classic of the rule of law. The silence of almost all political leaders is a sign that all of this is to be tolerated and acceptable. Vilnius is decorated with hundreds of portraits of those who wished the Jews well in the ghettos, posters proclaiming Vilnius shouldn’t be the Jerusalem of the North, those wearing white armbands marching from the President’s Office towards the erection of the plaque guarded by the police, Holocaust denial and the revision of history on the lips of politicians and staff from the Genocide Center. Or maybe someone wants a t-shirt bearing pictures of these doers of good to the Jews? They’re not expensive. Patriotism is cheap, just thirty euros apiece. A swastika with flowers in front of the Lithuanian Jewish Community going extinct is just the logical continuation of this.

Everything, acts of good and evil, require favorable circumstances. Those flowers on that swastika are just flowers. They do not differ from those who silently tolerate this entire context, nor from those actively creating it. The dead cannot vote. But this silence regarding the living is telling.

Lithuania Does Not Tolerate Hatred and Vandals

Lithuania Does Not Tolerate Hatred and Vandals

lrv.lt

“Ethnic and religious tolerance always were and will remain important to the Lithuanian state and Lithuanian society. Special attention will be given this in the future as well,” Lithuanian prime minister Saulius Skvernelis said in response to an act of vandalism at the headquarters of the Lithuanian Jewish Community in Vilnius.

“These kinds of attacks not only do internal damage to intercultural dialogue traditions fostered over several decades, but do great damage to Lithuania’s reputation in the world.

“Therefore we can say confidently that actions sowing hatred and discord will never be tolerated, and both the organizers and executors of such actions will be brought to account in accordance with the standards of law, international legal norms and the laws of the Republic of Lithuania.

“The Government of the Republic of Lithuania calls upon law-enforcement institutions to investigate this incident quickly, responsibly and fully,” the statement from the Lithuanian Government said.

US Diplomat Tells Lithuania Not to Glorify Holocaust Collaborators

US Diplomat Tells Lithuania Not to Glorify Holocaust Collaborators

Photo: Protesters reinstall controversial Noreika plaque in Vilnius. Photo by J. Stecevičius/LRT

US diplomat Cherrie Daniels has warned the glorification of Holocaust collaborators in Lithuania undermines the country’s reputation and the memory of its true heroes, and promotes anti-Semitism.

“Lithuania has been shaped into the proud democracy it is today because of the valiant actions of countless heroes throughout its history,” Cherrie Daniels, special envoy for Holocaust issues at the US State Department, tweeted Monday. “But every country has its dark moments”.

“When confronting difficult issues of the past, it’s important to objectively review the actions of historical figures to determine the impact of their actions, both positive and negative,” she said.

Exhibit on Tadeusz Romer and Jewish Refugees in Far East

Exhibit on Tadeusz Romer and Jewish Refugees in Far East

The exhibit “Polish Ambassador to Japan Tadeusz Romer and Jewish Refugees in the Far East” will open with an event in the Jascha Heifetz Hall on the third floor of the Lithuanian Jewish Community at 6:00 P.M. on September 19.

This mobile exhibit from the Polish Institute was first shown last March at the Sugihara House museum in Kaunas. The authors of the exhibit Dr. Olga Barbasiewicz and Barbara Abraham are to take part in this opening. The exhibit will run till October 19.

Children’s Safety Questioned after Swastika Appears at LJC

Children’s Safety Questioned after Swastika Appears at LJC

Children’s events, workshops, clubs and so forth are held often at the Lithuanian Jewish Community, as are Hebrew lessons, chess matches and Jewish holiday events attended by children. The safety of children attending events at the LJC is being called into question by the appearance of a swastika just meters from the front door. Its appearance coincided with the Peoples Fair inside, where children were preparing to give a concert. The goal of the Peoples Fair is to bring together the ethnic minority communities who call Lithuania home.

While the children were getting ready for the concert upstairs, down at the Bagel Shop Café a group of 43 elderly religious Jews from Jerusalem were holding prayers and waiting for breakfast when the swastika appeared, even closer to the front door of the kosher food outlet.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliaksy said there should actually be reverse discrimination for the Lithuanian Jewish Community considering how small it is now following the Holocaust.

No other state in Europe fails to provide protection and security for its Jewish community.

Swastika at the Lithuanian Jewish Community

Swastika at the Lithuanian Jewish Community

A week before Lithuania marks its Day of Remembrance for Jewish Victims of Genocide in Lithuania, a swastika appeared on the sidewalk close to the main entrance of the LJC at Pylimo street no. 2, where some LJC security cameras are pointed.

Who did it and why? As Sergey Kanovich has written:

“It’s not really bad now is it? After all good come quickly after… and it was created by heroes. What after this, a broken window, a match? When the authorities remain silent, evil doesn’t sleep.”

There is no other Jewish community in Europe where the state doesn’t provide protection and security.

Meeting with Students from the Viltis Pre-Gymnasium in Panevėžys

The month of September is marked by a painful historical tragedy and is the month we mark the Day of Lithuanian Jewish Victims of Genocide. The Vilnius ghetto was liquidated over the course of the month of September.

Every year the Panevėžys Jewish Community organizes commemoration ceremonies at the mass murder sites in the Kurganava forest, the Žalioji forest, Krekenava, Raguva and other villages in the Panevėžys region.

The plan this year is to hold a quiz with students on September 24, show a film about the Holocaust from Yad Vashem and to introduce young people to Holocaust survivors. This meeting took place at the Panevėžys Jewish Community in early September with students from the Viltis Pre-Gymnasium.

Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman told the painful history of the Jews of the Panevėžys area.

Local Nazi collaborators murdered Jewish men, women and children throughout Lithuania, in Ukraine and in so many other European countries. Jews will never forget those people who helped and rescued them from the Holocaust.

One wonders why today a small group of Lithuanians is attempting to return to the past and to commemorate the collaborators who murdered and destroyed their fellow citizens.

University of Illinois at Chicago Hosts Discussion “Narratives of Pluralism in Lithuania Yesterday and Today”

University of Illinois at Chicago Hosts Discussion “Narratives of Pluralism in Lithuania Yesterday and Today”

Tuesday evening the University of Illinois at Chicago held a discussion called “Narratives of Pluralism in Lithuania Yesterday and Today.” Speakers included professor Tomas Venclova, Lithuanian minister of culture Dr. Mindaugas Kvietkauskas, Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, YIVO director Jonathen Brent, with teacher of Polish literature and Polish-Jewish relations Karen Underhill moderating. Discussion focused on multiculturalism in Lithuania, changes in ethnic minority communities in Lithuania over the centuries, contributions the ethnic minorities made to founding the modern state and Litvak contributions to the nation’s cultural and political life, as well as Holocaust education and commemoration.

Lithuanian consul general Mantvydas Bekesius thanked professor Venclova, Lithuanian cultural attaché in New York Gražina Michnevičiūtė and all audience members and speakers.

Photos by Sandra Scedrina

Keiko Borjeson Concert in Kaunas Honors Righteous Gentile

Keiko Borjeson Concert in Kaunas Honors Righteous Gentile

The Kaunas State Philharmonic held a concert September 6 to honor Righteous Gentile Ona Jablonskytė-Landsbergienė on what would have been her 125th birthday.

Actor and director Aleksandras Rubinovas presented a brief biography of the woman including how she hid Jews during the Holocaust. Her son was present and shared his memories of his mother’s deeds and views.

Jazz vocalist Keiko Borjeson (ボルジェソン ケイコ) of Japan, Arvydas Joffe on percussion, Mykolas Bazaras on bass and Tomas Botyrius on sax delivered a program of jazz standards, improvisation and Jewish melodies.

Kaunas Library Conducting Jewish Tours

Kaunas Library Conducting Jewish Tours

The Vincas Kudirka Public Library in Kaunas invites the public to a series of tours in a project called Jewish Heritage in Kaunas. The tours will be conducted on September 6, 8 and 10 and will cover modern architecture, the Old Town, Slobodka and major achievements by Litvaks. Registration required. Call (37) 22 23 57 or send an email to renginiai@kaunas.mvb.lt

The guided tour on September 10 begins at 6:00 P.M. and will be led by local guide Asia Gutermanaitė.

March of the Living

March of the Living

You’re invited to take part in the March of the Living procession in Ponar at 1:00 P.M. on September 23, 2019. The march begins at the Ponar railroad station and concludes at the main memorial in the Ponar Memorial Complex, where a commemoration ceremony to remember the genocide of the Jews of Lithuania will begin at 1:15.

A bus will offer transport from the LJC to the memorial complex leaving at 12 noon. Registration begins September 16. To register, call 8 5 261 3003.


European Day of Jewish Culture in Šeduva September 15

European Day of Jewish Culture in Šeduva September 15

A lesson on how to bake traditional challa bread will be held at 3:00 P.M. on September 15 at the Šeduva Crafts and Culture Center located at Vilniaus street no. 1 in Šeduva. Chefs from the Bagel Shop Café will share the secrets of traditional Litvak holiday customs and cuisine.

European Day of Jewish Culture Events in Šiauliai

European Day of Jewish Culture Events in Šiauliai

The Aušra Museum in Šiauliai will mark European Day of Jewish Culture on September 8, 2019. At 1:00 P.M. a game will be held on the grounds of the Frankel factory. At 2:00 P.M. the museum will open the exhibit “The Frankel Factory: A Symbol of Šiauliai Industry and Modernization” and screen a series of documentary films about Jews of Šiauliai called “Dingusio pasaulio pėdsakais. Žydiškieji Šiauliai” [Traces of a Lost World: Jewish Šiauliai] directed by Jūratė Sobutienė at the Chaim Frankel villa.

The game will requires teams of from 2 to 4 people with telephones or tablets with internet access. To register your team call 8 41 524 392 or send an e-mail to istorija@ausrosmuziejus.lt

More information:
www.ausrosmuziejus.lt
https://www.facebook.com/events/698501067290781

Augustė Labenskytė, acting director,
History Department, Aušra Museum

First Day of School

First Day of School

The Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymnasium began the school year Monday with a large welcome-back ceremony attended by new Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Yossi Avni Levy. Principal Miša Jakobas spoke to the large audience of pupils, parents and teachers:

“This is my last September today. All these years I’ve been with you, I’ve shared my heart and feelings with you. There is no greater feeling today than that which I feel seeing Lithuanian and Jewish children sing the Israeli anthem. I would like to thank everyone who believed in me. The school and the high school understand that nothing lasts forever. Today I can only take pride in our wonderful teachers and great atmosphere,” he said. After thanking teachers by name, he added: “I am very proud that our 70 gymnasium students are doing especially well.”

Home Movies from Before the Flood

Home Movies from Before the Flood

On Wednesday Kaunas Holocaust survivor Dita Zupavičienė-Šperlingienė spoke at the Vilnius Jewish Public Library and presented a home movie.

The silent film was a series of street scenes from Vilnius, Riga and Lvov before the war. Zupavičienė-Šperlingienė explained how her uncle Hanon, a medical student in Paris, used to come visit the family. In bed for over a week with scarlet fever, the young Dita was overjoyed when her physician uncle told the family she could get up and do things around the house without making it worse. Dita said she jumped out of bed at the first opportunity and from that time on Hanon became her favorite uncle.

Hanon was an amateur filmmaker and used an 8 mm camera on some of his travels. As the Nazis drew closer to Paris, he grabbed a bicycle and rode south, to Vichy France. Zupavičienė-Šperlingienė said he soon discovered life was dangerous for a Jew there, as well. After the Holocaust Hanon continued to live in Paris. Dita made it to Israel where it turned out she was, for whatever reason, one of the few Jews able to teach the German language. In the early 1970s she had the opportunity to improve her German teaching skills in West Germany, and visited Hanon in Paris during that trip. That’s when he mentioned he still had some of the footage he had taken before the Holocaust.