History of the Jews in Lithuania

Mission: Lithuanian Jewish Citizens. Siberia

Mission: Lithuanian Jewish Citizens. Siberia

On December 4 the Lithuanian Jewish Community hosted a meeting/lecture/discussion and exhibition opening called “Mission: Lithuanian Jewish Citizens. Siberia” dedicated to discussing the deportations from Lithuania in June of 1941. Usually the official accounts of the deportations seem to suppress the multi-ethnic composition of deportees and the diversity of their positions and beliefs. The only thing uniting all the deportees was the fact they were considered undesirable by the new occupational regime.

The event was organized by the Vilnius Jewish Public Library and the Jakovas Bunka welfare and support fund. The photographic exhibition contained pictures of graves in Siberia, including those of Jewish, Polish, Russian and Lithuanian deportees. The photos came from the collections of the Lithuanian National Library, the Center for the Research of the Genocide and Resistance of Residents of Lithuania, the photographer Gintautas Alekna and Dalia Kazlauskienė, the widow of photographer Juozas Kazlauskas. The project received support from the Department of Ethnic Minorities under the Lithuanian Government.

LJC board member Daumantas Levas Todesas, Vilnius Jewish Public Library director Žilvinas Beliauskas and Department of Ethnic Minorities director Dr. Vida Montvydaitė spoke to the topic at the event.

New Book about Jewish Street in Vilnius

New Book about Jewish Street in Vilnius

A new book about Jewish Street in Vilnius by Aelita Ambrulevičiūtė, Gintė Konstantinavičiūtė and Giedrė Polkaitė-Petkevičienė was launched at the Paviljonas Book Weekend in Vilnius. “Prabilę namai. Žydų gatvės kasdienybė XIX-XX a. (iki 1940 m.)” [with the English subtitle/translation “Houses That Talk: Everyday Life in Žydų Street in the 19th-20th Century (up to 1940)” provided below the Lithuanian title on the cover] was published by the Aukso žuvys publishing house and comprises a kind of guide to the street, detailing the Great Synagogue, the Strashun Library, the house of the Vilna Gaon and the market and restaurants which operated there.

Lithuanian historian Aureljus Gieda presented the book and said it contains 166 illustrations of life in 14 buildings, 5 of which survive. He said the book has an index of names and extensive footnotes.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Film: The Called — Judaism in Lithuania

Film: The Called — Judaism in Lithuania

“Pašauktieji” [“The Called”] is a set of six documentaries about religious faiths in Lithuania by the Vilniaus Medija group. The premiere of the third documentary film about Judaism in Lithuania “Juaidzmas Lietuvoje” [“Judaism in Lithuania”] coincides with the 115th anniversary of the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius.

Looking Back at 30 Years of Hanukkah Celebrations

Looking Back at 30 Years of Hanukkah Celebrations

Maša Grodnikienė recalled for us the first Hanukkah celebration by the constituent Lithuanian Jewish Community back in 1988.

Lithuanian Jews who survived World War II celebrated Hanukkah quietly at home. In 1987 the Lithuanian Jewish Cultural Association formed and Emanuelis Zingeris became chairman.

On December 4, 1988, Lithuanian Jews came together and collected funds for a shared Hanukkah celebration. This was a memorable holiday in Vilnius, a big event with a beautiful group of people at the Dainava restaurant. Yiddish was spoken and sung. The cultural events group of the Lithuanian Jewish Cultural Association drafted the program and organized the event. The Fayerlakh Jewish ensemble with directors Griša Kravecas and Ana Kravec performed, as did the ethnographic ensemble conducted by Amos Traub and the Kaunas Jewish stage ensemble. Chaimas Gurvičius directed the concert. About 370 people attended. Chairman of the board of the Lithuanian Cultural Fund Česlovas Kudaba greeted the audience, and deputy chairman Tarvydas also took part. This was a grand Hanukkah evening celebration with a concert and speeches.

Remember what that time was like in Lithuania–the independence movement Sąjūdis had formed and Lithuanian Jews from different cities and towns came together and were part of Sąjūdis. Everyone was exhilarated, excited, happy that finally with the national rebirth of Lithuania the Jews of Lithuania could celebrate together that great holiday of the triumph of the spirit, Hanukkah. The majority sought to attend, there weren’t enough places and it was impossible to get in. At that time there were 17,000 Jews living in Lithuania.

So Close to the Holocaust…but So Innocent

So Close to the Holocaust…but So Innocent

by Grant Arthur Gochin

On November 24, 2018 the German Government announced they will charge a 95 year old man with 36,000 counts of accessory to murder during his “service” as a guard at the Mauthausen Concentration Camp. Guards at concentration camps participated in murders of Jews, that was part of their job.

German courts convicted Oskar Groening, an accountant at Auschwitz, and Reinhold Hanning, a former SS guard at the same camp, for complicity in mass murder. This month, November 2018, a former Nazi concentration camp guard, Johann Rehbogen, has been placed on trial in Muenster, Germany, accused of complicity in mass murder at the Stutthof concentration camp. Germany is working to punish the last remaining Holocaust perpetrators for their crimes against humanity.

The genocide of Lithuanian Jews had already been largely completed by January 1942, when Germany formally followed the same path as Lithuania at the Wannsee Conference; to now also commit genocide of Jews throughout Europe. Both Lithuania and Germany were intent on murdering Jews.

Full editorial here.

Opening of Exhibit “Mission: Lithuanian Citizens. Siberia”

Opening of Exhibit “Mission: Lithuanian Citizens. Siberia”

The Lithuanian Jewish Community invites you to come to a meeting/lecture/discussion/exhibit opening at 6:00 P.M. on December 4. The LJC is located at Pylimo street no. 4 in Vilnius. The “Mission: Lithuanian Citizens. Siberia” event is dedicated to discussing the deportations from Lithuania in June of 1941. The official telling of the story of the deportations often seems to exclude the multi-ethnic nature of the deportees and their diversity of views and beliefs. They were only united in the fact the occupational regime which swept into power didn’t approve of them.

Dr. Violeta Davoliūtė will give a presentation based on her research. LJC board member Daumantas Todesas, Vilnius Jewish Public Library director Žilvinas Beliauskas and Lithuanian Department of Ethnic Minorities director Dr. Vida Montvydaitė will also speak on the topic of the event.

An exhibit of photographs will officially open at the same time.

Conference “Remarkable Women of the Panevėžys Region”

Conference “Remarkable Women of the Panevėžys Region”

Acting Panevėžys mayor Petras Luomanas welcomed speakers and audience to the conference, saying: “It is very significant that we are now for the second time holding a conference in which we remember the remarkable women of our region whose contributions to culture, education, health-care, industry and other areas of endeavor in Panevėžys and throughout Lithuania have been gigantic.” Library director Loreta Breskienė spoke her library’s activities and “Lithuania’s Greats,” an exhibit of hand-sewn flags there. The author of the exhibit is Sofija Kanaverskytė, an artist and former resident of Panevėžys who did scenography at the J. Miltinis Drama Theater there.

The main topic of Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman’s presentation was historical information about the activities of notable Jewish women of Panevėžys till 1940. He said many of the Jewish women are little-known, including sculptress Marija Dilon, the businesswomen Ana Kisina and Lėja Chazanienė, social activist and doctor Ana Merienė, Panevėžys Jewish Hospital doctors Mirijam Todesaitė-Blatienė and Zinaida Kukliansky and the dentists Vera Dembienė, Golda Izraelienė, Liuba Gurevičienė and Chasjė Feigelienė. Much more widely known was the Jewish women’s Esperanto organization in the city of Panevėžys, whose members included Ana Grinberg, daughter of Rabbi Abraham Grinberg.

Kofman said the topic of notable Jewish women has been neglected in Panevėžys as it has throughout Lithuania. Many write about men and their contributions, while women remain on the margins. He said this conference was a very good idea and should serve to foster a more tolerant attitude towards life and history.

Conference participants included deputy director of the Panevėžys city administration for educational affairs Sandra Jakštienė, Panevėžys Regional History Museum director Arūnas Astramskis, principals and teachers of the gymnasia in Panevėžys and other professionals working in education in the city. Nine presentations were given, including by Panevėžys College library director Vilija Raubienė, Panevėžys District G. Petkevičaitė-Bitė Public Library librarian Albina Saladūnaitė, regional history expert from Šiauliai Irena Dambrauskaitė-Rudzinskienė, director of the Kalba Knyga Kūryba Communications Center Lionė Lapinskienė, museum specialist Donatas Juzėnas, Paįstrys resident and local history expert Stasė Mikeliūnienė and puppeteer Antanas Markuckis.

Irene Pletka Donates Million Dollars for YIVO Bund Collection Digitization

Irene Pletka Donates Million Dollars for YIVO Bund Collection Digitization

YIVO in New York has had a separate collection for the Jewish Bund since 1992. Recently they announced a project to digitize that collection to make it accessible to scholars and the public around the world. Vice-chairwoman of the YIVO board Irene Pletka initiated the project and announced she is donating one million dollars to the effort.

More than 150 people came to the YIVO gallery in New York to honor Pletka for her exemplary donation, inspirational generosity and extraordinary sense of duty in preserving Jewish history and culture. After the Bund project receives donations totaling from 2.5 to 3 million dollars the first phase of digitization will begin.

The Bund Jewish political party began in Vilnius in 1897 with a socialist democrat platform and pledge to fight pogroms. YIVO describes the part as a Jewish political party adhering to a social democrat ideology in the context of Jewish culture and seeking Jewish political autonomy. Political science professor Jack Jacobs at Cambridge University in New York says the Bund was the first Jewish political party in Eastern Europe. Bund ideology was aimed at the Jewish working class.

Nun Who Helped Abba Kovner Dies at 110

Nun Who Helped Abba Kovner Dies at 110

Sister Cecylia Maria Roszak passed away at a convent in Cracow on November 16 at the age of 110, the archdiocese of Cracow reported. She was probably the oldest Catholic nun in the world at the time of her death. She was also a Righteous Gentile who harbored Jews in Nazi-occupied Vilnius, including writer and partisan leader Abba Kovner.

Maria Roszak was born March 25, 1908, in Kiełczewo and joined the Dominican order at the Gródek monastery (named after an old fortification and now neighborhood, adjacent to the Church of Our Lady of the Snows) in Cracow at the age of 21. In 1938 she and several fellow nuns were sent to Vilnius, then Wilno under Polish control, or more precisely to Naujoji Vilna outside the city, where the order had a wooden house and chapel on five hectares of land and intended to set up a monastery under Anna Borkowska, aka Mother Bertranda. World War II cut short these plans.

Vilnius came under Soviet occupation and then Nazi occupation. During the Nazi occupation Roszak and fellow nuns under Mother Bertranda hid 17 members of the Jewish resistance at their convent, including future ghetto underground leader, partisan and writer Abba Kovner.

Remembering Jewish Veterans in Kaunas

Remembering Jewish Veterans in Kaunas

Members of the Kaunas Jewish Community, residents of Kaunas and visitors honored Lithuanian Jewish veterans at the Jewish cemetery in the Gičiupis aldermanship in Kaunas November 23.

KJC chairman Gercas Žakas spoke about the historical relations between Jews and ethnic Lithuanians, Jewish service in the battles for Lithuanian freedom in 1919 and 1920 and later service in the military of independent Lithuania. Dr. Raimundas Kaminskas, president of the Kovo 11-osios Gatvė Association, spoke of the patriotism of Jewish soldiers between 1918 and 1940 and presented a medal to chairman Žakas. Lithuanian MP Gediminas Vasiliauskas, Gičiupis alderwoman Jolanta Žakevičienė and Kaunas Ukrainian Association chairman Nikolai Denisensko also spoke.

The old Jewish cemetery in Kaunas was established in 1861 and closed in 1952. The Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Department reports many notable public, cultural, political and religious figures are buried there, as well as 14 Lithuanian Jewish soldiers who served in the Lithuanian military or fought in the battles for Lithuanian freedom.

The Kovo 11-osios Gatvė Association and the 202nd division of the Union of Lithuanian Sharpshooters are implementing a project called “Strengthening Civic-Mindedness and Patriotism through Community Activity in the Gričiupis Aldermandship.”

Lithuanian Jews Send Congratulations on 100th Anniversary of Lithuanian Military

Lithuanian Jews Send Congratulations on 100th Anniversary of Lithuanian Military

Lithuanian Jews send their congratulations on the 100th anniversary of the restoration of the Lithuanian military. This is also a holiday for Jews. We remember and are proud of the Lithuanian Jewish volunteer soldiers, the participants in the battles for Lithuanian freedom in 1919 and 1920. We honor the civic-mindedness and patriotism of the Jewish soldiers and their devotion and service to Lithuania. Through their blood and at the cost of their lives they proved the Jewish community had decided resolutely with Lithuanians to established the democratic Republic of Lithuania and to defend bravely their country.

Happy 100th anniversary!

Kaunas Jewish Community Meets Students

Kaunas Jewish Community Meets Students

Kaunas as the cultural capital of Europe for 2022 is preparing an educational program for high school students aged 15 to 18 called “The Challenge of Kaunas.”

The Bureau of Memory program is striving to interest high school students in the multi-ethnic and multicultural history of Kaunas. The students have an assignment: to draft a project for the younger and older generation, including KJC senior citizens, to work together. The students are being encouraged to learn about the city’s history from living eye-witnesses and to come up with proposals for what they themselves have to offer the elder generation; what manner of cooperation might work is left up to them.

The students had the opportunity at the meeting at the KJC to communicate directly with members of the Community and to learn about their biographies. The young participants reported that they were very interested and moved by the warmth of Community members.

The KJC said this meeting was the start of a new and beautiful friendship.

Visit the Lost Shtetlakh, the Jewish Towns in Lithuania

Visit the Lost Shtetlakh, the Jewish Towns in Lithuania

The popular Lithuanian travel page www.lietuvon.lt has been updated and now includes a new group of sites, the shtetlakh, towns which had a large Jewish population before the Holocaust.

The Lithuanian-language internet site is promising to continuously update local and regional Jewish heritage tourist routes (at https://www.lietuvon.lt/stetlai) which are being developed and advertised by local municipalities. tourism information centers, museums, libraries and individual travel enthusiasts.

This project is the fruit of a joint-venture between the Lithuanian Jewish Community and www.lietuvon.lt author Karolis Žukauskas.

The project receives support from the Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Department and the Goodwill Foundation.

Simon Karczmar Exhibit at Vilna Gaon Museum

Simon Karczmar Exhibit at Vilna Gaon Museum

The Tolerance Center of the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum at Naugarduko street no. 10/2 in Vilnius will open an exhibit of paintings and prints by Simon Karczmar at 5:30 P.M. on November 22. The exhibit will run till January 21, 2019.

Karczmar was born in 1903 and died in 1982. His most productive period came later in life. He studied art in Paris as a young man but worked in the fur industry rather than as a professional artist. At the age of 57 he developed an allergy to fur and his wife encouraged him to return to making art. As a member of an artists’ colony in Safed, Israel, to which he moved in 1962, Karzcmar painted daily life in the Dieveniškės (Diveishok, Jevenishok) shtetl. His work has been exhibited in the USA, Canada, Israel and Mexico but never before in Lithuania. A month ago the School of Business and Technology in Dieveniškės hosted the exhibit. Karczmar’s son Natan came from Israel to attend and said the exhibit in Vilnius fulfills an old family dream.

Street Named in Honor of Frankel Family in Šiauliai

Street Named in Honor of Frankel Family in Šiauliai

The city of Šiauliai turned out November 19 to unveil the first street sign commemorating the Frankel family. These Jewish industrialists contributed significantly to the development and history of Šiauliai. The family name now graces what was Elnis [Deer] street. A large audience including members of the Jewish community, municipal representatives, staff at the Aušra Museum and guests from Kaunas and Klaipėda attended the ceremony at what is now Frenkelių street no. 23.

Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon was also there, presenting warm congratulations and speaking about the need to remember and honor shared Lithuanian and Jewish history. Lithuanian MP Stasys Tumėnas and Lithuanian Jewish Community executive director Renaldas Vaisbrodas, among others, also spoke about that. Historian Andrius Kvedaras led an excursion and provided details from the biographies of Chaim and Jakob Frenkel.

Deputy mayor Domas Griškevičius was a supporter of renaming the street and said “the municipality still has to seek cooperation from businesses here so they change their signs” to the new street name, according to the newspaper Šiaulų kraštas. Griškevičius said the regional Jewish community had paid for the manufacture of the new street signs and said he hoped the city budget would soon include funding for maps for tourists of the Chaim Frenkel leather factory in the past and present.

Jewish Veterans Commemoration

Jewish Veterans Commemoration

A ceremony to commemorate Lithuanian Jewish veterans is to be held at the Jewish Cemetery in Kaunas at 4:30 P.M. on November 23. Organizers include the Kaunas Jewish Community, the Sugihara Foundation/Diplomats for Life and the Kovo 11-osios Gatvė Association. For more information send an email to kaminskas.raimundas@gmail.com or call +370 680 53 495

Parliamentary Cultural Committee Considers Jewish Heritage Issues

Parliamentary Cultural Committee Considers Jewish Heritage Issues

A sitting of the Lithuanian parliament’s Cultural Committee November 14 addressed Litvak heritage. The meeting was held at the Tolerance Center of the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Musum in Vilnius with committee chairman Ramūnas Karbauskis attending.

Three main issues were discussed:

1. Further expansion and financing of the Vilna Gaon Museum
2. Jewish heritage issues
3. Restoration of the Great Synagogue in Vilnius

MP Emanuelis Zingeris proposed a resolution for the restoration of the Great Synagogue at the meeting. The Lithuanian Jewish Community expressed a different position. LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky said Lithuanian Jews are not asking and never had asked for the rebuilding of the Great Synagogue using state funds. She further noted that currently the LJC is engaged in studying other methods and problems in commemoration and preservation, having been tasked with drafting a study on Jewish heritage by the Lithuanian Government.

Special Focus on Ethnic Communities at Tolerance Day Celebration

Special Focus on Ethnic Communities at Tolerance Day Celebration

The celebration of Tolerance Day supported by the Lithuanian prime minister demonstrated sincere and exceptional attention to representatives of the ethnic communities in Lithuania.

International Tolerance Day was marked for the fifth time in Lithuanian November 16 with an event at the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences supported by the Lithuanian prime minister and organized by the Department of Ethnic Minorities under the Government of the Republic of Lithuania. During the event prime minister Saulius Skvernelis and department director Vida Montvydaitė honored and awarded those who had contributed most to the establishment of civil society, celebration of ethnic cultures and the fostering of intercultural dialogue in Lithuania.