History of the Jews in Lithuania

Large Jewish Community Lived in Švenčionys Region Before Holocaust

Large Jewish Community Lived in Švenčionys Region Before Holocaust

The Švenčionys region of Lithuania is a multicultural place where Lithuanians live alongside Poles, Russians, Belarussians, Jews and people of other ethnicities.

The Švenčionys Jewish Community was reconstituted in 2013. It is now headed by the energetic Švenčionys native Moshe Shapiro (aka Moisiejus Šapiro).

There was a large Jewish community living in the Švenčionys region in the period between the two world wars. In fact there were five synagogues operating there.

Jews there set up an herbal pharmaceuticals factory and different workshops in the center of the town of Švenčionys. Jewish effort, initiative and expertise were involved in all fields of production and business.

Litvak Heritage in Lithuania: Where to Find the Most Interesting Stories and Sites

Litvak Heritage in Lithuania: Where to Find the Most Interesting Stories and Sites

by Raimonda Mikalčiūtė-Urbonė, 15min.lt

The year 2020 has been named the Year of the Vilna Gaon and Litvak History, so this year is a good opportunity to discover the interesting and unique Jewish heritage sites we have right here in our own country.

So far this is niche tourism. Although there is an abundance of Jewish heritage sites in Vilnius, Kaunas and the regions, many tourists still don’t know, for example, when they’re vacationing in Palanga or Druskininkai, the Jewish histories of these resort towns. How can we get ethnic Lithuanians interested in the long and interesting history of the Litvaks and the sites which stand witness to this history? We discussed this with interlocutors in this article.

Faina Kukliansky: There Needs to Be a Common Litvak Heritage Policy

Kaunas Jewish Community Honors Our True National Heroes, Rescuers of Jews

Kaunas Jewish Community Honors Our True National Heroes, Rescuers of Jews

On June 25 the Kaunas Jewish Community paid honor to those who risked their own lives and those of their families to give the gift of life to those condemned to death. The people who rescued Jews were mainly quiet, everyday heroes, the Righteous Gentiles who are the real and unquestioned heroes of our country, heroes and heroines. On Thursday, June 25, the Kaunas Jewish Community was finally able to hold its annual evening to pay tribute to our Righteous Gentiles. Usually the event is held in spring just after Passover.

Kaunas Jewish Community members always look forward to the event, a meeting of friends. Time is merciless, however, and the ranks of rescuers and rescued grow thinner each year. Fortunately we have their children and grandchildren standing in for them, who are just as dear to us.

Lietūkis Garage Massacre Commemorated June 26

Lietūkis Garage Massacre Commemorated June 26

The Kaunas Jewish Community and members of the public gathered in Kaunas June 26 at the site of the infamous Lietūkis garage massacre of Jews by Lithuanians in the early days of the Holocaust in the last days of June of 1941. Relatives of victims attended as well. The ceremony was followed by kaddish for the Jews buried at the Slobodka (Vilijampolė) and Žaliakalnis Jewish cemeteries in Kaunas.

Brazilian Jewish Press Discusses LJC Response to Putin

Brazilian Jewish Press Discusses LJC Response to Putin

Lithuanian consul general in Sao Paulo Laura Tupe has sent notification to the two authors that their piece “Don’t Speak in Our Name, Mr. President of the Russian Federation” written especially for publication on the www.lzb.lt website, a response to Russian president Vladimir Putin’s article on World War II, was discussed in Kadimah, the Brazilian Jewish community magazine:

Judíos lituanos critican a Putin por “falsificar” la historia soviética

Los líderes de la comunidad lituana apuntaron contra el intento del presidente ruso de minimizar los crímenes soviéticos en el Báltico, afirmando que la población judía se convirtió en el grupo étnico más perseguido por la URSS durante la “esclavización” de Lituania después de la Segunda Guerra Mundial…

https://www.ynetespanol.com/actualidad/mundo-judio/article/r1Y0tAdAI

Renowned German Historian Christoph Dieckmann Says Lithuanian Heroes Noreika, Škirpa Were Both Fascists

Renowned German Historian Christoph Dieckmann Says Lithuanian Heroes Noreika, Škirpa Were Both Fascists

by prof. Pinchos Fridberg

Vilnius

At 5:30 A.M. yesterday, July 2, 2020, the Lithuanian Public Radio and Television (LRT) web page posted an interview with noted German historian Christoph Dieckmann:

Vokiečių istorikas apie Holokaustą Lietuvoje: žydus priversdavo šokti, dainuoti, o tada sušaudydavo” [German Historian on Holocaust in Lithuania: Jews Were Forced to Sing, Dance, Then Were Shot]

The point of my text here is to point the reader’s attention to the phrase “Both of them were fascists.” To avoid mistakes, here is that portion of the interview which I captured:

Translation:

In the book you wrote the majority collaborated with the Nazis seeking to serve their country and led by a certain vision of the future of their country, usually a fascist one, to create an ethnically pure, militarily strong nation state. So didn’t Kazys Škirpa and Jonas Noreika also believe they were serving their country?

Both of them were fascists. Noreika became one while very young, Škirpa at a bit later age. Škirpa had a fascist vision of Lithuania, a Lithuania without Jews. He spoke out in favor of driving the Jews out rather than murdering them. Noreika held similar views, he saw a Lithuania without Jews because he believed they were powerful and hindered the creation of statehood. …]

P.S. The same day at 9:57 A.M. the LRT internet site posted an abbreviated translation of the interview in Russian.

It’s interesting to note that this passage was omitted in the Russian version.

Co-Chairs of Goodwill Foundation Send Letter to Parliamentary Speaker on Naming 2021 Year of Lukša-Daumantas

Co-Chairs of Goodwill Foundation Send Letter to Parliamentary Speaker on Naming 2021 Year of Lukša-Daumantas

July 2, 2020

His Excellency Viktoras Pranckietis
Speaker of the Seimas
Vilnius, Lithuania

Dear Speaker Pranckietis,

We are deeply troubled to learn that the Seimas will entertain a resolution which would dedicate 2021 the Year of Juozas Lukša-Daumantas, a leader of the World War II-era Lithuanian Activist Front.

The Lithuanian Activist Front was founded in Berlin and was an early ally of the Nazis in the occupation of Lithuania. It was proudly anti-Semitic, and many of its members were directly involved in the persecution and murder of Lithuanian Jews. Despite its anti-Soviet focus and later conflict with the Nazi powers, its vision of an independent Lithuania was of an ethnically “pure” homeland with no place for Jewish citizens.

Some may question if there is sufficient documentary evidence to show that Lukša-Daumantas was guilty of war crimes. That is not relevant to the decision before the Seimas. There is today a worldwide reckoning with history and growing recognition in all Western democracies that even past leaders of great accomplishment must forfeit any honor if they were also racists, bigots, or anti-Semites. Surely Lithuania should do no less.

With that in mind we implore you to take no action which might give honor to any leader of the Lithuanian Activist Front. Instead you should defer such matters to the International Commission for Evaluating the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupational Regimes appointed by the Lithuanian president for a clear and critical understanding of this tragic period in the country’s history.

As co-chairpersons of the Lithuanian Goodwill Foundation, we have valued the warm cooperative relationship we have had with you since your first days as Speaker. We know we share a common commitment to maintain the legacy and history of Jewish life in Lithuania and to build an inclusive and tolerant future. It is in this spirit that we write to you.

With sincere regards,

Faina Kukliansky, Chairwoman, Lithuanian Jewish Community; Co-Chairperson, Goodwill Foundation

Rabbi Andrew Baker, AJC Director of International Jewish Affairs; Co-Chairperson, Goodwill Foundation

Tsemakh Shabad Statue Vandalized

Tsemakh Shabad Statue Vandalized

The statue made by Lithuanian sculptor Romualdas Kvintas ensemble featuring Vilna Jewish doctor Tsemakh Shabad–the prototype for the Dr. Aybolit character in children’s poems and stories by the Russian writer Korney Chukovsky–and a child was vandalized with acid or paint.

The attack was the second over the weekend on Jewish monuments in the Vilnius Old Town. On June 26, the day before, the monument to the Vilna Gaon was also vandalized, also using acid or paint.

The Tsemakh Shabad was vandalized before soon after its unveiling in 2007 using acid. Some in the Lithuanian media are speculating the attacks are intended to mirror the wanton destruction of statues in the USA and UK by mobs. Meanwhile Lithuanian Nazi leader and Holocaust perpetrator Jonas Noreika’s shrine at the very center of Vilnius remains unharmed and under 24-hour surveillance by video cameras. Recently news media have reported on a repeat-offender intent on making her mark on statues around Vilnius even before the Black Lives Matter mass hysteria swept the United States. The elderly primary school teacher was arrested last year after police reviewed video surveillance showing her throwing red paint on an installation at Vilnius’s Lūkiškės Square intended to commemorate Lithuanian anti-Soviet partisans.

Vilna Gaon Monument Vandalized June 26

Vilna Gaon Monument Vandalized June 26

That statue commemorating the notional residence of the Vilna Gaon and the shulhoyf where the Great Synagogue and a number of other shuls once stood, built around the Gaon’s residence, was vandalized on June 26 using acid.

Don’t Speak in Our Name, Mr. President of the Russian Federation

Don’t Speak in Our Name, Mr. President of the Russian Federation

We read the article “The Real Lessons of the 75th Anniversary of World War II” by Russian president Vladimir Putin in the American conservative magazine National Interest and reprinted by media representing the Russian opposition and pro-government position.

We feel the need to share our thoughts with readers on the fate of Jews, citizens of Lithuania, as red totalitarianism was replaced by brown totalitarianism in our country.

Many of my relatives, those of the chairwoman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community and those of many citizens of Litvak origin were imprisoned in the Stutthof (liberated by the USSR) and Dachau (liberated by American forces) concentration camps. My mother and Faina Kukliansky’s mother miraculously survived Stutthof.

New Genocide Center Director

New Genocide Center Director

The Lithuanian news site 15min.lt reports Teresė Birutė Burauskaitė has been replaced as director of Lithuania’s Orwellian Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of Residents of Lithuania by Adas Jakubauskas, the 55-year-old chairman of the Union of Lithuanian Tatar Communities. Last week parliamentary speaker Viktoras Pranckietis called for replacing Burauskaitė. The director is appointed by vote of parliament to a 5-year term. Jakubauskas’s candidacy was put forth by the Lithuanian parliament’s Battles for Freedom and State Historical Memory Commission, whose member Arūnas Gumuliauskas recently promised to present a resolution to parliament claiming the Lithuanian state and people were guiltless in the Holocaust because they were both occupied at the time. The new director of the Genocide Center faced stern questioning by MPs during his confirmation process, with former Genocide Center historian and now conservative MP Arvydas Anušauskas digging into the Lithuanian Tartar community’s financial ties with Tartar communities in Russia.

Anušauskas once hosted a history program on state television and once spent more than an hour exploring the idea the Nazis and the Soviets staged the Lietūkis garage massacre in order to defame Lithuanians.

Tartars are an ethnic minority in Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia and elsewhere who mainly adhere to Sunni Islam. There are major communities of Tartars in Tartarstan and in the Crimea.

The Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of Residents of Lithuania has consistently defended Lithuanian Nazis including Kazys Škirpa and Jonas Noreika.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Kaunas Jewish Community Invites You to Remember Victims of Lietūkis Garage Massacre

Kaunas Jewish Community Invites You to Remember Victims of Lietūkis Garage Massacre

The Kaunas Jewish Community will hold a commemoration of the victims of the Lietūkis garage massacre at Miško street no. 3 at 4:00 P.M. on June 26. Joris Rubinovas will perform Maurice Ravel’s Kaddish and Gabrielė Jocaitė will perform a song in member of the victims. The public is invited and encouraged to attend. Following the ceremony we will move to the Slobodka (Vilijampolė) Jewish cemetery on Kalnų street and then the Žaliakalnis Jewish cemetery on the Radvilėnų highway.

How It Happened

How It Happened

Lithuanian writer Rūta Vanagaitė and German historian Christoph Dieckmann presented their new book called “How Did It Happen?” at a launch ceremony held at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius on June 25.

Dieckmann delivered what amounted to a lecture on the topic of the Holocaust in Lithuania lasting about one hour, and proposed rejecting some accepted Holocaust terminology as judicial rather than historical. He said looking through the lens of ethnicity creates a false picture, even though the actors at the time did so. He also said the idea of perpetrators, victims, collaborationists and so on should be revisited and the true picture is more complex, with people collaborating with the Nazis at one point and the same people resisting them at another. He said the grey cover of the Lithuanian-language edition of the book reflects this ambiguity.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky served as moderator and challenged Dr. Dieckmann’s seeming rejection of the legal aspects in favor of the historical truth. Dieckmann responded saying so much of the narrative is dominated by legal defense and prosecutorial arguments that it’s difficult to see what really happened.

Four Historical Shames Which Afflict Us Lithuanians

Four Historical Shames Which Afflict Us Lithuanians

by Arkadijus Vinokuras DELFI.lt

History forms the collective experience and mentality of the generations of today and tomorrow. Running away from the unpleasant facts of history which are perceived as shameful, the aspiration of denying or justifying them, leads to a psychological, cultural and political dead end. Today Lithuanians are afflicted by four historical shames. These are the impotency of the debased pre-war government of Smetona, the first Soviet occupation, the Holocaust and the second Soviet occupation.

The first historical shame for Lithuanians. The rule of Antanas Smetona, the period from 1939 to 1940. The fissure in the Lithuanian state began in 1926 when the Tautininkai carried out a coup. Civic society along with democracy which is characterized by a political opposition in parliament were buried almost as soon as they were born.

You can go as deep as you want into the negative and positive side of each and every political figure from the time, into his assumptions concerning political decisions, or look at the global geopolitical processes of the time. You also can, in the name of justification, use the argument “we cannot decide about the events of that time from the tower of our present knowledge” to justify any stupidity or crime against peoples and humanity. But the handover of Klaipėda to the Nazis without any fight on March 23, 1939 and that same year the consent to allow 20,000 Soviet soldiers into Lithuania, and finally the handover of Lithuania without any resistance to the Soviets on June 15, 1940–these things are unanimously considered shameful by the Lithuanian public today. Even the public back then understood non-resistance to the Soviets was shameful, as was president Smetona’s flight, the public sees these as negative. (It should be noted here that under international law consent received under duress or by force is not binding, it is null and void, and doesn’t change the fact of aggression and the occupation of Lithuania).

New Attraction in Lithuania: Catcher in the Rye Commemorated by Statue in Sudargas

New Attraction in Lithuania: Catcher in the Rye Commemorated by Statue in Sudargas

A new sculpture has gone up to celebrate J. D. Salinger’s novel Catcher in the Rye.

Kenneth Slawenski in his Salinger biography said the family came from Sudargas, a small Jewish village near the Polish-Lithuanian border which belonged to the Russian Empire at the time.

Salinger’s grandfather came from the Sudargas area in the Šakiai district and the statue commemorating Catcher in the Rye was unveiled there in a ceremony held on June 19. A press release for the ceremony said: “The Sudargas area is rich in its history. This was where the book smugglers operated. The famous people who come from here are famous not just in Lithuania, but around the world. We are happy there is yet another attraction where Catcher in the Rye will be commemorated. This will encourage tourists and all of us to remember again this work, and perhaps to read it again. When the novel became popular, our country was occupied. The young people didn’t have a chance to feel the spirit which surrounded the protagonist Holden Caufield in America.”

Sudargas area alderwoman Rita Grigaitienė said the book is still topical among youth because it addresses the problems youth still face. She said adults who read the book will gain insight into the problems young people face.

Full text in Lithuanian here.

Statue to J. D. Salinger to Appear Near Ancestral Home Friday, June 19

Statue to J. D. Salinger to Appear Near Ancestral Home Friday, June 19

American novelist J. D. Salinger’s novel Catcher in the Rye will be commemorated with a statue near the family’s ancestral home in the Sudargas area of Lithuania Friday. Lithuanian Jewish Community member Geršonas Taicas looked into the man’s genealogy more deeply, using information from Lithuanian and American archives.

The parents of the great-grandfather of Jerome David Salinger were Solomon Zalinger and Sara Kan.

Stop European Holocaust Denial, Focus on Lithuania

Stop European Holocaust Denial, Focus on Lithuania

Please join us for a special online town hall event Stop European Holocaust Denial Focus: Lithuania co-hosted by ICAN and the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists (AAJLJ).

Tuesday, June 23, at 8 PM EDT | 5 pm PDT

Watch live!

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ICANAction/videos/285276522660390/
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9v6KNnjikfs

Please join us for a special live event, a virtual town hall featuring Grant Gochin and Silvia Foti speaking about state-sponsored Holocaust denial in Lithuania. Grant Gochin asked the question: “Who actually murdered my family during the Holocaust?” and discovered the fact that the murderer is a current national hero of Lithuania. Silvia Foti was asked by her mother to write the biography of her national hero grandfather, only to discover that he was one of the worst genocidal murderers of Jews during the Holocaust. Silvia Foti’s grandfather murdered Grant Gochin’s family. They have come together to tell the awful truth of how their families have been connected for the past 100 years, and how the Lithuanian government has engaged in a massive cover-up to implement the tenth stage of genocide: denial. In this town hall meeting, we will discuss with Gochin and Foti their paths to discovery of this cover-up, and how it impacts the real world today.

This Country Would Never Have Become the Jerusalem of Lithuania Had It Not Been a Safe and Tolerant Place

This Country Would Never Have Become the Jerusalem of Lithuania Had It Not Been a Safe and Tolerant Place

Just before quarantine was announced the Bagel Shop received an important visitor. The interview done several months ago remains just as important and perhaps even more so now. We spoke about the importance of ethnic food to Jews living in Lithuania and about a people’s right to have ethnic foods. We await the re-opening of the Bagel Shop Café with bated breath and hope to continue this conversation in front of an audience.

Bagel Shop Interview with Meghan Luckett, Cultural Attaché at the US embassy in Vilnius

Interview by Dovile Rūkaitė, LJC project manager.

Do you like bagels? What’s your favorite kind?

Yes, of course we love bagels. My favorite are everything bagels, we buy them at your bagel shop and in the market and eat them almost every week. We make bagel sandwiches with baked egg, spices and all kinds of stuff. One of our colleagues is a great cook, she makes us homemade bagels. Once we brought her some from Trader Joe’s and she made us excellent everything bagels. My wife is a great cook, she bakes sometimes, but we usually buy them because they are very good.

Lithuanian Newspaper Reports on Music of the Holocaust

Lithuanian Newspaper Reports on Music of the Holocaust

Lithuania’s Lietuvos Rytas newspaper has published on its website an article about music from the ghettos and camps called “Incredible Weapon Defended People Suffering the Flames of the Hell of Naziism” by Julius Palaima.

§ § §

Six million Jews were horribly murdered in the Holocaust, but the music they created in the concentration camps has survived to today and is now being recreated. It became an exotic refreshment from the murderous reality.

The inscription above the steel gates of the Auschwitz concentration camp says: “Work Sets You Free.” Obviously this was a disgusting lie to hide the blood-curdling truth. One measure, however, helped people escape if only briefly from the horrors of the concentration camp.

It was music. Inmates managed to create even under the most complicated and horrific living conditions. A composer from Italy, Francesco Lotoro, stands at the wheel of the ship conserving this impressive creative work. The man for more than three decades now has been trying to recreate, perform and complete the works of music written under unenviable circumstances. His work is really unique. Lotoro says all of this might never have reached listeners’ ears. “All of this might have disappeared and become lost, but a miracle happened…”

Full text in Lithuanian here.