History of the Jews in Lithuania

Yad Vashem Publishes What Would Have Been Lithuanian President’s Speech

Yad Vashem Publishes What Would Have Been Lithuanian President’s Speech


Lithuanian public radio and television posted an article on their news website containing what appears to be the speech Lithuanian president Gitanas Nausėda would have delivered at the Fifth World Holocaust Forum commemoration at Yad Vashem in Israel Thursday. The Lithuanian president canceled his trip there at the last minute apparently in solidarity with Polish president Andrzej Duda, who declined the initial invitation to the event saying it was strange he wouldn’t be allowed to speak there while Vladimir Putin would. Lithuanian public radio and television or LRT quoted the Lithuanian president from “a book published by Yad Vashem.”

“I want to express the deepest respect for the millions of Jews murdered in the Shoa. I bow my head in honor and memory of the two hundred thousand who were my countrymen. The tragedy of the Jews of Lithuania is Lithuania’s tragedy.

“We don’t have the power to raise from the dead the innocent victims, the men, women and children. We probably cannot ease the pain of those who lost their family members and loved ones. Even 75 years after the suffering is still felt, it is alive. There is only one thing which we can and must do. That is honoring the memory of the victims of the Shoa. Each of us can do that in his own way, by lighting a candle and saying a prayer. We can pledge to discover the historical truth. The only way to come to terms with history is to find the truth and to proclaim it loudly.”

Miša Jakobas Retires

Miša Jakobas Retires

Miša Jakobas has retired as principal of the Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymnasium in Vilnius. Lithuanian public radio and television conducted the following in-depth interview with him about education, life and his thoughts about the future.

Miša Jakobas Talks about Problems in Lithuanian Education after Leaving Jewish Gymnasium

by Aida Murauskaitė, LRT.lt

At the beginning of January the former Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymnasium principal and mathematics teacher took on a new job having nothing in common with the school, except that it does have something in common with Jews and math. He is now the executive director of the Lithuanian-Israeli Chamber of Commerce.

After half of a century you have left your job as teacher and the gymnasium which you yourself established three decades ago. How did you come to this decision?

The Vilna Gaon: The Central Figure Who Made Vilnius the Jerusalem of the North

The Vilna Gaon: The Central Figure Who Made Vilnius the Jerusalem of the North

by Mindaugas Klusas, LRT.lt

The Vilna Gaon, the 18th-century sage from the Jerusalem of the North, has left behind a significant legacy of Jewish scholarship as well as many legends about his erudition and idiosyncratic devotion to the study of religious texts.

Lithuania designated 2020 the Year of the History of Jews of Lithuania, and 2020 is also the 300th anniversary of the Vilna Gaon. Lara Lempertienė, an historian and the head of the Judaica Department at the Lithuanian National Library, spoke with LRT.lt about the 18th-century sage from Vilnius.

While other nations are proud of battles and glorious buildings, Jewish history is about writing and books, Lempertienė quoted a modern rabbi. The Vilna Gaon and his town Vilnius, often dubbed the Jerusalem of the North, played a crucial role in this history.

Full text here.

Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel Protests Lithuanian Attempt to Whitewash Holocaust

In two months the Lithuanian parliament will recess. Prior to that MP Arūnas Gumuliauskas, chair of the parliament’s Commission on the Fight for Freedom and Historical Memory, will propose a parliamentary resolution declaring Lithuania has no responsibility for the murders and extermination of Lithuanian Jews during World War II because it was occupied by the Soviets and then by Nazi Germany. His resolution is to absolve Lithuania from the horrors of the Holocaust because it was occupied by Russia and Germany!

Member of parliament Gumuliauskas is not clearly anti-Semitic (compared to those living in Lithuania), he is a professor of history. His primary research during the Soviet era showed positive impact of the Communist Party on the Lithuanian theater. Apparently in 1987 he didn’t think that three years hence everything would be turned upside down. Instead of praising Communism a change had to be made: to stand out and to pave his way to the parliament, Jews can always be accused of something. Anti-Semitism has always been popular in Lithuania at all times. In 2016 the learned professor was elected to parliament. At the end of this year there will be another parliamentary election and an opportunity for him to stand out by proposing a parliamentary resolution which releases Lithuania and Lithuanians of involvement in the Holocaust, for the murder of 95% of Jewish citizens of Lithuania who had lived as good neighbors with Lithuanians for over 400 years.

Condolences

In great sadness we report the death on January 15 of the long-time, active member of our community Vladimir Vakhman at the age of 77. He was born September 24, 1943, in Nazi-occupied Kiev. He only survived by being hidden until the Soviet army liberated the Ukrainian capital. Actually he didn’t see the light of day until then. Vakhman was well known to collectors and book lovers in Vilnius. Readers of Obzor know his translations from Lithuanian to Russian. Vladimir Vakhman will stay in our hearts forever as a conscientious fellow traveller who was always ready to help others. Our deepest condolences to his widow and children.

MP Behind Holocaust Resolution Claims He Was Misunderstood

MP Behind Holocaust Resolution Claims He Was Misunderstood

Lithuanian MP and chairman of the parliament’s Commission on the Fight for Freedom and Historical Memory Arūnas Gumuliauskas announced earlier he is drafting a parliamentary resolution saying the Lithuanian state and the Lithuanian people are guiltless in the mass murder of Jews during WWII. The announcement made in mid-December provoked public discussion and it seems the author, who said earlier Lithuania’s position on the Holocaust cannot be the same as the West’s, has changed his mind and is now citing resolutions adopted by the European Parliament in 2009 and 2019 as the foundation for his resolution.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky refrained from any categorical comment on the planned resolution because of the lack of information surrounding it.

“We only know about this draft from the press, so it’s very difficult to judge it, because we just don’t what it really says,” Kukliansky told alfa.lt

Lithuanian Jews Concerned over Possible Holocaust Legislation

Lithuanian Jews Concerned over Possible Holocaust Legislation

Photo: Adam Jones/Wikimedia

Lithuanian Government “shares concerns” of Jewish community over proposed Holocaust law

Lithuania’s Jewish community and members of the expatriate Lithuanian Jewish community in Israel have expressed serious concern about possible legislation in the parliament in Vilnius which would declare the Lithuanian state and people didn’t collaborate in the murder of Jews during the Holocaust.

Member of Lithuanian parliament Arūnas Gumuliauskas and chairman of its State Historical Memory Committee said last month he would propose legislation declaring the Lithuanian state didn’t participate in the murder of Jews because it was an occupied nation, first by the Soviet Union and then by Nazi Germany.

The parliamentary draft resolution has not yet been submitted to the parliament. The parliament goes into recess this Wednesday.

Gumuliauskas’s resolution, which he said was being prepared by the committee, would also claim the Lithuanian people could not have participated in the murder of Jews since Lithuanians were “an enslaved people” during World War II.

Full article here.

National Museum, Street Sign Vandalized over New Year’s Holiday

National Museum, Street Sign Vandalized over New Year’s Holiday

Some Lithuanians didn’t spend New Year’s Day recovering from the previous evening’s festivities and took to the streets to vandalize a street sign and the National Museum in an attempt to rehabilitate Lithuania’s leading World War II-era Nazi ideologue and activist Kazys Škirpa.

On January 1, 2020, vandals placed an adhesive sticker over the street sign for Vilnius’s small central Trispalvė (Tricolor) Alley proclaiming it K. Škirpa Alley, the name it had for a decade until the Vilnius city council changed it early last year in response to repeated requests over many years. The reason the street caused controversy was that Škirpa was the leading Lithuanian Nazi ideologue based in Berlin who created the Lithuanian Activist Front, notorious in the Holocaust in Lithuania, and its governing organ, the Lithuanian Provisional Government, with Škirpa appointing himself tin-pot dictator or “prime minister” of the pro-Nazi government in exile, the pro-Nazi underground in what was now Soviet Lithuania and the “prime minister” of a future semi-independent pro-Nazi Lithuania liberated by Nazi Germany and a belligerent fighting on the side of the Axis in World War II.

Škirpa’s proponents prefer to ignore all that messy stuff about World War II and the Holocaust and point instead to his one non-controversial action: on January 1, 1919, he and a group of Lithuanian volunteer soldiers hauled the newly-created Lithuanian flag, the tricolor, up Gediminas Hill, at the base of which the alley in question lies. It would be the moral equivalent of modern Germany erecting a sign proclaiming Alexanderplatz is now Adolf-Hitler-Platz to honor Adolf’s status as a German World War I veteran, never mind what came later. In fact the Vilnius city council in an act of very precedented obsequiousness did allow Škirpa’s apologists and would-be rehabilitators to post a plaque under the new street sign, Tricolor Alley, whitewashing Škirpa’s real biography in favor of his imaginary status as Lithuanian hero. A small group of picketers also held signs on January 1, 2020, reading: “Tauta savo didvyrius žino!” or, “The nation knows who its heroes are!”

Vilnius city administration director Povilas Poderskis told Baltic News Service the sticker was removed Thursday, January 2, and said the incident would be reported to police as an act of vandalism.

Reconstruction of Sports Palace Agreed, First Event Scheduled in 2023

Reconstruction of Sports Palace Agreed, First Event Scheduled in 2023

Press release, lrytas.lt

Representatives and technical coordinators from Lithuania’s Turto Bankas, which administers and maintains real estate belonging to the state, the Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe have arrived at joint solutions for renovating Vilnius’s Palace of Sports as a conference and cultural venue and preserving the territory of the old Šnipiškės Jewish cemetery which surrounds the building.

The reached basic agreement on solutions for reconstruction and maintaining the cemetery territory.

The decisions made regarding the technical project are based on a protocol signed by Lithuanian Government and the Lithuanian Jewish Community in 2009 on heritage protection for the site and a buffer zone and on reconstructing the former sports arena for conferences and other cultural events. The Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe approved the protocol in 2016.

How a Geologist Dug Up Historical Findings

How a Geologist Dug Up Historical Findings

by Arkadijus Vinokuras, translated by Geoff Vasil

Lithuania’s Genocide Center has published another finding of alleged historic dimensions, transforming Nazi collaborator Jonas Noreika into a Righteous Gentile who rescued Jews from the Holocaust. The story goes, he organized a network for rescuing Jews from the Šiauliai ghetto. How many professional historians did it take, after long discussion and examination of the facts, witnesses and circumstance, to come to this stunning conclusion exactly on Christmas Eve? One. And he’s not an historian, he’s a geologist working as a public relations expert.

What do the professional historians say about this finding (it was written based on testimony by the Catholic priest Jonas Borevičius to a court in the United States)? Director and senior academic of the Lithuanian History Institute, doctor habil. of the liberal arts Alvydas Nikžentaitis and Vilnius University History Faculty professor Dr. Nerijus Šepetys appear to hold the same opinion: if this were a student’s work, it wouldn’t weather critique and would receive a very poor grade indeed. It’s appalling the director of the Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of Residents of Lithuania signed off on the finding.

Before I go further, I’d like to remind my detractors as well as proponents I have never, neither in writing or orally, demeaned Jonas Noreika’s nor Kazys Škirpa’s devotion to Lithuania from 1941 to 1944. If real, reliable documentary evidence were discovered demonstrating I have made a mistake, for example, regarding Jonas Noreika, I would change my mind. My criticism was and is directed against the criteria for heroization by which the Genocide Center facilely lionizes those who are tainted with the persecution of their Jewish fellow citizens.

Lithuanian Parliament Hosts Photo Exhibit “Brave Jews in the Battle for Lithuanian Freedom”

Lithuanian Parliament Hosts Photo Exhibit “Brave Jews in the Battle for Lithuanian Freedom”

The Lithuanian parliament is hosting a photo exhibit called “Brave Jews of the Battle for Lithuanian Freedom” in its exihibt space from January 2 to 15. The photo exhibit chronicles Lithuanian Jewish veterans who fought for Lithuanian independence in the run-up to the first republic in 1919, including a large number of officers, recipients of military awards and those who laid down their lives for the new state.

The Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Vytis Support Fund organized the photo exhibit. It was inspired by a similar exhibit at Yad Vashem on Austrian Jewish military heroes.

Anniversaries of Vilna Gaon and Marija Gimbutas Included on UNESCO List

Anniversaries of Vilna Gaon and Marija Gimbutas Included on UNESCO List

The anniversaries of two people from Lithuania have been put on the UNESCO list of anniversaries for 2020-2021, the Lithuanian National Commission for UNESCO said.

2020 will mark the 300th anniversary of Rabbi Elijah ben Solomon Zalman (1720-1797), the Gaon of Vilna.

The inclusion of this anniversary was backed by Belarus, Poland, the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, the UK-based Institute for Polish-Jewish Studies, the Lithuanian commission said.

2021 will mark the 100th anniversary of Marija Birutė Alseikaitė-Gimbutienė (aka Marija Gimbutas, 1921-1994), the Lithuanian archeologist, anthropologist and archeomythology pioneer. The inclusion of this anniversary was backed by Latvia, Germany and the Alumni Association of Pacific University.

In exchange, Lithuania backed the inclusions of other anniversaries into the UNESCO list.

In all, the UNESCO list of anniversaries for 2020–2021 includes people with achievements in the fields of culture, education and science from 59 countries.

Old Argument Lithuania Guiltless in Holocaust Rehashed

Old Argument Lithuania Guiltless in Holocaust Rehashed

A Lithuanian MP announced December 16 he would draft and submit legislation for a parliamentary resolution declaring the Lithuanian nation or people and the Lithuanian state were not complicit in the Holocaust, since Lithuania was occupied by Nazi Germany at the time upwards of 96% of all Lithuanian Jews were exterminated, mainly at the hands of ethnic Lithuanians.

Arūnas Gumuliauskas, chairman of the parliament’s Commission on Battles for Freedom and State Historical Memory, allegedly announced his intention to introduce the legislation at an event at the Lithuanian National Library.

A press report on Lithuania’s 15min.lt website said the idea was reminiscent of Poland’s recent law making it illegal to call Nazi death camps in Poland “Polish.” Gumuliauskas refused to disclose details of the language of the resolution, saying it hadn’t been written yet, and hinted he would not reveal either who his advisors were in writing the document.

It’s My Personal Affair What I Write, Orwellian Genocide Center Historian Claims to Lithuanian Media

It’s My Personal Affair What I Write, Orwellian Genocide Center Historian Claims to Lithuanian Media

Just when the roiling waters surrounding the Noreika controversy in Lithuania started settling, Lithuania’s Orwellian Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of Residents of Lithuania (abbreviated to Genocide Center among almost all vulgar mortals) has stirred the pot yet again with a new “historical finding” exonerating the Holocaust perpetrator, whom they plainly stated was a Holocaust perpetrator in their earlier “findings.”

Based on a deposition and/or court testimony allegedly made in Chicago in 1984 or 1986 by a Lithuanian Jesuit, the latest finding by Lithuania’s state-funded Holocaust distortion agency says Jonas Noreika set up a network of priests to smuggle Jews out of the Šiauliai ghetto to safety on the farms of sympathetic farmers, and that he was the leader of some mythical anti-Nazi underground resistance movement during the Nazi occupation of Lithuania.

Lithuanian Holocaust distorters in the past, including at the Genocide Center, have dismissed almost all Holocaust survivor testimony as hearsay which cannot be taken at face value without a deep review of the facts. Facts they claim only they are privy to. In actuality, when independent Holocaust researchers conducted studies on Noreika for Grant Gochin’s court case against the Genocide Center for the crime of Holocaust distortion and denial, the Center fired back on their website claiming Gochin’s research was amateurish and “might be” in violation of both the Lithuanian criminal code and the Lithuanian constitution. Gochin’s research, incidentally, turned up testimony by an eye-witness that Jonas Noreika as LAF commander in Žemaitija, the western region of Lithuania, directly issued the command to execute a group of over 1,000 Jews.

Statement by Lithuanian Jewish Community on Erroneous Information about Jonas Noreika Propagated by the Genocide Center

Statement by Lithuanian Jewish Community on Erroneous Information about Jonas Noreika Propagated by the Genocide Center

The Lithuanian Jewish Community strongly condemns irresponsible statements issuing from the Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of Residents of Lithuania leading the public into error in connection with the actions of Jonas Noreika as head of the Šiauliai district during World War II.

The statement Jonas Noreika “didn’t understand ghettos were one of the stages of the Holocaust” till the liquidation of the Žagarė ghetto is an example of Holocaust revisionism and denial, committed by a state-funded institution. So-called evidence presented allegedly showing Jonas Noreika organized the rescue of Jews is not based on any facts or testimonies by Holocaust survivors. Does the staff of the Genocide Center really want us to believe they have now found a way to interview Jonas Noreika himself, and can therefore state definitively what he “knew” and “when he knew it?”

Based on Noreika’s actions just in establishing ghettos and selling the property of murdered Jews alone, the Lithuanian Jewish Community states once again, that Jonas Noreika was a Holocaust perpetrator. The LJC reserves the right to take the Genocide Center to court and to seek other legal remedies regarding their on-going speculations on the Holocaust.

If the Genocide Center’s Finding on Noreika Were Student Work, It Would Get a Failing Grade

If the Genocide Center’s Finding on Noreika Were Student Work, It Would Get a Failing Grade

by Rūta Miškinytė, 15min.lt

Following the publication by the Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of Residents of Lithuania of a finding compiled by Dalius Egidijus Stancikas on Jonas Noreika’s alleged rescue of Jews from the Holocaust, Lithuanian historians have expressed dissatisfaction with the finding and its methodology. Lithuanian History Institute director Alvydas Nikžentaitis lambasted its uncritical acceptance of sources while Vilnius University History Faculty dean Nerijus Šepetys said the finding was a disgrace to the Genocide Center and highly mendacious.

The Genocide Center Wednesday published the finding claiming controversial figure Jonas Noreika Jonas Noreika engaged in rescuing Jews from the Holocaust and set up a network for doing this. The only piece of evidence offered was an oral testimony from Jesuit priest Jonas Borevičius published in the United States in 1986.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Property of Murdered Jews Cannot Be Shrugged Off

Property of Murdered Jews Cannot Be Shrugged Off

by Vytautas Bruveris

How should the state and its politicians act when they come across some sort of passionate, sensitive issue, or one which causes controversy: should they stick their heads in the sand, or nonetheless speak and discuss it?

It seems as if it’s a lot more useful and clever to talk. This seemingly self-evident matter, though, seems to be a mystery to almost the complete majority of Lithuania’s political elite.

This eternal truth was again confirmed last week at a conference held by the Lithuanian Jewish Community (LJC) and the Goodwill Foundation on restitution of Jewish property stolen during the Holocaust.

New Book by Dr. Aušra Pažėraitė

New Book by Dr. Aušra Pažėraitė

The publishing house of Vilnius University has published a new book called “Nesuk į kelią iš takelio. Lietuvos žydų religinės ir filosofinės minties paveldo trajektorijomis” [Don’t Quit the Path for the Road: Along the Trajectories of the Litvak Religious and Philosophical Thought Heritage]. The Lithuanian-language book contains extracts from the texts of the Vilna Gaon, Chaim of Volozhin, Grozdinsky, Israel Salanter and Emmanuel Levinas with commentaries.

Dr. Aušra Pažėraitė has written a bit about her book especially for the www.lzb.lt website:

“It has long been my dream to write a book talking about, examining and interpreting the heritage of Litvak religious and philosophical thinking. … [Among others,] another problem which arose was the time-period and the range of what Litvak means. I mean the problem of geographical boundaries in which we can look for the Litvak heritage, which has changed drastically over history, and it happens that the same historical figures are assigned to Lithuania’s, Poland’s and Russia’s legacy… So I chose a narrower problem, the Litvak-ness which is associated with religious tradition, historically connected with the Vilna Gaon and his circle of followers. So this allowed for choosing a specific perspective which would allow me to connect schools of thought otherwise hard to reconcile: the Western understanding of religion which is still forming in the modern period, which seems to so many people self-evident… i.e., between the written sacred texts and the oral texts, the traditional of passing traditions on orally. …”

The book is available at the Vilnius University bookstore, at the Versmė chain of bookshops and on the internet sites patogupirkti.lt, knygos.lt and humanitas.lt

Soviet Dissident Natan Sharansky Named 2020 Genesis Prize Recipient

Soviet Dissident Natan Sharansky Named 2020 Genesis Prize Recipient

Photo: Natan Sharansky, a Soviet refusenik and Israeli lawmaker, was named the 2020 Genesis Prize laureate. (Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

by Laura E. Adkins

NEW YORK (JTA)–The Genesis Prize Foundation has announced that Natan Sharansky, a Jewish refusenik, prolific leader in the Soviet Jewry emigration movement and former Israeli politician, will be awarded the 2020 Genesis Prize.

The Genesis Prize, dubbed the “Jewish Nobel,” was started in 2013 and is financed through a permanent $100 million endowment. The annual award honors “extraordinary individuals for their outstanding professional achievement, contribution to humanity and commitment to Jewish values.”

Sharansky was selected to honor “his extraordinary lifelong struggle for political and religious freedoms, emphasizing the relevance of his work in today’s world,” the Genesis Prize Foundation said in a news release.