History of the Jews in Lithuania

Jerusalemites: An Interview with Dr. Efraim Zuroff

Jerusalemites: An Interview with Dr. Efraim Zuroff

An occasional series of interviews with notable veterans or more recent olim who have chosen to make their homes in Jerusalem.

by David Olivestone

Dr. Efraim Zuroff is director of the Israel office and chief Nazi hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center which is based in Los Angeles. He has dedicated his life to tracking down and bringing Nazi war criminals and their collaborators to trial. The author of four books translated into 15 languages he is an imposing, warm and vibrant man with an extraordinary memory for names, numbers, dates, facts, places and, of course, history.

Surely no one grows up thinking “I’m going to be a Nazi hunter”. What else might have you become?

I was always tall, so as a kid my fantasy was to be the first Orthodox Jewish professional basketball player. I was on the teams both in high school and in college, but I wasn’t anywhere near good enough, nor could I have remained frum if I had tried to follow my dream. But basketball is still a passion of mine, and I’m a fan and go to Hapoel Yerushalayim games.

What’s your family background?

News from the Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community

News from the Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community

As summer came to a close, members of the Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community travelled to Joniškis to see the synagogues there on August 22. Joniškis features two brick-and-mortar synagogues in its town center, built in the 19th century, the White and Red Synagogues. The White Synagogue was used in winter and the Red in summer. The restored synagogues have become a cultural attraction and a symbol of the city.

The interior of the Red Synagogue was recreated and restored with ceiling decorations, painted walls and the aron kodesh where the Torah scrolls were kept. Currently the synagogue houses an exhibit called “The History and Culture of the Jews of the Joniškis Region” which teaches the history of the Joniškis Jewish community before the Holocaust. The White Synagogue is hosting an exhibit using modern museum techniques to show the development of the town of Joniškis and important moments in its history.

After visiting the synagogues, members of the Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community also visited Stonys’s dairy farm where they learned how cheese is made, how different cheeses are produced at the local farm and sampled the farm’s products.

Israel Cohen’s Vilna Translated to Lithuanian

Israel Cohen’s Vilna Translated to Lithuanian

by Olga Ugriumova, Lithuanian Radio and Television Russian service

Vilnius publishing house Hubris has published a Lithuanian translation of British writer and early proponent of Zionism Israel Cohen’s book “Vilna.” The author was born in London to a family of Jewish immigrants from Poland. He worked as a correspondent for the Times and the Manchester Guardian in Berlin, and also collaborated with Manchester Evening Chronicle and Jewish World, among many other publications. The book “Vilna” was first published in 1943 by the Jewish Publication Society of America as part of their Jewish Community Series showcasing Jewish communities in various countries for English speakers.

Full article in Russian here.

Publisher’s page here.

Litvak Cultural Forum to Bring Together Culture and History Lovers in Kaunas

Litvak Cultural Forum to Bring Together Culture and History Lovers in Kaunas

Culture enthusiasts are invited to the first Litvak Cultural Forum on September 29 and 30 at the Great Hall at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas. The “Office of Memory” event within the Kaunas Capital of European Culture 2022 program includes a diverse events program at locations around the city.

Academics, historians, museum and education specialists, people from the world of art and members of different communities–the forum will bring them all together. Many of the visitors will be travelling to the land of their parents, grandparents and ancestors for the first time in their lives to attend the forum asking the vital question of what it means to be a Litvak. The forum’s other axis addresses culture and art as the key to history and commemoration as a path to a better future fostering openness and dialogue.

Office of Memory curator Daiva Price says the forum summarizes efforts and projects under the Kaunas 2022 program which have been going on since 2017.

New Documentary Examines Murder of Jews by Latvians and Lithuanians in the Holocaust

New Documentary Examines Murder of Jews by Latvians and Lithuanians in the Holocaust

Photo: Arūnas Bubnys, director Lithuania’s Orwellian-named Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of Residents of Lithuania, speaks at a right-wing rally on June 23, 2020, against a backdrop of Lithuanian Nazis Jonas Noreika and Kazys Škirpa. Photo courtesy Dovid Katz.

by Alan Zeitlin

In one scene from the powerful and horrific documentary Baltic Truth, Riga ghetto survivor Marger Vesterman plays the piano to the tune of a song created in the ghetto. He then recalls what the words were: “If you survive, no one has to remind you that you have responsibilities.”

The chilling documentary reminds us that it was not only Nazis who massacred Jews. In this case, Latvians and Lithuanians were all too eager to quench their thirst for Jewish blood, even if it meant shooting neighbors with whom they’d previously celebrated birthdays.

The searing documentary is narrated and hosted by Israeli singer Dudu Fisher. Fisher explains that his mother Miriam was born in Riga in 1932, and that if much of his family hadn’t moved to Mandatory Palestine, he would have been “among the millions of unborn Jewish children.”

News from the Kaunas Jewish Community

News from the Kaunas Jewish Community

Every summer members of the Kaunas Jewish Community travel together or separately and enjoy the warm weather and activities, but also visit many of the Holocaust memorials in Kaunas and throughout Lithuania. In August this kind of memorial pilgrimage took us to Prienai, Petrašiūnai and the Fourth Fort, and in early September to Ukmergė and Zapyškis where the “Symphony from the Jerusalem of the North” was performed in memory of the murdered residents of the shtetl and surrounding locations.

We find it keenly important that non-Jews and representatives from local municipal bodies are also involved in organizing these commemorations, and not just members of the Kaunas Jewish Community. They perceive the Holocaust as a shared tragedy, of all citizens, cities, towns and villages. Snapshots below.

Jewish Life in Kaunas before the Holocaust

An exhibit curated by Vilma Gradinskaitė, PhD, from the judaica collection of Michailas Duškesas called “A Window on Jewish Life in Kaunas before the Holocaust” is to open September 25 and run till December 15 at the Multicultural Center in Kaunas located at Šv. Gertrūdos street no. 58. The exhibit will be open to the public from 11:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M. on weekdays, and weekend tours can be accommodated as well by making prior arrangement by calling +370 698 19999 or by writing makabilita.duskes@gmail.com.

Reworking Trauma: Roma and Jewish History Research in the Baltic States and the USA

Reworking Trauma: Roma and Jewish History Research in the Baltic States and the USA

An international conference called “Reworking Trauma: Roma and Jewish History Research in the Baltic States and the USA” will be held at the Martynas Mažvydas National Library in Vilnius from 10:00 A.M. to around 5:00 P.M. on Tuesday, September 13. The goal of the conference is to take a closer look at the social, cultural and political mechanisms used by the Jewish and Roma communities to work through trauma experienced during the Holocaust and what significance these mechanisms hold now in the Baltic states and the United States. The national history narrative often lacks space for “small histories,” the memories and stories of marginalized and voiceless minority communities who suffered so gravely from the tragic events of the 20th century. The main goals are to educate the public on the history of the Roma and Jewish communities in our region, to support academic research in this field and to stimulate international academic cooperation in minority, memory and Holocaust studies.

Anthropologist and US Holocaust Museum researcher Krista Hegburg is one of the main speakers and honored guest. She will also speak at panel discussion at the Vilnius Museum at 6:30 P.M. on September 15.

Other speakers include Volha Bartash from Regensburg University, Dovilė Budrytė from Georgia Gwinnett College, Neringa Latvytė from the Vilna Gaon Jewish History Museum and Vilnius Univeristy, Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymnasium principal and psychologist Ruth Reches, Agnieška Avin from Vyautas Magnus University in Kaunas, Anna Pilarczyk-Palaitis from Vytautas Magnus and Eva-Liisa Roht-Yilmaz from Tartu University.

Program:

Holocaust Commemoration in Panevėžys

Holocaust Commemoration in Panevėžys

Dear reader,

You and your family members are invited to attend a ceremony to commemorate the Holocaust in Panevėžys on September 23, 2022.

Program:

1:00 P.M. Beginning of ceremony at the “Sad Jewish Mother” monument at the Old Jewish Cemetery in Panevėžys
1:30 P.M. Continuation of ceremony honoring Holocaust victims at Ghetto Gate monument
2:00 Participants will be ferried by bus to mass murder site in Kurganava forest
2:20 P.M. Ceremony to remember the victims at the Kurganava mass murder site (following which participants will be returned to Panevėžys by bus).

Ex Libris Exhibit

Ex Libris Exhibit

The Immanuel Kant Public Library in Klaipėda is hosting an exhibit of ex libris plates called “Traces of Jewish Culture” which opened September 2 and will run till September 20. Josef Šapiro was an avid collector and creator of ex libris graphics and once ran the world’s only ex libris museum inside the building housing the Lithuanian Jewish Community. His book plates and others will be on display for the public, touching upon a variety of topics, including the Jewish people in Lithuania.

Snapshots from European Days of Jewish Culture Events in Vilnius

Snapshots from European Days of Jewish Culture Events in Vilnius

Our annual series of events to mark the European Days of Jewish Culture saw a good turnout all day Sunday, which turned out to be sunny but framed by clouds. There was cantorial song at synagogue, a tour of Jewish Vilna, a panel discussion on echoes of Jewish culture in modern Lithuania’s cultural scene, we baked challa and slowly cooked the legendary floimen tsimes and there was singing, playing and dancing for all. For some snapshots from different events, concerts, workshops and lectures, see below.

Lithuanian President Receives Credentials of Ambassador from Israel

Lithuanian President Receives Credentials of Ambassador from Israel

Lithuanian president Gitanas Nausėda has received and accepted the credentials of Israeli ambassador Hadas Wittenberg Silverstein. The head of the Lithuanian state said he was happy with increasing connections between the Republic of Lithuania and Israel. The two discussed the future of possible bilateral relations with a focus on innovative research and technologies, education and tourism, and also military cooperation in the two countries’ respective defense industries. The Lithuanian president noted wonderful cooperation at international bodies and Lithuania’s support for better dialogue between Israel and the European Union. Lithuania and Israel this year celebrate 30 years of diplomatic relations.

Lithuanian Cinematographer and Cultural Expert Pranas Morkus Has Died

Lithuanian Cinematographer and Cultural Expert Pranas Morkus Has Died

The Lithuanian Jewish Community mourns the death of the famous Lithuanian filmmaker and cultural scientist Pranas Morkus (1938-2022) and we extend our most sincere and deepest condolences to his family members and friends.

Morkus was born February 18, 1938, in Klaipėda to the family of theater actress Galina Yatskevich. From 1955 to 1957 he was a student at the Lomonosov Philology Department of Moscow State University, and from 1957 to 1960 at the History and Philology Faculties of Vilnius University.

From 1962 to 1964 he was attended the highest-level courses for scriptwriters and directors in Moscow. He was a member of the Lithuanian Union of Cinematographers. From 1960 to 1962 he was editor-in-chief of radio theater for the Television Radio Committee of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic, and from 1968 to 1970 he served as editor-in-chief for the creative body Lietuvos Telefilmas.

A Cry to Heaven

A Cry to Heaven

Photo: Jewish nursery school in Plungė, Lithuania. Almost no Jewish children survived in Lithuania. Photo source: Screenshot from the documentary J’Accuse

Renowned cantors unite to give their voices to Baltic Truth premiere

There were very few survivors from Lithuania. In the villages, there were almost none. We know what happened in some locations because we have testimonies from some survivors.

Yakov Zak testified about the Lithuanian Holocaust: “The rabbi of Kelmė, Kalmen Benushevits, who had escaped to Vaiguva at the outbreak of the war, had been brought together with the Jews from Vaiguva. He had been forced to kneel next to the pit the entire day. He had quietly whispered a prayer, watching while the Jews were shot. After all the Jews were shot, he was shot as well.”

And:

“The mystic religious melodies of the yeshiva students, their rabbis and leaders were eternally silenced. The town was ruined down to the foundations; the Jewish community of Kelmė was ruined forever. Peasants also related that while the yeshiva students were being taken to be shot, they did not weep. Like stone statues, they moved slowly, with their eyes raised to the sky, murmuring prayers.”

Jerusalem of the North Orchestra Camp in Preila

Jerusalem of the North Orchestra Camp in Preila

The Jerusalem of the North Orchestra Camp for children and young people was held in Lithuania’s sea-side resort Preila over the summer with about 20 young people from music schools in Vilnius, Kaunas, Trakai, Šiauliai, Panevėžys and Klaipėda attending. They held daily repetitions, improvisational evenings and music-reading at the public library in Preila in the evenings. The final joint concert with the Vilnius St. Christopher’s Chamber Orchestra was performed August 25 at a church in nearby Nida, attended by parents, local residents, vacationers and others.

In addition to music, students learned dance from physical therapist, psychologist and dancer Kamile Pundziūtė; attended lessons on Litvak history, traditions and culture under the tutelage of Algirdas Davidavičius and went on cultural tours of the local area with historian, guide and writer Raimonda Meyer.

Lost Shtetl Museum Takes Part in Blue Family Picnic in Šeduva

Lost Shtetl Museum Takes Part in Blue Family Picnic in Šeduva

On the last weekend of summer we participated in the Blue Family Picnic which has been held in the Šeduva city park for seven years now. The Blue Family Picnic is intended to strengthen community, reduce social inequality and carry on family traditions.

We came up with all sorts of activities for attendees, including recognizing Jewish religious regalia, teaching them to write their names in Hebrew, a puzzle made up of period photographs of the town/shtetl, how to make traditional Sabbath challa and how to set the Sabbath table. Younger attendees made models of the shtetl, learned how to arrange food items on the plate for Passover seder and spun and taught other children to spin the dreidl. We treated everyone to traditional Litvak dishes as well.

So many friendly and eager to learn families came to the picnic. We wanted to share with them in a fun way the culture and traditions of the Jewish community of Šeduva and to remind them of the town’s not-so-distant past, the shtetl of Šeduva where Jews and Lithuanians lived peacefully together. Two special guests attended, two women from Šeduva for whom the shtetl isn’t lost in the mists of time. They spent their childhoods in the shtetl and have shared their memories with us numerous times.

Memory Stones Laid to Commemorate Rabinovitch Family

Memory Stones Laid to Commemorate Rabinovitch Family

The Lithuanian Human Rights Center is responsible for the laying of six new memory stones dedicated to the memory of the Rabinovitch family at Gedimino prospect nos. 37 and 46 in Vilnius.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky attended the unveiling ceremony and said: “Today I attended a very moving ceremony. Next to the buildings located at Gedimino prospect number 37 and number 46 six memory stones commemorating the Rabinovitch family were laid. They were murdered at Ponar. I am glad their memory and the memory of their relatives has come back to Vilnius. Thank you to the relatives who found the energy to preserve the memory of their loved ones and to travel to Vilnius for that purpose.”

European Days of Jewish Culture in Vilnius

European Days of Jewish Culture in Vilnius

This year will be the seventh the Lithuanian Jewish Community is holding events for the European Days of Jewish Culture. This year’s theme is renewal.

Renewal is woven into almost all aspects of Jewish life. Jewish life is continually building on the past in new ways, bringing a sense of constant change along with a reassuring sense of continuity. The Jewish New Year opens with the festivals of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. These holy days through their traditions and prayers present an opportunity to reflect on and acknowledge our past actions while looking ahead with new resolutions, optimism and determination. During this period we reconcile personal and communal differences within ourselves and with others as we actively strive to renew our aspirations for the coming year, and beyond.

We invite you to attend the events, all of which are free and open to the public.

Register here, space is limited.

Program:

Condolences

We extend our deepest condolences on the death of Polina Zingerienė at the age of 101 to her sons Markas and Emanuelis and her many friends and relatives.

She was born in Kaunas where she was graduated from high school. Her adolescence was cut short by World War II. She was imprisoned in the Kaunas ghetto and later sent to a concentration camp. After the Allies liberated the camp, Polina returned to Kaunas.

Her painful experiences and struggle to survive the Holocaust led her to go into medicine. She received in diploma in natal and developmental nursing. She worked in her field of medicine till the age of 76.

Dybbuk Exhibit in Jerusalem

Dybbuk Exhibit in Jerusalem

The Jerusalem Theater Archive and Museum is hosting an exhibit to mark the 100th anniversary of the staging of S. An-sky’s “Dybbuk” at the Habima Theater in Moscow. The exhibit opened August 8 at Hebrew University on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem, according to Birobaidzhaner Shtern.

An-sky’s “Dybbuk, or, Between Two Worlds” was written in Yiddish. The Moscow production was translated to Hebrew by Evgeny Vakhtangov and Haim-Nahman Bialik. The Vilner Troupe presented the play in Yiddish in Warsaw in 1920, directed by Dovid Herman. The Polish film “Dybbuk” directed by Michał Waszyński was shot in 1937 and marks the birth of Yiddish cinema. The Hebrew-language production in Moscow, however, is considered special because its success became a kind of calling card for Habima, which in turn eventually became the National Theater of Israel.

Full article in Yiddish here.