History of the Jews in Lithuania

Juvenishki Memorial, an Exhibit of Works by Simon Karczmar

The Dieveniškės School of Business and Technologies is inviting the public to attend a special event for the region and the nation, the opening of an exhibit of works by Simon Karczmar called “Juvenishki Memorial” at the school located at Geranionų street no. 42 in Dieveniškės, Lithuania, from 2:00 to 4:00 P.M. on October 23, 2018.

Simon Karczmar visited his grandfather in Dieveniškės, aka Juvenishki and aka Divenishok ca. 1908 where he discovered the life of the shtetl for the first time. He went on to pursue a career in art which he paid for by trading furs and lived in Warsaw and Paris. He joined the French resistance during World War II, found his surviving wife who had been sent to Auschwitz and they moved to Israel together, moving eventually to Montreal and then back to Israel. While in Canada and then later in Safed, Israel, Karczmar produced a series of works connected with his grandfather’s shtetl.

The exhibit will travel on from Dieveniškės to the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum in Vilnius later.

For more information, see the school’s facebook page here.

Righteous Gentile Vladas Varčikas Commemorated in Kaunas

The Juozas Naujalis Music Gymnasium in Kaunas has unveiled a plaque commemorating Righteous Gentile, teacher and famous violinist Vladas Varčikas, and has also created his portrait based on the memories of colleagues and those he rescued.

The Juozas Naujalis Music Gymnasium and the Kaunas Jewish Community commemorated Varčikas at the gymnasium where he worked as a teacher of violin from 1946 to 2008.

Varčikas isn’t just well known to the musical community, he’s also venerated in the Jewish community, as stated in the inscription on the plaque by the sculptor Gediminas Pašvenskas placed on the wall of the Chamber Hall of the gymnasium. The white marble plaque says he is a violinist, pedagogue and Righteous Gentile.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

LJC Invites Public to Express Solidarity with Holocaust Victims

The Lithuanian Jewish Community has learned of a protest organized by the Vilnius Forum to stop the alleged tarnishing of Jonas Noreika’s name. They invited protesters to assemble at the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry just before noon on October 16.

The LJC reminds readers there is a plaque commemorating Jonas Noreika, aka General Vėtra, the organizer of the Šiauliai ghetto and the person in charge of isolating Jews there, right in central Vilnius erected apparently illegally in 1997, while only this year was a site announced for a future statue to Righteous Gentiles. We believe this lack of moral priorities is not in keeping with the spirit of a free, democratic and lawful state.

It is a great shame that 28 years after the restoration of Lithuanian independence, some still refuse to accept and admit the historical facts and to seek reconciliation.

The LJC appreciates the Lithuanian foreign minister’s position regarding the removal of the plaque commemorating Noreika and we encourage international Jewish organizations to express their opinion as well.

We also invite all sensible Lithuanian citizens to go to the Foreign Ministry and take part in an alternative meeting by the LJC, to become a voice for the 200,000 murdered Lithuanian Jews, and to again read out the names of the Lithuanian Jewish citizens imprisoned and murdered in the Šiauliai ghetto. Let’s not allow the lionization of people who contributed to the destruction of the Jews and the various excuses to overshadow the memory of the victims of the Holocaust and of those who saved Lithuania’s honor, the rescuers of Jews.

Those unable to come are invited to sign a petition for the immediate removal of the illegal plaque commemorating Jonas Noreika from the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences.

Remembering the Holocaust Victims in Švenčionys

The Lithuanian Jewish Community and residents of Švenčionys remember the victims of the Holocaust from this Lithuanian city at the Menorah statue in the city park October 7. Those who turned out for the event then went to the Švenčionėliai polygon [military reservation] mass murder site in the forest between Platumai village and Šalnaitis lake where about 8,000 Jews from around the Vilnius region were murdered.

The commemoration is always held on the first Wednesday in October by the Menorah statue in what was formerly the Jewish ghetto.

Švenčionys Jewish Community chairman Moshe Šapiro personally thanked all who arrived, especially those who travelled long distances. LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas, Beit Vilna [Association of Jews from Vilna and Vicinity in Israel] president Mickey Kantor and Polish ambassador to Lithuania Urszula Doroszewska attended the event, among others. Choral Synagogue cantor Shmuel Yatom performed the prayer.

Free Concert to Celebrate 30th Anniversary of Kaunas Jewish Community

The Kaunas State Philharmonic invites you to a unique concert dedicated to the 30th anniversary of the restoration of the Kaunas Jewish Community, “…from Mendelssohn to Latėnas…,” at 6:00 PM on October 22 at the Kaunas State Philharmonic.

Performances by the Klaipėda Chamber Orchestra (directed by Mindaugas Bačkus), Gabrielė Ašmontaitė (on harp), soloists Vilhelmas Čepinskis (violin), Stein Skjervold (baritone) and Mindaugas Bačkus (cello).

The concert is free.

Exhibit of Michailis Duškesas’s Document Collection

The third floor of the Lithuanian Jewish Community is now hosting an exhibit of documents to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the final destruction of the Vilnius ghetto. All of the documents relate to Vilnius and the people of the city, including Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski, Dr. Tsemakh Shabad, banker Israel Bunimovich, the businessman Isak Shuman and others. The documents are from around the world with the majority from Germany, the USA and Israel.

One interesting document appears in the first display case at the new exhibit. It carries the inscription in Russia “Proyekt ustava dukhovnogo obschestva Vilniuskoy sinagogi” and the date 1888. It was acquired in Israel and comes from the collection of Leizer Ran, a well-known collector of Judaica.

There are many photographs from various angles of the Great Synagogue and the Choral Synagogue.

Document collector Michailis Duškesas says he began collecting pre-Holocaust Lithuanian Jewish documents about 15 years ago, and began collecting stamps since about 1980. He has an extensive stamp collection from around the world featuring the game of ping pong. He says he’s constantly enlarging his Judaica collection and now has a great number of documents concerning Lithuanian cities and towns where Jews lived. His documents have been exhibited before at the Lithuanian parliament, the National M. K. Čiurlionis Art Museum and the Lithuanian Historical Presidential Palace in Kaunas. He says they have also been used in documentary films about Jewish life in Lithuania before the Holocaust.

Street in Šiauliai To Be Renamed after Prominent Jewish Family


Jakob, Dora and Haim Frenkel ca. 1893, Šiauliai. From the collection of the Aušra Museum.

The Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community learned October 4 the Šiauliai city municipality had decided to rename Elnio street after a famous local Jewish family, the Frenkels.

Haim Frenkel was a Jewish industrialist in Šiauliai.

The Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community would like to thank the city council for adopting their proposal so quickly, and singles out Zina Žuklijienė, Gintaras Karalevičius and Domas Griškevičius for special mention, as well as MP Stasys Tumėnas and his team of advisors, the politician Vytautas Juškas, the Aušra Museum, Laiptai Gallery director Janina Ališauskienė, Šiauliai Tourist Information Center director Rūta Stankuvienė and others.

The Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community believes this is a lesson in civics which will help restore historical justice to some extent.

Lithuanian Public Television Features Program about Litvaks

The Lithuanian Radio and Television television program Misija: Vilnija [Mission: Vilnius Region] about ethnic communities and minority cultures in Lithuania featured Litvaks as the program entered its fourth season at the beginning of October.

In the interview with Miša Jakobas, the principal of the Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymnasium in Vilnius, he remarked how much freer children have become in Lithuania, which he said has its plusses as well as minuses. He said he never sees students carrying books during breaks between classes anymore and that the current student body was born into a technological society they know better than his generation does. Hostess and interviewer Katažina Zvonkuvienė and Jakobas discussed the sense of loss and sadness in which the post-war generation of Lithuanian Jews lives and which is sometimes unperceived as such. They also talked about the role of the state in guaranteeing the rights of all ethnic communities in Lithuania and the multiethnic and interfaith composition of the Sholem Aleichem school’s student body.

Interviewed at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius, Vilnius Jewish Religious Community chairman Simas Levinas spoke about the glorious reputation for scholarship Jewish Vilna once had, and the slow path to drawing back more Jewish families to tradition and to restoring what existed before.

Sholem Aleichem Gymnasium Hebrew teacher Ruth Reches spoke about the durability of Jewish tradition in the face of assimilation. She said rather than grandparents passing on tradition to children, the reverse process seems to be at work now: children are learning Jewish traditions at school and teaching their parents.

Riva Portnaja, the chief chef and baker at the Bagel Shop Café, recalled her childhood in Žemaitija when keeping a kosher kitchen was the customary thing, and spoke about the great demand in Vilnius for Jewish cuisine among Lithuanians.

Condolences

Maestro Eugejijus Paulauskas whose 90th birthday we celebrated one year ago in the Jashca Heifetz Hall at the Lithuanian Jewish Community has passed away. He shared his memories with us then and we want to share some of ours about him as well. Paulauskas was a violin virtuoso and a wonderful teacher. The Lithuanian Jewish Community sends sincere condolences to his family for their loss.

Born September 6, 1927, Paulauskas began his musical career more than 70 years ago. The talented musician went on to become one of Lithuania’s most notable violinists. He began studying music in Šiauliai and completed violin class under professor J. Targonskis at the Vilnius Conservatory in 1949. Last year at the birthday celebration Eugenijus Paulauskas said: “My teachers were very good, all of them were Jewish. After all, the best violinists in the world are Jews because this is a talented people. Chamber music is one of the subtlest, most profound and most intellectual forms of music and performance. I am convinced no other genre of music has so many pearls, so many masterpieces, as the quartet does. All the musical geniuses compose quartets. These compositions are made in such a way that as you perform them you forget the musical fabric, the architectonics of form, because you enter into the very depths of emotion from which emerge as if cleansed, enlightened. This sort of rebirth isn’t something just we musicians need. Everyone who comes to a concert needs it,” the master violinist said.

Paulauskas’s solo concert activity was greatly limited by his deep engagement with the Lithuanian Quartet and his pedagogical work, which have become an important part of his activities. He had innate talent, the characteristics of a solo virtuoso which was developed very early, passion to perform and passion for communicating with people of all ages and experience in his audience. Paulauskas’s rich solo repertoire was dominated by music from the Baroque, classical and romantic ages. His performance on the violin was exquisite and full of style, and his duets were subtle. His violin duets with piano met with great approval from audiences and critical acclaim.

Rest in peace, Eugenijus Paulauskas, beloved and respected by all.

A Special Evening in Panevėžys

Professor Rita Aleknaitė-Bieliauskienė, formerly a resident of Panevėžys, invited the Panevėžys Jewish Community to attend an event to present her book “Iškilūs XX a. Lietuvos atlikėjai ir pedagogai Aleksandras Livontas ir Olga Šteinberg” [“Notable 20th Century Performers and Teachers Aleksandras Livontas iand Olga Šteinberg”], a screening of the documentary films “Žmogus su laiko žyme” [“Person Marked by Time”] and “Dainos galia” [“The Power of Song”] and a discussion of other remarkable 20th century performers and teachers. The professor’s book has real historical value, presenting the cultural inheritance and the past through contemporary eyes to readers. Not everyone is able to do this, but Rita Aleknaitė-Bieliauskienė has succeeded, as she always does. Panevėžys poet Elvyra Pažemeckaitė helped organize this cultural event.

It’s impossible to picture Lithuanian cultural life and the Lithuanian past without the Jewish contribution to cultural evolution. In her book the professor describes longevity in the words of the writer Grigory Kanovitch: the development of the individual begins with the number of books he’s read.

The Pharrajimos and the Shoah: The Uncomfortable Photography of Richard Schofield and Andrew Mikšys

by Agnė Narušytė

Two photography exhibits which don’t exist provoked me to write this article. One was supposed to open next week, but will not, and the other ran for just one day in a synagogue full of construction platforms. Neither artist was born in Lithuania but they live here now. Both exhibits concerned ethnic groups who were victims of the Holocaust: Jews and Roma.

British photo-journalist Richard Schoefeld came to Vilnius in 2001 and lived there until 2013 when he moved to Kaunas to work on a project connected with Litvaks. Since then Litvak culture has been his main theme. In 2015 he established the International Centre for Litvak Photography, an NGO which seeks to make Jewish history and culture topical and especially for young people to learn about Litvak culture using photography, art installations, workshops and other means. For several years now he has been trying to convince the intellectuals and government of Kaunas of the need to restore the Šančiai synagogue which is falling into ruin. He hasn’t succeeded.

So then Schofield drew up a list of about one hundred Lithuanian synagogues and set for himself the task of visiting each one. He hitchhiked for 12 days, kept a diary and used his mobile phone to record some of the people he met and the surviving and ruined synagogues. Only a very few had any signs of restoration work: bags of cement, bricks, tools. Many are simply falling down, although they are protected by the Lithuanian state as “monuments of great cultural, historical and architectural value.” As an example, the entry in his diary about the synagogue in Žemaičių Naumiestis reads: “Trees and bushes are growing in the middle of the building. Rays of sunlight shine through holes in the roof. Someone needed some flooring so they just stole it.”

An Evening to Remember Saulius Sondeckis and Simonas Alperavičius Z”L

The Destinies series of events invites you to come mark the 90th birthdays of the late Simonas Alperavičius and the maestro Saulius Sondeckis.

Program:

Discussions and recollections
Piano trip Musica Camerata Baltica
Screening of film “Aš kažkaip laimingas” (“I’m Happy Somehow,” 2014) by Berznitski and Gintarė Zakarauskaitė

Special television program “Svyatoslaw Belza Interviews Saulius Sondeckis”

6:00 P.M., October 18, Jascha Heifetz Hall, Lithuanian Jewish Community, Pylimo street no. 4, Vilnius

Initiated and moderated by Maša Grodnikienė

We will visit the graves of Saulius Sondeckis and Simonas Alperavičius, Z”L, in the morning on October 11.

Sukkot Celebration in Panevėžys

This year the Panevėžys Jewish Community and the Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community celebrated Sukkot together. According to tradition, during Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles (or more simply “tents”), everyone sets up a sukka, a booth or tent, together in which the ancient holiday associated with the annual harvest is celebrated. It recalls the sojourn of the Jews in Sinai when the people lived in tents. The usual practice is to make a sukka according to one’s means. This year in Panevėžys a buffet table stood next to the sukka featuring fruit and vegetables grown by community members. The main feature of the Sukkot table is the four species, the lulav, hadas, aravah and etrog, bound in palm fronds.

Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman said Sukkot is a continuation of the Jewish high holidays Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Many of the older participants spoke about how their families used to celebrate Sukkot when they were children. They used to make the sukka out of green wicker and put the table next to the sukka, where the whole family sat. The children received gifts rare at the time: bananas, oranges and tangerines. They also recalled the times of difficulty for the Jewish people when they wandered in the deserts of Sinai.

Maria Krupoves Performs Holocaust Commemoration Concert at LJC

Maria Krupoves performed Vilnius ghetto songs in Yiddish accompanied on piano by Artūras Anusauskas at the Jascha Heifetz Hall at the Lithuanian Jewish Community September 27. Krupoves holds a PhD and is a scholar and folklorist as well as an outstanding musician. A polyglot, her repertoire include songs from across Central and Eastern Europe sung in Yiddish, Polish, Lithuanian, Belarusian, Romani, Karaïte, Tartar and a number of other languages. Her performance this time included the songs Es is geven a sumer-tog; Vilne, Vilne, undzer heymshtot; Unter dayne vayse shtern; Zog nit keynmol and others.

Memory Stones Placed in Ukmergė Old Town

On September 24 two memory stones commemorating Holocaust victims were placed on the ground in Ukmergė (Vilkomir). The idea of memory stones is to remember victims of fascism where they lived and worked. One stone was set in the ground on Vasario 16 street near an athletics school where the Great Synagogue of Vilkomir once stood and is dedicated to Rabbi Josif Zusmanovitch. The second is at Kauno street no. 17, dedicated to the photographer Moshe Levi whose studio was located there.

Artūras Taicas, chairman of the Ukmergė Jewish Association, thanked the project organizers in the name of the entire Jewish community for remember the lost world of the Litvaks.

Vepriai primary school teachers Aldona Medonienė and Vitas Medonas, Lithuanian Human Rights Center reps Simona Gaidytė and Jūratė Juškaitė and Ukmergė Regional History Museum representative Jolanta Petraitytė also spoke at the ceremony to unveil the stones.

Remembering and Teaching the Holocaust in Panevėžys

The Panevėžys Jewish Community held an event to commemorate Holocaust victims with long-term community partners the Saulėtekis gymnasium, the J. Balčikonis school, the V. Žemkalnis school, the J. Miltinis gymnasium and the M. Rimkevičaitė school of business and services.

In the first part of the event teachers and students from the schools participated in a quiz about history, Jewish culture and the Holocaust. Many displayed a deep knowledge while others heard for the first time about the ghettos in Vilnius, Kaunas, Šiauliai, Panevėžys and other towns.

Next, participants presented posters they had made on the theme of “never again.” Teachers who head tolerance centers at their schools judged the pictures full of pain and suffering.

Every school was awarded prizes, trophies, thank-you letters and souvenirs for the knowledge, initiative, creativity, tolerance, bravery and artistry they displayed. Students from the Balčikonis school won the quiz.

Nechama Lifshitz Ensemble Commemorate Holocaust Victims in Vilnius

The Nechama Lifshitz Ensemble from Israel presents a creative evening to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust called “Heroism in the Face of Destruction. Testimonies,” directed by Regina Driker. The evening is dedicated to the heroes of the Vilnius ghetto. Passages from books, photographic documentation and songs of the ghetto in Yiddish (with Lithuanian translations). Performers: Gintaras Mikalauskas (actor, Lithuania), Gali Ben-Ari (vocalist, Israel), Roza Klein-Gofanovich (vocalist, Israel), Maksim Levinski (vocalist, Israel), Ada Pashaev (vocalist, Israel), Jana Yankovski (vocalist, Israel), Gregoriy Stolovich (multi-media), Regina Driker (pianist, director, playwright).

Time: 6:30 P.M., October 4, 2018
Location: Theater Hall, Vilnius University, Universiteto street no. 3, Vilnius.
Duration: ~one hour and thirty minutes

Vilnius City Council Member Wants Holocaust Perp Name Removed from Street

Mark Adam Harold, a member of the Vilnius city council, has sent a request and published it as an open letter to Povilas Poderskis, the director of administration for the municipality, calling for drafting and presenting to the council a measure to change the name of a controversial street in the Lithuanian capital.

Harold is calling for “Škirpos alėja,” or “Škirpa’s alley,” to be renamed “Vėliavos alėja,” or “Flag Alley.”

Kazys Škirpa, Lithuania’s military attaché to Nazi Germany, founded and led the Lithuanian Activists Front in Berlin in November, 1940. LAF cells inside Lithuania were formed and were later called upon by LAF leaders to ease the invasion of the Wehrmacht of what was then considered the western Soviet Union. LAF leaflets and missives also called for the murder of Lithuanian Jews.

On January 1, 1919, Škirpa and other Lithuanian volunteer soldiers raised the Lithuanian tricolor, the flag of the Republic of Lithuania, on top of the Tower of Gediminas on Gediminas Hill overlooking the center of Vilnius, the capital of the newly proclaimed state. Škirpa’s alley is located at the base of the same hill.

New Book Remembers Litvaks of Greater Kaunas Area

The Kaunas Regional Public Library Monday presented a new book written by multiple authors called “Žydai Pakaunėje” [Jews in the Area around Kaunas]. The collected writings were compiled by Dr. Inga Stepukonienė, a teacher at the Garliavos Jonučiai Gymnasium and associate professor at the Kaunas branch of Vilnius University.

Book authors, historians and members of the Jewish community attended the book launch.

Historical documents show Jews settled in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 14th century and numbered over a quarter million people by the 18th century.

Litvaks were considered hard-working, talented and creative. Many fought in Lithuania’s volunteer army and participated actively in national life. Interwar Lithuanian and Jewish politicians, scholars and writers forged a common vision for the new nation.

The book features many recollections. Most of the authors tackling the subject of Jewish life in the villages around Kaunas are local residents. Regional historian Antanas Vaičius is from Čekiškė, Algirdas Marazas of Kulautuva writes about Jewish life there and Garliava residents Inga Stepukonienė, Robertas Keturakis and Ovidijus Jurkša pay tribute to the history of the Jews of Garliava.

Some Litvaks from the area around Kaunas even achieved world renown: Leiba and Estera Tile moved to America and became the adoptive parents of Louis Armstrong, aka the jazzman Satchmo.