History of the Jews in Lithuania

More Attacks on Lithuanian Jewish Community

More Attacks on Lithuanian Jewish Community

Last week two more attacks were made against the Lithuanian Jewish Community. A man in a mask with the help of an accomplice brazenly stole the Israeli flag flying above the entrance of the building in Vilnius, then took the flag to a nearby park and cut it up with a knife. He also apparently threatened a person there with the same knife, but didn’t wound that person. The next day someone broke a window at the Bagel Shop Café operated by the LJC in the same building as LJC headquarters.

Both incidents were recorded on security video which has been turned over to police.

The LJC expects law enforcement will take swift action to punish the criminals in light of the rising danger posed to Jews in the Lithuanian capital.

“What’s most discouraging isn’t the crimes themselves, but people’s apathy. In the video recording you can clearly see pedestrians passing by who stopped to look back at the crazed masked man but didn’t bother to call the police. There is more than one living eye-witness in our community who has personally experienced what tragic consequences can ensue from remaining passive while crimes are committed,” LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky commented.

Condolences

Jevgenija Feldman passed away on June 7. She was born in 1939. She was a member of the Klaipėda Jewish Community and a client of the Saul Kagan Welfare Center. Faina Kukliansky and the entire Lithuanian Jewish Community send our deepest condolences to her daughter Maja and all her family and friends.

Germany Bestows Award on Faina Kukliansky on D-Day

Germany Bestows Award on Faina Kukliansky on D-Day

Yesterday, on historic D-Day, “decision day” marking the entry of the western Allies into Nazi-occupied France and the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany, German ambassador to Lithuania Cornelius Zimmermann presented Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky the Order of Merit from the Federal Republic of Germany for her tireless work commemorating Lithuanian Holocaust victims and long-term efforts to unite the LJC including enhancing the organization’s role on the national and international level.

Ambassador Zimmermann presented the honor, saying Germany’s responsibility for the Holocaust will remain forever. He said the Holocaust was a barbaric crime against humanity which led to the death of 95% of the Lithuanian Jewish community. He also said the small Litvak community which survives plays an important role in Lithuanian political life and in the international community, thanks to the efforts of the exceptional person occupying the post of leadership at the LJC.

“I received this award truly not only because my parents were imprisoned in a ghetto and experienced other horrors of the Holocaust, along with other Lithuanian Jews. Their children are not presented medals because of that. I hope this award is an evaluation of preserving memory. I’m not the only person doing this, each of our communities in every region where they have been established are doing everything possible to maintain the old cemeteries and restore synagogues. Sometimes I’m asked why we are doing this if there are no Jews left in the towns anyway. In order to preserve their memory. We no longer possess our parents’ candelabra which every family had for lighting the Sabbath candles. The only thing we have left is memory and respect, and not just self-respect, but also that of the state of Germany which, despite the tragic lessons of history, today is a shining example in many regards. I truly cherish this award because it wasn’t presented to me personally but as an assessment of the work by the entire Jewish community,” chairwoman Kukliansky said, thanking the German president, ambassador Zimmermann and previous German ambassador to Lithuania Matthias Sohn.

Rafailas Karpis and Vilnius State Choir Take Audience on Musical Journey through Jewish History

Rafailas Karpis and Vilnius State Choir Take Audience on Musical Journey through Jewish History

On June 4 the St. Kotryna (aka Catherine) Church in Vilnius was the gathering place for LJC members, foreign embassy staff, members of the Christian community and friends from Israel who came to take in another Shalom Culture and Music Festival in which opera soloist Rafailas Karpis, the Vilnius State Choir conducted by Artūras Dambrauskas, violinist Borisas Kirzneris and pianist Vincenzo de Martino performed an exceptional program of Jewish music with vocal works in Yiddish, Hebrew, Latin, English and Lithuanian, a musical journey through millennia of Jewish and Litvak history.

Art Exhibit at Kurkliai Wooden Synagogue

Art Exhibit at Kurkliai Wooden Synagogue

The recently-restored wooden synagogue in Kurkliai in the Anykščiai region recently opened its doors to the public again with an exhibit of paintings and graphic designs by Vytautas Kasiulis. The images were of different snapshots of Jewish life. The characters featured gracefully against a backdrop of town streets, natural scenes and indoors. The artist and his wife Bronė had donated the paintings to Lithuania in 2010. At the opening ceremony for the synagogue exhibition soloist Judita Leitaitė performed a concert. Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman and Panevėžys Jewish Community member Albertas Savinčius with his wife Virginija attended.

Kofman delivered a welcome speech and read written greetings from Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky.

There was a relatively large Jewish population in the village of Kurkliai in the early 20th century, exterminated during the Holocaust. The small village had had a population of about 90 Jews before that, and the Jewish community centered around the synagogue.

News from Panevėžys

News from Panevėžys

Former board member, poet, musician and chanson enthusiast Aleksandras Krasnačiarovas and wife Galina have made their customary visit to the Panevėžys Jewish Community.

The formerly long-time members of the Panevėžys Jewish Community now live near Tel Aviv in Israel. They shared memories about life in Panevėžys and told many fun stories from their time in Lithuania.

They also shared a lot of information about the situation in Israel. The married couple said they were glad they had found a relatively peaceful location in Israel to spend their retirement, but that Hamas is a continuing concern. They met their daughter Ekaterina in Panevėžys as well. She is a member of the Panevėžys Jewish Community executive board.

Aleksandras Krasnačiarovas has published five books of his poetry and donated editions of all five to the Panevėžys Jewish Community library. The pleasant trip down memory lane was complemented by Aleksandras singing Jewish songs with acoustic guitar.

Israeli Ambassador Visits Panevėžys

Israeli Ambassador Visits Panevėžys

Israel’s ambassador to Lithuania Hadas Wittenberg Silverstein visited the Panevėžys Jewish Community recently where she met with chairman Gennady Kofman and the board of directors. Kofman gave a brief sketch of the life and activities of the Panevėžys Jewish Community and showed the ambassador their archives including thousands of testimonies from Litvak who once lived in the city.

Kofman escorted the ambassador to the former yeshiva building there, the former market square, the Hera Torah synagogue, the Jewish cemetery and Memory Square with the monument Sad Jewish Mother. He told her as well about the JDC’s work in Lithuania between the two world wars and they laid a wreath at the marker showing the location of the former ghetto gate.

He also took her to the city hall where he introduced her to Panevėžys mayor Rytis Račkauskas. They discussed various forms of cooperation.

Following in Kanovitch’s Footsteps

Following in Kanovitch’s Footsteps

June 9 will mark the 95th birthday of late Litvak novelist Grigoriy Kanovitch. The Kaunas Jewish Community and the Palanga Jewish Community recently celebrated his memory with a procession and walking tour through Kanovitch’s native town Jonava with Jonava Regional History Museum guide Giedrė Konbtrimė. They visited the sites where the writer spent his childhood and youth. Felikas Paulauskas is also putting the finishing touches on an installation which should open in a few weeks in Jonava which will also present to the public of the inner worlds of the Litvak writer.

Remembering David Brenner

Remembering David Brenner

Viktor David Brenner (1871-1924) is probably best known as the artist responsible for the Lincoln one-cent coin design, the U.S. penny, but was also a versatile artist, sculptor and designer with many works to his credit. Back in 2016 late novelist and long-time director of the Vilna Gaon Museum Markas Zingeris spoke at the unveiling of a plaque commemorating Brenner in the latter’s home town Šiauliai saying the commemoration of the famous Litvak V. D. Brenner gave rise to wider thoughts on historical memory, identity, national traditions and culture.

There will be a commemoration at the commemorative plaque on the Šiauliai Bank building in Šiauliai at 12:00 noon on June 12, with plaque authors and creators Vaidotas Janulis and Jonas Nekrašius, with a musical interlude by violinists from a local music school.

At 5:30 P.M. the same day the Šiauliai Jewish Community at P. Višinskio street no. 24 will open an exhibit of reproductions of works by Brenner including coins, medallions and bas-reliefs from the collection of the M. K. Čiurlionis Museum, with a discussion over tea and coffee moderated by Jonas Nekrašius. Šiauliai Bank is sponsoring these events.

Safe Haven: Nazi Collaborators and the Failure of Justice

Safe Haven: Nazi Collaborators and the Failure of Justice

Dear friends,

Your final reminder about today’s Zoom event: Sunday, June 2, at 8:30 P.M. Israeli time (1:30 P.M. EDT).

Britain’s controversial 1991 War Crimes Act gave new powers to courts to try non-British citizens resident in the UK for war crimes committed during WWII. Despite the extensive investigative and legal work that followed and the expense of £11 million, it led to just one conviction.

Drawing on previously unavailable archival documents, Safe Haven considers for the first time why and how convictions failed to follow on the investigations, and why so many Nazi collaborators escaped justice and never even appeared in a criminal court. It provokes a timely reconsideration of the relationship between law, history and truth.

We will be joined by the book’s co-author Jon Silverman and a returning guest speaker for us, Dr. Efraim Zuroff, the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the director of its Israel Office and Eastern European affairs.

Jon Silverman is professor emeritus for media and criminal justice at the University of Bedfordshire. He’s a former BBC home affairs correspondent in which role he won the Sony Radio Journalist of the Year award for his coverage of the UK’s investigations into Nazi collaborators. He reported from both the Rwanda and Yugoslavia tribunals and has written extensively for journals on international war crimes justice, including the relationship between the International Criminal Court and Africa. He is the author of four books.

In his role at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Efraim Zuroff has discovered the escape destinations all over the world of more than 3,000 suspected Nazi war criminals and has facilitated the exposure and prosecution of dozens of them. The author of four books (translated into 15 languages) and more than 500 articles on Nazi-hunting, Holocaust history and contemporary Jewish life and identity, Zuroff is one of the leading spokesmen in the world on Holocaust-related issues.

Join us live on zoom:

Topic: Nazi Collaborators and the Failure of Justice
Time: June 2, 2024, 8:30 P.M. Israeli time/1:30 P.M. EDT

Join the zoom meeting here: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/9411014000?omn=81972506471
Meeting ID: 941 101 4000

Call for Volunteers to Clean Up Jewish Cemetery

Call for Volunteers to Clean Up Jewish Cemetery

You are invited to volunteer for what has become a beautiful tradition sponsored by the US embassy in Vilnius and various volunteers: to help maintain the old Jewish cemeteries in Lithuania. This time we’ll work on the old Jewish cemetery in the village of Turgeliai in the Šalčininkai region of Lithuania south of Vilnius.

Time: 10:00 A.M. to 1:00 P.M., Sunday, June 2
Place: Old Jewish cemetery in Turgeliai in the Šalčininkai region
Link: https://shorturl.at/QILlI

Everyone is invited to take part. Come show your respect and concern for the history of the Jews of Lithuania and for Lithuania. It’s a small sacrifice, only a few hours, and no heavy lifting is involved!

LJC Chairwoman Sends Thank-You Letter to Israeli Leaders for New Legislation Recognizing Diaspora Victims of Anti-Semitism

LJC Chairwoman Sends Thank-You Letter to Israeli Leaders for New Legislation Recognizing Diaspora Victims of Anti-Semitism

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky has sent thank-you letters to Israeli president Isaac Herzog, minister for Diaspora affairs and combating anti-Semitism Amichai Chikli and Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Hadas Wittenberg Silverstein for the Israeli Government’s recent resolution recognizing victims of anti-Semitism living in the Diaspora.

§§§

May 29, 202

On behalf of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, I extend our gratitude to the State of Israel for historic government resolution 492 which officially recognizes Jewish victims of anti-Semitic acts in the Diaspora.

This resolution carries huge importance, especially in these times when the Jewish people face increased anti-Semitism globally, exacerbated by the ongoing war between Israel and the brutal Hamas organization. Your leadership in spearheading this initiative assures us that the memories of those who suffered from anti-Semitism and hate crimes, targeted solely because of their Jewish identity, are honored, and thus solidarity among Jews worldwide is reinforced.

We sincerely appreciate the support of the State of Israel for its dedication to the welfare of Jews around the world. We strongly believe that these commitments strengthen the bonds within our global Jewish community and our resilience.

With sincere regards,

Faina Kukliansky, chairwoman
Lithuanian Jewish Community

Commemorating Dubingiai Shtetl

Commemorating Dubingiai Shtetl

An information stand commemorating the more than 100 pre-Holocaust Jewish residents of Dubingiai was unveiled in the town last weekend. The information stand is located where the synagogue once stood, and an outline of the synagogue on a transparent backdrop is the main feature of the stand. Next to the synagogue stood a mikvah, or ritual purification bath, and Jewish homes, some of which are still standing. One couple who lives in a former Jewish home there, Jolanta and Kastytis Žilinskis, financed the erection of the sign which was designed by historian Vaida Navickaitė. Other members of the local community also contributed financially and in other ways to making this small memorial possible.

“By taking this step, we contribute to keeping the memory of the Jews of Lithuania alive,” Navickaitė said at the unveiling ceremony.

Opera soloist Rafailas Karpis and pianist Darius Mažintas provided a musical component to the ceremony, invoking the atmosphere of shtetl life.

Jews of Šiauliai Celebrate Lag b’Omer

Jews of Šiauliai Celebrate Lag b’Omer

The Šiauliai Jewish Community celebrated Lag b’Omer in their backyards last Friday evening. Lag b’Omer is a Jewish holiday which is also called the day of bonfires, weddings and the cutting of children’s hair. Because it coincided with the Sabbath of Friday, Jewish residents of Šiauliai celebrated both together.

The men kindled and fueled the fire, other men cooked the meat and the women cooked the potatoes in aluminum foil. Later the celebrants broke bread, and the women lit the Sabbath candles praying for the health and strength of their children and loved ones.

The Šiauliai Jewish Community thanks everyone who participated and celebrated these holidays in common.

Shalom Culture and Music Festival Presents Wagon of Shoes

Shalom Culture and Music Festival Presents Wagon of Shoes

At 7:00 P.M. on June 4 the Shalom Culture and Music Festival presents a concert at the Church of St. Kotryna (aka St. Catherine) in Vilnius, with performances by opera soloist Rafailas Karpis, violinist Boris Kirzner and the Vilnius State Choir conducted by Artūras Dambrauskas. This will be the first performance in Lithuania of “Wagon of Shoes” by Lee Kesselman. The concert program is to include works by Jewish composers for solo and choir.

“Wagon of Shoes” is a work for choir, soloist, piano and violin by Lee Kesselman based on the poem by Abraham Sutzkever, Yiddish poet, Jewish partisan and survivor of the Vilnius ghetto. The Jewish composer lives in the USA and wrote the piece for the 700th anniversary of Vilnius under commission by the Lithuanian Consulate in Chicago and the Dainava Choir of the Lithuanian Community in Chicago. The premiere took place in June of 2022 in Chicago.

The Shalom Culture and Music Festival is being held in eleven Lithuanian cities and towns from May to October of 2024. The half-year tour will feature classical and contemporary music, klezmer, improvisational jazz, exhibitions and artistic activities. Musicians and singers from Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Ukraine, Germany and Israel will participate in the festival. This year’s festival program includes over 20 concerts in concert halls in Vilnius, Kaunas, Šiauliai and Palanga, the Old Zapyškis Church, synagogues in Alytus, Joniškis, Kėdainiai, Pakruojis and Žiežmariai and at the former Telšiai yeshiva.

Happy Birthday to Fania Brantsovskaya

Happy Birthday to Fania Brantsovskaya

Today we wish a very happy birthday to Fania Brantsovskaya, Vilnius ghetto inmate, Jewish partisan and living eye-witness to the Holocaust in Lithuania.

In the name of the entire Lithuanian Jewish Comuunity, chairwoman Faina Kukliansky extends our birthday greetings:

Dear Fania,

Your strength and tenacity in overcoming the most difficult obstacles and your passion in defense of the memory of Holocaust victims has become an example for all of us and inspire us to exert all efforts that future generations might learn the lessons of the past. We are so grateful to you for this, and wish you health, warmth, love and of course many more years to come.

Mazl tov! Bis 120!

Yom HaAtzmaut Today

Yom HaAtzmaut Today

Israeli celebrates its 76th birthday today on Israeli independence day, or Yom haAtzmaut. Israel’s Memorial Day or Yom haZikaron was marked Monday in Israel, the day of remembrance of all those who have fallen in defense of Israel, including Jewish partisans from Lithuania.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky issued a special greeting for the holiday:

“Today Israel marks Independence Day for the 76th time. It is darkened by the shadow of the lives of thousands of our dear people taken by the October 7 attack by Hamas terrorists and our thoughts for the 132 hostages still held in Gaza.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with them, the fallen soldiers and the victims to whose loved ones we send our deepest condolences and support.

LJC Invites Holocaust Survivors and Veterans to Commemoration Ceremony

LJC Invites Holocaust Survivors and Veterans to Commemoration Ceremony

Last Wednesday Lithuanian Jewish Community programs director Žana Skudovičienė invited so-called was children, now senior citizens, to a commemoration and celebration of the surrender of Nazi Germany to the Allies in 1945.

As in past years, the LJC invited Holocaust victims and our veterans to celebrate the end of the Holocaust in early May, on Victory Day, celebrated on May 8 and 9.

Participants lit candles in memory of the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust, the victims of Hamas’s attack on Israel on October 7 and in hope for the safe return of Hamas’s Israeli hostages.

Liba Britanishkina and Samuil Retznik, both now in their nineties but still extraordinarily active, and our centenarians Jewish partisan Fania Bratzovskaya and Aleksandr Asovski, were singled out for special attentions and presented gifts and flowers by LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky who visited them personally.