History of the Jews in Lithuania

Congratulations to Mindaugas Kvietkauskas, Lithuania’s New Minister of Culture

Congratulations to Mindaugas Kvietkauskas, Lithuania’s New Minister of Culture

The Lithuanian Jewish Community sincerely congratulates Dr. Mindaugas Kvietkauskas on his selection as Lithuania’s new minister of culture.

Dr. Kvietkauskas will be the first member of the Lithuanian Government to speak Yiddish in many years. Likely the last was Jewish affairs minister Jokūbas Vygodskis who left the post when the interwar Republic of Lithuania annulled official Jewish autonomy in the country.

Kvietkauskas has translated a number of Yiddish works into Lithuanian. After completing Lithuanian literature and language studies at Vilnius University, he studied at Oxford’s Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. He also acquired skills in Yiddish from Fania Brancovskaja, the Jewish partisan and Vilnius ghetto inmate.

Jewish Heritage Experts Agree Guidelines for Commemoration of Great Synagogue

Jewish Heritage Experts Agree Guidelines for Commemoration of Great Synagogue

At the behest of the Lithuanian Jewish Community an international Heritage Advisory Group consisting of renowned global experts on Jewish heritage was formed, including:

Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, advisor to the director and senior curator of main exhibits at the POLIN Polish Jewish History Museum; Assumpció Hosta, general secretary of the European Association for the Preservation and Promotion of Jewish Culture and Heritage (AEPJ); Sergey Kanovich, founder of the Maceva NGO and project manager of the Šeduva Jewish Memorial Fund; Lyudmila Sholokhova, PhD, director, YIVO archive and library; Sergey Kravtsov, senior research correspondent, Jewish Art Center, Hebrew University; the Lithuanian Jewish Community was represented by LJC heritage conservation specialist Martynas Užpelkis and architect and designer Victoria Sideraitė-Alon.

The expert group now has issued a set of recommended guidelines for the memorialization of the Great Synagogue of Vilna.

Since it is basically clear that attempts to rebuild the Great Synagogue would send a false message, they instead recommended emphasizing the uniqueness of the site’s history and its current state. Commemoration should pursue the objectives of conserving what remains and proper education. The project should focus on recovering and expressing the centrality and unique meaning of the site in Lithuanian Jewish history and memory.

Choral Synagogue in Vilnius Celebrates 115th Anniversary


Preliminary design

bernardinai.lt

Marija Rupeikienė on the webpage autc.lt writes: “It is a compact space something like a cube with a cupola, constructed of bright yellow bricks with two unplastered façades and a tin roof. The building has two storeys, a basement and three small one-storey side buildings in the corners. The floor plan isn’t standard, with a many-cornered outer shape with steps, with an elongated entrance-way, stairs built on protruding sides and auxiliary spaces: the second storey is surrounded on three sides by a gallery. The main façade on the north east side facing the street is plastered with horizontal indentations. The two-storey portion dominates with short one-storey side constructions hugging it. Protrusions mark the sides of the two-storey portion while an elongated entrance-way in the interior leads to a half-rounded ark with a triangular shield bearing an image of the Ten Commandments on inscribed on stone tablets.”

In 1899 the leadership of the synagogue acquired a plot of land on Zawalna, now Pylimo street.
In 1902 architect Dovid Rozenhaus drafted blueprints for the synagogue.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Choral Synagogue in Vilnius Celebrates 115th Birthday

Choral Synagogue in Vilnius Celebrates 115th Birthday

The Choral Synagogue was lit with festive lights December 16 as Rabbi Sholom Ber Krinksy and Vilnius Jewish Religious Community chairman Simas Levinas greeted Lithuanian Jewish Community members and guests to a celebration of the 115th anniversary of the founding of the synagogue.

Lithuanian poet, publicist and professor Tomas Venclova, Lithuanian essayist and film writer Pranas Morkus and other well-known figures attended the event.

Professor Donatas Katkus directed a concert by the Vilnius Chamber Orchestra at the birthday celebration.

A complicated early history of seeking permission from authorities to build what was called the Taharat HaKodesh synagogue finally led to the opening of the synagogue at its current location in 1903. Architect Dovid Rozenhaus designed the synagogue in the Moorish-Romanesque style. The only classical Vilnius Jewish synagogue to survive the Holocaust out of more than 110 Jewish houses of prayer operating in the city before the war, the Choral Synagogue became the focus of the post-war Vilnius Jewish community during Soviet times and remains so today.

Kaunas Jewish Community Chairman Gercas Žakas Recognized

Kaunas Jewish Community Chairman Gercas Žakas Recognized

Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas received the Lithuanian state’s award “For Merit” on International Tolerance Day. Dainius Babilas, the director of Kaunas’s Ethnic Cultures Center, called Žakas one of the most active members of the city working in the cultural and social activities of the ethnic communities, both as head of the Kaunas Jewish Community and as the leader of various projects.

Since taking the post as Kaunas Jewish Community chairman in 2000, Žakas has rallied many Jewish people, initiated dozens of cultural projects and educated people on the history of Lithuanian Jews and the Jewish legacy during public events. Thanks to his resolution and consistency, the city of Kaunas remembers so many of its famous citizens who have made major contributions to Lithuania and humanity.

The newspaper Kauno diena has published an article in Lithuanian about Gercas Žakas and his work, available here.

Birthday Party Invitation

You are invited to come celebrate the 115th anniversary of the opening of the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius at 2:00 P.M. on December 16 at the synagogue, located at Pylimo street no. 39. The celebration is to include a concert by the Vilnius Chamber Orchestra conducted by Donatas Katkus, birthday greetings and a buffet.

Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community Celebrates 30th Anniversary

Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community Celebrates 30th Anniversary

The Polifonija music auditorium hosted a concert December 3 held to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the restoration of the Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community.

Most of our current members responded 30 years ago to an invitation published in the newspaper Šiaulių naujienos to attend a meeting of the Sąjūdis initiative group [Lithuanian independence movement] at the Planning Institute. About 100 Jewish residents of Šiauliai attended and the Šiauliai Jewish community was reconstituted, including the Jews of the region and formally called the Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community, the successor organization to the formerly large Šiauliai City Jewish Community which ceased functioning in 1941.

Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community chairman Naumas Gleizeris began the evening by welcoming and greeting the audience on Hanukkah and the 30th birthday of the organization. He thanked all guests for spending the evening with Community members.

Linas Adomaitis: Kaunas is Full of Culture, Full of Intelligence


Virginija Vitkienė next to Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas

Culture is a wide open door. It is a journey to one’s self. It is also a person’s relationship with another person. This week the team of “Kaunas, Cultural Capital of Europe 2022” invited residents of the city and region of Kaunas, friends and partners to get to know the city better during an open-door day. “This is not the first but the fourth year of the team. For two years we prepared, and for the other two we acted,” Kaunas 2022 director Virginija Vitkienė said. Several weeks ago Kaunas residents visited Brussels where they met with representatives of the European Commission supervising and assessing the activities of the European cultural capitals. Vitkienė said this was the first check-up on their activities and there will be three in total in the run-up to 2022.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Mission: Lithuanian Jewish Citizens. Siberia

Mission: Lithuanian Jewish Citizens. Siberia

On December 4 the Lithuanian Jewish Community hosted a meeting/lecture/discussion and exhibition opening called “Mission: Lithuanian Jewish Citizens. Siberia” dedicated to discussing the deportations from Lithuania in June of 1941. Usually the official accounts of the deportations seem to suppress the multi-ethnic composition of deportees and the diversity of their positions and beliefs. The only thing uniting all the deportees was the fact they were considered undesirable by the new occupational regime.

The event was organized by the Vilnius Jewish Public Library and the Jakovas Bunka welfare and support fund. The photographic exhibition contained pictures of graves in Siberia, including those of Jewish, Polish, Russian and Lithuanian deportees. The photos came from the collections of the Lithuanian National Library, the Center for the Research of the Genocide and Resistance of Residents of Lithuania, the photographer Gintautas Alekna and Dalia Kazlauskienė, the widow of photographer Juozas Kazlauskas. The project received support from the Department of Ethnic Minorities under the Lithuanian Government.

LJC board member Daumantas Levas Todesas, Vilnius Jewish Public Library director Žilvinas Beliauskas and Department of Ethnic Minorities director Dr. Vida Montvydaitė spoke to the topic at the event.

New Book about Jewish Street in Vilnius

New Book about Jewish Street in Vilnius

A new book about Jewish Street in Vilnius by Aelita Ambrulevičiūtė, Gintė Konstantinavičiūtė and Giedrė Polkaitė-Petkevičienė was launched at the Paviljonas Book Weekend in Vilnius. “Prabilę namai. Žydų gatvės kasdienybė XIX-XX a. (iki 1940 m.)” [with the English subtitle/translation “Houses That Talk: Everyday Life in Žydų Street in the 19th-20th Century (up to 1940)” provided below the Lithuanian title on the cover] was published by the Aukso žuvys publishing house and comprises a kind of guide to the street, detailing the Great Synagogue, the Strashun Library, the house of the Vilna Gaon and the market and restaurants which operated there.

Lithuanian historian Aureljus Gieda presented the book and said it contains 166 illustrations of life in 14 buildings, 5 of which survive. He said the book has an index of names and extensive footnotes.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Film: The Called — Judaism in Lithuania

Film: The Called — Judaism in Lithuania

“Pašauktieji” [“The Called”] is a set of six documentaries about religious faiths in Lithuania by the Vilniaus Medija group. The premiere of the third documentary film about Judaism in Lithuania “Juaidzmas Lietuvoje” [“Judaism in Lithuania”] coincides with the 115th anniversary of the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius.

Looking Back at 30 Years of Hanukkah Celebrations

Looking Back at 30 Years of Hanukkah Celebrations

Maša Grodnikienė recalled for us the first Hanukkah celebration by the constituent Lithuanian Jewish Community back in 1988.

Lithuanian Jews who survived World War II celebrated Hanukkah quietly at home. In 1987 the Lithuanian Jewish Cultural Association formed and Emanuelis Zingeris became chairman.

On December 4, 1988, Lithuanian Jews came together and collected funds for a shared Hanukkah celebration. This was a memorable holiday in Vilnius, a big event with a beautiful group of people at the Dainava restaurant. Yiddish was spoken and sung. The cultural events group of the Lithuanian Jewish Cultural Association drafted the program and organized the event. The Fayerlakh Jewish ensemble with directors Griša Kravecas and Ana Kravec performed, as did the ethnographic ensemble conducted by Amos Traub and the Kaunas Jewish stage ensemble. Chaimas Gurvičius directed the concert. About 370 people attended. Chairman of the board of the Lithuanian Cultural Fund Česlovas Kudaba greeted the audience, and deputy chairman Tarvydas also took part. This was a grand Hanukkah evening celebration with a concert and speeches.

Remember what that time was like in Lithuania–the independence movement Sąjūdis had formed and Lithuanian Jews from different cities and towns came together and were part of Sąjūdis. Everyone was exhilarated, excited, happy that finally with the national rebirth of Lithuania the Jews of Lithuania could celebrate together that great holiday of the triumph of the spirit, Hanukkah. The majority sought to attend, there weren’t enough places and it was impossible to get in. At that time there were 17,000 Jews living in Lithuania.

So Close to the Holocaust…but So Innocent

So Close to the Holocaust…but So Innocent

by Grant Arthur Gochin

On November 24, 2018 the German Government announced they will charge a 95 year old man with 36,000 counts of accessory to murder during his “service” as a guard at the Mauthausen Concentration Camp. Guards at concentration camps participated in murders of Jews, that was part of their job.

German courts convicted Oskar Groening, an accountant at Auschwitz, and Reinhold Hanning, a former SS guard at the same camp, for complicity in mass murder. This month, November 2018, a former Nazi concentration camp guard, Johann Rehbogen, has been placed on trial in Muenster, Germany, accused of complicity in mass murder at the Stutthof concentration camp. Germany is working to punish the last remaining Holocaust perpetrators for their crimes against humanity.

The genocide of Lithuanian Jews had already been largely completed by January 1942, when Germany formally followed the same path as Lithuania at the Wannsee Conference; to now also commit genocide of Jews throughout Europe. Both Lithuania and Germany were intent on murdering Jews.

Full editorial here.

Opening of Exhibit “Mission: Lithuanian Citizens. Siberia”

Opening of Exhibit “Mission: Lithuanian Citizens. Siberia”

The Lithuanian Jewish Community invites you to come to a meeting/lecture/discussion/exhibit opening at 6:00 P.M. on December 4. The LJC is located at Pylimo street no. 4 in Vilnius. The “Mission: Lithuanian Citizens. Siberia” event is dedicated to discussing the deportations from Lithuania in June of 1941. The official telling of the story of the deportations often seems to exclude the multi-ethnic nature of the deportees and their diversity of views and beliefs. They were only united in the fact the occupational regime which swept into power didn’t approve of them.

Dr. Violeta Davoliūtė will give a presentation based on her research. LJC board member Daumantas Todesas, Vilnius Jewish Public Library director Žilvinas Beliauskas and Lithuanian Department of Ethnic Minorities director Dr. Vida Montvydaitė will also speak on the topic of the event.

An exhibit of photographs will officially open at the same time.

Conference “Remarkable Women of the Panevėžys Region”

Conference “Remarkable Women of the Panevėžys Region”

Acting Panevėžys mayor Petras Luomanas welcomed speakers and audience to the conference, saying: “It is very significant that we are now for the second time holding a conference in which we remember the remarkable women of our region whose contributions to culture, education, health-care, industry and other areas of endeavor in Panevėžys and throughout Lithuania have been gigantic.” Library director Loreta Breskienė spoke her library’s activities and “Lithuania’s Greats,” an exhibit of hand-sewn flags there. The author of the exhibit is Sofija Kanaverskytė, an artist and former resident of Panevėžys who did scenography at the J. Miltinis Drama Theater there.

The main topic of Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman’s presentation was historical information about the activities of notable Jewish women of Panevėžys till 1940. He said many of the Jewish women are little-known, including sculptress Marija Dilon, the businesswomen Ana Kisina and Lėja Chazanienė, social activist and doctor Ana Merienė, Panevėžys Jewish Hospital doctors Mirijam Todesaitė-Blatienė and Zinaida Kukliansky and the dentists Vera Dembienė, Golda Izraelienė, Liuba Gurevičienė and Chasjė Feigelienė. Much more widely known was the Jewish women’s Esperanto organization in the city of Panevėžys, whose members included Ana Grinberg, daughter of Rabbi Abraham Grinberg.

Kofman said the topic of notable Jewish women has been neglected in Panevėžys as it has throughout Lithuania. Many write about men and their contributions, while women remain on the margins. He said this conference was a very good idea and should serve to foster a more tolerant attitude towards life and history.

Conference participants included deputy director of the Panevėžys city administration for educational affairs Sandra Jakštienė, Panevėžys Regional History Museum director Arūnas Astramskis, principals and teachers of the gymnasia in Panevėžys and other professionals working in education in the city. Nine presentations were given, including by Panevėžys College library director Vilija Raubienė, Panevėžys District G. Petkevičaitė-Bitė Public Library librarian Albina Saladūnaitė, regional history expert from Šiauliai Irena Dambrauskaitė-Rudzinskienė, director of the Kalba Knyga Kūryba Communications Center Lionė Lapinskienė, museum specialist Donatas Juzėnas, Paįstrys resident and local history expert Stasė Mikeliūnienė and puppeteer Antanas Markuckis.

Irene Pletka Donates Million Dollars for YIVO Bund Collection Digitization

Irene Pletka Donates Million Dollars for YIVO Bund Collection Digitization

YIVO in New York has had a separate collection for the Jewish Bund since 1992. Recently they announced a project to digitize that collection to make it accessible to scholars and the public around the world. Vice-chairwoman of the YIVO board Irene Pletka initiated the project and announced she is donating one million dollars to the effort.

More than 150 people came to the YIVO gallery in New York to honor Pletka for her exemplary donation, inspirational generosity and extraordinary sense of duty in preserving Jewish history and culture. After the Bund project receives donations totaling from 2.5 to 3 million dollars the first phase of digitization will begin.

The Bund Jewish political party began in Vilnius in 1897 with a socialist democrat platform and pledge to fight pogroms. YIVO describes the part as a Jewish political party adhering to a social democrat ideology in the context of Jewish culture and seeking Jewish political autonomy. Political science professor Jack Jacobs at Cambridge University in New York says the Bund was the first Jewish political party in Eastern Europe. Bund ideology was aimed at the Jewish working class.

Nun Who Helped Abba Kovner Dies at 110

Nun Who Helped Abba Kovner Dies at 110

Sister Cecylia Maria Roszak passed away at a convent in Cracow on November 16 at the age of 110, the archdiocese of Cracow reported. She was probably the oldest Catholic nun in the world at the time of her death. She was also a Righteous Gentile who harbored Jews in Nazi-occupied Vilnius, including writer and partisan leader Abba Kovner.

Maria Roszak was born March 25, 1908, in Kiełczewo and joined the Dominican order at the Gródek monastery (named after an old fortification and now neighborhood, adjacent to the Church of Our Lady of the Snows) in Cracow at the age of 21. In 1938 she and several fellow nuns were sent to Vilnius, then Wilno under Polish control, or more precisely to Naujoji Vilna outside the city, where the order had a wooden house and chapel on five hectares of land and intended to set up a monastery under Anna Borkowska, aka Mother Bertranda. World War II cut short these plans.

Vilnius came under Soviet occupation and then Nazi occupation. During the Nazi occupation Roszak and fellow nuns under Mother Bertranda hid 17 members of the Jewish resistance at their convent, including future ghetto underground leader, partisan and writer Abba Kovner.

Remembering Jewish Veterans in Kaunas

Remembering Jewish Veterans in Kaunas

Members of the Kaunas Jewish Community, residents of Kaunas and visitors honored Lithuanian Jewish veterans at the Jewish cemetery in the Gičiupis aldermanship in Kaunas November 23.

KJC chairman Gercas Žakas spoke about the historical relations between Jews and ethnic Lithuanians, Jewish service in the battles for Lithuanian freedom in 1919 and 1920 and later service in the military of independent Lithuania. Dr. Raimundas Kaminskas, president of the Kovo 11-osios Gatvė Association, spoke of the patriotism of Jewish soldiers between 1918 and 1940 and presented a medal to chairman Žakas. Lithuanian MP Gediminas Vasiliauskas, Gičiupis alderwoman Jolanta Žakevičienė and Kaunas Ukrainian Association chairman Nikolai Denisensko also spoke.

The old Jewish cemetery in Kaunas was established in 1861 and closed in 1952. The Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Department reports many notable public, cultural, political and religious figures are buried there, as well as 14 Lithuanian Jewish soldiers who served in the Lithuanian military or fought in the battles for Lithuanian freedom.

The Kovo 11-osios Gatvė Association and the 202nd division of the Union of Lithuanian Sharpshooters are implementing a project called “Strengthening Civic-Mindedness and Patriotism through Community Activity in the Gričiupis Aldermandship.”