History of the Jews in Lithuania

Statue Unveiled in Kaunas to Abraham Mapu, Founder of the Modern Hebrew Novel

A sculpture to honor Abraham Mapu, the founder of the Hebrew novel who was born in Kaunas, was unveiled to the public at a ceremony held in the courtyard of the Ars et Mundus Gallery on Mapu street in Kaunas Thursday evening. Sculptor Martynas Gaubas made the statue commemorating Mapu (1808-1867), who was born and lived in Kaunas and was a beloved local literary figure.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky thanked the Kaunas municipality for its favorable view on commemorating Litvak figures and noted Mapu is known and loved in Israel where even small towns have a street named after him. She praised the Kaunas Jewish Community for its unity and initiative and singled out Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas for his success in cooperation and getting things done.

Chairman Žakas and Olegas Darčanovas, the prime mover behind the statue project, noted the large turnout for the ceremony but also said the statue had begun drawing people into the yard even before the ceremony, with locals and tourists flocking to get a look.

Members of the Kaunas city council Ina Pukelytė and Jonas Audėjaitis spoke of the Litvak contribution to the cultural, economic and social life of Kaunas, Lithuania and the world, and confirmed there would be continued commemoration of notable Litvaks who were born, lived and worked in Kaunas.

Lithuanian Economics Minister Meets with Chairwoman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community

Lithuanian economics minister Virginijus Sinkevičius met with Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky and discussed the function, content and language of amendments to the law on the protection of consumer rights. The minister said more precise amendments would be tabled in the near future in order to avoid misinterpretations and in light of suggestions made.

“I am encouraged by the frank and constructive conversation with the chairwoman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community. I believe this legislative package needs to be corrected so that no one has doubts about it, so that it wouldn’t be misinterpreted and wouldn’t become a means for distorting historical truth. In consideration of that, I will register [for consideration at parliament] the amendments needed in the very near future,” minister Sinkevičius said.

At a plenary session of parliament in late March, 93 MPs voted in favor of amendments proposed by the Government, 11 abstained and none voted against. The final version of the proposed amendments were drafted before the current leadership of the Economics Ministry took the post.

The Lithuanian Jewish Community expressed concerns over the amendments which would ban retail sales of goods which “distort the historical facts of Lithuania, belittle Lithuania’s history, independence, territorial integrity or constitutional order.” The Community pointed out this would serve as stimulus for the adoption at the national level of one official and “acceptable” version of Lithuanian historical events, which wouldn’t serve in the teaching of actual history but rather would become a censored interpretation of history.

Lag baOmer 2018

The Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Vilnius Jewish Religious Community held a picnic/barbecue celebration of Lag baOmer at Didžiulis Lake May 3. LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, Rabbi Shalom Ber Krinsky and Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon attended.

Lag baOmer is the holiday of the unity of the Jewish people and usually includes fun and games, singing and dancing and prayers to the Creator. Bonfires are lit at night. The most important celebration takes place with the lighting of a bonfire above the tomb of Simeon bar Yochai in Meron in Upper Galilee in Israel. The light from the fire is meant to recall the Sefer haZohar, or Book of Splendor, the earliest written work in the Kabbalah tradition whose authorship is ascribed to the tannaitic sage.

The book sheds great light on the wisdom of the Torah, about which King Solomon said: “For a commandment is a lamp and the Torah is a light.” And according to the prophet Jeremiah, the Creator says: “Is not my word like as a fire?”

Vilnius U Rector Presents Holocaust Survivor “Return of Memory” Diploma in Israel

Vilnius University rector professor Artūras Žukauskas presented Estera Klabinaitė Grobman (98) a “return of memory” diploma May 1 in Arad, Israel. Grobman is a Holocaust survivor who was imprisoned in the Kaunas ghetto and the Stutthof concentration camp. She is the only surviving member of a group of students who experienced the Holocaust. In her youth she dreamt of being a chemist, matriculated at university, but only studied one year. In 1941, when WWII and the Holocaust began in Lithuania, she was removed from the student rolls because of her Jewish ethnicity.

Kaunas Jewish Community Invites You to Unveiling of Mapu Statue

A presentation and ceremony to unveil a statue to commemorate Abraham Mapu will be held at 5:00 P.M. on May 3 in Kaunas. The ceremony will take place in the courtyard of the Ars et Mundus art gallery located at A. Mapu street no. 20 in Kaunas. The sculptor was Martynas Gaubas. The event will include Jewish music. Ars et Mundus is the author of the project and Artkomas and the Kaunas Jewish Community are partners.

Vilnius Ghetto Diary makes Top 7 List of Lithuanian Books for April

The Vilnius Ghetto Diary of Yitzhak Rudashevski was named as one of the top 7 books for April on the 15min.lt website’s monthly list. The diary was recently published in Lithuanian translation with the original Yiddish provided as the second half of the book. Other works recommended on the list included Lithuanian translations of Abraham B. Yehoshua’s Mar Mani [Mr. Mani], Isabel Allende’s Más allá del invierno [In the midst of Winter] and others, and original Lithuanian works such as Marius Burokas’s latest book of poetry Švarus buvimas [Clean Existence].

Monument to Jan Zwartendijk in Kaunas

Kaunas deputy mayor Simonas Kairys Thursday announced the plan to commemorate Dutch consul Jan Zwartendijk who rescued Jews during World War II.

Following four years of work between partners in Lithuania and the Netherlands, the deputy mayor said: “This day is truly extraordinary. Kaunas is like an outdoor museum city with many strata and signs testifying to different time periods. I think Kaunas has demonstrated many times over the city is strong when its content is strong and when the city is able to show that content to others.

Honorable Dutch consul Jan Zwartendijk issued so-called Curaçao end-visas to complement Japanese transit visas Chiune Sugihara issued Jews in Kaunas during the early days of World War II.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Lithuanian National Library Hosts Lecture “The Problem of Holocaust Memory in Current Lithuanian Historiography”

The Lithuanian National Martynas Mažvydas invites the public to a lecture in Lithuanian called “The Problem of Holocaust Memory in Current Lithuanian Historiography” by Klaipėda University professor Hektoras Vitkus at 5:30 P.M. on April 26.

Holocaust studies are expanding constantly at academic institutions in different countries. This topic has also received attention from scholars working in different disciplines in Lithuania and sometimes becomes the topic of public discussion. Even so, the question remains of how much scholarly attention is being devoted to the problem of Holocaust memory in Lithuania. This lecture will discuss the specific and topical issue of the place Holocaust memory occupies in current-day Lithuanian historiography.

Dr. Vitkus will examine the following questions: what concepts of Holocaust memory exist in contemporary Lithuanian historiography and what are their connection to global theoretical approaches to Holocaust memory? Has Holocaust memory research become an integral part of Holocaust historiography in Lithuania? Is there firm foundation for claiming Holocaust research and methodologies for such research are not yet being taken seriously by Lithuanian historians and at the current time independent studies remain exclusively in the scholarly fields of sociology and psychology?

Everyone is invited to the lecture which will be held in Lithuanian.

Old Užupis Jewish Cemetery Renovation Proposals

The Vilnius municipality is preparing proposals for renovating the old Užupis Jewish cemetery in Vilnius. The municipality’s planning agency Vilnius Plan has hired architect Victoria Sideraitė-Alon for this purpose and she has performed an examination of the territory and has provided proposals on how best to showcase fragments of headstones desecrated by the Soviets.

Sideraitė-Alon’s creative group (Samuel Bak is the author of the main symbol, A. Šimanauskas is the creator/designer, A. Perelmuter is the Israeli architect and consultant) has proposed a project called Arch, which was unanimously approved by an international advisory group on heritage issues established at the Lithuanian Jewish Community and by artists and intellectuals including P. Morkus, M. Ivaškevičius, S. Beržinis, S. Valius and by the Jewish Religious Community and the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry.

The Arch project proposal has not received the approval of the Vilnius Plan agency, which instead proposed a different project to commemorate the road blazed through the cemetery during the Soviet era, actually more of a ditch, called Kirkuto alley, but without any monument carrying a deeper semantic or emotional content. Instead, the alternate proposal is for arranging the headstones and fragments, more or less appearing now as stairs, in an artificial layer of soil above the parking lot where they are now housed to create the effect of a small “Jewish” graveyard there.

Lithuanian Jewish Community Statement on Proposed Amendment to Consumer Rights Law

The Lithuanian Jewish Community would like to bring the reader’s attention to amendments to the Law on the Protection of Consumer Rights currently being considered by the Lithuanian parliament which would ban retail sales of goods which “distort the historical facts of Lithuania or belittle Lithuania’s history, independence, territorial integrity or constitutional order.”

The LJC finds this expanded language for amending the consumer rights protection law raises real concerns about the possible suppression of the ability of members of society to make use of their basic right to self expression, and also raises questions about the likelihood of suppression of future attempts to restore historical justice. These amendments could exert a disproportionately large and negative influence on possible discussions regarding the role of Lithuanians in carrying out the Holocaust and would further lead towards a single “acceptable” judgment of the events of Lithuanian history, formulated at the state level, which would not serve the purpose of really learning and teaching history, but would instead become a censored interpretation.

The LJC believes the adoption of these amendments would give rise to conflict in society. The LJC calls for a consideration of the real need for these amendments and their objectivity, and calls upon legislators to realize anti-Semitism is not on the decline in Europe at the current time. On the contrary, the example of neighboring state which have adopted laws on “the appropriate” interpretation of history recall the era of institutionalized anti-Semitism. Many expressions of hate are encountered in Lithuania as well, and the LJC believes the adoption of these amendments poses the danger of increasing anti-Semitism in Lithuania.

The LJC points to a 2013 decision adopted by the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Lithuania in the case “On the Adherence of the Law of the Republic of Lithuania on Education to the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania,” which stated that no specific position or ideology can be declared mandatory and forced on the individual, and that the state must remain neutral regarding beliefs and does not have the right to set some sort of mandatory belief system.

Openness and freedom of speech and expression must remain strong and unifying values in Lithuania. In our country insuring human rights and the battle against hate crimes must be our active concern, just as actively as the calls for fighting for the protection of consumer rights by adopting these amendments.

Vilnius Sholem Aleichem ORT Jewish Gymnasium Celebrates 70th Anniversary of State of Israel

The Sholem Aleichem ORT Jewish Gymnasium in Vilnius celebrated Israeli’s 70th birthday Thursday with pride and enthusiasm. Teachers, students and parents were joined by principal Miša Jakobas and Lithuanian prime minister Saulius Skvernelis. Also speaking were Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon, Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, leaders of regional Lithuanian Jewish communities, members of the Lithuanian parliament and Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius. Among other things, the speakers talked of Israel’s strength, achievements, discoveries and inventions of global significance and of Israel as an example for Lithuania to follow.

The event featured an orchestra and students from all grades performing song and dance. Teachers also sang and parents brought dishes for an outdoors potluck on the school’s playground and athletics field.

Saulėtekis School Ensemble Celebrates Israel’s 70th Birthday at LJC

The students of the Vilnius Polish Saulėtekis school gave another outstanding performance of song, dance and skits to celebrate Israeli independence day at the Lithuanian Jewish Community April 19.

The third floor hall of the LJC was packed well before the performance began. Žana Skudovičienė and LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky welcomed the audience–mainly senior citizens in the Community’s Abi Men Zet Zikh Club–to this remarkable celebration of Israel’s 70th birthday. Also in attendance were various Jewish Community leaders, including Mikhail Shapiro, the chairman of the Švenčionys Jewish Community.

Students from all different grades at the Vilnius Saulėtekis School sang in Yiddish, Hebrew, Lithuanian, Russian and English in high quality, well-choreographed performances.

The highlight of their performance was a moving rendition of the 1967 hit song Yerushalayim Shel Zahav, Jerusalem of Gold, as the penultimate song in their program. The sincerity of the young student singers was unmistakable and a good portion of the audience stood up as if it were the national anthem of Israel (which it almost became in the 1970s). Some remained standing until the end of the song, others actually wiped tears from their eyes. This was followed by the Israeli anthem haTikvah, The Hope, for which everyone stood. The students’ version was so good it was impossible not to give them a standing ovation.

Following the Israeli national anthem the audience lingered in the foyer drinking coffee and eating pastry and sandwiches.

Lithuanian PM: Let’s Protect Our Common Lithuanian and Israeli Cultural Legacy

Lithuanian prime minister Saulius Skvernelis Thursday visited the Vilnius Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymansium to attend a celebration of Israel’s 70th birthday.

THe Lithuanian prime minister greeted principal Mišą Jakobas, Israeli ambassador Amir Maimon and other honored guests at the event on the occasion of Israeli independence day.

The Lithuanian PM thanked the Lithuanian Jewish Community for consistently defending the country and supporting its independence, and for making significant contributions to the development of Lithuania currently.

“Lithuania really appreciates our partnership with Israel. Youth exchange programs are growing, our economic mercantile cooperation has been stimulated, and we place great hopes on efforts by the international community to insure peace and security. We are hoping Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu will visit Lithuania this year. By June during our visit to Israel we are planning a discussion by both Governments on relations,” the Lithuanian prime minister said about expanding ties and pragmatic cooperation between Lithuania and Israel.

Full text in Lithuanian here.

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė Congratulates Israel on Independence Anniversary

Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė greeted Israeli president Reuven Rivlin on the 70th anniversary of Israel’s independence. She wished the State of Israel and all of its people peace, unity and success on the occasion of this important milestone.

“The head of state said Lithuania is proud of its active Jewish community and our shared history, human relations and growing mutual understanding.”

Full press release in English here.

Lithuanian Prime Minister Congratulates Israel on 70 Years of Independence

Lithuanian prime minister Saulius Skvernelis greeted Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and all the Israeli people on the 70th anniversary of Israeli independence.

“I wish the people of Israel peace, security, constant well-being and all manner of success. Lithuania highly esteems our partnership with Israel. The close ties between Israel and Lithuania have contributed to the comprehensively developing, very friendly and intense relations between our countries. We take great joy in the contribution Lithuanian Jews made to the founding of the State of Israel. I am certain our great cooperation–both bilaterally and at the international level–will continue to take place in a spirit of mutual understanding and will thus strengthen the ties between our people,” the Lithuanian PM said in his greeting.

PM Skvernelis also invited his Israeli counterpart to visit Lithuania which this year is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the restoration of her statehood.

Užupis Jewish Cemetery Commemorative Monument Proposal Approved by LJC Advisory Group


The heritage issues advisory group of the Lithuanian Jewish Community has learned of plans for renovating the Užupis Jewish cemetery tendered by the Vilnius municipality and a composition called Arch made of desecrated headstone fragments used as stairs during the Soviet era.

The international creative team behind the Arch are architect Viktorija Sideraitė Alon, creator/designer Albinas Šimanauskas and Israeli architect consultant Anna Perelmuter. The composition uses a symbol created by the Litvak American painter Samuel Bak.

The heritage issues advisory group of the Lithuanian Jewish Community helps solve outstanding Lithuanian Jewish heritage issues professionally and effectively. The group includes Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, POLIN Polish Jewish museum advisor to the director and senior curator of exhibits; Assumpció Hosta, general secretary of the AEPJ; writer Sergejus Kanovičius, founder of Maceva and the Šeduva Jewish Memorial Fund; professor James E. Young of University of Massachusetts, Near Eastern Studies, English, Judaism; Samuel Kassow, doctor of philosophy, POLIN senior researcher specializing in 19th century history and the history between the world wars; Lyudmila Sholokhova, PhD, YIVO director of archives and library; and Sergey Kravtsov, senior researcher, Jewish Art Center, Hebrew University.

Experts unanimously supported the artists’ idea for commemorating the Jewish cemetery and offered a number of useful suggestions and observations which will be taken into consideration.

This week members of the advisory group plan to discuss the project proposals with the mayor and city administration specialists.

Later the project ideas and visualizations will be presented to the public.

Film “My Vilnius” at the LJC

The Lithuanian Jewish Community began marking Yom haShoa with a screening of the documentary film “My Vilnius” about centuries-old Jewish Vilna life snuffed out in the Holocaust.

Directors Saulius Beržinis and Vytautas Gradeckas and photographer Rimantas Dichavičius attended the screening on April 10. The soundtrack featured works by composer Anatolijus Šenderovas. At the same event an exhibit of works by graphic designer Ovidijus Talijūnas was also launched. Called “Manologas,” each picture features a letter of the Yiddish alphabet and an interpretation of the letter’s meaning.

The images of a lost world on screen with all the people, buildings, cemeteries and synagogues reminded the audience Vilnius was the Jerusalem of Lithuania before the Holocaust, sometimes called the spiritual center of Jewry. With that in mind, we listened intently on the eve of Holocaust Day, Yom haShoa, to photographer Rimantas Dichavičius who managed to capture something of what left after the Holocaust in Vilnius, namely, the Jewish cemetery on Olandų street destroyed in 1965.

Headstones were used as construction material and over the decades the approximately 10-hectare territory was overgrown with bushes and trees. The territory is currently being put in order and should feature a monument soon.

LJC Holds Passover Camp

The Lithuanian Jewish Community offered children on school vacation the chance to attend a Passover camp. For three days boys and girls participated in events, under the supervision of camp counselors and teachers, including chemistry experiments, making Jewish souvenirs, dance classes, learning “Lego engineering” and a tour of Jewish sites in Vilnius.

Television personality Karina German and Nikita Jusupovas participated at the closing ceremony April 5.

Some of the thoughts among parents, children and camp counselors:

Viljamas: “It’s very good the community holds these kinds of camps during vacation. My children–I have two–enthusiastically participate in these programs. It’s important children get more information about their culture and traditions. I myself grew up in the community, and I think we see a continuity of events and activities, when children attend Jewish community camps. It’s very important for us to preserve our traditions and culture. I am a professional guide. My mission is to teach my children about history, heritage the culture of Lithuanian Jews. Today I told my children the story of ORT and we walked around Jewish Vilnius. The children liked it. I’m hoping they’ll want to learn more about the history of our city in the future as well.”

Yom haShoa Commemoration at the LJC

Yom Ha Shoa aukų pagerbimas Lietuvos žydų (litvakų) bendruomenėje

Holocaust Day or Yom haShoa was marked at the Lithuanian Jewish Community Thursday with the sound of a siren blaring and standing in silence in memory the victims.

LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky recalled the family members she lost to the Holocaust buried in Kaktiškės, Lithuania. She lit a candle and recited their names. Survivors Mina Frishman, Shapsai Kholem and Fania Brancovskaja also lit candles, as did Ruta Kaplinsky, the daughter of Shmuel Kaplinski who guided a group escaping the Vilnius ghetto through the sewer.

Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon lit a candle in honor of those who heroically opposed the Holocaust, those who rescued Jewish children and the brave fighters and partisans. The ambassador spoke of the Warsaw Uprising; Israeli president Reuven Rivlin was in Warsaw today to mark the 75th anniversary of the uprising.

About 240,000 Jews lived in Lithuania before the Holocaust. Almost every town and village had a Jewish community. There are about 250 Jewish mass murder and mass grave sites known in Lithuania.