History of the Jews in Lithuania

Vilna and Mezhrich: Two Schools of Torah Study

Vilna ir Mežrič: dvi Toros studijų mokyklos

Natalja Cheifec invites you to a lecture on the following topics:

Who are Litvaks?
Lithuanian Jewish traditions and customs
What is Hassidism, how it arose and a short history
Mitnagdim: the heirs of the Vilna Gaon
Mitangdim and Hassidim: is there a real reason for the communal conflict?

Time: 3:00 P.M., February 11, 2018
Place: Meeting hall, second floor, Lithuanian Jewish Community, Vilnius

Please register for free here: goo.gl/JbypwU

Lithuania in the Period between the Wars Would Have Recognized Jerusalem


Simon Rozenbaum at the consulate in Tel Aviv. Photo: LTV program Menora

by Aidanas Praleika

Lithuania recently supported the United Nations against Donald Trump’s initiative supporting Jerusalem. How would Lithuania have voted a century ago?

Many today association Zionism with conspiracy theories, but a century ago the basic “conspiracy” was the foundation of the State of Israel. An idea which Lithuania, a state based on ethnicity, supported. If Lithuania had been asked back then to give her verdict on recognizing the capital of the Jewish state, she would have almost certainly voted the other way. Lietuvos Žinios spoke with publicist and Menora television program producer Vitalijus Karakorskis about the connection between the Zionists and Lithuania back then.


The Jewish Floridan reports G. Volkauskas’s appointment as Lithuanian general consul in Palestine.

Lithuanian-Israeli diplomatic relations are numbered in the years since the restoration of independence, but you are talking about a much larger time scale.

National Conference “The Stories of the Jews Who Lived in Lithuanian Cities and Towns” in Ariogala, Lithuania

The date and topic of the event wasn’t accidental. Ariogala gymnasium principal Arvydas Stankus said this event was a kind of mobile memorial recalling history. Event guest Gercas Žakas, chairman of the Kaunas Jewish Community, expressed satisfaction at the large turn-out, over 200 people, and said he expected they were tolerant people, not militants, able to speak what exists and what has been lost. He said it was important to remember losses because otherwise we would again enter into historical oblivion. Until World War II everyone got along well and there were about 3,000 Jewish volunteers for the Lithuanian military. It was recalled Lithuanians gave Jews Easter eggs before the war and Jews gave Lithuanians matzo. Then the Soviets came, and all groups suffered, then the Nazis with their crazy policies culminating in genocide.

Ronaldas Račinskas, executive director of the International Commission to Assess the Crimes of the Soviet and Nazi Occupational Regimes in Lithuania, said the world opened the gates of Auschwitz 73 years ago and saw what had gone on there. He said the world did not see other things, and perhaps didn’t want to see or judge what happened up to that point. He said the conference was a sad occasion since it commemorates the murder of 6 million Jews. It would be easy, he said, to claim that this was down to circumstances, Nazi policy and power supporting the idea of the destruction of people, but that there were signs of values pointing to the future, people who took exceptional risk, and some had made accomplishments of global significance. Račinskas said we no longer live in times when aid to the weaker carries a death penalty. Now we can demonstrate our values without waiting for extreme situations to occur. This will result in a better, stronger and more educated Lithuania, he said, and 100 years from now there will be no need to mark June 14, August 23, September 23 or January 27, since it will not be able to happen again at that point. He pointed out there are people at each and every educational and cultural agency doing much more than is demanded by different programs, and said he looked forward to the appearance of leaders whom others would follow. Without the heart-felt and since work and the personal commitment of the teachers, he said, such events as this could not take place.

Book Review: The Book Smugglers


A wagon of newspapers and artwork, including a bust of Leo Tolstoy, recovered in Vilnius in July, 1944. Photo: YIVO Institute for Jewish Research

Lithuania has a long history of book smuggling, but the Lithuanian side of the story usually focuses on efforts by smugglers to import books in Lithuanian into the territory of the Baltic states incorporated into the Russian Empire by Catherine the Great and attempts to set up underground Lithuanian schools in barns across the country. The entire lore of book smuggling was popularized after World War II by the author Ray Bradbury in his novel “Fahrenheit 451.” Now the Wall Street Journal and author David Fishman remind Lithuanians and the world of another chapter in the same story: the “Paper Brigade” in the Vilnius ghetto answerable to Rosenberg charged with looting Judaica treasures from YIVO, the Great Synagogue and other sources in the Nazi-occupied Lithuanian capital.

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The Book Smugglers: Partisans, Poets and the Race to Save Jewish Treasures from the Nazis. The True Story of the Paper Brigade of Vilna, by David E. Fishman. 312 pp. 28 photos, 2 maps. University Press of New England, 2017. Audiobook narrated by P. J. Ochlan.

Review by Gerald J. Steinacher

The Book Smugglers of Vilna

How a small band of Jews resisted Nazi efforts to destroy the cultural treasures of the Jerusalem of Lithuania.

The Nazis did not merely want to murder all the Jews; they were also determined to eradicate all Jewish art and literature. In “The Book Smugglers,” David E. Fishman, a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, introduces us to a thriving Jewish culture in Eastern Europe and to the people who risked their lives to save this culture from the barbaric Nazi onslaught.

Vilna, better known today as Vilnius, was the cultural capital of Eastern European Jewry. Nicknamed the Jerusalem of Lithuania, on the eve of the Holocaust the town had an ethnically diverse population of 193,000, of whom about 28% were Jews. It was foremost a city of books for the people of the book. Yiddish literature flourished in a vibrant writers’ scene. The city’s Jewish cultural institutions, such as the Strashun Library and the Yiddish Scientific Institute, were famous for their rare literature and Jewish-history collections.

What Happened to Poland?

The Jews of Poland were once the largest Ashkenazi Jewish community in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, but those of them who remain today, it seems, will not be able to understand the decision made by the Polish Sejm on January 26, 2018. Historically Lithuanian and Polish Jewish communities are connected by ties of friendship in all spheres, we maintain exemplary relations with the secular and religious community, we know of the efforts made by Lithuanian MPs in solving disputes over the use of Polish orthography and we remember the efforts made by the Polish presidents Aleksandr Kwaszniewski, Lech Kaczynski and Bronislaw Komorowski to improve relations with Lithuania.

What could have happened so that the current members of the Polish parliament adopted a law imposing three years’ imprisonment to anyone who openly says the Polish state or nation is guilty of Nazi crimes, or who uses the formula “Polish death camps?” The law reflects the official position of the Polish Government that the great majority of Poles acted heroically during the Nazi occupation. Nonetheless there were many in the country who did collaborate with the Nazis and committed horrific crimes.

Another question arises for me: isn’t it from such irresponsible steps, from these sorts of anti-Semitic laws and assessments as well as statements that everything began during World War II?

We also remember Chiune Sugihara who provided the Jews of Poland condemned to the Holocaust in Kaunas his “visas for life.”

Faina Kukliansky, chairwoman
Lithuanian Jewish Community

Emmanuel Levinas and His Connection with Lithuania

The Lithuanian Jewish Community hosted the launch of “Laikas and kitas,” a Lithuanian translation of Litvak philosopher Emmanuel Levinas’s book “Time and the Other,” on January 25. Translator Viktoras Bachmetjevas, an advisor to the Lithuanian minister of culture, was there, as were Dr. Aušra Pažėraitė of the Religious Studies Center of Vilnius University, philosopher Dr. Danutė Bacevičiūtė of the same center and Vytautas Magnus University Public Communications Cathedral teacher Algirdas Davidavičius. The four held a panel talk and talked about the book based on a series of lectures by Levinas.

The Jonas ir Jokūbas publishing house published the book with support from the Goodwill Foundation.

Dr. Aušra Pažėraitė agreed to talk more about the Litvak philosopher for www.lzb.lt.

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We can speak of two aspects of the connection between one of the most prominent philosophers of the 20th century, Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995), and Lithuania. First, it is known he was born and grew up in Kaunas and his parents were also from Lithuania. He was born in Kaunas January 12, 1906, old style, which is December 30, 1905, on the Julian calendar, or the 15th of Tevet on the Hebrew calendar. Kaunas then was the seat of the Kovna guberniya in the Russian Empire. According to the entry in the vital records of the Kaunas Jewish community, his father was Kaunas resident Yekhiel Levin and his mother was named Dvoira. There’s also a date for his circumcision in the entry, January 6 according to the Julian calendar.

His father was also a native resident of Kaunas, born there to Abraham Levin and Feige in 1878, and his mother came from Ylakai, where she was born in 1881 to Moshe Yitzak and Eta Gurvich. He attended a Jewish primary school in Kaunas until World War I. The family was forced to evacuate as many Lithuanian Jews were during World War I. The Levin family ended up in Ukraine, where Emmanuel was accepted at a gymnasium in Kharkov, where at the same time a Kaunas boys gymnasium had been relocated. The story goes the entire family was overjoyed because this represented an opportunity for Emmanuel to pursue a higher education somewhere in the Russian Empire, but the war ended and the chaos and changes of the revolution began and Lithuania achieved independence, the family returned to Lithuania.

Is It Possible to Forget?

It’s truly impossible to forget the crimes of Nazi Germany committed during World War II. Moreover, to take the stance this doesn’t affect you is a double crime. With these words Panevėžys deputy mayor Petras Lomanas began his speech at an event to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Sad Jewish Mother monument and the Jewish cemetery in Panevėžys on January 26.

Today even the rotten weather and the endless rain reminds us of the Holocaust in which 6 million European Jews were brutally murdered. There should be no place for anti-Semitism in the world, nor for terrorism, war and intolerance, he said.

Lithuanian Jewish Community executive director Renaldas Vaisbrodas said at the event they were there to remember the Jews tortured and shot throughout Lithuania, more than 200,000 people. Only a few survived the ghettos, prisons and concentration camps, he said. More than 600,000 Jews fought against Nazi Germany in World War II. Many died, or returned from the battlefield with disabilities. Vaisbrodas said it was important to preserve the memory of the Holocaust for his generation.

Jewish Educational Conference Lithuanian Limmud 2018

Dear friends,

This year Limmud will be even better than usual, so if you haven’t registered yet, do so now.

The conference will take place at the Vilnius Grand Resort Hotel from February 9 to 11.

Lecturers and performers are to include:

Prof. Zeef Chanin from Israel.

Yulia Rutberg, an actress from Russia, to host the Creative Evening.

Yuri Tabak, religious studies scholar, Jewish history expert and writer from Russia.

Tzvi Kaplan, rabbi, family specialist and psychologist from Israel.

Dr. Lara Lempertienė, scholar, Vilnius University teacher, senior bibliographer for Jewish books at the Lithuanian National Martynas Mažvydas Library, from Lithuania.

Regina Pats, a film expert from Estonia, to present program of new and interesting films.

Hop Stop Banda, a German musical band.

Maja Tarachovskaja, teacher, writer from Lithuania.

Sasha Song, a vocalist from Lithuania.

Ala Segal, beauty expert, Lithuania.

Grigoriy Abramovich, rabbi, Belarus.

Irina Abromovich, rebitsen, Belarus.

Svetlana Liser, yoga activities, Lithuania.

Laurina Todesaitė, Jewish culinary expert, Lithuania.

Boris Kirzner, violinist, Lithuania.

Daumantas Levas Todesas from Lithuania, to present the film “Aš turiu papasakoti” [I Must Tell the Story].

Boris Burda from Ukraine and the game “Who, what, where?”

Play by students of Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymnasium “Let Me Live.”

For more information, contact limmudlietuva@lzb.lt or call Žana Skudovičienė at +37067881514.

LJC Chairwoman Faina Kukliansky’s Speech at Lithuanian Foreign Ministry January 26

Honorable foreign minister,

Dear Holocaust survivors,

Dear rescuer friends,

Members of the Jewish Community,

Honored ambassadors,

This day is dedicated to remembering, thinking and looking towards the future.

We have gathered here to honor the victims of the Holocaust. Today we mourn together.

Let us honor the victims of the Holocaust with a minute of silence.

We mourn our countrymen, our friends, patriots, and in the case of members of my community, every time we experience the loss again of our family members.

We appreciate that the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, in other words, the Lithuanian state, initiated this shared honoring of the victims.

Lithuanian State Commemorates International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Užsienio reikalų ministerijoje surengtasTarptautinės Holokausto aukų atminimo dienos minėjimas

The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry in conjunction with the Lithuanian Jewish Community commemorated International Holocaust Remembrance Day at the ministry Friday, January 26.

The event was humble, tasteful and without much fanfare, but was attended over 100 people, including survivors, children of survivors, grandchildren, foreign ambassadors, staff and members of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, the foreign minister and the father of Lithuanian independence, professor Vytautas Landsbergis, along with many ministry employees.

Foreign minister Linas Linkevičius spoke briefly and fully “owned” the Holocaust for Lithuania, saying while it was sad to begin the year celebrating the 100th birthday of the modern state with the Holocaust, it was necessary so that people would never forget. He called the Holocaust a scar across the face of the nation and the darkest page in Lithuania’s and humanity’s history, but also pointed out Lithuania now boasts 891 Righteous Gentiles.

LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky spoke and said the fact the Foreign Ministry was hosting the event meant the Lithuanian state was recognizing the importance of remembering what happened. She also announced the upcoming release of Yitzhak Rudashevski’s ghetto diary in Lithuanian.

A representative from the Israeli embassy praised Lithuania for adopting the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.

Rafailas Karpis performed songs in Hebrew and Yiddish.

Lithuanian Jewish Community Chairwoman Faina Kukliansky’s Appeal Regarding Legal Disputes within the Jewish Community

I would like to address our Community again:

• As you know, a group of people calling themselves “the Vilnius Jewish Community” initiated legal proceedings.

• We received no reply to our proposals, made directly and in written form, to give up these legal disputes. A decision was handed down in the Vilnius Jewish Community’s petition which will be appealed in the usual appeals process and we have complete confidence the decision will be annulled.

• In other legal proceedings, the court found the rules and regulations of the LJC were not legal, and the point allowing the formation of a representational quorum during elections was voided. The court again emphasized the rules and regulations must conform to the law: one member, one vote. This affects the regional communities, but moreover all of the associated members, and means that the LJC elections in 2017 were held in keeping with the law. This decision by the court is final and is not subject to appeal.

Again, every Lithuanian Jew may decide for him or herself what sort of community they want, but first, everyone must know the truth. Leaders and community members who await the end of the disputes so they can decide which side to support must wait a little longer. I feel this decision is a matter of conscience for each person to make on their own.

I ask those who are sowing division between Jews, engaging in provocations, filing complaints and spreading rumors and gossip to stop it, without regard to whatever posts they occupy. You are doing harm to the entire Lithuanian Jewish Community.

I invite all members of the community to come together and join forces for things that are important rather than engage in fruitless internal struggles. Our priority tasks are celebrating and passing on the distinct Litvak culture and historical memory of the history of Jews in Lithuania, and making life better for Jews here and now. We can only accomplish this by coming together.

Mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day with the Kaunas Jewish Community

A commemoration including a composition called “Rescued Worlds” will take place for International Holocaust Remembrance Day at 1:00 P.M. on January 29 at Laisvės alley No. 57. Vilna Gaon Museum Rescuers and Righteous Gentiles Department director Danutė Selčinskaja will attend. Excerpts from the film “Sketches of Hope” will be screened as well. The event is being organized by the Kaunas Art Gymnasium in cooperation with the Kaunas Jewish Community, the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum, the Mikas Petrauskas Music School and the Vincas Kudirka Public Library in Kaunas.

Al Jaffee Cartoon Exhibit “Childhood Adventures in Zarasai”

The exhibit at the Zarasai Regional History Museum contains illustrations by Al Jaffee included in Mary-Lou Weisman’s book “Al Jaffee’s Mad Life: A Biography.” In an interview with his biographer Al Jaffee called himself a reverse immigrant: when most people were leaving Lithuania for the USA, he went in the opposite direction. Savannah in the 1920s had electricity, inside toilets, asphalt streets, movie theaters and newspapers with daily comic strips. Zarasai, however, hadn’t changed much since the end of the 19th century. Al was the odd man out among the local children in Zarasai, where multilingualism was the rule and people spoke Lithuanian, Russian, Polish and Yiddish. He did manage to adapt to live there, though. The children invented games as children do and the entire town was their playground. The small town became the petri dish where Al and his brother Harry developed their creative talents. Even now Al says the years of his childhood he spent in Zarasai are some of the happiest years of his life.

Al’s popularity has grown continuously. In 1955 he began drawing for Mad magazine in New York City. He’s still drawing now. He lives with his wife Joyce in Manhattan.

You’re invited to visit the exhibit weekdays from 10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. (other times are available as well if prior notice is given).

We Remember 2018: Once Upon a Time There Lived Aizik Kanovich


Rokha (Rocha-Samuraj) and Dovid Kanovich, Solomon’s brothers Moshe-Yankel,
Aizik and Motl, sister Khava (from collections of Sergejus Kanovičius and Lisa
Abukrat-Kanovich)

by Sergejus Kanovičius

The sky was light blue. “So clear, almost like the water in the yard of the house in Jonava,” Aizik Kanovich thought, and closed his eyes again. A few flakes of snow fell from the blue of the sky. In a way you could almost count. Like members of the family: the snowflake Sara, snowflake Rosette, snowflake Yosif and snowflake Bernard, one, two, three, four, Aizikas counted with his eyes shut.

“Faster, move, move, go on, the train won’t wait,” the bossy voices echoed.

“Aizik, Aizik, get up, we don’t have much time, just a little, and we’ll be on the train. And a little longer and we’ll be home in Paris,” Moris-Moshe Zuskind whispered, bent down towards his friend, his hands tucked into his armpits away from the cold.

Aizik’s thoughts travelled back to his first home, where he was born, on Fishermen’s Street in Jonava. Back to December, 1920, when he crossed the threshold and proudly said:

“Look here, I have a passport. With the signature of burgermeister Ramoška. Now I can go.”

“When?” the quiet Shlome asked.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Kaunas 2022 Program to Revive Lost Memory

The first event in the Kaunas 2022 program has been held at the M. K. Čiurlionis National Museum and was dedicated to commemoration of the Kaunas Jewish community before the Holocaust.

Kaunas residents often boast their city is the most Lithuanian city, but that’s not the whole truth. In the early 20th century Kaunas was very multicultural and this was an important part of the city’s identity. The “Office of Memory” part of the Kaunas 2022 program is aimed at reviving the history of the city and encouraging residents to remember that which has been forgotten.

Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon said there must be realization the Jews of Kaunas were Lithuanian citizens who had lived in the country for aeons, loved their country and worked to improve it. The ambassador spoke of a modern Jewish museum, one which would be attractive and interactive, “telling the story of the entire nation through the stories of different individuals.”

Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas said the old Hassidic synagogue in Kaunas would be an ideal site for such a museum. He also said the heroes of the brutal period of the Holocaust cannot be forgotten and that a monument to Lithuanians who rescued Jews should be erected outside the museum.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Documentary about Kovner’s Planned Revenge for Genocide to Air on British TV


Abba Kovner stands at the center of the Vilna ghetto fighters, some of whom later joined the group Nakam. (CC BY-SA Wikimedia Commons)

Film to show new details of Jewish post-war revenge plot to poison German cities

UK’s Channel 4 to air documentary featuring long-lost tapes describing how a Jewish group sought to exact revenge for the murder of 6 million

A new documentary promises to release never-before-seen evidence on the plot by a group of Holocaust survivors to poison hundreds of thousands of Germans in an act of revenge after World War II.

The film “Holocaust: The Revenge Plot” revolves around tapes of resistance fighter and later-poet Abba Kovner detailing his recollections of the plan, according to Britain’s Channel 4, which commissioned the documentary.

The tapes were recorded in 1985 as Kovner was dying from cancer and explore the 1946 plans to poison the water supplies in several German cities and a second plot to kill thousands of SS officers being held in an American prisoner camp.

Kovner is said to reveal how his secret organization, code-named Nakam (Hebrew for vengeance), infiltrated the waterworks of Hamburg, Nuremberg, Frankfurt and Munich in order to poison the water supply with arsenic.

Full story here.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Meets AJC Director

“The creation and consolidation of the Lithuanian state 100 years ago would have been inconceivable without the contribution made by Jews. We respect Jewish traditions and celebrate the Jewish heritage,” Lithuanian foreign minister Linas Linkevičius said in a meeting with American Jewish Committee director David Harris.

The meeting at the Foreign Ministry on January 17, 2018, included Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky. Participants discussed trans-Atlantic relations, European Union policy in the Middle East, Lithuanian-Israeli relations and plans to celebrate in meaningful way the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Lithuanian state together with ethnic minorities. The foreign minister also said Lithuania truly appreciates the activities of the AJC right up to the present day, and the AJC’s support for the development of Lithuanian democracy. The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry and embassies and consulates maintain regular contact with US and global Jewish organizations.

The AJC actively supports democratic change in Eastern and Central Europe. It was the first Jewish organization to support the recognition of Lithuanian independence, and NATO expansion. This year the AJC again reminded the world of the Lithuanian tragedy of January 13, 1991, saying that although Lithuania paid for it at great price in terms of blood and health, the Baltic nation paved the way for freedom and destroyed the Soviet Union.

The AJC opened an Eastern European office in Warsaw in 2017 in order to maintain close relations with the Baltic and Vyshegrad countries and their Jewish communities.

Information courtesy of the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, www.urm.lt

On Kaunas, Sugihara and Lithuanian-Japanese Relations Past and Present


by Simonas Jazavita
Bernardinai.lt

Lithuania came under the Japanese media spotlight January 14. The small Sugihara museum on Vaižganto street became known to Japanese, but also to readers of major papers in Israel, the USA, France and other countries. Prime minister of Japan Shinzo Abe found the time on his tour of Eastern and Central Europe to visit this museum which showcases Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara who worked here, in the provisional capital of Lithuania, in 1939 and 1949 and saved the lives of over 6,000 Jews.

Just because of Sugihara’s story, Kaunas and Lithuania are becoming a nice place dear to Japanese people. It’s not a coincidence that Abe’s portraits in the global media are often taken in Kaunas, even though he visited Latvia and Estonia first. If we make use of that historical tie, we could bring more of Japan’s attention to bear upon us rather than towards our neighbors, and make the tie stronger.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Learn to Embrace the Simple Past Tense: A Concert to Commemorate the Holocaust

You are invited an event to commemorate victims of the Holocaust with a presentation by tenor Rafailas Karpis, pianist Darius Mažintas and Sergejus Kanovičius called “Embrace the Simple Past Tense.”

Is it possible for the Yiddish and the Lithuanian language to meet under one roof?
Is it possible to feel a lullaby even if you can’t understand the words?
Is dialogue possible between sung Yiddish and Lithuanian work read out loud?
Can love, longing and remorse meet in memory?

Come, feel it and find out the answers on the last Sunday in January:

PLACE: Third floor, Lithuanian Jewish Community, Pylimo street no. 4, Vilnius
TIME: 5:00 P.M., January 28.