History of the Jews in Lithuania

Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Choral Synagogue

The Vilnius Jewish Religious Community invite you to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius at 3:30 P.M. on Monday, January 28. The following survivors will talk about their Holocaust experiences: Mejer Zelcer, Jakov Mendelevsky, Chaim Nimirovsky, Isaak Markus and Roman Švarc.

Even if you can’t attend, you can take a selfie with a sign reading #WeRemember or #MesPrisimename and post it to social media.

Maushe Segal, the Last Jew of Lithuanian Kalvarija

Maushe Segal, the Last Jew of Lithuanian Kalvarija

Since 2005 we have marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day (officially “International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust” as designated by the United Nations) and have remembered the once-large Lithuanian Jewish community 78 years ago. There have been no Jews left in the shtetlakh for a long time now, although the Jewish legacy endures in the form of the old towns and synagogues they built, and the cemeteries and mass grave sites. We spoke with Maushe Segal (Maušius Segalis), the last Jew of the town of Kalvarija in western Lithuania, about his life and what Holocaust Remembrance Day means to him.


Maushe with grandson at the Kalvarija synagogue. Photo: Milda Rūkaitė

Segal: It’s important to me to remember, because this is a day commemorating the once-large community now dead. For many years we Jews gathered at the cemetery on September 1, since that’s the day all of the Jews of Marijampolė [Staropol] were murdered. That was before, now there are no Jews left in Kalvarija or Marijampolė.

What do you remember seeing as a child, or did your mother tell you?

They took my father and me to be shot on September 1, 1941. They shot him, but my mother grabbed me, I was small, from the pit in Marijampolė after the shooting.

Events to Mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Events to Mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day

January 25 FRIDAY 10:30 A.M.-2:30 P.M, Artis Hotel, Totorių street no. 23, Vilnius
Holocaust Day conference on fighting discrimination

Presentation of exhibit “Lithuania. Lite. Lita. One Century our of Seven”
Registration: www.lzb.lt, info@lzb.lt [in Lithuanian and English with translation]

Organizers: Lithuanian Jewish Community, Department of Ethnic Minorities under the Government of the Republic of Lithuania

January 27 SUNDAY 2:00 P.M., Pasaka Cinema, Šv. Ignoto street no. 4
Screening of the film Testament aka haEdut (2017). Entrance free. Film is in Hebrew, English, German and Yiddish (Lithuanian subtitles will be provided).

The Testament is a film about Holocaust historian Yoel Halberstam, who becomes involved in a legal battle over the brutal mass murder of Jews in the fictional town of Lensdorf, Austria, at the end of World War II. An influential industrialist family on whose land the massacre took place are planning a large real estate development at the mass murder site. Yoel suspects the goal of the construction is bury all memory of the event forever, but he needs proof to stop it from going forward.

Jewish Headstones Desecrated by Soviets to Return to Cemetery

Jewish Headstones Desecrated by Soviets to Return to Cemetery

By early Friday, January 18, the Protestant Evangelical Church in central Vilnius (during Soviet times the Kronika movie theater) had completed the removal of stone stairs leading up to the entrance which were in fact Jewish headstones placed there by Soviet authorities.

This represents a victory in the Lithuanian Jewish Community’s long-term efforts to insure respect for the dead and the Jewish legacy in Lithuania.

Since 2013 the LJC has been cooperating actively with the Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Department and the Vilnius Protestant Evangelical consistory (session, or governing council) to determine whether the stairs were in fact taken from Jewish cemeteries. It was determined Jewish headstones were used in the construction of the stairs, headstones taken from the old Jewish cemetery in the Užupis neighborhood of Vilnius. Since that determination, the LJC has been appealing constantly to the institutions involved for the stairs to be removed. A number of LJC members have been involved actively in making this happen, as have some Lithuanian public figures, including late professor and MEP Leonidas Donskis.

Litvaks, Jews in Lithuania and Anti-Semitism: Lithuania’s Jews Persevere

Litvaks, Jews in Lithuania and Anti-Semitism: Lithuania’s Jews Persevere

You don’t have to be born in Lithuania to call yourself a Litvak. There were many years in which Lithuania’s borders kept changing, so that many Jews born in any of Lithuania’s neighboring countries or in any of the countries that had ruled or occupied Lithuania, consider themselves to be Litvaks – especially if they can also speak Yiddish.

At meetings in Vilnius this past November, the first question put to the journalist from Jerusalem Post by both Faina Kukliansky, the chairwoman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, and Fania Brancovskaja, Vilna’s last Holocaust survivor [sic], was “Do you speak Yiddish?” The interview with Brancovskaja, 96, was entirely in Yiddish, even though she is fluent in a half-dozen languages, including English. Kukliansky is also multilingual and even though the interview with her was conducted in English, every now and again, when she wanted to emphasize a point, she reverted to Yiddish.

Full story here.

Our Jewish Musicians: A Documentary Film by Saulius Sondeckis

Our Jewish Musicians: A Documentary Film by Saulius Sondeckis

The film “Mūsiškiai žydai muzikai” ([Our Jewish Musicians], 2017) by Saulius Sondeckis, Jr., documents the late world-famous conductor Saulius Sondeckis. It will be shown on Lithuanian public television’s LRT PLIUS channel at 9:45 P.M. on January 24.

In the film professor Sondeckis talks about Litvak musicians who contributed so much to the education of Lithuanian musicians, the maturity of the artistic community and the global music history. The film includes interviews with Sondeckis’s colleagues and students.

The 115-minute documentary employs documentary and visual material from archives, museums and private collections in Israel, the USA, Russia and Lithuania. It features 26 Litvak musicians from the first half of the 20th century to the present and contains 882 photographs and excerpts from 50 works by 33 composers.

Motke Chabad’s Best Joke

Motke Chabad’s Best Joke

Motke Chabad and His Best Joke* (Jewish humor)

by Pinchos Fridberg,
[an old Jew who was born and raised in Vilnius]

<Rebe>, will there ever come a time when the words <Vilne un Yidish> [Vilne and Yiddish] will be inseparable again?”
“<Saydn nor mit Meshiekh’n in eynem> [Not unless it comes with the Messiah].”

§§§

Would you like to know what an old Jew does after a delicious and satisfying lunch?
I’ll tell you: he lies <af a sofke> [<a sofke> – diminutive of sofa] <un khapt a dreml> [and grabs a nap].

And then what?

And then he dreams that …

A few days ago I received an e-mail from motke.chabad@xxxxx.com containing an incredible proposal: the author asked me to prove to him that I really am an old Vilna Jew <an alter vilner Yid>. I wouldn’t tell you these <bobe-maise> [old wives’ tales] if not for the way he suggested proving this.

Conference Dedicated to International Holocaust Remembrance Day and Combating Discrimination

Conference Dedicated to International Holocaust Remembrance Day and Combating Discrimination


CONFERENCE DEDICATED TO INTERNATIONAL HOLOCAUST REMEMBRANCE DAY AND COMBATING DISCRIMINATION

Artis hotel, Vilnius, Totorių street no. 23, Vilnius, Lithuania
January 25

[10:30 – 11:00 A.M. registration]

11 A.M.

Welcome speeches:
Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs, H.E. Mr.  Linas Linkevičius
Faina Kukliansky, President, Lithuanian Jewish Community
Vida Montvydaitė, DIrector, National Ethnic Minorities Department
Julius Meinl, World Jewish Congress Commissioner for Combating Antisemitism

11:15 A.M. – 12:15 P.M. PART I:

Jews, Lithuanians and the Greatest Tragedy of the 20th Century. Lessons for Future Generations.

Snowball Rolled South: A Documentary on Litvaks in South Africa

Snowball Rolled South: A Documentary on Litvaks in South Africa

Ieva Balsiūnaitė, one of the producers of the film The Snowball Rolled South about Litvaks in South Africa, gave an interview to Lithuanian public television on the eve of its Lithuanian premiere on Lithuanian TV. The film will be screened at the Tolerance Center of the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum, Naugarduko street no. 10/2, Vilnius, at 6:00 P.M. on January 17, 2019, to be followed by a discussion. The film contains Lithuanian and English passages and Lithuanian subtitles will be provided at this screening. The running time is 52 minutes. Entrance is free.

§§§

The majority of Jews living in South Africa come from Lithuania, and many of them are celebrated artists, businesspeople, public figures. A few have been Nobel prize winners and famous actors, even an Oscar nominee. Journalist, documentary maker and one of the makers of the film The Snowball Rolled South Ieva Balsiūnaitė told Lithuanian public television about this. Some of the film’s heroes were born in Lithuania, others in South Africa, so their connections with Lithuania are varied. The older generation still finds it hard to believe how all the warm and nice stories became the Holocaust, and the main characters speak about this excitedly, emotionally and frankly, Balsiūnaitė said.

You’d probably agree that few people in Lithuania know there are so many Litvaks in South Africa. How did this topic attract you and your colleagues and what made you make a documentary film about it?

We made the film as a team with Jonas Jakūnas and Sofija Korf, and we developed the concept with two journalists and documentarians, Viktorija Mickutė and Lukas Keraitis.

This topic first grabbed my interest a long time ago when I read an article about how almost all Jews living in South Africa have Lithuanian origins. That immediately raised a great many questions: why did so many people come from Lithuania specifically, and not from neighboring countries? What is the Litvak experience in the Republic of South Africa, and is there still some connection with Lithuania?

Partisans Honored at January 13 Ceremony

Partisans Honored at January 13 Ceremony

January 13 is an official holiday in Lithuania, the Day of the Defenders of Freedom, marked to commemorate those who died during Soviet military operations in Vilnius on that day in 1991. The Soviets attempted to overthrow the democratically-elected government of Lithuania through military force following Lithuania’s declaration of independence on March 11, 1990.

Loreta Asanavičiūtė, Virginijus Druskis, Darius Gerbutavičius, Rolandas Jankauskas, Rimantas Juknevičius, Alvydas Kanapinskas, Algimantas Petras Kavoliukas, Vidas Maciulevičius, Titas Masiulis, Alvydas Matulka, Apolinaras Juozas Povilaitis, Ignas Šimulionis and Vytautas Vaitkus were killed at the TV tower in Vilnius in the early hours of January 13. Soviet troops also surrounded and seized the Lithuanian Radio and Television building located in a different part of Vilnius. Over 700 unarmed civilians were wounded during the events of January 13.

Ceremonies were held throughout Lithuania and at the parliament to mark the holiday and the Freedom Prize was presented by speaker of parliament Viktoras Pranckietis to seven post-World War II Lithuanian partisans at the parliament this year.

Kaunas Jewish Community Member Julijana Zarchi Remembers Life, Holocaust

Kaunas Jewish Community Member Julijana Zarchi Remembers Life, Holocaust

15min.lt

When she was three, Julijana Zarchi was smuggled out of the ghetto thanks to outside rescuers and so escaped death, but her family’s story begins in Germany and leads to the cotton fields of distant Tajikistan. Julijana and her mother were deported there. Zarchi, who related her and her family’s story for the program of Kaunas as the European capital of culture in 2022, said Naziism and Stalinism both had a bearing on the fate of her family. All of her closest family members except her mother were murdered. “The Nazis murdered all of them. Three times. That’s about how many mass murders there were,” she said. “I can’t find my relatives on my father’s side anywhere, and as one approaches old age one wants that sort of connection. I can’t find a single one, although the family was very large and the surname is a rare one. My grandfather, his brothers and sisters and many children…”

Golden Globe Winner Grateful to Litvak Ancestors

Golden Globe Winner Grateful to Litvak Ancestors

Patricia Clarkson, winner of the Golden Globe award for best supporting actress in a series, miniseries or television film in 2019 for her role as Adora Crellin in the HBO series Sharp Objects, says Lithuania is part of her, and she grew up with stories of her baba, the great-grandmother who came from Lithuania and died before she was born, according to the Lietuvos Rytas newspaper.

Born in New Orleans in 1959, Clarkson was graduated from the Yale School of Drama with an MFA.

Clarkson’s great-grandmother Sophie Bass-Berengher was born in the Kaunas guberniya in 1886. Her daughter Sophie (née Berengher) and Johnny Brechtel had daughter Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson. born in New Orleans on January 17, 1936. She served as a councilwoman on the New Orleans city council and has been the honorary counsel of the Republic of Lithuania in New Orleans since late 2014. She is also Patrica Clarkson’s mother.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Aaron Klug Dead at 92

Aaron Klug Dead at 92

One of several Lithuanian Jews to have received the Nobel prize, Aaron Klug passed away November 20, 2018, at the age of 92.

Klug was born in Želva (aka Zelva, Zelvas) near the town of Ukmergė (Vilkomir) in the Vilnius region of Lithuania on August 11, 1926, to Lazar and Bella (née Silin) Klug. Lazar Klug received both a secular and Jewish religious education, and raised and sold cattle as his father did. Aaron Klug wrote he remembered nothing of his place of birth, and the family moved to Durban, South Africa, when Aaron was about two. Aaron Klug was graduated from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg with a bachelor’s degree in physics, chemistry and biology. He married dancer and choreographer Liebe Bobrow in 1948. Klug received a master’s degree from the University of Cape Town where he did work on X-ray crystallography. He then went to the UK, where he received a PhD in solid state physics at the University of Cambridge in 1952. Klug then worked with X-ray crystallographer Rosalind Franklin at Birkbeck College, University of London, exploring the structure of the tobacco mosaic virus. The nucleoproteins of the virus were at that time too big for imaging with X-ray crystallography but too small to see with optical microscopes. Electron microscopes could only provide two-dimensional images, and Klug pioneered a method for making 3-D images, called crystallographic electron microscopy, for which he received the Nobel prize in chemistry in 1982. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1988. Besides his many other contributions, he and his colleagues were responsible for mapping about one third of the human genome in the Human Genome Project. He taught at Cambridge and served as the president of Britain’s Royal Society from 1995 to 2000. He also worked with Francis Crick, who received the Nobel prize with Watson for discovering the helical structure of DNA.

Monument to a Monument Photo Exhibit

Monument to a Monument Photo Exhibit

Roža Zinkevičienė, the principal of the Saulėtekis school in Vilnius, invites the public to the opening of a photography exhibit there called “Monument to a Monument (Jewish Cemetery Destroyed in 1964)” by photographer Rimantas Dichavičius. The opening is to take place at 10:00 A.M. on January 17, 2019. The school is located at Kaminkelio street no. 10 in Vilnius. The exhibit is dedicated to marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Jewish People’s Bank in Lithuania: Support for Co-ops, Small, Medium Business

Jewish People’s Bank in Lithuania: Support for Co-ops, Small, Medium Business

by Ona Biveinienė

Lithuanian Jews since olden times engaged in lending at interest. The charter of rights Vytautas the Great granted the Jews of Brest-Litovsk in 1388 included the right to loan money at interest, a rather new thing in the Grand Duchy at that time, along with the right to practice Judaism. According to the charter, “a Jew may accept any object brought him as collateral, no matter what the item is called, without question, except for bloodied or wet clothing and Church clothing and vessels, which he should in no way accept.”

For several centuries Jews were the main lenders, saving neighbors fallen on hard times by loaning them money, at interest, of course.

Lithuania’s declaration of independence on February 16, 1918, provided a favorable environment for Jews living here to expand customary and create new businesses. The Jewish people, as no other, seized upon the opportunity; they attempted to restore and expand the shops, workshops and factories they had before World War I. Many courageously started new businesses and in many cases were the first in Lithuania to engage in little known or unprecedented enterprises.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Litvak Takes Lithuanian Genocide Center to Court over Noreika

Litvak Takes Lithuanian Genocide Center to Court over Noreika

War Hero or Nazi Collaborator? Family Partners with Victim’s Kin to Expose Truth

Vilnius trial will see whether Jonas Noreika was whitewashed by Lithuania’s Genocide and Resistance Research Center; his granddaughter says he did his best to help Nazis kill Jews

by Robert Philpot

LONDON–Seventy years after he was shot by the Soviets, the reputation of Jonas Noreika goes on trial in Lithuania next week.

Noreika–a hero to many in the Baltic state for resisting Communist subjugation of their country–stands accused of being a Nazi collaborator complicit in the Holocaust.

The case before the Vilnius Regional Administrative Court charges the state-funded Genocide and Resistance Research Center of Lithuania with intentionally distorting the role of Noreika in the murder of Jews.

It has been brought by Grant Gochin, a Lithuanian citizen living in the US whose relatives were among Noreika’s victims.

In an extraordinary twist, Gochin’s effort is being actively supported by Noreika’s granddaughter. Silvia Foti has spent more than two decades investigating “General Storm,” as her grandfather is known to many in his former homeland. Her conclusion is brutal: “Jonas Noreika willingly played a role in cleansing Lithuania of Jews. He did everything in his power to help the Nazis kill Jews, and nothing to stop them.”

Full story here.

Note: The trial was postponed by the court, allegedly at the Government’s request, until March 5.

Goodwill Foundation Funds for Most Significant Lithuanian Jewish Projects

A meeting of the board of the Goodwill Foundation has resolved to fund the most significant Lithuanian Jewish projects, approved spending limits for 2019 and planned the 2019 budget for administrative costs for the foundation.

One of the more interesting projects is on-going archaeological exploration of the Great Synagogue site in Vilnius. There is also a project to commemorate the Jurbarkas synagogue with a statue by the sculptor Dovydas Zundelovičius. The foundation will also remember conductor, teacher and professor Saulius Sondeckis with the publication of a monograph.

The Goodwill Foundation board also addressed the issue of ownership of the former Tarbut gymnasium building at Pylimo street no. 4 in Vilnius, the headquarters of the Lithuanian Jewish Community.

Full text here.

Thank You

Thank You

The Lithuanian musicians support fund and association Atgaiva held a concert at the Church of Sts. John January 7, 2019, and the audience filled the church.

Excellent and well-known musicians performed: the trio Musica Camerata Baltica with Leonidas Melnikas, Boris Traub and Valentinas Kaplūnas, and solo vocalist Judita Leitaitė.

The wonderful acoustics of the church, the high level of performers and the program of works selected for the concert all cast a spell upon the audience. The applause endured for a long period as the audience thanked the performers for this unique, enchanting and sublime classical music concert.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky sincerely thanks the concert organizers and performers.

When Moshe (Misha) Arens Called from Vilnius, or, the End of World War II

When Moshe (Misha) Arens Called from Vilnius, or, the End of World War II

by Sergejus Kanovičius

The internet didn’t exist yet, and the way to connect from Israel with parents and friends left in Lithuania was by fax or telephone. There wasn’t a surplus of money and both means were very expensive, so hearing the voice of a loved one was the greatest gift; letters are fine, but human nature it seems is such that we need living emotion, moments which dissolve in the past… When you hear the voice of your Father, or Mother, or grandfather, it feels as if you are with them, much more than reading a letter which has been in transit for a long time. Sometimes the people who helped us in so many ways in saving our son knew the longing for loved ones, they knew what longing means, because they themselves had experienced these separations and knew what they meant. The independency of Lithuania was going slowly, so it was expensive to call from Israel to Lithuania and from Vilnius to Tel Aviv. As I remember it, from Vilnius you longer had to wait for a previously ordered international call, all you had to do was dial 8, wait for the tone and then enter the number. But it wasn’t raining and isn’t raining money anywhere, neither there where rivers of milk flow along banks of honey, nor there where pack-ice gently caresses the banks of the Neris. Sometimes the worst thing you could pull out of the mail box was a nostalgic numerical reminder for some month, sometimes the telephone bills were such that you wanted to take that apparatus to a bank and lock it in the safe.