Litvaks

Artist and Cartoonist Leizeris Kaganas

Artist and Cartoonist Leizeris Kaganas

by Polina Pailis on his 110th birthday for Septynios meno dienos newspaper

New trends in art appeared in Lithuania in the early 20th century based on new ideas and the search for new techniques for expression. Many cartoonists and caricaturists appeared in the press in the interwar period. The artist Leizeris Kaganas was especially prolific from 1931 to 1933.

Kaganas was born in 1910 and his place of birth is unknown. In 1929 he attended the Kaunas Art School but left after his first year. His off-the-cuff sketches and caricatures first appeared in the Kaunas newspapers in 1931. In the second half of that year he moved to Riga and competed in sketching contests there. In 1932 and 1933 he held exhibitions in Lithuania. In 1932 he was part of an exhibition in Stockholm. In 1939 and 1940 he lived and worked in Denmark. Kaganas’s fate following the German occupation of Denmark is unknown.

The first article about the young artist appeared in Lietuvos aidas newspaper on September 30, 1931, which said his talent had been noticed from the beginning.

History of the Jews of Šiauliai from the City’s First Industrialist to the Lincoln Penny

History of the Jews of Šiauliai from the City’s First Industrialist to the Lincoln Penny

Photo: 3-D miniature diorama of the Old Town of Šiauliai by Saulius Kruopis, late 19th or early 20th century. Photo by Karolina Savickytė

by Gabija Strumylaitė, 15min.lt

It’s impossible to tell the story of Šiauliai without the names of important Jews who come from there or lived there. One was the industrialist Chaim Frankel whose leather factory once employed a fifth of the city’s population. Victor David Brenner, the Litvak whose most famous work is the United States Lincoln penny still in circulation, put Šiauliai on the world map.

“Before World War I Jews were about 60 percent of the population of Šiauliai. In the period between the wars this figure dropped to 30 percent. There truly is a lot of Jewish heritage in Lithuania. We often stumble upon it and realize it only now. For instance, until my colleague Andrius Kvedaras, whom you will also meet today, nobody conducted exclusively Jewish tours of Šiauliai. It was just part of the general program,” Aušra Museum historian Milda Černiauskaitė said.

Lithuanian Jewish Community Chairwoman on Importance of January 13 to Nation’s Jews

Lithuanian Jewish Community Chairwoman on Importance of January 13 to Nation’s Jews

Photo: Faina Kukliansky, by Vidmantas Balkūnas, courtesy 15min.lt

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky remembers January 13. Lithuanian Jews, who restored their community finally 30 years ago after decades of restrictions, took part in events in those days [in 1991] Nowadays when they talk about the struggle for freedom, members of the community emphasize the greatest gift: the opportunity to speak freely.

What do you remember personally about that fateful night at the TV tower, the Lithuanian Radio and Television building and the parliament? What does the Jewish community remember about these events?

Jews did the same thing as everyone else in Lithuania. We have collected the recollections of our community members of that fateful night. They watched the television broadcast until it was cut off and they went to the barricades, in Vilnius but also in Kaunas and other cities.

We were there where the majority of Lithuania was. I remember when I travelled from Varėna during that time and saw the road full of tanks. At that time I had an elderly guest from America who said he was seeing tanks for the first time in his life.

On that particular night my friends and I–all of us were together with our young children–followed events, held vigil, waiting for our husbands who were there in the crowd by the barricades or who were doing their job as doctors.

My children are now grown up and always remember that night and the tension. It wasn’t clear what would happen and the tanks were already in place in the city. We didn’t have any information, we had seen the final frame when E. Bučelytė had to quit the [television] studio. We learned that night from medics that there were dead and wounded people.

The Rebel from Žagarė Who Dared Criticize Stalin

The Rebel from Žagarė Who Dared Criticize Stalin

Facts worth knowing about the Litvak poet Osip Mandelshtam

by Rūta Ribinskaitė, LJC member, for 15min.lt

As we mark the 130th anniversary of Osip Mandelshtam, the Lithuanian Jewish Community is inviting the public to take a new look at one of the most renowned poets of the Silver Age of Russian poetry. We present to readers long-forgotten and little-known facts about the phenomenal poet Osip Mandelshtam.

Mandelshtam’s family on both his mother’s and father’s side came from Lithuania. The Mandelshtam family’s roots are in northern Lithuania in the town of Žagarė. There are assertions the family settled in the town in the early 19th century.

The poet’s mother Flora Mandelshtam née Verbolvskaya was a musician and his father Hatzkel-Emil Mandelshtam belong to the first guild of merchants and was a leather tanner. The young married couple lived in Warsaw where the future poet was born on January 15, 1891, and then moved to live in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1896 and 1897.

Full text in Lithuanian here.

LJC Celebrates Life and Work of Osip Mandelshtam on 130th Birthday

LJC Celebrates Life and Work of Osip Mandelshtam on 130th Birthday

The Lithuanian Jewish Community is inviting the public to learn more about one of the best poets of Russia’s Silver Age, Osip Mandelshtam.

Join the virtual day of poetry at 2:00 P.M. on January 15 on facebook by going to https://fb.me/e/1cV0KYzFo

Speakers and critics will present new insights and little known facts in Mandelshtam’s biography and poetry. The actors Viačeslavas Lukjanovas and Larisa Kalpokaitė will read excerpts in Russian and Viktorija Verikaitė will read Lithuanian translations of Mandelshtam’s poetry.

Our Freedom We Won Back Thirty Years Ago on January 13

Our Freedom We Won Back Thirty Years Ago on January 13

Tanks next to Lithuanian Radio and Television. Photo: P. Lileikis

Aleksandra Jacovskytė, scenographer, photographer, graphic artist

Šura Jacovskytė remembers those days in January of 1991. She lived in the center of Vilnius and her friends used to gather at her apartment during those tense days and they watched events unfold together on LRT television.

“I saw and I still remember the final frames when Soviet soldiers broke into the television [studio], the image vanished and there was darkness… It was a horrible feeling,” Šura recalled. “I felt the same as everyone else did. I couldn’t believe the Soviet miasma would come back. The people of Lithuania were already different, they had got a taste of freedom, so it was impossible to go back. It was by then inconceivable to support the actions of the government of the Soviet Union, what they were getting up to, that was totally clear. Even a few months later, after the coup began, I told myself: ‘No, this cannot be…'”

Algirdas Malcas, director, Vilnius the Jerusalem of Lithuania Jewish Community

“I was at the parliament during those days. I walked every day from one site to another, and I had arrived with my dog. I used to go day and night, like a watchman’s rounds. I lived in the center so friends used to come to me to warm up. I was young then and the memories are unerasable.

Lithuanian Translation of Chaimas Kurickis’s Holocaust Memoirs Launched in Utena

Lithuanian Translation of Chaimas Kurickis’s Holocaust Memoirs Launched in Utena

Chaimas Kurickis was born in Utena, Lithuania, in 1921. He and his mother fled east as the German army approached in June of 1941. They were arrested, separated and imprisoned in Daugavpils, Latvia, his mother being sent to the ghetto and he to jail.

The hero of his book was also in the ghetto and several concentration camps, where he fought to survive right up till May 5, 1945, when Germany was defeated finally. Chaimas Kurickas set down his recollections and experiences along with several poems in a book called “To Survie and Tell the Tale,” translated to Lithuanian under the title “Išgyventi ir papasakoti” by Edmundas Kutka. The book has also been translated to Hebrew and Russian, and has caught the interest of Latvians who utilize it to talk about the tragic events of the Daugavpils ghetto, and Germans. The Lithuanian translation is expected to be of keen interest to Lithuanians and especially people from Utena who might be interested in the native author’s youth and experiences.

The launch of the Lithuanian translation of the book, published with aid from the Goodwill Foundation, included a panel of speakers, including tour guide and historian Chaim Bargman, Vilna Gaon Jewish History Museum RIghteous Gentiles Department director Danutė Selčinskaja, teacher and historian Danguolė Jonaitienė who knew Kurickas from before the war, translator Tamara Jefremova and the translator of this book Edmundas Kutka.

The 20-year-old Utena native learned of the onset of war in his hometown. The rapid progress and unexpected moves of the German military forced him to adapt quickly to change. He and his mother and sisters were forced to flee, but the Kaunas-Daugavpils route was overcrowded with much military transport, Russian tanks and hundreds if not thousands of fleeing civilians, mainly Jews, trying to make their way towards Russia.

Lithuania and Israel: A History Connecting the Future

Lithuania and Israel: A History Connecting the Future

by Lithuanian foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis and Israeli foreign minister Gabi Ashkenazi, DELFI.lt

“The purpose of redemption is to protect the truth,” the Vilna Gaon said. One of the most renowned scholars and exegetes of the Torah and the Talmud, the Vilna Gaon held great influence through his works on the religious and cultural identity of Litvaks. The Lithuanian parliament declared 2020, the 300th anniversary of his birth, the Year of the Vilna Gaon and Litvak history.

The year 2020 was dedicated to the extraordinarily rich, continuing 700-year history of Jews in Lithuania. The unique Lithuanian shtetlakh gave birth to many religious authorities and sages, and also to Jewish artists of world renown. The painter Marc Chagal bloomed under Lithuanian skies. Memories of Lithuania live in contemporary author Grigoriy Kanovitch’s work. The land inspired Emmanuel Levinas to ponder the secrets of existence and provided the nostalgic ring to Lea Goldberg’s poems. When we talk about the exceptional history of the Jews of Lithuania, we also remember the horrific tragedy of the Holocaust. All of us must pledge never to forget what happened, and to judge honestly and objectively our shared past, no matter how painful it might be.

Interview with Simas Levinas, First Principal of the First Post-War Jewish School, Chairman of Lithuanian Jewish Religious Community

Interview with Simas Levinas, First Principal of the First Post-War Jewish School, Chairman of Lithuanian Jewish Religious Community

by Ilona Rūkienė

The entire Lithuanian Jewish community knows Simas Levinas as the head of the Lithuanian Jewish Religious Community, which includes two Jewish religious communities in Kaunas and the Klaipėda and Vilnius Jewish Religious Communities. Mr. Levinas was the first principal at the post-war Jewish school in Vilnius and has also served as the head of the Lithuanian Jewish Community’s Social Center.

Vilnius has only one working synagogue [excluding Chabad Lubavitch House], the Choral Synagogue on Pylimo street. How are prayer services conducted there?

Prayer services are held three times daily. There are sufficient numbers of those who come to pray. Judaism is complicated, people come to prayer in the morning, afternoon and evening. Life is structured by coming and going to synagogue. They only come once during Sabbath. There are a lot of people in attendance during the summer and famous rabbis come, the followers of the Vilna Gaon. People are frequently proud of their Lithuanian roots, because being Litvak means the continuation of the Gaon’s school, meaning that their parents or ancestors came from the Lithuanian Grand Duchy, many of them from [the smaller ethnically-defined nation-state of] Lithuania. They dedicate an entire day to prayer, then travel on to Volozhin, where Chaim of Volozhin [1749-1821], a disciple of the Vilna Gaon, taught the Gaon’s method of textual analysis at the yehsiva he [Chaim] established especially for that purpose. During the Jewish holy days the synagogue is packed, at least before the pandemic, and it’s not just Jews who come, many Lithuanian guests do as well. Ambassadors from many countries resident in Vilnius also participate.

The Unbelievable Story of the Kėdainiai Kloiz Being Restored

The Unbelievable Story of the Kėdainiai Kloiz Being Restored

by Rasa Jakubauskienė and Vaidas Banys for 15min.lt

Kėdainiai [Keydan] is a city rich in history, culture, heritage and synagogues. Currently one of the synagogues houses the Multicultural Center of the Kėdainiai Regional History Museum, another an art school, and yet another is undergoing restoration. Restoration of the exterior of the latter was finished last year and this year the interior is being restored.

Jorūnė Liutkienė, advisor to the mayor of the Kėdainiai regional administration, said work is ongoing inside and isn’t complete. Kėdainiai historian Vaidas Banys reported, as we were writing this article, that he had discovered interesting facts never before published concerning the emergence of this synagogue, and shared them for the first time with readers of the newspaper Rinkos aikštė [local Kėdainiai newspaper].

Condolences

We are saddened to report the death of Baruch Shub. Born in Vilnius, a Holocaust survivor and a young Jewish partisan in the Vilnius ghetto, Shub went on to work as a member of the board of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany for many years. Our deepest condolences to children, grandchildren and many friends.

Anniversary of Birth of Jewish Artist and Sculptor Antonietta Raphaël-Mafai

Anniversary of Birth of Jewish Artist and Sculptor Antonietta Raphaël-Mafai

by Geršonas Taicas

This year marks 125 years since the birth in Lithuania of the famous artist and sculptor Antonietta Raphaël-Mafai. She was born in what is now the Kaunas neighborhood of Viljampolė, aka Slobodka, although the town didn’t extend that far then, to a large family. According to archival information the family had 12 children, although other sources say 14, but Antonietta was the only girl.

Her father Simon Rafael was a melamed, Hebrew for teacher, and he taught Hebrew and Jewish traditions at a heder, or primary school. Her mother Mariam was a seamstress and tailor. Simon died in 1903 and her mother took the remaining children to live in London in 1905.

Secrets of Jewish Graves Deep Underground

Secrets of Jewish Graves Deep Underground

by Artūras Jančys

Should we restore desecrated Jewish grave markers and set up meditation and commemoration spaces in Jewish cemeteries, or should we leave the dead in peace and leave everything as it was? There is still no one good answer to the these questions.

Several years ago the municipality of Kaunas took resolute steps to include old Jewish cemeteries in the general context of the historical heritage of Kaunas. Students from Vytautas Magnus University were organized and sent to make photographic records, recording almost 6,000 Jewish headstones on film.

Each gravestone was photographed from several different angles resulting in well over 10,000 individual photographs. They will be entered in a general database which will aid in the continuing project to restore Jewish graveyards. The students’ work will also be displayed on a special internet site created for that purpose.

“Traditions are a sacred thing, but even they change, and now there are even female rabbis,” Gercas Žakas, chairman of the Kaunas Jewish Community, said.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Faina Kukliansky on the Death of Irena Veisaitė: Holy People Go During the Holy Days

Faina Kukliansky on the Death of Irena Veisaitė: Holy People Go During the Holy Days

December 11, BNS–Intellectual, theater expert, literary expert and human rights activist Irena Veisaitė who passed away December 11 was an exceptionally good person and didn’t feel anger despite many tragic life events, Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky told BNS.

“This is a great loss for us. What can you do, people die and let them rest in peace. They say holy people die during the holy days. She died during Hanukkah,” Kukliansky said.

She remembered Veisaitė as an active community member who taught goodness, forgiveness and understanding through the life she lived and in her daily activities.

“This was a unique person who spent half her life in a Jewish family, lived some portion of her life with a family of non-Jewish rescuers and acquired a very varied experience of life, her mother’s death, the goodness of rescuers, she spent some of her life in occupied Kaunas and was sent to Siberia with her rescuers. And despite all these hardships in life, all these problems and losses, she remained very much a person of goodwill. Not just that she was moral and wished everyone well, you’ll almost never hear an ill word about her. Life did not make her angry,” Kukliansky recalled.