Litvaks

Town of Darbėnai Deciding How to Commemorate Jewish Past, Some Ideas Divisive

Town of Darbėnai Deciding How to Commemorate Jewish Past, Some Ideas Divisive

by Jovita Gaižauskaitė, LRT TV

Residents of the town of Darbėnai in the Kretinga region are deciding how to commemorate the former Jewish population of about 550. The proposals so far have stirred up division in the town: no one wants to showcase that Jews were murdered there.

About 550 Jews lived in Darbėnai before World War II. Now the marked mass murder sites witness to their fate.

There is a plaque commemorating the Zionist Dovid Volfson, considered the inventor of the Israeli flag and the man who gave the modern shekel its name, on one of the houses in the Lithuanian town. Local residents keep coming up with more ideas to commemorate other Jews who lived there.

On Photography and Memory: Antanas Sutkus Exhibit Pro Memoria to Mark the 7th Anniversary of the Destruction of the Kaunas Ghetto

On Photography and Memory: Antanas Sutkus Exhibit Pro Memoria to Mark the 7th Anniversary of the Destruction of the Kaunas Ghetto

by Paulius Jevsejevas

Šiaurės Atėnai (No. 17, 2019)

Antanas Sutkus has photographed a wide variety of people over his career, from famous figures such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Jonas Mekas and Marija Gimbutienė to deaf and blind children living on the margins of society.

Even so, the photography in Pro Memoria disturbed me and wouldn’t allow me to build on earlier experience. Not because of some characteristic of the people portrayed, not because of the artistic choices the photographer made, and not because of my own attitudes as viewer. I am disturbed probably because I don’t have any definite words at hand to describe the general photographic situation I found myself in standing in from of these portraits. As I stood looking at those faces at least two different inner voices appeared and engaged in an unnerving inner dialogue.

On one side, we all now know that the people portrayed in this photographs along with hundreds of thousands of others for several long, seemingly endless years were placed beyond the bounds of society, intentionally separated and finally condemned to death. So these people, unlike other Lithuanian people photographed by Sutkus, these people didn’t have any social status at all. The people in the portraits survived, but I cannot forget all those who were murdered, even if I can’t see them: Every face, hand, glance in the series of portraits stands before me like a living body and at the same like a text which contains a story of the dead.

Full text in Lithuanian here.

US Diplomat Tells Lithuania Not to Glorify Holocaust Collaborators

US Diplomat Tells Lithuania Not to Glorify Holocaust Collaborators

Photo: Protesters reinstall controversial Noreika plaque in Vilnius. Photo by J. Stecevičius/LRT

US diplomat Cherrie Daniels has warned the glorification of Holocaust collaborators in Lithuania undermines the country’s reputation and the memory of its true heroes, and promotes anti-Semitism.

“Lithuania has been shaped into the proud democracy it is today because of the valiant actions of countless heroes throughout its history,” Cherrie Daniels, special envoy for Holocaust issues at the US State Department, tweeted Monday. “But every country has its dark moments”.

“When confronting difficult issues of the past, it’s important to objectively review the actions of historical figures to determine the impact of their actions, both positive and negative,” she said.

Exhibit on Tadeusz Romer and Jewish Refugees in Far East

Exhibit on Tadeusz Romer and Jewish Refugees in Far East

The exhibit “Polish Ambassador to Japan Tadeusz Romer and Jewish Refugees in the Far East” will open with an event in the Jascha Heifetz Hall on the third floor of the Lithuanian Jewish Community at 6:00 P.M. on September 19.

This mobile exhibit from the Polish Institute was first shown last March at the Sugihara House museum in Kaunas. The authors of the exhibit Dr. Olga Barbasiewicz and Barbara Abraham are to take part in this opening. The exhibit will run till October 19.

Children’s Safety Questioned after Swastika Appears at LJC

Children’s Safety Questioned after Swastika Appears at LJC

Children’s events, workshops, clubs and so forth are held often at the Lithuanian Jewish Community, as are Hebrew lessons, chess matches and Jewish holiday events attended by children. The safety of children attending events at the LJC is being called into question by the appearance of a swastika just meters from the front door. Its appearance coincided with the Peoples Fair inside, where children were preparing to give a concert. The goal of the Peoples Fair is to bring together the ethnic minority communities who call Lithuania home.

While the children were getting ready for the concert upstairs, down at the Bagel Shop Café a group of 43 elderly religious Jews from Jerusalem were holding prayers and waiting for breakfast when the swastika appeared, even closer to the front door of the kosher food outlet.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliaksy said there should actually be reverse discrimination for the Lithuanian Jewish Community considering how small it is now following the Holocaust.

No other state in Europe fails to provide protection and security for its Jewish community.

Meeting with Students from the Viltis Pre-Gymnasium in Panevėžys

The month of September is marked by a painful historical tragedy and is the month we mark the Day of Lithuanian Jewish Victims of Genocide. The Vilnius ghetto was liquidated over the course of the month of September.

Every year the Panevėžys Jewish Community organizes commemoration ceremonies at the mass murder sites in the Kurganava forest, the Žalioji forest, Krekenava, Raguva and other villages in the Panevėžys region.

The plan this year is to hold a quiz with students on September 24, show a film about the Holocaust from Yad Vashem and to introduce young people to Holocaust survivors. This meeting took place at the Panevėžys Jewish Community in early September with students from the Viltis Pre-Gymnasium.

Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman told the painful history of the Jews of the Panevėžys area.

Local Nazi collaborators murdered Jewish men, women and children throughout Lithuania, in Ukraine and in so many other European countries. Jews will never forget those people who helped and rescued them from the Holocaust.

One wonders why today a small group of Lithuanians is attempting to return to the past and to commemorate the collaborators who murdered and destroyed their fellow citizens.

University of Illinois at Chicago Hosts Discussion “Narratives of Pluralism in Lithuania Yesterday and Today”

University of Illinois at Chicago Hosts Discussion “Narratives of Pluralism in Lithuania Yesterday and Today”

Tuesday evening the University of Illinois at Chicago held a discussion called “Narratives of Pluralism in Lithuania Yesterday and Today.” Speakers included professor Tomas Venclova, Lithuanian minister of culture Dr. Mindaugas Kvietkauskas, Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, YIVO director Jonathen Brent, with teacher of Polish literature and Polish-Jewish relations Karen Underhill moderating. Discussion focused on multiculturalism in Lithuania, changes in ethnic minority communities in Lithuania over the centuries, contributions the ethnic minorities made to founding the modern state and Litvak contributions to the nation’s cultural and political life, as well as Holocaust education and commemoration.

Lithuanian consul general Mantvydas Bekesius thanked professor Venclova, Lithuanian cultural attaché in New York Gražina Michnevičiūtė and all audience members and speakers.

Photos by Sandra Scedrina

Yeshiva Being Restored in Telšiai

Yeshiva Being Restored in Telšiai

by Gintaras Šiuparys

The city of Telšiai has been putting its Old Town in order and has begun restoration of the former yeshiva there.

The remains of the building standing on Iždinės street doesn’t bring to mind the former glory of the world-famous yeshiva. Rabbis from the US, Great Britain, South Africa, Hungary Uruguay and other countries came to learner here. After a fire early in the 20th century, the rebuilt and expanded was huge. At one time up to 500 rabbis and other students studied here.

One of the most famous Jewish religious schools, it operated until the occupation of Lithuania in 1940. Actually it was recreated and still operates across the Atlantic: since November of 1941 the Telshe yeshiva has been operating in Cleveland, Ohio. It follows the same program of study as the former yeshiva in Lithuania.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Arkadijus Vinokuras: We Are Afflicted by Fear

Arkadijus Vinokuras: We Are Afflicted by Fear

Photo © 2019 DELFI/Andrius Ufartas

We are afflicted by Soviet recidivism, i.e., by fear. Fear of the past, fear of a dark history which demands we look upon our own scared face in the mirror. We are afflicted by fear of responsibility. When powerless people are afraid, that is one thing, but it’s entirely different when the people who are afraid are in power.

Gitanas Nauseda, as if he had just fallen to Earth, is proposing to create a Cultural Commission to solve matters of historical memory.

Mr. President, we have two expert institutions which have been doing this for 20 years now. The problem is that one institution, the Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of Residents of Lithuania, or Genocide Center for short, sees no reason to adhere to the international convention defining the crimes of genocide, to which Lithuania is a signatory. Otherwise Jonas Noreika and Kazys Škirpa would have been dethroned long ago. All that is needed is to follow the Convention and hundreds of other documents.

The fact is, the Genocide Center is under the guidance of the right, and thus there are these kinds of politicized decisions. Who will form a new forum? Again, nationalists on the right, who have spent the last 10 years reiterating again and again that the situation is still unclear? Or perhaps it would be more constructive and more credible to convoke independent historians who are not in the pocket of the state and therefore unafraid to issue unpoliticized conclusions?

Full editorial in Lithuanian here.

Keiko Borjeson Concert in Kaunas Honors Righteous Gentile

Keiko Borjeson Concert in Kaunas Honors Righteous Gentile

The Kaunas State Philharmonic held a concert September 6 to honor Righteous Gentile Ona Jablonskytė-Landsbergienė on what would have been her 125th birthday.

Actor and director Aleksandras Rubinovas presented a brief biography of the woman including how she hid Jews during the Holocaust. Her son was present and shared his memories of his mother’s deeds and views.

Jazz vocalist Keiko Borjeson (ボルジェソン ケイコ) of Japan, Arvydas Joffe on percussion, Mykolas Bazaras on bass and Tomas Botyrius on sax delivered a program of jazz standards, improvisation and Jewish melodies.

Kaunas Library Conducting Jewish Tours

Kaunas Library Conducting Jewish Tours

The Vincas Kudirka Public Library in Kaunas invites the public to a series of tours in a project called Jewish Heritage in Kaunas. The tours will be conducted on September 6, 8 and 10 and will cover modern architecture, the Old Town, Slobodka and major achievements by Litvaks. Registration required. Call (37) 22 23 57 or send an email to renginiai@kaunas.mvb.lt

The guided tour on September 10 begins at 6:00 P.M. and will be led by local guide Asia Gutermanaitė.

Statement by Lithuanian Jewish Community Chairwoman Faina Kukliansky on the New Jonas Noreika Plaque

Statement by Lithuanian Jewish Community Chairwoman Faina Kukliansky on the New Jonas Noreika Plaque

Thursday evening a plaque commemorating Jonas Noreika was erected on the outer wall of the Vrublevskiai Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences in central Vilnius. A number of police observed the scene.

This is a wanton act by a mob. It demonstrates the attitude of the organizers of this event, of those who hung the plaque, towards the law and obeying the law.

We saw the organizers took the path of force, pushing their belief as the only correct one. We saw that before in Lithuania in 1941.

Despite the LJC’s critical view of Noreika’s actions during the Nazi occupation, it never occured to us over those 22 years the plaque stood there to come and simply take it down. We respect the laws of Lithuania.

I have no doubt that the events of Thursday evening have done harm to the nation’s reputation. High-lvel delegations from the United States are due to arrive in September alone and we will mark the day of remembrance of the genocide of the Jews of Lithuania on September 23. And will this plaque look on from its central perch as we mark the Year of the Vilna Gaon and of Litvak History declared in 2020?

It is crucial that the leaders of the Lithuanian state express their views and a principled position, and that the appropriate Lithuanian institutions take all necessary measures.

The only consolation seems to be that today, Thursday evening, as I watched this so-called action, I saw only a small group of people who truly do not represent the whole of Lithuania. There were no young people, no intellectuals on hand, whose voices have been lacking in this.

What we are demanding is very simple: 1) stop denying the Holocaust, 2) stop portraying Holocaust perpetrators as heroes, 3) honor the victims of the Holocaust and 4) follow the IHRA definition of Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism adopted by Lithuania last year. If the IHRA definition isn’t followed it’s meaningless for Lithuania to remain a signatory to it or a member of IHRA.

I would like to remind the public again that my relatives were imprisoned in the Šiauliai ghetto, from which they never returned. I would like to quote the famous writer Sholem Aleichem, in whose honor a school is named in Vilnius. One of his works begins with the words: “How good it is that I am an orphan…” I would also like to say: “How good it is that I am an orphan and that my parents aren’t around to see the man who condemned their entire family to death in the Šiauliai ghetto celebrated and lionized.”

March of the Living

March of the Living

You’re invited to take part in the March of the Living procession in Ponar at 1:00 P.M. on September 23, 2019. The march begins at the Ponar railroad station and concludes at the main memorial in the Ponar Memorial Complex, where a commemoration ceremony to remember the genocide of the Jews of Lithuania will begin at 1:15.

A bus will offer transport from the LJC to the memorial complex leaving at 12 noon. Registration begins September 16. To register, call 8 5 261 3003.


European Day of Jewish Culture in Šeduva September 15

European Day of Jewish Culture in Šeduva September 15

A lesson on how to bake traditional challa bread will be held at 3:00 P.M. on September 15 at the Šeduva Crafts and Culture Center located at Vilniaus street no. 1 in Šeduva. Chefs from the Bagel Shop Café will share the secrets of traditional Litvak holiday customs and cuisine.

European Day of Jewish Culture Events in Šiauliai

European Day of Jewish Culture Events in Šiauliai

The Aušra Museum in Šiauliai will mark European Day of Jewish Culture on September 8, 2019. At 1:00 P.M. a game will be held on the grounds of the Frankel factory. At 2:00 P.M. the museum will open the exhibit “The Frankel Factory: A Symbol of Šiauliai Industry and Modernization” and screen a series of documentary films about Jews of Šiauliai called “Dingusio pasaulio pėdsakais. Žydiškieji Šiauliai” [Traces of a Lost World: Jewish Šiauliai] directed by Jūratė Sobutienė at the Chaim Frankel villa.

The game will requires teams of from 2 to 4 people with telephones or tablets with internet access. To register your team call 8 41 524 392 or send an e-mail to istorija@ausrosmuziejus.lt

More information:
www.ausrosmuziejus.lt
https://www.facebook.com/events/698501067290781

Augustė Labenskytė, acting director,
History Department, Aušra Museum

First Day of School

First Day of School

The Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymnasium began the school year Monday with a large welcome-back ceremony attended by new Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Yossi Avni Levy. Principal Miša Jakobas spoke to the large audience of pupils, parents and teachers:

“This is my last September today. All these years I’ve been with you, I’ve shared my heart and feelings with you. There is no greater feeling today than that which I feel seeing Lithuanian and Jewish children sing the Israeli anthem. I would like to thank everyone who believed in me. The school and the high school understand that nothing lasts forever. Today I can only take pride in our wonderful teachers and great atmosphere,” he said. After thanking teachers by name, he added: “I am very proud that our 70 gymnasium students are doing especially well.”

Home Movies from Before the Flood

Home Movies from Before the Flood

On Wednesday Kaunas Holocaust survivor Dita Zupavičienė-Šperlingienė spoke at the Vilnius Jewish Public Library and presented a home movie.

The silent film was a series of street scenes from Vilnius, Riga and Lvov before the war. Zupavičienė-Šperlingienė explained how her uncle Hanon, a medical student in Paris, used to come visit the family. In bed for over a week with scarlet fever, the young Dita was overjoyed when her physician uncle told the family she could get up and do things around the house without making it worse. Dita said she jumped out of bed at the first opportunity and from that time on Hanon became her favorite uncle.

Hanon was an amateur filmmaker and used an 8 mm camera on some of his travels. As the Nazis drew closer to Paris, he grabbed a bicycle and rode south, to Vichy France. Zupavičienė-Šperlingienė said he soon discovered life was dangerous for a Jew there, as well. After the Holocaust Hanon continued to live in Paris. Dita made it to Israel where it turned out she was, for whatever reason, one of the few Jews able to teach the German language. In the early 1970s she had the opportunity to improve her German teaching skills in West Germany, and visited Hanon in Paris during that trip. That’s when he mentioned he still had some of the footage he had taken before the Holocaust.

Reception for New Israeli Ambassador

Reception for New Israeli Ambassador

The Lithuanian Jewish Community held a reception for Israel’s new ambassador to Lithuania Yossi Avni Levy and her team last week. Chairmen of the regional Lithuanian Jewish communities attended the event. LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky welcomed the new ambassador’s arrival and introduced him to members of the Community at the event.

Levy is an Israeli writer and diplomat. He has held various posts at Israeli embassies in Bonn, Berlin, Belgrade and Warsaw. His literary work has received the prize of the Israeli prime minister’s office.

Born in 1962, Levy’s mother has roots in Iran and his father in Afghanistan. He was graduated with honors by Hebrew University in Jerusalem in history of the Middle East and Arabic in 1983.

New Leonard Cohen Statue in Vilnius

New Leonard Cohen Statue in Vilnius

A bronze statue was unveiled Saturday evening to the late Litvak Canadian singer Leonard Cohen to a small audience in the courtyard of a restaurant in the Vilnius Old Town. Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius and wife Agnė Matulaitė attended the closed-door ceremony and the mayor promised to find a more public, permanent location for the statue in the near future. The sculpture is the work of the late sculptor Romualdas Kvintas, who has done a number of works on Jewish and Litvak themes. According to Agnė Matulaitė, it is the first statue commemorating Leonard Cohen in the world.

Full story in Lithuanian here.