Litvaks

The Victor Speaks


by Grant Arthur Gohcin

Adolf Hitler was the greatest hero who ever lived. He restored Germany to greatness and corrected the German economy, or so the messaging would have been had Nazis won WWII. After all, history is written by the victors.

Jews were the greatest losers of the war. Our people were decimated, our future burned in the crematoria of the European death camps, usually with the maximum of personal humiliation and torture before their deaths. We would have been a forgotten footnote in history had not America entered and ultimately ended the war. Every Jewish child murdered was our future stolen. Today the 6,000,000 murdered would have been many times that number, we would have been a large and strong people. The adversity Israel and Jews currently face is partly because our population numbers are so small. We are revisited with the consequences of the slaughter every day.

Rescuers of Jews: The Great Lesson for Humanity

Press Service of the Office of the President of the Republic of Lithuania

September 21, Vilnius–Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė decorated Lithuanian citizens who risked their lives and those of their families to save Jews during the Holocaust with the Order of the Life Saver’s Cross Friday.

This year is the 77th anniversary of the Holocaust and on September 23 it will have been exactly 75 years since the final destruction of the Vilnius ghetto. On the occasion of the Day of Remembrance of Lithuanian Jewish Victims of Genocide, 39 Jewish rescuers were recognized. Most of them are no longer among the living, so their descendants and other relatives attended the ceremony and received the awards.

The Lithuanian head of state said every time we remember the victims of the Holocaust we also remember those who rescued Jews, and that this is a great lesson in sacrifice and courage for humanity. She said those attending the ceremony were a living bridge between today and those times of brutality and extraordinary altruism.

Full text here.

Rescuers of Jews: The Great Lesson for Humanity

Friday, 21 September, Vilnius–President Dalia Grybauskaitė awarded the Life Saving Cross to Lithuanian citizens who risked their lives and the lives of their families to rescue Jews from death and persecution during World War II.

This year marks the 77th anniversary of the Holocaust in Lithuania, and on September 23 we will commemorate the 75th anniversary of the destruction of the Vilnius Ghetto. State decorations were awarded to 39 rescuers of Jews on the occasion of the National Memorial Day for the Genocide of Lithuanian Jews. Most of them have already passed away, so the ceremony was attended by their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and other family members.

According to the president, each time that we honor the memory of the Holocaust victims, we remember their rescuers and the great lesson of humanity, sacrifice and courage. Those attending the ceremony are the living bond between the present and the past marked by both brutality and compassion.

The president underlined that we were proud of every Lithuanian who dared to stand up in the whirlwind of a brutal war and fight evil with the goodness of their heart. It was action over words: the decision to open the door and share life. And fate. They did not know how it would end, but they took the risk.

The president extended her gratitude to all the rescuers and called upon all to cherish the memory of the Righteous Among the Nations and the light they had left behind.

Press Service of the President

Full text here.

Events to Commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the Destruction of the Vilnius Ghetto

September 21

10:00 A.M. Ceremony at the President’s Office to award rescuers of Jews the Order of the Life Saver’s Cross (by invitation only)

3:00 P.M. Ceremony for the erection of a stele marking the future site of a monument to Righteous Gentiles in the green space behind the Church of the Assumption and the Missionaries’ Monastery located at Subačiaus street no 28 in Vilnius and accessible from Maironio street (near the former Rosa Square)

September 22

6:00 P.M. Premiere of the play Ghetto, National Drama Theater, Laisvės prospect no. 71, Kaunas

September 23

10:00 A.M. Reading of the names at the Choral Synagogue, Pylimo street no. 39, Vilnius

12:00 noon Reading of passages from Yitzhak Rudashevski’s ghetto diary, Rūdininkų square, Rūdininkų street, Vilnius

2:30 P.M. Commemoration at the Ponar mass murder site, Ponar Memorial Complex, Agrastų street, Vilnius. Bus departs LJC at 1:00 P.M.

Exact time to be announced: Pope Francis commemorates Holocaust victims in the former ghetto in Vilnius Old Town

6:00 P.M. World premiere of “Under the Star of David” by the Giedrius Kuprevičius chamber symphony, Vaidila Theater, Jakšto street no. 9, Vilnius

Vilnius Mayor Not Ready to Remove Noreika Plaque, Jewish Community and Intellectuals Ignored

A roundtable discussion led by Edmundas Jakilaitis on Delfi TV’s Center of Attention program on September 19, 2018.

In a few days the 75th anniversary of the destruction of the Vilnius ghetto will be observed. What should Lithuania do with monuments to Nazi collaborators who fought for Lithuania’s freedom? Recently Lithuania has come to the center of attention of the most important global media because of these statues. Should calls by the country’s major thinkers and the requests by the Jewish community be taken to heart and memorial plaques removed and statues taken down? Should the president rescind state awards granted them?

On Delfi Center of Attention we have Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, journalist and publicist Rimvydas Valatka and historian and politician Arvydas Anušauskas. Also on the program: commentary by world-famous Lithuanian writer, poet and professor Tomas Venclova and Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius.

Mrs. Kukliansky, yesterday you held an event at the Jonas Noreika memorial plaque, you read the names of Jews murdered in the Šiauliai ghetto. Why?

Kukliansky: Because we didn’t see any other way to bring the public’s attention to the fact the plaque is located there, on the side of the Academy of Sciences building, honoring, in our understanding, a person who collaborated with the Nazis. We’re not just saying this, but in possession of a finding by the Center for the Study of the Resistance and Genocide of Residents of Lithuania. Perhaps the center or other leaders upon whom the erection and removal of the plaque depend do not consider isolation of Jews collaboration with the Nazis, but we think that if only this had taken place, that Mr. Noreika isolated Jews, that would be sufficient to say this person should not be honored in public spaces.

Pope’s Prayer in Ghetto Important to Holocaust Survivors and Rescuers

Vilnius, September 19, BNS–Pope Francis plans to say a silent prayer in the former Jewish ghetto in Vilnius on the 75th anniversary of its final destruction.

Lithuanian Jews say this gesture is important to both Holocaust victims and Christians who rescued Jews.

“We are overjoyed the Pope is sending a message to the world by honoring the 75th anniversary of the liquidation of the ghetto. I hope he includes in his thoughts the Christians who rescued Jews as well,” Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky told BNS.

“It is a great honor the Pope is visiting us, without regard that we belong to a different faith. We are citizens of this country and we are so glad this visit is taking place on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the restoration of the state. This is an extraordinary pope. He is very democratic and is fighting valiantly against violence,” she said.

Pope Francis is scheduled to honor the victims of the ghetto at Rūdninkų square in Vilnius on September 23. The final destruction of the Vilnius ghetto including what is now the square took place on September 23, 1943.

Full text in Lithuanian available here.

Lithuanian ForMin Linkevičius Calls for Immediate Removal of Noreika Plaque


BNS, September 19, Vilnius–Lithuanian foreign minister Linas Linkevičius has called upon Lithuanian institutions to remove a plaque honoring Jonas Noreika from the city center in Vilnius after assessing his collaboration with the Nazis.

The foreign minister said an honest assessment of history will aid in countering propaganda against the small Baltic country and attempts to blacken the reputation of Lithuanian freedom fighters.

“We shouldn’t be helping the propagandists. We should respond in principle when undisputed facts are raised about immoral behavior and Nazi collaboration by separate individuals,” Linkevičius told BNS Wednesday.

“The case of Jonas Noreika is just such an example. His life was varied and it is true he was imprisoned in a concentration camp and fought for Lithuania. At the same time, I have copies of documents right here in front of me which testify to [his] clear collaboration with the Nazis, establishing Jewish ghettos and seizing Jewish property,” the Lithuanian foreign minister said.

“The municipality, the [Lithuanian] Academy of Sciences and the Vrublevskai Library [Wroblewski Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences] shouldn’t keep pushing responsibility from one to the other and should take measures to get rid of this plaque. We shouldn’t be waffling on this,” he continued.

Picking at an Old Wound: General Vėtra Becomes Test for Lithuania

by Mindaugas Jackevičius, www.lrt.lt

Lithuania’s Jews have asked for a memorial plaque commemorating the officer Jonas Noreika to be removed from a library located in the center of Vilnius by September 23. The influential newspaper the New York Times put Lithuania and Noreika on the front page last week and called the issue of the officer a test for Lithuania.

The Lithuanian side isn’t sure how to react to all this attention. Historians claim they have investigated all of it: Noreika, aka General Vėtra, didn’t murder Jews but did collaborate with the Nazis. Arūnas Gumuliauskas, the chairman of the parliament’s State Commission for Historical Memory, called the articles amateur but wouldn’t say whether the Noreika plaque should be taken down.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Sixth Annual Klezmer Music Festival 2018 Presents Two Legends of the Century

A concert by various performers dedicated to the composers Anatolijus Šenderovas and Vyacheslav Ganelin. Anatolijus Šenderovas and Vyacheslav Ganelin meet as chamber music composers and speak with the audience.

Where: Tolerance Center, Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum, Naugarduko street 10 /2, Vilnius
When: 6:30 P.M., September 17, 2018

For more information contact Arkadijus Gotesmanas by email at gotesmanas@yahoo.com or call 863466675.

Embrace the Past Tense

A concert to commemorate Holocaust victims will be performed on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the liquidation of the Vilnius ghetto. Tenor Rafail Karpis, pianist Darius Mažintas and poet Sergejus Kanovičius present Embrace the Past Tense.

Can Yiddish and Lithuanian meet under one roof?
Do you know it’s a lullaby if it’s in a language you don’t understand?
Is dialogue possible between spoken Lithuanian and sung Yiddish?
Can love, longing and regret meet in memory?

6:00 P.M., September 26
Applied Art and Design Hall,
Arsenalo street no. 3A, Vilnius
Admission free

For more information write info@lzb.lt or call +370 672 40942

Event sponsors: Lithuanian Jewish Community, Government of the Republic of Lithuania

Born Efraim, Raised as Kazimieras


Photo: Karolina Savickytė

Bernardinai.lt

There is a holy silence at Ponar today. The wind softly brushes the tops of the pines and occasionally carries the sound of trains rolling on the tracks. As we walk the winding paths of the memorial complex we hear the voices of American tourists. When we run into them face-to-face, one man points to an older man and says: “This man is a survivor of the Kaunas ghetto.”

An athletics jacket, a light turquoise shirt, dark jeans and black leather shoes–I would say the usual image of a modern intellectual. The old man smiles and we smile back. Suddenly he points at the woman leading the tour and telling the tragedy of Ponar, and says to us in fluent Lithuanian: “She is speaking very well, telling everything correctly. Take a listen.”

“But we wanted to ask you,” I reply and receive a piercing look from his brown eyes.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Netanyahu’s Silence Helps Hide Lithuanian Jewish Genocide

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to address the dangerous issue of Holocaust distortion during his recent visit to Lithuania. To best understand the severity of this, we need to clarify the terms and potential hazards.

Holocaust distortion is often confused with the better-known phenomenon of Holocaust denial, but it is a more recent version of the latter.

It began with the fall of the Soviet Union, and the transition to democracy of post-Communist Eastern Europe. It was then (1990-1991) that these countries were able to face their Holocaust past honestly, including countries like Lithuania, which participated in systematic mass murder.

In Lithuania, 212,000 out of the 220,000 Jews who lived in the country under Nazi occupation were murdered during the Shoa (96.4%). This was the highest percentage of fatalities among the larger European Jewish communities. In Estonia, 99% of the Jews were killed, but only 1,000 lived under Nazi occupation; the rest, 3,500, were able to escape to the Soviet Union before the Nazi invasion.

It is important to remember that 90% of Lithuanian Jewry (in many cases the relatives of South African Jewry) were not murdered in death camps, as were most of the Nazis’ victims. Instead, they were shot near their homes, and in many cases by their neighbors or by other Lithuanians.

Full text here.

European Days of Jewish Culture Celebrated in Plungė

More than 20 Lithuanian cities and towns took part last week in European Days of Jewish Culture from September 2 to 9 with tours, lectures, concerts, exhibits, conferences and other events. This year the theme of European Days of Jewish Culture was “Stories.”

On September 7 residents of Plungė (Plungyan) and others attended one such event at the Plungė Public Library. Saulė Gymnasium Tolerance Center students began the event with a violin concert and readings from Holocaust survivor Maša Rolnik’s autobiography. Rolnik was born in Plungė. A specialist from the Plungė Tourist Information Center presented a new Jewish tourism itinerary in Plungė, and the publication “On the Jewish Streets of Plungė” which details in English and Lithuanian a 3-kilometer route through the town where buildings which once belonged to the Jewish community, statues and other sites have been marked with signs.

Eugenijus Bunka greeted the audience with the upcoming Jewish new year and gave a presentation on world-famous Jewish figures with roots in Plungė.

Invitation to Read the Names

NAMES. The person is not a number

Marking the Day of Remembrance of the Genocide of Lithuanian Jews on September 23, the names of Holocaust victims will be read out at different locations around Lithuania. More than 90% of the Jews who lived in our country were murdered during World War II. The Names civic initiative invites everyone to remember the people of Lithuanian brutally murdered by reading their names out loud.

Readings of the names in public in Lithuanian cities and towns has been going on for eight years now. Participants say this form of Holocaust remembrance really helps them to feel at the personal level the scope of the tragedy.

“When you read in your own voice the names, surnames and professions of these people who lived here, you can no longer pretend they didn’t exist, you can no longer pretend that that person never lived, and the statistics become more than numbers. In this way the courage appears to look at history more openly,” Milda Jakulytė-Vasil says.

Nazi Collaborator or National Hero? A Test for Lithuania


Photo: Brendan Hoffman

by Andrew Higgins
Sept. 10, 2018

ŠUKIONIAI, Lithuania — For the tiny village of Šukioniai in western Lithuania, the exploits of General Storm, a local anti-Communist hero executed by the Soviet secret police in 1947, have long been a source of pride. The village school is named after him, and his struggles against the Soviet Union are also honored with a memorial carved from stone next to the farm where he was born.

All along, though, there have been persistent whispers that General Storm, whose real name was Jonas Noreika, also helped the Nazis kill Jews. But these were largely discounted as the work of ill-willed outsiders serving a well-orchestrated campaign by Moscow to tar its foes as fascists.

Blaming Russian propaganda, however, has suddenly become a lot more difficult thanks to Mr. Noreika’s own granddaughter, Silvia Foti, a Lithuanian-American from Chicago who has spent years researching a biography of her revered relative and went public in July with her shocking conclusion: her grandfather was a fierce anti-Semite and Nazi collaborator.

Full story here.

LJC Chairwoman Faina Kukliansky’s Greetings on Rosh Hashanah 5779

As the high holy days draw near, I am glad to be able to share with you important Lithuanian Jewish Community news. The Lithuanian Jewish Community faces many challenges every day, but this year we’ve grown, we’ve grown stronger and we are receiving ever more public and political support. Interest in Jewish culture is not fading, either, as shown by European Days of Jewish Culture events in Lithuania, a program which grows richer by the year. I greatly appreciate that 1,500 Litvaks abroad have officially joined the LJC from the Litvak Association in Israel chaired by Arie Ben-Ari Grozdensky. Jewish unity is the largest goal for the LJC which is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the national revival this year.

Thanks to the active work of the regional Jewish communities and Jewish organizations, Jewish values remain strong in Lithuania. A young generation of Jews is growing up and we need to pass on our history and our future to them. For a long time now we have been developing the idea of reviving the tradition of Litvak scouting and this year we finally managed to make it a reality working with French and Polish Jewish scouting organizations. Vilnius ghetto prisoner and Jewish partisan Fania Brancovskaja was part of Jewish scouting in Lithuania before the war and shared her experience in scouting at our recent camping event. Although the Jewish community in Lithuania isn’t large, we have proven we are able to continue the old traditions and to start new ones.

We met the Litvak prime minister of Israel, Binyamin Netanyahu, and his wife Sara at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius, celebrating its 115th anniversary this year. This was an historical occasion to remind Europe and the world the Jewish nation is an indivisible part of European culture, and Europe should be grateful to the State of Israel for so many European lives which have been saved thanks to the work of Israeli intelligence in stopping attacks. Two small democracies, Israel and Lithuania, find striking parallels in their histories. We will recall them this December in celebrating 100 years of the union of Lithuanian Zionist organizations, which also supported Lithuanian aspirations for statehood.

In September we mark a great tragedy which has come to be a symbol of the Holocaust in Lithuania. We mark the painful 75th anniversary of the destruction of the Vilnius ghetto. It’s very significant that we are dedicating ever more informal means to commemorate history, but there are still areas where more needs to be done in discussing the role the Lithuanian Activist Front and the Provisional Government of Lithuania played in the Holocaust, and more needs to be done in the state’s school curriculum as well.

We esteem highly as well the great work our partners–the joint Lithuanian-Israel archaeology group–have done in work on the Great Synagogue of Vilnius. The LJC is responsible for drafting a study on ways to commemorate the Great Synagogue. As the spiritual successors to the Vilna Gaon, we feel a great responsibility to insure the respect due this special Jewish sacred site and the appropriate presentation of what’s left of this heritage site to the public.

I want to thank sincerely all those who have been and are with the Lithuanian Jewish Community. Thank you for your energy and support. I wish you a sweet and happy 5779!

LJC Calendar for 5779 Features Children of the Holocaust


This September, 2018, reminds us of the destruction of the Vilnius ghetto 75 years ago, the Holocaust, marking the history of our country for the ages with great loss.

The most fragile portion of our society, the children, also became hostages to this horror. By condemning our children to death, the Nazi invaders and their local collaborators attempted to snuff out our future; more than a million children in Europe became the victims of those who supported this ruthless and inhumane ideology. And the effects of the Holocaust in Lithuania were also ruthless: complete Jewish shtetlakh left empty, broken Jewish families, family lives cut short and the loss of great civic and intellectual potential.

Panevėžys Jewish Community Visits Riga

A group from the Panevėžys Jewish Community visited Holocaust sites in Riga, the Latvian capital, September 2. Last year community members visited the Salaspils concentration camp. Latvia’s large Jewish population was reduced to between 200 and 1,000 when the country was liberated from the Nazis. Most survived only because of Righteous Gentiles, 129 of whom were recognized by Yad Vashem on January 1, 2011, according to the visitors from Panevėžys, who said they also learned the most prolific Righteous Gentiles in Latvia were Janis Lipke and his wife Johanna who rescued 56 Jews.

Members of the Panevėžys Jewish Community also visited Jūrmala next to Riga and learned about the history of the town.

Rosh Hashanah at the Choral Synagogue

Program for Rosh Hashanah at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius

Sunday, September 9

7:00 P.M. Mincha/Maariv, holiday prayers, kiddush, buffet

Monday, September 10

9:30 A.M. Shacharit (morning prayer)

12:00 noon blowing of the shofar

12:30 P.M. Musaf (prayer)

6:00 P.M. Tashlich (prayer by the river at Bokšto street no. 9, Vilnius)

6:30 Rosh Hashanah celebration: blowing of the shofar, presentation of new calendar for 5779, holiday meal

8:43 P.M. Maariv prayer

Tuesday, September 11

9:30 A.M. Shacharit

12 noon blowing of shofar

7:00 P.M. blowing of shofar

Sutzkever Exhibit

The Judaic Studies Center of the Lithuanian National Martynas Mažvydas Library celebrated European Days of Jewish Culture with an exhibit called “Žaibo prisiminimas,” or “Memory of Lightning,” dedicated to the poet Abraham Sutzkever. The poet was a partisan and one of the first authors of memoirs of the Vilnius ghetto. Before the war he contributed to the flourishing of Yiddish literature in Jewish Vilnius; after he chronicled the death of Jewish Vilnius.

Sutzkever’s granddaughter Hadas Calderon, Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky and Israeli ambassador Amir Maimon participated at the event.