Litvaks

The Vilna Gaon: The Central Figure Who Made Vilnius the Jerusalem of the North

The Vilna Gaon: The Central Figure Who Made Vilnius the Jerusalem of the North

by Mindaugas Klusas, LRT.lt

The Vilna Gaon, the 18th-century sage from the Jerusalem of the North, has left behind a significant legacy of Jewish scholarship as well as many legends about his erudition and idiosyncratic devotion to the study of religious texts.

Lithuania designated 2020 the Year of the History of Jews of Lithuania, and 2020 is also the 300th anniversary of the Vilna Gaon. Lara Lempertienė, an historian and the head of the Judaica Department at the Lithuanian National Library, spoke with LRT.lt about the 18th-century sage from Vilnius.

While other nations are proud of battles and glorious buildings, Jewish history is about writing and books, Lempertienė quoted a modern rabbi. The Vilna Gaon and his town Vilnius, often dubbed the Jerusalem of the North, played a crucial role in this history.

Full text here.

Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel Protests Lithuanian Attempt to Whitewash Holocaust

In two months the Lithuanian parliament will recess. Prior to that MP Arūnas Gumuliauskas, chair of the parliament’s Commission on the Fight for Freedom and Historical Memory, will propose a parliamentary resolution declaring Lithuania has no responsibility for the murders and extermination of Lithuanian Jews during World War II because it was occupied by the Soviets and then by Nazi Germany. His resolution is to absolve Lithuania from the horrors of the Holocaust because it was occupied by Russia and Germany!

Member of parliament Gumuliauskas is not clearly anti-Semitic (compared to those living in Lithuania), he is a professor of history. His primary research during the Soviet era showed positive impact of the Communist Party on the Lithuanian theater. Apparently in 1987 he didn’t think that three years hence everything would be turned upside down. Instead of praising Communism a change had to be made: to stand out and to pave his way to the parliament, Jews can always be accused of something. Anti-Semitism has always been popular in Lithuania at all times. In 2016 the learned professor was elected to parliament. At the end of this year there will be another parliamentary election and an opportunity for him to stand out by proposing a parliamentary resolution which releases Lithuania and Lithuanians of involvement in the Holocaust, for the murder of 95% of Jewish citizens of Lithuania who had lived as good neighbors with Lithuanians for over 400 years.

MP Behind Holocaust Resolution Claims He Was Misunderstood

MP Behind Holocaust Resolution Claims He Was Misunderstood

Lithuanian MP and chairman of the parliament’s Commission on the Fight for Freedom and Historical Memory Arūnas Gumuliauskas announced earlier he is drafting a parliamentary resolution saying the Lithuanian state and the Lithuanian people are guiltless in the mass murder of Jews during WWII. The announcement made in mid-December provoked public discussion and it seems the author, who said earlier Lithuania’s position on the Holocaust cannot be the same as the West’s, has changed his mind and is now citing resolutions adopted by the European Parliament in 2009 and 2019 as the foundation for his resolution.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky refrained from any categorical comment on the planned resolution because of the lack of information surrounding it.

“We only know about this draft from the press, so it’s very difficult to judge it, because we just don’t what it really says,” Kukliansky told alfa.lt

Lithuanian Jews Concerned over Possible Holocaust Legislation

Lithuanian Jews Concerned over Possible Holocaust Legislation

Photo: Adam Jones/Wikimedia

Lithuanian Government “shares concerns” of Jewish community over proposed Holocaust law

Lithuania’s Jewish community and members of the expatriate Lithuanian Jewish community in Israel have expressed serious concern about possible legislation in the parliament in Vilnius which would declare the Lithuanian state and people didn’t collaborate in the murder of Jews during the Holocaust.

Member of Lithuanian parliament Arūnas Gumuliauskas and chairman of its State Historical Memory Committee said last month he would propose legislation declaring the Lithuanian state didn’t participate in the murder of Jews because it was an occupied nation, first by the Soviet Union and then by Nazi Germany.

The parliamentary draft resolution has not yet been submitted to the parliament. The parliament goes into recess this Wednesday.

Gumuliauskas’s resolution, which he said was being prepared by the committee, would also claim the Lithuanian people could not have participated in the murder of Jews since Lithuanians were “an enslaved people” during World War II.

Full article here.

Reconstruction of Sports Palace Agreed, First Event Scheduled in 2023

Reconstruction of Sports Palace Agreed, First Event Scheduled in 2023

Press release, lrytas.lt

Representatives and technical coordinators from Lithuania’s Turto Bankas, which administers and maintains real estate belonging to the state, the Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe have arrived at joint solutions for renovating Vilnius’s Palace of Sports as a conference and cultural venue and preserving the territory of the old Šnipiškės Jewish cemetery which surrounds the building.

The reached basic agreement on solutions for reconstruction and maintaining the cemetery territory.

The decisions made regarding the technical project are based on a protocol signed by Lithuanian Government and the Lithuanian Jewish Community in 2009 on heritage protection for the site and a buffer zone and on reconstructing the former sports arena for conferences and other cultural events. The Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe approved the protocol in 2016.

How a Geologist Dug Up Historical Findings

How a Geologist Dug Up Historical Findings

by Arkadijus Vinokuras, translated by Geoff Vasil

Lithuania’s Genocide Center has published another finding of alleged historic dimensions, transforming Nazi collaborator Jonas Noreika into a Righteous Gentile who rescued Jews from the Holocaust. The story goes, he organized a network for rescuing Jews from the Šiauliai ghetto. How many professional historians did it take, after long discussion and examination of the facts, witnesses and circumstance, to come to this stunning conclusion exactly on Christmas Eve? One. And he’s not an historian, he’s a geologist working as a public relations expert.

What do the professional historians say about this finding (it was written based on testimony by the Catholic priest Jonas Borevičius to a court in the United States)? Director and senior academic of the Lithuanian History Institute, doctor habil. of the liberal arts Alvydas Nikžentaitis and Vilnius University History Faculty professor Dr. Nerijus Šepetys appear to hold the same opinion: if this were a student’s work, it wouldn’t weather critique and would receive a very poor grade indeed. It’s appalling the director of the Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of Residents of Lithuania signed off on the finding.

Before I go further, I’d like to remind my detractors as well as proponents I have never, neither in writing or orally, demeaned Jonas Noreika’s nor Kazys Škirpa’s devotion to Lithuania from 1941 to 1944. If real, reliable documentary evidence were discovered demonstrating I have made a mistake, for example, regarding Jonas Noreika, I would change my mind. My criticism was and is directed against the criteria for heroization by which the Genocide Center facilely lionizes those who are tainted with the persecution of their Jewish fellow citizens.

Lithuanian Parliament Hosts Photo Exhibit “Brave Jews in the Battle for Lithuanian Freedom”

Lithuanian Parliament Hosts Photo Exhibit “Brave Jews in the Battle for Lithuanian Freedom”

The Lithuanian parliament is hosting a photo exhibit called “Brave Jews of the Battle for Lithuanian Freedom” in its exihibt space from January 2 to 15. The photo exhibit chronicles Lithuanian Jewish veterans who fought for Lithuanian independence in the run-up to the first republic in 1919, including a large number of officers, recipients of military awards and those who laid down their lives for the new state.

The Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Vytis Support Fund organized the photo exhibit. It was inspired by a similar exhibit at Yad Vashem on Austrian Jewish military heroes.

It’s My Personal Affair What I Write, Orwellian Genocide Center Historian Claims to Lithuanian Media

It’s My Personal Affair What I Write, Orwellian Genocide Center Historian Claims to Lithuanian Media

Just when the roiling waters surrounding the Noreika controversy in Lithuania started settling, Lithuania’s Orwellian Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of Residents of Lithuania (abbreviated to Genocide Center among almost all vulgar mortals) has stirred the pot yet again with a new “historical finding” exonerating the Holocaust perpetrator, whom they plainly stated was a Holocaust perpetrator in their earlier “findings.”

Based on a deposition and/or court testimony allegedly made in Chicago in 1984 or 1986 by a Lithuanian Jesuit, the latest finding by Lithuania’s state-funded Holocaust distortion agency says Jonas Noreika set up a network of priests to smuggle Jews out of the Šiauliai ghetto to safety on the farms of sympathetic farmers, and that he was the leader of some mythical anti-Nazi underground resistance movement during the Nazi occupation of Lithuania.

Lithuanian Holocaust distorters in the past, including at the Genocide Center, have dismissed almost all Holocaust survivor testimony as hearsay which cannot be taken at face value without a deep review of the facts. Facts they claim only they are privy to. In actuality, when independent Holocaust researchers conducted studies on Noreika for Grant Gochin’s court case against the Genocide Center for the crime of Holocaust distortion and denial, the Center fired back on their website claiming Gochin’s research was amateurish and “might be” in violation of both the Lithuanian criminal code and the Lithuanian constitution. Gochin’s research, incidentally, turned up testimony by an eye-witness that Jonas Noreika as LAF commander in Žemaitija, the western region of Lithuania, directly issued the command to execute a group of over 1,000 Jews.

Statement by Lithuanian Jewish Community on Erroneous Information about Jonas Noreika Propagated by the Genocide Center

Statement by Lithuanian Jewish Community on Erroneous Information about Jonas Noreika Propagated by the Genocide Center

The Lithuanian Jewish Community strongly condemns irresponsible statements issuing from the Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of Residents of Lithuania leading the public into error in connection with the actions of Jonas Noreika as head of the Šiauliai district during World War II.

The statement Jonas Noreika “didn’t understand ghettos were one of the stages of the Holocaust” till the liquidation of the Žagarė ghetto is an example of Holocaust revisionism and denial, committed by a state-funded institution. So-called evidence presented allegedly showing Jonas Noreika organized the rescue of Jews is not based on any facts or testimonies by Holocaust survivors. Does the staff of the Genocide Center really want us to believe they have now found a way to interview Jonas Noreika himself, and can therefore state definitively what he “knew” and “when he knew it?”

Based on Noreika’s actions just in establishing ghettos and selling the property of murdered Jews alone, the Lithuanian Jewish Community states once again, that Jonas Noreika was a Holocaust perpetrator. The LJC reserves the right to take the Genocide Center to court and to seek other legal remedies regarding their on-going speculations on the Holocaust.

Israeli Ambassador Presents Publication of His Novel in Lithuanian

Israeli Ambassador Presents Publication of His Novel in Lithuanian

Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Yossi Levy is a veteran novelist with some six titles under his belt in the Hebrew book market. His latest, Love Peddlers (a provisional title since no English translation yet exists), was translated to Lithuanian and published by Sofoklis in Vilnius just recently under the title Meilės preikeiviai, roughly, “Merchants of Love,” certainly a more intriguing if not salacious hook for readers than the classic anti-war work Merchants of Death.

To celebrate the publication, a book launch was held at the Lithuanian National Library, moderated by Litvak author and former director of the Vilna Gaon Museum Markas Zingeris. The format was a sort of back-and-forth loose discussion, with Mr. Zingeris posing questions and thoughts, and Mr. Yossi responding. Unfortunately for whatever reason Markas Zingeris’s voice didn’t carry in the room in Lithuanian or English, so the effect was of some random words and phrases, followed by monologues by the Israeli ambassador which might or might not have addressed the question.

Yossi Levy’s side of the discussion was charming, personal, funny and at times spell-binding. He spoke about himself more than his work, which he said was both autobiographical and not autobiographical. He talked about his diplomatic career, which he said was wholly in Europe, and wondered why he chose Europe, since his family has no roots there. He shared the difficulties of being gay in Israel and elsewhere, and talked about his husband and their child. He also said there was a tension in his life between his role as writer and diplomat. As a writer he was able to explore topics which would be strictly taboo in the diplomatic sphere. As an example, he talked about something he wrote about a Jewish homeland in Europe, loosely centered on present-day southeastern Poland, whence Israeli Jews could be evacuated from the tense situation in the Middle East. “I called one city Tel-Lvov,” he said with a smirk.

Condolences

Condolences

Simonas Dovidavičius passed away December 14. He was deputy chairman of the Kaunas Jewish Community, the founding light and director of the Sugihara House museum in Kaunas, highly educated, a tour guide and a good friend. His loss is a great loss to the Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Kaunas Jewish Community. Our condolences to his many friends and loved ones.

Those wishing to bid him farewell may do so at the St. Anthony of Padua Church in Kaunas, Radvilėnų highway no. 15A, Kaunas, on Tuesday, December 17, beginning at 5:00 P.M. He will be buried at noon on December 18 at the Aleksotas Jewish cemetery in Kaunas.

Property of Murdered Jews Cannot Be Shrugged Off

Property of Murdered Jews Cannot Be Shrugged Off

by Vytautas Bruveris

How should the state and its politicians act when they come across some sort of passionate, sensitive issue, or one which causes controversy: should they stick their heads in the sand, or nonetheless speak and discuss it?

It seems as if it’s a lot more useful and clever to talk. This seemingly self-evident matter, though, seems to be a mystery to almost the complete majority of Lithuania’s political elite.

This eternal truth was again confirmed last week at a conference held by the Lithuanian Jewish Community (LJC) and the Goodwill Foundation on restitution of Jewish property stolen during the Holocaust.

Launch of Lithuanian Translation of Yossi Levy’s Love Peddlers

Launch of Lithuanian Translation of Yossi Levy’s Love Peddlers

The Lithuanian translation of Israeli writer and Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Yossi Avni-Levy’s book Love Peddlers will take place at the Lithuanian National Library in Vilnius at 6:00 P.M. on December 18. The book-launch event will be moderated by Litvak writer Markas Zingeris. Promotional materials for the event say it will be held in English.

New Book by Dr. Aušra Pažėraitė

New Book by Dr. Aušra Pažėraitė

The publishing house of Vilnius University has published a new book called “Nesuk į kelią iš takelio. Lietuvos žydų religinės ir filosofinės minties paveldo trajektorijomis” [Don’t Quit the Path for the Road: Along the Trajectories of the Litvak Religious and Philosophical Thought Heritage]. The Lithuanian-language book contains extracts from the texts of the Vilna Gaon, Chaim of Volozhin, Grozdinsky, Israel Salanter and Emmanuel Levinas with commentaries.

Dr. Aušra Pažėraitė has written a bit about her book especially for the www.lzb.lt website:

“It has long been my dream to write a book talking about, examining and interpreting the heritage of Litvak religious and philosophical thinking. … [Among others,] another problem which arose was the time-period and the range of what Litvak means. I mean the problem of geographical boundaries in which we can look for the Litvak heritage, which has changed drastically over history, and it happens that the same historical figures are assigned to Lithuania’s, Poland’s and Russia’s legacy… So I chose a narrower problem, the Litvak-ness which is associated with religious tradition, historically connected with the Vilna Gaon and his circle of followers. So this allowed for choosing a specific perspective which would allow me to connect schools of thought otherwise hard to reconcile: the Western understanding of religion which is still forming in the modern period, which seems to so many people self-evident… i.e., between the written sacred texts and the oral texts, the traditional of passing traditions on orally. …”

The book is available at the Vilnius University bookstore, at the Versmė chain of bookshops and on the internet sites patogupirkti.lt, knygos.lt and humanitas.lt

Not in Our Name

by Grant Arthur Gochin

The first mass murders of Jews in the Holocaust began in Lithuania. Germany had not yet decided to annihilate the Jews of Europe; they had put forth the idea to relocate Jews to Madagascar or Uganda, but the war made this plan impossible. Lithuania proved to the Nazis that there was indeed an alternative.

Between occupations by Russia and Germany in 1941, Lithuania was governed by an interim Provisional Government, led by Prime Minister Juozas Ambrazevičius Brazaitis. The Lithuanian Provisional Government displayed to Nazis how easily a population could be enticed into perpetrating genocide.

Upon Nazi arrival, Einsatzkommando 2 of the German Security Police asserted charge of murders of Jews. Einsatzkommando 2 reported the murder of 114,856 Lithuanian Jews as early as December 1, 1941. One hundred and thirty-nine Nazi personnel, of whom forty-four were secretaries and drivers, and ninety-five were murderers, directed this slaughter. Local Lithuanians enthusiastically and voluntarily conducted the looting, raping, torture, enslavement and murders of their Jewish neighbors. Thereafter, Germany introduce the Final Solution of the Jewish problem in January 1942.

Full text here.

Presentation by Joachim Tauber at Holocaust Property Restitution Conference

Presentation by Joachim Tauber at Holocaust Property Restitution Conference

Among other notables, renowned German historian Joachim Trauber delivered a presentation at the Goodwill Foundation’s conference on Jewish property restitution held at the Lithuanian Jewish Community this week. Professor Trauber is a lecturer at the Institute for the Culture and History of the Germans in Northeast Europe of the Nordost-Institut at the University of Hamburg in Lüneburg and is a member of Lithuania’s International Commission for Assessing the Crimes of the Nazi and Communist Occupational Regimes in Lithuania as well as of similar commissions in Latvia and elsewhere. He is the author of number books and academic articles about the Holocaust in Lithuania and Northeast Europe. We are please to be able to post a copy of the slideshow presentation he gave Monday for those who were unable to attend the conference in Vilnius.

holocaust in lithuania 1941-1944_6
Presentation by International Law Expert Dirk Haupt at Holocaust Restitution Conference

Presentation by International Law Expert Dirk Haupt at Holocaust Restitution Conference

International law expert Dirk Haupt of Lund University in Sweden delivered a presentation at the conference held at the Lithuanian Jewish Community on December 2 organized by the Goodwill Foundation and dedicated to discussing Jewish property restitution in Lithuania and Europe. We are pleased to be able to share his slideshow presentation below with those who were unable to attend.

haupt dirk roland - presentation 2019-12-02 compensating for nazi injustice and indemnifying jewish victims - the german experience2
Regimes Change, but Cowards and Brown-Nosers Don’t

Regimes Change, but Cowards and Brown-Nosers Don’t

by Arkadijus Vinokuras

The epic of the presentation of the play Mūsiškiai [Our People] by the Juozas Miltinis Theater in Panevėžys, Lithuania, just demonstrates once again that the cowardly and obsequious appear to travel through time: they stay exactly the same under all systems of government.

The possession of these character traits turns their owner into the worst kind of tool in the hands of any kind of government. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Nazi, Communist or democratic regime. In all of them, the coward becomes an ultra-patriot ready to carry out any order by the government or mob, for example, by banning a play someone doesn’t like without even viewing it beforehand.

Who will take responsibility for the persecution of theater art director Andrius Jevsejevas? Who will take responsibility for the critique of Polish playwright Michal Walczak by someone who either did read the play or did not, but in any case didn’t understand it? Who will apologize to the highly talented young actors who performed their roles flawlessly? Who at the theater will take responsibility for the idiotic requirement in the contract with the playwright that his work must have no connection with Rūta Vanagaitė’s book Mūsiškiai?

The wild spirit of the Soviet Party political enforcers roams the perfomance spaces. It would appear that, out of fear of the street or out of fear of some sorts of bureaucrats, acting theater director A. Venckus didn’t even welcome the creators of the play during the premiere. Well, cowards shouldn’t become theater directors, because theater is for the courageous. Although it takes real civic courage to express one’s opinion in a dictatorship, this is the basic norm in the frame of democratic government.

Goodwill Foundation Conference on Holocaust Restitution Update

Goodwill Foundation Conference on Holocaust Restitution Update

Press Release (updated)

Regional Consultation about Restitution of Holocaust Era Assets

Next week regional consultation regarding restitution of Holocaust era assets will be held in Vilnius. The experiences of returning assets of European countries will be reviewed and well-known historians will present their research about what happened in Lithuanian during WWII.

The conference is dedicated to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Terezin declaration. In 2009 47 countries, Lithuania among them, has signed the document in Prague and announced a program of activities directed at securing assistance, compensation and commemoration of Nazi victims’ memory. It is noteworthy the countries stressed the importance of ensuring communal and private property restitution.

“Noting the importance of restituting communal and individual immovable property that belonged to the victims of the Holocaust (Shoah) and other victims of Nazi persecution, the Participating States urge that every effort be made to rectify the consequences of wrongful property seizures, such as confiscations, forced sales and sales under duress of property, which were part of the persecution of these innocent people and groups, the vast majority of whom died heirless,” the Terezin declaration says.

Honoring Lithuania’s Jewish Soldiers in Kaunas

Honoring Lithuania’s Jewish Soldiers in Kaunas

by Dr. Raimundas Kaminskas

A ceremony to honor Jewish volunteer soldiers was held at the Žaliakalnis Jewish cemetery in the Gričiupis aldermanship in the Kaunas region on November 23. Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas recalled for the audience historic Jewish-Lithuanian relations and the contribution Jewish Lithuanian soldiers made in the battles for Lithuanian independence in 1919 and 1920 and later in the national Lithuanian military.

Director of the Kovo 11-osios Street Community Dr. Raimundas Kaminskas shared his thoughts on the civic-minded and patriotic Jewish soldiers in the period of Lithuanian independence from 1918 to 1940 and presented the chairman of the Kaunas Jewish Community a medal commemorating the Union of Jewish Volunteer Soldiers Who Served in the Liberation of Lithuania.

After the commemoration the audience moved to the St. Antthony of Padua Church where the mortal remains of church builder, rescuer of Jews and Lithuanian military volunteer father Juozas Želvys (1899-1985) are interred. The Žaliakalnis Jewish cemetery was established in 1861 and operated until 1952. The Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Department reports among the burials of many noted public, cultural, political and religious figures there, 14 of the graves are those of Lithuanian Jewish soldiers who perished in the battles for Lithuanian independence.