Litvaks

Jewish Scout Jamboree

Jewish Scout Jamboree

The Lithuanian Jewish Community will host a Litvak scouting jamboree at 4:30 P.M. on Thursday, November 3 at the Ilan Club room at the Community building at Pylimo street no. 4 in Vilnius under the direction of scout leader Adomas Kofman. All young people aged 6 to 18 are invited.

Launch of Book about Herman Perelstein

Launch of Book about Herman Perelstein

Hermanas Perelšteinas, the founder of the Ąžuoliukas boys choir, is the subject of a new biography which will be launched at an event at the Lithuanian Music and Theater Academy (formerly known more simply as the Music Conservatory) at Gedimino prospect no. 42 in Vilnius at 5:00 P.M. on Friday, November 4.

The author Darius Krasauskas, also a reporter, translator and long-time member of the Ąžuoliukas choir, will present his new biography. He will be interviewed informally by Simonas Keblas, the director of the Vilnius Little Theater and also a long-time member of Ąžuoliukas.

This is the first longer work–about 400 pages–on Perelšteinas, presenting history and archival documents as well as recollections by friends and colleagues to paint a picture of Lithuania’s most famous choir master and his life during the Holocaust and in Soviet exile.

The event is free and open to the public.

Grant Gochin Delivers Speech in Cape Town, October 27, 2022

Grant Gochin Delivers Speech in Cape Town, October 27, 2022

Grant Gochin delivered the following remarks to an audience of about 200 people at the Cape Town Holocaust and Genocide Centre of the Green and Sea Point Hebrew Congregation in Cape Town in the early evening of October 27.

Hello, chaverim, friends, I am honored and delighted to be on my home soil, speaking to my own people. My Mishpocha. Thank you for coming. My sincere thanks to the organizers and attendees, and those who have kept me going in this cause.

Every Jewish person in this room has ancestry from Lithuania. Most of us here now, are alive because our families got out before Lithuanians were able to murder us. We are all who are left, to remember and speak the truth. Our families’ voices cannot be stilled through apathy or forgetfulness. Our families’ voices must be heard.

I became eager to find out about the “Old Country” from the stories and lessons of my paternal grandfather. More and more, I knew I had to walk those streets and see those forests.

I was the very first Jew to apply to Lithuania for citizenship. Three times, they rejected me for reasons even the Lithuanian Supreme Court ruled to be “absurd.” There were two sets of rules, one for real “ethnic” Lithuanians, and a separate queue for Litvaks. This simplified their process–automatic denial for Jews. I fought back.

New Film Gives Voice to Lithuanian Holocaust Victims

New Film Gives Voice to Lithuanian Holocaust Victims

by Tali Feinberg

When thinking about the Holocaust in Lithuania, some of us can only think about the horror from a distance or in small doses. But filmmaker Michael Kretzmer has made it his duty to look up close in a new documentary that exposes the depravity of the killing, and questions Lithuania’s Holocaust denial.

The documentary, to be released in Australia in November, looks at the “murder of children in front of parents; the smashing of babies’ skulls against trees; girls being loaded onto trucks for deadly rape parties by Lithuanian gangs; the imprisonment of thousands of Jews in their own synagogues and their murder either by fire or starvation and thirst amidst human filth and the stench of their loved ones’ rotting bodies; the beheadings; the immolations; and the thousands of lethal humiliations.”

This is what Kretzmer found over the past three years, during which his life was “entirely absorbed” in the making of the documentary that “attempts to tell the truth about the Lithuanian Holocaust.”

The Lithuanian Tradition of Distorting History

The Lithuanian Tradition of Distorting History

It has become a Lithuanian tradition for the media to mark Holocaust commemorative days with articles shockingly distorting factual history. On January 27, 2021, the United Nations’ International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, Lithuanian MP Valdas Rakutis came out with an article called “International Holocaust Day and Historical Memory” which contained, apart from basic nonsense unbefitting even feeble minded Lithuanian historians, gross insults aimed at the victims.

He wrote: “After all, there was no lack of Holocaust perpetrators among the Jews themselves either, especially in the structures of self-government in the ghettos. We must name these people openly and strive to make sure people similar to them don’t appear again. But we must also answer the question of what the views of the Jews themselves were, what ideas encourage some Jews to cooperate with the Soviet government, to take high posts in the repressive Soviet structures. Sometimes understand the reasons allows us to understand the ends, even if it doesn’t justify the means” (see: https://www.lrt.lt/naujienos/pozicija/679/1329389/valdas-rakutis-tarptautine-holokausto-diena-ir-istorine-atmintis).

At the time this surprising series of statements caused a real scandal which cost Rakutis his post as chairman of the Lithuanian parliament’s Historical Memory Commission. They tried to smooth over the scandal by saying Mr. Rakutis expressed himself poorly and was misunderstood. The actual items of Holocaust denial and the distortion of history, however, were not condemned appropriately. This member of parliament continues in Parliament and continues to mix up his political views of unknown origin with real history in his public statements.

Full article here.

Lithuanian Magazine Covers Leonard Cohen Statue’s Movement in Vilnius Old Town

Lithuanian Magazine Covers Leonard Cohen Statue’s Movement in Vilnius Old Town

The Lithuanian magazine Žmonės has covered the move of a Leonard Cohen statue from a restaurant courtyard to a more prominent location in the Vilnius Old Town.

“The sculpture dedicated to world-famous performer with Lithuanian roots Leonard Cohen has been moved to a new location, the square [triangle] at the intersection of Ligoninės and Pylimo streets.

“Sculptor Romualdas Kvintas’s statue to the world-famous Canadian performer with Jewish roots was unveiled in the courtyard of the Gabi restaurant, a temporary location, in August of 2019.

Lithuanian Embassy in London Thanks Litvak Days Participants

Lithuanian Embassy in London Thanks Litvak Days Participants

We are thrilled to share some wonderful moments from our 11th Litvak Days. The Lithuanian embassy in the UK and ambassador Eitvydas Bajarūnas sincerely thank our incredible panelists Daiva Price, Vaidas Petrulis and Shira Levy Benyemini and our moderator Paulina Pukytė. Their discussion made us see Kaunas from a different perspective. They explored and shared Jewish life stories, architecture, and their legacy in the past and present of this modernist city, showing its uniqueness locally and internationally, notably comparing it to Tel Aviv.

A big thank you to “Apartment House” and their captivating musical performance. Another big thank you goes to the Jewish community centre JW3, their head of arts and culture Mekella Broomberg and their programing director William Galinsky for hosting this year’s event and creating an incredible atmosphere last night. We were delighted to welcome Faina Kukliansky, the head of the Lithuanian Jewish Community. She is a loyal supporter of Litvak Days and makes this annual gathering even more special.

We thank our cultural attaché in London, Ūla Tornau, and our partners the Jewish Music Institute, the Lithuanian Culture Institute and Kaunas 2022. Most importantly, we thank everyone who joined us online or in person and shared this special evening. Although the 11th Litvak Days in London 2022 are over, we are already excited to see you all next year with an event dedicated to Vilnius and its 700th birthday.

News from Kaunas

News from Kaunas

Several weekends ago some members of the Kaunas Jewish Community travelled to Alytus. On the way, they stopped in Butrimonys, once a thriving Jewish town, where local school teacher Danutė Anušauskienė provided a guided tour of her hometown.

In Alytus they visited bonzai gardener Kęstutis Ptakauskas who created the Morning Dew Japanese garden there. They toured an exhibit of Litvak artists at the restored synagogue, now a museum, after which they went to the Dzūkijos dvaras restaurant to try the traditional dishes from the Dzūkija ethnographic region of Lithuania.

Jewish Nightingale from the Provisional Capital: Concert Celebrates 95th Birthday of Nehama Lifshitz

Jewish Nightingale from the Provisional Capital: Concert Celebrates 95th Birthday of Nehama Lifshitz

The Kaunas Jewish Community invites you to a concert to celebrate the 95th birthday of Nehama Lifshitz, the Yiddish songstress from Lithuania’s second city.

Time: 6:00 P.M., October 24
Place: Kaunas State Philharmonic, Ožeškienės street no. 12, Kaunas

A group of performers from around the world will perform Jewish folk songs performed by Nehama and some of Nehama’s own songs as well.

Entry is open to the public and entirely free.

Leonard Cohen Statue Appears in Vilnius Old Town

Leonard Cohen Statue Appears in Vilnius Old Town

An official unveiling of a new metal statue of Leonard Cohen will take place in the courtyard at Pylimo street no. 38 in Vilnius at 3:00 P.M. on October 21. The statue was made by the late sculptor Romualdas Kvintas and it has found a temporary home on Šv. Mykolo street until now. The courtyard at the corner of Pylimo and Ligoninės streets will be a more permanent home. The triangular block formed by Pylimo, Ligoninės and Rudininkų streets once housed the main Jewish hospital in Vilnius, which was incorporated in the Vilnius ghetto and then destroyed. Kvintas, an ethnic Lithuania, did a whole series of statues on Jewish themes later in life. Leonard Cohen will now join Kvintas’s other works in the immediate neighborhood, including the metal sculpture of Tsemakh Shabad with cat and child, and a metal statue of Tevye the milkman which appeared without fanfare several years ago on Lydos street. All three of these statues by Kvintas are located inside the Vilnius ghetto territory.

Jewish Partisan Who Fought Nazis Battles to Preserve Forest Fort Where Resistance Group Lived

Jewish Partisan Who Fought Nazis Battles to Preserve Forest Fort Where Resistance Group Lived

by Felix Pope and Karen Glaser, Jewish Chronicle

Fania Brantsovsky, now 100, escaped the Vilna Ghetto to join the Avenger group. Now she’s fighting to save their woodland camp so the next generations can learn of their struggle

in 1943, 21-year-old Fania Brantsovsky escaped from the Vilnius Ghetto through a gap in a wall and fled to a forest 12 miles away. For the next year, she lived with 100 other Jews in a wooden bunker deep in the woods, from where they launched attacks against the Nazis.

Today, Mrs Brantsovsky, who turned 100 in May, is the only surviving member of the group of partisans led by the poet Abba Kovner who called themselves the Nokmim, Hebrew for “Avengers”.

Now Mrs Brantsovsky has called for the now rapidly disintegrating fort in the swampy Rudnicki Forest to be preserved as an international Jewish heritage site.

Full story here.

Concert by Winners of the Nehama Lifshitz Song Contest

Concert by Winners of the Nehama Lifshitz Song Contest

The Lithuanian Jewish Community will host a concert to celebrate the winners of the Nehama Lifshitz (Nechama Lifšicaitė) song contest at 6:00 P.M. on November 3. Performers: Marija Maminskaitė, Lukrecija Šiaulytė, Estera Reches, Emilija Lopaitytė, Alfredas Miniotas,
Elzė Liškauskaitė and Deividas Bartkus under the direction of Rūta Mikelaitytė-Kašubienė and professor Nijolė Ralytė.

The same program will be performed on November 7 at the concert hall at the Einav Center in Tel Aviv together with performers from the Nehama Lifshitz Yiddish song studio in Tel Aviv.

Rethinking Trauma: What We Don’t Know about the History of Roma and Jews in the Baltics

Rethinking Trauma: What We Don’t Know about the History of Roma and Jews in the Baltics

The Martynas Mažvydas Lithuanian National Library hosted an international conference called “Rethinking Trauma: Studies of Roma and Jewish History in the Baltic States and the USA.” Academics from the United States and the Baltic states who gave presentations pointed out Roma and Jewish history is often neglected and talked about how this history affects the present.

The goal of the conference was to explore the social, cultural and political mechanisms behind how the Roma and Jewish communities rethink the trauma experienced during the Holocaust and what significance this trauma holds today in the Baltic states and the United States.

The conference was organized by the multicultural children’s and youth center Padėk Pritapti, the Roma Social Center, the Lithuanian Jewish Community, the Department of Ethnic Minorities, the Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of Residents of Lithuania, the Social Anthropology Center of Vytautas Magnus University and the Lithuanian Roma Community. Partial financing came from the US embassy in Vilnius, the Baltic-American Freedom Fund, the Vilnius municipality, the EVZ fund and the Active Citizens Fund.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Exhibit of Pastel Works by Solomonas Teitelbaumas

Exhibit of Pastel Works by Solomonas Teitelbaumas

The harvest has been gathered, Jews have built sukkas and are celebrating with friends and family. That is what was, but now there are only echoes, to keep the traditions and to survive, thanks to our rescuers, for whom there are no statues.

The difficult, crowded and confusing streets of Vilnius remind us of our shared pain. This pain envelopes a Jew and makes him try to share it with, with a Lithuanian, a Pole or some foreign visitor. But without malice, with love for his neighbor, but always remembering, so it might never happen again.

An exhibit is being prepared for the traditional gallery on Pylimo street. This will be diaries with pastel in hand, recording life as it is, but also with an eye to the philosophic and the tragic. Stay tuned for more information.

The Fate of Lithuanian Volunteer Soldier Liba Mednik from Širvintos

The Fate of Lithuanian Volunteer Soldier Liba Mednik from Širvintos

The first volunteer Lithuanian soldiers who fought for the country’s independence are today undeservedly forgotten. They were often simple village boys or hired hands, less frequently Tsarist army recruits, who defended our right to live as free people. What’s most interesting is that it wasn’t just ethnic Lithuanians who fought in those battles for independence, there were groups of people of other ethnicity who fought. The idea of freedom was cherished by women as well. Among those who received the Order of the Cross of Vytis were women. Širvintos was and is a town with a diverse ethnic make-up and the location of one of the fiercest battles for independence. Lithuanian Radio and Television tells the little-known story and reveals unknown aspects of these battles for independence.

Program in Lithuanian viewable here.

Commemorating Holocaust Victims in Švenčionys

Commemorating Holocaust Victims in Švenčionys

On October 3 a ceremony was held in the Švenčionys city park to mark the anniversary of the onset of the mass murder of Jews in the region in the first week of October, 1941. In total over the course of the Holocaust approximately 8,000 Jews from the city and surround district were murdered.

Kristina Sizonova moderated the event. Speakers at the ceremony included Lithuanian Jewish Community executive board member Ela Gurina who is the chairwoman of the Holocaust Victims Commission, Švenčionys Jewish Community chairman Moshe Shapiro, Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymnasium principal Ruth Reches, Polish ambassador to Lithuania Urszula Doroszewska, deputy mayor of the Švenčionys district Violeta Čepukova, Pabradė’s Rytas Gymnasium history teacher Danguolė Grincevičienė and others.

Katharina von Schnurbein Calls for More Attention to Litvak Cultural and Historical Sites

Katharina von Schnurbein Calls for More Attention to Litvak Cultural and Historical Sites

Katharina von Schnurbein, the European Commission’s coordinator for implementing strategies to combat anti-Semitism and foster Jewish life in Europe, visited the Vilnius ghetto and other memorial locations Wednesday, the Lithuanian Jewish Community reported.

She called attention to the poor state of monuments during the tour and called for more care and maintenance of such sites in Lithuania.

LJC staff member and guide Viljamas Žitkauskas provided the guided tour and told the visiting official about the 700-year history shared by Lithuanians and Jews, the importance of Vilnius as the Jerusalem of the North and the ruins left in the wake of the Holocaust.

LJC chairwoman Fainia Kukliansky accompanied von Schnurbein on the walking tour and said: “Vilnius is special in that it’s not enough to just see it. The buildings, the statues, even the paving stones have a deep and significant history. You have to hear Vilnius. I am pleased von Schnurbein found time in her busy schedule to visit the most important sites and to learn about our history, culture and traditions.”

First Litvak Scouting Jamboree

First Litvak Scouting Jamboree

Following a pause in activities, the first general meeting or jamboree of Litvak scouting groups will take place at 2:30 P.M. on October 6 at the Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymnasium in Vilnius. For more information, please write skautai@lzb.lt.

In Kaunas, British Artist Shines Light on Holocaust Massacre Forgotten by Locals

In Kaunas, British Artist Shines Light on Holocaust Massacre Forgotten by Locals

Photo: Artist Jenny Kagan’s immersive exhibition “Out of Darkness” in Kaunas, Lithuania, July, 2022 (photographer Gražvydas Jovaiša).

Near the site of one of the genocide’s most heavily photographed atrocities, lighting designer Jenny Kagan brings the city’s wartime past “Out of Darkness”

by Matt Lebovic, Times of Israel, October 1, 2022

The 1941 Lietūkis garage massacre in Kaunas, Lithuania, was among the Holocaust’s most heavily photographed aktions against Jews, but many of the city’s current inhabitants have never heard of the atrocity.

On June 27, 1941, a group of pro-German Lithuanian nationalists tortured and murdered at least 50 Jews at the city’s Lietūkis garage. During the massacre, a German soldier took photos of dozens of Lithuanians, including children, cheering while a man called “the death dealer” beat Jews to death with a crowbar.

Among the Jewish men murdered that day was British artist Jenny Kagan’s grandfather, Jurgis Stromas, who owned the Pasaka (Fairytale) cinema in town. At one point during the public slaughter, the “death dealer” climbed atop a mound of corpses and performed the Lithuanian national anthem with an accordion.

Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community Marks Day of Remembrance of Lithuanian Jewish Victims of Genocide

Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community Marks Day of Remembrance of Lithuanian Jewish Victims of Genocide

The Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community marked the Day of Remembrance of Lithuanian Jewish Victims of Genocide September 23 with a ceremony at the monument commemorating the former gates of the Šiauliai ghetto. The ceremony was attended by members of the Jewish community, teachers and high school students and deputy mayor Egidijus Elijošius. People laid wreaths of flowers and placed stones on the monument, after which participants moved on to Righteous Gentiles Square where Lithuanian rescuers of Jews were remembered. Later members of the Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community went to the mass murder site in the Pročiūnai forest were hundreds of people of different ethnic backgrounds were murdered during the Holocaust. They then went to the monument to the Jews from Šiauliai and the surrounding area murdered in Kužiai village.