Learning, History, Culture

Bagel Shop Café Turns 3

Bagel Shop Café Turns 3

Three years ago Jewish bagels reappeared in Vilnius. For three years the Bagel Shop Café has been providing a Litvak bagel which customers enjoy with lox, cheese and other spreads. Thank you to all our customers who have helped bring back culture back on our tables and into our hearts.

Lithuanian High School Students Win Holocaust Contest

Anastasija Narbutaitė and Olga Podvorskytė won a contest put on by the Russian Academic and Educational Holocaust Center called “Memory of the Holocaust: The Road to Tolerance” and Narbutaitė received the award presented them from Russian journalist Alla Gerber at a ceremony the Russian Jewish Congress held in Moscow January 28. The two Lithuanian high school students at the Santara Gymnasium in Vilnius surveyed the Lithuanian press from 2016 to 2018 for articles and accompanying internet comments about the Holocaust. Tatjana Bruskina, who teaches high school seniors English at the gymnasium, accompanied Narbutaitė and both took part in a We Remember event at the Lithuanian embassy in Moscow.

The Catholic Priest Who Discovered He Was Jewish

The Catholic Priest Who Discovered He Was Jewish

by Kostas Kajėnas

Since his birth Romualdas Jakubas Veksleris-Vaškinelis was raised Catholic and grew up to become a Catholic priest. He discovered later he was Jewish and travelled to Israel where he met his ultra-Orthodox relatives for the first time. The return to his roots was difficult. On the one hand there was the joy of discovering them, on the other: a confrontation on the rights of Jews to move to Israel.

The unusual life of this person with two names and two surnames began in World War II. He was born in Švenčionys, Lithuania, and became the only person in his family to survive the Holocaust. The infant survived because he was rescued by a Polish couple, Piotr and Emilia Waszkinel, who accepted him into their household when his parents Jakub and Batya Veksler asked them to during the destruction of the Švenčionys ghetto. The Polish couple baptized him and raised him as a Catholic.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Lithuanian Conference on Stories of the Children of the Holocaust

Lithuanian Conference on Stories of the Children of the Holocaust

The pre-war and Holocaust experiences of Jewish children from Lithuania were the topic of a conference held January 25 in Ariogala, Lithuania, to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day. A large group of students and teachers from over 25 Lithuanian schools with their own Tolerance Education Centers told stories of Jewish children and adolescents, making use of the recently translated ghetto diary of Yitzhak Rudashevski, the memoirs of Trudi Berger and others, a book about children rescued from the Kaunas ghetto, the work of Grigory Kanovitch and others. Ronaldas Račinskas, executive director of the International Commission for Assessing the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupational Regimes in Lithuania, which organized the conference, said it was important to tell the stories from before the war but especially during. Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas said the performances by the young people gave him hope their generation wouldn’t be afflict by ethnic and religious stereotypes

Photo: Gustė Adamavičiūtė

Synagogues: The Difficult Road to Revival

Synagogues: The Difficult Road to Revival

by Kazys Kazakevičius

Of the almost one-and-a-half thousand synagogues in Lithuania before World War II, only about 80 have survived to the present. Only two are operational and all other buildings are being used for other purposes or stand empty. It takes a lot of money to revive a synagogue for new life. The Jewish communities don’t have it, and neither do the municipalities which often become the owners of synagogues where there are no Jewish communities. Some EU support helps, at least.

An opportunity for fully restoring a former synagogue in Alytus, Lithuania, has come up; after the war the synagogue became a salt storehouse and a chicken hatchery. In January the city mayor’s office signed an agreement with a contractor for the further capital renovation of the synagogue built in 1911 which has been undergoing some repairs for three years now. The plan foresees a year-and-a-half’s worth of work for 400,000 euros. Around half of that cost will come from EU funds with the municipality picking up the rest. Specialist Ingrida Leskevičienė of the Alytus mayor’s office’s department of finance and investments reported the building is to house a visual arts center as a branch of the Alytus Regional History Museum. The first floor is to be used as an exhibition hall to host exhibits, conferences, seminars, lectures, book launches and showings of films.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky said, however, there are still synagogues whose fates are causing great concern. Renovating or rebuilding them, even if funds were available, wouldn’t make sense if there was no on to use the buildings.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Holocaust Trauma

by Ruth Reches, excerpt from doctoral thesis on the experience of identity by Holocaust survivors

All researchers agree the Holocaust was a human-caused trauma which cost millions of lives and left painful after-effects in the life of survivors. What makes Holocaust trauma exceptional, and what are its effects?

Six millions Jews were systematically murdered in the Holocaust as part of Nazi policy, a plan to exterminate all Jews in occupied Europe. Those who managed to survive are called “Holocaust survivors.” These are people born before 1945 in countries occupied by Nazi Germany. “Survivors” include concentration camp victims, but also prisoners in labor camps and ghettos, those in hiding and who joined the partisan resistance, and those who survived using counterfeited documents.

People who survived the Holocaust are now more than 80 years old. During the war they were children or adolescents. Thus in discussing the special features of Holocaust trauma, it is important among other things to consider the characteristics of early trauma and its influence on aging.

Full excerpt in Lithuanian here.

Chiune Sugihara Remembered on Mount Zion in Jerusalem

Chiune Sugihara Remembered on Mount Zion in Jerusalem

Photo: Rolan Novitsky

A special ceremony to honor WWII Japanese diplomat in Lithuania Chiune Sugihara (杉原 千畝 “Sempo”) was held in Jerusalem on Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27.

A memorial plaque to Righteous Gentile Sugihara was unveiled at the Chamber of the Holocaust or Martef haShoah on Mount Zion in Jerusalem.

Sugihara was Japan’s vice-consul in Kaunas, Lithuania, from March, 1939, to August, 1940, during which time he issued transit visas to Lithuanian and Polish Jews fleeing the approaching scourge of Nazi Germany, saving more than 6,000 lives. In 1985 the Yad Vashem Holocaust authority in Israel awarded him the title of Righteous among the Nations. A Russian Orthodox believer, Sugihara is also honored by that church and is a saint in the Japanese Orthodox Church. Sugihara passed away in 1986.

At the ceremony on Mount Zion the song Way of the Samurai by Natella Botyanskaya dedicated to Sugihara’s memory was performed to the audience of relatives of Jews who survived because of him, Japanese embassy staff and organizers including representatives of Limmud FSU, the Claims Conference and March of the Living.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day in Panevėžys

International Holocaust Remembrance Day in Panevėžys

Since the United Nations adopted a resolution naming January 27 International Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2005, the Panevėžys Jewish Community has marked the day annually.

This year, on January 25, Albertas Savinčius and wife Virginija attended the conference “Stories of Jewish Children” in Ariogala, Lithuania, organized by the International Commission for Assessing the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupational Regimes in Lithuania and the Tolerance Center of the Ariogala Gymnasium and more than 20 such Tolerance Centers at educational institutions around Lithuania. The same day Panevėžys Jewish Community member Jurijus Smirnovas spoke at the Margarita Rimkevičaitė Business School in Panevėžys and shared his memories of being imprisoned in the concentration camps in Panevėžys and Šiauliai and his miraculous survival.

On January 25 as well Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennday Kofman attended a Holocaust Remembrance Day conference in Vilnius.

On January 27 commemoration began at 12 noon at the Sad Jewish Mother monument where members of the Panevėžys Jewish Community, representatives of the city municipality, mayor Rytis Račkauskas, city council member Alfonsas Petrauskas, Lithuanian MP Povilas Urbšys, school principals and teachers and the public gathered.

Synagogue in Pušalotas Receives State Protection

Synagogue in Pušalotas Receives State Protection

Lithuanian minister of culture Dr. Mindaugas Kvietkauskas has placed four cultural treasures under state protection: Petras Klimas’s villa in Kaunas, the synagogue in Pušalotas in the Pasvalys region, the former Lithuanian Foreign Ministry building in Kaunas and a building in Vilnius which formerly housed Jewish cultural institutions.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

International Conference Held in Vilnius for Holocaust Day, Fighting Discrimination

International Conference Held in Vilnius for Holocaust Day, Fighting Discrimination

The Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Lithuanian Department of Ethnic Minorities held a conference in Vilnius January 25 both to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day and to look at new ways of fighting discrimination and anti-Semitism in Lithuania. Speakers included Vytautas Magnus University professors, members of the Lithuanian Government, diplomats and academics from abroad. The conference concluded with a presentation of the exhibit “Lithuania, Lite, Lita: One Century of Seven.”

Lithuania’s foreign minister Linas Linkevičius, Ethnic Minorities director Vida Montvydaitė and LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky gave welcome speeches.

Foreign minister Linkevičius spoke to the significance of Holocaust Remembrance Day: “Anti-semitism, discrimination against Jews, is a scar on my country. Making apologies will no longer help make anything better. Discrimination led to the Holocaust. Currently in Lithuania there are many signs for Jewish mass murder sites which we can visit and say: never again. We have to remember the Righteous Gentiles, of whom there are about 900 [from Lithuania]. Each year as we honor the victims who were murdered, we cannot guarantee that similar mass murders will not be repeated in the world. In order to stop this, Jewish history and the Holocaust must be part of educational curricula,” he said.

Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community Commemorates Holocaust Day

Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community Commemorates Holocaust Day

Community members met with Aušra Museum employee Vilma Karinauskienė January 25 and listened to a lecture called “Fragments of the History of the Šiauliai Jewish Community” on the painful topic of the Šiauliai ghetto. On July 15 this year we will mark the 75th anniversary of the destruction of the Šiauliai ghetto.

Everyone attending supported the WJC campaign #WeRemember.

On January 27 community members gathered at the monument at the former gates of the ghetto and laid flowers, lit candles and observed a minute of silence for Holocaust victims. Among those in attendance wre community members and Šiauliai ghetto prisoners Ida Vileikienė and Romualda Každailienė. Later members attended a screening of a documentary film about the sonderkommando at Auschwitz followed by lunch and the sharing of memories, held at the Šiauliai Regional Jewish Community.

World Premiere of Night of the Holocaust on January 29

World Premiere of Night of the Holocaust on January 29

Four choirs, a symphony orchestra and a number of soloists will perform Jewish religious music composer Leib Glantz’s (1898-1964) Night of the Holocaust at 6:00 P.M. on Tuesday, January 29, at the Church of Sts. John at Šv. Jono street no. 12 in Vilnius.

American composer Joseph Ness arranged the work for the orchestra and choirs transforming 20 of Glantz’s compositions into a seamless monumental work. Extracts from Elie Wiesel’s Night will provide additional drama elements.

The project is the fruit of an international team, including conductor Arkady Feldman from Russia, cantor Daniel Mutlu from the US, soprano Helena Goldt from Germany, violinist Rita Schteinfer from Israel, celloist Girgoriy Yanovski from Israel, Ekaterina Bergstedt on oboe from Sweden, the Kaliningrad Symphony Orchestra and the Kalinigrad choir Cyrillica, the male a cappella group from the Moscow synagogue, the Vilnius choir and actress Elzė Gudavičiūtė.

Lecture Series

Roza Bielauskienė will speak on the topic “The Unified Kingdom: King Saul” at 1:00 P.M. on Sunday, February 3.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day

International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Holocaust survivors remember the painful loss of their families on this day and usually go to the local Jewish community center or synagogue to light a candle in memory of the victims, calling them by name. The ceremony is often bitter and moving. Mina Frišman talked about it with us.

Mina Frišman was a child during the Holocaust and always lights a large candle in memory of her murdered family, recalling the Kaunas ghetto and the Stutthof concentration camp. When the Holocaust began in Lithuania, Mina belonged to a large family with six children. Both her parents worked at the Inkaras factory in Kaunas. She and her family along with all Jews in Kaunas were forced into the ghetto in the Slobodka neighborhood there and made to wear a Star of David. She’s now 86 but still remembers the transport of Jews to Stutthof.

“This year I’ll light a candle remembering the Stutthof concentration camp where my family and I were sent from the Kaunas ghetto. I remember my twin sister whom I loved very much. My sister died in the concentration camp. They murdered my brother and father there. I light a candle in memory of all my family members who were so dear to me, for my father, for my mother, for my brother. In my family there were five sisters and one brother. I was 9 when I ended up in the Kaunas ghetto. Before the war my father supported the family. He worked at the Inkaras factory designing models of shoes. My mother sewed leather at the same factory. They separated the men and women at Stutthof, and they separated the children and murdered them in the gas chamber. My littlest sister died there. Mother was with us. We worked hard and we starved. They gave us a metal bowl and poured what they called soup into it with a small piece of bread. My mother, sisters and I lived to see liberation.

Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Choral Synagogue

The Vilnius Jewish Religious Community invite you to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius at 3:30 P.M. on Monday, January 28. The following survivors will talk about their Holocaust experiences: Mejer Zelcer, Jakov Mendelevsky, Chaim Nimirovsky, Isaak Markus and Roman Švarc.

Even if you can’t attend, you can take a selfie with a sign reading #WeRemember or #MesPrisimename and post it to social media.

Maushe Segal, the Last Jew of Lithuanian Kalvarija

Maushe Segal, the Last Jew of Lithuanian Kalvarija

Since 2005 we have marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day (officially “International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust” as designated by the United Nations) and have remembered the once-large Lithuanian Jewish community 78 years ago. There have been no Jews left in the shtetlakh for a long time now, although the Jewish legacy endures in the form of the old towns and synagogues they built, and the cemeteries and mass grave sites. We spoke with Maushe Segal (Maušius Segalis), the last Jew of the town of Kalvarija in western Lithuania, about his life and what Holocaust Remembrance Day means to him.


Maushe with grandson at the Kalvarija synagogue. Photo: Milda Rūkaitė

Segal: It’s important to me to remember, because this is a day commemorating the once-large community now dead. For many years we Jews gathered at the cemetery on September 1, since that’s the day all of the Jews of Marijampolė [Staropol] were murdered. That was before, now there are no Jews left in Kalvarija or Marijampolė.

What do you remember seeing as a child, or did your mother tell you?

They took my father and me to be shot on September 1, 1941. They shot him, but my mother grabbed me, I was small, from the pit in Marijampolė after the shooting.

Testament

Testament

The Pasaka movie theater in Vilnius and the Israeli embassy to Lithuania invite the public to a free screening of the film Testament at the movie theater located at Šv. Ignoto street no. 4 at 2:00 P.M. on Sunday, January 27 Entrance free. The film is in Hebrew, English, German and Yiddish (Lithuanian subtitles will be provided).

The Testament is a film about Holocaust historian Yoel Halberstam, who becomes involved in a legal battle over the brutal mass murder of Jews in the fictional town of Lensdorf, Austria, at the end of World War II. An influential industrialist family on whose land the massacre took place are planning a large real estate development at the mass murder site. Yoel suspects the goal of the construction is bury all memory of the event forever, but he needs proof to stop it from going forward.

Event supporters: Lithuanian embassy to Israel, Israeli embassy to Lithuania

Multicultural Festival in Kalvarija, Lithuania

The public is invited to a Multicultural Festival in Kalvarija in western Lithuania on January 25. The festival kicks off with the launch of the Kalvarija Regional History Museum at 1:30 P.M. followed by a concert at 5:00 P.M. at the Titnagas theater, including songs in Lithuanian, Polish, German and Yiddish.

Remember Raoul Wallenberg

Swedish ambassador to Lithuania Maria Lundqvist and the Lithuanian National Martynas Mažvydas Library’s Judaica Center invite you to attend the opening of the Swedish Institute exhibit Raoul Wallenberg: I Don’t Have Another Choice, at the library in Vilnius at 5:00 P.M. on January 30. The exhibit will run till February 10.