Learning

The Silenced Muse: The Life of a Murdered Jewish Lithuanian Poet

by Laima Vincė

On a beautiful hot day in the summer of 1941, at a bend in the road that leads out of the village of Panemunėlis towards Kavoliškės, a group of men, known to local people as baltaraiščiai or “those who wear white armbands,” essentially local Lithuanians who collaborated with the occupying Nazi forces, arrived on bicycles. They left the bicycles in the forest across the road from an isolated farmstead that belonged to the farmer, Petras Šarkauskas.

They began to dig ditches in the forest. They did not have much success because tree roots prevented them from digging very deep. So they gave it up and took their shovels to the other side of the road and began digging in the boggy land that belonged to the Kavoliškis manor.

Full text here.

Best Lithuanian Gymnasia Announced

The best schools are:

1. Klaipėda licėjus (took 1st place last year),

2. Panevėžys J. Balčikonis Gymnasium (2nd place last year),

3. Vilnius Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymnasium (7th place last year).

A total of 360 gymnasia without entrance exams were sampled and assessed. The rating is based on the averaged final state examination performance by students last year including tests on Lithuanian language and literature, history, English, information technology, physics, chemistry, biology and geography. The best-scoring gymnasium received eight points and the worst zero.

The rating was also weighted with bonus points for 12th graders who received 100% on their final exams and the number of students who went on to win government-paid places at universities. Bonus points were also given for the number of students who went on to study at institutions of higher learning abroad.

More information in Lithuanian here.

Discussion on How to Protect Disappearing Jewish Heritage in Kaunas

Lithuanian parliamentary speaker Viktoras Pranckietis and Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky have visited the former Kaunas Hassidic synagogue now falling into ruin. They toured the building together with Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas, Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Department Kaunas chapter senior state inspector Andrius Liakas, Vilnius Art Academy Kaunas faculty professor and Kaunas city council member Jonas Audėjaitis and others. The Vilnius Art Academy currently manages the property.

Participants discussed how to protect the Hassidic synagogue, an example of authentic Jewish heritage which is fast disappearing. Chairman Žakas and other members of the Kaunas Jewish Community presented to the parliamentary speaker the current needs of the Kaunas community and the need for a functioning synagogue. This synagogue was built in 1880 and following restoration would be one of only a handful of working synagogues in Lithuania, serving the religious and cultural needs of the local Jewish community. The Kaunas Jewish Community is the second largest Jewish community in Lithuania with more than 300 members.

Lost Shtetl Museum Construction Begins


Photo: Gintaras Šiuparys

A ceremony was held Friday to mark the beginning of construction work on the Lost Shtetl museum in Šeduva, Lithuania. The museum will be a completely new kind of experience using modern technology to present the history and culture of and to commemorate the former Litvak shtetl.

Marija Dautartaitė delivered a welcome on behalf of Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė, followed by speeches by speaker of the Lithuanian parliament Viktoras Pranckietis, prime minister Saulius Skvernelis, foreign minister Linas Linkevičius, Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum director Markas Zingeris, US ambassador to Lithuania Anne Hall, Finnish ambassador to Lithuania Christer Michelson, genealogist and education Eli Rabinowitz from South Africa and Australia, Holocaust film director Saulius Beržinis and Šeduva Jewish Memorial Fund founder and museum project manager Sergey Kanovich.

Also attending were ambassadors and heads of mission from the embassies of the United Kingdom, Ireland, Sweden, France, Germany, Russia and Romania, as well as members of the municipal and regional governments and interested citizens from all parts of Lithuania.

Site Selected in Vilnius for Commemorating Righteous Gentiles

In a letter to the Lithuanian Jewish Community dated April 28, 2018, Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius agreed to a 2016 proposal by the LJC to erect a statue to honor rescuers of Jews from the Holocaust in the garden of the Church of the Missionaries near Ona Šimaitė street, renamed after the prolific rescuer several years ago. The walled-in garden area of the church was the site of the final selection of Jews for life and death after the liquidation of the Vilnius ghetto. Šimašius said an alternate site, Rūdninkų square inside the former ghetto, was no longer a fruitful option.

The Lithuanian Jewish Community thanks all parties for inter-agency cooperation in solving an issue of national importance, commemorating those who risked life and family to rescue Jews.

Statue Unveiled in Kaunas to Abraham Mapu, Founder of the Modern Hebrew Novel

A sculpture to honor Abraham Mapu, the founder of the Hebrew novel who was born in Kaunas, was unveiled to the public at a ceremony held in the courtyard of the Ars et Mundus Gallery on Mapu street in Kaunas Thursday evening. Sculptor Martynas Gaubas made the statue commemorating Mapu (1808-1867), who was born and lived in Kaunas and was a beloved local literary figure.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky thanked the Kaunas municipality for its favorable view on commemorating Litvak figures and noted Mapu is known and loved in Israel where even small towns have a street named after him. She praised the Kaunas Jewish Community for its unity and initiative and singled out Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas for his success in cooperation and getting things done.

Chairman Žakas and Olegas Darčanovas, the prime mover behind the statue project, noted the large turnout for the ceremony but also said the statue had begun drawing people into the yard even before the ceremony, with locals and tourists flocking to get a look.

Members of the Kaunas city council Ina Pukelytė and Jonas Audėjaitis spoke of the Litvak contribution to the cultural, economic and social life of Kaunas, Lithuania and the world, and confirmed there would be continued commemoration of notable Litvaks who were born, lived and worked in Kaunas.

Lithuanian Economics Minister Meets with Chairwoman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community

Lithuanian economics minister Virginijus Sinkevičius met with Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky and discussed the function, content and language of amendments to the law on the protection of consumer rights. The minister said more precise amendments would be tabled in the near future in order to avoid misinterpretations and in light of suggestions made.

“I am encouraged by the frank and constructive conversation with the chairwoman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community. I believe this legislative package needs to be corrected so that no one has doubts about it, so that it wouldn’t be misinterpreted and wouldn’t become a means for distorting historical truth. In consideration of that, I will register [for consideration at parliament] the amendments needed in the very near future,” minister Sinkevičius said.

At a plenary session of parliament in late March, 93 MPs voted in favor of amendments proposed by the Government, 11 abstained and none voted against. The final version of the proposed amendments were drafted before the current leadership of the Economics Ministry took the post.

The Lithuanian Jewish Community expressed concerns over the amendments which would ban retail sales of goods which “distort the historical facts of Lithuania, belittle Lithuania’s history, independence, territorial integrity or constitutional order.” The Community pointed out this would serve as stimulus for the adoption at the national level of one official and “acceptable” version of Lithuanian historical events, which wouldn’t serve in the teaching of actual history but rather would become a censored interpretation of history.

Lag baOmer 2018

The Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Vilnius Jewish Religious Community held a picnic/barbecue celebration of Lag baOmer at Didžiulis Lake May 3. LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, Rabbi Shalom Ber Krinsky and Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon attended.

Lag baOmer is the holiday of the unity of the Jewish people and usually includes fun and games, singing and dancing and prayers to the Creator. Bonfires are lit at night. The most important celebration takes place with the lighting of a bonfire above the tomb of Simeon bar Yochai in Meron in Upper Galilee in Israel. The light from the fire is meant to recall the Sefer haZohar, or Book of Splendor, the earliest written work in the Kabbalah tradition whose authorship is ascribed to the tannaitic sage.

The book sheds great light on the wisdom of the Torah, about which King Solomon said: “For a commandment is a lamp and the Torah is a light.” And according to the prophet Jeremiah, the Creator says: “Is not my word like as a fire?”

Vilnius U Rector Presents Holocaust Survivor “Return of Memory” Diploma in Israel

Vilnius University rector professor Artūras Žukauskas presented Estera Klabinaitė Grobman (98) a “return of memory” diploma May 1 in Arad, Israel. Grobman is a Holocaust survivor who was imprisoned in the Kaunas ghetto and the Stutthof concentration camp. She is the only surviving member of a group of students who experienced the Holocaust. In her youth she dreamt of being a chemist, matriculated at university, but only studied one year. In 1941, when WWII and the Holocaust began in Lithuania, she was removed from the student rolls because of her Jewish ethnicity.

Lag baOmer Celebration

The Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Vilnius Jewish Religious Community invite you to come celebrate Lag baOmer, the day of the unity of the Jewish people, at the fort next to the A1 Vilnius-Kaunas freeway 1 kilometer from Grigiškės at 6:00 P.M. on May 3. There will be music, a barbecue and activities for children including trampolines, face painting and shooting bows and arrows.

Kaunas Jewish Community Invites You to Unveiling of Mapu Statue

A presentation and ceremony to unveil a statue to commemorate Abraham Mapu will be held at 5:00 P.M. on May 3 in Kaunas. The ceremony will take place in the courtyard of the Ars et Mundus art gallery located at A. Mapu street no. 20 in Kaunas. The sculptor was Martynas Gaubas. The event will include Jewish music. Ars et Mundus is the author of the project and Artkomas and the Kaunas Jewish Community are partners.

Vilnius Ghetto Diary makes Top 7 List of Lithuanian Books for April

The Vilnius Ghetto Diary of Yitzhak Rudashevski was named as one of the top 7 books for April on the 15min.lt website’s monthly list. The diary was recently published in Lithuanian translation with the original Yiddish provided as the second half of the book. Other works recommended on the list included Lithuanian translations of Abraham B. Yehoshua’s Mar Mani [Mr. Mani], Isabel Allende’s Más allá del invierno [In the midst of Winter] and others, and original Lithuanian works such as Marius Burokas’s latest book of poetry Švarus buvimas [Clean Existence].

Monument to Jan Zwartendijk in Kaunas

Kaunas deputy mayor Simonas Kairys Thursday announced the plan to commemorate Dutch consul Jan Zwartendijk who rescued Jews during World War II.

Following four years of work between partners in Lithuania and the Netherlands, the deputy mayor said: “This day is truly extraordinary. Kaunas is like an outdoor museum city with many strata and signs testifying to different time periods. I think Kaunas has demonstrated many times over the city is strong when its content is strong and when the city is able to show that content to others.

Honorable Dutch consul Jan Zwartendijk issued so-called Curaçao end-visas to complement Japanese transit visas Chiune Sugihara issued Jews in Kaunas during the early days of World War II.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Lithuanian National Library Hosts Lecture “The Problem of Holocaust Memory in Current Lithuanian Historiography”

The Lithuanian National Martynas Mažvydas invites the public to a lecture in Lithuanian called “The Problem of Holocaust Memory in Current Lithuanian Historiography” by Klaipėda University professor Hektoras Vitkus at 5:30 P.M. on April 26.

Holocaust studies are expanding constantly at academic institutions in different countries. This topic has also received attention from scholars working in different disciplines in Lithuania and sometimes becomes the topic of public discussion. Even so, the question remains of how much scholarly attention is being devoted to the problem of Holocaust memory in Lithuania. This lecture will discuss the specific and topical issue of the place Holocaust memory occupies in current-day Lithuanian historiography.

Dr. Vitkus will examine the following questions: what concepts of Holocaust memory exist in contemporary Lithuanian historiography and what are their connection to global theoretical approaches to Holocaust memory? Has Holocaust memory research become an integral part of Holocaust historiography in Lithuania? Is there firm foundation for claiming Holocaust research and methodologies for such research are not yet being taken seriously by Lithuanian historians and at the current time independent studies remain exclusively in the scholarly fields of sociology and psychology?

Everyone is invited to the lecture which will be held in Lithuanian.

Litvak Studios Exhibit

The Savickas Art School is opening another exhibit of works at 6:00 P.M. on April 27 at the Savickas Picture Gallery located at Basanavičiaus street no. 11/1. The latest exhibit is one in a series of exhibits called Stories, whose patron is MEP Petras Auštrevičius. This particular exhibit is called Litvak Studios and features some of the best work by students studying under Savickas at the LJC. This exhibit will run till May 22. The Savickas Art School has operated at the Lithuanian Jewish Community since 2015.

Lithuanian Jewish Community Statement on Proposed Amendment to Consumer Rights Law

The Lithuanian Jewish Community would like to bring the reader’s attention to amendments to the Law on the Protection of Consumer Rights currently being considered by the Lithuanian parliament which would ban retail sales of goods which “distort the historical facts of Lithuania or belittle Lithuania’s history, independence, territorial integrity or constitutional order.”

The LJC finds this expanded language for amending the consumer rights protection law raises real concerns about the possible suppression of the ability of members of society to make use of their basic right to self expression, and also raises questions about the likelihood of suppression of future attempts to restore historical justice. These amendments could exert a disproportionately large and negative influence on possible discussions regarding the role of Lithuanians in carrying out the Holocaust and would further lead towards a single “acceptable” judgment of the events of Lithuanian history, formulated at the state level, which would not serve the purpose of really learning and teaching history, but would instead become a censored interpretation.

The LJC believes the adoption of these amendments would give rise to conflict in society. The LJC calls for a consideration of the real need for these amendments and their objectivity, and calls upon legislators to realize anti-Semitism is not on the decline in Europe at the current time. On the contrary, the example of neighboring state which have adopted laws on “the appropriate” interpretation of history recall the era of institutionalized anti-Semitism. Many expressions of hate are encountered in Lithuania as well, and the LJC believes the adoption of these amendments poses the danger of increasing anti-Semitism in Lithuania.

The LJC points to a 2013 decision adopted by the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Lithuania in the case “On the Adherence of the Law of the Republic of Lithuania on Education to the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania,” which stated that no specific position or ideology can be declared mandatory and forced on the individual, and that the state must remain neutral regarding beliefs and does not have the right to set some sort of mandatory belief system.

Openness and freedom of speech and expression must remain strong and unifying values in Lithuania. In our country insuring human rights and the battle against hate crimes must be our active concern, just as actively as the calls for fighting for the protection of consumer rights by adopting these amendments.

Vilnius Sholem Aleichem ORT Jewish Gymnasium Celebrates 70th Anniversary of State of Israel

The Sholem Aleichem ORT Jewish Gymnasium in Vilnius celebrated Israeli’s 70th birthday Thursday with pride and enthusiasm. Teachers, students and parents were joined by principal Miša Jakobas and Lithuanian prime minister Saulius Skvernelis. Also speaking were Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon, Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky, leaders of regional Lithuanian Jewish communities, members of the Lithuanian parliament and Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius. Among other things, the speakers talked of Israel’s strength, achievements, discoveries and inventions of global significance and of Israel as an example for Lithuania to follow.

The event featured an orchestra and students from all grades performing song and dance. Teachers also sang and parents brought dishes for an outdoors potluck on the school’s playground and athletics field.

Lithuanian PM: Let’s Protect Our Common Lithuanian and Israeli Cultural Legacy

Lithuanian prime minister Saulius Skvernelis Thursday visited the Vilnius Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymansium to attend a celebration of Israel’s 70th birthday.

THe Lithuanian prime minister greeted principal Mišą Jakobas, Israeli ambassador Amir Maimon and other honored guests at the event on the occasion of Israeli independence day.

The Lithuanian PM thanked the Lithuanian Jewish Community for consistently defending the country and supporting its independence, and for making significant contributions to the development of Lithuania currently.

“Lithuania really appreciates our partnership with Israel. Youth exchange programs are growing, our economic mercantile cooperation has been stimulated, and we place great hopes on efforts by the international community to insure peace and security. We are hoping Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu will visit Lithuania this year. By June during our visit to Israel we are planning a discussion by both Governments on relations,” the Lithuanian prime minister said about expanding ties and pragmatic cooperation between Lithuania and Israel.

Full text in Lithuanian here.