Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky visited Jewish partisan Fania Brancovskaja at home to personally give the Community’s greetings on two special occasions: Fania’s birthday on May 22 and Victory Day, marking the end of the Holocaust in Europe. Fania Brancovskaja was a Jewish partisan who fought the Nazis in Lithuania. Since the end of the Holocaust Fania has devoted her life to keeping the memory of the victims alive and teaching the new generations about what happened. Mazl tov. Bis 120!
Pages from Music History: Anna Varshavski
Sarah Matz took the married name Anna Varshavski aka Anna Lvovna Warsaw. She was a singer and a philanthropist. She was born in Vilnius in December of 1896 when it was part of the Russian Empire. Her parents Jehuda and Fradel Matz owned a Jewish publishing house. She began studies at the Berlin Conservatory in 1920. In 1928 she set up an amateur choir in Kaunas which grew in reputation and size and eventually included around 50 members, coming to be known as the Jewel of Joel Engel Choir. They performed throughout Lithuania and on state radio. The choir disbanded in 1936. Varshavski also contributed to setting up the New Jewish Theater in Vilnius. She and her family were put in the Kaunas ghetto in 1941, and she was murdered at the Klooga concentration camp in Estonia in 1944.
|Tsum Hemerl (Avrom Reisen – Avraham Moshe Bernstein)||Anna Varshavski & “Engel-Chor”||Columbia DMX 301 (WJLX 8)|
What Do You Know about Litvak Writers?
Arakdijus Vinokuras’s monthly quiz asks that question at the next quiz scheduled for 2:00 P.M. on Sunday, May 21 at the Bagel Shop Café in Vilnius. This quiz will be dedicated to the three Litvak writers Icchokas Meras and the recently deceased Grigoriy Kanovitch and Markas Zingeris, may they rest in peace. It will be streamed on facebook as well.
Lithuanian Jewish TV Program Features Faina Kukliansky’s Herring Appetizer Recipe
The Jewish program Menora on Lithuanian state television has included a segment on the popular Jewish appetizer made with minced herring. This particular herring appetizer is truly Litvak in nature. Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman put on a kitchen apron and shared her family recipe for making the snack with the Lithuanian television audience. The segment is included in the April 30 broadcast available in Lithuanian here.
Markas Zingeris in Memoriam
The Jewish discussion club #ŽydiškiPašnekesiai invites the public to attend a special panel to remember Markas Zingeris, who died unexpectedly recently.
Over fifty years of work Markas has left us a rich inheritance: thoughts, ideas, texts, books, plays, poetry and the Vilna Gaon Jewish History Museum, where he served as director since its inception for several decades. His keen insights and very rational thinking had a deep influence on the development of Lithuanian society and politics following independence as well as before. He always demonstrated a spirit of openness, tolerance, rationality and ethical behavior.
Panelists to include Emanuelis Zingeris, Markas’s brother and MP; Emilis, Markas’s son; Violeta Davoliūtė, professor of philosophy and the history of ideas at Vilnius University, cultural historian, Holocaust researcher and colleague of Markas and Gytis Padegimas, a famous Lithuanian theater director who was a close confident (appearing via internet at the discussion club). Actor, popular writer and journalist Arkadijus Vinokuras will moderate the conversation which will be live-streamed on facebook with the help of his son Saulius.
The event is to take place at the Bagel Shop Café at Pylimo street no. 4 in Vilnius at 5:00 P.M. on Wednesday, May 10. The live-stream will be made available on facebook by following this short URL: https://rb.gy/uok94
Learn Today, Travel Tomorrow
Educational high-fidelity LP record, originally pressed before the Holocaust, inviting learners to travel to… Yiddishland:
Fayerlakh Concert “Promised Land” to Celebrate Israel’s 75th Birthday
The Fayerlakh Jewish song and dance ensemble will perform a concert called Promised Land to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel at 4:00 P.M. on May 14 at the House of Polish Culture in Vilnius. Tickets cost 10 euros. For tickets or more information, call +370 687 79 309 or +370 5 261 30 03.
Mini Klez-Fest at Tolerance Center, National Library
The Judaica Research Center at the Martynas Mažvydas Lithuanian National Library, the Vilna Gaon Jewish History Museum and Roma Social Center present their “mini klez-fest” which includes live music and a lecture on klezmer music.
The event will take place at the Tolerance Center of the Vilna Gaon Museum at 6:00 P.M. on Sunday, April 30. The performers decided to call their hour-long concert “From Vizhnitz to Vilne: Klezmer Music from the Carpathians and Beyond.” The program is composed of songs selected by Jewish music researcher, ethnographer and artist-in-residence in the Jewish Studies Program at San Diego State University Yale Strom, recorded during ethnographic field work and which were once performed from the Carpathian Mountains to Jonava in Lithuania and locations inside Belarus. Yale Strom currently teaches music at San Diego State.
The lecture component by Strom will take part on at 6:00 P.M. on Wednesday, May 3, at the National Library in Vilnius. It is called “Relationship between Romani and Jewish Musicians before World War II: How and Why?”
An excerpt from the great Yiddish poet Abraham Sutzkever’s memoir of the Vilna Ghetto
“Malines were built everywhere: underneath ruined buildings, in cellars, underneath garbage dumps, in caves, and everywhere else imaginable.”
The poet Abraham Sutzkever (1913-2010) moved into the Vilna Ghetto not long after the Nazis created it in September of 1941 and with his wife Freydke escaped to the forest in September, 1943. During his two years in the ghetto he worked with the theater and youth groups and was part of the legendary Paper Brigade, a group of ghetto inmates and their allies who rescued priceless Jewish books and manuscripts from Nazi destruction.
Full article and translation here.
Remembering Rivka Basman Ben-Haim
by Zelda Kahan Newman
Last updated June 23, 2021
Born February 20, 1925. Rivka Basman’s mother died when she was five. Her younger brother was ripped from her hands and murdered by the Nazis, and she escaped from the Nazi death march. After the war, she helped the illegal immigration movement to what was then Palestine. During that time, she met and married the painter Shmuel Ben-Haim, who designed every one of her books. The couple lived on Kibbutz Ha-Ma’apil for sixteen years, where she taught schoolchildren. During the 1960s, she studied comparative literature at Columbia University for one year, and later went to Russia, where her husband was Israel’s cultural attaché. In Russia, she furthered clandestine contacts between Soviet Yiddish writers and the outside world. After her husband died, she added Ben-Haim to her name.
Family and Education
Rivka Basman Ben-Haim was born in Wilkomir (Ukmerge), Lithuania to Yekhezkel and Tsipora (née Heyman) on February 20, 1925. Her mother died in 1930, and her father remarried; he and his second wife had a son, Aharon (Arele).
As a child, Rivka attended a Yiddish-speaking folk-shul, and she and her classmates read and delighted in the poems and stories of the Yiddish woman writer Kadya Molodowsky. Even then, she wrote poems in Yiddish. She continued studying in a Lithuanian gymnasium (academic high school), but in 1941, before she could graduate, her family moved into what later became the Vilna ghetto. She spent two years in the ghetto, where she met the poet Abraham Sutzkever and read him her poems in Lithuanian and Yiddish. He encouraged her to write only in Yiddish and was her mentor and friend till his death.
Great Synagogue Listed as Protected Heritage Site
The site of the former Great Synagogue in Vilnius with associated mikvot has been listed as a state-protected cultural heritage site, according to Baltic News Service.
The Lithuanian Culture Ministry issued a press release Thursday naming this site and the site of the first Lithuanian gymnasium in Vilnius was established on Basanavičiaus street. The YIVO occupied part of the latter space at its inception in 1925 before moving headquarters to Vivulskio street in Vilnius. The ministry reports state protection means more opportunities for funding protection and restoration of these sites.
The exact date the synagogue was built isn’t known. The Great Synagogue with adjacent ritual purification baths was part of a larger complex of synagogues, libraries and schools located around the Great Synagogue and the home of the Vilna Gaon.
Ownership of the ruins of the Great Synagogue and mikvot were passed to the Goodwill Foundation in 2020. Various plans for commemorating the site have been proposed, but so far the most likely is a humble protected excavation exhibit showcasing the subterranean main hall with bimah and floor.
Photo: Tunnel dug by archaeologists leading to central bimah, by Valdas Kopūstas, courtesy BNS.
Lithuanian-Born Yiddish Poet Rivka Basman Ben-Haim Dead at 98
Yiddish poet Rivka Basman Ben-Haim died last week at the age of 98, the Jerusalem Post reports. She was the last living Yiddish poet of her generation.
She refused to call herself a Holocaust survivor. The person who entered the Nazi camps, she explained, did not survive, but died, and a different person emerged. Rivka found comfort in their new families, friendships and in love.
She was born in Wilkomir [Ukmergė], Lithuania. Her father and brother were murdered. She spent around two years in the Vilna ghetto and was then sent to the Kaiserwald concentration camp in Riga.
Full Jerusalem Post story here.
More information about Basman’s Litvak origins and life here.
New Publication of Shur’s Entries: A Chronicle of the Vilna Ghetto, 1941-1944
Grigoriy Shur’s Vilnius ghetto diary has been reissued with support from the Goodwill Foundation, with a new cover and new introduction.
Perhaps the most informative of the several Vilnius ghetto diaries, Shur’s manuscript was originally published in Lithuanian translation by the Era publishing house in Vilnius in 1997 with partial funding from the Lithuanian Culture Ministry, and was roundly ignored by the general public.
The new edition is the same translation published by Era back in 1997 by Nijolė Kvaraciejūtė and Algimantas Antanavičius. It contains the same introduction by Pranas Morkus and forward by Vladimir Porudominsky, but adds a new and short introduction by the writer Vytautas Toleikis, who surveys recent Holocaust literature published in Lithuanian, including his keen observations about the book “Mūsiškai” [Our People] by Rūta Vanagaitė and Efraim Zuroff, or more precisely, how Lithuanian nationalists responded to it. Here’s a rough translation of part of Toleikis’s introduction:
YIVO to Digitize Treasure Trove of Leftist History
New York Jewish Week–YIVO has launched an eight-year project to digitize its Jewish Labor and Political Archives, widening access to some 3.5 million pages related to Jewish revolutionary, socialist and labor movements in Europe and America.
The project, the largest archival digitization project in the history of the Jewish research institute, will shine a light on the Jewish Labor Bund whose archives survived the Nazis and form the core of the collection.
Founded in Vilna in 1897 by Jews influenced by Marxism, the Bund played a central role in organizing Jewish trade unions and aligned with various socialist parties in pre-WWII Europe. It administered a massive network of secular Yiddish schools, stood up against anti-Semitism and supported an underground network against the Nazi genocide, activities kept up by members who managed to flee to New York in the early 1940s.
That history is reflected in the journey of the archive materials which were seized by the Nazis but were later rediscovered in France after the German army’s retreat. In 1951 the Bund Archives was brought to New York, and transferred to YIVO in 1992.
Purim Wouldn’t Be the Same without Hamentashen
Purim starts tonight at sundown when the 14th day of the month of Adar begins on the Jewish calendar. One of the constituent features of Purim is the traditional pastry known as hamentashen. Although everyone has their own special recipe, Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky makes her family’s version with poppy-seed filling, the traditional Litvak treat. The recipe dates beck to the period between the two world wars.
“This recipe was probably used earlier and recalls the time when the aroma of the pastry filled the Vilnius Old Town and many other cities and towns where Jews lived in Lithuania. Although you can purchase this version now, it’s always more fun to make it yourself,” she commented.
Happy Purim! Hag Purim sameakh!
Faina Kukliansky’s hamantashen recipe:
Lithuanian Jewish Community Conducting Project to Digitize and Preserve Lithuanian Jewish History
The open-source RODA (Repository of Authentic Digital Objects*) platform has been chosen to digitize and conserve our European Jewish legacy.
The international J-Ark European Jewish Community Archive project was started in early 2021 and will continue till early 2023, creating and testing a long-term storage platform for digital content. This digital Jewish archive will include selected video, audio, visual, photographic and other materials connected with the history of the Lithuanian Jewish Community since the restoration of Lithuanian independence.
Recently Published Books about Jewish Lithuania in Lithuanian
“Vilna. Žydiškojo Vilniaus istorija” [Vilna: The History of Jewish Vilnius] by Israel Cohen, 2nd edition, 2023, translated by Miglė Anušauskaitė, 384 pages.
The Vilnius publishing house Hubris has published a Lithuanian translation of British writer and early proponent of Zionism Israel Cohen’s book “Vilna: A History of Jewish Vilnius.” The author was born in London to a family of Jewish immigrants from Poland. He worked as a correspondent for the Times of London, the Manchester Guardian, Manchester Evening Chronicle and Jewish World. The book was first published in 1943 by the Jewish Publication Society as part of a series showcasing Jewish communities in various countries for English speakers.
More information in Lithuanian here. See below for an excerpt from the original English edition.
“Slaptoji Kauno žydų geto policijos istorija” [Secret History of the Kaunas Ghetto Police] by anonymous Kaunas ghetto police officers, published 2021, translated by Aistis Žekevičius from the English edition edited by Samuel Schalkowsky, 504 pages.
A unique document written in Yiddish by Kaunas ghetto police between 1942 and 1943. It lay buried in Slobodka for years and was discovered in 1964 when construction was underway at the site, and turned over to the Soviet KGB. It was translated to English and published in the USA in 2014.
Kaunas Isn’t a Lithuanian City, Despite Long-Standing Claims to the Contrary
A Lithuanian translation of interwar Jewish author Kalmen Zingman’s book “On the Spiral Staircase” was recently published by the Hubris publishing house. Goda Volbikaitė translated it.
What can this novel written in 1925 and only now available in Lithuanian tell today’s readers? First of all, it talks about Kaunas. The translation of this book is also a kind of proof Kaunas wasn’t just a Lithuanian city. People of other ethnicities also lived there whose works can (and should) be listed in our literary canon. We spoke with the translator of this book about the little-known figure of Kalmen Zingman, spiral staircases, the Aleksotas aerodrome, Slobodka and Yiddish literature.
Just three years before his death, Zingman wrote in his diary: “I feel like that wonderful time when I will be recognized and famous isn’t far off.” Unfortunately his dream was not to come true. Why do you think Zingman wasn’t successful in literature and recognition?
For truth’s sake, it has to be said that no Yiddish writer working in Kaunas in the period between the two world wars got famous. We are talking about around 30 authors in total who lived in Kaunas for a shorter or longer time.
It’s very clear why they didn’t become famous in the Lithuanian context: there was a lack of interwar translations from the Yiddish language into Lithuanian, just as there is in our time. I should say Lithuania is still just in the early stages of discovering Yiddish literature. Sutzkever and Kulbak are better known now, and some rarer names such as Matilda Olkin and Yitzhak Rudashevski. But basically whole strata of Yiddish literature made in Lithuania are still unknown to the Lithuanian reader.
YIVO Digitizes Chaim Grade’s Archive, a Yiddish Treasure Trove with a Soap Opera History
Photo: Chaim Grade and his wife Inna Hecker Grade in the United States in 1978. They met in Moscow in 1945. Courtesy YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.
by Andrew Silow-Carroll, jta.org, February 5, 2023
JTA–Years ago, when I worked at the Forward, I had a cameo in a real-life Yiddish drama.
A cub reporter named Max Gross sat just outside my office, where he answered the phones. A frequent caller was Inna Grade, the widow of the Yiddish writer Chaim Grade and a fierce guardian of his literary legacy. Mrs. Grade would badger poor Max in dozens of phone calls, especially when a Forward story referred kindly to the Nobel laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer. Grade’s widow described Singer as a “blasphemous buffoon” whose fame and reputation, she was convinced, came at the expense of her husband’s.
As Max explains in his 2008 memoir “From Schlub to Stud” Mrs. Grade “became a bit of a joke around the paper.” And yet in Yiddish literary circles, her protectiveness of one of the 20th century’s most important Yiddish writers was serious business: because Inna Grade kept such a tight hold on her late husband’s papers–Chaim Grade (pronounced “Grah-deh”) died in 1982–a generation of scholars was thwarted in taking his true measure.
Inna Grade died in 2010, leaving no signed will or survivors, and the contents of her cluttered Bronx apartment became the property of the borough’s public administrator. In 2013 Chaim Grade’s personal papers, 20,000-volume library, literary manuscripts and publication rights were awarded to the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research and the National Library of Israel. They are now stored in YIVO headquarters on Manhattan’s West 16th Street.
Roza Bieliauskienė has died. She was born in 1956 in Vilnius to Holocaust survivors from a shtetl just outside the city. She grew up speaking Yiddish at home and hearing it on the street. Trained as an engineer, she eventually immersed herself in research, writing and teaching about the Holocaust, Yiddish and Jewish topics. She worked at the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Community from its inception for 20 years and taught at the Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymnasium in Vilnius. She worked on the translation of the Grigori Shur Holocaust diary, numerous other books published by the Vilna Gaon Museum, translated a number of children’s books, translated genealogies in Yiddish and was working on a book about the Jewish history of Lithuania at the time of her death. Our deepest condolences to her many friends, colleagues and family members.