Yiddish

Tens of Thousands of Jewish Documents Lost during Holocaust Discovered in Vilnius


YIVO announces the discovery of 170,000 Jewish documents thought to have been destroyed by the Nazis. Photo: Thos Robinson/Getty Images for YIVO

NEW YORK (JTA)–A trove of 170,000 Jewish documents thought to have been destroyed by the Nazis during World War II has been found.

On Tuesday the New York-based YIVO Institute for Jewish Research announced the find which contains unpublished manuscripts by famous Yiddish writers as well as religious and community documents. Among the finds are letters written by Sholem Aleichem, a postcard by Marc Chagall and poems and manuscripts by Chaim Grade.

YIVO, founded in Vilnius in what is now Lithuania, hid the documents, but the organization moved its headquarters to New York during World War II. The documents were later preserved by Lithuanian librarian Antanas Ulpis who kept them in the basement of the church where he worked.

Most of the documents are currently in Lithuania but 10 items are being displayed through January at YIVO, which is working with Lithuania to archive and digitize the collection.

“These newly discovered documents will allow that memory of Eastern European Jews to live on, while enabling us to have a true accounting of the past that breaks through stereotypes and clichéd ways of thinking,” YIVO executive director Jonathan Brent said Tuesday in a statement.

United States Senate minority leader Charles Schumer, democrat from New York state, praised the discovery.

“Displaying this collection will teach our children what happened to the Jews of the Holocaust so that we are never witnesses to such darkness in the world again,” Schumer, who is Jewish, said in a statement.

Israeli consul general in New York Dani Dayan compared the documents to “priceless family heirlooms.”

“The most valuable treasures of the Jewish people are the traditions, experiences and culture that have shaped our history. So to us, the documents uncovered in this discovery are nothing less than priceless family heirlooms, concealed like precious gems from Nazi storm troopers and Soviet grave robbers,” he said.

Full story here.

LRT TV Program Author Vitalijus Karakorskis Wins Prize for Intercultural Communication

November 16 is UNESCO’s International Day of Tolerance. Under the UNESCO definition in its Declaration of the Principles of Tolerance, tolerance doesn’t mean a tolerant attitude towards social injustice, nor the renunciation of one’s principles and their replacement with someone else’s. It means everyone is free to hold their own convictions and recognizes the right of others to do the same. It means recognizing people are born with different appearances into different social conditions, learn different languages, behavior and values, and have the right to live in peace and preserve their individuality.

The Ethnic Minorities Department under the Government of Lithuania named winners of its prize for intercultural communication November 13. There were 37 separate works in the running this year, including television programs, articles and interviews.

The judges’ panel awarded the prize to journalist, editor and filmmaker Vitalijus Karakorskis for originality and for discovering incredible connections between the ethnic communities resident in Lithuania in his making of an episode of the Lithuanian public television (LRT) program Menora on the topic of Dr. Jonas Basanavičius and Lithuanian Jews, on the 90th anniversary of the death of the patriarch of the Lithuanian state. They also awarded the prize to Siarhey Haurylenka for exceptional treatment of the cultures of Lithuanian ethnic minorities and the Belarusian language in the LRT television series about culture and history called “Cultural Crossroads: The Vilnius Notebook.”

Unique Jewish Archive Emerges in Vilnius

Vilnius, November 3, BNS–As Judaica studies intensify in Vilnius, scholars have identified thousands of important Jewish manuscripts this year which had laid forgotten in a church basement during the Soviet years and were scattered to separate archives for two decades following Lithuanian independence.

Some of the newly identified documents are currently on display in New York City and there are plans to exhibit some of the collection in Lithuania in the near future as well.

Lithuanian National Martynas Mažvydas Library director Renaldas Gudauskas said the identification of ever more documents makes him confident the library currently conserves one of the most significant collections of Judaica in the world.

Hidden at a Church

Vilnius had hundreds of Jewish communal, religious, cultural and education organizations before World War II. YIVO, the Jewish research institute founded in 1925, was an important member of that group. YIVO did work on Jewish life throughout Eastern Europe, from Germany to Russia and from the Baltic to the Balkans, collecting Jewish folklore, memoirs, books, publications and local Jewish community documents, and published dictionaries, brochures and monographs.

Jeffrey Yoskowitz Visits Bagel Shop Café, Investigates Litvak Recipes

Jeffrey Yoskowitz, viešėdamas Vilniuje, apsilankė “Beigelių krautuvėlėje” ir domėjosi litvakų virtuvės receptais

The Bagel Shop Café received an extraordinary guest today, Jeffrey Yoskowitz, an expert on Ashkenazi cuisine, author of the Gifilteria , author of the gefilte fish pop-up concept and the force behind #gefiltemanifesto. He is visiting Vilnius with a friend and is searching for the secrets of Litvak cooking. Both visitors spent a good hour writing down Faina Kukliansky’s family recipes in Yiddish and tasted Riva Portnaja’s Litvak carp.

Jewish Gravestone Fragments to be Used in Memorial


by Monika Petrulienė, LRT TV News Service, LRT.lt

Jewish headstones used during the Soviet era for construction in Vilnius are being returned to the Jewish cemetery on Olandų street. Fragments of grave markers were removed from buildings and stairwells in the capital. A memorial will be made from the remains of headstones at the cemetery.

More than 1,000 metric tons of grave stones are being transported to the old Jewish cemetery on Olandų street. Less than half have been brought there so far. They are to be examined by experts to determine to which cemetery they will be returned ultimately. The Jewish cemetery on Olandų street covers almost 12 hectares and is roughly equal to the Rasos cemetery in Vilnius in size and number of burials.

“The first decision made was that the stones should be arrayed somewhere in what we might call an open working area, so that project authors, architects and landscape artists can learn about and get a feel for them, and so that they can be used directly from that area for certain compositions,” Martynas Užpelkis, heritage protection specialist for the Lithuanian Jewish Community, said.

Heritage protection experts say the majority of the Jewish grave markers were used in building stairs on Tauro hill in Vilnius. Many were also used in constructing electrical transformer substations and support walls in the city. Historians have examined about 2,500 pieces so far. The majority of inscriptions have been in Hebrew, but there are also inscriptions in Yiddish, Polish and Russian. The plan is for most of the stone fragments to stay at Olandų street, with the remainder going to the old Jewish cemetery in the Šnipiškės neighborhood.

Survivor Yochanan Fein’s Memoirs Presented in Lithuanian in Kaunas


Photo courtesy Vincas Kudirka Public Library

The Lithuanian translation of Yochanan Fein’s memoirs called “Berniukas su smuiku” [Boy with a Violin] was presented at two locations in Kaunas: the Vincas Kudirka public library’s Panemunė branch and the President Valdas Adamkus Library and Museum. The author impressed audiences with his warmth, humor, humanitarianism and perfect Lithuanian and his story drew both laughter and tears.

Members of the Paulavičius family, who rescued Fein during the Holocaust, attended the book presentation at the presidential library, along with members of academia, Kaunas Jewish Community members, former ghetto prisoners and Fein’s son and daughter, who accompanied him throughout Lithuania on his book tour.

Recalling his life in the ghetto and his rescue as well as what led up to his writing the book, Fein said that although the book is written in blood, it contains no hatred, revenge or attacks. Fein even received some criticism from friends for that reason, so he explained he would never forget what happened and who did it, but he also discovered enlightened people during those dark days who preserved faith in humanity, risking their lives and those of their families. Fein said he didn’t like the word “everyone” and that there is no universal crime or guilt. He said we need to talk about the real heroes of the nation, the extraordinary people who adhered to Fein’s father’s life-long maxim “men darf zayn a mentsh,” one must remain a human being.

One Hundredth Anniversary of Birth of Jewish Soldier and Poet Abba Kovner


Abba Kovner with Jewish partisans and ghetto underground, July 14, 1944 (standing in center). Photo: Ilya Erenburg

by professor Pinchos Fridberg, for the web page of the newspaper Obzor

I am writing before the event: a half year remains until the birthday of the famous figure, but decisions need to be made now.

Don’t look for legendary Litvak Abba Kovner on the Lithuanian-language wikipedia, the hero of Jewish resistance to the Nazi occupation in Lithuania, the fighter for Israeli independence, the famous poet and writer, has no entry there. There are entries in the Hebrew and English wikipedia, in the Polish and Russian, but not in Lithuanian.

He apparently doesn’t merit a wikipedia page in Lithuanian. Every people has their heroes. On March 14, 2018, Abba Kovner, z”l [zikhrono livrakha, of blessed memory], turns 100.

I hope the Lithuanian Jewish Community remembers this significant event.

Abba studied at the Tarbut gymnasium, the building at Pylimo street no. 4 in Vilnius which now houses the Lithuanian Jewish Community. I therefore think “God Himself” commands us to hang a memorial plaque (in Lithuanian, Yiddish and English) to his memory in the foyer of this building. I foresee a question arising: why in the foyer and not on the outside of the building. My answer: I don’t want to see the issue of a memorial plaque get bogged down in endless negotiations.

Commemoration of Šeduva Shtetl in Lithuania and Abroad

Milda Jakulytė-Vasil,
museum curator,
Šeduva Jewish Memorial Fund

The beginning of the Šeduva Jewish community should be dated to the first half of the 18th century when Šeduva, having received Magdeburg charter self-government rights and after becoming a city, underwent rapid development the Jewish population grew remarkably. In 1793 the writer Fridrich Schulz (1762-1798) in his description of his impressions of visits to Poland (Fridrich Schulz “Reise eines Livländers durch Polen,” 1793) described Šeduva as a small town very similar to many he’d seen along the way. The traveller’s eyes didn’t miss the fact that almost none of the homes in the town had chimneys. Of course this sort of observation in a travelogue probably wasn’t intended to kindle the interest of readers and get them to visit the location, and beyond being an observation by the writer and traveller probably only meant that fires could and often did ravage these sorts of towns and cities.

In essence Šeduva wasn’t especially known for anything in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. We can say Šeduva was a typical town where Jews formed a significant part of economically active residents, and if their activities didn’t cause urban development, they at least had an influence over it. There were many such shtetlakh/towns in Lithuania, but upon closer inspection each has surprising and interesting events and stories, and the descendants of these towns are found now around the world.

In the shtetl of Šeduva in the period between the wars, constituted of about 900 Jews, the residents knew (or at least recognized) each other. The historian Saulius Kaubrys found the entire Jewish population Šeduva fit more or less along three streets, and this dense residency led to more intimate mutual interaction. There’s a story which illustrates the maxim that there are no secrets in a small town: “Shlomo had a brother named Nisan, an old man, about 60, but in his father’s eyes he was still ‘the kid,’ so he took him to buy a pair of shoes once. The two entered the shop and the father told the shopkeeper: ‘Give me some kid shoes.’ The shopkeeper looked around, but where was the child? At that point the father pointed to his 60-year-old son, ‘the child.’ Of course the entire shtetl knew about ‘the kid’ (that’s how it is in the shtetlakh)… They also lived in Šeduva.”

LJC Chairwoman Faina Kukliansky’s Speech at Presidential Ceremony to Honor Rescuers

As Lithuanian marked the 76th anniversary of beginning of the Holocaust, president Dalia Grybauskaitė September 27 bestowed awards on 43 Lithuanians who rescued Jews during World War II. Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky spoke at the ceremony.

Faina Kukliansky:

It is a great honor for me to be here and to honor the true heroes of Lithuania together. They provided the haven of goodness, they lit the hope of life in the darkness of the dogma of hate, they provided reason in the irrationality of brutality, they became guardians of life and the teachers of humanity.

“They said it’s like this: if I cut my finger, it won’t be painful for him,” this is the insight of a person who lived near the Treblinka death camp. Assuming the role of perpetrator or passive observer seemed to many to be the natural choice. Because of this choice, or more precisely, this moral surrender, Lithuania lost entire shtetls or towns with all of their intellectual potential, the cultural and economic nucleus of Lithuania was destroyed, the destinies of whole families were cut short and the agony of the Holocaust and culpability in the mass murder of Jews became our inheritance, our legacy for centuries.

Unlike others, those who rescued Jews didn’t see the situation at that time as hopeless and without solution. Even as they suffered the worst conditions, they never thought of compromise or collaboration, but instead performed the sacred mission fate entrusted to them, the saving of lives. Without weapons these people fought for humanity without thought of risk, without succumbing to fear, without becoming hostage to the decision to shed blood.

The names of the rescuers must be known and spoken, and their memory celebrated. Our heroes have done their work, and now it is time for Lithuania to do hers. I hope that fourteen years now after the late Icchokas Meras appealed to Lithuania leaders, a monument will grace the capital, before which children will say the names of the rescuers, before which those who were rescued and their descendants may pray. A monument which will be only a small symbol of our eternal gratitude. The gratitude of the Jewish people for the life given them, and the gratitude of the Lithuanian people for their rescued honor.

Zavl Shul Design Concepts

You’re invited to a sneak-peak of the newly renovated Zavl synagogue located at Gėlių street no. 6, Vilnius. at 4:00 P.M. on Sunday, October 1, 2017.

The synagogue on Gėlių street is one of only eight such buildings which survive in Vilnius. It is currently undergoing extensive restoration work.

We have brought together a team of young designers to address some important issues concerning the re-emergence of the building into the life of 21st-century Vilnius. It likely will play a role in the continuity of Jewish life in the city, but so far its future function hasn’t been determined.
The designers come from different backgrounds and have different ideas about “what design can do.” Most are alumni from the Vilnius Academy of Arts and six studied at the Design Academy in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, one of the world’s leading institutions for critically examining the role of design in society. Two Eindhoven graduates previously studied in Israel.

The presentation on Sunday will consist of ideas, associations and suggestions, not definite projects. They are all connected to the long history of the building and the Jewish presence in Lithuania but they are not intended as memorials. Instead, the presentations are intended to serve as a jumping-off point for future projects dealing with issues facing many communities in a globalized world: how to weave strands of culture, tradition, heritage, religion, identity and history into the fabric of contemporary life.

The presentation starts at 4:00 P.M. at Gėlių street no. 6, Vilnius.

We would very much appreciate your presence.

Koen Kleijn, Design Academy Eindhoven
Vytautas Gečas, Performance Design Association, Vilnius
Martynas Užpelkis, Lithuanian Jewish Community

Commemorating Lithuanian Day of Holocaust Remembrance

At 1:00 P.M. on September 26 the public gathered at the main monument at the Ponar Memorial Complex to mark the Lithuanian Day of Remembrance of Jewish Victims of Genocide. The day is marked on September 23, the anniversary of the liquidation of the Vilnius ghetto, but the 23rd fell on a Saturday this year.

Boris Traub began the commemoration with a violin solo, followed by several young girls who read heart-wrenching Holocaust poetry in Lithuanian. Next Lithuanian prime minister Saulius Skvernelis spoke, pledging the Lithuanian people would never forget the Holocaust. This was followed by the laying of wreaths, first using an honor guard in the name of Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė. The Lithuanian Ministry of Culture also laid a wreath, as did Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius and by Ronaldas Račinskas personally, the executive director of the International Commission to Assess the Crimes of the Soviet and Nazi Occupational Regimes in Lithuania. Foreign embassies and the Lithuanian Jewish Community, the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum and others also laid wreaths at the base of the monument in Ponar. The medium-sized parking lot at the memorial complex was almost filled with automobiles bearing diplomatic license plates. Some sported national flags, including those of Estonia, the Czech Republic and the Russian Federation.

Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon spoke with a very soft musical accompaniment in the background and reiterated the victims had names, and are not a statistic.

Dream about the Vanished Jerusalem

by Grigory Kanovich
translated from Russian by Yisrael Elliot Cohen

It seems that I dreamed about it when I was still in the cradle, long before I first saw it for real. Long before 1945, when it took me into its bleeding embraces that still reeked of the smoldering embers of war. Long before one could see there a burial hillock whose mud besmirched all my joys and forever stained, with a poison-yellow tint, all of my sorrows, because it was there that my mother (may her memory be blessed) found peace or perhaps did not find it.

In the course of my now already hardly short life, I have visited many cities — New York and Paris, London and Geneva, Toronto and Berlin, Turin, Prague and Warsaw. But not one of those majestic, inimitable, attractive cities ever entered my dreams.

I only dreamed about a single city in the whole world.

Did Abba Kovner Hide His Place of Birth?


The Riddle of History: When and Why Did Abba Kovner Alter His Biography?

by Pinchos Fridberg

This article could (and should) have been published a year ago, in August 2016, if I had treated more seriously the brief article I wrote in Russian about the new edition of the book “Vilnius: In Search of Traces of the Jerusalem of Lithuania.”

All Sources (apart from the New York Times) Say Abba Kovner Was Born in Sevastopol

All sources I’m aware of, with the one exception of the New York Times, state Abba Kovner (Yiddish: קאוונער אַבאַ) was born in Sevastopol [Crimean Peninsula]. Here I will give some examples of the most important publications:

1. A monograph entirely dedicated to Abba Kovner’s life and work.
Porat, Dina. “Fall of a Sparrow. The Life and Times of Abba Kovner” (originally published in Hebrew in 2000). Translated and edited by Elizabeth Yuval. English translation 2010. Stanford University Press.

The first chapter “Childhood in Sevastopol and Youth in Vilna” starts with the statement “Abba Kovner was born in Sevastopol…” (p. 3).

Note: This is not supported by a reference to an archival excerpt from the register of births of Jews born in Sevastopol in 1918.

Knesset Speaker Yuli-Yoel Edelstein’s Visit to Ponar, LJC Chairwoman Faina Kukliansky’s Speech

“On Sunday at three o’clock the streets of the ghetto were closed. A group of three hundred Jews from Salos and Smurgainys left for Kaunas with a large crowd of Jews from the countryside at the railroad station. Standing at the gate I saw how they packed their things. Happy and in a good mood, they got on the train. Today terrible news reached us.

“Eighty-five cars with Jews, almost 5,000 people, were not taken to Kaunas as promised; instead the train took them to Ponar where they were shot. Five-thousand new victims of brutality. The entire ghetto is upset as if struck by lightning. People are consumed by the sense of butchery… Everything is so horrible.”

These are the thoughts fifteen-year-old Yitskhok Rudashevski wrote down in Yiddish in his school notebook. The thoughts of someone mature beyond his age, or perhaps thoughts made old through violence, suffering and waiting for death… Yitskhok’s life ended here, as did those of many Vilnius ghetto inmates, in one of the pits of Ponar turned into human sacrifice sites.

Lithuanian school children and young adults have not had the opportunity so far to read Yitskhok’s diary, and the several pages included in history textbooks do not reflect the horror of the Holocaust, or the 700 years of Lithuanian Jewish history, or my people’s contribution to fortifying Lithuanian statehood. Little is said of Lithuanian collaboration in the Holocaust, and heads are bowed and statues raised not always to the true heroes of Lithuania. The Holocaust is passed on as a crippling tragedy of from one generation to the next, and from a different generation to the next as horrible guilt, at the subconscious level. The time has come to recognize the common historical memory of Jews and Lithuanians. Lithuanians and Litvaks have one shared history in which Lithuanians and Jews intertwine, and the paths of Israel and Lithuania crisscross. Zionism, or Jewish patriotism, a very strong tradition in Litvak history, saved many Jewish families from death. Am Yisrael khai. Mir zainen do!

For perhaps the first time at this event in Ponar, Jewish partisan Fania Brancovskaja will not speak. The entire Community says, Get well soon, Fania!

This reminds us of the passage of time, the worth of a human life, its fragility and transitory nature, and it encourages us to act, while we can, to keep memory alive. Only historical memory and truth will help the older generation to know, give the younger generation the chance to learn, and help build the bridge of memory between peoples and countries.

Don’t Give Up Hope: The Partisan Poem and Song Project


Eli Rabinowitz interviews Phillip Maisel, 95, Survivor of the Vilna Ghetto, and friend of Hirsh Glik in Melbourne, Australia. August 22, 2017

Hirsh Glik, 20, wrote the poem, Zog Nit Keynmol, in Yiddish in the Vilna Ghetto in 1943. Its powerful words are about hope, heroes and resistance. It became immediately popular and spread quickly. Hirsh was killed in Estonia the following year.

Two Jewish Russian brothers, Dmitri and Daniel Pokrass, had composed a march for a movie in 1938. This was later matched with the poem. After the Holocaust, this song became the anthem of the Survivors and has been sung ever since at annual Yom Hashoah commemorations, mostly in Yiddish, and in Hebrew in Israel.

Many school children now sing Zog Nit Keynmol at commemorations in Yiddish, the lingua franca in 1943, but hardly spoken today. Most do not understand the meaning, inspiration and context of the words. This was brought to my attention in January by Rabbi Craig Kacev, the Head of Jewish Studies at South Africa’s largest Jewish Day School, King David. Three weeks later, 1000 of his high school students attended my audiovisual presentation consisting of short YouTube clips. It was a resounding success and the start of my remarkable journey taking me to South Africa, the UK, Lithuania, Poland, Israel, the US, Canada and back home to Australia in six months!

Lithuanian Shtetlakh: European Day of Jewish Culture Celebration September 3 at LJC

Press release

The Lithuanian Jewish Community invites the public to attend an event dedicated to the Jewish shtetls of Lithuania to commemorate and remember together this period of Lithuanian history, interesting and dear to us but cut short by the Holocaust and which has become a subject of academic interest and heritage protection.

The theme of this year’s European Day of Jewish Culture on September 3 as confirmed by the Cultural Heritage Department to the Lithuanian Ministry of Culture is “The Diaspora and Heritage: The Shtetl.” This is an intentional, mature and topical choice for a country where the life of the largest ethnic and confessional minority, of the Jews, thrived namely in the Lithuanian shtetlakh until 1941.

The Lithuanian Jewish Community will host an event called “Shtetlakh of Lithuania” on the third floor of the community building at Pylimo street no. 4 on September 3 to celebrate the European Day of Jewish Culture in 2017.

The event will kick off with a bagel breakfast and a presentation and tasting of authentic Jewish recipes at the Bagel Shop Café on the first floor at 9:00 A.M. Following that everyone is invited to attend a short Yiddish language lesson. A brunch awaits the graduates at the Bagel Shop Café. At 2:00 P.M. guest speakers will begin delivering free public lectures on the shtetlakh of Aniksht (Anykščiai), Eishishyok (Eišiškės), Sheduva (Šeduva) and Vilkovishk (Vilkaviškis) and what remains of them. A challa-baking lesson and presentation of the Bagel Shop Café’s new ceramics collection begins at 4:00 P.M. The Jewish song and dance ensemble Fayerlakh will perform a concert at 6:00 P.M.

The Rakija Klezmer Orkestar will also perform a concert at 3:00 P.M. in the Šnipiškės neighborhood of Vilnius.

More information available here.

“The reality in Lithuania is that If you want to learn more about the material and immaterial cultural heritage of a given town in Lithuanian (including the architectural features and aura of buildings, demographic changes and consequent changes in the structure of the town, changes in political structure and the ensuing canonization of ideologized development patterns), you will, unavoidably, run into the word ‘shtetl.’ You will find no better opportunity to understand what this is and to discover the shtetl in the features of buildings still standing in the towns than the events for the European Day of Jewish Culture on September 3,” director of the Cultural Heritage Department Diana Varnaitė said.

The word shtetl is an old Yiddish diminutive for shtot, city, meaning town. The towns of Lithuania where Jews comprised half or the majority of the population, characterized by Litvak energy and the bustle of commercial activity, are often called shtetlakh, the plural of shtetl. It’s thought shtetls evolved into their modern form in the 18th century. Malat, Kupeshok, Zosle, Olkenik, Svintsyan, Vilkomir, Gruzd, Eishyshok, Utyan–these are just a few of the surviving Lithuanian towns.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky recalls her parents’ shtetl:

“We didn’t travel to my grandparents’ village in the summer. We didn’t have any ebcause they were murdered in the Holocaust, or had moved from their shtetlakh to Vilnius or Kaunas because they could no longer live there without their loved ones and friends lying in the pits together with the bodies and souls of the other unfortunates.

“The Kuklianskys who survived, however, my father, my uncle who hid in trenches from the Nazis near the shtetl of Sventiyansk, were rescued by local village people, but for their entire lives longed for their home on the banks of the Ančia River in Veisiejai, Lithuania. There was no place happier or more beautiful than their native shtetl. Perhaps because their mother hadn’t been murdered yet.

“The eyes of my mother, who was born in Keydan (Kėdainiai) and spent her childhood in Shavl (Šiauliai), her eyes used to just shine when she remembered how they used to go to the ‘spa town’ of Pagelava near Shavl in horse-drawn cart.

“The shtetls… are no more. Now there are cities and towns, but they have no rabbis, no yeshivas, synagogues or Jews… all that remains is love for the place of one’s birth, but love is stronger than hate. The memories remain, too, and without them we wouldn’t be commemorating the shtetls and their inhabitants.”

Those who seek to find the traces of the lost and concealed presence of the Jews only have to find their way to the center of a Lithuanian town, to the old town, where the red-brick buildings still stand. All of the old towns of the small towns were built by Jews. The same goes for the former synagogues, schools, pharmacies and hospitals.

Cultural heritage experts tell us market day and the Sabbath were the main events of the week in the Lithuanian towns. Both were observed. After the Holocaust the shtetlakh were empty, the Jewish homes stood empty even if they still contained family heirlooms and the items acquired over lifetimes. Non-Jewish neighbors often moved into these houses and took over the property. Now no one uses the word štetlas in Lithuanian, it sounds exotic and needs to be translated to miestelis.

Stories of Vilner Life Accompanied by Music


Arkadijus Gotesmanas, photo from the press release.

Klezmer music festivals are scheduled from August 10 to October 5 in Vilnius, Klaipėda, Kaišiadorys, Joniškis, Merkinė and other Lithuanian towns which will include a nine-concert series called Music for Failed Plays adapted from Abraomas Karpinovičius’s collection of tales The Last Prophet of Vilnius, festival organizers said in a press release.

Avant-garde jazz percussionist and modern music performer Arkadijus Gotesmanas is the force behind the festival. He says he wants to introduce the Lithuanian public to the original writer Abraomas Karpinovičius (1918-2004) who wrote in Yiddish.

His work commemorates the former Jewish life of Vilna, the Jewish drama theater and the Jewish community. Often his characters are odd, for example, Gedalkė Kantorius, who believed melodies could be frozen in a teapot and kept till spring, or the folklorist at the Halle market in Vilnius who collected profanities, or Rokhala who claimed to be a member of the royal court, or the woman who drew banknotes for the future state of Israel outside the Great Synagogue.

Shtetlakh of Lithuania: European Day of Jewish Culture 2017

This year the theme is Lithuanian shtetlakh.

September 3, Lithuanian Jewish Community, Pylimo street no. 4, Vilnius

Program

9:00 – 12:00 Boker Tov bagel breakfast
location: Bagel Shop Café, Pylimo street no. 4, Vilnius
Presentation and sampling of authentic Jewish recipes

12:00 – 12:45 Yiddish language lesson with Fania Brancovskaja
location: Heifetz Hall
Mama-loshn

1:00 – 4:00 Ze Taim bagel brunch and presentation of fall menu
location: Bagel Shop Café, Pylimo street no. 4, Vilnius
Presentation of fall menu

1:00 – 1:45 Hebrew language lesson with Ruth Reches
location: Ilan Hall
Registration here.

2:00 Presentation of European Day of Jewish Culture
location: Heifetz Hall
Welcome speech
Faina Kukliansky and honored guests to speak.

4:00 Challa making lesson with Riva and Amit
location: Bagel Shop Café and White Hall
Registration here.

2:.30 – 4:00 “Shtetlakh of Lithuania” presentation
location: Heifetz Hall
Participants: Vytautas Toleikis, Fania Brancovskaja, Sandra Pertukonytė, Antanas Žilinskis, Rimantas Vanagas, Indrė Anskaitytė, Vita Ličytė and others.

6:00 Rakija Klezmer Orkestar performance
location: Šnipiškės

6:00 Faykerlakh concert Shtetlas
location: Heifetz Hall
Celebrating 45 years of the Jewish song and dance collective

Most Famous Litvak Ever?


The Zamenhof monument in Veisiejai, Lithuania, recalls how he began as a doctor.

The Polish Institute in Vilnius with the Lithuanian National UNESCO Commission and the Union of Lithuanian Esperanto Speakers are presenting an exhibition on Ludovik Zamenhof, the inventor of the artificial international language Esperanto and the best-known Litvak in the world. The exhibit is on display at the Lithuanian National UNESCO Commission gallery at Šv. Jono street no. 11 and celebrates the 100th anniversary of Zamenhof’s birth. It details the famous Litvak and his family, his life in Białystok, Poland and the birth and popularity of the Esperanto language. Classic literature translated into Esperanto is also on display. UNESCO declared 2017 the Year of Ludovik Zamenhof. In 2014 Poland’s Ministry of Culture and National Treasures listed the Esperanto language on its registry of intangible national treasures.

Born in Białystok, he also lived and worked in Warsaw, Kaunas, Moscow, Vienna and Plotsk, and began his practice as a doctor in Veisiejai, Lithuania, in 1885. In 1886 he was an ophthalmologist in Vienna and Plotsk. In 1879 he wrote a Yiddish grammar published in part in the magazine Lebn un visnshaft (Vilna, 1909) followed in 1887 by his book “Lingvo internacia” under the psuedonym Dr. Esperanto, which became the name of the language he invented. He died in 1917 and is buried in Warsaw.

The exhibit is open to the public without admission charge till September 19.

Full story in Lithuanian here.