News

Lithuanian Mini-Maccabiah Games Celebrate 100th Anniversary of Lithuania

Lithuanian Makabi Athletics Club held a mini-Maccabiah games event celebrating 100 years of Lithuanian independence Sunday at the Educology University in Vilnius. Athletes from Vilnius, Kaunas, Panevėžys, Šalčininkai, Lentvaris and Israeli exchange students from Kaunas competed. All participants received participation medals and the youngest contestant, Grytė Vaisbrodė, received a participation trophy. Best athletes in all team sports received personal trophies. Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky and Makabi vice president Daumantas Levas Todesas welcomed and congratulated athletes.

Competition was held in indoor football, 3-on-3 basketball, volley ball, table tennis (men’s and women’s), chess and badminton (men’s and women’s).

A luncheon was held following the competition.

Honor the Lietūkis Garage Victims

The Kaunas Jewish Community invites you to come and honor the victims of the Lietūkis garage massacre at the monument commemorating these horrific events (Miško street no. 3, Kaunas) at 5:30 P.M. on June 25. Excursions to other Holocaust sites, the Slobodka ghetto, the old Jewish cemetery in the Žaliakalnis neighborhood and the Seventh Fort will follow the commemoration.

First Lithuanian Dramatic Film about Mass Murder of Jews in Production

Lately it’s been fashionable to talk about Lithuania’s breakthrough and how we can achieve it. Stasys Baltakis, the producer of the film Izaokas–probably the first Lithuanian dramatic film to discuss the relationship between Lithuanian Holocaust perpetrators and Jews–says we will begin to move ahead as a country and nation only when we accept and solve internally the problems of our darkest history and identity.

Over the last several years there have been more open discussions of the Holocaust in Lithuania and collaboration by locals. About 90 percent of the Jews of our country were murdered. Stasys Baltakis, however, says there is a lack of constructive discussions and–most importantly–an open and sincere recognition of history.

Already in post-production, Jurgis Matulevičius’s first film with a running time of 90 minutes tells the story of main character Andrius Gluosnis who murders the Jew Izoakas [Isaac] in the Lietūkis garage massacre in Kaunas in 1941. The film is based on the short story of the same name by Antanas Škėma. It is scheduled to hit theaters on September 15.

Full story in Lithuanian here.

WJC Applauds Trump Decision to Withdraw from UN Human Rights Commission

NEW YORK–The World Jewish Congress applauds the United States’ decision to withdraw from the United Nations Human Rights Council over its obsessive and biased focus on the State of Israel, said WJC President Ronald S. Lauder.

“The WJC deeply appreciates the US’ strong and unyielding support for the State of Israel, and applauds US Ambassador Nikki Haley’s courageous efforts to call out the United Nations over its continuous obsessive focus and bias against the Jewish State. By withdrawing from the inherently flawed UN Human Rights Council, the US has sent a crucial message to the international community that the repeated abuses flung against Israel, often by some of the most notorious human rights violators in the world, will not be tolerated,” Lauder said.

“The WJC is critically invested in speaking out on the floor of the UNHRC and other UN bodies, and believes that engagement is key to effecting change. Over the last five years, we have held dozens of meetings in Geneva, and members of the WJC-Jewish Diplomatic Corps have delivered more than 60 statements on the floor, including an underlining of our opposition to the double standards exhibited against Israel at each session,” said Lauder.

Conference to Preserve Jewish Heritage in Pušalotas, Lithuania

A conference and inspection tour took place in Pušalotas, Lithuania, June 15, of the synagogue there known as “Yoshke’s house” which also included a Jewish primary school. The synagogue was built by Howard Margol’s great-grandfather, all of whose relatives lived in Lithuania during Tsarist times. One of Margol’s relatives is former Israeli prime minister and long-time leader of the Labor Party Ehud Barak.

The inspection tour in Pušalotas included members of the Panevėžys Jewish Community, Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon, members of the Pušalotas community, officials from the Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Department and staff from the Lithuanian Jewish Community, Pasvalys regional administration chairman G. Gegužinskas, Lithuanian MP A. Matulas, Pušalotas township alderwoman P. Stravinskienė and Pušalotas community chairman A. Kumpauskas, among others. They inspected the synagogue which is in critical condition. For 75 years it hasn’t been used as a synagogue and was left derelict for some time. Margol and family had a commemorative plaque placed on the synagogue and put the old Pušalotas Jewish cemetery in order in 2005. The external structure of the synagogue is intact and authentic, and it could be restored and used by the local community.

Happy Birthday to Grigory Kanovich

Happy birthday to Grigory Kanovich who celebrates his 89th this week.

This year the re-established Lithuanian Jewish Community celebrates its 30th anniversary. Looking back on the time of national revival, back to 1989 when the founding meeting of the Lithuanian Jewish Cultural Association took place, we remember Grigory Kanovich was elected the organization’s first chairman. Kanovich is an internationally acclaimed writer, winner of Lithuania National prize in Art and Culture for 2014, an honorable citizen of Jonava, chairman emeritus of the LJC and the recipient of the Order of Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas, third degree. He currently lives in Israel.

We appreciate our first chairman (1989-1993) and writer, author of the novel “A Kid for Two Pennies” which was adapted and performed by the Little Theater in Vilnius as “Smile Upon Us, Lord,” and which won first prize at the Baltic and Northern European Theater Festival. It was truly an unforgettable play and several generations of people find much meaning in it.

Living in Israel, Grigory Kanovich wrote the novel “Jewish Park,” recognized best Israeli novel in Russian in 1997.

The entire Lithuanian Jewish Community is so proud of you, beloved Grigory, and we all wish you the happiest birthday from the bottom of our hearts, and wish you great health, happiness and love.

YIVO Director Jonathan Brent Visits Vilnius

YIVO executive director and CEO Jonathan Brent led a delegation visiting Vilnius earlier this week. The Lithuanian Jewish Community cherishes our long-term cooperation and meaningful work with YIVO in preserving the Jewish cultural heritage in Lithuania and the world. We thank the United States embassy for their invitation to attend a reception for Jonathan Brent.

City of Kaunas Honors Righteous Gentile, Dutch Consul Jan Zwartendijk

Jan Zwartendijk, the honorable consul of the Netherlands in Lithuania at the beginning of World War II and a rescuer of Jews, was honored Friday at Freedom Alley in Kaunas outside his former office where he also worked as a representative of the Philips company. The location was decorated with a lighting installation and a commemorative plaque was unveiled to honor Zwartendijk.

Dutch artist Giny Vos said she was trying to commemorate Zwartendijk the man, but also his humanitarian actions; Zwartendijk never considered himself a hero, although his so-called Curaçao end-visas he issued over 10 days in the summer of 1940 ended up saving around 2,400 lives directly in conjunction with transit visas issued by Japanese ambassador Chiune Sugihara, and countless more lives if succeeding generations are included. She said her light-show installation’s spiral symbolized life, movement, growth and hope, and that each individually sized and colored LED light in the installation represented a life saved, with the emphasis on hope, light and the future.

Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė, Kaunas mayor Visvaldas Matijošaitis and Jan Zwartendijk’s son Rob spoke about the man and his humanitarian actions at the event.

Solomonas Atamukas’s Book on Lithuanian Jews Launched at Lithuanian Jewish Community

A new book by the late scholar and historian Dr. Solomonas Atamukas (1918-2014) was lauched June 11 in the Jascha Heifetz Hall at the Lithuanian Jewish Community in Vilnius. The book, “Lietuvos žydų keliai: atmintis, tikėjimas, viltis” [Paths of the Jews of Lithuania: Memory, Faith, Hope] was written and intended by the author to be a continuation of his first book. Late in life Dr. Atamukas suffered health problems and in order to insure the continuation of his first book would be published, enlisted the help of his son, daughter, grandson and daughter-in-law, who performed careful research and collection of information. According to his daughter, long-serving deputy chairwoman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community Maša Grodnikienė, the family paid for the publication of both books.

This is a useful new source for the reader interested in Litvak history. It contains 458 biographical sketches, called biograms in the book, of Litvaks, arranged by country of residence. The book contains large amounts of information about world-famous Litvaks, their origins in Lithuania, education, work and achievements. The author sought to collect as much information and write as many biograms as possible about Holocaust survivors.

Court Rules on Number of Votes in Lithuanian Jewish Community Ballot

Every associated member will have one vote in future annual conferences of the Lithuanian Jewish Community. This was the verdict issued this week by the Vilnius District Court in a suit on future representation within the LJC.

The LJC followed this order of voting in elections last year and this year according to the Lithuanian law on associations, ballots which chose the leadership of the organization and confirmed annual financial and activities reports.

LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky said: “The Lithuanian Jewish Community in its activities is based on law and the clear verdict by the court allows us to finally solve the issue regarding decision-making by the board and member representation at the conference. I hope this will facilitate cooperation in our common work because hindering governance organs from carrying out their work and the campaign of libel are not the proper measures which should be undertaken in the stated interest of concern for Jews. Now, having a decision from appellate court, I invite all organizations constituting the Community to consider how to heal discord among Jews and how to look for ways towards consensus.”

According to section 4, article 8 of the law on associations, every member of an association, despite its number of members, has one vote in a general assembly (conference), thus insuring the equality of all association members and an equal vote.

At the same time, the regulations of the LJC call for a proportional vote by regional communities. The LJC board, perceiving a contradiction between the rules and the law, and in aspiring towards greater transparency, resolved at the April 19, 2017, meeting of the board to enshrine the principle of one member, one vote.

The Vilnius District Court recognized the principle of one member, one vote in their verdict of November 22, 2017, and announced point 7.1 of the LJC regulations on the proportional representation of regional Jewish communities at the LJC voting conference null and void.

Afterwards, the Jewish communities of Vilnius, Klaipėda, Ukmergė and Šiauliai appealed this decision, but the court ruling in the case based on law declined to retry the case. This ruling came into effect on April 18, 2018, but was again appealed to the Vilnius District Court. The appeal to this court on June 12 was rejected with a final ruling on representation among associated members of the Lithuanian Jewish Community.

Condolences

The Lithuanian Jewish Community express our deepest condolences to the family members, son, daughter and grandchildren on the death of Svetlana Reches. Stay strong in this time of loss, loss of your mother and grandmother.

Lithuania Marks Day of Mourning and Hope on June 14

At 3 o’clock in the morning on June 14, 1941, NKVD officers began mass arrests of Lithuanian citizens. Entire families of Lithuanians and Jews were deported to Siberia deep in the Soviet Union. More than 30,000 people from Lithuania were taken away in one week. They were sent to Siberia in sealed rail cars.

Lithuania marks this anniversary as the Day of Mourning and Hope in honor of those who died in exile.

Kaunas Mayor Invites Public to Unveiling of Zwartendijk Monument

Kaunas mayor Visvaldas Matijošaitis has issued public invitations to attend a ceremony to unveil a monument to WWII-era Dutch diplomat Jan Zwartendijk across from the Knygų Ministerija bookshop at Laisvės Alley no. 29 in Kaunas at 3:30 P.M., Friday, June 15. Zwartendijk issued the so-called Curaçao final-destination visas to Jews fleeing the Holocaust in Lithuania.

Condolences

With great sadness we report the death of Anastazija Votrinienė who passed away June 4. She was born in 1936. Our deepest condolences go to her sister, Jelena Jakiševa.

Unexpected Guests Visit Panevėžys Jewish Community

A group of former classmates now living in Israel, Russia and the United States have visited Panevėžys together. They attended a school which began operating in Panevėžys after liberation from the Nazis in September, 1944. Many of the students were Jewish. One such is David Dworkin, who now lives in Miami, Florida. His father was an airman and the commander of a military unit. Another is Semion Zuselevič Šteiman who lived on Ramygalos street with his parents. His children Genadij, Leonard and Jevgenij also attended the school. Vladimir Maksimičiov lived in Panevėžys and is a member of the Panevėžys Jewish Community. His brothers Genadij and Baruch also attended the same school after the war.

Panevėžys Jewish Community chairman Gennady Kofman told the guests the history of Jewish schools in Panevėžys, include the Yavne girls’ religious gymnasium which some of the visitors attended before the war, built in 1922 by Rabbi Josef Shlomo Kahaneman. It was closed down in June of 1940 along with all other Jewish schools, gymnasia and high schools in Lithuania. The chairman also told the guests about community activities and treated them to kosher wine and matzo.

The visit was useful to the Panevėžys Jewish Community as well as the visitors and the chairman said he’s grateful so many people have come and shared new photographs and documents with the community over the last 20 years.

Those wishing to visit during summer should contact beforehand the chairman of the Panevėžys Jewish Community, who might be able to help locate old homes, former teachers and places where parents and grandparents once worked.

Israeli Ambassador Honors Emanuelis Zingeris

Israeli ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon held a reception at the ambassadorial residence to honor Emanuelis Zingeris, signatory to the Lithuanian independence act and long-standing conservative MP. Professor Vytautas Landsbergis, Polish ambassador Urszula Doroszewska and other public figures including the heads of Lithuanian Jewish communities turned out to greet Zingeris at the reception. Emanuelis Zingeris is the only Jewish MP in the Lithuanian parliament.

Old Kalvarija Synagogue Springs Back to Life

Leading Polish musical group Vocal Varshe performed a concert of Jewish song last week at the old synagogue complex in Kalvarija, Lithuania, where services were last held more than 77 years ago.

The Polish group sang and played accordion to a full house. The windows were opened and the music reverberated throughout the former shtetl where Jews were the majority population before the Holocaust. A local youth choir sang a Jewish song at the beginning of the concert to honor the victims.

Construction began on a synagogue in “Jewish Calvary” in 1713 when the ruler of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Augustus II, granted the kahilla a charter to engage in different forms of trade and manufacturing, to set up cemeteries and to build synagogues not taller than the highest church.

The Kalvarija synagogue complex is listed on the Lithuanian registry of protected cultural treasures. It includes the Baroque synagogue built in the 18th century, the electric synagogue built in the latter half of the 19th century and the adjacent Talmud school and rabbi’s residence built at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Polish Group Vocal Varshe Performs at Sacred Site in Vilnius

Vocal Varshe, a group of musicians from Poland, performed songs in Hebrew, Yiddish and Ladino at the site of the former Great Synagogue in Vilnius, destroyed after World War II, on the evening of June 6, 2018. The event was organized by the Polish Institute in Vilnius and the Lithuanian Jewish Community. The Polish musicians from Warsaw performed songs from the Warsaw and Vilnius ghettos.

LJC executive director Renaldas Vaisbrodas began the event with the poem Vilne by Moshe Kulbak.

Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius greeted the audience and said the concert venue reminded the public, Polish and Lithuanian residents of Vilnius, that more could have been done to save Jews from the Holocaust. He also called for an appropriate commemoration at the site, whether that be partial reconstruction of the synagogue or some other form, to remind future generations of what happened. He said this would serve to unite the different ethnic communities in Vilnius.

LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky thanked the musicians for coming and performing and the Vilnius mayor who granted permission for the concert at the site infused with the spirit of the teachings of the Vilna Gaon.

Istanbul Convention Presented for Ratification

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky congratulates Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė’s decision to present the Istanbul Convention, the Council of Europe’s convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, to the Lithuanian parliament for ratification. This is an important step forward for human rights in Lithuania. The Istanbul Convention is a crucial legal instrument to strengthen state resolve in the fight against violence against women. It is binding and based on experience from around the world of the best measures for decreasing gender-based violence.

Thirty of the 47 members of the Council of Europe have already ratified the convention.

More information in Lithuanian here.