Sabbath with Yiddish Summer Course Students

Friday evening students from the Yiddish and Yiddish Literature program of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute at Vilnius University celebrated Sabbath at the Lithuanian Jewish Community.

LJC chairwoman Faina Kukliansky spoke about the importance of these types of courses, saying: “Yiddish is an inseparable part of Jewish culture, Jewish identity. Yiddish isn’t just Jewish songs and a rich folklore. There is an abundance of very interesting literature in Yiddish. I hope Yiddish classes will become just as popular as Hebrew classes are in our community. Yiddish is a living language and it is continuing to develop.”

This year the summer courses are being attended by about 30 students from Poland, Sweden, Germany, Israel, the United States and other countries. Most have Jewish roots and want to learn the language of their forefathers, and to learn more about Litvak culture.

There are also students who say they need to learn Yiddish for work. Philip from Germany said he doesn’t have any Jewish blood but needs Yiddish because he is studying the Holocaust in Byelorussia. Even so, he’s become a Yiddish enthusiast, and said the Yiddish language preserves the philosophy of the Talmud.

Thomas from Stockholm also says he needs Yiddish for his work. He works for Swedish International radio and several years ago they decided to start a broadcast in Yiddish. Thomas was selected to lead the program because he’s Jewish. Although he understands Yiddish, so far he’s been posing questions to guests in English and Swedish. Now he hopes to be able to do this in Yiddish.

Yiddish summer course teachers include professor Anna Verschik from Estonia, professor Abraham Lichtenbaum from Argentina, professor Dov-Ber Kerler, professor Vera Szabó from Israel and this year Canadian stand-up comedian, writer and linguist Michael Wex, author of the best-selling “Born to Kvetch: Yiddish Language and Culture in All Its Moods,” New York, 2005.

The summer course of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute at Vilnius University began in 1998.

Condolences

Icikas Jakobas passed away July 25. He was born in 1949. We send our sincere condolences to his wife Galina, daughter and grandson.

Great Synagogue Site Compared to Acropolis and Vilnius Castle

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Last week the Lithuanian Jewish Community confirmed archaeologists had discovered the bimah, or speaking platform, one of the most important elements of the Great Synagogue. Experts say this gives real stimulus to the digs at the site which have been going on for three years now. The Great Synagogue in Vilnius was one of the most important Jewish centers from the end of the 16th century to World War II. Damaged during the war, the Soviets razed what was left to the ground in the 1950s and built a school there. The green and brown Baroque bimah built in the 18th century was found under the school.

Call to Get Rid of Noreika Commemorations

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky thanked the archaeologists who studied historical descriptions and blueprints as well as digging for sharing their finds. “We are in the former ghetto, and this find is comparable on Vilnius’s scale to discovering the Acropolis. Not the shopping center, the historical Acropolis,” Kukliansky said. She thanked the Vilnius municipality for the support and initiative in commemorating the former synagogue, and used the occasion to remind Vilnius city leaders commemoration of the Great Synagogue isn’t compatible with a public plaque commemorating Jonas Noreika. “I want to make this little observation that the Great Synagogue and a monument to Noreika don’t really go together in one city,” the LJC chairwoman said at press conference next to Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius, asking for the issue to be solved..

Full story in Lithuanian here.

Regarding Jonas Noreika

The Lithuanian Jewish Community celebrating this year our 30th anniversary along with celebrations of the Lithuanian independence movement, and commemorating the 75th anniversary of the destruction of the Vilnius ghetto, is concerned by continuing discussions on the commemoration of the memory of Jonas Noreika, aka General Vėtra.

Information has come to our attention demonstrating Noreika was a direct and enthusiastic participant in perpetrating the Holocaust in Lithuania:

a. “…extant documents signed by Noreika for the concentration and isolation of Jews…”

b. On August 22, 1941, Noreika sent a letter to all the aldermen and town burgermeisters [mayors] of the the Šiauliai district for the removal of all Jews and half-Jews from the rural districts, towns and cities to ghettos. This was supposed to be accomplished between August 25 and 29, with Jews also sent to a ghetto in Žagarė. Inventories of property left behind by the Jews was to be delivered to the administrator (Noreika) by August 29. (Lithuanian Central State Archive f R-1099, ap.1, b1,l 156).

c. Noreika administered seized Jewish property. His letter of September 10, 1941, titled “Orders for the Liquidation of Tangible Property of Jews and Communists” was sent to district aldermen and burgermeisters. He wrote a portion of the property (good furniture, rolls of cloth, unused bedding) was to be preserved until a subsequent order on their allocation, a portion was to be sent to schools, rural districts, post offices, shelters, hospitals and other institutions, and a portion was to be used for victims of the war, to be sold at auction. Farm inventories were to be rented out to temporary tenants. Monies generated from the sale of property was supposed to be sent to the treasury of the Šiauliai district administration (Lithuanian Central State Archive f. R-1099, ap. 1, b. 1, l 239). On December 3, 1941, the burgermeister of Žagarė reported to the head of the district of Šiauliai (Jonas Noreika) on progress in dealing with Jewish property seized (Lithuanian Central State Archive f. R-1099, ap. 1, b. 9. 136-137).

This information proves Noreika collaborated with the Nazi regime and contributed to the persecution of Lithuanian Jews, and this person can in no way be portrayed as a Lithuanian hero.

We believe the Lithuanian people, now celebrating 100 years of statehood, are mature enough to accept the whole of historical facts and the state is capable of accepting responsibility for this public display of disrespect to historical truth.

The LJC is concerned that until now a commemorative plaque to Jonas Noreika is still displayed prominently on the outer wall of the library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences in central Vilnius. According to the information available to us regarding the circumstances of erecting this plaque, it seems it was done illicitly, without regard to standard procedures used in such instances.

It doesn’t surprise us that the director of the Adolfas Damušis Center for Democracy (Adolfas Damušis was a minister in the pro-Nazi Provisional Government of Lithuania in 1941 and a member of the leadership of the Lithuanian Activist Front), Vidmantas Valiušaitis, has undertaken a defense of Noreika in the public sphere.

The active and systemic apologetics for the anti-Semitics actions of the Lithuanian Provisional Government and the LAF have misinformed and desensitized the Lithuanian people, degrade Lithuania’s reputation and have become a stimulus for the development of propaganda campaigns by states not friendly to Lithuania.

The Lithuanian Jewish Community asks the institutions responsible to take quick action to solve this political, ethical and legal problem and to pay due respect to the victims of the Holocaust. We are asking for the plaque to Noreika to be taken down before the Lithuanian Day of Remembrance of Jewish Victims of Genocide on September 23.

Archaeologists Find Holiest Part of Vilnius Great Synagogue Razed by Soviets


VILNIUS, Lithuania (AFP) — For decades, little did the principal of a kindergarten in Lithuania’s capital realize that her office stood on top of a sacred part of Vilnius’s 17th century Jewish temple, once famous across Europe.

An international team of archaeologists announced THursday the discovery of the most revered part of the Great Synagogue of Vilnius, Lithuania’s major Jewish shrine before it was destroyed by Nazi and Soviet regimes.

Installed in the 18th century, the Baroque bimah was found under the former kindergarten and primary school built by the Soviets on top of the demolished synagogue in the 1950s.

Following this discovery, Vilnius authorities pledged to demolish the school building in a couple of years and properly commemorate the synagogue by 2023.

Bima Found at Great Synagogue Site in Vilnius

The international team of archaeologists from the USA, Canada, Lithuania and Israel working at the site of the former Great Synagogue in Vilnius have located the central feature of the synagogue, the bima, as well as the outer back wall and part of the synagogue floor.

The bima is the central feature of synagogues. It is the platform upon which the rabbi reads the Torah and leads prayer, to which and from which the Torah scroll is taken from the Ark and returned to it.

The bima at the Great Synagogue site was discovered directly under the Soviet-era school built over the site in 1958.

The archaeological dig has been going on for several years and is currently being led by Israeli Antiquities Authority archaeologist Dr. Jon Seligman and Lithuanian archaeologist Justinas Račas. The Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Goodwill Foundation are supporting the dig.

Earlier non-invasive archaeology revealed the presence of the mikve, or ritual bath, complex on the northern side of the site. Digging revealed multi-colored floor tiles and green oven tiles. It is believed to be a male mikveh based on historical documents.

The press and the public are invited to visit the site at 2:00 P.M. tomorrow, Thursday, July 2018, located at Vokiečių street no. 13A (formerly ulica Żydowska or Žydų gatvė no. 6) in Vilnius to get a better look at this unique site and the discoveries made there.

The archaeological group, Vilnius mayor Remigijaus Šimašius and Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky are scheduled to attend the press conference, among others.

Contacts for further information:

Dr. Jon Seligman: seligman.jon@gmail.com

Zenonas Baubonis and Justinas Račas: z.baubonis@gmail.com

Monika Antanaitytė, LJC: telephone +37067240942, info@lzb.lt

Extraordinary Guests at Choral Synagogue

An unusual Sabbath ceremony was held at the Choral Synagogue in Vilnius last Friday evening. About 150 guests and members of the community sat at a common kiddush table following the prayer service.

Israeli soldiers and officers with colonel Avi Motola, students and teachers from the Vilnius University Yiddish Institute’s summer course with director professor Abraham Lichtenbaum from Argentina and others celebrated an authentic Sabbath at the synagogue together. There were speeches and synagogue board member Jakovas Mendelevskis and cantor Shmuel Yatom performed songs in Yiddish and Hebrew.

Colonel Motola presented several commemorative plaques to the synagogue in appreciation for the work the synagogue does and for hosting the beautiful Sabbath ceremony for IDF soldiers and others.

Condolences

With sadness we report the death of Estera Klabinaitė Grobman who lived in Israel. She lived a long, interesting and difficult life. Born in November of 1920 to a well-to-do Jewish family in Kaunas, she always called herself a Kaunas resident. Her parents had a large bakery before the Holocaust. Imprisoned in the Kaunas ghetto and Stutthof concentration camp, Grobman, who passed away at the age of 98, was an avid reader and shared her memories right up to the time of her death. In May, 2018, the rector of Vilnius University travelled to Israel to present her an honorary diploma.

We share in the pain of her friends and family and send our deepest condolences to her son Aron, her daughter-in-law Ele, her grandchildren Daniel and Saul and too many more to name. Although we seem to know that death is an inevitability, it always hits us painfully and unexpectedly. Rest in peace, Estera.

Arkadijus Vinokuras: Lithuania Doesn’t Need Tainted Heroes

My position is very clear: heroism doesn’t remove responsibility for committing crimes against humanity. On the contrary, this discredits the status of hero.

In this case I’m talking about post-war partisan Jonas Noreika. Several side questions, but they’re to the point: was Christianity abolished during the June uprising in Lithuania in 1941? It was not. Therefore the Ten Commandments had not been rescinded. Do those cleaning their uniforms still remember “Thou shalt not kill,” “Thou shalt not steal,” “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s?” Apparently not. Is there direct evidence Jonas Noreika took part in a mass murder of Jews? No. But there is oral testimony he did. So what’s the problem?

Mikveh Drawings from 1904 Discovered


Geršonas Taicas, left, hands mikveh documents to Jon Seligman, right, at the Great Synagogue archaeological dig in Vilnius, July 24, 2018.

Lithuanian Jewish Community member Geršonas Taicas has discovered architectural drawings made in 1904 and approved in 1908 for the mikveh (ritual bath) complex once located next to the Great Synagogue in Vilnius. The mikveh complex has been the subject of archaeological digs since 2011. Taicas personally brought the old architectural plans to Jon Seligman at the dig. Seligman is one of the leaders of the archaeological team from the Israeli Antiquities Authority. He said he hadn’t known of the existence of these drawings and was very pleased and surprised.

Seligman said the drawing might have been drafted when the Vilnius Jewish community received a grant of $50,000 from the Joint Distribution Committee in New York for building a mikveh for impoverished Jews of Vilnius. The drawings from 1904 showed either what the mikveh should look like, or how it should be modified, he reasoned, commenting the architectural plan approved in 1908 showed the mikveh had electricity, a good stone floor, new rafters and supports and a metal roof. Seligmas said there is a good description in Yiddish from 1930 describing the interior of the mikveh.

According to the architectural drawings, the two-storey mikveh building was 70 meters long and 12 meters wide.

Claude Lanzmann Has Gone

Professor habil. Dr. Markas Petuchauskas, an inmate of the Vilnius ghetto who escaped dramatically and went into hiding, saw every play staged at the Vilnius ghetto theater. While organizing the International Art Days to Commemorate the Vilnius Ghetto Theater event, Dr. Petuchauskas invited Claude Lanzmann to travel to Lithuania and attend. The director agreed and, arriving in April of 1997, presented his film Shoah. This was the Lithuanian premiere of Lanzmann’s film, in the Cinema Program of Art Days. It was Lanzmann’s first and only trip to Vilnius, last only a few days during which he spoke directly with Lithuanian people and gave interviews. We present Professor Petuchauskas’s recollections:

Claude Lanzmann in Lithuania

The news struck like lightning. Claude Lanzmann has gone. The memory of his trip to Vilnius rose up inside me. This is how it was.

One of the first large international art projects organized by the Lithuanian Jewish Culture Club which I founded and directed was International Art Days in 1997, dedicated to commemorating the 55th anniversary of the founding of the Vilnius Ghetto Theater.

I invited Israeli writer Joshua Sobol, well known for his play Ghetto (about the Vilnius ghetto) and who wrote he had never been to Lithuania, to take part in the International Art Days event. Coming to Lithuania for the first time at my invitation, he had the chance to get up on the stage of the theater about which he had written and to tell how he created his play.

The opening ceremony for the Days, dedicated to him, was also held in the former ghetto theater hall.

Famous film director Claude Lanzmann from France, the creator of the globally acclaimed film Shoah, got up on the stage as well. I invited him along with French director Brigite Jaque, who was already known in Vilnius and an acquaintance of mine. It was pleasant to hear Lanzmann, a man who generally avoids lavishing much praise, speak such warm words about my work in holding the Days and about their importance for recalling notable pages in the history of the Shoah.

Sholem Aleichem Hebrew Teacher Finalist in Teacher of the Year for 5778

Our highest congratulations to the teacher Ruth Reches on her victory.

The Israeli Education Ministry and the Hefziba program held an international contest for professional excellence called Teacher of the Year for 5778. Jewish schools in the Hefziba program and teachers at those schools teaching Hebrew, Jewish traditions and Jewish history competed. The goal of the contest was to reveal the potential of teachers working in the Jewish educational system and the creation of conditions for their self-realization.

The contest helps raise the prestige of the teaching profession, encourage Jewish identity in the teaching environment, discover talented teachers and create conditions for transmitting teaching experience and the continued professional development of teachers.

Vilnius Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymnasium Hebrew language teacher Ruth Reches became a finalist in Best Teacher of the Year 5778 and was awarded a diplomat, and a tree was planted in Jerusalem in her honor. The certificate issued to the teacher on this honorary event contained a quote to teach children “each according to his [or her] own ability.”

Chess Tournament

A chess tournament will be held at the Lithuanian Jewish Community at 11:00 A.M. on Sunday, July 29. Tournament director: FIDE master Boris Rositsan. The tournament is open to the public. For more information and to register, call 8 655 43 556 or send an email to info@metbor.lt

Burning Stones at the Slobodka Ghetto Gate

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If you drive through the Vilijampolė [Slobodka] neighborhood [in Kaunas] it’s impossible not to notice the brightly-colored house reflecting the sun and car headlights. Artist Vytenis Jakas’s project Burning Stones at the former ghetto gate in Vilijampolė attracted guests to its opening ceremony where the history of the location was recalled publicly. Israeli ambassador Amir Maimon, Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas and “Kaunas: Capital of Europe 2022” ambassador Bella Shirin attended the ceremony.

“About 40,000 Jews lived in this neighborhood, men, women and children. Each was assigned a living space less than three meters square. The territory was surrounded by barbed wire. Day and night the people here lived in tremendous fear they would be taken to be killed… But, despite everything, life went on here. Although it was forbidden, children were born and the people kept the Sabbath important to the Jewish nation. We should also remember what was good, but we cannot forget the pain and hardships people went through. Today, the Jewish people will live through the bright colors of this house,” Israeli ambassador Amir Maimon said enthusiastically standing next to the large outdoor art project.

Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas also spoke and members of the Kaunas Jewish Community including Kaunas ghetto survivors attended the event, including Fruma Kučinskienė. Justas Ivanauskas, Saulė Juzelėnienė and others from the Kiemas Gallery in Kaunas contributed to the project.

More photos by Justas Ivanauskas here.

Israeli Defense Forces Honor Holocaust Victims at Ponar

Soldiers from the IDF, the Israeli Defense Forces, visited the Ponar Memorial Complex outside Vilnius to honor the victims of the Holocaust. Israeli ambassador Amir Maimon, Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky and Jewish partisan Fania Brancovskaja were present for the commemoration at the main monument in Ponar, the site where the majority of Jews from Vilnius and surrounding areas were shot during World War II.

My Grandfather Wasn’t a Nazi-Fighting War Hero, He Was a Brutal Collaborator


Jonas Noreika. Photo: personal collection of Silvia Foti

A deathbed promise led to me discovering his complicity in the Holocaust, and what it means beyond my family

by Silvia Foti, July 14, 2018

Eighteen years ago, my dying mother asked me to continue working on a book about her father, Jonas Noreika, a famous Lithuanian World War II hero who fought the Communists. Once an opera singer, my mother had passionately devoted herself to this mission and had even gotten a PhD in literature to improve her literary skills. As a journalist, I agreed. I had no idea I was embarking on a project that would lead to a personal crisis, Holocaust denial and an official cover-up by the Lithuanian government.

Growing up in Chicago’s Marquette Park neighborhood–the neighborhood that had the largest population of Lithuanians outside the homeland–I’d heard about how my grandfather died a martyr for the cause of Lithuania’s freedom at the hands of the KGB when he was just 37 years old. According to the family account, he led an uprising against the Communists and won our country back from them, only to have it snatched by the Germans. He became chairman of the northwestern part of the country during the German occupation. According to family lore, he had fought the Nazis and then been sent to a concentration camp in retaliation. He escaped that camp and returned to Vilnius to start a new rebellion against the Communists, had been caught, taken to the KGB prison and tortured. I’d heard how he was the lawyer who had led the defense for 11 rebels before the KGB tribunal, was found guilty and had been executed. His nom de guerre was General Storm. It all seemed so romantic to me.

That is the book I started to write. My mother had collected a trove of material that included 3,000 pages of KGB transcripts; 77 letters to my grandmother; a fairytale to my mother written from the Stutthof concentration camp; letters from family members about his childhood; and hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles. A few months into the project, I visited my dying grandmother, who lived a few blocks away. She asked me not to write the book about her husband. “Just let history lie,” she whispered. I was stunned. “But I promised mom,” I said. She rolled over to face the wall. I didn’t take her request seriously; I thought she was simply giving me a pass because she knew how taxing the project was for my mother.

Full text here.

Congratulations to Sholem Aleichem Graduating Class

The graduation ceremony at the Sholem Aleichem ORT Gymnasium this week was filled with congratulations, warm wishes, music and jokes. There were sad moments when graduates bid farewell to their beloved school, friends and teachers as they set out on their own. The ceremony seemed to affect everyone–students, teachers and parents–who shed tears of joy and traded happy smiles.

This year the graduating class consisted of 18 young men and women. Principal Miša Jakobas passed out the diplomas. The head of one of the best schools in Vilnius, Jakobas said all the graduates were well-prepared for their exams and passed them all.

“The graduation ceremony is an opportunity to take pride: our graduate Daniela Mindelevič got the three highest scores, 100 points each! Three hundred is a great achievement!” Jakobas noted. She received a letter of commendation at the ceremony for her excellent work from Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius, and she will take part in a national ceremony later in July to honor top graduates held by Lithuanian prime minister Saulius Skvernelis. Graduate Arina Kac also scored high with two perfect scores of 100 each.

Five graduates passed the English language test with perfect scores of 100. Six also scored perfectly on the Russian test. Thirteen graduates received perfect scores on the state Lithuanian language test. Graduates also scored high in math. “Of course this makes us happy, because these kinds of achievements are not just the result of work by students and their parents, but also the great work of our teachers,” principal Jakobas said.

Condolences

Feofanija Bambiza passed away July 15. She was born in 1922. Our deepest condolences to her husband Aleksandras Asovskis.

Yad Ruth Reps Visit Kaunas

Yad Ruth representatives Barbara and Dieter Maier of Hamburg visited Lithuania in June. The Lithuanian Jewish Community and Yad Ruth began working together back in 1994. Members of the organization are Israeli patriots, enthusiastically support Jewish culture and history and study Hebrew and sacred texts.

The idea to start Yad Ruth began in 1980 from personal meetings with Holocaust survivors. The association was formed in 1994, allowing the organization to expand financial prospects and other activities. Yad Ruth means both “Ruth’s hand” and “Ruth in memoriam” in Hebrew, and both phrases fit the organizations activities and goals which are aimed especially at Holocaust survivors and Jews in hard times. Members say as Germans of the post-war generation they feel a special responsibility for the welfare of Jews and for the state of Israel. One of their main tasks is fighting anti-Semitism in Germany and educating the public.

Yad Ruth is active in Germany, Israel, Estonia, Ethiopia, Latvia, Lithuania and Moldova.

Recommendations for Fighting Anti-Semitism and Romophobia in Lithuania, 2018

Attorney and Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky on the project “Preparation and Publication of Recommendations for Fighting Anti-Semitism and Romophobia in Lithuania”:

I am truly glad the Lithuanian Jewish Community was given the opportunity to implement the EVZ project “Preparation and Publication of Recommendations for Fighting Anti-Semitism and Romophobia in Lithuania.” Appreciating the great importance and appropriateness of inter-institutional cooperation, the Community carried out the project with experienced and trusted partners: the Roma Social Center, the Lithuanian Human Rights Center, the Women’s Information Center and a specially formed group of experts.

Speaking of expressions of anti-Semitism in Lithuania, the positive changes are obvious. Celebrating 30 years since the restoration of our organization, the Lithuanian Jewish Community is experiencing a real, contemporary cultural renaissance. Our organization is stronger than it was, and interest in Jewish topics in Lithuania is greater than it has been ever. The Community has contributed at least partially, within our powers, to this positive breakthrough. Since 2013 we have been carrying out the Bagel Shop tolerance campaign which to the present has attracted more than 7,000 friends and followers on social media. The year 2017 also saw several important achievements in the field of human rights and the commemoration of historical truth: a jubilee March of the Living at the Ponar Jewish mass murder site, Lithuania’s adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism, and the LJC taking the leadership position in the international memory campaign We Remember, which culminated in a commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry with high state officials, members of the LJC and various public figures. In February of 2018 the Community published our Lithuanian translation of Yitzhak Rudashevski’s Vilnius ghetto diary. This publication, an authentic primary source on the history of the Holocaust, attracted great public interest, and we hope it will be accepted as an aid to teaching the Holocaust in the nation’s public schools and educational institutions.

Despite the evolving discussion by the public and the political class regarding these important issues, the fight against discrimination continues. The history of Lithuanian Jews, spanning 700 years, is still not integrated appropriately in the Lithuanian educational system, the Lithuanian experience of the Soviet occupation is often equated with the Holocaust and the internet is full of expressions of hate directed against Jews as well as Romani.

I am convinced the successful implementation of this project will contribute significantly to the further expansion of human rights and the fight against anti-Semitism and Romophobia, and to encouraging dialogue between distinct communities who share similar problems and institutions in the state and non-governmental sectors.

Recommendations 2018