Commemorations for Destroyed Communities

Biržai (Birzh), in Northern Lithuania, Honors Holocaust Victims at Forest Mass Grave Site; But City-Center Museum Honors the Collaborators



OPINION  |  MUSEUMS  |  POLITICS OF MEMORY  |  SHTETL COMMEMORATIONS

by Evaldas Balčiūnas

This weekend, the new monument to 2,400 Biržai Jews, massacred on August 8, 1941, will be unveiled in Biržai, a town in northern Lithuania known in Yiddish as Birzh. On that fateful day in Pakamponys forest, German Gestapo officers and their Lithuanian accomplices murdered 900 children, because they were Jewish children, 780 women, because they were Jewish women, and 720 men, because they were Jewish, too. The locals call the site “the Biržai Jews’ grave”.

That day, more than one third of the inhabitants of that old historical city were massacred. A vibrant community was destroyed and trust in Biržai as a safe place to live was wholly undermined. This old wound had not been taken care of properly up until now. There is a memorial stone at the site of the massacre, the site itself is covered with tiles. There is a memorial inscription, too. However, all those people with their lives and their dreams remained but a number in stone. People behind the new memorial decided to fix this, and now we have more than five hundred names carved on a steel wall. This difficult task required a lot of effort. Alongside with the people, the murderers also destroyed the documents attesting to their lives.

What does the Town’s Official Museum Think?

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Connecting the Dots: Reflections on a Visit to Plungyán and Ríteve



MEMOIRS

by Denis Daneman

Preamble

Time to — Go to the Pale

Reflections

Where to Now?

Concluding Thoughts

This is part of a “reflection” that has been more than 65 years in the making. My earliest memories are of being surrounded by a warm and caring rather secular Jewish family in Johannesburg, South Africa, that all seemed to have hailed from a tiny place called Plungyán, in Lithuania, which made us all “Litvaks”. Only more recently did I learn that this pertained not only to my mother’s side of the family. My father’s side came from Riga in Latvia, also Litvaks, fortunately. Both families left The Pale of Settlement in the time-frame 1890-1906, eventually finding their way to Heilbron in the Orange Free State in the case of my Mom’s family, and Ceres in the Cape of Good Hope for my Dad’s. Both of these were to become part of the Union of South Africa in 1910.

I grew up believing that the most important people in my world came from The Pale, most specifically this tiny dot on the map called Plungyán, that they migrated to South Africa where they settled, proliferated, bickered, were educated and prospered. Then, after two or three generations, many, if not most left South Africa, perhaps the biggest group to Israel in the 1950’s and 60’s, some to Australia, the UK and USA, and the Daneman clan to Canada.

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Is Yiddish ‘Lingua non grata’ at National Library’s Exhibition on Prewar Lithuanian Jewish Life?



OPINION  |  MUSEUMS & EXHIBITIONS  |  THE ARTS  |  LITVAK AFFAIRS  |  YIDDISH AFFAIRS

by Dovid Katz

Lead banner for National Library’s exhibition on prewar Lithuanian Jewish culture

For many centuries, the Jews of Vilna (Yiddish Vílne, formal Ashkenazic Hebrew Vílno, modern Hebrew Vílna), and indeed, those from a huge radius of towns and villages in all four directions that looked to the then “Jerusalem of Lithuania” as their spiritual capital, the streets of the oldest Jewish settlement in the town were lovingly known as Di yidishe gas. The narrow dictionary definition is indeed “the Jewish street” but in the Yiddish of Vilna, as in other cities with highly developed Yiddish culture, the phrase came to signify the entire neighborhood in the sense that could perhaps best be captured by something like “our Jewish part of town.” When in 1920, the then Polish authorities offered the Jewish community the opportunity to name a few streets in town, Yídishe gas (Polish Żydowska) became one of them, for the neighborhood’s primary street. When the democratic Lithuanian independence movement of the late 1980s reached the stage of ridding the city of hated Soviet-imposed names, the old name was rapidly and boldly, restored, in its translative Lithuanian form, Žydų gatvė.

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Museum of The Lost Truth: A Lithuanian Drama



OPINION  |  MUSEUMS  |  POLITICS OF MEMORY  |  SHTETL COMMEMORATIONS  |  HUMOR (OF SORTS)

by Evaldas Balčiūnas

Evaldas Balčiūnas informed the English speaking world of a series of state honors for alleged Holocaust collaborators, starting with Jonas Noreika back in 2012. He paid a hefty personal price for it (scroll down his DH section to 2014). 

PREAMBLE

The Lost Shtetl is a massive, holistic project to reclaim the Lithuanian Jewish heritage of Šeduva (Shádeve, older Shádev). Plans include a multimillion euro state-of-the-art museum complex scheduled to open in 2020 that is slated to become an international tourist attraction. Now is an excellent time for public comment and observers’ contemplation.

“The Lost Shtetl” will not be a generic community of faceless Litvaks. It will make tangible the lives of real individuals. But will we learn about the real individuals from the town and its region who destroyed them? Their names and faces? Or will we simply tuck them away into the phrase: “The Nazis and their local collaborators murdered 664 Šeduva Jews in Liaudiškiai forest”?

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Sept. 23rd Ponár Memorial and Pope Francis’s Visit to Vilna Ghetto Memorial



OPINION  |  EVENTS  |  CHRISTIAN-JEWISH RELATIONS  |  HOLOCAUST MEMORIALS  |  VILNIUS JEWISH LIFE

IMAGE OF THE DAY: Elected chairperson of the Vilnius Jewish Community, Simon Gurevich, was not allowed past the security barrier, barring him from the Pope’s event to commemorate the Vilna Ghetto. At the earlier event at Ponár, he was not allowed to deliver his prepared remarks.

VILNIUS—The two major “September 23rd” events today in Vilnius were the annual commemoration ceremony at the mass murder site Ponár in the forest outside the city, and, later in the afternoon, Pope Francis’s visit to the small monument, its 1990s Yiddish letters faded beyond legibility, commemorating the Vilna Ghetto in an Old Town square opposite the city’s beloved Jewish Cultural and Information Center (JCIC). [See also Andrius Kulikauskas’s appeal to the Pope on the eve of his visit in connection with his visit to Lukiškės Square in central Vilnius.]

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Posted in Christian-Jewish Issues, Commemorations for Destroyed Communities, Events, Foreign Ministries: Holocaust Politics Abuse?, Israel, Lithuania, Lithuania's Jewish Community Issues, Litvak Affairs, News & Views, Politics of Memory, Simon Gurevich (Simonas Gurevičius), Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Šimašius | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Sept. 23rd Ponár Memorial and Pope Francis’s Visit to Vilna Ghetto Memorial

New Medallion Honoring Great Kovno Rabbi Also Honors Lithuania’s Yiddish Heritage



OPINION  |  LITVAK AFFAIRS  |  YIDDISH ISSUES

KAUNAS—The Religious Jewish Community of Kaunas, centered in the city’s storied Choral Synagogue, has just produced something very rare in the contemporary Lithuanian Jewish scene. It is a commemorative coin that is both traditional and novel, while honoring the language of the actual annihilated Jewish communities of Kaunas (also known historically as Kovno, Yiddish Kóvne).

Spektor

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New “Litvak” Postage Stamp is Disturbing for Lithuanian Jews, Holocaust Survivors, and Yiddish Lovers



OPINION  |  VILNIUS JEWISH LIFE  |  LITVAK AFFAIRS  |  IDENTITY THEFT OF LITVAK HERITAGE  |  YIDDISH AFFAIRS  |  SYMBOLOGY

by Dovid Katz

One does not have to be a theoretical champion of Free Enterprise vs. Government Intervention to take stock of this week’s incredible contrast between the two major products of this last week in September, the annual week of intensive Jewish commemoration activity in Lithuania, and particularly, in its fabled capital, Vilnius. By “products” we mean things of substantive physicality that will outlive by far the week’s posturing, speeches, and meetings with glittering public officials and national leaders.

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Premier Vilnius Showing of “Last Sunday in August” is Free and Open to Public



FILM AND THEATER  |  EVENTS  |  VILNIUS JEWISH LIFE  |  COMMEMORATIONS  |  MALÁT

Lat Sunday

All welcome at next Sunday’s Vilnius showing of the new film The Last Sunday in August about Malát (Molėtai). 24 September 2017 at 6 PM at the Ozas Multi Cinema, Ozo 18, Vilnius 08009. Admission free but pre-registration required (phone or SMS: +3706 718-6202 or +3706 153-9950). For background see DH’s Malát sectionTrailer for the film.

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Honest Error at German Embassy in Vilnius?



OPINION  |  USE AND ABUSE OF PONÁR  |  VILNIUS JEWISH LIFE  |  LITVAK AFFAIRS

VILNIUS—“There is nothing new under the sun,” as the Good Book says (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Sure, on occasion, Irish communities will feud in Boston, Italians in New York, Chinese in LA and Lithuanians in Chicago. It is part of the professional training, posture, and policy of diplomats to negotiate such inevitabilities by way of common sense, wisdom, and fairness. For years now, the widely admired German ambassador to Lithuania, HE Jutta Schmitz has kept her embassy’s diplomatic table open to people and organizations, governmental and non-governmental, from across the colorfully diverse spectrum of opinion in Lithuania. It is not known whether the recent completion of her Vilnius ambassadorship and departure from Lithuania,  and the temporary vacancy,  had anything to do with the embassy’s recent, and quite innocent, faux-pas.

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Posted in Commemorations for Destroyed Communities, Germany, Israel, Lithuania, Lithuania's Jewish Community Issues, Litvak Affairs, News & Views, Opinion, Ponár (Ponary, Paneriai), Simon Gurevich (Simonas Gurevičius) | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off on Honest Error at German Embassy in Vilnius?

Brand New Yiddish Signs Come to Malát (Molėtai), Town in Northeast Lithuania



MALÁT  |  SHTETL COMMEMORATIONS  |  YIDDISH AFFAIRS

MALÁT (MOLĖTAI)—At the initiative of Viktorija Kazlienė, founder and director of the Museum of the Molėtai Region (Molėtų krašto muziejus) in northeastern Lithuania, a series of Jewish historical signs were unveiled this week. The project came to fruition thanks to the material support of the Department of Cultural Heritage, that is under the aegis of Lithuania’s Ministry of Culture.

In the event, these signs mark the one-year anniversary of the internationally acclaimed march of memory held in August 2016 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the massacre of the town’s Jews in 1941 by local collaborators, under the aegis of the Nazis, and during the period of rapid annihilation of Lithuania’s provincial Jewry. In addition to playing a pivotal role in enabling the 2016 march and commemorative events, Ms. Kazlienė organized an extensive exhibition on the centuries-old Jewish life in the erstwhile shtetl, known in Yiddish as Malát. With Leonas Kaplanas, she coauthored a book based on the exhibition. It was featured in this year’s Vilnius Book Fair.

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Translation of Lithuanian Radio Debate on the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery



OLD VILNA JEWISH CEMETERY  |  OPPOSITION TO CONVENTION CENTER PROJECT  |  PAPER  TRAIL   |  CHRISTIAN-JEWISH RELATIONS  |  CEMETERIES

The following is a full translation of the radio debate on the fate of the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery at Piramónt (in the capital’s Snipiskes district), aired by LRT.lt radio as part of its People and Ideas series on 1 March and again on 5 March 2017 and available in the original Lithuanian on the station’s website. The debate was hosted by Audra Girijotė with the participants (in alphabetical order here): Renaldas Augustinavičius, Ruta Bloshtein, Faina Kukliansky, Andrius Kulikauskas, Shnayer Leiman, Remigijus Šimašius.

Note that this translation works from the Lithuanian voice-over on Professor Leiman’s originally English contribution, rather than from a separate tape of the full English interview with Professor Leiman used by the organizers (who put together the “debate” after separate interviews with the participants). This was decided upon in the spirit of trying to characterize, as best we can, the text and texture actually received by the Lithuanian language audience.

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Posted in Cemeteries and Mass Graves, Commemorations for Destroyed Communities, Lithuania, Lithuania's Jewish Community Issues, Litvak Affairs, Media Watch, News & Views, Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery at Piramónt (in Šnipiškės / Shnípishok), Opinion | Comments Off on Translation of Lithuanian Radio Debate on the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery

Would a Lithuanian Church Proceed in 2017 to Honor an Alleged Local Holocaust Perpetrator?



COLLABORATORS GLORIFIED  |   CHRISTIAN-JEWISH RELATIONS  |  MALÁT (MOLĖTAI)  |  COMMEMORATING DESTROYED COMMUNITIES

by Dovid Katz

VILNIUS—Two regular Sunday worshipers at the grand old church in Molėtai, a town of some 6,000 inhabitants in northeastern Lithuania, reported to the Defending History team in Vilnius earlier this week that their priest, Father Kęstutis Kazlauskas, has publicly announced that the church is organizing the production of a bas-relief to be commissioned from “a major Lithuanian artist” (?!) and erected within the sacred premises, to honor alleged Holocaust perpetrator Jonas Žvinys. Outside the two church goers, Defending History has been unable to obtain further corroboration of what would be a shocking development, and a very negative one for modern Lithuania, in a town where 100% of the Jewish residents were murdered in 1941 by the Nazis, with the majority of the actual killing, and its on-site organization, carried out by local nationalist elements.

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Posted in Antisemitism & Bias, Christian-Jewish Issues, Collaborators Glorified, Commemorations for Destroyed Communities, Human Rights, Lithuania, Litvak Affairs, Malát (Molėtai), News & Views, Opinion, Politics of Memory | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Would a Lithuanian Church Proceed in 2017 to Honor an Alleged Local Holocaust Perpetrator?

A Major New Shtetl Museum for Shádev (Shádov, Shádeve, Today’s — Šeduva)



OPINION  |  LITVAK AFFAIRS  |  MUSEUMS

by Dovid Katz (Vilnius)

VILNIUS—The Litvak world, internationally fragmented and weak, yet so vibrant and creative, has been cheered by news reports of the new shtetl museum to rise in the near future in Shádev, a Lithuanian town of many centuries of Jewish heritage where a great rabbinic personality, Reb Móyshe Ha-Góyle (“Moses the Exile”, Méyshe Ha-Géyle in deep Litvish pronunciation, Moshé Ha-Golé in Israeli Hebrew) thrived in the fifteenth century.

A good shtetl museum here will be a blessing to the Litvak, European Jewish, Yiddish and shtetl heritage internationally. It will be a blessing to modern, democratic Lithuania. To this day, the basket of idols of the contemporary Jewish market downplays the magnitude of Yiddish language, literature, and culture, shtetl culture and heritage, and the magnificent East European Jewish legacy more generally. News media have gone with reports by AFP and by JTA, and there is more on the project’s website.

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Posted in Arts, Commemorations for Destroyed Communities, Dovid Katz, Lithuania, Lithuania's Jewish Community Issues, Litvak Affairs, Museums, News & Views, Opinion, Politics of Memory, Shádov (Šeduva) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on A Major New Shtetl Museum for Shádev (Shádov, Shádeve, Today’s — Šeduva)

Lithuanian Jewish Community Marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day



   COMMEMORATIONS  |  EVENTS  | CEMETERIES AND MASS GRAVES 

by Julius Norwilla

This year’s annual events organized by the Lithuanian Jewish Community to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day were held on the evening of Thursday, 26 January, on the eve of the officially designated day that falls on the 27th of each year. This year, the official Jewish Community organized two impressive public events to mark the occasion, which is important for every Jewish person in the country, where about 96% of the Jewish population was annihilated during the Holocaust.

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Antisemitism in the 21st Century Shtetl



 

OPINION  |  ANTISEMITISM  |  COMMEMORATIONS FOR DESTROYED COMMUNITIES

by Dovid Katz

This article appeared today in ISGAP Flashpoint:

The words “antisemitism in the shtetl” might evoke recollections of Fiddler on the Roof, a touch of family lore “from the old country” way back when, or for those familiar with modern Yiddish literature, a scene from this or that writer. Baffling as it may sound, however, it a substantial contemporary topic in the study of antisemitism, and, perhaps even more surprisingly, part of a phenomenon with implications for the future, given the vast number of cities, towns and villages in the world with a rich Jewish history but no living Jews, where potent anti-Jewish feeling (as well as pro-Jewish feeling) can be observed. As noted back in Flashpoint 21, antisemitism in Eastern Europe is very different from its much better known Western and Middle East incarnations.

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Posted in Antisemitism & Bias, Collaborators Glorified, Commemorations for Destroyed Communities, Double Genocide, Dovid Katz, Exotic Jewish Tourism, Lithuania, Litvak Affairs, Malát (Molėtai), News & Views, Norway, Opinion, Politics of Memory, Yiddish Affairs | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Antisemitism in the 21st Century Shtetl

Media and Debate on Malát (Molėtai) Holocaust Remembrance Project


[UPDATED]

A Selection for English Readers

Project’s Facebook Page; Website

22 November 2016. ISGAP Flashpoint: ‘Antisemitism in the 21st century shtetl’ by Dovid Katz.

22 September 2016.  Tablet: ‘Holocaust commemorations planned throughout Lithuania this weekend’ by Anna Rudnistky.

9 September 2016.  Defending History: ‘My take on Malát’ by Julius Norwilla [Norvila].

8 September 2016.  En.Delfi.lt: ‘The day Lithuania became a culture of We’ by Alexandra Kudukis.

8 September 2016.  Jewish Community of Lithuania website: ‘Molėtai Holocaust procession draws record crowd’ [unsigned article presumably representing the chairperson’s views].

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September 23rd Events in the Vilnius Region



DEFENDING HISTORY WAS THERE

Annual Sept. 23 Official Commemoration Ceremony at the Ponár (Paneriai) Mass Murder Site Outside Vilnius, Lithuania

Historic Breakthrough as Lithuanian Jewish Community’s Faina Kukliansky Finally Calls for Removal of Street Names and Memorials for Holocaust Collaborators, Boldly Citing Juozas KrikštaponisJonas Noreika, and Kazys Škirpa; Sharp Contrast with Last Year’s Failed Event

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Posted in Cemeteries and Mass Graves, Commemorations for Destroyed Communities, Events, Israel, Lithuania, Lithuania's Jewish Community Issues, Litvak Affairs, Museums, News & Views, Politics of Memory, Ponár (Ponary, Paneriai) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on September 23rd Events in the Vilnius Region

Run-Up to Lithuania’s Sept. 23rd 2016 Holocaust Commemoration Day



Events in the Week of Lithuania’s Official September 23rd Holocaust Commemoration Day

Vilnius mayor  — and nation’s president and prime minister — face a stark choice on whether to speak out with moral clarity on painful issues of city-center street names and plaques honoring Holocaust collaborators, and the desecration of the country’s oldest Jewish cemetery by a new congress center, prior to this year’s series of official gala Vilna Ghetto commemoration events, 20-28 September 2016

OUR TAKE ON THE NEW HEBREW-YIDDISH STREET SIGN IN THE OLD JEWISH QUARTER

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Posted in Cemeteries and Mass Graves, Commemorations for Destroyed Communities, Events, Israel, Lithuania, Litvak Affairs, News & Views, Politics of Memory | Comments Off on Run-Up to Lithuania’s Sept. 23rd 2016 Holocaust Commemoration Day

Yiddish Loses Last Global Position as Symbolic “First Jewish Language” in Vilnius



OPINION  |  COMMEMORATION OF DESTROYED COMMUNITIES  |  YIDDISH AFFAIRS  |  LITVAK AFFAIRS  |  IDENTITY-THEFT LITVAK INDUSTRY

by Dovid Katz

VILNIUS—For close to three decades, Vilnius has been the only city in the world with municipally sponsored public plaques and signs that regularly include Yiddish. Symbologically for a small, weak, stateless, threatened and “threat-to-nobody” language in this part of the world, it was an equally important statement of respect for the language, literature and culture of the murdered Jewish people of the city that Yiddish sometimes came first, “on top,” and always so when it was a question between Yiddish and modern Israeli Hebrew.

For the first time in thirty years, Yiddish has been denied primacy of place among the Jewish languages of the city. The new sign starts with an Israeli Hebrew version used by nobody in pre-Holocaust Vilna.

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Posted in Commemorations for Destroyed Communities, Dovid Katz, Events, Identity Theft of Litvak Heritage, Israel, Lithuania, Lithuania's Jewish Community Issues, Litvak Affairs, News & Views, Opinion, Politics of Memory, Symbology, Yiddish Affairs | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Yiddish Loses Last Global Position as Symbolic “First Jewish Language” in Vilnius

12 Holocaust Massacre Sites in Vilnius Region; Taking a Closer Look at 2



CEMETERIES AND MASS GRAVES  |  COMMEMORATIONS  |  LITHUANIA

by Julius Norwilla

There are at least twelve Holocaust mass murder sites in the immediate Vilnius region that are marked by some kind of memorial. They are noted in the online Holocaust Atlas of Lithuania, founded by Milda Jakulytė. In Lithuania, there are over 227 such sites that are described in the atlas, which is historically a continuation of the painstaking 1990s work of the late Joseph Levinson, published in his The Book of Sorrow (Vilnius 1997) that documented close to 200 such sites.

The best known is the Paneriai Memorial as the largest mass grave in the country, known as Ponár in Yiddish and Ponary in Polish. It is the site where 100,000 people were humiliated and murdered, around 70,000 of them Jews. This is where official commemorations take place, particularly each year on September 23rd, the day (controversially) designated by the Lithuanian government as the Holocaust Remembrance Day, rather than the international day, on January 27th, or days specific to the Lithuania-wide Holocaust such as June 23rd when violence against and humiliation of Jewish neighbors broke out across Lithuania.

Other mass murder sites in the Vilnius region are visited much less frequently and very often — not at all. But visiting these places is important for the respect for those murdered there and for a deeper understanding of the Holocaust which has so distorted our nation’s qualities.

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