Commemorations for Destroyed Communities
E Y E W I T N E S S R E P O R T
Žagarė (known in Yiddish as Zháger), Lithuania, always brings a warm feeling. It is a small, multicultural town. While Jews long accounted for half the population, unfortunately they are only a memory now. Germans, Latvians, Roma and Lithuanians continue to live here. There was room enough for everyone up until 1941.
I had the opportunity today to visit Žagarė to honor those who sought to insure that Žagarė would continue to have enough space for everyone. I traveled to a ceremony to honor Edvardas Levinskas (1893-1975), Terese Levinskienė (1903-1949) and Lilija Vilandaitė (1900-1948), posthumous recipients of the Righteous Among the Nations, or Righteous Gentile, award, conferred by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
O P I N I O N
Authorized English translation of Dr. Zuroff’s speech at the annual commemoration event held by the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel, received from the Israel Office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Hebrew original is here.
Attorney Yosef Melamed asked me to update you regarding the recent events which have taken place since the last memorial event a year ago, concerning the attempts by the Lithuanian government to distort the history of the Holocaust and to minimize or deny the participation of many Lithuanians in the murder of Jews, not only in Lithuania but also beyond its borders.
O P I N I O N
by Defending History Staff
Asuccessful, highly compressed one-day conference, exhibition and city plaque unveiling were all shoehorned into one day, today, in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, to mark the 150th birth year of the celebrated and beloved Dr. Tsemakh Shabad (1864–1935), Vilna physician, public health advocate, benefactor, Yiddishist theoretician and builder of Yiddish educational infrastructure from elementary schools to the university-level Yivo institute. He was also a representative in the city’s municipality. Shabad was a legend in his own time. When poor sick children in any shtetl of Vilna province, of whatever nationality or background, were in danger of imminent death from disease, there were no greater words of relief than “Dr. Shabad is on the way.”
by Defending History Staff
Svintsyán [Švenčionys] — Some fifty people gathered in the forest at midday today at the mass grave at Poligón, outside Švenčioneliai (Yiddish: Svintsyánke), in northeastern Lithuania, where around 8,000 Jews were murdered on 7 and 8 October 1941 after more than a week of barbaric incarceration and humiliation. The number includes nearly all the Jews of the county-seat town Švenčionys (Svintsyán) as well as the Jewish citizens of a number of towns and villages in the region, including (Yiddish names first in the following list, followed by current Lithuanian or Belarusian names): Dugelíshik (Naujasis Daugėliškis), Duksht (Dūkštas), Haydútsetshik (Adutiškis), Ignalíne (Ignalina), Koltnyán (Kaltanėnai), Kaméleshik (Kimelishki, Belarus), Labonár (Labanoras), Lingmyán (Linkmenys), Líntep (Lyntupy, Belarus), Maligán (Mielagėnai), Podbródzh (Pabradė), Saldúteshik (Saldutiškis), Salemánke (Salamianka), Stayátseshik (Stajotiškės), Svintsyánke (or Nay-Svintsyán — Švenčionėliai), and Tseykín (Ceikiniai).
O P I N I O N
by Dovid Katz
Christmas-time congratulations are due to the four architects who have won the Vilnius state Jewish museum’s competition for plans to build a Holocaust museum at the mass murder site known as Ponár in Yiddish, Ponary before the war in Polish, and currently Lithuanian Paneriai. It is a short ride outside the capital city Vilnius. The victory of the foursome, Jautra Bernotaitė, Ronaldas Pučka (team leader), Andrius Ropolas and Paulius Vaitiekūnas, is announced on the museum’s website (and on Mr. Ropolas’s site). The competition was jointly run with the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania. The elaborate description of the project’s conception, by the Union of Architects, includes many sophisticated concepts, with multiple learned citations, from Freud to Foucault. Just one rather simpler word, a word (and exhibit) needed for any Holocaust museum, is missing from the text: collaboration.
E Y E W I T N E S S R E P O R T / O P I N I O N
Renovation of the ground floor of an art gallery in the town of Butrimonys, Lithuania has revealed the existence of an unusual cellar that was apparently a Jewish hideout during the Holocaust. Daina Nemeikštienė, the owner of the gallery, “Dainos galerija”, is moving forward with the renovation, which means that what remains of the cellar will be cemented over, at least for now. Could some day this hideout offer an opportunity for respecting, valuing, studying, preserving and highlighting Litvak and Lithuanian heritage? For now, it illustrates the challenges in honoring even the most heroic aspects of the Holocaust.
O P I N I O N
Note: Inspired by a Lithuanian government announcement (reported also on Delfi) of a new state-sponsored commission on these issues, and on the eve of its first international meeting in early May 2015, this list, the opinion of DH’s editor (who has benefited from discussions with specialists and the Holocaust survivor community in Lithuania), is offered in the spirit of a contribution to the debate on what is now most urgent in this field — what is morally pressing and unpostponable, and, also, what is, in general, not currently being dealt with by existing agencies, NGOs, projects and individuals. A proposed “urgent” list is ipso facto not an omnibus listing of issues, or of specific projects that are doing good work in their own areas; it is a list of what is “acute” rather than what is “chronic.” For more information, please consult Samuel D. Gruber’s outstanding website. See also our lists of external and on-site resources (including our Agranovski and Levinson sections). Hopefully, a comprehensive listing of issues — including these — will soon appear on the new commission’s own site.
O P I N I O N / E Y E W I T N E S S A C C O U N T
To mark the 74th anniversary of one of the iconic events of the Lithuanian Holocaust, the infamous Lietūkis Garage Massacre of 27 June 1941, the Kaunas Jewish Community organized its annual memorial event at the site, last Friday, 26 June 2015. The massacre, carried out by local Lithuanian “patriots” wearing the white armbands of the Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF), butchered dozens of Jewish passers-by at a garage on Kaunas’s Vytautas Avenue, using a variety of execution methods, including clubbing to death with crowbars, and particularly, forcing water from high-pressure hoses into bodily orifices of the victims until they burst. A growing crowd, including women holding up their young children to get the best views, cheered them on.
E V E N T S / O P I N I O N
by Dovid Katz
For many years, international visitors to Rokiškis (in Yiddish: Rákishok, or less formally: Rákeshik), in northeastern Lithuania, have remarked that the town’s central area seemed to preserve little (or no) trace or commemoration of its erstwhile Jewish population, though a large monument now graces the entrance to the old Jewish cemetery outside town. Before the Holocaust, this town was home to around 3,500 Jews (some 40% of the total population, and the overwhelming majority in its central area). Luckily, a short film of pre-Holocaust Jewish Rákishok survives (from 1937), and is available on Youtube. Thanks to Polish film maker Tomek Wisniewski for circulating the link in recent days.
Ponár (Paneriai) Commemoration on Lithuania’s Annual Holocaust Day is Dejudaicized Even More in “Nationalist Takeover of Litvak Heritage”: No Rabbi, No Cantor, No Kaddish
But ethnic Lithuanian costume and song are featured at the mass grave of Vilna Jewry. Honor guard with bayoneted rifles was a questionable touch.
11 OCTOBER COMMEMORATION PROGRAM FOR THE 8000 HOLOCAUST VICTIMS OF SVINTSYÁN (ŠVENČIONYS) AND ITS REGION WHO WERE MURDERED ON 7-8 OCTOBER 1941 AT POLIGÓN OUTSIDE SVENČIONĖLIAI
Mass grave of the Jewish communities of Svintsyán (Švenčionys) and the neighboring towns Dugelíshik (Naujasis Daugėliškis), Duksht (Dūkštas), Haydútsetshik (Adutiškis), Ignáline (Ignalina), Kaméleshik (Kimelishki, Belarus), Koltinyán (Kaltanėnai), Lingmyán (Linkmenys), Líntep (Lintupy, Belarus), Maligán (Mielagėnai), Podbródz (Pabradė), Stayátseshik (Stajėtiškis), Svintsyánke / Náy-Svintsyàn (Švenčionėliai)
On Friday 9 October 2015, the Šeduva Jewish Memorial Fund Society presented the results of their work on the project Lost Shtetl. There were, taken together, over two hundred visitors on the day. They included pupils of Vilnius’s Sholem Aleichem school and of the Šeduva high school, representatives of the Jewish community of Šiauliai (Shavl), Lithuanian Jewish Community chairperson Faina Kukliansky, the mayors of nearby towns, a deputy minister of foreign affairs, and ambassadors or embassy representatives of many countries, including the Netherlands, Japan, Poland, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Romania, and Ukraine.
Iam making a documentary film about the Jewish history and legacy of Malát (now Molėtai), a small shtetl in Lithuania. The film will endeavor to cover the history, life and culture of the Maláter, the Jews of Malát, and also the genocide of the entire community carried out by the Nazis and their local collaborators. My father’s family was killed there together with about 1000 Malát Jews.
Lithuanian Prosecutor Writes to Jewish Community Head on Alleged Holocaust Perpetrators in Malát (Molėtai)
VILNIUS—The website of Lithuania’s official Jewish Community today published an English translation of a 2 March 2016 letter (original here) sent by Prosecutor Rimvydas Valentukevičius in reply to a letter from community chairperson Faina Kukliansky. The text of the translation published today follows. The correspondence relates to alleged perpetrators in the northeastern Lithuanian town Malát (Molėtai), where an international commemoration is planned for August 2016.
For other recent interactions with the prosecutor’s office, see our 3 March 2016 report on another request, that for release of (or action regarding) the list of several thousand names of persons that the Genocide Center now concedes were potentially Holocaust perpetrators.
Lietuvos Holokausto atlase Vilniaus apylinkėse pažymėta iš viso dvylika žudynių vietų. Geriausiai žinomas Panerių memorialas. Būtent čia organizuojami vieši Holokausto aukų atminties pagerbimo renginiai. Kitos gi vietos žinomos mažiau lankomos retai. Sekmadienį, gegužės 22 d., maža grupele išvykome aplankyti mažiau žinomos žudynių vietos Naujaneriuose.
Summer and Fall 2016: 75th Anniversary
of the Nazis’ annihilation, with vast local collaboration, of Lithuania’s Jews in the towns, villages, provinces; implementation of ghettoization and mass murder in the cities.
Perhaps among the simplest, most minimalist measures of a municipality’s sincerity (beyond PR bonanzas, photo-ops and legitimizations via useful foreigners): (a) Modest town-center information board on the origins, history, culture, contributions and (true) fate of the town’s Jewish citizens; (b) Rapid removal of any local shrines, street names, museum tributes etc. to the local collaborators and murderers. “You just can’t make heroes out of the killers and expect to cover it up with some annual PR event for the foreigners.”
Language and respect for the victims: In addition to Lithuanian and English, will new memorial texts (including those at forest mass graves and old cemeteries) continue to include Yiddish, the language of 100% of the murdered Jews in all these towns? For many years, Lithuania has had a uniquely admirable record in this regard.
Leon (Liova) Kaplan (in Lithuanian: Leonas Kaplanas) is a native of Vilnius, Lithuania who settled in Washington DC in the early 1970s. He founded the Washington Conservatory of Music and is a noted pianist and master piano educator. He returned to live in Vilnius in 2004, and has over the past year and a half been one of the people involved in enabling the major series of events that culminated in a march by thousands, unveiling of a multilingual monument, and launch of an exhibition, book, and film, in the small town (former shtetl) Malát (Moletai, northeastern Lithuania) on 29 August 2016. The day marked the 75th anniversary of the 1941 massacre of the town’s 2,000 Jews, then a majority of its population. This year’s day of memorial events there has drawn wide and varied media comment and coverage.
The following is the English text of Liova Kaplan’s speech, provided by his office at the request of Defending History. At the event the speech was given in both English and Lithuanian.
Thank you to all gathered here, thanks to all those whose conscience does not allow them to forget the tragic events that happened here in Molėtai (Malát), and in almost 300 places across Lithuania, seventy-five years ago. Allow me to quote the book Night by Nobel prize laureate, the late Elie Wiesel:
Grigory Tzvi Kritzer, a native of Vilnius, Lithuania, who settled many years ago in Israel, is a well-known Israeli soccer (football) agent. He was the primary organizer of the series of events that culminated in a march by thousands, unveiling of a multilingual monument, and launch of an exhibition, book, and film, in the small town (former shtetl) Malát (Molėtai, northeastern Lithuania) on 29 August 2016. The book and exhibition were the products of the initiative and creative work of regional museum director, Viktorija Kazlienė, in close cooperation with Leon Kaplan who edited and translated the book.
The day marked the 75th anniversary of the 1941 massacre of the town’s 2,000 Jews, then a majority of its population. This year’s day of memorial events there has drawn wide and varied media comment and coverage.
The following is the English text of Tzvi Kritzer’s speech, provided by his office at the request of Defending History. The translation is by Aleksandras Federas.
We decided to walk that road one and a half years ago, and then I imagined that there would be only a few people here… Now, look around, my heart is beating with joy that our relatives and loved ones, who perished here in Molėtai, have not been forgotten.
Thanks to all of you, to those who have come from faraway countries and to those who live here, in Lithuania. I am particularly moved to see here people from all corners of Lithuania. I would like to thank the mayor of Molėtai, Mr. Stasys Žvinis, and all his team for their help and support.