Defending History’s Person of the Year

Editor’s Comments on Defending History Persons of the Year 2022


[UPDATE]


OPINION  |  LITVAK AFFAIRS  |  LITHUANIA

by Dovid Katz

Note: An earlier version of this comment appeared on Dovid Katz’s personal Facebook page on 31 Dec. 

Each year on New Year’s Eve, when the clock strikes midnight (Vilnius time), our Defending History community publishes its Person(s) of the Year, in most years, and this year once again, chosen from among the most inspirational and eternal of Lithuania’s 20th century heroes: the amazing people who risked everything, starting with themselves and their children and families, to just save a Jewish neighbor and fellow citizen who was targeted for death by the Nazis and their local collaborationists and lackeys. Most years, and this year again, we are fortunate to have an authoritative summary of the achievements of the folks we are honoring prepared for the Persons of the Year series by Danutė Selčinskaja, longtime director of the Project for Commemoration of Rescuers of Jews at the Vilna Gaon Museum of Jewish History in Vilnius. With brevity, authority and humanity, Danutė tells the tale of our 2022 Persons of the Year: Tadas Pocius and Barbora Urbonavičiūtė-Pocienė; Antanas Volskis and Stanislava Volskienė;Leonas Vaidotas and  Stanislava Vaidotienė — all of the tiny speck of a village Karalgiris… All simple people of the land whose heart and soul stood entire heavens and firmaments above so many with education, jobs, money, authority, and all the rest.

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2022 Persons of the Year: Tadas Pocius & Barbora Urbonavičiūtė-Pocienė; Antanas Volskis & Stanislava Volskienė; Leonas Vaidotas & Stanislava Vaidotienė — in a village called Karalgiris



PERSON OF THE YEAR SERIES  |  LITHUANIA  |  LITVAK AFFAIRS  |  HISTORY

by Danutė Selčinskaja

Berl Kagan (Kahan)

Eminent scholar, author, and Holocaust survivor Berl Kagan, often known as Berl Kahn (1908-1993)  renowned in his pre-war Lithuania youth as a scholar, lecturer and editor  (of the newspaper Dos Vort), worked after the war in New York at the Yivo (Yiddish Scientific Institute, later Yivo Institute for Jewish Research) from 1954, is widely known for his concise encyclopedia of Jewish towns in prewar independent Lithuania, the final volume of the encyclopedia of Yiddish literature plus a volume of addenda, and numerous other works that are regularly consulted in our second decade of the twenty-first century. Fewer people, perhaps, are aware of his much more deeply personal work, A Yid in Vald (A Jew in the Forest), his Holocaust memoir.

While hiding from the Nazis and their local henchmen in the Lithuanian forests, he felt the need to record what he, his wife Raya, and his wife’s sister Nechama had to endure in the Kovno Ghetto and, from 1943, hiding in the barn of the inspirationally courageous peasant Tadas Pocius (known to friends as Tadeush) in Karalgiris village and, later, in the woods outside the Pocius family’s farm. Since there was no paper to write on, Kagan would write in between the lines of a paperback that he carried with him. In 1955, based on these clandestine records, Kagan published A Yid in Vald. After his death, his daughters Ada Kagan and Miriam Kagan Lieber ensured that the book would appear in English translation A Jew in the Woods.

Defending History’s Person of the Year series

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Why The First Week of the Lithuanian Holocaust is Historically Unique. Whom to Honor on the 80th Anniversary?



by Dovid Katz

For years now, Defending History has, on the first of January each year, named the newborn year in honor of Lithuanian Holocaust-era Rescuers, or Righteous of the Nations as they are also known (tsadíkey úmes ho-óylem in Yiddish). In 2020 — Antanas Zubrys and Dr. Matilda Zubrienė; in 2019 — Jonas Paulavičius; in 2018 — Malvina Šokelytė Valeikienė. That is a tradition we hope to resume next year. But 2021, the eightieth anniversary of 1941, calls for something more focused, not least when some governmental bodies have chosen, shockingly, to use the anniversary to glorify the perpetrators rather than commemorate the victims and honor those who helped a neighbor to escape the rapidly closing death vise in the last week of June 1941.

By and large, the 916 Rescuers recognized by Yad Vashem (and a somewhat larger number if those recognized by Lithuanian institutions and assorted survivor families are added) are people who risked their own and their families’ lives to hide (and feed, sustain, care for and guard) a Jew or Jews for an extended period, risking it all for weeks, months or years, until the fall of the Nazi regime at the hands of the USSR — then in alliance with the United States, Great Britain and the other Allies — in July of 1944 (there were no American or British forces in Eastern Europe…). As an old adage, variously attributed, goes: One fascist with an automatic weapon could murder hundreds of trapped innocent civilians in some moments, but to save one person took years of heart-wrenching, inspirationally courageous effort by entire families and networks of incredibly good people. In the Baltics, the courage had to be greater than most other places, because they were regarded as traitors to their own nationalist leaders, not only to the occupying Nazi forces. And frankly, because things are different when much or most of the actual killing is done by willing locals idolized by the nationalists of the day.

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Defending History’s Year (2020) Honoring Antanas Zubrys and Dr. Matilda Zubrienė Comes to Close



Antanas Zubrys and Dr. Matilda Zubrienė

VILNIUS—As 2020 draws to its close in the Lithuanian capital, the Defending History community pays renewed respect to the inspiring Antanas Zubrys and Dr. Matilda Zubrienė whose epic of heroism in just doing the right thing in the face of Nazi rule was recounted on these pages one year ago tonight by Danutė Selčinskaja, chief of the department for Righteous of the Nations at the Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum of Lithuania. Let us never forget the true heroes of Holocaust-era Eastern Europe, whose bravery had to be “even greater” when genocide of a local minority was being confounded with loyalty to the nation’s purported “nationalist leaders.”

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Antanas Zubrys and his Wife Dr. Matilda Zubrienė: Defending History’s Persons of the Year (2020)



OPINIONHISTORY

by Danutė Selčinskaja

 

Who were the people who managed to disregard the ubiquitous government warnings and the abundant anti-Semitic propaganda and refused to remain passive onlookers? Those who went on to rescue their Jewish neighbors from the fate of persecution and murder during the Second World War? Jews were rescued by people of various educational background, beliefs, ages, and professions. Each of them had to make this not-at-all easy decision by themselves, led by no one but their conscience. Upon seeing such direct and overt brutality, these courageous people were simply unable to act in any other way.

Antanas Zubrys and Dr. Matilda Zubrienė

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Defending History’s Person of the Year 2020 to be Announced New Year’s Eve



VILNIUS—Please watch this space. Defending History’s Person of the Year 2020 will be announced a minute after midnight on New Year’s Eve 2020. For previous laureates, please see, among others, those for 2014, 20152018, and 2019. For Defending History’s conceptualization of the annual awarding in the context of current East European issues, please see our 2019 editorial.

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Jonas Paulavičius (1898–1952) is Defending History’s 2019 Person of the Year



OPINION

VILNIUS—Even as various government bodies in Eastern Europe name years (and for that matter streets and lecture halls and squares) for Holocaust collaborators or, on occasion, “just” leaders of fascist militias during the Holocaust (sometimes also for export to America), Defending History continues, in the spirit of our 2018 decision, to continue to honor East European patriots who fought for their country’s independence and then went on, over two decades later, during the Holocaust, to just do the right thing and save Jewish neighbors threatened with certain murder by reason of their birth, and with the support of the then “nationalist forces” in partnership with the Nazis. For all of 2018, Malvina Šokelytė Valeikienė  (1898-1981) was our Person of the Year.

Read  Danutė Selčinskaja’s article on the life and works of Jonas Paulavičius

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Jonas Paulavičius: Volunteered a Century Ago for Lithuania’s War of Independence, Went on to Save 16 People During the Holocaust



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by Danutė Selčinskaja

Jonas Paulavičius (1858-1952)

During the Nazi occupation years, when humanity was being trampled, and marauding and murder were rampant, when all effort was put toward turning the inhabitants of occupied lands into obedient and unfeeling creatures, meeting a dedicated person who dared to resist the spreading hatred seemed like a miracle to the unjustly persecuted. Jonas Paulavičius, indomitable enemy of the Nazi regime and veteran volunteer of the Lithuanian Wars of Independence, went on to become such a miracle to twelve Kaunas Jews, two Russian POWs, and two persecuted Lithuanians. Jonas made a decision: the only way to resist the terror of the Nazis and their helpers was to save at least several Jews who were suffering at the hands of the Nazis and whose lives were at risk.

Jonas Paulavičius was born in 1898 to a family of poor peasants. He learned the trade of the carpenter in his teenage years and could earn a living by himself, thus becoming self-sufficient and independent at a young age. After Lithuania declared independence in 1918, it soon became clear that, without a military of its own, Lithuanian statehood was doomed. During the period of its initial formation and the first stage of battles against the Bolsheviks, the Lithuanian military was comprised of 3,000 volunteers who responded to the December 27, 1918, call issued by the Government: Lithuania is in Danger. Jonas Paulavičius was among the brave men who volunteered immediately to fight for the freedom of Lithuania.

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Malvina Šokelytė Valeikienė is Defending History’s 2018 Person of the Year



OPINION  |  BALTIC HEROES  |  HUMAN RIGHTS  |  LITVAK AFFAIRS

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Malvina Šokelytė Valeikienė (1898-1981)

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“Prophet Amos Awards” for Seven Human Rights Heroes in Lithuania (2014-2015)



O P I N I O N

by Defending History Staff

On the occasion of the Jewish new year, 5775 (Sept. 2014 — Sept. 2015), starting this Wednesday evening 24 September at sundown, Defending History has announced seven symbolic (non-material) awards to individuals of extraordinary individual achievement in the field of human rights and tolerance in Lithuania. By “individual achievement” we refer to people who stood up, spoke out, and rose to the moral imperative of saying what needed to be said in the spirit of the prophets who felt an inner voice compelling their rising up, rather than in the context of a job or position at an NGO or other institution. These two genres are harmoniously complementary, and in no way demeaning to each other.

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2014: Professor Pinchos Fridberg, Adamant for Truth, is Defending History’s Person of the Year



Vilnius Holocaust Survivor Professor Pinchos Fridberg has stood up with inspirational courage to the state sponsored “Double Genocide” industry that has targeted him. He was defamed by the head of Baltic News Service (BNS) and the “International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania” (Red-Brown Com, for short), which still calls the survivor a liar on its website. More on the Commission here and here. An appeal to commissioners’ conscience has been issued.

See Danny Ben-Moshe’s op-ed in Jerusalem Report which touches on the somewhat bizarre (though wholly indirect) Yad Vashem connection to the saga.

SEE ALSO:

PINCHOS FRIDBERG SECTION

Pinchos Fridberg is a real Litvak with real Litvak values and proverbial Litvak steadfastness when it comes to the simple truth of the matter, most emphatically when the matter concerns the destruction of Lithuanian Jewry during the Holocaust. He has also dedicated many years, since retiring from research in physics, to fight for the recognition and rights of Lithuanian rescuers (Righteous Among the Nations) who risked all to just do the right thing and save a neighbor. The strands of fearless steadfastness in pursuit of the facts, and the stylistic grace of one of the last of the Litvaks of Vilna, come together in his recent “Letter to Moses.”  To jump to a chronological listing of Professor Fridberg’s recent articles provided below please click hereHis own contributions are color-marked for rapid reference. 


“Neither I nor my wife Anita are specialist researchers of the Holocaust. We are simply witnesses saved by a miracle. Until the last days of our lives we will consider the Righteous to be saints, the only ray of light in the darkest world of murderers and collaborators like Juozas Brazaitis-Ambrazevičius, Antanas Impulevičius and Aleksandras Lileikis. In 1998, the International Commission for the Evaluation of Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania was formed by decree by the president. Everybody agrees that these two regimes have a lot in common and their crimes need objective and unbiased evaluation. However, I will never agree with the idée fixe […] of attempts to equate the Holocaust and Stalin’s crimes against the Lithuanian people. […] My wife Anita was a prisoner (Ausweis #4426) of the Kovno Ghetto […], she was taken out of the ghetto in a sack of rotten potatoes by Righteous among the Nations Bronislava Krištopavičienė, may her memory be for eternity a blessing.” 

— PINCHOS FRIDBERG

from his article published by the Algemeiner Journal, Defending History, Jewish Community of Lithuania,  and the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Operation Last Chance


Pinchos Fridberg, a native and resident of Vilnius, is a Holocaust survivor. He graduated from Vilnius University in 1961 and completed his PhD in theoretical and mathematical physics in 1965 and an additional doctoral science degree in radio physics in 1974. From 1961 to 1978 he was chair of the Laboratory of Theoretical Investigations at the Vilnius Scientific Institute of Radio Measuring Devices. In 1978 he joined Grodno State University, where he was named professor. In 1989 he became head of the Department of Theoretical Radio Physics at the Zondas Company in Vilnius.
Note: This list includes only publications in English; a number of contributions first appeared elsewhere, in Russian or Lithuanian or both. DH translations always contain links to the originals (which are not listed below; this chronology is for readers of English).
PHOTO OF PINCHOS FRIDBERG AT THE NOV. CONFERENCE BY MINDAUGAS MIKULENAS

3 September 2012.  DefendingHistory.com: Statement by the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel on renewal of the ‘red-brown commission’.

7 November 2012.  DefendingHistory.com: ‘Outgoing Lithuanian PM, Red-Brown Commission and (antisemitic) Genocide Center joining forces for mid-November Vilnius conference promoting “Double Genocide”’.

21 November 2012:  DefendingHistory.com: ‘Red-Brown circus in Lithuanian capital’.

21 November 2012:  DefendingHistory.com: ‘When the politicians run the conferences on — history’ by Evaldas Balčiūnas.

1 December 2012:  DefendingHistory.com: ‘The Holocaust in Lithuania, and its obfuscation, in Lithuanian sources’ by Yitzhak Arad.

19 December 2012:  Operation Last Chance (Simon Wiesenthal Center Israel Office): ‘Instead of truth about the Holocaust — myths about saving Jews’ by Pinchos Fridberg. Republished 1 January 2013:  DefendingHistory.com; 15 January 2013: The Algemeiner; 16 January 2013:  Jewish Community of Lithuania.

26 December 2012:  DefendingHistory.com: ‘Tell me I’m wrong’ by Geoff Vasil.

5 February 2013:  Jewish Community of Lithuania: Letter from Professor Fridberg to the leadership of the Jewish Community of Lithuania.

5 February 2013:  Jewish Community of Lithuania: ‘Official response to Professor Fridberg’s queries from the chairman of the Jewish Community of Lithuania’.

5 February 2013:  Janina Bucevičė,  ‘Teacher from tolerance education center addressed Jewish Community of Lithuania with open letter’ on the website of the International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes of Lithuania’. [See below at 19 February for edited republication in Defending History]

12 February 2013:  DefendingHistory.com: ‘Artūras Račas, editor-in-chief of Baltic News Service (BNS), attacks Holocaust Survivor Prof. Pinchos Fridberg and SWC Israel director Dr. Efraim Zuroff’.

13 February 2013:  Jewish Community of Lithuania: ‘Statement of the Lithuanian Jewish Community’.

14 February 2013:  DefendingHistory.com: ‘Pinchos Fridberg provides chronology of a provocation’.

The Commission that provides ‘tolerance education’ calls Holocaust survivor a liar on its website and demands an apology from — the Jewish Community!

15 February 2013:  The International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania: Statement by executive director Ronaldas Račinskas demanding apology from the Jewish community.

16 February 2013:  The Lithuania Tribune: ‘Head of international panel calls for apology over Jewish rescuers publication’.

19 February 2013:  DefendingHistory.com: ‘Request for an apology for disrespect toward rescuers of Jews and Holocaust victims’ by Janina Bucevičė. [Editor’s note: The Commission’s executive director contacted Defending History asking for Ms. Bucevičė’s contribution (first posted by the Commission, see above at 5 February) to be published. After obtaining the author’s permission to edit some of the inflammatory language, her article appeared in DH, with final text approved by the author.]

21 February 2013:  DefendingHistory.com: ‘Tolerance Education? State-sposored Commission uses its website to call leading Holocaust survivor a “liar” and demand “apology from Jewish community”’ by Dovid Katz.

25 February 2013:  DefendingHistory.com: ‘A counter-question to Lithuanian journalist Artūras Račas’ by Pinchos Fridberg; republished  3 March 2013: Algemeiner.com.

28 February 2013:  DefendingHistory.com: ‘Response to Professor Fridberg’s article’ by Liba Blat-Rosenthal and Israela Blat.

3 March 2013:  DefendingHistory.com: ‘Letter to the editor’ by Pinchos Fridberg [with two sound files of MP Emanuelis Zingeris at the November 2012 Seimas conference on ‘United Europe — United History’].

14 March 2013:  DefendingHistory.com: ‘Isn’t it time for the author of the myth to apologize?’ by Pinchos Fridberg.

20 March 2013:  DefendingHistory.com: ‘One-sided coverage in the “Lithuania Tribune”?’.

9 April 2013: DefendingHistory.com: ‘Lithuania paying with its image for the ambitions of an official’ by Pinchos Fridberg [translation posted 11 August of 9 April article].

26 August 2013:  Jerusalem Report: ‘Yad Vashem and the “two genocides”’ by Danny Ben-Moshe.

18 September 2013: DefendingHistory.com: ‘An Old Jew from Vilna Writes a Letter to Moshe Rabeinu’ by Pinchos Fridberg.

19 November 2013.  Communications unit of the Lithuanian Parliament (Seimas) responds to Professor Fridberg.

1 December 2013.  DefendingHistory.com: ‘“Higher mathematics” of the Lithuanian Holocaust’ by Pinchos Fridberg.

24 December 2013.  DefendingHistory.com: ‘A love story’ by Pinchos Fridberg.

1 January 2014.  DefendingHistory.com: ‘Professor Pinchos Fridberg is Defending History’s Person of the Year’.

11 February 2014.  Tablet: ‘A comment from Professor Pinchos Fridberg, Vilnius’. Reprint in DefendingHistory.com.

3 March 2014.  Pinchos Fridberg’s Youtube: ‘Lakhn iz gezunt’ by Pinchos Fridberg

. Reaction to a comment posted at Olga Zabludoff’s 13 February 2014 op-ed in the Algemeiner Journal.

1 March 2015.  Yiddish Forward: ‘Letter from a Vilna Jew to Yivo’s director, and his reply’ [by Pinchos Fridberg and Jonathan Brent] [in Yiddish].

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