Roza Bieliauskienė (1946 – 2023): Cofounder of Lithuania’s Jewish Museum, Longtime Chief Curator, Educator, Specialist on Litvak Artists


The following is a revised text of Dovid Katz’s obituary that appeared on his Facebook page today.

Roza Bieliauskienė (1946-2023)

The world of Jewish Vilna and Litvaks everywhere mourn in deep sorrow the untimely sudden death of our dear Roza (Róze, Reyzl) Bieliauskienė, beloved scholar of Lithuanian Jewish art, long time historian, museum curator, educator, guide and a loyal friend unafraid of untoward local politics and its boycotts. Whether for an old friend or a foreigner she’d never seen before, Roza would rush to help anyone research anything if it was in the field of Lithuanian Jewish culture, history. Here is our 2 hour+ interview with her (entirely in Yiddish) from less than a year ago (recorded and posted in the Lithuanian Yiddish Video Archive (LYVA) thanks to the generosity of Remembering Litvaks Inc).

In the interview, she recounts with frankness and dignity the tragedy of how she and others were terminated at the state’s official Jewish Museum during one of the purges intending to turn it largely into a pure-ethno-Lithuanian state public relations unit. Roza, a cofounder of the museum, had been its chief curator, and she built its collections into a substantial museum.

Roza Bieliauskienė’s 2019 essay on state glorification of Noreika and other Holocaust perpetrators

Afterwards, she taught for years as a beloved teacher at the city’s Sholem Aleichem school (though powers that be repeatedly thwarted her efforts to introduce Yiddish as a serious subject in a school named for a great Yiddish writer). For many years she has been at work on a history of (mostly forgotten) Jewish artists in interwar Vílne (then Wilno, now Vilnius) and interwar Kóvne (Kaunas), combing meticulously through thousands of pages of yellowing Yiddish newspapers at Lithuania’s National Library.

Roza was one of the last who remembered the short lived Yiddish kindergarten in Vilnius in the years right after the war, and she recounted the cultural history of the city’s Jews with grace and integrity, never flinching from inconvenient truths. When I moved the old Oxford Yiddish summer program, started in 1982, to Vilnius, in the summer of 1998, Roza was proudly among the pioneer participants, in the advanced class of course. A few years later, we appointed her a lecturer for the program, and she became a teacher and guide to hundreds of people from around the world over a number of years.

The last email Roza sent me, three days ago, contained the gift of new materials she had discovered (and had copied at the National Library) for our online yizkor-book of the Vilna region shtetl Mikháleshik (Michalishki, Belarus). They will now be added in her memory. A few weeks ago, when I asked if she needed payment for all that work, she replied as she always did over the last thirty years, “Of course not, what are you talking about?” . . .

To the end she was hard at work on her project to discover, collect and present to the world forgotten Jewish artists of interwar Vílne and Kóvne.

Author’s Yiddish lines prepared for the 1 Feb. funeral in Vilnius

The two hour interview starts with our recollection of how our friendship started. Various of my shtetl informants in the early 1990s had taught me the Yiddish tell-off: “Where do you think you are, on Aleksándrovske Bulvár in Vílne?” I asked Roza about it at the museum (around 1992 or 1993, I think), and a week later came her letter to Oxford: Piłsudskiego between the wars and now Algirdo gatve. I didn’t know then that three decades later I’d be living on this street, or that my place on Aleksándrovske Bulvár would be the site of our last meeting. Previous recordings from over the decades will be digitized and posted as soon as possible.

אַ ליכטיקן גן עדן אונדזער טײַערער ראָזען



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