S’brent, Bríderlakh, S’brent (It’s Burning, Dear Brothers, it’s Burning)



by Leon Kaplan

Last night, Wednesday the 24th of May 2017, I came home from a long (three-and-a-half-hour) but wonderful gathering. It was the Vilnius Jewish Community’s conference, a democratic, well-organized and well-attended election for the Vilnius Jewish Community (VJC) as well as for its new board. When I got home I decided to listen to a disk of Yiddish songs by the late Nechama Lifschitz, a disk that her daughter Roza Litay gave me as a gift during a visit at her apartment in Tel Aviv. Around twelve midnight, while listening to songs of our “singing soul” I opened my Facebook page and could not believe my eyes when I saw the link to an article on the official website of the Lithuanian Jewish Community (LJC) that presumed to cover the evening I had myself attended. It had a big picture not of any of the personalities of the evening, but of the chairperson, Faina Kukliansky standing next to a car and making a V for Victory sign like a victorious general gleeful over the destruction of an array of enemies.

But this was not a victory. It was something else entirely. It was a smear campaign full of fake news, insults and simple ugly degradation of members of the Vilnius Jewish Community. The English version contained the charge that the three hundred or more attendees were “mainly Russian speakers calling themselves Jews, with only a minority of people with Litvak blood. A Soviet mentality and style appeared to dominate the proceedings. The urgent matter at hand was seizing power, because now the Lithuanian language is dominant in the Lithuanian Jewish Community.” Later on this version was taken down and replaced with another that said “Those who did show up – by and large friends of the former executive director Simonas Gurevičius who was behind the coup attempt – looked as if they had emerged unchanged from the Soviet era, judging from their mannerisms and inability to speak Lithuanian.”

This is all a lie. Lithuanian, Yiddish, and yes, Russian were all spoken at the conference! Because the elderly, among them Holocaust survivors, former deportees to Siberia or just plain refugees from Nazi fascism are not all fully fluent in Lithuanian. But attacking them – us, for their – “blood”? Should I take down my pants and prove that I am circumcised?

I am very insulted and a personal and specific public apology from Faina Kukliansky is due, as she is, after all, the one responsible for the Community’s website and the Community’s public statements. I will forgive, but not forget. But how will my hundred murdered relatives in the shtetl Malát (Molėtai) forgive her? And how will my father’s hundred relatives brutally murdered at the Ninth Fort in Kovno (Kaunas) forgive her?

Will my brother Léyzerke, who was taken away from my father at the age of seven to be murdered in the “Kinderaktion” forgive her? He spoke Yiddish, not Lithuanian. And, by the way, my first language too was Yiddish. And I am very proud of that.

How about Málkale, who was also taken away from my múme Tsívye (Aunt Tzivya) at the age of six to be murdered in the same “Kinderaktion”. That was the aunt who had bought me my first piano. She had worked in the Jewish Children’s Home in Kovno before the war. Di múme Tsívye who sang with me Yiddish songs while the vinyl records of Nechama Lifschitz (Lifšicaitė) was playing on my aunt’s turntable. Will Málkale forgive her? She also spoke Yiddish and not Lithuanian. Did that make her a citizen of Lithuania who is less worthy of citizenship, less worthy of life?

Will the walls of the Lithuanian Jewish Community building at Pylimo 4 in Vilnius, which used to be the Hebrew Tarbut school before the war, full of Jewish youngsters running about, smiling, arguing and dreaming of a great future life, but who were all murdered at Ponár (Paneriai) forgive her? And how will Faina Kukliansky ask those very walls for forgiveness?  Ah, but Vilnius is supposed to be Yerusholáyim d’Líte, the Jerusalem of Lithuania. So no need to travel to Israel and follow Trump.

And by the way, will her few remaining senior staff who are Jewish and the mostly non-Jewish senior staff in the old Tarbut school building forgive her?

Her website reacted to the liveliest conference of Vilnius Jews in years by telling us that we all of us have a stupid Soviet mentality, we are petty little individuals trying to make a coup d’état…

Will the over one million immigrants from the former Soviet Union in Israel who speak Russian forgive her? Will the mothers of Jewish boys and girls who emigrated from Russia to Israel and have lost their sons, brothers, daughters, husbands, friends defending Israel and all of us forgive her, while chairperson Kukliansky’s son warms himself in Australia?

Will Marius Ivaškevičius, Rūta Vanagaitė and the other thousands of people from many different countries, speaking many different languages, but all of them understanding the sound of pain, who marched with us last summer on August the 29th holding hands to commemorate the 75th anniversary to remember the two thousand Jews of Malát who were then murdered, will all of them forgive me and her?

Will God forgive her? Will he forgive me for writing this? He will, I hope. After all, he forgives everyone!

I am writing this open letter with tears in my eyes, and I want to conclude with an English translation of the Yiddish song, S’brent, Bríderlakh, S’Brent, which the Yiddish poet Mordechai Gebirtig wrote in 1936, and which some years later evolved into a song of Holocaust remembrance:

  • It is Burning, Dear Brothers, it is Burning
  • It is burning, dear brothers, it is burning.
  • Our poor little town, a pity, it burns!
  • Furious winds blow,
  • Breaking, burning and scattering,
  • And you stand around
  • With folded arms.
  • O, you stand and look
  • While our town burns.
  • It is burning, dear brothers, it is burning
  • Our poor little town, a pity, it burns!
  • Tongues of fire have already
  • Swallowed the entire town.
  • Everything surrounding it is burning,
  • And you stand around
  • While our town burns.
  • It is burning, dear brothers, it is burning!
  • You are the only source of help.
  • If you value your town,
  • Take up tools to put the fire out.
  • Put out the fire with your own blood.
  • Don’t just stand there, dear brothers,
  • With your arms folded.
  • Put out the fire, our town is burning.  


Liova (Leybke, Leon) Kaplan (in Lithuanian: Leonas Kaplanas) is a native of Vilnius, Lithuania who settled in Washington DC after graduating from the Rubin Academy of Music in Tel Aviv and serving in the Israeli army as a paramedic. 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 several years been one of the organizers, under the leadership of Tzvi-Hirsh Kritzer, of a major series of events that included the 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.



This entry was posted in A Stolen Election and a Small Jewish Community's Protest, Leon Kaplan, Lithuania, Lithuania's Jewish Community Issues, Litvak Affairs, Malát (Molėtai), News & Views, Russian Speakers' Personal Status, What Do Fake Litvak Games Look Like? and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.
Return to Top