While researching the background to my blog on the very strong Jewish Lithuanian connection with Ireland, and unbeknownst to me, the Fourth World Litvak Congress was being held in Vilnius. As you will have read in the blog, most of the Lithuanian Jews who stayed there were murdered in the Shoah. My friend and colleague in Vilnius, Ambassador Philomena Murnaghan, has kindly shared the following information on the Congress and the annual Holocaust commemoration in Lithuania.
The Fourth World Litvak Congress was held in Vilnius from 22-25 September and commemorated the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Vilnius Ghetto on 23-24 September 1943. Jews represented a third of the population of Vilnius before the Second World War. The annual Holocaust commemoration takes place on the anniversary of that fateful day (23rd September) at the site in Paneriai forest, some 11 km from Vilnius city centre, where of the 100,000 persons executed there, some 70,000 were Jews.
The Fourth World Litvak Congress held a wide variety of events and exhibitions over the six days, including a conference on Sunday, 22nd September on “Litvaks and their legacy: Holocaust, ethical memory and enlightenment”, moderated by Prof. Leonidas Donskis, MEP. Events during the Congress sought to recapture the contribution of Lithuania’s former Jewish population to the Lithuanian nation and national development. Some of the themes included: How art helps to perceive the Holocaust; Jewish organisations in Lithuania in documents prior to 1941; Kaunas Jewish community in historical sources; Jewish musicians in interwar Lithuania. There were also tours for participants to Jewish-related sites in Vilnius and around the country.
Dr. Simonas Alperavicius, Honorary Chairman of The Jewish Community of Lithuania, was conferred with the Lithuanian Diplomacy Star, the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ award of honour for his dedication to advancing bilateral relations between Lithuania and Israel and for his championing of democratic values throughout his life.
Philomena notes that the Congress was one of a range of events taking place in 2013, which has been designated by the Lithuanian Seimas (Parliament) as the Year of Remembrance of the Vilnius Ghetto. Bilateral relations between Lithuania and Israel have been strengthened, with visits in each direction this year, notably by the Lithuanian Foreign Minister to Israeli in May in preparation for the State Visit by the Israeli President to Vilnius at the end of July.
On Monday, 23rd September, members of the diplomatic corps took part, in large numbers as usual, in the annual commemoration of the Holocaust in Paneriai forest. Philomena has seen this ceremony grow during her time in Vilnius and reflects:
“Genuine efforts are being made to integrate study of the Holocaust into mainstream education and to engage young Lithuanians. This year, pupils from 200 schools from around Lithuania lined the path leading into the fir grove where the Memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust is situated. Each student placed on the ground a candle and stone with the name of a Jewish person killed, forming a solemn avenue through which participants from the government, municipality, diplomatic corps, Jewish community and others passed on the way to the fir grove. Wreaths were laid by or on behalf of the President, Government, Seimas, the Municipality, the Israeli Embassy Riga, the Jewish community, the diplomatic corps, Jewish survivors of the Vilnius Ghetto, and the International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania. Speeches were delivered by the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the Seimas, the Israeli Ambassador, the President of the Jewish Community of Lithuania (Faina Kulkiansky), and by the International Commission. A moving personal account was given by one of the very few remaining survivors of the Vilnius Ghetto, Fania Branncovskaya, and a haunting poem was read by the Headmaster of a local Jewish school. The event concluded with the reading of Kadesh by a member of the Jewish community and the playing of the Vilnius Ghetto ‘anthem’.”
Thanks to Philomena for sharing this and to the Deputy Head ofMission Seadha MacHugh for tweeting the blog on the Irish Litvak relationship to the Embassy’s followers in Lithuania.