“We share a commitment to throw light on the still obscured shadows of the Holocaust.”
-- Declaration of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust
Since Lithuania became a full member of the IHRA in 2002, the country has been consistently implementing the principles of the Stockholm Declaration. The Lithuanian Government attaches great importance to Holocaust-related education, commemoration and research and makes regular efforts to improve these areas. Public authorities have been working closely with the Lithuanian Jewish community and many non-governmental organizations. Holocaust education and research is being taken further by the International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania (hereinafter referred to as the International Commission), the Vilnius University, the Vytautas Magnus University, the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum (hereinafter referred to as the Gaon Museum), the Lithuanian Genocide and Resistance Research Centre, as well as a number of regional education and culture institutions.
In 2010, the the Parliament of the Republic of Lithuania (hereinafter referred to as Seimas) made an amendment to the Criminal Code by adding a new Article 170(2) which provides for liability for public expression of support for the crimes of Nazi Germany against the Republic of Lithuania or its population, and for the negation or trivialization of these crimes. In 2011, the Seimas declared the year 2011 as the year of Remembrance for the Victims of the Holocaust. The Government carried out a number of important events. That year also saw the Seimas adopt a Law on Good Will Compensation for the Immovable Property of Jewish Religious Communities. The Government made a commitment to allocate, over the coming decade, LTL 128 million (about USD 50 million). LTL 3 million has already been paid in compensation to the victims of the Holocaust and Soviet repressions. At the end of 2013, the Government earmarked LTL 12 million for the Good Will Foundation, administered by the Lithuanian Jews (Litvaks) and foreign Jewish organizations. The Foundation may dispose the money at its discretion.
As the year 2013 marked the 70 year anniversary of the liquidation of the Vilnius Ghetto, the Seimas passed a resolution dedicating the year 2013 as the year of the remembrance of the victims of the Vilnius Ghetto. The Government set up a broad programme of events and saw to their successful completion. The highlight in the programme was the Fourth World Litvak Congress, which took place in Vilnius on September 20-24, 2013, which brought together Litvaks from the U.S., Canada, Israel, South Africa, Australia, and the EU.
For the sixth consecutive year now, the March of the Living has been held in Lithuania. Descendants and relatives of those who perished during the Holocaust in Lithuania come here together from different countries: Israel, the U.S., Sweden, etc. The March begins at Paneriai railway station, where the victims once had been delivered. The March follows the path from the train station to the monument in Paneriai, where a solemn commemoration ceremony is held. It is usually attended by Government and Seimas officials, members of the diplomatic corps residing in Lithuania, members of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, students, and civil society representatives. About 100 thousand people were killed in the place, including 70 thousand Jews.
An important step has been made in terms of the implementation of Article 6 of the Stockholm Declaration, which involves moving towards the reconstruction of the Paneriai Memorial – the largest mass murder site in Lithuania. The Lithuanian Government has included the Paneriai Memorial in its list of national cultural monuments. In May 2011, the Gaon Museum, in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Office of the Government, held a seminar “Ashes of Paneriai: Raising Responsibility and Awareness in the Society of Today. Ideas for Memorial Reconstruction.” The seminar was attended by representatives of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, the memorials of Auschwitz and Stutthof and participants shared their valuable insights and ideas on the reconstruction of the memorial and the preservation of the authenticity of the site. The idea to reconstruct the Memorial was developed at the end of 2013 and was approved by the government of Lithuania. The call for proposals for the Paneriai memorial reconstruction was announced on June 11, 2014.
Holocaust Commemoration in Lithuanian 2011-2014
Research and education on the history of the Holocaust and the remembrance of victims have become more relevant after the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania declared a year of commemoration. The year 2011 was designated for remembrance of Lithuanian residents who were victims of the Holocaust, with the country’s government approving a plan of measures for this which can be viewed here. The government also approved measures for 2013, which was declared the year of remembrance for Vilnius Ghetto. On the basis of these plans, Lithuanian state institutions, ministries, municipalities, agencies and organisations organized commemorative events, conferences and cultural events, and undertook publishing and educational projects. Photo: event dedicated to commemorate the Day of the Genocide of the Lithuanian Jews. Kaunas schools' student action.
Commemoration and educational projects for the Holocaust in museums and archives
The Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum has created a permanent exhibition called A Rescued Lithuanian Jewish child tells about the Shoa. This exhibition presents 50 authentic stories, including memoirs, videos, documentaries and photographs of witnesses to the Holocaust, and discloses the stories and experiences of people who survived the horrible tragedy. The exhibition is available in a virtual format at www.rescuedchild.lt, and an accompanying DVD has also been released. At the end of 2014, a mobile exhibition, consisting of 20 stands, for Lithuanian and foreign viewers will be created on the basis of the permanent exhibition.
The permanent exhibition of the Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum called The Life of Jews in Lithuania tells the history of Lithuania’s Jews from the formation of the first communities in the country’s current and historical territory until today. The exhibition also presents painful facts about the Holocaust and genocide, as well as the community’s history in Soviet times and the life of Jews after Lithuania regained independence. Visitors will learn about the unique world of Litvaks (Lithuanian Jews) and the historical circumstances that shaped their world.
The Holocaust exhibition at Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum shows the culture and history of a once large national minority, outlining the path of the Jews from their arrival in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to many of their tragic deaths in the mid-20th century. One of the exhibition’s objectives is to address Lithuania’s younger generation and to invite them to discuss painful questions, such as: What is a catastrophe? Can we feel the pain suffered years ago? And what did it mean to be a Jew in 1941–1944?
On 25 September 2013, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Vilnius Ghetto, a Vilnius ‘malina’ ghetto shelter was recreated on the premises of the Holocaust exhibition. In the Vilnius Ghetto, hiding places were built not only in attics and cellars, but also in sewage pipes, furnaces, cupboards and double walls. Right up until September 1943, when the ghetto was liquidated, hiding in a shelter was the only way for most Jews to survive. The builders of the ‘malina’ shelter attempted to recreate the environment of those times as closely as possible through documentary materials, helping to encourage visitors to think about the fate of the Lithuanian Jews.
The Office of the Chief Archivist of Lithuania prepared the virtual exhibition Vilnius Ghetto to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of Vilnius Ghetto and the victims of this tragedy.
Between 24 September 2013 and 15 June 2014, the Kaunas City Museum opened the exhibition Jewish Community of Kaunas in Historic Sources to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Vilnius Ghetto. The exhibition, organised by the Kaunas County Archives and the Kaunas City Museum in cooperation with Lithuanian Central State Archives, Lithuanian Special Archives and the Jewish religious community of Kaunas, showed the role of the Jews in the context of urban development, the economy and religious life during the period of rule of the Kaunas governor in an independent Republic of Lithuania. The exhibition detailed the situation of the Jews under the first Soviet occupation and the history of Kaunas Ghetto. The Office of the Chief Archivist of Lithuania arranged a virtual exhibition on this subject with the same name.
The Museum of Genocide Victims has installed a permanent exhibition called Nazi Occupation and the Holocaust in Lithuania in a former KGB prison cell. This introduces the history of the Nazi occupation in Lithuania, the Gestapo prison and its prisoners, the history of the Vilnius Ghetto, the location of the massacre in Paneriai and new research. The latter was carried out in 2008 in Paneriai Forest Park on the request of the Genocide and Resistance Research Centre. The exhibition also presents the Righteous Among the Nations, non-Jewish residents of Lithuania who rescued Jews during the Holocaust. The documentary Hostages. July 1941 was created specifically for this exhibition by director Algis Kuzmickas. The exhibition was included in the programme for the 2011 year of commemoration for residents of Lithuania who were victims of the Holocaust.
In February 2013, episodes for the British feature film Sisters of Mine (directed by Robert Mullan) were filnmed in the Kaunas IX Fort Museum. The film shows one of the most painful chapters in Lithuanian history – the Holocaust – and is about the dramatic life of a young Jewish girl from Kaunas called Gitel. On 15 March 2013, the Kaunas IX Fort Museum hosted an event to honour 46 Lithuanian intellectuals who were imprisoned in Stutthof Concentration Camp between 16-17 March 1943. The artistic composition was produced by students from the Kaunas Veršvai Secondary School. Relatives of former prisoners were invited to the event and shared their memories. Photo: Filmng "Sisters of Mine" by Robert Mullan.
On 24 September 2013, the Kaunas IX Fort Museum held an event to commemorate the Day of Jewish Genocide in Lithuania. The event was attended by participants of the IV World Litvak Congress, as well as by Romanas Senapėdis, cultural attaché of Lithuania in the Kaliningrad region, under whose initiative the museum opened the exhibition Auschwitz. The Anguish. The exhibition was presented by creators Polina Cizevskaja and Igoris Barminas. The art works on display reflected the tragedy of human history, such as the exploitation of man, the cult of violence and unimaginable suffering of its victims. The graphic cycle Auschwitz was inspired by several visits to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp museum in Poland. The artistic programme was created by the students of the Kaunas University of Health Sciences Secondary School (under the supervision of Daiva Žemaitiene). The event was attended by Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Zakas, Lithuanian Jewish Community deputy chairwoman Maša Grodnikiene, and Fruma Kucinskiene, former prisoner of the Kaunas Ghetto, shared her memories. Students from Kaunas schools organised the event Memory Road.
On 27 October 2013, an event to commemorate the 72nd anniversary of the Grand Campaign took place in the field where the massacre took place in the Kaunas IX Fort Museum. Memories were shared by a former ghetto and concentration camp prisoner and one of the seven witnesses to the events who are still alive, Fruma Kucinskiene. Members of Kaunas Hasidic religious community commemorated the victims of the tragic events in prayers.
On 19 December 2013, the Kaunas IX Fort Museum organized an event to commemorate a feat of escape which invloved 64 prisoners. The event was held in an authentic cell of the time, where participants of the escape had been imprisoned. Students of the Kaunas University of Health Sciences Secondary School (under the supervision of Daiva Žemaitiene and Vilma Katkauskiene) created an artistic programme based on the book The Escape by one of the participants and organisers of the escape. The event was attended by members of the Kaunas Jewish community and students. Photo: Event to mark the escape of 64 prisoners from Kaunas IX Fort.
In 2013, the Kaunas IX Fort Museum provided a new thematic excursion Jewish Rescuers in Lithuania and the education programme The Legendary escape: can you escape too? In 2014, the educational programme Holocaust in Kaunas IX Fort during WWII was updated. On 10 April 2014, the Museum held an event to commemorate the International Concentration Camp Prisoner Liberation Day. Museum worker K. Sabutis gave a presentation ‘Concentration camps of Nazi Germany’. Former prisoners of the Kaunas Ghetto Fruma Kucinskiene and Julijana Zarchi shared their memories. The documentary ‘7th Fort: Lithuanian Tragedy’ was shown. The event was attended by students from Zapyskis Main School and Santara Gymnasium in Kaunas district.
On 6 May 2014, Kaunas IX Fort Museum held an event to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the massacre of 878 French Jews. The event was attended by Louise Cohen, the president of the Association of Families and Friends of the Deportees of Convoy 73, members of the association, the French Ambassador to Lithuania, Maryse Eveline Berniau, and Kaunas city vice-mayor Vytautas Vasilenko. The artistic composition to commemorate the victims was created by students of the Kaunas University of Health Sciences Secondary School.
The exhibition was opened in Kaunas at the Chiune Sugihara House Museum in the former building of the Japanese consulate at 30 Vaižganto Street, using funds from sponsors. This is a modern exhibition that tells the story of the heroic actions of Japanese and Dutch diplomats, who resided in Kaunas, to save Jews. About 6000 Jews were saved using Japanese transit visas issued by Chiune Sugihara, the Righteous Among the Nations. The Sugihara House is home to the “Diplomat for Life” foundation, which gives out the annual award for ‘The Tolerant Person of the Year’. The museum enjoys many visitors from all over the world.
On 24 September 2013, the Šiauliai Aušra Museum organised the IV World Litvak Congress’ event at the villa of Chaim Frenkel (74 Vilniaus Street) to commemorate the victims of the Jewish genocide in Lithuania. The photographic exhibition Lithuania – my first love. Israel – my home by Gregory Friedberg (Israel) was opened, with the photographs displaying images of Lithuania and Israel, moments in the life of acquaintances and people close to him, Nazareth and the Wailing Wall. Students of the Šiauliai Saulius Sondeckis Gymnasium of Arts performed at the event. The event to commemorate the victims of the Jewish genocide was attended by Šiauliai city mayor Justinas Sartauskas, Šiauliai County Jewish Community chairman Borisas Šteinas, exhibition creator Gregory Friedberg and participants at the IV World Litvak Congress. Photo (l-r): Artist Gregory Friedberg, Šiauliai city mayor Justinas Sartauskas and Šiauliai County Jewish Community chairman Borisas Šteinas.
On 18 September 2014, Šiauliai will run events to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Šiauliai Ghetto. Holocaust victims will be honoured in Luponys Forest, at the location of the former ghetto. A monument to the industrialist Chaim Frenkel (1857-1920) will be unveiled.
In 2002 the Kėdainiai Regional Museum and its multicultural centre were founded in a small renovated former winter synagogue from the 19th century. The centre has a permanent exposition about the Kėdainiai Jewish community and the Holocaust. Various cultural events, exhibitions, seminars and educational programmes are organised there. In 2013, the Zarasai Regional Museum prepared the feasibility study Jewish Cultural Route: Yjaguda Penas and his famous students. The study is aimed at identifying opportunities to determine, substantiate and form an international route for cultural tourism.
Photo: Concert by students of the Šiauliai Saulius Sondeckis Gymnasium of Arts.
Memorials and places of remembrance
In the last few years, several important projects have been implemented or are planned in Lithuania to commemorate the victims of Holocaust. The main project is a reconstruction of the state-protected cultural monument of exceptional national and international significance, the Paneriai Memorial to Victims of the Holocaust and All Victims of Nazism. This is the largest mass execution and burial ground in Lithuania. During the Nazi occupation in 1941–1944, more than 100,000 people of different nationalities, mostly Jews, were massacred in Paneriai Forest. Local Lithuanian Detachment and Army Krajova soldiers, prisoners of war of various nationalities from the Red Army, members of the anti-Nazi resistance and other victims of the Nazi regime were also massacred in Paneriai.
In summer 2013, the Paneriai memorial site was entrusted to the Gaon Museum. The Lithuanian Government set up a task force consisting of the representatives of the Gaon Museum, the Ministries of Culture and Foreign Affairs, the Jewish Lithuanian (Litvak) community, the Cultural Heritage Department, the Vilnius Municipality and Lithuanian Government, which developed the concept of reconstructing the Memorial. The concept aims to preserve – as much as possible – the authenticity of the local history and memory. The area will be developed to accommodate large numbers of visitors.
On 18 December 2013, Lithuania’s government approved a conceptual project for the reconstruction and adaptation to tourism of the Paneriai Memorial to Victims of the Holocaust and all victims of Nazism. On 11 June 2014, the Inter-Institutional Commission for the Supervision of Complex Renovation and Adaptation to Tourism of the Paneriai Memorial, coordinated by the Ministry of Culture, announced an international tender for proposals for the complex reconstruction of the Paneriai Memorial to Victims of the Holocaust and All Victims of Nazism. Reconstruction of the memorial will be partially financed by the Government of the Republic of Lithuania. More information about the tender can be read here.
The Litvak Memory Garden is under construction in Žemaitija National Park. Its borders will resemble those of the map of Lithuania, with metal apple trees that have names of towns positioned to symbolise Jewish communities that lived in Lithuania and metal apples on the branches bearing the names of families that lived in the communities. The project was initiated and is implemented by Jakovas Bunka Charity and Sponsorship Fund.
Thanks to the efforts of Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania, a monument was built in Titnago Street in Vilnius for residents of the city killed by the Nazis in 1941. A memorial wall was built at the Kaušėnai Holocaust memorial in Plungė and bears the names of most of the 1800 Jews from Plunge who were killed.
The Kėdainiai Regional Museum, in cooperation with the International Commission, erected a monument in Daukšiai village at the location of a Holocaust massacre of 2076 Kėdainiai Jews. Over half the names of those killed that have been discovered have been engraved on the monument. The research work is ongoing. As part of the same project, the monument Shoa. Ich bin Keidainer was built in Kėdainiai city’s central square.
On 16 December 2011, the Vilnius Jewish Public Library (VJPL) was opened as a branch of the Adomas Mickevičius public library of Vilnius County. The library contains 5000 documents donated by US bibliophile Wyman Brent, including a collection of books and audio and video records on CDs and DVDs. Publications in various fields of science, art and fiction, selected on the criteria of Jewish themes or authorship, are kept in the library, mostly in English. The sources of the acquired documents are donations and the help of natural and legal entities. The library will continue to accumulate and preserve various documents. Information about funds for VJPL documents can be accessed via the Lithuanian Integrated Library Information System LIBIS (at www.libis.lt), as well through the e-catalogue of Vilnius County Adomas Mickevicius Public Library.
The Martynas Mažvydas National Library has established a Judaica section and cooperates with YIVO. In recent years, the library has contributed to the first public exhibition of the first editions of German literature translations into Yiddish published in Vilnius. The exhibition of the first editions from the Judaica collection of the Lithuanian National Published Documents Archive Fund should also be mentioned. The books from the National Published Document Archive Fund’s Judaica Collection were exhibited in Berlin at the Humboldt University library’s Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm Centre in 2013 and at the Martynas Mažvydas National Library in 2014.
The subject of the Holocaust is included in history programmes in 5, 6, 10 and 12 year groups at secondary schools in Lithuania. It is taught in history classes that analyse World War II. The programmes can be found here. The topic of the Holocaust is also included in history examination programmes: http://www.nec.lt/375/. Besides the mandatory school history lessons, the Holocaust is also the subject of informal education. Every year on 23 September, events are organised all over Lithuania to commemorate Holocaust victims at schools and locations associated with the history of the Holocaust. These are attended by secondary school students. A conference for students and teachers in Radviliškis organised by the International Commission every year on 27 January has already become a tradition, with the purpose of acknowledging the International Day of Commemoration of the Holocaust Victims. This conference is unique in that students present their creative work on Lithuania’s Jewish community and the tragic fate of many of its people during the Holocaust.
In order to ensure that the historical research on the Nazi occupation and tragedy of the Holocaust in Lithuania reaches the public, the secretariat of the International Commission has run the national programme Education about the crimes of totalitarian regimes, prevention of crimes against humanity and development of tolerance since 2002. The programme is intended for Lithuanian schools and is implemented under 4 main streams:
TDCs were first founded in Lithuanian secondary schools, regional museums and education centres in 2003, and there are now 96 of them in the country. Employees at these centres follow methodical education guides prepared by the International Commission, support its initiatives, take part in implementing the education programme on the Holocaust, organise regional events, seminars and conferences, preserve remaining Jewish heritage, and tend cemeteries and the locations of massacres.
Since the education programme was launched in 2002, workshops for teachers and education workers have been organised in Lithuania and abroad. Between 2002 and the end of 2013, more than 100 workshops have been organised in Lithuania and have been attended by 3068 participants.
As for those organised abroad:
Thanks to the workshops and other initiatives, a team of approximately 200-250 professional and motivated teachers has been formed to continue working actively in Lithuania (mostly at TDCs).
The secretariat of the International Commission initiates various projects at TDCs and all Lithuanian secondary schools for better introduction to the history, rich cultural heritage and traditions of Lithuanian Jews. Several initiatives can be mentioned, including “Live history of Lithuanian Jews”, “Every man has a name”, “They lived among us”, “Where did the northern Jerusalem Sun set?” and “From civil initiative to civil society”. An important role is played by the commemoration of historical dates, including the Day of Victims of Genocide of Lithuanian Jews on 23 September and the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust on 27 January. Every year a different symbol, idea and scenario is chosen to commemorate these days, with the number of participating students growing each year. In 2013, these initiatives were joined by over 1000 schools, representing more than 84 per cent of all Lithuanian schools.
The International Commission prepares materials for teachers, including methodical guides, CDs, DVDs, maps, posters, brochures, leaflets and stickers. A map of Lithuania of the end of the 19th century shows that most of the country’s towns at the time were populated by a third to a majority of Jewish residents. Recollections and stories of witnesses have been collected and educational DVDs and brochures released on the basis of these. At workshops, teachers are presented with suggestions and guides on how to teach on the subject of the Holocaust and how to involve and motivate students. There are some suggestions on the website of the International Commission: Teachers can also access the recommendations of IHRA’s Education Working Group, which have been translated into Lithuanian and placed on the International Commission’s website.
The Office of the Chief Archivist of Lithuania carries out work in copying, digitalising and distributing documents from the Lithuanian Special Archives, Lithuanian Central State Archives and Kaunas County Archives. It also exchanges information on preserved documents with the Yad Vashem Holocaust Research Centre and Museum, the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York, the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People (Jerusalem, Israel), the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington (USA), the Hoover Institution at Stanford University (USA), Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation (Poland) and other foreign organisations.
Holocaust and Jewish history subjects are researched in scientific research institutions, including the Lithuanian Institute of History, the Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania (hereafter referred to as the GRRCL), the Vilnius Yiddish Institute and the Centre of Studies of the Culture and History of East European Jews. Research and educational activities are also carried out by the Vilnius University, the Vytautas Magnus University, the Lithuanian University of Educational Sciences, the Mykolas Romeris University, the Klaipėda University, and the International Commission for Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania.
GRRCL employees have done a large amount of work on research, education and commemoration with regard to the Holocaust in 1941-1944 in Lithuania. The collection of articles Holocaust in Lithuania Between 1941 and 1944 (ed. A. Bubnys) issued in 2011, the publication Those who rescued. 1941-1944. Rescue of Jews in Lithuania prepared by the director-general of the GRRCL, Teresė Birutė Burauskaitė and published in 2012 and the book Vilnius Ghetto published in 2013 in three languages (Lithuanian, English and Russian), provide a review of the massacre of Vilnius’s Jewish community, distinguish the main phases of the history of the Vilnius Ghetto and its characteristics, present victim statistics and describe the inner administrative structure of the ghetto and its functions.
The Division of Special Investigations of GRRCL has carried out a large amount of research, including studies related to the Holocaust in Antalieptė, Žeimelis, Leipalingis, Žemaičių Kalvarija, Kalvarija, Salantai, Ukmergė, Aukštadvaris, Troškūnai, Balninkai counties and elsewhere. Research into the activities of V. Zajančkauskas, V. Dervojedaitis, A. Einikis and K. Kiaulakis has been carried out to examine their involvement in the genocide of Jews. In 2011, GRRCL carried out historical-archive research in relation to subjects including the activities of officers of the LLA (Lithuania Freedom Army)during the Nazi occupation; the possible participation of Juozas Lukšys in the massacre in Lietūkis garage; the list of the Righteous Among the Nations; commemorations of residents of Lithuania who were Holocaust victims; the massacre of prisoners of Šiauliai Penitentiary in a forest by the village of Pročiūnai during the German occupation; the fate of Jewish and Polish hostages in Vilnius at the end of June 1941; and the activities of Vladas Nasevičius and Lithuania’s temporary government.
Historians, working at the International Commission and Lithuanian and foreign historians that cooperate with it, are engaged in detailed research on the Nazi occupation and the Holocaust in accordance with the approved work plan. Results of the research are presented at national and international scientific conferences. Research and the conclusions of the International Commission are published and are widely used in its educational activities for implementation of the programme Education about the crimes of totalitarian regimes, prevention of crimes against humanity and development of tolerance. Information on the research by the International Commission is available at the website.
Photos: V. Petrikenas and D. Baciule