Yom HaShoah Commemorations in Lithuania

On 28 April, Lithuania hosted the 6th March of the Living, which is dedicated to Yom HaShoah - the Holocaust Remembrance Day - in Israel and in many other countries. 

Yom HaShoah ommemorates the tragedy of the whole humanity and honors the victims of the Holocaust and the Righteous Among the Nations.

The ceremony, which was held as part of the “March of the Living” to honor Holocaust victims in Paneriai, was attended by members of the Jewish Community of Lithuania, Litvaks from other countries, Israel’s Ambassador to Latvia and Lithuania Hagit Ben-Yaakov, as well as the First Deputy Chancellor of the Government of Lithuania Remigijus Motuzas, Lithuanian politicians, diplomats, representatives of the society, and youth.

As in past years, the procession marched between the Paneriai railway station and the Paneriai Memorial, retracing the route of the Vilna Ghetto prisoners who walked to their death and massacre in the Paneriai forest.

At the Paneriai Memorial, the First Deputy Chancellor of the Government of Lithuania Remigijus Motuzas, Israel’s Ambassador to Lithuania Hagit Ben-Yaakov, the Chair of the Jewish Community of Lithuania Faina Kukliansky, the former Vilna Ghetto prisoner Fania Brancovskaja, and the representative of the Lithuanian Union of Jewish Students Amit Belaitė gave speeches paying tribute to Holocaust victims.

The First Deputy Chancellor of the Government, Remigijus Motuzas, underlined that Lithuania will never forget this tragedy.

“Together with you today, I bow my head in memory of the Holocaust victims. Paneriai witnessed brutal killings of our friends and neighbors from all over Lithuania. The Holocaust caused pain to us all, as we lost our fellow countrymen, who, together with us, were building the bright future of our country. Their memory will always be with us,” said Remigijus Motuzas.  Motuzas also expressed the wish that tolerance would prevail, adding that Lithuania will continue to preserve the unique Litvak heritage and bring up a new generation to appreciate shared human values and the spirit of humanism.

This year, Lithuania is marking the 70th anniversary of the Kaunas and Šiauliai ghetto liquidation.

At a solemn ceremony at the government building, the Israeli Ambassador Hagit Ben-Yaakov awarded representatives of eleven families of the Righteous Among the Nations (total of 21 people), who saved Jews during the Second World War in Lithuania. Until 19 March 2014, 872 Lithuanian citizens were recognized as Righteous among the Nations.

The Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevičius, the Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania Neris Germanas, the Chair of the Jewish Community of Lithuania Faina Kukliansky, the granddaughter of the Righteous Among the Nations Rasa Kubilienė, and the writer and Director of the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum Markas Zingeris welcomed and congratulated the Righteous Among the Nations.

Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevičius said that the Righteous Among the Nations achieved an unparalleled feat by returning the fundamental human right of life to the condemned during the Second World War.

In his speech, the Head of the Government referred to the ancient Jewish wisdom, which says that whoever saves one life, saves the entire world.

“The Righteous Among the Nations were aware in their hearts all along that they were saving the world, when they helped to save their friend, neighbor or a total stranger. Today, we bow our heads to our fellow-countrymen, who put their lives to risk saving Jews from the execution. These brave people felt compelled, through their life, to celebrate humanism, that is to remain human even in the face of death,” said the Prime Minister

Juliana Zarchi and Alexander Kaplan (brother of the rescued Anita Kupric), who came from Paris especially for this ceremony, shared their memories about the atrocities of the Holocaust.

At the ceremony, the Lithuanian Foreign Vice-Minister Neris Germanas noted that at the Government building on that day one could see quite a few people, whose works and life bore witness of the significance of the promotion and protection of fundamental human values.

The Lithuanian Foreign Vice-Minister presented a keepsake gift from the Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Linas Linkevičius to Danutė Selčinskaja, Head of the Righteous Gentiles Department of the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum, for many years of work collecting stories of Jewish rescue and for carrying out historical research.

Sergey Korablikov-Kovarsky, a guest from Israel, who was born in the Vilna Ghetto and rescued by the town’s women, presented to the Vilnius St. Christopher’s Gymnasium a picture by Leonardas Gutauskas portraying a rescue of a baby.

Additional Commemoration Events

The  International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of Nazi and Soviet occupation in Lithuania ( “Commission”) organized a workshop for the school teachers of English, history and ethics about the methods and recommendations how to teach Holocaust in the schools on April 11th at the British Embassy.

On the same day at the Public Jewish Library the American writer Nancy Wright Beasley presented her book “Izzy‘s Fire.” The book tells the true story about the life of one Kovno Jewish family during the period between WWI and WWII, also including their life during WWII in the Ghetto, escaping from the Ghetto, hiding at a farmers house, and surviving due to the assistance of other citizens.

The Commission also organized two events dedicated to Yon HaShoah. One of them, the exhibition “Butterflies,” opened on April 28 at the British Embassy and is dedicated to commemorating the 1.5 million Jewish children killed during the Holocaust. Another event was the premier of the performance at the “Puppet” theater on April 29. The performance tells about  the life of Vilnius Jews life before WWII.

On 29 April for the commemoration of Yom Ha Shoah – Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day at Vilnius “Lėlė” theatre, Vilnius “Sauletekis” Secondary School Tolerance Education Centre students performed the musical “A Dream of Actor Bomba.”  This piece was created on the basis of short stories written by famous Litvak who wrote in Yiddish, Abraham Karpinovitch (1913-2004).  Abraham Karpinovitch recreated pre-war Vilna: streets, people, their values, and their relationships. 140 students acted in the performance.

The Executive Director of the International Commission Ronaldas Racinskas denoted that the choice of “Lėlė” theatre for the première is of great significance as in 1942 –1943 Vilnius Ghetto theatre held its performances there. The theatre in the Ghetto encouraged the people’s spiritual resistance against the Nazis.

The event for Yom Ha Shoah – Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day commemoration was organized by the Secretariat of the International Commission.