“Our commitment must be to remember the victims who perished, respect the survivors still with us, and reaffirm humanity's common aspiration for mutual understanding and justice.”
-- Declaration of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust
In 1994, the 23rd of September was declared the National Memorial Day for the Genocide of Lithuanian Jews. Since then every year on 23 September a solemn ceremony is held at the Holocaust Memorial Complex in Ponar (Paneriai).
On the occasion of the National Memorial Day for the Genocide of Lithuanian Jews, President Dalia Grybauskaitė awarded the Life Saving Cross to those who placed their families and themselves in grave danger by saving Jewish people from the genocide carried out by the Nazis during World War II.
"Most of those we honor today are no longer among us. They helped save the lives of their neighbors, friends and total strangers who were doomed to death. These brave people saved the Jews, gave them shelter, shared bread, and were mothers and fathers to Jewish orphans. They became an icon of humanness to be followed by all of us - a beacon that we must carry on the path to tomorrow," President Grybauskaitė said.
This year the solemn ceremony at the Holocaust Memorial Complex in Ponar (Paneriai) was included into the programme of the IV World Litvak Congress. As usual it was held on the National Memorial Day for the Genocide of Lithuanian Jews, 23 September. H.E. Mr. Vydas Gedvilas, the Speaker of the Parliament, H.E. Mr. Algirdas Butkevicius, the Prime-Minister of Lithuania, Mr. Sarunas Birutis, the Minister of Culture, Mrs. Hagit Ben-Yaakov, Israeli ambassador to Lithuania and Latvia, Mr. Misa Jakobas, director of the Vilnius Shalom Aleichem ORT Gymnasium, Mrs. Fania Brantsovskaja, a survivor of Vilnius Ghetto, the participants of the IV World Litvak Congress, and members of diplomatic corps took part at the ceremony.
Year of Remembrance of the Vilna Ghetto
The Seimas (Parliament) of Lithuania designated 2013 as the Year of Remembrance of the Vilna Ghetto and the Government drafted a broad program to honor the memory of the victims of the Vilna Ghetto.
The commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Vilna Ghetto was held at the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry on 20 September. The Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Linas Linkevičius stressed the need to always remember the terrible tragedy of the Holocaust and to teach its lessons to the future generations.
“We cannot go back in time, but we can try to make sure this never happens again. We should follow the example of the Righteous Among the Nations, because they rescued Jews who were persecuted. Their deeds, the choice to save Jews at high personal risk show the power of humanity,” Linkevičius stated.
The Lithuanian Foreign Minister reminded the participants that the Israeli President Shimon Peres, who recently paid a visit to Lithuania, wished to create a better future friendship and cooperation between the two peoples without forgetting the past.
Lithuania’s Foreign Minister congratulated the Chair of the Lithuanian Jewish Community Faina Kukliansky on the organization’s 25th anniversary and wished her good luck with the upcoming IV World Litvak Congress.
During the event, the painter Aloyzas Stasiulevičius opened an exhibition “The Vilnius Drama.” The art world values the displayed canvas “The Dance” as one of the best paintings revealing the tragedy of the Vilna Ghetto.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Linkevičius drew the participants’ attention to the strong civil position of the artist, inviting them to hear the message of this forceful art.
The Chair of the Lithuanian Jewish Community Faina Kukliansky also delivered a speech at the commemoration. The event was attended by Dr. Mario Silva, the Chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), representatives from Lithuanian authorities, people in culture, educators and foreign partners, who actively contribute to initiatives to perpetuate the memory of the Holocaust and to preserve the Jewish cultural heritage.
Lithuanian diplomatic missions also held commemorations of the Holocaust and organized presentations of the Jewish history and culture in Israel, the U.S.A., the United Kingdom, France, Poland, Belgium, the Permanent Representation of Lithuania to the EU, and in many other countries.
IV World Litvak Congress
The IV World Litvak Congress, one of the main events dedicated to the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Vilna Ghetto, under the patronage of the President of Lithuania H.E. Mrs. Dalia Grybauskaite, is being held from 20-25 September in Vilnius.
The IV World Litvak Congress began with the dinner “The Great Big Litvak Family” on Saturday, 21 September. On that day the award of honor of the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs - Lithuanian Diplomacy Star – was conferred on Simonas Alperavičius, the Honorary Chairman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community who has shown an outstanding dedication to advancing bilateral relations between Lithuania and Israel and democratic values. The award to S. Alperaviсius was conferred by the Lithuanian Vice-Minister Neris Germanas.
On 22 September in the framework of the IV World Litvak Congress the conference “The Litvaks and their Legacy: the Holocaust, Ethical Memory and Education” was held at the Parliament. The conference was moderated by professor Leonidas Donskis, member of the European Parliament. The welcome speech was given by Petras Austrevicius, the deputy speaker of the Parliament. H.E. Valdas Adamkus, the former President of Lithuania, took part at the Conference, as well as professor Christoph Dieckman (Germany), dr. Robert van Voren (Netherlands), Vytautas Toleikis, Rasa Rimickaite, Ruth Reches (Israel). Many Litvaks actively participated at the discussions followed after the reports.
On the same day the discussion “The Holocaust and its Historical Consequences” with the ambassadors of the EU, Israel, Japan and other countries took place at the Parliament. The welcome speech was done by Gediminas Kirkilas, the deputy speaker of the Parliament. A speech about modern forms of antisemitism was done by professor Leonidas Donskis, member of the European Parliament. The presentation of the book “Sixteen Years in Siberia” written by Rachele and Izraelis Rachlin was done by the editor Dalia Epsteinaite. Mr. Douglas Davidson, the US State Department’s Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues and Head of the US Delegation to IHRA, also commented on Holocaust issues.
More detailed information on the programme of the IV World Litvak Congress can be find at the website of the Jewish Community of Lithuania.
Commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Vilnius Ghetto, on 25 September 2013 a ghetto hideout called malina was opened at the Holocaust exhibition premises of the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum (on Pamėnkalnio St. 12). Hideouts such as these were made in the Vilnius Ghetto in underground piping, chimneys, attics until September 1943 (when the ghetto was annihilated), and were the only way for some Jews to survive.
In the recreated malina surroundings, visitors can listen to the extracts from the diary of Ichok Rudaševskis (1927–1943), telling about his experience in his early teen years while hiding in the malina in one of the warehouses on Šiaulių Street in Vilnius. Ichok was the only child in his family, which settled in Vilnius in 1921. His father Elijahu worked in the printing house and his mother was a seamstress. Ichok was 14 when the war between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany started in June 1941. In September he and his whole family were closed in the Vilnius ghetto. From his first days in the ghetto, Ichok started to write a diary, where he transcribed not only daily events, but also his emotions, dreams, his attitude towards the horrible events happening in the ghetto, and attempts of his family to hide in the malina. Unfortunately, the last attempt to survive was not successful – the malina was found in October 1943 after two weeks of the liquidation of the Vilnius ghetto, and all people in hiding were shot in Paneriai. The diary was found after the war in the ruins of the ghetto by a relative of Rudaševskis family, Sara Vološin.
Among the exhibits in the recreated malina surroundings there are original photographs that were discovered at the Vilnius Ghetto immediately after the war and now are kept in the museum. The people in the photographs were killed in Paneriai. The aim of the malina exhibition is to help the visitors to feel, at least to a small degree, what it meant to be a Jew in the ghetto during the Second World War.
The malina exhibition was funded by a private initiative through the organization “Jerusalem of the North.”