web analytics
October 27, 2016 / 25 Tishri, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Lithuania’

Historical Discovery in Lithuania: Escape Tunnel Used by Jewish Prisoners to Escape from the Nazis

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016

The escape tunnel used by the so-called “Burning Brigade” to allude the Nazis has been pinpointed at the Ponar massacre site near Vilnius in Lithuania, using Electric Resistivity Tomography.

Some 100,00 people, of whom 70,000 were Jews originating in Vilna and the surrounding area, were massacred and thrown into pits in the Ponar forest near the Lithuanian capital during WW2. With the retreat of the German forces on the eastern front before the advancing the Red Army, a special unit was formed in 1943 with the task of covering up the tracks of the genocide. In Ponar this task was assigned to a group of 80 prisoners from the Stutthof concentration camp.

A scan of the site using Electrical Resistivity Tomography. / Courtesy. Photo credit: Ezra Wolfinger, Nova

A scan of the site using Electrical Resistivity Tomography. / Courtesy. Photo credit: Ezra Wolfinger, Nova

A scan of the site using Electrical Resistivity Tomography. / Courtesy. Photo credit: Ezra Wolfinger, Nova

A scan of the site using Electrical Resistivity Tomography. / Courtesy. Photo credit: Ezra Wolfinger, Nova

A scan of the site using Electrical Resistivity Tomography. / Courtesy. Photo credit: Ezra Wolfinger, Nova

A scan of the site using Electrical Resistivity Tomography. / Courtesy. Photo credit: Ezra Wolfinger, Nova

At night the prisoners were held in a deep pit, previously used for the execution of Vilna’s Jews, and during the day they worked to pen the mass graves, pile up the corpses on logs cut from the forest, cover them with fuel and incinerate them. All the while their legs were shackled and they were certain that, upon completing their horrendous task, they too would be murdered by their captors. Some of the workers decided to escape by digging a tunnel from the pit that was their prison. For three months they dug a tunnel some 100 ft. long, using only spoons and their bare hands.

On the night of April 15, 1944 they escaped. The prisoners cut their leg shackles with a nail file, and 40 of them crawled through the narrow tunnel. Unfortunately they were quickly discovered by the guards and many were shot. Only 15 managed to cut the camp fence and escaped into the forest. Eleven reached the partisan forces and survived the war.

Since WW2, the exact location of the tunnel has been lost, even though a number of attempts were made to find it. Now, through the cooperative work of Dr. Jon Seligman of the Israel Antiquities Authority; Prof. Richard Freund of the University of Hartford; Paul Bauman of Advisian of Calgary, Canada; and the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum, the tunnel has been rediscovered using Electrical Resistivity Tomography, from the pit used to imprison the captives, to an open space next to it.

Electrical Resistivity Tomography is a geophysical technique used in mineral and oil exploration for imaging sub-surface structures from electrical resistivity measurements made at the surface, or by electrodes in one or more boreholes.

Preparations for the ERT scan of the trench used to hold the victims before their execution. / Courtesy. Photo credit: Ezra Wolfinger, Nova

Preparations for the ERT scan of the trench used to hold the victims before their execution. / Courtesy. Photo credit: Ezra Wolfinger, Nova

Dr. Jon Seligman, of the IAA, said, “As an Israeli whose family originated in Lithuania, I was reduced to tears on the discovery of the escape tunnel at Ponar. This discovery is a heartwarming witness to the victory of hope over desperation. The exposure of the tunnel enables us to present, not only the horrors of the Holocaust, but also the yearning for life.”

Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev said, “I congratulate the Israel Antiquities Authority on its participation in this international effort that turns history to reality. The exciting and important discovery of the prisoners escape tunnel at Ponar is yet more proof negating the lies of the Holocaust deniers. The success of modern technological developments, that have aided the Jewish people to reveal another heroic story the Nazis attempted to hide, profits all humanity.”

The memorial to the Holocaust at Ponar. / Courtesy. Photo credit: Ezra Wolfinger, Nova

The memorial to the Holocaust at Ponar. / Courtesy. Photo credit: Ezra Wolfinger, Nova

The award-winning science series NOVA, produced by WGBH for PBS, will follow this excavation and the team, capture their stories, and restore the memory of this lost world in a new film slated to premiere in the US on PBS in 2017. The documentary will tell the story of the fate of the Jews of Vilna, Lithuania, now the modern city of Vilnius, through major archeological excavations of several sites in and around the city, including the larger excavation project at The Great Synagogue of Vilna. The discovery of the evidence of an escape tunnel at the Ponar pits sheds new light on a story of life, resistance and courage.

It is the intention of the partners to return to the site in the near future to expose the tunnel for public viewing as part of the memorial for the victims of Vilna and the surrounding area.


Netanyahu Reveals New Surprise: He’s Sephardic, Too

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been called many things in his four terms as prime minister, but the latest surprise came Tuesday when he revealed that his Ashkenazi background is not as “pure” as it seems.

As a matter of fact, Netanyahu is part Sephardic. The prime minister told a gathering at the opening of the new wing at Beit Hatefutsot – the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv – that his family has Spanish roots.

The issue came up when he was handed a copy of his family tree at the event by the chair of the museum’s board of directors, Irina Nevzlin.

After glancing at the document, Netanyahu remarked during his speech that the tree would have to be corrected.

“My brother, Ido, is a writer and physician. People who write family trees based on DNA tests approached him. Their thesis was that Lithuanian Jews – and we are from a Lithuanian family who were descendants of the Vilna Gaon – have Spanish roots.”

Ido Netanyahu went on to have the saliva DNA test, which subsequently revealed that part of the Netanyahu family is of Sephardic ancestry.

“Of course they belatedly informed me of this, as chairman of the Likud party for 30 years,” Netanyahu said.

“But it shows that all Jews are intertwined and I think that’s one of the great lessons one learns when visiting this institution.

“One sees the family that is Israel.”

Hana Levi Julian

Honoring the ‘Jewish Schindler’ You’ve Never Heard Of

Thursday, May 5th, 2016

By Joshua B. Dermer/TPS

Jerusalem (TPS) – It’s the Holocaust rescue story that often goes untold—Jews who put their lives on the line to save their fellow Jews.

Shmuil Markowitz Pevzner (1912-1991), a Jew who saved 300 children from the Druskininkai Soviet Pioneers Camp during Operation Barbarossa, was honored by B’nai B’rith World Center and the Jewish National Fund at their 14th annual Holocaust commemoration ceremony on Thursday at the B’nai B’rith Martyr’s Forest Scroll of Fire Plaza in Jerusalem.

“We are unique in the sense that we are the only ceremony that recognizes Jewish rescuers on an annual basis,” said B’nai B’rith Director Alan Schneider in an interview with Tazpit Press Service (TPS). “It’s not an area of strong academic research, though that is something we would like to encourage.”

Born in Belorussia, Pevzner served as director of the Polish troupe at the Druskininkai camp in Lithuania. He brought the 300 children—150 of whom were Jewish—by train to the Soviet Far East while under German aerial attack. Pevzner established a home for the children in the Udmurtia Republic, where he cared for them through extreme weather conditions until the end of the war.

Pevzner was represented by his son, Dr. Mark Pevzner, and grandson, Boris Pevzner.

According to Schneider, while commemorations in previous years have included rescuers from Germany, France, Slovakia, and Eastern Europe, this is the first year the organization is recognizing a Russian.

“The organizers seek to right the historical record by giving due recognition through the ceremony and citation to Shmuil Pevzner for rescuing these vulnerable children, some of whom were as young as seven,” Schneider said. “We salute his dedication to the children and support for them through emotional and physical hardships to become upstanding youngsters and adults.”

Schneider explained that obtaining first-hand testimony is increasingly difficult as the survivor population ages.

“As these annual events take place, people hear about it and they get in touch with us to have their rescuer recognized, which is what happened this year. We are constantly active on our Facebook page and many people write to us,” Schneider said.

TPS / Tazpit News Agency

Remembering Rabbi Eliezer Silver

Thursday, February 4th, 2016

My Zaidi, Rabbi Eliezer Silver, was born in Lithuania in 1882 and immigrated to the U.S. in 1907. He was elected the first president of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the U.S. and Canada, in 1929, and is known for having helped save many thousands of Jews in the Second World War. In November 1939, Rabbi Silver convened an emergency meeting in New York City to discuss the recent developments in Nazi occupied Europe. It was at this meeting that the Vaad Hatzalah (Rescue Committee) was formed, with Rabbi Silver as president.

He also is credited with launching a fund-raising campaign, collecting more than $5 million, which helped to provide thousands of visas to Jewish refugees in Eastern Europe. Today that $5 million is worth $83.86 million.

I was born at the Margaret Hague Hospital in Jersey City. Mother and I lived with my gentle, caring grandmother Rose Slutsky. For the first three years of my life I was surrounded by loving aunts, uncles and cousins. After my first birthday, and until I was 19, we spent joyous summers in Belmar, N.J.

During that time, WWII, Daddy, Dr. Nathan Silver z”l, was a Captain in Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army, fighting against the Nazi’s extermination of Jews in Europe.

Zaidi had announced that he was only coming east if I was a boy! Rather, Zaidi came to meet me at the hospital as soon as I was born.

That is how early this wondrous man became an integral part of my life.

I had a special relationship with my Zaidi. For ten years I sat opposite him at Friday night Shabbos dinners. I remember his pride when I recounted my learning Baba Metziaperek Hamfkid aytzel chavero.

I listened to grandfather carefully and intently, and after a time I understood and was able to speak his native Litvak Yiddish, his Mama Loshen (the only grandchild to do so).

Early on I knew the gravity of his mission: Not just by the way he spoke: It was in his essence. To this day I proudly remember and continue to say the Four Questions in Yiddish.

I recall often, with a deep sense of humility, how special I felt when Zaidi would bless me and place his hands over my head.

My mother, of blessed memory, Lillian Silver, z”l, spoke a perfect Litvak Yiddish. Most thought she was his daughter. The enormity of her respect and admiration for him was palpable.

Even though Daddy and Zaidi were less verbal, they could speak volumes to each other with a mere few words. It was a special father-son bond, and Daddy cared for him until his passing in 1968.

Daddy, Dr Nathan Silver, was a cardiologist and Army captain. Zaidi wore his uniform throughout postwar Europe in his search of any and all surviving Jews. This was the same uniform Dad wore when, tasked directly by General George Patton, to examine the heinous infamous Hermann Goering who had an alleged chronic cardiac condition. Dad pronounced him fit to stand trial. The night before his trial, the Nazi coward committed suicide.

Zaidi went to Catholic orphanages all over Post War Europe to rescue living Jewish children, and in the morning when the priests or nuns told him that there were no Jewish children, he decided to return at night when they were about to go to sleep. As he entered the large room of (non-existent) Jewish refugee children, he resolutely recited the Shema, and they all joined in the prayer. He told the priests at each orphanage that “these are my children.”

He left every single orphanage with Jewish children.

Zaidi was a true patriot. He spoke with every American president since Taft in behalf of Jews and regarding Jewish matters. Taft’s own descendants forged ties with the Silver family. His son Sen. Robert Taft was Zaidi’s attorney in a mikva case he won (pro bono). Taft’s grandson Sen. Robert Taft personally assisted me in behalf of the plight of Soviet Jewry. He also helped my mother in her many worthwhile endeavors.

Judy Silver-Shapiro

Lithuanian Jews Dump Chief Rabbi for ‘Lies’ as Lengthy War over Fate of Ancient Cemetery Rages On

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

(JNi.media) The Jewish Community of Lithuania has dismissed its spiritual leader, Rabbi Chaim Burstein, after the community’s chairwoman had accused him of spreading lies about the Šnipiškių cemetery in Vilnius, the Baltic News Service reported Monday.

Chairwoman Faina Kukliansky told BNS that Rabbi Burstein “spread entirely misleading information about the Šnipiškių cemetery.”

Apparently, Rabbi Burstein said that a planned reconstruction of a sports palace nearby was an “unacceptable desecration” of the Jewish cemetery. Writing on his Facebook page a week ago, the Russian-born Israeli Burstein argued that the great Jews buried in Šnipiškių cemetery would have been shocked to discover that the “fate of their bones… would one day depend on the cognitive processes of the head of a Vilna Jewish community whose heart would be filled with the desire to serve the authorities and find honor in their eyes.”

Last Thursday, Burstein wrote on Facebook that he had been told he would not be allowed to re-enter Lithuania.

“The only reason for this attempt to deport me that I can discern is the rabbinic opposition, and that of many of the Jews in the country, to the destruction of the old Jewish cemetery in Vilnius for the construction of a congress and convention center complex,” Burstein wrote.

Rabbi Burstein also accused Kukliansky of imposing an authoritarian rule. And so, Kukliansky responded in a statement, “The Religious Council of the Vilnius Jewish Community decided that the contract with Chaim Burstein will not be extended, and Shmuel Yatom will be appointed as acting rabbi until a new rabbi takes office.”

According to Kukliansky, “no one has deported Rabbi Chaim Burstein from Lithuania. He lives in Israel, not Lithuania. After purchasing a ticket Chaim Burstein left Lithuania for Israel for his own reasons. We have no information that his departure was connected in any way with the Congress Center project which the Government plans to implement to both refurbish and commemorate the territory of the Jewish cemetery in Šnipiškių.”

“The focus of concern at the old Vilnius cemetery is the sports center in its midst,” notes Sol Rieger, writing for JPUpdates. “At present, after a number of developments, the cemetery is the property of the government of Lithuania. Certain proposals to expand the sports center, even minor redevelopment work, would be in violation of the boundaries specified in the formal agreement between the Government of Lithuania and relevant Jewish organizations.”

At the heart of that concern is the gravesite of Rabbi Eliahu ben Shlomo Zalman, aka the Vilna Gaon, one of the most influential Jewish leader in modern history, whose greatest contribution to Jewish scholarship was his corrective notes on the Talmud and other texts, which have accumulated errors due to scribal mistakes over the centuries.

“The intention of transferring the cemetery property to the government was to ensure its protection,” Rieger concludes.

The case has been followed closely by an opposition website called “Defending History,” run by “Holocaust survivor and scholar” Dr. Yitzhak Arad, with the mission of being a bulwark against “the New Far Right’s East European campaign to downgrade and obfuscate the Holocaust into one of two supposedly equal Holocausts (one Jewish, one not – JNi.media).”

In an August 7 article, Arad suggested angrily that Admas Kodesh (Heb: Holy Soil), a committee for the preservation of Jewish cemeteries in Europe, and the CPJCE (the London based Committee for the Protection of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe), which last April gave their blessings to erecting a $25,000,000 convention center in the heart of the ancient Piramónt (Šnipiškes) Jewish cemetery, were nothing more than “a hasidic group with zero connections to Lithuania,” which “turned up in Vilnius, allegedly negotiating payments for allowing and digging and building on a cemetery (formally for ‘supervision’ of such projects), without so much as informing any of Vilnius’s three rabbis that the meetings were taking place.”


Lithuania Restores Military Draft, Eyes Ukraine’s Fight for Life

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

As the situation in Ukraine provides an object lesson in what to avoid in national defense strategies, Lithuania has decided to restore mandatory army service to its list of “to do”s for young men entering adulthood.

Lithuanian males from ages 19 to 27 will be called to serve their country for a period of nine months beginning in September 2015. The draft will be in force for the next five years.

Some 3,000 eligible males will be drafted, government officials told international media on Tuesday. President Dalia Grybauskaite said after a meeting of top government officials and military leaders the measure was necessary due to the “growing aggression in Ukraine. Lithuania has no tanks or military aircraft, however. Its entire military force totals some 15,000 troops.

The move comes amid tensions that continue to widen concern around the region — as well as around the world — as Ukraine fights for its life with pro-Russia separatists seizing control over an increasingly wide area.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Saturday, according to the DW website.

Speaking to a meeting of U.S. senators, an irritated Kerry said Tuesday that officials in Moscow had been “lying” about Russia’s involvement in Ukraine.

“Russia has engaged in a rather remarkable period of the most overt and extensive propaganda exercise that I’ve seen since the height of the Cold War,” Kerry told the Senate subcommittee meeting. “And they have been persisting in their misinterpretations — lies — whatever you want to call them — about their activities to my face, to the face of others, on many different occasions,” he added.

On Saturday, he and the Russian foreign minister would meet to discuss “Syria and other things” before leaving for Iran to continue negotiations on Tehran’s nuclear development program.

Hana Levi Julian

Wiesenthal Center: Lithuanian Government Emboldens Neo-Nazis

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014

The Simon Wiesenthal Center accused the Lithuanian government of facilitating the glorification of Holocaust-era war criminals.

The accusation followed a march earlier this month by nationalists in Kaunas, Lithuania’s second-largest city, also known as Kovno. The marchers carried portraits of the pro-Nazi former ruler Juozas Ambrazevicius-Brazaitis. His government helped German troops send 30,000 Jews to their deaths. The marchers on Feb. 16 also carried signs reading: “Lithuania for Lithuanians.”

Efraim Zuroff of the center’s Israel office told JTA that attendance at the annual Feb. 16 ultra-nationalist march increased dramatically after Ambrazevicius-Brazaitis’ reburial in Kaunas in 2012, which was financed by the Lithuanian government. His remains were previously interred in Putnam, Conn., in the United States.

“Last year there were 600 participants in this march. This year there were 1,000,” Zuroff said. “This is a direct consequence of the government’s complicity in his glorification.”

Zuroff was in Kaunas to protest the rally with Dovid Katz, a Vilnius-based American Jewish academic who is part of the Lithuanian Holocaust remembrance Defending History group. Several dozen anti-fascist demonstrators also came to protest the march.

Ambrazevicius-Brazaitis moved to the United States after the war and died there in 1974. He won recognition in Lithuania in 2009 when then-President Valdas Adamkus awarded him with the highest state award, the Grand Cross of the Order of Vytautas the Great, for his government’s efforts to restore Lithuanian statehood after Soviet occupation.

Between 1941 and 1944, up to 95 percent of Lithuania’s 200,000-strong Jewish community died at the hands of the Nazis and local collaborators.


Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/wiesenthal-center-lithuanian-government-emboldens-neo-nazis/2014/03/02/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: