The construction of a new museum in Lithuania to commemorate Jewish life lost in the Holocaust began last week, after a ceremony attended by Lithuania’s top officials – including the country’s prime minister, Speaker of Parliament and foreign minister, as well as senior diplomats and Jewish leaders.
by TALI FEINBERG | Jul 05, 2018
Designed by the same Finnish company which designed the award-winning POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, the state-of-the-art museum, located in Šeduva – 175km north-west of Vilnius – will open in 2020.
The museum complex will include a sprawling Jewish cemetery, which was completely restored and opened in 2015, monuments at three separate sites of Holocaust mass executions and burials, and a symbolic sculpture in the middle of the town.
“It will tell the story of the life of what was once the largest European Litvak Jewish population living in shtetls,” according to the museum’s website. “Lifestyle, customs, religion and the social, professional and family life of the Jews of Šeduva will serve as the centrepiece of the museum exhibition.
“Museum visitors will be taught the tragedy of Šeduva’s Jewish history, which ended in three pits near the shtetl in the early days of World War II, concluding five centuries of the history of the Jews of Šeduva.”
Ex-South African educator Eli Rabinowitz, who now lives in Perth, attended the ceremony and spoke on behalf of the Litvak Diaspora, especially South African Jews. “Many Litvaks migrated to South Africa, aptly named the ‘goldene medina’,” he said. “Jewish life in the small South African country towns often mirrored that of the Litvak shtetl. We often heard stories from ‘der heim’, describing the rich Jewish cultural life throughout Lithuania, which had existed over many centuries.
“Those Litvaks who left Lithuania before the Holocaust were indeed lucky. More than 95% of the Lithuanian Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, a greater percentage than any other country,” said Rabinowitz.
“In the future, when we visit this museum, we will be able to access the past with a better understanding of history. We will view the collection of objects and artifacts, giving us insight into how our ancestors lived their cultural, religious, work and home lives. We will learn about their values from their daily lives and from the items they kept and used.
“The museum will showcase the richness and the importance of Litvak shtetl life of years gone by. It will also reflect on the Jewish world that was destroyed by the Holocaust.
“The museum will educate Lithuanians and visitors to Lithuania, and so provide an opportunity to learn from our history and strive for a better world.”
Rabinowitz said he thinks the museum is being built now – before, as politicians and historians have realised, this past is lost to history.
He emphasises that the location is important, as “our Litvak heritage stems from the shtetls in this geographical region in Lithuania – not the bigger cities of Vilnius or Kaunas”.
Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaitė said the laying of the cornerstone “heralds the reconstruction of an important part of Lithuanian history, closely interlinked with the history of Lithuania’s large Jewish community and its tragic fate”.
She added: “The Lost Shtetl Museum will bring back from oblivion the names and faces of many families, friends and neighbours, as well as their customs and traditions.”
Said Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius: “This unique museum will capture not only the memory of the Šeduva but also the Jewish communities of Lithuania as a whole.”
I was born in Cape Town South Africa, and my heritage is firmly rooted in this region.
I have visited Lithuania each year since 2011, this being my 8th visit.
In 1811 my 3rd great grandfather, Zalman Tzoref Salomon, was one of the first to leave Lithuania for Jerusalem where he successfully established the Litvak community in the Old City.
Litvaks were resilient and achieved significant successes, and, members of my Salomon family founded the town of Petach Tikva, the first Hebrew newspaper, the Hurva Synagogue, and Teva Pharmaceuticals.
Many Litvaks later migrated to South Africa, aptly named, the “goldene medina”.
Jewish life in the small South African country towns often mirrored the Litvak shtetl. Many of these migrants and their families were happy, successful and safe in their new surroundings.
We often heard stories from “der heim”, describing the rich Jewish cultural life throughout Lithuania, which had existed over many centuries.
Those Litvaks who left Lithuania before the Holocaust were indeed lucky! More than 95% of the Lithuanian Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, a greater percentage than any other country!
So why do I return from the Litvak diaspora to reconnect to my roots?
It is my journey of discovery, to understand my family in the context of Jewish cultural history and history of the region. By being here, I am able to experience the traces of memory first hand, to find some remnants, clues as to how Litvak life was.
I share these on my blog and on the 35 Lithuanian shtetl websites that I write and manage.
I also work with high schools in Kedainiai, Kalvarija and Vilnius to teach students about Jewish cultural history and the Holocaust from the Jewish perspective, and then I lead collaboration classes for these schools and students around the globe. I am expanding this to more schools in Lithuania.
A growing number of articles and books are being written about family stories and Jewish life in the shtetl. This is to keep alive stories that would otherwise be forgotten. I participate in this activity as well as lecture at international conferences.
All these elements will come together when this wonderful museum opens.
It is located right in the heartland of the Litvak world, of the Litvaks I have just described as well as their descendants.
In the future, when we visit this museum, we will be able to access the past with a better understanding of history. We will view the collection of objects and artifacts, giving us an insight into how our ancestors lived their cultural, religious, work and home lives.
We will learn about their values from their daily lives and from the items they kept and used.
The museum will showcase the richness and the importance of Litvak shtetl life of years gone by. It will also reflect on the Jewish world that was destroyed by the Holocaust. The museum will educate Lithuanians and visitors to Lithuania and so provide an opportunity to learn from our history and strive for a better world.
This museum will be a beacon of preservation and attract many in the Litvak diaspora to come and visit Lithuania and their shtetls, and like me, to reconnect with their heritage.
This museum is a most appropriate way to honour the memory of the members of our families who were born, lived and died here!
Finally, the words written by Hirsh Glik in the Vilna ghetto in 1943:
“Zog nit keyn mol, az du geyst dem letstn veg –
Never say that you have reached the end of the road
Mir zaynen do!
WE ARE HERE
“This says that although it looks like the last moments of the life of the Jewish people, it is not, and where the blood was shed, will begin a new, a heroic and a wonderful Jewish life!”
(Quote: Cantor H Fox)
Your Excellences, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Guests:
As the project manager, I thank all of you who have gathered here. I am also endlessly grateful to the people of Šeduva for their help and goodwill, the Šeduva eldership and mayor of Radviliškis Antanas Čepononis and the municipality for close cooperation. I sincerely thank all the international team that is working on the creation of the museum – the architect from Finland, Rainer Mahlamaki; Augustas Audėjaitis and his colleagues; the design company, Ralph Appelbaum Associates, from the United States; the Swiss company ECAS and David Duffy; Jonas Dovydaitis, the director of the Šeduva Jewish Memorial Fund; the large team of international consultants; Milda Jakulyte, the Curator of the Museum as well as her colleagues; the construction supervision company Ekspertikaand Kastytis Skiečius; as well as the construction company Agentus. A huge thank you goes out to the patrons, without whose hard work and financial support this project would be impossible.
When we talk about the past of Lithuanian Jewry, we often say that “time was merciless”. Merciless to human beings, merciless to things they had created, merciless to heritage and memory. But time is not anonymous. We cannot put all the blame and guilt on it. We create time. It depends on us what time will be like. It depends on the here and now. Memory is the responsibility of all of us.
There is no museum yet. We are only about to start building it. We do this in order to create a “time” the next generations could not call merciless.
Now we are near the restored Jewish cemetery, and beneath its every stone there rests the remains of a person. A person who lived and worked, loved and prayed, sewed and cured. Not far from here, there is a place of eternal rest of those who were brutally murdered, for whom some of their former neighbors showed no mercy.
That is why we are about to build another monument – the Lost Shtetl Museum. To remember all of them. You can abandon a cemetery and steal the remaining gravestones from it. You can kill a person, loot their home, steal their belongings, burn their temple, but it is impossible to kill their memory. Lithuanian Jews and their legacy cannot live only in commemorations and solemn speeches. No matter how beautiful they are. We have left traces under the Lithuanian sky. And this museum will commemorate them.
We have decided to put the following words from the novelShtetl Love Song by Grigory Kanovich into the symbolic time capsule marking the beginning of the construction:
„It was bitter to realize the truth that from now on it was the fate of that dead tribe to be born and live only in the true and painful words of impartial memory in which it was imposible to drown the echoes of love and gratitude towards our forebears. Whoever allows the dead to fall into oblivion will himself be justly consigned to oblivion by future generations .“
Now I would like to invite Giedrius Puidokas, an 11thgrade student of the Šeduva Gymnasium and Gabriela Jeliasevič and Gabika Kondratavičiūtė, 11thgrade students of Vilnius Sholom Aleichem Gymnasium, to place a symbolic time capsule marking the beginning of the construction of the Lost Shtetl Museum.
75 years ago a wave of brutal murder in some places within weeks and in other within months wiped out Jewish communities which were building their future across Lithuania for over six centuries.
At the end of August 1941 Seduva Jewish Community was no more.
We kindly invite you to join us at the event which will commemorate Seduva Jewish Community. We will gather on 30th of August for Kaddisch at the 3 mass murder sites and old Seduva Jewish Cemetery.
Please share this information with people you might know who are connected to Seduva.
We kindly ask you to confirm your participation with Jonas Dovydaitis (email@example.com) so we could arrange for the transportation from Vilnius to Seduva and back. Your presence is important to all of us. We are there to “Never forget” and our message is clear – memory is stronger than death.
Details of the event are enclosed in attachment.
I would dearly like to be there for the memorial ceremony of the 75th anniversary of the massacre of the Jewish community of Shadova, but having just returned from Lithuania, including a visit to Seduva with Sergey and his team, I will not be able to make another visit this year.
This is a good opportunity to thank Sergey, Jonas, Milda, Saulas for their work and to thank Ivan and Edwin for their dedication. Seduva has become one of the very few former Shtelach where the Jews who once populated the towns are given recognition in a central place, rather than only in the cemetery or at the site of the massacres. It is so important that the lost Jews of Lita are remembered as an important and universal part of Lithuanian heritage in general and not as a separate, peripheral community matter. The Lost Shtetl project is a major step in that direction.
On the 30th of August I will recite Kaddish for the murdered Jews of Shadova in general and specifically for my great uncle and aunt, Tuvia and Chaya Lederman, and my cousins, Shlomo & Esther Lederman and their daughters Leia and Feiga; Mera (Lederman) & Leibe Fischer; Sonia (Lederman) & Pinchas Rabinovitch and their daughters Shulamit and Miriam.
I was privileged to attend the Seduva Jewish Cemetery Restoration and the two Holocaust Memorial ceremonies.
This is what Sergey Kanovich, who led the project, said at the first Holocaust Memorial ceremony:
Most probably it was a sunny and bright morning of August 25th 1941. That was the last morning that Seduva Jews gazed at the Lithuanian sky and seen the sun. Supervised by German nazi officers local neighbours of Seduva Jews became their executioners here and in other places.
Seventy years, even more needed in order to become a witness of little miracle of the victory of the humanity. We are here because we will never forget our sisters and brothers. We will never forget nor the way how they lived neither the way they were brutally murdered. It is the duty of all of us – of Jews and Lithuanians alike – to remember and respect the memory in order to avoid the catastrophe which Lithuanian Jews went through would never come back. To remember and respect – it is our common duty. No matter where litvaks would live – in Australia or South Africa, Israel or Switzerland, Belgium or Canada – we always remember where we came from, we remember our forefathers and we will never forget or allow to forget them. Murderers could not kill our memory. We are back, because our memory is stronger than their bullets. And memory will always prevail.
We wish to thank everyone who made this project a reality
We wish to extend our gratituted to every worker who makes these stones become a memory.
We are here in order to remember the life and death of those innocent who have been murdered. God bless their memory. Yhie zichram Baruch.Amen
Today is a second day of Jewish Holiday Shavuot. Since there are more than ten Jewish men we are obliged to say Kaddish for those who perished. I kindly ask Mr. Simas Levinas to start the prayer..
Shadova-Šeduva was an agricultural town dealing in cereals, flax and linseed, pigs and geese and horses, at the site of a royal estate and beside a road from Kaunas to Riga. The population from the fifteenth century was Catholic and Jewish. Until then, Lithuania had been the last pagan kingdom in Europe and allowed freedom of worship and toleration of Jews and other religions. The first Catholic shrine of Šeduva, the Church of the Invention of the Holy Cross, was built and the parish founded between 1512 and 1529. The present brick church Cross was built in Šeduva in 1643 with a donation from Bishop Jerzy Tyszkiewicz of Vilnius. During the 18th century the bell tower was added to the structure, with further renovations and extensions in 1905. Baroque and renaissance architectural styles characterise both the exterior and interior of the church. It has a cruciform plan with an apse, low sacristy and five altars.
During the 15th century the region was redefined as the Voivodeship of Trakai and Vilnius. Later it became part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania until the Union of Lublin in 1569 created the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
The Seduva coat of arms were granted on June 25, 1654 by John II Casimir Vasa, King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania and at the same time the city was granted burger rights at the request of Maria Ludvika, Queen of Poland. She descended from the Princes of Gonzaga, from Mantua in Italy. The arms of the family showed a black eagle. The small breastshield shows the French fleur-de-lis, because the Gonzaga family was related to the French Royal family. The eagle was made white in reference to the white eagle of Poland.
1792 Stanislaw II August Poniatowski, the last royal proprietor of Šeduva, concluded an agreement with the town’s citizens, giving them rights to be excused from labour on the estate for a fee. In 1795, the year of a terrible fire in Seduva, Lithuania became part of Russia when Poland was partitioned. From 1798, Baron Theodore von Ropp did not acknowledge the rights of Seduva citizens and required of the citizens to perform labour in the town’s manor. The citizens petitioned for their rights to the Russian Senate. In 1812, the Senate passed the decision to recognise the former charters of Šeduva.
Between 1696 to1762, a Jesuit mission, connected with their college at Pasiause, was active in the town, operating a lower school with 96 pupils up until 1828. After an insurrection in 1863 (the January Uprising), all parish schools in Seduva were closed and replaced by public Russian language schools. In the same year a Russian Orthodox Church, designed by the architect Ustinas Golinevicius, was built and in 1866 a wooden Synagogue was added near the central market square.
The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between Nazi Germany and Communist Russia in August 1939 and the German-Soviet Boundary and Friendship Treaty a month later placed Lithuania under Soviet control. By June 1940 the Soviets had set up a pro-Soviet government and stationed many Red Army troops in Lithuania as part of the Mutual Assistance Pact between the countries. President Antanas Smetona was forced to leave as 15 Red Army divisions came in.
The pro-Soviet puppet government was controlled by Vladimir Dekanozov and Justas Paleckis, and Lithuania was made part of the Soviet Union. A Sovietisation programme began immediately. Land, banks and large businesses were nationalised. All religious, cultural, and political organizations were abolished except the Communist party. 17000 people were deported to Siberia, where many would perish.
The German army invaded Lithuania on 22 June 1941, taking Shadova – Šeduva a few days later as part of Operation Barbarossa. At first the Lithuanian population considered the Nazis to be liberators saving them from the Red Army. The new pro-German Government organized a Lithuanian militia which then became the Nazi’s manpower for genocide. Five hundred years of Jewish life in Shadova – Šeduva ended in just two days of slaughter. Shadova’s Jews attempted to flee east to Russia but were badly treated by Lithuanian nationalists and most returned to their homes. The German forces entered Shadova – Šeduva on 25 June 1941 and were received with flowers by many locals. By the beginning of July, Jews had to wear the yellow Star of David. Jews who had participated in the Soviet rule were immediately arrested and executed. Jews were taken to dismantle the remnants of the munitions factory in Linkaičiai, and were then accused of stealing and executed. Others were forced into labour gangs. They were set to work cleaning the streets and at the warehouses of the rail station. All the work was guarded by armed Lithuanian militi . Next all the Jews of Shadova – Šeduva had to gather in the market place with no more than a small package each, and to hand over the keys to their houses to the police. Under guard. they were escorted at night to the village of Pavartyčiai, five kilometres north-west of Shadova – Šeduva, where they were crowded into two unfinished Soviet barracks surrounded with barbed wire. The Jews were ordered to hand over all their valuables and cash. Some were shot in the next few days.
On 25 August 1941 the remaining Jews of Shadova – Šeduva were loaded on trucks and taken to Liaudiškiai, ten kilometres south-west of the town where the Rollcommando Hamann of Einsatzcommando 3 and Lithuanian collaborators of the 3rd company of the Tautinio Darbo Apsaugos Batalionas were waiting for them. Over the coming two days the entire Jewish community of Shadova was shot and buried in two pre-prepared mass graves. One site was located 400 meters north of the Shadova – Šeduva road and a second 900 meters north west of the same road, close to a path in the forest. The local killers of their Jewish neighbours from Shadova – Šeduva were Ramnauskes, Valavičius, Jonas Tomkus and Klemensas Rožėnas. The lists of mass graves in the book The Popular Massacres of Lithuania, Part II, include the following: Liaudiskiai forest about 10 km southwest of Seduva, one site 400 meters north of the Seduva road and a second site 900 meters northwest of the same road, close to a path in the forest. The Jäger report concludes that Einsatzcommando 3 registered the murder in Šeduva on the 25 and 26 August 1941 of 230 Jews, 275 Jewesses and 159 Jewish children, a total of 664 people.