The Jewish History in Lithuania is a very touchy subject, “The Holocaust tragically wiped out 95% of the Jews living in Lithuania, as painful and tragic as this is we believe that it is of the upmost importance to make sure that those events do not overshadow the outstanding tradition of the Jewish people that thrived for many centuries in Lithuania” – Renatas Norkus, Ambassador of Lithuania during his speech at the start of the concert.
On the first day of the event there was a concert performance by Michael Alpert who is a klezmer and Yiddish singer. Klezmer is a musical tradition of the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe, Alpert has been called a key figure in the revival of this tradition. For the evening he sang beautiful songs in Yiddish, English, Lithuanian and Russian, both just vocally and then with instruments. Alpert told stories and Poems, some of which were written by him.
The 2nd day consisted around key speakers giving lectures about their field of knowledge. One of these speakers was Arūnas Gelūnas who is a member of the Lithuanian Parliament in Vilnius, also former Minister of Culture and former Lithuanian Ambassador to UNESCO. He spoke mainly about the Jewels of Kaunas Modernism of the 1920’s and 1930’s. Gelūnas talked about how during that time period, 31% of architects and construction specialist in Kaunas were Jewish, this statistic had a great impact on the history of buildings that were being constructed, adding to the impact of Litvaks on Lithuania.
One of the constructions mentioned was the Kaunas Sports Hall, built in 1939 by Anatolijus Rozenbliumas who was a very popular construction engineer. The sports hall was constructed for the 3rd European Basketball Championship, where Lithuania won later that year, thereby crowning Lithuania the European Basketball champions. Since basketball is a second religion to Lithuania the event boosted the Kaunas Sport Hall’s popularity with the public, turning the construction into a great success.
Viv Lachs was also very interesting to listen to, she is a social and cultural historian. Lachs gave interpretations and translations to some culture of the Yiddish speaking immigrant community, this included poetry and songs, which she later sang with so much passion and heart. Lachs gave great insight into the work of Morris Winchevsky born in 1856, who was a Jewish socialist leader in London. Winchevsky founded the Dos Poilishe Yidl (The Little Polish Jew), this was one of the first Yiddish daily socialist newspapers.
Other speakers included Michael Berkowitz, Professor of Modern Jewish History, Gail Levin Professor of art history, Antony Barry Polonsky Professor of Holocaust Studies. Claire Le Foll an Associate Professor of East European Jewish History and Culture and Vilma Gradinskaitė a researcher, a curator and lecturer.
Events like these are very important, making us realise how much we don’t know of what is around us. This particular event happens once a year around the end of November, beginning of December, check the Lithuanian Embassy website for more information.