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Vilna Gaon and the Jews of Lithuania

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The name of Vilna Gaon Elijah ben Solomon Zalman (1720-1797) is very well known to the majority of the population in Lithuania. In 2020, we are celebrating the year of the Vilna Gaon and of the history of the Jews of Lithuania, which offers a great opportunity for us to reflect on why this name is so important to Jews around the world.

Elijah ben Solomon Zalman was born into a rabbinical and scholarly family in the village of Sialiec in what is now known as Belarus. Elijah Solomon Zalman started showing signs of talent very early, and after briefly attending a Jewish primary religious school heder, at the age of seven, he went to study under Rabbi of Keydan (Kėdainiai) Moses Margaliot. As an exceptionally gifted child, he was able to study independently from a very early age. Vilna Gaon’s ascetic and solitary lifestyle became his hallmark: he devoted most of his time for his studies in seclusion, which, however, did not stop the word about his incredible wisdom from spreading. Despite his modesty, the Vilna Gaon was regarded as an authority, and other European religious sages turned to him for advice in resolving religious disputes between them.

The Vilna Gaon was interested not only in religious scholarship, he was also knowledgeable in secular sciences, which he saw as a great aid to better understand religious texts. He studied grammar, mathematics, astronomy and other subjects. No matter how much engrossed in the study of religious texts he was, the sage would always stand for the cause he saw as important. The Vilna Gaon became the guardian of the Lithuanian tradition of Judaism, and he is known for his opposition to Hasidism, the movement of Judaism that criticised strict religious asceticism, sought to change the order and form of rites and gave less importance to the study of religious texts. The Vilna Gaon regarded Hasidism as heresy, and his authority contributed to the fact that Hasidism was prevented from gaining grounds in Lithuania compared to Ukraine for example, which in fact gave rise to this movement. Due to their opposition to Hasidism, the Jews of Lithuania were called Misnagdim (Heb. contradicting).

The Vilna Gaon can be mistakenly seen as a communal figure with most likely an important official post in the town, but in fact, he never held any office: he was neither a rabbi of the town nor a judge of a religious court nor a head of a yeshiva (a spiritual seminary of rabbis). Nevertheless, he was the highest religious and moral authority. It is also interesting that the Vilna Gaon did not write or publish his books during his lifetime, as he gave all his time and efforts for his studies. All the works attributed to him were written down by his relatives and students after his death.

The Vilna Gaon was a mystified personality surrounded with many myths and legends. One of them continued particularly long, right up to the interwar period telling about the Vilna Gaon and Golem (a mythical clay creature common in Jewish folklore). The legend had it that the Vilna Gaon made Golem of clay and brought it to life by placing a special note within its head, then asked it to provide the Jews in Vilnius with fish for the Sabbath and to protect them from anti-Semitic attacks. As the times calmed down and there was no shortage of fish, the Vilna Gaon removed the note from Golem’s head, turning it again into a dead clay figure. During the interwar period, the Jews of Vilna were saying that the clay figure was lying in the attic of the Great Synagogue of Vilna waiting to be brought back to life by another sage like the Vilna Gaon to help Jews in times of calamities or emergency in the town.

The Vilna Gaon was seen by the Jews as a symbolic figure embodying hope and faith. The fact that the Vilna Gaon can be proudly owned by Vilna is hardly accidental, as it was the very spirit of the town that had helped the Gaon to grow and mature as a sage, while his name and reputation put Vilna on the map of the world as one of the most important Jewish centres.

Drawn up by:
Saulė Valiūnaitė
Head of Museum of Culture and Identity of Lithuanian Jews exposition at VGSJM

The term Litvak usually refers to the Jews of Lithuania, but it is also applicable in the case of the Jews of Grodno, Vitebsk and Minsk. This term describes the Jews who came from a much wider geographical area (largely coinciding with the borders of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania (the GDL) and who spoke the Lithuanian Yiddish dialect. In 2020, we mark the year of the Vilna Gaon and of the history of the Jews of Lithuania, which offers a great opportunity for us to learn about, reflect and take pride in the scientific and cultural achievements of the Jews, who were born here, lived and created in our country.

It is not known exactly when the Jews settled in the territory of Lithuania. The development of the settlements was either restricted or encouraged by the privileges granted by the then rulers. The Jews of Brest were granted privilege by Vytautas the Great back in 1388. It is the first written source mentioning Jews in the historical Lithuania and it is traditionally regarded as the date of the establishment of the Jewish community in the country. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania was known as a tolerant and multicultural country, but here too Jews had to face anti-Judaism, i.e. hostility towards people who professed the religion of Judaism. In 1495, following in the footsteps of most European countries, Grand Duke Alexander expelled Jews from the lands of Lithuania. In 1503, however, he again granted the privilege for the Jews to return. The Jewish community enjoyed laws favourable to Jews adopted by the GDL and later by the authorities of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and they also had, from 1623 to 1764, their own centralised self-government body Vaad (Heb. Va’ad Medinat Lita) to deal with various issues of Jewish life (from legal to cultural) and to take care of tax collection for the state.

From the 18th century onwards, Lithuania made its name as an important centre for the studies of the Torah, with the Vilna Gaon (1720-1797) as the key religious authority of that time. From then on, Lithuania and Vilnius in particular became an important centre of Jewish culture. The case of Vilnius was exceptional in the context of the Eastern European Jewish communities: some of them were important only as religious centres and others - only as the centres of secular culture. Vilnius, however, was able to adapt and transform from a major religious centre at the times of the Vilna Gaon into an important centre of secular Jewish culture and science.

Following the partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795, the territory of Lithuania became part of the Russian Empire. The large Jewish community living in the newly annexed territories became a great challenge, so the tsarist government began to regulate its daily life. The decree establishing the Pale of Settlement had a big impact on the lives of the Jews in Lithuania. From 1791 to 1917, Jews were allowed to live (with very few exceptions) only in a certain zone of the empire, which also included the territory of the present-day Lithuania. Supported by the Russian tsarist authorities, anti-Judaism made Jews to join the Lithuanian and Polish forces in their fight for the independence of the states. Tadeusz Kościuszko-led rebellion of 1794 had in its ranks Berek (Dov Ber) Joselewicz of Kretinga, who led a regiment of about 500 fighting for the interests of Lithuania and Poland. Many Jews also supported the uprisings of 1831 and 1863 fighting against the rule of the Russian Empire.

At the end of the 18th century, Germany saw the birth of the Haskalah, the Jewish Enlightenment movement (with its followers maskilim), which called on Jews to refuse the influence of religion in their daily life, learn crafts and the language of the country of their residence, to modernise education by focusing more on secular sciences rather than on religion alone. Vilnius soon turned into the centre of Jewish Enlightenment in Eastern Europe, and this is where the Hebrew periodical Ha-Karmel (Heb. Mount Carmel) was published first in the Russian Empire.

The tsarist government sought to modernise the life of the Jewish community and bring down the influence of religion. The Rabbinical School was established to educate rabbis loyal to the regime. It later became, in fact, a very attractive educational institution providing Jewish youth with quality education free of charge. The curriculum included both religious as well as secular subjects, and the students became gradually interested in secular literature and political developments. It was no coincidence that Vilnius served as a perfect environment for the development of political ideas. Political party Bund - General Jewish Labour Union in Lithuania, Poland and Russia was established in Vilnius in 1897.

During World War I, Jews had to face the usual challenges of war as well as the exile. In 1915, Jews were accused by the Russian imperial authorities of having leaked information to German troops and therefore expelled from Kovno governorate, which covered then most of Lithuania. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk signed in 1918 enabled Jews to return.

In 1917, a Council of Lithuania was established as part of Lithuania’s efforts to gain independence. At the very outset, after the election of the Council, the Vilnius Conference provided for the respect for the rights of national minorities in the newly created Lithuanian state. In its very first meeting, the Council of Lithuania reserved five seats for the representatives of the national minorities. From 11 December 1918 onwards, there were three Jewish representatives at the Council: Nahman Rachmilewitz, Dr Shimshon Rosenboim and Dr Jakub Wygodzki. From 1919 to 1926, Jews enjoyed cultural autonomy in Lithuania enabling the community to decide on religious, educational and other matters. A newly established post of the Minister without Portfolio for Jewish Affairs was entrusted to Dr Jakub Wygodzki, Dr Max Soloveitshik and Dr Shimshon Rosenboim. The latter served for some time as a Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs and defended Lithuania’s interests at the Paris Peace Conference, and in 1920, he negotiated a peace treaty with Russia. Due to the favourable political conditions and the active development of the secular Jewish culture at the time, the interwar period is often seen as the golden age of the Lithuanian Jewry.

Since the circumstances prevented the Jews from owning land, they had to focus on crafts and trade and thus contributed to the growth of the cities and towns as the centres of artisanship and trade. In some places, Jews constituted a very large part of the population. For example, according to the 1923 census, Jonava had the population of 4 115, including 2 701 Jews, Kaunas had the population of 924 46, including 25 044 Jews, Kupiškis had the population of 2 672, including 1 444 Jews, Panevėžys had the population of 19 197, including 6 845 Jews, Rokiškis had the population of 4 325, including 2 013 Jews, Žagarė had the population of 4 730, including 1 928 Jews, and Tauragė had the population of 5 470, including 1 777 Jews. Unfortunately, this demographic trend was tragically disrupted during the World War II. The Soviet government-imposed nationalisation of private property in 1940 had a particularly severe impact on Jews, who relied on trade as their only source of livelihood. The first mass wave of deportations of the Lithuanian population under the Soviet occupation resulted in the loss of the country’s elite, and it ruthlessly destroyed the Jewish community too. The Jewish national minority accounted for the largest share of the deportees from Lithuania.

This was, however, followed by way more tragic experience during the World War II. The Holocaust started in Lithuania in the early days of the Nazi occupation, at the end of June 1941; and by the end of November of the same year, in just a few months, Lithuania lost about 80% of its Jewish population. Ghettos were set up in the towns of Vilnius, Kaunas and Šiauliai, where starting from the late 1941, the imprisoned Jews were subjected to forced labour and mass killings until the liquidation of these ghettos. About 200 000 Jews were killed in Lithuania during the Nazi occupation.

Following the end of World War II, the Soviet occupation subjected the religious and cultural life in Lithuania to all kinds of restrictions. Although only a small number of the Jewish population survived the Holocaust, they had no possibilities to rebuild their community. With the exception of a few Jewish groups of amateur performers, no Jewish organisation was allowed to operate, and nobody spoke of the history, culture and unique heritage of the Jews of Lithuania during the Soviet era. Therefore, the Jews were very happy to welcome Lithuania’s regained independence together with the Lithuanians and were closely involved in the activities of the Sąjūdis movement. Not only did this offer an opportunity to live in an independent and democratic country but it also gave freedom to rebuild the Jewish community, culture, identity, to freely practice religion and to carry out educational and cultural activities.

According to the last 2011 census, there were 3 050 Jews living in the country. Though the Jewish communities are not very big, they are very active in Lithuania. An increasing number of Lithuanians take interest in the Jewish history and culture, they study and analyse the related historical developments; there are many events shedding light on this particular part of the Lithuanian history. The year 2020 as the year of the Vilna Gaon and of the history of the Jews of Lithuania offers yet another great opportunity to get to know each other better and learn more about each other’s culture and traditions and thus ensure that the 20th century tragedies never happen again.

Drawn up by:
Saulė Valiūnaitė
Head of Museum of Culture and Identity of Lithuanian Jews exposition at VGSJM

Lithuania has been home to many Jews, who were born in this country, lived and created here leaving an indelible mark in the scholarly and cultural heritage of Lithuania as well as of the world.

Writers

Icchokas Meras (1934-2014). The author of books on the Holocaust (Geltonas lopas (The Yellow Patch), Ant ko laikosi pasaulis (What the World Rests on), Lygiosios trunka akimirką (A Stalemate), and a film script writer for well-known Lithuanian films Kai aš mažas buvau (When I Was a Child), Birželis, vasaros pradžia (June, the Beginning of Summer) and Maža išpažintis (Small Confession).

Chaim Grade (1910-1982). Vilna-born writer, a member of Yung Vilne (Young Vilnius), a group of avant-garde writers and artists. Chaim Grade is considered to be one of the leading Yiddish writers in post-Holocaust period. Nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

Avrom Sutzkever (1913-2010). Born in Smorgon, he spent a considerable part of his life in Vilnius. He was a member of the Yung Vilne (Young Vilnius), a group of avant-garde writers and artists. At the beginning of the Holocaust, he was imprisoned in the Vilna Ghetto, where he took part in the activities of the famous Paper Brigade and greatly contributed to the rescue of Jewish cultural heritage. After the war, he briefly returned to Vilna, where, along with a group of other Holocaust survivors founded a Jewish museum. Avrom Sutzkever wrote in Yiddish (mostly poetry, though he also penned his own memoir Fun Vilner Geto (From the Vilna Ghetto). In 1966, he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Ayzik Meyer Dik (1807/1814?-1893). Born in Vilna, Ayzik Meyer Dik was the first professional and best-selling author in the Yiddish language. Until then, there had been few printed works of fiction in this language.

Abraham Mapu (1808-1867). The writer was born in what was then known as Slobodka (today Vilijampolė in Kaunas). Mapu is regarded as the first novelist in the Hebrew language. Until then, this language was used exclusively for religious purposes.

Shmerke Kaczerginski (1908-1954). Vilna-born writer, a member of Yung Vilne (Young Vilnius), a group of avant-garde writers and artists. At the beginning of the Holocaust, he was imprisoned in the Vilna Ghetto, where he took part in the activities of the famous Paper Brigade and greatly contributed to the rescue of Jewish cultural heritage. After the war, he returned to Vilnius for a short while, where he founded a Jewish museum together with a group of other Holocaust survivors.

Leah Goldberg (1911-1970). The writer was not born in Lithuania but she spent her childhood in Kaunas. She came back to Kaunas after World War I, finished school there and went to university. Goldberg is one of the Israeli literary classical writers who wrote in Hebrew.


Artists

Neemija Arbit Blat (1908-1999). The artist was born in Kaunas. He became interested in art while still at school, he went to study in Germany and later in Paris. In 1932, Neemija Arbit Blat opened up the first private modern art gallery in Kaunas, where he exhibited works of Lithuanian and Jewish artists.

Lasar Segall (1891-1957). Born in Vilnius, the artist later moved to live in Brazil. He is one of the most influential avant-garde artists of this country.

Mark Antokolski (1843-1902). Vilnius-born sculptor. The first famous sculptor of Jewish origin and a pioneer of secular Jewish art.

Max Band (1900-1974). Born in Naumiestis, the artist lived in Marijampolė from the age of three. He studied drawing in Berlin, later moved to Paris, since 1940, he lived and successfully created in the US, he painted a portrait of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Boris Schatz (1866-1932). The artist was born in Varniai. He became known as the father of Israeli art, and he founded the Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts.

Izis (Israel Bidermanas) (1911-1980). The photographer was born in Marijampolė. He moved to Paris, where he made his name as a photographer. Izis became a major figure in the mid-century French movement of humanist photography, and his work stands on the same footing as that of Henri Cartier-Bresson or Robert Doisneau.

Victor David Brenner (1871-1924). The sculptor and medallist was born in Šiauliai. Brenner is probably best known for his enduring one-cent coin design to commemorate the 100th birthday of Abraham Lincoln. Brenner’s design had been picked by President Theodore Roosevelt, who had earlier posed for him in his studio.

Jacques Lipschitz (1891-1973). The sculptor was born in Druskininkai. One of the most famous Lithuania’s sculptors in the world.

Samuel Bak (1933). The artist was born in Vilnius. While he was a prisoner in the Vilna Ghetto, he held his first exhibition at the age of nine.


Musicians

Jascha Heifetz (1901-1987). The violinist was born in Vilnius. He is considered one of the greatest violinists of all time.

Daniel Dolski (1890-1931). The singer was born in Vilnius and later moved to Kaunas, where he became the pioneer of the inter-war popular music.

Benjamin Gorbulski (1925–1986). The composer was born in Kaunas. His creation covers various genres, from popular songs to operas.

Daniel Pomerantz (1904-1981). The violinist was born in Šiauliai. One of jazz pioneers in Lithuania.

Anatoly Shenderov (1945-2019). The composer was born in Ulyanovsk, later moved to Lithuania and studied at the Lithuanian State Conservatory. He is one of the most famous Lithuania’s contemporary composers.

Leiba Hofmekler (1900-1941). The conductor and pianist was born in Vilnius. He moved to live in Kaunas, where he worked as a concertmaster, conductor and later as a conductor of the Kaunas Radio Orchestra.

Herman Perelstein (1923-1998). The choir conductor and educator was born in Königsberg and studied in Kaunas. After World War II, he returned from exile to Vilnius, where he founded boys’ choir Ąžuoliukas in 1959.

Nechama Lifshitz (1927-2017). The singer was born in Kaunas. She was called the Jewish nightingale of the Soviet Union. Although the Soviet authorities sought to suppress any fostering of national culture and traditions, Nechama Lifshitz was best known for her songs performed in Yiddish and Hebrew.

Vyacheslav Ganelin (2004). The pianist and composer was born in Moscow, he moved to Vilnius with his parents in 1951. Vyacheslav Ganelin is a famous jazz musician. He composed music for legendary Lithuanian musicals and films (Velnio nuotaka (Devil’s Bride), Riešutų duona (Walnut Bread) and others).

Clara Rockmore (1911-1998). Vilnius-born musician was admitted to the St. Petersburg Conservatory at the age of four. Later she moved to the US. She started playing theremin and became a pioneer of electronic music.

Leopold Godowsky (1870-1938). The pianist was born in Žasliai. He was one of the most reputable performers of his time.


Actors

Al Jolson (Asa Yoelson) (1886-1950). The actor was born in Seredžius. Best known for starring in the first sound film Jazz Singer.

Lawrence Harvey (Zvi Moshe Hirsh Skikne) (1928-1973). The actor was born in Joniškis and later emigrated to South Africa with his parents. He starred in movies together with Frank Sinatra and Elizabeth Taylor.

Israel Segal (1906-?). The actor and director was born in Kaunas. Before the war, he worked at the Šiauliai Drama Theatre and was a director of Kaunas Jewish Theatre for a while; he also played at the Lithuanian State Theatre. During the Holocaust, he was a prisoner in the Vilna Ghetto. He was an artistic director of the Vilna Ghetto Theatre. After the Holocaust, he moved to Palestine. Israel Segal collaborated closely with Joshua Sobol for his famous play Ghetto, sharing his memories and experience.

Ilja Bereznickas (1948). The animator was born in Vilnius. One of the pioneers of this genre in Lithuania.

Adomas Jacovskis (1948). The artist was born in Vilnius. One of the most famous Lithuanian stage designers.


Scientists

Andrew V. Schally (1926). The Vilnius-born endocrinologist is the winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine.

Aaron Klug (1926-2018). The biophysicist was born in Želva, he emigrated to South Africa with his parents at the age of four. He is the winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Hermann Minkowski (1864-1909). The mathematician and physicist was born in Aleksotas (Kaunas). In Zurich, he taught mathematics to Albert Einstein. One of the authors of the theory of relativity.

Bernard Lown (1921). Born in Utena, the doctor emigrated to the US with his family at the age of 14. He is the original developer of the direct current defibrillator. He was a co-founder of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War federation. This medical organisation was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The prize was handed over to Bernard Lown and Yevgeniy Chazov.

Markas Petuchauskas (1931). The theatre critic and art historian was born in Šiauliai, where his father Samuelis Petuchauskas served as vice-mayor of the town for about 20 years. Markas Petuchauskas was a prisoner in the Vilna Ghetto.

Irena Veisaitė (1928). Kaunas-born theatre and literary critic, survivor of the Kovno Ghetto.

Leonidas Donskis (1962-2016). Lithuanian philosopher, public figure and a politician.


Linguists

Max Weinreich (1894-1969). The linguist was born in Kuldyga. After his studies, he settled in Vilnius and became one of the co-founders of the YIVO Institute. The YIVO Institute created a Yiddish language standard used today.

Nachman Shapira (1894-1943). He headed the Department of Semitology at the University of Lithuania (now Vytautas Magnus University) and was a scholar of Hebrew literature. He published several books with translations of Jewish authors into Lithuanian with a view to bringing greater awareness of Jewish literature among Lithuanians.

Chackel Lemchen (1904-2001). The linguist and dictionary compiler was born in Papilė, studied the Lithuanian language under Jonas Jablonskis, compiled a large number of Russian dictionaries that have been used and appreciated to this day.


Religious thinkers

Vilna Gaon (1720-1797), his real name was Elijah ben Solomon Zalman. One of the most prominent authorities in traditional Judaism.

Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor (1817–1896). The most reputable rabbi of the Russian Empire in the 19th century. Occasionally referred to as the Kovno Gaon.


Politicians

Nahman Rachmilewitz (1876-1941). A politician, diplomat and economist was born in Vilkaviškis, Grodno governorate. He moved to Vilnius, where he made a successful carrier in politics: he was a member of the Board of the City of Vilnius, a member of the Council of Lithuania, Vice-Minister for Commerce and Industry, a member of the Constituent Seimas, and Consul General of Lithuania in Tel Aviv.

Jakub Wygodzki (1856/1857-1941). Bobruisk-born medical doctor and politician, who later settled in Lithuania. Apart from his successful medical career, he was an active politician and held various offices in government: a member of the Council of Lithuania, a Minister without Portfolio for Jewish Affairs, and a member of the Vilnius Council. After the annexation of the Vilna region by Poles, he was elected to the Polish Sejm.

Shimshon Rosenboim (1859-1934). The politician was born in Pinsk, Minsk governorate. He was an important figure in inter-war Lithuania: he served as Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of the First Lithuanian Government, Minister without Portfolio for Jewish Affairs, was a member of the Lithuanian delegation to the Paris Peace Conference, and participated in negotiations on the Lithuanian-Soviet Russia peace treaty. Later he left for Palestine. He served as Honorary Consul and later as Consul General of Lithuania in Tel Aviv.

Max Soloveitshik (1883-1957). The politician was born in Kaunas. From 1919 to 1923, he served as Minister without Portfolio for Jewish Affairs. His signature is on the Constitution adopted by the Constituent Seimas in 1944.

Emma Goldman (1869-1940). Played an important role in developing the political philosophy of anarchism.

Tsemakh Shabad (1864-1935). Vilnius-born doctor and politician remained faithful to the city and its Jewish community for all his life. He was a member of many Jewish organisations in Vilnius. After the annexation of Vilnius by Poland, he was a member of the Polish Sejm.

Joe Slovo (1926–1995). Obeliai-born politician emigrated to South Africa with his parents at the age of eight. He studied with Nelson Mandela and was an active opponent of apartheid.

David Wolfson (1856-1914). The businessman was born in Darbėnai. Best known for being a Zionist politician and creator of the Israeli flag. It was Wolfson’s idea to name the taxes collected from the participants of Zionist congresses as shekels, which later gave the name to the Israeli currency.

Jacob Robinson (1889-1977). The lawyer and politician was born in Seirijai. He was a member of the Second and Third Seimas of Lithuania, a defender of Lithuania’s political and legal positions in the Klaipėda Region, and Antanas Smetona’s Extraordinary Ambassador for Special Foreign Affairs.


Athletes

Isaac Anolik (1908-1943) - a cyclist, a member of Lithuania’s Olympic team (1924 and 1928). He is a three-fold winner of Lithuanian championships.

Senda Berenson Abbott (1868–1954). She was born in Butrimonys and later emigrated to the United States. A pioneer in women’s basketball and in women’s team sports (until then, team sports were considered too rough and that is why seen as men’s domain only).


Miscellaneous

Aharon Barak (1936-2006). Kaunas-born lawyer, survivor of the Kovno Ghetto, where he was prisoned with his parents. After the Holocaust, he moved to Palestine. He was a professor of law at numerous universities and a judge at the Supreme Court of Israel.

Abraham Juzefovitch. Sigismund the Old granted him the title of nobility and appointed treasurer of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Over nearly ten years, he completed a good number of reforms, which helped improve GDL’s finances. His brother Michel Juzefovitch was the head of the Brest customs office.

Hermann Kallenbach (1871-1945). The architect was born in Žemaičių Naumiestis. He developed a long-lasting friendship with Mahatma Gandhi, was his financial supporter and co-organiser of protest actions, one of which ended in their imprisonment together.

Liba Mednikienė (1875-1941). In the years from 1922 to 1923, she helped the Lithuanian army and the freedom fighters in the struggle for the recovery of Širvintos. She was awarded with the Order of the Cross of Vytis.

Tobias Bunimovich (1868-1938). Together with his father Israel Bunimovitz, Tobias Bunimovich opened up a chocolate factory Victoria in Vilnius. The factory burned down, however, and the entrepreneur established a bank instead. He was appointed Honorary Consul of Spain.

Julius Ludwig Wiener (1795-1862). Born in Danzig, he later settled in the then Memel (Klaipėda). Was a member of the city magistrate. After his death, he left 300 000 thalers (about half a million dollars) to the town.

Joseph Schereschewsky (1831-1906). He was born in Tauragė. While at a rabbinical school, he became interested in the New Testament, and soon he left the school and converted to Christianity. As part of his missionary activities, he went to China, where he became Anglican Bishop of Shanghai and a co-founder of Shanghai’s St. John University. He was better known in China as Joseph Shi.

Boris Efros (1914-2000). The first surgeon in Lithuania to perform heart surgery.

Anatoly Rosenblum (1902-1973). Bialystok-born civil engineer, who later moved to live in Kaunas with his family. His architectural achievement highlight is Kaunas Sports Hall.

David and Gedal Ilgovski. In the inter-war Kaunas it was half-jokingly said that Lithuania was controlled by Chodakauskaitė sisters and by Ilgovski brothers, who in fact were among the largest construction contractors.

Drawn up by:
Saulė Valiūnaitė
Head of Museum of Culture and Identity of Lithuanian Jews exposition at VGSJM

Last updated: 28-04-2020