The year begins with continuing old issues and unresolved questions. One of them is the idea of a monument for Lithuanian citizens who helped rescue Jews in Vilnius. Such a monument was suggested by one of the Lithuanian Jews who was once rescued, author Icchok Mer, in a 2004 letter to the Lithuanian president, Seimas Speaker and other high officials. “Their names should be printed in gold in independent Lithuania. There should be for Lithuanian Righteous Among the Nations, those who carried the flame of conscience, morality and charity at the time of great darkness,” Icchok Mer wrote.
We are now counting the thirteenth year that the capital has yet to have an individual who would listen to the famous author’s call and would agree with the Jewish community on a place for the monument to the rescuers of Jews, LRT.lt writes.
The cover of a calendar released through the efforts of the Jewish community features a photo of the family of former Lithuanian President Kazys Grinius, acknowledged as Righteous among the Nations. During the German occupation the family sheltered their friend, a prisoner in the ghetto, Dmitri Gelpern. All the pages of the calendar feature the names and photos of Lithuanians who rescued Jews, as well as the names of the Jews rescued, in fact you could perhaps say success stories of lives saved. One of them is the story of the family of the Jewish community’s chairwoman Faina Kukliansky. According to her, the Lithuanian Jewish community survived only due to those who rescued them.
“If the person hasn’t arrived from elsewhere – from Russia, Ukraine or somewhere else, then there was no other way for them to survive than to have been rescued. Either they were to be killed or they were saved by someone, there was no other option,” said the Chairwoman of the Lithuanian Jewish community F. Kukliansky.
The Lithuanian Jewish community has been seeking to have a monument to Jew rescuers built in Vilnius for some years now. The government has yet to construct one. The chairwoman explains that with the government choosing not to contribute to the honouring of Jew rescuers, the Jewish community would build the monument with funding it gathers itself or donations. The greatest problem, however, is that current and earlier municipal leaders have not found a location for the monument in the capital.
The Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania even already has a stone to mark the place of the monument for Jew rescuers. The monument is yet to be made until the location and environment for it is known. The temporary stone is currently being held at the Tuskulėnai memorial ancillary facilities.
“It appeared that everything should be understandable, supported and simple to accomplish. Everything hangs on the location, with no location, no-one can make projects, nor image, nor visualise. This simple imagination has been faced with this sort of glass wall,” centre Director Birutė Burauskaitė explained the current situation.
“And I suspect if things proceed this way and so little attention is dedicated to the Jewish history of Lithuania and the Holocaust, then I think I may be the last generation to truly care about it,” the Jewish community chairwoman spoke on the matter in the Savaitė show in September last year. Hope had appeared then.
“We were promised that this year we will definitely be provided with a location,” F. Kukliansky spoke of the Vilnius municipality’s promises in September 2016.
On the next day after the show, participating in the opening of Nobel laureate Czesław Miłosz stairs, the mayor of Vilnius promised that the location for the monument would be at the foot of the Missionary gardens.
“I definitely hope that at the foot we will finally have a location for the monument to the Righteous and perhaps an alley as well,” said Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Šimašius.
This was the exact location requested by the Jewish community because the territory of the former Missionary monastery is linked to a Jewish tragedy.
“Specifically because in 1943, when the Vilnius ghetto was abolished, they were doing selection there, the ghetto gates were there and people exiting the gates were directed – the fortunate to concentration camps, the unfortunate – to Paneriai,” explained F. Kukliansky.
Nevertheless the Jewish community still has yet to receive a decision from the municipality. After the New Year, the mayor was sent a letter once more. Though he made a promise to build the monument next to C. Miłosz’s stairs, at the foot of the Missionary gardens, he is now saying that the most suitable location is next to Rūdninkai square.
“The whole Missionary complex, it of course contains the pond park and everything is being newly renovated, with historical reconstruction planned – it is definitely not a bad location. But what I would like to stress – specifically in terms of city structure and Holocaust commemoration, as well as in terms of commemorating the Righteous, well let us say that a commission gathered and decided that the most logical location is Rūdninkai square. If the location is acceptable for all parties, then I guess it would not even take a month to decide that yes, that is where the stone should be placed,” assured Šimašius.
F. Kukliansky states that after years of correspondence, she awaits any decision from the municipality. The proposed location raises doubts however.
“If the location was in good order, if the location had anything to do with Jewish history, with rescuing Jews, then it could also be good. Furthermore next to the location there are facilities where an organisation we contribute to works and we would be prepared to establish a small Vilnius city Jew museum. Once again through our own funding, our understanding and our knowledge,” explained F. Kukliansky.
The director of the Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania says that the shifting of the monument around various locations in the capital shows a spiritual immaturity.
“The failure to find a location shows our unpreparedness and immaturity for such a monument. It is an incredible spiritual immaturity. There is some sort of mental anomaly,” B. Burauskaitė commented on the situation.
“And I suspect if things proceed this way and so little attention is dedicated to the Jewish history of Lithuania and the Holocaust, then I think I may be the last generation to truly care about it. Soon no-one will care. Perhaps the Jews will cease to care because new people will grow up who perhaps no longer have those sentiments and this cannot be artificially constructed,” said F. Kukliansky.