By Rachel Mines
Every Remembrance Day, many Canadians wear red poppies to remember the men and women who have served Canada in armed conflicts and peacekeeping operations since the end of WWI.
Twice a year, in January and late April or early May, Canadian Jewish communities also remember the civilians – men, women, and children – who were murdered in the Holocaust. In the past decades, governments around the globe have also established Holocaust commemorations as venues for memorialization of the dead, education of local populations, and reconciliation between Jewish and non-Jewish communities.
In 1994, the Lithuanian Parliament established September 23 as the National Memorial Day for the Genocide of Lithuanian Jews. On this day, the anniversary of the liquidation of the Vilna (Vilnius) ghetto, commemorative activities are held at Lithuanian memorial sites, in schools, and in other educational institutions. Government institutions, with the support and involvement of local Jewish communities and survivors’ groups, shape the content of these activities, and Jewish and non-Jewish Lithuanians regularly participate in them.
On September 22, 2022, the Lithuanian Community of British Columbia (LCBC), with the support of the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre (VHEC) and generous volunteers from Lithuanian and Jewish communities, commemorated the National Memorial Day for the Genocide of Lithuanian Jews. The event, which took place at the Peretz Centre in Vancouver, was the first time this Memorial Day was commemorated in Canada.
Participants were welcomed by Algis Jaugelis, President of the LCBC, followed by opening remarks by Nina Krieger, the Executive Director of the VHEC. The Ambassador of Lithuania to Canada, Darius Skusevičius, kindly provided a recorded welcome to the event, followed by a written statement from Christopher Juras, the Honourary Consul of Lithuania in Vancouver.
LCBC member and historian Gene Homel then presented an overview of Jewish life in Lithuania from the 1300s to the present day. Rachel Mines, an LCBC Director whose father, a Holocaust survivor, was born and raised in a Lithuanian shtetl, gave an illustrated presentation on the Jewish community in her ancestral town, using photos and information found in her research.
Helen Mintz, a Yiddish translator, read a selection from one of her translations of Abraham Karpinowitz’s short stories. Karpinowitz, the son of a theatrical family in Vilna, survived the Holocaust and later wrote several volumes of stories memorializing prewar Jewish life in Vilna.
The ceremony ended with the singing of the Partisans’ Song, “Zog Nit Keynmol,” written by Hirsh Glick in the Vilna Ghetto, followed by a recording of Glick’s words translated into Lithuanian under the auspices of Eli Rabinowitz and his “We Are Here!” international educational project.
Lithuanian and non-Lithuanian participants found the remembrance ceremony both educational and emotional, and all emphasized the importance of reconciliation. According to Algis Jaugelis, “it was … an important and moving event, an opening of doors and minds, with great potential for future intercultural and bridge-building events.” Andrea Berneckas, another LCBC Director, wrote, “It was such a privilege to be part of this solemn, yet beautiful and hopeful event. I look forward to being part of the Lithuanian community’s strengthening of ties by the sharing of stories and experiences.” Nina Krieger commented, “I look forward to more opportunities to bring the communities together.” Celia Brauer, a local Yiddishist, summed up the general feeling: “We are far away from the original homeland, but yet this event brought people closer together – which is incredibly important.”
The National Memorial Day for the Genocide of Lithuanian Jews event is now on LCBC’s yearly calendar of events and the next memorial is planned for September 2023.
More information about the Lithuanian Community of British Columbia can be found at http://www.lithuaniansofbc.com.