Alfons Hoping remembers Jewish Vilkaviskis

Alfons Hoping is a German citizen who is also an Honary Citizen of Vilkaviskis – he does amazing work in supporting a children’s home near Vilkaviskis and has recently donated a fire engine to the Vilkaviskis Municipality

This is from his recent post

“Flowers at Holocaust Memorial in Vilkaviskis, laid down together with my wife, friends from Germany and Lithuania. In Vilkaviskis between July and September 1941, 7.000 Jewish children, women and men were murdered by the German Gestapo from Tilsit (today’s Soviet) and with the support of Lithuanian nationalists.”

Thank you for your thoughts and deeds Alfons.

Two very important discusions about the Holocaust in Lithuania

The Holocaust in Lithuania – Dr. Christoph Dieckmann

It is a short interview but very interesting and very valueable

Discussion “Facing Our Past: Lithuanians, Germans, and Jews”

Sergey Kanovich,

On October 1, 2021, Christoph Dieckmann, an author of history books on German occupation policies and the Holocaust in Lithuania, alongside Sergey Kanovich, the project manager of the Lost Shtetl Museum, launched a discussion series entitled “Open Conversations about History.”

Very important to listen to in my opinion

The Holocaust in Vistytis 80 years later Lithuanian recognition of a Righteous Gentile

Here is the background: In 1943, Vytas Baltutis served as a Catholic priest of the community of Vištytis, Vilkaviškis County, on the border with eastern Prussia. One day he received a letter from Miriam Gail (later Rabinovich), a Jewish friend, who had been his classmate in high school, and was now interned in the Kaunas ghetto with her family. In the letter, Gail asked the priest to do his utmost to remove her family from the ghetto. Baltutis hastened to Kaunas, met with Gail, and began to plan her family’s escape. He planned to get them false papers but then, in March 1944, the large children’s Aktion in the ghetto was carried out, and Miriam, her brother Iser, and sisters, Masha and Esther, escaped the ghetto without new documents. They reached Vištytis and were warmly welcomed by Baltutis, who later arranged a hiding place for them in the home of Antanas Kupraitis, a local peasant. Kupraitis, who lived with his wife and sons, Juozas and Jonas, hid the four Jews for six months, until the liberation of the area from Nazi occupation, in October 1944. After the war was over, Baltutis left the priesthood, married and moved to Canada; Iser, Masha (later Jaron) and Esther (later Spektor) immigrated to Israel and Miriam – to the United States.

Masha Ga’il, Vytautas and Julija Leibris. The children are my aunt Egidija and aunt Rasa.

I have corresponded with his grandson Adam and a couple of days ago I received this

“A few weeks ago I was contacted by the Lithuanian embassy here in Canada regarding the Life Saving Cross for Vytautas. There was to be a ceremony at the Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto put on by the Lithuanian gov’t as well as the Jewish Association in Vilnius in recognizing the Lithuanian participation in the Shoah and reestablished ties to the Jewish community. As well, they wanted to honour Vytautas by awarding his descendants the Life Saving Cross. Myself, my father and Vytautas’s daughters were able to attend the ceremony. Not only were we able to receive the award but we were also honoured to hear A Letter from the Past: Yiddish Songs, performed by Rafailas Karpis and Darius Mazintas. This was absolutely beautiful.

Vytas Baltutis

The Jewish Cemetery of Kybartai

Last June Gaile showed us the beautifully kept small Jewish Cemetery in Kybartai. She kindly took many pictures and last month Michael Leiserovitz, his wife Ruth and I completed the cleaning and recording of the graves.

We were very moved by the beauty of the stones

Later we recorded our findings as this cemetery has never been recorded . We will present the results of our work to Maceva.

On a personal note I even found a distant deceased relative’s memorial stone

פנ Here lies buried

אבינו היקר הטוב והישר Our dear, good and honest father

עטרת רשנו צבי תפארתנו The crown of our family

מהורר אבא בר אברהם משה

Our teacher and rabbi Abba son of Avraham Moshe

זאלינגער זל Salinger , may his memory be blessed

נפטר ביום יב אלול תרפא Who died Thu, 15 September 1921

תנצבה  May his soul be bound up in the bond of everlasting life


The Great Synagogue of Kybartai

The memory of the Jewish house of prayer was held in Kybartai – the memory of the great synagogue

Yesterday, September 9, a monument was unveiled in Kybartai, to mark the place of the Synagogue of Kybartai, which was here in 1870-1941-the big synagogues. This event is part of the Lithuanian Jewish Genocide memorial event cycle.

Algirdas Neiberka, mayor of Vilkaviskis district municipality, who emphasized the importance of preservation of history and thanked everyone who contributed with work, ideas or funds to capture this old Jewish synagogue in Kybartai.

From Vilkaviskis to the Virgin Islands !

Lester Pines’ grandfather, Moses Paiewonsky, left Villkaviskis in the late 1870s and settled in the British Virgin Islands. He was 13. He earned his living first as a peddler, eventually opening a general store on the island of St. Thomas, which was an important refueling station for ships crossing the Atlantic. “My grandfather was very entrepreneurial and was the brains of the family,” Pines says.

Over time, more relatives left Lithuania, where the situation for Jews was worsening, and settled in the Virgin Islands; some made trips home and returned to the Caribbean with Lithuanian brides. Moses and one of his brothers moved to the Dominican Republic to expand the family business. They were likely the only Jews in the country, Pines says. But while the family escaped political upheaval in Europe, unrest followed them to the Dominican Republic when the U.S. seized control of the nation in 1916. Pines’ father, Ansel Paiewonsky, got involved with an opposition group and in 1918 was taken into custody by American authorities, who turned him over to his mother, Pines says. “She sent him to New York City to keep him out of trouble.”

Ansel and his brothers

In the U.S., Ansel studied dentistry, first at New York University and later at the University of St. Louis in Missouri. He returned to the Dominican Republic and began teaching at the University of Santo Domingo, where he is said to have “modernized clinical dental training” in the country. But by this time it was the 1940s, and the dictator Rafael Trujillo was in power. Ansel witnessed Trujillo’s militia drag university students from class and shoot them in a courtyard — an incident that deeply affected him. He became an outspoken opponent of the regime after that, but had to flee the country in 1944 when he learned that Trujillo had ordered that he be killed within the next 24 hours. He escaped with his family to St. Louis, the only familiar place to him in the U.S. Ansel changed the family name from Paiewonsky to Pines when he became a naturalized citizen.

“My father always communicated to me the importance of standing up for what you believe in and to have the courage of one’s convictions,” Pines says. Born in St. Louis in 1950, Pines didn’t think much about his family’s immigrant roots growing up. But looking back, he marvels at the bravery it took for his ancestors to leave their home behind at a young age and start over in a new place — several generations in a row. “There’s a certain personality trait that must run in the family,” he says.

Lester in the Jewish Cemetery in Vilkaviskis 2016

Over the past two years, Pines and his wife, Roberta Gassman, have embarked on “legacy trips” to the Virgin Islands and Lithuania to explore deeper the family’s history. Gassman’s family also hails from Lithuania — her great-grandparents lived in a town less than 35 miles from her husband’s ancestors. “What are the odds that we met up, two generations later, on Mills Street in Madison,” Pines says.

Edited from an article