Žemaičių muziejus alka, Žemaitijos kaimo muziejus, telšių ješiva, varnių muziejus, žemaičių vyskupystės muziejus

Telšiai ghetto: 81st anniversary of its destruction

On the occasion of the Lithuanian Jewish Genocide Day, the Telšiai Yeshiva hosted a scientific conference "The Holocaust in Samogitia: Outcrops of History and Memory". This is part of the project "The Telšiai Memory Book: the Life of the Jewish Community Interrupted by the Holocaust", implemented by the Samogitian Museum "Alka" (project leader - museum librarian and digitizer Loreta Norvaišienė).
Project idea presented
In order to get to know the culture of the Jewish people better, the project organised education in the musical and culinary heritage and excursions to the Jewish shtetl in Telšiai. The idea and main organiser of the educational activities and excursions and this conference was Janina Bucevičė, an ethicist and the museum's excursion leader.

At the beginning of the conference, Eva Stonkevičienė, the director of the museum, read an excerpt from Alfreds Rukšėnas' book "Pages of the Biography of Juozas Albinas Lukša-Daumantas 1940-1941" about the pogrom and the desecration of the bodies of the Jews who were killed. Stonkevičienė stressed the importance of the painful topic, thanked the numerous participants of the conference, and presented flowers to the project leader L. Norvai-šienė, J. Buceviče, who supervises the educational activities and excursions, and Filip Shapiro, the head of the US-based organisation "Remembering litvaks" and the sponsor of the publication of the "Telšiai memory book". Before the conference, musical works were performed by Gerda Višniauskaitė, a graduate of the Telšiai Art School, a laureate of international and republican competitions, a diploma holder (teacher Gedimina Paulikaitė, accompanist Asta Radzienė).
The Samogitian Museum "Alka" preserves a unique historical source - the Jewish Memory Book "Telšiai" (compiled by I. Alperovičius, Israel, 1984). It was donated to the museum by one of the authors of the articles, Cvi Brikas. The articles for the book were written in Hebrew and Yiddish by Jews who were born in Telšiai, lived in Telšiai, studied in Telšiai, and escaped from the Holocaust. The book consists of five chapters: Telšiai in the memoirs of Jews scattered all over the world, community life in the city, the history of the Telšiai yeshiva and the system of education it established, prominent personalities, and the fate of the Jews in World War II.

The Lithuanian academic community, Telšiai residents and visitors interested in the history of the Telšiai region from the 19th century to the first half of the 20th century have expressed their hope that the contents of the Memory Book "Telšiai" would be translated into Lithuanian.

This year, with the support of the Lithuanian Council for Culture and the Telšiai District Municipality, a Lithuanian translation of the Book of Memory will be published, supplemented by translators' commentaries, which will enable the reader to better understand Jewish culture and its traditions, and will be illustrated with authentic photographs of the 1984 edition of the book "Telšiai", as well as with the photographs preserved in the Museum.

"Although the aim of the Jewish community in writing the Book of Remembrance was to tell future generations about the tragic fate of their people, the book, written in Hebrew and Yiddish, was silent to us and to the public interested in Telšiai's past. The first to raise the idea and to start looking for ways to translate at least part of the book was Irma Kontautienė, the museum keeper. Of course, this required Hebrew and Yiddish translators, Judaica specialists, time and money. It was fated that Filip Shapiro and his wife Aldona came to Telšiai in the footsteps of their grandfather, a student at the Telšiai yeshiva. On their initiative, the Jewish community in 2021 contributed funds to translate from Yiddish and Hebrew the remaining articles of the Book of Memory "Telšiai", which tell the story of the Telšiai Jewish ghetto and its destruction. After visiting the ruins of the then still-existing yeshiva, the guests came to the museum and encouraged the museum staff to find ways to translate the book. Proposals were submitted to the Lithuanian Council for Culture and the Telšiai District Municipality, and funding was received to translate half of the book. The translation of the other part of the book was supported by David and Barbara B. Hirschhorn von Dass (USA), the organisation JewishGen (USA) and its leaders, which is implementing the project of publishing Memory Books of Eastern European Jews who escaped the Holocaust, through the efforts of the Shapiro family," said the project manager L. Norvaišienė, adding that the narrative of the exhibition at the Telšiai Yeshiva is also being developed on the basis of articles.

Funds for the Memorial Marker
"I am glad that an exhibition presenting the Jewish heritage is finally appearing in Telšiai. At the initiative of the Telšiai District Municipality, a memorial marker dedicated to the rescuers of the Jews, created by Mindaugas Šimkevičius, associate professor at the Telšiai Faculty of Arts of the Vilnius Academy of Arts, is now located on the Telšiai yeshiva building. The municipality has granted a grant of 15,000 euros, but there is still a significant shortfall in the funds needed to implement the project, so I invite everyone who can to contribute financially to the creation of the At-minimum sign. It is very important to tell the public not only in scientific language, but also with signs about the history that we can and must never forget," emphasised Eva Stonkevičienė, Director of the Samogitian Museum "Alka".

Renginyje dalyvavęs Telšių rajono savivaldybės meras Kęstutis Gusarovas sakė: „Minime Telšių geto sunaikinimo 81-ąsias metines: tai vienas dramatiškiausių mūsų istorijos įvykių. Žemaitijos regionas Holokausto klausimu buvo mažiausiai tyrinėtas, tad turime būti dėkingi žmonėms, kurie tai aprašė. Tokių istorijos faktų, kuriuos paminėjo direktorė citatoje iš knygos, negalime pamiršti, o žodis genocidas dėl karo Ukrainoje šiandien vėl grįžta į mūsų lūpas, tad kraupių nusikaltimų negalime paneigti, apie juos turime pasakoti ir ateities kartoms“.

Filipas and Aldona Šapiro, who attended the conference, said that their Remembering Litvaks group tries to discover, contact and maintain contact with Litvak people living in different countries. She mentioned that she has to work with different organisations and welcomed the smooth cooperation with the Samogitian Museum "Alka".

Unique content messages
The scientific conference "The Holocaust in Samogitia: Outlines of History and Memory" featured presentations by lecturers from the Lithuanian Centre for Genocide and Resistance Research and Lithuanian universities: dr. Linas Venclauskas (Vytautas Magnus University; Sugihara Foundation "Diplomats for Life"), dr. Dr. Alfre-das Rukšėnas (Lithuanian Genocide and Resistance Research Centre), Dr. Zigmas Vitkus (Klaipėda University), Assoc. Prof. Dr. Aušra Pažėraitė (Vilnius University), Dr. Hektoras Vitkus (Klaipėda University). In the round table discussion, the project of commemorating the rescuers of the Jews of Samogitia on the wall of the Telšiai Yeshiva was presented by doc. Mindaugas Šimkevičius (Telšiai faculty of Vilnius Academy of Arts).

In order to get to know Jewish life better, the Conference participants and guests were invited to the Jewish culinary heritage education "Great Jewish Autumn Traditions and Food" with the educators Riva Portnaja and Dovile Rūkaite, the owners of the "Beigelių krautuvė".

The lecturers who read the presentations, the representatives of the Telšiai School of Arts who performed the musical programme and the educators of the Jewish culinary heritage were presented with gifts from the Samogitian Museum "Alka" and the sponsors: the 4th edition of the book "The Martyrs of Samogitians: the Tragedy of the Rainiai Miskel on 24-25 June 1941" with supplements, the latest edition of the book by the photojournalist Mečislovas Šilinskas, "Memories. Fo-graphies" (a gift to the Museum from his relatives), bookmarks, pens and pencils prepared for the project.
After the conference, a book of papers based on the scientific conference will be published and presented to the public.