Lost Shtetl Museum breaks ground in moving ceremony

Lithuanian president: The museum will bring back the names and faces of many families, friends and neighbors

Lithuanian students to lay the memorial capsule into the foundation of The Lost Shtetl Museum (photo credit: SEDUVA JEWISH MEMORIAL FUND)
Lithuanian students to lay the memorial capsule into the foundation of The Lost Shtetl Museum
The groundbreaking ceremony for the Lost Shtetl Museum and Memorial Complex took place last week in an emotional ceremony in the central Lithuanian town of Seduva, where a vibrant Jewish community lived before the Holocaust.
Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis, who attended the event, began his address with an official apology for the role of the Lithuanian perpetrators of the Holocaust, and his both official and personal conviction that today the subject has to be dealt with clarity and honesty.
The Speaker of the Seimas (Parliament) Viktoras Pranckietis told attendees that he and his family are from Seduva, and conveyed a moving story of a letter from the well-known American artist and Bezalel Academy alumnus Samuel Bak, who survived the Vilna Ghetto as a child, to his father. “In that letter of pain and fervor, the artist wrote of his compassion for his people annihilated in the Holocaust, to be remembered,” Pranckietis said.
Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaite sent a greetings letter to the ceremony, which was read by the president’s special adviser: “Today the symbolic [event] marks not only the start of the construction of a unique museum. It also heralds the reconstruction of an important part of Lithuanian history closely interlinked with the history of Lithuania’s large Jewish community and its tragic fate.
“The Lost Shtetl Museum will bring back from oblivion the names and faces of many families, friends and neighbors, as well as their customs and traditions,” the president said.
Jews settled in the small town in the 16th century, and by the early 20th century, they made up about 61% of the population, but this ended in the summer of 1941 – when they were rounded up and murdered by a Lithuanian militia, which collaborated with the Germans.
During the ceremony, attended by much of the diplomatic corps, Foreign Minister Linus Linkevicius emphasized that no commemoration is able to erase the calamity of the Holocaust in Lithuania.
Lithuania’s Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky said in her speech: “Slowly we are able to learn anew the history of the murdered Jewish shtetl, Seduva, to which the restored old Jewish cemetery testifies, and we can bow our heads before the statues which symbolize our respect for those murdered in the Holocaust. The long and rich history of the Jews of Lithuania was cut short.
Today marks an important moment for Jews and all Lithuanians who care about that history cut short by the Holocaust, the story which the new museum to commemorate the Jews of Seduva will soon tell us. The museum will symbolically revive the colorful and diverse life of the Jewish community.”
Poet and essayist Sergey Kanovich, the main driving force behind the The Lost Shtetl project, said: “When we talk about the past of Lithuanian Jewry, we often say that ‘time was merciless... Merciless to human beings, merciless to things they had created, merciless to heritage and memory.’
“But time is not anonymous. We cannot put all the blame and guilt on it. We create time. It depends on us what time will be like. It depends on the here and now. Memory is the responsibility of all of us,” he said.
Markas Zingeris, longtime director of the Lithuanian State Gaon Jewish Museum, took the audience back in time during his address – back to the Jewish boys and girls, poets and musicians, whose lives had been cut short so cruelly. He also spoke on the everlasting trauma of the Yiddish world due to the catastrophic losses caused by Holocaust – and the utter necessity for the museums like The Lost Shtetl, not for Lithuania only, but for Europe and the world.
Lithuanian film director Saulius Berzinis’s remarks were an emotional peak of the ceremony. The founder and director of the Independent Holocaust Research Archive in Lithuania, he has donated to the future museum one of his most beloved belongings, his inheritance as he put it: an original phonograph record of the famous cantor Mordechai Hershman (1888–1940). That record, produced in late 1920s-early 1930s in France, had been the treasure of a talented Jewish boy who had dreamed of becoming a cantor, but who perished together with his entire family in the Vilna Ghetto.
The ceremony ended with the laying of a memorial capsule into the foundations of the upcoming museum by the students of the Seduva gymnasium and the Jewish gymnasium from Vilnius. Inside the capsule are texts from a book written by Jewish writer Grigory Kanovich – winner of Lithuanian National Prize for Culture and Arts for 2014 – which read:
“It was bitter to realize the truth that from now on it was the fate of that dead tribe to be born and live only in the true and painful words of impartial memory in which it was impossible to drown the echoes of love and gratitude toward our forebears. Whoever allows the dead to fall into oblivion will himself be justly consigned to oblivion by future generations.”
Kanovich’s son poet Sergey Kanovich also spoke at the groundbreaking.
The museum is expected to open in the summer of 2020.