16 November 2022
Recently Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan traveled to Lithuania for the first time. He visited both Kaunas and Vilnius during the six-day State visit.
Dayan met with several senior government officials, including Lithuanian Prime Minister HE Ingrida Šimonytė, Foreign Minister Gabrielos Landsbergis, and Parliament Speaker Victoria Chimilita-Nielsen and other leaders and influencers to discuss how Lithuania can continue to raise awareness of the history of the Holocaust among its citizens through extensive educational activities.
While in Vilnius, Yad Vashem's Chairman, together with Israeli Ambassador to Lithuania HE Hadas Wittenberg Silverstein, presented descendants of Juozapas and Marijona Bagurskas; Aksentij, Martriona Burlakova and their daughter, Zinaida; Kazimieras and Marcijona Ruzgys and Jonas and Ona Žvinklevičius, four Lithuanian families recently recognized posthumously by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations, with medals and certificates honoring their family members who rescued Jews during the Holocaust.. The Lithuanian Prime Minister HE Ingrida Šimonytė and Holocaust survivor Maksim Broer, who was rescued by the Bagurskai family, participated in the ceremony. A recorded message from Chaya Landau, a Holocaust survivor rescued by the Ruzgys, was broadcast at the event, which took place in the Government Palace in Vilnius.
"The world has never found a vaccination against antisemitism, which once again seems to be a pandemic," remarked Holocaust survivor Chaya Landau. "However, the Ruzgys family, and a few others like them, were naturally immune to this horrible disease…they had the sense of nobility and courage to confront evil and were a beacon of light in humanity's darkest hour."
Prior to participating in the Righteous Among the Nations ceremony, Dayan visited the murder sites at the Ninth Fort outside of Kaunas and the murder site in the Ponary Forest on the outskirts of Vilnius, where many thousands of Lithuanian Jews were murdered by the German Nazis and their local collaborators. The Deputy Speaker of the Seimas Radvilė Morkūnaitė-Mikulėnienė accompanied Dani Dayan to the Ponary Forest Memorial site. He also visited the Vilna Gaon Jewish Museum and Jewish community centers in both Kaunas and Vilnius. Afterwards, Dayan also met with 93-year-old Holocaust survivor Fania Brantsovsky (Yochlas) from Vilnius.
"No visit to Lithuania would be complete without paying respects to the many thousands of my brethren murdered at these authentic murder sites," remarked Dani Dayan. "Yet I cannot help but be uplifted, having presided over today's ceremony of the newly-recognized Righteous Among the Nations, and my meetings these past few days with the Heads of State in Lithuania that testify to the interest that Lithuania sees in keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive. In my words at these events and meetings, I emphasized the importance of historical accuracy and made reference to the part that Lithuanians themselves played in the persecution and murder of the Jews during the Holocaust," said Dayan. "We very much hope that these events and the educational messages that emerged from them will encourage national and personal introspection, as well as a commitment to deal with the past and the emergence of contemporary antisemitism around the world."
In addition to these events and meetings, Dani Dayan attended the world premiere of a new musical performance commissioned by Yad Vashem entitled "Vessels of Light" – The Sugihara Symphony, on the stage of the Kaunas State Philharmonic Hall. This moving, large-scale symphonic work with music and libretto by internationally-renowned composer Lera Auerbach, is dedicated to the heroic actions of Japanese Vice-Consul Chiune Sempo Sugihara, who saved thousands of Jewish refugees during the Holocaust. The project was catalyzed by renowned cellist Kristina Reiko Cooper whose husband is a descendent of Jews rescued by Sugihara.