Jews began living in Lithuania as early as the 13th century. Despite upheavals of expulsion and subsequent returning to the country, the population grew from 120,000 to 250,000 in 1792 thereafter Jews became subjects of the Russian empire after the Second Partition or the Polish-Lithuanian government. By 1941 the Jewish population of Lithuania and swelled to about 10% of the total population. During the German invasion of 1941 206,800 Jews were murdered by the Nazis and Lithuanian collaborators.
The first wave of Lithuanian Jews to South Africa began at the end of the nineteenth century. Even though pogroms had not yet started in Lithuania, Jews felt unease and anxiety. Massive gold deposits were discovered in 1886, the economy was booming, so at that time around 40,000 Lithuanian Jews left the country for South Africa.(Newman et al. 2006, p 385) The quota act of 1930 however banned Eastern European Jews from entering the country. Within the racial apartheid scheme Jews had a "white status" they faced fierce anti-semitism from Afrikaners, and began to form their own separate Jewish community comprising a rich network of schools, cultural and welfare organizations.
Lithuanian Jews immigrated to South Africa to escape anti-Semitism and poverty and to start new lives. Today they dominate the Jewish community in South Africa to an extent seen in no other country, even their former home. Most of the Baltic state's small Jewish community now numbers a mere 5,000 people comprising immigrants who arrived from different parts of the Soviet Union after WW2. The war devastated Lithuanian Jewry which was once a leading center of Jewish thought and culture. Historians estimate that 94 percent of the country's prewar Jewish population of 250,000 perished in the Holocaust.
- The capital Vilnius, once known as the Jerusalem of Lithuania was home to a thriving community of 60,000 Jews with more than 90 synagogues and the biggest Yiddish library in the world. Aside from one functioning synagogue, few traces of its rich Jewish past remain.
Many of the migrants who travelled to South Africa came from the Kaunas region (Kovno in Yiddish), but many also came from towns such as Palanga, Panevėžys, Rietavas and Šiauliai. Many travelled via the Liepāja port in Latvia on ships bound, via the Baltic Sea and (after its opening in 1895) the Kiel Canal shortcut, for English east coast ports.
Casino magnate Sol Kerzner, the late communist Joe Slovo and veteran anti-apartheid activist Helen Suzman, who for 13 years was the only anti-apartheid voice in the whites-only parliament make an unlikely trio but they share one thing, they are all of Lithuanian descent. Like their Lithuanian ancestors whose political ranks included wealthy capitalists, zealous Zionists, prominent religious scholars and committed communists, South Africa's Litvaks have spanned the political spectrum.
The South African Litvaks differs from its counterparts in other African countries in that the majority have remained on the continent rather than emigrating to Israel (62% of the maximum 120,000 still remain).
Events of the Holocaust
The Holocaust in Nazi-occupied Lithuania resulted in the near total destruction of Lithuanian Jews living in the Nazi-controlled Lithuanian and Polish territories (Generalbezirk Litauen of Reichskommissariat Ostland). Out of approximately 208,000-210,000 Jews, an estimated 190,000–195,000 were murdered before the end of World War II (wider estimates are sometimes published), most between June and December 1941.
More than 95% of Lithuania's Jewish population was massacred over the three-year German occupation — a more complete destruction than befell any other country affected by the Holocaust.
- An important component to the Holocaust in Lithuania was that the occupying Nazi German administration fanned antisemitism by blaming the Soviet regime's recent annexation of Lithuania, a year earlier, on the Jewish community.
- Another significant factor was the large extent to which the Nazis' design drew upon the physical organization, preparation and execution of their orders by local Lithuanian auxiliaries of the Nazi occupation regime.
Decline of the population
Prior to the German invasion, the population of Jews was estimated to be about 210,000, although according to data from the Lithuanian statistics department, as of 1 January 1941 there were 208,000 Jews. The number of the survivors in the concentration camps when they were liberated by the Red Army, (2,000-3,000), puts the number of Lithuanian Jews murdered in the Holocaust at 195,000 to 196,000.
Kaunas Ninth Fort- the Lithuanian port city of Klaipėda (Memel in German) had historically been a member of the German Hanseatic League, and had belonged to Germany and East Prussia prior to 1918. The city was semi-autonomous during the period of Lithuanian independence, and under League of Nations supervision. Approximately 8,000 Jews lived in Memel when it was absorbed into the Reich on March 15, 1939. Its Jewish residents were expelled, and most fled into Lithuania proper.
In 1941, German killing squads, the Einsatzgruppen, followed the advance of the German army units and immediately began organizing the murder of Jews. Most Lithuanian Jews perished in the first phase during the first months of the occupation and before the end of 1941.
Approximately 800 Jews were shot that day in what is known as the Garsden Massacre. Approximately 100 non-Jewish Lithuanians were also executed, many for trying to aid their Jewish neighbors.
About 80,000 Jews were killed by October and about 175,000 by the end of the year. The majority of Jews in Lithuania were not required to live in ghettos [c] nor sent to the Nazi concentration camps which at that time were just in the preliminary stages of operation. Instead they were shot in pits near their places of residence with the most infamous mass murders taking place in the Ninth Fort near Kaunas and the Ponary Forest near Vilnius.
By 1942 about 45,000 Jews survived, largely those who had been sent to ghettos and camps. In the second phase, the Holocaust slowed, as Germans decided to use the Jews as forced labor to fuel the German war economy. In the third phase, the destruction of Jews was again given a high priority; it was in that phase that the remaining ghettos and camps were liquidated.
The Nazi German administration directed and supported the organized killing of Lithuanian Jews.
- Over 1,000 Jews perished over a few days in what was the first pogrom in Nazi-occupied Lithuania. Different sources give different figures, one being 1,500 and another 3,800, with additional victims in other towns of the region.
- The most notorious Lithuanian unit participating in the Holocaust was the Lithuanian Sonderkommando Squad (Ypatingasis būrys) from the Vilnius (Vilna, Wilno) area which killed tens of thousands of Jews, Poles and others in the Ponary massacre.
- Another Lithuanian organization involved in the Holocaust was the Lithuanian Labor Guard. Many Lithuanian supporters of the Nazi policies came from the fascist Iron Wolf organization.
Not all of the Lithuanian populace supported the killings. Out of a population of close to 3,000,000 (80% of it ethnic Lithuanians), a few thousands took an active part in the killings while many hundreds risked their lives sheltering the Jews. Israel has recognized 723 Lithuanians as Righteous Among the Nations for risking their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
The genocide in Lithuania is seen by some historians as one of the earliest large-scale implementations of the Final Solution, leading some scholars to express an opinion that the Holocaust began in Lithuania in the summer of 1941.
In 1995, president of Lithuania Algirdas Brazauskas speaking before the Israeli Knesset, offered a public apology to the Jewish people for the Lithuanian participation in the Holocaust. On 20 September 2001, to mark the 60th anniversary of the Holocaust in Lithuania, the Seimas (Lithuanian parliament) held a session during which Alfonsas Eidintas, the historian nominated as the Republic's next ambassador to Israel, delivered an address accounting for the annihilation of Lithuania's Jews.
Rampant post WW2 anti-Semitism
Lithuanian Migration Department is continually rejecting the restoration of citizenship for Litvaks (Lithuanian Jews) and their descendants who are residing in Israel and South Africa. Since November 2015, the Lithuanian Migration Department has been rejecting the majority of applications from those who wish to restore their Lithuanian citizenship. This extends to those who left Lithuania during the 1920-1939 interwar period, plus their descendants.
According to Lithuanian Citizenship Law, those who left Lithuania before March 11 1990 and acquired citizenship of a different country can be citizens of Lithuania. The law also applies to their descendants.
Around 1,000 Litvaks living in South Africa have sought to use this piece of legislation. However, citizenship restoration was suspended for some mid-2015. Migration specialists follow the case law that those left Lithuania before March 11 of 1990 should include the former Lithuanian citizens who fled the country for political reasons, resistance to occupation regimes or persecution by the regime.
"The treatment has changed,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told BNS. This applies to those who left Lithuania in 1918-1939. The discussion is that there was no violence, repressions or anything like that at the time. Therefore, the departures cannot be considered an attempt to escape threats.”
The minister refused to give his opinion on the situation, as the analysis is still in progress. "I am aware of the problem, and some people are not happy," he concluded. Evelina Gudzinskaite, the acting chief of the Lithuanian Migration Department, claimed that the decision to revise the practice of dual citizenship came after the 2013 and 2014 rulings by the Lithuania's Supreme Administrative Court. She emphasised that dual citizenship was granted to Litvaks who fled occupied Lithuania, as well as their descendants. According to her, migration specialists also reject applications from ethnic Lithuanians who emigrated in the interwar period.
"This is arbitrary practice, not an interpretation from Constitutional Law,” said conservative MP, Emanuelis Zingers - a signatory o the 1990 Independence Act. “This denies all the Lithuanian ideals of March 11.” Zingeris also told BNS he had heard inquiries on the topic during his recent visit to Israel. According to the 1923 general census, nearly 154,000 Jews lived in Lithuania. During that time, Vilnius was part of Poland. During the interwar years, they emigrated to Palestine, South Africa and the United States. About 25,000 Jews left Lithuania between 1923 -1939. Lithuania lost more than 90 percent of its pre-war Jewish population during the Holocaust.
Lithuanian officials state that Jews were not oppressed in Lithuania
In an astonishing display regarding the ignorance of rampant anti-Semitism in inter-war Lithuania, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius stated that there was “no violence, repressions or anything like that at the time”, against Jews in Lithuania during the period 1918 – 1939. Based on this assumption, Lithuania intends to deny citizenship applications for descendants of Lithuanian Jews. The belief that Jews did not suffer enough, in Interwar Lithuania, to warrant citizenship is simply preposterous. Lithuanian citizenship rejected
Beginning in 1926, unofficial actions were pursued to deny Jews a presence in public life. Jews serving in the police force and army were steadily discharged. Educational institutions adopted quotas to reduce the percentage of Jews in professions, and authorities were encouraged to adopt policies designed to reduce the number of Jews who could be lawyers or doctors.
These official anti-Semitic actions were supplemented by a virulently anti-Semitic propaganda campaign led by a government-supported nationalist organization called “Verslas,” whose motto was “Lietuva Lietuviams”” (“Lithuania is for Lithuanians”).
Some examples of attacks against Jews during this period may be found here:Live Journal
The cumulative effect of the state-sponsored and private efforts to marginalize, harass, and terrify the Lithuanian Jewish population caused many Jews to seek to emigrate to more tolerant countries. In the 1930s, one of the few countries that would accept Lithuanian Jews was South Africa. Approximately 90% of South African Jews are of Lithuanian heritage.
Lithuanian law does not give Migration Department clerks guidance as to an objective standard of persecution required for citizenship restoration; these criteria are left to low level individual employees, who have a historical predisposition of denying applications by Jews. By any objective standard, the treatment of Jews during the interwar period amounts to extraordinary governmental, political and ethnic persecution of this minority population.
Prime Minister Butkevicius and Foreign Minister Linkevicius continuously invite Jewish investment and tourism to Lithuania. However, Nazi sympathizers at Lithuania’s Genocide Center and the Judeinrein citizenship attitudes at Lithuania’s Interior Ministry, conflict with these invitations. Should Jews pay attention to Lithuanian words, or Lithuanian actions?
Permission granted by 'Grant Gochin' firstname.lastname@example.org
Open letter to Ambassador Darius Degutis, dated 12/3/15
Lithuanian South Africans
- Esther Barsel
- Hymie Barsel
- Ali Bacher
- Sydney Brenner
- Hilda Bernstein, anti-apartheid activist
- Lionel Bernstein, anti-apartheid activist
- Harry Bloom, anti-apartheid activist
- Jules Browde, barrister, jurist and anti-apartheid activist. Law school classmate of Nelson Mandela.
- Selma Browde, physician, anti-apartheid activist, former Councilwoman - Johanessburg City Council, AIDS activist.
- Poppy Cannon
- Johnny Clegg
- Jean Comaroff
- Arthur Chaskalson, chief justice
- Pranas Domsaitis
- Richard Freedman
- Kim Feinberg
- Ivor Feinberg (Honorary Consul of Lithuania, Pretoria)
- Bernard Friedman, anti-apartheid MP
- Richard Goldstone - judge and war crimes
- Lee Harris (musician)
- Bension Hersch
- Jeanette Jegger
- Raymond Joffe (Honorary Consul of Lithuania, Johannesburg)
- Sam (Shmuel) Keren (holocaust)
- Hermann Kallenbach
- Hymie Kloner
- Aron Klug
- Mendel Kaplan
- Gill Kaplan
- Jadvyga Kazlauskiene
- Ronnie Kasrils
- Olga Kirsch
- Moses Kottler
- Taubie Kushlick
- Sol Kerzner
- Roland Levinsky
- Lippy Lipschitz
- Isaac Lewis
- Julius Lazarus
- Wendy Machanik
- Sammy Marks
- Sarah Millin
- Ruth Rabinowitz
- Philip Rabinowitz (runner)
- Louis Isaac Rabinowitz
- Dave Rapp
- Michael Rapp
- Joe Slovo
- Ruth First
- Professor Milton Shain
- Alan B. Schmiedt (Honorary Consul of Lithuania, Cape Town)
- Albie Sachs
- Charles Segal (musician)
- Antony Sher
- Helen Suzman
- Gavin Tannenbaum
- Eli Weinberg
- Louis Washkansky
- Percy Yutar
Politicians and activists
Joel Joffe, human rights activist Tony Leon, former opposition leader Harry Schwarz, anti-apartheid politician, lawyer and diplomat Harold Hanson, QC and strong supporter of civil liberties Robin Philip Cranko, Lawyer, anti-apartheid activist
Other Jewish ANC activists included Ruth First, Albie Sachs and five of the six whites arrested in the Rivonia Trial: Denis Goldberg, Lionel Bernstein, Arthur Goldreich, James Kantor, Harold Wolpe and Gaby Shapiro.
Abraham Manie Adelstein, UK Chief Medical Statistician Selig Percy Amoils, Inventor & Surgeon Moses Blackman, crystallographer Sydney Brenner, biologist, Nobel Prize (2002) Leo Camron, educationalist Sydney Cohen, pathologist (Jewish Year Book, 2005, p214, 230) Meyer Fortes, anthropologist Max Gluckman, anthropologist Frank Herbstein, crystallographer, 1926-2011 Aaron Klug, chemist, Nobel Prize (1982) Ludwig Lachmann, economist Arnold Lazarus, psychologist Roland Levinsky, biologist Stanley Mandelstam, physicist (Jewish Year Book 2005 p214) Shula Marks, historian (Jewish Year Book 2005 p215) Frank Nabarro, physicist (Jewish Year Book 2005 p214) Seymour Papert, Artificial Intelligence pioneer Peter Sarnak, mathematician Isaac Schapera, anthropologist (Jewish Year Book 2005 p215) Anthony Segal, biochemist (Jewish Year Book 2005 p214) Phillip V. Tobias, palaeoanthropologist Joseph Wolpe, psychotherapist Lewis Wolpert, developmental biologist Basil Yamey, economist (Jewish Year Book 2005 p215,315) Solly Zuckerman, UK zoologist Max Price, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town
Lionel Abrahams, poet Jillian Becker, writer Dani Behr, TV presenter Harry Bloom, writer and lecturer Lisa Chait, radio presenter Johnny Clegg, World Beat musician John Cranko, choreographer Graeme Friedman, writer David Goldblatt, photographer Nadine Gordimer, writer, Nobel Prize (1991) Laurence Harvey, actor Ronald Harwood, playwright Manu Herbstein, writer Dan Jacobson, writer Sid James, comic actor Danny K, pop singer William Kentridge, artist Lennie Lee, artist Manfred Mann (Manfred Lubowitz), R&B keyboardist Sarah Millin, writer Trevor Rabin, guitarist & film composer Jonathan Shapiro (Zapiro), political cartoonist Antony Sher, stage actor Janet Suzman, stage actress
Business and professional figures
Raymond Ackerman, supermarket tycoon Alfred Beit, diamond magnate Donald Gordon, founder of insurance company Liberty Life, shopping centre owner & philanthropist Sydney Jacobson, newspaper editor Solomon Joel, financier Sol Kerzner, hotel & casino owner Sammy Marks, early entrepreneur from Pretoria Ernest & Harry Oppenheimer, diamond tycoons & philanthropists (Harry converted to Christianity) Percy Yutar, South Africa's first Jewish attorney general and prosecutor of Nelson Mandela in the 1963 Rivonia Treason Trial. Sports figures Ali & Adam Bacher, cricketers Leo Camron, rugby union player and cricketer. Okey Geffin, rugby union player Ilana Kloss, tennis player Peter Lindenberg, powerboat racer (uconfirmed) Sarah Poewe, swimmer Philip Rabinowitz (runner), 100-year-old sprinter Jody Scheckter, Formula 1 driver Shaun Tomson, surfer Mandy Yachad, cricketer
Max Baise, South African rugby union referee. Louis Babrow Leo Camron, South African who helped introduce rugby to Israel., also a cricketer Okey Geffin, South African Rugby Union player Joe Kaminer Jonathan Kaplan, South African who holds the world record for refereeing the highest number of international rugby union test matches. Alan Menter, South African Rugby Union Player Cecil Moss, South African rugby union player and coach Sydney Nomis, South African Rugby Union player Wilf Rosenberg, rugby union player Fred Smollan Joel Stransky, South African rugby union player Morris Zimmerman
- From the Baltic to the Cape: The Journey of Three Families (Kapelus, Dorfman, Hotz and Abramson), by Ivan Kapelius. Kadimah Print, South Africa, 2013. ISBN 978-0-620-56659-9