Kaunas, European Capital of Culture 2022

That Which We Do Not Remember, an exhibition by one of South Africa’s most famous Litvaks, William Kentridge, opened on 22 January at the M.K. Čiurlionis Museum of Art, Kaunas, Lithuania.

Evoking Jewish memory of the city

Kaunas, Lithuania was named European Capital of Culture 2022 by the European Commission jury in 2017.

It is one of the European Union’s most successful cultural projects, funded by city municipalities and national governments. It is an opportunity to explore the city’s identity through art and cultural projects, and to speak out on issues relevant to today’s world.

The city’s multi-ethnic history and Jewish memory are some of the main themes of Kaunas European Capital of Culture 2022. Kaunas 2022 Memory Office programme is dedicated to bringing the city’s history up to date and awakening its memory. Most of the Memory Office programme in 2022 will be dedicated to art and cultural projects that speak about the city’s Jewish memory.

Active since 2017, the Kaunas 2022 Memory Office team has presented several projects dedicated to Kaunas’ Jewish memory. One of the most important projects is the book Jews of Kaunas. This book is an attempt to present the Jewish history of Kaunas, starting with the most important facts, concepts, and names. It describes the history of what was once one of the largest ethnic groups in Kaunas from the 15th century onwards, the settlement of Jews in the city, the names of the most important Kaunasians who lived and worked there, their contribution to education, medicine, industry, business, culture and other spheres of life, and touches on the painful pages of history.

Kaunas 2022 initiated a number of street artworks in the city and district, recalling the names and faces of those who lived here. Among them is the famous Israeli poet, Leah Goldberg, originally from Kaunas, whose image and poem appear in the place where the poet lived — Kestučio Street. Yossi Levy, the Israeli Ambassador to Lithuania, wrote in his letter to the team, “It is for sure the most beautiful wall painting I have seen so far in Lithuania, very touching, delicate and of great taste, yet projecting a powerful message of humanity and pain of the poet torn between her two homelands.”

More than 20 art projects — exhibitions, concerts, and performances — will recall the rich Jewish history of Kaunas. The programme features Litvak artists from South Africa, Israel, France, the UK, and the USA. The Embassy of Israel in Vilnius, the Embassies of Lithuania in Israel, South Africa, and the United Kingdom, Lithuanian and international artists and cultural creators have kindly contributed to the development of the programme.

The 2022 Capital of Culture programme will kick off with the exhibition What we don’t remember by William Kentridge, one of the world’s most formidable Litvaks, which will be open all year round at the M.K.Čiurlionis National Museum of Art. In this exhibition, the artist hopes to fill in the gaps in our memory and, at the same time, talk to us about what we do not remember, consciously or unconsciously.

In the summer of 2022, events dedicated to the history of the Holocaust and the Kaunas Ghetto will be presented. The Way of Reconciliation procession and Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Nabucco will take place at Kaunas 9th Fort, as will Ecce Homo: Those Who Stayed and Those Who Left, a joint interdisciplinary project presented by the Kaunas 9th Fort Museum and the National Resistance Museum of Luxembourg. Audiences in Kaunas and in Esch-sur-Alsette will be invited to revisit a tragic story from the Second World War. The project will shed light on a common bond between the two cities through painful, traumatic memories, and will imbue them with new relevance in the context of current events.

At the end of the summer, Jenny Kagan (UK) will exhibit Out of Darkness, in which the artist revives her parents’ stories of their experiences in Kaunas during the Holocaust.

On 23 September, the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of the Genocide of the Lithuanian Jews, Kaunas Youth Project will perform Youth Speaks about War. The participants of the project, the young generation of Kaunas citizens, will ask the audience’ ‘What would you do if war knocked on your door?’ The audience will be invited to listen to the forgotten stories of World War II and to consider the challenges of history today.

On 29 — 30 September, Kaunas European Capital of Culture 2022 will invite you to the Litvak Forum. Artists, academics, and representatives of the cultural world will speak about the role of culture and art in perpetuating the Jewish memory and heritage, the Litvak identity, and other relevant topics of today. The members of the Litvak Forum Advisory Board are Prof. Antony Polonsky, Prof. Peter Salovey, Prof. James E. Young, Prof. Tsvia Walden, Zev Krengel, Vice President of the Jewish Board of Deputies of South Africa, Prof. Šarunas Liekis, Darius Degutis, Ambassador of the Republic of Lithuania to Australia, Misha Jakobas, founder and former director of the ORT Gymnasium in Vilnius and Gercas Žakas, Chairman of the Kaunas Jewish Community.

The Litvak Forum will offer a rich programme of concerts, exhibitions, performances, and meetings with artists, including one of the largest musical projects, Kaunas Cantata — written especially for Kaunas by South African composer Philip Miller in collaboration with artist Jenny Kagan (UK) and local musicians. The work is an immersive musical experience, inviting listeners to delve into the city’s multi-ethnic past and the complex stories of Kaunas. The forum’s programme also includes a concert of Yiddish songs performed by Marija Krupoves, and a traveling klezmer orchestra who will evoke the Jewish memory in Kaunas district towns.

Participants of the forum will be able to see the photography exhibition The Last Litvaks by Michael Shubitz. In September, the city streets will be filled with the contemporary art installation Threshold by artist Jyll Bradley (UK), which will symbolically bring back the symbol of Jewish culture — the mezuzah — to the streets of Kaunas.

In October, Israeli artists Sala-Manca Collective and the Kaunas Symphony Orchestra will stage a performance evoking the mystical story of Dibbuk. These and other stories of the past will be waiting for you in 2022 in Kaunas, the European Capital of Culture.

Kaunas 2022 calendar of projects dedicated to Jewish memory

  • Litvak music programme May, August – September 2022
  • Out of Darkness, an exhibition by Jenny Kagan (UK) 2022 August – October
  • Ecce Homo: Those Who Stayed and Those Who Left, an art installation by Bruce Clarke (FR) and Tebby W.T. Ramasike (NL) September – December 2022
  • Way of Reconciliation, a historic procession and premiere of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Nabucco July 16, 2022
  • Threshold, public art installation by Jyll Bradley (UK), from July 2022
  • The Youth talk about war, performance in public spaces Forum 23 September 2022
  • World Litvak Forum 29 September – 01 October, 2022
  • Kaunas Kantata, music performance, composer Phillip Miller (RSA), visual artist Jenny Kagan (UK) 30 September, 1 October, 2022
  • The Last Litvaks, photography exhibition By Michael Schubitz (IL) September – December
  • The Music Shell, concert story by artists collective Chrimatikon (UK) September 2022
  • Simon Karczmar, an exhibition of paintings June – August 2022
  • The Journey, exhibition by Marilla Destot (US) September 2022
  • Window to Jewish Life before the Holocaust, exhibition September – December 2022
  • The Dybbuk, musical performance by artist collective Sala – Manca (IL) 14 – 15 October, 2022
  • Click here for a detailed programme
The CityTelling Festival, one of the biggest events of Kaunas 2022 Memory Office. Created by Tadas Vincaitis, the mural is dedicated to a Jewish family that lived in Kaunas before WW2. It was inspired by interwar photography, in which we see a girl – Rosian Bagriansky with her mother Gerta. Rosian was born in 1935 in Kaunas. Her father, Paul Bagriansky, was a successful textile merchant, and her mother was a Paris-trained concert pianist and music teacher who became the Konzertmeister of the Lithuanian Music Theatre after the war. The family survived the Holocaust. In this street art piece you can also see one of the most beautiful poems of the Lithuanian Jewish poet Hirsh Ošerovičius.

• Published in the PDF edition of the February 2022 issue – Click here to get it.

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