The Tolerance Center in Vilnius

  • 2011-08-10
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

BROTHERS-IN-ARMS: Asta Skaisgyryte-Liauskiene, Lithuanian vice-minister of foreign affairs, and Alfonsas Eidintas, author of spy novels and former Lithuanian ambassador to Israel, look at a photo of Shahne Berznitskiy, who served in the Lithuanian army in the town of Veisiejai in 1937.

VILNIUS - On July 21, the exhibition titled “The Jewish World of Yesterday, the Hope of Today” was opened in the Tolerance Center which is situated on Naugarduko Street 10/2 in Vilnius. The exhibition, which was created by the Vienna-based NGO Centropa on the occasion of current Lithuania’s chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, presents pictures and stories of Jewish families in Lithuania. Centropa interviewed a group of elderly Jews, all of whom were born in Lithuania between WWI and WWII, and digitized nearly 500 privately-held photographs.

The exhibition was opened amid controversy in Lithuanian-Austrian relations. On July 15, Mikhail Golovatov, suspect in the Kremlin-perpetrated Vilnius massacre on unarmed civilians in January of 1991, was freed by Austria and immediately left for Moscow. The most vocal critic of the Austrian action was Emanuelis Zingeris, chairman of the Lithuanian Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs. He called for a break up of diplomatic relations with Austria due to the scandalous behavior of Austrian law-and-order institutions, which may be obeying orders made by phone from Moscow and forgetting EU solidarity. Zingeris is former director of the Jewish Museum. Now his brother, writer Markas Zingeris, is the director of that museum. The Tolerance Center is a branch of the Jewish Museum (Pamenkalnio Street 12). The invitations to the opening of the exhibition were signed by the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry and the Austrian embassy in Vilnius. However, no incidents took place during the opening.

The Tolerance Center also presents an audio-visual exhibition about the Yung Vilne, which was the name for the assembly of the Jewish avant-garde writers and artists in 1929-1943, and the exhibition titled “Rescued Lithuanian Jewish Child tells about Shoah,” which is comprised of the memoirs, videos, documentaries and pictures of Holocaust witnesses.

The building of the Tolerance Center is an interesting piece of architecture. It was a cheap canteen for poor Jews before WWI. After WWI, a Jewish theater was established there. During the Soviet-era, the building functioned as a cinema theater named Pionierius (“Pioneer”). In 1989, thanks to the Lithuanian national revival movement and the actions of Emanuelis Zingeris, who was an active participant in Lithuania’s pro-independence movement, the building was transferred to the Jewish Museum.

The Tolerance Center is open on Mondays–Thursdays from 10:00–18:00; Fridays from 10:00-16:00, Sundays from 10:00–16:00.