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VILNIUS - Lithuania on Sunday launched a new campaign for European students that seeks to reveal the once rich Jewish culture in the Baltic State and its tragic end during the Holocaust, reports AFP.
“We wanted participants to feel the Jewish life - their music, songs, food, and the way they died,” said Ruta Vanagaite, who developed the EU-funded program. Around 40 youths gathered for the first tour on Sunday at the only synagogue - out of more than one hundred - which survived in Vilnius, a city once called “Jerusalem of the North.”
Participants were also taught Jewish dances and songs in Yiddish, and enjoyed kosher food at the community center, before visiting a former ghetto and a Holocaust museum. By the end of the tour, Lithuanian, German, Polish and Spanish students attended a memorial ceremony and each left a small stone in a snowy forest where 70,000 Vilnius Jews were massacred during World War II.
Joachim Werner, 27, a sociology student from Germany, said he was impressed by the program, which is to be attended by some 400 students over the next five months. “If you just visit a museum, you have some depressive view on all Jewish life here in Vilnius. Now it’s more impressive after singing, dancing, listening to the music,” Werner said.
Jews started to live in Vilnius in the 16th century, and before World War II they numbered around one third of the population in the city, attracting Yiddish intellectuals and writers. But around 200,000 Lithuanian Jews - more than 90 percent of the pre-war population - perished at the hands of the Nazis and Lithuanian collaborators.
Simonas Gurevicius, the Lithuanian Jewish community’s executive director, said education is crucial for young people, who know too little about Jewish heritage in the Baltic State. “We hope very much that this nice initiative will be an example to the Lithuanian education system,” Gurevicius, who speaks Yiddish in his family, told AFP.
Today, some 5,000 Jews live in Lithuania.