Global True Lithuania Lithuanian communities and heritage worldwide

Holy Land (Palestine and Israel)

Holy Land is the hotly disputed area in the Middle East that is holy to three religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) and is currently variously recognized as either belonging to Israel, Palestine or both. As Lithuania is a longstanding Christian country that also has a well-entrenched Jewish minority, there are numerous Lithuania-related places in the Holy Land.

Lithuanian relics in the Christian religious sites

Lithuania has a representation in the international Holy Land Christian sites.

In the Pater Noster church in Jerusalem where the Lord's Prayer is written in many languages, there is also a Lithuanian version (inside the church).

In the Church of Annunciation in Nazareth where Virgin Mary once lived and received the vision that she is to give birth to Jesus Christ there are many Works of art depicting Mary donated by various countries and their people. Among them is an artwork from Lithuania based on the Virgin Mary painting on the Gate of Dawn in Vilnius.

Additionally, the city of Vilnius is mentioned on the Polish Mary that depicts locations where Poles have suffered during World War 2.

Lithuanian image of Virgin Mary in the Nazareth church (left) and Lithuanian Lord's Prayer in the Jerusalem Paternoster church (right).

Rich Lithuanians have supported the upkeep and restoration of the Christian holy sites. The fund of Lithuanian-American businessman Kazickas has funded the reconstruction of the Jerusalem Calvary chapels (this is marked by a plaque).

Memorial plaque for the sponsors of the Jerusalem Calvary, with the surname of Kazickas family.

Lithuanian (Litvak) heritage among the Israeli Jews

Most of the Holy Land is currently controlled by Israel. The majority of people there are Jews. Jews have immigrated from many countries all over the world, and many have arrived from Lithuania (these Jews are known as Litvaks). It is estimated that by 19th century Lithuania had some 350 thousand Jews, of which only some 200 thousand remained by the census year of 1923. By 1959, Lithuania had 25 thousand Jews and now it has merely 3 thousand.

Most of this decline happened due to emigration. Holy Land was among the primary destinations of Lithuania's Jewish emigration (together with USA, South Africa, and Russia). Therefore, many Jews in the Holy Land have their roots among the Lithuanian Jewry.

That said, typically, the Jewish migrants to Holy Land would integrate into the local Jewry and not pass down the Lithuanian traditions over generations.

Still, the name "Lithuania" and its cities may be seen in many biographies of prominent past (early-to-mid 20th century) Jews that are available in Israel. Many streets in Israel are named after such Lithuania-born Jews.

Lithuania-born Jewish architects among many architects presented in the 2nd floor of Shalom tower as the architects who constructed Tel Aviv.

Additionally, some 10% of Israel's population are Haredis, also known as Ultra-orthodox Jews. This deeply religious school of thought has one of two of its branches called "Litvish" or "Lithuanian". The main yeshiva (religious school) of this branch is called after Panevėžys city - Ponevezh yeshiva, as it was relocated from Panevėžys in the World War 2 era. It stands in the Orthodox-majority city of Bnei Brak near Tel Aviv. Among its key personalities was a Lithuanian-born rabbi Elazar Shach (1899-2001) who has a street named after him in Bnei Brak.

Ponevezh Lithuanian yeshiva in Bnei Brak, Israel. Google Street View.

As opposed to the other descendants of Litvaks who have adopted the Hebrew language, the Haredi descendants typically still speak the Yiddish language which used to be spoken by the Jews in Lithuania before they became Russified during the Soviet Union occupation. They also dress in the traditional garments. Visiting Haredi districts thus provides the best still-possible insight in how the 19th century Lithuania's Jewish districts (shtetls) looked like.

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Asia and Africa

Note: For the Asian parts of former Soviet Union see Europe (East) section.

In the 19th century, Africa and Asia were both scrambled by European empires, their coastal cities settled by white metropolitan colonists. However Lithuania not only lacked colonies, it was partitioned itself among Russia and Germany in this era and settled by these powers. Therefore there was little Lithuanian emigration to these "exotic" locations save for a few missionaries.

South Africa was unique among these colonies for its strong white community (20% of the population in 1900). It attracted people from Lithuania - but minorities rather than ethnic Lithuanians. Many Lithuanian Jews emigrated there, now making up some 70% of local 70 000-strong Jewish community. Germans moved in as well and one city in Free State province is still named Memel (Memel was the German name of Klaipėda, Lithuania).

Throughout the 20th century, many Lithuania's Jews emigrated to Palestine where the state of Israel was established in 1948. Some famous politicians are of Litvak descent whereas one of the most famous Orthodox rabbi schools is called Ponevezh after Panevėžys, Lithuania (the city it was once located in).

After 1990 the Asia and Africa became reachable for Lithuanians to travel, study and migrate. Interest in the cultures of India and Japan grew. Japan became the first country in these two continents to have a Lithuanian community formally established. Most of its cultural events take place in Japan where Lithuania operates an embassy. Embassies also exist in China, Egypt, and Israel.

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Japan

Lithuanian community in Japan is small and young (formally established in 2005). Therefore it used to be very surprising to see a Lithuanian-named institution right next to Akihabara (world capital of electronics). This was the Zemaitis museum (address: 11-5 Kajicho, 2-Chome, Chiyoda-ku, under a railway line), which unfortunately closed in 2012. "Žemaitis" means a "Samogitian" in the Lithuanian language (a person from Samogitia, one of the country's traditional regions). However, the museum is dedicated not to Samogitia but to Antanas Kazimieras Žemaitis (a.k.a. Tony Casimere Zemaitis 1935-2002), a very famous Lithuanian luthier. His pearl-incrusted expensive instruments have been played by such celebrities as The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Jimmy Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Paul McCarthney, Rod Stewart, Mick Jagger, James Hatfield and Ronny Wood. Tony Zemaitis was born to a Lithuanian emigrant family in London but now the base of "Zemaitis Guitars" company he established has been curiously moved to Japan where most of his guitars are also sold (thus the museum in Tokyo).

Interestingly there is another Lithuania-related museum in northern Hokkaido dedicated to a Lithuanian who never live in Japan. That is Miri Hiroko Stasys Museum with some works by a Lithuanian painter Stasys Eidrigevičius and a local painter Mori Hiroko. It has been established on an initiative of director Hasegawa who met Eidrigevičius in his study in Poland back in 1978 and became mesmerized by his works. Address Yubinbango 047-0034, Otaru city.

Miri Hiroko Stasys museum in Otaru. Google Street View.

Another point of interest is "Little Lithuania" clothing store in Hiroshima. Marked by a tricolor it uniquely has nothing to do with local Lithuanians as it had been opened by a Japanese family fond of Lithuanian linen and culture.

Japan is among ethnically purest countries and lacks immigrants. However, its entirely different yet modern civilization lured some Westerners (including Lithuanians) in, coupled with business opportunities. Business relations caused Lithuania to establish its embassy in Tokyo (3-7-18 Moto-Azabu, Minato-ku) but the diplomatic mission now hosts the events of Lithuanian community.

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The Gambia

When one hears the word "Colonialism" the mighty European Empires (Spain, Portugal, Britain, France, Russia...) probably come to mind first. However, several smaller countries also managed to partake in the great colonial adventure. Among them was Duchy of Courland and Semigallia, a fiefdom of Grand Duchy of Lithuania. 27,286 km² in area and with a population of mere 200 000 people in the year 1651 it became the first European power to settle the Gambia and one of the first to establish a colony in Africa.

The colony was established in Andrew island and some surrounding areas. The Russian invasion of Lithuania meant that Courland was weakened and lost its colonies after less than a decade, however. British captured the Gambia estuary and their slave trade was what made the island (renamed James Island) famous. British traders used to buy local slaves from their black masters upriver and keep them on the island before the transatlantic voyage. The island still housing ruins of a fort (British, not Lithuanian), is now a UNESCO world heritage site, its importance increased by Alex Haley's book "Roots" where this African American author claimed to have traced his own roots to a certain slave Kunta Kinte who had been once shipped through the James Island.

Andrew/James/Kunta Kinte island, a former Lithuanian (Courlandian) colony in the Gambia. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The historical accuracy of the book is doubtful and it has been attacked for plagiarism but the Gambia capitalizes on related tourism (James Island was renamed after Kunta Kinte in 2011). On Juffureh village near the island, a slavery museum has been established, its guides presenting a version of history as it is described in "The Roots", influenced by the African American national romanticism era of 1960s-1970s.

Juffureh village itself also used to be a colony of Courland and Semigallia. Banjul island where the capital city of the Gambia is now located was the third Courlandian colony.

The name Courland is now virtually unknown so popular sources list the first colonial power of Gambia variously as either Germans, Latvians, Lithuanians or Poles. There is a grain of truth in every version as the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia was ruled by ethnic German dukes (Kettler dynasty), its population majority was Latvian, it was a fiefdom of Lithuania which, in turn, was a part of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

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