The VYI participated in the international conference „Casablanca of The North: Refugees and Rescuers in Kaunas 1939 – 1940”.

Director of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute Prof. Sarunas Liekis was one of the key speakers in the conference „Casablanca of The North”, Kaunas, May, 2016.

The aim of the conference was to evaluate the crucial period of 1939 – 1940. Lithuania, still an independent country at the time, became the epicentre of important events. Lithuania sheltered around 30,000 war refugees, mostly from Poland, as WW II started in 1939. The refugees were given financial support by Lithuania, with entire infrastructure being built to aid them. Thus, until the Soviet occupation in the summer of 1940, Lithuania as a state demonstrated responsible and noble behaviour in helping war refugees.

The drama of war refugees is usually connected to the Japanese Consul Chiune Sugihara and Honorary Consul of the Netherlands Jan Zwartendijk, who issued visas for life. However, Lithuania’s position and aid to war refugees is often forgotten, even though the refugees started looking for ways to escape when the Soviets started to crush Lithuania’s independence. Hence one of the goals of the conference is to evaluate Lithuania in the international context showing the state as the subject, having its position and understanding of responsibility.

During the conference, broader context and links which have not been analysed before were presented: the situation Lithuania found itself in at the time, who saved who and from whom, possible ties of rescuers, the refugee escape routes were traced from Lithuania to Japan, Philippines, and other places.

Participants of the International conference came from Lithuania, Poland, Germany, Sweden, Israel, Japan, USA, and Russia. The conference was attended by Nobuki Sugihara, Chiune Sugihara’s son.

The international conference is organised by the Sugihara Diplomats for Life Foundation, together with Valdas Adamkus Presidential Library – Museum and the Faculty of Political Science and Diplomacy of Vytautas Magnus University, in partnership with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Republic of Lithuania, the Embassies of Sweden, Japan, Germany and Poland in Lithuania