After four years of discussions and project development, it was announced in a press conference on April 26th that a memorial for Jan Zwartendijk will be opened in Kaunas in June this year. A spiral light installation will be placed in Laisvės alėja, in front of a building that served as Zwartendijk’s office when he served as temporary consul of the Netherlands in 1940.
Zwartendijk, a businessman and a representative of Philips in Lithuania, issued more than 2000 Curacao visas to Jewish refugees that had escaped Poland. Zwartendijk’s deed inspired Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat, to issue transit visas for Japan; thousands of lives were saved from Holocaust with the help of the visas and agreements with the Soviet government that allowed the refugees to cross USSR. Both diplomats were honoured as Righteous Among the Nations by the Israeli government. Sugihara has become a national hero in Japan and a significant figure in Lithuania; the deed of Zwartendijk, a very humble man, is much less known in Kaunas and the Netherlands.
“<...> It might be a good idea to do something about the memory of this historical figure in Kaunas, to try to present a monument for commemoration not of the person himself – because that’s what he didn’t want – but of the deed”, said to the current Ambassador of the Netherlands to Lithuania, Gijsbert Hendrik Christiaan van der Lingen in an interview for Kaunas Full of Culture magazine (read the interview here).
Giny Vos, the artist commissioned to create the light installation, agrees with this idea in her explanatory note: “In my view, the work should not be about Jan Zwartendijk as a person, but about the rescue and survival of <…> people”.
The light spiral will be installed at the height of 3,2 m around one of the trees opposite Zwartendijk’s former office. Entirely coincidentally, it will also be near the office of Kaunas – European Capital of Culture 2022 team.
The CEO of Kaunas 2022 Virginija Vitkienė, who also took part in the press conference, expressed her satisfaction with the fact that a contemporary monument will enrich the cultural landscape of Kaunas.
“One of the goals of Kaunas 2022 is to awaken the collective memory of Kaunas and to remind ourselves of its multicultural history, also to help make sure tragic events like Holocaust will never happen again”, said Vitkienė. Before 1940, almost 30% of the population in Kaunas was Jewish. Right now, Kaunas is the most homogenous city in the Baltics.
Since the initial idea, the memorial for Zwartendijk has supported by the Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Good Will Foundation. Faina Kukliansky, the chairwoman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, said during the press conference that “Four years is nothing compared to six million people killed during the Holocaust, 250 thousand of which in Lithuania; everyone who saved at least one life deserves our respect and love”.
The budget of the memorial is 150 000 Eur. The project is funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Government of Lithuania, Philips, Good Will Foundation and Kazickas Family Foundation. Kaunas City Municipality will cover the technical costs.
Representatives of GLOW light festival in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, consulted the project. It was also positively met by Zwartendijk’s children Rob and Edith. It’s hoped that Kaunas and Eindhoven, a city in which Zwartendijk lived after coming back to the Netherlands, will maintain an even closer relationship in the future.