Algirdas Brazauskas (1932-2010), visionary first elected president and later prime minister of free Lithuania died today in Vilnius. In each of his land’s highest offices he proved himself a leader in the grand spirit of the multicultural Grand Duchy of Lithuania who will be properly appreciated long after our time.
From the start of Lithuania’s new history as a proud democratic nation, Algirdas Brazauskas understood that it did no good for his country that war criminals had been rehabilitated by ultranationalist officials.
He paid tribute to Jewish partisan veterans for helping to free Lithuania from Nazi tyranny. As president, he honored Prof Dov Levin. As prime minister, he issued a certificate of recognition to Dr Rachel Margolis.
President Brazauskas’s historic speech to the Israeli Knesset in Jerusalem on 1 March 1995 will never be forgotten (full text here). But in modern Litvak collective memory, there is perhaps one incident, that took place one day before, that will be remembered even more. The Lithuanian delegation was met by a picket line of Holocaust survivors near Yad Vashem. One elderly survivor, Y. Brosh, whose entire family was murdered at Ponar, made his feelings known robustly. Like the other survivors who protested, he was wearing a yellow star on his jacket. President Brazauskas went over to to the man, hugged him and kissed him.
In July 2008, when local dignitaries avoided anti-Nazi partisan hero Fania Yocheles Brantsovsky at the Vilnius US Embassy’s July 4th reception, Algirdas Brazauskas, deep in retirement, came over and asked to be photographed with her. The moment was captured by photographer [??] and appeared in Klaipeda (12 July 2008).
[Milan Chersonski contributed to this report]
Update of 7 October 2010:
See Daiva Repeckaite’s interview with President Brazauskas’s old Tel Aviv friend, Yeshayahu Epstein. Epstein tells the story of how he met President Brazauskas and kept in touch ever since, while recent political history of the country brought both challenges and opportunities to their friendship. Published in Atgimimas.