NEW YORK—The Yivo Institute for Jewish Research, founded in Vilna (then Wilno, Poland) in 1925 as the world’s premier Yiddish-in-Yiddish academic institute, has, to the consternation of many of its life-long supporters and participating scholars, in recent years been (temporarily, its long-time supporters hope) “hijacked” by a few elite circles in the Lithuanian government who are determined to exploit Judaic, and especially the now-weak branch of Yiddish studies as a tool to cover for policies of rewriting the history of the Holocaust in a far-right East European nationalist spirit, as well as state programs of glorification of alleged Holocaust collaborators. The best known cry of protest came several years ago from Vilna-born Holocaust survivor and lifelong resident, Prof. Pinchos Fridberg.
וואָס וואָלטן טאַקע טראַכטן מאַקס ווײַנרײַך, זלמן רייזען און דינה אַבראַמאָוויטש וועגן די נײַע צילן פון ניו⸗יאָרקער ייוואָ?
Even as ever more circles in today’s free, democratic, and delightful Lithuania have come to understand the Jewish, Litvak and Holocaust issues in a spirit of friendship and partnership, New York’s Yivo continues to function as a political arm of the Holocaust revisionists’ “International Commission on the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupational Regimes in Lithuania” (Yivo’s director even joined the commission), and a small “Jewish manipulation unit” in the Foreign Ministry, neither of which reflect so much of what is really going on. For a month now, the headline of Defending History has honored Vilnius’s mayor for boldly taking down two long-standing, and contemptible, public space memorials for Holocaust collaborators.
Still, yet again, Yivo has opted to exclude all other voices, while enabling the ongoing shenanigans of nationalist manipulation which recently resulted in the NY Yivo director’s being awarded the Cross for the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania, from the Lithuanian government, even as Holocaust survivors and their families continue to be betrayed in a way that would make Yivo’s founders twist in their graves.
As for teaching of the living Yiddish language, literature and culture, not a penny of the millions raised by Yivo has gone into the smallest class. Conversely, Yiddish teaching and study continue in the city despite the campaigns of personal exclusion and defamation by those enabled and directed by Yivo.
Defending History has been following events since 2011, when a gala event on the Vilna Ghetto invited as guest of honor a foreign minister called out for his overt antisemitism by the Jewish community, through recent weeks, when the director of Yivo, Dr. Jonathan Brent, was duly awarded his knighthood. Never once has Yivo invited to New York the Vilna Ghetto Holocaust survivors Rachel Margolis and Fania Brantsovsky, whose families have still not received apologies for the state-run campaigns to characterize them as war criminals in the history books and on the web, in virtue of their having survived the Holocaust by joining with the anti-Nazi partisans who were the only force in Lithuania seriously fighting the Nazis during the genocide.
This Thursday’s event, cosponsored by the Lithuanian consulate in New York, follows the usual pattern (scroll through the history for examples) of having one genuine Lithuanian hero who has stood up for the truth and has little idea that (or how) he is being manipulated. This time it is the great Lithuanian-American humanist, writer and professor Tomas Venclova. The Yivo program lists the title of his September 5th talk as virtually identical with his 2015 publication in Defending History: “Lithuanians and Jews: What’s Changed and What Hasn’t over the last Forty Years?” It was based on a Vilnius conference paper he read, on a podium he shared with Defending History staff, whom he entrusted with the translation to English (see also his DH section, also the DH editor’s lecture at the same conference).