צו די שלשים פון יוסף (יאָסקע) מלמד ז″ל
America was jolted this past summer not only by a neo-Nazi event in Charlottesville, Virginia that left an anti-Nazi protester dead by vehicular homicide, but by President Trump’s “blame on both sides” line, which created in America a microcosm of a debate that has been raging for some years in Eastern Europe among historians of World War II and the Holocaust and several Eastern European governments.
The entire Charlottesville debate was over a bogus moral equivalence that Trump drew between American neo-Nazi demonstrators and those who turned out to oppose them. The larger context was about whether those who who fought for slavery and secession in the Civil War are “the same” as those who fought against slavery and for the Union. Magnify that all a hundred-fold to begin to comprehend what is a major intellectual and political push to contextualize the actual Nazi genocide, the Holocaust, within the Hitlerist “freedom fight” against Soviet Communist domination in Eastern Europe.
Such are our times, in which well-presented postmodernist slop can stultify elementary clarity of thought. In the various cases at hand, different versions of the same bogus moral equivalence strategy of argumentation are used, at a minimum, to make prosaic and palatable that which is inherently beyond the pale, such as state-sponsored public-square adulation for those who collaborated in genocide in Eastern Europe (or, indeed, in slavery).
One does not have to be a theoretical champion of Free Enterprise vs. Government Intervention to take stock of this week’s incredible contrast between the two major products of this last week in September, the annual week of intensive Jewish commemoration activity in Lithuania, and particularly, in its fabled capital, Vilnius. By “products” we mean things of substantive physicality that will outlive by far the week’s posturing, speeches, and meetings with glittering public officials and national leaders.
VILNIUS—“There is nothing new under the sun,” as the Good Book says (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Sure, on occasion, Irish communities will feud in Boston, Italians in New York, Chinese in LA and Lithuanians in Chicago. It is part of the professional training, posture, and policy of diplomats to negotiate such inevitabilities by way of common sense, wisdom, and fairness. For years now, the widely admired German ambassador to Lithuania, HE Jutta Schmitz has kept her embassy’s diplomatic table open to people and organizations, governmental and non-governmental, from across the colorfully diverse spectrum of opinion in Lithuania. It is not known whether the recent completion of her Vilnius ambassadorship and departure from Lithuania, and the temporary vacancy, had anything to do with the embassy’s recent, and quite innocent, faux-pas.
[most recent update]
Full credit to the Forward’s Paul Berger, who has, as ever, sought to be meticulously fair in his new article on some aspects of contemporary Lithuanian Jewish life. This “addendum” goes in a sense more to the wider issues encountered when Western journalists cover stories in the “slightly exotic east,” here in Eastern Europe, on ground zero of the Holocaust, where Jewish communities are ipso facto remnant communities, and where certain larger trends can at times be in play.
PROF. DOV LEVIN
Kaunas (Kovno) 1925 — Jerusalem 2016
VILNIUS—The 22 November edition of the Jerusalem Post carried the following news item about an international meeting at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation.
Lithuanian and Israeli diplomats, academics, and government officials, together with representatives of Litvak organizations in Israel, the American Jewish Committee, the World Jewish Congress and the Tel Aviv Municipality, will congregate on Thursday at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation to discuss Lithuania and Israel – Past, Present and Future. Among the Lithuanians will be Lithuanian Ambassador Edminas Bagdonas, Ronaldas Račinskas, executive director of the International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania; Faina Kukliansky, chairwoman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community; and several other Lithuanian dignitaries. Among the topics tabled for discussion is the reinstatement of Lithuanian citizenship to Lithuanian expatriates living in Israel.
A recent Washington Post editorial rightfully takes Russia and China to task for persecuting those who dare challenge the state’s distortions of history. In the case of Russia, there is mention of the disgraceful prosecution of a citizen for pointing out that the September 1939 dismemberment of Poland was a joint venture of Germany and the USSR codified by the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. But wait a minute.
Rabbi Tzvi Rotberg, One of the world’s top Litvak rabbis and head of the world-famous yeshiva (rabbinical academy) Beth Meir, in Bnei-Brak, Israel, issued a public letter, in rabbinic Hebrew, on 25 September 2016 pleading with Lithuanian state authorities to intervene to stop the building of a planned National Congress Center atop the graves of some of the greatest Lithuanian rabbis of the last thousand years. He refers metaphorically to the “outcry of those that lie in the dust from the previous generations who were righteous and pure” and condemns plans for celebrations and unholy events on top of their remains. Rabbi Rotberg is the grandson of the fabled Rabbi Tuvia Rotberg, a close disciple and associate of the Chofetz Chaim (Yiroel-Meir of Radin).
VILNIUS—For close to three decades, Vilnius has been the only city in the world with municipally sponsored public plaques and signs that regularly include Yiddish. Symbologically for a small, weak, stateless, threatened and “threat-to-nobody” language in this part of the world, it was an equally important statement of respect for the language, literature and culture of the murdered Jewish people of the city that Yiddish sometimes came first, “on top,” and always so when it was a question between Yiddish and modern Israeli Hebrew.
For the first time, a Lithuanian author teamed up with an Israeli Holocaust scholar in search for the truth about widespread local enthusiasm, seventy-five years ago, for mass murder of civilian neighbors, and today’s failures in coming to grips with that history, in a land of hundreds of Jedwabnes. A genuine historic advance in Lithuanian-Jewish relations is seen in the startling partnership of Rūta Vanagaitė and Dr. Efraim Zuroff in Vanagaitė’s Mūsiškiai: Kelionė su priešu (“Our People: Journey with an Enemy”), published in Vilnius in January 2016. See also the media tracking page on the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Operation Last Chance website.
The following listing of coverage by language (English, Lithuanian, Russian, Polish) is far from exhaustive. The humongous reaction needs to be studied in its own right.
The following comment appeared on Facebook today:
YAD VASHEM’S “political department” and the group that visited Lithuania last week:
Thanks to both members of the group who quietly reached out to the Defending History team for a meeting. As you saw, nothing but good comes from relaxed, pleasurable, respectful and frank exchange of ideas and knowledge, over a cup of coffee. It was sad that the group was (again) hermetically sealed from “The Second Opinion” here in Vilnius (and those Holocaust survivors who hold such opinions), as if Israeli citizens cannot be trusted to cope with a rich tapestry of opposing views when they visit Eastern Europe. (That various “Yiddish” institutions gleefully, at times, play the role of gatekeeper of ideas here is another issue.) For background on the issues from our team’s perspective, please see:
Over the years some amazing Israeli heroes of truth and courage have indeed spoken out.
The following is the first column of page 898 of Professor Dov Levin’s entry, “Lithuania,” in volume 3 of Encyclopedia of the Holocaust (Israel Gutman, editor-in-chief; published by Macmillan, New York, and Collier Macmillan, London, 1990, in cooperation with Yad Vashem: The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority, Jerusalem). Further reading on the subject. Eyewitness testimonies.
KAUNAS—One month after this year’s infamous Independence Day march in central Kaunas that featured a banner glorifying a number of Holocaust collaborators, including those co-responsible for the fate of this city’s 30,000 Jews in the Holocaust here on its ground zero, Israeli ambassador to Lithuania HE Amir Maimon has paid a very public congratulatory call on the mayor and city council to praise them unreservedly for their Jewish remembrance policies. There was no public mention of the march or request that future events desist from publicly glorifying the city’s collaborators. The following report is from today’s edition of the official website of the Lithuanian Jewish Community. Holocaust survivors and their families in both Kaunas and Vilnius who contacted Defending History were incredulous and “in shock”…
As the Lithuanian government-sponsored “Red-Brown Commission” (popular moniker for the “International Commission for Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupational Regimes of Lithuania“), quiet on the international front for a time, announces a comeback global conclave for 17-19 March 2016, suspense is rising as to whether various Jewish organizations, including Yivo and the AJC, but above all the Israel Foreign Ministry, will again be coming on board to legitimize the body that is the midwife of the Double Genocide movement in the European Parliament.
The following is the official 21 Nov. 2014 United Nations voting sheet for the resolution (A/C.3/69/L.56/Rev.1) “Combating glorification of Nazism, neo-nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.” The original is posted on the UN website. This copy has three added arrows for rapid identification of the three states that voted “No.”
Media coverage includes: Margaret Besheer in Voice of America; Joseph Brean in Canada’s National Post; George Eliason in Global Research; Ken Hanly in Digital Journal; Dovid Katz in The Times of Israel; Ryan Maloney in Huffington Post; Jim Miles in CounterPunch; Boruch Shubert in JP Updates; Sam Sokol in the Jerusalem Post.
TEL AVIV— Daniel Galay, director of Leyvik House in central Tel Aviv, one of Israel’s major Yiddish culture institutions, issued the following statement today on the Leyvik House website (copy), and on its Facebook page (see also Efraim Zuroff’s Facebook comment). For background see our earlier report.
Appeal to the World Jewish Congress
Tel Aviv, 12 June 2014
Like all lovers of Yiddish language and culture, we at Leyvik House in Tel Aviv, home to the Union of Yiddish Writers and Journalists in Israel, were happy to see the recent announcement that the World Jewish Congress would be facilitating a new Yiddish center in Vilnius, Lithuania.
JERUSALEM—On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, observed today internationally, Dorot Hahemshech, Israel’s largest association of children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, issued a call to both the Israeli government and other democracies to renew and intensify the efforts to bring to justice Nazi war criminals and collaborators while it is still possible. The leaders of the NGO also commented on the growing phenomenon of distorting the history of the Holocaust in a number of countries, particularly in the context of the Double Genocide movement rampant in Eastern Europe.
The following is a translation from the original Hebrew text.
The Lithuanian government is pouring ever more resources and doing an ever better job with its PR campaign to turn Litvaks (Jews of Lithuanian origin) into virtual PR agents who now go further than they do themselves: painting a picture of the New Jewish Paradise in Lithuania without even mentioning the existence of painful current issues. Jerusalem Post editor-in-chief Steve Linde no doubt meant only the best with his Chapter-of-Psalms, and will, I feel confident, now be happy to give the issues some rounded airing.
Readers on several continents again report to Defending History that the Jerusalem Post has failed to post perfectly polite comments to yet another ecstatic ode to issueless Lithuanian-Jewish love. This time it’s the story “Growing Lithuanian Business Ties Beget Political Support” which reported on the recent visit to Israel of the Lithuanian Minister for the Economy Evaldas Gustas.
The rejected comments pointed out that a senior specialist employed at his ministry was exposed last spring as Lithuania’s most hateful internet blogger, responsible for a series of images disparaging to Jews, Blacks, Gays, and to the history of the Holocaust in Lithuania (sampling of images here). Our Open Letter to the minister essentially asks why the hateful top official is still in office. Is such a question taboo for a major English language daily in Israel?
From the very beginning, the source of our problems is to be found in an inaccurate narrative of World War II that is rather widespread here in France. This can be explained in part by France’s position as a de facto ally of the Axis at first, starting from the time of Petain’s surrender to Hitler’s forces in 1940. It was rather late in the war that a substantial segment of society in the country per se (as opposed to the heroic resisters who had joined the Allies outside surrendered France’s borders) became a stalwart ally of the United States and Great Britain, at a time when that was by a confluence of circumstances most convenient for all three countries.
Attorney Yosef Melamed asked me to update you regarding the recent events which have taken place since the last memorial event a year ago, concerning the attempts by the Lithuanian government to distort the history of the Holocaust and to minimize or deny the participation of many Lithuanians in the murder of Jews, not only in Lithuania but also beyond its borders.
ערב טוב לכולם,
עו″ד יוסף מלמד בקש ממני לעדכן אותכם לגבי האירועים שהתרחשו מאז האזכרה האחרונה לפני שנה בנסיונות של ממשלת ליטא לעוות את ההסטוריה של השואה, וכמו כן גם למזער או להעלים את השתתפותם של ליטאים כל כך רבים ברצח יהודים בליטא, אבל גם מחוץ לגבולותיה.
Editor’s note: The following is an English translation by Geoff Vasil of an article that appeared on Delfi.lt on October 25, 2013. The images that appeared with the original Lithuanian text are not reproduced here.
In 1999, The Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel published Crime and Punishment, compiled after many years of work, by its chairman, Tel Aviv attorney Joseph Melamed, a native of Kovno (Kaunas), Holocaust survivor and veteran of the Jewish partisan resistance in Lithuania and of the Israeli War of Independence. In the late 1990s, Mr. Melamed wrote repeatedly to Lithuanian prosecutors, explaining that some Holocaust perpetrators and witnesses were still alive and investigations could be pursued.
A paste-in of the Facebook discussion to date on the upcoming Global Forum conferences in Jerusalem is available at:
Dr. Marina Solodkin, 60, a Moscow native and former member of the Israeli Knesset, died in her hotel room, of an apparent heart attack or stroke, in Riga, the capital of Latvia, on March 16th. She had come to join activities to protest this year’s Waffen SS march earlier that day. [UPDATE: See now reports in Arutz Sheva, Haaretz, Jerusalem Post, Jewish Press, JTA, The Times of Israel, YNet; a brief biography appears on the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s website.]
A screen-capture of Dr. Solodkin’s final Facebook posting, from Israel on March 15th before setting off for Riga, appears below. It translates:
From today’s Times of Israel.
The visit to Israel of a foreign prime minister used to be a big deal. That’s why there were so many photos of Burmese head of state U Nu’s visit in the early sixties. Those days, however, are long gone and today when most prime ministers visit us it’s usually of little or no interest to anybody and they get almost no coverage unless they are major world figures.
That would help explain why I only found out Tuesday morning that Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip was to be touring Yad Vashem that day.
Ostensibly, that is no occasion of any particular significance, and the visit is more or less a pro forma requirement for any head of state coming to Israel in that capacity, especially if he or she has never been here before. But that is not true in the case of the Estonian leader, who heads a country that is suffering from a severe Baltic variant of post-Communist Eastern European Holocaust amnesia. This is an intellectual disease whose four main characteristics are a systematic minimization of crimes by local Nazi collaborators, a distinct lack of political will to prosecute and punish such individuals, a tendency to glorify locals who fought alongside the Nazis – in Estonia’s case in Waffen-SS units – and a determination to promote the historical canard of supposed equivalency between Nazi and Communist crimes.
Leivick House, one of Israel’s (and the world’s) last Yiddish-in-Yiddish cultural institutions, has released a video clip of the June 2009 visit to its Dov Hoz Street headquarters in central Tel Aviv by Israel’s then ambassador to Latvia and Lithuania, the late Chen Ivri Apter, at an event to honor Dr. Rachel Margolis. It is posted on YouTube (partial English translation here). The event itself was reported in DefendingHistory and the Leivick House website, among other venues.
Dr. Margolis, due to celebrate her 91st birthday next week, is a Vilna Ghetto survivor and anti-Nazi resistance hero who has been targeted by Lithuanian prosecutors, in effect according to some for “the crime of surviving.” Tributes to Dr. Margolis have come from around the world, including former UK prime minister Gordon Brown in 2011.
Ambassador Ivri Apter died last month at the age of 54 after a long battle with cancer that friends always said he never allowed to cloud his love of life and the day ahead.
His short speech at Leivick House is thought likely to go down in history for its courage and forthrightness at a time when his nation’s foreign policy was noticeably starting to tilt in a contrary direction. The Tel Aviv event was organized jointly by DefendingHistory.com and Leivick House.
The polite fiction that the renewed Lithuanian state sponsored “Red-Brown Commission” will advance Holocaust research and research on Soviet crimes strictly at the academic and educational levels took a big hit today, before even its first meetings.
A BNS report released today confirms that the Commission, officially known as The International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania, is one of the bodies that will be involved with demanding compensation from Russia for Soviet crimes against Lithuania.
The ceremony today to commemorate Lithuanian Holocaust victims at Ponár, the country’s largest mass murder site, outside the capital city of Vilnius, on the day officially known as Day to Commemorate the Lithuanian Jewish Victims of Genocide, went off pretty much as most official commemorations do here: inappropriate and with seeming desperation to focus on any topic except the circumstances of the actual Lithuanian Holocaust—the massive collaboration and participation that led to the country’s having the highest proportion of Holocaust murder in Europe.
Ponár is the site’s Yiddish name. It is today Paneriai and is known as Ponary in Polish.
The official date, the 23rd of September was marked this year on the 24th, apparently so officials wouldn’t have to interrupt their weekend break.
The following is a translation of the Hebrew letter from Tel Aviv attorney Joseph Melamed, head of the Association of Lithuanian Jews, to Avner Shalev, director of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, in reaction to news reports reporting that Yad Vashem would rejoin the Vilnius-based red-brown commission. In addition, the Association issued a statement to the media today.
Tel Aviv, 3 September 2012
Hon. Avner Shalev
Chairman, Yad Vashem
The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority
The Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel was left in shock by the decision of Yad Vashem to renew its activities in the “International” Commission [for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupational Regimes in Lithuania].
TEL AVIV—The office of the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel today released the text of the Hebrew letter which the ALJ’s chairman, Tel Aviv attorney Joseph Melamed, sent today to Avner Shalev, the director of Yad Vashem. Images of the letter’s two pages follow (signed letter as PDF). English translation here.
See also the separate English statement which the ALJ released to the media earlier today, following the recent news about the Lithuanian government renewing a much enlarged red-brown commission with the ostensible participation of Yad Vashem.
TEL AVIV—The following public statement was received at 2:15 PM Tel Aviv time from the offices of the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel at King David Boulevard 1. In addition, the ALJ today released the letter written by its chairman to the head of Yad Vashem (English translation here). Background.
From: Dovid Katz [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Sunday, June 28, 2009 1:17 PM
To: גביר יוסי
Cc: ‘Simon Wiesenthal Center-Israel Office’; ‘Dov Levin’; ‘Joseph Melamed’
Subject: from Dovid Katz (Vilnius University)
Greetings dear Yossi (at the moment from Tel Aviv),
Trust this finds you and all at Yad Vashem well and thriving. As you may recall, we corresponded for several months in Spring 2008. I had been (and frankly remain) disappointed that by continuing to allow Yad Vashem’s name to appear as a partner of the Lithuanian government sponsored “Red-Brown Commission” even as the falsification of history (replacement of the very notion of the Holocaust by a paradigm of two equal genocides) continues apace at the European Parliament. Parliamentarians are told: “Look, Yad Vashem is with us….” Of course Yad Vashem has no such intention, and we are in agreement that it’s important for Lithuanian teachers to be educated in Jerusalem but that should be facilitated through any of the various honest NGOs or educators, not the “Red-Brown Commission” whose major current project is passage of the “equal genocide” resolutions in the European Parliament. My two recent op-eds on the topic are in the Jewish Chronicle and Irish Times.
The following Facebook entry is reproduced here with permission of the author, Dr. Clemens Heni.
Clemens Heni shared a link.
31 August 2012
1) Dina Porat wrote a piece on the Lithuanian Holocaust years ago, http://defendinghistory.com/readinglist.
2) Her joining the Lithuanian commission makes the institutional / government betrayal coming from Jerusalem even worse: a top honest Holocaust scholar joins with distorters, obfuscationists in a commission that has a track record of throwing its honest Israeli members to the wolves (Arad!), and of using serious foreign scholars with an array of intrigue, complexity, and layered nuance that no foreigner could combat in the multimillion euro den of Holocaust Obfuscation’s European capital.
Holocaust survivors from Lithuania, and their families and advocates, are reporting feelings of “shock and betrayal” at “unbelievable reports” that Yad Vashem might again be lending legitimacy to the Lithuanian government sponsored “red-brown commission.” These accounts derive from a BNS (Baltic News Service) report today that appeared in various Lithuanian media, including Alfa.lt (full translation below), reporting that the president herself signed the decree today for substantial new state investment in the commission.
The Vilnius and Jerusalem rumor mills are equally putting out the word that there had been pressure from the Israeli foreign ministry, itself pressured by the Lithuanian foreign ministry for Holocaust-revising gestures in line with the current Baltic state policy often referred to as “Double Genocide.”
Lithuania’s Jewish community isn’t immune from the broader issues facing Jewish existence in Eastern Europe and there are the same problems of Jewish identity that crop up in Russia, Bulgaria, Poland and elsewhere. And just as there are Christian Evangelicals and others who support the policies of the right-wing in the State of Israel elsewhere in Europe, there are those same voices among Lithuanian politicians and public figures.
What is perhaps different in Lithuania than elsewhere in Eastern Europe is that this Gentile support for Zionist ideals doesn’t translate into support for the surviving local Jewish community or contribute to a profounder and more sympathetic understanding of the Holocaust.
UPDATE OF 5 AUGUST 2012: This essay was republished with permission in the Algemeiner Journal; in 15min.lt (where it seems to have been taken down, but is still listed in Search); in Jewish Ideas Daily (where it was chosen as one of the editor’s picks for 1 August 2012).
Visitors to Vilnius will see any number of plaques dedicated to famous Jewish residents of Vilnius and several dedicated to the Holocaust. Those who look a little deeper under the surface might find there are a number of agencies, organizations and institutions operating in Vilnius which seemingly are aimed at promoting Jewish history, language and culture. In fact, both the plaques and monuments, and the majority of these “Jewish” organizations, serve as little more than window-dressing and display show-cases the Lithuanian government rolls out as exhibits evidencing Lithuanian sincerity in addressing the incomparable atrocity of the Holocaust.
Holocaust survivors Shlomo Cheskov (left, from Shavl/Šiauliai), and Joseph Melamed (from Kovno/Kaunas) at the Tel Aviv demonstration. Mr. Cheskov’s sign says (in Yiddish) “With our partisan heroes, against neo-Nazism. We are here!” Mr. Melamed’s (in Hebrew) addressed to the South African businessmen diners at the gala dinner: “Dear Diners! Where is your conscience? Your solidarity with Holocaust survivors and resistance fighters and partisans?” Photo: Bella Bryks-Klein.
Most counts put at eighteen the number of participants in a small, polite but determined picket line outside the Dan Panorama Hotel in Tel Aviv this evening. The protesters, Holocaust survivors from Lithuania and their supporters, sported signs in English, Hebrew and Yiddish taking to task the government-manipulated gala evening being held inside the hotel by “Yisrael Lita” at which the Lithuanian foreign minister, a determined opponent of accurate Holocaust comemmoration, was “guest of honor.”
Developments have started moving quickly in the ill-starred project to host the current foreign minister of Lithuania as “guest of honor” at a Tel Aviv “gala” at the Dan Panorama Hotel on March 5th.
[updated 17 Feb] The following “SAVE THE DATE GALA DINNER” announcement was recently posted on the Telfed Online website [update: page taken down; similar text is at the ILCCI site of the organizing “Israel-Lithuania”]:
VILNIUS. Unconfirmed rumors were swirling in “Holocaust politics” circles this week about an alleged request by “very high officials” of the Lithuanian government to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem — through channels including both countries’ foreign ministries — to shore up the status of the widely discredited “International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania.” The commission is widely known as the “Red-Brown Commission.”
Background on DefendingHistory.com:
13 January 2012, from Efraim Zuroff (Jerusalem):
EXCERPT FROM OP-ED IN HAARETZ. FULL TEXT HERE.
[Editor’s note of 1 December 2012: The letter below refers to the revised Yad Vashem exhibit of recent years, rather than the long-time exhibit removed. Cf. the final point made in my own June 2009 letter to Yad Vashem.]
The following letter was recently sent by me to the editor of the Jerusalem Post. It had one main object, namely to point out that a major portion of the responsibility for the murder of the Jews of Lithuania lies on the shoulders of the local Lithuanian population and to persuade the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum that the description “killed by the Nazis with the assistance of their local allies” does not by far describe what really took place in Lithuania in the Holocaust. A much abridged version of the letter was published on 30 November 2011.
It was Thursday November 24th. Thanksgiving. One couldn’t really feel it in Jerusalem, though; the city was bustling as it would on any other crisp autumn morning. I made my way through its fashionable Baka neighborhood, asking several passersby where to find Efrata College. (One of them couldn’t understand my question, and asked me if I spoke English. I happily replied in the affirmative. When one is an immigrant to a faraway land, it’s quite delicious to be mistaken for a native!)
Recent developments suggest Holocaust remembrance has fallen by the wayside as a key element of Jewish Foreign Policy, at least as far as Lithuania is concerned.
Holocaust remembrance is a central plank of Jewish Foreign Policy (JFP), a term that encompasses how Israel and Diaspora organizations act on issues of common Jewish concern. The establishment of Yad Vashem in 1953 and the Eichmann trial in 1961 showed how central the memory of the Holocaust was to Israeli public and foreign policy.
Yad Vashem rescinded the invitations to the Lithuanian culture minister and ambassador to the 19 September event held in memory of the victims of the Lithuanian Holocaust. The cancelation of invitations came in response to the new investigation launched by Vilnius prosecutors (via Interpol) against a Holocaust survivor. The 30 August visit to Mr. Melamed by Interpol liaison officers in Tel Aviv was reported in DefendingHistory.com and by Yossi Melman in Haaretz.
The report on the disinvitation, also by Yossi Melman in Haaretz was rapidly picked up by the Associated Press and carried widely (e.g. CBS News, Fox, MSNBC, Washington Post, YahooNews). Further reports have appeared in the Jerusalem Post, the Jewish Chronicle (London), Mishpacha, and JTA (WJC, JJ, Juedische.at, etc).
Haaretz reporter Yossi Melman, author of the 7 Sept. article which brought the Lithuanian government campaign against Holocaust survivor Joseph Melamed to wide attention, and who today broke the story about Yad Vashem’s disinvitation of a Lithuanian minister over the Melamed affair, has today authorized release to the media of his 13 Sept. letter to Yivo director Jonathan Brent. The letter is in response to Mr. Brent’s 9 Sept. circular email to the entire staff of Yivo. Mr. Melman explained to DefendingHistory.com that he is releasing the letter because he had received no response from Mr. Brent.
From: Yossi Melman
Sent: Tuesday, September 13, 2011
To: Jonathan Brent
The Lithuanian ambassador in Washington recently told a Jewish genealogical conference that the investigations against Holocaust Survivors who joined the resistance were “closed”. One questioner wanted to know why, in that case, is there no clear public announcement by a leading official to that effect, as these Holocaust survivors continue to be defamed by prestigious voices in Lithuanian society.
The saga took a bizarre twist this morning in Tel Aviv, when Israeli police, on demand of Lithuanian prosecutors and police, and referring to international police agreements to which both nations are signatories, felt obligated to hold a meeting with 86 year old Holocaust survivor Joseph Melamed, the long-time and widely beloved director of the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel. It is the world’s last active Litvak organization.
DefendingHistory.com reported June 7th on Yad Vashem’s announced participation in the Lithuanian parliament’s 29-30 ‘International Conference: The Beginning of the Soviet-German War in the Baltic States in 1941’.
We commented on the pain caused to Lithuanian Holocaust survivors and their families by a decision to confer legitimacy, via the sterling name of Yad Vashem — the world’s premier Holocaust museum and research institution — on a conference held on the seventieth anniversary of the outbreak of the Lithuanian Holocaust. The agenda of the Lithuanian-government sponsored event has appeared to be yet another cover for the massive local violence that unleashed the Holocaust here, and to attempt yet again to recast the Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF), the Provisional Government (PG) and other fascist bodies as supposedly heroic freedom fighters.
UPDATE: On 27 June 2011 at 3:31 PM (Vilnius time), the Israeli Embassy in Riga (responsible for Lithuania as well as Latvia) emailed DefendingHistory.com to say that Yad Vashem’s participation in the event has been cancelled. This was confirmed in a further email from Yad Vashem at 3:56 PM. In Vilnius, however, the name of Yad Vashem and its designated representative continue to appear on programs and brochures, giving the impression that the event enjoys the formal participation of Yad Vashem.
Hopefully, an appropriate public statement from Yad Vashem will clear up the matter, which has enormous consequences for the campaign to legitimize — using naive foreign scholars and institutions — the campaign to glorify the local Holocaust murderers as freedom fighters, and more widely, the Double Genocide campaign, which knows how to pose as Holocaust Studies for foreign consumption.
According to a conference program posted on the website of the Lithuanian Parliament, Yad Vashem is the only Jewish institution sending a representative to the latest conference mounted by the Lithuanian government in its campaign to downgrade the Holocaust and whitewash the Lithuanian Holocaust’s first murderers (the L.A.F. and other fascist groups), often by glorifying them as ‘freedom fighters’. The printed brochure for the conference, to be held on 29 and 30 June 2011, announces the event as a joint project of the Lithuanian Parliament (Seimas) and the deeply antisemitic Genocide Research Center. One of the Center’s top ‘specialists’ participated in the recent neo-Nazi parade and went on to launch a public antisemitic campaign. He was neither removed from his post nor publicly reprimanded, as the season’s conferences plow ahead full steam.
Professor Saulius Sužiedėlis (Millersville University, Pennsylvania), a major historian who has recently been flown to conferences far and wide courtesy of the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, and politician Ronaldas Račinskas, deputy chairman of the state-funded ‘Red-Brown commission’ have blasted Dr. Efraim Zuroff and Professor Dovid Katz for being responsible for Lithuania’s international Holocaust issues, in a major panel discussion that appeared in the media both as a sound file and in an edited transcript format. There were also other members of the panel discussion.
O P I N I O N
by Dovid Katz
Yet again, Lithuania’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs is misinvesting assets in cooking up one-sided events that are designed to pose as open and honest forums for a variety of opinions, treating audiences as if they were idiots who will not notice something is amiss.
O P I N I O N
by Dovid Katz
“Also, it has been started to require the sentence of the citizens of the Jewish nationality ― Yitzhak Arad, Fania Brantsovsky and Rachel Margolis, as these citizens (former Soviet guerrillas) have organized the massive slaughter of civilians in Kaniūkai Village, Lithuania (killing 38 civilians) on 29 January 1944. Attention should be paid to the fact that the very Y. Arad has departed to Israel.” — from the statement just published by the Lithuanian Human Rights Association (LHRA), signed by ten of its leading experts and approved by its committee.
Attorney Joseph Melamed, chairman of the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel (at right) delivered the keynote speech today at an event held at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem to mark the September 23rd anniversary of the 1943 liquidation of the Vilna Ghetto. Because of the Jewish holidays, the event was moved up to the 20th this year.
Those in attendance included Uri Chanoch, chairman of the Holocaust Survivors’ Association; Mr Michael Schemyawitz (left of photo), head of the Association of Vilna Jews in Israel and director of its Beit Vilna premises in the Montefiore section of Tel Aviv; and the top leadership of Yad Vashem including chairman Avner Shalev and director general Nathan Eitan. The program of speakers and was released in advance (in Hebrew) by the ALJ. Lithuania’s ambassador to Israel, HE Darius Degutis, delivered a conciliatory address (full text here), which included the moving line: ‘It breaks my heart and casts a shadow of shame that among the perpetrators of these crimes were also my countrymen. This cannot be, and will not be, either forgotten or forgiven’.
An opposition party member of the Lithuanian Seimas (parliament) has leaked this memo (English translation here), dated 20 July 2010, which purports to be a circular letter from the deputy foreign minister, Sarunas Adomavicius, to the working group (names blocked out) of the ‘Fake Litvak’ Forum (the official name is the ‘Litvak Heritage Forum’). The Forum is viewed as a ploy to hijack Litvak identity and put it to use for government PR purposes.
The day it was announced, 15 July 2010, the prime minister’s chancellor boasted of ‘rich Litvaks’ having been found to finance it. Protests followed immediately from Holocaust Survivors of the ALJ, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Litvak Studies Institute and this website (see here). There is particular fear that it is to serve as cover to deflect attention from the ongoing Continue reading
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.
Dr Yitzhak Arad won a National Jewish Book Award for his new 700 page volume, The Holocaust in the Soviet Union (University of Nebraska Press).
The award was presented at the Center for Jewish History in New York on 9 March. Dr Arad, a Holocaust survivor whose family perished, is a veteran of the heroic anti-Nazi partisan resistance in the forests of Lithuania, and the Israeli War of Independence.
A retired brigadier general and chief education officer of the Israeli Army, he served as director of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem for 21 years. He lives near Tel Aviv.
Confirmation has been obtained that on Holocaust Remembrance Day, 27 January (respected internationally as the day marking the liberation of Auschwitz), Lithuanian prosecutors visited the premises of the Jewish Community of Lithuania at Pylimo Street 4, Vilnius, to question community leaders about their ‘knowledge’ of Joseph Melamed, a Holocaust survivor resident in Tel Aviv.
Officials from Lithuania’s state prosecution service came to the Jewish Community’s premises at Pylimo Street 4 in Vilnius today — during a Holocaust Remembrance Day event — to ask community officials for information about Joseph Melamed, 85, a Tel Aviv resident. The news spread rapidly and caused disquiet among the small remnant community.
Mr. Melamed, head of the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel, possibly the world’s last active Litvak survivor organization, is himself a Holocaust (Kovno Ghetto) survivor, a veteran of the anti-Nazi partisans, veteran of the Israeli war of independence in 1948, a retired Israeli diplomat and a prominent attorney. He is the author and editor of various works about the Lithuanian Holocaust.
Prosecutors told the Lithuanian Jewish Community that they are ‘investigating’ Mr. Melamed in relation to his organization’s publication of lists of alleged local war criminals who are alleged to have participated in the annihilation of Lithuanian Jewry. A few of the people on these lists are considered ‘national heroes’ by various nationalist elements, especially those who joined the anti-Soviet resistance in and after 1944.
German Social Democratic parliamentarian Gert Weisskirchen was awarded a certificate of honor at the Israeli Knesset on 16 December for a lifetime of fighting antisemitism, racism, and Holocaust distortion. The Knesset session was integrated into the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism.
During an informal celebration at Jerusalem’s Crowne Plaza Hotel, Mr Weisskirchen penned, in his famed telegraphic style, on Global Forum letterpaper, his opposition to the ‘Prague Declaration’ in the spirit of three new ‘DEs’: ‘De-valuation of the victims, De-stortion of history, De-legimitization of the Holocaust. These are the reasons why I oppose the Prague Declaration’ — Gert Weisskirchen
In a statement issued at the launch in Jerusalem of the 2009 Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism, the Association of Lithuanian Jews called on the Forum ‘to forcefully condemn the Prague Declaration, which seeks to create a false symmetry between Nazi and Soviet crimes, and is an attempt to obfuscate and diminish the Holocaust by various means (including an attempt to redefine genocide)’. The statement describes the Prague Declaration as ‘a prime symptom of a new and dangerous strain of antisemitism that seeks to distort the history of the Holocaust and to confuse perpetrators and victims’.
Leading Baltic news portal Delfi.lt attacks Israel’s president Shimon Peres for differentiating Nazi and Soviet crimes. English translation. Peres’s remarks were distorted (see original; English translation). The Delfi piece includes this graphic:
Daiva Repečkaitė replies.
Last week I was caught in a debate with myself: whether or not to appear, despite the feeling of nausea, in a discussion with Lithuanian historians, writers and poets at the International Book Fair in Jerusalem. The idea made me so sick that in the end I decided to stay away and I also convinced my friend, former partisan and former chairman of Yad Vashem Yitzhak Arad, to excuse himself from the discussions.
The assistant director of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute, Ruta Puisyte, reported today that Dr. Efraim Zuroff’s scheduled seminar at the Vilnius Yiddish Institute was cancelled on the orders of the institute’s director, Professor Sarunas Liekis. No explanation was given.