Registry of Opposition to “The National Convention Center” Atop the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery at Piramónt (Šnipiškės)
2017: PETITION; VIDEO; UNITED STATES CONGRESS
2017: PETITION; VIDEO; UNITED STATES CONGRESS
Our take? NATO needs to stand for Western values. Putin’s shameful “Zapad 17” military exercise demo, in regions bordering the eastern democratic lands of NATO and the EU — including the three Baltic states, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia — is intended to intimidate their peaceful populations and to provoke regional unease. Not to mention the very real danger that various of the troops will find one way or another “to stay in the region after the exercises are over” in a very tired old Soviet spirit of things. These military exercises need to be exposed for what they are, and countered with stalwart determination. NATO’s commitment to its members must remain sacrosanct and permanent, while remaining true to the ideals for which, ultimately, it exists.
That makes it all the more critical for the North Atlantic alliance (and the EU) not to succumb to regional far-right, ultranationalist, chauvinist, Holocaust-revisionist, and antisemitic forces in the course of the proceedings.
VILNIUS—The following (text below) is a translation from Lithuanian of the 2 March 2017 letter from the state-sponsored Genocide and Resistance Research Center of Lithuania (widely known as the Genocide Center) to a nationalist group that put on this year’s March 11th Independence Day neo-Nazi march, with authorities’ permission, in the center of Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital. The group had complained about Lithuania’s president, Dalia Grybauskaite, having granted an award on February 16th to Lithuania’s oldest Holocaust survivor, Fania Yocheles Brantsovsky, soon to turn 95, for her work in the field of Holocaust education. The president’s office had referred the complaint to the Genocide Center which issued this letter (facsimile of the original below). The correspondence was then read out at a bizarre ceremony that some observers thought bore the hallmarks of a 2017 “Jew-witch hunt” when the Independence day festivities announced a detour to the presidential palace to read out the various letters and condemn Fania Yocheles Brantsovsky, who is the only one of her family to survive the Holocaust precisely because she escaped the Vilna Ghetto in September 1943 and joined up with the anti-Nazi Soviet partisans, the only force seriously challenging Hitler’s rule of Lithuania.
VILNIUS—DefendingHistory.com invites citizens and visitors in town, and the Human Rights community especially, to come join the annual monitoring mission that will meet this Saturday, 11 March, at 3:30 PM at the Bell Tower on Cathedral square. From 2008, the year the center of Vilnius was first gifted by the municipality to the neo-nazis on the nation’s cherished March 11th independence day, the Vilnius-based team has been keeping track of the annual event, which has caused unbearable pain to the last Holocaust survivors and their families, not least because the marchers often flaunt placards glorifying various specific local Holocaust collaborators, in what appears to be a kind of celebration of the murder of the country’s Jewish citizens in the Holocaust. Since 2009, the team has been monitoring personally, on an annual basis, at the same time silently protesting and commemorating the annihilated Jewish population of the city that was once called Jerusalem of Lithuania. The march’s Facebook page is here.
The following is today’s public entry on the Facebook page of DH’s editor, Dovid Katz:
MORE ON THE CPJCE. OUR OPEN LETTER TO THEM. Exposés by Wikileaks, Jerusalem Post, JTA, and DH.
UPDATE: THIS ARTICLE WAS REPUBLISHED IN THE FIVE TOWNS JEWISH TIMES
In a remarkable interview cited today in the highly respected Five Towns Jewish Times, an Orthodox publication based in Inwood, Lawrence, Cedarhurst, Woodmere, and Hewlett, all in Nassau County, Queens, New York, Rabbi Abraham Ginsberg, the PR specialist for the London-based CPJCE (“Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe”) is quoted as explaining why, in his estimation, the Lithuanian state feels the burning national-priority need to build a convention center and annex in the heart of Vilna’s historic Jewish cemetery that dates to the 15th century and continues to hold the remains of thousands of Vilna Jewish citizens whose families duly bought their plots over the centuries:
“I asked the rabbi why we are accepting the fact that this excavation and construction that will potentially unearth more bones and destroy many more graves must go forward.
“The rabbi explained that the location is important to Lithuanians because it was in this stadium now in disrepair and rotting that the Lithuanians declared their independence in the aftermath of the collapse of Communism in 1990. ‘This location is Lithuania’s London Tower and Statue of Liberty; they are not letting it go anytime soon,’ Rabbi Ginsberg said.
“He’s a little upset at the American rabbis who met with the Lithuanian ambassador in Washington last week.”
VILNIUS—Today marks one calendar year-and-a-month since “Admas Kodesh,” the American affiliate of the London “grave trading unit” called CPJCE (Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe) boasted on Twitter that Herbert Block, a prominent member of the State Department linked Commission for Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad (USCPAHA), came to Monroe, New York to “report to the Satmar Rebba”… Thirteen months later, there has still not been a single public word from the taxpayer-funded commission urging the Lithuanian government to move its convention center project away from the old Jewish cemetery, as now called for by a petition signed by 38,000 people including, in its first moments online in December, the official chief rabbi of Lithuania. The “Admas Kodesh” group had previously, in August 2015, posted triumphant photo-ops with the commission’s chairperson, Ms. Lesley Weiss. Earlier that month, they posted photos of USCPAHA’s Jules Fleischer thanking (!) the Lithuanian Consul General in New York for preserving the cemetery. The same “Admas Kodesh” group so dear to the US taxpayer-funded USPACAHA regularly attacks major Jewish scholars with whom it disagrees, particularly on the Vilna cemetery. One infamous July 2016 tweet refers to the esteemed Professor Bernard Fryshman, who played a major role in the US Congress’s passing of a 2014 law on preservation of cemeteries of minorities, as “Lying Professor Bernard Fryshman” for holding a different point of view on CPJCE / Admas Kodesh role in the Vilnius scandal.
See earlier summary of USCPAHA’s Vilnius cemetery record and DH’s USCPAHA section (best to scroll to bottom and peruse chronologically)
VILNIUS—The Litvak world, internationally fragmented and weak, yet so vibrant and creative, has been cheered by news reports of the new shtetl museum to rise in the near future in Shádev, a Lithuanian town of many centuries of Jewish heritage where a great rabbinic personality, Reb Móyshe Ha-Góyle (“Moses the Exile”, Méyshe Ha-Géyle in deep Litvish pronunciation, Moshé Ha-Golé in Israeli Hebrew) thrived in the fifteenth century.
A good shtetl museum here will be a blessing to the Litvak, European Jewish, Yiddish and shtetl heritage internationally. It will be a blessing to modern, democratic Lithuania. To this day, the basket of idols of the contemporary Jewish market downplays the magnitude of Yiddish language, literature, and culture, shtetl culture and heritage, and the magnificent East European Jewish legacy more generally. News media have gone with reports by AFP and by JTA, and there is more on the project’s website.
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.
The words “antisemitism in the shtetl” might evoke recollections of Fiddler on the Roof, a touch of family lore “from the old country” way back when, or for those familiar with modern Yiddish literature, a scene from this or that writer. Baffling as it may sound, however, it a substantial contemporary topic in the study of antisemitism, and, perhaps even more surprisingly, part of a phenomenon with implications for the future, given the vast number of cities, towns and villages in the world with a rich Jewish history but no living Jews, where potent anti-Jewish feeling (as well as pro-Jewish feeling) can be observed. As noted back in Flashpoint 21, antisemitism in Eastern Europe is very different from its much better known Western and Middle East incarnations.
This paper appeared today in Dapim: Studies on the Holocaust, published by Taylor and Francis.
The demise of twentieth-century-style Holocaust denial in mainstream Western society is aptly symbolized by David Irving’s loss to Deborah Lipstadt in the London High Court in 2000. But around the same time, a new and more irksome method of writing the Holocaust out of history was emerging under the radar, this time without necessarily denying any of the historical events or a single death. Particularly in Eastern Europe, it was being forged with state funding and more subtle powers of persuasion in academia, the media, the arts and international diplomacy.
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.
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.
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.
Back in 2009, a rancorous dispute over the old Vilna Jewish cemetery was ostensibly solved. Two new buildings, despite worldwide protests, would be allowed to remain, and in return, no more land would be pilfered from the cemetery at Piramónt, in the Šnipiškės district of modern Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. The burial ground goes back to the late fifteenth century, at least. After the Holocaust, with virtually no descendants left to worry about, Soviet authorities helped themselves to the gravestones for use in building projects, but left many thousands of graves intact. A galaxy of eminent European rabbinic scholars and authors were buried there. But once the 2009 “Peace of Piramónt” was brokered (with help from Western embassies here), emotions cooled as all sides got on with their lives.
For many years, international visitors to Rokiškis (in Yiddish: Rákishok, or less formally: Rákeshik), in northeastern Lithuania, have remarked that the town’s central area seemed to preserve little (or no) trace or commemoration of its erstwhile Jewish population, though a large monument now graces the entrance to the old Jewish cemetery outside town. Before the Holocaust, this town was home to around 3,500 Jews (some 40% of the total population, and the overwhelming majority in its central area). Luckily, a short film of pre-Holocaust Jewish Rákishok survives (from 1937), and is available on Youtube. Thanks to Polish film maker Tomek Wisniewski for circulating the link in recent days.
VILNIUS—Naturally the New York Times cannot publish or even post very many of the Letters to the Editor that it receives. But when a dozen or so reactions from different parts of the world to a single article are all discarded, it is perhaps worth someone posting a submitted letter elsewhere for the record. This is especially true where there is a larger concern. In this case, it is the paper’s imposition, in recent years, of a wall of silence about the Holocaust Obfuscation, World War II revisionism and far-right historiography peddled by East European countries. These are, as it happens, the same countries who are in today’s geopolitics America’s and the West’s most reliable European allies in the New Cold War against the authoritarian, revanchist Putin regime.
The Times’ policy has sometimes extended to misrepresenting the East European far right’s history revisionism as accepted fact by publishing multiple op-eds from only one side of the argument. When the Times did (obliquely) cover the Seventy Years Declaration in early 2012, its reporter, tightly controlled by the State Department, would not mention the declaration by name, would not meet any of the government’s critics to hear their views, confused the two declarations in contest, and quoted a famous Brandeis professor without mentioning he was in town to receive a medal from the Lithuanian president for helping the state’s PR.
Good afternoon. Sincerest thanks to everyone who made today possible, above all to dear Rūta Vanagaitė for successfully bringing together folks from many sides of today’s issues here in Vilnius for the first time in the twenty-first century, in the fine spirit of openness and tolerance that is particularly important, now, when politics and current events can easily deflate freedom of opinion on history, the progress of civil discourse, and the dignity of education.
The following text is the original draft, submitted on 20 January 2015 at the invitation of the London Jewish Chronicle. An edited version (processed with all courtesies to the author) appeared in the JC on 22 January. This version is posted here simply to emphasize the author’s belief that ceremonies at Auschwitz that do not address the current massive campaign by eastern EU states to downgrade and obfuscate the Holocaust are unwittingly part of a cover-up of the very unique historical phenomena they are meant to accurately preservce and pass on. The related issue of whether Russia’s leaders will be invited to the ceremonies has been analyzed in recent pieces by Efraim Zuroff and Pinchos Fridberg.
ive years have elapsed since this journal was founded as Holocaust in the Baltics on 6 Sept. 2009, in memory of Professor Meir Shub (1924-2009). Outside coverage includes David Hirsch in Engage and Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian (2009); Avi Friedman in Mishpacha, Ricky Ben-David in the Jerusalem Post, Mark Ames in The Nation, and Wendy Robbins on BBC World Service (2010); Cindy Mindell in the Jewish Ledger and Peter Jukes in Motley Moose (2011); Danny Ben-Moshe in his film Rewriting History (2012); Bernard Dichek in Jerusalem Report (2013); Richard Bloom in his film Defending Holocaust History (2014).
Even the brightest can have a blind spot. Yet again, razor-sharp, liberal humanist Roger Cohen has been taken in by PR from the ultranationalists in Eastern Europe. Missing from his “Ukraine Fights for its Truth” (INYT, 6 March) — where he discusses both Ukraine and his ancestral town here in Lithuania — is all that is wrong with the revisionist narrative that is based on a far-right rewriting of history known as “Double Genocide.”
Lithuania’s March 11th independence day is celebrated by the free world, not least by those who remember the incredible news that spread around the globe in March 1990, when Lithuania’s parliament (Seimas) voted 124 to zero to break away from the Soviet Union. The courage of the parliamentarians from a broad spectrum of parties and movements was stark; the country was still occupied by ominous Soviet forces (and blood would be spilled by Soviet forces’ violence less than a year later, in January 1991). The March 11th celebration has been anchored over the years by a record of achievement that includes the transition to democracy, the joining of the European Union and NATO, and the rapid integration with Western society, economy and mores.
VILNIUS—Three Vilnius-based members of the Defending History team visited the Pylimo Street section of the Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum of Lithuania this week, and asked to be shown the famous and widely admired exhibit honoring the Jewish veterans of the war against Hitler in Lithuania. The exhibit, titled Lithuania’s Jews in the Struggle Against Nazism, was opened in a spirit of unity, reconciliation and mutual respect, some fourteen years ago (PDF of the report in the Spring 2000 English edition of the Jewish community’s then quadrilingual newspaper, Jerusalem of Lithuania, which was edited by Milan Chersonski from 1999 until 2011; JPEG; reduced image below). Its primary author was Joseph Levinson.
The unfortunate and wasteful campaign of Holocaust obfuscation waged by certain East European state institutions continues apace. The level of investment continues to strike outsiders as puzzling, given current economic and cultural issues and the younger population’s clear focus on the future and a better life for all in the new and multicultural European Union. Here in Lithuania, the first victims of the government’s (rather Soviet-style) “genocide industry” are the hard-working people of the country who deserve more judicious disbursement of their nation’s resources. The state-sponsored Genocide Center has just released three simultaneous editions (English, Lithuanian and Russian) of a new book on the Vilna Ghetto by historian Arūnas Bubnys, its own “director of the Genocide and Resistance Research Department.”
Dr. Bubnys is also a member of the state-sponsored “International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania” (known for short as the “red-brown commission”). He was one of a minority of members of the Commission who refused to sign the (in the opinion of some, inadequate) letter of 14 October 2013 to Dr. Yitzhak Arad.
The following are translated (and edited) excerpts from a longer letter in Yiddish received from a survivor who has asked to remain anonymous, about the Jewish gravestones that form the steps going up to the Reformed Evangelical Church at Pylimo 18 in Vilnius.
It is gratifying that numerous scholars from different parts of the world, and indeed of differing opinions on the contentious issues that lie at the heart of Defending History, have on occasion found it a useful resource for data and views on various topics, including the Double Genocide movement, the Prague Declaration (2008), the Seventy Years Declaration (2012), the politics of memory, Holocaust Obfuscation, glorification of Holocaust perpetrators (and attempted criminalization of resistance heroes), East European antisemitism, racism, homophobia, and Litvak identity theft (more on contents and quick intro page).
Original 2 May 2013 report; Person identified by the media submits 13 May 2013 complaint to the Press Commission [draft English translation], citing Anarchija.lt, Balsas.lt, KaunoŽinios.lt, Lrytas.lt as well as DefendingHistory.com. He does not deny the identification but disputes the characterization of his work as in harmony with neo-Nazism.
23 July update: Zeppelinus greets Baltic Pride with a new hate image.
Dear Mr. Gustas,
Congratulations on your recent appointment as Economy Minister. May your tenure be blessed with success, wisdom and good fortune for all of Lithuania’s citizens.
We address you on the advent of your tenure on a human rights matter rather than an economic question. We feel certain you would agree that there is a demonstrable correlation between the long-term successful economies of the world and free and open democratic societies that reject all forms of state-supported fascism, racism, antisemitism, homophobia and other forms of hate and exclusionism directed at segments of the population.
This comment first appeared in The Times of Israel on 22 May 2013.
One of the predictable consequences of genocide is the spectacle of old cemeteries without relatives or descendants of the buried to care for the gravestones or the site. Some stones will fall, some will sink, and then some will just be taken as usable components for the foundations of houses, the ballast of roads or the walls of a basketball court.
Colleagues at the prestigious European Humanities University in Vilnius (EHU, also known as the Belarusian Humanities University, in exile here in Vilnius) have passed on the public poster for this year’s series of seminars under the title Colloquium vilnense 2013, running from May to November 2013. The A3 size poster is reproduced (much reduced) at the bottom of this page in two halves.
Educators, diplomats, historians and journalists thought they had seen it all when it came to Holocaust-in-Lithuania issues in recent times. But an online attack by the state sponsored “history commission” on a local Holocaust survivor, Professor Pinchos Fridberg, who is deeply involved in honoring righteous Lithuanians who saved a Jewish neighbor, because he expressed his views against distortion of the Holocaust? That is a bit much even for here.
UPDATE of 21 February 2014:
One year later: Defamation continues on Commission website;
See Chronology of a Debate and what Pinchos Fridberg actually said…
NOTE: A personal word of thanks to journalist Nerijus Povilaitis for graciously facilitating communication with Kaunas police to ensure the security of the small Defending History team monitoring/protesting the event, and to the Kaunas police for their excellent work.
[UPDATE of 19 Feb: I later learned from Lithuanian colleagues that this protection and respect seem to have been extended only to Dr. Efraim Zuroff and myself, not to the Lithuanian-citizen protesters.]
The estimates of the crowd ranged from five hundred to a thousand depending (in part) on whether the march’s many supporters who stood outside its bordering police cordons were counted. Following yesterday’s Vilnius press conference led by Dr. Efraim Zuroff, who flew in from Israel for the event, and the earlier denunciation of racist manifestations by the new prime minister — these being possible rather than proven factors — the event was rather milder than last year’s (eyewitness report here). The major difference was the lack this year of visible swastikas (whether “classic” or “Lithuanian with added lines”), the more perfected police performance in keeping order, and the lack of overtly racist slogans. But there was no lack of graphic ingenuity in coming up with symbols that bring to mind the swastika (which was in fact made legal in Lithuania in 2010) and there was no lack of adulation of Holocaust-era fascist icons; the lead banner glorified the 1941 Nazi puppet prime minister who was earlier this year reburied with full honors; he had signed the papers for the first murder camp for the Jewish citizens of this city, Kaunas, during his first week in office. Moreover, the Kaunas police had confirmed in writing beforehand that the 2013 march was proceeding with full authorization from the municipality. All this “patriotism” rooted in 1941 genocide of the Jews is proceeding with the blessings of the state and the silence of its foreign partners.
Dear Mr. Hirsch,
Congratulations on your selection as judge of the new literary translation contest named for the eminent late Yiddish poet Avrom (Abraham) Sutzkever (1913-2010). News of the contest was today disseminated far and wide (information affixed below, for readers’ rapid reference, and to help inspire more entries in your competition).
You may know that in addition to being a major twentieth century Yiddish poet and editor, Sutzkever survived the Holocaust by escaping the Vilna Ghetto to join the anti-Nazi Jewish partisans. You may or may not know that elderly Lithuanian Jewish Holocaust survivors, who like Sutzkever escaped certain death by joining the partisans, but who are still alive and relatively well, have been defamed as “war criminals” by the same Lithuanian government that recently invested in a Sutzkever plaque in Vilnius, brought over his Israeli family for festivities, and invests in ever more Jewish and Yiddish PR stunts (complete with honors for compliant foreigners) to camouflage a campaign of revisionism.
This is on top of a disturbing toleration of serious antisemitism, including in recent years, state-sanctioned neo-Nazi marches in the heart of the capital city on independence day, the legalization of public swastikas (the UN Human Rights Committee has commented), and inaction regarding front pages of mass circulation newspapers worthy of the 1930s. The most famous examples in recent years are depictions of the Jew and the Gay controlling the world (2009), and, less than a year ago, of one of the city’s resident rabbis.
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.
Vytautas Landsbergis is one of the giants of the twentieth century. Along with Poland’s Lech Wałęsa and then-Czechoslovakia’s Václav Havel, Landsbergis led his people from foreign domination to freedom and democracy. Nothing these gentlemen might later on have said or done to their own legacies, particularly in the subsequent century, can detract from their singular achievements in contributing to the downfall of the Soviet Union and the freedom of the subjugated nations on its western periphery.
ZHAGER, northern Lithuania. Over a hundred people gathered here today on the historic town square to unveil a trilingual plaque memorializing the erstwhile Jewish population of thousands in the town, today Žagarė. The event was incorporated into the annual Cherry Festival and suitably entitled “You can’t fudge the history.”
SEE ALSO THE REPORTS BY ROD FREEDMAN AND SARA MANOBLA
THE QUESTION: IS IT THE ONLY TOWN-CENTER IN ALL THE LAND WITH CLEAR AND TRUE WORDS ON THE TRUE FATE OF THE JEWISH POPULATION?
The text — in English, Lithuanian and Yiddish — summarizes the unvarnished history, with prominent reference to local Lithuanian collaboration (though historians will quibble with the use of “some” in place of “many” among other points). It is placed right in the center of town, rather than at a mass grave site deep in the forest; that might well be a first in modern Lithuanian history.
Many thanks to the Economist and its online Eastern Approaches section for highlighting this important issue that so many others have just swept under the rug. But frankly speaking, it does our Lithuanian friends no good to slant each report in the direction of sophisticated apologetics for the Lithuanian (and other regional) governments’ tragic veering to the far right on issues of historic integrity, human rights, freedom of speech, antisemitism, racism, gay rights, and perhaps above all, state-sponsored adulation of local Nazi war criminals and collaborators, and actual local mass murderers of the region’s Jewish population. It was, alas, a level of participation that resulted in the Baltics having the highest percentage of murder of its Jewish population in Holocaust-era Europe.
It isn’t every Monday and Thursday (as the old Yiddish saying goes) that this journal publishes an opinion piece congratulating a contemporary historian in Lithuania who is a current mainstream player (rather than a pensioner, conceptual or actual exile, or someone painted up as a narrow ethnic-minority champion, anarchist, Soviet apologist, plain old personal maverick, or what-not). It is even more unusual for DefendingHistory.com to go out on a limb without even knowing said historian’s views on the issues that lie at the core of DH’s modest corner in the contemporary marketplace of ideas.
Let it be said at the outset that we sincerely hope that a vote of confidence and congratulations from DefendingHistory.com will not unduly (let alone fatally) harm the man’s future career prospects in the vaunted circles of Lithuania’s most powerful politicians, state institutions and history professors. But come to think of it, the improper leap-into-bed together of this untenable ménage-à-trois goes to the core of the conundrum.
NOTE: This is an authorized republication of today’s letter, which first appeared in the online Algemeiner Journal. [Update: It then appeared in the AJ’s print edition on 25 May, pp. 2, 4, 5.]
Greetings, and sorry we missed each other in Vilnius this time. I write in the context of our ongoing and respectful conversation, which started in the Guardian (thanks to Matt Seaton, and prominently including Efraim Zuroff) back in 2010 (I, II, III, IV); continuing through our meeting at Yale, the Aftermath Conference in Melbourne, Australia, in 2011 (thanks to Mark Baker, and with participation of Jan Gross and Patrick Desbois), and more recently, via my review of your book Bloodlands (along with Alexander Prusin’s The Lands Between), in East European Jewish Affairs.
Thought experiment: Imagine an African American in the city of Columbia, South Carolina, being called an extremist or fanatic for peacefully expressing the opinion that it is offensive for the Confederate flag to be hoisted on the grounds of the state capitol building. Imagine him or her being called extremist or fanatic for failing to be grateful that the flag was, after much protest, moved from atop the dome to the mere grounds of the capitol and its design slightly changed to conform to the Confederate Battle Flag (as a “concession”).
Imagine if a snow-white editor of a web journal singled out for David Duke style praise “Moderate African Americans” who just say “Thank you” when a pathetic morsel of PR is offered up by local authorities in the face of mounting international opprobrium.
There would be public outrage at the racism.
Can history be bought up by even a small state’s nationalist government that has talked itself into the idea that revision of history and wide acceptance of that revision is somehow a national cause? It becomes a serious issue when that state is willing to invest heavily in the enterprise, at a time when the targeted influential foreigners are far from the issues at hand and easily manipulated.
RIGA—According to most estimates, there were around 1500 participants today in the city-center ceremony honoring the Waffen SS, about 1000 police, and about one hundred protesters who turned out in opposition to the event.
The ongoing campaign by some East European governments to repackage far-right ultranationalist politics and policies (with concomitant antisemitic, racist and Nazi-glorifying undertones) as a wholesome British-conservative-style “center right” has suffered a major blow. The battleground of ideas has in recent weeks shifted to the annual Waffen SS commemoration ceremony held at Liberty Monument, the symbolic heart of the capital of Latvia, with the blessing of some of the nation’s top leaders.
Ignoring international pleas (including over two thousand signatures on an online petition) for the withdrawing of permits for this year’s neo-Nazi march, Vilnius authorities mounted a major police presence to keep order during today’s event in the heart of the Lithuanian capital.
When three of us from the DefendingHistory.com community headed out from Vilnius on February 16th to confront the neo-Nazi march in central Kaunas, we were sure we would be joined by dozens, or more, true lovers of Lithuania — folks who cannot remain silent that perverted political leadership allows today’s neo-Nazis to achieve free reign in the center of a great city in the middle of the nation’s cherished independence day. Folks who cannot let the glorification of stylized swastikas (including the “Lithuanian swastika“), and white armbands (celebrating the LAF Holocaust perpetrators of 1941) go unchallenged in the country with the largest rate of murder of its civilian Jewish population in all Holocaust-era Europe. Folks who want to send at least some modicum of support to today’s minorities. And a message to the world that the neo-Nazis do not represent Lithuanian society.
It was a shock to find in Kaunas on February 16th, that the somewhat quixotic DefendingHistory.com threesome would find itself the only visible anti-Nazi presence during the march and the rally that followed.
With attention focused on the government-permission-granted central Vilnius neo-Nazi march slated for Lithuania’s March 11th independence day — now the subject of an international petition on Change.org — there was minimal foreign interest in today’s independence day neo-Nazi march and demonstration in central Kaunas, Lithuania’s second city. The March 11th independence day marks the date in 1990 when Lithuania declared independence from the Soviet Union. Today’s holiday is on the date of the 1918 declaration of independence which heralded the rise of the modern Lithuanian state in the twentieth century. Both dates are revered by the country’s diverse minorities and factions. They represent freedom from oppression and foreign domination, and celebrate the building of a free and democratic state.
But in recent years, both dates have been hijacked by neo-Nazi groups in the heart of the country’s major cities, with the support of some members of parliament and leading political figures. There is, moreover, the proverbial blind eye of much or most of the elite classes, which serves as a contributing catalyst.
Rúmshishok (informally: Rúmseshik), some twelve miles from Kaunas (Kovno), was a beloved Lithuanian shtetl where Lithuanians, Jews and others lived together for many centuries in peace (the town goes back to the fourteenth century). The massacre of the town’s Jews during the Holocaust was close to complete (outlines of the history here and here). According to the new Lithuanian Holocaust Atlas, the perpetrators were comprised of “white armbanders” from the town plus “Lithuanian self-defense unit troops” from Kaunas.
Now Rumšiškės in modern Lithuania, the town is internationally known for its neighboring extensive open air museum of the Lithuanian provinces, including town, hamlet and rural settings, all meticulously reconstructed.
The campaign to distort World War II history in the direction of East European far-right models and to glorify local Nazi collaborators and perpetrators continues apace.
Bernardinai.lt, usually a bastion of tolerance and resistance against racism and ultranationalism, today published without comment a press release from the Lithuanian Ministry of Defense verbatim, about yesterday’s ministry activities honoring the Nazi-collaborating Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF), on the occasion of an anniversary of the killing of some of its leaders and members by Soviet forces.
The Lazdynai Middle School in Vilnius, built in the early 1970s, has an admirable reputation, inter alia for an excellent trilingual policy enabling Polish and Russian to flourish alongside the national language, Lithuanian, in a spirit of multicultural respect and harmony so fitting for the city’s history.
Updates to May 2013:
Updates to 15 December 2011
Last Thursday, 3 November, an article I’d submitted to the Jerusalem Post for consideration appeared on the op-ed page (PDF of the print edition here). In democratic societies, sending an opinion piece to a respectable publication, signing it with one’s real name, and opening it (and oneself) to further open debate and discussion are rather standard. As usual, I linked to the article on my Facebook page, expecting some to agree and some to disagree, moving debate forward.
But a number of Facebook Friends who did not react on my page, or any other open forum, did for some reason find it appropriate to join a kind of witch hunt against the article and its author on a page of a “Secret Group” called Lietuva be neonacizmo (Lithuania Without Neo-Nazism), located at: www.facebook.com/groups/135816956486382.
O P I N I O N
by Dovid Katz
When you have loved an institution all your life — and written over decades about its impact on the history of ideas — it becomes a responsibility, even when painful, to try to dissuade it from making a serious error that would put in jeopardy its integrity.
The Lithuanian foreign minister, who has to date not apologized publicly for his widely reported antisemitic outburst in October 2010, has been named by the Yivo Institute for Jewish Research as its ‘guest of honor’ at a concert on 22 September 2011. The remnant Jewish community of Lithuania is small and fragile. Nevertheless it responded robustly, less than a year ago, to the foreign minister’s comments and proceeded to publish its response in English, Lithuanian, Russian and Yiddish.
Yivo’s website enumerates the joint sponsorship for the 22 September 2011 event by ‘the Embassy Series in cooperation with the Lithuanian Consulate and the Lithuanian Delegation to the United Nations’. The event is being held to commemorate the anniversary of the liquidation of the Vilna Ghetto on 23 September 1943.
In 2011 — to mark the 70th anniversary of Hitler’s invasion, and to the chagrin of Holocaust survivors internationally — the Lithuanian government has invested in a series of events honoring the local perpetrators who began to kill Jewish neighbors in dozens of towns before the Germans even arrived (a reading list on the history is available here). The ‘logic’ has been that they were actually rebelling against Soviet rule, though it is not disputed by historians that the Soviets were obviously fleeing the Nazi invasion.
O P I N I O N
by Dovid Katz
There is actually a larger issue, and a constructive lesson, that emerges from Alexander Gogun’s reply to Grzegorz Rossoliński-Liebe’s critique of an earlier article co-authored by Gogun, that had appeared on a Ukrainian nationalist website that tends to glorify various Nazi-collaborationist nationalist groups and underplay or ignore their participation in genocide. Tellingly, that issue does not even relate to differences of opinion on any one point of fact, interpretation or analysis. Historians and academics will naturally disagree and from time to time and hasten to correct each other on this or that detail.
My dear friends, it is precisely because I am a proud official of the government of independent, democratic, Lithuania, and I love my country, that I am able to speak here today openly, on the seventieth anniversary of the murder of the Jews of Plungė — Plungyán, as they proudly called it in the Yiddish that rang through its streets for so many centuries.
by Dovid Katz
Today was Day 1 of the Lithuanian parliament’s two-day ‘International Conference: The Beginning of the Soviet-German War in the Baltic States in 1941 — 29-30 June 2011, Vilnius’. It is being held as part of a series of events to mark the seventieth anniversary of the Nazi War against the Soviet Union, unleashed on 22 June 1941.
O P I N I O N
by Dovid Katz
The article was signed by ‘Jacob London (Oxford)’, the pseudonym of Sovetish Heymland veteran Gennady Estraikh who was secretary to the Soviet magazine’s editor Aaron Vergelis for many years. Now, a resident of New York, he is listed as the paper’s editor for its ‘European Bureau’. It is quite shocking for many readers that the paper’s editor-in-chief, Boris Sandler, himself a Sovetish Heymland veteran, allows for the paper’s abuse for fake-name, fake-place vicious attack on colleagues in the field of Yiddish Studies.
O P I N I O N
by Dovid Katz
Rokas Grajauskas cites me in his recent article on these pages as invoking the notion Holocaust Obfuscation (a term I proposed at a London seminar in February 2008, then formally in 2009) to refer to “the efforts of the post-Communist countries to revive the memory of Stalin’s crimes.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The web journal I edit, DefendingHistory.com, although dedicated primarily to the battle against trivialization of the Holocaust and the concomitant racism and antisemitism of the new Far Right in Eastern Europe, contains a page on Soviet crimes, where I wholeheartedly embrace such Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly resolutions as 1096 (1996) and 1481 (2006), which wisely and rightly condemn Soviet crimes. It is vital that the full extent of these crimes be documented, the victims honored, the subject properly taught in international curricula, museums and memorializing institutions established, and justice pursued to the full extent of law. It is every bit as vital that Western commitment to Baltic security and independence remain unwavering, what with a huge unpredictable neighbor “with a certain past” (and unclear future) situated to the immediate east.
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.
O P I N I O N
by Dovid Katz
David Lidington, Britain’s Minister for Europe, has praised the recent Lithuanian parliament vote on a (lamentably ambiguous) draft of a bill to deal with restitution of looted Jewish communal property [Details here.] In his statement, he goes on to say: “Passage of the law will bring credit to Lithuania as it prepares to assume the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). I hope that the draft will now advance successfully through its remaining stages.” [The minister’s statement is reported here; it was triumphantly reported in the Lithuanian media.]
1. I would like to talk to you about Jewish-Lithuanian relationships. You’ve published the wonderful book ‘Lithuanian Jewish Culture’, which sheds light on many things concerning Jewish life in Lithuania and around it. What do you think about when Lithuanians became, so to say, antisemitic? In the 19th and 20th centuries? Or earlier?
Letter to the Editor of the New York Times [not published; subsequently entered into the record on HITB for the date of submission]:
To The Editor:
Clifford J. Levy’s fine report (Aug 16 [print edition]) on the humiliations suffered by native-born Estonians whose mother tongue is Russian is particularly important because Estonia is a member of NATO and the European Union, and its human rights policies are therefore automatically a matter for the collective conscience of these alliances and their individual members.
There is just one painful point on which the report accepts uncritically an Estonian (and generally a Baltic) ‘Excuse for Genocide’ that is verily inexcusable. “Before Estonia was seized by the Soviets in 1940, its population was largely ethnic Estonian; resentment was strong enough that many sided with the Germans when Hitler invaded in 1941.”
Actually, the demographic-balance threatening influx of Russian speakers from other Soviet republics came after World War II. But in any case, the idea that the Soviet occupation somehow justifies (or even explains) the Estonian Hitlerists’ (and Lithuanian and Latvian fascists’) gleeful mass murder of the women, children and men of their Jewish minority (making way, in the Baltics, for the highest percentages of Jews slaughtered in all of Holocaust-era Europe) is sheer nonsense. It is one of many ruses underway in the eastern reaches of the European Union to sanitize and obfuscate the Holocaust. Journalists must be sensitized to its box of semantic tricks.
Not many have heard about the Prague Declaration, which is currently making the rounds at the European Parliament. Proclaimed last June in Prague (but cooked up in the Baltics), its innocuous theme is “European Conscience and Communism”. Now who would oppose that? The heinous crimes of Communist regimes clearly merit full exposure. Victims deserve recognition. When the grand jamboree of freedom, fun and prosperity got under way for us lucky westerners in 1945, entire nations ceded to Stalin were condemned to totalitarian rule.