[UPDATED; ORIGINAL PUBLICATION 29 OCT. 2017]
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While much is said in some American media outlets about “fake news” in the US, the smallness of the matters being discussed might come into focus when compared with Ukraine, which is of late producing rather much fake news about the Holocaust and elementary points in World War II history.
As we reported back in October, Ukrainian media outlet Radio Svoboda — the Ukrainian arm of the US Government-funded arm of RFERL — posted a picture from the US Holocaust Museum. It is an image of Polish Jews being deported to a death camp. There was just one problem. Radio Svoboda claimed the picture was from 1949 of Ukrainians being deported to Siberia. In fact, so effective was Radio Svoboda’s forgery that President Poroshenko himself tweeted it claiming it showed Ukrainians being deported. To Poroshenko’s credit, his office took it down almost immediately after we pointed this out.
VILNIUS—In her ruling issued earlier today, Vilnius District Court Judge Rima Bražinskienė, following up on her crucial 29 May 2017 judgment, confirmed the illegality of last April’s mid-campaign rule change by the board of the “Lithuanian Jewish (Litvak) Community” which effectively disenfranchised the 2,200 members of the Vilnius Jewish community (as well as the Jewish people in the other. smaller communities) by replacing the long-standing proportional voting system with an oligarchic system giving one vote to each board member (most of whom have allegedly received professional, promotional or financial benefits from the funds of the “Good Will Foundation” that finances the community). As a result, the capacity of the Holocaust-remnant Jewish community of Lithuania to democratically choose its leadership was in one tragic fell swoop annulled in favor of a system that gave that authority to a roomful of wannabe-oligarchs, some of whom hold two or three votes each. The large corpus of protests include last summer’s letter from twenty of the elected members of the Vilnius Jewish Community’s council and a more recent article by Professor Josifas Parasonis.
The court action asking for relief was brought by the Vilnius Jewish Community as plaintiff. Its 21 member council was elected last May 24th in the largest Jewish electoral assembly in Lithuania this century with meticulous voting open to all community members. Today’s ruling includes the text:
BERLIN—In a groundbreaking interview with Dr. Clemens Heni, director of the Berlin International Center for the Study of Antisemitism (BICSA) in the leading German liberal daily Frankfurter Rundschau, Heni criticizes the ongoing comparison of Hitler and Stalin and the relativization of the Holocaust. He reminds readers, in the interview conducted by journalist Katja Thorwarth, what psychoanalyst Zvi Rix had to say about German reception of the Holocaust: “The Germans will never forgive the Jews for Auschwitz.”
VILNIUS—With the permission of the publishers of The Weekly of Vilnius, we are reproducing extracts of two comments from this week’s edition that covers Lithuanian news from 11 to 17 December 2017. The Weekly of Vilnius is sometimes considered to be this city’s most prestigious English-language news publication, famed for its editorial independence and capacity for presenting views that tend to be ignored in the nationalist and ultranationalist media that can be fixated with the “official line.” In the spirit of classic journalism, The Weekly of Vilnius has no online edition (there is an online description and Facebook page) and is available weekly by emailed PDF or hard copy to its elite circle of subscribers, known to include embassies, government agencies, captains of industry, politicians, academics, libraries, and think tanks.
First, on the subject of this week’s visit with flowers by the ambassador of Israel to the daughter and (successful) chief campaigner for 2018 to be named by the Lithuanian parliament for an alleged Holocaust collaborator (see Defending History‘s coverage), The Weekly of Vilnius highlights, accurately, we believe, the current Israeli embassy’s proclivity for implicitly claiming to act for “the interests of Lithuanian (or Litvak) Jewry” and to speak for “Lithuanian-Jewish relations” when in fact the (sometimes short-term) interests of the present Israeli government are (quite naturally) the determining factor. In fact, the embassy has arguably established a record of harming Lithuanian Jewish interests since it was opened in early 2015. Most shockingly, the Israeli Foreign Ministry seems to have “muscled in” even on restitution payments, deriving from the religious properties of the annihilated communities, now intended for the survival of the Lithuanian Jewish community. See the relevant entries in the grant items enumerated here and here.
Although the scandal caused by statements made by author Rūta Vanagaitė about the partisan leader Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas has by now subsided, the head of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, Faina Kukliansky believes that this is no more than a temporary calm. The English translation of R. Vanagaitė’s book Mūsiškiai should appear soon. Furthermore she has the support of the European Jewish Congress and she has many supporters in Israel.
VILNIUS—The Weekly of Vilnius, sometimes considered to be this city’s most prestigious English-language news publication, today released its weekly issue which contains a highly documented summary of many of the sides in the debate over author and PR specialist Ruta Vanagaitė’s comments concerning state plans to name 2018 for someone who led a pro-Nazi militia during the early days of the Lithuanian Holocaust in 1941, but who is being honored for his postwar service in the anti-Soviet resistance. Defending History has published its own take along with a much more limited summary of the debate which readers may consult for comparison and helping “complete the picture” as best as it can be in English. Note that selections of Lithuanian articles on the subject from the major news portal Delfi.lt, and from BNS (Baltic News Service), in both cases generally representing government and “nationalist establishment” positions, are available in English translation on the English Delfi.lt (Lithuania Tribune) site (search “Vanagaitė” for rapid reference).
What makes Rūta Vanagaitė’s Ours (Mūsiškiai) very different from all other Lithuanian books on the Holocaust is that it was from the start written as a bestseller. Written by an experienced public relations professional as an appeal to the Lithuanian public, the book raises the painful issue of historical responsibility. The author does not refrain from giving a personal twist to the story (it would be impossible otherwise, as the Holocaust is an issue of individual position and individual responsibility). The author is piercingly direct and uses black comedy. She approaches the topic with composure and a sense of supremacy. These two features may irritate the reader. However, she is entitled to it as she aims to confront the reader, which she so eloquently achieves.
VILNIUS—In a kind of topsy-turvy-world follow-up to last June’s neo-Nazi pick-up of an abusive article on the website of the official state-sponsored Jewish Community of Lithuania, the nation’s chief neo-Nazi blogger, “Zeppelinus,” infamous for his racist, misogynistic, homophobic and antisemitic invective and graphics (samples here and here), has again jumped on the recent attempts of the current leadership of the state-sponsored official “Jewish Community of Lithuania” to use the historic term “Litvak” (‘Jew of Lithuanian heritage’) to divide the Jewish community racially and ethnically between alleged “pure-blooded Lithuanian Jews identifiable today by their Lithuanian language” and “Russian-speakers.” On at least one occasion, an international scandal resulted in a half-mouthed apology following the most offensive official posting and a hapless attempted “edit” that followed on. Vilna-born Holocaust survivor Prof. Pinchos Fridberg has commented on the affair.
VILNIUS—The Weekly of Vilnius, widely considered to be this city’s most prestigious English-language news publication, was today the first in the Lithuanian capital to cover news of the letter from twelve United States congressmen to the president of Lithuania concerning current plans to situate a projected new national convention center in the heart of the city’s historic old Jewish cemetery, at Piramónt, in the Šnipiškės section of modern Vilnius. With the permission of the publishers, we are reproducing the title page of today’s edition and the entire article concerning the cemetery. In the spirit of classic journalism, The Weekly of Vilnius has no online edition (only an online description page) and is available weekly by emailed PDF or hard copy to its elite group of subscribers, known to include embassies, government agencies, captains of industry, politicians, academics and relevant institutions, libraries, and think tanks around the world. It is edited by the distinguished economist and journalist Mr. Nehro Khalil. A PDF facsimile of today’s report follows. Please use the arrows in the upper left hand corner to turn pages in either direction.
VILNIUS—Lithuania’s top neo-Nazi blogger “Zeppelinus” has republished with some noticeable relish, in a post dated 27 May 2017, parts of the 19 May official “Lithuanian Jewish Community website” attack (as PDF) on this journal’s editor, Dovid Katz. The attack was, some would say shamefully, signed “LJC staff” though sources rapidly revealed its prime author (see our rapid response on the day). It is not the first time that the antisemitic far-right has found its material on the website of the official Jewish Community under its current leadership (that is under legal challenge after the recent allegedly rigged election), at a time when the website is, disturbingly, allegedly under control of elements very far from the interests of Lithuania’s Jews. Last autumn’s website attacks on Rabbi Sholom-Ber Krinsky were picked up and elaborated by another key antisemitic blogger who went so far as to dig up the 1790s antisemitic attacks on a prime founder of Lithuanian Hasidism.
You know something is wrong when the neo-Nazis are finding their material on the “website of an official Jewish community”. It’s a website funded in fact by the state via restitution funds deriving from the communal religious properties of the annihilated Jewish communities of Lithuania, administered by a (this one’s for you, George Orwell) “Good Will Foundation”.
Then there was the most recent fiasco, a comparison of the democratic electoral congress of the Vilnius Jewish Community on 24 May to Russia’s “Zapad 2017” military exercises, and the charge that the assembled 300 or so Vilnius Jews were “mainly Russian speakers calling themselves Jews, with only a minority of people with Litvak blood” (see our report which led to JTA’s coverage, and the essays by Professor Pinchos Fridberg and by Leonas Kaplanas). This was a proverbial gift of the gods to the local antisemitic establishment here that revels in delegitimizing the country’s living Jews while embracing a de-Judaized ersatz “Litvak heritage” for PR, with some help from a tiny elite of privileged “court Jews” who themselves at times, it seems, become conduits for antisemitic invective against the local Jewish community. Prof. Fridberg has pointed out that a subsequent vague and unclear “apology” posted failed to disclose the author(s) of the offending text, and never even appeared in the Russian-language section of the website. Is the author of the offending text still employed by the official “Lithuanian Jewish (Litvak) Community”? Why is his or her identity a secret?
VILNIUS—The following is an English translation (by Ludmilla Makedonskaya) of Professor Pinchos Fridberg’s article in Russian that appeared in the Vilnius-based publication Obzor on 26 May 2017. Note that the original Russian version is the only authoritative text for any issues arising. Professor Fridberg is a native of Vilna, a Holocaust survivor, a retired physics professor and the author of numerous articles and studies. For translations of a selection of his work on Defending History’s issues, in English translation, see our Pinchos Fridberg section.
For more information on the issue see the Lithuanian Jewish Community (LJC) website report on the 24 May elections held by the Vilnius Jewish Community (VJC), Defending History’s initial real-time report and rejoinder, the second version posted, the JTA report on the affair, the subsequent LJC “apology” and Leon Kaplan’s essay on these pages.
The following is a full translation of the radio debate on the fate of the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery at Piramónt (in the capital’s Snipiskes district), aired by LRT.lt radio as part of its People and Ideas series on 1 March and again on 5 March 2017 and available in the original Lithuanian on the station’s website. The debate was hosted by Audra Girijotė with the participants (in alphabetical order here): Renaldas Augustinavičius, Ruta Bloshtein, Faina Kukliansky, Andrius Kulikauskas, Shnayer Leiman, Remigijus Šimašius.
Note that this translation works from the Lithuanian voice-over on Professor Leiman’s originally English contribution, rather than from a separate tape of the full English interview with Professor Leiman used by the organizers (who put together the “debate” after separate interviews with the participants). This was decided upon in the spirit of trying to characterize, as best we can, the text and texture actually received by the Lithuanian language audience.
VILNIUS—Interviews by several Defending History staffers with several dozen members of Vilnius’s Jewish community over the past several days have turned up what seems to be a widespread sense of (citing terms that recurred frequently in the conversations) “disappointment” or “shock” at the “unbelievable changing of the rules of an election in the middle of the campaign.” (Such mini-surveys are not scientific, and a professional survey of today’s Jewish community on a number of issues is a critical desideratum here.)
The change seems to be in the cause of in effect disenfranchising the actual living Jews of Lithuania by suddenly decoupling the numbers of living, resident Jews from votes cast for the leadership of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, for which elections are scheduled, as of today, for May 28th (for recent developments see the DH section on Vilnius Jewish Life). A number of those interviewed mentioned the role of the “Good Will Foundation” that allocates funding for the community’s administration, including elections, from the government finance provided as restitution for prewar communal religious Jewish property. Some of its allocations have been highly controversial.
VILNIUS—The disappointing failure of the official website of the Jewish Community of Lithuania to give Equal Space to each candidate, and to each campaign, in the current leadership contest is a scar in the modern community’s history that can still be repaired as the campaign turns to its final stages. Let us hope it will be, and that this minimal democratic standard will be respected by the site’s editor and by the Good Will Foundation that allocates lavish finance for the website, which was never intended to be a Soviet-style paean to a single never-to-be-questioned Leader. Perhaps the Board’s foreign members, in particular, will rise to the occasion, at long last, at next week’s scheduled meeting here in Vilnius, especially in light of the recent series of unsettling reports.
East European state-sponsored “Holocaust Fixing” continues apace. The distinguished German scholar and author of a major two-volume work on the Lithuanian Holocaust, Professor Christoph Dieckmann, has given a major interview intended for the general public on the popular Delfi.lt news portal. He was in town for an IHRA conference held in intimate collaboration with the Lithuanian government’s units on the Holocaust and Jewish affairs, including the Red-Brown Commission, of which Prof. Dieckmann is, surprisingly for many of his genuine admirers, a longtime member and apologist.
VILNIUS—A six-person monitoring group assembled by Defending History was the only human rights team at this year’s March 11th neo-Nazi march in central Vilnius. DH’s monitors were Eveldas Balčiūnas, Dovid Katz, Julius Norwilla, Ruta Ostrovskaja, Jacob Piliansky, and Julia Rets. Two senior longtime annual observers, both major figures in Lithuania’s Jewish community for over half a century, Milan Chersonski and Prof. Pinchos Fridberg, were prevented by health issues from monitoring the event this year.
For years Defending History has asked that the marchers’ freedom of speech be respected at venues away from the center of the capital on the nation’s independence day. The granting of “that time and place” (only since 2008) conveys a sense of legitimization by both the municipality and national government, which are sometimes thought to be playing a “double game” by facilitating the honoring of Holocaust perpetrators locally, alongside commemorations for the victims for foreign consumption. At least two Western ambassadors were “quietly” among the observing crowds.
Evaldas Balčiūnas; Julius Norwilla; Julia Rets; Alkas.lt; Delfi.lt. Did “mainstream media” coverage avoid imaging swastikas, other fascist symbols, and Hitler salutes?
VILNIUS—The prestigious Weekly of Vilnius, which provides a digest and interpretation in English of news concerning Lithuania, especially for the diplomatic, governmental, business, academic, arts, cultural and international affairs communities, became the first publication, in its 5 February issue, to break the ostensible wall of silence in the Lithuanian media on the international petition by Vilnius native and resident Ruta Bloshtein. Her petition, concerning the fate of the old Jewish cemetery at Piramónt in the Šnipiškės (Shnípishok) district of Vilnius, the nation’s capital, has to date garnered close to 38,000 signatures, making it the largest Litvak effort since the Holocaust. The petition calls on Lithuania’s president, prime minister, chancellor, the mayor of Vilnius and the European Commission’s president to move the project of a new national convention center away from the old cemetery. It comes after years of local and international opposition to the project. The Weekly of Vilnius, edited by the widely admired Nehro Khalil, has been known on more than one occasion to breach walls of silence concerning “the second opinion” on an array of issues and topics.
LONDON—The world’s greatest rabbinic authorities are unanimously opposed to the project to construct a 34 million euro convention center in the heart of Vilna’s old Jewish cemetery, surrounded by thousands of graves on all four sides. And now, 34,000 people around the world have also spoken up in a new international petition. Nevertheless, one group of London rabbis, the “CPJCE” (Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe [italics added]) continues to campaign for the convention center in close cooperation with the local business interests and politicians. Its Rabbi Herschel (Hershel) Gluck OBE has spoken out in the London Jewish Chronicle, trashing the petition of a Vilnius born Orthodox Jewish woman, Ruta Bloshtein.
Neither Rabbi Gluck nor the Jewish Chronicle mention that his “CPJCE” was allegedly exposed in Wikileaks (reports in the Jerusalem Post, Times of Israel, DH) for demanding money for their “supervision”. Rabbi Gluck told the London Jewish Chronicle:
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.
NEW YORK—At least a few viewers of the Fox News Channel’s premier prime time program, “The O’Reilly Factor” were taken aback to hear Bill O’Reilly spurt out last night, in his best high-school teacher by-the-way factual tone, “Stalin was as bad as Hitler! Alright, it’s the same thing!” during a segment presented as uncontested truth. The guest inspiring the “truism” was Mr. Marion Smith, executive director of the Washington DC based “Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation” (sometimes known for short as VOC).
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.
9 September 2016. Defending History: ‘My take on Malát’ by Julius Norwilla [Norvila].
8 September 2016. En.Delfi.lt: ‘The day Lithuania became a culture of We’ by Alexandra Kudukis.
NEW YORK CITY—Dr. Bernard Fryshman, physics professor at the New York Institute of Technology here, today published a new article concerning the imminent danger to thousands of Jewish graves in Vilna’s old Jewish cemetery upon which a huge $25,000,000 convention center, structured to yield hundreds of millions for property developers is about to be erected, where revelers will clap, sing and use toilets surrounded by the graves of Vilna Jewry paid for, on the understanding of possession in perpetuity, by untold thousands of families between the late fifteenth and the early nineteenth centuries. Protestant and Catholic ethicists have noted that such would never be the disrespect shown a cemetery full of Christian (or majority ethnicity) scholars in a great capital city of Europe. Last summer, Lithuania’s chief rabbi was rapidly fired by the Jewish community’s lay-leader-cum-private-attorney, after he spoke against the convention center project. His replacement has yet to speak out for the record; in the interim the search for a new chief rabbi was the subject of latter day Vilna folklore).
VILNIUS—Five years ago in 2011, on the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Lithuanian Holocaust on 23 June 1941 and the following days — nationalist murderers killed thousands of Jewish neighbors before the first German forces arrived or assumed control — the state sponsored an array of activities honoring the “rebels” (an historic nonsense, the Soviet occupying forces were fleeing Hitler’s invasion, the largest in human history, not the local Jew-killers).
VILNIUS—For the tiny and dwindling group of Holocaust survivors in this part of the world, the indelibly cursed day the genocide began was June 23rd 1941, when hordes of young local “nationalists,” some affiliated with the fascist Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF) — which had put in writing its intentions for Jewish fellow-citizens beforehand — began to murder, plunder and rape their neighbors in at least forty locations before the first German soldiers even got there, as confirmed by numerous historians and eyewitnesses. Within a few days, most would don white-armbands.
VILNIUS—Yet another major American newspaper, this time the San Francisco Examiner, has done a fine travel report on Vilnius, the beautiful capital of Lithuania, but with perhaps naive and uncritical treatment of one of the city’s less savory sites that is a product of the far-right history revisionism of the ultranationalist camp. It is the city center’s so-called “Museum of Genocide Victims” that is mostly dedicated to the genocide that did not happen in Lithuania (during the dictatorial Soviets’ misrule), while making national heroes of some of the local collaborators including actual killers) in the Holocaust — the genocide that did take place, resulting in the annihilation of 96.4% of Lithuanian Jewry, the highest percentage in Holocaust-era Europe. The conceptual backdrop is the thriving Double Genocide movement in this part of the world.
The Examiner article reports that “Gediminas Avenue, the main artery through the city […] ends up at the Museum of Genocide Victims, the location of the 20th century Soviet KGB prison. […] The Museum is a very powerful statement to the horrors mankind can inflict on humanity.” Not a word about the fact that the same building was also a Gestapo headquarters during the Holocaust where the murders of 100,000 citizens at nearby Ponár (Paneriai) were coordinated, nor about the massive glorification of Holocaust collaborators throughout the building.
VILNIUS—Briton Mark Adam Harold, also known as Mark Splinter, this city’s sole foreign elected City Council member, spoke out in an interview published today in 15min.lt calling for the city to accept the 2015 petition of a group of intellectuals to remove plaques honoring Holocaust collaborator Jonas Noreika. In his reply to a pointed question, he also added that the city-center street named for Nazi collaborator Kazys Škirpa be renamed for Righteous of the Nations (rescuers of civilians targeted for death by the Nazis and their local partners). He also challenged the city’s mayor, implying that there might be an element of cowardice in failure to undertake simple measures that would immeasurably improve the international reputation of Lithuania’s storied capital.
NEW YORK CITY—A 9 March 2016 Forward article, by Britta Lokting, focused on Martin Peretz’s recent resignation from Yivo’s board, cited a number of current Yivo issues. It did not, however, mention the major issue of instrumentalization by the Lithuanian government’s campaign of Holocaust obfuscation, relativization and revisionism. It did reference the now-famous Vilnius-based digitization project.
In 2011, Yivo honored an antisemitic foreign minister while failing to honor the Yiddish speaking Vilna Holocaust survivors maligned by Lithuanian prosecutors, resulting in a heartfelt plea from the long-time editor of the Jewish community’s quadrilingual newspaper. Then, in 2012, it sent its director to Vilnius to help cover for the reburial with full honors of a Holocaust perpetrator, and saw its director join (and thereby give legitimacy to) the notorious “Red-Brown Commission.” A year ago, the organization was called to task by a Vilna Holocaust survivor in the Yiddish Fórverts (English translation here; unmentioned in the English Forward?). See Defending History’s section on Yivo issues in recent years.
A Nigerian citizen was attacked with a knife and injured in Kaunas, Lithuania, earlier this month. Trying hard to avoid describing the assault as a racially motivated hate crime, law enforcement officials and the mainstream media alike explained that the incident was purely part of a private dispute. Strange to tell, reading through official statistics you would rapidly come to the conclusion that racist and xenopohobic crimes in Lithuania stand at about zero. And, that neo-Nazi minded youth are “just patriotic.”
It is no great secret in this part of the world that law enforcement officials and some politicians like to beautify the statistics, or to terminate or redefine proceedings brought in respect of racial or xenophobic hatred. One example comes to mind from 2011, when MPs J. Narkevičius and E. Zingeris appealed to the General Prosecutor’s Office to do something about the neo-Nazi ideology espoused in the song “Diktatūra” by the group “Šalčininkų rajonas” (Šalčininkai District).
“I am a former Lithuanian soldier myself and have a personal remark to make. Nobody will ever force me to wear the uniform of another country’s armed forces, because I am a Lithuanian patriot. I will not wear the uniform of Russia or of Mozambique.”
One of the main Lithuanian dailies Lietuvos žinios (Lithuanian News) reported in an article on 24 November 2015 that the council of the celebrated Sajūdis organization (famed for its role in resisting the USSR and helping to achieve Lithuanian independence), had now, in 2015, decided to apply to prosecutors to take legal action over an article that had appeared in the 13 October 2015 edition of Laisvas laikraštis (Free Newspaper).
Sajūdis “decided” that the author had violated the law because he mentioned that Lithuanian postwar militants Vytautas Žemaitis, Jonas Noreika (Vėtra), Antanas Baltūsis-Žvejas and others might have been personally involved in Holocaust atrocities. [Editor’s note: See articles by Evaldas Balčiūnas on the alleged Holocaust involvement of Žemaitis, Noreika, and Baltūsis -Žvejas.]
JERUSALEM—The Simon Wiesenthal Center today harshly criticized the website of the Lithuanian Jewish Community for what it termed a “brazen whitewash of the Holocaust crimes of one of the perpetrators of the annihilation of Lithuanian Jewry.”
VILNIUS—The pseudonymous neo-Nazi blogger “Zeppelinus,” long alleged to be the alias of a high official in the Ministry of the Economy (DH still awaits a reply to our open letter of 2013 to the relevant minister), is notorious for his racist, antisemitic, and homophobic images that continue to needlessly damage Lithuania’s good name (sampling at end of article). This web journal’s editor has long been one of his many photoshop and photofake targets, naturally a source of pride for any and all within Vilnius’s bona fide human rights community. As some Lithuanian human rights activists put it, “If you didn’t make it into Zeppelinus’s sicko gallery, you’re not really doing enough for human rights in this country.”
In the midst of this past summer’s heatwave here in Lithuania, Delfi.lt, one of the most popular news portals in the land, exploded with discussions on commemorations and memorials for Nazi collaborators in our country. Rimvydas Valatka, a columnist for the portal and signatory of the Declaration of Independence, started it all with his article of 26 July. The “current events background” was the recent removal of the controversial Soviet-era statues of soldiers on Vilnius’s Green Bridge. Valatka, a veteran of Lithuanian journalism with the rarefied street-cred of a Declaration of Independence signatory, appealed for removal of the memorial plaque for Nazi collaborator Jonas Noreika (“Generolas Vėtra”) from a central Vilnius library building, and wrote about a petition for its removal signed by a group of intellectuals and public figures, and addressed to the mayor of Vilnius as well as to the director of the relevant library (Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences), where the plaque hangs prominently in the heart of Lithuania’s capital.
TAURAGĖ (TÁVRIK), LITHUANIA—The Simon Wiesenthal Center today praised an op-ed in the popular Lithuanian news portal Lrytas.lt by prominent journalist Vytautas Bruveris calling upon the government to finally undertake a comprehensive investigation of the scope of Lithuanian complicity in Holocaust crimes. In a statement issued here today by its chief Nazi hunter, Dr. Efraim Zuroff, who is currently in Lithuania on a research expedition, the Center expressed its appreciation and support for the content of the article and expressed the hope that the government would indeed implement the ideas raised by Bruveris.
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.
Back in May, the story broke about an electrical station on an uninhabited hillside by a highway here in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, being made out of pilfered old Jewish gravestones. It quickly spread to the international press, including London’s Daily Mail. The city’s recently elected mayor, Remigijus Šimašius reacted with lightning speed, getting the city’s sign-making maestros to create and mount a handsome solid-metal smartly round-edged bilingual sign condemning the “example of Soviet barbarism” and promising the rapid removal of the stones to a place of dignity where they will form part of a memorial. A PR disaster was spun into a rapid reaction force’s PR triumph against discrimination that could only do our great city proud.
In January 2012 I became aware of a then-upcoming performance of Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Since I knew that Carl Orff was a Nazi-approved composer, who created this work in 1936, I wrote a letter to Maestro Andreas Delfs and Music Director Edo de Waart, requesting that they place the biography of Orff during the Nazi period in the program, in the interest of enlightenment, transparency, and full disclosure, thereby situating “Carmina Burana” in its historical context for listeners.
Updates on the new conflict over the old Vilna Jewish cemetery site at Piramónt (now part of the Šnipiškės [Yiddish: Shnípishok] district), and the related issues surrounding a concurrently established new commission on Jewish heritage will be added here as they become available.
The national Lithuanian television channel Lietuvos rytas TV recently (on May 4) broadcast a show by veteran talk-show host Rūta Grinevičiūtė (surname recently changed to Janutienė) called Nuoga Tiesa, “Naked Truth,” which posed the question, “Do you want the Jews to return again [sic] to Lithuania?” Viewers were invited to call in and/or vote by special telephone lines for Yes and No with a one euro toll per call. For that and a number of other reasons the entire program had something of the macabre about it, and although some of the guests made some important points, all of them seemed to miss certain glaring details which would have been the center of attention in the West.
VILNIUS—Defending History has still had no reply to its open letter of August 2013 to the Minister of the Economy, asking him to look into multiple media reports that the pseudonymous “Zeppelinus,” Lithuania’s best-known purveyor of hate-popart on the internet is indeed a senior civil servant in his own ministry. The issue came to the fore once again in recent weeks with his “appeal” to the head of the Jewish community, and his latest production following a recent controversial conference (conference report).
The following are samples of his “art” in the service of racism, misogyny, homophobia, antisemitism alongside glorification of Nazism. Samples can readily be found for other prejudices, including anti-Polish and anti-Russian hate. Hopefully human rights organizations will continue to counter such materials, first and foremost by establishing, in partnership with law enforcement, the identity of the purveyor of the hate materials, and the answer to the question about alleged continued high employment in a government ministry. An earlier smaller sampling with full translation is available here. Full disclosure: This journal’s editor has on occasion been a target of Mr. Zeppelinus, too.
The governments of the Baltic countries, while cheerleading the introduction of new sanctions against the Russian Federation, are also doing something else that is going unnoticed. They are exploiting tensions between the West and Russia to settle scores with local dissidents, who advocate equal rights for national minorities and oppose glorification of Nazi collaborators. They are prevented from holding events, and impacted at the personal level, while their activities are marginalized so that they might become invisible in the eyes of the international community. This is done with help of American Neocons (neoconservatives), including the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), an organization established in 2009.
VILNIUS—The Defending History team based here wrote today to Targum Shlishi in the United States to thank its board and director for offering support to the Defending History project at a critical juncture in its seven year history. The Vilnius-based project began in the spring of 2008, its web journal Holocaust in the Baltics got underway in 2009 and was renamed Defending History in 2010.
Targum Shlishi cited Defending History’s work in its newsletter today. The relevant paragraph reads as follows:
LONDON—British author Peter Jukes, best known for his screenplays, literary criticism and political journalism, tweeted last week on the release in the United States of a new documentary film that heroizes certain postwar anti-Soviet “forest brothers” in Lithuania. The film, “The Invisible Front,” that premiered in Greenwich Village’s prestigious Cinema Village theater on 7 November, fails to even mention the view that various of the specific figures it glorifies for their post 1944 activities were in fact alleged recycled Nazi collaborators of 1941. That was the year when, in the days following the Nazi invasion launched on 22 June, the Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF) started butchering local civilian Jews, often elderly rabbis or young women, before the first German forces had arrived. Premeditation becomes evident from perusal of the LAF’s prewar leaflets.
The following report appeared today on the LGL website, and is reposted here by permission of LGL.
The following is a translation, by Geoff Vasil, of a news article in today’s Lietuvos rytas, available online in the original Lithuanian on lrytas.lt.
The Kremlin’s propagandist arrested at the Vilnius Airport, Aleksandr Dyukov, found out: he’s isn’t wanted in countries in the Shengen zone. After checking his documents and information in the database, border police working at Vilnius Airport told the arrival he may not enter Lithuania because he is included on a list of personae non gratae. After spending the night in special airport facilities, Dyukov boarded the first plane for Moscow in the morning.
JERUSALEM—The Simon Wiesenthal Center today harshly criticized a decision by Hungary’s Supreme Court which recently ruled that local media cannot refer to the Jobbik party as “far right.”
UPDATE: See now Efraim Zuroff’s 14 June 2014 op-ed in the Jerusalem Post
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.”
Vitas Tomkus’s daily tabloid, Respublika has, alongside its sister title, Vakaro Žinios (Evening News, also owned by Tomkus) in many views inflicted tangible damage upon Lithuania and its image. The papers leave a long trail of racist, antisemitic, and homophobic invective, not seldom in sensationalistic formats that mirror the 1930s.
The most notorious instance was perhaps the 2004 front page featuring the unseemly cartoon of the The Jew and The Gay holding up a globe under the headline “Who runs the world?” recycled (and again, on page 1), in 2009. Vakaro Žinios (Evening News) even featured a sickening photo montage of the then head of the Jewish community Dr. Shimon Alperovich, and a Soviet-era abacus, with text suggesting the Jews were conspiring to defraud the Lithuanian people. More recently, a front page was devoted to a local rabbi with a headline about Jews not having to pay taxes. The word Žydai (Jews) alone was in massive size type, as on numerous occasions, e.g. when the paper accused “The Jews” of plotting to steal the building housing the Culture Ministry. It is almost all out of a dark satire.
Dr. Efraim Zuroff, Holocaust historian, Nazi-hunter, and director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office, has posted the following comment on the website of Tablet magazine, as one of the comments to a new book review. The comment also appears separately on Facebook.
The following, for our readers’ information, is Geoff Vasil’s translation of a 3 February 2014 article that appeared in 15min.lt. Please see the original Lithuanian for the photos referenced herein by their captions in square brackets.
Jonas Öhman is a Swede who has been coming to Lithuania and living here on and off from almost the beginning of modern independence in the 1990-1991 period. During that time he has produced a number of films, only one of which appears to his credit on the internet film database imdb.com, but all of which deal more or less with a mythologized version of the history of Lithuanian anti-Soviet partisans.
The following translation, by Geoff Vasil, is of a front page article in the Vilnius daily Respublika (18 January 2014), featuring an interview with Kaunas Jewish community leader Gercas Žakas (the words superimposed on the photo roughly translate: “Perhaps someone really is provoking us and sowing discord intentionally”). The Lithuanian original is available online.
See also the the front page spread featuring interviews with Faina Kukliansky and Moshe Beirakas which appeared two days earlier, on 16 January 2014.
Kaunas Jewish Community chairman Gercas Žakas was initially surprised when the daily newspaper Respublika, where his son Arijus worked as a reporter, was deemed an antisemitic newspaper. And now Žakas is surprised our politicians sported a Wehrmacht symbol during Defenders of Freedom Day.
Žakas: “What symbol are you talking about?” Žakas asked. “I know nothing, I was away. Apparently someone wasn’t paying enough attention.”
Respublika: “During the commemoration of January 13 at parliament forget-me-not pins were passed out, which are really a symbol of the Nazi German Wehrmacht military.”
The following is a translation, by Geoff Vasil for Defending History, of the editorial that appeared on 17 January 2014 in the Vilnius daily Respublika (p. 4), a day after the front page story (16 Jan.) featuring photographs of Faina Kukliansky and Moishe Beirakas, and a day before the front story (17. Jan) featuring Gercas Žakas.
A new page has been launched to provide selected articles from the English edition of the Lithuanian Jewish Community’s Jerusalem of Lithuania. The newspaper was regularly published in four separate editions (English, Lithuanian, Russian and Yiddish) from 1989 to early 2011. These selections are from the years 1999-2011, when the quadrilingual publication was edited by Milan Chersonski, now a senior staff writer at Defending History. The page is being developed in close consultation with Mr. Chersonski.
The following translation, by Geoff Vasil, is of a front page article in the Vilnius daily Respublika (16 January 2014). The Lithuanian original is available online. See also: Geoff Vasil’s comment on the article which may serve as an introduction to some of the local issues and nuances.
January 16, 2014 by Asta MARTIŠIŪTĖ and Olava STRIKULIENĖ, Respublika reporters MEP Vytautas Landsbergis, chairman of the Supreme Soviet/Restored Parliament of Lithuania, speaking at a solemn event to commemorate January 13 , spoke in his speech about the Holocaust as well. Was it necessary to mention this at a ceremony dedicated to the 14 defenders of Lithuanian freedom who died and who hadn’t even been alive during Holocaust times? Beyond this, January 13 [commemorations] didn’t come off without yet another curiosity. A Wehrmacht symbol was used in the “Forget-me-not” campaign and MP Rasa Juknevičienė said next January it will be possible to acquire these symbols [lapel pins] throughout Lithuania, and not exclusively in the capital. Continue reading
In an attempt to maintain their reputation as the most anti-Semitic major newspaper in Lithuania, the editors at Respublika have fired a new salvo in their information war against the international forces of Communist Zionism with a straw-man argument designed to rehabilitate the swastika as a Lithuanian cultural heritage symbol.
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.
NOTE: This English version of a recent piece by Professor Pinchos Fridberg (of Vilnius), translated by Lumilla Makedonskaya (of Grodno), is for our readers’ information. In the case of any doubt or matter arising, the original Russian text alone is authoritative.
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?
Last May, this journal reported on a full page of racial hate directed at Latvia’s “Russians” (a cover term for Russian-speakers of a multitude of backgrounds). It had appeared in the Baltic Times, under cover of the responsibility-shirking label “Advertisement.” Heaven help us all if the word advertisement can in European Union and NATO countries cover for spreads of hate and incitement to violation of human rights. In this case, the demand is for the veritable expulsion of a million peaceful, legal residents of a member state of these international alliances, both of which are based on the shared commitment to uphold the human rights of all.
Rather than repeat the commentary offered at the page’s earlier appearance, we refer back to it here on the occasion of its reappearance in this month’s Baltic Times (dated 31 October — 27 November 2013), that occupies all of page 5 in the main news (!) section.
In May 2012 solemn funeral events were held in Kaunas: the ashes of the interim prime minister of the Provisional Government of Lithuania (hereinafter PG) Juozas Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis were transferred from the state of Connecticut in the United States, where he was buried in 1974, to Kaunas, the former temporary capital of Lithuania. There the ashes were reburied.
In a statement issued in Jerusalem today, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel director Dr. Efraim Zuroff noted two major flaws in a recent report issued by the state-sponsored Genocide Center in Vilnius, Lithuania. The report’s key findings, presented by the Center’s Dr. Alfredas Rukšėnas, were published by the Lithuanian news portal Delfi on 25 October 2013 (English translation available in Defending History).
According to Dr. Zuroff:
“The findings of the report, as presented by the coordinator of this project, are clearly part of a systematic attempt by the Lithuanian government to minimize the role of ethnic Lithuanians in the mass murder of Jews during the Holocaust. Based on the records in our archives, I can unequivocally state, that the figure of 2,055 Lithuanians whose direct and indirect participation in Holocaust crimes was confirmed by this study, is a gross underestimate of the number of Lithuanians complicit in Shoah crimes, designed to deflect blame from local collaborators and hide the extensive scope of Lithuanian involvement in the mass murder of Jews, both in Lithuania and outside her borders.
“Also highly objectionable is the assertion by Dr. Rukšėnas that those Lithuanians who indeed murdered Jews really had no choice but to do so, having received orders to commit murder from their superiors. Besides the fact that in many cases, these superiors were themselves Lithuanians, such arguments have been consistently and unequivocally rejected by courts all over the world, starting with the Nuremberg Trials.”
The following is a translation of an October 2, 2013 piece published by former Baltic News Service chief Artūras Račas on his blog. For context, see some of Mr. Račas’s previous work on Holocaust related issues, e.g. his comments on state investigations of Holocaust survivors who became anti-Nazi partisans (2008) and on Prof. Pinchos Fridberg and Dr. Efraim Zuroff (2013); see also Prof. Fridberg’s reply.
The following is an English translation, by Geoff Vasil, from the original Lithuanian text that appears on the website of the Office of the Chief Archivist of Lithuania concerning the Vilna Ghetto, on the occasion of the seventieth anniversary of its liquidation on September 23, 1943.
In an important article that appeared in Lithuanian in Bernardinai.lt, and in English in the Lithuania Tribune, author Sergejus Kanovičius pointed out the remarkable disparity of tone between the Lithuanian version on the Chief Archivist’s website (that appears below in English translation), and the English version provided on the Chief Archivist’s website…
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).
The leading neo-Nazi blogger in Lithuania, “Zeppelinus,” who was unmasked several months ago by a number of publications as a high official at the Ministry for the Economy and chairman of the nation’s Tripartite Commission, did not deny the identification.
Instead, quite incredibly, he complained to the press commission against those who would dare deem to be unacceptable his hateful racist, antisemitic, homophobic and pro-fascist productions.
NOTE: This was written in response to “Foreign countries use far-right operations to undermine Lithuania’s image” published on June 7, 2013, on the Lithuania Tribune website.
Initially the editor-in-chief of the Lithuania Tribune agreed to publish the following reply in the Lithuania Tribune, but then changed his mind and finally refused, only informing the author a month later…
The half-page article on the “Business” page of the Baltic Times (dated 4-17 April 2013 but widely available this week here in Vilnius) carries at its end the words “This is a paid advertisement.”
But these words do not succeed in mitigating the moral responsibility of the increasingly ultranationalist, far-right newspaper in disseminating hate material against any minority, least of all of in an EU / NATO member state. The inherent equality of peoples and their races and languages and national and personal identities are an inseparable component of what the European Union and NATO are all about.
Lithuanian conservative politician, former Head of the Lithuanian Parliament and current EPP Member of the European Parliament Vytautas Landsbergis has consistently expressed homophobic views and spoken out against initiatives to strengthen LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights in the European community, and particularly in Lithuania itself.
Landsbergis expressed his views about LGBT rights unambiguously in his outlandish claim in 2010 that paedophilia is connected to homosexuality. This claim was made at a parliamentary hearing on the sexual abuse on children organised in the European Parliament. According to Landsbergis, children should be protected from “homosexual propaganda” and “homophilic [sic] paedophilia”. Landsbergis’ claims were condemned by Cecilia Malmström, the European Commissioner for Home Affairs; and the European Parliament’s Intergroup for LGBT Rights, which stated that it condemns paedophilia unreservedly, as do all recognized LGBT organizations worldwide.
Years ago, when I first started doubting the veracity of certain propaganda intended to diminish the culpability of local forces in the Holocaust, I interviewed an elderly woman who was an eye-witness to what happened in late June of 1941 in Rokiškis (in Yiddish: Rákishok) in northern (or northeastern) Lithuania.
She told me how a bunch of young men turned savage, rounded up Jewish men, stuck them in what amounted to a pig sty surrounded by barbed wire in the center of town, and then tortured and humiliated them until they murdered them. She said this gang of savages went by the name of Savisaugos batalionas, which is Lithuanian for self-defense battalion. Were they led by Germans? No, she said, there hadn’t been a single German to be seen.
A month has now elapsed since the online Lithuania Tribune took a defamatory press release as God’s-honest-truth news, in absence of the slightest attempt to obtain a quote from the victim, or indeed anyone with a contrasting view. The press release came not from a news agency, but the highly partisan executive director of the “Red-Brown Commission” (the full and rather Orwellian name of which is “The International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania”). The Commission is highly controversial to say the least, and resignations to date (all on principle) from its associated bodies include Dr. Yitzhak Arad, Sir Martin Gilbert (London), Prof. Gershon Greenberg (Washington, DC), Prof. Konrad Kwiet (Sydney) and Prof. Dov Levin (Jerusalem). Moreover, while putting forward an educational image to donors, it is in fact the ultranationalist political engine of a sizable part of the Double Genocide movement in Eastern Europe today, and this dubious role has been brought to light repeatedly. Major statements on the Commission’s activities came in 2012 from its former member Yitzhak Arad, and from the world’s last active association of Holocaust survivors from Lithuania.
E Y E W I T N E S S R E P O R T / O P I N I O N
This March 11, the day in 1990 when the Supreme Soviet of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic declared Lithuania sovereign and separate from the Soviet Union, was celebrated in Vilnius in the usual manner: neo-Nazis, skinheads, their young and naive followers and a gaggle of elderly politicians—both serving MPs and has-beens—assembled and marched up the main boulevard chanting nationalist and anti-minority slogans, scaring children and generally making the streets unsafe for normal activities.