In the Debate to Mid 2016
YEAR OF PUBLICATION VARIES. 2016 TITLES ARE IN RED.
See also BOOKS SECTION
See also BOOKS SECTION
[most recent update]
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.
VILNIUS—Yet again, the “Vilnius Jewish Public Library,” housed in exquisite city-center premises in a courtyard off the capital’s central Gedimino Boulevard, has been the base for a Holocaust-obfuscating event featuring stars of the state’s “Red-Brown Commission” who are dispatched far and wide to deny the existence of the state-sponsored “Double Genocide” campaign, to mitigate the campaign against Holocaust survivors, the efforts to glorify local collaborators, and to obscure entirely the Second Opinion expressed in the Seventy Years Declaration. Incredibly, the roster of invited speakers did not include Ms. Rūta Vanagaitė, author of Mūsiškiai, the new best-selling book on the Holocaust that has in effect revolutionized the country’s coming to terms with its Holocaust-era past. What is the “Jewish” Library afraid of?
n February 26, 2016, Arūnas Degutis posted his thoughts on Lithuanian-Litvak relations at the Minciu Sodas discussion forum, one of the longest running public Internet forums in Lithuanian, which I founded in 1999. Degutis writes that Lithuanians as a nation should empathize with Jewish victims of the Holocaust, especially those murdered by Lithuanians, and indeed should make a moral apology. Degutis was one of the signers of the declaration of Lithuania’s independence on March 11, 1990. In 1984, he was thrown out of work for his ties with anti-Soviet dissidents. In the summer of 1988, he became a key organizer of the Lithuanian Reform Movement “Sąjūdis,” especially as an editor of “Sąjūdžio žinios.”
VILNIUS—Over the past decade, few foreign embassies in Lithuania have done as much as Japan’s to help ensure that the accurate history of the Holocaust in Lithuania is never forgotten and indeed, that remembrance events and educational programs feed into both national and international efforts to raise awareness and sensitivities in the cause of averting future massacres of innocent civilians.
Japan’s Holocaust remembrance achievements in Lithuania are manifold. From 2008, when state prosecutors connected to the Genocide Center began defaming local Holocaust survivors, Japan’s embassy joined with others in giving honor to the wrongly accused, including the 2009 “Walk in the Rain” organized by then Norwegian ambassador Steinar Gil. More well known are the embassy’s activities in commemoration of Chiune (Sempo) Sugihara, the inspirational Japanese humanist who saved thousands of lives by issuing visas in Kaunas in 1940. One of the most important goes back to the turn of our century when the embassy participated actively, and generously, in setting up Sugihara House in Kaunas.
Next month, the European Union and NATO will again be faced with the annual city-center march in Riga, the Latvian capital, glorifying the country’s Hitlerist Waffen SS. I had of course for years heard about the infamous March 16th marches in Riga when old members of the Latvian Waffen SS, their sympathizers and those who feel nostalgic about the good old time under Nazi rule proudly parade through the central streets of the beautiful capital of Latvia, ending their solemn march in front of the Freedom Monument, where they – solemnly and hierarchically – lay bundles of flowers at the foot of the monument and sing the national anthem.
The newest Lithuanian “Double Genocide Industry” outreach to the French speaking academic world of Holocaust and World War II studies, this week’s conference in Vilnius, combines a number of truly outstanding scholars and papers with a political agenda of finding Francophone legitimization for Baltic Holocaust revisionism. The French component includes outstanding personalities from Mémorial de la Shoah, from Institut d’Histoire du Temps présent, and from the French Embassy in Lithuania. The strategy has recently evolved following a protracted collapse of US/UK/Israeli confidence in both the “Red-Brown Commission” (page) and the “Genocide Center” (page), both of which have been extensively exposed in recent months. Participants from Lithuania include one of the Double Genocide movement’s main “attack dogs” who makes fine hay of smearing local Lithuanian truth tellers as stooges of Moscow or useful idiots, especially when attempting to discredit honest multi-sided conferences (e.g. last April’s Vilnius conference).
Will the European Commission and the Claims Conference ever see the light on how their generosity is abused by Baltic nationalist Holocaust revisionism?
I am inspired by the deep feelings which have been stirred amongst Litvaks regarding the fate of the Vilnius Sports Palace built on top of the Jewish cemetery. I wish for our state of Lithuania to do its utmost on behalf of Lithuanians to restore the Jewish cemetery in Vilnius as a symbol of our aspiration for the closest friendship between Lithuanians and Jews. I realized that it would be most helpful for me to present my thoughts in Lithuanian.
“From the top of Gediminas Castle, do we want to see and cherish, for hundreds of years to come, what the Communist Party Chief saw (the Sports Palace) or what the Grand Duke of Lithuania saw (the Jewish cemetery)?”
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).
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.
As of October 28, 2015, the home page of the Genocide and Resistance Research Center of Lithuania has a link to an authorative statement by General Director Birutė Teresė Burauskaitė about Kazys Škirpa. She responds to a request for information by the City of Kaunas, which has a street in Škirpa’s name. Škirpa was Lithuania’s representative in Berlin, the leader of the Lithuanian Activist Front, organizer of Lithuania’s anti-Soviet rebellion and Prime Minister of Lithuania’s Provisional Government in 1941. In bold letters she emphasizes:
There were many festive occasions celebrated once Lithuania declared its independence in 1990. So many hopes and expectations were inspired by the sweet word freedom. Free-ee-dom! Laisvė! Had it ever been possible to even imagine beforehand, taking one example, that Lithuania would hold a celebration to honor Israeli Independence Day, dear to Jews all over the world? The new state organized a large event at the Palace of Culture of the Trade Unions in Vilnius in honor of a faraway state, which in Soviet times was mentioned only as “the aggressive state of Israel.”
“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.]
“Which social group in the EU is most generally evicted from housing?” This was the question cheerfully posed by the host of the Good Morning Lithuania show on our national television. The viewer who called in said “Roma” and won a prize.
It can be pleasant to drink morning coffee while tuned to a TV quiz, but this time it was quite something else. The program’s entertaining format and the host’s frequent jokes are not very funny at all when such painful social issues are the subject of entertainment. But the episode well illustrates the public attitude towards the Roma here. Many Roma are still deemed to be distant, exotic and mysterious people, an object rather than a living community. Maybe because there is a lack of empathy and understanding in dealing with Roma integration problems and there are various language issues too.
VILNIUS—This city’s dashing young new mayor, Remigijus Šimašius, elected last spring, has now added Yiddish to the previously bilingual (Lithuanian-English) signs, wrought of expensive metal in rounded-edged casement, in times of austerity for pensioners and others in town. These signs are being placed near Soviet-era edifices made of pilfered Jewish gravestones (matséyves) that are a blot on this charming East European capital. This is the latest model featured on the mayor’s office website:
This is incredible. So the Jewish cemeteries in Lithuania became Home Depot for the Soviet-era construction industry? We need some granite blocks? Yo, take the Goldbergas family plot, there are five headstones! By the way, the big stone for Rabbi Whatshisname would make a great plinth, have it dragged here, please. Can’t somebody undo this bizarre mess, gather the stones and make an appropriate memorial?
This is crazy. The Soviets ravage your cemetery after the Nazis kill your co-religionists and you get this for asking independent Lithuania to stop desecrating graves? They should do their best to restore the burial and memorial place and build their conference center elsewhere, not on the site already desecrated by the Soviets. WTF??
VILNIUS—Polish scholar, author, film maker and Jewish heritage specialist Dr. Tomasz (Tomek) Wiśniewski is renowned as a world specialist on the culture and remnants of numerous erstwhile centers of East European Jewish life, most famously Białystok (in Poland, but in Jewish culture within the Litvak north of Jewish Eastern Europe). He was a delegate at last month’s Rothschild Foundation London (Hanadiv) conference on Jewish cemeteries, held here in Vilnius. Following the event, he issued a statement on his Facebook page concerning the fate of the old Vilna Jewish cemetery, known as Piramónt, in today’s Šnipiškės district. A slightly revised version was translated from Polish by Julius Norwilla and the translation approved by the author. It reads as follows:
VILNIUS—The website of the Jewish Community of Lithuania today posted a powerful response by chairperson Faina Kukliansky to the statement released earlier in the week by the national state-funded “Genocide Center.” That statement attempted to whitewash the infamous Holocaust perpetrator and Nazi collaborator Jonas Noreika, and itself came as a response to a petition and series of articles last summer calling for removal of one of the public shrines to Noreika in the center of this city, the nation’s capital.
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—Slovakian scholar, author and Jewish heritage specialist Dr. Beata Nemcová, a delegate at last week’s Rothschild Foundation London (Hanadiv) conference on Jewish cemeteries, has issued a statement calling on authorities here to move the state’s $25,000,000 convention center project away from the old Vilna Jewish cemetery, known as Piramónt, in today’s Šnipiškės district, to another location. The statement reads as follows (followed by a facsimile).
The well-organized conference “Antisemitism, Radicalization and Violent Extremism” was held on 30 September 2015 at Vilnius’s Novotel Hotel by the Human Rights Monitoring Institute (HMRI) with partners (see program). It will go down in history as one of the most remarkable capers yet in the fraught local “Dead Jew Business,” as it is increasingly becoming known. The biggest shock of the day was that one of the three keynote morning session speakers was Swedish-born Lithuania-resident filmmaker Jonas Ohman, known in town for his (far right style) glorification of postwar resistance fighters — one of the most painful issues of Baltic antisemitism in the twenty-first century — without the slightest mention of the alleged Holocaust perpetrator background of the precise figures glorified.
But the film maker chosen for the morning session manages at the same time to also be a (far left style) Israel baiter, whose current “humanitarian project” is a petition asking the mayor of Vilnius to sack a Jewish (Israeli-Lithuanian) advisor on the basis of social media “silly photos” that become bacteriologically antisemitic when recycled in his own petition, and beyond, in its recontextualized, politically charged incarnation. Far from doing the same to counter officials and advisors with neo-Nazi links, he boasted in his talk (amateur video) of his links to Right Sector and other Ukrainian groups that adulate wartime Holocaust perpetrators. When he was trashing Israel, the Israeli ambassador to Lithuania, Amir Maimon, sitting in the hall, boldly called out a question: “Are you rewriting the history?” (at time code 13:31).
VILNIUS—For many years it has been a source of deep pain to many Lithuanians, Jews and others that the capital (and cities and towns around the country) continue to have street names honoring Holocaust perpetrators and collaborators but none for the true heroes of the Lithuanian Holocaust — the Lithuanian rescuers, who risked their and their families’ lives to “just do the right thing” and rescue some person or persons of a minority marked for rapid murder on the basis of Jewish birth. In the Baltics, the rescuers had to have much more courage even than in many other countries, because they were regarded as enemies of Lithuanian nationalism as then constructed, not only as defiers of the German occupying forces’ program of extermination. They were regarded as “enemies of Lithuania” and sympathizes of communism who could expect no mercy if found out either by the German authorities or the local Lithuanian forces.
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.
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.
Having recently spent a few days in Germany, and watching different television channels, I once more realized that that country still broadcasts regular programs on the Holocaust. Nearly each and every evening during my stay, I had the opportunity to see fragments of such programs, broadcast on less popular channels (“ZDF History” for example). And, it is true, it is one of the things that I admire most in modern Germany — the regular televising of documentaries on the Holocaust, never hiding the enormous responsibility of the Nazis in the destruction of the Jews.
Mr. Berel Fried of New York City, an Orthodox Jewish scholar and businessman, has authorized this publication of his letter, sent earlier today to Frans Timmermans, first vice president of the European Commission, regarding plans for a convention center at the old Piramónt (Šnipiškės) Jewish cemetery in Vilnius. He is a frequent visitor to Vilnius, where he is known for his exquisite Torah readings at the Choral Synagogue. The most recent public response from the European Commission is here.
One can hear various stories about history here in Lithuania. The main narrative is about Bad Communists and Good Nazis. Yes, it is true. Especially very recently, after the civil (or whatever kind of) war broke out in Ukraine, the Nazis and those who justify and glorify them, both in Ukraine and Lithuania, have found new strength. Under the banner of “Ukraine Fights For All Of Us,” some have decided to bring back such “heroes” as the killer Antanas Baltūsis-Žvejas.
For my part, I would like to defend our Tauras district (in the Kaunas region) from the legacy of this genre of “hero.” For his history was not only one of guerilla warfare against Soviet forces but about what he was doing in 1941 when the wholesale slaughter of our Jewish population was underway. This has a lot to do with Lithuania, who we are as proud Lithuanians whose history, like every other people on this earth, has its high and its low moments.
Our community has asked me to help them find a new chief rabbi, and to formulate the primary requirements specific to Vilna, as only Motke can. No problem.
VILNIUS—The website of the Jewish Community of Lithuania today posted an English version of its chairperson’s reply to a Jerusalem Post article of 11 August 2015 by Sam Sokol. The following is the text of the reply reposted in full with no textual changes. For more background from the Defending History perspective, please see the list of publications on the topic to date, DH’s summary of the high political and finance-sector intrigue, a registry of public opposition to the convention center project, and our editor’s open letter to the group of London rabbis invoked in recent debates.
Why is there so much anger and such a lack of truth emanating from an article by the well known and much respected Israeli newspaper Jerusalem Post regarding the former Jewish cemetery in the neighborhood of Šnipiškės (Shnipishok, aka Piramont) in Vilnius, demolished by the Soviets in 1950 to make way for the Palace of Sports, which is now the subject of plans to renovate as a conference center? The Government of Lithuania is only planning to renovate existing buildings to serve as a conference center and for other cultural events while at the same time cleaning up and commemorating the territory of the former Jewish cemetery. This decision is being implemented in cooperation with members of the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe who are to be included as supervisors over all work there. The Government’s actions regarding the project are being coordinated fully with the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe.
JERUSALEM—The Simon Wiesenthal Center today released a statement reaffirming its previously reported opposition to plans to place a $25,000,000 convention and congress center on Vilnius’s old Jewish cemetery at Piramónt (in today’s Šnipiškės). International opposition to the project has been mounting in recent weeks. The text was released by Dr. Efraim Zuroff, director of the Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office and head of its East European Affairs division. The text follows:
VILNIUS—The office of Rabbi Chaim Burshtein, chief rabbi of Lithuania since 2004, today released to the media the following statement, adding to statements of opposition to the proposed convention center at Piramónt. It follows a contrary statement from the head of the Jewish Community of Lithuania published on its website.
My dear fellow Jews in Lithuania,
A primary task of every Jewish community is to care about old and new Jewish cemeteries. The Vilnius cemetery in Šnipiškės (Shnipishok), long known as Piramont, was purchased by the Jewish community for the full price in 1487, and many thousands of the city’s Jewish citizens paid for their and their loved ones’ plots of burial ground. Among those buried there were many of the greatest of our nation: rabbis, dayanim, teachers, authors of books of rabbinical thought and Jewish learning. In virtue of their achievements, Vilna became the capital of the Jewish world for many generations.
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.
While serving as deputy chairman of the Jewish Community of Lithuania in July and August of 2005 I participated in discussions at the Urban Development Department of the Vilnius City Municipality Administration regarding the construction of an apartment building near the Mindaugas Bridge. My own profession is civil engineering. Supported by representatives of the United States Senate, delegates of the American Jewish community demanded that the capital’s municipality halt the construction, as the site of the construction once used to be a Jewish cemetery.
Over a hundred people gathered on August 2nd, 2015 at the Holocaust Memorial in Hyde Park to commemorate the liquidation of the “Gypsy Camp” at Auschwitz on August 2nd 1944 and the murder of between .5 and 1.5 million Roma in the Holocaust.
This week we Jews observed the saddest day in our people’s tradition — Tisha B’Av (Yiddish: Tíshebov), the annual fast day which commemorates the anniversary of a number of disasters in Jewish history, primarily the destruction of both the first and second temples in Jerusalem. On this day of mourning and lamentation we fast. While sitting on the floor and reading the Book of Lamentations and the Kinoys (sacred poems of mourning), I thought about the Tíshebov tradition of visiting graves of our great sages and of departed family members.
In Vílne (Vilnius), this tradition was observed for ages by visiting the Piramónt cemetery, where throughout a period of more than five hundred years hundreds of thousands have been buried there — the Jews of Vílne, our ancestors among them — and so many illustrious rabbis and sages, who passed on the infinite treasures of their wisdom to us, to help us find the most honest and ethical way of life. It is, in our belief, on account of their merits that the rebuilding of the third temple will come sooner.
Šią savaitę mes, žydai, minėjome tragiškiausią mūsų tautos istorijos datą — Tiša b’Av (jidiš: Tišebov) — abiejų Jeruzalės Šventyklų sugriovimą. Gedulą ir netekties skausmą išreiškiame pasninkaudami. Sėdėdama ant grindų ir skaitydama Kinojs knygą (gedulingas elegijas), mąsčiau ir apie tradiciją šią dieną lankyti mūsų didžių išminčių kapus.
Vilniuje ši tradicija buvo puoselėjama lankant Piramont kapines, kuriose per penkis šimtmečius palaidoti šimtai tūkstančių mano protėvių — Vilniaus žydų, tarp jų iškilių rabinų ir išminčių, palikusių neišsemiamus išminties lobius mums, siekiantiems kilniai ir dorai eiti gyvenimo keliu. Per jų nuopelnus bus, duok Dieve, pagreitintas Trečiosios Šventyklos atstatymas.
VILNIUS—Vilnius’s new mayor, the honorable Remigijus Šimašius, continues to express profound respect for his city’s Jewish heritage of many centuries’ standing. His dapper style, originality and flamboyance have impressed many. But some raise questions about the choices he makes about which issues to address or ignore. Julius Norwilla’srecent comment contrasts the mayor’s “instant metal sign” marking gravestones found in the walls of an electric sub-station, marked as a symptom of Soviet barbarism, with his public silence — hopefully soon to be broken! — about plans to build a $25,000,000 convention and entertainment complex smack in the middle of the city’s oldest Jewish cemetery. Hopefully, the mayor will respond to the appeal to authorities from his constituent Professor Pinchos Fridberg, one of his city’s last living Vilnius-born Holocaust survivors (one of about three left from an interwar population of 60,000 Jews that stood ar around 80,000 just before the Holocaust), as well as to the other public appeals to date, that have come from faithful Jewish and Christian sources alike.
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.
VILNIUS—Public opposition to the placing of a twenty-five million dollar convention center in the heart of Vilna’s old Jewish cemetery has come from an array of individuals and organizations, in Vilnius and internationally.
Last week, there was a flurry of reports in the Lithuanian media about human skeletons and personal effects turning up during routine roadworks at Pročiūnai in the region of Šiauliai (in Jewish history: Shavl). Reports and gory pictures appeared among other places in 15min.lt; Etaplius.lt; Skrastas.lt and Snaujienos.lt. I myself, a concerned resident of Šiauliai, commented on the subject on my own blog (here and here). Various articles published contained theorizations about the buried here being victims of Soviet crimes or even equally of Nazi and Soviet crimes.
Monday 13 July. It is probably correct to say that the international scandal was set alight when the “routine” BNS (Baltic News Service) report appeared in English in the Lithuania Tribune (amalgamated with English Delfi). The archaeologist placed in charge by the local government of the investigation of the human remains, Audronė Šapaitė, is quoted in the article as presenting the following certain conclusions. Excerpts follow:
LONDON—The same London-based European cemetery-preservation group that allegedly takes money (for supervision fees) for “supervising” cemetery “conversions” in Eastern Europe forbidden by other rabbinical authorities, today issued a triumphant press release (image below) about its “rescue” of a provincial mass grave site uncovered during routine roadworks in northern Lithuania, near Šiauliai (Yiddish Shavl). The group is the CPJCE (Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe), which was recently received by the prime minister of Lithuania upon its agreeing to a convention center in the middle of Vilna’s old Jewish cemetery, with no reference to any of the local rabbis or to universal decency on the question of what is appropriate in an old cemetery.
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.
Leffond, France, 5 July 2015
Hon. Remigijus Šimašius, Mayor of Vilnius, Lithuania
Monsieur le Maire,
Congratulations on your election and your determination to develop the cohesion and the attractiveness of the city to be enriched with new facilities and services including a new Conference and Congress Center.
I am a Holocaust survivor. I was born here in Vilnius (Yiddish: Vílne), today’s capital of Lithuania, known forever as the “Jerusalem of Lithuania” for its vibrant Jewish culture, religious and secular, for hundreds of years. Today our post-Holocaust Jewish community is a tiny remnant, just a few thousand people, but we are vibrant, and, as always, a community of many opinions. Once again, a question has arisen that calls for robust discourse.
First, a brief review: In June 2005, Reb Chizkiya Kalmanowitz discovered construction taking place in the Shnipishek Jewish Cemetery in Vilnius. The Shnipishek Cemetery is where the Gaon of Vilna was buried, as was the Ger Tzedek. Even now, the cemetery contains the bodies of the Chayei Adam and the Be’er Hagolah among many others.
To mark the 74th anniversary of one of the iconic events of the Lithuanian Holocaust, the infamous Lietūkis Garage Massacre of 27 June 1941, the Kaunas Jewish Community organized its annual memorial event at the site, last Friday, 26 June 2015. The massacre, carried out by local Lithuanian “patriots” wearing the white armbands of the Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF), butchered dozens of Jewish passers-by at a garage on Kaunas’s Vytautas Avenue, using a variety of execution methods, including clubbing to death with crowbars, and particularly, forcing water from high-pressure hoses into bodily orifices of the victims until they burst. A growing crowd, including women holding up their young children to get the best views, cheered them on.
Since I became interested in the fate of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust in Latvia, rather late (2009), I never failed to buy books when I visited that country, first and foremost written by Jewish survivors of these terrible times, but, also, some books written by non-Jewish Latvians in order to see how they perceived these tragic events, how they related to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust and how they presented the history of the German occupation and the mass slaughter of more than 95% of the Jewish population of their country (using the figures of Jews on site at the time of the Nazi invasion as the basis for historians’ estimates).
LOS ANGELES—Richard A. Maullin, elected less than a year ago as the chair of the California Independent System Operator (ISO) Board, was lavishly honored here on May 31st by both the Lithuanian ambassador to the United States and the Foreign Minister of Lithuania. The latter, in the tradition of royalty, meticulously placed the Lithuanian Diplomatic Star around the neck of Dr. Maullin, a major American pollster and principal of the LA polling and public policy research firm FM3, often still known by its older name Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates.
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.
Earlier this month, the Ukrainian Youth Association (CYM Great Britain) held a remembrance day at the Tarasivka camp at Weston-on-Trent in Derbyshire. They advertised the event on their website (http://cym.org/uk) and with a poster replete with (ultra)nationalist imagery.
I would like to make an observation concerning the use of Jewish cemeteries for building projects, as this has come to be a major issue of controversy in Lithuania, and in other nations as well.
I would like to pose a question: Would these building projects be pursued if the cemeteries in question were the resting places of Catholics, Protestant Christians, or other non-Jewish people?
Antisemitism Conferences or Studies = Events guaranteed to exclude any mention of contemporary local antisemitism at the point of production, but will feature excellent glossy brochures on the past and on intolerance in faraway lands
Blizzard = Obfuspeak for when Estonia opts out of Obfuscationist documents and inches away from the expected Baltic positions
The bizarre saga of the Montreal-based Summer Literary Seminars (SLS) “Jewish Lithuania Sutzkever Prize” continues apace with ever-increasing disrespect toward Abraham Sutzkever and his fellow Jewish partisans who helped liberate Lithuania from the Nazis, and ever more political entanglement with current geopolitical instrumentalization of Yiddish and Jewish causes in Eastern Europe in the context of East-West tensions.
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–Genocide Center historian Dr. Arūnas Bubnys has posted on Facebook the following comment about this journal’s editor.
Back in 1989 I had become a minister in our Reformed Evangelical Church here in Vilnius. The end of the 1980s in Lithuania had been a particularly pivotal period for church-state relations. The government changed its policy radically. There was a liberalization of religious activities and along with religious revivals came the idea of restitution of church properties that had been nationalized under the communist policies of the Soviet state. In order to bring to realization that idea, and to speed the process of restitution, we as reformed protestants organized a number of open air meetings and worship services on the street in front of historical church buildings in Vilnius and Kaunas, Lithuania’s two major cities.
Vilijampolė — a part of Kaunas — wintertime. The project is “Being a Jew.” A group of thirty teachers led by a Jewish guide is standing in the former Kaunas ghetto. Houses, garages, storage spaces, wood piles where during the war thousands of Jews, herded here like animals by the Nazis, milled about, yards where Jewish children played, and were later taken to the square or to one of the Kaunas forts and shot. The houses and storage buildings have been rebuilt, renovated, replaced, and there are Kaunas residents living in them now who don’t know where they live and what happened here before they were here. And how could they know? There is no written notice, nothing preserved, only a stone next to the entrance. And a building is being renovated which was the store whose display window once featured the head cut off of the rabbi who lived here.
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.
Renovation of the ground floor of an art gallery in the town of Butrimonys, Lithuania has revealed the existence of an unusual cellar that was apparently a Jewish hideout during the Holocaust. Daina Nemeikštienė, the owner of the gallery, “Dainos galerija”, is moving forward with the renovation, which means that what remains of the cellar will be cemented over, at least for now. Could some day this hideout offer an opportunity for respecting, valuing, studying, preserving and highlighting Litvak and Lithuanian heritage? For now, it illustrates the challenges in honoring even the most heroic aspects of the Holocaust.
ood afternoon to everybody. I’m very happy to be given the opportunity to address this conference, even if it has to be by film. Unfortunately I could not be present personally, but because of the importance of the topic and the rare opportunity that this is to discuss these issues in a very serious way, I am addressing you through this film.
VILNIUS—Yiddish comedy is alive and kicking. Here’s the plot for the new play. The World Jewish Congress gets millions from a Kyrgyz-Kazachstani donor with Lithuanian connections to set up the International Yiddish Center in Vilnius that will save the Yiddish language, a high priority for both the Kyrgyz and Kazachstani peoples. There are just a few strings attached from Lithuanian government-related units and commissions about who may not have a Yiddish teaching job there (for example those who oppose Holocaust Denial or have stood up for Yiddish speaking survivors accused by Lithuanian authorities of war crimes). The new International Yiddish Center is offered an opportunity one day to raise its profile bigtime by being showcased in the Lithuanian Parliament. Who could refuse that? There may even be some medals to go around. But what is it they have to pull off to get there?
VILNIUS—Ronaldas Račinskas, executive director of the Lithuanian-government financed “International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania,” widely known for brevity as the “Red-Brown Commission,” has revealed — on camera, to the producers of the documentary film Liza Ruft — his thoughts about the “war crimes investigation” into Fania Brantsovsky. The video clip of his statement was released today on Youtube.
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.
VILNIUS—Waves of shock laced with the “actual” human rights community’s usual black humor undulated through the different struggling branches of that community this week as the Council of Europe announced the appointment of one of the most multiply-titled intellectuals of modern Lithuania (or Europe), Prof. Dr. S. Liekis, as a new member of the Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (CARI). Professor Liekis is professor at Vilnius University, Romeris University, Vytautas Magnus University, and a crack member of the government’s red-brown commission, formally known by its somewhat Orwellian name, The International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania. The local term “actual human rights” community in Lithuania refers to those who monitor and publicly post on issues, as opposed to those on endless government and EU budgets who are sometimes accused of covering up issues and shirking from anything that is not nationalist PR meant for naive Westerners.
This small book, brought out in three separate editions (English, Lithuanian, Russian) by the state-supported Genocide Center, looks more like a brochure than anything else. The cover features the author’s name, in small type, above all else, then a larger Kaunas Ghetto, then a line with the years 1941-1944, against a backdrop of a computerized dark blue sky above a “tasteful” black-and-white picture of Jews lined up in columns inside Kaunas ghetto. The computerized dark blue wraps around the spine to the back cover where some vague lines comprise a hand-drawn map of the streets making up Kaunas ghetto, an ISBN number in white above UPC Bookland barcode featuring the same number again, and then a web address, www.genocid.lt. I found myself staring at the internet address and wondering what language that was supposed to be. Lithuanian is always “genocidas” and “genocid” isn’t possible as any permutation or declension of the noun, and of course English is “genocide.” Perhaps it’s Russian in Latin-letter transcription? But that would contradict the nationalist and ethnic bias of the publisher, the Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of Lithuanian Residents where Arūnas Bubnys is a leading figure. Perhaps “genocid” is someone’s notion of a non-English and yet international form of the word, formed by reducing it from the Lithuanian nominative case ending -as? I checked my favorite search engine, and of course the Lithuanian organization’s webpage came up first, but was soon followed by a wikipedia and wiktionary entry for the Croatian word.
On November 17, 2013 I was invited and participated as a guest speaker at the Yizkor memorial event organized by the “Jewish Survivors of Latvia, Inc.” (New York). The event was held at the Park East Synagogue at 163 East 67th Street in Manhattan.
The really important speech, though, was given by Douglas Davidson, the US Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues. He dealt with the results of his numerous visits to Latvia pertaining to that specific issue: due restitution to the Jewish victims or their heirs. Their properties were stolen or requisitioned during the war and the massacres.