UCL | UK | UK SECTION | DOUBLE GENOCIDE | EVENTS | HISTORY IN HANDS OF FOREIGN MINISTRIES | OLD VILNA JEWISH CEMETERY
LONDON—It’s that time of year again. The “Litvak” and “Yiddish” grandees of University College London’s Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies, and various cohorts from near and far, queue up to bask in the pot-of-lentil glories offered for their repeated championing of state PR, even when it entailed betrayal of the interests and causes of Holocaust survivors, the actual Litvak legacy, and bona fide Yiddish language and culture. The roster from previous years includes the 2011 conference intended to “fix” the narrative of the Holocaust in the direction of Double Genocide, which resulted in a major protest that included, to her (and the department’s) great credit, the then head-of-department (For the Economist’s coverage see here and here; more media). The record also includes the 2012 refusal of conference organizers to allow a Holocaust survivor five minutes to read a polite statement of concern.
LONDON—Defending History readers are familiar with the curious history of University College London’s Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies repeatedly providing cover for Lithuanian government efforts to obfuscate the Holocaust via the revisionist paradigm widely known as Double Genocide. The saga started in late 2010 with the announcement of an “academic” conference from which all critics of Lithuanian government policy were banned, and whose raison d’être was announced as replacing the “simplified” narratives of the Holocaust. The then head of the Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies, Prof. Ada Rapoport-Albert, was herself one of the signatories on a public letter of protest handed to the Lithuanian embassy in February 2011. The Wiesenthal Center’s director of East European affairs, Dr. Efraim Zuroff, published an op-ed on the subject in London’s Jewish Chronicle.
It is both right and laudable that University College London, the School of Slavonic and East European Studies and other partners are organizing a “Round Table Discussion: Anti-Soviet Resistance in the Baltic States” in central London, scheduled for 5 November 2013, 2 to 6:30 PM, with free admission for all (free tickets here; Facebook page here).
On a rainy London evening, Thursday the 7th of March, six protesters met at University College London (UCL), for Cassedy had come to town. Her public talk initially scheduled to take place in the Garwood lecture theatre was unexpectedly changed to the Medawar Lankester lecture theatre two days prior. People on the Hebrew department’s Institute of Jewish Studies email list were notified of the change in venue but the details were, curiously enough, not updated on UCL’s website.
Nevertheless, despite such last-minute logistical alterations, protesters against Cassedy’s book tour that is underway “in association” with the Lithuanian government met at 6:30 PM in the narrow corridor leading to the Lankester theatre. By a small table they strategically positioned themselves ready to warmly greet the 45 odd attendees who politely walked past and eagerly took handouts concerning the Lithuanian government’s recent actions since 2006, Ms. Cassedy’s association with the government, petitions, letters and book reviews.
Professor Michael Berkowitz of University College London’s Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies, an expert on Lithuanian Jewish studies, was the member of staff who told London petitioner Monica Lowenberg on 14 December 2012 that Brandeis Professor Antony Polonsky’s banning of the reading of a five minute petition would be upheld by the UCL department (correspondence here; background on the UCL saga here—best enjoyed in chronological order from the bottom upwards…).
The text of the petition and list of international signatories to date is available on Change.org.
Professor Polonsky was knighted by the president of Lithuania earlier this year for services to that country’s efforts to improve its Jewish PR profile, a PR profile that has suffered difficulty from repeated state honoring of Nazi collaborators and perpetrators, state defamation of Holocaust survivors who joined the resistance, and state investment in a revised far-right-based historical model for World War II.
The following is the text of the author’s letter today to the provost of University College London, following up on his earlier communication of 29 November.
Dear Professor Grant,
I attach an earlier communication to you in which I asked you to consider the wisdom of hosting the above conference at UCL as a former student who takes great pride in having studied at UCL and the objectives and principles established by its founders.
London observers were wondering whether the medal Professor Antony Polonsky received earlier this year from the president of Lithuania for his PR work for the Lithuanian government may have something to do with his denial of Monica Lowenberg’s request, asking for five minutes for her father, a Holocaust survivor, to read out at next week’s conference her petition to the Lithuanian government, proposing constructive solutions to the issues at hand. The petition has to date garnered over 250 signatories from two dozen countries. The following is the correspondence, which started with Ms. Lowenberg’s appeal to Professor Ada Rapoport-Albert and Dr. Francois Guesnet. Dr. Guesnet, the Corob Reader in Jewish History at UCL is one of the conference coordinators on behalf of the Lithuanian government funded institutions financing the conference. Holocaust survivors consulted cannot understand why safe and secure academics who hold high posts at Western institutions should so fear “even to give five minutes for somebody else to come and disagree” with the conference’s pay-masters in the freedom of the British capital.
The following letter to the provost of University College London was released for publication today by Ms. Lowenberg’s office.
To the Provost
Dear Professor Grant,
Please find pasted below correspondence between myself and Dr Francois Guenest of UCL and Professor Polonsky who together have organised with the Lithuanian government this year’s Part 2 conference ‘No Simple Stories’ to be held next week 17-19 December at the Lithuanian embassy in London and UCL.
I requested that I read out a petition that hundreds of people across the world, scholars, survivors and others agree with, a petition that disagrees with Polonsky’s and the Lithuanian government’s interpretation of events and action. Polonsky as designated organiser has refused me the opportunity to read out the petition.
Serious questions have to now be raised about the conference, its agenda and UCL.
HE Ambassador Asta Skaisgirytė Liauškienė
The Lithuanian Embassy,
2 Bessborough Gardens,
London, SW1V 2JE
13 December 2012
I write to you concerning the forthcoming conference to be hosted by UCL called ‘Simple Stories’ where the conference co-sponsored by your government is attempting to revise the accepted historical narrative concerning the events of 1941-1944 in Lithuania . In so doing it is encouraging divisive extremist fascist political opinion in your country, which as an EU and NATO member, it surely behoves Lithuania to seek to eliminate. Rather it should be incumbent on the Government of Lithuania to discourage prejudicial politics against all its minorities including the small Jewish minority in the country, and to respect human rights that were so lacking in the war years between 1941-41.
O P I N I O N
Londoner Monica Lowenberg, who has done so much, with a petition and via press coverage, to keep on Britain’s political agenda the Latvian government-blessed Waffen-SS parades in Riga each year, has in one fell swoop done a huge good for sadly analogous topics pertaining to neighboring Lithuania. By launching an international petition in advance of this month’s Lithuanian government sponsored PR conference in London, and focusing the petition on simple, virtually cost-free good-will solutions to the irksome issues in Lithuanian-Jewish relations, she has shown how easy the extant problems would be to solve if the political will were there from the state (and it is the state, not the everyday people of the country that is the cause of all these problems). A state has embarked on a foolhardy campaign to rewrite history in the direction of glorification of Hitlerist allies in Eastern Europe, precisely the opposite of the values that EU and NATO member states should be instilling in new generations of Europeans.
Ms. Lowenberg’s petition, signed by hundreds of people from a dozen countries in its first few days, begins with the simple request for a public apology by the Lithuanian government to the Holocaust survivors defamed by Lithuania’s antisemitic state prosecutors who have called the courageous Jewish ghetto survivors who joined the anti-Nazi partisans (and are heroes of the free world) — “war criminals.” For half a dozen years, the campaign has included everything from press releases saying that these survivors “cannot be found” to police actually turning up looking for two women in their late eighties.
David Cukier, a child of two Holocaust Survivors, studied Pharmacology at University College London, 1975-1978, where he also participated in some Jewish and Yiddish studies activities. He has released to Defending History for publication his letter to the president and provost of UCL, Professor Malcolm Grant, expressing concern over the Hebrew and Jewish Studies Department hosting a second Lithuanian government sponsored one-sided Holocaust conference.
In his covering letter to DH.com, Mr. Cukier adds:
Member of the UK Parliament, human rights champion and author RH Denis MacShane (right), led a good-natured moment of protest Monday morning, 7 February in London at the Lithuanian Embassy, 84 Gloucester Place, London W1.
MP MacShane presented a letter of protest to the embassy, drafted and organized by Professor Danny Ben-Moshe (center), who flew in from Melbourne to be at the event. At left is Danny Stone, director of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism. The letter was signed by 21 people, including academics, political figures, those involved with the fight against antisemitism, representatives of Litvak organizations, and Lithuanian Holocaust survivors. The ambassador declined a written request to meet to discuss the letter.
Dispatched to London by the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, the state-approved director of the Vilnius Yiddish(-less) Institute bemoaned feeling himself ‘between two Talibans’, referring to the antisemitic establishment in Lithuania on the one hand, and to a polite letter of Litvak protest on the other. The comment was reported in today’s Economist, in an article by Edward Lucas, which also reports that the VYI director, Sarunas Liekis, described himself as ‘a Yiddish-studies professor from Vilnius’.
The ‘Taliban’ letter was signed among others, by Lord Janner; British MP Denis MacShane; head of the last active Litvak organization in the world, Joe Melamed; the master historian of the Lithuanian Holocaust Prof. Dov Levin; Rabbi Barry Marcus, leader of London’s Central Synagogue. Text of the ‘Taliban’ letter here. Signatories here.
A report on the website of the Board of Deputies of British Jews reveals that Holocaust Obfuscation is gaining ground rapidly as a highly specific term for the phenomenon of ‘denying without denying’ in the context of the far right’s Double Genocide revisionism prevalent in post-Soviet Eastern Europe and especially the Baltics. The Board’s summary of a meeting held with the Lithuanian ambassador to London, HE Dr Oskaras Jusys noted that:
This comment appeared in today’s Jewish Chronicle (London) and is reposted here by the author’s permission.
A financially-strapped small Eastern European country is spending tens of thousands of pounds to sponsor an extraordinarily large number of political and cultural events ― lectures, concerts, exhibitions and films ― in London next week. Why? That is the obvious question for the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, several Lithuanian cultural institutions, and local UK partners.
Under the heading No Simple Stories; Jewish-Lithuanian relationships: facing difficult questions, the events are projected as an honest attempt to address the ostensibly complex history of Lithuania’s once very large Jewish community, which was irreparably decimated during the Holocaust — 96.4% of the 220,000 Jews who lived in Lithuania under the Nazi occupation were slaughtered, with the help of a large number of local collaborators.
O P I N I O N
by Dovid Katz
The Holocaust Survivor community is responding with a mixture of sadness and defiance to news that the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, which actively coordinated the recent attempt (December 2010) to underpin ‘Double Genocide’ and downgrade the Holocaust in European Union law (see top story on home page), is now financing, in partnership with (naive?) parties in London, a starkly one-sided colloquium on ‘Jewish-Lithuanian Relations Between Coexistence and Violence’ on 6-7 Feb 2011 in London.