OPINION | ISRAEL PAGE | ISRAEL SECTION | HONORING COLLABORATORS | LEGACY OF JOE MELAMED | LEGACY OF DOV LEVIN | FOREIGN MINISTRIES AND THE HOLOCAUST
by Dovid Katz (Vilnius)
VILNIUS—Israel may have crossed a red line today when it was flaunted on the major News portal Delfi.lt here, both in Lithuanian and in English, that Israeli ambassador Amir Maimon had found the time this week to stage a demonstrative PR-photographed visit to the chief campaigner for the parliament’s decision less than one month ago to name 2018 in honor of Adolfas Ramanauskas — his daughter in Vilnius, Auksutė Ramanauskaitė-Skokauskienė, who is a prime icon of the ultranationalist camp that often glorifies various collaborators and participants in the Holocaust on the grounds that they were also anti-Soviet activists. The PR move came just after a major political commentator asked what Lithuania is getting in return for its staunch political support for the Netanyahu government.
One of the PR photos released shows the ambassador posing underneath adulatory photos of the 1941 pro-Nazi militiaman (from various other periods in his life). Of course Lithuania has a vast number of inspirational historical heroes, including many anti-Soviet heroes, who were not Holocaust collaborators, and state decisions to honor collaborators cause untold pain to survivors, their families, and the remnant Jewish communities in Eastern Europe. They all send a message that becomes part of the history-revision campaign to downgrade the Holocaust in the context of “Double Genocide” revisionism.
To be sure, there is no hard evidence that during the Holocaust, Adolfas Ramanauskas (later nom de guerre: Vanagas) killed anyone. But in his own memoir he confirmed what was known: that he commanded a group of pro-Nazi militia (affiliated with the “Lithuanian Activist Front”) in the days and weeks from 22 June 1941 onward, when the Nazis launched the invasion of the USSR and when the Lithuanian Holocaust was itself unleashed by these very local militias before the Germans even arrived and then until their final establishment of German administration in the conquered lands in the weeks following. Local ultranationalists call these militias “anti-Soviet rebels,” an historic nonsense — the Soviet army was fleeing Hitler’s Operation Barbarossa, the largest invasion in human history, not the local white-armbanded nationalists who were busy killing their Jewish neighbors. Not a shot was fired at a Soviet military person or site until the Soviets were in flight from the Wehrmacht and the Luftwaffe.
Just last week, the major Lithuanian historical ethicist Evaldas Balčiūnas published a piece in Defending History asking: if it was wise — and what message it sends — for the Lithuanian parliament to name 2018 for someone who “just” led a pro-Nazi “partisan squad” in Lithuania in June and July of 1941. After the war, Ramanauskas played a major role in the anti-Soviet resistance (and was unquestionably brutally tortured and murdered by the KGB). The question that has caused so much pain to Lithuania’s Jews in recent days is why 2018 could not be named for a hero who did not in any way, shape or form collaborate with the Nazis, least of all as a commander of a unit in the very days when such units were molesting, humiliating and murdering their Jewish neighbors? 2018 is the hundredth anniversary of the rise of the new democratic Lithuanian republic in 1918, and people (not only Jews!) are asking why the year is not named for one of the many heroes of the nation’s war of independence or its first visionary political leaders who framed the country’s democratic constitution and led it on a path to decades of successful statehood (notwithstanding all the interwar problems and issues that had befallen Eastern Europe). Defending History has opened a new virtual exhibition to honor the hundredth anniversary of modern Lithuania by a celebration of the interwar republic’s grand multicultural tolerance.
This new imbroglio comes on top of a long list of instances of state honoring of Holocaust collaborators, most notoriously the 2012 reburial with full honors of the 1941 Nazi puppet prime minister Juozas Ambrazevičius (Brazaitis) who put his signature on documents confirming Nazi orders for Jews of his own city, Kaunas (Kovno), to be sent to a murder camp and then for the remainder to be incarcerated in what became the Kovno Ghetto.
What’s going on? An Israeli ambassador who won’t publicly mention the ongoing defamation of Israeli citizens Yitzhak Arad, Rachel Margolis and Joseph Melamed (all three were alive when his tenure in Vilnius started and folks begged him) now offers Israeli moral support for naming 2018 in honor of someone who led a pro-Nazi militia in the early days of the Lithuanian Holocaust, less than one month after parliament honored the alleged collaborator by “naming the year”? See Yitzhak Arad’s take on the larger issues of Holocaust Obfuscation.
The diplomatic quid-pro-quo is obvious to most observers. Lithuania has again gone out on a diplomatic limb for Israeli Foreign Ministry desires by arranging for the recent appearance at European Union headquarters in Brussels of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and questions were being asked about reciprocity. The surprise is that instead of some new sophisticated military hardware or intelligence capability or economic investment, the major request for reciprocity seems once again to be, incredibly — diplomatic and PR support for Baltic revisionism of the Holocaust. Defending History has been following and reporting on this trend from its inception and the first major Israeli “success” based on the policy, that of the 2011 vote against Palestinian membership in UNESCO in return, according to diplomatic sources, for the Israeli state-financed Yad Vashem rejoining the Lithuanian state financed “red-brown commission” that is one of the European Union’s engines for Double Genocide revisionism.
Previous Israeli ambassadors to the region took great care to invite to their table representatives of a variety of views. The most famous was the late Israeli Ambassador to the Baltics, Chen Ivri Apter (1958—2012), who demonstrated that he could build the best possible relations with Baltic states while standing up for his own citizens and for the truth of Jewish history. When Defending History organized an evening in Tel Aviv in June 2009 to honor the late Dr. Rachel Margolis, one of the Holocaust survivors and partisan heroes defamed by prosecutors and afraid to go back for a last farewell to her beloved Vilna, Ambassador Apter came specially to join the event, and gave a speech that countered Double Genocide in simple, stark, elegant terms, one that will go down in history. The Jews of Vilnius continue to lovingly and loyally cherish his memory.
But things have taken a dark turn since the Israeli Foreign Ministry set up its embassy in Vilnius in 2015 and sent Amir Maimon as ambassador. One of the many shocks to the dwindling Holocaust survivor community here came in 2016. Shortly after the municipality of Kaunas sanctioned a neo-Nazi march in the heart of the interwar capital on the nation’s independence day that year, featuring banners of local Holocaust collaborators as “the nation’s heroes,” Mr. Maimon went for one of his ubiquitous photo-ops to pay tribute to the mayor of Kaunas for “honoring” Jewish heritage with various plaques and PR events.
From our Book of Records: Back in June 2011, Yad Vashem had been politically pressured to come and legitimize by attendance a conference glorifying the 1941 Hitlerist Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF) white-arbander. Interventions by Defending History and the then Israeli embassy in Riga led to last-minute cancellation, though at the conference the absence was announced as “due to illness”…
But does Israel really want to become a major player in the new Holocaust revisionism movement emanating from Eastern Europe, even in return for diplomatic favors? Back in 2010, the Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs hosted a debate on the subject on its pages. In the meantime, there is still no Lithuanian government apology for the massive state sponsored defamation of Israeli citizens (and Holocaust resistance heroes) Yitzhak Arad, Joseph Melamed, and Rachel Margolis. All three were alive when Maimon arrived in Vilnius in early 2015, but he ignored pleas to reach out to them publicly, and failed to honor the two who passed away during his tenure, Rachel Margolis and Joseph Melamed. Historian Yitzhak Arad has written an academic paper on many of these matters. When Yad Vashem refused to publish it, he published it in Defending History in 2012.
16 December: Israeli gov. support for glorification of Adolfas Ramanauskas and implicit condemnation of Ruta Vanagaite (and Dr. Efraim Zuroff) was boasted of by various publications, including: Alfa.lt, Diena.lt, Greitas.eu, Kaunodiena.lt, Lzionios.lt, Pozicija.org, Respublika, Vakaro žinios.
17 December: The Weekly of Vilnius provides commentary on the Israeli embassy’s tendency to usurp the prerogatives of Lithuanian Jewry, both in Lithuania and abroad.]
21 December: Ambassador Amir Maimon is publicly honored by prime minister’s foreign policy advisor for legitimizing a “hero” who led a 1941 pro-Nazi militia during the outbreak of the Lithuanian Holocaust. Still the Israeli ambassador complained on his Facebook page that it was “so disappointing” that Lithuania did not vote today as he would have wished on the United States’s Jerusalem decision (a disappointment quickly picked up by BNS for an article). Political capital from helping to glorify alleged Holocaust collaborators can be rather limited — in both scope and duration.
Finally, there is the salt on the wound. Today’s Delfi.lt reports specifically that Maimon’s photographed PR session with the daughter and champion of Adolfas Ramanauskas was organized by Lithuania’s “history politician” Arvydas Anušauskas. Back in 2006, it was Anušauskas, in an interview with the antisemitic daily Respublika, who in effect launched the campaign against Yitzhak Arad that resulted in prosecutors announcing their “pre-trial investigation” against Yitzhak Arad several months later (see appendix below). The photo-op shots published with some triumphalism on both Lithuanian and English Delfi.lt likewise appear on the Facebook pages of both Anušauskas and Maimon.
Whatever happened to the Israel that was for decades a light unto the nations on loyalty to its citizens? Including the remains of dead soldiers. When it comes to Holocaust survivors — alive and dead — there is a new and most lamentable policy. But it is not too late for Israel to politely ask for a government apology for its three maligned citizens, Yitzhak Arad, Rachel Margolis and Yitzhak Arad, all Holocaust survivors, all veterans of the struggle to free Europe of Hitlerism, two of them heroes of the nation’s 1948 war of independence.
Excerpt from the 2006 Respublika article that launched the “investigation” into Israeli War of Independence hero Yitzhak Arad who had been head of Yad Vashem for two decades and is one of the major Holocaust scholars in the world today. In addition to Dr. Anušauskas’s role in launching prosecution of Holocaust survivors who are heroes of the free world for their valor in the war against Hitler, his quotes in the article remain a classic example of the strange phenomenon of “Holocaust envy” (example of a 2015 case).
The head of the Genocide and Resistance Research Center of Lithuania, historian Arvydas Anušauskas, also knows the name Y. Arad very well; however, he was very surprised to learn from this Respublika journalist that the partisan had openly described his crimes in a book almost thirty years ago:
“Usually the red partisans would not write about such things either in questionnaires, or in autobiographies, and if they happened to mention it, then they would only say a word or two,” said a surprised A. Anušauskas. “However, their fights with the self-defense forces of villages and the burning down of villages are known. The first to suffer, as in every partisan war, were civilians. The ideological political orientation of the red partisans was directed towards Moscow. In Lithuania, there was not only the Lithuanian and Polish resistance, but also the Jewish one; however, Y. Arad was together with the Soviets.”
The historian is certain that a man with such a “significant” past as Y. Arad could be only a witness and not an expert who is required to be objective, during investigations of cases of the war period.
A. Anušauskas admitted that there was almost no hope that some of the red partisans would be tried for crimes against Lithuania.
“There is no state of limitation for the Jewish genocide, because this is approved at the international level. The genocide of Lithuanians has no such status, and for the physical extermination of our nation essentially nobody is accountable,” said A. Anušauskas.