Director of Yivo Sends Circular to Staff, Taking on the Role of Manhattan Office of Lithuanian Government’s PR Department; Calls Holocaust Survivors ‘Helpless’ and ‘Ageing’


The executive director of the Yivo Institute for Jewish Research in New York circulated the following set of documents in an email sent to the entire staff of Yivo today. This circular statement has come after Paul Berger’s 7 September article in the Forward, the public letter from the last association of Lithuanian Holocaust survivors in Israel, and a public letter to Yivo’s academic advisory council from a French human rights association. The ‘attack on Yivo by Dovid Katz’, as it is acrimoniously called here, is the op-ed in DefendingHistory.com on the subject. More information and links on the various issues on the front page of DefendingHistory.com. This journal has made a series of proposals for genuine resolution of Lithuanian-Jewish issues.

[Update: On 15 September 2011 Yossi Melman released his direct reply to the attack on him in the circulated memo reproduced below.]


From: Jonathan Brent

Sent: Friday, September 09, 2011 10:05 AM

To: YIVO Staff

Subject: Melamed Issue in Lithuania

Dear Staff,

Many of you no doubt have been puzzled or angered by the attack on YIVO recently by Dovid Katz and others. I have conducted a very thorough investigation of his charges and find them baseless with respect both to the credentials of the Foreign Minister of Lithuania and to the present policies of the Lithuanian government regarding the Holocaust.

The attached are two articles (the shorter one for print; the longer for internet) to be run shortly in Haaretz in response to an outrageous op-ed piece by Yossi Melman published recently in Haaretz that Dovid Katz and others have picked up as truth and spread on their blogs, thereby inflaming hatred, fear, and recrimination among the largely helpless and ageing Holocaust survivor community.

One of the most important statements in the article is that the swastika is banned by Lithuanian law, something that Katz and others have refused to acknowledge. Instead, they repeatedly state that the Lithuanian government plays a double game of honoring the Holocaust publicly while pursuing horrid anti-Semitic policies at home. The 200,000 Euros set aside for the new Jewish Library, mentioned in the article, is for the construction of the YIVO Room.

I would be pleased to speak with anyone privately about these issues.

Jonathan

Jonathan Brent

Executive Director

YIVO Institute for Jewish Research

212-294-6126

 

September 9, 2011

WELCOMING THE AMBASSADOR

On September 7th Haaretz published an article by Yossi Melman “Expelling the ambassador”. It causes astonishment, disbelief and deep concern. Lithuanian Government is particularly dedicated to restoring and preserving the exceptional Lithuanian Jewish cultural, religious and communal heritage, to remembering and commemorating the memory of those perished in the Shoah, developing and implementing one of the best in Europe Holocaust educational programs.

2011 is proclaimed by the Lithuanian Government as the Year of Remembrance of Holocaust Victims. The special program covering all Lithuania and comprising of 25 National Holocaust Victims Remembrance projects is being implemented through-out Lithuania. Despite the harsh effects of the global economic crisis and severe austerity measures Lithuanian Parliament earlier this year has passed the Law on Compensation for the Property of Jewish religious Communities allocating 53 million USD for this purpose. The Government has just recently passed a decision to appropriate almost 200 000 euros for setting up the Jewish library in Vilnius. The Government adopted a special resolution for restoring the historic Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Vilnius, reconstructing and protecting the famous Jewish Shnipiskes cemetery in the Center of Vilnius. Just a few months ago, in close cooperation with Yad Vashem and Washington Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Government initiated reconstruction of Paneriai Memorial, the major site of the atrocities during the Shoah. Most recently, in July, Prime Minister himself commenced the excavation of the world famous Great Vilnius Synagogue built in 1572 and demolished by the Soviets in 1957. These are just few latest examples of the undertakings of the Lithuanian Government. As the late President of Israel, Mr. Chaim Herzog, said at the dedication of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1993 the terrible war crimes against the innocent people are never to be forgotten and never to be forgiven. Lithuania, other eastern European countries with their complex and dramatic history, follow this path. Government of Lithuania maintains that all cases of the genocide in Lithuania must be most meticulously investigated. Lithuania values its history. We act against villains but honor our heroes. In 2009 the website www.lithuanianjews.org.il administrated by the Association of the Lithuanian Jews in Israel displayed the list of persons that supposedly took part in the genocide of the Lithuanian Jewry. Among those, nine, already deceased, leaders of the post-war Lithuanian resistance movement against the occupational soviet regime were included. They were falsely accused for the heavy crimes committed against Lithuanian Jews during WWII. Understandably, their families asked the prosecutors to start the investigation on the possible defamation and contempt.

Without ever accusing Mr. Melamed or anyone else, without ever mentioning any form of persecution, prosecutors were just seeking to acquire truthful and accurate information on two unprejudiced questions. They were asking “in what testimonies of witnesses or other sources of information, the website www.lithuanianjews.org.il found information indicating that nine persons (abovementioned resistance fighters) committed the massacre of the Jewish people during WWII” and “in case documents or other information sources are available, it is requested to provide their copies to Lithuanian law enforcement agencies”.

This is all what was asked. No arrests, no extraditions, no accusations. There is no doubt that the answers would help to restore historic truth and eventually justice.

Furthermore in the commentary, Yossi Melman provides the reader with a number of shocking and false statements. The foulest of them being dishonoring the name of the Lithuanian freedom fighters’ leader Juozas Luksa-Daumantas by inventing absurd accusations against the person who gave his life in fighting for Lithuania’s independence. Regretfully the author continues with other deceitful imaginations such as “permitting public use of swastikas” (communist and nazi symbols are banned in Lithuania by law) or granting pardons to nazi collaborators (which never happened).

Lithuania never denied that there were those who collaborated with Nazis in their crimes against the Lithuanian Jewry. We know that we owe the immeasurable to our Jewish compatriots. Therefore on September 23 all over Lithuania we commemorate the National Memorial Day for the Genocide of the Lithuanian Jews. Every year on September 23 all Lithuania bows in silent respect to the memory of thousands of our Jewish brothers and sisters who perished in the Shoah. On that day the project of “The Light of Remembrance” takes place in Lithuania – hundreds of Lithuanian school children are visiting places of memory of the perished Lithuanian Jews. Children are bringing candles as the sign of respect and memory. And exactly at 3 p.m. candles are lit and placed in the shape of the Star of David. By doing this children hold hand in hand and together they say: “ Remember”.

Famous Litvak poet Abba Kovner said: “To remember the Past, To Live the Present, To Trust the Future”. Precisely, while remembering the past, we must shape the future.

During last 8 years over 200 Lithuanian teachers visited Yad Vashem and participated in Holocaust education programs. National Holocaust Education program is well in place in Lithuania. 2752 teachers participated in special seminars. Almost 20 000 school children were part of numerous projects in Holocaust education and 77 Tolerance education centers were established in Lithuania.

It is of utmost importance to trust the future. Despite the tragic experiences of the past Lithuania and Israel unite our efforts in successfully rebuilding the bridges. We are confident that our common history of centuries leads to huge opportunities. Economy, tourism, science, culture, education, sports, youth exchange are top priorities in our cooperation. The Witnesses in Uniform, March of the Living projects successfully continue and are always personally welcomed by the Prime Minister of Lithuania. We are convinced good-willingness of the Governments and the people of Israel and Lithuania, dedicated to building the future and mutually beneficial cooperation, will prevail.

And, yes, we welcome the new Ambassador of Israel to Lithuania arriving later this month.

Darius Degutis

Ambassador of Lithuania in Israel

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