Yivo Director Sends New Circular to Staff, Refining Lithuanian Government Talking Points; Claims Support of Veidlinger and Zipperstein for (Inaccurate) Public Statement


Following up on his 9 September 2011 circular to the staff of the Yivo Institute for Jewish Research in New York, the executive director today circulated a new missive, likewise sent to all members of staff, and claiming the support of two eminent professors, Steven J. Zipperstein and Jeffrey Veidlinger. [Full disclosure: Veidlinger was one of Bloomington’s Borns Jewish Studies program staff involved in secret 2009  negotiations with the by-then government-manipulated Vilnius Yiddish Institute, a factor in the disemployment of this journal’s editor as professor of Yiddish, language and literature, the post he held from 1999 to 2010.]

This statement follows the publication of concerns of members of the British parliament (on its website), the open letter of Milan Chersonski, longtime editor of the newspaper of the Jewish Community of Lithuania, and coverage in English, French, German and Hebrew publications, in addition to the earlier coverage in the Forward, Haaretz and DefendingHistory.com (which first interviewed Joseph Melamed at length on 30 August).

Yivo director’s ‘facts’

on the status of swastikas in Lithuania

and on the Lithuanian foreign minister’s antisemitic remarks

Sadly, it contains a massively inaccurate “statement of facts” that is pure restatement of the PR positions of the current Lithuanian government (but with improved presentation and style, which Vilnius game-masters will no doubt appreciate). Some staff fear its release in the name of the Yivo Institute for Jewish Research would do grave damage to the institution, and they see raising the alarm as an act of loyalty to and love for the world’s one serious Yiddish institute whose own history is profoundly tied to the heroes of the Vilna Ghetto, whose last survivors are now targeted for campaigns of defamation by the very government now dictating talking points to a Yivo director.

Readers are referred to the links available on the front page of DefendingHistory.com on each of these issues as well as those not covered (e.g. the major state investment in a campaign to glorify the local perpetrators of the Lithuanian Holocaust). Dovid Katz’s original comment piece on Yivo’s decision is available here. This journal has made a series of proposals for genuine resolution of Lithuanian-Jewish issues. In recent times, Evaldas Balčiūnas, Liudas Truska, Nida Vasiliauskaitė and Tomas Venclova have been among the bold Lithuanian citizens who have spoken out courageously against the state’s campaign to glorify the local mass murderers of 1941 as ‘national heroes’.

 The content of today’s Yivo director’s circular follows.


From: Jonathan Brent
Sent: Tuesday, September 13, 2011 11:04 AM
To: YIVO Staff
Subject: Lithuanian Statement

Dear Staff,

I have sent the attached statement to Steve Zipperstein, head of the Center Scholarly Advisory Committee who distributed it. Below is the response from Jeffrey Veidlinger, an eminent scholar, and member of that committee.

Jonathan

Jonathan Brent
Executive Director
YIVO Institute for Jewish Research
212-294-6126

—– Original Message —–

From: “Jeffrey Veidlinger” <jveidlin@indiana.edu>
To: “Steven J Zipperstein” szipper@stanford.edu, jbrent@yivo.cjh.org
Sent: Tuesday, September 13, 2011 10:45:07 AM
Subject: Re: Lithuanian Statement

Steve and Jonathan,

This is an excellent response. I do hope that you will plan on releasing it publicly at some point. There has been a great deal of distortion on this issue perpetuated by the blogosphere, and it is useful to have this misinformation corrected.

Jeff

Jeffrey Veidlinger
Rosenfeld Chair in Jewish Studies and Professor of History Director,
Robert A. and Sandra S. Borns Jewish Studies Program
Goodbody Hall 326
Indiana University
Bloomington IN 47405
(812) 856-6013

 

YIVO Statement
Regarding Visit of Lithuanian Foreign Minister

On September 22, 2011,
the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research will be hosting a public program titled
“The Vilna Ghetto Experience – Songs and Poetry from the Vilna Ghetto.” The
concert is being produced by the Embassy Series, an American non profit organization,
which produces classical music concerts at embassies around the world. The YIVO
concert is one of three in a series that is being held at the Lithuanian
Embassy in Washington DC, at the American Embassy in Vilnius, and at YIVO in
New York City. The primary sponsor of the NYC concert is the Lithuanian Consul
General.

The YIVO concert is dedicated to the commemoration of the Holocaust in Lithuania and to the creativity, resilience and spirit of the Jewish people under the most extreme
conditions of terror, deprivation, starvation and death. The sponsorship of the
Lithuanian government is part of a year-long series of commemorative and
educational programs about the Holocaust in Lithuania. We believe their
sponsorship of the YIVO event, taken together with all of the recent activities
in Lithuania on behalf of Holocaust education and commemoration, represents an
important step forward in the acknowledgement of the reality of the Lithuanian
Jewish experience during World War II and its profound meaning for the Jewish
people today. Above all, the concert is the expression of the human capacity to
transform tragic experience into art with universal significance.

Much controversy has surrounded the invitation of the Foreign Minister, Audrius Azubalis, of Lithuania as “guest of honor.” This wording has now been revised on our website. The invitation was not intended to connote that YIVO was honoring the Lithuanian government but only that we recognized him as a dignitary of that country. The Foreign Minister’s credentials have been seriously questioned in blogs and by
individuals purporting to expose the truth of the Lithuanian government’s
activities and intentions in regard to the Holocaust and contemporary issues of
the Jewish community in Lithuania. After considerable research and investigation into these allegations that included obtaining information from the U.S. State Department and Embassy in Lithuania, we have concluded that much of the consternation directed at the Lithuanian government by its critics derives from many real but past grievances, which, for the most part, concern issues that have either been wholly resolved or can be resolved in the future. While this is so, the emotional issues surrounding the history of Lithuania in the Holocaust and the past behavior of the Lithuanian government are much more
intractable. It is YIVO’s belief that in order to move forward we must separate rhetoric from fact, highly charged emotional issues from a rational assessment of the Lithuanian government’s present activity.

Fact: The pre-trial investigations against Rachel Margolis, Itzhak Arad and Fanya were closed over a year ago with no subsequent government filings or actions. If these individuals chose to return to Vilnius they would NOT be arrested, harassed, or put on trial. No new, pre-trial investigations against Jewish Partisans in World War Two have been initiated. No new legislation on the subject of Soviet Partisan War Crimes is pending in the Lithuanian legislature.

Fact: The alleged outrage against Joseph Melamed that was the subject of Yossi Melman’s op-ed piece and was then circulated in an inflammatory blog, was not what either insinuated it to be. To date, there have been no follow-up investigations of
this incident in reliable media; nor has Haaretz called for the dismissal of the Lithuanian Ambassador. Were Mr. Melamed to return to Lithuania today he would not be prosecuted or harassed by the government.

Fact: The anti-Semitic comment allegedly made by Foreign Minister Azubalis and quoted by Efraim Zuroff (Simon Wiesenthal Center, Israel) as fact was hearsay. The Foreign Minister has publicly condemned anti-Semitism in Lithuania and a scrutiny of
his past record suggests that whatever he might have said privately was at the very least taken out of context. Rabbi Andrew Baker of the AJC has publicly vouched for the Foreign Minister’s credentials and intentions.

Fact: It is illegal to display the swastika in Lithuania today.

Fact: The Lithuanian government has overwhelmingly voted $53 million in compensation to Holocaust victims–not as much as it should be, perhaps, but the Lithuanian GDP declined by 15% last year and it is what they can manage. Fania Kukliansky, lawyer for the Jewish Community of Vilnius, is quoted as approving this deal.

Fact: The Lithuanian government has approved excavation of the Great Synagogue in Vilnius and work is now underway there.

Fact: The director of Yad Vashem, Avner Shalev, recently visited Vilnius to consult with other leading representatives of Holocaust memorial organizations on an appropriate
memorial at Ponary.

Fact: The year 2011 was declared the year of the Holocaust in Lithuania and the result has been an array of Holocaust education programs, exhibits, musical programs and the like, such as the Holocaust teacher training seminar I attended in June 2011 in Kaunas, co-sponsored by the USHMM in Washington, D.C.

Fact: Holocaust education is now mandatory in Lithuanian public schools.

We believe that these facts taken together provide strong evidence of a genuine commitment to improving relations with the Jewish community in Lithuania, to acknowledging the suffering of the Jewish people in the Holocaust, and to accepting
responsibility for the role Lithuanians played in that tragedy. The alleged “double game” of condemning the Holocaust abroad while pursuing anti-Semitic policies at home does not in our opinion and that of many reliable and objective observers describe the intent or actions of the present government of Lithuania.

Are these steps enough? No. Is anti-Semitic prejudice and hatred still highly visible in
Lithuanian society? Yes. Lithuanians can and should do more. Institutions like
YIVO can and should help by taking small, practical and positive steps to
increase understanding and dialogue. Such steps contribute to building
institutions and institutional relationships that can form a bulwark against
the anti-Semitic and fascistic elements in Lithuanian society.

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