O P I N I O N
by Dovid Katz
It is gratifying that numerous scholars from different parts of the world, and indeed of differing opinions on the contentious issues that lie at the heart of Defending History, have on occasion found it a useful resource for data and views on various topics, including the Double Genocide movement, the Prague Declaration (2008), the Seventy Years Declaration (2012), the politics of memory, Holocaust Obfuscation, glorification of Holocaust perpetrators (and attempted criminalization of resistance heroes), East European antisemitism, racism, homophobia, and Litvak identity theft (more on contents and quick intro page).
A NEW PHOBIA IN POST-COMMUNIST EASTERN EUROPE?
What has been less gratifying is to hear on numerous occasions that some who are happy to use these pages are afraid to cite them in the notes and bibliographies of their academic papers, where an array of other internet resources are cited without hesitation.
Professional academics are among the most able to distinguish opinion from fact or document purporting to be factual. While there are plenty of opinions in the Defending History community, the historic role in revelation of fact and purported fact has included, to cite just a few examples from recent years: suppressed photographs of the 2011 desecration of Ponár; that year’s attempted imposition on the Jewish community here of a “Fake Litvak” entity directed by Lithuanian government operatives; a document proving that the prime minister and culture minister signed off on state financial support for the 2012 glorified reburial of the 1941 Nazi puppet prime minister; recruitment of a US (“Jewish”) PR firm to legitimize a new organization of Lithuanian embassy manipulated “fake Litvaks” who also “just so happened” to soften up to the ultranationalist distortionist narrative of the Holocaust. And more, and more.
Sometimes it is not an isolated fact that is significant, but a collection empirically suggesting patterning, for example the street names and public-space shrines to Holocaust collaborators; the attempts of the Genocide Museum to “keep intact” its fascist-adoring, antisemitic, and LAF-whitewashing main floor exhibits while “fixing foreign relations” with a sham new Holocaust cubicle in the cellar (that itself whitewashes, yet again, the LAF butchers of Lithuanian Jewry of June 1941 and beyond).
When international politics and resulting pressures made it difficult (in 2012) for even top Holocaust scholar (and survivor) Dr. Yitzhak Arad to have his paper on Lithuanian Holocaust Obfuscation published in the usual forums, Defending History was proud to do the translation from Hebrew (in constant consultation with the author), and to publish The Holocaust in Lithuania, and its Obfuscation, in Lithuanian Sources on these pages.
Quite a statement, really: the former long-time director of Yad Vashem decided to come to Defending History for publication in English, at a painful time, when the “political” component of Yad Vashem is possibly under massive Foreign Ministry pressure to somehow recalibrate its standards when it comes to Lithuania.
Our tradition of revealing what should be revealed predates our formal founding, and starts in some sense with the May 7th 2008 email alert that police had come looking for Holocaust survivors Rachel Margolis and Fania Yocheles Brantsovsky. These reports, incidentally, were at first taken seriously only by the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office, which was quick to hand-deliver a letter of protest to the Lithuanian ambassador in Tel Aviv.
To clear the air:
Our About page posts all the names (and places of residence) of our staff members. A list of authors published is provided. We have never knowingly published an article under a pseudonym. Replies are welcome. Among those published to date are Alexander Gogun, Arkadijus Vinokuras, and Janina Bucevičė (this last rejoinder sent to us by R. Račinskas, executive director of the International Commission for the Evaluation of Nazi and Soviet Crimes in Lithuania, of which this journal is a staunch critic).
The Mission page provides short and long statements of mission. The site information page explains how Defending History was founded on 6 September 2009. The Media page does its best to keep track of what others are saying. A mechanically generated reverse-chronological index page provides in principle a listing of all dated posts (apologies for a temporary hitch: it doesn’t reach back to the start. That’s being worked on. In the meantime, readers can scroll back to January 2008 on the DH posts page).
Our Donors page posts all the names of donors excepting (a) a few small anonymous donations, mostly from Lithuanian citizens, and (b) small, anonymous donations generously made at screenings of Danny Ben-Moshe’s important documentary Rewriting History (and yes, Defending History is proud to be part of the story told by this new documentary).
There has never been a donation from any state-related body or official of any country.
The level of transparency is not worse than the typical website, web journal, portal, or internet publication freely cited by many of the same scholars, and in some cases much higher.
Why then the panic attack when it comes to crediting or mentioning Defending History?
Here a question of accreditation and academic ethics almost instantly turns to a question about The Issues Themselves. Powerful (ultra)nationalist forces have decided to target and smear Defending History in the twenty-first century Eastern-EU version of McCarthyism. That is quite a compliment for an effort by a tiny number of people on a tiny budget and frequently no budget at all.
While the substance of many verbal and email “conversations” remains not only private but unprovable, there have been enough cases of “stuff in print” to make the point. A small selection follows, and we are considering adding a new page on the topic; intimidation, discreditation, and delegitimization of a Second Opinion on the Holocaust in Eastern Europe is itself an important issue for academic and civic freedom, for the liberty of thought and expression, and for the future of the relevant fields of history, political science, East European Jewish Studies, and other fields. It is more than a little strange that the set of views being demonized represented classic Western consensus before the recent state-sponsored wave of Double Genocide revisionism.
Do up-and-coming younger scholars need to fear opposition to the 2008 Prague Declaration (PD) and support for the 2012 Seventy Years Declaration (SYD)? Is that a radical opinion that must not be expressed for fear of being smeared as somehow pro-Communist, pro-Soviet, or worse, being defined as “a Russian agent” or some such? The text of the SYD is now available for perusal in fifteen European languages. To take the British signatories as an example, they include members of that nation’s Conservative and Liberal Democratic parties. So much for radicalism. It becomes all the more instructive to study the overtime work of the Baltic right’s Wiki-demolition team on such issues.
A few examples of the atmosphere being fostered concerning those who oppose Double Genocide and the attempts to make heroes out of Eastern European collaborators, and those who oppose the neo-Nazis and fascists of today:
In a July 2012 speech to his nation’s ambassadors (English translation here), the then foreign minister of Lithuania, outlining his plans for Lithuania’s 2013 presidency of the European Union, included this essential goal:
“An important, integral part of the strategy of history policy is also the monitoring and prevention of external historical propaganda which is being carried out today. We have also activated Lithuanian heritage protection and commemoration of past projects and initiatives.”
Which “external propaganda” does he have in mind?
Much more recently, in June 2013, no more and no less, the State Security Department (!) said in its annual report, that
“public organizations and media companies supported and coordinated by foreign countries take advantage of operations of far-right organizations to undermine Lithuania’s image as a democratic country” (English version from The Lithuania Tribune).
Again, which organizations and “media companies” does the state security service have in mind?
A curiosity. After this story appeared in The Lithuania Tribune, our own staff member Geoff Vasil (Vasiliauskas) submitted a reply. It was accepted, not published for around a month, and then — rejected (and subsequetly published here). Is that the situation in the supposedly liberal English press here?
Often the misrepresentations of opinions are rather more personal. When a gross mischaracterization of my opinions appeared in Lithuanian Foreign Policy Review, my reply was indeed posted as a Word doc upload, unknowable to anyone not looking for it (and that too only after a member of the European Parliament intervened) but to the best of my knowledge, is has never been mentioned in the journal itself, leaving the mischaracterization as the only opinion of record for readers. As ever, one was left to publish the reply here in Defending History . . .
There has been frequent “mention and depiction” in the neo-Nazi media (some samples here). Threats of various kinds have included an incitement to violence on the “mainstream” news portal Balsas.lt, asking readers to get wolves to tear apart limb from limb Efraim Zuroff and Dovid Katz. That by the way, because we protested the neo-Nazi march in the center of Kaunas last February where the main banner honored the same 1941 Nazi puppet prime minister whom the state had reburied with full honors the previous year, the man who signed documents sending the Jews of his city, Kaunas, to a death camp and the remainder to a ghetto, and who signed “Jewish regulations” for the humiliation and dehumanization of his fellow citizens of a certain minority.
There is the very disturbing (and simultaneously Book-of-Estheresque) phenomenon of western Jewish (and other) intellectuals receiving medals, titles and honors from the Lithuanian government and “coincidentally” towing the line to extraordinary lengths, sometimes entailing degrees of acquiescence to aspects of Double Genocide, sometimes just helping out in bashing those who have stood up. As in:
“Moreover, the Wiesenthal Institute is being investigated for, let’s say, ‘exaggerrating’ its claims, and I hope someone is doing a serious investigative report of its funding sources as well, which I’ve heard are unsavory, to say the least. That’s a topic for some very good investigative journalist to take up, and I hope someone does. At the very least, it would be interesting to know who actually is funding Zuroff and Katz.” (Evan Zimroth, 2011; author is winner of Lithuanian government’s Millennium Gold Star)
In one of the most bizarre episodes yet, a leading “liberal intellectual,” writing in an “anti-neo-Nazi” (but secret!) Facebook forum, let his colleagues in on the “fact” that we are financed by “Russian-Jewish organizations” (code for: the Jewish Communists, you know, they are all the same…). He went on to explain that I am a sort of he-witch who can “poison the subconscious essentially using the black arts.”
Defending History has tread onto very controversial territory by endeavoring to expose the macabre “Dead Jew Business” in Eastern Europe that covers for Double Genocide and various kinds of history falsifications. Here in Lithuania the “Imposter Litvak” industry is buttressed by an array of lavish state-financed (and quite Jewless) Jewish institutions in central Vilnius. We are proud that Geoff Vasil’s 2012 article on the subject was chosen for a Jewish Thought of The Day, in a faraway land… (Incidentally, Geoff’s article was reposted with permission on 15min.lt, but…. soon mysteriously came down).
Most recently, Defending History fulfilled the distinctly unpleasant obligation of exposing the grossly distorted version of the outbreak of the Lithuanian Holocaust presented at the city’s state-sponsored Jewish Museum / Tolerance Center. There is a DH section on the “Vilnius Public Jewish Library” exposing (ultra)nationalist revisionist events, including presentations by Genocide Center and Red-Brown Commission leaders (that are held alongside bona fide cultural events). But maybe nothing beats the erstwhile “Litvak Foundation chief” who published an antisemitic article after moving on to another job.
The battle of ideas over the well-oiled dissemination of Double Genocide, in an array of guises including initiatives in Jewish and Litvak and Holocaust studies per se (some of them are excellent on their own) is one that future generations will study in great detail. Dare we say, future scholars will be mystified that so few spoke out in the early teens of the twenty-first, not only about Double Genocide and the (attempted) rehabilitation of Hitler’s allies in the east, but about the (ab)use of Judaic, Yiddish and (even/especially) Holocaust studies as cover.
Far from being “anti-Baltic” or “anti-Lithuanian,” we have proudly worked closely with local anti-fascist groups, human rights advocates, local (as well as international) Holocaust survivors, women’s rights advocates, LGBT rights advocates, and more. We are proud to host a page celebrating bold citizens who speak out. Our first commissioned article by a leader of the Roma community is in the works. We have praised the views of a Lithuanian commentator who simply argued that the country’s foreign policy should not be laden with demands on others’ narratives of history.
Eight incredibly courageous Lithuanian parliamentarians (six from the Seimas, two at the European Parliament) signed the Seventy Years Declaration, that was an initiative of Defending History. All six are from the mainstream Social Democratic Party of Lithuania that won last November’s elections and are one of the parties in the governing coalition today. (As we reported last August, the nationalists’ Holocaust revision circles hastened to regroup under a renewed red-brown commission decree under the president’s separate patronage, several months before elections they thought they might lose.)
Indeed it was against his fellow countrymen and parliamentarians that then foreign minister Audrionius Ažubalis railed, for having signed the Seventy Years Declaration, and it was in that context that he made his infamous “moustache” comparison of Hitler and Stalin, asserting that there was no difference between Nazism and Communism other than their moustache length. And this in a country where around 96% of the Jewish population, the highest proportion in Europe, was butchered in no small measure thanks to the participation of nationalist killers, some of whom are now honored by street signs, glorified reburials, commemorative years and city-center museum exhibits. Then UK MP Denis MacShane rapidly issued a letter of support to each of the six smeared Lithuanian signatories.
We have been inspired by the undaunted courage of MP (now health minister) Vytenis Povilas Andriukaitis, who signed the Seventy Years Declaration, replied at length to the foreign minister’s obscene moustache rant, and months later rose in the Seimas, in a scene worthy of the House of Commons, to challenge the government’s reburial with full honors of the 1941 Nazi puppet prime minister. He and fellow Social Democratic MP Algirdas Sysas issued a statement critical of the reburial. Dr. Andriukaitis even challenged the state’s (un)holy Genocide Research Center over its employment over many years of a neo-Nazi who is one of the organizers of annual neo-Nazi events. He performed admirably in a stacked-up radio debate with a group of Red-Brown Commission affiliated folks.
It seems rather strange that academics in positions of comfort in Western countries should have a problem citing individual pages of Defending History in their published studies, on those occasions, few though they may be, when that is where they have been introduced to the information. By caving to the anti-democratic defamation and humiliation of those, who living on-site, would dare disagree with the red-brown revisionists’ doctrine, and more generally the new-far-right high-society, elitist bullies of Eastern Europe and their Western sycophants, one is in grave danger of becoming a de facto enabler of the de-democritization of academic life. It is a kind of “mirror re-Sovietization,” coming from the far nationalist right rather than the Soviet state and its lackeys, but it is all too similar, and recognizable, for its stifling of bona fide debate and discreditation of those who may disagree. High time for an academic to study the effects on academic freedom of the 2010 laws in Hungary and Lithuania effectively incriminating the Western concept of World War II genocide.
The bottom line is that there is nothing to fear but the far right’s fear-mongering itself, which too often has access to state resources.
It is the highest honor to stand up for the human rights of the voiceless victims of the near-complete Baltic Holocaust; for today’s minority rights and cultures; against the ultra-nationalist, fascist-adulating, Nazi-rehabilitating, minority-hating elements that have already gone too far (and under the international radar at that), to deprive the people of the Baltic and other East European states of what they deserve: the same standards of democracy and free expression and protection of minorities as applicable anywhere else in NATO and the European Union.
Those who find something useful on these pages might do well to keep in mind today’s analogue to: “Then when they came for me…” If colleagues stand up to the new governmental and academic far right’s defamation of those who disagree with Double Genocide and the glorification of Hitler’s collaborators, it won’t come to: “There was nobody left…”