Reporter Andrius Makauskas, in a substantial article in yesterday’s online edition of the respected daily Lietuvos žinios (Lžionios.lt, “Lithuanian News” which is not to be confused with the antisemitic, ultranationalist Vakaro žinios, “Evening News”), makes the sensational claim that the rector of Kaunas’s Vytautas Magnus University (VMU) was untruthful when he told parliament last week that he and his university had not been given advance notice of plans to use VMU premises for a 19 May 2012 “memorial conference” honoring the 1941 Nazi puppet “prime minister” Juozas Ambrazevičius (later Brazaitis).
The 1941 Nazi-puppet prime minister had signed orders for “all means” against the Jews (though asking for a halt to “public executions”), for setting up a concentration camp, and for herding “all of the Jews of Kaunas” into a ghetto within four weeks (English here).
International interest was sparked when DefendingHistory.com reported on 3 May on the plans announced in various Lithuanian publications to honor the wartime collaborator. DH followed up with the link and a full translation in English of the schedule of events posted by the Genocide Center (copy here). The four-day series of events (17, 18, 19, 20 may) included the Vytautas Magnus “memorial conference” scheduled for the 19th. An English translation of Milan Chersonski’s essay appeared on 8 May, and a statement calling on VMU to withdraw from the events was posted on 11 May.
The news drew a powerful response from former VMU professor and former dean of its Faculty of Political Science and Diplomacy, Leonidas Donskis, a world-famous author on philosophy and political science. On 15 May, Donskis, now a member of the European Parliament (for the Liberals), released his statement to DefendingHistory.com.
The same day, a BNS report quoted the university’s rector, Professor Zigmas Lydeka, as telling the Seimas that the rector’s council was not informed of the plans in advance, that the university does not host non-academic events, and that the university “should not be the one who would have to explain.”
However, none of the present leaders or professors at Vytautas Magnus University have to date issued any public statements disagreeing with the idea of honoring the Nazi collaborator.
In fact, according to today’s Lzionios.lt report, a group of VMU Faculty has protested to the rector about withdrawal of the premises for the memorial conference.
Withdrawal of VMU premises had no visible effect on the state-sponsored series of events to honor the wartime Nazi collaborator. The Saturday 11 AM conference was simply moved in official announcements issued by the country’s parliament, first to “venue to be announced” and then, in the final schedule published on the website of the Kaunas municipality, to Kaunas Town Hall, the headquarters of the municipality located on the city center’s Liberty Avenue (Laisvės alėja 96).
The same two VMU professors scheduled to honor Ambrazevicius-Brazaitis spoke yesterday at Kaunas Town Hall. They are Viktorija Skrupskelytė and Ilona Strumickienė.
Today’s Lzinios.lt article by Andrius Makauskas claims that in effect the rector misled parliament:
“Lzinios.lt has learned from from reliable sources that the claim that the rector was not informed about the event is not the truth. A decision had been adopted by the conference organizers to hold the event for the head of the Provisional Government at the university.”
It goes on to say that a letter of protest by VMU academics to the rector points out that
“the excuse that the university’s position is against organizing non-academic activities in university space seems confusing and unconvincing.”
The article further claims that the same rector was one of twenty famous personalities who wrote to the former president Valdas Adamkus in the first place, asking for the state’s highest award to be posthumously given to the wartime pro-Nazi “prime minister.”
Vytautas Magnus University features a room at its Donelaičio St. 52 premises (lecture hall no. 608) that was renamed for the Nazi puppet leader in 2007, and a bas-relief sculpture (that uses only his post-provisional-government “kosher” name Brazaitis) that was added in 2009 (details under “2007″ and “2009″ on the Wikipedia entry for Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis).
There has been utter public silence from Professor S. Liekis, the current dean of VMU’s Faculty of Political Science and Diplomacy who is also director of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute, and widely considered responsible for “cleansing” the VYI of Yiddish specialist staff, and staff who disagree with the government’s “Jewish policies.” During the academic year, the VYI serves as a government PR front, leaving a gaping hole in the country’s capacity for independent Judaic studies. Last year the VMU dean cum VYI director represented himself to the Economist as a “Yiddish studies professor.”
In the meantime, the outside world waits to see if any current senior staff of VMU will speak up loud and clear against honoring a Nazi collaborator in the country with the highest rate of murder of its Jewish population in all wartime Europe, not least because of the massive local participation.
Protests against the state-sponsored events honoring the head of Lithuania’s Nazi-era “provisional government” have been issued, among others, by the Jewish Community of Lithuania in partnership with the Vilna Gaon Museum, B’nai B’rith International, the Wiesenthal Center, Dr. Efraim Zuroff in a Jerusalem Post op-ed, and the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.
In addition to MEP Donskis’s statement, domestic statements opposing the events have been published by Milan Chersonski, and two members of the Lithuanian parliament, Vytenis Andriukaitis and Algirdas Syas. MP Andriukaitis last Thursday challenged the foreign minister on the subject on the floor of the parliament.
The international petition launched by Krystyna Anna Steiger of Montreal continues to draw hundreds of signatures.
DefendingHistory has issued its own statement about who of the Lithuania 1941 participants should nowadays be honored:
“Lithuania has magnificent real heroes of 1941: the inspirational people who saved an innocent neighbor from the LAF and Provisional Government’s reign of genocide, starting with the war’s first week. They are that year’s heroes of history who should be honored. May their families live to see streets and squares named for them.”