Lithuanian Jews, Holocaust Survivors, Specialists who Disagree with the Lithuanian Government — Shut Out of London Conference




O P I N I O N

by Dovid Katz

The Holocaust Survivor community is responding with a mixture of sadness and defiance to news that the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, which actively coordinated the recent attempt (December 2010) to underpin ‘Double Genocide’ and downgrade the Holocaust in European Union law (see top story on home page), is now financing, in partnership with (naive?) parties in London, a starkly one-sided colloquium on ‘Jewish-Lithuanian Relations Between Coexistence and Violence’ on 6-7 Feb 2011 in London.

London Fog: Will the Conference be a ‘Graywash’?

It is feared that the London event will sidestep virtually all of the principal questions of 2011 in Lithuanian-Jewish relations, many of them directly related to the history and annihilation of Lithuanian Jewry that are the primary focus of the London programs. The central issues, which do not appear on any of the published programs, include: the continuing campaign against Holocaust Survivors who resisted the Nazis, which has just passed the 1000 day mark; the continuing campaign to replace the Holocaust in European history (and law) with an obfuscationist model of Double Genocide, in Lithuania, and in the EU; the continuing and unchecked stream of antisemitic invective coming from the highest echelons of society, including the Foreign Minister whose Ministry is financing much of the sophisticated London smokescreen; the glorification of Holocaust murderers of Lithuanian Jews as ‘anti-Soviet heroes’ in 2011 (concurrent with a Holocaust memorial year); the continued failure to restitute prewar communal Jewish property to the community; the continuation of racist, anti-Jewish citizenship laws; the failure to preserve the one Jewish anti-Nazi fort which is fast sinking into the ground; the collapse of freedom of speech on Holocaust and Jewish issues in Lithuania as part of a decline in democratic values; among other key issues.

Among the enlisted, and on Lithuanian-Jewish issues arguably naive Jewish partners in London are Spiro Ark and the West London Synagogue. In a full-page London Jewish News article published on 20 January, Mrs Nitza Spiro, director of the former and a major Jewish educator of huge accomplishments, seemed to claim, in agreement with Lithuanian politicians, that in the Lithuanian Holocaust ‘the initial executions were brutally conducted by the SS but later aided by Lithuanian “self-defense” units plus ordinary citizens — enthusiastic helpers.’ In fact, the Holocaust first broke out in many Lithuanian locations by the barbarity of Lithuanian (often white-armbanded) ‘nationalists’ days before the Germans even arrived. Those murderers, many belonging to the LAF (Lithuanian Activist Front), are now being glorified (as ‘anti-Soviet rebels’) by the same Lithuanian government that is throwing so much money at Jewish PR events internationally to cover tracks, with the help of well-intentioned Jewish non-specialists.

The tiny but incredibly brave remnant Jewish community has expressed spirited opposition in print to the attempted glorification of the local murderers who unleashed the Lithuanian Holocaust up and down the country and to the collaborationist Provisional Government of the same period in 1941. No wonder the marioneteers of this conference did not want anyone from the Jewish community of Lithuania turning up in London (least of all Rachel Kostanian, director of the Green House Holocaust museum, who leads the resistance in Vilnius to the downgrading of the Holocaust).

Mrs Spiro’s article reports ‘helping to organize this effort on the part of the Lithuanians to try to understand the past’. The phrase ‘the Lithuanians’ would frankly best be corrected here to ‘the Lithuanian government’ as the noble, long-suffering and hard-working Lithuanian people are not responsible for the current campaign of Holocaust distortion and ruses to manipulate this debate.

“As long as Lithuania does not deal straightforwardly with its own history during the Holocaust, condoning or passing over in silence antisemitic statements and events, and insists on expending state treasure on equalizing the Nazis and the contemporary anti-Nazis (Soviets) of the region in 1941-1945, no serious scholar should join a conference which is sponsored by the current Lithuanian government.”

Clemens Heni, 2011

The conference program seems to exclude participants from the following five groups.

(1) scholars from (or representatives of) the Lithuanian Jewish community. In recent months, the small Jewish Community of Lithuania has courageously criticized government policies on various issues of direct and urgent relevance to Jewish-Lithuanian relations, reflecting vividly the intimate interaction of history with the present and future:

(a) the high-level campaign in the country to not only rehabilitate but glorify the Holocaust collaborators of 1941;

(b) the  ‘History Apartheid’ decision by the country’s parliament to declare two separate years of memory for 2011, one for the victims of the Holocaust and the other for (inter alia) those of its collaborators locally regarded as anti-Soviet heroes;

(c) the Foreign Minister’s crude antisemitic outburst, blaming a presumed Jewish conspiracy abroad for attempts to introduce reformed citizenship laws;

(d) the new law, passed by parliament and signed by the president, that would in effect make it illegal (and make it an offense punishable by two years’ imprisonment) to argue that the Holocaust was the one genocide in Lithuania.

(e) On the issue of the accused Holocaust Survivors who joined the anti-Nazi resistance and are being defamed by prosecutors, politicians and media, the Jewish Community’s 2008 statement remains in force.

(2) scholars from the Green House (Vilnius’s only Holocaust museum);

(3) scholars and authors who work in  Lithuania, of all backgrounds, who have publicly and unambiguously spoken out on any of the current Holocaust-related issues, e.g. the Prague Declaration, the red-equals-brown campaign at home, the persecution of Holocaust Survivors who joined the resistance, recent instances of antisemitism in the country, attempts to curtail public debate.

(4) scholars from anywhere who continue to publicly disagree with the government’s current policies on the Holocaust, Holocaust education,  antisemitism, defamation of Holocaust Survivors who joined the anti-Nazi resistance, and the campaign for ‘red-brown resolutions’ in the European Parliament. The very recent statement published by the Lithuanian Human Rights Association, calling for ‘sentencing’ of Holocaust Survivors, and the thousand-day mark in the saga of the accused Jewish partisans which falls on the eve of the London conference are, in the view of some, matters that are legitimately relevant to the conference topic and should be on — rather than under — its table.

(5) the Lithuanian Holocaust Survivor community (from any country of current residence), which would add much needed (and uniquely irreplaceable) perspective to the precise topics that form the focus of this conference. There are still Holocaust Survivors who are both eyewitnesses and scholars of the Lithuanian Holocaust. But they appear to be unwelcome at these events in London.

The published  conference program is entitled No simple stories: Jewish-Lithuanian relations between coexistence and violence (poster here). The participants are in part the same group of government-sanctioned scholars, participating thanks to expenses paid by the government, who dominated a recent conference in Vilnius. That event was covered in Tablet Magazine, the Guardian, and this journal.

In Baltic apologetics, the words ‘violence’  and ‘complicated’ (here modified to: ‘no simple stories’) have become central to the lexical arsenal of the obfuscation movement.

‘Violence’ (instead of e.g. Holocaust, massacre, genocide, murder of neighbors) is used as part of the construct of Double Genocide to imply two-way or mutual violence. That is part of the larger notion that the Holocaust was one of two equal genocides, now being promoted locally in the Baltics and in the European Parliament. The movement has entailed a campaign against Holocaust survivors who joined the anti-Nazi resistance, one that will have just reached the one-thousand day mark at the scheduled time of the London conference.

In the East European lexicon of Holocaust obfuscation, the word ‘complicated’ (here: ‘no simple stories’) is an even more ubiquitous missile. It is often used in tandem with discourse along the lines of ‘These were such complicated times when there was killing on all sides’ and the like, to avoid having to deal with the remarkably clearcut logical and ethical distinction between the perpetrators and the victims of the Holocaust. The special Baltic use of ‘complicated’ even made it into British politics during last year’s election (example here; see also Professor Tessa Rajak’s comment and this journal’s UK page).

Concurrent with its 2011 program of PR events in Jewish and Holocaust studies, the Lithuanian government is financing a campaign to glorify the murderous LAF (Lithuanian Activist Front), whose followers initiated the Lithuanian Holocaust even before the arrival of German forces. Excerpts from the LAF’s pre-Nazi-invasion leaflets here. These efforts are part of the wider effort among some (not all!) elite nationalist circles in the Baltics to recast Holocaust participants as patriotic heroes. In May 2010, a Lithuanian court legalized public swastikas on the grounds that they are ‘symbols of Lithuania’s historical heritage rather than Nazi Germany’. Scholars and community leaders who publicly criticized the ruling are decidedly not among the invitees to the London colloquium. The London event’s invitation list, which excludes Lithuanians who have spoken out boldly inside the country, is itself no simple story. It is a story that reflects poorly on standards of freedom of debate and on the misguided effort to export state-manipulated debate to the West.

It would appear that the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry has successfully enlisted partners in London who would have been well unaware of the possibility of being pressed into the service of the history revisionism that is a public policy of various foreign ministries in Eastern Europe. Ultimately, such endeavors, innocently entered into by naive westerners, are sometimes regarded as tantamount to participation in a campaign against the historic record of the Holocaust and the integrity of its victims and survivors. Incidentally, the foreign minister has not yet apologized for his extraordinary antisemitic outburst in October, during a parliamentary meeting of the country’s ruling party. The Lithuanian Jewish Community responded rapidly, and now finds itself shut out of a London conference on Lithuanian-Jewish relations. That omission has not been alleviated by rumors circulating that a group of Jewish klezmorim (musicians) from Vilnius will now be brought to London to entertain the crowd. Lithuanian Jews interviewed are uniformly pained by the use of local Jews solely as display-and-entertain objects, rather than equal partners in discussing the day’s issues in Lithuanian Jewish affairs.

The listed conference partners are University College London’s Institute of Jewish Studies (with conference announcements having been circulated by UCL’s Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies); the Warburg Institute; the Rothschild Foundation Europe. Such prestigious (albeit unwitting) backing in the past has sometimes, in some opinions, been useful post facto to imply that the new Double Genocide model of World War II, which far right nationalist governments are trying to make standard for the European Union, is ‘supported’ by mainstream Jewish organizations and Judaic studies programs in the West.

Over two hundred thousand Jews were killed in Lithuania during the Holocaust, amounting to around 95% of the Jewish population. That is one of the highest percentages of Jews killed in any country in Europe. The massive collaboration and actual participation by locals in the mass killing was a pivotal element in the most complete achievement of the Final Solution on the continent of Europe.

Readers are encouraged to contact these London based institutions to offer friendly and moderate words of caution on concerns about untoward manipulation, and on a more constructive note, for inclusion-in-principle of representatives of the five excluded groups noted.

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