O P I N I O N
The letter below was sent by then MP Denis MacShane to the director-general of the Imperial War Museum on 18 September 2012. It was released for publication in 2013, and now appears in its chronological (time of writing) slot in Defending History’s Denis MacShane section.
- Ms Diane Lees
- Imperial War Museum
- Lambeth Road
- London SE1 6HZ
Dear Ms Lees:
I write to you as one of the MPs who takes a special interest in contemporary antisemitism. I chaired the All Party Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry into the problem, have written a well-received book “Globalising Hatred: The New Antisemitism” (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2008/9), and lecture and write all over the world on the return of the racist ideology of antisemitism in the 21st century.
Thus as a life-long supporter of the Imperial War Museum, and one particularly proud that this magnificent British institution encompasses the excellent Holocaust Exhibition, I write to express some urgent concern that IWM might unwittingly be drawn into a plan by certain far-right or ultranationalist circles in the current Lithuanian government to abuse the good name and offices of IWM in an attempt to legitimise the profoundly problematic “Genocide Centre” in Lithuania, in a series of meetings scheduled for this month, apparently organised by the Lithuanian Embassy here in London.
The Centre’s full name is the “Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania”. In the culture of Holocaust-revisionist institutions in Eastern Europe, particularly in the environment of a number of new-accession EU states, it has become a lamentably common ruse for foreign ministries and embassies to set up meetings between perfectly legitimate domestic institutions and prestigious Western bodies, and to slip into the mix, so to speak, revisionist institutions with incorrigible records of antisemitism, Holocaust trivialisation and obfuscation, thereby seeking to legitimise them and make them appear as mainstream and internationally acceptable.
In the case of the Genocide Centre (GC) in Vilnius, Lithuania, Holocaust Survivors internationally have spoken up with admirable courage and clarity over the years. A minimal list of issues would include the following:
- · In spite of years of scandal and much local press coverage, the GC continues to include on its staff list as a “chief specialist” Mr Ricardas Cekutis, a public racist, antisemite and homophobe, who plays an instrumental role in organizing the neo-Nazi march each year on the main boulevard of his nation’s capital, and was publicly taken to task by a member of the Lithuanian Parliament (the Seimas) whom he had threatened with violence.
- · The GC and the museums and exhibits it controls in Lithuania continue to sanitize and glorify both suspected and proven Nazi collaborators, particularly those who committed atrocities in the early stages of the Holocaust in the Baltics, in 1941. Earlier this year, the GC publicly supported the state expenditure for reburial and repeated honouring of the 1941 Nazi-puppet prime minister, Juozas Ambrazevicius-Brazaitis, who personally signed infamous protocols confirming German orders to set up a concentration camp and ghetto for the Jews of Kaunas.
- · Various of the exhibits for which the GC bears responsibility, at the Museum of Genocide Victims in Vilnius, and at Gruto Parkas in the country’s southeast, continue to display antisemitic materials and descriptions. The former has on display blatantly antisemitic caricatures from the 1950s with no curatorial comment; the latter has texts referencing the classic antisemitic trope of communism being largely Jewish in character. Moreover, the Museum contains effusive praise for the “Lithuanian Activist Front” that in effect initiated the Lithuanian Holocaust in June 1941 by unleashing the campaign of mutilation, humiliation, plunder and murder of the country’s Jewish population before the first German soldiers even arrived.
- · When under heavy international pressure, a small basement “Holocaust room” was finally added to the Museum of Genocide Victims, in 2011, it too was blotted by high praise for the Lithuanian Activist Front and no mention of that group’s collaboration and participation in the very Holocaust the room commemorates.
- · In a recent statement disassociating itself from the GC, Lithuania’s state Jewish museum has pointed out that a Holocaust perpetrator was made into a “rescuer” in one of the GC’s recent publications, resulting in a request from the Jewish museum for the book to be withdrawn from circulation.
- · Perhaps most infamously of all, the GC’s “special investigations” department has apparently had a hand in state prosecutors’ efforts, starting in 2006, to defame Holocaust survivors who joined the anti-Nazi resistance, via a series of hollow and ignominious “pre-trial investigations” that have never produced a single charge. In any case, this department has never uttered one word of public protest at a shameful campaign to smear the victims and survivors of the Holocaust, even as its local perpetrators are elevated to a hero status.
There is a certain irony in the fact that the Centre is housed at the location of a major 1941 gate that separated free Vilnius (Vilna, Wilno) from the first of the two ghettos into which the city’s Jewish population was incarcerated in preparation for genocide, and that no historic plaque on the building, the building of a centre dedicated to genocide studies, marks this important address in the annals of the Holocaust in Lithuania, a country which claimed one of the highest, or the highest, percentage of Jewish victims in all of Holocaust-era Europe.
I am writing at this stage on behalf of friends in Vilnius but also a wide range of UK, European and Commonwealth parliamentarians who seek to combat all forms of contemporary antisemitism, especially in terms of the devaluation of the Holocaust or the glorification of WW2 anti-Soviet nationalists who contributed to the Holocaust
This is a private letter and at this stage I would ask you to cancel any and all invitations to the leaders and personnel of the Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania (and its related institutions, such as the Museum of Genocide Victims) to participate in any meetings or events at IWM. The very fact of such inclusion will further an antisemitic, Holocaust-obfuscating and ultranationalistic agenda that could not be further from the purposes and sterling work of IWM. Naturally meetings with other Lithuanian institutions can and should go ahead unimpeded.
I do not want to make a public statement at this stage or raise the matters with Ministers and in the Commons but I am clear that the presence of this outfit would gravely upset those of us who track and combat antisemitism in today’s Europe.
Rt Hon Dr Denis MacShane
Chair, European Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism
Rt Hon Dr Denis MacShane | Member of Parliament for Rotherham
House of Commons | London SW1A 0AA
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