Its Prehistory (1990-1999), History (1999-2010) and Posthistory (2010-2018) from the Year of Lithuania’s Declaration of Independence Onward
CAN GOVERNMENT AGENCIES STILL WRITE INDIVIDUALS OUT OF HISTORY IN POST-SOVIET SPACE? DO VILNIUS UNIVERSITY’S DEANS AND RECTOR APPROVE OF THE PRACTICE? CAN A PAST PROFESSOR WITH A PERFECT RECORD OVER 11 YEARS (NO COMPLAINTS, NO INCIDENTS) BE WRITTEN OUT OF THE UNIVERSITY’S HISTORY AND DEFAMED IN THE UNIVERSITY’S NAME ON ORDERS OF SOMEONE AT THE “INTERNATIONAL COMMISSION FOR THE EVALUATION OF THE CRIMES OF THE NAZI AND SOVIET REGIMES IN LITHUANIA” (THE “RED-BROWN COMMISSION“)?
A “for the record” page in progress, developed in response to repeated public statements by the current director of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute, a member of the state-sponsored Commission on Nazi and Soviet crimes, claiming that Defending History’s editor (a) was never a professor at the university, (b) if he was an elementary Yiddish alphabet teacher paid by some surfers in California, he got fired for not turning up to work. Further documents are being processed for inclusion in the bizarre but curiously telling chapter of the history of Yiddish Studies in the 21st century. The political manipulation (ranging from West European far-left to East European far-right) of Yiddish-less “Yiddish” is a theme in the final chapter of Yiddish and Power (Palgrave Macmillan 2015) by the Yiddishist in question, Dovid Katz.
Dovid Katz’s visit to Lithuania (Dec. 1990) results in an agreement between Vilnius and Oxford universities, reported in the New York Times in April 1991. Among the first Vilnius students to benefit from scholarships for Oxford one-year programs and summer courses are S. Liekis, V. Davoliute, T. Balkelis, and others who went on to academic prominence in Lithuania and internationally.
Dovid Katz leaves his visiting professorship at Yale University (1998-1999, with invitations to stay on in various capacities) to accept Vilnius University’s invitation to take up a new professorship in Yiddish Language, Literature and Culture, and to serve as founding director of the university’s Center for Stateless Cultures. Takes up the new post in Vilnius on 1 September 1999.
Report (see 2nd item) in the journal Lietuvos Istorijos studijos, published by the Faculty of History at Vilnius University.
October 2005 entry in the Vilnius Yiddish Institute’s newsletter:
Letter from Professor Alfredas Bumblauskas, Faculty of History, Vilnius University (7 February 2006), in English translation, followed by a facsimile of the Lithuanian original:
- Professor Dr. A. BUMBLAUSKAS
- Vice-Dean of the Faculty of History, Vilnius University
- Vilnius University
- History Faculty
- University Street 7
- Vilnius 01513, Lithuania
- February 7, 2006
- I have known Professor Dovid Katz since 1998. Between 1999 and 2001 D. Katz founded and headed the Center for Judaic Studies and Studies of Cultural Communities at Vilnius University. At the current time he works at Vilnius University, where he is director of research at the Vilnius Yiddish Institute and teaches.
- I have extraordinary esteem for this exceptional specialist in Yiddish language, culture and literature who has achieved global recognition in academic circles, and whose work ensures the high quality and excellence of the Judaic Studies program at Vilnius University.
- I attest that over eight years of working together with Professor D. Katz, I have come to know him not just as a great scholar and a real expert in his field, but also as an especially dutiful and scrupulous person and colleague who has sought only the highest of standards in his work and in his professional relationships.
- A. Bumblauskas
2006 Nostrification certificate of professor’s original University of London doctorate (confirming the 2005 Lithuanian Academic Council’s nostrification enabled to enable certification as examiner for Dr. Liekis’s progression to the habilitation process):
18 September 2006 official Vilnius University course description for “History and Culture of East-Central European Jewry before 1939” in the Faculty of History. As of 1 April 2015 on Vilnius University’s website.
2008 Vilnius University summary of a 2006 project of nine of the university’s academics. As of 1 April 2015, online at Vilnius University’s website (scroll to: 2006).
On 30 March 2008, Prof. Katz alerts the Vilnius Yiddish Institute’s board to a series of issues, including defamation and/or attempted prosecution of Jewish partisans (including the VYI’s own librarian), the campaign of Holocaust Obfuscation, and the disturbing then-brand-new phenomenon of a neo-Nazi march, replete with shouts of Juden raus! being allowed to take over the central boulevard of Vilnius on Lithuania’s March 11th independence day. The memo was titled “Can a Yiddish Tree Grow in Vilnius (in a Time of Holocaust Obfuscation)?”
In April 2008, the memo is somehow leaked to the state-sponsored “International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania” and the VYI’s executive director, Prof. S. Liekis insists on a meeting with the commission’s executive director whom he introduces as his cousin and shooting-range partner, Mr. Ronaldas Racinskas. During the meeting, Mr. Racinskas threatens Prof. Katz, resulting in a formal letter of notification on 21 April 2018 to the American Embassy’s political officer Joe Boski. At Prof. Katz’s recommendation, the American Embassy shows support for the defamed [at that point in the media only] Jewish partisans by awarding Fania Brantsovsky a certificate of achievement on 30 April 2008. Less than a week later…
On 7 May 2008, Prof. Katz alerts his colleagues to the news that police had two days earlier come looking for the institute’s librarian, a veteran of the Jewish partisan resistance against the Nazis. In subsequent weeks, he works closely with Western ambassadors to counter the campaign against Jewish partisans, one prominent result being Irish Ambassador Donal Denham’s 3 June 2009 reception for the accused Jewish partisan, attended by most of the Western diplomatic community.
During the 2008 Vilnius summer course, to which Prof. D. Katz recommended his former doctoral student (at Oxford), Prof. D.B. Kerler of Indiana University (whom he recommended for that position) to become a teacher, the former doctoral supervisor published a tribute, in Yiddish, to the achievements of his former pupil who was now teaching a summer at Vilnius. The former doctoral candidate was meanwhile being recruited to betray his own teacher and participate in his disemployment in return for glorious summer and conference escapes from Bloomington, Indiana.
Dovid Katz publishes first two op-eds on Holocaust revisionism and persecution of Jewish partisan veterans, in the Jewish Chronicle (London) on 21 May 2009, and in the Irish Times (Dublin) on 30 May 2009. VYI’s executive director sends the VYI’s lecturer in Yiddish folklore to explain to Prof. Katz that these articles are scandalous and make it impossible for him to stay on in Vilnius, that he would do well to leave himself at once.
Six NATO ambassadors, from Canada, Hungary, Ireland, Norway, United Kingdom, United States, write to the chairman of the board of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute about the plan afoot to dismiss the Yiddish professor for having spoken out in defense of Holocaust survivors accused of “war crimes” and published articles opposing the far right’s Holocaust revisionism, 8 June 2009.
During the 2009 summer course, groups of students wishing to hear a lecture from Prof. Katz are told that it is impossible (at the summer course he had founded and brought to Vilnius). As a result a series of lectures on Yiddish studies and Holocaust obfuscation are held in private apartments throughout the course, noted in following months by Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian, and in two student memoirs, by Josh Markovitz and Michael Cohen.
The “quiet” winter 2009-2010 endeavor between certain professors at Vilnius University and at Indiana University (Bloomington) to rid the VYI of its own Yiddish professor curiously uses the title “Professor” for all the professors named, including several of Dovid Katz’s own students, but strips him of it. The plot was abandoned when troubled by pangs of conscience or fears of scandal, one Bloomington professor (no longer there) leaked the document causing collapse of the project, intended by Bloomington Yiddish staff to provide a “summer palace” escape from boring US campus life. More background here.
AND THEN THERE WERE TWO: In the summer of 2009, the official summer course program distributed eliminated Prof. Katz’s name from the institute’s staff ( in the absence of any notification or incident). By the summer of 2010, when a university institute was being converted to a de facto summer program only, there was need for just two academic Yiddish Studies specialists to be listed (from that summer’s official leaflet).
On 4 November, 2009 Vilnius summer course participants Josh Markowitz publishes his personal memoir “August Hidden in Lithuania” in UCLA’s The Bruin Standard. The Comments section contained an apparently coordinated massive array of personal attacks against Prof. Dovid Katz led by California “historian” and “emperor of Africa” Grant Arthur Gochin, who had previously been on Maullin’s “Board” of the “Friends of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute” where he tried to arrange a PR conference for the Lithuanian government that was cancelled after intervention from the Simon Wiesenthal Center. The same day, Prof. Liekis boasted to colleagues at the institute: “Dovid Katz will never work in Yiddish academia again, let him clean the streets here, and his old friend Kerler will be the real professor of Yiddish here. Four weeks a year is enough for this Yiddish, we are very busy.”
Professor Sidney Rosenfeld’s letter of resignation from the board of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute at Vilnius University, 11 November 2009. In later years, Prof. Rosenfeld became one of the donors to Defending History.
Professor Daniela Mantovan (Heidelberg) reports on 7 March 2010 on the result of her suggestion to Professor Dov-Ber Kerler to draft a petition to the rector of Vilnius University concerning the planned dismissal of his own former supervisor for having stood up for Holocaust survivors and opposed Holocaust obfuscation in his non-university time. This was the same period when Prof. Kerler was appointed de facto joint academic director of the program, replacing his one-time teacher who was being disemployed. With the VYI “director” in effect becoming dean of the faculty of diplomacy (!) at a university in Kaunas, the VYI was being quietly transitioned to “just a summer course” with no serious academic Yiddish studies during the academic year (no replacement Yiddish professor has been appointed to date). The upshot was that the Indiana summer-is-fun professor was used from start to finish to displace and “replace” his own former teacher, in addition to his own full-time position in faraway Bloomington. In addition to titles and junkets and the grand power to provide summers in Vilnius, the royal treatment included a glorified image on t-shirts dedicated to “Lithuania” and “Vilnius” (along with another of Prof. Katz’s former students, Estonian and Baltic nationalist A. Verschik).
Vilnius University list of doctoral theses defended and the doctoral student’s supervisors. As of 1 April 2015 on Vilnius University’s website.
Joshua Markovitz’s 30 November 2011 account of a conference in Israel at which the director of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute assured the assembled scholars that Dovid Katz had never worked at the university, just taught Yiddish there for a Californian organization.
By then, all reference to Professor Dovid Katz was removed from academic staff pages, including pages citing historic faculty and staff … A Soviet style removal of intellectual dissidents from university records? Did someone hastily neglect to readjust the layout after the brushout?
Around the same time, the long-time executive director, historian Prof. S. Liekis, whom Prof. Katz brought from the Soros Foundation to the Yiddish Institute in 2001, began presenting himself to the media as the Yiddish Studies Professor at Vilnius University, e.g. to the Economist (10 February 2011). [Try having a Yiddish conversation with him, or doesn’t it all matter — it’s “only Yiddish”?]
In 2012, Prof. Liekis was rewarded with membership in the state-funded “International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania.” Upon his appointment to the state-sponsored commission, he explained to the media his conception of its purpose, without however mentioning the role to be played by Yiddish Studies. This turn of events was a painful shock for those who invested in him as a future Judaic Studies academic leader free of the government’s Double Genocide industry.
In Fall 2012, the last organization of Lithuanian Holocaust survivors in the United States included (a) the “part-timization” and (b) purging of the one Yiddish professor at the one Yiddish institute in its report on issues in Lithuania.
Reviews of Danny Ben-Moshe’s documentary, Rewriting History (2012) which covers the dismissal of Vilnius University’s last Jewish (and only Yiddish) professor.
On 6 December 2013 Dr. Maria Krupoves wrote to explain her shock at the ongoing campaign of defamation against her former teacher, and to confirm the resignation of her husband, VYI board member Dr. Danny Berg (1949-2015), from the board. For an appreciation of Dr. Berg’s life and work, see here.
Winter 2015: A 24 February 2015 Jewish Telegraphic Agency article by Cnaan Lipshiz (widely republished, e.g. Jewish Chronicle, Times of Israel) quotes Vilnius Yiddish Institute director and red-brown commission member Prof. Dr. Sarunas Liekis: “Mr. Katz is prone to conspiracy theories. The truth is he hardly showed up for work from 2007 to 2010.” The reporter also informed us that he was assured that “Katz was never a professor here, it’s all made up,” echoing a similar statement made to an audience of hundreds in Philadelphia during a 2011 American tour. [This page resulted from the reporter’s request for evidence of the professorship ever having existed following the brotherly sounding words of the Yiddish institute director.] Do the director’s statements reflect the standards, ethos, goals and principles of Vilnius University and its Yiddish institute?
June 2015: Richard Maullin, chairman of the board of the Los Angeles based “Friends of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute” is at long last rewarded for covering for the dismissal of “his” institute’s one Yiddish professor and its becoming a base for nationalist and antisemitic revisionism of the Holocaust narrative (in the interim, the entire board had resigned in protest. The reward? S. Liekis, with his superior ties to the top echelons of Lithuanian political society, arranged for the Foreign Minister of Lithuania (!) to personally come and deliver the Diplomatic Gold Star of the Republic of Lithuania to Mr. Maullin in his California home. A year earlier, Maullin was elected elected chair of the California Independent System Operator Board of Governors.
Spring 2015: Professor Michael Shafir writes (in his paper “Conceptualizing Hungarian Negationism in Comparative Perspective: Deflection and Obfuscation” p. 266):
“Meanwhile, a new concept has emerged in professional literature: Holocaust Obfuscation. We owe it to Dovid Katz, a Yiddish literature scholar who had returned to Lithuania, the land of his forefathers, where he was shocked to witness how the Holocaust was transmogrified to serve the purposes of post-Communist political and intellectual elites.5 For the time being, Katz has paid the price of his audacity not only by being dismissed from the Vilnius University, but also by being described by academic collaborationist colleagues as an ‘activist rather than a scholar.'”
5 Dovid Katz, “On three definitions: Genocide, Holocaust Denial, Holocaust Obfuscation.” In Leonidas Donskis (ed.), A Litmus Test Case of Modernity. Examining Modern Sensibilities and the Public Domain in the Baltic States at the Turn of the Century, Bern: Peter Lang, 2009, p.259-277, as well as his “Prague’s Declaration of Disgrace,” The Jewish Chronicle, 22 May 2009, http://www.thejc.com/comment/comment/prague’s-declaration-disgrace; “Halting Holocaust Obfuscation”, The Guardian, 8 January 2010, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jan/08/holocaust-baltic-lithuania-latvia; “The Seventy Years Declaration and the Simple Truth”, The Algemeiner, 2 February 2012, http://www.algemeiner.com/2012/02/03/the-seventy-years-declaration-and-the-simple-truth/.
Summer 2015: Facebook comment by Kristina Sulikienė: “Thank, you, Dovid Katz. I know you since 1999 when we met at Kerry’s [American poet and educator Kerry Shawn Keys]. Later you became “valstybes priešas”. For me you always will remain true professor. And true professor never lies. That is why I try to act the same way.”
Summer 2016: Vilnius University’s Vilnius Yiddish Institute website is purged again, to remove the name “Dovid Katz” from older “historical posts” about the past. There is an associated rewriting of the history of Yiddish studies at both Vilnius and Oxford. But the brushers-out of their target’s name from history is accomplished without the necessary English editing skills, resulting in some strange sentences…
Some July 2016 Soviet-style air-brushing out of history by Yiddish professors S. Liekis and D. Kerler. But where is the follow-up English editing to clean up the text? Another take on the history of the Yiddish program at Oxford.
The Yiddish institute’s summer course boasts a handsomely revamped website with sophisticated new graphics. But the telltale formulation on the primary page, the summer course information page (other pages are dedicated to PR for Prof. Liekis’s “managed foreign and domestic Jewish academics” whether or not connected to Yiddish), dutifully maintains the 2016 wording on the course’s origins in Oxford: “was founded by at Oxford in 1982” . . .