Translation of Birutė Vyšniauskaitė’s Interview with Faina Kukliansky



VILNIUS JEWISH LIFE  |  LITVAK AFFAIRS  |  CHRISTIAN-JEWISH RELATIONS  |  MEDIA

Jews and Lithuanians Need to Settle their Disagreements

by Birutė Vyšniauskaitė (Delfi.lt)

This “working translation” is provided for our readers’ reference (embedded links have been added by DH for our readers’ reference, reflecting this journal’s perspectives, not those of the original publication, and longer direct quotes are presented in indented bloc). In the event of any query arising, the original Lithuanian version alone, published by Delfi on 16 November 2017, is authoritative. Note that an official English translation has appeared in The Lithuania Tribune (English Delfi) and is available to subscribers here. [Update of 27 Nov. 2017: The official Jewish Community website today published its translation.] For more articles in English on these issues, see here.

Although the scandal caused by statements made by author Rūta Vanagaitė about the partisan leader Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas has by now subsided, the head of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, Faina Kukliansky believes that this is no more than a temporary calm. The English translation of R. Vanagaitė’s book Mūsiškiai should appear soon. Furthermore she has the support of the European Jewish Congress and she has many supporters in Israel.

In an interview with LRT.lt, F. Kukliansky advises us not to fear the potential scandals.

“I really like the idea expressed by the historian Saulius Sužiedėlis that you can read a document a number of times, or many documents, and reach diverse conclusions. To study documents you need special preparation, expertise in such things. If the same documents are read by some old lady, they may appear interesting to her, but she won’t be able to explain a single thing. And if a book is written for public relations, is it for personal gain, or for shocking readers and listeners?”

F. Kukliansky provides her reactions in the aftermath of the R. Vanagaitė scandal in an interview with the LRT.lt news portal.

She points out that a specific opinion has formed regarding R. Vanagaitė, and her words will find little support in Lithuania, but when this is all taken abroad, people will likely think that there are attempts to punish her.

“Because how can you not support a Jew writing about the Holocaust in Lithuania? In my opinion when reading books such as R. Vanagaitė’s Mūsiškiai or the like, a person needs to be prepared, needs to have read other books and articles on the topic and perhaps have studied it in school. When people know little of the relations between Lithuanians and Jews and the Holocaust and then read something like Mūsiškiai, there is an explosion,”

F. Kukliansky stated. In terms of the Jewish community’s reaction, it  being revealed that R. Vanagaitė’s claims were false. F. Kukliansky noted that the pain caused by the Holocaust remains, with almost any family in their community having been impacted by the Holocaust. It will take still more time for the wounds to heal and stop hurting. She points to a personal example where she still does not understand how her father, a survivor of all the horrors of war at the Palanga children’s camp where only three Jews survived by a miracle, would visit Palanga for his vacation each year. At the same time she points out that most of the Lithuanian Jewish community knows that it was not all Lithuanians who were responsible for the killing of Jews, even if some were responsible. After all, there are Jewish-Lithuanian marriages, they interact with each other, working together with a large number of Jews to study in Lithuanian schools.

“We consider ourselves to be Lithuanians of Jewish origin. I do not know what other members of the Jewish community think.” — Faina Kukliansky

The head of the Lithuanian Jewish Community stresses that it is necessary to reflect on the past once more from an objective and fair standpoint, as opposed to Soviet-era stereotypes, when the authorities put emphasis on presenting the Lithuanian partisan resistance as groups of bandits. For the sake of comparison she asks what we would do today, if the government were to give instructions to refuse employment to Jews, Tatars and other minorities. F. Kukliansky notes that we constantly remember and commemorate the victims of terror attacks, or the two world wars, but we forget other contemporary problems related to minority groups. Little can be done about it as long as young people have little knowledge of historical places in or near their home towns. She gives an example from her personal experience of a policeman in Alytus not knowing the directions to the Jewish massacre site in the Vidzgiris forest (which is in the very city). The Lithuanian government has not yet done enough, according to the head of the Lithuanian Jewish Community. While a de-rehabilitation law was enacted at the great efforts of her and her father Shmuel Kukliansky, it does not appear that the process was truly completed because the Prosecutor General’s Office no longer even has a department linked to the task.

“However I do not think that the parade held in Molėtai, which commemorated the Holocaust, is more worthy than me visiting Katkiškės […] I do not need the parades and the pomposity.” — Faina Kukliansky

Regarding the contrast with the fact that some Jews collaborated with the USSR’s regime and participated in signing orders for execution and Siberian exile, F. Kukliansky admits that it is hard to say what to answer to this, for example the case of the KGB officer Nachman Dushansky who had signed the exile orders for the Kaunas doctor Isaak Levitan and his wife, as well as having devised the plans for the execution of A. Ramanauskas-Vanagas.

“On the other hand, N. Dushansky didn’t sign the documents of my family’s deportation, as he was classmates with my mother’s brother.”

But how to find a simple human answer to the question why Israel, constantly striving for justice, himself wronged persons such as N. Dushansky and did not yield to the justice of those countries where they committed crimes?

“I find it hard to answer. I do not know. It may be assumed that all measures are justified, knowing that genocide was committed against the Jews. On the other hand, many Lithuanians who were expelled from Lithuania survived all the trials of Siberia or the camps. He returned to Lithuania and could not find anything of his.

“If even more than seventy years after the war we continue to talk about it, then it means it still hurts, it has not been forgotten. I recall how we played a game with our cousins at our only surviving grandmother’s home in Vilnius’s old town after the war. The game was who least looked like a Jew and what would need to be done if the Germans came back. Why we played this game, I do not know, because our parents would never talk to us about the Jewish massacres,”

she recalled, explaining that her eyes were opened to the tragedy which befell the Jewish community in eleventh grade by dissident historian Vytautas Raudeliūnas.

Her own father only spoke up about the tragedy once a number of those who killed Jews were rehabilitated after independence was re-established. It was only then that she found out that the stairs going up Tauras Hill were made from Jewish gravestones, as well as about the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Efraim Zuroff. F. Kukliansky thinks that E. Zuroff probably has a controversial reputation because of his abrasive character. And it may be that he behaves this way to get some attention, as he’s not one of the established scientists. Furthermore, he’s religious, so it’s not easy for him to adapt to some things.

“This is because I have always held the opinion that all problems must be resolved officially and legally. I thought that if E. Zuroff wants to do something in Lithuania, it is necessary to establish an office of the S. Wiesenthal Centre, cooperate with prosecutors, participate in court cases. Why does one have to be enemies with everyone?

“Though if the Minister of Education and Science Jurgita Petrauskienė continues to ignore my calls, and won’t resolve the problem of the Kėdainiai synagogue repairs, we will have to make a scandal. After all 600 thousand euros were received from EU structural funds for these repairs. The same story took place with the Kaunas Jewish community, which was given back the building that used to belong to the Arts Academy twenty-five years ago. Due to some sort of bureaucratic misunderstandings we are still unable to reclaim the building,”

F. Kukliansky stated. As for why the Kėdainiai synagogue repairs were the issue of the Ministry of Education and Science, the head of the Jewish community explained that both the Ministry of Culture and the Finance Ministry made it clear to her that this was the situation, for whatever reason. While S. Sužiedėlis has prepared a book that goes into detail on shootings of Jews in Lithuania and how both Lithuanians and Jews suffered from Jewish KGB officers, F. Kukliansky notes that such topics leave her thinking about how to speak about polarizing figures.

“How do I talk of poet Vytautas Mačernis who is revered by Lithuanians, knowing how antisemitic he was? Or perhaps he only spoke this way in a single letter which cannot characterize him? I do not have a clear answer regarding the views of Jonas Šliūpas. Was he really an antisemite? But I know one thing – all of us, Jews and Lithuanians, we need to smooth out our disagreements. We cannot crave for revenge or blood.

“However I do not think that the parade held in Molėtai, which commemorated the Holocaust, is more worthy than me visiting Katkiškės near Veisėjai, where twenty-nine members of my family were killed and only three remain of the Jews originating from there — myself, animation artist Ilja Bereznickis and my secretary.

“Living through my pain, I do not need the parades and the pomposity. I believe that my parents would also not have needed it,”

she stated. When asked whether her family associated with Lithuanians after its tragedy and did not feel vengeful, F. Kukliansky explained that they had friends both among the Russian and Lithuanian intelligentsia, and there had never been a desire for vengeance for the lost family or property. “Perhaps people need to let go of their feelings and experiences. After all one cannot suffer all their life. You have to live on,” she concluded.

As for future generations and how they could reach full reconciliation between Lithuanians and Jews, F. Kukliansky noted that it is important that Lithuanian schools begin to include the history of Lithuanian Jews in their curriculum, teaching about the Jewish community’s finding its way to Lithuania, how it lived here and the reasons behind its tragedy.

“You probably have a vision of what should be done so that people of your generation or younger can still achieve reconciliation between Lithuanians and Jews?”

“Our community strives to be as open as possible to the other, and we consider ourselves to be Lithuanians of Jewish origin. I do not know what other members of the Jewish community think. But I personally do not need the Law on National Minorities because I know that I am also protected by the Constitution of Lithuania, the Criminal Code, and other laws. However, for the purpose of reconciliation, it is necessary that the textbooks on the history of Lithuanian schools include sections on the history of Lithuanian Jews. My granddaughter learns and recounts William Shakespeare’s sonnets primarily because they are in the school’s curriculum. This should also be done with the history of the Jews, explaining how they came to Lithuania, how they lived here, why it is they came to tragedy.”

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