Tripletalk on the New ‘Looted Books Room’ at the National Library in Vilnius



Yivo’s director, one of the current Lithuanian government’s staunchest PR providers in the west (see here, here, here, here), recently told the English Forward that ‘he would continue to work with the Lithuanian government to reach a permanent settlement over the archive’, implying that the Yivo Board would be making its decision in due course.

He recently told the Yiddish Forward (Forverts) that the fate of Yivo’s Nazi-era looted books in Vilnius was separate from the agreement reached to have the Lithuanian National Library open a ‘Yivo Room’. (There was no discussion of the presumed ‘Jewish PR’ bonanza that would thereby be provided to the one government in the world that continues to subject its country’s Holocaust survivors to legal harassment if they survived by joining the anti-Nazi resistance, or of the establishment of a damaging precedent for failure to return looted Holocaust property to rightful owners.)

Both the versions supplied to the English and Yiddish Forward newspapers in New York City imply that the question of whether Yivo would capitulate to state looting of its prewar Vilna property is still a matter for negotiation and one which Yivo’s board has not decided upon with any finality.

But a third version, in the hard copy of the new edition of News of the Yivo treats the surrender of looted Jewish property to an East European government that refuses to return it to its rightful owner as a ‘done deal’, explaining: ‘The Yivo Room will reconstitute Yivo’s library collections, approximately 8,000 books, which were expropriated by the Nazis during the war and subsequently subsumed into the Lithuanian National Library.’

One member of Yivo’s staff, who asked not to be identified by name, said today that the ‘tripletalk’ mirrors the games that were played over the recent controversial decision to honor the Lithuanian foreign minister rather than Vilna Ghetto survivors at the 22 September event to commemorate the ghetto’s liquidation. First the foreign minister was listed as guest of honor, then downgraded to someone who would make opening remarks, and then replaced on the website by the consul general, apparently to stymie the concerted opposition that was mounting from Lithuanian Holocaust survivors, a leading figure in the Lithuanian Jewish community, the Leyzer Ran family, among others. But then, on the evening itself, the minister, who never retracted his 2010 antisemitic outburst, was announced for a  heroic late arrival.

Meanwhile in Vilnius, where the ‘Yivo Room’ is likewise being touted as a done deal, it has widely become known in the city’s diplomatic and Jewish circles as The Looted Books Room.

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