[UPDATED; FURTHER UPDATES TO 17 NOV. 2017 FOR ENGLISH SECTION ONLY]
Jump to: R. Vanagaitė’s first and second retraction. The Upshot? Articles in English. Editor’s take. Evaldas Balčiūnas’s 2014 article.
26-27 October 2017
R. Vanagaitė’s meticulous 26 Oct. 2017 media-PR rollout extraordinaire with posed photo gallery (first article in English here) of her sensational Lithuanian-Jewish Holocaust-legacy romance with partner Dr. Efraim Zuroff, legendary Nazi-hunter and director of Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office, was from the outset inextricably intertwined with serious Holocaust issues (particularly her simultaneously timed rollout against further state glorification of an alleged Holocaust collaborator), current geopolitical discourse, regional antisemitism and a host of local media celebrity spats. The following links represent only some of the media in the days from 26 Oct. 2017 onward that can help elucidate a major PR initiative on a romance self-publicized and its (for some disturbing) insertion into the long, hard battle over the truth in Lithuanian Holocaust historiography. A local wag wrote his followers to look at the Book of Judges exposition of the Samson and Delilah story.
15min.lt, with posed photo gallery of the happy couple (follow-up article sensationalizes author’s dispute with her publishers, citing connection with “the man of her heart” to current dispute over a “national hero” implicated in the Holocaust; see Evaldas Balčiūnas’s 2014 take on the same “hero” in DH plus Evaldas Balčiūnas section);
BNS report in English in the Lithuania Tribune;
Delfi.lt gets first Vanagaite interview announcing the romance to the world (Lithuania Tribune provides English translation); More Delfi.lt; Lrytas.lt; Respublika;
Žmonės.lt (concluding with plug for “the detailed interview” in this week’s print edition); Greitas.eu (“reactions”).
BACKGROUND: Vanagaitė is laureate of Simon Wiesenthal Center’s prestigious 2016 international Valor award. Defending History’s index of early reaction to her major book on the Lithuanian Holocaust. Linas Vildžiūnas’s recent review.
To 9 November 2017
Vanagaite is attacked in the media for her accusation that Adolfas Ramanauskas (nom de guerre: Vanagas) was in fact a postwar KGB agent (with attention slipping away from his alleged possible Holocaust collaboration in 1941) by modern Lithuania’s first head of state Vytautas Landsbergis; by MP and head of Parliamentary Group for Historical Memory and Justice Arvydas Anusauskas; by analyst for the Strategic and Communication Department of the Lithuanian army Aukse Ūsiene, among others. This is in addition to announcements that she was dumped by her publishers and her works banned from the Maxima retail chain (see e.g. in Bernardinai, English Delfi.lt). On Friday 27 October, her partner Dr. Efraim Zuroff powerfully and eloquently explained at the Seimas the case against Ramanauskas Vanagas as an alleged Holocaust collaborator in 1941. Vanagaite is defended by Professor Tomas Venclova.
On 29 October, Vanagaite circulates a letter walking back various of her assertions concerning Ramanauskas-Vanagas and his moral standing for Lithuania. There was no clarity on whether she was also thereby walking back the questions about his Holocaust-era role in 1941, which in the view of many would be more than enough to disqualify him from state glorification within the EU / NATO democratic area. The rapidity of her retreat after the media attacks led to new questions about her current views on whether Ramanauskas’s participation in pro-Nazi security operations during the massacre of the Jews of the Druskininkai area would on their own (i.e. without the accusations of postwar issues), in her revised view, disqualify him from having a centennial year (2018) named after him as national hero.
In the meantime, the print edition of the weekly Žmonės hits newsstands with an interview about her new autobiographical book with photo spread of her, which contains also her description of her newfound love who is “the Jewish nationality.” The spread is advertised on the cover with the text “Rūta Vanagaitė: On Her Book and Her New Love That Brought Her to Israel” and one of the interviewer’s set-piece questions is “Your new boyfriend, I presume, is not Lithuanian. He’s most probably Jewish. Since where else, if not to Israel, could your especially famous book on the Holocaust, Mūsiškiai, bring you?” (p. 36; her reply follows on p. 38).
Cnaan Liphshiz’s 30 Oct. JTA report cites survivor testimonies suggesting Holocaust involvement of units under Ramanauskas’s command (also in Forward, Jerusalem Post, etc).
Television coverage includes TV3; tv.lrytas.lt (+ here, clip ends with Vanagaitė’s bold walkout from the studio); idiena (on Youtube).
Indrė Makaraitytė (31. Oct in Delfi.lt) recounts her interview with Wiesenthal Center’s chief Nazi hunter Dr. Efraim Zuroff on day of his appearance at the Seimas (27 Oct.) and his presentation of Evaldas Balciunas’s 2014 Defending History article for background. Makaraitytė, whose article title translates “The Price of Vanagaite’s Love” also released a videotaped interview with member of Seimas (parliament) Emanuelis Zingeris who recalls being lambasted by Dr. Zuroff for “marrying a Lithuanian.”
On 31 October, the European Jewish Congress issued a statement protesting the vicious media campaign against Ms. Vanagaitė, and her publisher’s decision to pull her books, citing quotations from its chairman Moshe Kantor. On 1 November, a translation of the report appeared on Delfi.lt along with Delfi’s response effectively accusing Mr. Kantor himself of a long association with Kremlin circles, and noting that he is known in Russian media as the oligarch Viacheslav Kantor. It is this version of the news concerning EJC response (with Delfi.lt’s characterization of Mr. Kantor) that was carried without comment by the “official” Jewish community’s website. The same day, the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry issued a statement responding to the European Jewish Congress effectively accusing critics of confounding anti-Soviet resistance with Holocaust perpetrators; it also notes the regret over the EJC statement by the Defense Ministry. The statement was carried by BNS; the first to publish it was, again without comment, the website of the “official” Jewish community, though it did issue a separate statement calling for calm and respectful discussion.
On 2 November, the prime minister of Lithuania announces that his country is doing enough about the Holocaust and that his policies are approved by the (“official”) Jewish community [English version]… Citation from the official community’s website notes there is no proof of the involvement of Adlofas Ramanauskas in the Holocaust. There is no mention that the official Jewish community’s chairperson recently allegedly stole the community’s elections by a kangaroo-election mid-campaign rule change, and that the issue comes to court very soon. There is also no mention of the appropriateness of a commander of a Hitlerist militia during the outbreak of mass violence against the country’s Jews (= onset of the Holocaust) having a year (2018) named after him in the 21st century (see Editor’s Take, below).
The same day, twelfth grader Jonas Valaitis published an article in Lrytas.lt explaining how reading Rūta Vanagaitė’s book on the Holocaust changed his perspective on Lithuanian history in a healthy way.
Also on 2 November, Sergey Kanovich (Sergejus Kanovičius), founder and director of both the “Maceva” NGO and the new “Lost Shtetl” museum project in Shadov (Šeduva), wrote: “I still believe that Ruta Vanagataitė will find the strength to admit that she was mistaken, caused undeserved insult , and ask for forgiveness. Whether the authors of insulting letters and ill-considered projects, who later attacked it, want to apologize, this is the matter of their conscience” (published in Russian translation on the official Jewish Community website).
On 3 November, the media reported that Ms. Vanagaitė had issued an apology for her negative statements about Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas, walking them back further than in her earlier, 29 October statement. The Lithuania Tribune (Delfi English) the same day published the text of her public apology regarding the legacy of Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas, failing, however, to address the question of whether, in her current view, someone who reported leading a pro-Nazi militia in the early days of the Lithuanian Holocaust, in 1941, should perhaps not be the first choice for major state honors in 2018. Her own statement on that precise point is awaited by some of her readers.
Also on 3 Nov, the neo-Nazi blogger “Zeppelinus,” widely believed to be a high official in the Economy Ministry, posted a diatribe including another of his amateurish photoshops, in which a c. 2013 photo of Dr. Efraim Zuroff and Prof. Dovid Katz in a Riga cafe has Ms. Vanagaitė pasted in. He followed up with a new photo montage and post on 4 Nov. More on: Zeppelinus’s identity, racist images, and postings about Defending History’s editor.
By 5 Nov, the eminent attorney who heads (allegedly by illegal faked elections) the official state-supported Jewish community was boasting to the media and government that she had intervened (unsuccessfully) to try to stop the European Jewish Congress from criticizing the massive campaign of destruction against Ms. Vanagaite, arguing that outsiders should not mix in Holocaust questions. The Delfi.lt report has already appeared in two English translations that differ in nuance on critical points: on the English Delfi website (6 Nov) and on the Jewish community’s own website (also 6 Nov).
English translation of interview with head of the official Jewish community Faina Kukliansky in Lithuania Tribune (17 Nov. 2017); alternative translation in Defending History (17 Nov. 2017)
Izabella Tabarovsky, “Eastern Europe’s Dark Past Could Hinder its Future” in The National Interest (15 Nov. 2017)
“Professor V. Pugačiauskas: After the Crimean Occupation, Three Negative Images of Lithuania were Being Formed” in Lithuania Tribune (13 Nov. 2017)
“Attack on Partisan. Ruta Vanagaite Became the Enemy of the Whole of Lithuania” in News2night.com (11 Nov. 2017)
BNS, “Vanagaite’s Remark about Lithuanian Partisan Leader not a Crime — Prosecutors” in Lithuania Tribune (10 Nov. 2017)
“Shocking Statements by R. Vanagaitė Outside Lithuania” in Lithuania Tribune (6 Nov. 2017); LZB website’s alternative translation of the original Delfi.lt post
“Weekly of Vilnius” Provides Exclusive English Language Coverage of the Vanagaitė Saga” in Defending History (6. Nov. 2017)
“Vanagaitė Apologizes for Lying about Lithuania’s Guerrilla Leader” in Lithuania Tribune (3 Nov. 2017)
Mindaugas Jackevičius, “Public Letter by R. Vanagaitė: I Admit I Was Mistaken” in Lithuania Tribune (3 Nov. 2017)
Monika Garbačiauskaitė-Budrienė, Where Vanagaitė and Paluckas are Similar” in Lithuania Tribune (3 Nov. 2017)
Kollaborateure, KGB-Agenten” in Der Spiegel (2 Nov. 2017)
Indre Makaraitytė, “The Cost of R. Vanagaitė’s Love” in Lithuania Tribune (2. Nov. 2017) [DH comment: Dovid Katz was not spoken to for the noted article, and he has not claimed that Double Genocide is unique to Lithuania, see his writings on the subject)]
“PM Sees No Need for Lithuania to Review its Stance on Lithuanians’ Role in Holocaust” in Lithuania Tribune (2 Nov. 2017) [versions also in The Baltic Times, and official Jewish community’s website]
“Lithuanian Jewish Community Dissociates Itself from Allegations Against Partisan Leader” in Lithuania Tribune (2 Nov. 2017)
Alvydas Nikžentaitis replies to Christph Dieckmann (“National Myth is Not Simply History. Open Letter to the German Historian” in Lithuania Tribune (2 Nov. 2017)
Mindaugas Jackevičius, “German Historian [Christoph Dieckmann] Evaluates R. Vanagaite’s Statements: There is a Way Forward” in Lithuania Tribune (2 Nov. 2017)
“Lithuanian Foreign Ministry Says Not to Set Jewish Genocide against Anti-Soviet Resistance” (BNS) on official Jewish community’s website (2. Nov. 2017)
Sarah Healy in Melville House (1 Nov. 2017)
“European Jewish Congress Condemns Attacks on Lithuanian Holocaust Critics” in Arutz Sheva (31 Oct. 2017)
“Jurist Proposes how to Defend the Memory of A. Ramanauskas-Vanagas” in Lithuania Tribune (31 Oct. 2017)
“Military Analyst: R. Vanagaitė Stands at the Forefront of the Information War” in Lithuania Tribune (31 Oct. 2017)
“S. Skvernelis: Our Complaints and Worries Won’t Contain Emigration” (with references to the Vanagaite affair) in Lithuania Tribune (31 Oct. 2017)
Cnaan Liphshiz in JTA (30 Oct. 2017); also in Forward, Jerusalem Post, Times of Israel etc.
“Venclova Supported Vanagaitė; The Writer is Thinking of Moving to Israel” in News Israel Today (29 Oct. 2017)
“Publisher Withdraws Vanagaitė’s Books over Remarks About Lithuanian Partisan Leader” in Lithuania Tribune (27 Oct. 2017)
“Vanagaitė Confesses about her New Relationship: Her New Significant Other is the Well-Known Nazi Hunter E. Zuroff” in Lithuania Tribune (27 Oct. 2017)
PR rollout extraordinaire by (arguably) nation’s top PR specialist brings huge publicity and controversy to a web of issues: the public announcement of her relationship with the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s chief Nazi hunter and director of its Israel office; the launch of her new autobiographical book; her attack on Adolfas Ramanauskas not only as a potential Holocaust collaborator but also as an alleged postwar KGB agent; her publisher’s and a retail chain’s banning of her works; the attacks and defenses of her by leading members of Lithuanian society, in most cases mixing the personal and sundry historical issues in an ideal PR storm engendering maximum media coverage within Lithuania. Within a few days, the ultranationaist establishment mounted a major personal attack against the author and her partner in the usual trite and self-damaging spirit of “Protests against state honoring of alleged Nazi collaborators are just a Putinist ploy” (see Defending History’s Free Speech section, and particularly relevant to this whole debate, the Evaldas Balčiūnas section (for historical perspective please scroll to end and peruse upward in chronological order) It was Mr. Balciunas, a proud Lithuanian citizen, who in 2014 raised the public question about glorification of this particular wartime personality, without fanfare, self-aggrandizement, or hunger for publicity, and who suffered as a consequence of his series of articles about such “heroes” years of legal harassment.
Vanagaitė’s qualified retreat (of 29 Oct.) in the face of media attacks and her publisher’s dissociation left her supporters wondering whether her views of Ramanauskas’s Holocaust-era activity had not also been walked back, whether she still unequivocally condemns new 2018 state honors for an alleged Holocaust collaborator? This question became all the more acute after her second and more contrite walkback issued on 3 November.
Is it a good idea for a state, in 2018, to heap massive public honor on a historic personality who himself reported commanding a unit of pro-Nazi forces in the early days of the Lithuanian Holocaust in 1941, when there is not (yet?) a shred of evidence available of personal participation in any atrocity? At some stage, this new real debate needs to come to the fore, separate from the conceptual mess launched by last week’s botched PR-extraordinaire rollout of three separate things unwisely mushed together. Keeping one’s eye on the important question, not the celebrity personality PR-craving mindset, is so important. So, let’s conclude this with yet another formulation of the current actual question:
In a country where around 96 percent of the Jewish minority was massacred during the Holocaust, does it send the right 21st century signal to name a year (2018) for a person who himself reported commanding a pro-Nazi military unit during the very early days of the Lithuanian Holocaust, when there is no extant evidence of any direct culpability in any crime? This, in a great country with so many truly inspiring national heroes, from Mindaugas, Gediminas and Vytautas, and including the heroes of the 1918 establishment of the state (which is of course the obvious solution for a 2018 centenary celebration), and, of course, truly inspiring heroes of 1941: the amazing Lithuanian people who risked everything to do the right thing and save a neighbor, a fellow citizen of another background, at a time when the establishment of the day considered that betrayal of the national cause? Do we not all owe a vote of thanks to people who would dare bring up, in the national arena, such a question? Can we not begin to respect, at least, the question, even when it was posed in a botched PR framework that does not do justice to any of the parties; that is a minor detail in the history. The Question is the real issue of important for the present and future of European consciousness of historical justice. See more by Dovid Katz on these issues.
See Evaldas’s Balčiūnas’s 2014 article on the questions arising concerning the possible Holocaust involvement of Adolfas Ramanauskas Vanagas in 1941. See also DH’s Balčiūnas section for his own articles and a history of prosecutors’ and police harassment he has suffered as a consequence.