by Dovid Katz
VILNIUS—An array of local observers, speaking as usual off the record here, declared themselves “in shock” over the official response to the Jewish Community released by Prosecutor General Rimvydas Valentukevičius yesterday, dealing with widespread requests that the state’s Genocide Center — with which his Prosecutor General’s office has closely cooperated on Holocaust issues for many years — release the list of around two thousand names of alleged Holocaust murderers that it recently announced it had compiled, drawing international press attention. Over the years, the Center has been critiqued by the Wiesenthal Center and by various authors in Defending History for its alleged history-distorting antics; Evaldas Balčiūnas and Andrius Kulikauskas are among the boldest challengers of the Center’s moral integrity. (See also DH’s page on the Genocide Center, and on the museum which it directs in central Vilnius.)
The Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel has long maintained an estimate of 23,000 local perpetrators involved in the killing. Thousands were listed on the Association’s website until June 2009 when the Israeli Foreign Ministry, under pressure from Lithuanian counterparts, itself harshly pressured the Association’s then chairperson to remove the list from its website. But it continues to circulate widely both on the internet and its fuller form is preserved in Joseph Melamed’s 1999 book, Crime and Punishment (Tel Aviv 1999), where the lists of alleged killers are organized by region and town.
The Jewish Community today published an official English translation of the prosecutor general’s letter (reproduced also below for rapid reference). The shock factor consists of the letter’s failure to even mention the main issue: whether the list of alleged Holocaust perpetrators will be released or not. The tale has seen its twists and turns in recent months. The lay-leader chairperson of the Jewish community at first agreed with the Genocide Center’s decision to “delay” release of the list. Then, after an international scandal came with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s coverage, as well as critiques by author Sergejus Kanovičius and Dr. Efraim Zuroff, director of the Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office, she reversed course, and wrote to the Genocide Center, with copies to the prosecutors, asking for investigation and indeed, public release of the names, winning the praise of the Wiesenthal Center.
Could it be? Vilnius prosecutors who have defamed, harassed and investigated Holocaust survivors for a decade (2006-2016) have now failed to call for the release of the Genocide Center’s 2016 list of alleged Holocaust perpetrators.
Potential accusations of ultranationalist Baltic bias in favor of the perpetrators (with possible undertones of antisemitism) come into the picture following the decade of history of the affair. For many years, Mr. Valentukevičius has been one of the key figures involved in state prosecutors’ efforts to investigate and launch pre-trial investigations against Jewish Holocaust survivors who were not among the 96.4% of Lithuanian Jewry that was murdered, precisely because they had joined up with the anti-Nazi Soviet-sponsored partisans in the Lithuanian forests, the only local force providing effective opposition to the genocidal Nazi occupation. Not a single charge was ever issued but the defamation for posterity and history continues unabated in books, papers, articles, on the web and in the press, in the absence of written state apologies which have to this day not been forthcoming. The international response has generally been that these Jewish survivors, including Dr. Yitzhak Arad (born 1926), Fania Yocheles Brantsovsky (Brancovskaja, born 1922), Dr. Rachel Margolis (1921-2015), were in effect “accused of having survived.” Dr. Margolis passed away in Rehovot last summer without fulfilling her dying wish of one last visit to her beloved native Vilna. In August 2011, representatives of Interpol (!) interviewed Joseph Melamed (born 1924) in Tel Aviv at the behest of the Lithuanian prosecutors who were accusing him of “libeling national heroes,” resulting in yet another international fracas. The then Lithuanian ambassador in Tel Aviv referred in public to the alleged nine Holocaust collaborators as having been “falsely accused of serious crimes” (emphasis added).
In April 2006, Mr. Valentukevičius was quoted in the antisemitic daily Respublika on his role in developing the “case” against Dr. Arad, and again in Wikipedia on his reasons for pursuing, for years, his “investigation” against Holocaust survivor, hero of the anti-Nazi resistance, and former director of Yad Vashem (for over twenty years). In 2009, he confirmed that his investigation against Fania Yocheles Brantsovsky was still ongoing, after local parliamentarians protested bitterly about a German government award to Ms. Brantsovsky. The same year he had gingerly confirmed to the media that prosecutors were in effect pursuing a political campaign, not a criminal investigation: “Valentukevičius said the prosecutor cannot stop the dissemination of information on the Jewish webpage because without a court verdict that is unfortunately without legal possibilities. There are only political possibilities.”
In Danny Ben-Moshe’s critical 2012 documentary, Rewriting History, Mr. Valentukevičius, asked whether Rachel Margolis can safely return to Vilnius for one last visit to her home town without fear of harassment and prosecution, replied: “Are you her lawyer?” (followed by Prof. Ben-Moshe’s commentary).
Back in May 2008, the prosecutor general’s office was apparently involved in the media leak claiming that Rachel Margolis and Fania Yocheles Brantsovsky could not be found (!).
His office continued to sport a defamatory web page about Dr. Yitzhak Arad until early 2016.
It seems that the same prosecutor’s office that has for a decade publicly defamed Holocaust survivors who joined the resistance as suspected “war criminals” is now unwilling to even release the list of alleged Holocaust perpetrators compiled by the state’s own Genocide Center. Like Defending History, historian Yitzhak Arad has maintained that the entire campaign against the Jewish partisans is part of the wider effort to distort and invert the narrative of history.
There has still not been the smallest specific accusation by Mr. Valentukevičius and his team of state prosecutors about any of the anti-Nazi partisans his office has defamed for a decade now. As the Jewish Community of Lithuania pointed out back in 2008, in a statement issued jointly with the local Union of Former Ghetto and Concentration Camp Prisoners:
“The prosecutors of Lithuania do not cease to persecute anti-Nazi Jewish partisans. The Prosecution Service’s claims that “hundreds of witnesses are being questioned” are belied by the fact that only Jewish names are being heard in the media: Yitzhak Arad, Fania Brantsovsky, Rachel Margolis, and others.”
The following translation of prosecutor Rimvydas Valentukevičius’s letter to the Jewish Community appeared today on the community’s website. The text, including the headline provided by the community website, reads as follows:
Prosecutor General Responds to Lithuanian Jewish Community Call to Release the List of Suspected Holocaust Perps
March 2, 2016 No. 37
Office of Prosecutor Generalof the Republic of Lithuania
February 29, 2016 No. 17.2.-2521
re: February 11, 2016, No. 179
To: Faina Kukliansky, attorney, chairwoman,
Lithuanian Jewish Community
Re: possible actions in connection with a list compiled by the Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of the Residents of Lithuania of people suspected of committing or otherwise abetting the murder of people of Jewish ethnicity during World War II
Directed by the leadership of the Office of Prosecutor General, the Criminal Prosecution Department has examined your letter of February 11, 2016, to the Prosecutor General of the Republic of Lithuania and the director general of the Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of the Residents of Lithuania (henceforth CSGRRL) containing proposals by the Lithuanian Jewish Community on possible actions in connection with the list of people alleged to have committed or otherwise abetted the genocide of people of Jewish ethnicity during World War II compiled by the CSGRRL, and having considered these suggestions, we affirm that the Prosecutor General’s Office, operating within its area of competence and under the criminal code of the Republic of Lithuania, and under the law of the Republic of Lithuania of May 2, 1990, on the restoration of rights of people repressed for opposing the occupational regimes, after receiving from the CSGRRL a detailed list based on complete archival data of people alleged to have taken part in the genocide of the Jewish people, will assess all information received. After assessing it and only if there is a legal foundation for beginning a pretrial investigation of one of the aforementioned people on the list for the aforementioned criminal actions, for which there is no statute of limitations for criminal prosecution, the prosecutor will undertake the appropriate decisions for proceeding with the case.
After investigation of the aforementioned list, based on article 6 of the law on the restoration of the rights of people repressed for opposing the occupational regimes, the Prosecutor General will also make a decision using the powers granted under this law on whether to present to the Supreme Court of Lithuania requests for renewing deliberation in cases of the restoration of civil rights (rehabilitation) regarding those people who were convicted during the Soviet occupational period or otherwise repressed for participating in the mass murder of people of Jewish ethnicity and who were rehabilitated based on the aforementioned law of the Republic of Lithuania of May 2, 1990, asking such people be de-rehabilitated (that earlier decisions by the Prosecutor General for the restoration of their civil rights be annulled).
It should be noted in consideration of objective factors and circumstances that there are limited possibilities for the initiation and opening of criminal investigations of crimes against humanity and war crimes against unarmed Jewish and other civilians in the manner described and during that period, but that de-rehabilitation of people convicted during the Soviet period of these types of crimes and of people otherwise repressed began in the Republic of Lithuania on March 25, 1998, when a new version of the May 2, 1990 law of the Republic of Lithuania on the restoration of rights of people repressed for opposing the occupational regimes came into force, and that this de-rehabilitation process continues to the present time.
We would be grateful to the Lithuanian Jewish Community for any help at all which would be significant in initiating, carrying out and continuing the above mentioned legal processes.
Criminal Prosecution Department