JERUSALEM—The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel Office today issued a press release (text below), including a quote from its director, Dr. Efraim Zuroff, calling on Visvaldas Matijošaitis, the mayor of Kaunas (Kovno), Lithuania’s second city, to ban weddings and other celebrations from the now privatized parts of the historic Seventh Fort, where thousands of Kaunas Jews were humiliated, tortured and murdered starting with the first week of the Lithuanian Holocaust in late June 1941.
Part of the Wiesental Center’s statement was rapidly covered in a Jerusalem Post report by Tamara Zieve with input from JTA that follows its own recent coverage by Cnaan Lipshiz, that had earlier attracted a response from the official Jewish Community in Vilnius. For an incomplete listing of the media reaction to the 2016 book Mūsiškiai, referenced in the press release below, see DH’s tracker page. [Update of 5 August 2016: The Kaunas Municipality website responded, denying (while sort of admitting) the reports’ veracity.]
In the meantime, human rights advocates, historians of the Holocaust, and Jewish residents are hoping that Mayor Remigijus Šimašius, who presides over the nation’s capital and first city, Vilnius (historic Vilna), with his long and wily record on Jewish affairs, will not yet again be escaping fair and balanced international questions from the wider media over his abject failure to use his proportionately greater powers (given the issues inolve public space and direct control and given his city’s PR profile as “Jerusalem of Lithuania”) to issue morally clear statements on the naming of a city center street for a Nazi collaborator, and on the defilement of the six-hundred year old Jewish cemetery about to become a national convention center where people will clap, cheer, drink and urinate over thousands of still-buried-on-site Jewish citizens of Vilnius, many of them renowned Litvak scholars. The convention center project, tied up with extensive alleged corruption, has attracted pained local and international opposition.
A year ago, a group of top Litvak rabbis came from around the world to beg Mayor Šimašius to move the convention center to another site. Still no word from the mum V-town mayor whose office and PR maestros seem to continue to manipulate an array of Jewish, pro-Jewish and Israeli figures into hapless silence. While the mayor has still to answer the rabbis, his office has gleefully invested in expensive hip Yiddish signs to condemn Soviet pilfering and abuse of Jewish gravestones, again mobilizing (and abusing) the fragile Yiddish culture in the effort to revise history in the spirit of Double Genocide and far-right revisionism.
VILNIUS RESIDENTS AND VISITORS: All invited to Julius Norwilla’s talk in English on Thursday 4 August 2016, 6PM (1800) at the Jewish Cultural and Information Center on Mesiniu 3. He will address the state of a dozen mass grave sites in the Vilnius area.
There are high hopes that the Vilnius mayor’s high-profile and widely admired Jewish advisor, Daniel Lupshitz, will himself issue at least a personal statement on the street named for a Nazi collaborator who put in writing his views on ethnic cleansing of his nation’s Jewish population, on the fate of the old Jewish cemetery, and the widespread public, municipality-approved honors for Holocaust collaborators and perpetrators.
A strong statement on the Vilnius city-center street name was published today by Sergey Kanovich in the Lithuania Tribune frontally taking on the municipality’s inaction regarding the street-name that is now the focus of attention, Škirpa Street. One of the signs for the street is tacked on to the popular-with-tourists Museum of Applied Arts and Design, a strone’s throw from the castle hill of Vilnius’s founder, the grand duke Gediminas.
An elderly Holocaust survivor in Vilnius who regularly attends synagogue services put it this way in Yiddish: “Dem Kóvner mer nemt men afn tsimbl, beshás der Vílner firt a gantsn maryanétn-teater mit di ale yídalakh” . . .
The Simon Wiesenthal Center today sent a strong letter of protest to Kaunas mayor Visvaldas Matijosaitis regarding entertainment and amusement activities being conducted for profit at the Seventh Fort, the mass murder site of 5,000 Kaunas Jews in the summer of 1941. In his letter to Mayor Matijosaitis, the Center’s Director for Eastern European Affairs, Holocaust historian Dr. Efraim Zuroff called the current situation “disgraceful” and urged the mayor to immediately suspend such activities at the site.
According to Zuroff:
As you no doubt are aware, the site of the mass murder of several thousand Jews in 1941 was privatized several years ago, and has now been turned into a recreation and entertainment center which violates the memory of the victims.
This sad situation was revealed already several months ago in Musiskiai, the book Ruta Vanagaite and I wrote about the subject of Holocaust memory and commemoration in Lithuania. More recently, a feature by Israeli journalist Cnaan Lipshiz of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency revealed that one could even hold a wedding reception at the site.
These revelations have justifiably aroused widespread indignation, and a call for action to put an end to this disgraceful situation. I urge you to immediately suspend such activities at the Seventh Fort and find a way to restore the site to the municipality or to an organization whose purpose will be to honor the memory of the victims, rather than insult them.