O P I N I O N
REPRINT FROM “David’s Blog” at: http://davidpaulbooks.wordpress.com/2011/02/10/99/.
As duly noted by the blog’s editor, the author, Professor E. Zimroth, is the recipient of the government’s Lithuanian Millennium Star, awarded to her by the foreign minister in a ceremony at the Lithuanian consulate in New York. That foreign minister’s subsequent comments on the period of Nazi rule in his country are available here.
Professor Zimroth is one of a number of Western Jewish dignitaries honored by the Lithuanian government. The public letter referred to by the author is available here.
Prof Zimroth wrote: You keep asking me to respond to these charges (most of them coming from Dovid Katz), but I think the Lithuanian government will probably have to do so. So far they’ve rather honorably withheld comment, but perhaps it’s time for them to combat some of the misinformation that seems to be flying around.
But I should say, just for starters, that when I look at the list of signers here, I’m a bit taken aback. For one thing, Dovid Katz, as I’m sure you know, is no longer affiliated with the Vilnius Yiddish Institute, and as far as I know has no academic affiliation, nor is he a ‘Professor’. Lately he’s unfortunately allied himself with Zuroff. (For Zuroff’s reputation, you should read Barry Rubin’s essays in Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post.)
“For one thing, Dovid Katz, as I’m sure you know, is no longer affiliated with the Vilnius Yiddish Institute, and as far as I know has no academic affiliation, nor is he a ‘Professor’. Lately he’s unfortunately allied himself with Zuroff. (For Zuroff’s reputation, you should read Barry Rubin’s essays in Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post.)”
—Professor Evan Zimroth
Katz’s website is full of inaccuracies, or at least it was the last time I looked. Moreover, the Wiesenthal Institute is being investigated for, let’s say, ‘exaggerating’ its claims, and I hope someone is doing a serious investigative report of its funding sources as well, which I’ve heard are unsavory, to say the least. That’s a topic for some very good investigative journalist to take up, and I hope someone does. At the very least, it would be interesting to know who actually is funding Zuroff and Katz. As for the signer from New York, I thought there was no such entity as ‘The Metropolitan College of New York’; I had certainly never heard of it. I googled it, however, and found it does issue a few degrees, to what are called ‘non-traditional’ students. Some of the institutions listed below are bona fide and reputable; others I would question. My point is, it would be a good idea to be skeptical.
“Moreover, the Wiesenthal Institute is being investigated for, let’s say, ‘exaggerating’ its claims, and I hope someone is doing a serious investigative report of its funding sources as well, which I’ve heard are unsavory, to say the least. That’s a topic for some very good investigative journalist to take up, and I hope someone does. At the very least, it would be interesting to know who actually is funding Zuroff and Katz.”
—Professor Evan Zimroth
Yes, the Genocide Museum should be reconfigured, and I’m sure it will be once there’s the funding for it. The US State Department is also concerned that it doesn’t give enough weight to the Holocaust, but changing museum exhibitions doesn’t happen without a substantial shift within the Museum itself, and funding and support from the Museum board of directors. There’s no museum in London or New York (or anywhere) that can change its focus overnight. That being said, the criticism is valid; my guess is that it’s already under consideration within the Genocide Museum itself, and that the exhibitions will ultimately change.
Some of the changes requested in the petition below have already been endorsed and funded by the Lithuanian government, in their 8 December 2010 resolution, put forward by the Prime Minister, Andrius Kubilius.
There was a ‘double genocide’ in the 20th century. The Lithuanian government has gone on record as not ‘equating’ Stalinism and Naziism, but both murdered millions and should be studied accordingly. Studying them does not mean automatically equating them.
I could certainly go on …. But just one last thing …. I seriously doubt that the Foreign Minister made anti-Semitic remarks. I’ve met him and been with him and talked with him at length, and think it extremely unlikely. I do know, though, as anyone should, that the press easily distorts remarks, and that some elements of the Lithuanian press are more unreliable than others. But his office should be clarifying any remarks he made, and I hope they do.
When you (thank goodness!) have a free press and a free and independent judiciary, all kinds of things happen, as we well know in the UK and the USA. There are libel laws that protect defamation of character, and there are private property laws that should be enforced in all of our countries, whether the incidents under review are anti-semitic or anti-something else. The legislature can also pass laws criminalizing ‘hate speech’ (as the US has done), but this issue is controversial and should be fully debated. As for the judiciary, an ‘investigation’ where witnesses are called on to testify, as in our grand jury system, is not at all the same thing as a ‘prosecution’; the two should not be confused. The US judiciary investigates all the time, as does the UK. Should those three anti-Nazi partisans have been asked or required to testify at a hearing? I think not, and am on record (and on video, from SEIS) opposing it, but the three are not endangered or liable to prosecution. And, in a country like yours and mine and of course in Lithuania, the legislative branch cannot interfere with the judiciary. Do the signers below wish to live in a country where the judicial branch is manipulated by the legislative branch? You can go to Iran for that, or Moscow.
It would be nice to know that all of the British signers below are equally vociferous about anti-semitism in the UK. Did they protest the efforts of the various teachers’ unions to demonize and withdraw support from Israel? Did they protest the recent efforts of the Cambridge Union (the debating society) to vilify Israel and isolate its Jewish supporters? Are they handing petitions to the various mosques and embassies in England protesting anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiments? I certainly hope so.
I myself in my ten years of working with the Lithuanians on Jewish-Lithuanian relations and history have found nothing but goodwill and an authentic and very moving desire to come to terms with, comprehend and appreciate all aspects of Lithuanian-Jewish history, including the tragedies of the Holocaust. But there’s much more to this shared history than the Holocaust, and a great deal of very complex (and in some ways, positive, even glorious) history going back to the 13th century. As for the Lithuanians I personally know and work with, I would say there’s more philo-semitism than anything else, and at bottom a sincere and dedicated commitment to righting the wrongs of the past, as much as possible, and a commitment to move forward with common values. I personally am extremely fond of my Lithuanian friends (both Jewish and non-Jewish), and always touched by — despite what they and their families suffered under Stalinism — their commitment to appreciate Jewish customs and values. They value the Jewish tradition as part of their own history, almost eradicated by Naziism and then obliterated even as a matter of study, by Stalinism. It’s remarkable to see how much they’ve accomplished in establishing a democratic, civic culture in their twenty years of independence. It’s not that Lithuanian society is free of bigotry (is your country? is mine?), and certainly there are problems that need to be addressed, but I would like to support and celebrate good-faith efforts and certainly not try to derail them. I am very optimistic about moving forward.
I’ll be in London in March (through June) and more than happy to meet and talk to anyone on this list, to talk about my own position and why I support these Lithuanian initiatives. If you could introduce me to anyone you know here, please do so! You know Lord Janner, don’t you? I would really appreciate a meeting with him, if you could set that up. Meanwhile I hope the Lithuanian government itself departs from its obvious policy of withholding analysis and criticism of these attacks, and takes some steps to clarify its positions. Meanwhile I’m sure you’ll enjoy the conference. As I said, I know several of the scholars (in fact, some of them spoke at the conference I organized for YIVO on Lithuanian-Jewish history, in 2002, in New York and Washington), and it should be a terrific and rewarding event. I wish I could be there!
You may, if you like, send this letter around ….