1 May 2012
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“Why do you love Jews so much?”

Sun, 29th April, 2012 - Posted by admin

Vilnius, the old Jewish Synagogue.

By Aage Myhre, Editor-in-Chief

I have repeatedly been asked, by Lithuanians and others why VilNews, and I as a Norwegian without a single drop of Jewish blood, love Jews so much? Recently I met a Lithuanian-American, well educated and well read, who yet bombastically trumpeted. "You lick the asses of the Jews, Aage."

During my meetings with Jews in South Africa, where 90% of the Jewish population of almost 100 000 are of Lithuanian descent, I have also been asked why I have such great interest in Litvaks.

My answer to all these, has been that I do not love Jews more than other peoples.

But I also tend to add that I am always impressed by people who achieve more than the common herd. Intelligence and wisdom are to me among the most important qualities a person can have, and I have no problem admitting that these are qualities I've seen a lot of among the Jews I have known through life.

As to the Litvaks, they were subjected to an almost total extinction here in Lithuania during the Holocaust. It was an assault and a genocide of an unimaginable scale that we must never forget, and which memory must find its fair balance in the mental as well as in the practical.

On 4 April, the United States and many other countries welcomed the decision of the Government of Lithuania to appoint a fund for Jewish property compensation, calling it an important historical step toward justice.

“This law is an important step towards the restoration of historical justice and reconciliation. We welcome these and other Lithuanian Government’s steps evaluating the legacy of the Holocaust”, the U.S. ambassador to Lithuania, Anne E. Derse, said in a statement.

The Cabinet of Minister’s decision was also praised by the special U.S. envoy on issues of anti-Semitism, Hannah Rosenthal, who said that the United States supports Lithuania’s efforts to “evaluate the complex history of the period, and the commitment to fully implement the legal framework on compensation.”

I agree with both ladies. This was a step in the right direction in terms of the relationship between the Lithuanian Jews, and what once was their beloved homeland.

Then there are Litvaks who seem to blame Lithuania and Lithuanians for everything that happened here during the Holocaust. In the Baltimore Sun this week, as an example, Olga Zabludoff writes that “Lithuania tries to whitewash its role in the Holocaust.” This in response to the Lithuanian government’s decision to establish the mentioned fund.

Usually I tend to have great respect for Olga Zabludoff’s opinions, but in this case, she goes too far. There must be limits to how much one should scorn and distrust a country and its leaders for everything they do.

Fortunately, there are also many moderate Litvaks. Ellen Cassedy in Washington and Irena Veisaite here in Vilnius are good models in this respect. Feel free to read my interview with Dr. Veisaite, here

The problem I see is that there is still a considerable gap between Litvaks and many of today's ethnic Lithuanians, as I have described above. It seems that many on both sides do not want peace and reconciliation. They do not like each other, simply, and seems to be more interested in finding errors than points of light. Such behaviours do not build bridges or enhance reconciliation. Perhaps it’s now time for both sides to become more friendly and forgiving towards each other?

Unfortunately, Lithuania is today a poor country, and to pay $ 50M is a tremendous burden on a people who are struggling more than most in Europe, but fortunately this is balanced to a very large extent by the huge, annual support
payments from the EU, Switzerland and Norway.

Germany still pays, even today, more than 60 years after WWII, in an exemplary manner for the Nazi atrocities against Lithuania and the Jewish population here. Unfortunately, there is no sign that Russia will ever do the same, for the colossal atrocities they committed against Lithuanians during and after the war. Those who lost loved ones in Siberia or in the huge bloody guerrilla warfare that went on here for 10 years after the war, will never get any compensation, I'm afraid.

My first encounter with a Jew, in the spring of 1959, took place far north in Norway

The small farm I grew up on is located on the island Senja, far north in Norway. It was by far the smallest in my native village. But my father had always collected books. Lots of books. Good books. So our little house had shelves with books from cellar to attic. And I had early thrown myself into the reading of them all, so even though we were poor materially, I felt that we were rich in many other ways.

My first trip out from the island occurred in 1959, when I was six years old, and my father and I went to the nearest small town, Harstad, with the local boat an early spring morning. What an experience! We did our first stroll around in the town so my father could do his errands. Then he took me to a cafe. What a fantastic experience! Meatballs and mushy peas as main course and blueberry porridge with cream for dessert!

In the afternoon we came to a green house in the middle of the town. "Men Outfits" was written on a large sign above the entrance door to the shop which formed the ground floor. But it was not there my father steered us. He took me up a small outdoor concrete staircase to a door on the side of the green building. There, he pressed a button.

I had obviously never seen or used a bell, so in my curious enthusiasm, I did as my father had done: - I pressed the button next to the door so fast that my father did not manage to stop me in time. He took my hand brusquely away from the call button. Then we heard steps. Heavy steps coming slowly down the internal stairs, a staircase we still could not see.

The door opened, and two good friends embraced each other. My strict Christian father and Polish-Jewish Meyer Sokolsky very much enjoyed the reunion and meeting there at the doorway to this green house in the middle of Harstad.

It smelled smoke all the way down to the entrance. The room we soon come up to was heavily fogged by smoke from pipe and cigarettes.

But what a dream of a room! Filled with books from floor to ceiling. Books on tables and chairs. Books everywhere.

I thought I had come to paradise. My first encounter with a Jew had become a reality...

The farm I grew up on is located on the island Senja, far north in Norway. It was by far the smallest in my native village.
But my father had always collected books. Lots of books. Good books. So our little house had shelves with books
from cellar to attic. And I had early thrown myself into the reading of them all, so even though we were poor
materially, I felt that we were rich in many other ways.

Photo, by Hugo Løhre, of my tiny home village, Olaheim.

Category : Lithuania in the world / Litvak forum

Comments (4)

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Olga Zabludoff's avatar

Olga Zabludoff · 2 days ago

Aage, I enjoyed reading your article very much, but I am sorry you reacted so negatively to my letter in the Baltimore Sun. I have always seen you as a fair editor who gives equal space in VilNews to all points of view. The title "Lithuania tries to whitewash its role in the Holocaust" was not mine. It was added by the editor. I submitted the piece as a "Letter to the Editor" without a head. I didn't particularly like the added title because it did not reflect what my letter was about. Most importantly, my letter was NOT in response to the Jewish property compensation fund. That was not even mentioned! Neither did I blame Lithuania or Lithuanians for "everything that happened [there] during the Holocaust."

I dealt with some of the problems existing in Lithuania today -- the problems that won't go away because the government is not confronting them honestly in order to appease the nationalist element. Rather, it employs PR campaigns to deflect from these issues and to enhance the country's image.

What is a "moderate Litvak?" One who treads on eggshells to placate the government? Perhaps they think this is the best means of building bridges to reconciliation. The way I see it, sincerity and truth, not PR, will do the most to accomplish reconciliation.
1 reply · active 2 days ago
Dear Olga. Thank you for your clarification; that it was the Baltimore Sun who added the demeaning headline of your post there, makes it all far more understandable. I have sometimes thought that you've gone too far in blaming Lithuania, but until I saw the headline in the Baltimore Sun, I still always felt that you operated within reasonable limits. I can say the same about the aforementioned post, now that I know that you were not responsible for the headline. I would recommend you to demand from the Baltimore Sun that they publish an apology for what they have done. The way the article now appears is negative for both you and Lithuania. Thanks for the clarification. You have regained my respect! Aage
Olga Zabludoff's avatar

Olga Zabludoff · 1 day ago

Dear Aage,

You are a credit to humankind and a shining example of journalism at its best. Thank you for your understanding post above. That I have redeemed myself in your estimation is important to me. We have always had a good relationship and I would not want to damage that. And please know that I am 100% for reconciliation. I am fighting for it, not against it. Olga
Geoff Vasil's avatar

Geoff Vasil · 5 hours ago

Aage Myhre:--

I don't exactly understand why Litvaks would or should _want_ to build bridges with Lithuanians right now, because there is almost zero recognition of the Lithuanian Holocaust among Lithuanians at large, the government actively perpetuates double genocide while _claiming_ to make strides forward with initiatives not asked for by the actual living Litvak community, and worse, stages PR events over and over again with no Litvak involvement but claiming to be meetings with Lithuanian Jews.

The compensation for _religious_ properties finally passed after 20 years of stalling is, according to all sides when they are speaking frankly, symbolic. It doesn't begin to cover the true value of all lost religious properties, and doesn't even address private prorperty. It is important, in my opinion, but when viewed in the light of all the other basically anti-Litvak initiatives by the Kubilius and other earlier governments, it doesn't appear sincere at all. And sincerity is what's at stake here, since the actual sum is symbolic.

My father collected and still collects books, too, and I can relate to your experience very well. We also lived on a somewhat remote island for a time, with all those books. My first girlfriend was Jewish, so I guess I found a somewhat different form of paradise than you did at Meyer Sokolski's bachelor pad :)

I also happen to think there are such things as advanced cultures, I am not a complete cultural relativist, and I believe Jewish culture is very old and very advanced. I think Japanese culture is advanced. At some point there was perhaps a bit of Litvak chauvinism in play, since Vilna was seen as the cultural capital of European Jewry, and no matter how humble one is, if one is told over and over "You are the elite," one begins to wonder if it isn't perhaps true. As Lithuanians were moving ahead with their own form of ethnic revival, nationalism and even chauvinism, they were forced, in their own minds, to create nationalist myths and legends of equal antiquity as a basis for justifying their statehood against, perhaps, and I'm speculating, the claims of stateless Yiddishland with its capital Vilna. Lithuanians looked back to Germany for support: Goethe and Herder on the archaicness of the Lithuanian language, coeval with Sanskrit, and then the "Aryan" supremacy philosophy fostered in Nazi Germany.

At some point both sides needed to get off their high horse and build bridges. That never did happen, and couldn't, because one side murdered the other instead. Now we are left with the option of either recognizing and admitting that, or denying it. There can't really be build-bridging between Litvak survivors and Lithuanians until the basic facts in the case are admitted. Of course there are plenty of Lithuanian Jews who have to live here and have found ways to keep such subjects out of polite conversation with Lithuanians, or who are afraid for their jobs and families and cannot afford to say such things, because of the real threats of job termination, and physical violence against them. And there are Jews who go along to get along, Quislings if you like. Litvaks who aren't afraid for their lives and livelihoods, in Israel for example, aren't reluctant to tell Lithuanians to their faces how things stand. I was impressed to see Knesset speaker Rivkin do just that in the Lithuanian parliament several years ago.

I am not a Jew and I do not speak for Jews or Litvaks or anyone but myself, but that's how things look to me.

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