Lithuanian Foreign Ministry Triumphantly Announces Its Yivo Coup — A Capitulation on ‘(Looted) Books and (Hijacked) Brand’ Sought for Two Decades — on 23 September, Day of Commemoration for the Vilna Ghetto
But confusion reigns after Yivo director tells Jewish press in New York that surrender of books and brand is not yet final
Yivo’s 22 Sept. ‘Vilna Ghetto Experience’ Event: Lithuanian Foreign Minister, Originally ‘Guest of Honor’, is Replaced by Local Consul General on Yivo Website
But Yivo’s director tells the Forward he still hopes to see FM at concert; Calls those who disagree with his Lithuania policy ‘well-oiled fanatics’ who are ‘whipped up into a froth by very irresponsible journalists’; Director’s earlier memos to Yivo staff issued 9 Sept. and 13 Sept. include his pronouncements on legalized swastikas and the foreign minister’s record
JUST IN: WIESENTHAL CENTER ISSUES STATEMENT
OPEN CALLS TO YIVO’S LEADERS:
Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel ♦ Didier Bertin (Society for Promotion of European Human Rights, France) ♦ Milan Chersonski (Jerusalem of Lithuania, Vilnius) ♦ Dovid Katz (DefendingHistory.com, Vilnius) ♦ Dov Levin (Jerusalem) ♦ Stacye Mehard (Norfolk, Virginia) ♦ Yossi Melman (Haaretz, Tel Aviv) ♦ Leyzer Ran Family Protest (New York) ♦ Simon Wiesenthal Center ♦ Selection of comments (including David Fishman, Allan Nadler, Elan Steinberg, Efraim Zuroff) in P. Berger’s Forward report
21 September 2011 The Lithuanian government’s ‘loyal PR forces’ in downtown Manhattan caved in to the inevitable, and removed from the program the foreign minister, who never apologized for his antisemitic comments. Earlier, the Yivo website downgraded the FM from ‘guest of honor’ to one of two persons making opening comments. But Thursday’s concert, sponsored by the Lithuanian government, is apparently going ahead with the same sponsorship, replacing one official with another, in sharp distinction to Yad Vashem’s cancelation of the culture minister this week at its Vilna Ghetto memorial in Jerusalem (see item above). On 20 September, the Simon Wiesenthal Center called on Yivo to follow the moral clarity of Yad Vashem’s response. Report in Makor Rishon.
By contrast, Yad Vashem’s Vilna Ghetto memorial event was held in Jerusalem on Monday 19 September without Lithuanian government officials. Yad Vashem invited Joseph Melamed, the latest accused Holocaust survivor, to speak at the event. Undiminished at 86, he spoke powerfully, referring to each of the nine alleged war criminals he is accused of ‘libeling’. The wreath was laid by Dr. Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office.
Over in New York City, the Lithuanian foreign minister (previously downgraded from ‘Guest of Honor’ to ‘His Honorable…’) has been replaced on the program for the 22 Sept. ‘Vilna Ghetto Experience’ event with ‘Valdemaras Sarapinas, Consul General of the Republic of Lithuania’ (at the New York consulate, that is).
It is left unclear whether Yivo stands by its director’s memos of 9 September 2011 and 13 Sept 2011, marking staunch acceptance of the entire Lithuanian government PR line on such matters as legalized public swastikas, and the antisemitic statements of the foreign minister. His proclamations of loyalty to the Lithuanian government’s ‘Jewish Affairs policies’ passed over in disturbing silence some of the most salient issues, including the 2011 state-sponsored campaign to glorify the local Holocaust killers of 1941 as ‘freedom fighters’ and the law that effectively criminalizes accepted Western views of the Holocaust.
Will Yivo at its ‘Vilna Ghetto Experience’ Concert on Thursday honor Dr. Rachel Margolis, Vilna Ghetto survivor and partisan resistance hero who feels unable to return to Lithuania because of kangaroo ‘investigations’ by Vilnius prosecutors?
News awaited on Yivo Director’s plan to surrender Yivo’s looted archives in Vilnius
There are also raised hopes that Yivo will now drop talk of legitimizing the looting of those of its treasures still held ‘hostage’ in Vilnius by Lithuanian authorities, and demand their rapid return to their rightful owner.
“We also ask that Yivo continue to pursue the return of its looted archives and ask for the swift return of these materials to the one legitimate Yivo, in New York City, which we believe to be their rightful owner and most judicious, suitable guardian.”
Double Larceny: Looting the Books — and the Brand too
Astute elements of the right-wing Lithuanian government hope to turn the looted archive into a kind of Double Larceny. It would be a historic twofold coup of koshering the ‘stolen goods’ stigma and winning at the same time the central PR ‘Jewish toy’ for Vilnius: a shambolic ‘Yivo Room’ (in a country where the last Jewish professor was fired in 2010 for speaking out on Jewish issues) that would help cover, by way of usurpation of the Yivo brand, at least for naive foreigners, for the campaign to downgrade the Holocaust in European history and domestic antisemitism. It would also help cover for the state-sponsored campaign to glorify local Holocaust perpetrators (see Current Affairs line at right of page which features protests by courageous Lithuanian citizens including Evaldas Balčiūnas, Liudas Truska, Nida Vasiliauskaitė, Geoff Vasiliauskas, and Tomas Venclova).
17 September 2011 The plan of Yivo leaders, called ‘tragic’ by some, to ‘sell out the brand’ to a far-right East European government seeking cover for a campaign to downgrade the Holocaust in European history (and ‘balance’ for state-endorsed antisemitism domestically) seemed in big trouble by the weekend. Resonant voices of the remnant Holocaust survivor, Litvak, Yiddish and resident Jewish communities, sometimes all thought of as moribund, had on this occasion reached critical mass, coming to ‘a level of expression apparently not anticipated by those forces adept at cashing in on Yiddish and Litvak heritage (without bothering to master either)’, as one member of Yivo’s staff put it to DH.com this weekend in a not-for-attribution conversation.
As future historians might see it, the central document, and point where the scales tipped, was a powerful public letter, dated 16 September, with twelve pages of added evidence, compiled in memory of the late Leyzer Ran (1912-1995), author of Jerusalem of Lithuania (III vols, NY 1974), signed by three generations of his family: his wife Basheva, daughter Faye and granddaughter Davina.
This was followed by the succinct public letter from Professor Dov Levin of Jerusalem, dated 17 September. Professor Levin is a Holocaust survivor, veteran of the Jewish partisans, and author of dozens of major works on Lithuanian Jewry, including an encyclopedic volume on destroyed Lithuanian Jewish communities (Jerusalem 1996) and the book The Litvaks (Jerusalem 2000).
Since the Yivo debacle got underway, DefendingHistory.com has posted public statements by Milan Chersonski, longtime editor of the Lithuanian Jewish community’s newspaper; Yossi Melman of Haaretz; and the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel, one of the world’s last active organizations of Holocaust survivors from Lithuania.
16 September 2011 The community of the Yivo Institute for Jewish Research, a constituent part of the Center for Jewish History in downtown Manhattan, has before it two weighty decisions, both with momentous consequences for the integrity and future of the world’s major Yiddish research institution, founded in Vilna in 1925.
First: Whether to go ahead with an ill-starred invitation to the Lithuanian foreign minister, known for his antisemitic tirade of 2010, at a Vilna Ghetto commemoration this Thursday 22 September 2011.
Second: Whether to legitimize the looting of Yivo papers and books found in modern Vilnius by allowing the ‘Jewish PR department’ of the Lithuanian government to keep the materials in Vilnius as one of the capital’s ‘Jewish toys’ instead of returning them to their rightful owner.
The tide of debate swirling around Yivo took a new turn this week with a firm moral decision by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem on a remarkably similar question. In view of the new state-sponsored campaign against a Holocaust survivor (see item above), Yad Vashem rescinded its invitations to the Lithuanian culture minister and ambassador who were slated to appear at a 23 September memorial, also for the Vilna Ghetto (see Yossi Melman in Haaretz; picked up by the Associated Press and reported in the Jerusalem Post).
The plot thickens. Although Mr. Melman’s earlier 7 Sept. report on the new campaign against Holocaust survivor Joseph Melamed by the Lithuanian government did not even mention Yivo issues, Yivo’s director slammed it as ‘outrageous’ in a memo circulated to all Yivo staff on 9 Sept. (see Mr. Melman’s response on DefendingHistory.com). That memo attached the Lithuanian ambassador’s response as ‘evidence’ for what the Yivo director called his own ‘very thorough investigation’. There was speculation that he may have taken offense at the Open Letter issued on 6 Sept. by the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel and signed by its elected chairman, who is Mr. Melamed.
But there is also extensive conversation in Yivo circles about Lithuanian government PR, down to every last talking point, becoming the prime concern, with loyalty to Holocaust survivors and Vilna Jewish partisans, Yiddish and its speakers and scholars, and guardianship of the legitimate assets and historic purpose of Yivo assuming the roles of irksome obstacles.
Mr. Melman had accurately reported that Lithuanian police demanded that Israeli police question 86 year old Holocaust survivor and resistance hero Joseph Melamed (see also the 30 August DefendingHistory.com report). Mr. Melamed is being accused of ‘slandering’ national Lithuanian heroes whose names appear in a book he published back in 1999 on local participants in the Lithuanian Holocaust (details here). The Lithuanian government is in 2011 financing an array of activities glorifying the Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF), which launched the Holocaust in the country before the arrival of Nazi forces, and which announced its intentions for Jewish citizens in a series of leaflets that preceded the Nazi invasion.
On 12 Sept, Milan Chersonski, longtime editor of Jerusalem of Lithuania, the newspaper of the Jewish Community of Lithuania released his Open Letter to the director of Yivo (the Russian version was published a day later). Penned in a personal capacity, the letter concerns Yivo’s decision to invite the Lithuanian foreign minister to the planned September 22nd commemoration of the Vilna Ghetto.
In an abrupt climbdown that caused some fury in the Lithuanian foreign ministry, the title ‘Guest of Honor’ was abruptly dropped from Yivo’s website following the 7 Sept. Forward report on Yivo’s decision to honor the Lithuanian foreign minister at the Vilna Ghetto commemoration (image of the longstanding text below). It is not known if the 4 Sept. public letter from a French human rights association also impacted the wording change.
But there is still no public indication that Yivo would respect the feelings of Holocaust survivors that the people who should be honored at the Vilna Ghetto commemoration are its survivors and resistance heroes, not the foreign minister of the one state on the planet that continues to prosecute Holocaust survivors for having survived by joining the anti-Nazi resistance.
Yivo Director Trashes Jewish Critics of Some Lithuanian Government Policies
In the meantime, Yivo’s director has circulated at least two memos (9 September and 13 September) to his entire staff. Most controversially, he belittles the voices of Holocaust survivors as those of the ‘helpless’ and ‘ageing’. The implication is that they are not to be taken seriously, even on matters concerning the Holocaust in their own country of origin. Recent protests of robust and courageous Holocaust survivors are reported here, here, here and here. In the first of the two memos, he also defends Lithuania’s policy on swastikas.
The Forward article by Paul Berger also documents comments by national Jewish leaders, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, historians and a former head of Yivo.
The article also documents consideration of a proposal that Yivo effectively forfeit its own looted treasures to the East European government leading the charge for downgrading of the Holocaust by legislation in the European Parliament (Mr. Berger’s earlier report is here).
The Forward thereby confirmed rumors circulating that the Yivo evening is tied to a more enduring abdication. Yivo would (a) effectively capitulate in its efforts to retrieve its own looted books and archives that the Lithuanian government has refused to return, and (b) empower that government to use them as one of its ‘Jewish PR toys’ for foreigners, in a ‘Yivo Room’ at the Lithuanian National Library on the capital’s main boulevard, where on the local scene, neo-Nazi marches have been granted legal permits since 2008.
In 2010, a Lithuanian court legalized public swastikas, and the parliament effectively criminalized mainstream Western views of the Holocaust. In 2011, local Holocaust perpetrators were extensively honored as ‘national heroes’. The Lithuanian foreign minister, about to be honored by Yivo, never withdrew his 2010 antisemitic tirade (reported also on LithChat), which drew a statement of protest from the small remnant Jewish community in Lithuania. The community went on to publish the statement in English, Lithuanian, Russian and Yiddish.
DefendingHistory.com, which has stressed its own position of not assigning blame to the Lithuanian people for the current government’s policies, offers a page honoring bold Lithuanian citizens who have spoken out. In recent times, Evaldas Balčiūnas, Liudas Truska, Nida Vasiliauskaitė and Tomas Venclova have been among those to speak out courageously against the state’s campaign to glorify the local mass murderers of 1941 as ‘national heroes’. Presumably the leaders of Yivo are likewise impressed by their courage. RELATED: Proposed ‘7 solutions’ to irksome Lithuanian-Jewish issues.