Ambassador Steinar Gil
Dozens of residents of Vilnius came to an evening this week to honor the visit of former Norwegian ambassador to Lithuania HE Steinar Gil (stationed in the Lithuanian capital from 2006 to 2011) and his wife Turi. Ambassador Gil played a legendary role in a number of human rights battles over the years.
Among those in attendance were Jewish veteran of the anti-Nazi partisans, Fania Yocheles Brantsovsky, who recently celebrated her 92nd birthday, and Milan Chersonski, long-time editor (1999-2011) of the Jewish community’s newspaper Jerusalem of Lithuania. There were representatives (ambassadors or consuls) from seven foreign embassies and a number of prominent personalities from the arts, media, business, and academia.
Erklæring på 70-årsdagen
for Wannsee-konferansen om Den endelige løsning
På 70-årsdagen for naziledelsens formelle vedtak om ”Den endelige løsning på det jødiske problem” vil undertegnede
According to historians, the largest slaughter of people in a single day in the history of the Baltic states occurred on the 29th of October 1941, when between nine and ten thousand Jews were gruesomely killed at the ‘Ninth Fort’ near Kaunas (Kovno), Lithuania, under Nazi German command. Highly motivated local forces carried out most of the killing and the associated humiliation and degradation of the victims. To mark the occasion there is a commemoration ceremony at the site held each year at midday on the last Sunday in October. This year it was held today, under a bright sun that warmed the clear chill of late fall in Lithuania.
Organized by the Jewish Community of Kaunas, and addressed by its leader, Gercas (Hershl) Žakas, this year’s event drew just over a hundred people, filling less than half the paved plaza near the memorial dais. Survivors present expressed concern for the future status of Ninth Fort remembrance here, and Holocaust commemoration more generally. The concern echoes various factors, including the gradual disappearance of survivors and witnesses, the shrinking of the vestigial Jewish community, and the shifting political trends.
Norway’s ambassador to Lithuania HE Steinar Gil has emerged as a Baltic region champion of human rights, at a time when the Lithuanian government continues its gestures of support for the March 11th neo-Nazi marchers (parallel to Latvian leaders’ stout defense of the March 16th Waffen SS march in Riga). Speaking at a March 19th forum on ‘European and Lithuanian Values’ at the Lithuanian parliament, Ambassador Gil remarked for the record: ‘Every foreigner in Lithuania noticed this march, where the participants were shouting “Lithuania for Lithuanians”. We were shocked.’ The ambassador also pointed out politely that fifty parliamentarians had signed a petition to ban the Baltic Pride gay-rights parade. He asked: How many had spoken up against the nationalist march? He added that every person with respect for herself or himself and for her or his country should condemn this kind of manifestation. Others who have spoken up include Irish ambassador HE Dónal Denham; UK ambassador HE Simon Butt; and Lithuania’s sole Liberal member of the European Parliament, Prof. Leonidas Donskis.
HE Steinar Gil publicly criticized the government’s and the elites’ silence and spirit of benign acquiescence following the neo-Nazi march. Speaking at a March 19th forum on ‘European and Lithuanian Values’ Ambassador Gil remarked: ‘Every foreigner in Lithuania noticed this march, where the participants were shouting “Lithuania for Lithuanians”. We were shocked.’
Ambassador Gil also pointed out that 50 parliamentarians had signed a petition to ban the Baltic Pride parade and asked how many Lithuanian parliamentarians and officials have spoken up against the Nationalist march? He added that every person with respect for herself or himself and for her or his country should condemn this kind of manifestation.
At the initiative of Norway’s ambassador to Lithuania HE Steinar Gil, a group of ambassadors and chiefs of mission defied persistent rain to go on a historical walking tour of the Vilna Ghetto, where Fania Yocheles Brantsovsky, 87, librarian of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute, recounted the history of the city’s anti-Nazi resistance. They represented the embassies of Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Norway, Poland, Portugal and Russia. Britain, Canada and the United States had participated on a previous date.
The walk was preceded by a meeting at the Jewish Community of Lithuania addressed by Norwegian ambassador HE Steinar Gil, JCL chairman Dr Shimon Alperovich, executive director Mr Simon Gurevich, and Professor Dovid Katz of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute. The event is perceived as a meaningful response to the campaign of defamation targeting Jewish veterans of the anti-Nazi resistance (see below at 28 October 2009). Report at: Responses (→ 26 Nov 2009).