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).
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.
Reports on Lithuania Tribune and Delfi.lt (English translation here). Dr Efraim Zuroff’s 22 March statement of support for the ambassador.
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.
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.
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
Dr. 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.
A selection from tributes received. More on Facebook
See also: Defending History’s Rachel Kostanian section
Sepp Brudermann (Austrian film maker, former volunteer at the Green House):
“Dear Rachel, 20 years have passed, but believe it or not, I often think of you and the Green House, I tell people about you, and all the wonderful people I met – and I hope to be able to see you again my dear Rachel. Today, celebrate your birthday, celebrate LIFE! HAPPY BIRTHDAY my dear! Rachel! Lots of love and a big hug Sepp.” See also Sepp Brudermann’s video tribute.
Ambassador Simon Butt (Ambassador of the United Kingdom to Lithuania, 2008-2011):
“Dear Rachel: on your 91st birthday I would like to congratulate you on a life well lived and for the huge contribution you have made to the cause of maintaining the history of Lithuanian Jewry. The Green House, in its intimacy, scope and historical erudition celebrates a vibrant pre-war culture as well as commemorating its tragic eradication. Its modest appearance disguises the riches it contains — a portrait of an entire civilisation. Through your dedication and scholarship, you have shared those riches with many visitors, including the descendants of the community immortalised in the museum’s displays. That their memory lives on is thanks in no small part to the work you have done; and all who have enjoyed your company honour you for it. With all good wishes, Simon Butt, UK Ambassador, 2008-11.”
Ambassador Dónal Denham (Ambassador of Ireland to Lithuania, 2006-2010):
Posted in Ambassador Simon Butt, Ambassador Steinar Gil, Ireland, Lithuania, Litvak Affairs, Museums, News & Views, Rachel Kostanian
Tagged Ambassador Donal Denham, Holocaust museum in Vilnius, Holocaust museums, Jeremy Leigh, Myra Sklarew, Prof. Amelia M. Glaser, Rachel Kostanian, Sepp Brudermann, Shivaun Woolfson