The following is the text of an email sent by Sir Martin Gilbert to an official of Lithuania’s Jewish state museum in defense of Rachel Kostanian, the internationally acclaimed cofounder and longtime director of the Holocaust section of the state Jewish museum, long known as “The Green House” (it is housed in a green wooden house at Pamenkalnio 12, invisible from the street, and up a steep driveway). She is also an eminent author, creator of exhibits and catalogues, and Holocaust educator who has engated with thousands of loval and foreign visitors to the museum. At Sir Martin’s request, the name of the recipient, and of others mentioned in the letter, have been redacted to maintain confidences and avert unnecessary embarrassments. The alleged “mistake” referred to in the final paragraph refers to a powerful new Holocaust documentary film directed by Saulius Beržinis, which Rachel Kostanian enabled, helped to research and complete, and obtained the funding for from a prominent Litvak family in the United Kingdom. The film was apparently deemed unacceptable for its “excessive truth telling,” as one (non-Jewish) museum worker, speaking off the record, put it with some irony. It will presumably one day find its way to the public square one way or another.
Sir Martin Gilbert Writes to State Jewish Museum in Lithuania, Asking for Halt to Campaign Against Kostanian
O P I N I O N / F I L M R E V I E W
by Milan Chersonski
There has recently been extensive Lithuanian media coverage of a conflict between the authorities of the city Jurbarkas, Lithuania, and the film company Filmų Kopa, founded by film director Saulius Berzhinis (Beržinis) and managed by Ona Biveinienė.
To mark the seventieth anniversary of the beginning of World War II in Lithuania and the beginning of the total annihilation of its Jews, the Jurbarkas regional museum commissioned a documentary about Jews who lived in the town before World War II, paid for by the Ministry of Culture and the budget of the municipality. Filmų Kopa was awarded the commission and made a documentary called “When Yiddish was Heard in Jurbarkas.” The town’s name in Yiddish is Yúrberik or Yúrburg.
As the film has become a matter of sharp conflict, it is worthwhile in the first instance to take a good look at the actual product that Filmų Kopa delivered to the residents of Jurbarkas.
VILNIUS—Defending History confirmed today that renowned documentary film maker and Holocaust researcher Saulius Beržinis, founding director of the Independent Holocaust Archive of Lithuania (IHAL), has been the latest recipient of a letter from police on account of his work documenting the alleged Nazi collaboration of various Lithuanian “1941 freedom fighters” who allegedly collaborated with the Nazi regime and in the murder of their civilian Jewish-citizen neighbors in the days, weeks and months following 22 June 1941. The letter demands he turn over a “list” of criminals which it was never his, nor the Archives’ intention, to produce or comment upon. Over the years, the Holocaust specialist has won the confidence of groups worldwide for his willingness to seek out and tell the unvarnished truth, among them the Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office.
The March 19th letter to IHAL’s director, letterheaded “Vilnius District Senior Police Commission, Vilnius City First Police Commission, Police Criminal Division” is reproduced below (followed by translation into English).
Saulius Beržinis has been collecting testimonies on the Holocaust for a quarter of a century. He is known internationally for his singular achievement of interviewing on camera actual admitted killers (some are in the film Lovely Faces of the Killers, 2002), and his extensive documentation work with survivors and witnesses. He has partnered over the years with BBC, The United States Holocaust Museum, the Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum of Lithuania, Yad Vashem, and other international bodies, in addition to dozens of Holocaust survivors. His Holocaust documentaries include Farewell Jerusalem of Lithuania (1994), Yudel’s Unwritten Diary (2004), The Road to Treblinka (1997). Most recently, his film on the Holocaust in Jurbarkas (Yúrberik) became controversial for daring to name the killers of the town’s Jewish citizens in 1941 (see reviews by Milan Chersonski and Geoff Vasil).