Commemorations for Destroyed Communities

Joseph Melamed, chairman of ALJ, Speaks Out Forcefully at Yad Vashem Event to Mark Anniversary of Vilna Ghetto Liquidation


Attorney Joseph Melamed, chairman of the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel (at right) delivered the keynote speech today at an event held at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem to mark the September 23rd anniversary of the 1943 liquidation of the Vilna Ghetto. Because of the Jewish holidays, the event was moved up to the 20th this year.

Those in attendance included Uri Chanoch, chairman of the Holocaust Survivors’ Association; Mr Michael Schemyawitz (left of photo), head of the Association of Vilna Jews in Israel and director of its Beit Vilna premises in the Montefiore section of Tel Aviv; and the top leadership of Yad Vashem including chairman Avner Shalev and director general Nathan Eitan. The  program of speakers and was released in advance (in Hebrew) by the ALJ. Lithuania’s ambassador to Israel, HE Darius Degutis, delivered a conciliatory address (full text here), which included the moving line: ‘It breaks my heart and casts a shadow of shame that among the perpetrators of these crimes were also my countrymen. This cannot be, and will not be, either forgotten or forgiven’.

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Jewish Community’s Faina Kukliansky gives a Powerful Speech at Ponar Commemoration near Vilnius


This year’s commemoration ceremony at Ponar (Paneriai) was held today, attended  by government officials, the diplomatic corps, and a sizable crowd of mostly Jewish participants. Ponar is the mass grave site near Vilnius where 100,000 civilians ― around 70,000 of them Jews of Vilna and its environs ― were murdered by Nazi henchmen between 1941 and 1944.  In 2005, Yale University Press brought out Kazimierz Sakowicz’s eyewitness account, Ponary Diary, where it is reconfirmed that most of the killing was done by volunteer local killers.

The country’s small but vibrant Jewish community was proudly represented by Faina Kukliansky, head of the Vilnius Jewish Community and vice chairman of the Jewish Community of Lithuania. In her speech (English translation here), Kukliansky, one of the country’s foremost attorneys, did not mince words. She explained that whatever differences of opinion may exist, the community was unanimous in condemning the Double Genocide movement, as well as projects to equate Nazi and Soviet crimes whose purpose is to trivialize or mitigate the Holocaust specifically and the notion genocide more generally. Moreover, she stressed the need to expose the identities of all the local killers who carried out the genocide of Lithuanian Jewry. She also mentioned that it was only the Jewish Community of Lithuania, not the Lithuanian or Israeli government, that established a fund to help each and every Holocaust era Lithuanian rescuer live a better life to the end of his or her days.

Fania Yocheles Brantsovsky, a Vilna Ghetto survivor and hero of the anti-Nazi partisan resistance in the forests of Lithuania, delivered her own eloquent address in Yiddish, declaring that the victims would never be forgotten, neither by Jewish people nor by humankind.

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‘Holocaust Year’ in Lithuania, 2011, is Converted 1 Week Later to ‘Year of Freedom Defense, Memory of Great Losses [minus the Holocaust]’


One week ago today, on 21 September 2010, this journal reported on a document released by various Lithuanian embassies on the ‘Resolution of the Republic of Lithuania on Declaring the Year 2011 as the Year of Remembrance for the Victims of the Holocaust in Lithuania’ (read document here).

In addition to ‘condemning the genocide perpetrated against Jews by Nazis and their collaborators in Lithuania’ the resolution pledges itself to ‘honoring the residents of Lithuania who fought against Fascism’. [In its report, HITB naturally asked for immediate action to halt the kangaroo investigations of Holocaust Survivors who did just that; to dismantle antisemitic exhibits in state museums; and to halt the campaign for the ‘Double Genocide’ model of history in Europe.]

At the solemn September 21st ceremony at the mass murder site Ponar (Paneriai), member of parliament Emanuelis Zingeris informed the assembled diplomats, citizens and visitors that the Seimas had unanimously approved the resolution and that 2011 would be dedicated to Holocaust commemoration, a most appropriate gesture, on the 70th anniversary of 1941, when nearly all of Lithuanian Jewry was annihilated by the Nazis, with the massive participation of local nationalist forces who are on occasion glorified in modern Lithuania as ‘anti-Soviet partisan heroes’ (see e.g. the Genocide Museum’s narrative).

Many of the assembled at Ponar went away believing that the Seimas had turned a new page in the country’s perception of its Holocaust history.

But today, one week later, September 28th, the Seimas announced the following ‘slightly revised’ version of its plan for the focus of 2011: ‘Parliament announces 2011 as year of freedom defense, memory of great losses in Lithuania’ (as per the text of BNS’s report in English here). The parliament’s own official statement is here; full English translation here, with the corrected English title: ‘Year of Commemoration of the Defense of Freedom and Great Losses’.

Frankly, there is unease in the Jewish community as to whether this title and text leave open the possibility that the LAF (Lithuanian Activist Front) and PG (Provisional Government),  both massively complicit in the early stages of the Lithuanian Holocaust, are going to be celebrated as ‘defenders of freedom’ (or anti-Soviet patriots) during the 2011 seventieth anniversary of events unleashed by Hitler’s invasion of 22 June 1941.Continue reading

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Gathering in the Forest to Remember the 8000 Jews of the Svintsyan Region


Some eighty people gathered at midday today, in an eerie mix of wind and autumn sun, at the forest mass grave memorial site just outside the town once known in Yiddish as Svintsyánke (or Nay-Svintsyán; now Lithuania’s Švenčioneliai, interwar Poland’s Nowo-Święciany). Such is the custom every year on the first Sunday in October, to remember the eight thousand Jewish civilians murdered there after a gruesome ten days of imprisonment, deprivation of basic human needs, and torture, in makeshift barracks here at the site, in October 1941. The eight thousand Jews were marched (with the lame and the old transported on wagons) from their hometowns in the area to the site on September 27th. They were all shot over a two-day period on the 7th and 8th of October 1941.

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Sparse Turnout at Ninth Fort Holocaust Commemoration; Christian Leader Stirs the Assembled


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.

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Revolving Posters at Ponár


Ponár (Polish Ponary, Lithuanian Paneriai) is the mass murder site outside Vilnius where around a hundred thousand civilians were murdered by the Nazi regime. Some 70,000 of them were the Jews of Vilna and its region.

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Obfuscationists planning Vilnius Holocaust Museum miles away from the City Center


Rumors are flying in the Lithuanian capital about plans to induce foreign institutions and governments to support the building of  a new Holocaust Museum at  the mass-murder site Ponár (Paneriai), where no unsuspecting tourist or visitor to Vilnius would ever see it, more than six miles out of town, unless they have prior special interest that would motivate the hiring of a taxi for that purpose.

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March of the Living at Vilnius Mass-Murder Site: Sergey Kanovich Speaks Out


Sergey Kanovich

Vilnius-born author Sergey Kanovich (Sergejus Kanovičius) published in today’s issue of Bernardinai a short and powerful statement for the ceremony later today at Ponár (Paneriai), the mass-murder site outside Vilnius where 100,000 civilians, among them 70,000 Jews, were murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust. Most of the actual shooting was carried out by local Lithuanian units sometimes nowadays glorified as ‘anti-Soviet heroes’ by certain establishment circles, even as a parallel series of Holocaust commemoration activities are produced during this year’s parallel years of commemoration proclaimed in late 2010 by the Lithuanian parliament (see here and here) for 2011, which marks the seventieth anniversary of the events.

“They took your life away. And there are those who continue to try to assassinate your memory — again, today, almost without resistance and with impunity, now and again, the spirit of swastikas and the white armbands of the LAF casts a shadow over Jerusalem of Lithuania. And today there are those who still desire to see your executioners as heroes.”

— SERGEY KANOVICH

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Pastor Michael Maass, Director of the Lithuanian Section of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ), Speaks in Plungė



O P I N I O N

by Michael Maass

The text of Pastor Michael Maass’s talk at the Sabbath dinner in Plungyán (Plungė), Lithuania, on 15 July 2011, during preparations for the commemoration ceremony at the nearby mass murder site on 17 July 2011. See also Abel Levitt’s speech here, and the imaginary speech of a Lithuanian official here (with further links at end of page).

Text provided by Pastor Michael Maass.

Good evening. We are Michael and Fausta Maass, the directors of the Lithuanian branch of the International Christian Embassy, Jerusalem. You might say we are ambassadors from the Christian nation to the Jewish nation. We represent millions of Christians in over sixty countries who love Israel and the Jewish people. We are honored to be with you tonight.

We believe that friendship between Jews and Christians is vitally important, especially in light of recent developments in the world. The legitimacy of the nation of Israel is under attack from many sides. Antisemitism is rising to a level not seen since the Second World War.

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70 Years On: Address by Abel Levitt at the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Plungyán (Plungė)


 


by Abel Levitt

According to Jewish Law, and according to custom in other religions, a tombstone must be placed at a grave with the name of the deceased.

In the case of Mass Murder, like what happened in Lithuania during the period which we know as the Holocaust, this has not been done. The scale was too big, thousands of people killed in a single day as happened in Ponár, near Vilnius, or at the Ninth Fort near Kaunas.  Only in Plungė (Plungyán), where 1800 people , men, women, and children were brutally killed in two frightening and bloody days, has this now, today, been done.

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A Speech Never Spoken at Plungyán (Plungė)



O P I N I O N

by Dovid Katz

An imaginary speech, not delivered by any of the high government officials who addressed the commemoration at the mass murder site of the Jews of Plungyán (Plungė) on 17 July 2011.


My dear friends, it is precisely because I am a proud official of the government of independent, democratic, Lithuania, and I love my country, that I am able to speak here today openly, on the seventieth anniversary of the murder of the Jews of Plungė  — Plungyán, as they proudly called it in the Yiddish that rang through its streets for so many centuries.

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Was Rachel Margolis Honored (or Mentioned) at the “Vilna Ghetto Experience” Yivo Event Sponsored by the Lithuanian Government?


The Yivo concert mounted in memory of the Vilna Ghetto was held on 22 September, a date near the September 23rd anniversary of its liquidation (in 1943). Survivors questioned find it unconscionable that the Yivo evening could not also be utilized as a forum for polite, constructive and appropriate protest at the Lithuanian government’s targeting precisely of Vilna Ghetto survivors (among other Holocaust survivors) for kangaroo ‘war crimes investigations’ that have drawn international protest.

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Faina Kukliansky’s Speech at Ponár (Paneriai) on 23 September 2011



O P I N I O N

by Faina Kukliansky

The following is the approved text of the speech by Faina Kukliansky at the September 23rd commemoration ceremony at Ponár (Paneriai), the mass murder site near Vilnius where some 70,000 Jews from the city and its surrounding areas, and around 30,000 non-Jews, were murdered by the Nazis and their local partners. A prominent attorney and constitutional specialist, Kukliansky is chairperson of the Vilnius Jewish Community and deputy chairperson of the Jewish Community of Lithuania. The text was translated from the Lithuanian by Geoff Vasil and approved by the author.


In 1994 September 23rd was declared the day of commemoration for Lithuanian Jewish genocide victims, dedicated to honoring the victims. The Vilna Ghetto was liquidated on 23 September 1943 when the last surviving Jewish residents of the Lithuanian capital were murdered or sent to concentration camps abroad.

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Why Shouldn’t Lithuanian People See the Monument I Helped Place in Vilnius?



O P I N I O N

by Shelly Rybak Pearson

The project occurred to me when I was present during the earthquake in Mexico City in 1984, while visiting my family there. I decided that I wanted to do something to provide a fitting memorial to the destruction of over 95% of the Jewish community of Lithuania during the Holocaust.

My negotiations with the government authorities in Vilnius to erect the monument lasted over six years. During that time, the Lithuanian Embassy in Washington, DC informed me that they had lost the documents which I had submitted to them requesting approval for the installation of the monument. I had to start anew.

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A Reconstructed Shtetl — Minus its Jewish Component



by Dovid Katz

Rúmshishok (informally: Rúmseshik), some twelve miles from Kaunas (Kovno), was a beloved Lithuanian shtetl where Lithuanians, Jews and others lived together for many centuries in peace (the town goes back to the fourteenth century). The massacre of the town’s Jews during the Holocaust was close to complete (outlines of the history here and here). According to the new Lithuanian Holocaust Atlas, the perpetrators were comprised of “white armbanders” from the town plus “Lithuanian self-defense unit troops” from Kaunas.

Now Rumšiškės in modern Lithuania, the town is internationally known for its neighboring extensive open air museum of the Lithuanian provinces, including town, hamlet and rural settings, all meticulously reconstructed.

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A Hidden Monument in Vilnius — Hopelessly Invisible?


In response to several requests from the United States, DefendingHistory.com this week asked three colleagues who found themselves in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, to try to see the “Flame of Hope” monument, by sculptor Leonardo Nierman, in memory of the victims of the Lithuanian Holocaust, located in the heart of the Old Town, in a yard that was in the Vilna Ghetto between September 1941 and the ghetto’s liquidation three years later.

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No Gesture at Ponár


 


Note: This news box was posted on page one until the end of 19 April 2012.

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Explosive Reactions to Saulius Berzhinis’s New Film on the Holocaust in Jurbarkas (Yúrberik)



O P I N I O N  /  F I L M   R E V I E W

by Milan Chersonski

 

Vilnius film director Saulius Berzhinis

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.

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Trilingual Memorial Plaque Unveiled on Zhager Town Square



O N – S I T E  R E P O R T / O P I N I O N

by Dovid Katz

ZHAGER, northern Lithuania. Over a hundred people gathered here today on the historic town square to unveil a trilingual plaque memorializing the erstwhile Jewish population of thousands in the town, today Žagarė. The event was incorporated into the annual Cherry Festival and suitably entitled “You can’t fudge the history.”

SEE ALSO THE REPORTS BY ROD FREEDMAN AND SARA MANOBLA

THE QUESTION: IS IT THE ONLY TOWN-CENTER IN ALL THE LAND WITH CLEAR AND TRUE WORDS ON THE TRUE FATE OF THE JEWISH POPULATION?

The text — in English, Lithuanian and Yiddish — summarizes the unvarnished history, with prominent reference to local Lithuanian collaboration (though historians will quibble with the use of “some” in place of “many” among other points). It is placed right in the center of town, rather than at a mass grave site deep in the forest; that might well be a first in modern Lithuanian history.

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Holocaust Commemoration Vilnius Style — with an Israeli Twist


 


E Y E W I T N E S S   R E P O R T  /  O P I N I O N

 

The ceremony today to commemorate Lithuanian Holocaust victims at Ponár, the country’s largest mass murder site, outside the capital city of Vilnius, on the day officially known as Day to Commemorate the Lithuanian Jewish Victims of Genocide, went off pretty much as most official commemorations do here: inappropriate and with seeming desperation to focus on any topic except the circumstances of the actual Lithuanian Holocaust—the massive collaboration and participation that led to the country’s having the highest proportion of Holocaust murder in Europe.

Ponár is the site’s Yiddish name. It is today Paneriai and is known as Ponary in Polish.

The official date, the 23rd of September was marked this year on the 24th, apparently so officials wouldn’t have to interrupt their weekend break.

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