Police Come to Rachel Kostanian’s Residence, Looking for Vilna Ghetto Survivors Rachel Margolis and Fania Yocheles Brantsovsky
Sir Martin Gilbert Writes to State Jewish Museum in Lithuania, Asking for Halt to Campaign Against Kostanian
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.
Update of Oct. 2010: See also our report on the October 2010 re-opening of the Green House following extensive renovations. Black and white photos below are©Richard Schofield.
Rachel Kostanian, the courageous director, valiantly keeps alive one of the rare local bastions of public integrity on the Holocaust in Lithuania, having constantly to fend off obstacles. Read Esther Goldberg’s portrait in the special Jewish New Year’s supplement on great Jewish women of the ages in the Canadian Jewish News (8 Sept 2010). A follow-up article on Rachel Kostanian’s epic struggle for truth in Holocaust history appeared a month later (7 Oct 2010).
Vilnius’s one Holocaust museum, The Green House, shut down for renovations at the start of August 2010, at the height of the tourist season. Tourists are now limited to the Holocaust-obfuscating Genocide Museum, the Genocide Center, and Gruto Parkas. The Holocaust Studies community internationally is moreover profoundly disturbed by persistent efforts to undermine Rachel Kostanian, the Green House’s esteemed director of twenty years’ standing, and the efforts to replace her with a ‘compliant’ nationalist operative. Full story here
Esther Goldberg Gilbert on Life’s Work of Rachel Kostanian, Intrepid Director of Vilnius’s ‘Green House’ Holocaust Museum
VILNIUS—Esther Goldberg Gilbert, wife and partner to Sir Martin Gilbert and an accomplished Holocaust scholar in her own right, published a profile today of Rachel Kostanian, the widely admired director of Vilnius’s Green House, which many consider to be the only honest Holocaust exhibit or museum in the entire country. The PDF is available here, and a facsimile follows. Please use handles in the upper left hand corner to turn pages.20108SeptGGoldergOnKostanian
Esther Goldberg Gilbert Continues to Honor Courage of Rachel Kostanian, Critiques Lithuania’s Policy of ‘Holocaust Downgrade’ and Ongoing ‘Investigations’ of Kostanian
Esther Goldberg Gilbert, wife and partner to Sir Martin Gilbert and an accomplished Holocaust scholar in her own right, today published a second bold article in the Canadian Jewish News on Holocaust issues in Lithuania. The new piece, a follow-up to her first on the subject last month, became necessary, in the view of some observers, in light of a renewed campaign of harassment, degradation and attempted dismissals , against Ms. Kostanian, enabled and enacted out by the highest echelons of the parent museum’s government sponsored leadership, as well as the state’s “Double Genocide industry.” The new article is available as PDF, and herein:2010Oct7EstherGoldberg (1)
The Green House, as the Holocaust exhibit of the Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum of Lithuania is internationally known, was formally relaunched today in Vilnius after a closure of several months for renovations, technical upgrading of a number of exhibits and the addition of video screens and other facilities.
In a massive show of support for Rachel Kostanian, its beloved guardian and director since its inception over two decades ago, the diplomatic corps came out in force, including the ambassadors of Austria, France, Germany, Japan, Norway, UK and chargés d’affaires or consuls of Bulgaria, the Netherlands and the United States. There was a sense of relief that Ms Kostanian and her staff had succeeded to preserve not only the vast majority of images, texts and topics from the venerated old exhibit, but also its key message of straight-talking Holocaust studies that stays clear of the obfuscating discourse of ‘artificial balances, mitigations and excuses’ that runs rampant in this part of Europe.
Rachel Kostanian, Head of Vilnius’s ‘Green House’ and Champion of Holocaust Truth, Featured in New Documentary
Rachel Kostanian, the famed one-woman bastion holding off the state-sponsored hordes of ultranationalist Holocaust revisionism, continues to lead The Green House, as the Holocaust section of Lithuania’s state Jewish museum is known. It is a small wooden structure atop a hall hidden by a long driveway, invisible from the street, in contrast to the other sections of the Jewish museum. In contrast to all the others, The Green House’s exhibits and texts narrate the simple truth about June 1941 and the role of the “white armbander” Nazi militias in initiating the genocide of Lithuanian Jewry, as well as the later and massive collaboration with and participation in the killing throughout the genocide of Lithuanian Jewry. Like others who stand up, and especially those in prestigious academic or cultural positions in Lithuania, she is being subjected to extensive official harassment, degradation, demotion and a campaign of psychological warfare including defamation (see for example, Esther Goldberg Gilbert’s first and second articles in 2010).
It is against this backdrop that Ms. Kostanian’s prominent inclusion, at four separate points, in Professor Danny Ben-Moshe’s new documentary, Rewriting History, acquires special significance here in Vilnius.
The film is available online. Rachel Kostanian’s four appearances are at the following time c odes:
11:16 to 12:12
17:47 to 19:47
21:10 to 21:34
31:20 to 33:16
[date of last update]
The film features exclusive commentary by historians Efraim Zuroff and Konrad Kwiet; Survivors Fania Yocheles Brantsovsky and Dobke Yonis; Vilnius activists: former Green House Holocaust museum director Rachel Kostanian and former Vilnius University Yiddish professor Dovid Katz; European parliamentarians Denis MacShane, John Mann, Martin Schulz, Gert Weisskirchen; Sensational responses from Lithuanian government officials including red-brown commission boss Ronaldas Račinskas and the prosecutor, Rimvydas Valentukevičius, who “investigates” Holocaust survivors (none of whom were ever charged with anything or received a public apology); MEP Vytautas Landsbergis later withheld permission for inclusion of his own taped interview…
by Dovid Katz
VILNIUS—Three Vilnius-based members of the Defending History team visited the Pylimo Street section of the Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum of Lithuania this week, and asked to be shown the famous and widely admired exhibit honoring the Jewish veterans of the war against Hitler in Lithuania. The exhibit, titled Lithuania’s Jews in the Struggle Against Nazism, was opened in a spirit of unity, reconciliation and mutual respect, some fourteen years ago (PDF of the report in the Spring 2000 English edition of the Jewish community’s then quadrilingual newspaper, Jerusalem of Lithuania, which was edited by Milan Chersonski from 1999 until 2011; JPEG; reduced image below). Its primary author was Joseph Levinson.
VILNIUS—The international uproar over Poland’s 2018 law criminalizing certain opinions about World War II and the Holocaust has led to coverage in mainstream mass media internationally (our own take). What seems to have been largely lost is that other East European countries have for many years been passing laws criminalizing opinions on these matters, laws that are arguably much worse, because they go beyond state anger at stereotyping or historic accusation to criminalizing opposition to a false narrative of history, specifically the Double Genocide model espoused by the nationalist establishment in much of Eastern Europe, particularly the Baltics and Ukraine. Such laws have been passed in Hungary (2010, maxing out at three years potential imprisonment), Lithuania (2010, two years), Latvia (2014, five years max) and Ukraine (2015, ten years). Then there was Estonia’s particularly curious “Valentine Day’s Law” of 2012. It could well be, that the parliamentarians who came up with the idea in Lithuania long before passage were the most honest about the motives. They made it clear that “in the Lithuanian legal system, acts regarding the crimes of Soviet genocide, i.e., their denial or justification, are not criminalized, and, experts say, this is an obstacle in attempting to equate the crimes of Soviet genocide with the Nazi genocide.”
by Markas Zingeris
Rachel Kostanian-Danzig, one of the founders of the Vilna Gaon Museum of Jewish History, is celebrating her venerable ninety-first birthday. She belongs to the generation that survived the horrific years of the Second World War as well the times of the Soviet regime, and saw the fall of the Iron Curtain: the geopolitical “earthquake” that allowed Lithuania to take back control of its own history.
During her youth in Soviet times, Rachel completed a law degree at Vilnius University and qualified as an English teacher at the city’s Pedagogical University. Her field was not history, until the breakup of the Soviet Union and the rise of Lithuanian liberty gave her the freedom to immerse herself in the history and culture of her Jewish people. But no historian’s diplomas could match her relentless, painstaking and passionate desire to meaningfully fill the gaps in Lithuanian collective memory. Today’s young professionals could envy her enthusiasm and “engagement.”
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):
Ambassador Simon Butt (Ambassador of the United Kingdom to Lithuania, 2008-2011):
Ambassador Dónal Denham (Ambassador of Ireland to Lithuania, 2006-2010):
The following press release was received today from the office of Lukas Welz, chairman of the board of AMCHA Germany, who nominated Rachel Kostanian for the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. Contacts: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @amchade. Facebook: www.facebook.com/amcha.deutschland.
Rachel Kostanian Awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany
BERLIN—Rachel Kostanian was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany on February 9, 2021 in Berlin for her lifelong work in researching and remembering the Holocaust in Lithuania. For a quarter century she was director of a small but world-renowned and unique Holocaust museum in Vilnius, Lithuania, known as The Green House that she co-founded as Soviet rule was crumbling in the late 1980s.
President of Germany Honors Major East European ‘History Dissident’ Rachel Kostanian, Longtime Head of Vilnius’s Only Holocaust Museum
VILNIUS—Rachel Kostanian, doyenne of Holocaust history dissidents in Lithuania and beyond led, for over a quarter century, a tiny little museum in a wooden green house — it came to be known internationally as The Green House — high up a driveway invisible from the street, that insisted on telling the bitter truth about the Holocaust. Though part of the state’s Jewish museum complex officially, she personally raised support for its own major projects and publications and kept the editorial control independent. Her museum told the truth about the Lithuanian Holocaust, starting with the mass campaign of murder, plunder, humiliation and violence unleashed by the “Lithuanian Activist Front” (LAF), and other local “White-Armbanders” before the first German soldiers even arrived in June 1941. The huge “Genocide Museum” on the city’s main boulevard, by contrast, some seven minutes’ walk away, has a large hall dedicated to glorification of these same collaborators as supposedly heroic leaders of an anti-Soviet “rebellion” (a strange term here, as the Soviets were fleeing Hitler’s Operation Barbarossa, the largest invasion in human history, not the local white-armbanded fascists). As it turns out, the issue comes to the fore in 2021, with the 80th anniversary of the events looming, and the nation’s parliament having named the year in honor of an LAF member accused of atrocities.
For years, Kostanian was harassed and demoted, never losing her dignity or cool in educating thousands of Lithuanian school children (whose teachers certainly did appreciate her work), and tens of thousands of foreign visitors. She also insisted on a major room dedicated to prewar living Yiddish culture, All texts had to be in Lithuanian, English and Yiddish.
PRESS RELEASE ON THE AWARD; TRIBUTES ON RACHEL KOSTANIAN’S 91st BIRTHDAY; DH’S RACHEL KOSTANIAN SECTION)
Ms. Kostanian was one of the major inspirers of the rise of the Defending History movement in 2008, and this journal the following year. A 2012 documentary film, Rewriting History, by Danny Ben-Moshe, featured her role prominently, and the late Sir Martin Gilbert stepped in as white knight more than once to save her from being fired. In her late eighties, she retired to Berlin to be near her son and grandchildren. Her recent 91st birthday attracted tributes from the former British, Irish, and Norwegian ambassadors to Lithuania, the state museum’s former director, Markas Zingeris, and a number of foreign scholars whose work she enabled.
“Cinderella is finally invited to the ball.”