Could the Israeli Foreign Ministry be More Sensitive to Yiddish Language, Literature and Culture in Eastern Europe? Latest from Vilnius
by Dovid Katz
VILNIUS—The lovely idea to name a square in modern Vilnius for the State of Israel is a fine gesture of friendship between the two countries and their foreign ministries. Today’s LRT report informs readers that Israel Square will adorn the neighborhood known as Naujamiestis (the New Town, or the New City).
There is a problem.
The following is a revised text of Dovid Katz’s post that appeared on his Facebook page today.
Growing up in a Yiddishist home in New York, of course Zalmen Reyzen, author of the classic four-volume encyclopedia of Yiddish literature and so much more, was a beloved name. My father Menke Katz had been a close friend of Zalmen’s brother, the great Yiddish author Avrom Reyzen, in New York over many decades.
NOTE: As someone fortunate enough to have had some NYT letters published over the decades, I fully anticipated the non-publication of this one (9 March), and hope none will take amiss my publication of it here in the interests of putting out there a (not yet offered?) second opinion on a woman against whom I feel there has been some unwarranted invective. —DK
Re “In the Papers of Yiddish Novelist Chaim Grade, Clues to His Lesser Fame” by Joseph Berger (March 6)
To the Editor:
The magnificent Yiddish author Chaim Grade well equals Isaac Bashevis Singer in talent and output, but it is wrong to blame his wife (or their marriage) for the failure of his work to attain equal status in English translation.
Grade’s profound preservation of the intricacies of pre-Holocaust East European Jewish civilization (with vast religious minutiae delightful to folks in the tribe) is just not in the genre of Singer’s stark, universalist, compelling plots that are moreover enriched by untrammelled sexuality and bespoke kabbalah.
Under the leadership of the visionary founder of modern Jewish studies at Oxford University, Dr. David Patterson (1922–2005), the academic research and teaching institution which he created became for around two decades a major world center of Yiddish studies. That institution was the Oxford Centre for Postgraduate Hebrew Studies (since renamed the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies). Indeed, it was Yiddish in the last quarter of the twentieth century that catapulted the Centre from just another sleepy Hebrew studies unit to a world-class center in advanced studies, including successful doctoral programs that provided a generation of (today’s) professors, and seminal publications in English and Yiddish that will be there for centuries to come. The kind of thing that the current twenty-first century incarnation of the same institution might well look back on with pride and even some nostalgia.
Among today’s scholars, educators, authors and personalities in the wider arts who were attracted to come and study Yiddish by our team, enabled at each stage by Dr. Patterson (in an array of settings ranging from weekly classes through summer courses to doctoral programs) at the Centre between the 1970s and 1990s are Prof. Marion Aptroot, Dr. Helen Beer, Prof. James Dingley, Prof. Jennifer Dowling, Prof. Gennady Estraikh, Mr. Elliot Gertel, Prof. Christopher Hutton, Dr. Devra Kay, Prof. Dov-Ber Kerler, Ms. Miri Koral, Dr. Holger Nath, Prof. Ritchie Robertson, Ms. Elinor Robinson, Mr. David Schneider, Prof. Robert Moses Shapiro, Prof. Astrid Starck, Dr. Heather Valencia, Prof. Nina Warnke, Mr. Tim Whewell, among many others.
by Dovid Katz
Compilation of articles, documentaries, videos, and photos. Plus: from the saga of 2008…
Note: This page is a work in progress. A number of older documents, articles, photographs, and recordings remain to be digitized, catalogued, and posted.
BLAMING THE VICTIMS | FANIA BRANTSOVSKY SECTION | HISTORY | EVENTS | YIDDISH CULTURE | LITHUANIA | LITVAK AFFAIRS
The following is a paste-in of today’s Facebook post by Dovid Katz marking Fania Yocheles Brantsovsky’s 100th birthday in Vilnius, Lithuania. The original, along with its Comments section is on FB, accompanied by a modest selection of photographs of Fania, and of Fania with Dovid and others over the years.
Clockwise from upper left: Fania is at far left in family photo from 1932 or 1933 in front of her father’s shop on Vilna’s Zavalna St. (today Pylimo in Vilnius); Fania showing visitors the underground bunkers where she lived while fighting the Nazis in the Jewish partisan fort in the forest (now sinking into the ground, Fania’s last wish is that it be restored and preserved for posterity); Fania and fellow partisan veteran Chasia Langbord Shpanerflig sing the partisan hymn at a May 9th memorial; Fania bring honored at a banquet at the residence of the Irish ambassador to Lithuania, HE Dónal Denham in a pushback against state attempts to prosecute and defame her and other veterans of the Jewish partisans with ambassadors from Norway, Austria, France, the UK and other Western nations joining in; Fania in the Vilna Ghetto (1941-1943); with Dovid enjoying looking at some old Vilna Yiddish books together.
Subtle Art of State Antisemitism ― East European Style (with ubiquitous nod to glorification of Holocaust collaborators)
OPINION | LITVAK AFFAIRS | (AB)USE OF JEWISH STUDIES FOR HISTORICAL REVISIONISM | YIDDISH AFFAIRS | YIVO IN LITHUANIA | MEDIA WATCH | FOREIGN MINISTRIES AND JUDAIC STUDIES | COLLABORATORS GLORIFIED | NOREIKA GLORIFIED
by Julius Norwilla (Vilnius)
On the 4th of April 2022, the website of our Ministry of Foreign Affairs published a news item titled (in Lithuanian, here translated) “Lithuania will expand cooperation with Yivo Jewish Research Institute, preserving and publicizing Lithuanian Jewish history” (as PDF). The site’s English language section uses the headline wording “Lithuania to expand cooperation with Yivo Institute for Jewish Research to protect and promote the history and heritage of Lithuanian Jews” (as PDF).
The news article contains information about the visit of the esteemed American scholar, Dr. Jonathan Brent, the executive director and CEO of the Yivo Institute for Jewish Research in New York, also a famed educator and academic publisher, with his colleagues, and their meeting with the deputy foreign minister. The news item appears intent on communicating to the world how much our country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs cares about its Jewish and Yiddish legacy and how sensitive it is to the history of Lithuanian Jewry.
Both the Lithuanian and English versions are illustrated with a three-photo gallery portraying three scenes of the meeting: shaking hands at the welcome, a moment at the meeting table and the final with those at the meeting posing for the official photo-op.
Everything seems to be done according to the usual protocols of such meetings, at which the professional photographer takes numerous photos from start to finish, culminating with the final photo-op. Then the few dozen shots are whittled down to the most informative and appropriate handful for publication. The ones that make the point best. Elementary.
2 Sept. 1937 – 14 April 2021
From his dozen years as editor of the Lithuanian Jewish Community’s former quadrilingual newspaper, Jerusalem of Lithuania
Ayelet Brinn’s well-intentioned interview with Gennady Estraikh and Mikhail Krוtikov, published today in In Geveb, fails to ask the two veterans of Aaron Vergelis’s Sovetish Heymland about their controversial role in 1990s Oxford, together allegedly wrecking the Oxford Programme in Yiddish that had done so much in Yiddish Studies. They did so, allegedly, while becoming part of campaigns of personal destruction against the scholars who brought them there in the first place and worked countless hours to raise the support and facilities to bring them. Estraikh presented himself as a penniless graduate student in Moscow begging for help in the wake of the USSR’s collapse (winter 1990-1991) and came to study (in 1991) with Dovid Katz and Dov-Ber Kerler. Krutikov, by contrast, was an already-emigrated young scholar whom JTS’s main man in Yiddish recommended for Oxford as part of the wider project to dismantle the Oxford Program in Yiddish he had been railing against for years; he arrived in 1996, after a pseudo-search committee set up so that the JTS man’s recommendation would be the only one taken into account. The ex-Soviets went on to artfully trash the scholars who spent decades building the program. In classic Sovetish Heymland style intrigue mode, Krutikov was brought to Oxford primarily to serve as for-hire hit man in Soviet-style intrigue. Both former students of A. Vergelis, both gifted actors and masters of machinations, used it as a launch pad for American careers and rapidly destroyed the magnificent program that they had usurped. That history will be written and is very heavily documented (down to Estraikh’s apology for plagiarizing a grammar of one of his teachers, which he then “fixed” with a recall of the entire edition and addition of a front-cover credit sticker; the original is now a collector’s item). What is weird in the third decade of the twenty-first century is the (ab)use of In Geveb for an agenda of rewriting recent Yiddish Studies history for the glorification of a rather curious-bedfellow clique bringing together veterans of JTS and Sovetish Heymland (perhaps united by disdain for mainstream cultural Yiddishism, such as that of the late lamented Yiddish educator Naomi Prawer Kadar for whom one of the naive and manipulated enabling funding bodies is rightfully named).
OPINION | LITVAK AFFAIRS | (AB)USE OF JEWISH STUDIES FOR HISTORICAL REVISIONISM | YIDDISH AFFAIRS | YIVO IN LITHUANIA | HUMOR (OF SORTS)
PREFACE: This is a “must-tell” story. It has, for too long, been deliberately kept away from you, the public. It is a fictionalized account of actual events. This tale has all the components of modern day noire: a lone hero, a jaded country, not admitting to its murderous genocidal past, and a once revered institution, experiencing a moral dilemma that could affect her very existence.
This is the story of Dr. Raphael L. Hatulay and what he has witnessed over the years between the goings on with what we shall call, ASHKI and the Republic of Fenwick. During this process Professor Hatulay has lost almost everything he worked for in life, but he is still fighting for what is right and just. This story deserves to be told. You deserve to hear it.
“What is the stated mission of a non-profit institution?” the Public Health professor asked his students nearly five decades ago.
Depending on the agency, the answers provided from the students differed about the stated mission: from feeding the hungry to educating the masses to caring for the elderly.
“Wrong. Wrong, Wrong! Lies, lies, lies!” retorted the professor, who was also the director of a major governmental agency. “The main purpose of charitable organizations and nonprofits is one thing, and one thing only, continuity and survival, no matter what and no matter who gets in the way. Nothing else matters!”
Julius Norwilla (standing end of table) with his class of Elementary/Intermediate Yiddish at Vilnius’s Jewish Cultural and Information Center (JCIC) in the Old Town, under auspices of the Vilnius Jewish Community in March 2020. On 24 March, with a pandemic upending life in the Lithuanian capital (as everywhere), the students and teacher decided to continue online via skype and have not missed a week. Standing at left is Rima Kazlauskaite, administrator at JCIC.
VILNIUS—Reports are mounting of inquiries about thousands of Yiddish books donated between 2000 and 2018 to “Vilnius University’s Yiddish institute” being met with Orwellian responses along the lines of “they have been deposited until further donors come forward.” After the Vilnius Yiddish Institute was closed down in 2018, and the one actual Yiddish activity of its final eight years, the intensive Vilnius Yiddish summer program, abruptly discontinued, its executive director, Dr. Sarunas Liekis, a longtime member of the state’s “red-brown commission” on Nazi and Soviet crimes, made the books unavailable to students, local and visiting scholars and the wider community. According to sources, a claim is being made that they are the personal property of the heirs of the late Richard Maullin, the donor who “bought” the (some say fictitious) shares of the institute for $25,000 from Tel Aviv resident Mendy Cahan in 2005, and then, in 2010, purged the institute of Yiddish professors not willing to go along with state Holocaust revisionist PR (Maullin was honored by a Lithuanian government medal in 2015). As a result, the “Yiddish” institute was left with no Yiddish teachers for eleven months a year from 2010 onward, but continued with the widely acclaimed summer course that was established in Oxford in 1982 and moved to Vilnius in 1998.
A documented history of these events is provided by Defending History.
VILNIUS—Yet again, “The Editors” (which editors?) of the lofty online academic Yiddish studies journal “In Geveb” have omitted mention of Defending History and of publications by any of its editors or contributors (except for occasional unsigned disparaging remarks on papers published, unbecoming of academic discourse). The context this time is a bibliography-style list of articles and opinion pieces that have appeared online concerning Yivo’s tragic recent decision to fire its entire library staff. The one omission in the list of articles? Defending History’s response to Yivo’s actions, titled: “Chelm or New York? Yivo Fires All its Librarians, While Investing ‘Fortune’ in PR for Lithuanian Government’s Jewish Politics.” Hopefully, it was an oversight.
Chelm or New York? Yivo Fires All its Librarians, While Investing “Fortune” in PR for Lithuanian Government’s “Jewish Politics”
by Dovid Katz
The Yivo Institute for Jewish Research, founded here in 1925, in historic Vilna (then Wilno, Poland; in Yiddish forever Vílne) as the world’s premier Yiddish-in-Yiddish academic institute, has, to the consternation of many of its life-long supporters and participating scholars, in recent years been (temporarily, to be sure) “hijacked” to serve as the prime unit (with the AJC a close second) for Jewish PR. Not “general” Jewish PR but specifically on behalf of certain circles in the Lithuanian government determined to revise Holocaust history (and “sell” the revisions to American Jews particularly), while covering for the use of major Jewish cemeteries for building projects, all the while projecting adulation of “Litvak and Yiddish culture.”
Two of the best-known protests from Holocaust survivors in Vilnius came from Milan Chersonski, longtime editor of the Lithuanian Jewish Community’s quadrilingual newspaper, and Vilna-born physicist Professor Pinchos Fridberg. More pain was expressed in responses from the Leyzer Ran Family in New York, and the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel.
YIDDISH AND JUDAIC STUDIES MANIPULATED FOR HOLOCAUST REVISIONISM | VILNIUS YIDDISH INSTITUTE | BORNS JEWISH STUDIES PROGRAM AT INDIANA UNIVERSITY | RICHARD MAULLIN
Its Prehistory (1990-1999), History (1999-2010) and Posthistory (2010-2018) from the Year of Lithuania’s Declaration of Independence Onward
CAN GOVERNMENT AGENCIES STILL WRITE INDIVIDUALS OUT OF HISTORY IN POST-SOVIET SPACE? DO VILNIUS UNIVERSITY’S DEANS AND RECTOR APPROVE OF THE PRACTICE? CAN A PAST PROFESSOR WITH A PERFECT RECORD OVER 11 YEARS (NO COMPLAINTS, NO INCIDENTS) BE WRITTEN OUT OF THE UNIVERSITY’S HISTORY AND DEFAMED IN THE UNIVERSITY’S NAME ON ORDERS OF SOMEONE AT THE “INTERNATIONAL COMMISSION FOR THE EVALUATION OF THE CRIMES OF THE NAZI AND SOVIET REGIMES IN LITHUANIA” (THE “RED-BROWN COMMISSION“)?
A “for the record” page in progress, developed in response to repeated public statements by the current director of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute, a member of the state-sponsored Commission on Nazi and Soviet crimes, claiming that Defending History’s editor (a) was never a professor at the university, (b) if he was an elementary Yiddish alphabet teacher paid by some surfers in California, he got fired for not turning up to work. Further documents are being processed for inclusion in the bizarre but curiously telling chapter of the history of Yiddish Studies in the 21st century. The political manipulation (ranging from West European far-left to East European far-right) of Yiddish-less “Yiddish” is a theme in the final chapter of Yiddish and Power (Palgrave Macmillan 2015) by the Yiddishist in question, Dovid Katz.
Vilnius Yiddish Conference: State-Manipulated Stunt to Cover for Vilnius Antisemitic & Holocaust Revisionist Events the Same Day?
Question: Will the Roskies (In Geveb) & Fishman (JTS) “Yiddish PR conference” financed to deflect attention from the painful issues, publish a morally clear statement of protest (and support for the Jewish community)? Do conference participants appreciate concerns they are being used as “useful Jewish idiots” (UJIs) in the wider effort to rewrite Holocaust history and cover for blatant antisemitism? Note: these aspects do not detract from the high academic quality of some of the visitors’ fine papers. These are two distinct issues albeit now morally linked. This is a conference honoring Zalman Szyk (Zalmen Shik, author of the 1939 book on Vilna), who was murdered by the Nazis and their local collaborators. Surely, an event in his memory should not be allowed to cover for state-sponsored glorification of Nazi perpetrators the very same days. A simple, measured, polite statement by the conference’s leaders and participants would have been of paramount importance in the circumstances. But would it have marred those triumphant photo-ops with ministers and officials? (No, actually…)
The Lithuanian Jewish community’s callout to world Jewry came on Aug. 6, smack in the middle of the Roskies-Fishman (In Geveb/JTS) conclave. The world’s Jewish media reported on the situation facing the Lithuanian Jewish community that led to closure of both the synagogue and the community center during the conference (including: Algemeiner Journal, APnews, Forward, France24, Jewish Heritage Europe, Times of Israel). Will the conference leaders and participants perhaps issue a polite statement of support for the Jewish community even after the event, having failed to dare interrupt glorious photo-ops with parliamentarians and ministers during the proceedings? Perhaps some will be in line for future medals and awards, joining an elite, illustrious coterie.
Group photo of foreign academics flown in, glorified, wined and dined by Lithuanian gov. agencies the same day the capital’s one synagogue and Jewish community had to close because of threats resulting from a publicly sanctioned demonstration glorifying notorious Holocaust collaborator J. Noreika with a shiny new city-center plaque and bas relief. The conference was dedicated to Zalman Szyk (Zalmen Shik), who was himself murdered by the ilk of the collaborator glorified on the day of the conference. Source: Forverts.
Are they aware of the systematic exclusion from their conference of all the local Jewish scholars in this field who have expressed disagreement with the glorification of Holocaust collaborators (including Holocaust survivors who have written about Jewish Vilna)? Will they consider signing Ruta Bloshtein’s petition on the old Vilna Jewish cemetery? “Just one thing is sure — that Zalmen Szyk is turning over in his grave” (he was murdered in 1942 by the resolute allies of those glorified the very day of the conference)…
BACKGROUND: See DH sections on collaborators glorified; Noreika saga; Ramanauskas saga; seven Lithuanian-Jewish issues that could be easily resolved; abuse of Jewish studies as deflection and smokescreen; the academic background. the Seventy Years Declaration (SYD).
Midsummer Week of Vilnius Synagogue Closure, Antisemitic Demo Glorifying Holocaust Collaborators; A Roskies-Fishman Conference for Neat Cover?
[updated 29 August 2019]
Twenty years after Joe Melamed named Noreika & Škirpa as Holocaust collaborators in Crime & Punishment. Ten years after Defending History published images of the plaques. Seven years after DH’s Evaldias Balčiūnas brought the case of J. Noreika to the English speaking world. Four years after Dr. Andrius Kulikauskas‘s classic DH essay on K. Škirpa:
Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Šimašius Leads City Council Decision to Rename “Skirpa Street” and Personally Orders Removal of “Noreika Plaque” in 4 AM Raid
Official Lithuanian Jewish Community Closes Premises and Synagogue on 6-8 Aug. in View of Threats, Citing Conservative Party’s Ongoing Campaign to Protest Mayor’s Actions and Glorify Holocaust Collaborators
Statement issued by Vilnius Jewish Community; JTA reports of 6. Aug; 7 Aug; 8 Aug (+TOI); LJC’s circulated reply to VJC
Summer Glut of Lithuanian Gov. Awards for (Alleged) “Useful Jewish Enablers” of Holocaust Revisionism
OPINION | AWARDS FOR WESTERN AND JEWISH ENABLERS | BACKGROUND TO EAST EUROPEAN HOLOCAUST REVISIONISM | WHEN FOREIGN MINISTRIES PLAY WITH HOLOCAUST HISTORY FOR POLITICAL GAIN | DOUBLE GENOCIDE | (AB)USE OF JEWISH, JUDAIC, HEBRAIC & YIDDISH STUDIES | UPS AND DOWNS OF ISRAELI POLICY | LITHUANIAN JEWISH COMMUNITY SAGA | YIVO MANIPULATED
More Lithuanian Government Glories & Medals for Alleged “Useful Jewish Enablers” of Baltic Holocaust Revisionism
♦ To the outgoing Israeli ambassador, HE Amir Maimon, after he posed with a portrait of an alleged Nazi collaborator Adolfas Ramanauskas (Vanagas) in support of the collaborator’s glorification. Defending History’s Evaldas Balčiūnas has reported for years on the collaborator, who is also featured on the front banner of neo-Nazi torchlit parades. The Wiesenthal Center had spoken out in good time.
♦ To the “fudged election” government-backed head of the state-supported Jewish community, eminent attorney Faina Kukliansky, after she granted “legitimacy” to the erection of a statue in Chicago to the same alleged Nazi collaborator, the first on American soil. The same monument was soundly rejected a year earlier by the democratically elected town council of New Britain, Connecticut. Head of the Jewish Agency now calling for monument’s urgent removal.
♦ To the current head of New York’s Yivo, Dr. Jonathan Brent, after a decade of intimate collusion in Holocaust obfuscation, glib betrayal of Holocaust victims and survivors and defamation of Yiddish scholars who disagree with far-right instrumentalization of this fragile language and literature and are loyal to the survivors and their families. See the plea by Vilnius’s last Vilna-born survivor, Prof. Pinchos Fridberg.
Will Joshua Price, Dory Fox and Saul Noam Zaritt Explain their Notion of a Colleague’s “Characteristic Bravado”?
In an otherwise fair and objective listing of academic papers (archived here) recently published in the field of Yiddish studies, Joshua Price, Dory Fox and Saul Noam Zarrit label Dovid Katz’s paper on Yiddish normativism (“The Yiddish Conundrum: A Cautionary Tale for Language Revivalism” in the Palgrave Macmillan Handbook of Minority Languages and Communities) with the rather personalized characterization “With characteristic bravado”… They were (or were not?) aware that the paper expresses academic disagreement with a 1970 publication edited by D. Roskies, among others, but of course they would never abuse the In Geveb academic platform to exact retribution on behalf of a current boss. That would be unethical, unacademic, untoward and for the fragile field of Yiddish scholarship rather unbecoming.
Perhaps the three Yiddish scholars woudl then explain why the views and arguments in this paper contain more “bravado” than the other papers that express robust academic views on their august list?
It seems, incidentally, that the same author’s recent paper “Methodology in Yiddish Historical Linguistics” (in Yiddish with English abstract page, in Jewish Identity and Comparative Studies = Medievales 68), reaches a higher level of inadmissibility, that of remaining unreported, unmentioned, stricken from the record in the leading online survey of Yiddish academia. Do the editors of In Geveb somehow fear a robust diversity of academic views in twenty first century American academia? Are young scholars entering the field meant to remain ignorant of diverse views in a small and fragile field? Or perhaps this exclusion from any listing in any part of In Geveb has nothing to do with authors or their views, but is based on the paper having been published in Yiddish. And if so, is that an appropriate policy for an academic publication on Yiddish Studies (see the final part of the introduction to the In Geveb Watch section).