Dr. Shimon Alperovich, chairman of Lithuania’s Jewish Community, Interviewed on Balsas.lt


Translation from Balsas.lt, Interview of the Week, 26 September — 2 October 2011. PDF of the original available here.

Antisemitism Still Felt in Lithuania

September 23rd is the Day of Remembrance of the Genocide of Lithuanian Jews.
The victims of the Vilna Ghetto liquidated in 1943 are honored on this day.

[Interview by] Julija Kiško

During the war the Nazis essentially exterminated the Jewish community of Lithuania and the unique culture they created. Chairman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community Simon Alperovich shares his thoughts on the past and present.

Assessing the Holocaust

What hasn’t the Lithuanian Government, in your opinion, yet done in assessing the Holocaust and its aftermath? Balsas.lt Week asked S. Alperovich.

“That’s a complicated question. I will begin with what has been done. Quite a lot has been done. First, Holocaust Remembrance Day was announced, and flags are raised. This year the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust is being marked widely at the state level. Some municipalities have marked this day in a very beautiful way, for example, Birzai, and other cities. There are many positive things. The ceremony took place at Ponar. Parliamentary chairwoman Irena Degutiene took part, wreaths from the Government, Parliament and other state institutions were laid.”

[Photo of Alperovich with caption “S. Alperovich thinks Nazi and Soviet
crimes can be analyzed, but not equalized.”]

So what haven’t [they] done yet?

“I don’t know if this depends upon the government, but I don’t like that
up until today the so-called Double Genocide theory goes on. It claims Jews
murdered Lithuanians, so during the war Lithuanians together with Nazis
murdered us. This is absurd.

Another thing. Some representatives of the government hold the Soviet genocide and the genocide carried out by the Nazis to be equal. These genocides can only be analyzed, but they are different. The Soviets murdered whoever it may be: Jews and Lithuanians. The Nazis’ policy was to destroy Jews exclusively. In my mind, this cannot be judged equal, although many think otherwise. Europe adheres to the opinion I expressed, this is the
civilized view. Also, not everything has been done to quell marches by Nazi skinheads. I think the Government should react to this more actively. Beyond that, monuments are still being destroyed, and the municipalities have not taken care of the mass murder sites, even though a resolution was adopted in 1991 that the state should take care of these sites.”

Jewish and Lithuanian Understanding

Is antisemitism felt today in Lithuania?

“There is something positive developing, but, sadly, it is still felt.”

What in your opinion hinders mutual understanding between Lithuanians and Jews?

“I don’t think anything should hinder. Nonetheless one encounters
expressions of misunderstanding. It isn’t understood that not only are
local Jews citizens of Lithuania, they also care about the welfare of the
country. And it is also often not understood what Jews have done for
Lithuania in their time. The world has seen many Litvaks who have had a
great and positive influence on the development of culture, art and

[textbox] “The world has seen many Litvaks who have had a great and
positive influence on the development of culture, art and religion.”

After joining the European Union, has mutual understanding between
Lithuanians and Jews increased or decreased?

“I don’t think it has increased.”

Relations with Israel

Do you think the life of the state of Israel is sufficiently understood in

“I think it is tendentiously understood. Without considering other sources and following only the Lithuanian media, it is impossible to form an impression about what is going on there.”

Who needs to make greater efforts in making [Lithuanians] acquainted with
Israel: the Lithuanian Jewish community, the Lithuanian state or
Lithuanian public organizations?

“I think they all should. The ambassador of the Lithuanian Republic to
Israel, Darius Degutis, has accomplished a lot. Different institutions are contributing. The contribution by the Chamber of Commerce in this is not in any way slight. Other organizations are also helping, the Foreign Ministry, different delegations. A large delegation of high-ranking Israelis is supposed to come to Lithuania on Holocaust Remembrance Day and take part in ceremonies.”

In which ways should Lithuanian and Israeli ties be strengthened?

“In different ways. I think interstate and trade ties between Lithuania and
Israel could be better. Some things are being done.”

Jewish Property Compensation

Has the procedure adopted for compensating Jewish property finally solved this problem, or will this have to be returned to later?

“Only 30 percent of property lost is being compensated, and Jewish assets
were very large. Some got something back, some didn’t. We don’t include
private property with community properties. The sum being paid does not conform to reality, but we understand well Lithuania’s economic situation and in consideration of that we agree with the proposal.”


[textbox] JUST THE FACTS

Two hundred thousand Jews lived in Lithuania until World War II, of whom 196,000 (or 96%) were exterminated during the Holocaust.

Famous Litvaks, or Jews who themselves or whose parents came from places that once belonged to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania: Isaac Asimov, science fictionwriter; Romain Gary, writer, winner of France’s Concourt literature prize; Grigory Kanovich, writer and former chairman of the Lithuanian Jewish community; Icchokas Meras, writer; Ludwig Zamenhof, inventor of Esperanto and physician; Emmanuel Levinas, French philosopher.

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