The prestigious British-based LRG Media, a multimedia company with an impressive record of achievements and awards, has apparently been targeted by certain elements in Lithuanian government circles as the latest ‘Naive Useful Foreign Entity’ to help make respectable internationally the state-sponsored campaigns for Double Genocide, Holocaust Obfuscation, and selective toleration of current antisemitism.
LRG Media today sent an email blast far and wide announcing ‘The Litvak Multimedia Project 2011-2012’. In the spirit of last summer’s Fake Litvak Forum initiative and the series of London events held in February of this year, there is no indication of any intention to seek out a balanced array of views including those of Holocaust Survivors and critics of current Lithuanian government policy. Instead there is an effort to portray the stances of the new East European far right as mainstream and Jewish-friendly to unsuspecting outsiders.
Today’s widely circulated email blast includes the following points:
- “Conflict Resolution: Assisting (to the best of our ability) the unravelling of the ball of string which is the challenging interpretation and presentation of the Jewish holocaust alongside the other genocide experienced by Lithuanians.”
In other words, Double Genocide is taken from the outset as a Given Truth by a Western/Jewish film maker. That is a dream come true for the new far right in Eastern Europe. In fact the Holocaust was the only genocide on the territory of Lithuania in the twentieth century (see for example Yehuda Bauer’s 2009 essay on the subject). The attempts to trivialize it into one of ‘two (equal) genocides’ is closely intertwined with contemporary East European antisemitism, as has been demonstrated by a number of fine scholars, including Efraim Zuroff (2005), Leonidas Donskis (2006) and Clemens Heni (2009). One of the first scholars to take note of the link in the early post-Soviet period was Randolph R. Braham of the City University of New York.
The allure of a misrepresented opportunity for ‘Conflict Resolution’ is in play not for the first time in recent Lithuanian-Jewish history. Genuine Conflict Resolution is based upon the full and frank airing and discussion of both sides of an issue, not the adoption of just the Strong Side’s (here—a government’s) view as one of the Given Truths, and its imposition on an unsuspecting outside world. The Weak Side in this story consists of the tiny remnant of Litvaks and their loyal supporters, so very weak because, frankly, Lithuania had the highest proportion of Jews annihilated during the Holocaust in all of Europe, and that because of the massive local voluntary participation (an inconvenient truth for those attempting to obfuscate history).
It is vitally important at at the same time to remember and honor not only the incredibly brave Lithuanian rescuers of the era, but also today’s bold Lithuanian citizens who speak out fearlessly despite the ongoing state campaign to control the debate (even if they will never get any subsidies or royal welcomes in palaces and chanceries).
- “PR: Finally, to influence and have a positive influence on the wider perception that Lithuania is closer to healing the wounds of the past and moving forward in an inclusive way.”
If only there were genuine movement toward ‘healing the wounds’. During the last twelve months, Lithuanian government agencies have: legalized public swastikas; criminalized the view that the Holocaust was the unique genocide in the country’s history (with up to two years’ imprisonment for dissenters, so much for free speech in the EU); issued permits for a neo-Nazi parade on the capital’s main boulevard, with the participation of a member of parliament and an official of the ‘Genocide Research Center’; continued with the sham ‘war crimes pre-trial investigations’ of heroic Holocaust Survivors who joined the anti-Nazi resistance in the forests of Lithuania, leading to ongoing defamation emanating from the highest echelons of society; invested in glorification of the Lithaunian Activist Front and other Holocaust perpetrators as supposed ‘anti-Soviet heroes’.
Lo and behold, there is even a government-sponsored film glorifying the LAF, with as usual, participation by foreign scholars not aware of how their participation, no matter how dignified, will be utilized in the end product.
All of this is regression, not progress, and it calls out for a film to expose the situation to the world with a robust and balanced airing of the opposing points of view. The situation calls for an independent effort, not, as the email blast (quite honestly) calls it all: ‘PR’.
This is no harmless PR. It is part of an intricate effort to distort both history and current events, at the expense of free and open debate (which does not always lead to products suitable for ‘PR’). And, at the expense of the victims and survivors of the Holocaust.
- “[…] set the date of September 23, 2011 as the tentative, yet symbolic first day of filming.”
There is of course nothing wrong with the very significant commemoration of the date of the liquidation of the Vilna Ghetto in 1943, but even this gesture was determined by nationalist politicians who of necessity selected a date that would emphasize overwhelming German involvement, rather than one of the dates revered by Holocaust Survivors and organizations hailing from across Lithuania. Surely, it would be of symbolic importance for a film maker to emphasize one of the dates cherished by Holocaust Survivors, rather than duplicating the many official functions occurring on the government’s set date.
These are the dates most often mentioned by Survivors interviewed: June 23rd, when the killing broke out in 1941, before the Germans even arrived; October 29th, when some 10,000 Jews were murdered in the Ninth Fort outside Kaunas, the largest one-day massacre in Baltic history; or, as recently suggested by the chairman of the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel, August 29th, in the week when the entire Jewish populations of seven venerable Jewish towns were murdered — Aníksht (Anykščiai), Keydán (Kėdainiai), Márinpol (Mariampole), Nay-Aleksánder (Zarasai), Pónevezh (Panevėžys), Raséyn (Raseiniai) and Utyán (Utena).
If the Vilna Ghetto is to be a point of departure, perhaps LRG would consider beginning its filming with 89 year old Holocaust survivor, Dr Rachel Margolis, now in Rechovot, Israel, afraid to return to see her beloved Vilna one last time for fear of prosecutorial harassment. She is one of the heroic anti-Nazi partisan veterans targeted by the far-right prosecution services and many elites, including the Lithuanian Human Rights [!] Association.
There is moreover, ample interest in Dr. Margolis’s predicament in the UK. She has of late been honored by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and Lord Janner of Braunstone, among others. It is widely assumed she was targeted as revenge for having rediscovered, deciphered and published a critical memoir by a Christian Polish journalist who witnessed many of the murders—and murderers—at the mass killing site Ponar (Paneriai) near Vilnius. It was brought out in an English edition by Yale Universitiy Press in 2005. But perhaps such matters—and potential interviewees—do not fit into the realm of ‘PR’.
Perhaps the folks at LRG Media could be sensitized to the symbolism inherent in accepting at each and every stage the current government’s far-right view of things as point of departure, which cumulatively taken, represents the potential for damage to genuine Holocaust history and respect for the survivors and their families, and those who are heroes of the free world for having resisted Nazism. There is also the danger of falling prey to the continuous stream of state-sponsored efforts to re-package one opinion as a balanced forum (a current example in Kaunas reported here), an imminent threat to the spirit of free speech in parts of Eastern Europe.
Lithuanian Holocaust Survivors and their families and supporters, and those in public life, politics, academia and the media—of all backgrounds—who oppose the current ultranationalist rewriting of history by some East European states are encouraged to speak up, loudly and clearly, in response to efforts to manipulate the debate via government largess and manipulation of well-meaning foreigners.
As February in London demonstrated, there will be silence no more.