VILNIUS—There was was some surprise this past week in academic circles focused on East European Jewish history and culture and Yiddish studies, after a 24 October press release issued by Yivo in New York featured this quote by Professor David E. Fishman of New York’s Jewish Theological Seminary: “The troves discovered in Lithuania are the most important body of material in Jewish history and culture to be unearthed in more than half a century, since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.” The press release was widely published in major publications internationally. Queries to staff at Lithuania’s National Library quickly revealed that these items were in fact discovered in the early 1990s and have been in the collection all along, but were being recycled for PR as “new discoveries” for political, fundraising and public relations reasons. Not one of them is seen to be “narrative changing” in the annals of Lithuanian Jewish history. The scenario becomes more disturbing to some in the context of Yivo’s director actively joining the Lithuanian government’s “Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupational Regimes of Lithuania) which has spearheaded the Prague Declaration and other European attempts to have Nazism and Communist declared to be absolutely equal, a major component in current Holocaust obfuscation emanating from the far right in the Baltic States. One of the last Vilna-born Holocaust survivors still alive has published a public letter to Yivo’s director.
Long admired as a major Yiddish scholar and East European Jewish historian, and for many years a proud and public critic of Lithuanian government antics in Jewish affairs, Prof. Fishman’s rapid moral capitulation to the Baltic state’s PR cause has been noticed by his colleagues and students. It is expected that lavish trips, conferences, honors, book translations and other “goodies” will come his way in the years to come, even as those who have worked in Vilnius for decades in the field of Jewish studies are disemployed and targeted for defamation if they have dared disagree with the state’s Holocaust revision policies. Those policies feature investing in Judaic studies while investing rather more in the glorification of local Holocaust collaborators as “national heroes.”