Sources in the World Jewish Congress (WJC) and ORT, themselves asking to remain anonymous, have leaked to select media contacts that the “secret donor” for the secretive new WJC/ORT Yiddish cultural center in Vilnius is none other than Kyrgyz born Alexander Mashkevich, a charismatic, brilliant, well-liked, and decidedly flamboyant “Russian Jewish oligarch” who is mostly associated with Kazakhstan.
Mr. Mashkevich holds a doctorate in linguistics, is descended from Lithuanian Jews, and is known for his generosity to numerous charities and his leadership in the Russian-speaking Jewish world. He is a former president of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress. The WJC and ORT sources supplying the information claim to be worried on his behalf about manipulation by the Lithuanian government’s “double genocide unit” via the medium of famous Jewish organizations.
The center’s establishment was announced in a Vilnius interview with World Jewish Congress executive director Michael Schneider last April, in which he indicated that the new center would be funded by “an anonymous donor who doesn’t want his name to be mentioned.”
In the meantime, various members of the Jewish community in Vilnius, and one professor and long-time senate member at Vilnius University, have released public statements asking that the new positions be openly advertised and that those professionals who have for years contributed their efforts gratis, including this journal’s editor, be given the right to apply alongside any other applicants in a fair and transparent process.
Statements have been published by Milan Chersonski, longtime editor of Jerusalem of Lithuania, famed Jewish genealogist and tour guide Regina Kopilevich, and Vilnius University professor Olegas Poliakovas. Among those on the international Yiddish scene who have spoken out are Daniel Galay, director of Leyvik House in Tel Aviv and the Union of Yiddish Writers and Journalists in Israel.
“Let us hope that the WJC don’t fall into the trap of cooperating with the Lithuanian Holocaust distortion industry.”
——Dr. Efraim Zuroff, director, Simon Wiesenthal Center Israel Office
Given the initial WJC interview’s emphasis on joining the extant Vilnius Yiddish Institute, which is directed by a member of the state’s commission on Nazi and Soviet crimes, it is feared by some that the new project is a ruse to further the agenda of Holocaust revisionism in Lithuania using Yiddish and Jewish studies. Dr. Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office, said in a comment on Facebook, “Let us hope that the WJC don’t fall into the trap of cooperating with the Lithuanian Holocaust distortion industry.”
In the past, Mr. Mashkevich, a former president of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, has been linked with a former right-wing Lithuanian foreign minister, A. Ažubalis. Ažubalis became notorious for his antisemitic outburst (2010), his “moustache” comment about Hitler and Stalin, and his attack (in 2012) on Lithuanian social democrats who signed the Seventy Years Declaration. Strong reactions to the then foreign minister’s comments on Jewish and Holocaust issues have come over the years from the Jewish Community of Lithuania (in 2010), Lithuanian MP (now health minister) Vytenis Andriukaitis and then UK MP Denis MacShane (in 2012).
A March 2012 evening in Tel Aviv in honor of then foreign minister Ažubalis, featuring also the right-wing Jewish MP Emanuelis Zingeris, the only Jew in Europe to sign the Prague Declaration, was picketed by Lithuanian Holocaust survivors. The Litvaks’ picket line was covered by The Times of Israel, Y-Net, 15min.lt, and Iton Gadol. The world’s last secular Yiddish newspaper, the Forverts (Yiddish Forward) accorded the event front page coverage.