Professor Mikhail Iossel, director of Summer Literary Seminars (SLS) and the newly established Litvak Studies Institute (LSI) released this statement today on the LSI website [archived copy].
Litvak Studies Institute Protests Lithuanian Government’s “Fake Litvak” Forum, Calls on State to Halt PR Gimmickry and Reverse Anti-Jewish Policies
Posted in Press — 20 July 2010
For the dwindling number of aged Litvak survivors who grew up in the East European Jewish civilization decimated by the Holocaust, the anti-Jewish and Holocaust-distorting policies of the Lithuanian government in recent years are deeply painful.
The pain extends to the wider Litvak community, which includes not only the children and descendants of Jews born in the Litvak lands of Eastern Europe, but to their loyal supporters and friends the world over. These supporters and friends hail from a wide array of personal backgrounds and work together to support survivors, the legacy of the destroyed communities, the preservation of bona fide Litvak language, culture and literature — and not least, the remnant and embattled Jewish communities throughout Eastern Europe.
Instead of reversing its offensive policies, the Lithuanian government in July 2010 launched a PR offensive which brazenly hijacks the very name of our people, the Litvaks. This had been attempted previously, with a “Litvak Foundation,” whose director, upon resigning, went on to publish on Lithuania’s main news portal an article with disturbing racist overtones, in July 2009, accompanied by an unpleasant antisemitic image.
And now, one year later, in a July 15th 2010 news release, Lithuanian prime minister Andrius Kubilius announced “a working group for creating a Litvak heritage forum.” His chancellor Deividas Matulionis boasted that the website would be up very quickly because “there are rich Litvaks who support the idea,” betraying the effort as yet another half-baked, naked scheme to persuade naive foreigners (the proverbial “Useful Jewish Idiots,” to put it bluntly) to invest in Lithuanian government PR projects in the absence of any real change in government policy. The attempted usurpation of the term Litvak for such distasteful purposes is deeply offensive to Holocaust survivors and their families, and it must stop.
The Litvak Studies Institute hastens to welcome the Lithuanian government into partnership as soon as the aforementioned policies are reversed. The LSI’s Dovid Katz, for 11 years the professor of Yiddish at Vilnius University, and editor of the Holocaust in the Baltics website, has now proposed the following seven confidence-building measures which would cost the Lithuanian government very little and win it so very much. The LSI’s institutional version of this text follows:
(1) Condemnation by leading elected officials of the ongoing antisemitic “war crimes investigations” into Holocaust survivors who joined the anti-Nazi resistance and are heroes of the free world (background here), coupled with abandonment of these sham investigations, apologies to the aged survivors harassed by the prosecution, and, urgently, a top-level invitation to 88-year old Dr. Rachel Margolis of Rechovot, Israel, to enable her to visit her native city of Vilnius without fear of arrest or interrogation. This should be accompanied by expressions of regret over the same prosecutors’ failure over two decades to punish even minimally a single Nazi war criminal in Lithuania until it was too late, an issue now highlighted by the great Lithuanian author and humanist Tomas Venclova. This aspect of the sad affair started with the public rehabilitation of Nazi war criminals shortly after independence.
(2) Abandonment of the state’s financing of the campaign to obfuscate and mitigate the Holocaust by means of its Double Genocide campaign, both domestically, and in the European Parliament.
(3) Action to rein in the thriving antisemitic activity in the country, which includes mass media hate material worthy of 1930s fascist countries, court rulings that legalize swastika displays, and antisemitic exhibits in the state-sponsored Genocide Museum in central Vilnius, among other such egregious examples.
(4) Commitment to preserve as a world heritage site Lithuania’s last Jewish anti-Nazi underground fort which is rapidly disappearing.
(5) Commitment to maintain the Green House (Holocaust Museum) under its current independent leadership, to halt the shameful campaign of harassment against its bold and acclaimed director, Ms. Rachel Kostanian, and to abandon plans to eliminate the Yiddish language titles of exhibits therein.
(6) Action to repeal the recent legislation that would punish (with prison sentences up to two years!) those who would not agree to a historic evaluation equating Soviet and Nazi crimes by regarding the former, in Lithuania, while being brutal and widespread, as not fitting the definition of the term Genocide. Genocide against the Jews was unique in the sheer singularity of its murder of nearly the entire population of the country’s Jewish citizens (see Donskis 2009; Katz 2009). This law is an affront to the European Union and to elementary principles of democracy and open society. At the same time, state operatives should be required to halt their campaign (which has included removal from employment) against persons who disagree with the state’s antisemitic and Holocaust-obfuscating policies.
(7) Rapid and honorable settlement of communal property restitution with the Jewish Community of Lithuania, and abandonment of the many ruses underway to divert restitution to dead-Jew tourism and/or foreign pretenders enlisted by government bodies.
Changes in policy will result in rapid and inspiring progress in Lithuanian-Jewish friendship and reconciliation. PR shams in the absence of such elementary changes, on the contrary, will only make the situation worse. The Litvak Studies Institute urges the Prime Minister and government of Lithuania to enact these seven confidence-building measures without delay, thereby paving the way for an inspiring and enduring Lithuanian-Jewish friendship.
—LITVAK STUDIES INSTITUTE