Attorney Joseph Melamed, chairman of the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel (at right) delivered the keynote speech today at an event held at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem to mark the September 23rd anniversary of the 1943 liquidation of the Vilna Ghetto. Because of the Jewish holidays, the event was moved up to the 20th this year.
Those in attendance included Uri Chanoch, chairman of the Holocaust Survivors’ Association; Mr Michael Schemyawitz (left of photo), head of the Association of Vilna Jews in Israel and director of its Beit Vilna premises in the Montefiore section of Tel Aviv; and the top leadership of Yad Vashem including chairman Avner Shalev and director general Nathan Eitan. The program of speakers and was released in advance (in Hebrew) by the ALJ. Lithuania’s ambassador to Israel, HE Darius Degutis, delivered a conciliatory address (full text here), which included the moving line: ‘It breaks my heart and casts a shadow of shame that among the perpetrators of these crimes were also my countrymen. This cannot be, and will not be, either forgotten or forgiven’.
The wider Holocaust Survivor community, including younger generations, scholars and educators, and the diplomatic community had been hoping for a more substantive breakthrough, such as announcement of the dropping of the antisemitic investigations into alleged ‘war crimes’ of Survivors who resisted and apologies for the suffering caused; dismantling of the antisemitic exhibits at state sponsored museums; rapid abandonment of the campaign to distort the Holocaust in Europe; overruling of the court’s recent legalization of public swastika displays, and more.
But the gathered understood fully that the ongoing travesties, that are so damaging to Lithuania’s image internationally, are not the fault of the ambassador, who is personally making genuine efforts to reach out to parties of diverse opinions. Moreover, he is appreciated as a sincere individual who has never tried to deny the massive local participation in the Lithuanian Holocaust. Still, there is a long way to go. Ambassador Degutis has been urged for months now through various diplomatic channels to visit and apologize graciously to Dr Rachel Margolis, who will be 89 on October 28th, for all she has suffered since Lithuanian police came looking for her in Vilnius in an antisemitic witch hunt against Holocaust Survivors who survived by joining the anti-Nazi resistance. Hopefully, this politically palatable gesture will now follow in short order. Dr Margolis lives ‘down the road’ in Rechovot.
In his own keynote address, Mr Melamed explained the new pain that was now being caused, entirely superfluously, to the dwindling numbers of aged Holocaust Survivors, by the Lithuanian government’s ‘Fake Litvak’ PR program (more information here and here on this site, and at the Litvak Studies Institute site).
Mr Melamed called on the Lithuanian government to usher in a new era of honest and mutually respectful Lithuanian-Jewish friendship that would not be marred by the constant unveiling of such ‘trick and shtick’ tactics. In his boldly straightforward address, he analyzed the political motivations inherent in the choice of September 23rd by the Lithuanian government as the one state-recognized remembrance day, noting that the day was chosen to emphasize purely German actions, and avoids emphasis on the massive local Holocaust participation that in fact resulted in Lithuania having the highest victimology rate in Holocaust-era Europe. International Holocaust Day is January 27th, and the second day of remembrance for the world is Israel’s Yom Hashoah.
Mr Melamed discussed other dates that must not be forgotten. For Lithuanian Holocaust survivors, the primary date is June 23rd, when, in 1941, six centuries of tolerance abruptly turned to the outbreak of hostility, humiliation, violence, and in dozens of locations murder (before arrival of German forces) against defenseless, peaceful Lithuanian civilians. Another important date is August 28th. During that week in 1941, the centuries old Jewish civilization of seven venerable towns famous in Litvak lore came to an end, as their Jewish populations — men, women and children — were shot at mass graves by Lithuanian ‘activists’ fulfilling the Nazi project in the country. The seven towns are Aníksht (Anykščiai), Keydán (Kėdainiai), Márinpol (Mariampole), Nay-Aleksánder (Zarasai), Pónevezh (Panevėžys), Raséyn (Raseiniai) and Utyán (Utena). Then there is October 28th, marking the Great Action (lasting to the 29th), in which around ten thousand Kovno (Kaunas) Jews were killed in the Ninth Fort, the largest one-day massacre in Baltic history.
Joe Melamed, elected chairman of the world’s leading society of Litvaks, went on to condemn the antisemitic and distortionist underpinnings of the ‘Double Genocide’ campaign. He referred to the new phenomenon of Indirect Holocaust Denial that has replaced the no-longer tenable Direct Holocaust Denial. He demonstrated the relation of Indirect Denial to the far-right ultranationalist wish to turn the perpetrators into ‘equal victims’. Mr Melamed, a noted author and attorney who has studied the Lithuanian Holocaust for half a century, referred to the writings of the LAF murderers on the country’s Jews, leaving little doubt about the weight of the evidence of antisemitic calumnies that have fed seamlessly into the ‘Double Genocide’ movement.
It is sincerely hoped that HE Ambassador Degutis will report back to Vilnius on the degree to which the ‘Fake Litvak’ effort is backfiring, causing a substantial worsening, rather than the universally desired improvement, in Lithuanian-Jewish relations. The word Litvak is an ethnonym. It cannot be bought into by politicians or misguided businessmen who think they can encourage investment and good will while engaging in effect in identity theft of a tiny and weak remnant of a civilization brought to a bitter end by the Holocaust. Similarly, the ‘Double Genocide’ campaign needs to be abandoned as a matter of high urgency.
The text of Mr Melamed’s speech, in the original Hebrew, appears on the ALJ site here.
In close consultation with Litvak survivor groups internationally, this website has produced a working document of seven simple solutions to transform Lithuanian-Jewish relations.