O P I N I O N
by Monica Lowenberg
Monica Lowenberg’s office has released for publication the following public letter sent to British ORT.
British ORT, FAO The Chief Executive, Mr. Dan Green
25 November 2013
Dear Mr. Green,
It is with deep regret that my 90 year old father, Ernest Lowenberg, former Berlin ORT pupil and I write to you today.
On the 13 November 2013, as chief executive of British ORT, you invited my parents and me to a concert that British ORT will be co-hosting with Westminster Synagogue and the Lithuanian Embassy on Monday 2 December 2013, as part of a two-day “Litvak Days symposium” at Westminster Synagogue. Shockingly, this “Litvak Days” symposium features a professor from Kaunas who thinks that glorifying his country’s 1941 Nazi puppet prime minister who helped send his city’s Jews to their deaths showcases “the drama of Lithuanian history” and complained that timid college administrators are “frightened that they were going to get hit over the head with a club by the Jews” (full text; English translation; reply by the Lithuanian Jewish community’s Milan Chersonski). His university in Kaunas continues to flaunt a lecture hall name and bas-relief glorifying the same 1941 Nazi puppet prime minister.
Another “star” of this “Litvak symposium” is the editor of the Lithuania Tribune, a major mouthpiece for state Holocaust obfuscation, whose editor’s democratic values have not extended to publishing replies in his tribune (no pun intended). But he is happy to publish the state commission’s attacks on a Vilna Holocaust survivor as purported fact (background here and here), and has rejected each and every attempt by the survivor to publish in the Tribune. Is this really the kind of event British ORT and the Westminster Synagogue wish to be associated with?
I have copied Westminster Synagogue’s Rabbi Thomas Salamon into this mail, as well as your predecessor Robert Singer with whom over the years we have been in touch, as my parents and I feel it is important that they too are aware of where the Lowenberg family stands in this matter.
My parents and I are sadly obliged to decline your invitation as we refuse to have our names associated with a government that we have repeatedly called upon to change certain policies, including their ongoing sanitization and glorification of Holocaust collaborators as well as direct killers, a government that invests huge resources, despite trying economic times, in revising history to export a false equivalence of Nazi and Soviet crimes in an attempt to downgrade the Holocaust, which in Lithuania claimed 96.4% of the Jewish population, the highest percentage in all Holocaust-era Europe.
I have, as you know, personally informed British ORT with full documentary evidence. It is therefore particularly disturbing and personally upsetting that despite having this information, British ORT should actively go out of its way, under your leadership, to continue co-hosting an event with the Lithuanian Embassy.
In my last email to you of 14 November 2013, further to your telephone call, I suggested that if British ORT could not back out of the event that you allow myself and my father to read out the petition at the commencement of the concert to HE Ambassador Asta Skaisgirytė Liauškienė, Lithuanian ambassador to the UK. This would take under five minutes to read out at the event. What on earth is anyone afraid of in our free and democratic UK?
I am aware that Ronnie Wolf (daughter of former ORT boy Gerhart Wolf, many of whose family were also brutally murdered in Lithuania and Latvia) has also contacted you on the same matter. We have not heard from you and therefore we can only conclude that our request has been denied and that you will continue with this shameful concert.
As you are aware, the Lithuanian government have been pursuing a very active strategy that as the Jewish Chronicle in December 2012 noted, at a PR event with UCL and then at Jewish Book Week in February 2013 is clearly “duplicitous” and is part of a campaign of Holocaust revisionism. John Mann MP has referred to what is going on as an “industrial rewriting of history in Eastern Europe to excuse mass murders carried out on behalf of the Nazis.”
On the one hand we have a government who at these “Jewish events” shows a face that is open and friendly to a dialogue with, in particular, Holocaust survivors and their families, (but not I might add when they arrive on their doorstep and deliver petitions) yet at home, in Lithuania, legalizes swastikas; allows for Nazi marches to take place on Independence days in the very center of the nation’s capital and second city, and then names the youth who participate in such events as being “patriotic”; criminalizes Holocaust survivors such as Yitzhak Arad, former director of Yad Vashem; and glorifies perpetrators amongst many other actions that call out for dignified protest.
Tragically, it is becoming clear that many of these issues have been long-standing and are only intensifying as time goes by with Prof. Leonidas Donskis having been one of the very few voices, among elected officials from Lithuania who has truly and bravely spoken out against these things, a man who when I questioned him last year on whether the statements about the Lithuanian government were incorrect he responded in an email by saying I was not incorrect but “99% correct.”
I can therefore only conclude, as many others have, that the Lithuanian government are pursuing a very active strategy which is in my opinion clearly duplicitous. Glittering events, conferences such as those organized at UCL, book launches at Jewish Book Week, art exhibitions, concerts with British ORT are simply foils to a much larger strategy, a strategy that deliberately uses neo-Nazi marches on Independence Day (what a contradiction in terms if ever there was one) as useful vehicles to drum up nationalistic feeling. Clearly the marches are “useful” or by now the Lithuanian government would have disallowed them in the capital on Independence Day. The government’s campaign of Holocaust distortion, obfuscation includes the infamous Prague Declaration of 2008 which is the “bible” of the “Double Genocide” movement. A 2010 law passed by Lithuania’s parliament and signed by her president threatens up to two years’ imprisonment to those who would in effect deny the “Double Genocide” evaluation of twentieth century history.
As the eminent historian Professor Robert Wistrich wrote in an article this year in the Jerusalem Post, in response to a global forum on antisemitism:
“Lithuania, however, is a far worse case. For the past two decades, it has consistently omitted or minimized the massive scale of the nation’s complicity in the Holocaust, which greatly contributed to the barbaric slaughter of 95 percent of Lithuania’s 200,000 Jews 70 years ago. Rather than honestly confront this appalling record, the Lithuanian government has continuously stressed the Soviet “genocide” of Lithuanians, even insinuating that Jews were involved in these Communist war crimes.”
As I stated to you in our telephone conversation, for the purpose of historic truth and in the case of British ORT to preserve the dignity and memory of Colonel Levey and the other brave ORT personalities who literally risked their lives to save others, it is absolutely essential that British ORT does not allow its good name to be abused and be associated with the Lithuanian government. It is essential that British ORT does not host this concert with the Lithuanian government.
As Dr. Lionel Kopelowitz, former director of the Board of Deputies, noted when he was roped into attending the shameful UCL event, a previous Lithuanian government PR stunt in December 2012, what is said at these events is forgotten within a couple of days, if not hours, but the publicity which has the Lithuanian government’s name and logo of a proud knight on a horse on it, is for posterity, forever linked with the names of eminent and credible individuals and bodies.
In years to come, as the Lithuanian PR team continues to happily steamroll through the history books and the Jewish community, how will the everyday man on the street come to know the true history of Lithuania and the Baltics and what it is doing today when British ORT and Westminster Synagogue and other organisations link arms with the very government who are hell bent on distorting that history? I am aware that ORT is generously involved with a school in Lithuania that receives funding from the Lithuanian government, as I am sure many schools in Lithuania receive funding from that government but not all schools run functions with the government in London today in efforts to cover for duplicitous policy. This is something that does not need to occur to maintain relations. British ORT has survived until now not running functions with the Lithuanian Embassy. Do you not think it is suspicious if not downright malevolent that out of all the hundred odd Jewish organisations in the UK the Lithuanian ambassador to London could target to run an event with this year, it should be the only one that my soon to be 91 year old father is deeply connected with? This is an act that is as suspicious as the invitation Second Generation Network received last year to co-host an event with the same embassy at Jewish Book Week last February 2013, an invitation the Second Generation Network declined when they realized the game the Lithuanian PR team were playing with them (Second Generation Network being the only Jewish organisation I belong to). These incidents are not coincidences but deliberate attempts of the Lithuanian embassy to undermine and silence the voices of those who contest their government’s despicable actions that have taken place not thirty years ago, not twenty, not even ten but — today.
The concert British ORT is involved in and hosting coincides, whether you are aware of this or not, with Lithuania’s presidency of the European Union Council and it is in the interest of the Lithuanian government to be seen to be co-hosting an event with British ORT. As the documentary maker and author of “Tell Me No Lies” John Pilger has noted when investigating the propaganda techniques of various governments today, the Lithuanian government’s involvement in this concert demonstrates only one thing, how important PR is to that government and being associated with as many important names as possible to give them credibility at a time when they least deserve it on Jewish issues.
In view of the facts mentioned and because my parents and I recognize how important it is for anyone who truly cares about historic truth, justice and the prevention of far-right extremism currently sweeping Europe for each of us, where and when we can, challenge the Lithuanian government and their actions that happen and escalate today and because it is evident that under your leadership British ORT does not share this concern, it is with sincere regret that we need to inform you and make public that the Lowenberg family severs all ties with British ORT and do not permit British ORT to use any information, photographs, articles I have written in English and German on ORT, books concerning our family in any publicity you may choose to create for print or web publications. In some respects we are writing ourselves out of your history, as the history you will now be involved in is one that is based in lies of a heinous nature that defeat description.
This is how strongly we feel about the association you have deliberately nurtured that we are prepared to sever a life-long commitment with the organization that saved my father’s life. Our gratitude will forever lie with Colonel Levey and the brave ORT people who literally risked their lives so that we can live today.
Gali Bartal, British ORT
Robert Singer, World Jewish Congress
Rabbi Thomas Salamon, Westminster Synagogue
Rabbi Barry Marcus, Central Synagogue
Dr Lionel Kopelowitz, former director of the Jewish Board of Deputies
Dr Efraim Zuroff, Director, Simon Wiesenthal Center, Israel
Professor Danny Ben-Moshe, Deakin University, Melbourne
Professor Dovid Katz, Defending History
Graeme Atkinson, International Editor, Hope Not Hate
John Mann MP
Former Berlin ORT boys
PS I would also like to draw to your attention three petitions that will remain open:
1. Petition to ban this coming year’s neo-Nazi march in central Vilnius:
2. To remove monuments to Nazi war criminals throughout Lithuania:
3. To mark progress across an array of issues the Lithuanian government could easily make progress on.
http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/he-ambassador-asta-skaisgiryt%C4%97-liau%C5%A1kien%C4%97-lithuanian-ambassador-london-uk-abandon-state-sponsored-anti-semitism-and-holocaust-obfuscation. Attachment: Petitioner’s dossier.