O P I N I O N
by Monica Lowenberg
It is the 24th of December 2012, three days after the announced end of the world. I am sitting at my desk drinking a cup of a tea. No gaping hole has suddenly swallowed me up, no heavens have collapsed, no earthquakes have caused Tsunamis to sweep coastal towns. My cat is blissfully unaware of the commotion millions of people around the world have caused on mountain tops, at sacred sites and even in a museum in Russia which for apparently only $1,500 offered salvation in the underground bunker of the former Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. Apparently the museum sold all 1,000 tickets in one fell swoop and I am sure now regret that they offered a 50% discount if nothing happened. Tant pis. It is amazing how people will believe anything today. Even some very intelligent people.
The last time I looked at the international petition site I set up against the SS marches in Latvia, in number one place, above any human rights cause, came the rights of Shetland ponies. I am not sure what happened to the Shetland ponies but clearly something must have, as thousands and thousands of people across the world vitriolically and vociferously protested and voted for their rights and rightly so. However, when it comes to the rights of humans the voting finger is in most cases nowhere to be seen.
As I started this campaign one question has deeply troubled me, why is it that we as humans feel natural empathy towards an animal who is being appallingly abused but not necessarily towards a human being? Gotthold Ephraim Lessing the great enlightenment thinker and close friend of Moses Mendelssohn explained it well in his use of fables. In brief he explained why fables are a more useful tool to impart moral messages than others, as the distinction between for example the perpetrator and the victim, is transparently clear. When we look at a wolf and a sheep it is crystal clear who the victim is and who is the perpetrator but when we look at two human beings, the distinction between the two becomes sometimes blurred due to the associations we attach to those two groups, rightly or wrongly.
For example, if I showed you a photograph of a dog being skinned alive in China you would scream out in horror, it is quite clear to you that the dog is a victim of a human perpetrator and that this act is disgusting however, if I show you today a photograph of victims of Nazism who happened to be Jewish being herded into a ghetto for subsequent murder and if I showed you photographs of how that action was part of a whole system that murdered, tortured, raped, humiliated at each stage, butchered each and every last member of the targeted ethnicity, with the perpetrators jumping upon the bodies for anything useful for domestic life, and if you saw a picture of a powerful man dressed in Nazi uniform or a picture of men with guns by their sides aiming at children, babies, old men, young men, old women , young women, people defenseless, it will be quite clear in your mind who is the perpetrator and who is the victim and naturally your sympathy will go to the victim.
So, now I must ask the question what has happened this very year, in 2012, when I show you a picture of a box that contains the remains of Juozas Ambrazevičius (Brazaitis) who was the Nazi puppet prime minister of Lithuania and signed a piece of paper (among others) confirming the order for all the Jewish citizens of his city, Kaunas, to be relocated to and incarcerated in a ghetto within four weeks. Many of the atrocities described above actually started on his watch. Another of his early orders, in June 1941, was for the setting up of a “concentration camp” for “the Jews” which was actually the Seventh Fort torture and murder site near Kaunas.
So what do you feel when you see his remains being carried with great aplomb, to be buried with high honors, only this year, not ten years ago, not twenty years ago, not fifty years ago but no in 2012 in an EU and NATO country, Lithuania, a country that in only a few short months, in the course of 2013, will hold the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union?
You do not feel horror? You perhaps do not feel horror and disgust because suddenly your image of what a perpetrator and victim are has been turned on its head. You cannot understand how it is possible that such honoring of such a man could happen and therefore when certain great professors and other “Useful Idiots” from the West, who have been lauded and showered with trinkets and titles and welcomed with champagne by the Lithuanian government, people who literally copy-and-paste a historic narrative that the PR team of the Lithuanian government had given them to distribute, you mistakenly believe that the division between perpetrator and victim is not as clear cut as you had thought. As Lessing wrote,
“And how many people are so widely known in history that they need only to be mentioned so that at once the notion of the way of thinking that is particular to them, as well as of their other properties, is immediately awakened in everyone?”
And so as this process takes on momentum your ability to discern between simple right and wrong changes. Imperceptibly. The values that you believed you have shift imperceptibly to the point where without you realizing it you have no clear values anymore. And that is how moral decline and the decline of reason begin their slippery slide.
You may only see the box being placed into the ground with priests, soldiers and dignitaries and even famous historians next to it, but the little box contains the remains of a man who contributed to the separation from society, humiliation, deprivation of rights, torture, rape, murder and mutilation of his own citizens who happened to have been born into one of his country’s long-standing minorities.
And when you suddenly realize this you wonder why a government would do this in 2012, a government that will hold the presidency of the European Council in a few months’ time, a government that wishes to be seen as Western. And you wonder how it is possible that this government will be allowed by the EU to take the presidency next year and you think to yourself is it really true that this government has criminalized Holocaust survivors such as the former director of Yad Vashem Yitzhak Arad, who is a leading historian of the Lithuanian Holocaust, or 91 year old Dr. Rachel Margolis who discovered and published the diary of a Christian witness to tens of thousands of murders by local “patriots” of the Jews of Vilna and its area.
And you think quite understandably it can’t be true, there must be other reasons why these people were accused of war crimes, they must have done something. And when I tell you that the Lithuanian government recently spent untold thousands of euros to be able to set up a “Peace Park” where not one or two Jew shooters are honored but hundreds, you think to yourself that can’t be true, there must be another side to the story, there must be other reasons. And when I tell you that since 2008 the Lithuanian government allows not one but two Nazi marches to go ahead in the year, each on one of the nation’s two independence days (16 February and 11 March) of all days, accompanied with swastikas (just an innocent ancient Baltic symbol, says the 2010 Lithuanian law) you suddenly think, Oh it happens everywhere.
However, think again. Does any government allow on Independence Day neo-Nazi marches to take place in the heart of the nation’s capital? For what is the indirect message being given out by that government? it is either we can’t control our neo-Nazis and therefore we give them what they want in the spirit of democracy. Or: we quietly support such action (in addition to the lavish events to honor Western academics hungry for accolades), it is useful in drumming up nationalistic feeling.
Prof. Leonidas Donskis, a Lithuanian MEP, a brave man with high integrity, wrote me that he agreed with me “99%” on the issues raised in my petition. Whether the Lithuanian government and its apologists wish to admit this fact or not, to allow neo-Nazi marches to take place on Independence Day the indirect message also being giving out to the wider world is, tragically, that we support such xenophobia, such antisemitism, such hatred of humanity.
The petition, it should be noted, attracted the signatories of more people around the world than those who would attend the “No Simple Stories, Part 2” conference shamefully co-hosted by UCL and the Lithuanian Embassy. It should be noted that UCL allowed Professor Antony Polonsky, an eminent historian rightly respected for his vast achievements in Polish history — and one recently curiously knighted by the Lithuanian government in effect for betraying the historic truth and betraying the victims and survivors of the Holocaust, a man whose latest book was being launched at the conference and a man who does not work at UCL — the right to refuse my father and me the right to read out the petition at the commencement of the conference. A similar petition, organized back in 2011 by Professor Danny Ben-Moshe, a Londoner who lives in Melbourne, had actually been read out the year before at part 1 of the conference in 2011 and a petition that had also been signed by one of the UCL lecturers. But not this year. What happened between 2011 and 2012? The question that has to now remain is what happened to free speech in a major British institution, namely UCL?
A few days after the petition was delivered to the Lithuanian embassy in London, the Vilnius Municipality issued a press release proposing that next year the neo-Nazi march on Independence Day be rerouted to a lesser city center street, the equivalent of say an Oxford Street march being forced into Duke Street. I suppose an improvement but yet to be seen. At the end of the day the march is still scheduled for Independence Day. At a time when right wing extremism is not walking through Europe but sweeping through it, where in Greece alone, once the cradle of democracy, 9% of the vote is given to the Golden Dawn party, a Neo Nazi faction, if to now still allow today a neo Nazi march to occur on independence day, if such action is not grossly irresponsible I would like to know what is.
And yet despite all of this, why do you not protest, why do you not say no? Perhaps because outside of Lithuania and particularly in Israel and in London the face that the Lithuanian government gives to the public at large at glittering events, at conferences with established British universities, at book launches at book weeks is of peaceful respectability in designer suits, with adulation for acquiescent Jewish dignitaries. Not skinheads with jackboots. Nevertheless, this same government, though given the opportunity to simply write a letter of apology to Rachel Margolis, a lady who has even won the public support of Gordon Brown, has still not found it fit to write to this elderly 91 year old lady and say “Sorry, and you can come and visit Vilnius any day.” You see as the Jewish Chronicle quoted in a recent article, the Lithuanian government’s behavior has to be held into question if it is not to be seen as “duplicitous” as clearly there is a discrepancy between what is seen abroad and what is done at home.
So, after all this you now ask yourself quite correctly, how have these things been allowed to happen. It is actually very simple. These things have been allowed to happen because Lithuania which had perhaps the highest percentage (not absolute number of course, it is a small country) of collaborators in the Holocaust, in Europe, and certainly had the highest percentage of its Jews killed in all of Europe (96.4% of Lithuanian Jewry) has to date not found it proper to punish a single collaborator but rather instead of prosecuting such criminals prefers to see them as “patriots” and honor them. It is as simple as that.
In view of this fact, the Lithuanian government would be wise to realize that until they say sorry and stop, apart from the issues listed in the petition, the honoring of mass murderers and equating of Nazi crimes with Soviet crimes today, the victims and descendants of people who were victims of Nazism in particular but concerned citizens as well, will not be able to trust the Lithuanian government and certainly not a government that hero worships in 2012 mass murderers of a kind that defeat description. It is as simple as that.
At the end of the day the Lithuanian government, unlike the German government or the Italian have not found it necessary to say sorry. It is as simple as that.
Instead the Lithuanian government like the Latvian sees the Lithuanians and the Latvians as having been the victims of the Soviets and the Nazis, to the extent that a Lithuanian foreign minister had absolutely no qualms when he publicly announced that the only difference between Hitler and Stalin was the size of their moustaches. You see, yes, Lithuania like Latvia was invaded by the Germans and the Soviets and their past is troubled and of course the voices of innocent Latvians and Lithuanians should be heard, people who also suffered terribly. But it is of utmost importance that these two Baltic countries in particular, admit that they collaborated with the Nazis and murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent people who happened to be Jews, who had no knowledge in the main of Communism and did not drink champagne with Stalin. The Prague Declaration of 2008 “On European Conscience and Communism,” a document that John Mann MP correctly pointed out was “sinister” and one that the Lithuanian government have been catapulting with great rigor into Europe, is indeed a sinister document, it paves the way for people who committed terrible crimesto get off the hook and excuse the inexcusable, by way of the red-equals-brown equation that itself enables the utter confusion of perpetrators and victims during the Holocaust.
The officials who organized the recent UCL conference seemed hell-bent on ensuring that not one conference goer would even know about the 2012 response, the Seventy Years Declaration of 2012. Why this freakish attempt to control information in the information age?
Now you may say, “Oh all these terrible things in the Holocaust happened such a long time ago, it happened, it is past, let’s live in peace, let’s make up” and you are right that it is important that we live in peace and it is right that we make up when true apologies have been given. Yet I need to remind you of two images and your response. The picture of the dog being skinned alive in China and the picture of the box of remains of the 1941 Nazi puppet prime minister taken in the very same year, your first response was of horror and your second was of confusion.
You see, when governments and their pawns decide to distort historical narratives to meet political agendas then imperceptibly, it is not the beginning of the end of the world but if left unchallenged it is the beginning of the erosion of European conscience and the end of moral reason.
Some of the participants in the December 17th protest at the Lithuanian Embassy in London.
On Monday 17 December, 2012 at 10.30 AM, my 90 year old Holocaust survivor father Ernst Loewenberg, a native of Halle an der Saale who lost 35 members of his family in the Holocaust, went to the Lithuanian Embassy in London, SW1 to deliver a major petition.
At 10 AM, a small group of protesters met Ernst outside Pimlico Underground Station in London and quietly accompanied him to the Lithuanian Embassy for 10:30 AM. As the Lithuanian embassy had not seen it fit to respond to an email by me, his daughter, of 1 December 2012, an email that politely requested that the Lithuanian government address the issues raised within the petition before the conference, a conference that later that day was co-hosted by the Lithuanian Embassy and UCL, we arrived unannounced.
The petition which in little under two weeks had acquired the signatories of over 300 people worldwide, including the names of eminent politicians, scholars, Holocaust survivors, educationalists and concerned citizens was delivered by Ernst along with letters from: Dr. Hans Coppi, respected historian and son of the famous resistance fighters Hans and Hilde Coppi; Ruth Barnett, Kindertransportee, educationalist and campaigner for the rights of ethnic minorities; David Cukier, second generation Holocaust survivor and former UCL student; Budd Margolis, cousin of Dr. Rachel Margolis, the 91 year old Holocaust survivor who is one of the Jewish survivors “investigated” by the Lithuanian government for “war crimes” for the “crime” of having survived the ghetto to join the anti-Nazi resistance. Dr. Margolis is afraid to return to Lithuania one last time for a visit to her home town; Professor Gert Weisskirchen a German Social Democrat MP who gave his personal regrets and the German embassy’s regrets to Ernest Loewenberg for being unable to accompany him to the Lithuanian Embassy that day.
The protesters who accompanied Ernst Loewenberg and myself included: Mark Davidson, photojournalist and campaigner for the rights of the disabled in the UK, who covered the Paralympics for various nationals; Panos Fellas, a campaigner for the rights of the Roma and Sinti community in Corinth, Greece; Irene Fick, second generation Holocaust survivor of non-Jewish parents; Rosemarie Lowenberg, wife of Ernst Loewenberg; Fabio Perselli, editor, photographer and son of former Italian diplomat who was put into a German prisoner of war camp.