O P I N I O N
Dear Dr. Rogatchi,
Warm congratulations on your excellent film, The Lessons of Survival. Conversations with Simon Wiesenthal. We encourage all our readers to see the film, and those who live in or near Vilnius to attend the screening this Tuesday 28 October 2014 at 5 PM at the Vilnius Jewish Public Library, followed by a distinguished panel discussion.
As the author of one of the best recent exposes of the racism, antisemitism and adulation of Hitler’s collaborators lurking in some sectors of Ukraine hotly and naively supported by the West, we feel confident that you would be the last person on the planet to be an unwitting part of an effort to distort Simon Wiesenthal’s life work, or even worse, the Holocaust itself by giving succor to those who would attempt to suppress discussion in the Baltics about blaming the victims, glorifying the perpetrators, pursuing Double Genocide politics, antisemitism, state harassment of courageous Lithuanian citizens who speak out, and laws that in effect make it potentially criminal to disagree with Double Genocide. A moment’s walk up Gedimino Boulevard from the library there is to be found the so-called Museum of Genocide Victims which features on-street honors for J. Noreika and other Holocaust collaborators.
This is not an issue of “Lithuanian-Jewish relations.” These relations are better than at anytime in postwar history, leading to ever-increasing productive friendships and partnerships wherever they occur. It is a debate between the known history vs. complicated and misguided nationalist attempts to “fix” that history via investment in red-brown commissions, mix-and-match memorial days, and confounding of victims and perpetrators, sugared with an array of Jew-less “Jewish institutions” in the business of emerging now and then from the hull of utter emptiness to provide honors and impressive events for foreign VIPs.
In fact, courageous ethnic Lithuanians have been in the forefront of truth-telling about history. Six of the seven 2014-2015 Prophet Amos Awards for Human Rights in Lithuania were won this year by ethnic Lithuanians. This is not about a Lithuanian-Jewish problem. It is a debate with two sides, only one of which, the government’s dry-cleaned history, is invited to participate in the post-film discussion next Tuesday following your film. In informal parlance, that is called a cooked discussion. It is one of many such attempts to deceive the audience by presenting different parts of one side of the argument, without mentioning the existence of the other side with any respect, and pretending, on this occasion, that this somehow represents the legacy of Simon Wiesenthal.
The problems do not emanate from Lithuanian-Jewish relations between people. They emanate from an array of government-sponsored Holocaust and Jewish-interest projects designed to distort history or cover for antisemitism. Defending History proposes seven simple solutions that could be enacted almost overnight.
Does it really take a great amount of imagination or academic reconstruction to understand what Simon Wiesenthal thought and would have thought about all this?
Far from reflecting just Defending History’s concerns, these issues have been raised in recent years by among others, Dr. Yitzhak Arad, Prof. Yehuda Bauer, former UK prime minister Gordon Brown, the Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the ADL’s Abe Foxman, Sir Martin Gilbert, the UK’s Lord Janner, the world’s last active association of Holocaust survivors from Lithuania, the late Dr. Shimon Alperovich, and others who have spoken out, among other things, about the 2008 Prague Declaration, and about the state commission manipulating Holocaust history.
The problem here is that for many years, the far-right establishment within the Lithuanian government and its lushly financed history-revision units, institutes and museums have been trying to discredit the life’s work of Simon Wiesenthal’s primary successor, Dr. Efraim Zuroff, director of the Israel office of the Wiesenthal Center. He is the center’s chief Nazi hunter, a PhD in Holocaust history, widely published historian and scholar, and for decades a prime response-provider to antisemitism in Eastern Europe and related efforts to obfuscate the Holocaust (see e.g. for early examples 1990 and 1993 and his 2005 paper).
The Lithuanian nationalist press regularly contains calumny and threats against Dr. Zuroff. One mainstream blog (Balsas.lt) called for Zuroff (and Katz) to be torn limb from limb by wolves, after we peacefully protested the state-sanctioned capital-center neo-Nazi march in 2012.
At the showing last spring of your film, Dr. Rogatchi, the executive director of the red-brown commission, who calls a courageous Holocaust survivor a liar on his website, and who has a very different spiel for Lithuanian audiences, used the discussion after that screening to attempt to defame Dr. Zuroff, by explaining how supposedly different he is from his teacher, the late Simon Wiesenthal. Needless to say, there were no second opinions offered, and members of the Jewish community left the event shocked.
One need only read Dr. Zuroff’s essays, op-eds and press releases on Lithuania to understand his position clearly. His position has consistently been that it would be to these countries’ great and long-term benefit for suspected war criminals to receive a fair trial in their own country and in their own language. I made a modest attempt, in a 2013 tribute in The Times of Israel, to put Zuroff’s work in the context of Wiesenthal’s legacy.
Vilnius currently boasts an array of disturbingly Jew-free “Jewish institutions.” The thoroughly Jew-less “Jewish Public Library” what with its impressive V-ollywood set of books has in the past been gifted for evenings for Holocaust revisionism propaganda, most notably in a 2013 panel composed of members and supporters of the state’s “red-brown commission” and even of the Genocide Center (one of whose scholars, simultaneously with his appearance at the “Jewish library” in 2013, offered his latest obfuscation of Lithuanian Holocaust history).
Before giving away his collection of Jewish themed books to the government for the library, its founder, Wyman Brent, spoke out openly about his fears about just such manipulation. In 2012, the annual neo-Nazi march that flaunts swastikas and flies flags honoring 1941 Holocaust perpetrators passed right by the library’s front gate. The tiny Defending History team hoped to meet at least one staff member of the library protesting. Not one turned up. Then there was a vast attempt to recruit, wine and dine another Simon Wiesenthal member from another country but it blew up in scandal and was cancelled. In a third instance, an author honored at the library ended up adding a line to her memoir about her roots journey claiming that Zuroff and Katz seek “retribution,” which is patently untrue. As noted above, our strongest allies in the pursuit of the simple historic truth are courageous Lithuanian citizens; our fiercest opponents are (mostly foreign) honor-hungry Jews, sometimes those involved with large international organizations which become a proxy for the current unstable state of the east-west politics lurking in the contemporary geostrategic background.
The bottom line, Dr. Rogatchi, is that a panel has been composed of top quality panelists who hold one and the same opinion, the idea that government apologetics omitting from the debate others of different opinions is the right way forward, all made kosher by famous Jews and Jewish products from abroad receiving a day or two of rarefied attention in a Baltic capital.
One very easy solution would be to add an equal number of panelists who disagree with the state’s Holocaust revisionism campaign, just as you would demand were this Ukraine. Vilnius has many fine candidates to fill these chairs, and most of them are bold Lithuanian truth tellers who do not spin out events intended to denigrate Simon Wiesenthal’s prime successor and undermine all that Wiesenthal devoted his amazing life to achieving.
All good wishes
Response to one of the panel participants:
HE Darius Degutis, former Lithuanian ambassador to Israel, is one of the panelists slated to discuss Inna Rogatchi’s film on Simon Wiesenthal. It is important that attendees know of his controversial record while in Israel if only to be able to politely raise these questions in a framework of respectful dialogue and frank exchange of views.
The ambassador was disinvited by Yad Vashem in 2011 after the Lithuanian government got Interpol to harass an 87 year old Holocaust survivor, a stunt condemned by a group of British parliamentarians. Instead of apologizing, he went on to defend nine Nazi collaborators on the grounds that they were (also?) “anti-Soviet heroes.”
Folks begged Ambassador Degutis during his years in Tel Aviv to “just fix everything” by coming with a bouquet of flowers to Dr. Rachel Margolis down the road in Rehovot, at least on her 90th birthday.
Ambassador Degutis went on in 2012 to mastermind an event in Tel Aviv featuring as guest of honor the then right wing Lithuanian foreign minister who had offended the Jewish community with his antisemitic remarks, and went on, shortly afterwards to be part of his government’s plans to repatriate and honor the Nazi puppet prime minister of 1941 (plans opposed by bold members of the Lithuanian parliament’s then opposition party). The March 2012 Tel Aviv event elicited a picket line by Holocaust survivors and the Wiesenthal Center. Degutis’s main objectives may have been business-class South African Jews of Lithuanian descent hungry for EU passports and various honors and photo-ops.
The same foreign minister honored in Tel Aviv had in January of 2012 condemned his fellow countrymen, the courageous Lithuanian parliamentarians who valiantly signed The Seventy Years Declaration, while coming out with his infamous quote on the equality of Hitler and Stalin except for the length of their moustaches.
After Holocaust survivors spoke out, Degutis widely circulated a letter to the South African invitees including a long and defamatory personal invective against Defending History’s editor, written from his Ministry of Foreign Affairs email account on 13 February 2012, including the text: “If Mr. Katz keeps silent that would mean that we are not working well. Now, it is a compliment for all of us.” The object of his attack was professor of Yiddish at Vilnius University from 1999 to 2011 where he established the Vilnius Yiddish Institute as well as the Center for Stateless Cultures, part of a near quarter century of contributions to Lithuanian-Jewish educational projects. The ambassador worked hard to forge division and splits within the fragile and small Litvak community, whose core of elderly survivors is rapidly diminishing. Surely that could not be a goal of Lithuania’s foreign ministry.
When Haaretz (and other media) came a few months later to ask the ambassador about his government’s honoring of a 1941 Holocaust collaborator, they were told that the ambassador is abroad. He left his then deputy Violeta Poprova to deal with the fallout.
Hopefully, there will be real questions about the real issues in the inspiring spirit of Simon Wiesenthal.
STATEMENT BY DEFENDING HISTORY:
Ambassador Degutis’s widely circulated February 2012 personal attack on us is entirely unjustified and misleading, and tries to create the impression that whoever disagrees with the Double Genocide policies of some state institutions is somehow “anti-Lithuanian.” Defending History is proud to host a page honoring courageous Lithuanian citizens who speak out, is proud of its series of Prophet Amos awards for human rights (six of seven went to Lithuanians, seven of seven to Lithuanian citizens); is proud to count among its contributors so many Lithuanian friends and colleagues who happen not to share all of Mr. Degutis’s opinions.
See the sections dedicated to the writings of Vytenis Andriukaitis, Evaldas Balčiūnas, Aleksandras Bosas, Algis Davidavičius, Leonidas Donskis, Vilma Fiokla Kiurė, Kamilė Rupeikaitė, Nida Vasiliauskaitė, Tomas Venclova, Lina Žigelytė.
See also our obituary for the late president and prime minister of Lithuania, Algirdas Brazauskas.
When Mr. Degutis’s then foreign minister berated his fellow Lithuanian parliamentarians in 2012, Defending History rapidly worked to arrange for a member of the British Parliament to honor all eight Lithuanian signatories, who stood up for the honor of their country and the truth of history.
History will show who is the greater friend of Lithuania: those who defend monuments, events and street names honoring Holocaust perpetrators, or those who would hope to live to see these replaced by monuments, events and street names for the incredibly courageous righteous rescuers, who risked all to save a fellow Lithuanian citizen.