Holocaust survivors from Lithuania, and their families and advocates, are reporting feelings of “shock and betrayal” at “unbelievable reports” that Yad Vashem might again be lending legitimacy to the Lithuanian government sponsored “red-brown commission.” These accounts derive from a BNS (Baltic News Service) report today that appeared in various Lithuanian media, including Alfa.lt (full translation below), reporting that the president herself signed the decree today for substantial new state investment in the commission.
The Vilnius and Jerusalem rumor mills are equally putting out the word that there had been pressure from the Israeli foreign ministry, itself pressured by the Lithuanian foreign ministry for Holocaust-revising gestures in line with the current Baltic state policy often referred to as “Double Genocide.”
UPDATES: 29 Aug 2012; 31 Aug; 31 Aug(b); 31 Aug(c); 3 Sept; 3 Sept(b) [Holocaust survivors’ statement]; 3 Sept(c) [Survivors’ letter to head of Yad Vashem]; 3 Sept(d) [in English translation].
The feelings of shock go to the heart of Israel’s fabled loyalty to its citizens which seems to have been suspended in the case of three of them. They are Holocaust survivors and heroes of the anti-Nazi resistance, all publicly defamed and pursued by Lithuanian prosecutors in recent years: Dr. Rachel Margolis, Dr. Yitzhak Arad, and attorney Joseph Melamed. The latter two are also veterans of Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. Big-ticket issues include the question of a moral right of any foreign ministry to barter the narrative of the Holocaust in exchange even for substantive diplomatic favors.
Since the start of this year rumors have been circulating about government attempts, spearheaded by “the Jewish MP” Emanuelis Zingeris, to resuscitate as his power base (in advance of forthcoming elections) the International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupational Regimes in Lithuania, as the red-brown commission is formally known.
In March 2012, DefendingHistory reported on the political efforts of the Lithuanian embassy in Washington DC to attract major historians, without disclosure of the commission’s controversial status, in a blatant example of attempted manipulation of history research by state budgets in the eastern regions of the European Union.
The red-brown commision’s founding (and ongoing) chairman, Mr. Zingeris, was the only Jew in Europe to sign the 2008 Prague Declaration. The document is widely seen to undermine the history of the Holocaust by demanding that all of Europe accept the notion of equivalence of the Nazi and Soviet occupational regimes. The commission is responsible for Holocaust education in Lithuania, but has also taken an active political role in promoting the 2008 Prague Declaration and various details of alleged “equality” of Nazi and Soviet crimes. The commission’s website features the Prague Declaration in English and Lithuanian. The website also boasts of the conclusions drawn by teachers who have been educated by the commission: “Those regimes would be compared like two evils, just the details are different, that’s all.”
Britain’s MP John Mann has called the 2008 declaration “a sinister document.” The red-brown commission was at its outset, a decade earlier, denounced by the Holocaust Survivor community. It has subsequently been criticized over the years by an array of survivors, educators, scholars and public figures. Some historians trace the evolution of Double Genocide politics, in part, to the commission’s attempt to use Holocaust studies as cover. Specialists in antisemitism have analyzed the antisemitic bias inherent in the declaration.
The same BNS report today that boasts of Yad Vashem rejoining the red-brown commission repeats the antisemitic slander against Dr. Yitzhak Arad who was Yad Vashem’s first director:
“The Prosecutor General’s Office of Lithuania has made accusations that commission member Yitzhak Arad had been involved in the mass murder of Lithuanian civilians.”
Will the Israeli Foreign Ministry respond?
Holocaust survivors and scholars alike have long been offended by the Holocaust-obfuscating pronouncements of the commission’s executive director, Mr. Ronaldas Račinskas, most recently in a 2011 speech in the Lithuanian parliament, and in a 2012 on-the-record interview that appears in the new documentary film Rewriting History. His effective denial of the thousands of murders committed by Lithuanian nationalists in the days before the arrival or consolidation of administration by German forces in late June 1941 lies at the core of the far right’s current historiography and ideology. Little surprise, perhaps, that his commission was silent about the 2011 year of commemoration for the LAF fascists, or the 2012 glorification of the 1941 Nazi puppet prime minister.
According to the commission’s website, Mr. Račinskas is “responsible for contracting researchers in Lithuania and abroad, for evaluation of the crimes of the Nazi and Soviet occupation regimes, calls consultations of the Commission, defines the structure of the Secretariat, represents the Commission and the Secretariat in the Republic of Lithuania and abroad etc.” For observers, it seems clear that Račinskas, a politician rather than historian by trade, would not be inclined to “contract researchers” who he believes will contradict his own Denial of the events of the first days of the Lithuanian Holocaust.
One foreign diplomat in Vilnius commented: “The only question about this commission is whether Račinskas is the real boss and Zingeris the show-Jew for the West.”
What went wrong the First Time?
After one of the commission’s own founding members, Holocaust survivor and former Yad Vashem director Dr. Yitzhak Arad, was accused of “war crimes” (in 2006) for having served as an anti-Nazi Soviet partisan after escaping the ghetto, a number of the commission’s members and expert advisers publicly resigned. These resignations on principle include (in addition to Dr. Arad himself): Sir Martin Gilbert (London), Prof. Gershon Greenberg (Washington, DC), Prof. Konrad Kwiet (Sydney) and Prof. Dov Levin (Jerusalem).
In recent years, state authorities in Lithuania have, in the “spirit of Prague,” attempted to prosecute Holocaust survivors who resisted the Nazis, while the government, like that of some neighboring countries, has invested in honoring the local perpetrators who are often presented as anti-Soviet heroes. That campaign reached a crescendo in recent years with the 2011 state-sponsored year of commemoration of the Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF) and other perpetrators, followed in spring 2012 with the reburial with full honors of the 1941 Nazi puppet prime minister. An ongoing international petition focuses on state-sponsored memorials to Nazi collaborators and perpetrators up and down the country, including the continued adulation of the 1941 puppet PM at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas.
For Yad Vashem the news raises a serious question about academic and moral independence vs. a required submission to periodic shifts in policy and politics of the Israeli Foreign Ministry of the day.
For Yad Vashem the news raises a serious question about academic and moral independence vs. a required submission to periodic shifts in policy and politics of the Israeli Foreign Ministry of the day. It also touches on the sensitive issue of Israel’s apparent disloyalty to its own citizens who continue to be defamed by Lithuanian authorities.
Dr. Rachel Margolis, now in Rechovot, Israel, feels unable to return to her native Vilnius. She turned 90 nearly a year ago, in October 2011. Many believe she was targeted by the “Double Genocide” industry for one of her major achievements in Holocaust studies: she rediscovered and painstakingly transcribed and published the lost diary of Kazimierz Sakowicz, a Polish Christian eyewitness to the murders at Ponár (Paneriai). It appeared in the original Polish in 1999. In 2005, Yale University Press issued the English edition under the title Ponary Diary (edited by Yitzhak Arad). Since the campaign against her was started by Lithuanian prosecutors, Dr. Margolis has been honored by the British House of Lords. In late 2009, a group of American congressmen wrote to the Lithuanian government in an appeal that has yet to receive a reply. Among those to raise her issue are former UK prime minister Gordon Brown in 2011. But silence from the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
As ever, Lithuanian media use such reports to repeat the unfounded and outrageous allegations against Dr. Arad. In today’s report the wording is: “The Prosecutor General’s Office of Lithuania has made accusations that commission member Yitzhak Arad had been involved in the mass murder of Lithuanian civilians.”
Dr. Arad, a Holocaust survivor, veteran hero of the anti-Nazi resistance and the Israeli war of independence, and the founding director of Yad Vashem, is thus once again defamed thanks to the commission’s antics, in the absence of any iota of evidence or any specific accusation. [In 2008, “part” of the Arad investigation was dropped, in a statement by prosecutors which called on the public to provide new information against him and which attacks one of his books on the basis of an anonymous “expert.” To this day, the red-brown commission has failed to condemn the defamation of its own founding member in any public statement, a defamation that is brought to life again today in Lithuanian mass media.]
Other Holocaust survivors defamed by Lithuanian prosecutors in recent years include Fania Yocheles Brantovsky (Vilnius), a frequent target of antisemitic diatribes, who was, along with Dr. Margolis, pursued in 2008 by police sent by the prosecutor’s office.
Another Israeli citizen victimized is Tel Aviv attorney Joseph Melamed, who was visited by Interpol one year ago as part of a Lithuanian government effort to defame him for “libel” over his 1999 book, Crime and Punishment.
Mr. Melamed is the elected head of the last active organization of Holocaust survivors from Lithuania, the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel.
The Commission made no public comment during the 2011 programs to glorify the local LAF Holocaust perpetrators or the 2012 events to honor the 1941 Nazi puppet prime minister.
The following is a translation of the full text of the Alfa.lt report.
[Lithuanian President] Gryabauskaite Renews International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania
28 August 2012
President Dalia Grybauskaite has renewed the International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania which will include 20 Lithuanian and foreign historians.
Tuesday she signed a presidential decree on the composition of the new commission. It will assess the crimes of the Nazi occupational regime against and the painful consequences of the Soviet occupation regime on residents of Lithuania.
The decree divides the commission into two sub-commissions: for the assessment of Nazi occupational regime crimes and the Holocaust, and for assessing the crimes of the Soviet occupational regime. Both sub-commissions will include ten members each.
As formerly, Lithuanian parliament Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Emanuelis Zingeris will lead the entire commission.
Two representatives of the Holocaust Victims and Heroes Commemoration Organization Yad Vashem in Israel, one member of the American Jewish Committee and several Lithuanian historians have been appointed to the Sub-commission for Evaluating Nazi Occupational Crimes and the Holocaust.
The public organizations Memorial in Russia, the American Jewish Committee and representatives of Yale, Stanford, Sorbonne and Vilnius universities will evaluate the crimes of the Soviet occupational regime.
This sort of commission was formed earlier in 1998, but in 2007 the commission halted operations when the Prosecutor General’s Office of Lithuania made accusations that commission member Yitzhak Arad had been involved in the mass murder of Lithuanian civilians.
3 September 2012(d): English translation of Joseph Melamed’s 3 September letter to Yad Vashem director Avner Shalev.
3 September 2012(c): Joseph Melamed, head of the Association of Lithuanian Jews, releases to the media his letter (in Hebrew) to Yad Vashem director Avner Shalev.
3 September 2012(b): The last active association of Lithuanian Holocaust survivors, based in Tel Aviv, issues a public statement.
3 September 2012(a): Publication of June 2009 correspondence with Yad Vashem in DefendingHistory.
31 August 2012(c): Kaunas VMU dean and professor, Sarunas Liekis, explains to the domestic media how the commission will protect Lithuania both from Jewish prejudices and Russian plots (in Lrytas.lt; English translation). Astoundingly, he asserts that those who disagree with the Zingreris-Račinskas commission are controlled by… Russia. He makes no mention of his university’s continuing adulation of the 1941 Nazi puppet prime minister or of his “other role” as “professor of Yiddish studies” in Vilnius and director of the “Vilnius Yiddish Institute” which he purged of dissenting (and Yiddish competent) academic staff in 2010; as a consequence, half the board resigned in protest.
31 August 2012(b): Berlin-based political scientist Dr. Clemens Heni comments on Facebook. PDF here.
31 August 2012(a): A third triumphant press release from BNS (full text here) provides a lowered percentage of Lithuanian Jews killed in the Holocaust, a frequent reduction (from around 95% to “almost 90%”) to obfuscate the status of Europe’s highest percentage by providing a lowered proportion in line with various other countries.
29 August 2012: A second triumphant press release from BNS (full text here) names the members of the commission’s two sub-commissions, repeats the sham allegations against Dr. Arad, and incorrectly implies that that (whole) matter was dropped in 2008 [actual “conclusion”]. There is no mention of any public apology to any of the accused. Carried in English by 15min.lt. Among the new members appointed to the Holocaust sub-commission is Professor K. Girnius (see here, here, here, here). Those appointed to the sub-commission on Soviet crimes include Professor T. Snyder.
22 September 2011: Yad Vashem withdraws invitation to Lithuanian minister.
29 June 2011: Where does Yad Vashem stand?
7 June 2011: Yad Vashem was announced as participant in Seimas conference to honor the Lithuanian Activist Front, but withdrew at the last moment.