O P I N I O N
A senior historian and his government’s “master fixer for foreign Jewish academics,” Professor Sarunas Liekis told an audience of hundreds in Philadelphia last Sunday that Dovid Katz had never been a professor of Yiddish at Vilnius University, and had been discontinued in 2010 by the American Friends of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute (led by Richard Maullin of Los Angeles) for not having turned up for class for several years (!).
Both assertions were within minutes countered by Defending History, edited by Katz. On the first issue there is the well documented record of the professorship which included building de novo Vilnius University’s Center for Stateless Cultures (from 1999) and its Vilnius Yiddish Institute (from 2001), of which the non-Yiddish-speaking, non-Yiddish-writing historian Liekis is now director.
In fact, it was Dovid Katz, then at Oxford in the 1990s, who was Liekis’s mentor and academic patron for a decade and a half, sending him to Oxford for Judaic Studies programs in a then pioneering agreement negotiated by Katz between Oxford and Vilnius universities. It was covered in 1991 by the New York Times. Later, Katz, after founding the Yiddish institute, invited Liekis to join as executive director. Liekis left his job at the Soros Foundation, known as ALFas in Lithuania, to take up Katz’s offer. When Liekis was up for his own Habilitation at Vilnius University in 2005, he chose Professor Katz to serve as the specialist for judging his submitted work in the field of Lithuanian Jewish history. “All in the records.” A source at the Yiddish insitute, who did not want to be named, asked if Liekis now want to retrospectively, for political motives, do a Soviet-style erasure of a colleague’s proud eleven-year record at Vilnius University even if it would render his own highest degree fraudulent? Time will tell.
Professor Katz insists he never once missed a class in eleven years of service to Vilnius University, and the testimonies of hundreds of students are available. He called the defamation “deeply hurtful, wholly inaccurate, and frankly, wholly unnecessary.” In the summer of 2009, Yiddish institute staff reported to Katz that they “could not invite him to give any lectures” (at his own institute) on Liekis’s orders. The resulting series of lectures that Professor Katz delivered in private apartments in Vilnius were commented upon in the Guardian. Liekis has, in some views, cemented the newly Yiddishless and Jewless “Yiddish” institute as a major state propaganda tool to cover for revisionist Holocaust politics and far-right antics. When it came time to cover with “Jewish academic activities” as smokescreen for the the 2012 reburial with full honors of the 1941 Nazi puppet prime minister who personally signed the orders for the Jews of his city (Kaunas) to be sent to a death camp, Liekis was a prominent member of the panel that failed to even mention the reburial in progress the same day (see the open letter to Prof. T. Snyder of Yale).
Liekis, boasting to colleagues that he “would get rid of Dovid real soon” had succeeded in persuading Dr. Richard Maullin, head of the American Friends of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute, to discontinue the institute’s one Yiddish academic position (which resulted in dismissal of the country’s last Jewish professor). Maullin had been honored with a plaque in the university and repeated meetings with high government officials during his trips to Lithuania with Mrs. Natasha (Natalia) Maullin, a native of Minsk. As a result of Maullin’s acquiescence to Liekis, about half of the Board resigned in protest, including Zane Buzby, Professor Sidney Rosenfeld, and S. Chic Wolk, leaving the rump board that has remained frozen since 2010, including Dr. Daniel Berg of Bloomington, Indiana, and sensationally, Steven Spielberg’s brother-in-law Dan Opatoshu of Sherman Oaks, California.
What is going on, according to Defending History, is an ongoing campaign to discredit this journal’s editor, because of serious and genuine disagreements with the state sponsored Genocide Center (which published Liekis’s most important book), the International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Regimes in Lithuania (to which Liekis was appointed in 2012), and high political circles in Lithuania (where Liekis boasts, most say accurately, that he was able to win his former supervisor Prof. A. Polonsky of Brandeis a presidential medal that some believe comes for a famous Jewish professor’s acquiescence in some redefinition of the concept “genocide,” a redefinition that is pivotal to the Double Genociders for whom Soviet and Nazi crimes have to be “equal” in a paradigm positing two equal Holocausts).
Relations plummeted in 2008 when police came looking for the Yiddish institute’s librarian (then 86), a Holocaust survivor, on charges of war crimes, as part of a wider campaign that year to defame Jewish anti-Nazi resistance heroes in the context of the Double Genocide movement that also seeks to glorify Lithuanian Nazi collaborators and perpetrators, like the Lithuanian Activist Front and Provisional Government. Liekis’s father, also a prominent and highly respected historian, has devoted a lifetime to rehabilitating these Nazi groups as supposed freedom fighters.
Once Dovid Katz mobilized the Western diplomatic community in Vilnius on behalf of the accused Jewish partisan veterans, his fate with the state-sponsored university was sealed (and Liekis told him as much in 2008 when his own remit became “Jew control” to hush up the mounting scandal of “blaming the Holocaust’s victims,” as the Economist put it in 2008).
In their concern to preserve the country’s one Jewish professor and bona fide Yiddish studies, six ambassadors of NATO and European Union countries sent a letter to Dr. Maullin and the “American Friends” (including Dr. Berg and Steven Spielberg’s brother-in-law D. Opatoshu) on behalf of preserving the professorship, then a decade old (it had been founded by the Soros Foundation some years beforehand). The professorship that Liekis has just told a Philadelphia audience never existed. In addition, the then Israeli ambassador followed suit with a letter of his own.
Since demonstrating his remarkable (some say “hypnotic”) ability to mesmerize foreign Jewish academics, coupled with the connections with certain “mystical” government circles that can foot the bill for awards, junkets and projects, Liekis Jr’s career has skyrocketed in political circles. He has been sent to Kazakhstan to lecture on freedom of the press, to London to help fix the Lithuanian Holocaust there, and this week finds himself on a US lecture tour where he made his public comments about his former colleague and teacher to a packed hall in Philadelphia last Sunday, at an event cosponsored by the Lithuanian Embassy in Washington DC.
In 2009, Professor Liekis told the Baltic Times in Vilnius that the Holocaust survivors in Israel who ask for justice for Lithuanian Holocaust murderers are “extreme right-wingers and scholars don’t talk to them” (Baltic Times report). In 2011, he told the Economist that he was a “Yiddish professor” (and why not, it’s only Yiddish), and that Litvaks (including Lord Janner, Prof. Dov Levin and Rabbi Barry Marcus), who had signed a letter of protest to the Lithuanian government were one of “two Talibans,” the other being the antisemitic establishment in Vilnius. In 2011, Liekis was revealed to be one the “Fake Litvaks” in the wider “Litvak identity-theft” industry where Lithuanian operatives would be claiming to take on the Litvak mantle and heritage as part of a usable twenty-first century Lithuanian nationalism (in the absence of the real Litvaks, nearly all of whom were annihilated).
While continuing with the lucrative one-month summer course, the Yiddish institute he heads has, since Katz’s departure, been virtually free of Yiddish and free of Jewish academic staff for the whole of the academic year. A recent attempt to apparently misinform donors by appointing as professor a foreign teacher who is there only for the summer course has ended in humiliation as students and members of the public find that the “Yiddish institute” cannot answer any questions about…. Yiddish.
If you are in Vilnius between September and June, stop by the Vilnius Yiddish Institute to see for yourself the audacious hijack of a tragic and threatened culture for the interests of Lithuanian nationalists’ revision of history and usurpation of the language, literature and culture destroyed with the massive help of the same “patriots of 1941” that the state has invested so much to honor, with street names, events, and reburials. But the beautiful premises full of beautiful books, in the heart of the premium real estate of Vilnius University’s old campus, can make naive foreigners weep with joy.
Professor Liekis is not only director of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute. [History will decide who was/is the real and who the phoney Yiddish professor there.] He is also the Dean of the Faculty of Political Science and Diplomacy at Vytautas Magnus University (VMU), whose campus boasts a lecture hall name and bas rel-reflief honoring the Nazis’ 1941 puppet prime minister who personally signed papers confirming the shipping of the Jews of Kaunas to an extermination camp and then to a ghetto.
In fact, there is an international petition underway on that very topic. But does Professor Liekis’s name figure among the signatories? More importantly, he will hopefully use his authority as Dean to have these shameful shrines to a major Nazi collaborator removed forthwith. A small gesture for someone who globe-trots with the message of supreme dedication to the Litvak heritage.