VILNIUS—Over the past decade, few foreign embassies in Lithuania have done as much as Japan’s to help ensure that the Holocaust in Lithuania is never forgotten and indeed, that remembrance events and educational programs feed into both national and international efforts to raise awareness and sensitivities in the cause of averting future massacres of innocent civilians.
Japan’s Holocaust remembrance achievements in Lithuania are manifold. From 2008, when state prosecutors connected to the Genocide Center began defaming local Holocaust survivors, Japan’s embassy joined with others in giving honor to the wrongly accused, including the 2009 “Walk in the Rain” organized by then Norwegian ambassador Steinar Gil. More well known are the embassy’s activities in commemoration of Chiune (Sempo) Sugihara, the inspirational Japanese humanist who saved thousands of lives by issuing visas in Kaunas in 1940 (enabling those people to flee Soviet rule directly, and indirectly from what was to come a year later, in 1941, with Hitler’s invasion and the massive local collaboration in genocide). One of the most important goes back to the turn of our century when the embassy participated actively, and generously, in setting up Sugihara House in Kaunas.
It was with the very best of intentions that the current team at the Japanese Embassy agreed to partner with the “International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupational Regimes in Lithuania” (informally known in diplomatic circles, for brevity, as the Red-Brown Commission), a commission that has a long record of mixing genuine Holocaust education and commemoration with nefarious far-right ultranationalist revisionism in the spirit of the Double Genocide movement, which the Commission has supported religiously, down to the very launch of the Prague Declaration. The commission has drawn deeply pained reaction from Holocaust survivors and scholars alike, and boasts a long of record of controversial activities. Scholars who have resigned from the Commission on principle include the late Sir Martin Gilbert, and professors Gershon Greenberg, Konrad Kwiet, and Dov Levin.
The Commission’s luck at “playing the double game” ran out, in the opinion of some observers, in 2015 with a filmed statement by the commission’s executive director concerning Jewish Holocaust survivors who joined up with the anti-Nazi partisans and are heroes of the free world. Indeed, one of the commission’s current members is the former Genocide Center operative who effectively launched the calumny against Yitzhak Arad back in 2006. To this day, Dr. Arad’s 2012 academic exposé of the Commission remains the most potent (see also Dr. Daniel Brook’s 2015 Slate article).
The second major problem with the Japanese Embassy’s series of related events , scheduled for Thursday 11, February 2016 in Kaunas, is that two of the three scheduled events are slated for the premises of Vytautas Magnus University. For most Holocaust survivors and scholars, it is quite unacceptable to set foot in a university premises that continues to host shrines (including a lecture hall name and bas relief sculpture), glorifying the 1941 Nazi puppet prime minister, Juozas Ambrazevičius Brazaitis, who personally signed the Nazi orders for some of his own city’s Jewish citizens to be sent to the Seventh Fort for torture and murder, and then for all the remainder of the city’s more than 30,000 Jews to be incarcerated in a ghetto for the purposes of slave labor and genocide. The Lithuanian government’s 2012 repatriation of the Nazi collaborator’s remains from the United States resulted in a major international scandal.
Confronted at the time with the international uproar, one of the heads of Vytautas Magnus University complained publicly of his administrators’ fears “of getting hit over the head by the Jews with a crowbar” over festivities honoring the Nazi collaborator (see the response of Milan Chersonski, former editor of the Jewish community’s official newspaper). A short-lived international petition on the university’s pro-Nazi shrines rapidly attracted over 800 signatures internationally.
The Japanese Embassy can rapidly fix things by (a) replacing the Red-Brown Commission with one of the many legitimate partners in the country for these events, (b) moving them away from the campus of a Nazi collaborator glorifying university, and last but not least (c) publicly protesting this year’s neo-Nazi march in the same city, Kaunas, scheduled for the heart of the city on independence day, 16 Feb. Last year’s event sported a huge banner of the Nazi puppet prime minister as well as swastikas and other fascist symbols and xenophobic shouts and taunts. The Red-Brown Commission, the Genocide Center, and Vytautas Magnus University all failed to say a word.
11 February 2016:
13:00~15:00 Presentation of the students’ Project
Venue: Vytautas Magnus University Small Hall
Address: Daukanto St. 28, Kaunas
16:00~17:00 One-man performance about Mr. Chiune Sugihara by Mr. Shingo Misawa
Venue: Vytautas Magnus University Theatre Hall
Address: Daukanto St. 27, Kaunas