Tag Archives: Jonathan Brent
Forward Coverage of Yivo Strife Omits Mention of Instrumentalization by Lithuanian Holocaust Revisionism Industry
NEW YORK CITY—A 9 March 2016 Forward article, by Britta Lokting, focused on Martin Peretz’s recent resignation from Yivo’s board, cited a number of current Yivo issues. It did not, however, mention the major issue of instrumentalization by the Lithuanian government’s campaign of Holocaust obfuscation, relativization and revisionism. It did reference the now-famous Vilnius-based digitization project.
In 2011, Yivo honored an antisemitic foreign minister while failing to honor the Yiddish speaking Vilna Holocaust survivors maligned by Lithuanian prosecutors, resulting in a heartfelt plea from the long-time editor of the Jewish community’s quadrilingual newspaper. Then, in 2012, it sent its director to Vilnius to help cover for the reburial with full honors of a Holocaust perpetrator, and saw its director join (and thereby give legitimacy to) the notorious “Red-Brown Commission.” A year ago, the organization was called to task by a Vilna Holocaust survivor in the Yiddish Fórverts (English translation here; unmentioned in the English Forward?). See Defending History’s section on Yivo issues in recent years.
by Dovid Katz
Updates in [brackets] to 12 July 2015
VILNIUS—According to Lithuanian media sources, including the highly respected English-language Lithuania Tribune (now merged with Delfi.lt), the government, working in concert with property developers, plans to declare the controversial project of a huge convention and entertainment center in the heart of the old Vilna Jewish cemetery site as a “project of national importance.” The move enables an application to the European Union for a grant of 13 million euros (14.64 million US dollars at current rates) as part of a grand-total (for now) of 22.8 million euros (25.67 million US dollars) for the new complex. The nation’s prime minister has told Lithuanian media that “after the modern congress center is completed, private investors could build a hotel, parking lots and other infrastructure,” eliciting fears that all of the old Jewish cemetery is becoming a cash cow slated for developers for years to come. The Lithuania Tribune / Delfi.lt report concludes with an estimate of “110 million euros in economic and social benefits over 15 years” in addition to “600,000 foreign tourists and 2.2 million local tourists to Vilnius over that time period, with their spending estimated at 183 million and 60 million euros, respectively,” in other words, with profits from the old Jewish cemetery exceeding the equivalent of 250 million dollars, apart from the millions to be had from the building projects per se. Some estimates are provided in Baltic Course.
D O C U M E N T S
The following English version of the Lithuanian government’s announcement of its new state commission on Jewish heritage was released today. A PDF of the entire document is available here. An excerpt containing the mission statement is available here.
Update of 22 July 2015: Evidence mounts that the “Heritage Commission” was set up by the Lithuanian government, in part, to cover for the decision, at the same time, to proceed with a twenty-five million dollar convention center in the heart of the old Vilna Jewish cemetery at Piramónt. One or more members of the commmision are also members of the state’s “red-brown commission” that promotes Double Genocide revisionism of Holocaust history; of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad; of a London rabbinic group that profits from “selling rights” to build on cemeteries under its expensive supervision. See the narrative and the paper trail (where color-coding marks the heritage commission’s adventures in purple).
Update of 22 June 2015: See now our report on the recent history of the Vilnius cemetery dispute. See also the statement from Herbert Block’s office about his own membership in the commission below.
Update of 1 June 2015: See now the 1 May listing of twelve major issues for the commission (with 1 June addendum) and the media chronicle of the renewed dispute over construction of a congress and entertainment complex on the site of Vilna’s Old Jewish cemetery.
Editor’s note: The following is a translation of the open letter by Professor Pinchos Fridberg, a Holocaust survivor in Vilnius, and the reply by Yivo’s director, Dr. Jonathan Brent. Both were published in the Yiddish Forward (Forverts) on 1 March 2015. Prof. Fridberg has also posted an audio file of his reading his letter aloud in his native Vilna Yiddish. In the case of any issue arising, the Yiddish text is authoritative. For readers’ reference, hyperlinks have been added (by Defending History) to various of the documents and topics cited. See also the Pinchos Fridberg page and section in Defending History, page and section on the state-sponsored commission discussed, and section on Yivo issues.
September 2014 at Ponár, the mass muder site of Vilna Jewry: Three representatives of the controversial state sponsored commission on Nazi and Soviet crimes pay respects in unison: (from left): Dr. Jonathan Brent, Emanuelis Zingeris, Ronaldas Račinskas. Photo: Defending History.
ear Dr. Jonathan Brent,
I appeal to you in Yiddish. Do you know why? Because I believe, that a person who is the leader of the Yivo institute will understand me. My name is Pinchos Fridberg. I was born in Vilna before the war and am a survivor of the Holocaust. My grandmother and grandfather, and all our relatives on my mother’s side — 28 people — lie [at the mass murder site] Ponár.
O P I N I O N
by Dovid Katz
In a widely disseminated press release today, the Yivo Institute for Jewish Research announced the launch of a fundraising campaign for US $5,250,000 for the “Yivo Vilna Project.” We are told that it is for “a seven-year international project to preserve, digitize and reunite virtually Yivo’s prewar archives located in New York City and Vilnius, Lithuania, through a dedicated web portal” that will create “the largest collection of Yiddish language materials in the world.”
O P I N I O N
by Defending History Staff
Asuccessful, highly compressed one-day conference, exhibition and city plaque unveiling were all shoehorned into one day, today, in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, to mark the 150th birth year of the celebrated and beloved Dr. Tsemakh Shabad (1864–1935), Vilna physician, public health advocate, benefactor, Yiddishist theoretician and builder of Yiddish educational infrastructure from elementary schools to the university-level Yivo institute. He was also a representative in the city’s municipality. Shabad was a legend in his own time. When poor sick children in any shtetl of Vilna province, of whatever nationality or background, were in danger of imminent death from disease, there were no greater words of relief than “Dr. Shabad is on the way.”
O P I N I O N
by Geoff Vasil
This comment on the event “Unresolved History: Jews and Lithuanians After the Holocaust,” held February 14, 2014 in New York City is based on the videotape of the event that Yivo has posted on its website. Readers may also wish to see Olga Zabludoff’s articles before and after the event, and the comments accruing during last month’s discussion in New York’s Algemeiner.Com. Geoff Vasil has covered a number of state-sponsored Holocaust events over the years, including one featuring some of the same participants last summer in Vilnius. Defending History’s openly critical views of the “red-brown commission” are available in the section dedicated to various of the debates in recent years. The commission’s own website is here.
On February 14, 2014, a small panel spoke at YIVO world headquarters in NYC. There weren’t many people in the audience, to judge from the crowd sounds, and at least one panelist wasn’t there. It had been delayed a day earlier when a massive ice storm hit the city and temperatures plummeted. Tomas Venclova wasn’t able to make it because of the weather and poor health.
Compiled by Dovid Katz
EU/NATO Ally Honors Holocaust Collaborator; Lithuanian Jewish Community Issues Protest; 3 US Congressmen Write to Prime Minister
Remains of 1941 fascist leader Juozas Ambrazevičius (Brazaitis) met by honor guard at Vilnius Airport on 17 May 2012 and reburied in Kaunas’s Church of the Resurrection on the 20th, as city’s mayor dismisses criticism.
Office of the prime minister, who signed off on government funding (€8,700 / US $11,000), defends reburial & honors of the 1941 Nazi puppet “prime minister” who personally signed the protocols confirming Nazi orders for (1) “all means” against Jews (but avoiding executions in public); (2) setting up a concentration camp for Lithuanian Jews [euphemism for the carnage underway at the Seventh Fort]; (3) all Kaunas Jews to be herded into a ghetto within 4 weeks (English here).
O P I N I O N
by Milan Chersonski
Milan Chersonski (Chersonskij), longtime editor (1999-2011) of Jerusalem of Lithuania, quadrilingual (English-Lithuanian-Russian-Yiddish) newspaper of the Jewish Community of Lithuania, was previously (1979-1999) director of the Yiddish Folk Theater of Lithuania, which in Soviet times was the USSR’s only Yiddish amateur theater company. The views he expresses in DefendingHistory are his own. This is an authorized English version (updated by the author) by Ludmilla Makedonskaya (Los Angeles). Russian original.
Photo: Milan Chersonski at this desk at the Jewish Community of Lithuania (image © 2012 Jurgita Kunigiškytė). Milan Chersonski section.
Dear Mr. Jonathan Brent,
A little over a year ago, on 12 September 2011, I wrote my first open letter to you. I wrote that it is inappropriate to hold an event commemorating the Jews of Vilna who were victims of genocide together with the minister of foreign affairs of the Republic of Lithuania Audronis Ažubalis on the premises of Yivo. If you did not then find time to read my letter, you can find it now online.
O P I N I O N
by Dovid Katz
NOTE: This is an authorized republication of today’s letter, which first appeared in the online Algemeiner Journal. [Update: It then appeared in the AJ’s print edition on 25 May, pp. 2, 4, 5.]
Greetings, and sorry we missed each other in Vilnius this time. I write in the context of our ongoing and respectful conversation, which started in the Guardian (thanks to Matt Seaton, and prominently including Efraim Zuroff) back in 2010 (I, II, III, IV); continuing through our meeting at Yale, the Aftermath Conference in Melbourne, Australia, in 2011 (thanks to Mark Baker, and with participation of Jan Gross and Patrick Desbois), and more recently, via my review of your book Bloodlands (along with Alexander Prusin’s The Lands Between), in East European Jewish Affairs.
“One of the most important statements in the article is that the swastika is banned by Lithuanian law, something that Katz and others have refused to acknowledge.”
“Fact: It is illegal to display the swastika in Lithuania today.”
— Jonathan Brent, Executive Director of the Yivo Institute for Jewish Research, in a 13 September 2o11 memo comprising the text of his proposed Public Yivo Statement, for which the support of Prof. Jeffrey Veidlinger (Bloomington) is claimed.
11 March 2008: For the first time, authorities permitted a city-center neo-Nazi march on Independence Day, with police escort, at which the ‘Lithuanian swastika’ was widely displayed. Since then the march has been permitted on Gedimino Boulevard with increasing attendance. By 2011, the march, featuring many ‘Lithuanian swastikas’, included a member of parliament, and was co-organized by a high official of the state-sponsored Genocide Center.
17 June 2008: BBC News reports on the new law passed by the country’s parliament forbidding Nazi and Soviet symbols (equally). While the ‘Nazi symbol component’ of the law was to remain largely unenforced and in the case of the swastika overturned by a court (see below; here and here), the banning of Soviet symbols, at a time and place where there is zero interest in restoring the USSR, came as a bitter blow to (by then very aged) Jewish war veterans for whom old uniforms and war medals are a treasured memory of the struggle against Hitler here on ground zero of the Holocaust. The red-brown-symbol law came two weeks after the Prague Declaration, and the emphasis was on legally mandated ‘equality’ of Nazism and Communism as per the Double Genocide movement, in Europe and in Lithuania, that seeks to downgrade and obfuscate the Holocaust (responses here and here).
2008-2011: Both before and after passage of the law, various forms and variations of the swastikas have been used in fascist demonstrations (protected by law enforcement), the best known being the ‘Lithanian swastika’ (with added lines). More information and images here.
8 May 2010: Eyewitness report on the ‘modified swastika’ demonstration protected by police for eight hours outside the Lietuva (Reval) Hotel. The ‘literature table’ provided onlookers with this diagram, meant to ensure that the different varieties of swastikas are equally legitimate for the neo-Nazi (“patriotic”) cause.
19 May 2010: Report on Delfi.lt on the court decision legalizing public swastikas.
19 May 2010: Report on Baltic News Service (BNS) on the court decision legalizing swastikas.
20 May 2010: Simon Wiesenthal Center press release on the Lithuanian court decision legalizing swastikas. Also available on the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Operation Last Chance website (see at: 20 May 2010).
21 May 2010: Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) report on the court decision legalizing swastikas.
June 2010: The Jewish Community of Lithuania responds in its official newspaper, Jerusalem of Lithuania [English version; also available in Lithuanian, Russian and Yiddish].
25 November 2010: Seven European ambassadors (Britain, Estonia, France, Finland, Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden) include in their letter to Lithuania’s leaders the sentence: ‘A court in Klaipeda is able to declare it acceptable to display a swastika in public as a traditional Lithuanian symbol’ (BNS report here, DefendingHistory.com report here). Follow-up: On 13 December 2010, MP Denis MacShane asked in the House of Commons for the entire letter to be made public.
11 March 2011: The ‘Lithuanian swastika’ (with added lines supposedly invoking a medieval symbol) is widely displayed in the Independence Day neo-Nazi parade on Gedimino Boulevard, protected by police. Eyewitness report.
20 April 2011: To mark Hitler’s birthday, a series of swastikas and other fascist symbols were displayed in various locations. Most disturbingly, three swastika flags were left to hang for eight hours on Tauro Hill, overlooking central Vilnius, before being removed. Report on Delfi.lt. English summary and photos here.
22 June 2011: The 22 June premiere of a parliament-supported ‘documentary film’ glorifying the Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF) fascists, whose pre Nazi invasion leaflets called for murder of the Jewish citizens of Lithuania, featured a souvenir ticket which was stamped with a nostalgic replica of a 1941 Nazi stamp (with swastika, of course…) applied by an usher dressed up in LAF garb. The premiere was addressed by a former president of Lithuania. The same day, the chairperson/speaker of the parliament honored the film’s producers in her office in a scene chosen by the parliament’s website as Picture of the Day. Details here. Image of the ticket and stamp here. Review of the film by the editor of Lithuania’s last Jewish newspaper here.
8-10 July 2011: Over this weekend, there was a desecration of the two major monuments at the mass murder site Ponár (Paneriai), where over 70,000 Jews from Vilna and its region were murdered: the smaller one with a swastika and an inscription translating ‘Hitler was right’ and the larger monument with an obscene drawing and text (details here; full image here). Authorities rapidly cleaned up the damage and tried to cover up the incident. Timothy Snyder in the New York Review of Books blog noted that the cover-up resulted in a lost educational opportunity. The Wiesenthal Center’s press release is here.
28 July 2011: A bold young journalist, Eglė Samoškaitė, exposes on Delfi.lt extensive state funding for fascist organizations, including those that lead or participate in swastika-bearing neo-Nazi marches. English translation here.
9 August 2011: A bold young journalist, Dovilė Tuskenytė, exposes in Lietuvos rytas the ongoing and successful endeavor by neo-Nazis in Lithuania to cover for their activities by claiming the swastika is just a historical or pagan symbol, with reference to authorities’ failure to act. English translation here.
3 October 2011: A ‘chief specialist’ at the state-sponsored Genocide Research Center who helped organize the neo-Nazi march (featuring numerous swastikas) last March 11, and who has published antisemitic interviews and documents since then, has not been disciplined or disemployed to date. Details here, here, here, and here. Most recently, the neo-Nazi organization he leads in his ‘spare time’ published an ‘Enemies List’ including an official advisor to the country’s small Jewish community. Original here, English translation here, summary here.
3 October 2011: All recent issues of the Lithuanian edition of Der Stürmer (put on line abroad but produced by native neo-Nazis who often refer to current domestic issues in Lithuania in the hate materials included), featuring numerous swastikas and other fascist icons, are freely available online, as of today’s date, with no intervention from authorities: No. 1 (November 2009); No. 2 (December 2009); No. 3 (January 2010); No. 4 (February 2010); No. 5 (March 2010); No. 6 (April 2010); No. 7 (May 2010); No. 8 (June 2010).
August-November 2011: The current issue of the independent Vilnius in Your Pocket lists the 19 May 2010 legalization of swastikas as one of the two historic events in Lithuania in that year, regarding it as ‘a sinister U-turn’ in the aftermath of the celebrations marking the twentieth anniversary of independence on March 11. See penultimate paragraph on p. 9, PDF here.
16 November 2011: Dissident political leader Algirdas Paleckis notes the legal status of swastikas in his comments at a conference held at the Tolerance Center in Vilnius. Video here.
See also page on
Director of Yivo Sends Circular to Staff, Taking on the Role of Manhattan Office of Lithuanian Government’s PR Department; Calls Holocaust Survivors ‘Helpless’ and ‘Ageing’
The executive director of the Yivo Institute for Jewish Research in New York circulated the following set of documents in an email sent to the entire staff of Yivo today. This circular statement has come after Paul Berger’s 7 September article in the Forward, the public letter from the last association of Lithuanian Holocaust survivors in Israel, and a public letter to Yivo’s academic advisory council from a French human rights association. The ‘attack on Yivo by Dovid Katz’, as it is acrimoniously called here, is the op-ed in DefendingHistory.com on the subject. More information and links on the various issues on the front page of DefendingHistory.com. This journal has made a series of proposals for genuine resolution of Lithuanian-Jewish issues.
[Update: On 15 September 2011 Yossi Melman released his direct reply to the attack on him in the circulated memo reproduced below.]
From: Jonathan Brent
Sent: Friday, September 09, 2011 10:05 AM
To: YIVO Staff
Subject: Melamed Issue in Lithuania
The Society for the Promotion of the European Human Rights Model, based in France, today published its public letter to the Academic Advisory Council of the Center for Jewish History, of which the Yivo Institute for Jewish Research is a constituent component.