OPINION | MEDIA WATCH
VILNIUS—Who’s afraid of DefendingHistory.com? Yet again, a treatment of Holocaust history and Jewish issues in Lithuania involving government funding of a journalist’s trip coincides with the “two frightening words” Defending History not being mentioned, in spite of the journal’s being one of the central addresses for these matters for a decade now, entailing publication of several thousand reports over the decade, including dozens of authors and subjects. There has been no such hesitation in reports in the New York Times, BBC and other general outlets. Are readers of Jewish publications not entitled to the same standards of inclusion of views and news?
Today’s extensive and important article by Raphael Ahren on some of the most pressing Lithuanian-Jewish issues appears in The Times of Israel. The Defending History community’s comments appear in an informal posting on the journal’s Facebook page. An unedited paste-in follows below.
Who’s afraid to mention the words Defending History?
Congrats to Raphael Ahren on his historically important article in today’s Times of Israel: https://www.timesofisrael.com/graves-guilt-and-genius-inside-lithuanias-struggle-with-its-checkered-past/.
Its most singular achievement is perhaps the sterling quote from Prof. Yehuda Bauer, dean of Holocaust scholars in Israel and far beyond, a powerful retort to the nonsense that those who disagree with the Lithuanian government’s (small but powerful and overfinanced) ‘history fixing units’ are ipso facto non-scholars, scoundrels, and all the rest.
As ever, journalists who do not reach out to interview ANY of the dozen or so DefendingHistory.com authors in Lithuania, and whose articles don’t mention the two words Defending History are sometimes prone to being manipulated by their government hosts (on state sponsored trips) to the detriment of at least some aspects of genuine open debate. Just a few examples from today’s article:
(1) While the debate over the degree of local complicity in the Holocaust is important, it should not obviate the need to at least deal with the massive campaign to export to the West a revised view of the Holocaust altogether (the Double Genocide or Two Holocausts theory). The primary documents are the Prague Declaration, and our rejoinder, The Seventy Years Declaration, signed also by eight incredibly brave Lithuanian parliamentarians (none of them were reached out to for the article). In other words, there is a serious battle over the wider history that remains unmentioned. There is a larger issue on the extent to which the Holocaust “fixing” policies of a whole range of East European states are ipso facto the 21st century incarnation of Holocaust Denial per se. See for example:
https://archive.jewishcurrents.org/the-double-genocide-theory/. For more academic papers on these subjects please see: https://defendinghistory.com/holocaust-and-antisemitism-studies-papers-and-reviewsin-academic-venues.
(2) The ongoing need for state apologies to the Holocaust survivors (or their families) defamed for posterity as potential war criminals in history books and on the web (it was Mr. Ahren himself who penned one of the best articles on that back in 2009, and now — wholly unmentioned). Of course these kangaroo charges were themselves a function of Double Genocide thinking, and the need to “find” supposedly “equivalent genocide perpetrators” among the handful of Holocaust survivors. Please see Mr. Ahren’s terrific 2009 article: http://www.operationlastchance.org/PDF/p_8_lith_2.pdf.
(3) The article cites a government official’s mistatement of DH editor Dovid katz’s opinion, claiming the view that “all” anti-Soviet heroes are being called Holocaust collaborators! This is a scurrilous misstatement (and locally very dangerous and already led to a new death threat). It was wrong of the journalist to quote it without also speaking to DK and the Defending History team to be able to cite the named person’s response.
(4) On the question of the Old Vilna Jewish cemetery, there are still thousands of graves extant (found by ground radar) on all four sides of the Soviet dump slated to become the national convention center. A year ago, a New York Times journalist was not afraid to ask also the views of the democratically elected head of the Vilnius Jewish Community too (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/30/world/europe/lithuania-genocide-museum-jews.html)
But perhaps the next journalist to look into all this will ask gov. officials just one question: Had this been a 500 year old Christian Lithuanian cemetery, would they be building a national convention center with graves all around, or would it be lovingly and respectfully restored as a national and international treasure?
(5) The Defending History team happens to agree entirely with Mr. Ahren’s findings that daily life for Jewish people in Lithuania is fine! Again, “what it is that is the issue” goes unmentioned. East European antisemitism differs markedly from its western counterparts. See for example:
or. more recently: https://defendinghistory.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/PDF-of-DK-on-Holocaust-Inversion-ilovepdf-compressed.pdf.
(6) The discussion of the parliament’s decision to name 2020 “for the Jews” needs to include the history of the decision, i.e. a reaction to much criticism of 2019 being named for an alleged Holocaust collaborator, one for whom a monument was slated to go up in New Britain Connecticut last year (see: https://defendinghistory.com/category/new-britain-connecticut-plans-to-glorify-alleged-nazi-collaborator?order=desc); this year the monument went up in Chicago (see: https://defendinghistory.com/category/debates-on-adolfas-ramanauskas-vanagas?order=desc). The head of the Jewish Agency has spoken out: https://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Herzog-underscores-obligation-to-remove-Chicago-monument-honoring-Nazi-collaborator-591319).
INCIDENTALLY, Defending History’s response to the naming of 2019 for an alleged Holocaust collaborator was to start naming years for LITHUANIAN RIGHTEOUS who risked everything to just do the right thing.
Our 2018 choice: https://defendinghistory.com/malvina-sokelyte-valeikiene-is-defending-historys-2018-person-of-the-year/92536
Our 2019 choice: https://defendinghistory.com/jonas-paulavicius-1898-1952-is-defending-historys-2019-person-of-the-year/97205
We are confident that history will render a true verdict on who, during these years, was the TRUE friend of Lithuania. . .
(7) Mr. Ahren writes that he is consciously staying away from internal Jewish community rifts which are sadly a part of the scene in many places. That is in itself a fine position to take, but here it seems to function as an excuse for shutting out entirely and failing to ALSO interview the democratically elected head of the Vilnius Jewish Community, Simon Gurevich, which represents the vast majority of Lithuanian Jews, and who has taken a DIFFERENT stance on the very issues dealt with in this article (most famously the fate of the old Vilna Jewish cemetery slated to become a national convention center, with the support of the government-supported non-democratic official Jewish community; see: https://defendinghistory.com/democratically-elected-leadership-of-vilnius-jewish-community-shows-consistent-moral-clarity-on-old-vilna-jewish-cemeterys-fate/97300).
(8) Finally, let us hope that future journalistic quests will reach out to the Jewish Lithuanian citizens who have over the years actually spoken out with inspirational courage. They do not deserve to be omitted from a foreign journalist’s quest to learn the various sides of issues that they have given so very much to express themselves, even when not convenient to their careers or status. To name just a few: Moyshe Bairak, Roza Bieliauskiene, Ruta Bloshtein, Milan Chersonski, Prof. Pinchos Fridberg, Simon Gurevich, Leon Kaplan, Sania Kerbelis, Rachel Kostanian, Arkady Kurliandchik, Chona Leibovich (Leibovičius), Prof. Josif Parasonis… When journalists fail to do so, it can mean that “the names of the right Jews to talk to” have been provided by the same government whose policies are being critically discussed. . . In other words, a state apparatus supplies its “own list of dissidents” for the benefit of journalists. And, last but not least, there are the many inspirational non-Jews who have earned over decades of blood, sweat and tears the moral right to be heard by foreign journalists on these topics. Here in Lithuania they include: Vytenis Andriukaitis, Evaldas Balciunas, Saulius Berzinis, Andrius Kulikauskas, Fiokla Kiure, Julius Norvila, Ruta Ostrovskaya, Prof. Liudas Truska, Linas Vildziunas, If you have a moment, do look up their essays on the pages of www.DefendingHistory.com AUTHORS page is at: https://defendinghistory.com/authors)
(1) Lithuania is a wonderful place and great to visit, see our page for some ideas: https://defendinghistory.com/litvak-tourism
(2) The ongoing debates with a small and powerful government unit do not equate to being “against” a country. They do concern important issues on which there are various opinions. Defending History’s summary of the currently outstanding Lithuanian-Jewish issues is an updated version of the original that was hammered out in close consultation with the late Dr. Shimon Alperovich, the long-time beloved head of the Jewish community. It’s at:
Perhaps one day a journalist will come and at least ask these seven questions and even dare to report that for the state’s “Jewish issue units” to come to terms with them would cost so very little — and do so very much good. . . .
A good week to all!