O P I N I O N
by Shimon Alperovich
The following is Rachel Croucher’s authorized translation of the interview with Lithuanian Jewish Community chairperson Dr. Shimon Alperovich published in German by Frank Brendle in Taz.de.
YEAR OF REMEMBRANCE: In the Lithuanian year of remembrance the Holocaust is under threat of being forgotten while surviving Jewish partisans have been the subject of a campaign for some years. Conversation with Simonas Alperavičius, President of the Jewish Community of Lithuania. INTERVIEW BY FRANK BRENDLE, 04.02.2011
Mr Alperavičius, the 70th anniversary of the Nazi occupation of Lithuania falls this year, as well as twenty years of independence from the Soviet Union. What will take priority?
Parliament has announced in two separate resolutions that 2011 will be dedicated to victims of the Holocaust as well as to the so-called “Defense of Freedom and Great Losses.”
Do these “Great Losses” only refer to those Lithuanians who died after 1944 in the struggle against Soviet rule?
Yes. We don’t understand why there is not a word about the Jews in the second resolution. The problem is that many Lithuanians who fought against the Soviets and for the independence of Lithuania also took part in murder actions against Jews. They fought for Lithuania but they also murdered Jews. At the same time Jews fought against the Nazis for the freedom of Lithuania. And the obliteration of Jewish civilization is undoubtedly a great loss to Lithuania that should be commemorated.
The official point of view is that there is continuity between “Lithuania’s freedom struggle” from 1941 to 1991. To what extent has collaboration with the Nazis been addressed?
Politics is not particularly concerned with this issue. In Israel the names of collaborators and murderers are known but here in Lithuania they are regarded as partisans and heroes.
The guideline of Lithuanian Geschichtspolitik, or politics of history, is the equalization of Nazi and Soviet crimes. What do you think?
We have nothing against comparing crimes. Both regimes were dictatorial, and both acted against their own people. But one should not say that everything was the same. We therefore also protested that the president instituted an International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of both regimes. We did not want one and the same commission dealing with both Nazi and Soviet crimes because that would be disproportionate to the victims of both regimes. Both were different crimes that must be examined separately. Not according to different criteria, but each on its own.
In the state-sponsored “Museum of Genocide Victims” in the middle of the capital city, Vilnius, the Holocaust is not examined at all.
We consider it a mistake that the Genocide Museum is not telling the whole truth. A few years ago foreign visitors repeatedly told us that they asked about the fate of the Jews at the Museum, and that Museum guides simply informed them that the Jews had collaborated with the Soviet regime. The staff may have changed in the meantime but in Lithuania Communist rule is generally often equated with Jews. Research has shown that the proportion of Jews in the Communists corresponded to the average. Many people do not understand the historical context in that the struggle of Jews naturally had something in common with the Soviet regime, and for one simple reason: they both had the same enemy and had absolutely no other choice if they did not want to be murdered by the Nazis.
Jewish partisan survivors have been the subject of a campaign for years. The right-wing press have accused them of having killed Lithuanians and this is being investigated by the Prosecutor General.
This campaign makes me really angry. The inquiry into the chief suspect, Yitzhak Arad, who was director of Yad Vashem for many years, has meanwhile been discontinued due to a “failure to collect sufficient data grounding primary suspicions.” This is a completely unsatisfactory. The truth is that every nation has the right to fight for its existence. For example, the partisans in France are regarded as heroes but here in Lithuania they are not even though they did the same. Especially the Jewish partisans who had to fight in the forests for their very lives.
Are you at least getting support from civil society?
Almost none. In the first years of Lithuanian independence there was still a lot more common ground between Jews and Lithuanians. And quite a bit was done for Jews in order for them to regain their rights. From approximately five years ago there have been media campaigns against Jews and antisemitism is increasing. Many intellectuals and journalists have obviously decided it is better for them to remain silent. Even on the part of politicians there have been no discernible protests against this development.
Simonas Alperavičius (Shimon Alperovich) is elected president of the Jewish Community of Lithuania.