UCL Professor who Denied Holocaust Survivors Five Minutes to Read Petition to Lithuanian Government, Sings Different Tune Schnoring $$$ for Lithuanian “Study Trips”

Professor Michael Berkowitz of University College London’s Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies, an expert on Lithuanian Jewish studies, was the member of staff who told London petitioner Monica Lowenberg on 14 December 2012 that Brandeis Professor Antony Polonsky’s banning of the reading of a  five minute petition would be upheld by the UCL department (correspondence here; background on the UCL saga here—best enjoyed in chronological order from the bottom upwards…).

The text of the petition and list of international signatories to date is available on Change.org.

Professor Polonsky was knighted by the president of Lithuania earlier this year for services to that country’s efforts to improve its Jewish PR profile, a PR profile that has suffered difficulty from repeated state honoring of Nazi collaborators and perpetrators, state defamation of Holocaust survivors who joined the resistance, and state investment in a revised far-right-based historical model for World War II.

Ms. Lowenberg, also the author of the international petition concerning Waffen SS marches in Riga, the Latvian capital, had asked Dr. Berkowitz for five minutes during which she and her ninety year old Holocaust survivor father could read out the contents of the petition addressed to the Lithuanian ambassador, one of the conference’s sponsors.

After being turned down, Ms. Lowenberg wrote as follows to Professor Berkowitz, in a letter released by her office to the media on 14 December:

“Thank you for our conversation today and for confirming that you are unprepared to allow me to read out the petition.

“As a result and as mentioned, I now do not permit that you or any of your colleagues and students at UCL have access to the documents I gave in good faith to Rabbi Frank Dabba Smith only this November concerning the 35 member of my father’s family who were murdered in the Holocaust. I am copying Frank into this email.

“In view of your recent decision I cannot allow documents so personally precious to us to be handled or used in any shape or form by a university department that supports a right wing, Baltic extremist government that is using this conference for their own political aims.”

In the meantime, a shocked Litvak author submitted for publication the following letter he had received from Professor Berkowitz only a week earlier. He/she, who asked to remain anonymous, found it “unbelievable that academics with no loyalty to the survivor community have no shame in coming right back asking for money.” The text released, purporting to come from Professor Berkowitz, reads:

  • From: Michael Berkowitz
  • Subject: Lithuanian Seminar UCL Dec. 18th 2012
  • Dear •••••••••••
  • Many thanks for your note. By no means is this passing the buck, but my colleague Francois Guesnet can speak more intelligently about your concerns than can I.
  • As long as you’ve gotten in touch with me I have a request of you: in the past I’ve taken several groups of MA students from my historiography of the Holocaust course to Lithuania. (We used to visit Prof Katz on these trips.) This year I have an excellent group and would like to do the study tour again.
  • In the past I’ve received some support from the AJR, some American friends, and an Israeli businessman based in London. My friends and the businessman are no longer in positions to help. I’m looking for around £5000 pounds. Should you be able to help, or can suggest some assistance, please do let me know. We would be based in Kovno and travel as economically as possible. My regular contact and guide is Chaim Bargman, with whom I have worked for over a decade. I can give you a list of names of former students who have been on such tours should you have any questions.
  • I’m enclosing a picture of my grandmother’s family–from Pasusvys, 1909.
  • One last thing: my current project is on Jews and photography. A section of my own family was in the business. The Jasvoins had a photo shop in Kovno and elsewhere. Should you know anyone with experience with things photographic in Lithuania please make the shidduch.
  • very best,


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