OPINION | RED-BROWN COMMISSION (SECTION) | DOUBLE GENOCIDE | LITVAK AFFAIRS | LITHUANIA | YAD VASHEM & LITHUANIA | ISRAEL ISSUES (SECTION)
Prof. Dina Porat of Yad Vashem will chair the Vilnius event on the Vilna Ghetto this Wednesday 20 Sept. featuring (among others) Ronaldas Račinskas and other officials of the state-funded “Red-Brown Commission” — one of Europe’s major engines of Double Genocide revisionism and the Prague Declaration.
VILNIUS—As long as Lithuanian Holocaust survivors were alive, they protested with their last breath against the motives and agenda of the Lithuanian government financed Red-Brown Commission (officially known, à la Orwell, as the “International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupational Regimes of Lithuania” or ICECNSORL). Readers can visit a page documenting these protests from 1998 onward, reports of the painful episodes and sagas over the decades, and perhaps most painfully, the heartfelt begging by the last survivors, asking Yad Vashem to resist Foreign Ministry pressure and have nothing to do with the commission. Perhaps the best known document is the September 2012 letter to Yad Vashem by the late Joseph Melamed, legendary chairperson of the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel, the world’s leading and last organization of Lithuanian Holocaust survivors.
In 2011, Yad Vashem joined and then, after Defending History’s protests, withdrew from participation in a Vilnius parliamentary conference glorifying the butchers of Lithuanian Jewry of “The First Week” (23-30 June 1941). As a set of issues completely distinct from Yad Vashem’s splendid and magnificent work in Holocaust Studies on the academic and museum levels, its “political department” has felt it necessary to provide “goodies” to Baltic states in putative exchange for needed political favors on issues truly important to Israel. None of that obviates the moral responsibility to speak out with dignity and honesty about history’s worst instance of genocide.
Will the organizers at least invite one of Vilnius’s last Holocaust survivors, Professor Pinchos Fridberg, a victim of Red-Brown Commission defamation, to speak at the commemoration? What Holocaust memorial event on the planet would not jump at the opportunity to invite the city’s very last Holocaust survivors to come and share their thoughts?
Does Yad Vashem really not have the independence to “Just Say No” to legitimizing the Red-Brown Commission’s efforts to “equalize” Nazi and Soviet crimes in the face of last pleas of the last generation of Holocaust survivors, now almost all gone?
In 2013, Vilnius’s last Vilna-born survivor, Professor Pinchos Fridberg politely corrected some serious errors made in a lecture by a Red-Brown Commission operative. The reaction? The Commission’s executive director Ronaldas Račinskas called Professor Fridberg “a liar” on their official website (so much for respect for Holocaust survivors; see chronology of the debate). When Professor Danny Ben-Moshe called on Yad Vashem to support the Holocaust survivor in a Jerusalem Report op-ed, the reply by Professor Dina Porat, offering artfully acrobatic apologetics for the Commission, and ignoring the Vilna-born Holocaust survivor’s existence, appeared in the Jerusalem Post (and the Good Lord works in strange ways: as Prof. Porat comes to red-carpet state events in Vilnius this week, Pinchos Fridberg stands, a decade later, as the last remaining Vilna-born Holocaust survivor still active and able to address conferences and memorial events).
By contrast, top Holocaust scholars have resigned from the Commission in disgust, including Sir Martin Gilbert, Professor Konrad Kwiet, Professor Dov Levin, and of course, Dr. Yitzhak Arad, after he was himself absurdly accused of war crimes for having joined the partisans, in a state-sponsored campaign started by someone who is today Lithuania’s defense minister (documentation). As Defending History’s marked the start of its fifteenth year this month, one of its most moving episodes in the journal’s history concerned Yitzhak Arad. He wrote to Defending History in 2012, explaining that his paper on the Lithuanian Holocaust and the campaign to obfuscate it, including a section on the Red-Brown Commission’s role in the Prague Declaration, was turned down for publication by Yad Vashem (he had himself been Yad Vashem Director for over two decades). He asked Defending History to publish the paper, which appeared on these pages in December 2012. History will no doubt record Arad’s paper as the genuine encapsulation of Yad Vashem’s sacred ethos and values.
Will the visiting speakers unambiguously call for the removal of Vilnius’s public-space shrines to Holocaust collaborators? Assurances that the Noreika plaque will not be put back up? See chronology of previous years’ September commemorations.
Let there be no mistake. By coming to Vilnius this week to effectively legitimize (anew) the state commission that caused so much pain to the last Holocaust survivors, Yad Vashem is yet again being manipulated by political forces vital to today’s geopolitics but remote from the truth about the Holocaust. Indeed, will Professor Pinchos Fridberg, the last Vilna-born Vilnius-resident Holocaust survivor — sharp, and active in advanced years — even be invited to come and say a few words at the event this Wednesday, 20 September 2023? Will Professor Porat in her remarks call, unambiguously, for the immediate removal of all of Vilnius’s state-sponsored public-space monuments glorifying Holocaust collaborators? Or will this be another sham, in a long and sorry series, that does Yad Vashem — and those to whose memory it exists to cherish — no justice?
For an introduction to what Double Genocide “sounds like,” see a clip of Mr. Račinskas, head of the Red-Brown Commission (whom you can meet in person at Wednesday’s event where he’ll round everything out with the event’s official “Concluding Remarks“) commenting on the prosecution of Fania Yocheles Brantsovsky (now 101, and still not in receipt of a formal letter of apology):
“History shall one day surely record that it was Yitzhak Arad, Danny Ben-Moshe, Pinchos Fridberg, Martin Gilbert, Konrad Kwiet, Dov Levin, Joseph Melamed, and the Defending History community that stood up in a city called Vilna for the Real Yad Vashem.”