OPINION | IT PAYS TO DEFEND HISTORY | YAD VASHEM AND LITHUANIA | ISRAEL SECTION | ISRAEL DEBATE CHRONICLE
by Dovid Katz
The modest but resolute Defending History community, in Vilnius and internationally, in unanimity today expressed heartfelt congratulations to Yad Vashem director Dani Dayan who broke dramatically, and publicly, with decades of what the last Lithuanian Holocaust survivors considered to be tragic betrayal and appeasement, often under presumed political pressure (see our report from earlier this week and Defending History’s section “Yad Vashem and Lithuania“).
Starting over a decade ago, Defending History exposed to the English speaking world the state-sponsored public-space glorification of such brutal Holocaust collaborators as Jonas Noreika, Kazys Škirpa, and Juozas Krikštaponis (among numerous others). When Yad Vashem’s long-serving former director, the Jewish anti-Nazi hero (and Israeli War of Independence here) Yitzhak (“Tolka”) Arad (1926-2021) was absurdly accused of war crimes, soon to be followed by similar attempts to prosecute other Holocaust survivors, Defending History stood at the vanguard of alerting the Western world, from the Western diplomatic community in Vilnius to the British Parliament and American Congress.
And when Yad Vashem, under political pressure, would not publish Yitzhak Arad’s own paper on these matters, we were proud that he came to Defending History to publish the paper, back in 2012. One of the most painful and soul-wrenching responsibilities of the Defending History community has been to stand shoulder to shoulder with the last Lithuanian Holocaust survivors who could not believe the failures of Yad Vashem, when it came to Lithuania, to rise to the occasion.
Today, in one short and brilliant speech, the new director (since 2021) of Yad Vashem, Dani Dayan, an Argentinian born high-tech entrepreneur and university lecturer, singlehandedly turned a new leaf. In his speech he proudly referenced Yitzhak Arad (whose family still awaits a formal apology, as do the other Holocaust survivors maligned for history). He also made the very powerful point that brutal murderers cannot also be “heroes”. And he did not neglect to make the powerful point that it is for the grand benefit of Lithuania’s future generations that the truth be taught and told, which is ipso facto impossible if “national heroes” honored on the streets and squares, and in the museums and universities of the land were Holocaust collaborators. These are such simple truths, yet they are simple truths that lavishly funded state museums, commissions and institutes in Eastern Europe have been working to undermine via Double Genocide revisionism that posits a weird conflation of victims and perpetrators that turns the history of the Holocaust into a vast muddle of false equivalences.
First litmus test?
Will the prime minister’s office now Just Say No to the return of the Noreika plaque — a shameful carbuncle on the beautiful face of modern Vilnius — taken down for the NATO conference (ostensibly for “repairs”)?
By calling on the Lithuanian parliament to reverse its policy of glorifying the likes of Noreika, Škirpa, and Krikštaponis, and citing them by name, today, Yad Vashem chairman Dani Dayan has in one fell swoop made one big stride in the relieving return of Yad Vashem to its rightful stance as the mighty guardian of historic truth that it was created to be.
UPDATES TO 3 OCTOBER: See reports on Dani Dayan’s historic Vilnius speech in the London Times and Haaretz; texts of the speech on Yad Vashem’s website, and (condensed) in the Jerusalem Post; Times of Israel blogs by Silvia Foti, Grant Arthur Gochin, and Efraim Zuroff. Facebook comment by Thomas Pfanne (as PDF).
Looked at in the geopolitical context, Mr. Dayan’s valiant performance acquires an extra dimension of historical significance when one bears in mind the acute pressure Yad Vashem has been under for many years from the Israeli Foreign Ministry to help Israeli foreign policy win votes in the European Union, NATO, the United Nations and so forth (which may underlie painful episodes of 2009, of 2011 here and here, and many others). But the policy of throwing the truth about the East European Holocaust into the garbage can for some one-time vote or other reached its absurdity of moral bankruptcy back in 2017 when Israel’s first ambassador to Lithuania posed with a photo of a Holocaust collaborator in what has to be the lowpoint of modern Israeli diplomacy; attempts to erect a monument to the same collaborator in New Britain, Connecticut, were, by contrast, roundly voted down by the city council). Said ambassador got himself a medal after visiting a military college named for another Holocaust collaborator (and see from which country this Israeli diplomat got all the medals now touted during his stint in Australia). A night and day contrast with Israel’s heroic ambassador to Latvia and Lithuania, the late Chen Ivri Apter (1958-2012), who was an inspirational beacon for Just Doing the Right Thing. In the longer run he did Israel incalculably more good than the dripping pots of lentils brought home to ministry bosses by betraying the six million victims of the Holocaust.
And so, in that eternal spirit of Ambassador Chen Ivri Apter, today’s message to the Yad Vashem chairman, the Hon. Dani Dayan, in its rendition in our Lithuanian Yiddish: A yisher-kéyakh! Bravo!