Archive for February, 2011

Whose side are you on?

February 10, 2011

Is Lithuania anti-semitic or not?

This was in the news earlier this week

British politicians have called on Lithuania to combat anti-semitism by reversing a court decision that declare the Nazi Swastika is part of the country’s “historic legacy” and can be used by anti-Jewish thugs at political rallies. Denis MacShane MP and Lord Greville|Janner, both leading campaigners against anti-semitism, have written to the Lithuanian ambassador in London stating that “the Lithuanian Government has been engaged in an increasingly energetic campaign to curtail the truth about the Holocaust.”
Former Europe Minister Denis MacShane will lead a delegation that will hand in a letter of protest (below) at the Lithuanian Embassy (84 Gloucester Place, London W1) on Monday at 10 a.m.
Janner and MacShane also accuse Lithuania of failing to prosecute a single Lithuanian Nazi war criminal since 1991 but instead threatening war crime prosecutions against Lithuanian Jewish resistance fighters who fought the Nazis.
The letter to the London ambassador deplores the absence of Jewish scholars concerned about the Lithuanian government’s approach to the Holocaust from a forthcoming seminar on Jewish life in pre-war Lithuania.
They call on the government in Vilnius to tackle anti-semitism in the media with headlines accusing “the Jews” of expropriating money from the country and of failing to investigate and prosecute criminals responsible for anti-semitic acts like leaving a pig’s head at the Kaunas synagogue during the Sabbath service last summer.
Lithuania is at the forefront of a right-wing European campaign to say that the Holocaust is no different from the crimes of communism. This so-called “double genocide” campaign is aimed at devaluing the centrality of the Holocaust and is supported by anti-Jewish political groups in the Middle East and other antisemitic politicians.
“Sadly Lithuania is not alone in East European and Baltic states where nationalist populist politicians have made anti-Jewish themes part of contemporary political discourse,” said Denis MacShane. “In Poland, politicians like Michal Kaminski, who recently resigned as chairman of the Conservatives for European Reform group in the European Parliament because he said it was too extremist, is notorious for refusing the apologise for attacks on Jews by Poles in wartime Poland. In Hungary, the openly antisemitic Jobbik Party got 15 per cent of votes in the last election. Anti-Jewish political themes are slowly resurfacing with a re-writing of Holocaust and Nazi history a favourite theme of the new anti-semitism,” said MacShane.
The full text is below

H.E. Dr. Oskaras JUSYS
Ambassador
Embassy of The Republic of Lithuania
84 Gloucester Place
London W1U 6AU

7 February 2011

Dear Ambassador
We the undersigned are writing to express our concern at the irony of your hosting an exhibition about pre World War II Jewish life called “The Sounds of Silence” in London, alongside an academic colloquium dedicated to Lithuanian-Jewish relations, without the participation of scholars who are critical of the Lithuanian Government and its Holocaust policy.
For some years the Lithuanian Government has been engaged in an increasingly energetic campaign to curtail the truth about the Holocaust and events of World War II from being discussed in Lithuania, while at the same time manipulating debate on these issues in the European Parliament. These developments form part of a broader campaign against the tiny Lithuanian Jewish community and against Lithuanians and non-Lithuanians alike, who do not subscribe to the “Double Genocide” model inherent in the Prague Declaration (2008) and other such documents. Also of concern is the Government’s failure to condemn and respond to the rising anti-Semitism leading to an atmosphere that allows for the perpetuation of this ancient hatred.
Debate about the Holocaust has been silenced or wrongfully manipulated by:
Investigations, since 2006, by the state prosecutors threatening Lithuanian Jewish partisans with war crimes investigations – a campaign of defamation which has the support even of the Lithuanian Human Rights Association
The failure to punish a single Lithuanian Nazi war criminal since Lithuania’s independence in 1991
Letting the Jewish partisan site at the Rudninkai Forest fall into disrepair and ruin
A Lithuanian court ruling, in May 2010, that the swastika, which over recent years has become a more common sight in rallies, is not a Nazi symbol but forms part of the country’s historic legacy, and as such can be publicly displayed
The amendment of the Criminal Code in June 2010 making it a criminal offence to contest the Government’s “double genocide” policy, which equates, and thus distorts, Soviet and Nazi crimes in Lithuania during the War
Lithuania helping lead a European wide campaign, including the Prague Declaration of June 2008, which “recognizes Communism and Nazism as a common legacy”, proclaims “substantial similarities between Nazism and Communism”, and demands the “overhaul” of all European textbooks to reflect this revisionist history
The national Genocide Museum in central Vilnius excluding reference to the Jewish Holocaust.
The undersigned also note the Lithuanian Government’s failure to condemn and respond to rising anti-Semitism, which contributes to the perpetuation of this ancient hatred. This includes:
The failure of Government officials to condemn and restrict explicit anti-Semitism in mainstream media, such as a front page of a mass circulation daily, in July 2009, which claimed that “the Jews” are plotting to expropriate money from the country, showing the elected head of the Jewish community with a photo shopped abacus superimposed.
Statements invoking anti-Semitic language by Foreign Minister Audronius Ažubalis in October 2010, such as his claim that “everyone knows” who is pushing the dual citizenship bill, and – in reference to foreign Jews – adding that “they are doing this in order to reap financial benefits by way of property restitution” The failure to seriously investigate and locate the perpetrators of anti-Semitic acts, such as the leaving of a pig’s head during Sabbath services at the Kaunas Synagogue in August 2010, and the fire at the old synagogue in Pokroy (Pakruojis) in Spring 2009.

We, the undersigned, welcome cultural events outside of Lithuania that enhance understanding of both present and past Lithuanian Jewish life, and we acknowledge that in their own right, the Sounds of Silence Exhibition, and all the related events in London, are an important reflection of history, but we regard it as duplicitous and unacceptable for the Lithuanian Government to engage in activities around the world, which ingratiates it to the Jewish community in the Diaspora and Israel, while in Lithuania the Jewish community is continually humiliated, Lithuanian Jewish history is being untruthfully rewritten, and anti-Semitism espoused.

Embassy-sponsored events such as the Sounds of Silence Exhibition, and the academic colloquium “No Simple Stories: Jewish-Lithuanian relations between coexistence and violence”, may present the Lithuanian government in a tolerant and respectable light, but they do not deceive those, such as the signatories to this letter, who take the time to study the full spectrum of its activities both overseas and in Lithuania. We find these events consistent with the Government’s nationalistic rewriting of history, and with its efforts to limit the freedom of debate on “double genocide” and the Prague Declaration by excluding from these academic events Jewish scholars from Lithuania, and members of the Lithuanian Jewish community who are critical of the Government’s policies while being personally involved in “Jewish-Lithuanian relations.”
We, the undersigned, hereby call on the Lithuanian Government to take the following steps to correct the situation and help repair Jewish-Lithuanian relations:
Publicly ending without delay pre-trial investigations against Jewish partisan veterans who are investigated for “war crimes”
Recognising the role of the Lithuanian Activist Front (Provisional Government) and all other Lithuanian organizations involved in the mass murder of Lithuanian Jewry starting in June 1941, prior to the arrival of or establishment of the administration of German Nazi forces
Restoring for posterity the remains of the one surviving Jewish anti-Nazi fort, which was used as a base by 100 escapees from the Vilna Ghetto, from which to combat the Nazis and their collaborators
Repealing the criminal law of June 2010, which allows for the imposition of criminal penalties for supporting, denying or downgrading crimes committed either by the Soviet Union or by Nazi Germany
Outlawing the Swastika as a Nazi symbol
Stopping the use of anti-Semitic insinuation by Government ministers
Refusing permission for neo-Nazis to march in the cities of Lithuania
Adopting laws that recognize and restrict the anti-Semitism which incites against and vilifies the Jewish community in the Lithuanian media
Fully and accurately representing the Holocaust in the Genocide Museum in central Vilnius and in any state sponsored exhibition on Genocide
Including representatives of the Lithuanian Jewish community and the Green House Holocaust museum in forums sponsored by Lithuanian embassies in the Diaspora.

Several of the signatories below are Litvaks – Lithuanian Jews or their descendants, who remain committed to ensuring that the memory and legacy of their ancestors, and those Jews who remain in Lithuania today, are treated with respect and with regard to the historical truth.

Yours sincerely (in alphabetical order)

· Associate Professor Danny Ben-Moshe, Victoria University, Australia
· Zane Buzby, CEO, Co-Founder, The Survivor Mitzvah Project, USA
· Uri Chanoch, Board Member, Claims Conference
· Michael Freedland, broadcaster, London
· Richard M. Golden, Professor of History, Director, Jewish Studies Program
University of North Texas
· Dr. Clemens Heni, Director, The Berlin International Center for the Study of Antisemitism
· Professor Mikhail Iossel, Concordia University, Canada
· Dr Saul Issroff, Litvak genealogist and author of “The Holocaust in Lithuania: A book of Remembrance 1939-1945”, London
· Lord Janner of Braunstone, Vice President of World Jewish Congress
· Professor Dovid Katz, Editor of http://www.DefendingHistory.com; chief analyst at the Litvak Studies Institute (Vilnius)
· Professor Dov Levin, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
· Rt Hon Dr Denis MacShane MP, former Europe Minister UK
· Dr Daniela Mantovan, Yiddish Studies, the Hochschule für Jüdische Studien Heidelberg
· Rabbi Barry Marcus, Central Synagogue, London; Trustee Holocaust Memorial Day; Patron of Yad Vashem, UK
· Joseph Melamed, Chairman, Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel
· Professor Faye Ran, Metropolitan College of New York
· Professor Ada Rapoport-Albert, Head of Department, Hebrew and Jewish Studies, University College London
· Prof Milton Shain, Department of Historical Studies and Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies, University of Cape Town
· Dr Harold Shukman, Emeritus Fellow (former Lecturer in Modern Russian History), St Antony’s College, Oxford
· Dr. Efraim Zuroff, Director, Simon Wiesenthal Center-Israel Office, and Coordinator, SWC Nazi war crimes research worldwide.

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HOWEVER one academic, the author Evan Zimroth, Professor of English at Queens College in the City University of New York begged to differ. In 2009 she was awarded the Lithuanian Millennium Star by the Lithuanian State, in grateful acknowledgement of her personal and professional contribution to strengthening the cultural ties between Lithuania and its Jewish American diaspora. In a letter to artist Naomi Alexander (author of Once Upon A Time in Lithuania) 

Prof Zimroth wrote: Art & Photography
You keep asking me to respond to these charges (most of them coming from Dovid Katz), but I think the Lithuanian government will probably have to do so. So far they’ve rather honorably withheld comment, but perhaps it’s time for them to combat some of the misinformation that seems to be flying around.

But I should say, just for starters, that when I look at the list of signers here, I’m a bit taken aback. For one thing, Dovid Katz, as I’m sure you know, is no longer affiliated with the Vilnius Yiddish Institute, and as far as I know has no academic affiliation, nor is he a ‘Professor’. Lately he’s unfortunately allied himself with Zuroff. (For Zuroff’s reputation, you should read Barry Rubin’s essays in Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post.) Katz’s website is full of inaccuracies, or at least it was the last time I looked. Moreover, the Wiesenthal Institute is being investigated for, let’s say, ‘exagerrating’ its claims, and I hope someone is doing a serious investigative report of its funding sources as well, which I’ve heard are unsavory, to say the least. That’s a topic for some very good investigative journalist to take up, and I hope someone does. At the very least, it would be interesting to know who actually is funding Zuroff and Katz. As for the signer from New York, I thought there was no such entity as ‘The Metropolitan College of New York’; I had certainly never heard of it. I googled it, however, and found it does issue a few degrees, to what are called ‘non-traditional’ students. Some of the institutions listed below are bona fide and reputable; others I would question. My point is, it would be a good idea to be skeptical.

Yes, the Genocide Museum should be reconfigured, and I’m sure it will be once there’s the funding for it. The US State Department is also concerned that it doesn’t give enough weight to the Holocaust, but changing museum exhibitions doesn’t happen without a substantial shift within the Museum itself, and funding and support from the Museum board of directors. There’s no museum in London or New York (or anywhere) that can change its focus overnight. That being said, the criticism is valid; my guess is that it’s already under consideration within the Genocide Museum itself, and that the exhibitions will ultimately change.

Some of the changes requested in the petition below have already been endorsed and funded by the Lithuanian government, in their 8 December 2010 resolution, put forward by the Prime Minister, Andrius Kubilius.

There was a ‘double genocide’ in the 20th century. The Lithuanian government has gone on record as not ‘equating’ Stalinism and Naziism, but both murdered millions and should be studied accordingly. Studying them does not mean automatically equating them.

I could certainly go on …. But just one last thing …. I seriously doubt that the Foreign Minister made anti-Semitic remarks. I’ve met him and been with him and talked with him at length, and think it extremely unlikely. I do know, though, as anyone should, that the press easily distorts remarks, and that some elements of the Lithuanian press are more unreliable than others. But his office should be clarifying any remarks he made, and I hope they do.

When you (thank goodness!) have a free press and a free and independent judiciary, all kinds of things happen, as we well know in the UK and the USA. There are libel laws that protect defamation of character, and there are private property laws that should be enforced in all of our countries, whether the incidents under review are anti-semitic or anti-something else. The legislature can also pass laws criminalizing ‘hate speech’ (as the US has done), but this issue is controversial and should be fully debated. As for the judiciary, an ‘investigation’ where witnesses are called on to testify, as in our grand jury system, is not at all the same thing as a ‘prosecution’; the two should not be confused. The US judiciary investigates all the time, as does the UK. Should those three anti-Nazi partisans have been asked or required to testify at a hearing? I think not, and am on record (and on video, from SEIS) opposing it, but the three are not endangered or liable to prosecution. And, in a country like yours and mine and of course in Lithuania, the legislative branch cannot interfere with the judiciary. Do the signers below wish to live in a country where the judicial branch is manipulated by the legislative branch? You can go to Iran for that, or Moscow.

It would be nice to know that all of the British signers below are equally vociferous about anti-semitism in the UK. Did they protest the efforts of the various teachers’ unions to demonize and withdraw support from Israel? Did they protest the recent efforts of the Cambridge Union (the debating society) to vilify Israel and isolate its Jewish supporters? Are they handing petitions to the various mosques and embassies in England protesting anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiments? I certainly hope so.

I myself in my ten years of working with the Lithuanians on Jewish-Lithuanian relations and history have found nothing but goodwill and an authentic and very moving desire to come to terms with, comprehend and appreciate all aspects of Lithuanian-Jewish history, including the tragedies of the Holocaust. But there’s much more to this shared history than the Holocaust, and a great deal of very complex (and in some ways, positive, even glorious) history going back to the 13th century. As for the Lithuanians I personally know and work with, I would say there’s more philo-semitism than anything else, and at bottom a sincere and dedicated commitment to righting the wrongs of the past, as much as possible, and a commitment to move forward with common values. I personally am extremely fond of my Lithuanian friends (both Jewish and non-Jewish), and always touched by — despite what they and their families suffered under Stalinism — their commitment to appreciate Jewish customs and values. They value the Jewish tradition as part of their own history, almost eradicated by Naziism and then obliterated even as a matter of study, by Stalinism. It’s remarkable to see how much they’ve accomplished in establishing a democratic, civic culture in their twenty years of independence. It’s not that Lithuanian society is free of bigotry (is your country? is mine?), and certainly there are problems that need to be addressed, but I would like to support and celebrate good-faith efforts and certainly not try to derail them. I am very optimistic about moving forward.

I’ll be in London in March (through June) and more than happy to meet and talk to anyone on this list, to talk about my own position and why I support these Lithuanian initiatives. If you could introduce me to anyone you know here, please do so! You know Lord Janner, don’t you? I would really appreciate a meeting with him, if you could set that up. Meanwhile I hope the Lithuanian government itself departs from its obvious policy of withholding analysis and criticism of these attacks, and takes some steps to clarify its positions. Meanwhile I’m sure you’ll enjoy the conference. As I said, I know several of the scholars (in fact, some of them spoke at the conference I organized for YIVO on Lithuanian-Jewish history, in 2002, in New York and Washington), and it should be a terrific and rewarding event. I wish I could be there!

You may, if you like, send this letter around ….

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For information on Dovid Katz see
http://www.DefendingHistory.com; http://www.dovidkatz.net

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