This week, one of the more shameful events in Lithuanian-Jewish relations since the Baltic republic regained independence in 1991 will be hosted in New York by the once-venerable YIVO Institute. Under the heading “Reclaiming the Jewish Narrative in Lithuania Today,” the Yiddish research institute will host Markas Zingeris, whom it describes as a “Lithuanian-Jewish poet and writer,” to speak about relations between Jews and Lithuanians since the fall of Communism.
According to the publicity for the event, Zingeris is a “former research director for the Lithuanian Presidential Commission for the Evaluation of the Soviet and Nazi Occupational Regimes and current director of the Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum,” positions which found him “repeatedly… at the center of recent struggles concerning Lithuanian Jewry.” If we add the fact that the same Markas Zingeris is also a special adviser on genocide to Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius, his credentials to present the Jewish perspective on this important topic would appear to be impeccable.
During the past two decades, and especially during recent years after Lithuania was admitted to the European Union and to NATO, its government has consistently pursued a policy of minimizing the extensive collaboration of Lithuanians with the Nazis
Nothing could be further from the truth, however. Despite the important positions that Zingeris has and still holds, he does not represent the Lithuanian Jewish community, and in fact, has consistently supported the Lithuanian authorities on a wide range of issues concerning Lithuanian-Jewish relations on which the local Jewish community and most interested Litvaks abroad were, and are, deeply at odds with the government’s policies.
Thus, during the past two decades, and especially during recent years after Lithuania was admitted to the European Union and to NATO, its government has consistently pursued a policy of minimizing the extensive collaboration of Lithuanians with the Nazis and widespread active participation in the mass murder of Jews, not only in Lithuania, but in Belarus and Poland as well. It has actively sought to promote the canard of historical equivalency between Communist and Nazi crimes in an effort to displace the Holocaust from its current justified status as a unique case of genocide, and to irrevocably alter the perception of the Baltic republic from that of a nation of perpetrators to that of a nation of victims.
The practical steps taken in this regard are numerous, ranging from purposely preventing the punishment of any of the numerous unprosecuted Lithuanian Nazi war criminals who could have been held accountable since the country obtained its independence; to the launching of investigations against Jewish anti-Nazi Soviet partisans on trumped-up charges of war crimes against civilians, to create a false symmetry between Lithuanian crimes against Jews and those supposedly committed by Jews against Lithuanians; to steps taken to honor Lithuanian “freedom fighters” who were involved in the murder of Jews; and the outrageous reburial in Kaunas with full honors several months ago of Juozas Ambrazevicius, the prime minister of the Provisional Lithuanian Government that advocated the mass murder of Lithuanian Jewry and whose members were avid supporters of the Third Reich — to mention only a few of the more scandalous manifestations of the government’s policies on Holocaust-related issues.
If we add the increasingly numerous vandalizations of Jewish institutions and Holocaust memorial sites — virtually none of whose perpetrators have been apprehended, let alone punished, and the silence of Lithuanian officials in response to neo-Nazi marches in the heart of Vilnius and Kaunas with the participation of MPs and government officials — a grim picture emerges of a country bent on rewriting its Holocaust narrative to hide the crimes of its nationals and to replace the truth about World War II with a fable of Lithuanian heroism and victimhood.
And while the local small Jewish community has valiantly tried its best to fight against these phenomena, Markas Zingeris never lent his support to these efforts. On the contrary, he was sent all over the world to hide the truth about Lithuania and paint a rosy picture of a brave Baltic republic victimized initially by the Nazis, who annihilated its Jewish community and bear virtually sole responsibility for the Holocaust, and then by the Soviets, and now is fostering the revival of its Jewish community, which is currently flourishing in an atmosphere of philo-Semitic tolerance. If only this were indeed the case…
It is hard to believe that a once-eminent Jewish institution like YIVO would decline to join the fight against contemporary Holocaust distortion
To add insult to injury, the other speaker at Tuesday night’s event is none other than outgoing American Ambassador to Lithuania Anne Derse, who unlike her predecessors who served under the Bush administration and opposed the more extreme manifestations of Lithuanian Holocaust-distortion, actively aided and abetted Lithuanian efforts to rewrite their history and hide their crimes. As hard as this is to believe, not once did the American ambassador speak out against the infamous Prague Declaration of June 3, 2008, which promotes the canard of equivalency between Communist and Nazi crimes. Not once did she denounce the neo-Nazi marches and the failure of Lithuanian officials to condemn them, as well as other manifestations of local anti-Semitism (and homophobia).
The US Embassy even financially supported seminars for teachers that were conducted by those actively distorting Holocaust history, and under pressure from the Lithuanian authorities, made a generous grant to a local summer literary program for overseas guests contingent on the withdrawal of an invitation to the author of this op-ed because of his harsh criticism of the Lithuanian government’s policies on Holocaust-related issues.
It is hard to believe that a once-eminent Jewish institution like YIVO would decline to join the fight against contemporary Holocaust distortion in Lithuania, but not only has the Yiddish research institute failed to oppose the current government’s objectionable policies, it is openly and actively abetting them by inviting Zingeris and Derse to present their highly-controversial and — in my opinion — scandalous views on Lithuania-Jewish relations in the wake of the Holocaust.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone.
Dr. Efraim Zuroff is the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and director of its Israel Office. His most recent book, “Operation Last Chance: One Man’s Quest to Bring Nazi Criminals to Justice” (Palgrave/Macmillan), deals extensively with Lithuania’s failure to prosecute local Nazi war criminals and honestly confront the uniquely widespread complicity of Lithuanians in Holocaust crimes.