JTA — Lithuania announced it would celebrate Jewish heritage with a special coin, which some critics say features a symbol associated with far-right admirers of Holocaust perpetrators.
The 10-euro coin celebrates 2020’s labeling in Lithuania as the Year of the Gaon of Vilna and Jewish Heritage and marks 300 years since the birth of the country’s storied Rabbi Elijah ben Solomon Zalman.
The coin features a menorah atop a local symbol known as the Columns of Gediminas, commemorating a 13th-century ruler. Together, the two shapes form what the local Jewish community now calls “the Litvak sign.”
The columns are not inherently an anti-Semitic or ultranationalist symbol, according to Defending History, an online platform critical of the glorification of Nazi war criminals in Lithuania and Eastern Europe. But “in recent years and decades it has been weaponized as a symbol beloved by the antisemitic far right,” according to a November 15 article on Defending History, which was set up by the Yiddish scholar and activist Dovid Katz.
“It is a symbol prominent in neo-Nazi parades in our own times” that has “added to the swastika to produce the Lithuanian swastika,” Defending History wrote in protesting the symbol’s selection to feature on a coin.
Faina Kukliansky, the chairwoman of the Jewish Community of Lithuania, acknowledged in a statement Friday what she described as the Columns’ hijacking by ultranationalists but defended the symbol’s selection.
“The Lithuanian Jewish community is strictly distancing itself from all such statements, which nurture unreasonably negative interpretations of the Litvak sign, which unites two of the most important Lithuanian Jewish symbols — Menorah and the Lithuanian state,” she said.