Dr. Zuroff is Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center-Israel Office, and Coordinator of the SWC Nazi war crimes research worldwide (www.operationlastchance.org). Dr. Zuroff is also an author; his most recent book was Operation Last Chance; One Man’s Quest to Bring Nazi Criminals to Justice, published by Palgrave/Macmillan.
The visit to Israel this past week of Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius went virtually unnoticed by the Israeli media. In fact, the report by David Lev on Friday on Israel National News (“Is Lithuania Sincere About Owing Up to its Holocaust Past?”) was, to the best of my knowledge, the only attempt to assess the most important aspect of current Lithuanian-Jewish relations, the attitude of the Baltic republic to its bloody Holocaust past and the extensive complicity of Lithuanians in the mass murder of hundreds of thousands of Jews (both in their own country and outside her borders), in the light of recent attempts by Lithuania and its Baltic neighbors to rewrite the history of the Shoa [Holocaust, ed.] in a totally distorted manner.
Unfortunately, however, rather than exposing this insiduous campaign, which has strong and very dangerous anti-Semitic undertones, the article was an interview with Yisrael Rosenson, the author of a recent book on LIthuania, which contained a totally opposite assessment of the current situation. Rosenson is not only woefully misinformed, but tried especially hard to paint present a positive assessment of Lithuanian intentions and policy on Holocaust issues, for reasons I can only surmise.
Thus, according to Yisrael Rosenson of the Efrata Teachers College in Jerusalem, “at least some elements of the country’s society are making a very sincere effort [my emphasis-EZ] to reevaluate their behavior, to make an honest accounting of their crimes against the Jews.” Apparently Rosenson is referring to the government officials in charge of Holocaust education in Lithuania, who according to him have established a national “Holocaust educational center which coordinates programs for all children in all the country’s schools.” In addition, he claims that “There are Holocaust research centers in Lithuanian universities, with many studies discussing the Lithuanian people’s failures regarding the Jews.”
If these facts were indeed accurate, there be a basis for Rosenson’s positive appraisal of the sincerity of at least part of contemporary Lithuanian society in this regard, but unfortunately his information is all wrong and in fact the situation in this regard is far worse than he could ever imagine.
First of all, there is no national center for Holocaust education. The subject has been entrusted to three institutions, which instead of preserving the accepted narrative of the Shoa, have been leading the campaign to equate Communist crimes with those of the Nazis in an effort to undermine the status of the Holocaust as a unique historical tragedy. I am referring to the International Commission For The Evaluation Of The Crimes Of The Nazi And Soviet Occupations, whose name clearly indicates its agenda and stance on the false equivalency between Nazi and Soviet crimes being actively promoted by the Lithuanian authorities.
The second is the Genocide and Resistance Research Center, whose attitude toward Holocaust issues is clearly manifest in its Museum of Genocide Victims in the heart of Vilnius, which does not even mention the Holocaust or the mass murder site of Ponar, but stresses the Jewish origin of Communist officials in blatantly anti-Semitic cartoons in its permanent exhibition.
The third organization involved is the Vilnius Tolerance Center headed by Emanuel Zingeris, a Jewish member of the Seimas, who no longer is a member of the local Jewish community and is one of the key operatives in the efforts of the Lithuanian government to promote the Prague Declaration of June 3, 2008, the main manifesto of the false equivalency movement.
As far as Lithuanian universities are concerned, not a single one has a Holocaust research center, nor are there any courses on Holocaust history. In fact, just this past summer, Vilnius University purged its most prominent Jewish professor, world-renowned Yiddish expert Prof. Dovid Katz, who has been teaching there the past eleven years, and whose primary sin was his courageous defense of several elderly Holocaust survivors who fought with the Soviet anti-Nazi partisans and who were accused in the local nationalist press of committing “war crimes” against innocent Lithuanian civilians.
These trumped-up charges against Jewish heroes, whose only hope of survival was to join the partisans, is part of the false symmetry being promoted by the Lithuanian authorities in order to relativize the Holocaust crimes of Lithuanians, as if they were the mirror image of similar or equivalent crimes by Jews against Lithuanians, and thereby deflect the fully-justified criticism of Lithuanian behavior during the Shoa. Of course, if the campaign to equalize Communist and Nazi crimes were to succeed, that would turn the Lithuanians from a “nation of killers” into a “nation of victims,” which would do wonders to erase their guilt for Shoa crimes.
Rosenson is also wrong when it comes to the important issue of the prosecution of Nazi war criminals. He correctly points out that there was very strong resistance to doing so in Lithuania, but offers the explanation that there was similar opposition to such trials in other countries, pointing to France which did not try Lyon Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie until the eighties. What he neglects to mention is that the only reason there were any trials whatsoever of Lithuanian Nazi war criminals in independent Lithuania was external pressure from the US, Israel, and the Wiesenthal Center and that the local authorities did everything possible to prevent any of the criminals from actually being punished, turning the entire judicial process in these cases to a total farce. Instead of serving as an important history lesson, like the trial of Jasenovac concentration camp commander Dinko Sakic in Croatia, the Lithuanian attitude toward their Nazi collaborators was one of understanding and sympathy for the last people on earth to deserve such treatment.
In view of all of the above, and given Rosenson’s efforts to describe Lithuania in a positive light, one can only wonder why a respected religious Zionist educator would defend the truly-indefensible behavior of a country which had the highest percentage of Jewish victims in the Holocaust and is trying its hardest to erase or at least minimize the memory of those crimes? The only possible answer is that in recent years the Lithuanian government has allocated enormous sums to try and improve its image in Jewish communities the world over. Can it be that the year-long program on Lithuanian Jewish history which culminates with a trip to Lithuania which is organized by Rabbi Rosenson personally and sponsored by Efrata Teachers College has been the recepient of Lithuanian government largesse? I hope that the existence of this program and nothing more explains why Efrata hosted the previous Lithuanian ambassador to Israel (currently the Deputy Foreign Minister) despite the terrible acccusations made at that time by the Lithuanain government against Jewish anti-Nazi partisans.
I do not know the answer to this question and I would like Rabbi Rosenson to explain. I can only hope that Rosenson’s interview was the result of ignorance rather than funding , but something is very seriously wrong when a respected Zionist religious educational leader publically provides patently false information to defend those who are, in my opinion, in the process of inflicting serious damage on the interests of the Jewish people and the memory of the Holocaust.