The visit this week of Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius will present a
difficult foreign policy dilemma. In recent years, Israel has forged
increasingly strong ties with the new Eastern European members of NATO and the
European Union, whose stances on Middle East issues has generally been more
supportive and understanding than those of their Western European
Desperate for political and diplomatic support in
international forums, and especially in the extremely important EU, Israel has
been reluctant to criticize the postcommunist countries for their attitudes and
policies on a wide range of Holocaustrelated issues.
One of the most
important of these has been the campaign being waged by these countries,
especially by the Baltic republics of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, to promote
the canard that the crimes of communism are the equivalent of those of the
While the victims of the former certainly deserve not only our
sympathy but also a determined effort that those responsible be brought to
justice, both of which are sadly lacking and are the cause of considerable
“Holocaust envy,” the fact remains that the false historical equivalency poses a
very grave danger not only to the accepted narrative of World War II and the
Shoah, but also to the future of Holocaust commemoration and
Thus, for example, one of the main demands of the Prague
Declaration of June 3, 2008, the manifesto of the campaign of false equivalency,
is to designate August 23, the date of the Molotov- Ribbentrop Soviet-Nazi
Non-Aggression Pact, as a joint commemoration day for the victims of all
totalitarian regimes, i.e.
Nazism and communism, and thereby indicate
that the communists bear equal responsibility for the atrocities and fatalities
of World War II and the Holocaust, a step sure to ultimately lead to the
elimination of a special memorial day for the victims of the Shoah.
COUNTRY has done more to promote this false equivalency than Lithuania. Vilnius
has been pushing for the adoption of resolutions along these lines in every
possible international forum, and has unfortunately had some success, but this
tendency has been promoted with a vengeance at home. Thus, for example, its
campaign to prosecute Jewish anti-Nazi Soviet partisans for supposed war crimes
to create a false symmetry between crimes by Lithuanians against Jews and those
by Jews against Lithuanians. Or its efforts to hide or severely minimize the
extensive scope of Lithuanian complicity in Holocaust crimes and artificially
inflate the number of Lithuanian Righteous Among the Nations to counterbalance
the huge number of local Holocaust perpetrators.
Add to this its abysmal
failure to prosecute Lithuanian Nazi murderers, not a single one of whom has
been punished since independence, and the passage of laws criminalizing the
denial of communist “genocide,” a term which had to be redefined by the
Lithuanian parliament to fit the description of the crimes committed by the
communists in Lithuania. Or the strange tolerance vis-a-vis neo-fascist
demonstrations in the main avenue of Vilnius during which marchers yelled “Juden
raus,” as if the elderly Holocaust survivors who chose to trust the nascent
Lithuanian democracy needed a reminder of their traumatic past. Or the shameful
dismissal of world-renowned Yiddish expert Prof.
Dovid Katz, co-founder
of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute and a lecturer at Vilnius University for the
past eleven years, in the wake of his courageous public support for the
beleaguered Jewish Holocaust survivors falsely accused of war crimes.
to add insult to injury, Holocaust education in Lithuania was turned over
exclusively to the main promoters of the Prague Declaration and the equivalency
canard – the Historical Commission to Investigate the Crimes of the Occupations,
both of them, as if there were equally evil, the Center for the Study of
Genocide, in whose museum in the center of Vilnius, there is no mention of the
Shoah, but quite a few anti-Semitic cartoons emphasizing the Jewish origin of
various communists, and whose few publications on the Holocaust relate only to
Lithuanian Righteous Among the Nations, as well as the local Tolerance Center,
which is controlled by a politician of Jewish origin, Emanuelis Zingeris whose
Jewish roots serve primarily to give legitimacy to all of the above.
the past few years, Israel has done relatively little to protest or effectively
combat the steadily-worsening situation in Lithuania. As we all know, we face
very serious threats on multiple fronts and need all the help we can get. But
there are times and issues which must, as a matter of principle and national
pride, be dealt with in a forthright manner.
The time has come to take
the Lithuanians and the other Eastern European countries to task on
Holocaust-related issues in a sophisticated, diplomatic and effective manner
that will protect the historical narrative of the Shoah and help thwart the
equivalency campaign before it destroys 60 years of efforts to convince the
world of the special importance of the Holocaust and its historical uniqueness.
This is our obligation not only to the victims, but to ourselves and our
descendants. This week’s visit by Lithuanian Prime Minister Kubilius is such an
opportunity which hopefully will not be squandered.
The writer is
director of the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.