Yes, the Foreign Ministry saved some face from the “loyalty” of some East
European EU/NATO states in Monday’s lopsided UNESCO vote on full Palestinian
membership (107 to 14 in favor, with 52 abstentions).
Latvia, which had
earlier voted against full Palestinian membership in the executive council, at
least abstained in Monday’s general vote. Other abstentions included Estonia,
Poland, Romania and Slovakia.
Perhaps the most ironic vote against the
Palestinian bid came from Lithuania.
Within minutes of the UNESCO vote,
Rolandas Kacinskas, minister plenipotentiary at the Lithuanian Embassy in
Washington, e-mailed his Jewish list the one-liner: “This is just a quick note
to let you know that at today’s UNESCO general assembly Lithuania voted AGAINST
admitting Palestine as a full member of UNESCO” (red capital letters appeared in
The vote might have been cause for rejoicing if not for
Lithuania’s sad record of attempted prosecutions of elderly Holocaust survivors
because they escaped the ghetto to join up with the anti-Nazi partisan
resistance in the forests, or because they have the courage to tell the truth
about the Holocaust.
It started in 2006, when former Yad Vashem director
Dr. Yitzhak Arad, an eminent Holocaust scholar, who was earlier invited to join
a historical commission on Nazi and Soviet crimes, was himself suddenly and
absurdly accused of being a war criminal (for having fought with the anti-Nazi
Then, in 2008, police came looking for two elderly women,
both Vilna Ghetto survivors. One of them, Dr. Rachel Margolis, an Israeli
citizen who turned 90 last week in Rehovot, was probably targeted because she
discovered a long-lost diary of a Christian Polish eyewitness to the genocide at
Ponár, the mass murder site outside Vilnius. That diary identifies the killers
as enthusiastic locals.
More recently, on August 30, just two months
before this week’s UNESCO vote, liaison officers of Interpol (!) came, at the
demand of Lithuanian prosecutors, to question 86-year-old Kovno Ghetto survivor
Joseph Melamed, a Tel Aviv attorney and chairman of the Association of
Lithuanian Jews of Israel, over a 1999 book he published identifying local
Holocaust perpetrators, some of whom are nowadays glorified in Lithuania as
LAST YEAR, the Lithuanian parliament declared 2011
to be a year of remembrance for the Holocaust. A week later, the same body
declared that 2011 would (also) be a year of remembrance of the “heroism” of the
Lithuanian Activist Front and other “anti-Soviet heroes.”
In 1941, these
“heroes” unleashed the barbaric murder of their Jewish neighbors in dozens of
locations even before the Germans arrived. The upshot is that the state has
honored both the victims and the perpetrators, for different audiences, with no
sense of moral dissonance.
The dual declarations were part of a broader
history of Holocaust obfuscation, whereby Baltic (and other East European)
governments have tried to sell the notion that there were really two genocides
that took place during the 1940s, one by Germany, one by the Soviet
Known as the “red-brown equation” (the notion of absolute equality
of Nazi and Soviet crimes), these countries are now spending a fortune to sell
this nonsense to the West, even during trying economic times, when their noble
and long-suffering peoples deserve rather wiser use of scarce
As someone who has been treated very well by everyday folks
for a dozen years in the heart of Vilnius, I can attest that the problem is one
of elites, not of the fine everyday people, for whom history distortion is most
decidedly not on the agenda.
Moreover, the government in Vilnius has
turned a blind eye to a wide web of local anti-Semitism. In 2010, a court
legalized public swastikas and the statesponsored Genocide Center continues to
employ a “specialist” who was one of the organizers of last March’s neo-Nazi
parade in central Vilnius (that itself proceeded with official
Lithuania is one of the three Baltic states where the Nazis
easily mobilized ample numbers of “Jew shooters” whose contribution to the
genocide resulted in these countries having the highest rates of Holocaust
murder in all of Europe (around 95 percent).
So efficient were the
killers that Jews were imported for murder from far afield in Europe, and
killers were exported to killing sites abroad.
It isn’t that the issue is
a simple one. In the world of realpolitik, individuals and countries
occasionally have to sacrifice important principles in order to secure current
achievements. That would appear to be the case in this instance – Israel has
sacrificed the sacred truth of the Baltic holocaust in exchange for Eastern
European anti-Palestinian votes on the international stage.
Zuroff, head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office, and a leader in the
battle against the untoward rewriting of history in Eastern Europe, has put it
like this: “The dilemma which Israel faces in dealing with Holocaust distortion,
and local anti-Semitism, in Eastern Europe and especially in the Baltics, is
that these countries, unlike their fellow EU members in Western Europe, have
evinced absolutely no interest in the Palestinian cause, making it relatively
difficult for Israel to criticize these failings. The resultant reluctance of
Israel to use its influence to combat these dangerous phenomenon has reinforced
the sense of impunity of those who seek to rewrite the history of the Holocaust,
hide the crimes of their countrymen and relativize the Holocaust by equating
Nazi and Communist crimes. As an Israeli by choice, I feel bitterly
betrayed in this regard.”
There is no country on earth with Israel’s
noble record of loyalty to its citizens.
It is time for Israel to stand
up loud and clear to defend Yitzhak Arad, Rachel Margolis, Joseph Melamed and
others, and to demand a public apology to all defamed Jewish anti-Nazi
The writer was a professor of Yiddish language, literature and
culture at Vilnius University from 1999 to 2010. He is currently the editor of www.DefendingHistory.com.