Lithuania's efforts to conflate the crimes of the Shoah with the Soviet Union's occupation of the country triggered criticism on Thursday, at the Global Forum for Combating AntiSemitism international conference in Jerusalem.
The third annual conference was organized by the Foreign Ministry, and was attended by more than 500 people from six continents, according to Aviva Raz Shechter, director of the ministry's Department for Combating Antisemitism.
Dovid Katz, a Jewish Studies professor at Vilnius University in Lithuania, told The Jerusalem Post that Vygaudas Usackas, Lithuania's foreign minister, "missed a great opportunity" at the conference to condemn his "country's documents" equating Nazism with Communism. Katz, a Yiddish expert, has spearheaded efforts to debunk the parallel between the Holocaust and the former Soviet Union's control over the Baltic States and Eastern Europe. He also criticized Lithuania's "defamation" of anti-fascist Jewish Lithuanians who fought Hitler's army but have been subjected to criminal investigations by the Lithuanian authorities.
Lithuanian-born Holocaust survivors such as Yitzhak Arad, a former chairman of Yad Vashem, have been viciously attacked as war criminals because they joined Soviet-aligned partisans to dislodge Nazi forces. Lithuanian Nazi-collaborators played a decisive role in the extermination of 90 percent of Lithuania's 250,000 Jews.
The Post has obtained a copy of a letter from the "Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel," in which the organization asked the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism to "forcefully condemn the Prague Declaration, which seeks to create a false symmetry between Nazi and Soviet crimes, and is an attempt to obfuscate and diminish the Holocaust."
The Prague Declaration was formulated and signed last year and its signatories include Emanuelis Zingeris, an MP in Lithuania and chairman of an international commission reviewing the crimes of the Nazis and the Soviets in his country.
Perhaps anticipating the criticism, Foreign Minister Usackas said at the conference's opening session on Wednesday that "common measures should not be applied to diminish the crimes of the Holocaust."
The Shoah is an "unprecedented phenomenon," said Usackas, adding that he "holds deep respect for anti-Nazi fighters."
Prof. Gerald Steinberg, of the Political Science Department at Bar-Ilan University, told the Post that it is "not just enough to say to an Israeli audience that the linkage of the Holocaust and the Soviet occupation is separated now."
Steinberg, who was in Lithuania last year as part of an academic dialogue, said the foreign minister's "speech should be published and disseminated in Lithuania so the public in Lithuania sees a beginning of change."
Katz told the Post that there is a "special kind of anti-Semitism" in the Baltic country.
Lithuanians praise Israelis, but they target "local Jews" who are considered "not patriotic and supported the communists," he said. Katz views the Israel-Lithuanian relationship as filled with fault lines because of the "We love Israel but hate the local Jews" mindset.
Lithuanian's ambassador to Israel, Darius Degutis, said at a diplomatic event this week that the Holocaust was a "dark period," and his country wants to "recreate a spirit of the Jerusalem of the North."
Vilnius/Vilna was deemed to be the "Jerusalem of the North" because of its flourishing Jewish intellectual and Talmudic culture. The Nazi alliance with Lithuanian fascists obliterated within a rapid-fire period the thriving center of Baltic Jewish life.