Netanyahu at site of Ponary massacre: ‘Israel is strong, proud, forever’

Zuroff says Netanyahu’s praise of Lithuania’s Holocaust memory is ‘a disgrace’.

Netanyahu at site of Ponary massacre: 'Israel is strong, proud, forever', August 26, 2018 (GPO)
“Israel is strong, Israel is proud, Israel is forever,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday at a memorial service at the Ponary forest near Vilnius, site of the massacre of some 70,000 Jews during the Holocaust.
“This is a place of unforgettable tragedy. An unpardonable crime was committed here,” Netanyahu said. “Seventy thousand Jews were murdered in cold blood by the Nazis and their collaborators, and 30,000 others, non-Jews, were murdered as well. Altogether, 200,000 Jews were murdered here and in other places in Lithuania. This is 95% of the Jews who lived in this country.”
Netanyahu said the lesson of the Holocaust was two-fold: “The first is that we must fight barbarism early on or it will burn all of us. The second for us Jews is that we must never be defenseless again.”
Among those who accompanied Netanyahu at the ceremony was Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis. Netanyahu, repeating comments he made Thursday during his first day in the Baltic state as the first sitting Israeli prime minister ever to visit the country, thanked the Lithuanian government “for taking important steps to commemorate the Holocaust and for helping to preserve the truth about the Holocaust.”
These words, however, infuriated Efraim Zuroff, the head of the Jerusalem office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and co-author of a book on Lithuanian complicity in the Holocaust.
“I think this is a disgrace,” Zuroff said. “The prime minister of the State of Israel is supposed to be the watchdog of the Jewish narrative of the Holocaust. This is a terrible failure.”
Efraim Zuroff
Efraim Zuroff
Zuroff said Netanyahu’s praise for Lithuanian efforts to commemorate the Holocaust “are incredibly disappointing, in view of the fact that Lithuania has been one of the leaders of those consistently distorting the history of the Holocaust, in order to minimize the role of local killers.”
In addition, he said, Lithuania has played a key and prominent role “in promoting the canard of equivalency between Nazi and communist crimes,” an effort he said “undermines the uniqueness of the Holocaust.”
He also said Lithuania has honored anti-Soviet fighters who were actively involved in murdering Jews.
Netanyahu, Zuroff charged, is selling out the memory of the massacred Lithuanian Jews for “a few votes at the UN and in UNESCO.”
Netanyahu, at the memorial ceremony at Ponary, noted his own Lithuanian roots and recalled a story he tells often of his grandfather who – as a young yeshiva student – “was beaten nearly to death by antisemitic hooligans not very far from here.”
Before he lost consciousness, Netanyahu said, his grandfather pledged, “If I live, I will take my family and I will go to the Land of Israel to rebuild our independent life so that we may continue the tradition of the brave Maccabees. We will defend ourselves.”
“I want to say to my grandfather today, Saba, I am back here, back here in this forest of death as the prime minister of Israel,” Netanyahu continued. “We will never be defenseless again. We have a state, we have an army, and we are capable of defending ourselves by ourselves. Never again will we be led to the slaughter.”
Prior to attending the memorial, Netanyahu held a summit in Vilnius with Skvernelis, Latvian Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis and Estonian Prime Minister Jüri Ratas. This was the first time an Israeli prime minister attended a summit of Baltic leaders, and he invited them to hold their summit next year in Jerusalem.
Netanyahu said this summit provided a “wonderful opportunity” to make a “historic beginning,” noting the historic significance of the prime minister of the “reconstituted” Jewish state visiting “the reconstituted democracies of the Baltic group.”
Netanyahu said he “unabashedly” asked the Baltic leaders for their assistance in correcting “a distorted view on Israel” inside various EU forums.