Yad Vashem in spat with Lithuania over Holocaust survivor

Lithuania says survivor defamed national heroes by accusing them of having collaborated with Nazis.

September 18, 2011 03:09
2 minute read.
Display at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. ‘Eastern Europ

yad vashem 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

Yad Vashem has rescinded an invitation to Lithuanian officials to attend a memorial service in response to the Baltic state’s request that Israel investigate a Holocaust survivor for defaming the country’s national heroes.

The state Holocaust museum on Thursday said Lithuania’s Culture Minister Arunas Gelunas and ambassador to Israel Darius Degutis were not welcome at next week’s ceremony in Jerusalem commemorating Lithuanian Jews killed during World War II.

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The announcement came after Lithuania had asked Israel to probe Joseph Melamed, the chairman of the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel, for allegedly defaming Lithuanian national heroes by accusing them of collaborating with the Nazis.

“Two people came from the Ministry of Justice who usually work with the Interpol following a request by the Lithuanians,” Melamed told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday. “It was not an investigation, but they asked about a list of Lithuanian murderers we had put out 15 years earlier.”

According to Melamed, the list which was recently uploaded to the Internet, contained the names of 5,000 Lithuanians who killed Jews, nine of whom are recognized by the government in Vilnius as national heroes.

“They claim nine of them are Lithuanian heroes that did not kill Jews but this is a lie,” he said. “Not only were they murderers but they are mass murderers. So they are preparing to sue for libel.”

Efraim Zuroff, head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Israel, said Yad Vashem’s action was significant in efforts to remember the Holocaust in the Baltic region.

“This is a very important step taken by Yad Vashem because it makes clear Israel will no longer countenance the efforts by the Lithuanians to prosecute former Jewish partisans,” Zuroff said.

“Hopefully, it will mark an end to tolerance of Holocaust distortion activity.”

Of the estimated 210,000 Jews living in Lithuania before the war only about 15,000 are believed to have survived, one of the lowest survival rates in Europe.

Nazis operating on Lithuanian soil were closely aided by Lithuanian nationalists who instigated pogroms against Jews on their own initiative.

After gaining independence in 1991, Lithuania sought to distance itself from communism by embracing nationalist forces which had fought the Soviet Union during WWII, including some who carried out attacks against Jews.

In 2007, Lithuania asked Israel to extradite partisan fighter and former Yad Vashem head Yitzhak Arad for allegedly killing Lithuanian civilians during WWII.

The Lithuanian-born Israeli rejected the allegations made against him and said he was being persecuted because he had called on Vilnius to bring Nazi collaborators to justice.

Melamed on Saturday said he did not want to provoke an argument with Lithuania. He said the controversial list was removed from the Web even though he stood behind its veracity.

“The Lithuanians should think twice before they sue us because it will open up a hornet’s nest,” Melamed said.

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