Take Lithuania to task

Visit by Kubilius presents an important opportunity to confront the Lithuanians on their shameful approach to Holocaust issues.

Lithuanian PM 311 (photo credit: AP)
Lithuanian PM 311
(photo credit: AP)
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 counterparts.
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 Nazis.
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 education.
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.
NO 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.
And 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.
Over 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.