A rather simple story: Lithuania, the Jews, and the Shoah



 


O P I N I O N

by Clemens Heni

An Open Letter to the Scholars Reading Papers at the 6-7 February UCL-Warburg Symposium in London

On February 6 and 7 of 2011, there will be a conference held in London, entitled “No simple stories: Jewish-Lithuanian relations between coexistence and violence”. Taking into account that some 95% of Lithuanian Jews were killed during the Holocaust — the highest percentage in all of Europe — this is quite a heartbreaking title, isn’t it?

“No simple stories” — really? For those Lithuanians involved, killing Jews was quite simple, even before the Germans arrived.

“No simple stories.”

Really?

And, yes, sometimes history is simple, according to British MP John Mann. He was part of a discussion in Jerusalem at the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism in December 2009, where I was a panelist on antisemitism in Eastern Europe, and he said frankly, that it is not so difficult to differentiate between those who established concentration camps and killed the Jews and those who liberated those concentration camps and its surviving victims. The latter was the Red Army of the Soviet Union. The first were the Germans. Sometimes history is simple. If one knows the truth and is not in denial, of course.

I am writing to you because you are all participants of the above mentioned event in London. The event on “Jewish-Lithuanian relations” is cosponsored by the Lithuanian Embassy in London and the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry itself. Taking into account that the Foreign Minister of Lithuania made an antisemitic statement about Jews and dual citizenship in October 2010 and never publicly regretted such a statement — accepting such an invitation is itself frankly remarkable.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center stated on October 18th 2010:

“Jerusalem—The Simon Wiesenthal Center today sharply criticized comments made by Lithuanian Foreign Minister Andronius Ažubalis late last week at a meeting of the parliamentary faction of the Homeland Union and Christian Democratic parties. In a presentation regarding proposed legislation which would permit individuals of Lithuanian origin living elsewhere to obtain Lithuanian citizenship in addition to their current citizenship, the Foreign Minister claimed that the bill was being promoted primarily by ‘Jews who seek citizenship to press compensation claims against the state.’”[i]

The Lithuanian government is also well known in Europe for its spreading and supporting of the “Prague Declaration”, an infamous document from June 3, 2008, equating National Socialism and its unprecedented crimes of the Shoah with the crimes of Stalin and Stalinism in the Soviet Union (framed as “communism”). For example the Prague Declaration wants to implement August 23, the day of the Molotov-Ribbentrop (or Hitler-Stalin) pact in 1939, as the common European day of remembrance. This would de facto work against Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27.

“Equating Stalinism and Nazi Germany is antisemitic because it explicitly negates the unprecedented character of the Shoah. It is an intentional obfuscation of history.”

Lithuania is also known for many antisemitic incidents in the last 20 years. Some fifteen war criminals were repatriated from the US to Lithuania. Not a single war criminal or Jew-killer has been jailed in Lithuania, even for one symbolic day, as Dr Efraim Zuroff, head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Jerusalem Office, has pointed out.[ii]

Equating Stalinism and Nazi Germany is antisemitic because it explicitly negates the unprecedented character of the Shoah. It is an intentional obfuscation of history.

The state funded “Genocide Museum” in Vilnius does not even mention the Holocaust, according to a CNN report and multiple eyewitnesses.[iii]

One of the organizers of the London conference is Dr François Guesnet, the Sidney and Elizabeth Corob lecturer in Jewish History at University College London. He is known as the organizer of another lamented conference in London about the comparison and the equation of antisemitism and “Islamophobia” in 2008.[iv]

Most international researchers and scholars on antisemitism and Islam reject this ridiculous comparison, because antisemitism led to the Holocaust and today it aims at the Jewish state of Israel while criticism of Islamism is a human right and important for the defense of democracy.

After 9/11 many scholars, politicians, and societies started to talk about “Islamophobia”, in total denial of the fact that the mass murder of 3000 people on that Tuesday in 2001 was the result of an Islamist Jihadist action, driven by antisemitism, anti-Americanism, and many other elements of political Islam.

Now, as it seems, Guesnet is also publicly supporting the Lithuanian government and ignoring the Jewish community in Lithuania — not one of their representatives has been invited, nor, it seems, is anyone who is both able and willing to discuss frankly and without spin today’s antisemitism in Lithuania, both in society and government, or, indeed, today’s state manipulation of the debate on the very questions that lie at the core of the conference agenda.

Serious scholarship in 2011 can hardly be undertaken under the umbrella of a government of a country whose Foreign Minister is known for anti-Jewish statements.

Implicitly or explicitly accepting the ideology of the “Prague Declaration” by joining such an event is not a good idea for scholars. Member of European Parliament Prof. Leonidas Donskis, from Lithuania, rejects the antisemitic movement to downplay the role of perpetrators during the Holocaust, as does MP John Mann, MP Dennis MacShane, and Lord Janner, among many others.

As long as Lithuania does not deal straightforwardly with its own history during the Holocaust, condoning or passing over in silence antisemitic statements and events, and insists on expending state treasure on equalizing the Nazis and the contemporary anti-Nazis (Soviets) of the region in 1941-1945, no serious scholar should join a conference which is sponsored by the current Lithuanian government.


[i] Wiesenthal Center Harshly Criticizes Antisemitic Remarks of Lithuanian Foreign Minister, October 18, 2010: http://www.wiesenthal.com/site/apps/nlnet/content2.aspx?c=lsKWLbPJLnF&b=4441467&ct=8823083.

[ii] “And if there is a country which especially deserves to be criticized harshly in this regard it is Lithuania, whose government is actively helping to finance this campaign, and where its antisemitic implications have reached a despicable low during the past three years. Thus after making a mockery of the efforts to bring unprosecuted Lithuanian Nazi war criminals to justice by insuring that even those two local Security Police commanders and one operative who were prosecuted would not sit even one day in jail for their crimes, Lithuanian prosecutors launched investigations against several Jewish Soviet anti-Nazi partisans, among them Dr Yitzhak Arad, former chairman of Yad Vashem, on bogus charges of war crimes against Lithuanians. Accompanied by hysterically antisemitic articles in the nationalist press, the campaign turned the victims of the Holocaust into perpetrators and the villains who assisted the Nazis in the mass murder of Jews into patriotic heroes, a distortion of the historical events much more palatable to the Lithuanian public.” (Efraim Zuroff (2009): Of insult and mockery, in: Jerusalem Post, Dec. 22, 2009: http://www.wcrj.org/en/news/detail.php?ID=736).

[iii] “The state-funded Museum of Genocide Victims in Vilnius, Lithuania, is an impressive structure. In a country of relatively humble means, it stands out for its size. Its stated objective is to “collect, keep and present historic documents about forms of physical and spiritual genocide against the Lithuanian people.”

But the story of the more than 200,000 Jews killed in Lithuania by the Nazis and their local collaborators is not part of the museum.

Instead, the museum memorializes Lithuanian victims of Soviet occupation during World War II.” (CNN, June 3, 2010:  http://articles.cnn.com/2010-06-03/world/lithuania.nazi.prosecutions_1_holocaust-history-efraim-zuroff-nazis/5?_s=PM:WORLD).

[iv] Antisemitism and Islamophobia in Europe: Comparisons – Contrasts – Connections, Edge Hill University Goldsmiths, University of London, University College London, “The conference was opened by François Guesnet (University College London), who framed the questions for debate.” (http://hsozkult.geschichte.hu-berlin.de/tagungsberichte/id=2262&count=121&recno=14&sort=subject&order=up&geschichte=110).


Dr Clemens Heni is a political scientist and researcher. He holds a PhD in political science and has researched inter alia on German history, right-wing extremism and the New Right, the Holocaust, antisemitism, Islamism, anti-Americanism, and anti-Western ideology. He was employed at the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism (YIISA), Yale University (USA), as a Post-Doctoral Researcher until 2009. Since then he worked on a project on German Middle Eastern Studies and Islamism after 9/11. He lectured about Holocaust remembrance and antisemitism in Eastern Europe between fall 2009 and fall 2010 in Pilsen (Czech Republic), Jerusalem (Israel), Berlin (Germany), Riga (Latvia), Kiev (Ukraine), and Edison (New Jersey, USA). He published articles about the “Prague Declaration” (see one of the first scholarly pieces on it), Lithuania, Latvia, antisemitism, and related topics in English and German, including articles in the German Quarterly Tribüne. A list of his publications and CV are on his homepage www.clemensheni.net.

 

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