O P I N I O N
by Dovid Katz
“Also, it has been started to require the sentence of the citizens of the Jewish nationality ― Yitzhak Arad, Fania Brantsovsky and Rachel Margolis, as these citizens (former Soviet guerrillas) have organized the massive slaughter of civilians in Kaniūkai Village, Lithuania (killing 38 civilians) on 29 January 1944. Attention should be paid to the fact that the very Y. Arad has departed to Israel.” — from the statement just published by the Lithuanian Human Rights Association (LHRA), signed by ten of its leading experts and approved by its committee.
The Lithuanian Human Rights Association (LHRA) has just made public on its website its 2010 statement on antisemitism in Lithuania. Sadly, the statement will itself be remembered in time to come as emblematic for a time and place where some leading intellectuals concerned with Human Rights are themselves ensnared by a pervasive antisemitic mood. It was prepared by ten leading academic and political figures who proudly signed it, and it was then approved by the committee of the LHRA.
When it comes to the Holocaust survivors whom sections of the local elite (prosecutors, politicians, media) have outrageously defamed as “suspected war criminals”, these Human Rights experts are not remotely interested in the rights of the victims of these baseless slurs, or in how the Republic of Lithuania wishes to bid farewell to the last surviving Litvaks after a seven hundred year shared history. Nor, as Human Rights experts, are they interested in asking why such slurs have been leveled only against Jewish survivors from among the anti-Nazi partisans. In its statement, the LHRA treats them as investigated, tried and convicted, and twice refers to the need to “require the sentence of the citizens of the Jewish nationality” [italics added], a rather crude call to the mob, if to speak in terms of the twenty-first century.
The report takes the form of a midyear letter to the Council of Europe’s European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance, and is copied to two further international human rights organizations — the International Federation for Human Rights and the European Human Rights Association, apparently in response to mentions of antisemitism as one of the various Human Rights issues, that Lithuania, like all countries, may from time to time face. One is naturally curious to see how the ECARI, the IFHR and the EHRA reacted to the statement, which they will have received last summer.
The Lithuanian Human Rights Association (Lietuvos žmogaus teisių asociacija — LZTA) has now twice released on its website the document to the public, once in summary form (here, scroll to points 5 & 6) and as a PDF of the original (here, scroll to pages 12-14). For speed of reference, the report is also attached here.
It was inspiring in 2010 to see bold Lithuanian citizens of various backgrounds step forward to counter antisemitism and Holocaust distortion; in the Baltics the two are inextricably linked. It is at the same time saddening to have to note that those in the country’s Human Rights establishment have not risen to the occasion. When it comes to antisemitism the Lithuanian Human Rights Association (LHRA) has chosen, in its report for the year ― we all hope for changes for the better in 2011 ― an option that is much worse than remaining silent. Its leaders have chosen to uncritically accept the local and domestic biased views of the antisemitic media, and to regurgitate them as “facts” in their formal report, and, even more a shock, as “facts” that are then used to explain whatever antisemitism they might agree exists.
The report must be seen against the backdrop of 2010 in Lithuania up to its stated date of completion (23 July 2010). In other words, its authors could not have foreseen the pig’s head left during prayers at the Kaunas synagogue in August, the foreign minister’s claim in October that a Jewish conspiracy is behind attempts to introduce dual citizenship laws in the parliament, or the article published in a mainstream family weekly in November, by an Interior Ministry official, claiming the Holocaust was a “legend”.
But they certainly had access to the information about the first half of the year 2010, which included events that would be worthy of critical scrutiny by a Human Rights organization. In January, state prosecutors harassed the Jewish community on Holocaust Remembrance Day with baseless inquiries about a Holocaust survivor in Tel Aviv. In February, the Užgavėnės festival again publicly featured costumes mocking Roma and Jews in various parts of the country. In March, a neo-Nazi parade in the center of the capital on the country’s Independence Day proceeded after its permit was taken out by a member of parliament from the ruling party faction. Instead of clear moral guidance, the prime minister offered the media some flippant remarks. May brought the court ruling that swastikas may be flaunted in public, because they are “Lithuania’s historical heritage rather than symbols of Nazi Germany”. June brought the event that would have bona fide Human Rights folks up in arms: a parliamentary bill signed into law by the president that threatens up to two years imprisonment for those who might disagree that Nazi and Soviet crimes constituted genocide. The Jewish community’s newspaper provided one of the country’s most robust responses to the new “red-brown law”. (More detail on the recent record of antisemitism in Lithuania here and here).
But none of these events merit even mention in the report by the Lithuanian Human Rights Association. The LHRA report does, however, make a number of startling points (numbering is ours, not in the original; text extracts are unchanged).
- (1) “The guidelines specified in the report must be implemented, as the above-mentioned report is objective, and the guidelines for the Lithuanian society are acceptable, except that part which is related to the manifestations of anti-Semitism in Lithuania. This part of the report is to be stated in more detail, as the essential reasons for the manifestations of anti-Semitism in Lithuania have not been analyzed and revealed.”
In other words, the Association accepts international norms for other issues in Human Rights, but the international concerns that have come its way are inherently wrong when it comes to antisemitism in the country (“except that part”..), and antisemitism must have an excuse. Its cause must be “revealed”… What then is it that needs to be revealed? Put simply, that an unfair image is being spread by… foreign Jews (perhaps the same foreign Jews that the foreign minister later in the year blamed for conspiring to change the country’s citizenship laws?). The Vilnius Human Rightsters’ report goes on to explain “what happened”:
- (2) “In the above-mentioned article and in the other articles, Efraim Zuroff, the citizen of Israel, the Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center office in Jerusalem, well-known in Lithuania, refers to Lithuanians as ‘the descendants of war criminals’. He accuses the Lithuanian nation of the slaughter of the Jews, performed by the Germans in Lithuania during World War II. In his opinion, many Jews of Lithuania were slaughtered purportedly due to the fact that the local Lithuanians contributed to it. He has been repeating such accusations incessantly for many years. The Association is sure that continuously nicknaming the Lithuanian nation as ‘the nation of criminals’ does not strengthen the mutual tolerance of the citizens of the Lithuanian nation and the Jewish nation, as the accusations of such nature are biased and faulty.”
The article referenced is Paul Frysh’s on CNN (available here), where the reader will rapidly find how radically the LHRA has warped the quotations in order to conform precisely to a distorted image of the Wiesenthal Center. Naturally Dr Zuroff never called all Lithuanians the descendants of war criminals or a nation of criminals and so forth. However, Dr Zuroff, like all competent historians of the Holocaust ― including of course those excellent scholars in Lithuania, such as Valentinas Brandišauskas and Liudas Truska ― correctly notes that the near total massacre of the Jewish population of the Baltics was due in large measure to massive local participation in the actual murders.
In other words, the LHRA is trying to convince the wider European (and international) Human Rights communities that antisemitism in Lithuania is the fault of…. Efraim Zuroff and the Wiesenthal Center. For this “wisdom” the reader could have gone to Respublika or another antisemitic publication. What is a shame is that this “Human Rights” organization is selecting from the menu of antisemitic appetizers in the media to justify antisemitism instead of fighting it; and, most ludicrously, to justify antisemitism in a country as resulting from the opinions of an overseas individual. Perhaps this is a first in the annals of antisemitism.
Two brilliant Lithuanian thinkers, Leonidas Donskis and Tomas Venclova, have both commented on the pitiful ruse of “blaming Zuroff” (or the Wiesenthal Center) for a widespread high-level failure to own up to Holocaust history. As Venclova put it last July, as fate would have it the same month the LHRA issued its report:
“There is no progress visible in Lithuanian-Jewish relations. Anger against Efraim Zuroff and attempts to lay the foundations for the ‘double-genocide’ theory continue, while demanding: ‘Don’t you dare call us a nation of Jew-shooters.’ Obviously, Lithuanians are not a nation of Jew-shooters. But, unfortunately, actions in the recent past do provide a basis for calling Lithuanians a nation of apologists for Jew-shooters. Whatever you might think about Efraim Zuroff, he is right when he says that Lithuanians, unlike Croatians, have not punished a single murderer of Jews. On the contrary, although this hasn’t been articulated by society or the courts, there is clearly a feeling at large that the right thing to do is to silently sabotage all such legal cases.” — Tomas Venclova
From there the LHRA ventures into falsification of history, including the claim that:
- (3) “The same number of citizens of the Lithuanian nationality saved the Jews from shooting during the years of the German occupation, with their life in risk.”
The incredibly courageous Lithuanians who saved neighbors are rightly recognized and honored in Lithuania and worldwide (see here for a selection). They have earned the eternal gratitude of humanists everywhere. But it is patent nonsense to claim that the numbers of killers and rescuers were of similar magnitude. Alas in the Baltics they were not.
But the LHRA does not dwell on this, and returns for the presumed reason and justification of antisemitism in Lithuania, that justification relying on the incorrect quotations from one Dr Efraim Zuroff, who has dedicated decades to seeking fair trials for alleged war criminals in their own country, under their own flag, in their own language (see the website Operation Last Chance).
Dr Zuroff was honored in 2010 by the president of Croatia and made an honorary citizen of the city of Novi Sad, Serbia, in 2009, for his contributions toward helping nations deal honorably with fascist episodes in their past and to prevent re-occurrences in the future. Seen against that Serbo-Croatian backdrop, does it not strike the reader as rather odd that he should be so vilified in Lithuania by an organization for Human Rights, on the basis of characterizations in the antisemitic press? Had these Human Rightsters bothered to look at Dr Zuroff’s recent book, they would have found the chapter on Lithuania. It recounts the moving honesty with which simple people from different parts of the country came forward to offer information on what happened to their neighbors as a matter of justice and conscience (PDF of the chapter here).
But you ain’t seen nothing yet… After coming to the cases of two Israelis accused by Lithuanian prosecutors of having worked for the KGB after the war, who were singled out because they were Jewish, the LHRA’s letter goes on, incredibly, to defame yet again the Holocaust survivors Yitzhak Arad (born 1926), Fania Yocheles Brantsovsky (born 1922), and Dr Rachel Margolis (born 1921).
- (4) “Also, it has been started to require the sentence of the citizens of the Jewish nationality ― Yitzhak Arad, Fania Brantsovsky and Rachel Margolis, as these citizens (former Soviet guerrillas) have organized the massive slaughter of civilians in Kaniūkai Village, Lithuania (killing 38 civilians) on 29 January 1944. Attention should be paid to the fact that the very Y. Arad has departed to Israel. In 1979, he published a book where he personally described the slaughter of Kaniūkai Village.”
The antisemitism of prosecutors who have been defaming Holocaust survivors who survived by escaping the ghetto to join the anti-Nazi resistance, and are heroes of the free world, has been noted widely. From the House of Lords in London to the United States Congress in Washington, the free world has spoken up. This journal includes a front page box counting the number of days since police came looking for the two women, Brantsovsky and Margolis, until today, without being charged or cleared (details here). A genuine human rights organization would be busy investigating whether justice has been done by these prosecutors, rather than join the antisemitic mob’s call to “require the sentence of the citizens of the Jewish nationality”.
Moreover, the release on the internet of the LHRA’s letter is itself one of the most unsettling antisemitic acts of the year 2010, coming at its very end. Indeed, the entire document is not so much about antisemitism in Lithuania in 2010, an ostensible concern of a Human Rights organization, but about again distorting the Holocaust and promoting one of the most discredited antisemitic canards of recent times, that the tiny remnant of Lithuanian Jewry that survives thanks to having joined the resistance must a priori be guilty of something awful. In this sense, the document is just as much about distorting the Holocaust in the spirit of the Double Genocide movement, domestically and in the European Union, as it is about spreading the very specific brand of antisemitism now being disseminated unchecked by elites in this part of the world.
On the more personal level, the internet release of the report is tantamount to libel, because none of these anti-Nazi heroes has been accused of anything specific, let alone, as the report puts it, having “organized the massive slaughter of civilians in Kaniūkai Village, Lithuania (killing 38 civilians) on 29 January 1944”. Not even the antisemitic article in Lietuvos aidas that set the whole charade in motion back in January 2008 made that claim. Nor did the shameful Delfi.lt article of October 2009 which attacked the German Embassy on the day that nation’s ambassador presented Fania Yocheles Brantsovsky’s with one of its president’s highest awards.
None of the three Holocaust survivors defamed was a participant in the cited battle. None was there. In other words, the leaders of the “Lithuanian Human Rights Association” have just put on the web false claims that even biased journalists, prosecutors and politicians never before made. This demonstrates inter alia how damaging the prosecutors’ abuse of their power for the purpose of a defamatory campaign in the service of Distortion of History has been. Instead of challenging them, the LHRA takes from the hard-core antisemitic media the charge that the few Jews who did survive by joining the resistance are ipso facto guilty of massive slaughter, without a shred of evidence. The notion that Arad’s book contains any reference to any of these three elderly Holocaust survivors having slaughtered anybody in Kaniūkai, or anywhere else, is wholly false. (Perhaps a page number could be given?)
As the staunchly pro-Baltic Economist put it back in 2008, an attempt is afoot to blame the victims, in effect, for having survived. This is high-society-speak for the unvarnished notion that the only good Jew is the murdered one.
It was only a few short years ago that proud leaders of Lithuania thought and acted differently. The late president and prime minister Algirdas Brazauskas awarded certificates of honor to Dov Levin and Rachel Margolis for precisely the same deeds — helping liberate Lithuania from Nazi tyranny. Fania Yocheles Brantsovsky was honored by former Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas, and for that matter, by Ireland’s ambassador, the American ambassador, the president of Germany, and a substantial part of Vilnius’s diplomatic corps. Dr Rachel Margolis, at 89 years of age unable to return to visit her native Vilnius, has been honored by a group of nine ambassadors in Vilnius, the Israeli ambassador in Riga, Metro West Holocaust Council, the Anti-Defamation League, the NCSJ, Keene State College of New Hampshire, Lord Janner of the UK House of Lords, and Tel Aviv’s Leivick House, among others.
The sentence “Attention should be paid to the fact that the very Y. Arad has departed to Israel” seems to suggest that a Lithuanian citizen recently absconded to Israel for fear of an investigation. In fact, Yitzhak Arad emigrated to Israel (then Palestine) in 1945. This statement is in the spirit of the unseemly May 2008 statement by prosecutors, still not retracted, implying that Fania Brantsovsky and Rachel Margolis were fugitives who could somehow not be found. That this massive barrage of defamation is coming from the highest echelons of society is the most painful part of this story. That it was repeated at the end of 2010, on the internet, by the major Human Rights organization in a European Union state, is no less than astounding.
The rest of the publicly released report is devoted mostly to a repeated personal attack against Dr Zuroff, with ever more inaccurate characterizations. The lamentably inflammatory misquote “the nation of Jew-shooters” is repeated three times in the LHRA report, a call sure to feed both antisemitism in the region and the demonstrably related Holocaust Obfuscation movement.
The letter concludes with a list of the Human Rights experts who prepared the document.
“The document has been prepared by:
Viktoras Petkus, Honorary Chairman of Lithuanian Human Rights Association, Chairman of the Lithuanian Helsinki group.
Vytautas Budnikas, Chairman of Lithuanian Human Rights Association, Editor-in-Chief of the LHRA newspaper ‘Pozicija’.
Antanas Buračas, Founder, Lithuanian Human Rights Association, also academician, Lithuanian Academy of Sciences.
Bronislovas Genzelis, Signatory, “The Act on Restoration of Independence of Lithuania”, “Supreme Council of the Republic of Lithuania, also Professor, Vilnius and Vytautas Magnus universities.
Petras Grėbliauskas, member, Lithuanian Human Rights Association Committee, lawyer.
Albertas Žilinskas, member, Lithuanian Human Rights Association Committee, economist.
Vytautas Girdzijauska, former Chairman, Lithuanian Human Rights Association, writer.
Česlovas Ladukas, Doctor of social sciences, associate professor.
Arimantas Dumčius, professor, Honorary Chairman of Lithuanian Association for the Protection of Human Rights.
Romuladas Ozolas, former vice prime-minister, Republic of Lithuania; Signatory, ‘The Act on Restoration of Independence of Lithuania’, Supreme Council of the Republic of Lithuania; member of the Baltic Assembly (since its inception); philosopher.
Document approved by the LHRA Committee on 23 of July 2010”