Dovid Katz: Lithuania's Holocaust Conference ProblemRoundup: Talking About History
[Dovid Katz is chief analyst at the Litvak Studies Institute and a research associate at University College London. He is the author of Lithuanian Jewish Culture and the website DefendingHistory.com.]
Today is the fifth and last day of an event in the Lithuanian capital that few would have thought likely: an international conference on Holocaust education whose prime local partners are two state-sponsored bodies that specialize in downgrading the Holocaust into “one of two equal genocides”—a phenomenon I wrote about for Tablet magazine last May. The Genocide Research Center runs a Genocide Museum that doesn’t mention the word Holocaust and that features 1950s anti-Semitic exhibits without curatorial comment. The second, a state-financed commission on Nazi and Soviet crimes, published some good research but lost credibility when Yitzchak Arad, the Holocaust survivor-scholar it had recruited precisely for credibility purposes, was himself accused of “war crimes” in 2006—for having escaped the ghetto to join the anti-Nazi resistance. The commission didn’t have a public word to say about that, or about the subsequent “war crimes investigations,” widely regarded as kangaroo, started in 2008 (and still not closed) against two Jewish heroines of the anti-Nazi resistance. And so, this week’s conference might be considered a horrible joke at best; at worst, it is a grim circus of historical manipulation.
The event, called “Training teacher-trainers: European Holocaust History, Human Rights, and Tolerance Today,” featured just one session open to the public, held on Monday morning. The speakers at the opening session were U.S. Ambassador Anne E. Derse; State Jewish Museum (Tolerance Center) head Markas Zingeris; diplomat-historian Alfonsas Eidintas; and two senior Jewish-American dignitaries, AJC director of international relations Andrew Baker, and Washington Holocaust Museum outreach director Stephen Feinberg. The controversial right-wing Jewish MP Emanuelis Zingeris, himself a signatory of the Prague Declaration, made a characteristically dramatic entry halfway through and spoke briefly. Finally, a vice-director of the museum invited the assembled to coffee and politely reminded everyone that the following sessions were closed to all but invited participants.
None of the speakers made any acknowledgment to the silently seated leaders of the Jewish community, who were not asked by the organizers to say a word of greeting. And not one of the speeches managed to mention the essential facts of the sobering history: The Baltics had the highest percentage of Jewish deaths in Holocaust-era Europe—around 95 percent—because of the massive local collaboration, which in this part of the world entailed serving in many cases as the actual murderers. Nor did they mention that during 2010, a Lithuanian court legalized public swastikas. That the permit for a neo-Nazi parade was taken out by a member of parliament. That the foreign minister claimed a foreign Jewish plot is behind new dual-citizenship proposals. That zero progress is made on enabling the safe return of 89-year-old Holocaust survivor Rachel Margolis, one of the Jewish partisan veterans under special prosecutors’ sham investigation. It was as if a grand new field of “Lithuanian Holocaust Studies” could gain international acceptance while shirking each and every one of the painful issues with impunity.
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