12/30/10, 12:53 AM
Debate Goes On: Nazi Hunter Zuroff vs. Researcher Rabbi Rosenson
Efraim Zuroff

This is Part 4 of an ongoing, emotional debate started when INN interviewed Rabbi Y. Rosenson, Dean of Efrata Teachers College in Jerusalem and a noted researcher and writer on Lithuanian Jewry and the Holocaust. Efraim Zuroff took issue with the facts and their interpretation.

INN brings you this significant contribution to knowledge of the Holocaust and how complicit countries are dealing with it.

I have to admit that I read Yisrael Rosenson's responses to my assertions that Lithuania remains incapable of honestly facing the extensive complicity of its nationals in Holocaust crimes with a certain ambivalence. On the one hand, I was happy to learn that the Efrata Teachers College program about Lithuanian Jewish history was not the beneficiary of funds from the Lithuanian government. I never claimed that this was indeed the case, I only wondered whether such a scenario might possibly explain the opinions expressed by Rosenson, which not only do not reflect the current reality in Lithuania, with which I am very well-acquainted for the past twenty years, but sound more like Lithuanian government propaganda than a description of the facts. On the other hand, Mr. Rosenson did not provide any concrete answers to any of the facts which I presented to prove my assertion regarding the ongoing failure of the Lithuanians to face their past.

In this respect, all he did was reiterate his comment about "several [unnamed-E.Z.] research institutions dedicated to Holocaust research, an annual Holocaust Memorial Day and an apology by the Lithuanian government over a decade ago for its role in the Holocaust," and their honoring of Lithuanians who helped Jews during the Shoa, all of which have convinced Rosenson that "at least some elements of the country's society are making a very sincere effort to reevaluate their behavior, to make an honest accounting of their crimes against the Jews."

The problem is that even the facts Rosenson mentioned, which ostensibly support his thesis, crumble upon closer examination. Thus, for example, his mention of Holocaust research institutions, which simply do not exist. The Lithuanian government generously supports historical research on crimes against humanity committed in the country, but not about those committed by Lithuanians against Jews during the Holocaust. Thus there is ample funding for genocide research, but the only genocide they are interested in, is the so-called genocide committed by the Communists against Lithuanians. In fact, the Lithuanian parliament even had the incredible chutzpa to pass legislation to change the definition of the term genocide so that it could apply to Communist crimes in Lithuania.

As far as the annual memorial day for the Holocaust, a closer look at the date will provide a clearer understanding of Lithuanian intentions in this regard. The date chosen is September 23, when the Nazis evacuated the Vilna Ghetto in 1943, an operation carried out primarily by the Nazis. A far more appropriate date for such a memorial day, which should focus on the role of local Lithuanian Nazi collaborators in Holocaust crimes, would have been October 28, the date of the large-scale action in the Kovno Ghetto in which close to 10,000 Jews were murdered in the Ninth Fort by Lithuanian Security Police. By choosing a date which is not directly connected to crimes by Lithuanian murderers, the authorities evade the cardinal question of local Holocaust complicity and help deflect all criminal responsibility to the Germans and Austrians, who certainly should bear a major portion of guilt, but were certainly not the only ones carrying out the murder of Jews in Lithuania.

As far as the apology made in Israel in 1995 by Lithuanian President Algirdas Brazauskas for the complicity of Lithuanians in Holocaust crimes, I personally was present at his speech in the Knesset, and met him in person several times. If there was ever a Lithuanian leader who had the potential to take the necessary steps to help his society face their Holocaust crimes, it was the former Communist Brazauskas, who had no sympathy for his fascist countrymen who murdered their Jewish neighbors, but even he ultimately realized that it was political suicide to try and do so in contemporary Lithuania. Thus, for example, his impassioned promise that Lithuania would "publicly, consistently and conscientiously bring local Nazi war criminals to justice," remained an empty promise as the local judicial authorites made sure that not a single Lithuanian Nazi war criminal would ever be punished for their crimes.

That brings me to the question of the attitude toward Lithuanian "Righteous Among the Nations," who helped Jews during the Shoa. Undoubtedly, such individuals deserve every honor, as well as our everlasting gratitude. The problem begins in this regard, when this designation is given to people who do not fit the precise criteria for the honor established by Yad Vashem. It turns out that the Lithuanians decided on their own to apply their own criteria in order to "inflate" the number of Righteous Lithuanians to help deflect the justified criticism of Lithuanian complicity in the mass murder of Jews, and create another false symetry, as if the number of Lithuanians who helped Jews during the Shoa was equal to, or even exceeded, the number of those who killed Jews. In fact, Knesset Speaker Ruby Rivlin, while on a state visit to Vilna, refused to participate in a ceremony honoring Righteous Gentiles whose files had not been approved by Yad Vashem.

If we add the undeniable fact that Holocaust education in Lithuania has been entrusted to the main promoters of the Prague Declaration and the false equivalency between Communist and Nazi crimes, which will undermine the current status of the Shoa as a unique historical tragedy and case of genocide, and ultimately destroy most of the beneficial results of sixty years of Holocaust commemoration and education, I think that Rabbi Rosenson should reassess his positive attitude to Lithuania. There are a few Lithuanians whose outlook fits his description, but they have no public standing, are not involved in Holocaust education, and have effectively been silenced or marginalized by the government's Holocaust distortion campaign, which is what really counts in that Baltic republic. When Avraham Avinu came to plead with G-d to spare Sodom, he gave up after realizing that the city did not even have ten righteous residents. The same, unfortunately, applies to contemporary Lithuania, when it comes to Holocaust-related issues.