Our cousin Rachel Margolis is not in her native Vilnius this summer, as she has been in summers past, to teach visitors from around the world about Lithuania’s role in the Holocaust. Despite the fact that the Lithuanian prime minister honored her three years ago as a war hero, the Lithuanian government is now turning on her and the country’s other few surviving Jews.
As a member of the EU, Lithuania is obligated to research and reconcile its role in the Holocaust. However, it has failed to convict a single one of its citizens of the war crimes documented in the Sakowicz diary, an eyewitness account by a non-Jew of the mass killings of Jews and Poles at Ponary, Lithuania.
Instead, Lithuanian prosecutors are culling the memoirs of survivors like our cousin Rachel to find evidence of deaths of Lithuanian citizens at the hands of pro-Soviet partisans. (Rachel wrote a memoir recounting her escape from the ghetto and her experiences as a partisan.)
This is the government’s shameless attempt to divert attention away from its failure to ever seriously punish a single mass murderer.
Against this European context, the local shenanigans against survivors have unfolded. In 2005, Holocaust survivor and resistance fighter Yitzhak Arad, who for 21 years was director of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem, was persuaded to join a Lithuanian commission investigating Nazi and Soviet crimes. A short time later, a blatantly racist newspaper article accused him of “war crimes” based on passages in his book The Partisan. On the heels of that, an equally racist prosecutor followed suit.
The same pathetic sequence unfolded again on Jan. 29, 2008. a blatantly anti-Semitic and vicious article appeared in a daily newspaper in Vilnius misquoting and misusing a passage in our cousin Rachel’s memoir (published in Russian) as “evidence” against Fania Brantsovsky, now 86 and librarian of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute at Vilnius University.
In response to these outrageous and unwarranted claims, the Yiddish institute organized a certificate of honor for Brantsovsky, as did the American Embassy in Vilnius. Both were awarded to her on April 30.
Five days later, however, men in dark suits came to Rachel’s home looking for her as a “witness against Fania.”
Even more recently, on Aug. 9,erev Tisha b’Av, which marks the fall of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, the Jewish Community Center in Vilnius was vandalized. Anti-Semitic grafitti was scrawled on the walls and windows of the building.
Lithuania’s hatred for its few remaining Jews grows worse and worse, seemingly daily.
Incredible! The country with the worst Holocaust record in Europe, while failing to punish any of the mass murderers of its Jewish population, has decided, in 2008, to continue its campaign of defamation, harassment and intimidation against the tiny handful of Holocaust survivors who are alive precisely because they joined the anti-Nazi partisans and fought valiantly against the German war machine in the forests outside Vilna
But you haven’t heard the greatest absurdity: The European community has bestowed on Vilnius the status of “Capital of European Culture” for 2009. Alas, a more apt description would be Capital of European Racism, Anti-Semitism and Holocaust Denial.
We do not want the Lithuanian government to benefit from the injustices it has committed. We do want the interrogation, defamation and harassment of people like Yitzhak Arad, Fania Brantsovsky, and Rachel Margolis to stop; we want these bona fide heroes to be welcome in Lithuania so that they can continue their Holocaust education of others.
Budd Margolis is a native Clevelander, and his cousin Marjorie Margolis joined him and other Cleveland teens on two teen tours led by his father Henry Margolis, director of the Cleveland Bureau of Jewish Education in the ’70s.