Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Hannah Rosenthal Does It Again

November 25, 2011 8:14 am 0 comments

Hannah Rosenthal speaking at Vilnius conference, flanked by session chairman Ronaldas Račinskas, head of a controversial commission on Nazi and Soviet crimes.

A year has gone by since President Obama’s special envoy and head of the Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism was taken to task by the Simon Wiesenthal Center vis-à-vis Lithuania, in an opinion piece in the Guardian. Some months before that, in May 2010, The Tablet reported: “Rosenthal Lays Off Lithuania. Anti-Semitism envoy accused of obfuscating Holocaust obfuscation.”

At a one-day international conference held in mid November 2011 in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, it seemed that the amicable, well-meaning envoy who has spoken up with clarity on issues in many parts of the world, had again been snake-charmed into acquiescence by a sophisticated Lithuanian government PR machine, disappointing members of the struggling Jewish community who expected the American envoy on anti-Semitism to utter at least a few syllables on “• anti-Semitism. Most especially, the kind for which the state is responsible. In 2010 and 2011 cases in point included the legalization of public swastikas, the granting of permits for neo-Nazi marches on the capital’s main boulevard, failure to discipline military personnel who participate in neo-Nazi activities, and perhaps most disturbing, a series of state-sponsored events in 2011 to honor as heroes the local Holocaust murderers of 1941 who unleashed barbarity against their Jewish neighbors in June 1941 even before the Germans arrived, and whose published leaflets before the war made clear plans to do away with the country’s Jewish citizens.

The conference’s most dramatic moment came when a boyish-looking maverick Lithuanian politician, Algirdas Paleckis (AL-gir-das Pa-LETS-kis), currently on trial under the country’s laws restricting free speech (on matters of history, of all things), slipped into the hall virtually unnoticed and asked the first question after the session that included Rosenthal. In precisely three minutes, he brought up all the above-cited issues, to the chagrin of much of the nationalist audience present, and to the delight of the tiny Jewish contingent sitting in the rear that burst out in loud applause. One didn’t have to be an acoustics scientist to hear that it was all coming from one corner.

Maverick political leader Algirdas Paleckis took the conference by storm when he confronted major issues of government-sponsored or tolerated antisemitism in a three-minute comment following Rosenthal's session.

Rosenthal’s session was called “Anti-Semitism, xenophobia, racism, discrimination. Totalitarian temptations and new trials of tolerance.” The session was chaired by Ronaldas Račinskas, known for giving divergent accounts of the Holocaust to Lithuanian and to Jewish audiences. He is executive director of a discredited state-sponsored commission that works to convince the European Parliament to declare Nazi and Soviet crimes equal.

Among those who have to date resigned on principle from the Commission and its associate committees are Sir Martin Gilbert (London), Professor Gershon Greenberg (Washington DC), Professor Konrad Kwiet (Sydney), and Dr. Yitzhak Arad (Tel Aviv). The session also included the charismatic and controversial right-wing ruling-party politician Emanuelis Zingeris, who was the only Jew in Europe to sign the 2008 Prague Declaration.

Rosenthal spent much of her own talk praising the record of the Lithuanian government in promoting tolerance, not mentioning a single problem, least of all the ongoing state prosecutors’ campaign against Holocaust survivors who are alive because they joined the anti-Nazi resistance or because they have worked for truth-telling about the Holocaust in Lithuania, where the rate of murder of the Jewish population, around 95% , was the highest in Europe. Less than three months ago, Lithuanian officials arranged for Interpol liaison officers to question 86 year old Joseph Melamed, a Kovno Ghetto survivor, anti-Nazi partisan hero, and hero of the Israeli War of Independence. Melamed, head of the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel, was wanted for questioning because of a 1999 book he wrote listing alleged murderers he wanted Lithuanian authorities to investigate. Dr. Rachel Margolis, who turned 90 last month in Rechovot, is another target of Lithuanian prosecutors. She feels she cannot fulfill her wish to see her native Vilna one list time for fear of harassment from prosecutors and other officials.

There was another inspiring moment of hope at a later session that included the dynamic young administrator of the Jewish Community of Lithuania, 30 year old Simon Gurevich. He asked the assembled to try to imagine what it must be like for a loyal citizen who loves his country, and wants to spend his life in his native land, to see a swastika painted on his car, and to know that he could not wear a yarmulke in the street for long without being taunted. It was especially poignant to hear Mr. Gurevich suggest that Lithuania name some streets after the incredibly brave Lithuanians who risked everything to save a Jew during the Holocaust; this required much more courage than in many places because such rescuers were defying their own nation’s “patriots” rather than just the German invaders. For locals, Mr. Gurevich was making a subtle reference to the cutting pain caused by streets being named for Holocaust perpetrators, who are regarded as “national heroes” because they were “anti-Soviet.”

But perhaps by the end of the day Ms. Rosenthal was nevertheless at least a little inspired by the courage of the eccentric Lithuanian politician and the young Jewish community leader.

All the more so bearing in mind that they were among those who would not be on the next plane out after the conference.

Dovid Katz, who was professor of Yiddish at Vilnius University from 1999 to 2010, is editor of www.DefendingHistory.com. His personal website is www.DovidKatz.net.

Simon Gurevich, administrator of the Jewish Community of Lithuania, addresses Vilnius conference.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture A Theatrical Look at Diplomacy and the Oslo Accords (REVIEW)

    A Theatrical Look at Diplomacy and the Oslo Accords (REVIEW)

    Is diplomacy worthwhile, even if the end result isn’t what we hoped for? That is the question, among many others, posed by the new play Oslo, by J.T. Rogers. Making its New York debut at Lincoln Center, the play examines the secret diplomatic process that led to the historic 1993 peace accords. The character of Shimon Peres makes an appearance onstage — and he, along with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, tower over the proceedings. But they mainly do so in absentia. Instead, […]

    Read more →
  • Spirituality/Tradition Sports Israeli Trailblazer Dean Kremer Brings Jewish Values to Nascent Pro Baseball Career

    Israeli Trailblazer Dean Kremer Brings Jewish Values to Nascent Pro Baseball Career

    JNS.org – Other than being part of the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, Sandy Koufax and Dean Kremer have something else in common: a respect for Jewish tradition. Koufax — who was recently ranked by ESPN as the best left-handed pitcher in Major League Baseball (MLB) history — decided not to pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because the game fell on Yom Kippur. “I would do the same,” Kremer said in an interview. Last month, the 20-year-old Kremer became […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Lead Guitarist of British Rock Band Queen Asks Adam Lambert to Sing in Hebrew During Upcoming Israel Concert

    Lead Guitarist of British Rock Band Queen Asks Adam Lambert to Sing in Hebrew During Upcoming Israel Concert

    The famed lead guitarist of British rock band Queen, Brian May, encouraged Jewish singer-songwriter Adam Lambert to perform in Hebrew during their upcoming joint concert in Israel, an entertainment industry advocacy organization reported on Tuesday. During a recent interview with Israeli television personality Assi Azar, May was played a 2005 video of Lambert singing the popular song Shir L’Shalom, (Song for Peace). May was so impressed by Lambert’s singing of the Hebrew track that he told the American singer, “We have to do that. Let’s […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Kenyan Marathoner to Compete for Israel in Rio Olympics

    Kenyan Marathoner to Compete for Israel in Rio Olympics

    JNS.org – Kenyan-born marathoner Lonah Chemtai is expected to compete for Israel at the Olympics Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil next month after gaining a last minute approval. “I am very proud [to represent Israel] and I hope to achieve a new personal best time,” Chemtai told Reuters. Chemtai, who grew up a rural village in western Kenya, first came to Israel in 2009 to care of the children of her country’s ambassador to Israel. The 27-year-old runner recently gained […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity Will Laughs Lead to Love on Show About Orthodox Dating?

    Will Laughs Lead to Love on Show About Orthodox Dating?

    To date or not to date? That is not the question for most Modern Orthodox singles in New York. The question is when will they find their future spouses, and when will their families stop nagging them about having babies? Inspired by the success of the Israeli show “Srugim,” Leah Gottfried, 25, decided she would create and star in her own show, “Soon By You.” “Dating is so serious already,” Gottfried said. “We wanted to take a lighter approach and laugh at the […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israeli Actress Says Playing Muslim Character in ‘Tyrant’ Has Made Her More ‘Hopeful, Humble’

    Israeli Actress Says Playing Muslim Character in ‘Tyrant’ Has Made Her More ‘Hopeful, Humble’

    Israeli actress Moran Atias said that playing a Muslim woman in the hit FX series Tyrant has changed her outlook. “Educating myself about a different culture has made me more hopeful and humble, that we’re all the same,” the Jewish actress, 35, said during an interview with AOL Build. Atias plays Leila Al-Fayeed, the strong and politically minded wife of the president of Abbudin, a fictional Middle Eastern country run by a dictatorial family. The Israeli-born former model, who earned the title of Miss Globe International […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity Jewish Fashionistas From Around the World to Tour ‘Chic Side of Israel’

    Jewish Fashionistas From Around the World to Tour ‘Chic Side of Israel’

    A delegation of 35 Jewish fashion industry mavens from around the world will travel to Israel later this month to “discover the chic side” of the country, 5 Town Jewish Times reported. The eight-day tour, organized by the Maryland-based Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (JWRP) and the Israeli Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, will include visits to key fashion sites and meetings with some of the country’s top fashion designers, merchandisers and marketers. Participants will also attend a JWRP Fashion Week event in Tel Aviv. JWRP said the trip is […]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Granddaughter of Holocaust Survivors Honored to Represent Israel at 2016 Olympic Games

    Granddaughter of Holocaust Survivors Honored to Represent Israel at 2016 Olympic Games

    Pro golfer Laetitia Beck said she is honored to have been selected to represent Israel at the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil largely because of her grandparents, who survived the Holocaust. “Everywhere I go, I want people to know where I’m from, my background and where my family came from because of the struggle they had to go through,” she told the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA). “Every week when I play and I see the Israeli flag, it brings me a lot […]

    Read more →