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 Middle East Larry King Asks Saudi Arabian Fan If Taking Pictures With Jews Is Permitted

    Larry King Asks Saudi Arabian Fan If Taking Pictures With Jews Is Permitted

    Jewish former CNN host Larry King asked a Saudi Arabian fan if taking pictures with Jews is allowed in his country, before agreeing to pose for a photo with the man, The New York Times reported on Wednesday. The world-famous interviewer was leaving the Ritz Carlton hotel in Washington, D.C. with a New York Times reporter when a “dark-skinned man” approached and asked to take a picture with him, according to the publication. Whereupon, King asked the fan where he was from. When the man said Saudi […]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports Britain’s Lord Sugar Says Synagogues Will Be Empty With Yom Kippur Matchup of Jewish-Supported Soccer Teams

    Britain’s Lord Sugar Says Synagogues Will Be Empty With Yom Kippur Matchup of Jewish-Supported Soccer Teams

    British-Jewish business tycoon Lord Alan Sugar joked on Wednesday that London synagogues will likely be empty during Yom Kippur with congregants fleeing to watch the match-up of two leading English soccer teams known for having hordes of Jewish fans. “Spurs V Arsenal cup game drawn on most important Jewish festival,” Lord Sugar pointed out on Twitter. “Both teams have loads of Jewish fans. Conclusion Synagogues will be empty.” North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal FC will go head-to-head in the Capital One Cup third-round […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Jewish Men Pass Jimmy Kimmel Social Experiment, Rescuing ‘Spongebob’ in Distress (VIDEO)

    Jewish Men Pass Jimmy Kimmel Social Experiment, Rescuing ‘Spongebob’ in Distress (VIDEO)

    Two Jewish men were the only unwitting participants in a social experiment conducted by Jimmy Kimmel, for his popular TV show. As part of a candid-camera-like sketch featured Monday night on Jimmy Kimmel Live, the host devised different street scenes to observe human behavior — in particular, to see how long it would take people walking down California’s bustling Hollywood Boulevard to notice and interact with others in distress. One scene involved a man in a Spongebob Squarepants costume who had “fallen down” on the sidewalk and needed help […]

    Read more →
  • Education US & Canada International Jewish Organization Blasts Israeli-Born Star Natalie Portman for Comments on Holocaust Education

    International Jewish Organization Blasts Israeli-Born Star Natalie Portman for Comments on Holocaust Education

    A major Jewish organization rebuked actress Natalie Portman on Monday for saying in a recent interview that Jews put too much emphasis on teaching about the Holocaust relative to other genocides. The Israeli-born movie star told the U.K.’s Independent that the Jewish community needs to examine how much focus it puts on Holocaust education over other issues. She said she was shocked when she learned that a genocide was taking place in Rwanda while she was in school learning only about the horrors of the […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israel Book Draws Parallels Between Holocaust and Palestinian Nakba, Sparks Outrage

    Book Draws Parallels Between Holocaust and Palestinian Nakba, Sparks Outrage

    JNS.org – A new book that draws parallels between the Holocaust and the Palestinian Nakba (the Arabic term for the displacement of Palestinian refugees during Israel’s War of Independence) has sparked outrage ahead of an official book launch, to be hosted by the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute on Sept. 7. The Zionist organization Im Tirtzu wrote a letter to the institute demanding that it cancel an event it planned in honor of the book’s authors, under the title The Holocaust and […]

    Read more →
  • Education US & Canada Natalie Portman Says Holocaust Education Shouldn’t be Used for ‘Fearmongering’

    Natalie Portman Says Holocaust Education Shouldn’t be Used for ‘Fearmongering’

    Famed actress Natalie Portman warned on Friday against the use of Holocaust education to evoke fear and paranoia. In an interview with the U.K. Independent she added that the trauma should make Jews more empathetic to others who have also experienced hatred. “Sometimes it can be subverted to fearmongering and like ‘Another Holocaust is going to happen,’” the Israeli-American star said. “We need to, of course, be aware that hatred exists, antisemitism exists against all sorts of people, not in the same way. I […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Commentary A Righteous Gentile Navigates the Sharkpool of Washington’s Middle East Correspondents (REVIEW)

    A Righteous Gentile Navigates the Sharkpool of Washington’s Middle East Correspondents (REVIEW)

    The Tribalist, by Louis Marano, is ostensibly a work of fiction but at its core a kind of love song by a gentile journalist for the State of Israel, and especially its secular Zionist core. (Because of the relentless attacks by left-wing polemicists on Israel’s allegedly “messianic” fringe, it’s often forgotten that most of Israel’s founders and all its leaders have been secular Zionists.) The author, the product of an Italian-American family in Buffalo, served two tours of duty in […]

    Read more →
  • Food Jewish Identity Rugelach Roundtable: Does Beloved Pastry Need Dairy to Taste Good?

    Rugelach Roundtable: Does Beloved Pastry Need Dairy to Taste Good?

    JNS.org – Rugelach (singular: rugala) are a beloved traditional Jewish pastry, with a quirky history to boot, but they often present a kosher conundrum. Though parve rugelach are often a preferred dessert after a meat meal for those observing kosher laws (which stipulate a waiting period between eating meat and dairy), some of today’s most popular rugelach are known for their dairy fillings. Pastry chef Paula Shoyer—author of the books “The Kosher Baker: Over 160 Dairy-free Recipes from Traditional to Trendy” and […]

    Read more →