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.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity How Jewish Television Pioneer Milton Berle Inspired Modern Comedy Stars

    How Jewish Television Pioneer Milton Berle Inspired Modern Comedy Stars

    JNS.org – Today’s comedy superstars, especially those whose careers are driven by television, may very well owe their success to pioneering Jewish entertainer Milton Berle. Born Mendel Berlinger in Manhattan in 1908, Berle became America’s first small-screen star. Aptly nicknamed “Mr. Television,” he influenced and helped promote the work of hundreds of younger comics. “Milton Berle was deceptively successful and very Jewish,” says Lawrence Epstein, author of The Haunted Smile: The Story of Jewish Comedians in America, published the year [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Jewish ‘Hoops Whisperer’ a Secret Weapon for NBA Stars

    Jewish ‘Hoops Whisperer’ a Secret Weapon for NBA Stars

    JNS.org – Idan Ravin’s friends chipped in to buy him a humble but life-changing bar mitzvah gift—a basketball hoop his father attached to the roof of his garage. Little did his friends know that years later, he would be the personal trainer of National Basketball Association (NBA) stars Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, and Stephen Curry. Ravin’s new book, “The Hoops Whisperer: On the Court and Inside the Head of Basketball’s Best Players,” details his rise from a Jewish upbringing [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs 10 New Hollywood Movies That Aim to Show Support for Israel (SATIRE)

    10 New Hollywood Movies That Aim to Show Support for Israel (SATIRE)

    Ten major film studios are currently in production on projects that promote a decidedly pro-Israeli narrative. In famously liberal Hollywood, such a development has left mouths agape and set tongues a wagging. Since the Jewish State began defending itself from the thousands of rockets that Hamas has hurled at it – as well as ongoing terror attacks and murders, the overwhelming number of Tinseltown’s producers, directors, actors, and studio moguls have remained indifferent to the plight of millions of Israeli [...]

    Read more →
  • Featured Israel Sports So Close: Israeli Judoka Loses Crown in World Cup Final, Finishes With Silver (VIDEO)

    So Close: Israeli Judoka Loses Crown in World Cup Final, Finishes With Silver (VIDEO)

    Israeli Judoka Yarden Gerbi (63kg), 25, of Netanya, on Thursday lost the final round at the Judo World Cup, and her world title to Clarisse Agbegnenou of France, at a match held in Russia. “I have mixed feelings,” Gerbi told Israeli Army radio. But, “I shouldn’t assume that I’d win the world Judo championship twice in a row,” she admitted. Gerbi won gold in Rio De Janeiro last year. “When I made my decision, I knew it was going to [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity Surviving the Holocaust by Hiding Their Faith (REVIEW)

    Surviving the Holocaust by Hiding Their Faith (REVIEW)

    “Jews Out!” was just the name of a child’s game that three little girls played in World War II Europe. But all is not as it seems because the three girls were Jewish, but hiding their true identities. In award-winning author R. D. Rosen’s riveting non-fiction work, Such Good Girls, “Jews Out!” wasn’t a game; it was a struggle for survival. The girls, Sophie, Flora, and Carla, grew up at a time and a place that did not allow them [...]

    Read more →
  • Music Personalities Twenty Years On, the Real and Radical Legacy of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

    Twenty Years On, the Real and Radical Legacy of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

    JNS.org – “He was part hippie, part yippie, part beatnik, and part New Age,” wrote Elli Wohlgelernter in a Jerusalem Post eulogy in 1994, following the Oct. 20 passing of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. Twenty years later, more robust accounts of Carlebach’s life have come to the surface. Earlier this year, Natan Ophir published the book Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: Life, Mission & Legacy. This past summer, Rabbi Shlomo Katz’s The Soul of Jerusalem hit the shelves. But even the authors will admit [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Music Beatlemania Invades the Gaza Strip (SATIRE)

    Beatlemania Invades the Gaza Strip (SATIRE)

    As Hamas loses its grip on power in the Gaza Strip as a result of war, poverty and disillusionment, the Islamist terrorist group has developed an ingenious way to raise the morale of the 1.7 million Palestinian Arabs it was elected to serve. While currently focused on delivering a rocket into every Israeli home, Hamas has not left its own people behind. To gently wipe away the tears of children strategically placed inside kindergartens as human shields, the Hamas Interior Ministry [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Spirituality/Tradition Removing Jesus’ Jewish Identity From Artwork

    Removing Jesus’ Jewish Identity From Artwork

    In a strong statement that challenges the historic divide between Christianity and Judaism, Pope Francis recently proclaimed, “Inside every Christian is a Jew.” But if you look at Renaissance artworks that depict Jesus, you will not find any evidence of a Jew inside the Christianized Jesus — even though the Gospels in the New Testament tell us that Jesus was Jewish to the core. Getting that point across to the public is a daunting task, as I learned in interviews I [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.