22 January 2018
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“Why do you love Jews so much?”

Vilnius, the old Jewish Synagogue.

By Aage Myhre, Editor-in-Chief

I have repeatedly been asked, by Lithuanians and others why VilNews, and I as a Norwegian without a single drop of Jewish blood, love Jews so much? Recently I met a Lithuanian-American, well educated and well read, who yet bombastically trumpeted. "You lick the asses of the Jews, Aage."

During my meetings with Jews in South Africa, where 90% of the Jewish population of almost 100 000 are of Lithuanian descent, I have also been asked why I have such great interest in Litvaks.

My answer to all these, has been that I do not love Jews more than other peoples.

But I also tend to add that I am always impressed by people who achieve more than the common herd. Intelligence and wisdom are to me among the most important qualities a person can have, and I have no problem admitting that these are qualities I've seen a lot of among the Jews I have known through life.

As to the Litvaks, they were subjected to an almost total extinction here in Lithuania during the Holocaust. It was an assault and a genocide of an unimaginable scale that we must never forget, and which memory must find its fair balance in the mental as well as in the practical.

On 4 April, the United States and many other countries welcomed the decision of the Government of Lithuania to appoint a fund for Jewish property compensation, calling it an important historical step toward justice.

“This law is an important step towards the restoration of historical justice and reconciliation. We welcome these and other Lithuanian Government’s steps evaluating the legacy of the Holocaust”, the U.S. ambassador to Lithuania, Anne E. Derse, said in a statement.

The Cabinet of Minister’s decision was also praised by the special U.S. envoy on issues of anti-Semitism, Hannah Rosenthal, who said that the United States supports Lithuania’s efforts to “evaluate the complex history of the period, and the commitment to fully implement the legal framework on compensation.”

I agree with both ladies. This was a step in the right direction in terms of the relationship between the Lithuanian Jews, and what once was their beloved homeland.

Then there are Litvaks who seem to blame Lithuania and Lithuanians for everything that happened here during the Holocaust. In the Baltimore Sun this week, as an example, Olga Zabludoff writes that “Lithuania tries to whitewash its role in the Holocaust.” This in response to the Lithuanian government’s decision to establish the mentioned fund.

Usually I tend to have great respect for Olga Zabludoff’s opinions, but in this case, she goes too far. There must be limits to how much one should scorn and distrust a country and its leaders for everything they do.

Fortunately, there are also many moderate Litvaks. Ellen Cassedy in Washington and Irena Veisaite here in Vilnius are good models in this respect. Feel free to read my interview with Dr. Veisaite, here

The problem I see is that there is still a considerable gap between Litvaks and many of today's ethnic Lithuanians, as I have described above. It seems that many on both sides do not want peace and reconciliation. They do not like each other, simply, and seems to be more interested in finding errors than points of light. Such behaviours do not build bridges or enhance reconciliation. Perhaps it’s now time for both sides to become more friendly and forgiving towards each other?

Unfortunately, Lithuania is today a poor country, and to pay $ 50M is a tremendous burden on a people who are struggling more than most in Europe, but fortunately this is balanced to a very large extent by the huge, annual support
payments from the EU, Switzerland and Norway.

Germany still pays, even today, more than 60 years after WWII, in an exemplary manner for the Nazi atrocities against Lithuania and the Jewish population here. Unfortunately, there is no sign that Russia will ever do the same, for the colossal atrocities they committed against Lithuanians during and after the war. Those who lost loved ones in Siberia or in the huge bloody guerrilla warfare that went on here for 10 years after the war, will never get any compensation, I'm afraid.

My first encounter with a Jew, in the spring of 1959, took place far north in Norway

The small farm I grew up on is located on the island Senja, far north in Norway. It was by far the smallest in my native village. But my father had always collected books. Lots of books. Good books. So our little house had shelves with books from cellar to attic. And I had early thrown myself into the reading of them all, so even though we were poor materially, I felt that we were rich in many other ways.

My first trip out from the island occurred in 1959, when I was six years old, and my father and I went to the nearest small town, Harstad, with the local boat an early spring morning. What an experience! We did our first stroll around in the town so my father could do his errands. Then he took me to a cafe. What a fantastic experience! Meatballs and mushy peas as main course and blueberry porridge with cream for dessert!

In the afternoon we came to a green house in the middle of the town. "Men Outfits" was written on a large sign above the entrance door to the shop which formed the ground floor. But it was not there my father steered us. He took me up a small outdoor concrete staircase to a door on the side of the green building. There, he pressed a button.

I had obviously never seen or used a bell, so in my curious enthusiasm, I did as my father had done: - I pressed the button next to the door so fast that my father did not manage to stop me in time. He took my hand brusquely away from the call button. Then we heard steps. Heavy steps coming slowly down the internal stairs, a staircase we still could not see.

The door opened, and two good friends embraced each other. My strict Christian father and Polish-Jewish Meyer Sokolsky very much enjoyed the reunion and meeting there at the doorway to this green house in the middle of Harstad.

It smelled smoke all the way down to the entrance. The room we soon come up to was heavily fogged by smoke from pipe and cigarettes.

But what a dream of a room! Filled with books from floor to ceiling. Books on tables and chairs. Books everywhere.

I thought I had come to paradise. My first encounter with a Jew had become a reality...

The farm I grew up on is located on the island Senja, far north in Norway. It was by far the smallest in my native village.
But my father had always collected books. Lots of books. Good books. So our little house had shelves with books
from cellar to attic. And I had early thrown myself into the reading of them all, so even though we were poor
materially, I felt that we were rich in many other ways.

Photo, by Hugo Løhre, of my tiny home village, Olaheim.

Category : Lithuania in the world / Litvak forum

  • this dialogue through inflammatory articles that lack credibility.

    May 19 2012

    • Really I'm totally surprised to know a bit impression in minister decision issue. Thanks a lot!

      May 17 2012

      • I was surprised at your witty comeback to the people who persistently kept on accusing you on having any blind attachment to Jewish people. The moment you blurted out those words, if they were smart enough to understand it, it might've inflicted a bit of damage on their side. I guess that means all the more if they didn't get your point.

        May 17 2012
        • Jon Platakis

          How is it possible for Lithuanians to have an honest and open dialogue about the Holocaust when inflammatory articles, such as the one that appeared in the Baltimore Sun on April 23rd, by Olga Zabludoff, attempt to overwhelm reason and pay scant attention to the complexities of this horrible event.

          To illustrate my point, in attacking Ellen Cassedy’s article, Zabludoff states, “Articles like Ms. Cassedy’s, which praise the cross-cultural events held at the Lithuanian Embassy in Washington, D.C., and give stoic accounts about Holocaust education programs in Lithuania, are worked into the global mass media in order to mold a new face for Lithuania. But, Lithuania’s new face sculped by her PR meisters lacks credibility,” Zabludoff is an example of one who does not, or refuses to understand that this is not a black or white issue.

          Ellen Cassedy, in her book, “We Are Here: Memories of the Lithuanian Holocaust,” bared her soul and took us through her personal journey of discovery of one of the most horrific events in history. What Cassedy discovered, and Zubloff apparently did not, is that war makes for strange bedfellows. It was a time when Lithuanian citizens, be they Jewish or Lithuanian, could turn on one another, whether to save the lives of their families or their own. At the conclusion of her journey, Cassedy realized it was more difficult to take sides, and viewed this event non-judgmentally and with compassion. With which of these two individuals would a Lithuanian prefer to open a dialogue?

          Zabludoff also takes issue with, “Annual massive neo-Nazi marches since 2008 in Vilnius and Kaunas sanctioned by the government.” Here in the United States, permits are issued to gather and march to our most hate mongering groups, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Neo-Nazis. We call this “sanctioning” the protection of our most sacred rights, that of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. Would Zabludoff deny Lithuania and Lithuanians the rights that other free and democratic societies enjoy?

          There is no denying that the almost total destruction of a people is a tragedy in Lithuanian history, and that further dialogue and action needs to take place. However, let us not close off avenues for this dialogue through inflammatory articles that lack credibility.

          May 11 2012
          • Boris Bakunas

            Raphael Lemkin, the author of the U.N. article 2, himself stated that communists committed genocide against the Baltic nations.


            Interview with Lemkin, college roundtable: UN Genocide Convention, after 1952, AJA, Lemkin Papers, Ms

            May 10 2012
            • Boris Bakunas

              You are dodging the question, Olga Zabludoff. Aage's original response to your inflammatory article was correct, and trying to blame the editors of the Baltimore Sun for the headline does not change its content.

              Read Article 2 of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention of Genocide, which was written by Raphael Lemkin.

              Dr. Boris Vytautas Bakunas, PhD.

              May 10 2012
              • Olga Zabludoff

                Boris Bakunas:
                Initially I had not planned to respond to you because I see no point in engaging in dialogue with someone who misrepresents what I write. Not only misrepresents but interprets the text according to how he wants others to perceive it — not according to the real meaning. This is rather devious manipulation. I have decided to respond lest my silence be taken as concession.
                Nowhere do I accuse the Lithuanian government of marketing genocide. I state that they are marketing the concept of a Double-Genocide which equates the crimes of the Nazi regime with those of the Soviet occupations. Brutal as the Soviets were, they did not commit genocide against the Lithuanian people. The only genocide in Lithuania was the Holocaust. I should also point out that the 1940 Soviet deportations to Siberia included more Jews in proportion to their population than Lithuanians. (That fact accounted for the survival of Jews who would never have remained alive had they not been deported.) How utterly ridiculous it is of you to claim that I stated or even implied that the genocide of Ukrainians, Armenians, Cambodians, and Rwandans is one step up the ladder from Holocaust denial. Those were genocides indeed.
                Olga Zabludoff

                May 08 2012
                • Boris Bakunas

                  Olga Zabludoff ends her article “Lithuania tries to whitewash its role in the Holocaust” by accusing the Lithuanian government of marketing genocide: “The concept of a Double-Genocide is marketed ad nauseam. This is one step up the ladder from Holocaust Denial. The only genocide in Lithuania was the Holocaust.”

                  What is genocide?

                  According to Article 2 of The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide adopted by Resolution 260 (III) A of the United Nations General Assembly on 9 December 1948 “genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
                  •(a) Killing members of the group;
                  •(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
                  •(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
                  •(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
                  •(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

                  The article was written by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish lawyer of Jewish descent, who fought against the Nazis during World War II during the siege of Warsaw. Mr. Lemkin lost 49 relatives in the Holocaust.

                  After the war, Raphael Lemkin devoted his life to exposing and trying to prevent genocide. In a speech delivered in New York in 1953, Mr. Lemkin cited "destruction of the Ukrainian nation" as the "classic example of Soviet genocide,”

                  The mass executions and deportations of Lithuanians by Soviet invaders and their collaborators clearly meets these conditions. Entire families – fathers, mothers, infants – perished.

                  Olga Zabludoff, tell us whose family members were shot by NKVD guards during that journey of tears along the Trans-Siberian, how we have “marketed “genocide “ad nauseum.” Explain in precise terms, how the genocide of Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Armenians, Cambodians, Rwandans, and so many others “is one step up the ladder from Holocaust Denial.”

                  Dr. Boris Vytautas Bakunas, PhD

                  May 06 2012

                  • Dear Geoff, I appreciate your wise comments, although I think there is more hope for reconciliation than you obviously do. I know a lot of Lithuanian families that helped Jews during those terrible war years…

                    Did you read our interview with Ellen Cassedy and Ruta Sepetys?

                    Meyer Sokolsky was, by the way, married with kids, though I never met any of them… Are you still living on the island? Why not write blogs for VilNews from time to time? :)

                    Kind Regards,

                    May 02 2012
                    • Geoff Vasil

                      Aage Myhre:–

                      I don’t exactly understand why Litvaks would or should _want_ to build bridges with Lithuanians right now, because there is almost zero recognition of the Lithuanian Holocaust among Lithuanians at large, the government actively perpetuates double genocide while _claiming_ to make strides forward with initiatives not asked for by the actual living Litvak community, and worse, stages PR events over and over again with no Litvak involvement but claiming to be meetings with Lithuanian Jews.

                      The compensation for _religious_ properties finally passed after 20 years of stalling is, according to all sides when they are speaking frankly, symbolic. It doesn’t begin to cover the true value of all lost religious properties, and doesn’t even address private prorperty. It is important, in my opinion, but when viewed in the light of all the other basically anti-Litvak initiatives by the Kubilius and other earlier governments, it doesn’t appear sincere at all. And sincerity is what’s at stake here, since the actual sum is symbolic.

                      My father collected and still collects books, too, and I can relate to your experience very well. We also lived on a somewhat remote island for a time, with all those books. My first girlfriend was Jewish, so I guess I found a somewhat different form of paradise than you did at Meyer Sokolski’s bachelor pad :)

                      I also happen to think there are such things as advanced cultures, I am not a complete cultural relativist, and I believe Jewish culture is very old and very advanced. I think Japanese culture is advanced. At some point there was perhaps a bit of Litvak chauvinism in play, since Vilna was seen as the cultural capital of European Jewry, and no matter how humble one is, if one is told over and over “You are the elite,” one begins to wonder if it isn’t perhaps true. As Lithuanians were moving ahead with their own form of ethnic revival, nationalism and even chauvinism, they were forced, in their own minds, to create nationalist myths and legends of equal antiquity as a basis for justifying their statehood against, perhaps, and I’m speculating, the claims of stateless Yiddishland with its capital Vilna. Lithuanians looked back to Germany for support: Goethe and Herder on the archaicness of the Lithuanian language, coeval with Sanskrit, and then the “Aryan” supremacy philosophy fostered in Nazi Germany.

                      At some point both sides needed to get off their high horse and build bridges. That never did happen, and couldn’t, because one side murdered the other instead. Now we are left with the option of either recognizing and admitting that, or denying it. There can’t really be build-bridging between Litvak survivors and Lithuanians until the basic facts in the case are admitted. Of course there are plenty of Lithuanian Jews who have to live here and have found ways to keep such subjects out of polite conversation with Lithuanians, or who are afraid for their jobs and families and cannot afford to say such things, because of the real threats of job termination, and physical violence against them. And there are Jews who go along to get along, Quislings if you like. Litvaks who aren’t afraid for their lives and livelihoods, in Israel for example, aren’t reluctant to tell Lithuanians to their faces how things stand. I was impressed to see Knesset speaker Rivkin do just that in the Lithuanian parliament several years ago.

                      I am not a Jew and I do not speak for Jews or Litvaks or anyone but myself, but that’s how things look to me.

                      May 01 2012


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