Chasing down Jewish partisans - not Nazi collaborators
By Yossi Melman
A few months ago, Lithuanian policemen and agents from the security service knocked on Rachel Margolis' door in Vilna. Fortunately she was not home, and was thus saved the humiliation of an interrogation. Margolis, almost 90, who was a Jewish partisan during World War II, is finding it difficult to recover from the trauma even now, when she is living in her daughter's home in Rehovot.
"My sin in the eyes of the nationalists and the anti-Semites in the Lithuanian government," she says, "was that I was a partisan and fought against the Nazis and their collaborators."
The Lithuanian policemen and agents wanted to interrogate her about her memoir, in which she told about her partisan colleagues who in January 1944 attacked the village of Koniuchy (or in Lithuanian, Kaniukai).
The Lithuanian partisans, who operated under the aegis of the Central Partisan Command of the Soviet Union, had information that there was a German garrison in the village. After the fact, it turned out that the Germans had abandoned the place. In the battle that ensued, 38 villagers were killed, including women and children. In independent Lithuania, with a tendency to rewrite history after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, they describe this attack as a "massacre," and a special prosecutor opened an investigation.
Margolis says she was not even in Lithuania at the time of the attack, and was active in another partisan unit in White Russia.
"I wrote a book about the war, and in it I mentioned in a few lines that I had heard from partisan friends about the attack," she says.
In the book she mentions another partisan friend who was among the attackers, Fania Brantsovsky, and another partisan, Sara Ginaite, both of whom are also suspects and wanted for interrogation.
"That's Lithuanian chutzpah," says Dr. Efraim Zuroff, director of the Israeli branch of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. "To date, Lithuanian governments have not punished a single Lithuanian war criminal. In spite of our considerable efforts and the large amount of information we have given them, they handled three cases with astonishing slowness. Not one of the three served a single day in prison. On the other hand, they're not ashamed to persecute and harass Lithuanian partisans who fought the Nazis. What is common to all these cases is that they're all Jews. Instead of punishing Lithuanian criminals who collaborated with the Nazis and murdered Jews, they're harassing the partisans, Jewish heroes."
Perhaps the height of chutzpah was the attempt by Lithuania to investigate Dr. Yitzhak Arad, a Holocaust historian and one-time partisan, a former brigadier general and a chief education officer in the Israel Defense Forces, and the chairman of the board of Yad Vashem.
The Lithuanian claim against Arad was that he served in a Soviet security services, the NKVD, which engaged in murder and looting, and that he was involved in the murder of innocent Lithuanians. In the Lithuanian newspaper, Republika, they even published an article two years ago entitled "The expert with blood on his hands."
Arad explained that the Lithuanian claims against him were false. The Foreign Ministry and Yad Vashem sharply protested the Lithuanian demand, and refused to cooperate with the request.
However, they are some in Israel who believe that neither the Foreign Ministry nor Yad Vashem are acting with the determination expected of them, and are demonstrating weakness. There are voices who believe that Israel should lower its diplomatic contacts with Lithuania if it continues harassing Jewish and Israeli partisans. One of the critics is Zuroff.
"In the State of Israel, they prefer to let Jewish organizations do the dirty work and fight against the rewriting of history in Lithuania," Zuroff said. "The State of Israel and those involved in the issue should have made it unequivocally clear to the Lithuanian government that it is crossing all the red lines."
Another harsh critic of Israeli policy is historian Prof. Dov Levin, an expert on Lithuanian Jewry. Levin chronicles in his books how more than 200,000 Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, mainly by the Lithuanian collaborators who were eager to engage in murder without the German Nazis having to convince them.
Levin, himself a partisan in Lithuania and a member of the Yad Vashem council, was opposed to the decision about 10 years ago by the Foreign Ministry and Yad Vashem to cooperate with Lithuania in the study of the history of World War II. His view was not accepted, and a joint international committee of Israeli, Lithuanian and other historians was established.
The committee, actually two subcommittees, is studying the murder of the Jews in the Holocaust in Lithuania as well as the murder of Lithuanians, during the period of the Soviet occupation of the country from 1940-1941 - as part of the infamous 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact - as well as the Soviet period from 1945 until independence in 1991.
By doing so, the committee is unfortunately helping the Lithuanians equate the two historical developments. Levin believes that Yad Vashem should have severed any connection with the Lithuanian government and ended its activity.
"I told Yad Vashem, 'stop kissing up to the Lithuanians, it's kissing up to evildoers,' " he emphasizes. Levin says that in a protest move, he recently decided to return the decoration of honor he received in 1993 from the Lithuanian president. He also decided not to visit Lithuania again. "In the past I went there but now it disgusts me."
The Lithuanian ambassador to Israel did not respond to Haaretz.
'Good diplomatic ties'
The deputy general director of the Foreign Ministry, Pinhas Avivi, said that "the ministry takes the persecution of the Jewish partisans very seriously, and we have made that clear to them by every means and at every opportunity. But we do not believe that there is a reason to destroy our relations with Lithuania and to harm the good diplomatic ties between the two countries."
Yad Vashem responded: "To say that we are 'soft toward the Lithuanians' in the affair of Dr. Yitzhak Arad is groundless slander by someone who perhaps is not familiar with the entire picture. Regarding our participation in the committee, it is important to emphasize that in light of the historical revisionism that is evident in the investigation against Arad, we consider it very important that teachers from Lithuania come to Israel, to Yad Vashem, to study the subject of the Holocaust and how to teach it in their classrooms."